Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Brussels to Zürich

Getting to the airport

The Belgian ANSP has a very convenient shuttle that runs from the Brussels tower to the main terminal building. The really cool thing though, is that the shuttle passes along the inner side of the airport perimeter fence. It’s a bit like getting your own prviate tour of Brussels airport. The journey takes about twenty minutes, which is a lot less than it would take on the public road.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online for the flight, so I can just head straight for security and the lounge. Brussels only has one terminal with two piers. There is no priority lane for Business Class passengers at security. However, despite the many people around, the queue is very well managed and moves along swiftly. Behind security you are forced through a complex labyrinth of duty free shops and restaurants before eventually emerging on the other side to find yourself at the head of the A pier, from where the Schengen flights depart.

Qatar Airways B 787-8 to Doha at the non-Schengen B pier.
Tintin’s infamous rocket.

The lounges on the Schengen pier are located one floor up from the main passenger concourse.

The lounge

Brussels Airlines operates The Loft Lounge on behalf of its Star Alliance partners. Access to the lounge is only for Business class passengers and Star Gold members.

The lounge has a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to chose from. More importantly, there is a row of comfortable sofas that runs along the windows overseeing the main apron. So that’s where I park myself until it’s time for my flight.

I’m sorry, but the new livery really does look a hell of a lot like that of Croatia Airlines…

I think I’m starting to remember why I don’t really enjoy airline lounges all that much. If you will just indulge my rant, what is it with some people that a) they have no other means to occupy themselves other than by making one phone call after the other, and b) that said phone calls have to be done with them yelling at the top of their voice? And don’t get me started on the Scandinavian Airlines passengers, who basically see a trip abroad as an opportunity to access cheap or, in the case of the lounge, complimentary booze. Okay, thanks. I’m feeling better now…

But I digress. The lounge is very nice, despite the patrons.

Boarding

Boarding is done by groups, with a first call for status holders (group 1) and Business Class passengers (group 2). The process is very similar to flying with Easyjet. We walk down the airbridge and are stopped by one of the handling agents half way down. Apparently they’re not done cleaning the plane yet. So we spend another five minutes in the smelly airbridge waiting for the cleaners to be done. Here’s a novel idea: if the plane is not ready yet, why did you start boarding in the first place…?

The cabin

There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin. There are three people on row 2, and just me on row 1.

Once boarding is done, the crew pass through the cabin with still water and towels.

The crew

In the past, I have been accused of being overly critical of SWISS. But I really don’t think that’s entirely my fault, and this flight is no exception. Once we’re airborne, the purser informs the Business Class cabin that she made a mistake on the outbound leg and accidentally served all the meals for the return leg too. Although I’m not fully sure how that happens “accidentally”. Instead, we’re going to have to choose something off the Economy Class buy on board menu.

When she comes to apologise, I tell her not to worry about it, and make a joke about having overdosed on Belgian waffles in the lounge anyway. To which she tries to make a joke by saying that I really ought to be careful, because “you wouldn’t want to end up with diabetes…”. I mean, is it just me, or is that not something inappropriate to make a joke about?

Later on, as we start our descent into Zürich, the purser seems very preoccupied by the gorgeous sunset. So she kneels on the ground on row 1 to take a few pictures, commenting loudly to her colleague in Swissgerman that “das isch jo huere geil”. “Geil” litterally means horny, whereas “huere” acts as an intensifier to express that you think something is really, really very good. It is a bit awkward that “huere” derives from the German word for a whore. So in other words, “huere geil” roughly translates into “fucking brilliant”.

The meal

The option is between a chicken breast sandwich or a pulled beef brioche. I go with the chicken, and I must say, it’s very good. Once we’re done, the guy behind me asks about dessert. He saw on the Economy Class menu that there were Luxeburgerlis, Sprüngli’s signature confectionary. In no uncertain terms the crew tell him that he can have them, but he’ll have to pay, which I just find a bit cheap. Surprisingly, the passenger declines…

Arrival

Zürich airport really is just brilliant! We touch down on runway 28 at 21:26. We pull onto our stand at 21:30. By 21:41 I‘m already at the station waiting to catch the train home at 21:45.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a pleasant enough flight. It always helps when the cabin isn’t full and you can spread out. The mishap with the food was unfortunate. But these things happen and the alternative that was offered was good. To be perfectly honest, I’d say the Sprüngli sandwich I received was probably way better than what should have been served on that flight in Business Class. However, I do think they could have given the guy behind me his Luxeburgerli for free, considering it was their fault to start with that there was no dessert.

The cabin crew were generally very friendly, and that includes the purser. I also think she gets kudos for not making up some cock and bull story about the botched catering and just being honest about it. Never any harm done in telling the truth. But her joke about the diabetes was imply in bad taste and her – let’s call it overly enthusiastic – choice of words to comment on the spectacular vistas was really very badly chosen.

Air France, Classe Affairs – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

This evening I‘m on my way to Paris. Since February I’ve been going to the office again more or less every day. So I’ll be starting my journey in Winterthur.

I catch the 16h54 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich Airport at 17h06. It‘s Friday late afternoon, and most people have probably left early to enjoy the lovely warm weather. Because the train is more or less empty.

Speaking of empty, so is the airport. Air transport has been rather slow to recover in Switzerland. SWISS, as Zürich‘s hub carrier, has one last bank of departures between 17h and 18h, but that’s then basically it. In the evening there’s just a handful of long-haul departures.

Check-in

Air France checks in at Check-in 2. There is a separate line and two counters for SkyPriority passengers. Currently, online check-in is not possible with Air France, as they want to see your Covid pass before checking you in.

Airside

From check-in I head straight for security. There’s hardly any queue. Like most other airports, Zürich has a dutyfree shop right behind security. If, like me, you want to avoid have to weave in and out of deranged last minute shoppers, my suggestion is that you do a sharp left turn before the dutyfree shop begins. That will bring you to a corridor that takes you past the lavatories. But it’s still much quicker than going through the shop!

From security, I head one floor down to the sports bar located at the Southern end of the terminal. I’m not into sports bars really. But its one redeeming feature is the outside viewing terrace. It can’t be missed on such a balmy evening!

Just before 18h I make my way back inside. Boarding should be starting in just a few minutes.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate B 39 on the B pier, which is split into a Schengen and a non-Schengen part. From what I can tell, the flight is completely sold out today.

The Classe Affairs cabin

I’m seated on row 2. The seat features an individual USB port, a cup holder and a hook to hang a jacket.

There are three rows of Business Class with twelve seats in total. Ten out of twelve seats are occupied.

Seat pitch row 2 is very tight.

The crew & service

Once boarding is done, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and disinfectant towels.

The crew and friendly and professional. During the meal service one of the crew is constantly patrolling the cabin to make sure passengers have refills of drinks or to not keep them waiting to remove the tray.

The meal

The meal is tasty and more than adequate for a flight time of one hour.

The meal consists of a tasty cucumber andcouscous salad with a poached egg on puréed peas.

With that, there is also a plate with two types of cheese and sone butter.

There is also a selection of rolls from the bread basket.

And for dessert there is this obscenely rich chocolate fondant. With dessert I have some mint tea.

Arrival

We land on time and taxi to our stand at Terminal 2F. In contrast to Zürich, Paris Roissy seems quite busy. There’s a huge queue to enter into France, because they’re checking that only passengers with Paris as their final destination are allowed into the country. That wasn’t the case last week when I did the same trip.

Getting from CDG2 to La Défense

In Paris I’ll be staying at La Défense, out West of the city. To get there, I first need to catch an RER B train to Châtelet-Les Halles , and then from there an RER A train to La Défense.

Not all of the RER B trains from CDG serve all stations on their way into the city. And this evening I’m in luck. I catch a train the only stops at the Expo and then runs through, all the way to Gare du Nord. All in all, the journey to La Défense takes me under an hour.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Berlin

Introduction

It’s been a long time since I last visited Berlin, probably twelve years or so. My recent trip for the inauguration of the Air France A220 doesn’t count, because that time I continued to Vienna after a short layover of about two hours. This time around I’ll actually be leaving the airport and spending two nights in the city.

Some of the more regular readers to this blog will probably know that this year’s plan was to make the best of Covid 19, by visiting the many sights of Europe without having to deal with all the overseas tourist. So far I’ve ticked off the bucket list:

  • Le Chateau de Versailles in Paris
  • La Gioconda in the Louvre Museum in Paris
  • A night at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris
  • La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
  • The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in Rome
  • The Colosseum in Rome
  • St. Peter’s in Rome
  • The Duomo di Milano
  • Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna
  • A night at the Staatsoper in Vienna
  • Linzer Torte in Linz

In Berlin, my aim is to finally visit the Pergamon Museum to see its reconstruction of the famour Ishtar Gate.

But first things first. The narrative begins as I am ejected from security into the airside duty free at Zürich airport. It’s just gone 17h30, and even though security was quiet, there are a lot of people airside. The airport is already decked out for Christmas, which is nice. But I must say that Covid 19 doesn’t really give me the warm and fuzzies, so it’s not as though I’m in much of a Christmas mood yet.

My first attempt to enter the SWISS lounge is foiled by the long queue to enter. It looks like there are more people inside the lounge than outside. And there isn’t a mask to be seen inside either. Okay, maybe not then…

So I go for a bit of a walkbout. Which is nice too, becaue it gives you an interesting, if not pretty, glimpse into the strangeness of the human race…

I also spot one of SWISS’ new A 321NEOs pulling onto its stand. Like WizzAir, SWISS has opted for a configuration with only one door on either side before the wing and two overwing hatches.

The lounge

Just before 18h00 I decide to try my luck again. I’ve had enough of mankind anyway, and the maskless shaker-movers in the lounge have mostly dispersed.

SWISS has a separate Senator lounge and a Business Class lounge in Zürich. As on my previous visit, they have the connecting door between the two lounges open and passengers can sit in either one or the other. Shortly after I enter though, they start removing the buffet and prepare to shut down the Business Class lounge.

I wasn’t planning on eating anything in the lounge. But a man is only so strong… have I mentioned that I love Spätzli? I think there is not very much I wouldn’t do for a plate of that doughy goodness. As it turns out, later on I will be grateful for having next to zero discpline where food is concerned…

Boarding

My boarding pass says that boarding will start at 18h10 for an 18h30 departure. But when I arrive at the gate just after 18h15, boarding is already in the final stages.

I’m seated on the window seat, on 2F. The middle seat is kept empty, and there are two bottles of SWISS’ famous, iconic no-brand water and two refreshing towels on the middle seat.

The cabin

I’m not sure how many times exactly the aircraft type for this flight changed since I booked it. At some point it looked as though it might be an A 320NEO, but thankfully my kneecaps and two herniated discs have been spared, and instead the flight is operated by the slightly less tight A 320CEO.

I think there are seven or eight rows of Business Class, and while the Business Class cabin is not sold out, I’d say it’s a fairly good load.

As we taxi out, the purser informs us that on today’s flight wifi is available. And as the system is still being tested, the service is complimentary for all passengers. I give it a try, but at no point during the flight am I able to log in. But it’s not that important to me anyway.

The crew

The two female cabin crew are both German and make the snow queen look like a very chirpy people person. They’re not rude or anything, but just totally lacking in anything that might remotely be recognised as an interest in their passengers. Probably it doesn’t help that 1D is either a Senator or a HON and is hellbent on making sure that everybody, probably even the guy on row 31, knows just how experienced a flyer he is. Honestly, the guy would put me is a foul mood too.

The meal

The meal is served with the plastic still on it, which I’m assuming is due to Covid 19. And sweet baby Jesus, what in the name of creation is this meal supposed to be anyway?

The main dish is two slices of some kind of dried meat with a few limp leaves of salad on top of it and a globule of pumkin flavoured gelatine.

And a dollop of… mayonnaise? Just in case the whole thing wasn’t already greasy enough.

The meal’s saving grace are the two slices of cheese.

And for dessert, it’s more gelatine – this time of the sweet variety. Let nobody every say SWISS catering is boring.

At least they didn’t forget to dish out the little chocolates, as they have a tendency of doing on Austrian Airlines.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes and I’m really glad to be allowed off the plane. Our stand is more or less in the middle of the terminal. Even so, it’s still quite a schlepp from the gate to the exit.

My hotel is near Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten. I could take the S9, which is a direct service that takes about 55 minutes to make the journey from the airport. But that won’t be leaving for another 18 minutes. So I catch a train to Ostkreuz, which takes 15 minutes, and then from there a S5 service to Zoologischer Garten. Even with the change at Ostkreuz, the journey is shorter and only takes 42 minutes to complete.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Berlin to Vienna

For the trip back from Berlin to Basel, the easiest thing, no pun intended, would have been to book the direct easyJet flight. The only problem with that was that I booked the Air France trip at fairly short notice, once it became clear where the inaugural flight of the A 220 would be going to. By which time there weren’t any extra legroom seats left on easyJet. At my age and with two herniated discs, that’s a serious consideration. And so I figured I might as well return with Austrian via Vienna.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt

I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Berlin. I suppose after all the bad press the airport received and the serious delay for it to finally open, I think I was probably expecting some half finished ruin. Turns out the terminal is rather nice airside. The wood finish gives it a nice, warm feel.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the airport in the future. Many of the low-cost carriers operating to Berlin have already said that they would like to return to the old DDR-era Schönefeld terminal once it reopens after Covid. But as it is, most of the traffic at the new terminal is by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair or easyJet. If they were to return to the old facility, the new one would be even more oversized that it clearly already is now.

Lufthansa lounge

The Lufthansa lounge is in an odd place, is an odd size and an odd shape. If you’re walking too fast, there’s also a good chance you’ll miss the entrance to the staircase that takes you to the lounge.

In a way, the lounge is something of a relic from a bygone era. When the airport was announced, Lufthansa had big plans for it. Ten years down the line and the only two routes operated by Lufthansa out of Berlin are to Frankfurt and Munich. In as much, it’s really quite surprising they still have a lounge at all.

The décor of the lounge is in the typical Lufthansa style, which is a matter of personal taste. Some may like it, and others not. Personally, in general I find the Lufthansa brand rather dated and frumpy. One way or another, there’s something off about the lounge, and I can’t really explain what it is. It has all the Lufthansa branded furniture, but is otherwise nearly completely lacking in any sort of decorations or… something that might give it character.

There are the usual food options, although they’re looking quite unappealing – even the rice looks dry! But I will say that the views are good.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B07 and starts with a call for passengers in Business Class or with status. It’s going to be a full flight. I take my seat on the window on 1F and wait for the aircraft to fill up.

The crew

Alas, the crew on this flight are…meh. They’re a big, uncoordinated mess. I’m not even sure what exactly the issue is, but for some reason they seem disorganised and totally stressed before we even get going. I think part of the problem is that one of the two young men on the crew is, with all due respect, rather useless. He’s either inexperienced or he simply doesn’t care. So that leaves only three crew to do the job of four.

The flight time is 55 minutes, and once we’re airborne, the service is unnecessarily rushed and hectic. Even though there’s plenty of time with only ten passengers in the forward cabin.

The seat and cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on the flight, which is quite surprising, given that there were only two rows originally when I booked the flight. Of the twelve seats, nine are occupied. Although I might also like to add that there were eight passengers booked in Business Class, plus one Italian who figured he’d try it out and see if anybody noticed. They did eventually, and at least he had the decency of paying for the upgrade right there and then…

On row one the pitch is probably the worst in the whole Business Class cabin, because on all subsequent rows at least you can stick your feet under the seat in front of you. As usual, the middle seat is kept empty.

Austrian has the standard issue Lufthansa group seat with zero cushioning on its short-haul fleet. The seat is okay, but even after only 55 minutes of flight my butt is starting to ache.

The meal

Food is always a highlight on Austrian, and this flight is no exception. For the main course there is a plate with three sandwiches: salmon and cream cheese, cheddar and onion chutney, and tuna with chives. Although apparently the crew have not been informed and have no idea what they’re serving (Mr 2F, behind me, asks and get something of a strange reply from the crew…).

The sandwiches are really tasty and have not totally dried up on their way from Vienna to Berlin.

Dessert is a piece of Tiroler cake, I’d say, which is a hazelnut cake with chocolate chips in it. This is okay, but a bit too oily.

Arrival in Vienna

By the time we start our descent, the sun has already started to set. I always hate the shift back to winter time, precisely because it gets dark even earlier.

Vienna airport is very busy and there is hardly anywhere to sit while I wait to catch the connecting flight to Basel. But I will spare you the details on that flight.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, catering on Austrian is something they do really well. The dishes are usually nicely prepared and appeal to an international audience. The three sandwiches on this flight were simple but very tasty. Other than that though, the whole experience was a bit underwhelming and the crew were just disappointing. Which makes you wonder how much training these people actually receive before they’re let loose on humanity.

Of course, I did wonder during the flight if perhaps my perception of the flight was tarnished by my previous experience with Air France, which was very elegant and polished. Because that’s probably wouldn’t be fair either – there’s hardly any point in comparing a somewhat insignificant subsidiary such as Austrian to one of Europe’s leading airlines.

But I don’t think it’s that. A crew will make or break a passenger experience, and that’s precisely the problem with Austrian – their crews are unpredictable and more often than not they’re likely to disappoint. Which does not exactly instill me with a strong desire to book my next trip with them.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by an Airbus A 321, with a departure from Tirana at 17h00. But then, a few weeks later I received a schedule change from Austrian Airlines, informing me that the flight would now be operated by an Airbus A 320 and that the departure had moved forward to 15h00. It seems that Austrian has replaced the A 321 with two flights. One is an Airbus A 320 that leaves at 15h00, and the other is an Embraer 195 which departs a few minutes later.

Getting to the airport

There’s a lot of excitement in Tirana this morning, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting on her farewell tour of the Balkans. As a result, the authorities have shut down all the access roads to the airport for traffic. Nobody gets in, and nobody gets out. But it’s only a short distance from the facilities of the Albanian ANSP to the terminal, and it’s a lovely day for a walk anyway.

Check-in

The airport is a lot busier today than it was the last time I was here a week ago at three o’clock in the morning. In fact, I’d say the terminal facility is way too small for the amount of passengers it handles.

The girl at check-in has some serious Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde issues going on. When I reach the counter, the guy checking in at the counter next to me has scattered a ton of suitcases all over the place. He’s basically blocking three check-in counters but using only one. My check-in agent gives me the sweetest smile and welcomes me to Austrian Airlines. Then she turns to face the guy with the many suitcases and basically just rips him a new one in Albanian. I have no idea what on earth she says to him, but by the time she’s done, I’m really starting to feel sorry for the guy.

Tirana Airport Business Class lounge

The queue at security is long, but it moves quickly and the staff are very efficient. Once I’m through, I head one floor up to the Business Class lounge. It’s already gone 13h30 and I haven’t had lunch yet.

The lounge offers a nice selection of snacks, soft drinks and warm drinks. I’m not sure if alcohol is available too. Lavatories are available on the premises and are very clean. Complimentary wifi is also available in the lounge, with the password marked all over the place.

I ask the lady behind the buffet if she can just give me a bit of a taste of the Albanian dishes, which apparently means everything and in copious amounts. I end up with three plates. On the picture below you see pickled peppers filled with soft cheese, some shredded bell pepper, a healthy dollop of fresh cheese and another dollop of ajvars. Her English is about as good as my Albanian, but she makes it clear that the idea is that you mix the cheese with the ajvars and smear it on bread. Not in the picture are the plate full of bread and another plate with a cheese borek and a spinach borek that have been warmed. That should tie me over for the next week…

Boarding

Boarding already starts at 14h15. Even though it says 14h30 on the boarding pass. I get the feeling the ground staff are planning ahead in case there are any delays caused by all the diplomatic traffic. There’s a military Learjet from Macedonia and a Serb Embraer, in addition to Mutti’s Airbus of the Deutsche Bundeswehr.

The first bus departs just as I exit the terminal, but at least we’re allowed to wait outside in a closed off area for the next bus to arrive.

Most passengers are either making a mad dash to board the aircraft, or trying to capture a picture of the German Bundeswehr jet. My attention is immediately drawn to the completely white, non-standard engine cowling. What’s up with this bird?

The cabin

In the cabin there’s also something slightly different about this bird. First, the fittings on the seats are in silver colour, and not the usual Austrian Airlines red. And secondly, the Austrian Airlines logo is missing from the right bulkhead.

There’s a passenger missing and the crew are busy preparing the cabin for our departure, so I don’t want to pester them by asking about the aircraft.

There are three rows of Business Class on this aircraft, and there is one other gentlemen in the forward cabin with me.

The crew

The crew on this flight are a mixed bag, which seems to be quite normal on Austrian. Again, it’s just a small thing, but I really think it would be kind of nice to ask passengers if they’d like something to eat first, and not just dump the tray in front of them, whether they like it or not.

In any case, departure is to the north, flying directly towards Albania’s beautiful coastline. It’s a brilliant day for flying and visibility is excellent. About ten minutes into the climb, the captain comes on the mic to inquire if a certain passenger is on board. He explains that the second aircraft is delayed on the ground because of a missing passenger, and the handling agent figured he may have boarded the wrong aircraft ‘by accident’. Well that’s comforting…

The meal

After all the food in the lounge, I can’t honestly say that I’m still hungry. But goodness, the chocolate mousse cake for dessert sure looks tasty. And I mean, I didn’t have anything sweet in the lounge. It would be just such a shame to waste it. Oh, f*%@ it…

Now this dessert is really something. It’s very, very rich and sweet. The first spoon has my heart racing! But it really is just so good.

And just in case I hadn’t had enough chocolate yet, the crew pass through the cabin with farewell chocolates as we start the descent.

Arrival

Our arrival route into Vienna takes us past the airport on the downwind, to make an approach from the north. The light and shadows of the clouds dancing on the ground make the landscape look as though it has been painted on an enormous canvas.

We park on a remote stand. But at least this time the bus brings us to the head of the concourse, so we won’t have to walk too far.

Getting into Vienna

Next week the autumn semester starts and my life basically comes to a grinding halt until the end of the semester just before Christmas. So I figure I might as well break the journey and spend a few days in Vienna on a kind of mini-vacation.

To get into town, the train is probably the fastest and cheapest option. There are regular trains that run to either Wien Hauptbahnhof or Wien Mitte. The journey takes about 25 minutes to complete. There is a dedicated airport train called the CAT. However, apart from the fact that it’s currently not operating, it’s also outrageously expensive and really not worth the extra price.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Vienna to Tirana

Transfer in Vienna

My flight from Basel lands just after 21h00. I now have one hour to make the connection to Tirana. As my blog is getting a bit heavy on the Austrian Airlines posts, and it’s dark outside with not much to see anyway, I figured I’d just post an abridged post here with only the most important information.

Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge

Austrian Airlines has a Business Class lounge in both the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. Luckily I decide to head for the Schengen lounge to grab something to eat before I do anything else, and then go through passport control after. And what an excellent choice that turns out to be! Because the Business Class lounge in the non-Schengen area is only open in the mornings from 07h45 to 13h30.

The cabin

This evening’s flight to Tirana is operated by an A 320. There are three rows of Business Class and only four passengers. I’m seated on 1A, and to be honest, I’m not a fan. The pitch on row 1 is not as good as on the other rows : it’s impossible to stretch my legs because of the bulkhead. But I can’t really move them sideways either, because the tray on row 1 is stowed in the arm rest, which therefore cannot be raised. So overall, I’m feeling a bit like an unhappy Pretzel.

The crew

The crew on this flight are not exactly gushing, but they are polite. They make quite a few announcements about Covid, the correct use of the masks and how to disembark once we reach Tirana – and then go on to immediately violate their own recommendations and not follow through with what they advised passengers to do.

The crew of this flight operates the Tirana rotation as a kind of split shift. Meaning that the same crew that arrives with this flight at 00h15 will also be returning to Vienna on the same aircraft that departs at 04h25. And I know this because they’re in the same hotel as me, and I hear them requesting a wake up call at 03h10. To be honest, I think if that were me, I really would not be all that motivated either.

The meal

Without even asking any of the passengers if they’d like to eat, the crew rather unceremoniously plonk a tray of grub in front of each passenger. I’m not complaining, because while I think that Austrian’s cabin crew training is seriously lacking, catering is obviously something they do really, really well. I mean, what other airline will serve you a hot meal on a flight with a block time of only 75 minutes?

Tonight’s offering is Paprika chicken with Spätzle.

And a passion fruit panna cotta for dessert. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the bread basket. Both the main and the dessert are excellent. The chicken sauce is rich and creamy and the Spätzle have retained their chewy fluffiness. Perhaps they could do some work on presentation though, because the dessert looks a bit forelorn on the large plate.

Arrival

We land in Tirana at 00h15. We’re on time, and for a change there is no queue at immigration. Within minutes I’m at the luggage belt waiting to pick up my suitcase, which duly arrives after only a very short wait.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Vienna to Zürich

Transfer in Vienna

Nothing about Vienna airport really makes any sense to me. The impression you get is that the airside facility was built with everything but the passenger and the usability of the terminal in mind. My aircraft from Tirana parks at a remote stand, which means we are taken to the terminal by bus. But instead of dropping the passengers off near the beginning of the pier, which is where the security checkpoint and passport control are located, the bus driver only drives a few meters and then has us disembark at the very end of the concourse. From where it’s a long schlepp to immigration and the Covid certificate check, before eventually you arrive at the very beginning of the pier and the queue for security.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge

The Austrian Airlines lounge is behind security, but in the completely opposite direction to the Schengen gates on the F pier.

The lounge is already quite full when I get there. The food options are rather nice, though. Other than that, the interior design is quite cheap. The seats in the dining area are covered in fake leather and aren’t really all that comfortable either.

Boarding

Eventually, I leave the lounge to walk around a bit and stop me from falling asleep.

The cabin

I am seated on 2F. There are five rows of business class for a total of twenty seats. On this flight, only eight seats are occupied. And funnily enough, I’m the only passenger seated on the right side. I’m guessing the other passengers all chose to sit on the left to get a better view of the alps en route.

The crew

The crew on this flight are all female and very friendly. They’re all smiles and are engaging with the passengers. Unlike SWISS, Austrian does not offer any pre-departure drinks or refreshing towels.

The meal

As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the maître de starts preparing for breakfast. The curtain is closed, but I can hear her pottering around in the galley as she loads the hot meals into the trolley. But then suddenly, there’s a terrific crash as the whole trolley tumbles backwards and eventually keels over. The flight attendant opens the curtain with a horrified expression on her face and simply mutters: “Na, jetzt is mir der Trolley umgfallen…”. It seems like an odd thing to say because the crash was so loud that I’m pretty sure they probably heard it all the way back in Vienna.

Eventually, the crew manage to get the trolley upright, but most of the food has spilled. I really feel for the cabin crew, because she’s obviously distraught and so embarrassed. She keeps passing through the cabin apologizing and explaining that she can’t possibly serve the meal, as “so was gibt’s nicht amol bei der Ryanair”… Clearly, to her Ryanair is rock bottom and if not even they would serve such a messy looking meal, then she certainly won’t either in Austrian Business Class. She’s really quite funny in her state of upset.

Eventually, we agree for her to just give me the hot meal and a coffee. It just wouldn’t be very gentlemanly to have to lick the yoghurt of the tray… The hot meal is an omelet with cheese served with spinach.

To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin offering small chocolates. They’re not as good as the SWISS ones, but they rarely are.

Arrival

We approach Zürich from the East, which brings us in right over lake Constance. It’s a gorgeous day for flying.

The maître de welcomes us to Zürich amid more profuse apologies at having ruined breakfast. She insists that in all her career, this is really the first time this has ever happened to her. I feel quite sorry for her, because she’s clearly very upset.

Zürich airport is very empty and quiet when we land. Even after all these years, I still think it’s impressive to think that we touched down on runway 16 at 09h00, and by 09h13 I’m already sitting on the train home!

Conclusion

Catering is, and has always been, one of the airline’s strongest points. And today’s two flights from Tirana to Vienna and then on to Zürich were no different – despite the mishap with the trolley. To serve a hot meal on a flight of barely one hour is certainly not bad at all and definitely a lot more substantial than anything I was expecting. On the other hand, I think it’s a shame they won’t even place a bottle of water at every seat as a pre-departure beverage.

The crew were very nice, which is a pleasant surprise. In the past, I’ve had crews on Austrian that were really just plain rude. For Tirana, I really think Austrian has the best and most frequent connections. Which is why I chose them. However, if it weren’t for their extensive eastern European network, I don’t think I would go out of my way to actively seek them out for my next trip. I find the whole experience a bit bland, and the unpredictability of the crew doesn’t help. I wouldn’t intentionally avoid them though, either.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

I’m not really sure what made me think a departure from Tirana at 04h25 in the morning would be a good idea. But here I am at 03h00 in the morning, walking the short distance from the Hotel Airport Tirana to the terminal building. Still, at least this way I’ll be back home by 11h00.

The terminal building is small and compact, with departures and check-in on the left side, and arrivals on the right side.

Check-in

Check-in for the flight to Vienna is already open. And much to my surprise, there’s even a manned Business Class desk that isn’t being laid siege to by a hoard of unruly Albanians who, I’m am finding out, really have a very, very strong aversion to queueing of any sort.

The Tirana Airport lounge

Security and immigration are painless. There are hardly any passengers this time of the morning.

So I decide to investigate the Business Class lounge, which is open at this ungodly hour, even if I only have about 15 minutes before boarding begins.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. There’s a buffet with pastries and sandwiches to choose from, and there are more dishes in the kitchen that are available on request from the staff.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 03h55. Our aircraft is parked rather far away, which is why we’re being bussed to our remote stand.

The cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of 12 seats. However, only six of them are occupied. The cabin looks neat and tidy and the splashes of red in the Austrian sign on the bulkhead or the seat covers and seat belts make the cabin look a lot less shabby than Lufthansa’s.

Leg space on row 2 is very good and I am able to stretch my legs easily.

Service

There are four cabin crew on today’s flight, and all of them male. They’re business friendly, I’d say. Not very warm or genuine, but not rude either. There is no pre-departure drink. Passengers are just handed a disinfectant towel as they board.

Breakfast

Given the flight time of only one hour and ten minutes, I’m surprised they’re actually serving a hot meal on the short hop to Vienna. There are no options. Despite it’s rather unappealing appearance, the hot meal is rather good.

Croque monsieur with turkey ham.

Fruit salad.

A very creamy and fluffy yoghurt.

The potion that gives life.

Warm croissants.

During the meal service, the crew make multiple runs through the cabin with the breadbasket.

Arrival

The flight passes very quickly. At some point I think I even nod off to sleep. We touch down in Vienna at 05h40 and make our way to a remote stand. I now have a little less than two hours to make my connection to Zürich.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Stockholm Arlanda

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Introduction

I’ve decided to visit Stockholm for a long weekend. It’s nearing the end of summer so I figure it should be nice up north around this time of year. Probably, for most people the summer is a time to be outside having barbecues and stuff. But quite frankly, despite the fact that I was born on a Mediterranean island, I’ve never been able to handle the summer heat all that well. So a weekend trip to Stockholm, to me at least, holds the promise of respite from the oppressive humidity and the summer heat in Switzerland.

Getting to the Airport

On Friday afternoon I catch the train from Zürich Main Station to Zürich Airport. In July and August Switzerland pretty much comes to a halt, as this is when most families with kids go on vacation, and so the train is not very full.

Neither is the airport actually. It’s 10 August, which means that now all the traffic will be home bound tourists returning ahead of the start of the autumn semester at school.

Check-in

The SWISS check-in area is calm. There are no business travellers about either, which is kind of nice. Not because of the business travellers as such, but because it’s just nice to travel without hassle.

Which also means you can take your time at security without being rushed by the staff.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

I make a brief stop at the lounge to grab something to eat and drink – just in case. Most of the flights I take with SWISS these days are usually short hops of one hour or so, which means I’m not really quite sure what to expect from the flight to Stockholm with a block time of over two hours.

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule and the gate agent is obviously working to make sure we still manage to get away on time. So boarding is not by priority, just the usual scrum. But I figure that’s okay, because the flight is not that full anyway.

The Cabin

The cabin, or rather the seats, are not exactly in the best of condition. The leather on the seat is worn and threadbare and there are scratches on the back covers. There’s also some food left from the previous flight stuck in my seatbelt. Which is totally unfair, because the guy next to me still had a half eaten chocolate in his seat pocket…

The Crew

The crew seem tense and preoccupied. They’re certainly not rude or anything, but they all seem a bit distant. Either they’re worried about delays the passengers don’t know about, or perhaps they just haven’t found their groove as a crew.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the smell of warm food starts wafting through the cabin. Initially, I figure they’re probably just heating up the crew meals for the cockpit. But then once the service starts, it turns out the hot meals are for the passengers. Hurrah!

… or maybe not hurrah. Good heavens! The hot snack consists of a sort of rectangular pizza that has been heated in its card board box. KLM also serves these on longer flights in Europe and they’re just so, so bad. The taste isn’t really so much of an issue, if you’re into greasy fast food with zero nutritional value that will clog up your arteries and gives you heart burn just from looking at it.

But it just looks so vile. The bottom of the cardboard box is all greasy, where the oil has seeped into it and soaked the cardboard. Which I guess is a win, because that means the grease is not in your body, which is probably better for your digestive system and your life expectancy.

To drink I have a cup of water and a cup of coffee. The coffee is usually not too bad on SWISS. For dessert, of course, the crew pass through the cabin with those fabulous little SWISS chocolates.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful and passes quickly. Although it does take the crew a whole hour before they finally pass through the cabin to remove the trash. I guess that’s one way of keeping passengers in their seats.

Getting into Town

In Stockholm I’ll by staying at the Gashaga Sealodge. To get there, I first take the outrageously expensive Arlanda Express to the Central Station. Then from there it’s the tube line 13 to Ropsten and then finally, from there the Lidingöbanan, which is something of a hypbrid between a tram and a train.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Geneva to Zürich

Transfer in Geneva

Man, what a rathole! I disembark from my flight from Paris at 14h40. Boarding for my next flight should start in ten minutes. But apparently, connecting from the French sector to the Schengen area is not really foreseen in Geneva. And so I end up going up and down a whole set of ugly and narrow corridors, at the end of which I am ejected in front of a security check point. Okay, fine…

The airport is very busy and crowded. There are people sitting on the floor everywhere. The SWISS lounge is one floor up from the gate area. Turn left and right a few times and eventually you should get there…

The SWISS Business Class lounge Genève

If my First Class departure from Zürich were on the same day, I’d be entitled to use the First and Hon lounge in Geneva, but because my departure is still more than two weeks away, it’s the regular Business Class lounge for me today. And it’s quite nice. It’s a descent size and rather empty this afternoon.

The flight is delayed by twenty minutes because of an incident with a dog on the runway earlier on. Boarding will be from gate A02.

Boarding…

… is a complete mess. There are grumpy passengers pushing and shoving everywhere. At some point, a Portuguese speaking mother boards with her baby in a pram and what looks like the combined baggage allowance of about twenty passengers. Oh yes, and she‘s also decided that standing in the middle of the aisle is a brilliant place to make a phone call. Eventually, the passenger behind her explains that she has a tight connection in Zürich, so it would be really good for the mother to get out of the way to let the other passengers board quickly.

So the mother quickly dumps her stuff in five overhead bins and then vanishes behind the curtain to find her seat in Economy Class.

Of course this isn‘t any of SWISS‘ fault. There are annoying passengers on every airline. But I do also think it might have helped if the crew had been in the cabin to help the poor woman, instead of hiding in the forward galley and doing a bloody convincing impersonation of somebody who is both blind and deaf.

The crew

Which brings me, of course, to the crew on this flight. Upon entering the aircraft, there is one male crew standing in the galley. He has one job, to say hello and welcome to passengers as they step aboard, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

Instead, he just stands there in his waistcoat, which is really not doing anything to hide just how badly fitting and tight the uniform is. He hasn‘t bothered to close the top button of his shirt either and looks, in short, like a complete and utter slob.

And just to make sure there‘s as little interaction as possible, the usual refreshing towel and bottle of water have been placed on the seats before boarding.

The meal

The meal service consists of one of the sandwiches they usually serve in Economy on international flights. The slob shoves the tray under my nose, without as much as asking if I‘d like to eat anything. I ask him what‘s in the sandwich, but he just shrugs and continues to ignore me. Turns out it‘s mozzarella with mushrooms and hits the spot nicely.

The purser quickly hands out chocolates, again without saying a word. Oh yes, and there is no drinks service. Apparently, the welcome drink was it.

Arrival

Luckily, it‘s not a long flight and we land in Zürich at 16h30 after a short flight of 30 minutes.

Conclusion

The difference between Air France and SWISS on these two flights was like night and day. The Air France staff on the ground and in the air were so friendly and nicely turned out. The interaction with them was just brilliant and really left a good impression.

The SWISS crew, on the other hand, were really not good. They have zero motivation, they look as though they’re really unhappy to be there and resent you for actually making them work. I’m aware of that fact that a short hop of thirty minutes hardly gives any airline an opportunity to shine and interact with the customer. But even so, I have to say that on this flight it really felt like they were intentionally not making the effort.