Egypt Air, Business Class – B 777-300: Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok

Introduction

Mission accomplished, I’ve finally seen the Petronas Towers. In fact my hotel, the Traders, stands right opposite the towers and offers unobstructed views of them. They look particularly nice by night when they are lit up.

So I guess I might as well leave. For my return to Bangkok I’ve picked another exotic 5th freedom flight, this time in Egypt Air Business Class aboard the mighty B777-300.   

Date: 2 September 2012
Airline:
Egypt Air
Aircraft:
B777-300
From:
Kuala Lumpur
To:
Bangkok
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
10C, aisle

Getting to the Airport

My flight back to Bangkok will not be leaving until 22h00 today. Although I haven’t really got any high expectations of the flight, I am still very much looking forward to it because it will be my first flight with Egypt Air and I am quickly becoming a fan of the mighty Triple Seven.

So in theory, it would be quite sufficient to be at the airport at around 20h30, which would mean leaving central KL at around 19h00. But I want to get to the airport before sunset to catch a glimpse and possibly take a few pictures of the incoming aircraft, which is scheduled to arrive at 18h10.

Just after 17h00 I leave the hotel and head across the park to the KL Conference Centre to catch the Monorail to Sentral Stesen, the main station. It’s about a 10 minutes leisurely walk from the Traders Hotel.

The Monorail journey to Sentral Stesen takes about 15 minutes, it’s six stops from the KLCC. The trip costs something like 2.4 Ringgit, which is virtually nothing.

At Sentral Stesen I get out and take the escalators down into the basement of the building from where the KLIA Ekspres departs.

The journey to the airport takes 28 minutes according to the announcement made on the train.

Check-in

I arrive for check-in at Kuala Lumpur airport just after 18h45.

The counters for the flight are still being set up, but there’s already a long queue forming and for a horrible moment I suspect this may end up being the most chaotic check-in ever. But once the counters are set up, it becomes apparent that the Malaysia Airlines ground crew checking in the flight will not be standing for any nonsense and after just a few minutes the chaos has turned into orderly queues.

There is a separate counter for Business Class passengers. The agent types my Senator number into the reservation and issues me a boarding pass and the invitation to the Malaysia Airlines international lounge in the satellite building.

From check-in I head straight through immigration and security and then from there to the monorail station.

Once I reach the satellite I make a beeline for gate C22 from where my bird allegedly will be leaving, but much to my dismay, the gate is still empty. I hang around for a few more minutes, but nothing happens. And so I head for the Malaysia Airlines lounge instead.

The Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge

The lounge is right above the station where the shuttle arrives.

I arrive at the lounge and am greeted by a friendly receptionist. She asks me to wait a second while she makes a phone call. Strange. The next thing I know, she hands me the phone and says ‘for you’. Stranger. I take the receiver. It’s the check-in agent from the Business Class counter. He just wants to make sure about my nationality. He explains that if I am from Malta I can get a visa on arrival in Bangkok. If however I’m from Mali, I would not be allowed to travel as I would need a visa. So I explain to him that I am in fact from Malta and not Mali. I feel compelled to ask if he had noticed at all when checking me in that I am in fact a rather pale pinkish colour, pale even by Maltese standards, and would therefore probably be unlikely to blend in as one of the locals in downtown Bamako.

The lounge is rather spectacular and offers some good views.

The lounge is huge and has a very high ceiling, giving it the feel of being in a cathedral.

There are various stations with different types of food and drinks. I try the Malaysian dishes and they are very nice and a bit spicy.

The only thing that is perhaps ‘out of cast’ is the toilets, which look kind of old and worn.

Boarding

One hour before departure my flight already shows ‘BOARDING’. Kuala Lumpur uses closed gates. So basically ‘boarding’ merely means that the gate is open. So I probably still have time. Even so, I figure the load will probably be light to Bangkok so we may see an early departure. I collect my belongings and head for gate C22.

When I arrive, I am somewhat surprised to find a very long queue for the security check at the gate.

