Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

This is an online travel journal about the journeys I have taken. I hope you may find in it useful information about airports, airlines and hotels and their products and services. Perhaps you will also find here some inspiration for future places to visit and journeys to take.

– William

Posted in AIRLINES A | 13 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flybe_Q400

Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Premium passengers are entitled to use the Fast Track.

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

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

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

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

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

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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

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

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

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

But the chocolate is good.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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CHECK-IN
Location:
SWISS App on my iPhone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
No.

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

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

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

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

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

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers.

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

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

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

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

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

Audio and Video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Provincetown Fast Ferry: Provincetown to Boston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provincetown, MA

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

THE INN AT 7 CENTRAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cape Air – Cessna 402C: Boston to Provincetown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio and Video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Airbus A 321, First Class, MINT Jetblue | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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CHECK-IN
Location: Terminal 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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

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

  • Salted Popcorn.
  • Diet Coke.

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

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

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

Posted in Airbus A 320, Economy Class, Virgin America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments