Ted is pictured here in one of the ‘throne seats’ on an Aer Lingus flight from Manchester to JFK Airport
A private jet from the UK to New York is a financially unobtainable luxury for most. But there is a much more affordable alternative – business class on an Aer Lingus single-aisle Airbus A321neo.
The aircraft recently made its debut on the Irish flag carrier’s new route between Manchester and New York and I was lucky enough to bag a seat on it in business class, discovering that it has a definite private jet vibe – as long as you don’t look behind the curtain into economy.
Snare, as I did, one of the coveted single ‘throne’ berths – they alternate with rows of paired seats – and the experience is elevated to feeling like royalty.
I didn’t feel so princely earlier in the day, though, when my pre-booked ‘executive’ Uber to London Euston (for a train to Manchester) from my flat in the south of the capital arrived at 4.45am for a 5am pick-up, then drove off at 5.01am as I descended the stairs to head out of the door, forcing me to catch a night bus (see boxout for more on this Uber drama).
Still, I arrived at Euston with enough time for a selfie by the concourse Christmas tree before catching the rapid 6.16am Avanti West Coast Pendolino to Manchester Piccadilly.
Fast forward to 9am and I was on an almost-empty train from Piccadilly to Manchester Airport. Fifteen minutes later, I was striding through the hub on the hunt for Terminal 2, where the transatlantic Aer Lingus flights depart.
I found the Aer Lingus check-in desks at the shinier end of the terminal, by rows of self-service screens.
The seats in the single-aisle Aer Lingus A321 business-class cabin are arranged in a 4-2-4 formation
Ted’s Aer Lingus A321neo at Manchester Airport
Here mild panic ensued when the chirpy check-in official asked me for my PCR test certificate. I’d taken an (accepted) antigen test.
He then admitted that he thought they were the same thing.
(I suggest some training on this matter.)
After enduring a tortuous hour-long queue at security (though staff thoughtfully fast-tracked passengers with imminent flights), I made my way to the new 1903 Lounge, which my business-class ticket granted me access to.
It impressed. It’s spacious with plenty of comfy seating, there’s a nicely presented buffet of hot and cold food – including cooked breakfast items and 1833 vintage reserve cheddar from Somerset-based Barber’s, the world’s oldest cheddar-makers – and various alcoholic libations are proffered via eye-catching circular self-service counters.
The long-range Airbus A321neo has a 15 per cent reduction in fuel burn compared to a regular A321 and 16 fully lie-flat business-class seats (stock image)
The new 1903 Lounge at Manchester Airport, pictured, has floor-to-ceiling windows that afford glorious views of the Terminal 2 taxiway
The 1903 Lounge is named after the most important year in aviation history, when the Wright brothers cracked powered flight
The lounge is named in honour of the first-ever sustained powered flight on December 17, 1903, achieved by pioneering brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Aviation technology has moved on a wee bit since then, as can be seen through the lounge’s floor-to-ceiling windows, which afford glorious views of the Terminal 2 taxiway and, to the far left, the runway.
I ensconced myself in one of the chic chairs arranged to face them and watched hi-tech A350s, A380s and Dreamliners trundling around – but my Aer Lingus A321neo remained tantalisingly hidden from view at an out-of-sight gate.
A plate of sausage, scrambled egg and beans later and I was gazing upon my ride to JFK – a brand-new state-of-the-art long-range Airbus A321neo, which has a 15 per cent reduction in fuel burn compared to a regular A321 and 16 fully lie-flat business-class seats.
I settled into my soothingly green aisle-access throne seat, narrowed my eyes and scanned for niggles.
Barely a blip.
There’s no in-vogue privacy screen, but no matter – the ergonomically designed seat wraps around and cocoons you very nicely indeed. I immediately felt snug and ready for a transatlantic trip to see how New York has been holding up.
Ted declares that his ‘ergonomically designed seat [above] wraps around and cocoons you very nicely indeed’
The seat’s plug points and USB slot
It’s not the widest seat on the market but the dimensions were just fine for my 5ft 10in frame – and the legroom was ample. For even the loftiest of travellers.
There are bountiful options, meanwhile, for bespoke adjustments.
A panel to my left by my elbow that needed a slight twist to access from the upright position had one-touch buttons for three modes – ‘upright’, ‘relax’ and ‘sleep’ – as well as lumber control, pressable up and down arrows for leg-rest manoeuvering, a massage button and an option for turning a mood light on and off.
For minimal hassle while reclined, the seat position can be altered using a separate panel further along the pod wall.
Being uncomfortable was never going to be on the agenda.
A picture taken as Ted’s flight passes over Long Island on the descent into JFK Airport
LEFT: Ted’s starter for lunch – ‘flavoursome prawns, Marie Rose sauce and sun-dried tomato’. RIGHT: The main – ‘succulent roast Parmesan chicken breast with steamed spinach, carrots, baby potatoes and wild mushroom sauce’
These images show the control panels for adjusting the seat, with the panel on the left at elbow height when in the upright position and the panel on the right handy for when the seat is reclined
It’s not the widest seat on the market, says Ted, but the dimensions were fine for his 5ft 10in frame – and the legroom ample
IS THE AER LINGUS BUSINESS CLASS CABIN A TWO-TIER OFFERING?
There’s a definite difference between the solo ‘throne’ seats in the Aer Lingus business-class cabin and the paired seats, which have less storage and less privacy.
There is a big divider at head height, but whoever is sitting next to you will be able to see exactly which guilty pleasure movie you’re watching.
And, of course, whoever is by the window has no aisle access.
Having said that, they’re a better option for couples.
On my outward flight a pair of travellers who were split between a throne seat and an aisle seat asked a solo traveller by the window to swap so they could sit side by side.
Note – I didn’t sit in one of the paired seats so these remarks are based on (close) observation alone.
There are plug points and a USB slot for charging phones and laptops and free Wi-Fi using a discount code the crew dish out that worked well (on the way out, my phone wouldn’t play ball on the way back).
Storage space is generous, with a little cupboard and water-bottle-sized tube to my left, a cubby hole by my right leg and a pull-down pocket in front of me underneath the (excellent) entertainment screen.
In addition, there’s a huge table to the right and a smaller one to the left. More than enough horizontal surface area for all your in-flight flotsam and jetsam – phone, tablet… Champagne glass.
Sadly, there were too many passengers filing through the plane as we boarded for the crew to deploy pre-flight bubbles (this is not a turning left business class), but once we were in the cruise, service got underway and I was, as during any premium cabin experience, unable to resist the fizz.
In this instance, it was a Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut Reserve (£35 retail) made from Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes – and it’s a splendid taste-bud tickler. Refined, lightly citrusy and with a hint of roasted almonds on the palette.
The fizz stage was enhanced by accompanying pecorino, rosemary and seaweed ‘Drinks Biscuits’ by the Drinks Bakery, and onion jam. Delightful.
And so was everything else on the menu.
I loved the starter for lunch – flavoursome prawns, Marie Rose sauce and sun-dried tomato. The main was gratifying too – succulent roast Parmesan chicken breast with steamed spinach, carrots, baby potatoes and wild mushroom sauce.
And the raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake dessert was delectable.
Aer Lingus hadn’t finished feeding me just yet, though – a most inviting afternoon tea arrived about an hour before we landed. As we flew down America’s east coast I tucked into egg and rocket and roast beef sandwiches, plus a trio of delicious mini cakes – lemon and poppy, chocolate opera and Raspberry bakewell.
The only non-fizz beverage I tried was a Cotes-du-Rhone Domaine Clavel, a perfectly serviceable red – soft and fruity.
You might be forgiven for thinking I ate and drank my way through the entire flight.
Not quite true.
I spent a few minutes examining my amenity kit by Voya, which contained lip balm, hand cream, a toothbrush, ear plugs, a pen, flight socks, mints and an eye mask. Not the most luxurious of bags, but usefully re-useable.
The in-flight entertainment system, which fully works from gate to gate, occupied a bigger chunk of my time.
The afternoon tea of egg and rocket and roast beef sandwiches, plus a trio of delicious mini cakes – lemon and poppy, chocolate opera and Raspberry Bakewell
The Aer Lingus lounge by Gate 26 at JFK. Ted liked the raindrop-shaped lights and the grass-effect carpet
‘There’s a definite private jet vibe,’ writes Ted, ‘as long as you don’t look behind the curtain into economy.’ He snapped this picture just after he boarded at JFK for the flight home
A salmon main on the flight back to Manchester, served with ‘the freshest of fresh salads – plus strawberries’
LEFT: Fresh fruit and a hot bacon roll with coffee ‘proved a most satisfying breakfast’ RIGHT: The amenity kit, by Voya
Pictured left are the options for mains and desserts. Ted enjoyed afternoon tea (right) around an hour from New York
Ted can vouch for the Cotes du Rhones from the red list. The white list offers libations from New Zealand and Spain
Ted was hosted by Aer Lingus, which flies daily from Manchester to New York, JFK. Economy class fares start from £179 each way and business class fares start from £1,550 return, including taxes and charges. Visit aerlingus.com.
Business-class throne seat verdict, including service, comfort and food:
Ted used the superb Blacklane chauffeur service in New York to transport him between the airport and his hotel. It has a brilliantly user-friendly booking system and operates in more than 200 cities around the world. Visit www.blacklane.com/en.
New York hotel
Want somewhere supremely luxurious to stay? Ted checked into The Mark (review to come). Visit www.themarkhotel.com.
Avanti West Coast
One-way fares London to Manchester from £35.90 (£108.80 first class), return from £71.80 (first from £217.60). For more information click here.
It was a joy to use – not the biggest in its class but big enough, super-clear and with an intuitive, easily reached touch-screen operating system.
The freebie headphones were one of the blips on the niggle radar – their sound quality was a bit average and they didn’t muffle the cabin noise terribly efficiently.
Still, they were good enough to facilitate getting completely lost in a movie. Job done.
(Airlines generally seem to skimp on headphones, with American Airlines being one notable exception – its business class passengers get amazing Bang & Olufsen cans.)
There was no danger – at any point – of the crew becoming a blip.
The pair that crewed the flight were top-notch – friendly, professional, very smartly turned out and eagle-eyed with the Champagne refills.
THE RETURN JOURNEY – AND THE VERDICT
Before boarding the red-eye return leg on the Air Lingus A321neo I popped into the carrier’s lounge, by gate 26, which is pleasingly secretive – beyond an easy-to-miss frosted door.
And inside it’s relaxing and stylish (I liked the raindrop-shaped lights and grass-effect carpet), but there isn’t much on offer by way of food, drinks or views.
There’s just one counter from which one can plunder (tiny) sandwiches, crisps, coffee and various alcoholic drinks.
Wonderfully, on board the aircraft, it was the crew from the flight over and the sky-high standards were maintained.
And this time, mercifully, pre-flight Champagne was dispatched.
Foodwise I thoroughly enjoyed a salmon main with the freshest of fresh salads – plus strawberries.
And fresh fruit and hot bacon roll with coffee proved a most satisfying breakfast.
The only downside to the journey was that I barely slept a wink.
The seat is supportive and comes with a soft, luxurious blanket and a plump pillow, but the time difference had wreaked havoc with my body clock and there were too many bumps courtesy of the jetstream for me to drop off.
But it didn’t prevent me concluding that the Aer Lingus A321neo ‘throne seat’ is a dreamy experience, all the more so given the aircraft’s single-aisle dimensions.
