Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Zagreb to Zürich

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Date: 05. August 2016.
Departure: 09h20.
Arrival: 10h45.
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side.

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Introduction

The bus drops us off just outside the terminal on the arrivals side. The terminal building really is inappropriately small, especially given that the ramp is rather busy with arriving and departing aircraft. I enter the building and much to my surprise, only few passengers are heading for arrivals and immigration for Croatia. The vast majority are turning left to queue for transfer immigration and security.

And God, how slow the process is! It takes fifty minutes from the moment I enter the terminal building until I am finally through security and in the transfer area. All things considered, that is pretty fast though, seeing as there is only one check point for all the passengers.

The Lounge

Location: Behind the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge: Contractor lounge.
Facilities:
The view of the apron. There are no toilets.
Catering: A machine serving juice, another machine serving soft drinks and another for instant coffee and tea. Bad pastries.
Internet:
Wifi is available, the code is plastered on the walls all over the lounge.

The Business Class lounge is obviously a compromise, both in terms of location and size. If you are, like me, arriving in the terminal from another flight, once you clear security you have to walk all the way through the duty free shop and then up the stairs. Because the lounge is actually located in the hall leading passengers starting their journey in Zagreb from security to the airide area, you will have to fight your way through all the passengers heading the opposite direction. And once you arrive at the lounge you will no doubt be wondering why on earth you even bothered!

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The lounge is rather ugly, dingy and small. Its one redeeming feature is that it is not quite as crowded as the public area outside the lounge, which is way too small for all the passengers.

Boarding

My gate is located on the far right of the lounge area and I have a bit of a problem accessing the gate because the Vueling and Germanwings flight at the neighbouring gates are so crowded. But eventually, I sort myself out with a bit of pushing and shoving.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: The seat is kept in the same colours as those on the Airbus fleet. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the aircraft has a capacity of 76 passengers. There are two and a half rows in Business Class. On the port side there is a row 1 and 2. On the starboard side however, there is only a row 2, which is the bulkhead row. It is also the emergency exit row, so legroom is in fact rather good here. The flight is completely full and I suspect there are at least four commercial upgrades in Business Class. And incidentally, the seat next to you is not kept empty in Business Class.

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The Crew

The service on this flight is completely different to that on the previous flight. There are two ladies working the cabin and they are perfectly charming, very friendly and elegant. Of course it helps that their uniforms look pretty sharp.

While we are on the ground, the crew offer Croatian newspapers and pre-packed cold towels. The flight time is announced at one hour and twenty-five minutes.

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The Meal

Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.

  1. Fruit salad.
  2. Müsli with yoghurt and prunes.
  3. A plate with cheese, tomato and olives.
  4. A bun and a croissant with butter and this really tasty orange and fig jam.
  5. Tea or coffee.
  6. Apple juice.

Well this is much more like it. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy the meal. The Müsli is tasty and quite filling, especially with the large bottle of yoghurt. The fruit salad tastes fresh and the variety of cheese is good.

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I have a second coffee to keep me going (awake). But it is no use, it was just too early when I started on my way home and before I know it, my head is tilting forwards and I start dribbling into my polo shirt.

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Arrival

I am awakened by the cabin who pats me on the shoulder and asks me to replace my tray table. The weather in Zürich looks nice and cool. It is overcast and the pilot announces a temperature on the ground of 15 degrees, much cooler than Skopje.

Zürich airport really is quite impressive, I must say. Despite the fact that the place is very busy with arriving and departing aircraft, by the time I reach the luggage belt I only have to wait for another two minutes before the suitcases start arriving. Mine is the third off the belt.

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Conclusion

I have been meaning to try Croatia Airline for a long time now, so I am glad I finally got that off my chest. So what’s the verdict? The first flight really was nothing special, but the second one way rather enjoyable. It is a pity that the ground experience in Zagreb is so unappealing. That old terminal really is getting a bit long in the tooth and probably should have been replaced many years ago already. But there is hope! Apparently in March 2017 the new terminal with its funky design is set to open. Hopefully, the new facility will have a nicer lounge and a better transfer process.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Skopje to Zagreb

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Date: 05 August 2016
Departure: 05h45
Arrival: 06h45
Flight time: 1 hour
Seat: 1F

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Introduction

It is four o’clock in the morning as I step outside the hotel. It is still dark but already the temperature is quite high. It also feels a lot more humid than it has been these last few days. One way or another, it is time to go home. And so I get in the car. And off we go.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Cost: 900 Macedonian Dinar, roughly 20 Euros.

The journey from the centre of town to the airport does not take long to complete at this time of day and we appear to have hit a green streak with the lights. There is also a bus to the airport apparently, but whenever I tried to ask about it at the hotel, I drew a blank.

Check-in

Location: Ground floor.
Facilities: Web check-in (better not) or check-in at the desk (advisable).
Counters: There is one counter for Economy Class passengers to Zagreb, and another counter for Business Class passengers. In addition, there are two other counters on reserve, to ensure that check-in moves swiftly.

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My suitcase it tagged all the way through to Zürich and I am issued the boarding passes for both flights, even though I have already checked in on the Croatia Airlines website and have added the boarding passes to Passbook.

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From check-in I head straight for security. I show the guy checking boarding passes my iPhone and draw a blank. All I get from him is ‘no’. But then I give him the paper boarding pass I was issued at the counter and he seems happy to go along with that.

The Lounge

Location: Opposite the exit from security.
Type of Lounge:
Prime Class contractor lounge.
Facilities:
None really, other than a few comfortable couches. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A limited selection of cold drinks. There is also a Nescafe machine, but that appears to be out of order. To eat there are a few pastries and bowls with nuts, none of which I try though. To be honest, everything looks a bit stale.
Internet:
Wifi is provided by T-Online in the lounge. Passwords are available at the reception desk outside.

I grab myself a bottle of water and take a seat in a remote corner of the lounge to get out of harm’s way. I overdosed on garlic at dinner last night and I still reek of the stuff. It is so bad that the guy ahead of me in the queue for security actually let me pass just to stop me breathing down his neck.

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Boarding

There is a separate line for Business Class passengers and they are invited to board first.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2. The middle seat in the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: There are three rows of Business Class, which should in theory mean that there are twelve passengers in Business Class today. However, I notice that on some rows the middle seat has not been kept empty and there are in fact three people sitting in a row. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the Airbus A 319 has a seating capacity of 144.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Audio and Video: There are overhead screens showing advertisements for Croatia as a holiday destination.

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The Crew

The crew seem pleasant enough, they are not overly friendly but then again it is rather early in the morning. So I can hardly hold it against them… The flight time is advised as one hour and five minutes.

The Meal

Delivery: Plastic box from the trolley.
Type of meal:
Breakfast, I guess…

  1. Cold cuts and cheese with a small cherry tomato.
  2. Jam and butter.
  3. Chocolate brownie.
  4. Pre-packed roll of bread.
  5. Tea or coffee, soft drinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, and the award for the worst Business Class meal presentation goes to… Croatia Airlines. Well done!

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To be fair, the quality of the food is good, except perhaps for the spongy bread that looks and tastes as though is has been chemically treated to expire about forty years after I have expired of old age. But that is compensated by the delectable brownie, which is to die for. And the coffee is good too.

But enough with the niceties. The presentation of the meal is really, really not good. What is more, the cabin crew distribute the plastic boxes and the bread and then disappear. Uhm…how about some cutlery? Eventually, when half the Business Class cabin is already busy licking their sticky cheese fingers, the crew emerge from the galley, this time with napkins and cutlery.

Transfer in Zagreb

And then very soon we start our descent into Zagreb. It is a lovely day outside. We land in the middle of what appears to be Croatia Airlines’ morning bank of transfers. A new terminal is currently under construction at Zagreb. For the time being though, the operational apron only has open stands, which means I get to disembark via the stairs. Cool.

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Edelweiss Air, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Skopje

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Date: 02 August 2016
Departure: 12:50
Arrival: 14:26
flight time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Seat: 11F, window on the starboard side

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Introduction

In my gap year between finishing secondary school and starting university I briefly had a job as a flight attendant. Back then I used to fly to Skopje in Macedonia frequently, mostly with ethnic traffic.

I have rather fond memories of those flights. On the one hand, the passengers used to drive me nuts with the copious amounts of ‘hand luggage’ they would have with them. You could expect anything from vacuum cleaners to televisions – all being brought into the cabin. Most of the time the flights left late because it just took a while to get all the passengers settled. But it was also heart warming to watch. As soon as the aircraft would land in Skopje, the passengers would get excited at the prospect of finally being home. Usually before the fasten seatbelt sign was turned off, they would be helping each other taking things down from the overhead bins, quite as though they could not wait any longer to set foot again in their home country.

That was over twenty years ago. And now, today I find myself travelling yet again, to Skopje with a planeload of Macedonians. Only this time, I am a passenger.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 1 or 3. Check-in 1 is the SWISS and Star Alliance terminal.
Facilities: Web check-in, app check-in or check-in at the airport.

I arrive at the airport at 10:38, with a little under two hours before departure. It is the middle of the Swiss holiday season and the airport is packed. I head up to Check-in 1 to find a queue going all the way back to the SWISS ticketing counters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it at Zürich airport. It takes me 15 minutes just to reach the start of the queue and then another 20 minutes to reach the baggage drop counter.

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I think part of the problem is that SWISS has not properly signposted the process. As a result, like me, most passengers are unsure if they need to check-in at the self-service machines first or if they can do everything at the counter.

By the time I have checked in and changed some money, it is already 11h45 and my flight is about to board from the midfield Dock E. So I head straight for security, fearing that here too there will be long queues. But much to my surprise, the place is fairly deserted and security is swift.

From security I head two floors down into the basement of the terminal to catch the metro shuttle. On my way to the gate I briefly stop at the Deli to get myself a sandwich, because I am not entirely sure what or if they will be serving anything on this flight.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of about 15 minutes. There is a first call for families with children, before the general boarding process starts. Despite the fact that the flight is packed to the gills, boarding is completed in less than 15 minutes. These guys must be eager to get home! Most of the passengers appear to be Macedonians on their way home. And from what I can tell a lot of passengers are connecting from one of SWISS’ North American flights.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The Edelweiss Air Airbus A 320 comes in two different configurations, depending on whether it is an original Edelweiss Air bird or if it is one of the aircraft leased from SWISS, which retain the original cabin configuration. The height of the head rest is adjustable. On flights to Skopje, there is no Business Class and the aircraft operates in an Economy Class only configuration. I am on 11F, which is the first of the two emergency rows.
Pitch: 34 or 32 inches, which then gradually decreases to 31 inches towards the back of the bus.
Width:
17 inches.
Facilities:
Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlet.
Audio and Video: Moving map. The Edelweiss aircraft that are not leased from SWISS also allow you to stream the IFE on your mobile device. In order to do so though, you need to download the Edelweiss app in advance. The system works very well. The only grippe I have though, is that it would be good to also have power outlets at the seats then.

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The Crew

There are four crew on this flight and all of them are very friendly and all smiles, pretty much like all the Edelweiss crews I have experienced recently. The flight time is announced as ninety-five minutes.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Snack.

  1. Cheese sandwich.
  2. Choice of hot and cold drinks.
  3. A Kägi Fret, which is a typically Swiss biscuit that is basically a few layers of waffle with chocolate in between and then coated in chocolate.
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Once the service is done, there are still sandwiches left, so the crew pass through the cabin offering seconds to those who are still hungry. The sandwich is okay, with some tomato and pepper spread and cheese in it. The bread is a bit rubbery though.

Arrival

Eventually, after an uneventful flight we start our descent into Skopje. The airport is located in a scenic landscape of hills. It looks hot outside.

As the aircraft slows to taxing speed I get another blast from the past. No sooner have we turned off the runway that you can hear seatbelts unclickling and the passengers start getting up to take their belongings from the overhead bins. Well some things obviously never change.

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The terminal in Skopje looks fairly new and is a far cry from the run down, rickety old facility there used to be when I flew here all those years back. Immigration is swift. There is a bit of a hold up waiting for the luggage, what with the Air Serbia flight arriving right behind us.

Getting into Town

In Skopje I will be staying at the Marriott, which only opened a few weeks ago. The journey to from the airport will take roughly 25 minutes in good traffic and will cost you EUR20 or 1250 Macedonia Dinars.

La Grand Maison, Savièse

Savièse is a small village perched high up in the hills above Sion in Canton Wallis. From Sion’s railway station Savièse is 8 kilometres away, with the road winding up some very steep hills. The journey will take you roughly 20 minutes by car.

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The Grande Maison is a charming little hotel with seven rooms and feels more like a Bead and Breakfast than a hotel. The building is two hundred years old and most of the rooms are elegantly finished with dark wood panelling. Quite obviously, the proprietors of the hotel have gone to great lengths to restore the building. The rooms are spacious with clean and modern looking bathrooms and furniture.

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There is a restaurant in the basement of the building, which opens up onto the terraced garden. The food that is served is good and has a nice homemade feel to it. Breakfast is served in the communal room on the first floor, where guests sit together to enjoy a hearty and rich breakfast. On the first floor there is also a lovely sundeck, from where you have some spectacular views of the valley below.

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I very much liked staying at La Grande Maison. The hotel is quiet and very relaxing and the staff were all really friendly and chatty but without being intrusive. Oh yes, and they have two lovely and pretty enormous cats, which are just complete sluts and willing to purr for just about anybody who will give them the time of day and scratch them between the ears!

Here is the link to the hotel.