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

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Munich to Malta

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Date: 04 March 2017.
Departure: 09h35.
Arrival: 11:40.
From: München.
To: Malta.
Flight time: 2 hours 5 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window.

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INTRODUCTION
A while back I figured it might be a fun idea to participate in the Malta half marathon on Sunday, 5 March 2017. The 21.1km race begins in Rabat, just outside the city gate of Malta’s elegant old capital, Mdina. From there the course takes you all the way down towards the east coast of the island, past Mtarfa, through Mriehel and Marsa to Floriana. From il-Bombi the route branches off to the left, down to the water’s edge at Sa Maison for the last five kilometres, which run along the shoreline of Marsamxet harbour, through the outskirts of Gzira, Msida and Ta’Xbiex to cross the finish line at il-Ferry in Sliema.

GETTING TO MÜNCHEN
And so I find myself in Munich on an early Saturday’s morning. It’s just gone seven as I step off the Bombardier CRJ-900 that has brought me here from Basel. I really think Lufthansa should get rid of these little airplanes. I mean, I love flying but those things are just so narrow and awkward that even I start to get claustrophobia.

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Normally I make a point of flying Air Malta when I travel to the island, mainly because you’re never quite sure if perhaps it might be your last flight with them, given the financial state they’re in. But I only have the weekend to make the trip. I have to be back in Basel by Sunday evening. So on this occasion, Lufthansa was simply the best choice and allowed me to arrive in Malta at noon on Saturday and leave again the next evening after the race. As the German saying goes, in der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen!

CHECK-IN
I check in using the Lufthansa app, which works nicely. I also think Lufthansa do a very good job in keeping you up to date on the status of your flight, sending you notifications of gate changes by mail and by text message.

LOUNGE
My first stop is the Lufthansa Business Class lounge. It was still early when I left Basel this morning so I only had a coffee at the airport and some still water on the flight to Munich.

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The lounge in Munich is pretty nondescript. Essentially it is just one big cavernous room with a somewhat anonymous, nondescript atmosphere. It gives the appearance of somebody having really made a gargantuan effort to strip the place of any character it might have had. Who designed this place?

I don’t try the showers but the toilets are definitely starting to look a bit rough around the edges. They’re not exactly in the cleanest condition either.

The food options are okay. There is a buffet with typical breakfast fare – a good selection of different breads, cheese, cold cuts, cucumber and tomato. There is also Müsli, fruit salad and scrambled eggs.

BOARDING
Boarding starts at 09h10, fifteen minutes behind the time advised on the boarding pass. The initial call is for Business Class passengers and status card holders to board first, although from what I can tell nobody is really paying attention and the gate agent doesn’t seem too bothered about that either.

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CABIN & SEAT
The seat and cabin have been stripped to the absolute minimum level of comfort. There are no power plugs at all and from what I can tell there is also no inflight entertainment system either, which is okay because the flight attendant doing the safety on board demo seems to be having a whale of a time pretending she’s on the catwalk in Milan or Paris…

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There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin this morning, with eleven of the twelve seats occupied. Originally, I’m the lucky guy with a whole row of three to myself. But after take-off Mr 1C moves across to sit next to me on 2D. I suspect he’s probably had enough of the crew tripping over his feet every time they exit the galley.

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 SERVICE & CREW…WHERE ART THOU?
The crew are nondescript too. Not overly gushing but not rude or impolite either. As far as the service is concerned though, I think I’m starting to see a pattern here. In fact I think the service is about as lackluster as the lounge and the crew and the cabin of the aircraft. There are no welcome drinks and no refresher towels. After take-off there is no drinks service ahead of the meal service either.

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THE MEAL
So essentially, this means the service on this flight consists of a unmotivated flight attendant unceremoniously parking a tray before you with grub on it. And what a frugal meal it is! There is a small bowl of some passion fruit concoction, which does, admittedly, taste rather nice. Then there is a small plate, a really small plate, with one slice of some sort of ham, one piece of hard cheese, a blob of cream cheese and more fruit. And that’s it. For a moment I wonder if perhaps somebody I know is trying to give me an oh so subtle hint that I should loose weight by ordering the low-calorie meal for me. But no such luck.

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To drink I have coffee which is tepid and bland and probably even too weak for an American.

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The crew come through the cabin with a large breadbasket, which has more than enough bread in it for the eleven passengers in the Business Class cabin. However, it is quite apparent that seconds from the breadbasket are not encouraged and actually frowned upon by the crew.

When the flight attendant comes to remove my tray she asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. For a moment I consider giving her my best puppy eyes and asking her, with a shaky voice and trembling lips if ‘please Ma’am, can I have some more…’? But then I decide against that, figuring she probably wouldn’t know Dickens anyway. Besides, I think it might cause her physical pain to smile and I’m not that cruel. And so she saunters off in the direction of the galley looking mightily pissed off. A few seconds later she returns with the bread tongs holding one single piece of bread. After all, we wouldn’t want any of the other passengers getting funny ideas now, would we?

I smile and say thank you, to show her I appreciate her effort. But alas, as the saying goes, there’s no hell on earth that’s like a woman’s scorn and my flippant trespass shall not be forgiven so quickly and so the snow queen simply gives me an icy glare before she silently glides away.

The rest of the flight passes just as unspectacularly uneventful as the boring meal service. The woman behind me sounds like she’s got a serious bout of hooping cough, which apparently is alleviated by not covering your mouth when you cough to achieve maximum exposure to your germs for all the passengers in the immediate vicinity, which can be quite a few people in the confined space of an airplane cabin.

ARRIVAL
But all of that recedes into the background as we leave the Sicilian coastline behind us and the captain initiates the descent. We get some spectacular views on the approach. The islands look so green around this time of the year.

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Eventually, we land slightly ahead of schedule. As I step down onto the apron I am consumed by a mix of emotion – wondering what on earth I was thinking to register for the race tomorrow, feeling happy to be back home again and making a mental note to never ever again waste money on a Lufthansa Business Class ticket.

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

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350: Doha to Frankfurt

qatar_airways_logoDate: 17. February 2017.
Departure: 08:00.
Arrival: 12:10.
Flight time: 6 hours 10 minutes.
Seat: 4A.

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INTRODUCTION
I have just enough time to upload and post my review of the Melbourne to Doha leg, and then it is already time to head to the departure gate for my flight to Frankfurt. I suppose you could say I am literally on my last leg…!

BOARDING FROM AN AWKWARD GATE
The flight is departing from gate B8, which is the end gate on the B pier. As such, the position of the gate in relation to how the aircraft is actually parked is awkward and does not allow for any reasonable photos. Add to that the fact that the windows on the B pier have these opaque dots on them and it becomes near impossible to take any decent pictures of your awaiting chariot.

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CABIN & SEAT
The Airbus A 350 features Qatar Airways’ new Business Class configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 layout that gives every passenger direct access to the aisle. The additional width of the A 350 really comes into its own in this cabin layout, giving a spacious and airy feel to the cabin.

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The only thing I do not like about this aircraft is the fact that it has those electronically controlled window blinds. And while these are obviously a lot of fun to play with if, like me, you spend way too much time around engineers than is really good for you, they have the disadvantage of being remote controllable by the crew.

No sooner has the fasten seatbelt sign turned off after take-off the blinds come down and can no longer be opened individually until about ninety minutes out of Frankfurt.

YET ANOTHER EXCELLENT CREW
The crew on this flight are a chirpy bunch. Their service is efficient but unrushed and they are obviously determined not to waste any time so passengers can maximise the amount of rest they can get before we reach our destination. This is yet another thing that Qatar Airways does really well in my opinion. One of the things I really cannot stand on Singapore Airlines or SWISS is that for some reason their main meal service always seems to take for ever. On a flight across the Atlantic you are usually already half way there by the time they finally finish and clear everything up.

THE VANITY KIT IS BACK TO ITS OLD TRICKS
The vanity kit is another one of the senselessly oversized tube of aftershave balm variety. Come to think of it, it would be interesting to know what is in the ladies’ vanity kit and if that has any more sensible contents.

YOU REALLY WILL NOT GO HUNGRY ON QATAR AIRWAYS
I know it has not been that long since my breakfast on the inbound from Melbourne, but I am feeling peckish nonetheless. I blame it on the jet lag.

I start with a tasty strawberry and banana smoothie with is rich and creamy.

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Next I have the Bircher Müsli with berries and nuts, which is served nicely decorated with a sprig of mint that gives it a refreshing twist.

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And then for the main course I have the Indian dish, in this case something called Aloo paneer tikki with jeera potatoes, green pea upma, makhani sauce and sambhar. And what an excellent dish it is too, even though I am really not quite sure what it is I am eating. Luckily, Qatar Airways always seem to have at least one Indian dish on their menu, usually the vegetarian option.

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For dessert I have a combination of lychee éclair and a coffee and chocolate mousse cake, which is also very good.

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Once the meal is over, I figure I may as well make another trip to Noddy land to pass the time before the next feeding.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Ninety minutes out of Frankfurt the cabin crew pass through the cabin asking passengers if there is anything they would like to eat before we arrive in Frankfurt. There is a section with light options on the menu for passengers to choose from. I decide to go with the shredded beef salad with Thai noodles. The dish is good and tastes authentic, but I am kind of disappointed because I had been hoping for something with a bit of ‘umpf’ in it, which this dish does not have.

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ARRIVAL
Twenty-three hours after departing from Melbourne I arrive back in Frankfurt. We approach the airport from the East and land on the new runway that lies north of the apron. As I step off the plane I finally get a chance to take a proper look at her and take a few pictures. This is a really very cool plane!

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CONCLUSION
This flight brings to a close my journey to the land of Oz with the fabulous Qatar Airways. Their performance on the four flights I took has been truly stellar. What’s more, they are consistent in the service level they provide, even in comparison to my experience on previous trips with them. In comparison to the other Middle Eastern carriers I have tried, I think Qatar Airways definitely takes the biscuit. They are certainly more professional than Oman Air and their service feels a lot more sophisticated than Emirates. I also think their cabins are a lot classier than Emirates, which tends to be a bit flashy, bordering on gaudy. Of course Qatar Airways also has the advantage that with Hamad airport, they have a very spacious and nicely designed hub.

I shall be flying with Etihad for the first time in two months, and I am curious to see how they will compare to Qatar Airways, but I think it is safe to say that Qatar Airways is a hard act to follow.

Posted in Airbus A 350, Business Class, Qatar Airways | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Melbourne to Doha

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Date: 16. February 2017.
Departure: 23:15.
Arrival: 05:25
Flight time: 13 hours 55 minutes.
Seat: 3B, aisle seat.

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INTRODUCTION
Next Monday the new semester begins, which means it is high time for me to get a move on and head back home. Again, I shall be travelling in Qatar Airways’ formidable Business Class, which admittedly softens the blow of having reached the end of my vacation…

My flight to Doha will depart at 23h00 from Melbourne, which means I have all of Thursday at my disposal.

SKYBUS COACH TO THE AIRPORT
In Melbourne I am staying at the Radisson on Flagstaff, which is just a short ten minutes walk away from the coach terminus at Southern Cross Rail Station. The journey from the city centre to the airport takes approximately 25 minutes and there is a Skybus coach leaving for the airport every 10 minutes. A one way ticket will set you back AUD19. There are no trains to the airport.

CHECK-IN AT TERMIANL 2, ROW B
All of row B is dedicated to Qatar Airways. You can check in online for this flight too. Even so, it is probably still worth it to make a stop at the check-in counter when you get to the airport because Business Class passengers are given a voucher for the security fast track that they can use in both Melbourne and Doha. You will also need to complete a customs form for departing passengers, which is also available at the check-in counter.

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QANTAS BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
Qatar Airways uses the lounge of its Oneworld partner Qantas in Melbourne. And thank God for that, because lounges are something Qantas does really well. It is a fairly large space with a variety of seating options. I like the design of the Qantas lounges. My only grippe with the lounge is that it is rather dark.

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Apart from that though, the food selection is rather good and there are salads, various pasta dishes, soup and a really delectable and sinful tasting chocolate cake.

BOARDING FROM GATE 8
At around 22h10 I leave the lounge to stretch my legs one last time before the long flight. Boarding for the flight has already started, even though we still have another hour to go before departure. I wonder if perhaps the crew is hoping to get away earlier for some reason or other.

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Melbourne airport is quite busy at this time of night. To our left, Singapore’s A 380 is being readied for its flight back to Singapore, to our right the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok is also in the final stages of boarding, and as we taxi out, I also spot aircraft from Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Qantas and Emirates.

OLD SCHOOL SEATING ON THE BOEING B 777-300ER
Tonight’s flight is being operated by one of my favourite aircraft, the mighty Boeing B 777-300ER – so please excuse my little fanboy outburst…

The last time I flew on Qatar Airways’ Boeing B 777-300ER was back in 2012 on a short flight from Hanoi to Bangkok. Admittedly, the cabin on the Boeing 777 is not near as nice as that of the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A 350. The seating configuration is in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout, which is rather old school and less private. But still, the seat is very comfortable, even when it is extended into a bed. The inflight entertainment is pretty much on a par with that of the other Qatar Airways aircraft I have flown with on this trip. The only major difference, from what I can tell, is that there is no wifi available on board this aircraft. But in the sum of all things, I do not really mind any of this. First of all, because it is the crew that makes the flight and secondly, no matter what the cabin may look or feel like, as far as I am concerned, the Boeing 777 is just one hell of a machine…oops, there goes the fanboy again.

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SERVICE & CREW
Just when you think you have seen it all and done it all, along comes Qatar just to remind you that really, you are just so clueless. The crew on this flight are even better than those of the two previous flights. They are courteous and friendly, considerate and attentive and nothing seems to be too much for them. Throughout the flight they are constantly present in the cabin, making sure passengers are comfortable and properly hydrated. The toilets are kept in impeccable condition during the flight.

The service sequence follows the usual protocol, what else?

A VANITY KIT THAT MAKES SENSE
While I think it is nice that airlines provide a vanity kit, I often wonder what on earth they were thinking when putting together the content. On the two previous flights with Qatar, the vanity kit included this really enormous tube of Armani aftershave cream, which somehow seems a bit of a waste. At least on this flight, the aftershave balm has been replaced with a large tube of Armani shower gel, which to me just makes more sense. There is also a small flacon of the perfume in the kit. Toothbrushes are available in the toilets.

À LA CARTE DINING WHEN IT SUITS YOU
As a welcome drink I have another one of those tasty lime and mint affairs, which probably contains more sugar in one glass than an average, mid-sized country consumes in a whole month. But it is just so good.

When the cabin crew comes round to take my order – Susanna from Macedonia – I explain to her that I really just want to sleep right now. Of course, this being Qatar, she tells me that that will not be a problem. She will take my order and put it aside and then I can eat whenever I wake up.

And so, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, I convert my seat into a bed and head off to Noddy Land for six hours.

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For a starter I have the Arabic mezze, which is very tasty and includes hummus, something with red pepper and tabouleh. A few years ago I flew to Singapore with my colleague, the tall blond M., who struck up a conversation with one of the Arab cabin crew on that flight. At some point the guy told us that as an Arab he would only ever have the mezze on flights out of Doha, because the quality of the mezze is just so much more authentic. And I think I tend to agree. While this mezze platter is good, I think it kind of lacks a bit of zing. As far as the hummus is concerned, I think it could have done with a bit more tahina.

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For the main course I have the gnocchi with a spinach and blue cheese sauce that is served with walnuts and ruccola leaves. I notice that the food is piping hot, whereas the plate is not. I can only assume therefore, that the food is not plated in advanced and instead is assembled on the aircraft.

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And then for dessert I have the ice cream – chocolate and vanilla, with mixed berries and a chocolate biscuit thing that tastes very good.

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The Valhorna chocolate after the meal has been replaced with a praliné by Godiva.

THE SECOND SERVICE
The second service already starts two hours and thirty minutes out of Doha because the crew is expecting heavy turbulence as we approach our destination. But in fact the bad weather starts much earlier, and the service has to be interrupted repeatedly.

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The breakfast service begins with a warm, rose scented hot towel to wake me up, followed by some Greek yoghurt with cherry compote and granola. The yoghurt is good, but the compote is just a bit too sweet, even for me.

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For the main course I have the Arabic breakfast, which is very tasty and quite extensive. There is a small plate with pita bread, another plate with cucumber, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese and a separate, hot dish of foul mudames, which is made with beans.

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The main is excellent, it is not spicy in the sense of being hot, but there are just a lot of different spices in the dish that make it very fragrant.

ARRIVAL IN DOHA
Eventually we land after a flight time of 13 hours and 55 minutes. In the end it was not quite as bumpy after all on the approach. Much to my surprise though, the ground is wet and the captain informs us that there have been heavy rain showers in the area.

Security is already busy. It is quite apparent that this is the rush hour here in Doha. Even so, with the separate fast track for security, I am quickly processed and soon find myself airside again. Time to head for the lounge.

I had hoped to be able to take a shower, but they guy in charge tells me there is a waiting list that will take about an hour to clear.

Posted in Boeing B 777-300, Business Class, Qatar Airways | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jetstar, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Melbourne to Hobart

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Date: 11. February 2017.
Departure: 11:05.
Arrival: 12:05.
Flight time: 54 minutes.
Seat: 7F, starboard window.

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CHECK-IN
Terminal: 4.
Terminal 4 is the low cost terminal in Melbourne and home to both Jetstar and Tiger Air. Interestingly enough, there are no manned check-in counters and instead, all passengers have to use one of the many self-service check-in kiosks instead. Even the baggage drop is unmanned. There are only two Jetstar employees available in case of problems.

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BOARDING
The boarding process is interesting. Passengers have to stand in line at the gate. One of the gate agents then walks by with a mobile set of scales to check the weight of the hand luggage. At Jetstar only one piece with a maximum weight of 7kg is permitted in the cabin. If, as in my case, your bag exceeds the limit, you will have to have it checked in at the gate at a flat charge of AUSD50.-, which is pretty steep, I think, but probably intended as a deterrent to stop passengers arriving at the airport and simply trying their luck. Alternatively, you can purchase an allowance for luggage online for more reasonable prices.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
3 + 3.
Seat Layout: Single class configuration with a total of 180 seats.
Pitch: 29 inches.
Width: 17.5 inches.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available on this flight. However, on longer flights you can rent a portable device.
Connectivity: Not available.
Comment:
The seat is very uncomfortable. Because the pitch is so tight, you are obliged to sit upright. However, the curvature of the seat requires you to sit very straight, which is quite a strain on the lower back. At least the seats have good padding.

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SERVICE & CREW
The crew seem friendly enough. More importantly, I am impressed by the quality of the announcements made by the lead flight attendant. She is very clear and precise in the way she speaks.

THE MEAL
There is a menu with a large selection of hot and cold dishes and beverages. However, with a flight time of under one hour, I do not bother.

ARRIVAL
Our descent into Hobart is rather fun. First of all, there is a strong gusting wind, which makes the approach rather bumpy. Secondly, the pilot in command obviously does not want to waste any time, so our final turns onto the approach are fairly tight. Once we hit the ground, the reversers are immediately opened at full throttle, given the fact that the runway here is very short.

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CONCLUSION
All in all, flying with Jetstar was an interesting experience. The lack of comfort is enough to take the fun out of flying, which is kind of what I was expecting. What impressed me though, is the efficiency of their operation on the ground, particularly with the self-service check-in process.

 

Posted in Airbus A 320, Economy Class, Jetstar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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Date: 09. February 2017.
Departure: 19:20.
Arrival: 20:20.
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard of the aircraft.

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INTRODUCTION
I step off Qatar’s Airbus A 350 and make my way to immigration, which is deserted. From what I can tell, ours is the only international flight to arrive around this time. The guy at customs seems a bit surprised to see me travelling such a long way with only a small carry-on suitcase, but eventually he lets me pass anyway.

If you are catching a domestic connection, simply exit customs and then turn left. There is an escalator that takes you one floor up to the departures level.

CHECK-IN
Counters: Virgin Australia have their own dedicated check-in area and there is a separate counter for Business Class passengers.

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It had not been possible to check me in for this flight already in Frankfurt or in Doha.

LOUNGE
Location:
Opposite immigration for international departures.
Name of Lounge:
Virgin Airlines lounge.
Access:
As you exit the security checkpoint, turn left.
Toilets & showers:
Available in the lounge.
Food & Beverages: The food selection the lounge is limited to junk food and toast. Drinks are ordered at the counter.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is available. The password is given to you at check-in.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Business Class passengers and frequent flyers are invited to board first.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
2 + 2.
Seat Layout: There are two rows of seats, making a total of eight seats in Business Class. The aircraft has a dedicated, proper Business Class cabin and seat.
Pitch: 38 inches.
Width: 19.5 inches.
AC Power:
No available.
Audio and Video: Virgin offers wireless inflight entertainment that you can watch on your own handheld device. But you need to download their app for that first.

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SERVICE & CREW
The crew seem friendly enough. They work efficiently to get the service through in just one hour but without making it feel rushed.

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Taking off over Glenelg.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Sparkling water.
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Choice: There is a choice of either chicken or a salad with beetroot.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Dinner.
Main course:
Chicken breast with creamed corn and tomatoes.
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Dessert: A really very tasty carrot cake.
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Cheese: A plate of camembert with fig chutney and rice crackers.
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Beverages: Coke Zero.
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Bread:
One bun, served with butter.
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Coming from Europe it is quite amazing to be offered a hot meal on a flight of only one hour and to have a proper Business Class seat at your disposal. I am certainly impressed!

ARRIVAL
We arrive in Melbourne more or less on time. Virgin Australia have their own terminal in Melbourne by the looks of it.

From arrivals it takes me about five minutes to walk the short distance to the Holiday Inn hotel, where I will be staying for just the one night.

In summary, I rather like Virgin Australia and I am very glad to say that their service is still as good as I remember it from when I travelled with them last back in 2013.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Business Class, Virgin Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350: Doha to Adelaide

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Date: 09. February 2017.
Departure: 21:15.
Arrival: 17:40.
Flight time: 12 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 3K, starboard window seat.

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INTRODUCTION
I have just enough time to post the report of my flight from Frankfurt to Doha before it is time for me to leave the comfort of the al-Mourjan lounge and head for gate C5 from where the flight to Adelaide will be boarding.

Since my last visit to Doha airport they have changed the security regime. Where previously you used to go through a centralised security checkpoint, which tended to get slightly hectic and chaotic during peak periods, you now only have to go through security before you enter the respective gate for your flight, which makes the whole process far more efficient and much less of a hassle for passengers.

LOUNGE
Location:
Just off the central plaza that links concourses A, B and C.
Name of Lounge:
Al-Mourjan.
Type of Lounge:
Qatar Airways Business Class lounge.
Access:
There is a long escalator that leads up to the lounge.
Toilets & Showers:
Both are available in the lounge and there is an attendant who obviously keeps the place spotlessly clean.
Food & Beverages: There is a huge selection of hot and cold dishes. In fact the food offerings are more comparable to what many airlines provide in their First Class lounges. One floor up from the central lounge area there is also a restaurant with buffet and à la carte dining.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is provided by Doha airport.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a large selection of magazines and newspapers in English and Arabic.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate lane for security for Business Class passengers. Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first and there is a separate airbridge attached to the L1 door.

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CABIN & SEAT
The seat on the Airbus A 350 is very similar to that on the Boeing B 787 on my previous flight. There are however, a few differences. First of all, due to the fact that there are no overhead bins for the middle row of seats, the cabin has a very spacious and cavernous feel, which is very pleasant actually. There is a shoe compartment large enough to store a pair of shoes properly (I wear a size 46 and managed to stow my shoes easily). And finally, the inflight entertainment system is slightly updated. Is has a larger selection of films and can be operated either via the handset or using the touch screen.

The Business Class cabin is also larger on this aircraft. There is one toilet behind the forward galley on the left and two toilets by the L2/R2 doors.

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SERVICE & CREW
The service sequence is identical to that on the previous flight – welcome drink, menu, vanity kit. However, because of the longer flight time of twelve hours and fifty minutes, a few additions have been made to the service:

  • Slippers are provided and they are rather comfortable.
  • Pyjamas are also provided.
  • There is a turndown service to convert the seat into a bed.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Lemon and mint juice.
Pre-meal drink:
Coke Zero, served with a ramekin of warm nuts.
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Choice: There are three choices for the first and main course and dessert.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Late dinner.
Amuse bouche:
Salmon tartar with mango salsa.
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First course: Spicy lentil soup.
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Second course: Arabic mezze with hummus, moutabel and tabouleh, served with Arabic bread.

Main course: Red snapper with a saffron cream sauce and asparagus. Served with crushed new potatoes and spring onions and a confit of cherry tomatoes.
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Dessert: Ice cream.
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Cheese: There is no cheese course on the menu but it is available on request.
Hot towel after the meal:
Rose scented hot towel.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Pre-meal drink:
Strawberry and banana smoothie.
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Choice: The breakfast menu can be put together individually and includes a wide selection of hot and cold dishes.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Main course:
Scrambled eggs with chives, served on toast with ruccola and grilled tomatoes.
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Bread: A selection of breads, served with butter and marmalade.
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ARRIVAL
We land in Adelaide after a flight time of twelve hours and thirty minutes. The approach brings us in right over the city and offers some great views of the hills in Adelaide’s hinterland.

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Once we land I have ninety minutes to make my domestic connection and then I’ll be done. For today.

SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT…?
This flight and the previous one from Frankfurt to Doha have firmly established Qatar Airways as one of my favourite airlines, together with the legendary Cathay Pacific. As I already mentioned in a previous post on Qatar Airways, it never seizes to amaze me just how reliable and consistent their crews are in their service delivery. And they are all so nice about it.

But it is not just the crews that make flying with Qatar Airways such a brilliant experience. The quality and quantity of the food is really something else and puts many of the First Class products I have had the pleasure of sampling to shame.

And then there is also the aircraft. This was my second flight on the Airbus A 350 and I must say, she’s really something else. The feeling of space and comfort that the cabin provides makes even a twelve hours journey pleasurable. The only problem you have with this aircraft is that it is so quiet in the cabin that you can hear the dude snoring five rows further back!

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Qatar Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 787-8: Frankfurt to Doha

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Date: 09. February 2017.
Departure: 10:45.
Arrival: 18:30.
Flight time: 5 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 2 K, starboard.

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CHECK-IN
Terminal 1, hall C. Qatar Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters. There are two counters for Business Class passengers.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Terminal 1.
Name of Lounge:
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
Access:
There is a set of stairs and an escalator adjacent to gate B42 which take you one floor up. You see the lounge entrance as soon as you get off the escalator.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge. The toilets are clean and look rather nice.
Showers:
Available in the lounge. Contact reception for a slot.
Food & Beverages: There is a fairly large bar area but the selection of food and beverages is fairly limited. There are no hot dishes. But at least they have Lavazza coffee.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is available, no password required.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is also a good selection of English and French language magazines and newspapers.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first and have their own, dedicated gate. Boarding is through the L2 door.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1.
Cabin Layout:
Business Class – 22 seats.
Economy Class – 232 seats.
Pitch: 80 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Length as a Bed: 80 inches.
AC Power:
AC power plugs are available at all seats in Business and Economy Class.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, handset controlled.
Earphones: No-name noise-cancelling earphones.
Connectivity: Onair wifi available.
Comment: A pillow and a blanket are already on the seat.

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SERVICE & CREW
The crew on today’s flight are all either from Thailand or the Indian subcontinent and they are all very friendly.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a choice of either a hot or cold towel. I choose a cold towel and have a lemon juice with mint with that.

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Shortly after that the vanity kit and the menus are distributed.

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Once the doors close, the crew pass through offering Arabic, English and German language newspapers.

VANITY KIT
Armani branded vanity kit. There are obviously different kits for men and women. The kit contains earplugs, lip balm, perfume, after shave cream, socks and eye shades. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are available in the toilets.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Lemon juice with lime.
Pre-meal drink:
Apple cooler – Apple juice, soda water, lemon juice, mint leaves and a slice of lemon. Served with a bowl of nuts served with the drink.
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Menu: There are three choices for the starter, main course and dessert.
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Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Amuse bouche:
Balik salmon with a horseradish sauce.

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First course: Soup of roasted butternut squash with a lemon and herb crème fraîche.
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Second course: Smoked salmon with pea and potato salad with confit tomatoes and a lemon dressing.
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Main course: Paneer tikka masala with makhini sauce, servied with coriander and mint basmati rice, spiced asparagus and black-eyed beans.
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Cheese: A selection of cheese with crackers, red onion chutney and condiments.
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Dessert: Chocolate ice cream with berries.
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Tea:
The meal concludes with a hot, rose scented towel and a mug of Karak Chai with cardamom. Before the lights go out, the crew pass through the cabin with small boxes of Godiva pralines.

ARRIVAL
We arrive in Doha at 18:30, just slightly ahead of schedule, after a flight time of five hours and thirty minutes. I know have a bit more than two hours to make my onward connection.

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Lufthansa, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Frankfurt

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Date: 08. February 2017.
Departure: 18:45.
Arrival: 19:25.
Aircraft: Airbus A 320.
Flight time: 40 minutes.
Seat: 20 E on the starboard

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INTRODUCTION
After the snow the rain came. And then after the rain the cold returned. Only the grey remained – a mournful, dark and dreary, gloomy veil hanging over the landscape like a curse. And so I decide the time has come to move on to greener pastures and head south where the weather is not so cold, not so wet and hopefully a lot easier for me to deal with.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Journey time:
13 minutes.
Departs from:
Winterthur main station.
Arrives:
Zürich Flughafen.
Cost:
CHF8.80 for a single one way ticket, 2nd class.
Ticket purchase:
Online, via the SBB app or at the ticket machines at the station. There is also a ticket office, but the queues there tend to be rather long.

CHECK-IN
Terminal: 1 or 3.
Counters: Check-in 3 is the area right above the platforms of the railway station, Check-in 1 in the dedicated terminal of the Lufthansa group. As you enter the building, Economy Class is on your left, while Business and First Class and the SWISS ticketing office are on the right side of the hall.
Web check-in:
If you are flying with Lufthansa from Switzerland, you will automatically be redirected to the SWISS page for check-in.
You can also check in via the Lufthansa app, which is not very intuitive. If you want to add the boarding pass to your Passbook, you have to select ‘save pass to app’ first. The icon to upload it to Passbook will then appear, but you have to scroll to the bottom.
Self-service check-in:
Available in Check-in 1 and 3.

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There are separate entrances for the security screening area for First and Business Class passengers and Economy Class passengers.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Upper level of the Airside Centre.
Name of Lounge:
SWISS Lounge.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class and Frequent Traveller lounge.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge.
Showers:
Available in the lounge.
Food & Beverages: There is a selection of sandwiches (tuna or cheese), snacks like popcorn or gummibears and one hot dish, which is macaroni with a meat sauce that is served with a healthy dollop of apple sauce. It is a typically Swiss dish and goes by the name of ‘Älplermagrone’.
Connectivity:
A wifi code is issued at reception.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a selection of English and German language newspapers.
Comment:
For a change the lounge is not so busy. But judging by the amount of trash lying around, I think I might have just missed the mad rush. Bananas seem to have been very popular today… Other than that, the lounge is starting to show some serious signs of wear and tear.

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Not my rubbish…

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Business Class, Senators and Hon Circles are invited to board first using the personalised gate. The riffraff can use the automated gates to board.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
3 + 3.
Seat Layout: There are a total of 168 seats on the aircraft, although the maximum number of passengers varies on the size of the Business Class cabin, where the middle seat is kept empty.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Connectivity: Not available.
Comment:
I think what strikes me the most about the aircraft as I enter is just how bland and boring the cabin looks. Everything is kept in murky shades of grey. Pretty much like the weather outside. The carpet is blue, but it is a very dark colour too that does not do anything to lighten the atmosphere in the cabin.

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Now that looks seriously uncomfortable.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew are rather nondescript on this flight, pretty much like the cabin of the aircraft actually – dull and grey. The ‘service’ consists of a packet of greasy potato chips that you are handed at the entrance to the aircraft and that you are then expected to hold in your hand during take-off or demolish as soon as you take your seat. There is also a drinks service once we get airborne. All in all, the whole experience really is nothing to write home about. Admittedly, the flight time is announced as being only 45 minutes, so you can hardly expect Lufthansa’s catering to go all out in Economy Class.

ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Frankfurt after a flying time of only 40 minutes and for a change even the taxi to the apron is not too long.

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In summary, this was a rather unspectacular short intra-European hop. In a way, an airline like Lufthansa does not really stand a chance against the low cost carriers on such a short route because there simply are not enough possibilities for them to set themselves apart from the competition with their product. With that in mind, they might as well adapt their business model to that of the low cost carriers and at least save some money in the process.

Posted in Airbus A 320, Economy Class, Lufthansa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier CSeries 300: Riga to Zürich

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Date: 15. January 2017.
Departure: 12:20.
Arrival: 13:30.
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Seat: 3F, window seat on the starboard side.

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INTRODUCTION
Riga is a lovely city. It is very generously laid out and there are a lot of parks along the river, which snakes its way through the old town before vanishing under the railway station. Of course the snow lying thick and heavy on the ground lends the whole place a very romantic, sleepy feel, which only adds to the atmosphere.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus lines 22 and 222.
Journey time:
20 minutes.
Departs from:
13 January square, near the railway station.
Arrives:
Riga airport, departures level.
Fee: EUR1.15 or EUR2 if you pay on the bus.

In Riga I am staying at the RadissonBlu Elisabeth, which is ideally located on the fringe of the old town and in close proximity to the railway station. I leave the hotel just after 9 in the morning and walk through the park along the river to the bus stop. It is a 10 minutes leisurely walk.

CHECK-IN
Terminal: Departures are on the upper level of the terminal.
Counters: Dedicated Air Baltic counters.
Number of counters: There is a very long row of Air Baltic check-in counters, although this morning only one Business Class counter and one Economy Class counter are open.
Web check-in:
Check-in is available on the Air Baltic website and works very well. There is no app but if you have Passbook on your mobile, you can have the boarding pass sent to you by mail and can then download it onto your phone.
Self-service check-in at the airport:
Multi-purpose check-in machines are available right next to the entrance to the terminal.

LOUNGE
Location:
At the beginning of the B dock.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge.
Name of the lounge: Prime Class lounge.
Access: There appears to be just the one lounge at Riga airport, which serves as the common purpose lounge for all airlines serving the facility. Access is either with a Business Class ticket or status in one of the airlines’ frequent flyer programmes.
Catering: The lounge has a good selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks.
Internet: Complimentary Wifi is available, the password is indicated throughout the lounge. In addition, there are Samsung workstations with internet access.
Facilities: The lounge is a good size and there are plenty of seating options. The upper level of the lounge is the quiet zone. Toilets are available in the lounge.

BOARDING
Priority boarding:
No.
Boarding for the flight starts pretty much on time. There is no separate call for Business Class passengers.

Today I shall be flying on the second CSeries aircraft Air Baltic received, which was delivered on 31 December 2016 and has only been in revenue service for less than two weeks.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
2 + 3.
Pitch: 30 inches throughout the cabin. Only the overwing exit row has a larger pitch.
Width: 18 inches for the aisle and window seats, 19 inches for the middle seat on the row of three.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Air Baltic has the same miniature size screens installed as SWISS. Those screens really are useless, they are smaller in size than the iPhone 6 Plus and because they are angled, if you are sitting by the window on the row of three, you can barely see anything on the screen.
Connectivity: Not available.

Air Baltic’s CSeries 300 have a seating capacity of 145. In Business Class the middle seat on the row of three and the aisle seat on the row of two are kept empty, which means there are three seats per row in the Business Class cabin. With the first four rows in the cabin dedicated to Business Class, this means the forward cabin has a maximum capacity of eleven seats (there is no A or C seat on row 1).

Obviously lot of thought has gone into the design and functionality of the cabin, which has a roomy, airy feel. The seats are in a very light shade of grey, so the cabin seems very bright.

The recline of the seat is good. Interestingly enough, when you recline the back of the seat, the whole seat also moves slightly forward.

The only negative point, as far as I can tell, is that there is no cabin divider.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew on this flight is friendly and welcoming like the one on the flight over the day before. There is a baby seated in the row in front of me crying his eyes out and the crew go out of their way to make the baby and his parents comfortable. In the good old days one might simply have assumed the child were possessed and would have had him exorcised. But alas, with all the political correctness going on these days people are somewhat reluctant to take such drastic measures…

Before the doors close, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the menu, newspaper and welcome drinks. There is a choice of water or orange juice.

We taxi out for departure, but there is a tick layer of snow on the wings and so we will have to deice first.

THE MEAL
Towel before the meal:
A fresh, scented hot towel is served ahead of the meal service.
Drink before the meal:
Apple juice.
Choice:
There is only one choice for the meal.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Orange salad with pine nuts and parmiggiano shavings.
Main course:
Grilled salmon teriyaki with jasmine rice and shitake mushrooms.
Dessert:
Chocolate mousse.
Beverages:
Diet Coke.
Bread:
A selection of bread from the breadbasket, served with butter.

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The meal is really very good. The cheese goes surprisingly well with the orange in the first course and the main dish is quite tasty. The dessert is good too, but awfully sweet and sticky.

ARRIVAL
By the time the tray is removed, we have just under one hour to go to Zürich, so I ask for a pillow, lean back and go off to sleep…

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When we land in Zürich at 13h30 we are making history, as this is the first time ever that a Bombardier CSeries 300 has ever visited the airport. And it is quite apparent. On the final approach the field on the other side of the road from the perimeter fence is lined with spotters and once we touch down, many of the ramp workers are also stopping what they are doing to take a picture of our aircraft taxiing in – including the police!

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All in all, I rather enjoyed this flight. Perhaps it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that there were far less vibrations on this aircraft than on the previous CSeries flight I took with SWISS last year. But I shall have to ask our aerodynamicist at work about that.

Posted in Air Baltic, Bombardier CS300, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Air Baltic, Economy Class- Boeing B 737-500: Zürich to Riga

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Date: 14. January 2017.
Departure: 14:20.
Arrival: 17:30.
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Seat: 10C, aisle on the emergency exit row.

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INTRODUCTION
For a very long time it looked as though the Bombardier CSeries might never fly. The development of the aircraft was marred by a series of technical problems with the power plant which eventually lead to a financial crisis that had the manufacturer Bombardier taking a serious nose dive. But all’s well that ends well as they say, and this rather elegant looking aircraft is finally being rolled out with airlines across Europe. Swiss International Air Lines was the launch customer for the type in the standard dash 100 version, while Air Baltic was the launch customer for the larger dash 300 version. On Sunday 15 January 2015 the aircraft is scheduled to operate the service from Riga to Zürich. Having just submitted my term paper and with nothing much else to do, I decide to fly to Riga on Saturday to be able to make the journey back to Zürich on the new shiny bird the next day.

The flight to Riga is operated by a Boeing B 737-500 which first flew in 1999 and spent the first years of its life flying for Air France.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Journey time:
1 hour 14 minutes, changing trains at Zürich main station.
Departs from:
Basel Swiss station (Basel SBB).
Arrives:
Zürich Flughafen.

It is snowing heavily in Basel as I make my way from my flat, across the square to the station. My train is just pulling in as I come down the escalators onto the platform. Considering how few people are travelling, it is quite surprising just how long the train is.

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The view outside is lovely. There is snow everywhere and everything is looking bright, despite the lack of sunshine.

CHECK-IN
Terminal: Check-in 2.
Row: 3.
Counters: Swissport common purpose counters.
Number of counters:
There is one Business Class counter, one baggage drop-off counter and two Economy Class counters.
Web check-in:
Check-in is available on the Air Baltic website and works very well. There is no app but if you have Passbook on your mobile, you can have the boarding pass sent to you by mail and can then download it onto your phone.
Self-service check-in at the airport:
Not available.
Apparently it is possible to collect miles in Etihad’s frequent flyer programme when travelling on Air Baltic. However, you will have to contact a check-in counter to have the number of your card added to the booking. If you check-in on the Air Baltic website you can only insert a number with their own frequent flyer programme.

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LOUNGE
This is one of those rare occasions when I am travelling without access to a lounge. But never mind. Inspired by a recommendation made to me by my friend and gourmet at large, the wiry R., I park myself at the Sprüngli café right after the duty free shop on the upper level and treat myself to a cup of hot chocolate and a truffe du jour. The hot chocolate is excellent and is served with shavings of dark chocolate on top. Lovely!

BOARDING
It is just gone 13h30 when I see my aircraft turning the corner of the A dock. The flight will be boarding from gate A65, which is the first gate on the A dock and gives me some great photo opportunities.

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Boarding starts with a slight delay at 13h50, which is hardly a problem given that the load on today’s flight is very low and probably not even quite 50%.

CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
3 + 3.
Pitch: -.
Width: -.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Connectivity: Not available.
The first impression of the cabin is good. Everything looks clean and tidy and the aircraft seems well maintained. There are still a few traces here and there of the aircraft’s previous owner, for example the ‘secours’ sign above the emergency exit.

The pitch on the emergency exit is good. On this particular aircraft (YL-BBD) the emergency exit is on row 10 and seating is row is only available at a charge unless the aircraft is full. The A and F seats on row 10, which are the window seats, have very good legroom because there is no window seat on 9A and F, so if you are seated on one of these seats, you can really spread out. I am on 10C, the aisle seat, and the legroom here is also very good.

The seat is the typical slimline Recaro seat that has become so typical for many of the European carriers. Storage space in the seat back is fairly limited, because the seat is lacking a net on the lower half of the seat back.

 SERVICE & CREW
There are three cabin crew on the flight. All three of them are friendly young ladies and I suspect the way they look may have been an important factor during the recruiting process…

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THE MEAL
Towel before the meal:
A cold and pre-packed scented towel is provided on the tray.
Choice:
There is a huge selection of dishes to choose from and combine on the Air Baltic website.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Spicy salad with peppers, carrot, cucumber and dill.
Main course:
Chicken breast with roast potatoes and vegetables.
Dessert:
Chocolate truffe cake.
Beverages:
Still water.
Bread:
A slice of some dark bread with a tasty and strong flavour of spices, served with butter.
Air Baltic gives you the opportunity to pre order your meal before the flight. The selection of available dishes is really quite impressive and you can combine main courses with desserts and starters as you please. The standard hot meal will cost you EUR15 for the tray, including bread, a starter, dessert and a drink. If you do not order the meal at the time of booking, you can still do so when checking in online.

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As far as I am concerned, I think the meal offers good value for money. The food is tasty, the portions are good and the price is quite reasonable and certainly cheaper than dining at one of the expensive airport eateries.

ARRIVAL
The flight is very smooth and the atmosphere in the cabin feels very cosy and laid back. Of course it helps that the flight is nearly empty. Eventually we start our descent into Riga. As we come out of the clouds I can see thick layers of snow on the ground. It is also a bit misty.

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After landing we taxi to the non-Schengen dock and then from there we are bussed to the Schengen part of the facility. The terminal in Riga is really quite small and does not really seem sufficiently large for the amount of traffic it handles.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Bus.
Journey time:
20 minutes.
Departs from:
Arrivals level, just follow the signs.
Arrives:
Riga main railway station.
Cost:
EUR1.15 if you buy at the ticket vending machine or EUR2 if you pay the driver.
Ticket purchase:
If you are willing to pay the higher price, you can pay the driver. Keep in mind though that not all bus stops actually have a ticket machine. However, if there is a kiosk nearby you can usually purchase your tickets there.

Posted in Air Baltic, Boeing B 737-500, Economy Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment