On my quick trip to Europe last week, I decided to fly Brussels Airlines so that I could experience their transatlantic Business Class cabin. Specifically, I flew from their Washington DC gateway to Brussels and then continued on to Munich via Lufthansa.
I prefer to fly out of ‘IAD’ due to easy access from my home base in Grand Rapids (GRR) thanks to United’s non-stop flights that were added earlier this year. I prefer it to Chicago or New York because it is not nearly as busy and tends to have less weather-related problems that affect flights. Besides, Lufthansa has a nice Senator Lounge in IAD with a great view of taxiways which helps pass the time between flights.
Brussels operates out of IAD 4 times a week (5 days a week between November 29 and January 5, 2014) departing at 10:25p and arriving in Brussels the following morning at 11:55a. The late night departure makes it convenient for travelers to make their way to Washington DC throughout the day and arriving in Brussels at noon also avoids the rush of international arrivals that tend to congest European airports during early morning hours. Being that Brussels Airport is a major European hub, connecting flights to the rest of Europe are plentiful during the afternoon and transiting the airport is easy.
For my outbound flight, I sat in 1K of the Business Class cabin. For those of you not familiar with Brussels’ Business Class cabin, the seats alternate in a 1 seat / 2 seat configuration. Row 1 has a 1-2-1 configuration, row 2 is 2-1-2, row 3 is 1-2-1, row 4 is 2-1-2 and row 5 is 1-2-1. What I love about this cabin is that it caters equally to those traveling alone as well as those with a companion.
As you can see in the photos below, if you are traveling alone you get a fantastic amount of space.
I’ll have more on the Business Class and Economy Class cabins in an upcoming article focused on the aircraft. I was given permission to pre-board my return flight from Brussels to Washington DC and thanks to a fantastic flight crew, they gave me full access to the aircraft so that I could take photos of the cabins before boarding began.
As far as my flight was concerned, we boarded and departed as scheduled on a rainy Washington evening and I was looking forward to settling in for a comfortable 8 hours. The cabin was at full occupancy, but considering that I was sitting in 1K, it was hard for me to know we were full unless I made a conscious effort to stand up and look around.
Arriving at my seat, a pillow, blanket and amenity kit were already waiting. The amenity kit was decent and included the normal things you would expect from a Business Class kit. A nice patterned pouch with the ‘Brussels’ logo contained a toothbrush and toothpaste (Colgate), a Brussels pen, tissues, ear-plugs, socks and an eye mask.
The seat itself is extremely comfortable and folds down to a true flat 180 degree sleep mode. Additionally it comes with several very useful features including multiple USB power ports (near the seat back and on the IFE screen) along with a regular power outlet for both European and American style plugs and a headphone jack. Having more than one USB port definitely came in handy for me and my gadgets. For additional comfort, the seat includes a massage mode that circulates a massaging pulse throughout the seat. A dimmable gooseneck LED lamp is available for additional lighting. It’s one of the most comfortable Business Class seats that I’ve had the opportunity to experience.
Before take-off the crew had time to pass out 2 rounds of pre-departure beverages. Options included Champagne, Orange Juice and Still or Sparkling Water. Since Business Class boarded first, there was ample time to do this since it would take some time to board the economy cabin. It’s not often that a crew would have time to come around twice with beverages.
Approximately 30-45 minutes after take-off the cabin crew began the flight’s main meal service which included beverage, appetizer and main course rounds. Aside from the normal soft drinks, juice and beer options Brussels had an impressive wine list available to Business Class passengers. According to the Menu, Brussels Airlines has earned Global Traveler’s award for Best International Business Class Wines Selections for 2012 and 2013.
The wine list for my flight:
Laurent-Perrier Brut was offered as the Champagne for the flight.
De Kluizen Kerner 2010, a Belgian wine that very much reminded me of a Riesling.
Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques Clos de Loyse – a Chardonnay from Burgundy.
Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2011– from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.
Chateau La Grangere Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2009 – A Bordeaux from the Saint-Emilion region of France.
Bogle Petite Sirah 2010 – A medium-bodied Red from California.
Not being a sommelier by any stretch of the imagination, I took a crew member’s advice and tried the De Kluizen Kerner 2010. I did not regret my decision. I may have been responsible for helping a bottle empty itself.
Cocktail options included Glenlivet 12, Johnny Walker Black Label, Jim Beam, Smirnoff, Campari, Gordon’s Dry Gin, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Camus VS Elegance Cognac, Croft Port 10 Year, Cointreau and Calvados Pear Brandy. In addition to these options, Brussels offers a Monthly Cocktail Special from Caipi One and will vary based on seasonal availability of certain fruits. Belgium’s Jupiler and Leffe were offered as the beers for the flight.
Dinner Service began with a very good 3-Salmon appetizer. The 3 pieces of Salmon consisted of Smoked Salmon, Salmon in a seafood infused pastry and raw Ahi style. Each of the 3 were unique to each other and equally delicious.
