Tried & Tested

Flight review: Aer Lingus A330-300 Business Class

2 Dec 2021 by Hannah Brandler
Pictured are Cabin Crew Niamh Keegan and Nicola Carooza Aer Lingus’ inaugural flight from Manchester Airport direct to New York, JFK.

This review is of Aer Lingus’ inaugural flight from Manchester airport to New York JFK on December 1, marking the first direct transatlantic US flight from a UK airport by the Irish carrier.

The launch was delayed several times due to US travel restrictions as a result of Covid-19, but flights to Barbados from Manchester launched earlier this month, while Orlando will follow on December 11. Unfortunately the airline recently dropped its plans for its Manchester-Boston direct transatlantic route which was set to begin next summer.

The Manchester-JFK flight was meant to be operated by the new A321neo, but this was delayed due to registration issues, according to the carrier. We hope to experience this aircraft on the return leg.

Inaugural route Manchester-JFK

First impressions

I took the Transpennine Express from Manchester Piccadilly to the airport and arrived at 0950 for the 1235 planned departure of EI45 to New York, with a flight time of around seven and a half hours.

Aer Lingus flies from both Terminals 1 and 2, though the former is reserved for Ireland and Northern Ireland flights. Direct transatlantic services operate from the new extension of Terminal 2. There’s a helpful sign informing unfamiliar passengers of the layout of the terminals.

It was great to experience the airport’s new extension, which is very spacious and has lots of kiosks for checking in. I couldn’t use these as I was unable to check-in online, apparently due to missing Covid information – everything had been submitted and verified via Verifly so I’m not sure why this was the case.

I was able to check-in at the Aer Club desks as I was flying Business Class. I had to show my passport and Verifly pass. I was standing alongside staff checking in for the flight who were excited to be on the inaugural route. I received my paper boarding pass in a matter of minutes and then proceeded through fast track security which was equally speedy.

The terminal was extremely quiet, and the large screen in the departures hall featured a video celebrating the inaugural route to JFK which fuelled the excitement for the trip ahead.

Aer Lingus A330

The lounge

Aer Lingus does not have a dedicated lounge at Manchester airport so relies on lounges owned by airport handling partners. Aer Club passengers can use the Escape Lounge on the upper level of the main terminal atrium to the right of the Bridgewater Tap pub, while Business Class passengers get access to the neighbouring adults-only 1903 lounge.

The latter is open 0400-1400 daily and passengers from any airline and ticket class can enter for a fee (£35.99 per person). It was quiet when I arrived at 1030 but got busier, with staff opening up more seating areas as a result.

The 1903 lounge is named after the year in which the Wright brothers operated the first flight, with a design influenced by aerospace. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the runway, while a quote from Wilbur Wright is displayed on the wall.

1903 Lounge

The design is colourful, with a range of seating areas including two rooms off to the left with several booth-style tables, comfortable armchair-style chairs with wraparound small tables, and runway-facing seating. There are two identical circular self-serve bar areas, with plenty of alcoholic and soft drinks to choose from including Tanqueray Gin, Glenfiddich Whisky and regional specialties such as Manchester Gin and Pale Ale, plus the regular sound of the popping of Champagne bottles (Jacques Bardelot Brut).

1903 Lounge

The buffet area is at the entrance of the lounge and is rather small, with cold options including pastries, cakes, individual yoghurt and granola pots, and platters of fruit – only the latter were covered by plastic. There is also a hot buffet with full English options, but guests had to ask the kitchen to provide additional bread as there was none left. A notice advises guests to sanitise their hands before serving themselves, and there are soap-style dispensers throughout the buffet area.

1903 Lounge

I was hoping to get some work done before my departure but found out that the wifi was not working and had to instead hotspot from my phone’s 4G. There are no magazines but passengers can access reading material via Pressreader by downloading the app, though this wasn’t available due to the lack of wifi.

There were only three toilets which was not adequate for a rather large (and increasingly busy) lounge – queues began to form with disgruntled passengers – and when I visited they had run out of soap, which wasn’t ideal considering the Covid situation.

