Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

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

– William

Posted in AIRLINES A | 15 Comments

Luxair, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Luxembourg to Paris

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INTRODUCTION
For my return trip back to Basel I normally take the KLM flight at 18h20, which gets me into Basel at 21h45. But today I’ve decided to travel via Paris, mainly due to the fact that my meeting already ended at 14h00 and I didn’t fancy hanging around the office until the evening.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Fortunately, my meeting is with the Luxembourg Civil Aviation Authority, whose offices are also located near the airport. Very kindly, after the meeting they offer to drop me off at the terminal.

The roads aren’t very busy, mainly because the summer holidays have started across Europe, during which most the many expats living in Luxembourg abandon the city and head home.

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CHECK-IN
Yeah, about that… You see, I’m travelling on an Air France ticket. The French airline has a code-share in place with Luxair on the Luxembourg to Paris CDG route. Check-in is not possible though, neither on the Luxair nor the Air France app. However, eventually I do manage to complete the process on the Luxair website. It’s a bit awkward though that the Air France site will not automatically redirect you to Luxair and the error message I keep getting on the Air France site is not particularly useful either.

Alternatively there are slef-service machines at the airport. But you’ll have to select Luxair on the main screen to start the process, even if you’re travelling on an Air France flight number.

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LOUNGE
So now what? I’m a Platinum member with Air France. But although my flight is operated under an Air France flight number, Luxair is not a member of SkyTeam, so I’m not entirely sure I even have access to the lounge.

I enter the lounge with my boarding pass and Platinum card ready, but there’s nobody at reception. In fact, I can’t see a single employee anywhere. I wait a few minutes for somebody to arrive, figuring they’re probably just busy. While I’m waiting, an utterly fashionable Italian guy walks in, sunglasses donned, talking on his mobile phone in an irritatingly loud voice. He ignores me but immediately notices the absence of the lounge dragon from reception. Without batting an eyelid he puts away again his boarding pass and heads straight for the buffet, behaving quite as though he belongs here. I figure, when in Rome…and follow him in.

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I spend about forty minutes in the lounge, during which I don’t encounter a single lounge employee. Judging by the emptiness of the buffet, they’ve been gone quite a while. So I still don’t know if I’m actually entitled to lounge access.

The lounge in Luxembourg is quite nice, but it does tend to get fairly crowded in the evenings. Toilets are available inside the lounge and the food options, although basic, are not bad. Oh yes, and the views of the apron and runway are pretty decent.

BOARDING
My flight is departing from pier B. The building that houses pier B used to be part of the original terminal facility at Luxembourg but was shut down in 2008 when the new, current terminal opened. Due to a significant increase in traffic in recent years, the pier was recently renovated and eventually reopened in June, once a walkway to the new terminal had been constructed.

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From what I understand, the new pier is intended for use by Luxair’s regional aircraft only. The building is nice and very bright, with lots of natural light. But keep in mind that there are really no facilities at all here – no shops or anywhere to buy a drink.

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CABIN & SEAT
The Bombardier Dash 8/400 forms the backbone of the Luxair fleet. What I like about Luxair’s aircraft is that the seats that are installed on these planes are very comfortable and have significantly better padding than the slim and flimsy seats many other carriers have installed on the Dash 8.

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One thing to be watchful of though, is that the ventilation system runs along the floor and takes up some leg space if you’re sitting by the window due to the curvature of the hull. Fortunately, the aircraft is only about half full this afternoon, which means the seat next to me stays empty and I have enough space to spread out.

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I’m seated on 8F, which is right under the wing. There is not really that much to see from this seat while you’re on the ground, because you have the engine right in front of your window. But obviously, with the Dash 8 having a shoulder-mounted wing, once you’re airborne you have an unobstructed view below.

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SERVICE & CREW
There are two female cabin crew working the cabin. Both are middle aged and very friendly. Announcements are made in French, English and Luxembourgish. The latter is really hilarious to listen to because it sounds like a rather unfortunate and unsuccessful attempt to merge German and French. But Luxembourgish is actually a thing, in case you were wondering.

