Concorde

Surely, you didn’t think I would write a piece about British airliners and not mention Concorde. That would be, in a word, sacrilegious.

Sadly, I am too young to have had the opportunity to fly Concorde. But at least I do remember seeing her in Heathrow on occasion. One time, I wasn’t even five yet, because we still lived in Malta, we were on our way back home on one of Air Malta’s Boeing B 720s. And anyone who has ever been in a Boeing 720 with the engines on knows that it’s certainly not a quiet aircraft. In any case, I sat glued to the window as we approached the threshold, because Concorde was taxiing out ahead of us and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t miss her departure. Little did I know that there was absolutely no way anyone at the airport was going to miss Concorde making her grand exit.

I could just about see her from my seat, standing on the runway in front of us, lined up and waiting for her clearance. And then the blue flames lit up as the afterburners were ignited and the thunderous roar of her four engines caused everything in our rickety old B 720 to start vibrating. I could even feel the roar deep down in my ribcage. It was magnificent…

Many years later, 34 to be exact, I met a man through the univesity where I work who usually lectures at Bristol University. He came to Switzerland to give a guest lecture. And seeing as the topic was Concorde, I figured the students probably wouldn’t mind me tagging along too.

What I remember about that meeting eight years ago, is that I’m quite sure the whole room heard the loud bang caused by my jaw dropping to the floor the first time our visitor from Bristol commented, in passing really, that ‘… at least that’s what it was like when we were designing Concorde…’.

Really? I mean… really? Like, Concorde? Standing before me was a very polished, well-mannered and very funny, humble gentleman who had actually been on the design team of Concorde! Our first meeting after the lecture did not go very well, because in my excitement at meeting him, the very first thing I did was ask him if I could touch him, as though to make sure he were real. Oh Lord, did I just say that out loud…? Fortunately, the gentlemen obviously knew a geek when he saw one and kindly extended his hand to me in greeting.

But I digress. In total, including the prototypes, 20 frames were built. The fleet was rather unceremoniously withdrawn from service following the tragic crash at Paris Roissy airport in 2000. But 18 have been preserved and are more or less accessible, or at least visible, to the public:

  • 001: F-WTSS Musée de L’Air et de L’Espace, Paris Le Bourget Airport
  • 002: G-BSST Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton
  • 101: G-AXDN Imperial War Museum, Duxford
  • 102: F-WTSA Musée Delta, Paris Orly Airport
  • 201: F-WTSB Airbus Plant, Toulouse Airport
  • 202: G-BBDG Broolandy Museum, Weybridge
  • 203: F-BTSC destroyed in a crash in Paris Roissy in 2000
  • 204: G-BOAC Manchster Airport
  • 205: F-BVFA Smithsonian National Air and Space Musem, Washinton DC
  • 206: G-BOAA Museum of Flight, East Lothian
  • 207: F-BVFB Auto und Technik Museum, Sinsheim
  • 208: G-BOAB Near the threshold of runway 27L, Heathrow Airport
  • 209: F-BVFC Airbus Plant, Toulouse Airport
  • 210: G-BOAD Intrepid Museum, New York NY
  • 211: F-BVFD Scrapped in 1994 after being parted out for spare parts
  • 212: G-BOAE Grandley Adams Airport, Bridgetown
  • 213: F-BTSD Musée de L’Air et de L’Espace, Paris Le Bourget Airport
  • 214: G-BOAG Museum of Flight, Seattle WA
  • 215: F-BVFF Roissy Airport, Paris Roissy Airport
  • 216: G-BOAF Aerospace Bristol, Bristol

And yes, because I just am such a geek, bold marks the ones I’ve already seen. The others will have to wait. But my time will come…

IWM Duxford

The frame on display at the IWM in Duxford is one of the prototypes and it’s still in the layout it was during flight testing. You can go inside and one of the friendly guides will show you around.

The Intrepid Museum

The frame at the Intrepid Museum is also accessible with a tour guide. They’re usually not all the knowledgeable, but that’s okay if it means being allowed inside Concorde.

The British Airliner Collection at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford

The start of World War II meant the abrupt end to the once proud British aircraft building industry. In the wake of cessation of hostilities and the capitulation of Germany, the British naively believed that they could more or less pick up where they had left off. Little did they realise that by then the Americans had already widened the gap, technologically at least, that would make it near impossible for the British ever to catch up.

In any case, after the war Winston Churchill set up the Brabazon committee, the aim of which was to explore the needs of the British aviation industry for it to be best prepared to meet the needs of the British Empire. Which was probably the second mistake, because by then the cracks were already beginning to show that would eventually lead to the Empire collapsing under the heavy burden of the costs necessary to maintain it on the one hand, and the awakening urge for independence by the former collonies and dominions.

The Brabazon committee gets its name from the first Baron Brabazon of Tara. The committee came up with a list of five types of aircraft that would be needed in future. The list was later extend to seven to include sub-types and categories of aircraft.

Tragically, it is probably safe to say that every one of the aircraft proposed by the Brabazon committee, perhaps with the exception of the Vickers Viscount, was a commercial failure. And some of the aircraft, like the Bristol Brabazon, never even entered into service.

Fortunately, some of the aircraft the were built as the result of the Brabazon committee’s requirements are still perfectly preserved today in the IWM Duxford near Cambridge.

Type IIa – The Airspeed Ambassador

Type IIa described a medium-range piston engine aircraft intended as a replacement for the Douglas DC-3. The Airpseed Ambassador is often referred to as the Elizabethan, as British European Airways introduced its Elizabethan European Service with this aircraft.

The Elizabethan had a capacity for sixty passengers. Only 23 of the aircraft were built, of which BEA had ordered 20 and that operated with the carrier for six years between 1952 and 1958. They found a second home with charter operator Dan Air.

Type IIb – The Vickers Viscount

Type IIb described a medium-range turboprop aircraft with a pressurized cabin that was intended to serve not so busy short- and medium-range destinations.

The Viscount proved quite a success. It had a seating capacity of 75 and a total of 445 of the aircraft were built in different variants. Perhaps what makes the Vickers Viscount quite unique among the airliners of the Brabazon committee, is that it was the only one to be operated by a US American operator. The last operational Viscount was not withdrawn from service until 2009.

Type IV – The De Havilland Comet

Type IV described a highspeed jet engine passenger jet.

The De Havilland Comet is probably the most famous post-War British aircraft design – for a number of reasons. When the Comet entered into service in May 1952, it caused a sensation as the world’s first commercial passenger jet. At the time, the British had every reasons to be confident about their design. After all, the only competitor for the Comet at the time, the American Boeing B 707, was still years away from its maiden flight and the first year of operations with the Comet suggested that it might even be possible to operate a commercially viable service with the type, despite the limited seating capacity of only 36 seats in the configuration of its launch customer BOAC.

But then of course, tragedy occurred and in fairly short sequence two aircraft literally fell out of the sky. Eventually it was determined that the aircraft had broken apart in mid-air as the result of structural fatigue caused by repeated cyles of pressurization and depressurization as the aircraft climbed and descended. Eventually, the manufacturer had no other option but to withdraw the aircraft from service until a solution could be found – which eventually meant, among other things, redesigning the windows from square to round to more evenly distribute the stress to the window frame.

The Comet was the first of its kind and De Havilland paid dearly for that. Its competitors were mindful to avoid the many mistakes that were made with the design of the Comet, and were able to benefit from the ground breaking advanced that were made by the British. For the Comet though, it was too late. By the time it had re-entered into service, the public’s and the operators’ confidence in the type was gone and the Americans had made significant progress on their own design, which would later evolve into the Boeing B 707.

Only 114 De Havilland Comets were built.

The Bristol Britannia

The Bristol Britannia was an elegant turboprop airliner that probably never should have been built – even though it proved popular with passengers and operators. Its design was marred by two hull losses during the trialling phase, which subsequently lead to significant delays in its development. Eventually, by the time the Bristol Britannia entered into service with BOAC in 1957, it was already too late, because the Boeing B 707 was looming on the horizon. The Boeing B 707 outclassed the Britannia on most counts: it has a greater seating capacity and it was significantly faster.

But the Briannia certainly was pretty. Probably its most recognisable feature were its four powerful Bristol Proteus engines with their four large propeller blades – which were commonly referred to as the Bristol Spinners. The phrase was later used as a British slang term for large breasts, although I think that’s probably no longer in fashion in the age of political correctness.

The Hawker Siddley Trident

The Trident was the result of a call that was made by British European Airways for a jet airliner to serve its European network. The Trident’s claim to fame is that it became the first aircraft to do a fully automatic landing in bad visibility in revenue service. Perhaps its most unique feature though, was the nose wheel, which was offset to the left and after take-off would retract sideways to the right into its gear well and not forward, as most airliners do.

The Trident’s main issue was that it was developed around the same time as the American Boeing B 727. By then, Boeing had pretty much corrnered the market for passenger jets, following the success of the Boeing B 707. And in fact, the Trident entered into service in 1964, only two months behind its rival, the Boeing B 727.

BEA was the main operator for the type, with 24 aircraft being delivered to them. Subsequently, 20 were inherited by British Airways when BEA and BOAC merged. In total only 117 of the Trident were built. By comparison, 1832 Boeing B 727s were built, making it the most successful passenger jet until the B 737 came along.

The Vickers VC-10

And now, finally, we turn to the VC-10, which is, hand down, the most beautiful and elegant airliner ever built. I think. Technically, the VC-10 was quite a marvel. It was designed to operate long-range services with good hot and high performance characteristics for operations to and from Africa. In 1979 the VC-10 broke the speed record for the fastest transatlantic crossing of a subsonic aircraft, with a flight time of only five hours and one minute. It held that record until 2020, when a Boeing B 747 undercut it by five minutes.

Only 54 VC-10s were ever built, 29 of which went to BOAC. There are many reasons why the VC-10 failed, even though it was very popular with the crews and the passengers. For one, the Americans did everything they could to prevent it from becoming a success. For another, Vickers was already having serious financial issues by that time. But probably its biggest flaw was that it had been built too close to the specification of only one customer – BOAC. As such, many of the aircraft’s performance characteristics were of no real interest for many other operators.

But she was so, so elegant…!

SN Brussels Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Transfer in Brussels

The flight from Stockholm ejects me straight onto the A concourse of the Europa pier in Brussels. All the Schengen lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area at the start of the pier.

The SAS Business Class Lounge

My Senator status entitles me to use any Star Gold lounge, so obviously I decide to go for the SAS lounge for the simple reason that I’m quite intrigued to see that they even have their own lounge in Brussels.

The facilities inside the lounge are nice, this could be a SAS lounge anywhere in Scandinavia. The only thing I’m not really so sure about though, are the orange Buddah figurines covered in velvet that have been nailed to the wall…

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A 35, which is a bus gate. And judging by how few passengers get on the bus before we eventually leave, I suspect the flight is going to be more or less empty.

The flight today is operated by a Bombardier Dash 8-400 of Austrian Airlines, which still retains it’s Austrian livery. Only the titles have been removed and replaced with those of SN Brussels Airlines.

Over the years, Basel has seen just about every narrowbody type ever operated either by SN Brussels Airlines or on their behalf operating the Brussels to Basel route.

The Cabin

It is somewhat unfortunate that the branding expert at Austrian Airlines is evidently colour blind. At least, I have no other explanation for the onslaught of colour that hits me as I enter the cabin. I mean, the red uniforms with those hideous red stockings are bad enough. But the way the red clashes with the various shades of snot-green colour of the upholstery and carpet is seriously making my eyeballs hurt. But at least one of the bulkheads is sky blue.

On the up side, the flight is nearly empty, so I can pick any seat I like!

The Meal

Given that the flight time to Basel is usually a little less than fifty minutes, there is no buy on board on this flight. Instead, each passenger is treated to any choice of drink from the bar trolley and a packet of Doritos, which I have no intention of eating and don’t even bother to open.

Arrival

And then we’re already descending into Basel and then I’m back in the sweltering heat.

Conclusion

SN Brussels is a strange airline. Okay, as a former Swissair employee there’s probably still some resentment in me for the airline formerly known as SABENA. But even so, I just find SN Brussels very boring and nondescript. I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid them, but I also don’t think I’d actively seek them out for my next trip.

Brussels Airlines, Economy Class – AVRO RJ100: Stockholm Bromma to Brussels

This is a previously unpublished report from 2012.

Introduction

SN Brussels Airlines is, to the best of my knowledge, one of only very few international airlines that operate to Stockholm Bromma Airport and not to Arlanda. Until the 1960s Bromma was Stockholm’s only airport. When the facility was first established, it was still on the outskirts of the city. However, by the time Arlanda opened, the city was starting to infringe on the airport. And perhaps that explains why Arlanda was built so far out of town: to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen again so quickly.

Getting to the Airport

To get from Gashaga Bryggen, where I’m staying, to Bromma airport by public transport, you first need to take the Lidingöbanan from Gashaga to Ropsten, and then from there you connect to the T13 metro line that will take you to the central station.

The Flygbussarna, or airport bus, leaves from the Central Station. Apparently, not that many people know that there are two airports in Stockholm. Which probably explains why the bus driver, with a resigned tone of voice and a heavy sigh, tells every single passenger as they board that this bus is going to Bromma airport, not Arlanda, and the bus will not stop anywhere on the way. Okay?

Eventually, the bus fills up and we depart. We probably haven’t even moved 200 metres when the bus driver makes yet another announcement asking all passengers if they’re sure they’re on the right bus and want to go to Bromma, not Arlanda. And of course some Spanish woman pipes up from the back of the bus, runs frantically to the front and begs the driver to drop her off because she really, really needs to go to Arlanda, not Bromma…

Check-in

Bromma airport is really very small. It’s a two story building that looks like it hasn’t changed much since the 60s or 70s. It’s actually interesting to see how much airport design has changed over they years.

The Lounge

The only available lounge is the Yellow Room operated by Malmö Aviation. But apparently, SN Brussels were too cheap to contract this lounge for their Senators. But it’s no big deal, I rather like this dinky little airport.

Boarding

Boarding is also very old school. There are no airbridges (woohoo..!), which means that passengers walk across the apron to their aircraft. There are covered walkways though, although I’m not sure how efficient these might be during a snow storm in the cold Swedish winter.

The Cabin

The Avro RJ100 is a strange size in that the cabin diameter actually permits for a six abreast configuration in Economy Class, which is what British Airways Citiflyer and Cityjet have gone for. And it ain’t pretty, because the seat pitch is also quite tight. Fortunately though, SN Brussels has gone with the five abreast configuration, which means that while the circulation to your legs is just as likely to stop on these birds too, at least you can flap your arms around with greater ease and comfort as you gradually start to panic as the loss of sensation to your legs sets in.

The AVRO RJ100, which was originally conceived as the BAe 146-300, was designed as a STOL (short take off or landing) passenger transport that could operate from smaller airports with limited infrastructure. To ensure that passengers could board and deboard easily, the aircraft carries its own set of steps for the forward L1 door. However, this meant that the wing of the aircraft would have to be placed above the fuselage in order maintain enough clearance for the engines but still be low enough above the ground to be able to use integrated stairs.

As a passenger and a geek, I’ve always enjoyed the RJ100’s unique design. First of all, because it gives you excellent ground visibility from pretty much any seat on board, and secondly, because it’s interesting to watch the movement of the flaps during the climb out and landing phase.

The Meal

Service on SN Brussels Airlines is strictly buy on board in Economy Class. There is a menu and pricelist in every seatpocket.

I decide to with a balanced and healthy combination of Coke Zero and a muffin for EUR4.-, which is reasonable I think.

Arrival

And then, very soon we start our descent into Brussels, which means I’m now glued to the window to make sure I don’t miss the flaps being deployed. Although of course, there’s no chance of anyone on the plane missing that given the noise the RJ100 makes when the flaps are moved either up or down. It’s rather hard to describe. I suppose it sounds a bit like a racing car zooming past your ears at close quarters. As the flaps are deployed the sound is descending, so as though the ‘car’ were slowing down. I asked our aerodynamicist in the office once if he had any idea what caused the sound. But I shall not give you his answer to avoid offending anyone…

Transfer in Brussels

Eventually, we land in Brussels on time. I now have two hours to make my connection to Basel.

Växholm

When I was a child, Ferien auf Saltkrokan, or Seacrow Island in English, was one of my favourite books by Astrid Lindgren. I have no idea how many times I read that book! Essentially, the story follows the adventures of four siblings on summer vacation on Seacrow Island with their slightly clumsy but kind and good hearted father. For me as a child the characters were so real that I often wondered what it would be like to visit the island and meet them in person.

Seacrow Island does not really exist, of course. Astrid Lindgren made it up. But the island of Växholm in the Stockholm archipelago comes pretty close to what I always imagined Astrid Lindgren’s island might look like.

And if you need a rest from ambling through the quiet streets of Växholm, I can highly recommend the Växholms Hembygdsgard Café, which has an extensive selection of truly delectable creamy cakes.

When I was there, the place was quite busy. But it was still nice to sit down by the water, listening to the birds chirping and eating a gorgeous creamy cake.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Stockholm Arlanda

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Introduction

I’ve decided to visit Stockholm for a long weekend. It’s nearing the end of summer so I figure it should be nice up north around this time of year. Probably, for most people the summer is a time to be outside having barbecues and stuff. But quite frankly, despite the fact that I was born on a Mediterranean island, I’ve never been able to handle the summer heat all that well. So a weekend trip to Stockholm, to me at least, holds the promise of respite from the oppressive humidity and the summer heat in Switzerland.

Getting to the Airport

On Friday afternoon I catch the train from Zürich Main Station to Zürich Airport. In July and August Switzerland pretty much comes to a halt, as this is when most families with kids go on vacation, and so the train is not very full.

Neither is the airport actually. It’s 10 August, which means that now all the traffic will be home bound tourists returning ahead of the start of the autumn semester at school.

Check-in

The SWISS check-in area is calm. There are no business travellers about either, which is kind of nice. Not because of the business travellers as such, but because it’s just nice to travel without hassle.

Which also means you can take your time as security without being rushed by the staff.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

I make a brief stop at the lounge to grab something to eat and drink – just in case. Most of the flights I take with SWISS these days are usually short hops of one hour or so, which means I’m not really quite sure what to expect from the flight to Stockholm with a block time of over two hours.

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule and the gate agent is obviously working to make sure we still manage to get away on time. So boarding is not by priority, just the usual scrum. But I figure that’s okay, because the flight is not that full anyway.

The Cabin

The cabin, or rather the seats, are not exactly in the best of condition. The leather on the seat is worn and threadbare and there are scratches on the back covers. There’s also some food left from the previous flight stuck in my seatbelt. Which is totally unfair, because the guy next to me still had a half eaten chocolate in his seat pocket…

The Crew

The crew seem tense and preoccupied. They’re certainly not rude or anything, but they all seem a bit distant. Either they’re worried about delays the passengers don’t know about, or perhaps they just haven’t found their groove as a crew.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the smell of warm food starts wafting through the cabin. Initially, I figure they’re probably just heating up the crew meals for the cockpit. But then once the service starts, it turns out the hot meals are for the passengers. Hurrah!

… or maybe not hurrah. Good heavens! The hot snack consists of a sort of rectangular pizza that has been heated in its card board box. KLM also serves these on longer flights in Europe and they’re just so, so bad. The taste isn’t really so much of an issue, if you’re into greasy fast food with zero nutritional value that will clog up your arteries and gives you heart burn just from looking at it.

But it just looks so vile. The bottom of the cardboard box is all greasy, where the oil has seeped in and soaked he cardboard. Which I guess is a win because that means the grease is not in your body, which is probably better for your digestive system and your life expectancy.

To drink I have a cup of water and a cup of coffee. The coffee is usually not too bad on SWISS. For dessert, of course, the crew pass through the cabin with those fabulous little SWISS chocolates.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful and passes quickly. Although it does take the crew a whole hour before they finally pass through the cabin to remove the trash. I guess that’s one way of keeping passengers in their seats.

Getting into Town

In Stockholm I’ll by staying at the Gashaga Sealodge. To get there, I first take the outrageously expensive Arlanda Express to the Central Station. Then from there it’s the tube line 13 to Ropsten and then finally, from there the Lidingöbanan, which is something of a hypbrid between a tram and a train.

Six Senses Con Dao, Vietnam

Con Dao is one of sixteen islands of an archipelago just off the coast of Vietnam. The island has a rather dark history in that the French built a prison there in the 19th century that was later also used during the Vietnam war.

Today, the island of Con Dao is a lot more peaceful and quiet. I stayed at the Six Senses Hotel, which is a beautiful facility spread out along the beach. There is the main complex with the spa, restaurants, and reception and then there are the beach villas that sprawl over quite a vast area.

The villas offer a lot of privacy. I stayed in an ocean-front two bedroom pool villa, which was really quite huge and offered a lot of space for just two people. Essentially, there are three structures to the villa. In the centre is the common living area with the living room, dining room, kitchen and laundry.

To the left and right are the two bedrooms, both of which have large double beds and a large bathroom with an in- and outdoor shower.

The villa had two pools. The smaller, square one was probably intended as the kiddie pool, where as the larger one was for the ‘grown ups’. The larger pool was about ten metres long, so still not long enough to do laps.

Of course, for some serious swimming you can always take a dip in the sea, which is literally just a stone’s throw away…

La Hummuseria, Madrid

La Hummuseria is a vegetarian restaurant in the very heart of old Madrid. If you’re not paying attention, it may well happen that you end up passing the restaurant without even noticing, because it sits right above the entrance to an undergorund carpark.

The decor of the restaurant is hard to describe. It’s an uncoordinated mix of different styles and pieces of furniture that have been thrown together haphazardly. But the decor is not why you should visit this place.

The cuisine has a decidedly mediterranean flavour and is an interesting mix of middle eastern mezze and Spanish tapas. As such, if you’re visiting as a pair or with a group, it would probably make sense to order a selection from the menu. The staff are all very friendly and will certainly be able to lend a hand if you get stuck for choice.

It’s probably best if you plan ahead and make a reservation way, way in advance. But it’s certainly worth it!

Spicer’s Hidden Vale

Introduction

The Spicer’s Hidden Vale is a lovely estate near Grandchester, Queensland. To get there, it’s probably best to fly into Brisbane and then continue from there by car. It’s a distance of about 100km and takes about 90 minutes to get to.

The hotel is spread over a number of buildings, with the restaurant in the main building and the guests’ rooms scattered across the grounds.

There’s also a pool and a spa and the hotel organises a whole set of daily activities for guests. However, if, like me, you just prefer to spend your day lounging about without doing anything much, it’s a great place to do it.

The Room

The room is comfortable and cosy, with a nice porch by the entrance. Although to be honest, by day there are too many flies and by night there are too many frogs milling about.

The Restaurant

The food in the restaurant is good and breakfast outside on the veranda in the morning is really lovely. However, if you’re vegetarian or picky eater, then perhaps this may not be the place for you. I stayed for three nights and more or less exhausted the all the options on the vegetarian menu. But the dishes were certainly well prepared.

Conclusion

The Spicer’s hidden Vale is a lovely place set in a gorgeous scenery in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of place you should go to if you need to relax and unwind and you most certainly will. In the mornings I went running along the only road that passes through the area. It was always very quiet. And how cn you resist with a view like this?

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Bandar Seri Begawan to Singapore

This is a previously unpublished post from 2013

Introduction

I have not idea what it was like for others of course, but many moons ago, for me as a student studying linguistics, I often wondered if I’d made the right choice. I used to worry I wouldn’t be able to find a job once I graduated or that I’d end up doing something I didn’t really enjoy for a loss of anything better to do.

Fortunately, with a lot of luck and a bit of help, things worked out. But little did I imagine back in those days what my life would be after I graduated. Today I consider myself very fortunate in that my work is something I really enjoy. My work has also allowed me to travel the world and meet so many fascinating people.

Looking back, there are a few moments that have stuck in my memory. Mainly, because I recall thinking to myself at the time: ‘How on earth to you end up here…?’. For example, the first time I gave a speech in the great assembly hall at ICAO HQ in Montreal. I wasn’t too phased by the audience of about 300 delegates watching. But I must confess, as a life long aviation geek it just gave me such a thrill knowing that the front of the podium I was standing behind was embalzoned with the ICAO logo.

Another such ‘how on earth’ moment was the trip I made in 2013 to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei to attend a conference on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements. My colleague the flying Dutchman eventually ended up on the evening news and I made into the daily papers. In particular, I remember sitting next to an Indonesian captain at lunch, who was capable of flawlessly saying ‘Ja, ich han gärn Rösti’ – a phrase he picked up during his training at Swissair for his type rating on the MD-11. The phrase means ‘yes, I like Rösti’. He also had a few swear words and obscentities he could do in Swiss German, which certainly kept me entertained through lunch. But let’s not go there.

Another thing I remember about Brunei is that apart from being vey friendly, most of the locals I met were, in some form or other, related to the Sultan. Whereever I went, I was introduced to people who would mention, by way of greeting, that ‘yeah, he is my cousin…’.

And so it goes without saying that the Sultan even features in my departure from Bunei on my way back home to Switzerland via Singapore.

At the Airport

My flight to Singapore is scheduled to depart in the late afternoon, to connect to the night time service to Zürich. Brunei airport is a decently sized facility. It’s also very quiet.

The Lounge

The Business Class lounge is located on the first floor of an odd structure that looks as though it had been haphazardly plonked in the middle of the airside lounge area as an afterthought. For all I know, quite possibly that’s actually true.

The facilities at the lounge are fairly basic, but it has a good internet connection and the seating options are comfortable enough. Generally speaking, my one complaint about the whole terminal building is that views of the outside are very difficult and generally obstructed in one form or other.

Eventually, I see my aircraft from Singapore gliding down to land between the shutters. The aircraft slows to taxi speed, turns right off the runway and onto the taxiway – and then stops. The engines are turned off and a set of stairs is brought to the L1 door of the aircraft. Next, a red carpet is rolled out from the bottom step. Around the same time, a long line of about twelve black limousines line up, parallel to the aircraft.

One or two persons at a time emerge from the aircraft, walk down the stairs and into the first waiting limousine. The car drives off, and another two persons emerge and do the same thing. Until eventually, the last car leaves. The stairs are removed with the red carpet, the aircraft is hooked to a tug and subsequently towed to the gate. By this time the return flight’s departure time is just coming up.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts with quite a delay. I have a long layover in Singapore, so I’m not all that bothered. But some of the other passengers are looking decidely concerned about their connection in Singapore.

The Crew

The crew are in a mad rush to get passengers settled as quickly as possible. But that is no reason for the fabulous Singapore girls to forget their manners. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in the red Kebaya comes through the cabin to welcome every passenger on board individually and apologize for the delay. When she reaches my seat, I ask her what the black limousines were all about. She explains to me that apparently, his royal highness was on a state visit with his entourage but his aircraft went tech. As a result, the poor man had no other option but to suffer the inconvenience of booking the whole of the First and Business Class section for his return trip on a ‘commercial’ airline. I find that kind of ironic though, because the Sultan has a current type rating for the B747, an A 340 and a Gulfstream that he owns…

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the service begins with welcome drinks. I have a glass of apple juice, which is served with a packet of mixed nuts.

The First Course

For the first course, there is a small bowl of salmon sashimi served with a bit of salad and pickles.

The Main Course

For the main course, I have the Nasi Uduk with fish. It’s basically a plate of steamed coconut rice that is served with pieces of fried fish, a boiled egg and some dried fish and peanuts for condiments. It’s very tasty. And the size of the portion is decent too!

Dessert

For dessert I have a chocolate brownie with vanilla sauce, which makes a change from those dreadful creams many other airlines offer and that are so generic and usually not very tasty either…

Arrival

Eventually we land in Singapore with quite a delay. Which suits me well, because it shortens the time of my layover in Singapore.