There are some aircraft that have hundreds of them built every year like the Airbus A321, with thousands in existence…
Trip Report: Finding a Better Connection to Europe Through Aer Lingus
Iceland has become famous over the past few years for serving as a connection point between North America and Europe. The travel model — championed by WOW Air before its bankruptcy and continued by Play and Icelandair — sees passengers flying between major North American and European cities with a stop in Keflavík.
Thousands of passengers have used this method of travel since WOW Air started advertising Keflavík as a stopover point; passengers could either connect straight through Iceland or spend a few days in the country before moving on, saving money and getting an extra adventure as an added bonus.
There is another country, though, that could serve a similar purpose: Ireland. Similarly to Iceland, Ireland’s location is geographically beneficial for connections from North America to Europe. Located on the far Western edge of the European continent, the country’s capital, Dublin, makes for a fairly-direct connecting point for passengers going onward to Europe.
Though Ireland doesn’t have the same low-cost offering that Iceland does in the United States, its flag carrier, Aer Lingus, is similar to Icelandair, the full-service carrier that serves Iceland. On a recent trip from Chicago to Munich, I had originally looked to book through Iceland; Icelandair serves Chicago twice daily, making it a convenient connection. However, I soon found that Aer Lingus’ prices were cheaper than Icelandair’s, and I could get more amenities, such as free seat selection and a checked bag, for about the same cost that Icelandair would charge.
Booking My Flight
Thus, I decided to book Aer Lingus for my trip to Germany. The booking and check-in processes were fairly straightforward and are similar to any other flag carrier operation you’d find in Europe or the United States.
There are two things to note about the booking and checkin process. First, I noticed there was no place to list my American Known Traveler Number (KTN), which gives me automatic access to TSA PreCheck on departure from the United States and Global Entry upon my return.
Though for a moment I figured the area was just hidden somewhere – after all, it took me a try or two to find the KTN area when I first booked on Lufthansa – I learned a few days before my flight that Aer Lingus does not participate in the PreCheck program. Thus, I knew going into the flight that I’d be relegated to the standard security area on departure.
However, there was also a plus to the checkin program. This does not directly apply to me, but I feel it’s a nice touch: the airline offers a wide array of accommodations for travelers with allergies or disabilities as well as neurodivergent passengers. Besides being able to request an allergen-free or vegan meal, I noticed that there was also an option to request mobility assistance and even notify the crew that a traveler is autistic.
The flight crew could then accommodate these issues and either help a passenger onboard or, through a partnership with the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support, assist with the sensory issues that could be cause by loud engines, changing lighting levels, or other sensory inputs that come from the normal operation of an aircraft; the airline has a special page on its website to help guide autistic passengers through each step of the onboard experience as well as the departure and arrival airport phases.
My Airport Experience in Chicago
My trip would consist of two legs. The first, a flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Dublin International Airport, would be served by an Airbus A330-300. After an hour or so in Dublin, I would connect onto an Airbus A321neo that would fly me the rest of the way to Munich.
My flight to Dublin, flight EI 122, was scheduled to leave O’Hare’s Terminal 5, the international terminal used for departures by most foreign airlines, at 15:50. I arrived at the airport just after noon to check in for my flight. I had arrived at the airport just a few minutes after checkin had opened at the airport – early enough that the airport boards didn’t even list that checkin was open – so I made my way to the ticket counter and got in line.
The checkin process was easy. Though a fairly-substantial line had started forming, the airline staff was moving efficiently. Checkin included a passport check. The agent issued me boarding passes for both of my flights and checked my bag as well. After a short discussion about a pin from my alma mater that the checkin agent was wearing – Northwestern University chartered a flight to Dublin last summer to play a football game in Ireland – I took my boarding passes back and headed towards security.
For my first trip without PreCheck in about a year, the security process was straightforward. I used the central security checkpoint in Terminal 5. Though the line was substantial, the process was fairly painless; like the checkin workers, the TSA workers were moving efficiently, so, especially with all the extra time I had, there was no need to worry.
