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 | 17 Comments

Lelystad, The Netherlands

If you’re a bit of an aviation geek or a kid that never really grew up, you should seriously consider a visit to Lelystad airport in the Netherlands and the Aviodrom museum. It really is brilliant!

First of all, the number of exhibits is quite impressive and includes legends like the Boeing B 747-300, the Fokker 100, a DC-4, a DC-3 and a Lockheed Constellation, to name but a few. Admittedly, some of the aircraft are not in such good shape anymore, exposed as they are to the harsh and not always very pleasant Dutch climate. But even so, it’s still a pretty awesome experience to stand under a 747 and give him a belly rub! You can even enter the aircraft to catch a glimpse of what the cabin used to look like in the old days.

Posted in Boeing B 747-300, Business Class, Lelystad | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Oslo to Zürich

2000px-Helvetic_Airways_Logo.svgINTRODUCTION
I just stepped off my flight from Haugesund. I now have three hours to make my connection to Zürich. The airline industry is a strange business. I’m flying on a ticket booked with SAS, on the code-share flight with SWISS, which is operated by Helvetic Airways. Or something like that…

TRANSFER IN OSLO
Changing planes in Oslo is easy and straightforward, even if you’re connecting from a domestic flight to an international one. All gates are under one roof, so all you need to do is find the exit to leave Norwegian territory. And that’s it.

MOOCHING AROUND OLSO AIRPORT
The terminal has a bright and airy feel. There are quite a few restaurants and there is ample space to walk or sit around. Not being quite sure what to expect on SWISS Economy Class on a flight of this length, I decide I better find something to eat. Of course it helps that most of the restaurants in the terminal offer some exceptionally good apron views…

Once that’s been taken care, I find myself a quiet corner and settle down with my Kindle.

BOARDING
There is a bit of a hold up boarding the flight, because the aircraft previously occupying our gate is running late and only moved off stand after the SWISS flight had landed.

It looks like it’s going to be a full flight this evening. Even so, we still manage to complete boarding in time for a punctual departure.

THE CABIN
Luckily, I was able to snag a seat on the emergency exit row. Helvetic Airways is one of the few airlines I know of that has a row 13 on its aircraft. As it happens, row 13 is the emergency exit on their Embraer 190.

On the exit row the seat pitch is really very good. There is ample space to spread out. Otherwise though, as I already commented on in one of my previous posts, seat pitch on the Helvetic Embraer is pretty tight.

Alas, the seat next to me is taken by a middle-aged woman. The two seats on the opposite side of the aisle are taken up by one of her daughters on the aisle seat, and the daughter’s husband on the window seat. The row behind me is taken up by her other daughter on the aisle seat and her son on the aisle seat opposite and a wannabe music producer on the window seat next to the son. And man, do they talk! They start yapping even before pushback. They totally miss the gorgeous sunset on climb out for all the talking and they don’t stop talking even when the crew make their announcements via loudspeaker.

SERVICE
There are three cabin crew on this evening’s flight. Two females and one male with the rather unfortunate name Randy.

Anyway, the service is efficient. Randy and the maître d’ don’t seem too happy. But the other female crew member is really friendly. She’s all smiles during the service and generally seems quite content to be there.

THE MEAL
There’s a funny smell in the cabin as we board the plane. It’s an odd combination of the stench of old socks and something decomposing in the ventilation system. Once the cabin crew is released, it soon materialised what the source of the smell is: the Economy Class service consists of complimentary drinks and what the Swiss lovingly refer to as a ‘Chäschüechli’. It’s usually a popular term to try at a party if there are foreigners in the room… ‘go on, try saying Chäschüechli…’. In case you’re wondering, a Chäschüechli is basically a small cheese quiche.

I really wish they wouldn’t serve stuff like this on planes. The thing is served in a cardboard box. But by the time the crew reach row 13, the grease from the Chäschüechli has seeped into the cardboard box in which it is served and I start to get heart burn just from looking at it.

But at least the service is efficient and the thing is removed again fairly quickly, leaving behind an even stronger stench of eau de chaussettes.

The service concludes with the distribution of the chocolates, which is always a highlight.

ARRIVAL
I can’t really say the rest of the flight passes peacefully. The mum next to me has gone to sleep. But one row back, here son has inadvertently struck a conversation with the young man next to him, who is a tremendously successful (his words) music producer and obviously loves talking about himself.

