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

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

imagen_aerlingus_g

Date: 03 December 2016.
Departure: 08h50.
Arrival: 10h10.
Flight time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
Seat: 10F.

map

INTRODUCTION
I always enjoy the courses in Ireland very much. The people are all very welcoming and friendly and wherever you go, you can always be sure to find somebody or other eager to strike up a conversation. But still I am glad I am on my home. It is the end of the year and I can feel myself loosing steam. Just two more business trip this year, one next week and then the week after and I am done.

IMG_3477.jpg

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Taxi.
Journey time:
30 minutes.
Departs from:
Absolute Hotel in the centre of Limerick.
Arrives:
In front of the departures concourse at Shannon airport.
Cost:
EUR45.

img_3479

CHECK-IN
Terminal: There is only the one terminal building.
Row:
Counters: Aer Linugs have their own row of dedicated check-in counters. There is one desk for Aer Lingus frequent flyers, one for Aer Lingus Business Class and another for Economy Class passengers.
Web check-in:
Urgh!
Self-service check-in:
There are four machines at the airport.

Well that interface certainly does not work…! I booked the ticket I am flying on via the BA website. But for some reason, although the Aer Lingus flight is operated as a BA codeshare, interline check-in is not possible.

When I try to check in on the BA app I get a message that check-in for the flight is only possible at the airport. When I try to check in on the Aer Lingus app, I receive the message that there is something wrong with my booking. But if I try to check in online via the Aer Lingus website, I can check in but I cannot select any seats or additional services.

So by the time I arrive at the airport, I am still missing the boarding pass for this flight. I try the self-service kiosk, which informs me that there is no booking in my name. Interesting. So I approach one of the counters, where a friendly Irishman swiftly checks me in, no questions asked, and even offers if I’d prefer a window seat over the aisle seat I had originally selected at check-in (I did…?).

Other than that, Shannon’s terminal is easy to navigate through. I think what impresses me most about the structure is how high the ceiling is in the check-in area – it makes the place feel more like a church than an airport.

img_3482

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate 4 – which, luckily for me – means the aircraft is parked at a remote stand. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. My boarding pass is scanned and I step outside into the cold morning air. I walk along the outside of the building to where our aircraft is parked. The crew are obviously not ready for boarding yet, and so we are left standing outside in the cold for ten minutes before eventually we are allowed on board.

img_3486

IMG_3487.jpg

IMG_3488.jpg

img_3494

CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
Economy Class only configuration.
Seat Layout: 3 + 3.
Pitch: 32 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Connectivity: Not available.
Comment:
The A 320 has a seating capacity of 174 in Aer Lingus’ configuration. The seats are rather comfortable and certainly not as hard as many of those new flimsy Recaro affairs that leave your butt sore after an hour of flying.

Seat pitch is good. Every seat comes with a coat hook and the headrest is adjustable in height. Emergency exit seats can be purchased at the time of booking.

 

aer_lingus_airbus_a320

img_3498

SERVICE & CREW
The crew are of course typically Irish. All of them are very friendly and take their time to chat with the passengers. They are actually quite funny to watch during the on board duty free sales as they go cooing over the design of some of the scarves and comparing notes with each other and the passengers on the quality of this facial cream and that Dead Sea mud…

THE MEAL
Food and beverages are strictly buy on board on Aer Lingus short-haul flights. They have a good selection of hot and cold snacks and on flights departing before eleven o’clock in the morning there is also a traditional Irish breakfast available. Prices are reasonable to me. I have a cheese and coleslaw bap with coffee and a bottle of still water, which sets me back EUR10.50.

The quality of the food is good. The bap tastes fresh and the coffee is strong enough to revive the spirits.

 ARRIVAL
Terminal:
2.
The flight time to Heathrow is one hour. In fact we are slightly ahead of schedule, which is rarely a good idea in Heathrow, and subsequently we are sent into a holding for about ten minutes before we are allowed to make our approach into the airport from the west.

img_3511

TRANSFER IN HEATHROW
In Heathrow I am connecting onto the British Airways flight to Basel, which means I will have to make the transfer from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5. And I really have to say, the journey is really painless and smooth. I step off the Aer Lingus flight at 10h22. By 10h50 I am already in Terminal 5 and through security. The transfer process is fairly straight forward as long as you know which terminal you are looking for.

img_3513

CONCLUSION
Overall I rather liked Aer Lingus. Their strongest selling point is certainly their staff, all of which were friendly and polite at all times. The boarding process is a bit cumbersome and very much had the look and feel of a low cost carrier. But other than that, I would fly with them again.

