Air Europa Business Class Review JFK-MAD: My Very Low Expectations Were...Met
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For my summer Delta Skymiles award to Spain and Mauritius, I decided to start the trip off with a brand new carrier: Air Europa. If you've never heard of them, well, that's pretty normal. They are a Madrid-based Skyteam carrier that has limited transatlantic service from Madrid to New York JFK and Miami.
As I wrote about on Sunday, I love all things Madrid, so I decided it would be a fun way to start my trip and get me prepared for 12 days in Spain before continuing on to Mauritius. Delta also had low level award availability for JFK to Madrid on their lie-flat 767-400 aircraft, but since I recently flew their 777LR from Los Angeles to Haneda (and loved it), I decided I'd try something different, even though I knew the physical seat on Air Europa would be much less comfortable and the only things I've read in the limited online reviews available is that Air Europa is ... well, let's just say they're not a top-tier carrier. Oh the things I do for good blog fodder! Bear with me as I relate my mediocre flight experience, and let me know if you've had similar experiences.
One of the great things about Air Europa is that they have pretty incredible award availability. You can check it using Expertflyer.com and I've found that they have 4+ seats available almost every day on many of their routes. Since all partner award availability is at the low level, this is a great way to get cheap Delta awards (100,000 miles for business class roundtrip to Europe, 60,000 for coach - even during peak seasons). However, there is a fuel surcharge, so expect to pay roughly $200 in fees for an Air Europa transatlantic award versus about $50 on Delta. If you have the option, definitely choose Delta.
Air Europa is based out of terminal 4 at JFK, which is one of my favorite airline terminals. Its not my favorite because it's the most cutting edge, but I love it because it's the quintessential international terminal serving all sorts of exotic carriers including Air India, El Al, Are Lingus, Aerosvit, Royal Air Maroc, Singapore, Royal Jordanian, Avianca, Etihad, KLM, Uzbekistan Airways, South African, and more. There's just something about entering the huge terminal and spotting the groups of different passengers huddling together - I always try to figure out which airlines each group of people is flying.
I also like the Oasis Lounge, which offers speculator plane watching and pretty decent food and beverages. As an Air Europa business class customer I was given a paper invitation, but I also had free entry for having a Priority Pass Select membership, courtesy of my American Express Platinum Card.
How It All Started
However, before I hit the lounge I checked-in, which began my (head-scratching) experience as an Air Europa "premium" passenger. There were no clearly marked business class check-in lines, but when I handed the security agent at the entrance of the check-in line my passport, she asked if I was business class and let me through a closed-off line to a poorly marked business class check-in counter. The single agent was working hard checking two passengers in and I waited for about 10 minutes as most coach passengers got checked in more quickly than me. That always bothers me and I had a similar experience with Cathay Pacific at Vancouver recently (a full trip report on that experience to come). What is the point of a "premium" check-in lane if it takes longer to check in than any other lane?
Once I finally got to the agent, I asked him to seat me in a seat that preferably had no one next to it (if possible) and in the center row. For overnight red-eyes, I like sitting in the two-seat middle section so I don't have to climb over anyone to use the restroom. The agent played dumb and told me it was a packed flight, when I knew otherwise, but I let it go. He did mention row 4 was empty, but that was generally for company VIPs and friends of the pilot. Seriously? I ended up with an aisle seat in row 3's middle section and went on my way to the Oasis Lounge.
The Oasis Lounge
The only issue with the Oasis Lounge is that it's at the far left corner of Terminal 4 and it's located land-side, which means you need to go through security to get to your flight. While T4 security is usually under control (and they do have a premium lane which is usually policed), it always makes me nervous to cut it close. I'd much rather have a lounge that is plane-side, so you can leave with just enough time to board your plane. I got some light snacks and worked on some blog posts, before giving myself about 50 minutes until departure to leave for the gate. I saw huge security lines and started to get nervous, but in the end I used the premium line to the far left and got through with plenty of time.
I had plenty of time because the plane, which was supposed to leave at 10:05pm, wouldn't start boarding until about 9:55pm. When boarding did commence, I was one of the first to board so I could snap some pictures since there are hardly any reports on the internet of Air Europa.
My first impression of the coach cabin on their A330 aircraft was that it looked pretty nice. Almost immediately, though, an angry flight attendant charged at me and yelled at me for taking a photograph. Wow, what a nice way to be welcomed on board! I know some airlines have that policy, but I've never personally run into it. I think it's ridiculous and it didn't stop me from taking more pictures, because frankly that was the entire reason why I was taking this flight, so I'd rather be kicked off and change my ticket (thanks to free Diamond award changes) than to be forced to fly a bad airline and not be able to blog about it with pictures.
Luckily the militant/having-a-bad-day flight attendant was "servicing" coach, so we had no other run-ins and no other flight attendant seemed to care about me taking pictures, though they were MIA for most of the flight, so they probably just didn't see.
The business class cabin was somewhat dated, though also clean. The seats are similar to the angled lie-flats on Air France and Delta's 747/A330 old World Business Class product. Not the newest seats, but better than cradle style super-old schools seats. Once I was seated, it was a good 20 minutes until a flight attendant spoke to me - or anyone else in business class. They seemed to be preparing the galley, and when a businessman asked the purser why we were late boarding, she just brushed him off and said "We will make it up in the air, sir." The man didn't seem happy with that answer, but let it slide.
The Flight Begins
As the boarding doors were being closed, pre-departure beverages were offered - either orange juice or water. I asked for champagne and the friendly flight attendant said "Sure!" and went to the galley. That was, until the purser, who must have sensed something happening, accosted me and asked what I ordered. When she found out the other flight attendant was going to get me champagne, she darted to the galley and put the kibosh on my order. Apparently they aren't allowed to serve alcohol until at cruise altitude. Now, I know there are rules about duty free/ liquor on the ground, but every airline I've been on in business/first offers a cocktail on the ground. Apparently not Air Europa.
I took a moment to look around, and noted that the business class cabin was probably 40% full, and the entire row 4 was empty. I guess the pilot didn't have any friends flying that day.
Once airborne, it took about 30 minutes for the flight attendants to emerge. Their first order of business was distributing customs forms. Seriously--couldn't that wait until prior to landing? Another 20 minutes passed and dinner service started. While I was waiting, I tried using the in-flight entertainment system, but it was not functioning--it was only an Air Europa commercial on repeat.
When I asked the flight attendant she stated they hadn't turned it on yet, because they hadn't handed out headphones yet. Soon thereafter I got a flimsy pair of non-noise canceling headphones that were reminiscent of the headphones that came with Walkmen in the early '90s. No thanks, I'll use my Bose (which also have the adapter, so you could have turned the IFE on an hour earlier). Once the system was turned on, they had a total of just 8 new-release movies to choose from. That didn't bother me too much because I don't tend to watch movies on the east-bound red-eye to Europe, but if I'd had a bout of insomnia, it would have been a bad situation.
I got handed an amenity kit by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (unique Spanish fashion designer), which was basic at best. The lotion and toothpaste did not have a brand - instead they just listed a factory address in China. Seriously.
On the Menu
After the headphones, I finally got a look at the menu, which seemed interesting enough. 90% of American would probably be repulsed at the thought of a White Anchovy Filet and Worcestershire sauce salad, but I thought that was pretty cool - at a very minimum, it would be a unique dining experience at 40,000 feet.
I ended up selecting the fish option which was "Emperor," which I had never heard of, but I believe is a snapper (though someone please correct me if I'm wrong).
The starter was nuts in a bag and kettle-cooked potato chips in a cup. I started with a glass of Cava, which tasted very sweet and cheap, so I switched to their marquee red, which was a 2008 Montebaco Crianza (Tempranillo grapes), which was actually pretty decent. The funny thing about the wine menu was that the main push was to get you to sign up for their wine club. The price of the cava was 6 bottles for 46 euros. I know that some of the best wines are not expensive, but $11 bubbly is pretty embarrassing for business class (in my humble opinion). Beyond the pricing, there were only 4 wines to chose from: The 2008 Montebaco Crianza, a 2008 Becquer Rioja (also Tempranillo), a 2010 Emina Verdejo from Rueda and the 2010 Parxet Brut Reserva Cava.
The first course was a medley of Serrano ham (my favorite), anchovies with chicory, and gazpacho from a carton poured directly at your seat. I love ham, so that was good. I personally wasn't in the mood for anchovies, so I passed on the salad, and the gazpacho was actually tasty and fresh. Not so bad.
Then came the entrees and I had chosen the fish, which looked nice and meaty. I had the choice of either carbonara or lemon sauce and I chose the latter, which ended up being really nice with the fish and risotto. Overall, the main course was actually very good - meaty, fresh (at least for airplane food) and not too salty, which is always a feat.
I had popped half a Lunesta at the beginning of the meal, and I started to get pretty drowsy by the end of the entree so I skipped dessert (though I took a picture of the tiramisu for the report) and made my bed using some extra pillows and blankets from surrounding empty seats. The seat turned into an angled lie-flat, so it was not the most comfortable, but the Lunesta did its trick and I was in la-la land before I knew it. I ended up waking up about 20 minutes before landing, so I missed breakfast as well, which is fine with me, because I generally hate airline breakfasts.
Landing was smooth and I was one of the first people off the plane and through customs in less than a minute (by the way Madrid customs is consistently the most laid back immigration/custom process - I love it). However, that didn't matter because my "priority tagged" checked bag was one of the last to come off the belt, which was just one last annoying way to end my experience with Air Europa. I guess based on how many horror stories with lost bags, I should just be happy I ended up getting my bag with nothing stolen out of it. In fact, when I told my Spanish friends I flew Air Europa, they said they were known for being bare bones, but allowed 2 checked bags (versus one on Iberia) so that's why they had a loyal following.
So in the end Air Europa was indeed no-frills, but it did the trick - it got me from point A to point B in safety and in relative comfort. Now that I've crossed them off the list, I'll probably never fly them again, but if I was in a jam and it was either fly them in business class or any other carrier in coach, I'd go Air Europa. Let's hope I'm never in that situation!