Flight review: Aer Lingus business class on the A321neo, Dublin to Philadelphia
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Editor’s note: During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. Instead, we have been publishing a selection of popular reviews from recent years — like this flight review from December 2019 — as well as resuming publishing of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
This review covers a flight from 2019, and you can expect your experience to be different today.
After a jumping on board the Aer Lingus A321neo between Dublin and London to get a first look of the new cabin and lie-flat business-class product installed on this narrow-body aircraft, I was eager to get back on board and try out the offering in full. And what better way that to take this bird across the Atlantic for the TPG Awards at the end of last year?
I got to experience Aer Lingus long-haul service, the seat for a solid amount of hours, and check out what preclearing U.S. immigration and customs is like for a U.K. national, all while saving a ton on taxes by departing from Ireland instead of the U.K.
Aer Lingus is a fantastic way to burn your hard-earned Avios in a tax-efficient way. Taxes are significantly lower than what you might find for similar routes on British Airways, especially when taking into account the high Airport Passenger Duty payable by passengers departing from most U.K. airports.
This route from Dublin (DUB) to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PHL), is available in business class for 50,000 Avios (60,000 on peak dates) and about $150 in taxes. By contrast, a business-class flight on BA direct from London (LHR) to Philadelphia costs 50,000 Avios and about $570 for taxes.
Remember that this should be booked via AerClub on Avios.com. You can transfer your Avios freely between British Airways Executive Club, AerClub and Iberia Plus.
There is a separate premium check-in area in Dublin Airport Terminal 2. There were only a couple of people at the desks, and I didn’t have to wait at all to check in. The airport seemed quiet overall, but the tinsel and the Irish accents made from a warm Christmassy feel on this dreary December Saturday morning.
I was quite surprised to have my full baggage allowance printed on my boarding pass. A hefty 92 kilograms (202 pounds)!
Check-in formalities were complete within minutes, and I headed up the escalators to the Fast Track security lane. Once again, it was very quiet. In fact there was not one person waiting in line, and I was through within a minute or two.
I strolled through the shops and down to the lounges. There was an Aer Lingus lounge for business-class passengers before U.S. preclearance and a further lounge, the 51st & Green, operated by the airport, after preclearance. I checked out both to see which was nicer.
The Aer Lingus lounge was basic in its food and drinks, with just cold snacks and a variety of soft and alcoholic drinks, but it had plenty of comfortable and more formal seating areas and an upstair mezzanine with lots more seating. It was quiet, and I could have sat anywhere. The views throughout the lounge were lovely through the large windows on to the apron and runway.
I went to U.S. preclearance and cleared secondary security. The U.S. immigration desks were quiet, with a wait time of probably only a couple of minutes. I have Global Entry and was able to use the kiosks. There were around 10 kiosks, and no people waiting, and so I breezed through in seconds.
51st & Green, for passengers who passed through preclearance, was rather lovely. There was lots of seating, and huge windows wrapped around the whole lounge with runway views. There was a barista making great coffee to order, and the buffet selection included nice salads, cheese, meats and hot entrees including vegetarian chili and beef Stroganoff.
It was a lovely place to spend an hour before the flight.
Making the process even more stress-free, the gate was right by the lounge. Boarding commenced around 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 1 p.m. Families with young children and those needing assistance were called first. Five minutes later, business-class passengers were called to board.
The boarding process was well managed, and after a short wait on the jet bridge, I entered the brand-new A321neo.
Cabin and Seat
I was warmly welcomed by two of the crew as I boarded. The cabin looked fresh and calming, with grey and green tones.
The business-class cabin spanned five rows and included 16 seats. Rows 2, 4 and 6 were set up in a 2-2 configuration, with rows 3 and 5 hosting the throne seats in a 1-1 configuration.
If you’re a solo traveller, you’ll want to nab the odd-numbered row seats, and those travelling as a pair may want to aim for even-numbered rows to score a set of seats next to each other.
I went for Seat 5K, which was indeed one of these lovely throne seats.
In the throne seats, there was plenty of flat space for working, drinks and ad hoc storage. Seats in even-numbered rows with a set of two seats had significantly less flat space — just a shared armrest and small tray for drinks.
The storage was what immediately pleased me the most. Alongside all the flat space was a sleeve with netting under the inflight-entertainment screen, which held the headphones and amenity kit.
A decent-sized cupboard was at shoulder height to my left.
By my right leg were three spaces: a drawer, a floor bin and a narrow spot that fit my laptop perfectly (I’m not sure if it had been designed for that, but it certainly did the trick!).
Finally, there was a separate pocket for the safety card and magazines.
There was both a full universal socket and USB port in the seat.
The tray table swung out from the side console and was not huge but big enough for eating and working. However, in the throne seats, once the table is out and taking into account the flat surfaces on either side, you really were spoiled for space.
The seat itself had nice padding and felt comfortable both in the upright and slightly reclined positions. The headrest was adjustable, allowing me to rest my head against the side. As an added bonus, it was especially nice to pop on the massage function while partially reclined and have a nice almost-spa treatment.
The seat reclined into a fully flat bed and was comfortable. In total, the bed measured 78 inches. I definitely could have managed a decent night’s sleep on this on an eastbound transatlantic flight.
