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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

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

Introduction

How rude! 23 hours before my departure to Sydney, I receive two emails: one if from Air France and the other is from QANTAS. The email from Air France informs me that my flight to Sydney has been cancelled and I can request a refund of my FlyingBlue miles ticket. The email from QANTAS tells me that they’re working to rebook me and will get back to me within 72 hours. Great! A short while later another message arrives to inform me that QANTAS has found an alternative and booked me on the departure from Melbourne at 21h00 instead of 13h00. Alternatively, I can select another option under the ‘Manage booking’ tab on the app. Only, the other options are a departure at 06h00 or at 07h00 in the moring. So a refund it is. Luckily, I find an alternative flight on the Virgin Australia website, and it even has a better timing – with a departure from Melbourne at 14h00.

Getting to the airport

In Melbourne I was renting a flat in Southbank, very close to the Yarra river, the CBD and Flinders Street station. Check-out is at 10h00 in the morning. I then make my way with all my luggage to the southern end of the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street station. There’s a train from here to Southern Cross station roughly every ten minutes. The journe takes about four minutes and costs AUD4.60.

At Southern Cross I alight and change to the SkyBus for the airport.

The oneway ticket is AUD19. If you get a return ticket each way is slightly cheaper, meaning you’ll only pay AUD32.

The journey takes about 25 minutes.

Check-in

Virgin checks in at Terminal 3, which is the first stop on the Skybus. The SkyBus drops you off at arrivals on the ground level. Departures are one floor up.

Business Class passengers can either use the self-service check-in machines or one of the check-in counters, which is what I do. While the friendly lady checks me in, we have a little natter about the heat wave they’re having in Europe. While we’re at it, she tells me that weather in Melbourne is a bit like a woman’s mood: it changes four times a day but never the way you expect it too. I’ll take that into consieration, Ma’am. She gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way.

The Virgin Australia Business Class lounge

The Virgin lounge is located right in between the E and F piers, before security. However, there are exits on both sides of the lounge that will eject you in a dedicated, segregated security- screening area for lounge visitors only.

The lounge is very big and not all that busy. It also doesn’t seem to be operating at full capacity, as not all the bars are open. There are also magazine shelves but no magazines, which I’m guessing is because of Covid19.

The large buffet is permanently manned, which makes it impossible to take pictures of it without getting the staff in the photos too.

The best feature of the lounge though, is the large window front that runs along the full length of it and that gives you good views of the ramp.

While I wait I track the progress of my aircraft. It’s running nearly two hours late on its previous flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne. Somewhere along the line, I notice there’s an aircraft change and our flight will now be operated on a different aircraft currently inbound from Hobart. That one will not reach Melbourne until 13h52, which means the 14h00 departure time is still not going to happen either way.

Once VH-VUS is safely on the ground and parked on its stand, I figure I might as well leave the lounge and go for a walkabout until boarding starts.

I reach gate 3 and they’re still unloading the cargo from the previous flight. The baggage carts with the Melbourne bound suitcases are already waiting, and I’m happy to spot my luggage on it too. The aluminium RIMOWA with all the stickers in the top left corner is one of mine.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 14h35, which means we’re probably going to be running an hour late by the time we depart. Which actually suits me better. I step aboard as one of the last passengers. The purser welcomes me aboard, followed by “there you are”. Before I can even take my seat, she asks me if I’d like some sparkling wine or still water.

The seat

On my previous flight, I was seated on row 1. This time I’m on row 2. The seat pitch is geat. There is a large seat pocket and the seat has USB and electricity plugs.

The meal

I can’t seem to get it right. I don’t know, maybe the Aussies just struggle with my accent. On my last flight, the choice was between the chicken burger and a chickpea salad. I ordered the chickpea salad and all the purser understood was something with ‘chick…’, and immediately brought me the burger instead. Which was not good. So this time, the choice is between another chicken burger and a salad. The guy next to me orders the burger. And even though I clearly enunciate ‘salad’, all the purser hears is “same”. Only this time, I’m prepared, and I immediately correct her and specify that I want the salad.

And it’s a good choice. The salad comes with little pieces of rice-shaped pasta, rocket, pumpkin, bell peppers and a yoghurt dressing. It’s very nice. With that there is another packet of crackers with cheese and a chocolate heart. God, I’m missing Swiss chocolate right now…

Arrival

By the time we pull onto our stand it’s 16h10, so we’re running over an hour later. Which suits me fine, because I’m picking up the light of my life today, who will be arriving at 17h20 at the international terminal. My late arrival means a shorter wait.

My suitcases arrive very quickly. I then make my way outside to catch the complimentary Tbus that connects the domenstic terminals with the international terminal. The Tbus is orange, and you really can’t miss it. It runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes about ten minutes, depending on the traffic on the roads.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Introduction

It had always been a dream of mine that one day I would watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House. This weekend the stars lined up for me, and I was able to get a ticket to watch the last performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I tought it was a brilliant production. The whole cast were solid. But the soprano’s rendition of the fabulous Un bel di vedremo was literally a show stopper.

Getting to the airport

At 11h40 on Sunday morning I step of the ferry from Manly and walk the short distance to Circular Quay station, from where I can catch a T8 train to Sydney airport. The journey should take about twenty minutes to the domestic terminal.

As it turns out though, they’re working on the line today. So the station is closed and trains to and from the airport are only running as far as Central station. So instead, I walk a few extra steps and board the L2 tram from Circular Quay to Central station. The journey takes about twenty minutes and both the L2 and the L3 run to Central.

And then from Central Station I catch the train to the airport. All in all, the journey from Circular Quay to the airport takes me about 45 minutes instead of 20, but I’m good for time. So no harm done. On public transport in Sydney there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. You can just badge in and out with your credit card as you go. The maximum amount you’ll pay for a whole day of travel is AUD16.

I alight at the stop for the domestic terminals, which serves both Terminals 2 and 3. Virgin Australia operates out of Terminal 2.

Considering how big Sydney airport is, the distance from the station to the check-in area is surprisingly short.

I’ve already checked in using the app, so I head straight for security. There is no separate queue for Business Class passengers.

