BACKGROUND

Condor is a unique airline within the Thomas Cook portfolio. It is focused on providing quality, value-focused service to leisure destinations across the globe. Once a partner of Lufthansa, these days it still remains a tie via the Miles & More program offering guests benefits to earn and redeem with the larger Lufthansa loyalty program. While many may view the airline as a budget offering, Condor is more of a hybrid offering a global list of destinations at fair prices without sacrificing quality. For example, all passengers receive complimentary hot meals and a cocktail with their meal. A premium economy cabin steps up the offer with bottled water, premium entertainment, more drink options at meal times, and extra leg room. The carrier really wins with its business class that is one of Europe’s most deluxe when it comes to the soft product. While its hard product is an angled lie-flat, its soft product is designed for luxury. When we asked Condor directly why their business class is more enjoyable than that of other European mainline carriers, their explanation was perfect. Condor carries leisure passengers. Most other airlines’ business class has business guests that want to eat quickly and relax or work. Condor passengers want to enjoy the experience, and the inflight service features an attentive beverage service, gourmet meals that are larger in quantity than most any other airline, and functional amenity kits that later serve as iPad cases or beverage coolers.

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THE LOUNGE

We joined Condor on their inaugural flight from Providence, Rhode Island to Frankfurt. This was not only a new destination for Condor, but also an extremely special moment for the New England airport as it becomes its first premium long-haul transatlantic service. Condor typically offers premium cabin customers a voucher that gives them access to a business class lounge or the option to use the same voucher for a credit toward duty-free purchases. Providence does not have any type of premium lounge, but at least the inaugural flight had a celebration at the departure gate complete with German and New England delicacies and live entertainment following speeches by local dignitaries.

BOARDING AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

To celebrate the occasion, all guests received goodie bags from Condor upon boarding. Staff were in on the excitement and recognized that this was a special occasion. The feeling of excitement was contagious, especially after most passengers witnessed the inbound aircraft from Frankfurt receiving a traditional water cannon salute from the airport.

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THE SEAT AND ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM

All seats are spacious with ample legroom. Condor has business class cabins with either 30 passengers or 18 passengers, but the experience is personalized no one would even notice. The angled, lie-flat seats are the same standard offered by airlines like Air France, KLM, Malaysia, and Emirates. Special features of the seat include large TV screens with numerous TV and movie options, power and USB ports, large storage areas for magazines, shoes and paperwork, and adjustable reading lights. Reading selections are provided before and during boarding and offer a variety of options including everything from National Geographic to the more intellectual and tasteful German version of Playboy magazine.

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MEALS AND SERVICE

Takeoff was swift, and the crew quickly sprang into action distributing menus. Before the main meal, a round of drinks was served with a pack of salted cashews. The comparison with its former partner Lufthansa is duly noted here. Many may think of Condor as a budget operation. While its prices are extremely fair (even for business class, which can be upgraded to even after boarding), the service is more leisurely and friendly. In keeping with our conversation with Condor, the airline believes that their customers are traveling on vacation and interested in a more entertaining and pleasant dining experience. This is exactly the experience (although those that prefer to sleep after takeoff can ask for a more abbreviated service). Following aperitifs, refills are offered as everyone enjoys a tray of appetizers, warm bread, hard and soft cheese, and salad. This tray is soon collected, with of course another round of drink refills, and passengers are left with a table cloth-covered tray table. Then, hot meals are served a la carte, restaurant style with new cutlery.

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The experience is more akin to the first offer of other airlines rather than business class. These dishes are collected when passengers are finished (rather than when the cart comes by), and is swiftly followed by the dessert trolley with after-dinner drinks and sweet concoctions. I reclined my seat with my thick blanket and pillow to slumber for several hours. While I was planning to sleep through breakfast, the noiseless service was almost complete by the time I woke up. I was still offered the hot breakfast offering, which was a nice touch with less than an hour to go before landing. Condor is one of the few airlines to offer a hot breakfast on this length of a flight (so much for anyone thinking Condor is a budget airine).

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VERDICT

This inaugural flight landed with little excitement (at least when compared with the departure festivities of the flight from Providence). It is clear that Condor has achieved the difficult, but perfected, balance between full-service and value-focused airline. Its product is tailored ideally for its audience in each cabin, and its premium offering is so elite (perhaps because of that intense focus on passenger enjoyment) that it trumps most full-service airlines. The next time you see one of the heart tails of a Condor plane at an airport, be jealous of those smart travellers that found a way to balance their wallet with service effectively.