Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Airbus A 330-300: Chicago to Zürich

Folie1
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Getting to the Airport

Transport: train, train, bus, train, shuttle train
Departs from: Grand station – red line
Frequency:
Journey time: one hour and fifty minutes
Fare: USD3

Following the relatively easy journey from O’Hare to the city a couple of days earlier, I figure I might as well take public transport again to get back to the airport. Or perhaps better not…

I walk down the step into the underground station on Grand to find an enormous and growing queue of passengers trying to purchase tickets. Apparently there is some technical glitch. The machines will not accept cards and if you pay in cash, they will not give change. Eventually, fifteen minutes later, I am finally in possession of a train ticket to get me to the airport.

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I take the red line for one stop to Lake, where I transfer to the blue line. The train duly arrives. As the doors shut behind me, an announcement is made that trains will only be running as far as Damen today due to construction on the line. At Damen I will have to change to a relief shuttle bus service which has been put in place. But this will only run three stops to Logan Square, from where I have to change back to the train again. Eventually, three trains and one bus later I arrive at the airport and figure I have finally had it with the public transport. Well, not quite. To reach Terminal 5, you have to pass through Terminal 2. From there follow the signs to the shuttle train station which links Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5. Terminal 5 is the second stop after Terminal 3.

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Check-in

Location: Departures concourse Terminal 5
Facilities: web check-in, mobile check-in, dedicated SWISS check-in counters at the airport – there is a separate queue for First Class and Hon passengers.

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There are four queues for security and there is a dedicated queue for First Class passengers. You still have to queue for security, but at least the line is manageable and the whole process take a little less than ten minutes.

The SWISS First Class Lounge

Location: near gate M10
Type of Lounge:
Swiss International Air Lines First Class lounge
Facilities:
cold snacks, hot and cold drinks; the toilets are in the Business Class section
Internet:
password available at reception

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Chicago is one of only two outstations where SWISS still operates its own lounge. The other one is in New York’s JFK airport. As you enter, the Business Class section is to the right, while the First Class section is on the left. In all honesty I do not think there really is anything much that is First Class about this lounge. First of all, it is not much bigger than my bedroom at home. There are eight single sofas, and three small dining tables for two persons. As such, if the flight is full in First Class and there are a few Hons around too, the place becomes crowded very quickly.

Because of the very limited space, there is absolutely no privacy at all. This also means that unless you have really stupendous earphones with you, you are going to have to listen to the waffling and bravado of some people who have no qualms about blowing their own trumpet at full volume on the phone. I mean goodness, what is wrong with these people? Makes you wonder how short the shortcomings are they are trying to compensate…

The food options are very limited as well. In fact thee are no warm dishes and from what I can tell, all you can have are snacks – small items of sushi for example.

My suggestion if you are a STAR Gold member is to go to the SAS lounge located around about gate M14/M15. It is bigger, it is less crowded, quite frankly I think it is nicer, and Lufthansa’s B747-8 is parked right outside the window, so close you feel you could give her a tender pat on the nose.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: separate queue for Business Class and First Class passengers

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Since I arrived at the airport the weather has been deteriorating quickly. Eventually it starts raining cats and dogs, there is thunder and lightning and all movements on the ramp are temporarily halted. Eventually we board with a delay of about thirty minutes.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: There are eight seats. The First Class seat Swiss has installed on its A330-300 fleet is the result of a series of compromises to get more passengers into the aircraft over all. First of all, to gain some space, there is no longer a passage between the two middle row seats on the first row and the bulkhead. As a result, sitting on the right side can be a bit inconvenient because you have to pass through the galley to get to the only toilet in the First Class cabin, which is on the left side. Furthermore, avoid sitting on one of the middle seats on row one. You would be amazed at the frequency with which the cabin crew bang into the middle seats with the trolley as they emerge from behind the curtain, coming from the galley. Other than that, the pneumatic cushion of the seat is quite irritating because it just goes off randomly. The vibration of the pump or motor is quite annoying; it is enough to wake you up!

But all the shortcomings aside, the seat looks very nice and SWISS has taken good care of the cabin.

Pitch: 83 inches
Length as a bed: 83 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

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The Crew

I am the first passenger to enter the First Class cabin. Before I even have a chance to sit down, the two flight attendants working the First Class cabin have already come to welcome me aboard and ask me if I would like a paper and what I would like to drink.

Both of them are truly excellent at their job. Nothing seems too much of an effort for them. They proactively approach passengers to make them more comfortable, but at the same time manage to give them a lot of private space. And all this with a genuinely friendly smile!

