Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Riga to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Friday morning and time for me to return to Switzerland. I enjoyed my trip to Riga. Above all, the Latvians were really excellent hosts and took good care of me.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My flight will be departing from Riga at 07h50. Which means I have ordered a taxi to leave the Ibis Centre at 06h00. I’m being lazy and taking a taxi this time, simply because I didn’t bother to check at what time the busses start running and the bus journey takes longer anyway.

Just a word of caution about the taxis, though: apparently, they’ve got quite a racket going on in Riga and everyone I spoke to warned me that the drivers are not to be trusted. Indeed, I was told the journey should not cost more then EUR15. When I checked at the hotel though, I was told it was a fixed fare of EUR18. By the time I reached the airport, the driver was asking for EUR20…

CHECK-IN
Another word of warning. Or two, rather. Mornings can get very busy in Riga and the airport is becoming too small to handle all the passengers. As a result, the queues for check-in and security can stretch very far back. So if you can, make sure you check-in online or use one of the self-service machines. If you’re travelling with Air Baltic, fast track security is included in the Business Class ticket. Otherwise, fast track access can be purchased at the time of booking for EUR10. And I would seriously advise getting the fast track access.

THE LOUNGE
Since my last visit the passage connecting the original pier B to the newly constructed pier C has opened. And with that, the new and larger Business Class lounge has also moved. It is now located in the passage between the two piers and one floor up from the general airside area.

Air Baltic doesn’t have it’s own lounge and instead uses the Premier Lounge, which, as far as I can tell, is the only contractor lounge at the airport and is used by all other carriers as well.

The new lounge certainly offers more space. Fortunately, like the old lounge, it also has excellent views of the ramp and the runway.

BOARDING
Boarding starts on time. And it looks like it’s going to be a full flight. Despite the fact that our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, much to my delight we shall be boarding via steps, the traditional way. So I can basically knock myself out taking photos…

THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is slightly different from the one on the inbound flight, in that there is no bulkhead on the port side of the cabin. Apparently, this is why they try not to assign this row to passengers unless the flight is completely sold out.

I’m on 2A today, which is the window seat on the second row. Originally, there’s this enormous, very muscly Russian on the aisle seat 2C. But once the doors close, he asks if he can move to 1A and I have the whole row to myself again.

THE CREW
The crew working the Business Class cabin consists of two well-groomed and very polite young men. They’re not as cordial and warm as the two female cabin crew on the outbound flight. But still, their manners are impeccable.

SERVICE
The service runs very much along the same lines as the flight from Zürich to Riga: welcome drink, newspapers, menu, hot towels.

THE MEAL
Again, a hot meal is served. It consists of:

  1. Greek yoghurt with granola, berries and mango coulis,
  2. Pancakes, served with strawberry jam,
  3. Cream cheese,
  4. a selection from the breadbasket,
  5. orange juice,
  6. coffee

The meal is quite good. The granola could have done with a bit more yoghurt, but other than that it’s fine. I especially like the pancakes, which are thick and chunky and taste lovely with the strawberry jam.

Not that many passengers are actually eating, preferring to sleep instead. Apparently, most of them are connecting from Tbilisi, Moscow and Almaty, which are night flights

So once the meal is removed, I figure when in Rome… I only wake up shortly before landing, when the cabin crew ask me to put my seat back in the upright position again for touch down.

ARRIVAL
Zürich airport is still calm when we arrive, so there’s no hold up for landing. After all, it’s only just gone 09h10 here in Switzerland so the airport is in between traffic peaks. As my luck would have it, we park on the very first stand at the start of pier A, which means it’s only a very short walk to arrivals and then the railway station. By 10h15 I’m already in my office again in Winterthur.

Just one more trip, and then I’m done…

Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Zürich to Riga

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INTRODUCTION
Today I’m on my way to Riga. And just in case you’re wondering what on earth I’m doing right now, travelling from one country to another, I should explain that this is all part of the research I am doing for my thesis.

Luckily, once I’ve been to Riga, I’ll only to make one more trip to Slovenia and then I’m done with the data collection.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave the office just after four in the afternoon. The plan is to catch the 16h25 train from Winterthur, to arrive at Zürich airport at 16h38. For some reason or other, the trains to and from Winterthur are all running with a delay of about four minutes, which, admittedly, does not even qualify as a delay in some countries but in Switzerland means that words will be had…

CHECK-IN
And so I arrive at Zürich airport way behind what I’d anticipated, at 16h41. I’ve already checked in on the Air Baltic website, which works nicely. I save the boarding pass to my iPhone wallet. And contrary to SWISS, with Air Baltic the pass appears on your lock screen, so all you have to do is swipe it for it to appear.

THE LOUNGE / AIRSIDE
Yeah, about that… In my previous post I may have mentioned that the SWISS Schengen lounge is still not open. The upshot of this, of course, is that the Aspire Lounge and also the DNATA lounge, which Air Baltic uses, have to absorb some of the SWISS passenger. As a result, more often than not, both lounges tend to be very crowded and not at all that pleasant.

Besides, departures are on runway 10 this afternoon, so I’m better off sitting somewhere on the A concourse by the window.

BOARDING
Boarding starts just slightly behind schedule. The first call is for Business Class passengers. It turns out that I’m the only passenger in Business Class today. Behind me, the next call is for passengers with children ‘and other disabilities’. I always find that such a funny phrase…

THE CABIN & SEAT
As far as commercial airliners go, by no means is the Boeing B 737-300 a spring chicken. Even so, it looks as though Air Baltic has taken very good care of this aircraft, which is fitted with the usual thin, modern seats. The configuration is 2 + 2, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. In addition, the armrests can be folded outwards towards the middle seat, to make the aisle and the window seats a bit wider. There is a small tray table in the middle for extra storage and underneath it there are two pillows and blankets on every row in Business Class.

I am seats on the window in 1F.

SERIVCE
The service begins on the ground when the purser comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink and newspapers. I order an apple juice but decline the paper, even though they have quite a selection of English language papers to choose from.

The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very charming and quite funny in the way they interaction with me. They’re definitely courteous but they haven’t lost their sense of humour over it.

As we push back, the purser hands me the menu for today’s flight.

THE MEAL
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the service begins. The purser asks me what I’d like to drink and then brings me the glass of water I requested, together with a scented hot towel. She then brings out the tray with the meal, which today consists of:

  1. a soft cream cheese with cumin and a strawberry salsa,
  2. grilled chicken breast in a saffron sauce, served with roasted vegetables and a creamy barley risotto,
  3. a rhubarb tarte tatin,
  4. a selection from the breadbasket all to myself, served with butter.

To drink I have water.

After the meal, the cabin attendant brings me a cappuccino and a piece of chocolate cake from a pre-ordered meal, the passenger of which apparently no-showed. Once that is removed, she brings me a bottle of still water and leaves me to work.

A bit later, the purser sees me working on my laptop and promptly closes the sun blinds on the opposite side of the cabin, which is in the sun, so that I can see better what’s on my screen.

ARRIVAL
The fasten seatbelt sign remains on for most of the flight, and it’s quite bumpy all the way. Latvia looks like a lovely country from above and very different from Switzerland in that it’s very flat.

We land at 22h10, slightly behind schedule, in the middle of what appears to be Air Baltic’s evening bank of arrivals.

I exit the building within ten minutes of landing, and the bus 22 into the city is already standing outside the terminal.

The journey into town will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR2. The bus stop isn’t right in front of the building, but across the road to your right as you exit arrivals.

The bus will take you to Riga’s main railway station in the centre of the city.

CONCLUSION
I think Air Baltic are a brilliant airline. Their service in Business Class is definitely superior to that of many of the legacy carriers, including SWISS or KLM. What’s more though, the crew on today’s flight were absolutely charming. I very much enjoyed this flight!

Air Serbia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Belgrade to Bucharest

INTRODUCTION

I just arrived in Belgrade on an Air Serbia flight from Zürich. This is not my first visit to Belgrade but it shall be the first time I transit at Belgrade airport.

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TRANSFER IN BELGRADE

Transferring at Belgrade airport could hardly be easier. As you exit the airbridge you immediately find yourself airside. Owing to the size of the facility, and also probably to its age, arriving and departing passengers are not segregated at Belgrade airport.

The airport appears to be undergoing renovation at the moment. There is the nice shiny, new part at the heart of the terminal complex and then, the farther away you move from the centre, the shabbier the place becomes. But I think it will look rather nice once the entire facility has been completed.

In any case, I was issued with the boarding pass for my onward connection to Bucharest when I checked in this morning in Zürich, so I guess I might as well head straight for the lounge.

LOUNGE

Location: The lounge is located close to gate A1 in the newly refurbished part of the terminal
Type of Lounge:
Contractor lounge operated by Belgrade airport
Facilities:
Cold food (salad bar) and hot and cold drinks, toilets are located in the lounge but there are no showers
Internet:
Free wifi, but a password is required

The lounge has a very modern feel to it and the selection of food and drinks is quite good. The only downside, as far as I can tell, is that this is the only lounge available to serve all the airlines operating to Belgrade. As a result, the place is probably already a bit too small, which is also why I didn’t take that many pictures.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: No

Do not let the FIDS mislead you! Or your boarding pass for that matter. A quick glance at my boarding pass confirms that apparently boarding starts one full hour before departure. This is confirmed when I check the FIDS for my flight and the status is already at ‘go to gate’ even more than an hour before departure.

Belgrade uses a closed gate system. In order to access the gate area or holding pen, you have to go through security first, and quite obviously they want to make sure passengers don’t arrive late. In any case, there’s no queue anymore when I arrive at the gate roughly 35 minutes before departure. But there isn’t any space to sit left either. It’s standing room only.

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On a positive note however, it would appear that the new shiny A 319 that was scheduled to operate this flight today has been substituted with a Boeing B 737-300. And as the icing on the cake, she’s even an albino. Completely white, with only the registration revealing her origins. Normally I would consider this a downgrade. But I think the B 737 is on its way out with Air Serbia since Etihad took over. And the B737-300 is slowly becoming rare in Europe, so for me this really is a stroke of luck!

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CABIN

Configuration: 3 + 3 with the middle seat left empty in Business Class
Seat: 2F
Pitch:
Width:
Facilities: None
Audio and Video: NIL

This is much more like what I’m familiar with. The usual euro-style Business Class with the middle seat left empty. The seats look vaguely familiar and I find myself wondering if this bird perhaps once flew for Lufthansa in a previous life, many moons ago. But apart from that, everything is the same as on the previous flight. Including the blanket and red pillow at every seat.

Once more though, I’m not sitting on the seat I was originally booked on, this time I’m on 2F instead of 1C. But never mind.

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There are two rows of Business Class, with seven of eight seats taken. And by the looks of it, the seat fairy has done her magic again and I’m the only passenger to have a whole row to himself. Jay!

SERVICE

The crew on this flight are a lot like the previous one: very friendly and chatty, cracking jokes with the passengers in a very charming and disarming manner. One of the young ladies is quite flirty, a fact which does not escape most of the male passengers – and their girlfriends…

THE MEAL

Welcome drink on the ground: Yes, freshly squeezed orange juice
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, rose scented hot towel served on the ground
Pre-meal drink:
No, due to the short flight time
Choice:
Vegetarian or meat
Delivery:
Individual tray service
Type of meal:
Light snack with dessert
Menu:
No
Meal:

  1. two sandwiches filled with fresh vegetables and grilled aubergine
  2. skewer of fruit
  3. coffee

Once boarding is completed, little miss flirty comes through the cabin with hot rose scented towels and takes orders for pre departure drinks. Again I have a fresh orange juice.

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There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin on this flight, presumably to speed things up on such a short sector.

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After take-off orders are taken for drinks and food, and a short while later the tray appears. I’m quite impressed that even for such a light meal Air Serbia will place a table cloth on the tray table.

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The two sandwiches hit the spot nicely and the fruit tastes fresh and juicy. As the purser removes my tray, he asks me if I enjoyed the meal and if there’s anything else I’d like. So I ask for a coffee, not quite sure if I’ll get one, given the fact that we’re already descending towards Bucharest by this time. But all he has to say about the fact is ‘Of course, milk and sugar?’ And a short while later my coffee appears with a last rose scented hot towel.

ARRIVAL

There isn’t really much to say about our arrival into Bucharest, it’s quite a bumpy approach with the strong wind. That’s all.

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GETTING INTO TOWN

Transport: Bus
Departs from: One floor down from arrivals
Frequency:
Journey time: 30 – 40 minutes
Fare: 7 Romanian Leu for a return ticket, you have to purchase a chargeable card from the ticket booth at the far end of the pavement, outside the terminal.

I’m staying at the Radisson Blue in Bucharest. The easiest way to get there is by bus line 783. The journey time varies considerably, depending on traffic. Alight at bus stop ‘University’ from where it is just a short walk to the hotel.

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CONCLUSION

As you might have guessed already, I shall not be returning home to Basel the way I came with Air Serbia, which is a shame really, because their service really is quite outstanding. Obviously on this sector the hardware was no match for the newer A 320 I had on the previous leg, although the aircraft looked and felt very well maintained. Nonetheless, the crew on this flight demonstrated quite spectacularly just how true it is that the impression you have of an airline largely depends on the staff, the people that make the airline. I enjoyed these two flights, and should I ever be heading to this part of the world in future, Air Serbia will definitely be on my list of likely carriers.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300 / Canadair Regionaljet CRJ-700: Copenhagen to Basel via Frankfurt

INTRODUCTION

It’s the last day of the year, 31 December 2011. The Tivoli in Copenhagen closed its door for the season the night before. The shops don’t seem to be open either and the streets of Copenhagen are surprisingly quiet as I cross the road to access the railway station. And indeed, as the old years draws to a close, it’s time for me to return home as well.

Date: 31. December 2011
From: Copenhagen
To: Frankfurt
Airline: Lufthansa
Aircraft: B 737-300
Seat: 1F
Class: Business Class

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

At around noon I check out of the hotel. Copenhagen’s main railway station is right across the road.

Danish trains are rather comfy and well maintained, but lord they’re so ugly to look at from the outside!

The railway station and platforms at Kastrup airport are located one floor down from the terminal. As soon as you get off the escalator you’re already standing right in the middle of the check-in area.

I try one of the self-service kiosks. For some reason it prints my boarding pass for the flight from Frankfurt to Basel but not the one from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. When I try a second time a message appears on the screen telling me I need to contact Lufthansa when I get Frankfurt, which seems somewhat difficult to achieve without a boarding pass to get to Frankfurt. So I head over to one of the counters for check-in, where I receive my boarding pass with no difficulty at all.


I’m flying Lufthansa, so no SAS Fast Track for me today. If only! The queue is something nasty. Eventually it takes me 20 minutes to reach the actual security check.

Surprisingly though, once I arrive airside, the terminal is nearly deserted. Where is everyone?

I really like Copenhagen airport. It just looks so nice with the low winter sun peering in through the windows.

THE LOUNGE

The Scandinavian lounge is very quiet and peaceful, which gives me a good opportunity to take some pictures of course…

BOARDING

At around 16h00 I leave the lounge and go on a walkabout. By this time the airport is nearly deserted and most of the shops are already closing or have already closed. Note the absence of humans in the following pictures.

My flight to Frankfurt, it will not be a full flight.

THE CABIN

There are three passengers in Business Class. Surprisingly, the aircraft has the new ‘Eurokabine’. I was under the impression that Lufthansa was getting rid of its Boeing narrow-bodies, so I didn’t think they would bother to refit them. In any case, those seats are just so thin!

DEPARTURE

It gets dark quickly up north. And by the time we push back it’s nearly night.

Obviously there are no queues for take-off and once we break though the low clouds the scenery is actually rather nice and very poetic.

THE MEAL

The meal service is typically German fare, with loads of Wurst and Speck, both of which are not top of the list of my favourite foods. At least the starter is good. It consists of red snapper in a saffron sauce.

SERVICE

The crew on this short flight is excellent. They are all very attentive and the purser even makes sure to address passengers by name, something you don’t get very often on short-haul flights these days.

ARRIVAL

We land on the new runway in Frankfurt. By this time though it is already dark, making it difficult to get some good shorts. At least we park on a remote stand!

THE LOUNGE

I travel through Frankfurt quite often and I think I can truly say I have never seen the Senator lounge so empty. There are only about ten people in it and the staff look as though they’re bored absolutely senseless. One of them strikes up a conversation with me. She complains to me that she’s already wiped every single table at least four times and still has a few more hours to go to the end of her shift!

Date: 31. December 2011
From: Frankfurt
To: Basel
Airline: Lufthansa
Aircraft: CRJ 700
Seat: 4A
Class: Business Class
BOARDING

Eventually boarding begins and we all head downstairs and onto the bus that will take us to our aircraft. I count 30 passengers on this flight, with only two of us in Business Class.

THE CABIN

The Canadair Regional Jet is certainly a beauty to look at. From the inside however, I must say I find them rather cramped. Furthermore, Lufthansa’s somewhat drab cabin design on these birds – shades of depressing grey with shades of more grey – does not make them any more appealing to the passenger.

DEPARTURE

Take-off on this little bugger is powerful, especially with such a light load. With a flight time of only 35 minutes,  the cabin crew more or less start with the service as soon as the gear goes up.

THE MEAL

Actually I am quite surprised to get anything at all, even if, again, the main event is Wurst with an enormous salad. The dressing is something strange.

Still, the chocolate makes up for the Wurst I guess.

ARRIVAL

Basel airport, like Copenhagen and Frankfurt, is deserted and very soon I am though the terminal and back on the bus home.


CONCLUSION

So what about Lufthansa? The usual actually: not very stylish, not really inspired either, but reliable and efficient. I never thought I’d see the day but I’ve come to prefer Lufthansa over Swiss recently (except for the Wurst bit perhaps). It’s the professionalism of the entire operation and of the staff that tips the scale in their favour. The new Eurokabine is also definitely a major improvement over the previous cabin design and gives the aircraft a very stylish appearance.