Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Zürich

The weather here in Malta has been lovely all week, with cloudless blue skies and a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

But it’s time to head back to Switzerland and the cold.

Getting to the Airport

I check out of The Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana at noon. The next bus to the airport will be the 12:35 X4, which leaves from the B pier of the main terminus. The B and C piers are located in St. James’ ditch, below what used to be Duke of York Avenue.

The X4 bus has a luggage rack, which is really convenient, because the bus continues all the way to Birzebbuga in the south and therefore tends to get very full.

Despite the fairly reliable public transport service, traffic in Malta continues to get worse. The journey to the airport takes 35 minutes to cover a distance of 7 kilometres.

As such, by the time I arrive at the airport, it’s already 13:15 and the flight will start boarding at 13:55.

Check-in

The check-in area is quite busy, with the Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights leaving around the same time as the flight to Zürich.

Security is well organised and quick. But the airside lounge is definitely getting too small for the amount of traffic the airport handles. It feels cramped and crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts just after 14h. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.

More importantly though, we’ll be boarding via stairs and without a bus. So loads of opportunities for me to geek-out about an aeroplane. I can just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll…

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers. However, there are only two other passengers with me in the forward cabin today.

There’s something charmingly old-fashioned and typically Maltese about the cabin of this aircraft – from the pictures of Malta on the bulkheads, to the nicely padded seats that will all be a thing of the past with the change over to the NEO.

Service on the ground consists of the distribution of newspapers and a welcome drink.

It’s a lovely, warm day with good visibility. We take off towards the northwest and fly the full length of Malta, before making a right turn to point us in the direction of Palermo.

The Meal

Once the crew is released, the service starts with the distribution of the unscented hot towels. This is followed immediately by the meal service.

Everything is served on one tray.

The main course is a caesar salad of sorts with three slices of chicken breast.

This is served with warm bread and a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico.

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

The meal is nice enough. And especially the mousse is very rich and creamy!

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

The flight time today is two hours and twenty minutes, which is quite long for this route. But at least the views are great and the Alps look spectacular.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Zürich at 16:54. By 17:09 I’m already on the train on my way home.

Things are rapidly changing for Air Malta. Already today they are no longer the largest carrier to the island of Malta and take second place behind Ryanair.

But at least, with the minister of transport and tourism resigning this week over claims of corruption, there is hope the government will stop its constant meddling and interference in how Air Malta should be run.

One way or another though, if Air Malta wants to stay competitive, it seems to me they still have a way to go, particularly when it comes to their website and reliably making a purchase for ancillary services via airmalta.com.

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320NEO: London Heathrow to Malta

Introduction

My flight to Malta will be departing at 11:25. I check on flightradar24 for the whereabouts of my aircraft. It looks as though the inbound from Malta will be on time.

Today’s flight is special for two reasons: first of all, because today I’m finally getting my cherry popped, so to speak, because it’s my first time ever on a NEO. And secondly, this will be my first flight with Air Malta since the introduction of their new Business Class catering.

Check-in

In Heathrow, Air Malta serves Terminal 4. They check-in on row H.

There are three check-in counters open. Two for Economy Class and one for Business Class passengers.

The Lounge

Air Malta uses The House Lounge, which previously belonged to Etihad Airways. The lounge is located one floor down from the SkyTeam lounge and the entrance is near gate 10.

There are only few passengers in the lounge at this time of day.

The lounge is rather nice and even has a separate dining area, where you can have food from the buffet or à la carte menu.

Washrooms and showers are also available in the lounge.

Boarding

The flight is boarding from gate 20, which is a bitch to take pictures of the aircraft from…

I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but boarding is chaos. The flight is totally sold out and they’ve screwed up most people’s advanced seat reservations.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 1F. The cabin on the NEO has new seats installed that are thinner than those on the rest of the fleet.

Red is an interesting colour to pick for the seat covers, but I think they manage to pull it off.

Seat pitch is great on row 1. The middle seat is kept empty and there are electricity plugs too. On today’s flight there are 6 rows of Business Class for a total of 24 seats. And the cabin is sold out!

Service on the ground starts with a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice or water for a welcome drink and the distribution of newspapers.

Departure is at 12:40 and the flight time is two hours and 50 minutes. The one thing I do notice about the NEO, is that it’s very quiet on take-off.

The Meal

As soon as the cabin crew is released, the service for the meal starts. First the crew take orders for drinks. I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon.

Next the menu is distributed, which seems a bit unnecessary, seeing as there are no choices anyway except for the dessert.

Ahead of the meal, hot towels are handed out.

First Course

The new Business Class product is quite nice, I think, and captures the feel of the Maltese islands well. The tray is served with the first course, olive oil and warm bread on it.

The presentation of the meal is nice. But the quality of the food is not all that good. The starter is smoked salmon tartar with crème fraîche.

Main Course

Once I’m done with the starter, the dish is removed and the main course is served. This is veal filled with a chicken and cheese stuffing. It’s quite okay. Sorry about the photo. I had already started to dig in before I remembered to take a picture…

And finally, for dessert I go with the fruit.

The service is by individual tray. So there is no trolley in the aisle. While I generally agree that this is a nicer way to present the food, I also think today’s flight shows that it’s unsuitable for a full cabin: the crew are walking up and down the aisle throughout the meal service, bringing or removing things. As a result, there’s constantly foot traffic in the cabin during the meal service.

Drinks are rather difficult to come by on this flight. And the crew are not proactively offering to replenish drinks Either. Even so, about 90 minutes into the flight, they run out of sparkling water and Coke Zero.

Arrival

But the flight passes quickly, and eventually we land at 15:30. It’s certainly warmer here!

Conclusion

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of today’s experience. On the one hand, I think Air Malta is desperately tring to set itself apart from the low-cost competition. But at the same time, their whole new Business Class concept lacks focus and quality. First of all, there’s the issue of the seat reservations, which they made a mess of. If you’re going to offer the service, then commit to it. If you can’t do that, then just drop it. Furthermore, now that it’s buy on board in Economy Class on Air Malta, there really is no reason why they had to introduce a fancier Business Class product. And even that is done half-heartedly. The drinks running out in mid-flight is just strange and unprofessional.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Zürich to London Heathrow

Getting to the Airport

I finish teaching early today, mainly because the audio system in the classroom I’m using is inop and nobody had bothered to tell me. Today was my last time teaching this particular class, which is a shame really, because they were rather nice. At least, on a positive note, this was also my last class until September of next year!

I leave the university just after 15h to catch the 15:24 train to Zürich airport. It’s only a 12 minutes train ride from Winterthur.

Zürich airport is already decked out in full-on Christmas mode. I think it looks quite nice with all the lights. But where is everybody…?

I’ve already checked in on my mobile phone. So instead of going to the SWISS terminal, I head three floors up from the train station, then across the bridge to access check-in area 5 and then from there I go one floor up to the access point for security – which I’d say is probably the most direct routing.

The security check is quick and efficient. There are no queues. My flight is departing from the D gates, which is the non-Schengen area of the B pier at Zürich.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

Because there isn’t really much to see from the waiting area, I figure I might as well go to the SWISS lounge, which is located behind immigration.

The lounge is your typical SWISS branded lounge. It has the usual selection of loud business men talking on the phone, light snacks and drinks. It’s not at all crowded when I arrive.

I’m only in the lounge for about 20 minutes – enough time for a cup of tea – before I decide it’s time to make my way to the gate.

Boarding

Boarding for my flight is from gate D39 and starts exactly thirty minutes before departure with a call for priority passengers to board first.

Unfortunately, the location of the gate makes it impossible to take a decent picture of my plane.

I’m seated on 1A, and clearly Mr. 1C is not happy about that. I’m not sure what his problem is, but he’s definitely not a happy bunny.

He demonstratively plonks his fake Canada Goose jacket on the middle seat. I’m actually surprised he doesn’t say something to the effect of ‘I claim this territory for England’… or something like that.

Boarding for the flight is quick, and it looks as though the load on this evening’s flight is very light.

Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and packaged towels. SWISS appear to have recently switched suppliers, because their towels have a different smell than they used to.

The Crew

Safety is always a bit sloppy on SWISS, which is really not good. And this flight is no different. The flight attendant asks Mr. 1D to either put on his jacket or stow it in the overhead bin for take-off. Alas, Mr. 1D is not willing to cooperate and simply asks why? To which the flight attendant literally replies that she really has no idea either, but that’s just the rule. And walks away.

Seriously? Mr. 1C has his earphones on during take-off, and nobody seems too bothered by that either. And the lights are not dimmed, even though it’s already dark outside.

Eventually, we take off just slightly ahead of schedule. The flight time is one hour and 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes holding.

The Meal

The meal service starts straight away. There is no choice. The tray has on it a plate of cold roast beef with a potato salad, a plate of cheese and a creamy looking dessert.

I wasn’t intending to eat the meat, which is all the same because it smells rather awful. The salad is nice enough though.

The cheese is lovely. Can’t really go wrong there. It is served with a selection of white or dark bread from the basket. The crew come through the cabin twice with bread. Although it takes them so long for the second round that everybody has already finished their meal anyway by that time.

And the dessert is simply dreadful, despite the cute Läckerli on it, which is a speciality of Basel, where I live.

The cream is just horribly sweet and tastes awfully artificial.

Arrival

But the flight passes quickly, and despite the holding, we still arrive on stand ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Immigration at Terminal 2 is quick this evening, and I’m through in no time.

All in all, this evening’s flight was no better or worse than any other airline’s short-haul European Business Class flight. I’m also pretty sure that SWISS takes passenger safety very seriously, because any airline’s reputation hinges on that being so. Nonetheless, I really do think they could improve on their crews’ attitude toward safety.

TGV Lyria, Business First: Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel SBB

The meeting at ICAO ends just after noon. But by the time everybody has said good bye to everybody else and pretended the whole situation isn‘t just one big fat mess caused by ICAO and EASA together, it‘s gone 13h by the time I get to have lunch.

Getting to the Station

My train isn‘t leaving until 16:23. But the weather in Paris today is something nasty. And so, at 14:15 I descend down into the Metro at Les Sablons in Neuilly Sur Seine. From here I have a direct train on the line number 1 all the way to Gare de Lyon.

The journey takes thirty minutes between Les Sablons and Gare de Lyon.

The SNCF Salon Voyageur Lounge

Today I‘m travelling in BusinessPremière, which is located in car number 11. In BusinessPremière passengers receive complimentary newspapers, a welcome drink and a hot meal. It also means I‘m entitled to use the Salon Grand Voyageur, which is located in Hall 3, one floor down from Hall 2.

The Salon is quite small, which is why I don‘t take any pictures. But it‘s comfortable enough. There are toilets in the lounge. There is also a coffee machine serving complimentary hot drinks.

Boarding for the train starts 20 minutes before departure and terminates two minutes before departure.

The train is quite full, presumably because it‘s Friday afternoon and people are on their way home for the weekend.

The Cabin

The seat is quite comfortable. There is a power socket and a footrest. Seat pitch is good, but the foot rest is in a slightly inconvenient position…

The Meal

The service begins about 20 minutes out of Paris with the distribution of the scented hot towels, newspapers and drinks. There is a full bar service available. I settle for some sparkling water.

The meal consists of a carrot cake with goat‘s cheese and peppers and two small pieces of salmon quiche.

And for dessert I have a slice of lemon cake with apricots.

It‘s really more of a snack than a meal, but given the time of day, I think it‘s perfectly adequate and quite tasty.

The meal ends with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.

Arrival

The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive in Basel with a delay of three minutes which, funnily enough, we picked up only on the last eight kilometres of the journey from Paris.

As you may have guessed by now, I‘m a great fan of the TGV. It‘s fast, safe, reliable and it comes without the hassle of security checkpoints. And if everything else fails, the train just looks good inside and out.

The BusinessPremière product is attractive and certainly competitive with the airlines, especially when you take into account the much lower ticket price and the city centre departure from the Gare de Lyon.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

In the long and old tradition of giving my colleagues at work that I mention in my blog a nickname, I suppose I should mention that I arrive at the airport early today, at 15:45 to be precise, for a meeting with my colleague, let‘s call him the scruffy M., to discuss the handover of duties while I‘m away on sabbatical.

We finish just before 17h and then I make my way to departures one floor up. Zürich Airport is slowly getting into the groove for Christmas. The lights are up, but they‘re not yet on. At least not all of them.

To access the security checkpoint, there are separate lanes for Economy Class passengers and for those with priority. Which is a good thing, because the airport is quite busy today.

But at least the queue moves quickly. Once I‘m airside, there are more Christmas lights.

This is also when I realise that now‘s the season that‘s difficult for taking pictures of aircraft from inside the terminal, because it gets dark earlier.

The last image, above, is of my aircraft to Paris. I suppose I could say I was being artistic. But I think we all probably know that‘s not really the case…

Boarding

In any case, boarding for the flight starts at 17:25. That‘s 30 minutes ahead of our departure time.

The Cabin

I‘m seated on 1A, which is the bulkhead row. There are three rows in Business Class this evening. And from what I can see, I think there are only six passengers seated up front.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the packaged towels and a small bottle of still water.

The Crew

The Business Class cabin is being taken care of by a gentlemen with a Turkish name. And I have to say, he‘s brilliant! One of the best flight attendants I‘ve experienced in a long time. He‘s cheerful, friendly, attentive and all round excellent at his job.

Once boarding is completed, he greets every passenger individually, informs us about the menu on the flight and takes orders for drinks with the meal.

The Meal

There is no choice for the meal. But then again, the flight is only 55 minutes to Paris.

The main course is a plate of salmon tatar with zucchini, a mango and avocado salsa, crème fraîche and pumpernikel crumble.

The dish is served with a plate of cheese and butter.

There is a selection of brown and white bread and crackers from the breadbasket and the crew go through the cabin twice offering bread.

For dessert there is prune compote with panna cotta and crumble.

Arrival

Eventually, we make our approach from the east, and although there is quite some traffic, there‘s no delay and we arrive on stand at 19:15. Exactly according to the schedule.

The Star Alliance operates out of Terminal 1 in Paris. That‘s the one that looks like a flying saucer. It may not be the most practical design, but it‘s just so stylish…!

Getting into Town

I exit arrivals and make a quick stop at Marks and Spencer to get a sandwich for dinner. From there I head outside at door 32 to catch the bus into town.

Terminal 1 does not have a railway station. So if you want to take the train, you first need to take the CDGval to Terminal 2. Alternatively, you can also catch a Le Bus Direct bus service. There are various lines. I think the service is very expensive at EUR19 for a oneway ticket. But the number 2 line goes straight to Porte Maillot nonstop, which is convenient for where I need to go.

The journey take 25 minutes in good traffic and 45 minutes in normal Parisian traffic.

To conclude, I must say this was a short but very pleasant flight with Swiss today. All of the crew were friendly and seemed generally happy to be there, which isn‘t always the case with Swiss.