I started in Cardiff and flew Aer Arann (Aer Lingus regional to Dublin) and then from Dublin to JFK on Aer Lingus. The ratings are for the DUB – JFK sector.
Check-in at Cardiff was painful – the Servisair rep was nice but just didn’t know how to check someone in for a US flight. Aer Arann use ATR 72s on the route. It is a pig of a plane and far more uncomfortable than, for example, the Saab turboprops flown by FlyBe: cramped and noisy. The pilot never bothered to turn the seatbelt sign off. Other passengers were used to this and just ignored it after 20 minutes.
The magic happens in Dublin. The new terminal 2 requires lots of walking but is shiny, new and spacious. I had just over two hours so I went to the Aer Lingus lounge — very smart but not that comfortable and had a poor selection of food. The magic bit is that you get to clear US customs and immigration in a brand new, very empty US facility in the Dublin airport. It took me 2 minutes. You then arrive in New York (at the slick new JetBlue terminal) as a domestic flight: no checks, no queues, no nothing. A colleague took two hours to clear immigration at JFK last week so — post sequestration — this is a vital competitive advantage. As an added bonus, the immigration officer in Dublin showed me a picture of my bag (to check that it was mine) which confirmed that it had made the connection.
After US immigration, there is only a bar (with basic food), a small duty-free shop and a mini-W.H. Smith (which mysteriously closed an hour before our take-off at 15.15) so use the facilities in the main terminal which offer a good selection of shops and food outlets. One disadvantage to pre-clearance is that the flight is considered domestic and Aer Lingus, therefore, can’t sell any duty free on board: buy whatever you need in Dublin.
The Aer Lingus A330-300 had four rows of business configured 2-2-2. The seats are the lie flat (not fully flat) Recaro model that Lufthansa used until 2012. They’re perfectly comfortable for sitting, reclining and sleeping and — unlike some lie flats — you don’t slide down them.
The cabin service was exceptional. The crew were friendly and enthusiastic from the beginning to the end of the flight. Darryl treated us all like old friends. If you like a stiff, reserved style, you won’t like this; I loved it, though, and thought that he and his colleagues were fantastic. For my tastes, lunch was served much too late after take-off (it took three hours from take-off to the end of the meal) with two rounds of drinks, canapes (cold and then chicken skewers), appetiser, a main course, desert and cheese. However, the crew were so willing that I’m sure they would have served mine faster had I asked. My VGML meal was uninspired — several courses of raw and cooked vegetables — but the ordinary food looked good. There was a choice of interesting and thoughtfully-chosen wines (a boutique Portuguese white, for example) and the crew recommended well. Before landing we got sandwiches (more salad for me) and scones. They offered three rounds of scones!
Arrival was exactly as promised: we walked off the plane and into the domestic concourse in the brand new JetBlue terminal. We arrived 20 minutes early and the bags were on the carousel within 15 minutes.
I paid about £1400 for a fully-cancellable business class return trip. It wasn’t perfect but it was exceptional value and the pre-clearance in Dublin worked beautifully. If I want to avoid Heathrow, I can go KLM from CWL to AMS and AMS to JFK. The KL connecting flight is more comfortable but for the Trans-Atlantic sector, the Aer Lingus seats are better and the service is at least as good. The other option is Air France from Bristol. They also use the horrible ATR for the short hop and CDG is mors stressful than Dublin. I think I’ll use EI again.