Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Zürich to Riga

airbaltic-logo-png

Introduction

Today I’m on my way to Riga. And just in case you’re wondering what on earth I’m doing right now, travelling from one country to another, I should explain that this is all part of the research I am doing for my thesis.

Luckily, once I’ve been to Riga, I’ll only to make one more trip to Slovenia and then I’m done with the data collection.

Getting to the Airport

I leave the office just after four in the afternoon. The plan is to catch the 16h25 train from Winterthur, to arrive at Zürich airport at 16h38. For some reason or other, the trains to and from Winterthur are all running with a delay of about four minutes, which, admittedly, does not even qualify as a delay in some countries but in Switzerland means that words will be had…

Check-in

And so I arrive at Zürich airport way behind what I’d anticipated, at 16h41. I’ve already checked in on the Air Baltic website, which works nicely. I save the boarding pass to my iPhone wallet. And contrary to SWISS, with Air Baltic the pass appears on your lock screen, so all you have to do is swipe it for it to appear.

The Lounge

Yeah, about that… In my previous post I may have mentioned that the SWISS Schengen lounge is still not open. The upshot of this, of course, is that the Aspire Lounge and also the DNATA lounge, which Air Baltic uses, have to absorb some of the SWISS passenger. As a result, more often than not, both lounges tend to be very crowded and not at all that pleasant.

Besides, departures are on runway 10 this afternoon, so I’m better off sitting somewhere on the A concourse by the window.

Boarding

Boarding starts just slightly behind schedule. The first call is for Business Class passengers. It turns out that I’m the only passenger in Business Class today. Behind me, the next call is for passengers with children ‘and other disabilities’. I always find that such a funny phrase…

The Cabin

As far as commercial airliners go, by no means is the Boeing B 737-300 a spring chicken. Even so, it looks as though Air Baltic has taken very good care of this aircraft, which is fitted with the usual thin, modern seats. The configuration is 2 + 2, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. In addition, the armrests can be folded outwards towards the middle seat, to make the aisle and the window seats a bit wider. There is a small tray table in the middle for extra storage and underneath it there are two pillows and blankets on every row in Business Class.

I am seats on the window in 1F.

The Crew

The service begins on the ground when the purser comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink and newspapers. I order an apple juice but decline the paper, even though they have quite a selection of English language papers to choose from.

The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very charming and quite funny in the way they interaction with me. They’re definitely courteous but they haven’t lost their sense of humour over it.

As we push back, the purser hands me the menu for today’s flight.

The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the service begins. The purser asks me what I’d like to drink and then brings me the glass of water I requested, together with a scented hot towel. She then brings out the tray with the meal, which today consists of:

  1. a soft cream cheese with cumin and a strawberry salsa,
  2. grilled chicken breast in a saffron sauce, served with roasted vegetables and a creamy barley risotto,
  3. a rhubarb tarte tatin,
  4. a selection from the breadbasket all to myself, served with butter.

To drink I have water.

After the meal, the cabin attendant brings me a cappuccino and a piece of chocolate cake from a pre-ordered meal, the passenger of which apparently no-showed. Once that is removed, she brings me a bottle of still water and leaves me to work.

A bit later, the purser sees me working on my laptop and promptly closes the sun blinds on the opposite side of the cabin, which is in the sun, so that I can see better what’s on my screen.

Arrival

The fasten seatbelt sign remains on for most of the flight, and it’s quite bumpy all the way. Latvia looks like a lovely country from above and very different from Switzerland in that it’s very flat.

We land at 22h10, slightly behind schedule, in the middle of what appears to be Air Baltic’s evening bank of arrivals.

Getting into Town

I exit the building within ten minutes of landing, and the bus 22 into the city is already standing outside the terminal.

The journey into town will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR2. The bus stop isn’t right in front of the building, but across the road to your right as you exit arrivals.

The bus will take you to Riga’s main railway station in the centre of the city.

Conclusion

I think Air Baltic are a brilliant airline. Their service in Business Class is definitely superior to that of many of the legacy carriers, including SWISS or KLM. What’s more though, the crew on today’s flight were absolutely charming. I very much enjoyed this flight!

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

2000px-Swiss_International_Air_Lines_Logo_2011.svg_
map

Introduction

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Switzerland. It’s sunny and warm but without the oppressive heat yet that you get in July or August. The vegetation is a lush, dark green and it crosses my mind for just the briefest moment that I would miss all this if I were to leave this world.

IMG_0023.JPG
IMG_0024.JPG

Check-in

Today I’m on my way to Bucharest, where I have an appointment on Monday morning. The summer holidays are about to kick off, which is why the airport is crawling with passengers. I take the escalators up to Check-in 1, which is home to SWISS, and I have trouble getting off the escalators without falling over somebody. The queue for the Economy Class baggage drop-off stretches halfway across the terminal building. And it’s moving very slowly…

IMG_0025.JPG
IMG_0026.JPG

The lines for security are no better!

IMG_0029.JPG

Airside

The Business Class lounge in the Schengen area is still not open. Originally it was scheduled to reopen in May following refurbishment. But apparently that deadline has now quietly been moved back to mid-July. But at least, seeing as my flight is departing from the non-Schengen area, there’s always the SWISS lounge on the D concourse, which is behind immigration.

IMG_0030.JPG

As can be expected, this lounge is pretty full. There is a small selection of hot and cold snacks but quite honestly, it’s nothing to write home about.

IMG_0031.JPG
IMG_0032.JPG
IMG_0034.JPG

Boarding

Boarding is from gate D 54, which is a bus gate and therefore good news for me. By the time I reach the gate, the first bus has already departed. But when my bus pulls up next to the stairs to our aircraft, the passengers from the first bus are still milling around at the bottom of the stairs waiting to get on board. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why, but the whole boarding process takes forever. But I don’t complain. First, because that gives me time to take some pictures of my aircraft and secondly, because while I’m standing around the daily Singapore Airlines departs right in front of my nose. Cool!

IMG_0036.JPG
IMG_0037.JPG
IMG_0040.JPG
IMG_0041.JPG
IMG_0042.JPG
IMG_0038.JPG

By the time all the passenger settle in the cabin, it’s already gone 12h05, the scheduled departure time. The captain makes his welcome announcement and informs us that the flight time will be one hour and 55 minutes and that we should expect an on time arrival.

Famous last words… eventually we depart with a delay of more than 45 minutes.

The Cabin

The cabin is in the usual 2 + 2 configuration where the middle seat is kept empty in Business Class. I don’t know if this is the case for all of the SWISS Airbus narrow-body fleet, but in any case this aircraft is not equipped with power plugs at the seats.

IMG_0043.JPG
IMG_0044.JPG

The Crew

There are two young ladies and two middle aged ladies working the cabin on today’s flight. I think one of the two young ones is still in training. She’s not shy but sometimes seems a bit unsure of herself. But she more than makes up for it with her personality. She’s very friendly and obviously putting a lot of effort into delivering a good service.

IMG_0046.JPG

Before take-off the usual still water and refreshing towel are distributed.

IMG_0045.JPG
IMG_0048.JPG
IMG_0050.JPG

The Meal

The meal consists of a cold main course, a plate of cheese and dessert. The main course is smoked salmon with ratatouille, with avocado and mango and a quinoa salad. With that I have a Silser bun that was obviously designed to look like a football, and a normal bun.

IMG_0051.JPG
IMG_0052.JPG
IMG_0053.JPG

When the tray first arrives, my first thought is that it all looks rather frugal. But I must admit that it actually all tastes very good. It’s clearly a good quality cut of salmon and the salad is flavourful.

IMG_0054.JPG
IMG_0056.JPG

For dessert there is a small glass ramekin with white chocolate mousse (encore…!) on a coulis of raspberries.

IMG_0057.JPG

And then to conclude the meal, I have a coffee and a football shaped chocolate. By the time the meal service ends, there are only fifty minutes left to go to Bucharest.

IMG_0058.JPG
IMG_0060.JPG
IMG_0059.JPG

Arrival

Eventually we land in Bucharest with a delay of fifty minutes.

IMG_0062.JPG
IMG_0063.JPG
IMG_0064.JPG

But at least I only have hand luggage, so I’m out of the terminal in no time. As I’m staying in the centre of town, my best option is the bus 783. The bus stop in on the ground level, one floor down from arrivals. As you exit the arrivals hall, you will find the ticket booth on your right. But keep in mind that you can’t just buy a ticket and must have a chip card first, on to which you can then charge money. All of this can be done at the ticket booth. You can’t purchase tickets on the bus.

The journey into the centre will take you roughly forty minutes in good traffic.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Luxembourg to Zürich

2000px-Swiss_International_Air_Lines_Logo_2011.svg_

Introduction

It’s Friday afternoon, so it’s time for me to pack my bags and make my way back to Switzerland. The flying Dutchman has kindly offered to drop me off at the airport before returning to the office to do a Sim session.

I think I’ve already written more than enough about Luxembourg airport, so I guess we might as well skip ahead to the actual flight, without bothering with the preliminaries of getting to the airport, checking in, etc.

Boarding

The flight is scheduled to depart at 14h55, with boarding expected to commence at 14h30. Clearly, that’s not likely to happen today, given that the aircraft only touches down in Luxembourg until after 14h30. The monitors are showing a minor delay of ten minutes, with an expected time of departure at 15h05.

IMG_0001
IMG_0002.JPG

Apparently, there’s a bit of a confusion about a VIP passenger, who is first allowed to board the aircraft but later on asked to step off the plane and wait with everybody else…

Boarding starts just after 15h00, so it looks like the 15h05 departure isn’t going happen either. Eventually we take-off at 15h32, forty minutes behind schedule.

IMG_0003(1).JPG
IMG_0004(1).JPG
IMG_0006(1).JPG

The Cabin

I really must say, I like the cabin of the CSeries. It feels so roomy. Having said that, I was recently browsing on the SWISS website and saw that on some days the CSeries is deployed even as far afield as Cairo. No matter how nice the CSeries is, I think a four-hour sector to Cairo is definitely pushing it in terms of passenger comfort…

IMG_0005.JPG

The Luxembourg route is highly susceptible to last minute aircraft changes. When I made the booking, the outbound should have been a CSeries 300 and the return should have been operated by a Helvetic Airways Embraer 190. As it turned out though, the CSeries on the outbound was substituted by an Embraer, while the Embraer on this afternoon’s flight has been replaced by a CSeries 100. I mention this because the configuration on the Embraer is 2 + 2. So it makes no difference which side of the vessel you’re seated on, because in Business Class the seat next to you always remains empty. But on the CSeries, the configuration is 2 + 3. Which means that if you’re on the starboard side, you will still possibly have to climb over the person on the aisle to get out.

Luckily enough for me though, today the aisle seat on my row stays empty.

The Crew

The cabin crew consists of three flight attendants, two young ladies and one young man, who is also the maître de. One of the females is exclusively working the Economy Class cabin, so I only catch a glimpse of her. The maître de is working the Business Class cabin and is occasionally assisted by the third crew member. Which is a good thing because she’s obviously having a bad day. Poor boo…! Apparently she’s made a vow of silence too, because she refuses to speak. And that’s just all sorts of awkward when you have a job that involves interacting with other human beings…

But the young man is excellent! He has very good manners and obviously goes to great lengths to make all the passengers feel comfortable.

Once the doors are closed, the crew distribute pre-packaged, scented towels and small bottles of still water. I think this is a nice touch and something that SWISS does on every flight, unlike KLM, who will only distribute water in case of a delay, so soften the blow so to speak…

IMG_0008(1).JPG
IMG_0009.JPG
IMG_0010(1).JPG

The Meal

The meal consists of the usual three ramekins. The first one is filled with a red cabbage salad on cream cheese, the second is pieces of duck on a barley salad and the third is the dessert – a milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse.

IMG_0011(1).JPG
IMG_0014(1).JPG
IMG_0013(1)
IMG_0012(1)

With the meal I ask for some coffee, which is served from a cardboard cup and which doesn’t seem very premium to me…

IMG_0015(1).JPG

The flight time to Zürich is thirty minutes and the cockpit crew are obviously making the effort to make up for some of the delay.

Just before the landing, the crew distribute the chocolates. The usual small, red bars of goodness have been replaced with little round chocolates wrapped up like a football to mark the occasion of the world cup. And then there’s a bit of an awkward moment when the maître de makes an announcement that ‘…in preparation for lading, please consult the safety on board cards and take a moment to located the nearest emergency exit in the likely event of an evacuation…’. But I think it goes to show just how little the travelling public gives a shit about the on board announcements, because nobody turns a hair, leaving the young man clearly confused about what he actually intended to say and what eventually came out…!

IMG_0017(1).JPG
IMG_0018(1).JPG
IMG_0019(1).JPG

Eventually we land and taxi to one of the remote stands near the old SR Technics hangar. This time there’s a small minibus waiting to pick up all the Business Class passengers. I say ‘this time’ because the Business Class shuttle tends to be a bit unreliable…

IMG_0020(1).JPG

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

2000px-tap_portugal_logo

Getting to the Airport

My meeting yesterday was close to the airport, which is why I decided to stay at the TRYP Lisbon airport hotel for just the one night. The TRYP is a nice hotel with spacious rooms and all the amenities you might expect from an airport hotel.  My only grippe about it, is that the breakfast is not very nice.

Originally, I had planned to walk from the hotel to the terminal building. It’s not more than five minutes to walk. But when I woke up this morning, it had started raining and I could even see the occasional burst of lightning in the distance. And so, instead of walking, I decide to take the complimentary shuttle, which runs every twenty minutes and takes approximately five minutes as well to complete the journey from the hotel to the terminal.

IMG_0003.JPG

Check-in

I’ve checked in online the day before. TAP Air Portugal has its own check-in area, and there is even a dedicated, separate section for Business Class passengers. Despite the fact that the terminal complex is a labyrinth of halls, corridors and building sites, all of which have been added haphazardly over the years, it’s still fairly easy to navigate and well signposted.

IMG_0004
IMG_0006.JPG

There is a fast track for security, which is brilliant. First of all, because the queue is much, much shorter than the regular Economy Class queue. And secondly, because the staff here are just so relaxed and friendly!

IMG_0008.JPG
IMG_0010.JPG
IMG_0017.JPG

The TAP Portugal Business Class Lounge

Since I was here last, TAP has moved its lounge. Or rather, they now have their own lounge and no longer use the contractor lounge next door. Which is, quite frankly, a shame because the new TAP lounge is definitely not as nice as the other place. I also think it’s quite apparent that it’s not large enough to handle all the traffic at the airport.

IMG_0012.JPG
IMG_0013.JPG
IMG_0015.JPG
IMG_0016.JPG

Boarding

Boarding is from gate S26, which is the last gate in the newest part of the terminal. There are three queues for boarding: one for premium passengers, another for zone A and a third one for zone B passengers.

IMG_0018.JPG
IMG_0019.JPG
IMG_0021.JPG
IMG_0022.JPG
‘Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville…’
IMG_0024.JPG

The Cabin

The aircraft I am flying on has already been refitted with the new cabin interior. It’s the regular RECARO slimline seat but the colours TAP has selected are quite elegant. Every seat has an adjustable headrest and there are two power plugs for the three seats.

IMG_0025.JPG
IMG_0026.JPG

The seats are arranged in a typical 2 + 2 configuration, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. As my luck would have it, the aisle seat on my row remains empty and I have it all to myself to spread out. I am seated by the window on 1F.

The Crew

The crew consists of four young ladies who are all very nicely turned out. Their make-up is subtle and they wear TAP Air Portugal’s bright uniform well!

Once we’re airborne, the service begins with the distribution of pre-packaged, scented towels. But unlike many other carriers, who normally have very flimsy towels made out of paper, this is actually a real cloth towel.

IMG_0028.JPG
IMG_0029.JPG
IMG_0030.JPG
IMG_0031.JPG

The Meal

Every passenger is served individually. The whole meal is served on one tray and it is quite a large breakfast. It consists of:

  1. a plate of fresh fruit,
  2. a bowl of yoghurt with Mango coulis, which is served with a side order of Müsli,
  3. a plate with cold cuts, cheese and some salad,
  4. a piece of Portuguese milk chocolate,
  5. a selection of breads from the breadbasket,
  6. butter and jam.
IMG_0032.JPG
IMG_0033(1).JPG
IMG_0034.JPG
IMG_0035(2).JPG
IMG_0036(1).JPG
IMG_0037(1).JPG

The meal is tasty and the quality of the food good. I try two different types of bread roll. One is a brioche type dough with coconut on top, while the other is savoury and goes well with the cheese.

Throughout the meal service the crew make repeated runs through the cabin, offering more drinks and bread.

As soon as I’ve finished, one of the cabin crew comes to remove my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink.

IMG_0038(1).JPG

Arrival

And so the flight passes quickly, and before long we’re already descending into Luxembourg. It’s much cooler here today than it was yesterday when I left and certainly cooler than the weather in Lisbon.

Conclusion

I guess it really speaks for how old I am that I was working for Swissair at the time when the Portuguese government was planning to privatise TAP by selling it off to the Swiss. Ironically, Swissair went bankrupt in the meantime, while TAP Air Portugal seems to be going strong. Right now the airline’s future looks bright, with an order book of new Airbuses the renew and rejuvenate the fleet. The service on board TAP is quite good, but it remains to be seen whether the airport at their hub in Lisbon will be able to keep up with the pace at which the airline and traffic to Lisbon in general is growing.

Luxair, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Luxembourg to Lisbon

Luxair_Logo
map.gif

Introduction

I’m on my way to Lisbon for a meeting in the afternoon. Fortunately, the fairly large expat community of Portuguese in Luxembourg means that there are numerous flights between Luxembourg’s Findel airport and beautiful Lisbon.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport from the Novotel, I first catch a tram from ‘Europa Parlament’ towards ‘Luxexpo’, which is currently the tram’s terminus, until they eventually extend the line to the airport. At Luxexpo I transfer to the bus line 16, which runs from there to the airport, which is its last stop. The journey takes about forty minutes to complete.

IMG_0033.JPG
IMG_0035(1).JPG

Check-in

Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. I don’t know if there is a Luxair app but you can definitely check-in online and save the boarding pass to your wallet, if you’re using an iPhone.

IMG_0036.JPG
IMG_0037.JPG

There are self-service machines and check-in counters at the airport. To be honest though, I’m not entirely sure what the procedure is here in Luxembourg with the check-in desks, because some flights appear to have their own designated counters, while others don’t. I don’t think it should make a difference though, seeing as Luxair is the only handling agent at the airport.

Airside

Luxembourg is nice little airport that is quickly reaching capacity, even though they only recently reopened the old B pier.  The really cool thing about the airport though, is that once you’re airside, you have some really good views of the apron and the runway beyond.

IMG_0039.JPG

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule from gate A 20 in the Schengen part of the terminal. Gate A 20 is a bus gate, which of course has me doing a little happy dance right there in front of the gate because it means me taking pictures of my aircraft from up close.

IMG_0041.JPG
IMG_0042.JPG
IMG_0044.JPG
IMG_0045.JPG
IMG_0046.JPG
IMG_0047.JPG
IMG_0049.JPG

The Cabin

I wonder if perhaps this is the first flight this aircraft will be doing today, because the cabin is stifling and very warm. The APU isn’t running and, because we’re on a remote stand, there’s no means of hooking us up to an external cooling system. Other than that though, I think the Luxair cabin on the Boeing B 737 looks quite nice. The seats are in light blue leather, while the headrests are white. The sides of the headrest can be folded up for extra comfort.

IMG_0050.JPG
IMG_0054.JPG

On the downside, seat pitch on Luxair’s B 737s is among the worst I’ve ever experienced. The aircraft are mainly deployed on typical charter routes, where the main objective is quantity and not quality. Which is why today I’ve decided to splurge on a seat on the emergency exit on row 12.

The advanced seat reservation for 12A cost me EUR25 and was made online at the time of booking. I know EUR25 may seem like a lot, but given the prospect of spending two hours and half with my knees stuck under my chin, I think it’s money well invested.

Unfortunately though, despite the fact that I’m on the window seat, I only have a limited view of the outside, because the outer glass is severely scratched.

IMG_0052.JPG
IMG_0053.JPG

Luxair does not have a cabin divider between Economy and Business Class, by the way.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of three cabin crew, all of which are fluent in Letzebuergesch, French, English and of course Portuguese. The two younger cabin crew seem friendly enough but a bit reserved. The maître de however, is a really friendly guy and interacts well with the passengers, especially the fairly large number of elderly Portuguese travellers.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, I immediately nod off… Luckily, I wake up just as the service trolley reaches the row in front of me, making me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge when he wakes up on Christmas morning to find that he hasn’t missed anything because the ghosts of Christmas passed, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come have taught him a lesson all within the scope of one night. Oh, you know what I mean (the tall, blond M. will probably have a field day with this…).

And much to my surprise, the meal isn’t half bad either. There is a complimentary full bar trolley service that even includes a Luxemburgish sparkling wine. To eat there is a choice between a chicken or a cheese sandwich. The sandwiches are a good size and look and taste as though they were freshly made. I choose the cheese sandwich.

IMG_0055.JPG
IMG_0056.JPG
IMG_0057.JPG

Unlike the pre-packaged rubbish you get on most European airlines that still offer a complimentary meal service, which usually ends up tasting like the plastic and cardboard it was packaged in, this sandwich is in fact very tasty. The bread is multigrain and inside the sandwich there’s not only the cheese but also a bread spread, cucumbers and a bit of salad.

To drink I have a Coke Zero and a coffee.

The service is well paced. The crew are unrushed but still don’t leave us waiting too long before passing through the cabin to remove the trash.

Arrival

After the meal I sit back with the intention of reading in my Kindle. But instead, I end up going off to sleep again. What’s going on here…? By the time I wake up again, we’ve already started our initial descent and the crew are coming through the cabin with these small baskets filled with toffees and other sweets to help alleviate the pressure in the ears as we descend. I don’t quite know why, but I find there something nicely old-fashioned about this.

From what I can tell through the scratched window, the approach into Lisbon is gorgeous and takes us right over the city and then out to sea, before eventually coming around and turning on to the final approach. The landing however, is perhaps not so gorgeous… we actually bounce three times before eventually settling on the runway!

IMG_0058.JPG

Here in Lisbon we’ll be using a remote stand, which is hardly surprising given that the terminal building is literally bursting at the seams and has only very few contact stands. As we taxi in, we pass an Airbus A 330NEO in the colours of TAP Air Portugal but still in its French registration. And then eventually, we make a last right turn and come to a stop right next to an Airbus A 321NEO of Azores Airlines.

Conclusion

I’m always in two minds about Luxair. Their home market is highly affluent but also tragically small. As such, I think the airline does a good job in striking the right balance between offering a reliable air service from its hub in Luxembourg to the major business centres in Europe on the one hand, while at the same time also serving the leisure traffic market. Even so, one cannot help but wonder what the point is of small countries like Luxembourg trying to maintain their own airline.