Posted in Aerlingus, Airbus A 320, Economy Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: Inverness to Amsterdam

KLM_Logo

Date: 02. October 2016
Departure: 11:05.
Arrival: 13:30.
Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side – upgraded from 6A.

map

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Car rental.
Journey time: 45 minutes because we got lost…

I leave The Coul House at 08h40. The air up here is just so fresh that it really is a pleasure to just stand there inhaling a few breaths of the crisp, cool air. It must have been cold last night, because the windscreen is covered in a thin layer of ice where the night’s dew froze on the car.

IMG_3345.jpg

The sun is just coming up over the highlands. The valleys are still thick with fog, and as the sun rises higher in the sky, the light creates strange and beautiful illusions.

CHECK-IN
Location: On the ground floor of the terminal, on your right as you enter the building.
Counters: There are two counters for KLM, one is the drop-off counter and the other is the SkyPriority counter for Business Class passengers and Platinum/Gold card holders.
Facilities: Counter check-in, self-service check-in, Web check-in via the KLM app.

By the time the car has been dropped off and I reach check-in, it is 09h45 and my flight is scheduled to depart in about one hour. There is a bit of a hold up at the SkyPriority counter because there are two guys checking in weapons.

IMG_3349.jpg

LOUNGE
Type of lounge: Swissport Aspire contractor lounge.
Location: Near gate 3.
Facilities: Comfortable sofas to sit on as well as other seating options, toilets are available outside the lounge.
Catering: A selection of hot and cold drinks and small breakfast snacks – things like Cornflakes or scones with clotted cream.
Wifi: Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge, the password is printed on the wall.

IMG_3350.jpg

IMG_3351.jpg

IMG_3358.jpg

IMG_3361.jpg

IMG_3363.jpg

IMG_3364.jpg

To be honest, I am quite surprised they have a lounge at all here in Inverness. It is a nice place with good amenities. The view in particular is brilliant because you are at ground level and have excellent views of the ramp. The lounge is managed by an elderly gentleman and he really is brilliant. He is very chatty and quite funny actually, and makes passengers feel instantly welcome with his joking. He keeps a low profile in the lounge, and most of the time you do not even notice he is there, but somehow everything is cleared up straight away.

BOARDING:
Priority boarding: Priority boarding is available. A separate call is made for Business Class passengers and Platinum members only, then for Gold and Silver members and eventually for everybody else. There is also a separate queue.

The scanner issues an alert as my boarding pass is scanned and the gate agent informs me I have been upgraded to Business Class again. It is quite surprising just how often that seems to happen on KLM these days.

I take my new pass and head out across the apron, taking pictures of the shiny chariot that will be taking me to Amsterdam this morning.

IMG_3365.jpg

IMG_3366.jpg

CABIN
Configuration: 2 + 2.
Pitch: 32 inches, which gradually decreases to 30 inches by row nine.
Width: 17 inches.
Seat: There are two rows of Business Class on this flight. The seat next to me is kept empty. The seat on the Embraer 175 looks slightly different to that on the Embraer 190. Other than that though, it feels pretty much the same to sit in. On the first few rows the windows on the Embraer 175 are properly aligned with the passenger seats, so at least you have a good view of the outside. Towards the back though, the windows are increasingly unaligned. As a result, you end up either cranking your head back to look out through the window behind you, or sharing the window with the guy sitting in front of you, which is likely to give you tunnel vision…

SERVICE
There are two crew working the cabin. The purser is a young man in his mid-twenties, I should say. The other is a young woman who seems younger. Both of them are very professional and friendly, just your typical bog standard KLM flight attendants basically, which is what I like about KLM.

Before the doors close, the young man comes by offering a selection of English, French, German and Dutch newspapers.

IMG_3380.jpg

IMG_3381.jpg

IMG_3382.jpg

THE MEAL
Type of meal: Lunch.
Selection: Two choices for the sandwich.
Service: Individual service. The meal is served in a box on the Cityhopper flights, which looks better than it sounds. Really.
Menu:

  • Greek salad with feta cheese and pumpkin, with a mango chilli and lime dressing.
  • Salmon and egg wrap with spinach and cream cheese.
  • Tropical Pina Colada mousse with a lime topping.
  • A selection of hot and cold drinks.
  • After the meal I have a coke Zero, which is served with two packets of some really tasty almonds.

IMG_3386.jpg

 

IMG_3388.jpg

IMG_3387.jpg

ARRIVAL
It is a lovely day for flying and the views outside are spectacular. After take-off from Inverness we head out onto the North Sea, and stay there pretty much until we hit the coast of the Netherlands. The weather in Amsterdam is pretty bad though and we are required to circle over the sea before eventually we are cleared to make our approach.

IMG_3390.jpg

IMG_3391.jpg

IMG_3392.jpg

In Amsterdam I have two hours to make my connection to Basel.

 

Posted in Business Class, Embraer 175, KLM | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Coul House, Contin near Inverness

In Inverness I am staying at The Coul House, which is roughly forty minutes away from Inverness airport by car.

The Coul House is a lovely country hotel set in a lush and beautifully landscaped park. The rooms overlook the garden and from the upper floor you have an excellent view of the rolling hills in the distance.

img_3315

img_3317

IMG_3334.jpg

The rooms are nicely appointed. The Coul House is a hotel but it has the cosy look and feel of a family run B&B. Inside everything is decorated in what I can only describe as typically British style, with thick carpets everywhere and heavy curtains draped form the high ceiling.

IMG_3308.jpg

img_3311

img_3312

The food at the Coul House is very good. They even do a great afternoon tea which is served in the lounge, with a large window overlooking the garden.

IMG_3320.jpg

IMG_3324.jpg

img_3325

All in all, I can highly recommend the Coul House for a weekend getaway or even if as a base if you are planning on staying in the highlands for a week or so. The owners, Stuart and Susannah, are excellent hosts and very knowledgeable about the area. If you have any questions or need suggestions on things to do and places to visit, you can be sure they will be able to help you out.

And here’s the link to The Coul House.

Posted in Inverness | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Logan Air, Economy Class – Saab 2000: Manchester to Inverness

logo-8

Date: 01 October 2016.
Departure: 09h18, scheduled 08h45.
Arrival: 10h20, scheduled 10h15.
Flight time: 1 hour 5 minutes.
Seat: 11A, single seat on the port side.

map

INTRODUCTION
I spend four days at the University of Lancaster attending the first module of a new degree I have just started. On Friday evening I take the Transpennine Express at 17h29 from Lancaster, which runs from Lancaster to Manchester airport in about one hour and fifteen minutes.

I am staying at the Manchester Airport Hilton, mainly because the flight to Inverness will already be departing at 08h45 on Saturday morning.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Hotel shuttle.
Journey time:
5 minutes.
Departs from:
Just outside the hotel lobby.
Arrives:
Drop-off zone between terminals 1 and 3.
Cost:
Complimentary for hotel guests.

On Saturday morning I am booked on the shuttle at 07h20. Fortunately, breakfast at the Hilton already starts at 04h30 in the morning, so there is plenty of time. The distance from the hotel to the terminal complex is not really very far, in fact it is in walking distance. But you have to take a circuitous route, which also requires you to cross a wide, busy road with no pedestrian crossing. So the shuttle is just easier and safer.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 3, first floor.
Facilities:
Self-service check-in machines and drop-off counters. No web check-in is possible.

The check-in process is a bit cumbersome, because you first have to obtain your boarding pass from one machine, before you can proceed to the drop-off area, where you need to scan your boarding pass at different machine. And only then is your baggage tag for your suitcase printed.

Goodness, Manchester Airport is an exceptionally ugly place, yet another one of the many architectural atrocities that were committed in the United Kingdom in the late seventies and early eighties. In fact, the airport is so ugly it lends the place a certain distinction. But apart form being ugly, the facility is also very inconvenient and all the check-in areas appear to be located in places where there simply is not enough space for passengers with baggage to manoeuvre.

