Following is a testimonial and a first-hand experience of Janet Forman, Features Editor of Premier Traveler Magazine.
It began with a surprisingly quick and painless check-in at what is generally my least favorite JFK terminal, Terminal 1, followed by a bowl of beef barley soup with honey cheddar on black bread and a glass of silky pinot noir served gratis in Brussels Airlines’ alliance partner Lufthansa’s Senator Lounge.
Upon boarding and reaching my seat, 4E, I found a massive single lounger flanked by two consoles that raised the suspicion that I’d been placed in First Class by mistake. Reveling in what felt like acres of personal real estate and hoping no one would notice the error, it was only after stowing my shoes, computer and water bottle in their dedicated spots that I dared eye the rest of the cabin. It was then that I realized that this cabin offers staggered, 1-2-1 / 2-1-2 seating—and I relaxed, knowing I was in no danger of being booted from my mini-kingdom.
Brush with Greatness
As I hunkered down to explore the entertainment options on my luminous 15.3-inch touch-screen monitor, a gentleman smartly attired in crisp white shirt and elegantly cut trousers introduced himself. I leaned forward to catch his name and noticed his image smiling up at me from the in-flight magazine in my lap. This was Brussels Airlines CEO Bernard Gustin, taking time to greet each of the thirty Business-Class passengers on this flight when he could be otherwise working, dining, sleeping or simply traveling under the radar.
Since Gustin seemed eager to chat, I asked about the unusual cabin design: “It’s a way to reduce the number of seats where ‘acrobatics’ are required to access the aisle from the flatbed position,” he revealed. The entertainment choices have been just as carefully considered to include quality feature films, such as The Descendants, and an educational Games section with selections like Chess Classic and Brain Teasers.
Dining and Dozing
After my chat with Gustin, I still wasn’t quite ready for bed (the flight only departed at 5:15 p.m.), but as usual, I was hungry, so I was pleased to see hearty Belgian-style fare—like pan-roasted chicken with polenta and citrus-marinated sea bass with sweet potato—rolling up the aisle, followed by Basque cheese and apple tart laced with cinnamon mascarpone.
On sliding the seat into its lie-flat position and adjusting its firmness with the pneumatic cushion system, slumber came surprisingly fast after my meal, especially given the hour. In fact, I was able to get so comfortable sleeping that it seemed like the breakfast of croissants, fresh fruit and yogurt appeared all too soon. A smooth touchdown and efficient exit from Brussels Airport left me eagerly anticipating the flight home.
Charmingly, at Brussels Airport, instead of a brusque “No Standing” sign, the drop-off lane is labeled “Kiss and Ride.” Be advised, however, that it’s a long, long walk from there to JFK-bound flights at Gate 61, so bypass the first lounge you pass, as there’s a closer one after passport control and the Section T security at Gate 72.
Traveling with a companion this time, the two of us were assigned one of the paired sets of seats, where I found all the same bells and whistles as my decadent single seat on the way out (both are 22.5 inches wide with a 44-inch pitch). The only surprise on this flight was the food, which I found a bit heavy for eight hours of airplane sitting—although I take full responsibility for finishing off the chicken tikka masala, the earthy Trou d’ Sottai cheese and praline mousse laced with hunks of spicy Speculoos cookies, only to sign on for a mid-flight cup of creamy Jules Destrooper ice cream. On landing, flight attendants presented passengers with an elegantly wrapped box of Neuhaus chocolates, ideal for that forgotten souvenir.
Flying Brussels Airlines transatlantic, you’ll deplane rested, sated and—if you’ve spent quality time with the high-minded in-flight entertainment—possibly even a bit smarter than before you boarded.
Premier Traveler Magazine