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 | 15 Comments

Czech Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Amsterdam

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INTRODUCTION
The very first time I visited the city of Prague was 24 years ago, after I graduated from secondary school in Switzerland. We travelled by train, mainly because it was a lot cheaper than taking a flight in those days. Back then, the city and her inhabitants were still slowly adjusting to the advent of capitalism in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Parts of the city were shabby and run down from years of neglect. But even as an obnoxious and, admittedly, totally clueless young man, I could not help but be impressed by just how beautiful the city was.

Since then a lot of water has passed under the famous Charles Bridge. Today, Prague is a modern, confident city that has been meticulously restored to its former splendour.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The journey from the centre of Prague to the airport takes roughly thirty minutes by car. There is of course the option to take public transport, but from the location of the meeting I attended, public transport would mean taking a tram and changing metro lines twice. So a taxi it is.

CHECK-IN
There are two terminals in Prague. Fortunately, my driver is a knowledgeable guy. So when he asks me ‘which terminal’ and draws a blank, he just asks me where I’m going. I explain I’m heading for Amsterdam, to which he nods and says ‘Terminal 2’. Well okay, if you say so…

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Terminal 2 is a strange building. The check-in area is essentially one very big hall with a few rows of check-in counters. I’m not sure how long the facility has been open, but they appear to still be working on half the check-in area.

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Czech Airlines have their own row of counters and there is one dedicated row for SkyPriority passengers.

SkyPriority passengers are entitled to use the fact track at security. The airport is not very, so the process is painless and swift.

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LOUNGE
Czech Airlines does not have its own lounge in Prague and uses the Premier contractor lounge operated by Prague airport.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. The decoration of the lounge is a question of personal taste, I guess. But it gives the impression of being rather gloomy and dark.

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Food options are limited to finger food and light snacks.

BOARDING
Boarding starts exactly on time at 16:55, as indicated on the boarding pass. There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers, who are invited to board first. The gate agent announces that the flight is very full and therefore, oversized pieces of luggage will need to be checked in.

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CABIN
My first impression of the cabin is very good. I rather like the colours and I think it’s just brilliant that Czech Airlines has decided not to follow the trend of using leather seat covers

The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small tray table that folds out of the back of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Legroom on the first row is also good. There are two rows of Business Class with a total of eight seats, five of which are occupied on this evening’s flight.

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THE CREW
There are two female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. One of them is very charming and all smiles as I step on board. The other looks very serious. But it later turns out that that is her default facial expression and in facts she’s very friendly and takes good care of the passengers in the forward cabin.

THE MEAL
A welcome drink is served on the gorund. There is a choice of water, sparkling wine or orange juice. Although it’s a bit of a shame the drinks are served in plastic cups.

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As soon as the crew is released after take-off, the service begins. The cabin crew place a table cloth of crisps, white linen each tray table. Much to my surprise, one of them informs me that, apparently, I’ve ordered a vegetarian meal. She notices the look of surprise on my face and tells me that the standard meal is also available if I’d rather have that. But I decide to stick the veggie meal that’s been ordered for me.

Even more to my surprise, the meal is actually rather nice and consists of a plate of raw vegetables. I’m quite amazed at how crisp everything has managed to stay. For dessert I have a bowl of fresh fruit. The tray comes with a refreshing towel and a small tub of margarine.

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My only complaint about the meal is that it might have been nice to have some olive oil or vinegar to put on the veg.

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After the meal I have a cup of coffee. Kudos to Czech Airlines for serving coffee that is hot and not just tepid.

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The tray is removed and shortly afterwards we start our descent into Amsterdam.

CONCLUSION
To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting anything much from Czech Airlines. In fact, I suspected I would be treated to another sad experience with an airline the world doesn’t really need and that nobody would really miss. But I have to say, I am quite impressed. The crew were friendly, the seat was comfortable enough and the food was not bad at all.

Posted in Airbus A 319, Business Class, Czech Airlines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hilton Am Stadtpark, Vienna

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I don’t think I’m overly picky when it comes to hotels. Especially not when I’m travelling for business. As long as the hotel is clean and in a convenient location I’m usually quite happy.

During this week’s course in Vienna, Austria I stayed at the Hilton am Stadtpark. Admittedly, the location of the hotel is excellent, in close proximity to the centre of the city and within walking distance of many very good restaurants. The station for the airport train is literally on the other side of the road from the hotel.

