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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Date: 20. January 2013
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-300
Cabin: Business Class
AT THE AIRPORT
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.
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.
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 & SEAT
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.
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.
In due course I am offered a drink from a tray – I choose the orange juice – a newspaper and the menu.
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.
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.
There are two choices for the first course today:
- A carpaccio of Mostbröckli beef and Appenzeller cheese with cabbage and apple salad and hazelnut vinaigrette
- A tartar of Balik salmon with wasabi cream and balsamic baby onions
I take the tartar, which is okay, except that the layer of wasabi cream is simply too thick and doesn’t really have a nice texture in the mouth.
The tray arrives with a small salad on the side with walnuts and a cherry tomato.
With the first course there is a breadbasket with either butter or olive oil.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
And with that, my odyssey comes to an end. With a delay of twenty hours I’ve finally made it to Montreal.
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.