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

TRANSFER FROM HEATHROW T4 TO T2

The Gulf Air flight from Bahrain arrives in Heathrow at 06h50, on schedule. I now have one hour and forty minutes to make my connection to the SWISS flight to Zürich, which will depart from T2. T4 is connected to the central terminal area at Heathrow by shuttle bus. Normally, the busses will use the service tunnel that passes under runway 09R/27L. However, the tunnel is currently closed for maintenance as so, busses have to take a slightly longer route along the perimeter fence and under the threshold of runway 27L to get to Terminal 2. Which has the rather pleasant side effect that passengers are given quite a tour of Heathrow, including BA’s maintenance facility and the Concorde that they have on display there. The journey takes 12 minutes to complete.

Within Terminal 4 for the signposting to the shuttle bus is clear and easy to follow. Busses run regularly.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The security check is done in Terminal 2, before heading up to the departure concourse. Luckily, there aren’t many passengers this morning and there isn’t even a queue. There is a separate fast track for security which is dedicated to STAR GOLD, First and Business Class passengers.

Behind security are the escalators leading one floor up. There is a passport check just before entering the departures hall, although I’m not sure if this is for immigration purposes, for security reasons or a combination of the two. As I enter the terminal hall, the Star Alliance service desks are on the right. I present my baggage receipt to the lady behind the counter, as instructed by the check-in agent back in Dubai. She scans the stub and my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

By the time I’m done, we’re just coming up to 07h50. The gate for my flight to Zürich will be showing up on the screens shortly, and not much later boarding should start. So I quickly grab a coffee, call the light of my life to say hello and then take a moment to relax.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight to Zürich is from gate A18. There is a separate queue for Business Class, HON Circle and Senator passengers. As we start boarding for the flight, it soon materialises that there are some passengers in the queue that aren’t flying Business Class and have no status either. Don’t get me wrong, I generally salute the ground crews for enforcing the rules. But I also think there’s really no need for the gate agent to scold passengers. After all, I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance they weren’t trying to jump the queue and perhaps don’t travel often enough to even know what the two queues are for.

CABIN

There are four rows to the Business Class cabin on this morning’s flight, which is surprising given it’s a public holiday. I would have thought most people would have tried to return home by Maundy Thursday. In any case, as my luck will have it, there are 15 passengers in Business Class this morning. And the only seat left empty is the one on the aisle of my row of three. Cool!

CREW

There are three and a half cabin crew on the flight and I’m pretty sure that none of them are above the age of twenty-five. Three of the cabin crew are wearing the normal SWISS uniform. The third one though, is wearing ‘civilian’ clothes and a badge that says ‘I am a new crew member’ rather than her name. I’m not quite sure why being a new cabin crew member means she shouldn’t be wearing a uniform. However, given how shabby the SWISS uniform generally looks, I can’t really blame her for not wanting to wear that.

Other than that, the crew are friendly and really make an effort to accommodate passengers. Even if they’re a bit clumsy at times. For example, once boarding is completed, one of the female flight attendants working in the Economy Class section asks if there’s still any space left in the overhead bins up front, so she can stow one fairly large piece of hand luggage. The maître de yells back to her form the front that yes, there is space left. ‘But let him lift his suitcase himself, it’s his problem so you’re not expected to do that…’. Of course, the maître de does have a point. When I still worked at Swissair they always used to say that passengers are allowed to take just about anything into the cabin, as long as it fits the dimensions and they could still carry it themselves. But I’m pretty sure there might have been a politer way of saying that.

But perhaps I’m just irritated by the fact that the maître de is wearing turquoise coloured underwear. And in case you’re wondering why I know that, he’s shoved his uniform shirt into his undies and pulled them up so high that the waistband is showing above the trousers. It’s all very classy really!

SERVICE

The service on the ground is the standard bottle of still water and a refreshing towel. We push back on time and then make our way to the holding point for runways 09R. The flight time is announced as one hour and ten minutes.

