Iberia, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Jerez to Madrid

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Getting to the Airport

After two months on the ground, I finally resumed my travels last Friday with a flight from Zürich to Madrid and then from there on to Jerez, where I gave a presentation on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements and the need to also assess native speakers of English.

I wouldn’t have minded staying a little longer, the weather in Jerez was lovely. But alas, tomorrow I shall already be underway for my next trip. So I really should be heading home.

In Jerez I’m staying at the Hotel Casa Grande, which is right in the centre of town overlooking a quaint little square.

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The taxi picks me up outside the hotel just after eight in the morning. The journey to the airport takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, depending on the level of insane Spanish driving that you encounter, and will set you back about EUR20. There are busses to and from the airport too, and there is even a railway station opposite the terminal. But both the busses and trains are infrequent and the schedule is not always convenient.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in using the Iberia app, the reliability of which is a bit of a hit or miss affair – but mostly miss. In the name of investigative blogging (yeah, right…), I nonetheless check out the departures area, to find that Iberia has two counters open for its flights to Madrid: one counter for regular passengers and another for Business Class passengers and status holders.

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The terminal is an interesting building that looks more like a railway station, with a high ceiling and a mezzanine floor overlooking the check-in hall.

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Boarding

Security is swift and efficient. Once you’re airside, there are five departure gates. There is also a small café and of course a duty free shop. And that’s just about it really. There is no lounge, so I’m roughing it in the common gate area and hoping I won’t catch anything…

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Just after nine in the morning the gate agent appears. Is that blue make-up she’s wearing? I thought that had gone out of fashion when ABBA broke up many moons ago. I really make my best effort to supress a laugh when I see her, because she looks and behaves just like that woman from Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. You know, the one with the wingtip spectacles that’s just come out of the asylum.

Her face, the gate agent’s that is, is set in a perpetual pout and she’s squinting her heavily made-up eyes as though she can barely see a thing. Boarding starts somewhat unceremoniously when she yells out to the public at large ‘Madrid, embarque passajeros de priority’. Looks like we’re boarding.

Aaaand, jackpot! Jerez does not have airbridges, so we’re having to walk across the apron to our aircraft and board using the stairs. Cool! It’s a shame the sun is directly facing, but I think I still manage to take a few good photos of my chariot to Madrid.

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The Cabin

I am seated on 10F, which is a window seat on the emergency exit of the A 319. This aircraft looks slightly different from the A 319 on my flight from Zürich. First of all, where that aircraft had the typical Recaro slimline seat most European carriers seem to favour these days, this model has the same type of seat as Air France. The cabin divider is also different.

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The legroom is good on the emergency exit. The only drawback is that the armrests on the emergency exit row are shorter. As such, they’re just a bit too short to be able to comfortably rest your arm on them.

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The Crew

The crew consists of a female purser in her mid-fifties, I should think, and two young men that look, quite frankly, as though they’ve never previously seen the inside of an airplane and don’t exactly instil confidence. Also, their English is atrocious, verging on non-existent.

Just past our scheduled departure time at 09h30, the captain comes on the blower to announce a slight delay, which is caused by a minor technical issue the ground engineer needs to sign off first. But the delay drags on and eventually we depart 45 minutes behind schedule.

The Non-Meal

Iberia has been offering buy on board service for a while now. On short flights such as this (one hour), they don’t even bother to bring out the trolley and all items have to be ordered using the call button for the cabin crew.

I’ve never liked the concept of buy on board, but so far I’ve never really been able to explain, rationally, why that is. It’s not the money I think. It just never really felt right. On this flight though, I think it finally dawns on me what it is exactly that bothers me. Or rather what it is about full-service airlines that I prefer: the on board service, is, quite simply, the only opportunity the airline gets to interact with its customers. And that is the only thing they can leverage to set themselves apart. Even if you only get a packet of stale biscuits. There is always some interaction with the crew and, by extension, the brand. But on a buy on board airline, the interaction only becomes possible once, or if, the customer decides to make a purchase.

And this flight is a good example of that. The seat is in the same boring grey you get on Lufthansa, for example, and apart from the inflight magazine and the crew’s uniform, there is nothing in the cabin that might indicate to you that this is an Iberia aircraft or that you’re going to enjoy the typical Iberia experience.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful and eventually we land in Barajas just after 11h20.

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By the time we come to a stop at our assigned stand, it’s already 11h30. I now have fifty minutes to make my onward connection.

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

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Date: 29. April 2017
Departure: 09:20
Arrival: 12:50
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Seat: 1F, window

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Introduction

I’ve just completed another course in Lisbon. I’ve rather enjoyed myself. The Portuguese really make me laugh. No matter what’s going on they’re so full of life. Of course, it also helped that while back home in Switzerland trees were collapsing under the heavy weight of the falling snow, here in Lisbon it’s t-shorts and flip flops weather.

Getting to the Airport

Because the course is near the airport anyway, I’m staying at the TRYP Hotel Lisbon airport this time. The terminal building is only a 5 minutes walk away. So I think you’re probably fastest walking. However, if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage, there is a shuttle bus to bring you to the airport.

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Check-in

Lisbon airport is a strange place. The city is gradually encroaching on the airport. So space is limited. As a result, the design of the facility is dictated by space restrictions rather than practicality or convenience and the terminal building seems a lot like a patchwork of extensions and reconstructions.

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I check in online for this flight. The app works well (You paying attention KLM…?) and I am able to change my original seat on 1D to the window on 1F.

The security checkpoint is hidden away on the opposite side of the hall from the TAP Air Portugal check-in area. There is a fast track for security, which is very efficient. And while at other airports the security staff can be a nasty and unfriendly lot, this being Portugal everyone is very nice and totally laid back. They’re conscientious about their job but they’re also nice about it and take a lot of patience with the elderly passengers in the queue ahead of me.

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The Airport Authority Lounge

Airside there have been quite some changes since my last visit. The transit area has been expanded and modernised. There is now a central atrium with shops and a lot more space to sit. The lounge is accessed via escalators leading up from the atrium.

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TAP Air Portugal no longer have their own lounge and instead they share the same common purpose lounge with all the other carriers in the Schengen area, which is operated by the airport authority ANA.

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The lounge is rather dark and gloomy and the place is crowded when I get there. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There is also free wifi and a good selection of newspapers.

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Food and drink options are somewhat limited. In fact, there are only sandwiches available.

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But… the view from the lounge is nice and provides a good vantage point to monitor the proceedings and movements on the apron and the runway.

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Boarding

The flight is departing from gate S26 today, which is one of the few contact stands in the Schengen part of the terminal. Most aircraft are parked on a remote stand. The aircraft come up quite close to the building, which means you can take some pretty descent pictures of them.

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Boarding starts rather unceremoniously with the gate agent calling out for all Business Class and frequent flyer passengers to board first. You know, you could use a microphone…

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class. The configuration is the typical European style layout with the middle seat kept empty. The seat looks rather old fashioned, an effect which I think is partly also produced because of the grey seat covers. However, on my flight down from Amsterdam to Lisbon I was on an A 321 which had been refitted with a newer, more modern style of seat.

Other than that, the seat is fairly basic and there are no power plugs at all in the cabin. The seat pitch seems rather tight. But at least I have the whole row to myself so I can stretch my legs.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they truly are excellent. They’re friendly and obviously determined to make passengers feel welcome. Their interaction is easy going and professional.

The Meal

The service begins as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off. The crew pass through the cabin offering prepacked scented towels that have a refreshing lemony smell.

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There is no choice for the meal. The breakfast consists of a plate with cold meats and cheese, a bowl of fresh fruit, yoghurt, butter and jam and breads from the breadbasket. To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice.

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The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket a number of times (You paying attention Lufthansa?) and top up coffee and tea straight away. The cold cuts don’t look too appealing though, so I don’t try any.

Generally speaking, I think the quality of the food is good and the amount of food on the tray is quite generous.

Arrival

The flight passes surprisingly quickly. After the meal service one of the crew brings me a Coke Zero and I spend the rest of the flight reading and watching the world go by.

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We land in Amsterdam about ten minutes ahead of schedule. By the time we taxi in from the Polderbaan though, we’re running slightly behind schedule.

Conclusion

I rather enjoyed this flight, even though I think the food selection on the outbound was better because there was a choice of two hotmeals for the main course. Other than that, I thought the crew were really very nice on TAP and the aircraft appeared to be in fairly good condition. The only thing I’d be wary about is that the pitch does seem rather tight, even in Business Class. But apart from that, I think I’d fly them again without hesitation. Pity they’re in the Star Alliance.

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Iberia, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Madrid to Basel inaugural flight

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Date: 26 March 2017
Departure: 16:00
Arrival: 18:00
Flight time: 2 hours
Aircraft: A 319
Seat: 3D, aisle seat on the third row

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Introduction

No sooner have I completed my homework for this week it’s already time to head back home to Basel to get ready for my trip to Luxembourg tomorrow. I check out of the hotel and walk the short distance to Atocha station. Part of the road has been closed off for traffic, and there are families with kids running around where usually the cars are stuck in traffic. It’s still quite fresh here in Madrid, nonetheless it certainly feels as though spring is just round the corner.

Getting to the Airport

If you’re flying from Terminal 4 at Madrid Barajas, your best bet by public transport is the Cercania line C1, which runs from Atocha station to Terminal 4. The journey takes just under 30 minutes and will set you back EUR2.60 for a oneway ticket.

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Check-in

I checked in for the flight yesterday evening using the Iberia app, which is quite erratic in its behaviour. But eventually I manage and find myself assigned to 4F, a window seat, which is fortunate seeing as this will be the inaugural flight to Basel and I’m kind of hoping for a water canon salute.

The terminal has a nice airy feel, which is achieved partly by the very high ceiling that is designed to give the impression of waves on the sea, and partly by the fact that the facility is indeed more or less deserted. Where is everyone?

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Incidentally, there is a fast track for security if you have status or if you’re in Business Class. Just follow the signs marked Fast Track VIP.

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The Iberia Dali Business Class Lounge

Terminal 4 is dedicated to the Oneworld alliance carriers and a few others. My flight will be leaving from the satellite, which also has a few Schengen gates. However, be warned that there is absolutely nothing at all in the Schengen part of the satellite – no shops and no lounge. So it’s best not to journey across to the facility too early.

The lounge is spacious and offers ample seating opportunities. There is a quiet area with day beds and there are also showers in addition to the toilets, which are very clean.

The food selection is good, but not quite as nice and extensive as in the non-Schengen lounge. Admittedly, the presentation could be improved – all the dishes are served in these rather ugly plastic containers. But the quality of the food is good.

Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge.

Boarding

The flight to Basel is boarding from gate M28 according to the flight information displays. However, at some point an announcement is made that for some reason there has been a gate change and the flight to Basel will now be leaving from M49. Only thing is, M49 is occupied by the flight to Munich. Eventually though, the whole thing is sorted, and apparently Munich is boarding from M51 right next door.

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Boarding is by areas and the first passengers invited to board the aircraft are Business Class and status holders.

The Cabin

Well, well, well! There seems to have been an aircraft change. And what a pleasant surprise it has turned out to be. Instead of an Airbus A 319 with the usual European style Business Class cabin with the middle seat empty, this aircraft has its own dedicated Business Class cabin with amazingly plush seats in a 2 + 2 configuration.

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Admittedly, the finish of the seat is not particularly nice but the seat is certainly comfortable. I suspect that this must be one of those aircraft Iberia normally sends on some of its long thin routes.

Storage space is good, but there are no power plugs and there is no inflight entertainment system either.

There are four rows of Business Class and every seat is taken, which is rather surprising given that this is the inaugural flight.

The Crew

The crew are a nice, friendly bunch, but for some reasons they’re totally stressed out during boarding. But once the flight eventually gets underway on time, they seem to calm down.

The service begins with the distribution of Spanish and English language newspapers.

The Meal

Iberia may have just restored my faith in European Business Class!

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The meal is rather nice and the purser working the Business Class cabin does an excellent job of making passengers feel comfortable. The service and food have a rather nice and decidedly Spanish feel.

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Arrival

After a flight time of roughly two hours we start our descent into Basel. The captain informs us that there will be a water canon salute to celebrate the inauguration. And what a grand show it is! It’s a nice sunny day in Basel, and as we glide down onto the runway, I can see spotters lining the perimeter fence to watch us coming in. The water canon salute is simply cool and as we disembark, every passenger is handed a goody bag with souvenirs of both Iberia and the Euroairport to mark the occasion.

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Conclusion

All in all, I really enjoyed this flight. I think the standard on Iberia is very good and the crew were all just so nice. Easyjet already operates on the Madrid-Basel route. But I think if they’re not careful, Iberia may end up giving them quite a run for their money. Terminal 4 in Barajas is far superior to the terminal Easyjet uses. Add to that the fact that as an Executive Club member flying Iberia gives you access to fast track immigration and security and lounge access, and it seems like a done deal.

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

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Date: 25 March 2017.
Departure: 15:10.
Arrival: 16:50.
Flight time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Aircraft: Airbus A 319.
Seat: 2F, window on the second row.

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Introduction

Terminal 2E and 2F are connected airside and you can easily make the transfer on foot. On this particular occasion the process is incredibly swift, given that I’m the only customer at the security checkpoint and the many staff at the four open security lanes look absolutely bored out of their wits.

Check-in

I checked in for the flight using the Air France app, which works very well since the last release. As I already mentioned, my flight will be leaving from Terminal 2F, which is the Schengen terminal for all SkyTeam carriers. There are two piers to the terminal.

I really like the architecture of the building.

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The Lounge

There is an Air France Business Class lounge located in the tip of the pier and both piers have their own lounge. However, right now the lounge on the one pier is closed for refurbishment. The lounge that is opens appears to have undergone recent refurbishment. They didn’t do anything drastic, it’s more of a facelift really.

The lounge is nice and has many seating options along the huge curved windows that offer some excellent views of the activities on the apron.

The food options in the lounge are good, with a wide selection of salads, soup, sandwiches, cheese and sweet snacks.

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Showers and toilets are available in the lounge.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from gate F21, which is a bus gate. Which means I hit the jackpot and my ride to Madrid is parked on a remote stand. Oh happy day!

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The Cabin

The cabin layout is your bog standard European Economy Class seat with the middle seat left empty. Even so, I think Air France have done a good job working on the appearance of the aircraft, which looks elegant and bright. There is a red pillow at every seat as I board the aircraft.

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Seven of the twelve seats are occupied.

The Crew

There is one gentleman working the Business Class cabin. I assume he must be the purser. His English and Spanish are both excellent and he goes about his duties conscientiously.

The service on the ground begins with the distribution of small bottles of water and packed refreshing towels which are lightly scented.

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The Meal

There is no drinks service ahead of the meal being served. Despite the flight time of one hour and forty minutes, we are served the same type of meal that you also get on the much shorter sector from Paris to Zürich. But somehow, given my recent experience with Lufthansa from Munich to Malta, that really should not surprise me. Short-haul Business Class catering in Europe is definitely going to the dogs.

It’s not that there is something wrong with the meal and it tastes okay, I just think it’s a bit small. It’s also an odd combination of randomly selected items.

The meal consists of:

  1. a savoury cheese muffin, served warm
  2. a brioche filled with cream cheese and tomato paste
  3. two shrimps sautéed in sesame oil, served cold
  4. a berry maccaron
  5. one profiterole
  6. and some incredibly rich chocolate thing that clings to your teeth
  7. a box of chocolate covered wafers

To drink I have a Coke Zero and then coffee.

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Arrival

I think this is the first time I’ve landed in Madrid coming in from the north. The airport is fairly busy, with quite a few departures to Latin America. There are three LATAM aircraft parked at the gate and two Avianca Dreamliners taxiing out for departure.

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In Madrid, Air France uses Terminal 2. Normally you can make your way into town using the metro. However, for the time being, the station and tunnels of the metro line that runs to the airport are out of service for maintenance. But a there is a replacement bus service in operation – the SE2 – that takes passengers to the next open metro station. Just stay on the bus until the final destination and then follow the other passenger.

Conclusion

Air France provided a solid service on both flights today. The crews were friendly and professional and the aircraft both looked as though they were in mint condition, with a tidy and modern cabin. Of course it helps that the B 787-9 from London to Paris still has that ‘new car’ smell to it and the crew were obviously very proud and eager to show off the product.

As I said, the meal was a bit of a let down. But I think that has less to do with Air France and more likely reflects a general trend among the European carriers.

The transfer in Paris was painless, highly efficient and certainly much more pleasant than connecting at that rat hole they call Frankfurt airport.

British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Basel to Heathrow

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Date: 25 March 2017
Departure: 07:00
Arrival: 07:30
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A 319
Seat: 10A, window seat on the exit row

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This is more of a commentary than a trip report. At the beginning of this year, British Airways implemented a whole range of changes to adapt its business model to that of the low cost carriers by aligning its short-haul Economy Class product to that of the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair.

Seat reservations are only available at a charge – and they are not cheap, especially if you’ve set your heart on one of the extra leg-room exit row seats. Even with Executive Club Silver status advanced seat reservations are only possible against payment.

And then in January 2017 British Airways introduced buy on board food and beverages on short-haul Economy Class. The carrier has teamed up with Marks & Spencer, presumably hoping that the retailer’s excellent brand recognition will do something to offset customers’ undoubtedly frosty reception to buy on board service.

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There are only snack available really. Things like the plowman’s cheddar sandwich, chocolate bars, etc. And of course it’s really all very healthy. The prices are rather steep though. A sandwich will set you back GBP3, while a coffee is GBP2.80, which I find rather a lot.

I’m an old romantic at heart and I yearn for the good old days when hot meals in Economy Class were the norm and not the exception and were actually edible. Even so, British Airways’ move makes a lot of business sense to me. By reducing complimentary services in the rear of the cabin, the gap between the Economy Class product and the Business Class product is widening again, without the burden of having to invest in a costly upgrade to the premium product or cabin.

But of course the whole thing could also go horribly wrong. From what I could tell, on today’s flight not that many people ordered something from the buy on board selection. Unless British Airways can make this venture worthwhile for Marks & Spencer, it will probably not last very long. But we shall see.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Skopje to Zagreb

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Date: 05 August 2016
Departure: 05h45
Arrival: 06h45
Flight time: 1 hour
Seat: 1F

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Introduction

It is four o’clock in the morning as I step outside the hotel. It is still dark but already the temperature is quite high. It also feels a lot more humid than it has been these last few days. One way or another, it is time to go home. And so I get in the car. And off we go.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Cost: 900 Macedonian Dinar, roughly 20 Euros.

The journey from the centre of town to the airport does not take long to complete at this time of day and we appear to have hit a green streak with the lights. There is also a bus to the airport apparently, but whenever I tried to ask about it at the hotel, I drew a blank.

Check-in

Location: Ground floor.
Facilities: Web check-in (better not) or check-in at the desk (advisable).
Counters: There is one counter for Economy Class passengers to Zagreb, and another counter for Business Class passengers. In addition, there are two other counters on reserve, to ensure that check-in moves swiftly.

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My suitcase it tagged all the way through to Zürich and I am issued the boarding passes for both flights, even though I have already checked in on the Croatia Airlines website and have added the boarding passes to Passbook.

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From check-in I head straight for security. I show the guy checking boarding passes my iPhone and draw a blank. All I get from him is ‘no’. But then I give him the paper boarding pass I was issued at the counter and he seems happy to go along with that.

The Lounge

Location: Opposite the exit from security.
Type of Lounge:
Prime Class contractor lounge.
Facilities:
None really, other than a few comfortable couches. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A limited selection of cold drinks. There is also a Nescafe machine, but that appears to be out of order. To eat there are a few pastries and bowls with nuts, none of which I try though. To be honest, everything looks a bit stale.
Internet:
Wifi is provided by T-Online in the lounge. Passwords are available at the reception desk outside.

I grab myself a bottle of water and take a seat in a remote corner of the lounge to get out of harm’s way. I overdosed on garlic at dinner last night and I still reek of the stuff. It is so bad that the guy ahead of me in the queue for security actually let me pass just to stop me breathing down his neck.

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Boarding

There is a separate line for Business Class passengers and they are invited to board first.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2. The middle seat in the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: There are three rows of Business Class, which should in theory mean that there are twelve passengers in Business Class today. However, I notice that on some rows the middle seat has not been kept empty and there are in fact three people sitting in a row. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the Airbus A 319 has a seating capacity of 144.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Audio and Video: There are overhead screens showing advertisements for Croatia as a holiday destination.

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The Crew

The crew seem pleasant enough, they are not overly friendly but then again it is rather early in the morning. So I can hardly hold it against them… The flight time is advised as one hour and five minutes.

The Meal

Delivery: Plastic box from the trolley.
Type of meal:
Breakfast, I guess…

  1. Cold cuts and cheese with a small cherry tomato.
  2. Jam and butter.
  3. Chocolate brownie.
  4. Pre-packed roll of bread.
  5. Tea or coffee, soft drinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, and the award for the worst Business Class meal presentation goes to… Croatia Airlines. Well done!

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To be fair, the quality of the food is good, except perhaps for the spongy bread that looks and tastes as though is has been chemically treated to expire about forty years after I have expired of old age. But that is compensated by the delectable brownie, which is to die for. And the coffee is good too.

But enough with the niceties. The presentation of the meal is really, really not good. What is more, the cabin crew distribute the plastic boxes and the bread and then disappear. Uhm…how about some cutlery? Eventually, when half the Business Class cabin is already busy licking their sticky cheese fingers, the crew emerge from the galley, this time with napkins and cutlery.

Transfer in Zagreb

And then very soon we start our descent into Zagreb. It is a lovely day outside. We land in the middle of what appears to be Croatia Airlines’ morning bank of transfers. A new terminal is currently under construction at Zagreb. For the time being though, the operational apron only has open stands, which means I get to disembark via the stairs. Cool.

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Adria Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Tirana to Munich

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Date: 20 April 2016
Departure: 18:55
Arrival: 20:55
Flight time: 2 hours
Seat: 8A

Introduction

The Albanian authorities have been excellent hosts. In addition, the weather in Tirana today was quite simply stunning. The temperature was pleasantly warm, with a nice breeze preventing it from getting too hot. The dramatic location of the city, surrounded by mountains, is quite spectacular and with the clear air, the mountains look close enough to touch.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: Roughly thirty minutes.
Departs from: Hotel Mondial.
Arrives: Tirana Rinas Airport.
Cost: 2000 Albanian Lek or EUR14.

The user group meeting comes to an end at 15h30. By the time I finish saying goodbye to every one and pack up my things, it is already four o’clock in the afternoon.

Check-in

Location: Left half of the terminal, ground floor.
Facilities: Check-in counters for the Adria Airways flight open two hours before departure. Counters 17 and 18 are reserved for Adria Airways check-in.

Alternatively, there are also multipurpose self-service check-in machines. The self-service machines are located facing the entrance to the terminal. They are red and can hardly be missed.

Once I get that out of the way, I step outside to have a coffee and watch the world go by in the warm sun. This is just lovely.

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The Lounge

Location: First floor, right behind immigration.
Type of Lounge:
Multipurpose contractor lounge.
Facilities:
A variety of different seating options, two Mac workstations, toilets are available in the lounge.
Catering: There is a small buffet with a small but good selection of snacks.
Internet:
At reception an access code for the internet is printed for you.

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Access to the lounge is via a set of stairs hidden away behind the duty-free shops. The lounge is open to status cardholders of most airlines. Alternatively, you can also pay EUR20 to use the facility.

Like the rest of the airport, the lounge is fairly small. But I rather like the design. It feels cosy.

Boarding

There is no priority boarding for this flight. However, given that there were only about forty passengers in total on the flight, it does not really matter that much.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: 9A, window on the port side of the vessel.
Pitch: No information.
Width: No information.
Description: Unfortunately, I was unable to find any useful information about the cabin configuration and seat of Adria Airways’ fleet of A 319s. The cabin looks nice enough and well maintained. However, the fact that everything is kept in various shades of grey does make the cabin look somewhat drab.

Other than that though, Adria has video screens installed throughout the aircraft and there is also internet connectivity available via OnAir, although I did not try it out on this flight.

Seating on this aircraft is fairly tight, but at lest the flight is only about a third full. Thus, I have a whole row to myself and manage to find a decently comfortable position to sit.

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The Crew

There are three cabin crew. The purser is a charming lady in her early fifties, I would guess. Announcements are made live in Albanian, Slovenian, English and in German. The crew is friendly enough and I notice that they rigorously enforce safety on board.

The Meal

All passengers are served a cup of still water. Other than that, food and drinks are available for purchase only. Mostly, it is just light snacks and drinks. But at least the prices are reasonable. I order a cheese sandwich, a Coke Zero and a Nescafe with milk and sugar for EUR8.

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It is another glorious day for flying outside. After take-off, our routing takes us along the Adriatic coast on a north-westerly track until eventually the coastline gives way to the Alps and eventually we cross into Germany.

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Arrival

We land a few minutes ahead of schedule. It is quickly approaching 21h in the evening, so Munich airport is already fairly quiet. I pass through security and immigration and take the stairs up to the G concourse, which is the Schengen area, from where my connection to Basel will be leaving.

Conclusion

All in all I though, Adria Airways were not that bad at all. True, buy on board is never cool, but the quality of the food available was good and came at a decent price. The aircraft was comfortable enough, although much of that had to do with the fact that is was mostly empty. On a longer or full flight I am not sure how comfortable the experience would be.

Alitalia, Econonmy Class – ERJ175/A320: Zürich via Rome to Tirana

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Date: 19 April 2016.
Departure: 18:55 from Zürich.
Arrival: 23:45 in Tirana
Flight time: One hour and twenty minutes from Zürich to Rome, 55 minutes from Rome to Tirana.
Seat:

Introduction

It is time for the annual User Group Meeting. This year, the authorities in Albania have kindly invited us to host the event in the capital Tirana. I am rather looking forward to this trip, even though it is going to be only a very short visit. This will be my first visit to Tirana.

I am not looking forward to flying to Tirana though, because I am certainly not a fan of Alitalia’s. For that I think I have simply had too many bad experiences with them. With striking being a popular national pastime in Italy for one, and their hub at Rome Fiumicino a filthy hovel for another, you really do not have much of an incentive to fly Alitalia. Even so, I chose Alitalia for this trip out of pure necessity. On Tuesdays I am teaching until the early afternoon. Alitalia is the only operator to offer a connection from Zürich to Tirana that will allow me to leave Zürich in the evening, without missing a day in the office or classroom.

I leave the office just after 17h00. I think spring is finally only just around the corner. It is a warm balmy evening, which is quite amazing, given that is was really cold and misty this morning.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Journey time: 13 or 17 minutes, depending on whether you take a fast train or the suburban train.
Departs from: Winterthur.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Cost: CHF4.30 for a one-way ticket.
Frequency: There are seven trains an hour between Winterthur and the airport, which depart at 03, 14, 25, 28, 44, 55, and 58 minutes past the hour. The departure at 44 minutes past the hour will take 17 minutes to complete the journey. All other trains run the course in 13 minutes.
Web link: For all schedule information, including real time information on delays, check out the website of the Swiss Federal Railways at www.sbb.ch. You can also purchase tickets via the website.

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I catch the 17:25 departure from Winterthur, which arrives at the airport at 17:38. My flight will start boarding at 18:20, so I will not have long to wait.

From the platform of the airport station to the centralised security checkpoint for airside access, it is roughly a 10 minutes walk at a leisurely pace.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 2.
Facilities: Check-in is only available at the counter in Zürich. Web check-in is not available and Alitalia does not use check-in machines in Zürich either.
Counters: Check-in is done on row 3, at the counters of DNATA.

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The young man checking me in is friendly enough. To be honest, I think he is just so bored he is glad to have somebody to talk to. He issues both my boarding passes and then sends me on my way.

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The Lounge

Location: One floor up from the main airside centre. The stairs and lift are at the far end of the airside centre, to the left and just before the escalators to the B and D concourse.
Type of Lounge:
DNATA Aspire lounge.
Facilities:
Bistro style tables and a variety of sofas and loungers, newspapers and magazines. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A selection of mainly cold dishes like sandwiches or cheese. However, there is usually also a hot option, for example soup.
Internet:
At reception an access code for the internet is printed for you.

By the time I have changed some money – fifty Swiss Franks will end you up with 5000 Albanian Leks – and gone through security, there is not that much time left, so I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just spend what little time I have watching the traffic on the apron.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: Available, although so many passengers are eligible for priority boarding with Alitalia that I figure I might as well not bother.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: 9A, window on the port side of the vessel.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18.2 inches.
Description: The last time I flew on Alitalia’s Embraer 175, the experience was hardly anything to write home about. My biggest rant with the cabin at the time was that none of the seats were properly aligned with the windows. As a result, you either had to twist your neck backwards painfully to look out, or make due with a window half concealed by the seat in front of you.

Much to my surprise though, the cabin on today’s flight is in much better condition, in fact it looks rather attractive. The seats are fairly thin but still comfortable. They are in dark blue leather. The headrests are of bright red material, which makes for an attractive contrast. At 30 inches the seat pitch is good and there is plenty of space to stretch your legs.

On this evening’s flight, there are two rows of Business Class. The rest of the cabin is for Economy Class. The seat load is good, but there are still a few empty seats here and there.

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As I board the aircraft, two things strike me immediately. First of all, the cabin is awfully hot because the APU has not been turned on. The cabin feels like a sauna. The second thing, and this is where it gets really bizarre, is that they have Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ blaring away as the passengers file through the aircraft to find their seat…

The Crew

There are two cabin crew. The purser is a gentleman of Indian descent and seems friendly enough. The other cabin crew is a female in her early fifties. The only remarkable thing about her is that she has the most outrageously oversized fake eyelashes.

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The Meal

Okay, so the bad news is that Alitalia’s famous blood orange juice has fallen victim to Etihad’s rigorous attempts to give Alitalia any semblance of being a ‘proper’ airline. The good news however, is that they are serving proper food again and not just a packet of stale peanuts. The meal consists of:

  1. A small sandwich of grilled bread, filled with Mozzarella, tomato, ruccola and a pesto sauce.
  2. A cup of mineral water.
  3. A nicely scented wet wipe which smells very similar to Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Vert.

The meal hits the spot nicely. Outside the Alps provide a spectacular backdrop during dinner.

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Arrival

Our flight time to Rome is only one hour and twenty minutes. Thus, we arrive thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The approach is truly spectacular. First we pass right over the centre of the city, below the engine I can make out the Emanuele Vittorio monument, which looks like a giant wedding cake in the evening light. We continue on a southerly track for a while, before eventually we do a 180 turn onto the approach, which takes us along the coast. With the sun setting in the distance, the Mediterranean looks quite dramatic.

Transfer in Rome

Our aircraft parks at the far end of the B concourse. From here I follow the signs for the shuttle bus to the H concourse, from where my flight to Tirana will be leaving. The transfer is pretty easy and straightforward. The journey time is roughly five minutes. Immigration is conducted in the B concourse before getting on the bus.

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The Lounge

If there is one, I can not find it. The H concourse looks like a provisionally erected building. I am assuming the facility will close down once the new terminal opens later this year.

In the absence of a lounge, I buy myself a sandwich, a salad and a Coke Zero for EUR13.50 from the only bar available in the whole waiting area.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from a bus gate. The flight is completely full, so it takes three buses to bring all the passengers to the aircraft.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: 15F, window seat on the starboard side of the vessel.
Pitch: 33 inches on the first row, which then gradually decreases to 30 inches by row 8.
Width: 17 inches.
Description: Alitalia operates the Airbus A 320 in two different configurations with a seating capacity of either 148 in a mixed class configuration for international flights, or with a capacity of 165 in a single class Economy Class only configuration for domestic flights. However, the distinction is not always clear and often Alitalia will also use the high-density configured aircraft on international routes as well.

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The Crew

There are three ladies and one gentleman as cabin crew on tonight’s flight. In contrast to the crew from the previous flight, this bunch is really excellent. They are very alert, charming in a way only the Italians can pull off and they are very conscientious about safety on board.

The Meal

The meal service on this flight is identical to the previous flight’s, despite the relatively short flight time of only 55 minutes. Given that it is already past ten in the evening by the time the service begins, I opt for a packet of biscuits, rather than having another sandwich.

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Arrival

Eventually we land in Tirana with a delay of about thirty minutes, which we incurred departing from Rome. As it happens, the Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna has just landed ahead of us. As a result, the queues for immigration are rather long and it takes about 35 minutes to reach the head of the queue.

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In Tirana I will be staying at the Tirana Airport Hotel, which is right across the road from the terminal.

Conclusion

So what about Alitalia? As I mentioned in the beginning, I really was expecting the worst from them. In hindsight though, I must admit that they weren’t actually all that bad. More over, it seems to me that you can definitely see Etihad’s influence coming through. Somehow, the staff in the air and on the ground just seem more customer oriented.

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

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Date: 10 March 2016
Departure: 16:20
Arrival: 17:15
Flight time: 55 minutes
Seat: 1A

Transfer in Paris Roissy

Transport: CDGVAL automated train.
Journey time: 5 minutes.
Departs from: Ground floor of Terminal 1.
Arrives: Terminal 2.
Cost: Complimentary transfer.
I am one of the first passengers to disembark from Qatar Airways’ A 380. There is an agent from the airline standing in the airbridge distributing priority passes for immigration and so it happens that I am already standing at the station of the CDGVAL 10 minutes after getting off the plane.

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The Lounge

Location: There are two piers to Terminal 2F and there is an Air France lounge in both piers, located on the lower level.
Type of Lounge:
Air France SkyPriority lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, a good selection of magazines and newspapers.
Catering: A selection of different snacks; things like sandwiches, cheeses and cold cuts which change throughout the day.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi, no password required.
The architecture of Terminal 2F is quite striking. With all the glass there is an abundance of natural light that gives you the feeling of actually sitting outside. The excellent view of the action on the ramp helps too.

By the time I reach the lounge, I have another ninety minutes before my flight to Zürich starts boarding. The lounge is not too crowded, but judging by the litter on most of the tables, the place must have been pretty crowded not too long ago. But the staff do an excellent job to get the place tidied up and by the time I leave, the place is looking neat and tidy.

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Boarding

At Charles de Gaulle airport there is a dedicated line for SkyPriority passengers and the first boarding announcement is to invite these passengers to board first.

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Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2. It is the standards European set up with the middle seat blocked in Business Class.
Pitch: 33 inches, which gradually decreases to 32 inches towards the rear of the aircraft.
Width: 18 inches.
Air France operates the A 319 in two configurations. One configuration is for 129 passengers in two classes. These aircraft are deployed on international short-haul routes. And then there is the high density configuration with 142 seats in Economy Class only for domestic services.

On today’s flight there are five rows of Business Class with a total of 20 seats.

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The Crew

There are three cabin crew working the flight today. All three of them are male and the two middle-aged gentlemen working the Business Class cabin are so camp they are almonst a cliché of themselves. Service on the ground is limited to the distribution of packed refreshing towels. However, having said that, they are made of cloth and are of reasonably good quality. The scent is also fairly modest. Very often the pre-packed towels tend to smell a bit overpowering.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Afternoon snack.
Delivery: Tray service from the trolley.
Meal:

  1. Beetroot hummus tartlet.
  2. Canapé of smoked salmon.
  3. A warm cheese bun.
  4. Bowl of grapes.
  5. A sweet caramel muffin and lemon cream profiterole.
  6. Tea or coffee.

In recent years Air France has certainly upped its game as far as short-haul catering is concerned. Where previously in Business Class everything was served on plastic, they now use proper dishes and even real cutlery. Even the coffee comes in a proper mug these days! The food is very tasty and hits the spot nicely, just the right thing for such a short hop from Paris to Zürich.

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Arrival

The flight really is not much more than a hop, and only a short while after the trays are removed, we start our descent into Zürich. Outside the weather is good, it is a bright sunny day. And I am quite taken in by the stark contrast in scenery. Where the scenery in Saudi Arabia was dominated by the vastness of the desert, here everything is lush and green. There is even snow on the hills.

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It is nice to be back home. Next week I shall be off the Luxembourg again.

Conclusion

With this flight comes to an end my journey to Saudi Arabia with Qatar Airways and Air France. As far as Qatar Airways is concerned, I really do think they are an excellent airline. Their Business Class product, both in terms of hardware and software, is superior to that of many other carriers. And part of that, I think, has to do with the reliability and predictability of their service. As far as their First Class is concerned though, Qatar is a bit of a mixed bag. For sure, the product is very good. But even so you cannot help feel that they do not really know what to do with a First Class. And indeed, the difference between their First and Business Class offerings is minimal.

And then there is Air France and Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, both of which are seriously underestimated. The hub in Paris works like clockwork. All the flights arrived and departed pretty much on time and even the transfer between Terminals 1 and 2 was painless and far more pleasant than having to transfer between terminals in Heathrow for example.

British Airways, Club World – Boeing B 747-400: Kuwait to London and Amsterdam

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Introduction

The conference in Kuwait has gone well and our host, the Kuwaiti Directorate General of Civil Aviation has been very generous and hospitable. But now it is time for me to move on. I am not quite going home yet, but near enough. Today I am flying to Amsterdam via London’s Heathrow airport on British Airways, to attend a meeting in Amsterdam. On this occasion, British Airways offered the best schedule for my needs, mainly because they are one of the few airlines that depart Kuwait for Europe during the daylight hours of the morning and not at some ungodly hour, as for example KLM and Lufthansa do. Admittedly, the opportunity to get another flight on the mighty Boeing B 747-400 helped too.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Complimentary hotel shuttle.
Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes, depending on traffic.

My flight leaves Kuwait at 08h45, so I have arranged to have a car collect me at the Hilton at 06h00, which should be enough time to make the journey to the airport. The traffic in Kuwait can be rather bad, despite the very good and wide roads.

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Check-in

Location: Check-in area 4 on the first floor.
Facilities: Online and web check-in are available.
Counters: There is one counter for First Class passengers, two counters for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class.

The driver drops me off in front of check-in area 4, which apparently is where British Airways checks in, although from what I can tell there is no signage to enlighten you to the fact. The departure concourse is only accessible to passengers, although by the looks of it there is nobody checking to make sure that this policy is enforced.

The two Business Class counters are occupied when I arrive, so I am ushered to one of the free Economy Class counters instead. The agent labels my bags with a priority and short connection tag and then I am on my way.

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Behind check-in the bad signage continues. There is a dedicated security check for First and Business Class passengers, but it takes me a moment to locate where the entrance is. I am not sure what the point of this check is, given that the alarm goes off as I pass through the gate and nobody in particular seems to care. In fact, the guy doing the check is not even looking at the screen as my hand luggage goes through. I am hoping there will be a more thorough check before the gate.

Behind security is immigration and then, finally I am airside.

The Lounge

Location: As you exit from immigration, turn left.
Type of Lounge:
Pearl contractor lounge.
Facilities:
Hot and cold buffet, toilets are available but not shower.
Internet:
Free wifi is provided throughout the terminal.

The lounge is nothing special. It is large enough, but other than that the décor is rather bland and boring. The seats are covered is fake leather. There are a few waiters in the lounge, so you can either help yourself from the buffet or have them serve you at your table. Incidentally, the food in the lounge is absolutely atrocious.

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Boarding

About an hour before departure I have had enough of the boring lounge, and so I decide to head to the gate and hopefully take some pictures of the aircraft carrying me away to London. Kuwait airport has closed gates and I am happy to see that there is a proper security check at the entrance to the gate. The staff are polite but meticulous. There is a separate queue for Business Class and First Class passengers to enter the lounge.

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It is only just gone eight in the morning when boarding for the flight already starts. I am still collecting my stuff after the security check. So I attempt to take a few decent pictures of the aircraft, which is not an easy task given the general grubbiness of the windows. And then I step aboard the mighty Boeing 747-400 and head for my seat on the upper deck.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 on the upper deck, 2 + 4 + 2 on the main deck, there are 72 seats in total in Business Class.
Seat: 63J, aisle seat. The British Airways cabin configuration in Business Class has seats arranged in pairs, with the aisle seats on the upper deck facing forward and the window seats facing towards the rear. There is a privacy screen which can be raised after take-off, so you will not have to look at your seat companion’s face for the duration of the flight.

If you are seated by the window, keep in mind that you will have to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat, which can be a tad awkward given that the space is really tight and you have to be quite agile to get a leg over. The nice thing about 63J, is that it is an emergency exit, which provides extra leg space and means you will not have a complete stranger clambering over you during the flight.

To be honest, the BA seat has never truly convinced me. Obviously the idea with this seat had been to recreate the feeling of being at home in your own comfortable armchair. And if that was the objective, then I think it is safe to say it was met. However, the seat is fairly low above the ground and there are quite a few elderly passengers on my flight who struggle getting in and out of the seat. It is also a bit inconvenient for eating in the seat.
Pitch: 72 inches.
Width: 20 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, touch screen.
Facilities: A 110 ac power outlet is available at every seat.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew serving the upper deck. The service begins with a choice of still water or orange juice.

After take-off, the crew distribute the menus, vanity kits and a flimsy scented hot towel. The vanity kit contains the usual creams by Elemis. There are also eyeshades, socks, a pen and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Pre-meal drink:
Choice:
There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main course.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.

  1. Strawberry and mango smoothie.
  2. Seasonal fruit.
  3. Bircher Müsli with strawberries, kiwi and walnuts.
  4. Selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Omelette, turkey bacon, Swiss cheese, vegetables, Rösti, and oven roasted tomato.
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The meal is delivered at a good tempo. There is no rush, but there are no long waits in between the courses either. Once everything has been cleared away, the lights go out and passengers are expected to pretend it is night time, despite the fact that the flight left Kuwait just before nine in the morning.

The Second Service

About fifty minutes out of Heathrow, the second service begins, which is a kind of slimmed down afternoon tea.
Choice: None.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Snack.

  1. Turkey pastrami with Dijon mustard and gherkin sandwich.
  2. Gherkin and roasted vegetables sandwich with cream cheese.
  3. A hot leek and potato twist.
  4. Trio of mango cheesecake, cherry Bakewell and chocolate and black cherry roulade.
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Transfer in London Heathrow

Eventually the mighty Jumbo dips its nose and we start on our descent into Heathrow. We are running twenty minutes early, and no delays are foreseen for our arrival. We disembark at the C satellite of Terminal 5.

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Transferring in Heathrow can be rather cumbersome. From the C satellite I head downstairs into the basement to catch the automated people mover to satellite B and the terminal. At the terminal you have to go through a passport check and then through security again. The process is very efficient. But with all the passengers currently using Terminal 5, it will still take you about fifteen minutes to get processed.

Once I am through security, I check the departure screen, only to find that my flight to Amsterdam will be departing from the B satellite. Which means I shall have to go down into the basement again to catch another train taking me back in the direction which I originally came from.

The Executive Club Lounge

Location: One floor up from the departures concourse, the stairs are near the Harrods store.
Type of Lounge:
British Airways Galleries lounge.
Facilities:
Hot and cold buffet with a large selection of food items, bar, toilets and showers, workstations, newspapers.
Internet:
Wifi is available, the password is indicated on the screens.

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I only have a short stay in the lounge before my flight shows up on the departure screen as ‘boarding’. It is going to be a full flight today. There are five rows of Business Class with a total of twenty seats, all of which are occupied.

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I will spare you all the details of the flight to Amsterdam, and will limit myself to the meal service.

The Meal

Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Afternoon tea.

  1. Selection of finger sandwiches: egg, cheddar and chicken.
  2. A selection of plain scones and lemon and date scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve.
  3. Orange and hazelnut cake.
  4. Tea
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I just love BA’s European afternoon tea service, honestly. It is just so refined, especially when you are enjoying it above the clouds. And I must say, I really am impressed that Ba will even offer such a service, given that the flight time today is only 45 minutes.

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Eventually we land at 16h39 and my long journey comes to an end, at least for the time being.

Conclusion

British Airways is an airline I tend to forget about. I suspect a lot of that has to do with their hub at Heathrow airport. Heathrow is always fun and impressive to see, but the number of passengers moving through Terminal 5 is just too much. The facility is crowded, and moving from the main concourse to the satellites takes seemingly forever.

But apart from all that, the on board experience was rather nice. The food on both flights was very good and the crews were very professional. The only thing I think I really will never get used to, is the Business Class seat.