INTRODUCTION This has been one of the most tiring trips I have made in a very long time, so I’m rather glad it’s finally over and I am on my way home again. Although I must say that travelling with the wiry R. has been rather fun and really easy going.
CHECK-IN My flight back to Heathrow will depart at 21h40. Just after 20h I check out of the hotel and make my way across the footbridge to Terminal 1. Signage inside the terminal is really bad, verging on non-existent, and eventually we find the check-in counters more by chance than by design.
British Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters in area F of the terminal. From check-in you have to walk back quite a bit to area G, which is where the security checkpoint is.
Generally speaking, the impression I get of Terminal 1 is of an old and tatty facility that has grown organically and without order and method. Apart form the bad signage the building has very low ceilings and was obviously designed by somebody who is either blind as a bat, has absolutely zero taste or who has no aesthetic appreciation whatsoever. It’s an incredibly ugly airport!
LOUNGE Of course we walk straight past the Iberia lounge the first time because there are no signs here either… To access the lounge you have to head up two flights of stairs. The lounge is rather nice though and looks as though it was only recently opened or refurbished. With the Iberia flight to Madrid leaving around the same time as ours to London it’s quite full and there are only few places left to sit. We only have about ten minutes in the lounge, enough to have a drink, before it’s time to head back downstairs and to the gate for boarding.
Boarding planes is something the Mexicans do really well. There are separate lanes for First and Club Class passengers and another queue for the working classes. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. By this time I’m so exhausted I head straight up the airbridge and then for the upper deck so I can sit down and start dozing.
CABIN & SEAT On this leg I’m sitting on 62K, which is the window seat on the emergency exit of the upper deck. And quite frankly, I think this must be the best seat in the house. First of all, being a window seat you have a lot of additional storage space – which the aisle seat is lacking. More importantly though, it’s one of only two seats – the other is 62A – that gives you access to the aisle without having to climb over your neighbour on the aisle seat.
CREW & SERVICE The crew on the upper deck consists of two elderly gentlemen that are very friendly and laid back. The service follows the same sequence as the outbound flight, with wash bags, menus and welcome drinks being offered in sequence.
By this time though, I’m simply too exhausted. I feel stupidly tired in fact. While we’re still on the ground I change into my shorts to reveal my hunky hairy legs and even studlier Happy Socks for the benefit and pleasure of all of humanity. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off I extend the seat into a bed and awake over six hours later, just due west of the Irish coast and with three hours left to go to London.
THE MEAL So I actually miss the first meal service. And to be honest, in hindsight I think I wish I’d missed the breakfast too. Yuk, this really is the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had on a plane. How on earth can you manage to totally ruin Rösti? Have they got a salt shortage in Mexico or something? But it’s not just that, the scrambled eggs taste last lumpy bits of plastic and the pink little sausage is disconcertingly reminiscent of a… Still, at least the baked buns and the yoghurt are edible.
Around forty minutes out of Heathrow the Jumbo’s nose gently tilts down and we start our descent. It’s a lovely day in London for flying and we are treated to some really spectacular views of central London. We approach the city from the west, flying an easterly track just south of the city. We turn on to the approach abeam of London city airport, which has already reopened after the weekend by the looks of it. And then from there we fly along the Thames, before eventually gliding down to runway 27L. I’m home again.
In my opinion there really is no other aircraft that can rival the Boeing B 747. I know the Airbus A 380 is much larger, heavier and what not. But the 747 simply has style. Alas, the type is very quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more aircraft are choosing to replace their existing 747 fleets either with the Boeing 777 or the larger A 380. So I’m kind of left wondering if perhaps this may have been my last flight on the Queen of the skies. I hope not!
Date: 06. May 2017. Departure: 14:20. Arrival: 19:30.Flight time: 11 hours 10 minutes. Seat: 62J, aisle on the upper deck
INTRODUCTION My flight from Rome touches down in Heathrow at around 09h40 local time, which means I have about four hours to make the connection to Mexico City. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is busy as usual. Even so, the line for security moves quickly and efficiently.
LOUNGE British Airways has two Club Class lounges in Terminal 5, at both ends of the main terminal. The north lounge is brighter but smaller than the south lounge. As runway 09R is the departing runway today, I decide to head for the south lounge, in the hope of finding a seat near the window with a view of the holding point.
Since my last visit a lot of the furniture appears to have been changed or replaced. I think they’ve also added more seating. Nonetheless, the lounge doesn’t feel crowded. Alas, the toilets are still in dire need of a facelift. I think the basic problem is that there simply are not enough toilets to cater for the size of the lounge. But apart from that, the facilities are not properly maintained either. Half the locks don’t work, some of the doors are damaged to the extent that the plywood is beginning to show, and the toilets are not too cleaned either.
The food options on the other hand, are very good and include a wide range of hot and cold dishes that change depending on the time of day.
BOARDING About one hour prior to departure, my flight is showing up on the display. I shall be departing from the B concourse, which is in the satellite closest to the main terminal building. The transfer to the satellites is via an automated underground train that stops at both the B and C satellites.
There’s still some time to go before boarding begins as I aproach gate B37, so I take my time taking pictures and ogling the beautiful aircraft that will be taking me to Mexico this afternoon. I think at some point I even start drooling… By this time the wiry R. is eyeing me carefully and I think I can actually see the realisation dawn in his eyes of just how much of an airline geek I actually am… But bless him, he indulges me patiently while I enjoy my hobby… Obsession is just such an ugly word, I think.
CABIN & SEAT When I made the booking for this trip I made sure I had a seat on the upper deck. After all, if you’re going to fly on the uncontested Queen of the skies, you have to sit in the hump, right? The nice thing about sitting on the upper deck is that even if the flight is full, it feels a lot more intimate that sitting downstairs in the much larger main cabin.
Every seating configuration and seat design on an aircraft will always be a compromise. It’s a trade-off between comfort, practicality and economics. On the one hand, I must confess I am full of admiration for BA for having come up with such a concept, which allows them to put in as many as eight seats abreast in the B 747 without the seat feeling cramped. I also think the seat is rather comfortable too.
But there are also quite a few downsides. The aisle seats have next to no storage space. There is one fairly small drawer in the side of the seat. But this is near the floor, which means that once you extend the seat into a bed, the seat itself prevents access to the drawer.
And then there is also the fact that if you’re sitting on the window seat, you have to climb over the passenger on the aisle seat to get out. Obviously people don’t tend to move around that much aboard a plane, but in times where Air France, KLM or Finnair are upping their game with the introduction of direct access for all passengers in Business Class with a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, BA’s hardware is slowly starting to fall behind.
SERVICE & CREW There are three lovely middle-aged ladies working the upper deck cabin. They are friendly and quite charming in the way they deal with the passengers. And I think one of them is trying to get me drunk.
The service on the ground starts with a choice of orange juice, water or champagne for a welcome drink. Next, hot towels, amenity kits and the menus are handed out.
THE MEAL The meal service starts very soon after take-off. Generally speaking, I think the timing of the food service is something British Airways does really well. First of all, because they get the service started fairly soon after take-off, and secondly because the service doesn’t take too long to complete. As a result, passengers can maximise on rest during the flight.
