Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

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

– William

Posted in AIRLINES A | 17 Comments

Qantas, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

INTRODUCTION

The meeting with the people at the language testing research centre is interesting and I feel quite excited about visiting again, even if that won’t be until next year. At least this will give me something to look forward to.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The meeting ends just after 15h, which should give me enough time to leisurely make my way back to the airport for the return flight to Sydney. From the University of Melbourne, I first take a tram 19 back to Bourke Street and then from there a tram 86 or 96 to Southern Cross. The tram stop is right across the road from the entrance to the coach terminal at Southern Cross station.

CHECK-IN

There are four terminals at Melbourne airport that are connected to each other. QANTAS domestic flights operate out of Terminal 1, which is the last one of the two stops of the Skybus, although the distance is short and you might as well get off at the first stop and then just walk over to Terminal 1.

I’ve already checked in, which is a shame really, because QANTAS’ check-in and the whole departure area look very fresh and modern. Seems as though they’re trying to keep up with Virgin Australia in projecting the image of being hip and classy.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

Right behind security, there is the food court and the entrance to the QANTAS lounge to the right of that. I haven’t had lunch yet, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a snack while I enjoy the excellent views of the apron.

In hindsight, I have to say it was totally worth it for the view, but the egg and lettuce sandwich I got at one of the shops is just… meh!

BOARDING

Boarding is from gate 1 on the C pier, which is the gate closest to security and which, I guess, is why it is probably reserved for the Sydney flight. Both Virgin Australia and QANTAS operate a shuttle service between the two cities.

What I always find interesting with QANTAS, is that the cabin crew are also the ones who do the boarding at the gate. Because this is something that, to my knowledge, is not done in Europe even though, come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea.

CABIN

The seats are kept all in black, which certainly makes for a gloomy but elegant looking cabin. I guess it probably also saves on cleaning. In contrast to Virgin Australia, QANTAS has individual video screens installed in every seat back and there are also USB plugs. Complimentary earphones are available as you pass through the gate for boarding, and should you forget to pick up a pair, the crew will come by offering earphones just before push-back.

CREW

The crew is clearly what tips the scale in favour of QANTAS, as far as I’m concerned. First of all, they’re all older than the ones on Virgin. Perhaps that’s why they come across as having a lot more personality. Furthermore, the way they interact with the passengers is just a lot more professional. For example, on this QANTAS flight the cabin crew giving the safety briefing for the emergency exit row makes a point of giving a very detailed explanation and making sure that everyone seated on the exit rows feels that they are being addressed. In contrast, the crew on Virgin did the same briefing in about half the time and with a total lack of enthusiasm.

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, the smell of hot food starts wafting through the cabin and I kind of assume it’s for the Business Class section. Much to my surprise though, despite the flying time of only one hour and five minutes, QANTAS will actually serve a hot meal in Economy Class too. In fact, there appears to be a choice between either minced pork in gravy with pak choy and jasmine rice or a cold salad of grilled chicken breast on quinoa salad.

ARRIVAL

About 25 minutes out of Sydney, the pilot eases back the throttle and we start our descent. The approach into Sydney brings us in over the sea and it’s quite spectacular flying along the coast with the sun setting in the distance.

We touch down at 19h22. I then make my way back to the train station and then from there to Circular Quay. I arrive at the wharf at 20h02 and it looks like I’ve just missed the regular ferry back to Manly. The next one is not until 20h45. Fortunately, there is also the express ferry, which costs slightly more but only takes 18 minutes to make the journey. And as my luck would have it, that boat will be leaving at 20h15. A single ticket for the express boat will cost you AUD9.80.

CONCLUSION

QANTAS wins this round hands down. While the cabin and branding of Virgin Australia are all modern and glitzy, you somehow can’t shake the feeling that they’re trying just a bit too hard to be different. Which is okay, as long as you don’t forget that what makes the passenger’s experience is not only the hard product but also the soft product. And that’s where I think QANTAS has the advantage. First of all, as I already mentioned above, the crew came across as being a lot more polished, professional and experienced. In addition to that, the meal service on QANTAS is definitely way superior to that horrific portein bar served on Virgin Australia.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Economy Class, Qantas | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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

INTRODUCTION

Next year I’ll be going on sabbatical for six months. Right now, the plan is that I will spend at least part of those six months working and living in Melbourne – if they’ll have me, of course. So today I’m on my way to Melbourne to introduce myself to the people at the language testing research centre of Melbourne University.  

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

This has got to be just about the coolest commute to an airport ever! My day starts at 06h00 in the morning, when I leave the house I’ve rented in Fairlight and make my way down to Manly wharf for the 06h35 fast ferry to Circular Quay. The journey into Sydney takes roughly thirty minutes to complete and includes some of the most beautiful and spectacular vistas of the Opera House and Hanger Bridge.

At Circular Quay, I transfer to the railway station for the suburban trains to Sydney airport. The station is just opposite the wharf at Circular Quay and the journey to the domestic terminal at Sydney airport takes just over fifteen minutes. The trains run to the airport run frequently.

