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

SAS, Economy Class -Boeing B 737-800: Haugesund to Oslo

I must admit that I never really understood the Scandinavians’ obsession with summer and the sun until I came on this trip.

But I’m starting to see their point. It’s coming up to eight in the morning and it’s still dark outside. It’s also windy, cold and all round unpleasant.

From Haugesund to the airport there is an airport bus. The journey time is about 30 minutes. The bus leaves at 08h15, to arrive at the airport with enough time to check in and go through security for the 09h35 departure to Oslo.

The bus departs from the Haugesund terminus, which is a rather depressing edifice that really could do with a fresh lick of paint.

In any case, I arrive at the airport about 50 minutes before departure. It’s a very convenient and small airport, with only four check-in counters and just as many gates. There is no lounge though.

Ever since I arrived in Norway, I’ve been craving one of those cardamom rolls. But somehow, wherever I go on this trip, they’ve either just run out or they’re still preparing them. I try my luck at the airport airside kiosk, but no luck…

But at least there is the fact that there are no airbridges at this airport. So when boarding starts, I can take my time walking across the apron taking pictures of the airrcraft taking me to Oslo.

I’m seated on 16F, which is on the second emergency exit row. Seat pitch is obviously very good. The only problem is that there is no arm rest on the window side of the seat. As a result, you’re either sharing the one on the other side, which seems a bit unfair on the guy stuck in the middle seat, or you have to find something else to do with your hands.

Our take-off is to the northwest and very bumpy, thanks to a strong crosswind. But shortly after we’re airborne, we pierce through the cloud and a burst of sunshine floods the cabin.

The fligh time to Oslo is only 34 minutes. On board service in Economy Class consists of complimentary tea, coffee or water.

The weather in Oslo is slightly better. I think. It’s colder, but at least the sun is trying to break through the cloud.

And once more I have the good fortune of deplaning via stairs instead of an airbridge. Hurrah!

I now gave three hours to make my international conn… finally, come to papa my sweets, I’ve been looking all over for you…!

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Economy Class, SAS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SAS Scandinavian Airlines, SAS Plus – Boeing B 737-800: Oslo to Haugesund

I just stepped off the SWISS flight from Zürich. In 90 minutes I have a connection to Haugesund. If you’re connecting from an international flight that’s not on SAS to any domestic service, you can’t go straight to departures. Instead, you’ll have to exit through customs, then head one floor up and go through security again. Hm’kay…?

Alas, once I’m landside again, it’s difficult to find the escalators to take me one floor up to departures, because they’re all hidden away.

But I must admit, at least the terminal is very nice and spacious, despite the inconvenience.

Luckily, I’m travelling on an SAS Plus fare, which means I’m entitled to use the fast track for security. Not that it helps much, because the security staff have obviously decided my luggage is a security issue and take for ever to check it. It’s just a rucksack, for heaven’s sake. Maybe it’s something to do with my spectacular beard…

There’s an SAS lounge in both the international and domestic sectors of the terminal, one floor up from the public area.

I know, I know – it’s such a cliché… but the lounge really does look like something from an IKEA showroom.

There is also a good selection of salads, breads, cheese, cold cuts and soups.

I just have enough time for a bowl of salad while I upload the previous post before my flight starts boarding from gate C8.

It’s obviously cold outside, because they’ve even covered up the aircraft’s engines.

On this flight, I’m seated on 3F and as my luck will have it, the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays vacant.

The seat pitch is good, but compared to the very modern A220, the cabin on this aircraft look ancient!

There is a USB port in the back of every seat, by the way.

The two cabin crew working the forward cabin are… ehm… difficult? The purser is an elderly gentleman who looks as though he should have retired long ago. And he obviously think he’s quite the joker. Only, he’s not funny and his safety on board demonstration is so sloppy that he might as well not have done it at all.

In Norway it seems to be standard practice that aircraft are only pushed back from the gate, but without turning them to point in the direction of the taxiway. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the ice.

In any case, before we head for the runway, we make a stop of about twenty minutes on the de-icing pad for them to defrost our plane. It’s obviously such a common occurrence up this end that the pilots don’t even bother to announce what’s going on.

But then once that’s done, we head for the runway and take-off without any further delays.

On domestic services, SAS Plus passengers get to select any item they like from the buy on board menu for free, whereas in regular Economy Class, food and drinks are only available for purchase. Tea and coffe however, are complimentary in all classes.

I ask for some apple juice and a packet of crisps.

It’s obviously not haute cuisine, but hey, the flight is only 35 minutes.

Despite the delay for de-icing, we still land on time. Up here it’s 15 degrees warmer than Oslo, with the temperature hovering around 9 degrees.

Haugesund airport is very small. Arrivals is more or less one not so big room with enough space to deliver the luggage. But at least that also means there are no airbridges!

I step outside, and the airport bus to Haugesund is already there. The bus runs infrequently, but the schedule coincides with SAS’s arrivals and departures. The journey into town takes about 25 minutes.

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

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Oslo

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m on my way to Norway. The flight to Oslo isn’t leaving until 09:40. But I figure I might as well take my usual train from Basel to avoid the worst of the morning rush hour.

I arrive at Zürich Airport at 07:20. They’re currently replacing the tracks in the station, so half the platform is closed off. It’s not so much of an issue, but it means that the platforms are quite crowded and it can take a while for the queue to move.

Either the morning rush for security is already over, or most companies have already spent their travel budget for this year because the airport is very quiet.

My first stop is the lounge. I’m starving! Luckily, the lounge isn’t too crowded either.

When it’s empty, you can actually appreciate the design of the SWISS Business lounge. I’m not so sure if the Swiss rustic look will age all that well, but for the time being it’s okay.

There is a small buffet with a rather limited choice of food. However, the centrepiece of the lounge is the open kitchen, where you can order hot dishes. So I help myself to some bread and cheese and order an omelette with chives and some beans to go with that.

I answer a few office e-mails and then decide I’d much rather be looking at the aircraft outside. So I leave the lounge around 08:30, with 50 minutes to go before boarding starts.

My flight is departing from gate B41 on the mixed Schengen/non-Schengen pier.

There are six rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats. However, there are only nine passengers seated up front this morning. I am on 3A, with the aisle seat next to me empty. Seat pitch on row 3 is good and very comfortable.

I really like the the A 220’s cabin, because it feels so spacious. Although I probably shouldn’t confess to that to my colleague Mr Bighead, who worked on the development of the CSeries.

As usual, the service starts with the distribution of still water and towels.

Departure is from runway 28, right behind an A340 which only just manages to get off the ground…

Once the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. It consists of a tray with cheese, melon, parma ham and some disgusting liver parfait. Yuk!

With that, there is a selection of breads offered by the crew. Although Mr 3D manages to grab a total of five buns before the flight attendant can stop him. Some people…

And with that there is butter and apricot jam. There’s also a small jar of very sweet berry Müsli.

And to conclude there is a Swiss chocolate, which strangely vanished before I could take a photo…

As we head further north, the weather rapidly deteriorates. And much to my horror, when we break through the cloud on our descent, the ground below is covered in snow.

Eventually we land after a flight time of two hours and twenty minutes. The runway and taxiways are covered with ice, but nobody seems phased by that.

Once we stop at the gate there is an ID check before we’re allowed into the terminal. But the check is painless enough. I now have 90 minutes to make my connection.

Posted in Airbus A 220-300, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Zürich

The weather here in Malta has been lovely all week, with cloudless blue skies and a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

But it’s time to head back to Switzerland and the cold.

I check out of The Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana at noon. The next bus to the airport will be the 12:35 X4, which leaves from the B pier of the main terminus. The B and C piers are located in St. James’ ditch, below what used to be Duke of York Avenue.

The X4 bus has a luggage rack, which is really convenient, because the bus continues all the way to Birzebbuga in the south and therefore tends to get very full.

Despite the fairly reliable public transport service, traffic in Malta continues to get worse. The journey to the airport takes 35 minutes to cover a distance of 7 kilometres.

As such, by the time I arrive at the airport, it’s already 13:15 and the flight will start boarding at 13:55.

The check-in area is quite busy, with the Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights leaving around the same time as the flight to Zürich.

Security is well organised and quick. But the airside lounge is definitely getting too small for the amount of traffic the airport handles. It feels cramped and crowded.

Boarding for the flight starts just after 14h. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.

