United’s first Boeing 777-300ER (reg N2331U) at Chicago
Last Monday, it was disorienting when my alarm went off at 3:30am. At the time, I was not sure why it was happening, but I knew that I was not a fan. That was until I snapped back into reality and remembered that I was getting up early to fly on a few airplanes. The mission of that day was to check out United’s new Polaris business class — and I was up for it! I was to start in Seattle, fly to Chicago to meet United’s first 777-300ER, then I would get to know the product flying to San Fransisco, before heading home. All in the same long day.
In the Polaris business class cabin on United’s first 777-300ER
I have read about United’s new Polaris product and seen the photos, but nothing beats putting it to the test at 40,000 feet. Was it worth getting up so early? Oh you better believe it — it was one stellar experience (okay, I will try to behave with the space puns, mostly).
Turkish Airlines economy cabin in a 777-300ER
Just recently I wrote about my business class experience from Chicago to Istanbul. After just two full days on the ground in beautiful and historic Istanbul, it was time to head home. I was still beaming from the “wow factor” I had on the nine-hour flight in, and had high hopes that I might secure a battlefield upgrade for a second time. Sadly, fate was not in my favor and I would be taking the eleven-hour transatlantic trek in the second-to-last row of an almost full 777-300ER. Bad news for me, good news for our editors, and you, our loyal readers. You want more economy class reviews? You got it!
The first thing you see when boarding a Turkish 777
Turkish Airlines is, or should be, well known amongst AvGeeks for their hospitality and commitment to passenger experience. The airline has positioned itself as a “European carrier” which might raise eyebrows to those in the West. Most would reasonably assume Turkey to be a resident of an ambiguous neighborhood we Westerners label as the “Middle East.” For what it’s worth, about half of Istanbul, including the airport, the airline’s headquarters, and various operations are indeed on the European continent. Turkey, as it turns out, is a country divided between two continents, giving real meaning to the phrase “East meets West.” The European side is separated from the majority of the country (the Asian side) by a naturally occurring strait referred to as the Bosporus.
My 777-300ER for the ride from Chicago to Istanbul
Why does all of this matter? Because it gives Turkish Airlines a competitive advantage. It’s easier to go after the European carriers than try to compete in terms of obscenely lavish passenger experience offered by the big three Middle East airlines (ME3). And, let’s be honest. When we think of European carriers, is an overwhelming commitment to passenger experience something that comes to mind? Likely not. It is no wonder then that Turkish Airlines maintains the title of Best Airline in Europe, according to Skytrax.
So how does Turkish differentiate itself from the pack? By offering reasonably priced fares bundled with excellent service and gourmet food. Gourmet food on a plane? Some might think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I beg to differ…
My business class seat on China Eastern – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
China Eastern is not an airline I ever really expected to fly. With a fleet of new Boeing 777-300ERs, the opening of a new route to Chicago, and a small investment from Delta Air Lines, China Eastern is modernizing and becoming a real player in the North American market. When I saw a fare posted of $650 round-trip between New York and Japan, I jumped at the opportunity to give this airline a try.
My routing was New York JFK to Osaka, Japan via Shanghai, returning from Tokyo Narita back to New York. On the first leg to Shanghai, China Eastern graciously upgraded me to business class in order to experience the new product.
A Boeing 777-300ER at Paine Field showing China Eastern’s new livery- Photo: Bernie Leighton
At JFK, China Eastern departs from Terminal 1 and uses the recently renovated Air France lounge. Although this flight departed at 2:00 am (thanks for nothing, daylight saving time), the lounge was actually surprisingly crowded. As boarding time neared, I headed to the gate to find utter chaos. Lines of passengers extended in every direction with no signage to tell anyone where to stand. Eventually, gate agents put up a few signs, but that should have been done much earlier. A hectic boarding process sets a negative tone for a 15-hour flight. The same hectic process was applied to all four of my flights, indicating that China Eastern has a systemic problem with orderly boarding.