Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Fokker 70: Vienna to Basel

TRANSFER IN VIENNA
I have one hour before my flight to Basel departs. Fortunately there are not that many people at the airport and so I manage to quickly clear immigration and security. Since my last visit to Vienna last summer, they appear to have improved the signage. Or maybe it is just me and I am getting used to the place. Even so, I really cannot help but wonder who on earth designed this facility? It does not even feel like an airport. Instead, the narrow aisles and long corridors give the impression of walking aimlessly in the Ministry of Truth. You turn the corner and expect to find yourself standing by the door to room 101. The worst thing in the world.

LOUNGE
Location:
Uhm, good question. Just follow the signs for the G gates and then you should find the lounge. There is a common entrance to the lounge. The Business Class area is to the left and the Star Gold section is to the right.
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Business centre, toilets in the lounge, no showers, a small selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks, newspapers and magazine.
Internet:
Wifi is available throughout the terminal building. No password required.

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What with it being Easter Sunday, the lounge is fairly quiet. There are only a few people here and there. The food options are somewhat limited, not that I am hungry after all the food we were served on the plane.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Boarding is from Gate F 13, which is the same gate at which my flight from Narita arrived. In fact the aircraft is still standing there. In any case, our aircraft for the short hop to Basel is parked at a remote stand, so we are having to take a bus to the aircraft.

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When eventually the bus pulls up on a remote stand, I am surprised to find there has been an aircraft change and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400, the flight will now be operated by the larger Fokker 70. I take my time to get on board the aircraft – I am sitting at the very front anyway – which gives me the chance to take a few pictures of my aircraft and watch the other action on the ramp.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2
Seat: European style Economy Class seating, with the adjacent seat being kept empty in Business Class.
Pitch: 30’.
Width: 17’.
Facilities: Reading lamp, air vents.

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight and there are only two passengers. Seating on the Fokker 70 is 2 + 3, although on Austrian Airlines the adjacent seat is kept empty to provide more space. Thus, on the left hand side, the two-seater, the aisle seat is blocked, while on the right hand side, the middle seat in the row of three is blocked.

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Just a word of warning: on Austrian Airlines’ Fokker 70 you should try to avoid sitting on row 1 because while the pitch is the same as in the rest of the aircraft, not being able to stick your legs under the seat in front seriously limits leg space.

SERVICE
There are two cabin crew on the flight. They seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly gushing. But I do not think it is a question of them just doing the job and nothing else, they just both seem very reserved.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
None.
Hot towel before the meal: None.
Pre-meal drink:
None.
Choice:
None.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.
Meal:

  1. Fish in a batter, on potato salad, corn salad and tomato.
  2. Selection from the breadbasket.
  3. Chocolate mousse with cherries.
  4. Milka Easter Bunny.
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The contrast in service between Austrian Airlines’ long- and short-haul operations never quite seizes to amaze me. While the meals on the flight from Tokyo to Vienna were opulent, on this short-haul flight to Basel service is kept to the absolute minimum.

One way or another, the meal is quite tasty. Especially the chocolate mousse is delicious and rich.

ARRIVAL
Our routing takes us past lake Constance and north of Zürich airport to approach Basel airport from the east. You can see the airport below on the right hand side of the aircraft. Approaches are from the south this afternoon, which means we continue for a short distance past the airport heading west, before eventually doing a left turn and heading south, away from the airport. Two more left turns later and we are lined up for the approach pointing north. I like this approach because it means we will be coming in over the city of Basel. Fortunately the weather has cleared and it is a beautiful afternoon.

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CONCLUSION
That was fun. Admittedly, it was rather a short trip but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. This was now my sixteenth visit to Japan and I still have not had enough yet. What I did notice about myself on this trip is that the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese and their culture no longer have the power to intimidate or confuse me. What I do not know, is whether this is due to the fact that the Japanese are becoming more relaxed in their dealings with foreigners or if perhaps I have simply become accustomed to their ways.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Tokyo Narita to Basel via Vienna

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Narita Express train.
Departs from: Yokohama station.
Frequency: Roughly every 90 minutes but varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Fare: ¥4290 one way including mandatory seat reservation.

In Yokohama I am staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. I leave the hotel just after 06h30 in the morning and head across the street to the Queen’s Twin Towers. It is only a five minutes walk from the hotel to the subway station at Minatomirai on the subway line that goes by the same name. It is two stops from Minatomirai to Yokohama Station, although the express trains do not stop at the station in between and go nonstop to Yokohama Station.

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At Yokohama I change to the JR Lines network. The Narita Express will be leaving at 07h28 from platform 10. What always impresses me about Japanese trains is that there are markers along the platform indicating the number of each carriage and the position of the doors of that particular carriage. The impressive thing is that the system has never failed in sixteen visits I have made to Japan over the years. And I still have not figured out how they manage to stop the trains so accurately.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, south wing, row B, departures level on the fourth floor; row B is right by the escalators as you come up from the station in the basement.
Facilities: Web check-in or dedicated check-in counters.
Counters: Dedicated Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS Business Class counters, the staff are from ANA.

There are hardly any people when I arrive at row B and I am seen to straight away. The check-in agent issues my boarding passes to Vienna and then Basel, points me in the right direction for security and wishes me a pleasant journey. It is a very quick and efficient process.

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Security is at the opposite end of row B and there is a dedicated fast track for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers. Here too there are only few passengers and I am through security without having to queue. I forget to remove my liquids from the bag, but nobody seems to notice. Or perhaps that is not a requirement here in Japan.

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From Security I head one floor down to immigration.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Behind immigration, one floor down from the gates level. The escalators leading down to the lounge are at the far end of the concourse, opposite gate 43.
Type of Lounge:
ANA Lounge.
Facilities:
Meeting rooms, work area, toilets and showers in the lounge, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes, a bar with beer on tap, a noodle bar with a selection of staple Japanese fare.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.

God I am starving. It was still early when I left Yokohama this morning. I did manage to grab a cappuccino and a small sandwich, but that was barely enough to tie me over until we reach Narita.

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So once I find a place to sit, I head over to the noodle bar and order myself a bowl of curry Udon, which hit the spot nicely.

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The ANA Business Class lounge is nice. It is more functional than elegant, but that is okay. My only complaint is that there are no windows and subsequently no views of the aircraft outside.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
I arrive at the gate just after 10h30 and boarding has just started. The first call is for Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 2 + 2 + 2 on even numbered rows.
Pitch: 48 inches.
Width: 19.37 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand.

Austrian Airlines has 48 seats installed in Business Class on the Boeing B 777-200. I am not sure if this is exactly the same seat that SWISS has installed in its Business Class cabin, but if not, the seat is certainly very similar.

The appearance of the cabin is nice enough and the combination of blue and red gives the cabin a cheerful look and feel. The seat is comfortable in the sitting position, but is somewhat tight in the extended, lying position. Furthermore, if you are sitting in the seat while you extend it into the lying position, beware. At some point your legs are likely to get in the way.

There are two Business Class cabins on this aircraft. The larger cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors, the smaller one, which only has three rows, is located right after the L2 door. Today’s flight is very full in Business Class. In fact, at some point during the flight I take a look at the rear Business Class cabin, only to find that it is completely empty. And even in the main cabin there are still quite a few empty seats.

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The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.

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SERVICE
Probably due to the relatively light load, the ratio of cabin crew to passengers is outstanding on this flight. During the service I count three cabin crew for each of the two aisles. Like most European carriers, Austrian Airlines has Japanese staff working on the flight.

The crew are very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. Their attention to details is quite outstanding. Originally, I am seated on 4C, the aisle. But then one of the flight attendants informs me that 5A, a throne seat, will remain empty and I am more than welcome to change. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin to check on passengers and make sure they are okay.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
A selection of orange juice, sparkling wine or water. The orange juice comes with a slice of orange in it.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented hot towels – but they are rather flimsy.
Pre-meal drink:
Almdudler, an Austrian non-alcoholic drink made with herbs.
Choice:
There are two Western choices and two Japan-inspired choices for the main course.
Appearance:
The starter is served from a trolley, so passengers can pick and choose as they please.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Menu:
There is a food and beverage menu and a separate menu for coffees.
Meal:

  1. Antipasti from the trolley: smoked salmon with cream cheese, volcano ham and mountain cheese, traditional sweet pepper and ricotta spread, deep fried cauliflower with sauce tartar.
  2. An excellent selection from the breadbasket.
  3. Soup: beef consommé with butter dumpling.
  4. Main course: grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.
  5. Dessert: warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).
  6. Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.
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This meal is excellent! In fact it was so good I find it slightly irritating because this Business Class meal is far, far better than the grub I was served in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Haneda!

Where to begin? First of all, I really like the selection of antipasti that is available. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Austrian Airlines has gone for the good quality stuff. The smoked salmon is not at all fishy and has a rich, smoky taste; the ham is not at all chewy and the tartar sauce is subtle and balanced.

The main course is excellent and I find myself a) seriously wondering if I have ever had such a nice piece of meat on a plane before and b) if it would be rude to ask for a second helping. First of all, the pork has managed to stay juicy, even in the middle. The meat has a nice grilled flavour to it and the gravy it is served with is simply delicious. The dumpling that comes with it is just heaven. Enough said.

By the time I am through, I have more or less decided to skip dessert. I really do not think I can face anything else. But then the trolley reaches my row and I swear I can hear the apricot strudel calling out to me. The truffle cake is so rich my tongue is more or less glued to the top of my mouth. What a taste! Thank God for the whipped cream to dilute this hefty, moist revelation…

The apricot strudel is still warm when it is placed before me, and so is the vanilla sauce. I really do not know what to say, except perhaps ‘can I have some more…?’.

What also impresses about the crew is the efficiency and timing of the service. The meal does not feel rushed at all, but at the same time there is never a long wait in between courses.

Eventually the dishes are cleared away, one of the cabin crew brings me a bottle of still water and I settle in. I am already looking forward to the next meal!

Around half way between Narita and Vienna the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks. I have some fruit and an Onigiri. To drink the crew has orange juice and apple juice on offer. However, when she reaches my row, the flight attendant assures me that obviously she will be very glad to bring me anything else I would like to drink!

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SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal:
Yes, another flimsy scented affair.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Choice: There are two options for the main course.
Menu:

  1. Antipasti: prosciutto, aubergine, zucchini, mozzarella, gryuer.
  2. Main dish: ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.
  3. Dessert: chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.
  4. Selection from the breadbasket.
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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Vienna just a few minutes ahead of schedule and a rather pleasant experience with Austrian Airlines draws to an end. And what did I think of Austrian Airlines? The service was attentive, quite impeccable. The crew were friendly and approachable. The catering is something else and I really do think the quality and the selection available in Austrian Airlines’ Business Class puts to shame Lufthansa’s offering in First Class.

On the downside, I have certain reservations about the seat. If you are sitting on one of the single seats, there is ample storage space and somehow you are able to squeeze in and out of the seat when it is in the fully extended position. However, if you are sitting at by the window on one of the double seats, I seriously think you might have trouble getting in and out of the seat without disturbing your neighbour. The pitch is awfully tight. I am only 6’2 and even I was having trouble fitting my legs in the space provided. Apart from that, to be honest, it does kind of feel like what I imagine lying in a coffin is like.

Lufthansa, First Class – Boeing B 747-8i: Frankfurt to Tokyo Haneda

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TRANSFER TO THE TERMINAL
Transport:
Mercedes Benz.
Departs from: Right outside the aircraft.
Journey time: About ten minutes.

I emerge from the aircraft to find the First Class and Hon transfer service already waiting. There are two other gentlemen making the journey to the terminal complex with me. The car drops me off at arrivals near the B gates.

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From here I take the stairs one floor up and then do a u turn which eventually brings me to immigration. From there I keep on walking until I reach gate B 22, where there are stairs and a lift to go up one floor to the First Class lounge on the B concourse.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Near gate B 22 in the main terminal complex.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Lufthansa First Class lounge.
Facilities:
À la Carte dining restaurant as well as a very extensive and also very tasty buffet of hot and cold dishes, an incredibly well stocked bar, day rooms, shower rooms and bathrooms, lounging area, meeting rooms, smoking room, work stations.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge. A password is not required.

I really must hand it to Lufthansa: the lounges at their hub are really brilliant, just like this one. At reception I am welcomed by two friendly receptionist, who immediately take offence at my SWISS boarding pass that had been issued in Basel and immediately replace it with a Lufthansa branded one, which, incidentally, they also place in one of those totally camp, hopelessly useless but still rather nice board pass holders.

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Once I settle in, I decide to go freshen up. The lounge is completely deserted, literally. There are only two of us here. Even so, I expect there are probably rarely any queues for the showers – I count at least five shower rooms. Every room is stocked with fresh, soft towels, slippers, bathrobes and some nice toiletries by ETRO.

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Once I finish and exit the shower, one of the lounge attendants approaches me and asks me if there is anything I would like to drink. I grab some food from the buffet and make a start on the report. At this time of day there are only cold options at the buffet, with many different antipasti. Eventually I go for a plate with Hummus, Baba Ganouj, grilled asparagus with Parmesan, aubergines Parmigiana and some Asian inspired cucumber salad with chilli and coriander. Very tasty, but I will resist the desserts.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
At 17:35 I return to reception. One of the lounge ladies accompanies me to the lift. As the doors close she says good bye and wishes me a safe journey. Thank you!

The lift opens again at ground level, where a young man is already expecting me. My driver. This time I shall be travelling in a Porsche Cayenne. This is just so cool. We are moving at a leisurely pace past the A 380s and B 747s lined up at the Z dock before eventually we pull up next ‘Bremen’, which will be flying me to Haneda today.

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We enter the building and take the lift one floor up. M., if you are reading this, it is not my fault. Honest! He did not even ask if I wanted to take the stairs instead! My driver accompanies me to the first of the two airbridges attached to our aircraft and wishes me a safe journey.

CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 1 on the first two rows, 1 + 2 + 1 on the third row.
Pitch: 85 inches.
Width: 31.5 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet, wifi provided by Skynet.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, remote control or touch screen operation.

On the Boeing 747-8i, Lufthansa has installed the First Class cabin on the main deck. There are eight seats in total. Due to the curvature of the nose of the aircraft towards the front, there are no seats in the middle on the first two rows, there only being seats 1A/K and 2A/K. There are two seats in the middle on row 3 though.

In the sitting position, the seat has a very open and airy feel to it. However, for more privacy there is a screen that can be raised around the sides and back of the seat.

The cabin and seat are very elegantly appointed, with lots of indirect lighting. The colours are a combination of brown, cream and white, which are soothing and calming.

Apparently the Boeing B 747-8i has a bit of an issue with the insulation, which tends to soak up the humidity in the cabin air. As a result, on long flights the excess liquid has been known to start dripping from the ceiling, earning the aircraft the name ‘Tropfsteinhöhle’ – Stalactite Cave – from the crew.

Of the eight seats, six are already taken when I arrive. At the time boarding is completed, that one seat remains vacant.

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SERVICE

The captain comes on the PA to welcome us aboard. He also informs us that the tailwind component on runway 18 is too strong. Subsequently, all departing aircraft are going to have to use runway 25C instead. As a result, we will have to wait on board the aircraft for at least another hour. And indeed, eventually we end up taking off with a delay of ninety minutes over our scheduled departure time.

There is one young lady serving the First Class cabin today. She is friendly, warm and very professional. In short sequence she brings me the slippers, pjs, vanity kit, the macadamia nuts and the orange juice I ask her for.

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Later on, when it becomes apparent that there is not going to be any improvement on our departure time, she distributes the menus, takes orders for a second drinks rounds and serves the amuse bouche: crab meat salad with pickled cucumber and roe of flying fish.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
orange juice with macadamia nut, later still water and plum wine.
Hot towel before the meal: scented hot towel. It is rather a strong and masculine smell.
Pre-meal drink:
still water.
Choice:
there is a choice between a Japanese meal and a Western meal. In both cases there are two options for the main course.
Delivery:
trolley service.
Appearance:
the starters are served from a trolley and passengers are free to combine, mix and match as they like.
Type of meal:
dinner.
Meal:

  • caviar with trimmings
  • marinated asparagus salad
  • assorted hams
  • smoked fish mousse and cucumber salad
  • mixed salad
  • selection of bread slices and buns from the bread basket
  • steak with fried onions, leek and potato mash
  • cheese plate: Cabrissac, Blue Stilton, Pont l’Evêque, Chaource, Felsenkeller with orange chutney
  • dessert: manjari chocolate, coffee ice cream and golden nuts
  • fresh fruit

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All in all, the quality and taste of the food is quite good. My only complaint really, is the presentation of the main course. I mean, look at it! The green makes the leek and potato mash look positively venomous, even though it tastes just fine. A chef once told me that in a decent restaurant, a plate will always be served with an uneven number of items on it. Apparently the eye finds this more appealing. To be honest, I had never really paid much attention, but having seen this main course, I think understand what he meant now.

SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal:
yes, another one of those nice hot and scented affairs.
Drinks: orange juice, followed by a choice of filter coffee or cappuccino
Meal:

  • fresh fruit
  • cornflakes with milk
  • mango and passion fruit curd with passion fruit seed yoghurt
  • selection of cheese and cold cuts
  • scrambled egg with bacon or chives on demand

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ARRIVAL
The weather in Japan is about as bad as it was in Switzerland yesterday, with the difference that it is much warmer here. 40 minutes out of Haneda we descend into the murky grey below and only emerge underneath the cover of cloud shortly before touchdown.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Bus line 7.
Departs from: International Terminal.
Frequency: -.
Journey time: About 40 minutes.
Fare: 569 Yen.
If you are travelling to Yokohama, the easiest way to get there from Haneda is by direct bus. There are even busses that go directly to most of the large hotel chains. However, the frequency of the hotel busses is not so good. So instead, I shall be taking a bus to Yokohama railway station and will try to make my way to the hotel from there.

