Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 321: Milan Malpensa to Zürich

Getting to Malpensa Airport

Part two of the experiment is now to see how long it takes me to get back to Zürich by plane. I have a late breakfast and then take a last walk through the misty streets of Milan. At 11:20 I check out of the hotel and walk the short distance to the metro station. This time I catch a line 1 train to Cadorna railway station, three stops down the line. From there I catch a Malpensa Express to the airport. From Cadorna trains run every thirty minutes and take 37 minutes to make the journey to the airport.

Check-in at Terminal 1

The Lufthansa group has quite a presence at Malpensa. The group checks in on row 6 of Terminal 1. Security is swift and oddly efficient, and unlike any other airport I have visited recently, the staff are friendly and polite.

The Malpensa Lufthansa Lounge

Lufthansa even has its own lounge in Malpensa. It is a fairly big too, and has a surprisingly good selection of food and drinks. And it offers some decent views of the apron.

I have to laugh though, because apparently this lounge does not have toilets but, and I quote, „premium restrooms in cooperation with Villeroy and Boch“. I mean, it is still a loo, you know…

Boarding

Originally, the flight today should have been operated by a Helvetic Embraer 190. But there seems to have been an aircraft change, and instead the flight is now operated by an A 321 CEO. A rather empty A 321, I might add.

I am seated on row 27. I booked the absolutely lowest possible fair on this route, which means that even with my Senator status I would still need to pay to sit further up front. Given that the aircraft is nearly empty, it makes no difference. Other than that, the CEOs are a lot more comfortable than the NEOs, it seems to me.

The cool thing about sitting so far back in the aircraft is that I have a perfect view of the movements of the wing!

The Service

The flight time is announced at forty minutes. There is twenty minutes delay pushing off stand, because apparently Zürich is very busy with all the WEF traffic.

On such short sectors SWISS does not offer buy on board. Instead, every passenger gets a bottle of water and the signature Swiss chocolate.

Arrival into Zürich

Just over 24 hours after my last landing at Zürich Airport coming from Muscat, I am back again. As we approach the airport, the weather starts to clear up. We make a short taxi to one of the stands on the A pier, and with that, I am finally back home again after three weeks of travel. Shame I shall be leaving again tomorrow.

Getting to Zürich Main Station

With only hand luggage on me, I manage to catch the 16:31 train from the airport, which stops in Oerlikon and Hardbrücke on the way. I alight at Zürich Main Station at 16:45, five hours and twenty minutes after leaving the hotel in Milan. It has taken me 80 minutes longer to make the same journey I did in reverse yesterday. Of course, one could argue that the additional hour arose from the wait of one hour I had at the airport until boarding. But while that may true, I see no reason to subtract that hour from the overall journey time. Having to take a metro, a train, a plane and another train is hardly efficient either. And even though I have rarely had such a pleasant safety screening as the one at Malpensa, not having to undergo screening when you travel by train is always much nicer. So in the sum of all things, I would say the score is train: 1, airplane: 0.

Edelweiss Air, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Muscat to Zürich

Introduction

The main advantage in taking the Edelweiss Air flight back to Zürich is that it is one of the few flights that leave Muscat bound for Europe as a day flight. Most of the other flights depart in the dead of night, which is not at all pleasant. With a flight time of only seven hours, a night flight is usually not long enough to get a good night’s rest. The Edelweiss Air flight however, departs Muscat at 09h20, to arrive back in Zürich at 13h40. Previously, Muscat was served from Zürich as a tag-on to SWISS’ daily Zürich to Dubai service. Since the flight was taken over by Edelweiss, it only operates once a week on Saturdays.

Getting to the Airport

I’ve spent the whole of the last week in Sohar, which is Oman’s second city in the West of the country. From Sohar to Muscat it’s a little more than 200km. There is the old main road and what looks like a recently completed six lane motorway. I would recommend taking the motorway, simply because it’s a much more pleasant drive and the scenery is quite beautiful. Just watch our for the goats that have a nasty habit of walking into the middle of the motorway like they own the place…

I spend my last night in Oman at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is roughly 15 minutes away by car from the airport terminal. The close proximity to the airport is great if, like me, you forget your passport, ID, and wallet in the hotel safe and have to return to get them – because you only remember as your car pulls up at the curb outside the terminal that you didn’t take them out of the safe.

Check-In

At As-Seeb airport there is a segregated check-in area for First and Business Class passengers. Even if you’ve checked in online, I would still recommend you pass by the Business Class check-in area, as it gives you direct access to a dedicated queue for immigration and security.

Muscat Prime Class Lounge

The only lounge other than the Oman Air lounges is the Prime Class lounge, which is located one floor up from the duty free shopping area. This is also where you’ll find the entrance to the airport transit hotel.

The lounge is large and has many comfortable seating options. It also has wifi, and showers are available too.

The food options look interesting. There is a good choice of hot and cold dishes. Behind the buffet area is an attended bar where you can order alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Given that I had to go back to the hotel and then hurry back to the airport, I don’t spend all that much time in the lounge.

Boarding

The new terminal uses a closed gate concept. There is only one queue, and there is no priority for Business Class passengers to access the gate area, so that by the time I enter the gate, boarding has already started. I figure I might as well wait for the initial scrum to settle and busy myself taking photos of my aircraft instead.

The Cabin & Seat

The cabin layout of Edelweiss’ Business Class is a bit strange. The Business Class cabin is sandwiched between the forward Economy Class cabin and the rear Economy Class section. As you enter through the L2 door, the Business Class section is to your right. Which basically means that the Business Class cabin shares two loos with the entire forward Economy Class section.

There are seven rows of seats in the Business Class cabin. Row 11 is the bulkhead row. On rows 11, 14, and 16 the seats are configured in a 1+2+1 layout, whereas on the other rows they are in a 2+2+1 layout. The port side seats 11A, 14A and 16A are the throne seats that offer some additional storage space compared to the other seats. 14A also has a larger foot well, which come in handy with my size 11s.

The Business Class seat is essentially the same one that SWISS has installed on its long-haul fleet. The main difference being that the Edelweiss seat is covered in a light blue fabric.

The seat is comfortable enough, and being able to sit on your own is nice. But it doesn’t offer much in terms of privacy.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are excellent. They’re very friendly and hard working. Being a day flight, most passengers stay awake, and the crew make sure they have everything they need, passing through the cabin regularly offering snacks and drinks. It’s also noteworthy that the number of crew who actually speak Swiss German is much higher than it is on SWISS.

As soon as I take my seat and stow my luggage, one of the cabin crew comes to offer me a choice of orange juice, champagne or water and a packaged cold towel.

Amenity Kit

The amenities (socks and a tooth brush) are packaged in a cardboard box for “maximum impact”. I kind of like the idea. But I’m not sure how effective that box is in mitigating the CO2 emmissions being produced by the aircraft’s four engines.

In any case, at 09:35 we push back from our gate. One after the other, the four engines come to life with a quiet murmur and we slowly make our way to the active runway. The flight time is seven hours.

The Meal – Breakfast

The main meal service is breakfast. There is no menu, and there do not appear to be any choices either.

The crew set the table with every dish individually. The downside of that, of course, is that it means you cannot get out of your seat unless you remove every item individually.

The meal consists of a very tasty bircher müsli and small fruit salad.

A plate with a slice of Emmental, some smoked cheese and some revolting looking slice of cold cut that I don’t touch.

The hot meal is an omelette with peppers in a tomato sauce with creamy spinach and potatos.

With that the crew serve a wide selection of breads, which are served with butter and a variety of HERO jams or honey. The crew makes several rounds with the bread basket, which may account for how I end up having five slices of buttery Zopf…

At 11:00 the remains of the meal are cleared away. And I am mightily impressed. Just 80 minutes after wheels up the meal service is over, and passengers can kick back and relax. I fire up my laptop to work on my thesis.

The Second Meal

Ninety minutes out of Zürich, the crew pass through the cabin with sandwiches. There is a choice of roast beef or grilled peppers with cream cheese. And they’re very tasty. For dessert passengers are served a Biberli, which is a kind of honey and gingerbread sweet filled with almonds.

Arrival in Zürich

Shortly after, our A 340 dips its nose and we begin our descent into the murky Swiss clouds. It’s so much greener here than in Oman. Eventually, we touch down at 13:40, exactly on time, and make our way to the parking stand at the E pier, which is the satellite terminal. From there I catch the SkyMetro to the main terminal. There’s quite a queue for immigration, but at least it moves quickly.

Conclusion

I have to say that I rather enjoyed this flight with Edelweiss. I’m not even sure what I was expecting exactly, but this was certainly better. The crew was excellent and very friendly and the food was adequate for a flight of seven hours. The only thing I didn’t like that much was the seat, because you’re quite exposed in it. Other than that, it was good to get another flight on the A 340, as these aircraft are becoming increasingly hard to come by.

As for my trip to Oman, it was really great to be back. The one thing that always impresses me about the Omanis, and that I think really sets them apart from many of the other Gulf states, is just how incredibly friendly, down to earth and hospitable they are. There is something very dignified in their pride for their country. They make you feel welcome from the very first step you take off the aircraft when you arrive. And the ruggedness of the landscape is stunningly beautiful. I hope I’ll be back one day!

Oman Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Frankfurt to Muscat

Transfer in Frankfurt – I am never, ever doing this again!

I enter the Schengen area of Terminal 1 in Frankfurt at 09:05. I have an hour before my departure on Oman Air from the D concourse of Terminal 2. I follow the signs to the D gates, and before I know what’s really happening, I’m landside again. Which is of course not so good, because it means that in addition to passport control, I will also have to go through security again.

Is there a strike on or a go slow that nobody has told me about? I follow the sign for the fast track to immigration, where the gentleman supposedly checking boarding passes descides to completely ignore me. I’m standing right in front of him. Well, two can play this game. So I decide to just walk through, which certainly gets his attention, “Sie können nicht einfach davon laufen”. So he scans my boarding pass and allows me access to the e-gates for biometric passports.

On the D concourse the gates are grouped together so that four gates share a security checkpoint with three separate lanes. Two are for Economy Class passengers and one is for priority passengers. Not that anybody has even the littlest of shits to give here. The checkpoint for my flight is an utter mess. Only one of the Economy Class lanes is open, and halfway through the process the staff manning the priority lane decide it’s time for their break, so they literally just close the door and walk off. Behind me people are pushing and shoving. A group of French travellers is full of indignation, because their flight to Muscat has already started boarding. They ask to skip the line to which I tell them that I’m on the same flight and another guy tells them his flight has already closed. In future I am certainly going to make any effort to avoid Frankfut. It’s not just that the process is very unpleasant and tedious. I’m also raising into question just how safe the screen process actually is. Clearly, the staff are too busy complaining and arguing among themselves to actually watch what was going on.

I’ve managed to stay surprisingly calm. It’s 10:15 and my flight has officially departed by the time I’m through security. I help and old Serb heading for the Belgrade flight hold his dog while he collects his belongings, and then I make my way to gate D8.

Boarding

The flight is still there. Apparently they’re still missing 38 passengers in the queue and figured it was easier to wait than have to dig around for 38 suitcases. At the gate I exchange my electronic, Lufthansa-issued boarding pass for an old-fashioned Oman Air branded one. And then I step on the plane. I try to take a photo, but the angle just doesn’t work.

The Cabin

I’m greeted at the L2 door and guided to my seat on 11A, which is the last row in the larger Business Class cabin that is located between the First Class cabin and the L2 galley. I really like the Oman Air seat. It’s elegantly designed, very comfortable and sufficiently long when extended into a bed. The only downside of course, is that you have a passenger sitting next to you – which is particularly problematic on this flight, because I’m stuck next to a gassy Frenchman. He starts before we even get airborne, which kind of has me wondering what will happen as we start climbing. Won’t the gasses start expanding with increased altitude? But I digress, the seat. The beauty of this layout is that the aisle seat is staggered slightly behind the window seat, which means that all passengers have direct aisle access.

There is a partitioning screen, which works sufficiently well in that it is high enough. Although it doesn’t really do anything to protect me from the depraved and gazeous stench that keeps wafting across throughout the flight. What on earth was this guy eating…?

When I reach my seat there is already a pillow, a thick blanket and a comfortable mattress, a bottle of still water, the vanity kit and the earphones. I do not use the earphones, so I don’t know what brand they are.

The Service

As soon as I am settled in my seat, one of the cabin crew comes to ask me if I would like to have either an orange juice or lemon juice with mint.

Shortly after, they bring me a warm wet towel.

And the menus.

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with packaged dates and cardamom coffee.

Eventually, we push back with a delay of one hours.

On our way to the runway we pass this ugly thing. Although, it’s not really ugly. Just perhaps a bit ridiculous.

The Meal – Lunch

The meal service is quite extensive, with an à la carte menu and a broad selection of dishes to choose from.

For the amuse bouche there is a warm, grilled scallop in a sesame crust.

Next, the table is set for lunch, and I am brought a bowl with warm bread as well as butter and olive oil.

I start with a trio of beetroot, tuna and balik salmon on crème fraîche, which is very flavourful and delicious.

For the main course I have the fish, which is served on a lovely, creamy bisque.

And then comes the cheese dish. The description of the cheese on the menu is not very clear, but I think perhaps that’s a cultural thing that the French or the Swiss tend to be a lot more concerned about than others.

And then for dessert, mercy! I shouldn’t, I really shouldn’t. But cinnamon and strawberry bread and butter pudding served warm with custard and pecan crumble are hard to resist. This is just so, so good. That’s what I call grade A1 comfort food!

The friendly male flight attendant working on my aisle comes to clear the table. He asks me there’s anything else I’d like before he looks up at me. He notices the look on my face, smiles and just says “okay, maybe later”. Yes, probably better. Ta!

The flight time to Muscat is just over six hours, so there is no second service. At some point though, I do order a cup of coffee with milk.

Arrival

We land in Muscat with a delay of 45 minutes. The airport is quite busy.

This is my first time back in Oman since the new airport has opened, and I must confess my heart breaks just a little. The old as-Seeb terminal was kind of cool, even if it was way too crowded and hardly big enough to handle half the traffic flying into Muscat these days. But there was just something so typically and endearingly Omani about the old place. As Heraclitus said, you cannot step into the same river twice.

Conclusion

My last trip on Oman Air was a few years ago, when I flew them from Zürich via Muscat to Kuala Lumpur. I remember that the trip had not been so nice, especially the red-eye from Zürich to Muscat. So I’m glad to see that things have improved again at Oman Air. The crew were very friendly and just seemed happy. The service was swift, attentive, and well-paced. And the food was very good. Alas, my return will not be on Oman Air, so it remains to be seen whether the airline has gotten its act together again or if perhaps this was just a flash in the pan, as they say.