But apart from that, I definitely cannot recommend this hotel and certainly will not be returning here any time soon unless I really have to. The rooms are old and dated and look as though they were last renovated in the nineties. The temperature in the building is also a problem. The rooms are severely overheated, the air conditioning doesn’t work and the windows can only be tilted to let in some fresh air.

Other than that, no matter when you go down for breakfast, you always have to queue for at least 15 minutes before you are given a table. What’s more, the breakfast buffet is rather bland, everything tastes prefabricated and rather boring and the cook will even manage to burn a simple thing like an omelette or a fried egg! Of course I’m aware of the fact that tastes are different but all in all, I think it is hardly worth it to pay EUR31 for the breakfast at this hotel.

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The queue for breakfast

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The queue for breakfast

Posted in Business Class, Vienna | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Skywork Airlines has suspended operations as of Sunday, 29 October 2017.

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About two minutes before I board my flight to Amsterdam on Saturday, I receive a text message from Skywork Airlines informing me that they have not managed to secure an operating licence from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation due to lack of funding. I am also advised that therefore all flights for the next day, including mine from Amsterdam to Berne, have been cancelled.

Perhaps not quite suite so surprising, I receive another text message just after I arrive in Amsterdam from them, informing me that the lines are busy and that so, should I have any queries, I had better send an email.

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Personally, I can’t really say I incurred any serious damages from these recent developments at Skywork – except perhaps for the fact that at 43 years of age I have still never managed to fly into the airport of Switzerland’s capital city – which I had hoped to remedy with the cancelled flight.

I think that right now the industry is more surprised that SkyWork managed to survive for as long as it has. I suspect that for a long time the small carrier had hoped to be able to come to some sort of arrangement with SWISS, similar to the one between the larger carrier and Helvetic Airways. But if that were truly the case, then I think SkyWork’s management must be really naïve.

Apparently, the airline’s management is still working hard to secure the necessary funds. But to he honest, I won’t hold my breath, which is a shame really, because I rather liked SkyWork.

 

Posted in Economy Class, Saab 2000, Skywork | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

KLM Cityhopper, Economy Class – Fokker 70: curtain call

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INTRODUCTION
This post is not so much about the flight experience – after all, KLM has received its fair share of coverage here over the years. No, today marks the end of revenue service for the Fokker 70 with KLM Cityhopper.

I managed to take no less than 90 flights on this little aeroplane. I experienced one burst tyre and three rejected take-offs on the Fokker 70. And so I figured it might be nice to send this sturdy and reliable workhorse a last salute before the curtain call.

Today will be my 91st flight on the F70. It will probably also be my last.

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LOUNGE
Fortunately, the Swissport lounge in Basel has an open air terrace from which you have some good views of the runway and the approaching traffic. It’s quite breezy this afternoon. But hey, it’s not every day you have to say farewell to an old friend…

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My flight arrives in Basel with a slight delay. As the aircraft turns off the runway it comes into earshot and I am greeted with the familiar whining sound of the Rolls Royce Tay engines. This is where it starts to dawn on me that I’m probably going to miss this noisy little bugger.

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BOARDING
Most stands at Basel are open, which is of course good news for me. There is a buzz of excitement at the gate and most of the Dutch passengers on the flight today are aware of the fact that they are becoming a part of history by taking this flight. And so, rather than having to feel self-conscious about taking pictures, I actually find myself having to elbow my way in between the Dutch grannies to get a good spot.

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SERVICE & CREW
The crew are obviously in a good mood and this last flight is a special event for them too. During the turnaround they can be seen walking around the aircraft taking pictures and selfies as a souvenir.

Once we’re on board, the captain comes on the speaker to welcome us to ‘the last Fokker 70 flight out of Basel with KLM. Ever.’ Apparently, our particular flight will do another short hop to Hannover later on, and that will then be it. It’s quite sad actually.

THE CABIN
The one thing I think I will always remember about the F70 is the noise of the ventilation system, which sounds as though it were directly linked to the engines. When ever the engine thrust is increased, the volume of air being pushed through the ventilation system increases too, producing roughly the same effect you might achieve by turning on your hair dryer to full volume and pointing it directly at your ear from a distance of about 1 cm…

Other than that though, the cabin is in good condition. KLM has taken good care of these aircraft and the facelift the cabin received just a few years back certainly gave the Fokker 70 a new lease on life. 

