Review: Air Belgium Business Class A340 Charleroi To Hong Kong

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Review: Air Belgium Lounge Charleroi Airport
Review: Air Belgium Business Class A340 Charleroi To Hong Kong
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Air Belgium 851
Charleroi (CRL) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Monday, July 2
Depart: 2:10PM
Arrive: 7:40AM (+1 day)
Duration: 11hr30min
Aircraft: Airbus A340-300
Seat: 4A (Business Class)

I boarded through door L2, where I was greeted by the lovely Greek cabin manager, and escorted to my business class seat. Since I was the first onboard, I asked if I could quickly take a look around the aircraft.

The first thing to know is that Air Belgium acquired their A340s from Finnair, so they’ve kept the same seats. The only thing they’ve changed are some of the cabin finishes, like the Air Belgium branding in some of the bulkheads, and some of the seat upholstery.

Between doors one and two was the business class cabin, which had a total of 32 seats (we’ll talk more about the configuration in a bit).


Air Belgium business class cabin


Air Belgium business class cabin

Right behind the second set of doors was another business class cabin, which had a total of 13 seats. For the time being Air Belgium isn’t actually selling these seats as business class, but rather they’re selling this as premium economy, so the passengers who book premium economy are getting a heck of a bargain. Eventually the airline does plan to reconfigure the planes with a real premium economy cabin, though.


Air Belgium A340 business class cabin


Air Belgium business class cabin A340

Then there were the two economy cabins, which were in a 2-4-2 configuration. If you’re going to be in economy, then the A330/A340 is generally a good plane to fly thanks to the sets of just two seats by the windows.


Air Belgium economy cabin A340


Air Belgium economy cabin A340


Air Belgium A340 economy cabin


Air Belgium A340 economy cabin

The legroom in economy looked pretty average.


Air Belgium economy legroom

Anyway, back to the business class cabin. Seats are in a staggered configuration, and on the right side of the cabin is just one seat per row. In odd numbered rows the seats are closer to the aisle, which wouldn’t be my preferred seat, since they feel exposed.


Air Belgium business class seat

Meanwhile in even numbered rows the seats are closer to the windows, which I consider the be the better seats.


Air Belgium business class seat

Then in the center section of the cabin, seats are in a 2-2 configuration, with seats alternating between being closer to the aisle and being closer to the center of the cabin.


Air Belgium business class seats

Then on the left side of the cabin, in odd numbered rows you have sets of two seats. The four window seats on this side are the only ones that don’t feature direct aisle access.


Air Belgium business class seats


Air Belgium business class seats

Arguably the best business class seats are the “throne” seats, which are 2A, 4A, and 6A. That’s because these are solo seats, and have lots of space for your shoulders on both sides. I had assigned myself seat 4A, the throne seat in the middle of the cabin.


Air Belgium business class “throne” seat


Air Belgium business class “throne” seat

Do note that Air Belgium charges to assign seats in advance, even in business class — the cost is 25EUR for a seat in any of the sets of two seats, and 75EUR for any of the single seats. Based on how empty my flight was I wouldn’t be worried about being able to snag your preferred seat at check-in, but who knows, maybe their flights are getting fuller over time.

To the left of my seat was an exposed compartment that had a 110v outlet, USB outlet, and headphone jack.


Air Belgium business class seat storage

Also on the left side of the seat were the seat controls.


Air Belgium business class seat controls

There was also a small compartment that housed the entertainment controller.


Air Belgium business class entertainment controller

The tray table also folded out from the left side of the seat, and could be folded over in half.


Air Belgium business class tray table

I love the amount of “counter” space that these seats have, since you could easily just leave your laptop sitting at either side of your seat.


Air Belgium business class counter


Air Belgium business class counter

The one major downside to staggered seats (and this is most evident in the “throne” seats) is how small the footwell is. It can be really difficult to get comfortable when in the fully reclined position. Unless you have small feet, it can be tough to move your feet around at all.


Air Belgium business class footwell

On the plus side, I was happy to see air nozzles at each seat, which is a feature that I greatly value, since I find most airlines keep their cabins too warm.


Air Belgium business class air nozzles

Waiting at my seat upon boarding were a pillow and blanket, which were Air Belgium branded. While not the most luxurious pillow or blanket, given how empty the cabin was I was able to grab a couple of extra pillows to get comfortable.


Air Belgium business class pillow & blanket

I didn’t know what to expect going into the Air Belgium experience, so the first thing that delighted me was the crew. To my surprise, they had all worked at other airlines before, seemingly mostly at TUI.

