The Spicer’s Balfour Hotel – New Farm, Brisbane

In Brisbane I am staying at the Spicer’s Balfour Hotel off Bowen Terrace in New Farm. New Farm is a quiet suburb close to the city centre, which can be easily reached on foot in about twenty minutes.

The Spicer’s Balfour has the look and feel of a Bed and Breakfast, mainly I think because the hotel is very small and cosy and sits on a quiet street surrounded by private homes. But do not let appearances fool you, the Spicer’s Balfour has most amenities you can expect from a hotel, including a Spa.

The main dining area of the hotel is outside on the veranda on the first floor. There are trees all around the house, which conceal the veranda from view from the street.

The food at the restaurant is very good. What is more, the staff are all very nice and friendly and really do their utmost to accommodate their guests. On one day I asked if they did afternoon tea, to which the waitress replied that in fact they did not but would be able to make scones for me for the next day. Apart from the fact that I thought it was very nice of them to make the effort, those were without a doubt the fluffiest scones I have ever tasted. They were served with fig jam and whipped cream with vanilla.

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I am staying in the Terrace Suite, which is very roomy and feels very comfortable. The bathroom is large and has both a shower and a bath. There is also a huge balcony.

The Spicer’s Balfour is perfect if you are looking for something a bit more intimate than the big hotel chains in the city centre. I like the hotel very much and would definitely stay here again on my next visit to Brisbane.

Link to the hotel’s website.

Brisbane by Bike

Perhaps the best way to get around Brisbane and see the city is by bike. Brisbane City Council provides an extensive network of rental stations from where you can pick up and return a bike to tour the city.

In order to be able to rent a bike, you first need to visit the CityCycle website and subscribe in the top left corner. You need to provide contact details and a postal code to set up your account. If you are a non-resident, your hotel’s contact information will do. You also need to provide your credit card details. The process is very easy and within five minutes you will have set up your account and received an email from CityCycle containing your user ID and password.

The screen on the column at the renting station will guide you through the process that will eventually allow you to unlock one of the bikes from its docking station and go cycling around the city.

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There are different types of subscription. For a non-resident I would recommend a daily subscription. There is a daily charge of AUD2.- as long as you return the bike to a docking station within thirty minutes. So in other words, you will never pay more than AUD2.- a day, even if you rent a bike more than just once a day. Fortunately, there are so many rental stations throughout the city that the thirty minutes limit is easy to stick to.

By law you are required to wear a helmet when you are using a bike on the street in Australia. Some of the bikes at CityCycle come with helmet, others however do not. Every bike comes with a lock.

Cycling is permitted in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. I leave you with a few pictures from there.

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Going for a Run in… Brisbane

I’ll never let you see
The way my broken heart is hurting me
I’ve got my pride and I know how to hide
All my sorrow and pain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

If I wait for stormy skies
You won’t know the rain from the tears in my eyes
You’ll never know that I still love you so
Though the heartaches remain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

– Crying in the Rain, A-ha

On my first day in Brisbane I decide to go for a run. I need to move a bit after spending nearly twenty hours on a plane and eating copious amounts of satay. It has been raining all morning and when the drizzle finally eases up around eleven, I decide to try my luck. But as soon as I am out the door the rains starts again and by the time I reach the start of the River Walk, I am already completely drenched. Still, the rain makes the temperature more bearable. I usually do not take the heat very well.

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Brisbane is a good place to go for a run. If you want to take the scenic route, I would suggest a run along the waterfront on the Riverside Walk. On the New Farm side, the River Walk is actually on the water. There is a deck of a bit more than one kilometre that runs over the river.

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From the hotel turn right towards Bowen Terrace. Turn left onto Bowen and keep on going until you reach the intersection with Merthyr Road. Turn right onto Merthyr and continue until eventually you will reach the beginning of the River Walk, which apparently was only reopened in 2014 following reconstruction. On your way to the River Walk you will pass by some interesting side streets that just look so typically Australian, with those elevated houses. You will also cross exciting Moray Street, which was voted ‘Brisbane’s Most Liveable Street’ back in 1993…

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Along the River Walk you have some excellent views of Brisbane’s Central Business District. Eventually you will reach the entrance to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, after a distance of slightly more than four kilometres.

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – A 330-300: Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
I am feeling surprisingly fresh, all things considered. I woke up at 05:30 on 26 December to catch my flight from Zürich to Paris. And save for two hours’ sleep on the flight from Paris to Kuala Lumpur, I’ve been awake the whole time.

I step off the A 380 that brought me in from Paris and make my way to Malaysia’s satellite lounge.

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LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the public area, above the metro station that connects the satellite with the main building.
Type of Lounge:
Malaysia Airlines First Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, separate dining area, workstations.
Internet: Available for free, password required.

There is a common reception area for the Malaysia Airlines lounges in Kuala Lumpur. The Business Class lounge is to the left of the counter, while the First Class lounge is to the right. Even though my onward connection to Brisbane will be only in Business Class, the lounge dragon still grants me access to the First Class lounge once she has checked the PNR for my trip.

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The lounge itself is pretty empty and it seems to me that the place has been renovated or refurbished recently. The toilets look much newer than the last time I was here. Then again, appearances can be misleading…I decide to have a shower to freshen up before the next flight. At close inspection however, the showers look badly maintained and not particularly clean. What can I say? I am a doctor’s son, so perhaps I may be a tad picky when it comes to hygiene. So eventually I decide to give the showers a miss.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Kind of…

I leave the lounge roughly forty-five minutes before departure because I still have to go through security to enter the holding area of my gate. When I arrive at C16, from where my flight will be leaving, the place is a complete mess. A beautiful Iraqi Airways Boeing 777-300 has just pulled up at the gate next to ours. As the passengers of that flight disembark, they are blocking the way for passengers queuing for security for gates C16 and C17.

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Eventually, by the time I manage to get into the holding area, boarding for my flight has already started. There is no separate queue for security. There is however, a separate exit to the aircraft for Business Class.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2
Seat: The first thing that strikes me about the overall cabin is that it is very dirty. There are even stains of food on the wall paneling and there are crumbs of food all over the place. The seat’s hard shell back  is quite low. Consequently, it does not offer much in terms of privacy. But at least there is a divider on every pair of seats. Storage space is also somewhat limited.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width:
20 inches.
Facilities:
USB port and power supply (115 volt).
Length as a bed: 75.2 inches.
Audio and Video:
Touch screen audio video on demand.

As I enter the cabin and reach my seat, there is hardly any room to sit. The space is taken up by a large pillow, a thick blanket and a thin mattress on every seat.

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SERVICE
What a nightmare. I really think it is safe to say that I have never experienced such an awful crew in all my life, on any airline. During the boarding process, assisting passengers with their luggage and helping them stow all the blankets, pillows etc. does not seem part of the crew’s job description and they generally have an attitude of could not care less.

There is a large group of Indian businessmen on the flight today and they are, admittedly, behaving rather badly. Nonetheless, the crew are so apparently pissed off with them that they first start ignoring the passengers, then start being rude to them, move on to yelling at them and eventually end up doing all of the above at the same time.

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After take-off the vanity kits are distributed. The content is more or less the same as in the First Class kit I received on the previous flight.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Guava juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Water.
Choice:
There are three choices for the main course, but no menus are distributed, so I have not idea what was on offer. I just had the chicken.
Type of meal:
Good question…
Meal:

  • Satay – mixed chicken and beef with accompaniments
  • Starter – something (tuna?) with raw peppers and celery.
  • Main course – Chicken Indian style.
  • Dessert – fruit.

The meal service is a chaotic mess. One flight attendant approaches passengers and asks them if they have already made a choice, which seems just a bit dumb given that no menus were distributed on the flight. When passengers ask what the choices are, the cabin crew roll their eyes and mumble something about ‘chicken, salmon….’. Ah, so much better.