The Virgin Australia lounge

It’s rather nice that in Australia, on domestic flights you only have to take out laptops, and not all your liquids as well. The entrance to the Virgin lounge is off to the right as you exit security. It’s quite busy, so I don’t take a lot of photos. The lounge has a wide window front overlooking the apron and the runways beyond – perfect for some plane watching!

There is a fairly large buffet with a selection of cold snacks, such as crackers and cheese, egg sandwiches, tuna wraps, and salads. There is also a choice of two soups.

At around 14h15 I start to get bored, so I figure I mights as well make my way to the gate. Boarding should start at 14h35.

Boarding

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and passengers travelling with children or with special needs. If you’re sitting at the back of the bus, you can actually take the stairs down onto the ramp and then walk across to board the aircraft through the rear door.

The cabin

Virgin Australia has two rows of Business Class. Each seat has an adjustable headrest. I think I prefer this seat to that of QANTAS simply because of the fact that the seat back is more upright. For my liking the recline of the QANTAS seat in the upright position is a bit exagerated.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good.

And there’s a small tray that can be pulled out of the armrest for a bit of extra space.

Service

The service begins on the ground with either still water or sparkling wine. Other than that, the crew are very friendly. What is perhaps the most noticeable difference to QANTAS is that Virgin seem to take the Covid measures a lot more seriously. As passengers board, they are reminded to put on their face masks and there’s also a recorded announcement reminding passengers how the face mask should be worn properly.

We move off stand just after 15h00 and make our way to runway 34R, which is quite a schlepp from the domestic apron.

We take off and make a sharp right turn towards the sea. In the distance I can see Bondi beach and the North and South Heads.

The meal

To eat there are two choices: a chicken katsu sandwich with Japanese mayo or a Morroccan chickpea salad. It is perhaps a tad unfortunate that both dishes start with chick…, because I actually order the chickpea salad. Only, what I end up with is the chicken. I don’t bother to point out the mistake. The flight time is only seventy minutes or so. I think I’ll live. also on the tray is a package of cheese and crackers and a small chocolate heart.

And what a dreadful meal it is. The sandwich is incredibly oily and the chicken has a revolting rubbery texture. Needless to say, I put the thing down after one bite. The crackers are good, though.

Arrival

Our approach brings us in right over the city, with St. Kilda visible in the distance. The weather in Melbourne is not as nice as it was in Sydney. It’s overcast and also cooler.

We make a quick taxi to Terminal 3, which is where Virgin operates out of here in Melbourne.

Getting into Melbourne from the airport

Right outside the exit from arrivals is the bus stop for the Skybus, which runs into Melbourne every ten minutes. The journey takes about thirty minutes to Southern Cross station and a one way tickets costs AUD16.

And… it’s a double decker bus. Suitcases are stowed on the lower level, and passengers sit on the upper level. If you’re sitting on the first row, you get some great views as the bus approaches the city.

QANTAS, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Transferring from international to domestic at Sydney

So, it’s 10h34 when my suitcase finally arrives on the belt after having to wait for a solid hour for them to start delivering the bags off QF2 from Heathrow and Singapore. My flight to Melbourne is leaving in 24 minutes.

If you’re connecting onto a domestic flight with QANTAS, the transfer at Sydney airport is really easy. As you exit through immigration turn right and follow the signs marked ‘QANTAS domestic transfer’. Eventually, this will lead you to a small, flat building with ten check-in counters. When I enter, there are two Economy Class and one Business Class counters open. I hand my passport and boarding pass to the check-in agent and she tells me that I’m not going to make it onto the 11 o’clock departure and they’ll have to rebook me. She then tells me the next available flight is not until 21h00 this evening, in more than nine hours – or she could send me via Canberra, even though apparently she can’t really tell me how long the layover in Canberra would be. Yeah, no. So the 21h departure it is. Although she also tells me I could always try and get on an earlier flight once I get to the domestic terminal. There is a flight leaving for Melbourne every thirty minutes.

From check-in I head through security for the airside bus transfer from the international terminal to the domestic terminal on the other side of the airport.

I mean, obviously I’m not too happy about missing my flight in my advanced state of exhaustion, but the complimentary ramp tour is quite nice…

QANTAS domestic Business Class lounge

The entrance to the QANTAS domestic lounge is more or less opposite gate four.

At the entrance I explain my predicament to the receptionist and she tells me she’ll keep an eye on the flights to check for an earlier availability. In the meantime, she suggests I go down to the concourse from time to time and check directly with the gate attendants for any possible openings.

The lounge is enormous, but very busy. It’s basically impossible to take pictures without pestering anybody or getting them in the picture unintentionally. The buffet is quite extensive, with a good selection of cold dishes, soup and one hot dish (some curry with rice, I think). There is also a large coffee bar that seems to be permanently busy during my stay.

I park myself in an armchair by the windows and hope the view will be enough to prevent me from nodding off to sleep. Apparently it’s not. God knows what noises I must have been making, because when I awake an hour later with a start, I get a very bemused look from the people around me. It’s been a long trip, okay? At least I wasn’t drooling…

Eventually, I decide to go for another walkabout to avoid nodding off again. The 16h00 departure at gate 10 is running late, so I figure I might as well try my luck, and… bingo! Seat 2C is available and there is still enough time for my suitcases to be located and loaded onto the aircraft.

Boarding

I very much like that QANTAS has two separate queues for boarding, with premium passengers on the left, and Economy passengers on the right. There is a large box set up in the middle of the queue where passengers can help themselves to complimentary earphones to use during their flight.

Boarding starts at 16h15. In the photo below is the 16h30 departure to Melbourne, which ends up pushing off stand before we do.

At the door passengers are welcomed by two elderly gentlemen. Both of them are very friendly and chatty, making easy conversation with the passengers as they wait to enter the aircraft.

The cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin with four rows on its B 737-800 fleet. The seats are in a 2 + 2 configuration. The seat pitch is very comfortable. The recline is okay, although for my liking the seat back could be more upright in the neutral position. The headrest is adjustable in height, with foldable ears for better head support. I now know from experience that they work and really do prevent your bonce from rolling about like a little bobble head man.