THE MEAL
The flight time to Paris is only 45 minutes. Immediately after take-off, the crew pass through the cabin distributing small paper bags containing a bottle of still water and a packet of those notorious Happy Snacks. Still, for 45 minutes it’ll do.

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ARRIVAL
We land in Paris on time. Luxair operates out of Terminal 2G in Paris, which is the facility used for regional aircraft and Air France’s HOP fleet.

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Making a transfer from 2G is always a bit of a wild card. I now there is an airside shuttle transfer because I’ve previously taken it. But if you blindly follow the signs for flight connections to 2F, from where my flight to Zürich is departing, eventually you will be spat out in the arrivals hall, landside. This is not a particularly big deal as such, because there is a complimentary landside shuttle too. But it does mean that you will have to go through security again for your next flight.

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CONCLUSION
Luxair is a neat little airline that is tailored to the needs of its local market. Recently Easyjet and even Ryanair have started flights to Luxembourg, but so far the little carriers seems to be fairing pretty well against its much larger competitors. I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with Luxair, but they’re definitely okay. Of course it helped that today’s flight was only about half full.

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

Shame on you Lufthansa!

I’m on my way back from Ancona to Munich on LH1959. I am seated by the window on 6A. Across the aisle on 5F a gentleman is sitting on his own. The aisle seat next to him on 5D is empty. Once the cabin crew announce that boarding is completed, another guy appears from the back of the aircraft and asks the gentleman on 5F is perhaps he might store his large North Face rucksack next to him, seeing at the bag won’t fit in the overhead bins of the tiny CRJ900 and the crew have obviously not been particularly accommodating in assisting the passenger to stow the large bag.

But of course the bag is so huge that it won’t fit under the seat. And so the owner of the bag wedges it in, de facto blocking the guy on 5F’s access to the aisle. I worked as a flight attendant long enough and I think I travel more than enough to know that the reason they ask you to store your bags under the seat in front of you is to ensure they will not obstruct your escape path in case of an emergency.

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At some point Mr 5F tries to get out of his seat to get something out of his own bag in the overhead bin. As he clambers over the obstructing bag he nearly ends up falling on one of the flight attendants who happens to be passing. She looks down at the huge rucksack, smirks and then waltzes off. Quite obviously she either doesn’t realise that this is a violation of a safety rule or, she quite simply couldn’t give a shit.

The bag is still in the same place as we go thundering down the runway on our take-off roll.

Forty minutes later we’re already descending through the clouds towards Munich. The crew pass through the cabin to make their final cabin check. The same flight attendant walks straight past the bag wedged in between the seats and just ignores it. By this stage they guy next to me, who has also noticed the bag, is getting concerned so he uses the call button for the flight attendant. A short while later the purser appears from the front of the aircraft. He points out the bag to her and asks if that is seriously the way the bag should be stowed. She explains that her colleague must have missed the bag on her check. I then explain to her that the guy had nearly fallen on to the flight attendant before the flight and that she simply hadn’t done anything about it before take-off, to which the purser only replies ‘dann hat sie’s wohl vergessen’ – then she probably just forgot – in a tone of voice suggesting that this is all no big deal and I am only being persnickety. The guy next to me asks her what the cabin crew’s name is, to which the purser replies that she doesn’t know but think her first name is Lisa. Seriously? And then she walks away and eventually we land.

Surprisingly there’s a bit of a hold up deplaning because the owner if the bag is still waiting in the rear of the aircraft, while the poor gentleman on 5F is having trouble getting out of his seat because the bag, which is now stuck and obstructing the aisle…

I find this incident simply unacceptable from Lufthansa. I can accept bad service, rude cabin crew, crap food, delays, you name it. But safety on board is simply not negotiable. I appreciate that Lufthansa has to watch its costs. But if that means cutting down on crew training and compromising safety, then I think this airline definitely has a problem. Furthermore, the fact that the purser apparently didn’t know the name of her colleague is either a blatant lie and indicative of a highly unprofessional behaviour, or it highlights just how dire the training situation at Lufthansa is. If you don’t even know the name of the person you’re working with, what exactly does that say about your crew resource management?

