Flight Review: MEA A320 Economy – A Pleasant Surprise

This was my first-ever trip on MEA – Middle East Airlines. MEA is the flag-carrier of Lebanon and uses Beirut’s Rafic-Hariri International Airport as its hub. Today’s flight review will cover the journey on an A320 in economy class – which was a pleasant surprise for me!

Boarding the aircraft via stairs. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

I have some friends that I visit every now and then in Kuwait and, looking back at all my visits, I’ve taken a different airline every time – unintentionally. Last time it was KLM via Amsterdam. This time it was MEA via Beirut.

I am guilty of judging a book by its cover. I really dislike the MEA branding and livery. The colors aren’t integrated very well with one another and the font used for their logo just seems so outdated to me. As a result, my expectations for the carrier were very low. Maybe this made the flight better because it was a huge improvement over what I was expecting!

The airport experience and boarding

I departed from Milan Malpensa airport. Check-in was a little messy as there was no distinction between the Sky Priority lane and Business Class line. It was only after people had lined up in both that they told me I was in the wrong one. I made a fuss about it seeing as airport staff had done a poor job of placing signage.

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The airport lounge won’t be fully reviewed, but I was at the Montale Lounge, which offered great views of the tarmac. At about 11 am, however, the food was underwhelming.

Boarding the flight via shuttle bus from Gate B31. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

When it was time to board, I headed to Gate B31 and realized that we would be boarding via shuttle bus. Whenever I have a window seat and priority boarding status, I am a little annoyed since priority boarding only means you get on the bus first. But after that, it’s a gamble who gets onboard first because of which bus doors open and where you sit on the bus. First world problems, right?

Boarding the shuttle bus. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Aboard the shuttle bus. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Getting inside T7-MRB

Our shuttle bus promptly made its way to the aircraft’s stand and I just happened to be near the right door to get out and onto the aircraft first (for photos!). Our aircraft was registration T7-MRB. It is a 7.2-year-old Airbus A320-200, according to Airfleets.

The bus nearing the aircraft. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The A320 operated by MEA. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
A quick glance at the business class cabin. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

For the first few passengers, including myself, MEA flight attendants asked for our boarding passes and walked us all the way to our seats. I found this service to be quite special and leaves a good first impression as you begin your journey.

The economy class cabin. The flight attendant above walked me all the way to my seat. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Seating

Arriving at my seat (35A) I was impressed with the premium feel of the seat and the footrest that was available as well (I didn’t make use of it). The footrest takes away a little bit of foot space but legroom is decent for me, a 180cm tall man. Seat width wasn’t a problem.

My seat at 35A. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The economy class looking forward. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The seats even came with hooks/knobs for hanging coats on. I enjoy having this feature as it allows easy access to my jacket or sweater without it ending up down on the floor or crumpled behind my back.

Surprised to see footrests in economy. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Handy to have seatback coat hooks. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The legroom in economy. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Inflight entertainment

Inflight entertainment was mediocre. The menu system is average and selection is sub-par compared to other airlines. However, there were a few big Hollywood movies available that most people would watch. On this particular flight, I enjoyed watching a 2018 movie about the submarine Kursk. There weren’t any Western TV shows available on this flight.

One particularly annoying note is that the IFEs aren’t available until well after take-off. I’ve gotten quite used to beginning a movie while the rest of the plane boards and the aircraft taxis to the runway. This can make a half-hour experience go by very quickly… but not this time.

The inflight entertainment was mediocre. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

But MUCH WORSE is that after take-off, passengers are subjected to what feels like 10 minutes of continuous advertisements on all the screens. I hope these companies are paying MEA enough money because it’s a downright frustrating experience. The elderly Arab woman sitting next to me couldn’t understand what was going on and was just madly pressing buttons trying to watch the content of her choosing.

I understand that airlines need extra sources of revenue, but there were just far too many advertisements played one after the other!

Food and beverage

Just like Air France, the crew distributes a paper menu to passengers before they come by with meals. Hopefully, the photo I took of the menu is clear enough to show the meal and drink choices. The ‘menu’ also includes some additional information and is half newsletter-half menu.

Unlike some other Middle Eastern airlines (Saudia, Kuwait Airways), MEA serves alcohol on their flights.

Menus (with additional information) are distributed before meal service. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

As for meals, today it was a choice between chicken and fish. Being closer to the back of the cabin, by the time the food cart reached me I had no choice but fish. Thankfully, it was what I would have chosen anyway.

The inflight meal was pretty good. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Again, perhaps because of my pre-existing low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meal and all that it offered. As you can see from the photo above, two buns are provided as well as fresh salad, crackers, cheese, etc. Furthermore, passengers use ‘real’ stainless steel cutlery.

Overall experience and verdict

I enjoyed my flight with MEA overall. The ongoing flight from Beirut to Kuwait was fine as well. Flight attendants are pleasant and provide service with a smile. Food was good and the seat was comfortable – something you can’t always guarantee- especially for a narrowbody aircraft. I would be interested to know what flying their widebody A330s is like.

The one aspect of the flight I disliked the most was their annoying advert reel that every passenger was forced to watch. The length of the entire thing was just too long.

Where MEA flies as of 2019. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

As I recently wrote about airlines with the youngest fleets, it’s irritating the MEA claims to have a young fleet. At an average 7.8 years, it may be younger than some, but the numbers are skewed due to a small fleet and one or two newer aircraft. The interiors feel too dated for the airline to claim a young fleet. This will change at some point when MEA takes delivery of their four A321XLR aircraft.

One great thing about flying with MEA is the beautiful approach into Beirut’s airport. Make sure you’re on the left side of the plane as you’ll get a great view of downtown Beirut as well as some stunning rock formations along the coastline. I knew this was coming and had my camera ready to capture it. The video is below. Enjoy!

Post review updates:

Note 1: On some flights, I don’t bother to recline and that was the case for this flight review. However, on a subsequent MEA flight on the same type of aircraft, I realized that reclining means that the seat bottom slides forward rather than the top going back. If you’ve read my Air France review you’ll know how much I despise this type of seat.

Note 2: I flew this same service (same airline, same aircraft, and same cabin) from Beirut to Kuwait. However, I flew Kuwait Airways B777 economy back from Kuwait to Beirut. The experiences are a world apart and it would be hard to recommend MEA if something like Kuwait Airways also exists!

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