CONDOR AIRLINES BUSINESS CLASS REVIEW BASICS
Airline: Condor Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER (Version 3 SEA-FRA and Version 1 FRA-SEA)
Departed: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Arrived: Frankfurt Airport (FRA)
Stops: Non-stop flight
Class: Business class
Seat: SEA-FRA 1D then 4A | FRA-SEA 3K
Length: About 10 hours
Cheers: Nicely upgraded product, food that is tasty and fun to eat!
Jeers: Service on my flights was not consistent. Ground operations in Frankfurt were disappointing.
Overall: What an amazing value.
FULL CONDOR BUSINESS CLASS FLIGHT REVIEW
I was originally just going to review my Seattle to Frankfurt flight, but there were enough differences between that one and my return flight that I will do some comparing and contrasting between the two.
I have to admit that I had some misconceptions about Condor and who they are. About five years ago, I assumed that they were an all-economy, charter-like airline that crammed as many people into their 767s to Frankfurt, Germany. But the more I got to learn about the airline, the more I was surprised with the variety and quality of their new product and service.
I became aware that they had a premium product (called Comfort Class back in the day), but Condor has been working hard to retrofit their long-haul 767 fleet and update the interior to better compete in the market.
Today, Condor long-haul flights have the choice between Economy, Premium Economy, and Business Class. Even though one might think of Condor as a low-fare carrier, their new Business Class hard and soft product make them more of a competitive player in the market.
Unfortunately my trip didn’t start out on the right foot.
As I was preparing to leave my house for the airport in Seattle, I received notification that our flight was delayed four hours. I checked to confirm that the aircraft was not on the ground and still airborne, so I knew I could hang out at home for a few hour before heading to the airport. Not a huge deal — these things happen and my schedule in Frankfurt was set up where I wasn’t going to miss anything.
When I got to the airport, I had access to the International Lounge. It is not too big or fancy, but it surely gets the job done (i.e. it has beer).
Business Class was boarded first and I quickly found my assigned seat 1D which was on the aisle in the center section (it is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration). I put down my privacy divider anticipating someone sitting next to me and sure enough they soon did. I have to say that with my broad shoulders (and the few extra pounds that I carry around) it was a bit tight on my right side.
Luckily for me, both 4A and 4C were empty, so before we pushed back, I moved to a window seat with no one next to me. I ended up in the same situation on the ride back home in 3K with a empty seat next to me. I think having someone next to me would have been just fine, but it was noticeably better being on my own.
Before we pushed back we were served champaign or orange juice, which was nice. We were also offered a choice of different reading materials. Surprisingly, one of the magazines that was an option was Playboy.
That’s right: Condor offers Playboy magazine for their passengers in Business Class — on every long-haul flight. Of course to me, as an American, this was shocking. I mean, the magazine was in German (who reads the articles anyway, right?), but I have never heard of another airline doing so. When I spoke with the PR folks, they stated that they have never had a complaint and explained that Germans have a very different view point of the naked body and things like Playboy than Americans.
On my flight back to SEA, I did keep an eye out and noticed the flight attendant did have five copies of the most recent issue. No — I did not get one. However, I did ask him about it.
He stated that not many people request it, but he really didn’t see it as much different as someone asking for another type of magazine. I explained that for most Americans it would probably be a shock, but he said he has never had a complaint or issue. Different cultures — they are cool. Of course photos of naked ladies is not the only in-flight entertainment (IFE) on the flight.
It was noticeable how the IFE experience was very different on both flights. To Frankfurt, our IFE was locked onto a sort of promotional home screen on the ground and we had no access to anything (not even the map). We had nothing until about 10 minutes after reaching 10,000 feet. Even after it was unlocked, it was another 10 minutes before the headsets were handed out. Kind of disappointing.
However, on the flight back to SEA, the headsets were already on each seat and the IFE was unlocked so passengers could access it. That’s the way it should be.
I totally loved the interface of the new IFE system. It is touch screen and you can swipe, just like you would on a tablet or smartphone. It was easy to navigate and find what I wanted. The down side was there just isn’t much to navigate.
The system only offers 26 movies. Unfortunately for me, I had seen quite a few and didn’t have much interest in many others (I am not a movie snob). However, there were quite a few TV and music choices. There were no games (I don’t play them anyhow), but there was a helpful map. Only if there were some additional movie choices (50 is nice, even old cheap ones), then I think Condor would really have an IFE hit on their hands.
Also on our flight to Frankfurt, no one was given an amenity kit. I found some toothbrushes in the lavatory and figured that Condor just doesn’t do the kits (some airlines are cutting back). However, I learned that they do offer them and when I boarded my flight back to Seattle, there was one on each of the seats – nice. The kits include a toothbrush, eye-cover, earplugs, and socks. They all come in a container that looks like would be reused by most passengers.
Shortly after we reached cruising altitude, the meal service began. At this point, it was getting close to 1:00 am Seattle time and many passengers were already asleep. Not me — one of the best parts of flying in a premium product is trying the food (and wine). Condor’s menu was quite impressive with a solid three-course meal (they call it five, but I am not counting bread nor coffee as a course).
The first course was actually three-in-one. It was Ahi tuna and scallop with asian salad, herb-marinated breast of spring chicken, and mediterranean couscous salad with fresh leaf lettuce with tomato and roasted pine nuts.
