KLM Cityhopper, Embraer 190 – Economy Class: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

125 days ago, I returned to Basel from giving a course in Luxembourg. The week after, I was scheduled to make one last trip to Luxembourg before heading off to Australia on sabbatical for six months. While in Australia, I should have made a side trip to Bangkok, and then another to Ulan Baatar via Singapore and Hong Kong. But then the world shut down – slowly, gradually and irrevocably.

And my world slowed to a pleasant, leisurely pace. I was fully expecting to miss the flying. I was also fully expecting to well and truly get on everybody’s nerves once the withdrawal symptoms kicked in. If the effort it took to get me off the pacifier when I was four years old was anything to go by, I was convinced this was not going to be pretty…

But 125 days later, my watch has left a pale mark on my bronzed wrist from all the cycling and swimming I’ve managed to do. My PhD is on track and in the peaceful tranquility of my own home I have been so much more productive than I ever could have been in an office full of people.

And now today, I am taking my first flight. I’m curious to see how much aviation has changed in just 125 days.

Getting to the airport

I leave my flat at 10:25 to catch the bus line 50 to the airport. The 10:33 service runs nonstop to the airport, although I’m not quite sure what the point is, because it’s not really any faster than the regular service.

Since Monday, 06 July 2020 it is a mandatory requirement to wear face masks on all public transport in Switzerland. So today is the first time I’m using public transport and therefore, also the first time I’ve had to use a face mask. I don’t want to argue about the merits or disadvantages of wearing one of these things. But… first, I think my face is too big for a standard issue face mask. If I pull it up to properly cover my nose, then my chin keeps slipping out the bottom and the mask rides up to uncover my mouth. If I pull it down, my nose is uncovered… And second, the mask is a bit of a nuisance if, like me, you have varifocals, because it pushes the glasses higher up on your nose. And as a result, you end up looking into the distance through that part of the lens which is actually intended for short distances. And my breath is making the glasses fog up too. So basically, in the sum of all things I kind of feel like something out of Gorillas in the Mist… but cross-eyed.

Sixteen minutes later we arrive at the departures level of the airport, and the other four passengers and I disembark.

There’s a sign at the entrance to the terminal, advising passengers that wearing a face mask is mandatory inside.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online. As a Platinum member with Air France KLM I can select any seat on the aircraft free of charge. Originally I was seated on row 7, which was the first row in the Economy Class cabin. A few days before departure though, KLM does the inventory for its flights, which means that they usually open up seats further up front once the final position of the cabin divider is decided. And so I move forward to row 2 at check-in.

Check-in is eerily quiet. It looks as though everyone just left abruptly and forgot to switch off the lights.

Airside

I don’t think I’ve ever been through security at Basel airport this quickly. There are hardly any passengers, and even with just the one line open, the staff still have plenty of time to check every passengers very carefully and still manage to have a enough time to chatter and gossip.

I think I always understood that magnitude of recent events and their impact on the aviation industry. But today is the first time I have the opportunity to witness the devastation up close. It’s really quite upsetting.

The beautiful Swissport lounge is closed.

Boarding

The only place with signs of life is gate 1, from where the flight to Amsterdam will be departing. I count a total of 77 passengers, which isn’t a bad seat load factor for an Embraer 190 with a capacity of about 90 seats. Although having said that, KLM is currently operating just the one flight to Basel, where previously they had four.

Boarding is by seat rows from the back of the plane and takes a lot longer to ensure there are no queues in the air bridge or in the cabin. KLM strictly enforces the use of face masks on its flights, and it is stated at the time of booking and in the confirmation e-mail that passengers without a mask will not be admitted to the flight.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew, one female and one male. I think it’s quite obvious they’re making an effort to appear as though this flight is business as usual, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for trying to do a good job in seriously adverse conditions. But I’m not sure it’s working. Because the atmosphere on board is subdued. Passengers are wary and tense, as though they’d much rather be somewhere else.

The Cabin

There is one row of Business Class on today’s flight, and the forward toilet is reserved for the crew only. All passengers are required to use the toilet in the rear of the aircraft.

The Meal

The flight time is one hour. As this is a lunchtime service, every passenger in Economy is given a small box with a packaged half of a cheese sandwich, a biscuit and some water. In addition to that, there is a separate drinks service from the trolley.

While I applaud KLM for their effort to maintain a standard level of service in these strange times, I think on such a short flight they might as well do away with the service for the time being. Either that, or they should provide disinfectant wipes to passengers. From what I can tell, not that many passengers actually touch the food.

I stash mine away to eat when I get to the hotel.

Arrival

We land in Amsterdam on time. There’s definitely a lot more traffic here than there was in Basel, but it’s still a far cry from what it used to be like not so long ago. What’s more, there are aircraft parked everywhere. And obviously they’re there for long term storage. It’s really quite sad to see.

At least since my last visit the construction of the new A pier at Amsterdam has progressed quite a lot, although I still don’t quite get what the final layout of the building will be.

Our flight pulls up to a stand at the B pier. The weather in Amsterdam is atrocious. It’s raining and much cooler than Basel.

There aren’t many passengers in the terminal, and most of the shops appear to be closed. Half the luggage belts in the arrivals hall are turned off permanently.

Conclusion

I must say, this flight today has been quite an eye opener. As I previously mentioned, I was already aware of the disastrous consequences the events of the last few months have had on the airline industry. But seeing the devastation up close from the passenger’s perspective is sobering and really quite depressing.

It is difficult to assess the current situation without coming across as being overly pessimistic. But right now, things are really not looking very good for the airline industry – despite the significant rescue packages some of them have received from their governments and the slow resumption of flights. It is common wisdom in the industry that the airlines earn most of their money during the peak summer months. What they don’t manage to earn during that period, they will not be able to recover in the slower winter season.

Air Malta – Boeing B 720B

Introduction

I am aware of the fact that for many people, the isolation that comes with social distancing is distressing and may be the cause of concern and anxiety; and by no means to I want to diminish or disregard the struggle of anyone finding it difficult to cope in the face of this unprecedented situation.

For me though, the pandemic has also had its good sides. It has certainly allowed me to slow down considerably, especially given how much travelling I was doing before the outbreak. And when I feel the need to escape the physical confines of the current situation, my happy place are the memories of the many places I have been fortunate enough to visit over the years. And of course, those memories tend to come with a very heavy dosage of airplanes and airports.

This blog post is not so much of a trip report. I’d rather avoid calling it a trip down memory lane too because that is just lame… But rather, when I went through the photos I am posting here, I kept wondering to myself ‘man, how on earth did they manage back then…?’. I like to think that in many years to come, people will look back on 2020 and think the same; and then come to the realisation that while perhaps nothing is still the same, at least it has changed for the better.

So, it’s 1987, 33 years ago. I’m a slightly awkward thirteen year-old adolescent. My face, or rather my upper lip, is covered in a dark, downy fluff which I’d like to get rid of. But rumour has it among the other boys at school that if I take my dad’s shaver to get rid of the stuff, it’ll only come back stronger, until eventually I’ll have it all over my face and will have to get rid of it on a daily basis – unless of course, I want to end up looking like captain caveman…

Buying a ticket

In 1987 the world wide web is still three years away. As such, tickets have to be purchased with a travel agent or directly with the airline by phone or by visiting one of their airport or town offices.

But at least for your efforts the airlines have the decency to provide you with a ticket wallet for your travel documents.

The airline ticket is something that exists independently of the flight booking or PNR. The ticket has a document number and a ticket number. The first three numbers are the airline designator. So in this case, 643 marks an Air Malta document. The airline ticket is a booklet with a maximum of four coupons, the passenger receipt and the audit coupon.

And yes, back in 1987 a hand-written ticket is actually quite normal, as long as the validator in the top right corner is visible. Bascally, every coupon in the ticket had a sheet of red carbon paper at the back, so what is written on the first page is printed on all subsequent pages too.

In Economy Class there are only few different booking classes, such as the APEX, PEX, SUPERPEX and Full fare. The main difference between the PEX fares and the full fare is that the fomer have a restricted validity period, for example one month from the date of original departure.

Check-in

In the absence of computers or a check-in system, in Malta at least, check-in is done completely manually. Which means that first the station prints a passenger list with all the names. Then a twin desk of counters opens for check-in, with two agents sharing large sheets of papers with small stickers on them with seat numbers. To issue the boarding pass, the check-in agent first peels off the sticker and stamps it to an empty boarding pass. Then they write down the seat assignment on the passenger list. Check-in closes when there are no stickers left or all the names have been ticked off…

The Boeing B 720

When the Maltese government decided to set up its own airline, it soon realised there was no expertise on the island to do so. Initially, the tender to support the government in setting up an airline was supposed to go to Pan Am. But then at the last moment Pakistan International Airline made a bid that was simply too good to refuse – because it also included three used Boeing B 720s. At the time, the offer faced a lot of opposition in Malta, because it was obvious that the aircraft PIA was offering Air Malta were already quite old. Even so, the Maltese government went ahead and in April of 1974, Air Malta set up operation. Later on, they would purchase two more of the type from Western Airlines to operate a total of five aircraft. The Boeing B 720 remained with Air Malta until 1989, when they were replaced with a fleet of six factory new Boeing B 737-200s.

I more or less grew up with the Boeing B 720. We lived in St. George’s bay, which is quite near the airport in Malta. The P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines were outrageously loud by today’s standard and made a very distinct noise that sounded a lot like a whistle. As such, they were rather hard to miss.

I always enjoyed the B 720 because it felt very solid, as though it was built to last. But as a child you don’t realise or understand that nothing lasts for ever. When I was young I was always keen to try out new aircraft when we travelled as a family. When Air Malta started taking delivery of the B 737s, I would always hope there would be an aircraft change and that we’d get one of those instead of the rickety old 720s. But today I must say, I really miss the aircraft.

Catering

Back in those days, catering was not one of Air Malta’s fortes, and quite frankly they could have done without asking your for beef or chicken, because most of the time it was impossible to identify what was on the tray in front of you anyway. I haven’t got any photos of Air Malta meals from back then, but I did find some interesting ‘accessories’ in my archives.

Conclusion

Air Malta is now 46 years old, like me. After the Boeing B 720 and the B 737-200 the company went on to operate the B 737-300, -400 and -700, the B 727-100 and -200, the BAe ATP, the Avro RJ70, the Airbus A 310-200, and a few wet-leased types. Right now, the company is in the process of replacing its A 320 fleet with the A 320NEO. It remains to be seen how Air Malta will weather the storm, especially given that tourism is Malta’s bread and butter and the airline’s main role is to deliver fresh tourists to the island.

The BAe ATP and the Airbus A 310 are the only two types operated by Air Malta that I never flew on with the airline. The B 737s were always fine. The Avro RJ70 was dreaful and so cramped it really was nothing short of a human rights violation. But the Boeing B 720B will always be the best of the lot. Probably not just beause it dates back to an era when airlines simply saw now need to have to pack in the tourist and could therefore afford to give passengers at least some comfort – even in Economy Class. But I also think I will always be very fond of the B 720B because I associate it with summer holidays at the beach in Malta.

SAS, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-600: Stockholm Arlanda to Zürich

This post isn’t so much of a trip report as it is a commentary. The Boeing B 737 is the most successful jet airliner in aviation history, with a total of more than 10’500 aircraft of the type built. It is currently in its fourth generation with the ill-fated B737 Max, the future of which does not look too bright in the wake of the two fatal accidents more than two years ago.

The B 737 was originally built to operate from small airports with limited infrastructure. This meant that the aircraft’s layout required it not to be too high off the ground for better access for the service vehicles and for the possibility to incorporate a set of retractable passenger stairs.

The result was an aircraft with a short, stuby appearance. It is most easily recognisable by the fact that the engines had to be mounted directly under the wing in order to maintain enough clearance to the ground and thus to avoid them becoming contaminated by ingesting debris lying on the ground.

Over the years, the B 737’s fuselage has been stretched a number of times. The wing has also been modified, together with new avionics and more powerful engines. The original B 737-100 was only 29 metres long. Today, the longest version of the type is the B 737-900 at 42 metres.

The B 737-600 is a bit of a squirt, at just 31 metres length. It is also the least successful model of the B 737 series, with only 69 aircraft ever built. Of those 69 aircraft, only about half remain in active service in 2020. Part of the -600’s problem was that it was simply too heavy for the number of passengers it was able to carry, which might also explain why it is the only version of the B 737 for which the manufacturer did not offer the option to have winglets, which would only serve to make the aircraft even more overweight.

SAS was the first and, at one time, the largest operator of the B 737-600, with a fleet of 30 units that were ordered mainly for domestic operations in Sweden. Their intention had been to replace part of their fleet of old DC-9s and MD-80s with the -600. The Scandinavian airline decommissioned its last B 737-600 in 2019.

The much more elegant MD-80 that the B 737-600 ought to have replaced…

For the passenger though, the -600 had a lot to offer in terms of comfort, because the cabin of the B 737 in general is much wider than that of other hundred seaters currently in the market, such as the Embraer 195 or the A 220. At least on the -600 there were hardly ever any issues finding a place to store your hand luggage in the overhead bin. As such, it made for a rather pleasant ride on the sector such as Stockholm to Zürich, which has a flight time of slightly more than two hours.

On the face of it, the benefits of having a standard model aircraft for a specific type of mission and then offering it in different models in varying sizes makes a lot of senses, especially in terms of crew training, planning flexibility and maintenance. And for the larger of the B 737 types, that obviously seems to have worked rather well. But the -600 also shows that at the bottom end of the scale, there comes a point where the benefits from having cockpit commonality and sharing parts with other types can no longer make up for the fact that you are, at the end of the day, carrying around with you a lot of dead weight that directly translates in the amount of kerosene you have to upload. That was pretty much the also experience Airbus made with its mini Airbus A 318, of which only 80 were built.

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.

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.

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.

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur

This is a previously unpublished post from 2011.

Introduction

After four days in Langkawi, I make a move to return home. The first leg will see my flying to KL and then connecting to another flight to Bangkok the same day.

Getting to the Airport

I’m not sure there actually is any reliable public transport in Langkawi, which is why I decide to avail myself of the hotel shuttle to take me to the airport.

Check-in

At the airport there are dedicated counters for Malaysia Airlines and there is one counter for Business Class passengers. Passengers need to go through security screening before accessing the check-in area.

Airside

There is no Business Class lounge at the airport, but instead they have something much, much better: from the public gate area you have excellent views of the ramp. Aircraft tend to park nose in, which means it’s just perfect for people like me to geek out while they await their boarding call.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts rather abruptly without any calls being made.

The Cabin

This aircraft has yet a different cabin interior from the ones of the two previous flights. Apart from the fact that it’s a more modern seat, the covers are in violet (!) leather and the bulkhead is in some bamboo inspired pattern.

There is no service on the ground. I think there simply isn’t enough time for that, given that the taxi time is very short.

The Meal

The snack is pretty much the same concept as that on the outbound flight. Except that this time, one canapé is with camembert and fruit and the other is with smoked salmon, an olive and a pickle.

Once more, the dessert is an undefinable but very tasty sweet thing in a rather unappealing shade of green.

Arrival

There’s a bit of a hold up for us to start our descent into KL due to the presence of thunder storms in the area. On the row behind me is an Arab woman with her teenage son.

As soon as the pilot announces that we can start our approach soon, I hear somebody behind my spray and spraying and spraying. And just a short while later a horribly heavy scent starts wafting through the cabin. It’s so bad I have to stink my fingers up my nose and breathe through my mouth. It’s probably a very expensive scent, but it’s just way too strong. One of the cabin crew, who is already sitting on the jump seat, sees me and gives me a questioning look. To which I can only motion that somebody behind me just sprayed themselves. She covers her mouth and tries not to laugh. By the time we land I have a serious head ache…

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi

Introduction

With social distancing still in force in Switzerland and much of the global aviation industry having come to a grinding halt, I obviously haven’t been travelling at all since the beginning of March 2020. On a positive note, that has given me ample time to make a few changes and update to my blog. In the process, I also stumbled across a few previously unposted reports of past trips. And so, for your reading entertainment, I have decided to add them here.

