Finnair, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Helsinki

FINNAIR Logo Blue

Date: 28 May 2016.
Departure: 10:55.
Arrival: 14:15.
Flight time: 2 hours and fifty minutes.
Seat: Initially 2D, aisle on the right side of the aircraft. Then 7F, window.

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INTRODUCTION
Originally, I should have made this trip last year, in the week between Christmas and New Year. But by the time December rolled on, I had done so much travelling that I really did not fancy the idea of getting on a plane again, and so the trip was postponed. In hindsight, it probably would have been better had I taken the trip last December, given that I had an accident with my bike on boxing day and ended up cracking a few ribs, breaking my right shoulder and tearing a few ligaments…

But I digress. It is Saturday morning, just before eight o’clock. I have the ticket, money, passport and a pain au chocolat. I am good to go. I take the escalators down to platform eleven, from where my train will depart. Much to my surprise, this service to Zürich Main Station is operated by a German ICE high-speed train.

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***Major train geek alert advisory***
ICE stands for ‘Inter City Express’. The trains have been in service with the Deutsche Bahn since 1985 and also operate to neighbouring countries, including Switzerland. From a purely aesthetic point of view, the round shapes and contours of the ICE’s exterior are no match for the elegantly sleek, lean and mean French TGV trains. And even as far as speed goes, the TGV’s world record remains uncontested at 574km/h.

As far as the passenger experience is concerned though, the German ICE definitely has the advantage. The finish of the passenger cabin is elegant. The carriages are spacious and have a wide, airy feel to them. There are a number of different seating options in every carriage. There are individual compartments with seating for up to six passengers as well as open space seating.

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Pitch on the ICE is good, and the seat recline is adequate and comfortable. In addition, every seat has a small fold away table and a reading lamp. There is also ample space to store large items of luggage. Keep in mind though, that the transportation of bicycles is not permitted on the ICE train.

At Zürich Main Station the connecting train to the airport is waiting – rather conveniently – on the other side of the same platform.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Check-in 2, row 3.
Facilities: Airport check-in, web check-in.
Counters: There are three dedicated Finnair counters – one for Economy Class passengers, one for baggage drop-off and one for passengers with priority.

I arrive at the airport at 09h20, ninety minutes before departure. In the mornings Zürich Airport is usually quite busy, with the majority of long-haul flights arriving and departing during the first half of the day.

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The check-in agent issues my boarding pass for the flight to Helsinki as well as for the onward connection.

Finnair Business Class passengers have access to the priority lane at security.

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LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the public area of the airside centre.
Type of Lounge:
Aspire contractor lounge.
Facilities:
Close to none. For seating options you can choose between small bistro tables with wooden chairs or leather sofas. There is a small coffee table next to every sofa, but they really are very small.
Catering: Catering is rather limited at this time of day. To eat there are Cornflakes, croissants and yoghurt. The drinks selection is fairly good though, and despite the fact that it is not even ten yet, there are already a few pisspots milling about the champagne cooler who have decided to make an early start on the booze.
Internet:
The access code is issued for you at reception.

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The good thing about this lounge, is that it provides excellent views of the apron and runway 16 beyond, which is the main departing runway for the heavy long-haul flights.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
A call for priority boarding is made, but not really enforced.
The flight is departing from gate A63. From what I can tell, the flight is not going to be that full this morning, after all it is the weekend.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2, the middle seat is kept empty in Business Class.
Seat: On the Airbus A320, Finnair has a total of 165 seats installed. On today’s flight there are seven rows in Business Class, which makes for a total of 26 seats. On the starboard side of the aircraft row 2 is the bulkhead row. 15 of the 26 seats are occupied. Originally I am on 2D, the aisle seat. But then once boarding is completed, I move back to 7F, a window seat, and have the whole row to myself.
Pitch: 31 inches throughout the cabin.
Width: 18 inches.
Audio and Video: Moving map and Charlie Chaplin short movies.

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SERVICE
There are four cabin crew. Three middle aged ladies and a gentleman – the purser – of the same age, if I had to guess. Once the doors are closed, the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering newspapers: there is a choice of English (Financial Times), German (Tages Anzeiger) and Finnish language paper.

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The purser and one of the ladies are working the Business Class cabin and they are very attentive. Throughout the flight they make sure that all passengers have everything they need, topping up drinks etc.

At the end of the meal service, the purser passes through the cabin with coffee. As he reaches my row he notices that I have not finished my meal yet. So he tells me not to hurry and that he will be back with more coffee when I am ready. The crew also pay attention to make sure that the Economy Class passengers do not use the forward Business Class loo.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
No.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Blueberry juice and still water.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Meal:

  • Smoked fish and smoked fish salad with an organic rye crisp which has not managed to remain quite so crisp after having travelled all the way from Helsinki to Zürich.
  • Pork patty in a red wine sauce with potato gratin and vegetables (broccoli, beans and carrot).
  • Selection from the bread basket, butter.
  • Chocolate brownie with artificial whipped cream.

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Finnair is one of the few airlines I know that still distributes printed menus on European flights, which is a nice touch, I think. The first course is very tasty and the smoked fish has a nice smoky flavour. The main course is hearty and filling, the gratin in particular is rich and creamy. The brownie is so so. First of all, it is very greasy, presumably that is the only way to prevent it from drying up on the plane. And the artificial whipped cream is just weird.

Once the meal is over, the crew quickly remove the tray to allow passengers to stretch out and relax. One hour left to go to Helsinki.

ARRIVAL
At some point, Estonia’s capital city Tallinn comes into view, just as the captain announces that we have started our descent into Helsinki. Our route takes us on a routing due east of the city initially, before eventually we do a left turn on the downwind.

We touch down pretty much on time behind Japan Airlines’ Dreamliner. We taxi to our stand in the Schengen part of the apron. I take one last picture of my chariot once I disembark and then head for the non-Schengen area, from where my next flight will be leaving.

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Edelweiss Air, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Larnaca to Zürich

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Date: 20 May 2016.
From: Larnaca.
To: Zürich.
Departure: 11:30
Arrival: 14:15.
Flight time: 3 hours 45 minutes.
Seat: 2A.

INTRODUCTION
The course in Nicosia goes well, and once more the Cypriot authorities are excellent hosts. Of course, it also helps that the weather is truly outstanding and makes a welcome change from the drab and dreary weather we have been experiencing back home lately.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Car rental.
Journey time: About thirty minutes.

The distance from Nicosia, which is inland, to the airport by the sea at Larnaca is 47 kilometres and it is a motorway all the way. The valiant M. drops off the car back at Sixt and then we walk across the road to the modern terminal building.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Upper level, rows 17 to 19.
Facilities: There is one row for Business Class passengers and two rows for Economy Class passengers.
Counters: Web check-in and app check-in with Swiss International Air Lines are possible.

The airport looks very modern. It is fairly quiet when I arrive, despite that fact that there are a few flights leaving around the same time as mine. There is no queue for check-in and immigration and security are pretty swift.

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LOUNGE
The check-in agent informs me that Edelweiss Air does not have a contract with the lounge contractor, so no lounge today. But that is alright, by the time I am through security it is only another 15 minutes before boarding begins.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
My flight will be boarding from gate 29. There is a separate queue and even a separate call made for Business Class passengers.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2
Seat: The seat on this aircraft is different to the one on the outbound flight. Apart from the colour of the covers, the seat pockets look slightly different too. But it is still basically the same idea, with the middle seat being kept empty in Business Class. Once again, there are pillows at every seat as I board the aircraft. And everything from the pillows to the headrest covers is branded with the famous Edelweiss.
Pitch: I was unable to find information about the pitch on Edelweiss Air. What I can say though, is that the pitch is very good and allows you to stretch your legs easily.

Edelweiss operates its A 320s in a seating capacity for 168 seats. In today’s configuration there are twelve Business Class seats and 132 seats in Economy Class. In Business Class all twelve seats are occupied.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Audio and Video: Edelweiss Air provides entertainment via Wifi. You need to download the app though first before you board the plane.

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SERVICE
The crew are a friendly bunch. In particular the young lady serving the Business Class cabin is warm and very charming in her manner.

There are complimentary Swiss newspapers available in the galley for all passengers as you enter the aircraft.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
A selection of Champagne, orange juice or still water.
Towel before the meal: A hot towel is offered after take-off, before the meal.
Pre-meal drink:
Coke Zero, served with a bag of savoury nibbles.
Choice:
Polenta (vegetarian) or beef.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Meal:

  1. Boiled beef with a pesto salsa, cucumber and radish.
  2. Mixed salad with mushrooms and an interesting dressing.
  3. A plate of Camembert and Tilsiter (Swiss hard cheese) with apricot and pear bread.
  4. Polenta in a cream sauce with tomatoes, spinach and leek.
  5. A selection from the breadbasket.
  6. A choice of either crème brûlée or ‘Stortzifladen’. The latter is a typically Swiss sweet. It is a sort of cinnamon and pear pie that is served with cream.
  7. Tea or coffee.
  8. A praliné from Sprüngli.

The meal is served on crisp white linen. The tray arrives with the first course, salad and cheese plate already on it. The tray is cleared before the main dish arrives. The dessert is also served separately.

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Once more I am quite impressed with the amount and quality of the food Edelweiss dishes up on a flight of less than four hours. It really is quite amazing. What is more, the service is very efficient but without being hurried, so there are rarely any long waits in between the different dishes. Are you paying attention SWISS?

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee and a praliné from Sprüngli. And even that has an Edelweiss on it!

By the time the meal finished, there are still two hours to go to Zürich. I power up my Kindle with the intention of reading a bit to pass the time. But then I nod off and the next time I open my eyes, the aircraft is already approaching Lake Constance, twenty minutes out of Zürich.

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ARRIVAL
It is a lovely day for flying. The air is clear and the view of the Alps is really stunning.

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The flight arrives at gate E52. At this time of day Zürich airport is very quiet, so there are no delays in us arriving. Zürich really is a brilliant airport. We land at 14h15. By 14h43 I have already collected my checked in luggage and I am on the train home.

And now I have a week at home before my next trip. But that will be a vacation, not work.

Edelweiss Air, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Larnaca

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Date: 17 May 2016.
Departure: Zürich.
Arrival: Larnaca.
Flight time: 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Seat: 1A

INTRODUCTION
I am on my way to Cyprus to give another course. I am rather looking forward to this one. The last time I was in Cyprus, the authorities were very welcoming and friendly. So for me, this kind of feels a bit like visiting old friends. I am joined on this course by my colleague, the valiant M. and the test manager P., a Dutchman whose flight statistic makes me look like a hopeless newbie. While I am still trying to figure out how to achieve Platinum again with Air France for this year, the Dutchman is already planning for his lifelong status once he achieves Platinum in ten consecutive years…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Journey time: About 90 minutes.
Departs from: Basel SBB.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen
Frequency: The earliest direct train departs from Basel at 04:37 in the morning. From then on there is a direct train every hour until 19:37 from Basel to Zürich Airport. The journey takes about one hour and twenty-five minutes. Alternatively, the fastest way to the airport is to catch a train to Zürich main station and change for an airport train there. There is a nonstop train to Zürich main station every half hour from Basel, at 07 and 33 minutes past the hour. Even changing trains at the main station, this option is about 15 minutes faster.

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But my flight to Larnaca will already be leaving at 06:15 in the morning, which is still too early for the first train. So I am travelling to Zürich the evening before and spending the night at the Radisson Blue adjacent to Terminal 1 in Zürich

To access the hotel from the airport’s railway station, follow the signs to Check-in 1. Eventually, you will pass through a set of sliding doors and will have a small Coop grocery store ahead of you. The passage curves to the left here. If you continue walking straight ahead, you will eventually end up in Terminal 1. However, if instead you turn right, you will eventually arrive at a set of escalators. The ones on the left lead down into the airport gym, while those on the right lead up into the lobby of the hotel.

The Radisson Blue Zürich Airport is pretty much your standard airport hotel. I like the high ceiling in the atrium, but overall I just find the whole place a bit too dark and gloomy.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Check-in 3, located right above the railway station.
Facilities: Web check-in, app check-in with Passbook, airport check-in.
Counters: The flight is operated by Edelweiss but has a SWISS flight number, so I can check-in the evening before until 22h00 at the SWISS counters. Once that is taken care of, I head for the hotel.

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The next morning I meet the valiant M., all bright eyed and bushy tailed. We take the underground passage to Check-in 1. The place is more or less deserted save for a few other passengers milling about. Airport security does not open until 05h00, so we still have a few minutes to wait before the airport officially ‘opens’.

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Security is a swift affair and there is a separate queue for Business Class passengers.

LOUNGE
Location:
On the upper level of the airside centre.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class lounge.
The lounge does not open until 05h45, by which time my flight will already be boarding. So I figure I might as well head across to the E dock from where the flight will be leaving. There is another SWISS Business Class lounge in the E dock.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate queue for Business Class and SWISS status card holder and these passengers are invited to board the aircraft first.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2, typical European Business Class configuration with the middle seat left empty.
Seat: The seat and cabin are more or less identical to the SWISS product. If it were not for the headrest covers, which feature the Edelweiss, you would not be able to tell the difference. The cabin looks very clean and tidy, with a pillow placed at every seat. But somehow the whole cabin has also started to look very drab and dated.

There are three rows of Business Class on today’s flight and there are eight passengers in the forward cabin. Not bad at all, considering the holiday season has not even started yet.
Pitch:
Width:
Facilities:
Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlet.
Audio and Video: Moving map.

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SERVICE
Service in Business Class is done by an elderly gentleman and a young blond female. Both of them are what can best be described as business friendly. Other than that though, the service is really excellent. The crew are very attentive and do repeated rounds to replenish drinks and offer more bread. They remind me a bit of what the old Swissair used to be like.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
A choice of grapefruit juice or still water.
Towel before the meal: Pre-packed refreshment towel.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Meal:

  1. Ramekin with scrambled egg.
  2. A plate of Swiss smoked meat (Bündnerfleisch) and cheese with a slice of dried apple.
  3. Fruit salad with grapes, melon and mango.
  4. Birchermüsli.
  5. Croissants and bread from the breadbasket.
  6. Butter and raspberry jam.
  7. Coffee, juice and water.

The meal is really excellent. What I particularly like about it, is that there is a bit of everything on the tray and that there is certainly more than enough food. By the time we finish, I am feeling happy and full.

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THE SECOND SERVICE
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Pre-arrival snack.
Meal:

  1. Packet of savoury biscuits.
  2. A selection of ham roll or mini cheese and leek quiche.
  3. Full service from the bar trolley.

About an hour before arrival, the crew come through the cabin for the second service. The crew also seem to have warmed up and are friendlier and more chatty now. It is around this point that I start to be impressed with the level of service and the quality of the product provided by Edelweiss Air.

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Just as I finish my drink, the Med comes into few and I feel, for the briefest of moments, the pang of being home sick. The service concludes with the distribution of a Biberli and scented hot towels.

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ARRIVAL
We make a beautiful approach into Larnaca. We pass over the airport and then head out to see before executing a 270 degrees turn to bring us back on to the approach for the airport.

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Immigration is fairly swift. And then we pick up the car and head into town. Just so you know, if you rent a car: you can pick up the car one floor up from arrivals, unless you have rented a car with Hertz, in which case you will need to take a shuttle bus to the pick up and drop off point for car rentals.

Skywork, Economy Class – Dornier Do 328: London City to Basel

Folie1

Date: 15 May 2016.
From: London City Airport.
To: Basel Airport.
Departure: 20:10
Arrival: 22:35
Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Seat: 5F, window on the twin seat, right side of the aircraft.

INTRODUCTION
I spend the Sunday afternoon in the West End shopping. Eventually though, I run out of steam. So I settle down for some tea and scones with clotted cream at the Revive Café (I mean, it’s been like two hours at least since I had the grand thali…) and then at 17h00 I capitulate and head back to the airport. I am so exhausted!

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
London Underground and DLR.
Journey time: Roughly one hour.
Departs from: Marble Arch.
Arrives: London City Airport.
Cost: GBP3.10 for a one way ticket.

From Marble Arch I catch a Central Line train heading east. At Bank I alight and then I go up a few stairs, down a lot of stairs, turn right then left then right again until eventually I am on the platform for the DLR to the airport. For London City Airport you need to hop on a train bound for Woolwich (which, incidentally, is where my grandad was from).

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Ground floor.
Facilities: Only check-in at the counter is possible.
Counters: Multipurpose counters for a variety of different airlines.

Skywork does not have an app and does not provide web check-in either. The self-service machines at London City Airport display a note at the bottom of the screen explicitly informing Skywork passengers that they need to check-in at the desk. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. There are huge screens running the full length of the wall behind the check-in counters. On them, you can see a film of aircraft movements at London City. It is not live or anything like that, but it is still very cool.

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LOUNGE
As we already found out day before yesterday, boys and girls, there is no lounge in London City. Fortunately though, there do not appear to be any technical glitches today either so the crowds are manageable. There still are a lot of people around, but at least I easily find a place to sit. Eventually though, I get bored. So I find myself a spot by the window for my favourite pastime – watching planes moving about.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts with a delay of thirty minutes. Apparently, the inbound flight was late due to a technical problem the aircraft experienced before it left Bern to come to London. In total, there are fourteen passengers on the flight, so boarding is quickly completed.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.

The cabin of the Dornier Do 328 is very attractive and comfortable. There are 31 seats in total, which means that the flight is not quite half full this evening with only 14 passengers. The overhead bins seem more spacious than those on the Saab 2000 for example, if I had to guess, and the cabin height is also slightly better and allows me to stand more or less fully upright at 184 cm. The single seats on the left are slightly misaligned with the twin seats on the opposite of the cabin, which somehow gives the impression of more privacy and room. Legroom is good, both for slouching down to have a nap or to stretch your legs.

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SERVICE
Service is by one Swiss-German speaking flight attendant in her late forties, if I had to guess. She is not necessarily overly friendly, a bit frumpy but she gives a very professional impression. Announcements are made in German and in English.

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THE MEAL
Meal:

  • Linzertorte (right in the picture) or Biberli (left in the picture).
  • Sparkling water.

Skywork has a limited selection of complimentary soft drinks, tea and coffee. In addition, there is also a small snack – either a Linzertorte or a Biberli – on offer. Especially the Biberli is a typically Swiss specialty made from Lebkuchen and filled with marzipan.

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ARRIVAL
The flight’s routing is normally London City – Basel – Bern. However, tonight the journey will be ending in Basel for all passengers. Due to our delay leaving London, it is gone 22h30 by the time we touch down. As a result, the aircraft will not be able to continue to the Swiss capital before the night curfew comes into effect at 23h00. I have to say, in Switzerland the Bernese have a reputation of being totally laid back and never in a hurry. And this evening they really do their reputation justice. All of them are very calm and stoic as they disembark. If that had happened to me, I think I would have gone ballistic!

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It is coming up to 22h45 so most of the evening’s flights have already landed. So finding a seat on the bus line 50 to the main railway stations is easy for a change! It is nice to be back come.

Eastern Airways, Economy Class – Saab 2000: Isle of Man to London City

Folie1

Date: 15 May 2016.
From: Isle of Man.
To: London City Airport.
Departure: 11:25.
Arrival: 12:30.
Flight time: 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Seat: 10A, emergency exit seat on the left side of the aircraft.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus line 12.
Journey time: 29 minutes.
Departs from: Regent Street stop, on the promenade opposite The Claremont Hotel.
Arrives: Terminal building, Ronaldsway airport.
Cost: GBP2.70.

My flight to London will be leaving at 11h25 this morning. I take the bus from the promenade at 09h25, which gets me to the airport at 09h54. The bus is fairly empty and I am the only passenger to alight at the airport. From here the bus continues to Port Erin.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Ground floor. Turn right as you enter the terminal building.
Facilities: Check-in available only at the counters. There are no self-service check-in machines and according to the app, you cannot use an electronic boarding pass either.
Counters: There are dedicated counters for all carriers currently operating into the airport. British Airways has two counters. Both counters are staffed, which seems a bit OTT, especially given that the flight is operated by a Saab 2000 with only 50 seat and, according to the check-in agent, the flight is only half full anyway.

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LOUNGE
Location:
First floor, right behind security.
Type of Lounge:
Contractor lounge.

There is a lounge here that is available to British Airways Executive Club card holders, but the lounge does not open on Sunday mornings. So instead, I grab myself a cappuccino from Costas and settle down by the window to look at the activity – or lack thereof – on the ramp.

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The building is deserted when I arrive. It is just me and two very bored Costas barristas. Gradually though, the remaining passengers start trickling in.

BOARDING
Boarding is rather a peculiar affair. There is a seating area by gate 4, from where our flight will apparently be boarding. The gate attendant checks my documents and I am good to go – one floor down into a big room. Once all passengers for the flight arrive, all 28 of us, the door through which we entered is closed and the outside door is opened.

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CABIN
I am sitting on 10A this morning, which is the emergency exit single seat on the left-hand side of the aircraft.

The guy seated in front of me obviously thinks he is hot stuff, and keeps trying to chat up the young eastern European flight attendant. He is putting on some cockney geezer show to impress right now. But to be honest, I just think he is an idiot and I doubt if the young lady knows what a cockney geezer is anyway… She is definitely not buying it.

SERVICE
The young lady is friendly enough I guess, but she is not exactly what I would describe as exuberant and seems somewhat robotic. However, in her favour I must say that she is very conscientious in the way she goes about the security briefing and prepares the cabin for departure.

It is certainly a lovely day for flying today. The wind has calmed down and the clouds are gradually breaking up. After take-off we do a very wide left-hand turn to point us in the general direction of Old Blighty.

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THE MEAL
Meal:

  1. Salty crisps, sweet biscuits or popcorn.
  2. Still water.

Once again, service on board is just a small snack. Even so, I think it is quite impressive that you should have three choices in Economy Class (okay, yes I know it’s only popcorn).

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ARRIVAL
London’s City airport is located in the middle of the city, hence the name. To give the people living around the airport at least some respite from the noise, the airport closes on Saturday lunchtime and remains closed until noon on Sunday. Today we are running slightly ahead of schedule and as a result, the airport has not even opened for business again by the time we reach London. So we head out over the North Sea and do one holding circle before eventually coming back to approach the airport in a westerly direction.

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And then from there I am off to London for a Grand Thali and a bit of retail therapy.

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The Claremont Hotel, Douglas

If you are looking for a place to stay on the Isle of Man, I can highly recommend The Claremont in Douglas. The hotel is perfectly located on the waterfront, overlooking Douglas Bay and within a short walking distance to shopping, the ferry terminal and the station of the electric railway. The bus number 12, which runs to the airport, literally stops across the road from the hotel.

The rooms are nicely appointed and clean. There are complimentary tea and coffee making facilities, including a Nespresso machine. Every room also comes with bathrobes and slippers. The bed has one of those Tempur mattresses which adapt to the shape of your body. I thought the mattress was okay, but I can imagine that it may not be to everyone’s liking, especially if you prefer sleeping on a hard bed.

If you can, I would seriously recommend getting a room looking out the front, facing the rising sun, because the view is really lovely. However, on the downside, the windows do not have double-glazing so it can get a bit noisy, especially at the weekends.

The hotel’s restaurant is good and even offers Afternoon Tea, although this needs to be ordered in advance.

Link to The Claremont Hotel

Douglas, Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is sandwiched in between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, although the Isle of Man itself is not actually a part of the United Kingdom. As such, it is also not a part of the European Union.

The Isle of Man Railway is one of the island’s most popular attractions. In its heyday, the railway’s network ran along a distance of 74 kilometres, of which only about 25 kilometres remain today.

The city of Douglas is a good starting point for any excursion by train. Just in case it matters to you though, keep in mind that only the trains heading south from Douglas are steam powered, whereas the trains heading north are all electrically powered.

One classic itinerary sees tourists taking the train from Douglas station to Laxey and then transferring there on to the Snaefell Mountain Railway. On a sunny day it really is quite a pleasant journey and the view from Snaefell is rather breath taking. The train schedules are obviously all coordinated, so you rarely have to wait for any length of time for a train to arrive.

Eastern Airways, Economy Class – Saab 2000: London City to Isle of Man

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Date: 13 May 2016.
From: London City Airport.
To: Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man.
Departure: 21:05.
Arrival: 22:00.
Flight time: 55 minutes
Seat: 11A, single window seat on the left side of the aircraft.

INTRODUCTION
I just arrived in London from Zürich. It is good to have my full range of motion back after spending ninety minutes cooped up in a horribly cramped Avro RJ85. I rotate both shoulders quickly, just to check they are both still working and step inside the terminal.

I am already holding my boarding pass for the onward connection to the Isle of Man. London City airport has no facilities for transfer passengers. So upon arriving from Zürich I have to head for immigration first. At least they have installed scanners for biometric passports, which certainly speeds up the process.

Once you exit through customs, you will find yourself in the departure hall on the ground floor. The check-in counters are on your left. For departures and security, head one floor up.

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LOUNGE
London City airport does not have a premium lounge, which sounds like a really good idea on paper. The whole raison d’être of this airport is its proximity to the business district, which allows business people to arrive only shortly before departure.

But unfortunately, things do not always work out the way we want them to. The departure lounge is already crawling with people when I arrive. I do not think I have ever seen anything like it. There is literally standing room only and when I try to get myself something to eat, I realise that none of the places selling food actually have anything left. They have actually run out of food. Of course there are a couple of sit down restaurants, but they are all packed too. And then all of a sudden all flights show up as delayed, including my flight to Douglas, which is now scheduled to leave at 20h35 instead of 19h55. And still more people arrive!

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Eventually, the departures resume and the crowds begin to clear. That is when Boots finally manages to get a fresh batch of sandwiches on the shelves. Food, at last!

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate 24, which is the gate the Speedbird flights to New York operate from too. At around 20h30, one of the gate agents informs us that the flight is overbooked and that they are going to have to offload passengers. Unfortunately, nobody volunteers and two poor souls are forced to spend the night at a dreary airport hotel courtesy of British Airways. And then, finally, boarding begins.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2.
Seat: The cabin is in mint condition and still looks very new. There are fifty seats in total. The seat pitch is good and certainly better than what you get on many of the larger aircraft these days. Without any problem at all I am able to park my legs under the seat in front of me and I do not even need to sit up fully to be able to do so.

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SERVICE
There is one cabin crew on this aircraft and she is in full British Airways uniform. She does a really excellent job throughout the flight and manages to serve all passengers and clear up again within the 55 minutes the flight takes.

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THE MEAL
Meal:

  1. Sparkling water.
  2. A choice of savoury or sweet biscuit.

This service really is just a snack. It is already gone 21h so most passengers will have eaten anyway. Or, like me, they simply could not resist a piece of sweet carrot cake that they are convinced was calling their name…

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It is a nice flight. I roll up with my Kindle and feel all nice and cosy until eventually it is time for us to start our descent into the Isle of Man.

ARRIVAL
By the time we eventually land in Douglas we are one hour behind schedule, it is hardly surprising that we are the evening’s last arrival. As the engines are turned off, I look outside to see that the runway and taxi lights are all gradually be turned off as the airport prepares to shut down for the night.

I disembark the aircraft and take the opportunity to snap a few more pictures of the aircraft from the front. The co-pilot sees me, waves me a big smile before posing for me with a thumbs up.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Departs from:
As you exit the terminal, turn right.
Journey time:
20 minutes.
Price:
GBP23.
Mode of transport:
Taxi.

The last bus into town has already left, and so I take a taxi into town. In Douglas I will be staying at the Claremont Hotel. I am rather looking forward to this stay.

WDL for British Airways, Economy Class – Avro RJ85: Zürich to London City

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Date: 13 May 2016.
From: Zürich.
To: London City.
Departure:
17:05
Arrival: 17:55
Flight time: 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Seat: 11F – window on the right side of the aircraft.

Prologue

Oh shit! I had really hoped I had seen the last of those god awful Avro Regional Jets. But by some cruel twist of faith it looks as though I will have to endure them again – hopefully just this one last time.

CHECK-IN

Location: Check-in 2, row 2.
Facilities: Dedicated British Airways counters staffed by DNATA personnel in British Airways uniforms.
Counters: There are two baggage drop counters for Economy Class passengers and two counters for premium paying passengers.

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Check-in is also possible via the BA app, which works very well, or using web check-in.

It is just gone 05h30 in the morning and I am on my way to work. The train is just pulling out of the station in Basel when I decide to check my phone for messages. Oh crap (Did I just say that out loud?)! There is one message from British Airways, informing me that my flight to London will be operated by WDL, a small German charter company. The usual Embraer 190 has been substituted by an Avro RJ85. Well that certainly explains the rather odd looking seat map when I checked in yesterday using the app.

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LOUNGE

Location: On the top floor of the E dock.
Type of Lounge:
Aspire contractor lounge operated by DNATA.
Facilities:
There are no toilets or showers in the lounge, from what I can tell. Or at least I could not find them. Other than that, there are a few magazines available and a few desks with power outlets to work at.
Catering: Sweet and savoury snack type food.
Internet:
Provided by the airport. The code is issued on request at reception, as you enter the lounge.

The Aspire lounge at the E dock is fairly new and rather elegant. Like all the lounges over in E, it has an excellent view of the apron, runway 28 and the central terminal area beyond. At this time of day, the lounge is pretty much deserted and there are only passengers bound for London, from what I can tell.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Business Class passengers and Executive Club Gold card holders queue separately to the right of the counter, while Economy Class passengers queue on the left.

Just before boarding starts, one of the gate attendants makes an announcement to inform passengers that there is only very limited storage space on the aircraft and therefore, larger pieces of hand luggage will have to be checked in and placed in the hold. Of course, this does not go down very well with the high and mighty wannabes, who all seem to think their rather lame excuses for keeping their luggage are going to work. It is also a bit undignified to see a grown man sulking – ‘it’s not fair, his is much bigger than mine’. Guys, are we still talking about hand luggage here?

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CABIN

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The WDL website is amazingly uninformative. It is nearly as though they do not want anybody to find them on the web. In any case, the upshot is that I have no data about the seating capacity on their Avro RJ85 nor on the width or pitch of the seat.
Pitch: The pitch on this particular aircraft does not even feel that bad. When I am sitting upright, me knees do not touch the front seat and I can even slouch down and stretch my legs under the seat in front of me.
Width: You really need to like the person you have sitting next to you on this aircraft, because you are going to have them up close and personal for the entire duration of the flight – especially if, like me, you find yourself trapped in the window seat.

I would consider myself an averagely sized, adult male. Even so, I end up with my right shoulder jammed against the wall of the cabin and my left shoulder being given a free massage or a shove every time the big guy next to me decides to raise his arm to scratch his nose.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Warning: Rows 8 through 11 are located under the wings of the aircraft. The overhead bins on this aircraft are fairly old school and small. However, on those rows immediately under the wing the height of the overhead bins is only about half that of the standard sized bins.

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SERVICE

The service is done be two young and friendly female cabin crew. They both speak excellent English but with a decidedly German accent. If I had to guess, I would say they are both Turkish. Just like WDL’s website and the white livery of its aircraft, the crew are rather nondescript. They have a run of the mill uniform and that is just about it.

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THE MEAL

Choice: Yes.
Type of meal:
Dinner snack.
Meal:

  • Bulgur and chickpea salad with falafel. From what I can tell, there are a number of options to choose form, because in some cases the passengers refuse the meal they are initially offered and are then given another instead. At least I presume it is different because otherwise they would hardly take it.
  • Diet Coke.

It is really at moments like this that you start to wish the airlines would abolish serving food in Economy Class. Of course my luck will have it that I usually hold my fork in my left hand, despite the fact that I am left-handed, while the guy on my left holds his on the right. But eventually we still manage, by coordinating our respective arm movement.

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ARRIVAL

Eventually, after about an hour of doing a pretty convincing impression of a can of sardines, we begin our descent into London City. We approach the city from the southeast and then turn west and then north to approach the airport from the west. We make our final turn onto the final approach right above the Shard, which looks close enough to touch from up here. And shortly after that we land. And I can finally get off the plane. Thank God!

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CONCLUSION

And so I finally make it to London. In summary, the Avro RJ85 really is quickly turning into an old heap of junk. It’s not just that it’s tight in the 3 + 3 configuration, it just looks and feels very worn too.

Even so, I think British Airways were pretty good in a) that they managed to secure a replacement for the aircraft originally scheduled to make the flight, and b) the way they handled the irregularity by informing passengers both by SMS and, in more detail, by mail. Let’s face it, if this had been SWISS, they probably would have just cancelled the flight without really giving a shit.