There are no inflight entertainment screens, but streaming via wifi is available.

The meal

Once we’re airborne, the service starts pretty much as soon as the wheels go up. The flight time is one hour & twelve minutes.

Much to my surprise, there are two meal options. One is a prosciutto salad and the other is a warm leek quiche with onion confit and mashed peas. With that the crew serve sourdough bread with butter. There’s also a Lindor chocolate on the tray.

The meal is good and hits the spot nicely. The presentation of the tray could perhaps be a bit nicer, but then again you’re not eating the tray…

Arrival

We land in darkness and make a short taxi to our stand on the domestic pier. From there it’s just a short walk to the baggage reclaim, where my suitcases arrive just as I reach the delivery belt. And then I make my way to the hotel. I’m a wreck.

Conclusion

I will be spending the next two months in Australia, and I’m really looking forward to the peace and quiet. Before that though, I think it’ll take me a few days to recover from the long journey.

This short domestic hop on QANTAS was an interesting comparison for me, even if I was already very tired by this stage. Two things struck me: first, that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between QANTAS’ Busines Class product on short-haul and its long-haul First Class product. The First Class product is really not very good, and not up to international standards. In contrast, their domestic Business Class product is very good, even though they’ve more or less cornered the market and needn’t try so hard. As a result, the gap between Business and First didn’t seem that great to me. The second thing that strikes me is that this is the complete opposite of the situation of the European carriers which still offer a First Class. In Europe it’s usually more the case that the First Class product is very good, like my experience with SWISS from Zürich to Singapore, but the gap between First and Business Class is too big, with the latter more like a slightly better Economy class service than a truly premium offering.

QANTAS, First Class – Airbus A 380: Singapore to Sydney

Transfer in Changi

I step off the SWISS flight from Zürich at 17h20. Apparently, we are running fifteen minutes late. On the scale of events though, after a twelve hour flight that seems rather unimportant. My connection with QANTAS to Sydney will be departing from Terminal 1 at 19h30. There is a young lady holding up a sign with my name as I exit the airbridge. I approach her and she gives me instructions how to get to Terminal 1. She also tells me the gate will be D46.

So I catch the Skytrain from the station opposite my arrival gate. The journey only takes a few minutes.

Once I reach Terminal 1, I follow the signs for the QANTAS First Class lounge, which is separate from the Business Class lounge.

QANTAS First Class lounge Singapore

The lounge is quite busy, so I do not have any good opportunities to take any photos. It is quite a spacious lounge, with a fairly large dining area.

There are also showers available in the lounge.

Just before 19h00 I decide to leave and make my way to D46. There is a queue forming outside the lounge as I leave, which I consider a good sign, because it means my aircraft has arrived as QF2 from Heathrow.

Boarding

The security check takes place at the gate and there is a separate queue for First and Business Class passengers. Our A 380 is in the process of being turned around for the onward journey to Sydney.

Boarding should have started at 19h00. However, 19h30 comes and goes and there are still no signs of activity. The ground crew make an announcement to inform passengers that boarding will not start until 20h30. By this time I urgently need to take a leak, so I decide to exit the gate area because there are no loos behind the security checkpoint.

I go for a walkabout and return at around 20h20, again going through security to enter the gate area. At 20h30, another announcement is made to inform us that one of the high loaders for the cargo accidentally drove into the aircraft when it arrived. The Singaporean civil aviation authorities and a team from Airbus support are trying to determine if the aircraft is still airworthy. So the departure time is moved back to 22h30, and passengers in First and Business Class are advised to return to their respective lounges.

By this time I am starting to feel hungry again, so I figure I might as well eat in the lounge and then skip the meal on the plane. I can highly recommend the shrimp wontons in chilli and ginger oil.

I return to the gate at 22h20 and go through security a third time. Just as I enter the gate area, the crew announce that the aircraft is finally ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the first passenger in the First Class cabin to board, which gives me ample opportunity to take photos.

The seat & cabin

The QANTAS First Class seat is the strangest thing I have ever seen. I really do not get what they were trying to achieve with this seat. There are fourteen seats in a 1 + 1 + 1 configuration. In the take-off position, the seat faces forward. However, to recline or extend the seat into a bed, it turns about 45 degrees towards the windows. There just seems to be a lot of unnecessarily wasted space. And you sit far away from the windows.

There is no storage space for a larger item such as a laptop. There are two small drawers, but one of those is already being used to stow the earphones. The USB port is also located in a strange position.

You also feel quite exposed in the seat. There is a screen that can be raised for more privacy, but it is not really all that effective.

The First Class cabin is located on the lower level between the L1 and L2 doors. Behind it is the galley and then the Economy Class cabin.

The service

There are four crew working the First Class cabin. They are friendly and very Australian. Martin comes to introduce himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He brings me a glass of sparkling water and a plate with a caviar canapé and a cracker with baba ghanoush, which seems like rather an odd combination.

Next his colleague brings me the vanity kit, slippers and pajamas.

And then the menu. Not a single refreshing towel is offered during the entire flight.

The meal

Catering on QANTAS is something that I have always found quite odd. I just do not get it. I am never quite sure what the concept for the meal service is supposed to be, which also makes it difficult to know exactly what and how to order. I am still full from the wontons anyway, so I tell the crew to make my bed up immediately after take-off. I will not be having dinner, but I want to be woken for breakfast.

In the middle of the night I wake up feeling a bit hungry. So I make my way to the galley and ask if there might be any snacks available, to which one of the female cabin crew suggests the chocolate cake with pears. I also check the inflight map, which shows that we are running four hours late.

The second service

Two hours out of Sydney, I ask for a coffee, apple juice and breakfast. Apparently you can order food à la carte. Nonetheless, it takes the crew a whole hour after bringing me the drinks to start laying the table for breakfast.

I order a Birchermüsli and toast. The first thing that strikes me is that for QANTAS a Birchermüsli means something very different to what it means in Switzerland. What I get is a bowl of dry müsli with a large dollop of yoghurt. The only problem is that the yoghurt hardly has enough liquid for the müsli to soak up, so it is rather a dry affair.