More importantly though, we’ll be boarding via stairs and without a bus. So loads of opportunities for me to geek-out about an aeroplane. I can just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll…

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers. However, there are only two other passengers with me in the forward cabin today.

There’s something charmingly old-fashioned and typically Maltese about the cabin of this aircraft – from the pictures of Malta on the bulkheads, to the nicely padded seats that will all be a thing of the past with the change over to the NEO.

Service on the ground consists of the distribution of newspapers and a welcome drink.

It’s a lovely, warm day with good visibility. We take off towards the northwest and fly the full length of Malta, before making a right turn to point us in the direction of Palermo.

Once the crew is released, the service starts with the distribution of the unscented hot towels. This is followed immediately by the meal service.

Everything is served on one tray.

The main course is a caesar salad of sorts with three slices of chicken breast.

This is served with warm bread and a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico.

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

The meal is nice enough. And especially the mousse is very rich and creamy!

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

The flight time today is two hours and twenty minutes, which is quite long for this route. But at least the views are great and the Alps look spectacular.

Eventually we land in Zürich at 16:54. By 17:09 I’m already on the train on my way home.

Things are rapidly changing for Air Malta. Already today they are no longer the largest carrier to the island of Malta and take second place behind Ryanair.

But at least, with the minister of transport and tourism resigning this week over claims of corruption, there is hope the government will stop its constant meddling and interference in how Air Malta should be run.

One way or another though, if Air Malta wants to stay competitive, it seems to me they still have a way to go, particularly when it comes to their website and reliably making a purchase for ancillary services via airmalta.com.

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

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320NEO: London Heathrow to Malta

My flight to Malta will be departing at 11:25. I check on flightradar24 for the whereabouts of my aircraft. It looks as though the inbound from Malta will be on time.

Today’s flight is special for two reasons: first of all, because today I’m finally getting my cherry popped, so to speak, because it’s my first time ever on a NEO. And secondly, this will be my first flight with Air Malta since the introduction of their new Business Class catering.

In Heathrow, Air Malta serves Terminal 4. They check-in on row H.

There are three check-in counters open. Two for Economy Class and one for Business Class passengers.

Air Malta uses The House Lounge, which previously belonged to Etihad Airways. The lounge is located one floor down from the SkyTeam lounge and the entrance is near gate 10.

There are only few passengers in the lounge at this time of day.

The lounge is rather nice and even has a separate dining area, where you can have food from the buffet or à la carte menu.

Washrooms and showers are also available in the lounge.

The flight is boarding from gate 20, which is a bitch to take pictures of the aircraft from…

I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but boarding is chaos. The flight is totally sold out and they’ve screwed up most people’s advanced seat reservations.

I’m seated on 1F. The cabin on the NEO has new seats installed that are thinner than those on the rest of the fleet.

Red is an interesting colour to pick for the seat covers, but I think they manage to pull it off.

Seat pitch is great on row 1. The middle seat is kept empty and there are electricity plugs too. On today’s flight there are 6 rows of Business Class for a total of 24 seats. And the cabin is sold out!

Service on the ground starts with a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice or water for a welcome drink and the distribution of newspapers.

Departure is at 12:40 and the flight time is two hours and 50 minutes. The one thing I do notice about the NEO, is that it’s very quiet on take-off.

As soon as the cabin crew is released, the service for the meal starts. First the crew take orders for drinks. I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon.

Next the menu is distributed, which seems a bit unnecessary, seeing as there are no choices anyway except for the dessert.

Ahead of the meal, hot towels are handed out.

The new Business Class product is quite nice, I think, and captures the feel of the Maltese islands well. The tray is served with the first course, olive oil and warm bread on it.

The presentation of the meal is nice. But the quality of the food is not all that good. The starter is smoked salmon tartar with crème fraîche.

Once I’m done with the starter, the dish is removed and the main course is served. This is veal filled with a chicken and cheese stuffing. It’s quite okay. Sorry about the photo. I had already started to dig in before I remembered to take a picture…

And finally, for dessert I go with the fruit.

The service is by individual tray. So there is no trolley in the aisle. While I generally agree that this is a nicer way to present the food, I also think today’s flight shows that it’s unsuitable for a full cabin: the crew are walking up and down the aisle throughout the meal service, bringing or removing things. As a result, there’s constantly foot traffic in the cabin during the meal service.

Drinks are rather difficult to come by on this flight. And the crew are not proactively offering to replenish drinks Either. Even so, about 90 minutes into the flight, they run out of sparkling water and Coke Zero.

But the flight passes quickly, and eventually we land at 15:30. It’s certainly warmer here!

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of today’s experience. On the one hand, I think Air Malta is desperately tring to set itself apart from the low-cost competition. But at the same time, their whole new Business Class concept lacks focus and quality. First of all, there’s the issue of the seat reservations, which they made a mess of. If you’re going to offer the service, then commit to it. If you can’t do that, then just drop it. Furthermore, now that it’s buy on board in Economy Class on Air Malta, there really is no reason why they had to introduce a fancier Business Class product. And even that is done half-heartedly. The drinks running out in mid-flight is just strange and unprofessional.

Posted in Air Malta, Airbus A 320 NEO, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Zürich to London Heathrow

I finish teaching early today, mainly because the audio system in the classroom I’m using is inop and nobody had bothered to tell me. Today was my last time teaching this particular class, which is a shame really, because they were rather nice. At least, on a positive note, this was also my last class until September of next year!

I leave the university just after 15h to catch the 15:24 train to Zürich airport. It’s only a 12 minutes train ride from Winterthur.

Zürich airport is already decked out in full-on Christmas mode. I think it looks quite nice with all the lights. But where is everybody…?

I’ve already checked in on my mobile phone. So instead of going to the SWISS terminal, I head three floors up from the train station, then across the bridge to access check-in area 5 and then from there I go one floor up to the access point for security – which I’d say is probably the most direct routing.

The security check is quick and efficient. There are no queues. My flight is departing from the D gates, which is the non-Schengen area of the B pier at Zürich.

Because there isn’t really much to see from the waiting area, I figure I might as well go to the SWISS lounge, which is located behind immigration.

The lounge is your typical SWISS branded lounge. It has the usual selection of loud business men talking on the phone, light snacks and drinks. It’s not at all crowded when I arrive.

I’m only in the lounge for about 20 minutes – enough time for a cup of tea – before I decide it’s time to make my way to the gate.

Boarding for my flight is from gate D39 and starts exactly thirty minutes before departure with a call for priority passengers to board first.

Unfortunately, the location of the gate makes it impossible to take a decent picture of my plane.

I’m seated on 1A, and clearly Mr. 1C is not happy about that. I’m not sure what his problem is, but he’s definitely not a happy bunny.

He demonstratively plonks his fake Canada Goose jacket on the middle seat. I’m actually surprised he doesn’t say something to the effect of ‘I claim this territory for England’… or something like that.

Boarding for the flight is quick, and it looks as though the load on this evening’s flight is very light.

Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and packaged towels. SWISS appear to have recently switched suppliers, because their towels have a different smell than they used to.

Safety is always a bit sloppy on SWISS, which is really not good. And this flight is no different. The flight attendant asks Mr. 1D to either put on his jacket or stow it in the overhead bin for take-off. Alas, Mr. 1D is not willing to cooperate and simply asks why? To which the flight attendant literally replies that she really has no idea either, but that’s just the rule. And walks away.

Seriously? Mr. 1C has his earphones on during take-off, and nobody seems too bothered by that either. And the lights are not dimmed, even though it’s already dark outside.

Eventually, we take off just slightly ahead of schedule. The flight time is one hour and 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes holding.

The meal service starts straight away. There is no choice. The tray has on it a plate of cold roast beef with a potato salad, a plate of cheese and a creamy looking dessert.

I wasn’t intending to eat the meat, which is all the same because it smells rather awful. The salad is nice enough though.

The cheese is lovely. Can’t really go wrong there. It is served with a selection of white or dark bread from the basket. The crew come through the cabin twice with bread. Although it takes them so long for the second round that everybody has already finished their meal anyway by that time.

And the dessert is simply dreadful, despite the cute Läckerli on it, which is a speciality of Basel, where I live.

The cream is just horribly sweet and tastes awfully artificial.

But the flight passes quickly, and despite the holding, we still arrive on stand ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Immigration at Terminal 2 is quick this evening, and I’m through in no time.

