Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Zürich to Montreal, an odyssey

Introduction

I still just can’t believe how so much could possibly happen, go so horribly wrong in just one trip! I’m heading for Montreal again to attend another meeting with ICAO. I have a ticket in British Airways Business Class via Heathrow. My flight from Basel to Heathrow is at 07:15 in the morning. Like that I will have enough time to go into London Town before returning to the airport for my flight at 15:45 to Montreal. Or so I thought…

Act I

It’s been snowing heavily throughout the night here in Basel, with thick, fluffy snow softly falling to the ground, gently covering the earth in a dusting of white and muffling the sound of civilisation to a mere hum. I awake from an unsettled night’s rest at around four in the morning – there’s snow everywhere. This doesn’t look good. But we shall see.

I arrive at the airport just before 06:00, only to find that the flight to Heathrow has been cancelled due to the weather situation in London. So I join the queue at the check-in counter (British Airways does not have a ticketing counter in Basel) to be rebooked. Eventually, after standing in the queue for an hour, I reach the counter, where the agent informs me that I have been rebooked to the KLM flight that leaves Basel for Amsterdam at noon, to connect onto the KLM flight to Montreal at 15:30. I quite like the idea actually, after all I’m still a big fan of the mighty MD-11 KLM operate on the route.

With a rerouted ticket in hand I head over to the Air France check-in counters to drop off my suitcase. The check-in agent at Air France explains that there is a bit of an uncertainty regarding the lunchtime flight to Amsterdam. The morning flight on the other hand, scheduled to leave at 07:15, arrived the evening before, and although it may be delayed with the snow, it will probably be leaving in time for me to make the connection to Montreal. So I agree to be rebooked onto the morning flight to Amsterdam.

Act II

As if it had been perfectly timed, the check-in agent hands me my boarding passes and wishes me a good flight, just as the loudspeakers hum to life to announce that due to the heavy snowfall, Basel airport has been closed until further notice while they clear the runway.

Eventually boarding starts at 08:15, one hour behind our scheduled departure time. It’s not bad really given the circumstances. As I pass the gate, the agent informs me that there will not be a meal for me on the plane because I was booked at such short notice – I’d already figured as much. I am the last passenger to board and there are two others in Business Class. And then we wait.

At around 09:15 I look out the window to see thick globules of orange muck slowly gliding past my window. We’re de-icing. I take this as a good sign – it means we’re getting ready to depart. And indeed, at long last we take-off at around 09:45, two hours and thirty minutes behind schedule. Our arrival in Amsterdam is estimated for 10:45. Once we’re airborne, the captain comes on the blower to announce that yes, we’re running rather late. But that is not necessarily a bad thing for me, after all my connection to Montreal will not be leaving until 15:30. Like this I’ll have less time to kill. I am also pleasantly surprised to find that – contrary to what the agent at the gate told me – KLM has actually provided for a meal of every one of the three Business Class passengers. And thank God for that, I was starting to feel hungry! But apart from that, KLM really impress me on this flight. The crew are chirpy and very professional and make sure to keep all the passengers with connecting flights informed about the progress of the flight and the status of their connections in Amsterdam.

Eventually we arrive on stand just before 11:00 and are then bussed to the terminal. Once inside I head straight through passport control and then from there on to the KLM non-Schengen Crown Lounge.

Act III

I remain in the lounge until about one hour before departure. Then I start to feel tired – it was an early start this morning – so I get up and decide to mosey my way to the departure gate. Boarding starts with a delay of some 20 minutes. Apparently the aircraft arrived at the gate late, coming from maintenance. So we’re now scheduled to leave at 15:55. But then just after 16:00, with boarding already completed, the captain informs us that there’s a hydraulic leak somewhere that needs taking care of. We might be here for a while longer…In the meantime, the crew start their first drinks service on the ground. I have a Ginger Ale with some warm nuts and feel happy and content to be back on an MD-11 so unexpectedly, despite the delay.

Two hours later…

It’s now 18:15 – only, instead of being somewhere over the Atlantic on my way to Montreal, I’m in Amsterdam. We’ve just been informed that the fault on our MD-11 could not be fixed and subsequently the flight has been cancelled. Business Class passengers are invited to head for the lounge for reprotection onto other flights. Of course I realise that by this time there are no more flights across the Atlantic and I’ll probably be sleeping in Amsterdam.

Act IV

I don’t have long to wait before it’s my turn in the queue to get rebooked – again. I explain to the agent that this is in fact my second irregularity today and she looks at me as though I were some seriously masochistically inclined weirdo. It’s not my fault dear! She informs me that she will have to reroute my ticket – this is now number three – and I nearly bowl over with laughter when she explains to me the solution she’s found to get me across the pond the next day: I am to return to Basel tonight with the last KLM flight and catch the Swiss flight from Zürich to Montreal the next morning. Like that I will already be in Montreal at 15h00, with a delay of only twenty hours.

By the time we’ve finished it’s 19:00 and I still have slightly more than an hour before my flight starts boarding. So I leisurely make my way back towards the Schengen part of the terminal, which also means that I’ll have to go through security again. When I arrive at the passport control, the officer starts eyeing my passport suspiciously – ‘not again’, I think to myself. He then asks me where I’m coming from and I just crack up. I start laughing and cannot stop. I’m just too tired, honestly. At least the officer sees the funny side of things and just waits for me to calm down again. Eventually I catch my breath and explain that in actual fact I haven’t really been anywhere much today.

I reach the gate at 20:15, just as boarding begins. It’s a bus gate, the agent starts scanning boarding passes and letting people on to the bus. After about three passengers her walkie-talkie stirs and some bloke starts yelling something in Dutch. The agent gets a puzzled expression. Now what? She sighs and gently picks up the microphone to make an announcement. By this time I’m so paranoid that something else will go wrong that I’m literally hanging on her every word: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, KLM regrets to inform you that the flight to Basel is delayed due to the weather situation in Basel and that the flight may be diverted to Zürich instead’. Right, this is where the friendly gate agent gets to see a grown man break up completely, start bawling inconsolably and crying for his mummy. That’s me, if you’re wondering. But it doesn’t come to that and only five minutes later boarding resumes with my dignity intact.

The flight to Basel is surprisingly punctual and indeed does land in Basel and not in Zürich. But twenty minutes after we land I’m still standing at the belt waiting for my suitcase. The last case on the belt has just been reunited with its owner, who is slowly heading for the exit. I shrug. After all what else was I expecting? The way this day has turned out so far, of course my suitcase never stood a chance of making it back to Basel. I file a report with the Air France lost and found counter. The lady behind the desks can’t figure out which ticket number to use for the claim seeing as my ticket has been rerouted twice now. She hands me a Skyteam branded survival kit, consisting of a vanity kit and a white t-shirt, wishes me luck and sends my on my way. At 23:20 I arrive back home, I’m a mess. I really hope things go better from here on.

As far as KLM is concerned though, I think they did a really good job in terms of crisis management. On both flights they made sure that passengers were always informed about what was going on. And in Amsterdam, when the Montreal flight was finally officially cancelled, the ground crew were already expecting us. The lounge had been informed too that we were coming and a contingency plan had already been set in motion. The lost suitcase was a minor hiccup, and eventually arrived.

Act V

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Getting to the Airport

This is unexpected. It’s Sunday morning. I leave my flat at 09h20. My first stop is the confiserie Bachmann, just around the corner. They make the most divine Schoggibrötli – chocolate buns – with big chunks of lovely chocolate. It’s comfort food and just the right thing for me to strengthen the nerves before the day’s journey starts.

And then from there I head across the square to the station to catch the airport train to Zürich. Being Sunday the train is empty and I have a whole carriage to myself to enjoy the winter scenery for most of the journey.

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Date: 20 January 2013
From: Zürich
To: Montreal
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 4A

Check-in

Zürich airport is quite busy when I arrive. I’ve already done online check-in the evening before while I was still at the lounge in Amsterdam, so I head straight for security and the lounge beyond. As usual the Swiss Senator lounge is completely packed. Passengers are queuing up to get in and I overhear the receptionist explaining to one of them that they’re waiting for some customers to leave before they can let in any new ones. Well that sounds like fun. So eventually I decide to go through passport control and head for the departure gate in the non-Schengen area.

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My bird is the one on the right.
My bird is the one on the right.

My flight today will be leaving from gate D43, which is in the reconstruction of what used to be the B dock. The facility is on two levels. The top level is the Schengen area, these are the ‘B’ designated gates. The lower D level is for non-Schengen flights. In contrast to the upper level, the lower level is very nice, roomy and spacious. I rather like it. The dark wood panelling gives the place a nice warm feel.

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Airside

There is a Swiss lounge at the beginning of the dock, but I can’t really be bothered. It’s probably the same situation as with the main lounge, capacity wise, and I’ve only got another 30 minutes left before boarding starts anyway.

Gate D43 is right at the very end of the building and offers some spectacular views of the ramp and of aircraft departing off runway 16. I take a seat and a fire up my laptop. A short while later I am joined by an Eastern European couple who decide to watch a DVD together, with the volume fully on for everyone else to hear. Not only do I find this very rude, but the film sounds like a right load of poo – I think I’d be embarrassed to be caught watching something like that. Fortunately boarding starts just a few minutes later.

The Cabin

The Swiss Business Class cabin is certainly very appealing to look at. The warm earthen tones of beige and brown lend it an inviting appearance. I’m sitting on 4A, the throne and what is arguably the best seat in the house. 4A is a single seat on the first row of the mini Business Class cabin right behind First Class which only houses two rows. I refer to the seat as the throne because there are stowage surfaces on both sides of the seat, giving it a very bulky and imposing appearance.

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For your shoes.
For your shoes.
Seat controls
Seat controls
The view from my seat.
The view from my seat.
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Amenities

When I arrive at my seat a blanket, pillow, earphones and vanity kit have already been placed there for me. If I remember correctly, the vanity kit used to be by Swiss brand Navyboot. Probably to save costs they are now using some no name alternative, which is fact is more attractive in my opinion. As soon as I’ve stowed my luggage, a flight attendant appears and offers to take my jacket and coat off me.

Vanity kit.
Vanity kit.
Pillow. I like the colour combination.
Pillow. I like the colour combination.

In due course I am offered a drink from a tray – I choose the orange juice – a newspaper and the menu.

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Pushing back.
Pushing back.
The African fire trainer.
The African fire trainer.
Head of the queue.
Head of the queue.
Lining up.
Lining up.
Finally on my way to Montreal.
Finally on my way to Montreal.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are friendly and chatty, the atmosphere of the flight a very pleasant and relaxed. Pity about the two French guys sitting across the aisle, who won’t stop talking in annoyingly loud voices and go on, once we’re airborne, to get completely smashed by the time dessert comes along.

As we push back, one of the flight attendants comes and asks me what I’ll be having for the main course.

The Meal

Once we level off, service begins with a drinks round. For nibbles there is a choice of either cashew nuts or Zweifel chips with Dijon mustard. I’ve never had such crisps and they’re actually rather tasty.

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The First Course

A tartar of Balik salmon with wasabi cream and balsamic baby onions. It’s okay, except that the layer of wasabi cream is simply too thick and doesn’t really have a nice texture in the mouth.

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The Salad

The tray arrives with a small salad on the side with walnuts and a cherry tomato.

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With the first course there is a breadbasket with either butter or olive oil.

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The Main Course

For the main course I choose the Fleischvogel – a traditional Swiss dish of braised veal and beef roulade with mashed potatoes and carrot and leek julienne. This is not bad actually and certainly hits the spot.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I have the apple compote with rosemary cream and crème de Gruyère. This is definitely the best dish of the entire meal. It is a delicately balanced mix of different flavours: the strong rosemary with a subtle undertone of honey in the crumble layer of the dessert.

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With the dessert I have a mug of mint tea. The meal concludes with a stracciatella praliné which I demolish before I remember to take a picture.

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After the meal I even manage to get a couple of hours of sleep. By the time I wake up we’re only three hours out of Montreal. I spend the rest of the time reading until the lights go on again a bit less than two hours out of Montreal for the second service.

The Second Service

The second service is certainly a bit of a let down, especially when compared to what KLM usually serve on their flight to Montreal. It consists of a really very small plate with a fatty slab of lukewarm gammon drowned in mustard mayonnaise, green beans sautéed in onion and a bit of potato salad. The meal is served with bread and butter and white chocolate Mövenpick ice cream for dessert. Given the relatively short duration of the flight of course it makes sense not to offer another full meal for the second service, and that’s not what I was expecting either. But a bit of inspiration and better quality food would certainly not come amiss.

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Generally speaking, I find the meals lacked finesse and could certainly be improved in terms of presentation. I don’t necessarily mean the presentation of the food on the plate but rather the presentation of the dishes on the tray.

Arrival… not

Eventually our flight draws to an end and we begin our descent into Montreal. It’s a lovely sunny day with excellent views. We come in over the mighty St. Lawrence and pass by the Olympic Stadium on the final approach. It’s a very unstable descent, with gusty winds shaking the aircraft violently.

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The mighty St. Lawrence.
The mighty St. Lawrence.
Olympia.
Olympia.

And then it happens: my first ever go-around! It’s hard to judge how high above the ground we are when it happens, but I do know that we were already above the runway when very suddenly the aircraft starts to accelerate and goes into a steep climb. As it does we do a sharp left turn. The captain comes on the blower and apologises for the manoeuvre. Apparently there was a wind shear alert. The captain explains that we’ll be landing from another direction. He also explains that we should expect some very serious braking action upon touchdown, as the runway in use is much shorter and is also contaminated with snow. This ought to be interesting…

Arrival – The Sequel

Eventually we land safely. As soon as we hit the ground the reversers open. Shortly after the gear brakes are applied and we abruptly slow down, providing a good demonstration of what the seatbelts are actually for.

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And with that, my odyssey comes to an end. With a delay of twenty hours I’ve finally made it to Montreal.

Epilogue

So what about Swiss? It’s been quite a while since my last flight in Business Class on Swiss. There have been some improvements in the product I’d say, like the second option for the first course or the much nicer new vanity kit. But there have also been a few apparent cost cuttings. The flight was fine and it was a nice change to have a flight going according to plan after the fiasco the previous day. On the down side, despite all the stylish design, in summary the seat is not really all the comfortable. It’s very narrow and feels cramped. In the lounge position my arms are in such an awkward position that I end up with pins and needles. But apart from that, I think what struck me most is just how bland and nondescript Swiss has become. There was really nothing at all about this flight to set them apart from the competition. There was a time when that was very different.

Air France, Economy Class – CRJ1000 / A 319: To the lavender fields of Provence

Introduction

A while back Air France came up with the bright idea of setting up secondary, low-cost hubs in Toulouse and Marseille. Among the newly opened routes was Marseille to Basel, where I live. I’ve always wanted to visit the Provence region of France, so once the flights were released for sale, I booked myself on a flight from Basel to Marseille in the evening of Friday, 29. June 2012. The return would be the next evening, on Saturday, 30. June 2012. This gave me nearly 24 hours to drive out of the city to see if I could find the famous lavender fields of Provence, which are in bloom in June.

And then along came Air France and made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing. Quite a while after I had booked the flights, I received a mail from Air France informing me that due to the bad performance of the route, the Saturday flight had been cancelled. I would need to be rebooked. The easiest thing of course, would have been to rebook me for the flight the next evening, Sunday, 01. July 2012. But private affairs required me to be back in Basel on Sunday morning, so instead of taking the direct service, I opted for a 06h15 departure from Marseille to Roissy and then on to Basel. That would get me into Basel at 09h45. 06h15 is very early and yes, transferring in Roissy is not my idea of fun either. But it cannot be helped.

Then a while later I needed to be in Dubai for a week, until 28. June 2012. I subsequently booked flights with Oman Air to get me from Zürich via Muscat to Dubai and back. The Oman Air flight back to Zürich would be on Friday, 29. June 2012 and would arrive back in Zürich at 18h40. This gave me enough time to get back to Basel, grab my rucksack and head for Basel airport for the flight to Marseille at 23h00.

And then along came Air France and made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing. After I had booked the trip to Oman, I received another mail from Air France informing me that the flight from Basel to Marseille had been rescheduled and would now already be leaving at 20h00. There was no way I would make it from Zürich by that time. And so it came that the outbound flight had to be changed as well. Eventually I was rebooked to leave Basel at 10h00 on Saturday, 30. June 2012. I would fly to Marseille via Orly.

But one must look at the positive side. At least this meant that I would be flying on the Britair CRK to Orly.

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Date: 30. June 2012
From: Basel
To: Paris Orly
Airline: Brit Air for Air France
Aircraft: Bombardier Canadair Regonal Jet CRJ-1000
Cabin:
Economy Class
Seat: 1A

Getting to the Airport

The journey begins, yet again, outside the main railway station in Basel. It is here that I catch the line 50 to the airport.

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The airport is looking good. Following the completion of the exterior, the interior has now also been revamped.

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This here is actually what used to be the oldest part of the original construction from the 1970s.

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I cross over into the French side. I’ve already done OLCI, so I head upstairs for security.

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Airside

The French side of the departure lounge is empty.

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At around 09h30, my bird finally makes an appearance. This will be my first trip with the CRK!

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Boarding

A short while later, boarding is called. The load on today’s flight is rather light and boarding is quickly completed.

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The Cabin

Platinum members get seats at the front of the plane, hence I am on 1A. There are about 8 empty rows in between me and the rest of the passengers. The cabin on this bird is in mint condition and has that lovely crisp new plane smell about it. I suspect it hasn’t been in service very long.

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The cabin crew make a quick welcome announcement in French and English and then we’re off.

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Take-off is to the south towards Switzerland and Basel. After take-off we do a steep right turn and set course for Paris.

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The Crew

Once the seat belt sign goes off, the curtains close and the crew start to prepare for the service. The cabin crew on this flight consists of two very chirpy and friendly French young ladies. Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps it’s the light load or perhaps a combination of both but they appear to be in a really good mood.

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The Meal

For the meal I have a cup of hot chocolate and sweet biscuits. The flight attendant tells me that the hot chocolate is made with water. But If I add two creamers I won’t be able to tell the difference. I try and must admit, not bad at all.

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The weather en route is overcast.

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Arrival

On the approach the weather clears up. But alas I am sitting on the wrong side to be able to see the city.

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We arrive in Orly on time and taxi past a huge variety of different airlines and aircraft types. A short and pleasant flight comes to an end.

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Transfer in Paris Orly

Domestic flights arrive and depart from Orly Ouest. The terminal is quite old and evidently not geared for transfer passengers. This means that although I’m on an intra-Schengen flight, I will still have to go through security again. There is a separate area for SkyPriority passengers to check-in, but alas no fast track through security.

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The Lounge

Even so, once I’m through security I still have enough time to visit ‘Le Salon Air France’. Air France operates a shuttle, called ‘La Navette’, to a number of French cities. These flights all leave from the same area in Hall 2 and the lounge is only available to these flights. The lounge is not very well stocked and not exactly fancy. But it gets the job done and it offers some excellent views of the apron.

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Date: 30. June 2012
From:
Paris Orly
To:
Marseille
Airline:
Air France
Aircraft:
Airbus A319
Cabin:
Economy Class
Seat:
10D, aisle

Boarding

Boarding is called a few minutes late. It’s an orderly affair and Air France take their boarding by seat rows very seriously.

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Originally I’m on 10E, the middle seat on the emergency exit. Fortunately the guy on the aisle recognises some pal of his just as the doors close and decides to move. I shift across to the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty for the rest of the flight.

The Cabin

The cabin on this aircraft has a very modern and spacious feel to it. The seats are not exactly comfy but sufficient for a short flight of only one hour.

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The Crew

Service on this flight is pretty much the same as on the previous flight. The crew are friendly and chatty.

The Meal

The meal on this flight is as frugal as that on the previous one too. This appears to be the standard on Air France domestic flights. I have a Perrier and more of the biscuits.

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Arrival

The approach takes us over water and eventually a set of large salt pans. It’s quite spectacular.

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After we land we taxi past a huge fleet of fire protection aircraft.

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I deplane and head outside. It’s a nice day but very hot. But it still feels nice. Just like a summer holiday. As for Air France, I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan. But I must say, these two flights were not bad – not bad at all.

Epilogue

The Provence region of France is very beautiful and offers some quite dramatic landscapes. Softly rolling lush green hills will suddenly give way to ragged cliffs with quaint little villages perched dangerously on the promontory. The lavender season, when the flowers are in bloom, is relatively short. I think I was quite lucky in that everything was still in full bloom when I visited.

I think I shall have to return some day and maybe spend some more time here.

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All Nippon Airways, Business Class – B 777-300: Tokyo Narita to Frankfurt

Introduction

Welcome to my last flight of 2012, the 112th flight of the whole year. This review covers my journey from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Frankfurt on 31 December 2012.

I arrived in Tokyo the previous night on a Japan Airlines flight from Sapporo. I spend the night at the Century Southern Tower Hotel in Shinjuku, in close proximity to Shinjuku station and with rooms overlooking the tracks.

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From: Tokyo Narita
To: Frankfurt
Airline: ANA – All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: B 777-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 15A, window, left side
Date: 31. 12. 2012

Getting to the Airport

I leave the hotel at around 08h00 in the morning. The next direct Narita Express train from Shinjuku will not be leaving until 09h39, so instead I hop on a Chuo Line train bound for Tokyo station and grab the Narita Express from there at 09h00. The journey from Tokyo proper to Narita’s Terminal 1, ANA’s home, takes 58 minutes to complete.

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This here marks the location of the doors of each carriage. It's amazing how accurate the signs are!
This here marks the location of the doors of each carriage. It’s amazing how accurate the signs are!
My train rushes into the station on time.
My train rushes into the station on time.
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Check-in

ANA has a dedicated row of counters reserved exclusively for Star Gold members. As I arrive the place is deserted and there are about five check-in agents waiting to assist me with the check-in process.

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This picture was taken before I went through security.
This picture was taken before I went through security.

The Lounge

The ANA lounges are located near gate 52, from where my flight will be leaving later on. The Star Gold lounge is enormous and offers a variety of different seating options. Needless to say I choose a seat by the window overlooking the action on the ramp.

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There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks. The soft drinks are dispensed from a machine – what else?

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And here are some of the views outside. The Singapore Airlines pushed back on time and even started all engines. But after it had been standing on the taxiway for about 20 minutes, the aircraft rolled onto the stand again instead of departing. It was still there when my flight left.

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Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time and is a well organised and orderly affair. First passengers with children or in need of assistance are boarded and then it’s the First and Business Class passengers.

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The load in Business Class on the flight is very light today, with none of the seats between the two aisles occupied.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird reminds me a lot of the Cathay Pacific Business Class set up in that the seating configuration offers a considerable degree of privacy in a 1 – 2 – 1 configuration.

The aisle seat behind me.
The aisle seat behind me.
My window seat.
My window seat.
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Seat controls.
Seat controls.
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I think this picture shows well how private the seat is.
I think this picture shows well how private the seat is.
Power outlet.
Power outlet.
The video screen is quite large actually.
The video screen is quite large actually.
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Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is already a pair of Sony earphones there, together with slippers, a large blue pillow and a large and very soft blanket. Before we depart I am also handed a thick blue cardigan in case I start to feel cold.

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The view.
The view.
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The Crew

The cabin crew are polite and efficient. With the light load in Business Class today they take their time with the passengers, making sure everybody feels welcome. They are personable and give you the impression of really enjoying their job!

For a welcome drink there is a choice of sparkling wine or cold green tea. I take the latter. For safety reasons the drinks must be served in plastic cups while we’re still on the ground.

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And then we’re off!

Over the piano keys.
Over the piano keys.
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It looks so gracious.
It looks so gracious.

Once we are airborne, service begins with the distribution of cypress scented hot towels.

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There are no vanity kits on this flight. But after the meal the crew set up a basket with a variety of items in the rear Business Class galley: moisturising facial masks, ear plugs, toothbrushes, eye masks and a few other items of which I’m not quite sure what they’re supposed to do.

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The Meal

First the table is set and the menus are distributed. And then the experience begins.

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Amuse Bouche

For an amuse bouche there is a small plate with a combination of Japanese and Western dishes: a small item made of pancetta and cream cheese stacked in layers. It comes with a olive filled with sardine paste and a Japanese style salted plum; cheese pastry sticks and a small dish of Tofu with Wasabi; soy beans and jelly.

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To drink I have a glass of plum wine and a Perrier with lemon.

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What I particularly like about the ANA meal service is that they do not use trays at all. Your table is set when they bring you the first course. The cabin attendant places a small side plate with two different types of bread on my table. With that she also places two small dish on the table: one with butter and olive oil in it and the other with ground pepper and sea salt.

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First Course

Chicken, scallop and mushroom terrine with a bean salad and grilled bell pepper; pickled onions, cucumber and radish with truffle scented salt and olive oil.

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The taste is excellent. The scallop and the chicken go well together, the pickles perfectly adding flavour, together with an ever so subtle hint of the truffle.

Main Course

Sautéed tilefish with a yuzu-citron chilli paste flavoured vinaigrette,  pancetta, Japanese mustard spinach and new potatoes.

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It is a very unusual combination of flavours that works surprisingly well. The salty pancetta gives the chunky tilefish a lot of extra flavour and the citrus sauce is simply divine.

Dessert

Camembert and Roquefort cheese with dried apricots and prunes, with fig bread.

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And then it comes, the grand finale. This must be, without a doubt, the best dessert I have ever had on a plane. It is simply divine, with an amazing combination of textures and flavours that harmonise so elegantly that you forget you’re actually eating on a plane and not in a restaurant: a velvety smooth milk chocolate cream infused with pieces of praliné puff pastry, slices of thin milk chocolate with caramelised hazelnut pieces and hazelnut flavoured shortbread.

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To finish off the meal I have a cup of coffee. The meal is over and yet the cabin crew continue their relentless onslaught on my taste buds: with the coffee I am served a chocolate praliné that seems harmless enough to look at. But then I bite into it and the sublime taste of rich chocolate, Early Grey tea and bergamot explodes on my palate.

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The attendant brings me a bottle of water and then slowly the lights go out – and so do I. The seat is perhaps a tad too narrow, but only just and I still manage to have a very decent and comfortable sleep of about five hours.

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When I awake I’m feeling peckish and we’ve still got another four hours to go to Frankfurt. A flight attendant notices me looking at the menu. But instead of approaching my seat directly, she walks past me towards the rear of the cabin and stops a short distance away where she can keep an eye on me unnoticed. As soon as I look up from the menu she appears, seemingly out of nowhere to take my order. Simply outstanding service!

So I order myself a bowl of Ramen in a spicy broth with spring onion. There is also a little sachet of something – it’s all in Japanese – which I decide to open and add to my soup, despite not quite knowing what it is. At a glance I assume it’s shredded radish or something. By the time I realise it’s garlic it’s already too late. The soup really is very tasty.

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Funky Perrier.
Funky Perrier.

About two hours out of Frankfurt the cabin slowly comes to life again, window shades go up as the bleary-eyed passengers cast a surreptitious glance out the window to check the view outside: clouds as far as the eye can see. At least there are some pretty crystals forming on the outer layer of the window.

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The flight attendant arrives and asks me if I’ll be having the Western or Japanese second meal. I opt for the Western meal – apparently a creation by the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo – and it is yet another delectable and delightful meal, an array of unusual combinations of tastes.

The Second Service

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More water.
More water.
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First course

Juniper berry flavoured beef consommé with red wine and Kyoto carrot cream and a basil and garlic pesto.

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Main Course

Parmesan scented cereal cake with smoked salmon and braised endive.

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Dessert

Mandarin and pomegranate mousse.

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The meal is served with a selection from the breadbasket and a small dish of butter and black pepper savoured blood orange jam.

