Flight Review: Aer Lingus (757) Business Class From Washington, D.C. to Dublin
Ever since the new Aer Lingus business-class product was announced last year, we've been looking forward to testing it out. While the airline installed the same seats on its A330s and 757s, only the 757s offer the opportunity for four smart/lucky passengers to end up with a "throne" seat in their own row on a flight across the Atlantic thanks to the aircraft's staggered (1-1 / 2-2) lie-flat seating arrangement.
Because Aer Lingus isn't technically part of a major airline alliance — although it might re-join Oneworld soon — there are several ways to book award flights. One of the best options is to use British Airways Avios for nonstop flights between the US and Ireland — although Aer Lingus "moved" Boston (BOS) and Dublin (DUB) further apart in order to charge higher redemption rates, you can still book flights with British Airways Avios using off peak rates, which opens up a slew of new sweet spots to choose from.
Nonstop flights from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to DUB cost 50,000 British Airways Avios to fly one-way in business class on off-peak dates — or 60,000 Avios one-way on standard dates. An even better option is to use Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, which is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You Points and Starwood Preferred Guest. Using the Asia Miles distance-based chart, the nonstop flight from IAD-DUB costs just 45,000 miles. However, I needed to keep going to Berlin once I got to Dublin on this trip, so I needed to book flights all the way through to TXL. In the end, I burned 70,000 United MileagePlus miles for this one-way business class flight since I was booking a more complicated route on such short notice.
I'd purposely built a long enough layover in Dulles (IAD) so I could exit security and check out the Aer Lingus check-in desk (I was flying in from Texas at the time). When I arrived 3.5 hours before my flight was scheduled to depart, the desk was well-staffed, but there wasn't another passenger in sight. Airline representatives seemed to be taking advantage of this slow period to train some of the new agents, so my check-in process ended up being slow regardless. Since Aer Lingus isn't a TSA PreCheck participating airline, I then had to wait on a frustratingly long standard TSA security line to get back to airside.
Though Aer Lingus partners with British Airways for lounge access, I was eager to pay another visit to the Turkish Airlines lounge that was just added to the Priority Pass network. This lounge had been practically empty during my previous visits, but it seems that word has gotten out about how good it is. While I originally meant to spend the rest of my layover checking out each lounge, I ended up staying at the Turkish Airlines one until it was time for me to board.
It might seem small when you first enter, but there's more to the lounge than meets the eye. The front area has (delicious) hot food, computer workstations, a wall of TVs and a variety of seating options. Head toward the expansive windows and down the hallway to the back section of the lounge, which has the bar and some more seating areas.
Between the two sections, you'll find the bathrooms, a prayer area and a single shower stall. I took advantage of the opportunity to freshen up before my transatlantic flight — note that the shower room doesn't have a good place to store your carry-on luggage.
About an hour before my flight, I realized it said on my boarding pass that the gate would close 45 minutes prior to departure. While this seemed very strange, I didn't want to risk it, so I packed up and rushed over to the gate, arriving 50 minutes before we were scheduled to leave. Five minutes later, business-class passengers were welcomed to board the plane.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one freaked out about the possibility of missing the flight. From my seat, 1A, I spotted several passengers rushing onto the aircraft, panting from what was likely a run through the terminal — the flight attendant who greeted them was kind enough to hand these mostly economy passengers a bottle of water to help them re-hydrate after a bit of pre-flight exercise. It turns out none of the rushing was necessary, as there was a problem with one of the lavatories requiring maintenance attention and the flight didn't end up pushing back until 38 minutes after the scheduled departure time.
Seat and Cabin
I booked this flight specifically so I could check out one of the solo seats (1A, 1F, 3A, 3F), and it was just as good as I hoped it would be. Having almost half the width of a 757 all to yourself allows you quite a bit of space to spread out in. (On the flip side, the two-seat pairings seemed a little snug).
On the solo seats, Aer Lingus doesn't let the extra space go to waste. The area between the seat and the window is filled with various storage options — from a basket to store your phone and other small items to a "literature only" spot that's a convenient place to store your laptop during taxi, takeoff and landing.
And the storage didn't stop there. The solo seats also have a compartment that's large enough to hold almost any other individual items you might want to have with you during the flight. I was able to stow my laptop, chargers, camera, phone, passport, menus, amenity kit and external hard drive in here, with plenty of room to spare. Between the compartment and the seat, you'll find a reading light, a water-bottle holder, the seat controls, a universal power plug, a USB plug and a three-prong headphone plug.
Also hidden between the aisle and the seat is the tray table. While a bit awkward at first, I was impressed by how a large non-folding tray table was built into it like this.
The seat itself was quite comfortable, at least for a business-class seat in a staggered arrangement. While it's not the widest in the skies — each measures 21 inches — it does lie completely flat. Seatguru puts the pitch at 78 inches, and I was able to fit my 71-inch frame into the bed comfortably. Since there was no seat in front of mine, the foot well wasn't limited in size — others in the cabin might be a little more snug though.
One downside to the cabin experience was the cabin temperature, which was so warm I woke to find myself sweating.
The IFE system didn't have the widest selection, but it offered enough — especially for such a short flight. There were 45 movies to choose from, with a surprising variety, including Casablanca, Sex and the City, Fight Club, Snowden and Home Alone, among other titles.
There was a remote control built into the armrest, and in addition to some standard options, it also had a "navigator sensor," which you're supposed to use to navigate through the IFE screen. It seems Aer Lingus expected passengers to have trouble using it and built a guide into the IFE system to teach us how to use the tool — after attempting to use it for a little while, I gave up and just leaned forward to use the IFE's touchscreen to navigate instead.
Each seat came with a set of plastic-wrapped three-prong noise cancelling headphones, which provided solid-quality sound and did a decent job of blocking out excess noise.
Food and Beverage
The food and drink menus were handed out as we boarded the plane — there was no pre-departure beverage offered. And for those of you who are wondering, no, Aer Lingus doesn't serve Guinness on board. Instead, there's Heineken. However, if you're looking for a taste of Ireland in alcohol form, you can order Magners Irish Cider.
The food service began 30 minutes after takeoff, with a trio of mini-starters: a slice of meat, artichoke hearts and olives. From the slim (five choices) wine list, I tried the Jean Pernet Tradition Brut NV Champagne. The bubbles were a wonderful way to settle into the business-class service.
Given the choice of "Seared filet of beef," "Seared breast of chicken" or "Poached lemon sole," I decided to see how well Aer Lingus would do serving beef. On other airlines, I've had it come undercooked and completely dry, so this seemed to be a good way to test the quality of its food service — and I was pleasantly surprised. While more medium-well than I would prefer, the beef was wonderfully juicy and yet still cooked all the way through. The accompanying salad was fresh and the roll was warm, but just a little hard.
After the main dishes were collected, passengers were given the choice of a "Raspberry tart" or a cheese board. I chose the cheese board, which consisted of fruit, cheese and crackers, complemented by a sweet port wine.
After dinner was collected, the flight attendant placed a basket of self-serve snacks in front of seat 1A.
For the sake of this review, I chose to be awakened for breakfast (most of the others in business class opted to remain asleep). However, there was a moderate bit of turbulence shortly after breakfast was served, sort of a rude alarm clock for anyone trying to sleep. Since I was one of the only people having breakfast, the flight attendant left the cabin lights off. Breakfast consisted of a refreshing "fruit skewer," a slightly-warmed "Irish bacon roll" and a muffin.
Amenity kits were stocked along with the IFE headphones in the under-IFE storage pocket. Inside, you'll find a eye mask, socks, earplugs, mouthwash, hand cream, lip balm, a small toothbrush and toothpaste.
Each seat was also stocked with a large foam pillow. Shortly after takeoff, blankets were handed out as well.
The business-class bathroom was plain and didn't offer any amenities besides bottles of "body wash" and "hand moisturizer."
The small business-class cabin was served by one flight attendant, but she was all that was needed. Despite the fact that she'd worked for Aer Lingus for 20 years, she mentioned (when we chatted) that this was just her second time working on this particular aircraft. Throughout the flight itself, she was friendly, professional and prompt. Service never felt hurried or overbearing. Early in the flight, passengers were individually asked if they wanted to be woken up for breakfast or wished to stay asleep.
She was a force to be reckoned with in handling passengers and other crew — even through some trying situations. When one of the passengers took a seat in the economy exit row, the flight attendant was understanding, but firm, in re-seating him. Others arriving at the aircraft door panting from running through the airport were warmly welcomed with a bottle of water. One passenger arrived sobbing about having just lost a parent — the flight attendant re-seated her in an empty row to give her more space to mourn. Even the delay due to the lavatory issue was handled well, with passengers given updates throughout the entire situation, as well as an apology once we'd arrived in Dublin.
There were a couple of annoyances though. As seems to be common on international carriers where I'm friendly to the crew, I was asked to fill out a survey about my experience. For better or worse, the task was moot after we hit turbulence during breakfast and the form took the brunt of my spilled coffee.
Just a little over three hours hours after the lights were turned off — about 5.5 hours after takeoff — they were switched back on for our arrival. However, it would still be another 40 minutes until we landed in Dublin. Due to our delayed departure, we ended up arriving 22 minutes late.
Aer Lingus had delicious food, great service and a solid hard product. However, this flight is too short to really take it all in — the early arrival time is convenient for onward connections or if you need to arrive in Dublin in time for a morning meeting.
If I were to take this exact flight again, I'd order the express meal option and head to bed immediately afterward to try to get a few more hours of sleep. Given the choice, I'd book business class on this flight in the other direction (DUB-IAD), so I could enjoy the service, food and entertainment for the entirety of the flight.
Have you flown in business class on Aer Lingus' 757? Tell us about your experience, below.
All images by the author.