The other thing that strikes me is that the crew ask me what I would like with my toast. I say marmalade, and that is exactly what I get. On SWISS I got a whole dish with four different preserves to choose from.

At the suggestion of the crew I also decide to try the breakfast brioche. And what a mistake that turns out to be. It is basically a brioche bun with a hash brown, egg, tomato chutney and bacon in it. I can hear my arteries clogging up just looking at it…

Arrival

The weather in Sydney is dreadful. It is windy and raining. As a result, there is a bit of a delay for our arrival. By the time we touch down, we are already more than four hours behind schedule.

We pull up to our stand and the captain comes on the PA to ask all passengers to remain seated. Apparently, one of the passengers developed Covid symptoms during the flight, and now they need to be checked before anybody is allowed to disembark. Eventually we wait for forty minutes before we are allowed off the plane, by this time nearly five hours late.

The good news is that we are so late that the early morning queue at immigration has already died down. But that is about as far as my luck goes. For reasons that are not explained, it then takes another whole hour for the first suitcases to arrive on the belt, and another twenty minutes for my suitcase to arrive.

Conclusion

It really is difficult to know what to say about this flight. Sure, the delays were not really the fault of the airline, and I think all passengers appreciated that the crew wanted the damage checked before we got airborne. Other than that though, I found the whole First Class experience on QANTAS seriously underwhelming. Their only saving grace were the friendly crew. The seat was just plain weird and the food offerings were sparce and more like an average Business Class product you would get on other airlines.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Zürich to Singapore

Transfer in Zürich

With six hours to kill before my flight to Singapore, I decide not to head for the First Class lounge straight away. It is a lovely day outside, so I might as well make the best of it.

The Circle is a complex of offices and shops located land side, right behind the bus terminal. Access to The Circle is either at ground level or through a tunnel that connects it to the terminal buildings. Apparently, the tunnel has become a bit of a thing with the young and terminally hip Tik Tok and Insta community. As a result, do not be surprised to find a group of young people blocking most of the tunnel and trying to capture photos of themselves that they can post and that, at least they think, will secure their future social media fame and fortune…

The Circle has been modelled after the Niederdörfli, which is part of the old town of Zürich. Behind the buildings is a small, artificial hillock covered in thick forest. It is quite nice, and if it were not for the distant noise of the aircraft and the Autobahn, you might easily forget that you are in fact in the back yard of a major transport hub.

Check-in

Two hours later I figure I might as well head back into the terminal. I mean, I have a lot of investigating to do for this blog before my departure to Singapore.

My first stop is the First Class check-in area, just to make sure that the itinerary has not changed in the meantime. The young lady confirms that I am all good and then escorts me to the escalators leading up the the First Class lounge.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the A pier

Access to the First Class lounge is via the escalators to the left of the Edelweiss Bar in Terminal A or Check-in 1. I head up the stairs, where I am welcomed by a friendly middle-aged woman. She scans my boarding pass and inquires if I would like to go straight across to the E pier, or if I would rather wait here. I tell her I would prefer to go immediately, so she puts my name down for the shuttle in fifteen minutes and invites me to head through security in the meantime.

The lounge above Terminal A is fairly large. The design is very typical for Switzerland, I think. It is more comfortable than ostentatious.

I take a seat and immediately a young man comes to ask me if there is anything I would like to drink. I decline and tell him I will not be staying long.

First Class shuttle to the E pier

At 18h40 I head one floor up and walk down the long corridor to the departure point for the First Class shuttle to the E pier. I am the only one making the journey at this time. The driver takes me downstairs to clear immigration, and then we head out my ride to the E pier.

SWISS has these dedicated, purpose built mini vans to take passengers across, and they really are very funky. Basically, they look like a small version of a SWISS First Class cabin, complete with lamps and wood furnishings.

SWISS First Class day rooms on the E pier

The driver accompanies me up to the third floor with the lift, which ejects me in front of reception of the First Class lounge. SWISS has a limited number of day rooms available in the lounge. The receptionist informs me that “St. Moritz” is still available if I am interested. Of course I am!

The day rooms are brilliant. They are fairly small. There is no room for a desk or anything. However, each room has a comfortable double bed and a nice toilet and shower.

The view from the window is not too shabby either. But make sure to close the curtains before taking a shower, as the deck in front of the window is accessible from the lounge.

I manage to get a few hours of sleep. After a refreshing shower I decide to head out and investigate the lounge. It is fairly quiet today.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the E pier

There is no buffet service in the lounge. However, there is a large dining area and the staff are happy to also serve food on the deck outside.

My bird to Singapore is the B 777 parked next to the A 340-300.

No idea what this squirt is doing here…

I order the smoked salmon tatar with toast, which is quite tasty. Meanwhile, the evening bank has rolled on, returning the SWISS short-haul fleet home for the night. It is quite spectacular to watch, with the full moon and the mountains in the background.

Boarding

At 22h00 I head downstairs for the document check ahead of boarding. By this time the shops have already started shutting down for the night.

As I pass the gate, the gate agents tells me I will need to put on a mask for the duration of the flight as per regulation of the Singaporean authorities.

The cabin & seat

I step aboard the aircraft through the L2 door and make my way through the Stübli to the First Class cabin. I am seated on 1A. Eight out of eight seats are occupied tonight.

At my seat there is already a 50cl bottle of water and a voucher for 50Mb of complimentary wifi usage.

Once I am settled, the crew bring me the menu and the pajamas. A vanity kit and slippers are already at my seat.

The seat is wide, spacious and offers a lot of storage space that I think I must have missed on my last trip on the A 340 to Dubai. The cupboard has two hangers and two compartments to store smaller items and shoes.

There is also a small reading lamp that gives off pleasant, warm light in the dark.

The cupboard serves a second purpose to close off the seat from the aisle for more privacy. There is also a small divider that is operated electrically and which extends from the side of the seat. All in all, it is not a bad solution. The point of having these enclosed cabins is not really to have more privacy, but to prevent being disturbed in your sleep by crew and people passing by your seat.

The service

There are two crew working the First Class cabin, and both of them are excellent hosts. The service starts on the ground with the distribution of icy cold oshibori, which are highly welcomed – because although the aircon is running, the aircraft is still warm from standing around in the sun all day.

