In a nutshell: Short-haul business class on European carriers leaves much to be desired, if only because of the economy seats they use. You have to temper expectations. I found Austrian Airlines A321 business class to be a nice experience, with pleasant crew and decent food. My one frustration was the ground transfer at Vienna. It was a fine end to my four-segment itinerary.
Booking a four-segment itinerary without any real rest in the middle isn’t for the faint of heart. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many flights back-to-back before. Ideally, I like to take a positioning flight within the U.S. and then fly a nonstop long-haul to my destination. This helps ease you into your first day and makes the jet lag a bit more bearable.
This trip was totally different. You don’t have many options when booking a ticket from a regional airport to a country with an airport the size of a regional airport. That’s at least how I’d describe Pristina International. So four segments it was. After flying long-haul in SAS A330 Business Class, I hopped to Vienna from Copenhagen in a E195. This final segment in Austrian Airlines A321 business class took me from Vienna to Kosovo.
- Origin: Vienna, Austria (VIE)
- Destination: Pristina, Kosovo (PRN)
- Date: August 31, 2021
- Number: OS 777
- Aircraft: Airbus A321 (OE-LBB)
- Cabin: Business
- Cost: 77,000 United miles + $53.40 (for overall U.S.-Kosovo four-segment itinerary)
Buses and Stairs: Hurrying through Vienna Airport
It’s always disheartening to deplane via stairs (except at ACV where it’s normal). I don’t know how common this is in Europe, but I think it’s been my experience about half the time over 10 short-haul flights. Short-haul gets the short end of the stick, it seems, but I have even deplaned an A350 via stairs. The stairs plus bus process always eats 10-15 extra minutes. I guess it’s the bus part that is most aggravating. I dislike this process more than most other aspects of air travel.
Since this was an EU flight and I was departing on a non-EU flight, I had to catch another bus over the to terminal area containing my gate. My connection time at Vienna Airport was exactly an hour, so I was in a hurry. By the time I’d cleared passport control and sprinted to the restroom, it was scheduled boarding time. I ran sections of the home stretch to Gate 61, bounded down three flights of stairs, and finally made it to Gate 61. Turns out they put the flights to Kosovo in the basement.
And…I need not have hurried. At least quite that much. The staff were still checking documents, and boarding had not commenced. I figured I’d have to show my COVID-19 test, as this is required to enter Kosovo, but Austrian did not ask for it. Boarding started after five minutes…onto yet another bus. Yay. Three buses. It’s the tight connection airport experience from hell. But I’d made it.
The rain picked up a bit, and being last off the bus meant I ended up the wettest. Of all days, this would be the day to use two sets of stairs. But no. Two busloads of people take a while to file into an A321. I was quite glad to finally stow my bag and sit down in my Austrian Airlines A321 business class seat.
Austrian Airlines A321 Business Class Cabin
Like so many other European airlines, short-haul business class is pretty lackluster. The cabin consists of economy seats, with each middle seat left empty. Some airlines install plastic trays over the middle seats. Not Austrian. It looks just like economy. I don’t think there’s even any extra pitch. But it was a welcome sight. I was very happy to be out of the rain and onboard an Airbus, not a transit bus.
Johann Strauss’ quintessential waltz, By the Beautiful Blue Danube, was playing when I entered the cabin. Some other super famous pieces played as well. I recognized all of them, but couldn’t name any others. Not that much of a classical music nerd. The bright red headrests and crew uniforms reflect the national colors. Both of these touches clearly remind you that you’re flying Austrian.
The Austrian Airlines A321 business class seat was exactly what I expected for an intra-Europe product. The seats were very clean, cleaner than U.S. airlines have generally been even with “enhanced cleaning” during COVID-19. Pretty good condition for a 25-year-old aircraft, I must say. The seats are not all that comfortable in terms of padding, but, again, this is an economy hard product. One upside to business was being able to store my bag between the seats, so even though legroom is minimal, I got it all.
Being one of just two passengers in business class meant that I had not just a row to myself, but a whole side of the aircraft to myself. My more recent flights during COVID-19 had been very full. Not this trip. There were a good number of empty seats besides the business class cabin.
We were briefly a cabin of four, however. An American couple decided that empty business class looked nice. Our flight attendant politely, but firmly, made them march back to row 27, their actual assigned seats. There was some confusion over these being “just like the other seats”. Oh, no. Can’t you see this is business? It’s so obvious. Just look at the seats!
The meals on a short-haul flight are usually a surprise. This was no exception. The crew bought out trays very quickly. Lunch consisted of spinach gnocchi (best I could tell…don’t think it was pasta) in a white, buttery sauce. The flavor was different, but good. Dessert was a chocolate mousse dome.
I requested a vodka tonic to go along with the meal and then finished everything off with a cup of tea.
The crew pretty much disappeared after clearing the lunch trays. But they did later bring around chocolates, branded for Austrian Airlines. For a short-haul intra-Europe business class flight, it was one of the better experiences I’ve had.
It was still raining lightly when we departed Vienna. I was a bit surprised to see an Emirates Airbus A380 taxiing in while we were on out way out. I knew they’d brought back some, but Vienna seems an odd choice among all the other European destinations.
As we got further south of Austria, the clouds cleared and the window seat views were excellent. That is until a WizzAir plane shot right underneath us mid-flight. It gave me a good jolt of shock. We must’ve been separated by the required 1,000 feet, but the plane seemed so close.
When you’re on your fourth flight segment and 22rd hour of travel and counting, the exhaustion begins to catch up with you. Mid-flight surprise notwithstanding, I hit a wall halfway through the flight and was very glad this was my last segment of the trip.
As we got closer to Pristina, I spotted the highway connecting Kosovo with Albania. Then we circled around, slowly descending toward the capital. The views were fantastic, especially this one of Uroshevac in the southern section of the country. If you’re not familiar with Kosovo or the Balkans geography, the country is tiny. You can drive across it in two hours.
Final Thoughts on Austrian Airlines A321 Business Class
While I’m unlikely to pay the premium for any carrier’s intra-Europe business class, I have to say that I was happy with Austrian Airlines A321 business class, part of a larger class itinerary. It was nice to be in a such a sparse cabin, but that was mainly a feature of the particular route and flight date (late summer, after the Kosovar diaspora tend to return home). While the crew didn’t hang around all that much, all our interactions were pleasant. Lunch was even better than expected.
The negative was definitely the Vienna Airport experience. Before the trip, a friend of mine told how much he liked Vienna Airport. My memories consist of: stairs, bus, stairs, run, passport control, run, stairs, bus, stairs. Remind me not to book the hour connection next time. Maybe I’ll like it then.
I know I’ll be back. I’ve yet to visit Austria, plus Austrian is a carrier I’d like to fly long-haul at least once. Until then, auf wiedersehen.