Eventually though, the flight draws to an end. Because it’s already late, the approach is made onto runway 28, which usually means that once we touch down, the crew have to break like something nasty to make the turn off in time. And today is no exception. I love it.

CONCLUSION
The flight with Helvetic Airways was okay. At least they try and the fact that you still get complimentary food and drinks in Economy Class sets SWISS apart from a lot of the competition. Although from what I understand, that may be about to change.

Posted in Economy Class, Embraer 190, Helvetic Airways | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eurowings, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Köln to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
The meeting at EASA goes as well as can be expected when EASA and ICAO meet. The European agency’s offices are located five minutes away from Köln Hauptbahnhof and the Kölner Dom, which is definitely worth visiting.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The train journey from the city to the airport will take you fifteen minutes by train lines 13 and 19. A ticket costs EUR2.90 for a single, second class.

The railway station is located in the basement of the airport and from there it is a fairly long schlep to the Eurowings concourse in the C area of the terminal.

CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the airline’s website. Rather conveniently, if you’re only travelling with hand luggage, you can also check in at the self-service machines which are located right in front of the entrance to the security checkpoint. There also appears to be a dedicated entrance to the checkpoint for Eurowing’s BizClass passengers.

AIRSIDE
I didn’t actually bother to check if they have a Lufthansa lounge. And even if there is, I’m not actually sure I’d be entitled to use it. So the tall, blond M. and I grab a coffee and park ourselves by the window. As it happens, the café is located right next to our departure gate at C70.

BOARDING
Boarding starts with a delay of some thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft from Pisa. From what I’ve read on the net, this is something of a recurring theme with Eurowings… I hold back until the end and count about 100 passengers on the flight.

The aircraft is parked on a remote stand.

CABIN
This flight is operated by an aircraft of Germanwings. Upon entering, the first thing I notice is that the plane looks tidy, neat and incredibly dull. In fact, if it weren’t for the Germanwings logo on the cabin divider, you might easily think you’re aboard a Lufthansa bird.

The tall, blond M. has checked online and tells me this bird is already pushing 28 years, probably making it one of the oldest in the Lufthansa Group’s fleet.

We’re seated on the emergency exit again, on 12F and 12E. I’m on the window seat. Although I feel somewhat compelled to add that it’s not that I won’t let my colleague sit by the window because I’m a creep, he just doesn’t really seem all that interested. Which, personally, I find even stranger…

Boarding finishes and once again, the tall, blond M. shifts across to take the aisle seat.

THE CREW
The crew are a bit of a mixed bag. There are four ladies working the cabin. The youngest one looks as though she really, really couldn’t give a shit and would love to be just about anywhere else but on this plane. Then there is one very senior lady who is clearly botoxed to within an inch of her life and probably started her flying career on the Vickers Viscount or so. And the other two are okay, I guess.

THE SERVICE
The flight time is announced as 45 minutes. As soon as the seatbelt sign comes off, the service begins: I don’t get it. Honestly. On this flight, everybody gets a complimentary snack box and a drink. This time I go with the Kuchen instead of the Käsebrötchen. Which is okay, except for the fact that it has these odd, unidentifiable bits and pieces in it…

ARRIVAL
And then very soon we start out descent. We do one holding circuit before we are eventually allowed to make the approach.

CONCLUSION
So I must admit, I am confused. This was a Eurowings flight that was operated by Germanwings. Why couldn’t they just keep the Germanwings brand? And what’s with the service concept? Why bother keeping the Lufthansa brand on short-haul at all? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to dump the Lufthansa short-haul brand and hand over everything to Eurowings/Germanwings/What-ever-brand-airline instead?

Posted in Airbus A 319, Economy Class, Eurowings, germanwings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eurowings, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Köln

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I’m on my way to Cologne to attend a meeting with EASA and ICAO. I finish teaching at 15h20, return to my office to collect my bag and then I’m off to the railway station. The flight will be leaving at 17h30, so it should be enough for me to catch the 15h58 train from Winterthur to Zürich airport.

CHECK-IN
I’ve already checked in online. I don’t have the Eurowings app installed, but I received a mail a few days ago with a link to the Eurowings check-in page. The process on the website could be smoother, but I manage to check-in fairly quickly.

