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 | 13 Comments

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: New York JFK to Frankfurt

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Date: 25. August 2016.
Departure: 21h30.
Arrival: 15h30.
Flight time: 8 hours, plus 5 hours sitting around.
Seat: 14A.

jfk

INTRODUCTION
The last time I took the Singapore Airlines flight from New York to Frankfurt was on 17 January 2008, on the last leg of a round the world ticket. Back then, the flight was still operated by a Boeing B 747-400. Let’s put it this way: the A 380 may not be as elegant as the mighty B747, but she is certainly a worthy successor.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Underground, train and automated shuttle.
Journey time: 90 minutes, door to door.
Departs from: 50th Street Station.
Arrives: New York JFK Airport, Terminal 4.
Cost: USD19.

Getting to JFK from Manhattan by public transport is horrible. The CitizenM is literally just a stone’s throw away from the underground station for the C and E lines on the corner of 8th Avenue and 50th Street, both of which make the journey downtown to Pennsylvania Station in about 5 minutes (USD3.- for a oneway ticket).

At Penn Station, follow the signs for the LIRR – The Long Island Rail Road. Unfortunately, the signposting is really bad, and if you are unfamiliar with the place, it may take you some time to get your orientation.

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From Penn Station take a train for Jamaica. The journey to Jamaica will take roughly 20 minutes (USD10.- for a oneway). At Jamaica, the way to the AirTrain is signposted. The AirTrain takes another 12 minutes to make the journey to Terminal 4 (USD6.-).

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 4, row 5.
Facilities: Singapore Airlines send an invitation to check-in by mail and by SMS 23 hours before departure. However, there really is not much point in checking in online, as you will have to present yourself at the counter at the airport anyway.
Counters: There are two counters for Business Class passengers.

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers.

LOUNGE
Location:
Behind security, turn right.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, there are also computers to work on and there is a quiet room. Power plugs are a rare commodity in the lounge, though. It is actually quite funny to watch the oh so important business types in the lounge skulking around the lounge looking for somewhere to plug in their laptops!
Catering: I think the catering in this lounge is much better than the stuff they serve in SWISS’ flagship lounges in Zürich. There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes. I have the lentil soup and it really is very tasty.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge, the password is displayed at reception.

Apart from SWISS and Singapore Airlines, Egypt Air, Avianca and COPA also use this lounge.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There are three separate queues for First, Business and Economy Class passengers.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Fully lie flat with 180 degree recline. Singapore Airlines operates the A 380 in four different configurations. Basically there are some aircraft that feature SQ’s new Premium Economy seat and other which do not or not yet have that cabin installed. Add to that that capacity and layout in the different cabins may vary.
Pitch: 55 inches.
Width: 30 inches.
Facilities:

  • AC power outlet.
  • USB port.
  • Wifi hotspot by OnAir.

Audio and Video:

  • 4 inch LCD monitor.
  • Phitek noise cancelling earphones.
  • 700 audio CDs.
  • 22 on demand radio programmes.
  • 180 television programmes on demand.
  • 100 films on demand.
  • Games are also available.
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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

SERVICE
The crew on this flight are good and the purser in particular is chatty and quite entertaining in the way he interacts with the passengers.

However, what strikes me is that the meal service is somewhat inconvenient for the flight time and the time of departure: by the time we depart New York it is already 21h30 and our flight time is announced as seven hours. There is no light or quick option for the meal. When the crew come to take orders for dinner, I inform the young lady that I will not be having a starter or dessert and just would like to have a main course and then go to sleep. Even so, once the crew are released after take-off, I get the full treatment nonetheless.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Tonic water with orange juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Tiger beer, served with a ramekin of warm nuts.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main course.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Later dinner.
Meal:

  • Antipasto selection: cured meat, tomato and mozzarella, grilled shrimp and a grilled scallop on a bed of mixed salad.
  • Chicken soup, served with chicken slices, mushroom, rice noodles and seasonal greens. There is also a small dish of soy sauce with chilli accompanying the dish.
  • Selection from the bread basket.

The meal really is quite revolting and must rate among the vilest I have ever had on a plane. First of all, the antipasto plate: I only eat the tomato and mozzarella because the scallop and shrimp are emitting a rather off-putting stench.

Then the soup arrives and it is really not much better. Yuk! The slices of chicken are still slightly pink, instead of white and the rice noodles are all about 1 cm long each, making it quite impossible to eat them with the chopsticks. So I give up, and when one of the cabin crew passes through the cabin to top up the drinks, I ask her to remove everything so I can get ready for bed.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal:
Negative.
Pre-meal drink:
Negative.
Choice:
Negative.
Delivery:
Individual service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast snack.
Meal:

  • Fruit salad.
  • Two croissants.
  • Tea or coffee.
  • Glass of water.

Five hours after departure from New York the captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that due to ‘a series of diversion’ en route we do not have enough fuel to make it all the way to Frankfurt, so instead we are going to divert to Heathrow to refuel.

Around about the same time, the crew start their breakfast, which seems a tad early, given that we are still two hours out of London and the breakfast service is not really that extensive. It’s pretty frugal actually.

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The crew seem somewhat unprepared for this turn of events and suddenly the whole service becomes rushed. And for what? By the time my breakfast is cleared away, we still have more than an hour to go to London. I think it would have made more sense to let passengers sleep a bit longer, especially seeing as the seat is so inconvenient to convert from a sleeping position back into a sitting position.

