Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

This is an online travel journal about the journeys I have taken. I hope you may find in it useful information about airports, airlines and hotels and their products and services. Perhaps you will also find here some inspiration for future places to visit and journeys to take.

– William

Posted in AIRLINES A | 17 Comments

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Luxembourg

INTRODUCTION

It’s Monday morning and I’m on my way back to the airport in Zürich. Today I’m travelling to Luxembourg again to give another course. With me is my boss, an aerodynamicist by trade, and he looks just a wee bit upset. You see, the reason we get on with each other is that we’re both fascinated – so as not to call it obsessed – with airplanes. So there’s always something to talk about. He’d been hoping for a chance to sample the A 220-300. But there’s been an aircraft change apparently…

CHECK-IN

But first things first. I arrive at the airport at around 07h20. My first stop is the SWISS Business Class check-in counters to dump my suitcase. From there I head across to the other side of Check-in area 3 to the counters of the Swiss federal railways. I’m inquiring about purchasing a ticket from Luxembourg to Brussels, where I’ll be heading to later on this week for yet another course. Only, the very friendly lady at the counter informs me that she can only sell me a ticket from Luxembourg to the border and then another ticket from the border to Brussels. But the system won’t tell her what the border town is at which I’ll need to swap tickets. So no sale.

Allow me to rant: in Europe distances between the major cities are often not that great. As such, in some cases the train would be a viable alternative to the airplane. But if even buying a ticket is so complicated and cumbersome, it’s hardly surprising that trains have still not succeeded in competing against the airlines – even on short routes.

AIRSIDE

By the time I’m through security, it’s gone eight in the morning. My flight will start boarding in less than thirty minutes. So I get myself a cinnamon roll and a cappuccino from the Marché café at the beginning of the A concourse and then head for gate A 86, from where the flight to Luxembourg will be leaving and where I’ll be meeting my boss.

Meanwhile, outside it’s a dark and dreary morning with low visibility. And it’s started snowing as well. Which looks really pretty to be honest, but doesn’t bode well for an on time departure.

BOARDING

Since I booked this trip, there have been three aircraft changes. Originally, the flight should have been operated by an Airbus A 220-300. Then it was changed to an Airbus A 220-100. Then when I checked in on the app on Sunday evening it had changed to an Airbus A 320 and then by the time boarding eventually started, it had reverted back to an Airbus A 220-300 – much to the delight of my boss. One of the things I’ve noticed about the morning Luxembourg flight is that it is quite prone to aircraft changes. I suspect the main reason being that the flight is so short that the schedule to Luxembourg is not really integrated into SWISS’ hub schedule but rather the flight times are dictated by the availability of an aircraft.

Boarding finishes at around 09h05. The doors close and the captain welcomes us aboard. He also informs us that due to the weather situation, we’re going to have to de-ice first and there’s a queue of at least ten minutes for de-icing. So we’re not scheduled to depart before 09h45, forty minutes behind schedule.

CABIN

This time I’m sitting on 3A, the window seat on the row of two, which is perfect because it means I can store my luggage under the seat in front and have more than enough space to spread out. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed just how spacious and airy the cabin of the A 220 is, despite the fact that the aircraft isn’t all that big.

SERVICE

The Swiss solution to any problem is chocolate. And so, no sooner has the captain announced our departure delay, the crew pass through the cabin offering those small bars of chocolate that are a cornerstone of the SWISS on board experience. And it really works. The chocolate won’t make the weather any better and it won’t reduce the delay either, but it releases endorphins in the brains so that at least you give a bit less of a rat’s bum about the delay because you’re busy happily clogging up your arteries with sumptuous goodness.

THE MEAL

The menu is still the same as it was three weeks ago, only this time I think they overdid it slightly with the smoked salmon in the brioche. The two ramekins are Bircher Müsli and a fruit salad. The coffee is still served in cardboard cups but is not so vile.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land in Luxembourg after a flight time of forty minutes, twenty minutes behind schedule. The weather here is slightly better, but also colder than in Zürich.

We collect our suitcase and then head upstairs to catch the bus line 16 to the office.

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KLM Cityhopper, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Amsterdam to Basel

INTRODUCTION

I spend a very relaxing day in Amsterdam. I go to De Bakerswinkel for breakfast in the centre of Amsterdam and then indulge in a spot of retail therapy to revive the spirits. It’s still very windy here in Amsterdam, which has the positive side effect that aircraft are flying right over central Amsterdam at very low altitude on their approach into Schiphol.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Seeing as I only arrived in Amsterdam very late the day before, my hotel in Amsterdam is the CitizenM at Schiphol airport. I think it probably takes more time to walk from the entrance of the terminal to the KLM check-in counters than it does to walk from the hotel to the terminal building. In any case, it’s not far.

CHECK-IN

KLM has a separate check-in area for SkyPriority passengers, which is located to the right as you come off the escalators, coming up from the Schiphol plaza. I’ve already checked in on the app, so it’s really just a question of checking in the suitcase I’ve been carting around since I left for Shannon and then Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.

There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers for security.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The airport is very quiet this evening and there’s a nice hushed atmosphere in the lounge. With so few passengers around, it’s easy to find a quiet space in the huge lounge. Since my last visit, there have been a few changes to the lounge. First of all, the KLM branded cutlery and plates have been replaced by something neutral and not branded. It’s a shame really, because there was always something very decidedly Dutch about the old tableware. The food selection is also different, although in this case I think it’s actually an improvement over what they had before, because there’s now more choice.

BOARDING

The screens inside the lounge are showing a delay for my flight of 35 minutes, so 21h10 instead of 20h35. My flight will be boarding from gate B24, which is roughly a 10-minute schlep from the Crowne Lounge.

Eventually, boarding start at 20h55 and it’s all a bit messy. Luckily though, the Embraer 175 is a very small plane, so that despite the mess we’re all happily or not so happily settled in our seats by 21h05. The captain then steps out of the cockpit and puts on his jacket before he makes a public address. When that happens with KLM, you know it’s bad news. So the captain informs us that the delay was caused by the gusting winds here in Amsterdam, which has meant increased separation and thus less capacity per hour per runway. But he assures us that we’ll be on our way shortly.

At 21h25 the first officer comes on the PA and informs us that there’s a problem with the manifest, which doesn’t add up. Apparently, there are passengers in seats they shouldn’t be occupying and that needs to be cleared up first. Eventually, at 21h38 we push back from our stand and the engines start up. We’re now running slightly more than an hour behind schedule.

CABIN

Good heavens, these seats are tight. Either I’ve grown some more (highly unlikely) since I last flew KLM or they’ve decreased the seat pitch. My knees are pushing into the seatback of the seat in front of me. What’s more, I’m sitting in front of a young man with seriously long legs who in turn is pushing his knees into the back of my seat. As such, it’s a bit unfortunate to be kept waiting on the ground for thirty minutes before the flight begins. Finally though, I find a position in which I can minimise the amount of damage to my kneecaps and coccyx.

CREW

The crew looks slightly harassed and a bit tired. Even so, I think they do an excellent job in dealing with the disgruntled passengers, all of which are clearly just tired and weary from their travels at this stage.

The crew announce the flight time as 55 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal service on this flight consists of a wrap filled with cheese, egg and lettuce that is served in a small box with a little tub of still water. In addition to that, the crew pass through the cabin with a drinks trolley, offering hot and cold beverages. By this stage, I’m too tired to eat, let alone to remember to take a photo. But in my twilight state of semi-consciousness, I remember to dump the wrap in my backpack to take a picture of it once I get home.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land at 22h40, 55 minutes behind schedule. The airport is already very busy, what with the Basel based easyJet fleet returning home for the evening. This does not bode well for immigration, me thinks. Much to my surprise though, we’re marshalled to a stand in the French domestic sector of the apron, which means that once inside the terminal, we will in fact not have to go through immigration at all, just like the good old days.

Ten minutes later my suitcase arrives. I exit on the Swiss side of terminal and make my way to the bus stop. The bus is crowded, but I still manage to snag a seat.

I now have a whole day at home before I head off again on Monday…

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KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

INTRODUCTION

Heathrow is having one of those days. The gusting winds mean there is more separation between the approaching aircraft, and as a result, everything seems to be running late – in some cases even as much as one hour or more.

LOUNGE

In Terminal 4 KLM shares the Business Class lounge with some of its other SkyTeam partners, including China Southern, Korean Air and Aeroflot. I rather like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow. It’s got a modern and fresh feel to it, and the choice of hot and cold food is rather good.

This evening though, the lounge is full of unhappy Frenchmen. The Air France flight to Paris is running nearly ninety minutes late and passengers with connecting flights in Paris have already been informed that they’re likely not going to make their onward flights. Which of course is a merde.

BOARDING

My flight is running slightly late as well. Boarding is scheduled for 19h55, which passes without the ground crew announcing that there’s going to be a delay. Eventually, at 20h30 boarding for the flight begins.

Tonight’s flight is being operated by an Embraer 175 of KLM Cityhopper. The flight is more or less sold out, which is why the ground crew are offering passengers to check in their baggage free of charge. I’m guessing this is the reason why eventually it takes us until 21h10 to finally complete the boarding process.

CABIN

There are two rows of Business Class seats on this flight, although on KLM Cityhopper it’s difficult to tell the difference, seeing as both seats on the row of two are sold, even in Business Class. Luckily, I’m on 1A, and by the time boarding is completed, the aisle seat next to me is still empty.

CREW

There are two young ladies working the flight today. They’re your usual KLM friendly cabin crew. What they lack in finesse, they certainly make up for with their genuine and unpretentious approach to dealing with passengers.

SERVICE

There is no service on the ground. The flight time to Amsterdam is forty-five minutes.

THE MEAL

No sooner has the main landing gear left the ground, the aircraft starts shaking and swinging around as though it were a feather. Even so, before the fasten seatbelt sign is even turned off, the crew start their preparations for the service.

