Since the first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner has joined LOT fleet, I wanted to see how it has changed this airline, which long-haul flights to North America and Asia were rather disappointing experience. It was mainly due to old and worn 767-300ER, which were a good planes but the interior and airline service didn’t match 21 century standards. In other words they were absolutely too old and outdated to compete with modern rivals. Lack of in-flight entertainment on long routes was always a main disadvantage for me and keep me away from flying onboard Polish national carrier. This however has changed completely when 787 were introduced. At first, I was a little bit suspicious whether the airplane is safe and waited a couple of years to see how the producer will fix the battery problems. Finally in October this year I decided the plane is worth giving LOT a try. I was planning a trip to China and as I live in Warsaw, LOT was obvious and most convenient choice. Polish carrier flies 3 times a week to Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) with Dreamliner.
I was impressed by the quality of internet website, which was very modern and intuitive. Buying a ticket was a very easy task and the price (around 2 thousand PLN – 535 USD) was very attractive. Interestingly, choosing a special meal was extra charged, as well as selecting preferred seat onboard. I was not expecting it and immediately LOT started to remind me long-haul low-cost airlines like Norwegian, Air Asia X or Scoot. I was not aware of this fact and it was nothing I was happy about. Lot has configured its Boeing 787s in 3 class layout. Business class is equipped with lie-flat seats, better entertainment screen, tastier catering and improved service. Premium economy has a bit improved seats (over economy) and better service and meals. I was flying in economy class and was curious what my experience on board will be like. On LOT website, I have found interesting option, which is an auction for higher class seats called “LOT upgrade”. You may define for how much you could pay for premium economy or business class upgrade and fill in a special form. Then you give an airline your credit card number and agree on charging it in case the airline approves you offer. If the airline decides that sum you proposed is attractive they inform you 48 hour prior to the flight that they will upgrade you. I didn’t know about it while booking tickets, so I was not even considering trying it. I learned about this service onboard where the upgrade to Premium economy was also possible but for fixed fee of 1 thousand PLN (270 USD). In the day of flight I got to the airport about two and a half hours before departure. I found there already a huge queue to check in desks. I did mobile check a day before, so confidently walked towards baggage drop off desks. I was stopped by the airline employee asking about my electronic boarding card. The problem was I didn’t have any. Although I made a successful check in, mobile app didn’t generate boarding card for me. In the couple of days before departure, I was so busy, I didn’t notice that. I tried to explain that I should be let in, but the assistant was unmoved and told me to do the check in once again. Angry, I get off the queue to baggage drop and started to wait in a queue to check in. The funny fact was that although both lines were extremely slow the one for check in was slightly faster than the other. It was a small win for me but the first experience with the airline was rather unpleasant. Firstly the app was not working properly and secondly the airline and airport stuff was too slow to cope with such amount of passengers. Luckily this part of travel was over and I managed to pass security control seamlessly.
I turned right and walked towards non-EU flights section of Terminal 2 of Warsaw airport. I have been at WAW airport many times but I am always very pleased to see great architecture and quality of the building. The terminal is very modern, light and clean. Sometimes the service is spoiling a very good general impression. This time was no different. I tried to use a bathroom and had to visit two, which closed for cleaning in the same time, before I finally found (third one) lavatory which was ready to use. In 2013 Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW) handled almost 10,7 million passengers which was 11,4% increase in comparison with 2012. Such a rapid growth was possible however mainly due to temporary shut down of Modlin Airport (WMI) and move of Ryanair flights to WAW for this time. After 11 months of 2014 the airport carried 9,8 million passengers and has a chance to even or improve the result from 2013, despite all Ryanair flights has been moved to WMI again. WAW is the biggest airport in Poland and out rivals Krakow Airport (KRK) which handled 3,6 million passengers in 2013 and Gdańsk (GDN) with 2,8 million passengers. WAW has two intersecting runways and 1 terminal. Historically the airport had 2 terminals T1 (domestic) and T2 (international) but now they were integrated and called Terminal A. Part of it (former T1) is currently under renovation and construction while former T2 is modern and elegant building finished and become fully operational in 2008.
We reached our gate and sat down waiting for boarding. The weather was very good but cloudy. From the window the 787 looked amazing and outshines every other plane around. I was very exited to enter on board of this plane. The boarding was rather smooth due to relatively small size of this widebody. LOT 787s have 252 seats, including 213 economy. The plane was two years old and has SP-LRA registration. It was delivered in November 2012 and was a first Dreamliner in LOT fleet.
Since I entered the plane I was really impressed by spaciousness and modernity of this airliner. Overhead lockers were higher then in other planes I was traveling and were less annoying when I was trying to stand up from my seat. I never flew in such roomy machine and definitely this plane could be a relief for those who suffer from claustrophobia. Everything was impressively new and looked a bit better. On our way to Beijing we have selected seats 17G and 17H which were not very wide but comfortable and equipped with very good and modern IFE system.
It was Thales I8000 system with responsive, large screen and reasonable speed. It was not an iPad like experience but worked much faster then exactly the same system in Hainan A330-300. I suppose it got better hardware components. In my opinion the selection of movies should be wider but apart from that I may say the system was excellent and I have never used better IFE package in any other airline before.
On our way back from China (flight Beijing to Warsaw) we were lucky as we were able to book seats 20B and 20C which were bulkhead seats in emergency row. It was possible to stretch the legs completely and sill around 1 meter left between our feet and the wall in front of us. The only drawback was proximity of lavatories which was a bit bothersome sometimes. Overall, those seats were worth recommending to everyone so as the whole raw 20, excluding seat 20A and 20J which seating space and comfort is spoiled by bulging shelf on the side of plane fuselage and emergency doors. This narrow down the place for legs and impose a tiny twist of passenger body. I could additionally recommend whole row 7, which is also bulkhead row but not emergency row. That means that exit doors are not disturbing so as shelfs for magazines which are on the wall in front of traveller. As I mentioned, I really liked the interior and felt well inside the plane. What didn’t make a great impression on me since I stepped into the plane was quality of service. The toilet seat closure was not working properly. During the flight I had to hold it to prevent sudden and unexpected closure, which wasn’t easy and comfortable. Such problems in brand new plane should not occur. Flight attendants were a bit self-important which might be annoying for some of the customers. They were fine but sometimes they were forgetting that their job is to serve passengers well. They were just doing their job without a bit of joy. On our way to Beijing we had to listed to shouts and screams of drunk Polish passengers and nobody from the flight attendants considered it a problem. It was a whole night flight and this lack of crew response was very irritating and showed that in case of service a lot must be done to compare this Polish carrier to leading legacy airlines. Nonetheless, I understand it is not easy to change almost everything about the airline long haul services in a very short time. When 787 was introduced in the end of 2012, airline had to rethink everything from the beginning. Starting from plane interior, seating comfort, entertainment system, service quality, uniforms of flight attendants and many more. That is why I suppose not all of it is working 100% well. Airline tries to learn very fast and follow the trends in air transport.
Regarding the plane, I really liked the concept of electro-chromatic dimmable windows, which is a very big step forward in my opinion. I enjoy it so much because I don’t like the idea of closing mechanical window shades which is being forced by the airlines on some flights. I get the idea and it may be in fact helpful for those who seek a bit of rest but I immediately start to feel trapped and a bit claustrophobic. That is why when the windows are dimmed and it is not possible to close it, I feel safer and better. In the same moment, those who want to sleep, may enjoy perfectly dark environment. The steering of the windows work great and it doesn’t take much time to transfer from perfect light permeability to dark dimmed glass.
I really appreciate Boeing wanted to change many aspects of airplanes valid from the 1960s. The company becomes a real innovator making an airliner which is as fast as much larger 747-8 and Airbus A380, more fuel efficient and flies further than its predecessors. Due to extended composite usage it can maintain higher pressure in the cabin which reduces the passengers fatigue. 787 delivers higher cabin humidity and many more technical features including advanced electric system. While flying this machine I really feel the difference is not only marketing gimmick but it is something to fit in with our times and modern technology, which is being created each day. Finally Boeing company deiced to introduce a small revolution instead of slow evolution path which lasted for last 25 years in passenger air transport. This way of thinking brought also problems for manufacturer from Chicago. The planes were in the spotlight after a series of spectacular technical failures and intensive media attacks. Nobody was hurt in any of this incidents (mainly Li-ion battery problems) and it seems the infancy problems were solved, making the plane ready for reliable service. In my flight, at least, everything was working well.
During our 7,5 hour flight to Beijing we got 2 meals. Lunch was served directly after we reached cruising altitude and was eatable. Breakfast before landing in Beijing was small and consist of little sandwich and tiny fruit salad. What I liked about it was very attractive packaging. The box where the food was placed was elegant and modern and whet the passengers appetite even before opening it . During the booking process my wife decided to order gluten free meal, which costed us additional 100 PLN (around 27 USD) one way. This is another part of LOT new strategy, demanding surcharge, for something what legacy carriers offer for free. I must admit however, that this extra meal, was much tastier then regular one and even the cutlery were metal instead of plastic. Looked like a short premium economy class preview. For sure, LOT will not be chosen by free alcohol enthusiasts, which is being offered in economy class for additional surcharge. Many other carries also in that case have better service, giving wide selection of spirits and wines free of charge.
We landed in Beijing early in the morning on a beautiful but very windy day. It was a rare opportunity to admire a perfectly blue sky in Chinese capital which is usually covered in dense and unhealthy smog. Polish pilot skillfully was able fight heavy gusts exceeding 80 km/h. The touch down on the runway was soft and elegant and Polish passengers as usually awarded captain with a great applause.
I was very impressed by the improvement which was made in LOT long haul service. This was however possible mainly due to new plane (product) with a great styling, interior, comfort and IFE. The service still needs to improve. Traveling with Polish Airlines you have to remember that you will be forced to pay for plenty of things which are free in other carriers. Additionally the crew was not interested in passenger in a way it should be.
Date: Tuesday, October 14 and Friday, October 31 (2014)
Airline : LOT Polish Airlines
Flight number: LO91/LO92 (WAW-PEK and PEK-WAW)
Duration: 7,5 hours (WAW-PEK) and 9 hours 15 minutes (PEK-WAW)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (SP-LRA and SP-LRF)
Seats: 17G and 20C (Economy Class)