As for Frankfurt, that was really scandalous and nothing else.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Amsterdam to Frankfurt

Getting to the Gate

I emerge from the Mercure Hotel which is airside in the non-Schengen lounge area 3 at Schiphol airport and make my way to immigration. Once I’m through and back in the Schengen zone, I head for the lounge for some much needed caffeination and breakfast.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight to Amsterdam is from gate B17. Originally, this flight should have been operated by an A 320 NEO, but it appears to have been downgraded to an A 319.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on this flight and only six passengers. Originally, I’m seated on row 2. However, when boarding is completed and all of row 1 stays empty, I decide to move forward for some extra peace and quiet.

One thing I like about the bulkhead seat of Lufthansa’s Airbus narrowbody fleet is that the tray tables on the A, B, E, and F seats are mounted on the bulkhead. This means that you can still lift the armrests for some extra space. On SWISS or KLM for example, the tray table folds into the armrest, which means that it cannot be moved at all.

The Service

There are three cabin crew on the flight, and all three of them are surprsingly friendly and chirpy. They’re all smiles and even their announcements don’t sound completely robotic. There are no towels or drinks served before departure. The flight time is expected to be 45 minutes.

The Meal – Breakfast

The presentation of the breakfast is quite nice. There is a plate with smoked meat, salami and cheese. Although I’m not quite sure where the ‘Heimat’ part of Lufthansa’s catering concept fits in here, given that the cheese on the plate is Emmental, which is Swiss and not German. There is also a small bowl with some sort of cheese cake. I don’t try that, so I’m not quite sure what it tastes like. After the meal, the crew pass through the cabin offering large red apples, which apparently a thing with Lufthansa.

To drink with the meal I have coffee.

Arrival

Talk about a déjà vu. As on my previous flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, we make our approach for the northernmost runway, which is normally farthest away from the apron. That is of couse, unless you’ve been assigned a very remote remote stand. Which is exactly what they’ve done with our flight. The stand is so remote that you can’t even see the airport terminal. I time it and it takes us 14 minutes by bus to make the journey.

By the time I arrive at the terminal it’s 09:05. I know have exactly one hour to make the connection to Muscat. Plenty of time.

Conclusion

I really don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of Lufthansa’s. But I’m sure they can live with that. Even so, I must say that I was positively surprised by the crews and the quality of the meals on these two recent trips I made. The crews were all friendly enough and didn’t look as though they’d rather be anywhere else. The food is an acquired taste of course. I’ll never be a fan of cold cuts, but I’m probably not the target demographic either.

Without a doubt, the biggest disadvantage of flying with Lufthansa is that they call Frankfurt airport their home, which really is just a hovel, a rat hole and a dump that was designed with everything but the poor passengers in mind that have to transit through it. At Schiphol you can taxi for a long time too if they bring you down on the Polderbaan. But at least when the aircraft finally comes to a standstill, you’re either on a contact stand or at least the bus ride is only a short one. There’s always Munich, I guess.

British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

Transfer in Heathrow

I step off the mighty Boeing B 777-300 from Tokyo and follow the signs for Heathrow flight connections. I take a set of escalators down into the basement and then cross under the taxiway that separates the satellite 2B from the main terminal. At the other end, I go up another set of escalators to reach the first floor, and then from there down another set to take me to ground level for the bus stop for T2 to T5 transfers. It’s awfully quiet in Heathrow today, and there are only four of us making the journey to T5.

British Airways Club Class Lounge Southside

The lounge is still decked out in Christmas decorations, and Christmas songs are blaring from the loudspeakers. Wish all you like Mariah, but you’re going to have to wait another year.

The lounge looks as though there’s just been a Mongol invasion. There’s hardly any place to sit and all the tables look as though the cleaning staff may have overdosed on eggnogg at the Christmas party and havn’t recovered since.

The furniture is also looking decidely worse for wear and is either stained with things I don’t want to know, or simply damaged.

Boarding

At the boarding time indicated on my boarding pass, I make my way down to gate A20, from where the flight will be boarding. There’s a slight delay that was caused on the inbound from Stockholm.

Boarding is strictly by zones, and the ground crew check to make sure passengers are queuing in the right lane.

The Cabin

There are four rows of Business Class on this flight. The cabin looks neat and elegant, but it’s also a bit gloomy – especially with the dark grey bulkhead.

I am seated on 2A, and the seat pitch is still quite good. It reduces rapidly towards the rear, to the point that it becomes painful.

The Service

There are two cabin crew working the Club Class cabin. One is a friendly elderly gentleman, and the other is a calm and efficient young lady with the most outrageously oversized fake eyelashes I’ve ever seen. I mean, she’s great and does a really good job, but those things are hideous!

Before departure, the crew pass through the cabin offering disinfectant towels.

The Meal

Given that the flight time to Amsterdam is usually just slightly over 30 minutes, I’m not really expecting anything special on this flight. Much to my surprise though, there are actually three options to choose from: cold roast beef, sweet potato salad or a couscous and beetroot salad, which is what I have.

