Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – ERJ 190: London City to Zürich

2000px-Swiss_International_Air_Lines_Logo_2011.svg_
2000px-Helvetic_Airways_Logo.svg.png

INTRODUCTION
Sweet Dreams (are made of this) was first released back in 1983, when music videos were still in their infancy and I was nine years old. I actually remember the first time I saw the video of Sweet Dreams. I think the moment has stayed with me through all these years because I think it was the first time that music triggered something in me. I sat in front of the television with my mouth agape, completely mesmerised by the fabulous Annie Lennox with her orange crewcut, standing in a field with a cow. I just thought she was so cool!

More than thirty years later, I’m still listening to Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. And so of course, when I heard she would be giving a concert in London in March 2018, there was no question that I would attend.

And so I flew to London from Basel the day after I returned to Zürich from Bucharest. The outbound flight on Saturday was with British Airways. There was absolutely nothing at all that would warrant writing a trip report about my experience with the Speedbird, my experience with them was totally replaceable and nondescript.

Of course, all of this does have a positive impact on the competition. I am flying back to Zürich today on Helvetic Airways, who is operating the flight on behalf of SWISS. Even if I only get a stale biscuit and the flight attendant has the bedside manner of the older ugly sister of Frankenstein’s monster, it’ll still be an improvement over anything the Speedbird dished out on the inbound.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
In London I stayed at the Hilton Angel in Islington, mainly because it’s quite close to the venue of the concert – the Saddler’s Wells theatre. The hotel is only a short walk away from the tube station ‘Angel’, on the Northern line. To get to London’s City airport, I have to take a southbound train to Bank and then transfer there onto an eastbound DLR train for the airport. Given the rush hour, it takes me close to one hour to make the journey.

IMG_0001(1).JPG
IMG_0002(1)
IMG_0004(1)
IMG_0005(1)

CHECK-IN
I’ve already checked in using the SWISS app, which is playing up again. I’ve selected 13F, which is an window seat on the emergency exit. Although I did at some point receive an error message during the process, I was eventually able to complete the process. So I’m guessing, and hoping, that I actually am on 13F.

IMG_0006(1)

As you exit the DLR station at London City, there is a whole row of self-service check-in machines and inside the terminal building they have added even more of the check-in kiosks.

IMG_0007(1)

The security check is something they do really well at London City. So despite all the people, the process is fairly quick and painless.

BOARDING
There is no premium lounge at London City airport. But that’s totally okay by me, because the general lounge area offers some really excellent views of the apron and the runway behind it. There’s just one problem: the aircraft park with the rear facing towards the terminal building, which means that when they apply thrust to push off stand, they spray all the muck on the ground at the building. And as a result, the windows are rather grubby from the recent snow and deicing liquid.

IMG_0010
IMG_0008(1)

The flight to Zürich is boarding from gate 10, which is the last gate at the west end of the facility.

I board the aircraft through the rear door, even though it would have made more sense to board through the front. It’s just that I can’t remember the last time I boarded a plane through the rear. This is brilliant!

IMG_0011(1)
IMG_0012(1)
IMG_0013(1)
IMG_0014(1)
IMG_0015(1)

THE CABIN
I already mentioned the cabin of the Helvetic Airways Embraer in a post from January, when I flew Helvetic from Zürich to Milan. The flight to Milan was only thirty minutes, but by the time we landed, I could no longer feel my kneecaps.

IMG_0016(1)

The seat pitch is definitely much better on the emergency exit.

IMG_0020(1)

SERVICE
Surprisingly, there are four cabin crew on the flight today. I’m wondering if perhaps one of them is still in training or something. Whoever recruits the cabin crew at Helvetic Airways obviously has an eye for the ladies, which is fine. But I really do think they should teach them to tone it down with the make-up. When the lipstick stains the teeth, it’s definitely too much!

By the time we’re ready to start up, the operating regime has changed and arrivals and departures are to the east. This means that essentially we’re parked right on the access taxiway to the runway threshold, giving us a taxi time from our stand to the holding point of just about 30 seconds flat!

IMG_0018(1)
IMG_0019(1)
IMG_0022(1)

Taking off from London City is always fun, and today is no exception. The pilot applies the parking break and then pushes the throttle all the way forward to the take-off thrust setting. The whole plane start shaking violently, and then – just when you think it’s going to start falling to bits – he releases the brakes and we go careening down the runway.

IMG_0024(1)
IMG_0025(1)

THE MEAL
Once we’re settled into the cruise, the meal service begins. I’m expecting something along the lines of a pre-packaged muffin that has been prepared specially to stay fresh and fluffy for at least ten years. Much to my surprise though, we are served nice, fresh Gipfeli. A Gipfeli is the Swiss interpretation of the croissant. It’s savoury and usually smaller than any self-respecting French croissant but with a more buttery flavour. With that I have a coffee and a cup of sparkling water.

IMG_0027(1)
IMG_0028

After the meal service, the crew pass through the cabin with the highlight of the flight – the chocolates!

IMG_0029

ARRIVAL
Our routing takes us right over my hometown, Basel. Fortunately, it’s a lovely day with good visibility and some excellent vistas of the Alps and we descend into Zürich. There’s no delay and we make an approach straight in without having to hold. And it appears to be my lucky day, because here in Zürich too we’re using a remote stand!

IMG_0030
IMG_0031
IMG_0032
IMG_0033

The bus drops us off at the B arrivals, which is the non-Schengen area. From there it’s an amazingly circuitous route to get to immigration: upon entering the building turn left, go up the escalators to the first floor, right, right again, down the escalators to the ground floor, right, through the departure gate area, right again, then straight ahead, left, down the escalators into the basement and then straight on to passport control and up the escalators again to the ground floor on the other side…

IMG_0034

CONCLUSION
This brings to an end my ten day odyssey to Malta, Bucharest and London. The marathon in Malta was fun, and so was the rejected take-off in Frankfurt until Lufthansa lost the plot. The course in Bucharest was brilliant, with professional and friendly participants. And the Annie Lennox concerts in London was simply beyond belief. Annie Lennox has an amazing presence when she’s on stage and live her voice sounds even better than on the recording!

map.gif

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Bucharest to Zürich

2000px-Swiss_International_Air_Lines_Logo_2011.svg_

map.gif

INTRODUCTON
The course with the Romanian ANSP goes well. With that out of the way, it’s time for me to pack up my bags and head back home. On the return flight I’m travelling with SWISS, mainly because they have a direct service from Bucharest to Zürich and the timing was convenient.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Everybody in Bucharest seems to use Uber these days. In fact, taxis are rather hard to come by and when you do find one, there is a latent risk that you will be ripped off. I’m not sure what to think of Uber. But what I like, is that the drivers are not constantly trying to engage you in conversation or giving you advice on where to find the best prostitutes.

IMG_0001.JPG

CHECK-IN
I checked in using the SWISS app. But for some reason I couldn’t obtain my boarding pass. Which is why my first stop at the airport is the Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS check-in counters to get an good old-fashioned, printed boarding pass.

The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 80 to 84, which are located in what is either a new extension to the terminal or a recently renovated part of the building I previously hadn’t noticed. In any case, it all looks very modern and new, especially in contrast with the rest of the facility which is starting to show its age.

IMG_0002.JPG

The young lady who checks me in hands me the lounge invitation and then sends me on my way.

IMG_0003

IMG_0004

LOUNGE
In Bucharest SWISS uses the Mastercard lounge, which is located one floor up from the general airside area. The stairs to reach the lounge are located near gate 7.

IMG_0005

The lounge itself is nothing special. It has a very limited selection of drinks, and food options consist of a few sad looking, limp paprika chips and some stale peanuts. But. There’s one big but: the views from up here are excellent, and I even manage to get a seat by the window, from where I can watch all the proceedings outside.

IMG_0007

IMG_0011

IMG_0012

IMG_0013

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate 2, which is the closest stand to the terminal building. The first call is for Business Class and status card holders to board. There are four passengers in Business Class today.

IMG_0014.JPG

THE CABIN
This aircraft is clearly a fairly new addition to the SWISS fleet. Either that, or they’ve taken exceptionally good care of this bird.

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of twelve seats. Which means that every passenger has a row to themselves. Unlike Lufthansa or Air France, SWISS has screens installed throughout the cabin. On the downside though, there are no electricity plugs for passengers.

IMG_0016.JPG

IMG_0017

I’m seated on 1A. On the first row the seat pitch is good. Better, I should say, than on Air France or KLM on the bulkhead row.

SERVICE
There are four cabin attendants. As I enter the plane, a middle aged female maître de and a clean-shaven, pleasant young man welcome me aboard the aircraft. Their manner is friendly and welcoming. While boarding is still in progress, the young man brings me a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

IMG_0015.JPG

Once boarding is completed, the captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that there will be a slight delay in leaving due to snow in Zürich. While we wait, the crew pass through the cabin with chocolate, which always goes down well.

IMG_0018

The flight time is announced as 2 hours and 5 minutes.

IMG_0019

THE MEAL
Shortly after take-off, the crew is released to start the service. The food trays with the meals are delivered individually from the galley.

The meal consists of:

  • thinly sliced veal with a walnut vinaigrette and a salmon mouse on wholegrain bread,
  • a plate of cheese and butter, which is served with bread,
  • a dessert which tastes rather nice but of which I have no idea what it is supposed to be.

IMG_0020

IMG_0021

IMG_0022

IMG_0023

The meal is okay, although I still think that a flight time of over two hours is enough time to serve a proper meal. I also think that compared to the lobster flan served on Air France on my way to Bucharest, the salmon mouse thing served by SWISS is rather underwhelming, heavy and just a bit weird.

Throughout the meal the crew pass through the cabin to check if there’s anything else the passengers need – offering top ups of drinks and more bread. The crew really are quite pleasant and take their time to interact with the passengers in a very natural way. I especially like that when they talk to you, both the maître de and the young man really look at you, as though their acknowledging you as a customer. It’s quite refreshing and something you don’t get that often anymore these days.

After the meal I ask for a coffee, which is served with yet another chocolate. Jay!

IMG_0025

ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. There’s a bit of a delay because apparently it’s still snowing heavily around the airport. About twenty minutes out of Zürich, the captain makes an announcement informing us that due to the low visibility we’ll be doing a fully automatic landing and therefore, all electronic devices will have to be turned off completely. And indeed, a short while later the cabin crew come through the cabin to check that mobiles and the likes are fully turned off and not just in flight mode.

IMG_0024

To be honest, if the pilot hadn’t said anything, I don’t think I would have known the difference.

When eventually we come to a stop on our stand, there’s a bit of a hold up with the airbridge. The young man is standing next to me. He apologises and tells me it hopefully won’t be long. I explain that given the rejected take-off and the subsequent delay of nearly four hours on Monday and the two-hour delay in Paris on Tuesday, a few minutes hardly seem worth mentioning…

IMG_0027

And so my trip to Bucharest ends. Tomorrow I shall go off to London for the week-end. But that trip will be in BA Economy Class, and I’m not really sure that will be worth reporting on…