SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 340: Copenhagen to Zürich

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TRANSFER IN COPENHAGEN
At 18h38 Astrid Viking gently glides down over the Ore Sund after a flight time of ten hours and twenty minutes, bringing to an end the long journey from Shanghai. I now have just over one hour to make my connection to Zürich.

The flight ends at the C pier, which is the only pier at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport that is large enough to handle wide-body jets and ergo serves as the airports non-Schengen pier.

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If you have a transfer from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight at Kastrup, you first go through security and then immigration. I exit through the biometric gates and check on one of the big screens about the status of my flight. It turns out that the flight to Zürich is showing a departure delay of thirty minutes, meaning the flight is now expected to depart at 20h30. Good, enough time for a short visit to the lounge!

SAS Business Class lounge
In Copenhagen SAS has a dedicated Business Class lounge and a separate lounge for Star Gold members. The lounges share the same entrance, which is more or less opposite the beginning of the C pier. The upper floor is the Gold lounge.

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The lounge is larger than the one in Stockholm but the décor is very much the same as that of the SAS lounge in Stockholm I visited on the outbound. Just somehow here the IKEA vibe seems a bit out of place. Because, well…, it’s not Sweden.

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Just after 20h00 the flight shows up as ‘go to gate’. I exit the lounge and immediately start heading the wrong way towards the A and B piers. The airside shops are already starting to close, with the last long-haul departure being the 21h00 SAS flight to Beijing. I absentmindedly glance outside and spot a tail of white and red. It looks as though I’m going the wrong way and my flight to Zürich will be boarding from gate C10, which can be used either for Schengen or non-Schengen flights.

In my hazed, jetlagged state it takes me a moment to actually realise that the thing in white and I red I just saw looks awfully large for an A 321. It’s only then that I take another look outside and notice that there’s obviously been an aircraft change and the originally scheduled narrow-body has been substituted by an Airbus A 340. Well that makes a change, I guess…

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BOARDING
Eventually, boarding for the flight starts at 20h40. The gate area isn’t really full and I’m left wondering what might have prompted the short notice aircraft change. There are three cabin crew at the door, welcoming passengers aboard. All three of them are quite senior and seem friendly enough.

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THE CABIN
There are only five passengers in Business Class this evening. Which is why we’ve all been reseated so that all five of us are sitting in the Stübli, the small Business Class cabin located between the L2 door and the First Class cabin.

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When SWISS first launched the current Business Class product it has installed on the A 340, I remember thinking how elegant it was, with various shades of white, cream and brown. But looking at it now, I think the seat hasn’t really aged all that well. The brown colours look a bit dated and the cabin, although obviously very well maintained, is showing signs of wear and tear. Of course it doesn’t help that the magazine holders are empty because it’s only a short-haul flight. It makes the cabin look empty and rather bland.

THE CREW
Ah, yes. It looks as though the excellent crew I experienced on the Zürich to Arlanda flight a week ago must have been a flash in the pan. We’re back to the middle-aged men and women who couldn’t give a and spend more time gossiping about their colleagues and bitching about their employer. Oh, how welcome and valued as a customer this makes me feel…

The flight time to Zürich is announced as one hour and twenty minutes. Nobody bothers to apologise for the delay or even to explain what caused it.

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We taxi out to the departing runway and make a rolling start heading south. The aircraft must be really empty on this short hop, because the acceleration is quite impressive and very different to the sluggish sortie we made from Shanghai.

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THE MEAL
After about ten minutes the seat belt sign is turned off and the crew start the service. And it really is bad. It’s so blatantly obvious that they just want to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible.

One of the flight attendants comes through the cabin and without even as much as bothering to ask if the passengers are eating or not, he starts popping open the tray tables. Shortly after he comes through the cabin and rather unceremoniously plonks a sad looking little tray with food on the table. Dude, I’m not even hungry…

The meal consists of a plate with cold beef and potato salad, a plate with cheese and the dessert, which seems to be cream with some sort of fruit compote. Behind him, his colleague is already waiting with the breadbasket. So I quickly take a picture for the purpose of completeness and when the flight attendant returns with the Coke Zero, I ask him to remove the tray again untouched so I can flake out.

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Fifty seconds later, another flight attendant comes through the cabin with the chocolates – and that’s it. The crew vanish and there is silence. Finally. I visit the loo a short while later and find them lounging around in the larger Business Class cabin having dinner together. Well that looks cosy…

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ARRIVAL
It’s already approaching eleven o’clock in the evening by the time we finally land on runway 28. Initially, I suspect the pilot flying was aiming to exit the active runway via the intersection with runway 16. But the flare is a bit too long and so we end up having to keep on going until the end of runway 28 before we can turn off.

Rather abruptly the flight comes to an end. Again, nobody bothers to apologise for the delay.

By the time our bags finally appear on the conveyor belt, it’s already past eleven and my next train to Zürich main station is at 23h13. I bid my farewell to the valiant M. who was, as ever, a really excellent travel companion. I’ll be home in Basel at 00h47.

CONCLUSION
This flight with SWISS really, really sucked. Perhaps I might not have found them so bad if I hadn’t had such a brilliant experience with the SAS crew on the flight from Shanghai, who were the complete opposite from this crew in the way they went about their job. Of course, I understand that on a flight of just over one hour your possibilities are somewhat limited, compared to a flight of over ten hours. Even so, SWISS crew came across as though they were being intentionally obnoxious.

Other than that though, I’m satisfied with the way the presentation of our paper went. And Professor Bond, Professor McNamara: it was a pleasure to finally meet you both!

Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Shanghai to Copenhagen

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INTRODUCTION
I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.

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CHECK-IN
To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…

SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.

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From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.

The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.

The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.

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THE LOUNGE
In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.

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The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.

There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.

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The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.

BOARDING
Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…

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The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.

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Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…

… still howling…

… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.

THE CABIN
The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.

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On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.

 

SERVICE
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.

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After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.

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The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.

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THE MEAL
The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.

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The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.

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For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.

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For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.

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For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.

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By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!

Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.

SECOND SERVICE
I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.

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ARRIVAL
Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.

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VERDICT
Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – A 340-300: Bangkok to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
Previously, LX180 left Zürich at around 22h45 to arrive in Bangkok early in the afternoon the next day. The aircraft would then stand around in Bangkok until the evening for a departure around midnight, to arrive in Zürich just in time for the night curfew to be lifted at 06h00 in the morning. Thus, the airline offered a schedule that was ideally suited to the business or premium traveller, who tends to prefer night flights.

With the beginning of the winter timetable of 2014 though, Swiss International Air Lines changed its schedule to and from Bangkok. The outbound now leaves Zürich in the late afternoon to arrive in Bangkok in the morning. As a result, the inbound flight – LX181 – now departs Bangkok at 12h45 as a day flight and arrives back in Zürich at 19h30. Of course, for SWISS the new schedule makes far more sense, because it means much less down time for the aircraft. However, it also shows just how insignificant the Thai market has become for SWISS, particularly in the premium segment, if the optimisation of the aircraft’s utilisation takes precedent over offering the customer an attractive schedule. But to be fair, SWISS is not the only carrier struggling on the route and in fact, recently Thai Airways switched its operation to Zürich to a Boeing B 777-300 which does not even offer a First Class product any more.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The Novotel Suvarnabhumi is connected to the airport’s railway station and terminal via a tunnel. Once you reach the terminal, you can either take the escalators or the lifts to the fourth floor, which is the departures level of the terminal.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Row G.
Facilities: Airport check-in, web check-in. There are self-service check-in machines at Suvarnabhumi, but I am not sure if SWISS uses those as well.
Counters: There are three Economy Class counters, one Business Class counter, a counter for First Class, HON and Star Gold passengers and a baggage drop-off counter.