‘YOU DIDN’T ANSWER YOUR PHONE, SO I CANCELLED THE JOB’: THE PERILS OF BEGINNING YOUR JOURNEY WITH AN UBER (EVEN WHEN IT’S PRE-BOOKED WITH AN ‘EXECUTIVE’ DRIVER)
I fancied making my trip with Aer Lingus to New York fancy from start to finish, so I booked myself an ‘executive’ Uber to pick me up at 5am from my South London abode and take me to London Euston, for a first-class Avanti West Coast Pendolino ride to Manchester Piccadilly, on the 6.16am service.
I’d never booked an ‘executive’ Uber before, but I knew what to expect because I’d read about them on an Uber blog. And I was feeling smug.
The blog says: ‘To help deliver a consistent, quality service, all Exec drivers are expected to maintain a consistent driver rating of 4.9 or higher. Riders using Exec appreciate an elevated service that goes beyond a great car and impeccable manners, so we hope that as an Exec driver, you’ll deliver a service that exceeds rider expectations!’
I had extra peace of mind, because I’d pre-booked the Uber – a week in advance – which the company states would give me 15 minutes of wait time.
A driver had been assigned to the job, so all was well.
But all didn’t go well. At all.
Ted booked a so-called ‘executive’ Uber, but it left after a call to him from the driver at the pick-up time went unanswered
My driver arrived at 4.45am, 15 minutes early. In a Mercedes-Benz. And he had a five-star rating.
A professional, clearly.
At 5am I was about ready to head out of the door and was doing final checks to ensure I had all my paperwork and so forth when I noticed my phone ringing. I didn’t get to it in time to answer. As it was an unrecognised mobile number I assumed it was the driver.
I didn’t call him back because I was seconds away from leaving my flat.
As I was turning the lights out, though, seconds later, I saw him moving off up the road.
I rushed down the stairs with my packed bags and out into the middle of the road – this would be at 5.02 or 5.03am – and frantically waved at him. But he carried on going.
I got to Euston in time for a selfie by the concourse Christmas tree before boarding the train thanks to the 484 bus to Camberwell, the 176 to Tottenham Court Road and the Northern Line. Thankfully, the drivers didn’t expect me to answer a call from them before letting me on
So then I tried to call the mobile number he used five times, at 5.04am and 5.05am, but I just got an automated text message from Uber telling me ‘sorry, we are not sure who you are trying to message, if you are trying to contact someone on an Uber trip, please ensure that you are sending this message from the phone number associated with your Uber account’.
Next? I ran up the road after him as he’d paused at the end of it.
When I caught up with him he lowered the window. I asked him where he was going.
‘You didn’t answer your phone, so I cancelled the job,’ he said.
I asked him what had happened to my wait time.
‘I waited ages,’ he said. ‘And look, it’s now 5.06am.’
I was supposed to get 15 minutes, not 30 seconds, and from the time I’d booked the job, not from the time he felt like turning up, and so at this point extreme exasperation overcame me.
I asked him if he was going to let me in the car as, ultimately, I had a plane to catch.
‘I’ve cancelled the job now,’ he said.
And with that I literally ran off to catch a night bus, screaming into the crisp chill air exactly what I thought of this driver…
I got to Euston in time for a selfie by the concourse Christmas tree before boarding the train thanks to the 484 bus to Camberwell, the 176 to Tottenham Court Road and the Northern Line. Thankfully, the drivers didn’t expect me to answer a call from them before letting me on.
While on the bus, incidentally, I got a message from another ‘executive’ driver telling me he’d been assigned the job. So apparently it hadn’t been cancelled after all. And as for the first driver’s five-star rating, there was nothing I could do to change that, as you can only rate drivers you’ve had a trip with.
Merry Christmas, Uber!
An Uber spokesperson said: ‘We are very sorry for your experience. The service you describe is unacceptable and falls well below our usually high standards of customer service. We’ve credited your account with Uber credit in a gesture of good will.’
TfL, which licenses Uber, was approached for a comment, but it did not respond.