TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Amsterdam

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Date: 29. April 2017
Departure: 09:20
Arrival: 12:50
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Seat: 1F, window

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Introduction

I’ve just completed another course in Lisbon. I’ve rather enjoyed myself. The Portuguese really make me laugh. No matter what’s going on they’re so full of life. Of course, it also helped that while back home in Switzerland trees were collapsing under the heavy weight of the falling snow, here in Lisbon it’s t-shorts and flip flops weather.

Getting to the Airport

Because the course is near the airport anyway, I’m staying at the TRYP Hotel Lisbon airport this time. The terminal building is only a 5 minutes walk away. So I think you’re probably fastest walking. However, if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage, there is a shuttle bus to bring you to the airport.

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Check-in

Lisbon airport is a strange place. The city is gradually encroaching on the airport. So space is limited. As a result, the design of the facility is dictated by space restrictions rather than practicality or convenience and the terminal building seems a lot like a patchwork of extensions and reconstructions.

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I check in online for this flight. The app works well (You paying attention KLM…?) and I am able to change my original seat on 1D to the window on 1F.

The security checkpoint is hidden away on the opposite side of the hall from the TAP Air Portugal check-in area. There is a fast track for security, which is very efficient. And while at other airports the security staff can be a nasty and unfriendly lot, this being Portugal everyone is very nice and totally laid back. They’re conscientious about their job but they’re also nice about it and take a lot of patience with the elderly passengers in the queue ahead of me.

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The Airport Authority Lounge

Airside there have been quite some changes since my last visit. The transit area has been expanded and modernised. There is now a central atrium with shops and a lot more space to sit. The lounge is accessed via escalators leading up from the atrium.

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TAP Air Portugal no longer have their own lounge and instead they share the same common purpose lounge with all the other carriers in the Schengen area, which is operated by the airport authority ANA.

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The lounge is rather dark and gloomy and the place is crowded when I get there. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There is also free wifi and a good selection of newspapers.

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Food and drink options are somewhat limited. In fact, there are only sandwiches available.

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But… the view from the lounge is nice and provides a good vantage point to monitor the proceedings and movements on the apron and the runway.

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Boarding

The flight is departing from gate S26 today, which is one of the few contact stands in the Schengen part of the terminal. Most aircraft are parked on a remote stand. The aircraft come up quite close to the building, which means you can take some pretty descent pictures of them.

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Boarding starts rather unceremoniously with the gate agent calling out for all Business Class and frequent flyer passengers to board first. You know, you could use a microphone…

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class. The configuration is the typical European style layout with the middle seat kept empty. The seat looks rather old fashioned, an effect which I think is partly also produced because of the grey seat covers. However, on my flight down from Amsterdam to Lisbon I was on an A 321 which had been refitted with a newer, more modern style of seat.

Other than that, the seat is fairly basic and there are no power plugs at all in the cabin. The seat pitch seems rather tight. But at least I have the whole row to myself so I can stretch my legs.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they truly are excellent. They’re friendly and obviously determined to make passengers feel welcome. Their interaction is easy going and professional.

The Meal

The service begins as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off. The crew pass through the cabin offering prepacked scented towels that have a refreshing lemony smell.

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There is no choice for the meal. The breakfast consists of a plate with cold meats and cheese, a bowl of fresh fruit, yoghurt, butter and jam and breads from the breadbasket. To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice.

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The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket a number of times (You paying attention Lufthansa?) and top up coffee and tea straight away. The cold cuts don’t look too appealing though, so I don’t try any.

Generally speaking, I think the quality of the food is good and the amount of food on the tray is quite generous.

Arrival

The flight passes surprisingly quickly. After the meal service one of the crew brings me a Coke Zero and I spend the rest of the flight reading and watching the world go by.

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We land in Amsterdam about ten minutes ahead of schedule. By the time we taxi in from the Polderbaan though, we’re running slightly behind schedule.

Conclusion

I rather enjoyed this flight, even though I think the food selection on the outbound was better because there was a choice of two hotmeals for the main course. Other than that, I thought the crew were really very nice on TAP and the aircraft appeared to be in fairly good condition. The only thing I’d be wary about is that the pitch does seem rather tight, even in Business Class. But apart from that, I think I’d fly them again without hesitation. Pity they’re in the Star Alliance.

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Hotel Esplanade Zagreb

Once upon a time, a very long time ago and long before the age of airspace congestion and low cost carriers, when travel still had the aura of glamour and adventure and passengers travelled with a set of valises and not just a backpack, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits operated a network of luxury trains across Europe. In their heyday, many of the routes operated by the Compagnie were often the only reliable connection to get from one place to another.

The legendary Orient Express is perhaps the most notorious train of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, made famous also by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which firmly established her as the Queen of crime fiction through the cunning of her most successful character, the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The Orient Express originally ran from Constantinople to Paris, with slip cars from Athens and Bucarest joining the train at Belgrade and some cars continuing on to London from Paris. The journey would take the train three days to complete.

Along the route of the Orient Express a whole series of luxury hotels was established to accommodate the illustrious guests of the Orient Express when they needed to interrupt their journey. One of these establishments is the Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb, which still stands today.

The hotel is located right on the square just in front of Zagreb’s main railway station, on the fringe of the city’s elegant centre, which traces its history back to when Croatia was still part of the Habsburg empire. The hotel is now ninety years old. A few years ago it was completely renovated and has now been beautifully restored to its former elegance, underscoring its reputation as the most prestigious hotel in the city.

If you’re visiting Zagreb, you should definitely pay the Esplanade a visit, even if only to walk through the very grand foyer and to relive, just for a brief moment, the luxury and style of a bygone era.

Here’s the link to the website of the hotel.

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Etihad Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

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Date: 17 April 2017
Departure: 07:50
Arrival: 12:30
Flight time: 7 hours 20 minutes
Seat: 2H, aisle seat

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Introduction

It’s just gone five in the morning as I exit the Plaza Premium airport hotel in terminal 1 and make my way over to terminal 3 and the elusive Etihad First Class lounge and spa. I’m rather looking forward to this part of the trip after having already heard so many good things about the lounge and about Etihad’s First Class product aboard the mighty A 380.

Currently the A 380 is deployed on routes to London, Mumbai, Melbourne, Sydney and New York. During the high season, in the summer, Paris will also be added to the list of A 380 destinations.

The Etihad Airways First Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is located right next to the Fendi shop in terminal 3 and looks quite unpretentious in fact. The lounge dragon at the entrance welcomes me to the lounge and as the doors close to take me up to the second floor, I see her making a call upstairs to advise them that I’m on my way. And indeed, the moment I step out of the lift I’m greeted by a young woman who welcomes me to the lounge and shows me around.

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The lounge has a small gym (no weights though), a spa with a massage salon and a barber and hairdresser. Every First Class passenger is entitled to one complimentary treatment at the spa or at the barber’s. The largest part of the lounge is made up of the dining area. There is also a relaxation room with loungers, although the room has this brightly lit wall that keeps changing colours and hence makes you wonder just how relaxing it really is.

The staff seem a bit disoriented, quite as though they’re not really prepared to deal with customers. When I enter the lounge I take a seat at one of the tables near the window. A waiter comes to take my order. But then a few minutes later another waiter appears wanting to take my order. So I tell her that my order has already been taken. And so she saunters off. A short while later, yet another waiter appears – guess why – to take my order for breakfast. It’s no big deal really but it’s hardly First Class either. But the food is good!

Just before six in the morning I head over to the barber’s reception to request an appointment for a shave. Only the young lady informs me that the next slot will not be until 07h00 in the morning, which seems a bit tight given that my flight should start boarding at 07h10.

All in all, I think the First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi is okay, but to be honest I don’t think it’s anything special. It looks a lot like the dining room in a hotel. So as far as First Class lounges are concerned at least, Qatar Airways certainly has the upper hand.

Boarding

Abu Dhabi airport is completely overcrowded, so getting from the lounge to the departure gate takes a while because there’s simply no getting through all the passengers making their way to and from their flights. A new terminal is under construction, but it looks like it might take a while before that opens for business.

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A separate call is made for First and Business Class passengers to board first.

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The Cabin

As far as the First Class cabin and seat are concerned, Etihad wins hands down. No questions asked. Seriously, this is really quite an amazing set up they’ve got here. First of all, unlike that god awful and tacky Emirates First Class cabin with its fake gold trimmings, this cabin is much more elegant and very beautifully finished. It’s also a lot more lavish and private than the Qatar Airways First Class seat.

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They’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the design of the cabin and the seat: every apartment comes with its own little vanity mirror and a mini bar that you can have stocked specifically to your wishes. And there’s plenty of storage space.

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The bed is separate from the seat and takes up the whole length of the apartment. It is long enough for me to stretch out comfortably. My only criticism is that the bed seems fairly narrow. Actually, I don’t think it’s any narrower than other First Class seats, but whereas in other seats you are confined on three sides, on this seat there is no support at all on one side, and as a result I am constantly aware of the edge of the bed and trying to avoid rolling off.

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And then there’s the shower, which works really well and is also much nicer than the one Emirates has. I must say you feel a lot less grimy traveling when you have a shower to use on board. Every passenger gets five minutes of water, after which the supply automatically stops. However, during the shower you can interrupt the flow of water any time, so that the five minutes are more than enough to lather up and rinse down. For the shower passengers are provided with nice fluffy towels, conditioner, shower gel and shampoo.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight seem friendly enough and once I am seated they all come to introduce themselves. The young lady in charge of my cabin is Brazilian. She give me a tour of the features of the apartment, in case I’m not familiar with them.

As a welcome drink I have a glass of still water with ice and lemon, which is served with a bowl of dates, a hot towel and a welcome note from Etihad Airways signed by the inflight service manager.

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Amenities

Next, the chef comes to introduce himself and hands me the drinks and food menu. He also asks me if I’d like to book a slot for the shower.

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Before take-off another crew member drops in and brings me a large bag containing my slippers and the pyjamas.

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The vanity kit is stored inside the vanity mirror and includes:

  1. cleansing wipes,
  2. moisturizing hand cream,
  3. pulse point oil,
  4. pillow mist,
  5. facial cream,
  6. lip balm,
  7. eyeshades,
  8. toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste,
  9. shaving kit,
  10. earplugs,
  11. socks.
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What strikes me as slightly inconsistent is that the vanity kit and the pyjamas are of no name brands. I don’t mind and they’re in good quality. But given that Etihad has really gone for a high end finish for the rest of its First Class product, it just seems slightly unusual that they didn’t do the same for the vanity kits and pjs.

The Meal

There are plenty of options for the meal. On the one hand, there is a full breakfast service right after take-off. In addition, there is also a menu with a wide selection of dishes that passengers can combine as they wish.

I skip the breakfast service because I’m feeling tired. So I have a nap instead. When I awake, we’re just under four hours out of London and I’m feeling hungry. So I call for the chef to discuss the food options.

First, the table is laid out for the meal. The cutlery and chinaware are elegant. I am also given a small ramekin with butter and another empty one for olive oil. One of the crew comes by with the breadbasket.

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The First Course

For a starter I have the chef’s salad, which consists of fresh, crisp salad, fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and smoked salmon and is served with a light balsamic vinaigrette. The salmon is obviously of very good quality, light in colour and with a very subtle taste that is complemented nicely by the champagne.

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The Main Course

Next, I have the wagyu sirloin, served with creamy mashed potato and green beans. I have a sauce Hollondaise with the meat, which is light and goes very well with the meet. The beans are served with a hint of lemon zest, giving them a refreshing twist.

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The Cheese

And then comes the cheese course, which is served with jelly, slices of fresh apple and grapes and crackers. The presentation of the dish is nice. For the cheese dish I turn down a third glass of champagne and instead have a glass of the sauternes, which is excellent.

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Dessert

And then to conclude the meal, I have a slice of rich and tasty carrot cake with a cappuccino.

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After the meal I am handed another hot towel.

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Overall I think the quality of the meal is very good. The meat was cooked just the way I requested and the ingredients are obviously of good quality.

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent, the crew come to say goodbye and the young lady from Brazil hands me her business card in case I have any comment to make on the flight.

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Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? As far as the First Class product is concerned, I think Etihad Airways really nails the inflight experience. The cabin and the seat are not only very elegant and attractive, they also make for a very pleasant journey at a level of comfort and privacy that Qatar Airways and Emirates can’t match. However, overall there are certain inconsistencies in their product. The First Class experience on the ground, for example, is really lacking. Especially given that Abu Dhabi is quite a maze and very busy, an escort to and from the lounge would have been a nice idea. Also, while the lounge is okay, it’s definitely nowhere near as grand and impressive as Qatar Airways’ First Class lounge in Doha.

Based on my experience yesterday evening on the flight from Colombo to Abu Dhabi though, I think I would say that Qatar Airways has the superior Business Class product, followed by Emirates in second place and Etihad in third.

Abu Dhabi Airport Hotel

If you have a long layover in Abu Dhabi but still not enough time to go into the city, you have a number of options at the airport. Landside there is the PremierInn, which is connected to the terminal via a walkway. But there is also the airport hotel airside within the terminal. Directions to the hotel are clearly signposted upon entering the terminal building.

The hotel is operated by Plaza Premium lounges and is located in terminal 1, which is about a 5 minutes walk away from terminal 3. The rooms are clean, modern and functional. They even provide you with shampoo, shower gel and a range of other amenities.

The charge for a twin room is USD168 for a minimum of six hours.

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Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Colombo to Abu Dhabi

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Date: 16. April 2017
Departure: 21:10
Arrival: 00: 35
Flight time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Seat: 2A, window

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Introduction

Time to move on. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Sri Lanka a little while longer. I’ve rather enjoyed being here. But I have to get back home because I’ll be traveling week after next and still need to get a few things done before then.

Let’s see. I’ve tried Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Emirates. So I think it’s only fair to give Etihad a try before I make up my mind if Qatar Airways really is my favourite airline.

The flight to Abu Dhabi will not be leaving until 21h10. Which means I have the whole day to spend by the pool revising a paper I have to submit soon and having afternoon tea at the lovely Galle Face Hotel before it’s time to head for the airport.

Getting to the Airport

I’ve ordered a car to pick me up at the hotel at 17h30. The journey to the airport is only 36 kilometres. Colombo is still only just coming back to life after most of the city folk left the city behind to celebrate the Singalese New Year with their families.

Security at the airport is very tight and there are roadblocks and barriers set up all along the road leading to the terminal.

Check-in

The driver drops me off before the entrance to departures. And then the hassle begins. First, I need to show a police officer standing guard by the entrance my passport and a copy of my ticket to even be allowed to enter the terminal building. Immediately inside the terminal is a first security checkpoint where I need to have all my bags screened and another police officer pats me down. From there I follow a long corridor that looks as though it was originally set up as a provisional building but then accidentally, brutally started sprouting retail space.

At the end of the corridor I finally enter the terminal proper. From here passengers have to go through another security checkpoint and show their passport again to enter the actual check-in area. Photography is strictly prohibited within the terminal.

Check-in for the Etihad flight opens three hours before departure. The departure hall is very crowded with passengers checking in for their flights with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Sri Lankan which all seem to depart around the same time.

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From check-in I walk to the far right of the departure hall and queue again for immigration. I’m not really sure why they bother though, because the officer is obviously so busy reading text messages that he nearly forgets to stamp my passport.

And then, finally, I’m airside.

The Araliya Lounge

Etihad Airways uses the Araliya lounge, which is at the beginning of the pier on the left hand side. The lounge only has very basic facilities, but there is a small selection of hot and cold snacks, there’s wifi and the toilets and shower are very clean. The lounge’s best feature though, is the excellent view of the action on the apron.

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Boarding

Not again, seriously? My flight will be departing from gate B5, which is a bus gate. To enter the gate area I need to show my boarding pass and passport again to another police officer guarding the staircase. Once he lets me pass, I head downstairs to the holding area for the gate, which pretty much looks like a badly converted broom cupboard. But not as pretty. And yes, I have to go through security. Again. I don’t have to take out any liquids or laptops but I do have to take off my shoes and get another pat down under the watchful eyes of no less than eight police officers manning one conveyor belt and one security gate.

Shortly after, and somewhat unceremoniously, boarding begins. Our bus pulls up to the rear stairs of the aircraft and I step outside. I try to make my way to the forward door but one of the five police officers guarding the plane won’t let me pass and insists I take the rear door. But then a member of Etihad’s ground crew here in Colombo talks to her and I’m allowed to walk to the forward door.

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The Cabin

I rather like the cabin. I think the design and colours have some serious retro vibe going on, but somehow it works. There are four rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration for a total of 16 seats. Every seat has an AC and USB power port. The aircraft also has wifi, although I don’t actually try it out. The air is very humid tonight and as a result, there is thick mist coming out of the air conditioning system, which is a pretty nifty effect.

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The recline of the seat is good and the seat controls are electric. Stretching my legs is problematic though because of the IFE box under the seat in front of me which takes up a lot of space.

A large blanket, pillow, earphones and the menu have already been placed at the seats. The blanket is rather funky in that one side is in this velvety fake fur material which feels kind of kinky. Now I know what Jane Fonda must have felt like rolling around naked on that fur rug during the opening credits of Barbarella.

The Crew

The crew up front consists of a young man of Pakistani origin and a Chinese young lady. Both of them are friendly and courteous in their manner and give all the passengers a warm greeting as they board the plane.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a hot towel.

Amenities

The flight time to Abu Dhabi is four hours and twenty minutes. Etihad does not provide a full vanity kit on this flight, but they do provide eye shades, socks and earplugs.

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IFE

The IFE is touchscreen enabled and works really very well. The selection is fairly large, but as usual there’s nothing I’d really be interested in watching.

The Meal

… or HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL…
The meal service is a bit of a let down and definitely not on a par with Qatar Airways’ offerings. We start with an aperitif and a bowl of warm nuts.

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The First Course

For the first course I have the Arabic mezze, which basically is a small dollop of hummus, with a huge portion of parsley that’s been drowned in lemon juice and some vegetable pickles and a greasy samosa. The tray is served with a bun, Arabic flat bread and butter. The taste of the food is so so, but the presentation of the tray really is nice.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the Indian chicken and pea curry, which is quite simply disgusting. Yuk! There’s something chewy and green on the plate that tastes of nothing and is hard to bite. The chicken itself is mainly bone and skin and I decide not to touch it. The only edible parts of the meal are the spicy coconut rice and the warm beetroot.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I make the mistake of ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream, which is served with a sablé on top. The only problem is, the ice cream is so cold the sablé is welded to it. I can’t get it off! And the ice cream is so hard I think you could knock somebody unconscious with it if you threw it at them. So I wait a few minutes. But eventually my impatience gets the better of me and I make the fatal mistake of trying to take a spoonful of ice cream.

Next thing I know, the spoon hits the bowl with a clank, and the blob of ice cream slips off to the left and goes flying through the cabin. The whole thing happens in slow motion. I swear I can actually hear the opening chords of Strauss’ ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ and feel the compulsion to ask HAL what’s going on… But then I manage to catch the ball of ice cream with my hand, but the thing is slippery and gets away, eventually landing and sitting in my lap. Well fine. I scoop the ice cream off my groin and when the flight attendant passes my seat next, I tell him to take the ice cream with him. A few minutes later though he returns. Apparently he’s put the blob in the oven to thaw it a bit for me. Which is kind of a nice gesture, only now the ice cream has a faint and very disturbing taste of the curry chicken I refused to eat a short while previously…

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Arrival

But at least the flight passes quickly and before long we’re starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. We land in darkness and then taxi for a very long time to the main apron. We park on a remote stand, but things happen so quick that I don’t really have any time to take any photos before the Business Class bus whisks us off to the terminal.

Conclusion

Of all the flights I’ve done on this trip, I think this one was the most unremarkable one. The crew were friendly enough and very polite but the food really was bad. The seat was okay, But I think a flight time of over four hours is really pushing it for passenger comfort in the premium cabin.

Colombo

Here’s the link to the hotel.

There is something very ‘empire’ about Sri Lanka, but it’s kind of hard to put my finger on it exactly. Maybe it’s the groups of men you come across standing around playing an improvised game of cricket in the blistering heat, or the tea with milk that is omnipresent. Or perhaps it’s just the hotel I’m staying at.

The Galle Face Hotel officially opened its door for business in 1864 and is one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka. The facility has recently undergone renovation and has been restored to its former splendour.

The location of the hotel could not be better, right on the sea front. When you’re sitting up on the veranda you can hear the waves crashing against the rock and watch the palm trees listing precariously in the breeze.

The grounds of the hotel are very well laid out, with a trim green lawn in the courtyard. There are two wings in the hotel, the old wing is from the original building, whereas the new building is a much more recent addition. I opted to stay in the older building and had an old but nicely renovated room with dark wooden floors and thick, soft carpets.

Oh yes, and they also serve afternoon tea!

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SriLankan, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Kuala Lumpur to Colombo

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Date: 14. April 2017
Departure: 15:05
Arrival: 16:10
Flight time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Seat: 6K

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Introduction

At last, a new airline! This will be my first trip on SriLankan and my first visit to Sri Lanka. I must say, every since K., herself Sri Lankan, engineer extraordinaire and purveyor of incredibly spicy food started working for us as an intern, I’ve been rather curious about Sri Lanka. This will only be a short visit. But I can always go back if I like it.

To get from KL to Colombo I have two options for a nonstop flight, either Malaysia Airlines or SriLankan. Given that both are Oneworld members and the fact that I’ve already sampled Malaysian a couple of times – and wasn’t too impressed – of course my choice would be SriLankan.

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Check-in

Check-in for the flight opens three hours before departure and SriLankan has its counters on row M. There is a dedicated Business Class counter and the young lady behind the desk makes quick work of checking me in. She also prints an invitation for the Plaza Lounge in the satellite terminal.

The journey to the C gates in the satellite is via an automated train that runs partly underground and partly above ground. Alas, the windows are all plastered with stickers, so there’s no photo taking on the journey.

The Plaza Premium Lounge

As a Silver member in BA’s Executive Club I have a number of options for the lounge. I’ve been in the Malaysia lounge and wasn’t too impressed with that either. So in the interest of investigative blogging, or something, I decide to try the Plaza Lounge as envisaged by SriLankan.

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Man, what a big mistake! They’re actually queuing outside the lounge entrance for access. I’m sure there are more people inside this lounge than there are outside right now. This seems to be the lounge for just about all carriers operating out of KL’s satellite that don’t have their own lounge. Them and all the credit card companies that give you lounge access if you’re a respectable shopaholic aka good customer. I think it’s time to leave.

The Cathay Pacific Lounge

Okay, time to head across to the Cathay Pacific lounge which is a) much nicer, b) empty, and c) quiet. The food options are better too. I’m not sure there are toilets or showers in this lounge though.

Boarding

If you’re departing on a flight from KL, the boarding time for your flight will be one hour prior to departure. That’s because the security check takes place at the gate. It also means that usually it’s better not to arrive too early so you won’t have queue or wait too long inside the lounge. Unless of course, you’re the kind of weirdo who’ll arrive early on purpose to take a few shots of the aircraft you’ll be travelling on…

And thank God I did arrive early! Because there’s been an aircraft change. And what a nice one it is too. The scheduled Airbus A 321 narrowbody has been replaced by an Airbus A 330-300 in the new seating configuration. Oh ye might airline gods, how can I ever thank you enough? I shall have to offer my first born as a sacrifice to thank you.

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The Cabin

This is what I call the Cathay Pacific seat, which is basically a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration in a reverse herringbone layout. There’s not quite as much storage space as on the Cathay Pacific seat but other than that, this is still one of my favourite airplane seats out there. My only complaint is that SriLankan have gone for faux leather seat covers and within just a few minutes of sitting down, I’m already starting to feel sticky.

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Earphones, two pillows and a blanket have already been placed at every seat. Originally I’m on 3G, which is an aisle seat. However, as soon as boarding is completed it becomes apparent that the Business Class cabin is going to be everything but full. So I ask the flight attendant if it’s okay for me to change seats and then move back to the window on 6K.

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The Crew

Ah yes, the flight attendants. Bugger me! The crew on this flight is made up of a group of young men and women. And what a good-looking bunch they are too. The men all look rather dapper in their dark blue suits and the ladies are wearing these very elegant looking dresses in a peacock design. And they look gorgeous!

But apart form all that, the crew all seem really friendly and give the impression of being rather happy in their jobs and well, happy to see you as a customer. Which is always nice.

While we’re still on the ground, a welcome drink is served along with a scented hot towel that is so hot I’m sure my epidermis is about to dissolve… Other than that, I notice when the crew place the glasses down they all make sure the airline’s logo on the glass is visible. This is something they continue to pay attention to throughout the flight. Their interaction with the passengers is charming and easy going.

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The Meal

Before departure a menu is handed out and then a flight attendant comes by to take my order. For an aperitif I have a glass of Harvey Bristol cream, which is served with a dish of warm cashews.

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The First Course

For the starter there is a salad of mixed shredded vegetables with sesame seeds, presented with a wasabi and ginger sauce, which is quite tasty and light.

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The Main Course

For the main course I go with the vegetarian option – vegetable biryani with vegetable makhani and a potato and cauliflower masala with raita. This is really very tasty, and I think K. would approve, even if this is nowhere as spicy as the stuff she normally makes.

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The salad is served with a selection from the breadbasket, which is my queue to overdose on the garlic bread again. For dessert there is a fresh fruit, which is the vile and healthy option, and a bread and butter pudding with almond flakes, the sinfully delectable option, which is served with tea.

The Fruit

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Dessert

Bread and butter pudding

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Obviously, this being Ceylon I’m heading for, I decide to go with a Ceylon Early Grey tea to finish off.

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Colombo after a flying time of about three hours. There are quite a few CBs around, so it’s quite a bumpy ride. I’m struck by just how green and lush Sri Lanka looks from above.

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The terminal is fairly busy when we arrive. I make my way to immigration where the friendly immigration officer informs me that I need a visa for Sri Lanka which I should have obtained before arrival. Eventually though, we’re able to resolve the whole thing, I pay the fee and I’m in the country. Something tells me I’m going to like it here…

Conclusion

So what about SriLankan? Well, if I’m perfectly honest I have to say I really like them very much. The seat and cabin were in mint condition and this really is a much nicer way to travel on a three hours sector than on some narrowbody. The food was good too. But most of all, I think what really impressed me were their cabin crew who were really quite charming in the way they went about their business. I wouldn’t mind flying SriLankan again actually.

Oman Air, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Muscat to Kuala Lumpur

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Date: 13. April 2017
Departure: 10:10
Arrival: 20:40
Flight time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Seat: 10A, window

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Transfer in Muscat

Upon entering the terminal building in Muscat, transit passengers turn left and then head up one floor to transit security and the airside area beyond. As in Zürich, the terminal seems very quiet and is certainly calmer than the last time I was here in 2016.

The Lounge

The Oman Air lounge is operated by the same company that runs the Chedi hotel in Muscat and it shows clearly in the design of the lounge. The gentleman at reception informs me that boarding for my flight to Kuala Lumpur will be from inside the lounge.

The lounge is also very quiet, with only a few seats here and there occupied. The lounge has all the amenities one might expect, including toilets and showers on the premises and a spa. Complimentary wifi is also available. Lounge access comes with a 15 minutes complimentary massage.

In theory, the lounge has some excellent views of the apron, but the curtains obstruct the view and I’m not about the make a spectacle of myself by lifting them to take pictures…

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The buffet is excellent!

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Boarding

At 08h20 I go to the boarding desk inside the lounge and the gate agent directs me down the stairs to ground level, where a small mini bus is waiting to take the KL bound passengers to their aircraft.

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Eventually pull up next to an Airbus A 330-300, together with the two regular busses carrying the Economy Class passengers. And then we wait. And we wait. And then we wait some more. Eventually, when our bus does start moving again, it’s to take us back to arrivals. I ask the bus driver what’s up but he’s none the wiser. So I step inside the arrivals hall and ask one of the Oman Air agents there about the status of my flight. To which he tells me to go back upstairs, through security again and then to gate 20 for further information.

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So I do that. At gate 20 nobody really seems to want to be responsible. So I ask some random guy in an Oman Air uniform what’s going on and he tells me that our flight has gone tech. I should return to the lounge and await further instructions. Brilliant! Oh yes, and I’m given the rather funky and very old school Egypt Air transit card. Not quite sure what to do with this though…

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So I return to the lounge and figure I might as well have breakfast. After about thirty minutes in the lounge, the flight to KL is called again and so I head downstairs once more to the waiting bus. This time everything seems to go without a hitch. Eventually we take off form Muscat with a delay of 75 minutes at 10h05.

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The Cabin

The seat on this aircraft is the same as the one on the Boeing B 787-9. Immediately after take-off I change into my running shorts and lie down to have a nap. The seat really is very comfortable and provides ample space, even for a larger person. I am 184cm tall and could stretch out fully. The seat is also wide enough for me not to hit anything or knock something over when I turn.

Every seat is equipped with USB ports and an AC power port.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are much better than the previous lot. You can tell by the ease with which they interact with the passengers and the efficiency with which they complete their pre-departure tasks. To be fair, they’re probably also in a good mood because there are only eight passengers in the Business Class cabin on this flight.

Amenities

The vanity kit is identical to the one I received on the previous flight from Zürich. I think I forgot to mention in my previous post that the kit for men also includes a one-way shaver with shaving cream.

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Once I wake up again, I make a closer inspection of the inflight entertainment system. The selection is sufficiently large, but even so, I think there isn’t a single thing I would actually want to watch. Then again, perhaps there are people who actually do enjoy watching the untalented Mr Gosling trying to make his mind up whether he wants to talk or sing his way through an entire movie…

The First Service

On this flight the service makes a lot more sense than it did on the previous flight and follows the same sequence as my morning flight from Dubai to Amsterdam the week before. Just after departure a small breakfast is served, which I pass on, and then the proper of full meal service takes place before landing in KL.

The Meal

About two and a half hours out of KL passengers are starting to stir from sleep so it’s time for the crew to begin their main service. As on the previous flight, there are four options for the first course, main course and dessert.

Amuse Bouche

Cream cheese and smoked salmon canapés.

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The Soup

Cream of asparagus. It’s served with a cheese stick and lemon, which goes surprisingly well with the fine taste. There’s also something spicy in there to give the soup a bit of a zing.

The Salad

Seasonal salad with vinaigrette.

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The Main Course

Linguine pasta with a creamy pesto and parmesan shavings. The main course is tasty, although the pasta is definitely overcooked, which is normally the case when you have pasta on a plane.

Dessert

Ice cream selection with pistachios and chocolate sauce.

Arrival

We land in KL at around 20h40, more than an hour later than our scheduled arrival time. The approach is pretty spectacular. There are storm cells in the vicinity of the airport and with the darkness around us, the bursts of lighting look pretty impressive!

Conclusion

Okay. On this flight Oman Air definitely managed to redeem themselves after last night’s rather unpleasant flight from Zürich to Muscat. The delay was not such a major issue for me and we were only a bit more than an hour late arriving in KL. However, I do think the staff on the ground could have handled the situation much better. No information was given at any time unless you explicitly asked for it, which is obviously not the way to do it in case of an irregularity. All in all, Oman Air is a nice little airline but they lack polish and professionalism in my opinion.

Oman Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Zürich to Muscat

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Date: 12. April 2017
Departure: 21:50
Arrival: 05:57
Flight time: 6 hours 7 minutes
Seat: 15A, window

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Introduction

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. In Switzerland Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holidays so all public services and most offices and shops will be closed. Many people take advantage of the long weekend to go away. And so I’m expecting Zürich Airport to be rather busy when I arrive by train. Much to my surprise though, the place is really quiet. In fact, it’s a lot quieter than usual.

Check-in

Oman Air has its check-in counters on row 1 of terminal 2 at Zürich Airport. There is one counter for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class passengers. And there’s loads of staff milling about. What on earth do they need all these people for? Some of them are check-in agents from Swissport that are just wearing an Oman Air tie or a scarf. Others however, look as though they’re employed by Oman Air and are wearing the airline’s full uniform.

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I step onto the plush, soft carpet in front of the Business Class counter. The young lady behind the desk issues my boarding passes straight away and has already prepared for me the lounge invitation for my transit in Muscat. If you’ve already checked in online, Oman Air will hand you a ‘proper’ boarding pass at the gate and will hand you your lounge invitation for Muscat at the gate.

The young lady informs me that an Oman Air rep will come to the lounge to collect me once boarding begins. So far I’m quite impressed by the operation here in Zürich.

The Lounge

Oman Air uses the Swissport Aspire Lounge in the E dock. My flight will be departing form gate E46.

The stairs leading up to the Aspire lounge are located right in front of the Starbucks Café on the E concourse. The selection of food and beverages in the lounge is limited to small cold and warm snacks, things like greasy spring rolls and very sweet cakes.

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The design of the lounge is nice, bright and airy. However, there are no toilets or showers on the premises. Despite all this, I very much like this lounge for its one redeeming feature which really is a major selling point in my view: it has an outdoor deck. It’s a good thing it’s already getting dark, otherwise I think I’d seriously be at risk of missing my flight for all the plane spotting you can do here. As it happens, runway 28 is in use for arrivals this evening, which means I get to see Emirates’ evening A 380 service to Zürich applying some pretty serious braking action on the relatively short runway.

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Boarding

Boarding is from gate E46 and start about forty minutes before departure. I’m guessing that with the very strict curfew in place at Zürich Airport the airline is keen the make sure to get away without any major delays.

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Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first.

The Cabin

Today’s flight is being operated by a brand spanking new Boeing B 787-9 which has only been in revenue service for six weeks. After the short hop last month from Heathrow to Paris CDG on Air Frances’ B 787-9, this will be my second journey on this type. Yes, I know I’m a nerd but that’s still no reason to be sloppy with the details. Yeah?

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Seat numbering is rather strange on Oman Air. The airline is in the process of abolishing its First Class product and refitting all aircraft with a Business Class/Economy Class seating configuration. Even so, Business Class has retained the original numbering, so that the first row in this cabin is row 11. On the Boeing B 787-9 the main Business Class cabin is located between the L/R1 and L/R2 doors. In addition, there is a single row in a mini cabin located behind the galley before the Economy Class cabin starts. This is row 15 and is where I am sitting today.

I really like the colours in the Oman Air cabin. Everything is kept in earthy tones, with light and dark brown colours and a bit of turquoise thrown in for good measure.

The configuration in Business Class is 2 + 2 + 2. The seat is based on a similar principle as the Japan Airlines seat in that the two seats on every pair are staggered. There is also a privacy screen that can be raised after take-off in case you don’t fancy staring at your neighbour’s ugly mug for six hours. The best feature though, is that the staggered seating configuration enables that passengers seated by the window to also have aisle access without the embarrassment of having to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat. Storage space is good. Being a night flight, a blanket and pillow have already been placed at every seat.

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The Crew

The crew are the usual mix of nationalities that you find on all the Middle East carriers. I’m guessing some of the crew are form the Philippines, some from Thailand and a few from India.

The service starts with a welcome drink, hot towel and the distributions of the menus and vanity kits. Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the traditional Omani welcome of dates and saffron scented Arabic coffee.

Amenities

The vanity kit has a good toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, eye shades, earplugs and a range of cosmetics from Oman’s Amouage perfume, which is, admittedly, an acquired taste and very strong.

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The IFE screen is fairly big and can be operated either using the remote control or via touchscreen, although the latter is somewhat inconvenient given the distance between the seat and the screen.

The Meal

There is a choice of four options to choose from for the first course, main course and dessert and there is usually a vegetarian option included on the menu. Given that it’s already late and the flight is not that long, I decide to go with just the Arabic mezze.

The meal service does not start until more than an hour after take-off and it is quite obvious that the crew are unprepared for passengers like me that just want a light meal in order to give them some time to sleep. So instead of dishing out the food straight away, the crew go all out and start serving the aperitifs and an amuse bouche. By this time it’s become quite apparent that it’ll be a while longer until they finally start serving the meal. So the next time a member of the crew walks by, I tell them I’m tired and that I’ve decided not to have dinner after all.

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The Second Service

I awake about eighty minutes out of Muscat. As soon as the crew notice I’m awake, they bring me the breakfast, which consists of:

  1. coffee
  2. a bowl with different rolls and pastries
  3. a bowl of yoghurt with some green unidentifiable fruity stuff in it
  4. a bowl of fruit salad
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According to the menu there should also have been some cheese, but none of the passengers seem to get any of that. What’s more, there is no jam and if you want a juice you have to request it specifically.

Arrival

The new terminal in Muscat has yet to open. But I ain’t complaining because as long as the old facility is still in use, all passengers will need to deplane via stairs and journey to arrivals by bus.

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There is a separate, dedicated Business Class bus to bring passengers to the terminal.

Conclusion

All in all, I think Oman Air’s performance can only be described as an epic fail. First of all, I think their service concept on this flight is highly unsuitable for the flight time and schedule. On a flight that leaves fairly late in the evening, it should be expected that many passengers will want to get to sleep as quickly as possible and there should be an appropriate meal option for them.

Other than that though, I also found today’s crew somewhat unprofessional and inattentive. For example, my coffee cup was not collected prior to take-off and the passenger seated next to me did not eat one of the canapés that was served as an amuse bouche. When I woke up for breakfast a few hours later, the small plate had still not been removed and the amuse bouche looked decidedly unappealing.

Emirates, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Dubai to Amsterdam

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Date: 07 April 2017
Departure: 08:50
Arrival: 13:30
Flight time: 6 hours 40 minutes
Seat: 12K, window

Introduction

I have just completed a course in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. The list of course participants includes an Emirati, two Australians, a Kiwi, one Zimbabwean, one Pakistani, two Indians, two Americans and two Brits. Which is pretty cool me thinks. All the people I met on this course were just so friendly and very welcoming. But I’ve been travelling for two weeks now, having previously done a course in Luxembourg before coming straight to the Gulf. So I’m glad to finally be on my way back home again.

Getting to the Airport

I have ordered the Emirates limousine service to pick me up from the Doubletree in Al-Barsha, which is located behind the Mall of Dubai. The service can be ordered online under the ‘manage my booking’ section of the Emirates website or otherwise via the app. You only need to select your hotel from a drop-down menu and Emirates will suggest a time for the car to pick you up to be at the airport at the latest two hours before departure.

The limousine service is available at both Amsterdam and Dubai. However, as I will continue from Amsterdam back to Basel later on today by plane, I only needed the service to get me from the hotel to Dubai airport. The type of car you will get is subject to availability.

Check-in

Thirty hours before departure I receive an e-mail reminder from Emirates informing me that check-in is now open. I am seated on 12K, which is a window seat. The check-in process works really well and the upload of the boarding pass to my passbook is seamlessly.

Emirates is an airline of superlatives. Where other carriers have a dedicated Business Class check-in area, Emirates and its own dedicated Business Class terminal with its own security screening facility and immigration.

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My flight will be departing from gate A23, which is on the pier that was purpose built for the A 380. From security you need to catch an underground train to reach the A concourse.

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The main transit area is on three levels. The lower level is for Economy Class passengers, the mid-level for First Class passengers and the top level for Business Class. This means that apart from the fact that you will not need to mix and mingle with the travelling riffraff, you will also be able to board the aircraft directly from the Business Class lounge.

The Emirates Business Class Lounge

The term ‘lounge’ is relative for the likes of Emirates. Given that it sprawls across the entire length of the A pier, I’m not even sure you can still call it a lounge. It certainly does not feel like a lounge and it’s not exactly cosy either.

The facilities in the lounge are very good though. There is a fully equipped business centre, numerous buffets with a good selection of hot and cold dishes, newspapers and showers (expect long queues though). The toilets are nicely appointed and clean and Emirates provides toothbrushes and shaving kits. Complimentary wifi is available throughout the lounge.

The style of the lounge is rather old fashioned and dated, it reminds me a lot of the lobby in a hotel you might find in the States.

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Boarding

I arrive at gate A23 at 07h25. Most of the passengers have already boarded. So I can take my time to snap a few pictures of my chariot to Amsterdam this morning.

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The Crew

I step aboard the aircraft, the cabin attendant looks at my boarding pass and says: ‘Bongu, Sur Agius! You must be Maltese too’. She points me in the direction of my seat at 12K, wishes me a good flight and tells me she’ll come check up on me once we’re in the air.

Throughout the flight she comes by to check that everything is okay and that I have everything I need. We chat about Malta, Emirates and the likely imminent demise of Air Malta. I know it’s just something small but I think it’s kind of nice that the flight attendant acknowledged also being Maltese. It lends the whole experience a more personal touch.

The Cabin

The seat is comfortable in the sitting, lounging and sleeping positions and if you’re seated by the window on the A 380, there is ample storage space. Emirates or Airbus have taken full advantage of the curvature of the aircraft’s hull by installing bins on the side. There is also plenty of storage space in the seat itself.

There is the small bar installed at every seat which contains a selection of soft drinks and juices. Other than that, every seat has an AC power outlet and HDMI and USB port. The seating configuration is 1 + 2 + 1. For a single seat you have a choice between and aisle seat and a window seat. Personally, I much prefer the window seats. Not only because of the view, but also because these seats feel way more private.

All in all, I think the Emirates seat on the A 380 is well designed, practical and very functional. The only thing I don’t like is the design. The faux wooden panelling on the cabin walls and the seat just looks really very cheap and quite tacky actually.

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At the rear of the Business Class cabin there is the infamous Emirates lounge. I admit it does look rather cool and certainly makes you realise just what a beast the A 380 is. However, it does tend to get rather noisy at the back when the bar is busy, so if peace and quiet is what you’re after, you may want to sit far, far away from the bar area.

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I am very impressed by just how quiet the cabin is during the flight though.

There are twenty two cabin crew aboard the flight today. The atmosphere in the cabin is pleasant and relaxed and the crew take good care of the passengers.

The service begins with a welcome drink of freshly pressed orange juice, water, apple juice or champagne. Next come the menus and the scented hot towels.

Amenities

Blankets and pillows are on the seat as I board the aircraft. The mattress is stowed in one of the lockers for my seat.

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Emirates does not provide vanity kits on day flights. But everything you may need and that you would normally find in a vanity kits is available from the crew upon request or in the lavatories. Socks and eye shades are placed at every seat.

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On the way down to Dubai from Amsterdam I was on the night flight that leaves Amsterdam at 21h50. The vanity kit I was given is Bulgari branded and contains a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, tissues, a comb, a shaver and shaving foam by Gillette, as well as a range of products of Bulgari’s Essence de Thé noir which is a very heavy scent that seems to be very popular in the Middle East but probably gives most people a seriously bad headache.

The First Service

On flights departing Dubai in the morning, a continental breakfast is served with orange juice and tea or coffee right after take-off. The tray contains:

  1. Swiss Emi apricot yoghurt.
  2. A croissant with butter and Hero strawberry jam.
  3. A small dish of cucumber, chicken breast, cold cuts and cheese.

The trays are served individually and the crew make repeated rounds with the breadbasket.

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The Meal

About two hours and thirty minutes out of Amsterdam, the second service begins, which is in fact the main service. The cabin attendant suggests I should try one of their mocktails. Eventually I can’t decide, so I tell her to surprise me. When she returns a few minutes later, she has both an apple spritzer with mint and an orange fizz made of orange juice and ginger ale. She tells me she’s decided I need to try both. Okay, thanks! The drinks are served with a bowl of warm nuts.

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The menu is rather extensive and there are three options for the first course, main course and dessert.

The First Course

For the first course I have the salmon roulade filled with cream cheese and served with seared tuna, smoked halibut and asparagus with a lemon sauce. The first course is served on a tray with a small mixed salad and a warm bun. The flight attendant also comes by offering slices of warm garlic bread.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the roast chicken in a pepper coulis, which is served with baked potatoes and broccoli. This is, admittedly, rather bland and quite vile. The pepper coulis tastes of nothing, the potatoes are like pulp and feel like sand in my mouth and the chicken is giving off such a strong smell I don’t even touch it.

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Dessert

For dessert I have the chocolate cheesecake with raspberries and vanilla custard, which is rather tasty.

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The meal concludes with a scented hot towel and a box of chocolates.

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Arrival

We arrive in Amsterdam fifteen minutes behind schedule. Apparently there had been some delay in leaving Dubai as two passengers and their luggage had needed to be offloaded for health reasons.

Transfer in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam Emirates uses the end gate at the F pier. From here it’s a short walk to the new centralised security checkpoint. It’s fairly quiet and I’m the only person there.

From the security checkpoint its another ten minutes to Schengen immigration.

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Conclusion

So far I have tried three Middle East carriers: Emirates, Oman Air and Qatar Airways. Of the three I think Qatar Airways is definitely the one that offers a very polished service and a truly premium experience. Oman Air is kind of nice too and is a bit of a boutique airline, if there is such a thing, which is a nice way of saying they sometimes seem slightly amateurish in the way they run their operation. Which just leaves Emirates. Truth be told, I don’t quite get the fuss people always seem to make about them. Admittedly, they have a few nice perks like the limousine pickup or the direct access to the aircraft from the lounge and the crews seem professional and personable. But even with all that I think it’s quite apparent that theirs is a product designed and intended for mass production. It’s not elegant and it lacks finesse. Don’t get me wrong, from the passenger’s perspective I think Emirates are okay. I just don’t think they’re any better or worse than any of the others.