FlyBe, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

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Date: 11. September 2016.
Departure: 17:05.
Arrival: 17:50.
Flight time: 45 minutes.
Seat: 9C, aisle.

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INTRODUCTION
I arrive in Brussels on a flight from London Heathrow. It is just gone 13h30 and my connecting flight to Basel will not be boarding before 16h40.

The path from the arrival gate to security is pretty straightforward. My boarding pass for the onward connection was already issued in London.

There is a bit of a queue at security, given that there is only one lane open. But the queue moves quickly. And soon enough I am through security and Schengen immigration and find myself airside again.

Schengen flights leave from the A dock, which used to be connected to the main terminal via an underground walkway. Since I was last here, the underground passage has been closed off, and instead a bridge has been built in its place to connect the dock. Generally speaking, Brussels airport is very generously laid out and the high ceilings somehow prevent the place from ever being loud.

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LOUNGE
Location:
At the beginning of the A dock, where it is connected to the bridge to the main building.
Type of Lounge:
The Loft – Brussels Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Nap boxes, showers, toilets, video games, portable devices that can be borrowed from reception, newspapers and magazines.
Catering: Wow! There is a separate bar that is attended, where you can order drinks. The food options are excellent and very tasty. There is soup, a tray with different types of quiche, fresh bread and a buffet with salads and desserts. And, most importantly, they also have fresh Belgian waffles!
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available.

Blimey, this is certainly one of the nicer Star Alliance lounges I have been to in a while. The design of the lounge is very elegant in an understated way that makes it feel very comfortable and cosy.

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BOARDING
Half an hour before departure I exit the lounge and head for my departure gate. I really would like to know just how on earth they manage to get and keep the floor in the terminal looking so shiny with all the passengers stomping around on it all day?

Our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, but the airbridge has not been connected to the aircraft, which means better photo opportunities for me!

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2.
Seat: No information could be obtained on the cabin layout and the seat’s dimensions. Basically, the aircraft is decked out in what seems to be the standard seat for the Q400, which is comfortable enough for such a short flight. In fact, the seat pitch is rather good. The only problem is that there does not seem to be any air conditioning on the ground and this aircraft must have been standing around all day, because it is stiflingly hot in the cabin. Other than that, the cabin lights are switched to mood lighting, which is kind of funky on such a little airplane.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

SERVICE
There are two young men working the cabin. The purser working the forward cabin seems friendly and obviously takes safety very seriously, which is the way it should be. Other than that through, interaction with the crew is fairly limited.

THE MEAL
This is perhaps the most surprising part of the flight. From what I could tell on the previous leg from London to Brussels, passengers in Economy were served a sandwich and a drink. On this flight however, absolutely everything is buy on board. Otherwise you do not get anything, not even a cup of water. Nada. I mean, it hardly makes a difference with a flight time of only 45 minutes, but it just seems odd to serve nothing at all.

It says in the buy on board menu that if you are connecting from a long-haul flight you will be served a soft drink free of charge upon presenting your boarding pass of that flight.

ARRIVAL
Soon enough we land in Basel. The airport is on French territory. France is still in a state of emergency. As a result, the Schengen treaty appears to have been temporarily suspended and even intra-European flights now have to use the non-Schengen part of the terminal, which is bursting at the seems. It also means that you must go through passport control upon arrival.

 

Brussels Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Brussels

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Date: 11. September 2016.
Departure: 11:30.
Arrival: 13:15.
Flight time: 40 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Heathrow Express.
Journey time: 17 minutes.
Departs from: London Paddington Station.
Arrives: Heathrow Central.
Cost: GBP22 for a single, second class ticket.

Heathrow Central Station serves Terminals 2 and 3. Once you alight, just follow the signs and then walk. And walk. And walk. And then walk some more. It is a fairly long schlep from the station to the check-in area, but there are plenty of lifts and trolleys available.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 2, top floor.
Facilities: Only check-in at the counter is available. Brussels Airlines does not have an app. I did receive an e-mail to check-in online but that failed because my API data was not in the PNR and there is no means online or at the check-in machine to enter the data.
Counters: B13 – B27.

This is my first visit to Terminal 2 and I really must say, I like it very much. The construction is very similar to that of BA’s Terminal 5, although Terminal 2 seems smaller. But the facility feels very open and airy. It is also very quiet.

The check-in counters are divided into different zones. And there are two rows of counters behind each other. Brussels Airlines checks in at zone B, and the Business Class counters are located on the second row.

Premium passengers are entitled to use the Fast Track.

LOUNGE
Location:
A1, after security walk towards the atrium and then turn right.
Type of Lounge:
Lufthansa Business Class and Senator lounge.
Facilities:
There is a large and spacious working area with continental and British power plugs. There are also a few iMacs provided by the lounge. The lounge also has a variety of seating options. The small tables next to the armchairs also all have power plugs. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge.
Catering: A good selection of hot and cold dishes, including everything you could want for a decent English breakfast.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.

This is probably one of the nicer Lufthansa lounges out there. The view of runway 27L from the lounge is brilliant. But alas, photography is made impossible by the bars outside the window.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate lane for passengers with priority and one of the gate agents checks passes before you are allowed to join the queue.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2. There are four passengers in Business Class on this flight.
Seat: Brussels Airlines has a seating capacity of 168 on the Airbus A 320. In Business Class you have the typically European set up, with the middle seat left empty for a bit more space. Other than that, it is the same uncomfortable slim seat that Lufthansa has and which is seriously lacking in the padding department. The flight from Heathrow to Brussels is only one hour, but from what I understand, Brussels Airlines flies these aircraft to places as far afield as Tel Aviv, which must be closer to four hours from Brussels.

Other than that, it would appear that the cabin divider is definitely on its way out on European short-haul with the Star Alliance – like SWISS’ CSeries, Brussels Airlines do not have a divider on their A 320 either.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17.5 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, air vent.
Audio and Video: Overhead screens.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

SERVICE
The crew seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly going out of their way to take care of passengers. Admittedly, with an announced flight time of only 40 minutes there is only so much you can do to give the passenger a lasting and memorable impression.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Bottle of Spa still water.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Choice:
There are two different meal types, but the crew do not ask and you are randomly given either one or other of the trays.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.
Meal:

  • A dish with mezze: rice filled vine leaves, hummus, couscous.
  • A plate of dessert with a creamy vanilla tart and a chocolate mousse cake.

The meal service is really reduced to the absolute minimum. Seriously, what airline in Europe still serves a Business Class meal in plastic dishes and with throwaway plastic cutlery? Also, if you are going to serve hummus, it would be good to offer some bread with the meal. I do not like!

But the chocolate is good.

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ARRIVAL
The tray is quickly removed and very shortly after, the plane dips its nose and we start our descent into Brussels. Outside the weather is not so hot, it is overcast and the expected temperature on the ground is 19 degrees Celsius. By the time we hit the ground, it has also started to rain.

We arrive at the B dock, which serves all the non-Schengen flights in Brussels. Unfortunately, it looks quite as though nobody is expecting us and we wait for ten minutes before eventually somebody decides it might be a good idea to attach an airbridge to the aircraft.

 

SWISS, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Zürich to Paris-Roissy

 

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Date: 10. September 2016.
Departure: 12:35
Arrival: 13:55
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 1F, window on the starboard side.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Journey time: 1 hour 27 minutes.
Departs from: Basel SBB.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Cost: CHF33.- for a one way ticket.

The Swiss Federal Railways finally introduced a second direct train from Basel to Zürich Airport. The service still leaves much to be desired, but at least it is something.

The first train departs at 37 minutes past the hour and makes the journey to the airport in 1 hour and 27 minutes, stopping regularly along the way. In addition, the rolling stock on the route is completely inadequate. They use these regional trains which are very modern and fairly comfortable, but have next to no storage area for the amounts of luggage you can expect people to bring along that are travelling to the airport.

The second train departs just ten minutes later, at 47 minutes past the hour. This train takes 1 hour and 32 minutes, mainly because it stops for 17 minutes at Zürich Main Station before continuing to the airport. I am sure if you ask somebody from the railway company they can give you a scientific reason why it really is not possible to space the trains more conveniently and why the stop of 17 minutes is absolutely imperative…

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CHECK-IN
Location:
SWISS App on my iPhone.

The SWISS app really does not work well, at least not for me. First of all, for some reason, I get logged out every time I switch the iPhone off. And secondly, the boarding passes I obtain from the SWISS app never seem to appear on the iPhone’s lock screen, which kind of forfeits the main idea of having Passbook.

Fortunately, I only have one small backpack with me, because the queue for check-in and baggage drop is just about as long as it was the last time I flew Edelweiss to Skopje. But the holiday season is now over, so what you’re excuse this time SWISS?

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But at least there is a separate entrance for security that is available to First, Business Class and premium card holders, although I do not think there actually exists an official list of all the airlines in the latter category that are allowed to send their passengers here.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Airside Centre, between docks A and B.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, newspapers, workstations.
Catering: Soups, sandwiches and a rather strange dish of Spätzli with…nothing. Spätzli are usually a side dish. Perhaps the lounge’s one redeeming feature is the fact that they have Mövenpick ice cream. The cooler is located at the back of the lounge, near the sliding doors that lead to the Senator lounge.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. The code is issued at reception.

The lounge is very crowded and there are only few empty seats scattered around the place. The ‘guests’ are all over the buffet like a bunch locusts. You’d think they haven’t been fed in days…

I think it really does not help that the ceiling in the lounge is fairly low, with the exception of the central atrium. The low ceilings add to the feeling of being in a crowded place.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
No.

My aircraft has just come in from a non-Schengen flight from Manchester. Because only the B/D dock has mixed Schengen/non-Schengen gates, our aircraft is parked on a remote stand. Which suits me just fine.

Boarding is a bit messy. First of all, there is no priority boarding. Furthermore, ‘boarding’ means that passengers are herded into a tiny holding pen and then left there to stew until their bus finally arrives. It is a lot like flying Easyjet actually – but pretentious. I figure I might as well take my time, after all I am seated on the first row, so there really is no point in getting in everybody’s way while I take pictures.

CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2.
Seat: The seating configuration on the CSeries is 2 + 3. In Business Class, one of the seats on the row of two is kept empty. On the row of three, the middle seat is blocked so that every passenger has an empty seat next to them. The cabin looks nice and has a fresh look. Everything is white and looks shiny and new. I do wonder though what it will look like one or two years down the line, because I suspect the white will not age well.

The seat is comfortable, but not very deep, which means you cannot really slide forward too much. The video screens are quite simply ridiculously small. I mean, they are so small that you can hardly make out anything on them.

SWISS does not have a cabin divider on this aircraft. There are four rows of Business Class and the only separation is a small sign on the backrest of the aisle seat on row 4 which is marked ‘Business Class’ on the side facing forward, and ‘Economy Class’ on the side facing the rear of the aircraft.
Pitch: 32 inches that slowly decrease to 30 inches by row 5.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, clothes hook.
Audio and Video: Small overhead screen showing the safety on board instructions and moving map.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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SERVICE
As on my previous flight with SWISS to Malta, the first thing that strikes me is that the female crew really have way too much make-up on. Talk about laying it on thick…! But looks are only skin deep and I have to say, the maître de working the Business Class cabin is very good at her job and very friendly.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Bottle of Henniez still water.
Towel before the meal: Prepacked scented towel served on the ground.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Meal:

  • Roast beef slices and potato salad.
  • Plate of cheese.
  • Selection from the breadbasket.
  • Strawberry mousse with kiwi compote.

I must say, I am quite surprised by the meal service on this flight. After all, with a flight time of only 55 minutes, to be honest I was not really expecting anything much to eat. Moreover, I must also confess that the meal is quite good (except for dessert)!

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ARRIVAL
It is a lovely day for flying. Once the meal tray has been cleared away, I lean back and try to get some rest. It is only then that I notice just how loud the cabin actually is. I am not quite sure what the source is either. It is not the engines, because on take-off I was surprised by how quiet the engines were. But there is still a fairly loud background noise.

In Paris, SWISS uses Terminal 1, as do all the other Star Alliance partners, I think. The terminal may not be that user friendly or convenient, but God, it’s just so chic and cool!