Dreamy Liner: A Review of El Al’s 787 in Business From Tel Aviv to London
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After flying what is probably El Al’s worst business-class product on the Boeing 737 on a TPG trip to Israel, I was eager to experience the airline’s flagship product on its new 787 Dreamliner for the flight back home.
I actually enjoyed my flight on the 737, but the recliner seat is so poor in comparison to other carriers on this route, such as Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and even El Al’s other wide-bodies to London (the 787, 747 and 777), that it simply doesn’t make sense to choose the 737. Prices tend to be similar in El Al business class on this route, regardless of aircraft, though the Luton route tends to be a touch cheaper than Heathrow.
Would the shiny El Al Dreamliner live up to the hype?
We booked this flight as part of a return ticket between London and Tel Aviv, for a total of £1,268. If you’re UK-based, the only ways to book El Al flights with points are through the airline’s own Matmid program, which is quite convoluted, and through Qantas, which would cost you 38,000 miles each way.
Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) can be a real mess sometimes. I have flown out of TLV more than 30 times and have definitely seen the airport at its busiest and least efficient.
I breathed a sigh of relief, though, as I entered the spacious departure hall and saw the queues were not out of control. This was not going to be one of those difficult days!
It is important to note that when you fly El Al from international airports, you are interviewed intensively by the airline’s security team before you even reach check-in. At TLV, all passengers receive this treatment, including non-El Al passengers, and this queue alone can take more than an hour on busy days.
There is a separate queue for El Al business-class, first-class and elite passengers at the far end of the terminal. I’m not sure it saved a huge amount of time on this particular day, but it’s useful, nonetheless.
The standard back-and-forth of questions with the agent, working out how Jewish I am and sharing a joke about how our fathers wish we went to synagogue more often, took only minutes. There is a separate check-in area for first and business classes, and I was immediately ushered to a desk, making the process incredibly fast.
On my last trip through TLV in January 2019, there were screaming rows because non-premium passengers were joining the fast-track queue. This time it was quiet and calm and the fast track was being policed well. I cleared security in minutes, with a tip of the hat to the Israeli authorities who have no restrictions on liquids.
I made my way to Concourse D and the King David lounge, which houses the business-class lounge on one side and first class on the other.
The entrance has a large, gorgeous model of an El Al Dreamliner.
The business-class side has a number of seating areas and large floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the apron.
There is also a separate and fresh seating area on a mezzanine level with food and drink. It was incredibly quiet, so I chose to sit there.
There were some hot options (including delicious vegan lentil patties with a tomato sauce), many pastries and salads. The set-up is kosher and dairy, so you will find no meat.
My favourite thing was what can only be described as a hummus trolley, on the mezzanine level. A huge bowl of hummus was surrounded by everything you might wish for, including eggs, various spicy sauces, tehina and much more.
There were two free, clean showers available, with Laline products.
Boarding for the flight was announced in the lounge, and I made the three-minute walk down Concourse C to Gate 6.
There was a small queue when I arrived, but there was a separate line for business-class passengers and I was ushered straight on board the Boeing 787-9 aircraft, named “Rishon Letzion.”
Cabin and Seat
I was welcomed at the door and pointed to my seat. Shortly after sitting down, the crew came over to personally welcome me and introduce the four people who would be looking after the business-class cabin on this flight. A further welcome was given to each passenger in the cabin by Vered, the flight manager. This was not the usual gruff get-on-and-go El Al experience.
The cabin felt smart and fresh, a pleasant surprise for anyone accustomed to the old El Al business class.
The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, giving direct aisle access to all passengers.
I selected seat 10K — window seats in even-numbered rows face in toward the window for additional privacy and better views.
Seat 9K, on the other hand, faces away from the window, and into the aisle.
The middle seat pairs in odd-numbered rows face toward each other and would be the best selection for a couple, whereas the even-numbered centre seats are farther apart and face away from each other.
The seat was comfortable, with more legroom than I actually needed.
The tray table was sturdy but not huge. There wasn’t much room for anything else once my laptop was on it and open. There was, however, another flat surface right next to the seat.
The seat comes with a small storage cupboard with a mirror, a USB charging port, and a smaller handheld control for the IFE. There was also a deep storage bin by the footwell, which may be handy for newspapers or shoes.
The small armrest on the left side dropped down to provide more width, especially when making the bed flat.
On this four-and-a-half-hour afternoon hop to London, sleep was not a priority, but I extended the bed and it felt like I would be able to have a comfortable night’s sleep. One negative would be a rather narrow footwell — I do like to wriggle my feet around while I sleep.
There are eight toilets on board, with one at the front of the cabin near my seat. The bathrooms had business-class amenities (the same ones as on the 737) and were the same size as other airlines, except for a magnification mirror (see below).
Amenities and IFE
A Salvatore Ferregamo-branded amenity kit came with my seat. The bag was nice but it was a little light on contents, with a toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, ear plugs, eye mask, hand cream and lip balm.
El Al-branded headphones and a bottle of mineral water were inside the small cabinet in the seat.
The IFE was a world away from the offering on my last El Al flight. The bright, large, touch-screen television had many film and TV options and an interactive moving map, although sadly no tail-cam.
The seat also had a large and comfortable pillow and a Hollandia-branded blanket, which was perfect for this flight but may not quite have done the job on a long overnight flight if sleep was important.
El Al offers tiered Wi-Fi service, with a free level that worked great for messaging on my phone. It wouldn’t let me access a website to speed-test, however. I purchased “Business” Wi-Fi for $19.99 on my laptop to get some work done, and once it loaded, it was giving a download speed of 12 mbps and upload speeds of 1 mbps, which is pretty impressive.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Shortly after boarding, I was offered orange juice and water from a tray.
After a short taxi and takeoff over the beautiful Mediterranean coast , drink orders were taken.
I wasn’t going to drink, but Sharon, looking after me, had a twinkle in her eye as she collected the hot towels she had handed out earlier and suggested a Campari. I took one with soda and lemon. It was served with a selection of packaged nuts.
She’d started our conversation in Hebrew, assuming I was Israeli. My emergency tanning the previous day had clearly paid off.
The drink was lovely, but I do find the El Al glassware small; there’s not much there once you load a glass with ice.
Menus were handed out and I ordered the Cooky Bag Spring Chicken on the advice of the crew.
The starters looked a little on the sad side. The Colorful Carrots didn’t look like the freshest I’d ever seen, but the salads were tasty, crunchy and fresh. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Then came the main event. To my surprise, they were quite literal with the Cooky Bag. The home-style chicken with bulgur and bonfire potatoes and dates was served in the plastic bag it was cooked in. It was one of the most delicious dishes I have ever had on a plane — divine.
Desserts were selected off a tray, and I took the chocolate and hazelnut tart and fresh fruit, both of which were just the right size and lovely. Kudos to El Al for creating a good chocolate dessert with no dairy (which would not be allowed for kosher eaters after having meat for the main course).
Oddly, they didn’t offer drinks with the meal. I’m sure I would have been served immediately had I asked, but when thirst gripped me after I finished eating, I had to press the call bell. A large can of sparkling water was delivered relatively quickly.
I also had to ask for hot drinks after the meal service, which I sipped while watching a film.
I was almost shocked by the friendliness of the service, from my welcome on boarding, more welcomes shortly afterward and ongoing attentiveness during the flight.
There were a few inefficient or awkward moments. Drinks were offered sometimes and not at all when it mattered (mealtime). The crew tried to clear away my tray soon after they gave me my food and when another crew member walked through the cabin 30 seconds later and again asked about taking the tray, it became a little annoying.
On the whole however, the crew were great and I enjoyed the service.
I also had fun chatting with the crew, who were fascinated by my trip to Israel and my experience at Eurovision, and wanted to know if I’d enjoyed my trip to their country.
This was a brilliant flight. At least this time, it was true what El Al says about itself: They are a home away from home. The crew were attentive, if not a little too much so at times. The food, especially the chicken in a bag, was exceptional, and I loved the cabin and seat for this short flight. For a long flight, I might have struggled a little more with space and with sleeping, but as a regular on the LHR-TLV route, this is one of the best options. I will aim to fly it again if I can find it for the right price — it’s a shame the Matmid programme is about as useful as a hummus teapot.
All photos by the author.
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