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

Royal Air Maroc, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Casablanca to Paris Orly

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INTRODUCTION
I wake up this morning to find it’s raining. The light outside is strange, with the sun trying to push through the cloud while the rain is still pelting down. We’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about how long it takes to leave the country, so we’ve decided to make an early start.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
We exit the hotel just after 8 in the morning. The journey from Mohammedia to the airport should take roughly an hour and we still need to refuel our car and return it to Europcar.

About five minutes into the drive the heavens open. At least this will hopefully slow down the traffic which is ‘interesting’ here in Morocco, to say the least… Theoretically, you could also take the train all the way from Mohammadia to the airport, but I don’t think I have the nerve for that this morning.

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CHECK-IN
We return the car without any issues and then make our way towards the terminal. And this is where the fun starts. To enter the terminal, you first have to go through security and have your passport checked (1). Fortunately, you only need to show your passport and not your ticket, because I only have that in electronic form.

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From there I head one floor up to the departures level. Royal Air Maroc operates out of terminal 2. There is a dedicated area for Business Class passengers. The check-in agent is not overly friendly and not overly bright I don’t think. There are immigration forms on the counter, but it doesn’t occur to her to point out to me that I might need to complete one of these for immigration, even when she checks my passport (2).

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From check-in I head for the dedicated fast track for security and passport control. To enter the fast track area, again you have to show your passport (3). Immediately behind the security check is the passport control (4), where my passport is checked and stamped. And then behind passport control there is another guy who checks your passport (5) before allowing you inside the actual airside part of the terminal.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The lounge really doesn’t look like anything much to write home about. In addition, I’m here with the wiry R., whose flight to Brussels will be leaving 5 minutes after mine. So instead of staying in the lounge by myself, we decide to have a coffee and this really tasty chocolate thing at one of the many cafés in the terminal.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts twenty minutes behind schedule, due to a medical case that needs to be boarded first. When eventually boarding starts, I first show the gate agent my passport (6) and boarding pass, which he scans. Immediately behind the boarding gate another guy is already waiting to inspect my passport (7). And then finally, before I can enter the airbridge, I actually have to show my passport again (8)!

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THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is quite nice. Royal Air Maroc has a dedicated Business Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I really like the colours of the cabin and seats. The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the fact that the seats are covered in leather rather than cloth.

Other than that though, the seat is comfortable. There is a pillow on every seat when I board the plane. The leg room is good and even when the woman in front of me reclines her seat, I still have more than enough space. There is also an extendable footrest.

Mind though that there are no power plugs on the seat.

For inflight entertainment, Royal Air Maroc uses a system called Sky-RAM. You need to download the Royal Air Marco app first. Once that’s done, you can turn on the wifi and watch films, listen to music, etc. on your own device for free.

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SERVICE
The service in the Business Class cabin is done by a really friendly and very charming young Moroccan lady. While we’re still on the ground, she passes through the cabin with a selection of drinks. She also distributes newspapers and magazines.

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Once we’re airborne, the maître de distributes the menus, which have the same intricate pattern as the bulkhead. Before the meal service begin, the crew hand out hot towels that are scented with jasmine.

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THE MEAL
The meal service is really the highlight of this flight. We start with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne and a bag of salted almonds.

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Shortly after, the table is set. The trays are then brought out individually and contain the first course and the dessert.

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The first course is a plate of honey-marinated scallops with salad and asparagus. This is quite good and the vinaigrette served with the meal goes well with the lemon as a dressing for the scallops.

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No sooner has the first course been removed that the hot meals are brought out. Royal Air Maroc places all the hot meals on a cart, which is nicely decorated with roses. There is a choice of lamb tagine or chicken breast in a cream sauce with rice and vegetables. I decide to go with the latter, and it really is good. The vegetables are not at all soggy and don’t give you the impression of having been cooked to death. The chicken has a tasty grill flavour and the rice also very flavourful.

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After the hot meal, the plates are removed and the cheese cart is rolled out. Blimey! There is a choice of five different cheeses. I make the mistake of asking to try a small piece of each one. But obviously the charming young lady’s interpretation of ‘small’ is not the same as mine and she cuts me a large chunk of each cheese. The cheese is served with bread, crackers and fruit.

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And then finally, it’s time to tackle the dessert which has been eyeing me all through the meal. The wiry R. would be drooling right now if he saw this. It’s a tasty pecan caramel pie that is simply lovely. I really wish more airlines would make desserts like this. Seriously, it’s divine. The pasty is crumbly and buttery. The caramel is sweet, with a subtle hint of salt.

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The meal concludes with a glass of sweet Moroccan tea, served from a dainty little silver tea pot.

ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Paris Orly just slightly ahead of schedule. Royal Air Maroc operates out of the south terminal, together with all the other carriers from the Maghreb. But the process is fairly swift and efficient and within just a few minutes I’m through passport control and already have my suitcase back.

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And now I shall kick back and enjoy the weekend in Paris! To get into town, I exit the terminal through door C and then take the shuttle bus to the RER station Pont de Rungis. A ticket on the shuttle will cost EUR2.-. From Pon de Rungis I take the RER train to the Gare d’Austerlitz. That ticket costs EUR10.40.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I must admit I was quite surprised by Royal Air Maroc. Quite frankly, I thought they were going to be a real stinker. But it turns out their service is in fact quite professional and elaborate. Admittedly, I’m not so sure I’d want to connect through Casablanca – their hub – which is just tedious and really very boring. But other than that I don’t think I’d mind having to travel with them again.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Business Class, Royal Air Maroc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Air Nostrum, Business Class – Bombardier CRJ1000: Madrid to Casablanca

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Wednesday morning and we’re running a day late, which means we’re going to miss the start of the user group meeting in Mohammedia. On a positive note though, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day here in Madrid.

