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.
I may have skipped posting some of the trips I did after my return
from the UAE with Gulf Air via Bahrain and London Heathrow. Since then I’ve
done only short-haul trips which are usually not worth mentioning. In fact, I
only just returned from another uninspired trip to Luxembourg yesterday
This trip report sees me returning to the UAE for yet another
course with the Emirates Flight Training Academy.
This is my fourth visit to the UAE this year, and despite the
flying dutchman’s insistence, I’m pretty sure it probably won’t be the last
time… still, I don’t mind. Especially given the fact that the A380 programme
has been officially shut down and I don’t know how many more chances I’ll get
to fly on this magnificent bird.
In any case, here in Switzerland it feels as though summer is only
just around the corner. It’s already warm but not stifling, and the sky is a crystal
clear blue, unblemished even by a single cloud.
Emirates checks-in on row 1 of check-in 2 and there are ten
counters open for the flight.
Considering it’s such a lovely day, I figure I might as well go
out onto the viewing gallery and while away the time until boarding begins
there. And as my luck will have, I arrive on the terrace just as the lunchtime
rush of outbounds gets underway.
By the time I can tear myself away from the long line of departing
widebodies, it’s already 14h40. The flight leaves at 15h25 and I still have to
make my way through security, immigration and then take the shuttle across to
the E dock, from where my flight will be departing.
For some reason or other, the usual A 380 stand was still occupied
when my aircraft arrived on the inbound from Dubai. And so, instead we’re
parked at gate E19 today, which is a single level gate. At least, by the time I
arrive at the gate boarding is nearly completed, so the queue is fairly short.
Ahead of me is some old guy in a suit. As he passes the gate, the
scanner beeps. He turns to me and says ‘oh my, not another complimentary
upgrade to First…’. He’s obviously going for unimpressed indifference with this
one, trying hard not to sound gleeful and clearly failing miserably. I actually
feel kind of sorry for the guy when the gate agent looks at him and simply say
‘ ah…no actually, they just hadn’t scanned your passport’. Aw…!
On today’s flight I’m sitting on 7A, which is the window on the
bulkhead row and the first row by the window in the main Business Class cabin.
I like the A seats because they’re removed from the aisle and thus offer quite
The wine and food menus have already been placed at my seat and
there is also a thick blanket, a pillow and a pair of earphones.
In short succession I’m handed a glass of the Veuve Cliquot, which
gives me a headache before we even leave the ground, and then a warm, scented
Ahead of the lunch service I order a virgin mojito, which is
served with a small plate of warm mixed nuts.
The first course is served together with a salad, which are both
delivery on a tray. I’ve ordered the mezze for the starter, which includes black
olives, a stuffed vine leaf, muhammara, houmous, and baba ghanouj.
Next up, I’m having the beef with green beans, mash and leeks. To
be honest, I’m not much of a meat eater at the best of times. But I’m a total
sucker for mash…
And for dessert I have the chocolate cake with Earl Grey infused
One of the things I really like about Emirates, is that the meal
service is always very efficient but never rushed. Two hours into the flight,
the trays have been removed and it’s time for me to extend the seat into a bed
Incidentally, on day flights Emirates does not provide amenity
kits. However, a pair of eye shades with ear plugs is provided at every seat
and dental sets are available in the toilets. The dental kits are Colgate
branded and the tooth brush is of good quality.
Eventually, we arrive in Dubai on time without having to do a
single circuit in a holding pattern. Judging by the sound of his voice, I think
even the pilot is surprised.
Immigration is swift. The Emirates Business Class boarding pass
entitles the holder to use the fast track for security. There’s still a queue,
but it’s nowhere near as bad as that for Economy Class passengers.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the queue for the
taxis, which is ridiculously long. It takes me thirty minutes just to reach the
head of the queue. And then, once I get a taxi, it’s another forty minutes to
my hotel, which is just down the road from the Emirates Flight Training
The Gulf Air flight from Bahrain arrives in Heathrow at
06h50, on schedule. I now have one hour and forty minutes to make my connection
to the SWISS flight to Zürich, which will depart from T2. T4 is connected to
the central terminal area at Heathrow by shuttle bus. Normally, the busses will
use the service tunnel that passes under runway 09R/27L. However, the tunnel is
currently closed for maintenance as so, busses have to take a slightly longer route
along the perimeter fence and under the threshold of runway 27L to get to
Terminal 2. Which has the rather pleasant side effect that passengers are given
quite a tour of Heathrow, including BA’s maintenance facility and the Concorde
that they have on display there. The journey takes 12 minutes to complete.
Within Terminal 4 for the signposting to the shuttle bus is
clear and easy to follow. Busses run regularly.
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The security check is done in Terminal 2, before heading up
to the departure concourse. Luckily, there aren’t many passengers this morning
and there isn’t even a queue. There is a separate fast track for security which
is dedicated to STAR GOLD, First and Business Class passengers.
Behind security are the escalators leading one floor up. There
is a passport check just before entering the departures hall, although I’m not
sure if this is for immigration purposes, for security reasons or a combination
of the two. As I enter the terminal hall, the Star Alliance service desks are
on the right. I present my baggage receipt to the lady behind the counter, as instructed
by the check-in agent back in Dubai. She scans the stub and my boarding pass
and then sends me on my way.
By the time I’m done, we’re just coming up to 07h50. The
gate for my flight to Zürich will be showing up on the screens shortly, and not
much later boarding should start. So I quickly grab a coffee, call the light of
my life to say hello and then take a moment to relax.
Boarding for the flight to Zürich is from gate A18. There is a separate queue for Business Class, HON Circle and Senator passengers. As we start boarding for the flight, it soon materialises that there are some passengers in the queue that aren’t flying Business Class and have no status either. Don’t get me wrong, I generally salute the ground crews for enforcing the rules. But I also think there’s really no need for the gate agent to scold passengers. After all, I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance they weren’t trying to jump the queue and perhaps don’t travel often enough to even know what the two queues are for.
There are four rows to the Business Class cabin on this morning’s flight, which is surprising given it’s a public holiday. I would have thought most people would have tried to return home by Maundy Thursday. In any case, as my luck will have it, there are 15 passengers in Business Class this morning. And the only seat left empty is the one on the aisle of my row of three. Cool!
There are three and a half cabin crew on the flight and I’m
pretty sure that none of them are above the age of twenty-five. Three of the
cabin crew are wearing the normal SWISS uniform. The third one though, is
wearing ‘civilian’ clothes and a badge that says ‘I am a new crew member’
rather than her name. I’m not quite sure why being a new cabin crew member
means she shouldn’t be wearing a uniform. However, given how shabby the SWISS
uniform generally looks, I can’t really blame her for not wanting to wear that.
Other than that, the crew are friendly and really make an effort to accommodate passengers. Even if they’re a bit clumsy at times. For example, once boarding is completed, one of the female flight attendants working in the Economy Class section asks if there’s still any space left in the overhead bins up front, so she can stow one fairly large piece of hand luggage. The maître de yells back to her form the front that yes, there is space left. ‘But let him lift his suitcase himself, it’s his problem so you’re not expected to do that…’. Of course, the maître de does have a point. When I still worked at Swissair they always used to say that passengers are allowed to take just about anything into the cabin, as long as it fits the dimensions and they could still carry it themselves. But I’m pretty sure there might have been a politer way of saying that.
But perhaps I’m just irritated by the fact that the maître de is wearing turquoise coloured underwear. And in case you’re wondering why I know that, he’s shoved his uniform shirt into his undies and pulled them up so high that the waistband is showing above the trousers. It’s all very classy really!
The service on the ground is the standard bottle of still water and a refreshing towel. We push back on time and then make our way to the holding point for runways 09R. The flight time is announced as one hour and ten minutes.
Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is no choice
for the meal. Much to my surprise, SWISS offers a hot breakfast on this route, despite
the short flight time. I’m guessing this to accommodate its British customer
base. The trays are delivered from a trolley. The meal consists of:
A small plate of cheese.
Butter and jam.
A small dish of Quinoa müsli.
And the hot meal.
The hot meal is more of a brunch than a breakfast and
consists of a grilled tomato with a Provençale crust, brown lentils and a slice
of cheese quiche. I must say, the meal is quite good. With that I also have a
croissant and a bun from the bread basket.
Despite the short flight, the crew manage to do two nicely
paced runs for drinks and with the breadbasket.
It’s a lovely day for flying. The approach into Zürich
brings us in right over Basel, my home town, from where we make a left hand
turn to head east, before lining up for the landing on runway 14. After landing
we taxi to the B pier, which can accept both Schengen and non-Schengen flights.
I make my way down to immigration and am positively surprised that a) there’s
hardly anybody there and b) they appear to have updated the software of the
passport readers, so that I can now use the e-gates with my Maltese passport.
The suitcases for the London flight will be delivery on belt
22. I figure my suitcase probably hasn’t survived having to change planes in
Bahrain and London Heathrow, so instead of going to belt 22, I make a beeline
for the Swissport lost and found in the hope of saving some time.
But lo and behold, just before I get there, something silvery
in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I look over to belt 22 to find
that by some divine intervention, my suitcase has actually made it.
And quicker than you know, the first four months of the year
are over. Just like that. And I’ve spent most of that time travelling. My
return to Switzerland on SWISS marks the end of the busy travel period for me.
From now on, it’s really just the occasional short-haul trip here and there. And
thank god for that. I really love flying, but there are limits to how much
flying even I can handle at a time…
We pull up on our stand at 23h40 local time. Bahrain is one hour behind Dubai. There are currently some major construction works going on at Bahrain airport for a new pier and terminal, with different parts already in an advanced state of completion. Alas, it’ll be a while before the new facility becomes available and until then, I am going to have to contend with the current facility, which is, with all due respect, a hovel. The terminal looks like something straight out of the late seventies. It’s worn and tired looking and obviously not much care has gone into maintaining the building and public areas properly. The corridors are long, narrow, with low ceilings and the smell of old socks that you only get in countries that have spent way too much time around the British and their obsessive compulsion with having carpets in really inconvenient places…
There is a security checkpoint that passengers need to go through to access the transfer area one floor up. But to be honest, I don’t quite understand what the point of it is, because clearly nobody gives a rat’s bum. The lady in front of me beeps. The male staff all look at each other and, realising there is no woman at hand to give the passenger a pat down, simply wave her through…
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The upper level of the terminal is not much better. Of course, the duty free shop and the food outlets have been updated over the years. But apart from that, the terminal reminds me a lot of Shannon airport. And anyone who’s ever been to Shannon will know that’s not exactly a compliment.
The lounge is yet one floor further up from the duty free shopping area. Like everything else here, it also looks very old fashioned and not particularly attractive. But at least there are no carpets. The place is also very full when I arrive, which is why I refrain from taking any pictures in the lounge.
But by far the most memorable feature of the lounge, is its receptionist. Sweet baby Jesus, what is that? It’s not just that she’s laid on the makeup pretty thickly. She must also be colour blind, because the two very bright pink circles on each check are clashing badly with the green stuff she’s also pasted on to her cheeks, around the pink. Shouldn’t the green stuff go on the eye lids? She also has the most obscenely thick and obviously artificial eye lashes. I mean, she’s freakish enough to make a drag queen yearn to dress up in chinos and a polo shirt!
Fifty minutes before departure, the flight shows up on the
departure screens as boarding. So I figure I might as well make my way to gate
11, from where my flight will depart. Perhaps that will keep me from going off
There’s an additional checkpoint to enter the gate area, and
for a moment I feel like I have done the Bahrainis an injustice for assuming
they haven’t got their security under control. There’s even a separate queue
for Business Class passengers. Only, this security check is just about as
useless and ineffectual as the previous one. And so, I resign myself to
accepting that it’s probably just a cultural thing. Under the guise of
pluralism and inclusion it’s really quite amazing just what you can get away
with these days.
There is an initial boarding call for Business Class
passengers. And I mean that quite literal. Instead of using the microphone, the
young male Philippino suddenly starts yelling at the top of his voice ‘only
Falcon Gold, only Falcon Gold’…
Off we go…
So far, as you already might have guessed, I’m not too
impressed by Gulf Air. But the Business Class cabin of this Boeing B 787-9 is
just gorgeous. The dark colours give the whole cabin an elegant, subdued feel
and the fact that passengers are boarding through the L2 door somehow makes the
first impression just a little bit more dramatic, because from the L2 door the
whole of the Business Class cabin is visible.
If I’m not mistaken, this is more or less the same gig that
Japan Airlines and Oman Air have for their Business Class product. According to
the Gulf Air inflight magazine, the pitch on this seat is 78 inches. And it
really is quite impressive. When extended into a bed, the seat is still long
enough that I still have room above my head and below for my feet. I’m about 184
The seats are staggered in such a way that the aisle seats
are not abeam but slightly behind the window seats. As a result, every
passenger has direct access to the aisle and a lot of privacy. And there is a
divider which can be raised to provide more privacy. Of course, the window seat
is a lot more private than the aisle seats. But from what I have seen, the
shell of the seat reaches sufficiently far forward to ensure that passengers on
the aisle seat are not completely exposed either.
On the down side, there is not a lot of storage space on
this seat. Also, I find it quite uncomfortable trying to sleep in this seat,
although that may also have to do with the fact that I currently have a slipped
The vanity kit provided by Gulf Air is extensive. In addition to the obligatory toiletries, Gulf Air will also provide pyjamas on night flights as well as a pair of solid slippers. Bedding for the seat is also provided.
The crew is a mix of European and Middle Eastern nationals.
And all of them give the impression of really just doing their job but not much
else and without discernible signs of pride or enjoyment. The whole customer
experience seems rather process oriented: the boarding process takes forty
minutes to complete, which is ample time for the crew to take orders for food
from the passengers. But instead, the food orders are only taken once boarding
is completed. Inevitably, this means that the crew don’t manage to collect all
the orders before they are required to take their seats for departure.
After take-off I’m simply too tired to wait any longer. I figure I’ll manage to get something to eat at some point and I don’t want dinner. I just want to sleep. So I change into my pjs, extend the seat into a bed, and go off to sleep. Forty minutes later the crew are finally released to start the service. One hour into the flight the ‘chef’ comes to wake me up to ask me what I’d like to eat. I mean, seriously? On a flight of six hours they won’t even let a guy sleep because they need to get his order in for food?
I explain I won’t be having dinner but yes, if they’re serving breakfast, I’ll probably join.
The service on the ground starts with the welcome drinks. Given my previous experience with the mint juice, this time I try the orange juice. This is followed by the newspapers, vanity kit, pjs, the menu and the towels. Again, there is a choice between a hot towel and a cold one. This time I go with the cold towel, but it’s lukewarm – just like the hot towel I had on the previous flight.
We’re still two hours out of London when the crew start the
breakfast service. Which to me seems just a tad early, given that there are
only 26 seats in Business Class. The sequence in which the meal is served is
First, I am brought a cup of coffee with milk, which is very
weak, incidentally. Next the other flight attendant shows me a selection of
preserves and marmalades to choose from. I request some apricot jam and then
sit there thinking that it would be really cool to have something to smear the
jam onto – a piece of bread spontaneously comes to mind. As though he can read
my mind, the male crew member appears with a bread basket and asks me if I’d
prefer toast or a croissant. I tell him I’ll have toast, and ask him if perhaps
I might have a knife to smother the jam with and a napkin to put the bread on?
To which he tells me the tray will be arriving ‘later’.
When eventually the tray arrives, the cabin crew have to
first open my tray table, which is stowed in the side of the seat. Only, that’s
where the coffee is standing. So I pick the saucer and cup up with my left
hand, because I’m still holding my two slices of toast with the other hand,
while the cabin crew juggles my tray in one hand and tries to open the table
with the other.
But eventually we manage. And the tray does looks rather
nice. There’s even a wire basket for me to put the toast in. But I still don’t
understand why they couldn’t have brought the tray first and then the jam,
bread and coffee.
The tray has on it:
A plate of fresh fruit.
A small ramekin of butter.
A glass of water.
A glass of juice.
Apparently, according to the menu, there also would have been yoghurt and Müsli. But the crew seem to be strangely unaware of any of this.
Once I have finished the fruit, the plate is removed and a short while later, my hot meal arrives. I’ve decided to go with the:
American pancakes with berries and maple syrup.
The pancakes are thick and fluffy. But to be honest, the
whole thing is just a bit of a sugar overdose and could have done very well
without either the maple syrup or the berries.
By the time the crew clear everything away, we still one
hour out of London. I lean back in my seat and watch the world go by far below,
until eventually old Blighty comes in to view. Our approach into Heathrow offers
some excellent views. First ATC bring us in due north of the city, with good views
of the West End and Hyde Park. Initially, we’re on a westerly track, flying
parallel to the runways at Heathrow. But it looks as though they’re going to bring
us in on 09R, which is more convenient because Gulf air operates out of
Terminal 4 in Heathrow, which is south of the runway. So eventually we turn
south and fly overhead Heathrow, with the BA maintenance facility and Concorde
We land on time and make the short taxi to Terminal 4. It’s
good to be back in Europe! I now have 95 minutes to make my connection.
Man, what a let down. When I booked this flight, I was
expecting Gulf Air to be something of a boutique carrier, if there is such a
thing. I knew I couldn’t expect anything on the scale of Emirates or Qatar, but
maybe a bit like Oman Air. What I certainly hadn’t expected though was the badly
managed, uncoordinated mess and the total lack of consistency in the service
delivery of Gulf Air.
The seat on the B 787 is gorgeous, and the 787 is a very comfortable aircraft, from a passenger’s perspective. But even so, the inconvenient flight schedule, the rather unpleasant transfer at their very unattractive hub in Bahrain and the bad service really don’t make me really ever want to try Gulf Air again.
But I’ll give them this much, their livery is one of the best out there right now…
The course with the Emirates Flight Training Academy in
Dubai ends at lunch time on Maundy Thursday. I have the rest of the day off,
which gives me some time to relax and rest before I fly home in the evening.
It’s been a long week.
This year I visited the UAE in February, March, and April.
And it looks like I’ll be back again in June and then again in September. So I
think I can hardly be blamed for wanting to add a bit of variety with the
flights I take: to break the monotony of business travel by using the
opportunity to try some new airlines. For the trip to Dubai, I had intended to
fly via Beirut, with the aim of course, of sampling MEA Middle East Airlines.
But then Air France broke the triple seven that was supposed to take me to
Beirut, and I was subsequently rebooked onto the nonstop flight I’d already
taken the previous month.
For the return, I’ve booked myself on a flight from Dubai
via Bahrain to London Heathrow, for the sole purpose of trying out Gulf Air and
their new Dreamliner.
I should have been on the day flight to London on Good Friday. But then it was
announced that they would be resurfacing one of the runways in Dubai, which would
inevitably lead to a reduction in capacity of 32%. This is achieved, mainly, by
airlines thinning their schedules to and from Dubai. As a result, I was
rebooked onto the night time service from Bahrain, with the feeder flight
departing from Dubai at 23h35.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave the hotel in Al Barsha at 20h40. From here the journey
by car to Dubai airport takes 27 minutes. It’s the weekend here in the UAE,
when the traffic on the road tends to get a bit frantic by mid-afternoon and
then gradually deteriorates from there into the evening.
Gulf Air operates out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. I’ve already checked in online. However, the boarding passes cannot be transferred to the wallet, even though, according to the app, Dubai is one of the few airports from which the service should work. But I need to check-in my suitcase anyway.
Gulf Air checks in on row 5. Check-in is done by DNATA. There are four dedicated Gulf Air counters on row 5, with one row for premium passengers. But the check-in agent is friendly enough. He checks my suitcase all the way through to Zürich, gives me instructions for the lounge and then wishes me a pleasant flight.
Gulf Air has its own lounge on the D concourse. And what a depressing
place it is. The lounge is located one floor up from the general airside area,
above the duty free shop.
The lounge has its own smoking room, which is furnished in
the traditional Arab style, and not much else. The selection of hot and cold
dishes looks good though, but I don’t try any of the food, figuring I’ll be
eating on the plane.
Boarding for the flight starts at 23h00. There is no call
for premium passengers, but there is a separate queue for Business Class
The first impression of the cabin is good, although I must
say it does looks rather old-fashioned. There are four rows of seats in the
Business Class section, and Gulf Air has a proper, dedicated Business Class
seat in a 2 + 2 configuration.
The seat covers are leather. There is a foot rest for every
seat. Unfortunately though, there is also a large IFE box under the window seat
of the row in front, which means that there’s actually no room to fully stretch
Each seat has its own power socket, but mine is not working
on this flight. The seat controls are operated mechanically, and not electrically.
There are four crew on the flight. Two females working the
rear section, and two males in the front working the Business Class cabin. The
two men are not particularly friendly and do not seem overly enthusiastic about
being there either.
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drink.
There is a choice of water, orange juice and a lemon and mint juice. I go with
the latter, but it’s not very good. It tastes like the seriously diluted
version of a similar but much more flavourful drink you get on Qatar Airways.
Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute the towels
and then the cardamom infused coffee with dates. For the towel there is a
choice between a hot and a cold towel. I request a hot towel, but it’s not
really warm anymore.
As we taxi out, the crew pass through the cabin taking
orders for dinner. From what I understand the flight attendant telling the lady
in 1A in Arabic, there is a choice of salad with shrimp or some sort of cheese
sandwich. By the time the crew reaches row two, where I’m sitting, he merely
wants to know what I’d like to drink. And I figure he’s probably out of options
for the meal service and will just bring the rest of the passengers what’s left.