All in all, this evening’s flight was no better or worse than any other airline’s short-haul European Business Class flight. I’m also pretty sure that SWISS takes passenger safety very seriously, because any airline’s reputation hinges on that being so. Nonetheless, I really do think they could improve on their crews’ attitude toward safety.

Posted in Airbus A 320, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TGV Lyria, Business First: Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel SBB

The meeting at ICAO ends just after noon. But by the time everybody has said good bye to everybody else and pretended the whole situation isn‘t just one big fat mess caused by ICAO and EASA together, it‘s gone 13h by the time I get to have lunch.

My train isn‘t leaving until 16:23. But the weather in Paris today is something nasty. And so, at 14:15 I descend down into the Metro at Les Sablons in Neuilly Sur Seine. From here I have a direct train on the line number 1 all the way to Gare de Lyon.

The journey takes thirty minutes between Les Sablons and Gare de Lyon.

Today I‘m travelling in BusinessPremière, which is located in car number 11. In BusinessPremière passengers receive complimentary newspapers, a welcome drink and a hot meal. It also means I‘m entitled to use the Salon Grand Voyageur, which is located in Hall 3, one floor down from Hall 2.

The Salon is quite small, which is why I don‘t take any pictures. But it‘s comfortable enough. There are toilets in the lounge. There is also a coffee machine serving complimentary hot drinks.

Boarding for the train starts 20 minutes before departure and terminates two minutes before departure.

The train is quite full, presumably because it‘s Friday afternoon and people are on their way home for the weekend.

The seat is quite comfortable. There is a power socket and a footrest. Seat pitch is good, but the foot rest is in a slightly inconvenient position…

The service begins about 20 minutes out of Paris with the distribution of the scented hot towels, newspapers and drinks. There is a full bar service available. I settle for some sparkling water.

The meal consists of a carrot cake with goat‘s cheese and peppers and two small pieces of salmon quiche.

And for dessert I have a slice of lemon cake with apricots.

It‘s really more of a snack than a meal, but given the time of day, I think it‘s perfectly adequate and quite tasty.

The meal ends with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.

The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive in Basel with a delay of three minutes which, funnily enough, we picked up only on the last eight kilometres of the journey from Paris.

As you may have guessed by now, I‘m a great fan of the TGV. It‘s fast, safe, reliable and it comes without the hassle of security checkpoints. And if everything else fails, the train just looks good inside and out.

The BusinessPremière product is attractive and certainly competitive with the airlines, especially when you take into account the much lower ticket price and the city centre departure from the Gare de Lyon.

Posted in First Class, Trains | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

In the long and old tradition of giving my colleagues at work that I mention in my blog a nickname, I suppose I should mention that I arrive at the airport early today, at 15:45 to be precise, for a meeting with my colleague, let‘s call him the scruffy M., to discuss the handover of duties while I‘m away on sabbatical.

We finish just before 17h and then I make my way to departures one floor up. Zürich Airport is slowly getting into the groove for Christmas. The lights are up, but they‘re not yet on. At least not all of them.

To access the security checkpoint, there are separate lanes for Economy Class passengers and for those with priority. Which is a good thing, because the airport is quite busy today.

But at least the queue moves quickly. Once I‘m airside, there are more Christmas lights.

This is also when I realise that now‘s the season that‘s difficult for taking pictures of aircraft from inside the terminal, because it gets dark earlier.

The last image, above, is of my aircraft to Paris. I suppose I could say I was being artistic. But I think we all probably know that‘s not really the case…

In any case, boarding for the flight starts at 17:25. That‘s 30 minutes ahead of our departure time.

I‘m seated on 1A, which is the bulkhead row. There are three rows in Business Class this evening. And from what I can see, I think there are only six passengers seated up front.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the packaged towels and a small bottle of still water.

The Business Class cabin is being taken care of by a gentlemen with a Turkish name. And I have to say, he‘s brilliant! One of the best flight attendants I‘ve experienced in a long time. He‘s cheerful, friendly, attentive and all round excellent at his job.

Once boarding is completed, he greets every passenger individually, informs us about the menu on the flight and takes orders for drinks with the meal.

There is no choice for the meal. But then again, the flight is only 55 minutes to Paris.

The main course is a plate of salmon tatar with zucchini, a mango and avocado salsa, crème fraîche and pumpernikel crumble.

The dish is served with a plate of cheese and butter.

There is a selection of brown and white bread and crackers from the breadbasket and the crew go through the cabin twice offering bread.

For dessert there is prune compote with panna cotta and crumble.

Eventually, we make our approach from the east, and although there is quite some traffic, there‘s no delay and we arrive on stand at 19:15. Exactly according to the schedule.

The Star Alliance operates out of Terminal 1 in Paris. That‘s the one that looks like a flying saucer. It may not be the most practical design, but it‘s just so stylish…!

I exit arrivals and make a quick stop at Marks and Spencer to get a sandwich for dinner. From there I head outside at door 32 to catch the bus into town.

Terminal 1 does not have a railway station. So if you want to take the train, you first need to take the CDGval to Terminal 2. Alternatively, you can also catch a Le Bus Direct bus service. There are various lines. I think the service is very expensive at EUR19 for a oneway ticket. But the number 2 line goes straight to Porte Maillot nonstop, which is convenient for where I need to go.

The journey take 25 minutes in good traffic and 45 minutes in normal Parisian traffic.

To conclude, I must say this was a short but very pleasant flight with Swiss today. All of the crew were friendly and seemed generally happy to be there, which isn‘t always the case with Swiss.

Posted in Airbus A 320, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Amsterdam

This year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is celebrating its centenery – one hundred years of continuous service under the same name and brand, making it the oldest airline in the world. This year, British Airways also decided it was time for a celebration, although somehow, that seems a bit like cheating, seeing as today’s British Airways wasn’t set up until 1974.

To be honest, I would have liked my KLM jubliee post to be something a bit more grand than just a short hop from Basel to Amsterdam. Perhaps a long-haul trip with the Queen of the skies, or so. Alas, the powers that be decided it was not meant to be. Even so, I didn’t want to ignore the Dutch jubliee entirely. And so, here you go: this one’s for KLM, happy birthday! You’re looking good at 100!

My day begins very, very early. The flight to Amsterdam departs at 06:20, which has me taking the 04:55 departure of the bus line 50 from the main railway station to the airport.

The bus arrives at the airport at 05:09. The check-in area and security are already very busy processing the first bank of departures.

Luckily, my Air France Platinum status gives me access to the fast track for security, which is not quite so busy as the line for Economy Class.

The KLM flights usually depart from gate 18, which is in the Schengen area of the airport. And that‘s a good thing, because the queue for the non-Schengen gates is endless!

By 05:18 I‘m through security and on my way to the lounge. The place is still fairly calm. I get myself a coffee, find a quiet corner and slowly start to wake up…

Boarding for the flight starts at 05:55 and is a somewhat chaotic affair. I don‘t think anybody quite knows what‘s going on. Initially there is just one queue. But then at some point a second one opens to speed up boarding. And then a while later, more or less as an after thought, one of the gate agents opens up a third queue for SkyPriority passengers, which is a bit pointless at this stage.

I‘m sitting on 1F, which is the bulkhead row, so seat pitch is very good. On the Embraer 190 stowage space is never an issue because there are two large cupboards up front.

The flight is busy but not completely full. By the time boarding finishes, the seat next to me is still empty. I think that‘s the one thing I really don‘t like with KLM. Even on the Cityhopper flights I think they should keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class By default. That‘s something Lufthans does better, for a change.

Outside it‘s still dark. Overnight the rain has set in again.

The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes. We take off in a northerly direction. The first stages of the flight is quite bumpy, as we ascend higher through layer after layer of thick cloud.

As soon as the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. Okay, so the delivery in a cardboard box may not be an expression of the highest sophistiction, but then again you don‘t eat the cardboard, do you?

Breakfast is a nicely balanced meal consisting of a bowl of fruit, yoghurt and Müsli, egg salad, bread and butter, and a selection of Dutch cheese and cold meat.

To drink I have a coffee and orange juice.

Sooner than expected we‘re already descending towards Amsterdam. The many greenhouses below produce a strange effect and illuminate the sky in a bright and unnatural looking yellow light.

Eventually we land 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Amaterdam is even more atrocious than it was in Basel. It‘s cold, windy and wet.