Posted in Bombardier CRJ900, Economy Class, Lufthansa | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Santo Stefano de Sessanio is a small, beautiful medieval town high up in the Abruzzi. For many years most of the village lay in ruins, a situation that was exacerbated by the fierce earthquake that shook L’Aquila in 2009 during which the old Medici tower of Santo Stefano was destroyed.

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Currently, a project is underway to restore and preserve this old village. Parts of Santo Stefano have now been turned into a hotel, the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso. The hotel’s ambition is to restore and maintain the buildings in their original state and appearance. The result is a beautiful gem of a hotel that has the look and feel of a time gone by. The rooms are decked out with old wooden furniture and the only concession to modernity has been the installation of electricity and running water. Staying at the Sextatio is not so much about staying at an exclusive, luxury resort.

But it’s an interesting experience to walk through this silent town, moving among the ruins and getting a glimpse of just how hard life must have been back in the old days.

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Here’s the link to the hotel.

 

 

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Recanati & Loreto, Italy

The old town of Recanati lies perched on a hill in the Marche Region of Italy. To the east the Adriatic expands to the horizon in beautiful shades of dark blue, while to the southwest the Abruzzi emerge like an apparition above the haze of the midday heat.

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Recanati is a nice, sleepy town that looks a lot like the setting of one of those old Don Camillo films from the fifties. Perhaps they’re just clichés, but it’s still surprising just how well Recanati lives up to those clichés: from the old grannies wobbling along the cobbled streets in all their finery on the way to mass, to the young ladies walking down the street in their skimpy short, languorously enjoying a gelato and seemingly, but only seemingly unaware of the effect they have on the young men that pass them in the street.

Close to Recanati is the town of Loreto, which was made famous by its basilica, in which the alleged house of the Virgin Mary of Nazareth is preserved.

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In Recanati I stayed at the Gallery Hotel, which is also where the meeting took place that I was attending. If you’re thinking of staying there, try to get a room with a view overlooking the valley. It’s worth it!

Here’s the link to the hotel.

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Air Dolomiti, Economy Class – Basel to Munich

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INTRODUCTION
I’m on may way to Recanati on Italy’s Adriatic cost to attend a meeting on language training for the military. The best option for me to get to Recanati is to fly with Lufthansa via Munich to Ancona. In Munich I shall meet my colleague, the flying Dutchman P. who has rented a car from Ancona airport. Originally, I wasn’t going to post on the flights, seeing as they are in Economy Class and both are fairly short sectors. But…

CHECK-IN
I know I probably sound like a grumpy old bastard. A grumpy old bastard who just really, really dislikes Lufthansa on principle. But that’s definitely not the case. You’ll have to take my word for it. Honest, I’m not old…

In any case, it just struck me on this trip that Lufthansa keeps making changes to its frequent flyer programme and introducing new brands and new rules and fare conditions. One would like to think that all these changes and ‘improvements’ were introduced for benefit the airline’s customers. But that is hardly the case and while their new fare structure may make sense on paper, in practice it simply lacks transparency and leaves you with the sinking feeling that the customer was actually the last thing Lufthansa had in mind when the changes were implemented.

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I arrive at Basel airport about an hour before departure. Our secretary has booked me on an Eco Light fare with no check-in luggage allowance. But I’ve decided to take a small suitcase and a rucksack with me after all, so from my research on the Lufthansa website I’m guessing this means I’ll have to pay to check in one item, which is fair enough. Only, the website and the app will not allow me to purchase a checked luggage allowance. In fact, the app won’t even allow me to view my booking because it was done via our travel agent and not directly with Lufthansa.

Apparently, you can always pay for checked luggage at the airport when you check-in, although that is then quite a bit more expensive. So as I approach the check-in counter, I’m fully expecting the check-in lady to want to charge me the higher amount, even though I think it’s hardly my fault if Lufthansa’s website and app don’t work. Only, that’s not what happens. Instead, the lady explains that I am entitled to take both pieces into the cabin ‘because it’s such a small aircraft’. Is that even supposed to make sense to the customer?

