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

Transfer in Zürich

By the time I ‘m comfortably settled on one of the sofas in the SWISS First Class lounge it’s 06h30. I have another hour before my departure to Paris. As soon as I take a seat, one of the lounge attendants comes over and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to order from the menu. I tell her a coffee would be great. Other than that though, I’m still quite full from breakfast on the plane.

The one thing that really always strikes me about SWISS, is just how incredibly ugly their uniforms are. And it’s not just that they’re ugly, they’re also clearly of very poor quality, badly cut and would even make a supermodel look frumpy. I understand that not all airlines can be like Singapore Airlines with their timeless and iconic SQ Kebaya that was designed by Balmain in 1968. But I also think that the appearance of an airline’s staff in their uniforms and the pride with which they wear it says a lot about the corporate culture and management’s appreciation for their frontline staff.

Boarding

At 07h15 I exit the lounge and make my way to the boarding gate at A 66. I figure I might as well wait for the intial scrum to pass before I step aboard. By the time I reach the gate it’s already more or less emptied, with just a few remaining passengers milling about. You know the ones. They wait until the very last moment to step aboard because of some incredibly important call they need to make at the top of their voices… Well let them, I’m tired and I need to sit down, so I make a B-line for the gate attendant who scans my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

The service

I’m seated on 1A. A bottle of still water and a refreshing towel are already at me seat when I arrive.

There are two middle-aged women working the Business Class cabin, and they couldn’t be more different from the crew of the previous flight from Singapore. One of them barely speaks any funtional German and has a strong Eastern European accent when she speaks English. Meanwhile, her colleague is doing a bloody convincing interpretation of the Queen of Frump. But I must say, they are friendly, if perhaps a tad too reserved. We can’t all be social butterflies…

The cabin

There are nine rows of Business Class, for a total of 36 seat. However, there are only four passengers in the forward cabin on this flight. I ask with one of the cabin crew and apparently they’re expecting a full load on the inbound to Zürich.

The expected flight time is exactly one hour.

The meal – breakfast

Within minutes of getting airborne, the crew start preparing for breakfast. On the small tray there is a glas of berry Birchermüsli and a plate with cold cuts, cheese and egg.

To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice. The crew make two rounds with the breadbasket. As soon as I’m done, the crew remove my tray.

Looking from above, the difference between Europe and Australia is really quite striking. In Europe more or less every inch of land is exploited for agriculture, whereas in Australia you can spend hours flying over vast stretches of untouched wilderness.

Arrival

Very soon we’re starting our descent into Paris. The crew pass through the cabin with the chocolates while the passengers are treated to a complimentary sightseeing tour of Paris. Our approach brings us in past Notre Dame cathedral, then the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile. We continue on a Westerly track in the direction of Versailles before eventually doing a 180 degree turn to line up for an approach towards the East.

I already miss Australia, but I’ve very much missed this too. No matter what troubles Europe may be heading into right now, the age and traditions of its cities are comforting to me – because they speak of longevity and of resilience.

Our aircraft comes to a stop at one of the stands on the D concourse, and within minutes my suitcases appear on the luggage belt. And just like that I’m back where it all began two months ago.

Conclusion

This brings to an end my sabbatical of 2022, which should have happened in 2020 originally, and then very nearly didn’t happen at all. Before I left on this trip, my dad asked me why it had to be Australia, if the purpose of this trip was for me to have some time to work on my Phd thesis in peace and quiet. And I guess it’s a valid point. All I can say is that I really like being in Australia. The lethal snakes, spiders, sharks and croccodiles aside, I like the way the earth smells in Australia, I enjoyed going for long walks along the beach early every morning in Manly, and I loved listening to the unique strangeness of the whistles and chirps (and also screeches…) of the birds. And I really, really enjoyed the openess and the friendly curiosity of the Australians.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Singapore to Zürich

Transfer in Changi 3

My A 380 from Sydney pulls onto its stand just after 21h. The flight ends at Terminal 3, which is also from where my flight to Zürich will be leaving. In fact, I can see my B 777 parked at the gate three stands down. The A 380 I just arrived on will be departing again in about two hours for London Heathrow.

Terminal 3 is a lot livelier than Sydney airport was. Before I head for the lounge, I decide to go on a bit of a walkabout to stretch my legs a bit after the long flight from Sydney. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting before I’m done with the journey home.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge T3

The Silver Kris Lounge in T3 was only recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment. They’ve added some nice touches. But over all, I still can’t say I really like Singapore Airlines’ corporate design. The lounge looks a lot like the lobby of one of the big hotel chains in the United States, which I’m sure has it’s own appeal if you’re over seventy…

SWISS First Class passengers are eligible to use the First Class lounge, the entrance to which is off to the left from reception.

The only thing I’m really after in the lounge is a nice long shower. Luckily, it appears that at this time of night people are not inclined to take showers, so basically I can take my pick and there’s no queue. The shower rooms are well stocked with shaving kits, tooth brushes and a no name brand of shower gel and shampoo.

The shower hits the spot nicely. I then take a seat and catch up on a few work emails. Not point in trying to put of the inevitable anymore, I guess.

Boarding

I arrive at the gate at 22h45 to find there’s a long queue for security. I really don’t like this concept of having closed gates with individual security checkpoints. I mean, it’s great that the Singapore government is obviously trying to create jobs here, but it is awfully inconvenient. So I decide to take a seat outside and wait for the actual boarding to start.

