Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. She then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose job it is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an espresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tows us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Dubai

Introduction

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Dubai to give the next course. In Paris I stayed at the Roissypole Pullmann hotel, which is just a few metres from the entrance to the station. I exit the hotel just before 10h in the morning to make my way to Terminal 2.

I like the rather brutalist concrete architecture of the station. Although I think the effect would be much better if it weren’t littered with vending machines and just the big, empty hall.

The Roissyval only takes about five minutes to make the journey to Terminal 2 and passengers are obviously making the effort to keep their distance on the train.

Terminal 2 is the home of Air France and some of its partners. Terminal 2F is for Schengen flights, whereas I shall be leaving from Terminal 2E.

Check-in

The La Première check-in area is at the far end of the terminal. There is an Air France agent standing at the entrance. And so the La Première experience begins. I show him my passport and he smiles at me: “Mr. A., bonjour. We’ve been expecting you. Take a seat and let me take care of everything”. And he does. Paul calls over a porter to take my suitcase, while Michelle brings me a glass of Perrier to drink.

Paul checks my vaccination status and the negative PCR test I took in Oslo. With that out of the way, he returns my passport and tells me to take my time with the Perrier. Michelle will be back to escort me through the terminal in a few minutes.

Michelle is a charming woman with excellent conversational skills. She takes me through security, stopping other passengers for me to pass ahead of them and she will not even let me pull out the trays myself for me to put my belongings on the belt.

Behind security she brings me to a lift which takes us up into the La Première lounge.

Air France La Première lounge, Terminal 2E

Michelle asks me if perhaps I would like some breakfast. She makes sure I’m settled at my dining table and tells me she’ll be back in a few minutes with my boarding pass and passport.

Meanwhile, a friendly young man brings me the menu and takes my request for freshly pressed orange juice.

I just love the little sea horse, which Air France staff apparently refer to as ‘la crevette’ – the shrimp.

The selection on the menu is very good. I order the scrambled eggs with confit onions. The young man asks me if I prefer my eggs soft or well done.

I also order the plate of French cheese with mustard seed chutney.

And some fresh fruit salad as my saving grace.

And a lovely cappuccino.

There is also a buffet with small snacks to choose from. However, I decide to show at least some restraint in light of what lies ahead.

Once I’m done with the meal, I take a seat on one of the comfy sofas and read until it’s time to leave. Michelle will be back to pick me up at 12h50 for my 13h30 departure.

Boarding

Just before 13h00 Michelle arrives to bring me to the aircraft. There’s a slight delay because of an issue with the L1 door. I am driven to the aircraft in my own car. I think it’s a BMW. But beyond that, I couldn’t say what type of car it is. But it’s certainly a very smooth and powerful ride.

It’s raining quite heavily when we reach our stand. Michelle gets out of the car, takes the umbrella out of the booth and opens the door for me, to prevent me from getting wet.

I manage to sneak one picture of the mighty B777 taking me to Dubai today. And then from there we take a lift to the airbridge.

There are four flight attendants standing by the L2 door as I enter and they greet me like they’re genuinely happy to see me. Michelle introduces me by name to the purser, who welcomes me aboard. She then escorts me to my seat, where she informs me that she has checked again that my suitcase has been loaded on to the flight. With that, she bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant flight. Merci Madame, vous êtes très aimable!

The La Première cabin

There are four seats in the First Class cabin, and a young couple will be joining me on the way to Dubai. So, three out of four seats are occupied on today’s flight. The cabin and the seat are very well designed and offer a lot of storage space. The cabin also looks very elegant.

There’s a comfortable ottoman to rest your feet on, or use if you would like one of the other passengers to join you for dinner. Beneath the ottoman is a large drawer which contains a red blanket and the slippers.

Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is a soft pillow on it which provides good lumbar support. There’s also a blanket, shoe spoon and slippers in the ottoman.

In short succession, the crew come to introduce themselves and hand me the vanity kit…

… and pjs. The flight attendant very diplomatically asks which size I take, which is a nice gesture, I think.