ARRIVAL
Eventually, we land in Heathrow at 09h40, when we should have arrived in Frankfurt. We pull on to a remote stand and the refuelling starts. In the meantime, the crew have ordered snack boxes from one of the Heathrow caterers.

At 10h55 the captain comes on the loudspeaker again to inform us that refuelling is completed and we should be ready to go. But now the aircraft has developed an electrical problem.

No sooner has the problem been solved, a number of passengers decide they are feeling nervous and no longer wish to continue to Frankfurt. So a bus needs to be called to allow them to disembark. They are also going to have to unload their luggage, which can take a while on an A 380.

In any case, eventually we land in Frankfurt with a delay of five hours, at 15h30. I check on my app to find there is a Lufthansa flight to Basel departing at 16h40. So I decide to take a chance on that one and quickly make the booking while we taxi to our stand. I make the connection to Basel only by the skin of my teeth.

CONCLUSION
Now about Singapore Airlines: there are probably few airlines around the world that enjoy the reputation and brand recognition of Singapore Airlines. It is a reputation which, in my view, is no longer justified or deserved. As I mentioned in my post of the outbound flight, the seat really is just plain uncomfortable and inconvenient. It is too tight to lounge in and unpractical to convert into a bad.

As for the food, the presentation was so so. But the quality of the food on this last flight was quite simply atrocious. I also think the meals they serve are somewhat frugal. On many other carriers, you will at least receive a small salad in addition to the main course.

Would I go out of my way to fly Singapore Airlines again? No, I don’t think so.

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Amtrak, First Class – Acela Express: Boston South Station to New York Pennsylvania Station

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GETTING TO THE STATION
Transport:
Walking.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Departs from: Long Wharf.
Arrives: Amtrak South Station.

The boat from Provincetown arrives at Boston’s Long Wharf in the old part of the city. It is 12h35 as I step off the boat and my train will not be leaving until 15h10. So I head for the Wagamama restaurant in the old warehouses on the wharf that have since been renovated and converted into shops and restaurants.

From the Long Wharf to South Station is a walk of about 10 to 15 minutes.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
The First Class coach is at the very back of the train, which means it is closest to the beginning of the platform in Boston. First Class passengers are invited to board at their own leisure ahead of the other passengers. Boarding for the train starts about 15 minutes before the train’s departure.

An electronic ticket is sent as an attachment to the booking confirmation once you have completed the online booking.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 1.
Seat: The First Class carriage has a number of different seating configurations. On the row of single seats there are some seats facing each other for two persons travelling together, or individual seats behind each other. The same goes for the seats of two on the opposite side of the aisle. The seat itself is wide and very comfortable and has a good recline.
Facilities: Reading light, two power plugs.
Audio and Video: Wifi is available throughout the carriage.

SERVICE
The journey time is announced at 3 hours and 45 minutes for the 344 kilometres from Boston to New York. After New York the train continues to Washington. There is one young man serving the First Class carriage and he really is brilliant. He has an easygoing attitude and interacts nicely with the passengers.

As I take my seat, he comes to welcome me aboard and hands me the menu for the journey to New York and a packet of nibbles. He also takes my order for drinks. I order a Diet Pepsi, and much to my surprise, the drink is actually served in a real glass!

THE MEAL
Choice:
There are five dishes to choose from for the main course. The salad is the healthy option.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Quinoa salad with edamame, tomatoes, mixed greens and an olive oil vinaigrette.
  • A warm bun with butter.
  • Cheesecake crumble with a raspberry coulis.
  • Coffee.

The meal arrives shortly after we leave Providence. And again I am pleasantly surprised that it is served in real crockery and with proper metal cutlery.

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The meal hits the spot nicely, which is hardly surprising, given that I only just had lunch at Wagamama’s…

For the rest of the journey the young man passes through the cabin, checking if passengers have everything they need of if they would like anything else.

ARRIVAL
By the time we arrive in New York, the train has a delay of nearly 15 minutes, which is not too bad. As we approach Manhattan, the young man passes through the carriage with hot towels.They are rather flimsy, but I guess they serve their purpose.

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From the platform I head one floor up and follow the signs for the C and E subway lines heading uptown.

All in all, I must say I enjoyed this trip on Amtrak. My only grippe really, is that the journey seems unnecessarily long. 344 kilometres should really be possible in under three hours by train.

 

 

Posted in First Class, Trains | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Provincetown Fast Ferry: Provincetown to Boston

INTRODUCTION
I spend six days in Provincetown. Essentially, my days consist of a leisurely breakfast followed by bouts of serious sunbathing and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and bike rides along the scenic coastline. Although thanks to my sister A., I must confess I feel slightly apprehensive every time I get in the water and see a shadow, fully expecting Jaws to make an appearance at any moment. But I am told that you should be safe from the sharks, really, just as long as you stay away from the seals and do not make any squeaky sounds. Apparently, sharks do not have such great eyesight…or hearing…! Oh yeah? Well in that case, can anybody explain to me how it is not suspicious that despite the lovely beaches and the absences of seals there is hardly ever anybody in the water?

GETTING FROM PROVINCETOWN TO BOSTON
Transport:
Fast boat.
Journey time: 90 minutes.
Departs from: Provincetown wharf.
Arrives: Long wharf, Boston.
Cost: USD58 for a oneway ticket.

There are a number of options to make the journey from Provincetown to Boston. Of course, I could have left the same way I came – by plane. But somehow, I figured it would be nicer to catch one of the ferries that run between Provincetown and Boston instead.

There are two companies that make the journey between the two cities. The frequency varies depending on the season and the day of the week. More specifically, between May and September, there are two daily returns by each company from Monday through Wednesday, and three daily returns each from Thursday through Sunday. The boats normally leave within 30 minutes of each other.

I depart on a Wednesday morning on the 11h00 boat. The boat is not very full and there are only a few other passengers on the top deck with me. The boat has both outdoor and indoor seating and there is also a nicely stocked bar with snacks and drinks.

As those of you who regularly read my blog may have guessed by now, I have a bit of a thing about planes. Which is why taking the boat is another bonus. As we approach Boston, we pass right under the departure route of the airport’s active runway, so the aircraft are still fairly low. Oh happy day…!

Here is the link to the Boston Harbor Cruise Fast Ferry to Provincetown.

And Here is the link to the Bay State Cruise Company.

Oh yeah, and the Boston skyline looks nice too, coming in.

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Provincetown, MA

INTRODUCTION
Provincetown is an interesting mix of vintage Americana and a gay cornucopia. What may sound a bit strange on the face of it though, works surprisingly well. Provincetown is a lovely place with a laid back and tolerant atmosphere. It is a perfect place for a beach holiday if you are looking for long, uncrowded beaches.

THE INN AT 7 CENTRAL

In Provincetown I am staying at the Inn at 7 Central, which is a Bed and Breakfast. It is probably not so suited for families with children, because from what I gather, all rooms are for a maximum of two occupants only. The rooms are well kept and very clean. There is a television in the room and a bath with showers. There are no safes in the rooms though.

Breakfast is served on the patio on the ground floor, which offers enough shade and always has a bit of a breeze coming through. So it stays cool, even during the midday sun. Breakfast consists of fruit, cereals and lovely hot and cold dishes – things like a frittata or Caesar salad – which have been prepared on the premises and have that unmistakably great taste of home cooking. They even make their own buns at the Inn, which are served fresh and warm from the oven.

The Inn at 7 Central also provides complimentary beach towels and a wide selection of different types of sunblock. During the day, complimentary coffee and soft drinks are also available.

The location of the Inn is ideal, it is literally just a stone’s throw away from the main drag on Commercial Street.

I very much enjoyed staying here. Cory and Curtis, the owners, are really excellent hosts that go out of their way to make their guests feel at home. Their interaction with the guests is friendly and unobtrusive.

Here’s the link the to the Inn at 7 Central.

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Cape Air – Cessna 402C: Boston to Provincetown

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Date: 18. August 2016.
Departure: 19h35.
Arrival: 20h00.
Flight time: 25 minutes.
Seat: 3A, as we board we are given specific instructions to take the front seat for balance.

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INTRODUCTION
I spend a lovely day in Boston. In the morning I head for MIT in Cambridge to do a few laps in the pool of the Zesinger Center and then head back into town for some sightseeing and lunch. By 16h00 I am back at the Hostel and fit to drop. Time to move on.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Sliver Line Bus, route 1.
Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes depending on traffic.
Departs from: South Station.
Arrives: Arrival level of Terminal C.
Cost: USD 2.75 per person.

The Silver Line is probably the most convenient way to get to Logan airport using public transport. Travelling by underground from downtown to the airport requires a change of trains and another transfer to a bus which then connects the rail station to the airport terminal area.

There is always the possibility to take the water taxi to the airport, which will pick you up from different locations around town. But this may be cumbersome too if you are travelling with a lot of luggage and also requires a transfer to a shuttle but to take you from the wharf to the terminal area.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal C.
Facilities: Only airport check-in is available.
Counters: There are two counters.

By the time I reach the counter, it is 17h40. My flight to Provincetown will not be leaving until 20h11. More out of curiosity than anything else I ask the check-in agent if by any chance there might be an earlier flight available. She tells me the 18h27 still has seats available and rebooks me on to that flight straight away.

The check-in experience with Cape Air is interesting. It is the first time an airline has ever wanted to know my body weight for the pilot to properly calculate the aircraft’s weight and balance.

From check-in I head for security. I better get a move on because the flight should start boarding at 18h15.

BOARDING
There are five passengers on the 18h27 service to Provincetown. The flight is called and all passengers are invited to stand in queue. Once everybody has appeared, passengers are invited to head downstairs and wait to be picked up by a Cape Air ramp agent. We are also given clear instructions not to open the door by ourselves, as this will trip the alarm.

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After only a short wait a young lady opens the door from the outside and asks us ‘you guys all heading for P-Town’? All five of us nod and then she walks us across the apron.

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You may carry your luggage all the way to the aircraft’s door. But once there, you will have to hand over everything to the ramp agent because the aircraft’s cabin simply is not big enough to hold any luggage.

CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 1.
Seat: The seat is comfy enough. My only complaint is that the seat back has a fairly steep recline. Legroom is good though and probably better than what you get on some carriers on an aircraft the size of an A 320 or so.
Facilities: There is an air vent.

