US Airways A330-200 Envoy

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  • Anonymous


    History: Semi-frequent traveller(s), our respective families are located on different continents, we have an elementary school aged child, so all of us have traveled sighnificantly on US-Brazil, US-Germany and Germany-Brazil roundtrips over the last several years.

    I have thus begun to appreciate US Airway’s Dividend Miles program, a much better value than, say, SQ or LH/Swiss/Austrian/LOT Mile&More, all still linked to Star Alliance carriers. The outstanding feature of DM is their twice yearly or so sale “buy 1, get 2 miles”.

    We are US loyal regulars because of their Express carrier serving our community in Connecticut, a twenty minute drive home vs. the rigors and tolls of driving into New York City’s Kennedy (1.5h plus), or worse, NJ’s Newark (some 2h drive if you leave early enough to beat the afternoon traffic!).

    US Airways is at the bottom of Star Alliance standards from a passenger appeal point of view. Their US-domestic mainline narrow-body fleet (excluding the new Embraer 170/190 aircraft) tends to look pretty tired and worn in their cabins, particularly the West Operation’s (formerly America West) specimens can be downright ratty from an unsuspecting traveller’s perspective.

    By comparison, US’s intercontinental operations on the new (phased in over the last three years) A330-200s (tail numbers 280 and above) is quite a breath of fresh air and innovation on the US airline industry, suffering from sub-optimal revenue yields and beleagued with industry-wide debt. Less lucky is US Airways’ latest iteration on employee wear – less than a uniform, quite comical!

    The Flight
    US Airways serves the major Star hub and our final destination city, Munich, since the opening of the new MUC in 1992. Having been a B767 destination exclusively from PHL for years, it has been served by the new-generation of A330s (-200) early since these were procured by US, probably in anticipation of the European carbon offset charges, and, more obviously, to boost their image

    USA 706/707 operates the Airbuses on daily PHL-MUC/MUC-PHL nonstop rotations, The A330-200 is exclusive to this route except during the busy Octoberfest season, when they re-deploy the older -300s from the Frankfurt service for their slightly greater capacity.

    US Airways offers a business and an economy class product on their intercontinental routes. Their version of business is called Envoy class and the premium cabin has been reconfigured to “Envoy Suite” , fully reclineable bed seats in a 1-2-1 arrangement over the last year or so.

    Having one overweight bag to check in for the flight, the new overweight surcharges had gone into effect, 50-70lb (24-32 Kg) now being USD 150 on Europe/Israel-to-/from US services, a major gouge compared to Lufthansa’s EUR 50.
    and a great offer on a standby upgrade (USD 600 o/w, when capacity is available) where I could make use of the premium class’ baggage allowance saw me at the front of the airplane together with some five more revenue passengers in this class of service on this flight.

    Check-in for the 12.00 noontime departure after paying the MCO for the upgrade was swift and efficient, if not downright relaxing, handled by contract Lufthansa staff not completely familiar with US’s differing policies, ahead of the large numbers that roll in after 9 a.m.

    As a premium customer I was allowed access to the contract Lufthansa Frequent Traveller (FTL) lounge. FTL is NOT to be confused with the “real deal” – the LH Senator (SEN) lounge – which really merits the term “lounge” but is reserved exclusively for Lufthansa’s First Class passengers.

    The FTL has deteriorated over the years to the point that it might be called a “free cafeteria” – I was able to grab a basic cold breakfast of German rolls (Lufthansa offers free tea/coffee to all passengers throughout Terminal 2 gates)- but these had obviously been baked on or about midnight of the previous day, a meagre attempt to pacify premium business clients, and quite unimpressive.

    Munich security Part 2 has been expedited for US travellers recently. The flight was not fully booked in economy class either, so boarding was swift from gate H08 and the boarding bridges were withdrawn before schedule by 11:53.

    Our N278AY was one of the first aircraft to be upgraded with Envoy Suites and the seats were clean, the cabin look friendly and new. I was seated in 3A, by the window. Seat 1A remains contractually reserved for the flight crew on this type, common to the industry in the USA on intercontinental flights.

    Compared to Lufthansa’s benchmark business class product, the Envoy Suite product relatively exceeds the standard set, although to fully live up, there would not have been two dried (uncleaned) spills on the fold out table cover on both mine and the neighboring seat, nor would the carpet under my seat have become loose.

    The seat reclines to 3 fixed settings by buttons between fully folded (takeoff/landing), relaxed recline and fully flat positions but extension stops any position in between when you remove button pressure. Unlike Lufthansa, no printed seat feature card is provided. This being the day flight, I did not profit from the flat bed capabilities, but I had no pressure points either from sitting for long periods either.

