Before I delve into the full flight review, here's a little bit of context (and a confession): I talk a big game when it comes to flying in business and first class, but believe it or not, prior to this flight I had never actually flown in a premium cabin on a long-haul flight.
I had done a handful of transcontinental North American flights, as well as regional flights in Europe and Asia, in the coveted "J" or "F" fare codes (J for business, F for first), but never the full, transoceanic experience.
It suffices to say that by the time Friday rolled around and this trip was mere hours away, I was properly GIDDY with excitement.
After I've published the full trip report (including reviews on Brussels, Swiss, Shenzhen, and EVA Air business class) I'll write a post summarizing my thoughts on premium class travel as a first-timer.
We arrived at Gate 44 just as boarding was beginning. I hopped into the business class boarding line and my documents were processed.
As I boarded, a flight attendant welcomed me by name and directed me into the business class cabin to my left.
The business class cabin on Brussels Airlines's A330-200s is quite intimate, with twelve seats spread across five rows in total, arranged in an alternating 1-2-1 and 2-1-2 configuration. The airline flies an A330-300 on the Toronto route as well a few days of the week, and there are 30 seats spread across seven rows on that aircraft.
For this flight, Jessica and I had assigned ourselves 1D and 1F, the neighbouring bulkhead seats in the centre column. These seats gave us both direct aisle access, plus additional legroom due to the bulkhead.
The seat finishes were a tidy shade of blue, the armrests were sleek black, and the seat panels had a snazzy polished wood pattern. I thought the overall design of the business class cabin was quite sophisticated.
Note that these bulkhead seats are actually reserved for passengers requiring a baby bassinet, and in the months leading up to the flight, our seat selection got automatically cancelled by Brussels Airlines quite a few times for this reason. The key is to call the Brussels Airlines call centre to reserve these seats, assuring the agents that you would like to select the seats but are more than happy to give them up if a fellow passenger does indeed require use of the bassinet.
There was a flat surface adjacent to the bulkhead, where the bassinet would presumably be placed if required. The crew had set up a newspaper selection with publications in English, French, and Dutch.
If travelling alone, I would highly recommend selecting one of the "throne" seats: the window seats in rows 1, 3, and 5, or the centre seats in rows 2 and 4. These seats have an incredible amount surface space on both sides of the seat itself. I've read some complaints that the foot cubbies for the throne seats are too small and restrictive (due to the double seats in front of them), but I believe the bulkhead throne seats – seats 1A and 1K – don't have this problem and are therefore the best seats in the house.
Waiting at my seat were an amenity kit, a blanket, a set of headphones, and some bottled water.
The 15.3'' in-flight entertainment screen was located directly in front of the seat, and I was impressed by both its high resolution and its responsiveness.
The seat controls were located on the armrest, and were easy and intuitive to use. You hold the "take off/land", "lounge", or "bed" buttons to transform your seat into any of the three modes. The other buttons are used to fine-tune individual elements of the seat – the in-seat massage function is particularly cool. After pressing it a few times, I figured out that the "mood light" button controls the lighting in the foot cubbies.
For the tray table, you press a button located on the armrest in order to "pop" the folded tray table out from its holder, which can then be unfolded.
On the seat panel, there was a 110V power port, a USB port, and a headphone jack. There was also a compartment for the
There was also a small compartment which housed the in-flight entertainment controller.
The seat also had plenty of legroom for my feet. I suspect that being in the bulkhead helped with this quite a lot, since a few reviews I've read had stated that the legroom can be a little restrictive in the other seats. By the way, the blue lighting you see below? That's the "mood light" I mentioned before.
Pretty soon after we settled into our seats, a flight attendant came by and offered us some champagne to enjoy whilst boarding was being completed. Besides champagne, we also had the choice of water or orange juice. Jessica later asked for an additional orange juice and made her own mimosas.
The crew also distributed the menu for the flight, which read as follows (use the arrows to scroll through the pages):
There was a leaflet describing the airline's "Wine of the Month" and "Beer of the Month", which read as follows:
A crew member then came by to refill our champagne glasses. It must have been apparent that I was buzzing with excitement at my first premium class flight, since I'm pretty sure the crew figured it out and made it their mission to pamper me and Jessica as much as possible, primarily with generous alcohol top-ups.
Boarding was complete at about 5:50pm, and the safety video was played as we began our pushback from the gate. The video was an archetype of Belgian quirkiness, to say the least.
I flipped through the entertainment selection as we began our takeoff roll. I'm not usually a heavy user of the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, preferring to watch movies and shows on my iPad instead. What was available on this flight didn't particularly impress me either – I thought the English-language movie and TV selection was rather limited, though the range of Belgian and other European productions was quite wide. Perhaps I do need to expand my horizons.
For me, the most intriguing part of the IFE system was the airshow, or the "moving map". I love following the map throughout the flight, and it was the first time I had seen this particular airshow software, which I thought was crisp and informative. I appreciated that the map pointed out the major cities nearby rather than tiny towns and random seamounts in the ocean, like some others do.
As we reached cruising altitude, I settled into an episode of The Blacklist that I had loaded onto my iPad, my glass of bubbly again topped up.
About 30 minutes into the episode, it was time for the dinner service. The crew came by with a small apéro snack (short for aperitif) of stuffed green olives, and also took our order for the meal. Drinks were served at this point as well – I opted for the Wine of the Month, a Spanish Rioja, while Jessica selected the Californian chardonnay.
The crew members were polished and professional in their service, always first showing the passenger the wine label and pouring a small portion for the passenger's tasting and approval, before pouring a full glass. The crew member who was serving an originally indecisive Jessica was more than happy to pour a little bit of both the California and Loire Valley varieties of white wine for her to taste.
The crew then came by to lay down tablecloths on the passengers' tray tables before serving the starter course, the cheese plate, and the dessert all on one tray. They also came around with a breadbasket, from which we picked our own warm bread rolls.
For the starter, I had ordered the beef carpaccio, which was slightly on the dry side but tasty nonetheless. I tried a bit of Jessica's grilled shrimp, which was delicious, and I immediately thought I should have gotten that instead.
When we finished our starters, the crew took away those plates, filled up our wine glasses, and came back with the main course. I had gotten the stuffed chicken breast with vegetables and potatoes, which was quite delectable. Jessica ordered the cod in herbed cream sauce, which she didn't like all that much. I tried it as well and thought it was alright, and that I definitely preferred my chicken breast.
I nibbled on the cheese throughout the meal, and it was outstanding – I had never tried smoked gouda before and really appreciated the distinctive smoky taste, while the goat cheese was delightfully crumbly and tasty. Jessica's not a big fan of cheese, so I gladly accepted her portion.
Meanwhile, the pear tatin dessert was alright – the taste took a bit of getting used to, but it was yummy in the end. We were given the choice of coffee or tea to round up the meal, and the crew came around with a box of delicious Neuhaus Belgian chocolates as well. I had a black tea to go with my chocolates. Throughout the meal service, the crew had been diligently topping up our wine glasses, and at this point I had to utter a few pleas of "non merci" since I did want to get some sleep pretty soon!
We were going to have a pretty early arrival in Brussels, so as soon as the meal service ended I decided to freshen up a bit and try to get some sleep. The amenity kit given to us was made by Hedgren, a Belgian manufacturer of bags, and contained socks, earplugs, a sleep mask, lotion, lip balm, a dental kit, and some tissues.
I went to the bathroom at the front of the cabin to freshen up. The bathroom was clean and compact, and hand towels were provided. I thought the mood lighting in there was a nice touch.
Shortly after the meal service ended, the crew set up a refreshments station on the central surface next to the bulkhead, with fresh fruit, juice, and champagne available on a self-serve basis. On the surfaces on either side of the aisles, they laid out more boxes of Neuhaus chocolates.
With about four and a half hours of the flight left, I reclined my seat into bed mode, put on my sleep mask, and tried to sleep for a bit. The copious amounts of wine and champagne certainly didn't help, and I drank lots of water to combat an oncoming headache. Jessica didn't even try to sleep – if she ain't tired, she ain't sleeping.
The bed was pretty comfortable on the whole. The area for my feet was very spacious (again this was helped by being in a bulkhead seat), and I was able to sleep on my back or my side, with my legs bent or extended, as I pleased.
I woke up as we were approaching Europe, having slept for maybe three hours. Perhaps one of the drawbacks of the bulkhead seats is that they're quite close to the galley, and the curtains keep opening and closing as crew members come and go, which can be bothersome. A sleep mask certainly helps.
There's a very useful secondary set of controls for the seat located on the inside of the seat panel, which gets revealed only when the seat is in bed mode.
Breakfast was served about an hour and a half before arrival. The continental breakfast was pretty plain, consisting of a croissant, a bread roll, Greek yogurt, and some fruits, served on a single tray. We were also offered a choice between a variety of juices, as well as coffee or tea – I went with orange juice and tea, given that I was unsure if I still wanted to nap a bit later.
After the breakfast service was complete, the captain came on the PA to let us know that we were beginning our descent. At this point, the crew came by with a welcome surprise to thank us for flying with Brussels: a complimentary box of Neuhaus chocolates for every passenger! In my excitement, I forgot to take a picture, but my gosh were we overjoyed with this generous gift.
After a quick descent, we had a smooth touchdown at Brussels Airport right on schedule, and the crew thanked us as we shuffled out of the cabin. It was time to snack, relax, and perhaps nap a bit in the lounge, before boarding our next flight on to Warsaw.
I was over the moon to be on this flight, given that it was my first time experiencing premium class travel. I had read so many reviews and discussions, but the real thing just doesn't compare.
The business class product on Brussels Airlines gets a lot of things right. The seat was spacious and comfortable, and the throne seats in particular should be even better. If you can snag a bulkhead seat, I would definitely recommend doing so, since the legroom is incredible as a result. The only thing I think the seat is lacking is storage space – there weren't really any small compartments where I could store a small item or two.
Service is friendly and attentive, and I really appreciated how proactive the crew was in making sure that our first time in business class was memorable. The food was very much high quality as well and did a great job of showcasing the flavours of Belgium and neighbouring countries. For me, the delightful parting gift of Neuhaus chocolate was definitely the standout feature of the flight, and overall, I have to say that with direct flights to/from Toronto and no carrier surcharges on Aeroplan, Brussels Airlines business class is an excellent way to traverse the Atlantic in style and convenience.