The cabin is fairly hot. It is still warm at this time of day. The pilot’s solution is simple and old fashioned: he just opens the window to let in some fresh air – although the term ‘fresh’ should probably be used liberally here: the queue for departure is huge and we are queuing behind eleven large jets. With the pilot’s window open, the jet blast is blowing straight into the cabin. Admittedly, I have a fetish for anything to do with airplanes, but I’m not so sure what the other passengers are thinking…

SERVICE
…is made impossible due to the size of the aircraft!

Eventually, we take off after waiting in line for about 45 minutes. The flight time is advised as 25 minutes. It is a nice flight across the water to Provincetown and the setting sun provides a very poetic atmosphere. I check the altimeter and see that we’re cruising at 1000 feet!

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ARRIVAL
All too soon we are turning onto the approach. We land and taxi past a line of light aircraft. It really is a matter of reference. Here in Provincetown the Cessna 402C is certainly the big guy on the ramp.

And that is when I spot the terminal, which is dinky. I really have no other way to describe it – so cute! The ramper opens the door and welcomes us to Cape Cod. We then step onto the patio and wait for the luggage to be off loaded and brought over to us.

As I step outside the terminal, one of the passengers from my flight is about the depart in a taxi and there does not seem to be another one waiting. But that’s okay. The driver asks me if I want to hop on, and off we go.

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The charge from the airport to the town centre is a flat charge of USD9.- per passenger.

Posted in Cape Air, Cessna | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

MINT by Jetblue, First Class – Airbus A 321: San Francisco to Boston

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Date: 18. August 2016.
Departure: 12:55.
Arrival: 21:30.
Flight time: 5 hours and 10 minutes.
Seat: 3C, aisle on the port side.

bos

INTRODUCTION
I first visited San Francisco in 2008. I was on a round the world trip and arrived from Tokyo. It must have been some time around January. I remember the weather was awful, cold and wet. I did not manage to see the Golden Gate Bridge that time, because it was shrouded in dense fog all the time I was there. And it’s been bugging me ever since!

But this time, finally, after eight years I finally get to see and cross the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Granted, the weather is not much better this time round, but at least I can still see the city in the distance.

So now that has been taken care of and I can finally strike another item of the bucket list, I figure I might as well move on…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Car rental.
Journey time: 55 minutes on local roads or 35 minutes on the highway.
Driving in the US really is rather cool. They have these enormous roads with four or six lanes in each direction. What is even more impressive though, is that despite the wide roads they still seem to have way too many cars on the road.

From the car rental drop off station it takes about five minutes to the terminal complex using the fully automated AirTrain. The views from the AirTrain are excellent by the way!

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CHECK-IN
Location:
International Terminal A, row 10.
Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, self-service check-in or check-in at the counter.
Counters: There are two counters for JetBlue Mosaic and Mint customers and three counters for Economy Class passengers.

LOUNGE
Alas, JetBlue does not operate a lounge at SFO and does not use any contractor lounge either. But that is really quite okay. Complimentary wifi is available in the terminal building and the view from gate A3A, from where my flight will be boarding, is simply excellent. I even get to witness a Virgin America A 320 executing a rejected take-off due to conflicting traffic on the crossing arriving runway.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Mint passengers are invited to board after passengers with special needs.

Something tells me this flight is going to be just brilliant, if the first impression I get from the gate agent is anything to go by. The guy obviously takes his job seriously and makes a point of keeping passengers informed about the entire boarding process. He also strictly enforces the boarding sequence.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 and 1 + 1.
Seat: Jetblue operates the A 321 in two configurations. The aircraft used in transcontinental services are branded as MINT by Jetblue. The aircraft have a seating capacity of 158, with 16 seats in Business Class. Rows 1, 3 and 5 are in a 2 + 2 configuration, while rows 2 and 4 are in a 1 + 1 configuration. The seats on the even numbered rows are referred to as the Business Suites. They have slightly greater pitch and more privacy, including a rather superfluous and useless sliding door. The suites are available on a first come first served basis.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Length as a bed: 80 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities:

  • There are two 110 volt power ports and USB ports at each seat.
  • Complimentary wifi is available on board and there are various price plans should you require more capacity.

Audio and Video:

  • 15 inch LCD screen.
  • There are more than 100 online radio programmes.
  • There are 100 television programmes and a selection of films on flights longer than two hours.
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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

SERVICE
I reach my seat and there is a card welcoming me on board that has been signed by the two cabin crew working the forward cabin. In addition, the crew make a point of stopping at every seat to welcome every passenger on board individually. They explain the features of the seat, what the service is going to be like and then take orders for a welcome drink before handing every passenger the menu for the flight.

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I think what impresses me most about the crew is that they genuinely seem to enjoy their job and their interaction with the passengers seems authentic.

After take-off the crew distribute earphone and vanity kits, which are really nice, even if they do not really contain anything you might need during the flight. However, toothbrushes and toothpaste are available on request.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Honey infused limeade and fresh mint.
Towel before the meal: Hot towel, not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Another honey infused limeade, served with artichoke and avocado dip and taro chips.
Choice:
Passengers are invited to choose three dishes from a selection five, which includes two cold and three hot dishes.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Herby lentil salad with baby romaine, haricots verts, avocado, toasted pecans and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
  • Lobster risotto with crimini mushrooms, Swiss cheese and herb breadcrumbs.
  • Turkey chilli with avocado, cherry tomatoes and cotija cheese.
  • Seasonal fruit salad.
  • Organic blue marble ice cream.
  • Tea or coffee.

I think it is safe to say that this must be one of the best airline meals I have ever had. Firstly, all the dishes are still hot when the tray arrives. But apart from that, the quality and the taste of the food is excellent. The chilli is nice and spicy and the lobster risotto is just lovely. The dessert at the end is good too.

Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin, making sure all passengers have everything they need. In addition, there is a self-service bar at the rear of the First Class cabin, which is stocked with soft drinks and a selection of snacks – things like crisps or Pretzels.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Boston. The crew make another round with hot towels for passengers to freshen up. After that, the purser comes through the cabin with a selection of cookies and personally thanks ever passenger for flying JetBlue. He even makes a point of addressing every passenger by name!

CONCLUSION
I think this flight on JetBlue was absolutely bloody brilliant! These guys are really giving the likes of Virgin America or American Airlines a good run for their money. And in fact, although this service was ‘only’ a regular domestic First Class service, I think it is way better than the American Airlines experience I had from New York to Los Angeles.

Of course, there are certain shortcomings, such as the lack of a dedicated lounge on the ground in San Francisco. And perhaps the tray the meal is served on is not quite so fancy. But I think what this flight really shows is that it really is the crew that makes the experience. And today’s crew – Derek and Margaret – were just excellent and demonstrated some great hospitality! I like.

Posted in Airbus A 321, First Class, MINT Jetblue | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virgin America, First Class Plus – Airbus A 320: Los Angeles to San Francisco

VIRGIN AMERICA LOGO

Date: 14. August 2016.
Departure: 18:40.
Arrival: 19:40.
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 1A, window seat on the port side.

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CHECK-IN
Location: Terminal 3.

Facilities: Web check-in, self-service check-in at the airport or check-in at the counter.
Counters: There are two counters open for First Class passengers and another two for Economy Class passengers. In addition, staff are on hand for passengers needing assistance checking in at the self-service machines.

Virgin America is the only airline I know of that has lounge music blaring away in the check-in are. Just because they are so completely different from the other carriers…

LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the main airside area. The stairs are by the Burger King.
Type of Lounge:
Virgin America lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets. That’s it. There are no workstations or anything of the sort. But there are plenty of power sockets.
Catering: Soft drinks and a limited selection of snacks – things like fruit or nuts – are complimentary. In addition, full meals and alcoholic drinks are also available against payment.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge. The password can be obtained at the bar.

From what I understand, only members of Virgin’s frequent flyer programme have access to the lounge. For all other passengers, even when travelling in First Class, access to the lounge is only against payment. You can purchase the lounge access at the time you make your booking or later when you check-in online. The fee for the lounge access is USD30.

It is hard to say really if these are USD30 well spent. On the face of it, certainly not. Because the only thing this lounge has going for it is the excellent view of the two northern runways at LAX. On the other hand, having said that, Terminal 3 is a real stinker of a terminal. The place is old and tatty. The floors are carpeted, which make the whole place stink like a pair of really, really old socks. And the waiting area is somewhat crowded. So considering the alternative, USD30 to access the lounge is perhaps not such a bad deal after all.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
The first boarding call is for First Class passengers. What always strikes me in the US is how well trained the passengers are. The call for First Class is made and literally nobody moves until those passengers have passed the gate and the gate agent invites everybody else to board. If that were Europe, everyone would be pushing their way to the front of the line before the gate agent even manages to finish the announcement.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2.
Seat: There are two rows of seats in First Class, which makes for eight seats in the First Class cabin. In the main cabin, Virgin America distinguishes between Main Cabin Extra and normal Economy Class. The difference between the two is the seat pitch. The seat is a recliner, so not fully lie flat, but it has a leg rest.
Pitch: 55 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: There is a reading lamp and a power outlet for every seat.
Audio and Video: Every seat in First comes with its own 9 inch screen. There are roughly 3000 MP3s to choose from, but the selection of films is somewhat limited. There are also a few television programmes available, including the first ever episode of The Big Bang Theory. The earphones, by the way, are completely useless. Wifi is available on board.

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All the window shades are down as I enter the plane. The only light in the cabin is dark blue coming out from above the overhead bins and a shade of magenta from the lights over windows. It certainly makes for a dramatic effect during the boarding process.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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SERVICE
There are two cabin crew standing in the forward galley welcoming passengers aboard. At least I think that is what they should be doing. But the young lady obviously has an attitude issue and will not say ‘hello’ until the passengers say it first. The young man is very different in that respect: he just does not say anything at all in principle and averts his eyes when you look at him. Fortunately though, the co-pilot steps on to the plane at some point with his delivery from Starbuck’s and mood lightens. In fact the two cabin crew are so engrossed in their drinks that they forget about the passengers and just completely ignore everybody.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice in a plastic cup.
Choice:
There is a selection of snacks to choose from, things like popcorn or crisps.
Type of meal:
Meal is a rather generous term to use here…
Meal:

  • Salted Popcorn.
  • Diet Coke.