I’m also handed a Covid kit, and the flight attendant recommends I frequently wash my hands and change my mask after four hours. I also notice the whole crew regularly disinfecting their hands throughout the flight.

I’m also brought a glass of the Veuve Clicquot 2008 Grand Dame with a hot towel and a packet of mixed cranberries and cashews.

Meanwhile, the weather outside is getting worse and worse.

Once we’re airborne though, we’re treated to some spectacular views and the horrible weather in Paris quickly clears up to reveal a snowy European landscape.

The meal service

The meal service in La Première is always a delight. And this flight is no different. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew distribute the menus and take orders for the meal.

The table is set and once again, I am struck by the attention to detail by the crew. They set the table always making sure that the flying sea horse is looking the right way up.

The side plate has both salted and unsalted butter on it.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a vodka and lime whipped cream

In preparation for the first course, the crew pass through the cabin with a bread basket containing a nice selection of breads and rolls.

Soup: porcini mushroom cream

The soup is excellent. It is served very hot, and has a rich flavour to go with the velvety texture.

Starter: Oyster mushrooms with honey and Melfor vinegar served with cheese, beet hummus, sunchoke purée and crushed pumkin with orange

Now this dish is spectacular. The combination of flavours is just divine and so subtle. I also love the presentation.

Main course: Langoustines served with scallops filled with truffles and a reduction with julienne vegetables

The main course is simply outstanding. The truffles go exceptionally well with the scallops and the reduction complements the delicate flavour of the langoustines perfectly. I am completely smitten by this dish.

Mixed salad with boiled egg

Air France has a wide selection of sides that can be added to the salad. However, by this stage I think it’s wisest to keep it simple. The salad is served with a olive oil and balsamico dressing.

The cheese: Bleu d’auvergne, Camembert, Cantal, Crottin de Chavignole & Maroilles

With the cheese I have a lovely class of Sauternes. I also ask the flight attendant to really just give me a taster of each cheese. The dish is served with more bread and the selection is excellent. But way too much for one person after such an epic meal. And there is still dessert, after all…

Dessert: hazelnut ice cream & a verbena chocolate finger

By this stage I’m already quite full. But I must keep going in the name of investigative blogging. At least that’s my excuse. The hazelnut ice cream is excellent and reminds me of my childhood in Malta. Back then, dessert in restaurants was either chocolate or hazelnut ice cream.

The chocolate finger is amazing, with a delicate hint of the verbena. But it’s so rich I can hardly finish it.

And to calm the stomach after such an excellent meal, I have some mint tea.

After the meal, the crew quickly clear everything away and ask me if I’d like them to make up the bed. I tell them I won’t be needing a duvet and just ask the curtains to be drawn. One of the flight attendants brings me two nice fluffy pillows and wishes me bon repos. The meal is completed in about two hours and thirty minutes.

Arrival

We land in Dubai with a slight delay after a flight time of six hours and fifteen minutes. The airport is calm and the terminal quiet. The First Class flight attendant asks me to follow her to the L2 door to disembark, as the L1 door is still inop. At the door she and three other flight attendants thank me for choosing Air France and then hand me over to the Merhaba agent who escorts me through immigration, baggage claim and eventually drops me off in front of my ride to the hotel.

Conclusion

This was another highly enjoyable flight with Air France. I booked the trip with them because I wanted to avoid the hassle of travelling in times Covid. However, I also wondered if the flight with Air France would be able to live up to my previous experiences with their Le Première product. If anything, I think this flight may have been even better than the last. The processes on the ground are seamless and really take away all the hassle of air travel. What’s more, the staff on the ground and in the air are all just so nice and friendly. Everyone seems genuniely concerned with making the experience a pleasurable one. It’s little things, like the fact that they very purposefully announce every dish as they place it in front of you and give you detailed explanations of what’s on the plate. Or the fact that one flight attendant brought me two big pillows when she realised I just needed a cat nap. As far as I’m concerned, Air France has to have – hands down – the best First Class product currently in the business.

