Airline: Air France Aircraft: Airbus A 321 From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) To: Zürich Departure: 13h20 Arrival: 14h15 Flight time: 55 minutes Seat: 25A, emergency exit on the port side
I disembark the Airbus A330-200 that brought me to Paris from Dubai and enter into Terminal 2E. My connecting flight to Zürich will depart from Terminal 2F, which sits opposite 2E. The route to take is clearly signposted for connecting passengers.
The security check is done in Terminal 2E and there is a dedicated queue for SkyPriority passengers. Right behind security is the passport control to enter the Schengen area. And then from there it‘s just a short walk to the main airside area of 2F.
Terminal 2F has two piers. And like the other terminals, it also has a striking desing.
By the time I get to 2F it‘s 12h, and I still have 50 minutes before boarding for the next flight begins.
The Air France lounge, le Salon, is located one floor below the gate area.
The lounge is very busy, which is why I don‘t take any photos. It has a good selection of hot and cold drinks and cold snacks, which are replenished and changed throughout the day.
At 12h35 I leave the lounge to find my gate. The flight is departing from F49, which is right next to the escalator coming up from the lounge. Boarding has just started for zones 1 and 2.
I‘m seated on row 25, which is the second emergency exit row on the A 321. Leg space is absolutely brilliant. What‘s more, the middle seat stays empty, so I have more than enough space to spread out!
On the down side, there is no window on row 25. But it‘s cloudy all the way to Zürich anyway, so that‘s okay.
As soon as we‘re airborne, the service begins. As a snack there is a tomato and egg sandwich. To drink I have a can of Perrier.
Eventually we touch down at 14h15. By 14h46 I‘m already on the train to the office, where I need to sign off a few documents. And then from there I head back to the airport.
On the four flights I took with Air France for this trip to Dubai, the airline provided a solid product at a consistently high standard. Unlike boring Lufthansa in its perpetual identity crisis and dreadful BA, flying with Air France is still a pleasure, firmly establishing them, in my view, as Europe‘s best airline right now.
INTRODUCTION The valiant M. and I are on our way to Shanghai to present a paper on the use of Rasch measurement in testing. The first part of our journey will take us from Zürich to Stockholm on SWISS.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem in this case. Admittedly, the connection via Stockholm is not the best, with a six-hour layover in Sweden. Worse still, the flight from Zürich to Stockholm will already be departing at 06h50. Alas, the first train from Basel to Zürich does not arrive at the airport until 06h07 according to the schedule. Also, the Swiss Federal Railways are currently operating on a reduced summer schedule, and the information on their app is somewhat unreliable. I think if I were only travelling with hand luggage, I’d probably risk it. But with the big suitcase I’ll need to check in, I’ve decided to go to the airport the evening before and spend the night at the Radisson Blu at Zürich airport.
The Radisson Blu is not a very good hotel, I don’t think. But it has the advantage of being the only hotel that is directly connected to the terminal and check-in 1, which is home to SWISS.
The check-in area for premium passengers at Check-in 1 was done up not too long ago. It looks nice. Although I’m not really sure how having a little desk lamp on the counter top is supposed to enhance my experience… On the other hand, I must admit that the check-in process is very swift. Despite the fact that it’s the busy holiday period, there is no queue and the check-in agent immediately checks my suitcase all the way through to my destination.
There is a separate access point to the security area for Business Class passengers. And there are two lanes open at the checkpoint for Business Class passengers. Pretty much like every other time I’ve travelled with the valiant M., I pass through security without a hitch, while he has to endure having the security staff more or less take apart his entire hand luggage, only to eventually tell him that he’s okay…
THE LOUNGE By the time the valiant M. has reassembled his carefully packed bags, it’s 05h23. The SWISS Business Class lounge doesn’t open until 05h45 though. So we mosey around the airside area for another twenty minutes before I can get my morning coffee fix.
The SWISS lounge recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment, which, in my view, was long overdue. The first thing that strikes me, is that there are automatic gates to access the lounge. I find this quite striking, because it means that if you’ve checked-in online and you use one of the gates to access the lounge, even as a premium passenger your interaction with the airline is quite limited.
The lounge itself is nice, although the valiant M. and I agree that it’s also a bit sterile. I’m not sure what to make of the design though, because it looks like a strange mix between an IKEA showroom and a Starbucks coffee shop that has hipster written all over it.
The good news is that there’s a lot more place to sit now. Partly, this has also been achieved because the smoker’s lounge and bar on the upper floor of the lounge have been removed to make space for extra seating. Although no food is permitted on the upper floor.
Boarding for the flight starts at 06h30, twenty minutes before departure. Economy Class passengers are expected to use the automatic gates, while Business Class passengers can either use those or jump the queue and have their boarding pass scanned by the gate agent.
THE CABIN There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin with a total of twelve seats. Nine seats are occupied by paying passengers and two are taken by staff that have been bumped up from Economy.
The seat pitch on the second row is good, as the x-rated picture of my hairy legs shows. To be honest, I prefer the second row to the first, because you can get on the plane last and just dump your bag under the middle seat of the row in front if the overhead bins are already full. There are no power plugs for passengers on this aircraft.
I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat.
The crews on SWISS can be a bit of a hit or miss affair. Either they just really so couldn’t care less and make it painfully obvious, or they’re outstanding. There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. Luckily, today’s crew fall in the latter category. They are very courteous in the way they address the passengers, very polite and they make a point of addressing every passenger by their last name, literally every time they address them.
Once the boarding process is completed, the crew distribute the prepacked scented towels and a small bottle of still water.
We take off in a northerly direction on runway 34. The flight time is announced as two hours.
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins.
The meal is served on one tray. There is a choice of two hot meals: a cheese omelette or scrambled egg with bacon, a small rösti and a grilled tomato. Also on the tray is a bowl of Bicher Müsli, a plate of fruit and another plate with cheese and butter. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket.
Again, it strikes me that the crew are so attentive with their service. So far, I must say, I’m quite positively surprised by SWISS. This meals service is definitely way above the airline’s usual standards and the crew is excellent!
ARRIVAL The flight passes quickly and there’s a comfortable, quiet hush in the cabin as we head towards Stockholm. Eventually we land in Stockholm pretty much on time.
This flight was really nice. The crew were attentive but still left passengers in peace and quiet. The experience with check-in and the lounge made me think though. Perhaps not even so much about SWISS specifically, but because of the way that air travel appears to be evolving. As I mentioned above, you can check-in, access the lounge and even board the plane without having to interact with a single person. Which mean that the first and only opportunity for the airline to interact with its passengers is through its cabin crew. But even in this respect, opportunities are somewhat limited if, for example, the airline offers buy on board.
For a very long time, the airline industry was very much focussed on hospitality and offering the passenger a personalised experience. But that no longer seems to be the case, or at least it is, but only to a lesser degree.
INTRODUCTION I’m on my way to Malta for this year’s edition of the Malta Marathon. I shall be running the half-marathon with a distance of 21.1 kilometres, which is in fact longer than the width of the island!
I confess I’m a bit of a wuss, I’ve never been able to bring up the cojones to attempt a full marathon. That’s still one for the bucket list. Others of course, like my friend the valiant M., probably do a nippy full marathon every morning, just to work up an appetite for breakfast…
But I digress. Again. So yes, last year I flew with Lufthansa via Munich and I must say, I was hardly impressed. But given my recent, rather positive experiences on SWISS, I figured I might as well give Lufthansa another chance. There’s also that fact that their schedule is the most convenient for my purpose.
GETTING TO THE FRANKFURT Just to give Lufthansa a bit of a head start, I shall not regale you with a full trip report of the Basel to Frankfurt sector. Suffice to say it was not so nice. My biggest complaint is the aircraft. Those Canadair RegionalJets really are stinkers! Everything is really tight and cramped and the bins are simply too small for all the hand luggage people take on board these days.
LUFTHANSA BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE ON CONCOURSE A The bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me somewhere in the bowels of the A concourse of Terminal 1. From here I take the stairs one floor up and make my way to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge.
The lounge is nicely designed and very bright, using a lot of white paint and light wooden panelling. The views of the apron are quite spectacular too, despite those pesky stripes that run along the width of the windows.
It’s just too bad there hardly any place left to sit. There are people everywhere and I’m left wondering if all these good men and women really have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than hang around an airport lounge. But it doesn’t matter. I only have about 15 minutes in the lounge before it’s time for me to head for gate A 36, from where the flight will be boarding.
BOARDING Only, getting to the gate may prove to be a bit trickier than I thought. The queue of passengers for Schengen emigration is so long that it’s blocking access to the A concourse, which is in the opposite direction from the non-Schengen area. But eventually, after a long stream of ‘uh…sorry…hello…’tschuldigung…was that your toe, sorry…excuse me’ I finally get through and reach my gate just as boarding is about to start.
THE CABIN Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 321. I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. On this side of the aircraft, row 2 is the first row of Business Class, there is no row 1. Whereas on the opposite side there is.
The leg space is excellent on the bulkhead row. Other than that though, the seat is very hard, with little or no cushioning and – and I know I keep saying this – the grey metallic finish of the panelling really makes the cabin look rather dark and gloomy.
In total, there are 14 Business Class seats on this service. Occupancy is at 50%, with six human beings and a rather regal looking feline who looks as though he owns the aircraft. And Lufthansa actually…
SERVICE & CREW The maître de is a woman in her fifties, I should say. What strikes me about her is the eloquence and ease with which she makes her announcements. It seems unrehearsed, but it comes across as being very polished, charming and approachable.
The service only begins really once the aircraft is airborne. Until then, unlike SWISS or KLM, there is no welcome drink, refreshing towel or anything of the sort.
THE MEAL Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins. Despite the fairly long flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes it is obviously not foreseen that there should be a drinks service before the meal.
The meal is cold and consists of:
a very nice yoghurt, the content of which I was unable to make out, save for the slice of orange and the pistachios,
a plate of cheese,
a plate of cold meats,
a bowl of fruit,
a selection of buns and croissants that are served warm and nearly burn your fingers,
the bread is served with unsalted butter and Hero strawberry jam,
cream, sugar and a towl are also on the tray.
As the flight attendant passes through the cabin with the bread basket, she encourages the passengers to take as much as they like, insisting that there’s really more than enough. All in all, the meal is rather tasty and hits the spot nicely.
ARRIVAL It looks like it’s my lucky day today. Landings and take-offs are towards the north, which means that passengers seated on the starboard side of the aircraft are treated to a spectacular view of the island.
The airport is fairly busy when we arrive, but seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m already on the X2 bus to St. Julian’s within just 15 minutes of landing.
5 Star Airline – I don’t think so… So what about my Lufthansa experience? First of all, to be fair, I think I should say straight away that this experience was by far much more agreeable to the flight from Munich to Malta last year. Where last year’s crew were a right bunch of nasty old witches, this lot was a more accommodating and willing to interact in a professional and friendly way with the passengers. On this flight I actually felt welcome, and not like I was a burden.
On the down side, and I know this is something Lufthansa has only limited control over, the experience on the ground in Frankfurt really is a nightmare. The airport is a rat hole, with long journeys by bus to and from the aircraft, seemingly endless corridors to walk along and people everywhere that make it difficult to get through.
The inflight product on the other hand, is something Lufthansa very much can control, which makes it all the more unfortunate that precisely this is the carrier’s weakest point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what passengers are offered on board in Business Class, it’s just that it’s quite obvious that every attempt has been made to cut costs. I don’t in principle think there’s anything wrong with that. After all, the airline is accountable to its shareholders. But even so, I think the passengers should never be allowed to see the cost cutting.
