KLM, Business Class – Embraer-190 / MD-11: Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal

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Introduction

Hello, and welcome to my latest trip report. On Sunday, 2 December 2012 I returned home to Basel from a business trip to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific. Two days later, on Tuesday, 4 December 2012 and I’m off again. First with KLM from Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal for one night, and then from there again with KLM via Amsterdam to Southampton for another meeting. From Southampton I will catch a train up to London, where I will spend the weekend soaking up the atmosphere in the madness of the run up to Christmas before returning home to Basel. This report covers the first two legs from Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal.

Date: 4 December 2012
From: Basel
To: Amsterdam
Aircraft: Embraer 190
Airline: KLM Cityhopper
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1A

Check-in

This report begins at the Air France check-in counters on the French side of the terminal. Although the KLM flight is normally parked at the Swiss side of the facility, the fact that Air France does all the handling means that passengers have to check-in for the flight on the French side and then cross over into the Swiss part of the terminal once they are airside.

The good news is that Business Class passengers now receive a voucher for a free drink at the bar to compensate for the lack of a lounge facility. This is, however, not entirely true. There is of course the former Swiss lounge, which is now the Swissport Skyview lounge, but apparently Air France KLM chose not to contract this lounge.

In any case, I make the mistake of ordering what is alleged to be a cappuccino and it is an abomination. So I sit by the gate reading my Kindle, waiting for the flight to be called.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time. As I am seated on 1A, I wait for all the other passengers to board first so as not to get in the way.

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When eventually I make my way to the aircraft, I am given a warm welcome by a friendly young Dutch female flight attendant. By the looks of it the flight is only about 70 per cent full and in Business Class there is only one other passenger seated right behind me on 2A.

The Cabin

I like the Embraer, although I must also say that the seats are a tad too low and as a result, tend to give me a back ache after a while. They’re okay for a short one hour hop to Amsterdam, but I wouldn’t be so sure about longer segments.

My pair of seats on the way to Amsterdam.
My pair of seats on the way to Amsterdam.
Looking across the aisle.
Looking across the aisle.
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The view at the gate.
The view at the gate.

We depart towards the southeast from runway 15. With the light load we don’t even need to taxi all the way to the end of the runway. So we line up on the runway about halfway down.

Taxiing out for departure.
Taxiing out for departure.
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The city of Basel, shortly before we start the turn.
The city of Basel, shortly before we start the turn.
Turning north over the Allschwil suburb.
Turning north over the Allschwil suburb.
Climbing through the gloom.
Climbing through the gloom.
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The Crew

Service begins once the seatbelt sign comes off. There are two young females working the cabin on this flight. Both of them are friendly enough and very relaxed, which makes for a pleasant atmosphere on board.

The Meal

The meal consists of a salad with olives and a Thousand Islands dressing.

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The dressing.
The dressing.

There is a choice of two different sandwiches available: multi-grain roll with Mozzarella and tomato or maize and pumpkin seed roll with sliced chicken breast. I go with the Mozzarella sandwich.

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For dessert there is an orange praline thing, and it is very good too.

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To drink with the meal I have a Diet Coke.

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After the meal I have a mug of coffee with those tasty KLM biscuits filled with caramel.

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Arrival

Our Arrival in Amsterdam is quite unusual, for me at least. We land on runway 36C, which is a first for me, even though I travel through Amsterdam quite often. The weather in Amsterdam is even worse than what I left behind in Basel!

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A last glimpse of the bird that brought me here.
A last glimpse of the bird that brought me here.

Transfer in Amsterdam

Once I enter the terminal I head straight for immigrations to reach the E gates from where my flight will be leaving. The guy at the counter has obviously never seen a Maltese passport before in his life, so the whole process eventually takes about 30 minutes to complete while he checks and rechecks. But never mind, I prefer my officials to be conscientious and not slack. Besides, Amsterdam is looking all festive and I have a chance to look around while they check my passport.