The meal

While we are still on the ground I am brought a glass of orange juice and an amuse bouche of flûtes from Sprüngli and a green tomato coulis with red tomato mousse. It is very refreshing.

Once we are airborne and the crew is released and the service begins. I am very much impressed that they actually manage to pull off the full meal service within less than two hours after take-off and without making the service seem rushed.

Starter: asparagus salad…

…and salmon trout with cucumber and trout mousse. Both of the starters are excellent. The salad leaves have managed not to go all limp in the heat, and the trout mousse is exceptional. It has a lovely smokey taste and a smooth, velvety texture.

Soup: gazpacho with shaved almonds. The soup is also very good, and has a strong dose of garlic – which at least I like very much. Not so sure about my fellow passengers though…

Main course: veal with morel jus and onion chutney, asparagus, and cheese polenta. I have no idea what compelled me to try this dish. I normally do not eat meat much, and certainly not very often on a plane. Whatever it was, I am glad I did because this dish is lovely. The polenta is rich and creamy and the meat has managed to stay juicy but without being bloody.

Cheese: a selection of cheese from the region around Lake Lucerne. Served with mustard chutney, grapes and fig bread. The blue one was a bit too salty for my liking, but the others were rather nice.

Dessert: chocolate pie. Oh my god, for a moment there I am not quite sure I will survive this dessert. It is very good, but it is also amazingly sweet and so, so rich.

Once the meal is done, I change into my pajamas and ask for the bed to be made up. I manage to sleep for a solid seven hours.

Second service

As soon as the cabin crew notice I am awake they come to ask me if I would like coffee. The young lady working the First Class cabin brings me the coffee and tells me that for one horrible moment she thought the coffee machine – the most important piece of equipment even before the engines in her view – may have gone US. But luckily she managed to get it going again.

She then ask me if I am having breakfast. There is no menu, so I challenge her to surprise me. Which she and her colleague take to mean I will try a bit of everything!

With breakfast done, I’m feeling fit to burst. Thank goodness we only have about one more hour to run to Singapore, where I can get off the plane and walk off some of all this lovely food.

Arrival in Singapore

The approach into Singapore is very scenic and takes us right past the waterfront and Changi airport, before we then make a wide 180 degree turn to line up and land.

As we pull onto our stand, the cleaning crew are already expecting us. I am guessing it is very humid, because they look as though they are trying to move as little as possible.

Conclusion

This experience with SWISS was a very pleasant surprise. I think it also proved, yet again, that the crew can make or break a flight in First Class. The crew working this flight were friendly and engaged with the passengers in a pleasant and effortless way that made you feel welcome – as though they were happy to have you with them. The lounge in Zürich was also very nice and the day rooms were just brilliant.

Of course, those of you who regularly read this blog may be wondering how SWISS compared to Air France. The answer is, I think I could not really say – mainly because their products are very different. The Air France service in La Première is elegant, polished and very grand – or just really very French. For example, when you order a drink in La Première, they will always serve it to you from a silver tray, whereas at SWISS they would just bring you a glass from the galley, without a tray. It is a minor thing and not really all that important. On the other hand, I found the service on SWISS a lot more personable.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-100: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Zürich

Introduction

A week after my return from Bogotà I am at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport again. In pre-Covid times the Lufthansa carriers operated out of Terminal 1 and even had their own, dedicated satellite. However, Terminal 1 has been closed since the start of 2020. And for the time being, the Lufthansa airlines have had to relocate to Terminal 2B.

From the RER B railway station at Terminal 2, it is about five minutes on foot to Terminal 2B. To get there, you first need to cross the departure hall of 2D.

Check-in

In Terminal 2B there are two check-in areas. The Lufthansa group checks in its flights in area 1. There are two First Class counters, three Business Class counters and six Economy Class counters. The check-in agent sends my suitcase on its way and then wishes me a pleasant flight.

With my passport and three boarding passes in hand, I make my way to the security checkpoint, which is located between terminals 2B and 2D.

I really like the architecture of 2B/2D. The security checkpoint is one floor up, and there is a dedicated queue for First and Business Class passengers.

The security check is a bit of a mess, mainly because the staff are too busy bitching about the passengers to pay attention to what they are doing. But eventually I still manage to get through.

The lounge

The contractor lounge is incredibly ugly, dirty and not very appealing. Although SWISS can hardly be blamed for that. The food options are simply strange and the place is a complete mess. I do a walk through and quickly realise I am probably better off outside where at least I can see the aircraft movements. I honestly think the public seating areas in this terminal are nicer than those in the lounge.

Boarding

The added benefit of not staying in the lounge means that I am at the gate to watch the inbound from Zürich pulling onto its stand. The flight today is operated by an A 220-100, and the flight is full.

I’m the last to board. Sitting on 1A I think there’s hardly any reason to board first, only to have to watch the entire aircraft file past.

The cabin

The cabin is well maintained. There are four rows of Business Class for a total of twelve passengers. All twelve seats are occupied.

Seating on row one is quite tight, with not much leg room.

Service

The crew up front is a lovely young woman, presumably of Eastern European origin. She’s the maître de and she’s really excellent. She is serious, but not unfriendly, and very professional in her interaction with the passengers. Once the doors close, she passes through the cabin with small bottles of water and packaged towels.

The meal

The flight time is fifty minutes, which is not really all that much. The meal is another SWISS original – a hearty Wurst & Käse salad (slices of Cervelat with cheese, boiled egg, cornichons and radishes). You may like it, or you may not… With that, bread rolls and butter are served from a basket. Dessert is some gelatinous concoction. To drink I have a Coke Zero, and the cabin crew even ask me if I would like lemon and ice with that.

And there is a silver lining: at least on this flight he crew remember to pass through the cabin with chocolates for the Business Class cabin.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Zürich at 16h20 after an uneventful flight. I now have six hours and twenty minutes to make my onward connection. I think I am slowly starting to get excited about this trip…!

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Amsterdam to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Transfer in Amsterdam… it is not pretty!