Other than that, throughout today’s flight there was a constant stream of passengers coming through from Economy Class to use the forward toilet. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them, given that the crew left the curtain between Business Class and Economy open throughout the flight and actually encouraged passengers to use the forward loo. Again, this is in itself not a big issue. But it certainly makes me wonder wherein exactly Lufthansa sees the selling point of its European Business Class product: it’s not the lounges, because they’re too full to be enjoyed anyway; it’s not the catering; and the seat is the same one they have installed in the back of the bus. Which leaves what exactly?
So in the sum of all things, yeah this flight was not bad. But honestly, if anyone at Skytrax seriously thinks Lufthansa is deserving of its 5 Star ranking, then I suspect they probably also still believe in Father Christmas.
INTRODUCTION Time to move on. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Sri Lanka a little while longer. I’ve rather enjoyed being here. But I have to get back home because I’ll be traveling week after next and still need to get a few things done before then.
Let’s see. I’ve tried Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Emirates. So I think it’s only fair to give Etihad a try before I make up my mind if Qatar Airways really is my favourite airline.
The flight to Abu Dhabi will not be leaving until 21h10. Which means I have the whole day to spend by the pool revising a paper I have to submit soon and having afternoon tea at the lovely Galle Face Hotel before it’s time to head for the airport.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT I’ve ordered a car to pick me up at the hotel at 17h30. The journey to the airport is only 36 kilometres. Colombo is still only just coming back to life after most of the city folk left the city behind to celebrate the Singalese New Year with their families.
Security at the airport is very tight and there are roadblocks and barriers set up all along the road leading to the terminal.
CHECK-IN The driver drops me off before the entrance to departures. And then the hassle begins. First, I need to show a police officer standing guard by the entrance my passport and a copy of my ticket to even be allowed to enter the terminal building. Immediately inside the terminal is a first security checkpoint where I need to have all my bags screened and another police officer pats me down. From there I follow a long corridor that looks as though it was originally set up as a provisional building but then accidentally, brutally started sprouting retail space.
At the end of the corridor I finally enter the terminal proper. From here passengers have to go through another security checkpoint and show their passport again to enter the actual check-in area. Photography is strictly prohibited within the terminal.
Check-in for the Etihad flight opens three hours before departure. The departure hall is very crowded with passengers checking in for their flights with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Sri Lankan which all seem to depart around the same time.
From check-in I walk to the far right of the departure hall and queue again for immigration. I’m not really sure why they bother though, because the officer is obviously so busy reading text messages that he nearly forgets to stamp my passport.
And then, finally, I’m airside.
LOUNGE Etihad Airways uses the Araliya lounge, which is at the beginning of the pier on the left hand side. The lounge only has very basic facilities, but there is a small selection of hot and cold snacks, there’s wifi and the toilets and shower are very clean. The lounge’s best feature though, is the excellent view of the action on the apron.
BOARDING Not again, seriously? My flight will be departing from gate B5, which is a bus gate. To enter the gate area I need to show my boarding pass and passport again to another police officer guarding the staircase. Once he lets me pass, I head downstairs to the holding area for the gate, which pretty much looks like a badly converted broom cupboard. But not as pretty. And yes, I have to go through security. Again. I don’t have to take out any liquids or laptops but I do have to take off my shoes and get another pat down under the watchful eyes of no less than eight police officers manning one conveyor belt and one security gate.
Shortly after, and somewhat unceremoniously, boarding begins. Our bus pulls up to the rear stairs of the aircraft and I step outside. I try to make my way to the forward door but one of the five police officers guarding the plane won’t let me pass and insists I take the rear door. But then a member of Etihad’s ground crew here in Colombo talks to her and I’m allowed to walk to the forward door.
CABIN & SEAT I rather like the cabin. I think the design and colours have some serious retro vibe going on, but somehow it works. There are four rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration for a total of 16 seats. Every seat has an AC and USB power port. The aircraft also has wifi, although I don’t actually try it out. The air is very humid tonight and as a result, there is thick mist coming out of the air conditioning system, which is a pretty nifty effect.
The recline of the seat is good and the seat controls are electric. Stretching my legs is problematic though because of the IFE box under the seat in front of me which takes up a lot of space.
A large blanket, pillow, earphones and the menu have already been placed at the seats. The blanket is rather funky in that one side is in this velvety fake fur material which feels kind of kinky. Now I know what Jane Fonda must have felt like rolling around naked on that fur rug during the opening credits of Barbarella.
CREW & SERVICE The crew up front consists of a young man of Pakistani origin and a Chinese young lady. Both of them are friendly and courteous in their manner and give all the passengers a warm greeting as they board the plane.
The service begins with a welcome drink and a hot towel.
VANITY KIT The flight time to Abu Dhabi is four hours and twenty minutes. Etihad does not provide a full vanity kit on this flight, but they do provide eye shades, socks and earplugs.
IFE The IFE is touchscreen enabled and works really very well. The selection is fairly large, but as usual there’s nothing I’d really be interested in watching.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL… The meal service is a bit of a let down and definitely not on a par with Qatar Airways’ offerings. We start with an aperitif and a bowl of warm nuts.
For the first course I have the Arabic mezze, which basically is a small dollop of hummus, with a huge portion of parsley that’s been drowned in lemon juice and some vegetable pickles and a greasy samosa. The tray is served with a bun, Arabic flat bread and butter. The taste of the food is so so, but the presentation of the tray really is nice.
For the main course I have the Indian chicken and pea curry, which is quite simply disgusting. Yuk! There’s something chewy and green on the plate that tastes of nothing and is hard to bite. The chicken itself is mainly bone and skin and I decide not to touch it. The only edible parts of the meal are the spicy coconut rice and the warm beetroot.
And then for dessert I make the mistake of ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream, which is served with a sablé on top. The only problem is, the ice cream is so cold the sablé is welded to it. I can’t get it off! And the ice cream is so hard I think you could knock somebody unconscious with it if you threw it at them. So I wait a few minutes. But eventually my impatience gets the better of me and I make the fatal mistake of trying to take a spoonful of ice cream.
Next thing I know, the spoon hits the bowl with a clank, and the blob of ice cream slips off to the left and goes flying through the cabin. The whole thing happens in slow motion. I swear I can actually hear the opening chords of Strauss’ ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ and feel the compulsion to ask HAL what’s going on… But then I manage to catch the ball of ice cream with my hand, but the thing is slippery and gets away, eventually landing and sitting in my lap. Well fine. I scoop the ice cream off my groin and when the flight attendant passes my seat next, I tell him to take the ice cream with him. A few minutes later though he returns. Apparently he’s put the blob in the oven to thaw it a bit for me. Which is kind of a nice gesture, only now the ice cream has a faint and very disturbing taste of the curry chicken I refused to eat a short while previously…
ARRIVAL But at least the flight passes quickly and before long we’re starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. We land in darkness and then taxi for a very long time to the main apron. We park on a remote stand, but things happen so quick that I don’t really have any time to take any photos before the Business Class bus whisks us off to the terminal.
CONCLUSION Of all the flights I’ve done on this trip, I think this one was the most unremarkable one. The crew were friendly enough and very polite but the food really was bad. The seat was okay, But I think a flight time of over four hours is really pushing it for passenger comfort in the premium cabin.
Date: 18. August 2016. Departure: 12:55. Arrival: 21:30. Flight time: 5 hours and 10 minutes. Seat: 3C, aisle on the port side.
INTRODUCTION I first visited San Francisco in 2008. I was on a round the world trip and arrived from Tokyo. It must have been some time around January. I remember the weather was awful, cold and wet. I did not manage to see the Golden Gate Bridge that time, because it was shrouded in dense fog all the time I was there. And it’s been bugging me ever since!
But this time, finally, after eight years I finally get to see and cross the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Granted, the weather is not much better this time round, but at least I can still see the city in the distance.
So now that has been taken care of and I can finally strike another item of the bucket list, I figure I might as well move on…
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Car rental. Journey time: 55 minutes on local roads or 35 minutes on the highway.
Driving in the US really is rather cool. They have these enormous roads with four or six lanes in each direction. What is even more impressive though, is that despite the wide roads they still seem to have way too many cars on the road.
From the car rental drop off station it takes about five minutes to the terminal complex using the fully automated AirTrain. The views from the AirTrain are excellent by the way!
Location: International Terminal A, row 10. Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, self-service check-in or check-in at the counter. Counters: There are two counters for JetBlue Mosaic and Mint customers and three counters for Economy Class passengers.
LOUNGE Alas, JetBlue does not operate a lounge at SFO and does not use any contractor lounge either. But that is really quite okay. Complimentary wifi is available in the terminal building and the view from gate A3A, from where my flight will be boarding, is simply excellent. I even get to witness a Virgin America A 320 executing a rejected take-off due to conflicting traffic on the crossing arriving runway.
Priority Boarding: Mint passengers are invited to board after passengers with special needs.
Something tells me this flight is going to be just brilliant, if the first impression I get from the gate agent is anything to go by. The guy obviously takes his job seriously and makes a point of keeping passengers informed about the entire boarding process. He also strictly enforces the boarding sequence.
Configuration: 2 + 2 and 1 + 1. Seat: Jetblue operates the A 321 in two configurations. The aircraft used in transcontinental services are branded as MINT by Jetblue. The aircraft have a seating capacity of 158, with 16 seats in Business Class. Rows 1, 3 and 5 are in a 2 + 2 configuration, while rows 2 and 4 are in a 1 + 1 configuration. The seats on the even numbered rows are referred to as the Business Suites. They have slightly greater pitch and more privacy, including a rather superfluous and useless sliding door. The suites are available on a first come first served basis. Pitch: 60 inches. Length as a bed: 80 inches. Width: 22 inches. Facilities:
There are two 110 volt power ports and USB ports at each seat.
Complimentary wifi is available on board and there are various price plans should you require more capacity.
Audio and Video:
15 inch LCD screen.
There are more than 100 online radio programmes.
There are 100 television programmes and a selection of films on flights longer than two hours.
SERVICE I reach my seat and there is a card welcoming me on board that has been signed by the two cabin crew working the forward cabin. In addition, the crew make a point of stopping at every seat to welcome every passenger on board individually. They explain the features of the seat, what the service is going to be like and then take orders for a welcome drink before handing every passenger the menu for the flight.
I think what impresses me most about the crew is that they genuinely seem to enjoy their job and their interaction with the passengers seems authentic.
After take-off the crew distribute earphone and vanity kits, which are really nice, even if they do not really contain anything you might need during the flight. However, toothbrushes and toothpaste are available on request.
Welcome drink on the ground: Honey infused limeade and fresh mint. Towel before the meal: Hot towel, not scented.
Pre-meal drink: Another honey infused limeade, served with artichoke and avocado dip and taro chips.
Choice: Passengers are invited to choose three dishes from a selection five, which includes two cold and three hot dishes.
Delivery: Individual tray service.
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Herby lentil salad with baby romaine, haricots verts, avocado, toasted pecans and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
Lobster risotto with crimini mushrooms, Swiss cheese and herb breadcrumbs.
Turkey chilli with avocado, cherry tomatoes and cotija cheese.
Seasonal fruit salad.
Organic blue marble ice cream.
Tea or coffee.
I think it is safe to say that this must be one of the best airline meals I have ever had. Firstly, all the dishes are still hot when the tray arrives. But apart from that, the quality and the taste of the food is excellent. The chilli is nice and spicy and the lobster risotto is just lovely. The dessert at the end is good too.
Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin, making sure all passengers have everything they need. In addition, there is a self-service bar at the rear of the First Class cabin, which is stocked with soft drinks and a selection of snacks – things like crisps or Pretzels.
ARRIVAL Eventually we start our descent into Boston. The crew make another round with hot towels for passengers to freshen up. After that, the purser comes through the cabin with a selection of cookies and personally thanks ever passenger for flying JetBlue. He even makes a point of addressing every passenger by name!
CONCLUSION I think this flight on JetBlue was absolutely bloody brilliant! These guys are really giving the likes of Virgin America or American Airlines a good run for their money. And in fact, although this service was ‘only’ a regular domestic First Class service, I think it is way better than the American Airlines experience I had from New York to Los Angeles.
Of course, there are certain shortcomings, such as the lack of a dedicated lounge on the ground in San Francisco. And perhaps the tray the meal is served on is not quite so fancy. But I think what this flight really shows is that it really is the crew that makes the experience. And today’s crew – Derek and Margaret – were just excellent and demonstrated some great hospitality! I like.
INTRODUCTION I spend the night in New York at the Crowne Plaza near JFK airport. Today I am travelling on to the West Coast.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Hotel shuttle. Journey time: 15 minutes. Departs from: Outside the hotel lobby. Arrives: Departures concourse of Terminal 8. Cost: Complimentary.
The shuttle will drop you off right outside your terminal on the departures level. Just tell the driver where you are going as you get aboard. There are nine passengers on the shuttle this morning, seven of which are Delta crew on their way to Terminal 4.
Location: Terminal 8, which is the American Airlines terminal and also home to some of the other OneWorld carriers like Royal Jordanian. Facilities: Web check-in and App check-in. Counters: The American Airlines Priority counters are located on row 5 of the terminal.
The American Airlines Terminal has a modern, bright and airy feel to it. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Of course it helps that the place is not so busy, presumably because it is Sunday morning.
Location: C concourse in the satellite terminal.
Type of Lounge: American Airlines Admiral’s Lounge.
Facilities: Computer workstations, toilets, showers. Catering: A small selection of breakfast items – things like bagels with Philadelphia cheese, müslis, oatmeal. Coffee, orange juice and ice water are complimentary. Other beverages are available at a charge.
Internet: Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge.
Only passengers who have status in American Airlines’ frequent flyer programme are entitled to use the lounge, even if they are travelling in Domestic First Class. The transcontinental services from JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco are exceptions. If you are travelling in First Class on one of these services, you are entitled to use the lounge and may even avail yourself of the international lounge on the main concourse.
Priority Boarding: There is a separate queue for Priority passengers and First Class passengers are invited to board first, followed by Business Class and then Economy Class passengers.
Configuration: 1 + 1. Seat: American Airlines operates the Airbus A 321 in three different configurations. The aircraft that operate the transcontinental flights has four cabins: First, Business, Main Cabin Extra and Economy. The total capacity is for 102, which is very low for the Airbus A 321. The seat is a flat bed with 180 degree recline. There are 10 seats in the First Class cabin. Pitch: 62 inches. Length: 82.5 inches. Width: 21 inches. Facilities:
AC power port and USB port.
Wifi is provided by AirCell gogo.
Audio and Video:
4 inch HD capable monitor with touchscreen.
Bose noise cancelling earphones.
350 audio programmes on demand.
75 films and 150 television programmes on demand.
The seat is comfortable and feels intimate and private. The only complaint I have is that the cabin looks rather drab, given that everything from the bulkhead to the seats is dark grey.
SERVICE A pillow and blanket as well as the menu have already been placed at the seat as I enter the aircraft. There is also a bottle of still water and an amenity kit with eye shades, socks, dental kit and some other travel goodies.
Other than that, the crew a friendly and chatty and make a lot of effort to make sure passengers are comfortable.
Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, still water or champagne. Towel before the meal: Hot but not scented.
Pre-meal drink: Coke Zero served with a ramekin of warm mixed nuts (plus refill on the nuts…).
Choice: Two choices for the starter, three choices for the main course and two choices for dessert.
Delivery: À la carte service.
Type of meal: Early lunch.
Tomato and goat cheese strata with pickled ginger vinaigrette.
Salad with fresh strawberries and hearts of palm with a choice of dressing.
Selection form the breadbasket.
Pan seared crab cakes with jicama slaw and tomatillo poblano cream sauce.
Vanilla ice cream with a choice of topping.
The meal hits the spot nicely, but it is way too much food. Perhaps I should not have had that second ramekin of nuts. Especially the sundae with hot fudge and nuts for dessert is divine – probably the best dessert I have ever had on a plane.
I spend the rest of the flight reading and, well, basically eating. First the crew brings me two packets of sea slated crisps, then the smell of warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies starts wafting through the cabin and I figure it would be a shame not to try one. Oh okay, maybe two so I have something to go with the coffee…
ARRIVAL Eventually we touch down on the northernmost runway at Los Angeles airport. The view out the window is quite spectacular. There are already four A 380s standing there and just behind us, Air France arrives to make it five.
TRANSFER IN LAX
American Airlines uses Terminal 4 in Los Angeles. From here I need to transfer to Terminal 3 for my onward connection. Apparently, there is a shuttle bus that links all of the airport’s terminals but I am unable to locate the stop. Eventually I figure it is a nice enough day here in Los Angeles, not too hot. And so I walk to Terminal 3 instead. It only takes about seven minutes to walk across.
Date: 29 May 2016. Departure: 08:55. Arrival: 11:10. Flight time: 2 hours and fifteen minutes. Seat: 15L, window on the right side of the aircraft.
INTRODUCTION The transfer from an international to a domestic flight is pretty straightforward and well signposted. I have two hours to make the connection, and it takes me an hour to make the transfer owing to the sheer size of the terminal complex.
Location: Terminal 3, main concourse – right next to the terminus station of the automated people mover. Counters: Two Economy Class and one Business Class counter.