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Amuse bouche

Orange juice – served with an amuse bouche of smoked breast of duck with watercress, apricot chutney and flutes from Sprüngli

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Other than that, the seat has already been set up for me when I arrive. Earphones, slippers and a cushion have been placed at the seat. Shortly after I also receive my pyjamas, the vanity kit and the menu.

While we wait for the last suitcases to be loaded I also receive a hot scented towel to freshen up.

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The Meal

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The First Course

Balik salmon with crème fraîche and fresh lemon, herb marinated prawns with a lemon cream sauce (I did not try this one), selection of Swiss cold meats (I did not try any) & goat cheese and golden beet timbale with a lemon vinaigrette.

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The Soup

Cream of sweet corn soup with polenta croutons.

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The Salad

Seasonal salad with radish and mixed teardrop tomatoes.

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The Main Course

For the main dish there are five options to choose from, including one vegetarian dish and one option that is not on the menu: Bratwurst sausage with Rösti, onion sauce, mustard and vegetables.

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The Cheese

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Dessert

Raspberry tart with crème pâtissière or chocolate ice cream with berries on a mango coulis – I try the latter and it is very good.

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After such an epic meal I am totally stuffed and need to have a digestive nap. I go to the lavatory to change into my pyjamas and by the time I return, one of the cabin crew has already turned my seat into a bed, drawn the privacy screen and lit the bedside lamp. Good night!

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The Second Service

I manage a good three hours of sleep. We are two hours out of Zürich. I head for the lavatory to change back into my clothes and when I return to my seat, the bed clothes have been removed and a coffee and an orange juice are already waiting for me!

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With a little less than an hour before we arrive in Zürich, the second service sets in. The cabin crew have noticed that I am taking pictures of all the food and I get the distinct impression they want to make sure I get enough pictures for my trip report. The food just will not stop coming. Meanwhile, the crew also make sure I remain properly hydrated and replenish my glass of orange juice and the coffee regularly.

  1. Birchermüsli with berries
  2. Fresh fruit
  3. Breadbasket with a selection of Hero jam
  4. Cheese omelette
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Once I have finished, one of the cabin crew comes to check if everything is okay. I tell her the meal was very tasty, to which she replies that there are also three minute eggs available, just in case I want one of those as well…, which if of course very nice of her but I really do not think I could eat anything else.

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The meal is perfectly timed and just as my table is cleared away our A 330 gently dips its nose and we begin our descent into Zürich.

Arrival

We enter into Swiss airspace just east of Basel, my hometown. As it is still early morning, we are approaching the airport from the south for an arrival on runway 34. We are running rather late, and while this may be slightly bothersome for most of the connecting passenger, it is rather convenient for those passengers ending their journey in Zürich because the mad rush is already over by the time we land.

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The SWISS Arrivals Lounge

Location: Terminal 2 arrivals, turn left as you exit customs and you will find glass sliding doors, press the button to enter and then take the lift one floor up.
Facilities: day rooms, showers, toilets, workstations, wifi, hot and cold dishes as well as beverages

I still have some time before my train leaves to Basel, so I figure I might as well give the SWISS arrivals lounge a try. The lounge is much nicer than I expected. It also happens to be empty this morning.

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Conclusion

After seventeen days of travelling I am finally back home. Over the entire journey I have picked up a delay of seventy minutes by the time I get back home, which really is not bad at all, considering the distance and the number of flights I took on this trip.

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Miss Moneypenny

www.theartofshaving.com

I can highly recommend a shop in Chicago which is called The Art of Shaving. They sell just about everything from shaving creams and aftershave lotions to shaving brushes and those old school shaving blades you can really quite easily slit your throat with if you do not watch it and do not quite know what you are doing.

I suspect sales for this kind of razor must have skyrocketed following the release of the last James Bond film. Who could possibly forget that scene from Skyfall in which Moneypenny helps Bond shave while the audience looks on – eyes bulging and glued to the screen – wondering if perhaps she might be one of the bad guys about to make an attempt on James’ life. But all goes well, and because Bond is a gentleman who kisses but never tells, there is a cut and the scene changes before we become witness of just how well the shave went for him…

But I digress. The staff at The Art of Shaving are really nice and if you are interested, you can go there and get a shave. Their barber will also teach you how to use one of those long razors without accidentally, brutally bleeding to death.

Going Topless and Anthropology

I never would have anticipated that it would be so humid in Chicago. Fortunately the sun is still hiding behind the clouds as I step outside just after nine. From the Langham I head south to the Millennium Park to have a look at that infamous Bean. And I must say, it really is rather cool how clearly the surroundings are reflected in the building. Eventually I think I spend about half an hour cavorting in front of the thing and taking a whole series of embarrassing selfies that I must really never show to a living soul…

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From The Bean I head east until I hit the lake. Perfect weather for a stroll along the shore. This is an excellent spot to do some serious people watching. Especially the sporty ones. To be sure, it is not my intention to belittle their achievements and performance. But it is just so funny to observe the social interaction between the sexes – even if it is all nonverbal and very subtle. Eyes swiftly grazing, assessing and evaluating.

There is a dress code. This season these funny stocking type things seem to be à la mode with the ladies. I am not sure what they are supposed to be good for – the stockings – except that they cover the lower part of the leg and probably make you sweat like something nasty.

For the gents a run along the shore is a good enough excuse to get their kit off and go topless. Some of them indeed look rather amazing as they push past you in vigorous, powerful strokes. Others alas, had better kept their t-shirts on. But it takes all sorts, they say…

Eventually, my foray into the exciting and highly entertaining domain of anthropology and social behaviour wears me out and I decide it is time for some heavy duty shopping to revive the spirits.

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Virgin America, Business Class – A 320: Los Angeles to Chicago

Folie1

Introduction

The Hilton LAX Airport is a noisy hotel. Apart from the aircraft spooling up for departure right outside your window, there is also the noise from inside the hotel. You hear everything, every word spoken in the corridor outside. But it is only for the one night, fortunately.

Today I continue my journey back towards my time zone. On my way there, I will be stopping in Chicago.

Getting to theAirport

Transport: Complimentary shuttle bus.
Departs from: Right outside the hotel lobby.
Frequency: Every 15 to 20 minutes depending on traffic.
Journey time: About 5 minutes to terminal 3.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 3, departures level 2.
Facilities: Curb side check-in, check-in counters, web check-in.

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It is only a very short distance from where the shuttle drops me off to the First Class check-in counters. Everything here is branded in typically Virgin style, with dark colours and magenta light everywhere.

From check-in I head one floor up to security and the gate area. The place is quite busy this morning, but there are no queues worth mentioning and passengers are rapidly processed.

The Virgin Loft Lounge

Location: In the atrium, on the third floor above Burger King.
Type of Lounge:
Virgin America Loft lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets in the lounge, bar, very few snack options and a toaster.
Internet:
Available, login and password at reception.

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The lounge is okay, but nothing else. It is plain and also slightly grubby. There are crumbs all over the place, no matter what seat you choose.

Boarding

One thing I like about flying in the US is that First/Business Class passengers are boarded first. Of course, this means you have to sit there and watch the entire aircraft file past you. But at least you find space for your hand luggage, which is no mean feat, judging by the copious amounts of luggage that are being brought into the cabin.

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Eventually we depart at 11:54. Apparently the reason for the delay is the bad weather in Chicago.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Facilities: Reading lamp, no power outlet.
Audio and Video: Available on demand, complimentary earphones in First Class or for purchase (USD3.-) in Economy.

The other nice thing about flying in the US, is that even the narrowbodies still have a proper, dedicated Business Class seat and cabin. The seats are rather wide and comfortable. The colours in the cabin are unusual and take some getting used to. As I enter the aircraft, all the shades are down to keep out the heat and, presumably, to maximise the effect of the mood lighting. But the black armrests, black bulkhead and magenta coloured glass also make the cabin look very dark and gloomy.

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The Crew

There are three cabin crew working the flight. The young lady up front is doing an excellent job. She is very chatty and puts passengers at ease. She is also very conscientious about her job. One guy sitting in Economy plonks his large suitcase in one of the overhead lockers in the First Class cabin. But the young lady is not having any of this. She removes the suitcase and takes it back into Economy Class.

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The Meal

Hot towel before the meal: Available, but not scented; the quality of the towels is good and they are quite thick.
Choice:
After take-off menus are distributed. Alas, they are collected once I place my order and I cannot remember what the other dishes were.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch, hot meal.

  1. Salad of rocket with cherry tomatoes, melon and feta cheese, with olive oil
  2. Rigatoni with a tomato salsa, beans and cheese
  3. Bread and butter
  4. Mini chocolate tart with fresh fruit
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The service on Virgin America reminds me a lot of my trip to Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines last year. First of all, as previously mentioned, the crew on this flight are really nice. Furthermore, you actually receive a meal and not just a packet of crisps.

The meal tray is set up by the flight attendant, it has not been prepared in advance by catering. The quality of the food is good, although the hot meal might have been heated a little more. Again, our flight attendant shows a lot of attention to detail and warms the plates in the oven before she starts preparing the food. During the flight, the crew pass through the cabin with a basket of snacks and other goodies.

I spend the rest of the flight reading and gazing out the window upon the sheer vastness of America. It really is quite an amazing place. Our flying time is just short of four hours, at the end of which we are not even remotely approaching the east coast. In contrast, from where I live in Switzerland I can cross the boarder into France or into Germany within a matter of twenty minutes and I find that quite normal.

Arrival

Eventually we land with a delay of a bit more than one hour. Our approach brings us in over the lake, with the skyscrapers of Chicago peering out of the clouds to our left. The taxi to the gate takes quite a long time, and strangely enough, it does not say anywhere which terminal we are arriving at.

Getting into Town

Transport: CAT – suburban train.
Departs from: Central station at O’Hare Airport.
Frequency: Regular trains, the frequency varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 80 minutes.
Fare: USD5.-

I figure if I take a taxi, I’ll probably end up getting stuck in the middle of the rush hour traffic. So instead, I head down into the basement and follow the sign for the CAT. To get to my hotel I have to change once at Lake, and then from there it is just one stop.

And now it slowly dawns on me that I am finally on my last leg…

Air France, Business Class – B 777-200: Papeete to Los Angeles

Folie1

Oh very well then, I think I will leave now…

My alarm goes off at 05:15. I step into the bathroom to take a shower and immediately shrink back at my own reflection. I am still a bit bleary eyed. And I am starting to look a bit like Captain Caveman, given that my last shave was the day I left Switzerland on 07 August.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: taxi
Departs from: Intercontinental Beachcomber Hotel
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: ca. CHF15

I leave the hotel just after six o’clock in the morning. Tahiti is only just waking up; it is still quiet. Even so, there is a surprising amount of traffic on the road. I assume this must be the beginning of the commuter rush hour, even though the whole concept of such a thing seems somewhat alien, if not irreconcilable to such a heavenly place.

Check-in

Location: there is a separate check-in area for all international flights, of which there are three leaving at more or less the same time
Facilities: dedicated Air France check-in counters, separate counters for SKY PRIORITY

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On the face of it, it looks like chaos. There are people everywhere. There are three widebodies leaving at more or less the same time: the Air France service to Los Angeles and then Paris, the Air Tahiti Nui service doing the same and another Air Tahiti Nui flight bound for Auckland. The check-in counters are located right next to the exit for international arrivals. The two Paris flights have only just come in and by the looks of it, welcoming friends and family home is a big thing in Tahiti.

People everywhere. In one corner I can hear music – is somebody playing a ukulele somewhere? In the middle of the terminal the crowd has formed a circle. In the middle of it stands a traveller who has just arrived. Three Polynesian men are doing some sort of dance in front of him that I can only assume is intended to welcome the traveller home. It looks and sounds like the Haka dance the All Blacks do at the beginning of a game. But this seems friendlier, even if these guys are just as beefy and tough looking as the All Blacks…

But in spite of it all, if it were not for all the people, the process is very well organised. To access the check-in counters you have to pass through a security check, where the name in your passport is matched against the passenger list.

Immigration is a bit of a surprise. There are four queues – one for each one of the three flights and a fourth queue for crew. Immediately behind immigration is security and it really is quite amazing just how swift the process is.

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The transit area looks as though it was recently refurbished. Either that or the facility is incredibly well kept.

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The Lounge

Location: first floor, the stairs and lift are located right between gates 50 and 40
Type of Lounge:
contractor lounge
Facilities:
washrooms, computer work stations, snacks, hot and cold drinks – I think it should also be mentioned that there is even a Lavazza coffee machine that uses those capsules which are so much better than that Nespresso rubbish…
Internet:
available for free, passwords are issued at reception

The lounge’s most redeeming feature – even better than the Lavazza machine if you ask me – is the view it offers of what is going on outside, with three widebodies in full view. Just brilliant.

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Boarding

The boarding sequence is, in this order: UMs, passengers needing assistance, families with small children, SKY PRIORITY passengers, general scrum

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This is the part I have been looking forward to most: walking across the apron to board the aircraft and then climbing the stairs. And it is not just any aircraft. My chariot today is the mighty Triple Seven. Say what you will, but I think she is hot!

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 3 + 2 – This is an old school kind of seat. Having said that, I think I prefer it to the herringbone I experienced on Air New Zealand, for the simple reason that it offers more privacy and there is a lot more storage space. Moreover, the storage space is easily accessible and conveniently located. But there are drawbacks of course. First of all, the cursed middle seat, which really should not be an option for a Business Class product. And secondly, having to climb over the person on the aisle if you happen to be seated by the window
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp; a blanket, pillow, hangar, slippers, socks and earphones have already been placed in the seats when the passengers start boarding the aircraft
Audio and Video: available on demand, the selection of films is somewhat limited though and the quality of the picture is no good at all

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The Crew

The cabin crew on this flight is a mix of Tahiti based crew and Paris based crew. The maître de is a woman of Polynesian descent. The service provided by all the crew is very personable and friendly. They all take their time to interact with the passengers in a very charming and outgoing manner.

After take-off the ladies change into a typically Polynesian dress and wear a Tiaré in their hair. It is a nice touch I think.

Once we are airborne, the crew distribute the menus and the vanity kits.

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Amenities

Brand: no name
Content: shoe spoon, a large tube of Colgate toothpaste, toothbrush, eye shades, earplugs, Clarins cosmetics, lip balm

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: orange juice, still water or champagne
Hot towel before the meal: available but not scented
Pre-meal drink:
full bar service, served with an amuse bouche and a crispy snack
Choice:
four choices for the main dish, including one vegetarian option
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
lunch, hot meal
Menu:

  1. A mini vol-au-vent with salmon roe, shrimp and cream cheese served as an amuse bouche
  2. Crispy crèpes filled with cream cheese and walnuts to go with the aperitif
  3. Seasonal salad with a choice of balsamic dressing, French dressing or basil infused olive oil
  4. For the first course a terrine of cauliflower and carrot, a chunky piece of grilled Mahi Mahi with lime juice, grilled lamb with tossed vegetables
  5. Polenta and vegetable cake served with a bell pepper coulis
  6. A variety of bread from the breadbasket, I count four rounds
  7. Cheese from the cart
  8. For dessert a combination of pastries: pineapple tartlet, praline cream puff, strawberry maccaron served with mango sorbet
  9. Tea and coffee
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Something has gone awfully wrong here. I am always telling my Dutch colleague P. from work what a useless airline Air France is. On this flight however, I am finding it difficult to explain why. First we have the friendly crew, that cannot be right. And now the food: this meal is quite unusual in all respects. First of all the sheer amount of food you are served is incredible. You really do not need to go hungry with Air France. Secondly, some of the dishes are really quite interesting and unusual. I decide to go with the polenta and it really is very tasty.

The biggest pleasure though, are the desserts. So often on a plane dessert consists of some ghastly creamy concoction that is advertised as being this or that with a hint of so, so and bla but eventually ends up tasting of artificial cream and nothing else. But Air France is not having any of this: the pastry is rich and has managed to remain surprisingly crisp. It is not at all soggy.

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Once everything is cleared away, the lights go out and the blinds are lowered. I never quite understand why people do this. After all, it is a daytime flight and under normal circumstances they would not be sleeping at this hour either.

The Second Service

Menu:

  1. Goat cheese canapé with tapenade
  2. Smoked tune canapé with eggplant caviar
  3. Hazelnut and chocolate puff pastry
  4. Fresh fruit
  5. Fresh cheese
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Arrival

We are running behind schedule and eventually arrive in Los Angeles fifty minutes late. As such this is not really a big deal for me. But the queue for immigration is incredibly long, presumably because we arrived shortly after a China Southern A 380 which must have been pretty full by the looks of it.

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Getting to the Hotel

Transport: complimentary hotel shuttle
Departs from: international terminal, hotel shuttle pick up area
Frequency: every 15 – 20 minutes
Journey time: ca. 10 minutes
Actually I am not going into town. I shall not be staying in Los Angeles. I have an onward flight tomorrow morning, so I figure I might as well take a hotel at the airport. I am staying at the Hilton LAX Airport on Century Boulevard.

Conclusion

I was fully expecting not to like Air France. Much to my surprise though, I thought they were rather good. First of all, the Polynesian touch provided by the local crew is brilliant, they were all just so nice and friendly. Secondly, the meals are something else. In terms of quantity and quality they make the likes of SWISS or Lufthansa look pretty sad. I do not think I will go out of my way to fly Air France again. But I think I may now stop actively avoiding them.

Air Tahiti, Economy Class – ATR 72: Bora Bora To Papeete

Folie1

Introduction

Today I must leave this heavenly place and move on. I step outside onto the veranda and cannot help but wonder if this is what Adam and Eve must have felt like when they were informed that they had been evicted. At least I have enough time for one last swim in the pristine waters of Bora Bora before my flight departs back to Papeete at 12:30.

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I should also like to point out that this is in fact the only backtracking flight I am making on this entire trip. Not to put too fine a point on it.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: boat
Departs from: Pearl Beach Resort pontoon
Frequency: when ever there is a flight leaving
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: ca. CHF15

The boat to the airport leaves at 11:30, one hour before the scheduled departure time. My initial thought is that this might be cutting it just a bit fine. Then I remember we are actually talking about a facility here with just one departure gate. So I think I will manage.

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Check-in

Location: on the right hand side of the souvenir shop
Facilities: apparently web check-in is available
Counters: there are three counters, two of which are open

I have some good news and I have some bad news. The bad news is that there is no premium lounge at all in this facility. The good news is – and personally I think this outweighs the lack of a lounge by far – is that there is no security check either! That is just brilliant, I have never experienced that in all my life. Yes, if you have done web check-in, you can walk straight from the boat pier to the departure gate and the aircraft beyond, a distance of about 500 metres.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: available for families with children up to twelve years of age and passengers in need of assistance.

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The little terminal is just about bursting at the seam; I figure it is going to be a full flight out of Bora Bora today. As on the outbound, the flight is free seating, which means I have to make a choice between getting aboard as soon as possible to get a window seat or to let everybody go ahead while I take some pictures of the aircraft flying me to Papeete today. Eventually I go with the latter.

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The Cabin

I have seen this cabin before. Not on this trip. But I definitely recognise the pattern on the bulkhead. It only daws on me upon arrival in Papeete, as I exit the aircraft, that I have seen the same bulkhead pattern on a Vietnam Airlines ATR 72 on a flight from Con Dao to Hanoi. What I do not know, is if this mean the aircraft previously flew in Vietnam or if perhaps this is the standard ‘house’ design for the ATR 72 unless something else is specified by the operator.

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The Crew

There is not really very much to say about the crew, service is minimal but delivered with a smile. Other than that though, the flight is hardly long enough to enable any sort of interaction with the crew.

The Meal

With a block time of fifty minutes, this sector is Air Tahiti’s equivalent of a long-haul flight. Consequently, this means that passengers are offered a free cup of pineapple juice. Other drinks and snacks, such as biscuits or crisps, are available to buy on board, at approximately CHF3.-.

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Arrival

The airport is pretty busy when we land. There is an Air Tahiti Nui A 340-300 receiving some TLC on the maintenance apron, and Air Tahiti’s sole ATR 42 is just about to move off stand as soon as we get out of the way.

It is only a short walk from the aircraft to the baggage reclaim belt and the suitcases start arriving shortly after. I grab my bag and head outside to catch a taxi to the hotel.

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Getting into Town

Transport: taxi; M. if you are reading this, there really is no public transport to my hotel – honest
Departs from: taxi bay just outside domestic arrivals
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: CHF15

In Papeete I shall be spending yet another night at the Intercontinental. It is quite amazing just how different everything looks in the daylight. I have a room on the second floor, facing the water. From here I have an excellent view of the Pacific Ocean and Moorea in the distance.

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WHAT REMAINS…
It only happens very rarely that I am lost for words, which is why I chose that quote of Pessoa’s for the beginning of this post. Bora Bora is amazingly beautiful. In fact it is so breathtakingly beautiful that already, it hardly seems real any more, even as I sit here in Papeete, barely 280 kilometres away. But perhaps that is just what makes places like Bora Bora so special. Their serene beauty offers distraction and the promise of solace…

Air Tahiti, Economy Class – ATR 72: Papeete-Moorea-Huahine-Bora Bora

Folie1

Introduction

I’m finally on my last three legs. Today I fly from Papeete to Bora Bora, which is in fact the reason why I am taking this whole trip in the first place. Flight VT241 takes one hour and forty five minutes to make the journey to Bora Bora, although the actual flying time is only fifty minutes. The flight stops in Moorea and Huahine on its way to Bora Bora.

Flying around Tahiti is a lot like taking the bus and very often, the air service is the only and most reliable connection to the main island of Tahiti and the international airport in Papeete. Flying here is also refreshingly easy and certainly not as complicated as it has become in Europe.

Check-in

Location: ground floor, left side oft he building
Facilities: self-service check-in kiosks

I arrive at the airport just before 11:30. I am way too early for my flight, which does not leave until 13:15. I drop my bag at check-in and then head for security. The airside area is pretty small, just like the rest of the airport. But there is a small café and there are toilets. There are three departure gates.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts ten minutes before departure. It is free seating on this flight. I enter the cabin just behind a family with three small children. Originally my plan had been to grab a seat near the back, to get an unobstructed view along the journey. But the flight attendant has other plans. She needs an able bodied person at the emergency exit so she instructs me to take a seat on the first row. Initially I’m a bit reluctant, but there does seem to be more space on the bulkhead row.

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The Cabin

The cabin is generally in good condition, with nice blue leather seats. The headrest covers all have different colours, which makes the cabin look nice and colourful.

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The Crew

There are two females working the cabin on this flight. They seem very friendly and chatty.

The Meal

Food and drink are only available on the ‘long’ sector from Moorea to Huahine. It is buy on board and there are no warm drinks, which is a bit unfortunate really because it gets quite cold in the cabin once we are airborne. Eventually I order a tin of Pringles crisps for XFP300.

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Given that the runways are all relatively short, the take-offs and landings are rather ‘interesting’. But apart from that the flights are all rather uneventful, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

First Sector: Papeete to Moorea – flight time 10 minutes, turn around 10 minutes

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Second Sector: Moorea to Huahine – flight time 25 minutes, turn around time 15 minutes

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Third Sector: Huahine to Bora Bora – flight time 15 minutes

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Arrival

Bora Bora airport is built on an outlying island of Bora Bora. Baggage delivery takes place outside, there are large metal racks onto which the suitcases are placed for you collect. From there, the transfer inevitably is by boat.

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Epilogue

In Bora Bora I’m staying at the Pearl Beach Resort, which is about 10 minutes by boat from the airport. A representative from the hotel is available on arrival at the airport to assist you to make the transfer to the hotel.

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Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed these three flights with Air Tahiti. It was fun to experience flying as it should be, pleasant and hassle free. It was also nice to get to see a bit of the islands from above; they really are quite beautiful.

Air Tahiti Nui, Business Class – A 340-300: Auckland to Papeete

Folie1

Introduction

My friend A. drops me off at the airport at around 12:00, two hours before my departure to Tahiti. I am rather curious about this next flight. Not just because I am finally on my way to Tahiti, but also because I am going there with Air Tahiti Nui, an airline that, quite frankly, I do not really know anything about.

Check-in

Location: check-in for Air Tahiti Nui is done by Air New Zealand, who code-shares on this flight
Facilities: only airport check-in available
Counters: there are six counters available for check-in, two of which are for Business Class passengers

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I think Auckland Airport has some room for improvement here. The entire process from check-in through immigration and passport control is slightly chaotic. For some reasons I seem to keep bumping into people standing around haphazardly and for no apparent reason.

The Lounge

Location: behind the duty free and retail area, then one floor up
Type of Lounge:
QANTAS lounge
Facilities:
business centre, showers, hot and cold buffet
Internet:
free, passwords available at reception

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Air Tahiti Nui uses the QANTAS lounge here in Auckland, which is a bit surprising, given that they code-share with Air New Zealand on this route. The lounge is large and roomy. It is quite busy when I arrive, but then a few QANTAS flights are called and it empties fairly quickly.

Announcements are made in this lounge, which I normally find a bit of a nuisance. But today I shall make an exception. I have not slept that much since yesterday. Actually I have not slept at all. The flight from Perth was simply not long enough and then in Auckland I did not sleep either so I could catch up with my friend A. So in the sum of all things, I think I am rather glad they make calls in this lounge, because I seriously think I may just nod off.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: there is a separate queue for Business Class passengers, boarding is by rows

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There is a bit of a hold up at the gate because of my passport – what else…? Obviously the gate attendant has never seen one of these before. She is very nice about it. She apologizes and explains that she needs to check if I need a visa for Tahiti. I try to tell her that European Union citizens do not need a visa for other EU countries, but she does not seem convinced. Eventually though, she does allow me to board and wishes me a pleasant trip.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2
Seat: 30 seats
Pitch: 53 inches
Length as a bed:
Width: 20.5 inches
Recline: 153 degrees, angled
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, remote controlled

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I must say, I am rather pleasantly surprised. I board the aircraft through the L2 door, take the second left and find myself in a bright and colourful cabin. There are five rows of business class seating. The row of seats between the two aisles is not aligned with the seats on the window rows to achieve a bit more privacy. As a result, there is only a row 1 in the middle row. On the window sides the bulkhead is on row 2.

The Crew

The crew is a mix of men and women of Polynesian decent. They are not exactly gushing in their manner, but they are very accommodating and conscientious in the way they go about their duties. At the door every passenger is greeted with a jasmine blossom. Apparently you are supposed to stick it in your hair, but to be honest, that does look rather camp on a bloke…

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Earphones and the vanity kit have already been placed in the seat pocket when I arrive.

Amenities

Brand: no name, essentially it is a nicely decorated cardboard box
Content: L’Occitane cosmetics, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, ear plugs, socks, eye shades, pen – it seems to be fashionable for the airlines at the moment to include a pen in the vanity kit

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Tahitian punch
Hot towel before the meal: served on the ground before departure
Pre-meal drink:
sparkling water, Tahitian brand
Choice:
one starter, three options for the main course
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
dinner, hot meal
Meal:

  1. Bowl of nuts and candied fruit with the drinks
  2. Poached prawns, salmon roulade with crème fraîche, breast of duck, microgreens, cucumber and onion marmalade
  3. Breadbasket
  4. Mushroom stuffed breast of chicken in a sauce bourguignonne (red wine sauce), penne paste with pesto and tomato
  5. Selection of fruit
  6. Ricotta and quince cheesecake
  7. Selection of cheese (brie, cheddar)

Actually I’m surprised I’m hungry again after I overdosed on sugar at the Takapuna Beach Café in Auckland over breakfast…But where was I? The meal served on this flight is quite substantial and rather nice. The chicken breast has managed to remain surprisingly moist and even the penne have succeeded in escaping the faith of so many other penne that have gone before them into an airliner’s hot air oven and come out again as crisps. These are still chewy!

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By the time the meal service is over, we still have another two hours and twenty minutes to go to Tahiti. Time to extend the seat and have a nap.

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Arrival

As we start our descent into Papeete, the crew pass through the cabin distributing mints. Unfortunately it is already dark, so there is not really anything much to see outside.

Papeete has a single runway and there are no taxiways. Landing aircraft are required to backtrack to reach the ramp. The runway must be quite long, because we slow down without having to use the thrust reversers and without any severe braking action. As we make a u turn on the runway I notice that we there still quite a stretch to go before the end of the runway.

The ramp is rather full when we arrive – which does not take much, mind… There are already two other Air Tahiti Nui A 340-300s standing there, in addition to a whole fleet of ATR-72 and little de Havilland Twin Otters. Fortunately there are no airbridges in Papeete, so you have to disembark using the stairs and then have to walk outside the length of the terminal building before you reach arrivals.

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There are two queues for immigration – European Union citizens and others. As our flight has arrived from Auckland, there are only a few Europeans around, which makes the process quick and easy. And so this part of the journey ends, I have arrived, I am in Tahiti!

Getting into Town

Transport: taxi
Departs from: Papeete Fa’a airport arrivals
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: XFP3000

Accommodation

In Papeete I am staying at the Intercontinental Beachcomber. I chose this hotel mainly on the basis of the close proximity to the airport. Tomorrow I continue to my final destination, the halfway point.

Conclusion

This flight felt very different to the previous ones I have taken so far on this journey. Mainly I think because Papeete is clearly more of a leisure destination than a business one. This seriously impacts the composition of the passengers. Whereas the previous flights and airlines clearly cater to the needs of the business traveller, on Air Tahiti there was only one guy in a shirt and tie and he stuck out like a sore thumb.

Even so, I think Air Tahiti Nui has really nothing to be ashamed of and provides a level of service that is in fact quite surprising for an airline of this size.

Takapuna Beach

http://www.takapunabeachcafe.co.nz/

Takapuna Beach lies about 50 minutes away from Auckland airport by car. It really is quite a beautiful spot. Fortunately it has turned into a lovely morning; the wind has subsided and the sun has come out. It is a perfect day to go for a long walk along the beach, watching the sunlight dancing on the surface of the water. From here you also have a good view of Rangitoto, lying across the water in the Hauraki gulf.

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And then there is also the Takapuna Beach Café, which undoubtedly serves some of the best, most sinful breakfast food in all of the southern hemisphere. I am having thick pancakes with apple compote and caramel mascarpone. And to drink an ice chocolate made with vanilla ice cream, milk and hot chocolate sauce over it. Oh yes, and an apple and mint juice.

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A day like this, to me, is complete and utter bliss – Thanks A.!