CHECK-IN

I alight at the station for the domestic terminal, which is one stop before the international terminal. There are two domestic terminals. Terminal 3 is for QANTAS, while Terminal 2 is for everybody else. I’ve already checked-in online using the Virgin Australia app, which is a good thing, because the Virgin Australia counters look very busy.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

And so I head directly for the security checkpoint. Access to the Virgin Australia lounge is on the right side, just as you exit from security. I’m not entirely sure to beginn with, but upon inquiry with the very friendly and helpful receptionist in the lounge, it would appear that as an Etihad Gold member I’m entitled to use the Virgin Australia lounge, despite the fact that I’m travelling on an Economy Class ticket.

But it turns out that a) the lounge is way too busy anyway, and b) the views outside the lounge are much better, with the sitting area of the food court located right by the windows overlooking the domestic apron.

BOARDING

Boarding starts exactly on time, thirty minutes before departure. There is a separate lane for Business Class and priority passengers. If this were Europe, the moment the gate agent announced that boarding had started, there’d be a scrum to get on the plane. But here in Australia, passengers obviously have much better manners and just wait until their group for boarding is called.

CABIN

The cabin of this aircraft is nice. It looks and smells new and with the grey seats it looks rather elegant. The aircraft also has those new style overhead bins that drop down, instead of the old-school bins you still find on many narrow-bodies, where the lid opens upwards.

There are non power sockets and no inflight entertainmennt screens either.

Seat pitch on the emergency exit is good. In addition, the flight is not completely full, which means that by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat next to me remains empty.

And then we have a problem. The captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that Melbourne tower has had to be evacuated and it is unclear if they will be receiving traffic any time soon. Eventually though, we push back with a delay of one hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes.

CREW

The crew on this flight consists of five attractive, slightly oriental looking young females. Whoever selects the female crew for Virgin clearly has a type, because they all look the same and they’re all wearing way too much make-up. Other than that, they seem okay, if not exactly very warm.

SERVICE

In Economy Class, Virgin has a strange mixed service concept, the merit of which escapes me. Tea, still water and a protein bar are complimentary. In addition to that, there are various items to eat and drink which can be purchased on board. Payment is possible in cash or by credit card.

I order a Coke Zero to drink, which costs AUD3. The protein bar is a total abomination. It’s disgusting, which makes you wonder why on earth they even bother in the first place? Having said that, the bulging biceps on 13C seems only too eager to demolish his bar. Wouldn’t want to start losing muscle mass would we…?

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we land in Melbourne at 11h35, only slightly behind schedule. I step outside and catch the Skybus heading for the city centre to Southern Cross station. The journey to the city takes about thirty minutes, and a return tickets costs AUD38.

CONCLUSION

This was my first time in Economy Class with Virgin Australia. While I like their branding and the design of their cabin, overall I thought they were a bit of a let down on this flight. Admittedly, the cockpit crew was proactive in keeping passengers updated about the situation in Melbourne, but perhaps that’s just it: I somehow got the impression that the cockpit crew seemed far more service oriented than the cabin crew, which somehow can’t be right.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Economy Class, Virgin Australia | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

China Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Taipei to Sydney

China Airlines logo 2011
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TRANSFER IN TPE

My flight to Sydney will be departing from the D concourse, which is either new or newly renovated, because it doesn’t look quite as drab as the arrivals concourse my flight from Singapore ended at. Taipei has two Terminals and technically, the D concourse belongs to Terminal 2, which is not the China Airlines terminal. There is a China Airlines lounge on the D concourse, but from what I understand, their main lounge is over in Terminal 1. But that seems like just too much of a schlepp right now.

If you’re transferring between international flights in Taipei, you will not need to go through either immigration or customs, but you will have to undergo security screening.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

The entrance to the lounge is right opposite from gate D4, which rather conveniently happens to be the departure gate for my flight to Sydney.

The lounge looks new and well maintained. Like the rest of the D concourse, it’s basically one long and narrow room. It has all the basic facilities, including computer work stations, toilets, showers and a dining area with a noodle bar. The lounge is located in the basement, so there are no windows.

It’s not a bad place to wait for your connecting flight. But my layover is nearly five hours and for that both the terminal and the lounge are not really very pleasant.

BOARDING

Boarding starts with a slight delay due to ‘ground operation’ issues – whatever that means. Never mind, it’s only a minor delay and all I plan to do on the flight is sleep. There is a separate air bridge to the L1 door for Business Class passengers. Economy Class passengers use the L2 door.

CABIN

China Airlines has a herring bone seating configuration on its A 350-900, which provides direct aisle access for every passenger and a lot of privacy. On China Airlines, the seats are staggered, so that once you’re seated, you can’t actually see your neighbour on the other side of the aisle unless you lean forward.

The colours China Airlines has gone with in the cabin are very dark. And admittedly, that does make the cabin look elegant and stylish. But with the dimmed lighting during boarding for one, and the fact that I have seriously deteriorating eye sight for another, the upshot is that it’s rather difficult for me to actually see anything much as I stow away my things and settle in for the flight. It also strikes me that the colours they’ve gone with for the carpets, upholstery and the shell of the seat do not reflect the livery or the logo of the airline.

Storage space on the seat is somewhat limited though. There is a small compartment in the armrest adjacent to the aisle, but that already contains the amenity kit and a bottle of still water. Then there are two small compartments by the window for storage, but one of these contains the slippers and the earphones. And then there’s another compartment by the side of the seat, but this is not very large either and couldn’t hold more than a kindle, and certainly not a laptop.

