Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Adventures of Perry the Perroz Designs Shirt Part One: Toronto to St. Petersburg

Toronto to St. Petersburg with Austrian

This summer I flew to St Petersburg Russia for family business.  While I didn’t explore the city much this time, I did get to try a new business class product on the way over.  Austrian are part of the Lufthansa group of companies that include Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines, Austrian, and Swiss Air.  While I have flown Lufthansa transatlantic business class before I haven’t had any experience with Austrian but had heard a lot about the high quality of their catering which, along with the convenient routing, made the choice of flying them a no brainer.

My Routing was as follows:

Toronto – Vienna: 5:55pm – 7:55am

Layover in Vienna: 5 hours

Vienna – St. Petersburg: 12:50pm – 5:00pm

Austrian Long-Haul to Vienna

6:00pm is the beginning of transatlantic rush hour in Toronto as most European destinations are served from 6-8:00pm EST.  Because of that the Star Alliance Lounge in Toronto (The Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge) was pretty full.  Nevertheless, Perry and I found a seat to rest in between check-in and boarding.

I quite like the lounge in Toronto as it has a decent amount of room, provides real food of decent quality and has ample drink choices.  There is a wide variety of hard alcohol and usually four wine choices (two red and two white) plus some liqueurs and of course many non-alcoholic beverages.  When I first flew business class I would try to drink as many different drinks as possible because it was so cool to have all this stuff for free.  I’d eat everything that looked appealing to me and often felt that I needed to do everything possible in the lounge to get the full experience.  Now, after a few years of travelling in premium cabins I stick to a small pre-flight meal, usually a salad, and lots of water and juice.  Alcohol does dehydrate the body and in the dry environment of an airplane cabin that dryness is acutely felt.  With easy access to bathrooms I now overload on sparkling water to keep hydrated and to prevent overeating.

Austrian have forward facing seats in their long haul business class, which are quite comfortable, especially if you are on the smaller end of humanity as I am.  They have an air cushion under the seat and back that can adjust the firmness of the seat and can also provide a semblance of a massage.  (No airline seat I’ve ever been in provides an actual massage no matter what it says.)  The thing to watch out for, though, is the foot cubby.  Though it is reasonably roomy it still limits your leg mobility.  If you sleep on your back, no problem but if you sleep on your side it can get stuffy.  The form of the cubby also means that it cannot be used as storage during take off and landing, things simply slide out of it as I found out with my blanket.  The blanket itself is very nice, as is the pillow.  Both reasonably large and well padded.  Austrian also offers a sheet to put between you and the blanket, which is nice for anyone who may want that or for anyone who would like a very light cover to sleep under.

Perry settling down for the flight

A clearer view of the seat

Seat controls, they are easy to hit accidentally.

The foot cubby goes under the seat in front.

Blanket and pillow.  The sheet can be requested from the Flight Attendant

Another thing to note is the tray-table.  It pops out (pops being the key word there) from the armrest at the press of a button.  First thing to note is that the table comes out very quickly and if you have anything in front of it, it can get damaged.  The other thing to note its that it doesn’t swivel very well so be prepared to be stuck in your seat if you have the table out.   The nice thing is that Austrian seats have large areas beside the seat on which to put your belongings during the flight.  Single seats and the “inside” double seats have private areas while the “outside” double seats share their space with the second double seat.  Not a problem when travelling with someone you know but watch out for it when going alone. 

Closed storage space in general is at a premium with these seats.  There is a small shoe cubby along the floor, a magazine compartment under the tv screen, an open storage area with the amenity kit (more on that below) beside the seat back and a cup pocket along the side of the tv screen.  There is nothing besides that.  This means that you need to put all of your belongings away into the overhead bin for takeoff and landing.  To this end each seat has a personal bin that fits a full carry on and at least two large personal items. 

Shoe cubby, pretty much the only storage space available.

Seat incidentals include individual reading lights (but sadly no individual air nozzle),

Easily accessible power ports, 

A secondary set of seat controls when lying down (no pic because I forgot about these ones),

Austrian branded headphones. 


After spending some time looking like a fool as I took photos of everything around the seat (and as Perry relaxed), I calmed down and took a look through the In Flight Entertainment.  Right off the bat, it’s not as user friendly as Air Canada.  It took me a while to find the language settings, which was important, as someone had left Japanese as the default on my seat.  Strike one there.  Second, the movie and tv-show section were rather limited.  I’ve been spoiled by Air Canada and their very decent selection of movies, shows, and airshow options.  Strike two.  But I will say that their new movie selection was very good so I’ll let them have a hit there.  Plus, the FA went around at the start of the flight offering reading from a wide variety of magazines and newspapers so I was more than set for entertainment, and, to be honest, I was mostly looking forward to the food.

DO&CO.  They are the best thing about Austrian.  A high-end catering company they have a reputation for delicious food and they did not disappoint.  My photos do not do the dishes justice since I am bad at taking pictures and the cabin was dimmed for dinner, as this was an overnight flight.  Business class in general has decent food but DO&CO raise it to the level of a nice restaurant experience.  One of the wonderful things about their catering is that it is plated off a trolley letting you, the passenger, try small amounts of different foods if you so choose.  I love variety so this was right up my alley.  And, as I flew Turkish on the way home (at least party way), you’ll see a comparison in the companion post.

A very nice thing about DO&CO  is the service.  Unlike most business classes, the meal isn’t served on a tray but directly onto the table like in a real restaurant.  There is nothing wrong with the tray system but the Austrian service does feel nicer, more personalized and less like an assembly line. 

This is the menu for the leg to Vienna.