We take the Hilton airport shuttle at 08h00, which get us to terminal 4 around ten minutes later.

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CHECK-IN
There is a separate check-in area for Business Class passengers. The nice thing about Madrid’s terminal 4 is that no matter what time of day you come here, there never seems to be anyone there. And today is no different.

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There is a dedicated fast track for security for Business Class passengers.

THE LOUNGE
As our flight is operating to a non-Schengen country, the flight will be departing from the satellite terminal, which can only be reached as a passenger by airside metro. The journey across will take a little more than five minutes.

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The entrance to the lounge is literally in the middle of the duty free shop, which as good a place as any I guess.

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I think the only thing one can criticise about this lounge is that it has no toilets and showers. Other than that though, I think this is really one of the nicest lounges I’ve ever been to. Of course it helps that, like the rest of the terminal, the place is more or less deserted. But even so, the lounge has a very elegant, understated look and feel and the light filtering in through the blinds casts some nice shadows across the otherwise bright space.

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The food and drinks options are also very good and the way everything is presented is simple but nice.

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BOARDING
We leave the lounge about ten minutes before boarding should be begin. But by the time we reach the gate just a few minutes later, the status of the flight is already ‘gate closing’. We head through the gate and then downstairs to where a bus is waiting to bring us to our aircraft. And then we wait.

At this point I should perhaps comment that I’ve never been on a flight with Iberia which did not include Spaniards bitching about the sad state of their national airline. It seems to be a bit of a national sport and I’m not even quite sure why. And this flight is no different. All of a sudden, a young man steps outside and starts complaining to the bus driver about how scandalous it is to keep us waiting in such a tight bus (this guy has obviously never experienced rush hour on the Central line…).

In any case, eventually we drive off and a short while later our bus pulls up in front of our aircraft for today’s flight, a Bombardier CRJ1000 of Air Nostrum.

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THE CABIN
I have already commented a few times that I really, really do not like the CRJ series of aircraft. I find them very cramped and uncomfortable. But fortunately, this aircraft has some decent seats with a good enough amount of padding to be comfortable.

The seating configuration is 2 + 2 throughout, even in Business Class. Initially, I’m sitting next to the wiry R., who has managed to snag the window. But once boarding is completed, the cabin attendant himself comes to point out to me that I may shift to the other side of the aisle, where both seats are still empty.

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SERIVCE
The cabin crew consists of a young male and a young female flight attendant. The male is really good at his job. He’s personable and tries to anticipate any wishes his passengers may have. The young lady is okay, but I think she might improve if she were less focussed on looking pretty.

While we’re still on the ground the crew pass through the cabin with a good selection of Spanish and international newspapers and distribute pre-packed scented towels.

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THE MEAL
I think the meal service on Air Nostrum is probably better than the one you get on Iberia. The breakfast consists of a bowl of fruit, gazpacho soup and a choice of either toast with olive oil and cheese or a ham and cheese quiche. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the breadbasket.

For the main dish I go with the toast and cheese, which is simple but nice. My first choice from the breadbasket is a nice big croissant. The second time they pass through the cabin, I have the other pastry, which is filled with some sort of vanilla cream and is also excellent.

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Shortly after the trays have been removed, the strait of Gibraltar comes into view. And I must say, it really is quite a sight to behold. It also makes you realise just how close Europe really is to Africa.

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We cross into Africa and I’m surprised by how lush and green everything looks! I must admit I was kind of expecting desert all the way… Eventually we start our descent, flying over vast stretches of farmland.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Casablanca more or less on time. The airport is fairly busy and as a result, it takes us a whole hour of queueing at passport control before we are finally allowed into the country. You need to complete an embarkation card to enter, but nobody will bother to tell you that in advance and the signposting is non-existent.

Posted in Air Nostrum, Bombardier CRJ1000, Business Class, Iberia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Iberia, Business Class, Airbus A 319: Zürich to Madrid

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INTRODUCTION
I’m now into my fourth week of travel and in looks like this is going to be another one of those trips…: I’m on my way to Casablanca for the user group meeting. But because I’m teaching until 13h30 on Tuesdays and the meeting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, my choices for flights are somewhat limited. Which is why, initially, I booked myself on an Air France service from Zürich via Paris. With that I would leave at 15h00 after teaching and would arrive in Casablanca at 21h35, so not too late. But then of course, Air France decided to go on strike…

Initially, I was rebooked by Air France on a Lufthansa service via Frankfurt, with a departure from Zürich at 20h00. The only problem with that though, is that the flight doesn’t arrive in Casablanca until 00h35, by which time the car rental office in Casablanca is already closed. So I had to come up with another option quickly…

And so I find myself on a late Tuesday afternoon on my way to Zürich airport.

CHECK-IN
Iberia checks in at Check-in 2 in Zürich and the carrier has its own dedicated counters which are, I think, manned by DNATA staff. I’ve already checked in using the app, but my luggage is heavy with all the documents I’m carting around. So I figure it will be more pleasant to check it in. The check-in agent kindly labels the case to Madrid only, seeing as I’m going to have to spend the night there, and then wishes me a pleasant journey.

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AIRSIDE
I’m travelling with the wiry R. on this trip, who clearly has a bit of a sweet tooth and is a bit of a culinary snob. And so we forfeit the comfort of the Aspire lounge in favour of the Sprüngli Café behind security and indulge in a milky coffee and a truffe du jour. Which is, admittedly, very good for the taste buds but not so good for the waste line.

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The two following pictures were taken from the airside sports bar, which has an open terrace that lets you get up quite close to the aircraft.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight is from gate B33. The B concourse is quite busy at this time of the day. There’s a slight delay to start boarding, apparently because the aircraft already arrived from Madrid behind schedule.

