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Business Class Only, Please (and Cheap!)

A review for the globe trotting set: Best deals, best service, and the surprise winner...Ethiopian Airlines
Illustrative photo of a Boeing 747 El Al plane (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a Boeing 747 El Al plane (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

My travel agent says her favorite phone greeting from me is “Get me there business class on anything that flies as long as it’s cheap.”

I fly a lot in my business, often to the States but also to semi-exotic destinations like Tirana, Mombasa and Kiev. I’m tall and overweight and back at age 40 I decided that for anything over two or three hours long, it’s business class or hell no I won’t go.

That works out well, usually, since my clients know that if it’s important enough to dispatch me outside Israel then they need to send me in the front of the plane. No less assiduously do I insist on the lowest price when I’m shelling out my own fare.

These past many years in business class have led me to glean a few observations. Let’s start with my three favorite airlines for this class:

  • Ethiopian Air (Tel Aviv to Durban) was definitely the most unique. I really started to feel like part of the village, starting when they held the departure in Addis Ababa a half-hour for a tardy Cabinet Minister and continuing through the unique home-cooked buffet cart offering a cornucopia of wholly unidentifiable edibles. Keeping Kosher was the last of my reasons to partake only minimally of the salads and drinks, but the whole atmosphere was charming and super-friendly. The Business Lounge in Addis was dark and cavernous. The food didn’t look so fresh but who knows…I went there to get somewhere else in comfort, regardless, not to eat. 
  • Aeroflot (Tel Aviv to JFK) is my new favorite, at least since Tower Air shut down so long ago. The service was impeccable, unceasing. Totally insincere, by the way, as it was scripted. My PR senses observed that the stewardess uniformly went to bended knee at one point aside each passenger to establish the customer’s first name, to personally welcome them aboard Mother Russia’s airliner and generally set an obsequious yet totally helpful tone for the long flight. My favorite moment came during the layover in Moscow at the otherwise nondescript lounge. After devoting many years to Soviet Jewry in the 70’s on campus, here I was in the eye of the beast, davening Shachrit with tefllin and talit—with one million Russian Jews safely tucked away back home in Israel and being offered fresh orange juice by my Muscovite hosts practically with every Amen. 
  • Turkish Air (Tel Aviv to London, then JFK) was spellbinding. Period. Not for the in-flight service which was perfectly lovely, but rather for the one of a kind football field of an Executive Lounge in Istanbul. It is a work of art: enormous yet dotted by countless small enclaves; mountains of snacks as well as actual full meals; entertainment, showers, business services galore. It’s practically worth the ride alone and I was relieved when tarmac delays turned a 90-minute connection into over 3 hours. My wife says Virgin’s lounge in Heathrow is just as impressive but that one remains for me to explore. 

On the down side, the American airlines regrettably get my vote. (By the way, I really do enjoy El Al and they would certainly top my list were they not up to $1000. a flight more expensive than some of the companies mentioned above.) I have been disappointed by multiple long hauls with American and Continental. I found Delta’s ballyhooed “personal pods” in business to be more confining than my old favorite, the seats in the bubble of aging Boeing-747’s.

US Air gets special demerits for outright dour flight attendants. One of my pet gripes is when they tell you (as happened twice on US Air recently) that my first selection of salmon was not available, leaving me a salad to eat. For $4,000 a pop, one might expect the F & B manager to ensure sufficient supplies of all menu choices, but not on the American planes it seems. (I know, I could solve this by ordering my special meal, but often I need to fly out with less than 24 hours notice and that isn’t feasible.)

Next time out, when flying business, consider one of the lesser known carriers. Better prices and a “we try harder” attitude will often be your reward…not to mention miles that will eventually get you back to Addis Ababa for free!

About the Author
Charley J. Levine is a media relations consultant based in Jerusalem.
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