Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. It could be the unexpected. Or maybe just a tiny adjustment or addition. It could even be something most would deem insignificant, until you consider it.
How did it come about? Someone must have given thought to a process for the intent of improvement, regardless how big or small. Today's flight from Chicago to Vienna on Austrian Airlines had something that might seem insignificant, but made me appreciate how hard this airline is working to make flying a better experience.
A clothespin. A tiny clothespin. How often has a sudden bump turned into a stain on your shirt when trying to consume food or beverage at 36,000 feet? Sure airlines have napkins with button holes, but what if you don’t have a button? With Austrian simply use the tiny clothespin to secure the napkin to your shirt or blouse. Simple. Brilliant.
My second flight on Austrian reaffirmed the fondness I've acquired for this airline. Are they perfect? No. But the detail and effort make up for any deficiencies. And those deficiencies, in my opinion are minor, simply relating to a sparse amenity kit and some nitpicking on the seating legroom. I'll trade those issues for a comfortable seat and two outstanding meals on an 8 hour flight any day.
Before the flight I tweeted:
It turns out one would expect to have the meal I enjoyed at a restaurant where you need to make a reservation. Having experienced hundreds of airline meals in all classes over my million plus mile flying history, two meals now stand out. A breakfast on EVA Air and this dinner on Austrian.
Having flown Austrian’s 767 from VIE-ORD in March I wanted to try their 777 cabin at some point. With an existing reservation on United to Europe, I found an Austrian flight from ORD to VIE on the same day. It was an easy switch, even though my UA flight was in Global First I had no regrets.
Austrian uses the Swiss lounge at ORD terminal 5. The facility is extremely small with a limited food and beverage selections. No reason to go early for this one.
ORD boarding is always hectic, this flight was no exception. We entered the Boeing 777 on time. (Memories of CX first class ORD-HKG route in the background!)
Being a 777 the cabin is obviously roomier than on the 767. With higher ceilings it was less claustrophobic for sure. The major difference in cabin layout are the window seats. On the 767 it is a single seat where the side table alternates against the aisle or against the window. The 777 makes use of the “throne” seating and has dual seats against the window in some rows.
Seat: Throne seating is where one row has two seats against the window separated by a side table then the row behind having one seat and a side table on either side. So the number of seats in a row alternates, 2x1x2 etc. The throne with 2 side tables makes for a very spacious area to work. The seats themselves throughout the cabin are the same. The center section there are two seats separated by a side table and offset to the row in front as well as being staggered for privacy.
While Seatguru has 1A marked yellow for caution, it doesn’t appear much traffic or galley noise affects this area. Most aisle traffic is on the right side where the front and mid galleys connect. In the back of the front cabin, while 7 A/K are secluded they are really close to the galleys and even the flight attendant commented to me that these seats should be avoided if possible..
The Vantage seat is a great seat in my opinion. Very comfortable. However the seat control is on the upper corner of the armrest/side table (as shown below with the red square). Resting your arm can easily press one of the seat control buttons. Seems this could have been thought out a little better.
Magazine pouch and water bottle holder. (Throne seats have 2 pouches and 2 water bottle holders.)
Amenity Kit pouch, electrical outlet, USB charger and audio jack. Take the amenity kit out and use the pouch for your phone.
Storage areas on either side of footwell at floor level. For shoes?
Sleep: As mentioned in my Austrian 767 report, the footwell is somewhat narrow. The 777 seat has the same width for the footwell, but underneath at the back it opens allowing for your foot to rotate more than the 767. While a great improvement, the opening is still rather small.
A pillow and duvet are provided. Using duty free shopping you can purchase a new duvet for $50 euros if you like it.
Amenities: A standard fare amenity kit is provided. Also the supplied headphones have a disposable ear cover which is a nice sanitary feature.
Time to get down to business: Drink Selections: Austrian features local wines adding to the native Austrian culture they strive to replicate. Last time I had the Trilogie. This time the Burgenland. Verdict? Both!
The dinner selections were included in the bound menu while the breakfast menu was passed out on a separate page with your selections required before departure.
Meals/Presentation: Care was taken with place settings. Notice the different linens, a more formal white for dinner and livelier red checkered cloth for breakfast.
After being offered a drink and served some warm nuts the meal began with trolley service. The trolley is a cart covered in white linen making it look like a restaurant serving cart. It's not a standard airline cart wheeled down the aisle as you will see on the SAS review.
You had your choice of smoked salmon or caesar's salad along with Frittatensuppe, which is a simple beef consommé and thinly sliced pancake. Yes, like the pancake you might make for breakfast. It was surprisingly good. I chose the smoked salmon carpaccio. It was a generous portion of smoked salmon that was unbelievably good, slightly sweet yet salty. I could have had a larger version of this for dinner. (And little did I know in 24 hours I was to have another salmon appetizer that just as good if not even better!)
I choose the filet of beef for dinner knowing full well how beef typically turns out on a plane. Don't tell Austrian you can't make a tender, perfectly cooked filet of beef on a plane. This was a meal you would have gladly paid $30-$40 for in a fancy restaurant. The potato terrine was perfectly cooked and the red pepper coulis was delicious as well as the sesame soya sauce complimenting the meat perfectly without overpowering flavor. Add in tender crisp asparagus and you wonder, how did they do that?
Next up dessert. Again using a trolley you had choices of fruits, cheeses, sorbet, bread pudding and portfolios. The hardest part of the flight for me was to tell the flight attendant to only give me a small portion.
Now for the Vienna Coffeehouse.
A creature of habit I choose the Franziskaner again. Why mess with success?
Exactly 90 minutes prior to landing breakfast service started with a choice of smoothies. I chose the berry. Your choices for breakfast were then served as well as a selection of breads. The eggs were freshly cooked.
I simply can't image having two better meals on an airplane.
IFE: This is the same system as on the 767. While the monitor itself is brilliant and the system is easy to control, the selection of entertainment this time around was not very diverse. Having flown 2 months prior some of the selections remained, such as the PilotEye video. Movie selection was fair. When a 52 year old movie, as outstanding as it is (Bond’s Goldfinger, is the best you can find either your movie interests are poor or the selections are weak. In my case it may be the former so I’ll reserve judgement.
WiFi: Austrian does not have WiFi which may be an issue for some.
Crew: I was not as impressed with this crew. It’s not that they were deficient in their duties in anyway, or not friendly or aloof. It just seemed the service was rushed. Dinner was served in rapid fire succession. While this serving style may have been planned due to it being an overnight flight, departure was at 4:30PM so dinner at a little after 5 was early.
Aircraft: The aircraft was a 777-200ER, tail number OE-LPC, the Dream of Freedom aircraft. It is a 14 year old plane originally delivered to Lauda Air. You couldn’t tell it’s age from the looks of the interior as it was immaculate.
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