A Thomas Cook Airbus A330 taxis by the Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Every few days, I tweet out another installment of my “airline you’ve (probably) never heard of before” series. For many of you reading this, Thomas Cook Airlines probably fits that description. Thomas Cook is not a new airline, or really even that small. But unless you are European and going on holiday, you probably have not come across Thomas Cook as an option before.
That is slowly changing, as Thomas Cook starts its transformation from a primarily holiday booking and charter operation to full-time scheduled airline alongside its sister airline Condor. This is a daunting challenge, nearly as difficult as starting up a new airline from scratch in some regards. The airline reached out to me to give me a look at how they are changing, and offered a review flight in its Premium Class product. My response to them, basically, was “you have a premium class product?” It does, and it is worth a closer look.
The Premium Class cabin on my Thomas Cook A330 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Before I continue, it’s important to convey that Thomas Cook is not competing with other airlines on a basis of lie-flat seats or posh lounges. What it brings to the table is a specific value proposition. Getting passengers from A to B in relative comfort for the lowest fare possible. The airline is often hundreds of dollars less than its competitors flying between New York and Manchester — the route that I flew.
I wouldn’t blame you if you were to say “save hundreds of dollars? The flight is probably crap, right?” It isn’t. In fact, flying between New York and Manchester, it’s one of the better options. The Thomas Cook intercontinental fleet operates using the Airbus A330, and each aircraft has recently been refurbished. Each A330 sports economy in a 2-4-2 configuration, not the squishy 3-3-3 you might have found in the past. Each seat has its own on-demand entertainment screen, complete with USB port to charge your own device. You won’t find either of those things on a certain U.S.-based airline also operating this route.
Qantas Airbus A330-200 aircraft now feature the upgraded business class cabin – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
Over the last 18 months, Qantas has been progressively upgrading their business class product on their Airbus A330-200 aircraft. The new business suites bring the product in line with the ever-increasing trend of direct aisle access for all business class passengers, as well lie flat beds — a first for Qantas on the domestic market. The upgraded A330-200 cabins are configured with 28 lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration that can remain in the recline position during takeoff and landing.
It has been quite some time since I last had the opportunity to fly domestically in business class with Qantas, and with my annual trip to Australia, I thought I would burn some Qantas frequent flyer points to check out their new business suites on the popular Sydney-Melbourne route, a very short 95-minute flight.
Virgin Atlantic’s “Golden Girl” Airbus A330 – Photo: Alastair Long
I recently flew Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick (LGW) to St. Lucia (UVF). It was a first-time experience for me, both flying the airline and riding on an Airbus A330-300. The flight was part of a Virgin Holidays package that my wife and I bought at the last minute, although flights to the island from London at this time of the year are also available with British Airways. I’d read mixed reviews about the Virgin Atlantic product, but my wife is a big fan – so I kept an open mind and we opted for the red livery.
I was excited to experience Airbus’ smallish wide-body over the distance, even though I understand Virgin operates the route with a 747 from time-to-time. The closest Boeing equivalent I’d flown on was a British Airways 767 from Moscow a few years ago, and I’d also enjoyed Etihad’s A340 from Abu Dhabi a few months ago – both en-route to London Heathrow – so I relished the prospect of adding a new aircraft type to my repertoire.
Now, I’m a European LCC short-haul aficionado for both personal and (formerly) professional reasons (I used to be the Airports and Ground Ops lawyer for a UK airline). Minimalist seat width, pitch, a single aisle, and scratching around for euros or pound coins to pay for coffee and a muffin are my norms, so frankly any change from that is a win in my book. Actually, that’s rubbish. I love luxury, pampering, and upgrades as much as the next person. I was just full of AvGeek zeal and excitement on the day. Even the delay at LGW security whilst my Kindle Fire was tested for explosive substances was good-natured and efficient.
Having experienced both first and economy class on Etihad, it was now time to try business Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
ETIHAD AIRWAYS PEARL BUSINESS CLASS REVIEW BASICS:
Airline: Etihad Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Departed: Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Arrived: Amsterdam (AMS)
Stops: Non-stop flight
Class: Business class
Length: About 7.5 hours
Cheers: New business cabin layout, very private feel, direct aisle access for each seat, in-flight internet access (for a fee)
Jeers: Slightly narrow seat width for my liking
Overall: Etihad continues to be one of the market leaders in their premium cabin product