After a few minutes, a young lady from SWISS’ handling agent approaches me. She’s holding a sign with my name on it. She checks my boarding pass and then asks me to follow her, apparently she’s going to escort me through security. I’m in two minds about the whole process though. On the hand, I think it’s great that SWISS takes care of its premium passengers, and it’s not their fault the boarding situation in Changi is what it is. On the other hand, I must say it’s kind of awkward to have so many people directing the stink eye at me for cutting the queue. I feel like telling them it’s not my fault and pointing at the young lady, but that would be throwing the poor gate agent under the bus.

The cabin

On this flight I’m seated on 2A, which is basically the same seat I had on the outbound – just one row further back. The cabin is full tonight, with eight out of eight seats taken. What is interesting, is that there isn’t a single passenger in First Class heading for Zürich. One passenger is connecting to London City, two to Brussels, two to Copenhagen, two to Amsterdam and then me to Paris.

The service

There are two female cabin crew working the First Class cabin this evening. One of them is a German young lady, who is very bright and sharp. She basically anticipates what passengers want before they even realise it themselves. Her colleague is a Romande and very French in her manners, which makes for an interesting and rather charming combination in terms of the composition of the crew.

In short sequence I am brought the pajamas, a cold refreshing towel, a glas of water and the amuse bouche.

The crew come to take my order for dinner. But I tell them it’s already been a long day, so after take-off I would like to have the bed made up for me straight away so I can get some sleep. The flight time is announced as twelve hours and thirty minutes.

True to their word, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the German cabin crew arrives with hangers for me to go change out of my clothes while she makes up my bed.

The meal – midnight snack

I actually manage to get nearly seven hours of sleep. It doesn’t take long for the crew to notice I’m awake again, and immediately they both come to check if there’s anything I’d like. I tell them I’m feeling a bit hungry, so a small snack would be nice. “Überlassen Sie das uns…” the German one says, leave it to us. A few minutes later they are back with a cup of coffee, a cheese platter with a selection of crackers and bread, three packets of popcorn, two packets of Zweifel crisps and two packets of cashew nuts. The French crew reassures me that there’s plenty more where that came from and to just let them know. I must say, I thik I could get used to being mothered like this…! It’s kind of sweet.

The meal – second service

A few hours later the cabin begins to stir and passengers start waking up. The French crew approaches me and asks if I’d like to get a head start on breakfast before the rush begins, which is very considerate of her. Shen then proceeds to basically bring me a bit of everything there is on the menu:

A bread basket, served with butter and a selection of preserves and honey.

Fresh orange juice and coffee to drink.

Birchermüsli and fresh fruit.

And yoghurt (recommended by the crew, who tell me it’s delicious – which it really is).

Oh yes, and just in case I’m still feeling hungry, an omelette with sausage, bacon, tomato and potato.

By the time breakfast is done, we’re just past Belgrade with another eighty minutes to run to Zürich. I mean, I really was quite upset having to leave Australia. But sitting here watching Europe gradually wake up to a new day is also very nice, and I become aware of just how much I’ve missed my home continent, my family and my friends. It’s good to be back!

Arrival in Zürich

We’re the second aircraft to touch down in Zürich after the curfew is lifted at six. We make a quick taxi to our gate and the crew come to wish me a safe onward journey. They also tell me the driver will be waiting for us as we disembark through the L1 door to drive us to the Schengen area. The first thing that strikes me as I deplane, is just how different Switzerland smells. It’s oddly familiar but feels somewhat exotic after the smell of Australia these last two months.

And because this is an airline blog after all, I just want to mention that I think the B 777 is really hot shit. What a beast, and the size of those formidable engines is just… just…

We all pile into the minibus and then we’re off – and I nearly have a heart attack before I remember that they drive on the right side of the road here – and not on the left. I’ll have to reprogramme my brain… again.

Once we get to the main terminal at the other side of runway 28, we go through immigration and are then escorted up to the First Class lounge to wait for our onward connections. If you’re arriving from Singapore, at least in First Class there is no need to go through security again.

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

Introduction

Two months have passed in the blink of an eye, and it’s already time for me to start making my way back home again. I always find leaving Australia difficult, probably because it’s not so easy to get to, or at least not so quick. Of course, it doesn’t help that Australia is gradually moving into spring, which means that the weather during this last week has been gorgeous.

On my last visit to Australia, I had breakfast at The Pantry on Manly Beach on my last day. It’s where I promised that one day I’d be back. So I figure it’s a good omen if I do the same this time, in the hope that eventually I will return some day.

Getting to the airport

The regular ferry from Manly to Circular Quay takes between twenty and twenty-five minutes to make the journey. However, if you’re lucky or plan ahead, you might just end up on one of the old Manly ferries, which are slower and take about thirty minutes to make the journey. The Freshwater that you can see in the photo below is one of those old ferries. She makes her first journey from Circular Quay to Manly at 09h30 in the morning, and from then on every two hours. I enjoy taking the old ferry, it’s a far more pleasant and leisurely trip than than on the newer, faster catamarans which depart every twenty minutes.

From Circular Quay , the journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes by train or taxi.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row F, which is more or less in the middle of the check-in concourse.

Singapore Airlines occupies the whole of one side of row F of the check-in counters. There are nine counters in total, of which two are for Suites passengers. My bags are checked all the way through to Paris, and then I’m on my way.

