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.
This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At sone point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.
The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.
I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.
My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lunge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef. Although I suspect his real job is mostly to ensure that visitors don‘t over indulge and drive up the costs for the lounge… I mean, it‘s not like he does any real cooking.
Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. Sort of. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!
The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I hold back to be the last to board. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.
I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on roway seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.
There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.
Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.
The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.
We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket – kind of clandestine.
To conclude, I’m just assuming the visible lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.
Airline: SWISS Aircraft: Airbus A 320 From: Genève To: Zürich Departure: 16h00 Arrival: 16h30 Flight time: 30 minutes Seat: 1A
Transfer in Geneva
Man, what a rathole! I disembark from my flight from Paris at 14h40. Boarding for next my flight should start in ten minutes. But apparently, connecting from the French sector to the Schengen area is not really foreseen in Geneva. And so I end up going up and down a whole set of ugly and narrow corridors, at the end of which I am ejected in front of a security check point. Okay, fine…
The airport is very busy and crowded. There are people sitting on the floor everywhere. The SWISS lounge is one floor up from the gate area. Turn left and right a few tines and eventually you should get there…
If my First Class departure from Zürich were on the same day, I’d be entitled to use the First and Hon lounge in Geneva, but because my departure is still more than two weeks away, it’s the regular Business Class lounge. And it’s quite nice. It’s a descent size and rather empty this afternoon. I don‘t take any pictures though. I’m not there long enough!
The flight is delayed by twenty minutes because of the dog incident earlier on. boarding will be grom gate A02.
… is a complete mess. There are grumpy passengers pushing and shoving everywhere. At some point, a Portuguese speaking mother boards with her baby in a pram and what looks like the combined baggage allowance of about twenty passengers. Oh yes, and she‘s also decided that standing in the middle of the aisle is a brilliant place to make a phone call. Eventually the passenger behind her explains that she has a tight connection in Zürich, so it would be really good for the mother to get out of the way to let the other passengers board quickly.
So the mother quickly dumps her stuff in five overhead bins and then vanishes behind the curtain to find her seat in Economy Class.
Of course this isn‘t any of SWISS‘ fault. There are annoying passengers on every airline. But do also think it might have helped if the crew had been in the cabin to help the poor woman, instead of hiding in the forward galley and doing a bloody good impersonation of somebody who both blind and deaf.
Which brings me, of course, to the crew on this flight. Upon entering the aircraft, there is one male crew standing in the galley. He has one job, to say hello and welcome to passengers as they step aboard, but apparently even that is too much to ask.
Instead, he just stands there in his waistcoat, which is really not doing anything to hide just how badly and tight uniform is. He hasn‘t bothered to close the top button of his shirt either and looks, in short, like a complete and utter slob.
And just to make sure there‘s as little interaction as possible, the usual refreshing towel and bottle of water have been placed on the seats before boarding.
The meal service consists of one of the sandwiches they usually serve in Economy on international flights. The slob shoves the tray under my nose, without as much as asking if I‘d like to eat anything. I ask him what‘s in the sandwich, but he just shrugs and continues to ignore me. Turns out it‘s mozzarella with mushrooms and hits the spot nicely.
Behind him the purser quickly hands out chocolates, again without saying a word. Oh yes, and there is no drinks service. Apparently, the welcome drink was it.
Luckily it‘s not a long flight and we land in Zürich at 16h30 after a short flight of 30 minutes.
The difference between Air France and SWISS on these two flights was like night and day. The Air France staff on the ground and in the air were so friendly and nicely turned out. The interaction with them was just brilliant and really left a good impression.
The SWISS crews, on the other hand, were really not good. They have zero motivation they look as though they’re really unhappy to be there and resent you for actually making them work. I’m aware of that fact that a short hop of thirty minutes hardly gives any airline an opportunity to shine and interact with the customer. But even so, I have to say that on this flight it really felt like they were intentionally not making the effort to interact.
Airline: Air France Aircraft: Airbus A 318 From: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F To: Genève Cointrin Departure: 13h03 Arrival: 14:33 Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes Seat: 3A
This post marks the beginning of my sabbatical: my six months of paid leave start on 1 March 2020. Before I eventually do get on the plane to Oz though, there are still a few things that need taking care off. So I will still need to go to Luxembourg twice before I’m well and truly gone. This post and the next are of the positioning flights to break in the ticket, so to speak.
The first leg will be from Paris Roissy Geneva. The flight is operated by Air France, but also carries the codes of SWISS and Air Mauritius.
