Air Europa, Business Class – Embraer 195: Madrid to Zürich


Date: 20 June 2016
From: Madrid
To: Zürich
Departure: 08:00
Arrival: 10:10
1D, aisle on the starboard side



I am rather looking forward to this flight, mainly because I am curious to see what will happen. Today’s flight is special because it is the inaugural flight of Air Europa from Madrid to Zürich. I am kind of hoping for a water cannon salute, but I am not entirely sure how realistic that is…

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Complimentary shuttle service.
Journey time: 6 to 8 minutes.
Departs from: Right outside the hotel lobby.
Arrives: Departures level. The shuttle stops at Terminals 1, 2 and 4.

The first shuttle from the Hilton leaves at 05h30 and requires an advance reservation because it tends to be busy. For all later services though, no reservation is required.


Location: Terminal 2.
Facilities: Self-service check-in or counter check-in.
Counters: All of Air Europa’s domestic and Schengen flights operate out of Terminal 2. Accordingly, the airline has quite a presence at the facility. There are thirty Economy Class counters, all of which are open this morning. And then there are two separate counters for Business Class passengers.

To the left of the Business Class counter is the Fast Track security lane. There is only one passenger ahead of me and I am quickly processed.


The Lounge

Location: E concourse, near gate E76.
Type of Lounge: Contractor lounge operated by AENA.
Facilities: Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There is also a quiet area towards the back of the lounge. Computer workstations are also available and all seats are equipped with electric power sockets.
Catering: They have Nespresso machines! Other than that, the selection is good, with a wide range of typical breakfast items like fresh fruit, yoghurt, breads, etc.
Internet: Wifi is available throughout the lounge. The code is displayed on the information screens in the lounge.

Since my last visit to Madrid last year, the lounge has been updated and looks a lot more attractive, fresh and new. Of course, as far as I am concerned, the lounge’s best feature remains the fantastic view of the apron.



Unlike the other SkyTeam Alliance partners like Air France or KLM, which require you to push and shove your way to the front if you want priority boarding, Air Europa has a dedicated queue for passengers with priority and makes sure to board that queue first.


Initially, every looks pretty normal. But then suddenly a whole armada of journalist appear on board with Air Europa press folder, followed by three camera men, a photographer and a hairy, scruffy dude who must be the sound engineer. Apparently, the company’s CEO Juan José Hidalgo is also on board. The whole thing is rather interesting to watch and obviously Air Europa intends on making a big show of this inauguration. Even so, I am quite impressed how they manage to keep the general chaos surrounding the CEO’s appearance away from the passengers.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2. Seating capacity on the Embraer 195 is 120 (12 + 108).
Seat: The aircraft is operated a company called Aeronova on behalf of Air Europa under the Air Europa Express brand. Business Class seating is the same as in Economy Class, so the seat next to you is not kept empty. On this morning’s flight this is not really a problem though, seeing as only seven of the twelve seats in Business Class are occupied.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: There are no power outlets.
Audio and Video: No.


Seatmap courtesy of


The Crew

There are three cabin crew on the flight today. I really do not envy the three young ladies though. There are camera men and journalists all over the place, trying to get a word in with the CEO and there is hardly any room to move around up front.

Eventually though, the doors close and the cabin finally settles down. The crew offer newspapers and a selection of still water or orange juice as a welcome drink. Note that only Spanish language papers are on offer.


After take-off Mr Hidalgo gives a few more interviews and prepares what must obviously be the speech he will be giving upon arrival in Zürich, which makes me hopeful for that water cannon salute.


The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Towel before the meal: Packed and scented cold towel.
Pre-meal drink: No.
Choice: No.
Delivery: Individual tray service.
Type of meal: Breakfast, hot meal.

  1. Fruit (Kiwi, pineapple, grape).
  2. Crème brûlée with apple compote.
  3. Scrambled eggs with grilled vegetables (aubergine, zucchini, pepper and mushroom).
  4. A croissant and a bun, served warm.
  5. Tea or coffee.

I really like the presentation of the meal. The eggs and grilled vegetables are served in a small ovenproof pan with the lid still on. The bread items are served in a small brown paper bag, which looks good and makes a change from the usual breadbasket that is usually handed round for all passengers to stick their grubby mitts in. It all tastes very nice too.

The young lady working the Business Class cabin does an excellent job to serve all passengers quickly. Throughout the service she makes sure that drinks are replenished. Once the meal is over the trays are removed without delay to give passengers more time to relax and spread out. By this time we are only one hour out of Zürich.


I am not quite sure what the exact route of our flight is. At some point the Alps come into view on the right side of the aircraft. It takes me a while to realise that we are approaching Switzerland from the West, coming in over the Jura mountains and entering into Swiss airspace above Basel, my hometown. The city easy to spot every since Hofmann-La Roche erected that incredibly ugly building they now call HQ.

From Basel we continue on an Easterly track until eventually we make a right turn to line up for a straight in approach to runway 14. Zürich airport is fairly busy and there is a whole queue of aircraft waiting to take-off from runway 16 as we land.


We taxi off the runway and that is when I spot them up ahead – the fire engines! Woohoo! I’m so excited! This is just so cool! I have only had to wait 42 years for this but finally, at long last it has happened and I am treated to my very first ever water cannon salute.


Eventually we come to a stop on one of the stands at the B dock. The doors open and there is a whole welcoming committee expecting us in the airbridge. As we disembark, passengers are given a small box of typically Swiss biscuits – it is a kind of waffle filled with chocolate cream.


I head downstairs to retrieve my luggage and then from there to the railway station to take me to the office in Winterthur.


I think chasing water cannon salutes is my new hobby! Seriously, I know it may sound shallow, but I think it was a really cool experience that gives you back that sense of arrival that air transport used to have many moons ago but that has since gone missing in a haze of cost cuts and deteriorating yields. The wiry R., with whom I started out on this trip to Amsterdam, has often said that he simply cannot understand where in the fascination lies for me to like spending hours on planes. But I think it is just that, flying is not just a means of transport like any other. It is something special to me, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Iberia Express, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Palma to Madrid

Iberia Express logo.png

Date: 19 June 2016
From: Palma
To: Madrid
Departure: 18:05
Arrival: 19:00
Flight time: 55 minutes
Seat: 1D, aisle seat on the starboard side



I spend Sunday morning enjoying an expansive and leisurely breakfast first, followed by a lazy swim around the pool, which I have all to myself at this time of day.


Getting to the Airport

Check-out is a noon. I still have a few hours to kill before I have to be back at the airport. So I decide to go up into the mountains to San Salvador near Felanitx, a monastery perched high up on a hill slightly more than 500 metres above sea level. The road leading up to San Salvador has a gradient of more than 6%, which makes it a popular excursion for cyclist.

The view from the top is simply amazing and there is a constant breeze, which makes a welcome change from the heat below. There is also a café that is worth mentioning. Perhaps not necessarily because of the food and drinks – which are okay – but because of the rather breath taking view you have in the loo (No, that is not a sexual innuendo).


From San Salvador it will take you roughly fifty minutes in good traffic to reach the airport.


Location: Upper level of the terminal.
Facilities: Web check-in. Check-in at the airport is only possible at the counter. There are no self-service machines.
Counters: 52 to 68.

By the time I reach the airport and drop off the car, it is just gone 15h15, so I have a bit more than two hours before departure. There are two open counters and one them is a dedicated check-in line for what Iberia calls ‘Priority’ passengers. There is one person ahead of me in the priority line and a short queue of passengers waiting in the normal Economy Class queue. The guy at the head of that queue informs me that ‘no, you wait, my turn’. He then goes on to elaborate how unfair it is of me to jump the queue when he has been waiting there for an eternity (two minutes…). I start explaining that it is fair because I am quite willing to pay to avoid the queues at check-in or at security. But then I figure my Spanish is about as awful as his English and just let him go first.


From check-in I head one floor up to security. There is a fast track available for Iberia’s priority passengers, so the process is fairly swift and painless. From there I head for the lounge.


The Lounge

Location: Near gate D88 on the D concourse.
Type of Lounge:
Sala VIP Formentor – contractor lounge operated by AENA – the airport authority.
Newspapers and magazines. Toilets are available in the lounge but there are no showers.
Catering: The usual selection of hot and cold drinks. There is also a small selection of Spanish snacks.
Wifi is available, the password can be obtained at reception.

The lounge is surprisingly large. It is also rather empty, which can be expected I guess, given that Palma is mostly a leisure destination and most of the operators are either low-cost carriers or charter airlines.


I think this is the first time I really get the full on low-cost experience. What complete and utter chaos. My boarding pass tells me that boarding will start at 17:05 for a 17:35 departure. But the departure screens shows boarding as starting at 16h50 from gate D88. Only when I get there, the flight shown is a Vueling flight to Barcelona and the aircraft parked outside belongs to SWISS.


Eventually, after more or less all passengers on the flight to Madrid go and check with the gate agent, an announcement is made to inform us that the flight will be departing from gate D90. So we all move over that way. I get the impression some people think they better hurry before the plane leaves without them. Only when we get to D90, the flight showing up there is the Lufthansa evening service to Frankfurt.

Eventually, the gate agents manage to catch up and are none the wiser about our departure gate. But then we look outside and see an Iberia Express pulling up on the stand at D90 so we all figure this will probably be right.


As soon as the airbridge is connected to the aircraft, boarding for the flight to Madrid begins. In my innocence I start to wonder if perhaps the flight has arrived empty. Of course not. The entrance to the airbridge is closed off and the passengers from the inbound service have only just started disembarking. Actually it is rather funny to see the faces of some of the arriving passengers, clearly they are not expecting the whole of the return flight to be waiting for them as a welcoming committee as they step off the plane.


And then, as soon as the last of the arriving passengers has stepped off the airbridge and into the terminal, boarding for the return flight begins. Is this what a cow feels like on its way to the slaughter house?

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 in Business Class, with the middle seat left empty.
Seat: Iberia has a total of 38 Airbus A 320s, 19 of which are operated under the Iberia Express brand. The Iberia Express models have a seating capacity of 177. There are three rows of Business Class with a total of twelve seats, nine of which are occupied on this flight.
Pitch: 31 to 28 inches. The seating pitch starts at 31 inches on the first row and then gradually decreases to 28 inches towards the back.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: None.
Audio and Video: Wifi inflight entertainment, which works rather well actually.


The first thing that strikes me as I take in my surroundings, is the design and colouring of the wall panelling, which looks vaguely familiar and certainly feels like a blast from the past. It takes me a moment but eventually I get there. This is the same scheme Swissair had in the cabin of its aircraft, with faded pink shades of swish. What I do not know, is if this aircraft previously flew with Swissair, or if what Swissair had was a standard design that could be ordered with the aircraft off the shelf from Airbus.


Other than that, seating looks like your bog standard slimline Recaro seat. But at least they do give you pillows in Business Class…

Seatmap courtesy of

The Crew

The crew on the flight are not overly friendly, but they are okay. I am assuming there are four crew on the aircraft, although I only ever see the same two, and they are obviously totally stressed out. They are trying to work as fast as possible to get the passengers settled quickly. But all they really achieve is to completely stress out themselves and the passengers.


The Snack

Welcome drink: No.
Towel before the meal: No. But you get one after the meal, and with good reason.
Pre-meal drink:
Freshly squeezed orange juice.
Tray service.
Type of meal:

  1. A plate with a piece of cheese, pata negra and a pastry filled with tuna.
  2. Sparkling water.

Before take-off the crew’s only interaction with the passengers is to ask if they would like a paper. That’s it. But then after take-off the mad rush begins. There are only nine passenger in the forward cabin. But with a flight time of only 55 minutes to Madrid, the crew are obviously nervous about starting the service as soon as possible. Once the seatbelt sign goes off, the crew pass through the cabin with glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. So far so good.

But then one of the crew comes to remove my glass and asks me ‘would you like a drink’ –  and I am left wondering what that was supposed to be that she has just cleared away? Much to my surprise though, it turns out that a small snack is offered, even on such a short leg, and what she means is: what shall I be drinking with the meal?

When the plate arrives, I am rather pleasantly surprised. Of course it is just a small snack, but this will do nicely until we get to Madrid. If only. If only I knew how I am supposed to eat this without cutlery. Even now, as I write this, I am not sure if the passengers are really meant to eat the food with their fingers or if the crew forgot. At least they have the decency to distribute packed refreshing towels after the meal for you to clean your hands.



Our arrival into Madrid is fairly unspectacular and only a bit bumpy. All Iberia and OneWorld flight arrive and depart in the spectacular Terminal 4. As I make my way to the baggage claim I keep stopping the marvel at the ceiling.


Getting to the Hotel

In Madrid I will be staying at the Hilton Airport. There is a free shuttle bus to the hotel, which serves all terminals. At Terminal 4 you need to go up one floor and then across a walkway to reach the platforms from where all the busses leave.

Hilton Resort Mallorca


I think this is probably the nicest Hilton I have ever stayed at. The place is branded as a Hilton Resort but somehow it does not really feel that much like a Hilton. The resort is in a cluster of buildings that give the impression of a renovated Finca or possibly even a monastery, because there is a chapel and a windmill on the premises which both belong to the hotel. Although some of the buildings are evidently of a much newer period.



The resort is located close to a place called Llucmajor, which is about 25 minutes south of the airport. The main city, Palma, lies in the opposite direction and takes approximately 10 minutes longer to reach from the hotel. As the place is quite far off from the main roads, you will probably need a car if you want to stay here.


The Hilton Sa Torre is well equipped with just about anything you might need during your stay. There is a spa with an indoor pool and fitness centre. There are also three outdoor pools. Two of them are located right next to each other and are part of the ‘family pool area’. This is also where you will find the pool bar, serving drinks and snacks throughout the day. The third pool is for adults only. None of the three pools is large enough to do laps though, unfortunately.


The Room

I am staying in a Double Garden Suite, which is 47 square metres in size and comes with a separate and roomy living area and a private patio leading off from the bedroom. Like the rest of the hotel, the Double Garden Suite seems very untypical for a Hilton and the only thing to remind you of what hotel chain you are staying at is the toiletries.


The Perks

Being a Gold HiltonHonours member, breakfast is included in the rate for all persons under the same booking. You will also receive a voucher for the internet. Wifi is generally complimentary for all customers, but the status card holders receive a voucher for a faster connection.

And here is the link to the Hilton Sa Torre.

Transavia, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Amsterdam to Palma


Date: 18. June 2016
From: Amsterdam
To: Palma
Departure: 06:30
Arrival: 08:40
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 12A, window on the port side



The meeting ends in the early afternoon on Friday. My friend, the wiry R. will be returning to Zürich by KLM this evening. So we still have a few hours to kill. So we spend the last few hours walking around Amsterdam. We even find the time to have an excellent afternoon tea at De Backerswinkel, an idyllic spot set among the dildo shops and gay leather bars of old Amsterdam.

Getting to the Airport

It is Saturday morning and I awake just after four o’clock. Last night I slept at the CitizenM at Amsterdam airport, which is located roughly five minutes away on foot from the terminal complex. Outside everything is still fairly quiet.



Location: Departure concourse 1, rows 3 to 5.
Facilities: Check-in is available online, at the self-service machines at the airport or at the counter.

According to the Transavia website, the price to check-in a suitcase of up to 15 kilos is EUR21 if you pay in advance, or EUR32 if you pay at the airport – which is why I decided to pay the EUR21 at the time of booking. However, what the website does not tell you, is that if – like me – you are travelling with a slightly oversized carry-on, it will be taken from you at the gate and transported in the hold free of charge. If I had known, I think I would not have bothered.


The KLM Crown Lounge

Location: On the upper level of the transit area, where the D concourse branches off from the main terminal complex.
Type of Lounge:
KLM Crown Lounge.
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There are also computer work stations available.
Catering: Catering in the lounge is fair and there is a good breakfast spread laid out with cheese, cold cuts, bread, cereals and fruit.
Wifi is available throughout the lounge. You need to provide your family name to access the network.


Flying Blue Gold and Platinum members are entitled to use the KLM Crown Lounge on all scheduled Transavia flights that are operated as a code-share with KLM. Charter flights are not eligible.

The lounge is pretty empty when I arrive. The television is on and CNN is blaring away in the background, with Amanpour giving us another rendition of the crap that is alleged to be investigative journalism.


Boarding is from gate D63. There is no priority boarding as such, except for families travelling with small children, of which there seem to be copious amounts on this morning’s flight.


The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3 in an Economy Class only configuration. The aircraft has a seating capacity of 149.
Seat: On Transavia’s Boeing B 737-700 the emergency exit is located on row twelve. The seat is fairly comfortable and has sufficient padding to make the flight pleasant enough on the rump. There does not appear to be any inflight entertainment system on board this aircraft and there are no power outlets either.

The price for the emergency exit row is EUR10 per person and can be reserved at the time of booking or later on. Personally, I think they are EUR10 wisely invested as the pitch on row 12 is excellent. I can even stretch out my legs comfortably for a trip to Noddy land.


The Meal

There are three female cabin crew on this flight and all three of them are really excellent. They are very friendly, joking and fooling around with the little ones on the plane to keep them entertained.

Service on Transavia is buy on board. The selection is good and includes a fairly wide range of drinks and snacks, mostly sandwiches, muffins etc. The prices are also okay. I order a medium sized Nescafe Cappuccino and a Dutch biscuit with a tasty almond filling, which sets me back EUR4. I think that is quite good actually. The crew pass through the cabin with the food trolley once the seatbelt sign goes off, but you can purchase food and drinks throughout the flight.



The flight time to Palma is two hours and ten minutes according to the cabin crew. But the time passes quickly, mainly due to the fact that I manage to get a solid hour’s sleep.

The weather en route is pretty bad and only clears up just before we reach the island. By the time we land, the temperature is already a balmy 19 degrees Celsius.

And once again, I am in luck and we deplane via the stairs and not an airbridge. What’s more, they have also attached stairs to the rear door, giving me loads of opportunities to take pictures of the Boeing 737’s rather sexy looking stabilizer.


The terminal is crawling with people and the aircraft just keep landing one after the other. My suitcase arrives pretty quickly though. But then I reach the Europcar counter and things start going south. They use a numbering system to queue. I have a ticket with the number 70, but they are still only just serving customer number 24. I figure to myself that surely it cannot possibly take that long to process the forty-six customers before me… So I wait. I go for a stroll around the arrivals and departure area. I read in my Kindle. I go to the loo – repeatedly – but no matter what happens, the Europcar queue is really moving so slowly it hurts. Eventually, it takes me three hours for my number finally to be called.


All in all, I rather liked Transavia. First of all, the crew was excellent. Secondly, they somehow lack the look and feel of a low cost carrier. My only complaint really, is the departure time. Something a bit more civilised would have been nice. But perhaps that has more to do with the destination and not the carrier.

KLM, Business Class – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Amsterdam


Date: 15 June 2016
From: Zürich
To: Amsterdam
Arrival: 19:00
Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
Seat: 1A, window on the post side



Today I am on my way to Amsterdam for a meeting on Thursday and Friday. This time, I am travelling with my colleague, the wiry R., who quite apparently does not at all share my passion for aeroplanes.


We have both checked in using the KLM app. When the new app was launched, there were a few teething problem, especially when it came to ‘printing’ the boarding pass for Passbook. But those seem to have been overcome and the app is very reliable these days.

Generally speaking, advanced seat selection is possible on all KLM flights, even in Economy Class, and the website works very well, providing a good and detailed seatmap. Some seats on the seatmap are marked in orange or yellow. Orange marks the Economy Comfort seats with greater pitch, while yellow marks the extra legroom seats such as the emergency exit row. Flying Blue Platinum members can select any seat they like free of charge. Gold members pay a reduced rate to obtain an orange or yellow seat. All other passengers must pay the full price, which may vary, for one of these seats.

Once that is done and we are airside, we decide to forfeit the questionable luxury of the Aspire lounge for a visit to the Sprüngli airside café. In case you have not heard the name before, Sprüngli is a Swiss chocolatier. The stuff they produce is really excellent but very rich. Just one of their pralines is enough to make you put on 5 kilos just from looking at it and will probably send some people into a sugar coma – but what a way to go!


The Sprüngli café is located on the upper level of the Airside Centre, just after security and the obligatory duty free shop. If you want to try out what Sprüngli has on offer without breaking the bank, I can highly recommend a café au lait and a Truffe du jour.


Oh happy day, the mighty airline geek Gods look upon me with favouring eyes today! Yes, we are boarding from gate B08. Okay, admittedly B08 is definitely in the remotest possible corner to the terminal complex, but it is a bus gate. I find it so much more exciting to board the aircraft via stairs because it brings you face to face with the beast you will be flying in. Sorry, I think I’m dribbling…


The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 – with an empty middle seat
Obviously, the bulkhead row offers the greatest leg space. If you prefer an aisle seat, you should definitely go with 1D on the starboard side instead of 1C on the port side. The latter partially protrudes into the aisle, which means you are more likely to have people brushing against you on their way to the loo or galley.
Pitch: 33 inches in Business Class and Economy Comfort (rows 1 to 6), 30 inches in Economy Class (from row 7 on)
Width: 17 inches
Facilities: 110 AC power outlet at every seat


The Meal

  1. Honeyed goat cheese balls with a greek salad
  2. Waldorf salad
  3. Pina Colada cream with crumble and lime
  4. Selection form the bread basket

Either there have been cost cuts at KLM or the cabin attendant working the Business Class cabin really could not give a shit – if you’ll pardon my French. He is definitely friendly and chatty, so I kind of suspect the former is the case.

If I am not mistaken, previously you used to get a hot towel before the meal, which was always nice and helped get rid of the grime on your hands from travelling. This is no longer the case. Furthermore, I ask for sparkling water with the meal. Where previously KLM used to give you a whole can of Perrier, this time I am only given a glass just the one glass and I have no idea what brand of water it is. And finally, after the meal I ask for a coffee which quickly arrives – but without those really tasty Punselies caramel biscuits.


The flight passes surprisingly quickly. Our approach into Amsterdam is rather bumpy, but I am just glad they have brought us in on runway 18C, which is the central one of the three parallel runways and within a reasonable taxiing distance to the terminal.


Finnair, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Helsinki to Zürich


Date: 02 June 2016
Departure: 16:30
Arrival: 18:20
Flight time: 2 hours and fifty minutes
Seat: 2D, aisle on the right side of the aircraft



The bus drops us off somewhere in the bowels of Helsinki airport’s terminal building. Immigration takes place on the ground floor and once more, the scanners for biometric passports work swiftly and efficiently.

From immigration I go one floor up, only to find myself – I think – landside again. But the security checkpoint is right next to the exit from immigration and there are no queues. So within a matter of five minutes after entering the terminal building, I am already airside again and on my way to the lounge.


I am already holding my boarding pass for the flight to Zürich.

The Finnair Business Class Lounge

Location: One level above the public airside area. The stairs are located near gate 22.
Type of Lounge:
Finnair Schengen lounge.
Toilets but no showers. Other than that, I must say the lounge does remind me a lot of an IKEA showroom…
Catering: As in the non-Schengen lounge, the food options are not bad and here is a good selection of hot and cold dishes.
Free wifi is available throughout the terminal. No password required.


The lounge is still quite empty when I arrive. Just after reception I make a right turn to get myself a seat near the window, figuring this is where I will have the best apron views. The only problem though, is that this is the side of the terminal that was facing the sun all day, so despite the air conditioning, this part of the lounge is starting to feel decidedly like a Finish sauna. Alas, by the time I give up and decide to look for a new, cooler place to sit, the lounge has filled up completely.



Priority boarding is ignored to speed up the boarding process.

Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of about fifty minutes. Apparently, our aircraft was struck by lightning and before we continue for Zürich, the aircraft’s avionics will need to be checked.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2. Classic set up for a European Business Class, with the middle seat on a row of three kept empty.
Seat: On the Airbus A321, there is a row 1 on both the port and starboard side of the aircraft, contrary to the A320 which has no row 1 on the starboard side. Other than that, the seat is identical to that Finnair has on the Airbus A320. Seat pitch is good though, and even on row 2 I have enough space to stretch out and I can even open my MacBook Air without any problems.

According to the Finnair inflight magazine, their Airbus A321 has a seating capacity of between 196 and 209. As the passengers board the aircraft, the cabin crew announce that the flight will be nearly full. And indeed, there are four rows of Business Class on this aircraft, which makes a total of 16 seats, 12 of which are occupied.
Pitch: 31 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: No power outlets.
Audio and Video: There are video screens which descend from out of the overhead bins. On this flight though, the screens are only used for the safety on board demonstration video.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are truly excellent. The service in the Business Class section is done by the purser, a middle-aged lady with a very charming and endearing personality and a good sense of humour.


The Meal

Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Diet Coke, served with ice and a slice of lemon.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal:
Early supper.

  1. Starter – sea buckthorn marinated Baltic herring and dill potatoes.
  2. Main course – beef meatballs and turkey chorizo, gratin potatoes, red wine sauce and vegetables.
  3. Dessert – chocolate brownie and strawberry coulis.
  4. Selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee.

The first part of the service goes well, right up until the glasses for the aperitif are removed. But then the turbulence kicks in and even the crew are obliged to remain seated. By the time the aircraft has climbed to a calmer level and the service resumes, we are only forty minutes out of Zürich. But still, the cabin crew do an excellent job and get everybody served without rushing.



At 18h20 Swiss local time, the pilot in command decides to check out the A321’s capabilities as a fighter jet. We start our approach into Zürich and what starts out as a shallow descent gradually turns into a nosedive. But still, like this we manage a straight in approach and land eventually only a few minutes behind schedule.

The aircraft comes to a stop on its parking stand at the A concourse at 18h50. By 19h05 I am already standing on the platform of the airport’s railway station waiting to catch the train home.


Finnair, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Xi’an to Helsinki


Date: 02 June 2016
Arrival: 14:15
Flight time: 8 hours and forty minutes
Seat: 4L, window seat on the right side of the aircraft



I wake up with a due sense of accomplishment, and as I slowly emerge into full consciousness I remember that yesterday I was able to strike another item from the bucket list: the terracotta warriors of Xi’an. So I guess I might as well go back home then…

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Hotel shuttle.
Journey time: Slightly over 30 minutes.
Cost: RMB500.

The flight to Helsinki will be departing at 10h30 this morning. I have ordered a car to take me back to the airport at 08h30, which means I have enough time for a leisurely breakfast before I head out to the airport.


Location: Terminal 3, row G.
Facilities: Online check-in is available, there is also a Finnair app.
Counters: There are eight dedicated counters open for this flight. One is for baggage drop off, two are for groups, three are for Economy Class and two are for Business Class passengers. As it turns out, there are only nine passengers in Business Class this morning, so the two counters do seem kind of over the top.

I have already check-in online. However, I can only download the boarding pass for my onward connection in Helsinki to add to Passbook. Electronic boarding passes are not possible departing from Xi’an, so I have to collect the boarding pass at the counter.


From check-in I head through immigration and then passport control. There are three counters open, two for passengers and one for staff and crew. Behind immigration is security and there is a separate lane for priority passengers.

I am always amazed at how creative they are in China when it comes to inventing jobs out of nothing and for no reason in particular (other than giving somebody something to do) – mostly in the checking and stamping industry. As I go through security for example, there is one young lady whose job it is to stamp my boarding pass – twice – just because…

The Lounge

Location: As you exit the duty free shop behind security, turn right.
Type of Lounge:
General lounge operated by the airport authority.
Three computers (inop at the time of my visit). There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: Catering is fairly limited, there are a few strange cold dishes – things like little bowls of cherry tomatoes – and instant noodles if you are after something warm.
Wifi is available in the lounge, the code is provided at reception.

The international terminal looks very new and modern. It is also very empty, given that the number of international departures from Xi’an is rather limited.


Probably the best way to describe the lounge is to say that it is very Chinese, for a loss of a better description. There are fake plants all over the place and the peacock figurine that doubles as a holder for wine glasses is just class! But the views of the runway are good.



There is a separate lane for priority passengers and they are invited to board the aircraft first.


The gate area does not look too crowded, so I guess it is going to be a fairly light load on the way to Helsinki. And indeed, fifteen minutes ahead of our departure time the purser already announces that boarding has been completed. There are only another eight passengers in the Business Class cabin with me.

I am the first passenger to head down the airbridge towards the aircraft. There is a female crew member standing outside the aircraft. She offers me a newspaper from the trolley near the door, hands me a bottle of still water and then welcomes me aboard.

There is also another professional checker standing by the door. His job is obviously to put a tick on my boarding pass – you know, the one with the two stamps from security – just because…

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 1 + 2 + 1 on even numbered rows.
Seat: Finnair operates the Airbus A330-300 in three different seating configurations. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing, at the time of booking, which configuration you are going to get lumbered with. Fortunately for me, I am in an aircraft today with the ‘better configuration’ in a staggered seating like the one SWISS has installed in its Business Class on the Airbus A330-300. The individual ‘throne’ seats are all located on the port side of the aircraft on the even numbered rows. On the starboard side, there is a single seat on every row, although these do not offer quite as much storage space as the ‘thrones’. One thing you may want to consider is that of the single seats on the starboard side, those in even numbered rows are a bit more private, because they are slightly removed from the aisle. The seat is fully flat when extended into a bed. In this configuration there are 45 seats in Business Class and 218 seats in Economy Class.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: AC power outlet. The Airbus A330-300 does not have wifi.
Audio and Video: AVOD.

This seat is only comfortable in the fully upright position. Other than that, it really is a nightmare, honestly. At 184cm, I consider myself pretty much average in size. Even so, I have trouble extending the seat into a bed without crushing my kneecaps in the process. It can be done, but as the seat unfolds you gradually need to move up to keep your legs out of the way. The alternative of course, is to stand up to extend the seat.


The width is also a bit of a problem with this seat. Lying on your back feels pretty tight. As I lie there on my back, doing my best impression of a sardine, one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories comes to mind – The Fall of the House of Usher – and I am compelled to sit up temporarily to avoid what I can only describe as a claustrophobia induced panic attack. Okay, very well, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point now. It is very tight.

But at least the loos all have a window…


There is only a pillow on the seat when I arrive. Blankets are in the overhead bins and the vanity kit, earphones, slippers and menus are distributed once boarding has been completed.


The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Blueberry juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Sparkling water.
There are two choices for the starter and three choices for the main dish.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal:
Early lunch.

Amuse Bouche

Salmon canapé and black olive tapenade canapé.


First Course

Orange flavoured pumpkin soup with croûtons and a side salad


The service sequence on this leg is slightly different to that on the outbound flight to Beijing. First the amuse bouche is served with the aperitif. Then the first course and salad are served together on a tray. The tray is subsequently removed and the hot meal is served individually with a new set of cutlery. After the main dish come the cheese course and then dessert.

The Main Course

Salmon with shrimps in seafood juice, purée of peas, baked zucchini and asparagus.

The Cheese

Emmentaler and Camembert with cashews and crackers.


Black forest gâteau.

All in all the meal is not bad. The soup is good but a bit too sweet. It might have been good to have some salt and pepper, but neither is on the tray.

The salad is nice and big, much better than that pathetic puny excuse for a salad Lufthansa tends to serve up in Business Class these days. However, as far as the dressing is concerned, quite frankly I would not bother. It does not taste particularly good.

The main dish is okay, although the zucchini filled with a minced meat sauce is a bit strange and does not really go well with the rest of the dish.

With the cheese you obviously cannot go wrong. Probably the worst part of the meal is the Black forest cake, which is absolutely atrocious and tastes of something that should not be food.

The service is swift and efficient. By the time everything has been cleared away, we are just over six hours out of Helsinki.

Our routing today sees us skirting the north-easterly fringe of the Gobi desert. It is a very poetic landscape below. The land is barren and flat. Occasionally there is a road or railway line that runs in a straight line towards the horizon. And there are isolated clouds wafting across the scene, casting fluffy shadows across the sand.


Eventually though, I start to get tired. I twist and turn until eventually I find a position which is not too uncomfortable and then I escape to the Land of Noddy for a couple of hours.


The Inflight Snack

When I awake, I am feeling a bit hungry again. It has been at least three hours since the last feed! I head back to the galley and ask the cabin crew about those sandwiches they mention in the menu. She tells me she will put something together for me and instructs me to return to my set. A short while later, one of the crew appears at my seat with a Diet Coke, finger sandwiches, roasted almonds and two of those rather tasty chocolates they had at the lounge in Helsinki.


The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
There is one Asian and one Western choice.
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Extended snack.

  1. Jacket potato with pieces of beef.
  2. Served with steamed vegetables and another zucchini filled with minced beef.
  3. Selection from the breadbasket.
  4. Strawberry cheesecake.
  5. Tea or coffee.

The second service begins about 90 minutes out of Helsinki. There is a choice between an Asian seafood noodle soup or the potato, which I have.


Generally speaking, one of the things I already noticed on the outbound flight is that Finnair do not seem to provide any special dishes to cater specifically to its Asian clientele. Also, if you are not an out and proud carnivore, you may want to consider ordering a special meal. Despite there being options on the menu, there is not a single dish without meat.


Once the meal is over, I start collecting my stuff in preparation for the landing in Helsinki.


Thirty minutes before arrival our aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent. The captain comes on the loudspeaker. He sounds very surprised as he informs us that the temperature on the ground in Helsinki is around 27 degrees Celsius when we arrive.

Luckily, ours is one of the first long-haul arrivals this afternoon. So immigration and transfer security should not be too bad. However, as the aircraft turns off the runway behind us, I can see four wide-bodies lined up on the approach for arrival behind us.

And the icing on the cake? Our aircraft parks on a remote stand and we are obliged to disembark via the stairs. I just love it when that happens, because it gives you a sense of the sheer size of the aircraft you have just travelled on. I also think the Airbus A 330-300 is rather a handsome looking bird. Just look at the size of those engines!


Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an


The archaeological site with the terracotta warriors is located outside Lintong, a town close to Xi’an.

Getting There

The quickest and easiest way to get to the terracotta warriors, if you are not on a guided tour, is to take a taxi. The ride will take roughly twenty minutes from the Angsana and costs between RMB30 and RMB50, depending on whether or not you are in the mood to negotiate.

Entrance Fee

A ticket to enter the archaeological site will set you back RMB150, which is more or less EUR20. Cash payment only, credit cards are not accepted.


As you enter the site, you will be approached by one of the many official guides offering their services. A guide will also cost you RMB150 for a tour of two hours. Once again, payment for the site guide is cash only. On the one hand, a guide is probably not a bad idea, given that English descriptions of what you can actually see in the pits are somewhat scarce. On the other hand, you will manage even without a guide. Which also leaves you free to move around at your leisure and at your own pace.

Advice for a Visit

There are three pits at the site. Pit Two is the one they have done the least work on. All you can see here is the digging site itself with a few shattered pieces of terracotta lying about. In Pit Three the excavated figures are fully restored and reassembled, although the total number of warriors in this pit is limited to about thirty. And then finally, Pit One has the largest number of unearthed soldiers and horses. They are still working to complete the excavation and it is estimated that only about a third of the approximately 6000 figures have been unearthed so far. For the most spectacular effect, I would recommend you visit the pits in the sequence two – three – one.

So what’s the big deal?

The terracotta warriors were commissioned by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who obviously must have been something of a megalomaniac, given that he is also the man who commissioned the construction of the Great Wall of China. Although to be fair, not that many people can say of themselves that they founded a dynasty, so I think he may be forgiven.

In any case, the terracotta warriors were part of the burial site of the emperor, their task was to guide and escort the emperor to the afterlife. They date back to 210 BCE! Originally, the warriors were painted, although obviously the paint has since faded. But to see them standing together is still an impressive sight.

Admittedly, Xi’an is rather an out of the way place to get to. And the exhibition is clearly aimed to a Chinese audience. Even so, if you have the time and the chance, I can highly recommend a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Of course one might argue that – like the great pyramids in Giza – the terracotta warriors are, first and foremost, testimony to the ruthless vanity of a single individual. But instead of taking a cynical point of view, I think it is equally fair to say that they are impressive monuments to all of mankind, that have successfully withstood the test of time. To me, it is awe inspiring to think that these statues still stand – decades, centuries and even millennia after they were erected.


Pit 2


Pit 3


Pit 1


Air China, Economy Class – Airbus A 321: Beijing to Xi’an


Date: 29 May 2016
Departure: 08:55
Arrival: 11:10
Flight time: 2 hours and fifteen minutes
Seat: 15L, window on the right side of the aircraft



The transfer from an international to a domestic flight is pretty straightforward and well signposted. I have two hours to make the connection, and it takes me an hour to make the transfer owing to the sheer size of the terminal complex.

Transfer in Beijing

Location: Terminal 3, main concourse – right next to the terminus station of the automated people mover.
Counters: Two Economy Class and one Business Class counter.

I only have my backpack with me on this trip, so the transfer check-in is swift and easy. From check-in I take the escalators one floor up, which takes me landside of the terminal. At the top of the escalators I turn right and right again until I reach the boarding pass check point to go airside again. From there I head back down one floor to the automated people mover to take me to the D concourse. Once again, the entire process is pretty straightforward. But the facility at Beijing is enormous, so you end up walking fairly long distances, going up and down between different levels.


The D concourse is pretty much deserted when I arrive. There are only a few people sitting at gate 13, the gate for my flight to Xi’an. There do not seem to be any other flights leaving any time soon.

What can I say? I’m a linguist…


There are three queues, one for First and Business Class passengers, one for Premium Economy Class and another for Economy Class passengers. Boarding starts way ahead of time, and the passengers are only slowly trickling in. Eventually though, the flight is full.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: Air China operates the A321 in two different configurations. The aircraft operating the service to Xi’an today has 16 seats in First Class and 161 in Economy Class. I am on row 15, which is right behind the emergency exit row. Seat pitch is good. Moreover, the seats are covered in material instead of the faux leather that seems to be so popular with most airlines these days. Seat numbering is a bit unusual if you are used to the European system. On most European carriers, the three seats on the port side are (from window to aisle) A, B, and C; while the three seats on the starboard side are (from aisle to window) D, E and F. On Air China though, the starboard seats are marked (from the aisle to the window) J, K and L.
Pitch: 31 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: No power outlets available.
Audio and Video: Drop down screens in the Economy Class cabin, audio track selection and volume control in the armrest. Earphones are distributed half-heartedly at the beginning of the flight – I should think it is obvious that a small tray of earphones is not likely to be enough for all passengers on a fully loaded A321. But the cabin crew are not deterred. They start passing out earphones at the front of the Economy Class cabin, and once they run out of earphones at the third row, the job is done.



The crew is a bit odd, I must confess. Either I am just suffering from a lack of sleep, or there is some cultural issue going on that I have not figured out yet. One way or another, the impression I get is that the crew really couldn’t give a shit.

A young male cabin attendant is standing next to me as I put my backpack in the overhead bin. I innocently ask him if the flight is going to be full, but all I get in reply is ‘maybe’.

The crew’s attitude to safety is also rather strange. On the one hand, they insist that you have all electronic devices fully off, not just in flight mode. One of the female cabin attendants nearly has a meltdown when she sees me taking photos with my iPhone during the climbout. On the other hand though, the safety demonstration video is interrupted repeatedly by the cockpit crew coming on to make announcements about the flight. And the volume is so low that you cannot really hear a thing anyway. As a result, the video is still running as we go thundering down the runway. But nobody is paying any attention to it anyway.

The Meal

Towel before the meal: Pre packed wet wipe with a decidedly unpleasant stink of disinfectant.
Type of meal:

  1. Orange juice.
  2. Bag of missed nuts.

This really is nothing more than a snack, but that is okay. After all, the flight time to Xi’an is slightly less than two hours and I am feeling rather exhausted right now anyway.


Once I finish my bag of nuts, it becomes impossible for me to keep my eyes open any longer and I spend the remainder of the flight doing that thing tired people do who are trying to sleep sitting upright: every time I nod off and my head lolls forwards, I raise my head again quickly, hoping that nobody saw me and I can pretend I am fully awake. Only to do the same thing again a few seconds later…

Eventually, I am taken out of my misery. We start our descent into Xi’an and the prospect of a proper bed makes me perk up a little.



Xi’an airport is fairly large and has currently three terminals. Terminal 3 is for international flight, Terminal 2 for domestic traffic, while Terminal 1 is the old airport and no longer in use.


I have requested the hotel to send a car to pick me up. The terracotta warriors are not actually in Xi’an but in a place called Lintong. The journey from the airport to the hotel in Lintong will take you roughly 45 minutes in good traffic.

Finnair, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Helsinki to Beijing


Date: 28 May 2016
Departure: 18:00
Arrival: 06:50
Flight time: 7 hours and fifty minutes
Seat: 1A, window seat on the right side of the aircraft



I just arrived in Helsinki on a Finnair flight from Zürich. It is now 14h30, which means I have another three hours before my flight to Beijing starts boarding. I am rather excited about this next flight, because it will be my first trip on the mighty Airbus A350.

The non-Schengen gates at Helsinki airport are designated 32 to 40. The terminal is fairly straightforward in its design. But it is not so easy to navigate through the facility, what with all the passengers pushing and shoving. Over the last few years, Finnair has worked hard to establish Helsinki as a hub between Europe and the Far East. So far the plan seems to be working, judging by the number of passengers in the terminal. However, if this goes on like this, I think very soon the terminal will not be large enough to handle all the traffic.

Immigration is fairly easy, and there are many self-service kiosks for passengers with biometric passports. There is no further security check if you are transferring from a Schengen to a non-Schengen flight.

The Finnair Business Class Lounge

Location: Finnair has one lounge in the Schengen area and another in the non-Schengen area. The one in the non-Schengen area is located near gate 37.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Finnair and oneworld partners lounge.
Toilets, showers and a Finish sauna, three workstations with iMacs, newspaper stand.
Catering: Catering in the lounge is good. There is a hot dish (beef Stroganoff with rice) and a selection of salads and sweets.
Wifi is available throughout the terminal, no password required. Just turn on the wifi and open your browser.

The lounge is rather nice. Call it a stereotype but it has what I would call a very cool Nordic design. All in all, the lounge is not actually that big and at times it can become just a little bit crowded. Fortunately, I reach the place just before the afternoon rush really kicks in.



There is a separate queue for passengers with priority, who are also invited to board the aircraft first.


There are two guys ahead of me in the queue for boarding. The older one of the two is obviously completely smashed, totally wasted. Seriously, he can barely keep upright. The gate agent takes one look at him and simply says to him: ‘Right that’s it, you’re way too drunk. You’re not getting on’. The younger one tries to tell her his friend is okay – meanwhile the person in question is swaying precariously as he tries to maintain his balance. He also keeps blinking, making me wonder just how many gate agents he can actually see talking to him at the same time right now. Obviously he had not bargained on gate lady, because she is obviously not taking any shit from him. ‘No, it is not okay. Not getting on. Step aside for the other passengers’. And with that she confiscates his boarding pass and hands him his passport.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: On the Airbus A350, Finnair has a total of 46 seats installed. There are eight rows located between the L1 and L2 doors and another three rows in a mini cabin after the L2 door galley. The seat is fully flat when turned into a bed. The configuration of the seat is in a reverse herringbone and very similar to Cathay Pacific’s seat. The advantage of this configuration obviously being that every passenger has direct aisle access. I am sitting on 1A, which is the bulkhead seat in the forward cabin. Seatguru has this marked as a yellow seat, warning that some passengers may find the proximity to the forward toilets bothersome. Personally, I do not think this is an issue because it really is not as though the toilets are particularly close. Storage space is good – next to the right armrest there is a compartment that is large enough to hold an 11’ MacBook Air and a Kindle.
Pitch: 81 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: Every seat has its own power outlet and USB port. Wifi connectivity should be available throughout the aircraft. The wifi code is displayed on the video screen. However, the wifi does not work once during the flight.
Audio and Video: AVOD.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are a lot more reserved than on the previous flight. But they are very professional and efficient.

As on the previous flight, there is a wide selection of newspapers available on board.

A pillow, earphones, slippers and a vanity kit have already been placed at every seat before the passengers board the aircraft. The earphones are noise cancelling BOSE phones and they are excellent. The slippers are nice and fluffy. Blankets are distributed after the meal service has been completed.


The vanity kit contains an eyeshade, toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, earplugs and Clarins cosmetics.

There is also a compendium with the menu, wine list as well as an embarkation card for the People’s Republic.


The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Blueberry juice.
Towel before the meal: Hot scented towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Diet Coke.
Three choices for the main course.
Tray service.
Type of meal:


The meal is very well timed. The amuse bouche is served separately with the apéritif. However, the salad, first course and the main are served together on one tray. Afterwards, the tray is removed and the cheese and the dessert are served separately again. Interestingly, they have a choice of vanilla or licorice ice cream. By this time though, I am already full. So I just settle for a cup of coffee.

Amuse Bouche

Salad with whitefish roe, fennel, apple and peas.

The First Course

Roast beef and tartar sauce, spinach and nutmeg served with a side salad.


The Main Course

Pressed beef neck, celeriac purée, herb butter and spring vegetables.


The Cheese

Peltolan Blue, Viinitarhuri with rhubarb jam and crackers, I have a glass of Sauterne with that.

Once the meal is cleared away, the crew pass through the cabin distributing bottles of still water and collecting orders for the breakfast service.

The service may perhaps seem a little lacking in style by serving all the dishes at the same time on one tray. Personally though, I must say I rather like it like this because it makes the whole meal service a lot faster, which leaves the passengers with more time to relax.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
American or continental breakfast.
Tray service.
Type of meal:

  1. Scrambled eggs, bacon, chicken sausage, roesti, baked beans.
  2. Apple and cherry yoghurt.
  3. Fresh fruit – apple, pineapple, orange.
  4. Selection form the bread basket with butter, strawberry jam and cream cheese.
  5. Tea or coffee.
  6. Orange juice.

Ninety minutes before arrival in Beijing the second service begins. I am quite surprised that this is again a full meal. Once more, the service is efficient and the crew make various rounds with coffee and the breadbasket.



It is a bright, sunny day here in Beijing today. For a change the sky is fairly clear, providing some good views of the city as we approach.


Finnair uses the impressive Terminal 3 in Beijing. Our flight arrives at the E concourse. If, like me, you are catching a domestic connection, you will first need to go through immigration. From there take the automated people mover to the main concourse, which is also where transfer check-in is located. From the main concourse take another train back to the D concourse, which is reserved for domestic flights. The security check takes place there.



At the end of the day, I would probably have to agree with my friend, the wiry R., that the Airbus A350 is just another airplane. Okay, so they do not use bleed air to heat the cabin, which is apparently so much better for you. But to be honest, I hardly notice the difference as a passenger. But I would definitely fly Finnair’s Airbus A350 again. The Business Class cabin configuration is great and the seat they have installed feels cosy and private.