There is a separate line for First and Business Class passengers for immigration. But don’t hold your breath, because right behind immigration there is only one queue for security for all passengers. It’s rather long too, but at least it moves quite fast.

Behind security, you are ejected into a large duty free area with a wide offering of Australian products, including the fabulous TimTam biscuits and Vegemite.

On my way to the lounge, I spot my aircraft trying to hide behind an Air Niugini and a Speedbird.

Most of the airside retailers and restaurants are still closed, including Mc Donald’s.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge

Given the number of flights Singapore Airlines operates out of Sydney, it’s hardly surprising that they have their own lounge facility. There is one reception area for all passengers, and then those travelling in Suites access the First Class section through a door on the right side of the reception desk.

The lounge is small and has an nice, intimate feel. There is a dining area as well as a few large, comfortable armchairs by the window.

Although there is an extensive buffet available, waiting staff serve you directly at your seat. First I have some dim sum and a beef pie.

Then one of the waiters brings me two duck pancakes and chicken satay. The pancakes are not very good. I’ve never been much of a fan of duck anyway, but the pancakes are just very stiff, hard and too chewy to be enjoyable.

The satay are good though.

Boarding

Boarding for our 15h00 departure starts at 14h30 from gate 57.

There is a separate queue for upper deck passengers. I pass through the gate and make my way down the airbridge. And that’s when it hits me with a pang that this is really happening and I’m about to leave Australia.

The cabin

The First Class Suites are located to your left as you enter the aircraft on the upper deck, right behind the galley. There are six suites in a 1 + 1 configuration.

The suites are not quite as private as the Air France La Première seat because the walls do not reach all the way up to the ceiling and there are apertures in the door for crew to check on you. Nonetheless, it’s still quite private and quiet.

The main feature of the Suites, of course, is the bed that is separate from the seat.

One of my beefs with the Suite is that you have to swivel your seat around to face towards the door in the dining position. However, as can be seen in the photo below, that means that during the meal service you end up having to face the passenger sitting across the aisle. At least on today’s flight the Suite opposite mine remains empty.

The Suite offers a lot of storage space. Having said that, I also think there’s a lot of unnecessary space that seems wasted and hardly serves any purpose. Still, all in all it’s a very pleasant set up.

Amenities

A set of B&O earphones, eye shades and socks are already at my seat when I arrive.

Singapore Airlines also offers a vanity kit to Suite passengers. Although to be honest, I think the Singapore Airlines vanity kit must be one of the most useless ones in the industry. Inside it are a scented candle and a small bar of hand soap. I mean, I get that the vanity kit is also intended as a small gift to passengers, but does it really have to be something that is so obviously useless? Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the two bathrooms.

The service

The crew on this flight are excellent and really just very funny in their interaction with passengers. Even so, they’re also very efficient and provide the kind of flawlessly elegant service that Singapore Airlines is known for. Throughout the flight, the crew use my family name each time the address me.

As soon as I step aboard, one of the crew helps me stow away my things and settle in, while the other brings me a glas of the Dom Perignon. Out of curiosity, I ask how many bottles of champagne they go through on an A 380 in one flight. They tell me they usually have six bottles of the Dom outbound from Sydney, and if that runs out, they still have the Krug as the backup.

The menu for the flight is already at my seat when I arrive. The crew come to ask if I have any questions about the menu and to let me know they’re happy to help me with the wine pairings. I tell them I’ll only be having sparkling water with the meal. The crew’s attention to detail is really quite impressive: at no stage of the meal is my glas ever empty.

The meal – first service

After take off, the crew come to take my order. I’m a bit undecided, so the green kebaya flight attendant suggests that I should try a bit of everything from the starters and then see how I feel about the rest as we go along. I mean, if you really insist… The meal begins with an initial drink service and a small ramekin of warmed nuts.

And then the table is set for the meal.

First starter: we start with the traditional caviar service. Each passengers gets a whole jar, which is served with blinis, boiled egg, chives, lemon and crème fraîche.

The crew pass through the cabin with the bread basket once only, which is good because otherwise I’ll only end up overdosing on the garlic bread…

Second starter: seared salmon with pickled kohlrabi. This dish is similar to the one I had the last time I flew out of Sydney on Singapore Airlines. This time around though, it tastes much better. Especially the horseradish gives the dish a nice zing.

Third starter: the pancetta soup. Now this dish is really quite amazing. It’s a bit like a minestrone, but they’ve managed to make it more sophisticated and lighter at the same time.

Main course: chicken Sha Jehani style. For the main course I go with the Indian dish, which is chicken in a spicy gravy served with dhal and vegetables. This is a lovely dish and very fragrant.

Dessert: Orange and almond cake with custard. Oh my goodness, this is really just to die for. The custard complements the orange perfectly and the cake is perfectly moist and full of flavour. There are small pieces of caramelised nuts on the plate too, which give it a nice bit of extra crunch.

After all that, the red kebaya flight attendant comes to ask me if it’s okay for her to bring me the cheese selection. She looks rather crestfallen when I beg for mercy and tell her that I really, really couldn’t eat anything else because I’m so full. So we compromise and she asks me if then at least she can bring me some coffee.

After the meal I go to one of the two very large bathrooms at the front of the cabin to change into my pajamas, while the crew make up the bed for me to have a nap.

The bed is rather hard, which I find quite pleasant because its easier on my back and my two slipped discs. My only complaint is that for a guy my size the bed is just very narrow. It’s fine as long as you’re not moving. But every time I turn I’m very careful to make sure I don’t end up rolling off the bed.