    After the welcome drink service (choice of sparkling water, orange juice and sparkling wine Champenoise), ear-covering headsets and amenity kits were handed out.

    In comparing headsets, the attenuation achieved by these fully ear-covering units pales in comparison to true active noise technology sets (I use Sony MDR-NC6s, apprx. USD 50) and the most comfortable and quietest condition in cruise flight is achieved by a combination of earplugs and some ANR headset. I found the pressure of the supplied headsets a little overwhelming, prone to become uncomfortable over the 8+ hour flight.

    The amenity kit has been revamped again recently – it is now a transparent bag with the usual eye blind, pair of socks, airline toothbrush,
    Gilchrist-and-Soames moisturizer and lip balm and a USAirways branded pen (a nice gesture first found on DELTA in 2010). The Lufthansa kit of October 2011 was a little more exciting, a stuffed tin A-380 case.

    Menus were then passed out while still at the gate, nicely re-edited new format and font compared to the bland mass-produced glossy print from the years prior, but still a far cry from Lufthansa’s menues (or the now defunct VARIG of Brazil’s specimens). Orders were taken on the spot for the choice of 3 main dishes – beef, chicken or shrimp/prawn, the advertised “restaurant quality” had to be assumed, the “luck of the draw” since quantity was severely limited (no seconds here!).

    Within the first hour after airborne, hot towels (lukewarm!) were distributed and collected, followed by the standardized starter dishes – green salad and, separately, a smoked salmon dish, plus a discrete offering of fresh bread Lufthansa-style from a basket (finally!). The (empty) salmon plate was quickly replaced by the main dish, albeit less than hot (Germans love their food piping hot or hotter still!). As to the choice of desserts, only the cheesecake and ice cream options were visible on the tray (a supposed cheese option was not pursued further). Not being a habitual drinker, I nonetheless did not fail to notice the lack of after-meal sherry or Baileys.

    The inflight entertainment is offered throughout the aircraft (premium and economy cabin) but the Envoy suite station sports a relatively larger fold-out screen. Flight data and route were shown throughout the flight on the central main cabin screen with actual mileage quoted until block-in and powering down, the system calculates elapsed mileage since take off plus remaining straight-line distance to destination, so mileage is continually updated between becoming airborne and the flight’s progress, the most accurate reading being the final value at touchdown.

    There was a very large amount of movies available for selection, I was able to view almost three full movies over the 8:45 flight time (headsets are collected 15 minutes before landing and the IFE is de-energized just before landing). A nice touch (maybe boring to really frequent travellers) is the music selections: it’s like “coming home” – many titles have been loaded since aircraft entry into service, but quality has suffered from the uncounted playbacks. IFE selection rotation does not appear a top priority, although, were it not for the deterioration, quite acceptable to me.

    Airbus aircraft have a reputation of being quieter than the competition – I have difficulty discerning between Seattle, USA and Toulouse, France manufactured products when using my earplug/ANR headset combo, but the front cabin is noticeably quieter than the rear third of the economy cabin.

    The taxi to the gate after touchdown was expedited nicely by allocating us gate A15 in PHL (A14,15,16 have the shortest distance to US Immigration service booths), which may have been a welcome result of a 25-minute earlier than scheduled arrival.

    A bit frustrating, and I have written countless recommendations to the Philadelphia Airport authority – after clearing customs connecting passengers are forced to stand in long lines for another “security screening”, shoes off et al, were we really less safe while traveling hours across the Atlantic?

    Would I recommend the Envoy arrangement? Absolutely – any day of the week! The improvement over the severely uninspiring economy product (particularly the abysmal victuals offered ex USA), in extreme cases (beware of the A330-300 old type) severely tight economy seat pitch (I’m 6’1 – 1.83m) and sometimes surly, though experienced high-seniority cabin crewmembers, the Envoy experience was in a completely different league! Well done, US Airways, Lufthansa in Munich, LSG Catering and all involved! Thank you, flight and cabin crew on this USA707!

    P.S. a final word to baggage: service into PHL satisfactory, although the priority label was not worth any time savings, a lot of transfer baggage hit the conveyor before mine (to be transferred too!) did. The bags, while making it on both my flights did not take the transfer so easily. The heavier bag had been newly purchased prior to the trip and arrived at my final destination zipper open. TSA had done their job again documented by their flyer and, in the event, no articles went lost, contrary to my fears.

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