After being disappointed by both the United Polaris Lounge and the Swiss Lounge at O’hare, I was really looking forward to my time aboard Austrian Airlines flight from Chicago to Vienna. I find Austrian has a truly wonderful Business Class product, with fully flat seats, top notch food and a nicely curated selection of Austrian wines – along with options from other regions as well.
A few weeks before, I had called Austrian Airlines to reserve the exact seats I wanted. Austrian’s Business Class is in a 1-2-1 seating configuration. These seats are staggered and when your seat is reclined into a bed, your feet actual have slid under the side table of the seat in front of you. This means the seats alternate where the side table is – either right next to the aisle or next to the window. If you select properly, you can have a much more private seat and if not, you’ll be sitting directly on the aisle, likely getting bumped by passengers and crew as they pass your seat. I’ve been fortunate enough to have selected the single seats closest to the window and farthest from the aisle each time I’ve flow with Austrian.
Boarding began about 20 minutes late at 16h55 through door 1L. Once onboard, I immediately turned right down the first aisle, as I was seated in 5A.
Flight: Austrian Airlines OS66 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Departure: 17h20 (17h30)
Arrival: 08h35 (09h01)
I quickly found my seat, unpacked my tablet and power cables and stowed my briefcase. I ended up checking my roller bag – Austrian (well, their contract employees at O’hare) are real sticklers for the rules and often will not let you (or at least try) bring your bigger carryon bags on board – even though there is ample space in the overhead bins – especially in business class. I decided to skip the drama and just check the bag initially.
As I was getting settled, the flight attendant came by with a tray with cups of water, orange juice and apple juice. Alcoholic beverages were not available – a fellow passenger was quite upset about this, so the flight service manager came over and explained it was because Cook County has high taxes on booze opened on the ground, so she’d have to wait until we were airborne. That’s another thing I like about Austrian Airlines – they are polite, but very direct. They are not going to bend the rules, but they will explain why the rules are there and give you an alternate.
I opted for a water. I had also decided that I would endeavor to speak German this entire flight. I took about 2 years of German in college, but haven’t had much of an opportunity to practice – this was the perfect time.
About 10 minutes after I sat down, the menus were delivered by the chef, who introduced herself and said she’d be back to answer any questions about the menu and to take our final orders.
At this time, the Business Class Amenity kit was delivered – and unlike previous versions of this kit, which is billed as a carrying case for a tablet (a tiny tablet, I guess), this kit was reusable as a shoe bag. I don’t think you can ever have too many shoe bags when you travel, they are critical for keeping dirt from your shoes from getting on your clothes.
The kit contained the standard items including socks, an eye shade, toothbrush and paste, lip balm, hand cream and ear plugs.
The chef came back by to finalize dinner selections and to collect our breakfast choices as well – I opted not to be woken up – I’d rather just get a few extra minutes of sleep and grab a bite in the City.
As we wait for boarding to finish, I polished off my still water (Wasser ohne Gas) and scrolled through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE). I was surprised at the number of films I actually wanted to watch. I bookmarked (which is a fabulous feature on this system) six films, including The Shape of Water, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Suburbicon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Murder on the Orient Express (which frustrated me, because I rented Murder through Amazon Prime – I could have just saved a few bucks, if I had checked the film options before renting). Despite having several films in the queue, I only watched Murder on the Orient Express, then put the Kingsmen on while I slept. There were a total of 61 films and 87 episodes of TV shows. The diversity of the TV programs was a bit disappointing, but for a nine hour overnight flight, it worked well for me.
The door closed at 17h25 and we pushed back from the gate at 17h30. After a relatively short taxi, we were in the air at 17h50. It was a smooth roll and right on queue the flight attendants jumped into action. The Flight Services Coordinator made her way through the Business Class Cabin, introducing herself, confirming our beverage choices and making it clear that if we needed anything, find her and she’d handle it.
I switched on the movie and enjoyed the nicely timed dinner service. I didn’t feel rushed in the slightest, but it moved along at a nice clip, so I wasn’t frustrated with losing quality sleep time onboard.
The final dinner service was collected at 19h55 and I was sufficiently tired that I actually fell into a pretty solid sleep at 21h15. I woke up several times throughout the flight, but was able to drift back asleep quickly. I didn’t wake up at all for the breakfast service – usually the clanging of plates and dishes wakes me up, but not today. I did get up about 50 minutes before we were landing and everyone else had already made a big dent in their breakfasts. Once the crew noticed I was awake the hurried over asking if I wanted juice – but said that I had slept too long and breakfast wasn’t available – fair enough. The omelet looked pretty good, to my surprise. Looks like I would indeed be grabbing breakfast in the City.
We landed about 25 minutes late. I made my way through immigrations and customs with nary a question. My checked bag was the second off the belt and I was off very quickly into the City Center.
I really do enjoy flying Austrian Airlines. For 70,000 United MileagePlus miles for a one way ticket to Vienna, you really can’t beat it. The service was quite nice – efficient, friendly, but not too friendly. The ultimate goal is for a pleasant flight, but with ample time to sleep as we land at a reasonable hour in Vienna – you’ve got things to do. I look forward to flying Austrian again – and I’m quite confident that I will again soon.
Have you flown Austrian Airlines before? What do you think about them – is my love irrational or are you in the same boat? What other products should I try when I’m off to Vienna again?
After leaving the Polaris Lounge in Terminal 1, I made my way to the International Terminal at O’hare, T5. No one was in the Business Class queue for check in, and the only hiccup I had was that I couldn’t remember if my last trip to Europe was within the past 6 months. Since I couldn’t answer, they just let me go.
The Security line was immense – full of dozens of college students heading off to Europe for Spring Break. It reminded me of my first international trip – to Europe for Spring Break. I skipped the line, thanks to the Business Class Boarding Pass. This time, I didn’t have to go through the nude-o-scope, just a standard metal detector. It was basically like Pre-Check, except I had to take off my shoes.
I was through Security and on my way to the Swiss International Lounge – Austrian uses this as their lounge for Business Class and Star Gold Passengers. I’ve visited this lounge before and I’m disappointed in it for sure.
This lounge is pretty small, always crowded and surprisingly hot. For some reason the sun just bakes in on this lounge and makes it so steamy. This time, the lounge was basically standing room only. As I walked through, the stars aligned and a lady stood up to leave, so I grabbed her seat (well, the seat she was sitting in, I didn’t grab her butt).
The lounge was full of people on the Austrian flight as well as people waiting for the SAS Lounge to open. I saw a couple of people waiting for the Turkish flight (leaves around 22h00) and even a family on EVA (00h20 departure). It was packed. I couldn’t snap any photos of the food spread because people were leaning against the serving areas. I wasn’t in the mood for any mediocre lounge food but I did want a drink.
The wine options are pretty rough. They serve Mirassou Pinot Noir a d Chardonnay. I don’t loathe this wine, but it sells at the grocery store for $8 a bottle. We will serve it at a dinner party….at the end of the night when everyone is drunk with destroyed taste buds. It’s not something I wanted to drink at 16h00 in the afternoon. I did grab a glass of Pinot though. There were not bottles of bubbles to be found.
I grabbed a small ramekin of gummy bears, that because of the heat in the lounge were quite soft, nearly melty. They were pretty damn tasty, I must say.
I bolted from the lounge after I finished my snack – I was too hot and just generally uncomfortable. I visit the lounge to relax and escape the mayhem of the general airport chaos. This lounge provider none of the benefits I was seeking.
Each time I return to this lounge I am expecting a big improvement and I am consistently disappointed. O’hare really needs to up the lounge options in T5. That being said, I have never visited the British Lounge, but the Swiss and Air France lounges are utterly abysmal. Where do you hang out when you have time to kill at T5?
On my way to Vienna I stopped off at United’s Premium Lounge, Polaris. Chicago O’hare currently has the only Polaris Lounge in the world. This is my second visit. I was a bit disappointed during my first visit (en route to Rio) and was so excited to see it after the expansion. One of my biggest complaints the first visit was the overcrowding and how loud the space was.
I arrived 3.5 hours before my Austrian flight to Vienna. I arrived so early because Austrian flies out if the International Terminal (Terminal 5) and Polaris is in Terminal 1. I would have to leave the secured area and go back through security in a different terminal, so I needed lots of time to enjoy this space and make my flight.
I arrived and check in was smooth and painless. Everyone I encountered reminded me about the terminal change and the need to deal with security again – which I appreciated. It is not a quick and easy transfer from this lounge to T5.
I walked into the lounge and I was shocked at how crowded it was. I managed to find a single seat at a small dining table. I dropped anchor, grabbed a glass of champagne (they serve Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, which is a perfectly acceptable wine that we drink and serve at home).
My first plan was to take a look at the expanded space (they took space from the old United Club in C Concourse to expand Polaris). This new area is the designated a la carte dining area. Before the seats near the bar (where I was sitting) were the designated dining area. Every table was full in the recently expanded area. People were either actively eating or they had dirty plates on their tables next to their laptops. I had no place to eat, nor could I order anything. I asked a United employee if I could be put on a reservation list and he looked confused and said it was just first come seating only. OK.
Every 10 minutes or so I would walk back to see if space had opened up. Nothing. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I see a table of four leave the dining area, so I grab my glass of bubbles and walk back to get a seat. The recently vacated table now had a “Reserved” sign and when I asked the server, he said that it was reserved for another guest – this was the same server who told me that I couldn’t reserve a space. He did confirm that it was just a single guest and I asked if I could share the four-top table – I just wanted to try out the menu. I was shot down. The server was pretty snippy too – I was obviously distracting him from his duties.
I slink back to my cafe table near the bar – and request a refill on my Veuve before heading over to the buffet. Both times I’ve been in Polaris there has been a louder, highly energetic woman staffing the buffet area. She loves the food and she loves her job. She greets the guests, offers (unsolicited) recommendations on the food items and will even come find you if something new comes out onto the buffet that she wants you to try. She’s not that polished, but she’s a hoot.
Back at my bar table, I sampled a couple of buffet items and was flipping through a magazine when a man came up to bus the table next to me. Talk about unpolished. This guy kept mumbling something to the man at the table next to me, who had no idea what he was saying. Eventually the United employee just started taking the plates and glasses away from the table – evidently he was asking if the table should be cleared. To properly clear this table, he set the tray of dirty dishes on my table – and about 10 seconds after I snapped this picture (and he told me not to take pictures in the lounge), the plates and glasses fell off his tray, spilling other people’s half eaten food on my table. Not to worry, this guy did a great job of cleaning up the mess – by using the soiled napkins he’d just collected from my neighbor’s table. It was gross. The people at both tables next to me (the one being bused and the one watching) were frustrated and angry. I was disappointed.
At this point, I just decided to leave. It wasn’t going to get any better. I still had more than two hours until my flight to Vienna left, but I just couldn’t sit here any longer. I say you can build a beautiful airline lounge, but if you train and supervise the employees poorly, what’s the point?
That being said, I did need assistance with another flight issue (I had some travel plans change and I needed help rebooking) and the customer service reps (who were doing actual airline business, not wait staff) were phenomenal. The woman I was working with pulled up at least half a dozen alternates for my travel issues and she was just so lovely to work with.
Will I go back to Polaris? Yes. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. The space is very nice and with the remodel, it is much less loud than it was before. The alcohol selection is quite nice and some of the staff are competent, some are even great, alas, most in my encounters were not. It sure isn’t a world class airline lounge. I find the American Express Centurion Lounges to be far superior – and extremely consistent – relative to Polaris. I guess us United flyers just can’t have nice things. I do hear American’s Flagship Lounges are pretty nice.
What do you think about Polaris? Am I just finding bad times to visit? Do I just have too high of standards? How do you get to enjoy the a la carte dining if the tables are full and your can’t reserve a seat?
Having no real travel in the first quarter of 2018 really started to wear on me. I decided to take a long weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and visit Vienna. I had been to Vienna once before, also for a long weekend and will undoubtedly have more opportunities to visit in the coming years – so I don’t feel obligated to hit it hard and see everything on one trip. The purpose of this trip was to escape from the daily winter work life in Chicago, cash-in some miles and points and get away.
If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Vero you’ve seen some of my time in Vienna (and if you don’t, you should). This trip was like almost all of my trips, centered around good food, exploring a city, experiencing it’s art, culture and history — and finding a nice glass of wine along the way.
Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be posting about key parts of my trip, including:
- United Polaris Club (ORD)
- Swiss International Lounge – Terminal 5 O’hare
- Austrian Airlines ORD-VIE (OS66)
- Hotel Bristol Vienna – A Luxury Collection Hotel
- The Most Instagrammable Places in Vienna
- Steirereck – Fine Dining in Vienna
- Going to the Opera – A Night Out In Vienna
- Standing Room Only Tickets – Vienna Opera House
- Bristol Lounge
- Austrian Airlines VIE-IAD (OS93)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my trip and get suggestions from you all for my future trips to Vienna. What am I missing? What shocks you that I haven’t seen? Do you have a favorite dessert place you always go?
While in Vienna during one of our walks around the Innere Stadt, we came across this elderly woman, likely in her early 80s. She was dressed very well – not fancy or in expensive clothes, but she obviously took care of herself and cared about her appearance. We saw her leaving a bakery, with a huge bag full of treats. As she stepped out into the street, she had a grin on her face, which quickly grew until her smile took over her entire face.
She sets her bag of baked goods on the ground, drops to one knee and begins to says “Du bist ein schöner Hund…Du bist ein schöner Hund!” While still kneeling, she grabbed the head of a large grey standard poodle, scratching his chin. She stayed kneeling, repeating that simple phrase. She was so happy. The dog’s owner also had a huge smile. The dog’s tail wagged vigorously.
You didn’t really need any German language study to understand what was going on here. This cute elderly woman talking directly to a dog and telling him that “You are a beautiful dog” was so heartwarming.
This scene lasted at most 30 seconds, but brought smiles and laughter to the three directly involved (owner, dog and woman) and the dozens of people walking past this display. We stopped and watched smiled and felt really happy.
It is these small things that happen every single day that we often would pass by and wouldn’t notice. I’d likely have ignored it myself, if it hadn’t been for this elderly Austrian woman, saying words that I easily understood in a foreign language. Take a few moments to observe your surroundings at home and while traveling. Don’t be in such a hurry to hit the next location on your list of must-see spots. Stop and pet derHund.