The meal – second service

About ninety minutes out of Singapore the crew notice I’m moving around and ask me if I’d like them to remove the bedding. They also ask me if I’d like anything to eat before we land, so I’ll be able to go straight to bed on the connecting flight.

I decide to go with the seafood congee, which not bad. Although it’s also rather bland. For dessert I have a plate of fruit.

Arrival into Singapore

Our arrival into Singapore is smooth. We land and very slowly make our way to our parking stand at Terminal 3. I thank the crew as I disembark and they wish me a pleasant onward journey. I now have just under two hours to make my connection to Zürich. Sadly, Australia already feels far, far away.

Q Station North Head

In the very early days of the island colony of New South Wales, if a ship reported an illness or the outbreak of a disease aboard, the passengers would not be allowed off the boat and were quarantined at sea, off the Australian coast. Unavoidably, this meant that the ships’ crews didn’t really have an incentive to report any problems to the authorities because if they did, it usually meant a lot of additional costs that totally messed up the ship’s turn and its journey home with revenue passengers and cargo.

In 1836 this lead to the establishment of the the North Head Quarantine Station, on the north side of the entrance into Sydney Harbour. If a disease was reported, all the passengers and crew were made to disembark at the quarantine station and had to remain there until there were no more cases reported among any of the ship’s crew and passengers. Only then was everybody allowed to leave.

The building in the two first photos below is the old boiler house, where passengers’ luggage was disinfected. Behind it were the showers, where passengers had to disrobe and wash until the onlooking authorities were comfortable that they were sufficiently disinfected as well. The shower facility can be seen in the third picture.

The quarantine station sprawls over a vast area at the tip of North Head and today is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. Obviously, it not longer operates as a quarantine station.

The area is really beautiful, and there are many walks you can take around the park and what used to be the old army barracks.

Currently, the quarantine station operates as the Q Station Hotel, which is operated by the ALL Accor group. The old buildings have been converted into guest accommodation. The Australian government emphasizes that the purpose of running the Q Station as a hotel is to generate funds for the conservation of this historical site. This also means that when the place was converted into a hotel, management had to make sure that all modifications and updates to the buildings could be made undone, to preserve the unique character of the place.

I spend two weeks in one of what used to be the officers’ cottages.

The cottage has two porches, two living rooms and three bedrooms to accommodate a total of six persons. There is one bathroom with toilet, a shower and toilet and a separate toilet.

There’s also a fully equipped kitchen if you prefer self-catering.

Breakfast is served in the main building, just a short walk from my cottage. The old boiler house has been turned into an à la carte restaurant that sits at the bottom of a set of stairs with 236 step. So at least you get to work off some calories on your way back to your accommodation. Currently, the Boiler House restaurant only opens Wednesday through Saturday.

From the Q Station it’s a walk of about 45 minutes to Manly wharf. There is a bus. However, that runs only once an hour, and it doesn’t run very later either, with the last bus departing the wharf at 19h42.

I very much enjoyed my stay at the Q Station. For the purpose of my visit – that bloody PhD – it was perfect. It’s quiet and secluded. And when you step outside to air the brain a little, the view of the sea is breathtaking.

Canberra – Afternoon tea at the Hyatt

In Canberra I’m staying at The Hyatt Hotel on the government side of the city. The facility has a very interesting layout with a set of low-rise buildings connected to each other by a set of elegant courtyards with lush vegetation. It’s the winter here in Australia, so it’s still a bit too cold to sit outside. But in the summer it must be quite serene to sit out there with a cold drink under the shade of the many trees with a cold drink… or afternoon tea.

As the more regular readers to this blog have probably already figured out, I really love having afternoon tea. I’m fully aware of the fact that the British have a lot to answer for as far as their colonial history goes – but I do think that they should also be commended for the invention of afternoon tea and its contribution to just making people happy in general through the power of food.

The afternoon tea at The Hyatt is served on dark earthenware that seems to have become very popular in recent years.

There’s a set menu of items for the afternoon tea. The staff are happy to top up any of the items in case you haven’t had enough. Although to be honest, the serving is quite generous. Asking for top ups is really just an indulgence.

Much to my surprise, there are even Maltese pastizzi tal-irkotta on the menu. They’re the diamond shaped things made with filo pastry to the right of the ketchup in the picture below. They’re very good, but I’m not sure how authentic the chives are.

One thing I have noticed in my many years of experience as an afternoon tea afficionado, is that not that many places will serve the scones with real clotted cream. What you usually get is either plain old whipped cream, or if it’s one of the fancier joints, mascarpone – which I agree is the better substitute for clotted cream than whipped cream.

The sweets are quite unusual and very enjoyable.

And as far as the sandwiches are concerned, guilty as charged: I ordered seconds.

In the sum of all things, I very much enjoyed my visit to Canberra (except of course for the shooting incident on the way back to Sydney). And although I wouldn’t exactly call it Australia’s most exciting city, I certainly would like to return one day for a longer visit. And afternoon tea at The Hyatt.

How I experienced the gunman shooting at Canberra airport

I spend the Sunday morning in Canberra walking around the government precinct. Unfortunately, the weather is not very nice and not really ideal for walking. It’s cold, windy and wet. Canberra is meticulously clean and very well kept. But perhaps precisely for that reason it also seems a bit artificial.

My flight back to Sydney is not until 15h35. I’m rather looking forward to this one, because I booked the flight with Virgin Australia, who has Link Air operate the flight on their behalf with a Sabb 340. I haven’t been on one of those in years!

But considering the crappy weather, at around noon I give up and decide I might as well return to the airport and do some work on the Phd somewhere in a quiet corner. I catch the R3 bus from in front of the Sebel hotel, which makes the journey in less than thirty minutes. I arrive at the airport at around 13h00.

One half of the terminal is for QANTAS only, while the other half is shared by REX, Link Air and Virgin Australia. And there’s even an old aircraft on display at the departures level!

I head straight through security, which is again a very hassle free and quick process. In Canberra there is no need to take anything out of your bag. Not even your laptop. You just have to empty your pockets.

I do a quick walkaround and take some photos of the lovely B 717 – let’s face it, it’s really a DC-9 and we all know it – and of what I think will be my ride to Sydney.

I park myself at a table and grab a coffee and a cinnamon roll. I’m still getting used to sizes here in Australia. I order a medium sized flat white and end up with what looks like half a litre of milky coffee! From where I’m sitting I can watch gate 8, where a Jetstar flight is in the process of boarding. At some point I hear a popping sound off in the distance. When I was a kid and we used to visit my grandparents at their restaurant, we would sometimes – if we were very lucky – get a packet of crisps to share. Part of the fun of course, was to pop open the packet by giving it a good squeeze. That’s what the pop sounds like, and I wonder why I even noticed it. Then suddenly there’s a huge commotion, I hear people screaming in terror and what sounds like a stampede heading in my direction. In the queue for the Jetstart flight I see a woman turn pale. Her face contorts into absolute panic. “Oh my God, what’s happening” she yells and people start running everywhere, trying to get out. I hear somebody yelling “he’s got a gun”. And that’s when my senses kick into gear. We have to run. Because we have to survive. The alternative is not an option. And so we make a run for it. There is an elderly lady running in front of me, she must be in her seventies. She is going as fast as she can, which isn’t very much because she’d guiding her blind daughter who has lost her walking stick in the scrum to get out.

I reach the exit of the terminal at the lower level, and that’s when I am gripped with a complete and utter sense of terror as I become aware that I have lost my partner. I don’t know where he went and I don’t know if he made it out. I push down the rising panic boiling in my stomach. I’m trying to stay calm, but as I start looking for his face in the crowd, I can feel myself becoming increasingly frantic. But eventually, after about twenty minutes, I finally spot his pullover in the crowd and I’m flooded with relief. And that’s when I realise the full extent of just how very cold I’m feeling.

A few minutes later, the police start arriving. The airport is cordonnned off and cars are not allowed to pull up to the terminal. All arrivals and departures have been stopped. The old lady with her blind daughter made it out, they’re being looked after by the paramedics.

After the emergency and rescue team, the press arrive and start interviewing people, hoping for an eye witness’ testimonial.

There’s an Asian guy standing there barefoot in his socks. When the evacuation started, his shoes were just going through the x-ray machine and he just left them to get out with his young wife and their eight months old baby. Eventually, we end up spending nearly three hours standing outside in the cold and wet. The flight to Sydney has been cancelled and we’ve been rebooked onto the flight the next day at 07h50. But I just want to go home by this stage. So I quickly log in to the airport network and book us two tickets on the QANTAS flight back to Syndey that same evening at 17h40.

Our belongings have been retrieved by the police and placed on the floor behind security for passengers to find. And I’m really grateful to the police officer who tries to lighten the mood. As I put on my yellow rain jacket to get warm again he gives me this funny look and tells me that “oh mate, yellow’s really your colour. Good on’ya”. And then he laughs. Good on’ya yourself and your colleagues, and thank you for taking care of us!

We park ourselves at gate 14 and then we just wait. Things are still a bit chaotic as the aiport slowly reopens, so it’s hardly surprsing that eventually, our flight departs from Canberra with a delay of nearly two hours. But you know what, I so couldn’t care less, because things today could have gone much, much worse.

I trust you’ll understand that after such a day I really didn’t have any energy left to pay attention to anything much that happened on the flight. So, I think I’ll just leave you with some pictures of the gorgeous B 717, aka the DC-9.

QANTAS, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Sydney to Canberra

Getting to the airport

I just love Sydney and its harbour. And I really like the idea of commuting by boat. I mean, how cool is that! As usual, to get to the airport I first take the Manly ferry and then the train from Circular Quay. In the sun it’s pleasantly warm. But in the shade it’s still fresh. And the breeze on deck is not for the faint of heart. But the view…!

At Sydney airport there is one station that serves all domestic terminals. QANTAS operates out of Terminal 3

Check-in

From the station you need to go three floors up to the departure level. I’ve already checked in on the app and I have no luggage, so I can just go straight through security. In the domestic terminal they use body scanners, and you don’t have to take anything out of your bag either, which is really very convenient.

The QANTAS Business Class lounge

After I exit from security, the entrance to the lounge is to my left just a few steps down the hall.

No beach or sleep wear is permitted in the lounge. Although I wasn’t actually aware that UGGs were sleep wear…

The lounge is a lot less busy than when I was here last when I first arrived in Australia. I’m also a lot more awake. So, I grab myself a seat by the window, get myself a flat white (I’m picking up the local lingo…) and a cheese sandwich (yeah, okay… and a plate full of Arnott’s biscuits) and read until it’s time to leave the lounge.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of twenty minutes from gate 17. More importantly, what I’m looking forward to is that boarding is via stairs and not an airbridge.

The cabin

On the outside, the aircraft is already wearing QANTAS’ new livery and looks rather… Dashing. Inside though, it looks like the cabin has seen some pretty heavy usage. It’s not that the cabin is in bad condition, just that the seats look rather worn.

The seat pitch is good. The only problem on the window seat it that the narrow width of the Q400’s fuselage cuts into your leg space.

Once we’re seated, there’s a further delay. Apparently, there’s a lot of luggage and it’s taking them a long time to load the bags in such a way that everything will fit.

The service

There are two female cabin crew. The purser seems quite reserved, but her colleague is great and interacts well with the passengers, and especially with the many kids on the plane.

While we wait for the handlers to finish with the bags, the crew pass through the cabin handing out small bottles of still water.

The flight time to Canberra is announced as 35 minutes.

The snack service

To be honest, I thought the bottle of water was all we were going to get, considering the short flight time. Much to my surprise though, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start their service, which includes a packet of buttery passion fruit biscuits and a full drinks service, including tea or coffee.

Arrival

Eventually we land at 13h45 with a delay of eleven minutes, which is not all that bad. Here in Canberra they have these very funky mobile, wheelchair friendly ramps that they use to disembark. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great idea if there are passengers with mobility issues on board. But seeing as we boarded in Sydney without having to use one of these, I’m kind of wondering if it would not have been faster to just disembark via the stairs.

I step off the aircraft and make my way across the ramp to arrivals. There’s a bus into town every thirty minutes and I’ve just missed the one at 13h46. So I’m going to have to take a taxi to make it to my 14h30 appointment for afternoon tea at the Hyatt. The journey by taxi takes 12 minutes and costs AUD25. By bus it would be about 35 minutes.

Conclusion

I’m assuming that this will be my last domestic QANTAS flight for the time being. As I already mentioned in my post on the A 380 flight from Singapore to Sydney, I’m really not a fan of the QANTAS First Class product. Their domestic Business and Economy Class products are something else though. I find it quite amazing that they will serve you a hot meal on a leg of only ninety minutes between Melbourne and Sydney, or that they offer you bikkies in Economy Class on a flight of thirty minutes. It makes you wonder what the poor Aussies must think when they visit Europe and have to count their lucky stars if they get anything at all on a plane.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

Introduction

How rude! 23 hours before my departure to Sydney, I receive two emails: one if from Air France and the other is from QANTAS. The email from Air France informs me that my flight to Sydney has been cancelled and I can request a refund of my FlyingBlue miles ticket. The email from QANTAS tells me that they’re working to rebook me and will get back to me within 72 hours. Great! A short while later another message arrives to inform me that QANTAS has found an alternative and booked me on the departure from Melbourne at 21h00 instead of 13h00. Alternatively, I can select another option under the ‘Manage booking’ tab on the app. Only, the other options are a departure at 06h00 or at 07h00 in the moring. So a refund it is. Luckily, I find an alternative flight on the Virgin Australia website, and it even has a better timing – with a departure from Melbourne at 14h00.

Getting to the airport

In Melbourne I was renting a flat in Southbank, very close to the Yarra river, the CBD and Flinders Street station. Check-out is at 10h00 in the morning. I then make my way with all my luggage to the southern end of the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street station. There’s a train from here to Southern Cross station roughly every ten minutes. The journe takes about four minutes and costs AUD4.60.

At Southern Cross I alight and change to the SkyBus for the airport.

The oneway ticket is AUD19. If you get a return ticket each way is slightly cheaper, meaning you’ll only pay AUD32.

The journey takes about 25 minutes.

Check-in

Virgin checks in at Terminal 3, which is the first stop on the Skybus. The SkyBus drops you off at arrivals on the ground level. Departures are one floor up.

Business Class passengers can either use the self-service check-in machines or one of the check-in counters, which is what I do. While the friendly lady checks me in, we have a little natter about the heat wave they’re having in Europe. While we’re at it, she tells me that weather in Melbourne is a bit like a woman’s mood: it changes four times a day but never the way you expect it too. I’ll take that into consieration, Ma’am. She gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way.

The Virgin Australia Business Class lounge

The Virgin lounge is located right in between the E and F piers, before security. However, there are exits on both sides of the lounge that will eject you in a dedicated, segregated security- screening area for lounge visitors only.

The lounge is very big and not all that busy. It also doesn’t seem to be operating at full capacity, as not all the bars are open. There are also magazine shelves but no magazines, which I’m guessing is because of Covid19.

The large buffet is permanently manned, which makes it impossible to take pictures of it without getting the staff in the photos too.

The best feature of the lounge though, is the large window front that runs along the full length of it and that gives you good views of the ramp.

While I wait I track the progress of my aircraft. It’s running nearly two hours late on its previous flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne. Somewhere along the line, I notice there’s an aircraft change and our flight will now be operated on a different aircraft currently inbound from Hobart. That one will not reach Melbourne until 13h52, which means the 14h00 departure time is still not going to happen either way.

Once VH-VUS is safely on the ground and parked on its stand, I figure I might as well leave the lounge and go for a walkabout until boarding starts.

I reach gate 3 and they’re still unloading the cargo from the previous flight. The baggage carts with the Melbourne bound suitcases are already waiting, and I’m happy to spot my luggage on it too. The aluminium RIMOWA with all the stickers in the top left corner is one of mine.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 14h35, which means we’re probably going to be running an hour late by the time we depart. Which actually suits me better. I step aboard as one of the last passengers. The purser welcomes me aboard, followed by “there you are”. Before I can even take my seat, she asks me if I’d like some sparkling wine or still water.

The seat

On my previous flight, I was seated on row 1. This time I’m on row 2. The seat pitch is geat. There is a large seat pocket and the seat has USB and electricity plugs.

The meal

I can’t seem to get it right. I don’t know, maybe the Aussies just struggle with my accent. On my last flight, the choice was between the chicken burger and a chickpea salad. I ordered the chickpea salad and all the purser understood was something with ‘chick…’, and immediately brought me the burger instead. Which was not good. So this time, the choice is between another chicken burger and a salad. The guy next to me orders the burger. And even though I clearly enunciate ‘salad’, all the purser hears is “same”. Only this time, I’m prepared, and I immediately correct her and specify that I want the salad.

And it’s a good choice. The salad comes with little pieces of rice-shaped pasta, rocket, pumpkin, bell peppers and a yoghurt dressing. It’s very nice. With that there is another packet of crackers with cheese and a chocolate heart. God, I’m missing Swiss chocolate right now…

Arrival

By the time we pull onto our stand it’s 16h10, so we’re running over an hour later. Which suits me fine, because I’m picking up the light of my life today, who will be arriving at 17h20 at the international terminal. My late arrival means a shorter wait.

My suitcases arrive very quickly. I then make my way outside to catch the complimentary Tbus that connects the domenstic terminals with the international terminal. The Tbus is orange, and you really can’t miss it. It runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes about ten minutes, depending on the traffic on the roads.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Introduction

It had always been a dream of mine that one day I would watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House. This weekend the stars lined up for me, and I was able to get a ticket to watch the last performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I tought it was a brilliant production. The whole cast were solid. But the soprano’s rendition of the fabulous Un bel di vedremo was literally a show stopper.

Getting to the airport

At 11h40 on Sunday morning I step of the ferry from Manly and walk the short distance to Circular Quay station, from where I can catch a T8 train to Sydney airport. The journey should take about twenty minutes to the domestic terminal.

As it turns out though, they’re working on the line today. So the station is closed and trains to and from the airport are only running as far as Central station. So instead, I walk a few extra steps and board the L2 tram from Circular Quay to Central station. The journey takes about twenty minutes and both the L2 and the L3 run to Central.

And then from Central Station I catch the train to the airport. All in all, the journey from Circular Quay to the airport takes me about 45 minutes instead of 20, but I’m good for time. So no harm done. On public transport in Sydney there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. You can just badge in and out with your credit card as you go. The maximum amount you’ll pay for a whole day of travel is AUD16.

I alight at the stop for the domestic terminals, which serves both Terminals 2 and 3. Virgin Australia operates out of Terminal 2.

Considering how big Sydney airport is, the distance from the station to the check-in area is surprisingly short.

I’ve already checked in using the app, so I head straight for security. There is no separate queue for Business Class passengers.

The Virgin Australia lounge

It’s rather nice that in Australia, on domestic flights you only have to take out laptops, and not all your liquids as well. The entrance to the Virgin lounge is off to the right as you exit security. It’s quite busy, so I don’t take a lot of photos. The lounge has a wide window front overlooking the apron and the runways beyond – perfect for some plane watching!

There is a fairly large buffet with a selection of cold snacks, such as crackers and cheese, egg sandwiches, tuna wraps, and salads. There is also a choice of two soups.

At around 14h15 I start to get bored, so I figure I mights as well make my way to the gate. Boarding should start at 14h35.

Boarding

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and passengers travelling with children or with special needs. If you’re sitting at the back of the bus, you can actually take the stairs down onto the ramp and then walk across to board the aircraft through the rear door.

The cabin

Virgin Australia has two rows of Business Class. Each seat has an adjustable headrest. I think I prefer this seat to that of QANTAS simply because of the fact that the seat back is more upright. For my liking the recline of the QANTAS seat in the upright position is a bit exagerated.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good.

And there’s a small tray that can be pulled out of the armrest for a bit of extra space.

Service

The service begins on the ground with either still water or sparkling wine. Other than that, the crew are very friendly. What is perhaps the most noticeable difference to QANTAS is that Virgin seem to take the Covid measures a lot more seriously. As passengers board, they are reminded to put on their face masks and there’s also a recorded announcement reminding passengers how the face mask should be worn properly.

We move off stand just after 15h00 and make our way to runway 34R, which is quite a schlepp from the domestic apron.

We take off and make a sharp right turn towards the sea. In the distance I can see Bondi beach and the North and South Heads.

The meal

To eat there are two choices: a chicken katsu sandwich with Japanese mayo or a Morroccan chickpea salad. It is perhaps a tad unfortunate that both dishes start with chick…, because I actually order the chickpea salad. Only, what I end up with is the chicken. I don’t bother to point out the mistake. The flight time is only seventy minutes or so. I think I’ll live. also on the tray is a package of cheese and crackers and a small chocolate heart.

And what a dreadful meal it is. The sandwich is incredibly oily and the chicken has a revolting rubbery texture. Needless to say, I put the thing down after one bite. The crackers are good, though.

Arrival

Our approach brings us in right over the city, with St. Kilda visible in the distance. The weather in Melbourne is not as nice as it was in Sydney. It’s overcast and also cooler.

We make a quick taxi to Terminal 3, which is where Virgin operates out of here in Melbourne.

Getting into Melbourne from the airport

Right outside the exit from arrivals is the bus stop for the Skybus, which runs into Melbourne every ten minutes. The journey takes about thirty minutes to Southern Cross station and a one way tickets costs AUD16.

And… it’s a double decker bus. Suitcases are stowed on the lower level, and passengers sit on the upper level. If you’re sitting on the first row, you get some great views as the bus approaches the city.

QANTAS, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Transferring from international to domestic at Sydney

So, it’s 10h34 when my suitcase finally arrives on the belt after having to wait for a solid hour for them to start delivering the bags off QF2 from Heathrow and Singapore. My flight to Melbourne is leaving in 24 minutes.

If you’re connecting onto a domestic flight with QANTAS, the transfer at Sydney airport is really easy. As you exit through immigration turn right and follow the signs marked ‘QANTAS domestic transfer’. Eventually, this will lead you to a small, flat building with ten check-in counters. When I enter, there are two Economy Class and one Business Class counters open. I hand my passport and boarding pass to the check-in agent and she tells me that I’m not going to make it onto the 11 o’clock departure and they’ll have to rebook me. She then tells me the next available flight is not until 21h00 this evening, in more than nine hours – or she could send me via Canberra, even though apparently she can’t really tell me how long the layover in Canberra would be. Yeah, no. So the 21h departure it is. Although she also tells me I could always try and get on an earlier flight once I get to the domestic terminal. There is a flight leaving for Melbourne every thirty minutes.

From check-in I head through security for the airside bus transfer from the international terminal to the domestic terminal on the other side of the airport.

I mean, obviously I’m not too happy about missing my flight in my advanced state of exhaustion, but the complimentary ramp tour is quite nice…

QANTAS domestic Business Class lounge

The entrance to the QANTAS domestic lounge is more or less opposite gate four.

At the entrance I explain my predicament to the receptionist and she tells me she’ll keep an eye on the flights to check for an earlier availability. In the meantime, she suggests I go down to the concourse from time to time and check directly with the gate attendants for any possible openings.

The lounge is enormous, but very busy. It’s basically impossible to take pictures without pestering anybody or getting them in the picture unintentionally. The buffet is quite extensive, with a good selection of cold dishes, soup and one hot dish (some curry with rice, I think). There is also a large coffee bar that seems to be permanently busy during my stay.

I park myself in an armchair by the windows and hope the view will be enough to prevent me from nodding off to sleep. Apparently it’s not. God knows what noises I must have been making, because when I awake an hour later with a start, I get a very bemused look from the people around me. It’s been a long trip, okay? At least I wasn’t drooling…

Eventually, I decide to go for another walkabout to avoid nodding off again. The 16h00 departure at gate 10 is running late, so I figure I might as well try my luck, and… bingo! Seat 2C is available and there is still enough time for my suitcases to be located and loaded onto the aircraft.

Boarding

I very much like that QANTAS has two separate queues for boarding, with premium passengers on the left, and Economy passengers on the right. There is a large box set up in the middle of the queue where passengers can help themselves to complimentary earphones to use during their flight.

Boarding starts at 16h15. In the photo below is the 16h30 departure to Melbourne, which ends up pushing off stand before we do.

At the door passengers are welcomed by two elderly gentlemen. Both of them are very friendly and chatty, making easy conversation with the passengers as they wait to enter the aircraft.

The cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin with four rows on its B 737-800 fleet. The seats are in a 2 + 2 configuration. The seat pitch is very comfortable. The recline is okay, although for my liking the seat back could be more upright in the neutral position. The headrest is adjustable in height, with foldable ears for better head support. I now know from experience that they work and really do prevent your bonce from rolling about like a little bobble head man.

There are no inflight entertainment screens, but streaming via wifi is available.

The meal

Once we’re airborne, the service starts pretty much as soon as the wheels go up. The flight time is one hour & twelve minutes.

Much to my surprise, there are two meal options. One is a prosciutto salad and the other is a warm leek quiche with onion confit and mashed peas. With that the crew serve sourdough bread with butter. There’s also a Lindor chocolate on the tray.

The meal is good and hits the spot nicely. The presentation of the tray could perhaps be a bit nicer, but then again you’re not eating the tray…

Arrival

We land in darkness and make a short taxi to our stand on the domestic pier. From there it’s just a short walk to the baggage reclaim, where my suitcases arrive just as I reach the delivery belt. And then I make my way to the hotel. I’m a wreck.

Conclusion

I will be spending the next two months in Australia, and I’m really looking forward to the peace and quiet. Before that though, I think it’ll take me a few days to recover from the long journey.

This short domestic hop on QANTAS was an interesting comparison for me, even if I was already very tired by this stage. Two things struck me: first, that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between QANTAS’ Busines Class product on short-haul and its long-haul First Class product. The First Class product is really not very good, and not up to international standards. In contrast, their domestic Business Class product is very good, even though they’ve more or less cornered the market and needn’t try so hard. As a result, the gap between Business and First didn’t seem that great to me. The second thing that strikes me is that this is the complete opposite of the situation of the European carriers which still offer a First Class. In Europe it’s usually more the case that the First Class product is very good, like my experience with SWISS from Zürich to Singapore, but the gap between First and Business Class is too big, with the latter more like a slightly better Economy class service than a truly premium offering.