My Really Awesome Flight In Air Belgium Business Class!

As I hinted at Monday morning, a couple of days ago I flew from Charleroi to Hong Kong on Air Belgium. As you guys know, I have a bit of an obsession with startup airlines, so naturally I’ve desperately been wanting to try Air Belgium. Also, as someone who loves a nice livery, I have to say that I think Air Belgium has one of the nicest out there. How beautiful is this A340?

So how was my flight? Much to my surprise, excellent. Really excellent. This had to be one of the coolest flights I’ve taken in a long time. While Charleroi Airport isn’t great, Air Belgium has their own spacious lounge, allowing you to board the plane directly from the lounge.

Air Belgium operates a fleet of A340-300s that used to fly for Finnair, and they’ve maintained the same cabins, so business class consists of staggered seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Let’s talk about what made this flight special/surreal, first of all. The entire flight had 25 passengers on it. There was one other business class passenger, and just 23 people in economy. These are pictures of the economy cabin inflight:

I’ve never in my life been on such an empty longhaul flight. My gosh, I had no clue an A340-300 could take off so quickly with 12+ hours of fuel.

I selected one of the “throne” seats (on the left side of the cabin), which is great because you don’t have anyone next to you (then again, when the cabin is nearly empty, that’s less of an issue).

When it comes to the soft product, Air Belgium operates a hybrid low cost model, which is to say that in economy the main meals are free, but you have to pay for drinks and snacks between meals. So I was expecting business class service not to be great, though it was actually quite nice.

There was an amenity kit with some funky socks (though I’m not sure I get the reference of why they turned “airline” into “hairline”).

There was a large blanket and decent pillow (again, since the cabin was nearly empty I was able to get a few of these to really get comfortable).

Lunch was served after takeoff. To start I had sparkling wine and water, and was offered some pretzels.

I was first served a salad, appetizer, and fresh fruit. The salad had cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, and mozzarella, while the appetizer consisted of tomato and basil mousse, with bay shrimp, lemon, and parsley.

For the main course I selected the chicken curry with pasta, which was their “Asian” dish (it’s a bit of an odd take on “Asian” cuisine on a flight to Hong Kong, but it was good).

Then for dessert I was offered a choice of a bunch of things, including ice cream and a really good ice cream sandwich.

Breakfast was served before landing, and consisted of cold cuts, two mini-omelets, fruit, granola, and yogurt.

What impressed me most about the flight, though, was the crew. The Air Belgium flight attendants were exceptional. Now, of course I have to acknowledge that there were only 25 passengers, so I’d expect service to be excellent, but their enthusiasm really pleasantly surprised me.

For the most part the crew seemed to be seasoned crew who had worked for other airlines (mostly TUI, it seems), and they all seemed really excited to be working for Air Belgium. In particular, the Greek senior flight attendant was an absolute delight. There were three flight attendants working business class, and they checked on both passengers constantly to see if we wanted anything.

Just to give one example of the ridiculously good service, when we arrived in Hong Kong it suddenly started pouring rain. They opened the forward door, and some rain was dripping by the exit, because the jet bridge cover wasn’t fully attached. The senior flight attendant barked at the ground crew — “I can’t have my business class passengers deplaning like this. Please do it again.” Hah!

So yeah, I loved my Air Belgium flight. That’s partly because it was surreal to be on a flight this empty, partly because I was so excited to fly a new airline, and partly because the crew was phenomenal.

Air Belgium now has three planes, and continues to operate charters for other airlines as well. Based on talking to the crew, they had mostly been working Air France charter flights from Paris to Libreville and Lagos. As I’ve said before, at least in the near future I think that’s what Air Belgium will primarily do, because I can’t imagine how much money they are losing on their own flights (which is to be expected when they don’t have any airline partnerships and their flights aren’t even bookable in the GDS).

I have a return flight booked in Air Belgium business class in a few weeks, and I look forward to seeing how that flight compares.

Stay tuned for the full review!

Comments

  1. The food looks surprisingly good. Overall it seems like Air Belgium is pretty polished for a startup.

  2. I had a similar ’empty’ flight with Garuda Indonesia when they first started flying to Heathrow, just 30 on the outbound and 33 on the inbound.

  3. I’m always curious how the IFE is on these smaller airlines because, though I lack general knowledge of how the movie/TV rights and episodes are purchased, I’d presume smaller airlines don’t have the funds (yet?) for the more extensive programing seen on bigger airlines. Any notes on that?

  4. @ AdamR — Yep, it’s a great question, because it’s my understanding that the licensing can be complicated and expensive. They had about a dozen movies and no sitcoms. On the plus side, there were no ads, because presumably they haven’t worked that out yet.

  5. Good news! But you didn’t say much about the hard product – how were the seats? Did you have a decent sleep? Was there entertainment, and if so, how good is it? Bathrooms? Happy to hear the flight crew were great. Be interesting to see if you have a similar experience on the return flight if the plane is busier!