I only have my backpack with me on this trip, so the transfer check-in is swift and easy. From check-in I take the escalators one floor up, which takes me landside of the terminal. At the top of the escalators I turn right and right again until I reach the boarding pass check point to go airside again. From there I head back down one floor to the automated people mover to take me to the D concourse. Once again, the entire process is pretty straightforward. But the facility at Beijing is enormous, so you end up walking fairly long distances, going up and down between different levels.
The D concourse is pretty much deserted when I arrive. There are only a few people sitting at gate 13, the gate for my flight to Xi’an. There do not seem to be any other flights leaving any time soon.
Priority Boarding: There are three queues, one for First and Business Class passengers, one for Premium Economy Class and another for Economy Class passengers. Boarding starts way ahead of time, and the passengers are only slowly trickling in. Eventually though, the flight is full.
Configuration: 3 + 3 Seat: Air China operates the A321 in two different configurations. The aircraft operating the service to Xi’an today has 16 seats in First Class and 161 in Economy Class. I am on row 15, which is right behind the emergency exit row. Seat pitch is good. Moreover, the seats are covered in material instead of the faux leather that seems to be so popular with most airlines these days. Seat numbering is a bit unusual if you are used to the European system. On most European carriers, the three seats on the port side are (from window to aisle) A, B, and C; while the three seats on the starboard side are (from aisle to window) D, E and F. On Air China though, the starboard seats are marked (from the aisle to the window) J, K and L. Pitch: 31 inches. Width: 17 inches. Facilities: No power outlets available. Audio and Video: Drop down screens in the Economy Class cabin, audio track selection and volume control in the armrest. Earphones are distributed half-heartedly at the beginning of the flight – I should think it is obvious that a small tray of earphones is not likely to be enough for all passengers on a fully loaded A321. But the cabin crew are not deterred. They start passing out earphones at the front of the Economy Class cabin, and once they run out of earphones at the third row, the job is done.
SERVICE The crew is a bit odd, I must confess. Either I am just suffering from a lack of sleep, or there is some cultural issue going on that I have not figured out yet. One way or another, the impression I get is that the crew really couldn’t give a shit.
A young male cabin attendant is standing next to me as I put my backpack in the overhead bin. I innocently ask him if the flight is going to be full, but all I get in reply is ‘maybe’.
The crew’s attitude to safety is also rather strange. On the one hand, they insist that you have all electronic devices fully off, not just in flight mode. One of the female cabin attendants nearly has a meltdown when she sees me taking photos with my iPhone during the climbout. On the other hand though, the safety demonstration video is interrupted repeatedly by the cockpit crew coming on to make announcements about the flight. And the volume is so low that you cannot really hear a thing anyway. As a result, the video is still running as we go thundering down the runway. But nobody is paying any attention to it anyway.
Towel before the meal: Pre packed wet wipe with a decidedly unpleasant stink of disinfectant.
Type of meal: Snack.
Bag of missed nuts.
This really is nothing more than a snack, but that is okay. After all, the flight time to Xi’an is slightly less than two hours and I am feeling rather exhausted right now anyway.
Once I finish my bag of nuts, it becomes impossible for me to keep my eyes open any longer and I spend the remainder of the flight doing that thing tired people do who are trying to sleep sitting upright: every time I nod off and my head lolls forwards, I raise my head again quickly, hoping that nobody saw me and I can pretend I am fully awake. Only to do the same thing again a few seconds later…
Eventually, I am taken out of my misery. We start our descent into Xi’an and the prospect of a proper bed makes me perk up a little.
ARRIVAL Xi’an airport is fairly large and has currently three terminals. Terminal 3 is for international flight, Terminal 2 for domestic traffic, while Terminal 1 is the old airport and no longer in use.
I have requested the hotel to send a car to pick me up. The terracotta warriors are not actually in Xi’an but in a place called Lintong. The journey from the airport to the hotel in Lintong will take you roughly 45 minutes in good traffic.
INTRODUCTION The trips with the A380 were fun. The A380 always is. No matter how often I fly her, I still find her fascinating every time. But this next flight I am looking forward to even more I think, because I shall be travelling on little known carrier Cambodia Angkor Air, the airline of the Kingdom of Cambodia. It just all sounds so exotic!
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Metro line 3. Departs from: Zhoujiang Street station. Frequency: Every two minutes. Journey time: Fifty minutes. Fare: RMB8.- per person for a single journey. Only notes of RMB5 and RMB10 or coins of RMB1 are accepted by the machine.
The Four Seasons Hotel is connected to the metro at Zhoujiang Street station via the IFF building. As you exit the hotel lift on the ground floor, turn right into the IFF, then right again and take the escalators one floor down. Walk through the friendship store until you reach the exit for the metro on the other side of the shop.
Location: Departures are two floors up from the exit from the metro station, row H. Facilities: Only airport check-in is available. Counters: There are two counters available for check-in for today’s flight – H22 and H24. There is no separate counter for Business Class passengers.
Guangzhou sees a lot of interesting traffic by the way, two rows further down from where my flight is checking in, I see signs for an Air Madagascar flight to Bangkok and Antananarivo. Ethiopian and Egypt Air also fly here.
From check-in I follow the signs for the A gates, which are the gates for international departures. After customs and security I turn right for immigration. The airport is fairly busy, although I suspect this is what it is always like here. A new terminal is already under construction on the other side of the apron. The immigration officer stamps my passport to leave the People’s Republic and sends me on my way with a friendly wave.
Location: Near gate A112.
Type of Lounge: Premium Lounge contractor lounge that is used by just a few airlines, including Cambodia Angkor Air.
Facilities: There are no toilets or showers in the lounge. Other than that, the lounge does have a few computer work stations and a small selection of hot and cold dishes. Apparently this is just a temporary lounge, though.
Internet: Free airport wifi is available, but you will need a Chinese mobile to receive the password.
Premium Lounges operates two facilities at Guangzhou. The larger one is just a few steps behind immigration. Even though it says so on the lounge invitation, this is not the lounge Cambodia Angkor Air uses. Instead, they use the smaller lounge near gate A112. The place is empty and surprisingly pleasant. The views of the apron are excellent.
Priority Boarding: No.
Boarding for the flight starts on time. There are only two of us in Business Class and judging by how quickly boarding is completed, I think Economy Class is probably not sold out either.
About ten minutes after our scheduled departure time at 13h25, the captain comes on the mike to welcome us aboard. He also informs us that we have an ATC delay and therefore will not be departing from Guangzhou until 15h35, with a delay of more than two hours. We are going to have to wait on board the aircraft.
Quite honestly, I am not really surprised about the delay, given that so far not a single one of my flights to or in China was on time. Eventually though, we depart with a delay of only sixty minutes. By the time we reach Siem Reap, we are only running thirty minutes behind schedule.
Configuration: 2 + 2 Seat: I am sitting on 3A, which is a window seat on the port side of the aircraft. The cabin is in the configuration and branding of Vietnam Airlines, who lease the plane to Cambodia Angkor Air. Only the head covers are Cambodia branded. There are four rows in Business Class, which means a total of sixteen seats. The seat is wide and very comfortable for a flight of only two hours. There is even a foot rest which can be raised quite far up and the recline is decent. But there is something very old school about the seat too: the controls are mechanical rather than electric. Pitch: No information available. Width: No information available. Facilities: Reading lamp, air vent. Audio and Video: The safety on board instructions are given via the overhead video screens. In Business Class every seat has individual video screens. However, apparently Cambodia Angkor Air does not have an inflight entertainment system.
SERVICE The service in Business Class is conducted by a charming and very pretty female flight attendant. As soon as I am seated, she welcomes me aboard and asks me what I will be drinking. A short while later she returns with a glass of orange juice and a cold towel. During the delay on the ground she comes to ask me if there is anything else I would like to drink. And I order a sparkling water.
Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice, then sparkling water. Towel before the meal: Cold towel served on the ground.
Choice: There are two choices for the main course.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Mixed salad with Thousand Islands dressing.
Chicken with rice and vegetables.
Something that tastes very artificially of mango.
Bread and butter.
Tea or coffee.
The meal is interesting, to say the least. The salad tastes of plastic. There is a taste of je ne said quoi that is only amplified by the salad dressing, which is about just as bad as that god awful stuff Lufthansa serve from a jar in First Class. The main course though, is tasty enough, although I am not really a fan of chicken on a plane. The fruit you cannot really go wrong with anyway, but that orange mango thingy…? The meal concludes with a cup of coffee. And then I lean back, read and enjoy the view outside. It is only now that it occurs to me that this is first blue sky I am seeing since I arrived in China. In the cities the pollution is so bad that you rarely see the sun, let along a blue sky.
ARRIVAL Eventually we start our descent into Siem Reap. From above the place looks very rural. The nice thing about this small airport is that there are no airbridges, Jay! So I am going to have to trundle along the tarmac and take a few pictures along the way. Oh happy day…!
The terminal is undergoing renovation and the arrivals hall looks very new. In addition to the e-visa I had to apply for ahead of my trip to Cambodia, every visitor must also complete an immigration form before queuing to enter the country. As I enter the terminal building, I am picked up by a gentleman representing my hotel, the Amansara. He escorts me past immigration and asks me to wait while he goes to have my passport stamped. As easy as cutting Swiss cheese…
GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport: This really old vintage Mercedes Benz. Journey time: The journey to the Amansara takes from the airport takes me right past the temple at Angkor Wat and takes roughly 25 minutes. I think I am going to like it here…
My vacation is quickly drawing to an end, but at least it will be a gentle re-acclimatisation. Yesterday I arrived in London from Japan. So theoretically today I could simply fly home to Basel and that’s that. It would even give me enough time to go to the gym and work off some of the calories of that lovely Japanese food. Or I could return to Amsterdam first for a day of shopping.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I spend the night at the Sofitel Heathrow adjacent to Terminal 5. It’s a five minutes walk – if you’re walking slowly – from the hotel lobby to the departure level of Terminal 5, which is on the fifth floor.
I checked in using the BA app yesterday evening in the hotel. So no need to use the check-in counters. In Terminal 5 there is a Fast Track for security.
I never would have thought I’d see Heathrow looking so empty. Security is a breeze. There is only one woman ahead of me and that’s only because she’s taking her time while she’s busy doing some heave duty flirting with the security guy.
There are two Galleries Lounges in the main building of Terminal 5. I’ve never been to the North Lounge, so I decide to check that one out first today – new year, new habits.
Eventually though, I decide not to stay at the lounge. Somehow it doesn’t feel quite as cosy and comfortable as the South Lounge. It’s very bright and looks a bit sterile. So the new habits go flying out the window and I head for the South Lounge instead, my usual haunt in Terminal 5. On the downside, half the toilets are out of order – half the toilets!
But the food selection in the lounge is simply amazing.
Incidentally, the lounge is equipped with electric sockets for all kinds of plugs.
The first boarding call is for status card holders and Business Class passengers. I’m surprised to see that today’s flight has been upgraded to an Airbus A 321. And from what the flight attendant tells me, it’s going to be a full flight.
It’s quite windy today, you can feel the aircraft lightly shaking while we’re still parked at the gate. We take off form runway 09R, and I figure I might take some interesting shots of the line up of exotic heavies gracing Terminal 4. But as soon as we get airborne the aircraft starts shaking violently with the wind and all the pictures I manage to take are seriously blurred and de facto useless.
The seats on this bird look rather worn, but apart form that I’m assuming that this must be either one of the newer aircraft of the type in the British Airways fleet, or it’s something BA inherited from BMI.
The Business Class section takes up the entire space between the L1 and L2 doors, which means 7 rows of Business Class with a total of 28 seat, although I think two seats remain empty on this flight.
I count five ladies working the cabin this morning. They’re all of them a very friendly bunch. The purser takes her time to welcome everybody aboard, and even finds time to give the many kids on this flight a special welcome.
Despite the full cabin and a very short flight time of only 40 minutes, the crew still manage to serve every passenger a hot breakfast in a very unrushed and unhurried manner.
Service begins on the ground with the distribution of scented hot towels.
The main event! Breakfast consists of a small plate with fruit, and a hot breakfast with button mushrooms, tomato, omelet, bacon and a sausage. I take a croissant and a warm bun from the bread basket.
Fortunately the weather in Amsterdam is slightly better than what we left behind in London. At least the sun is trying to break through the low cloud.
We make our approach for runway 18R, the infamous Polderbaan. Ahead of us is a Saudia Boeing B 747-400 freighter.
GETTING INTO TOWN
The first thing I do once I arrive in Amsterdam is find a locker to put all my stuff in. I don’t much fancy carting all my junk around the city for a whole day. The lockers are located in the basement of the shopping plaza. Lockers are available in different sizes. A medium sized locker will cost you 18 Euros for 24 hours.
And then from there I head into town by train. The journey from the airport to the city takes 17 minutes by intercity train. There is a train departing for the central station every few minutes. A return ticket will cost 8 Euros. If you’re planning to stay in Amsterdam for a longer period, I would recommend that you get yourself a chip card, which works the same way as the London Oyster Card. The chip card can be used on all public transport in the Amsterdam area.
Train tickets can be obtained either at the ticket counter of the Dutch railways or from one of the many ticketing machines in the plaza. The machines take either cash or credit card, but not both. Also, it is worth pointing out that the machines only accept credit cards with a four digit PIN code.
After spending four blissful days on Okinawa, the time has arrived for me to start on the long journey home. It will take me from Okinawa via Seoul to Frankfurt and then on to Basel. Today however, I will only travel as far as Seoul.
Date: 01 June 2012 From: Naha, Okinawa To: Seoul Incheon Airline: Asiana Airlines Aircraft: Airbus A 321 Class: Business Class Seat: 2F
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
There is a Limousine Airport Shuttle bus – not sure where the limousine comes into it – that connects the major hotels in the greater Naha area with the airport. The journey takes about 90 minutes, mainly due to the fact that we keep stopping at various hotels. My flight leaves at 12h30. According to the bus schedule, the 08h13 bus should get me to the airport at 10h00. Not that many people seem to use the bus service and by the time we arrive at the airport the number of passengers has swelled to a mere six persons.
AT THE AIRPORT
The bus will drop you off at the departures level, on the third floor of the domestic terminal. To reach the international terminal, you first have to take the lift down to ground level, exit the building at the arrivals end, turn left and then walk about two minutes until you see a small, flat building. That is the international terminal.
It is about 10h05 when I arrive. Check-in for the Asiana flight to Seoul does not start until 10h40. So I settle down in a corner of the building and power up my Kindle until it is time for check-in for my flight. Most airlines seem to do their own handling here in Naha.
When eventually it is my turn to check in, the agent seems somewhat flustered. I suspect she may perhaps never before have laid eyes on a Maltese passport and does not quite know what to do with it. Eventually though, she manages and and checks me all the way through via Seoul and Frankfurt to Basel.
There is none. Instead I am given a voucher to get myself something from the snack bar at the arrivals end of the hall. With more than an hour to go before boarding starts, I decide to leave the international terminal and head over to the livelier domestic terminal.
On the fourth floor I find the lovely Royal Café, with the most godawful coffee I’ve ever had but. At lest the view of the ramp and runway is excellent. Eventually, after watching my flight arriving from Incheon, I head back to the international terminal and go through security.
There is one gate in the international terminal, which has the very simple but appropriate title ‘gate’. There are only remote stands at the international terminal so we are bussed to the aircraft. Goody! I step off the bus and an ANA handling agent sees me with the camera in hand and encourages me to take some more pictures of the plane. How nice is that!
The cabin of this aircraft is newer than the one of the aircraft I had on the flight from Seoul to Fukuoka. It also has slightly different seats and a newer IFE. Of the twelve seats, only five are occupied. I have all of row two to myself, so I can take as many pictures as I like completely unobserved.
The taxi to the runway is short, as the ramp for the international flights is right by the runway threshold. We wait for two aircraft to land before it is finally our turn to depart.
Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. There is a choice of orange juice or water. After take-off, the cabin crew distribute immigration cards for South Korea and those lovely scented hot towels and shortly after that we are handed the menus. There are two choices for the main course.
The crew on this flight are absolutely amazing. They are watchful, very considerate and pay a lot of attention to detail. One of the attendants sees me typing on my laptop, so before she sets my table, she opens the table of the empty seat next to me and offers to place my laptop on it while she prepares the table for lunch. Later on, once I had finished my meal she brings me a saucer to put the coffee cup on so she can remove the rest of the tray and give me more space.
First the senior cabin attendant places a tablecloth of crisp linen on the tray table. She then asks each passenger for their choice of meal. Every passenger orders the chicken, which leads me to wonder if perhaps they have a full complement of each meal available in Business Class.
And here it is.
The salad with the shrimps. There is an Australian dressing with this.
The main course. Please note the ginger and the two somewhat substantial cloves of garlic. The guy as immigration will probably pass out when I give him my superstar smile…
Dessert. Very creamy, very tasty and very good.
And to drink I have a glass of Perrier.
The meal trays are removed and I have some time to relax, enjoy the view and have a nap.
I arrive in Incheon at 14h35, slightly ahead of schedule.
After arrival I’m feeling a bit peckish again, so I head up to the mezzanine floor above departures for some soba noodles.
After that I take the hotel shuttle outside door 13 to the Hyatt Regency at Incheon. The drive takes maybe 5 minutes.