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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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…

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.

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

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.

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.

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, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

Winterthur has, undoubtedly, the ugliest railway station in all of Switzerland. Right after Mumpf station, which looks like it was built from one ugly slab of concrete. But hey, no judgement…

So the holidays are definitely over and I’m back to my usual tricks. But the countdown is ticking. I think next weekend I can book the flights for my sabbatical next year. But until then, yes, it’s another short hop to Luxembourg, courtesy of KLM.

And in case you don’t believe me, here’s the dark and gloomy Winterthur station.
My train pulls into the station of Zürich Airport at 16:00. By 16:06 I’m already standing at security. There are automatic boarding pass scanners to access the airside area of the terminal and there is a dedicated fast track for security, to which SkyPriority passengers also have access.

I decide to skip visiting the lounge and head straight for the gate. On my way to A64 a gate change is announced. And instead, my flight will be departing from A73. Gate A64 will now be boarding the SWISS flight to Amsterdam, which leaves at exactly the same time as the KLM flight. Which is not confusing at all…
When I arrive at A73, the gate is already occupied by another aircraft. I open the KLM app, only to find that the flight hasn’t even left Amsterdam yet. The new departure time is 17:55 from Zürich, which seems a bit overly optimistic, given that the aircraft is still on the ground in Amsterdam when I check at 16:50.
A short while later, I check again. Our departure has now moved back to 18:30. This ought to be interesting…
At least the KLM website is kept up to date. It turns out that part of the problem is that the employees at Schiphol airport are on strike.
Eventually, my aircraft rolls onto its stand at 17:50. The ground crew spring into action and are obviously making their best effort to turn around the aircraft as quickly as possible.
The aircraft taking me to Amsterdam this evening looks absolutely gorgeous in what looks like a fresh lick of paint. I think it’s really cool that KLM has bucked the Eurowhite trend that so persistently haunts the liveries of the European airlines. Are you reading this, Aer Lingus…?
Boarding starts just after 18:00. The gate agent specifically makes an announcement that boarding will be by zones, starting with zones 1 and 2. So immediately the electronic gates are clogged by passengers not in zones 1 and 2. And by the looks of it, if you’re not in one of the eligible zones. The gates won’t open.
The gate agent asks the first passenger to step aside. To which his only reply is that letting him on immediately is ‘the least you can do’ after such a ‘horrific’ delay… M’kay.
According to the purser, the flight is completely sold out. There are two rows of Business Class, and all eight seats are occupied.
I’m seated on 1A, and the pitch on the bulkhead row is excellent. I also like the KLM blue.
The crew are clearly in a hurry so as not to miss our slot time. Even so, it’s obvious that they’re making the extra effort to make passengers feel welcome. There are quite a few passengers with onward connections that are worried about missing their flight.
We take off from runway 28. The flight time is announced at one hour and twenty minutes.
As soon as we’re above the clouds, the service begins. But I just ask for a Coke Zero, which the purser brings me with a small packet of spicy corn. I hope this doesn’t mean they’ve done away with those delectable salty almonds…
Throughout the flight the crew take excellent care of all passengers and make a point of giving regular updates about the progress of the flight and any possible impact on connecting flights.
Eventually, we land at 20:02. It then takes us another 15 minutes to make our way to our stand on the C pier. By the time the aircraft comes to a stop, we’re exactly one hour late.
KLM handles irregularities really well. Of course delays are inconvenient and nobody likes having to worry about their travel plans. But when something like this happens, it’s nice to feel you’re in good hands. And in actual fact, it turns out all passengers would make their connection.

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 & Lounge

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.

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.

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.

LOUNGE & 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.

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.

SERVICE

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.

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.

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.

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.

SERVICE

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.

LOUNGE / 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.

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.

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.

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

INTRODUCTION

Next year I’ll be going on sabbatical for six months. Right now, the plan is that I will spend at least part of those six months working and living in Melbourne – if they’ll have me, of course. So today I’m on my way to Melbourne to introduce myself to the people at the language testing research centre of Melbourne University.  

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

This has got to be just about the coolest commute to an airport ever! My day starts at 06h00 in the morning, when I leave the house I’ve rented in Fairlight and make my way down to Manly wharf for the 06h35 fast ferry to Circular Quay. The journey into Sydney takes roughly thirty minutes to complete and includes some of the most beautiful and spectacular vistas of the Opera House and Hanger Bridge.

At Circular Quay, I transfer to the railway station for the suburban trains to Sydney airport. The station is just opposite the wharf at Circular Quay and the journey to the domestic terminal at Sydney airport takes just over fifteen minutes. The trains run to the airport run frequently.

CHECK-IN

I alight at the station for the domestic terminal, which is one stop before the international terminal. There are two domestic terminals. Terminal 3 is for QANTAS, while Terminal 2 is for everybody else. I’ve already checked-in online using the Virgin Australia app, which is a good thing, because the Virgin Australia counters look very busy.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

And so I head directly for the security checkpoint. Access to the Virgin Australia lounge is on the right side, just as you exit from security. I’m not entirely sure to beginn with, but upon inquiry with the very friendly and helpful receptionist in the lounge, it would appear that as an Etihad Gold member I’m entitled to use the Virgin Australia lounge, despite the fact that I’m travelling on an Economy Class ticket.

But it turns out that a) the lounge is way too busy anyway, and b) the views outside the lounge are much better, with the sitting area of the food court located right by the windows overlooking the domestic apron.

BOARDING

Boarding starts exactly on time, thirty minutes before departure. There is a separate lane for Business Class and priority passengers. If this were Europe, the moment the gate agent announced that boarding had started, there’d be a scrum to get on the plane. But here in Australia, passengers obviously have much better manners and just wait until their group for boarding is called.

CABIN

The cabin of this aircraft is nice. It looks and smells new and with the grey seats it looks rather elegant. The aircraft also has those new style overhead bins that drop down, instead of the old-school bins you still find on many narrow-bodies, where the lid opens upwards.

There are non power sockets and no inflight entertainmennt screens either.

Seat pitch on the emergency exit is good. In addition, the flight is not completely full, which means that by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat next to me remains empty.

And then we have a problem. The captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that Melbourne tower has had to be evacuated and it is unclear if they will be receiving traffic any time soon. Eventually though, we push back with a delay of one hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes.

CREW

The crew on this flight consists of five attractive, slightly oriental looking young females. Whoever selects the female crew for Virgin clearly has a type, because they all look the same and they’re all wearing way too much make-up. Other than that, they seem okay, if not exactly very warm.

SERVICE

In Economy Class, Virgin has a strange mixed service concept, the merit of which escapes me. Tea, still water and a protein bar are complimentary. In addition to that, there are various items to eat and drink which can be purchased on board. Payment is possible in cash or by credit card.

I order a Coke Zero to drink, which costs AUD3. The protein bar is a total abomination. It’s disgusting, which makes you wonder why on earth they even bother in the first place? Having said that, the bulging biceps on 13C seems only too eager to demolish his bar. Wouldn’t want to start losing muscle mass would we…?

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we land in Melbourne at 11h35, only slightly behind schedule. I step outside and catch the Skybus heading for the city centre to Southern Cross station. The journey to the city takes about thirty minutes, and a return tickets costs AUD38.

CONCLUSION

This was my first time in Economy Class with Virgin Australia. While I like their branding and the design of their cabin, overall I thought they were a bit of a let down on this flight. Admittedly, the cockpit crew was proactive in keeping passengers updated about the situation in Melbourne, but perhaps that’s just it: I somehow got the impression that the cockpit crew seemed far more service oriented than the cabin crew, which somehow can’t be right.

Eurowings, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Köln

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I’m on my way to Cologne to attend a meeting with EASA and ICAO. I finish teaching at 15h20, return to my office to collect my bag and then I’m off to the railway station. The flight will be leaving at 17h30, so it should be enough for me to catch the 15h58 train from Winterthur to Zürich airport.

CHECK-IN

I’ve already checked in online. I don’t have the Eurowings app installed, but I received a mail a few days ago with a link to the Eurowings check-in page. The process on the website could be smoother, but I manage to check-in fairly quickly.

I’m travelling with the tall, blond M. on this trip. So I’ve taken the precaution of booking the middle and window seats on the emergency row – seats 15E and F – to have enough space for the guy’s long legs.

AIRSIDE

Zürich airport is busy today. It’s the first week of the autumn vacation here in Switzerland, so half the nation is travelling this and next week. But despite all the people, security is a fairly smooth process.

The lady in the queue in front of me is travelling with her cat. To go through the security checkpoint, she has to remove the cat from his carrier bag. And he’s obviously not happy, judging by the expression on his face. Later on it turns out that the cat’s name is Bowie in honour of David Bowie. Clearly, his owner must have excellent taste…

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time and it’s the usual scrum for the automatic scanners. You’d think they’re giving it away for free to watch them.

Much to my surprise, I look out the window at my gate to find that the flight today is being operated by a Boeing B 737-800 of TUIFly, which is operating the flight on behalf of Eurowings.

THE CABIN

The cabin is in fairly decent condition. There is no cabin divider but the first few rows of seats have headrest covers marked as ‘Biz Class’. The seat pitch on the emergency exit is of course very good. The only down side is that there is no armrest on that side of the seat adjacent to the window.

Eventually, boarding is completed and the aisle seat on our row is still empty. So the tall, blond M. quickly shifts over one seat to give us a bit of extra space.

THE CREW

The crew are friendly and seem a lot happier that I would have expected them to be. But perhaps that’s because they’re TUIFly and not Eurowings crews.

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes.

THE MEAL

Food and drinks are available for purchase in Economy Class, I think. Much to my surprise though, once the service starts and the crew pass through the cabin, the tall, blond M. is handed a small snack box containing a small container of still water and half a cheese sandwich. Very generously, he offers to share both with me. And when the crew pass through the cabin with the drinks trolley, we’re even offered something else to drink.  Which is kind of surprising, because I thought food and drinks were only available for purchase.

It only dawns on me later on that the reason the tall, blond M. received the snack box in the first place is that he’s changed seats to the aisle. In other words, the aisle seat remained empty because the passenger booked on that seat had no-showed.

For a moment I think of telling the crew about the misunderstanding. But given that I’ve already demolished half the sandwich by this time, I figure it no longer makes any difference…

ARRIVAL

The flight passes quickly and shortly after the trash is cleared away, we’re already descending into Cologne. Which is kind of cool, because basically the pilot’s idea of ‘descent’ is just to deploy the speed breaks and pitch the aircraft in a steep dive. It’s certainly efficient…

And so we land in Cologne on time. And fortunately for me, we come to a stop on a remote stand, which means I get to take a few pictures of my aircraft as I disembark.

CONCLUSION

All in all, there isn’t anything much to say about this flight. It was completely unremarkable and I doubt I will remember it as an exceptional experience. But it was okay. They delivered me safely from A to B without delay. No more, no less.

Scandinavian Air System, SAS Go – Boeing B 737-800: Haugesund to Oslo

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The meeting in Akrehamn finishes just before 14h00. Which is good, because I’ve ordered a taxi to take me to Haugesund’s Karmoy airport at 14h00. The journey by taxi to the airport takes roughly twenty minutes and will cost you NOK500, which is pretty good by Norwegian standards. Theoretically, you could also go by bus. But in most cases this will be inconvenient, because the busses are infrequent and there is no direct bus from Akrehamn to the airport anyway.

Haugesund airport itself is a dinky little thing. The landside departure area is basically one big room with check-in counters, self-service machines and a highly efficient security lane.

CHECK-IN
I’m unable to check-in online. Or rather, I can check-in, but I can’t get my boarding pass. I try the self-service machine, which at least allows me to change my seat for the onward flight, but eventually only spits out the boarding pass for the flight to Oslo. So I head over to the Wideroe counter, where a frumpy middle-aged female explains that she has no idea what I did exactly, because I’m checked in just fine. What do I know woman, it’s your check-in system. I’m just a lowly passenger, and apparently one in dire need of being lectured…

AIRSIDE
There is no lounge at Haugesund airport. Which is hardly surprising, given that the departure area has all of three gates and is roughly the size of a very small broom cupboard. But there is a kiosk where you can purchase snacks, drinks, magazines and last minute souvenirs.

BOARDING
Boarding starts slightly ahead of schedule, due to the fact that the plane arrived in Haugesund nearly ten minutes early. I’m all excited, because there are no air bridges in Haugesund. So I’m going to have to walk across the apron and use stairs to get aboard. Woohoo! I know I’m a nerd, but I’ll admit that I purposely selected a seat on row 20, just so I could use the rear door of the aircraft for boarding.

Of course, what I don’t take into consideration, is that this is September in Norway. I exit the terminal building, which is precisely the moment the heavens open. Moreover, it’s blowing a gale. Perhaps a normal human being would just get on with it and make a run for the stairs. But the opportunity is just too good and the plane just way too pretty. So I keep stopping to take photos of my aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I get on board, I’m soaking wet all down the back of my trousers. I look as though I just embarrassed myself with excitement. But I don’t mind, because after all, I got to take aeroplane photos up close, so it’s really not that far from the truth…!

THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is in much better condition than those of the two Boeing B 737-700s I flew with to get to Haugesund. The aircraft has wifi installed, which is available at a price in the SAS Go cabin. Moreover, it has the new cabin interiors with the dark grey Recaro seats installed. Seat pitch on row 20 is good and the seat is comfortable enough.

That is, of course, until Mr. 20B arrives. Seriously? I mean, admittedly, his physique really is quite spectacular, and I dare say that back in the good old days he probably would have made even the toughest Viking warrior look like a bit of a wimpy weakling with fitness anxieties. The only way he can fit his long legs into the seat, is to sit there spread-eagled and with his elbows poking into my side. Worse still, I can’t even complain to him, even if I dared to, because it’s obvious that he’s really trying his best to take up as little space as possible. But at least the flight to Oslo is only forty minutes.

THE CREW
There are four crew on this flight. One young man who allegedly smiled the last time way back around the turn of the century, and three senior females who could be his mom, granny and great-granny respectively. I can’t really say anything much about the cabin crew because there is no interaction with them. During boarding they successfully ignore their passengers and pretend we all aren’t really there, and then after take-off, I drop off to sleep and miss the service. Such as it were.

THE MEAL
In SAS Go, tea and coffee are complimentary. All other snacks and drinks are available for purchase, subject to the duration of the flight.

ARRIVAL
The landing in Oslo is quite bumpy. But at least the weather is much better here, so I get some good views of the landscape on the approach.

I have three hours to make my connection. Transferring in Oslo is painless and easy. The biggest problem really, is that the facility is too crowded, so getting through can be difficult at times.

CONCLUSION
When I flew to China with SAS in July, I have to say I rather enjoyed their product and service on long-haul. But on short-haul, I think they’re a complete stinker. As I already mentioned before, their aircraft tend to be filthy and tattered, which makes you wonder about the state of those parts of the aircraft that you can’t see. But apart from that, the crews on all flights were totally uninspired and bland, which again is a stark contrast to my experience with them on long-haul.