  6. This does look good. Would suggest, however, this won’t bear much relation to the experience most passengers will have in six months when the cabin is full and the crew are not in the super-enthusiastic just started a new job period.

  7. @ Dennis — I’ll have a full review with more details, this was just the teaser. Entertainment was limited to about a dozen movies. Bathrooms were spotless. This was a standard staggered configuration, so it’s far from my favorite business class seat, but at least it’s flat.

  8. How was Charleroi airport? We have a flight in October from there to Ouarzazate and the reviews of the airport are very very negative.

  9. Even if these fares were loaded in the GDS I’m not sure the plane would be any fuller. The pricing is a bit optimistic ! In January business class return to HKG is 1979 euros. To that you need to add 75 euros each way if you want to reserve a single seat ( it’s 25 euros for a regular biz seat). That puts their fares above SAS and LH and Swiss on the same dates. With no mileage earning, limited IFE, and a trek to CRL it’s not exactly a compelling offer, which is a shame.

  10. @ niko_jas — I totally agree it’s still optimistic, though I imagine it would at least be a bit fuller.

  11. @ pepe — The airport itself wasn’t great at all. On the plus side, it’s not huge, so it’s quite easy to use. Fortunately Air Belgium made the experience quite good with their lounge.

  12. @pepe – I flew out of Charleroi regularly when I lived in southern Belgium. The airport does suck, but it’s not really different than any other low cost hub in Europe – it’s in the middle of nowhere (over an hour from Brussels) and has limited/no amenities. That being said, to just show up and get on your flight, you shouldn’t have any horrible experiences.

  13. “The senior flight attendant barked at the ground crew — “I can’t have my business class passengers deplaning like this. Please do it again.” Hah!”

    How incredibly rude – I’d be embarrassed if that happened to me…

  14. Can anyone explain what their logo means or symbolizes? Google doesn’t say much, as probably coz this is a new airline

  15. Those eyeshades… 1980s whorehouse style. Anyway, that all looks surprisingly good! In how far are the seats refreshed from the quite worn Finnair padding?

  16. I don’t get it.
    Why would a company loose such a high amount of money voluntarily if they can use the planes for wet-leases instead?
    This makes no sense to me at all.

  17. Looks good. Have been looking forward to read this. It’s still extremely surprising that they’re still not on GDS.
    For some reason i really want them to do well.

  18. @Lucky, you mentioned that “business class consists of staggered seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.”

    It actually looks like a 2-2-1 and 1-2-1 configuration instead. That’s a huge difference, since not all seats have direct aisle access. Plus, the throne seats don’t really have a lot of space for your feet when fully reclined…

    In any case, while an empty plane is great for passenger comfort, it’s really unfortunate for Air Belgium. They can’t possibly sustain those kinds of loads for long. :-\

  19. @Tennen, that’s actually a huge plus in my book because I love throne seats, and the only way you get them is in a 2-2-1 / 1-2-1 configuration (or 2-2/1-1 configuration like JetBlue).

  20. I was once on a flight as the only passenger but it was only a 50 seater. I was once on a flight with a total of 2 passengers, a 757. Both were US domestic flights.

  21. Looks like they still have the world’s best premium economy, as those passengers are booked into the rear business cabin with 13 seats (they don’t have demand anywhere close to 13 seats as of now, so they haven’t bothered retrofitting the cabin with their planned 21-seat premium economy cabin).

  22. They are noodles and very asian. Not pasta. Marco polo took them home and Italians called it pasta and claimed it

  23. Would be nice if they had a London/Charleroi flight link on one ticket , lots of passengers fly from UK to HK, could be a competitor to Finnair for inexpensive business class LHR/HGK via Helsinki

  24. 1. You call the airport a “total dump, “the small-looking lounge “spacious” and the experience in-flight “really awesome.” Can you please reduce your use of superlatives?

    2. You normally disclose wine choices. You completely ignored this. What sort of sparkling wine was served? Was there a wine list?

    3. Was there a printed menu for food? What were the choices?

    You’ve blogged about Air Belgium enough that I’m sure the airline knew exactly who you were, when you were flying and were desperate to give themselves good publicity. Don’t you think?

  25. Hope you had a chance to try out the premium economy while on board and can report something on that as well in full report.

  26. 10 pax on ANA 777 ORD to HND when they first started that service – I was one of 2 in first on that “ghost ship”….. it was strange, but service was stellar as always.

  27. @FNT Delta Diamond
    Lucky mentions in the comments that this is a “teaser” and a full review will follow.

    As for your first and final comments – please stop reading these if they annoy you so much. There is no need to be rude.

  28. @callum – Yes, I was thinking the same thing. 🙁

    NO ONE deserves to be barked at like that! If i was the gate agent I would have just walked away. So this is what the world has come to…smh. I could never take delight in another human having to be on the receiving end of that! I would have had a very stern word with the FA.

  29. Fnt delta diamond..you sound like you never worked for an airline..the two i worked at
    Would not think that rude..just normal flight crew talking to poor groundcrew.

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