On the Ground: Arik Air, Nigeria’s largest commercial airline, launched service between Lagos and New York in November 2009. I had the chance to experience the airline’s Premier Class cabin on that same route last December. Though Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport can be every bit as chaotic as the megacity it serves, check-in was fast and friendly. When I inquired about the executive lounge, an Arik Air employee escorted me directly to it on the airport’s second floor. The lounge in Lagos is comfortable enough, with a full bar, plenty of snacks and free Internet; but it pales in comparison to the Arik lounge in JFK’s Terminal 4. (28/30)
Pre-flight: After I found my seat — one of 36 in Premier Class on the Airbus A340-500 — the flight attendant greeted me and took my coat. The seat was a dull red — the carpet, too — giving the cabin a second-hand feel. But what the seat lacked in appearance, it more than made up for in functionality with its 34-inch pitch, its fully flat sleep position and its built-in massage system — an intense, almost numbing vibration available in four zones (head, upper back, lower back and legs). Although we had boarded about half an hour late, after just a few minutes on the tarmac we were airborne. (27/30)
In-flight: It’s not as elegant as some other airlines, but Arik has managed to put together a very nice in-flight product with tasty fare, prompt service and an easy-to-use entertainment system. The 17-inch screen mounted on the seat back has a clear picture, and there’s plenty to choose from — comedy, drama, adventure, documentary and all the games, including trivia. This being a Nigerian airline, there’s also a sizeable selection of Nollywood features. Dinner was delicious if a bit behind schedule. The menu features both Continental and African cuisine, as well as a selection of wines and Champagne. I slept solidly for six hours and woke up to the smell of coffee. And because we arrived in New York at about 5:30 in the morning, I didn’t feel jetlagged. (37/40)
The Experience: Well fed, well rested and on time — I couldn’t ask any more of a 12-hour flight. Arik Air’s Premier Class may not be everyone’s idea of plush, but I found it to be among the most comfortable rides I’ve ever taken.
Total Score: 92/100
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