EasyJet, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Basel

Airline: easyJet Switzerland
Aircraft: Airbus A 319
From: Prague Ruzyne Airport
To: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
Departure: 16:15
Arrival:
17:20
Flight time:
one hour and five minutes
Seat:
1F

Getting to the Airport

The journey from the Czech air navigation service provider’s offices to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. The driver drops me off right outside Terminal 1, because that’s where the short term parking is located.

Terminals 1 and 2 are connected with each other, both landside and airside. EasyJet checks in at Terminal 2.

Check-in

The check-in hall is a big, cavernous space. EasyJet’s counters are at the far end of the terminal, on the row closest to the security check point.

For my trip today I have speedy boarding as well as fast track access for security.

Airside

I like that Prague is probably one of the few airports I know of, where you are not ejected directly into the duty free shop once you pass through security. In fact, the duty free shops are all rather low key and small.

My flight will be departing from the D pier. But seeing as I still have a while to go before my flight even leaves from Basel, I figure I might as well walk to the very end of the C pier, where there is a long row of seats along the window front with a great view of the apron. At least, there would be if the weather weren’t so bad…

Boarding

I really don’t know how easyJet does it. I mean, I watch my plane land and then taxi in. When the aircraft enters the ramp, I stand up and make my way back to the departure gate. I do make a brief stop at the gents on my way, but I’m quite sure even with that it can’t take me more than six or seven minutes to reach gate D5, from where the flight will be leaving. Even so, when I get there, boarding is already in full swing and there is a long queue to enter the airbridge. Surely, did it really only take so little time for the aircraft to park, the passengers of the incoming flight to disembark and them to start boarding again?

Of course, with the speedy boarding I am entitled to jump the queue and just waltz on the plane when I want. But honestly, I always find that’s a bit of a dick move when I see others doing it, and I figure it makes no difference anyway.

The Cabin

I am seated on 1D, the aisle seat. At the time I booked the flight, that was the only seat on row 1 that was still available. On 1A there is a middle-aged gentleman. Very late, 1B nd 1C are taken up by an elderly couple. The husband is not exactly a lightweight, to put is nicely…

Boarding is completed and 1E and 1F next to me both stay empty. So I figure I might as well move over to the window seat, which is where I usually sit. Only, as soon as I move, Mr 1B and his spouse move too. Apparently, he doesn’t like that there’s no bulkhead on the other side of the aisle.

I mean, how dumb can some people possibly be? If you already have the luxury of having a few empty seats on your row, you could spread out, for example by taking an aisle seat each. Like that, the middle seat would stay empty and we would all have so much more space and comfort. But no, of course not. Because the selfish, self-centred git don’t fancy not having a bulkhead.

Okay, rant over. Deep breaths, in and out. Thinking of happy little puppies, calm down. Oh yeah, great leg room on row 1, by the way!

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the onboard sales begin and I order a mint tea and the new chocolate brownie. Together, the two items set me back by EUR4.50, which I think is reasonable for what you get and cheaper than the M&S products you find on BA.

Arrival

Other than that, the flight is uneventful and short. We start our descent into Basel and eventually land at 17h20, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

There are quite a few easJet aircraft on the ground when we arrive.

Apparently, the Czech Republic is considered ‘clean’ by the prefecture of Haut-Rhin, because we pull up to a stand on the Schengen ramp upon arrival. Which also means that it’s a long walk outside to get from the aircraft to the terminal. On the up side, that means great photo opportunities for people like me. On the down side, it also means that if it’s raining you’ll probably get soaked by the time you enter the building…

Conclusion

Flying with easyJet is a lot like taking a bus. There‘s really none of the magic or romance I associated with air travel when I was young. Even so, I think the easyJet product is solid and consistent, to the point that I think I would prefer easyJet to British Airways, given the choice. But probably that says a lot more about the current sad state of British Airways than it does about easyJet.

British Airways, Airbus A319 – Economy Class: London Heathrow to Basel

Introduction

For my return flight to Switzerland, I’ll be travelling with British Airways from London’s Heathrow airport. The main reason being that there is currently no direct service from London City airport to Basel.

Getting to the Airport

To get to Heathrow airport from the O2 arena, I’ve decided to take the most scenic option, which is the ferry on the Thames. The journey from the O2 arena to the centre of London will take near to an hour and takes you past Greenwich, tower bridge and the tower of London. The jetty is just under ten minutes walking distance from the hotel.
I alight form the ferry at Embankment. I take the few steps up to street level, cross the road and then I’m already in the tube station.
The Bakerloo line runs from Embankment to Paddington station and takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.
At Paddington station I change to the Heathrow Express. Just a piece of advice here: try to book your tickets for the Heathrow Express well in advance, and you can get some really good deals with tickets starting at GBP5.50. If however, like me, you completely forget to purchase a ticket in advance, you’re looking at ‘saver’ fares starting at GBP25…
Paddington to Heathrow takes about fifteen minutes by train.
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is very busy, as usual. Even so, security is efficient and swift. I don’t even have to queue.
The only thing I don’t like about Heathrow, is that they only advise the gate thirty minutes before departure, to give people an incentive to roam through the terminal building and spend loads of cash at the many duty free shops.

Boarding

My flight today is departing from gate A6, which is one of those gates with a ridiculously long air bridge. It also means the aircraft is concealed from view and impossible to take a photo of.

