By Carole Shifrin, Contributing Editor
Brussels Airlines will begin non-stop service in June from Brussels to Washington, D.C. its second U.S. destination in little more than a year, part of a concerted long-haul expansion strategy.
A member of the Lufthansa Group and Star Alliance, the Brussels-based airline began flights to New York last year (its first transatlantic venture since its predecessor carrier Sabena went bankrupt in 2001) and is now spreading its wings to connect the European and U.S. capitals.
Brussels Airlines’ new service between Brussels and Washington Dulles International Airport begins on June 18 and will operate five times a week using Airbus A330-200 aircraft with 250 economy seats and 24 business-class seats.
The long-haul aircraft feature brand-new interiors, introduced last year. The new interiors afford business travelers seats that convert to fully flat beds and economy travelers with a new ergonomic seat design and more generous legroom than most of Brussels Airlines’ competitors.
Both cabins have a new state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, which Brussels Airlines calls RAVE.
The airline says it picked Washington D.C. for its second transatlantic route because of the large market demand for flights between the U.S. and European capitals.
As the European capital, Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, as well as NATO, and serves as the EU headquarters for more than 1,000 multinational companies. Consequently, there is considerable government and business travel between the two cities.
Brussels Airlines officials say they also hope to attract U.S. vacation travelers to Brussels and other Belgian cities, as well as bring Belgians and other European tourists to Washington, which it calls “a perfect city trip destination”. The European carrier ‒ which adopted Sabena’s former ‘SN’ flight code after its predecessor’s bankruptcy ‒ has timed its flights to offer business and government travelers, as well as tourists, attractive options.
The carrier’s flight from Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA code IAD) to Brussels Airport (BRU) will depart at 10:35 p.m., the latest evening departure from Washington to Europe. This schedule allows travelers to spend an entire day in Washington working or sightseeing.
SN’s flight arrives at BRU at 12:10 p.m. local time the next day, where passengers can connect easily to Brussels Airlines flights to other European destinations or its flights to Africa. This summer, it will be operating to 46 European cities and 18 African destinations. Connections also can be made to other Star Alliance partners’ flights.
Brussels Airlines’ flight to Washington leaves Brussels at 5:30 p.m., making it the only U.S.-bound afternoon/early evening departure from Brussels. The flight arrives at Washington Dulles at 8:15 p.m. local time, well after most inbound European flights have arrived.
The carrier says passengers will be able to connect to some 30 destinations flown by United Airlines, its Star Alliance partner. United also operates Washington-Brussels flights, on a daily basis.
“With this new flight, Brussels Airlines is complementing the current offer of United, creating more departure possibilities and better travel schedules for passengers,” says Bernard Gustin, Brussels Airlines’ chief executive officer.
Brussels Airlines has doubled its long-haul fleet in the last three years to eight A330s – five A330-300s and three A330-200s (the latter with 14 fewer seats) – for the planned expansion.
The carrier also has added four destinations in Africa, and now is adding frequencies on the African continent. It also has been adding new cities to its shorter-haul European route map.
According to Geert Sciot, Brussels Airlines’ vice president communication, advance bookings on the Washington route are encouraging. “They follow the same pattern as the forward bookings of New York,” he says.
“We do not only attract passengers who fly to Washington or Brussels; we also register a lot of passengers who book connecting flights to other European destinations we serve,” adds Sciot. On its New York route, the airline currently is operating at load factors above 80 per cent, he says.
The airline launched its new service to New York last year with flair. It swapped its traditional blue-and-white cabin crew uniforms to newly designed uniforms in red; the flight attendants also toted soft, red carry-on bags bearing the words, “I’ll take Manhattan.”
Everything, including new shoes for both men and women, was designed by leading Belgian fashion houses.
Brussels Airlines spent 30 million Euros ($38.8 million) on its redesigned long-haul cabins. Business class features flat-bed seats 6 feet 5-and-9/16 inches long when fully flat for sleeping.
The seats, developed by Thompson Aero Seating, are equipped with a Lantal pneumatic cushion system allowing passengers to select the seat’s softness.
Passengers also can use the IFE system touch screens to choose three seat positions: Take off/Landing, Lounge or Bed. In economy, new ergonomically designed seats offer more legroom than most economy sections – 33 inches – and increased seat recline.
The whole cabin is equipped with the new in-flight entertainment system, which features individual touch screens at each seat; business class seats have screens that are 15.3 inches in diameter, while the same-technology screens in economy class are 8.9 inches.
The RAVE system has intuitive interfaces based on the most popular tablets, the airline says, providing 100 hours of movies, documentaries, games, music and e-reading material.
Seats also have multiple connectivity solutions such as an audio mini-jack and USB power port for recharging an MP3 device or smartphone.
Included in the IFE system is a “Niceview” flight information program which offers a three-dimensional view from various camera perspectives so passengers can follow the course of the aircraft.
Carole Shifrin has been a Washington-based freelance writer for ten years. Her career includes 15 years at Aviation Week & Space Technology, where she served as Dallas Bureau Chief, London Bureau Chief and Senior Transport Editor, and 13 years as a staff writer at The Washington Post. Carole is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Lauren D. Lyman Award for distinguished, career-long achievement in aviation journalism.