But there is more than ample storage space in the overhead bins, even if there are only bins on the sides of the cabin but not in the middle.

CREW

The crew on this flight is much better than the previous one. They’re welcoming and go out of their way to make sure passengers are comfortable. They also make a point, I think, of interacting with the passengers and chatting with them about little things. And it seems quite natural.

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, a welcome drink with a packet of nibbles is served. To drink, there is a choice of still water, orange juice, champagne and smoked plum juice. Of course, it goes without saying that I try the plum juice, because it sounds interesting.

Having tried it, I’m guessing it’s probably an acquired taste. More than anything, it’s just very sweet.

While we’re still on the ground, I quickly nip into the loo and change into my shorts to be ready to sleep once we’re airborne.

THE MEAL

The flight’s scheduled departure time is 23h55 and the flight time is announced at eight hours and forty minutes. Even at this time of night, the crew are planning on doing a full meal service after take-off and a breakfast service later on. But I tell one of the flight attendants that I will not be having anything, despite having pre-ordered my dinner, and will be going straight to sleep. And indeed, the last thing I remember is the crew handing out the wine list. And then I’m off to the land of nod for nearly seven hours.

When I awaken, I’m feeling rather hungry. The maître de spots me and says ‘oh, you finally woke up’ with a laugh. She also asks me if she can bring me something to eat ahead of the breakfast service. I may perhaps agree to that a little over eagerly, because she laughs again and a short while later returns with plate of fruit, cheese and crackers.

About thirty minutes later, the cabin gradually starts to dawn and the crew start preparing the cabin for the breakfast service. The breakfast is served on one tray. It includes:

A croissant with butter

There are no refills though, and no jam either.

Müsli

A small ramekin of müsli with fruit and nuts.

Fruit

A bowl of fruit salad.

Hot breakfast

A hot dish with frittata, tomato, bacon and polenta.

The meal is tasty and hits the spot nicely. It’s quite a large meal for a second service, especially considering that the flight is not that long.

AMENITIES

The vanity kit comes in a nice hard shell case I may actually be able to use. What’s more, this one also includes a small bottle of Moroccan mint oil, which I can use to keep my beard from drying out the skin on my face. And there’s also an A 350 Sticker! So full brownie points to China Airlines for that!

The slippers are of the same fluffy variety as those on the previous flight. Other than that, China Airlines does not provide pyjamas or bedding for the seat. 

ARRIVAL

Much to my surprise, the weather’s really shitty in Sydney. It’s overcast with a chance of rain and visibility is limited. I know for a fact that we flew past the Sydney CBD with the opera house and the bridge on the approach, but I very much doubt the passengers on the port side were able to see anything much.

We come to a stop on the last stand on our pier and from there it’s a long schlepp to immigration and customs. China Airlines provides its passengers in Business Class with express immigration vouchers, which give passengers access to the fast track. However, if you have a biometric passport, you probably needn’t bother, as the e-gates are much faster and more efficient than the fast track.

I’m taking public transport into town. I exit through customs and do a sharp right turn. Then I continue to the end of the arrivals concourse where the entrance to the railway station is marked out. To purchase your ticket, you can either queue at the counter or at a vending machine, or you can just badge in and out with your credit card.

The T8 line will take you right into the heart of Sydney, with stops at the central railway station and Circular Quay. I’m staying in Darling Harbour tonight. Normally, I think I’d probably take the train to Town Hall and then walk to Darling Harbour from there. But with the rain, I decide to get off at Central Station and then take the 501 bus instead, which more or less drops me off right in front of my hotel.

CONCLUSION

I rather enjoyed my China Airline experience. I think their product is solid and makes for a pleasurable journey. The crews were good and especially the crew on this second flight were very pleasant. Of course, it also helps that the A 350 is a pretty mean machine. It’s quiet in the cabin and the interior design of China Airlines’ aircraft is very glitzy – even if the seat could do with a bit more storage space. As I already mentioned above though, next time I transfer through Taipei I think I would try to get a shorter connection, because the airport really isn’t very pleasant for a longer layover.

Posted in Airbus A 350, Business Class, China Airlines | 3 Comments

China Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Singapore to Taipei

China Airlines logo 2011
map

INTRODUCTION

I spend 22 hours in Singapore, which just gives me enough time to have a rest, get some food and have a shower. And now I’m off again. This is one of those slight detours I mentioned previously… The reason why I’m taking it, or rather, one of the reasons I’m taking it, is that I’ve been wanting to try China Airlines for some time now and it’s also been a while since I logged a new airline. As I write that, I can literally just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

In Singapore, I’m staying at the Sofitel City Centre, which is on the MRT line that goes to Changi. It’s twelve stops from the hotel to where the line branches off for the airport. The journey from the Sofitel to the airport takes me close to an hour to complete.

My first stop of course, is at the MRT service desk, where I return my travel card and have the depot refunded in cash.

CHECK-IN

China Airlines checks in at Terminal 3 in Changi and their counters are located on row 11, right in front of the escalators that bring you up to the departures hall from the station.

I’ve already checked in online, but seeing as I’ll still have to go to a counter to pick up my boarding passes, I figure I might as well drop off my carry-on suitcase so at least I won’t be carting that around with me.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

China Airlines is one of only four carriers to use the DNATA lounge in Terminal 3. In all honesty, it’s not a very pleasant place. That last time I visited was with the tall, blond M. and it hasn’t improved much since. It’s also very hot inside. So I leave the lounge after only spending about ten minutes there and head one floor down to the food court for a bowl of noodles.

The views downstairs are much better too, as the windows in the lounge are covered in dots. What kind of cruel soul does that…?

BOARDING

The flight is late arriving from Taipei, which is why boarding is delayed by about thirty minutes. In Singapore, the security check takes place at the gate. In other words, there is no centralised security checkpoint. This can be a bit of a nuisance at times, but seeing as the flight is delayed, most passengers are already in the holding area by the time I reach the gate.

Oh yes, and there are no loos in the holding area. So think twice before you enter… The first boarding call is for passengers in Business Class and passengers with children and other disabilities. There’s a separate air bridge for Business Class passengers leading to the L1 door. Economy Class passengers use the L2 door.

CABIN

As it happens, I’m the first to enter the aircraft, so I take the opportunity to take a few photos before the masses arrive. Initially, I’m on 1A and there’s another person sitting on 1B. But the seat pair on the other side of the aircraft is still empty, so once we’re airborne, I pack up my things and shift to seat 1K, which is also a window seat but has nobody sitting on the aisle seat. So now I can really spread out!

The Airbus A 330 is one of my favourite aircraft, because I think it’s just so elegant to look at. This example though, is clearly starting to show its age on the inside. The seats are in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration and the inflight entertainment system seems almost prehistoric! The flight time is announced as four hours and ten minutes, so I think I’ll live…

There is one feature of the seat that’s quite irritating: the position of the armrest between the two seats is awkward. On the one hand, it’s uncomfortable to rest your arm on it. But also, more than once I accidentally hit one of the buttons to extend the seat into a bed or raise the footrest inadvertently.

CREW

There isn’t really very much I can say about the crew. Their English language skills appear to be much better than those of crews working for the airlines of mainland China. But other than that, interaction with the crew is limited.

SERVICE

The service begins on the ground with a welcome drink, served with a packet of nuts and Japanese crackers. To drink there is a choice of champagne, water or orange juice. Once that has been cleared away, the crew distribute cold, scented towels.

After take-off, thick slippers and the menus are distributed for those passengers who haven’t already ordered their food. I should perhaps explain that the China Airlines app is really good and allows you to pre-order the meals for all your flights, even if you do not have any special dietary requirements.

THE MEAL

As I already mentioned, the flight time is just slightly more than four hours. This means that in Business Class the first service consists of a drink and three small canapés. The main meal is served about ninety minutes out of Taipei.

The canapés are: duck, crab meat with apricot and bell pepper with tomato pesto.

Exactly two hours out of Taipei, the lights in the cabin are turned on to bright again and the smell of hot food comes wafting through the cabin.

The meal consists of:

Starter

Prawns with a ginger and mango salsa and salmon with crème fraiche and capers.

Main course

Herb crusted fillet of beef in a red wine sauce with mashed potatoes, zucchini and pumpkin.

Dessert

Bowl of fruit and a choice of either ice cream or a coffee and chocolate mousse cake.

I’m not really sure what exactly I was expecting from the meal service on China Airlines, but this is actually very tasty and much better than what I was expecting. The salmon and the prawns are not at all fishy, the beef is perfectly cooked for my taste and tender, and the mashed potato is divine and so creamy!

ARRIVAL

I finish the meal with another cup of black tea from the Sun Moon lake region of Taiwan and then close my eyes until it’s time to land.

Eventually, we arrive in Taipei at 18h50, with a delay of only five minutes. The last time I was in Taipei was exactly 11 years ago. Alas, the airport hasn’t really changed much during that time. It’s still an odd layout, old and gloomy and seriously unattractive. I now have nearly five hours to make my connecting flight.

Posted in Airbus A 330-300, Business Class, China Airlines | 2 Comments

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris CDG to Singapore

Date: January 2019
Origin: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2E
Destination: Singapore Changi, Terminal 1
Seat: 1A – window on the port side
Flight time: 12 hours 10 minutes

TRANSFER IN CDG 2

The driver takes me to Terminal 2E, which is where the First Class lounge is located. He explains that afterwards, he’ll also be escorting me to the aircraft when the time comes.

Along the way, the driver chats pleasantly about this and that. Funnily enough, his curiosity gets the better of him and he cannot help but ask how my experience so far compares to the First Class product of other carriers.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

Once we arrive at the terminal, he takes my passport and boarding pass and tells me he’ll return them once the police have checked them. After that, he leads me upstairs and gives me a brief explanation of where everything is in the lounge.

There are a few passengers in the lounge, but I would not go so far as to say it’s crowded. Quite the contrary. The lounge is large and the way it is laid out, there is plenty of room for passengers to disperse.

The lounge is well equipped with everything the travel-weary passenger may seek or desire to relax and revive from the labours of modern air travel. There are large showers with toiletries, a dedicated dining area, a relaxation area and a small spa.

But apart from all that, the lounge is very elegantly appointed and both the facility and the staff have a lot of style about them. The lounge is not flashy, but it’s definitely comfortable.

BOARDING

Around forty minutes before departure, my driver comes to pick me up and drive me to the waiting aircraft. Theoretically, I could have walked. But to be honest, I figured that if we took the car, that might give me a better chance of taking a picture of the aircraft carrying me to Singapore tonight.

CABIN

As I step aboard the plane, the driver welcomes me aboard and introduces me to the First Class flight attendant, who is already expecting me. The driver then bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant journey.

I then make the right turn into the cabin and I’m really speechless. Of course, I’d already seen pictures of the new First Class cabin, but seeing it for real is something else. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the design of Air France’s First Class cabin, both in terms of the comfort and functionality of the seat, but also with regard to branding.

The little seahorse, Air France’s trademark, is omnipresent in the cabin. You will find it on the lamp, pillows, pyjamas, slippers, etc.

But I think what surprises me the most, is the mint condition of the cabin. Either this is a fairly new aircraft, or Air France just takes excellent care of its fleet.

In the take-off and landing position, the seat doesn’t offer much privacy. However, there is a screen that can be raised around the back and side of the seat. In addition, there are curtains that can be drawn and which provide a lot of privacy and darkness.

The seat has an ottoman, which could also be used for a second passenger to join for the meal, for example. Below the ottoman is enough storage space for a large laptop bag, the slippers and a blanket.

In the sum of all thing, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the First Class product of quite a few of the world’s leading airlines. But the Air France hardware is definitely my new favourite.

CREW

The First Class cabin is served by a very charming and very professional middle-aged lady. I really cannot express how good she is at her job. I know it probably sounds like a horrible stereotype to say this, but she’s just so very French in the best possible way. Her manners are impeccable and her attention to detail is flawless. For example, it strikes me during the meal service that whenever she brings a new dish, she always makes sure the seahorse logo on the crockery is the right way up. I know this may sound like a small and unimportant thing, but I still think it’s a nice feature that enhances the First Class experience.

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, the crew bring me my pyjamas and a vanity kit and check to make sure I’m comfortably settled in my seat for the next twelve hours. With that out of the way, I am offered and subsequently brought a glass of the Krug Champagne and a small ramekin of mixed nuts and dried fruit. The menus are not handed out until after take-off.

AMENITIES

The amenity kit contains the usual collection of mostly useless items. There is no toothbrush or toothpaste in the kit, but these are available in the lavatory, where there is also mouthwash.

The pyjamas come in a nice felt folder. They have a nice, comfortable cut. The cabin crew will ask you what size you would prefer. I’m 184 cm tall and the size L fits me perfectly.

Slippers are also provided and can be found in the drawer underneath the ottoman.

THE MEAL

The meal service is definitely one of the highlights of the Air France First Class experience. The table is set up nicely, with a choice of either balsamic olive oil or tomato infused olive oil and a choice of both salted and unsalted butter. Throughout the meal, the crew replenish the bread and drinks. For each dish, a new set of cutlery is provided.

And I must say, in terms of the quantity and quality of the food, it’s excellent:

Amuse bouche

Caviar with a crêpe and sturgeon cream.

Soup

Cream of chicory soup.

Mixed salad

Made to order – it contains chicory, mushrooms, smoked haddock and beets.

First course

Pan-fried scallops with potato rose and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Main course

Chicken breast glazed in a rare pepper and citrus honey, with caramelised pineapple and mango and vegetable sticks.

Selection of gourmet cheese

Beaufort, Pérail and Langres.

Dessert

Blueberry tarte by Lenôtre, served with two scoops of gingerbread sorbet.

Drinks

I stick to Perrier with the meal, and for dessert I have a mint tea, which is served with a box Michel Cluizel chocolates.

The meal is excellent, and with every new dish that she brings out, the flight attendant makes a point of explaining to me what I’m eating and what the dish includes. By the time the service finishes, I’m totally full and completely and utterly impressed. I think, if I compare this service to the Garuda First Class experience for example, the Air France service just seems a lot more polished. Furthermore, because all the dishes have a very European or French touch, the crew just come across as being very authentic in their explanations of what the food is.

SECOND SERVICE

I actually manage to get about five hours of sleep. When I wake up, we’re still about three hours out of Singapore. As soon as the flight attendant notices I’m awake, she comes to ask me if there’s anything I need. So I request a cup of coffee and ask her to remove the bedclothes while I change back into my clothes.

About two hours out of Singapore, I decide it’s time for breakfast, which the flight attendant thinks is a brilliant idea.

The breakfast is quite extensive, and all the dishes are brought more or less at once, instead of having them served as different courses. My breakfast consists of

Coffee and orange juice

Fruit

A small bowl of grapefruit and orange.

Yoghurt

Served with granola.

A selection of pastries and bread

I have a small bun and a brioche, served with butter and jam.

Choice of hot dish

I go with the scrambled eggs with mushrooms and a mushroom sauce.

Everything tastes excellent and the presentation of the hot meal, which is served with the lid still on the dish, is just so elegant.

Once the meal is over, the flight attendant clears my table and we have a nice little chat about flying and travelling until it’s time for her to start preparing the First Class cabin for landing.

ARRIVAL

We land at 16h30 local time, five minutes ahead of schedule. It’s either just been raining or it’s just really very humid outside because the ground is wet.

Air France serves Terminal 1 at Singapore Changi airport. The doors open, and there’s already a young lady expecting me to guide me through immigration. The flight attendant bids me good bye and hands me over to the ground crew. And with that, my La Première experience comes to an end.

EPILOGUE

To get into town, I will be taking the MRT. The MRT departs from Terminal 2, so I first need to take the Skytrain from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2. The Skytrain is a complimentary service.

Purchasing a ticket for the MRT is not as straightforward as one might assume in Singapore. A single ticket into town will cost you SGD2.80. However, you can only purchase a single ticket if you buy it at the machine and only if you pay in cash. If you’re not paying in cash, you need to go to the counter, but there you can’t only purchase a single ticket. So instead, I buy a two-days card for SGD10 plus SGD16. The SGD10 are a deposit that is refunded when you bring the card back…

Only the green line runs into town from the airport. At the second stop, which is Tanah Merah, passengers alight and connect to another green line train heading into the city from the opposite platform.

CONCLUSION

This experience with Air France’s La Première has impressed me. First of all, I think the overall quality of the product is very high and also very consistent. From the car they sent to pick me up in Winterthur, to the very elegant experience in the lounge in Paris and the beautifully appointed cabin and amenities aboard the aircraft, clearly a lot of thought has gone into the design of the product. Not only of the cabin and seat, but also of the ancillary products.

I think Air France’s interpretation of the First Class seat with the curtain is brilliant – because it offers a level of privacy that most other carriers simply cannot match. Even with Garuda for example, where you have a fully enclosed suite, you are not completely concealed from view because the doors of the suite do not reach all the way to the ceiling.

I also just love the branding of the First Class product with the little seahorse, which is omnipresent in the lounge and in the cabin and promotes this sense of consistency of the experience and in the product.

And finally, there is the professionalism of the staff, who have all clearly been trained well for their roles working with the First Class product. The maître de on the flight from Zürich to Paris went out of her way to provide as much of a First Class experience, even on a short sector of 50 minutes. Then the driver, who managed to make pleasant conversation but without being either tedious or prying and who had excellent manners.

And finally, last but certainly not least, there is the fabulous, splendid and simply formidable flight attendant working the First Class cabin. I think she did a really outstanding job. I know I already mentioned this above, but her attention to detail and the fact that she made sure the seahorse logo was always the right way up says everything about her work ethics and the service standard she delivered.

It’s difficult to say from memory which First Class product I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. One thing’s for sure though, of the four European carriers that still offer a First Class product, to my mind Air France’s is definitely the best one.

Posted in Air France, Boeing B 777-300, First Class | 2 Comments

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Zürich to Paris CDG 2

Date: January 2019
Origin: Zürich Kloten
Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
Seat: 1A – window seat on the port side of the aircraft
Flight time: 1 hour

INTRODUCTION

The first two months of 2019 I’ll be spending travelling more or less nonstop, and six of those eight weeks will be for work. But luckily, the start into the new year sees me going on vacation first.

Unlike my usual vacations, which normally have me travelling to a lot of different places, this time around I’m planning to spend most of my time in one place. On the one hand, I just need a place to wind down after a very hectic and stressful 2018. On the other hand, now that I’m a PhD student, I guess I had better make a start if I intend to complete my degree within the minimum permissible timeframe of three years.

There will be a slight detour getting to some of the destinations, but by my standards, I’d like to think they’re only minor ones. But I’ll come to all of that later on.

The first leg of this trip is more or less a positioning flight – the preamble, so to speak…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

One day before departure, I receive an e-mail from DNATA, Air France’s handling agent in Switzerland, informing me that everything is ready for my flight in La Première and if I have any requests, I should not hesitate to contact them by mail or phone.

About two hours later, I receive a phone call from Air France, inquiring about the pick-up for the complimentary transfer to Zürich airport. We agree for the car to pick me up at the office in Winterthur at 13h30. The journey to the airport should take about thirty minutes, which means I will get to the airport just around 14h00, a bit over an hour before departure. At exactly 13h30, I receive a message from my driver, informing me that he’s expecting me outside on the parking lot.

It turns out the car Air France has sent to collect me is a BMW 730X, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I honestly have no idea about cars and I haven’t even got a driver’s licence, but this car is just really nice. Of course, it also helps that the interior is colour coordinated with my Pumas…

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CHECK-IN

The driver drops me off in front of Terminal 2. He takes out my luggage and wishes me a pleasant journey.

I haven’t checked in yet, so the first stop will be at check-in. The agent there immediately checks me in to my final destination and puts a print out of the whole itinerary and the boarding passes in a bright red La Première branded folder.

He suggests having somebody escort me to the lounge, but I tell him I’m quite familiar and know my way. And so I decline.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

In Zürich, Air France uses the Aspire lounge, which is operated by DNATA. There is no dedicated or separate First Class section to the lounge, but that seems hardly necessary.

BOARDING

My flight will be departing from gate B 34. Boarding starts with a delay of about thirty minutes. Apparently, the aircraft was late departing from Paris on the inbound. Boarding is done by zones, and the first to be allowed aboard are zones 1 and 2. As I am travelling in La Première, I am invited to use the manned gate instead of one of the automatic gates.

CABIN

I like the Air France cabin. First of all, because I think it looks very colourful with the dark blue leather seats and the bright read headrest covers and pillows. There are four rows in Business Class with a total of 16 seats on this flight, although I would say only half are occupied on this flight.

The pitch on row 1 is very good.

CREW

The crew on this flight is really excellent. There are four ladies in total and they are very charming and professional in their demeanour and the way they go about their duties. As soon as boarding is completed, the maître de comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink. She also brings me a bottle of still water and a pre-packaged, scented towel. She informs me that she will send a message to Paris to make sure there will be somebody at the arrival gate to pick me up.

Funnily enough, she also checks if there was somebody there to escort me from the lounge to the gate and on to the plane. When I say no, for a moment she looks quite upset. So then I explain that I specifically declined an escort because I didn’t think it necessary. And she seems to accept that.

SERVICE

The flight time is announced as one hour, which isn’t really very much. Even so, the crew still succeed in delivering a professional and unhurried service. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the lovely smell of something heating in the ovens starts wafting through the cabin, and I’m curious what the source of the smell is…

THE MEAL

The meal consists of one tray. On it there is

  • a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with cucumber
  • a small plate with pumpkin and zucchini salad
  • a bowl of apple compote
  • a small dark chocolate

As it turns out, the divine smell is from the waffles that are served warm with the meal. And man, they’re good.

To drink I have a Coke Zero.

ARRIVAL

As soon as I finish, the crew come to remove my tray and shortly thereafter, we start our descent into a dark and cloudy Pairs. The maître de comes to let me know that she has been informed that there will be somebody expecting me upon arrival.

We land on the southernmost runway and then take the long way around to Terminal 2F.

The doors open and there’s a gentleman standing there, holding an iPad with my name displayed on it. He takes me downstairs and packs my bags into the booth of the waiting car. As I said, I’m not the expert, but I think this is the same type of BMW that picked me up in Winterthur to take me to the airport.

Posted in Air France, Airbus A 319, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Melchsee-Frutt

The easiest way to get to Melchsee-Frutt by public transport is from Lucerne. From the main station you first take the Zentralbahn to Sarnen – a journey of about 25 minutes – and connect there to Postauto 343 (a bus service operated by the Swiss postal services) to Stöckalp.

The journey from Sarnen to Stöckalp will take you roughly 35 minutes. The bus will drop you off right in front of the cable car station that takes you up to Melchsee-Frutt. The cable car takes 15 minutes to make the journey to the summit.

In Melchsee-Frutt I’m staying at the Frutt Lodge & Spa, which is the leading hotel in the village (which only counts 100 permanent residents).

The hotel has only been open a few years and is a perfect place to relax or use as a hub for some excellent skiing opportunities.

The public spaces and rooms are nicely appointed and offer some spectacular vistas of the area and the mountains.The décor of the hotel is an interesting and elegant mix of contemporary design and traditional Swiss châlet. The centrepiece of the lobby is the fire place by the bar, which is where hotel guests tend to congregate for their après-ski and drinkies by the crackling fire.

I stayed at the Lodge for the week-end of 15th/16th December, which was in fact the official opening of the season. The weather and scenery did not disappoint. The hotel was not full I would say, but there certainly were a few guests enjoying the early snow.

Perhaps because it was the first week-end of the season, the service was rather slow and uncoordinated: it took ages for the staff to take orders, orders were forgotten, mixed up, etc. Although I should also say that all the staff were trying very hard and were all very friendly. I assume that, given a week or two to settle in, the place will be running smoothly.

One way or another, I greatly enjoyed my stay at the Frutt Lodge & Spa. With nothing much to do other than ski or spa, relaxation is guaranteed!

Dear all,

This will be my last post for 2018. For my dear mum, more than anything else, Christmas was always about the family and the celebration of the bond between us. I like to keep it that way.

And with that, I wish everyone a very happy holiday and a merry Christmas, filled with joy, love and happiness.

William

Posted in Melchsee-Frutt | 1 Comment

Virgin Trains, First Class: London Euston to Lancaster

INTRODUCTION
I’m on my way to Lancaster for the graduation ceremony. This is the third Master’s degree I’ll be picking up. I then start on my PhD at Lancaster University in January.

GETTING TO EUSTON
In London I stayed at the old County Hall hotel, which is right next door to the London Eye and close to Waterloo station. The train to Lancaster will be leaving from Euston station, which is roughly 25 minutes away from Waterloo on the Northern line. Given the fact that the tube is prone to unexpected delays, I decide to make an early start. My train will be departing at 11h30. So I leave the hotel just after 10h00.

THE LOUNGE
By the time I reach Euston, I still have an hour to spare before the train leaves. Luckily, Virgin Trains operate a First Class lounge at the station, which is located one floor up from the main public area and the platforms.

The lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, but there is still plenty of room to sit. The lounge looks a lot like the many airline lounges I’ve been to at various airports around the world. In addition, there is also a bar, where you can order freshly brewed coffee. To eat there are mainly sweet snack items like biscuits or brownies.

There is also complimentary wifi access in the lounge, which works surprisingly well.

BOARDING
Our train will be departing from platform seven and there is a ticket check just before you access the platform. The train seems quite busy. Even so, the queues for the ticket check are short and move quickly.

Departure is exactly on time at 11h30. The journey time is announced at 2 hours and 24 minutes, which should get us into Lancaster at 13h54.

THE TRAIN
The seating configuration in First Class is 2 + 1, with seats facing each other. As a result, the leg space, while not tight, is somewhat limited and does not allow you to stretch your legs.

Furthermore, there is a table across the full length of the compartment of four, which cannot be removed. So if you’re seated at the window and need to get out, the person on the aisle seat will have to move first.

Complimentary wifi is available on board and works very well.

THE SERVICE
I count four crew members working the First Class section. They’re polite and all, but somehow they all seem rather unhappy to be there and are not overly friendly either. The service comes across as being a bit rough and unpolished.

THE MEAL
In First Class, Virgin Trains will serve you a complimentary meal of sorts, the content of which varies according to the time of day. There is a printed menu available at every table and there are various options to choose from.

The service begins when the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. There is a fairly large selection of alcoholic and soft drinks.

Next, one of the crew passes through the cabin with a choice of oatmeal biscuits or mini brownies. After that, two other crew members pass through the cabin offering either tea or coffee. I try the coffee, which is quite horrific. Apparently, the same goes for the tea, because that’s what the lady across the aisle has ordered and she’s positively outraged…

And then after that comes the hot meal. They’re really just snacks that are easy to heat up in a microwave. I have the vegetarian option, which is some sort of bubble and squeak with a vegetarian pesto sausage. And this dish is just about as vile as the tea and coffee. I knew I should have bought a sandwich from Marks… But I will say that it’s nice to be able to use proper cutlery on a train, instead of some flimsy plastic.

Over all, the sequence of the meal service seems a bit random to me and doesn’t really follow any logical pattern. Once the meal service has ended, the crew come to remove all used items and advise the passengers to help themselves to the bottles of water that have been set up in the middle of the carriage.

ARRIVAL
By the time we reach Lancaster, the train has managed to pick up a delay of twenty minutes. Which is not really surprising on a British train, even though I also have to admit that I didn’t notice any period during the journey when the train was going exceptionally slow or even stopped. But it makes no difference to me, one way or another.

Lancaster station is located on the fringe of the town, roughly ten minutes on foot to the centre.

CONCLUSION
Virgin Trains has a pricing system similar to that of the airlines. For this trip I booked an advanced purchase, non-changeable and non-refundable ticket that was relatively cheap for a First Class ticket for a journey of more than two hours. Even so, the next time I make this journey, I don’t think I would buy a First Class ticket again. Seat comfort is not really that good and the catering they might just as well do away with completely in my opinion.

Posted in Trains | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

NOPI by Ottolenghi, West End – London

If it weren’t for the fact that my big sister S. is a fabulous cook, I probably never would have heard of Ottolenghi. As it is, it already took me a while to realise that Otto was not actually his first name…

In any case, Yotam Ottoloenghi is an Israeli chef with a Palestinian business partner. His cuisine is heavily influenced by the Middle East – but with a twist that’s hard to put your finger on. He has a number of restaurants scattered across London, including NOPI in Warwick Street, just off Regent Street in London’s West End.

I’m in England this week for my graduation. In January I will then be starting on my PhD. One way or another, this seemed like a good enough excuse to make a reservation for dinner at NOPI to celebrate.

The restaurant is divided in a ground floor and basement. On the ground floor level there are tables for two or four persons. While downstairs there are just two large tables, each of which can seat up to twelve people.

We are a group of three and order the following:

  • Sea bream with ras al-hanout cauliflower, celeriac and almonds (starter):
  • Roasted aubergine, black garlic, urfa chili, broad beans and pine nuts (starter):
  • Chickpea pancake, spiced peas, tomato, pickled chili and yuzu (main):
  • Whole plaice with burned butter, nori and ginger (main):
  • Bitter leaves, citrus, green chili, yuzu kosho (side):
  • Truffle polenta chips, parmesan and aioli (side):
  • Chocolate ganache with plum soil and cream (dessert):
  • The meal is really very good. In as much, that’s not so much of an achievement – because there are plenty of good restaurants to choose form in London these days. What makes NOPI stand out though, in my opinion, is the unusual combination of ingredients and flavours that are mixed together to create some truly exceptional dishes.

    If you have the chance and the foresight to make a booking well in advance, try to visit NOPI next time you’re in London. It’s definitely worth it!

    Posted in London | Leave a comment

    Lelystad, The Netherlands

    If you’re a bit of an aviation geek or a kid that never really grew up, you should seriously consider a visit to Lelystad airport in the Netherlands and the Aviodrom museum. It really is brilliant!

    First of all, the number of exhibits is quite impressive and includes legends like the Boeing B 747-300, the Fokker 100, a DC-4, a DC-3 and a Lockheed Constellation, to name but a few. Admittedly, some of the aircraft are not in such good shape anymore, exposed as they are to the harsh and not always very pleasant Dutch climate. But even so, it’s still a pretty awesome experience to stand under a 747 and give him a belly rub! You can even enter the aircraft to catch a glimpse of what the cabin used to look like in the old days.

    Posted in Boeing B 747-300, Business Class, Lelystad | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment