KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Amsterdam to Bergen

Transfer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Schiphol overtook Frankfurt a while back as Europe’s third busiest airport. And I think it’s beginning to show. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. Where previously one of the airport’s strongest points was the abundance of space within the terminal building for passengers to move about, it’s now starting to get very crowded. But it’s still one of my favourite airports.

Airside

I decide not to take any photos of the lounge, because it’s crawling with people. And you don’t want to piss people off when they’re probably already tired from a long working day or just from the labours of travel, right?

It’s interesting to watch though, how quickly the lounge empties at some point, as KLM’s evening outbound wave of flights gets underway, including mine.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from C18, which is at the very end of the C pier. The flight is operated by a Boeing B 737-800 and according to the gate agent, it’s going to be a full flight. They’re making announcements offering to check Economy Class passengers’ luggage free of charge.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on this flight, and a total of five passengers. I’m sitting on 1A and I have the whole row of seats to myself.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are fabulous. One is a gentleman who probably looks older than he is, because his hair and beard are completely white. The other is a younger gentleman of South Asian descent. And he’s just so camp. Which is totally okay, it’s just that his effeminate mannerisms are completely at odds with the fact that he’s built like a brick shit house, as my granddad used to say.

In any case, the two of them keep the whole of the Business Class well entertained throughout the flight and take excellent care of the passengers. 1D is an elderly lady. She’s alert but looks very frail. The care and gentleness with which the cabin crew treat her is just outstanding. They take all the time in the world with her, making sure she’s comfortable but without ever being patronising in that way many people tend to be around elderly people.

The older one of the two is the maître de. As soon as the doors close, he welcomes every passenger aboard by name and shakes each passenger’s hand. From then on, whenever he or the younger crew member address the passengers, it’s always by name. More on that later…

The Meal

The meal is comparable to the one I had on the Zürich to Amsterdam leg. Only on this flight it’s not shrimps but a very nice chunk of hot smoked salmon. And it’s very tasty! I don’t know if this is a seasonal thing or just a new feature, but on this flight KLM also has fresh apple juice on offer, and it really is very tasty. It’s quite addictive actually!

After the meal I ask for a cup of mint tea, which is served with one of those Punselies biscuits.

Arrival

We land in Bergen just before 23h. It’s been a long day! Since my last visit the terminal building in Bergen has been significantly expanded. And with the expansion they’ve also extended the city’s tram line to the airport. As a result, there are now a number of options to get into town: a taxi will take about twenty minutes and costs a staggering NOK700. Then there’s the airport bus, which takes about the same amount of time as the taxi but only costs NOK110. And finally, the journey by tram will take about 45 minutes, but only costs NOK36.

I take the bus, mainly because I know from a previous visit that it stops right in front of my hotel.

Epilogue

So about the KLM crew on this flight: I return home from Bergen the following day, on Wednesday. As I step aboard the plane, I recognise the crew from the previous day. They’ve obviously night stopped in Bergen. The maître de takes a look at me and says ‘Mr. A., you’re back again. You know, I think you travel too much! Where are you sitting?’ I mean, I’m already surprised they recognise my face. But the fact that they both still remember my name is quite surprising.

Later on, as I disembark the plane in Amsterdam, the maître de wishes me a safe onward journey, while the younger one says good bye and asks me ‘I guess we’ll probably be seeing you again tomorrow or so?’

I must say, I’m quite exhausted from all my travels at this stage. And I’m so happy that I won’t be getting on a plane again until week after next. But I also have to say that it’s people like the crew on this flight that make such a difference. Of course they can’t replace your friends and family back home, but at least they can relieve some of the hassle of travel, by making you feel just a little bit less anonymous as the passenger.

KLM, gents: you were just brilliant. Thank you!

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

On Tuesday afternoon I leave the office just before 16h. I’m catching the 16h01 train to the airport for a 17h30 departure with KLM to Amsterdam. It’s a lovely day here in Winterthur, with nice sunny weather and balmy temperatures. And apparently it’s been like this since last week. Which is more than I can say about my recent trip to Malta.

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the KLM app, which has been working a bit more reliably recently. If you’re using the KLM app, the boarding pass of your next flight with them will show up on your locked screen, so you can just swipe it at the gate. In Zürich, KLM checks in at row 2 of check-in 2.

Airside

Today I am certainly not going to visit the contractor lounge, because… yes! It’s so nice out that the terrace of the sports bar is open. There’s no service out there yet. Or rather, if you want something you have to order it at the bar and then take it outside yourself. But hey, I’m here for the view.