To start I have a glass of the rosé champagne, the name of which I can’t remember. Admittedly it’s not as smooth as the stuff I had in the Etihad apartment a few weeks ago, but it’s still rather a pleasant champagne. With that I have a glass of sparkling water, served with ice and lemon, and a packet of cashew nuts.
There are two options for the starter. I decide to go with the crayfish with bergamot gel and fennel salad. The dish is served on a tray and is accompanied by a nice side salad with mixed greens and beans and a balsamico dressing.
The starter is very good. The bergamot gel is spectacular and goes exceptionally well with the crayfish. The presentation is nice too.
For the main course there are four choices. I have the beef with chantenay carrots, Lyonnaise potatoes, buttered savoy cabbage and a sherry and peppercorn sauce. The beef is nice and tender and cooked well done, which is the way I like it.
And then, finally, for dessert I have the duo of chocolate and salted caramel fondant with the lemon and almond tart, which is served with a dollop of whipped cream. Especially the fondant is lovely and tastes really good with a glass of port.
Two hours and ten minutes after take-off, the meal service is completed and I’m sipping a mug of Twining’s Early Grey.
INFLIGHT SNACK British Airways has an inflight snack bar located on the main deck. The selection is fairly good. I try the finger sandwiches, which are very tasty.
THE SECOND SERVICE Ninety minutes out of Mexico City the lights are turned on again and the second service starts. There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main. I figure I’ll go vegetarian this time round and start with the salad of brown rice, followed by the pasta with a grilled vegetable sauce. For dessert there is a plate of fruit with guava juice.
The second service is quite extensive. The starter is very good and refreshing, while the main course is just okay. I think it all comes down to the problem of warming pasta in a hot air oven.
ARRIVAL We land in Mexico City about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is a strange mix of old and new. Terminal 1 is old and tatty and smelly and really not very nice.
As I look out I notice that the KLM, Air France, Iberia and Lufthansa flights have already arrived and for one horrible moment I assume this means very long queues at immigration. But in fact entering the country turns out to be really no problem at all.
CONCLUSION I very much enjoyed this flight with BA. I think their service is great, with friendly and chatty crews. The food offerings were quite good and especially the second service was a lot more elaborate than what you get on many other carriers. The only thing I wonder about is the seat and cabin layout, which is starting to look dated, even though the aircraft looked very well maintained. In any case, I like BA and I would certainly fly them on long-haul again any time.
Date: 09. July 2016. Departure: Arrival: Flight time: Seat:
Chronicle of chaos foretold… Over the last few weeks Vueling has received a lot of negative press about flight cancellations and severe delays in the run up to the busy summer holiday period. As usual, rumours and accusations were many – with the Spanish newspapers allegedly knowing that in fact the Vueling staff were on strike and that this was the real cause for the many irregularities. The airline’s new management of course, blames everything on the old management, which was pushing hard for expansion at all costs.
The upshot of it all is that when the time came for Vueling to station an Airbus A 320 in Zürich for the summer, they realised that in fact they did not have an aircraft available to do so. But rather than cancelling the flights, Vueling decided to lease a Boeing B 747-400 from Wamos Air, just for the month of July. Of course, I simply couldn’t resist…
And so I find myself in Lanzarote on a sunny Saturday morning. It is just coming up 11 in the morning and I have just stepped off an Air Europa flight from Madrid. I now have four hours before my flight back to Zürich at 15h30, hopefully on the mighty Queen of the Skies.
But then at around 11h30 the messages and e-mails from Vueling start arriving, informing me that there are a few operational issues that will probably see my flight leaving with a delay. To be honest, I don’t really mind. Like this I can spend more time relaxing in the sun.
The flight is first moved from 15h30 to 16h40. Then a bit later the departure is moved back further to 17h40. I check on the web and I think I can actually hear the crack as my heart breaks – there has been an aircraft change and instead of the 747 they are sending a Greek registered puny little Airbus A 319.
The flight time to Zürich is four hours and Lanzarote is one hour behind Zürich. Zürich airport has a curfew in place from 23h00 to 06h03. Now you do the maths. This is going to be tight. Eventually, boarding starts at 17h30 and I figure if we manage to get airborne by 18h00, we might just manage to squeeze in before the curfew. So all the passengers board the bus to take us to the aircraft – and nothing happens.
After waiting for about ten minutes for seemingly no reason at all and nobody on the ground bothering to tell us anything, a group of passengers disembark the bus and decide it is a really great idea to have a smoke, right there on the apron in front of all the pretty airplanes being refuelled. I tell the bus driver that smoking really is not permitted, to which he simply replies that he is just the bus driver from Swissport. By this time I’ve definitely had enough. I take my bag and walk back into the terminal. Much to me surprise, the gate agents don’t seem at all surprised to see me and instead they just hand me a pink transfer card.
Eventually, all the other passengers walk back into the terminal as well. There is no information provided by Swissport and quite evidently, they really couldn’t care less. By this time it is already past six in the evening, seven in Switzerland, so what ever happens, we will not be returning to Zürich tonight. I inquire with the gate attendant about the delay and she explains that the aircraft is overweight and they are trying to figure out what to do next.
In any case, to cut a long story short, by 19h30 it becomes perfectly apparent to everyone that the aircraft will not be flying to Zürich this evening. So instead, the flight will be rerouted to Barcelona. The passengers will be sent home the next day either via Rome or Barcelona. By this time though, I think it is sufficiently clear just how unreliable and unorganised Vueling is and I am not prepared any more to take my chances with them. I have another flight coming up on Monday from Zürich, which I don’t plan on missing because of somebody else’s bad planning. And so I make other arrangements.
INTRODUCTION The conference in Kuwait has gone well and our host, the Kuwaiti Directorate General of Civil Aviation has been very generous and hospitable. But now it is time for me to move on. I am not quite going home yet, but near enough. Today I am flying to Amsterdam via London’s Heathrow airport on British Airways, to attend a meeting in Amsterdam. On this occasion, British Airways offered the best schedule for my needs, mainly because they are one of the few airlines that depart Kuwait for Europe during the daylight hours of the morning and not at some ungodly hour, as for example KLM and Lufthansa do. Admittedly, the opportunity to get another flight on the mighty Boeing B 747-400 helped too.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Complimentary hotel shuttle. Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
My flight leaves Kuwait at 08h45, so I have arranged to have a car collect me at the Hilton at 06h00, which should be enough time to make the journey to the airport. The traffic in Kuwait can be rather bad, despite the very good and wide roads.
Location: Check-in area 4 on the first floor. Facilities: Online and web check-in are available. Counters: There is one counter for First Class passengers, two counters for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class.
The driver drops me off in front of check-in area 4, which apparently is where British Airways checks in, although from what I can tell there is no signage to enlighten you to the fact. The departure concourse is only accessible to passengers, although by the looks of it there is nobody checking to make sure that this policy is enforced.
The two Business Class counters are occupied when I arrive, so I am ushered to one of the free Economy Class counters instead. The agent labels my bags with a priority and short connection tag and then I am on my way.
Behind check-in the bad signage continues. There is a dedicated security check for First and Business Class passengers, but it takes me a moment to locate where the entrance is. I am not sure what the point of this check is, given that the alarm goes off as I pass through the gate and nobody in particular seems to care. In fact, the guy doing the check is not even looking at the screen as my hand luggage goes through. I am hoping there will be a more thorough check before the gate.
Behind security is immigration and then, finally I am airside.
Location: As you exit from immigration, turn left.
Type of Lounge: Pearl contractor lounge.
Facilities: Hot and cold buffet, toilets are available but not shower.
Internet: Free wifi is provided throughout the terminal.
The lounge is nothing special. It is large enough, but other than that the décor is rather bland and boring. The seats are covered is fake leather. There are a few waiters in the lounge, so you can either help yourself from the buffet or have them serve you at your table. Incidentally, the food in the lounge is absolutely atrocious.
Priority Boarding: Yes.
About an hour before departure I have had enough of the boring lounge, and so I decide to head to the gate and hopefully take some pictures of the aircraft carrying me away to London. Kuwait airport has closed gates and I am happy to see that there is a proper security check at the entrance to the gate. The staff are polite but meticulous. There is a separate queue for Business Class and First Class passengers to enter the lounge.
It is only just gone eight in the morning when boarding for the flight already starts. I am still collecting my stuff after the security check. So I attempt to take a few decent pictures of the aircraft, which is not an easy task given the general grubbiness of the windows. And then I step aboard the mighty Boeing 747-400 and head for my seat on the upper deck.
Configuration: 2 + 2 on the upper deck, 2 + 4 + 2 on the main deck, there are 72 seats in total in Business Class. Seat: 63J, aisle seat. The British Airways cabin configuration in Business Class has seats arranged in pairs, with the aisle seats on the upper deck facing forward and the window seats facing towards the rear. There is a privacy screen which can be raised after take-off, so you will not have to look at your seat companion’s face for the duration of the flight.
If you are seated by the window, keep in mind that you will have to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat, which can be a tad awkward given that the space is really tight and you have to be quite agile to get a leg over. The nice thing about 63J, is that it is an emergency exit, which provides extra leg space and means you will not have a complete stranger clambering over you during the flight.
To be honest, the BA seat has never truly convinced me. Obviously the idea with this seat had been to recreate the feeling of being at home in your own comfortable armchair. And if that was the objective, then I think it is safe to say it was met. However, the seat is fairly low above the ground and there are quite a few elderly passengers on my flight who struggle getting in and out of the seat. It is also a bit inconvenient for eating in the seat. Pitch: 72 inches. Width: 20 inches. Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, touch screen. Facilities: A 110 ac power outlet is available at every seat.
SERVICE There are two cabin crew serving the upper deck. The service begins with a choice of still water or orange juice.
After take-off, the crew distribute the menus, vanity kits and a flimsy scented hot towel. The vanity kit contains the usual creams by Elemis. There are also eyeshades, socks, a pen and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste.
Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice. Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Choice: There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main course.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Breakfast.
Strawberry and mango smoothie.
Bircher Müsli with strawberries, kiwi and walnuts.
The meal is delivered at a good tempo. There is no rush, but there are no long waits in between the courses either. Once everything has been cleared away, the lights go out and passengers are expected to pretend it is night time, despite the fact that the flight left Kuwait just before nine in the morning.
SECOND SERVICE About fifty minutes out of Heathrow, the second service begins, which is a kind of slimmed down afternoon tea. Choice: None. Delivery: Trolley service. Type of meal: Snack. Meal:
Turkey pastrami with Dijon mustard and gherkin sandwich.
Gherkin and roasted vegetables sandwich with cream cheese.
A hot leek and potato twist.
Trio of mango cheesecake, cherry Bakewell and chocolate and black cherry roulade.
TRANSFER IN HEATHROW Eventually the mighty Jumbo dips its nose and we start on our descent into Heathrow. We are running twenty minutes early, and no delays are foreseen for our arrival. We disembark at the C satellite of Terminal 5.
Transferring in Heathrow can be rather cumbersome. From the C satellite I head downstairs into the basement to catch the automated people mover to satellite B and the terminal. At the terminal you have to go through a passport check and then through security again. The process is very efficient. But with all the passengers currently using Terminal 5, it will still take you about fifteen minutes to get processed.
Once I am through security, I check the departure screen, only to find that my flight to Amsterdam will be departing from the B satellite. Which means I shall have to go down into the basement again to catch another train taking me back in the direction which I originally came from.
Location: One floor up from the departures concourse, the stairs are near the Harrods store.
Type of Lounge: British Airways Galleries lounge.
Facilities: Hot and cold buffet with a large selection of food items, bar, toilets and showers, workstations, newspapers.
Internet: Wifi is available, the password is indicated on the screens.
CONNECTION TO AMSTERDAM
I only have a short stay in the lounge before my flight shows up on the departure screen as ‘boarding’. It is going to be a full flight today. There are five rows of Business Class with a total of twenty seats, all of which are occupied.
I will spare you all the details of the flight to Amsterdam, and will limit myself to the meal service.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Afternoon tea.
Selection of finger sandwiches: egg, cheddar and chicken.
A selection of plain scones and lemon and date scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve.
Orange and hazelnut cake.
I just love BA’s European afternoon tea service, honestly. It is just so refined, especially when you are enjoying it above the clouds. And I must say, I really am impressed that Ba will even offer such a service, given that the flight time today is only 45 minutes.
Eventually we land at 16h39 and my long journey comes to an end, at least for the time being.
CONCLUSION British Airways is an airline I tend to forget about. I suspect a lot of that has to do with their hub at Heathrow airport. Heathrow is always fun and impressive to see, but the number of passengers moving through Terminal 5 is just too much. The facility is crowded, and moving from the main concourse to the satellites takes seemingly forever.
But apart from all that, the on board experience was rather nice. The food on both flights was very good and the crews were very professional. The only thing I think I really will never get used to, is the Business Class seat.
In Auckland I attended the wedding of a very old friend of mine. Obviously the whole thing was very romantic and it certainly helped matters along that in the end both parties clearly enunciated an enthusiastic and excited ‘I do’. And now it is time for me to start my long journey home to cold and dreary Switzerland.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Car. Journey time: The distance from Devonport to Auckland airport is approximately 22km. On an early Sunday morning the journey will take roughly forty minutes to complete. There is not much traffic on the road at this time of day, but there does not seem to be a main road that leads you from the city to the airport. As a result, you end up having to take the smaller roads.
Location: Departures and arrivals are both located on the ground floor level at Auckland airport. Counters: There are six counters open for check-in this morning. One for First Class passengers, one for Prestige class passengers, one for Morning Calm Programme members and the remaining three for Economy Class passengers.
In Seoul I shall be stopping over for one night, there is no same day connection to Frankfurt, what with the flight from Auckland only arriving in Seoul around 18h00. Even so, the check-in agent issues both my boarding passes and asks me if I would prefer her to check my suitcase through to Frankfurt or if I shall be need it before in Seoul. She also hands me an invitation to the lounge.
Departures is one floor up from check-in. The escalators are at the back of the check-in hall. Before you go through passport control, you will need to complete an embarkation card.
The one thing I really never understand in New Zealand in why it always takes so long to clear emigration. I mean, you would think they would not be too bothered about who is leaving the country. In any case, the queue is pretty long and it takes me twenty minutes to reach the front of the queue. Well, at least security does not take long.
Location: Immediately behind security there is a huge duty free shop. As you exit the shop, do sharp right turn and follow the signs marked ‘Airline Lounges’. All airline lounges are one floor up from the general departure lounge.
Type of Lounge: Korean Air uses the Air New Zealand lounge.
Facilities: Toilets and showers in the lounge, workstations, and extensive buffet with hot and cold dishes.
Really charming. I arrive at the reception of the Air New Zealand lounge and the lounge dragon has evidently decided to ignore me by not acknowledging my existence. I am standing in front of her while she persistently concentrates on scribbling something tremendously important on a piece of paper. Probably her shopping list. She does not look up once. Eventually another attendant comes along and beams a loud ‘Kia Ora’ at me. Not that her colleague notices or even cares…
The lounge looks, I am sorry to have to say this, like a right shit hole. First of all, the place is crawling with people frantically trying to get a cup of coffee and something to eat before their flight. There are nearly no more places left to sit and all the tables are piled up with dirty dishes and stacks of half-finished meals.
But apart from that, the place just looks shabby. Most of the chairs and seats look worn and are stained from god knows what. The toilets do not looks so fresh any more either and the used paper towels are spilling over and lying on the ground. Not that anybody seems to care around here.
It should also be noted that boarding announcements are made in the lounge. So just in case you thought you might encounter an oasis or tranquility in the lounge. Think again.
Priority Boarding: Boarding for the flight starts at 09h25, thirty minutes before departure. Passengers seated in the Business and First Class cabins are invited to board at their leisure. There is a separate queue for SkyPriority passengers.
There is a trolley with newspapers for passengers to help themselves as they board the aircraft, although in Business Class the crew will come round to every seat offering papers and magazines.
CABIN & SEAT
Configuration: 2 x 3 x 2 on the lower deck and 2 x 2 on the upper deck.
Seat: 17C, aisle seat on the upper deck.
Pitch: 60 inches, which is 10 inches less than on the B777-300.
Width: 21.6 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, USB port, power outlet.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand. The selection of films and music is quite limited through.
Korean Air operates the Boeing B 747-400 in three different configurations with either 45 or 61 seats in Business Class. In all three configurations there are six rows with four abreast on the upper deck, which is really the only place to sit when you are flying on the Boeing 747.
The seat on this aircraft is slightly different to the one on the A330-200 and the B777-300. It looks older. Even so, I think I like it better because there is a lot more storage space. On the downside however, this is an angled lie-flat seat.
Earphones, a blanket and pillow and slippers have already been placed at every seat before boarding. A vanity kit and the menu are distributed after take off.
SERVICE Once more the crew are very friendly and willing to interact, even with the Western passengers. There is a woman sitting in the row in front of me who is travelling with a little boy. The crew go out of their way to make sure the mother has everything she needs and do baby talk with the boy, who is obviously enjoying all the attention.
With this being a morning departure, the service on this flight is in reverse order to the previous two I took with Korean Air. The first service is just the snack, with the full meal being served before arrival later on in the day.
Welcome drink on the ground: There is a choice of Guava juice, orange juice and still water. The welcome drinks are served with sweet, coated peanuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Choice: There is a choice of two Western breakfasts and an Asian dish.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Breakfast.
Pork and shrimp Wonton soup with noodles and pak choi.
Selection of fruit.
Coffee or tea.
With the Western dishes yoghurt and bread are also served, but these are not part of the Asian meal.
After the meal, the crew hand out immigration cards and customs forms for South Korea, a bottle of water and fresh water spray to keep you hydrated. And then the lights go out.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towels.
Choice: There is a choice of one Korean dish, one Western dish and one Asian dish.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Dinner.
Roasted bell pepper roll with cream cheese and a balsamic reduction, served with pre-meal drink.
Tomato and mozzarella with Italian dressing.
Green pea soup, offered only with the Western dish.
Beef tenderloin with wholegrain mustard sauce, roasted potatoes, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and onion rings.
Cheese: Camembert, Cheddar and blue cheese.
Selection from the bread basket.
The second service already begins four hours out of Incheon and by the time the meal is over, we still have more than two hours to go. So the crew switch the lights off again to allow passengers to continue napping. It is not a big thing really, But I think I would have preferred for the service to start a little later.
ARRIVAL Incheon is very busy when we arrive, which is probably why we end up pulling onto a stand at the satellite terminal. Gates numbered 1 through 50 are in the main terminal complex, while the gates in the hundreds are in the satellite.
From the satellite there is an automated shuttle to take passengers across to the arrivals concourse. The journey takes approximately two minutes. I am slightly apprehensive as I alight from the train, there are people everywhere and there is a long queue for the escalators. Fortunately, it turns out that most of the passengers are not heading for Seoul but are only changing planes in Incheon. Subsequently, the queues for immigration are not at all that long. By the time I reach the carousel, my suitcase is already expecting me.
Once I am through customs, I head for exit 14 to catch the shuttle to The Nest Hotel.
Part of your life, you give me a moment. Me sure in spite of the past, and in spite of the future. This tick of our lifetime is one moment you love me.
– Jeremy Irons, Chinese Box (1997)
INTRODUCTION As long as I can remember, I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong. Initially, my infatuation with the place was based partly on the old Kai Tak airport and partly on the territory’s fascinating history as a British trading post.
Originally, Hong Kong Island was leased to the British because the Chinese were wary of them and simply thought the Europeans were uncivilised. They did not want them setting foot on Chinese soil and mixing with the locals. No good could come of that. Trade with the hopelessly uncouth was okay as far as the Chinese were concerned, just as long as they kept their distance. And so Hong Kong – the barren rock – was leased to the British for a period of 150 years. In hindsight, the Chinese were probably right to be cautious about the British, considering how they set out to colonise the world like a contagious disease.
My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1994, I was twenty at the time. And I have kept returning ever since. Somehow, this place never gets boring. What I love about Hong Kong is that although the place itself is now quite familiar after so many visits, the city is never quite the same. Things disappear, change and reveal themselves in new light. And all the while it is business as usual in Hong Kong.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: MTR and Hong Kong Airport Express. Departs from: Wan Chai MTR Frequency: Every three minutes. Journey time: About five minutes from Wan Chai to Central and another twenty-four minutes from there to the airport. Fare: HKD4.50 for the MTR and HKD100 for the Hong Kong Airport Express.
The entrance to the Wan Chai MTR station is just down the road from the Indigo Hotel, where I am staying in Hong Kong. From Wan Chai it is two stops to Central, where you can connect to the Hong Kong Airport Express. The transfer is pretty painless and easy, with directions on the public transport system clearly signposted. It is not possible to purchase a combined ticket for the MTR and Airport Express.
Location: On the ground floor of the Central Airport Express station. Facilities: In-town check-in at Central on Hong Kong Island or at the airport. Counters: Counter 2 is the dedicated check-in counter for KLM, ANA, and Virgin at the in-town check-in area.
Most carriers operating to and from Hong Kong will allow you to check-in at the station at Central on Hong Kong Island. In order to do so however, you must make the journey from Central to the airport by train. To this end, you are required to purchase your ticket before you check-in, the train tickets grants you access to the check-in area.
Location: Immediately behind the exit from immigration north do a sharp right turn.
Type of Lounge: Qantas lounge.
Facilities: An extensive buffet of hot and cold dishes, a large and well-stocked bar, showers and toilets, dining area and lounging area.
