Epilogue: KLM, Business Class – Embraer 190 to Basel

Epilogue

There is this really excellent app that was recommended to me by my friend, the intrepid M., who is a seriously bad ass runner. The app is called MapMyRun. I think it is excellent because it allows you to log your runs and track your progress; you can map your route, see what distance and elevation you have covered, what your average pace is etc.

Are you wondering why I am telling you all this? Well, quite simply because I regret that sometimes I lack the presence of mind. Maybe I can blame it on Hong Kong this time or the jet lag. Otherwise, I think it would have been brilliant to log a MapMyRun workout of my run through Amsterdam Airport carrying a suit in one hand and my rucksack in the other.

Transfer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Airport really is the best! If you are transferring from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight and you are, like me, running out of time, there is a dedicated short connection track through immigration and security.

I arrive at gate B04, from where my flight to Basel will be leaving. One of the gate attendants looks at me and asks me if I have just come off the Hong Kong flight. I nod ascent, still trying to catch my breath, to which he comments that he is surprised by how quickly I managed to get to B04. Oh yes, I think if I had had MapMyRun activated, we would be looking at a new sprint best time. Life is full of missed opportunities.

I board the bus, assuming I am the last passenger holding up the proceedings. But then we wait, and then some more. Eventually, after another ten minutes or so an elderly couple slowly ambles over to the counter and hand the gate agent their boarding passes. The lady passenger is carrying a Shanghai Tang shopping bag, so I can only presume that she and the hubby must have been on my flight. Well take you time dear, when you are ready…!

The Meal

Type of meal: Snack

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Starter – Creamy potato and leeks soup with diced tomatoes.

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Main – Mixed salad with pesto pasta and Mozzarella cheese.

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Dessert – Dutch Speculaas spiced dessert.

Conclusion

TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT…
The flight is pretty uneventful until we reach Basel. We are already established on a very bumpy and unstable approach when suddenly we accelerate and start climbing again. Apparently the wind keeps changing so we are going to have to make an approach from the opposite direction. A lot of screaming passengers and fifteen minutes later and we are finally safely on the ground. It has been a long time since I last heard passengers clapping with relief as we hit the ground.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: no, my suitcase did not make the short connection in Amsterdam. Still, a home delivery is better than having to cart the damn thing home myself.

KLM, Business Class – B 747-400: Hong Kong to Basel via Amsterdam

Folie1

Part of your life, you give me a moment. Me sure in spite of the past, and in spite of the future. This tick of our lifetime is one moment you love me.

– Jeremy Irons, Chinese Box (1997)

Introduction

As long as I can remember, I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong. Initially, my infatuation with the place was based partly on the old Kai Tak airport and partly on the territory’s fascinating history as a British trading post.

Originally, Hong Kong Island was leased to the British because the Chinese were wary of them and simply thought the Europeans were uncivilised. They did not want them setting foot on Chinese soil and mixing with the locals. No good could come of that. Trade with the hopelessly uncouth was okay as far as the Chinese were concerned, just as long as they kept their distance. And so Hong Kong – the barren rock – was leased to the British for a period of 150 years. In hindsight, the Chinese were probably right to be cautious about the British, considering how they set out to colonise the world like a contagious disease.

My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1994, I was twenty at the time. And I have kept returning ever since. Somehow, this place never gets boring. What I love about Hong Kong is that although the place itself is now quite familiar after so many visits, the city is never quite the same. Things disappear, change and reveal themselves in new light. And all the while it is business as usual in Hong Kong.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: MTR and Hong Kong Airport Express
Departs from: Wan Chai MTR
Frequency: Every three minutes
Journey time: About five minutes from Wan Chai to Central and another twenty-four minutes from there to the airport.
Fare: HKD4.50 for the MTR and HKD100 for the Hong Kong Airport Express.

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The entrance to the Wan Chai MTR station is just down the road from the Indigo Hotel, where I am staying in Hong Kong. From Wan Chai it is two stops to Central, where you can connect to the Hong Kong Airport Express. The transfer is pretty painless and easy, with directions on the public transport system clearly signposted. It is not possible to purchase a combined ticket for the MTR and Airport Express.

Check-in

Location: On the ground floor of the Central Airport Express station.
Facilities: In-town check-in at Central on Hong Kong Island or at the airport.
Counters: Counter 2 is the dedicated check-in counter for KLM, ANA, and Virgin at the in-town check-in area.

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Most carriers operating to and from Hong Kong will allow you to check-in at the station at Central on Hong Kong Island. In order to do so however, you must make the journey from Central to the airport by train. To this end, you are required to purchase your ticket before you check-in, the train tickets grants you access to the check-in area.

The QANTAS Business Class Lounge

Location: Immediately behind the exit from immigration north do a sharp right turn.
Type of Lounge:
Qantas lounge
Facilities:
An extensive buffet of hot and cold dishes, a large and well-stocked bar, showers and toilets, dining area and lounging area.

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This must be one of the nicest lounges I have ever set foot in. Of course it probably helps that the place is more or less deserted when I arrive. Even so, I am impressed by how spacious the lounge is, how nicely furnished it is and how good the catering is. It is not just that there are a lot of food choices; the quality of the food is also good. What is more, the lounge offers some excellent views of the ramp. From where I am sitting I can see my ride to Amsterdam in the distance.

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Boarding

There are two separate lanes for boarding – SkyPriority and everybody else. SkyPriority is for Elite and ElitePlus members as well as passengers travelling in Business Class.

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Boarding starts a little early at 12:50. By the look of it, the crew is hoping to make an early start in an attempt to have us depart Hong Kong ahead of schedule. And indeed, boarding is completed way ahead of our departure time, despite the fact that the flight is fully booked today. But then the crew discovers that there is a mistake on the load sheet, which apparently had been prepared in Amsterdam. It turns out we are overweight.

During the ensuing delay the crew, both cockpit and cabin, make sure to keep the passengers informed about what is going on. Eventually, by the time the crew have identified the items of freight that will have to be offloaded and have them removed, we are running more than an hour late, which is particularly unfortunate given that my connection to Basel in Amsterdam is – possibly was – only ninety minutes. But we shall see. For the time being there is not really anything anybody can do about the delay.

At least the Queen of the Skies has the grace to try and console me for the delay. And how could any man resist her charms, despite her age? She sounds so much nicer than the younger birds. The take-off roll is everything you can hope for and expect of the 747 – she is much louder than other aircraft like the 777 and she certainly takes her time before eventually, elegantly and ever so gently she flexes the tips of her wings in an upward motion and severs our ties with the ground.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, with a few single seats on the lower deck.
Seat: The Business Class cabin is divided over two decks on KLM’s Boeing B 747-400 fleet. There are twenty seats on the upper deck and another fifteen on the main deck. Obviously the upper deck is always fun on Jumbo, but there is also a lot to be said for sitting in the nose of the beast. Most of the seats are in pairs. However, there are three single seats on the main deck, which is mainly due to space limitations. The first row is in the very tip of the nose. Thus, there is a single seat on 1A, while 1J and 1K make up a pair. The seats are turned slightly outward, towards the windows on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, the seats on the rows of two are staggered, with the window seat slightly further forward than the aisle seat. As a result, the seat feels very private in that you have to go out of your way if you want to to make eye contact with your fellow passengers.
The entire Boeing 747 fleet has now had the new cabin installed. Currently KLM is having the new seat introduced on its Boeing B 777-300 fleet as well.
Pitch: 63 inches
Width: 20 inches
Facilities: AC power outlets available, privacy screen, reading lamp
Length as a bed: 80 inches
Audio and Video: AVOD, 10.4 inches screen

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are friendly and chatty, as usual with KLM. While we are on the ground the crew make sure they are visible in the cabin to answer any questions the passengers may have during the delay. And once we are airborne the service is efficient, even so the crew still find the time for a little friendly natter with the passengers.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice, sparkling wine, beer (Heineken) or still water
Hot towel before the meal: Not scented
Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a bowl of warm nuts.
Choice: Two starters, three main courses, a selection of desserts.
Type of meal:
Lunch
Bread: A selection of different types of rolls and garlic bread.
Chocolates: Dutch chocolates are served at the end of the meal.

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The First Course

Broccoli soup with blue cheese.

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The Salad

Couscous with green salad and edamame beans.

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The Main Course

Sautéed grouper with sherry cream sauce, saffron risotto, green beans and baby carrots.

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The Cheese & Fruit

Cheese platter (Emmental and Danish blue) with seasonal fruit, served with Port.