I enter the holding pen and then we wait for about 20 minutes before the actual boarding finally starts. There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft at the L1 and the L2 doors. Given that I am travelling in Business Class, I am directed to use the L1 door. This initially causes some confusion with the security guard manning the airbridge but eventually all is well and I am allowed on board.

I am greeted at the door by a friendly young woman who speaks very good English.

The Cabin

The first row of Business Class, which is also the first row on the aircraft, starts at number eight with Egypt Air.

I am on 10C, which means the third row from the front. There’s another passenger on 10A. Just as I close my seatbelt with a click, the announcement comes that boarding is completed. I look around and there’s another passenger sitting on 11A. But apart form that, the forward Business Class compartment is empty. 28 seats to share between three passengers. So I grab my stuff and move one row forward to the window on 9A.

The general impression of the seat is excellent. It is very comfortable and has a fresh and modern look to it, much better than Royal Jordanian.

This seat belt buckle is obviously much older than the rest of the plane. While in the new logo the Horus is merely stylised, on this buckle he is still more bird-like in appearance, as in the previous logo.

Later on after the meal, the lights are dimmed to reveal a star covered ceiling. It looks rather pretty actually!

There isn’t really much to say about our departure, except perhaps that the Triple Seven really packs a punch. Even once we’re airborne you can still feel the aircraft accelerating.

The Crew

I cannot praise the crew on this flight enough. They are so friendly and so much fun, truly excellent ambassadors to the country and people of Egypt and their legendary hospitality.

Once I realise I will be able to take pictures without bothering anybody, I embark on a photo shooting frenzy, trying to make sure I capture every detail of the aircraft. Suddenly one of the flight attendants, a middle-aged lady stops me and tells me ‘No, no Sir, you can’t take pictures like that’. For a moment I fear she’s going to do the no-photography-for-security-reasons routine on me. But instead she looks at me and says ‘you have to have a picture of me if you take a picture on Egypt Air’ and laughs. At this the male flight attendant appears and decides to join in the fun. And here’s the outcome.

Later on during the flight one of the attendants actually comes up to me and tells me how nice I am because I have a friendly smile. Shukran Gazilan, thank you very much!

But I digress. Service begins on the ground with a drinks round. There is a choice of guava juice, orange juice or still water. I choose the guava juice and it’s very refreshing. The drinks on the ground are served in plastic ‘glasses’ though.

After that a hot towel is distributed to each passenger. It’s out of paper but it does its job very well. In typically Arab style it’s heavily scented and more over, so hot I can barely hold it! I am also offered earphones and the evening’s edition of the Thai English language newspaper.

As we push back, the male attendant asks me what I would like to eat. There is no menu but he tells me there is a choice of chicken or beef. I go for the chicken.

The Meal

As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, one of the crew sets the table with a table cloth of crisp white linen with the Horus logo embroidered on it.

And then the meal arrives.

The First Course

A starter of salmon tartar with dill, capers and lemon rind, served with a slice of papaya, lemon and some greens.

The Salad

A mixed salad that comes with a light and tasty vinaigrette.

The Main Course

Spicy chicken with white rice and grilled veg with coriander.

The Cheese

A plate of cheddar and camembert cheese, served with a plum, grapes and butter.

The crew come round with warm bread.

Dessert

Chocolate and pistachio trifle with passion fruit infused sponge cake.

After the meal I have a cup of coffee and do a bit of stargazing.

Arrival

The flight is only 95 minutes. Very soon the throttles are eased back and Horus dips his nose. Our approach brings us in very close to the airport, which we pass due east on a northerly track. We do an elaborated 180 degree left turn and eventually land on the western one of the two runways.

We turn off the runway but the pilot informs us that our gate is still occupied by another aircraft. Subsequently we will have to wait for it to depart, which will be in the next 10 minutes.

Upon arrival I head for the visa on arrival lane, which is pretty empty at this time of day, it’s nearly midnight. Which is a good thing, because Egypt Air does not provide Fast Track passes. After customs I take the underground walkway to the Novotel Suvarnabhumi. I am only staying the one night.

Conclusion

I suppose there really is no point in comparing Royal Jordanian and Egypt Air, apart form the fact that I tried them in short succession on the same route, albeit in the opposite direction. Even so, I must say that Royal Jordanian really is no match for Egypt Air. Essentially it’s the crew’s performance that tips the scale in Egypt Air’s favour. That and the fact that the Triple Seven is one hell of a beast and this example in particular was in mint condition.

Sure the service was more polished over all with Royal Jordanian. But what’s all that worth if the cabin crew can’t even smile or react to you, seemingly because it doesn’t say so in the service manual? Would I fly Egypt Air again? Certainly, any time!

Royal Jordanian, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur

I arrived in Bangkok earlier in the afternoon on a Swiss International Air Lines flight from Zürich. Two hours later I am scheduled to depart to Kuala Lumpur. This is my fourth visit to the city and I am hoping to finally get to see the Petronas Towers.

Date: 31. August 2012
Airline:
Royal Jordanian
Aircraft:
A330-200
From:
Bangkok
To:
Kuala Lumpur
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
4K, window

Check-in

I’m standing at the Royal Jordanian transfer counter. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a complicated check-in process. First the agent needs to see the original credit card with which I paid for the ticket. Then she does some more typing to verify if I, as a Maltese national, am eligible to travel to Malaysia without a visa. Once that’s done, she makes a couple of phone calls in Thai, no idea what that’s all about. And then she also needs to see the confirmation of my ticket to leave Malaysia to prove that I will only be staying for two days. Another phone call and then she issues me a boarding pass for a seat in the middle row. I explain to her that I would prefer a window seat, so she tears up the boarding pass and issues me a new one for a window seat on row four, the last row of Business Class. That is printed on a Royal Jordanian branded boarding pass. But she also needs to print a lounge access pass, which is however printed on a Thai Airways document…I’m half expecting her to look up from her screen at some point and say ‘the computer says no’.

But all is well and after some 20 minutes of hammering into her keyboard like the crazed woman locked up in the attic, I’ve finally managed to get myself checked in.

Incidentally, the Swiss ground attendant, duty-bound, stays by my side while all this unfolds. Eventually she collects my boarding pass and lounge access and asks me to follow her to the Royal Silk Thai Airways lounge.

The Thai Airways Business Class Lounge

The lounge is rather empty when I arrive. The Swiss agent hands the lounge access to the Thai Airways receptionist, wishes me a safe onward journey and then takes her leave.

My previous flight at its gate, still being offloaded. Regrettably there are these small dots on all the windows at Bangkok Airport, making it somewhat difficult to take any decent pictures.

By this time it’s 15h20, so in theory I only have 40 minutes before departure to Kuala Lumpur. But amidst all the typing and other shenanigans, the transfer check-in agent did find the time to inform me that the flight to Kuala Lumpur would be delayed by some 45 minutes.

At around 16h15 my flight is showing as ‘go to gate’. I’m also feeling a bit bleary eyed from the previous flight as the jetlag sets in, so I decide it’s best to go walk a little and enjoy the sights of Suvarnabhumi Airport. Some might call it industrial design. Whatever it is, I do not find it quite so attractive.

Boarding

My flight is scheduled to leave from gate E5, which is in the same wing as the lounge and means I don’t have too far to walk. When I arrive at the gate, the aircraft is nowhere to be seen. So I ask the gate agent how long the delay will be, figuring we won’t possibly be leaving at 16h45. But she tells me the aircraft is on its way to the gate. Departure will be at 16h45. I doubt it.
Outside it looks as though the apocalypse is about to unfold. Dark and thick rain clouds are visible in the distance and the wind has picked up.

Eventually the aircraft arrives. The A330 is such a beautiful aircraft that wears the Royal Jordanian livery well. Unfortunately the lighting conditions and the grubbiness of the windows are not conducive to producing photos that will fully do this gracious bird justice.

Eventually boarding starts at 16h50. At the door I am welcomed by a female flight attendant wearing Royal Jordanian’s striking red uniform, which does have a certain retro chic.

As I board, I notice the slats are still open and the flaps are too, partly.

