Condor Flugdienst is likely the best known airline you haven’t heard of, at least if you’re an American. The German carrier has been a juggernaut of European leisure travel since 1956, offering holiday-makers inexpensive trips to Africa, the Caribbean, North America, and Southeast Asia.
But that might be about to change as Condor has begun to roll out its new Airbus A330-900neo fleet. Historically the carrier focused on moving a higher volume of economy class passengers across the globe. But it also kept a small premium cabin on board, akin to premium economy offerings from legacy airlines.
While it could’ve introduced a similar, merely updated leisure-minded product across the cabin, Condor has pivoted dramatically toward a more mainline approach.
Condor paid for roundtrip airfare Seattle to Frankfurt and two nights’ accommodation in Frankfurt. Opinions remain our own.
Unveiled in 2022, the sleek-looking renderings showed a serious international business class for the first time in the airline’s history. With the first airplanes delivered late last year, Condor has been sprinkling the joys of its new jet across the network.
A recent commitment to keep the jet, more often than not, on the Frankfurt-Seattle route gave PaxEx.Aero an opportunity to give this new Condor an up and down look. Let’s dive right in.
The experience started at the airline’s Frankfurt, Germany hub. Check-in at the business class counter was quick despite a modest line. Frustratingly, the agent took the opportunity to nitpick the weight of my roller bag, stating incorrectly that it needed to be under 8kg (the published rule is 10kg). After briefly considering forcing me to check the bag, they let it go with a warning.
An unforced error on my part sent me off to gate D42, and not B42, eating up twenty minutes that I didn’t really have. Add in a security line for the B gates that was forcing several hundred increasingly angry people through a single open checkpoint, and missing the flight was quickly becoming a very real possibility.
Thankfully the kindness of strangers and aggressive pleading pushed me up near the front of the line. I made it to the gate drenched in sweat with ten minutes to spare, only to discover boarding still had yet to begin. Sigh.
Out the window sat today’s bird, a brand-new Airbus A330-900neo delivered only last month. It was my second time seeing the airlines new livery in person, this one painted in sand-yellow vertical stripes. Love it or hate the design, one thing is clear: you can’t miss it, and you know instantly whose plane it is.
Boarding finally began an hour behind schedule, starting with business class passengers.
The stress of the airport melted away quickly on boarding as the striking new cabin soothed the nerves. Deep blues are paired with dark wood paneling and neutral accents on the seats for a pleasing, refined aesthetic. The rear bulkhead and headrest covers carry the airline’s new signature stripe theme into the cabin, utilizing black and white. Dramatic mood lighting coats the otherwise bland, white side-walls with pops of fresh color. It all pulls together to feel like an upscale beach cabin, and I love it.
Condor outfits business class with 26 standard seats, arranged in a forward-facing 1-2-1 configuration. Even-numbered rows have window seats that abut the window, while odd abut the aisle. Center-seats are the opposite, with odd-numbered rows in a honeymoon arrangement.
There are also four “Prime” seats in the very first row. It is an entirely different hard product, with what amounts to a significantly larger and noticeably nicer suite-style seat. It also has its own soft-product regimen. They can be bought on top of the regular business class ticket, usually for an extra 200-300 euro per flight.
My seat, though, was 6A, a standard seat mid-way up the cabin. An unwrapped pillow, plastic-wrapped heavy blanket, plastic-wrapped slippers, plastic-wrapped headphones, and bottled water waited for me at the seat.
An amenity kit was also in the mix. While I’m not a fan of them personally (too much single-use stuff), the messaging on the box went out of the way to underscore how many of the products inside were made with recycled this or reclaimed that. It’s certainly better than the alternative.
The seat itself is a customized version of Safran’s Skylounge Core product. It has a pitch of 44” and a full-flat bed length of 78” utilizing a tapered footwell. A backlit control panel enables a variety of seating arrangements, while two USB ports (A & C) and an international-style outlet stand ready to keep personal devices powered. There are three options, a pivoting reading light over the shoulder, a space light in the seat itself, and an overhead light on the ceiling.
It lacks storage, with only a small unsecured space under the footwell. A smaller table could manage to hold a few items like water bottles or a cell phone, while a larger table can hold tablets or laptops. An oversized tray table slides out from underneath the IFE screen at the push of a button, a design I haven’t seen before but really enjoyed.
The first of two meal services began thirty minutes after departure. A quintet of appetizers featured the strongest bites of the service, though I also enjoyed the cheese plate and a fruity dessert tart. The entree, Cajun chicken with potatoes, was fine. A shot of cognac and, later, tea, paired nicely across the courses.
The beverage cart and fresh bread basket came through repeatedly, and trays were cleared promptly. Start to finish, the service lasted just over an hour.
I awoke from a very restful three-hours nap just as a mid-flight ice cream snack was being offered. I declined, but took advantage of the beverage cart for another bottle of water.
The second meal service began two hours out from landing. It included a portion of chicken tikka masala, a side-salad, and a mango dessert along with bread. It was above average.
When I wasn’t asleep, I enjoyed several movies on the 17.3” 4K touchscreen in the seatback. The screen is stunningly crisp and clear, even rendering out older movies like Rebel Without a Cause with good clarity. A glossy finish, however, leaves it vulnerable to glare and reflections. Increasing the brightness, or leaving the window shade down during a daytime flight will more or less solve this minor issue.
All told, the system stocks 250+ movies and quite a number of TV series, though most only have a handful of episodes per show. Nerd that I am, I enjoyed the customized moving map from FlightPath3D, and frequently enjoyed the forward-facing cockpit view.
The system can be controlled by touch and a tethered remote tucked into the seat. The remote has a handful of basic button controls, and a less obvious but functional trackpad/mouse situation to orient yourself around the system.
A pair of provided headphones were so-so, but you can also use your own Bluetooth enabled devices to pair to the system. Unfortunately it couldn’t find mine, though I always bring a cord for this reason.
The only glaring issue was with the Inmarsat satellite-enabled Wi-Fi, which did not work during any of the five attempts I made on getting it going. The closest I came was having entered my payment info for a pricey 12 euro two-hour pass, which promised speeds of up to 600kbps, only to be met with a blank white screen and no connectivity. Whether it charged the card before timing out remains to be seen.
The matter of the Wi-Fi appears to be a recurring issue, as it also had trouble on my outbound flight. I took advantage of a free ten minute text-only session, which struggled mightily to deliver. The last three minutes it just didn’t work at all, which prompted me to pass on shelling out 7 euro for the full-flight text plan.
Related, I take issue with the steep pricing. The cheapest is that 7 euro text plan, which given my poor experience, is not worth it. The most expensive plan sets you back 20 euro, and it only lasts four hours. For a 10-hour flight like mine that’s a staggering 60 euro for nonstop browsing-level connectivity, which of course assumes that it’s working at all.
Condor would do well to consider a) addressing the usability issues that seem to be plaguing the system and b) reconsider pricing. At the very least I would consider extending a free text plan pass to all business class passengers (currently only the four Prime seats are afforded that luxury).
The only other issue was the temperature of the cabin (very warm), which may have been mitigated had air gaspers been installed (ship obviously sailed there).
Back to the positives, the crew were wonderfully pleasant and attentive throughout the flight. I’d be happy to fly again with them any time.
The flight landed a bit behind schedule in an uncharacteristically warm Seattle, and I bid goodbye to the airplane before making a quick exit to the curb.
New A330neo business class represents sea change for Condor
It is hard to underestimate how big of an improvement this is for Condor, and they have good reason to be proud. The airline previously relied solely on a tired, angled lie-flat in a dense configuration aboard an aging Boeing 767 fleet. The new Airbus cabin not only blows the B767 product out of the water, it also places Condor business class squarely in the same league as major full service competitors like Air France and Lufthansa. And that’s before adding in the Prime product.
What’s more is that Condor routinely comes out head and shoulders cheaper too. A heads-up slice of nonstop, roundtrip fares from the US to Frankfurt over the summer showed a cost advantage of anywhere from several hundred US to over $6,000. Only Icelandair ever came up cheaper (if anyone did at all), and their premium product isn’t remotely in the same league.
It’s also a deal on the points front, where it can be booked via Alaska Airlines (for example) for 55,000 points and a pittance of fuel and tax charges (take that, BA).
Whether Condor can work for you depends a lot on where you live, and when you need to fly. On the plus side, it now serves twelve US cities directly. It also partners with Alaska, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and Sun Country for stateside connections. On the downside, only a few of Condor’s US routes are daily, and many are seasonal too.
If it does work for you, the wrinkle is whether you’ll get the product. Condor regularly slots the neo into a number of US gateways, including Las Vegas, New York JFK, San Francisco, and Seattle. But it also can’t get new neos fast enough, and, as a result, swaps are not unheard of.
Thankfully the swaps are almost always to former Etihad Airbus A330s or even wet-leased Air Belgium A330neos. On occasion a Wamos Air Airbus A330 has been in the mix too. None of them has the swank new interior of Condor-owned neos, but the hard product is nonetheless comparable, while the soft product should be identical.
Condor says these issues will improve over the next year or so. A spokesperson tells us that the airline expects one new airplane per month, on average, through early 2024. They added that they intend to continue updating the airline’s website as more information becomes available.
It’s worth noting that on each of the four routes Condor’s neo makes a regular appearance, the airline is in competition with some combination of Eurowings Discover, Lufthansa, and/or their Star Alliance partner United. I haven’t flown any of the three up front in several years, but from reviews and photos, it’s tough not to imagine Condor’s neo hard product easily besting all but United’s Polaris cabin. And that’s before we get back to that discussion on price.
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