For my main course, I decided on the tenderloin of beef with red wine jus, french beans, shiitake mushrooms, and potato wedges (there were also codfish and vegetarian options). Then the meal was finished with some creme brà»le tartlet.
I typically don’t mention both meals (to/from flight), but the meals heading to SEA were more interesting than the ones to FRA.
My dinner started with a quail breast and melon bell pepper salad, also served with crayfish with sweet and sour cucumber salad and creme fraiche, baby leaf salad and “Rocket Spread” italian salad.
For my main course, I went with the veal with onion, green beans, carrots, and spaetzel. Finished it off with some cheese and amaretto mascarpone tartlet with fruits and caramelized nuts.
Man. They were good. Really good. I have to admit I went into it with lower expectations getting a meal service from an airline with lower fares, but the food didn’t match that. It wasn’t just the quality, but the diversity of food. It was just fun eating it.
After the meal on both flights, it was sleeping time. On the way over I slept about four hours and on the return I slept about six. The seats worked, but if I was an inch or two taller, it might have been a bit more uncomfortable. The seats do not lie flat, but they come pretty close. During the sleep cycle, there was a calm blue lighting, although the cabin stayed dark.
Upon waking up both during both flights, it was time for the second meal. The flight to FRA was a breakfast and the flight to SEA was a snack. Both were, once again, quite good.
I have to say that my flight to Frankfurt had some issues, but still turned out to be a good flight. The flight to Seattle was done right and the flight crew were amazing.
Although, in theory, a flight experience from an airline should be rather consistent (especially in the premium cabin), our crew to Frankfurt had some additional challenges. First off the flight was four hours late and was not the plane that we were originally supposed to have. Our flight was supposed to be a 767 version 1 with 16 Business Class Seats (two are set aside as crew rest), but due to required movement of aircraft, we ended up with a version 3 with 28 in business. These facts could account for the lack of amenity kits and the non-preparation of the cabin when we boarded (it was a quick turn around).
THE FRANKFURT GROUND EXPERIENCE
Probably the most frustrating part was being on the ground in Frankfurt. This being the hub for Condor, I felt that flying Business Class would feel like a premium experience, but I felt let down.
At first, I had an odd check-in process. When I got into line there were two passengers being helped and I was next. The ticket agent kept looking back at me and finally asked, “sir are you flying business class?” The question is valid enough (I wouldn’t want to be wasting my time in the wrong line), but it was asked in a way that seemed she felt I didn’t belong in the line.
Well heck, I don’t think that I look like some sort of bum and I was sure as heck in the right line. When it was my turn to get my boarding pass, it seemed like she had little interest in helping me. Kind of disappointing, but maybe she had a bad morning.
Flying Business Class gave me access to a lounge. Condor does not operate their own lounge, so the access is to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. Sweet — Lufthansa runs some pretty nice lounges.
The problem was that my flight was at C6 and the lounge I was told to use was at C14/15. Seems close enough, but the gates are on opposite sides of Terminal C. To get to the lounge I had to walk about 15 minutes, go through security (this is a different security than getting to my gate) and arrive at the lounge.
When it was time to head to the gate, I gave myself extra time, since I knew I would have to go through security again on the other side of the terminal.
When I reached the gate (or what I thought was the gate) there were two long, hap-hazard lines waiting for a ticket agent to check your documents. Unless somehow I missed it, there was no Business Class line, so I just picked the shortest of the two.
Once getting through that line, then it was time to get into a second line for security (this security was set up for C6 only). Again, there was no premium line. Then just my luck. I made eye contact with one of the armed security guards and he came over to inform me I had been “randomly selected” for additional screening.
Okay. The fact that I had two security guards go through all my stuff and swab my entire body (even bottom of my feet) to check for explosives was not Condor’s fault and I get it is part of the process, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
After all that I was happy to finally be boarding the plane. I rounded the corner expecting to see people boarding, but instead it led to a large holding room where everyone was waiting.
Soon enough the “real” boarding commenced. Luckily there was a special line for Business and I was quickly put on the plane.
I don’t want to sound too spoiled here, but it was quite the process to get from the front door, to the ticket counter, to the lounge, to the first gate counter, through security, through a second gate counter and finally onto the plane. And none of the staff on the ground seemed to make things any easier. I can see how both business and economy passengers would already be frustrated by the time they get on the plane, making the lives more challenging for the flight crew.
Even with the not-so-great ground experience in Frankfurt, my overall impressions of Condor’s Business Class blew away my expectations and I was impressed.
But the big thing with Condor is not just the product offered but also the value.
Looking at a flight from SEA-FRA-SEA in mid-October, Condor’s Business Class showed at $3,551 and the only other airline operating the same non-stop flight is Lufthansa at $9,291.
Looking a bit more advanced into April 2015, Condor costs $2,708 and Lufthansa is $7,940 — both non-stop. Even Icelandair Business (which is more of a domestic first class product), requires a stop and is $2,223. [all shown fares were taken off Kayak.com on Oct 8th and obviously will change, but it gives a general comparison]
Condor’s flight to Seattle is seasonal and they will resume flights starting on April 11, continuing them through October 29, 2015, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Note: Condor provided my travel to and from Frankfurt to participate in their media event. All opinions are my own.