There was a chance some would be bothered by the rather small footwell. The footwells on the pair seats in even rows were slightly roomier.
In the even-numbered rows in lie-flat position, there was decent privacy around your head from the passenger seated next to you, but in the throne seats, and because of the low-lying seat in its flat position, it felt very private. On this flight, heading west, and with lots of work clamouring for attention, however, sleep was not going to be enjoyed!
There was one toilet for business-class passengers at the front of the aircraft. There was not much to note other than that it was stocked with premium soap and hand cream.
Amenities and IFE
There was an amenity kit already at the seat when I arrived. It came in a faux-leather bag and contained the usual socks and eye mask, hand cream, lip balm, earplugs, mints and a cute Aer Lingus-branded pen. The kit was functional and sufficient but nothing special.
A large, soft pillow and nice, comfy blanket were also waiting at the seat. These were at the higher end of what you would expect in business class.
The headphones were not noise-cancelling but they were comfortable, and sound was good.
A bottle of water was also in the bottle holder in the seat when I arrived.
The IFE screen was a decent size and operated both by touch and by a console in the seat. There was a wide selection of new and old movies and, pleasingly, full series of TV shows.
The was a moving map, but no tailcam.
Wi-Fi was available for purchase, but business-class passengers were issued with a voucher for 400 MB of data. For context, the most expensive package available for purchase was 270 MB for 29.95 euro. The cheapest was 50 MB for 6.95 euro. It was, therefore, quite a generous benefit, and other airlines should take note!
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
There were no predeparture beverages, but shortly after takeoff, the crew came round with menus, and around 30 minutes into the flight, they came through the cabin with the drinks trolley. A wide variety of drinks were on offer.
I asked for the Signature Cocktail, but there were no other details on the menu and it sounded intriguing. It was told it was usually a raspberry Champagne cocktail, but today, the excited crew told me it was a special Christmassy version. It was cinnamony, indeed Christmassy, and delicious! It was served with a chargrilled-vegetable-and-hummus amuse-bouche and cheese biscuits, which were both tasty.
Orders for the “main event,” as they called it, were taken shortly after drinks were served. I went for the starter of hot-smoked barbecue salmon and cold-smoked salmon with a fresh lemon wedge (instead of goat cheese).
For the main course, I naturally went for the Guinness-braised beef brisket with rosemary potatoes and vegetables (rather than chicken salad and arrabbiata prawns).
Hot towels were handed out before the meal service began.
The salmon starter was tasty, fresh and delicate and came with warm bread and a delicious feta salad. It was a fantastic kickoff, and I washed down with a glass of Italian pinot grigio.
A glass of Diet Coke was quickly served between courses on request, and I loved the wide and heavy glasses they were served in.
The beef was some of the best beef I’ve had on a plane. It was impossibbly soft, broke apart with a fork and was moist and tasty. The potatoes were also fantastic, and the only slight letdown was the overdone cauliflower.
For dessert, there was chocolate orange marble cake or a selection of cheeses. I ordered the cake, which was more of a cheesecake with a cookie base. It was too orangey for my puritanical taste buds. I also ordered a cup of Irish breakfast tea to accompany the cake, and it cut through the dessert perfectly.
After the meal service, a snack basket was set up in the galley with chips, chocolate and other snacks. I was encouraged to try the sultana-and-crisp cluster, and it was as good as the crew said it would be.
Around one hour before landing, afternoon tea was served. It included a selection of sandwiches and cakes and was a nice way to round off the flight. The sandwiches were good but could have been more plentiful, and the sweet treats were actually a little too sweet for me.
I couldn’t resist supplementing the posh-looking offering with a big bag of cheese-and-onion Taytos!
The service from the start was warm and friendly, a stereotype you would have you expect from the Irish flag carrier.
I was carrying a folded-up suit bag (my TPG awards outfit!), and the crew was more than happy to help by unfolding it and hanging it in the wardrobe to prevent creases.
I always ask for recommendations on food, as the crew have often tried everything. One flight attendant talked me through everything but said the Guinness beef was the most “Irish dish,” adding that if I weren’t into it, she could swap it for something else.
The woman looking after me was wonderful from the start, but the gent was a little frosty to start (though still very helpful and professional). Two hours in, however, the banter kicked off about my order of an English breakfast tea.
“Not on this carrier, sir!” she proclaimed.
It broke the ice, and we ended up having a real giggle. It’s moments like this that you remember from flights.
Warm, relaxed and efficient service all with a smile make for a standout flight, and Aer Lingus really got it right this time. Every encounter from ground to sky was pretty much faultless.
A combination of factors play into this being such a brilliant flight. Great redemption options with very low taxes (perhaps a quarter of what you might pay on a similar British Airways flight), a lovely airport experience, U.S. customs and immigration preclearance, a fresh and comfortable onboard product (especially in a throne seat), great food and warm Irish service really make this one of the best ways to cross the Atlantic in business class. The only obvious place for improvement — and it wouldn’t be a big lift for the airline — would be a better amenity kit and headphones to match the levels of excellence found elsewhere.
I wouldn’t hesitate to book again, and I may even go out of my way to do so. And for the record, the cup of Irish breakfast tea was actually grand, to be sure!
All photos by the author.
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