We flew on the inaugural route from Manchester airport to New York JFK on December 1.
The flight was meant to be operated by the new A321neo LR but this was delayed due to registration issues, according to the carrier.
We got to experience the new aircraft on the return leg on December 4, which was a night flight departing from JFK Terminal 5 at 1815 with a short flight time of just under six hours.
The aircraft is designed for routes of up to 7,400km and is used for both transatlantic and European routes. The narrowbody aircraft is more fuel efficient and promises a 50 per cent reduction in engine noise.
I took the train from Penn Station to Jamaica and switched to the Airtrain to reach JFK Terminal 5, which was a smooth and quite simple journey. Despite submitting all my information and receiving approval by Verifly, I had been unable to check in online. En route to the terminal, I spotted the TWA hotel, which occupies Eero Saarinen’s 1962 TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport.
Once at the terminal, I walked past some extremely long queues for security. The Aer Lingus desks are located at the end of the room, and it was quick and easy to check in once there, simply showing my passenger locator form (on my phone) and passport.
Thankfully I managed to get fast-track security as a business class passenger, so it only took 15 minutes. I went straight to the lounge.
Aer Lingus has a lounge for Aer Club and Business Class passengers in Terminal 5, located opposite Gate 26. The design features rain drop-shaped lighting suspended from the ceiling, and a stone wall paying homage to Irish Americans such as President JFK himself, author F Scott Fitzgerald and artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
The lounge is very basic. As you enter, there’s a few tables by the window behind the staircase, but most people sit in the main room filled with armchairs and low tables that you can’t work comfortably at. A small galley-style buffet area with a few two-person dining tables against the wall leads from the main room to a more peaceful-looking area with chaise longues overlooking the airfield. Bathrooms are to the left after you leave the kitchen area, and there are some shower facilities, but these were closed during my visit.
I didn’t find it an easy lounge to work in, with few tables accommodating those who want to tap away at their laptops. There is a desk at the back left of the main room as you enter, which is designed to be the lounge’s business centre, but it’s a small area.
The buffet had little food, with afternoon tea-sized pre-packaged sandwiches, a garden vegetable soup, some brownie bites, crisps and pretzels, and fruit. There are three fridges which have a good selection of beers, soft drinks, wines and Champagne, plus cranberry and orange juice. There’s also tea and coffee facilities.
I was hoping to have dinner in the lounge before boarding so that I could try and sleep as early as possible on the plane, but this wasn’t possible due to the small selection available.
The lounge filled up during my time there, but emptied when a flight to Dublin got called at 1630.
The lounge has an announcement board but my 1815 departure was labelled as departing to Dublin rather than Manchester – I double checked with reception and they said they were trying to get this changed.
An announcement was made at 1730 to advise guests to head to the gate for boarding, which was located a five minute walk from the lounge. Business class customers boarded the plane first at 1740.
The A321neo has a total of 184 seats configured in two classes with single aisle cabins: 168 in economy in a 3-3 configuration, and 16 in business class in an alternating 2-2, 1-1 configuration.
The business class cabin has five rows (2-6), with rows 3 and 5 featuring the throne seats. All seats extend into fully lie-flat 6.5 ft beds, with a width of 22 inches. The cabin was half-full, and judging by the gate, the rest of the flight was not too busy either. It’s a very sleek cabin and feels new, with a calming grey colour palette and blue mood lighting.
I had the 3K throne seat by the window, which was almost identical to the seat on the outbound A330 journey – meaning lots of storage space and privacy. Find out more about it in the outbound review.
The only difference is that there is an additional over-the-body strap which is located in the headrest and slots into the waist seatbelt. Passengers must wear the two seatbelts for taxiing, take-off and landing. I thought that the metal contraption would be uncomfortable against my head when it wasn’t in use, but I actually did not notice it.
We were offered Champagne or orange juice within a few minutes of boarding. The noise-cancelling headphones and amenity kit were in a pocket under the IFE system, and there was a blanket wrapped in plastic beside the seat and a comfy branded pillow. The amenity kit included Voya hand cream and lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen, socks, an eye mask, earbuds and two peppermints.
There is one toilet at the front of the plane, which is difficult to reach when the cabin crew are organising things in the galley area. It is quite cramped, and so people tend to wait in the aisle during the flight.
Before take-off, the pilot made an announcement telling the passengers that the flight time would be a short five hours and 50 minutes due to strong tailwinds, though warned that this would come with turbulence.
We didn’t take off on time due to technical issues with the IFE system, which was repeatedly rebooted. While it seemed to be working as we took off, it inexplicably turned off halfway through an episode of a TV show and began to recalibrate. It seemed like the passenger in front was also having issues with his monitor, and he moved to an empty seat for this reason.
The 16-inch HD Panasonic touchscreen (economy has a 9” version) features the same content as the IFE on the A330, including 120 hours of movies and entertainment and over 1,000 music albums. I also noticed that it has content from Calm, providing meditation exercises for those wanting help to sleep.
The key difference with this IFE system is that you can also control it from your phone and tablet using the Aer Lingus Play app. The airline advises you to download the app before take-off to avoid connection issues, and it gives you a code to pair your device. I watched some TV during my dinner and was glad that the noise-cancelling headphones were up to scratch this time, and the film quality was good.
While the wifi was poor on the outbound flight, I didn’t have any trouble with it on the return leg though I don’t imagine many people used it as sleep was the priority. We were provided with a wifi code after take-off, which promises access to 400MB.
I found it difficult to sleep due to the turbulence, and I could also feel the reverberations of people walking along the aisle when I was lying flat. It also felt narrower than my previous experience, or maybe I had grown in size after my three days of dining in New York. The mood lighting, however, was very peaceful.
I was again very happy with my 3K seat, which felt very private and ideal for solo travellers. The rows with two seats on each side of the aisle have a divider for privacy, but don’t match up to the throne seats in terms of storage space. The storage seat alternates between the neighbouring seats on each row.
The bulkhead row provides the most legroom – the others have a narrower well as they contour round the two seats in front. The only trouble with these seats is that it’s incredibly close to the galley and toilets on this smaller aircraft, but you do get to leave the plane first.
Food and drink
There was no menu at the seat this time and, while it said that you can find the food and drink options via the information section of the IFE screen, this was not the case. This section simply showed duty free and tobacco options. Instead, a flight attendant came to the seat at 1940 and asked if I wanted the express option, a service designed for night flights which means you get your main and dessert on a single tray and so can get as much sleep as possible during the short timeframe.
For this flight they were serving an Asian-style marinated poached salmon salad with strawberries, feta and what appeared to be bits of bacon, and while I enjoyed the various elements, it was an odd combination. This came with a cold bread roll and butter, and a delicious raspberry and custard-style tart. It was served at 1945, and I finished it within ten minutes. It was promptly collected, allowing me to stow away my table and move the seat into sleep mode by 1955.
I missed out on the breakfast service as I was trying to catch up on sleep, but passengers seemed to be enjoying yoghurt and fresh orange juice when returned to an upright position.
The arrival was smooth, and we landed early at 0530 which was great news considering I had to make the journey from Manchester to London, followed by a long-haul business trip the following day.
The trouble was that the testing centre at Manchester airport only opened at 0700, and trains to London on a Sunday were infrequent and longer than usual, so there was a fair amount of hanging around.
The walk from the aircraft to immigration took approximately ten minutes, but it was then quick as I used the e-gates. I was not asked for my passenger locator form.
This was a quick and convenient night flight with a familiar but comfortable seat, an enhanced IFE system and a smart cabin. The crew were friendly and attentive while also being aware that people wanted to keep to themselves, and made it easier for those wanting to sleep by offering a prompt dinner service. The turbulence unfortunately made it rather difficult to sleep, which is the main aim for most business class passengers.