This must be one of the nicest lounges I have ever set foot in. Of course it probably helps that the place is more or less deserted when I arrive. Even so, I am impressed by how spacious the lounge is, how nicely furnished it is and how good the catering is. It is not just that there are a lot of food choices; the quality of the food is also good. What is more, the lounge offers some excellent views of the ramp. From where I am sitting I can see my ride to Amsterdam in the distance.
Priority Boarding: There are two separate lanes for boarding – SkyPriority and everybody else. SkyPriority is for Elite and ElitePlus members as well as passengers travelling in Business Class.
Boarding starts a little early at 12:50. By the look of it, the crew is hoping to make an early start in an attempt to have us depart Hong Kong ahead of schedule. And indeed, boarding is completed way ahead of our departure time, despite the fact that the flight is fully booked today. But then the crew discovers that there is a mistake on the load sheet, which apparently had been prepared in Amsterdam. It turns out we are overweight.
During the ensuing delay the crew, both cockpit and cabin, make sure to keep the passengers informed about what is going on. Eventually, by the time the crew have identified the items of freight that will have to be offloaded and have them removed, we are running more than an hour late, which is particularly unfortunate given that my connection to Basel in Amsterdam is – possibly was – only ninety minutes. But we shall see. For the time being there is not really anything anybody can do about the delay.
At least the Queen of the Skies has the grace to try and console me for the delay. And how could any man resist her charms, despite her age? She sounds so much nicer than the younger birds. The take-off roll is everything you can hope for and expect of the 747 – she is much louder than other aircraft like the 777 and she certainly takes her time before eventually, elegantly and ever so gently she flexes the tips of her wings in an upward motion and severs our ties with the ground.
Configuration: 2 + 2, with a few single seats on the lower deck. Seat: The Business Class cabin is divided over two decks on KLM’s Boeing B 747-400 fleet. There are twenty seats on the upper deck and another fifteen on the main deck. Obviously the upper deck is always fun on Jumbo, but there is also a lot to be said for sitting in the nose of the beast. Most of the seats are in pairs. However, there are three single seats on the main deck, which is mainly due to space limitations. The first row is in the very tip of the nose. Thus, there is a single seat on 1A, while 1J and 1K make up a pair. The seats are turned slightly outward, towards the windows on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, the seats on the rows of two are staggered, with the window seat slightly further forward than the aisle seat. As a result, the seat feels very private in that you have to go out of your way if you want to to make eye contact with your fellow passengers.
The entire Boeing 747 fleet has now had the new cabin installed. Currently KLM is having the new seat introduced on its Boeing B 777-300 fleet as well. Pitch: 63 inches. Width: 20 inches. Facilities: AC power outlets available, privacy screen, reading lamp. Length as a bed: 80 inches. Audio and Video: AVOD, 10.4 inches screen.
SERVICE The crew on this flight are friendly and chatty, as usual with KLM. While we are on the ground the crew make sure they are visible in the cabin to answer any questions the passengers may have during the delay. And once we are airborne the service is efficient, even so the crew still find the time for a little friendly natter with the passengers.
Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice, sparkling wine, beer (Heineken) or still water.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, not scented.
Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a bowl of warm nuts.
Choice: Two starters, three main courses, a selection of desserts.
Type of meal: Lunch.
Starter – Broccoli soup with blue cheese.
Salad – Couscous with green salad and edamame beans.
Main – Sautéed grouper with sherry cream sauce, saffron risotto, green beans and baby carrots.
Dessert – Cheese platter (Emmental and Danish blue) with seasonal fruit, served with Port.
Bread – A selection of different types of rolls and garlic bread.
Chocolates – Dutch chocolates are served at the end of the meal.
The meal is rather tasty. Especially the soup is unusual with a strong flavour of the blue cheese, which goes very nicely with the Broccoli. The pace of the meal is also very good, the entire meal takes much less time to complete than it did with Qantas but without being rushed.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, not scented.
Choice: Hot or cold main dish with a choice of two cold side dishes.
Type of meal: Light meal.
Side dish – Quinoa salad with beetroot and pumpkin.
Main dish – Penne with red bell pepper sauce and vegetables, parmesan cheese.
Dessert – Traditional Dutch Apple pie served warm, with whipped cream. And a bowl of fruit.
The lights go on just under two hours out of Amsterdam. At least we were able to make up some of our delay and although we departed seventy minutes behind schedule from Hong Kong, it looks as though this has dwindled to forty-five minutes by the time we enter Europe.
I always enjoy the second service on KLM and I am impressed by the amount of food they serve for the second service. Very often, with a lot of the other European carriers the second service is more of an embarrassment than anything else. But this is a proper meal.
Eventually, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the little BOLS houses, which marks the end of the flight. I collect house 91 and I am good to go.
Eventually we hit the ground at 19:40 and have a relatively short taxi – by Amsterdam’s standards – to our stand on the F pier. Perhaps I should say at the very far end of the F pier. By the time the engines are cut and the doors are open, it is already 19:55. My onward connection starts boarding in five minutes, the gate closes in twenty minutes and the flight departs in thirty-five minutes. And I still have to go through immigration and security…
Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400
Cabin: Business Class
From: Tokyo Narita
Date: 14. August 2013
Arrival: 07:05 (+1)
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Check-out for the day rooms at the Narita Hilton is at 18:00, which gives me about two and a half hours to take a shower and have a rest – and watch the planes. I’m fortunate enough to have a room on the top floor overlooking the approach to runway 16R.
At 18:15 the shuttle pulls up outside to take me back to Narita’s Terminal 2 for the flight to Sydney. The photos really don’t do the bus justice, but the interior is brilliant and very seventies, complete with chandeliers and draped blue curtains. The journey takes about 15 minutes to complete.
Check-in is done by JAL for Qantas in Narita. And tonight it’s unusually chaotic, particularly given that this is Japan, where normally everything works like clockwork.
I am assigned seat 11B, an aisle seat on the first row of the upper deck. The flight is not full though and once we’re airborne and the seatbelt sign is turned off, I move across to 11K and have the whole row of two to myself.
Qantas operates its own lounge in Tokyo, which is located on the second floor of the satellite concourse of Terminal 2 adjacent to gate 82, from where my flight will be leaving tonight. The lounge offers some great views of the aircraft. Unfortunately though, being dark I’m unable to take any decent pictures.
The food selection in the lounge is good, with a combination of Asian and Western dishes and the ubiquitous soft drinks machines.
Boarding for the 20:30 departure already starts at 19:55. By the looks of it it’s not going to be a full flight tonight.
The cabin is much nicer than I expected it would be from the pictures I found on the net, and Qantas has obviously put a lot of thought into providing sufficient storage space in the cabin on the upper deck.
As soon as I take my seat, one of the flight attendants comes to welcome me to the flight and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. As usual it’s an orange juice for me.
Shortly before departure hot towels are distributed.
The seat is equipped with a small bottle of Vittel mineral water, earphones, a thin cover for the seat and a blanket. Before we push back, one of the crew brings me a vanity kit and the famous grey Qantas pyjamas.
Seriously, who on earth designed these things? I am given a size L/XL. I change in the toilet and can only pray that the lights have already been dimmed by the time I come out again so as not to make a spectacle of myself. The pants are rather tight, to say the least…
By the way, what’s missing is some sort of inflight magazine. Do they actually have one?
The meal begins with the drinks orders. I’m having another Ginger Ale. This stuff is starting to grow on me. No peanuts or anything of the sort are served with the drink.
The entire meal service takes an eternity to complete, for no apparent reason. It also strikes me that although the crew are really quite personable and friendly, the whole experience seems somehow a bit soulless. The composition of the menu for instance seems haphazard and the portion of the dishes is somewhat variable.
For a starter there is a choice of Miso soup with shitake mushroom and wakame. The other choice is smoked duck salad. The table is set up with a tablecloth, followed by a side plate which contains the cutlery, salt and pepper, butter and a side salad. The salad is minute and even the flight attendant comments that it’ll be hard trying to make that last for more than two mouthfuls.
There is only one bread round and judging by the content of the basket, a second round is not envisaged.
For the main I have the Gnocchi with a tomato sauce and grilled pumpkin and sautéed leeks. I must say, this tastes very good, the portion is decently sized and the meal is still hot when it arrives at my seat.
It takes the crew quite a while to come to remove my dish. Actually I suspect they may have forgotten about me. The flight attendant is eager to make amends though and asks me if I’ll be having dessert, which he brings me straight away. And this really is divine: chocolate and caramel tart in a short crust pastry with a dollop of crème fraîche. Lovely!
Once that has been demolished, I settle in for a short nap before breakfast.
Ninety minutes before we land the mood lights go on again and feign a sunrise at lighting speed.
The breakfast service begins. Again I am struck by the somewhat odd combination of things on offer. Fresh fruit in passion fruit juice with a dollop of yoghurt, orange juice, filter coffee and a salmon onigiri. Don’t get me wrong, I like onigiri, especially the salmon ones. But it just seems like a strange thing to serve on a breakfast flight.
Again the meal is not served on a tray.
Once the meal is done, I start packing all my belongings that I have managed to spread around all over the place during the flight.
The approach into Sydney is truly spectacular and brings us in right above the city. We head out towards the open sea, passing Bondi Beach on the left hand side, before doing a wide right turn to line up for landing.
Fortunately I have an express card for immigration from Qantas, which should save me some time. You see, I have a connection from the domestic terminal. You didn’t seriously think I’d be done after only three flights, did you?
Welcome! This is the last report in the series covering my trip to Okinawa early in the summer of 2012. I‘d completely forgotten to post this last part and figured I’d do so now for the sake of completion.
Date: 02 June 2012 From: Seoul To: Frankfurt Airline: Asiana Airlines Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400 Cabin: First Class Seat: 2K
THE LOUNGE EXPERIENCE
The story begins as I make my way to the Asiana Airlines First Class lounge. Seoul airport is not too busy and neither is the lounge. In fact I have the place nearly all to myself.
The lounge is well stocked with amenities, food and drink. Even so, I must admit I am not the greatest fan of the interior design. It is hard to describe really. It reminds me a bit of one of those old chalet hotels you still find in the Alps in some of the less popular resorts. Still, it serves its purpose and even has free wifi.
The shelves in the lounge are stacked with books. Strangely enough though, although the books have titles on the covers, they are in fact empty.
The food selection is rather limited, particularly when compared to what other airlines have on offer for their First Class passengers. But they do have dim sum, which I’m rather partial to.
As the departure time approaches, I start to get that nice fuzzy feeling one gets before getting on a Jumbo. At least I get that every time. So I decide to step out of the lounge and go for a walk-about for some distraction and to take some pictures of my bird.
This bird was parked at the next gate.
Not sure how many IL-62 they see these days in Seoul, unless Air Koryo is about to start a direct link to Pjöngjang…
And they have funky public toilets at the airport too!
When eventually they do call the flight, I make my way to gate 45 and queue up at the back of the line for Business Class and First Class. An Asiana ground attendant is surreptitiously glancing at the boarding passes of the passengers in my queue. As she spots mine, she asks me to follow her to the front of the line and butts in just as the gate agent is about to scan the boarding card of the first passenger – he is only travelling in Business Class – at the front of the line. Sorry about that!
The attendant then escorts me to the entrance of the plane. As we walk she explains to me how she went to the lounge to pick me up and could not find me. And I start to feel guilty – just a wee bit. Before the plane she bows and bids me a safe and pleasant journey.
As I enter the First Class cabin I am greeted by one of the flight attendants working in First Class today and we have a good laugh as we recognise each other from the outbound flight from Frankfurt to Seoul the previous week. We have a nice little natter and I ask her where she has been in the intervening days, while she inquires how I liked Korea and if I also visited other countries. What a charming young woman!
Service is the same as on the outbound. First the newspaper, amenity kits, earphones, pjs and slippers are delivered.
Then come the drinks with warm nuts. This time I have a Perrier with lemon and ice.
And I also receive the first in a whole series of refreshing towels.
Departure is to the north and by the circuitous route we’re flying it’s quite apparent that we must avoid North Korean airspace at all costs.
First up, the table is set for the meal. To drink I have another Perrier and a Chardonnay.
Olive oil with Balsamico and butter for the bread:
First course: Mousse of Foie Gras with truffle, ginger and mixed herbs on blinis
Second course: Caviar service
Third course: Grilled tuna in a pepper corn crust, with chives and carrot julienne
Fourth course: Pickled mushrooms with chickpeas and mixed greens
Fifth course: Cream of chicken soup with a ball of risotto. It tasted alright but it had a strange texture
Sixth course: Tenderloin of veal stuffed with lobster, with a horseradish sauce, mushroom ragout and wilted cabbage
Seventh course: Cheese with an apricot and grape chutney and crackers:
Eight course: Puff pastry filled with vanilla cream on a blackberries sauce
And to finish that, a cup of Earl Grey tea.
And now I am full, for the time being at least, and so I change into my pjs and have a nap.
Around five hours before we arrive in Frankfurt I start to feel peckish again. That – together with my curiosity about the kind of ‘snack’ Asiana has on offer in First Class – entices me to try their ramen noodles in chicken broth.
And here it is: ramen and shitake mushrooms in a spicy chicken broth with kimchi and pickled turnip. It really is divine, but it’s so spicy I have to keep running to the loo to blow my nose (The Koreans and Japanese find it tremendously rude to blow your nose in public).
About two hours before arrival the lights go on and the second service begins. Oh I now I shouldn’t, but it all sounded so nice on the menu!
First comes another hot towel, which is followed by a glass of fresh orange juice.
The meal consists of a salad of grilled beetroot, with heirloom tomatoes (I do not think I’ve ever encountered such a strange looking and tasting tomato before in my live…), greens and boiled quail’s eggs.
This is followed by a Korean dish with spare ribs in a spicy soup, which turns out to be indeed very spicy but extremely tasty!
Sauce for dipping.
Not sure…but tasty.
Two different kimchis.
And then comes dessert. It should be some sort of vanilla parfait with coconut shavings. But it just looks strange really…
And another tea to finish.
After the meal I sit back and relax. I start to watch Thor and end up asking myself what on earth has happened to good cinema and good movies. And to think that such a great actor as Anthony Hopkins should sink so low as to play Odin is simply tragic.
The view outside is far more attractive!
But I digress. The flight attendant from the outbound flight comes to bid me goodbye and wish me a safe onward journey. On this flight passengers can choose between a CD, a handbag and an iPhone holder as a farewell gift. I am now the proud owner of an iPhone holder with ‘Asiana Airlines’ written on the inside cover.
And then we land, and my delightful Asiana experience comes to an end. I bid my goodbyes and disembark. Outside the Asiana rep is already expecting me with a Lufthansa branded reprint of my boarding pass to make sure I get into the lounge.
Frankfurt is nearly pleasant when I arrive, I head for the Senator lounge and wait for my onward flight to Basel. I spend my time in the lounge catching up on emails and talking to my mum on the phone. At around 19h00 I leave the lounge for the long trek back to gate A02 for my flight to Basel. Just as I stand up to leave the lounge, I spot the Asiana flight pushing back for the return trip to Seoul. Farewell and safe journey – it was a fun trip!
This brings to an end this series of my trip to South Korea and Japan.
I arrived back home from a business trip to Montreal yesterday afternoon. I should have arrived in the morning but I was travelling via Heathrow and with the snow there and the fog in Zürich the flight was delayed by more than two hours and I ended up reaching Zürich in the early afternoon. But it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that I made it back to Switzerland on time because today, finally, I’m off on holiday.
First of all, courtesy of the great circle mapper, here’s the itinerary:
This review is about the first part of my journey from Basel via Frankfurt to San Francisco in Lufthansa First Class.
Date: 24. January 2013
To: San Francisco
Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 81H, first row, right hand side
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Our story begins with me emerging from a Canadair Regional Jet. It’s just gone nine o’clock. It’s a lovely winter’s morning with a slight nip in the air here in Frankfurt. I disembark from the aircraft to find the Porsche Cayenne First Class pick up already expecting me.
No matter where your connecting flight will be leaving from, the First Class pick will always drop you off at Terminal B arrivals, if you’re coming from a Schengen country. From there it’s quite a trek to the new A+ dock and the Z gates on the upper level of the dock.
The First Class lounge is inconveniently located on the Schengen level and passengers are not taken to the aircraft by car if their flight is departing from one of the Z gates. So if you visit the First Class lounge, make sure you plan ahead. You will still need to go through passport control so better make sure you have enough time. At least there is no further security check to reach the Z gates.
I arrive at the gate at 09h40 and boarding has already begun for our 10:15 departure. First Class passengers may board at their leisure through an automatic gate. In my case however, there is a slight hiccup to get on the plane because my visa details were not complete. But the issue is soon sorted.
There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft. The left one is marked First and Business Class while the right is for all Economy Class passengers. Lufthansa has its First Class on the upper deck of the B 747-400. The stairs leading you to the upper deck are located right by the second boarding door. Therefore, it actually makes more sense to use the Economy Class airbridge, even if it means standing in the queue. Otherwise, if you use the First and Business Class airbridge, you will still need to pass through half the Business Class cabin to reach the stairs.
There is a further security check in the airbridge, where all passengers have the name on their passport checked against the one on their boarding pass.
THE CABIN AND SEAT
As I climb up the stairs and turn the corner, I am delighted to find that I shall be travelling today on an aircraft with the new First Class cabin.
The first thing that strikes you upon reaching the upper deck and doing a u turn into the cabin, is the large bed that has replaced what used to be the window seat. This also means that there are only aisle seats to give you more privacy when lying in bed. The B 747-400 is the only type of the Lufthansa fleet to have this feature, which is essentially a compromise between revamping the First Class product to make it more competitive but without having to move it downstairs as on the B 747-8i.
Surprisingly, apart from the most obvious feature – the bed – there are quite a few subtle differences between the seat I’m sitting in and the one installed on the A 380: the seat controls are slightly different and so is the little tray table mounted on the armrest.
And the stowage space is not as ample as on the A 380, but Lufthansa has obviously put a lot of effort into maximising passenger space. Apart form the overhead bin there is further stowage space in one of the armrests and there is even a drawer under the bed.
The flight attendant comes to welcome me aboard and asks me what I’d like to drink. I ask for a glass of sparkling water, which she brings me with a bowl of nuts.
She then returns with the pyjamas, earphones and slippers.
Our departure is to the east and judging by the long take-off roll we must be rather heavy. From Frankfurt our course takes us on a northerly course for Bremen, from where we turn in a northwesterly direction and out to the open sea.
Once the seatbelt sign goes off, service continues with the distributions of the scented hot towels and the menu. The purser comes to introduce herself. She’d wanted to before but I was still on the phone to my dear old mum. The purser wishes me a pleasant flight and hopes I’ll enjoy my stay on board.
The crew on this flight are friendly and professional in their attitude. They do an excellent job of making passengers feel at home and give the impression that no request is ever too much.
After my last experience with Lufthansa to Tokyo in First Class I am not really quite sure what to expect in terms of food on this flight. But I must say the sequence of the meal and the quality and quantity of the food are rather good.
To start we have an amuse bouche, served with a glass of sparkling water. Unfortunately I forget to ask what the dish is and I can’t make out all the flavours. It’s veal with some creamy filling. The green stuff on the side tastes like some kind of kiwi jelly.
The first course is the caviar with traditional garnishes.
For the second course I have an étagère with three different dishes:
Salmon confit and egg salad with Belgian vinaigrette. Very good, especially the vinaigrette.
Creamy chicken salad with sweet potato and tarragon crème fraîche. This is a bit strange and there is gelatine in it. I don’t finish it.
Vegetable terrine with avocado salad and cherry tomato confit.
After that comes the salad of mixed leaf with grilled bell pepper and zucchini, bleu d’auvergne cheese and asparagus with walnuts and a vinaigrette dressing.
And then for the main course I have the cod on lemon verbena with braised chicory and brandade. This is a very tasty dish, the sauce is well balanced and complements the fish perfectly.
I skip the cheese and just have dessert, which today is an outstanding Tarte Tatin with Tahiti vanilla sauce and ice cream.
The dessert is accompanied with Earl Grey tea, which is served in a small porcelain teapot. And as usual, I demolish the two pralines before I remember to take a picture of them.
And then I decide to lie down and have a nap. The bed is tremendously comfortable, for the simple reasons that it feels like real bed and not a chair cunningly disguised as a bed, which is what most First Class seats are today.
Just under two hours out of San Francisco a piping hot refreshing towel is placed before me, and the crew start preparing the cabin for the second service. There is a separate menu for this service.
For the first course there is a selection of dishes to choose from and which are served from a trolley. I have the pasta with spinach and garlic, some coleslaw and a cold crab cake with guacamole and a mango and ginger chutney. It’s an interesting and tasty meal, with a combination of unusual flavours and tastes. Especially the crab cake is quite excellent.
There are two choices for the main course. I go with the red snapper with grilled bell peppers and mini zucchini and sweet potato purée, with a drizzle of olive oil and a black olive tapenade. This dish impresses me. It’s a nice piece of fish and it has remained juicy and flavourful.
And then for dessert I have a slice of white brownie with figs and dates with whipped cream and some mango on the side. An espresso completes the meal.
After that I change back into my normal clothes and start collecting and repacking my things ahead of our arrival into San Francisco.