By the time the bus ejects me at the terminal, it‘s 07:30. I have one hour to go before my connecting flight. I can‘t be bothered with the lounge, which is in the opposite direction to pier B, from where my flight will be leaving. So instead I browse through the shops without the intention of buying anything.

Posted in Business Class, Embraer 190, KLM | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TGV InOui, First Class: Luxembourg via Mulhouse to Basel

I leave the Novotel Kirchberg at 10:06. My train back home doesn‘t leave until 11:24. But I figure I might as well get a move on, with my business here in Luxembourg done.

Mudam is the tram stop closest to the hotel. The next stop after that is Pfaffenthal, from where I connect onto the funicular railway.

Kirchberg is a plateau that sits just outside the city of Luxembourg, on the other side of a pretty, green valley.

Every morning, the grand duchy of Luxembourg is invaded by a whole armada of French, Belgian and German workers, causing hopless traffic jams along the Avenue JFK, Kirchberg‘s main artery.

So the Luxebourgers figured it made a lot of sense to have the commuter trains stop in Pfaffenthal, because That’s where the vast majority of people entering the city in the morning is headed anyway. And so, obviously with may more money than common sense, the station of Pfaffenthal was built halfway down the valley.

Incidentally, a Swiss company was contracted to build the funicular railway, which was designed to connect the station in the valley with the tram stop on the plateau.

The only problem with all of this, is that save for a period of an hour in the early morning and then again in the evening, the capacity of Pfaffenthal station is completely wasted. Which explains why there are so few people in my photos of the station.

Which really makes you wonder why the couldn‘t just have built a set of escalators instead? And in case you‘re wondering, the journey by funicular railway take less than a minute…

I reach the station in time for the 10:31 departure to Luxembourg main station. Quite frankly, it‘s an old and rickety looking train. But inside it looks as though the seats have been updated recently.

Although I should mention Luxembourg also has some more modern rolling stock…

At Luxembourg station I have enough time for a stop at Oberwies to get myself a coffee. The station building is not very big. After all, there‘s only ten platforms.

My train is departing from platform 7 and is already standing there when I arrive just before 11:00.

There are three first class carriages on the train, then the dining car, followed by four second class coaches. The train is empty, and pretty much stays that way all the way to Strasbourg.

Today I‘m on a single seat, which is rather pleasant if you‘re travelling on your own.

After leaving Luxembourg, the train briefly calls at Thionville, Metz, Colmar, and Strasbourg before reaching Mulhouse. The high speed sector is between Metz and Strasbourg and takes about 40 minutes. Other than that though, the train goes at a more moderate speed. Furthermore, the line is very busy with other trains, causing the TGV to slow down or stop often.

We pull into Mulhouse station at 13:52, with a delay of two minutes. It‘s only when viewed in the broad daylight that one becomes fully aware of just how run down and old the station in Mulhouse is…

My next connection from Mulhouse to Basel is at 14:19. Unfortunately, it‘s this puny little TER train, which doesn‘t even have a first class section. The train stops eight times on its way from Mulhouse to Basel.

I arrive back in Basel at 14:50. By 14:58 I‘m already back at home, after a door-to-door journey time of 4 hours and 52 minutes.

In summary, while I think the TGV is really good fun, very impressive and certainly a very good option for trips to Paris, I‘m not convinced about taking the TGV to Luxembourg. First of all, the high speed sector, for which the TGV has its own dedicated tracks, is rather short. Which means that for most of the journey, the TGV is more or less stop-starting with the other trains on the line. By the time we‘d reached Mulhouse today, we‘d already picked up a delay of 10 minutes. Furthermore, I do think they could coordinate the trains a bit better for a smoother connection in Mulhouse, which could then even bring down the journey time to under three hours.

Because I live in Basel, my journey today by TGV was pretty much the same duration as it would normally take me by plane to Zürich and then to catch a train home to Basel. But if I‘d been travelling from Winterthur, where I work, the journey by train would have been longer than by plane.

And finally, there‘s also the issue of the schedule. With my train leaving at 11:24 today, there wasn‘t really any time to go to the office in Luxembourg in the morning. There is wifi on the train, but I couldn‘t connect to that. If there were a train that left after 15h, then at least you‘d get a half day in the office. But like this, I basically spent money for a hotel room in Luxembourg only to catch a train this morning.

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