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is no choice for the meal. Much to my surprise, SWISS offers a hot breakfast on this route, despite the short flight time. I’m guessing this to accommodate its British customer base. The trays are delivered from a trolley. The meal consists of:

A small plate of cheese.

Butter and jam.

A small dish of Quinoa müsli.

And the hot meal.

The hot meal is more of a brunch than a breakfast and consists of a grilled tomato with a Provençale crust, brown lentils and a slice of cheese quiche. I must say, the meal is quite good. With that I also have a croissant and a bun from the bread basket.

Despite the short flight, the crew manage to do two nicely paced runs for drinks and with the breadbasket.

ARRIVAL

It’s a lovely day for flying. The approach into Zürich brings us in right over Basel, my home town, from where we make a left hand turn to head east, before lining up for the landing on runway 14. After landing we taxi to the B pier, which can accept both Schengen and non-Schengen flights. I make my way down to immigration and am positively surprised that a) there’s hardly anybody there and b) they appear to have updated the software of the passport readers, so that I can now use the e-gates with my Maltese passport.

The suitcases for the London flight will be delivery on belt 22. I figure my suitcase probably hasn’t survived having to change planes in Bahrain and London Heathrow, so instead of going to belt 22, I make a beeline for the Swissport lost and found in the hope of saving some time.

But lo and behold, just before I get there, something silvery in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I look over to belt 22 to find that by some divine intervention, my suitcase has actually made it.

CONCLUSION

And quicker than you know, the first four months of the year are over. Just like that. And I’ve spent most of that time travelling. My return to Switzerland on SWISS marks the end of the busy travel period for me. From now on, it’s really just the occasional short-haul trip here and there. And thank god for that. I really love flying, but there are limits to how much flying even I can handle at a time…

Happy Easter everyone!

William

Gulf Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Bahrain to London Heathrow

TRANSFER IN BAHRAIN

We pull up on our stand at 23h40 local time. Bahrain is one hour behind Dubai. There are currently some major construction works going on at Bahrain airport for a new pier and terminal, with different parts already in an advanced state of completion. Alas, it’ll be a while before the new facility becomes available and until then, I am going to have to contend with the current facility, which is, with all due respect, a hovel. The terminal looks like something straight out of the late seventies. It’s worn and tired looking and obviously not much care has gone into maintaining the building and public areas properly. The corridors are long, narrow, with low ceilings and the smell of old socks that you only get in countries that have spent way too much time around the British and their obsessive compulsion with having carpets in really inconvenient places…

There is a security checkpoint that passengers need to go through to access the transfer area one floor up. But to be honest, I don’t quite understand what the point of it is, because clearly nobody gives a rat’s bum. The lady in front of me beeps. The male staff all look at each other and, realising there is no woman at hand to give the passenger a pat down, simply wave her through…

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The upper level of the terminal is not much better. Of course, the duty free shop and the food outlets have been updated over the years. But apart from that, the terminal reminds me a lot of Shannon airport. And anyone who’s ever been to Shannon will know that’s not exactly a compliment.

The lounge is yet one floor further up from the duty free shopping area. Like everything else here, it also looks very old fashioned and not particularly attractive. But at least there are no carpets. The place is also very full when I arrive, which is why I refrain from taking any pictures in the lounge.

But by far the most memorable feature of the lounge, is its receptionist. Sweet baby Jesus, what is that? It’s not just that she’s laid on the makeup pretty thickly. She must also be colour blind, because the two very bright pink circles on each check are clashing badly with the green stuff she’s also pasted on to her cheeks, around the pink. Shouldn’t the green stuff go on the eye lids? She also has the most obscenely thick and obviously artificial eye lashes. I mean, she’s freakish enough to make a drag queen yearn to dress up in chinos and a polo shirt!

BOARDING

Fifty minutes before departure, the flight shows up on the departure screens as boarding. So I figure I might as well make my way to gate 11, from where my flight will depart. Perhaps that will keep me from going off to sleep.

There’s an additional checkpoint to enter the gate area, and for a moment I feel like I have done the Bahrainis an injustice for assuming they haven’t got their security under control. There’s even a separate queue for Business Class passengers. Only, this security check is just about as useless and ineffectual as the previous one. And so, I resign myself to accepting that it’s probably just a cultural thing. Under the guise of pluralism and inclusion it’s really quite amazing just what you can get away with these days.

There is an initial boarding call for Business Class passengers. And I mean that quite literal. Instead of using the microphone, the young male Philippino suddenly starts yelling at the top of his voice ‘only Falcon Gold, only Falcon Gold’…

Off we go…

CABIN

So far, as you already might have guessed, I’m not too impressed by Gulf Air. But the Business Class cabin of this Boeing B 787-9 is just gorgeous. The dark colours give the whole cabin an elegant, subdued feel and the fact that passengers are boarding through the L2 door somehow makes the first impression just a little bit more dramatic, because from the L2 door the whole of the Business Class cabin is visible.

If I’m not mistaken, this is more or less the same gig that Japan Airlines and Oman Air have for their Business Class product. According to the Gulf Air inflight magazine, the pitch on this seat is 78 inches. And it really is quite impressive. When extended into a bed, the seat is still long enough that I still have room above my head and below for my feet. I’m about 184 cm tall.

The seats are staggered in such a way that the aisle seats are not abeam but slightly behind the window seats. As a result, every passenger has direct access to the aisle and a lot of privacy. And there is a divider which can be raised to provide more privacy. Of course, the window seat is a lot more private than the aisle seats. But from what I have seen, the shell of the seat reaches sufficiently far forward to ensure that passengers on the aisle seat are not completely exposed either.

On the down side, there is not a lot of storage space on this seat. Also, I find it quite uncomfortable trying to sleep in this seat, although that may also have to do with the fact that I currently have a slipped disc…

VANITY KIT

The vanity kit provided by Gulf Air is extensive. In addition to the obligatory toiletries, Gulf Air will also provide pyjamas on night flights as well as a pair of solid slippers. Bedding for the seat is also provided.

CREW

The crew is a mix of European and Middle Eastern nationals. And all of them give the impression of really just doing their job but not much else and without discernible signs of pride or enjoyment. The whole customer experience seems rather process oriented: the boarding process takes forty minutes to complete, which is ample time for the crew to take orders for food from the passengers. But instead, the food orders are only taken once boarding is completed. Inevitably, this means that the crew don’t manage to collect all the orders before they are required to take their seats for departure.

After take-off I’m simply too tired to wait any longer. I figure I’ll manage to get something to eat at some point and I don’t want dinner. I just want to sleep. So I change into my pjs, extend the seat into a bed, and go off to sleep. Forty minutes later the crew are finally released to start the service. One hour into the flight the ‘chef’ comes to wake me up to ask me what I’d like to eat. I mean, seriously? On a flight of six hours they won’t even let a guy sleep because they need to get his order in for food?

I explain I won’t be having dinner but yes, if they’re serving breakfast, I’ll probably join.

SERVICE

The service on the ground starts with the welcome drinks. Given my previous experience with the mint juice, this time I try the orange juice. This is followed by the newspapers, vanity kit, pjs, the menu and the towels. Again, there is a choice between a hot towel and a cold one. This time I go with the cold towel, but it’s lukewarm – just like the hot towel I had on the previous flight.

THE MEAL

We’re still two hours out of London when the crew start the breakfast service. Which to me seems just a tad early, given that there are only 26 seats in Business Class. The sequence in which the meal is served is odd.

First, I am brought a cup of coffee with milk, which is very weak, incidentally. Next the other flight attendant shows me a selection of preserves and marmalades to choose from. I request some apricot jam and then sit there thinking that it would be really cool to have something to smear the jam onto – a piece of bread spontaneously comes to mind. As though he can read my mind, the male crew member appears with a bread basket and asks me if I’d prefer toast or a croissant. I tell him I’ll have toast, and ask him if perhaps I might have a knife to smother the jam with and a napkin to put the bread on? To which he tells me the tray will be arriving ‘later’.

When eventually the tray arrives, the cabin crew have to first open my tray table, which is stowed in the side of the seat. Only, that’s where the coffee is standing. So I pick the saucer and cup up with my left hand, because I’m still holding my two slices of toast with the other hand, while the cabin crew juggles my tray in one hand and tries to open the table with the other.

But eventually we manage. And the tray does looks rather nice. There’s even a wire basket for me to put the toast in. But I still don’t understand why they couldn’t have brought the tray first and then the jam, bread and coffee.

The tray has on it:

A plate of fresh fruit.

A small ramekin of butter.

A glass of water.

A glass of juice.

Apparently, according to the menu, there also would have been yoghurt and Müsli. But the crew seem to be strangely unaware of any of this.

Once I have finished the fruit, the plate is removed and a short while later, my hot meal arrives. I’ve decided to go with the:

American pancakes with berries and maple syrup.

The pancakes are thick and fluffy. But to be honest, the whole thing is just a bit of a sugar overdose and could have done very well without either the maple syrup or the berries.

ARRIVAL

By the time the crew clear everything away, we still one hour out of London. I lean back in my seat and watch the world go by far below, until eventually old Blighty comes in to view. Our approach into Heathrow offers some excellent views. First ATC bring us in due north of the city, with good views of the West End and Hyde Park. Initially, we’re on a westerly track, flying parallel to the runways at Heathrow. But it looks as though they’re going to bring us in on 09R, which is more convenient because Gulf air operates out of Terminal 4 in Heathrow, which is south of the runway. So eventually we turn south and fly overhead Heathrow, with the BA maintenance facility and Concorde clearly visible.

We land on time and make the short taxi to Terminal 4. It’s good to be back in Europe! I now have 95 minutes to make my connection.

CONCLUSION

Man, what a let down. When I booked this flight, I was expecting Gulf Air to be something of a boutique carrier, if there is such a thing. I knew I couldn’t expect anything on the scale of Emirates or Qatar, but maybe a bit like Oman Air. What I certainly hadn’t expected though was the badly managed, uncoordinated mess and the total lack of consistency in the service delivery of Gulf Air.

The seat on the B 787 is gorgeous, and the 787 is a very comfortable aircraft, from a passenger’s perspective. But even so, the inconvenient flight schedule, the rather unpleasant transfer at their very unattractive hub in Bahrain and the bad service really don’t make me really ever want to try Gulf Air again.

But I’ll give them this much, their livery is one of the best out there right now…

Gulf Air, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Dubai to Bahrain

INTRODUCTION

The course with the Emirates Flight Training Academy in Dubai ends at lunch time on Maundy Thursday. I have the rest of the day off, which gives me some time to relax and rest before I fly home in the evening. It’s been a long week.

This year I visited the UAE in February, March, and April. And it looks like I’ll be back again in June and then again in September. So I think I can hardly be blamed for wanting to add a bit of variety with the flights I take: to break the monotony of business travel by using the opportunity to try some new airlines. For the trip to Dubai, I had intended to fly via Beirut, with the aim of course, of sampling MEA Middle East Airlines. But then Air France broke the triple seven that was supposed to take me to Beirut, and I was subsequently rebooked onto the nonstop flight I’d already taken the previous month.

For the return, I’ve booked myself on a flight from Dubai via Bahrain to London Heathrow, for the sole purpose of trying out Gulf Air and their new Dreamliner. Originally, I should have been on the day flight to London on Good Friday. But then it was announced that they would be resurfacing one of the runways in Dubai, which would inevitably lead to a reduction in capacity of 32%. This is achieved, mainly, by airlines thinning their schedules to and from Dubai. As a result, I was rebooked onto the night time service from Bahrain, with the feeder flight departing from Dubai at 23h35.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I leave the hotel in Al Barsha at 20h40. From here the journey by car to Dubai airport takes 27 minutes. It’s the weekend here in the UAE, when the traffic on the road tends to get a bit frantic by mid-afternoon and then gradually deteriorates from there into the evening.

CHECK-IN

Gulf Air operates out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. I’ve already checked in online. However, the boarding passes cannot be transferred to the wallet, even though, according to the app, Dubai is one of the few airports from which the service should work. But I need to check-in my suitcase anyway.

Gulf Air checks in on row 5. Check-in is done by DNATA. There are four dedicated Gulf Air counters on row 5, with one row for premium passengers. But the check-in agent is friendly enough. He checks my suitcase all the way through to Zürich, gives me instructions for the lounge and then wishes me a pleasant flight.

LOUNGE

Gulf Air has its own lounge on the D concourse. And what a depressing place it is. The lounge is located one floor up from the general airside area, above the duty free shop.

The lounge has its own smoking room, which is furnished in the traditional Arab style, and not much else. The selection of hot and cold dishes looks good though, but I don’t try any of the food, figuring I’ll be eating on the plane.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts at 23h00. There is no call for premium passengers, but there is a separate queue for Business Class passengers.

CABIN

The first impression of the cabin is good, although I must say it does looks rather old-fashioned. There are four rows of seats in the Business Class section, and Gulf Air has a proper, dedicated Business Class seat in a 2 + 2 configuration.

The seat covers are leather. There is a foot rest for every seat. Unfortunately though, there is also a large IFE box under the window seat of the row in front, which means that there’s actually no room to fully stretch my legs.

Each seat has its own power socket, but mine is not working on this flight. The seat controls are operated mechanically, and not electrically.

CREW

There are four crew on the flight. Two females working the rear section, and two males in the front working the Business Class cabin. The two men are not particularly friendly and do not seem overly enthusiastic about being there either.

SERVICE

The service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There is a choice of water, orange juice and a lemon and mint juice. I go with the latter, but it’s not very good. It tastes like the seriously diluted version of a similar but much more flavourful drink you get on Qatar Airways.

Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute the towels and then the cardamom infused coffee with dates. For the towel there is a choice between a hot and a cold towel. I request a hot towel, but it’s not really warm anymore.

THE MEAL

As we taxi out, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for dinner. From what I understand the flight attendant telling the lady in 1A in Arabic, there is a choice of salad with shrimp or some sort of cheese sandwich. By the time the crew reaches row two, where I’m sitting, he merely wants to know what I’d like to drink. And I figure he’s probably out of options for the meal service and will just bring the rest of the passengers what’s left.

The flight time is announced at 55 minutes.

Once we’re airborne, the service begins. I get my tea, the passengers on row 1 are given their trays with the food and then the crew vanish in the galley behind the curtain. The guy sitting next to me doesn’t get anything. Not even the small bottle of water he’d ordered. The crew only appear again briefly before landing, to open and secure the curtain.

ARRIVAL

We land in Bahrain after a flight time of 50 minutes. The farewell message for passengers is recorded, so the poor crew are not made to endure the presence of their pesky passengers unduly. Now let’s hope the next flight will be a better experience. Because this one rubbish!

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris to Beirut… or maybe not

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from where the flight to Beirut will be departing.

CHECK-IN

Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.

BOARDING

Air France tends to start boarding for its flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the final staged of boarding.

CABIN

The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER. There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8. And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample storage space. And it looks good too.

SERVICE

Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have. Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.

By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.

A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go to the lounge.

I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…

The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately, I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps – which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…

At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.

The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running 45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes, so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.

THE MEAL

The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.

The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut service.

The tray arrives with the following:

Shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream.

A mixed green salad.

A plate of cheese (goat’s cheese, Cantal and Camembert)

And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)

For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake

All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.

THE CREW

The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly, but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley, only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.

SECOND SERVICE

An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris CDG 2

Date: 10. January 2019
Origin: Zürich Kloten
Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
Seat: 10F
Flight time: 57 minutes

INTRODUCTION

Considering he’s an aerospace engineer, and rather a good one at that, it really is quite astounding just how little my friend, the wiry R., is interested in aviation and aircraft. As such, it is hardly surprising that when I tell him about my itinerary for my upcoming trip to Dubai, all he can muster is the kind of mournful ‘why’ that is usually reserved for parents to use on their four year old kid when he decided to drop a whole box of detergent in the toilet to see if the flushing would create bubbles. Not of course, that I got up to that sort of thing as a child…

But in any case, the answer really is quite simple. I’m on my way to Dubai. This is my third trip this year to the UAE, after having visited Abu Dhabi in February, and Dubai in March. And so, as the routine starts to get a bit long in the tooth, I figured I might as well take the opportunity to try some of those airlines I’ve always wanted to try but which somehow were always just a bit inconvenient or out of the way.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur to the airport. The Swiss Federal Railways recently started to introduce new rolling stock on the network. I have to admit, even though trains really don’t do it for me in the same way that planes do, that the vehicles do look rather good from the outside. They’re sleek.

From a passenger’s perspective though, they’re somewhat problematic. After a series of technical issues which delayed their introduction into service, the Swiss association for persons with disabilities filed a complaint, quite rightly, because the trains were in fact inaccessible for passengers with reduced mobility, because although they have level access, none of the doors has a ramp with an inclination of less than 15 degrees. All I can say as an able-bodied passenger is that there isn’t much storage space and the cabin is rather cramped.

CHECK-IN

Just as we pull out of the station, I receive a sms from Air France informing me that the flight is full, and that therefore they’re willing to check in my luggage free of charge. Which is admittedly a bit useless, seeing as I have a luggage allowance anyway with may status. The flight is operated by an Airbus A 318, which is admittedly rather small and has limited storage space too. So my first stop is the SkyTeam check-in counters on row 2 of check-in 2, where my suitcase is tagged to Paris and then sent on its way.

AIRSIDE

It’s the week before the big Easter weekend, and it looks like the whole world has elected to travel today. At the exchange office there’s a guy ahead of me inquiring whether they’ll accept Euros in Sri Lanka, because he’s just changed Swiss Francs into Euros and now has two crisp looking EUR500 notes in his hands…

The queue for security is endless and stretches all the way back to the entrance of the security area. The vapid Japanese chick behind me is on the blower, complaining to her bestie because Iberia forced her to check in her suitcase. ‘I mean, I thought they were, like, a normal airline, like, if they’re in the Star Alliance…like…’. She also doesn’t quite see why Iberia wanted her to check in the bag in the first place, even though, in her own words, there were so many shoes in the suitcase that the wheels collapsed.

BOARDING

Boarding starts about ten minutes ahead of schedule. And it really is quite amazing just how many passengers you can fit in to this puny little aircraft. Fortunately, we started boarding early, because it’s taking for ever to find space for the copious bags passengers are bringing into the cabin, despite the gate agents’ best efforts to put as many bags as possible in the hold.

CABIN

The cabin of the Airbus A 318 looks the same as that of all the other Airbus narrow bodies. But it is striking just how short this little airplane is. It’s kind of cute… I’m sitting on row 10, which is the emergency exit, and the legroom is excellent.

CREW

There are four cabin crew on the flight today. They’re very professional, but these guys are also very friendly and seem totally unphased by the luggage issue. Thanks to their excellent effort, we manage to push back just a few minutes behind schedule.

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. Much to my surprise, given the flight time of only one hour, this consists of a selection of hot and cold drinks as well as a sandwich. There is no choice for the sandwich. It’s filled with cream cheese, apple and celery and tastes quite good.

ARRIVAL

We land in Paris after a flight time of less than 60 minutes. Visibility is not too good, which is a shame, because we fly right over central Paris on the approach.

Eventually, the flight comes to an end on a remote stand. Which means a cool picture of my chariot – hurrah! I figure I might as well wait for all the passengers to disembark, so as not to have wait on the bus. The good thing about large airports like Roissy is that by the time I finally make it to the luggage belt, I only have to wait two minutes for my bag to arrive.

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Roissy Sheraton, which is perched right over the main railway station for Terminal 2 and within easy walking distance of Terminal 2F, where I just arrived, and Terminal 2E, from where I shall be leaving tomorrow.