LOUNGE
There are machines at the airport which should, in theory, allow you to purchase a ticket for the fast track to security for GBP4 per person. But one of the machines is out of service and the other, which only accepts credit cards, is having issues with the credit card reader… Fortunately, being Saturday morning the queue for security is manageable.

Once you are airside, the apparent lack of consideration for the passenger continues. Everything feels tight and cramped and there is not enough space to sit because most of the area is covered by retail space. Gates are only announced shortly before boarding, probably based on the assumption that if passengers are bored and have no place to sit, then obviously they are going to go on a shopping marathon before they even leave Manchester…

IMG_3268.jpg

BOARDING
The flight is not full, I would say there are about thirty passengers in total. So we all board in one go. Fortunately for me, it is a lovely day as we make our way across the apron and the rampers do not seem too bothered with me taking pictures either.

IMG_3269.jpg

IMG_3275.jpg

IMG_3276.jpg

IMG_3277.jpg

CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2.
Seat:
The aircraft is quite obviously an ex-Etihad Regional bird and still retains the Swiss carrier’s cabin branding with the light brown leather seats and the dark brown colour on the bulkheads. During the flight I inquire with the flight attendant and she informs me that the aircraft previously operated for Etihad and for Crossair too. She makes me laugh because she says the cabin crew all like working on the Saab 2000 because it feels more like a real plane than the Saab 340.

SERVICE
There is one cabin crew working the flight today. Her name is Heidi and she is very friendly and chatty. There is an elderly couple sitting up front and Heidi obviously goes out of her way to put them at ease, reassuring them that no matter what they might need during the flight, it is not a hassle.

THE MEAL
Choice:
A selection of different types of biscuits.
Type of meal:
Light morning snack.

IMG_3287.jpg

IMG_3291.jpg

IMG_3292.jpg

img_3293

Given my recent experience with FlyBe operating for Brussels Airlines, I was not expecting anything at all in terms of service, which is why I made sure to get myself a bottle of Diet Coke before the flight. Much to my surprise though, as soon as we settle into the cruise, Heidi brings out a trolley and starts with the complimentary service. There is a selection of hot and cold beverages and a choice of different biscuits which are really quite tasty.

Stranger still, the further north we fly, the better the weather becomes. The clouds give way to some spectacular views of the Highlands below us.

ARRIVAL
Inverness airport is a cute little affair. The terminal only has one floor with arrivals at one end of the facility and departures at the other. And the place is quite busy too. KLM recently started operating a daily flight to Amsterdam, which must have arrived shortly before us, and there is also an Easyjet A 319 on the ground, obviously waiting to board the passengers for its return flight.

IMG_3297.jpg

IMG_3298.jpg

IMG_3299.jpg

img_3300

IMG_3302.jpg

Posted in Economy Class, FlyBe, Logan Air, Saab 2000 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

FlyBe, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

flybe_Wide.jpg

Date: 11. September 2016.
Departure: 17:05.
Arrival: 17:50.
Flight time: 45 minutes.
Seat: 9C, aisle.

map4.gif

INTRODUCTION
I arrive in Brussels on a flight from London Heathrow. It is just gone 13h30 and my connecting flight to Basel will not be boarding before 16h40.

The path from the arrival gate to security is pretty straightforward. My boarding pass for the onward connection was already issued in London.

There is a bit of a queue at security, given that there is only one lane open. But the queue moves quickly. And soon enough I am through security and Schengen immigration and find myself airside again.

Schengen flights leave from the A dock, which used to be connected to the main terminal via an underground walkway. Since I was last here, the underground passage has been closed off, and instead a bridge has been built in its place to connect the dock. Generally speaking, Brussels airport is very generously laid out and the high ceilings somehow prevent the place from ever being loud.

IMG_3214.jpg

LOUNGE
Location:
At the beginning of the A dock, where it is connected to the bridge to the main building.
Type of Lounge:
The Loft – Brussels Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Nap boxes, showers, toilets, video games, portable devices that can be borrowed from reception, newspapers and magazines.
Catering: Wow! There is a separate bar that is attended, where you can order drinks. The food options are excellent and very tasty. There is soup, a tray with different types of quiche, fresh bread and a buffet with salads and desserts. And, most importantly, they also have fresh Belgian waffles!
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available.

Blimey, this is certainly one of the nicer Star Alliance lounges I have been to in a while. The design of the lounge is very elegant in an understated way that makes it feel very comfortable and cosy.

IMG_3221.jpg

BOARDING
Half an hour before departure I exit the lounge and head for my departure gate. I really would like to know just how on earth they manage to get and keep the floor in the terminal looking so shiny with all the passengers stomping around on it all day?

Our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, but the airbridge has not been connected to the aircraft, which means better photo opportunities for me!

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2.
Seat: No information could be obtained on the cabin layout and the seat’s dimensions. Basically, the aircraft is decked out in what seems to be the standard seat for the Q400, which is comfortable enough for such a short flight. In fact, the seat pitch is rather good. The only problem is that there does not seem to be any air conditioning on the ground and this aircraft must have been standing around all day, because it is stiflingly hot in the cabin. Other than that, the cabin lights are switched to mood lighting, which is kind of funky on such a little airplane.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.

Flybe_Q400

Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

SERVICE
There are two young men working the cabin. The purser working the forward cabin seems friendly and obviously takes safety very seriously, which is the way it should be. Other than that through, interaction with the crew is fairly limited.

THE MEAL
This is perhaps the most surprising part of the flight. From what I could tell on the previous leg from London to Brussels, passengers in Economy were served a sandwich and a drink. On this flight however, absolutely everything is buy on board. Otherwise you do not get anything, not even a cup of water. Nada. I mean, it hardly makes a difference with a flight time of only 45 minutes, but it just seems odd to serve nothing at all.

It says in the buy on board menu that if you are connecting from a long-haul flight you will be served a soft drink free of charge upon presenting your boarding pass of that flight.

ARRIVAL
Soon enough we land in Basel. The airport is on French territory. France is still in a state of emergency. As a result, the Schengen treaty appears to have been temporarily suspended and even intra-European flights now have to use the non-Schengen part of the terminal, which is bursting at the seems. It also means that you must go through passport control upon arrival.

 

Posted in Bombardier Q400, Economy Class, FlyBe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brussels Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Brussels

Brussels_Airlines_logo.svg

Date: 11. September 2016.
Departure: 11:30.
Arrival: 13:15.
Flight time: 40 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side.

map2

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Heathrow Express.
Journey time: 17 minutes.
Departs from: London Paddington Station.
Arrives: Heathrow Central.
Cost: GBP22 for a single, second class ticket.

Heathrow Central Station serves Terminals 2 and 3. Once you alight, just follow the signs and then walk. And walk. And walk. And then walk some more. It is a fairly long schlep from the station to the check-in area, but there are plenty of lifts and trolleys available.

IMG_3163.jpg

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 2, top floor.
Facilities: Only check-in at the counter is available. Brussels Airlines does not have an app. I did receive an e-mail to check-in online but that failed because my API data was not in the PNR and there is no means online or at the check-in machine to enter the data.
Counters: B13 – B27.

This is my first visit to Terminal 2 and I really must say, I like it very much. The construction is very similar to that of BA’s Terminal 5, although Terminal 2 seems smaller. But the facility feels very open and airy. It is also very quiet.

The check-in counters are divided into different zones. And there are two rows of counters behind each other. Brussels Airlines checks in at zone B, and the Business Class counters are located on the second row.

Premium passengers are entitled to use the Fast Track.

LOUNGE
Location:
A1, after security walk towards the atrium and then turn right.
Type of Lounge:
Lufthansa Business Class and Senator lounge.
Facilities:
There is a large and spacious working area with continental and British power plugs. There are also a few iMacs provided by the lounge. The lounge also has a variety of seating options. The small tables next to the armchairs also all have power plugs. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge.
Catering: A good selection of hot and cold dishes, including everything you could want for a decent English breakfast.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.

This is probably one of the nicer Lufthansa lounges out there. The view of runway 27L from the lounge is brilliant. But alas, photography is made impossible by the bars outside the window.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate lane for passengers with priority and one of the gate agents checks passes before you are allowed to join the queue.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2. There are four passengers in Business Class on this flight.
Seat: Brussels Airlines has a seating capacity of 168 on the Airbus A 320. In Business Class you have the typically European set up, with the middle seat left empty for a bit more space. Other than that, it is the same uncomfortable slim seat that Lufthansa has and which is seriously lacking in the padding department. The flight from Heathrow to Brussels is only one hour, but from what I understand, Brussels Airlines flies these aircraft to places as far afield as Tel Aviv, which must be closer to four hours from Brussels.

Other than that, it would appear that the cabin divider is definitely on its way out on European short-haul with the Star Alliance – like SWISS’ CSeries, Brussels Airlines do not have a divider on their A 320 either.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17.5 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, air vent.
Audio and Video: Overhead screens.

Brussels_Airlines_Airbus_A320.jpg

Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

SERVICE
The crew seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly going out of their way to take care of passengers. Admittedly, with an announced flight time of only 40 minutes there is only so much you can do to give the passenger a lasting and memorable impression.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Bottle of Spa still water.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Choice:
There are two different meal types, but the crew do not ask and you are randomly given either one or other of the trays.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.
Meal:

  • A dish with mezze: rice filled vine leaves, hummus, couscous.
  • A plate of dessert with a creamy vanilla tart and a chocolate mousse cake.

The meal service is really reduced to the absolute minimum. Seriously, what airline in Europe still serves a Business Class meal in plastic dishes and with throwaway plastic cutlery? Also, if you are going to serve hummus, it would be good to offer some bread with the meal. I do not like!

But the chocolate is good.

 img_3205

ARRIVAL
The tray is quickly removed and very shortly after, the plane dips its nose and we start our descent into Brussels. Outside the weather is not so hot, it is overcast and the expected temperature on the ground is 19 degrees Celsius. By the time we hit the ground, it has also started to rain.

We arrive at the B dock, which serves all the non-Schengen flights in Brussels. Unfortunately, it looks quite as though nobody is expecting us and we wait for ten minutes before eventually somebody decides it might be a good idea to attach an airbridge to the aircraft.

 

Posted in Airbus A 320, Brussels Airlines, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SWISS, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Zürich to Paris-Roissy

 

2000px-Swiss_International_Air_Lines_Logo_2011.svg

Date: 10. September 2016.
Departure: 12:35
Arrival: 13:55
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 1F, window on the starboard side.

map.gif

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Journey time: 1 hour 27 minutes.
Departs from: Basel SBB.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Cost: CHF33.- for a one way ticket.

The Swiss Federal Railways finally introduced a second direct train from Basel to Zürich Airport. The service still leaves much to be desired, but at least it is something.

The first train departs at 37 minutes past the hour and makes the journey to the airport in 1 hour and 27 minutes, stopping regularly along the way. In addition, the rolling stock on the route is completely inadequate. They use these regional trains which are very modern and fairly comfortable, but have next to no storage area for the amounts of luggage you can expect people to bring along that are travelling to the airport.

The second train departs just ten minutes later, at 47 minutes past the hour. This train takes 1 hour and 32 minutes, mainly because it stops for 17 minutes at Zürich Main Station before continuing to the airport. I am sure if you ask somebody from the railway company they can give you a scientific reason why it really is not possible to space the trains more conveniently and why the stop of 17 minutes is absolutely imperative…

IMG_3086.jpg

CHECK-IN
Location:
SWISS App on my iPhone.

The SWISS app really does not work well, at least not for me. First of all, for some reason, I get logged out every time I switch the iPhone off. And secondly, the boarding passes I obtain from the SWISS app never seem to appear on the iPhone’s lock screen, which kind of forfeits the main idea of having Passbook.

Fortunately, I only have one small backpack with me, because the queue for check-in and baggage drop is just about as long as it was the last time I flew Edelweiss to Skopje. But the holiday season is now over, so what you’re excuse this time SWISS?

IMG_3088.jpg

But at least there is a separate entrance for security that is available to First, Business Class and premium card holders, although I do not think there actually exists an official list of all the airlines in the latter category that are allowed to send their passengers here.

IMG_3089.jpg

LOUNGE
Location:
Airside Centre, between docks A and B.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, newspapers, workstations.
Catering: Soups, sandwiches and a rather strange dish of Spätzli with…nothing. Spätzli are usually a side dish. Perhaps the lounge’s one redeeming feature is the fact that they have Mövenpick ice cream. The cooler is located at the back of the lounge, near the sliding doors that lead to the Senator lounge.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. The code is issued at reception.

The lounge is very crowded and there are only few empty seats scattered around the place. The ‘guests’ are all over the buffet like a bunch locusts. You’d think they haven’t been fed in days…

I think it really does not help that the ceiling in the lounge is fairly low, with the exception of the central atrium. The low ceilings add to the feeling of being in a crowded place.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
No.

My aircraft has just come in from a non-Schengen flight from Manchester. Because only the B/D dock has mixed Schengen/non-Schengen gates, our aircraft is parked on a remote stand. Which suits me just fine.

Boarding is a bit messy. First of all, there is no priority boarding. Furthermore, ‘boarding’ means that passengers are herded into a tiny holding pen and then left there to stew until their bus finally arrives. It is a lot like flying Easyjet actually – but pretentious. I figure I might as well take my time, after all I am seated on the first row, so there really is no point in getting in everybody’s way while I take pictures.

CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2.
Seat: The seating configuration on the CSeries is 2 + 3. In Business Class, one of the seats on the row of two is kept empty. On the row of three, the middle seat is blocked so that every passenger has an empty seat next to them. The cabin looks nice and has a fresh look. Everything is white and looks shiny and new. I do wonder though what it will look like one or two years down the line, because I suspect the white will not age well.

The seat is comfortable, but not very deep, which means you cannot really slide forward too much. The video screens are quite simply ridiculously small. I mean, they are so small that you can hardly make out anything on them.

SWISS does not have a cabin divider on this aircraft. There are four rows of Business Class and the only separation is a small sign on the backrest of the aisle seat on row 4 which is marked ‘Business Class’ on the side facing forward, and ‘Economy Class’ on the side facing the rear of the aircraft.
Pitch: 32 inches that slowly decrease to 30 inches by row 5.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, clothes hook.
Audio and Video: Small overhead screen showing the safety on board instructions and moving map.

Swiss_Airlines_Bombardier_CS100.jpg

Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

IMG_3103.jpg

SERVICE
As on my previous flight with SWISS to Malta, the first thing that strikes me is that the female crew really have way too much make-up on. Talk about laying it on thick…! But looks are only skin deep and I have to say, the maître de working the Business Class cabin is very good at her job and very friendly.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Bottle of Henniez still water.
Towel before the meal: Prepacked scented towel served on the ground.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Meal:

  • Roast beef slices and potato salad.
  • Plate of cheese.
  • Selection from the breadbasket.
  • Strawberry mousse with kiwi compote.

I must say, I am quite surprised by the meal service on this flight. After all, with a flight time of only 55 minutes, to be honest I was not really expecting anything much to eat. Moreover, I must also confess that the meal is quite good (except for dessert)!

 img_3113

ARRIVAL
It is a lovely day for flying. Once the meal tray has been cleared away, I lean back and try to get some rest. It is only then that I notice just how loud the cabin actually is. I am not quite sure what the source is either. It is not the engines, because on take-off I was surprised by how quiet the engines were. But there is still a fairly loud background noise.

In Paris, SWISS uses Terminal 1, as do all the other Star Alliance partners, I think. The terminal may not be that user friendly or convenient, but God, it’s just so chic and cool!

Posted in Bombardier CS100, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Singapore_Airlines_Logo.svg

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.

IMG_3005.jpg

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.-).

IMG_3009.jpg

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.

IMG_3020.jpg

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.
Singapore_Air_Airbus_A380_B

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.

IMG_3043.jpg

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.

Posted in Airbus A 380, Business Class, Singapore Airlines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

amtrak-logo

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.

IMG_2944.jpg

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.

IMG_2960.jpg

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.

IMG_2971.jpg

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.

IMG_2935.jpg

Posted in Cape Cod | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment