My friend Ivan always dreamed of visiting New York, so when he became 30 we decided to go to New York as a way to celebrate. To fly over there we stumbled on some very reasonably priced Economy class tickets on the direct flights operated by Brussels Airlines and as we are both quite tall guys we opted to splash out on the “upgrade” to Economy Privilege. Economy privilege is the Brussels Airlines equivalent of an Economy Plus product and encompasses a normal Economy seat with slightly more legroom and recline and an improved meal service, but is nowhere near the product offerings of Premium Economy on other airlines.
On the morning we were due to fly out we got a text from Brussels Airlines saying that our flight was delayed for about 4 hours just as we boarded the train to the airport. As we were already on our way, we decided to continue and try to entertain ourselves at the airport. At check-in we were again informed about the delay and handed over a €15 meal voucher as is stipulated in the EU Regulation*.
After we cleared security in the new connector building, we grabbed some breakfast pastries at Panos in the A-gates area and walked around the Schengen area, playing some airport games. After a while we headed to passport control, where we tried out the new automatic gates and then looked for a place to use our meal voucher for our lunch. As there was only 1 “proper” restaurant serving hot food, we were kind of forced to go there even though the staff was anything but friendly. None of their meal deals where available and they could not provide us with an alternative, leading us to select a more expensive option then we would have liked. After we finished our meal, we walked to the end of the B-pier where we could watch the plane movements and see our plane coming in, 4 hours late (due to a defective radar on the flight to Kinshasa the previous day).
Brussels (BRU) 15:10 to New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) 16:44
Flight time 7 hours and 34 minutes
Airbus A330-300 OO-SFM
Delivered to Air Inter in march 1994, flying for Brussels Airlines since June 2002
The boarding was actually reasonably organised and swift. When we arrived at our seats in the front of the cabin we could notice the bigger seat pitch, giving us some more legroom. On the seat there where a pillow and a blanket. We were also handed a small bottle of water, a small amenity kit and some proper headphones. It didn’t take too long before the doors where closed and we were pushed. After a short taxi to 25L, we took the skies, heading for New York.
It took quite a while after take-off before we saw the first service. Drinks and the meal where served at the same time, with Coffee and tea served later. In Economy Privilege you were given metal cutlery and a real glass of champagne, otherwise the meal looked pretty much like a standard Economy meal. On the tray you had a small salad with radicchio and peas, the main course of chicken in a white sauce and some small pasta in pesto, a bun with butter and some cheese and of course a coconut cake as a dessert. After the meal trays where cleared, Coffee and tea was served together with some biscuits.
During the flight I watched some movies and tv programs on the seatback entertainment system. While it had a clear and intuitive look, the offering was quite small and dated, with hardly any recent content available. Before landing we were served a small hot pizza bite together with a drink service and everyone in Economy Privilege got a small box of 2 Neuhaus chocolates.
The advantage of our delay was that we arrived after the big arrival wave, thus we cleared immigration and customs in a record time of less than half an hour. But using the Air train and the Subway to get to our hotel in Manhattan still took us quite a while.
After a fantastic 2 weeks in the cities of New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC the time came for us to return home. We headed relatively early to the airport as we knew the trip would take a while. We arrived at Terminal 1 just as the Brussels Airlines desks where about to open and we were one of the first to check-in. Getting through security was the usual ordeal with long queues and waiting times, but once we got airside it was even worse. Clearly Terminal 1 was not designed for this number of passengers as it was crowded, with queues for restaurants and boarding gates all over the place, getting in the way of walking routes to all parts of the terminal. We were very happy when it was time for us to board and escape this overcrowded terminal.
New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) 18:15 to Brussels (BRU) 07:40+1
Flight time 7 hours and 25 minutes
Airbus A330-300 OO-SFV
Delivered to LTU in May 1995, flying for Brussels Airlines since June 2010
On the seat we found the same items as on the way up, the only difference being the amenity kit, which was a grey one instead of a blue one. After taking off, once again it took a while for service to commence and drinks where only served at the time meals where brought around. This time it was a tomato, mozzarella and ham salad, a mashed potato, chicken and corn main, a bun with butter and some cheese and a cheese cake for dessert. Even though according to the website we would not be able to get a glass of champagne on board as this was not a flight leaving from Brussels, we did get a glass of Champagne when we asked the cabin crew for one.
