I was expecting that this would be one of my harshest reviews of airline service. Given the high season airfares between Israel and North America in the summer, I booked my August trip from Tel Aviv to Toronto on Lot Polish Airlines. ("Lot") The fare was close to $1,000 less than the available Air Canada fare and I could still get full Aeroplan points. I could also get the other benefits of flying on a Star Alliance partner - including lounge access, extra baggage allowance and priority boarding. Of course, it would also mean several hours of layover time in Warsaw which was less than enticing. Nevertheless I decided to try it, despite the many stories that I had heard about Lot.
Like the other Star Alliance flights out of Tel Aviv, Lot leaves Israel at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. This means check- in at 3 a.m. and of course no sleep. Check-in at Ben Gurion Airport was a zoo, though I suppose that is always the case leaving Israel unless you are flying Air Canada which seems to have the 1 p.m. time slot all to itself.
The plane itself, for this first leg of the trip, was a base version of a Boeing 737. The seats looked like they were the original seats. There were no TV screens or music devices - no entertainment of any kind. As we were making our way towards the runway, the plane was making some awfully peculiar noises. For the first time in quite a number of flights, I began to appreciate the need that some feel to recite "tefillat haderech" the traveller's prayer... This was reinforced for me by the high level of exuberence shown by the cabin crew as they demonstrated the safety equipment and procedures. Perhaps this all explained why the passengers clapped so enthusiastically when we eventually arrived in Warsaw.
I did not have to worry about Kosher food as there was no meal service at all. At one point, the flight attendants distributed chocolate bars...and they came a few times with water. But no other beverages, were served on this flight. They did not even serve coffee. Although the flight was just under 4 hours, there was no meal service at all. That was surprising. Even Austrian Airlines serves food, however disgusting it might be.
On arrival in Warsaw, we had to take a bus to the terminal. At the terminal, we were required to pass through full personal security, even though the bus stayed behind security at all times. There was one security station for the whole plane. It was tediously slow and poorly organized, especially compared to arrival in other European cities. I was in that line for close to an hour and I was only somewhere in the middle.
To this point in my trip, it would be fair to say that Lot had met my original expectations.
Chopin Airport in Warsaw is a modest airport. There were a couple of duty free stores and the prices were reasonable (if you know the exchange rates for a zloty..). The Star Alliance lounge was quite decent. It had coffee, alcoholic beverages, fresh juices and even stale kosher sandwhiches (dairy and meat versions, separately packaged of course.). The staff members were friendly and there was free unlimited WiFi. They even lent me an adaptor plug piece. The lounge had some nice showers as well, though I did not use these facilities. Nevertheless, I had more than five hours to check out the lounge and the airport before my connecting flight.
Then it came time to check in to Toronto. Check-in was a zoo, just like israel, although although unlike El-Al, there was still some semblance of boarding order.
But here is where it gets unfair...I was pulled aside and upgraded to business "premium" class. Was it because they knew my grandfather z"l had faced horrible anti-semitism in Poland and had been forced to flee the Polish army in 1917? Or in consideration of my many family members killed in Poland during the Holocaust? I don't think so. I was simply the nearest Star Alliance Gold member...so I suppose that counts for something sometimes.
So I found myself placed in 6f, a window seat, in a new 787 Dreamliner. I"ll have to review economy on my way back. I was seated in the "Premium Business Class" section, which is one step below the business first section. I can only really compare this to Air Canada's business class service, since I don't generally fly business class.
On this Lot plane, in the premium business section, the seats were nice and wide but did not have cubicles like Air Canada. There were USB plugs, dual europe-north america outlets and personal screens. at every seat.
But unlike many other airlines, even at the economy class level, the Lot screens were showing a choice of about 12 movies (not hundreds like on United or US Air economy service). For music, there were also a very small number of choices.
As well, as far as business seats go, these were quite crowded. You cannot easily get out the seat if you are seated in the window seat. You have to ask the other person to get up and move aside. And even then, you actually have to climb over the seat.
Also, suprisingly, there are no washrooms in the premium business class section so you have to leave the "protected area" and venture back to the middle if the plane...
Overall, I'm not complaining too much. I"m thankful to have been upgraded. I"ll have to add a note about economy on my way back. However, they did announce at the beginning of the flight that for economy class, personal entertainment systems were available for rent. So that didn't sound good.
The meals were fairly small. The first meal was served an hour or so after the flight. My vegetarian "meal" looked like about 4 or 5 fettuccini noodles cut in half and served with three mushrooms....needless to say, I was still hungry.
Nevertheless, if Lot was hoping that I would say better things about this airline if it upgraded me, it worked...
Even for economy, these 787s seemed to be much better than the planes used by Austrian, or El Al...but I will have to reserve some of my assessment and add more after my return leg. This may work out well for myself and for Lot ...maybe they"ll even upgrade me again to ensure a positive review...
But I also wanted to add a word or two, in general, about the 787 Dreamliner.
This huge new plane is impressive, despite the well-publicized difficulties in getting it off the ground (or back onto the ground). It was very quiet and remarkably smooth. The windows are described as one of the special new features. They do not have pull down plastic shades. Instead there are five shading controls that work like increasingly strong sunglasses.
But for all of the planning that must have gone into these planes, the plane does not have enough washrooms, causing congestion in the middle and at the back. Most planes have a set of washrooms at the front of the business section and a set just after the business section. This one does not.
I was in "premium" class which was not full-scale first class. But "dinner" was a few pieces of lox, some kiwi, orange and cheese slices. Like the lunch, it was minimalist. And this was the enhanced meal..! So i was fairly hungry on this 8 hour plus flight, even after being upgraded.
Overall, this whole trip turned out much better than I had feared. Flying in a Dreamliner (787) between Warsaw and Toronto was a neat experience. This type of itinerary (Tel-Aviv to Toronto on Lot), in my view, would be at least as good as flying on Austrian, Lufthansa, Brussels Air or El Al. Still not nearly as good as flying Air Canada direct, United or US Air (with a stopover). But overall, if the price is right, I might even try this again, especially when compared to other options.