Exploring O’Hare’s Terminal 5
After clearing security, it was time to wait for my flight. I was dismayed to find that my gate did not have a view of the Airbus A330 that would fly us to Ireland, so I would not see the outside of the aircraft until many hours later on arrival into Dublin. I spent the bulk of my time exploring Terminal 5, including checking out the new Delta wing; Delta is one of a few domestic airlines that uses Terminal 5 and has by far the largest presence of any airline in Terminal 5, and it was my first chance to experience their facilities there firsthand since they moved from Terminal 2 last winter.
I also got to check out the new expansion for the first time. I worked at O’Hare for months while the expansion was being built, but this was my first time experiencing it as a passenger and not an employee. A few of the hardstands at the far end of the terminal I had once marshaled (relatively) tiny Pilatus PC-12s into now housed gates with Southwest 737s and United 787 Dreamliners preparing for passenger flights, quite the shift from the small turboprops, cargo flights (on passenger planes), and maintenance aircraft I had often seen there.
Boarding in Chicago
One thing I had been confused about was the section on my boarding pass that told us when the “gate closed.” This time was nearly an hour before the scheduled time of departure. I wondered if that meant that boarding would be completed by then and the gate closed, so that nobody else could board. Thus, I returned from my terminal exploration back to the gate especially early out of an abundance of caution.
My fears of missing my flight were unfounded. The gate closing time ended up being when the boarding process began. Before I knew it, a large crowd had gathered at the gate area in preparation for departure.
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about transatlantic flights on European carriers that the boarding process is usually quite disorganized. Neither Lufthansa, which I’ve flown to Germany a couple times, nor Aer Lingus use boarding groups or dedicated lines. After letting preboarders and passengers in business class board, Aer Lingus simply started boarding back to front, calling sets of rows at a time and waiting for passengers to make their way through the crowd to board the aircraft.
As I had selected a seat in the next-to-last row, I was one of the first economy class passengers to board, a nice perk that I wasn’t expecting. As I made my way onto the aircraft, the first thing I noticed was how brightly green the interior was. The cabin design looked and felt decades old; whether it was that old I’m not sure, but the aircraft would show a bit of age throughout the flight, an issue I’ll get back to shortly.
I found my way to the back of the cabin to find my seat…and the metal box preventing me from fitting my backpack completely under the seat in front of me. This isn’t an issue I can really blame Aer Lingus for; I think it’s more an unfortunate product of how the A330 is built.
After really trying to push and squeeze my aging backpack into whatever space was left below the seat, I ended up fitting my backpack into the smallest overhead compartment I’ve ever seen. I was sure to pull my laptop and a book, both of which I stored in the seatback pouch in front of me, out of my backpack before departure.
During boarding, the crew made special note of two issues we’d encounter in flight today. First, they noted that the Wi-Fi onboard the aircraft wasn’t working. Per Aer Lingus’ website, it seems that Wi-Fi is standard on Aer Lingus’ Airbus A330s, so its dysfunction today must have been non-standard. Second, in keeping with the dated cabin features, we were warned that the In-Flight Entertainment screens might freeze in flight, but that we could page the cabin crew to fix the screens should they malfunction as well.
I was glad, therefore, that I had work and entertainment that did not rely on Wi-Fi to function. It was especially important, though, to pull everything I needed from my backpack before closing the overhead bin so I wouldn’t keep stepping over the passenger next to me to get into the aisle.
I found a pillow, a blanket, and earbuds waiting for me at my seat. This seems to be standard economy-class care on transatlantic services. The blanket and pillow were far from luxurious, but this is also standard-fare across airlines and isn’t something especially lacking about Aer Lingus. Though I didn’t use the blanket or earbuds, the pillow ended up coming in useful for back support throughout the flight.
Our Flight to Dublin
After getting settled, all I had to do was wait for departure. Our flight pushed back from the gate exactly on time; however, after push, we didn’t start taxi for 10-15 minutes. As with the room under the seat ahead of me, I expect this was not Aer Lingus’ fault but rather an operational delay relating to the airport or the air traffic control system. I couldn’t find the ATC audio of the pushback, so I don’t know exactly why we were delayed, but soon we were moving towards the northern airfield for departure.
Our takeoff and climbout were normal. Soon after departure, I tried testing the in-flight entertainment as part of the video trip report I was filming; as predicted, though, the screen froze within a few minutes of use. I decided not to page the cabin crew to have the screen unfrozen, but I did notice that the screen was quite outdated. Unlike the United 737 MAX 9 I had been on a couple weeks earlier, whose IFE screen was a standalone touchscreen unit, the system on this aircraft used a remote as its primary control. It took me a few minutes to get used to the controls, learn how to get what I wanted, and adjust to just how much effort it took to get the screen to do what I wanted. Since the screen froze, though, this ended up being a non-issue.
An hour or so into the flight, the cabin crew came by with a standard assortment of drinks, all free. I chose a water to boost my hydration at the start of my journey. Dinner was served within another hour. There was a chicken option, a beef stew, and a vegetarian option, but by the time the crew reached my row in the back, only the beef stew remained; the flight attendant joked that this was unusual, as people often tend to prefer the beef stew and leave the other options for the last few rows.
The stew came with a roll, a small salad, triple chocolate mousse, and a cup of water. I enjoyed the meal and would be happy to have it again. I’d even go so far as to say that this was one of my favorite onboard meals I’ve had lately. I certainly enjoyed eating it.
After dinner, the cabin crew dimmed the lights to let people sleep. We would never have a true night on this trip. It was daylight for the first half of the flight before the sun began to set over the western Atlantic ocean. The moment the sun had set on the way out, it was rising again as we approached Ireland; I wish I had captured a video of the sunset blending right into a sunrise as we approached Europe.
The flight attendants came through a few times throughout the flight offering coffee and tea, but I did not take any drinks after the very first service after departure. It was still nice to know that the option was available multiple times throughout the flight should I have wanted some.
I spent most of the rest of the flight editing the clips I had for my video trip report so far, and I managed to sleep for a couple hours. An hour or so before landing, the crew came by with the pre-arrival snack, a warmed sandwich with ham, egg, and cheese. This was definitely the best pre-arrival snack I’ve had in a while, even beating out the cold sandwiches I’ve had on Lufthansa over the past year. Aer Lingus’ sandwich was tasty, and the warmth was a welcome addition.
I also managed to ask the cabin crew about what the customs situation would be. When I visit Munich, I usually fly straight into Germany and either terminate in Munich or hop a domestic flight from Frankfurt; thus, I simply go through customs when I land from my first flight. I wasn’t sure if I’d go through customs in Ireland and officially enter the European Union or wait until arriving in Germany. The crew was polite, helpful, and knowledgeable (I’d clear customs in Germany), and the answer helped me feel more prepared for my connection.
Connection in Ireland
Our flight landed in Dublin just after 05:00 a.m., about 30 minutes early. When we taxied in and disembarked, I finally got my first look at the aircraft that had flown us safely across the pond. The plane wore Aer Lingus’ new white-based livery, as opposed to the green that the company is known for.
I couldn’t spend too much time admiring, though, as I had about an hour to find my connecting flight on to Germany. While I rushed around the terminal, I realized I’d need to join an incredibly-long line to make my connection. I might have accidentally cut in front of a bunch of people because I didn’t immediately recognize the line as that for connecting passengers…but I was certainly glad that I had an hour to make my connection, as other passengers around me had 10 or 20 minutes before their next flight left.
The line, though long, turned out to move pretty quickly; I was through in no more than five or ten minutes. The line was also considerably shorter than when I started; my guess is that, since a couple international flights had just arrived from the United States, the line was longer than normal since multiple widebodies had just dumped passengers into the same place.
Each passenger needed to scan their connecting boarding pass to be let into the main airport area. Afterwards, each passenger was asked if they were connecting to a flight within Ireland or to another country. Those connecting to other Irish destinations were pointed towards passport control, while I was sent toward a side exit that lead to connections for other destinations.
I ended up having enough time to explore the mostly-empty terminal. A few flights were going out, but it wasn’t even 6 am, so while some gates had empty planes waiting for passengers, many others were completely empty. Only a few flights were active at the time, so the airport was also relatively quiet, with not too many announcements.
Onward to Munich
I would continue on to Munich on flight EI352, an Airbus A321neo. It was my first time on an A321neo; I’ve been on other A320 family planes before, though. Aer Lingus flies two round trip connections from Dublin to Munich daily. Lufthansa also competes on this route, with two A320/A321 flights per day.
An interesting caveat: Aer Lingus also flies the Airbus A321 to a few cities in the United States. Most notably, the carrier just launched flights to Cleveland, Ohio on narrowbody Airbus aircraft. I have family in Cleveland, so maybe one day I’ll consider starting my trip there to fly two narrowbodies to get from the midwest to Munich and see what the narrowbodies-across-oceans hype is all about.
In Dublin, I decided not to get breakfast (not much was open that early in the morning anyways), and, after a bathroom break, I simply waited for my onward flight to Munich. The wait wasn’t long – we started boarding less than an hour after I arrived in the new terminal – and boarding soon began again. I was toward the back of the plane again, and I had priority boarding because, though I didn’t bring one, I had carry-on privileges on this flight. I did find it interesting that Aer Lingus only let me bring carry-ons on my flights between Dublin and Munich – I have the same perk on my return flight later this month – but not on either transatlantic flight.
I wonder if passengers often buy duty-free goods in Dublin and want to carry them on to their final destination, though I’m not sure how I’d consolidate an extra carry-on bag into my backpack in Dublin before heading back home. Either Aer Lingus has found a genius method of getting people to pay for an extra carry-on at the gate before hopping the pond or people find other means of getting rid of a carry-on (eating all the snacks they bought?) before boarding to go back home.
Upon boarding, the A321’s cabin instantly struck me as fresher and more modern than the A330’s cabin had been. The A321neo is surely a newer addition to Aer Lingus’ fleet than the A330, so maybe the airline installed a new cabin on this plane when it was delivered new but didn’t manage to upgrade my A330 yet.
I found my way to the back of the aircraft for my seat. Just as the cabin generally felt fresher upon boarding, my seat also felt more modern and up-to-date than my A330 seat. The IFE screen instantly reminded me of my aforementioned United Airlines MAX 9 screen, so I had high hopes to test it out in flight.
Our flight from Dublin ended up being significantly delayed. Though boarding was efficient, it took extra time to get enough fuel and pack all the checked bags onboard the plane. After pushback, we also spent a while sitting on taxiways waiting to join the long conga line for departure. Since we missed our departure slot, I wonder if other aircraft were prioritized for takeoff until we could fit into another opening in the airspace system.
Suddenly, though, we were moving, and we cut in front of a long line of Ryanair and fellow Aer Lingus planes holding on an auxiliary runway for departure. After a 30 minute departure delay, we got a beautiful view of Dublin Airport as we made a 180° turn towards the European mainland and Germany.
This flight was fairly uneventful. At 2 hours long, it was just long enough to enjoy and to demand a substantial form of entertainment (my book) but not long enough to warrant a proper service. Drinks and snacks were available only for purchase, reminiscent of a low-cost airline instead of a full-service flag carrier. I didn’t buy anything since I refilled my water bottle in Dublin.
The in-flight entertainment system worked perfectly on this flight. The system was fully touchscreen, so no awkward remotes to navigate or random freezes to derail your favorite movie. There were many different types of entertainment to choose from (movies, TV shows, podcasts, games, films about Aer Lingus’ history, and more), but the selection of titles within each category was varied. Though I scrolled the titles, I didn’t spend much time actually watching anything.
Despite our late departure from Dublin, we arrived in Munich exactly on time. The airport experience in Munich was standard. There was no line at passport control, so I got through in a few minutes. My checked bag was delivered within a reasonable amount of time.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip with Aer Lingus. Though there were occasional hiccups (the awkwardly-managed space below the seat in front of me, the Wi-Fi and IFE breakdown from Chicago to Dublin, and the delay leaving Ireland), most of these issues weren’t Aer Lingus’ fault, and the airline mitigated the issues that were in its control well. Both flight crews, especially on the transatlantic flight, were helpful and pleasant and made my flights enjoyable. The meal on the transatlantic flight was the best I’ve had on a flight lately, and the cabin environment from Dublin to Munich was state-of-the-art. We had entrancing cabin lighting and great views of a sunset and a sunrise en route to Dublin as a boost.
I believe Aer Lingus is a great option for connections from North America to Europe. I will definitely consider them again when I take my next trip. Additionally, I definitely want to try one of their narrowbody transatlantic flights as well to compare with the experience I had on this trip. I think that the combination of the A321 cabin with the long-haul service would make for an excellent experience.
Many thanks to Aer Lingus and my flight crews for getting our flights safely to their destinations, and to do so on time as well. I look forward to my next flights.
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