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Alternatively, if you prefer taking the train, take the Keikyu Line to Shinagawa. The journey from Haneda to Shinagawa takes 13 minutes. At Shinagawa, transfer to a JR Tokaido Line train to Yokohama, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.

CONCLUSION
So what about my Lufthansa experience? It has been quite a while since my last flight with the carrier, so I was rather curious to see what they are like now, or perhaps what my perception of them is. As far as the ground product goes, I really do think that there is no European carrier that can touch Lufthansa. I think Frankfurt is one huge mess, but if you are travelling in First Class with Lufthansa, none of that really matters and the carrier goes to great lengths to keep you away from the chaos, the hustle and bustle and the crowds.

The inflight product on the other hand, is a different matter. The Boeing B 747-8 is a gorgeous bird, really. I also think it was the right decision by Lufthansa to move the First Class cabin from the upper deck into the nose of the main deck. Having said that, I am not really sure all passengers will equally be ale to appreciate the location of the First Class cabin in the nose of the beast. I was on 1K, so I had the entire cabin behind me. I was also very far away from the noise. But I think If I had been on row 3 I may not have been such a happy bunny, the noise and the light from the galley are quite glaring.

The crew were friendly enough, no complaints there. And the food was good too. But all in all, presentation was lacking and choices were limited. If you do not like meat, you are in serious trouble in Lufthansa First Class.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Embraer 190: Feeding into the mega hub

CHECK-IN
Location:
Departures on the first floor.
Facilities: Self-service machines and dedicated counters.
Counters: There are three counters (64 – 66) available for Star Alliance flights in check-in hall 1 on the Swiss side of the terminal, although only one of the two Economy Class counters and the Business Class counter are staffed when I arrive.

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The check-in agent seems a bit upset. I am not really sure if it because I am only going on such a far away trip for the weekend of if she just does not approve of my somewhat limited luggage. ‘Do you have check-in luggage?’ ‘Uhm, no.’ She wrinkles her nose. ‘May I see your hand luggage…? Is that all your luggage?’ ‘Uhm, yeah’. She wrinkles her nose again. She issues my boarding passes. No bye, no thank you, nothing. Yes, well it was nice talking to you to, Ma’am.

I head for the stairs to take me one floor up to security and the departure gates. Just as I am about to climb the stairs some dude comes rushing up from the Easyjet check-in area and body-checks just about everyone, including me, in his way as he elbows his way forward. Apparently, his Easyjet flight is leaving in ten minutes. So apparently, his on time performance is totally crap too.

Once I am through security I go and take a look, just out of curiosity. I do not think he is going to make it. There is only one Easyjet aircraft standing around, heading for Thessaloniki, and that is just pushing back…Shame the queue for security is so long today.

In any case, I shall refrain from giving you another full-on review of the flight to Frankfurt. First of all, because it is hardly long enough. Secondly, because I have already covered things like the lounge in Basel in some of my previous reports.

The flight to Frankfurt is operated by an Embraer 190 with a configuration of 2 + 2. In Business Class, one of the two seats is kept empty and a small tray table is fixed to the spare seat to provide some extra storage area. There are five passengers in Business Class on today’s flight.

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Despite the relatively short flight time of only 50 minutes, Lufthansa serves a meal on a tray on this sector. In this particular case, the meal consists of a double-decker sandwich with a layer of smoked salmon and cream cheese and another with boiled egg and watercress. The meal is fine, but perhaps a tad heavy on the sweet stuff. There is a Danish pastry on the plate, as well as two filled Easter eggs and a small box of chocolates.

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TRANSFER TO THE TERMINAL
Transport:
Mercedes Benz.
Departs from: Right outside the aircraft.
Journey time: About ten minutes.

We land on the northern most runway, which is not really that big a deal if you are travelling in First Class because at least this runway is closer to some of the remote stands for Lufthansa’s regional fleet, right behind the threshold of runway 18.

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I emerge from the aircraft to find the First Class and Hon transfer service already waiting. There are two other gentlemen making the journey to the terminal complex with me. The car drops me off at arrivals near the B gates.

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From here I take the stairs one floor up and then do a u turn which eventually brings me to immigration. From there I keep on walking until I reach gate B 22, where there are stairs and a lift to go up one floor to the First Class lounge on the B concourse.