Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-500: Riga to Zürich

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
So here we are. This is it: my last flight of 2015 will be from Riga back to Zürich. From what little I manage to see this morning, I rather like Riga. It is very modern and looks like a perfect symbiosis of Vilnius and Tallinn.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus.
Fare: EUR2.- if you pay on the bus or EUR1.15 if you purchase the ticket in advance at a kiosk.
Journey time: There are two busses that serve the airport, the minibus line 222 and the normal bus line 22. The difference between the two being that the minibus does not serve all stops on the route and once it is full, it will just keep going. Thus, the journey time is between 20 and 30 minutes depending on which bus you take.
Frequency: Both bus lines run more or less every 20 minutes.
Departs from: You can pick up both busses from the stop near the main railway station. The bus stop goes by the name of 13 January.
Arrives at: Riga airport departures.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Departures concourse on the first floor, counters 8 – 17.
Facilities: Web Check-in with passbook, self-service check-in machines and counter check-in.
Fast track: Dedicated Business Class counters and fast track for security.

Thank god for the fast track! As I enter the terminal building, there is a very long queue for security which reaches all the way back to the check-in counters. But fortunately, Business Class passengers can bypass the queue using the fast track, which is off to the right of the general security screening. The process here is much swifter. There are two young families travelling with very young kids in strollers, and getting everybody through security takes a moment. But other than that, it is a smooth process.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Just follow the signs for the B gates. Eventually, you will reach the transfer desk for Air Baltic. The entrance to the lounge is to the right of the transfer desk.
Type of lounge: TAV Premium Class contractor lounge. From what I can tell, this is the only lounge at the airport.
Facilities: Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers. There are Samsung laptops available as well.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. Password required.
Catering: There is a small buffet with a good selection of salads and bread. There is also a pot of something that looks like rice pudding and some very tasty looking pancakes.

The lounge is nice and fairly quiet when I arrive, presumably it would be slightly different on weekdays. I rather like that the lounge is on two levels. The upper area is the quiet zone and indeed, I am the only person there. The views from the lounge are also very good, now if only there were also some traffic to watch…

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BOARDING
Boarding is from B10, which is a bus gate. I would say there are about 70 passengers in total on the flight today. Seated on row 1 gives me a good excuse to keep back in the queue and take some pictures of the chariot carrying me away to Zürich.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2, in Business Class the middle seat on the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: 1C, aisle. There is a tray table on the middle seat to provide some additional storage space. There are three rows of Business Class for a total of twelve seats. Of those, eight are occupied.

Just one word of caution though, especially if you are sitting on row one on the port side of the aircraft: there is no bulkhead. In other words, there is no wall to protect passengers sitting on 1A and 1C from the wind and icy temperatures this time of the year. So I would recommend you keep your coat on until boarding is completed, unless you enjoy freezing. On the up side, the nonexistent bulkhead means you have unlimited leg space.

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SERVICE
There are three cabin crew, two women and one man. All of them seem very young but they go about their job in a very professional and courteous way.

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THE MEAL
Drink before the meal:
Yes, I have a Coke Zero.
Type of meal: Lunch.
Service: Individual tray service.
Meal:

  1. Roast beef with hummus and pickled cucumber.
  2. Chicken in a Garam Masala crust, with vegetables and potatoes.
  3. Mango cheesecake.
  4. A selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee with milk or cream.

As on the previous flight the day before, passengers are handed a menu while the aircraft is still on the ground. The meal is tasty enough, although the dessert on this flight is nowhere near as good as that on the flight from Stockholm.

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ARRIVAL
Miraculously, I even manage to doze off for about an hour after the flight. When I awake, we are still forty minutes out of Zürich. Even so, the male flight attendant approaches me and asks me if I would like a cup of coffee before we land, explaining that I was already sleeping when he came round offering tea or coffee the first time.

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And then we land. Zürich airport is fairly quiet, the last departures of the midday bank can be seen queuing for departure from runway 16 as we glide past them to touch down on runway 14.

Twenty two minutes after the landing gear makes contact with runway 14, I am already sitting on the train back to Basel. Since the timetable change early in December, the airport train to Basel now also runs via Zürich Main Station, which only further increases the journey time and make the train even more inconvenient.

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And so another year of travel draws to an end.

Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Stockholm to Riga

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
In Stockholm I am staying at the Hotel J in Nacka Strand on the outskirts of the city. I like the Hotel J very much, and over the years I have kept coming back here for a short but quiet weekend. Particularly during the winter time it is nice to curl up with a book near the open fire in the main building.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Boat ferry and train.
Fare: SEK300 per person for the Arlanda Express train if you are travelling as a couple. The ticket for the ferry costs SEK39 and is valid on all ferries and busses within zone A. Although in this particular case, the ticket is included in the hotel package I booked.
Journey time: By ferry it is about 25 to 30 minutes from Nacka Strand to the city centre. From there it is another 20 to 25 minutes on foot to the central railway station, through the main shopping area and then another 20 minutes on the Arlanda Express from the city to the terminus at Arlanda North.
Frequency: During the wintertime the ferry to Nacka Strand runs roughly once an hour at 03 minutes past the hour. If you are in a hurry, alternatively you can take the bus from Nacka Strand to Slussen, which takes roughly 15 minutes. From Slussen you can either walk or take the underground train for two stops to the central station. The Arlanda Express runs every 15 minutes.
Departs from: Nacka Strand ferry.
Arrives at: Arlanda North.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 5. Departures are located on the first floor. Check-in counters 71 – 90. Check-in for Air Baltic is done by SAS in Stockholm. Counter 90 is the Business Class counter.
Facilities: Web Check-in with passbook, or airport check-in at the counter or self-service machine.
Fast track: Dedicated Business Class counters and fast track for security.

I have already checked in for my flight. You will receive a reminder from Air Baltic by mail and SMS as soon as the flight opens for check-in. There is a dedicated fast track for security which, apparently, is only available to SAS and its Star Alliance partners. However, when I arrive at the counter for the boarding pass check, the guy tells me that I may use the fast track if I am travelling in Air Baltic Business Class.

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The security check will spit you out by the entrance to the large duty free store. If you are not interested in shopping, there is an exit on the left, just before the duty free area. But alas, it is probably not entirely by coincidence that the exit is blocked by trolleys, thus obliging all passengers to walk through the store.

LOUNGE
Location:
As you exit the duty free store, turn left and head for gate 1. To the left of the gate you will find lifts and stairs taking you up to the entrance of the lounge on the fourth floor.
Type of lounge: SAS Business Class lounge.
Facilities: Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. Apparently there is a password, but when I logged in, none was required.
Catering: There is a large buffet with a good selection of salads, crudités and bread. There is also a pot of tasty potato and leek soup, tea and coffee making facilities and a nice selection of cookies.

The lounge is really nice. It has been a while since I was here last and in the meantime the SAS lounges have had a complete make over. Of course it also helps that the lounge is fairly empty and quiet when I arrive.

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BOARDING
Ah yes. This is where things look as though they may start to go horribly wrong. Boarding for my flight is expected to start at 14h45 for a 15h15 departure. However, when 15h00 rolls on and still nothing happens, I figure there may be a slight delay. Just a short while later the gate agents informs us that the aircraft suffered a bird strike on the approach into Stockholm and that therefore the propeller and engine will need to be checked first, before the aircraft is cleared to fly again. Eventually, boarding starts at 15h50, although we still have to wait for the mechanics to produce the documents before they can release the aircraft for the flight.

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During our stay on board, the crew do an excellent job of keeping us informed about the flight’s current status. At some point one of the flight attendants comes and asks me if she can bring me a drink while we wait. She also brings me a blanket in case I am starting to feel cold, what with he door still open.

Eventually we depart at 16h48, with a delay of slightly more than 90 minutes. Our flight time to Riga is given as 55 minutes.
CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2, although in Business Class only one of the seats on the row of two is occupied.
Seat: 2A, window. This is pretty much the standard seat most if not all carriers have installed on the Q400. What I like about the seat is that it allows you to sit very upright. I do not have any information about the width or pitch of the seat. All I can say though, is that on 2A there is plenty of space to move around, and I am even able to cross my legs without any significant contortions. There are 2.5 rows of Business Class, for a total of three seats. Apart from me there is only one other passengers seated on 1A.

There is only a row 1 on the port side of the aircraft. On the starboard side row 2 is the first row and also offers quite a lot of legroom because of the emergency exit.

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SERVICE
There are two young female cabin crew working the flight today and I think they are doing a really smashing job. They are taking good care of the passengers, handling those who are upset at the prospect of missing their connection in Riga. Nothing seems to be a problem for them and they seem very competent and in control.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice.
Hot towel: Scented hot towels are handed out before the meal. Remember, this is a flight of only 55 minutes!
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Service: Individual tray service.
Meal:

  1. Goat’s cheese in a dill crust with grilled peppers and frisée salad.
  2. Chicken satay with pickled cucumber and carrot on a bed of frisée salad, served with a balsamico vinaigrette.
  3. Chocolate and pecan cake with caramel topping.
  4. A selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee.

Quite surprisingly, a menu is handed out before the meal. The service is very polished and I notice that the crew do not hand me anything directly but serve everything from a small round tray. The quality of the meal is very good and the dessert in particular is really to die for. It is just so rich and sweet. Just how I like it.

At the end of the meal the flight attendant comes to inquire if I fancy tea or coffee. She tells me they have black tea, rose tea, green tea and a special Christmas mix which she can highly recommend. I feel like a bit of a cad telling her I would prefer a cup of coffee. But even then she manages to surprise me and asks me if I prefer milk or cream in my coffee. A short while later she returns with the coffee and a bowl of sugar cubes and a small jug of milk.

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ARRIVAL
A short while later we start our descent into Riga. Probably because we are running late our aircraft is parked right next to the terminal. So we can just walk the short distance across the apron to the terminal.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Bus.
Fee: EUR2.- if you buy the ticket on the bus or EUR1.15 if you buy it at the kiosk. There are ticket machines, but those are only for day cards and not for single-trip journeys.
Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes.
Departs from: Opposite the terminal building. Upon exiting arrivals turn right and follow the signs for public transport. Cross the road and you should reach the bus stop.
Arrives: If your hotel is in the centre of town, you can alight at the stop after the national library, on the other side of the river. From there it is really just a very short walk into the city. Alternatively, you can stay on the bus until the terminus at the railway station, which is another 10 minutes journey.

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Ethiopian Airlines, Economy Class – Boeing B787-8: Vienna to Stockholm

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
There is reason to my madness you know. Yesterday I flew from Luxembourg to Vienna because today, literally at the crack of dawn, I shall be flying to Stockholm on Ethiopian’s Boeing B 787-8. The flight originates in Addis Abeba obviously, and arrives in Vienna just before six in the morning and then continues to Stockholm at 06h50.

CHECK-IN
Location: Terminal 3, rows 331.
Facilities: There are dedicated check-in counters for the Ethiopian Airlines flight. There is even a plush green carpet in front of the Business Class counter. Web check-in is also possible. I have already checked in online for the flight.

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From the NH Hotel it is just a short walk across the road to the airport.

The flight will be boarding from gate D25, which is in the non-Schengen area of the old terminal. Once you are airside, you need to pass through the large duty-free shopping area. At the end turn left and head for the D gates until eventually you reach immigration. If you like shopping at airports, be sure to get everything you need before immigration, because there are not that many shops on the other side.

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The security check takes place right in front of the gate. There is no queue for security and once I am inside the lounge, I inquire with the gate attendant about the load on this morning’s flight. She informs me that the flight is only about half full and there are merely five passengers joining the flight in Vienna for the tag on to Stockholm.

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BOARDING
With only five passengers joining the flight in Vienna, there is hardly anything to say about the boarding process. It is certainly quick! As I board the aircraft, an Ethiopian young lady is standing by the door to welcome us aboard. She is wearing a typical flight attendant’s uniform, but instead of a uniform jacket she has on a white, see-through wrap around with a bright floral pattern along the hem. The crew are all smiles and seem genuinely friendly, especially compared to the bats from hell that were working yesterday’s Austrian Airlines service.

THE CABIN
Configuration: 3 + 3 + 3
Seat: Originally, I am seated on 18C, which is an aisle seat. However, given that the flight is not full, I move back to 33A for take-off to get a better view of the aircraft’s legendary wingflex. The seat is nice and comfortable and has very generous pitch. I think even a long flight in this seat would be manageable.
Pitch: 32 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: USB port.
Inflight entertainment: 15.4 inch touch screen with 85 channels. The system is very interactive and offers a lot of options. I did not watch any films, but their selection of movies is quite good and up to date. I only use the moving map on this flight.

The cabin on this bird looks rather nice. It is just a pity that nobody bothered to clear up the place a bit before boarding the passengers for the flight to Stockholm. Probably because all passengers arriving from Addis Abeba remain on the plane during the layover in Vienna and the crew does not change either. So everything looks just a bit untidy. There are pillows, blankets and used earphones lying about everywhere.

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The B 787 is a very quiet bird. It takes me a moment to realise the engines are already running. In fact, the noise inside the cabin is so small you even can hear the motors operating the flap actuators.

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THE MEAL & SERVICE
Type of meal: Breakfast.
Meal:

  1. Bun with butter and strawberry jam.
  2. Cinnamon and apple muffin.
  3. Fruit salad.
  4. Apple juice.
  5. Tea or coffee.

The meal is a bit of a trip down memory lane. God, I cannot even remember the last time I was given a meal on a tray in Economy Class on a short-haul European flight!

The fruit salad is made with tinned fruit and is very sweet. The bun and the muffin though are quite okay and the coffee is surprisingly good.

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After the meal tray is removed, I spend the rest of my time watching that spectacular wingflew.

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ARRIVAL
There is something very poetic about the scenery outside. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that the B 787 is so quiet and the wing can really flex. Somehow I keep thinking that it feels a bit like what I imagine flying is like for a bird, if you know what I mean…?

Eventually we land in Arlanda. We taxi for quite a long time before eventually we reach our parking position at Terminal 5.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Train.
Departs from: Arlanda North. There is direct access to the station from Terminal 5.
Arrives: Stockholm central station.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Frequency: Every 15 minutes.
Costs: SEK600 per person for a return if you are travelling as a couple.

With public transport you can access the city either using the Arlanda Express train or the airport busses. The airport busses are cheaper, admittedly. However, keep in mind that Arlanda is quite far out of town, so that the journey by bus will inevitably take you much longer than the journey by train, the latter travelling at 184km/h.

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Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Fokker F 100: Munich to Vienna

Folie1

TRANSFER IN MUNICH
Transferring in Munich is easy enough. My flight to Vienna will be leaving at 19h25 and is boarding from gate G 38.

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BOARDING
Priority boarding: Available but a bit useless.

The first boarding call is for Business Class passengers and Senators only, which seems a bit superfluous given that a bus will be taking us to the aircraft. So priority basically means that you get to choose the best seats on the bus…

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CABIN
Configuration: 2 + 3
Seat: 15A, window seat on the row of two. The seat looks rather nice and the dark colours give the cabin a very classy appearance. It looks as though Austrian has refurbished its F 100s. The overhead bins for example have a much more modern look and feel compared to KLM’s F 70s. Having said that, the capacity of the overhead bins is limited in comparison to KLM. And as a result, this being a full flight, passengers and crew are having difficulties finding enough space in the cabin to store the copious amounts of luggage people have carted on board.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.

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THE MEAL & SERVICE
There are three female cabin crew on this flight. And to be honest, all three of them exude the warmth and charm of a corpse. The most senior one of the three witches of Eastwick is standing at the door to welcome passengers as they board. At least that is what I think she should have been doing. But in actual fact she is standing there eyeballing the passengers with this serious couldn’t-give-a-fuck expression on her face. She also seems to have lost her ability to speak somewhere along the way. I say ‘hello’ when she looks at me and I all I get in return is another glare and silence. Oh yes, she’s definitely a really class act this one.

The meal consists of a small packed of savoury biscuits and a cup of still water.

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ARRIVAL
Fortunately, our flight time is only 40 minutes and we land in Vienna right on time at 20h20. Unfortunately, it is going to be yet another bus to the terminal. I wait for all the other passengers to disembark before I get up to collect all my stuff and put on my coat. Obviously, by this time the bus is completely packed. There are still passengers standing around on the apron trying to figure out where to sit. And that includes me. Not that the crew or the bus driver could give a shit.

HOTEL NH VIENNA AIRPORT
I shall be leaving Vienna again fairly early tomorrow morning, so I will not bother to go into the city. The NH Hotel is located just a short distance from the terminal and is easily accessed via the subway that leads to the airport’s railway station. Just follow the signs marked ‘Hotel’.

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MY JOURNEY WITH THE LUFTHANSA GROUP
Lufthansa, whatever happened to you? I mean, I know it has been a while since my last intra-European flight with the Lufthansa group. Even so, I really am quite amazed at how service standards have deteriorated – even by Economy Class standards. On the Lufthansa flight from Luxembourg to Munich the crew were anonymous and completely exchangeable, there was nothing about them that made you think ‘ah yes, this is what I like about Lufthansa’. And I assume that is probably because it is not even really Lufthansa anymore. The aircraft was branded as Lufthansa Group and an announcement was made that apparently the flight was operated by Germanwings. God who pays the crew’s salary. The overall effect though, is of a totally soulless and undefined carrier that really does not in any way stand out from the competition and probably even looses in some areas, like inflight service, when compared to operators like Easyjet.

And Austrian Airlines are simply bizarre. I just do not understand. Their crews are like the aeronautical equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On long-haul flights I find that Austrian Airlines really shines and its crews are something else. But on European short-haul they just suck very much.

A while back I abandoned Lufthansa and Miles & More, mainly because I could achieve Platinum status with Air France and Silver status with British Airways with only half the effort it takes to remain a Senator. Unfortunately, my experience with Lufthansa and Austrian on these two short flights did nothing to make me want to reconsider and return to the fold.

So long Lufthansa, it was nice while it lasted but all good things must come to an end…

Lufthansa, Economy Class – Canadair CRJ-900: Luxembourg to Munich

Folie1GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Price: EUR25.-

The course goes well. I leave Eurocontrol at 15h30. From the Kirchberg plateau to the airport the journey time is roughly fifteen minutes. I head straight for security. Quite simply because there is nothing else to do here – the facility is rather small.

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LOUNGE
Type of lounge: Luxair Lounge. It is the only lounge here at the airport and is used by most airlines.
Location: On the ground floor. After security, instead of turning right to go down the escalators, keep going straight ahead until you reach the sliding doors to the lounge.
Facilities: Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, there is also a work area with high chairs and a relaxation area with rather comfortable leather armchairs.
Catering: A selection of snacks if available, including salads, crisps, bread and cheese and a variety of pastries.
Internet: Complimentary wifi is available throughout the airport.

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Luxair is a Miles and More airline, but not a member of the Star Alliance. To be honest, I am not really quite sure what the difference is and how that works. But I am glad even so that I have access to the lounge on this occasion because the rest of the airport is rather crowded and only limited seating is available.

BOARDING
Boarding is from A 15, which is a bus gate used for aircraft parked on a remote stand. I reach the gate just as boarding for the flight is closing. I head downstairs and the bus is already full. As I look around me at my fellow passengers, I notice a preponderance of seriously obese businessmen on this flight. And strangely enough, they all seem to think they are oh so awfully important. Is this what happens to you when you work for the European commission and spend three quarters of your time commuting back and forth to Luxembourg for largely unnecessary meetings?

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CABIN
Configuration: 2 + 2 in Economy Class. There are 78 seats in total.
Seat: 18D, aisle on the emergency exit.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17.5 inches.

The nice thing about the CRJ-900 is that there are two overwing emergency hatches, so there are eight available seats with better legroom. At the time of booking I had not reserved a seat, but when I checked in using the Lufthansa App, the aisle seat on the second emergency row was still available.

The cabin of Lufthansa’s European fleet really is depressing. The whole thing just looks so plain, drab and bleak in a multitude of different shades of grey. And I do not mean that in a kinky way.

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THE MEAL & SERVICE
There are two cabin crew working the flight today. They are not overly friendly, but at least they are trying… a bit. I think smiling must be quite painful for the poor things…

The meal consists of a boiled egg and cheese sandwich which has an interesting taste of essence de plastic with a hint of diesel infused mustard. Just lovely! But of course the ‘interesting’ flavour does not keep Mr Importantly Overweight in front of me from asking for two more sandwiches… To drink I have a diet Coke.