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To finish the meal I have another cup of coffee.

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Arrival

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After a flying time of 11 hours and 15 minutes our flight draws to a close as we land on the southernmost of the three parallel runways in Frankfurt. A part of the Lufthansa wide-body fleet has been parked up for the holidays. The sight reminds me a bit of when the Swissair fleet was grounded ahead of bankruptcy.

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The next aircraft to come in behind us is the Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo – we beat them by about 5 minutes!

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Immigration is a breeze and before long I’m already checking in to the Hilton at Frankfurt airport. I’ll probably sleep through the New Year, but that’s okay really. It’s what I usually end up doing anyway.

Conclusion

Well that was fun! My experience with ANA is a truly enjoyable and remarkable one. I found the cabin crew to be very courteous and attentive and very charming in their handling of the passengers. They had a good sense of humour and no request ever seemed to be too much for them. There was a young couple travelling with a little girl of maybe three years of age and it was truly heartwarming to watch the cabin crew do their utmost to keep the child entertained so her parents could get a rest.

The food on this flight was outstanding and certainly surpassed the meal I had in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Japan in terms of quality, taste and presentation.

I like very much what ANA has done with the Business Class cabin. The seat is comfortable and offers a high degree of privacy. My only complaint is that perhaps the seat is just a bit too narrow, but not to a degree where it prevents you from sleeping.

This has been a memorable experience and a fun trip. Tomorrow I will have my first trip in the new year, a short hop from Frankfurt back to Basel. Then three weeks later I’ll be off to Montreal again, this time however, on a Speedbird.

Japan Airlines, First Class – B 777-200: Sapporo Chitose to Tokyo Haneda

Introduction

I spend four blissful days in the Niseko-Hirafu region of Hokkaido. The area is well known for its excellent winter sports facilities. And indeed, the place really is lovely and I even manage to get some skiing done in truly excellent conditions. But alas, all good things must come to an end and so it’s time for me to start the long journey home. Today I will travel by train from Niseko to Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport and then from there with Japan Airlines to Haneda. The day after I will be flying on from Narita to Frankfurt with ANA and then eventually to Basel with Lufthansa on 1 January 2013 – my first flight in the new year!

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From: Sapporo New Chitose Airport
To: Tokyo Haneda
Airlines: Japan Airlines
Aircraft: B777-200
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2H, aisle

Getting to the Airport

I leave the Kimamaya Hotel in Niseko at 10:15. The journey by taxi to the railway station at Kutchan takes roughly 10 minutes to complete. From Kutchan I catch the 11:00 local train to Otaru. The journey takes one hour and 19 minutes to complete and unfortunately it’s standing room only all the way to Otaru.

Vending machine at Kutchan station. The interesting thing is that you can get hot and cold drinks from the same machine!
Vending machine at Kutchan station.
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From Otaru I catch the rapid train that runs via the city of Sapporo to the airport. I have a reserved seat, but only until Sapporo. Between there and the airport there were already no more reserved seats to be had by the time I purchased my ticket in Kutchan. Fortunately, a lot of passengers leave the train at Sapporo and I quickly find a seat in one of the non-reserved carriages. The journey from the city to the airport is 36 minutes by rapid train.

My train at the Otaru terminus.
My train at the Otaru terminus.
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The local train I arrived on from Kutchan.
The local train I arrived on from Kutchan.
My seat in the reserved coach.
My seat in the reserved coach.
Snow right down to the seashore.
Snow right down to the seashore.
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Check-in

I arrive at the airport at 13:46, just over three hours before my departure to Haneda. I have a booking in Business Class today. Check-in at the self-service machine won’t work because I didn’t book the ticket through Japan Airlines directly. So I head for one of the many counters marked ‘ticketing & check-in’.

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I don’t read Japanese at all, but from one of the roll-up posters near the row of counters it looks as though I may upgrade to domestic First Class for as little as 8000 Yen. I ask at the counter and indeed the young lady confirms that seats are available for an upgrade to First for the afore mentioned amount. Excellent!

After all that I’m feeling peckish, it’s been a while since breakfast, so I head upstairs to the third floor again and treat myself to another Onigiri and a bowl of excellent Udon noodles with radish and ginger.

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Here are a few shots I took from the observation deck by the food court.

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The Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge

With that taken care of, it’s time to go downstairs again to the departures level and head through security. Passengers in First Class have their own dedicated security lane, which they share with JAL’s top tier frequent flyers. From security there is a direct access to the Sakura Lounge. Essentially it’s a Business Class lounge. However there is a separate room that is dedicated to First Class and Premier members. But it’s rather small and so I decide to stay in the general Business Class section of the lounge.

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Access to the First Class box room...I mean lounge.
Access to the First Class box room…I mean lounge.

The lounge is moderately stocked, like most Japanese lounges, and includes another one of those soft drink dispenser machines.

Boarding

Boarding for my flight starts at 16:50, 10 minutes before departure and I’m thinking this will never work. But I underestimate Japanese efficiency and team spirit and indeed, within 10 minutes Japan Airlines manages to board an entire B777-200 and make sure everybody is seated with their belongings stowed away properly.

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A first glance of my bird tonight.
A first glance of my bird tonight.
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The Cabin

Perhaps just to explain: if I’m not mistaken, in a normal domestic configuration Japan Airlines has a 3 – 3 – 3 seating arrangement in Economy and a 2 – 4 – 2 arrangement in Business Class. Apart from the slightly wider seat and marginally better pitch, service in Business Class is not really much different to Economy. In domestic First Class however, seating is in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration with wide leather seats in cream coloured leather. The cabin looks well maintained. The interior design is perhaps more a question of personal gusto. Japan Airlines went with a style that I’m not too partial of personally. For some reason it reminds me a lot of the style you find in the States in many of the larger hotel chains.

Nonetheless, the seat is comfortable enough and certainly beats the Business Class alternative. On a side note, the controls of the seat work mechanically, rather than electrically.

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The Crew

The cabin crew up front consists of three females. One of them notices that I speak German and strikes up a conversation. Apparently she’s studying German at University to become a teacher. She says she’s spent two months in Tübingen in Germany and I am amazed by just how good her German is! After all, it’s not the easiest language to learn, with its complex system of declensions etc.

When I arrive at the seat, I find a menu has already been placed at my seat. As it turns out though, the menu is only available in Japanese. But the crew go out of their way to translate and explain to me what the individual items are. And even once the tray arrives, they repeatedly stop to ask if I’m okay with the Japanese food and if I’m enjoying my meal. I do actually!

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Amenities

There is also a little gift bag at my seat. Inside it is something wrapped in foil that goes by the name of ‘Bonbon Fromage’. There is also some sort of drink that turns into jelly when you shake it. Both sound absolutely revolting actually and I manage to resist the temptation of trying them out of curiosity.

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Other than that, there are also earphones and a pair of slippers and even a blanket in every seat – all this for a flight of eighty minutes!

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As we start to push back, one of the crew comes by distributing warm towels.

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The Meal

When the meal arrives I am really quite impressed by the variety and quality of the food. More importantly, it strikes me that the chopsticks Japan Airlines use up front are of much better quality than the ones I was given in First Class on Lufthansa, which looked as though they’d come straight from a cheap Chinese take away.

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These two dishes are warm. The left one is duck, to other is a Japanese specialty. It's made with wheat.
These two dishes are warm. The left one is duck, to other is a Japanese specialty. It’s made with wheat.
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Miso.
Miso.
Steamed rice.
Steamed rice.
Dessert. No idea what this was.
Dessert. No idea what this was.

After the meal my tray is removed immediately and I am asked if I would like a tea or coffee. I ask for a coffee, which is brought to me straight away, just as the aircraft starts shaking violently with the turbulence. I end up spilling half the coffee before even having had the chance to have a sip. One of the flight attendant sees this and immediately whisks away my cup – only to bring me a fresh one with a paper doily on the saucer in case of further turbulence.

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To end the meal there is another towel.

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Arrival

A short while later we start our descent into Haneda. By now it’s started raining heavily and the violent shaking increases. It’s so bad you can actually hear the wind outside over the sound of the engines. Fortunately as we start our final approach the wind dies down and we land in the middle of a severe downpour. Such weather is really quite unusual for this time of the year in the Tokyo area, and in the many years I’ve been coming here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

Once we’re at the gate I bid the crew good bye. The German student flight attendant thanks me for having been able to have a chat in German and wishes me a safe onward journey.

Getting into Town

From Haneda I catch the monorail to Hamamatsucho, the terminus station. From here I connect onto the Yamanote Line which takes me to Shinjuku where my hotel is. I like Shinjuku because it’s lively and the hotel is rather central. Shinjuku is also one of the stops at which the Narita Express stops, so I won’t have to wake up too early the next morning for my 12h00 departure to Frankfurt.

Carriage view of the monorail to Hamamatsucho.
Carriage view of the monorail to Hamamatsucho.
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Conclusion

The Japanese transport system is excellent and truly integrates all sorts of transport vehicle! I think JAL has a very good product with its domestic First Class that certainly sets them apart from the competition. I’m just not quite sure how sound it is as a business proposition – but time will tell.

Epilogue

Niseko was, as I mentioned already, a lot of fun and the skiing there is really excellent. It’s also interesting to note that the place has a very international feel to it but still manages to retain its obviously very Japanese roots. I think I’ll end here with a few images from Niseko.

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ANA – All Nippon Airways, Economy Class – B 737-800: Tokyo Narita to Sapporo Chitose

Introduction

I’ve just arrived in Japan on the Lufthansa A 380 service from Frankfurt. I’m the first passenger to reach immigration and find the place completely deserted. As a result, I’m through passport control in no time. I head one floor down, go through customs and quickly find myself landside again. I am connecting to a domestic ANA flight in Narita and the process could hardly be easier!

From: Tokyo Narita
To: Sapporo Chitose
Airline: ANA All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: B737-800
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 24A, window, left side
Date: 27. 12. 2012

Check-in

Check-in for ANA domestic flights at Narita is on the same level as international arrivals, just a short distance from where passengers exit customs. There is a dedicated counter for ANA’s top tier and Star Alliance Gold members and the young lady working the counter is, as usual, polite and efficient.

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The Lounge

A bit further on from the check-in counters is the ANA International Arrivals Lounge, which doubles as the domestic departure lounge. The lounge is functional more than anything else. It has wifi, shower facilities and a quiet zone with day rooms. Foodwise however, it’s a bit of a wasteland. There are close to no food options and all drinks, cold and warm, are only available from one of those instant machines.

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Boarding

The gates in the domestic part of the terminal have letters, rather than numbers. My flight is boarding from gate A, which appears to be one of the few domestic gates that gives you direct access to the aircraft.

Not my ride.
Not my ride.
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The boarding process is a neat and orderly manner. Our flight is delayed by only 15 minutes and the ground crew cannot stop apologizing for the inconvenience.

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The flight is nearly completely full, with only single empty seats here and there.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is Economy Class only. The aircraft looks very well kept and neat. More over, I am amazed by how clean the windows are. Do they actually clean these every day? Leg space is surprisingly good and the seat is comfortable enough for the 85 minutes hop to Hokkaido.

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The Crew

The cabin crew is made up of four female attendants. It’s fascinating to see how much more seriously this crew take their jobs compared to the flight attendants I’m used to in Europe. First of all, when they pass through the cabin doing the safety check, these ladies even make sure that every overhead locker is properly closed, checking each one individually. Later on during the flight it is interesting to see that the crew remain in the cabin even once the drinks service is over, chatting to passengers or playing with the many children on board today’s flight.

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Departure is from the same runway on which I landed a few hours previously with the A 380. On our way to the runway I even spot my first ever ‘live’ B 787 and I am quite surprised by how small the bird is in real life.

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Take-off is the complete opposite of what the A 380 treated me to the day before. Our little B 737 demonstrates some impressive acceleration as we go thundering down the runway.

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Once we’re airborne we continue on more or less the same heading for about 15 minutes. Our routing and the clear sky provide some excellent views of mount Fuji, visible right behind our left aileron.

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The Meal

Strictly speaking, there is none. Catering on this flight consists of just a drink, with a small selection of tea, coffee and a few soft drinks. I have a cup of apple juice and then, for the rest of the flight I just sit back and watch the beautiful winter scenery down below.

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Arrival

Our arrival route into Chitose airport is a circuitous one, with many left and right turns before we are finally lined up with the runway.

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As we taxi off the active runway I am surprised to find that the taxiways have only been partially cleared of snow and in fact we are rolling over large patches of ice. There is snow everywhere, and heaps of the stuff!

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My flight arrives at 12h15. I still have about two hours to wait before my transfer picks me up to take me to the Niseko Ski Resort. Jetlag always makes me hungry, so I head up to the third floor where there is a large food court and treat myself to a large bowl of nice, warm and chewy Udon noodles and an Onigiri.

By the time I’m in the car on my way to Niseko I’m exhausted. The journey from the airport to Niseko is slightly more than two hours. I nod off to sleep as we leave the terminal and only wake up as we come to a halt outside my hotel, the Kimamaya.

Conclusion

ANA gave a solid performance on this flight today. Given the short duration of the flight, there was hardly any opportunity for the airline to excel really. Even so, the professionalism displayed by the crew leaves you with the feeling of a great experience and having been well taken care of. I like!

Lufthansa, First Class – A 380: Basel via Frankfurt to Tokyo Narita

Introduction

It’s Boxing Day. Another six days left before 2012 draws to an end and I’m down to my last five flights of the year, which will bring be to 112 flights by the time I arrive back in Frankfurt on 31 December 2012.

I’m travelling from Basel via Frankfurt to Narita and then on to Sapporo with Lufthansa and ANA. From Sapporo I will return via JAL to Haneda and then from Narita to Frankfurt on ANA.

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From: Basel
To: Frankfurt
Airline: Lufthansa
Aircraft: Canadair CRJ-700
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 2D, window, right side

The Skyview Lounge

The beginning of this report finds yours truly sitting – yet again – in the Swissport Skyview contractor lounge at Basel airport. There aren’t many people about – the usual state of affairs here. In fact, the place is so quiet that the buffet on the lower level has been closed down over the Christmas period and only the top floor of the lounge is open for customers.

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Since the lounge was taken over, the food options have improved considerably and now also include a small selection of warm items throughout the day.

My breakfast: beans, scrambled egg and a veal sausage.
My breakfast: beans, scrambled egg and a veal sausage.

Boarding

Boarding for my flight starts on time from gate 35. I am the last passenger to board the flight. Much to my surprise the flight is showing quite a healthy load, despite the holiday. There are two and a half rows of Business Class (row 1 only has the A and C seats as the toilet is located across the aisle where 1D and F would be), with a total of five passengers in the premium cabin this morning.

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The Crew

The crew consists of two German females. One in her late twenties I would say and not overly friendly, and the other, the purserette I believe, in her forties and very amicable and attentive. As soon as I reach my seat on 2F she approaches me and offers to hang my jacket.

The Cabin

The cabin on this aircraft has been recently refurbished. Those horrible light grey seats have made way for a much darker grey and I think they must have redone the upholstering as well while they were at it. The bulkhead has that funky chrome-like appearance that – I must say – I find rather cool.

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Departure is to the south towards the city of Basel. As soon as we get airborne we bank right to execute a 270 degree turn, which brings us back over the airfield before crossing the Rhine into Germany.

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The new Jet Aviation facility at Basel airport.
The new Jet Aviation facility at Basel airport.
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Turning back towards the airport.
Turning back towards the airport.
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The Meal

The meal served on this flight is something in between breakfast and lunch. There is a bowl with some sort of yoghurt and fruit, a small dish with cheese, ham and a few slices of bell pepper and a bun. To drink I have a cup of coffee and a glass of mineral water. The meal is perfectly adequate for a 10h40 departure. My only grippe is that the presentation of the meal is somewhat unappealing, particularly the coffee served in a cardboard cup, surely a real mug or a cup won’t break the bank!

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Instead of the usual chocolate at the end of the flight, today we get a special box with season’s greetings and two pralinés in it.

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Arrival

Our flight time is only 40 minutes and before long we’re descending through the murk towards Frankfurt. As we break through the clouds it’s snowing and raining simultaneously. What horrible weather!

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The final approach for FRA.
The final approach for FRA.
Waiting to cross the parallel runway.
Waiting to cross the parallel runway.
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We pull onto our stand and I am pleasantly surprised to find a black Porsche Cayenne expecting me. Lufthansa’s First Class pick up service is somewhat unpredictable in Frankfurt and does not always work. I’m guessing they’re not so busy today due to the Christmas holiday.

Transfer in Frankfurt

Transferring in Frankfurt is never fun and today’s experience is certainly not going down in history as one of Lufthansa’s finest moments. The driver drops me off at the Terminal B arrivals. From there I follow the signs to the Z concourse, which is the non-Schengen area of the newly opened A + dock – a trek of some 15 minutes. I go through immigration and even manage to find the Business Class and Senator lounges. I inquire at the desk about the whereabouts of the First Class lounge and the friendly lady there informs me that the First Class lounge is one floor down in the Schengen area. I will have to go through immigration again. I’m not really sure what the point of all this is, after all, as far as I know, Lufthansa does not offer First Class on any of its European routes. So why put the First Class lounge in that sector?

By this time I’ve had enough and I have no desire to spend the rest of my time in Frankfurt wandering about trying to find this new lounge. So instead I head for arrivals in Terminal A, from where it is just a short walk to the First Class Terminal.

From: Frankfurt
To: Tokyo Narita
Airline: Lufthansa
Aircraft: A 380-800
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2A, window, left side

The Lufthansa First Class Terminal

As soon as I arrive at the First Class Terminal I am assigned my own personal assistant and guided through security. My boots trigger the scanner’s alarm. It’s moments like this that make you understand the benefits of flying First Class: without any hassle or hurry the guy doing the screening kindly asks me to step aside and take a seat on a plump leather sofa. There I remove my boots and wait while they are rescanned.

The process is a swift and pleasant one. Even the security staff are friendly, all smiles and even wish me a happy holiday and a safe journey. My assistant takes my passport and informs me that he will come to pick me up when it’s time for boarding.

Lufthansa has obviously done its homework with the First Class terminal in that it really makes a very pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the main terminal complex, which is not very user friendly for the customer. It’s just a pity it’s so complicated to get to the First Class terminal if you’re transiting through Frankfurt – which is a bit unfortunate given that transfer passengers are likely to spend more time at the airport than those whose journey starts in Frankfurt.

The terminal is not really very busy when I arrive but it looks quite untidy – there are empty glasses and used plates standing around. But never underestimate German efficiency: shortly after I find a place to settle down, the cleaning crew launch an efficient and merciless offensive and have the place tidied up in no time.

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Boarding

At around 13h00 my assistant comes to pick me up. There are two other gentlemen in the lift with me as we head one floor down to immigration. From there we head outside where some enormous looking thing with a Mercedes star on it is waiting to take us to our aircraft.

It just a short ride before eventually we pull up at the aircraft’s stand, the driver opens the door for me and I step outside and I come face to face with the beast carrying me to Japan today. The A380 is of course always a sight to behold, but it is even more impressive when you’re actually standing in front of it at ground level.

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From the car we are ushered into a lift and taken up to the third floor, from where we have direct access to the upper level of the aircraft. Our driver leads the way to the aircraft’s door, where the crew is already expecting us. She introduces every passenger to the crew by name and we are then individually escorted to our seats. There is a fourth passenger who is already on board when we arrive. This means that the load in First Class on this flight will be 50%, with all the window seats occupied.

The Cabin

The cabin on this aircraft is really beautifully appointed and the beige and brown colours are worlds apart from older First Class cabin with all that blue and grey. The designers of the cabin have paid a lot of attention to detail. The walls of the cabin for example are covered in some material that has the look and feel of soft suede leather.

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The first thing that strikes me is how well conceived the cabin is: it is as attractive as it is functional: there are no overhead bins, which gives the cabin a very airy and light feel. Instead of the bins every passenger has his own personal full size locker. Each locker contains hangars and a suit cover. Additional storage space can be found under the ottoman.

The seat itself is comfortable and offers a lot of space and privacy: there are screens in the shell of the seat that can be raised automatically.

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This picture was taken after take-off. The screen was raised by the crew to provide more privacy. Later on, the crew turned this seat into my bed, so I could lie down after the meal and wouldn't have to wait for them to make up the bed. The shell of the seat has further privacy screens that can be raised automatically.
This picture was taken after take-off. The screen was raised by the crew to provide more privacy. Later on, the crew turned this seat into my bed, so I could lie down after the meal and wouldn’t have to wait for them to make up the bed. The shell of the seat has further privacy screens that can be raised automatically.
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Another nice touch is the red rose at every seat – even at those unoccupied during the flight – for which there is a purpose built holder. A small lamp right above the rose gives quite a dramatic effect when the cabin lights are dimmed.

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The windows have these really funky automatic blinds that you could play with for hours – I know, little things please little minds…

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And finally, the toilets: there are two up front on each side of the stairs, and here too I am quite impressed by the functionality and clean design. Rarely have I come across a First Class toilet on a plane that provides such ample space and is evidently also intended as a changing room. On most carriers you more or less have to be a contortionist to be able to change your clothes!

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The toilet is well stocked with shaving kits, combs and toothbrushes and toothpaste, all of which are neatly stowed in their respective drawers.

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The Crew

There are two young women working the First Class cabin today. They have the usual stereotypical German efficiency about them and yet they are both very charming in their manner and endearing in their handling of the passengers. As they pass through the cabin on different errands they make a point of stopping regularly to have a chat about this, that and the other, which makes for a very personalised service.

Amenities

Once I am settled in my seat I am handed the amenity kit, slippers and pyjama. The new pyjama is another vast improvement over the previous one in that it is made of thinner material and thus doesn’t make you seat so much while you sleep.

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I am also brought a glass of sparkling water and some warm nuts. Then the purser comes by to introduce himself personally and hands out the menus.

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As we depart, we get a good view of a substantial part of the Lufthansa fleet that has been parked up for the holidays, including eight MD-11s stored behind each other.

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The Meal

Immediately after take-off, one the seatbelt sign goes off I am handed a scented hot towel.

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To drink I order an ‘Apfelschorle’: apple juice with sparkilng water.

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Amuse Bouche

We begin with an Amuse Bouche of warm smoked salmon with Dijon mustard and cucumber. It takes a while for it to arrive and the purser explains that for some reason or other the food was still frozen solid when catering delivered it to the aircraft. Subsequently it had to be warmed in the oven first (…and tasted accordingly). To be honest I think I wouldn’t even have bothered.

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Next the table is set up for the meal: despite the fact that I have chosen the Japanese menu, my table is decked out with a small bowl of First Class embossed butter, a side plate and salt and pepper shakers. There are also some rather cheap looking chopsticks.

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The First Course

Contrary to what it says on the menu, the first course is not the caviar service but a selection of cold Japanese dishes.

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Soba noodles with soy sauce and Wasabi.
Soba noodles with soy sauce and Wasabi.
A salad of mussels, greens and shitake mushrooms.
A salad of mussels, greens and shitake mushrooms.
Smoked salmon with an egg vinaigrette and asparagus.
Smoked salmon with an egg vinaigrette and asparagus.
Miso soup.
Miso soup.
A selection of sushi.
A selection of sushi.
Green tea to drink.
Green tea to drink.

The Caviar Service

After that comes the caviar service. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I really do think Lufthansa would be doing itself a favour to get rid of the caviar as long as they are unwilling or unable to provide a larger portion and all trimmings. As it is, the small plate looks quite forlorn on the large table.

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The Main Course

After that all the dishes are cleared away and I am brought the main course: the beef in a Japanese sauce with steamed vegetables, which comes with miso soup, mixed pickles and Gohan – Japanese sticky rice.

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More miso.
More miso.
Japanese pickles.
Japanese pickles.
Gohan package.
Gohan package.
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The Cheese

To end the meal my intention had been to just have a bit of cheese. But when the trolley appears, the flight attendant talks me into also trying the sweet chocolate and raspberry dessert. And indeed, it really is very tasty and very rich – to the extent that I am unable to finish it.

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Dessert

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And then, finally, comes the coffee, which is served with two small pralinés and a Father Christmas.

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After the meal the crew distribute water bottles and Christmas cookies. And then the lights go out.

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My bed with the privacy screens raised.
My bed with the privacy screens raised.

The Second Service

I manage a good five hours of sleep, although I’m rather unsettled – I suspect I’m suffering with indigestion.

About 80 minutes out of Tokyo the lights go on again somewhat abruptly – there’s no mood lighting on Lufthansa – and the blinds on the left side of the aircraft are raised automatically to reveal a beautiful sunrise.

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The crew bring me another refreshing warm scented towel and a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

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For breakfast there is a warm and a cold option, although the warm option on offer is not the one that is on the menu. Apparently, as one of the flight attendants explains, Lufthansa is having problems with one of its kitchenware suppliers. But it does not matter as I opt for the cold breakfast anyway.

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Selection from the breadbasket.
Selection from the breadbasket.
Fruit salad.
Fruit salad.
Yoghurt.
Yoghurt.
Birchermüsli with toasted Pumpernickel.
Birchermüsli with toasted Pumpernickel.
Cold cuts and cheese.
Cold cuts and cheese.
My salvation.
My salvation.

During breakfast there are no refills for the orange juice and it is a bit unusual that no preserves are offered with the breadbasket. I have to ask the crew, who bring me a selection of jams and marmalade straight away.

Arrival

Once the meal is over we’re already nearing Tokyo. The mighty A380 gently dips its nose and we start our descent. The cabin crew pass through the cabin distributing landing cards for Japan and take the opportunity to say goodbye to every passenger individually.

Outside it’s one of those typical lovely winter days you get around this time of the year in the Tokyo area. It’s only minus 6 degrees Celsius and the sky is cloudless and clear.

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Always good to check you landed at the right airport.
Always good to check you landed at the right airport.
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We arrive at the terminal and squeeze into what looks like an amazingly tight stand for an aircraft the size of the A380, with an ANA B767 on one side and a Singapore Airlines B777 on the other. I bid the crew farewell and thank them for their service. And with that I disembark. It’s nice to be back!

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The only real draw back with flying the A380 to Tokyo – allow me to do some nit-picking – is that the only stands equipped with three airbridges are located at the very end of the concourse. As a result it’s quite a trek from the aircraft to immigration.

Next stop: Sapporo with ANA.

Conclusion

The Lufthansa First Class experience is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the hardware on the A380 is simply amazing. I still think the A380 is undoubtedly one of the ugliest aircraft ever built but even so I cannot help but be impressed by the level of comfort its size allows for the passenger and what Lufthansa has managed to do with the available cabin space.

On the negative side, the transfer in Frankfurt is a messy and a tedious affair. From the Porsche Cayenne pick up service, which sometimes is there to meet you and sometimes not, to the unsatisfactory lounge situation for transfer passengers.

The service on the flight was good in that it was very personable and friendly. The crew took good care of me. Even so, I also think their service lacks polish and attention to detail in many areas. It’s little things: because I ordered the Japanese meal, I was given chopsticks but no cutlery, which then also meant that I did not receive a napkin – because that is wrapped around the cutlery. Of course when I asked for a napkin the crew were apologetic and promptly brought me a nicely folded one. But should I really have to ask? The absence of preserves during the breakfast service I have already mentioned. It’s the same thing really: when asked the crew were more than willing to oblige, but when travelling in First Class I think these are basics that one should not have to ask for.

The meal was okay but certainly not outstanding. First of all, the quality of the food was rather average and tasted a bit bland. More importantly, the sequence in which the meal was served was unorganised and chaotic. It would have made more sense for example, to serve the caviar first, which, incidentally, is also how it had been intended according to the menu.