Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus A 320Neo: Allow me to introduce you…

Today, 20 February 2020, SWISS received its first ever Airbus A 320Neo. The aircraft was delivered to the airline factory fresh from the Airbus plant in Hamburg Finkenwerder. Originally, the plan had been for the aircraft to land on runway 16 and then roll out slowly. This would have brought the aircraft right past the viewing gallery. However, as arriving traffic was quite heavy, it was eventually decided to vector the aircraft for a runway 16 arrival to fit it into the other arriving traffic. The aircraft landed at 10h50.

Luckily enough for me, I was invited by one of the Swiss national newspapers to attend the welcoming ceremony in my capacity as an aviation expert, such as it were.

The event started at 10h30 on the viewing terrace. After the aircraft had landed and taxied to the maintenance apron, guests were taken by bus to the hangar to view the aircraft and attend the welcoming ceremony, which included the baptism of the aircraft to the name of Engelberg.

Generally speaking, I think SWISS did a good job of the event. The speeches were kept fairly short and the alphorn blowers really gave the event a convicing touch of Swissness. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would say the event was attended by about sixt persons, most of them from the media. The quest of honour was a monk from the monastery of Engelberg, which this year is celebrating 900 years of uninterrupted service.

Once the speeches were done, we were allowed aboard to take a look at SWISS’ new toy. First of all, the new aircraft will be installed with wifi. There will also be four USB ports per row of three. The seating capacity is for 180 passengers. The seat pitch on the first nine rows is 32 inches and then gradually decreases to a rather tight 29 inches on the last row. Interestingly enough, the seat back can only be reclines up until row 9. On the rows further back, it is not possible to recline the seat at all.

While I generally think seat recline on narrow bodies is somewhat superfluous, you also have to keep in mind that SWISS will also operate this aircraft to Tel Aviv and Cairo, both of which have a block time of more than three hours and and both night time services. I’m not sure how much passengers will appreciate the lack of recline on those flights.

Other than that, there is only a small rear galley. Instead, half the space on the rear bulkhead is take up by two toilets. This one I’m in two minds about. The toilets are wheelchair approved, which I think is a good idea. However, on the down side, because the orientation of the toilets is towards the rear, the curvature of the hull is not an issue, which means that an adult man can stand fully upright in the toilet. Unfortunately, not all of us have impeccable target practice…

The space in the cabin where the toilets would otherwise be located, has been taken up by an additional row of seats, row 38. If you’re on this row you have the worst pitch and no view, because there are no windows on this row.

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320NEO: London Heathrow to Malta

Introduction

My flight to Malta will be departing at 11:25. I check on flightradar24 for the whereabouts of my aircraft. It looks as though the inbound from Malta will be on time.

Today’s flight is special for two reasons: first of all, because today I’m finally getting my cherry popped, so to speak, because it’s my first time ever on a NEO. And secondly, this will be my first flight with Air Malta since the introduction of their new Business Class catering.

Check-in

In Heathrow, Air Malta serves Terminal 4. They check-in on row H.

There are three check-in counters open. Two for Economy Class and one for Business Class passengers.

The Lounge

Air Malta uses The House Lounge, which previously belonged to Etihad Airways. The lounge is located one floor down from the SkyTeam lounge and the entrance is near gate 10.

There are only few passengers in the lounge at this time of day.

The lounge is rather nice and even has a separate dining area, where you can have food from the buffet or à la carte menu.

Washrooms and showers are also available in the lounge.

Boarding

The flight is boarding from gate 20, which is a bitch to take pictures of the aircraft from…

I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but boarding is chaos. The flight is totally sold out and they’ve screwed up most people’s advanced seat reservations.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 1F. The cabin on the NEO has new seats installed that are thinner than those on the rest of the fleet.

Red is an interesting colour to pick for the seat covers, but I think they manage to pull it off.

Seat pitch is great on row 1. The middle seat is kept empty and there are electricity plugs too. On today’s flight there are 6 rows of Business Class for a total of 24 seats. And the cabin is sold out!

Service on the ground starts with a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice or water for a welcome drink and the distribution of newspapers.

Departure is at 12:40 and the flight time is two hours and 50 minutes. The one thing I do notice about the NEO, is that it’s very quiet on take-off.

The Meal

As soon as the cabin crew is released, the service for the meal starts. First the crew take orders for drinks. I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon.

Next the menu is distributed, which seems a bit unnecessary, seeing as there are no choices anyway except for the dessert.

Ahead of the meal, hot towels are handed out.

First Course

The new Business Class product is quite nice, I think, and captures the feel of the Maltese islands well. The tray is served with the first course, olive oil and warm bread on it.

The presentation of the meal is nice. But the quality of the food is not all that good. The starter is smoked salmon tartar with crème fraîche.

Main Course

Once I’m done with the starter, the dish is removed and the main course is served. This is veal filled with a chicken and cheese stuffing. It’s quite okay. Sorry about the photo. I had already started to dig in before I remembered to take a picture…

And finally, for dessert I go with the fruit.

The service is by individual tray. So there is no trolley in the aisle. While I generally agree that this is a nicer way to present the food, I also think today’s flight shows that it’s unsuitable for a full cabin: the crew are walking up and down the aisle throughout the meal service, bringing or removing things. As a result, there’s constantly foot traffic in the cabin during the meal service.

Drinks are rather difficult to come by on this flight. And the crew are not proactively offering to replenish drinks Either. Even so, about 90 minutes into the flight, they run out of sparkling water and Coke Zero.

Arrival

But the flight passes quickly, and eventually we land at 15:30. It’s certainly warmer here!

Conclusion

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of today’s experience. On the one hand, I think Air Malta is desperately tring to set itself apart from the low-cost competition. But at the same time, their whole new Business Class concept lacks focus and quality. First of all, there’s the issue of the seat reservations, which they made a mess of. If you’re going to offer the service, then commit to it. If you can’t do that, then just drop it. Furthermore, now that it’s buy on board in Economy Class on Air Malta, there really is no reason why they had to introduce a fancier Business Class product. And even that is done half-heartedly. The drinks running out in mid-flight is just strange and unprofessional.