Emirates Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Zürich to Dubai

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INTRODUCTION
The end of the year is quickly approaching and so it’s time for me to make my last business trip for this year. I’m on my way to Dubai again, this time to give a course for Emirates Airlines.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave Winterthur on the 12h25 train to Zürich airport. The train is not very busy. It’s a sunny, warm day and it feels like a typical lazy Friday afternoon.

Christmas is already in full swing at Zürich airport, there are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling everywhere, with ornately decorated Christmas trees and even the occasional selfie-taking snowman thrown in for good measure.

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CHECK-IN
Emirates clearly managed to get the best counters in check-in area 2. You can hardly miss them, seeing as they are located right opposite the escalators. There are two counters open for Business Class passengers and there is no queue when I check in just after 13h.

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Check-in is done by DNATA for Emirates in Zürich. The check-in agent is a friendly young lady. She sees my Maltese passport and tells me she knows the islands very well, because her husband spent two years living there. A few years back SR Technics opened an MRO in Malta and sent down expertise from Zürich to help build up the facility.

AIRSIDE
I still have one hour to go before boarding starts and I’m starving. So instead of taking the sky metro and heading across to the E concourse, I decide to have lunch at the main restaurant on the upper level of the airside centre. This restaurant serves typically Swiss fare. At least, it serves what tourists to Switzerland think is typically Swiss food.

I decide to go with the Wurst-Käse Salat, which is a cold dish made with pieces of Swiss cheese and Cervelat – a type of sausage. Their rendition of the dish is not entirely authentic I think. But it certainly hits the spot. Although that may also have something to do with the chips I ordered on the side…

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At around 13h45 I make my way across to the E concourse. The terminal seems very quiet and empty. You see, the Emirates flight leaves Zürich at the tail end of the lunchtime departure bank.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts on time. The flight boards from two gates: E59 is the upper deck gate for Business and First Class passengers, while E67 is the gate for Economy Class passengers on the lower deck.

The boarding process is fairly calm and laid back, which gives me the opportunity to take a few pictures of my chariot from the glass encased airbridges.

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CABIN
I’m sitting on 25K, which is the penultimate row in the rear Business Class cabin, which is smaller than the main cabin and only has five rows of seats. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I really would not recommend row 25, because there is quite a bit of noise coming from the bar at the very end of the cabin. I’m on a day flight, so it’s not as though the noise will keep me from sleeping. But on a night flight I think I would be seriously annoyed.

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But the view of the wing is excellent…

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SERVICE
The service on this flight is very polished. The crew are all very friendly and polite. One thing that strikes me though, is that the crew use red, iPhone-sized devices to take and check the status of passengers’ meal orders. I understand that it’s probably quite an achievement to organise the service on an aircraft the size of the A 380. But while this system seems to work quite efficiently, the downside is that the crew spend most of their time staring into the little devices as they pass through the cabin.

The service starts on the ground with the distribution of welcome drinks, the menu for the flight and a hot towel.

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THE MEAL
I’ve only just had lunch in the terminal, so I decide to just have the chocolate Brownie with the little éclair and caramel sauce, which really tastes very good. The sauce has a rich texture and the Brownie is moist and dense.

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The service looks very efficient and what ever you ask the crew for, you never have to wait for long for them to bring it to you. I also like that the crew serve drinks and smaller items from these round trays that they hold in one hand.

Eventually though, the service winds down and the cabin settles as we fly into the night.

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AMENITIES
On day flights Emirates only provides a pair of socks and eye shades at every seat. However, dental kits are available in the toilets. And I have to say, they really are very good kits with Colgate products.

ARRIVAL
About an hour out of Dubai the crew come through the cabin with ice cream and the last of three scented hot towels handed out on this flight.

Our approach into Dubai is quite cool, as they bring us in from the northwest, to fly past the airport. On the downwind I can actually see the lights of the aircraft ahead of us lining up for arrival like a string of pearls. As we begin our turn to line up, I look back and see the lights of five aircraft following behind us.

Eventually we come to a stop at a stand on the A pier, which is not so good because it’s the remotest concourse from the terminal and you need to catch an underground train to get you to arrival and baggage claim. The good thing though, is that by the time I reach the conveyor belt, my suitcase has already been delivered.

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CONCLUSION
It really is interesting how our perceptions are influenced and shaped. I admit that I did think it was kind of cool to watch the spectators watching our aircraft taxi out for departure. The A 380 is the kind of beast that still has you stopping in your tracks to look at – because it is inconceivable that something that size should be able to fly at all.

But then, just over five hours later, you land in Dubai and your A 380 glides down the runway past a long row of other A 380 that are just standing outside the MRO facility waiting to be checked. And nobody turns a hair. In Dubai, the A 380 is just business as usual…

Czech Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Amsterdam

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INTRODUCTION
The very first time I visited the city of Prague was 24 years ago, after I graduated from secondary school in Switzerland. We travelled by train, mainly because it was a lot cheaper than taking a flight in those days. Back then, the city and her inhabitants were still slowly adjusting to the advent of capitalism in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Parts of the city were shabby and run down from years of neglect. But even as an obnoxious and, admittedly, totally clueless young man, I could not help but be impressed by just how beautiful the city was.

Since then a lot of water has passed under the famous Charles Bridge. Today, Prague is a modern, confident city that has been meticulously restored to its former splendour.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The journey from the centre of Prague to the airport takes roughly thirty minutes by car. There is of course the option to take public transport, but from the location of the meeting I attended, public transport would mean taking a tram and changing metro lines twice. So a taxi it is.

CHECK-IN
There are two terminals in Prague. Fortunately, my driver is a knowledgeable guy. So when he asks me ‘which terminal’ and draws a blank, he just asks me where I’m going. I explain I’m heading for Amsterdam, to which he nods and says ‘Terminal 2’. Well okay, if you say so…

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Terminal 2 is a strange building. The check-in area is essentially one very big hall with a few rows of check-in counters. I’m not sure how long the facility has been open, but they appear to still be working on half the check-in area.

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Czech Airlines have their own row of counters and there is one dedicated row for SkyPriority passengers.

SkyPriority passengers are entitled to use the fact track at security. The airport is not very, so the process is painless and swift.

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LOUNGE
Czech Airlines does not have its own lounge in Prague and uses the Premier contractor lounge operated by Prague airport.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. The decoration of the lounge is a question of personal taste, I guess. But it gives the impression of being rather gloomy and dark.

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Food options are limited to finger food and light snacks.

BOARDING
Boarding starts exactly on time at 16:55, as indicated on the boarding pass. There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers, who are invited to board first. The gate agent announces that the flight is very full and therefore, oversized pieces of luggage will need to be checked in.

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CABIN
My first impression of the cabin is very good. I rather like the colours and I think it’s just brilliant that Czech Airlines has decided not to follow the trend of using leather seat covers

The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small tray table that folds out of the back of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Legroom on the first row is also good. There are two rows of Business Class with a total of eight seats, five of which are occupied on this evening’s flight.

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THE CREW
There are two female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. One of them is very charming and all smiles as I step on board. The other looks very serious. But it later turns out that that is her default facial expression and in facts she’s very friendly and takes good care of the passengers in the forward cabin.

THE MEAL
A welcome drink is served on the gorund. There is a choice of water, sparkling wine or orange juice. Although it’s a bit of a shame the drinks are served in plastic cups.

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As soon as the crew is released after take-off, the service begins. The cabin crew place a table cloth of crisps, white linen each tray table. Much to my surprise, one of them informs me that, apparently, I’ve ordered a vegetarian meal. She notices the look of surprise on my face and tells me that the standard meal is also available if I’d rather have that. But I decide to stick the veggie meal that’s been ordered for me.

Even more to my surprise, the meal is actually rather nice and consists of a plate of raw vegetables. I’m quite amazed at how crisp everything has managed to stay. For dessert I have a bowl of fresh fruit. The tray comes with a refreshing towel and a small tub of margarine.

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My only complaint about the meal is that it might have been nice to have some olive oil or vinegar to put on the veg.

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After the meal I have a cup of coffee. Kudos to Czech Airlines for serving coffee that is hot and not just tepid.

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The tray is removed and shortly afterwards we start our descent into Amsterdam.

CONCLUSION
To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting anything much from Czech Airlines. In fact, I suspected I would be treated to another sad experience with an airline the world doesn’t really need and that nobody would really miss. But I have to say, I am quite impressed. The crew were friendly, the seat was comfortable enough and the food was not bad at all.

Hilton Am Stadtpark, Vienna

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I don’t think I’m overly picky when it comes to hotels. Especially not when I’m travelling for business. As long as the hotel is clean and in a convenient location I’m usually quite happy.

During this week’s course in Vienna, Austria I stayed at the Hilton am Stadtpark. Admittedly, the location of the hotel is excellent, in close proximity to the centre of the city and within walking distance of many very good restaurants. The station for the airport train is literally on the other side of the road from the hotel.

But apart from that, I definitely cannot recommend this hotel and certainly will not be returning here any time soon unless I really have to. The rooms are old and dated and look as though they were last renovated in the nineties. The temperature in the building is also a problem. The rooms are severely overheated, the air conditioning doesn’t work and the windows can only be tilted to let in some fresh air.

Other than that, no matter when you go down for breakfast, you always have to queue for at least 15 minutes before you are given a table. What’s more, the breakfast buffet is rather bland, everything tastes prefabricated and rather boring and the cook will even manage to burn a simple thing like an omelette or a fried egg! Of course I’m aware of the fact that tastes are different but all in all, I think it is hardly worth it to pay EUR31 for the breakfast at this hotel.

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The queue for breakfast

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The queue for breakfast