British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 777-200: Madrid to London Heathrow

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TRANSFER IN BARAJAS
My flight from Jerez comes to a standstill on stand K103, which is the one but last stand on the north side of Madrid’s terminal 4. My onward connection will be departing from gate S35 in the satellite terminal across the apron. The satellite is connected to the main terminal building by light railway, which makes the journey in about five minutes.

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The only problem though, is that there is a passport check once you get to the other side. And there are people everywhere. It looks as though half of Latin America has decided to congregrate in Madrid’s T4S. It’s round about this time that I start to wonder about the things I do just to fly on a particular aircraft. I could have taken the Iberia flight from Madrid back to Basel – no hassle, non non-Schengen. But no, I had to go with the mighty tripple seven.

There are separate counters for Schengen passport holders, but even this queue is endless, which is hardly surprising given that most of the people in the queue have probably never heard of Schengen. But anyway, eventually it takes me 20 minutes just to reach the head of the queue.

When I finally arrive at the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of preparation for departure. I take the stairs down to the ground floor to catch the bus to the aircraft, only to find it is nearly empty. Eventually, we make our way across the apron. Me and the remaining five passengers.

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Still, one has to look on the bright side: it’s not every day that you get to board a wide-body on a remote stand…

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CABIN
The British Airways cabin is rather unique, with half the seats facing towards the rear of the aircraft and the other half facing forward. The nice thing about this is that if, like me, you like airplanes (you may have guessed), you have a good view of the wing and engines, without having to contort to look back. The window seats are all rear facing.

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Other than that, I really don’t like BA’s long-haul seat. First of all, where other carriers are moving to four seats abreast in their Business Class cabins, British Airways managed to squeeze in a staggering eight seats. The upshot being that there is little to no storage space once you’re in the seat. There is a drawer at floor level, but this is so small that even my 15’ MacBook won’t fit. Also, the seat is fairly low and not particularly convenient to get out of, especially for elderly or less mobile persons. I could go on about all the things I don’t like about this seat and cabin configuration. Suffice to say it is quite apparent that BA’s hardware in Business Class is designed for mass production rather than quality.

Apart from all that, this particular aircraft is also in exceptionally bad condition. There are bits hanging from the ceiling where the panelling has not been properly mounted and the seat and floor are quite simply filthy with old dirt. I don’t mean the kind of oops-we-forgot-to-vacuum dirt but rather the biohazard variety that comes from years of neglect.

CREW
The crew seems friendly enough. I suppose it’s a question of personal preference whether a person uses make-up or not. But I also think it’s a thin line between looking well turned-out and looking like a total slapper. Strangely enough, many British females tends to overdo the make-up and end up falling into the latter category.

We move off stand slightly behind schedule and taxi out to runway 36L for departure. It’s a lovely day for flying and despite the fact that the airport is very busy this time of day, our wait is not too long.

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The fight time is announced as one hour and fifty-five minutes.

THE MEAL
The service begins with the distribution of those flimsy little hot towels. After that, drinks are served with a small packet of cashew nuts.

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BA recently introduced a new meal concept on its European Business Class product, which essentially means they’re trying to reduce costs further by offering less food. And what a sad meal it is! There is a choice between a cheese and beef panino and a chicken and potato salad.

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I decide to go with the beef and cheese panino. The crew hands me the tray, on which there is one plate with two panini and another with dessert. I really have to say this must be one of the most unattractive looking meal trays I’ve ever seen on a Business Class flight. I fully appreciate that all airlines need to reduce their costs to survive, but does that really mean serving meals with such an apparent lack of attention to detail?

By the time the tray is removed, we’re still forty minutes out of Heathrow. I ask the crew if perhaps I might have a cup of coffee, which is apparently not something they want to encourage. Grudgingly, one of them eventually brings me a cup and plonks is on my tray table. Charming, I’m sure…

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ARRIVAL
Surprisingly, we’re not sent into a holding, which makes a nice change from what normally happens at Heathrow. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we’re running late. Our approach brings us in from the east, right over the city, and I am reminded of just how much I really love London. I think I should plan for a visit some time soon. But maybe not necessarily on BA…

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We park on a remote stand. But apparently, the ground services were not expecting us. There are no busses to bring passengers to the terminal. Eventually, after ten minutes on the stand without anything much happening, one lonely bus eventually does pull up next to the aircraft. I’m just not quite sure they’ll manage to fit in all the passengers of a full triple seven into one standard size bus though…

CONCLUSION
The problem with large airlines like British Airways or Lufthansa is that their home markets are huge and can be relied on. As such, they don’t really have an incentive to do better. Because unlike me, most people will prefer to take a direct flight over an connection via another hub. And it shows. The hardware of BA’s product is old, worn and unattractive. The service and the food are bland and boring.

But apart from all that, I also think there has been a continuous deterioration in standards recently and I cannot help but feel that British Airways is going to the dogs.

Asiana Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Hong Kong to Seoul Incheon

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Metro and airport train.
Departs from: Mong Kok station, in the basement of the hotel.
Frequency: Every two minutes.
Journey time: About one hour from the hotel lobby to the check-in counter.
Fare: HKD18 for two persons for the metro and another HKD19 for two persons for the airport express.
Note: Keep in mind that the MTR and the Airport Express only accept cash, both at the ticketing machines or at the counters. Only the counters at the airport will accept credit cards.

To get to the airport from the Langham Place Hotel, take the Tseung Kwan O line (red line) to Lai King, which is the sixth stop. Alight and take a Tung Chung line train (orange line) from the opposite platform to Tsing Yi, which is the first stop after Lai King. The metro ticket is valid for the journey from Mong Kok to Tsing Yi.

At Tsing Yi, change to the Hong Kong Airport Express. The train stops at both Terminals 1 and 2 (Left exit for Terminal 1, right exit for Terminal 2). As easy as cutting Swiss cheese!

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, row J on your far right when you enter the departures concourse.
Facilities: There are two Business Class check-in counters and seven Economy Class counters.

I innocently walk up to the check-in counter and hand the agent my passport for the flight to Seoul. He checks me in straight away and hands me my passport back with the boarding pass. It is only as I am about to go through security that I actually bother to take a look at my boarding pass. Much to my surprise I am now sitting on 3F instead of the preassigned 9F. On the A380 row 9 is the third row of Business Class on the upper deck, which gives me two options. Either I have been upgraded to one of the First Class seats on the A380 or, more likely, there has been an aircraft change. With a sinking feeling I return to the check-in area and ask one of the attendants about the aircraft type. She confirms the flight will be operated by a Boeing B 777-200 tonight. Crap! After all the planning I put into this itinerary. If I had known before, I would have changed my entire schedule, instead of electing to fly at such an ungodly hour. I mean, the gall of Asiana, to go change the aircraft type without even as much as asking me in advance.

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LOUNGE
Location:
One floor down from immigration, close to gate 15.
Type of Lounge:
Singapore Airlines lounge.
Facilities:
This is rather a nice lounge, with a variety of seating options. There are toilets and showers in the Business Class section. The buffet is quite extensive, with an interesting array of Asian and western dishes, both hot and cold. A wonton noodle soup is also available upon request and will take about ten minutes to arrive.
Internet:
Wifi is available, no password is required.

Apart form the Asiana flight to Seoul there is still the Singapore Airlines flight to San Francisco at 23h30. Initially there are a few people milling about for that flight, but once the boarding call for San Francisco is made, the lounge quickly empties and I am left all by myself. The lights are turned on to full brightness and the cleaning crew set to clearing up the place.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There are two separate queues, one for Economy Class passengers to the right of the gate counter, and one for First Class and Business Class passengers to the left. Asiana uses two airbridges in Hong Kong.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 4A, window seat on the port side. Asiana operates the B 777-200 in five different cabin configurations, only two of which have a First Class cabin installed. Of the three versions without a First Class, only one has the new Business Class cabin installed. The other two are still in the old configuration with the 2 + 3 + 2 seating. At least from what I can tell I shall be travelling on an aircraft with the new cabin, because I have been assigned an F seat, which does not exist on the other aircraft. There are a total of 24 seats in Business Class. On the rows of single seats, those with even numbers are more private, because they are further away from the aisle. In the fully upright position, the seat is somewhat uncomfortable because you are sitting so far upright you are actually leaning forward! Other than that, the holder for magazines on the even numbered single seats is turned away from the passenger, so that you cannot even see where the magazines are when seated.
Pitch: 80.4
Width: 21.3
Facilities: There is no wifi, but from what I understand you can send SMS from your IFE at a charge, a 110 volt power port is available.
Length as a bed: 74.5
Audio and Video: A selection of music, films and video games is available on demand.

Originally I am assigned 3F. Once boarding is completed however, it transpires that there will only be seven passengers in Business Class on this evening’s flight anyway. So I move over to 4A instead.

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SERVICE
The service is typically Korean – very polite, warm and meticulously executed. As the purser makes the welcome on board announcement, two of her colleagues walk into the cabin and bow to join in the welcome.

Vanity kits are not distributed on this flight, only slippers. However, dental kits, combs and shaving kits are available in the toilets.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice
Hot towel before the meal: Very hot towel served while still on the ground.
Choice:
One western dish, one Korean dish and a light option.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
In the middle of the night kind of meal…
Meal:

  1. Korean beef and mushroom porridge with side dishes.
  2. Fruit.
  3. Coffee.

Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. There is a choice of orange juice, water or champagne. This is followed shortly after with the distribution of some exceptionally hot hot towels.

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After take-off, the menus are distributed. What always strikes me about Asiana is that they will give you a menu but will then insist on you handing it back once they have taken your order.

In any case, I have decided to go with the Korean dish, even though I am not entirely sure what it actually is. There is no starter with the Korean meal. Instead the congee comes with a bowl of Kimchi, a bowl with some other pickles and a bowl with soy sauce. In addition, there is a small sachet of sesame oil. From what I understand, the idea is that you put the sesame oil and soy sauce in the congee for seasoning. No bread is served with the Korean meal and if you ask, you may well a) get a few strange looks or b) completely disrupt the entire service concept as the cabin crew scramble to meet your – in their view – totally unusual and bizarre request. The tray comes with a glass of still water.

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And then I think we have a cultural misunderstanding of sorts. I have nearly finished the congee when one of the cabin crew passes my seat. She looks at me and points out that the congee looks awfully salty because I used all the soy sauce. She then asks me if I would like another congee. As I am still feeling a bit hungry, I agree. Shortly after she returns with a fresh bowl of hot congee. She places it down on my tray and is completely astonished by the fact that I have finished the previous bowl. It is only then that I realise that what she meant was that she would bring me a new dish so I would not have to finish the one which, in her view, I had ruined by adding too much soy sauce.

As far as cutlery is concerned, by the way, you will receive only a spoon and metal chopsticks.

After the flight I extend the seat into sleep mode and catch forty winks before the landing in Seoul.

The lights go on about thirty minutes out of Incheon. The cabin crew pass through the cabin offering glasses of orange juice before they secure the cabin for arrival.

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ARRIVAL
The temperature is only around 24 degrees Celsius when we arrive. It is just coming up to five o’clock. But it is so humid that the aircraft’s windows are all fogged up, making it impossible to see anything clearly outside. Much to my surprise though, another four aircraft land behind us in the time it takes us to vacate the runway and taxi to the apron. I would not have thought the place would be so busy at this time of the morning.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi
Departs from: Second pavement row, between sectors 5C and 8D
Journey time: About 10 minutes.
Fare: KRW7600.-

I shall be staying at the Nest hotel in Incheon again, which is where I already stayed in February on my stopover on my way from Frankfurt via Seoul to Auckland. Unfortunately, the first shuttle to the hotel will not be leaving the airport until 06h10, which is more than an hour away. So instead I decide to take a taxi. The taxi stand is organised by destination. Taxis for short journeys to places around Incheon leave from stand 5C.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Tokyo Narita to Basel via Vienna

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Narita Express train.
Departs from: Yokohama station.
Frequency: Roughly every 90 minutes but varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Fare: ¥4290 one way including mandatory seat reservation.

In Yokohama I am staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. I leave the hotel just after 06h30 in the morning and head across the street to the Queen’s Twin Towers. It is only a five minutes walk from the hotel to the subway station at Minatomirai on the subway line that goes by the same name. It is two stops from Minatomirai to Yokohama Station, although the express trains do not stop at the station in between and go nonstop to Yokohama Station.

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At Yokohama I change to the JR Lines network. The Narita Express will be leaving at 07h28 from platform 10. What always impresses me about Japanese trains is that there are markers along the platform indicating the number of each carriage and the position of the doors of that particular carriage. The impressive thing is that the system has never failed in sixteen visits I have made to Japan over the years. And I still have not figured out how they manage to stop the trains so accurately.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, south wing, row B, departures level on the fourth floor; row B is right by the escalators as you come up from the station in the basement.
Facilities: Web check-in or dedicated check-in counters.
Counters: Dedicated Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS Business Class counters, the staff are from ANA.

There are hardly any people when I arrive at row B and I am seen to straight away. The check-in agent issues my boarding passes to Vienna and then Basel, points me in the right direction for security and wishes me a pleasant journey. It is a very quick and efficient process.

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Security is at the opposite end of row B and there is a dedicated fast track for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers. Here too there are only few passengers and I am through security without having to queue. I forget to remove my liquids from the bag, but nobody seems to notice. Or perhaps that is not a requirement here in Japan.

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From Security I head one floor down to immigration.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Behind immigration, one floor down from the gates level. The escalators leading down to the lounge are at the far end of the concourse, opposite gate 43.
Type of Lounge:
ANA Lounge.
Facilities:
Meeting rooms, work area, toilets and showers in the lounge, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes, a bar with beer on tap, a noodle bar with a selection of staple Japanese fare.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.

God I am starving. It was still early when I left Yokohama this morning. I did manage to grab a cappuccino and a small sandwich, but that was barely enough to tie me over until we reach Narita.

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So once I find a place to sit, I head over to the noodle bar and order myself a bowl of curry Udon, which hit the spot nicely.

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The ANA Business Class lounge is nice. It is more functional than elegant, but that is okay. My only complaint is that there are no windows and subsequently no views of the aircraft outside.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
I arrive at the gate just after 10h30 and boarding has just started. The first call is for Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 2 + 2 + 2 on even numbered rows.
Pitch: 48 inches.
Width: 19.37 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand.

Austrian Airlines has 48 seats installed in Business Class on the Boeing B 777-200. I am not sure if this is exactly the same seat that SWISS has installed in its Business Class cabin, but if not, the seat is certainly very similar.

The appearance of the cabin is nice enough and the combination of blue and red gives the cabin a cheerful look and feel. The seat is comfortable in the sitting position, but is somewhat tight in the extended, lying position. Furthermore, if you are sitting in the seat while you extend it into the lying position, beware. At some point your legs are likely to get in the way.

There are two Business Class cabins on this aircraft. The larger cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors, the smaller one, which only has three rows, is located right after the L2 door. Today’s flight is very full in Business Class. In fact, at some point during the flight I take a look at the rear Business Class cabin, only to find that it is completely empty. And even in the main cabin there are still quite a few empty seats.

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The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.

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SERVICE
Probably due to the relatively light load, the ratio of cabin crew to passengers is outstanding on this flight. During the service I count three cabin crew for each of the two aisles. Like most European carriers, Austrian Airlines has Japanese staff working on the flight.

The crew are very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. Their attention to details is quite outstanding. Originally, I am seated on 4C, the aisle. But then one of the flight attendants informs me that 5A, a throne seat, will remain empty and I am more than welcome to change. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin to check on passengers and make sure they are okay.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
A selection of orange juice, sparkling wine or water. The orange juice comes with a slice of orange in it.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented hot towels – but they are rather flimsy.
Pre-meal drink:
Almdudler, an Austrian non-alcoholic drink made with herbs.
Choice:
There are two Western choices and two Japan-inspired choices for the main course.
Appearance:
The starter is served from a trolley, so passengers can pick and choose as they please.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Menu:
There is a food and beverage menu and a separate menu for coffees.
Meal:

  1. Antipasti from the trolley: smoked salmon with cream cheese, volcano ham and mountain cheese, traditional sweet pepper and ricotta spread, deep fried cauliflower with sauce tartar.
  2. An excellent selection from the breadbasket.
  3. Soup: beef consommé with butter dumpling.
  4. Main course: grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.
  5. Dessert: warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).
  6. Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.
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This meal is excellent! In fact it was so good I find it slightly irritating because this Business Class meal is far, far better than the grub I was served in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Haneda!

Where to begin? First of all, I really like the selection of antipasti that is available. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Austrian Airlines has gone for the good quality stuff. The smoked salmon is not at all fishy and has a rich, smoky taste; the ham is not at all chewy and the tartar sauce is subtle and balanced.

The main course is excellent and I find myself a) seriously wondering if I have ever had such a nice piece of meat on a plane before and b) if it would be rude to ask for a second helping. First of all, the pork has managed to stay juicy, even in the middle. The meat has a nice grilled flavour to it and the gravy it is served with is simply delicious. The dumpling that comes with it is just heaven. Enough said.

By the time I am through, I have more or less decided to skip dessert. I really do not think I can face anything else. But then the trolley reaches my row and I swear I can hear the apricot strudel calling out to me. The truffle cake is so rich my tongue is more or less glued to the top of my mouth. What a taste! Thank God for the whipped cream to dilute this hefty, moist revelation…

The apricot strudel is still warm when it is placed before me, and so is the vanilla sauce. I really do not know what to say, except perhaps ‘can I have some more…?’.