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ARRIVAL
We land and taxi to a remote stand somewhere by the satellite of Terminal 2. And then from there we are squeezed into a bus and ferried to arrivals. I now have ten minutes before my next flight starts boarding.

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KLM, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700 & Fokker F 70: Zürich to Luxembourg via Amsterdam

Folie1

INTRODUCTION

This way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper.

– T. S. Eliot

Don’t worry. I’m not feeling suicidal. It’s just that this shall be my last trip for this year and after that I will not have a single PNR open. No future reservations. For the time being at least. Of course, I am aware of the fact that this series of trip reports on my last trip of 2015 should be something spectacular, something flashy and fancy. But it’s not quite like that.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Train.
Departs from: Winterthur Station.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Journey time: 13 minutes.
Frequency: Every 20 minutes, the nonstop trains run at 25, 28, 55 and 58 past the hour.

My flight will be leaving at 17h30, with boarding scheduled for 17h00. So I leave the office at 15h40 to catch the direct train 15h55. I like this time of year, when the sun remains low above the horizon all day and casts melancholy shadows.

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Surprisingly, when I arrive at Zürich airport, the place if fairly quiet. I have already checked in online, using the KLM App. But before I go through security, I have an errand to run. I want to get some pralines for my business partners in Luxembourg.

Personally, I think Läderach make the best chocolate out there. Forget about Cailler, Lindt or Belgian chocolate. Läderach makes them all look like amateurs. At Zürich airport their shop is in Terminal A, opposite the entrance to the centralised security check facility.

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BOARDING
Priority boarding: Available.

By the time I get the chocolate and I am past security, it is already gone 16h30. My flight will start boarding in less than half an hour from gate A 83, which is at the far end of the A concourse. Also, in my old age I find that I am increasingly bored by airlines lounge. It is much more fun to sit in the public area, watching the world go by. So from security I head straight for A 83 and park myself in a good place for some serious people watching.

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Boarding for the flights starts five minutes ahead of schedule. The flight is not full and the captain is eager for us to get away as quickly as possible to avoid a bank of fog that is rolling in from the north.

CABIN
Configuration: 3 + 3 in Economy Class. There are 132 seats in total.
Seat: 6A, window. The first four rows of the cabin are Business Class, although on today’s flight there are only three passengers sitting in the forward cabin.
Pitch: 33 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Inflight entertainment: There is a console in the armrests to select channels and regulate the volume. However, I am not even sure the aircraft has video screens.

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The flight this evening is not full, so the maître de comes on to make an announcement that for weight and balance reasons, all passengers are required to take the seat they were assigned at check-in, despite the many empty seats. Quite frankly I think this is a load of bull. I can imagine that the distribution of passengers may make a difference on a small aircraft like the ATR-42 or the Saab 2000, but I hardly think it matters on an aircraft the size of the B 737-700.

Fortunately, the Platinum fairy has worked her magic again at check-in and the seat beside me stays empty. If you are interested in airplanes like me – you may have guessed – 6A is a good seat. You have an aligned window which provides some good views of the engine and wing.

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In any case, we push back on time and then make the short taxi to runway 28. We are number five for departure and the mist is coming in pretty thick by this time.

THE MEAL & SERVICE
Type of meal: Dinner snack

As this is an evening flight, KLM has the decency to serve a small cheese sandwich as a snack. What I like in particular, is that it is always a Dutch cheese they use for the sandwich and there is usually a brief explanation about what kind of cheese it is in the box in which the sandwich is served. Today’s cheese is a Beemster.

To drink with that I have a coffee and a glass of still water. Note that KLM will only provide sparkling water in Business Class, but not in Economy.

The meal hits the spot nicely and just a short while after I finish, it is already time for us to start our descent into Amsterdam.

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TRANSFER IN AMSTERDAM
We land on the famous Polderbaan that is runway 18R. It is the runway that is farthest away from the terminal area and the apron. After landing on the Polderbann it is another fifteen minutes of taxiing before eventually we arrive on our parking position at the C gates.

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By the time I disembark I have a bit more than one hour before boarding for the flight to Luxembourg begins. I am also hungry. So once more I decide to ignore the lounge and instead head up one floor from the central airside plaza to the food court.

Just in case you are interested, there is a central check-out area for the entire food court, where you pay for your purchase. I could really murder a hamburger right now, so I make my way over to Burger King. The queue is long but at least it moves quickly. There is also a Sbarro’s serving Italian food as well as a restaurant serving Asian and Dutch specialties.

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THE FLIGHT TO LUXEMBOURG
There is not really anything much to say about the flight to Amsterdam, except that it is very short, with a block time of only forty minutes. Boarding is from a remote stand and the flight is not overly full.

As a Platinum member I can select the emergency exit at no additional cost, so I am seated on 11A, which is the window seat on the emergency exit on the row of two seats. The seat next to me stays empty.

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Despite the very short flying time, KLM provide a snack on this service, which consists of a small packet of English crisps and pre-packed Turkish still water.

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ARRIVAL
We arrive on time. I only have hand luggage with me on this trip. So as soon as the bus drops us off at the terminal, I head upstairs, through arrivals and then head one floor up to take a taxi to the Doubletree in Domeldange.

Just so you know, in case you are contemplating taking public transport. First of all, the airport bus runs to the centre of town. So if you are staying at the Doubletree, you would first need to grab a bus to Hamilus and then from there catch the bus line 5 to take you to the Doubletree, which will take for ever. Secondly, you can purchase tickets on board most public transport in Luxembourg, except  the airport bus, and there is no machine for you to purchase tickets at the airport either. Which is just all sorts of awkward.

Air France, Business Class – Embraer 170 and Boeing B 777-200: Basel via Paris to Montreal

AF to YUL

INTRODUCTION
Fourteen hours after I arrive home from my trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil, I find myself on my way back to Basel airport for my last overseas trip this year. I am on my way to Montreal again for another meeting with ICAO. When I checked my iPhone this morning, Montreal was reporting a temperature of -8 degrees. Why can they not have these meetings in summer?

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus line 50.
Journey time: About fifteen minutes, depending on whether it is a nonstop bus or not.
Departs from: Basel SBB, the main Swiss railway station.
Arrives: Euroairport, departures on level 2.
Cost: I think CHF3.50.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Hall 1 in the French sectors. As you enter the terminal on level 2, which is the departure concourse, turn right.
Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, airport check-in counters, self-service machines.
Counters: There is a dedicate counter for SkyPriority passengers. It is usually cordoned off, but a member of the ground staff will let you through on request. They do not even want to see your card or anything like that.

I drop my bag off. I have not really got that much stuff with me, I am only gone for two days, but it is just easiest to check-in a suitcase to make sure my suit does not get all crunched up.

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LOUNGE
In theory, passengers with Air France are allowed to use the Swissport SkyView lounge on the Swiss side of the terminal. However, since the events in Paris last week, the French side of the terminal has been hermetically sealed off airside from the rest of the terminal. So instead of visiting the lounge, I grab myself a Coke Zero at the self-service café and settle down near a power outlet to work on my computer (When you go through security in France, it is important that you make sure your battery is still charged).

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
SkyPriority have a separate queue and the gate dragons are strict in turning away passengers who are not entitled to use that queue.

Boarding is via the apron, which gives me the opportunity to snap a few pictures of my ride to Paris today. The flight is pretty full, from what I can tell.

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CABIN
I seem to have lucked out today and despite the heavy load, the seat next to me on this short hop to Paris will remain empty. Previously I had not noticed that the Embraer 170 does not appear to have any overwing emergency hatches.

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SERVICE
There are two middle-aged female cabin crew working the flight today. They seem friendly enough.

THE MEAL
The flight time to Paris is only 50 minutes. Hence, ‘the meal’ is limited to a cup of coffee and two tasty lemon flavoured biscuits.

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TRANSFER IN PARIS CHARLES de GAULLE TERMINAL 2
As usual, the regional flights arrive and depart from Terminal 2G, which is really way out in the sticks. My connecting flight will be leaving from the L concourse of Terminal 2E. As I enter the terminal, I simply follow the signs for 2E. Immigration takes place in 2G, before you step on board the shuttle to take you to 2E.

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LOUNGE
Type of Lounge:
Salon Air France.
Location: One floor up from the main transit area.
Facilities: Two buffets with cold snacks, hot and cold drinks, desks to work on (but no computers), toilets are available in the lounge.
Internet: Complimentary wifi, no password required.

The lounge is very busy when I arrive. Even so, there are still plenty of seats available as the lounge is rather huge. I will not be staying here for very long anyway.

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BOARDING
Priority boarding: I arrive at gate L42 about fifty minutes before departure and boarding has already started. There is a separate line for SkyPriority passengers. Before you join the queue, your passport and boarding pass are checked by a security office. Business Class and Premium Economy Class passengers board the aircraft through the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers board via the L2.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 3 + 2
Seat: 1B. The Business Class section on this aircraft is located between the L1 and L2 doors. In total there are 35 seats on five rows. On today’s flight only three of the middle seats on the rows of three have remained empty. Other than that the flight is full.

The seat is of the angled lie-flat type. Other than that though, it is fairly comfortable. Obviously the biggest drawback is the configuration with seven abreast. Apart from the fact that I certainly would not want to be the guy stuck in the middle, the configuration is now pretty outdated and can hardly match the level of privacy that Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines offer in Business Class.
Pitch: 79 inches.
Width:
21 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt ac power port is available at every seat, located at the bottom of the middle console.
Audio and Video: The entertainment system has a 10 inch screen and uses some very basic touch screen technology, which works really badly. In fact, the same thing can be said for the entire entertainment system – during the flight is has to be rebooted no less than three times and still it does not work!

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SERVICE
The crew on this flight is friendly but quite reserved. Everyone is professional in the way they go about their duties, but they are completely lacking of any personal touch or warmth.

When I board the aircraft, a pillow, a nice thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at each seat. Just a piece of advice: the covers for the earphones are inside the slippers.

While we are still on the ground, the crew first distribute the vanity kits, followed by a welcome drink and a scented hot towel.

I really like Air France’s vanity kits. Not only do they look chic, I also find they are well stocked and include Colgate toothpaste and mouthwash.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
There is a choice of orange juice, still water, champagne and fruit of the forest juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Ice tea, served with butter sticks and an amuse bouche of artichoke cream with beetroot and Jerusalem artichoke.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main course – fish, pasta, duck or lamb.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Duck and goose foie gras terrine; a medley of yellow and red sun-dried tomatoes with zucchini, carrots, Permesan cheese sautéed black grapes.
  • Green salad with a choice of balsamic dressing or red pepper and olive oil dressing.
  • Filet of cod with a leek cream sauce, onion, carrot and saffron basmati rice.
  • Sainte-Maure and Camembert cheese.
  • Selection from the breadbasket with butter.
  • Praliné cream puff, lemon cupcake, pineapple parfait with vanilla cream and passion fruit sorbet.
  • Tea or coffee.
  • A piece of black chocolate.

The food is very tasty and filling, although I absolutely refuse to eat the foie gras. After the meal I spend my time reading in my Kindle. At some point the inflight entertainment does briefly work, and I watch an ancient episode of the Bing Bang Theory.

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THE SECOND SERVICE
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Light snack.
Meal:

  • Cream of cauliflower with caviar.
  • A chicken muffin with tomato and basil, which tastes better than it sounds.
  • And a boursin cheese and cucumber roulade.
  • Lemon cream puff, raspberry and apple tart, fresh fruit salad.
  • Tea or coffee.

The meal is really just a snack, but it hits the spot nicely. After all, it is already gone 21h in Europe by this time. The meal is removed and shortly thereafter we start our descent into Montreal. Before the seatbelt sign comes on, the crew distribute another hot towel.

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ARRIVAL
The airport is surprisingly quiet when we arrive. I am the first to disembark and in fact I am also the first person to queue for immigration. I head downstairs to collect my suitcase, which arrives a short while later. And then I step out into the freezing cold to grab a taxi into the city. And it really is freezing, with the temperature at -3 degrees Celsius. Well, at least there is no snow…

GETTING INTO THE CITY
Transport:
Taxi.
Journey time: 30 minutes.
Fare: CAD40, it is a fixed rate from the airport to the city.

The journey into the city takes between thirty and forty minutes, depending on traffic and the driver’s driving style, which in this particular case can best be described as sporty.