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CABIN
I’m seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side. Row 2 is also the bulkhead row on this side of the aircraft. On the port side though, the bulkhead is row 1. Seating on this aircraft is in your standard 2 + 2 Recaro Slimline configuration, with the middle seat on a row of three left empty. The cabin looks rather drab, in varying shades of a rather boring grey colour. The cabin isn’t really all that clean either. And it’s not the type of new ‘sorry, we’re in a hurry so we didn’t clean the cabin’ dirt, but rather the type of old crusty muck that comes from years of neglect. The seat pitch is good though.

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SERVICE
I wouldn’t go so far and say the crew are friendly, but they’re polite, helpful and very professional. They also adhere to the defined service process, which I think is rather nice.

There are no welcome drinks or towels before departure. The only thing the crew distribute on the ground are the Spanish and foreign language newspaper.

The flight time is announced as two hours.

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THE MEAL
As soon as the crew is released after take-off, one of the flight attendants comes through the cabin taking orders for dinner. There is a choice of pasta with salmon or stuffed chicken breast with green beans. I go with the latter option.

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The meal is not that bad actually. The tray contains the hot meal, a green salad with dressing, a plate of cheese and a tub of yoghurt for dessert. Bread and butter are served separately from a basket.

The salad hasn’t gone completely limp and the hot meal has a rich creamy sauce. The chicken breast is filled with some type of cream cheese, apricots and olives – which work surprisingly well together.

To drink I have a Coke Zero. Once I’m done with the meal, the flight attendant removes my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to have. So I order a coffee, which is served with a small piece of pretty decent chocolate.

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ARRIVAL
Our descent into Madrid is very atmospheric, with the setting sun putting on a spectacular show of colours.

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Eventually we land in Madrid at 21h15, slight behind schedule. Iberia calls Terminal 4 home, which I still find quite a spectacular construction! The building is massive and the design is modern and elegant. It’s also very empty!

In Madrid I’ll be staying at the Madrid Airport Hilton. It’s quite a bit away from Terminal 4, but there is a regular complimentary shuttle bus that takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.

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

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Dubai to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
I check out of the Doubletree in Al Barsha at around 21h00 on Thursday evening and make my way to the airport for the flight back to Switzerland. The departure time is scheduled for 01h35. I really don’t like these flights that leave in the middle of the night. Especially when they’re as short as the one from Dubai to Zürich. By the time you step onto the plane you’re exhausted from a really long day and no matter what you do, it’s a fact that you’re not going to get enough sleep because the flight time is not nearly long enough…

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CHECK-IN
SWISS checks in at Terminal 1, together with all the other foreign carriers at DXB. With the exception of the low-cost carriers and Hajj flights that is, which operate out of Terminal 2.

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SWISS is located on row 5. There are only two counters available: one for Economy Class and another for First Class and HON Circle passengers.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE
This is the first time I’m using the new D gates. The facility is rather nice, mainly because there are not as many people milling about as there normally are on the Emirates concourses.

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SWISS uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dubai. The lounge looks quite new and is designed in the typical Lufthansa corporate design. It’s a style that either you like or you don’t…

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The lounge is rather small and feels very cramped. So that eventually it gets too crowded for me and I decide to go for a walk through the terminal instead. Along the way, I come across these rather strange containers that I’ve never seen at any other airport. Apparently, if you have excess baggage, you can dump it in one of the containers for Dubai airport to dispose of. But I don’t get it. I mean, who would bother to make the schlep to get airside with an entire suitcase, only to dump it behind security? Is there something I’m missing here?

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THE CABIN
I’m seated on 4A, which is one of the so called throne seats. Rows 4 and 5 are the first two rows of Business Class, located between the First Class cabin and the L2 galley. With only two rows, this mini cabin feels quite intimate and a lot quieter than the larger Business Class section behind the L2 galley.

The first thing I notice about the seat is that it doesn’t seem to have aged all that well. The seat and the cabin are well maintained, that’s not what I mean. But rather, the whole cabin and seat are starting to look a bit old fashioned.

AMENITIES
As for the amenities, there’s a vanity kit at my seat, a pillow and a towel. There have been some improvements here. The vanity kit is in the shape of an aluminium tin that is Victorinox branded. It contains lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs and socks. There are additional cosmetics in the toilets.

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But perhaps the most positive development for me are the blankets. They’re really quite nice and thick. And so’s the pillow.

SERVICE
The crews are always SWISS’ weakness, I think. All of them have a rather disgruntled expression and not one of them seems to be overly enthusiastic about their job. There is no drinks service on the ground. Before we depart, the crew distribute flimsy scented hot towels. After that they pass through the cabin with the menus for the flight and the order forms for breakfast. I think this is a really good idea, because is significantly shortens the duration of the service in the morning, giving passengers more time to sleep.

As soon as we’re airborne, I extend my seat into a bed and go off to Noddy land.

SECOND MEAL SERVICE
I awake about seventy minutes out of Zürich, just as the meal service is about to start. So I quickly head for the toilets to change back into my normal clothes, ahead of the usual rush before landing.

The breakfast service consists of plain yoghurt, a bowl of fruit, two buns with butter and cherry jam, a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee and the hot meal. The latter consists of a pancake filled with scrambled egg, a hash brown and some grilled veg and spinach. The bread is really good. But the egg/pancake thing has this very strange eggy flavour with a hind of plastic. It’s really not very good.

After the meal, I ask for a second cup of coffee, which one of the younger flight attendants brings me. I say ‘thank you’ but all I get in return is ‘I’m going to have to come back to collect that now…’. Was it something I said…?

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ARRIVAL & ARRIVALS LOUNGE
Eventually we land just slightly ahead of schedule. It’s nice to be home again after two weeks. It’s also nice to be back in cooler temperatures again. Our flight ends at the E pier, from where you need to catch the underground metro to get to the main terminal area. But we’re only the second arrival of the day. So the train is not too crowded and immigration is swift.

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As soon as I collect my bags from the belt, I head out through customs and then one floor up, which is where the SWISS arrivals lounge is located. Luckily enough a shower room is available for me to freshen up before I head into the office. The arrivals lounge is nice and convenient. It’s also surprisingly empty and quiet this morning.

CONCLUSION
All in all, this wasn’t a bad flight with SWISS. I don’t think I’ll ever be fan but they got me home in one piece. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with them. I think when I next fly to Dubai Emirates will be my first choice. Simply because Dubai is their hub and they therefore have the superior product on the ground. In addition, I also think Emirates provide the better on board experience. At least their crew aren’t so grumpy all the time.

Posted in Airbus A 330-300, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300 Luxembourg via Zürich to Dubai

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INTRODUCTION
Today I’m on my way from Luxembourg to Dubai. As there are currently no direct flights between the two cities, I have a choice of connecting flights with either BA, KL, AF, LH, TK or LX. I’ve decided to fly SWISS this time, for the simple reason that their flight already arrives in Dubai at 20h45. Which is good, because from Dubai I’ll still have to travel all the way to Al Ain, where I’ll be giving a course starting early the next day. Al Ain is about ninety minutes away from Dubai by car.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Late in 2017 Luxembourg introduced a tram to the city. Right now it only runs along a short stretch of about 5km on the Kirchberg plateau. But this year the line will be opened up all the way into the city, and within three years it should also run all the way to the airport. Until then, to get to the airport by public transport I first have to get the tram to LUXEXPO, and then from there transfer onto the bus line 16. The journey from the Kirchberg to the airport takes no more than 20 minutes to complete.

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CHECK-IN & SECURITY
I’ve already checked in on the SWISS app. I’m on 1A on the first leg and then on 4A on the second leg to Dubai. Security is quite busy this morning and the process in not really that well organised either. In any case, by the time I’m through security and take a seat by the windows overlooking the ramp, it’s just gone 09h15. One hour before boarding. Roughly around the same time I receive an text message from SWISS informing me that the flight to Zürich will be delayed by thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft in Zürich, coming from Paris.

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This all rather unfortunate of course, because even if the flight were on time, I only have 45 minutes to make the connection in Zürich. So this ought to be interesting… A bit later on an announcement is made that boarding for the flight is expected to start at around 11h10, with a delay of about forty minutes. I approach the gate agent and ask her about my connection, to which she answers that the information they received from Zürich is that all connections are guaranteed.

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Eventually we push back from the gate at 11h30, with a delay of just over one hour. The flight time is announced as forty minutes, which means we’ll be arriving in Zürich at 12h10, fifteen minutes before my scheduled departure time to Dubai.

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THE CABIN
This is my first time on SWISS’s Bombardier CS300. Which isn’t that much of a big deal, given that the cabin is identical to that of the shorter CS100. To speed up the turnaround, they obviously didn’t bother to clean the aircraft, which probably explains why there are chunks of apple (I think) on the floor and pieces of red cabbage stuck in the seat.

THE CREW
There are three crew on this flight. And I really must say they’re rather useless. At least the two males up front are. There’s also a female working the rear cabin, but I only notice her towards the end of the flight when she briefly visits the forward galley. But yeah, the other two? Totally vapid. The maître de apparently thinks it’s the height of sophistication to just nod at everyone and give them a curt ‘monsieur’, he doesn’t look you in the eye when he talks to you, smiling is apparently not part of his contract of employment and he quite obviously really couldn’t give a shit.

The other one is just a walking, talking cliché of a male flight attendant. Totally clueless and obviously far more invested in what’s happening on his mobile phone than in doing his job well.

THE MEAL
The meal service consists of three small ramekins, which is the standard on this flight. One is filled with a rice and vegetable salad and topped with bacon/duck/something unidentifiable.

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The second is fish mousse (I think, but I’m not sure).

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And the third one is the dessert – a tasty sweet white chocolate thing.

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No chocolates are served on this flight.

ARRIVAL
By the time we reach Zürich, we miraculously managed to increase our delay. We’re now running seventy minutes behind schedule. The maître de comes on the loudspeaker and advises passengers that those continuing to Montreal and New York will have a direct connection bus. He then gives a whole list of destinations, flight numbers and gates. But he doesn’t mention the Dubai flight once. When I ask him, he tells me that, strangely, he has not received any information about this flight. Which, in hindsight, is just a blatant lie.

Eventually we touch down at 12h20. As we taxi in I switch on my mobile to find a message from SWISS informing me that I’ve been rebooked on the Emirates flight in the afternoon. As if to add insult to injury, we’re parked on a remote stand. And once we come to a stop, it takes another five minutes for the stairs and busses to arrive.

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So instead of heading directly for the E gates, I exit through arrivals for Terminal A and then head two floors up and over to Terminal B for the Emirates check-in. The check-in agent prints my boarding pass and then sends me over to the Emirates counter to book the chauffeur service to take me from Dubai to Al Ain, which is more convenient than a taxi.

PROLOGUE WITH EMIRATES
I won’t bore you with yet another Emirates trip report. However, I’m glad to report that since my last journey with them, Emirates has finally changed the menu. So here it goes:

For a pre-meal drink I have a virgin cucumber and lime gimlet, which is very refreshing. The drink is served with a small dish of nuts.

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For the main course I have the warm smoked salmon, which is served with fava beans. The salmon is a bit dry, but otherwise quite good. I don’t touch the beans though because I’m allergic to them. The starter is served on a tray that also includes a small salad and bread.

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For the main course I go with the chicken cordon bleu, which is served with pizokel and vegetables. Pizokel is a very Swiss speciality from canton Graubünden. It’s basically Switzerland’s answer to the German Spätzle. This dish is quite good. What I like in particular is that the food is still hot, and not just warm, when it is served.

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And then for dessert I go with the chocolate mousse on a dark chocolate ganache and raspberry compote. Dessert is something Emirates does really well I think, and this one is no exception. It’s obscenely rich, with a dense texture that just melts in your mouth.

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CONCLUSION
Eventually, I arrive in Al Ain at 01h30 in the morning. I’m exhausted! Delays happen, and I can hardly fault SWISS for that. Also, they did proactively rebook me onto the very next departure to Dubai. So that’s something. Even so, I do feel that the delay was not handled very well. I got the distinct impression that the staff at the frontline – the handling agent in Luxembourg and the cabin crew – was not properly trained in dealing with such an irregularity. I think next time I’ll just book Emirates to begin with and save myself the agro…

Posted in Airbus A 330-300, Airbus A 380, Bombardier CS300, Business Class, Emirates, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Fokker F100: Zürich to Luxembourg

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INTRODUCTION
I’m in my second week of a five-week travel marathon. I was in Luxembourg last week. Today I shall be heading in the same direction again, before continuing farther afield on Tuesday. It’s Easter Monday and the sun has finally decided to make an appearance after a really nasty and long spell of cold and grey over central Europe.

I’ve decided to do a trip report of this leg for two reasons. First, because I haven’t ever posted on Helvetic’s Fokker F100. Given how old these aircraft are, I probably better get this out of the way sooner rather than later, while they’re still in service. Secondly, so far I’ve only ever experienced the Business Class breakfast service on the flight to Luxembourg. So I’m curious about what SWISS will dish out for ‘dinner’.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I catch the train from Basel’s Swiss station at 14h33, which arrives in Zürich main station at 15h26. From there I have a train to the airport at 15h37, which should get me to the airport just before 16h00. Roughly one hours before boarding for the flight begins.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the SWISS app as usual. The boarding pass still won’t show up on my locked screen and SWISS still doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to change that. Am I the only one who finds that a bit irritating?

SECURITY, AIRSIDE & LOUNGE
The airport is quite busy. Although mostly it’s shoppers taking advantage of the airport’s convenient opening hours during the public holiday. There’s a bit of a queue for security, but all in all, the whole process is fairly smooth.

In case you’re wondering, there are currently no SWISS lounges in the Schengen area in Zürich. Apparently they’re closed for refurbishing and expansion. I’m not sure what to think of how SWISS is handling the issue though. They’ve set up a small desk in front of where the lounges used to be. From what I overheard one of the evicted lounge dragons telling one passenger, you have two options. You can either try the Aspire or DNATA lounges. Although the understanding is that passengers of other carriers have priority over SWISS’s. Or, if those lounges are full, you can request a voucher for a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants in the terminal.

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BOARDING
We’re boarding from gate A55, which means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand, away from the terminal. It also means I will get a chance to take a few pictures of my chariot. The downside is that gate A55 is in a building that was initially put there as an interim solution but which later on they somehow forgot to tear down again. Because of the limited space, before boarding begins all the passengers are herded into a holding pen like sheep. And there they wait until the bus arrives.

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CABIN
Apparently, my aircraft for today’s flight is now 25 years old. But I have to say, time and some serious TLC have obviously been kind to this old bird. Of course, you notice small things, like the overhead panel and the fixtures for the overhead lamp or the air vents, which look dated. But apart from that, the cabin is neat. The seats are dark grey, which contrasts nicely with the read curtain in the front of the cabin. The crew’s uniforms have the same combination of grey and red, and the ensemble really does look quite fetching.

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The seating configuration is 2 + 3, with the middle seat on the row of three kept empty. I am on 1F, which is the window seat on the bulkhead row of three. Fortunately for me though, the middle and the aisle seats both remain empty, so I can really spread out. Other than that, the seats are also pretty old school, which essentially means you get some decent padding and a very comfortably flight!

There is no cabin divider between the Economy and Business Class sections. The same goes for the Embraer 190 operated by Helvetic as well as SWISS’s CSeries.

But apart from all that, I think what really impresses me most, is the noise. Or rather the lack thereof. It’s quite amazing. Even when the pilot applies full thrust for us to take off, up front you cannot hear the engine noise at all.

THE CREW & SERVICE
The cabin crew consists of two young ladies and they really are excellent. This is one of the friendliest crews I’ve encountered in a long time. Although, having said that, my experience recently has been that the Helvetic crews tend to be better than the SWISS ones.

Once the doors are closed, the service begins with the distribution of the packed refreshing towels and a small bottle of still water. As the lead flight attendant comes through the cabin distributing the water and towels, she addresses every passenger individually by name and wishes them a pleasant flight. Blimey!

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Our taxi out to the active runways is short, given that we’re parked on a stand adjacent to runway 28. The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

THE MEAL
No sooner has the crew been released that the meal service begins. I rather like the way the meal is presented in three small ramekins. The first contains some sort of chicken curry salad with melon and almond flakes. The second is a vegetable omelette with cherry tomatoes. And the third one is the dessert. It’s a kind of panna cotta with orange slices and pieces of chocolate sponge cake. And I suspect a bit of Cointreau. It’s rather nice! To drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

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ARRIVAL
The flight is so short that there isn’t even enough time for the crew to come through the cabin with the obligatory Swiss chocolate before we land. So instead, as passengers disembark the aircraft upon arrival, the captain himself is standing by the door, wishing everyone good bye and holding the basket with the chocolates. It’s only a small but rather charming gesture.

Posted in Business Class, Fokker F 100, Helvetic Airways, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – ERJ 190: London City to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
Sweet Dreams (are made of this) was first released back in 1983, when music videos were still in their infancy and I was nine years old. I actually remember the first time I saw the video of Sweet Dreams. I think the moment has stayed with me through all these years because I think it was the first time that music triggered something in me. I sat in front of the television with my mouth agape, completely mesmerised by the fabulous Annie Lennox with her orange crewcut, standing in a field with a cow. I just thought she was so cool!

More than thirty years later, I’m still listening to Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. And so of course, when I heard she would be giving a concert in London in March 2018, there was no question that I would attend.

And so I flew to London from Basel the day after I returned to Zürich from Bucharest. The outbound flight on Saturday was with British Airways. There was absolutely nothing at all that would warrant writing a trip report about my experience with the Speedbird, my experience with them was totally replaceable and nondescript.

Of course, all of this does have a positive impact on the competition. I am flying back to Zürich today on Helvetic Airways, who is operating the flight on behalf of SWISS. Even if I only get a stale biscuit and the flight attendant has the bedside manner of the older ugly sister of Frankenstein’s monster, it’ll still be an improvement over anything the Speedbird dished out on the inbound.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
In London I stayed at the Hilton Angel in Islington, mainly because it’s quite close to the venue of the concert – the Saddler’s Wells theatre. The hotel is only a short walk away from the tube station ‘Angel’, on the Northern line. To get to London’s City airport, I have to take a southbound train to Bank and then transfer there onto an eastbound DLR train for the airport. Given the rush hour, it takes me close to one hour to make the journey.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve already checked in using the SWISS app, which is playing up again. I’ve selected 13F, which is an window seat on the emergency exit. Although I did at some point receive an error message during the process, I was eventually able to complete the process. So I’m guessing, and hoping, that I actually am on 13F.

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As you exit the DLR station at London City, there is a whole row of self-service check-in machines and inside the terminal building they have added even more of the check-in kiosks.

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The security check is something they do really well at London City. So despite all the people, the process is fairly quick and painless.

BOARDING
There is no premium lounge at London City airport. But that’s totally okay by me, because the general lounge area offers some really excellent views of the apron and the runway behind it. There’s just one problem: the aircraft park with the rear facing towards the terminal building, which means that when they apply thrust to push off stand, they spray all the muck on the ground at the building. And as a result, the windows are rather grubby from the recent snow and deicing liquid.

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The flight to Zürich is boarding from gate 10, which is the last gate at the west end of the facility.

I board the aircraft through the rear door, even though it would have made more sense to board through the front. It’s just that I can’t remember the last time I boarded a plane through the rear. This is brilliant!

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THE CABIN
I already mentioned the cabin of the Helvetic Airways Embraer in a post from January, when I flew Helvetic from Zürich to Milan. The flight to Milan was only thirty minutes, but by the time we landed, I could no longer feel my kneecaps.

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The seat pitch is definitely much better on the emergency exit.

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SERVICE
Surprisingly, there are four cabin crew on the flight today. I’m wondering if perhaps one of them is still in training or something. Whoever recruits the cabin crew at Helvetic Airways obviously has an eye for the ladies, which is fine. But I really do think they should teach them to tone it down with the make-up. When the lipstick stains the teeth, it’s definitely too much!

By the time we’re ready to start up, the operating regime has changed and arrivals and departures are to the east. This means that essentially we’re parked right on the access taxiway to the runway threshold, giving us a taxi time from our stand to the holding point of just about 30 seconds flat!

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Taking off from London City is always fun, and today is no exception. The pilot applies the parking break and then pushes the throttle all the way forward to the take-off thrust setting. The whole plane start shaking violently, and then – just when you think it’s going to start falling to bits – he releases the brakes and we go careening down the runway.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re settled into the cruise, the meal service begins. I’m expecting something along the lines of a pre-packaged muffin that has been prepared specially to stay fresh and fluffy for at least ten years. Much to my surprise though, we are served nice, fresh Gipfeli. A Gipfeli is the Swiss interpretation of the croissant. It’s savoury and usually smaller than any self-respecting French croissant but with a more buttery flavour. With that I have a coffee and a cup of sparkling water.

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After the meal service, the crew pass through the cabin with the highlight of the flight – the chocolates!

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ARRIVAL
Our routing takes us right over my hometown, Basel. Fortunately, it’s a lovely day with good visibility and some excellent vistas of the Alps and we descend into Zürich. There’s no delay and we make an approach straight in without having to hold. And it appears to be my lucky day, because here in Zürich too we’re using a remote stand!

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The bus drops us off at the B arrivals, which is the non-Schengen area. From there it’s an amazingly circuitous route to get to immigration: upon entering the building turn left, go up the escalators to the first floor, right, right again, down the escalators to the ground floor, right, through the departure gate area, right again, then straight ahead, left, down the escalators into the basement and then straight on to passport control and up the escalators again to the ground floor on the other side…

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CONCLUSION
This brings to an end my ten day odyssey to Malta, Bucharest and London. The marathon in Malta was fun, and so was the rejected take-off in Frankfurt until Lufthansa lost the plot. The course in Bucharest was brilliant, with professional and friendly participants. And the Annie Lennox concerts in London was simply beyond belief. Annie Lennox has an amazing presence when she’s on stage and live her voice sounds even better than on the recording!

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Posted in Economy Class, Embraer 190, Helvetic Airways, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Bucharest to Zürich

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INTRODUCTON
The course with the Romanian ANSP goes well. With that out of the way, it’s time for me to pack up my bags and head back home. On the return flight I’m travelling with SWISS, mainly because they have a direct service from Bucharest to Zürich and the timing was convenient.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Everybody in Bucharest seems to use Uber these days. In fact, taxis are rather hard to come by and when you do find one, there is a latent risk that you will be ripped off. I’m not sure what to think of Uber. But what I like, is that the drivers are not constantly trying to engage you in conversation or giving you advice on where to find the best prostitutes.

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CHECK-IN
I checked in using the SWISS app. But for some reason I couldn’t obtain my boarding pass. Which is why my first stop at the airport is the Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS check-in counters to get an good old-fashioned, printed boarding pass.

The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 80 to 84, which are located in what is either a new extension to the terminal or a recently renovated part of the building I previously hadn’t noticed. In any case, it all looks very modern and new, especially in contrast with the rest of the facility which is starting to show its age.

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The young lady who checks me in hands me the lounge invitation and then sends me on my way.

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LOUNGE
In Bucharest SWISS uses the Mastercard lounge, which is located one floor up from the general airside area. The stairs to reach the lounge are located near gate 7.

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The lounge itself is nothing special. It has a very limited selection of drinks, and food options consist of a few sad looking, limp paprika chips and some stale peanuts. But. There’s one big but: the views from up here are excellent, and I even manage to get a seat by the window, from where I can watch all the proceedings outside.

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BOARDING
Boarding is from gate 2, which is the closest stand to the terminal building. The first call is for Business Class and status card holders to board. There are four passengers in Business Class today.

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THE CABIN
This aircraft is clearly a fairly new addition to the SWISS fleet. Either that, or they’ve taken exceptionally good care of this bird.

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of twelve seats. Which means that every passenger has a row to themselves. Unlike Lufthansa or Air France, SWISS has screens installed throughout the cabin. On the downside though, there are no electricity plugs for passengers.

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I’m seated on 1A. On the first row the seat pitch is good. Better, I should say, than on Air France or KLM on the bulkhead row.

SERVICE
There are four cabin attendants. As I enter the plane, a middle aged female maître de and a clean-shaven, pleasant young man welcome me aboard the aircraft. Their manner is friendly and welcoming. While boarding is still in progress, the young man brings me a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

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Once boarding is completed, the captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that there will be a slight delay in leaving due to snow in Zürich. While we wait, the crew pass through the cabin with chocolate, which always goes down well.

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The flight time is announced as 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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THE MEAL
Shortly after take-off, the crew is released to start the service. The food trays with the meals are delivered individually from the galley.

The meal consists of:

  • thinly sliced veal with a walnut vinaigrette and a salmon mouse on wholegrain bread,
  • a plate of cheese and butter, which is served with bread,
  • a dessert which tastes rather nice but of which I have no idea what it is supposed to be.

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The meal is okay, although I still think that a flight time of over two hours is enough time to serve a proper meal. I also think that compared to the lobster flan served on Air France on my way to Bucharest, the salmon mouse thing served by SWISS is rather underwhelming, heavy and just a bit weird.

Throughout the meal the crew pass through the cabin to check if there’s anything else the passengers need – offering top ups of drinks and more bread. The crew really are quite pleasant and take their time to interact with the passengers in a very natural way. I especially like that when they talk to you, both the maître de and the young man really look at you, as though their acknowledging you as a customer. It’s quite refreshing and something you don’t get that often anymore these days.

After the meal I ask for a coffee, which is served with yet another chocolate. Jay!

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. There’s a bit of a delay because apparently it’s still snowing heavily around the airport. About twenty minutes out of Zürich, the captain makes an announcement informing us that due to the low visibility we’ll be doing a fully automatic landing and therefore, all electronic devices will have to be turned off completely. And indeed, a short while later the cabin crew come through the cabin to check that mobiles and the likes are fully turned off and not just in flight mode.

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To be honest, if the pilot hadn’t said anything, I don’t think I would have known the difference.

When eventually we come to a stop on our stand, there’s a bit of a hold up with the airbridge. The young man is standing next to me. He apologises and tells me it hopefully won’t be long. I explain that given the rejected take-off and the subsequent delay of nearly four hours on Monday and the two-hour delay in Paris on Tuesday, a few minutes hardly seem worth mentioning…

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And so my trip to Bucharest ends. Tomorrow I shall go off to London for the week-end. But that trip will be in BA Economy Class, and I’m not really sure that will be worth reporting on…

Posted in Airbus A 320, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Paris Roissy to Bucharest Otopeni

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INTRODUCTION
I just arrived in Paris on a flight from Zürich. The walk from 2F to 2E takes about 10 minutes to complete and is quite painless. Of course it helps that the airport is not very busy. What I find impressive about Paris Roissy, is that although the airport as a whole covers a huge surface, the individual terminals are still quite pleasant and easy to navigate through.

AIRSIDE
With Bucharest being non-Schengen, I will have to go through passport control to enter 2E. Behind the checkpoint they have these brilliant machines where you can scan your boarding pass. The screen will then give you information about your flight and tell you from which gate you will boarding. But I still have some time to kill anyway, so I decide to check out the Air France lounge first.

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THE LOUNGE
I’ve never been to this lounge and I must say, it really is very nice. It’s spacious, with lots of place to sit. In addition to the toilets, there are also showers, a sauna and a quiet area if you want to relax.

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The food options are also very good and include a variety of fresh salads with different dressings and vinaigrettes, as well as a selection of warm dishes.

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Unfortunately, when I check the status of my flight, I notice that the departure time has been moved back from 18h15 to 20h25. Apparently there were a few ATC related delays on the aircraft’s previous journey to Algiers.

BOARDING
Eventually boarding start just after 20h. Finally! I mean, I think Air France has done a good job keeping passengers updated. But at some point all you want is to either go back home or just get on the damn plane.

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THE CABIN
The cabin on this aircraft is slightly different to that on my previous flight. This aircraft has another type of seat that is covered in leather, whereas the seats on the previous aircraft had cloth covers. There is also a row 1 on both the port and starboard side of this aircraft.

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There are four rows of Business Class with a total of 16 seats on tonight’s flight. 14 out of 16 seats are occupied. There is a pillow and every seat, which comes in handy later on when I doze off…

SERVICE
There are two flight attendants welcoming passengers aboard. They’re quite friendly. As on the previous flight, the crew distribute packaged cold towels and drinks. They also pass through offering blankets to passengers, which is a nice gesture of goodwill given the long delay and the late hour.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re airborne, one of the crew members passes through the cabin distributing menus.

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I kind of like that, not many airlines still give you a menu on a short intra-European flight. The meal consists of

  • a starter of smoked salmon with salmon roe and a lobster terrine,
  • a choice of guinea fowl or shrimps for the main course,
  • a plate with butter and cheese – served with bread,
  • a dessert made with some kind of puff pastry and cream.

I go with the shrimps for the main course. And I must say, the quality of the meal is good. Although I’m certainly not the world’s greatest Quinoa fan, this stuff is nice and creamy, with a rich cheesy flavour.

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As soon as I finish the meal, the tray is removed and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I order a refreshing mint tea and then relax into my seat. And nod off.

The next thing I know, we’re already descending through the snow as we make our approach into Bucharest. It looks decidedly hostile outside! There’re a lot of snow wafting across the apron and the baggage handlers I can see are muffled up to their ears to protect themselves against the cold. It’s definitely not a night you want to be outside.

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CONCLUSION
As far as I’m concerned, of the big European carriers, Air France offers by far the best short-haul Business Class product. Admittedly, their seat is the same Euro-style Economy Class torture instrument with the middle seat empty as that of its competitors. But apart from that, the crews are very professional and the food is good.

I also think that Air France and its hub in Paris are better than their reputation. I even notice about myself that I’m always slightly apprehensive when I’m travelling on Air France. But in actual fact, so far I’ve hardly had anything to complain about.

Posted in Air France, Airbus A 320, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris Roissy

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INTRODUCTION
I’m on my way to Bucharest to give a course with the Romanian air navigation service provider. As I’m teaching on Tuesdays until 13h30, the direct flight with SWISS was not an option for me, because it leaves too early. And so I ended up being booked with Air France via Paris.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I’m not having much luck with transportation this week. Monday started with a rejected take-off in Frankfurt that Lufthansa turned into a dog’s breakfast and which eventually saw me arriving in Zürich with a delay of four hours and several missed meetings late.

My flight today will start boarding at 14h40, so I figure I had probably best take the 13h55 train to get me to the airport at 14h10. But of course I miss that train and the next one, three minutes later, has been cancelled. And the one after that is running late. Crap!

But eventually, things turn out for me. At 14h20 my train pulls into the station at Zürich Flughafen. I even have enough time to change some currency before continuing on my way to the security checkpoint.

CHECK-IN & AIRSIDE
Air France is checked in by DNATA at Zürich airport and has obviously succeeded in securing one of the best locations in check-in 2. As you get off the escalators, coming from the railway station, the check-in counters are just on your left.

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I’ve already checked in using the Air France app, so I can head straight for security. There is one lane open for Business Class passengers and the queue is fairly long when I arrive. But obviously they’re preparing for the evening rush hour and after only a few minutes a further line is opened to speed things up.

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By the time I’m through, there’s just another five minutes to go before boarding begins, and so I head straight for gate B31 from where the flight will be departing.

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Boarding starts more or less on time. The first call is for Business Class and Platinum card holders to board through the attended gate. Once that is done, the remaining passengers are invited to board via the automatic gates.

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The flight is not full today, so boarding is quickly completed.

THE CABIN
The Airbus A 318 is a strange little aeroplane. It’s essentially an Airbus A 319 which never fully grew. The aircraft has not been a commercial success and to be honest, I’m not sure if the production line is even still open for this type. In any case, Air France currently has a fleet of 18 of these short, stubby little aircraft.

They are configured with a seating capacity of a maximum of 118 seats. On today’s flight there are four rows of Business Class with a total of 14 seat. On the port side of the vessel there is no row 1, the bulkhead row on this side is row 2. I am seated on 2A, a window seat. With only three passengers in the Business Class cabin in total, I have the whole row to myself, which is obviously very luxurious and makes for a very comfortable ride. The seat pitch throughout is 32 inches. In addition, there is a red pillow at every seat, which gives the impression of a very bright and fresh cabin.

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SERVICE
The service up front is done by the maître de, a young French woman. Apparently, the English language continues to be a problem for Air France. But as long as I can communicate with her in French, I think we should be alright. While boarding is still in process, she welcomes me on board, brings me a refreshing towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I order a bottle of still water.

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Throughout the flight she takes good care of the three of us, in addition to helping out with the service in the back. What I particularly like though, is that Air France strictly enforces a closed curtain policy on its flights.

THE MEAL
As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service begins. The flight time is estimated at 1 hour and 5 minutes, which is not very much. The meal service consists of one tray that has on it:

  • a wholegrain, bresaola and horseradish sandwich,
  • pickled vegetables served with a tartar sauce,
  • a warm cheese stick,
  • a bowl of diced pear in honey,
  • a Tropézienne cake and a small but sinfully dense chocolate cake thingy,
  • a box with two chocolate pralines.

To drink with that I have a Coke Zero. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also available after the meal, but I decline the flight attendant’s offer.

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The meal is not particularly big or anything, but given the short flight time I think it is perfectly adequate.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Paris. It’s quite windy, but at least it’s a bright sunny day here – despite the cold. Terminal 2F is home to Air France’s European Schengen flights. My connecting flight will depart from 2E, which is in walking distance and very quick and easy to reach from 2F.

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