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate 32, which is in the non-Schengen sector of Basel airport, seeing as the state of emergency imposed by the government of the department Haut-Rhin in France remains in place. The result of which being that flights to and from some Schengen countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, are treated, de facto, as overseas flights.

CABIN
Today’s flight to Munich will be operated by an Embraer 190 of Air Dolomiti, which belongs to the Lufthansa group and the Miles and More programme but is not, if I understand correctly, a member of the Star Alliance. The carrier operates a number of flights on behalf of Lufthansa. These are mainly wet leases rather than code-share flights, which is also why the Basel to Munich flight only operates with a Lufthansa flight number but not an Air Dolomiti one.

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The cabin design and seats are similar to those of the Lufthansa Embraers, with the exception that everything in the Air Dolomiti cabin is green.

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Another shot of my popular hairy legs, cunningly disguised as a photo to show off the seat pitch…

SERVICE
I am greeted at the door by a friendly young lady. The first thing she does, is to shove a small cake with a good dusting of icing sugar in my hand. Which is a bit unfortunate because I’m holding my suitcase in one hand and the rucksack, my boarding pass and a bottle of Coke Zero in the other. So I decline. For Lufthansa this means that in doing so, I forfeit my basic human right to be served a snack on this flight, because the service protocol does not foresee distributing food, no matter how insignificant, after take-off.

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Once we’re airborne, the crew do a drinks round with a full bar service. Here’s another thing I don’t get about Lufthansa: how can a large organisation like the Lufthansa group be so inconsistent and careless in the treatment of its own brand? Despite the fact that this flight is being operated as a Lufthansa service, the catering is entirely Air Dolomiti branded, which really does not make any sense to me at all.

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ARRIVAL
But at least it’s a lovely day for flying and eventually we land in Munich after a flight time of about 35 minutes.

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CONCLUSION
For a flight of only 35 minutes duration the performance Lufthansa gave here was okay. I was not expecting them to roll out the red carpet. But flying Lufthansa has become a bit of a pain, at least for me, because somehow you’re never really quite sure what you’re letting yourself in for. The website is not intuitive, the interface with other reservation systems simply doesn’t work properly, check-in online didn’t work and between the fees for check-in luggage, fees for reserving a seat and so on, the experience is really not very enjoyable.

And I really don’t see why the crew can’t at least wait for all passengers to be seated before distributing the snack.

Posted in Air Dolomiti, Economy Class, Embraer 190, Lufthansa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand Est region of France and the official seat of the European parliament. It’s a very neat and pretty city that is easy to navigate on foot. The centrepiece of the city is, of course, the magnificent cathedral – a huge, imposing building with intricate masonry and a very tall bell tower.

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Personally though, I think my favourite it the main railway station. The original building is already very nice, with large windows with coloured glass looking onto the platforms. The entire building is now covered inside a huge glass structure that is quite unusual.

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In Strasbourg I am staying at the MGallery Hotel Cour du Corbeau, which belongs to the Accor Group of hotels and is ideally located just on the other side of the canal from the cathedral. The facility has been open since 2009 and is obviously very well maintained, because there are hardly any signs of wear and tear. The hotel consists of a number of old buildings and town houses that have been beautifully restored and parts of the original buildings have been integrated into the hotel’s structure.

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The rooms are nicely appointed and very clean. Next time I’m visiting Strasburg I’ll definitely be staying at this hotel again.

Here’s the link to the hotel.

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KLM, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Copenhagen to Amsterdam

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INTRODUCTION
Time to head back home to the sweltering heat and humidity that is summer in Switzerland. Still, it was nice to escape the heat for a few days and the forecast is that the weather will start to cool down again over central Europe anyway in a few days.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The journey by train from Malmö to Copenhagen airport takes thirty minutes to complete and will set you back SEK150 for a second class, one way ticket. The trains run frequently and are quite reliable.

