Airline Service: Slowly Going Back to the Pre-Corona Normal?

Is airline in-flight service slowly going back to pre-corona standards? After the last couple of flights I took, it sure does look like we are finally heading back to the good old normal.

Flying abroad

Having received my final corona jab in April, a lot of travel restrictions which previously plagued me were instantly removed.

Most of these restrictions concern my home country of Romania, where you are forced to go into home isolation for two weeks if you return from a country with a high corona incidence rate.

The current list (27th May) lists dozens of countries in red and yellow, which means you need a PCR test to travel to Romania and quarantine on arrival.

Fortunately, vaccinated travellers are exempt from all of these rules, which meant that I could slowly go back to my old life with plenty of leisure and business trips.

slatina timis vaccination centre
The local clinic in Slatina Timiș where I received my vaccination. ©Paliparan

Flights

Since my vaccination, I have embarked on numerous trips and flown 11 flight segments. During my last flight on Aegean Airlines, it got me thinking how much of the in-flight experience has been restored to a pre-pandemic normal.

Of course, I fully realise we are not yet back at normal. Many countries across the world from Argentina to India still have high corona numbers putting lots of pressure on hospitals.

And while many countries in Europe, North America and the Middle East have made major steps vaccinating their population and are getting close to herd immunity, this is certainly not the case for most countries across the globe.

That of course also reflects in the in-flight experience on board airlines. Face masks are still mandatory and there are still some noticeable service cuts on board. And I didn’t even start about flight schedules which are still thinned out, making it at times even hard to find good flight connections.

With this post, I however want to focus on some of the positives when it comes to service on European airlines.

aegean airlines athens airport airbus a320
An Aegean Airlines Airbus A320 at Athens Airport. ©Paliparan

Aegean Airlines economy class

Let’s start with Aegean Airlines, an airline I fly often to and from Greece and beyond. In pre-corona times, Aegean was always known for providing good in-flight service, both in business class as well as in economy.

At the height of the pandemic, Aegean Airlines had its in-flight service suspended, but has since brought it back. In economy class, there is again a choice of snack or meal, while drinks are served as well.

Unfortunately, beer or wine is currently not served in Aegean’s economy class, with the flight attendant telling me this was “because of corona”. Of course, we all know a glass of wine is a COVID-19 risk factor while drinking a coke isn’t!

Although it’s sad to see that service reductions are still described as “being for your own safety” instead of the cost-cutting measures they in fact are, it is safe to conclude that Aegean’s economy product is close to its old normal at the moment.

Aegean Airlines business class

On my last flight from Athens to Bucharest I put in the minimum bid for an upgrade to business class, which was accepted. I was happy to see that in business class, meal service has been fully restored.

Alcohol is served in Aegean’s business class, because as we know, business class passengers are immune from getting corona through drinking wine, while it’s highly dangerous to serve it to passengers flying economy.

Although the full drinks list was available, the wine list in Aegean’s business class has been temporarily adapted.

Normally, Aegean offers a premium selection of Greek wines which changes every few months. At this moment, the mini bottles of wine which are normally given to economy class passengers are served in business class.

Together with the absence of pre-departure beverages it is the only service cut in business class still in place at Aegean Airlines. All things combined, it’s minor stuff only, and I’m happy to see that Aegean Airlines is firmly on its way back to the full restoration of their old in-flight product.

aegean drinks list
The business class drinks list on Aegean Airlines. ©Paliparan
aegean business class meal service flight airline corona
A simple but fresh salad, tasty sea bass and a chocolate dessert and some cheese – all paired with a glass of ouzo. Not bad at all for a flight of just over one hour in duration. ©Paliparan
aegean business class meal service flight
Proper espresso and some mastiha liqueur to conclude the meal. ©Paliparan

LOT Polish Airlines

LOT Polish Airlines has grown on me a lot in recent years. During the pandemic the LOT customer service has been great and the airline offers great connections to many secondary European cities through its Warsaw hub.

Besides, seats on LOT’s Embraer fleet are so much more spacious than you will find on almost any other European airline in economy class, with the two abreast seating (as opposed to the 3-3 seating configuration on Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s) being another major plus.

Although flying LOT in has never been luxurious when it comes to service and its normal economy product pales compared to airlines such as Turkish, at the very least LOT has been amazingly consistent.

Even though the buy-on-board service was temporarily suspended at the height of the corona pandemic, LOT did retain the complimentary snack and bottle of water on all its intra-European flights.

And let’s be honest, a small snack and a free bottle of water is basically all you need for a short flight of under two hours. Even before the corona pandemic, this was already a much better in-flight product than you would find on board many other flagship carriers in Europe!

lot in flight snack service airline corona
LOT serves a complimentary snack and bottle of water on board in economy class. The apple pastry actually tastes good too! ©Paliparan

Air France

Together with Lufthansa, there has been perhaps no other airline in Europe with such a consistent service during the COVID-19 pandemic than Air France.

The French national airline managed to keep up its high on-board service standards in all classes despite the ongoing corona crisis. Even at the height of the pandemic, only some short haul routes were impacted by a more limited service, while mid and long-haul routes pretty much saw service as usual.

Flying Air France, you can therefore expect to receive a complimentary snack or meal and drinks in economy class depending on the length of the flight, as well as full service in business class.

It certainly was nice to drink (quite a few glasses of) champagne again when I flew Air France last autumn as it felt for a moment that corona never existed!

champagne air france
Free-flowing champagne – and an Air France crew eager to give you refills – makes you forget all about corona for a while! ©Paliparan
air france business class meal airline service corona
Business class meal on an intra-European flight with Air France. ©Paliparan

Turkish Airlines

One of the European airlines which took a whole other direction during the corona crisis was Turkish Airlines.

Turkish decided to drastically alter their in-flight service and on many flights either stopped serving food and drinks altogether on many flights in economy, while in business class they handed out sub-par meal boxes.

For an airline which was known for its excellent on-board service before corona, these were drastic steps which were massively criticised by frequent flyers.

I for sure had my fair share of Turkish Airlines criticism too. You can’t expect business travellers to cough up 3,000 EUR for a transatlantic ticket and then only serve them a cup of water and a meal box consisting of a cheese sandwich that is so dry and rock-hard that you can use both as a bio weapon and a ranged weapon to throw at people.

Fortunately, Turkish has reinstated its service on most of its flights in economy and business class. However, there are still some service limitations you should be aware of.

In economy class, Turkish Airlines still hasn’t reinstated alcoholic beverages and booze is also still missing from the otherwise excellent Turkish Airlines Business Lounge.

In business class, there are some minor service adjustments too, as there are no pre-departure beverages and no choice of appetiser.

turkish airlines business class meal
A Turkish mezze starter on an intra-European flight in business class. ©Paliparan

TAROM

Have all airlines in Europe reinstated (part) of their normal in-flight service? Is everything back to the pre-pandemic normal again? Unfortunately, no!

My home airline TAROM is still pretending we are at the height of the corona crisis, which is weird considering that the corona rate in Romania is one of the lowest in the EU and the entire country has opened up long ago!

On a recent flight from Madrid to Bucharest I was lucky enough to receive an upgrade to business class at the gate. The flight was massively overbooked as it was the day before Orthodox Easter, which sees many Romanian migrants returning home for the holidays.

My first impression on board was good, as the Boeing 737-700 which was used to operate the flight had proper leather business class seats.

Sure, the cabin is old and it has quite some wear and tear, but it still is a comfortable seat to fly in – especially so when considering that most other European airlines just have standard economy seats with the middle seat empty as their intra-European business class product.

Although TAROM did already have an absolutely lacklustre business class service even before the corona pandemic started (while economy normally is pretty good), they managed to bring it to new lows on this flight.

Despite a flight time of around four hours, there was absolutely no service whatsoever on the flight. No food, no booze, not even a cup of water! What a disappointment..

tarom business class boeing 737-700
TAROM’s business class cabin on the Boeing 737-700. ©Paliparan
tarom airline service corona koen
Even on a TAROM flight of four hours in business class, there was zero in-flight service.. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

During most of my flights in the last few months, airline service has been mostly reinstated to pre-corona levels.

Sure, many airlines do still have some slight service adjustments, but there are quite a few European carriers who have pretty much resumed full on-board service, which is great to see.

That said, if you are the kind of passenger who cares about in-flight service – whether it’s in economy or business class – you should still be aware that some airlines still operate with self-imposed service reductions.

While life on board Aegean Airlines, Air France and LOT Polish Airlines almost felt like the pre-corona normal, Turkish Airlines still has to bring back part of its old in-flight service.

At the very least, Turkish Airlines has improved its service in recent months. My recent flight on TAROM proves that some other airlines still have a longer way to go.

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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