And it really is a lovely view. The aircraft come up really close to the terrace and as they apply thrust to move off stand, you get a glorious whiff of kerosene fumes. And as my luck will have it, the KLM flight arrives just a short while later and comes to a stop on the stand closes to the terrace!

Boarding

Boarding starts on time, at 17h00. There is a first boarding call for Business Class passengers, before everybody else is invited to get aboard.

The Cabin

There are six rows of Business Class, for a total of 24 seats. The cabin is not quite full though, and as a result I have a whole row of three all to myself.

I’m not sure if this applies to all seats, but on row 3, where I’m seated, there are two electricity plugs on either side of the middle seat.

The seat pitch is good. The one thing I don’t like though, is that the recline of the seat back, even in the upright position, is just a bit too slanted. I always feel like I’m half lying down and about to slide off the seat.

The Crew

There are two middle aged ladies working the Business Class cabin. As usual on KLM, they’re chirpy and chatty. One of them is a big fan of Switzerland, and has even picked up a few bits and pieces of Swiss German, much to the entertainment of the passengers as she tries out her language skills with the m as the board. It’s really quite funny, but in a very charming way.

Like Lufthansa, KLM does not provide any service on the ground. No welcome drinks or anything of the sort. The flight time is announced as 1 hour and 15 minutes, which means we should be arriving in Amsterdam at 18h55, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

The Meal

As soon as the crew is released, the service begins. Every passenger is served individually from the galley. The meal consists of:

A small plate of salad with chilli shrimps, served with olive oil.

A small ramekin of marinated vegetables and feta cheese with couscous – served with rolls from the breadbasket.

To be honest, my opinion of the meal is… meh. The shrimps have an off-putting fishy smell, the salad is limp and the dessert is what it is. KLM has been serving this type of dessert for years, and I don’t know why they bother trying to explain what it is on the menu, because whether it’s passionfruit mousse or raspberry coulis, it always tastes the same.

At least that’s my excuse for asking for some of those fabulous smoked almonds KLM caters. I love those, they’re seriously addictive. A bit like the Twistees I had on Air Malta on Sunday… I ask the flight attendant if perhaps I could have a packet. She saunters off and returns a short while later with five packets of the delectable almonds. Hurrah! I think it would be a shame to waste them… and rude to turn them down.

And so I spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle, snacking on almonds and enjoying the spectacular sunset we’re being treated to.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Amsterdam at 18h55, just as the pilot had announced in Zürich. But we’ve landed on 18R, so that by the time we reach our stand at gate C4, we’re running five minutes late! I now have two hours to make my connection.

Lufthansa Cityline, Business Class – Bombardier CRJ-900: Frankfurt to Basel

Transfer in Frankfurt

My flight from Malta comes to an end at the C pier, which is just about the worst thing that can happen to you if you’re connecting through Frankfurt onto another Schengen flight. Because although passengers exit into the Schengen area, the moment you step out of the gate, you’re no longer in the secured area, which means that for my onward flight to Basel from the A pier, I am going to have to go through security again – which is kind of missing the point.

There is a separate security line for premium passengers. But somehow they even manage to screw that up in Frankfurt, because the queue for security at the premium lane is actually much longer than the regular Economy Class queues.

Boarding

By the time I’m airside, it’s just coming up to eight in the evening. The flight should start boarding in about twenty minutes. As it’s on my way anyway, I decide to stop briefly in the lounge. As it turns out, the place is far more crowded than the public airside area. There are people everywhere and there literally isn’t any place at all to sit. There are people milling around randomly, holding a glass of beer in one hand while trying to hold a plate of food and eat at the same time with the other hand.

Boarding is from a bus gate of course, which is never pleasant in Frankfurt, because you end up driving through the bowels of the terminal facility, stop starting all the way, before being ejected on the apron.

The Crew

There are two middle aged female cabin crew on the flight and they both so couldn’t give a shit it’s not even funny anymore. The one working the rear cabin has a set facial expression that is very much reminiscent of a bulldog – I think it’s the drooping jowls that help to create the effect after having spent too many years glaring at passengers without smiling.

The more senior flight attendant is not much better. Her announcements are made without any interest, professionalism, intonation or even pausing. Does she ever stop to breathe? Once the service begins, 1A asks her what there’s on offer to drink. To which her only reply is that she really hasn’t got time for this and that he should just tell her what he wants. She’ll be sure to tell him if they haven’t got in on board. Charming, I’m sure.

The Meal

The tray table on the empty seat next to me is down. I opened it to put my glasses on it. When the flight attendant reaches my row, she unceremoniously plonks down a tray without saying a word and just moves on to the next row. Ehm, thanks?

Surprisingly, the meal looks nicer than the breakfast the day before. There’s a plate with antipasti:

  1. Vitello tonnato
  2. A prune rolled in bacon
  3. A mushroom filled with cream cheese
  4. A fig and a piece of blue cheese

The meal is served with bread sticks, a chocolate bar and a dessert. In addition, bread is offered separately.

Arrival

With a flight time of only thirty minutes, it’s quite impressive that Lufthansa should offer anything at all, and I really am quite surprised by the quality of the meal.

Before the crew have managed to serve all the passengers in Economy Class a drink, we’ve already started out descent into Basel. The senior flight attendant takes another very deep breath, so as not to have to interrupt to inhale and exhale while she speaks, and announces that the service shall not be completed because that villainous cad of a pilot has selfishly started the descent. I notice also that she doesn’t even consider for a moment making an apology…

Conclusion

If nothing else, avoiding Frankfurt airport is a good enough reason to not fly Lufthansa. The airport is an unattractive and inconvenient mix of randomly constructed buildings that are linked together without a concept and clearly without a thought to the unfortunate souls that have to transfer through this hovel. As for Lufthansa, I think it’s really quite tragic to see what a sad state their regional operation has degraded to. If you treat the people working for you badly, you shouldn’t expect them to treat your customers any better. And that’s okay too, but customers are fickle.

Air Malta, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Frankfurt

Introduction

So eventually the marathon had to be cancelled because of the storm. And what a storm it was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. On Sunday morning I fire up the flightradar24 app just for the fun of watching one aircraft after another executing a missed approach and coming around for a second attempt – and hoping the weather will have calmed down by the time my flight to Frankfurt leaves at 16h25…

Getting to the Airport

I leave the Hilton in St. Julian’s at around 14h20. The trip to the airport normally only takes about twenty minutes in good traffic. But given the weather situation, god knows what might happen on the way. And indeed, I do pass a car accident on the road, that was caused by a falling tree.

Check-in

There are now multipurpose machines for check-in at Malta Airport. However, seeing as I’ll have to go to a manned check-in counter anyway to pick up my invitation to the La Valette lounge, I figure I might as well go to the counter straight away.

In front of me at the dedicated Business Class counter is an Economy Class passenger who is refusing to pay for his checked luggage. But he obviously picked the wrong young lady in an Air Malta uniform, because she’s obviously not having any of his nonsense. It’s quite funny to watch. Eventually, she moves him aside and tells him she needs to check in some passengers while he decided what he wants to do. But clearly, she’s not going to give him an inch…

The Lounge

The departure lounge at the airport has become too small for the amount of traffic it handles. There are people everywhere and barely enough places to sit. Although of course there are also those who just sit on the floor out of principle, because they’re just so unconventional…

Thank god I have access to the Business Class lounge… which turns out to be unusually busy. Even so, I like this lounge, it ticks all the boxes: good views of the apron, comfortable seating and a small but nice food selection (Kinnie and pastizzi, what else…).

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. All the flights are running just a little bit late today, mainly because most of them have had to do a go around on the inbound. The distance to the plane is only a short one to walk. But it’s started to rain again, so I must say I’m rather glad when I see a bus pulling up at our gate to take us to the aircraft.

The Cabin

There are just a few minor oddities in this cabin. At a glance, it looks like your regular Air Malta cabin. However, first I notice that there is no cabin divider and no other sign to mark off the Business Class section of the aircraft from the Economy Class section, other than the headrest covers. Secondly, the seats are different. Previously, the first few rows of seats were installed with a small table between the aisle and the window seat which folded away into the back of the middle seat to convert the seat into an Economy Class configuration. But that does not seem to be the case here.

Initially, I’m seated on 1D, the aisle seat. But once boarding is completed, it becomes clear that there are three rows of Business Class for only three Business Class passengers. So I move back to 2F for a seat by the window.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on the flight. Two men and two women. The service on the ground is done by the younger one of the females, while the main service during the flight is done by the maître de. The latter is very attentive. Throughout the meal service she’s prowling the cabin. No sooner has a passenger finished their meal, she removes the tray and asks about tea or coffee.

While we’re still on the ground, the crew offer still water or orange juice as a welcome drink. They also pass through the cabin with copies of the Sunday Times of Malta.

The flight time is announced as two hours and thirty minutes. What’s more, for the very first time in my life, we’ll be departing from runway 05. This is the first runway that was ever built for the original airport after World War II. It’s only 2300 metres long and therefore only used nowadays when the wind makes it necessary. Like today.

Our take-off is surprisingly calm. It’s only bumpy for the first minute or so. As we climb out over the coast, the sea still looks really rough and quite violent.

The fasten seat belt sign is turned off only once we settle into the cruise at 34’000 feet. The crew pass through the cabin taking orders for pre-meal drinks and distributing hot towels. Of course it goes without saying that I have a Kinnie.

The Meal

Much to my surprise and delight, Air Malta offers a hot meal on its service to Frankfurt. The service consists of:

First Course

Tomato and Mozzarella salad with spinach, black olives and olive oil.

Main Course

Chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with polenta and steamed vegetables.

The Cheese

A slice of Camembert, Cheddar and Gbejna, served with two warm rolls. Gbejna is a Maltese goat cheese.

Dessert

Coconut cake with a thin layer of cream and strawberry jam.

And to conclude, I have a cup of black tea.

Once that’s over, it’s really not as though I haven’t had enough food. But I give in to my craving – which sounds so much nicer than compulsion – and buy myself a packet of Twistees from the inflight shop. Twistees are just one of those things I remember from my childhood in Malta. I don’t think you can get them anywhere else than Malta, which is why they are so closely linked to my childhood in my mind.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Frankfurt at 19h25. By the time we pull up to our assigned stand, it’s just gone 19h30 and I now have one hour to make the connection to Basel.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 320: München to Malta

Transfer in Munich

Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners all call Terminal 2 home. The bus ejects me at the main terminal building. My onward connection to Malta will be departing from K09, which is the Schengen concourse in the satellite of Terminal 2. To get there, there is an underground shuttle that runs every few minutes and makes the journey across in slightly over one minute.

This is my first trip through the satellite and I have to say, I like it. It’s very spacious and despite the many travellers, the place is very quiet.

The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

There is a Business Class and a Senator lounge in the satellite. The Business Class lounge is not very busy when I arrive, probably because it is still early on a Saturday morning.

The toilets have apparently all gone out of order at the same time. So instead, passenger have to use the toilets in the shower rooms instead.

Other than that, it seems to me the lounge’s style hasn’t really aged all that well. It’s also quite small.

Boarding

Before boarding even begins, there’s already a mob forming in front of the automatic gates. There is a separate gate for Business Class passenger, who are invited to board first, but it’s not that easy to get through with all the people milling about.

From what I can tell, it looks like it’s going to be a full flight this morning.

The Cabin

There are four rows of Business Class on this flight, and twelve out of sixteen seats are occupied, which is surprisingly high. There also seem to be a lot of French passengers on the flight.

Leg space in Business Class is excellent. I’m sitting on 2F and I have ample space to stretch my legs. The windows are also nicely aligned for some excellent outside views.

The Crew

There are two middle aged women working the Business Class cabin and they’re really excellent. Their service approach is relaxed but still professional. They interact with a lot of ease and charm with the passengers, which I think is indicative of a breed of usually senior flight attendants that have been properly trained but is sadly becoming increasingly difficult to come by these days.

Again, there is absolutely no service on the ground. However, no sooner has boarding been completed, one of the crew members passes through the cabin offering nice fluffy pillows to passengers for some additional comfort.

We depart more or less on time. The flight time is announced as a quick 1 hour and 45 minutes. We take off in an easterly direction and then do a right turn to point us south. It’s a lovely crisp morning with good visibility. A perfect day for flying really.

The Alps look beautiful from above. They’re all covered in snow and some of the valleys are still shrouded in morning mist. It’s not a bad view to go along with breakfast.

The Meal

The meal service starts shortly after take-off. This time, the trays are delivered from a tray by one of the flight attendants. The tray has on it:

A sliver of smoked salmon on rye bread with mustard and dill.

Vanilla yoghurt with berries.

A small plate with a cream cheese with radishes.

Another small plate with salami and smoked ham.

A strawberry smoothie.

Butter and strawberry jam.

The crew also pass through the cabin with a bread basket. I’m starving, but I decide to just take one bun, given that my request for another when I took this flight a year previously did not go down so well with the crew.

Surprisingly though, the crew pass through the cabin a second time with a full bread basket that contains croissants as well as buns.

Arrival

The weather stays good right up until we reach Sicily. From there on it gradually starts to cover up. The weather in Malta doesn’t look too bad though. There are some clouds in the sky but it’s mostly sunny and warm.

