Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Shannon to London Heathrow

Introduction

It’s Thursday afternoon. The course with the IAA in Shannon went well. My job is done, and so it’s time to move on. The next course will be starting in two days.

Shannon airport is located about fifteen minutes away by car from IAA’s HQ. We arrive at the car park for the car rental returns and it’s pouring with rain. Although that isn’t really worth mentioning because it seems to be the normal state of affairs in Ireland. Which makes it all the more impressive how everyone here manages to stay so friendly and easy going.

There is a shuttle from the Hertz office to the terminal, but given that it’s only a two minute walk, that hardly seems worth it – even with the rain.

Check-in

The terminal building is a strange place. The check-in area is in a part of the terminal which looks as though it’s much newer than the rest of the building. There are four rows of check-in counters, but half of them look as though they haven’t been used in years. I’m also not really sure what to make of the seventies style wood panelling everywhere.

In any case, I’m already checked in, but I still need to drop off my enormous suitcase. My first stop is at one of the Aerlingus self-service machines, but apparently they will only issue a boarding pass but not the baggage tag. So eventually I just head over to the check-in counter. Aerlingus has six counters in Shannon, but only one is manned when I arrive for check in.

The Lounge

The departure gates are located one floor up from the check-in area. Luckily, the security check point is deserted when I arrive, which, as far as the Irish are concerned, is another great opportunity to have a little natter before sending me on my way. This must be just about the nicest security check I’ve ever undergone!

Aerlingus does not have its own lounge in Shannon, but Executive Club Silver passengers flying on Aerlingus are entitled to use the Boru lounge that is operated by Shannon airport.

The lounge is small but nicely laid out. The toilets are clean and there’s even a shower. As far as food goes, it’s really just hot and cold drinks and snacks to eat – things like scones and cake.

Boarding

There are two separate queues for boarding. One for Priority passengers, and one for everyone else. Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure.

The Cabin

This aircraft is in the same layout as that of my inbound flight. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think it’s the same plane. Today I’m seated on the emergency exit on 12A, which is the first of the two emergency exit rows on the A 320. Row 12 is the best place to sit, I think. On the one hand, because in addition to the extra legroom, the fact that it’s an exit row means the passengers in the row before cannot recline their seats. While at the same time, because the next row is also an emergency exit, the extra pitch means you won’t have the person sitting behind you grinding their kneecaps into your lower back. Unless of course, the person behind you is the tall, blond M. with his awfully long legs.

The Crew

The crew are friendly, like everybody else I met on this trip to Ireland. The purser in an elderly gentleman who, quite frankly, looks as though he started his flying career back in the days of the elegant Vickers Viscount. Perhaps that also explains his excellent manners and customer care. I think he’s brilliant!

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, I buy a Coke Zero which sets me back EUR2.50. Which is reasonable for a 0.33l can.

Arrival

Initially, the flight time is announced as one hour, which would have meant us arriving in Heathrow at 18h30. But instead we’re kept circling for a while before we make the approach. So that eventually, by the time we come to a stop on our designated stand, it’s already 19h05.

The Aerlingus gates in Terminal 2 are very conveniently located a very short walk away from the luggage belts. If you’re arriving from Ireland you will not have to go through immigration in the UK. At least not until the end of March.

My first stop after I exit through customs is at Marks & Spencer’s to get some food. And then from there I head down into the bowels of the Queen’s Terminal to catch the complimentary rail shuttle to Terminal 4.

All in all, from exiting the aircraft to entering my hotel room it takes me slightly more than ninety minutes. Mainly, because the shuttle to Terminal 4 only runs very thirty minutes at 03 and 33 past the hour.

Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Shannon

Transfer in Heathrow

My flight from Basel arrives in Terminal 5, which is served only by British Airways and Iberia. My flight with Aer Lingus will be departing from Terminal 2, the Queen’s Terminal. I follow the signs for flight connections to other terminals, which eventually takes me one floor down to ground level. From here, there is a regular airside shuttle service to Terminal 2. The journey time by bus is roughly ten minutes. It’s kind of nice, a bit like taking a tour of the airport. On the way, we pass British Airways’ impressive line-up of long-haul aircraft parked at the B satellite of Terminal 5.

Once the bus arrives at Terminal 2, I head one floor up for security and another floor up to immigration, even though I’m only changing planes in Heathrow. On a side note, there is a separate channel for passengers continuing their journey to Ireland and the UK, although I’m not even sure there are any domestic flights out of Terminal 2. And then once that’s done, I’m airside.

The Lounge

The Aer Lingus lounge is located one floor up from the public airside area. The entrance is opposite the escalators. The lounge is fairly large and the interior is welcoming, if somewhat worn in places. There’s a decidedly Irish touch to the place, with bright green carpets that have been designed to look like grass.

And the toilets are certainly better than those in the British Airways lounge back in Terminal 5! Other than that though, drink and food choices are limited. In fact, there is only a pot of creamy chicken soup by way of proper food. Other than that, it’s really just biscuits and packets of crisps.

The location of the lounge gives you a good view of the outside and the threshold of runway 09L. Unfortunately though, there is this metal construction in front of the windows which kind of obstructs the view. But it’s still good enough.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 14h40 for a 15h20 departure. In fact, by the time I reach the gate at 14h45, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. The flight has a good load, but is not fully booked, and there are still a few empty seats. Luckily, the middle seat on my row also stays empty.