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Once I’m through I can’t be bothered to head for the lounge, there isn’t that much time left anyway. So instead I get myself a pancake from the self-service restaurant at the beginning of the Holland Boulevard and wait until the security screening for my flight opens.

I think it's art. It's right behind immigration.
I think it’s art. It’s right behind immigration.
On my way to the E pier.
On my way to the E pier.

Date: 4 December 2012
From: Amsterdam
To: Montreal
Aircraft: MD-11
Airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1A

My flight is scheduled to leave at 15h00. So at around 14h20 I make my way to the gate to see if security is already open. As I reach the gate and spot the bird taking me across the pond today, I am overcome by her stunning beauty and embark on a photo shooting frenzy. The queue for security will take a while to clear anyway!

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Ready for your close up Ma'am?
Ready for your close up Ma’am?

Boarding

Eventually I join the line for security as the flight is called for boarding. There is even a separate lane for Skypriority passengers. Boarding for the flight is called just as I go through the scanner. So I collect all my belongings, take a few more picture of my elegant ride across the pond and head on board.

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The load is very light on this flight. There are only nine passengers in Business Class with only four in the forward Business Class cabin, giving the flight a very cosy atmosphere.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is well maintained and looks nice, all decked out in KLM blue. As on my previous flights with the MD-11, I am absolutely smitten by the amount of leg space there is on row one. You actually have to stand up from your seat to reach the pocket mounted on the bulkhead!

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are friendly and obviously in a very good mood. Perhaps it has something to do with the light load today. As soon as I am seated, one of the flight attendants takes my coat and jacket, while her colleagues bring me the vanity kit, earphones and a glass of still water.

The amenity kit has changed since my last flight in July.
The amenity kit has changed since my last flight in July.

Take-off is from the notorious Polderbahn, which means a very long taxi from our gate. The MD-11 is obviously out to impress today and we are treated to an amazing take-off, such as you usually don’t get on a bird of this size.

Leaving the clouds behind us after departure.
Leaving the clouds behind us after departure.

The Meal

As soon as we get airborne and the fasten seatsbelt sign comes off, the service begins. Incidentally, there are now refreshing towels on this service, which is quite a contrast to my flights with Cathay Pacific the previous week.

We begin with a large bowl of mixed nuts and a glass of Ginger Ale on ice. One of the flight attendants comes by and asks me what I’ll be having for the main course. I’m having the chicken.

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After that the table is set with crisp white linen, and the meal tray arrives.

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The First Course

It contains a small salad and the first course: smoked salmon with Hollandaise mousse, capers and shallots, served with cucumber soup and sour dough bread. The first course is excellent and quite unusual. The final preparation of the dish is actually done at your seat, which is a nice touch. To drink with that I have still water.

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The Salad

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There is also a basket with warm bread.

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And here are a few details of the cutlery and condiments that come with the tray.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the winter casserole with Volwaard chicken, accompanied by new potatoes, pearl onions, cabbage, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms.

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The Cheese & Fruit

And for dessert I have the cheese plate with Beemster Lite and St. Aubin cheese, together with a fruit kebab.

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To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin with a box of chocolate pralines with the coffee. I’m undecided about which one to choose, so flight attendant encourages me to take more than one and eventually chooses three for me.

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I spend the rest of the flight reading, dozing and watching the beautiful colours outside until it’s time for the next service.

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The Second Service

About an hour out of Montreal the second service begins. The meal consists of a dish of Vitello Tonnato with asparagus, pine nuts and roasted bell peppers.

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With that there is a croquette roll of deep-friend beef ragout in a bread roll. I try this but decide not to finish it…

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And for dessert there is a Dutch waffle mousse with caramel sauce, which is very tasty.

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After that we are given the landing cards for Canada to complete. The flight concludes with the distribution of the famous Bols houses.

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Arrival

Our approach into Montreal at dusk is quite beautiful. We cross the mighty St. Lawrence and are treated to a lovely view of the city of Montreal. We fly past the old Olympic park, which is clearly visible.