We land slightly ahead of schedule. Given that I only have hand luggage, I’m through to arrivals fairly quickly. I step outside and grab the X2 bus, which goes to St. Julian’s. The ticket price is EUR1.50.

Conclusion

If I’m perfectly honest, this flight was much better than I had expected. I think that partly has to do with the fact that Business Class was not entirely full. As a result, the crew were able to take their time with the service and tried very hard to make passengers feel comfortable.

Apart from that though, I do think it’s a shame how the service on Lufthansa on short-haul has been cut back to the absolute minimum. They’ve become as bad as British Airways – and I don’t mean that in a nice way! The flight was okay. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel Lufthansa.

Lufthansa Cityline, Business Class – CRJ-900: Basel to München

Introduction

I’m on my way to Malta. Tomorrow is the Malta marathon that I was planning on participating in. But it’s looking like that may not be happening after all. First of all, I have a collapsed arch, which doesn’t cause me any problems when I’m walking or running but all the more pain when I’m just standing or resting my foot. And apart from that, the organisers have announced that despite the expected gale force winds (!), the run is expected to go ahead as planned. But I really don’t think I fancy that.

But the flights are booked anyway, and I think it’ll do me good to go home, one way or another. The upshot of course, is that I’m going to have to travel with Lufthansa, which is rarely a pleasurable experience.

Getting to the Airport

My flight from Basel to Munich departs at 06h15, which means I have to take the 04h55 bus to the airport, which gets there at 05h09. Being a Saturday morning, the bus is still fairly empty.

Check-in

The Lufthansa app works moderately well. It takes quite a while to load, but that might just as well be because of my iPhone or the connection, I guess. Seeing as I’ll only be gone one day, I’m only travelling with hand luggage.

The Skyview Lounge

Basel airport has been a constant building site since the partial suspension of the Schengen treaty. And to be honest, I can’t help but feel that perhaps that was the main idea – to keep people in the area in jobs. And while there’s a lot of construction going on in the terminal building itself, more and more flights are shifting back into the small secured Schengen area that still exists. Apparently, Lufthansa or Germany have made it on to the ‘good’ list, so at least I won’t need to go through immigration.

The lounge is mostly empty, save for an English family with two boys. One of which picks up a large bottle of orange juice from the fridge, opens the lid and then proceeds to drink the juice straight from the bottle. His parents very obviously so couldn’t give a shit. Apparently they must have been raised on a farm too, just like their son.

So I wait for them to get lost, then take the bottle and chuck it in the bin.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 05h55. There is a separate line for Business Class passengers and status holders and these are also invited to board the aircraft first.

Trying to get to the gate is a bit of a tight squeeze, because the passengers for the easyJet flight are already lined up in queue for boarding and ready to go.

The Cabin

I’m seated on row 2A. I know I complain a lot about Lufthansa, but one advantage they have in Business Class, is that even on a puny little squirt like the CRJ-900, the seat next to you will always remain empty. And I also must say, the amount of noise up front is minimal. It’s quite calm and pleasant.

On a side note, row 1 is right opposite the door to the toilet – which might be unpleasant, especially on a full flight.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight: a middle aged woman with a rather grating voice, especially at 06h in the morning, and a middle aged gentleman. I don’t think he’s German though, because his accent when he speaks English and French is nearly non-existent.

The one thing that always strikes me on European Lufthansa, is how the service has been stripped to the absolute minimum. There is not refreshing towel, no welcome drink and no interaction with the crew.

The Meal

The flight time is announced at slightly over forty minutes. The Business Class meal is served on a tray and passengers are served individually from the galley, as opposed to a classic trolley service.

And what a sad meal it is! The food comes on a small white tray which is decked out in a red and white chequered napkin, in what I can only assume is Lufthansa’s interpretation of rustic Bavarian country bumpkin chic.

On it is a nut protein bar, a small bottle with a coconut and pineapple smoothie, a yoghurt with cherry compote and a ham sandwich wrapped in paper. Apart from the fact that the meal really looks very sad and just screams ‘cost saving’, it’s also not particularly good.

I also find it somewhat awkward that they should put pork ham in the sandwiches. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt Lufthansa to use cheese or something else that will not immediately exclude or cause offence to people who will not eat pork for religious reasons or any meat out of conviction.

Arrival

The flight passes quickly and eventually we land at 07h11. I now have just under two hours to make my connection to Malta.

We stop on a remote stand and then from there we’re bussed to the main terminal building.

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

Introduction

I have a colleague at work. For argument’s sake, let’s call him Mr. Bighead. In any case, Mr. Bighead worked on the development of the Bombardier CSeries. He recently gave me his candid, and of course totally unbiased opinion about my blog. According to which, I could be a bit more enthusiastic in my praise for the fabulous CSeries. I promised to make amends, especially seeing as the CSeries is indeed starting to grow on me. And so, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let it be known that I, William, think the Bombardier CSeries aka the Airbus A 220 is a rather nice aircraft.

Getting to the Airport

The course at Eurocontrol ends just before 15h00. My flight back to Zürich is not until 18h50. But instead of hanging around the office, I figure I might as well go to the airport and find myself somewhere quiet to sit with a good book. I’m so looking forward to finally going home.

Eurocontrol in Brussels is pretty much out in the sticks. In fact, I think there are more wild bunnies per square metre than there are humans on the premises. But at least, being out in the boonies means you can avoid the notoriously horrific traffic around Brussels. The journey to the airport by taxi takes roughly 12 minutes and costs EUR18.

Check-in

SWISS checks in on rows 1 and 2, which is where the Brussels Airlines counters are located. Brussels Airlines does the check-in on behalf of its Star Alliance partner SWISS at Brussels airport. Rows 1 and 2 are in the best spot of the departures concourse, because they’re closest to the escalators as you come up from the car park and railway station. They’re also closest to the entrance to security.

The Brussels Airlines Business Lounge

The security checkpoint at Brussels airport is very well organised. There is a separate queue for Fast Track security and the whole process is efficient and quick. The security checkpoint is located halfway between the A (Schengen) and the B (non-Schengen) piers.

Brussels Airlines and the Star Alliance carriers use The Loft lounge, which is one floor up from the main airside area of the A pier, just opposite the escalators.

The lounge is nice and it’s been extended since the last time I was there. In fact, I think its size has been doubled. It’s spacious, clean and modern and offers a wide range of comfortable seating options, including some with excellent vistas of the apron. The food is also very good, with a variety of hot and cold dishes that change regularly throughout the day.

One of the things I don’t much like about most lounges though, is the people you find in them. Like the German business man who has two large beers in front of him and is busy on the phone telling the caller about exactly what he told them in the meeting – and everybody else in the lounge, whether they care to listen or not.

And the table manners – or lack thereof – of some of these people! At some point I become aware of these obscenely revolting slurping sounds from behind me. I turn to find Slurpy the Wonderboy sitting behind me in a suit and tie, who’s obviously attempting to inhale the chicken soup he found at the buffet. Luckily, my aircraft choses that exact moment to appear from behind the B pier. I think it’s time to leave.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A45, which is close to the lounge. There is a separate call for Business Class passengers to board first and there is also a separate lane, so Business Class passengers can skip the queue. Seeing as I’m seated on 1A though, I take my time to board. No point in holding up the queue. Although in hindsight, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because the flight is not very full.

The Cabin

And… by the looks of it, the CS300 now has a cabin divider between the Business and Economy Class sections of the cabin. Or maybe it has always been there but I didn’t notice. I have no idea if only the -300 aircraft have these or if gradually the -100 will also be equipped with them. I shall have to ask one of my students who’s a flight attendant with SWISS.

The Crew

There are two young ladies working the forward cabin and both of them seem nice enough.

On the ground a packaged cold towel and a small bottle of still water are served. The flight time is announced at slightly less than fifty minutes.

The Meal

The Brussels service gets a meal served on a tray, unlike the Luxembourg flight, which is only slightly shorter but only gets a small snack. And despite the short flight time, the passengers are served individually instead of from a trolley.

On the tray there is the main event – a light meal – as well as a plate with two slices of cheese and a small glass jar with dessert. And what a thoroughly revolting meal it is. The main dish is allegedly beef tartar with egg and truffle oil, served with a small celery and pumpkin salad. I mean, what on earth were they thinking? I very much doubt that many people are all that fond of a combination of raw meat and raw egg. And by the looks of it, most of the six other passengers have touched the vile thing. Even the flight attendant comments on it.

And for dessert there is yet another gelatinous and very sweet looking blob of something with a soggy piece of cantuccio on it. Lööövely, as the tall, blond M. would say…

Arrival

I know I always say this, but it’s just always true. Zürich airport really is absolutely brilliant. Honestly! We touch down at 19h53. By 2013 I’ve collected my checked luggage, bought some cigarettes for the wiry R. at the duty free and taken a seat on the train to Zürich main station. And all that in twenty minutes!

Seven weeks, 23 flights and 60’000 kilometres later I’m finally home. I now have three whole days before I take my next trip. Woohoo!


Luxembourg to Brussels by Car and the Belgian State Railways

On Friday afternoon I hitch a ride with the flying Dutchman from Luxembourg to Liège, which is about a ninety minute drive from Luxembourg in good traffic.

In Liège I head across the square to the main entrance of the railway station that was designed by Calatrava and clearly carries his signature style.

Travelling by train in Belgium takes a lot of patience – especially if you’re from a place like Switzerland, where the federal railways have a bit of a paranoia about punctuality. My first stop is at the ticket machine to try to purchase a ticket to Brussels. Only, the ticket machine won’t accept credit cards, I keep getting an error message. Cash seems to be working, but only if you’re paying only in coins… At some point I give up and join the queue with what looks like seemingly half of Belgium.

Eventually, with my ticket in hand I board what should have been the 15h01 train to Bruxelles Midi. Only, we’re running fourteen minutes late. Fourteen seems to be something of a magic number for the Belgian railways, because most trains appear to run late, and most of the time the delay is fourteen minutes.

In any case, the journey from Liège to Bruxelles Midi should take exactly one hour. Only, by the time we finally arrive we’re somehow managed to pick up a further delay and are running twenty minutes late – giving me a total journey time from door to door of 3h20. Still, if I’d taken the train all the way from Luxembourg, I would have first had to get from the Kirchberg plateau to the city centre, which is where the railways station is. And then from there, make the journey from Luxembourg to Brussels with the direct train, which is 3h15. Plus a very likely delay…

In Brussels I’m staying at the Pullman Hotel at Bruxelles Midi, which sits atop the station and has an entrance onto the main passenger concourse. The hotel looks as though it has only recently been refurbished and even still retains that nice smell of new furniture.

The room I’m in is very big and spacious and comes with an electric kettle and a Nespresso machine. The drinks in the fridge are complimentary, although I think that’s because of my Platinum status. The cosmetics in the bathroom are by Bigelow Apothecaries.

Breakfast is served on the first floor in Victor’s restaurant. The buffet is quite extensive and offers a very wide range of hot and cold dishes. On the downside though, when I come down at 09h30 for breakfast, the place looks like a bomb has just gone off. The staff seem to be doing a lot of running around, but without really getting anything done. Most tables are still full with the old dishes of the previous guests, and those tables that have been cleared away have not been set for the next guests. And the buffet is a barren wasteland…

Despite the breakfast, I like the Pullman Bruxelles Centre Midi. The design and finish of the room and of the public areas is elegant in a simple way and comfortable at the same time. The breakfast experience could be improved though…

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

Introduction

It’s Monday morning and I’m on my way back to the airport in Zürich. Today I’m travelling to Luxembourg again to give another course. With me is my boss, an aerodynamicist by trade, and he looks just a wee bit upset. You see, the reason we get on with each other is that we’re both fascinated – so as not to call it obsessed – with airplanes. So there’s always something to talk about. He’d been hoping for a chance to sample the A 220-300. But there’s been an aircraft change apparently…

Check-in

But first things first. I arrive at the airport at around 07h20. My first stop is the SWISS Business Class check-in counters to dump my suitcase. From there I head across to the other side of Check-in area 3 to the counters of the Swiss federal railways. I’m inquiring about purchasing a ticket from Luxembourg to Brussels, where I’ll be heading to later on this week for yet another course. Only, the very friendly lady at the counter informs me that she can only sell me a ticket from Luxembourg to the border and then another ticket from the border to Brussels. But the system won’t tell her what the border town is at which I’ll need to swap tickets. So no sale.

Allow me to rant: in Europe distances between the major cities are often not that great. As such, in some cases the train would be a viable alternative to the airplane. But if even buying a ticket is so complicated and cumbersome, it’s hardly surprising that trains have still not succeeded in competing against the airlines – even on short routes.

Airside

By the time I’m through security, it’s gone eight in the morning. My flight will start boarding in less than thirty minutes. So I get myself a cinnamon roll and a cappuccino from the Marché café at the beginning of the A concourse and then head for gate A 86, from where the flight to Luxembourg will be leaving and where I’ll be meeting my boss.

Meanwhile, outside it’s a dark and dreary morning with low visibility. And it’s started snowing as well. Which looks really pretty to be honest, but doesn’t bode well for an on time departure.

Boarding

Since I booked this trip, there have been three aircraft changes. Originally, the flight should have been operated by an Airbus A 220-300. Then it was changed to an Airbus A 220-100. Then when I checked in on the app on Sunday evening it had changed to an Airbus A 320 and then by the time boarding eventually started, it had reverted back to an Airbus A 220-300 – much to the delight of my boss. One of the things I’ve noticed about the morning Luxembourg flight is that it is quite prone to aircraft changes. I suspect the main reason being that the flight is so short that the schedule to Luxembourg is not really integrated into SWISS’ hub schedule but rather the flight times are dictated by the availability of an aircraft.

Boarding finishes at around 09h05. The doors close and the captain welcomes us aboard. He also informs us that due to the weather situation, we’re going to have to de-ice first and there’s a queue of at least ten minutes for de-icing. So we’re not scheduled to depart before 09h45, forty minutes behind schedule.

The Cabin

This time I’m sitting on 3A, the window seat on the row of two, which is perfect because it means I can store my luggage under the seat in front and have more than enough space to spread out. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed just how spacious and airy the cabin of the A 220 is, despite the fact that the aircraft isn’t all that big.

The Crew

The Swiss solution to any problem is chocolate. And so, no sooner has the captain announced our departure delay, the crew pass through the cabin offering those small bars of chocolate that are a cornerstone of the SWISS on board experience. And it really works. The chocolate won’t make the weather any better and it won’t reduce the delay either, but it releases endorphins in the brains so that at least you give a bit less of a rat’s bum about the delay because you’re busy happily clogging up your arteries with sumptuous goodness.

The Meal

The menu is still the same as it was three weeks ago, only this time I think they overdid it slightly with the smoked salmon in the brioche. The two ramekins are Bircher Müsli and a fruit salad. The coffee is still served in cardboard cups but is not so vile.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Luxembourg after a flight time of forty minutes, twenty minutes behind schedule. The weather here is slightly better, but also colder than in Zürich.

We collect our suitcase and then head upstairs to catch the bus line 16 to the office.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

Introduction

Heathrow is having one of those days. The gusting winds mean there is more separation between the approaching aircraft, and as a result, everything seems to be running late – in some cases even as much as one hour or more.

The SkyTeam Lounge

In Terminal 4 KLM shares the Business Class lounge with some of its other SkyTeam partners, including China Southern, Korean Air and Aeroflot. I rather like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow. It’s got a modern and fresh feel to it, and the choice of hot and cold food is rather good.

This evening though, the lounge is full of unhappy Frenchmen. The Air France flight to Paris is running nearly ninety minutes late and passengers with connecting flights in Paris have already been informed that they’re likely not going to make their onward flights. Which of course is a merde.

Boarding

My flight is running slightly late as well. Boarding is scheduled for 19h55, which passes without the ground crew announcing that there’s going to be a delay. Eventually, at 20h30 boarding for the flight begins.

Tonight’s flight is being operated by an Embraer 175 of KLM Cityhopper. The flight is more or less sold out, which is why the ground crew are offering passengers to check in their baggage free of charge. I’m guessing this is the reason why eventually it takes us until 21h10 to finally complete the boarding process.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class seats on this flight, although on KLM Cityhopper it’s difficult to tell the difference, seeing as both seats on the row of two are sold, even in Business Class. Luckily, I’m on 1A, and by the time boarding is completed, the aisle seat next to me is still empty.

The Crew

There are two young ladies working the flight today. They’re your usual KLM friendly cabin crew. What they lack in finesse, they certainly make up for with their genuine and unpretentious approach to dealing with passengers.

There is no service on the ground. The flight time to Amsterdam is forty-five minutes.

The Meal

No sooner has the main landing gear left the ground, the aircraft starts shaking and swinging around as though it were a feather. Even so, before the fasten seatbelt sign is even turned off, the crew start their preparations for the service.

A while ago, KLM updated the boxes and the meals that are serve in Business Class on the Cityhopper flights. I’m mean, it’s still a box. But even so, I still think it’s an improvement in that the new box seems bigger and more spacious.

Inside the box there is a falafel and hummus salad, two pieces of bread and butter and a dessert.

The salad is good and very light. I soak up the hummus with one of the breads provided with the meal and that is still warm. I don’t try the dessert.

Arrival

Very soon we start our descent into Amsterdam. The weather here is no better and we dip and roll violently on the approach. Eventually, after a flight time of only forty minutes, we touch down on the Polderbaan. From here it’s another ten minutes taxiing to the Cityhopper apron. By the time we come to a stop on our designated remote stand, it’s just gone 23h00 and we’re running thirty minutes late.

We enter the terminal, which is deserted at this time of night. At least that means it doesn’t take long for the bags to start arriving…