My flight from Bogotà arrives in Amsterdam at eleven in the morning. My onward connection to Paris is not until 14h30. At 11h15 the aircraft comes to a stop on its stand, we disembark and I make my way to security – where there’s already a very long queue forming. There are ground staff everywhere, trying to manage the queues. All in all it takes me over ninety minutes to reach the head of the queue. The security staff do an excellent job, despite the fact that they are basically being subjected to a constant stream of verbal abuse, yelled at, and even threatened.

I think what strikes me the most about the situation in Amsterdam is the incredibly high level of aggression among passengers. That, and the complete and utter stupidity of the human race. Standing in a queue for ninety minutes brings out all the worst in humanity, and makes you wonder how we managed even to invent the bloody wheel before killing each other. There’s one guy giving the girl from security hell, insisting that his Business Class ticket gives him privileges to jump the queue. She makes several attempts to explain to him that the priority line has been shut down, and there there is only the one, very long queue. Then there’s the American family who feel they need to jump the queue because their flight will be leaving in 45 minutes, to which another American tells them to just shut the f**k up and deal with it, he actually watched his flight depart without him from the queue… It really is quite horrible. Still, at least the queue for immigration is very short.

By the time I get to the Crown lounge in the Schengen area it’s already coming up to 13h00 and the place is crawling with disgruntled passengers. Bugger this, I’m better off outside where I can at least see the aircraft departing.

Boarding

My flight is leaving from C07. Next to us at C05 is the previous flight to Paris, which leaves only thirty minutes earlier, at 14h00. While I sit and wait, I watch the poor front line staff dealing with passenger after passenger who arrives at the gate, only to be told that they have missed their connection. What’s probably worse, is that the aircraft is still on stand, probably due to a slot restriction. And passengers don’t get that, “if the aircraft is still here, why won’t you let me on…?”.

My flight is running more than an hour late by the time we start boarding. The missed connections from the flight at 14h00 contact the gate agent of my flight to be reprotected, only to be told that the flight is already full. Which is, of course, a joke, because by this time everybody on the flight knows that not all passengers that are booked on the flight are going to make it through security on time. There’s a lot of frustration everywhere, especially when eventually we push back from the gate with twenty reported no-shows, twenty empty seats that could have been taken by the passengers from the previous flight.

The seat

I’m seated on 3A. The middle seat is left empty, and there is an elderly American gentleman on 3C. Seat pitch on row three is very tight, my best option is to spread my legs wide to avoid having my knee caps crushed when the guy in front of me decides to recline his seat while we wait. Other than that, the seat has a USB port integrated in the arm rest and there’s wifi available on board. There are six rows of Business Class on this flight, and all seats are taken.

The service

While we wait for our ATC clearance, the cabin crew pass through the cabin with packaged towels and still water.

The meal

The flight time to Paris is fifty minutes. Service is by FlyingBlue status, and as a result, I ended up being served first, which is rather awkward, to be honest. The meal consists of a zucchini and mozzarella salad, bread and camembert cheese and a very rich chocolate cake that is so thick that I am unable to finish it.

Arrival

The weather in Paris is lovely. It’s sunny but not too warm, with a temperature of about 22 degrees. We land from the West, and then take the long taxi route to our stand at 2F.

More delays

But the fun doesn’t stop there, boys and girls. First, there is a delay with the delivery of the luggage, which takes about thirty minutes to start arriving. Still, at least my suitcase made it, so there is that.

Getting into town

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Molitor Hotel near the Roland Garros tennis court. Only, the RER B train line from CDG airport is not running today. So instead, I first have to catch a replacement bus to Stade de France.

Then from there I catch the RER D train to Châtelet-Les Halles.

Then from there the RER A to Auber.

And then from there the metro line 9 to Ange-Molitor. In total it takes me two whole hours to get form the airport to the hotel. By the time I arrive I’m just a total wreck.

Conclusion

The short hop from Amsterdam to Paris was incredibly tiring and really not at all enjoyable. It wasn’t just that there were many delays and a lot of queueing involved. These things happen. What made the whole experience unpleasant was the extremely high level of anger and aggression – and the rather off-putting stench of entitlement coming off some of the passengers.

I salute all the front line staff in the call centres, at security, the receptionists at the lounges, the gate agents, the cabin crew, the ground handlers and rampers, the stoic pilots and the excellent air traffic controllers for their professionalism. You guys are doing an incredible job in the face of adversity this summer. May you receive really, really fat bonuses and pay rises for it very soon. You deserve it. Not everybody would put up with the shit you guys are having to deal with. Until then, you have my gratitude for returning me home safely. Thank you!


– William

KLM, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Bogota El Dorado to Amsterdam via Cartagena

I think I insulted a Frenchman…

Today I’m flying back home from Bogotà. Once I’m fully awake, I check my iPhone to find that my colleague, the excellent B, has sent me a Whatsapp message. And it’s one of those messages with a very angry smiley. You know, the one with the orange face and steam coming out of his nose. You see, in my last post on the flight from Paris to Bogotà I referred to the pasta, or should I say pâtes, in the picture below as ravioli. And the excellent B took umbrage, because apparently they’re not Italian ravioli but French ravioles. Trust my luck they happen to be a speciality from the excellent B’s home town, Valence, in France…

Of course, my inner foodie is telling me that it doesn’t really matter what you call those squishy, tasty little buggers – they’re just seriously delicious. Having said that, as a linguist I am compelled to agree with Winston Churchill, who argued that a man should always say what means, otherwise he can never mean what he says. And a gentleman should always mean what he says. So there you have it.

I suppose my saving grace is that the excellent B is a Frenchman. In as much, his message to me simply includes a demand to correct my mishap, which I hereby do. If he were Italian, I’d probably have a dead horse’s head in my bed tomorrow…!

Introduction

I can’t really say that I saw anything much of Bogotà, seeing as this was a work visit. What I can say though, is that the people here are really just so friendly. It’s quite heart warming, and even though I don’t actually speak any Spanish worth mentioning, and many of them don’t speak any English either, they’re easy to interact with, always helpful and generous to a fault.

