I had booked two separate tickets on my flight to Moscow. One on United from SAN to BRU and an award ticket thru United on Brussels Airline onward to DME. My flight from EWR was delayed by almost two hours and since I could not check-in for this flight at my departure (because of the two separate reservations). I had less than an hour to make this connection. Luckily, I was leaving out of the same terminal as the United flight had arrived (Pier B – Non-Shengen countries) and there was only a short line at security (the last passengers from a Jet Airways flight were clearing security). The Moscow flight left out of Gate 80 which was just downstairs on level 0. All flights on this level are bus gates. So I was able to check-in at the gate 40 minutes before departure time and had enough time to make a quick visit to the lounge ( see review here; http://patstravelreviews.com/?p=261) .
As this was a bus gate I knew I had a little more time to return to the gate. I arrived 20 minutes before departure and the agent said I still had time to use the rest room. I am not a big fan of the bus gates as usually you stand on the bus for 10 minutes waiting for the last passengers to arrive and this was no exception. We headed to the plane and luckily it had stopped raining. I was last to board as I wanted some fresh air (and smell the jet fuel 🙂 )
We were flying an A319 to DME. There was two rows of b.business (name Brussels Airlines calls their Business Class) and three rows of b.flex economy (tickets are flexible to change and meal is included unlike regular economy) and the rest b.light economy (their name for economy). Like most European carriers business class seats are the same as economy. So not much leg room. I am sure they change the configuration if they sell more b.business seats or b.flex economy seats. But in Business Class the middle seat remains empty so you do have slightly more room. I was seated in 2C and there were only 4 people in Business Class. However, because there is no divider or space between cabins (and you are sitting in an economy seat) I still felt a little cramped. The bulkhead aisle seats did have more leg room, but the armrest could not be moved in those seats. Newspapers were handed out and a pre-flight drink was served. I had a glass of orange juice that was not very good. Maybe because of walking from the lounge or standing on the bus, but I felt the cabin temperature was a little warm.
We were delayed a few minutes due to off-loading a passengers bag and the usual ATC delays. The flight attendants offered another drink (I think only to b.business passengers) and 30 minutes later we were headed to the runway. One of the strange things I enjoy about flying some European Airlines is they turn the fasten seat belt sign off very quickly. This pilot did the same. The seat belt sign was off during our ascent so I got up to use the toilet (which was a little dirty and did not have any soap). Hot towels scented with lemon were distributed a few minutes later and another round of drinks was offered along with a small bag of pretzels.
On most Brussels Airline flights b.light economy is buy on board. But to Moscow food is free for economy. b.flex economy was served a hot meal and I tried my hardest to see what they were served, but could not do so without standing up and staring at what the people behind me were eating (probably not appropriate). Disappointingly we did not get a choice of meals in b.business. (I am always amazed at this – Air France does the same on CDG to SVO flights). As I am not the most adventurous eater this can be a problem. Luckily it was some sort of Mushroom Cannelloni that was very tasty. It was served with Belgium cheese, salmon salad, very good bread, berry mousse and Neuhaus chocolates. A Louis Mondeville Merlot was being served with the meal. As a side note the cutlery was plastic.
After lunch I asked for a blanket and pillow and the flight attendant handed them out to all the passengers in b.business. I also saw that on their buy on board menu they had hot chocolate so I asked for one and it was better than I thought would be. Because I was visiting my in-laws and I did not have time to stop at the duty free shop at the Brussels Airport (their prices are high anyway) I actually bought some Belgium Chocolate and Bailey’s from the Duty Free cart. Prices were reasonable and I got just what I wanted. After the Duty Free the flight attendants came thru with a basket of small Neuhaus chocolates for the entire plane (nice touch). As our flight time was a quick 2hr and 50 min. I only had a short time to sleep. I remembered that when entering DME you no longer have to fill out a landing/entry form (I think at SVO you still need to complete form). It is done by the agents at the passport control. So I did not worry about completing this as I usually do.
With the quick flight time we landed on time and parked on the tarmac. Unfortunately, we parked on the tarmac and had to be bussed to the terminal. I thought this would create a delay in reaching the passport line but that was not the case. I was a little nervous entering Russia as I was denied entry on my prior trip because my passport cover came undone on my flight there. Trying to reason with a Russian official is pointless. However, with my new passport in hand I quickly cleared passport and customs and was on my way to the Domodedovo Express to my hotel. DME Airport is a much less stressful experience than SVO (except for last year).
Brussels Airlines is certainly not the most luxurious Airline and flying them would not be my first option to fly within Europe or to Russia (Aeroflot Business Class within Europe is surprisingly very good and flying BMI or BA from London to DME is also much better in Business Class). But that being said, the crew was friendly and helpful. There were four flight attendants for the small A319. While there was no choice in meals you can order a special meal and the food served was very good. I know the meal in b.flex economy was not the same a b.business, but outside of lounge access and maybe someone sitting in the middle seat I did not see much difference in the two products. The seats are basically Economy Class seats but usually Business Class is not full so it does provide more space (but not much more privacy).