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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I’m on my way from Paris to Zagreb. My options are Croatia Airlines or Air France. Normally, I would go with Air France. However, this time around there were several good reasons to take Croatia Airlines instead. First, they use an A319 on the route, whereas Air France operates an Embraer 175. And second, the schedule with Croatia Airlines is more appealing, with an arrival in Zagreb at 13h10.
Getting to the Airport
I’m staying at the Sofitel Le Scribe in Paris, which is just around the corner from the Opéra Garnier. The car picks me up in front of the hotel at 08:35 to take me to the airport. Being early Sunday morning, the traffic is fairly smooth – right up until we join the access road to CDG airport, where the traffic comes to a grinding halt. As a result, the trip ends up taking just shy of 60 minutes in total.
Croatia Airlines checks in at Terminal 2D, Hall 3. Currently, they’re working on the outside of the terminal, so access to 2D is via 2B.
There are three counters open for Croatia Airlines passengers: one for Business Class and two for Economy Class.
Access to the security checkpoint is between terminals 2B and 2D. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and the process is quick.
CDG2 Extime Lounge
Croatia Airlines uses the Extime Lounge, which is in the Schengen area of the terminal building. There are no lounges in the non-Schengen part from where Croatia Airlines boards. Access to the lounge is via a corridor that leads off from the main area just in front of the Relay kiosk.
The lounge is certainly one of the better ones at CDG if you’re not travelling on Air France. And it’s certainly much better than the dreadful lounge I visited in July on my way to Australia!
The lounge has a large buffet with a good selection of hot and cold dishes.
At 10h45 I exit the lounge and make my way to passport control. It’s not very busy. I reach the gate for my flight at B29, where the last remaining passengers of the inbound are just disembarking.
Alas, taking a decent picture of my chariot is impossible.
Boarding starts ten minutes late. The first call is for Business Class passengers only.
Croatia Airlines operates six A 319s in two different configurations. This aircraft is configured for a capacity of 150 passengers, which is also why it has two overwing exits on each side, contrary to your usual, standard issue A 319, which only has one on either side.
Seat pitch on row 1 is good. It also helps that the Business Class cabin is not full. So once boarding is completed, the guy on 1C moves one row back so that we each have a whole row of three to ourselves.
There are three cabin crew on this flight and they’re lovely, very friendly and helpful. While we’re still on the ground, they offer a welcome drink and disinfectant towel.
Today’s traffic regime at CDG sees parallel approaches happening on the two southern runways, and departures on the inner one of the two northern runways. On our way there, we pass CDG 1, which is still closed, where I spot Conviasa’s A 340 and an Aerolineas Argentinas A 330. CDG 1 is scheduled to reopen next year.
The flight time to Zagreb is one hour and forty minutes. It’s difficult to find anything nice to say about the meal service. One could forgive the rather ugly presentation if the content were good but…
…we start with porc sausage slices…
…followed by a paté of sorts made of more porc (49%!) and then some porc.
Which basically leaves me with pickled vegetables and crackers and a piece of walnut cake. Tragically, the crackers are limp and the walnut cake is just dead boring.
And to drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.
I also order a coffee. To be honest, even if you normally have your coffee black, if you’re drinking the Croatia Airlines stuff you may want to add the cream and sugar they provide for the sake of your taste buds. It’s not their fault…
The tray also comes with cutlery, although I’m not sure what I’m supposed to use it for, except perhaps to stick the fork in my leg in the hope that the pain will distract from just how hungry I am by this stage.
Our route takes me overhead Basel, where I live, and then on to Innsbruck and Ljubljana. The flight is uneventful and the views of the mountains are beautiful, even though there’s still not much snow on them.
Eventually, we land with a delay of fifteen minutes.
Getting into Town
The airport bus runs to the city every thirty minutes. The journey takes 25 minutes to complete and will take you to the main bus terminus, which is still quite a walk away from the centre of town. The journey will cost you 45 Kuna, which is roughly EUR6.-. Only cash payment is possible on the bus, but there’s a telling machine at arrivals, just opposite the exit for the airport bus. The stop is on your far right as you exit the airport building.
In the sum of all things, I thought Croatia Airlines were quite okay. The aircraft was comfortable enough and the crew were really great and very friendly. On the down side, the food was seriously lacking. To be fair, they are the airline of Croatia. Even so, I think it would not be too much to ask for them to cater to a more international palate, shall we say.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
there are five rows of Business Class and it looks as though the forward cabin
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 consists of:
cooked ham with pickled vegetables
a selection of cheese and chorizo soufflé
milk rice & strawberry tartare
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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 consists of one tray. On it there is
a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with cucumber
a small plate with pumpkin and zucchini salad
a bowl of apple compote
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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…
And then very soon we start out descent. We do one holding circuit before we are eventually allowed to make the approach.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Every passenger is served individually. The whole meal is served on one tray and it is quite a large breakfast. It consists of:
a plate of fresh fruit,
a bowl of yoghurt with Mango coulis, which is served with a side order of Müsli,
a plate with cold cuts, cheese and some salad,
a piece of Portuguese milk chocolate,
a selection of breads from the breadbasket,
butter and jam.
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.
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.
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.