My trip to Rome was to continue on my first Transatlantic US Airways flight and was a continuation of my trip that started in San Dieg. After a horrible inflight experience from San Diego to Philly due to a slacking flight attendant, I was not looking forward to US Airways flight. Despite all the good things I had heard about US Airways Envoy Suite in the past, I was really starting to doubt that their international product could truly be all that much better; after all it was the same airline! So just in case the service was bad, I spent my four hour layover lounge hopping between the old US Airways Envoy Club, the US Airways Club, AA’s newest Admiral Club, and my favorite PHL Club, the British Airways Galleries lounge. I was honestly nice and toasty by the time I met up with my friend who was flying with me to Rome (who happens to work for US Airways) and we boarded the airplane at final call.
Pre-departure and Boarding
With such a long layover before boarding the flight, I was able to lounge hop between the lounges at PHL. I was able to observe 4 different lounges. The US/AA lounges are nothing to write about, but I will point out that it was a nice surprise when I entered the US Airways lounges with my Envoy boarding pass to receive a “drink voucher” for a top shelf item of my choice. As most frequent travelers know, Premerger US Airways only offered complimentary cheap beer and wine in their clubs, but have recently added unpalatable spirits which matches the Admirals clubs offering. With this voucher I was able to order my drink of choice, Glenlivets on the rocks and save over $9! This was a nice surprise! The bartender also told me that I was allowed more than one complimentary drink since I was flying Envoy class and to ask the receptionist for additional vouchers if I wanted more!
After lounge hopping, I was off to the gate where my friend received his boarding pass and we boarded the plane. As Envoy class was completely full, we were seated on opposite sides of the cabin. I had secured a window seat as I initially thought I was flying alone, but he was assigned a middle seat. As the A330 Envoy cabin has a 1x2x1 herringbone configuration with a seat that was designed by US Airways and has quickly become the industry standard. I asked a guy to switch with me so we could be seated together.
It wasn’t even a minute after we sat down that the FAs came over and offered us water, orange juice or Prosecco and a newspaper to read. Despite being among the last ones on board, service was just as good as if we had boarded 30 minutes earlier. In addition, before takeoff, menus were handed out to each passenger, along with amenity kits. All of this is of course standard practice and what I would expect from any airline, but to my surprise, (which I think I liked best) was that the FAs walked through the cabin and placed a 1 liter bottle in every cup holder in the seat. Not only was I amazed and thankful to receive such a large bottle, I was stunned that it fit! My friend traveling with me informed me that although it’s not standard practice/in the service guide, it was quite normal as it reduced the number of requests for water during the flight. And to be honest, I drank all of mine and found it to be much more convenient to have such a large bottle at my disposal!
The taxi to the runway took 50 minutes as the flight to Rome departs during the peak of US Airways evening flight bank. This equates to all 20+ long haul flights pushing back from the gate within minutes of eachother and is at the same time that flights from with British Airways and Lufthansa flights along with a large number of domestic flights depart. The congestion on the runway is absorbed, but this allowed time for me and my friend to catch up and share some good laughs and for the FAs to take dinner orders. Now if there was only beverage service during this time I would of been even happier!
Service on board could not get any better, despite my preconceived thoughts and poor domestic experience I was overly impressed! My friend did tell me that Gloria, the FA working my section of the Envoy cabin, was a stellar flight attendant and it probably helped that I was traveling with a FA who works for US Airways and knew a number of the ladies on board. This of course meant our service was even more personable, our glasses never went empty, and we shared plenty of laughs with the crew. Yet, even though my service was remarkable, I honestly witnessed Gloria provide similar service to everyone else on board. She was enthusiastic to perform her job and she never missed a beat, keeping each passenger fully satisfied!
About 30 minutes after takeoff, Gloria and the other FAs came through the cabin with hot towel service for every passenger, this was followed by a drink service accompanied by warn mixed nuts. A short time after, dinner was served, which was done in two parts. We received our appetizer and small salad to start, along with warm bread, which was followed by our main dish and another round of bread. I opted for the fish while my travel companion took the meatloaf. My fish was delicious, the meatloaf looked inedible, but my friend swears by it, so I guess it wasn’t all that bad despite the look of it. For dessert my friend had the cheese plate, which consisted of three cheeses and fruits and I opted for the cookie and cream ice cream. It was no sundae, but ice cream is always welcome. Both were delicious! During the dinner service, Gloria stopped by many times to refill my Prosecco and water glass and to ensure I was satisfied with my meal. I felt like I was in a high end restaurant with my own waitress!