The presentation of the main dish is very nice, and the taste is good. There is also a small bun and a dessert on the tray.

The dessert is some sort of Tiramisu, and it’s sinnfully good!

To finish the meal, I have a cup of peppermint tea. Zero points for presentation though.

We land after a flight time of 35 minutes and then make the long taxi to our gate on the non-Schengen D pier.

Conclusion

Perhaps it’s because my expectations were really low, but I was rather pleasantly surprised by this flight. The crew were friendly, the seat pitch wasn’t too dreadful, and the catering was very nice. But that lounge is in dire need of some TLC.

ANA All Nippon Airways, Business Class (The Room) – Boeing B 777-300: Tokyo Haneda to London Heathrow

Getting to Haneda Airport from Shinjuku

I haven’t been in Japan long enough to get jetlag, which is good because it means that when I leave my hotel in Shinjuku just before six in the morning, I’m actually feeling rather bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

To get from Shinjuku to Haneda airport by public transport, you can either catch an airport bus from the bus terminus at Shinjuku, or you can take a train and then the monorail – which is what I do. First, I take the Yamanote JR Line to Hamamatsucho. The nice thing about the Yamanote is that it runs in a circle. So even if you catch a train going the wrong way, you’ll still get there in the end.

From Hamamatsucho I catch the Tokyo Monorail from one floor up to take me to Haneda. The train’s first stop at the airport is Terminal 3, which is from where the international flights leave. The ticket is JPY700 for a oneway from Shinjuku to Haneda.

Check-in

ANA checks in on rows C, D and E. If you’re in Business Class and not using the check-in kiosks, head for row C. But be warned… The Japanese are incredibly polite, but also incredibly complicated. It takes me 20 minues to reach the head of the queue, mainly because the check-in agents spend a lot of time doing utterly useless things. For example, they label a suitcase on the conveyor belt. Next they open the security screen, check twice that there is nothing stuck in the conveyor belt, and then push the button for the belt to start moving and the suitcase to move forward to the main belt. Once the suitcase is gone, they close the screen, again checking that nothing has managed to get stuck anywhere. Mindfullness is one thing, but this just really very inefficient and very frustrating. I mean, it’s not as though lives hang in the balance by leaving the screen for the main conveyor belt open.

The check-in agent checks me in to Heathrow and then informs me that she cannot check me in for the last leg, because ANA has no check-in interline agreement in place with BA…

After check-in comes security, which again seems way more complicated in how it’s organised than it need be. But eventually, I manage, I’m through security and passport control.

The ANA Business Class Lounge

At Haneda airport ANA has a First Class lounge and the Business and Star Gold lounge. The views from the lounge are excellent. Too bad the place is crawling with people and there’s hardly any place to sit.

The lounge has an interesting selection of hot and cold Western and Japanese food items available from a buffet. The selection is good, but you need a bit of patience…

The entrance to the lounge is opposite gate 110, which also happens to be my gate for London.

Boarding

Boarding is by zones and a very orderly and quiet process. It looks as though it’s going to be a full flight.

Our departure is scheduled for 09:25. However, there’s a bit of a hold up because of something related to having to check the hold luggage. By the time we push back, we running an hour late.

The Room

ANA’s Boeing B 777-300 fleet has The Room Business Class seat installed. The main feature of the seat is a side panel that can be raised and a sliding door for more privacy. The door isn’t very high, though. The unevenly numbered seats are rear-facing and closer to the window, whereas the evenly-numbered seats are forward-facing and closer to the aisle.

The big advantage of this seat is that it is quite spacious. Other than that though, I have to say that it’s one of the more uncomfortable seats I’ve ever experienced, especially given that our flight time to London today is going to be 14 hours. First of all, the seat is very low above the ground. With my feet flat on the floor, the angle of my thighs to my torso is about 45 degrees and not very comfortable. The seatback is fully flat and offers zero back support.

I am 184 cm tall, which is pretty average for a male adult. Even so, it’s impossible for me to stretch out fully with the seat extended to a bed. The best results are achieved by lying at an angle, but even then it is not a comfortable surface to sleep on.

As far as I’m concerned, the seat’s only redeeming feature is that it gives me a comfortable and unobstructed view of the wing and the engine. The size of those things…

The Service

There are two Western cabin crew on this flight. One of them is male. The rest of the cabin crew are female. Service begins on the ground with the distribution of the welcome drinks. On offer are sparkling wine and orange juice. The cabin crew kindly oblige me with a still water instead.

After an hour of more or less incessant announcements in both Japanese and English, none of which make any sense, we’re finally ready to push. As we taxi out to our runway, we pass a whole line up of aircraft that look as though they have not been active in quite a while, including this B 787 with both its engines missing.

You can say what you like, but the B 777-300 is a total beast. Even heavily laden for a 14 hour leg across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans the acceleration is impressive. Our climb out takes us in a zig-zag route over Tokyo toward Narita, from where we start our Pacific crossing.

Our routing today takes us up north along the Kamchatka peninsula. We then cross the Bering strait and make a beeline for Greenland, then Iceland and eventually Scotland. As we fly over the Northpole, it’s fascinating to watch the compass on screen gradually adjust.

The Meal – First Service

As on the outbound flight, I decide to go with the Japanese option.

The planned amuse bouche has been swapped and replaced with a special Japanese New Year dish of dried fish and something. It’s not very good and rather bland.

To be perfectly honest, the meal is incredibly boring and very bland. Essentially, it’s soy sauce with a variety of different veggies, meat or fish that all taste of, well… soy sauce and not much else.

The only remarkable thing about this meal is the stupendous chocolate mousse, which is rich, creamy and sumptuous.

The Meal – Inflight Snacking

ANA has a wide selection of snacks available in case you get the hungries on such a long flight, of which I try the delectable fondant biscuits, the vanilla ice cream, the fruit, the cheese plate and the IPPUDO plant-based ramen. If I’d known earlier, I think I would have skipped the main meal and just had the ramen.

The ramen can be spiced up with a small red sachet of red chilli paste, which is lovely!

The Meal – Second Service

Two hours out of Heathrow, the second meal service starts, and again I go for the Japanese option. Perhaps a note for vegetarians: ANA is really not very good with non-meat dishes. If you don’t want to go hungry, I would strongly recommend ordering a special meal ahead.

As expected, the second service tastes a lot like soy sauce. I have a coffee and a fondant biscuit for dessert just to make sure I’m not suffering from a sudden loss of taste.

Arrival into Heathrow

We make landfall over Scotland and fly down the length of the UK to make an approach from the East. Our final decent brings us in right over London and the West End. It’s a spectacular view that just never gets old!

Despite our departure delay of one hour, we land in Heathrow exactly on time, at 15:25. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite terminal 2B. I now have two hours to make my connection from Terminal 5.

Conclusion – The Verdict

Meh…! That was a bit of a let down, from the mess at check-in and the crowds in the lounge to the very bland food on the plane and the uncomfortable seat, this was not a pleasant experience with ANA. I seriously think I’m going to have to see a chiropractor when I get back. The flight’s redeeming features were a) the crew, which were all just so nice and friendly, and b) the fact that the flight was operated by a Boeing B 777-300. I mean, have you seen the size of those engines…!? Other than that, I wouldn’t actively avoid ANA in future, but I definitely won’t go out of my way to fly with them either.

ANA All Nippon Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Frankfurt to Tokyo Haneda

Transfer in Frankfurt

The bus that picked us up at our aircraft arriving from Amsterdam ejects me somewhere deep in the bowels of the A concourse of Frankfurt airport, and I still need to make my way through the underworld and the passage of doom that connects the A and B concourses at Frankfurt airport and go through passport control. There is a guy with a sign for the ANA flight standing there as I enter the building, which I consider a good sign. He gives me instructions for how to reach the B concourse and tells me there is enough time. They have advised the gate ahead and they are holding the flight for me and the three other passengers coming off the Amsterdam flight. Frankfurt is very busy, so that by the time I finally reach the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. So no photos of the outside of the aircraft. It’s dark outside anyway…

The Cabin

On the B 787-9 ANA does not offer a First Class cabin. Instead, the Business class cabin is divided in two sections. There are two different cabin configurations on the B 787-9 that operate internationally. On my bird, row 8 is the bulkead row in the rear Business Class cabin. The aircraft is configured in a staggered 1 + 2 + 1 layout. The evenly numbered seats are window seats and offer a bit more privacy. The unevenly numbered seats are aisle seats, which are also nice – but a little less private. In addition, there are no middle seats on row 8, which makes my seat feel even more secluded and cosy. The proximity of the seat to the galley is not an issue during the flight.

The seat is a bit strange is that while there is ample space to place things, there is no storage space in the sense of a small bin that can be closed.

The IFE can be operated either by touch screen or by remote control. The screen is close enough for me to be able to use the touch screen functionality comfortably. Not that it really matters, because I only use the moving map to track our progress, and not much else.

The foot well is a good size, so that I am able to move and turn comfortably despite my size 10 feet.

Amenities

At my seat when I board is a nice comfortable memory foam pillow, a soft blanket with an opening to place your feet, a thin but very useful mattress, a pair of slippers, the earphones (Sony) and the vanity kit.

The vanity kit contains a toothbrush and toothpaste, eye shades, ear plugs, lip balm and yuzu facial mist (…??). There are more dental kits and mouth wash available in the lavatories.

The Service

The service on the ground begins with either orange juice or champagne for a welcome drink, which are served American-style from plastic cups. I ask for a bottle of still water instead.

The refreshing towels are now pre-packaged, which I’m guessing is a Covid-related move.

The flight begins with a string of seemingly endless short films: first comes the safety on board video, followed by a video about the hygene measures on board and a PhD-worthy treatise on air circulation on a modern airliners, and then another video on how to prevent the spreading of Covid.

The Meal – First Service

For the main service, there are three options to choose from – two international choices (beef or fish) and one Japanese option, which is what I have.

To drink I have a glass of sparkling water and something that is referred to on the menu as Kabusu, which is a signature soft drink made of citrus fruit for ANA. It’s very sweet, but also very tasty.

On the right is the foie gras amuse bouche. I’ll really never be a fan…

The Japanese meal is very tasty. It’s also nicely presented. The simmered beef (top left) looks kind of strange but tastes very good.

The main course is served with Gohan (rice), miso soup and pickels.

My only complaint about the meal service is that it simply takes too long. We were airborne by 21h05. It then takes over two hours to get the meal service done. By the time I finish with the main course, I’m just so tired that I decide to skip dessert. Instead, I go change into a pair of shorts, make up the bead and go off to Noddy land.

The Meal – Second Service

And what a trip it is to Noddy land! At some point during the night I begin to stir. I cautiously lift the lid of my eye shades to find the cabin brightly lit. At first I figure it’s the obnoxious mother seated on row 9, who has been pestering the poor crew ever since she stepped aboard the aircraft with Satan’s spawn in Frankfurt. Although to be fair, the kid is really cute and rather well behaved. It’s just a shame the same cannot be said for his mother.

I digress. I take a look at my watch and that’s when I realise the cabin is lit up because they’ve started with the breakfast service. We have 90 minutes to run to Handea, which means that I slept nearly eight hours solid without a murmur. Not bad. So, I quickly change back into my street clothes while the cabin crew bring me an orange juice and coffee.

For the second service there are also three options – Japanese, International and Continental. I go with the international meal.

The meal consists of a frittata, bacon and grilled veg.

A small bowl of fruit.

And pastries from the bread basket, served with butter and jam.

Arrival into Haneda

By the time we land in Haneda at 17:40 it’s already dark outside. I step off the plane and prepare to do a lot of waiting while I get processed to be able to enter the country. Much to my surprise though, the whole process doesn’t actually take that long, if you’re prepared. Basically, you will need three QR codes: the immigration form, the customs form and the COVID declaration form. A link to complete the forms was sent to me a few weeks before departure from ANA.

Getting from Haneda to Shinjuku

In Tokyo I’ll be staying in Shinjuku. I first take the monorail from the airport to Hamamtsucho, which takes roughly 20 minutes. There I connect to the Yamanote line, which takes another 30 minutes to reach Shinjuku. A oneway tickets costs Y500. The ticket vending machines accept cash only.

Conclusion

B***h momma aside, I rather enjoyed this flight with ANA. I think what really struck me, was just how noisy the Boeing B 787-9 was. Admittedly, that might also have been because I was sitting right next to the engine. Other than that, the seat was very comfortable and private. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well and so long on a plane!

Lufthansa Cityline, Business Class – Canadair CRJ-900: Amsterdam to Frankfurt

Introduction

I spend the day exploring the town of Utrecht, which is located south of Amsterdam and is directly accessible by train from Schiphol airport. A return first class ticket will cost you EUR33. Utrecht is a lovely town, and I certainly want to return here, but preferably not in winter, not when it’s raining and not when it’s cold.

At 13:21 I catch the intercity back to the airport. The Dutch have these rather funky looking trains…

I still have some time to kill, so I figure I might as well make a stop at Amsterdam South to visit Wagamama before returning to the airport.

By the time I get to Schiphol airport it’s 15:30. I have another three hours to kill before my flight. But given my last experience here at security on my way back from Bogotà, I figure I better plan ahead.

Check-In

Lufthansa checks in at Departures 3. From there it is quite a schlepp to the access gates for the security screening for the Schengen gates.

Apparently, there is a dedicated row for security for Business Class passengers – which is closed today. Still, it doesn’t really make a difference: the queue is moving quickly and the new scanners at Amsterdam mean you don’t have to remove anything from your bag.

The Amsterdam Star Alliance Lounge

The Star Alliance has its own lounge in the Schengen area at Amsterdam, lounge 27. Access is via stairs or lift. The lounge is located one floor up from the public airside area.

I must say, the lounge is rather nice. Of course it also helps that it’s not very busy when I visit.

The lounge has a large selection of hot and cold dishes from a buffet.

There are plenty of seating options in the lounge, including office desks if you’re trying to get some work done.

Of course, my favourite seat is by the window…

The toilets in the lounge are nice and clean. There are no showers, though.

Boarding

Boarding is expected to begin at 18:05 from gate B23. However, at some point there is a gate change and a delay for our flight. As a result, eventually boarding starts at 18:30, which is the departure time, from gate B17. There is a further hold up because the check-in system is not working properly, and the lone gate agent is having to board passenger in the system manually.

The Cabin

There are six rows of Business Class on the flight this evening. In total there are six passengers in the forward cabin.

I am seated on row two, which is the bulkhead row on the starboard side of the cabin. The leg space is good, and with so few passengers the cabin feels roomy.

The Service

There are two cabin crew working this flight. Both of them are middle aged females. They are friendly and laid back, but without being sloppy. What I always find interesting about the Germans, compared to the Swiss, is that they put a sinking intonation when they make an utterance, even if it is intended as a question. The immediate effect of that is that makes them sound as though they just really have so little of a s**t to give, when really it is just the way they talk.

While we are still on the ground, bottles of still water are handed out. Meanwhile I am growing increasingly concerned about my connection in Frankfurt, which would already have been just an hour even if we were on time.

Eventually, we take off at 19:05. With an expected flight time of 45 minutes that should bring me into Frankfurt with 15 minutes to spare before the next flight starts boarding.

The Meal

This is my first experience with the Lufthansa Taste of Heimat catering, and I am not sure what to make of it. The tray is definitely an improvement over the KLM cardboard boxes. But what is it with the Germans and their obsessive compulsion for meat?

The meal consists of a plate of some mushroom terrine, an egg and cream cheese paste and two slices of meat in an onion dressing. The meal is served with a selection of breads.

For dessert there is a piece of chocolate cake in some sort of coulis.

And to end the meal there is a small piece of chocolate, which I am guessing is SWISS rubbing off on Lufthansa.

Transfer in Frankfurt

Of course, the flight takes a little longer than 45 minutes, of course we have to land on the northern most (and remote) runway, and of course we have been assigned the remotest stand to park on. By the time the bus taking us to the terminal gets moving, it is already 20:15. My connecting flight has just started boarding, while I am stuck on a bus getting the grand tour of what must be the ugliest airport in Europe…

KLM Cityhopper, Economy Class – Embraer 195 E2: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

Today begins an extended period of travel for me. Some trips I will be taking by plane, whereas for others I will be taking the train. By the time I am permanently back home in Switzerland it will be the middle of February. This first leg to Amsterdam also marks my first flight on the KLM E 195-E2, and I have been geeking out about it all day with excitement!

Gettin to the Airport

The first part of my journey from Basel to Zürich is on one of the more recent acqusitions of the Swiss Federal Railways. The Dosto was built by Bombardier and is intended as a double decked composition with high speed tilting capabilities to accommodate the mountainous Swiss terrain. Too bad the technology is a complete and utter fail. The staff complain that their joints ache after working on the train for a whole day. And I know from experience that working on your laptop on this train can be treacherous. The constant jolts mean that you are very likely to accidentally open the wrong file or application…

But at least they look nice inside…

Check-In

At Zürich HB I transfer to one of the many trains running to the airport. Zürich airport is still looking very festive.

Airside

The airport is surprisingly busy. There are two security lanes open for premium passengers, but the process is taking some time, mainly because there are families with kids ahead of me in both lanes.

I do not bother with the lounge a) because I do not have much longer to wait until boarding starts, and b) because KLM recently changed lounges in Zürich, and the new one is really nothing to write home about. Unless, of course, you enjoy sitting in a broom cupboard.

Boarding

Boarding starts on time, and I am delighted that the DNATA staff strictly enforce boarding by zones.

The Cabin

When I step on board, the cabin lights are dimmed and set to a funky mood lighting in shades of pink and blue. It looks rather cool, I must say. Other than that though, I think some more brightness would be great, as passengers are struggling to find the seat numbers in the near-darkness of the cabin. The lights remain like this for the entire flight, except during take-off and landing, when they are turned off completely.

I am seated on row 3, which is one of the rows with extra legroom. The seat is very comfortable, and obviously a lot of thought has gone into maxing out the available space.

There are two power sockets for every pair of seats. There is an adjustable head rest with ears for support, and there is also a holder for iPhones and iPads for passengers to watch their own movies.

We push back from the gate at 17:31, on schedule. The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

The Crew

There are three crew on this flight. All three of them are quite young. None of them are overly friendly. However they are perfectly polite and efficient in their interaction with passengers.

The crew swiftly prepare the cabin for departure and turn off the funky disco lights as we mae our way to runway 28 for take-off.

The Meal

The meal service consists of a cheese sandwich with Beemster and some spicy mayo. As I previously mentioned in another post, I think KLM’s European Economy Class sandwiches are really quite tasty, and I honestly prefer them to the content of those Business Class cardboard boxes any day!

To drink I have a cup of sparkling water.

Arrival in Schiphol

Somewhere along the way we must have taken a few short cuts, because we eventually land in Amsterdam after a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, bringing us into Amsterdam 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

We park on a remote stand and are then bussed to the terminal building. It is cold and windy here in Amsterdam.

Conclusion

This was another enjoyable flight with KLM, which is now one of only a few airlines left in Europe with complimentary catering in Economy Class. The E2 is nice, and in the KLM configuration it offers a lot of comfort and space. The mood lighting gives the cabin a very modern and funky appearance, and the crew obviously enjoyed trying out different settings. However, I wonder if perhaps it would speed up boarding and deboarding to have brighter lights on during the process…

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Zagreb to Vienna

Introduction

Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.

Check-in

The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.

Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.

Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.

Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.

The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb

Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.

The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.

Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.

The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.

The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.

To drink with that I have an Almdudler.

And just before landing, chocolates are offered.

Arrival

We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.