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At least the service does not take too long to complete. The trays are cleared away, the cabin lights are dimmed and most of the passengers go off to sleep. And so do the crew. There is one guy among the crew on this flight who spends most of his time sitting in one of the Business Class seats reading the paper. At some point he passes through the cabin, presumably to keep up appearances, sees my empty tray and instructs one of the other cabin crew to pick it up and remove it, rather than simply doing it himself. Another crew member is sleeping on the jump seat, with his legs sprawling across the aisle. I have to climb over him to get to the toilet.

SECOND SERVICE
The second service is hardly worth mentioning. It consists of two rather small and bland canapés – one with cream cheese and the other with a strange combination of marinated spicy chicken, tomato sauce and pineapple.

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ARRIVAL
By the time we start our descent into Brisbane it is already getting dark outside. Our approach sees us approaching the airport from the west and then executing a left-hand 270 degrees turn to land in a southerly direction.

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The international terminal is deserted when we arrive. Malaysia Airlines hands out express cards for immigration and customs to their Business Class passengers. But the airport is so quiet this evening that the express lane for customs has already closed down.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi.
Departs from: Taxi rank in front of the terminal building.
Frequency:
Journey time: 25 Minutes.
Fare: AUD47.- to New Farm.

There are bus and train services that frequently run from the airport into the city and to Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise. But according to Google Maps the journey by public transport to where I am going will take more than an hour. So I think I shall take a taxi, if that is all the same with you.

CONCLUSION

Good heavens, what on earth was that? I mean Malaysia Airlines. As I already mentioned in my previous post, their First Class product on the A 380 is a lot more like a Business Class experience on other Asian carriers, although the hardware on the A 380 is excellent. But this last flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane in Business Class was a complete and utter nightmare. I am aware of the fact that the carrier has been brought under government control in a bid to stabilise the company before moving ahead with privatisation. But to be perfectly honest, as far as I can tell privatisation has definitely put the carrier in a downward spiral it may not recover from. Especially on the last flight it became apparent that the staff’s motivation has reached rock bottom. Paired with the fact that their hard product in Business Class is no longer competitive with the likes of Thai, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Emirates, it seems hardly unlikely that Malaysia Airlines will rise from the ashes the way the Malaysian government is intending. Pity.

Malaysia Airlines, First Class – A 380: Paris to Kuala Lumpur

Folie1

“I have spent weeks in the dessert, forgetting to look at the moon, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. These are not sins of omission but signs of preoccupation.”

– The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

INTRODUCTION
I just landed in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on a SWISS flight from Zürich. The only benefit in choosing SWISS over Air France for this journey is that they operate out of Terminal 1 – which is the same terminal Malaysia Airlines uses.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Hall 5, in the basement of Terminal 1.
Facilities: Airport check-in.
Counters: Dedicated Malaysia Airlines counters, with a separate counter for First Class passengers.

Online check-in is not available for this flight because the trip was not booked via the Malaysia Airlines website. And using the Malaysia App only works if you are a member of their frequent flyer programme. So upon arrival from Zürich I head landside and then three floors down to the Malaysia Airlines counters to check-in for my flight. I have hand luggage only. The agent issues my boarding passes for Kuala Lumpur and beyond, hands me an invitation to the lounge and wishes me a good flight.

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Finding your way around Roissy 1 is not easy. Being a circle, you would think the place would be easy enough to navigate. But perhaps precisely because the building is round it can be quite challenging to find your bearings.

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LOUNGE
Location:
The lounge is located in the main building, before you cross over to the satellite.
Type of Lounge:
ICARE Aéroports de Paris contractor lounge.
Facilities:
A small bar area, there are no toilet facilities in the lounge.
Internet:
Available, no password required.

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The ICARE lounge leaves much to be desired. It is not a First Class lounge, just a very generic, old-fashioned and tired looking facility. There are even a few old Lufthansa seats. But it serves its purpose and the wifi connection is good enough for me to upload the first part of this trip report, covering my somewhat disappointing flight with SWISS from Zürich to Paris.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Yes and enforced.

Departure for the flight is scheduled for 12:00. The gate opens at 10:30 and boarding starts at 11:15. The A 380 is a big girl. As a result, it takes three gates to board the aircraft. Gate 48 on the far left is for Economy Class passengers on the main deck. Gate 47 is for First Class passengers and status card holders, while gate 46 is for Business Class passengers and Economy Class passengers seated on the upper deck.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Malaysia Airlines has its First Class cabin on the lower deck. There are eight seats on two rows. The seat is large and plush and offers a lot of privacy. Perhaps the seat’s most striking feature is the huge amount of stowage space for small items in the sides. In addition, every seat has its own closet with three hangars. And there is enough space under the ottoman to stow one piece of carry on luggage. For passengers travelling with bulky items, there is also a separate, large locker at the front of the First Class cabin.

The seat has warm colours – red and brown – which give the cabin a very welcoming and cosy look and feel. All in all, the seat is very comfortable, also when extended into a bed.

Pitch: 89 inches
Width: 26.1 inches
Facilities: USB port and power supply (115 volt).
Length as a bed: 87 inches
Audio and Video: 23 inch monitor with audio and video on demand.

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Admittedly, the toilets on Malaysia’s A 380 are nowhere near as fancy and large as the ones Lufthansa has installed in First Class on the A 380. But they are large enough for an averagely sized adult male, okay me, to change comfortably. The toilet is stocked with Aigner cosmetics, including different eau de toilette for men and women.

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SERVICE
There are four cabin crew working the First Class cabin – one female and three males. The purser comes to introduce himself and shakes my hand, which I think is a very nice gesture. The crew are all very charming, friendly and chatty. Their English is really excellent, which already struck me the last time I flew with Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong last year.

In between the hot towel and the welcome drink the female flight attendant comes along with a large paper bag containing goodies for the flight. The bag contains:

  • Pyjamas in my size (L)
  • Decently sized slippers (I wear a size 46 shoe).
  • A decent size vanity kit containing Bulgari cosmetics (Essence de Thé Blanc), a dental kit with Colgate toothbrush, tooth past and mouthwash, socks and eye shades. There are no earplugs in the kit. Shaving sets, more tooth brushes and combs are available in the toilet.

The flight attendant informs me that she will bring the earphones after take-off, once the IFE starts working.

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We take off in a westerly direction. I know I say this every time, but the A 380 really is amazing. Despite its size the aircraft accelerates rapidly down the runway, even though the flight is pretty full today. During the take-off roll the noise from the engines is so quiet that I can even hear a baby crying somewhere on the upper deck!

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Pre-meal drink:
Mineral water and a half glass of Dom Pérignon 2004, which I took more out of curiosity than anything else.
Choice:
Three starters and main courses.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Meal:

  • Amuse Bouche – Duck magret and melon balls skewer.
  • Starter – Charcoal hand grilled beef and chicken satay with peanut sauce and accompaniments.
  • Caviar – Served with smoked salmon and asparagus, blinis, chopped onion, parley, crème fraîche and lemon.
  • Soup – Cream of potato with marinated chicken and crispy onion.
  • Mixed salad – I skipped that one.
  • Main course – Chicken Biryani with rice and vegetable pickles.
  • Dessert – Fresh fruit, crunchy coffee pastry.
  • Bread basket – a selection of warm garlic bread and rolls.

The meal starts immediately once the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off. The pace of the service is excellent, there are no long waits but there is enough time between the courses for the meal not to be rushed. The crew are very attentive, making sure that glasses are regularly replenished.

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After the meal I have a short nap. The flight attendant sees me settling in and brings me a larger, more comfortable and fluffy pillow and a thick blanket. However, he does not suggest making up my bed. So to be honest, I am not entirely sure if Malaysia even do a turn down service like SWISS or British Airways for example.

I spend the rest of the flight in the cosiness of the warm cabin, lying under my blanket reading. Around halfway into the flight, roughly somewhere north of Karachi, I start to feel peckish again. I think it is time for another dose of protein and carbs. So I order the noodles in a vegetable-based soup with shredded chicken, prawns, bean curd, fish balls and Asian greens from the snack menu. The soup is served with a healthy dose of chilli and crispy onions. And to finish off the meal I have two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

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SECOND SERVICE
Wake up drink:
Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Choice:
Four main courses.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Meal:

  • Juice – fresh orange juice.
  • Fresh fruits – melon, grapefruit, grapes, papaya, pineapple.
  • Bread – individual basket with assorted rolls, served with strawberry jam and marmalade.
  • Hot meal – Nasi Lemak – rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fresh ginger, prawn sambal, with traditional accompaniments (dried fish, peanuts, cucumber, boiled egg).
  • Hot drink – Teh Tarik (milky sweet tea).

The second service starts about 90 minutes out of KL. Slowly the lights go on and I am brought a glass of fresh orange juice and a hot towel. Once more the service is swift and well paced. The food is very tasty, especially the Nasi Lemak is very fragrant and quite spicy.

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ARRIVAL
Our arrival and approach into KL is quite spectacular. Below us there are thick clouds with frequent flashes of lightning. It is a spectacular backdrop as we descend through thick layers of cloud towards our destination. And then we land.

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All in all I enjoyed this Malaysia Airlines First Class experience, although it was a bit of a mixed bag. The hardware – the seat – is certainly very nice, in fact it is one of my favourites. However, as far as the service and the food is concerned, both looked and felt a lot more like a Business Class flight, and not even an exceptionally good one. It is the little details that can make a huge difference. And this is where I thought Malaysia was lacking, particularly compared to the competition.

I am still not quite there yet. One more flight to go…

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – A 320: Zürich to Paris

Folie1

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

                                                                                                         – Leonardo da Vinci

INTRODUCTION

I suppose I should be feeling a pang of remorse, an agony of regret for the things that once were and could have been. But there is nothing. We have reached the end of the line. This will be my last flight with SWISS as a Senator before I return to being a normal mortal with the Star Alliance. It is true, I suppose I could have at least tried to make the effort and become a gold member with some obscure frequent flyer programme of an equally obscure little airline. But to be honest, I find that just a tad cheap.

I have not exactly chosen the most exotic route for my farewell either. Then again, this flight is not about the journey, it is simply a means to an end. A positioning flight from Zürich to Paris. No more and no less.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
None required.
Departs from: Nil.
Frequency: Nil.
Journey time: 5 minutes.
Fare: Nil.

I spend the night at the Radisson Blu Zürich Airport, which lies in close proximity to Terminal 1. The hotel has a direct connection to the airport facility across the road.

The hotel is clean enough and the rooms are in good condition. However, I cannot really say I like the place, mainly because I find the public area very dark and gloomy.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1.
Facilities: Mobile check-in, online check-in, self-service machines, manned counters.
Counters: SWISS dominates Terminal 1. There are a few more airlines of the Star Alliance which also use this facility, but I suspect that would certainly not be the case if SWISS finally managed to have their way…

The terminal is a mess this morning and the queue for passengers wanting to drop of their bags is stretching across the entire check-in area. The queue is so long that it is getting in the way of the passengers trying to get off the escalators.

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The security check is no better, and I very much doubt that Zürich Airport will be able to live up to its promise of having passengers queue for not more than 10 minutes at security. Fortunately, I still am a Senator and I am able to bypass the outrageous mass of people.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Airside Centre.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated SWISS Senator / Star Alliance Gold lounge.
Facilities:
Showers, toilets, very limited selection of hot and cold dishes, limited selection of hot and cold drinks.
Internet:
Available, password required.

The lounge is one floor up from the check-in area. There is a common reception for the Business Class and Senator lounges. The entrance to the latter is on the left of the reception area.

The Senator lounge is divided in two levels. The lower level was recently refurbish and henceforth designated the Senator Bistro, which essentially is a somewhat futile attempt to gloss over the fact that they dumped those nice plump armchairs and replaced them with significantly less comfortable but smaller furniture in a bid to cram even more people into the lounge (If any of my students are reading this, please try to avoid making such long sentences).

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But at least the lounge is very empty this morning. The food selection in the Bistro area is somewhat limited, in fact there are only croissants and buns on offer. I check out the food selection on the upper level, which is more substantial and includes cheese and cold cuts but not a single hot item.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Kind of…

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My flight is departing from A 86 today, which is the remotest gate on the A dock. There are three boarding pass checkpoints at A 86. Two of them are automatic but not working this morning. The checkpoint closest to the counter is for Business Class passengers and status holders. Once boarding starts, the gate attendant even makes an announcement specifically inviting only Business Class passengers and status holders to board first. But obviously none of the passengers seem to care, and neither does the gate attendant. And so, immediately the boarding process turns into the usual hapless mess it always is with SWISS. Surely this cannot be that difficult to enforce, if other airlines manage.

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CABIN
Configuration:
3 + 3
Seat: The Recaro seat SWISS has installed on its narrow-body fleet is not particularly comfortable. In order to improve leg space without having to increase the pitch, the seats are very thin and thus pretty much lack any sort of padding. For a flight of one hour the seat is perfectly acceptable. However, on longer routes of two hours or more, it can be uncomfortable.
Pitch: 34 inches on the first row, which gradually reduces to 31 inches towards the back.
Width: 17 inches
Facilities: Reading lamp
Audio and Video: Drop down screens throughout the cabin. The screens show the safety on board instructions, a lot of SWISS adverts and, if you’re really unlucky, those ‘Just for Laughs’ clips which are everything but funny.

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My seat is broken. Rather, the recline button is kaput. I try to bring the seatback into the upright position, but it is of no avail and as soon as I lean back, the seat reclines again.

Boarding is completed. The purser makes an announcement in German, obviously his mother tongue. Even so, his enunciation is really poor, and pausing is something that obviously only ever happens to other people, making him rather difficult to understand. What can I say, I am a linguist, I pay attention to stuff like that. His English and French announcements are no better either.

And then, without an announcement, the safety on board video starts playing. The volume is too low, it is barely audible and nobody is paying attention. Neither is the crew for that matter and they obviously do not really care if anybody is paying attention.

‘…for take-off, please fasten your seatbelt and place the back of your seat in the fully upright position…’. Yeah, I am trying you know. I have to give them credit though for at least noticing my seat is not in the upright position. But that is about as far it goes. The cabin crew asks me to put my seat in the upright position – I tell her I cannot – she tells me it is a safety issue – I tell her it is a technical problem – she shrugs her shoulders and walk off – so much for that. Seriously?

We take-off in a northerly direction. Once we level off though, I decide this is not really that comfortable so I ask the cabin crew if I could at least have a pillow to place behind my back. To which she informs me that she has no pillows in Economy Class. I am compelled to ask her – just out of curiosity – if she has even the faintest notion of the meaning of the word ‘service’. But then again I have come to expect so little from SWISS that I do not even bother with that.

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SERVICE
My mummy taught me not to speak badly of people, because sometimes they just cannot help being the way they are. Well fine, suits me. But in that case this section of the trip report is going to be very short.

THE MEAL
Meal:

  • Selection of hot and cold drinks.
  • One croissant.
  • One chocolate at the end of the flight. And just in case you are wondering boys and girls, Santa Clause does not really exist, and the chocolate SWISS serve on their flights is not Swiss either – no matter what the wrapping says.

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ARRIVAL
Our flight time to Paris is only one hour this morning. SWISS operates to and from Terminal 1 in Paris, which is convenient because my next flight will also be leaving from here.

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I do not really think I could say whether the flying saucer layout of Roissy Terminal 1 makes any sense at all. And from what I can tell the facility is quickly reaching capacity. Even so, personally I think it must be one of the coolest airports out there. The entire building is just so stylish and very futuristic in a very retro kind of way. Kind of.

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