I’m travelling with the tall, blond M. on this trip. So I’ve taken the precaution of booking the middle and window seats on the emergency row – seats 15 E and F – to have enough space for the guy’s long legs.

AIRSIDE
Zürich airport is busy today. It’s the first week of the autumn vacation here in Switzerland, so half the country is off on vacation this and next week. But despite all the people, security is a fairly smooth process.

The lady in the queue in front of me is travelling with her cat. To go through the security checkpoint, she has to remove the cat from his carrier bag. And he’s obviously not happy, judging by the expression on his face. Later on it turns out that the cat’s name is Bowie in honour of David Bowie. Clearly, his owner must have excellent taste…

BOARDING
Boarding starts on time and it’s the usual scrum for the automatic scanners. You could really think they’re giving it away for free to watch them.

Much to my surprise, I look out the window at my gate to find that the flight today is being operated by a Boeing B 737-800 of TUIFly, which is operating the flight on behalf of Eurowings.

THE CABIN
The cabin appears to be in fairly decent condition. There is no cabin divider but the first few rows of seats have headrest covers marked as ‘Biz Class’. The seat pitch on the emergency exit is of course very good. The only down side of course, is that there is no armrest on that side of the seat that is adjacent to the window.

Eventually, boarding is completed and the aisle seat on our row is still empty. So the tall, blond M. quickly shift over one seat to give us a bit of extra space.

THE CREW
The crew are friendly and seem a lot happier that I would have expected them to be. But perhaps that’s because they’re TUIFly and not Eurowings crews.

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes.

THE MEAL
Food and drinks are available for purchase in Economy Class. Much to my surprise though, once the service starts and the cabin pass through the cabin, the tall, blond M. is handed a small snack box containing a small container of still water and half a cheese sandwich. Very kindly, he offers to share both with me. And when the crew pass through the cabin with the drinks trolley, we’re even offered something else to drink.  Which is kind of surprising, because I thought food and drinks were only available for purchase on Eurowings.

It only dawns on me later on that the reason the tall, blond M. received the snack box in the first place is that he’s changed seats to the aisle. In other words, the aisle seat remained empty because the passenger booked on that seat had no-showed.

For a moment I think of telling the crew about the imsunderstanding. But given that I’ve already demolished half the sandwich by this time, I figure it no longer makes any difference…

ARRIVAL
The flight passes quickly and shortly after the trash is cleared away, we’re already starting our descent into Cologne. Which is kind of cool, because basically the pilot’s idea of ‘descent’ is obviously just to deploy the speed breaks and pitch the aircraft in a steep dive. It’s certainly efficient…

And so we land in Cologne on time. And fortunately for me, we come to a stop on a remote stand, which means I get to take a few pictures of my aircraft as I disembark.

CONCLUSION
All in all, there really isn’t anything much to say about this flight. It was completely unremarkable and I doubt I will remember it as an exceptional experience. But it was okay. They delivered me from A to B without delay. No more, no less.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Economy Class, Eurowings, TUIFly | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

Without a doubt Mount Pilatus is one of Switzerland’s top tourist attractions. And rightly so! Perched on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the view from the top of Pilatus is simply stunning and on good days you can even see as far as Zürich.

To reach Pilatus, I take the bus line 71 from Lucerne main station to Kriens. The journey takes about ten minutes. And then from there it’s about a ten minutes walk to the station of the Pilatus Bahnen. The journey by cable car will take about 40 minutes to complete and includes changing cable cars more or less halfway up the mountain.

If you’re the nervous type or just not comfortable in vehicles that hang precariously hundreds of metres above the ground, then perhaps you should be warned: it can get quite windy at the summit, so very often the cable car cabin will have to break abruptly just before entering the station at the summit and for the wind to abate and the cabin to stop swinging from side to side…

Once you reach the top at Pilatus Kulm, the place is crawling with tourists – predominantly of the German and Chinese variety. You can’t really blame them because the vistas really are superb!

If you want to escape the crowds, probably the best thing to do is spend a night or two at one of the two hotels. The last departures from Pilatus Kulm are at around 17h45, when the place quietens again and you have the mountain to yourself.

There are two hotels on Pilatus Kulm, the Bellevue and the Hotel Pilatus Kulm. The latter is the older of the two, but is well taken care of. The rooms are spacious and all rooms face the same way, so you’re guaranteed and perfect view of the Alps.

The next morning I decide to take the cogwheel railway from Pilatus Kulm down to Alpnachstad, which is right on the lake. Apparently, the Pilatus railway holds the world record for the cogwheel railway with the steepest gradient. It’s a nice journey down and will take you about forty minutes to complete. Usually the ticket you purchase is valid for both the railway and the cable car.

At Alpnachstad is only a short walk under the autobahn and the railway lines to the pier for the steamboat to Lucerne. Of course, this being Switzerland, the departures of the boat are coordinated with the arrivals of the trains coming down from Pilatus.

The journey from Alpnachstad to Lucerne will take 75 minutes to complete.

Posted in Business Class, Pilatus | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scandinavian Air System, SAS Go – Boeing B 737-800: Haugesund to Oslo

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The meeting in Akrehamn finishes just before 14h00. Which is good, because I’ve ordered a taxi to take me to Haugesund’s Karmoy airport at 14h00. The journey by taxi to the airport takes roughly twenty minutes and will cost you NOK500, which is pretty good by Norwegian standards. Theoretically, you could also go by bus. But in most cases this will be inconvenient, because the busses are infrequent and there is no direct bus from Akrehamn to the airport anyway.

Haugesund airport itself is a dinky little thing. The landside departure area is basically one big room with check-in counters, self-service machines and a highly efficient security lane.

CHECK-IN
I’m unable to check-in online. Or rather, I can check-in, but I can’t get my boarding pass. I try the self-service machine, which at least allows me to change my seat for the onward flight, but eventually only spits out the boarding pass for the flight to Oslo. So I head over to the Wideroe counter, where a frumpy middle-aged female explains that she has no idea what I did exactly, because I’m checked in just fine. What do I know woman, it’s your check-in system. I’m just a lowly passenger, and apparently one in dire need of being lectured…

AIRSIDE
There is no lounge at Haugesund airport. Which is hardly surprising, given that the departure area has all of three gates and is roughly the size of a very small broom cupboard. But there is a kiosk where you can purchase snacks, drinks, magazines and last minute souvenirs.

BOARDING
Boarding starts slightly ahead of schedule, due to the fact that the plane arrived in Haugesund nearly ten minutes early. I’m all excited, because there are no air bridges in Haugesund. So I’m going to have to walk across the apron and use stairs to get aboard. Woohoo! I know I’m a nerd, but I’ll admit that I purposely selected a seat on row 20, just so I could use the rear door of the aircraft for boarding.

Of course, what I don’t take into consideration, is that this is September in Norway. I exit the terminal building, which is precisely the moment the heavens open. Moreover, it’s blowing a gale. Perhaps a normal human being would just get on with it and make a run for the stairs. But the opportunity is just too good and the plane just way too pretty. So I keep stopping to take photos of my aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I get on board, I’m soaking wet all down the back of my trousers. I look as though I just embarrassed myself with excitement. But I don’t mind, because after all, I got to take aeroplane photos up close, so it’s really not that far from the truth…!

THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is in much better condition than those of the two Boeing B 737-700s I flew with to get to Haugesund. The aircraft has wifi installed, which is available at a price in the SAS Go cabin. Moreover, it has the new cabin interiors with the dark grey Recaro seats installed. Seat pitch on row 20 is good and the seat is comfortable enough.

That is, of course, until Mr. 20B arrives. Seriously? I mean, admittedly, his physique really is quite spectacular, and I dare say that back in the good old days he probably would have made even the toughest Viking warrior look like a bit of a wimpy weakling with fitness anxieties. The only way he can fit his long legs into the seat, is to sit there spread-eagled and with his elbows poking into my side. Worse still, I can’t even complain to him, even if I dared to, because it’s obvious that he’s really trying his best to take up as little space as possible. But at least the flight to Oslo is only forty minutes.

THE CREW
There are four crew on this flight. One young man who allegedly smiled the last time way back around the turn of the century, and three senior females who could be his mom, granny and great-granny respectively. I can’t really say anything much about the cabin crew because there is no interaction with them. During boarding they successfully ignore their passengers and pretend we all aren’t really there, and then after take-off, I drop off to sleep and miss the service. Such as it were.

THE MEAL
In SAS Go, tea and coffee are complimentary. All other snacks and drinks are available for purchase, subject to the duration of the flight.