Pictures below blow up for ease of reading

And the Breakfast Card

I had both the soup and the prawns and they were delicious. 

Yes, I ate the soup before I remembered about taking a photo.

The zucchini and eggplant are from the gluten free plate

I almost always choose pasta for dinner on planes as it is hard to ruin pasta.  I will easily say that this was the best airplane pasta I’ve had, flavourful, and covered in mushrooms.  You can’t go wrong with mushrooms in Europe.

I got dessert wine that I ended up drinking about a quarter of.  It was delicious but I don't like drinking in the air.

A cool thing that Austrian does is have a fancy coffee service.  There is a separate menu for a variety of coffee drinks.  I had the Bailey's.  Sadly, this coffee, though I appreciate it with my mind, is lost on me taste wise as the only coffee I truly love is Turkish.  See that in the companion installment.

For some reason I decided to ask for breakfast instead of grabbing an extra hour of sleep.  Breakfast was ordered from a breakfast card at the beginning of the flight and I didn’t think to cancel my request or change it to just some tea and juice.  Instead I ended up with an omelette that I didn’t eat.  There were some hash browns, which were quite nice, and some fruit. 

Hash Browns hidden under the omlette.

Every full service airline I know gives amenity bags in Business class and Austrian is no exception.  The kit isn’t fancy (like Turkish for example) but it has everything you need for a comfortable flight.  Toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, extraordinarily comfortable eyeshades, earplugs, and some hand cream and lip balm.  While the contents of the kit are simple, the actual bag is quite interesting.  On inbound flights to Austria the airline provides shoe bags instead of the more traditional cosmetics bags given by most airlines.  This is genius as most people already have enough cosmetics bags, while shoe bags are always in high demand.  Sadly, the outbound bag they have (pictured on their site) is a simple cosmetics bag.  To me the better decision would be to have different coloured shoe bags or perhaps a packing cube instead of the standard cosmetics bag of which I have a whole stack at home.

The eye mask was the second best part after the actual bag.

Senator Lounge in Vienna, non-Schengen zone.

Vienna International Airport is a simple place to navigate.  It’s one long semicircle with multiple floors.  Gates go along either side of the building and the Schengen and non-Schengen areas are simply on different levels so you don’t need to pass passport control if you are just connecting between two non-Schengen destinations.   The lounges in the non-Schengen zone are easy to find, being simply on one end of the building.  For Star Alliance passengers there are three lounge options: the First-Class Lounge for first class passengers and Lufthansa Honour Circle members; the Senator Lounge for Lufthansa Senator and Star Alliance Gold members; and the Business Class Lounge for passengers travelling in business class on a Star Alliance carrier.  For some reason the LH group makes their Senator Lounges nicer than their business class lounges so off to the Senator lounge Perry and I went (the benefit of Gold status).  I seems it was the morning rush as when we came in there were very few seats available.  Luckily we snagged a booth as someone was leaving.

Perry relaxing after the flight.

While relaxing in a lounge between flights is nice, the best part of lounges is the shower.  There are few things nicer when flying long haul than touching down and taking a shower to wash off airplane funk.  Perry agrees as he went in with me.   The shower room in Vienna is very decent.  The shower gives consistent spray, there is enough counter space for toiletries and there is a towel heater on the wall to either warm up or dry your towel or clothes.  Perry seems to have been in need of a shower as well.

Perry taking a shower.

And drying off after.

For food options, the lounge is catered by DO&CO as well so the food was very good.  There was a wide selection of drinks, both alcoholic and not.  The food choices, though limited, were well selected with simpler breakfast items like croissants and cereal and a more ranged spread for lunch with soups, hot options and salads in addition to ever-present bread.

The thing to note in the lounge is the size.  It is quite small and during the rush (we witnessed two of them) it fills up and it can be hard to find space to sit.  It is also a good idea to ask for a shower straight away (if you plan on taking one) since there may be a waiting list.  This is not a destination lounge by any stretch of the imagination but it does what a lounge needs to do: it provides passengers with a place to rest between flight in relative quiet; shower; and have a bite to eat and drink. 

Austrian Intra – Europe to St. Petersburg

Austrian uses standard intra-Europe business class seats.  This means that the seats are the same as economy with the middle or side seat blocked “for your comfort”.  Business class is also provided with a nice meal and free drinks but that is it.  There is no reason to pay business class fares for this if you don’t have to.  It does get chosen automatically, though, if you are connecting from or to a business class seat on a long-haul flight.  I’ve flown Lufthansa intra-Europe economy before and the seats there were just as fine as those in Business and I was given a small snack on the flight as well as a drink. 

The intra-Europe flights also don’t have the full catering of the long-haul flights.  Nonetheless, Austrian managed to provide a very nice lunch for the business class passengers.  Though the whole thing was presented on a tray, there was still a tablecloth and full cutlery provided, along with a menu and a full drink cart.

Note the Russian on the menus to St. Petersburg.

This time I got the pasta because the salmon had run out.

Nicely served tonic water.

Besides the food, what I found best on the two Austrian flights was the warmth and pleasantness of the flight attendants.  These were people who clearly took pride in the product their company put out and they were truly glad that we enjoyed the food and the flight.  They joked around and chatted with the passengers, which I never expected from a European Airline. Would I fly Austrian again?  Yes, but they wouldn't be my first choice.  While the food was amazing, I'm not the biggest fan of seats with foot cubbies (as comfortable as they are for sitting) and sleeping comfort will always trump food.

P.S. For anyone wondering about the shirt thing: I'm doing it as a joke for a friend.  I told him I'd take pictures of his company's shirt all over the world.

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