They were all excited to be flying for Air Belgium, and clearly took pride in the airline. That’s always refreshing to see.

Within a minute of settling in, the cabin manager, Danai, came by to say hi. She was from Greece and was an absolute delight. Also working business class were Jens, Emilie, Francesca, and Fleur, and truly all four of them were friendly and energetic.

I was offered a pre-departure drink, with the choice between champagne and orange juice — I selected champagne, which was served in proper glassware.


Air Belgium business class pre-departure champagne

I was also offered a bottle of water.


Air Belgium business class bottled water

I was then presented with an basic amenity kit, which had socks, eyeshades, earplugs, a hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, and lotion. While I appreciate Air Belgium’s attempt at being creative, I’m not sure I get the “Best Hairline Ever” quote. I get “hairline” and “airline” sound similar, but…?


Air Belgium business class amenity kit

The cabin manager also brought me some headphones, but apologized profusely that they were the economy ones, since they hadn’t loaded the business class ones. She made a point of explaining that the headphones usually available in business class are much better. That was no biggie, since I brought my own Bose headphones.


Air Belgium headphones

Less than five minutes after boarding started, an announcement was made that boarding was complete. In total there were just 25 passengers, and only one of those other passengers was in business class. WOW! This was by far my emptiest longhaul flight ever.

At 2PM captain Francois added his welcome aboard, and informed us that we’d be departing within about 10 minutes. He said our flight time to Hong Kong was 11hr45min (significantly longer than I was expecting), and that we should expect some turbulence over Russia and Northern China, and showers upon our arrival in Hong Kong.

A couple of minutes later the crew did the manual safety demonstration. There were two flight attendants doing the demonstration in business class, so I do always appreciate a 1:1 crew to passenger ratio for the safety demo. 😉

At 2:10PM we began our pushback.


View prior to pushback


Pushing back Charleroi Airport

Then just five minutes later we started our taxi (after all, it takes a few minutes to start up all four engines on the A340).


Taxiing Charleroi Airport

From there it was a fairly quick taxi to our departure runway. Part of this included back taxiing on the runway, because the taxiway doesn’t quite let out at the very end of the runway. By 2:30PM we were cleared for takeoff.


Getting ready for takeoff Charleroi Airport


Taking off Charleroi Airport

The A340-300 isn’t a particularly powerful plane, though despite the fact that we presumably had a lot of fuel, I felt like we were rocketing off, and our takeoff roll wasn’t long at all. I guess that’s the benefit of a nearly empty plane.


View after takeoff from Charleroi Airport

The views on our initial climb out were beautiful, as you’d expect.


View after takeoff from Charleroi


View after takeoff from Charleroi

The seatbelt sign was turned off just five minutes after takeoff, and service began shortly after that. I was first presented the menu for the flight.


Air Belgium business class menu

The menu read as follows:

About 15 minutes after takeoff I was presented with a warm towel.


Air Belgium business class warm towel

A few minutes later a drink cart was rolled down the aisle (which seemed slightly unnecessary, given that there were just two passengers), and I ordered another glass of champagne, as well as some sparkling water. I was served a package of pretzels to go along with it.

The champagne wasn’t one I had heard of, but it was perfectly drinkable.


Air Belgium business class lunch — champagne, water, and pretzels

About 45 minutes after takeoff, tablecloths were distributed, which didn’t quite seem big enough for the tray table.


Air Belgium business class lunch — table setting

I was then brought a tray with my first course.

This included an appetizer consisting of tomato and basil mousse and North Sea Belgian shrimp, with mayonnaise, lemon, and parsley. Then there was a salad with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and pine nuts, as well as a fruit plate. I was also offered a bread roll.


Air Belgium business class lunch — appetizer, salad, and fruit

About 20 minutes later I was brought my main course, for which I selected the chicken curry with homemade pasta. The main course tasted pretty good, even though I felt like it was an odd dish to serve as the “Asian” meal on a flight to Hong Kong.


Air Belgium business class lunch — main course

Next up I was offered dessert, including the choice of ice cream and an ice cream sandwich. I took both of them, for research purposes only, of course. 😉


Air Belgium business class lunch — dessert


Air Belgium business class lunch — dessert

To finish off the meal I ordered an espresso, which was excellent.


Air Belgium business class lunch — espresso

Color me very impressed by the meal service. The service was done about 90 minutes after takeoff, and service was friendly, attentive, and enthusiastic. I thought the food quality was solid, and frankly it was better than I was expecting.

At the front right of the cabin, the crew set up a small buffet with cheese and chocolate, though obviously I wasn’t hungry. That stayed there throughout the flight, in case either of us wanted a snack.


