Following a five-day trip to Austria, my son and I flew back from Vienna International Airport (VIE) to London Heathrow (LHR) in economy on Austrian Airlines — flight OS455. We had sampled a serious amount of wiener schnitzel over the last few days and that was important; we had to bench test Austrian’s own wiener schnitzel on the way home.
The airline’s slogan is “We fly for your smile,” and we were hoping to find lots of smiles.
We arrived at VIE and made directly for Austrian’s short-haul business lounge at Gate F in Terminal 3 — courtesy of the airline. The friendly receptionist found us on her list and gave my son an Austrian branded set of aircraft Mega Trumpf (top trumps) cards – we didn’t even need to fly for his first smile.
Austrian’s lounge is unpretentious and relaxing, although I suspect that more seasoned business travelers will find it a little spartan and antiquated compared to more upmarket airport lounges in hub airports around the world. The Star Alliance Sky Lounge next door looked considerably newer and more swanky. However, Austrian’s facility, resplendent in its red, white, and older sky blue livery (the blue is on its way out since re-branding in 2015), was peaceful, comfortable, and oddly charming in a lycée canteen sort of way.
The lounge had the usual amenities, including a range of hot and cold drinks, food, international business newspapers and magazines, a business area with printers, WiFi, showers (upon request), and a quiet ‘relax’ room with curved recliners to snooze – all this with an appropriate Alpine backdrop.
We found a nice ramp-view table and prepared to consume some of Austrian’s fare.
Austria produces some nice red wine. What’s more, the airline had some past form – Austrian won Global Traveler’s best business class in-flight wines in 2010. I therefore helped myself to a small glass of 2013 Esterhazy Zweigelt and then an equally small glass of 2013 St Laurent Brocken Burgenland. Both wines were very pleasant.
They should probably have accompanied a bowl of either rindsuppe (Viennese beef soup) or erbsensuppe (pea soup) with some rye bread and croutons, but soup late-afternoon isn’t really my thing and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for schnitzel.
Our flight was announced at Gate G12, in the non-Schengen departures area (the UK is not part of the Schengen group of European border-less countries), so we pootled on down to the boarding zone.
It was nice to see some of the Austrian fleet in the hazy sunshine – the airline currently operates the Q400 Dash 8, Embraer 195, Fokker 70 and 100, A319, A320, A321, B767, and B777 – en route to our flight to London. Our own ride was an A321-100 called Pinzgau.
The flight was not full, so boarding the 200-seater was also quite leisurely. It naturally began Austrian’s Senator/Star Alliance Gold passengers, then those with small children, etc. The front three business class rows on the Pinzgau are separated from the rest of the cabin by a bulkhead and sky blue curtain partition. The middle seat is deliberately vacant.
We occupied economy seats 8E and 8F, discovering to our delight that 8D would be empty – our row became business class by chance! The 18″ width seats are lightweight design with a leather finish and a small amount of recline. Pitch is 30″, which was comfortable enough for us for a two-hour sector.
Upon boarding, my son was handed a small pack of sweets and a kids magazine. It was very touching although much of it was in German, a language that he does not yet speak. Pushback and taxiing was fast and in no time the “whining dog”-sounding CFM power plants had thrusted us forward and airborne with a lovely view of the Danube below.
Climbing through the clouds to reach our cruising height, I caught the faintest scent of hot food. As mentioned, I had pre-ordered Austrian’s wiener schnitzel and a kids’ meal consisting of frankfurters, chicken goujons, grilled courgette, and corn-on-the cob. It struck me as a strange culinary combination. However, my son scoffed it all down shortly after it arrived. DO&CO, Austrian’s caterers since 2007, obviously know what they are doing.
I said at the start that I had been on a wiener schnitzel recon in Vienna. Not only had I consumed schnitzel from Vienna’s premier schnitzel house, Figlmueller, but I had also eaten my way through DO&CO’s own golden breadcrumb dish at its classy restaurant on Stephansplatz in the city centre. How would this airborne one compare to the others, eaten at 37,000ft?
Well, this on-board dinner was a pork wiener schnitzel. Ok, so DO&CO’s short-haul offering was unlikely to beat its ground-based one (although the long-haul one is made by a sky chef, so it may come closer). Nor would it top Figlmueller’s signature dish. That said, Austrian’s portion was generous and delicious, accompanied by a potato and cucumber salad, chocolate mousse, and three hot Austrian rolls in a paper bag. The tiny wooden peg to close the bag to retain the heat was a quaint touch.
Cabin crew recommended their on-board white wine – a 2015 Gemischter Satz from northeast Austria – that I duly supped whilst thoroughly enjoying my Austrian meal. I finished it off with some refreshingly strong coffee and sat back to read my book. The Austrian a la carte meal (which has nine other options) is available for economy class pax to purchase 36 hours in advance of certain flights for a supplement of 15 EUR. I thought I would have been “schnitzelled” out by then, but apparently not. This was a decent treat to end a Viennese vacation.
There were at least two drinks rounds. In fact, cabin crew didn’t stop pacing the aisle with aforementioned trollies, serving out hot and cold beverages aplenty. Perhaps the only downside was the natural traffic jam to get to the rear galley toilets. There was no room to pass!
We landed in LHR on schedule and Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz serenaded us as we taxied to stand – very apt, such grace and serenity might even have done the Habsburgs proud.
There are perhaps more cost-effective flights to Vienna from the UK. Low-cost carrier easyJet flies to VIE from London Gatwick (LGW) and Ryanair flies from London Stansted (STN) to Bratislava (BTS) in neighboring Slovakia, which is an hour’s drive, train, or boat ride to Vienna.
Austrian is worth the extra expense, in my view. It was one of the best European full-service short-haul flights experiences that I’ve had in a long time. Possibly the best. That is particularly nice to report since many a legacy carrier’s short-haul product has been slowly trimmed to compete with budget airlines. Operating since 1957, Austrian is indeed a charming airline. As the ladies above have shown, the smile has gone a long way.