The Cabin

The floor area around the galley and doors has this rather odd wood-like finish, although it’s obviously not wood. Apart from that, the cabin is not exactly shabby, but it looks neglected. It’s little things really. I notice that there are a few screws missing in the seat back in front of me. Apart from that, the cabin design and colour spectrum is equally boring and bland to what you find on Lufthansa’s European fleet these days, shades of grey in grey.

Note that the overhead bin over the middle row are smaller in size. To open them, they slide down, similar to the ones on the B 777. The Airbus standard are bins with a door that opens upwards, which this aircraft has only for the bins on the sides of the cabin.

The seat seems okay for the short hop to KL but I’m not sure I’d want to sit in it all the way back to Amman. First of all, the pitch seems awfully tight. Secondly, the seat covers are leather, which has a tendency to make you sweat more, I find.

The seat also has power outlets.

There is also a blanket and a pillow at my seat when I arrive. In the empty seat in front of me both blanket and pillow have not been used and are still in their plastic covers. Mine are not, so I can only assume that they had already been used by the previous occupant of my seat on the Amman to Bangkok leg. And that I find rather an off-putting thought.

It doesn’t help that there is a faint stench of old sweat in the cabin, the kind of smell that somebody emits who probably last had a wash a few days before getting on a plane to Bangkok. But Royal Jordanian can’t be blamed for that and once the air conditioning comes on again, the pong nearly vanished completely.

Eventually we leave Bangkok at around 17h25, more than an hour behind schedule. The cabin manager is an elderly gentleman who sounds as though he’s been smoking Gauloise sans filtre for the last 50 years or so and has a somewhat questionable work ethic. He makes the usual welcome announcements in Arabic and English and obviously hasn’t got the faintest intention of apologising for the delay.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of a combination of Arabs and Thais. The Thais seem friendlier. Even so, it’s difficult trying ‘to make contact’ with any of the crew. They’re not rude but they’re not overly friendly either. They’re just doing their job without any ambition of excelling at what they do.

Service begins with a welcome drink while we’re still on the ground in Bangkok. I have an apple juice with an ice cube in it. Don’t think I’ve ever seen such dark apple juice!

After take-off we are served hot scented towels.

Shortly after that the table is set with nice crisp linen.

The Meal

To be honest, as far as both the crew, their service and the food were concerned, I was expecting very little or close to nothing from this flight. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps that is also the reasons why I am very pleasantly surprised by the meal service.

A side note. When I enrolled for the BA Executive Club at the beginning of 2012, I somehow ended up with a Hindu Vegetarian meal stored in my profile for reasons I still do not fully understand. In fact, I only noticed when I flew from Amsterdam to New York on BA at Easter and I was served a Hindu Vegetarian meal on the Amsterdam to London City sector.

In any case, at the time I booked this leg with Royal Jordanian, the special meal was still in my profile. I have since removed it but obviously the change was not transmitted to Royal Jordanian. I did consider contacting them for a while, but then I figured I probably wasn’t going to get much to eat on the flight anyway, so that it really didn’t matter.

In hindsight I must say I’m very glad I didn’t have the special meal removed from my booking because it’s a very tasty and spicy meal I receive in the end.

The First Course

The meal is served in three courses. The tray arrives with a side plate with a bun on it, as well as a mixed salad with French dressing. As a first course there is also a plate of curried pumpkin served on a leaf of red cabbage.
The pumpkin is okay but a bit bland.

To drink I have a glass of still water and a glass of Pepsi Max.

The Main Course

Once I finish the first course, the plate is removed and I am brought the hot meal, which consists of a Dhal, a spinach and cheese dish, white rice and a roti. Not only is the food very flavourful and spicy, what I particularly like is that the dish is piping hot when it arrives.

After that the whole tray is removed. Dessert and tea/coffee are served from the trolley. Coffee is served in big mugs.

Dessert

The dessert is tasty and quite unusual. It is some kind of rice and pistachios in a saffron and cardamon custard. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.

The meal finishes off with another hot towel.

Outside the sun has already started to set. So I just lean back and sip my coffee while I watch the view and the beautiful spectacle of colours unfold as night descends upon Malaysia.

Arrival

Passport control is a quick and easy affair. From there I head through customs and then I am landside. I take the escalators two floors down to the basement of the building to catch the KLIA Ekspres for Sentral Stesen or Central Station. From there I grab a taxi to my hotel.

Conclusion

This time I am staying at the Trader’s Hotel. The Traders is the Low Cost version of the Shangri-La. I like it. My room has excellent views of the Petronas towers and is only a stone’s throw away from Marks & Spencer and the metro.
The rooms are nothing special, compared to other hotels in the Asia-Pacific region. But they are clean and serve their purpose.

Royal Jordanian is somewhat hard to place. On the one hand, there is nothing overtly wrong with the product. And the meal they offer on the short leg from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is pretty much on a par with what I experienced with Malaysia Airlines one year previously on the same route.

Even so, I can’t really say I like Royal Jordanian. The cabin is slightly grubby and the toilets are worse. The crew were reserved but not unfriendly. Would I use them again? Well, certainly not as a first choice.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – A 340-300: Zürich to Bangkok

Date: 30 August 2012
Airline:
Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft:
A340-300
From:
Zürich
To:
Bangkok
Cabin:
First Class
Seat:
1A

Getting to the Airport

Zürich airport has its own railway station underground. The station is highly convenient it that it is connected to the national and international rail network. There are frequent trains to Zürich Main Station (four trains an hour, journey time is about eight minutes) as well as to most major cities in Switzerland. The journey from Basel, where I live, to the airport takes one hour and 16 minutes. The distance is only 79 kilometres, but the train takes the northern line from Basel to Zürich, which is speed restricted, and stops no less than seven times between Basel and the airport.

Zürich airport has all the necessary facilities one can expect from a medium to large size European hub. After I disembark from the train from Basel, I take the escalators one floor up. Immediately on your left are the counters of the Swiss Federal Railways, who also operate a Bureau De Change. As my final destination will be Vietnam on this trip, I exchange some Thai Bhat and Vietnamese Dongs. And suddenly I’m a millionaire! I exchange CHF300 and in return I receive no less than 5’300’000 Dongs, a fat wad of green and red banknotes with the kind and benevolent face of Uncle Ho on them beaming at me!

Check-in

I then make my way to Check-in 1, the home of Swiss International Air Lines and the Star Alliance. It’s quite amazing just how quiet the airport is around this time of day (the flight to Bangkok leaves at 22h45). The place looks deserted.

I head inside the First Class check-in lounge and receive my boarding pass for the flight to Bangkok. Quite unusually, I’m sitting on 1A tonight. My normal seat is 1K on the right hand side. But that’s okay, it makes no difference.

After check-in I make my way through security. Here there has been a vast improvement at Zürich Airport. With the opening of the new centralised security check, First Class passengers go through security before heading for the lounge, rather than having to go through security before they take the shuttle across to the E dock. The only complaint, if you want to be pedantic, is that there is no separate lane for First Class passengers and they have to share security with the Business Class passengers.

The SWISS First Class Lounge

As usual in the Swiss First Class lounge in Zürich, the main area towards the left of the reception area is comfortably full, certainly not crowded. So I decide to check out the area on the other side of the reception and once again I have the whole place to my self!The lounge is well stocked. There are two bars and the larger one also has a warm buffet with a selection of cold and warm food. There is also a small area with about five or six tables where passengers can also order à la carte dining before their flight.


But tonight I intend to eat on the plane, so I just have a small canapé with Mozzarella, tomato and peppers and make myself a small cheese sandwich to tie me over. To drink I have a Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

The toilets are nicely appointed in the First Class lounge, although here too there has evidently been some cost saving. Nowadays the liquid soap in the soap dispenser is of the cheap variety you find everywhere else in the terminal.

Boarding

At 22h00 I return to the reception area for the shuttle across to the E dock. With only three other passengers making the journey across to the E gates with me, passport control is quickly done.Normally Swiss uses Mercedes Minivans to move people across to the E dock. When there are not that many passengers, the BMW7 will also do.

The E Dock on the other side of runway 28 is much busier this time of night than the main terminal complex.

At the gate there are two lanes. One is for the Economy Class passengers and the other is for premium passengers and those with status.

There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, but the L1 door is closed, so all passengers have to board through the L2 door.

The Cabin

The cabin is in good condition. Tonight’s flight is showing a very healthy load, the First Class cabin is nearly completely full with seven out of eight seats taken. By the looks of it Swiss also has new cushions or at least cushion covers.

The usual Bally amenity kit, slippers and earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

As soon as I am seated the First Class service begins. Service is done by two middle aged and friendly female flight attendants. I am asked if I would like a newspaper and a drink. I choose the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and a glass of still water with a slice of lemon.

A short while later I am brought an amuse bouche of crab cake with a mango and zucchini salsa and a few butter sticks.

As soon as I finish that, the plate is removed and I am brought a scented, warm towel to refresh myself.

Departure is from runway 34. In the evenings it is either 34 or 32 that are in use for departures to minimise the noise pollution. As usual there are quite a few departures this time of night, we are number three in the departure sequence and I count a further three widebodies behind us.

Take-off is the usual lame A340-300 ‘will-he-make-it-before-the-end-of-the-runway’ departure. The acceleration and climb are barely perceivable. As soon as we get airborne we experience some significant turbulence which last for the first 45 minutes or so of the flight. Once the lights go on again and we are free to move, the flight attendant brings me my pajamas and I go and change for the night.

The Meal

The meal service begins with the table being set. I have my own breadbasket and a saucer of olive oil to dip the bread in.

With the meal I have sparkling mineral water with lemon.

The First Course

Balik Salmon with Crème Fraîche, chives and blinis. An excellent dish you can hardly go wrong with.

The Soup

Cream of sweet corn soup with popcorn. Very tasty, Swiss do a good soup.

The Salad

Mixed salad with croutons, cherry tomatoes and boiled egg. Excellent, they seem to have a new Italian dressing and it’s very tasty.

The Main Course

Zürich style shredded veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with Rösti and carrots sautéed in butter. Now this is simply outstanding. This is a signature dish you get in most self-respecting restaurants in Switzerland. Even so, I really don’t think I’ve ever had one in a restaurant that tasted this good. The sauce is rich and creamy and you even make out the white wine used for the sauce. Even the Rösti is cooked to perfection and has remained crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

The Cheese

A platter of assorted Swiss cheese with mustard seed chutney, walnuts, grapes, crackers and dried prunes and apricots. Here is another cost saving measure. When I flew this same route last year, the cheese service came from an open trolley and every passenger could choose himself which cheese he wanted to try.

The flight attendant tries to convince me to have dessert. But I decline and admit defeat.

After that it’s off to bed. Good night!

The Second Service

I awake about two hours out of Bangkok. Perfect timing because it gives me enough time for a leisurely breakfast. I don’t like being rushed in the mornings.

I change back into my normal clothes. When I return to my seat the flight attendant has already placed a nice cup of coffee there for me with a glass of water.

She asks me what I’ll be having with breakfast and I ask for just an orange juice.

Next she sets up the table again for the meal. Breakfast consists of Zopf, a typically Swiss bread, and a croissant. With this I have some cherry jam and butter.

Apricot yoghurt.

French toast with berries.


After the meal the table is cleared again and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I ask for a bottle of still water. After that I lean back to enjoy the views and nap some more before we land.

Arrival

Our route into Bangkok is a circuitous one.

Once we land, I bid the crew farewell and disembark through the L1 door. On the other side of the airbridge there is a SWISS ground attendant holding up a sign with my name on it. She asks me to follow her to a golf mobile. I get on board and she whisks me off to the transfer security check. From there we head one floor up to the Royal Jordanian transfer counter.

Conclusion

In summary it’s not a bad flight I have with Swiss. The crew is professional and efficient but still manages to be friendly and give the whole experience a personal touch. The tempo of the service is good and the food is very tasty.

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