Immigration does not take long to complete and just a few minutes after I reach the luggage belt, my suitcase arrives. I grab a taxi and make my way into town.

Conclusion

On these two flights KLM gave yet another solid performance. The quality of the food on both flights was very good and the crew displayed a lot of enthusiasm for their job and were very friendly in the way the dealt with their passengers. Because I only spent one night in Montreal I ended up flying back with the same crew. Not only was I very surprised that they all recognised me again, they evidently went out of their way on the return leg to make me feel at home. I was really treated like an old friend, and I thought that was rather nice.

The service on KLM may not exactly be as elegant as that on other airlines, but it is certainly very personable and welcoming and I like that.

As for the hardware, I’m happy I managed to get another two flights on the MD-11. The last time I flew to Montreal with KLM I suspected it might be my last opportunity to catch this attractive looking bird. But it seems as though I got a second chance. My next trip to Montreal will be in the spring. By the looks of it, with a bit of luck, that trip might also feature the MD-11. I certainly hope so! Having said that, it really is high time KLM rolled out that new Business Class seat.

Cathay Pacific, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Hong Kong to Bangkok

Transfer in Hong Kong

Changing planes in Hong Kong is a painless affair, even more so because passengers are only required to remove laptops from their bags. Their liquids and other toiletries can stay in the bag. I don’t have to take off my belt either.

Once I’m through security I head one floor up to departures and have the agonising decision to make as to which lounge I want to visit. I settle on The Cabin, mainly because it’s closer to my departure gate than the wing. Also, I visited The Wing lounge a few years back when I was flying back to Zürich from Hong Kong with Swiss.

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Date: 27 November 2012
From: Hong Kong
To: Bangkok
Airline: Cathay Pacific Airways
Aircraft: A 330-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 17A

The Cathay Pacific Cabin Lounge

The lounge is not very full when I arrive. Even so, I decide to turn to the right, where there is a smaller lounge area that is much more intimate. This part of the lounge only has a small bar, the food is in the other part. As a result most people tend to congregate in that corner of the lounge where all the grub is. I have nearly three hours to make my connection. So I spend my time reading emails and catching up on work.

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The view from where I was sitting in the lounge.
The view from where I was sitting in the lounge.

Boarding for the flight starts on time, thirty minutes before departure. Eventually though, we end up leaving with a delay of 15 minutes because of three missing passengers whose connecting flight arrived late. But the flight time is shorter than scheduled, so we still manage to arrive in Bangkok on time.

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On my way to the gate I see this big girl getting ready for departure.
On my way to the gate I see this big girl getting ready for departure.
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My bird.
My bird.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is quite a contrast to the one on my previous flight. First of all, judging by the old overhead panels and bins, the aircraft has already been in service for quite a while. It also still has the old regional Business Class seat which – although very comfortable – is starting to look its age. At the time I made the booking, the seat map indicated that the flight would be operated by an aircraft with a 1-2-1 configuration. This bird however, has a 2-2-2 configuration. But at least the empty seat fairy does her magic again and as the doors close I am one of the few passengers again who has nobody in the seat next to me.

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Does it get any more retro than this?
Does it get any more retro than this?

The Crew

While we’re still on the ground, the crew first distribute blankets and earphones. Next come more hot towels, followed by a selection of welcome drinks. Again I choose the Oriental Breeze, which I think I could drink until it’s coming out of my ears.

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The crew also distribute landing cards for Thailand, together with a voucher for the premium fast track at Suvarnabhumi airport, which in my case is of no use as I have to obtain a visa on arrival anyway. But I jump ahead.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne it takes the crew quite a while to get the show on the road. We start with another drink round and again I have an Oriental Breeze.

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There are no nibbles with the drinks. Shortly after, my meal tray arrives. On it there is a small salad with a few shrimps that have been marinated and cooked with curry. The salad is served with a balsamico vinaigrette. With the salad I have two slices of crunchy garlic bread.

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One thing that strikes me about Cathay Pacific is that they serve you a glass of still water with the meal, whether you ask for it or not. It’s a nice touch actually.

There are three choices for the main course. I choose the agnolotti pasta filled with eggplant and bell peppers and served with a basil and tomato sauce and parmesan shavings. The main dish really is superb and the pasta is just right. Very often they don’t get the pasta right on planes and end up cooking it to death until the edges are all hard. But not so here.

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For dessert we have Hägen Dasz ice cream – cookies and chocolate ice cream.

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The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a praline.

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By the time the meal is over I’m feeling rather drowsy, it’s been a long journey. So I just lean back, cover myself with the blanket and doze off until the cabin is prepared for landing.

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Arrival

As I mentioned before, as a Maltese national I am required to obtain a visa on arrival for Thailand. The procedure it pretty straight forward, but I have the misfortune to be queuing behind a larger group of tourists from some Asian country. As a result it takes me about 30 minutes to clear immigration. And then, once I’m through I go one floor down, grab a taxi and head for the hotel.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed these two flights with Cathay Pacific. I think they have a very solid product in Business Class. I particularly like the hardware on the B 777-300 because of the high level of comfort and privacy the new Business Class seat offers. The crew are a further strong point in Cathay Pacific’s favour, they were all very competent, friendly and polite. I think I prefer the Cathay Pacific crews to those of Thai Airways for example because they are much more approachable and not so robotic.

Epilogue

I spend four nights in Bangkok before returning home via the same routing. I arrive back in Basel on Sunday, 02 December 2012. Two days later I’m off again, this time on a business trip to Montreal for one night with KLM.

Cathay Pacific, Business Class – B 777-300: London Heathrow to Hong Kong

Transfer in London Heathrow

Transferring at Heathrow has become much easier of late. Once inside T5 I simply follow the signs for flight connections. I take the escalators down one floor to street level and a few minutes later the shuttle arrives that will be taking me to T3.

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The transfer takes about 10 minutes to complete. Once I’m through security in T3 I reach the Cathay Pacific counter only to find that it is closed. Fortunately though, there’s a sign explaining that Business Class passengers can go straight to the lounge and check-in there. Which is exactly what I do.

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Date: 26 November 2012
From: London Heathrow
To: Hong Kong
Airline: Cathay Pacific Airways
Aircraft: B 777-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 17A

The Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge

The Cathay Pacific lounge is excellent. Apart from a good selection of cold and warm meal options, there is also a noodle bar that makes noodle soup to order. Other than that, the view is excellent. So I order a bowl of wonton noodles and park myself by the window to watch the amazing action of Heathrow.

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Boarding

About an hour or so before my flight is scheduled to leave, I exit the lounge. I need to stretch my legs and move around a bit. Besides, I’m not that familiar with T3, but I do remember that distances to the gates can be long.

When I finally arrive at the gate, there are already quite a few people sitting there. I manage to take a few pictures of my aircraft and then already boarding begins. First Passengers with special needs and children are boarded. After that it’s the premium passengers. But the ground crew seem to be in a bit of a rush and before all the Business Class passengers have settled in, the long stream of Economy Class passengers begins filing through the cabin.

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The Cabin

And what a beautiful cabin it is! Cathay Pacific has done a great job with the new Business Class product. It has a very private feel to it and the seat itself is simply amazing and offers a level of privacy that is really quite impressive. In particular, what I like is that there is loads of personal storage space. And the seat turns into a very comfortable bed as well!

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The Crew

This paragraph might also have been named ‘refreshing towels galore’. God, I don’t know how many of the things I’m given during the course of this flight. I stopped counting at some point.

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The cabin crew working the Business Class section are all Chinese and female. They are very charming and attentive. First the cabin manager comes to introduce herself and wishes me a good flight. She also asks me how to properly pronounce my name – I get that quite a bit, except on Air Malta. Quite evidently she spreads the word because the crew make a point of addressing every passenger by name, and hence forth they all pronounce my name properly.

Throughout the flight the crew pay a lot of attention to detail, during the meal service I am asked if I would like my drink refilled every time the crew clear away the dishes or bring the next course.

After the hot towels comes the welcome drink – orange juice…

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…followed by the distribution of the menu and wine list…

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…and the vanity kit and a bottle of still water for the night.

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The Meal

The meal experience begins with a small bowl of warm mixed nuts and a drink, served as an aperitif after departure. I try one of Cathay Pacific’s signature drinks – the non-alcoholic Oriental Breeze – and it is fabulous. It’s a mix of sour plum tea, cranberry juice, honey, a few other things I can’t remember now and a few drops of rosewater. To top it off, there are dried rosebuds floating on the surface of the drink.

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All on all, the meal is quite tasty except for the starter…

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The First Course

Confit of duck with a tomato relish and orange jelly. I don’t much like duck because I find the taste a bit overpowering.

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The Salad

The first course is served with a small but tasty salad on the side and a balsamico vinaigrette.

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With that I have two slices of delicious garlic bread.

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The Main Course

For the main course I choose the chicken biryani with a spicy mint raita. The presentation may not look like much but the taste is really excellent. It’s quite spicy too!

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On a side note: the salt and pepper.
On a side note: the salt and pepper.

The Cheese

The main course is followed by an assortment of English and French cheeses, served with crackers and port.

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There is also a black forest cake, but I skip that. And then I go off to bed and have a really good night’s rest.

I manage to sleep for about six hours on this flight. To be honest the temperature in the cabin is just a bit too low for me. But at least Cathay Pacific give you a nice thick duvet to cover up with, which of course is far more substantial than just the blanket you get on many of the European carriers these days.

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The Second Service

Six hours later I lie awake wrapped up in the cosiness of my thick duvet. I’m enjoying this! And then it’s already time for the second service, breakfast this time. But not before I get another hot towel!

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Coffee with a choice of orange juice, apple juice or a banana and strawberry smoothie.

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A plate of fresh fruit that have remained amazingly juicy, even after a flight of 11 hours.

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A selection of cereals and yoghurts.

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A bakery basket with preserves.

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A choice of three hot dishes: I have the cheese omelette with potatoes, grilled tomato, mushrooms and an pork and apple sausage.

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Arrival

Once the meal is cleared away, I busy myself with repacking all my stuff that I spread out during the course of the flight. And then we land, but not before receiving one last hot towel.

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The weather in Hong Kong is really bad. It’s raining quite strongly and visibility is very low. The sea only appears from under the clouds a few minutes before we touch down.

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And with that my first experience with Cathay Pacific in 18 years comes to an end. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Next flight: Hong Kong to Bangkok, also with Cathay Pacific.

British Airways, Business Class – A 319: Basel to Heathrow and beyond…

Introduction

My very first long-haul trip ever was in 1994, in the gap year before I started university. I flew from Zürich to Hong Kong in Economy Class aboard a Cathay Pacific B 747-400. Back in those days Cathay Pacific had a flight that operated from Manchester via Zürich to Hong Kong. Later on the service was downgraded to an A 340 until eventually it was abandoned altogether. I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong and I suspect much of that had to do with my fascination for aviation and the wish to do the famous checkerboard approach at least once in my life.

At the time I was mightily impressed by Cathay Pacific – even in Economy Class – and ever since I took that flight, I’ve been meaning to try them again. And now, finally, 18 years later I’m sitting in the lounge at Basel airport waiting to catch a flight to London with British Airways, from where I will continue my journey via Hong Kong to Bangkok with Cathay Pacific Airways.

So you see, this trip report is long overdue!

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Date: 26 November 2012
From: Basel
To: London Heathrow
Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: A 319
Cabin Class: Business Class
Seat: 1A

Getting to the Airport

It’s always the same routine really. I leave my flat at 10h00 and head across the square to the railway station to purchase some Thai Baht. And then I catch the bus line 50, which stops right outside the main entrance of the station. It’s a dark and dreary day today. It started raining yesterday evening and it hasn’t stopped since.

Christmas decorations in the station's main hall.
Christmas decorations in the station’s main hall.
Waiting at the bus stop outside the station.
Waiting at the bus stop outside the station.

Eventually the bus leaves for the airport with only a handful of passengers on it. Most of them get off again at one of the four stops before we reach the airport. The journey takes about 15 minutes to complete.

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Check-in

The airport is quiet too. There are a few flights leaving but even so, the place is deserted. I walk up to the BA check-in counter, where I am attended to immediately. The check-in agent informs me that she can only issue my boarding pass for the first leg and that I will have to contact Cathay Pacific once I get to Heathrow to get the boarding passes for my onward connections.

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The Skyview Lounge

Security does not take long to complete and once I am airside, I head straight for the lounge. And I must say, I am rather pleasantly surprised. This is the first time I’ve been to the lounge since Swiss International Air Lines gave it up and Swissport turned it into the Skyview lounge. It’s a vast improvement me thinks. First of all the wifi no longer requires a password, I also think the connection is faster. And secondly they’ve improved the food offerings in the lounge, which now also include a hot buffet. So I help myself to some scrambled eggs, sausage and beans, get myself a coffee and settle down by the window.

The only picture of the lounge.
The only picture of the lounge.

When the time comes, I leave the lounge and head through passport control to reach my gate in the non-Schengen part of the terminal. From the number of people waiting at the gate I would say there are probably only about seventy to eighty people on the flight.

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There are seven rows of Business class, which makes for a total of 28 seats. It turns out that luck is on my side and by the looks of it I am the only passenger with a whole row of seats to himself.

The Cabin

Until BMI was taken over by BA, both carriers used to operate to Basel with the A 319. As a result, since the take over Basel has seen a mix of ex-BMI and BA birds operating to Heathrow. But this is clearly a BA bird. The aircraft looks quite old-fashioned and still has the old style overhead bins and panels. But apart from that it looks quite as though BA has taken good care of the aircraft.

The bulkhead.
The bulkhead.
The empty middle seat.
The empty middle seat.
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Take-off is towards the south and the city of Basel. Once we’re airborne we bank right to the west towards France and then a short while later we bank right again to point us in the direction of Paris and the Channel beyond.

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As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off, the cabin crew begin their service with the distribution of warm towels. It’s a nice touch but they’re not scented. In fact they have rather a strange smell of chemicals and chlorine about them.

And after that the meal is served.

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The Meal

The meal consists of a light salad served with three slices of chorizo sausage with a soft goat’s cheese on a bed of green leaves, beetroot and grilled bell peppers. It’s not bad actually. With that there is a selection of warm buns from the breadbasket. I am also delighted to see that BA has finally decided to introduce dessert. And what an excellent job they make of it: it’s a triple layered chocolate mouse made by the infamous do&co and it is absolutely divine! The top layer is a really thick and rich dark chocolate fondant. Beneath that is a layer of velvety milk chocolate mouse and under that is another layer with a darker chocolate with small, crunchy chunks of chocolate in it.

The whole tray.
The whole tray.
Close up of the main.
Close up of the main.
The sin - I.
The sin – I.
The sin - II.
The sin – II.

To drink I have a diet coke – I know, how imaginative – and then later on a cup of coffee.

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Arrival

We reach the greater London area way too early and as a result we’re sent into a holding pattern for about 10 minutes.

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Eventually we land at Heathrow a full 20 minutes ahead of schedule. But by the time the previous aircraft vacates our gate and we are able to disembark, we’re bang on time again.

Epilogue

I leave you in this first part with a few pictures I took in Heathrow as we taxied in. In the next part I fly to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific on the mighty triple seven.

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