Review: US Airways Envoy Class Charlotte to Paris

Introduction
US Airways Club Charlotte
US Airways Envoy Class Charlotte to Paris
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US Airways 786
Charlotte (CLT) – Paris (CDG)
Sunday, October 13
Depart: 4:50PM
Arrive: 6:55AM (+1 day)
Duration: 8hr5min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 5H (
Envoy Class)

I was really excited to fly US Airways Envoy Class. Actually, it’s probably the segment on this trip I was most looking forward to. US Airways sure is an “innovative” airline — they were the first in the US to try charging for soft drinks in coach and they’ve managed to cut their first class service on domestic flights down to what you’d expect to be offered at a frat party. But there’s one area in which they’ve had more positive innovation, and that’s with the international business class on their Airbus A330, the “Envoy Suite”. They were the first airline to introduce a reverse herringbone seat, the same I’ve now enjoyed on American, Cathay Pacific, and EVA.

Anyway, boarding was through door 2L, and we turned left into the business class cabin. The business class cabin consists of five rows in a 1-2-1 configuration, for a total of 20 seats. That’s actually a pretty small business class cabin (I mean, American has 16 first class seats on their 777), so I figured it would translate into pretty personalized service.

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US Airways Envoy Suite

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US Airways Envoy Suite

I quickly settled into 5H, my window seat in the last row.

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US Airways Envoy Suite, 5H

I could tell right away that the seat was a more “primitive” version of the reverse herringbone seat than what other airlines have. For example, below is a picture of the Cathay Pacific reverse herringbone seat. As you’ll see, it’s quite a bit more private due to the “shield” on the side. Also, the “shell” around the seat seems to go quite a bit higher. So don’t get me wrong, US Airways still has an excellent business class hard product, especially for a quick transatlantic flight, but not all reverse herringbone seats are created equal.

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Cathay Pacific business class

Waiting at my seat were a small pillow and basic blanket.

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US Airways Envoy Suite, 5H

There was an ottoman below the fold out TV screen.

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US Airways Envoy Suite, 5H

To the right of the seat were the seat controls as well as a small storage compartment, which wasn’t especially practical since it didn’t close and opened sideways, meaning stuff could fall out pretty easily.

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US Airways Envoy Suite seat controls

Above that were the entertainment controls, headphone jack, USB/110v outlets, and a reading light.

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US Airways Envoy Suite entertainment controls and reading light

Since the service hadn’t yet started and the cabin was still filling up I took the opportunity to go to the forward restroom and change into a pair of British Airways pajamas. The lavatory was small and no frills (meaning there were no special “premium” toiletries or anything).

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US Airways Envoy Class lavatory

I got back to my seat as cabin service was starting. The flight attendants working the business class cabin were Carolyn and Ms. Peggy… at least that’s what every crew member called her. Carolyn was maybe in her low 60s, while Ms. Peggy was a few years her (and the rest of the crew’s) senior. The first thing I couldn’t help but notice were their uniforms. They look like track suits. Now on one hand I assume that would be comfortable for a transatlantic flight, but I also can’t help but feel like it’s tough to take pride in your job when you’re serving a premium cabin in what more or less looks like something you’d wear to the laundromat.

Anyway, Ms. Peggy came down my aisle to offer pre-departure beverage drinks. “Drinks? Drinks? Drinks? Drinks?” is what she said to everyone.

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US Airways Envoy Class pre-departure beverages

Shortly thereafter dinner menus were distributed by Carolyn. She didn’t say “here’s our dinner menu, please look it over at your convenience,” but rather “look it over now because I’m taking orders shortly.”

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US Airways Envoy Class menu

In the meantime a male flight attendant that was working the galley came around with a cart consisting of headphones and amenity kits.

The headphones were fine — not as good as American’s Bose headphones, but not bad either.

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US Airways Envoy Class headphones

The amenity kit and its contents were fairly basic.

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US Airways Envoy Class amenity kit

A full 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time Carolyn stomped through the aisles barking at each passenger “drink up, I need yer glasses back.”

After she successfully collected all glasses — and still before pushback — she came around the cabin to take meal orders. There was no “Mr. Schlappig, what would you like for dinner tonight?” Instead she simply said “what for dinner?” which is the same thing she said to each passenger. I replied “the tilapia, please.” She responded in a loud voice with “WHAT?!” I repeated, “the tilapia, please.” She snarled “oh, you mean the fish.”

The Envoy Cabin eventually filled up completely with at least a handful of employees seated up front, and plenty more in coach — I think they may have been Ms. Peggy’s family members. Several of these family members from coach came up for a cockpit visit during boarding.

We pushed back on schedule, with some awesome views of the Lufthansa A340-600 parked next to us.

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Views on pushback

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Lufthansa A340-600

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Charlotte Airport traffic

We taxied out to runway 36R, which took about 10 minutes.

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Crossing runway

Once there we were number two for takeoff, and within a few minutes were airborne for our 7hr38min flight to Paris.

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View after takeoff

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View after takeoff

Our climb out was smooth, though it was about 30 minutes after takeoff before the seatbelt sign was turned off, and of course for “safety reasons” there was no service up until that point. The captain came on the PA and gave an extremely brief announcement, basically just informing us to keep our seatbelts fastened while seated, with no further information about the flight.

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View on climb out

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Airshow after takeoff

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Airshow after takeoff

I browsed the on-demand entertainment selection, which was fairly impressive.

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Entertainment system

I decided to watch an episode of “2 Broke Girls.”

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Entertainment choice

The service began with hot towels.

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Hot towel

The dinner menu read as follows:

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And the wine list read as follows:

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First I was offered drinks and hot nuts. I ordered a Diet Coke with lime. Instead of serving items, Carolyn seemed to subscribe to more of a “self service” model. She would lift the drink and nuts from the tray and hold them till I grabbed them and placed them down myself. Odd.

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Diet Coke with lime and hot nuts

After that Carolyn came around with tablecloths. She noticed my iPhone was sitting close to the side of the seat, so she said “don’t put it there, it can fall through the crack and if it’s gone it’s gone.” I appreciate the warning in theory, but surely there’s another way to communicate that, no?

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Tray table

The appetizer and salad were served on one tray. The pesto-marinated prawns were fine, and the salad was definitely on the simple side with just yellow peppers.

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US Airways Envoy Class salad and appetizer

For the main course I ordered the tilapia, which was chewy and extremely dry.

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US Airways Envoy Class main course — herbed panko crusted tilapia

My main course sat on my tray for about 30 minutes after I’d finished, and I didn’t once see a flight attendant. I went to the business class galley (located behind the cabin) and found it odd that there weren’t any flight attendants there. So I headed to the lavatory located forward of the cabin and saw Carolyn and Ms. Peggy having a conversation there, where they must have been for 20+ minutes. It’s one thing if they were preparing stuff in the galley, but all the service is done from the rear galley and not the forward galley…

Then the crew came around with the dessert cart.

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Dessert cart

I selected the white chocolate tiramisu, which was really good.

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US Airways Envoy Class dessert — white chocolate tiramisu

US Airways has a cappuccino machine aboard, so I ordered one of those. There was coffee on the dessert cart, so when I requested a cappuccino the flight attendant let out a loud sigh and yelled to the galley for a cappuccino.

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Cappuccino

The meal service was complete maybe 2.5 hours into the flight. At that point, as if we were eight year olds in summer camp, the flight attendant made a PA just to the business class cabin, along the lines of “this is now your allocated rest period, so you can sleep. If you want something to eat or drink you can help yourself in the galley.”

While the food was okay — certainly not gourmet but definitely edible for the most part — the service was abysmal. Neither Carolyn or Ms. Peggy once cracked a smile, and getting a drink refill was more work than filling out a Russian visa application.

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Airshow during dinner

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Airshow during dinner

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Sunset view over the Atlantic

After dinner I reclined my seat into the fully flat position. The reverse herringbone is certainly one of the more comfortable business class seats out there, though the padding isn’t amazing and pillow and blanket could be better.

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US Airways Envoy Suite bed

While it was fairly dark in row five, the crew had a hard time keeping the noise level in the galley down, at least until some of them went on break. Meanwhile my friend was in row one, and it’s worth noting there’s a bright light they keep on above that row which makes it almost impossible to sleep there.

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Light above row one

I did manage to get a bit of sleep, and woke up just under two hours out of Paris.

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Airshow upon waking up

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Airshow upon waking up

I decided to browse the entertainment selection, and watched an episode of “Veep,” which I found entertaining.

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Entertainment choice

I then decided to watch a real estate TV show — “Secret Lives of the Super Rich.”

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Entertainment choice

Breakfast was served an hour out of Paris, which seemed awfully close to arrival (though I can appreciate that since it allowed people to maximize sleep, though my guess is that it was intended to maximize Ms. Peggy’s sleep as well).

The breakfast menu read as follows:

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I selected the spinach and mushroom omelette. It was served with a bowl of fruit and a pastry from the breadbasket. I had a cappuccino to go along with it, which was once again good.

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US Airways Envoy Class breakfast

Our descent was smooth, and for the crew, much of it was spent conversing with their friends/family seated in Envoy Class, and explaining where they were going to meet upon landing. “But make sure you bring a Euro to tip the shuttle bus driver.” Hmmm, I think they’re forgetting this isn’t the US.

We touched down on runway 27R at Charles de Gaulle at 6:55AM and had a roughly 10 minute taxi to our arrival gate, making it there at 7:05AM.

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Our A330 on arrival

On the whole US Airways has a really solid hard product with their Envoy Suite. The food wasn’t great, though certainly edible, but it’s really the crew that left a sour taste in my mouth. And based on the way they were acting it didn’t seem like they thought they were having an off day, but rather that they were doing us a favor by showing up to work to begin with. And we wonder why US airlines often can’t compete with foreign carriers…

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Comments

  1. It looks like this “lesser reverse herringbone” config is also pretty lousy for those in the middle seat, since the cabinet door/privacy shield that CX offers isn’t available. And if you’re in the middle and you *do* want to talk to the person next to you, it looks like the seat doesn’t have the slide-forward function like Cathay’s, so those middle seats have neither a decent level of privacy (like traditional herringbone do) nor the ability to easily talk to your neighbor.

    I believe the US Airways version of the seat is the one that Delta has on its 747s and is installing on its A330s.

  2. US Airways can’t even compete with other US carriers. Too bad the FAA can’t implement mandatory retirement for FA’s like they do for Pilots.

    It’s sad that a good product experience is ruined by the sub-par service – exactly why I would love it if the AA/US merger fell apart like an ObamaCare website on October 1st.

  3. What a mess.

    I keep hearing good things about US, but I honestly don’t know what these people could possibly be comparing it to if they think US is any sort of improvement. Anyway thanks for the full review. The current set of business class trip reviews is a nice break from the first class cabins on carriers that can’t be booked easily with most points currencies.

    Speaking of which, I tried to make use of the USDM sharing bonus but the transaction never went through and nobody ever contacted me to say why. I wonder why it has to be such a pain to build up these balances. *sigh*

  4. btw, minor point, but CLT has three runway 36’s. By your pictures, your flight departed from 36R (can tell by the ramp with the vintage aircraft on the right side at the far end)

  5. My two Envoy flights included perfectly fine service. Definitely better than what you seem to have experienced. Although on one of my flights the cabin was mostly empty and the FA was asking passengers to move their seats so everyone was sitting in the forward part of the cabin “for better service.” One guy refused, and she said, “you don’t want better service?” (I’m still not sure how the service would have been better.)

    Also, they’ve definitely upgraded the amenity kits since the last time I flew with them. They were previously in clear plastic bags that resembled slightly upgraded Ziplocs.

  6. Now you know why they give you ear plugs I guess. Seriously I’ve had good service in Envoy across the Atlantic. I think you just got a below average crew imho.

  7. I have flown the A330-200/300 Envoy several times, and i agree the product is solid. US Airways needs to repad the seats though, as when I flew them after they initiated this cabin, it was much more comfortable. I agree, some little issues, but still overall a great deal. I flew in May and October in Envoy through Frankfurt and Munich from Philly and the flight attendants were great (and quiet). Seems you got the bad batch. I know I would be worried if the flight attendant couldn’t hear you, how effective would she be in an emergency situation.

  8. Lucky, did you file a complaint with US regarding the crew? I truly hope you did. For all the decent reports I hear about US Envoy Class, I’d hate for this crew to keep creating sour-feeling journeys.

  9. Ben….thats why I read your blog. You calls ’em likes you see’s ’em! We flew US Envoy last December from PHL to ZRH and had the same so-so experience. We also received the upgraded Ziploc amenity kit that in fairness looks better than what you received.

  10. Great laugh-out-loud examples of unprofessional behavior by the crew.

    It seems you believe the “really solid hard product” is a bit too hard (“padding isn’t amazing”).

    Doesn’t make me want to rush to book Envoy class.

    Love Veep! 😉

  11. Ben, I totally agree with Tom. You should send this entire story to the powers at US Airways. That crew oviously needs a stern talking to.

  12. I agree with the other commenters that you should report it, in writing (perhaps by snail mail!), to US Airways. The only exception is that, at this point, I am not sure they will care. The uncertainty and depersonalization of a large merger – even planned / stymied / prevented – is so bad for morale, they might just send you a nothing reply. Why should they care if their service is terrible?

  13. “so when I requested a cappuccino the flight attendant let out a loud sigh and yelled to the galley for a cappuccino.”

    At times I couldn’t tell if you were still reviewing the flight or trying to recap the episode of 2 Broke Girls.

  14. If i covered up any reference to airline name or flight details, what would remain would be an example of any Air NZ flight. Aged FAs, overly familiar and disrespectful attitude towards clients, food down to low standard . The most likely thing you hear from kiwi staff is “yer all right there?”. I will no longer fly air nz. I stick with Thai on regular commute AKL to BKK and even coach service is much better than you experienced, plus they usually give me three seats to myself . In my view, complaining to airline is a waste of time. If such conduct is present, then management must have been told about it by others and if it continues, it must be condoned by management. Just another way for them to tell you to go to another airline with your money…

  15. I was just laughing so hard reading this report. So sorry you had a crappy experience…I’ve got two reviews coming and both flights were great–good service, good food. But ex-PHL/FRA. Maybe that was it.

  16. Of course not all herringbone’s seats are made the same. US, DL, and BR actually use a off-the-rack version of the seat. CX (and AA which of course took CX) and their engineering team made specific customisations to tailor the seat for the frequent flyers.

  17. Tim- Bad service has nothing to do with the age of a crewmember. It has to do with the corporate culture which allows it. Get over your ageism.

  18. That’s the same experience my wife and I had flying to and from Paris last year. Probably the same crew, by the sound of it. Not friendly, definitely acting like it was gracious of them to even be there. I was rudely awoken on my way there “do you want breakfast or not?!” and my wife was leaned over twice so the FA could pull down her window shade. Also, as you experienced, no trash removal at all – I had to ask them to take my empty cups away.
    But I do agree, it’s a decent hard product, and not bad for a 7 hour flight.

  19. This report is so hilarious but so sorry you had such bad experience with US airway. I flew enovy to London last month and service is indeed the worst of all major player. I did feel the color scheme of cabin seems a little bit too South and out of dated. I was surprised too see they serve pre departure dink in glass instead of plastic up. Food presentation was better than I thought and a menu was provided. Sometimes it works to lower your expectation.

  20. Yeah, they don’t seem to have a good international upper cabin reputation..I have a domestic US Airways flight coming up. Will I be able to credit the miles to my United account?

  21. @ Shannon M. — You sure can, though after last week’s United devaluation it’s questionable whether those miles are more valuable.

    Keep in mind that ultimately you can always redeem US Airways miles for travel on other airlines.

  22. “One guy refused, and she said, “you don’t want better service?””

    Isn’t that code for “Please make my job easier?”

  23. @ Bene — Seems we went a bit further South than originally scheduled, but don’t see anything weird about it otherwise (unless I’m missing something).

  24. I might send this review to Gordon Ramsay, it could spark a new TV series “Sky High Hell” or something of the sort…………….

  25. Ben, too bad you got bad service on the flight. I’ve had better service flying US transatlantic, but in my experience, PHL-based crews are definitely much better than CLT-based crews.

  26. Phil to Rome this past week in Envoy and the service was horrible. No instructions were offered by the FA on how to operate the seats, TV etc. Didn’t even get offered a wine choice with my filet which appeared to be seared at a factory and then steamed.Crew stood around in the forward galley and chatted until requested to move. Ceiling light by #1 was finally turned off several hours into the flight. I had envy of the food and service in coach but the lay down seats were excellent. There is a reason why its not called First Class.

  27. I usually enjoy the well meaning pleasant although not always finely executed business class experience on AA. I find Your experience on US to be typical and far below AA’s. And the food is sub par to American as well. We can hope US will use the merger to improve the business class product, and not bring AA down to their level. And the domestic 1st service of US is laughable.

  28. Sounds like a pretty awful service experience. I suppose US management isn’t big on enforcing/incentivizing fabled Souther hospitality 🙁

    @ Bill — thank you for the article!

  29. Re the seat it’s worth bearing in mind that Cathay tweaked the product to come up with theirs, which certainly looks to be an improvement over US Airways’s. Props to them.

    The service you described is nothing short of appalling. Did you have to bite your tongue throughout the flight to avoid retorting? I don’t think I would’ve been able to contain myself. This kind of service particularly if you’re paying a premium for it (whether in cash or points) would really make me angry.

  30. Makes me wonder if its worth the extra money / points as we plan our trip to Germany this spring. BUT… don’t trash a legacy airlines for the poor service and attitude and lack of work ethic and pleasant demeanor of its employees. You can “thank” the employees themselves and their Union that assures you of poor standards/service, and making it almost impossible for the airline to improve or remove these employees. I manage a large business with a union environment and experience this same frustration… what’s worse is that these burnt out battle-axe employees set an environment that chases away the younger more pleasant employees leaving you with the dregs…

  31. We have taken this flight before, as well as other CLT to Europe nonstop flights, and have had no problem using the $300 + 30,000 mile upgrade from coach to Envoy way far in advance. We have a flight from CLT to CDG in early April and have been calling every day to try to upgrade this way, and are told there are no upgrade seats available. There are plenty of Envoy seats still showing on their seat map. What has changed? Is this the merger? Has anyone else experienced this?

  32. @ Ray — It’s a pretty common trend nowadays for airlines to hold back upgrade space longer and longer, often until the day of departure.

  33. Thanks for the review, Lucky. I was browsing some options to fly to Paris and didn`t want to fly in Economy and almost canceled the whole trip because there was no availability in Business using AA or US miles.
    After reading your review, I was horrified. Even Delta looks so much better now-I flew round trip to/from Asia recently, and their service and food was on par with Lufthansa`s First Class (not the lounges though). Delta used to be very, very bad. But this US flight was just as bad.
    I am out of options to fly to Pars now. Looks like Air Berlin and FinnAir are bad choices as well, and I don`t want to use my UA miles for this trip in sake of a must trip on LH in First.
    Any suggestions? Flying from DAB/MCO.

  34. Hilarious! Until recently, my husband and I flew this airline regularly as it was the only direct flight from London to Charlotte. We too became so appalled by the charmless service from the unprofessional cabin crew that we changed to one stop flights with anyone other than US Airways. Typically, all we ever heard from them in coach class was ‘Chicken or pasta?’ as the plastic trays were hurled out by the passing steward. They aren’t even the cheapest fares!

  35. Fun review, and broadly consistent with my own experience. Ahh, entitled, untouchable legacy union employees. Gotta love ’em! Mainly because you haven’t much choice.

  36. Ben – Having reviewed your trip report, I have a few concerns.

    1. Tilapia – its WHAT for dinner.

    2. Did Kermit the Frog accompany Ms. Peggy?

    3. Haven’t you heard, the “self-service” model is all the rage?

    4. How inconsiderate of you to interrupt the flight crew’s social hour by redeeming miles for US Scareways Awnry class.

    5. I don’t know about you, but my cappuccino recipe also calls for a sigh and a yell to the galley.

  37. You don’t need to tell me about the US Airways employees. I worked at the Charlotte Airport for 2 years and have to say the employees at US Airways are the most miserable, mean, spiteful, self serving airline employees I have ever come across. They scream and yell and complain to services that don’t even concern them. I worked valet at the terminal and every Sunday night a flight attendant would come out late to be picked up by her husband, obviously after her flight. First, she should know she can’t get picked up in that area, but every time she would just start yelling that we took up to much space, that we were a nuisance, that she hated us, that we should move our operation, etc. She wasn’t our customer, she had nothing to do with us….finally one day I walked up to her and directly said, “these are YOUR customers and they pay YOUR salary.” I never saw her again. Oh – and never tell a US Airways pilot he has to move down to the smoking section outside the terminal to have one – they’ll berate you for hours. I think it is in their training or something, because it is not just a handful, but the majority.

  38. A question about the middle seats for a couple: can that divider be moved so you can actually chat with your neighbor (wife)? Play Scrabble?

  39. I flew BUS Air France to CDG couple of years ago and Usair Bus to CDG lastspring. What difference…light years apart in food quality and ESP in service. AF FA hung my jacket, called me by name, helped me w seat, stowed my CO…and the filet was butter! I was shocked at the blasé attitude of Usair FA….annoyed actually if I asked anything, very inefficient, and even surly. What a shame They not only don’t take pride in their position but also act so unfriendly, irritated, and almost hostile.

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