The Cabin

Aer Lingus operates its short-haul fleet in an Economy Class only configuration. Although I recently heard that they were considering reintroducing a sort of Business Class on some routes.

The seats are in dark blue leather and are nicely padded and comfortable. The seat pitch is also very good. The headrest is adjustable.

The Crew

The crew consists of five middle aged ladies. They’re not overly friendly, but their service is professional and polite towards the passengers. The flight time is given as one hour.

The Meal

Food is buy on board on Aer Lingus. Once we’re airborne, I order a cup of tea for EUR3.

The one thing that strikes me about Aer Lingus, is that the atmosphere in the cabin is always quite pleasant and relaxed. And today’s flight is no different. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Aer Lingus’ passengers are just used to the concept of buy on board. As a result, you don’t get that undercurrent of resentment from both the crews and the passengers about having to fork out for a drink and a snack.

Arrival

We land in Shannon on time and the weather is horrible. The apron is fairly quiet, save for two Ryanair flights that are in the final stages of boarding, with passengers hurrying along to get out of the pouring rain. I guess that’s one way to speed up the boarding process… At least Aer Lingus has the decency to use an airbridge.

The terminal building at Shannon airport really is exceptionally ugly. It’s old and any work that has been done in recent years has been done primarily to expand the facility, but obviously not to embellish. But never mind, it’s a passenger terminal, not a five star hotel.

The flying Dutchman has rented a car, which we’ll need to get from Limerick, where the hotel is, to the venue of the course. The journey by car from the airport into Limerick takes under thirty minutes.

British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

Introduction

Next round. It’s Sunday morning and I’m on my way to the airport again. This time though, my trip will be starting from Basel instead of Zürich. I’m on my way to give two courses back to back. I will be joined on both trips by the flying Dutchman, P., who I should be meeting in Heathrow.

Getting to the Airport

The journey by car from the main railway station to Basel airport takes about fifteen minutes to complete. Being early Sunday morning, there’s hardly any traffic and I seem to be hitting all the green lights.

Check-in

Because I’ll be gone for two weeks, I’m travelling with a suitcase this time. Which means my first stop once I get to the airport will be at the check-in counters. I did try checking in online, but apparently the interface between British Airways and Aer Lingus doesn’t work very well, because the BA website is unable to generate a boarding pass in the app to download into the passbook app, and the Aer Lingus app can’t do it either because they have no ticket data for my onward connection.

This also means that I’m randomly assigned a seat on the Aer Lingus flight that I can’t change in the app. They actually want to put me on an aisle seat!

But all’s well that ends well. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to my final destination and also changes my seat from an aisle to a window seat.

British Airways checks-in in the Swiss sector of the airport.

The Skyview Lounge

Many moons ago, the benefits of flying in and out of Basel were that a) the airport is much smaller than Zürich and therefore b) less busy and c) only fifteen minutes away from my home. But ever since the Schengen treaty was suspended at Basel airport, it’s really not so much fun anymore. Security has been tightened, so that at any given time, the queue is rarely shorter than fifteen to twenty minutes. What’s more, the lounge is located before you go through immigration. And with all the additional flights that are now being handled as non-Schengen departures, the queues at immigration have increased too.

Of course, it doesn’t help that humanity appears to have a natural compulsion to congregate like sheep the moment they step into an airport and also seem to think that, surely, the 100ml rule can’t possibly apply to them too…

The SkyView lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, although admittedly, you wouldn’t think so to look at the photo I’ve posted. It’s just that most passengers tend to go upstairs where all the food, the views and the open air viewing terrace are located. Although the latter seems to be functioning more as the smoking area in this cold weather.

Boarding

British Airways seem to have this paranoia about starting the boarding process as early as possible in order to avoid any departure delays which could see you holding over London for what seems like an eternity later on. Which is why boarding for today’s flight start forty minutes before departure.

British Airways has this nifty boarding process, whereby status holders and Business Class passengers queue according to the group indicated on their boarding pass. Only once the queues for groups 1, 2 and 3 have been cleared, does boarding for the general riffraff begin.

The Cabin

Fortunately, I’ve managed to secure an emergency exit row seat for the flight to London. And thank god for that, because since the European fleet has been refurbished, your only chance as an average sized adult to squeeze your legs into a standard row is either to sit sideways or to spread your legs wider than is modestly acceptable in public…

On a positive note, the headrest has sides that can be folded up to support your bonce if you need to nap.

Luckily, the flight is not full today, so the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays empty.

The Crew

The crew are friendly enough. Their service is polite but very formal. I can’t really say anything much else about them.

The Meal

Service in Economy Class is buy on board. British Airways has teamed up with British retailer Marks & Spencer to provide inflight catering in the back of the bus.

I have a Twining mint tea and the box set of vegetarian sandwiches. There are four sandwich quarters in the box. The sandwiches are: boiled egg with tomato, cucumber and cream cheese, cheddar cheese and tomato and boiled egg with lettuce.

Arrival

The flight time to London is one hour and ten minutes. Surprisingly, there’s no hold up at all, despite the fact that we’re running early. By the time we reach the gate, we’re just over thirty minutes early.

And now, I have to transfer to Terminal 3.

Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190: Luxembourg to Zürich

Getting to the Airport

It’s only just gone 13h on Friday afternoon, and the flying Dutchman P. has kindly offered to drive me to the airport. I suspect he probably just took pity on me, after I’d been nagging the whole week about how cold it was in Luxembourg…

The journey by car from Kirchberg to the airport takes about fifteen minutes in moderately busy traffic.

Check-in

At Luxembourg airport, Lufthansa and SWISS check-in on rows 15 to 17. There are also self-service machines available. I’ve checked in on the app.

Before the security checkpoint in Luxembourg, Luxair ground staff check to make sure that passengers’ hand luggage is within the permissible dimensions and weight. And they’re quite strict about it.

The Lounge

The lounge is still quiet. It tends to get a lot busier after 17h. So I grab myself a seat with a good view of the runway. And then I while away my time reading and watching the landing and departing aircraft.

The lounge in Luxembourg is nice. However, in order to accommodate all the passengers that use the facility, seating in the lounge is rather tight.

There are no showers in the lounge and as far as catering is concerned, only cold snacks are available. Although they do have some tasty cakes on offer too…

Boarding

The flight is delayed arriving from Zürich. No reason is given for the delay by the gate attendants nor later on by the crew. In any case, as a result, boarding starts about fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Once boarding is completed, the captain comes on to inform us that there will be a further delay of ten minutes because we’re going to have to de-ice on stand first. Eventually, we depart with a delay of thirty minutes.

The Cabin

This aircraft has a cabin divider to separate the Business Class cabin from Economy. But this is not always the case with Helvetic Airways. I’m not sure what the logic here is. I suspect that perhaps those aircraft assigned to SWISS are equipped with a cabin divider, whereas those operating for Helvetic Airways are not.

Pitch is good good enough on the first row, and definitely much better than the rows behind.

There are two rows of Business Class and three of the four available seats are occupied.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight and the maître de serving the Business Class cabin is an absolute delight. She’s still quite young and seems a bit reserved or formal. But her manners are flawless. Every time she addresses one of the passengers, she uses their family name. And later during the short flight, when she comes to clear the tray tables, she makes a point of asking each passenger individually if they enjoyed the meal.

As usual, a small bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel are handed out once boarding is completed.

Once de-icing is done, we push back from the gate. The flight time to Zürich is expected to be 45 minutes. But somewhere along the line we receive a shortcut or something, because eventually we land in Zürich after a flight time of only 39 minutes.

The Meal

The meal is more of a snack really, and consists of the usual three ramekins. Today we have salmon tartar, a cheese mousse with beetroot and apple crumble.

The salmon tartar and the crumble are good, but the cheese mousse thing is horrible and has a rather unappealing texture.

Arrival

As we approach Switzerland, the weather starts to improve. At some point during our steep descent, the aircraft banks left to fly in an easterly track. As we come out of the bank, the Alps come in to view. They’re all covered in snow and look so majestic, towering above the clouds.

We land at 16h09 and make our way to one of the open stands alongside runway 28. Fortunately, SWISS has remembered to send out the dedicated Business Class bus to pick us up (which isn’t always the case…). And with only three passengers we’re quickly off towards the terminal.

Saturday I’ll have the day off. But then on Sunday I’m on the move again.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Luxembourg

Introduction

It’s Monday morning. The holiday is over and I’m back to work. Today marks the first in a number of business trips that will see me travelling more or less nonstop until March. Still, never mind. If I close my eyes and listen carefully, I can still hear the waves breaking on Manly Beach…

Getting to the Airport

I take the 06h07 train from Basel, which is an ICE – my favourite. At Zürich main station I change to the 07h05, which ejects me at Zürich airport just fifteen minutes later.

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the SWISS app as usual. The boarding pass still won’t show up on my locked screen and I suspect that’s not about to change any time soon. The check-in area and security are surprisingly quiet. The flight to Luxembourg leaves at 09h05, so maybe I just managed to miss the morning rush.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

I’m in dire need of a coffee, which is why I head straight for the SWISS lounge to re-caffeinate. I try using the e-gate to enter the lounge, but the display is showing an error message. So I approach the desk and explain my predicament to the lounge dragon. She smiles and explains in a mocking tone that it’s not working because everything at SWISS is of such superior quality… I get that she was probably going for some comic relief with her apology, but I still find it somewhat alienating that she would take the piss at the company she represents to do so.

Other than that, I don’t know what it is about this lounge, but for some reason I really don’t feel comfortable here. The place just feels a bit sterile. Other than that, there’s hardly any space left to sit, unless you feel like making a new acquaintance and sitting at a table with strangers.

So I quickly down my coffee and head for the gate, which at least has the much better views.

Boarding

Boarding starts with an initial call for the premium passengers to board through the manned exit on the left. Once that’s done, the remaining passengers are invited to board using one of the electronic gates.

The Cabin

I’d really like to know just how much time and money SWISS invests in all the aircraft changes it does. Since I booked this flight, the aircraft type operating the flight has changed at least five times, but it now looks as though an Airbus A 220-300 will be deployed.

The cabin is in pristine condition. The two benefits for the passenger when flying with the A 220 are the large windows on the one hand, and the fact that the seating configuration is 2 + 3.

I’m seated on 1A, a window seat. The aisle seat on 1C is kept empty in Business Class.

The Crew

I’m assuming there are three cabin crew on the flight today. The Business Class cabin is served by the maître de, a young man who is probably German, at least that’s my guess based on his accent. The crew seem friendly enough, although clearly the young man is probably more interested in flirting with one of the female flight attendants than in attending to the passengers.

When I arrive at my seat, a small bottle of still water as well as a pre-packed wet towel have already been placed at my seat.

We push back on time. The flight time to Luxembourg is announced as 45 minutes.

The Meal

The meal consists of the usual three items: a brioche with salmon, which is always good, a small ramekin of Bircher Müsli and another ramekin with fresh fruit.

I like the presentation of the meal, which is simple and yet elegant. The quality of the food is also good.

To drink I request a coffee, which is served in a cardboard cup and tastes just vile. The highlight of the meal, of course, is the small chocolate bar.

Arrival

By the time we reach Luxembourg, the weather has improved significantly. It’s a lovely day up here. We land at 09h55. One of the nice things about flying SWISS to Luxembourg is that SWISS always insists on having a contact stand, which mean you can avoid the tedious bus shuttle from the aircraft to the terminal building. Generally speaking, I don’t mind taking a bus, because at least that allows you to take photos of your aircraft as you disembark. But here in Luxembourg, they don’t actually have proper airport busses and instead use what appear to be decommissioned public transport busses, which are usually too small for all the passengers disembarking from a plane.

Once I’m landside again, I catch the bus 16 which takes me directly to my office in Kirchberg.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris CDG to Zürich

Transfer in Paris Roissy

I must admit that I am just slightly worried about my connection in Paris. After all, Roissy is a big place that sprawls over a vast area. Fortunately, it turn out that Terminals 2E and 2F are connected to each other and within walking distance. So I needn’t have worried, because the whole process is swift and effortless.

There are separate queues for SkyPriority passengers for both security and immigration, which make the transfer painless. Twenty minutes after I exit the aircraft from Singapore, I’m already sitting in the lounge in Terminal 2F. My flight will be departing from gate F50.

The Lounge

The pier has been completely redone since my last visit. And the lower level, which is also where the lounge is, has been extended to create an entirely new floor.

The lounge is already busy. But I’ll only be here for about thirty minutes anyway, to grab a coffee and go to the loo before my onward connection to Zürich.

Boarding

Boarding starts on time and it looks as though it’s going to be a full flight, because they’ve already started labelling the larger items of hand luggage of passengers sitting in Economy Class to take down into the aircraft’s hold.

The Cabin

Today I’m seated on 2A. The pitch is fairly tight on the second row. Once boarding is completed, I notice that 1D and 1F are still available. But eventually I decide that 2A isn’t that tight and I can’t be bothered to move again. I’m tired.

This morning there are five rows of Business Class and it looks as though the forward cabin is full.

The Crew

The flight attendant serving Business Class is this big, friendly woman and she’s either totally cool or has nerves of steel. Because her service is friendly and unhurried. She’s doing a full tray service, serving twenty passengers individually and on her own with a flight time of only 55 minutes.

The Meal

The meal consists of:

cooked ham with pickled vegetables

a selection of cheese and chorizo soufflé

milk rice & strawberry tartare

The breakfast tray has a good size and combines a nice selection of different tastes and flavours. No sooner has the flight attendant handed the passenger behind me their tray, the captain comes on and announces the top of descent. But our flight attendant is hardly impressed and just carries on regardless. Excellent!

Arrival

Being early on a Sunday morning means we’ll be making an approach for runway 34. Which is good news, because it means they’ll be bringing us in over lake Zurich and closer to the Alps, which look lovely covered in snow.

Eventually we land at 08h40. By the time we taxi to the gate it’s 08h50. And that brings to an end my Australian adventure. Tomorrow I’ll be off again, but nowhere near as nice as Australia.

Conclusion

All I can say is that this trip has firmly established Air France as one of my favourite airlines. The consistency of the product, the friendliness and professionalism of their staff, as well as the very high quality and quantity of the food make it a real pleasure to travel with Air France. I also think that both Air France and Roissy airport have made an impressive effort these last few years to upgrade and improve their service and the customer experience. I shall look forward to my next trip with them!

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300ER: Singapore to Paris CDG

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Introduction

In Singapore I’m staying at the Changi Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has direct access to Terminal 3. I spend a blissfully lazy Saturday by the pool. I mean, what else could you possibly ask for? I have a room that opens directly onto the pool, it’s warm outside and all I have to do to watch the aeroplanes taking off is to look up from my Kindle whenever I hear one thundering by.

Getting to the Airport

To get from the hotel to Terminal 1, I exit the hotel on the second floor level and do two right turns, which brings me to the Skytrain station for the short trip across to Terminal 1.

Check-in

The Air France check-in counters are on the very first row of counters when you enter Terminal 1 coming from the direction of the Skytrain. You really can’t miss them.

Online check-in is available, but it is not possible to save the boarding pass to Passbook or to have it printed. Still, it makes no difference to me, seeing as I’ll be checking in a suitcase anyway. There is one counter for La Première, four for SkyPriority and two baggage drop-off counters for Economy Class passengers.

There’s a bit of a hold up checking in. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the agents are taking their sweet time processing the passengers. Although admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that there’s one woman travelling on her own with, and I kid you not, five large Rimowa suitcases, four rucksacks, two laptop bags and one handbag. When the check-in agent breaks the news to her that, surprisingly, she’s exceeded her baggage allowance, she looks totally surprised…

The Lounge

Air France uses the DNATA lounge in Terminal 1, which is fairly big but also very busy when I arrive. There’s hardly anywhere left to sit. The lounge has a good selection of hot and hold dishes and a wide selection of drinks. Other than that, it’s not a particularly memorable lounge.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from gate D34, and on the boarding pass it says that boarding will commence at 22h30 for the 23h10 departure. I figure 22h30 indicates the time to report at the gate for the security check. Luckily, there is a separate and much shorter queue for SkyPriority passengers. Just as I’m packing away my things, boarding for the flight starts, with an invitation for SkyPriority passengers to board first.

The Cabin

On the Boeing B 777-300ER Air France has a reverse herringbone configuration, with the window seats facing towards the windows for more privacy. The seat is fully lie-flat and has more than enough storage space. USB and electricity plugs are also available. The seat is quite wide, so that when in the fully flat position, there’s still enough space to toss and turn in your sleep.

There are two Business Class cabins, one forward of the L2 door and the other aft of it. I am sitting in the forward cabin on 4A, which is the second row in the forward cabin with four rows of seats.

The cabin and seat are kept in Air France’s colours – white, red and blue – and look very attractive and fresh. When I arrive at my seat, a pillow, blanket and slippers have already been placed at my seat.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are excellent. They’re quite senior and they do an outstanding job. Throughout the flight they’re checking that the snack bar is replenished and the toilets are regularly checked, kept stocked and clean.

The Service

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of champagne or fruit juice on the tray, but other drinks are also available on request. After that, scented hot towels are handed out.

The flight time is announced at thirteen hours and twenty minutes.

Once we’re airborne, the crew distribute the menus and pass through the cabin with a tray offering more champagne.

The Meal

Originally, the plan was that I’d eat in the lounge and just go straight off to sleep once we’re airborne. Which is why I nearly overdosed on the creamy mashed potatoes they had in the lounge. That and the fact that I’m just a sucker for a good plate of mash… In any case, I make the mistake of looking at the menu and decide that it does all sound rather interesting. And I’m not really tired yet anyway, so… bugger it. I’m in! The tray arrives with the first course, the salad and the cheese already on it.

First Course

Semi-cooked tuna in a black pepper crust, served on quinoa salad and poached shrimp on a citrus salad with cucumber and a yuzu vinaigrette.

This is a tasty dish and the presentation works well. It’s also properly seasoned (which is something Singapore Airlines didn’t manage quite so well…).

Salad

The salad comes with a small bottle of balsamico mixed with olive oil. It’s mostly leaves but it’s still a fairly large salad. With that the crew offer a selection of breads.

Main Course

Penne with a mushroom ragout, roast tomatoes and garlic oil.

There is a choice of four different dishes for the main course. The pasta is good and has managed not to go all hard and rubbery as it sometimes tends to do on a plane. The ragout is flavourful and creamy.

The Cheese

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anywhere what the cheeses are, but they’re very good!

Dessert

Chocolate praline éclair, violet mousse, yuzu meringue tart and strawberry sorbet.

For dessert there is a choice of either ice cream (banana, vanilla or strawberry sorbet) or three small pastries. I initially go for the pastries, but then the flight attendant tells me that the strawberry sorbet out of Singapore is usually rather nice too. Just in case I’m interested. Oh very well then, bring it on. Je souffre en silence…

After the meal, the crew set up a fairly substantial buffet in the galley with a good selection of some delectable French sweets by Fauchon, sandwiches, noodle soups and fruit.

And I go off to the land of nod for a solid seven hours. Incidentally, the blankets Air France provides in Business Class are lovely. They’re cosy and warm and fluffy.

Amenities

The amenity kit is some special edition to commemorate Air France’s 85th jubilee. It may not necessarily look like much, but at least it contains some useful items, including eye shades, ear plugs, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, a comb, and a pen.

The Second Service

The second service begins ninety minutes out of Paris. The lights come on and passengers are given a scented hot towel to revive.

The tray arrives with the hot meal and all the other items already on it. There are three choices for the hot meal. My meal consists of:

crêpes in a vanilla sauce with a passion fruit and mango salsa

The breakfast is quite substantial and the hot meal is simply divine. This is total comfort food. The vanilla cream is rich and not overly sweet and the pancakes are light and thin.

Arrival

Just under forty minutes out of Paris, we start our initial descent into Paris. The captain comes on to inform us that we’ll be doing an automatic landing in Pairs because visibility on the ground is very bad.

We touch down, the mighty triple seven gives us one last impressive roar as the reversers open to slow us down, and then it’s done. We’ve landed and I’m back in Europe. By the time we arrive at our gate in Terminal 2E it’s already 06h10. I now have just slightly over an hour to make my connection back to Zürich from Terminal 2F.

Singapore Airlines, First Class Suites – Airbus A 380: Sydney to Singapore

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Introduction

I was going to start by saying that I’m on my way home. But given that I’ll only be home for something like 24 hours, let’s just say that, sadly, it’s time for me to leave Sydney and head back to Europe. I’ve enjoyed being here! Fortunately, I know I’ll be back next year and then I’ll be able to spend a bit more time here. Otherwise, I think I’d be seriously depressed at the prospect of returning to the cold, snowy weather!

Getting to the Airport

One last time, I make the journey on the ferry from Manly to Circular Quay. And what a lovely day it’s turned out to be for it. At Circular Quay I change to the train, which pulls into the station just as I reach the platform. The only difference is that today I will be going one stop further, to the international terminal.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row K, which is the last row of check-in counters, farthest away from the escalators that bring you up to the departures concourse. There is a separate line with two counters for Suites passengers. When I arrive, both counters are already occupied, so I’m swiftly ushered to one of the Business Class counters instead.

From check-in, you have to make the schlepp all the way back to row C, which is where the entrance to the fast track is located. Although in this case, I might as well not have bothered, because the e-gate reader cannot read my biometric passport. As a result, I have to walk all the way back in the direction from where I came, because that’s where the staffed immigration counters are located. And then once I’m through immigration, I’m ushered all the way back again in the direction of the e-gates, because that’s where they’ve just opened a new queue for security that the queue manager wants to me to join.

With that done, I’m finally airside and head straight for the Singapore Airlines Kris Lounge near gate 61, from where my flight will be leaving. And that’s quite a schlepp too.

The Silver Kris Lounge

Singapore Airlines operates its own lounges here in Sydney, and there is a dedicated First Class lounge. It’s a fairly big lounge, and I even manage to grab a seat by the windows overlooking the apron. Cool!

Once I’m seated, the waiter brings me a refreshing hot towel and the à la carte menu. There’s also a buffet with warm dishes to choose from.

The lavatories seem to be a bit of a problem at Sydney airport, in that they’re not exactly the cleanest. And those in the lounge are no different…

Boarding

Boarding starts at 11h45. Suite passengers queue with the Business Class passengers for the upper deck.

All in all, I find the Singapore Airlines Suites experience on the ground somewhat underwhelming, especially if you compare it to Air France (sorry, I can’t help it…). In fact, it feels a lot more like Business Class than First Class, but maybe that’s just me.

The Cabin

Currently, SQ 232 is the flight out of Sydney that is operates in the new First Class configuration. The key feature of the Suite is that there is a separate bed, in addition to the seat.

At a glance, the Suite looks very nice. There is a lot of storage space and the video screen is enormous. There are a few things which seem a bit strange though, such as the fake orchids in every Suite. I think either they should go for real orchids or nothing at all.

Another thing that strikes me, is that during the meal service, when the seat is turned towards the table, you’re facing the aisle, which means that during the whole meal service you and the person sitting in the Suite opposite are looking at each other. I suppose you could keep the door to your suite closed while you eat, but that just seems strange. You also can’t recline your seat when it’s in the forward facing position.

And finally, it should also be noted that the Suite is not really that private, because the dividers don’t reach that far up. I’m 184 cm tall, and could look over the top.

The Singapore Airlines Suite reminds me of what Etihad has installed on its A 380s. But I prefer Singapore Airlines’ solution, because despite the things I mentioned above, this still is a very nice product. What’s more, with all the available space it feels more like an actual room than a seat.

Oh yes, and the loos are huge…!

B&O earphones, the amenity kit and the menu are already at my seat when I arrive. There are also socks and slippers, which are stored in the large closet of each Suite. Once I’m seated, the crew come to welcome me on board and bring me, in short sequence, a glass of Perrier with lemon, a refreshing towel and the pyjamas. The lead flight attendant in the red kebaya introduces herself to me and explains how everything in the Suite works.

The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough. They’re chatty and engage easily with the passengers. There’s not a hint of the robotic behaviour the Singapore Airlines crews are sometimes criticised for. I think what it is, is that the whole service comes across like a highly optimised process. As a result, it doesn’t exactly feel very exclusive.

As I already mentioned, while we’re still on the ground the crew offer refreshments and I ask for a glass of sparkling water with lemon.

Once we’re airborne, another crew member comes to take my order for lunch and asks me at what phase of the flight I’d like to eat. Given that it’s already gone lunch time, I tell her I’d prefer to eat straight away.

A short while later, she returns with the Singapore Sling I ordered (I mean, what else…?) and a small bowl of warm nuts.

The Meal

The meal service on this flight is efficient and timed at a pleasant pace. Clearly, the crew want to make sure passengers have enough time to rest. About one hour after our departure from Sydney, the table is set for the meal. There is no amuse bouche to start, but there are so many courses that it’s probably better this way.

The First Course

Seared Salmon with pickled kohlrabi and an edamame and wasabi purée. The salmon is good, but the rest of the dish is a bit bland. I think maybe the food is still too cold, because I can hardly make out any of the other tastes.

The Soup

Sweetcorn and shellfish soup with herb oil. Now this is a very flavourful soup with a hint of saffron. It tastes like summer on the Mediterranean.

The Salad

Honey roasted beet salad with feta cheese. The salad is also very good, with the feta complementing the beets nicely.

The Main Course

Pan roasted grouper with salsa verde. I chose this dish despite the fact that it’s served with fennel, which I can’t stand. I just don’t much feel like meat. The taste is good, it’s a nice piece of fish and they’ve managed to keep it moist. But again, I can’t really make out the taste of the salsa verde.

Dessert

Chocolate marquise with caramelised pecans. The dessert is okay. It’s your standard creamy chocolate airplane dessert.

The Cheese

Shadow of Blue, Mafra cloth bound Cheddar, Woombye triple Brie, Savourine goat’s cheese. The cheese is served with fruit bread and crackers. It’s a good cheese selection and I particularly like the Shadow of blue.

To drink I stick with the Perrier. I also have a glass of the 2004 Krug.

After the meal, I request for the bed to be made up for me and then I lie down to read.

Amenities

The amenity kit is by Lalique and looks rather nice. The only thing though, is that its content is utterly and completely useless. There is a small bar of soap, lip balm, body lotion… and a scented candle?

Things like tooth brushes or shaving kits are available in the toilets. Earplugs and eye shades are on request to the crew.

The slippers and pyjama that are provided are also by Lalique. I am given an XL for both the slippers and the pjs, which are just a bit too big for me but still comfortable.

The Second Service

For the second service, there is a choice of either an Angus beef burger or a selection of dim sum. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore anyway, I decide to go with the dim sum. The dish is served with a small bowl of a suitably spicy red sauce and something which I think the flight attendant said was a sort of mashed celery cake. Whatever it is, I like it.

Arrival

After a flight time of seven hours and twenty minutes the flight draws to an end. I must admit, even though I still think the A 380 is ugly as sin, it’s always an experience.

After we land, we slowly trundle along until eventually we arrive on our parking stand at Changi’s Terminal 3.

Conclusion

In the sum of all things, I enjoyed the flight. But I think a lot of that also has to do with the A 380. As for Singapore Airlines, I like the new First Class cabin because it’s spacious and roomy, although perhaps not very private. The service was okay, I guess, but nothing more. And the food was rather bland.

Qantas, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Townsville to Sydney via Brisbane

Introduction

My time with Professor Bond is a real eye-opener. I think I was able to ask him all the questions for which I was seeking answers. Having said that, he also gave me a lot of answers to questions I wasn’t even aware I had!

Getting to the Airport

The journey to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. After all, it’s still very early and there are hardly any people on the roads.

Check-in

The landside part of the terminal is disproportionately large, compared to the somewhat tight and narrow airside area at the gates.

Each one of the major airlines operating out of Townsville has its own dedicated check-in zone. I can bypass this today, because I’ve already checked in on the QANTAS app.

There is a queue for security, but it moves quickly. Of course it helps that in Australia they only want you to remove your laptop from your bag and not also your toiletries etc.

The Lounge

Once I’m through security, I only have ten minutes before boarding starts. But I’m gagging for a coffee. Much to my surprise and delight, there is actually a fairly large QANTAS lounge, where the baristas will even make you a cappuccino to go!

Boarding

So with my coffee in hand, boarding starts on time with an initial call for Business Class and frequent flyers passengers. It’s only once I settle in my seat that I realise it’s raining quite heavily outside.

The Cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin on its Boeing B 737-800 fleet. There are three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration, which makes for a total of twelve seats.

Every seat is equipped with its own video screen, an electricity plug and USB port. There is also a footrest that can be raised when the seat is in the recline position.

The wifi on board works surprisingly well.

I think the Americans in particular tend to frown upon the European interpretation of Business Class seating, which basically means blocking the middle seat on a row of bog standard Economy Class seats. Which is, admittedly, pretty lame. But it seems to me that the average sector length in Europe is probably much shorter than in vast countries like the US or Australia, and which therefore hardly warrants the installation of a more comfortable solution with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat.

The Crew

The maître de is serving the Business Class cabin and I have to say, this guy is really absolutely brilliant. His manners are impeccable! He addresses every passenger by name and no request ever seems too much for him.

The service on the ground consist of a welcome drink. There is a choice of still or sparkling water or apple juice. There are no towels, newspapers or anything.

The flight time is announced at one hour and thirty minutes.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is a choice of either Quiche Lorraine with bacon or an omelette served with a mushroom sauce, spinach and bacon. I go with the latter option.

The tray comes with two slices of sourdough bread, butter and apricot jam. There’s also some awfully healthy looking packed thingy, which I decide to steer clear of.

Later on, the maître de passes through the cabin offering cranberry muffins that are fresh out of the oven and taste lovely.

To drink with the meal, I have an orange juice, still water and a coffee. Oh yes, the coffee! Full and extra brownie points for QANTAS on the coffee front. Instead of that horrific instant stuff you get on most airlines these days, QANTAS serves a lovely brew made in a coffee press, which just tastes so much better!

Once the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with small bottles of still water and ask passengers if there’s anything else they’d like. I order a Coke Zero and then settle in to read the latest book of the PC Grant series, which my friend the wiry R. and I both find quite entertaining.

Transfer in Brisbane

We land in Brisbane about ten minutes ahead of schedule. I disembark the aircraft through gate number 23. I check on one of the FIDS, only to find that my flight to Sydney in slightly over an hour will be operated by the same aircraft from the same gate.

The glorious beauty of the English language…

Language change is unavoidable. One of the key drivers of language change is exposure of the language as it is used in a specific area to the other languages in use around it. In which case there may be regional approximation of two or more languages coexisting in that region.

Why am I even bothering you with this? In British English a thong refers to a particular type of knickers or underpants. If you look up the term on onelook.com, it will give you as a definition: ‘a piece of underwear or bottom part of a bikini with a very narrow piece of cloth at the back’. So basically, it’s the type of underpants that look as though they need to be surgically removed from your butt crack.

Which makes it all the more hilarious that when I enter the QANTAS lounge during my layover in Brisbane, the lounge dragon will not let me enter because they have ‘a strict no thongs policy’ in the lounge that she’s asking me to respect. Of course, what she’s referring are what we call flip flops in Europe that you wear on your feet.

The Meal

In any case, the only other thing worthwhile mentioning on the next leg to Sydney is that there are three options for lunch: a kale and spinach frittata, fruit salad or a smoked salmon salad. The tray comes with a large tub of blueberry yoghurt on it. The bread is served separately.

Arrival

Our arrival into Sydney is stunning. We approach the city from the north. At some point, we make a gentle left turn for the downwind, which brings us in right over Manly. In the distance I can see the harbour bridge with the opera house and CBD. It just looks so spectacular from above! I shall miss this when I leave again for Europe tomorrow.

Conclusion

I rather enjoyed these two short-haul flights in QANTAS Business Class. My previous experiences with their Business Class product have all been on longer sectors, on which the meal concept was somehow always a bit odd. So it’s good to see that this is not the case here.

To me QANTAS’ biggest selling point are definitely their crews, which are friendly, properly trained and really do represent ‘the spirit of Australia’.

Jetstar, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Sydney to Townsville

Introduction

In language testing, the Rasch model is used in psychometric measurement to determine the probability with which a minimally competent test taker will be able to provide a specific response to a particular test item correctly. This probability is interpreted as a function of the test taker’s actual language ability on the one hand, and the true level of difficulty of the item that the test taker is being subjected to and for which they must provide a response on the other hand.

As it happens, one of the leading experts on Rasch modelling is Professor Trevor Bond. Very kindly, Professor Bond has accepted for me to visit him in Townsville, QLD to pick his brain, and so that’s where I’m heading today. 

Currently, the only direct service between Sydney and Townsville is with Jetstar, QANTAS’ low-cost subsidiary. All other connections require a change of aircraft in either Cairns or Brisbane.

The booking process on the Jetstar website is tedious, especially if you’re using Firefox. In which case, you’re likely not going to be able to complete the booking. Safari works reasonably well though.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport, I make the same journey I did on Monday, when I flew to Melbourne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Because the journey by ferry from Manly to Sydney is just so beautiful and tranquil.

Check-in

Jetstar has an app, but obviously it’s not foreseen that people from outside Australia and a few Asian countries might also fly Jetstar. Which is why the app is not available for me to download onto my Swiss mobile.

You will receive a link to the web check-in page with the e-ticket confirmation you receive by mail and then one day before departure by SMS. But you will still have to print the boarding pass at home or at one of the self-service devices at the airport.

Jetstar operates out of domestic Terminal 2, along with all other domestic carriers except QANTAS.

Airside

My flight will be departing from gate 53, which is both good and bad. It’s good, because from gate 53 you have an unobstructed view of the aircraft on the approach. It’s bad, because really I should be reading up on objective standard setting in Professor Bond’s book without distraction, to brush up a little before I meet him. But it’s like a compulsion, every time I see movement from the corner of my eye, I have to stop and look up to check what airline/type it is…

Boarding

Boarding starts with a minor delay. As I pass the gate, the attendant checking my boarding pass asks me if I’m aware of the fact that I’m sitting on the emergency exit. I tell her I am, but her next question catches me slightly off guard, because she asks me when was the last time I flew and sat on the emergency exit? I do a quick think and tell her that must have been two days previously. And for some reason that catches her off guard. Eventually though, she smiles and wishes me a pleasant flight.

The Cabin

The cabin looks well-kept and clean. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, probably not, but the orange colour in the Jetstar logo, which also features in the cabin, seriously reminds me of easyJet. But maybe that just lies in the nature of the beast.

The seat is comfortable enough for a flight of more than two hours and the seat pitch on the emergency exit it good.

There are no video screens or electricity/USB plugs available for passengers on board this aircraft.

The Crew

There are five cabin crew on this flight. The young man standing by the emergency exits is kind of strange, because he looks preoccupied and rather unhappy. But I think it must be just his normal face, because he’s actually rather friendly and accommodating once the flight gets underway.

The Meal

The Jetstar website allows you to purchase a whole list of ancillary services, including seat reservations, ‘comfort kits’, and food. I order the sandwich trio online, which comes with a hot drink included.

The sandwich is good. It’s probably one of the better sandwiches I’ve had on a low-cost carrier, actually.

Arrival

The flight to Townsville takes two hours and fifteen minutes. The landscape on the approach is fascinating. It’s quite hilly and very green.

The airport sprawls over a vast area, mainly because it is a mixed military and civilian facility. The actual passenger terminal is rather small, with only a handful of gates and no segregation of arriving and departing passengers, which gets a bit tight during deplaning on a short turn around…

It takes me all of three minutes from stepping off the plane to arriving curb side, where I’ve arranged to meet Professor Bond.

Conclusion

There really isn’t very much I can say about Jetstar. They delivered me to Townsville safely. Other than that, the flight was unremarkable and calm. Pretty much like taking the bus actually.