Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190-E2: Luxembourg to Zürich

Introduction

It is probably safe to say that the Embraer E2 family of jets have not been the commercial success the Brazilian manufacturer had hoped for. To date, fewer than 270 aircaft have been ordered, whereas the rival Airbus A220 is gradually approaching 790 orders and calls some of the world’s most prestigious airlines its customers – and that includes Air France, Air Canada, and Delta.

Even though the E2 family was rolled out in 2013, to date only 55 aircraft have been delivered. In as much, and as I know from my own experience, catching a flight on one of these elusive birds is not easy. Currently, the two largest operators of the type are KLM and Helvetic Airways, both of which I use quite frequently. Even so, to date every time I was booked on a flight supposedly operated by an E2, there was a last minute aircraft change and a missed opportunity.

Until today. Finally, after several failed attempts I get to sample Helvetic Airways’ E2 on a flight from Luxembourg to Zürich operated on behalf of SWISS. Ironically, this opportunity arose unexpectedly as the result of yet another aircraft change.

At the Airport

If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the bit about getting to the airport or describing the lounge I didn’t visit… My flight departs Luxembourg at 15:00. When I get there, the place is deserted and there are hardly any people. Whatever the case may be, it means that I can settle by the window and watch the traffic until my E2 makes an appearance.

Just after 14:03 the inbound flight touches down and very gradually makes its was to its stand at gate A17.

The first thing that strikes me about the E2 is the size of its engines.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of 15 minutes. I count 85 passengers on the flight today. There are nine rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats, of which 16 are taken.

The Cabin

The first impression as you step on the plane is very good. The cabin is tidy and neat. Other than that though, the narrow diameter of the hull gives it the look and feel of a commuter aircraft, which is not quite so apparent on the A220.

I’m seated on row 7, where the seat pitch is painfully tight. Fortunately, sitting in Business Class means that the seat next to me is empty, so at least I can stretch my legs sideways.

On each row of two seats there are four USB sockets.

There is also an overhead reading light and an air vent for each passenger. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Helvetic Airways’ seating configuration – apart from the overall lack of space and comfort – is that the seats on most rows are missaligned with the windows.

The Service

There are three cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a woman with a thick eastern European accent but otherwise flawless English and German. In the back of the bus is a friendly young man who interacts pleasantly with passengers and a young lady who looks as though she’s afraid of her own shadow. She passes through the cabin wordlessly like a ghost.

Before we depart, the MC distributes refreshing towels and small bottles of still water.

The pictures of the outside were taken by sticking my iPhone next to the ear of the guy in front of me (and hoping he won’t notice) and then twisting my hand to the right to aimlessly point the camera lense in the general direction of the wing.

The Meal

The meal service consists of a small tray with a plate of two stale canapés – egg & tomato and ham & cheese – and a small jar of vermicelles mousse and plums.

Before I even manage to take a bite, the ghost appears offering the chocolates. The guy in front of me asks if he might be allowed to take a second one “for my kid” (right…) to which he only receives an ever so slight and silent nod of the head.

The tray tables are a bit of a problem, mainly because they’re very small and my tray keep sliding off. Other than that, is it really too much to train the crew to crew to wait until the end of the flight to hand out the chocolates?

Arrival

If I actually had a window, the views outside would be gorgeous. The colours are gradually changing to autumn, casting the landscape in a warm colour.

During the descent the crew advise passengers with connecting flights to go straight to their gates if they have connections within the hour. Beyond that though, no information about the departure gates of the connecting flights is given.

We park on a remote stand, where the dedicated bus for Business Class passengers is already expecting us to take us to the terminal building, which is eerily quiet.

Conclusion

I’m happy I finally got to try the elusive E2. In the sum of all things though, I can’t really say I was too impressed. First, considering that it is a fairly new design I thought the cabin looked rather old-fashioned. Second, no matter how hard you try to give the cabin an airy, spacious feel, there’s no denying that this is an aircraft with a very narrow fuselage. In as much, at least as far as I’m concerned, the E2 is no match for the A220 in terms of comfort and passenger experience. I also found that the aircraft is much louder inside than I expected.

Yet again, the crew were Helvetic’s saving grace on this flight, even though the one crew member didn’t actually say anything – but perhaps it’s for the better that way.

3 thoughts on “Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190-E2: Luxembourg to Zürich”

  1. If you do find yourself on a KLM Embraer E2; try to grab seat 1A if available. While this is a bulkhead I found the leg room to be much better than on the other KLM narrow body aircraft in row 1. Though generally, if possible, I’d recommend avoiding KLM Cityhopper in business class due to the fact that the neighbour seat is not blocked. It really is just Economy with a slightly (very slight!) improvement on the catering.

    Personally I share your opinion on that the A220 is a more comfortable aircraft. And, AF at least, blocks the neighbour seat on the port side.

    1. Hi Xandrios,

      I’ll keep that in mind. I might get a chance to try KLM’s E2 in December. But as we now now, no point in planning too far ahead. And you’re right about KLM short-haul Business Class. It’s really not worth it anymore, not even on the mainline fleet.

  2. “and a young lady who looks as though she’s afraid of your own shadow”

    You mean her own shadow, right? Though your way would make it even more hilarious.

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