The flight time is announced at 55 minutes.
Once we’re airborne, the service begins. I get my tea, the
passengers on row 1 are given their trays with the food and then the crew
vanish in the galley behind the curtain. The guy sitting next to me doesn’t get
anything. Not even the small bottle of water he’d ordered. The crew only appear
again briefly before landing, to open and secure the curtain.
We land in Bahrain after a flight time of 50 minutes. The
farewell message for passengers is recorded, so the poor crew are not made to
endure the presence of their pesky passengers unduly. Now let’s hope the next
flight will be a better experience. Because this one rubbish!
The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without
a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the
runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway
station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from
where the flight to Beirut will be departing.
Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The
SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the
SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane
for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at
the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security
checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when
I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a
way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright
in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that
really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.
Air France tends to start boarding for its
flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding
already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish
writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure
they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time
I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the
final staged of boarding.
The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER.
There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8.
And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on
this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat
Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample
storage space. And it looks good too.
Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There
is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have.
Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and
slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.
By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.
A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us
that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to
return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are
informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or
less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving
forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose
gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to
swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate
agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go
to the lounge.
I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in
Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me
not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge
agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut
flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto
tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to
Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation
very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to
Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…
The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which
means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately,
I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take
the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the
shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go
through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly
because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.
Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s
just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as
well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a
smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my
smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s
not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle
of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps –
which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…
At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting
with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.
The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the
previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the
time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running
45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes,
so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.
The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass
of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew
nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and
The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that
the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut
The tray arrives with the following:
Shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream.
A mixed green salad.
A plate of cheese (goat’s cheese, Cantal and Camembert)
And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)
For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake
All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.
The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly,
but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal
service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on
during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at
the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley,
only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten
seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any
turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor
thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines
that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also
say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.
An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the
crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked
salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have
the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.
Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!
Date: 10. January 2019 Origin: Zürich Kloten Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F Seat: 10F Flight time: 57 minutes
Considering he’s an aerospace engineer, and rather a good
one at that, it really is quite astounding just how little my friend, the wiry
R., is interested in aviation and aircraft. As such, it is hardly surprising
that when I tell him about my itinerary for my upcoming trip to Dubai, all he
can muster is the kind of mournful ‘why’ that is usually reserved for parents
to use on their four year old kid when he decided to drop a whole box of
detergent in the toilet to see if the flushing would create bubbles. Not of
course, that I got up to that sort of thing as a child…
But in any case, the answer really is quite simple. I’m on
my way to Dubai. This is my third trip this year to the UAE, after having
visited Abu Dhabi in February, and Dubai in March. And so, as the routine
starts to get a bit long in the tooth, I figured I might as well take the
opportunity to try some of those airlines I’ve always wanted to try but which
somehow were always just a bit inconvenient or out of the way.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur to the airport. The Swiss Federal Railways recently started to introduce new rolling stock on the network. I have to admit, even though trains really don’t do it for me in the same way that planes do, that the vehicles do look rather good from the outside. They’re sleek.
From a passenger’s perspective though, they’re somewhat problematic. After a series of technical issues which delayed their introduction into service, the Swiss association for persons with disabilities filed a complaint, quite rightly, because the trains were in fact inaccessible for passengers with reduced mobility, because although they have level access, none of the doors has a ramp with an inclination of less than 15 degrees. All I can say as an able-bodied passenger is that there isn’t much storage space and the cabin is rather cramped.
Just as we pull out of the station, I receive a sms from Air
France informing me that the flight is full, and that therefore they’re willing
to check in my luggage free of charge. Which is admittedly a bit useless, seeing
as I have a luggage allowance anyway with may status. The flight is operated by
an Airbus A 318, which is admittedly rather small and has limited storage space
too. So my first stop is the SkyTeam check-in counters on row 2 of check-in 2,
where my suitcase is tagged to Paris and then sent on its way.
It’s the week before the big Easter weekend, and it looks like the whole world has elected to travel today. At the exchange office there’s a guy ahead of me inquiring whether they’ll accept Euros in Sri Lanka, because he’s just changed Swiss Francs into Euros and now has two crisp looking EUR500 notes in his hands…
The queue for security is endless and stretches all the way back to the entrance of the security area. The vapid Japanese chick behind me is on the blower, complaining to her bestie because Iberia forced her to check in her suitcase. ‘I mean, I thought they were, like, a normal airline, like, if they’re in the Star Alliance…like…’. She also doesn’t quite see why Iberia wanted her to check in the bag in the first place, even though, in her own words, there were so many shoes in the suitcase that the wheels collapsed.
Boarding starts about ten minutes ahead of
schedule. And it really is quite amazing just how many passengers you can fit
in to this puny little aircraft. Fortunately, we started boarding early,
because it’s taking for ever to find space for the copious bags passengers are
bringing into the cabin, despite the gate agents’ best efforts to put as many
bags as possible in the hold.
The cabin of the Airbus A 318 looks the same as that of all the other Airbus narrow bodies. But it is striking just how short this little airplane is. It’s kind of cute… I’m sitting on row 10, which is the emergency exit, and the legroom is excellent.
There are four cabin crew on the flight today. They’re very
professional, but these guys are also very friendly and seem totally unphased
by the luggage issue. Thanks to their excellent effort, we manage to push back
just a few minutes behind schedule.
Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. Much to my
surprise, given the flight time of only one hour, this consists of a selection
of hot and cold drinks as well as a sandwich. There is no choice for the
sandwich. It’s filled with cream cheese, apple and celery and tastes quite
We land in Paris after a flight time of less than 60
minutes. Visibility is not too good, which is a shame, because we fly right
over central Paris on the approach.
Eventually, the flight comes to an end on a remote stand. Which means a cool picture of my chariot – hurrah! I figure I might as well wait for all the passengers to disembark, so as not to have wait on the bus. The good thing about large airports like Roissy is that by the time I finally make it to the luggage belt, I only have to wait two minutes for my bag to arrive.
In Paris I’ll be staying at the Roissy Sheraton, which is perched right over the main railway station for Terminal 2 and within easy walking distance of Terminal 2F, where I just arrived, and Terminal 2E, from where I shall be leaving tomorrow.
March 31 2019 marks the beginning of the northern hemisphere
summer schedule for air travel, and the change to the new schedule is usually
when airlines launch operations to new destinations. Today, TAP Air Portugal is
launching a new, twice daily service from Lisbon to Basel. This is not the
first time TAP has operated to Basel, and in fact I still remember seeing them
with the Boeing B 727-200 at Basel airport towards the end of the 80s.
Of course, I figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join
the first flight!
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I spend the night at the TRYP hotel at Lisbon airport, which
is five minutes on foot to the terminal for an able-bodied person, and a bit
longer if you have a back problem.
Lisbon has an unusual designation for its terminal facility,
in that the arrivals concourse is Terminal 1, while departures are located in
Terminal 2. Check-in for the flight to Basel is in sector A, which appears to
be the designated TAP Air Portugal/Star Alliance area.
There is a separate check-in area for premium passengers. Because
the terminal at Lisbon airport has been gradually expanded over the years, the
flow of passengers does not really follow any clearly laid out concept. As
such, the security checkpoint is not so easy to find. It also doesn’t help that
they’re currently building inside the terminal and have removed some of the
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The queue for the regular security checkpoint is endless. It
reminds me a bit of the Easter processions we have in Malta, just with more
complaining. But luckily, there is a fast track for security which is more or
less deserted at this time of the morning.
From security I head one floor up and through the duty free
shop to access the general airside area. The TAP Air Portugal lounge is located
in the new part of the terminal building, one floor up from the general airside
The lounge is not necessarily the most elegant one I’ve ever
seen, but I think it makes the most of the limited space available. The food
selection is quite good, with a nice collection of local snacks. Although my
suggestion to anybody transiting through this lounge would be to keep away from
the coffee machine, because it’s vile.
My flight will be departing from gate S25. A photographer is
already there taking pictures of the aircraft and crew of flight to Basel.
Before boarding starts, the photographer requests a group photo with the gate
staff. Somehow, by the time everybody has removed any real or imagined bits and
pieces of lint from their uniforms, patted down their beard, rearranged their
ties or touched up their lipstick, the number of gate attendants has suddenly
increased from three to eight!
The cabin divider is behind row 6, which means there is a
total of 24 seats in the Business Class cabin. But the flight is not full today
in both cabins, so that by the time boarding is completed, there are only four
passengers in Business Class. One gentleman on 1A, a couple on 2A and 2C and me
I like the design of the TAP seat. The dark colours look elegant.
Every seat has a headrest that is adjustable in height and also has ears that
can be folded out for support. The leg space is also good on row 1. From what I
can tell though, the cabin divider is really just a curtain in the aisle.
There are four cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a
gentleman in his fifties, I should say, and he is assisted by a female colleague
in her forties. And the two of them are just brilliant. They’re very attentive,
and although they seem quite reserved, I think they do a really good job at
making passengers feel welcome.
In the rear there is one young lady and a young man working
the Economy Class cabin. I don’t interact much with them during the flight, although
they seem friendly enough. What I can say though, is that the trousers the
young male flight attendant is wearing are so tight, it’s nearly obscene. Somebody
tell the guy to put his suit jacket back on again, already!
There is no service on the ground. Only once we’re airborne
a packaged and scented towel is provided ahead of the meal service.
It takes about fifty minutes after take-off for the meal
service to begin. The meal consists of:
A plate of cheese and cold cuts
A plate of fresh fruit
A bowl of yoghurt with fruit compote
A small ramekin of müsli
A small ramekin of unsalted butter with jam
In Business Class TAP provides an individual tray service, instead
of serving the meals from a trolley in the cabin. As she hands me my tray, the
cabin crew asks me what I’d like to drink and shortly after brings me a glass
of orange juice and a coffee. The coffee incidentally, is rather good.
The crew do two rounds with the breadbasket. There is a wide
selection of sweet and savoury pastries and bread to choose from.
Once the meal is done, the crew come to remove the tray and ask me if there’s anything else I’d like. One of them brings me a blanket and a pillow and shortly after I slip off to the land of nod.
At 09h40 the captain announces that we’ve reached the top of
descent. It’s a lovely day for flying this morning and as we come in over the Alsace,
everything looks green and lush.
We touch down at 10h10. The perimeter fence is lined with
photographers taking pictures of our arrival, and as we turn off the active
runway, I can already spot the fire engines preparing for the water canon
salute. I mean, you can call me an attention slut if you will, but I have to
say there is something rather grand about the arrival of an inaugural service,
that brings back the old magic of air travel.
As we disembark the aircraft, there are two representatives
from Basel airport handing out Läckerli to passengers. A Läckerli is a type of
sweet, a bit like a biscuit, typical for the Basel region of Switzerland. As I
pass the gate on my way to arrivals, I can see that they’ve set up a buffet
with Portuguese specialities for passengers booked on the return flight to Lisbon.
Well that was fun! TAP Air Portugal will be operating the Basel service twice daily with an Airbus A 319. Clearly, the airline is hoping to cash in on connecting passengers that will transfer through its hub in Lisbon onto the carrier’s extensive Latin American network. But while the Portuguese expat communities in Switzerland and the Alsace are quite considerable, the question remains whether TAP will be able to generate acceptable revenues on this route, given that Easyjet also operates between Basel and Lisbon.
Porto is a nice, modern city with a lot of tradition. It’s
also very touristy. In Porto I stayed at the Intercontinental, but to be honest,
I don’t think I’d stay there again.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
From the Intercontinental you can either walk ten minutes uphill
to Trinidade, or you can take the metro line D for one stop and then change onto
the E line from Trinidade to the airport. Which is what I do to save me some
The metro in Porto is nice. It’s quiet, clean, easy to use
and modern. The metro to the airport only runs every thirty minutes, although I’m
not sure if perhaps that’s because it’s the weekend. The journey time to the
airport is thirty minutes. And it’s a very nice journey too!
TAP has a shuttle service between Porto and Lisbon. On
weekdays, the first departure from Porto to Lisbon is at four in the morning,
with subsequent flights running hourly during peak hours and every two hours for
the rest of the day.
There are dedicated check-in counters for the Lisbon
Luckily there is a fast track for security, which is much
less busy than the queue for the general security checkpoint.
TAP does not operate its own lounge here in Porto. However,
there is a lounge operated by Nav Portugal. I am entitled to use this lounge
because although my flight to Lisbon is in Economy Class, it was booked on the
same ticket at the Business Class fare from Zürich to Porto.
The lounge is nice and has a good selection of finger food
and snacks. There’s even a freshly made fruit salad, which is just excellent!
The entrance to the lounge is right opposite gate 32, which
is the dedicated gate for the Lisbon shuttle.
Boarding for the flight starts at 17h30, although by the
looks of it, it’s not going to be a full flight. The boarding process is the
same as yesterday in Zürich, with a separate queue for premium passengers.
Much to my surprise, this aircraft has a different – and
much nicer – cabin configuration than the dreadful old plane I arrived with from
Zürich yesterday. This aircraft has different, more comfortable seats. The most
prominent difference though, is that this aircraft appears to be equipped with
an inflight entertainment system, because there is a screen in the back of each
seat and a control panel in the arm rests.
I am seated on the emergency exit, which is row 14. The
legroom, obviously, is very good on this row.
There are three ladies working in the cabin this evening and
again, they seem very nice and interact with the passengers in a relaxed and
The flight time is announced as forty minutes.
Much to my surprise, all passengers are served a snack and a
drink on this flight, despite the short flight time. The snack box contains a
packet with four crackers and another packet with a soft but tasty cheese. No
cutlery is provided. Although it turns out it’s not really required, because
the cheese is quite soft.
About twenty minutes into the flight, the pilots ease back the throttles and we start our descent. I’m assuming here that the Porto shuttle probably gets preferential treatment for the landing, traffic permitting. So eventually, we touch down in Lisbon after a flight time a few minutes short of the announced forty minutes.
Taking this trip is probably not a good idea. Four weeks
after the pain started, my back is still no better. But, in the end I couldn’t
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I catch the 16h31 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich airport at 16h44. Fortunately, this service has level carriages at platform height, so I won’t have to climb any steps.
I’ve checked in online. I don’t have the TAP app because I
don’t really use them that often. But the web check-in works fine on my iPhone.
Airport check-in for TAP is done in check-in 1, which is the Star Alliance area,
or at one of the self-service ticket machines in check-in 3, above the airport’s
I arrive at the lounge at 17h15 and the place is crawling with people. I end up standing around for a few minutes for a seat to become available because the place is so crowded.
Eventually, I find a place to sit in a rather oddly shaped corner of the lounge. I’m guessing this is the ‘business’ area where passengers can work. One wall is kept in this really ugly and unfinished looking plywood. Or course, the opportunity to bullshit is too great for SWISS to pass up, which is why of course they have to put up a plaque declaring that this wall is hypoallergenic and made of freshly pressed hay from the Alps. Really SWISS, is that what you’re going with? You’re too cheap to properly renovate your lounge and now you’re going to pretend it’s because you’re doing your passengers a favour…
Eventually I figure I might as well step outside and find a
place to sit there. It’ll be more comfortable for my back, and probably better
for my blood pressure too…
Boarding is from gate A 75. There are four rows set up in front of the counter to queue. From right to left: one for ‘premium’ passengers, one for passengers without bulky hand luggage and two for everybody else. Boarding starts with a delay of fifteen minutes, which was caused due to the late arrival of the plane form Porto.
On the Embraer 190, Portugalia, who operated the flight on behalf of TAP under the TAP Express brand, has managed to squeeze in an impressive 106 seats. To this end, the aircraft only has a quarter of a Business Class galley, so that row 1is more or less opposite the L1 door.
Unlike many airlines, seat numbers on this aircraft are A
and B on the port side and C and D on the starboard side. A and D are the
window seats. There are no seats 1A and 1B. Thus, the seats with the best
legroom are the bulkheads rows on 1CD or 2AB.
Other than that, I have to say that the Embraer 190 is a
very uncomfortable little aircraft that really should not be deployed by any
airline on sectors of more than one hour. I know I have a back injury right
now, but that does not account for the fact that I and the guy next to me
eventually agree that the seat is rather unpleasant. By the time we land in Porto,
my back is pretty much jammed up and my kneecaps are more or less locked in the
Oh yes, and more thing: in Business Class TAP Express will
not leave the seat next to you empty.
There are three females working the cabin on this evening’s flight. And I have to say, they really are very lovely. They have friendly, warm smiles and their service is attentive and chic.
While we’re on the ground, there is no service at all.
Boarding is completed at around 18h10. At around 18h40 the captain comes on the
blower to explain that only the first fifteen minutes of our delay were cause
by the aircraft being late. He explains that Swissport, the handling agent, is
have problems finding an available tug to push us back from our stand. ‘Swissport
company provides bad service at this airport…’.
Eventually, at 18h44 we push back. We are airborne at 19h03,
with a delay of one hour.
The other issue with the tightness of the Embraer 190 and the
fact that both seats on a row are sold, is that it can be rather difficult to
eat in this seat. At least not without shoving your elbow in the kisser of the
person on your left.
But anyway, the tray arrives. It contains:
A small salad with shrimps, served with olive oil dressing
A pasteis de nata – which is something of a Portuguese national dish. It’s a filo pastry with a vanilla custard filling and burned sugar on top
A packaged refreshing towel
A small piece of milk chocolate
To drink with the meal, I have a sparkling water with ice
and lemon. And then after the meal a cup of tea.
We land in Porto after a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s already dark outside, which makes for a very nice approach right over the city with all the lights.
Porto airport is a bit of a surprise, because I was expecting the same kind of patched up facility as that in Lisbon. But instead, Porto has a very nice, spacious and airy terminal.
To get into town I take the metro, or tram rather, which makes
the journey form the airport to the city in about thirty minutes, depending on
where you’re going. A one way ticket will cost EUR2.30.
The last time I saw Tutankhamun was more than twenty years ago, when I was in Cairo studying Arabic. And so, when I read that there would be an exhibition with artefacts from his vast tomb treasure in Paris, I figured it was too good an opportunity to miss. Before you ask: no, the death mask is not one of the exhibits and I very much doubt if that will ever leave Egypt again. One way or another though, the exhibition is well worth seeing and provides a glimpse into the ancient Egyptians’ understanding of eternity.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
On Sunday morning I leave the CitizenM hotel at Gare de Lyon
at 09h30 and walk the short distance across the Seine to the Gare d’Austerlitz,
from where I want to catch the RER C to Rungis and from there the shuttle to
Orly airport. My flight to Basel will be departing at 12h00.
Only, once I get to the Gare d’Austerlitz I find out that
there are no trains running, and instead there is a replacement bus to take me
part of the way. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have taken that bus, because quite
frankly, none of the staff that were positioned along the way to help stranded
passengers actually knew what was going on. And so, two busses and one Uber
later, I finally manage to arrive at the airport 35 minutes before departure.
Air France’s domestic and Schengen flights operated out of
Orly 1, otherwise known as Orly Sud. Luckily, I’ve already checked in online. Originally,
I was hoping to check in my bag. But by the time I arrive at the terminal, I figure
that check-in is already closed.
There are people standing around everywhere and there’s
literally no getting through. Eventually I have to climb over a whole row of
seats with my suitcase to bypass all the passengers and reach the entrance for
the priority security lane. And Indeed, I think if it weren’t for my status with
Air France, which allows me to use the priority lane, I’m pretty sure I’d have
missed the flight.
Finally, I arrive at the gate about five minutes before
boarding begins. Enough time to visit the loos. The flight is boarding from
gate A22, which is in a part of the terminal that was recently extended and
Boarding starts with a call for SkyPriority passengers. The gate
agent tags my suitcase for me to leave it at the bottom of the aircraft’s
steps. I think she’s surprised that I thank her for that, rather than start
This is a strange bird. F-GRZL was delivered to Britair in
2006 and was later on transferred to the HOP by Air France fleet. But the cabin
is different to that on the CRJ-900 and the CRJ-1000. The bulkhead is lavender
coloured, the seats are in dark grey, the window panels look old-fashioned and
there is no Air France branding inside the aircraft.
Other than that though, pitch is good on row two and the seats
are properly aligned with the windows to give passengers a good outside view.
There are two quite senior cabin crew on this flight. One
male and one female. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re professional and
The flight time is announced as 45 minutes. The cabin crew
start their service and inform passengers that due to the rather short flight
time, they will only be serving passengers one drink each to speed things up
and to make sure that every passenger gets at least something.
There is a choice of hot and cold drinks, including
alcoholic beverages like beer. Passengers also have a choice between a sweet or
a savoury snack. The gentleman sitting next to me asks for the savoury snack,
which turns out to be a packet of Pretzels. I have the sweet snack, which is a Madeleine
filled with jam.
It’s a nice day for flying today and as we approach Basel
the ground visibility improves further. Eventually we land after a flight time
of only 42 minutes. We park on a remote stand, and there’s even a bus to drive
us the 200 metres from the aircraft to the passenger terminal. Ten minutes
after we touch down, I exit the terminal building on the Swiss side and head
for the bus stop.
I now have a whole working week in the office ahead of me
before my next trip on Friday. Woohoo!