Other than that, I certainly felt the 2800 metres altitude at which the city lies during my stay. Just going up a flight of stairs here has me out of breath and gasping for air. It’s quite disconcerting in the beginning. The one thing I honestly have to say I don’t like, is the food. If you’re not much of a carnivore and don’t enjoy overly greasy food much, you may want to pack a few boxes of crackers before you visit.

Getting to the airport

In Bogotà I am staying at the Hilton Garden Inn El Dorado, which is conveniently located five minutes away on foot from the course venue. The hotel runs a shuttle to the airport every hour on the hour, and the journey time is fifteen minutes.

Check-in

International flights operate out of Terminal 1. Air France checks in on counters 42 through 48, which are located exactly opposite entrance number 7 to the terminal bulding.

There are two SkyPriority counters available. The young lady checks in my suitcase and hands me a voucher to visit the El Dorado lounge opposite gate 47.

The El Dorado lounge

The El Dorado lounge is a Priority Pass lounge. And from what I can tell, most of the guests in the lounge are there with their Priority Pass, not because they’re travelling on a Business Class ticket. The Priority Pass will get you entry into the lounge. But if you’re looking for grub and booze there’s a USD8.- surcharge. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother.

The lounge is a very odd, long shape. It’s gloomy and feels more like a factory canteen than a lounge. Normally there would be a buffet. But with Covid measures still in place in Colombia, there are two ladies behind a separation that are serving passengers.

I have rice and melanzane parmigiana, because that was the least meaty option – and it’s so discusting. I mean, you can’t really screw up rice. But the melanzane…

The flying Dutchman and I spend a grand total of about seven minutes in the lounge. After that, we leave again and head for the Juan Valdez coffee shop to get some real food that does not taste like, look like and make you want to puke.

The views from the public lounge are also much better. It’s not everyday you get to see some of these babies below (at least not if you live in Switzerland).

KLM operates to Bogotà routing AMS-BOG-CTG-AMS, which means that there are Cartagena-bound passengers on the aircraft from Amsterdam, who then have to spend ninety minutes loitering about before continuing their journey for another hour to Cartagena.

Boarding

Boarding starts rather unceremoniously, first boarding the passengers with Cartagena as their final destination, and then the passengers boarding in Bogotà for Amsterdam.

The cabin & seat

The cabin and seat configuration KLM has on the B 787-9 is nearly identical to that of Air France. Mostly, the differences are because of the branding. This time, I’m seated on 1K, so the opposite side from where I sat on the inbound from Paris with Air France.

Privacy on 1K is great, as there are no middle seats. However, behind the curtain is the toilet. Although I have to say this is not an issue during the flight and there are never any queues.

The menus, vanity kit and water are already on the seat when I arrive – together with the pillow and blanket.

The Bogotà to Cartagena service

The crew operating the flight to Cartagena is the same one that flew the inbound from Amsterdam. Even so, they’re still friendly and don’t look too worse for wear. While we’re on the ground there is a welcome drink service with a choice of champagne, water, apple juice or orange juice.

The flight time from Bogotà to Cartagena is one hour.

During the short flight the crew serve more drinks and a packet of nuts. This time I have the apple juice to drink.

Transit in Cartagena

As soon as we touch down in Cartagena, the aircraft’s window’s start fogging up with the humidity. It’s also a lot warmer here. In Cartagena passengers need to stay on board the plane while a security team searches the aircraft. The turn around is about one hour. I still manage to snag a few photos from the door. Cartagena international airport makes Heringsdorf airport look like a major international hub…

In Cartagena the crew changes. And I can tell this crew is having a bad day straight away. I couldn’t really say what it is. Perhaps they’re just tired and jetlagged, but they seem a bit dull and distracted.

Service on the Cartagena to Amsterdam leg

Once more a welcome drink is served on the ground.

After take-off there’s an aperitif service with some warm nuts, which are served in an incredibly ugly plastic cap that looks a bit like the lid you get when you order a Frappuccino – just without the hole in the middle. I mean, would it have been too much to ask for something a little more attractive…?

The meal

There are two choices for the starter. I go with the soup, which is served on a tray with butter and the salad. The salad contains peppers and palm hearts. During my stay in Colombia I was always careful not to eat anthing raw – and I make no exception on KLM with their catering.

Where Air France takes orders for the meal in order of passengers’ seniority as Flying Blue members, KLM just go row by row.

Only one round is made by the crew with the bread basket, which I think is just a bit shabby, to be honest.

Initially, when the tray arrived there was no dressing. That is served quite a while later, by which time I’m sure most passengers have already finished their salads.

For the main course there are three options, and so I go with the egg noodles with pak choy, and even the flying Dutchman agrees with me that the catering on this flight is really quite digusting and more or less inedible.

For dessert there is a choice of something sweet or cheese. But by this time, everything has take so long that I just give up. I only want to sleep and I’m pretty convinced I won’t miss much by skipping dessert.

The second service

Ninety minutes out of Amsterdam the crew serve breakfast. And here too there is a choice for the hot meal. I have the pineapple filled pancakes with mango and they really are beyond belief. They’re hard as a brick and near impossible to cut. There’s also a funky smell of burning plastic coming off them. There are only croissants in the bread basket, and again the crew only make one round.

To drink with that I have a coffee and orange juice.

And then to end the flight, the crew come through the cabin with the Delft houses.

Arrival

Eventually we touch down in Amsterdam just after 11h00 in the morning, after a flight time just short of ten hours. Everything looks so colourful and lush here!

Schiphol is very busy when we land, and all the gates at the non-Schengen pier are occupied, which does not bode well if I’m to believe all the stories these last few weeks about the staff shortages at Amsterdam airport.

Indeed, the stories turn out to be true. But I’ll leave the description of my horrific transfer at Amsterdam for the next post…

All in all, this flight was a bit of a let down. The crew were clearly not feeling it and it showed. They were unfocussed and seemed distracted. Other than that, the food was so bad it was really unacceptable. And the routing via Cartagena unnecessarily make a long journey even longer. The only thing this flight has going for it, is that it departs from Bogotà and arrives in Amsterdam at a civilised time. The Air France flight to Paris doesn’t leave until after 23h00. Even so, if I ever have to visit Bogotà again, I would still consider the Air France flight for the return.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bogota El Dorado

Introduction

I’m on my way to Bogota to give a course. The flight from Paris departs at 15h40 on Monday. However, there either is no connecting flight from Basel or it’s already fully booked, which means that I end up spending Sunday evening at the Pullman Hotel at Paris airport.

Check-in at Terminal 2E

Terminal 2E is Air France’s non-Schengen terminal. From the SkyPriority check-in area passengers have direct access to the priority lane for immigration.

I think they have a rather clever process in place in Terminal 2. In addition to the main concourse K, there are also the two satellite terminals L and M. While immigration is centralized for all passengers leaving France on the K concourse, security screening for departures from the L and M gate is done directly in the satellite, which clearly helps to better manage the queues.

The view from the train is rather nice too…

The security screening is done on the ground floor, the main airside area is then one floor up.

Le Salon Air France in satellite M

The Business Class lounge is busy when I arrive. Not that it makes a difference, because it’s only once I’m in the lounge that I remember I forgot my belt at security, so I leave again and make the schlepp back down there to retrieve it.

Once I get back to the lounge again just after 14h00, the peak is just over. It’s still busy, but not full. During peak hours there is a second, smaller food station available in the lounge. However, once the mad rush is over they close this one down.

Boarding

I rather like the archiecture of 2F. The terminal is spacious and with plenty of seating opportunities.

On my way to the gate I’m distracted by this gorgeous looking aircraft. How can anybody not like the A 350? I really need to get myself on a flight with one of these.

Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky taking photos of my own ride to Bogota. The way the aircraft is parked means that I only get to take the photo below.

Boarding is by zones, starting with SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. There’s also a Covid check for connecting passengers.

The cabin

Air France does not have a First Class cabin on the Boeing B 787-9. The Business Class cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors and comprises of 32 seats in a reverse herringbone configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 arrangement. I’m on 1A, which I think it just brilliant because it offers a lot of privacy. Because the seats are staggered, there is no seat on the other side of the aisle. I don’t find the proximity to the galley bothersome and the curtains block out all the light.

A cushion and a proper, thick blanket are already at my seat when I arrive.

There is more than enough storage space in the seat. Morover, there’s a small compartment that houses the earphones and that can also be used to store smaller items.

There’s also a multi-purpose electricity plug and usb port.

The service

The crew on this flight are a friendly, chirpy bunch. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in Business Class comes to welcome me aboard and introduce herself to me. I notice she and her colleagues consistently address me by my family name.

The service begins with a welcome drink – there is water, champagne and orange juice on offer.

Next comes the distribution of the vanity kits, which feature Clarins cosmetics, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, eye shades, socks, and earplugs.

The crew also offer sanitary kits for our arrival in Bogota, where it is mandatory to wear face masks inside the terminal building.

The menus are also distributed. I notice that the crew first take orders from the Platinum members before asking the other passengers for their meal choices.

And finally, a very hot towel is distributed to passengers.

We take off in a Westerly direction , which takes us past the Musé de L’Air at Le Bourget and then the city of Paris with the Eiffel tower and then Versailles. The flight time to Bogota is just over ten hours.

The meal – first service

There are four choices for the main course. I go with the vegetarian couscous.

The meal begins with an apéritif. At the flight attendant’s suggestion, I try the Vermouth with Perrier, which is not bad. With that, there is a small box of cashew nuts and cranberries.

The tray arrives with the salad and the first course. The foie gras is an Air France staple, and probably a reason to order an Asian vegetarian meal in future… The other starter is an asparagus salad. I don’t touch the foie gras, but the mango chutney it is served with is nice. There is a selection of rolls on offer too.

The salad comes with pine nuts and a small bottle of olive oil and balsamico.

Once the first course is removed, the crew bring the cheese dish and more bread.

And then comes the main course: vegetable couscous with lemon. And very nice it is too.

For dessert there is a choice of vanilla ice cream, coffee ice cream, strawberry sorbet, or a selection of pastries – or any combination of all.

The service is unrushed but efficient. There are no long waits in between courses, and once I’m done my tray is quickly removed. For the rest of the flight I reline my seat and read. Outside there is nothing much to see except the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.

Second service

Ninety minutes out of Bogota, the second service begins. There are two options available – fish or pasta.

I go with the ravioli filled with cheese in a cream sauce with champignons, which is a really excellent and rather substatial dish for the second service. In addition, there is also a bowl of pear compote and a buttery piece of cake.

Arrival

By the time we land in Bogota at 19h15 it’s already dark outside. The crew come to say good bye, and then it’s already time to disembark. Immigration in Bogota is easy and very quick. Within twenty minutes after landing, I’m already through customs and on my way to the taxi stand.

At Bogota airport you can either take a regular yellow taxi from the taxi rink outside exit six. However, this may not be the safest option. Alternatively, you can ask for a taxi and the taxi booth near exit five. They will log your journey with your name and passport details and those of your driver. You also pay directly at the counter, and not the driver.

Pullman Hotel, Roissy Airport

The Pullman Hotel at Roissy airport is located right next to Roissypole station, between Terminals 1 and 2. It’s literally about two minutes on foot from the station to the lobby.

Since my last visit, the hotel has resumed full operations. Back in the spring there were still Covid restictions in place. This means that the pool and the gym are now back in service and open to hotel guests.

The lobby and bar area have windows all around, which gives the space a nice, bright appearance. Strangely though, whenever I visit this hotel, it feels a bit like a ghost town.

Opposite the bar there’s a small, open business centre.

During my stay, I’m upgraded to a king suite, which is spacious and nicely designed. The suites take up the space in the rounded tip of the building. In any case, there is a sitting room area with a good size working desk.

The bedroom is large and very comfortable. It’s a slightly odd shape though, owing to the rounded facade of the hotel.

There’s also an Illy espresso machine and complimentary soft drinks and beer in the fridge.

The bathroom is spacious and has a separate shower and bath.

The cosmetics are by Bigelow’s.

In addition, every room has its unique QR code that guests can use to order room service. If your rate includes breakfast, this also means that you can order breakfast to be served in your room at no extra charge. It is also possible to order breakfast for the same day, and there are multiple options for breakfast available, which allow for a lot of customization.