No pictures again, which is a shame, as the new dinner service looks rather good (but more about that later) but with no camera there can be no pictures!
Arrived at the checkin with my wife and sailed through. On to the duty free and then to the EL AL King David lounge (which I have described in previous reports). However, there is now a rather good selection of sushi served in the lounge, which is definitely an improvement.
Boarding was awful, as the aircraft was parked at T3
(and the EL AL checkin and lounge are at T1) so we had to be bussed to the aircraft. This would have been fine if the First Class passengers had been given separate transport, but they were not, so we had to join all the rest and wait until the bus was full, etc ... What was worse was that nobody in the ground staff thought it necessary to help either First Class, or elderly passengers with their bags up the steps. I mean, the first thing the crew do when you board EL AL's First is to help with your bags, but surely the ground staff can do this if there are steps to climb! My wife took the bag of an elderly passenger for her in lieu of the groundstaff.
No need to describe the seats, as they have not changed (at least in the 744s) since my last report. The 2 new EL AL 777s have better seats (although less room) and the rest of the aircraft are to be refitted over the next 12 months.
On to the meal service. This has always been excellent from London, both in quality and in quantity. However, this time I found an otherwise excellent new menu spoiled in execution by failure to attend to details.
Here is the menu:
Green Tahini Sauce
The flight attendants will also offer today's tapas specials
Carrot and Sweet-Potato Soup
Fresh Tossed Salad
Lemon Vinaigrette or Balsamic Dressing
Main Course Choice
Chicken Thigh Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle
Grilled Vegetables, Rice with Cashews
Lamb Stew with Prunes and Root Vegetables
Minted New potatoes with Almonds
Fillet of Bass with Stir-Fried Vegetables
Herbed Potato Puree with Mustard
Fruit Salad with Raspberry Sorbet
Orange Scented Chocolate Mousse
Having (deliberately) not eaten for pretty much the whole day, I managed to have almost everything. Not that the portions were so small, but that I was really enjoying myself! The cabin was only half full and there was plenty of spare food. The 'tapas special' not listed on the menu was a fresh tabouli salad. I must say that the quality of the food was excellent - the seabass was the best I have ever had on an aircraft, but the whole thing was let down by its execution in practice. The tapas and salad were served first, on very attractive and modern china ... but on a cheap plastic tray with an even cheaper looking paper insert! Now as far as I know, most airlines are abandoning tray service even in business class, and until now EL AL in First Class would first lay the table with cutlery and salt/pepper and then serve the meal onto the table. Well, welcome to EL AL's new 'economy class look alike' First Class. Oh yes, I forgot: They have now moved over to paper napkins and plastic salt and pepper shakers. The cutlery is no longer laid on the table as in a respectable restaurant, but rolled up in the napkin as in a cheap snack bar.
Next gripe: the wine list. The EL AL wine list is not that bad, but is only just borderline for First Class. In fact, of 7 wines offered, 5 are the same as those in business class! Until now, EL AL offered one truly excellent white and one truly excellent red, namely the Castel 'C' Chardonnay (which came 3rd in the Business Traveller 'Cellar in the Sky' competition in the First Class White Wines category) and the Castel Grand Vin 2003 (or the even better 2004 at times). Well, the Castel Grand Vin is no longer offered, and in its place is a red wine which may be more expensive than the business class offerings, but is certainly no better than they are. Suffice it to say that between myself and my wife we enjoyed most of a bottle of the Castel 'C', and had some of the very enjoyable 'Yarden Heightswine' with our dessert.
That's about it. Now for EL AL's response: I wrote to a contact in the company with whom I had discussed aspects of First Class service in the past, and he told me that the lack of help from the groundstaff was a 'local omission' and that the tray meal service and paper napkins were a 'crew mistake'. As far as the wine offerings were concerned, they really had nothing to say, but I have sent them a list of suggestions of far better Israeli wines which they may wish to offer in the future. However, whatever they say, the Castel Grand Vin is probably the best easily available (and sensibly priced) wine on the market.
All I can say is that I felt let down by a quite stupid lack of attention to detail, or possibly someone saving a few pennies at the expense of pretty much destroying the product. I waited to receive their reply before posting this report, especially as the meal service was a 'new concept', and I hope that things will be fixed pretty soon.
[Edited 2007-09-18 19:15:01]
[Edited 2007-09-18 19:17:11]
[Edited 2007-09-18 19:17:51]