Air Belgium business class snack buffet

It’s also interesting to note how service in Air Belgium economy works. While the main meals are free, in economy you can purchase snacks and drinks between the meals, and the pricing for that is as follows:

After the meal I decided to once again walk through the entire cabin, just to take in how empty it was. There was only one other person in business class, and only two people in premium economy.


A very empty Air Belgium business class cabin


A very empty Air Belgium business class cabin

The forward economy cabin had just seven people in it.


A very empty Air Belgium economy cabin

Meanwhile the remaining 14 passengers were seated all the way in the back. It was quite surreal to be on a flight this empty.


A very empty Air Belgium economy cabin

I also visited the lavatory in business class. While there are two lavatories, one of them was out of service. The lavatory was always spotless, though didn’t have any special amenities.


Air Belgium A340 lavatory

Once back at my seat I browsed the duty free catalogue. I’m a sucker for airline merchandise, and when I saw that they had Air Belgium model airplanes, I couldn’t help but buy a couple.


Air Belgium model airplanes

At this point I browsed the entertainment selection.


Air Belgium airshow

The entertainment selection was definitely the weak point of the product. There were a total of just 27 movies, and 10 of those were Chinese, so there were 17 movies in English. There were no TV shows.


Air Belgium entertainment selection


Air Belgium entertainment selection

I decided to watch “What Happens in Vegas.”


Air Belgium entertainment selection

By the time the movie was done, we were just under nine hours from our arrival in Hong Kong.


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong

Once I finished the movie I decided to get some rest. I reclined my seat and made myself as comfortable as possible.


Air Belgium business class bed

As you can see below, the footwell is quite tight.


Air Belgium business class bed

I was hoping I’d get a good night of sleep, but I guess I had slept well the night before and it was still early, so I woke up with about six hours remaining, as we were over Kazakhstan, meaning that I didn’t even get three hours of rest.


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong

I decided to get some work done on my laptop. It was dark outside and the cabin was dark, which always makes it tough to stay awake. But I also wasn’t actually tired.

I spent a few minutes talking with the crew in the galley, and it was interesting to hear their stories. A flight attendant explained to me that they’d be spending three nights in Hong Kong, which is quite a long layover. Two of the flight attendants were also going to Hong Kong for the first time ever, as they explained they had previously only flown to Lagos as part of Air Belgium’s charter for Air France. The cabin manager had been flying for over a decade, and used to work for Aegean.

They were quite a group.

Once back at my seat I reclined and just tried to rest a bit, though I don’t think I got any real sleep. I finally decided to get up about 2.5 hours before our landing Hong Kong.

That’s quite a routing, eh?


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong


Airshow enroute to Hong Kong

Over the next 30 minutes I witnessed a beautiful sunrise.


Sunrise enroute to Hong Kong

I ordered another espresso.


Air Belgium business class cappuccino

The last three hours of the flight were continuously bumpy. At times it was just light chop, and at times it was more serious. The crew had to sit down a couple of times.

I was told I could have breakfast whenever, so figured I might as well have it sooner rather than later. I was impressed by both the quality and presentation of the breakfast. Breakfast included yogurt and muesli, fresh fruit, Belgian almonds thins, cold cuts, and two mini-omelets.


Air Belgium business class breakfast


Air Belgium business class breakfast

At 7:40AM local time the captain announced that we’d be landing in about 30 minutes, and that there were showers in Hong Kong that he’d try to avoid. As you might guess based on the clouds in the picture below, it was a bumpy approach.


View approaching Hong Kong


View approaching Hong Kong

We ended up circling for a bit, and touched down in Hong Kong at 8:25AM on runway 25R.


Final approach to Hong Kong

Final approach to Hong Kong


Final approach to Hong Kong

From there we had a short five minute taxi to our arrival gate, where we parked next to a Cathay Pacific A350. We arrived almost an hour late due to the longer than usual routing.


Taxiing Hong Kong Airport


Cathay Pacific A350 Hong Kong Airport

Upon deplaning I took one last look at the beautiful Air Belgium A340.


Air Belgium A340 Hong Kong Airport

Really my travel day was just beginning, as I’d be connecting the same day to Seoul Incheon, and then onwards to San Francisco.

Air Belgium business class bottom line

Air Belgium delighted me, both for reasons within and outside of their control.

First of all, as an aviation geek it was surreal to take a longhaul flight with just two dozen other passengers, with just one of those passengers being in business class.

But beyond that, Air Belgium really exceeded my expectations. This is a startup airline, and I was expecting it to feel a bit like amateur hour, given the challenges they had ramping up operations.

However, from their lounge at Charleroi, to the quality of the food onboard, to the exceptional service, I was extremely impressed. I’d fly Air Belgium again in a heartbeat (and I guess I’ll be doing so, since I still have a return ticket booked on them).

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Comments

  1. I love when airlines serve food on black china – I think it makes it look really modern and sophisticated – like some hip new fusion restaurant. I think La Compagnie and Garuda also do this?

    Air Begium must easily have the worlds best premium economy based on the fact that no other airline offers premium economy with a fully-flat bed with direct aisle access?!

  2. I wasn’t sure what to expect but i’m impressed with what i’ve just read and seen. Ok the entertainment options need to be abit enhanced.

    I continue to root for this little airline.

    With the recent announcement that they now have favourable overflight rights/routings through Russia & Siberia, their trips should be shorter/ more efficient.

  3. Drinking the same bottled water, Chaundfontaine, I had saved from an Air France flight I think! Thanks for all the travel info and advice!

  4. Why is the sunlight in your photos moving in the wrong direction?

    I think you mixed and matched photos from two different trips.

  5. Welcome back, the reviews – I had defected to The Points Guy.

    With that sort of load factor, will AB be around long enough for Lucky to use his return ticket?

    Some close-ups suggest a grubby, tired cabin in need of a proper deep clean or full refurb. You get what you pay for though the nosebag looked fine and service sounds good. I thought the lounge looked like a strip mall pop-up cafe but, again, check ticket price.

    Hope they succeed, can’t leave it all to the big-wallet legacies.

  6. Does Lucky ever stay in the destination for more than a day or two, or does he turn right around and board another plane so he can sample yet another cup of airplane coffee?

  7. @ Debit — Ever heard of a sunset? Sunrise? Plus most of the cabin pics were saturated from both sides haha

    My love for you and your comments never dies…

  8. Shame they didn’t offer the best of the best Belgium has: Stella Artois beer, Cote D’or chocolate…at least you had Jules Destrooper cookies! Love Belgium

  9. I’m still not sure that Air Belgium is a ‘real’ airline becaus there’s no way it can make money.

    But it would be interesting to fly on a private a340 🙂

    I wonder if the cabin crew will get hostile if you ask them about the owners and management

  10. What Champagne? I only can see sparkling wine. No Champagne on board this flight, haha. All Champagne are sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine are Champagne. For the sparkling wine to be legally and rightfully considered as Champagne, it must come from the Champagne region of France.

  11. @vlcnc strange? Stella Artois is one of the most popular beers in the world and instead of putting that on the menu they offer Duvel? Also they could easily showcase Guylian, Godiva, or Cote D’or chocolates which are the finest and so damn good…missed chance on their part. If you find this “strange” that’s your personal preference, but definitely uncalled for & very weird on your part.

  12. Ben, here’s an idea: Why dont you do a Amenity Kit Giveaway every month for a reader? You receive and probably have hundreds, even if you collect them I’m sure you have a ton of repeats lying around. This could be an opportunity for reader engagement and also a way to give back to us, your loyal readers. What do you say? I could be the first 😉

  13. Earlier this year I flew Emirates first class A380 Dubai to Sydney, and there was only 1 other passenger in first. Best flight ever! I had the who isle to myself, separate “bedroom” and “lounge room”, etc… not sure if there are any tips on how to maximise the changes of being in a lightly loaded cabin, but it really is a special bonus.

  14. @schar just because a beer is popular doesn’t mean it’s any good. Pretty much every most popular beer is a country is dreadful including Stella, but it’s even more pronounced in Belgium

  15. Lucky, it’s a nice trip report but you are wasting your time. This airline will not be around soon. A new airline in Belgium? And not even in Brussels? Give a break. There is zero O/D traffic and unless they plan to build a european mega-hub in Charleroi like DXB in Middle East where make money on connecting pax, they will fail miserably. They will probably run out of money and collapse withing a year or two.

    Also your readers have nearly zero chance (stastically) to fly Air Belgium before it collapses.

  16. The “Champagne” is a Belgian sparkling wine, made by a small winery. Duvel and Vedett are brewed by Duvel Moortgat Brewery, a family-run operation. Good on them for showing Belgitude.

    By comparison, Stella is produced in a giant factory in Leuven that also serves as the corporate HQ of AB InBev. Budweiser is the Stella of the USA. Feel free to drink it and enjoy it, but I wouldn’t miss it.