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I arrive at Copenhagen airport and the escalators taking me up from the platform spit me out right in the middle of Terminal 3. You know those moments we’ve probably all had, when you look at something and just think ‘what on earth were they thinking…’? That is very likely to happen to you at Copenhagen airport. Terminal 3 is the railway and metro station, Star Alliance check-in and arrivals all in one. As a result, the place is always crawling with people and it’s hard to get through, even if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.

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But at least the airport authorities have identified the problem and both Terminals 2 and 3 are currently in the process of expansion, making the airport look more like a building site than an aviation hub.

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CHECK-IN
KLM operates out of Terminal 2 in Copenhagen. I’ve already checked in using the KLM app for the flight, so upon entering the terminal I can go straight through to security.

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KLM status cardholders are entitled to use the Fast Track at Copenhagen airport, which really is convenient as the lines for standard security are very busy.

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LOUNGE
KLM uses the CPH Aviator Lounge, which is a contractor lounge. The lounge is divided into two areas. The larger area is to the left and looks very crowded. To the right there is separate lounge, which is slightly smaller and much quieter. It also has good views of the apron.

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The lounge is nice and the interior decorators were definitely tapping into that whole Scandinavian design vibe when designing it. There’s even a fake fireplace and mantle piece.

The food options are good too, with a wide selection of breakfast options – things like cold cuts, cheese, different types of bread and pastries.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. Apparently the aircraft was already late coming in and with the full load on the in- and outbound, turning around is taking longer than anticipated.

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SERVICE & CREW
I think this is the first time I have a crew that isn’t up to the usual KLM standards. It was bound to happen one day… One of the things that always strikes me about KLM is the professionalism of their crew and the level of standardisation they achieve in their on board product. But today’s crew just seem a bit out of it. The purser is more or less improvising with the delivery of the safety on board instructions and it shows. Which rather unfortunate of course, because if even the crew can’t be bothered enough to deliver the instructions properly and conscientiously, they can hardly expect the passengers to take them seriously…

Later on, once the service begins, the lady on the first row of Economy Class asks for a Coke with ice, to which the flight attendant initially replies that he has Coke but no ice. Later on though he does bring her to Coke with ice from the Business Class trolley, which gives the impression that he couldn’t be bothered initially but then changed his mind.

But at least the views outside are nice.

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THE MEAL
With a flight time of only one hour, the service consists of a small box containing a piece of buttery cake and a cup of still water. In addition, the crew make a separate drinks round.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land at 13:20, with a few minutes delay. A while back Amsterdam overtook Frankfurt in terms of passenger numbers and to be honest, I think it’s starting to show. The terminal is seriously overcrowded and the C dock is definitely not wide enough to accommodate all the passengers passing through it. We shall see what happens.

CONCLUSION
Perhaps I am being persnickety (to use one of the favourite words of the valiant M.) in my criticism of the KLM crew on this flight, and I’m aware of the fact that none of the things they did and that I mentioned in this post are overly bad. I’ve certainly experienced much worse on other airlines. I think it’s just that, having gotten used to their reliable service over the years, it comes as a bit of a surprise to be confronted with a crew that is not up to the usual standard I’ve grown accustomed to from KLM.

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

Trelleborg, Sweden

Trelleborg is a quaint little town on Sweden’s southern cost. It’s really very small and there isn’t anything much to see, other than its quaintness. It’s the day after the summer solstice, which is a public holiday in Sweden. As a result, the already very quiet town seems deserted. You know something can’t be right when you walk into the local tourist information office and the clerk starts with ‘the problem is…’.

In Trelleborg I’m staying at the Best Western Magasinet Hotel, which is located right next to the exit from the port and also doubles at the passenger terminal of Trelleborg harbour.

The hotel has basic facilities; the rooms are nice and simple. Here’s the link to the hotel.

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TT-Line – by boat from Rostock to Trelleborg

Yesterday, Saturday 25 June 2017, I took the boat from Rostock in Germany to Trelleborg in Sweden. The weather was simply brilliant with isolated bouts of raining and a temperature that never went above 17 degrees Celsius. Lovely!