Lufthansa certainly redeemed itself on this flight. Perhaps the most obvious point to start with is the new cabin and seat. As I already mentioned above, I think it’s quite apparent that Lufthansa has put a lot of thought into designing a cabin that is both comfortable and functional. I think that is quite apparent from the fact that on the new B 747-8i they have taken the very wise decision to move First Class downstairs into the nose and use the upper deck for more Business Class seats instead.
The seat and bed are tremendously comfortable. I could have spent hours in that bed with my iTunes, Kindle and the spectacular vista outside.
The food is also much improved over my last experience in December. The selection of dishes was very good and all the dishes were quite tasty, except for the chicken salad. But that was not because it was badly prepared but because I don’t like gelatine. The red snapper I had for the second service is worth mentioning. It was simply excellent.
As for the crew, I thought they were nice. They obviously take their job seriously and made a point of keeping all the passengers happy. Of course it helped that only five of the eight seats were occupied.
From San Francisco I continue my journey with United Airlines to Las Vegas in domestic First Class. The experience is certainly interesting, shall we say. I spend the night in Las Vegas at the Hotel Bellagio, which, in my personal view, is the epitome of bad taste. The next day I pick up a car and head out of the city towards the Amangiri, a hotel located about 20 minutes out of Page, Utah. From Las Vegas it’s a five hours drive through some of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever seen, including the Zion National Park.
Date: 8. April 2012, Easter Sunday
Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400
From: New York JFK
To: London Heathrow
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 63K, Upper deck
It’s Easter Monday and the weather outside is simply stunning. So I decide to go for a long walk around Central Park. My hotel is right on 5th Avenue, between 42nd and 41st street. So on my way back I am able to watch the Easter Parade and some of the most outrageous hats I’ve ever seen!
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I check out of the hotel at around 14h30 and walk with my carry-on suitcase ten blocks south to 32nd street and then from there across to Penn Station.
From Penn Station there are regular and frequent trains to Jamaica. The journey takes about 30 minutes or so, depending on the train your travelling on.
From Jamaica I catch the JFK Air Train, a fully automated thing that stops at every terminal at JFK. The first stop coming from Jamaica is Terminal 1. I am departing from Terminal 7, which means I get the grand tour of the airport and some exceptional vistas.
I even manage to get a close-up view of the legendary TWA terminal that is now part of the JetBlue operation in JFK.
At Terminal 7 none of the British Airways self-service check-in devices appear to be working, so I queue for check-in with a human factor. And why not, the queue moves quickly and the check-in agent is nice enough and checks me in all the way through to Amsterdam. And yes, I have a seat on the upper deck. From check-in it’s a short walk over to security. The screening takes place in a narrow corridor with quite an inclination. Which is inconvenient to say the least.
The British Airways Terraces lounge is enormous and rather full, which is also why I decide not to take any pictures.
The time passes quickly in the lounge and very soon I am heading down the gangway towards my aircraft. I’m greeted at the door and instructed to pass through the Business Cabin to the next galley and then from there up the stairs. When I reach the top, I am only the second person on the upper deck. The crew gives me a very warm welcome. And when they see me taking pictures, they ask me if I’d like to take one of ‘The BA girls’. Of course I do.
THE CABIN & SEAT
British Airways have an innovative seating concept in their wide-body Business Class in that the seats are grouped in pairs in opposing directions. On the main deck this means that they have as much as eight seats abreast. Nonetheless, there is enough personal space and there are privacy screens that can be raised to make sure you don’t have to sit through the whole flight looking at your neighbour’s ugly mug.
On the upper deck things are far more intimate, with only four seats abreast, two on either side. Due to the curvature of the jumbo’s hump, storage space on the upper deck is in abundance.
Service on the ground begins with the distribution of the menus, welcome drinks and amenity kits. They’re the same kind I got on the outbound flight (see my other British Airways post).
Take-off is obviously much louder and generally takes much longer than on The Speedbird One. Once we’re airborne though and settle into the cruise, the benefits of sitting on the upper deck become apparent and it’s quite amazing how silent it is up here.
After take-off orders are taken for dinner. Then refreshment towels are served, followed by the drinks service with nuts.
Service seems again very professional and efficient. There are no table cloths, as is the case with Swiss or Lufthansa for example. Also, in contrast to the Speedbird One, on this flight there is no choice for a starter. All passengers get the grilled bell peppers with asparagus and gorgonzola cheese on a bed of frisée salad. Simple but tasty.
For the main course there are three choices. The fish is already gone by the time the attendant reaches me, but the steak and the pasta are both still available and so I take the pasta.
Warm bread is served throughout the meal.
Dessert is a rather tasty lemongrass cheesecake.
And finally there is also a plate of cheese with grapes and Walker’s biscuits.
After the meal I start to watch a film, but very quickly my eyes start closing. So I extend the seat into the sleep position and doze off to beddiebye land. The mighty Jumbo gently rocks me to sleep to the comforting hum of the four Rolls-Royce engines pushing us across the Atlantic.
I awake as the bright cabin lights are switched on again ahead of the second service. There are no refreshing towels before this service. But the offerings are adequate and sufficient, it’s a continental breakfast served with coffee and a smoothie. My only complaint is that the presentation of the fruit in a plastic cup is not particularly attractive.
The meal is perfectly timed and just as the trays are removed, Jumbo starts to slow down and shortly after dips his nose into the murky skies above London. Arrival is some twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
We park at satellite B, from where it’s a long trek up and down various escalators. There is a fast track through security for Business Class passengers, which is surprisingly efficient, especially seeing as we are, after all, in England. And very soon I find myself in the southern Terraces Lounge waiting for my onward connection to Amsterdam.
I like British Airways, I like the brand: from the livery of the aircraft to the cabin design and the very distinctly British touch of their service. I am also quite impressed with their operation. With my aircraft there were another three B 747-400s parked at JFK’s Terminal 7 and all of them would be leaving for Heathrow that evening, some of them was as little as thirty minutes between them. Heathrow may be pretty bad for congestion but Terminal 5, which British Airways calls home, is very pleasant. It has an open, spacious feel about it and distances are manageable. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high density of B 747-400s lined up next to each other – it’s quite a sight to behold.
I was rather tired by the time I boarded my flight to Amsterdam. So the last segment is not covered. But my spirits lifted after take-off when the smell of an English breakfast started wafting through the cabin…
As for The Speedbird One, I think British Airways has done an outstanding job and put a lot of effort into resurrecting something of what was special about travelling on Concorde. And indeed, the service is special. The seat, although housed in the much smaller A 318, is much more spacious than that in standard Club World as I experienced it on Jumbo. The brief stop in Shannon is much shorter than I expected. And that is a good thing, because Shannon airport is a drab, smelly old place.
And then I also visited the Intrepid and was finally able to step aboard Concorde to stifle, at long last, that curiosity that has been nagging at me ever since my childhood, about what Concorde looked like inside in the real world. I know now and I am content. At the same time though, having now spent a lot more time with Concorde and researching about her biography, it saddens me that she no longer flies and probably never again will. In all likelihood it will be another twenty years before the technology is available to make supersonic flights a viable option for the airlines once more.
A few weeks back I chanced to make the acquaintance of a man who was on the development team of Concorde, and I consider myself privileged for that. What this man and his colleagues achieved is an outstanding feat of engineering. This trip is a salute to all those people who were involved in the development of this excellent machine – an aircraft called Concorde.