As such, the flight will operate out of Terminal 2F, which is the Air France Schengen terminal. Air France has a dedicated check-in zone for its SkyPriority and Business Class passengers.
During the check-in process I interact with three Air France employees and obviously they have all been properly trained in customer care. The first is a middle aged man at the entrance to the check-in area. I approach him and ask if I can check in here, even though I‘m booked on the LX flight number.
He welcomes me to Air France and tells that bien sûr, I‘m welcome to check in here, and makes a joke that with SWISS being located in the ‚flying saucer’ on the other side, by which I figure he means Terminal 1, boarding might be a bit cumbersome.
Next a young woman ushers me to a free counter, where another young lady welcomes me to Air France and checks me in. Of course, I know that this amount of staff is a luxury not many airlines can afford. And I know Air France isn‘t exactly in excellent shape financially. But seriously, from the perspective of the passenger experience, this is really how it‘s done. Lufthansa, are you even paying attention…? As I exit the check-in area, all three wish me a pleasant flight.
The two piers at 2F are very elegant and stylish, but also not very practical. Today it‘s okay because there aren‘t that many passengers. But when it‘s busy, it‘s difficult to get through.
The lounge is one level down from the main airside area and is spread out over two levels. In typical Air France manner, the services available on both levels are identical and include a fully stocked bar as well as a counter with savoury dishes and another with sweet dishes. I can highly recommend the crêpes sucrées. Although you probably don‘t necessarily need to have five like me…
Throughout the lounge the Air France branding is visible, from the posters on the wall to the pattern on the floor. The lower level is usually a little less crowded, by the way.
Boarding is strictly by zones, with Business Class passengers boarding in zone 1.
From the inside, the Air France A 318 is easy to distinguish from the A 319 because it has cloth seat covers instead of leather. On every row of three there are four USB ports. The aircraft also has wifi available and the crew will distribute information cards in Business Class with instructions how to log in.
On today‘s flight there are six rows ahead of the cabin divider for a total of 24 seats. I count 20 passengers in the forward cabin. Incidentally, on the port side, there is no row 1. So row 2 is the bulkhead row.
There are two cabin crew in the Business Class cabin. Both of them are middle aged. The female cabin crew is elegant in her appearance and very charming in dealing with passengers.
Once the doors close, packaged and scented wet towels are handed out. The flight time is 55 minutes.
Despite the short flight time, Air France does a full meal service on this flight. Given the size of the cabin, the trays are served from the trolley.
On the tray there is an asparagus salad and shrimps on a raspberry coulis, which taste much better than they sound.
In addition, there is a small plate of cheese. The crew offer warm bread from the basket to go with that.
For dessert there is a rhubarb tarte and a small piece of dark chocolate. The flight attendant is very attentive and goes out of her way to make passengers feel comfortable. If only flying could always be like this…
At 13h40 the captain comes on the PA to inform us that there will be a delay of about thirty minutes for our arrival, due to the fact that there was a dog on the runway and all arrivals had to be halted for forty minutes while they caught it.
As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of Air France. Even so, I have to say that on this trip they really impressed me. First of all, because I find it refreshing that the staff on the front line who deal with the passengers obviously seem to enjoy their jobs. Or at least are sufficiently motivated to deliver a seamless and rather pleasant customer experience.
Eventually, we land at 14h33 and taxi to our stand in the French sector of the airport. And that‘s when the culture shock sets in…
Airline: Luxair Aircraft: Q400 From: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2G To: Luxembourg Findel Departure: 10h30 Arrival: 11h15 Flight time: 45 minutes Seat: 14F, window
As soon as I enter the terminal building coming off my flight from Basel, I head straight for the Air France lounge to get some breakfast. I don’t quite know what it is about this lounge, but I really like it. Even when it’s quite busy, it still feels very cosy, as though you’re sitting in somebody’s living room. The view of the aircraft approaching the southern runways is also nice.
My flight is scheduled to depart at 09h35, but there’s an initial delay of 35 minutes due to bad weather in Luxembourg. The new departure time is 10h10. The flight is operated by Luxair, with Air France as a code-share partner. As such, you can make use of your SkyPriority privileges, such as lounge access or priority boarding, just as long as the flight has been booked on the Air France flight number.
The gate areas of Terminal 2G have the look and feel of a provisorium, as though the building is only there as a temporary installation. The gate area also tends to be quite cold.
The cabin of the Dash 8 is very tight and uncomfortable. There just isn’t really any room for anything much. Usually, on these small aircraft it’s a lot more comfortable once you’re seated.
But sadly, that isn’t the case for the Dash 8. I have to make a mental note to remember not to select a window seat ever again on these planes. Because the rail the seat is mounted on is in a rather awkward and uncomfortable position.
On row 14 I’m sitting pretty much under the wing, so the view of the outside is somewhat limited on the ground.
By the time we push back from the gate, it’s already past 10h10. And although Terminal 2G is located close to the threshold for runway 26R on the south side of the airfield, we’re still guided to runway 27L on the north side of the airfield, which only helps to add to our delay.
In Economy Class the service consists of a small chocolate muffin that is served in a paper bag with a napkin. In addition, the crew pass through the cabin with the drinks trolley, which has a very limited selection. I mean, they don’t even have sparkling water.
There are two cabin crew working the cabin this morning. And both of them are quite dreadful. It’s not that they’re rude or anything of the sort. They just come across as being somewhat lacking in interest for their job.
Very soon we start our descent. The crew inform us that we’ll be doing an automatic landing due to the low visibility conditions at Luxembourg airport, and therefore we are all required to fully turn off our mobiles.
The landing is smooth enough, and indeed, the runway only comes into view a short moment before we touch down. Judging by the splash we’re making as we taxi in, it must have been raining fairly recently.
Luxair is a somewhat boring, nondescript little airline. There really isn’t anything remarkable about them, which is okay I guess, seeing as you’re only every going to be likely to really have to fly them if you’re intending to visit Luxembourg.
Airline: Air France Aircraft: Embraer 190 From: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg To: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2G Departure: 06h20 Arrival: 07h20 Flight time: one hour Seat: 7F, window
On Friday evening I receive an e-mail from Air France, informing me that HOP would be going on strike on Monday and that my flight to Paris may be affected. I should be routing Basel – Paris – Luxembourg. On Sunday morning I call Air France from Malta to ask them what to do. Air France customer service is really very good, at least it is if you’re a Platinum member. A Belgian friend of mine, let’s call him the big, friendly C., refuses to fly Air France because he says their frequent strikes make them unreliable. But I tend to disagree, because Air France is a professional striker, in the sense that when they do go on strike, it’s usually in a well prepared, very organised and civilised way. If BA or Lufthansa were to go on strike, it would be complete and utter chaos, because they’re amateur strikers and used to everything going according to plan. But I digress. So their customer relations are very good and within minutes I’ve been rebooked onto the KLM flight via Amsterdam and even have a new e-ticket confirmation.
On Suday evening I arrive back in Basel from Malta at 22h40, one hour later than expected. As we taxi in, I notice the KLM flight that nightstops in Basel is conspicuously abesent, even though it should normally have arrived by 21h45.
I get on the bus to take me home, which is when I receive a message from KLM informing me that the flight from Basel to Amsterdam has been cancelled due to severe weather in Amsterdam. So once I get home, in between unpacking and packing again, I’m on the phone again to Air France.
At least by now they already know that my original flight to Paris will not be affected by the strike after all, and therefore, I am rebooked onto the original flights I had selected for this trip. And that girls and boys, is how I find myself at 05h25 on the airport bus again after a really rather short night’s rest.
There are two early morning flights to Paris which leave within just a few minutes of each other. The one flight goes to Orly, while the second flight goes to Roissy. The flights board from gates 2 and 1 respectively. My flight to Roissy this morning is completely sold out, no doubt due to the passengers that have been reprotected from the cancelled KLM flight.
This is my first flight with Air France since the introduction of the domestic Business Class product. The first two rows are for Business Class passengers. Unfortunately, on row 7 I’m too far back to catch a glimpse of what the service is like. What I do know though, is that seating is the same as on KLM, meaning that the adjacent seat is not left empty.
The seat pitch on row 7 is good though. The only complaint I have, is that it’s right next to the engine and the noise is quite loud.
We take off towards the south and then make a right turn to point us in a westerly direction.
The service in Economy Class consists of a choice of hot and cold drinks and a small packaged madeleine, which hits the spot nicely. The flight attendant tells me to mix one creamer and sugar with my hot chocolate for the best possible result. And she’s right.
There are two females working in the cabin this morning, and both of them are really good. They’re very friendly and do a lot of smiling and chatting with the passengers as they pass through the cabin.
Eventually we land after a flight time of one hour. It’s wet and windy here in Paris this morning. At Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, terminal 2G is dedicated to small regional jets and turboprop operations and is the hub of Air France’s HOP operation.