You’ll notice in the photo below that my tray already has dessert (Fresh Fruit Tart) and a Cheese Plate (Natural Rigid Dry Jack and Cambozola). The flight crew volunteered that they were serving desert and the cheese service with the main tray so that it would expedite meal service which would allow passengers to get to sleep earlier. I though this was a great idea and can see how it could save a fair amount of time, especially when passengers are ready to rest.
For our meal service we had 3 options for the Main Course including:
Pacific Short Ribs served with spinach mashed potatoes, grilled pineapple and red bell peppers.
Citrus Herb Cod accompanied by parslied Yukon potatoes, turned carrots and courgette.
Mushroom Ravioli with sauteed wild mushrooms, tomato cream source and steamed broccoli.
When the crew served Dinner, their cart had each of the 3 entrees on display so that a passenger can make a decision based on what they see. All too many times you don’t have the opportunity to actually see the meal before selecting it. I think most passengers appreciated the opportunity to see their options before making their decision.
Being a carnivore, I chose to go with the Pacific Short Ribs and I would not be disappointed. The meat was tender and NOT overcooked. The addition of the pineapple and red peppers really helped sweeten up what is otherwise a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of meal. I was very happy with my choice.
Dinner service from beginning to end lasted approximately one hour and the crew did a fantastic job of catering to passenger needs. They were constantly in the cabin offering beverage refills, additional bread and making themselves readily available to help us. In summary, it was a fantastic meal service. Good food, excellent crew!
During dinner I started to explore the Inflight Entertainment System (IFE) and was impressed with the selections. As far as movies and television shows were concerned, there are 75 unique options loaded in the Brussels IFE server and dozens upon dozens of Audio options. Even the flight map was impressive with a 3d-like display that would continuously show you where you were and what major attractions were nearby as you flew overhead. The flight map was one of the most advanced that I’ve seen so far in my travels. Additionally, with Brussels’ IFE, it is functional during take off and landing which adds about an hour to your viewing time. This allows you to nearly squeeze in an extra movie.
The IFE display itself is approximately 15 inches and will remind passengers of an iPad or similar tablet turned on its side. The only issue that I had with the screen is that due to it having a shiny surface, there is a fair amount of glare and reflection in the screen. This would solve itself when cabin lights dimmed however a simple fix would be for an anti-glare cover to be placed on the screen. Another feature of the screen is that it is touch sensitive so you do not need to use a remote in order to make your selections.
After dinner I thought that I could stay up for a period of time and watch a movie or two, but taking into account dinner and a few glasses of wine, the sandman would have no problem lulling me to sleep. As I mentioned earlier, the seat folds down to a flat 180 degrees which makes it very easy to get comfortable. The seat itself was easily large enough for my 5′ 11″ frame and I had no issues getting comfortable and falling asleep fairly quickly.
I was able to get about 3 hours worth of sleep and woke up when we were about 2 hours outside of Brussels. Breakfast service started about 1.5 hours before arrival and two options were available including a plate of Croissants, fresh fruit and Yogurt as well as an egg omelet option. I typically am not a big fan of breakfast so I opted for the fruit, yogurt and croissant which hit the spot perfectly (and I don’t recall ever seeing bigger blackberries!)
After breakfast the crew began preparing the cabin for arrival and as is typical on overnight flights the cabin became quite a bit busier as everyone sorted themselves out and prepared for landing.
In summary, I was VERY impressed with Brussels’ Business Class product. The hard product (seats, aircraft, etc) was fantastic and in excellent condition. It was perhaps one of the cleanest aircraft that I’ve been on.
The flight crew was as equally outstanding. The crew was extremely friendly and you could tell they genuinely were enjoying their time during the flight. I sensed that they had the ability to adapt to a passenger’s ‘style’ and knew how to deliver personalized service to each of us regardless of whether you were a seasoned intercontinental traveler or if it was your first time across the pond. I say this because I observed the purser take his time to help explain customs/immigration and baggage claim to a couple who had never been to Europe. He walked them through every step of the process and it was easy to see the passenger’s relief after all was said and done.
It is flights with crews like this that I absolutely love. I’ve flown in a few first and business class cabins with Asian carriers and each time I felt like the crew had to follow a very specific process or script when executing their role. Personally, this makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because it’s difficult for me to be ‘acted’ upon in that way. I come away from those flights thinking that I was part of a process whereas with Brussels, I felt that the crew was genuinely happy to have me on board and adapted to my ‘style’ as a passenger.
I have found this time and time again with Lufthansa Group airlines. Perhaps this has more do to with cultural differences between Asian and European carriers and their perception of a customer service model and training. It may also have to do with my Eastern European heritage and my perceptions about what is ‘ideal’ hospitality so I may be a bit too subjective on the topic, but I digress.
Simply put, I would recommend Brussels Airlines to any one who is considering traveling to Europe or Africa from the USA.
I’ll share my thoughts on my return flight in a couple of days……