As I tried to sleep I didn’t use the entertainment system much, luckily as I saw the most interesting content on the way up. The added legroom did make it slightly more comfortable to try and sleep, but as usual I could not sleep sitting in a seat. Before landing a very small “breakfast” box was served, containing a muffin and an orange juice with some tea or coffee on the side. All in all a rather uneventful flight ended when we touched down on Brussels’ runway 25L.
Was Economy Privilege worth the extra fee?
In my opinion not really, although €120 is not that much to “upgrade”, the on board product did not really feel like a Privilege. In my opinion SAS’ “low-cost” Economy class which we experienced from Copenhagen to Chicago and from Los Angeles to Stockholm provided a better price-quality ratio. On Brussels Airlines I missed a separate bar service before being served the main meal, which especially in a “premium” economy should be standard, even SAS managed to do this in their “low-cost” Economy. Also the meal didn’t appear to be very different from a normal Economy meal and the lack of pro-active drink rounds during the flight was disappointing. The only reason I would recommend you buying the upgrade if it is really important for you to have some more legroom and/or recline, as this was noticeably better then in an average economy seat.
On the upside the customer service of Brussels Airlines is pretty good, with most of their staff doing their best to help you. The delay we had was handled well with proactively sending us a text to inform us about it as well as handing us a meal voucher at check-in. After the flight I send a message to Brussels Airlines to inform about the €600 compensation we were entitled to according to EU legislation*, and after the necessarily gathering of information and internal investigations, this was also transferred back to our bank account.
EU denied-boarding and delayed flight compensation system
The action taken by the EU in the field of air transport aims, among other things, at ensuring a high level of protection for passengers. This Regulation establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights.
This regulation applies to:
- passengers departing from an airport located in the territory of an EU country to which the EU Treaties apply; and
- passengers departing from an airport located in a non-EU country to an airport situated in the territory of an EU country to which the EC Treaty applies,
On condition that the passengers have a confirmed reservation on the flight concerned and, except in the case of cancellation, present themselves for check-in at the time indicated in advance or, if no time is indicated, not later than 45 minutes before the published departure time.
This Regulation establishes passengers’ rights if:
- they are denied boarding against their will;
- their flight is cancelled;
- their flight is delayed.
This Regulation does not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare not available directly or indirectly to the public.
When an air carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding on a flight, it first calls for volunteers to surrender their reservations in exchange for certain benefits. If an insufficient number of volunteers come forward to allow the remaining passengers to board the flight, the air carrier may then deny boarding to passengers against their will, in which case it must compensate them.
Air carriers give priority to persons with reduced mobility and any persons accompanying them.
In the event of flight cancellation or denied boarding, the passengers concerned have the right to:
- reimbursement of the cost of the ticket within seven days or a return flight to the first point of departure or re-routing to their final destination;
- care (refreshments, meals, hotel accommodation, transport between the airport and place of accommodation, two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails);
- compensation totalling:
- €250 for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;
- €400 for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;
- €600 for all other flights.
The regulation introduces a three-tier system:
- in the event of long delays (two hours or more, depending on the distance of the flight), passengers must in every case be offered free meals and refreshments plus two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails;
- if the time of departure is deferred until the next day, passengers must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation;
- when the delay is five hours or longer, passengers may opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket together with, when relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure.
Upgrading and downgrading
If an air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, the passenger must be reimbursed within seven days, as follows:
- 30 % of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1,500 kilometres or less;
- 50 % of the price of the ticket for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometres, except flights between EU countries and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometres;
- 75 % of the price of the ticket for all other flights, including flights between EU countries and the French overseas departments.
FROM WHEN DOES THE REGULATION APPLY?
It entered into force on 17 February 2005.
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 – Commission Statement (OJ L 46, 17.2.2004, pp. 1–8)