I’ll start with a trip I took to Langkawi in Malaysia back in 2011. Nonetheless, I will keep to the usual style of writing and use the present tense.

Getting to the Airport

I arrive in Kuala Lumpur the evening before on a flight from Bangkok. The next day I’m on my way back to the airport for the flight to Langkawi. I suppose I might have stayed at the airport, given that it’s quite far out from the city. But then I figured it would still be nice to be able to go into town, which is why I eventually spend the night in KL at the Hilton Sentral Stesen, which sits right above the railway station.

The KLIA Express train is not full at all. In fact, I think every time I’ve taken this train it hasn’t been full. The price for a oneway ticket is MYR55.

Check-in

Malaysia Airlines and most of the legacy carriers operate out of KLIA1 or Terminal 1. There is also KLIA2, but that wasn’t even open in 2011.

Airside

My boarding pass for the flight to Langkawi was already issued the day before when I checked in for the flight from Bangkok to KL, so I can head straight for security.

Strangely enough, no distinction appears to be made between international and domestic passengers as far as the flow of passengers is concerned. Also, there seems to be a general security screening for all passenger, the point of which eludes me. And then there is a second check before entering the gate.

Irrespective of whether they’re domestic or international departures, short-haul flights tend to use gates at the main terminal concourse, whereas the widebodies tend to use the satellite terminal.

Boarding

The flight to Langkawi is operated by a Boeing B 737-800. An announcement is made for passengers in Business Class passengers to board first, but this is not something anyone ever seems to pay much attention to in KL and the gate staff don’t enforce it either.

The Cabin

The seats on this aircraft are slightly different to those on the previous flight I took from Bangkok. It’s not just that they have red covers, as opposed to the blue ones on yesterday’s aircraft, it also seems to by a different type of seat. It looks more like an old fashioned Economy Class seat but with a wider armrest in between.

The Service

While we’re still on the ground, the crew pass through the cabin with English language newspapers and a glass of fresh guava juice.

The Snack

The flight time to Langkawi is short at only 40 minutes. The service starts with the distribution of scented cold towels that are nice and thick.

Despite the short flight time, the Malaysia Airlines Business Class service includes a small snack, a dessert and some Cadbury’s chocolate biscuits. And they insist on using a table cloth.

The main dish consists of two canapé sandwiches. One is with cream cheese, while the other is with pieces of chicken in a spicy curry marinade and lemon.

I have no idea what the dessert is and when I suggest pumpkin, the crew aren’t sure what that is in their language either but are too polite to say so. One way or another, it’s very good and has a spicy aroma combined with saffron.

Arrival

No sooner as the tray been removed, we start our descent into Langkawi. What I remember most about this flight is how calm and unrushed the whole service by the cabin crew is.

Langkawi is a fairly small facility and I’m only travelling with hand luggage anyway. So once the doors open, I’m out fairly quickly. The hotel has sent a driver to pick me up. And so I resist the temptation to take photos of my aircraft as I walk across the apron to the terminal.

Getting to the Hotel

In Langkawi I’m staying at The Datai, which is about 40 minutes away from the airport. That’s not necessarily because Langkawi is that big, but rather because it’s a fairly circuitous route and there are no fast roads on the island.

Swiss International Air Lines powered by Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Luxembourg

Introduction

This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At sone point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.

The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.

I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.

The Lounge

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lunge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef. Although I suspect his real job is mostly to ensure that visitors don‘t over indulge and drive up the costs for the lounge… I mean, it‘s not like he does any real cooking.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. Sort of. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!

The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I hold back to be the last to board. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.

The Cabin

I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on roway seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.

Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.

The Meal

The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.

Arrival

We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket – kind of clandestine.

Conclusion

To conclude, I’m just assuming the visible lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.