KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

It’s the end of April and the last week of work before my sabbatical starts. My second attempt to go on sabbatical, that is. I arrive by train at Zürich airport at 16:15 with a little over one hour to go before my departure to Amsterdam. Online check is now possible again, after it had been suspended during Covid for them to be able to check certificates. So I bypass check-in at the airport and head straight fro security. Landside everything seems normal enough.

But the monent I step through the electronic gates to enter the security checkpoint, it’s a complete mess. There are people everywhere, and you can actually watch the queue getting longer by the second. Usually there’s a separate queue for First & Business Class passengers. But with nobody from the airport there to manage the queues, it’s just chaos and nothing else.

Airside

By the time I‘m through security, there‘s only half a hour left before boarding. In Zürich KLM uses the DNATA lounge, which is really nothing to write home about. So, I figure I might as well go sit outside on the terrace of the airside sports bar.

Boarding

As the result of the Covid pandemic, Zürich airport recently shelved its plans to demolish and reconstruct the A pier, which is a real shame because the place is just about bursting at the seams right now.

KLM’s handling is done by DNATA, and I‘m impressed by how religiously the gate agents stick to the boarding process, starting with zones 1 and 2. Mind you, I’m in zone 1, but I still wait until everybody elses has boarded to get on the plane.

Literally the moment I pass through the gate, an alert pops up on my KLM app, informing me that my return flight has been cancelled. But this is KLM, so I’m not really too bothered. Their irregularity team is great, so I’m confident they‘ll find a solution for me.

Boarding takes for ever, and by the time we push back from the gate, we’re running just over thirty minutes late. We depart from runway 28 and then make a wide left hand turn of 180 degrees to point us in the direction of Lake Constance, bringing us back over the airport.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. On row two, all four seat are occupied. However, on row one only the window seats are occupied. I’m on 1A, so I have a whole row of three to myself.

The crew

The purser is working the Business Class cabin. She’s in her late forties I’d say, and she really is brilliant. She’s very funny and an excellent hostess. For example, shortly after she serves me my tea at the end of the meal, we encounter some pretty severe turbulence. She immediately comes to clear everything away before I’ve even touched it, to prevent it from spilling over and scalding me. Later on, once the turbulence calms down, she brings me a fresh cup of tea without me even asking. That’s excellent service.

The meal

The meal begins with the drinks service. I ask for a Coke Zero, and the purser asks me if I’d like that with ice and sugar.

KLM’s Business Class meal tray service appears to have been permanently replaced with the cardboard box they previously only served on the Cityhopper flights.

Catering on KLM tends to be somewhat experimental, and that’s not always a good thing. The salad is fine though. However, as part of the cost cutting measures they no longer serve bread, which I think is just a bit of a shame.

The dessert is revolting. It’s basically a flavoured blob of gelatinous goo. Why can’t they just serve something normal, like a biscuit?

Arrival

Eventually we land with only a few minutes delay, after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The flight ends at gate C5, at the very beginning if the C pier.

Getting to Rotterdam

There are regular direct trains between Amsterdam Schipol airport and Rotterdam, where I will be spending the weekend. The regular trains take about 55 minutes to make the journey. However, there are also intercity trains which run nonstop in just 26 minutes. For those you need to pay a supplement though.

Conclusion

I suppose the tragedy of the airlines is that their customer base is so diverse, and different people appreciate or pay attention to different things when they fly. The food on this flight was a bit of a mixed bag, and then dessert was just… no. Having said that, the cabin crew were stellar, which is what I have come to expect from KLM and which they consistenly deliver. The cancellation of my return flight is of course inceonvient. However, with KLM consistency also means that I can rest assured they they will find the best alternative for me. And by alternative, I do not mean simply offering me to refund the half-return price of my ticket.

KLM, Business Class – Embraer 175 & Boeing B 737-800: Basel to Amsterdam and Oslo

Introduction

My first flight of 2022 sees me travelling from Basel to Amsterdam on KLM. I’m on my way to Trondheim. Originally, I booked a ticket on KLM for Basel-Amsterdam-Trondheim. But I wasn’t really happy with the itinerary, because both the flight to Amsterdam and then on to Trondheim would be operated by an Embraer 175. I don’t mind the little Embraer on a flight of one hour or so. But the block time for Amsterdam-Trondheim is over two hours, and the KLM Embraer 175 is very uncomfortable on longer journeys.

Then I decided to go to Paris to see Turandot on 30 December 2021 at the Opera de la Bastille. I figured there would be no point in returning to Basel in the evening of 1 January 2022, only to leave again the next morning at the crack of dawn. I was also still frantically looking for an excuse to get me out of having to spend so much time on the Embraer. Which is how I ended up booking a flight from Paris via Amsterdam to Oslo instead. First on an Air France A 320 and then a KLM B 737-800. Much better.

Then one week before I should have left for Paris, I decided to cancel the trip again because of Omicron. I’m double-jabbed and boosted, but I think it’s clear that the only way to get this pandemic under control is if we all show at least some restraint, by trying to keep our distance and avoiding any unnecessary travel. So probably not by spending over two hours in the Opera de la Bastille shoulder to shoulder with a couple of hundred culture vultures. Of course, that then meant that I had to change my ticket from Paris-Amsterdam-Oslo back to Basel-Amsterdam-Oslo… I really have to say, Air France KLM were excellent. No matter how often I called to change/refund me tickets, their staff were always friendly and competent.

Check-in

I’m carting a large suitcase with me on this trip, because I’ll be giving another course after the one in Trondheim. The check-in process at Basel airport is really slow. They’re checking in the flights to Paris and to Amsterdam at the same time. The majority of passengers are non-Schengen nationals heading back home after the holiday via either one or the other of the two hubs. Without a Schengen certificate though, checking that passengers have all the necessary documentation takes up a lot of time.

The Swissport Skyview lounge

The lounge in Basel is open again on both the lower and upper level, although half the upper level has been taped off, presumably to save costs on staff and cleaning. There aren’t that many passengers around either. The food options in the lounge are somewhat limited. There are three questionable hot items to choose from: a platter of rather dry looking samosas, sausages and soup. I don’t try any of them.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time and doesn’t take very long, as the load is very light. There are only about thirty passengers on the flight. There are two rows of Business Class, and I have the whole Business Class cabin to myself.

The cabin

So yes, the Embraer 175. There are a number of things that elude me about this aircraft. First, I’ve always wondered why it has a slightly nose-up attitude when standing on the ground. Especially seeing as its larger brothers, the E190 and 195, have a more nose-down attitidue. But that’s not really all that important. What bothers me though, is that none of the windows on the E175 ever seem to be properly aligned with the seat rows – no matter on which airline. You’re either having to crank back your neck to get a look outside, or you’re view is obstructed by the seat infront of you. The recline also isn’t very good, and pitch on row 1 could be better too.

In addition, this particular aircraft is having a toilet malfunction. As a result of which, the crew call button keeps going off every two minutes or so, even though there’s nobody in it.

The crew

The crew on the flight from Basel to Amsterdam are typical for KLM. Very professional and friendly. That is something KLM and Air France do well, I think. You always know exactly what to expect from their crews. And that’s exactly what you get.

The meal

There have obviously been a few changes and cutbacks to KLM’s European meal concept in Business Class. First, the food box that passengers previously only got on the Cityhopper flights has now been extended to the mainline fleet as well. Which is a bit of a let down. In addition, the meal is no longer served with breadrolls or butter. So it’s really just the main course, a dessert and a small plastic bowl with walnuts, which is just plain weird. Apart from that, KLM catering has a tendency to be a bit on the ‘experimental’ side…

Tonight’s offering is a bulgur salad with falafel, a few pieces of cheese and hummus. It may not look very appealing, especially the hummus, but the taste is surprisingly good.

On a positive note, those horrible little tubs of sweetened gelatine they used to pass for dessert have been replaced with these rather tasty little fruit pies.

KLM has also replaced the plastic cutlery with politically correct and biodegradable wooden cutlery.

Arrival

The weather in Amsterdam is not very nice when we arrive. It’s quite warm but raining. At least with such a light load it doesn’t take long for the passengers to disembark and the bus to bring us to the terminal. I think this is the first time I’ve actually been on a flight that parked on one of the remote stands between piers C and D. I’m guessing the aircraft will be heading to maintenance for some TLC and to check out the pinging loo.

Transfer in Amsterdam

I have one hour to make the connection to Oslo. Normally I probably wouldn’t bother with the lounge and would just browse through the shops until it’s time for boarding. Only, the shops have all been closed because of the lockdown measures in the Netherlands.

The flight to Oslo

The flight to Oslo is mostly unremarkable. As on my previous flight, the load is rather light. At least there are five passengers in Business Class in total. On this flight, the meal is the usual Cesar salad in a box. I seem to get that one quite often lately…

The crew

The really outstanding feature of this flight isthe crew. They’re just so nice! The purser is professional and competent. She makes excellent announcements and takes very good care of passengers during the flight. What’s more, when the pilot comes out of the cockpit during the flight, I even manage to pick his brain for my PhD. He’s just so friendly and helpful, just brilliant!

Arriving in Oslo

Eventually, we land in Oslo on time at 22h30. It’s very misty and there’s a thick layer of freshly driven snow. The pilot applies full reverse thrust to slow us down, and as we vacate the runway, the snow removing crew is already entering the runway to start clearing away the fresh snow.

As per 02 January 2022 visitors to Oslo from a Schengen country need to have a Covid test done upon entering the country. This can either be done directly at the airport, or at home. Arriving passengers also have to complete the registration form ahead of their arrival. The only problem is, nobody seems to be able to tell me what to do with the test result…

Conclusion

I’m assuming the diminished meal service on the European mainline fleet has less to do with Covid-related health measures and more to do with an urgent need to reduce costs wherever possible. Of course, one might argue that driving down the costs by making cuts where the passengers will easily notice them is rarely a good idea. But these are strange times, and if anything, my constantly changing travel plans showed how volatile and unpredictable air travel has become. With that in mind, it’s refreshing that KLM has taken that on board, making it easy and effortless for passengers to change their bookings, cancel trip altogether and request refunds – even at short notice. I’ll take that any day over a fancy meal and a plush seat. Furthermore, KLM’s strong point, as far as I can tell, has always been its staff. And that has certainly not changed, luckily.

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur

This is a previously unpublished post from 2011.

Introduction

After four days in Langkawi, I make a move to return home. The first leg will see my flying to KL and then connecting to another flight to Bangkok the same day.

Getting to the Airport

I’m not sure there actually is any reliable public transport in Langkawi, which is why I decide to avail myself of the hotel shuttle to take me to the airport.

Check-in

At the airport there are dedicated counters for Malaysia Airlines and there is one counter for Business Class passengers. Passengers need to go through security screening before accessing the check-in area.

Airside

There is no Business Class lounge at the airport, but instead they have something much, much better: from the public gate area you have excellent views of the ramp. Aircraft tend to park nose in, which means it’s just perfect for people like me to geek out while they await their boarding call.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts rather abruptly without any calls being made.

The Cabin

This aircraft has yet a different cabin interior from the ones of the two previous flights. Apart from the fact that it’s a more modern seat, the covers are in violet (!) leather and the bulkhead is in some bamboo inspired pattern.

There is no service on the ground. I think there simply isn’t enough time for that, given that the taxi time is very short.

The Meal

The snack is pretty much the same concept as that on the outbound flight. Except that this time, one canapé is with camembert and fruit and the other is with smoked salmon, an olive and a pickle.

Once more, the dessert is an undefinable but very tasty sweet thing in a rather unappealing shade of green.

Arrival

There’s a bit of a hold up for us to start our descent into KL due to the presence of thunder storms in the area. On the row behind me is an Arab woman with her teenage son.

As soon as the pilot announces that we can start our approach soon, I hear somebody behind my spray and spraying and spraying. And just a short while later a horribly heavy scent starts wafting through the cabin. It’s so bad I have to stink my fingers up my nose and breathe through my mouth. It’s probably a very expensive scent, but it’s just way too strong. One of the cabin crew, who is already sitting on the jump seat, sees me and gives me a questioning look. To which I can only motion that somebody behind me just sprayed themselves. She covers her mouth and tries not to laugh. By the time we land I have a serious head ache…

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi

Introduction

With social distancing still in force in Switzerland and much of the global aviation industry having come to a grinding halt, I obviously haven’t been travelling at all since the beginning of March 2020. On a positive note, that has given me ample time to make a few changes and update to my blog. In the process, I also stumbled across a few previously unposted reports of past trips. And so, for your reading entertainment, I have decided to add them here.

I’ll start with a trip I took to Langkawi in Malaysia back in 2011. Nonetheless, I will keep to the usual style of writing and use the present tense.

Getting to the Airport

I arrive in Kuala Lumpur the evening before on a flight from Bangkok. The next day I’m on my way back to the airport for the flight to Langkawi. I suppose I might have stayed at the airport, given that it’s quite far out from the city. But then I figured it would still be nice to be able to go into town, which is why I eventually spend the night in KL at the Hilton Sentral Stesen, which sits right above the railway station.

The KLIA Express train is not full at all. In fact, I think every time I’ve taken this train it hasn’t been full. The price for a oneway ticket is MYR55.

Check-in

Malaysia Airlines and most of the legacy carriers operate out of KLIA1 or Terminal 1. There is also KLIA2, but that wasn’t even open in 2011.

Airside

My boarding pass for the flight to Langkawi was already issued the day before when I checked in for the flight from Bangkok to KL, so I can head straight for security.

Strangely enough, no distinction appears to be made between international and domestic passengers as far as the flow of passengers is concerned. Also, there seems to be a general security screening for all passenger, the point of which eludes me. And then there is a second check before entering the gate.

Irrespective of whether they’re domestic or international departures, short-haul flights tend to use gates at the main terminal concourse, whereas the widebodies tend to use the satellite terminal.

Boarding

The flight to Langkawi is operated by a Boeing B 737-800. An announcement is made for passengers in Business Class passengers to board first, but this is not something anyone ever seems to pay much attention to in KL and the gate staff don’t enforce it either.

The Cabin

The seats on this aircraft are slightly different to those on the previous flight I took from Bangkok. It’s not just that they have red covers, as opposed to the blue ones on yesterday’s aircraft, it also seems to by a different type of seat. It looks more like an old fashioned Economy Class seat but with a wider armrest in between.

The Service

While we’re still on the ground, the crew pass through the cabin with English language newspapers and a glass of fresh guava juice.

The Snack

The flight time to Langkawi is short at only 40 minutes. The service starts with the distribution of scented cold towels that are nice and thick.

Despite the short flight time, the Malaysia Airlines Business Class service includes a small snack, a dessert and some Cadbury’s chocolate biscuits. And they insist on using a table cloth.

The main dish consists of two canapé sandwiches. One is with cream cheese, while the other is with pieces of chicken in a spicy curry marinade and lemon.

I have no idea what the dessert is and when I suggest pumpkin, the crew aren’t sure what that is in their language either but are too polite to say so. One way or another, it’s very good and has a spicy aroma combined with saffron.

Arrival

No sooner as the tray been removed, we start our descent into Langkawi. What I remember most about this flight is how calm and unrushed the whole service by the cabin crew is.

Langkawi is a fairly small facility and I’m only travelling with hand luggage anyway. So once the doors open, I’m out fairly quickly. The hotel has sent a driver to pick me up. And so I resist the temptation to take photos of my aircraft as I walk across the apron to the terminal.

Getting to the Hotel

In Langkawi I’m staying at The Datai, which is about 40 minutes away from the airport. That’s not necessarily because Langkawi is that big, but rather because it’s a fairly circuitous route and there are no fast roads on the island.

SAS, Economy Class -Boeing B 737-800: Haugesund to Oslo

I must admit that I never really understood the Scandinavians’ obsession with summer and the sun until I came on this trip.

But I’m starting to see their point. It’s coming up to eight in the morning and it’s still dark outside. It’s also windy, cold and all round unpleasant.

Getting to the Airport

From Haugesund to the airport there is an airport bus. The journey time is about 30 minutes. The bus leaves at 08h15, to arrive at the airport with enough time to check in and go through security for the 09h35 departure to Oslo.

The bus departs from the Haugesund terminus, which is a rather depressing edifice that really could do with a fresh lick of paint.

Check-in

In any case, I arrive at the airport about 50 minutes before departure. It’s a very convenient and small airport, with only four check-in counters and just as many gates. There is no lounge though.

Boarding

Ever since I arrived in Norway, I’ve been craving one of those cardamom rolls. But somehow, wherever I go on this trip, they’ve either just run out or they’re still preparing them. I try my luck at the airport airside kiosk, but no luck…

But at least there is the fact that there are no airbridges at this airport. So when boarding starts, I can take my time walking across the apron taking pictures of the airrcraft taking me to Oslo.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 16F, which is on the second emergency exit row. Seat pitch is obviously very good. The only problem is that there is no arm rest on the window side of the seat. As a result, you’re either sharing the one on the other side, which seems a bit unfair on the guy stuck in the middle seat, or you have to find something else to do with your hands.

Our take-off is to the northwest and very bumpy, thanks to a strong crosswind. But shortly after we’re airborne, we pierce through the cloud and a burst of sunshine floods the cabin.

The ‘Meal’

The fligh time to Oslo is only 34 minutes. On board service in Economy Class consists of complimentary tea, coffee or water.

Arrival

The weather in Oslo is slightly better. I think. It’s colder, but at least the sun is trying to break through the cloud.

And once more I have the good fortune of deplaning via stairs instead of an airbridge. Hurrah!

I now gave three hours to make my international conn… finally, come to papa my sweets, I’ve been looking all over for you…!

SAS Scandinavian Airlines, SAS Plus – Boeing B 737-800: Oslo to Haugesund

Transfer in Oslo

I just stepped off the SWISS flight from Zürich. In 90 minutes I have a connection to Haugesund. If you’re connecting from an international flight that’s not on SAS to any domestic service, you can’t go straight to departures. Instead, you’ll have to exit through customs, then head one floor up and go through security again. Hm’kay…?

Alas, once I’m landside again, it’s difficult to find the escalators to take me one floor up to departures, because they’re all hidden away.

But I must admit, at least the terminal is very nice and spacious, despite the inconvenience.

Luckily, I’m travelling on an SAS Plus fare, which means I’m entitled to use the fast track for security. Not that it helps much, because the security staff have obviously decided my luggage is a security issue and take for ever to check it. It’s just a rucksack, for heaven’s sake. Maybe it’s something to do with my spectacular beard…

The SAS Business Class Lounge

There’s an SAS lounge in both the international and domestic sectors of the terminal, one floor up from the public area.

I know, I know – it’s such a cliché… but the lounge really does look like something from an IKEA showroom.

There is also a good selection of salads, breads, cheese, cold cuts and soups.

I just have enough time for a bowl of salad while I upload the previous post before my flight starts boarding from gate C8.

Boarding

It’s obviously cold outside, because they’ve even covered up the aircraft’s engines.

The Cabin

On this flight, I’m seated on 3F and as my luck will have it, the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays vacant.

The seat pitch is good, but compared to the very modern A220, the cabin on this aircraft look ancient!

There is a USB port in the back of every seat, by the way.

The two cabin crew working the forward cabin are… ehm… difficult? The purser is an elderly gentleman who looks as though he should have retired long ago. And he obviously think he’s quite the joker. Only, he’s not funny and his safety on board demonstration is so sloppy that he might as well not have done it at all.

In Norway it seems to be standard practice that aircraft are only pushed back from the gate, but without turning them to point in the direction of the taxiway. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the ice.

In any case, before we head for the runway, we make a stop of about twenty minutes on the de-icing pad for them to defrost our plane. It’s obviously such a common occurrence up this end that the pilots don’t even bother to announce what’s going on.

But then once that’s done, we head for the runway and take-off without any further delays.

The Meal

On domestic services, SAS Plus passengers get to select any item they like from the buy on board menu for free, whereas in regular Economy Class, food and drinks are only available for purchase. Tea and coffe however, are complimentary in all classes.

I ask for some apple juice and a packet of crisps.

It’s obviously not haute cuisine, but hey, the flight is only 35 minutes.

Arrival

Despite the delay for de-icing, we still land on time. Up here it’s 15 degrees warmer than Oslo, with the temperature hovering around 9 degrees.

Haugesund airport is very small. Arrivals is more or less one not so big room with enough space to deliver the luggage. But at least that also means there are no airbridges!

I step outside, and the airport bus to Haugesund is already there. The bus runs infrequently, but the schedule coincides with SAS’s arrivals and departures. The journey into town takes about 25 minutes.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Amsterdam to Bergen

Transfer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Schiphol overtook Frankfurt a while back as Europe’s third busiest airport. And I think it’s beginning to show. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. Where previously one of the airport’s strongest points was the abundance of space within the terminal building for passengers to move about, it’s now starting to get very crowded. But it’s still one of my favourite airports.

Airside

I decide not to take any photos of the lounge, because it’s crawling with people. And you don’t want to piss people off when they’re probably already tired from a long working day or just from the labours of travel, right?

It’s interesting to watch though, how quickly the lounge empties at some point, as KLM’s evening outbound wave of flights gets underway, including mine.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from C18, which is at the very end of the C pier. The flight is operated by a Boeing B 737-800 and according to the gate agent, it’s going to be a full flight. They’re making announcements offering to check Economy Class passengers’ luggage free of charge.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on this flight, and a total of five passengers. I’m sitting on 1A and I have the whole row of seats to myself.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are fabulous. One is a gentleman who probably looks older than he is, because his hair and beard are completely white. The other is a younger gentleman of South Asian descent. And he’s just so camp. Which is totally okay, it’s just that his effeminate mannerisms are completely at odds with the fact that he’s built like a brick shit house, as my granddad used to say.

In any case, the two of them keep the whole of the Business Class well entertained throughout the flight and take excellent care of the passengers. 1D is an elderly lady. She’s alert but looks very frail. The care and gentleness with which the cabin crew treat her is just outstanding. They take all the time in the world with her, making sure she’s comfortable but without ever being patronising in that way many people tend to be around elderly people.

The older one of the two is the maître de. As soon as the doors close, he welcomes every passenger aboard by name and shakes each passenger’s hand. From then on, whenever he or the younger crew member address the passengers, it’s always by name. More on that later…

The Meal

The meal is comparable to the one I had on the Zürich to Amsterdam leg. Only on this flight it’s not shrimps but a very nice chunk of hot smoked salmon. And it’s very tasty! I don’t know if this is a seasonal thing or just a new feature, but on this flight KLM also has fresh apple juice on offer, and it really is very tasty. It’s quite addictive actually!

After the meal I ask for a cup of mint tea, which is served with one of those Punselies biscuits.

Arrival

We land in Bergen just before 23h. It’s been a long day! Since my last visit the terminal building in Bergen has been significantly expanded. And with the expansion they’ve also extended the city’s tram line to the airport. As a result, there are now a number of options to get into town: a taxi will take about twenty minutes and costs a staggering NOK700. Then there’s the airport bus, which takes about the same amount of time as the taxi but only costs NOK110. And finally, the journey by tram will take about 45 minutes, but only costs NOK36.

I take the bus, mainly because I know from a previous visit that it stops right in front of my hotel.

Epilogue

So about the KLM crew on this flight: I return home from Bergen the following day, on Wednesday. As I step aboard the plane, I recognise the crew from the previous day. They’ve obviously night stopped in Bergen. The maître de takes a look at me and says ‘Mr. A., you’re back again. You know, I think you travel too much! Where are you sitting?’ I mean, I’m already surprised they recognise my face. But the fact that they both still remember my name is quite surprising.

Later on, as I disembark the plane in Amsterdam, the maître de wishes me a safe onward journey, while the younger one says good bye and asks me ‘I guess we’ll probably be seeing you again tomorrow or so?’

I must say, I’m quite exhausted from all my travels at this stage. And I’m so happy that I won’t be getting on a plane again until week after next. But I also have to say that it’s people like the crew on this flight that make such a difference. Of course they can’t replace your friends and family back home, but at least they can relieve some of the hassle of travel, by making you feel just a little bit less anonymous as the passenger.

KLM, gents: you were just brilliant. Thank you!

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

On Tuesday afternoon I leave the office just before 16h. I’m catching the 16h01 train to the airport for a 17h30 departure with KLM to Amsterdam. It’s a lovely day here in Winterthur, with nice sunny weather and balmy temperatures. And apparently it’s been like this since last week. Which is more than I can say about my recent trip to Malta.

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the KLM app, which has been working a bit more reliably recently. If you’re using the KLM app, the boarding pass of your next flight with them will show up on your locked screen, so you can just swipe it at the gate. In Zürich, KLM checks in at row 2 of check-in 2.

Airside

Today I am certainly not going to visit the contractor lounge, because… yes! It’s so nice out that the terrace of the sports bar is open. There’s no service out there yet. Or rather, if you want something you have to order it at the bar and then take it outside yourself. But hey, I’m here for the view.

And it really is a lovely view. The aircraft come up really close to the terrace and as they apply thrust to move off stand, you get a glorious whiff of kerosene fumes. And as my luck will have it, the KLM flight arrives just a short while later and comes to a stop on the stand closes to the terrace!

Boarding

Boarding starts on time, at 17h00. There is a first boarding call for Business Class passengers, before everybody else is invited to get aboard.

The Cabin

There are six rows of Business Class, for a total of 24 seats. The cabin is not quite full though, and as a result I have a whole row of three all to myself.

I’m not sure if this applies to all seats, but on row 3, where I’m seated, there are two electricity plugs on either side of the middle seat.

The seat pitch is good. The one thing I don’t like though, is that the recline of the seat back, even in the upright position, is just a bit too slanted. I always feel like I’m half lying down and about to slide off the seat.

The Crew

There are two middle aged ladies working the Business Class cabin. As usual on KLM, they’re chirpy and chatty. One of them is a big fan of Switzerland, and has even picked up a few bits and pieces of Swiss German, much to the entertainment of the passengers as she tries out her language skills with the m as the board. It’s really quite funny, but in a very charming way.

Like Lufthansa, KLM does not provide any service on the ground. No welcome drinks or anything of the sort. The flight time is announced as 1 hour and 15 minutes, which means we should be arriving in Amsterdam at 18h55, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

The Meal

As soon as the crew is released, the service begins. Every passenger is served individually from the galley. The meal consists of:

A small plate of salad with chilli shrimps, served with olive oil.

A small ramekin of marinated vegetables and feta cheese with couscous – served with rolls from the breadbasket.

To be honest, my opinion of the meal is… meh. The shrimps have an off-putting fishy smell, the salad is limp and the dessert is what it is. KLM has been serving this type of dessert for years, and I don’t know why they bother trying to explain what it is on the menu, because whether it’s passionfruit mousse or raspberry coulis, it always tastes the same.

At least that’s my excuse for asking for some of those fabulous smoked almonds KLM caters. I love those, they’re seriously addictive. A bit like the Twistees I had on Air Malta on Sunday… I ask the flight attendant if perhaps I could have a packet. She saunters off and returns a short while later with five packets of the delectable almonds. Hurrah! I think it would be a shame to waste them… and rude to turn them down.

And so I spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle, snacking on almonds and enjoying the spectacular sunset we’re being treated to.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Amsterdam at 18h55, just as the pilot had announced in Zürich. But we’ve landed on 18R, so that by the time we reach our stand at gate C4, we’re running five minutes late! I now have two hours to make my connection.

Qantas, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Townsville to Sydney via Brisbane

Introduction

My time with Professor Bond is a real eye-opener. I think I was able to ask him all the questions for which I was seeking answers. Having said that, he also gave me a lot of answers to questions I wasn’t even aware I had!

Getting to the Airport

The journey to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. After all, it’s still very early and there are hardly any people on the roads.

Check-in

The landside part of the terminal is disproportionately large, compared to the somewhat tight and narrow airside area at the gates.

Each one of the major airlines operating out of Townsville has its own dedicated check-in zone. I can bypass this today, because I’ve already checked in on the QANTAS app.

There is a queue for security, but it moves quickly. Of course it helps that in Australia they only want you to remove your laptop from your bag and not also your toiletries etc.

The Lounge

Once I’m through security, I only have ten minutes before boarding starts. But I’m gagging for a coffee. Much to my surprise and delight, there is actually a fairly large QANTAS lounge, where the baristas will even make you a cappuccino to go!

Boarding

So with my coffee in hand, boarding starts on time with an initial call for Business Class and frequent flyers passengers. It’s only once I settle in my seat that I realise it’s raining quite heavily outside.

The Cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin on its Boeing B 737-800 fleet. There are three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration, which makes for a total of twelve seats.

Every seat is equipped with its own video screen, an electricity plug and USB port. There is also a footrest that can be raised when the seat is in the recline position.

The wifi on board works surprisingly well.

I think the Americans in particular tend to frown upon the European interpretation of Business Class seating, which basically means blocking the middle seat on a row of bog standard Economy Class seats. Which is, admittedly, pretty lame. But it seems to me that the average sector length in Europe is probably much shorter than in vast countries like the US or Australia, and which therefore hardly warrants the installation of a more comfortable solution with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat.

The Crew

The maître de is serving the Business Class cabin and I have to say, this guy is really absolutely brilliant. His manners are impeccable! He addresses every passenger by name and no request ever seems too much for him.

The service on the ground consist of a welcome drink. There is a choice of still or sparkling water or apple juice. There are no towels, newspapers or anything.

The flight time is announced at one hour and thirty minutes.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is a choice of either Quiche Lorraine with bacon or an omelette served with a mushroom sauce, spinach and bacon. I go with the latter option.

The tray comes with two slices of sourdough bread, butter and apricot jam. There’s also some awfully healthy looking packed thingy, which I decide to steer clear of.

Later on, the maître de passes through the cabin offering cranberry muffins that are fresh out of the oven and taste lovely.

To drink with the meal, I have an orange juice, still water and a coffee. Oh yes, the coffee! Full and extra brownie points for QANTAS on the coffee front. Instead of that horrific instant stuff you get on most airlines these days, QANTAS serves a lovely brew made in a coffee press, which just tastes so much better!

Once the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with small bottles of still water and ask passengers if there’s anything else they’d like. I order a Coke Zero and then settle in to read the latest book of the PC Grant series, which my friend the wiry R. and I both find quite entertaining.

Transfer in Brisbane

We land in Brisbane about ten minutes ahead of schedule. I disembark the aircraft through gate number 23. I check on one of the FIDS, only to find that my flight to Sydney in slightly over an hour will be operated by the same aircraft from the same gate.

The glorious beauty of the English language…

Language change is unavoidable. One of the key drivers of language change is exposure of the language as it is used in a specific area to the other languages in use around it. In which case there may be regional approximation of two or more languages coexisting in that region.

Why am I even bothering you with this? In British English a thong refers to a particular type of knickers or underpants. If you look up the term on onelook.com, it will give you as a definition: ‘a piece of underwear or bottom part of a bikini with a very narrow piece of cloth at the back’. So basically, it’s the type of underpants that look as though they need to be surgically removed from your butt crack.

Which makes it all the more hilarious that when I enter the QANTAS lounge during my layover in Brisbane, the lounge dragon will not let me enter because they have ‘a strict no thongs policy’ in the lounge that she’s asking me to respect. Of course, what she’s referring are what we call flip flops in Europe that you wear on your feet.

The Meal

In any case, the only other thing worthwhile mentioning on the next leg to Sydney is that there are three options for lunch: a kale and spinach frittata, fruit salad or a smoked salmon salad. The tray comes with a large tub of blueberry yoghurt on it. The bread is served separately.

Arrival

Our arrival into Sydney is stunning. We approach the city from the north. At some point, we make a gentle left turn for the downwind, which brings us in right over Manly. In the distance I can see the harbour bridge with the opera house and CBD. It just looks so spectacular from above! I shall miss this when I leave again for Europe tomorrow.

Conclusion

I rather enjoyed these two short-haul flights in QANTAS Business Class. My previous experiences with their Business Class product have all been on longer sectors, on which the meal concept was somehow always a bit odd. So it’s good to see that this is not the case here.

To me QANTAS’ biggest selling point are definitely their crews, which are friendly, properly trained and really do represent ‘the spirit of Australia’.

Qantas, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

Introduction

The meeting with the people at the language testing research centre is interesting and I feel quite excited about visiting again, even if that won’t be until next year. At least this will give me something to look forward to.

Getting to the Airport

The meeting ends just after 15h, which should give me enough time to leisurely make my way back to the airport for the return flight to Sydney. From the University of Melbourne, I first take a tram 19 back to Bourke Street and then from there a tram 86 or 96 to Southern Cross. The tram stop is right across the road from the entrance to the coach terminal at Southern Cross station.

Check-in

There are four terminals at Melbourne airport that are connected to each other. QANTAS domestic flights operate out of Terminal 1, which is the last one of the two stops of the Skybus, although the distance is short and you might as well get off at the first stop and then just walk over to Terminal 1.

I’ve already checked in, which is a shame really, because QANTAS’ check-in and the whole departure area look very fresh and modern. Seems as though they’re trying to keep up with Virgin Australia in projecting the image of being hip and classy.

Airside

Right behind security, there is the food court and the entrance to the QANTAS lounge to the right of that. I haven’t had lunch yet, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a snack while I enjoy the excellent views of the apron.

In hindsight, I have to say it was totally worth it for the view, but the egg and lettuce sandwich I got at one of the shops is just… meh!

Boarding

Boarding is from gate 1 on the C pier, which is the gate closest to security and which, I guess, is why it is probably reserved for the Sydney flight. Both Virgin Australia and QANTAS operate a shuttle service between the two cities.

What I always find interesting with QANTAS, is that the cabin crew are also the ones who do the boarding at the gate. Because this is something that, to my knowledge, is not done in Europe even though, come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea.

The Cabin

The seats are kept all in black, which certainly makes for a gloomy but elegant looking cabin. I guess it probably also saves on cleaning. In contrast to Virgin Australia, QANTAS has individual video screens installed in every seat back and there are also USB plugs. Complimentary earphones are available as you pass through the gate for boarding, and should you forget to pick up a pair, the crew will come by offering earphones just before push-back.

The Crew

The crew is clearly what tips the scale in favour of QANTAS, as far as I’m concerned. First of all, they’re all older than the ones on Virgin. Perhaps that’s why they come across as having a lot more personality. Furthermore, the way they interact with the passengers is just a lot more professional. For example, on this QANTAS flight the cabin crew giving the safety briefing for the emergency exit row makes a point of giving a very detailed explanation and making sure that everyone seated on the exit rows feels that they are being addressed. In contrast, the crew on Virgin did the same briefing in about half the time and with a total lack of enthusiasm.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the smell of hot food starts wafting through the cabin and I kind of assume it’s for the Business Class section. Much to my surprise though, despite the flying time of only one hour and five minutes, QANTAS will actually serve a hot meal in Economy Class too. In fact, there appears to be a choice between either minced pork in gravy with pak choy and jasmine rice or a cold salad of grilled chicken breast on quinoa salad.

Arrival

About 25 minutes out of Sydney, the pilot eases back the throttle and we start our descent. The approach into Sydney brings us in over the sea and it’s quite spectacular flying along the coast with the sun setting in the distance.

We touch down at 19h22. I then make my way back to the train station and then from there to Circular Quay. I arrive at the wharf at 20h02 and it looks like I’ve just missed the regular ferry back to Manly. The next one is not until 20h45. Fortunately, there is also the express ferry, which costs slightly more but only takes 18 minutes to make the journey. And as my luck would have it, that boat will be leaving at 20h15. A single ticket for the express boat will cost you AUD9.80.

Conclusion

QANTAS wins this round hands down. While the cabin and branding of Virgin Australia are all modern and glitzy, you somehow can’t shake the feeling that they’re trying just a bit too hard to be different. Which is okay, as long as you don’t forget that what makes the passenger’s experience is not only the hard product but also the soft product. And that’s where I think QANTAS has the advantage. First of all, as I already mentioned above, the crew came across as being a lot more polished, professional and experienced. In addition to that, the meal service on QANTAS is definitely way superior to that horrific portein bar served on Virgin Australia.