It’s a bit remote from the main terminal complex at CDG2, but for me its very convenient, because the flight to Luxembourg will also be leaving from here, so I will not have to change terminals.
My flight from Malta ends at gate A18. I now need to make my way through that depressing tunnel that connects the A pier to the B gates. The lifts taking passengers down to the tunnel at basement level are hopelessly overloaded, so I take the stairs instead.
Part of the tunnel is closed, hopefully for embellishing, but in this rat hole I‘m pretty sure that‘s a lost cause… at least there aren‘t that many people down here and I make quick progress.
As soon as I arrive at the gate, they make an announcement inviting all passengers who have been to China in the last two weeks, or to a country with reported cases of corona virus or who have a Chinese passport to contact the ground staff. I find this rather odd. While I understand that there is clearly cause for concern over the spreading of the corona virus, I still think it’s racist and rather awkward to single out the nationals of one country only.
In any case, once boarding begins, we go down once more into the bowels of the terminal complex and then take the compliemtary bus tour of Frankfurt airport to reach our aircraft, which is literally parked on the remotest remote stand, in the eastern-most corner of the apron.
Boarding is quickly completed and the flight is not full. The Business Class cabin has eight rows. Although there are only two people on row 5, behind me, and another passenger across the aisle from me on 4F.
There are two male crew in the cabin. Again, they make an interesting linguistic case study. The purser is obviously Australian. His German is very good and he only makes few mistakes with his declensions. His colleague is probably German. His English is fine, but with a slighly strange accent. Allegedly, he also speaks French, most of which, though, is incomprehensible.
As passengers board, they are handed a packed of almonds.
We make our way out to runway 18, which is at the completely opposite end of the airfield, despite the fact the threshold for runway 25C is only a few hundred metres away from our stand.
We reach the runway, stop abruptly and then turn back. Apparently, the wind has changed and runway 18 is no longer available. So we have to make our way back to the threshold of runway 25C and wait for a slot for us to open…
One hour and fifteen take-offs later it’s finally our turn to make our departure. The initial climb is very bumpy, but then very quickly we settle into the cruise and the crew begin their service.
For dinner there is small plate with a skewer of feta cheese, olive and cucumber, another piece of vitello tonnato wrapped around some leaves of rocket, and a few slices of melon. For dessert there a passion fruit mousse and more of the chocolates. By the time the crew clear away the trays, we’re already descending into Basel.
We land at 22h40, one hour behind schedule. Which is not so good, because it’s also around the same time the easyJet fleet based in Basel returns home. As a result, the bus heading into town tends to get very full. As we taxi in, I notice the KLM flight from Amsterdam is nowhere to be seen, which is strange and slightly worrying, considering it should have landed at 21h45. I suppose I should be alarmed, but that’s another story, I’m too tired…
Airline: Lufthansa Aircraft: Airbus A 320 From: Malta International Airport To: Frankfurt Departure: 17h25 Arrival: 19h50 Flight time: 2 hours 25 minutes Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side
Lufthans currently operates three daily flights out of Malta. There is one flight to Munich and two to Frankfurt. The last flight leaves Malta at 17h10 for Frankfurt, which is nice because it gives you a full day on the day of departure.
At Malta airport Lufthansa has its own dedicated check-in, which usually opens three hours before departure. There are three Economy Class and one Business Class/First Class counters. In order to access the fast track lane for security and the La Vallette lounge, you need to have an invitation issued at the counter.
These days the lounge in Malta tends to be crowded no matter what time you‘re there. It is a nice lounge, though, and has a good selection of local snacks and drinks. And the outside viewing area is just brilliant!
Boarding for the Frankfurt flight is at gate 5. Lufthansa tends to park on the same position at the north end of the apron, which requires passengers to be brought to the aircraft by bus. Much to my surprise, there is a dedicated bus for Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members only, which is very pleasant.
The Business Class cabin has six rows, and from what I can see, there are twenty passengers in the forward cabin this evening. On row two the seat pitch is generous.
We start taxiing out just as the golden hour begins in Malta. It’s that special time of day when the setting sun casts a golden light on the Maltese limestone. Be depart in a northwesterly direction, flying down the full length of the island before heading north to Palermo.
The crew on this flight are polite but reserved. And the purser’s enunciation when she makes an announcement is just strange, even in her first language… The service is pretty much the same as on the outbound yesterday, except with better food.
There is a small dish with a chunky piece of smoked salmon on a very tasty potato salad, some vitello tonnato with parmigiano shavings and some soft cream cheese on a coulis of bell peppers. For dessert there is some vanilla cream with strawberries and a small box with two pralines, but the chocolate is not as refined as the Swiss stuff.
En route we’re treated to a gorgeous sunset, until eventually the world disappears into darkness. It’s quite poetic to watch!
Our descent into Frankfurt, on the other hand, is very rough, with low clouds, rain and gusting winds. We touch down at 19h50 and make our way to the A pier, and by 20h00 we‘re pulling on to our stand at gate A18. I now have thirty minutes before the flight to Basel starts boarding.
Airline: Lufthansa Aircraft: Airbus A 320 From: München Airport To: Malta International Airport Departure: 09h30 Arrival: 11h15 Flight time: 1 hour 45 minutes Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side
The flight to Malta will be departing from one of the K gates, which is the Schengen concourse of Munich‘s satellite pier. The transfer by underground from the main building takes about two minutes.
There is a lounge on the K concourse, and this morning it‘s very empty. When Lufthansa opened its lounges in the ‚new‘ corporate design a few years, I thought they looked fresh and modern. But I don‘t think the design has aged well, looking at it now. Don‘t get me wrong. The lounge is in great condition and very clean. But the whole design seems slightly old-fashioned now.
At 09h00 I leave the lounge and make my way to gate K07, where boarding starts just as I arrive. It‘s a Saturday morning in February and Lufthansa manages to get the flight full. I count 24 passengers in Business Class. I‘m not surprised about Lufthansa but by Malta, and the fact that it appears to have become a year round destination. Forty years ago, when we emigrated, everybody was just trying to leave the island…!
The crew on this flight seem friendly enough. If I had to guess, I would say the purser is a Dutchman who has been in Germany for quite some time. At least for a linguist his accent is interesting.
There is no cold towel, no welcome drink or anything else of the sort while we‘re still on the ground.
The cabin is your typical European Business Class set up. The seats are exceptionally thin but sufficiently comfortable. There are no power plugs and there are no overhead screens either.
Once we take off, we turn south towards the Alps. Our flight is routing from Munich to Ljubljana and then along the Croatian coast to Zadar. From there we cross the Adriatic to Pescara in Italy and continue on to Palermo and finally Malta. It‘s an unusual routing for sure. But we have a strong tailwind, giving us a very short flight of only one hour and 45 minutes.
The meal service is from a trolley and every passenger is served their meal first. Once that‘s out of the way, the crew take the trolley back to the galley and then return into the cabin with the drinks trolley. I‘m guessing this is the most efficient way to do it. Because then they can just keep on going with the service in Economy Class.
The meal service hasn‘t changed at all since the last time I took this flight a year ago. And I really mean, not at all.
The tray consists of a small dish of smoked salmon on buttered pumpernickel, a bowl of cream cheese sprinkled with radish, a bowl with a slice of salami, parma ham and one stick of a bell pepper and some yoghurt with a few berries on it. The crew only pass through the cabin once offering bread, and seconds are obviously discouraged. Other than that, salt and pepper are absent from the tray.
The crew are efficient and clear away the trays promptly.
For the rest of the flight I nap, it‘s been an early start today. But then we start our descent, and suddenly I‘m wide awake again. I don‘t know how many times I‘ve returned to Malta since we left in 1979, but somehow the approach never seems to get old. Not for me at least.
We make a slight left turn and Malta comes into view. We pass Kalafrana and continue out to sea before doing a sequence of gentle right turns until eventually we’re lined up for a runway 34 arrival, bringing us in right over Birzebbuga, where I spent my childhood.
While there’s nothing overtly wrong with the Lufthansa service, I think it’s blatantly obvious that the airline is trying to save costs at every corner. Which is what pretty much every airline is trying to do these days. What I find problematic with Lufthansa though, is that they’re obviously trying to save money in all the wrong places. First of all, because I think the premium cabins are definitely not where the money should be saved. Secondly, what’s worse is that as a passenger you actually notice the cuts, and that’s never a good thing. Other than that, if an airline really has to rely on not having a small packet of salt and pepper on the tray, then they really must be in a very sad state.
But apart from all that, even if the airline isn’t really able to offer the passenger anything much in terms of the quantity or quality of the food that is served, that is still no reason for the service, such as it were, to be so indifferent and tired.
Airline: Lufthansa Cityline Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-900 From: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg To: München Airport Departure: 06:30 Arrival: 07:20 Flight time: fifty minutes Seat: 2F, window seat on the starboard side
It‘s just coming up to five o‘clock on Saturday morning as I make my way across the station square to catch the airport bus. Remind me, why am I doing this again?
There aren‘t many people about at this time of the night. The bus isn‘t very full either. So I grab a seat at the very back and desperately try to catch just a few more minutes of sleep.
At least that means check-in and security are quiet too.
My flight to München is boarding from gate 60, which is inconvenient because it means I shall have to pass through the duty free shop to get to the lounge – and I really do need a coffee right now – and then back again to board my flight.
Boarding starts on time. By the time I reach the gate there are only a few passengers left… ‚after-you-no-after-you-please-I-insist-after-you…‘.
As passengers step on board, we are handed a small chocolate biscuit sandwich. In Economy Class that is the full extent of the inflight service. But it is a very short flight after all!
The crew aren‘t exactly exuberant, but they seem friendly enough and a vast improvement over my previous experience with Lufthansa.
There are six rows of Business Class for a total of twelve passengers. And the cabin is full. On the CRJ-900 the bulkhead row on the port side of the aircraft is row 1. On the starboard side, the bulkhead is on row 2, because the toilet is located on what would be row 1.
The CRJ-900 is a dreadful aircraft, it‘s tight and cramped and the cabin colours Lufthansa went for are just drab, dull and dark. Not sure in what universe off-grey is not depressing and ugly… on the upside though, on row 2 the aircraft really is exceptionally quiet.
Once we‘re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the service begins. First the crew roll down the aisle with the food trolley, dishing out the trays. Only after all passengers have their meal do the two flight attendants return to the galley to bring out the drinks trolley.
The meal is presented in a small basket with a checkered pattern, which is kind of cute. The basket contains a müsli bar of sorts, which is rather vile, a bottle of strawberry and banana smoothie that gives me heartburn before I‘ve even finished it, a few grapes, and a ham sandwich. As I said, it‘s only a short flight.
The cruise isn’t very long obviously, and very soon we’re already descending into Munich. Eventually, we land at 07h15.
The flight comes to an end on one of the few remote stands for the CRJs immediately next to the terminal building. So at least there will be no bus transfer and passengers can just walk straight into the terminal.
Today, 20 February 2020, SWISS received its first ever Airbus A 320Neo. The aircraft was delivered to the airline factory fresh from the Airbus plant in Hamburg Finkenwerder. Originally, the plan had been for the aircraft to land on runway 16 and then roll out slowly. This would have brought the aircraft right past the viewing gallery. However, as arriving traffic was quite heavy, it was eventually decided to vector the aircraft for a runway 16 arrival to fit it into the other arriving traffic. The aircraft landed at 10h50.
Luckily enough for me, I was invited by one of the Swiss national newspapers to attend the welcoming ceremony in my capacity as an aviation expert, such as it were.
The event started at 10h30 on the viewing terrace. After the aircraft had landed and taxied to the maintenance apron, guests were taken by bus to the hangar to view the aircraft and attend the welcoming ceremony, which included the baptism of the aircraft to the name of Engelberg.
Generally speaking, I think SWISS did a good job of the event. The speeches were kept fairly short and the alphorn blowers really gave the event a convicing touch of Swissness. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would say the event was attended by about sixt persons, most of them from the media. The quest of honour was a monk from the monastery of Engelberg, which this year is celebrating 900 years of uninterrupted service.
Once the speeches were done, we were allowed aboard to take a look at SWISS’ new toy. First of all, the new aircraft will be installed with wifi. There will also be four USB ports per row of three. The seating capacity is for 180 passengers. The seat pitch on the first nine rows is 32 inches and then gradually decreases to a rather tight 29 inches on the last row. Interestingly enough, the seat back can only be reclines up until row 9. On the rows further back, it is not possible to recline the seat at all.
While I generally think seat recline on narrow bodies is somewhat superfluous, you also have to keep in mind that SWISS will also operate this aircraft to Tel Aviv and Cairo, both of which have a block time of more than three hours and and both night time services. I’m not sure how much passengers will appreciate the lack of recline on those flights.
Other than that, there is only a small rear galley. Instead, half the space on the rear bulkhead is take up by two toilets. This one I’m in two minds about. The toilets are wheelchair approved, which I think is a good idea. However, on the down side, because the orientation of the toilets is towards the rear, the curvature of the hull is not an issue, which means that an adult man can stand fully upright in the toilet. Unfortunately, not all of us have impeccable target practice…
The space in the cabin where the toilets would otherwise be located, has been taken up by an additional row of seats, row 38. If you’re on this row you have the worst pitch and no view, because there are no windows on this row.