1903 Lounge

Boarding

I kept checking the board to see if the flight was boarding, but it remained at “go to gate”. After a while, I felt a little uneasy and decided to head to gate A4 (which was a ten-minute walk from the lounge), where I found that the plane had mostly boarded – I later realised that the flight was quite empty hence the lack of queues.

The staff requested my passport and boarding pass, and I boarded immediately at 1210 and was handed a pair of novelty socks celebrating the inaugural flight.

A330 Aer Lingus Business Throne Seat

The seat

This A330-300 has a total of 317 seats configured in two classes: 287 in economy and 30 in business in a 1-2-2, 1-2-1 configuration with 7 rows (row 1 is just 1-2). The flight was only half full, which was particularly noticeable when I had a peek at economy which had many rows of empty seats. The crew said this was not unusual for an inaugural flight, and that the forthcoming Orlando route was seeing higher demand in terms of bookings.

My seat 3K was a window seat, with two seats in front and two to the rear, and there was a menu, amenity kit and pillow when I arrived. The amenity kit included Voya hand cream and lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen, socks, an eye mask, earbuds and two peppermints.

Aer Lingus amenities

The seat has a huge amount of room and certainly lives up to its “throne” name, with table space on either side, a storage cabinet on the left-hand side, and a tray table which folds out beside this. The seat feels very private as you are distanced from the aisle, and I barely noticed people walking past.

A330 Aer Lingus storage cabinet

To the left of the seat is a water bottle holder, a reading light, headphone jacks, in-seat power and USB charging which I used for my phone, and the seat controls which were easy to use.

To the lower right-hand side there are a couple of slim compartments, and to the left-hand side a thin magazine folder. Straight ahead is the IFE screen with a holder below for the noise-cancelling headphones. The footwell is located beneath this, between the two seats in front.

Aer Lingus A330 Business

The flight

I was offered a glass of Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut Reserve or orange juice within a few minutes, which was collected ahead of taxiing at 1248. The plane took off approximately ten minutes later.

For take-off and landing, you have to put your bag in the overhead locker, but I ended up keeping it there for most of the journey as I could keep plenty of belongings with me on the tables.

The inflight entertainment system gives you the option of using a touchscreen ­or a remote hidden under a leather compartment to the left. There is also free wifi on board for business class passengers and we were provided with a wifi code at 1308, which promises access to 400MB. Normally, the wifi costs from €6.95-€29.95.

To begin with it would not allow me to sign-in but the crew advised that, oddly, it worked when you entered the CNN website. Unfortunately the wifi was extremely temperamental, so I just focused on the work that I could do without access.

Aer Lingus A330 IFE

The IFE includes a small selection of both new and classic films, as well as a focus on Irish films, TV shows (including the Business Traveller series), music, games and a section for kids. There is also an information section which includes the history of Aer Lingus from the 1930s to 2016 – it needs some updating! The noise-cancelling headphones were rather useless, with a tinny sound, and I would not recommend if you want to enjoy a film.

The first half of the flight was quite turbulent and at moments I had to hold my drinks to avoid spillage, but it calmed down at the half-way mark.

Halfway through the flight I was handed a blanket and tried to sleep but found it difficult due to turbulence. The bed was comfortable and I felt very relaxed, though it is rather narrow.

IFE Aer Lingus

Best seat

I was very pleased with my seat, which was ideal for solo travellers. It’s very private, close to the toilets but far enough away from the noise of the galley, and I enjoyed the views from the two windows – though the table on the right-hand side distances you from the views slightly. There’s another “throne seat” at 5K.

Even-numbered rows on the right side consist of two seats, which means the window seat does not have aisle access in this case.

The standalone seats on the left-hand side don’t match up to the throne seats in terms of storage space, with table space on only one side.

Meanwhile centre seats have a divider for privacy, but not all have the storage cabinet as it alternates between the neighbouring seats on each row (e.g. 2G on the aisle had it but 3G did not).

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 close to the galley and toilets.

Refreshments Aer Lingus

Food and drink

There was no chance to go hungry on this flight, with a three-course meal, afternoon tea, and various snacks served throughout the rather short seven and a half hours.

Refreshments paired with some lovely cheese crackers (pecorino, rosemary and seaweed-flavoured with onion jam) were served 45 minutes after take-off, during which I also ordered my lunch – “the most exciting part of the journey”, myself and my lovely flight attendant Michael agreed.

Lunch was served at 1420. I had the goat’s cheese with beetroot and fresh rocket to start, which was nice but came with a side salad of feta and sundried tomatoes so was rather heavy on the cheese front. I was disappointed by the main of fishcake with sweet chilli noodles and roast vegetables, which was stodgy.

A330 Aer Lingus Starter

Dessert was served half an hour later and I enjoyed a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, ending the meal high on diary. When I was having lunch, I could easily leave my belongings on the other tables – there was no shortage of tabletop area.

A selection of savoury snacks and chocolate bars were offered a couple of hours later, and then afternoon tea was served at 1840 though I was too full to enjoy this.

Everything was covered with plastic or clingfilm due to Covid regulations, but it would have also been nice to have a sanitiser wipe or warm cloth at some point during the journey.

A330 Aer Lingus Main Course

The menu was as follows:

Starters

  • Prawns served with Marie Rose sauce and sundried tomatoes
  • Goat’s cheese with beetroot and fresh rocket

Both served with a feta and sundried tomato salad, and soda bread

Mains

  • Roast parmesan chicken breast with steamed spinach, carrots, baby potatoes and a wild mushroom sauce
  • Fishcake with sweet chilli noodles and a selection of roast vegetables (this can also be served as a vegetarian option)
  • Medallions of beef fillet served with traditional Irish champ potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a rich gravy

Dessert

  • Signature raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake
  • Cashel Blue and Coastal Cheddar cheese served with plum and apple chutney

Afternoon tea

  • Egg and rocket sandwich on brown bread
  • Roast beef sandwich on white bread
  • Bitesize lemon and poppy cake, chocolate opera cake, raspberry bakewell
  • Tea and coffee

 

A330 Aer Lingus Cheesecake

Drinks menu:

Red wine: Côtes-du-Rhône AOP 2019, Domaine Clavel, France; Lynx Petite Sirah 2018, Zinfandel, California (meats)

White wine: Rapaura Springs, Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc 2019, New Zealand; Gran Sello, White Macabeo, Verdejo 2020, Spain

Champagne: Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut Reserve

Signature cocktail: champagne with apple syrup

  • Jameson Whiskey
  • Jack Daniels Whiskey
  • Bombay Gin
  • Gordon’s Gin
  • Smirnoff Vodka
  • Ciroc Vodka
  • Otard Brandy
  • Bacardi Rum
  • Graham’s Port
  • Baileys
  • Franciscan red Ale
  • Heineken
  • Magners Cider

Soft drinks:

  • Coke
  • Diet Coke
  • Sprite
  • Schweppes Soda Water
  • Schweppes Signature Tonic
  • Schweppes Ginger Ale
  • Tomato juice

Arrival

We landed in New York at 1513 local time, with the silhouette of skyscrapers bathed in golden light from the window. We arrived fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, but unfortunately were the victims of our own success as a plane had taken our slot off parking. We therefore stayed on the tarmac until 1550 and disembarked at 1600.

Immigration was surprisingly quick and easy, and they did not ask for any of the documents required to enter the US, presumably as these have been recorded electronically.

New York upon arrival with Aer Lingus

Verdict

As this flight was half-full, it felt very exclusive and safe – staff were wearing masks at all times, and passengers were abiding by Covid-19 regulations too. The throne seat was a real treat, and I would highly recommend to people travelling alone. The service was brilliant throughout, with really friendly staff who were eager to help and provided recommendations for my first night in the Big Apple. The downsides were the poor headphones, poor wifi connection and waiting time upon arrival in the city.

aerlingus.com

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