What also impresses about the crew is the efficiency and timing of the service. The meal does not feel rushed at all, but at the same time there is never a long wait in between courses.

Eventually the dishes are cleared away, one of the cabin crew brings me a bottle of still water and I settle in. I am already looking forward to the next meal!

Around half way between Narita and Vienna the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks. I have some fruit and an Onigiri. To drink the crew has orange juice and apple juice on offer. However, when she reaches my row, the flight attendant assures me that obviously she will be very glad to bring me anything else I would like to drink!

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SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal:
Yes, another flimsy scented affair.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Choice: There are two options for the main course.
Menu:

  1. Antipasti: prosciutto, aubergine, zucchini, mozzarella, gryuer.
  2. Main dish: ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.
  3. Dessert: chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.
  4. Selection from the breadbasket.
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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Vienna just a few minutes ahead of schedule and a rather pleasant experience with Austrian Airlines draws to an end. And what did I think of Austrian Airlines? The service was attentive, quite impeccable. The crew were friendly and approachable. The catering is something else and I really do think the quality and the selection available in Austrian Airlines’ Business Class puts to shame Lufthansa’s offering in First Class.

On the downside, I have certain reservations about the seat. If you are sitting on one of the single seats, there is ample storage space and somehow you are able to squeeze in and out of the seat when it is in the fully extended position. However, if you are sitting at by the window on one of the double seats, I seriously think you might have trouble getting in and out of the seat without disturbing your neighbour. The pitch is awfully tight. I am only 6’2 and even I was having trouble fitting my legs in the space provided. Apart from that, to be honest, it does kind of feel like what I imagine lying in a coffin is like.

Air France, Business Class – B 777-200: Papeete to Los Angeles

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Oh very well then, I think I will leave now…

My alarm goes off at 05:15. I step into the bathroom to take a shower and immediately shrink back at my own reflection. I am still a bit bleary eyed. And I am starting to look a bit like Captain Caveman, given that my last shave was the day I left Switzerland on 07 August.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
taxi
Departs from: Intercontinental Beachcomber Hotel
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: ca. CHF15

I leave the hotel just after six o’clock in the morning. Tahiti is only just waking up; it is still quiet. Even so, there is a surprising amount of traffic on the road. I assume this must be the beginning of the commuter rush hour, even though the whole concept of such a thing seems somewhat alien, if not irreconcilable to such a heavenly place.

CHECK-IN
Location:
there is a separate check-in area for all international flights, of which there are three leaving at more or less the same time
Facilities: dedicated Air France check-in counters, separate counters for SKY PRIORITY

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On the face of it, it looks like chaos. There are people everywhere. There are three widebodies leaving at more or less the same time: the Air France service to Los Angeles and then Paris, the Air Tahiti Nui service doing the same and another Air Tahiti Nui flight bound for Auckland. The check-in counters are located right next to the exit for international arrivals. The two Paris flights have only just come in and by the looks of it, welcoming friends and family home is a big thing in Tahiti.

People everywhere. In one corner I can hear music – is somebody playing a ukulele somewhere? In the middle of the terminal the crowd has formed a circle. In the middle of it stands a traveller who has just arrived. Three Polynesian men are doing some sort of dance in front of him that I can only assume is intended to welcome the traveller home. It looks and sounds like the Haka dance the All Blacks do at the beginning of a game. But this seems friendlier, even if these guys are just as beefy and tough looking as the All Blacks…

But in spite of it all, if it were not for all the people, the process is very well organised. To access the check-in counters you have to pass through a security check, where the name in your passport is matched against the passenger list.

Immigration is a bit of a surprise. There are four queues – one for each one of the three flights and a fourth queue for crew. Immediately behind immigration is security and it really is quite amazing just how swift the process is.

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The transit area looks as though it was recently refurbished. Either that or the facility is incredibly well kept.

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LOUNGE
Location:
first floor, the stairs and lift are located right between gates 50 and 40
Type of Lounge:
contractor lounge
Facilities:
washrooms, computer work stations, snacks, hot and cold drinks – I think it should also be mentioned that there is even a Lavazza coffee machine that uses those capsules which are so much better than that Nespresso rubbish…
Internet:
available for free, passwords are issued at reception

The lounge’s most redeeming feature – even better than the Lavazza machine if you ask me – is the view it offers of what is going on outside, with three widebodies in full view. Just brilliant.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
the boarding sequence is, in this order: UMs, passengers needing assistance, families with small children, SKY PRIORITY passengers, general scrum

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This is the part I have been looking forward to most: walking across the apron to board the aircraft and then climbing the stairs. And it is not just any aircraft. My chariot today is the mighty Triple Seven. Say what you will, but I think she is hot!

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 3 + 2 – This is an old school kind of seat. Having said that, I think I prefer it to the herringbone I experienced on Air New Zealand, for the simple reason that it offers more privacy and there is a lot more storage space. Moreover, the storage space is easily accessible and conveniently located. But there are drawbacks of course. First of all, the cursed middle seat, which really should not be an option for a Business Class product. And secondly, having to climb over the person on the aisle if you happen to be seated by the window
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp; a blanket, pillow, hangar, slippers, socks and earphones have already been placed in the seats when the passengers start boarding the aircraft
Audio and Video: available on demand, the selection of films is somewhat limited though and the quality of the picture is no good at all

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SERVICE
The cabin crew on this flight is a mix of Tahiti based crew and Paris based crew. The maître de is a woman of Polynesian descent. The service provided by all the crew is very personable and friendly. They all take their time to interact with the passengers in a very charming and outgoing manner.

After take-off the ladies change into a typically Polynesian dress and wear a Tiaré in their hair. It is a nice touch I think.

Once we are airborne, the crew distribute the menus and the vanity kits.

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VANITY KIT
Brand:
no name
Content: shoe spoon, a large tube of Colgate toothpaste, toothbrush, eye shades, earplugs, Clarins cosmetics, lip balm

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
orange juice, still water or champagne
Hot towel before the meal: available but not scented
Pre-meal drink:
full bar service, served with an amuse bouche and a crispy snack
Choice:
four choices for the main dish, including one vegetarian option
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
lunch, hot meal
Menu:

  1. A mini vol-au-vent with salmon roe, shrimp and cream cheese served as an amuse bouche
  2. Crispy crèpes filled with cream cheese and walnuts to go with the aperitif
  3. Seasonal salad with a choice of balsamic dressing, French dressing or basil infused olive oil
  4. For the first course a terrine of cauliflower and carrot, a chunky piece of grilled Mahi Mahi with lime juice, grilled lamb with tossed vegetables
  5. Polenta and vegetable cake served with a bell pepper coulis
  6. A variety of bread from the breadbasket, I count four rounds
  7. Cheese from the cart
  8. For dessert a combination of pastries: pineapple tartlet, praline cream puff, strawberry maccaron served with mango sorbet
  9. Tea and coffee
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Something has gone awfully wrong here. I am always telling my Dutch colleague P. from work what a useless airline Air France is. On this flight however, I am finding it difficult to explain why. First we have the friendly crew, that cannot be right. And now the food: this meal is quite unusual in all respects. First of all the sheer amount of food you are served is incredible. You really do not need to go hungry with Air France. Secondly, some of the dishes are really quite interesting and unusual. I decide to go with the polenta and it really is very tasty.

The biggest pleasure though, are the desserts. So often on a plane dessert consists of some ghastly creamy concoction that is advertised as being this or that with a hint of so, so and bla but eventually ends up tasting of artificial cream and nothing else. But Air France is not having any of this: the pastry is rich and has managed to remain surprisingly crisp. It is not at all soggy.

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Once everything is cleared away, the lights go out and the blinds are lowered. I never quite understand why people do this. After all, it is a daytime flight and under normal circumstances they would not be sleeping at this hour either.

SECOND MEAL SERVICE
Menu:

  1. Goat cheese canapé with tapenade
  2. Smoked tune canapé with eggplant caviar
  3. Hazelnut and chocolate puff pastry
  4. Fresh fruit
  5. Fresh cheese
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ARRIVAL
We are running behind schedule and eventually arrive in Los Angeles fifty minutes late. As such this is not really a big deal for me. But the queue for immigration is incredibly long, presumably because we arrived shortly after a China Southern A 380 which must have been pretty full by the looks of it.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
complimentary hotel shuttle
Departs from: international terminal, hotel shuttle pick up area
Frequency: every 15 – 20 minutes
Journey time: ca. 10 minutes
Actually I am not going into town. I shall not be staying in Los Angeles. I have an onward flight tomorrow morning, so I figure I might as well take a hotel at the airport. I am staying at the Hilton LAX Airport on Century Boulevard.

ABOUT AIR FRANCE
I was fully expecting not to like Air France. Much to my surprise though, I thought they were rather good. First of all, the Polynesian touch provided by the local crew is brilliant, they were all just so nice and friendly. Secondly, the meals are something else. In terms of quantity and quality they make the likes of SWISS or Lufthansa look pretty sad. I do not think I will go out of my way to fly Air France again. But I think I may now stop actively avoiding them.

Air New Zealand, Business Class – B777-200: Perth to Auckland

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INTRODUCTION

I spend my last day in Australia walking through the streets of Perth and visiting the lovely King’s Park. What always impresses me in Australia is just how health conscious people generally are. If you are out in the street around lunchtime, you really have to watch out to avoid being run over by one of the many runners.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
public transport bus, bus lines 37 and 40
Depart from: the corner of William Street and St Georges Terrace, stand C
Frequency: every 30 minutes
Journey time: 35 minutes + 15 minutes
Fare: AUD4.40

I have plenty of time to spare for my 19:25 departure to Auckland, so I figure I might as well try getting to the airport by public transport. The bus lines 37 and 40 both make the journey from the centre of Perth to the airport. However, the 37 takes 15 minutes longer to complete the trip.

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Both busses only run to the domestic terminals 3 and 4. To reach terminal 1, which handles all the international flights, you need to changes busses upon arrival at terminals 3 and 4. The connecting bus stops just a bit further up from where the bus from the city arrives. The transfer shuttle is painted orange and white. Make sure you get on to the right bus though, as there is another one in the same colours which only goes to the long-term parking.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
ground floor, international departures
Facilities: web check-in and mobile check-in not available
Counters: The check-in counters for the flight to Auckland only open two hours and thirty minutes before departure. There are seven counters in total, two of which are reserved for Business Class passengers and status card holders.

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LOUNGE
Location:
opposite gate 2
Type of Lounge:
QANTAS lounge
Facilities:
business centre, showers, hot and cold food, selection of hot and cold drinks
Internet:
available without password, the airport also has its own free network

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Air New Zealand uses the QANTAS lounge in Perth. The only other lounge in the international terminal is the one belonging to Emirates, next door. The food options in the lounge are pretty good, with an interesting selection of Mediterranean antipasti. The showers are stocked with Molton Brown toiletries, which smell really nice. I think I may have to stock up next time I am in London. Towels for the shower are also provided upon request at reception and I am surprised at how fluffy they are.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
separate lane for Business Class passengers and status card holders, boarding sequence is enforced

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 26 seats – All seats face inward to the aisle. For the window seats this means that outside views are difficult without contorting your neck into a painful position. Furthermore, due to the layout of the seats pointing towards each other, you may feel slightly exposed, there is really not much privacy. And if you try to stretch your legs when the seat is in the upright position, you end up with your feet sticking out and obstructing the aisle.
Pitch: 79.5 inches
Length as a bed: 79.5 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

For sure the Business Class cabin Air New Zealand has installed is spectacular to look at. The mood lighting adds to the atmosphere. Even so, I do not think I will ever be a fan of the herringbone. For one, everything seems to be in a slightly awkward position. There is a small foldable table for drinks underneath the reading lamp, which is good. But it is just a bit too far back for you to be able to reach it comfortably. For another, using the seat is far from intuitive. I take my seat and find myself looking around trying to figure out where the table is, how to open the table, how to switch off the lights, find the remote control, etc.. And thirdly, there is not enough storage space in the seat.

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SERVICE

The crew on this flight are simply excellent, stupendous, brilliant, personable and very hospitable. From the moment you board the aircraft the crew make you welcome, in fact stepping aboard feels more like entering a friend’s living room.

A pillow, the vanity kit and the earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive. The steward comes to ask me if I would like a welcome drink. He introduces himself to me and gives me the names of the other crew serving the Business Class cabin on today’s flight.

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VANITY KIT
Brand:
no name
Content: Clarins cosmetics, toothbrush and toothpaste, eye shades and some pretty funky, colourful socks, pen, ear plugs

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
orange juice, water or sparkling wine
Hot towel before the meal: served on the ground before departure
Pre-meal drink:
Perrier, orders for the pre meal drink are taken while the aircraft is still on the ground
Choice:
only one choice for the starter, three choices for the main course (no vegetarian option) and three options for dessert
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
dinner, hot meal
Meal:

  1. Amuse bouche of nuts, dried fig, piece of cheddar, pickled vegetables
  2. Lemongrass poached chicken breast with rice noodles, cucumber and coconut dressing, crispy shallots
  3. Seared beef filet with wasabi crumbs, rustic roasted potatoes, minted green pea purée
  4. Gourmet ice cream dessert of English toffee crunch and chocolate fudge ice cream
  5. Selection from the breadbasket
  6. Tohu Noble Riesling 2011, Raiha Reserve

The size and the quality of the meal is quite amazing. The noodle starter is unusual and very refreshing. The beef for the main course is very nicely cooked and the wasabi crust goes surprisingly well with the beef. The carrots have managed to remain crisp and crunchy.

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The steward removes my tray and asks me if I’ll be having dessert. I answer by explaining that I’m torn between the ice cream and the white chocolate and amaretto cheesecake with cherry sauce topping. To which he answers that in no way is he trying to twist my arm, however he could give me a plate of each. But I resist the temptation and the kind offer and eventually settle for the ice cream, which is rich and creamy. To drink I have the Tohu Riesling dessert wine, which is truly exquisite. It is the kind of stuff you could go on drinking all night.

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After that I go change into my pyjamas. In the meantime, the crew convert my seat into a bed. Before I turn in, the steward asks me if I would like to be woken for breakfast.

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SECOND SERVICE

The second service starts about 50 minutes out of Auckland. It is a simple affair: just a cup of coffee, an orange juice and a warm Danish pastry. But it serves its purpose well.

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ARRIVAL

Apparently it is quite a windy day in Auckland today, with winds of up to 100 km/h. So our approach is quite bumpy. We land more or less on time and it is only now that I realise that my brain is having trouble coping with the idea that I have actually arrived on the other wise of the planet.

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I now have a layover of seven hours here in Auckland before my onward connection. But that is alright because my old friend A. is expecting me.

VERDICT

So what about Air New Zealand? I think they really rock and that is mainly due to the crew. Everybody on board the aircraft was such so friendly and helpful. The only thing I really do not like is the seat – it lacks privacy, comfort and convenience.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Bangkok to Vienna

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INTRODUCTION

I’m in a bit of a state today, I must confess. On Sunday evening I visited the Peninsula’s gym for a workout. The gym they have there is rather well equipped and what’s more, I had the place all to myself. But I think I may have overdone it, because this morning I’m feeling decidedly sore all over. So I decide to spend my last day in Bangkok lounging by the pool and generally taking it easy.

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Honest, I used sunblock, I kept my t-shirt on most of the time when I was out of the water and I sat in the shade in one of those cute little mini cabanas. And still I managed to get a really bad sunburn.

Occupancy at the Peninsula is rather low right now. For one, because the rain season is about to begin, so not that many tourists visit around this time of year anyway. For another, no matter how much calmer the situation is since the Junta took over, the political unrest has certainly had an impact on the number of visitors to the capital.

But for me all this is good news, because it means I am granted late check-out from the hotel at 20:00.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: BMW 7
Journey time: 30 minutes – a new record, it can take you as much as an hour and sometimes even a bit more when there is no curfew in place
Cost: included in the room rate

The problem with big German cars is that they’re really very quiet and you barely notice the speed at which you’re actually going. At least that is the only explanation I have for making it from the Peninsula to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport in 30 minutes flat! And I really don’t think the driver was speeding. It’s 20:30 and the curfew doesn’t come into effect until midnight.

Five minutes before we reach the airport, the driver calls ahead to let the hotel’s porter at the airport know that we’ll be arriving shortly. And indeed, as we pull up outside the entrance for check-in row G, he’s already expecting us. The chauffeur opens the door, wishes me a pleasant journey and bids me good bye.

The nice thing about staying at a hotel like the Peninsula is that once we enter the building, the porter makes a beeline for the Austrian Airlines Business Class counter, as though it doesn’t even occur to him that I might be travelling in Economy. Well, fortunately I’m not.

CHECK-IN

Location: row G, which is also where Lufthansa and Swiss check-in, the staff manning the Austrian Airlines counter is wearing a Lufthansa uniform
Facilities: I get an e-mail inviting me to do web check-in, despite the fact it won’t work for my connecting flight from Vienna to Luxembourg.

The porter places my suitcase on the scales and waits patiently in the background until I’ve finished. He then accompanies me to the security check, where he bids me goodbye and takes his leave.

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There are various security checkpoints at Suvarnabhumi airport. To access the Premium Lane, you must obtain a voucher from your airline at check-in. Immediately behind security is immigration.

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LOUNGE

Location: one floor down from check-in
Type of Lounge:
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Star Gold)
Facilities:
various food stations serving a wide selection of hot and cold European and Asian dishes, workstations, wide selection of papers and magazines
Internet:
good wifi connection, password required

As you come out of passport control 2, you will find yourself in front of a huge piece of artwork, which depicts a scene from Siam’s ancient mythology.

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If you want to do some shopping, this is the place to be, with many designer shops on both sides of the hall. The artwork kind of marks the halfway point, so don’t worry that you might be missing some of the good shops on the other side, they’re the same ones.

Keep walking east. At some point you will come across the signs for the Thai Airways lounges on your left. These will lead you to an escalator which takes you one floor down. As you come off the escalator you will find yourself right in front of the reception area of the Royal Silk lounge.

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The lounge is positively enormous. So far I’ve only ever used the First Class lounge in Bangkok, which is already rather large. But this is huge. I did at some point intend to take some pictures, but eventually I figured it made no sense, because the pictures can hardly do justice to the size and length of the lounge.

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There is quite a variety of choice in terms of food options. I go with some sticky rice and tandoori chicken. This being Thailand, when you have tandoori chicken it’s actually rather spicy, not like the lame stuff they often have in airline lounges.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Yes and no. Bangkok uses closed gates. From what I can tell there’s no priority lane for Business Class passengers to access the gate. However, once boarding starts, premium passengers are invited to board first. There is a dedicated airbridge for Business Class passengers.

The exit from the Thai Airways lounge is near gate D01, my flight this evening will be departing from gate D07. It doesn’t sound like much of a trek, but given that every one of these gates is capable of handling a B747, they are generously spaced out. By the time I reach the gate area, most of the regular passengers have already boarded. From what I can tell only the staff travellers are still in the gate area, waiting to find out if they got a seat or not.

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CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1
Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has
Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’
Width: 19.37’
Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net
Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality

The Business Class cabin is completely full this evening, not an empty seat to be had. Later on, during the flight I go check out the little mini Business Class cabin behind the galley, and there too every seat is taken.

But apart from that, this seat is really growing on me. It’s very comfortable and there’s plenty of stowage space. My only complaint about the seat is that the mechanism to open and close the tray table is a bit cumbersome and not at all intuitive.

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SERVICE

Okay Austrian, you win! As on the outbound flight, the crew this evening are really excellent, very friendly and charming. The young ladies working the Business Class cabin are doing a great job in attending to the passengers. There is one tall girl in particular who is all smiles, competent and efficient. Nothing every seems to be too much trouble and what ever request you have, she takes care of it immediately.

THE MEAL

Pre departure drinks: yes, I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail
Pre meal drinks: yes, another OJ and a glass of water, served with a dish of nuts
Choice: three choices for the first course, four choices for the main, five choices for dessert
Delivery:
individual service, separately laid out table
Type of meal:
dinner
Menu:
there is a menu for the drinks and food plus another menu for the coffees
Meal:

  1. potpourri of smoked salmon: smoked salmon carpaccio with capers, chives and crème fraîche, a thick slice of salmon with grilled fennel and lemon, a thin slice of salmon with a sauce Hollondaise on a bed of frisée salad
  2. red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croûtons
  3. fillet of beef with a sesame and soy chutney, green asparagus, red pepper coulis and potato terrine
  4. Austrian bread and butter pudding, chocolate cake, macadamia nut parfait
  5. orange juice, still water, Almdudler
  6. there are three bread rounds
  7. coffee
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I start with the red lentil soup, which is very rich and tasty. The ciabatta croûtons give the soup an interesting twist. In fact I would say the soup is truly outstanding.

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The salmon starter is also good, although the tartar is a bit bland and doesn’t really taste of anything much, other than salmon. But the Hollondaise sauce with the thinly sliced piece of salmon is very good.

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At some point during the meal the tall flight attendant approaches me and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. Eventually she ends up convincing me to try Almdudler, a very typically Austrian soft drink made of herbs from the Alps. It’s rather interesting and reminds me a bit of the Kinnie we have in Malta or the Italian Chinotto, but less bitter and not quite so strong. Later on during the meal she stops at my seat to inquire if I like the Almdudler and if I’d perhaps like another.

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IMG_2772The dessert, once more, is an absolute delight. It really is quite amazing how they manage to pack so much flavour into each dish, particularly given that your sense of taste is considerably diminished at an altitude of 39’000 feet.

I still can’t decide which is my favourite, the macadamia nut parfait or the bread and butter pudding. Don’t get me wrong, the chocolate cake is also very good, but ultimately, after such a meal, it’s just a bit too rich for me.

I’ve already changed into my shorts and a t-shirt. So once the meal is over, I slide my seat into bed mode and go off to sleep. Once more I manage a solid six hours of peaceful respite, despite the fact that my back is still quite sore from the sunburn. I awake just under two hours out of Vienna.

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SECOND SERVICE

Menu:

  1. a bowl of fresh fruit
  2. müsli
  3. a selection of breads
  4. an omelette with mushrooms, mozzarella, a spinach-filed tomato and toast
  5. coffee, orange juice, mango smoothie

As soon as the tall flight attendant becomes aware of the fact that I’m awake, she brings me a hot towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I decide to go with the mango smoothie, which is pleasantly sweet, rich and creamy.

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ARRIVAL

We arrive in Vienna bang on time. It’s just gone 05h45 and the place is still fairly quiet. I make my way through security and then from there up to the Austrian Airlines Senator Lounge in the Schengen area. Now all I have to do is wait for my onward connection.

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CONCLUSION

Once more Austrian Airlines manages to impress me with the quality of the food, the comfort of the seat and, above all, the professionalism and courtesy of the crew. From what I can tell Austrian Airlines has really understood what it means to cater to the business traveller. The service is swift and the crew is friendly but without being intrusive. Now let’s see about transferring in Vienna…

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Vienna to Bangkok

INTRODUCTION

I just arrived in Vienna on a Luxair flight from Luxembourg. I now have nearly four hours to make my connection to Bangkok.

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TRANSFER AT VIENNA AIRPORT

The flight from Luxembourg is operated as a code-share with Austrian Airlines. Even so, the bus from the aircraft to the terminal eventually drops us off at the C arrivals concourse, which is in one of the two wings of the old terminal.

And this is where things start to get a bit confusing. Upon entering the building, I follow the signs to the G gates, from where apparently my flight to Bangkok will be leaving. There is a shuttle that runs from the arrivals area C to the G gates. However, this only runs every 15 minutes and the service is provided by a little minibus.

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When I arrive at the pick up point for the shuttle, there are already quite a few people waiting. As a result, when eventually the shuttle arrives, only about a quarter of the queue find a place on the shuttle.

One of the passengers starts telling off the driver and the two of them start having an argument right there, outside, on the ramp and in front of everybody. Eventually the driver storm off, gets into the driver’s seat and drives off in a huff, leaving all the passengers who didn’t find a place in the shuttle standing there on the ramp unattended.

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Well this is just rubbish me thinks, so eventually I decide that probably the easiest thing will be to follow the signs marked ‘Exit Vienna’ and then to find my way to the new terminal landside. Much to my surprise though, just before I finally reach the exit there is yet another sign marked for the G gates. So I figure I might just give this a try. After all, I still have a few hours before my next flight.

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At long last I arrive at a passport control. For a moment I’m not sure if this is really to leave or to enter the Schengen area. But I pass through the check anyway, continue walking and eventually arrive at a security checkpoint, despite the fact that I’m transiting from another Schengen country, which should in fact not require me to go through security again. But in the sum of all things, that is just a minor issue and finally I find myself in the G concourse.

You know how sometimes you see or experience something and wonder ‘what on earth were they thinking’? Well, at Vienna airport it’s really more a question of ‘were they actually thinking’? And it’s not just the cumbersome transfer either. Everything in the new facility seems very cheaply made, giving the entire place the unfinished air of a temporary installation.

CHECK-IN

My suitcase has been checked through to Bangkok. I was also issued a Luxair boarding pass for my onward connection when I checked in at Luxembourg airport. Which means I can head straight for the lounge. 

LOUNGE

Location: at the beginning of the G concourse
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Senator lounge
Facilities:
small rest area with loungers to lie on, showers, three workstations with computers
Internet:
Vienna airport network, which is in fact very fast and works nicely

Austrian Airlines has three lounges: a Business Class lounge, Senator lounge and the Hon Lounge. There is a common reception area for the lounges, which is also where the lavatories and showers are located.

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I arrive in the middle of a bitch fight going on between two of the three lounge dragons. One of them wants to know who let ‘that woman’ into the Hon lounge, who quite evidently should not be there. To which the other replies that she has simply no idea, despite the fact that she always has to do all the dirty work. Charming!

The lounge is quite small. But that’s alright really because the place is hardly crowded. In fact it looks rather abandoned.

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At this time of the day the food options don’t really looks that appetizing anymore either. But apart from that, all the food seems rather greasy. As a warm dish there’s something that looks like macaroni cheese and for the two cold dishes there’s a potato salad with way too much mayonnaise and grilled aubergines drowned in an oily tomato sauce.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Yes. Vienna has automatic gates. However, there is a priority lane for premium passengers. There are also two airbridges attached to the aircraft, with the left one being for Business Class passengers.

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CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1
Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has
Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’
Width: 19.37’
Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net
Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality

All in all the seat is rather nice. It’s very similar to Swiss’ product in Business Class. Austrian Airlines has evidently put a lot of thought into how to make the best of the available space. Of course it helps that I’m sitting on one of the single seats which have stowage space on both sides of the seat. But it’s also little things like the shoe net for you to place shoes during the flight or the bottle holders on either side of the screen, which incidentally are also rather handy for your iPhone.

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The seat is very comfortable. The only thing I can complain about is that it’s a bit tight when you try to convert to seat into a bed. I’m a rather average 6’1 and my legs kept getting in the way. Once the seat has been expanded into a bed though, it’s not a problem any more.

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When I arrive at my seat, the vanity kit has already been placed there.

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SERVICE

Excellent! I have rarely come across such a professional crew. They are quite a stark contrast to the OS crews I experienced earlier in the year on my trip to Cyprus. The crew on today’s flight are all very friendly and welcoming. The service is impeccable but without being fussy and you get the impression that the crew are making a point to give the passengers as much personal space as they can but without ignoring them. Another thing which really strikes me, I am a linguist after all, is the very high level of English spoken by the Austrian crew. Not to mention the Thai spoken by the captain.

THE MEAL

Pre departure drinks: yes, I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail

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Pre meal drinks: yes, another OJ – it’s good for you – served with a dish of nuts

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Choice: three choices for the first course, four choices for the main, five choices for dessert
Delivery:
individual service, separately laid out table

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Type of meal:
dinner
Menu:
there is a menu for the drinks and food plus another menu for the coffees
Meal:

  1. smoked salmon with beetroot
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  1. consommé of beef with dumplings
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  1. rigatoni with lamb ragout and parmesan
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  1. chocolate mouse with a centre of green coconut crème brûlée, a ball of frozen yoghurt and Austrian style pancakes with berries
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  1. bread rolls
  2. apple juice
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  1. mint tea
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  1. a little box of chocolates

Wow, what a meal! First of all I think it’s quite unusual to be given a choice of three starters in Business Class these days. What’s more, it’s seems that most passengers are having at least two of the options, which does not seem to bother the crew in any way, despite the fact that the load in Business is rather high.

I have the salmon starter, which is very good. It’s a good quality piece of salmon, which isn’t fishy at all. I also like the beetroot hummus. The taste of the tahini is clearly discernible, but with a distinct hint of beetroot.

The soup is very tasty and light. The dumpling in it is simply divine. I have no idea what they put in this but it’s excellent. Full of many different well balanced flavours.

But the whole thing just keeps getting better and better. The rigatoni are nice and chewy and the ragout tastes like something you might get at an Italian restaurant somewhere in Rome. This is excellent!

By the time I finish the main course, I’ve already made a mental note to skip dessert and the cheese. That is, until I see the desserts, at which point I decide that it would be a pity to disappoint the people who read the stuff I write by not taking pictures of the dessert. And so one suffers in silence…

I don’t know how the Austrians do it, but they certainly know their stuff when it comes to making desserts. The chocolate mouse is so chocolaty and fluffy that it seems hardly possible, and the combination with the crème brûlée deserves a Nobel prize as far as I’m concerned.  With dessert I have a glass of sweet wine, as suggested by the cabin crew. But I forget to ask what it was.

Unfortunately the pictures can hardly do justice to this epic and excellent meal. Especially seeing as the lighting conditions were not very good. But it certainly was a very fine meal.

And then I change into my shorts and go off to bed. I only awake 90 minutes out of Bangkok and feel really relaxed and rested. I haven’t slept so well on a plane in a long time!

Just as I return to my seat, the second service is about to begin. Orders for the breakfast service are taken right after departure from Vienna by the on board chef.

SECOND SERVICE

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Menu:

  1. a bowl of fresh fruit
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  1. yoghurt with home made granola (very tasty)
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  1. a selection of breads, including toast
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  1. an omelette with bell peppers and mozzarella, potatoes and tomatoes
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  1. coffee and orange juice (there are also smoothies available)
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Once more I am amazed, not only by the tempo of the service, but also by the quality and taste of the food and how it is presented on the plate.

ARRIVAL

We arrive in Bangkok a few minutes ahead of schedule. The Austrian Airlines flight is normally one of the earlier ones to come in during the afternoon bank. As a result, the queues for immigration are quite manageable. If, like me, you need a visa on arrival, you will need to pay THB1000.- for the visa. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to wait, for an additional THB200.- you can have your request processed at the fast track counter, which will take you not more than two minutes.

Austrian Airlines does not provide fast track cards for immigration to its passengers.

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WHERE TO STAY

Talk about a déjà-vu! The driver from the Peninsula is the same guy who picked me up last time. What’s more, he even recognises me! I’m driven to the hotel in a lovely BMW 7. It’s in the standard Peninsula forest green and it looks gorgeous.

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We pull up by the main entrance, where I am already being expected. Check-in at the Peninsula is done in the room. On our way up to the 25th floor, the young lady informs me that they have taken the liberty to put me in the same room as on my previous stay.

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This place is just so nice!

CONCLUSION

Austrian Airlines’ inflight product is excellent on this flight. The crew are highly professional and experienced, the hard product is pretty decent and the food is simply to die for. Let’s put it this way, if the return turns out to be equally good, then I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply assume that my not so good experience to Cyprus was an exception.

Austrian is a bit unlucky to have to call a place like Vienna airport its hub. I really do think the facility has some serious issues going on that make it really very unpleasant and rather unattractive too. So I guess in future, it will be a question of weighing the tastiness of the rigatoni and lamb ragout against the inconvenience of transiting through Vienna.

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Singapore to Bandar Seri Begawan

INTRODUCTION

I’ve just arrived at Changi’s Terminal 3 on a Singapore Airlines A 380 flight from Zürich. It’s 05h45 in the morning and my onward connection to Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan is not until 13h50. Eight hours to go.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

My onward flight will be leaving from T2. The transfer between T3 and T2 could not be easier. There is a dedicated train which takes less than five minutes to make the journey. As I take a step from the air-conditioned terminal into the air-conditioned train, for just the briefest of moments I get a sensation of the temperature outside. It’s only just gone six but it’s already very hot and humid.

Date: 20. May 2013
From: Singapore
To: Bandar Seri Begawan
Aircraft: B 777-200
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 11A, window, left
Departure: 13h50
Arrival: 15h50

THE LOUNGE

All I want to do right now is have a shower. It’s too early and too dark outside anyway to properly make out any of the planes outside. The lounge situation in Changi is a bit confusing. There is a SilverKris Gold Lounge for members travelling in Singapore Airlines’ economy class. And then there is also the SilverKris Lounge for First and Business Class passengers, which, apparently, is the one I am entitled to use today.

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When I arrive, the lounge is already quite full. But I’m lucky and don’t have to wait to avail myself of one of the showers. The shower room itself is quite small. I only barely have enough space to open my carry-on to take out a new set of clothes. Shower gel and shampoo are provided, together with a shaving kit, tooth brush and tooth paste.

I’m starting to feel human again. I’m still tired though. For a loss of anything better to do, I find myself a quiet corner and figure I might as well upload my trip report of the previous flight from Zürich. As I write the lounge slowly empties, until eventually there is only a handful of people left.

The food and drink offerings in the lounge are good, with an interesting selection of Western and Asian dishes, both hot and cold. Even so, I can’t really say I like the lounge. First of all, the lack of any natural light makes the place feel rather gloomy. Secondly, the seating options are okay if you’re only in the lounge for a short while. But if, like me, you’re connecting from a long-haul flight, it would be nice to have more comfortable loungers to choose from.

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About 90 minutes before departure I have to pack up my things and leave. I’m so exhausted I’m literally having trouble keeping my eyes open. Perhaps if I go for a walk I might wake up again.

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So I mosey over to gate F34 from where my flight will be leaving. Changi uses a closed gate concept, with the security check taking place just before you enter the holding pen of the gate area. The gate has just opened. I walk up and down the length of the F pier but eventually decide to call it a day and head through security and into the gate. I take a seat by the window, from where I have excellent views of the ramp and the departing aircraft.

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BOARDING

Oops, how embarrassing…I briefly wake up, startled by the sound of my own snoring. I wasn’t actually aware of the fact that you could do that sitting upright. In fact, I wouldn’t have though I’d be able to fall asleep sitting upright in a public place. Just goes to sh…off again. Snoring. The next thing I know I am rudely awakened by the gate agent making an announcement inviting First and Business Class passengers to board the flight. Finally! I make a mental note to book a hotel for my twelve hours layover on the way back. Either that or take a tour of the city.

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THE CABIN

The cabin on this bird is still in the old configuration. I recognise the First Class seat from five years ago. There are two rows of First Class. The Business Class section is divided in two cabins. I am sitting in seat 11A, which is the first row of the forward cabin. This section has three rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. From what I can tell the second section, on the other side of the galley, also has three rows.

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The seat itself is pretty old school, with old-fashioned seat controls that hark back to the late ‘90s. Even so, the seat is very comfortable and although the recline is not fully flat, it still allows for some decent rest – which I’m very much in need of right now.P1080639

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A few images of the view outside:

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THE CREW

One of the crew spots the Air Malta sticker I have on my carry-on. So she follows me to my seat. As she helps me stow my luggage, curiosity gets the better of her and she asks me what Air Malta is. I try to explain to her that it’s the national airline of Malta but draw a blank. We look Malta up in the inflight magazine to find that it isn’t there. So I give up and simply tell her it’s a very small country in the Mediterranean. Later on during the flight, when I’d already forgotten about it, the same flight attendant returns and tells me that the captain actually flew to Malta many years ago, when Singapore Airlines still used to operate to Malta with the B 747-200 in the ‘80s. Blimey, shouldn’t he already be retired by now?

SERVICE

As soon as I am comfortably seated, a male flight attendant arrives with a tray of drinks. I have a glass of orange juice.

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Next a female flight attendant brings me the earphones and menu for today’s flight. And then, of course, it’s time for the first hot towel. I’m quite impressed, especially given that the flight time to Brunei is only one hour and 45 minutes.

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Eventually the doors close and we push back. It’s a light load today, with only four of the 21 seats in the forward Business Class section occupied.

Taxiing to the active runway:

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Take-off:

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THE FOOD

Once we’re airborne, it takes a while for the fasten seatbelt sign to be turned off. I have a vague recollection of us flying through some turbulence, but I may have been dreaming. But the sound of the food service starting quickly wakes me up again.

The tray arrives with the starter and dessert on it. The starter is marinated shrimps with feta cheese, slices of bell pepper and greens.

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Dessert today is something described in the menu as ice jelly with fresh fruit. It comes with the smallest lime I have ever seen. The idea is that you squeeze the lime over the jelly.

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The starter is not really very good. First of all the shrimps have a very strong and off-putting smell. The few pieces of feta cheese are okay but the bell peppers are still half frozen.

I choose a slice of garlic bread from the breadbasket, but only remember to take a picture after I’ve already had a bite. Sorry about that.

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Eventually the flight attendant arrives with my hot meal. She removes the starter and wishes me a good meal. She also reassures me that if the meal is too spicy I should let her know, they still have something harmless available which I can have if I can’t take the spicy food.

For the main I have the Nasi Uduk. It’s an interesting dish that contains pieces of chicken in some spicy marinade, a fish cake and fried egg with rice cooked in coconut milk. There is also a small tinfoil container with some sort of spicy curry gravy.

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The meal is served with a side dish of pickled vegetables.

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The meal is quite spicy. During the meal three different flight attendants come to check if I’m alright or if I need some more water, which is of course very considerate of them, although the meal isn’t that hot.

The ice jelly is rather bland. I only have a spoon full to taste and leave the rest. The tray is removed before the coffee service. As on the previous flight, I am quite amazed by how well timed the service is. It’s not at all rushed, but there is no wait either to remove the tray.

I finish the meal with a cup of coffee, which is much better than the one I had on the last flight.

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ARRIVAL

The meal seems to have done wonders to revive me. I’m feeling quite awake again. I suppose it’s also the excitement of visiting a new country. Most of the flight is over the sea. On our way we pass some beautiful looking islands before eventually we reach the Brunei coast.

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Brunei itself is very green and lush. From above it doesn’t look very densely populated.

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We land and the engines of the mighty triple seven treat us to one last, powerful roar as the reversers open and we slow down on the airport’s single runway.

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There’s quite a queue for immigration, but it moves quickly. My suitcase takes a while longer to arrive and for one horrible moment I’m afraid it may not have made it. Eventually though, I finally see it coming round the corner on the conveyor belt. Initially I wonder how on earth I’m supposed to get a hold of it. There are people standing all around the belt, three rows deep. But I needn’t have worried as I get a first impression of the friendliness of the people of Brunei: as my suitcase approaches I try to move to the front to pick it up, but it is to no avail. Fortunately some gentleman up front notices me, picks up the suitcase for me and passes it on to the guy standing right behind him, who then passes it on to me. Thank you very much!

I finally made it. I am in Brunei. Apart from the friendliness and politeness of the people, I am simply amazed by just how clean everything is. I leave you with a few images of Bandar Seri Begawan.

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photo

Japan Airlines, First Class – B 777-200: Sapporo Chitose to Tokyo Haneda

INTRODUCTION

I spend four blissful days in the Niseko-Hirafu region of Hokkaido. The area is well known for its excellent winter sports facilities. And indeed, the place really is lovely and I even manage to get some skiing done in truly excellent conditions. But alas, all good things must come to an end and so it’s time for me to start the long journey home. Today I will travel by train from Niseko to Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport and then from there with Japan Airlines to Haneda. The day after I will be flying on from Narita to Frankfurt with ANA and then eventually to Basel with Lufthansa on 1 January 2013 – my first flight in the new year!

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From: Sapporo New Chitose Airport
To: Tokyo Haneda
Airlines: Japan Airlines
Aircraft: B777-200
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2H, aisle

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I leave the Kimamaya Hotel in Niseko at 10:15. The journey by taxi to the railway station at Kutchan takes roughly 10 minutes to complete. From Kutchan I catch the 11:00 local train to Otaru. The journey takes one hour and 19 minutes to complete and unfortunately it’s standing room only all the way to Otaru.

Vending machine at Kutchan station. The interesting thing is that you can get hot and cold drinks from the same machine!
Vending machine at Kutchan station. The interesting thing is that you can get hot and cold drinks from the same machine!
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From Otaru I catch the rapid train that runs via the city of Sapporo to the airport. I have a reserved seat, but only until Sapporo. Between there and the airport there were already no more reserved seats to be had by the time I purchased my ticket in Kutchan. Fortunately, a lot of passengers leave the train at Sapporo and I quickly find a seat in one of the non-reserved carriages. The journey from the city to the airport is 36 minutes by rapid train.

My train at the Otaru terminus.
My train at the Otaru terminus.
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The local train I arrived on from Kutchan.
The local train I arrived on from Kutchan.
My seat in the reserved coach.
My seat in the reserved coach.
Snow right down to the seashore.
Snow right down to the seashore.
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CHECK-IN

I arrive at the airport at 13:46, just over three hours before my departure to Haneda. I have a booking in Business Class today. Check-in at the self-service machine won’t work because I didn’t book the ticket through Japan Airlines directly. So I head for one of the many counters marked ‘ticketing & check-in’.

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I don’t read Japanese at all, but from one of the roll-up posters near the row of counters it looks as though I may upgrade to domestic First Class for as little as 8000 Yen. I ask at the counter and indeed the young lady confirms that seats are available for an upgrade to First for the afore mentioned amount. Excellent!

After all that I’m feeling peckish, it’s been a while since breakfast, so I head upstairs to the third floor again and treat myself to another Onigiri and a bowl of excellent Udon noodles with radish and ginger.

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Here are a few shots I took from the observation deck by the food court.

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THE LOUNGE

With that taken care of, it’s time to go downstairs again to the departures level and head through security. Passengers in First Class have their own dedicated security lane, which they share with JAL’s top tier frequent flyers. From security there is a direct access to the Sakura Lounge. Essentially it’s a Business Class lounge. However there is a separate room that is dedicated to First Class and Premier members. But it’s rather small and so I decide to stay in the general Business Class section of the lounge.

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Access to the First Class box room...I mean lounge.
Access to the First Class box room…I mean lounge.

The lounge is moderately stocked, like most Japanese lounges, and includes another one of those soft drink dispenser machines.

BOARDING

Boarding for my flight starts at 16:50, 10 minutes before departure and I’m thinking this will never work. But I underestimate Japanese efficiency and team spirit and indeed, within 10 minutes Japan Airlines manages to board an entire B777-200 and make sure everybody is seated with their belongings stowed away properly.

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A first glance of my bird tonight.
A first glance of my bird tonight.
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THE CABIN

Perhaps just to explain: if I’m not mistaken, in a normal domestic configuration Japan Airlines has a 3 – 3 – 3 seating arrangement in Economy and a 2 – 4 – 2 arrangement in Business Class. Apart from the slightly wider seat and marginally better pitch, service in Business Class is not really much different to Economy. In domestic First Class however, seating is in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration with wide leather seats in cream coloured leather. The cabin looks well maintained. The interior design is perhaps more a question of personal gusto. Japan Airlines went with a style that I’m not too partial of personally. For some reason it reminds me a lot of the style you find in the States in many of the larger hotel chains.

Nonetheless, the seat is comfortable enough and certainly beats the Business Class alternative. On a side note, the controls of the seat work mechanically, rather than electrically.

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SERVICE

The cabin crew up front consists of three females. One of them notices that I speak German and strikes up a conversation. Apparently she’s studying German at University to become a teacher. She says she’s spent two months in Tübingen in Germany and I am amazed by just how good her German is! After all, it’s not the easiest language to learn, with its complex system of declensions etc.

When I arrive at the seat, I find a menu has already been placed at my seat. As it turns out though, the menu is only available in Japanese. But the crew go out of their way to translate and explain to me what the individual items are. And even once the tray arrives, they repeatedly stop to ask if I’m okay with the Japanese food and if I’m enjoying my meal. I do actually!

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There is also a little gift bag at my seat. Inside it is something wrapped in foil that goes by the name of ‘Bonbon Fromage’. There is also some sort of drink that turns into jelly when you shake it. Both sound absolutely revolting actually and I manage to resist the temptation of trying them out of curiosity.

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Other than that, there are also earphones and a pair of slippers and even a blanket in every seat – all this for a flight of eighty minutes!

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As we start to push back, one of the crew comes by distributing warm towels.

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THE MEAL

When the meal arrives I am really quite impressed by the variety and quality of the food. More importantly, it strikes me that the chopsticks Japan Airlines use up front are of much better quality than the ones I was given in First Class on Lufthansa, which looked as though they’d come straight from a cheap Chinese take away.

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These two dishes are warm. The left one is duck, to other is a Japanese specialty. It's made with wheat.
These two dishes are warm. The left one is duck, to other is a Japanese specialty. It’s made with wheat.
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Miso.
Miso.
Steamed rice.
Steamed rice.
Dessert. No idea what this was.
Dessert. No idea what this was.

After the meal my tray is removed immediately and I am asked if I would like a tea or coffee. I ask for a coffee, which is brought to me straight away, just as the aircraft starts shaking violently with the turbulence. I end up spilling half the coffee before even having had the chance to have a sip. One of the flight attendant sees this and immediately whisks away my cup – only to bring me a fresh one with a paper doily on the saucer in case of further turbulence.

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To end the meal there is another towel.

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A short while later we start our descent into Haneda. By now it’s started raining heavily and the violent shaking increases. It’s so bad you can actually hear the wind outside over the sound of the engines. Fortunately as we start our final approach the wind dies down and we land in the middle of a severe downpour. Such weather is really quite unusual for this time of the year in the Tokyo area, and in the many years I’ve been coming here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

Once we’re at the gate I bid the crew good bye. The German student flight attendant thanks me for having been able to have a chat in German and wishes me a safe onward journey.

From Haneda I catch the monorail to Hamamatsucho, the terminus station. From here I connect onto the Yamanote Line which takes me to Shinjuku where my hotel is. I like Shinjuku because it’s lively and the hotel is rather central. Shinjuku is also one of the stops at which the Narita Express stops, so I won’t have to wake up too early the next morning for my 12h00 departure to Frankfurt.

Carriage view of the monorail to Hamamatsucho.
Carriage view of the monorail to Hamamatsucho.
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CONCLUSION

The Japanese transport system is excellent and truly integrates all sorts of transport vehicle! I think JAL has a very good product with its domestic First Class that certainly sets them apart from the competition. I’m just not quite sure how sound it is as a business proposition – but time will tell.

EPILOGUE

Niseko was, as I mentioned already, a lot of fun and the skiing there is really excellent. It’s also interesting to note that the place has a very international feel to it but still manages to retain its obviously very Japanese roots. I think I’ll end here with a few images from Niseko.

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Korean Air, Economy Class – B 777-200: Madrid to Amsterdam

INTRODUCTION

Today I wake up at 05:30. I’ve spent my last night at the Barajas Hilton. This gives me enough time for a leisurely shower and breakfast before heading for Terminal 1 at Barajas. As I check out, the Korean Air crew of the inbound flight from Seoul are just checking in. This is somewhat surprising to me, as it means all passengers continuing to Amsterdam will have a layover here in Madrid of about three hours.

Date: Monday, 01. May 2012
From: Madrid
To: Amsterdam
Airline: Korean Air
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-200
Class: Economy Class
Seat: 43A, window
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I take the shuttle to the airport at around 06h30. It drops me off right in front of the entrance to Terminal 1. The journey only takes about five minutes at this time of day.

CHECK-IN

I sort of managed to check in for the flight last night. I say sort of because although I was able to select my seat and all that, the confirmation I receive informs me that this is my exchange voucher, which I must present at the airport to receive my boarding pass.

Korean Air’s check-in counter are opposite the entrance. I exchange my voucher for a real boarding pass, head through security and then through passport control to the Cibeles Lounge which is used by Korean Air here in Madrid.

THE LOUNGE

When I arrive, the place is empty, save for one other passenger whom I suspect is in transit from Seoul to Amsterdam. The lounge is enormous and has excellent view of the apron.

And here’s my bird, resplendent in the morning light in her elegant shades of white and blue.

BOARDING

Boarding starts right on time. I avail myself of the priority lane and am the first one heading down the airbridge. This is so exciting! I’ve always wanted to give Korean Air a try.

Boarding is a calm and efficient affair. But alas, the powers that be will not permit an on time departure and we are informed of a delay of 40 minutes due to the bad weather in Amsterdam.

But never mind. I am on board Korean Air’s mighty 777, in the capable hands of an excellent cabin crew, which pass through the cabin offering cups of water. How very considerate.

Shortly before the 40 minutes are up, the captain is on the blower again. There will be a further delay of 40 minutes due to the weather situation in Amsterdam. For the time being there’s nothing to worry about. I originally had three hours to make the connection to Zurich. That should still be enough, even with the delay.

In the meantime, the crew come by dishing out more drinks and peanuts.

THE CABIN

The cabin of this aircraft is in excellent condition. In Economy Class the colours of the seat cover change every few rows for a bit of variation. It’s a nice touch, but I’m not so sure I like that brown colour.

DEPARTURE

Eventually, we take off 10:55, 85 minutes behind schedule. I could have slept in. In any case, we depart form the runway point north that runs parallel to Terminal 5, which means a long taxi for us. But our captain is obviously quite eager to get going. You’d be surprised how maneuverable the B 777-200 is even when taxiing at high speeds…

THE MEAL

As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the cabin crew spring into action. The captain is determined to make up some of the delay and has even loaded additional fuel to this end. Subsequently, the flight time is expected to be 1 hour and 42 minutes. That is how much time the cabin crew have to serve a hot meal to a full Economy Class.

First refreshing towels are distributed.

Next comes the meal and I am delighted. The starter is cold chicken with potato salad, followed by chicken breast in a mustard sauce as the hot meal, served with noodles in a pepper and tomato sauce. Dessert is a lovely, diabolically chocolaty piece of cake with pieces of pear in it. I have a diet coke with the and finally wash it all down with a cup of coffee.

Shortly after the trays are cleared away, we already start a very gentle descent into Amsterdam. We spend one round in a hold pattern above Rotterdam before continuing to Amsterdam and eventually landing on the remote Polderbahn. By the time we arrive at the gate, we’re one hour behind schedule. I will make my connection to Zurich effortlessly.

 CONCLUSION

Korean Air were good fun. I also think they dealt with the delay in a very good way. The cockpit crew made sure to keep the passengers constantly updated on developments and the cabin crew took good care of the passengers while we waited, providing drinks and snacks to keep us going until the flight got underway. The quality of the catering was very good. The entire meal service was like a trip down memory lane. After all, how many other airlines in Europe still serve such a generous hot meal in Economy Class on a flight of less than two hours?

EPILOGUE

No, in the end I did not make my connection to Zürich, the flight was cancelled. But at least I managed to talk the lady rebooking me into putting me on the flight to Basel instead. This meant was more convenient for me but also meant that I had another six hours to wait in Amsterdam. So I decided to head into town and have afternoon tea at my favourite bakery.