A while ago, KLM updated the boxes and the meals that are serve in Business Class on the Cityhopper flights. I’m mean, it’s still a box. But even so, I still think it’s an improvement in that the new box seems bigger and more spacious.

Inside the box there is a falafel and hummus salad, two pieces of bread and butter and a dessert.

The salad is good and very light. I soak up the hummus with one of the breads provided with the meal and that is still warm. I don’t try the dessert.

ARRIVAL

Very soon we start our descent into Amsterdam. The weather here is no better and we dip and roll violently on the approach. Eventually, after a flight time of only forty minutes, we touch down on the Polderbaan. From here it’s another ten minutes taxiing to the Cityhopper apron. By the time we come to a stop on our designated remote stand, it’s just gone 23h00 and we’re running thirty minutes late.

We enter the terminal, which is deserted at this time of night. At least that means it doesn’t take long for the bags to start arriving…

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Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

INTRODUCTION

The course with Etihad was good fun and went by really quickly. The people attending the course were easy going and really impressed me by their professionalism. Of course, it also helps that the Etihad training facilities near the airport are modern, with well-equipped classrooms.

On Thursday afternoon we finish around lunch, and I even get to take the tour of the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, which is quite dazzling. The white marble is so bright that I can hardly stand to look at the building, it’s literally blinding.

But on Monday the next course will be starting in Luxembourg, so it’s high time for me to leg it back Europe. Which is a shame really, because the weather here in Abu Dhabi has been a delight this last week, with pleasantly mild temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Celsius.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Being the weekend, there’s hardly any traffic on the roads. Which means we manage to make the journey to the airport in just over fifteen minutes. The trip from the Hilton Capitol to the airport will cost you roughly UAD50.- by taxi.

CHECK-IN

Terminal 3 is dedicated to Etihad Airways and there are separate entrances for First and Business Class passengers. The Business Class area of the terminal is calm. It looks rather elegant. There are seven counters open when I arrive.

Right next to check-in, there is a dedicated Fast Track for immigration and right behind that the security check. Most of Etihad’s flying out of Abu Dhabi occurs during the night time, which is probably why the airport is surprisingly quiet, given the size of the facility.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The Etihad Business Class lounge is located opposite gate 35, and it’s enormous. There is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to choose from at the buffet, ranging from Indian to Japanese, Western and Arab dishes. There are also, as far as I can tell, three bars. Although only one of them is currently open.

I have a bit of lunch, seeing as the flight will not be departing until 13h45 and I’m not likely to eat anything before about 15h00.

Once I demolish my plate (I seem to be developing a serious liking for mash in my old age) I decide to check out the Six Senses Spa, also located in the lounge. I still have slightly more than an hour to go before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a full body massage of one hour.

BOARDING

My flight is departing from gate 33. At the entrance to the gate, my passport is first checked, followed by a secondary security check during which all electronic devices I’m carrying are briefly switched on and checked. And then I’m free to board.

CABIN

I’m seated on 12A, which is the same seat I had on the outbound flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. This cabin configuration is starting to grow on me, I must say. I really like the abundance of storage space, which allows you to keep everything you might need during the flight within easy reach. What’s more, no matter how many passengers there are in the cabin, it never feels full or crowded.

CREW

I’m told that Etihad have a crew complement of 22 in the cabin of their Airbus A 380. Today’s crew is yet another interesting mix of ethnicities and races. They’re not exactly warm or personable at first, but they’re professional and courteous in the way they go about their duty.

SERVICE

A blanket, a pillow, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive. No sooner have I settled in, the crew bring me a rose scented hot towel and a glass of lemon and mint juice, which are both very refreshing.

Just before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for drinks after departure.

THE MEAL

Once the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off, the service begins, and I’m brought a ramekin of warm nuts and another glass of the lemon and mint juice. The service is à l carte, and passengers have the option when they’d like to eat.

First course

Mezze – muhammara, hummus, a filled grape leaf, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with a feta-like cheese and served with a slice of lemon.

This dish tastes much better than the one I hand on my way down to Abu Dhabi, I’m guessing that’s because this dish was locally made in the UAE. Especially the muhammara is very good and the lemon gives it a refreshing twist.

The first course is served on a tray, together with the breads, butter, olive oil and salt and pepper shakers.

Main course

Rigatoni with a sugo of sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic pesto, parmigiano and fresh basil.

When the flight attendant arrives with my main course, I comment on the fact that I think it’s a shame the airlines tend not to serve spicy food and that the only thing missing for my main course is a bit of spice. The flight attendant puts my plate down and then rather abruptly dashes off. He returns just a short while later grinning and with a bottle of Tobasco for me, which I think is pretty cool and a very nice gesture.

The dish is exceptionally good. The sugo has a lovely tangy flavour that is perfectly balanced with the pesto and you can actually still taste the fresh basil.

Dessert

Almond and pistachio pudding with butterscotch sauce.

Instead of one of those horrific gelatinous blobs of tasteless gunk that most airlines seem to serve these days (…and rather unconvincingly disguise as ‘mousse’), Etihad makes the effort to offer a real dessert. And sweet baby J., it’s divine! It’s still warm and the texture is just so dense and rich. Gorgeous!

AMENITIES

The amenity kit is the same one as I had on the outbound flight by Acqua di Parma, only this one is yellow and not black.

ARRIVAL

About eighty minutes out of Heathrow, the cabin lights slowly start to go on again and the crew come through the cabin asking passengers if there’s anything they’d like from the menu before they start preparing the cabin for landing. I’m still quite full from lunch, so I just order some ice cream and leave it at that.

Originally, we’re scheduled to touch down at 17h15. But traffic in Heathrow is busy and so we end up doing two laps in a holding pattern north-east of the capital before we are eventually released for the approach. By the time we land, it’s already 17h45.

Terminal 4 is much busier than when I left and there are people everywhere. But still I manage, and before long I’m through security and on my way to the SkyTeam lounge.

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Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

INTRODUCTION

I spend the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Terminal 4. The hotel only opened in October 2018 and still retains that smell of new building and new furniture. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and the staff are obviously still eager to please. The only issue I have, is that I mistakenly booked a room in the quiet zone of the building, which by default means a room away from the airport. So no airport views.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

This must be one of the shortest airport transfers ever! I exit the hotel at 11h15 and make my way up the escalator onto the foot bridge to Terminal 4, which is about two minutes away if you’re walking at a leisurely pace. The foot bridge ejects me on the departures level of the terminal.

CHECK-IN

Etihad Airways checks-in in sector C, which is at the opposite end of the terminal from where I entered the building coming from the hotel. There is one counter for First Class passengers, three for Business Class passengers and five for Economy Class.

The check-in agent tags my suitcase and, seeing my passport, chats idly about how nice she thought Malta was when she visited… But then for one horrible moment I think I’m royally screwed as she informs me I’ll need to apply for a visa for Abu Dhabi before I enter the country. But then she realises that she’s made a mistake and used the country code for the Maldives instead of Malta. So we’re good after all.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE

There’s a fast track for security, which is pretty much empty when I arrive. One thing they do really well at Heathrow, is the security check – it’s well organised, quick and efficient. Before I visit the lounge, I decide to take a stroll around the departure concourse. The whole length of the terminal is littered with luxury boutiques from all the well-known brands, with the occasional restaurant thrown in for good measure. The glitzy shops are all empty though, while the Prêt à Manger is the only place that’s busy.

Other than that, architecturally Terminal 4 is not likely to win any prizes any time soon. And I’d also like to know what sort of cruel soul designs a terminal in such a way that most windows will not give you an unobstructed view of the airplanes…?

Along the way, I pass a sign pointing passengers in the direction of the all-purpose prayer rooms. I find the sign rather odd though, because it uses the plural ‘ablutions’ but with a singular verb.

The House lounge is located opposite gate 10, from where my flight to Abu Dhabi will be boarding later on. The entrance to The House is to the right of the SkyTeam lounge.

The receptionist welcomes me in and then shows me around. The lounge has a separate dining room. The tables are all nicely set, with a small vase of flowers on each table. There is a choice between an à la carte menu and a selection of hot dishes from the buffet. Figuring it’ll probably be a while before I get to eat on the plane, I order the Tortelloni with truffle oil, creamy pumpkin and hazelnut pesto, which tastes excellent.

The staff in the lounge are polite, friendly and very attentive. Once I’ve finished the meal, I find myself a quiet corner to sit and relax a bit with my Kindle. I only realise once I sit down that I’m actually sitting next to actor Bill Nighy!

BOARDING

Boarding starts at 13h20 for our 14h05 departure. First and Business Class passengers are instructed to take the exit to the airbidge on the far right, which leads to the upper deck.

CABIN

Upon entering the cabin, there are two cabin crew welcoming passengers aboard. The flight attendant acknowledges my status as one of their frequent flyers with a very formal ‘welcome back, sir’ and points me in the general direction of my seat.

The cabin lights are dimmed and the mood lighting is set to a warm glow. Etihad Airways has an interesting configuration in the Business Class cabin of their A 380, in that the seats are arranged in pairs facing each other. The advantage of course, is that every passenger has direct aisle access.

The window seats, so A and K, face in the direction of travel, whereas the C and H seats are on the aisle and face in the opposite direction. Obviously, this also means that the window seats have more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.

The seat itself is easy to get in and out of and in the sleep position it’s wide enough to be able to turn easily. The seat also has a lot of storage space, partly also due to the large bins on the side, under the windows. The inflight entertainment system is touch screen enabled and can be operated either directly or using the hand held remote.

The cabin is nice enough. And once again, I’m impressed by how quiet the A 380 cabin is. My only issue, and this is something beyond Etihad’s control, is that there is a woman sitting right behind me whose perfume is so heavy and overpowering it’s actually starting to give me a headache.

A pillow, a blanket, a bottle of water, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

CREW

The crew are a mix of Eastern Europeans and nationals of the Indian subcontinent. Their service seems quite formal. As a result, they’re quite unobtrusive and not all that noticeable in the cabin, and I’m not sure if this is intentional or not. I find it quite pleasant.

SERVICE

The service on the ground consists of a welcome drink of my choice and a scented hot towel. Unlike many other airlines, just the one hot towel is offered during this flight. To drink I go with a glass of fresh orange juice. Just before we push back, the crew come through the cabin taking orders for lunch. I notice that they approach passengers for their choice in order of their frequent flyer status.

THE MEAL

After take-off, the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. I have a glass of sparkling water and a ramekin of nuts that have a distinct hint of cardamom.

First course: Arabic mezze.

The first course is served on a tray which also has on it the bread, salt and pepper as well as butter and olive oil with balsamico. The mezze are hummus, stuffed vine leaves, pickled vegetables, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with spinach, the name of which I don’t know.

Main course: the fish.

The main course I chose is a nice piece of grilled salmon, served with spinach, asparagus and mashed potatoes.

Dessert: the hot chocolate lava cake.

The lava cake is served with a small pot of warm custard.

The meal is good. The mezze is tasty, although perhaps not quite as good as that served on QR. The size of the portion is also much smaller. The grilled salmon is nice and juicy on the inside and the asparagus have managed to not go all soggy. For me though, the hot chocolate lava cake is definitely the highlight of the meal.

Once the crew have cleared away my table, they bring me a mug of Moroccan mint tea, which is served with two small biscuits.

AMENITIES

The amenity kit is by Acqua di Parma. It contains a small tube of hand cream, a sample flacon of perfume as well as ear plugs, socks, eye shades and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste. No slippers are provided on this flight.

ARRIVAL

After a flight time of just under six hours, the engines are gently eased back and we start our descent into Abu Dhabi. Luckily, the airport isn’t too busy, which means there are none of the holding delays that seem to be getting more and more frequent in Dubai.

Eventually we land after a total flight time of six hours and ten minutes. Abu Dhabi is currently in the process of building a new terminal. The facility should have opened a few years ago but got repeatedly held up. Apparently, it’s now expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2019. And it’s about time too, because the current facility was clearly not laid out to handle the amount of traffic and the size of aircraft currently operating into Abu Dhabi.

But the process is swift. Etihad Business Class passengers are given an access card to the fast track immigration and within thirty minutes of landing, I’ve retrieved my suitcase and sitting in a taxi on my way to the hotel.

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Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Shannon to London Heathrow

INTRODUCTION

It’s Thursday afternoon. The course with the IAA in Shannon went well. My job is done, and so it’s time to move on. The next course will be starting in two days.

Shannon airport is located about fifteen minutes away by car from IAA’s HQ. We arrive at the car park for the car rental returns and it’s pouring with rain. Although that isn’t really worth mentioning because it seems to be the normal state of affairs in Ireland. Which makes it all the more impressive how everyone here manages to stay so friendly and easy going.

There is a shuttle from the Hertz office to the terminal, but given that it’s only a two minute walk, that hardly seems worth it – even with the rain.

CHECK-IN

The terminal building is a strange place. The check-in area is in a part of the terminal which looks as though it’s much newer than the rest of the building. There are four rows of check-in counters, but half of them look as though they haven’t been used in years. I’m also not really sure what to make of the seventies style wood panelling everywhere.

In any case, I’m already checked in, but I still need to drop off my enormous suitcase. My first stop is at one of the Aerlingus self-service machines, but apparently they will only issue a boarding pass but not the baggage tag. So eventually I just head over to the check-in counter. Aerlingus has six counters in Shannon, but only one is manned when I arrive for check in.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The departure gates are located one floor up from the check-in area. Luckily, the security check point is deserted when I arrive, which, as far as the Irish are concerned, is another great opportunity to have a little natter before sending me on my way. This must be just about the nicest security check I’ve ever undergone!

Aerlingus does not have its own lounge in Shannon, but Executive Club Silver passengers flying on Aerlingus are entitled to use the Boru lounge that is operated by Shannon airport.

The lounge is small but nicely laid out. The toilets are clean and there’s even a shower. As far as food goes, it’s really just hot and cold drinks and snacks to eat – things like scones and cake.

BOARDING

There are two separate queues for boarding. One for Priority passengers, and one for everyone else. Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure.

CABIN

This aircraft is in the same layout as that of my inbound flight. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think it’s the same plane. Today I’m seated on the emergency exit on 12A, which is the first of the two emergency exit rows on the A 320. Row 12 is the best place to sit, I think. On the one hand, because in addition to the extra legroom, the fact that it’s an exit row means the passengers in the row before cannot recline their seats. While at the same time, because the next row is also an emergency exit, the extra pitch means you won’t have the person sitting behind you grinding their kneecaps into your lower back. Unless of course, the person behind you is the tall, blond M. with his awfully long legs.

CREW

The crew are friendly, like everybody else I met on this trip to Ireland. The purser in an elderly gentleman who, quite frankly, looks as though he started his flying career back in the days of the elegant Vickers Viscount. Perhaps that also explains his excellent manners and customer care. I think he’s brilliant!

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, I buy a Coke Zero which sets me back EUR2.50. Which is reasonable for a 0.33l can.

ARRIVAL

Initially, the flight time is announced as one hour, which would have meant us arriving in Heathrow at 18h30. But instead we’re kept circling for a while before we make the approach. So that eventually, by the time we come to a stop on our designated stand, it’s already 19h05.

The Aerlingus gates in Terminal 2 are very conveniently located a very short walk away from the luggage belts. If you’re arriving from Ireland you will not have to go through immigration in the UK. At least not until the end of March.

My first stop after I exit through customs is at Marks & Spencer’s to get some food. And then from there I head down into the bowels of the Queen’s Terminal to catch the complimentary rail shuttle to Terminal 4.

All in all, from exiting the aircraft to entering my hotel room it takes me slightly more than ninety minutes. Mainly, because the shuttle to Terminal 4 only runs very thirty minutes at 03 and 33 past the hour.

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Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Shannon

TRANSFER IN HEATHROW

My flight from Basel arrives in Terminal 5, which is served only by British Airways and Iberia. My flight with Aer Lingus will be departing from Terminal 2, the Queen’s Terminal. I follow the signs for flight connections to other terminals, which eventually takes me one floor down to ground level. From here, there is a regular airside shuttle service to Terminal 2. The journey time by bus is roughly ten minutes. It’s kind of nice, a bit like taking a tour of the airport. On the way, we pass British Airways’ impressive line-up of long-haul aircraft parked at the B satellite of Terminal 5.

Once the bus arrives at Terminal 2, I head one floor up for security and another floor up to immigration, even though I’m only changing planes in Heathrow. On a side note, there is a separate channel for passengers continuing their journey to Ireland and the UK, although I’m not even sure there are any domestic flights out of Terminal 2. And then once that’s done, I’m airside.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE

The Aer Lingus lounge is located one floor up from the public airside area. The entrance is opposite the escalators. The lounge is fairly large and the interior is welcoming, if somewhat worn in places. There’s a decidedly Irish touch to the place, with bright green carpets that have been designed to look like grass.

And the toilets are certainly better than those in the British Airways lounge back in Terminal 5! Other than that though, drink and food choices are limited. In fact, there is only a pot of creamy chicken soup by way of proper food. Other than that, it’s really just biscuits and packets of crisps.

The location of the lounge gives you a good view of the outside and the threshold of runway 09L. Unfortunately though, there is this metal construction in front of the windows which kind of obstructs the view. But it’s still good enough.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts at 14h40 for a 15h20 departure. In fact, by the time I reach the gate at 14h45, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. The flight has a good load, but is not fully booked, and there are still a few empty seats. Luckily, the middle seat on my row also stays empty.

CABIN

Aer Lingus operates its short-haul fleet in an Economy Class only configuration. Although I recently heard that they were considering reintroducing a sort of Business Class on some routes.

The seats are in dark blue leather and are nicely padded and comfortable. The seat pitch is also very good. The headrest is adjustable.

CREW

The crew consists of five middle aged ladies. They’re not overly friendly, but their service is professional and polite towards the passengers. The flight time is given as one hour.

THE MEAL

Food is buy on board on Aer Lingus. Once we’re airborne, I order a cup of tea for EUR3.

The one thing that strikes me about Aer Lingus, is that the atmosphere in the cabin is always quite pleasant and relaxed. And today’s flight is no different. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Aer Lingus’ passengers are just used to the concept of buy on board. As a result, you don’t get that undercurrent of resentment from both the crews and the passengers about having to fork out for a drink and a snack.

ARRIVAL

We land in Shannon on time and the weather is horrible. The apron is fairly quiet, save for two Ryanair flights that are in the final stages of boarding, with passengers hurrying along to get out of the pouring rain. I guess that’s one way to speed up the boarding process… At least Aer Lingus has the decency to use an airbridge.

The terminal building at Shannon airport really is exceptionally ugly. It’s old and any work that has been done in recent years has been done primarily to expand the facility, but obviously not to embellish. But never mind, it’s a passenger terminal, not a five star hotel.

The flying Dutchman has rented a car, which we’ll need to get from Limerick, where the hotel is, to the venue of the course. The journey by car from the airport into Limerick takes under thirty minutes.

Posted in Aerlingus, Airbus A 320, Economy Class | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

INTRODUCTION

Next round. It’s Sunday morning and I’m on my way to the airport again. This time though, my trip will be starting from Basel instead of Zürich. I’m on my way to give two courses back to back. I will be joined on both trips by the flying Dutchman, P., who I should be meeting in Heathrow.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The journey by car from the main railway station to Basel airport takes about fifteen minutes to complete. Being early Sunday morning, there’s hardly any traffic and I seem to be hitting all the green lights.

CHECK-IN

Because I’ll be gone for two weeks, I’m travelling with a suitcase this time. Which means my first stop once I get to the airport will be at the check-in counters. I did try checking in online, but apparently the interface between British Airways and Aer Lingus doesn’t work very well, because the BA website is unable to generate a boarding pass in the app to download into the passbook app, and the Aer Lingus app can’t do it either because they have no ticket data for my onward connection.

This also means that I’m randomly assigned a seat on the Aer Lingus flight that I can’t change in the app. They actually want to put me on an aisle seat!

But all’s well that ends well. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to my final destination and also changes my seat from an aisle to a window seat.

British Airways checks-in in the Swiss sector of the airport.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE

Many moons ago, the benefits of flying in and out of Basel were that a) the airport is much smaller than Zürich and therefore b) less busy and c) only fifteen minutes away from my home. But ever since the Schengen treaty was suspended at Basel airport, it’s really not so much fun anymore. Security has been tightened, so that at any given time, the queue is rarely shorter than fifteen to twenty minutes. What’s more, the lounge is located before you go through immigration. And with all the additional flights that are now being handled as non-Schengen departures, the queues at immigration have increased too.

Of course, it doesn’t help that humanity appears to have a natural compulsion to congregate like sheep the moment they step into an airport and also seem to think that, surely, the 100ml rule can’t possibly apply to them too…

The SkyView lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, although admittedly, you wouldn’t think so to look at the photo I’ve posted. It’s just that most passengers tend to go upstairs where all the food, the views and the open air viewing terrace are located. Although the latter seems to be functioning more as the smoking area in this cold weather.

BOARDING

British Airways seem to have this paranoia about starting the boarding process as early as possible in order to avoid any departure delays which could see you holding over London for what seems like an eternity later on. Which is why boarding for today’s flight start forty minutes before departure.

British Airways has this nifty boarding process, whereby status holders and Business Class passengers queue according to the group indicated on their boarding pass. Only once the queues for groups 1, 2 and 3 have been cleared, does boarding for the general riffraff begin.

CABIN

Fortunately, I’ve managed to secure an emergency exit row seat for the flight to London. And thank god for that, because since the European fleet has been refurbished, your only chance as an average sized adult to squeeze your legs into a standard row is either to sit sideways or to spread your legs wider than is modestly acceptable in public…

On a positive note, the headrest has sides that can be folded up to support your bonce if you need to nap.

Luckily, the flight is not full today, so the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays empty.

CREW

The crew are friendly enough. Their service is polite but very formal. I can’t really say anything much else about them.

THE MEAL

Service in Economy Class is buy on board. British Airways has teamed up with British retailer Marks & Spencer to provide inflight catering in the back of the bus.

I have a Twining mint tea and the box set of vegetarian sandwiches. There are four sandwich quarters in the box. The sandwiches are: boiled egg with tomato, cucumber and cream cheese, cheddar cheese and tomato and boiled egg with lettuce.

ARRIVAL

The flight time to London is one hour and ten minutes. Surprisingly, there’s no hold up at all, despite the fact that we’re running early. By the time we reach the gate, we’re just over thirty minutes early.

And now, I have to transfer to Terminal 3.

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Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190: Luxembourg to Zürich

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

It’s only just gone 13h on Friday afternoon, and the flying Dutchman P. has kindly offered to drive me to the airport. I suspect he probably just took pity on me, after I’d been nagging the whole week about how cold it was in Luxembourg…

The journey by car from Kirchberg to the airport takes about fifteen minutes in moderately busy traffic.

CHECK-IN

At Luxembourg airport, Lufthansa and SWISS check-in on rows 15 to 17. There are also self-service machines available. I’ve checked in on the app.

Before the security checkpoint in Luxembourg, Luxair ground staff check to make sure that passengers’ hand luggage is within the permissible dimensions and weight. And they’re quite strict about it.

LOUNGE

The lounge is still quiet. It tends to get a lot busier after 17h. So I grab myself a seat with a good view of the runway. And then I while away my time reading and watching the landing and departing aircraft.

The lounge in Luxembourg is nice. However, in order to accommodate all the passengers that use the facility, seating in the lounge is rather tight.

There are no showers in the lounge and as far as catering is concerned, only cold snacks are available. Although they do have some tasty cakes on offer too…

BOARDING

The flight is delayed arriving from Zürich. No reason is given for the delay by the gate attendants nor later on by the crew. In any case, as a result, boarding starts about fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Once boarding is completed, the captain comes on to inform us that there will be a further delay of ten minutes because we’re going to have to de-ice on stand first. Eventually, we depart with a delay of thirty minutes.

CABIN

This aircraft has a cabin divider to separate the Business Class cabin from Economy. But this is not always the case with Helvetic Airways. I’m not sure what the logic here is. I suspect that perhaps those aircraft assigned to SWISS are equipped with a cabin divider, whereas those operating for Helvetic Airways are not.

Pitch is good good enough on the first row, and definitely much better than the rows behind.

There are two rows of Business Class and three of the four available seats are occupied.