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ARRIVAL
We land in Amsterdam with a slight delay and are then treated to the grand tour of Amsterdam, otherwise known as a Polderbaan arrival. As we turn the corner, the Fokker Farm comes into view, which is apparently the colloquial term for the ramp on which the KLM Cityhoppers are usually parked. The other seven remaining F70s are already here too. The crew of one of the aircraft is just disembarking, all of them taking pictures. And as we pass them, they all send us a cheery wave.

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The usurper

CONCLUSION
And so comes to an end my farewell trip on the Fokker 70. The aircraft is being replaced in the fleet of KLM Cityhopper with the Embraer 175, which is definitely newer, quieter and probably more fuel-efficient than the old Fokkers. From a passenger’s point of view though, I think the Embraer 175 can hardly match the Fokker for comfort.

Later on the same day operations will come to an end with the arrival of the last Fokker 70 flight from London Heathrow. The British capital was deliberately chosen for the last flight because the very first international revenue service of a Fokker aircraft on behalf of KLM had also been to London, back in 1920. And then the Fokker 70 will be relegated to history.

Good bye Fokker 70. And thanks for all the memories!

http://news.klm.com/the-fokker-70s-final-commercial-flights/

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Posted in Economy Class, Fokker F 70, KLM | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Emirates Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Dubai to Amsterdam

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I awake to my 43rd birthday at five in the morning at the Sofitel Downtown Dubai. I’ve spent the whole week giving a course in Al Ain and now it’s finally time to head home. So I shall be spending a large part of my birthday on an Airbus A380 somewhere between heaven and earth. I could think of worse ways to spend the day…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Emirates’ chauffeur service really works rather well and can be booked online when you make your flight reservation. From what I understand, there is a maximum range for the drop-you off/pick-up at the outstations, but from their hub in Dubai the service covers all of the Emirates.

One day before I’m scheduled to fly, I even receive a text message from Emirates to confirm the service with the time of the pick-up.

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The Sofitel Downtown is located on Sheikh Zayed Road, within walking distance of the Burj Khalifa and right next door to the metro station by the same name. The journey from the hotel to the airport will take you about 20 minutes by car. Although if you’re traveling in the evening, it is likely to be significantly longer with all the traffic. In fact, unless you are, like me, travelling in the wee hours of the morning, I really would recommend you take the metro to the airport instead and save yourself some serious agro.

By metro it’s 36 minutes on the red line from the Sofitel to the airport and a single ticket will cost AED14.

CHECK-IN
Emirates has a dedicated terminal for First Class and Business Class passengers, which is fairly deserted this morning. Check-in is swift and my suitcase is tagged all the way to my final destination. There are not many passengers checking in at this time of day and half the check-in counters are closed.

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In contrast, the transit area is packed with bleary eyed transfer passengers –Emirates’ bread and butter – transiting through Dubai on the carrier’s morning wave.

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LOUNGE
The flight today is leaving from the C concourse, which is in the original midfield terminal at Dubai and is thus much older than the A and B piers that were purpose built for the A380. As a result, there is no segregation between Economy Class passengers and Business Class/First Class passengers. It’s also quite a schlep from the security check-point to the C concourse.

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The Emirates lounge on the C concourse is much smaller than those on the A and B concourses too. It’s a bit gloomy and looks quite old-fashioned, although the latter can also be said of the other lounges, which are somewhat conservative in their design.

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BOARDING
Boarding is from gate C25 and there is a long queue to enter the holding pen. Once boarding starts, Business Class passengers are invited to head one floor up via the escalators to board the upper deck of the aircraft.

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THE CABIN
The aircraft deployed on the Amsterdam route do not have a First Class cabin. So upon entering the aircraft on the upper deck, you find yourself in the Economy Class cabin. During boarding this isn’t really such an issue, and the fact that the Business Class cabin is located in the aft of the aircraft means you don’t have half the aircraft filing past you through the cabin. However, it also means that when deplaning, Business Class passengers have to wait for most of the upper deck to disembark before they can finally get off the plane.

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I don’t much like the design of the cabin. The colours are not especially attractive, the faux wood panelling is just tacky and overall the cabin is starting to look a bit dated, especially when compared to what airlines like Air France or Qatar Airways offer these days. Even so, the layout of the seat is good and if you’re seated on an A or K seat, there is a lot of storage space. The A and K seats are also very private.

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
The Emirates ICE inflight entertainment system is just brilliant and offers a huge selection of films, television programmes, games, etc. As a rule, I don’t normally have any use for the IFE. However, on this flight, I manage to watch two Pirates of the Caribbean films (don’t judge, okay…) and a whole season of the Big Bang Theory.

THE CREW & SERVICE
A while back I had the impression that Emirates went through a bit of a bad patch with their cabin crew and the on board service. I suspect their growth was so rapid that perhaps this may have had a negative impact on cabin crew training. But that appears to have been remedied and the crew on this flight, as on the outbound, are friendly and professional.

On daytime flights, Emirates does not distribute amenity kits. However, socks and eye shades can be found in the seat and tooth brushes and shaving kits are available in the toilets.

The service before on the ground consists of a selection of juices and champagne for a welcome drink, the distribution of the menus and the rather nicely scented, thick hot towels.

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THE MEAL
On the morning flight leaving Dubai for Amsterdam there are two meal services. Immediately after take-off a light breakfast is served, which is delivered on one tray. It consists of

  • a yoghurt,
  • a raisin brioche,
  • butter and jam
  • a bowl of cold cuts, cheese and cucumber
  • a choice of juices and coffee or tea.

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Just over two hours out of Amsterdam the main meal is served, which is lunch. Much to my surprise, it’s still the same menu they were offering when I last flew with Emirates back in April this year.

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Back then, I had opted for the chicken main course, which was not very good. The two other options for the hot meal do not sound too appealing either. And so, instead, I decide to have two starters: the tomato soup and the fish appetiser.

The food is served on one tray and includes a small salad, a glass of still water and one roll. The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket during the service.

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The dessert is served separately once the tray has been cleared away.

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CONCLUSION
Emirates has managed to establish itself as the industry benchmark for comfort in travel, through a whole series of innovations in all service classes, both in the air and on the ground. However, on this trip I got the impression that their product is gradually starting to get a bit long in the tooth. The lounges are starting to look old-fashioned and dated and their Business Class cabin can no longer keep up with the competition either. I think they’re still a good airline, but I think they’re going to have to work a bit harder to make sure that stays that way. In future, they will not be able to rely solely on the reputation they have built for themselves over the years.

Other than that, I still think the Airbus A380 is ugly as sin. But the passenger experience remains impressive, each time I fly with this beast. Apart from the fact that it is truly is quite difficult to wrap your brain around the fact that something so big can actually fly, the sound in the cabin is just so quiet.

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

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

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TRANSFER IN HEATHROW
I just arrived in London from Madrid on a Boeing 777-200. By the time the bus ejects me on the ground floor of Terminal 5, I have one hour left to make my connection to Basel. So I head up to the transit area and then from there through the automatic boarding pass scanners and on to the escalators that take you up one more floor to the security check area. Only, the queue for security has become so long that they’ve had to turn off the escalators, because passengers are queueing on them and are backed up all the way down to the lower floor.

BOARDING
Eventually, an eternity later, I actually manage to make it through security. I have just enough time to head for the departure gate. As soon as I arrive there, boarding starts. At least this is something that BA does really well: there is a separate queue for passengers with priority, which is boarded first.

From what I can tell, there are eleven rows of Business Class on today’s flight. And by the looks of it, all the seats are taken.

CABIN AND SEAT
This must be a newer addition to the BA fleet. First of all, because it is fitted with the new sharklet type winglets. And secondly, because it is also already fitted in BA’s new cabin. It looks nice, but like all the other fun innovations BA has recently introduced, the main objective of the refurbishment is obviously to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Which translates into one of the tightest pitches out there right now.

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THE CREW
There are two crew working the Business Class cabin today, who seem very friendly. The maître de in particular is professional and courteous.

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THE MEAL
I think we already established on the previous flight that BA’s meal service has seriously taken a beating. Previously, BA would offer a lovely tea service on flights departing in the afternoon. On today’s flight there are two meal options: one is a ploughman’s platter and the other is the afternoon tea. I decide to go with the latter. But this meal is a far cry from what it used to be and consists of three rather small finger sandwiches and a slice of some sweet creamy cake. That’s it.

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ARRIVAL
The flight time to Basel is short at one hour and ten minutes. The ground is wet when we land and it looks as though we came in just behind some severe rain showers passing through the area.

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The airport is busy, but even so the queue for passport control is manageable.

CONCLUSION
Wow, British Airways really is in a sad state right now and service standards have obviously slipped considerably. In addition, their hub at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is nothing short of a nightmare during peak hours. Add to that the fact that you have to go through security when travelling through the UK, the overall passenger experience really is not particularly enjoyable anymore and not one I want to repeat anytime soon. I don’t like!

Posted in Airbus A 320, British Airways, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 777-200: Madrid to London Heathrow

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TRANSFER IN BARAJAS
My flight from Jerez comes to a standstill on stand K103, which is the one but last stand on the north side of Madrid’s terminal 4. My onward connection will be departing from gate S35 in the satellite terminal across the apron. The satellite is connected to the main terminal building by light railway, which makes the journey in about five minutes.

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The only problem though, is that there is a passport check once you get to the other side. And there are people everywhere. It looks as though half of Latin America has decided to congregrate in Madrid’s T4S. It’s round about this time that I start to wonder about the things I do just to fly on a particular aircraft. I could have taken the Iberia flight from Madrid back to Basel – no hassle, non non-Schengen. But no, I had to go with the mighty tripple seven.

There are separate counters for Schengen passport holders, but even this queue is endless, which is hardly surprising given that most of the people in the queue have probably never heard of Schengen. But anyway, eventually it takes me 20 minutes just to reach the head of the queue.

When I finally arrive at the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of preparation for departure. I take the stairs down to the ground floor to catch the bus to the aircraft, only to find it is nearly empty. Eventually, we make our way across the apron. Me and the remaining five passengers.

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Still, one has to look on the bright side: it’s not every day that you get to board a wide-body on a remote stand…

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CABIN
The British Airways cabin is rather unique, with half the seats facing towards the rear of the aircraft and the other half facing forward. The nice thing about this is that if, like me, you like airplanes (you may have guessed), you have a good view of the wing and engines, without having to contort to look back. The window seats are all rear facing.

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Other than that, I really don’t like BA’s long-haul seat. First of all, where other carriers are moving to four seats abreast in their Business Class cabins, British Airways managed to squeeze in a staggering eight seats. The upshot being that there is little to no storage space once you’re in the seat. There is a drawer at floor level, but this is so small that even my 15’ MacBook won’t fit. Also, the seat is fairly low and not particularly convenient to get out of, especially for elderly or less mobile persons. I could go on about all the things I don’t like about this seat and cabin configuration. Suffice to say it is quite apparent that BA’s hardware in Business Class is designed for mass production rather than quality.

Apart from all that, this particular aircraft is also in exceptionally bad condition. There are bits hanging from the ceiling where the panelling has not been properly mounted and the seat and floor are quite simply filthy with old dirt. I don’t mean the kind of oops-we-forgot-to-vacuum dirt but rather the biohazard variety that comes from years of neglect.

CREW
The crew seems friendly enough. I suppose it’s a question of personal preference whether a person uses make-up or not. But I also think it’s a thin line between looking well turned-out and looking like a total slapper. Strangely enough, many British females tends to overdo the make-up and end up falling into the latter category.

We move off stand slightly behind schedule and taxi out to runway 36L for departure. It’s a lovely day for flying and despite the fact that the airport is very busy this time of day, our wait is not too long.

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The fight time is announced as one hour and fifty-five minutes.

THE MEAL
The service begins with the distribution of those flimsy little hot towels. After that, drinks are served with a small packet of cashew nuts.

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BA recently introduced a new meal concept on its European Business Class product, which essentially means they’re trying to reduce costs further by offering less food. And what a sad meal it is! There is a choice between a cheese and beef panino and a chicken and potato salad.

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I decide to go with the beef and cheese panino. The crew hands me the tray, on which there is one plate with two panini and another with dessert. I really have to say this must be one of the most unattractive looking meal trays I’ve ever seen on a Business Class flight. I fully appreciate that all airlines need to reduce their costs to survive, but does that really mean serving meals with such an apparent lack of attention to detail?

By the time the tray is removed, we’re still forty minutes out of Heathrow. I ask the crew if perhaps I might have a cup of coffee, which is apparently not something they want to encourage. Grudgingly, one of them eventually brings me a cup and plonks is on my tray table. Charming, I’m sure…

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ARRIVAL
Surprisingly, we’re not sent into a holding, which makes a nice change from what normally happens at Heathrow. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we’re running late. Our approach brings us in from the east, right over the city, and I am reminded of just how much I really love London. I think I should plan for a visit some time soon. But maybe not necessarily on BA…

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We park on a remote stand. But apparently, the ground services were not expecting us. There are no busses to bring passengers to the terminal. Eventually, after ten minutes on the stand without anything much happening, one lonely bus eventually does pull up next to the aircraft. I’m just not quite sure they’ll manage to fit in all the passengers of a full triple seven into one standard size bus though…

CONCLUSION
The problem with large airlines like British Airways or Lufthansa is that their home markets are huge and can be relied on. As such, they don’t really have an incentive to do better. Because unlike me, most people will prefer to take a direct flight over an connection via another hub. And it shows. The hardware of BA’s product is old, worn and unattractive. The service and the food are bland and boring.

But apart from all that, I also think there has been a continuous deterioration in standards recently and I cannot help but feel that British Airways is going to the dogs.

Posted in Boeing B 777-200, British Airways, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iberia, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Jerez to Madrid

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
After two months on the ground, I finally resumed my travels last Friday with a flight from Zürich to Madrid and then from there on to Jerez, where I gave a presentation on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements and the need to also assess native speakers of English.

I wouldn’t have minded staying a little longer, the weather in Jerez was lovely. But alas, tomorrow I shall already be underway for my next trip. So I really should be heading home.

In Jerez I’m staying at the Hotel Casa Grande, which is right in the centre of town overlooking a quaint little square.

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The taxi picks me up outside the hotel just after eight in the morning. The journey to the airport takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, depending on the level of insane Spanish driving that you encounter, and will set you back about EUR20. There are busses to and from the airport too, and there is even a railway station opposite the terminal. But both the busses and trains are infrequent and the schedule is not always convenient.

CHECK-IN
I’ve already checked in using the Iberia app, the reliability of which is a bit of a hit or miss affair – but mostly miss. In the name of investigative blogging (yeah, right…), I nonetheless check out the departures area, to find that Iberia has two counters open for its flights to Madrid: one counter for regular passengers and another for Business Class passengers and status holders.

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The terminal is an interesting building that looks more like a railway station, with a high ceiling and a mezzanine floor overlooking the check-in hall.

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BOARDING
Security is swift and efficient. Once you’re airside, there are five departure gates. There is also a small café and of course a duty free shop. And that’s just about it really. There is no lounge, so I’m roughing it in the common gate area and hoping I won’t catch anything…

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Just after nine in the morning the gate agent appears. Is that blue make-up she’s wearing? I thought that had gone out of fashion when ABBA broke up many moons ago. I really make my best effort to supress a laugh when I see her, because she looks and behaves just like that woman from Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. You know, the one with the wingtip spectacles that’s just come out of the asylum.

Her face, the gate agent’s that is, is set in a perpetual pout and she’s squinting her heavily made-up eyes as though she can barely see a thing. Boarding starts somewhat unceremoniously when she yells out to the public at large ‘Madrid, embarque passajeros de priority’. Looks like we’re boarding.

Aaaand, jackpot! Jerez does not have airbridges, so we’re having to walk across the apron to our aircraft and board using the stairs. Cool! It’s a shame the sun is directly facing, but I think I still manage to take a few good photos of my chariot to Madrid.

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CABIN
I am seated on 10F, which is a window seat on the emergency exit of the A 319. This aircraft looks slightly different from the A 319 on my flight from Zürich. First of all, where that aircraft had the typical Recaro slimline seat most European carriers seem to favour these days, this model has the same type of seat as Air France. The cabin divider is also different.

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The legroom is good on the emergency exit. The only drawback is that the armrests on the emergency exit row are shorter. As such, they’re just a bit too short to be able to comfortably rest your arm on them.

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CREW
The crew consists of a female purser in her mid-fifties, I should think, and two young men that look, quite frankly, as though they’ve never previously seen the inside of an airplane and don’t exactly instil confidence. Also, their English is atrocious, verging on non-existent.

Just past our scheduled departure time at 09h30, the captain comes on the blower to announce a slight delay, which is caused by a minor technical issue the ground engineer needs to sign off first. But the delay drags on and eventually we depart 45 minutes behind schedule.

SERVICE
Iberia has been offering buy on board service for a while now. On short flights such as this (one hour), they don’t even bother to bring out the trolley and all items have to be ordered using the call button for the cabin crew.

I’ve never liked the concept of buy on board, but so far I’ve never really been able to explain, rationally, why that is. It’s not the money I think. It just never really felt right. On this flight though, I think it finally dawns on me what it is exactly that bothers me. Or rather what it is about full-service airlines that I prefer: the on board service, is, quite simply, the only opportunity the airline gets to interact with its customers. And that is the only thing they can leverage to set themselves apart. Even if you only get a packet of stale biscuits. There is always some interaction with the crew and, by extension, the brand. But on a buy on board airline, the interaction only becomes possible once, or if, the customer decides to make a purchase.

And this flight is a good example of that. The seat is in the same boring grey you get on Lufthansa, for example, and apart from the inflight magazine and the crew’s uniform, there is nothing in the cabin that might indicate to you that this is an Iberia aircraft or that you’re going to enjoy the typical Iberia experience.

ARRIVAL
The flight is uneventful and eventually we land in Barajas just after 11h20.

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By the time we come to a stop at our assigned stand, it’s already 11h30. I now have fifty minutes to make my onward connection.

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Mamà Framboise, Madrid

Mamà Framboise is a confiserie and patisserie with various shops scattered around Madrid. I visited the one in the Recoleto quarter of the city, which is located on the ground floor of a mall just off the surprisingly named Plaza Margaret Thatcher (Say what?)

The service concept is a bit strange, mainly because the staff are all too busy to explain properly. But it’s still worth it. First you have to wait to be assigned a table by one of the waiting staff. Once you have a table, you can then go back to the entrance and queue at the counter to place your order and pay. The food will then be brought to your table. The queues can be rather long, but they tend to move quickly. Besides, the delicacies they serve are, in my humble opinion, well worth the wait.

I went with the Tiramisù and the Blueberry Cheesecake, both of which were sinfully good and oh so tasty. The cheesecake was filled with fresh blueberries and the combination of coffee and chocolate in the Tiramisù was heavenly.

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My partner went with the Chocolate Sacher and Caramel, both of which were also very good.

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www.mamaframboise.com

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Segovia, Spain

Segovia lies about 70 kilometres north of Madrid. To reach the town by train, you have to catch a RENFE mid-haul train from Chamartin, which is the main station for all trains heading north from the Spanish capital. The journey to Segovia only takes 27 minutes, with the train travelling at an impressive top speed of 250 km/h for most of the journey. The railway station of Segovia is literally out in the sticks though. You exit the station building to find cows grazing in the fields opposite.

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To get into town you can either take the bus lines 11 and 12 or you can take a taxi. The journey takes between 10 and 15 minutes by bus. The bus services are infrequent, but they are timed to coincide with the arrivals and departures of the trains. So it’s best to check for trains back to the station once you arrive at the city centre.

The centrepiece of Segovia is the Roman aqueduct that is believed to have been constructed in 98 A. D. Apart from its impressive length and height, the amazing thing about the aqueduct is that the building blocks are held together by precision and weight only. There is no mortar or anything of the sort to keep them in place.

Other than that, there is the Alcazar, which lies on the opposite side of the city from the aqueduct. The castle is rather strange because it does not really fit in, architecturally, with the rest of the buildings in the town and looks more like a French château, and not like something you would expect to find in Spain.

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For EUR2.50 you can go up the tower of the Alcazar. I can highly recommend doing this. It’s only 156 steps and from the top you have these amazing views of the surrounding countryside and those big skies you rarely get to see in a place as mountainous and densely populated as Sitzerland, where I live.

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I had three hours to walk around and explore the old town, which I really enjoyed. If you can make it, I would definitely recommend a visit to Segovia.

 

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