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A Higher Level of Service

April 25, 1999|S. Irene Virbila

At a time when airlines are cutting back on service and offering food that's hard to swallow--in any class--tiny Lauda Air is bucking the trend. I found out about the Vienna-based carrier recently when I took one of its planes on the Vienna-Rome leg of a European trip.

As our bus pulled up at the foot of the 50-seater, I caught a glimpse of the flight attendants, looking chic in black jeans, beautifully cut blazers, red vests and red baseball caps. Already something different.

I expected breakfast, even in economy class. But what followed was like nothing else. First a smiling Austrian attendant brought a cloth roll tied up with red grosgrain ribbon. Unfurled, the roll became a cotton twill napkin and place mat with knife, fork and spoon tucked into pockets. Then she poured fresh orange juice, passed a basket of flaky croissants and crusty rolls--as good as what you'd find in Vienna's pastry shops. Next came a porcelain tray with a fruit salad (melon, pineapple, kiwi, grapes), a broiled tomato half and delicious country ham rolled around soft scrambled eggs, and three cheeses: cream cheese with black peppercorns, sliced Gruyere and another soft-ripened cheese, along with a small jar of jam. This feast was completely unexpected--and the attendant actually asked whether the meal was OK. This, I thought, is clearly an airline run by somebody smart.

That somebody is Niki Lauda, Austria's most famous race car driver (winner of three Formula 1 World Championship titles and 25 Grand Prix races). He started the company in 1979 with two Fokker 27 aircraft. Now it's partly owned by Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa, connecting Vienna with 19 European cities and Miami, Lauda Air's U.S. hub. (Lauda, which has a ticketing partnership with Delta, also flies to Munich from Miami.) Lauda is continually improving his airline, adding sleeper seats and state-of-the-art entertainment. On long flights to Europe or Asia, business-class passengers get a seven-course menu cooked fresh on-board by a chef. How's that for service?

*

Lauda Air reservations: (800) 588-8399 or Austrian Airlines (800) 843-0002.

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