I know the flight time is only one hour and I had been warned about the lack of service on US domestic flights but this so much worse than I expected. I ask for a Diet Coke and all I get is one cup. Apparently, the whole can would really just be asking too much.

ARRIVAL
By the time we land the sun is already setting. We have a short taxi to the terminal, which looks modern and clean – and does not have carpets! And with that my Virgin America flight comes to an end.

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The first time I flew virgin America a few years back was on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Back then I thought their product was innovative and fresh. But from what I can tell, it has not aged very well. It is a thin line between really being different from the rest and just being annoyingly pretentious.

Posted in Airbus A 320, Economy Class, Virgin America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

American Airlines, First Class – Airbus A 321: New York JFK to Los Angeles

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Date: 14. August 2016.
Departure: 10:00.
Arrival: 13:15.
Flight time: 5 hours 25 minutes.
Seat: 2A.

lax

INTRODUCTION
I spend the night in New York at the Crowne Plaza near JFK airport. Today I am travelling on to the West Coast.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Hotel shuttle.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Departs from: Outside the hotel lobby.
Arrives: Departures concourse of Terminal 8.
Cost: Complimentary.

The shuttle will drop you off right outside your terminal on the departures level. Just tell the driver where you are going as you get aboard. There are nine passengers on the shuttle this morning, seven of which are Delta crew on their way to Terminal 4.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 8, which is the American Airlines terminal and also home to some of the other OneWorld carriers like Royal Jordanian.
Facilities: Web check-in and App check-in.
Counters: The American Airlines Priority counters are located on row 5 of the terminal.

The American Airlines Terminal has a modern, bright and airy feel to it. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Of course it helps that the place is not so busy, presumably because it is Sunday morning.

LOUNGE
Location:
C concourse in the satellite terminal.
Type of Lounge:
American Airlines Admiral’s Lounge.
Facilities:
Computer workstations, toilets, showers.
Catering: A small selection of breakfast items – things like bagels with Philadelphia cheese, müslis, oatmeal. Coffee, orange juice and ice water are complimentary. Other beverages are available at a charge.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge.

Only passengers who have status in American Airlines’ frequent flyer programme are entitled to use the lounge, even if they are travelling in Domestic First Class. The transcontinental services from JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco are exceptions. If you are travelling in First Class on one of these services, you are entitled to use the lounge and may even avail yourself of the international lounge on the main concourse.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate queue for Priority passengers and First Class passengers are invited to board first, followed by Business Class and then Economy Class passengers.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 1.
Seat: American Airlines operates the Airbus A 321 in three different configurations. The aircraft that operate the transcontinental flights has four cabins: First, Business, Main Cabin Extra and Economy. The total capacity is for 102, which is very low for the Airbus A 321. The seat is a flat bed with 180 degree recline. There are 10 seats in the First Class cabin.
Pitch: 62 inches.
Length: 82.5 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities:

  • AC power port and USB port.
  • Wifi is provided by AirCell gogo.

Audio and Video:

  • 4 inch HD capable monitor with touchscreen.
  • Bose noise cancelling earphones.
  • 15 games.
  • 350 audio programmes on demand.
  • 75 films and 150 television programmes on demand.

The seat is comfortable and feels intimate and private. The only complaint I have is that the cabin looks rather drab, given that everything from the bulkhead to the seats is dark grey.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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SERVICE
A pillow and blanket as well as the menu have already been placed at the seat as I enter the aircraft. There is also a bottle of still water and an amenity kit with eye shades, socks, dental kit and some other travel goodies.

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Other than that, the crew a friendly and chatty and make a lot of effort to make sure passengers are comfortable.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
A selection of orange juice, still water or champagne.
Towel before the meal: Hot but not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Coke Zero served with a ramekin of warm mixed nuts (plus refill on the nuts…).
Choice:
Two choices for the starter, three choices for the main course and two choices for dessert.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Early lunch.
Meal:

  • Tomato and goat cheese strata with pickled ginger vinaigrette.
  • Salad with fresh strawberries and hearts of palm with a choice of dressing.
  • Selection form the breadbasket.
  • Pan seared crab cakes with jicama slaw and tomatillo poblano cream sauce.
  • Vanilla ice cream with a choice of topping.

The meal hits the spot nicely, but it is way too much food. Perhaps I should not have had that second ramekin of nuts. Especially the sundae with hot fudge and nuts for dessert is divine – probably the best dessert I have ever had on a plane.

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I spend the rest of the flight reading and, well, basically eating. First the crew brings me two packets of sea slated crisps, then the smell of warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies starts wafting through the cabin and I figure it would be a shame not to try one. Oh okay, maybe two so I have something to go with the coffee…

ARRIVAL
Eventually we touch down on the northernmost runway at Los Angeles airport. The view out the window is quite spectacular. There are already four A 380s standing there and just behind us, Air France arrives to make it five.

TRANSFER IN LAX
American Airlines uses Terminal 4 in Los Angeles. From here I need to transfer to Terminal 3 for my onward connection. Apparently, there is a shuttle bus that links all of the airport’s terminals but I am unable to locate the stop. Eventually I figure it is a nice enough day here in Los Angeles, not too hot. And so I walk to Terminal 3 instead. It only takes about seven minutes to walk across.