The service was operated by the Tom Sawyer, which belongs to the fleet of the TT Line. I had my own cabin with two bunk beds, a clean toilet and even a shower

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Germania, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Rostock

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INTRODUCTION
Admittedly, I know I’m an embarrassment to all self-respecting southern Europeans, given that I really don’t handle the heat very well. On the other hand, having said that, it really is unusually hot in Switzerland right now – with temperatures constantly in the mid-thirties.

But thank God, there are some places on the continent that have been spared the stifling heat. So that’s where I’m heading for the weekend.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I take the train from Winterthur at 11h58. I’m actually at the station early enough to catch the earlier train at 11h55. But as soon as that comes rumbling into the station, I figure I’m not is such a rush after all. The regular 11h55 train has been replaced with something that avid train spotters would probably lovingly refer to as vintage, which, Swiss Federal Railways lingo, is a euphemism for carriages with no air conditioning.

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CHECK-IN
My flight is at 13h50, but I already checked in at the airport this morning at 05h15, when I dropped off my dad at the airport on his way to Malta.

Germania does not have web check-in or self-service check-in. At Zürich airport they are handled by Swissport in Terminal 2.

When I return to the airport in the early afternoon, the place is a lot busier than it was in the morning. Even so, I manage to secure a nice spot on the A pier, with a good view of the apron and runway 28. Today 28 is in use for arrivals, with 32 and 34 in use for departures.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts about forty minutes late. The aircraft was already late arriving in Zürich by about thirty minutes.

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The heat in the glass airbridge is agony. For a moment I feel compelled to do my best ‘I’m melting, I’m melting…’ impression of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. But then I remember I forgot to put on my green makeup this morning so people might think I’m odd…

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Anyhow, once we board, the crew inform us about a further twenty minutes delay before we can finally start our engines due to ATC restrictions over Germany. Eventually we depart one hour behind our scheduled departure time.

CABIN & SEAT
Germania’s Boeing 737-700 have a seating capacity of 148. Today’s load is a bit over one hundred passengers, I should say.

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Germania Doesn’t offer a Business Class as such. However, the first row are the so called XL seats, which are available for advanced seat reservation at a cost of EUR30 each. Included in the price is a bulkhead seat with slightly more pitch, earphones as well as complimentary alcoholic drinks and snacks from the buy on board menu.

The pitch is not bad on row 1. However, the lack of width of the seat is quite striking. The cabin feels a lot more crowded and tighter than for example on KLM. I suspect that maybe Germania went with a slightly narrower seat in favour of a wider aisle.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew are a friendly and interesting lot. Strangely enough though, the entire cabin crew is made up of Spaniards and an eastern European and none of them speak even a single word of German, which is a bit unusual for a German carrier, I find. 

THE MEAL
The meal service is confusing. There is a buy on board price list in the seat pocket, which contains drinks and snacks like crisps or chocolate. By at the same time, Germania will also serve you a complimentary snack. On today’s flight there is a choice of either a salami or a cheese sandwich.

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With the sandwich I have a coffee and a sparkling water, both of which are apparently free of charge. I also ask for a Kit Kat, which I haven’t had in ages!

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ARRIVAL
Rostock airport is a dinky little place with only two airbirdges. It is also home to a large Eurofighter base. Because there are so few flights up here, the bus into town is scheduled to coincide with the arriving flights. But seeing as our flight is more than an hour late by the time we land, the bus has already left. Instead, there is a replacement service for EUR9.80 per person.

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The journey from the airport into town will take you about thirty minutes.

CONCLUSION
The tall, blond M., himself triathlete extraordinaire, engineer and skeptic of all sciences that don’t involve numbers, has pointed out that I did give my candid opinion on Germania in the original post.

So here goes: all in all I very much doubt I would go out of my way to fly with Germania. By the same token though, I wouldn’t actively avoid them either. The service was okay but not outstanding, either in a positive or a negative way. I think EUR30 is a bit steep for a front row seat, the additional complimentary snack and complimentary earbuds, particularly given that the earbuds didn’t look as though they were any good and the flight time was only slightly more than an hour anyway.

Posted in Boeing B 737-700, Economy Class, Germania | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment