Last month I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. DDF member jmansour asked if I wanted to come along with Arkia for a full day affair at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse where they would be configuring their 2 A330-900neo aircraft that will operate nonstop service between NYC and Tel Aviv starting in 2020.
Arkia will be the 4th airline offering nonstop service in that market after El Al, United, and Delta. There are up to 9 daily nonstops between NYC and Tel Aviv, but it’s actually an underserved market based on how many people fly with a connection.
Oh, and we would be flying on a Gulfstream V private jet nonstop from Teterboro to Toulouse with kosher catered food.
Say no more, I was onboard!
Arkia put me on a United flight to Newark on Sunday morning and my Global Services upgrade came through minutes later. I was skeptical that the flight would take off given the weather waivers issued for Cleveland and NYC, but that was in G-d’s hands.
Cleveland got walloped with over a foot of snow, but while other airlines like American, JetBlue, and Southwest wiped out their flights, United operated normally and we left on time.
Other families heading south for Yeshiva week were very happy if they booked the United flight to Fort Lauderdale and very disappointed if they booked JetBlue.
Having landed on time in Newark, we had a DDF DO at Patis Bakery with DDF members AJK and Something Fishy. It was our first get-together since Antarctica.
Chef Moses Wendel, the magician behind Pardes, opened this bakery in Lyndhurst, NJ and it’s a home run!
Best of all they have tons of free samples, so you can try out the deliciousness and then order.
The cheesy farm egg croissant is out of this world:
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#Breakfast @patis_bakery in Lyndhurst, NJ was phenomenal! Definitely rivals Zak's! Cheesy farm egg croissant, avocado toast, Blueberry Lemon Cheese Danish, cheesecake, and Snickers cake were all out of this world! @chefmoseswendel is a magician! Though I still miss #Pardes
The Avocado Toast is a perfect version of this millennial treat:
A lemon blueberry cheese danish is excellent as well:
Snickers cake and cheesecake are rich, creamy, and amazing:
Realizing that it didn’t make sense to spend the entire day in Jersey, I took an Uber to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens. After all, it’s one of the top things to do on a Sunday in NYC according the the New York Times.
Afterwards I headed to Crown Heights for another DDF DO, this time with DDF members MileageJunkie, Meirs, chff, and whYME.
When I was younger, going to Crown Heights meant suffering through some terrible food, but now it’s foodie heaven between places like Izzys’s, Allenbi, Pho-men, Artisan Bakehouse, and so much more.
Izzy’s makes what’s probably the best kosher meats in the world.
Before landing I went into the open cockpit and took the jumpseat:
The GV in Toulouse:
Customs was quickly performed on the plane and Airbus chauffeured us from the tarmac to the Hotel Pullman at Toulouse airport. Everyone got a room and I was able to daven and take a shower before heading back down to meetup with the group at breakfast.
Arkia CEO Nir Dagan outlined the goals of the day, namely to determine the optimal economy, premium economy, and business class seats for their A330-900neo that will compete in the NYC-Tel Aviv market with Delta, El Al, and United.
Airbus representatives then went over the day’s agenda, which would take us all across Toulouse:
Aviation blogger Alex Macheras and I were just along for the ride and our opinions.
Airbus started by taking us to their delivery center to walk through built planes that were being outfitted with various seats.
Air Senegal A330-900neo’s will be used to fly between Dakar and Paris.
Their premium economy and economy seats were both comfortable and spacious.
A jumbo A380 awaits to greet you as you enter the doors:
The A330 is designed for 8 seats across, but low-cost carriers have been clamoring for a 9 across solution ans this is it. It is really, really tight!
Due to the narrow seat, airlines have to get a little extra seat pitch, which means they can’t fit in as many seats as you would expect.
The A380 mockup’s bathroom is strikingly similar to what Emirates has on their A380:
Airbus then took us into their new crew-rest style beds that want airlines to try out in the luggage compartment.
Airlines can upsell these beds to economy class passengers and they can configure planes with the exact right number of “dorms” for each flight.
It’s a neat concept, but there were lots of questions.
- Who would enforce who’s bed was who’s?
- What could be done about passenger safety from turbulence in a compartment where you need to bend down in order to walk through it? And what about safety from other passengers in confined quarters?
- Would these beds cannibalize sales of premium economy seats?
- How much revenue would be lost from cargo?
I don’t know if we’ll ever see this concept in real life, but they were neat to try out. Airbus even has you go down the same narrow staircase and low ceilings to simulate how they would work on an A330 or A350 equipped with them:
Seat manufactures like Zodiac wanted to sell Arkia on an improved 2-2-2 seating concept with large and comfortable beds. They were comfortable no doubt, but it’s hard to see passengers paying a premium for a seat that requires maneuvering over other passengers due to the lack of direct aisle access for everyone, no matter how comfortable the bed might be.
Lunchtime consisted of some negotiations between Arkia, Airbus, and other vendors, so Alex and I sat that out.
In middle of lunch we got word that the Private Jet servicing contractor at the airport damaged the flaps on the GV, so a couple of us drove back to the airport to examine the damage:
Gulfstream could send out a repair team, but that would take a couple of days.
So I did what I usually do in case of irregular operations, I started searching for award tickets back home. I found a Lufthansa First Class award, but the rest of the gang started laughing. You don’t look for commercial transport back when your private jet gets damaged. You let the insurance company work on finding another private jet to get you back.
Now that’s the life.
The exact seat models that Arkia selected are still under wraps for the time being, though I can say that I think Arkia will have best in class seating in economy, premium economy, and business class on the NYC-Tel Aviv route. It’s exciting that there’s going to be another option on that route, but it’s even more exciting that they are going with premium options that will set the bar for North America-Tel Aviv flights.
One idea brought up was to brand the Arkia business class experience “Setai Class” to match the luxury found at Arkia’s sister company’s Setai collection of top-rated hotels that can be found in Miami Beach, Tel Aviv, and on the Sea of Galilee.
El Al should be scared. If Arkia figures out how to make a loyalty program, El Al should be terrified.
CEO Nir Dagan had to return to Israel, but he flew commercial on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. jmansour and I hitched a ride with him as Airbus would then chauffeur us to the Musée Aeroscopia, where we could check out the Airbus gift shop.
With this more modern line you can view the assembly from above, but can’t walk on the floor below:
Here are some videos of the other guys taking off and landing. With the full motion simulator you can really get nauseous and tossed around when the pilot is not an expert!
The Arkia group stayed in La Cour des Consuls Hotel and Spa, which is part of Accor’s Mgallery Collection. It’s the top rated hotel in Toulouse and was an excellent place to spend the night.
There are 2 kosher restaurants in Toulouse and the pizza shop closes when they feel like it, so our only option was Le Sabra. Luckily all of their meat was Glatt kosher.
Airbus chauffeured us there, which was good as the neighborhood around the restaurant seemed pretty sketchy.
The egg rolls were phenomenal, alas they were the highlight of the night.
It’s truly a beautiful plane:
Not a bad way to fly:
Customs in in Miami-Opa Locka took just a minute and I called for an UberX. A Suburban was waiting there and drove me to Noma, where I met up with family to enjoy a dinner during my connection.
I went to Noma in January 2018 when they opened and it was pretty terrible.
But I heard that Chef David Benrey took over and was whipping the place into shape.
His presentation is legendary and the food is now amazing!
I ordered the Fungi Pappardelle, and it was phenomenal!
Rich chocolate lovers will love this cake, but it was too rich for my tastes:
Unfortunately my JetBlue flight was delayed by several hours. My Aunt Tova, who Instagrams @MadeJewLaugh loves to go to restaurants and order their top dish or 2.
I was too full to move when she went into several places, but after a couple of hours she dragged me into Dixie BBQ and had me try the fried chicken tenders. They were indeed fantastic. Though my favorite kosher fried chicken by far is still from Hen House in Overland Park, KS.
I had left home at 4am on Sunday and didn’t get back until 3am Wednesday, but it was a really unique trip to experience!