Posted in Airbus A 321, American Airlines, First Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Frankfurt to New York JFK

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Date: 13. August 2016.
Departure: 08h36.
Arrival: 10h50.
Flight time: 8 hours 14 minutes.
Seat: 12A.

jfk

INTRODUCTION
Singapore Airlines has a few fifth freedom flights it routes through Europe. There is the Singapore-Barcelona-Sao Paolo (apparently the leg to Sao Paolo will be discontinued soon), the Singapore-Frankfurt-New York and finally, the Singapore-Moskow-Houston, which will soon be routing through Manchester instead of Moskow. I have already sampled the flight form Barcelona last year, so I figured this would be a good time to try the Frankfurt to New York service.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
It is just gone 07h00 in the morning as I exit the Hilton Garden Inn to make my way across to Terminal 1. The hotel is connected to the terminal via the railway station for the long distance and high-speed trains.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, Hall C.
Facilities: Web check-in and App check-in are available, but you will still need to go to the check-in counter to collect your boarding pass and have your passport scanned.
Counters: 713 to 720. There are three Economy Class counters, two baggage drop counters, one Business Class counter and one First Class counter.

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The check-in staff are friendly and welcoming. The young man hands me my boarding pass, gives me directions to the lounge and then sends me on my way wishing me a nice flight.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Near B44.
Type of Lounge:
Lufthansa Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There are no computers, but there are workstations with power plugs for European style chargers.
Catering: There is a selection of cold dishes: fruit, yoghurt, Bircher Müsli, cheese, jam and bread. There is also a dish with scrambled eggs.
Internet:
No information.

There is something slightly off about this lounge and I cannot really put my finger on it. First of all, the tables and chairs do not seem to fit with the Lufthansa brand as a whole. Secondly, for some reasons the whole place looks rather worn and tired, even though it is well kept.

The food selection is okay, but nothing special. Unfortunately, when I try taking pictures of the buffet, one of the waitresses in the lounge tells me that I am not allowed to take pictures and it is certainly too early in the morning for me to argue the point.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate queue for First and Business Class passengers.

My flight is boarding from gate B46, which is right around the corner from the lounge. The queue for Economy Class is fairly long, but there is nobody in line for Business Class. I walk up to the counter, the agent checks my passport and scans my boarding pass and then addresses me by name as he wishes me a pleasant flight with Singapore Airlines. As I board the aircraft there are two flight attendants waiting at the door. Both of them welcome me on board and then the young lady shows me to my seat.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Fully lie flat with 180 degree recline. Singapore Airlines operates the A 380 in four different configurations. Basically there are some aircraft that feature SQ’s new Premium Economy seat and other which do not or not yet have that cabin installed. Add to that that capacity and layout in the different cabins may vary.
Pitch: 55 inches.
Width: 30 inches.
Facilities:

  • AC power outlet.
  • USB port.
  • Wifi hotspot by OnAir. There are different price plans, depending on how much date you want to download.

Audio and Video:

  • 4 inch LCD monitor.
  • Phitek noise cancelling earphones.
  • 700 audio CDs.
  • 22 on demand radio programmes.
  • 180 television programmes on demand.
  • 100 films on demand.
  • Games are also available.

The seat has a lot of storage space and the designers of the seat have obviously put a lot of thought into the usability of the seat. For example, there is a small compartment for spectacles to the left of the personal video screens that is lined with some velvety material so as not to scratch the glass.

From what I understand, Singapore Airlines is currently in the process of upgrading its Business Class product, which is a good thing. Because although the airline obviously takes very good care of its planes, the seat and cabin are starting to look a bit dates and worn around the edges.

In the sum of all things, I am not much of a fan of the Singapore Airlines Business Class seat. First of all, it is not really that comfortable to lounge in, mainly because you have to lie at an angle to stretch out, which then means that the video screen is not centred any more. And secondly, if you start to feel sleepy, you cannot simply extend the seat into a bed. Instead you need to stand up to convert the seat. And thirdly, admittedly the seat is very wide. But at the end of the day this is mostly wasted space, because people expand in length and not in width during the flight. So all in all, I still think the Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways seat is better and more comfortable.

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SERVICE
The Singapore Airlines Singapore girl is known around the world. Even people who have never flown with Singapore Airlines know about their cabin crew. And indeed, the crew all seem friendly enough. As soon as I take my seat, one of the crew greets me with a cheery ‘hello’ and a tray of juices and water.

Pillows, earphones and the menu have already been places at the seats. After take-off, the crew distribute slippers, eye-shades and socks. In Business Class Singapore Airlines does not provide a vanity kit. However, dental kits, combs, shavers and earplugs are available in the toilets.

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Once we are airborne, the service begins with a glass of fresh orange juice.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Fresh orange juice.
Choice:
There are three choices for the main course.
Delivery:
Individual à la carte service.
Type of meal:
Brunch.
Meal:

  • Selection of fresh fruit.
  • Bircher Müsli – made with rolled oat soaked in milk, natural yoghurt, dried fruits and nuts.
  • Thai Beef Kway Teow Soup – made with rice noodles in beef broth with sliced beef filet and leafy greens.
  • Cherry cheesecake with Morello cherry compote.
  • Assorted bread rolls and croissants with butter and fruit preserves.
  • Tea of coffee.
  • Still water.

The meal service is swift and efficient, but without feeling rushed. The quality of the food is very good, especially the soup is hot and spicy. The meal concludes with another hot scented towel.