After dinner was complete and my belly was full and we had collectively drank the aircraft out of Prosecco, I laid my seat flat and went to sleep ensuring a solid 6 solid hours of sleep. I slept through most of the night and woke up just shortly before breakfast. I was still not hungry so I never explored what snacks the airline offered between meals, but was quite content with what I had already ate. Breakfast service started about 75 minutes before landing in Rome and included the choice of quiche lorraine or a giant fresh fruit bowl. I opted for the quiche and my friend the bowl. Later I was jealous of his fruit bowl as it was one of the largest fruit bowls I had ever seen! My quiche was alright, but definitely nothing special. Then again, I can’t recall an arrival meal which has ever been all that great on any airline!
Seat, IFE, and Amenities
US Envoy class was definitely in a league of their own when they introduced the Envoy suite on the A330s many years ago. At a time when many of their competitors still had angle flat seats and didn’t offer all aisle access, US Airways plied the way for the industry to follow. Being the initial designers of the seat which can now be found on world class leading airlines such as Cathay Pacific (see my review of Cathay’s Business class from LAX to Hong Kong) and American Airlines 777-300 (which I flew from London to Los Angeles) the seat is just as great as the other two times I had experienced it. Yet, being the original seat, it was lacking some of the new features and the bells and whistles that can be found on newer versions of the seat, but either way, the seat still offered a large personal IFE system, universal power ports, a USB charger, a large bottle holder, retractable arm rest, and a small cubby for all person items. The now slightly dated seats are just as great as the day they were introduced and I give US airways two thumbs up for being innovated.
To my surprise, the IFE on board was already the same as Americans. Signs of the integration are evident as the American logo was all over everything and the same creepy IFE personalities were all over the screen. There were plenty of movies and TV shows along with music and games to entertain for hours. In addition, US Airways has upgraded their headphones to match the offering of American; meaning each passenger was provided with a pair of Bose Noise canceling headphones. My only complaint, these were not handed out until after we took off and were collected again immediately following breakfast and about 30 minutes before landing. This means if a business class passenger did not have their own headphones, the total time that they could enjoy the IFE was substantially shortened.
Amenities on board included the standard amenity kit and pillow and blanket. Each seat was equipped with a standard white pillow and a thin blanket. The pillow was decent, but the blanket was awful! It was hardly any better than thin sheer US airways provides on domestic flights in first. Despite this, the cabin was fairly warm throughout the length of the flight so the blanket was not needed. Amenity kits were fully loaded with socks, eye masks, earplugs, Scope mouth wash, Colgate toothpaste and tooth brush, a US Airways pen, and red flower branded lip balm, moisturizer, and face towelette. The amenities inside were great, but the kit itself is extremely cheap feeling. The small bag feels like it was stitched together by a small child and doesn’t have much appeal in the fashion department either. It reminds me of a sock rolled up on itself.
Service can make or break an experience and in this case it was the service that made the flight memorable. Not only was it my first time to Rome, but it was my first time and probably my last time on a US Airways long-haul flight. I believe that US airways has done a good job with their product offering for being a North American airliner and for being a bottom of the barrel nearly-LCC domestically. Their products, amenities, etc. are not as great as Delta and fall far behind many Asian and Middle Eastern rival, but for the Transatlantic market I would say US Airways falls right in the middle of the pack, a head of carriers such of Air Europa, Air Lingus, Iceland Air, but still behind Lufthansas, Air Berlin, Air France, etc. I really enjoyed this flight and will look forward to it even more when it’s AA soft product offering.
How to book this flight
I booked this flight using 50,000 American Airlines miles for a business class ticket to Europe. The cost is also 50,000 miles using US Airways Dividend miles. Award space is most easily viewed via US Airways.com which anyone can search award space for US Airways flight without being a Dividend member. However US Airways only displays space available for US and AA flights. American Air website will also display US Airways flight along with other OneWorld Alliance members such as British Airways. Right now the US Airways Dividend Mastercard is offering 40,000 bonus miles after one purchase and paying the $89 annual fee. You can read my full review of this card here, but this could be a great way to get 4/5s of the miles needed for a one-way business class ticket.