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The meal is rather tasty. Especially the soup is unusual with a strong flavour of the blue cheese, which goes very nicely with the Broccoli. The pace of the meal is also very good, the entire meal takes much less time to complete than it did with Qantas but without being rushed.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Not scented
Choice: Hot or cold main dish with a choice of two cold side dishes.
Type of meal:
Light meal

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The Side Dish

Quinoa salad with beetroot and pumpkin.

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The Main Course

Penne with red bell pepper sauce and vegetables, parmesan cheese.

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Dessert

Traditional Dutch Apple pie served warm, with whipped cream. And a bowl of fruit.

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The lights go on just under two hours out of Amsterdam. At least we were able to make up some of our delay and although we departed seventy minutes behind schedule from Hong Kong, it looks as though this has dwindled to forty-five minutes by the time we enter Europe.

I always enjoy the second service on KLM and I am impressed by the amount of food they serve for the second service. Very often, with a lot of the other European carriers the second service is more of an embarrassment than anything else. But this is a proper meal.

Eventually, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the little BOLS houses, which marks the end of the flight. I collect house 91 and I am good to go.

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Arrival

Eventually we hit the ground at 19:40 and have a relatively short taxi – by Amsterdam’s standards – to our stand on the F pier. Perhaps I should say at the very far end of the F pier. By the time the engines are cut and the doors are open, it is already 19:55. My onward connection starts boarding in five minutes, the gate closes in twenty minutes and the flight departs in thirty-five minutes. And I still have to go through immigration and security…

Qantas, Business Class – A 330-300: Brisbane to Hong Kong

Folie1

Introduction

It is time to start the long journey home. Today I shall be travelling from Brisbane to Hong Kong, where I will spend two nights before I continue to Europe.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 25 minutes.
Fare: AUD40.- My flight this morning will be leaving at 10:50. So I have enough time to have one last tasty breakfast at the hotel. My taxi arrives to pick me up at 08:30.

Check-in

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Location: Rows 9 and 10.
Counters: There are four dedicated Business Class counters, all of which are staffed. There is a bit of queue for check-in at the Business Class counters this morning. This is mainly due to a large family of Chinese travelling with a hideous amount of luggage. There are boxes, suitcases and trolleys all over the place. And kids. Everywhere. What is more, I suspect that of the eight people standing there, only about half are in fact flying. The others are just there to add to the general chaos. My suitcase is checked in to Hong Kong and labelled with a priority tag. The check-in agent prints my boarding pass and hands me an express card to get me through the fast track at security and immigration. I will also have to complete an embarkation card. From check-in I head for departures, which is clearly marked by a huge yellow arch. I pass through the arch and go down stairs, where the security check and immigration take place.

The Qantas Club Lounge

The Qantas lounge is located opposite gate 80. Currently the airport is undergoing reconstruction. But everything is clearly signposted.

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Location: Airside, one floor up from the departure gates.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Qantas lounge.
Facilities:
A large selection of hot and hold dishes and drinks, work stations, toilets, showers
Internet:
– The lounge is fairly small and rather crowded when I arrive. Apart from my flight to Hong Kong, there is another A 330-300 heading for Singapore, a Boeing 747-400 bound for Los Angeles and there is also the Cathay Pacific flight which, presumably, also uses the Qantas lounge. The lounge offers some good views of arriving aircraft, which glide past the terminal before eventually touching down.

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The lounge has all the amenities one can expect. Moreover, I am somewhat surprised by the generous breakfast offerings in the lounge, which certainly put the SWISS Senator lounge in Zürich Airport to shame.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts about forty minutes before departure. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and status card holders. The first call is for families with children, followed by Business Class passengers, and then passengers sitting in the rear Economy Class cabin.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2
Seat: The Qantas seat may not necessarily look very attractive, but it is very comfortable as a seat and bed. When fully extended, it is of the angled lie-flat type – although the angle is not uncomfortable. The hard back of the seat is very high, so once you extend the seat into a bed, you feel as though you are lying in a cocoon. It is very private for a Business Class seat. In addition, there is also a privacy screen on every pair of seats. However, I tried it out and I really must say it is mostly useless because the screen is simply too small. It is also superfluous because once you are in the lying position, you would have to lean up anyway to take a look at your neighbour. Apart from a pillow and blanket, Qantas also provides a thin mattress to place over the seat, and once the aircraft is airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew pass through the cabin asking passengers if they would like to have the mattress placed on the seat. Perhaps the seat’s biggest drawback is the complete lack of storage space for your personal belongings, which is inconvenient. There is a holder for magazines in the side of the back of the seat, but this is not even wide enough to place my tiny MacBookAir 11’ in.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, magazine holder, electricity outlet.
Length as a bed:
Audio and Video: Touchscreen AVOD – there are about thirty films available to choose from. However, the selection is a bit odd.

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The Crew

The service on this flight is excellent and restores my faith in Business Class flying, following my really crap experience with Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane. The crew are all quite senior and very friendly and very professional.

Amenities

Before we depart, the vanity kits are distributed. A menu has already been placed at every seat before the passengers start boarding.

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After take-off, the inflight service manager – ISM (M., please note the funky abbreviation, nearly as good as the POC…) introduces himself and the crew. He addresses every passenger by name as he distributes the landing cards for Hong Kong.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Choice of orange juice, water or champagne.
Hot towel before the meal: Served while still on the ground.
Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a packet of cashew nuts and pretzels.
Choice: Three starters, four main courses, four desserts.
Type of meal: Lunch.

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The Salad

Garden leaves with balsamico dressing.

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The First Course

Blue cheese, walnuts, baby beans and tomato salad with pickled onions. The starter is excellent, it is very tasty and flavourful. The blue cheese goes really very well with the walnuts, which seem to be slightly caramelised and sweet.

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The Main Course

Roasted eggplant and silverbeet lasagne with cucumber, tomato and feta salad. The main course takes quite a while to arrive, in fact by the time I receive my dish, my neighbour has nearly already demolished his plate. But the flavours of the dish are really excellent. The combination of the hot vegetable lasagne with the cold cucumber, tomato and feta works really well. There is also a vinaigrette with the dish which works rather nicely.

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The Cheese

Selection of cheese served with accompaniments and a glass of sweet wine. After the main course I have some cheese, there is a blue cheese and a Camembert. The cheese is served with a selection crackers, a date and some fog bread.

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The set up of the meal service is interesting in that there is no tray. Instead, the crew place a tablecloth and then a napkin with the cutlery rolled up in it a side plate for the bread and the side salad. The dressing for the salad in added by the cabin crew before serving, and there is a choice of two different dressings. With the meal I just have still water to drink. All in all this was a really good airplane meal. The tastes and combinations were interesting, especially the main course was unusual. I only have to complaints really, if I may. First of all, the service takes ages to begin after take off and when eventually it does, it takes a very long time to complete the whole service. The other point is the cutlery. Good heavens, I know it is Alessi design and all that, but who on earth picked that stuff for Qantas? The cutlery sits badly in the hand and apart from all that, it just looks ugly. I finish the meal with a cup of mint tea, which is served with a small Valrhona dark chocolate stick.

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After the meal I settle in for a nap and only awake three hours later as the second service begins.

The Second Service

The second service starts fifty minutes out of Hong Kong. It is simple but effective. I rather liked it. Basically there are three dishes to choose from. Each one is served in one of those boxes they normally use in Chinese take-aways. I know it may sound a bit strange, but I thought it was rather a good idea. And it is very tasty too. I have the Rigatoni Arrabiata with green olives, capers, broccoli and Parmesan. Delicious!

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Arrival

By the time we reach Hong Kong, the sun is already setting. There is a lot of haze in the air today. Even so, it truly is a very beautiful approach and we descend over some of the outlying islands of Hong Kong.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Hong Kong Airport Express.
Departs from: Terminals 1 and 2.
Frequency: Every six minutes.
Journey time: 24 minutes to Central on Hong Kong Island, with intermediate stops in Tsing Yi and Kowloon.
Fare: HKD100.- To reach the city, I take the Hong Kong Airport Express to Central, from where I will continue my journey to the Hotel Indigo using the MTR. Note that the ticket machines do not accept credit cards. If you are out of cash, you will have to purchase your ticket at the counter, which normally has quite a queue.

Conclusion

This was a very enjoyable flight with Qantas from Brisbane to Hong Kong. The crew were not even overly friendly. But they were competent and they did their job properly. The food was very tasty, with good sized portions too. I also very much liked the seat, at least from the comfort perspective. Now if only there were more storage space… This flight really was in stark contrast to my previous experience on Malaysia Airlines in Business Class on my way from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane.