Hot Cabin, Cold Service: LOT Premium Economy (787-8) From Chicago to Warsaw
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What's the best premium-economy experience to Europe, especially when you don't have enough points for business class but just can't deal with another long-haul flight in economy? It's not an easy question to answer, but it's what I had in mind when I flew LOT Polish Airlines. LOT currently flies 20 weekly flights from the United States to its hub in Warsaw (WAW) using its fleet of Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners:
- New York (JFK): 6x weekly, increasing to 1-2x daily from late March to late October
- Chicago O'Hare (ORD): 6x weekly, increasing to 1x daily from late March to late October
- Newark (EWR): 4x weekly, increasing to 5x weekly only in April before returning to 4x weekly in May
- Los Angeles (LAX): 4x weekly, increasing to 6x weekly from April through October
Looking for the best way to try out LOT Polish Airlines, I first checked out the points-and-miles options, but I wasn't able to find any available LOT premium-class awards for any dates. Per a footnote on the awards chart, LOT premium economy was supposed to be available for 37,500 Miles and More miles one-way. But I couldn't redeem these awards online, and a Miles and More agent was unable to find any dates with availability.
Theoretically, I could've redeemed 45,000 Aeroplan miles for a Star Alliance premium-economy award from the continental US to what Aeroplan calls its "Europe 2" region, but, again, I couldn't find any dates with premium-economy award availability.
So that left me to book the flight with cash. Thankfully, LOT priced its premium-economy product reasonably — even for last-minute, one-way international tickets. From Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to Amsterdam (AMS) via Warsaw (WAW), the premium-economy flight cost $1,314 one-way when I purchased it 11 days before departure. I paid for the ticket with my Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x Membership Rewards points on the airfare — in total I earned 6,570 MR points for the purchase, which are worth approximately $125 according to TPG's latest valuations.
I landed in ORD's Terminal 3 on a separate American Airlines ticket and — after using my Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard to enjoy the Admirals Club for a few hours — took the bus over to ORD's international Terminal 5. The LOT check-in desk was on the far right of the terminal. There were three check-in lines: Business class (including Star Alliance Gold elites), premium class (including Star Alliance Gold elites) and economy class. There was no one waiting in either the business- or premium-class lines.
The check-in agents waiting around for premium- and business-class passengers were friendly, asking if I got their good side when I was taking photos of the check-in area. The agent working on checking me in recognized my Star Alliance Gold status, checked my bag through to AMS, then invited me to go to the lounge and wait there for a LOT representative to invite me to board; she said that there was no need to head to the gate before that.
There was a problem, though: She didn't mention which lounge to use. Using the signage outside the lounge, I figured out that LOT contracted with the Air France/KLM lounge. What if I didn't have Star Alliance Gold status? Well, anyone with a Priority Pass membership could've used this lounge.
The lounge was small but fairly well-stocked with fresh food and a variety of drinks. After working for a bit, I ignored the check-in agent's recommendation to stay in the lounge and headed to the gate to stake out my place as first to board so I could get clean photos for this review.
According to the LOT signs, there was one zone for business class, premium class and Star Alliance Gold elites and another for economy. But there was a third zone, which I figured out by noticing the confused Zone 3 passengers wandering around looking for where to line up.
We were told just 12 minutes before the scheduled departure that the flight was delayed, and we ultimately ended up pushing back 45 minutes late. If I hadn't been looking to board absolutely first, I might've opted to wait in the lounge, as business-class passengers and Star Alliance elites were allowed to board the aircraft from a door connecting the Air France/KLM lounge to the gate. This boarding process was just starting as I hurried down the jet bridge to board first.
Cabin and Seat
My first impression of LOT's premium-class cabin was that it didn't feel modern. Although the aircraft we were flying on was less than four years old, the premium-economy seats and cabin felt much older than that.
The seats were arranged in a 2-3-2 seating arrangement. Seats measured 20 inches between armrests. The middle armrests measured 6 inches wide, allowing enough elbow space for both passengers.
Pitch measured just 37 inches, which was especially tight given the thick seats.
There was very little storage space in these seats. Only a 10-inch-wide seatback pocket provided any sort of storage space.
In the armrest between seats was a two-prong headphone jack, a USB power outlet and a universal power outlet for each seat.
Each premium-class seat had a leg rest; non-bulkhead seats had a footrest that folded down from the seat in front. It didn't seem particularly comfortable to me at first, but the combination of the leg rest, enough recline and firm headrest wings helped me sleep well between meal services.
The cabin was very warm. Topping out at 81 degrees Farenheit in the middle of the flight, the cabin was at least in the high 70s throughout the flight. While the temperature was uncomfortably warm, the humidity was great. According to my hygrometer, the humidity didn't drop below 13% the whole flight, generally ranging between 15% and 25%. While that's similar to desert humidity, it was much better than I've experienced on other aircraft — even Dreamliners — leaving me much less dry than on a typical flight.
While some Dreamliner windows only turn a dark blue, darkness wasn't an issue on this flight. At their darkest, the windows were totally black.
The in-flight entertainment was subpar on LOT's 787-8. The airline didn't install Wi-Fi on these aircraft, so you were limited to what you brought on board, or the provided IFE system for entertainment.
LOT had a bulky 10.5-inch touchscreen that stored in the middle armrests. Since this system wasn't in the seatback of the seats in front, the IFE screen had to be stowed during takeoff and landing. Flight attendants directed passengers to stow these screens about 30 minutes before landing, leaving us without entertainment for the descent.
You'd think that the bulkiness of the screen implied a wide variety of content to choose from, but that wasn't the case. The entertainment options were limited, with only a few categories of movies and TV shows. While there were 24 individual episodes of TV dramas, some categories had just one entertainment option. For example, there was just one 30-minute show for sports, an entertaining history of the Winter Olympics.
TV shows and movies began with two commercials. At least most of them did. A couple of movie selections I tried would only play the two commercials before sending me back to the menu without playing the movie.
Simple earbuds were provided. While of decent quality for earbuds, they felt cheap for a premium-economy product.
The IFE system was easily controlled by the touchscreen, which was well within reach, but an IFE remote was also located in the lower part of the armrest. Although the remote was stored in the armrest near my thigh, I didn't have any issues with my leg accidentally pressing up against it.
The service from flight attendants was consistent but far from friendly. Service felt obligatory, as if the crew were simply going through all the required actions. Drinks and meals were served and dishes collected without any pleasantries.
One example of this cold service came when I was looking for a bathroom after we reached cruising altitude. With economy directly behind the premium-economy cabin and a galley ahead of the cabin, I first checked the forward galley for a bathroom. The flight attendants, annoyed, told me, "There's no toilet here," and waved me away to find the bathroom on my own.
At boarding, seats were stocked with a plastic-wrapped blanket, plastic-wrapped floral pillow, plastic-wrapped earbuds and a small plastic-wrapped amenity kit. In addition, a bottle of water was in the pocket in front of each seat.
I tried to use the pillow for lumbar support, but the pillow compressed easily, so it didn't provide much support. The blanket wasn't necessary in the warm cabin, but the water definitely came in handy for keeping me hydrated.
The amenity kit was small and felt cheap, but it provided the basics. There was a pair of socks, a plastic-wrapped simple eye mask, plastic-wrapped earplugs and a collapsible toothbrush with toothpaste.
Food and Beverage
While IFE and service were lacking, LOT provided solid food and beverage.
During boarding, welcome drinks were served from a tray. Water, orange juice and prosecco were available in LOT-branded glasses, accompanied by a moist towelette. During our long taxi to the runway, flight attendants handed out printed premium-class menus that appeared to be a standardized menu for all of LOT's US routes.
Shortly after the seatbelt sign was turned off, flight attendants completed a warm towel service and then launched right into drinks and snacks. Water, juices, sodas, beer, wine and liquor were all served alongside packages of peanuts and pretzels.
I didn't have much time to enjoy those snacks, though, as dinner was served less than 15 minutes later. I had roast duck with vegetables and mustard dressing; lettuce with grapes and feta cheese; herb-roasted chicken with steamed asparagus, quinoa and a demi-glace; and a brownie with walnuts.
The salad was a solid start accompanied by a lemon vinaigrette. The chicken was well-seasoned and mostly well-cooked, but it was a bit on the tough side, and the quinoa served on the same plate didn't reheat well. Passengers were invited to reach into a bread basket to pull out a roll rather than the flight attendant pulling it out and serving it, which came off a bit unsanitary.
LOT-branded metal silverware was wrapped in a LOT-emblazoned cloth napkin. Between the metal silverware and the thick plates, the meal tray was quite heavy even after the meal was consumed. Similarly, the mugs for coffee and tea were thick and heavy. While probably not great for aircraft weight, these gave the feeling you were actually sitting in a premium class.
For breakfast, I got the plate of fresh fruit (cantaloupe, watermelon, blueberries) and strawberry yogurt. There was also a plate of what the menu described as smoked duck with potatoes and baby carrots, but there were no carrots to be found. The duck wasn't bad, but the potatoes seemed almost pickled. Again for breakfast, passengers were welcomed to reach into a basket of rolls to select their own.
Your priorities really determine whether or not you'll enjoy flying LOT Polish Airlines premium class. If you're looking to sleep for much of the flight in a sizable recliner chair with a solid meal before and after you sleep, LOT Premium Class will serve those needs. If you value service and/or a good entertainment system, you're likely going to be disappointed. If you need to stay connected, the lack of Wi-Fi makes this a no-go. And if you can't stand a warm cabin, you might want to look to another carrier.