    On the other hand M&M/Mars…

  17. @schar, Stella is just a mediocre pilsner type beer. Duvel is completely different kind of beer, with a much higher percentage of alcohol.

  18. “Why dont you do a Amenity Kit Giveaway every month for a reader?”

    Better to donate those kits to charities that deal with homeless people. They would probably appreciate things like socks, toothbrush, and toothpaste the most.

  19. How can you complain about not having Stella when the plane is loaded with Duvel and Vedett.. those 2 beers are superior to Stella.

    Great trip report. Being based in Brussels and having a view on the runway from my runway, I have seen the AB taking off now and then although they should be stationed in CRL..

  20. I imagine that Lucky has a storage unit rented out somewhere, filled to the brim with model airplanes, Hello Kitty toilet paper, and airline pajamas.

  21. @schar: As others have said Stella is a very common regular beer available anywhere and mass-produced by a multi-national. It certainly isn’t premium and I would be very disappointed to be offered that in a premium cabin! In fact when I was a student it is known as “the wife-beaters” drink here in the UK, such is it’s lowly status despite their best efforts to present it as a cut-above with their advertising.

    You clearly know nothing about good beer given you think Stella is the best Belgium has! Duvel and Vedett are infinitely superior, and although I personally would have liked to see Hoegaarden served – a delicious wibier. I am surprised Ben didn’t have a beer instead given he wanted to experience the Belgian-ness of this carrier…

  22. @James In fact it now ties with TG, who offers PE in their 77Ws on the BKK-ARN and BKK-ARN routes only, with their J hard product (1-2-1 flatbeds in the smaller cabin) and a tiny-bit-above-Y soft product (same meals as Y, maybe I got protectively ordered an extra bottle of water). Though they’ll be withdrawing the CPH route shortly and at some point introducing proper PE seats.

  23. “Chicken curry with home-made pasta”

    Marketing b.s. such as this always cracks me up. Big factory ≠ home.

  24. @Lucky –

    Do you think the service was so good mainly because the flight was empty?

    Were there more passengers on your return and was service any different?

  25. Out of curiosity I had a quick look at PE fares on the Air Belgium website, roundtrip CRL-HKG came south of EUR 1300 – or around EUR 900 cheaper than J – which is an *excellent* deal considering the hard product is exactly the same. Certainly much cheaper than the TG PE pricing (which tends to be around 75-80% of the J price on the CPH and ARN routes).

  26. Ahh all this excitement may have come to nothing – the website also does mention the dedicated hard product for PE which is not the J hard product – see the Premium tab on https://www.airbelgium.com/en/classes
    No idea if this is now implemented though.
    @Lucky It would be useful if you are able to clarify in the article what Air Belgium’s current position is and if you had reached out to them? Always looking forward to your trip reports and appreciate they take time to write up, but I think this is the kind of extra fact checking from you to ensure everything is up to date, which readers would appreciate. Thanks!

  27. @ ChampagneSocialist — Shared more on that in this post:
    https://onemileatatime.com/7-interesting-things-about-air-belgium/

    Essentially their plan is to eventually reconfigure the planes with a proper premium economy cabin, but they haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s my understanding that they plan to do so this winter, though I’m not convinced they’ll stick to that timeline. So this is a good opportunity for now, but may not stick around for that long.

  28. @ Vijay — I think the crew was generally enthusiastic, and I think that would be the case regardless of how full the cabin was. So I really appreciated that, though over time that may wear off. Of course I would imagine if the business class cabin were completely full, service would have probably been much slower. I haven’t flown the return yet, but will be curious to experience it.

  29. Lumma makes a good point about Stella popularity – Australia’s Fosters, aka cat p**s, comes immediately to mind…

    On schar’s subject of giveaway amenity kits, some autos websites give away gifts received from automakers at media events. Quality and value vary widely but competition to win ‘em is keen and, as already pointed out, it’s a good (and cheap) way to gain a little more reader engagement. As if the insults hurled back and forth on here weren’t enough already.

  30. @vlcnc Stella is my favorite beer, depending on where you’re from, sure, it can have a specific reputation, but I could care less about that. I love Stella. But anyway, regarding what they serve inflight, I mentioned Stella since it’s my favorite but Belgium has other amazing beers like Leffe Blonde, Hoegaarden, etc. Everyone will have their personal preference, sure, I just thought that only serving Duvel out of the other better options was mediocre on their part.

  31. Duvel seems like a rather strange beer to serve in an airplane. It would taste pretty bad in the dry, pressurized environment. Most of the flavor will be dulled and the bitterness amplified.

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