The Cabin

I think it’s going to be one of those flights. We board the aircraft and it’s hot. What’s more, there seems to be an unusually high number children on the plane today.
The first officer comes on the loudspeaker and welcomes all passengers on board. He also apologises for the heat and explains that the APU on this aircraft is currently not working, so it’ll be a while before the cabin cools down, once one of the engines has been started.
Nice, but try telling that to a bunch of tired, hungry and sweaty kids. And so, it doesn’t take too long before the crying and the wining begins. Luckily, the lady on the aisle seat of my row is travelling with her six months old kid, which is really cute and quite happy to play footsie with her stuffed dinosaur. But the kid on the other side of the aisle is a total menace. She’s busy doing a convincing, and rather frightening, rendition of Rosemarie’s Baby. Meanwhile, her brother in the middle seat decides that now would be a good moment to spill a cup of water over himself, his dad, Rosemarie’s Baby and his mum…
The quality of this picture is not very good. I only took it because if you look at the tail of the very last aircraft way at the back, you may notice that it is in fact BA’s first Airbus A 350…
Departures are from runway 27L this afternoon. There are just a few aircraft ahead of us taxiing out. Meanwhile, we decide to race this SAS Boeing B 737-600 to the holding point.
The flight time to Basel is one hour and ten minutes. Service on the flight is buy on board and you may only pay by credit card or avios.
The seat pitch is better than I remember. But the seat still isn’t very comfortable and forces you to sit fully upright, which becomes tiring after a while. I really wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so in this seat.

Arrival

We arrive in Basel just a few minutes behind schedule. I’m a bit apprehensive when I see an Air Arabia, WizzAir and a Turkish Airliines aircraft already on the ground, because that usually means that the queues for immigration and customs will be endless. But much to my surprise, there are hardly any passengers at the passport control.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that there are no posts of food and no comments about the service on board this flight. That’s because there’s really nothing for me to say. With the introduction of buy on board, the airline’s interaction with the passenger is quite limited. Especially the way the BA crews go about it. I watched them during the serivce. What struck me, was that they just passed through the cabin without really saying anything much. If passengers wanted to order something, it was up to them to make sure the crew noticed them. The low cost carriers do that much better I think, because on Easyjet for example, the crews are proactively trying to make a sale. As such, the onboard sales, and with that also the airline’s brand, assume a much more prominent role.

In contrast, I must admit I found this experience on BA completely interchangeable with just about any other airline, because the service I purchased has literally been stripped down to just taking me from A to B.

TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Basel

Introduction

March 31 2019 marks the beginning of the northern hemisphere summer schedule for air travel, and the change to the new schedule is usually when airlines launch operations to new destinations. Today, TAP Air Portugal is launching a new, twice daily service from Lisbon to Basel. This is not the first time TAP has operated to Basel, and in fact I still remember seeing them with the Boeing B 727-200 at Basel airport towards the end of the 80s.

Of course, I figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the first flight!

Getting to the Airport

I spend the night at the TRYP hotel at Lisbon airport, which is five minutes on foot to the terminal for an able-bodied person, and a bit longer if you have a back problem.

Check-in

Lisbon has an unusual designation for its terminal facility, in that the arrivals concourse is Terminal 1, while departures are located in Terminal 2. Check-in for the flight to Basel is in sector A, which appears to be the designated TAP Air Portugal/Star Alliance area.

There is a separate check-in area for premium passengers. Because the terminal at Lisbon airport has been gradually expanded over the years, the flow of passengers does not really follow any clearly laid out concept. As such, the security checkpoint is not so easy to find. It also doesn’t help that they’re currently building inside the terminal and have removed some of the signage.

The TAP Portugal Premium Lounge

The queue for the regular security checkpoint is endless. It reminds me a bit of the Easter processions we have in Malta, just with more complaining. But luckily, there is a fast track for security which is more or less deserted at this time of the morning.

From security I head one floor up and through the duty free shop to access the general airside area. The TAP Air Portugal lounge is located in the new part of the terminal building, one floor up from the general airside area.

The lounge is not necessarily the most elegant one I’ve ever seen, but I think it makes the most of the limited space available. The food selection is quite good, with a nice collection of local snacks. Although my suggestion to anybody transiting through this lounge would be to keep away from the coffee machine, because it’s vile.

Boarding

My flight will be departing from gate S25. A photographer is already there taking pictures of the aircraft and crew of flight to Basel. Before boarding starts, the photographer requests a group photo with the gate staff. Somehow, by the time everybody has removed any real or imagined bits and pieces of lint from their uniforms, patted down their beard, rearranged their ties or touched up their lipstick, the number of gate attendants has suddenly increased from three to eight!

The Cabin

The cabin divider is behind row 6, which means there is a total of 24 seats in the Business Class cabin. But the flight is not full today in both cabins, so that by the time boarding is completed, there are only four passengers in Business Class. One gentleman on 1A, a couple on 2A and 2C and me on 1F.

I like the design of the TAP seat. The dark colours look elegant. Every seat has a headrest that is adjustable in height and also has ears that can be folded out for support. The leg space is also good on row 1. From what I can tell though, the cabin divider is really just a curtain in the aisle.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a gentleman in his fifties, I should say, and he is assisted by a female colleague in her forties. And the two of them are just brilliant. They’re very attentive, and although they seem quite reserved, I think they do a really good job at making passengers feel welcome.

In the rear there is one young lady and a young man working the Economy Class cabin. I don’t interact much with them during the flight, although they seem friendly enough. What I can say though, is that the trousers the young male flight attendant is wearing are so tight, it’s nearly obscene. Somebody tell the guy to put his suit jacket back on again, already!

There is no service on the ground. Only once we’re airborne a packaged and scented towel is provided ahead of the meal service.

The Meal

It takes about fifty minutes after take-off for the meal service to begin. The meal consists of:

A plate of cheese and cold cuts.

A plate of fresh fruit.

A bowl of yoghurt with fruit compote.

A small ramekin of müsli.

A small ramekin of unsalted butter with jam.

In Business Class TAP provides an individual tray service, instead of serving the meals from a trolley in the cabin. As she hands me my tray, the cabin crew asks me what I’d like to drink and shortly after brings me a glass of orange juice and a coffee. The coffee incidentally, is rather good.

The crew do two rounds with the breadbasket. There is a wide selection of sweet and savoury pastries and bread to choose from.

Once the meal is done, the crew come to remove the tray and ask me if there’s anything else I’d like. One of them brings me a blanket and a pillow and shortly after I slip off to the land of nod.

Arrival

At 09h40 the captain announces that we’ve reached the top of descent. It’s a lovely day for flying this morning and as we come in over the Alsace, everything looks green and lush.

We touch down at 10h10. The perimeter fence is lined with photographers taking pictures of our arrival, and as we turn off the active runway, I can already spot the fire engines preparing for the water canon salute. I mean, you can call me an attention slut if you will, but I have to say there is something rather grand about the arrival of an inaugural service, that brings back the old magic of air travel.

As we disembark the aircraft, there are two representatives from Basel airport handing out Läckerli to passengers. A Läckerli is a type of sweet, a bit like a biscuit, typical for the Basel region of Switzerland. As I pass the gate on my way to arrivals, I can see that they’ve set up a buffet with Portuguese specialities for passengers booked on the return flight to Lisbon.

Conclusion

Well that was fun! TAP Air Portugal will be operating the Basel service twice daily with an Airbus A 319. Clearly, the airline is hoping to cash in on connecting passengers that will transfer through its hub in Lisbon onto the carrier’s extensive Latin American network. But while the Portuguese expat communities in Switzerland and the Alsace are quite considerable, the question remains whether TAP will be able to generate acceptable revenues on this route, given that Easyjet also operates between Basel and Lisbon.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris CDG to Zürich

Transfer in Paris Roissy

I must admit that I am just slightly worried about my connection in Paris. After all, Roissy is a big place that sprawls over a vast area. Fortunately, it turn out that Terminals 2E and 2F are connected to each other and within walking distance. So I needn’t have worried, because the whole process is swift and effortless.

There are separate queues for SkyPriority passengers for both security and immigration, which make the transfer painless. Twenty minutes after I exit the aircraft from Singapore, I’m already sitting in the lounge in Terminal 2F. My flight will be departing from gate F50.

The Lounge

The pier has been completely redone since my last visit. And the lower level, which is also where the lounge is, has been extended to create an entirely new floor.

The lounge is already busy. But I’ll only be here for about thirty minutes anyway, to grab a coffee and go to the loo before my onward connection to Zürich.

Boarding

Boarding starts on time and it looks as though it’s going to be a full flight, because they’ve already started labelling the larger items of hand luggage of passengers sitting in Economy Class to take down into the aircraft’s hold.

The Cabin

Today I’m seated on 2A. The pitch is fairly tight on the second row. Once boarding is completed, I notice that 1D and 1F are still available. But eventually I decide that 2A isn’t that tight and I can’t be bothered to move again. I’m tired.

This morning there are five rows of Business Class and it looks as though the forward cabin is full.

The Crew

The flight attendant serving Business Class is this big, friendly woman and she’s either totally cool or has nerves of steel. Because her service is friendly and unhurried. She’s doing a full tray service, serving twenty passengers individually and on her own with a flight time of only 55 minutes.

The Meal

The meal consists of:

cooked ham with pickled vegetables

a selection of cheese and chorizo soufflé

milk rice & strawberry tartare

The breakfast tray has a good size and combines a nice selection of different tastes and flavours. No sooner has the flight attendant handed the passenger behind me their tray, the captain comes on and announces the top of descent. But our flight attendant is hardly impressed and just carries on regardless. Excellent!

Arrival

Being early on a Sunday morning means we’ll be making an approach for runway 34. Which is good news, because it means they’ll be bringing us in over lake Zurich and closer to the Alps, which look lovely covered in snow.

Eventually we land at 08h40. By the time we taxi to the gate it’s 08h50. And that brings to an end my Australian adventure. Tomorrow I’ll be off again, but nowhere near as nice as Australia.

Conclusion

All I can say is that this trip has firmly established Air France as one of my favourite airlines. The consistency of the product, the friendliness and professionalism of their staff, as well as the very high quality and quantity of the food make it a real pleasure to travel with Air France. I also think that both Air France and Roissy airport have made an impressive effort these last few years to upgrade and improve their service and the customer experience. I shall look forward to my next trip with them!

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Zürich to Paris CDG 2

Date: January 2019
Origin: Zürich Kloten
Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
Seat: 1A – window seat on the port side of the aircraft
Flight time: 1 hour

Introduction

The first two months of 2019 I’ll be spending travelling more or less nonstop, and six of those eight weeks will be for work. But luckily, the start into the new year sees me going on vacation first.

Unlike my usual vacations, which normally have me travelling to a lot of different places, this time around I’m planning to spend most of my time in one place. On the one hand, I just need a place to wind down after a very hectic and stressful 2018. On the other hand, now that I’m a PhD student, I guess I had better make a start if I intend to complete my degree within the minimum permissible timeframe of three years.

There will be a slight detour getting to some of the destinations, but by my standards, I’d like to think they’re only minor ones. But I’ll come to all of that later on.

The first leg of this trip is more or less a positioning flight – the preamble, so to speak…

Getting to the Airport

One day before departure, I receive an e-mail from DNATA, Air France’s handling agent in Switzerland, informing me that everything is ready for my flight in La Première and if I have any requests, I should not hesitate to contact them by mail or phone.

About two hours later, I receive a phone call from Air France, inquiring about the pick-up for the complimentary transfer to Zürich airport. We agree for the car to pick me up at the office in Winterthur at 13h30. The journey to the airport should take about thirty minutes, which means I will get to the airport just around 14h00, a bit over an hour before departure. At exactly 13h30, I receive a message from my driver, informing me that he’s expecting me outside on the parking lot.

It turns out the car Air France has sent to collect me is a BMW 730X, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I honestly have no idea about cars and I haven’t even got a driver’s licence, but this car is just really nice. Of course, it also helps that the interior is colour coordinated with my Pumas…

Check-in

The driver drops me off in front of Terminal 2. He takes out my luggage and wishes me a pleasant journey.

I haven’t checked in yet, so the first stop will be at check-in. The agent there immediately checks me in to my final destination and puts a print out of the whole itinerary and the boarding passes in a bright red La Première branded folder.

He suggests having somebody escort me to the lounge, but I tell him I’m quite familiar and know my way. And so I decline.

The Lounge

In Zürich, Air France uses the Aspire lounge, which is operated by DNATA. There is no dedicated or separate First Class section to the lounge, but that seems hardly necessary.

Boarding

My flight will be departing from gate B 34. Boarding starts with a delay of about thirty minutes. Apparently, the aircraft was late departing from Paris on the inbound. Boarding is done by zones, and the first to be allowed aboard are zones 1 and 2. As I am travelling in La Première, I am invited to use the manned gate instead of one of the automatic gates.

The Cabin

I like the Air France cabin. First of all, because I think it looks very colourful with the dark blue leather seats and the bright read headrest covers and pillows. There are four rows in Business Class with a total of 16 seats on this flight, although I would say only half are occupied on this flight.

The pitch on row 1 is very good.

The Crew

The crew on this flight is really excellent. There are four ladies in total and they are very charming and professional in their demeanour and the way they go about their duties. As soon as boarding is completed, the maître de comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink. She also brings me a bottle of still water and a pre-packaged, scented towel. She informs me that she will send a message to Paris to make sure there will be somebody at the arrival gate to pick me up.

Funnily enough, she also checks if there was somebody there to escort me from the lounge to the gate and on to the plane. When I say no, for a moment she looks quite upset. So then I explain that I specifically declined an escort because I didn’t think it necessary. And she seems to accept that.

The flight time is announced as one hour, which isn’t really very much. Even so, the crew still succeed in delivering a professional and unhurried service. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the lovely smell of something heating in the ovens starts wafting through the cabin, and I’m curious what the source of the smell is…

The Meal

The meal consists of one tray. On it there is

  1. a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with cucumber
  2. a small plate with pumpkin and zucchini salad
  3. a bowl of apple compote
  4. a small dark chocolate

As it turns out, the divine smell is from the waffles that are served warm with the meal. And man, they’re good.

To drink I have a Coke Zero.

Arrival

As soon as I finish, the crew come to remove my tray and shortly thereafter, we start our descent into a dark and cloudy Pairs. The maître de comes to let me know that she has been informed that there will be somebody expecting me upon arrival.

The doors open and there’s a gentleman standing there, holding an iPad with my name displayed on it. He takes me downstairs and packs my bags into the booth of the waiting car. As I said, I’m not the expert, but I think this is the same type of BMW that picked me up in Winterthur to take me to the airport.

Eurowings, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Köln to Zürich

2000px-Eurowings_Logo.svg
2000px-Germanwings_Logo_2013.svg.png

Introduction

The meeting at EASA goes as well as can be expected when EASA and ICAO meet. The European agency’s offices are located five minutes away from Köln Hauptbahnhof and the Kölner Dom, which is definitely worth visiting.

Getting to the Airport

The train journey from the city to the airport will take you fifteen minutes by train lines 13 and 19. A ticket costs EUR2.90 for a single, second class.

The railway station is located in the basement of the airport and from there it is a fairly long schlep to the Eurowings concourse in the C area of the terminal.

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the airline’s website. Rather conveniently, if you’re only travelling with hand luggage, you can also check in at the self-service machines which are located right in front of the entrance to the security checkpoint. There also appears to be a dedicated entrance to the checkpoint for Eurowing’s BizClass passengers.

Airside

I didn’t actually bother to check if they have a Lufthansa lounge. And even if there is, I’m not actually sure I’d be entitled to use it. So the tall, blond M. and I grab a coffee and park ourselves by the window. As it happens, the café is located right next to our departure gate at C70.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of some thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft from Pisa. From what I’ve read on the net, this is something of a recurring theme with Eurowings… I hold back until the end and count about 100 passengers on the flight.

The aircraft is parked on a remote stand.

The Cabin

This flight is operated by an aircraft of Germanwings. Upon entering, the first thing I notice is that the plane looks tidy, neat and incredibly dull. In fact, if it weren’t for the Germanwings logo on the cabin divider, you might easily think you’re aboard a Lufthansa bird.

The tall, blond M. has checked online and tells me this bird is already pushing 28 years, probably making it one of the oldest in the Lufthansa Group’s fleet.

We’re seated on the emergency exit again, on 12F and 12E. I’m on the window seat. Although I feel somewhat compelled to add that it’s not that I won’t let my colleague sit by the window because I’m a creep, he just doesn’t really seem all that interested. Which, personally, I find even stranger…

Boarding finishes and once again, the tall, blond M. shifts across to take the aisle seat.

The Crew

The crew are a bit of a mixed bag. There are four ladies working the cabin. The youngest one looks as though she really, really couldn’t give a shit and would love to be just about anywhere else but on this plane. Then there is one very senior lady who is clearly botoxed to within an inch of her life and probably started her flying career on the Vickers Viscount or so. And the other two are okay, I guess.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes. As soon as the seatbelt sign comes off, the service begins: I don’t get it. Honestly. On this flight, everybody gets a complimentary snack box and a drink. This time I go with the Kuchen instead of the Käsebrötchen. Which is okay, except for the fact that it has these odd, unidentifiable bits and pieces in it…

Arrival

And then very soon we start out descent. We do one holding circuit before we are eventually allowed to make the approach.

Conclusion

So I must admit, I am confused. This was a Eurowings flight that was operated by Germanwings. Why couldn’t they just keep the Germanwings brand? And what’s with the service concept? Why bother keeping the Lufthansa brand on short-haul at all? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to dump the Lufthansa short-haul brand and hand over everything to Eurowings/Germanwings/What-ever-brand-airline instead?

Air Serbia, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Belgrade to Zürich

air_serbia_eap_logos_horizontal_eap_left-02

Introduction

Belgrade is a strange place, when you think of it. First of all, it’s not exactly pretty. There are a few elegant buildings that look as though they were recently done up, scattered around the city. But the vast majority of the streets and buildings look as though they’re in a sad state of repair. Of course, the buildings littered around town that still carry the vestiges of war, even after all these year, certainly don’t help to make the city look appealing.

But nonetheless, there is something about Belgrade. It’s a city I like being in. Probably it has something to do with the green trams you see in the street that were given to Belgrade transport by the city of Basel in Switzerland, where I live.

Getting to the Airport

In Belgrade I’m staying at the Radisson Blu Old Mill, which is located on the fringe of the city centre. It’s a really nice building and the rooms are elegantly appointed. To get to the airport this morning I’ve decided to order the hotel shuttle. As far as I’m concerned, the shuttle is good value for money at EUR25 per ride for up to four passengers. The shuttle van is extremely comfortable, there’s wifi and they’ve even provided water.

Check-in

I’ve checked-in online using the Air Serbia website. At the airport, Air Serbia has its own dedicated section in the terminal and there are a lot of check-in counters available. It is also possible to check in using the self-service devices. But access to these is blocked by a very long queue of passengers checking in for the Antalya flight when I arrive.

Immigration is one floor up from the general check-in area. There’s even a fast track for Business Class passengers. Although in the sum of all things, it’s likely to be the most useless, superfluous fast track ever. First of all, because it’s only the fast track for immigration, the security check is done right at the gate. And secondly, because the passport booth at the end of the fast track is unmanned. The one next to it is marked ‘staff only’, and just by looking at her it becomes apparent that the immigration officer on that line really, really couldn’t give a shit…

The Lounge

From immigration I head straight for the lounge. There are two lounges right next to each other at Belgrade airport. The Air Serbia lounge is a bit further down the hall from the general purpose lounge. But it’s well signposted.

The lounge is empty when I arrive. I take a seat and once the staff have finished discussing whatever, one of the young ladies comes to ask me what I’d like to drink.

The lounge is nice and includes a separate dining area, toilets and showers and separate washrooms for ablution before the Muslim prayer. There is also a separate dining area. As you enter the lounge they’ll tell you that no boarding calls are made. Which is true, although the lounge dragon will still come to light a fire under your butt if she thinks you’re overstaying.

Boarding

Belgrade uses a closed gate system, which is all sorts of awkward. First of all, because there’s hardly enough space in the gate area to hold all the passengers of a fully booked Airbus A 319. Secondly, because there’s no separate lane or anything of the sort for Business Class passengers. Once you’re inside the gate, there is a separate queuing line for Business Class passengers, but nobody, including the gate agent, seems to pay that any attention.

The Cabin

The last time I flew Air Serbia, they still had a dedicated Business Class cabin, which was really something else and made a refreshing change from the usual misguided European concept of Business Class comfort. But alas, with Etihad pulling the plug on Air Serbia, the carriers has had to adapt to the harsh realities of the European aviation market, and has replaced those lovely seats it had with standard Economy Class seats – simply leaving the middle seat empty in Business Class. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with Air Serbia adapting its product to that of the competition. But Air Serbia also operates the A 319 on flights to Abu Dhabi, which has a block time of about six hours. Luckily, I’ve never had to do it myself, but I’m very sure I would not want to spend six hours in this seat, especially not if I’m paying a Business Class fare for it.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. The lead purser is very senior, to the point where I’m wondering why she hasn’t retired yet to be able to spend more time with her grandchildren. Having said that, the advantage of having such senior cabin crew, is that they tend to be more at ease with themselves and usually have a way with passengers. And the purser on today’s flight is no exception.

While we’re still on the ground, one of the cabin crew offers me a bottle of still water. But there are no refreshing towels or anything of the sort.

The flight time is announced as one hour and thirty minutes.

The Meal

While the aircraft is still on the ground, the crew distribute menus for me and the other passenger in the Business Class cabin.

Although to be honest, I really wonder why they even bothered. The appetizer (!) is announced as a packet of peanuts. And for the main course, there is a choice between Serbian mezze and a Caesar salad. I order the Serbian mezze, which means that the other passenger is inevitably left with the Caesar salad, because apparently they only loaded one of each.

When I last flew Air Serbia, I really was quite blown away by their service. In fact, truth be told, back then I thought it was a bit over the top. In addition to the nice, comfortable seats, they also served a hot meal on a short flight of ninety minutes and even found time for a proper starter and dessert. But the meal I am served on today’s flight couldn’t be more different. I mean, given the sad state of Etihad and Air Serbia, I really wasn’t expecting a hot meal service any more. But not this. The meal arrives in a cardboard box. They don’t even use proper cutlery anymore, and instead, the crew give me a plastic fork and knife to contend with. Even the Coke Zero I order is served in a plastic cup. There is no bread with the service and the peanut appetizer, as it were, has obviously also been done away with unceremoniously. For dessert there should have been a choice between some typically Serbian walnut biscuit and a vanilla biscuit. Again, in reality the word ‘choice’ really means that I am given one biscuit, while the other passenger receives the other. Whether he likes it or not…

After the meal, I ask for a cup of coffee. To be honest, I already started to regret my request before the coffee had even arrived. The purser asks me if I’d like a black coffee, so Nescafé. I tell her I’d like some milk as well. To which she explains that they don’t have milk any more but that she could make me an instant cappuccino instead, if I don’t mind it being a little sweet…

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. Fortunately, 14h30 is not a busy time at Zürich, so there’s no hold up for the approach. We come to a stop at one of the B gates at 14h28. By 14h43 I’m already on the train to Zurich main station, from where I’ll catch a train to Basel.

Conclusion

I must say, I really am quite amazed by my experience on Air Serbia today. There was really nothing at all about this flight that made it deserving of the label ‘Business Class’. Since Etihad stopped its funding in the company, Air Serbia has really gone to shit. As such, their progression into decay seems somewhat symptomatic of the state of the whole Etihad group. From the look of things, Etihad’s modus operandi so far appears to have been to simply throw as much money at an airline until it starts to look like yet another version of Etihad. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if only Etihad were a better airline.

Following the demise of Air Berlin and their rather ill-advised investment in Alitalia – at least they should have seen that one coming…- Etihad Airways announced recently that it would be focussing its strategy on providing good air service to and from its home in Abu Dhabi. There’s nothing wrong about that either, in theory. But Abu Dhabi is not Dubai. Abu Dhabi is quiet, more conservative and unlikely to attract the tourists like Dubai does. Which leaves the local market. But that will hardly work for Etihad, given that it’s a very small market that is, moreover, only a ninety minutes’ drive away from Dubai airport.

TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Luxembourg

2000px-tap_portugal_logo

Getting to the Airport

My meeting yesterday was close to the airport, which is why I decided to stay at the TRYP Lisbon airport hotel for just the one night. The TRYP is a nice hotel with spacious rooms and all the amenities you might expect from an airport hotel.  My only grippe about it, is that the breakfast is not very nice.

Originally, I had planned to walk from the hotel to the terminal building. It’s not more than five minutes to walk. But when I woke up this morning, it had started raining and I could even see the occasional burst of lightning in the distance. And so, instead of walking, I decide to take the complimentary shuttle, which runs every twenty minutes and takes approximately five minutes as well to complete the journey from the hotel to the terminal.

IMG_0003.JPG

Check-in

I’ve checked in online the day before. TAP Air Portugal has its own check-in area, and there is even a dedicated, separate section for Business Class passengers. Despite the fact that the terminal complex is a labyrinth of halls, corridors and building sites, all of which have been added haphazardly over the years, it’s still fairly easy to navigate and well signposted.

IMG_0004
IMG_0006.JPG

There is a fast track for security, which is brilliant. First of all, because the queue is much, much shorter than the regular Economy Class queue. And secondly, because the staff here are just so relaxed and friendly!

IMG_0008.JPG
IMG_0010.JPG
IMG_0017.JPG

The TAP Portugal Business Class Lounge

Since I was here last, TAP has moved its lounge. Or rather, they now have their own lounge and no longer use the contractor lounge next door. Which is, quite frankly, a shame because the new TAP lounge is definitely not as nice as the other place. I also think it’s quite apparent that it’s not large enough to handle all the traffic at the airport.

IMG_0012.JPG
IMG_0013.JPG
IMG_0015.JPG
IMG_0016.JPG

Boarding

Boarding is from gate S26, which is the last gate in the newest part of the terminal. There are three queues for boarding: one for premium passengers, another for zone A and a third one for zone B passengers.

IMG_0018.JPG
IMG_0019.JPG
IMG_0021.JPG
IMG_0022.JPG
‘Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville…’
IMG_0024.JPG

The Cabin

The aircraft I am flying on has already been refitted with the new cabin interior. It’s the regular RECARO slimline seat but the colours TAP has selected are quite elegant. Every seat has an adjustable headrest and there are two power plugs for the three seats.

IMG_0025.JPG
IMG_0026.JPG

The seats are arranged in a typical 2 + 2 configuration, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. As my luck would have it, the aisle seat on my row remains empty and I have it all to myself to spread out. I am seated by the window on 1F.

The Crew

The crew consists of four young ladies who are all very nicely turned out. Their make-up is subtle and they wear TAP Air Portugal’s bright uniform well!

Once we’re airborne, the service begins with the distribution of pre-packaged, scented towels. But unlike many other carriers, who normally have very flimsy towels made out of paper, this is actually a real cloth towel.

IMG_0028.JPG
IMG_0029.JPG
IMG_0030.JPG
IMG_0031.JPG

The Meal

Every passenger is served individually. The whole meal is served on one tray and it is quite a large breakfast. It consists of:

  1. a plate of fresh fruit,
  2. a bowl of yoghurt with Mango coulis, which is served with a side order of Müsli,
  3. a plate with cold cuts, cheese and some salad,
  4. a piece of Portuguese milk chocolate,
  5. a selection of breads from the breadbasket,
  6. butter and jam.
IMG_0032.JPG
IMG_0033(1).JPG
IMG_0034.JPG
IMG_0035(2).JPG
IMG_0036(1).JPG
IMG_0037(1).JPG

The meal is tasty and the quality of the food good. I try two different types of bread roll. One is a brioche type dough with coconut on top, while the other is savoury and goes well with the cheese.

Throughout the meal service the crew make repeated runs through the cabin, offering more drinks and bread.

As soon as I’ve finished, one of the cabin crew comes to remove my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink.

IMG_0038(1).JPG

Arrival

And so the flight passes quickly, and before long we’re already descending into Luxembourg. It’s much cooler here today than it was yesterday when I left and certainly cooler than the weather in Lisbon.

Conclusion

I guess it really speaks for how old I am that I was working for Swissair at the time when the Portuguese government was planning to privatise TAP by selling it off to the Swiss. Ironically, Swissair went bankrupt in the meantime, while TAP Air Portugal seems to be going strong. Right now the airline’s future looks bright, with an order book of new Airbuses the renew and rejuvenate the fleet. The service on board TAP is quite good, but it remains to be seen whether the airport at their hub in Lisbon will be able to keep up with the pace at which the airline and traffic to Lisbon in general is growing.

Iberia, Business Class, Airbus A 319: Zürich to Madrid

iberia-logo
map

Introduction

I’m now into my fourth week of travel and in looks like this is going to be another one of those trips…: I’m on my way to Casablanca for the user group meeting. But because I’m teaching until 13h30 on Tuesdays and the meeting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, my choices for flights are somewhat limited. Which is why, initially, I booked myself on an Air France service from Zürich via Paris. With that I would leave at 15h00 after teaching and would arrive in Casablanca at 21h35, so not too late. But then of course, Air France decided to go on strike…

Initially, I was rebooked by Air France on a Lufthansa service via Frankfurt, with a departure from Zürich at 20h00. The only problem with that though, is that the flight doesn’t arrive in Casablanca until 00h35, by which time the car rental office in Casablanca is already closed. So I had to come up with another option quickly…

And so I find myself on a late Tuesday afternoon on my way to Zürich airport.

Check-in

Iberia checks in at Check-in 2 in Zürich and the carrier has its own dedicated counters which are, I think, manned by DNATA staff. I’ve already checked in using the app, but my luggage is heavy with all the documents I’m carting around. So I figure it will be more pleasant to check it in. The check-in agent kindly labels the case to Madrid only, seeing as I’m going to have to spend the night there, and then wishes me a pleasant journey.

IMG_0005.JPG
IMG_0003.JPG
IMG_0002.JPG
IMG_0001.JPG

Airside

I’m travelling with the wiry R. on this trip, who clearly has a bit of a sweet tooth and is a bit of a culinary snob. And so we forfeit the comfort of the Aspire lounge in favour of the Sprüngli Café behind security and indulge in a milky coffee and a truffe du jour. Which is, admittedly, very good for the taste buds but not so good for the waste line.

IMG_0007.JPG

The two following pictures were taken from the airside sports bar, which has an open terrace that lets you get up quite close to the aircraft.

IMG_0008.JPG
IMG_0009.JPG

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from gate B33. The B concourse is quite busy at this time of the day. There’s a slight delay to start boarding, apparently because the aircraft already arrived from Madrid behind schedule.

IMG_0010.JPG
IMG_0011.JPG

The Cabin

I’m seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side. Row 2 is also the bulkhead row on this side of the aircraft. On the port side though, the bulkhead is row 1. Seating on this aircraft is in your standard 2 + 2 Recaro Slimline configuration, with the middle seat on a row of three left empty. The cabin looks rather drab, in varying shades of a rather boring grey colour. The cabin isn’t really all that clean either. And it’s not the type of new ‘sorry, we’re in a hurry so we didn’t clean the cabin’ dirt, but rather the type of old crusty muck that comes from years of neglect. The seat pitch is good though.

IMG_0013.JPG
IMG_0012.JPG

The Crew

I wouldn’t go so far and say the crew are friendly, but they’re polite, helpful and very professional. They also adhere to the defined service process, which I think is rather nice.

There are no welcome drinks or towels before departure. The only thing the crew distribute on the ground are the Spanish and foreign language newspaper.

The flight time is announced as two hours.

IMG_0016.JPG

The Meal

As soon as the crew is released after take-off, one of the flight attendants comes through the cabin taking orders for dinner. There is a choice of pasta with salmon or stuffed chicken breast with green beans. I go with the latter option.

IMG_0018.JPG
IMG_0019.JPG
IMG_0020.JPG
IMG_0021.JPG
IMG_0022.JPG

The meal is not that bad actually. The tray contains the hot meal, a green salad with dressing, a plate of cheese and a tub of yoghurt for dessert. Bread and butter are served separately from a basket.

The salad hasn’t gone completely limp and the hot meal has a rich creamy sauce. The chicken breast is filled with some type of cream cheese, apricots and olives – which work surprisingly well together.

To drink I have a Coke Zero. Once I’m done with the meal, the flight attendant removes my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to have. So I order a coffee, which is served with a small piece of pretty decent chocolate.

IMG_0023.JPG

Arrival

Our descent into Madrid is very atmospheric, with the setting sun putting on a spectacular show of colours.

IMG_0024.JPG
IMG_0025.JPG
IMG_0027.JPG

Eventually we land in Madrid at 21h15, slight behind schedule. Iberia calls Terminal 4 home, which I still find quite a spectacular construction! The building is massive and the design is modern and elegant. It’s also very empty!

Getting to the Hotel

In Madrid I’ll be staying at the Madrid Airport Hilton. It’s quite a bit away from Terminal 4, but there is a regular complimentary shuttle bus that takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.

Czech Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Amsterdam

Czech-Airlines-Reviews-Czech-Airlines-Logo.jpg
map

Introduction

The very first time I visited the city of Prague was 24 years ago, after I graduated from secondary school in Switzerland. We travelled by train, mainly because it was a lot cheaper than taking a flight in those days. Back then, the city and her inhabitants were still slowly adjusting to the advent of capitalism in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Parts of the city were shabby and run down from years of neglect. But even as an obnoxious and, admittedly, totally clueless young man, I could not help but be impressed by just how beautiful the city was.

Since then a lot of water has passed under the famous Charles Bridge. Today, Prague is a modern, confident city that has been meticulously restored to its former splendour.

IMG_0003.jpg

Getting to the Airport

The journey from the centre of Prague to the airport takes roughly thirty minutes by car. There is of course the option to take public transport, but from the location of the meeting I attended, public transport would mean taking a tram and changing metro lines twice. So a taxi it is.

Check-in

There are two terminals in Prague. Fortunately, my driver is a knowledgeable guy. So when he asks me ‘which terminal’ and draws a blank, he just asks me where I’m going. I explain I’m heading for Amsterdam, to which he nods and says ‘Terminal 2’. Well okay, if you say so…

IMG_0012.jpg

Terminal 2 is a strange building. The check-in area is essentially one very big hall with a few rows of check-in counters. I’m not sure how long the facility has been open, but they appear to still be working on half the check-in area.

IMG_0013.jpg
IMG_0014.jpg

Czech Airlines have their own row of counters and there is one dedicated row for SkyPriority passengers.

SkyPriority passengers are entitled to use the fact track at security. The airport is not very, so the process is painless and swift.

IMG_0016.jpg

The Czech Airlines Business Class Lounge

Czech Airlines does not have its own lounge in Prague and uses the Premier contractor lounge operated by Prague airport.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. The decoration of the lounge is a question of personal taste, I guess. But it gives the impression of being rather gloomy and dark.

IMG_0018.jpg
IMG_0021.jpg

Food options are limited to finger food and light snacks.

Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time at 16:55, as indicated on the boarding pass. There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers, who are invited to board first. The gate agent announces that the flight is very full and therefore, oversized pieces of luggage will need to be checked in.

IMG_0022.jpg

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is very good. I rather like the colours and I think it’s just brilliant that Czech Airlines has decided not to follow the trend of using leather seat covers

The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small tray table that folds out of the back of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Legroom on the first row is also good. There are two rows of Business Class with a total of eight seats, five of which are occupied on this evening’s flight.

IMG_0023.jpg
IMG_0024.jpg
IMG_0025.jpg

The Crew

There are two female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. One of them is very charming and all smiles as I step on board. The other looks very serious. But it later turns out that that is her default facial expression and in facts she’s very friendly and takes good care of the passengers in the forward cabin.

The Meal

A welcome drink is served on the gorund. There is a choice of water, sparkling wine or orange juice. Although it’s a bit of a shame the drinks are served in plastic cups.

IMG_0026.jpg
IMG_0029.jpg

As soon as the crew is released after take-off, the service begins. The cabin crew place a table cloth of crisps, white linen each tray table. Much to my surprise, one of them informs me that, apparently, I’ve ordered a vegetarian meal. She notices the look of surprise on my face and tells me that the standard meal is also available if I’d rather have that. But I decide to stick the veggie meal that’s been ordered for me.

Even more to my surprise, the meal is actually rather nice and consists of a plate of raw vegetables. I’m quite amazed at how crisp everything has managed to stay. For dessert I have a bowl of fresh fruit. The tray comes with a refreshing towel and a small tub of margarine.

IMG_0031.jpg

My only complaint about the meal is that it might have been nice to have some olive oil or vinegar to put on the veg.

IMG_0032.jpg
IMG_0033.jpg
IMG_0034.jpg

After the meal I have a cup of coffee. Kudos to Czech Airlines for serving coffee that is hot and not just tepid.

IMG_0037.jpg
IMG_0036.jpg

The tray is removed and shortly afterwards we start our descent into Amsterdam.

Conclusion

To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting anything much from Czech Airlines. In fact, I suspected I would be treated to another sad experience with an airline the world doesn’t really need and that nobody would really miss. But I have to say, I am quite impressed. The crew were friendly, the seat was comfortable enough and the food was not bad at all.