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THE SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal:
Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Orange juice with roasted nuts.
Choice:
There are three choices for the main course.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Meal:

  • Smoked salmon and green asparagus with a cherry tomato confit, mixed salad and olive oil.
  • Pan-friend filet of red snapper in a cilantro and parsley sauce, with green beans, baby carrots and buttered linguine.
  • Cappuccino with mango compote.
  • Assorted breads.
  • Tea or coffee.

The red snapper is a bit on the dry side, but the sauce is still tasty and the pasta is nice and chewy. The dessert I like a lot, although it takes a moment for the ice cream to thaw to the point that I can actually stick a spoon in it.

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ARRIVAL
We arrive in New York just at it is coming up 11 o’clock in the morning. The Etihad and Emirates A 380 are already there and as we taxi in I see Korean Air arriving with their Big Bird. I really to think the Airbus A 380 is ugly as sin to look at. Even so, I have to say that you did get a sense of making a grand entrance when you arrive and an airport in one of these babies.

So what about Singapore Airlines? As far as the hardware is concerned, I thought the seat was rather uncomfortable and inconvenient. The Cathay Pacific seat for example may not be so spacious, but it is certainly more comfortable. As for the service, I really must say that here too, Singapore Airlines comes in third behind Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways. The latter also beats Singapore Airlines as far as the presentation, quality and taste of the food is concerned.

Please do not get me wrong. I think Singapore Airlines is certainly one of the leading airlines out there and I would say that if you are travelling from Europe to New York they are probably your best option.

Posted in Airbus A 380, Business Class, Singapore Airlines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

KLM, Business Class – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Amsterdam and onward to Frankfurt

KLM_Logo

INTRODUCTION
Finally, I really thought the moment would never come. But it has – at long last, it is finally time for my summer vacation. I normally tend to head East for my longer excursions. And of course it is always interesting and exciting to experience new cultures and exotic locations. But it is also very tiring. That is why this year, I did not really fancy straying too far afield. And so I find myself heading West instead for a change. Obviously, taking the most direct route to my destination would have been the most sensible thing to do. But where is the fun in that, I ask you?

And so my journey begins with a set of positioning flights from Zürich to Amsterdam and then from there on to Frankfurt, both on KLM. I already have quite a few posts about ‘my friends in blue’ – as my colleague the Flying Dutchman refers to KLM – so I think we can skip introductions and keep things short and simple.

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CABIN
There are three rows of Business Class on this flight, with a total of twelve seats. The middle seat is kept empty. Only seven seat are occupied this evening. I am on 1C, which is the aisle seat on the port side of the aircraft. Just a piece of advice: 1C sticks out quite far into the aisle, because the bulkhead is not quite as wide as the row of seats. While this certainly allows you to stretch you legs, it can also be slightly irritating after a while. Every time somebody walks past, you end up with the curtain brushing against your legs or in your face.

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SERVICE
There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are excellent. They are very attentive and address every passenger by name, which I always find rather a nice touch.

THE MEAL
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Light dinner.
Meal:

  • Carrot gazpacho with parsley and shaved almonds.
  • Spanish chickpea salad with beef bresoala, Kalamata olives and fresh herbs, served with a chilli and lime dressing.
  • Orange mousse and chocolate ganache.
  • Selection from the breadbasket, the crew make two rounds.
  • Diet Coke.

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I am not really all that partial to smoked meats. To be honest I find them rather off putting most of the time. But apart from that, the meal is nice enough. Especially the gazpacho is well seasoned. Throughout the meal, the crew are very attentive and make sure to keep drinks replenished at all times.

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TRANSFER IN AMSTERDAM
We approach the airport from the North, to make an approach for runway 18R. Amsterdam has three parallel runways with a North-South orientation and very often, like today, 18R and 18C are in use for simultaneous approaches, which always look really cool, I think.

I exit the aircraft into the C concourse. I do not think I have ever seen Amsterdam airport so deserted. Obviously, it is the holiday season and most people have already left on vacation. Even the Crown Lounge is pleasantly empty.

AND ONWARD TO FRANKFURT
The flight to Frankfurt departs at 20h45 and is operated by an Embraer 190 of KLM Cityhopper. There are still quite a few empty seats on the flight, despite a fairly large group of passengers who are obviously returning from a cruise in Scandinavia.

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The flight time is announced as 40 minutes. Even so, every passenger is given a small box with a container of still water and some BBQ flavoured crackers.

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In Frankfurt KLM uses Terminal 2, which is basically used for all the non-Star Alliance traffic. I will be staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is located above the railway station for the mainline trains adjacent to Terminal 1. Access to the railway station and hotel is via a footbridge from Terminal 1.

TRANSFER FROM FRANFURT TERMINAL 2 TO TERMINAL 1
There is a shuttle bus that takes passengers from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1. The first thing the smokers do upon exiting the terminal building is light up. As a result, the waiting area for the shuttle bus is constantly shrouded in a veil of heavy smoke. So instead of milling about with the chain smokers, I decide to walk across to Terminal 1. It is not really that far to walk, but the path is not clearly marked. Even so, walking at a leisurely pace it should not take more than 10 minutes to reach Terminal 1.

 

Posted in Boeing B 737-700, Business Class, KLM | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment