When travelling Business Class in Europe, you really shouldn’t expect much. In the US and many parts of Asia, premium cabins often offer lie-flat beds, inflight entertainment and gourmet food, all on routes that are just two/three hours in flight time.
In Europe, intra-European business class is a stark contrast. It mostly consists of an empty middle seat, and perhaps an antimacassar (the hanging cloth on the head-rest area of the seat) with an embroidered “Business Class” logo — just incase passengers were unsure, given the similarity to Economy.
Even on routes that stretch around four/five hours (including from Scandinavia to the Balearic Islands, or from London to Athens) the Business Class offerings by the likes of Lufthansa, British Airways, and Air France are…dire.
While there are some minor exceptions, including a single fifth freedom LATAM Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Madrid–Frankfurt, and the occasional long-haul jet deployed between London–Madrid by British Airways and Iberia (due to IAG cargo contracts) — European airlines’ Business Class are virtually identical, albeit for the difference in branding, and catering.
There’s also Turkish Airlines, who fly widebody aircraft all over Europe — but with Turkey being positioned 95% in Asia and 5% in Europe (by land mass) — I’m not including it as an ‘intra-European’ carrier.
With all of this in mind, a small airline based in Cyprus might have, without realising, claimed the top spot.
‘Cobalt’ — based in Larnaca, are a Cypriot carrier flying to destinations in Europe and the Middle East.
The airline, backed by Chinese investors, are not only offering passengers a genuine, dedicated Business Class cabin (with actual Business Class seats), but Cobalt have also managed to secure daily slots at London Heathrow Airport — something extraordinary for a small carrier. Obtaining slots at Heathrow is incredibly difficult, both because of the extensive waiting list of the world’s airlines who want to add frequencies at the airport, and because of the enormous cost involved in purchasing. Not too long ago, Muscat-based Oman Air purchased slots at Heathrow for a huge $75 million.
Cobalt are an Airbus operator, and fly a mix of A320 family aircraft. The airline have have configured the cabin at their Larnaca hub, and despite the seat model being quite heavy (which costs the airline in fuel), they’re here to stay.
Business Class is made up of four rows, featuring large (US domestic first class style) seats in a 2-2 configuration, upholstered in a navy blue leather.
The seats are very padded, and comfortable too. It’s somewhat refreshing to see such a large seat in a single aisle aircraft, given the amount of slimline seats flying today.
Each seat comes with a pillow and blanket, and has a very generous recline.
The leg rest also raises, so much so that it becomes quite similar to a long haul angled-flat seat.
Cobalt offer a ‘Dine on Demand’ service (made famous by Qatar Airways) whereby Business passengers can be served their meal at any time during the flight. Each seat has a leather covered menu, much like you’d find in an ordinary restaurant — detailing food options.
In addition to the cabin, the airline has splashed out on ‘all the extras’ to ensure their Business Class experience is what you’d expect when flying Business long-haul.
At London Heathrow, passengers have access to the new Aspire Lounge at Terminal 3. There’s also a dedicated check in desk, and fast track security access.
Another unique thing about Cobalt flights, is the on-demand inflight entertainment for all passengers, so long as you bring your own device. Through ‘bluebox’ technology, passengers can stream tv shows & movies on their own devices.
The addition of this on-demand inflight entertainment has a largely positive effect on the overall passenger experience, and little cost to the airline.
It seems that, without realising, Cobalt now have the strongest European Business class offering when it comes down to the hard product — the cabin/seat.
In terms of the soft product (the service), it’s genuine, warm, and reflects true Cypriot hospitality. I watched in admiration as the crew helped elderly passengers find their seats. They were engaging, natural, and very professional.
The airline is now planning its next expansion phase, and has recently launched a loyalty programme, for its frequent flyers. While their onboard catering could be improved, this airline is currently Europe’s best kept Business Class secret.
Have you flown with Cobalt?