ARRIVAL
The landing in Oslo is quite bumpy. But at least the weather is much better here, so I get some good views of the landscape on the approach.

I have three hours to make my connection. Transferring in Oslo is painless and easy. The biggest problem really, is that the facility is too crowded, so getting through can be difficult at times.

CONCLUSION
When I flew to China with SAS in July, I have to say I rather enjoyed their product and service on long-haul. But on short-haul, I think they’re a complete stinker. As I already mentioned before, their aircraft tend to be filthy and tattered, which makes you wonder about the state of those parts of the aircraft that you can’t see. But apart from that, the crews on all flights were totally uninspired and bland, which again is a stark contrast to my experience with them on long-haul.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Economy Class, SAS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scandinavian Air System , SAS Plus – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Oslo

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INTRODUCTION
A few years ago, I think it was somewhere around 2014, SAS took the decision to abolish its Business Class product on short-haul intra-European routes. Instead, it launched a new cabin concept comprising SAS Go, which is your classic Economy Class with buy on board set up, and SAS Plus, which replaced what used to be Business Class.

In SAS Plus you get more or less all the perks you can normally expect from a European Business Class product: fast track at security, lounge access, complimentary meals, etc. The only difference to other carriers appears to be that the middle seat is not left empty in SAS Plus.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I depart from the office at 12h17 to catch the 12h28 train to the airport. The worst of the summer is over here in Switzerland, and although it’s a lovely, bright and sunny day, you can already feel that the sun is losing its heat and the harshness of summer.

CHECK-IN
SAS checks in on row 2 of terminal 2 in Zürich. Their handling agent is DNATA. There are self-service machines available for check-in as well. One day before the flight, I receive a text message from SAS, informing me that online check-in for the flight is open. Strangely enough though, although I can check in, I can’t upload my boarding pass to passbook.

AIRSIDE
By the time I’m through security and airside, it’s already 12h55. My flight will be boarding from gate A72. So I decide to skip the SWISS lounge and head for my gate instead to watch the movements on the apron.

BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts on time and it looks as though the flight is fairly full. Before the gate agent even manages to finish his announcement, there’s already a scrum for the automatic gate readers… You’d think they’re giving it away for free.

THE CABIN
There is no cabin divider, which I always find slightly awkward. Instead, there is a small sign attached to the aisle seat, indicating where SAS Plus ends and SAS Go begins. On today’s flight there is just the one row of SAS Plus. Leg space on row 1 is very good. I am seated on 1A. On the opposite side of the cabin, there is even more pitch between the seats and the bulkhead.

I also needn’t worry about having somebody sitting next to me, as I’m the only passenger in SAS Plus today and therefore have the whole row to myself.

The one thing that strikes me though, is that the cabin is really dirty. And it’s old dirty that has spent years maturing into grime.

SERVICE
There are three cabin crew. The service up front is conducted by a rather unhappy looking female just past her middle age, and a gentleman of roughly the same age who does not necessarily look happy but at least seems less unhappy than the female.

While the aircraft is on the ground, there is zero interaction between the crew and the passengers. There are no welcome drinks, no newspapers, nothing.

The flight time is announced as two hours and fifteen minutes.

THE MEAL
In SAS Go the service is buy on board, with the exception of tea and coffee. In contrast, in SAS Plus passengers are served the full range of complimentary food and drinks available from the snack menu.

The service begins with a partially wet towel, which should probably have been served warm. Shortly after that, the cold meal is served in a rather stylish but oddly shaped square cardboard box with cutlery that looks like something they nicked from a pre-schooler.

The box contains a salad of carrots with honey glazed chicken, a yoghurt dressing and pollen sprinkles, which I still hadn’t figured out by the time I’d finished the meal.

The quality of the meal is good and so are the flavours, at least they are if you like overdosing on carrots and beets. Otherwise, I think you may have a problem. Fortunately, in SAS Plus you can order anything you like from the buy on board for free. And so, in a bid to ward off a vitamin-induced coma of too healthy food (I hope the tall, blond M. ain’t reading this…), I ask for a packet of those delectable Larsson crisps I enjoyed so much on my last flight with SAS from Shanghai back to Copenhagen…

To drink with the meal, I have a Coke Zero.

After the meal, the male cabin attendant comes to clear my box away and brings me a cup of coffee and unceremoniously plonks a small box of not really very nice chocolates in front of me.

ARRIVAL
As we approach Oslo the weather starts to deteriorate. When I left Zürich, the temperature was a balmy 27 degrees Celsius. But here in Oslo they’re expecting rain showers and a maximum temperature of only 14 degrees…

Eventually, by the time we land it’s already 16h16. My connecting flight to Haugesund will already be departing at 16h55.

CONCLUSION
I’m not really sure what to make of my SAS Plus experience. All in all, the flight was okay, I guess. And it certainly helped that I had the first row all to myself. But even so, the entire experience was kind of underwhelming and unspectacular, from the dirty cabin to the rather lacklustre service.

I think next time, if I have an alternative on European short-haul, I’ll take it.

Posted in Boeing B 737-700, Business Class, SAS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 340: Copenhagen to Zürich

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TRANSFER IN COPENHAGEN
At 18h38 Astrid Viking gently glides down over the Ore Sund after a flight time of ten hours and twenty minutes, bringing to an end the long journey from Shanghai. I now have just over one hour to make my connection to Zürich.

The flight ends at the C pier, which is the only pier at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport that is large enough to handle wide-body jets and ergo serves as the airports non-Schengen pier.

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If you have a transfer from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight at Kastrup, you first go through security and then immigration. I exit through the biometric gates and check on one of the big screens about the status of my flight. It turns out that the flight to Zürich is showing a departure delay of thirty minutes, meaning the flight is now expected to depart at 20h30. Good, enough time for a short visit to the lounge!

SAS Business Class lounge
In Copenhagen SAS has a dedicated Business Class lounge and a separate lounge for Star Gold members. The lounges share the same entrance, which is more or less opposite the beginning of the C pier. The upper floor is the Gold lounge.

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The lounge is larger than the one in Stockholm but the décor is very much the same as that of the SAS lounge in Stockholm I visited on the outbound. Just somehow here the IKEA vibe seems a bit out of place. Because, well…, it’s not Sweden.

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Just after 20h00 the flight shows up as ‘go to gate’. I exit the lounge and immediately start heading the wrong way towards the A and B piers. The airside shops are already starting to close, with the last long-haul departure being the 21h00 SAS flight to Beijing. I absentmindedly glance outside and spot a tail of white and red. It looks as though I’m going the wrong way and my flight to Zürich will be boarding from gate C10, which can be used either for Schengen or non-Schengen flights.

In my hazed, jetlagged state it takes me a moment to actually realise that the thing in white and I red I just saw looks awfully large for an A 321. It’s only then that I take another look outside and notice that there’s obviously been an aircraft change and the originally scheduled narrow-body has been substituted by an Airbus A 340. Well that makes a change, I guess…

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BOARDING
Eventually, boarding for the flight starts at 20h40. The gate area isn’t really full and I’m left wondering what might have prompted the short notice aircraft change. There are three cabin crew at the door, welcoming passengers aboard. All three of them are quite senior and seem friendly enough.

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THE CABIN
There are only five passengers in Business Class this evening. Which is why we’ve all been reseated so that all five of us are sitting in the Stübli, the small Business Class cabin located between the L2 door and the First Class cabin.

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When SWISS first launched the current Business Class product it has installed on the A 340, I remember thinking how elegant it was, with various shades of white, cream and brown. But looking at it now, I think the seat hasn’t really aged all that well. The brown colours look a bit dated and the cabin, although obviously very well maintained, is showing signs of wear and tear. Of course it doesn’t help that the magazine holders are empty because it’s only a short-haul flight. It makes the cabin look empty and rather bland.

THE CREW
Ah, yes. It looks as though the excellent crew I experienced on the Zürich to Arlanda flight a week ago must have been a flash in the pan. We’re back to the middle-aged men and women who couldn’t give a and spend more time gossiping about their colleagues and bitching about their employer. Oh, how welcome and valued as a customer this makes me feel…

The flight time to Zürich is announced as one hour and twenty minutes. Nobody bothers to apologise for the delay or even to explain what caused it.

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We taxi out to the departing runway and make a rolling start heading south. The aircraft must be really empty on this short hop, because the acceleration is quite impressive and very different to the sluggish sortie we made from Shanghai.

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THE MEAL
After about ten minutes the seat belt sign is turned off and the crew start the service. And it really is bad. It’s so blatantly obvious that they just want to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible.

One of the flight attendants comes through the cabin and without even as much as bothering to ask if the passengers are eating or not, he starts popping open the tray tables. Shortly after he comes through the cabin and rather unceremoniously plonks a sad looking little tray with food on the table. Dude, I’m not even hungry…

The meal consists of a plate with cold beef and potato salad, a plate with cheese and the dessert, which seems to be cream with some sort of fruit compote. Behind him, his colleague is already waiting with the breadbasket. So I quickly take a picture for the purpose of completeness and when the flight attendant returns with the Coke Zero, I ask him to remove the tray again untouched so I can flake out.

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Fifty seconds later, another flight attendant comes through the cabin with the chocolates – and that’s it. The crew vanish and there is silence. Finally. I visit the loo a short while later and find them lounging around in the larger Business Class cabin having dinner together. Well that looks cosy…

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ARRIVAL
It’s already approaching eleven o’clock in the evening by the time we finally land on runway 28. Initially, I suspect the pilot flying was aiming to exit the active runway via the intersection with runway 16. But the flare is a bit too long and so we end up having to keep on going until the end of runway 28 before we can turn off.

Rather abruptly the flight comes to an end. Again, nobody bothers to apologise for the delay.

By the time our bags finally appear on the conveyor belt, it’s already past eleven and my next train to Zürich main station is at 23h13. I bid my farewell to the valiant M. who was, as ever, a really excellent travel companion. I’ll be home in Basel at 00h47.

CONCLUSION
This flight with SWISS really, really sucked. Perhaps I might not have found them so bad if I hadn’t had such a brilliant experience with the SAS crew on the flight from Shanghai, who were the complete opposite from this crew in the way they went about their job. Of course, I understand that on a flight of just over one hour your possibilities are somewhat limited, compared to a flight of over ten hours. Even so, SWISS crew came across as though they were being intentionally obnoxious.

Other than that though, I’m satisfied with the way the presentation of our paper went. And Professor Bond, Professor McNamara: it was a pleasure to finally meet you both!

Posted in Airbus A 340-300, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Shanghai to Copenhagen

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INTRODUCTION
I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.

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CHECK-IN
To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…

SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.

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From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.

The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.

The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.

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THE LOUNGE
In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.

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The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.

There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.

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The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.

BOARDING
Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…

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The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.

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Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…

… still howling…

… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.

THE CABIN
The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.

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On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.

 

SERVICE
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.

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After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.

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The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.

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THE MEAL
The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.

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The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.

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For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.

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For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.

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For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.

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By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!

Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.

SECOND SERVICE
I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.

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ARRIVAL
Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.

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VERDICT
Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.

Posted in Airbus A 340-300, Business Class, SAS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cathay Dragon, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Hong Kong to Shanghai Pudong

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INTRODUCTION
Originally, we were supposed to continue to Shanghai on Sunday, the day after we arrived in Hong Kong. But then Typhoon Ampil had other ideas, our flight to Shanghai was cancelled and instead, we ended up staying in Hong Kong until Tuesday afternoon. Still, it was a pleasant stay and I managed to get quite a bit of work done.

In Hong Kong I stayed at the Novotel Citygate, which is only about ten minutes away from the airport by shuttle. It’s also a great location if you want to explore Lantau island or visit the Tian Tan Buddah. The station for the cable car that takes you up to the Buddah is only about ten minutes away from the hotel.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The Novotel provides a regular, complimentary shuttle service between the airport and the hotel. Busses leave the hotel every twenty minutes, starting on the hour. The journey time to the airport is ten minutes, and the driver will drop you off at departures on the upper level.

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CHECK-IN
Cathay Dragon checks in at terminal 1, which is where most of the airlines serving Hong Kong seem to be located. The counters for Cathay Dragon are conveniently located on row H, which is at the far end of the terminal building, opposite the entrance to security.

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There is a separate queue for Business Class and OneWorld card holders. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to Shanghai and issues an invitation to the Cathay Pacific lounge together with the boarding pass.

Luckily, since my last visit, Hong Kong has introduced biometric passport scanners, which significantly speed up the process of leaving the city, even if they do work rather slowly.

THE LOUNGE
I was not aware of the fact that Cathay Dragon is an ‘associated’ member of the OneWorld alliance through its affiliation with Cathay Pacific. Which means that I can access the lovely Cathay Pacific lounges and I can even take along the valiant M. as a guest.

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I’ve never been to this particular lounge though, and I’m wondering if it’s only here provisionally. It’s located at the west end of the ‘T’ of Hong Kong’s terminal. It’s a nice lounge, but it’s definitely not as large as their lounge on the east wing.

The lounge is situated further along from the gorgeous QANTAS lounge in Hong Kong. Although to access the lounge you will need to go down one level first.

The lounge is nicely laid out and has good facilities, including showers, a dining area and a quiet zone, and good wifi. More importantly though, the food selection is very good. Apart from a fairly wide selection of hot and cold dishes, there is also the much loved noodle station, where you can have a variety of different Hong Kong style noodle dishes made to order.

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BOARDING
The flight to Shanghai will depart from gate 504, which is in the satellite to the west of the terminal facility. Because you have to head downstairs to get across, I was kind of expecting that we would need to take an underground train or something of the sort. But in actual fact there’s just a normal bus that runs frequently across the apron between the main building and the satellite.

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I can’t really say I had much time to explore the satellite, because no sooner had we arrived, we realised that our flight was already in the final stages of boarding.

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THE CABIN
Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 320 in the new Cathay Dragon livery. The first thing I notice upon entering the aircraft, is that it has new overhead bins that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on this type of aircraft: the bins fold down instead of up and the opening and closing device is a button with a small light in it. The bins also seems to be smaller, because I happened to see quite a few passengers struggling to stuff their belongings into the bins.

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Other than that though, the cabin is nice. It’s clean and even in Economy Class the seat pitch is good and comfortable enough for the flight of two hours and ten minutes to Shanghai. Pillows and blankets are also available.

Cathay Dragon does not use overhead screen, but wifi and video streaming is available. Although I’m not even sure if that’s such a good thing. Because the two guys in front of me have decided to watch some god awful Chinese history/fantasy/action film together, which looks like a heap of crap to me and sounds so too, judging by the hideous and copious amounts of yelling and flying through the air sound effects that I’m sure everybody, and I really mean everybody in the aircraft can hear…

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Oh yes, and don’t worry about your seat assignment. Cathay Dragon has a rather strange system, whereby they leave out certain numbers of rows. I was seated by the window on 39K, which is right behind the wing.

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THE CREW
There are six crew on the flight today, which seem a tad exaggerated but kind of helps to highlight the difference between the European carriers for example, who usually just fly around with the minimum crew complement, and the Asian airlines, where salaries are low enough for this not to be such an issue. Admittedly, none of the crew seem overly friendly. But they’re efficient and they get the job done.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re airborne, the service begins. In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting to be given anything. Which is probably why I’m even more surprised when the trolley stops at my aisle and they ask me if I’d prefer the fish with potatoes or the pork with rice. I decide to try the fishy.

The meal service is pretty old school and consists of a tray with:

  • a bowl with pasta salad,
  • a cup of still water,
  • a pre packaged bun with butter,
  • a cup of Hägen Dasz strawberry ice cream,
  • the hot meal.

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The hot meal is not very good, even by Economy Class standards. The fish is rather gross and the potatoes are all soggy from the sauce. The veg is bland and tasteless. And the ice cream is just too sweet. But that’s not the airline’s fault.

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During the meal service, the crew make three drink runs though, which is much appreciated. The trays are removed fairly quickly once the meal service has been completed.

The rest of the flight passes quickly, while the valiant M. tries to teach me geology 101. It’s riveting, I’m telling you…! In all fairness though, it really does put the average eighty or so years a human spends on earth into perspective, when you compare that to the millions of years it took to produce something as magnificent as the Alps, for example. It also makes me hopeful that earth will continue to exist, even long after the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.

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ARRIVAL
But enough of geology and philosophy. By the time we turn on to the final approach, it’s already dark in Shanghai. The approach is fairly stable, right up until the end when we suddenly start to roll and yaw. But Mr. Pilot keeps it together and eventually we land about twenty minutes behind schedule.

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Immigration doesn’t take too long, even though it looks as though we just arrived behind a full flight from Japan. By the time I exit immigration, the suitcases have already been removed from the belt and deposited at the collection area for premium passengers.

In Shanghai I’ll be staying in the Fudan area of the city. The journey from the airport will take about 45 minutes to complete in good traffic and will cost about RMB160.

 

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