Check-in for the flight is swift, there is nobody ahead of me at the counter. While one agent is issuing my boarding pass, a young lady appears from behind me to escort me through security and immigration. To access the Premium Lane fast track for security, you will need a voucher which you should receive at check-in.

Immigration is right behind security. From there we head one floor down to the transit level, which is where the Thai Airways lounges are.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Near the intersection of the D and C concourses.
Type of Lounge:
Thai Airways First Class lounge.
Facilities:
The lounge has a large open seating area. In addition, there are also semi-private rooms, all of which have their own large TV and a computer workstation. There is a separate dining area and a buffet area with a selection of sweet and savoury dishes. In addition, as soon as you are seated, one of the many lounge attendants will come to ask you if you would like to eat or drink anything. The food is served either at your seat or in the dinning room. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, L’Occitane toiletries are provided by Thai Airways, although I am not sure if the ladies have the same toiletries.
Internet:
Wifi is available, password required.

I only have about thirty minutes in the lounge. But it has already been at least two hours since my last meal and I am starting to feel a bit peckish. So I order a Coke Zero and a green curry with chicken, which is truly excellent. Which is also the reasons why I forgot to take a picture of the meal.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is only one entrance to the holding area. However, both airbridges are in use; the one to the L1 door is for First Class passengers only.

Just after noon I make my way to the gate at C06. Much to my surprise, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. So I can walk right up to the counter and then straight on to the aircraft.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 1K, window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. There are eight seats in First Class. The SWISS First Class seat is more or less the same seat that was introduced by Swissair many moons ago before the carrier went bankrupt. The seat is inspired by the design of the famous Eames chair. The seat and the entire hardware are now getting a bit long in the tooth, quite frankly. In comparison to other First Class seats, this one here offers zero privacy. It has started to look dated and somewhat old fashioned.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt power port available in First and Business Class but not in Economy. That is about it, SWISS currently does not provide wifi on board any of its aircraft.
Length as a bed: 80 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand. The inflight entertainment system is quite simply a shambles. First of all, they have these really cheap no name earphones that have very bad quality. Secondly, the selection of films and music is quite limited, unless of course you do not mind watching Bridget Jones’ diary or Casino Royale – again. The controls of the IFE are also a far cry from what I would describe as state of the art. The system can only be operated by remote control that is now so old the buttons have stopped reacting unless you press on them very hard. And that of course, is if you are lucky and manage to get the screen out, which took me about five minutes, because even the button to release the screen from its holder no longer works properly either.

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SERVICE
There are two gentlemen serving the First Class cabin on today’s flight. For some reason, the whole service seems very rushed from the very beginning. One of the two gentlemen in particular seems a bit flustered. Every time he addresses me, it is in High German, even though he is obviously Swiss. And every time I answer him in Swiss German. But that does not stop him from addressing me in High German the next time he comes around. It is not a big deal, but there is nothing really First Class about the experience either.

In any case, a cushion, the vanity kit, slippers and the earphones have already been placed at my seat. Shortly after I am seated, the cabin crew also brings me a pajama.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice, served with an amuse bouche of grilled shrimp on a papaya and chilli salsa.

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Towel before the meal: A hot unscented towel is served on the ground just as we push back.

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Pre-meal drink:
Sparkling water.

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Choice:
For the starter, passengers can choose from an interesting selection of dishes. The fillet of Balik salmon is SWISS’ First Class trademark.
Delivery:
À la carte service.

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Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:

  • Balik salmon with crème fraîche and lemon.
  • Crab salad with avocado purée and cocktail dressing.
  • Tomato and mozzarella with Thai basil and pesto.

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Second course:

  • Cream of carrot and ginger soup with croutons and parmesan shavings.

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Main course:

  • Shredded veal Zürich style in a creamy white wine sauce, served with a mini Rösti and broccoli with almond flakes.

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Cheese platter:

  • Wildbachkäse.
  • Glattaler Mutschli.
  • Gruyère AOC.
  • Senneflade.

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Dessert:

  • Basil infused Baba Rhum with a minestrone of tropical fruit and apricot sorbet.

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Over all, the meal is rather tasty. The starter looks very appealing and also tastes very nice. The soup is also good and creamy, although the taste of the ginger is too subtle for me to make out. The main is good. The sauce has a nice flavour but the mini Rösti is only so so.

The service comes to a somewhat abrupt end. I do not really know what is going on, but rather than asking passengers if they would like tea or coffee and offering them one of those delectable Sprüngli truffes – which is what normally happens in SWISS Fist Class – today, the flight attendant just dumps the truffes on the bar, clears the tables and vanishes for the rest of the flight. For those passengers willing to sleep, the crew will graciously make the seat up into a bed and will put down the mattress and duvet. However, if like myself, you are not planning on sleeping, then basically you are on your own. I even have to go scavenging for a blanket because the crew are obviously not interested.

During the entire flight, the crew does not do a single drinks run either.

SECOND SERVICE
There are about four choices for the second service. However, none of these are actually mentioned on the menu, and I forget what all the options are. In any case, I have:

  • Vegetarian quiche, which was in fact more like a pie.
  • With a small salad to accompany the pie.
  • One bun.
  • A piece of warm apple tart with slices of fresh apple, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

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The second meal is adequate, even though the savoury item is placed on rather a small plate, which looks a bit forlorn on the large table.

ARRIVAL
We approach Switzerland from the east. Roughly forty minutes out of Zürich, we start our descent while we are still in Austrian airspace. It is a lovely, late summer’s evening and the landscape below is covered in a golden glow.

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Air Tahiti Nui, Business Class – A 340-300: Auckland to Papeete

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INTRODUCTION
My friend A. drops me off at the airport at around 12:00, two hours before my departure to Tahiti. I am rather curious about this next flight. Not just because I am finally on my way to Tahiti, but also because I am going there with Air Tahiti Nui, an airline that, quite frankly, I do not really know anything about.

CHECK-IN
Location:
check-in for Air Tahiti Nui is done by Air New Zealand, who code-shares on this flight
Facilities: only airport check-in available
Counters: there are six counters available for check-in, two of which are for Business Class passengers

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I think Auckland Airport has some room for improvement here. The entire process from check-in through immigration and passport control is slightly chaotic. For some reasons I seem to keep bumping into people standing around haphazardly and for no apparent reason.

LOUNGE
Location:
behind the duty free and retail area, then one floor up
Type of Lounge:
QANTAS lounge
Facilities:
business centre, showers, hot and cold buffet
Internet:
free, passwords available at reception

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Air Tahiti Nui uses the QANTAS lounge here in Auckland, which is a bit surprising, given that they code-share with Air New Zealand on this route. The lounge is large and roomy. It is quite busy when I arrive, but then a few QANTAS flights are called and it empties fairly quickly.

Announcements are made in this lounge, which I normally find a bit of a nuisance. But today I shall make an exception. I have not slept that much since yesterday. Actually I have not slept at all. The flight from Perth was simply not long enough and then in Auckland I did not sleep either so I could catch up with my friend A. So in the sum of all things, I think I am rather glad they make calls in this lounge, because I seriously think I may just nod off.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
there is a separate queue for Business Class passengers, boarding is by rows

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There is a bit of a hold up at the gate because of my passport – what else…? Obviously the gate attendant has never seen one of these before. She is very nice about it. She apologizes and explains that she needs to check if I need a visa for Tahiti. I try to tell her that European Union citizens do not need a visa for other EU countries, but she does not seem convinced. Eventually though, she does allow me to board and wishes me a pleasant trip.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2
Seat: 30 seats
Pitch: 53 inches
Length as a bed:
Width: 20.5 inches
Recline: 153 degrees, angled
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, remote controlled

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I must say, I am rather pleasantly surprised. I board the aircraft through the L2 door, take the second left and find myself in a bright and colourful cabin. There are five rows of business class seating. The row of seats between the two aisles is not aligned with the seats on the window rows to achieve a bit more privacy. As a result, there is only a row 1 in the middle row. On the window sides the bulkhead is on row 2.

SERVICE
The crew is a mix of men and women of Polynesian decent. They are not exactly gushing in their manner, but they are very accommodating and conscientious in the way they go about their duties. At the door every passenger is greeted with a jasmine blossom. Apparently you are supposed to stick it in your hair, but to be honest, that does look rather camp on a bloke…

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Earphones and the vanity kit have already been placed in the seat pocket when I arrive.

VANITY KIT
Brand:
no name, essentially it is a nicely decorated cardboard box
Content: L’Occitane cosmetics, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, ear plugs, socks, eye shades, pen – it seems to be fashionable for the airlines at the moment to include a pen in the vanity kit

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Tahitian punch
Hot towel before the meal: served on the ground before departure
Pre-meal drink:
sparkling water, Tahitian brand
Choice:
one starter, three options for the main course
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
dinner, hot meal
Meal:

  • Bowl of nuts and candied fruit with the drinks
  • Poached prawns, salmon roulade with crème fraîche, breast of duck, microgreens, cucumber and onion marmalade
  • Breadbasket
  • Mushroom stuffed breast of chicken in a sauce bourguignonne (red wine sauce), penne paste with pesto and tomato
  • Selection of fruit
  • Ricotta and quince cheesecake
  • Selection of cheese (brie, cheddar)

Actually I’m surprised I’m hungry again after I overdosed on sugar at the Takapuna Beach Café in Auckland over breakfast…But where was I? The meal served on this flight is quite substantial and rather nice. The chicken breast has managed to remain surprisingly moist and even the penne have succeeded in escaping the faith of so many other penne that have gone before them into an airliner’s hot air oven and come out again as crisps. These are still chewy!

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By the time the meal service is over, we still have another two hours and twenty minutes to go to Tahiti. Time to extend the seat and have a nap.

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ARRIVAL
As we start our descent into Papeete, the crew pass through the cabin distributing mints. Unfortunately it is already dark, so there is not really anything much to see outside.

Papeete has a single runway and there are no taxiways. Landing aircraft are required to backtrack to reach the ramp. The runway must be quite long, because we slow down without having to use the thrust reversers and without any severe braking action. As we make a u turn on the runway I notice that we there still quite a stretch to go before the end of the runway.

The ramp is rather full when we arrive – which does not take much, mind… There are already two other Air Tahiti Nui A 340-300s standing there, in addition to a whole fleet of ATR-72 and little de Havilland Twin Otters. Fortunately there are no airbridges in Papeete, so you have to disembark using the stairs and then have to walk outside the length of the terminal building before you reach arrivals.

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There are two queues for immigration – European Union citizens and others. As our flight has arrived from Auckland, there are only a few Europeans around, which makes the process quick and easy. And so this part of the journey ends, I have arrived, I am in Tahiti!

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
taxi
Departs from: Papeete Fa’a airport arrivals
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: XFP3000

ACCOMMODATION
In Papeete I am staying at the Intercontinental Beachcomber. I chose this hotel mainly on the basis of the close proximity to the airport. Tomorrow I continue to my final destination, the halfway point.

VERDICT
This flight felt very different to the previous ones I have taken so far on this journey. Mainly I think because Papeete is clearly more of a leisure destination than a business one. This seriously impacts the composition of the passengers. Whereas the previous flights and airlines clearly cater to the needs of the business traveller, on Air Tahiti there was only one guy in a shirt and tie and he stuck out like a sore thumb.

Even so, I think Air Tahiti Nui has really nothing to be ashamed of and provides a level of service that is in fact quite surprising for an airline of this size.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – A 340-300: Zürich to Hong Kong

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Absentation, the hero leaves the security and comfort of home…

The first leg of my journey sees me travelling from Zürich to Hong Kong in First Class with Swiss International Air Lines. This is actually my first flight with SWISS this year. My last long-haul trip with them was in January last year, when I accidentally ended up flying SWISS after my original flight on British Airways was cancelled and the KLM flight I was subsequently rebooked to went tech and was then also cancelled…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
train
Departs from: Winterthur station
Frequency: six trains every hour, four of which are nonstop
Journey time: 13 minutes on the direct trains, 17 minutes on the regional train (S-Bahn)
Fare: CHF4.20 one way

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My train from Winterthur pulls into Zürich Flughafen station just after eight, which gives me about two hours before the flight to Hong Kong is scheduled to depart.

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The station is deep in the basement of the airport. The escalators up from the platforms will eject you in the retail area, which makes it a bit difficult to find the airport for all the shops if you’re unfamiliar with the place. This is also where you will find the Terminal 3 check-in counters. To reach Terminals 1 and 2 and to access the gates you need to go up one more floor. There are yet more shops here and it’s a bit of a schlep to the terminals, but at least the the signage at Zürich Airport is very good (Are you reading this, Vienna Airport?) so it is quite easy to find your way around.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1
Facilities: dedicated First Class check-in area with direct curb side access.

Check-in for SWISS flights is in Terminals 1 and 3. However, if you want to have the full on First Class experience, you will have to make your way to Terminal 1, because there is no dedicated First Class check-in available in Terminal 3. I can only assume that SWISS doesn’t expect any of its top tier passengers to condescend to use public transport.

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First Class check-in is segregated from the rest of the terminal. There are no conveyor belts here, so if you’re checking in luggage, the valet will come and pick it up – once it has been tagged and labelled accordingly – to quickly whisk it away. There is something very old school about the process, which I rather like.

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The lady at check in asks me if I’m really okay sitting on 1K. I answer that I am and in return ask her if there is a problem with 1K. She tells me 1K is as good as any other First Class seat, but apparently I have the entire First Class cabin to myself this evening and could have had 1A instead. Well in that case I think I might just have my meal in 1K, sleep in 1A and maybe try another one to watch a movie. Just for the heck of it, because their mine, all mine!

LOUNGE
Location:
Terminal 1, access is via a staircase in the forum housing the transfer desks
Type of Lounge:
dedicated Swiss First Class lounge
Facilities:
restaurant with à la carte dining, buffet with hot and cold dishes, showers, day room, office area
Internet:
access code with a validity of 1 year, the internet connection is very slow and the PCs are even worse

From check-in I head straight for security. Admittedly, this part of the experience does not feel particularly exclusive ever since they introduced centralised security screening at Zürich Airport. There is a separate lane for premium passengers, but this includes status holders and Business Class passengers as well.

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I’m feeling a bit peckish, after all my last meal was at noon. I choose the veal pie with Cumberland sauce, mushroom mouse and smoked trout with roe and sweet potato. And for something sweet I have a small piece of lemon cheesecake with raspberries.

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Interdiction, the hero is warned against some action…

It’s time to give my mum a call to see how she’s doing. Today I passed out in the gym. I was working out my legs. I’ve had two weeks of intensive training and I think I may have overdone it a bit. I confess to my mum. I mean, what’s the point? Mothers have a way of prying out of you the things you’d actually rather not tell them. My mum starts telling me off, ‘you have to listen to your body young man’ – Ma I’m going to be forty – ‘don’t you try to change the subject, this is no laughing matter, it’s not healthy for you’ – yes Ma. Eventually I ring off, but the communication continues. My mum starts texting me. ‘You don’t want to end up sick in a foreign country you know…don’t forget to eat…’. Bless her!

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
available and implemented

At 22:05 I leave the lounge and I make my way to the meeting point for the shuttle to the E gates. The shuttle is a Mercedes mini van with room for five passengers.

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Boarding has already started when I reach the gate, but by the looks of it they’ve only just made the call for the premium passengers. The gate agent scans my boarding pass. She makes a point of addressing me by name, thanks me for flying Swiss First Class and wishes me a pleasant flight. I’m a bit impressed I must admit.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 8 seats – While this seat is obviously no longer the industry benchmark and does not offer the same level of privacy as some of the new generation products out there, as far as I’m concerned, it remains one of the most comfortable airplane seats around. Guaranteed to give you a few hours of restful slumber.
Pitch: 80 inches
Length as a bed: 83 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

The first thing that strikes me upon entering the cabin is that it is in mint condition. There are no signs of wear and tear, nor are there any marks or blemishes. Quite obviously Swiss has taken very good care of this bird.

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SERVICE
Amenity kit:
Bally
Content: toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, comb, various cosmetics by Swiss brand La Prairie, Ricola sweets, tissues, eye shade, ear plugs, socks
Slippers: I wear a size 46 shoes. The slipper fit me comfortably, but I’m not sure they have them in smaller sizes
Pyjamas: Zimmerli (Swiss brand) in various sizes

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The crew on this flight prove once again that it’s the people that make the airline. As a customer, our perception of what is a good flight and what not depends largely on the impression we receive from the crew. And by the looks of it, I’m in luck this evening. The crew up front consists of one senior cabin crew in his early fifties. He’s very outgoing and charming and gives you the feeling of being genuinely welcome on board. The other is a young man of South Asian descent with a broad Bernese accent. He comes across as being very nice, friendly and polite.

As I reach my seat, it’s quite apparent that I am already being expected, which is a nice feeling when you’re going on a journey abroad. Within short sequence I receive the slippers, vanity kit and pyjamas.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Mimosa – freshly squeezed orange juice and champagne

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Hot towel before the meal:
the hot towel is distributed just as we push back; it’s a scented towel and its very large, fluffy and soft

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Pre-meal drink:
Quöllfrisch beer, it’s okay but generally speaking Swiss beers are not really very good

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Choice:
There is a huge selection of first and main courses, note however that there are no Asian or Chinese dishes. The menu is obviously focussed on traditional Swiss cuisine.
Delivery:
the food is brought out from the galley and served from an elegant wooden tray
Type of meal:
dinner, hot meal

Meal:

  • Amuse bouche of fish with peas and butter flûtes from Sprüngli (served on the ground)
  • Bowl of nuts with the beer
  • Balik salmon with crème fraîche and chives
  • Soup of corn and lemongrass with popcorn
  • Mixed salad
  • Herb coated veal loin with rosemary sauce, macaroni gratin, artichoke and olives; with a side order of peppers and grilled zucchini
  • Selection of cheese served with mustard seed chutney, pear bread, fruit and crackers
  • Apricot and thyme slice with pistachio crumble, quark sorbet, apricot and vanilla coulis
  • Bread basket with a choice of olive oil or butter

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The Balik salmon is very tasty. I think I may perhaps have been a bit overly enthusiastic in demolishing it though, because the next thing I know the steward comes along and asks me if I’d like some more. Oh go on then, if you force me…!

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Next up it’s the soup, which is outstanding. It’s incredibly flavourful; the taste of the lemongrass is well balanced with that of the corn. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well. The presentation of the dish is elegant; I really like the large and deep plates in which Swiss serve their soups. The plate arrives only with the popcorn in it. The actual soup is poured out into the dish at the passenger’s seat. As a finishing touch the steward adds a bit of cream to the dish and a few sprigs of thyme.

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The soup is followed by the salad, which is nice and crisp even though it looks like a bit of a mess. There is a choice of Italian or French dressing. I go with the Italian, which is much better than that vile stuff in a Heinz jar Lufthansa serve in First Class and which is inedible.

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And then comes the main dish. This is just okay. The combination of flavours is all right, but somehow the veal just tastes bland.

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Next I have some cheese, and again I’m quite taken by the presentation of the plate. It all just looks so nice. I particularly like the mustard seed chutney, it’s spicy in the same way that wasabi is, the kind of strength that literally gets up you nose and makes you wince and your eyes water.

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By this time I’m already quite full but somehow the description in the menu of the dessert has kindled my curiosity. And I’m not disappointed. This is another well presented dish with lots of flavour. It’s very refreshing.

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To conclude the meal I have some Moroccan mint tea.

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While I’m eating, the steward made up the seat opposite into my bed, so once the meal is over I just cross the aisle, lay down and go off to bed. I even receive a small little soft toy airplane to keep my company during the night.

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The crew’s attention to detail is really something else. During the night I leave my bed twice, to find that it’s been redone by the time I return. They even give my pillow a good shake!

I awake just under five hours out of Hong Kong and figure I might as well make a start with the trip report. The friendly young man immediately notices I’m awake and comes to ask me if here’s anything I’d like. I ask for a coffee and an orange juice. While I wait he brings me a warm scented towel and a vitamin booster.

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SECOND MEAL
Meal:

  • Bowl of Birchermüsli
  • Plate of fresh fruit – melon, mango, kiwi and strawberries
  • Various breads with butter and jam
  • An egg dish with ham, sausage, mushrooms, beans, tomato – served with mustard
  • Orange juice and coffee

About ninety minutes out of Hong Kong breakfast is served. The second service is not quite as elaborate as the main meal but it hits the spot nicely. By this time I’m also seriously wondering just exactly how much cutlery and how many dishes they actually have on board on a flight like this.

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ARRIVAL
Our arrival into Hong Kong is beautiful. First of all there’s the light. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Hong Kong when the weather has been so nice. It’s clear day, with only a bit of haze. We approach the city from the north, flying out over the South China Sea with the city on our left hand side. We execute a number of turns around the entire city until eventually we’ve done a full 360 as we come out of the last turn to line up with the runway. Hong Kong is quite hilly, and on our descent we pass very close to the peaks of some of the hills and mountains that surround the area. It’s very spectacular.

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There is a lady expecting me as I disembark. Her job is to guide me through immigration and baggage claim as quickly and smoothly as possible. And indeed, within nine minutes from getting off the plane I find myself standing by the baggage reclaim carousel waiting for my suitcase to appear.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
train and bus
Departs from: Hong Kong Airport
Frequency: every 12 minutes
Journey time: 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island
Fare: HKD82 one way
The most convenient way to get from the airport into town is by train. At the station in Kowloon and at the terminus on Hong Kong Island there is a complimentary bus service available that will take you to most of the mayor hotels. There are different routes. If you’re not sure which bus to take,  just ask one of the many staff for directions.

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Russian Fairtyles and a Round the World Trip with Swiss, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Air Tahiti, Air France and Virgin America

Preamble

In his Morphology of the Tale, which was published in 1928, Vladimir Propp analyses the narrative structure – or morphology – of Russian folklore and fairytales. He concludes that the narrative structure of the Russian fairytales he looked at essentially all follow the same pattern. Interestingly enough, this observation also holds for many other fictional works from different cultures, whether it is the Arabian Nights or Thelma and Louise.

According to Propp, every narrative follows the same sequence of thirty-one functions. A function is an event. Furthermore, the characters that appear in a narrative can be grouped into seven general character functions. This means that the role a character has in the narrative dictates their actions.

The first function is the absentation, which usually requires the hero to leave the familiarity and safety of home in order to resolve a situation or avenge an injustice committed at the hands of the nasty villain with the mad scientist laugh. Over the course of the narrative the hero must endure a lot of hardship and danger to finally prove the true value of his character. Eventually, towards the end of the narrative, the hero returns to the point from where he originally set out, but only once the problem has been resolved, the injustice avenged and the villain punished. By this time he has undergone what Propp refers to as the transfiguration, the function which conveniently turns him into an incredible stud just in time for the final function – wedding – where he gets to snog (or something else) the exotic and seriously hot princess…

… If you have managed to last up to here, perhaps you may be wondering why on earth I am telling you all this, when this should be an online travel journal? Well, quite simply because tomorrow I’ll be off on my summer vacation. I’ll be going around the world. Quite like the hero of Russian folklore I shall be setting out from home, hopefully to come full circle and return in much better shape than when I departed.

Admittedly, a comparison of my summer vacation with the likes of the Arabian Nights or Russian folklore may be a tad far fetched. But I hope you will grant me this, it makes an interesting change from the usual introductions I write – even if I have no problems to resolve, villains to punish or princesses to snog.

– William

LAN, Business Class – A 340-300: Madrid to Frankfurt

INTRODUCTION

In 2012 I spent the Easter break in the city of Cordoba in Spain. For my return home I picked the last scheduled Korean Air flight from Madrid to Amsterdam. The day after, Korean Air would operate to both Madrid and Amsterdam as nonstop services. Quite by coincidence I decided to spend the Easter of 2013 in Spain again – this time visiting the city of Toledo, 70 kilometres away from Madrid. For the return I decided to fly from Madrid to Frankfurt with LAN Chile. Quite by coincidence, I only realised when I got on board that mine would be the last flight from Santiago de Chile via Madrid to Frankfurt. Originally, LAN had planned to operate a daily nonstop service with the B 787 to Frankfurt with the beginning of the summer schedule 2013. The worldwide grounding of the B 787 fleet obviously put an end to those plans. However, one of the flight attendants on my flight did mention that LAN would only be suspending Frankfurt for three months and would resume the destination once they had received ‘the new product’. So I can only assume that LAN is expecting the B 787 to be operational within the next three months. We shall see…

LAN AIRLINES 3 col-fblanco

Airline: LAN Chile
Aircraft: Airbus A 340-300
From: Madrid
To: Frankfurt
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 1C, aisle
Date: 31 March 2013

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Toledo station is a truly remarkable building. It resembles a mosque more than it does a public building, with many Moorish influences incorporated in the structure.

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My train leaves at 10h25 and takes 32 minutes to complete the journey of 70 kilometres from Toledo to Madrid’s Atocha terminus.

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At Atocha I change trains to the suburban line that goes to Madrid airport’s new T4.

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CHECK-IN

T4 really is a remarkable building. It’s also quite apparent that the facility is in fact way too big for the amount of traffic it handles. But perhaps it’s just because of the Easter weekend. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

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I make my way up three or four floors – I stopped counting – to the check-in level for LAN, which has quite an extensive operation here in Madrid.

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A ground agent guides me to the check-in counters for Business Class passengers, where I am issued my boarding pass for the flight to Frankfurt straight away. I am then given instructions on how to reach the satellite, from where my flight will be leaving.

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The satellite is accessed by an underground automated shuttle, which means that I will have to take the escalators all the way down into the basement again to catch the shuttle and then up again on the other side. This place is simply massive.

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THE LOUNGE

LAN being a member of the Oneworld alliance means that I can use the Iberia lounge and I must say, it really is a very nice place. The lounge is quite large, has a good selection of food and drinks and offers some excellent views of the apron. My only complaint is that wifi access is limited to thirty minutes at a time and you have to get a scratch card from reception to gain access.

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DEPARTURE

Eventually my flight shows up on the screen as ‘Embarque’ – boarding – so I make my way to the gate.

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By the time I get there, boarding has already started. There is a separate line for Business Class passengers but it is cordoned off. ‘No such luck’ me thinks, when one of the gate agents sees me standing there. She greets me, scans my boarding pass and lets me through, wishing me a pleasant trip in the process.

THE CABIN

The bulkhead on this bird has a finish that is supposed to make it look like wood panelling, which obviously it is not. But even so, somehow it doesn’t look that bad. The seat covers are a dark grey colour, which goes quite well with the red tone of the faux wood bulkhead. The seat itself has a lot in common with the model Iberia has installed on its A 340s.

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THE CREW

The crew on this flight is a mixed bag. The men generally seem much friendlier than the ladies. It’s not that the females are rude or anything, they just seem a bit standoffish. The lead flight attendant in Business Class is a middle-aged female who speaks close to no English at all, which I find rather strange for an airline operating internationally. I also think her lack of English could potentially be a safety concern, particularly in case of a medical emergency or the likes.

SERVICE

This flight very much has the feel of a long-haul flight, which essentially it is, even though I just boarded in Madrid and the flight to Frankfurt is only two hours. When I arrive at my seat there is a fresh set of earphones in one of the seat pockets located in the side of the seat.

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And later on during the flight, once the meal service is over, I ask for a blanket and receive – much to my surprise – a proper duvet cover instead.

As soon as I am comfortably settled in my seat, a friendly young man arrives with a tray of drinks and warm nuts. On offer today we have champagne, water or something called a Pisco Sour. I decide to make an exception from my usual habit of not drinking any alcohol on a plane and try the Pisco Sour, which is in fact quite tasty (although I’m still not quite sure what it is).

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After that a selection of magazines is offered. Apart from the usual offerings like The Economist and Time Magazine, there is also a good selection of German magazines like Der Spiegel.

Departure is on time and the take-off roll is unusually nimble for an A 340-300.

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THE MEAL

As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service starts straight away. We begin with warm towels. They are not scented. Quite the contrary, they have a strong pong of chlorine.

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Then the table is set with a tablecloth.

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The meal itself is somewhat underwhelming and there are no choices.

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It consists of:

  • A mixed salad with slices of cold pork and an apple chutney.

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  • A plate of cheese.

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  • A bowl of fresh melon, grapes and pineapple.

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  • A small piece of Lindt dark chocolate.
  • A selection of warm bread.

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To drink my neighbour orders a still water, while I ask for a glass of sparkling water with ice. But seemingly it is too much to expect the flight attendant to remember two items at a time and so we both end up with just a glass of warm still water.

On a positive note, LAN use these huge mugs for their tea and coffee service. Pity the coffee itself is so vile!

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After the meal I put the seat into sleep mode, cover up with the duvet and doze off until it’s time for us to land in Frankfurt.

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ARRIVAL

Arrival in Frankfurt is pretty much on time. We land on the new runway. It’s quite a trek to our final parking position at terminal 2.

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CONCLUSION

So what did I think of LAN Chile? As I said, the flight certainly had the feel of a long-haul service about it, which is always nice. The crew were much more personable and friendly than the ones I had on Iberia and I think it is quite clear that LAN goes out of its way to reach out to its customers and tries to provide good service. Did they succeed? They were okay, in fact for a short-haul European sector I think they were more than okay. But then again that’s hardly a fair comparison.

Turkish Airlines, Business Class – A 340-300: Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City

Date: 3. September 2012
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Aircraft: A340-300
From: Bangkok
To: Saigon
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1H, window


GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I arrived in Bangkok the previous night on the Egypt Air flight from Kuala Lumpur. Not really in the mood to cart my stuff all the way into Bangkok only to have to cart it back to the airport the next day, I spend the night at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at Bangkok airport.

Around noon I pack my bags, check out and make my way to the terminal using the underground, and above all air conditioned tunnel from the Novotel.




CHECK-IN

Turkish Airlines uses check-in row S at Bangkok airport. When I arrive, there are already quite a few people checking in for the flight. It looks like there’s a larger group travelling today.




The check-in agent conscientiously checks my visa application for Vietnam and then duly issues my boarding pass. Today I’m on 1H, a window seat. He also hands me a priority pass to get me through security quicker. And indeed, for a change security is a breeze. Immediately behind security is passport control and then I’m airside.


I return to the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge I sat in a few days previously as I waited for my flight to KL on Royal Jordanian. I’m feeling much more awake today.

THE LOUNGE

When I arrive, the lounge is very quiet. There are only two more passengers there, which gives me an opportunity to take some more pictures without irritating anybody.

















BOARDING

About 45 minutes before departure the flight shows up as ‘BOARDING’. Time to head for the gate. Once I’m inside the holding pen, it’s not that easy to take pictures of the aircraft. It’s an A340-300 and I’m delighted to see it’s wearing the STAR ALLIANCE livery.

There are some passengers wearing a Turkish Airlines sticker on their t-shirts, presumably in transit from Istanbul to Ho Chi Minh. I take this to mean that all passengers disembarked in Bangkok for the aircraft to be cleaned.

However, later on when I enter the aircraft as the first passenger through the L1 door, I am surprised to find that many of the seats in Business Class are already taken. I can only imagine that these were transfer passengers who simply elected not to deplane during the turnaround.




THE CABIN

The cabin is a huge let down. Of course I am aware of the fact that the A340-300 still has the old Business Class. But that’s not really the issue. The cabin is just in a very sad state. First of all, there are bits and pieces of food littered around the cabin and the seat. And I don’t mean the ‘short turnaround, no time to clean’ variety of food, but more of the ‘can-anybody-even-remember-when-they-last-gave-this-cabin-a-good-scrub’ variety.




The arm rest on my left is broken. You can fold it up to reveal the remote control for the IFE and the power plugs. But mine won’t lock in the ‘down’ position. Every time I try to lean on it, it if flops open again.





Another interesting point is that the overhead bins of the middle row only reach halfway up the Business Class cabin, starting at row 3. Seeing as Turkish Airlines never had a First Class on this bird, I’m assuming this means that in its old configuration the aircraft only had three rows of Business and the rest was Economy Class.


As you may have gathered by now, I am not amused!

DEPARTURE

Oh, for heaven’s sake. You’d think we were departing for the long flight all the way back to Istanbul, judging by the pathetic crawl and subsequent climb we are treated to on this bird.



SERVICE

The crew is perhaps the biggest let down on this flight. I’m not entirely sure if they are uninterested in the passengers or in their job in general. When I step on the plane there is a flight attendant standing by the entrance. But she’s giving me the silent treatment.

Before we push back, the crew distribute the earphones for this leg. And what a low quality product they are! Honestly, I really don’t understand why they even bother at all, if this is the best they’re willing to do.

Generally speaking, the service is chaotic and unorganised. The male attendant working the left aisle starts serving the first three rows on his side with food. Half way through, he disappears and instead, out comes a female flight attendant distributing the hot towels, which they then forget about altogether on my row.

After that, the male attendant resumes his service, while the other side of the plane is still staring at an empty tray table.

THE MEAL

Eventually, another female flight attendant appears and starts serving the food on our side. There is no ‘would you like something to eat’ or the likes, instead she silently plonks down the icy cold plate and moves on to the next row. And then nothing. At some point during the flight, she does manage to open her mouth to ask me what I’d like to drink. I ask for a diet coke. She vanishes again for quite some time. When she returns, she silently plonks a glass of sparkling water on my tray table, just as I take my last bite out of the sandwich.

Later on when the crew come round to collect the dishes, she removes everything without even saying a word. ‘Have you finished’ might have helped, as the guy next to me still has half a glass full of drink, which apparently he was planning on drinking, he tells me. Not quick enough, gone! Better luck next time.

The meal is okay, given the short duration of the flight and considering the Business Class cabin is nearly full. It consists of a sandwich and a piece of apple pie with crumble on it. I wasn’t expecting the full Do & Co experience on a flight of only 75 minutes, but when the sandwich is still so cold it hurts your teeth and gums, I draw the line.

The apple pie looks rather nice. It’s just a pity the crew doesn’t find it necessary to distribute a fork to eat it with. Of course, one might argue that I’m being picky here. But in  fact most passengers in Business Class request a fork in the end, which leaves the crew running around the cabin with cutlery as the passengers get started on the dessert.

After the meal, we still have about 40 minutes to go to Saigon. As the crew don’t seem to be volunteering coffee, I use the call button to summon a member of the crew. To give them credit, two of them immediately appear from two different directions, which is more than you can say for some airlines. I ask for a coffee and get a reproachful look from the crew…
Eventually, the coffee arrives – with a plastic spoon. At the risk of sounding overly critical, I must say I really do think that plastic cutlery, plates and drinking equipment should not be allowed in Business Class. No matter how short the flight.

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we start our descent and I’m glad to see the end of this flight. At least the views outside are nice.


Ho Chi Minh airport is surrounded on all sides by densely populated areas, and on the approach we come in very low over a residential area that only ends just before the perimeter fence.


As we taxi to the terminal, I sight a few soviet-built rare birds from days gone by, most of which don’t look as though they’re going anywhere any time soon.


I collect my visa, go though immigration and then take a taxi into the city.

CONCLUSION

To be fair, one should not generalise based on the experience made on one flight alone, especially such a short one as the Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh sector. Nonetheless, as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And I am quite disappointed by the performance Turkish Airlines gave today on this flight. The hardware was old, dirty and worn and the crew very evidently couldn’t care less. Would I fly Turkish Airlines again? Hard to say, for sure they will not be my first choice when booking future travels.

EPILOGUE

Saigon is a charming city. I really like it. It has an old fashioned character about it that is an interesting mix of French architecture and red flags with the hammer and sickle I remember seeing on TV when I was a kid during the cold war and which I had already nearly forgotten had ever existed. How quick we forget!


The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Saigon.

Driving in Vietnam, one of the last great adventures of our day. Whatever you do, just don’t stop

Uncle.

SAS, Business Class – A 340-300: Beijing to Copenhagen

INTRODUCTION

At the end of May 2011 I decided to have a break and spend a few days in Beijing sightseeing. My residence during my stay in China’s capital city was the Aman at Summer Palace, a lovely hotel which sits adjacent to the Imperial Summer Palace and was built in what used to be one of the palace kitchens.

The Bridge of the Seventeen Arches on Kunming Lake, within the Summer Palace

 

The Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City

 

The history of the Summer Palace is very closely linked to that of the Empress Dowager Cixi who, for all practical purposes, ruled the Qing Dynasty for nearly 40 years. The Empress Dowager is referred to by the Chinese as the Dragon Lady. Her reign is known as the reign of blood because of all the people she had murdered to retain power.

Cixi became the Empress Dowager following the death of her husband during the second Opium War in 1861. The idea had been for her to reign until her son was old enough to take over power. But when the time came, the Empress Dowager was reluctant to hand over power and instead had her son murdered. She then appointed one of her nephews to be the new emperor. He was only three years of age, which bought her some time before he too would make a rightful claim to the Dragon Throne, requiring her to relinquish power. Tragically, the little boy did not last very long and the Empress Dowager eventually had him murdered as well.

Dragon Lady then nominated a little boy that went by the name of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, also aged three at the time, to ascend to the Dragon Throne. Which eventually he did, but only because the Empress Dowager died a little while after she made the nomination. Pu Yi went on to become the last Emperor of China. He died in 1967 in Beijing, as a simple gardener of the People’s Republic of China.

Date: 04. June 2011
Flight number: SK996
Aircraft: A 340-300
From: Beijing
To: Copenhagen
Cabin: Business Class
Seat 2A

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I leave the hotel at 12:00. The journey to the airport takes us a little less than one hour, mainly due to the fact that traffic in Beijing is really bad and crawling most of the time. Having said that, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Chinese drive live mad men. The day before my departure I visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu. As soon as we left the inner city behind us, traffic became lighter. My driver kept swerving in and out of the traffic and left me wishing for a traffic jam to slow him down. But all that is another story.

In any case, upon arrival at the airport I am already being expected by a young lady from the hotel’s escort service. She takes my bags to the SAS Business Class check-in counter and then guides me to the shuttle to take me across to the satellite of terminal three, from where all international departures seem to leave. The journey is quite long and really impressive. The new Terminal 3 at Beijing really is amazing. Once we arrived at the satellite, my escort shows me the way to the immigration counters where she bids me farewell and a safe journey home.

Immigration takes about 10 minutes to complete, as there is quite a queue. At least behind immigration there’s an express line through security. In order to take advantage of the express lane at security though, you need to show your boarding pass to some official, not sure who he works for, who stamps your boarding pass no less than 4 times with the same stamp before letting you through.

Once you pass security there really isn’t that much to do, except gape in awe at the magnificent and impressive architecture of the building.

THE LOUNGE

There are a few shops, but there is not really anything appealing there so I head to the Air China Business Class lounge one floor up. The lounge is okay, nothing special but with a good selection food and beverages. By the time I leave to get on my flight it’s getting rather busy and the reception area is a complete mess, with people pushing and shoving their way forward to be served first. What fun!

BOARDING

I arrive at the gate where boarding has already started. There is a dedicated line for Business and Economy Plus passengers and a separate airbridge for premium passengers. I am greeted at the door by an elderly but ever so stylish flight attendant. As soon as I settle in, a male flight attendant come round offering orange juice, water and champagne.

THE CABIN & SEAT

The cabin on this bird shows some signs of wear and tear but is still generally in good condition.

Our A 340 has rather unusual overhead bins over the middle row of seats. They’re same ones Royal Jordanian has on its A 330. They dropped open, pretty much like the bins on the Tripple Seven.
DEPARTURE

As we taxi to the active runway I suddenly spot a large dot gradually growing bigger. At first I figure it must be a B 747. A look through the lens of my camera however reveals it’s an A380. ‘What a great location for a photo’, I think. But alas, as the aircraft draws nearer I get tangled in the strap of the camera and by the time I free myself and have an opportunity to take a picture, the thing is already too close and too fast. And this is the outcome.

Take-off is another one of those painfully undignified A 340-300 departures. Such a lame duck! Accordingly, it takes us a while to climb through the pollution of Beijing.

Once we are airborne, the crew come round handing out earphones, slippers, menus and vanity kits.

They then distribute the much appreciated hot towels. Check out the rather funky decoration with dry ice smoke coming out of the glass with the flower.

THE MEAL

We begin with a drink run, served with dry pretzels and a shrimp and scallop on a toothpick with veg. The presentation in the plastic cup is not exactly the epitome of the much acclaimed Danish and Scandinavian design, but what will you?

What impresses me most about the service is the timing of the crew. Throughout the flight they make sure that they pass through the two aisles at the same speed, rather than having one side served way ahead of the other, as often happens on other carriers.

The meal tray duly arrives and has a a mixed salad on it, which comes with a bottle balsamico and olive oil.

The first course is Gravad Lachs with cucumbers marinated in dill. There is also a plate with cheese for dessert on the tray. But I demolish that before the main course arrives. Which however, does not mean that service is slow. Quite the contrary, it is very well timed.

And then comes the main course. I have the chicken in a tomato and basil sauce with polenta and grilled vegetables. And it isn’t bad either. My neighbour has the ravioli with mushrooms and vegetables and says it is also very nice. Thanks for letting me take a picture.

After the meal I have a lovely port.

This is followed by dessert: apple and rhubarb pie with fruit and vanilla cream. I have a Sauterne and coffee with this. Lovely!

After the meal the blinds comes down and the lights are switched of. This is also when the crew set up the tremendously well stocked self service bar. Even so,the crew pass through the cabin regularly with drinks, sandwiches and ice cream.

THE TOILET

I don’t usually ‘do’ a section on the toilets in my trip reports but I think I’ll have to make an exception this time. The SAS A340toilet is absolutely huge. There are even two windows including a shade for those of us who worry that they might be seen in an unflattering position by another aircraft passing close by…

And then, surprisingly quickly, it’s already time for the second service: we have a beef salad to start, followed by a buffet with a choice of either chicken or pork with rice and vegetables. The portion of the second serving is rather substantial!

ARRIVAL

As they say, time flies. Shortly after clearing the trays from the second service, we’ve already started our descent into CPH. We make a beautiful approach over the Öresund, with the bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden coming into view just before we touch down.

In Copenhagen I have a connection onto the Swiss flight to Zürich. I have two hours to kill. The lounge in Copenhagen is nice and very typical of what I would call Scandinavia design. But perhaps all I’m trying to say is that it reminded me of an IKEA show room.

I was going to include my connecting flight to Zurich in this report. But as things turned out, I think I’ll save them the embarrassment and not comment. Save to say the flight was not one of Swiss International Air Lines’ finest moments.

CONCLUSION

I must say that SAS was a big surprise. I was not really expecting anything much but found their service to be excellent and very professional. Sure, it is not fancy and more functional than elegant. But they get the job done and rather well at that. I would choose them any time for another long-haul trip. In fact it’s a pity their network is not that extensive.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – A 340-300: Zürich to Bangkok

Date: 30. August 2012
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft: A340-300
From: Zürich
To: Bangkok
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1A

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Zürich airport has its own railway station underground. The station is highly convenient it that it is connected to the national and international rail network. There are frequent trains to Zürich Main Station (four trains an hour, journey time is about eight minutes) as well as to most major cities in Switzerland. The journey from Basel, where I live, to the airport takes one hour and 16 minutes. The distance is only 79 kilometres, but the train takes the northern line from Basel to Zürich, which is speed restricted, and stops no less than seven times between Basel and the airport.

AT THE AIRPORT

Zürich airport has all the necessary facilities one can expect from a medium to large size European hub. After I disembark from the train from Basel, I take the escalators one floor up. Immediately on your left are the counters of the Swiss Federal Railways, who also operate a Bureau De Change. As my final destination will be Vietnam on this trip, I exchange some Thai Bhat and Vietnamese Dongs. And suddenly I’m a millionaire! I exchange CHF300 and in return I receive no less than 5’300’000 Dongs, a fat wad of green and red banknotes with the kind and benevolent face of Uncle Ho on them beaming at me!

CHECKING IN

I then make my way to Check-in 1, the home of Swiss International Air Lines and the Star Alliance. It’s quite amazing just how quiet the airport is around this time of day (the flight to Bangkok leaves at 22h45). The place looks deserted.

I head inside the First Class check-in lounge and receive my boarding pass for the flight to Bangkok. Quite unusually, I’m sitting on 1A tonight. My normal seat is 1K on the right hand side. But that’s okay, it makes no difference.

After check-in I make my way through security. Here there has been a vast improvement at Zürich Airport. With the opening of the new centralised security check, First Class passengers go through security before heading for the lounge, rather than having to go through security before they take the shuttle across to the E dock. The only complaint, if you want to be pedantic, is that there is no separate lane for First Class passengers and they have to share security with the Business Class passengers.

THE LOUNGE

As usual in the Swiss First Class lounge in Zürich, the main area towards the left of the reception area is comfortably full, certainly not crowded. So I decide to check out the area on the other side of the reception and once again I have the whole place to my self!

The lounge is well stocked. There are two bars and the larger one also has a warm buffet with a selection of cold and warm food. There is also a small area with about five or six tables where passengers can also order à la carte dining before their flight.

But tonight I intend to eat on the plane, so I just have a small canapé with Mozzarella, tomato and peppers and make myself a small cheese sandwich to tie me over. To drink I have a Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

The toilets are nicely appointed in the First Class lounge, although here too there has evidently been some cost saving. Nowadays the liquid soap in the soap dispenser is of the cheap variety you find everywhere else in the terminal.

BOARDING

At 22h00 I return to the reception area for the shuttle across to the E dock. With only three other passengers making the journey across to the E gates with me, passport control is quickly done.Normally Swiss uses Mercedes Minivans to move people across to the E dock. When there are not that many passengers, the BMW7 will also do.

The E Dock on the other side of runway 28 is much busier this time of night than the main terminal complex.

At the gate there are two lanes. One is for the Economy Class passengers and the other is for premium passengers and those with status.

There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, but the L1 door is closed, so all passengers have to board through the L2 door.

THE CABIN AND SEAT

The cabin is in good condition. Tonight’s flight is showing a very healthy load, the First Class cabin is nearly completely full with seven out of eight seats taken. By the looks of it Swiss also has new cushions or at least cushion covers.

The usual Bally amenity kit, slippers and earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

SERVICE

As soon as I am seated the First Class service begins. Service is done by two middle aged and friendly female flight attendants. I am asked if I would like a newspaper and a drink. I choose the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and a glass of still water with a slice of lemon.

A short while later I am brought an amuse bouche of crab cake with a mango and zucchini salsa and a few butter sticks.

As soon as I finish that, the plate is removed and I am brought a scented, warm towel to refresh myself.

DEPARTURE

Departure is from runway 34. In the evenings it is either 34 or 32 that are in use for departures to minimise the noise pollution. As usual there are quite a few departures this time of night, we are number three in the departure sequence and I count a further three widebodies behind us.

Take-off is the usual lame A340-300 ‘will-he-make-it-before-the-end-of-the-runway’ departure. The acceleration and climb are barely perceivable. As soon as we get airborne we experience some significant turbulence which last for the first 45 minutes or so of the flight. Once the lights go on again and we are free to move, the flight attendant brings me my pajamas and I go and change for the night.

THE MEAL

The meal service begins with the table being set. I have my own breadbasket and a saucer of olive oil to dip the bread in.

With the meal I have sparkling mineral water with lemon.

And then we begin.


First course: Balik Salmon with Crème Fraîche, chives and blinis. An excellent dish you can hardly go wrong with.

Second course: Cream of sweet corn soup with popcorn. Very tasty, Swiss do a good soup.

Third course: Mixed salad with croutons, cherry tomatoes and boiled egg. Excellent, they seem to have a new Italian dressing and it’s very tasty.

Fourth course: Zürich style shredded veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with Rösti and carrots sautéed in butter. Now this is simply outstanding. This is a signature dish you get in most self-respecting restaurants in Switzerland. Even so, I really don’t think I’ve ever had one in a restaurant that tasted this good. The sauce is rich and creamy and you even make out the white wine used for the sauce. Even the Rösti is cooked to perfection and has remained crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Fifth course: A platter of assorted Swiss cheese with mustard seed chutney, walnuts, grapes, crackers and dried prunes and apricots. Here is another cost saving measure. When I flew this same route last year, the cheese service came from an open trolley and every passenger could choose himself which cheese he wanted to try.

The flight attendant tries to convince me to have dessert. But I decline and admit defeat.

After that it’s off to bed. Good night!

THE SECOND MEAL

I awake about two hours out of Bangkok. Perfect timing because it gives me enough time for a leisurely breakfast. I don’t like being rushed in the mornings.

I change back into my normal clothes. When I return to my seat the flight attendant has already placed a nice cup of coffee there for me with a glass of water.

She asks me what I’ll be having with breakfast and I ask for just an orange juice.

Next she sets up the table again for the meal. Breakfast consists of Zopf, a typically Swiss bread, and a croissant. With this I have some cherry jam and butter.

Apricot yoghurt.

French toast with berries.


After the meal the table is cleared again and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I ask for a bottle of still water. After that I lean back to enjoy the views and nap some more before we land.

ARRIVAL

Our route into Bangkok is a circuitous one.

Once we land, I bid the crew farewell and disembark through the L1 door. On the other side of the airbridge there is a SWISS ground attendant holding up a sign with my name on it. She asks me to follow her to a golf mobile. I get on board and she whisks me off to the transfer security check. From there we head one floor up to the Royal Jordanian transfer counter.

CONCLUSION

In summary it’s not a bad flight I have with Swiss. The crew is professional and efficient but still manages to be friendly and give the whole experience a personal touch. The tempo of the service is good and the food is very tasty.