CREW

There are three cabin crew on this flight and the maître de serving the Business Class cabin is an absolute delight. She’s still quite young and seems a bit reserved or formal. But her manners are flawless. Every time she addresses one of the passengers, she uses their family name. And later during the short flight, when she comes to clear the tray tables, she makes a point of asking each passenger individually if they enjoyed the meal.

SERVICE

As usual, a small bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel are handed out once boarding is completed.

Once de-icing is done, we push back from the gate. The flight time to Zürich is expected to be 45 minutes. But somewhere along the line we receive a shortcut or something, because eventually we land in Zürich after a flight time of only 39 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal is more of a snack really, and consists of the usual three ramekins. Today we have salmon tartar, a cheese mousse with beetroot and apple crumble.

The salmon tartar and the crumble are good, but the cheese mousse thing is horrible and has a rather unappealing texture.

ARRIVAL

As we approach Switzerland, the weather starts to improve. At some point during our steep descent, the aircraft banks left to fly in an easterly track. As we come out of the bank, the Alps come in to view. They’re all covered in snow and look so majestic, towering above the clouds.

We land at 16h09 and make our way to one of the open stands alongside runway 28. Fortunately, SWISS has remembered to send out the dedicated Business Class bus to pick us up (which isn’t always the case…). And with only three passengers we’re quickly off towards the terminal.

Saturday I’ll have the day off. But then on Sunday I’m on the move again.

Posted in Business Class, Embraer 190, Helvetic Airways, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Luxembourg

INTRODUCTION

It’s Monday morning. The holiday is over and I’m back to work. Today marks the first in a number of business trips that will see me travelling more or less nonstop until March. Still, never mind. If I close my eyes and listen carefully, I can still hear the waves breaking on Manly Beach…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I take the 06h07 train from Basel, which is an ICE – my favourite. At Zürich main station I change to the 07h05, which ejects me at Zürich airport just fifteen minutes later.

CHECK-IN

I’ve checked in using the SWISS app as usual. The boarding pass still won’t show up on my locked screen and I suspect that’s not about to change any time soon. The check-in area and security are surprisingly quiet. The flight to Luxembourg leaves at 09h05, so maybe I just managed to miss the morning rush.

LOUNGE

I’m in dire need of a coffee, which is why I head straight for the SWISS lounge to re-caffeinate. I try using the e-gate to enter the lounge, but the display is showing an error message. So I approach the desk and explain my predicament to the lounge dragon. She smiles and explains in a mocking tone that it’s not working because everything at SWISS is of such superior quality… I get that she was probably going for some comic relief with her apology, but I still find it somewhat alienating that she would take the piss at the company she represents to do so.

Other than that, I don’t know what it is about this lounge, but for some reason I really don’t feel comfortable here. The place just feels a bit sterile. Other than that, there’s hardly any space left to sit, unless you feel like making a new acquaintance and sitting at a table with strangers.

So I quickly down my coffee and head for the gate, which at least has the much better views.

BOARDING

Boarding starts with an initial call for the premium passengers to board through the manned exit on the left. Once that’s done, the remaining passengers are invited to board using one of the electronic gates.

CABIN

I’d really like to know just how much time and money SWISS invests in all the aircraft changes it does. Since I booked this flight, the aircraft type operating the flight has changed at least five times, but it now looks as though an Airbus A 220-300 will be deployed.

The cabin is in pristine condition. The two benefits for the passenger when flying with the A 220 are the large windows on the one hand, and the fact that the seating configuration is 2 + 3.

I’m seated on 1A, a window seat. The aisle seat on 1C is kept empty in Business Class.

CREW

I’m assuming there are three cabin crew on the flight today. The Business Class cabin is served by the maître de, a young man who is probably German, at least that’s my guess based on his accent. The crew seem friendly enough, although clearly the young man is probably more interested in flirting with one of the female flight attendants than in attending to the passengers.

SERVICE

When I arrive at my seat, a small bottle of still water as well as a pre-packed wet towel have already been placed at my seat.

We push back on time. The flight time to Luxembourg is announced as 45 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal consists of the usual three items: a brioche with salmon, which is always good, a small ramekin of Bircher Müsli and another ramekin with fresh fruit.

I like the presentation of the meal, which is simple and yet elegant. The quality of the food is also good.

To drink I request a coffee, which is served in a cardboard cup and tastes just vile. The highlight of the meal, of course, is the small chocolate bar.

ARRIVAL

By the time we reach Luxembourg, the weather has improved significantly. It’s a lovely day up here. We land at 09h55. One of the nice things about flying SWISS to Luxembourg is that SWISS always insists on having a contact stand, which mean you can avoid the tedious bus shuttle from the aircraft to the terminal building. Generally speaking, I don’t mind taking a bus, because at least that allows you to take photos of your aircraft as you disembark. But here in Luxembourg, they don’t actually have proper airport busses and instead use what appear to be decommissioned public transport busses, which are usually too small for all the passengers disembarking from a plane.

Once I’m landside again, I catch the bus 16 which takes me directly to my office in Kirchberg.

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