Emirates Airlines, Boeing B 777-300ER – First Class: Dubai to Zürich

Introduction

I awake early on Friday morning with a large red sore across the bridge of my nose from having had to wear a face mask for the last seven days. But the course I was in Ras Al-Khaima for is now done, and I’m ready to go home. Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, cumbersome and tiring.

Getting to the airport

Ras Al-Khaima is about 80 minutes away from Dubai airport by car. Given that my departure to Zürich is just after eight in the morning and I really don’t feel like having to wake up at the crack of dawn, on Thursday afternoon I head back to Dubai to spend my last night at the Sofitel Downtown.

I’ve ordered an Emirates car to pick me up just before six in the morning; which is still early. The journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes. You can order the car yourself online in the ‘Manage my Booking’ section of the Emirates website, which is where you can also book a car to pick you up at the airport at your destination.

If you’re travelling in First Class, you get a larger and more ostentatious type of vehicle than you would in Business Class. And so, taking me to the airport this morning is a gorgeous BMW 7.

Check-in

Emirates checks in at Terminal 3, and there is a dedicated section of the terminal for Business and First Class check-in only. I wouldn’t say the place is teeming with people when I arrive, but it’s certainly a lot busier than I would have expected in the current situation.

There is no queue for the First Class check-in counters and I’m surprised by just how many counters are actually open. The check-in agent makes quick work of my suitcase and then I head for security and immigration.

The e-gates are available for passengers leaving the country. To use them you have to register your passport when you arrive in the country.

Emirates temporary First Class lounge

The lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area. The standard Emirates First Class lounge is temporarily closed to passengers, however. Instead, one half of the Business Class lounge has been sectioned off and converted into the First Class lounge.

The main feature of the lounge is the dining area. In accordance with the current situation, there is no buffet and passengers are served at their table. The menu is available online via QR code. There are some passengers in the lounge, but I wouldn’t say it is crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 07h45. I arrive at the gate a few minutes later and the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. I ask the gate attendant and she confirms that while the load in Business Class is looking quite okay, in Economy it’s rather light. In First Class there are three passengers.

The cabin and seat

I’ve never really liked the look of the Emirates First Class cabin and seat. Generally speaking, I find the fake wood and fake gold trimmings a bit tacky. And the grey leather covers are about as bland and boring as Lufthansa.

But the seat is very comfortable and offers a lot of privacy and space.

I think what impresses me most about the seat, is the amount of thought that has obviously gone into the design to create a private space for the passenger that is functional, practical and very comfortable.

The minibar in the side panel of the seat has a standard stock of drinks. However, the crew are happy to change the contents of the minibar to suit your requirements.

Every passenger also gets a bowl of snacks, which are replenished throughout the flight.

There’s also a travel hygene kit at my seat. It contains two face masks, two pairs of plastic gloves and disinfectant.

On the shorter day time flights Emirates does not offer a vanity kit nor pjs. But they do offer cosmetics at the seat, and toothbrushes and toothpaste are available in the lavatory.

There’s also a drawer with a writing pen and a small notebook. The pen is rather useless though, and doesn’t write very well.

There is ample storage space for personal items in the seat.

Before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin handing out forms that need to be completed on arrival into Switzerland.

Next, they pass through the cabin for the traditional coffee and dates welcome, with every date packaged in plastic individually.

We take off in a southeasterly direction and then make a right hand turn to point us in the general direction of Europe. The SID takes us right over Sheikh Zayed Road and the fabulous Burj Khalifa.

A la carte service

The service is à la carte and passengers can order any time they like. I already had breakfast in the lounge, and so I decide to have a nap first.

Apéritif

Around three hours out of Zürich I order lunch. The menu is quite extensive and offers a good selection of breakfast items, starters, main courses and desserts. I start with a bowl of warm mixed nuts, a glass of sparkling water and a glass of the Dom Perignon 2008.

The first course

Next, the table is set for the meal. This is one area where I think Emirates could improve. The whole meal service, like the seat, it functional and on point but not really very elegant – be it in the design of the tableware or the presentation of the food on the plate.

Before the crew start serving the food, they ask me if I would prefer the dishes to be served with the covers still on and remove them myself or if I would rather have them removed.

The breads in the breadbasket come individually wrapped in plastic that can be heated in the oven. They’re not really good though, because the steam cannot escape properly and as a result, the bread turns soggy fairly quickly.

For the starter I go with the cold-smoked ocean trout, served with pickled potatos, capers and crème fraîche. It’s a lovely piece of trout, but the presentation is a bit of a mess.

The salad

The salad is very nice. There is the option to add some grilled beef or shrimps and it is served either with a French dressing or olive oil and Balsamico.

The main course

For the main course, I go with the prawns in a shellfish sauce, served with wild rice with lemon zest and cardamom. This is a flavourful dish, and the rice complements the prawns nicely. The cardamom and lemon zest really make the dish and add an exotic twist to it.

Dessert

To end the meal, I ask for the chocolate fondant and some mint tea. The dessert is a bit of a let down though. The centre of it is still not quite melted and the outer texture is rubbery. It’s hard to say if the dish was just not properly heated in the oven or if it just isn’t a good recipe.

The meal concludes with a small box of Emirati pralines.

The meal service is nicely paced. There are no long waits in between the individual courses, but the whole service is still unrushed. I guess it probably helps that there are only three passengers in the cabin on today’s flight.

Arrival

Thirty minutes out of Zürich our Spanish captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that we have reached the top of descent have have another half hour to run to Zürich. The temperature is minus 2 and they’re expecting it to have just finished snowing by the time we land. From above it certainly looks pretty outside.

We touch down on runway 16, which is quite unusual. I’m not sure if this is due to the snow (perhaps runway 14, which is normally in use for landings, has not been cleared) or if it was specifically requested by crew because it allows for a much shorter taxi time to the gate.

The E concourse, which is normally used for the non-Schengen flights, is currently in hibernation and all flights now depart from the D concourse on the B pier. This also means that there is currently no lounge available for Emirates passengers, as this is also located on the E concourse.

Immigration is swift. The e-gates are currently only available for citizens of Switzerland and Lichtenstein, though.

There’s a bit of a hold up with the luggage, and eventually we end up waiting for forty minutes before the first bags appear on the belt. I exit through customs and turn right, as instructed by the Emirates ground crew, in search of my driver.

Getting home

The chauffeur service is very well organised. In Zürich, Emirates works with a company called Blacklane. After I booked the service on the Emirates website, I received a mail from Blacklane directly, confirming the reservation. If you download their app and log in using the mail address and name used in the Emirates PNR, you can see the reservation with the contact details of the driver.

My driver today is a friendly young lady. She is quite petite and looks oddly out of place behind the steering of the enormous Mercedez. But she does a brilliant job and tells me not to worry about the copious amounts of snow everywhere. The drive back to Basel takes us a bit less than an hour and is very comfortable.

Conclusion

This has been an interesting trip for me. On the one hand, it made me realise just how much I’ve missed travelling. On my way from Dubai to Ras Al-Khaima we came across a group of camels standing in the middle of the road. I found the sight quite moving. Not necessarily because I’m particularly fond of camels, but because the experience perfectly captured what I enjoy about travel – the opportunity of doing and and seeing things you normally wouldn’t be able to. Having said that though, I can’t really say I enjoyed the trip – because with Covid 19 the outside world has become a hostile place to me.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris Roissy to Dubai

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
To: Dubai
Departure: 14h00
Arrival: 23h50
Flight time: 6h50mins
Seat: 3L, window seat

Introduction

To date, the UAE’s three largest airlines, some of the country’s ANSPs and a few smaller operators use the tests my university is responsible for. Which is why I regularly travel to the UAE to train new assessors. Every time I come here, the flying Dutchman tells me it’ll probably be the last trip for a while. But that never really seems to be the case…!

I go through immigration in terminal 2G, at which I just arrived on a flight from Basel. Behind passport control is the stop for the shuttle bus, which pulls up just as I’m through passport control. The journey to terminal 2E(K) is nine minutes.

On the way I get a nice tour of some of Paris’ best sights (at least I think so…):

Once I enter the building at 2K, I head one floor up to the main concourse. My flight to Dubai is boarding from K41, which is the gate immediately next to the escalators.

Boarding

I don’t recall having passed through this terminal before. And I must say, the architecture is spectacular.

Just as I step off the escalator, boarding for my flight begins, 55 minutes before departure. That seems rather early to me, but I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just get comfortable on board instead.

Well hello, gorgeous! Aren’t you a lovely big girl… in case you hadn’t realised, I seriously have a thing for the B777. Those engines…!

The Cabin

The Business Class cabin on Air France’s B777-300ER is configured in a reverse herring bone layout. There is a smaller Business Class cabin of four rows between the L1 and L2 doors, and then the larger cabin after the L2 door. Row 3 is the bulkhead row of the forward cabin, immediately behind La Première.

Air France has one of my favourite Business Class products. The design of the seat is great and the amount of privacy offered is also very good.

There is ample storage space and the layout of the seat is very practical.

When I reach my seat, a pair of slippers, a thick pillow, a nice, fluffy blanket, and a bottle of Evian have already been placed there.

The Service

A member of the crew quickly comes to greet me and then hangs my jacket.

Once boarding is completed, service begins with a welcome drink. There is a choice of champagne or fresh juice. I have the latter, which turns out to be a combination of apple, banana, orange, pineapple, spinach and something else I’ve now forgotten. It’s quite tasty!

This is followed by the distribution of the unscented hot towels, which are also very fluffy.

We take off heading westwards. Our flight today is routing via Switzerland, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The flight time is six hours and 25 minutes.

After take-off, the vanity kits and menus are distributed.

The Meal

The service begins as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off.

Amuse Bouche

To start, I just have a glass of Perrier, which is served with the appetizer, which is smoked duck with a celery and hazelnut purée. There’s also a packet of cheese-filled crackers.

First Course

The tray is served with the first course and salad on it. The starter is foue gras, which I simply don’t like, and a lentil and cauliflower salad, which is very tasty and flavourful.

Salad

There’s a lovely selection of warm bread served with the meal.

Main Course

For the main dish, I have the fish, which isn’t all that good and has a somewhat off-putting smell from the reheated mussels.

The Cheese

Next is the cheese course, which is served with more bread. There are three pieces of cheese, a camembert, a cantal and a goat’s cheese. All three are quite subtle and go well with a glass of port.

Dessert

And finally, for dessert I have a small ramekin of mocha ice cream, which is a refreshing conclusion to the meal. Two hours after take-off, the service is completed.

For the rest of the flight I lounge in my seat, reading my Kindle. I can highly recommend Ian McEwan’s The Cockroach, which is a brilliant satire based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse, in which a cockroach finds himself transformed into the British prime minister.

The Second Service

90 minutes out of Dubai, the lights are turned on again and a light snack is served ahead of our arrival.

The snack consists of a chicken wrap and two sweet pastries and is perfectly adequate, given the short flight time.

Arrival

Eventually we land after six hours and fifty minutes, including 25 minutes spent holding over Dubai. The airport seems very quiet and there are hardly any people on the shuttle to the arrivals building.

Immigration is deserted. I’m seen to by a friendly young guy, who tells me he’s now registered me in their system, so I’ll be able to use the eGates on my next visit.

I grab a taxi and make my way to the hotel. It suddenly starts raining heavily, and within minutes Sheikh Zayed Road is flooded is places. I’ve never seen Dubai like this. It’s still warm though.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris to Beirut… or maybe not

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Getting to the Airport

The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from where the flight to Beirut will be departing.

Check-in

Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.

The Lounge

This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.

Boarding

Air France tends to start boarding for its flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the final staged of boarding.

The Cabin

The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER. There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8. And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample storage space. And it looks good too.

Service

Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have. Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.

A Problem

By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.

A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go to the lounge.

I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…

The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately, I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps – which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…

Boarding Again

At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.

The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running 45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes, so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.

The Meal

Amuse Bouche

The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.

The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut service.

First Course

shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream

Salad

The Cheese

Goat’s cheese, Cantal & Camembert

The Main Course

And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)

Dessert

For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake

All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.

The Crew

The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly, but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley, only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.

The Second Service

An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris CDG

Introduction

The course with Flydubai was really good fun. The course participants were eager and keen to learn, which always makes my job a lot easier. I’ll be back in Dubai for another course with Emirates in three weeks’ time. But now it’s time to start on the journey back home. I have three classes I’m teaching at the university on Monday.

Air France currently operates two daily services to Paris out of Dubai. There is the daytime service which leaves at exactly noon. And then there is the night time service which leaves at 01h35, roughly around the same time as all the other European carriers. To be honest, I would have preferred the daytime service. However, that flight is operated by an Airbus A 330-200 which still has the old Business Class configuration and has no First Class. The night time service is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER in the new configuration.

Getting to the Airport

On this trip I stayed at the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa and the Mall of Dubai. I leave the hotel on Friday evening at 22h30. Being the weekend here in the UAE, traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road is unusually quiet and calm. As a result, the journey to the airport only takes twenty minutes to complete by car.

To get to the airport, you can either take a taxi from the hotel for AED50 or a Lexus limo for AED70 or the metro for AED20. The metro obviously takes a bit longer because it stops a few times on the way. But there is a metro stop about two minutes away from the hotel, with trains running from there directly to the airport.

Check-in

Air France serves Terminal 1 in Dubai. It’s a bit unfortunate that the check-in rows for the various airlines are not marked outside the terminal. As a result, drivers tend to just pull up to the first vacant spot on the side of the road and offload you there.

Air France and KLM check in on row 1, which is at the far end of the terminal. As far as I can tell, the whole of check-in row 1 is dedicated to Air France and KLM and their flights to Paris and Amsterdam respectively.

There is one check-in counter for La Première passengers, which is cordoned off. There is a DNATA representative standing by the entrance to the SkyPriority counters. I approach him to ask if this is also the queue for First Class. He asks my name and he’s obviously been expecting me, because he immediately escorts me to the La Première counter and calls for a ground agent to escort me from check-in to the First Class lounge.

As soon as my suitcase is labelled, the check-in agent wishes me a pleasant flight and sends me on my way. The ground agent collects my passport and boarding pass holder and off we go. We take the normal entrance to immigration, but once we’re past the checkpoint, she guides me to the diplomatic passports section and then from there to a separate, dedicated security screening area. The process is very swift and efficient and just like that I’m through immigration and security in no time.

The Lounge

Air France arrives and departs on the D concourse, which is where pretty much all other airlines except Emirates operate from. The shuttle to the D concourse takes only a few minutes to make the journey.

In Dubai Air France uses the Ahlan lounge for its La Première passengers. The lounge is quite large, but rather oddly shaped around the mezzanine level of the airside area. There is a separate dining area and a large buffet with a lovely smell of Indian food coming from it.

Other than that, the lounge has showers but no area where passengers can have a lie down and sleep. The wifi access code is available at reception.

The ground agent leaves me at reception and tells me she’ll be back to take me to the aircraft at 12h50.

Boarding

At exactly 12h50, the ground agent appears in the lounge to inform me that it’s time to leave. We go downstairs and from there board a golf buggy to take us to gate D18. It’s actually not that far, but given that my back is still painful, despite the painkillers, I’m definitely not complaining.

Rather embarrassingly, it turns out they’ve been waiting at the gate for me to arrive so they can start boarding. The ground agent escorts me past the long queues and no sooner has my boarding pass been scanned, one of the gate agents announces that the flight is now ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the only passenger in La Première this evening.

The entrance to the L1 airbridge is cordoned off. A security watchman opens it for us when he sees us approaching and then immediately closes it again once we’re through.

As on my previous experience with Air France in Paris, the ground agent steps aboard ahead of me and then introduces me to the flight attendant who has been expecting me at the door. She then wishes me a pleasant flight and leaves.

The Cabin

The flight attendant introduces himself to me with a genuine, friendly smile. He takes my backpack off me and escorts me to my seat on 1A. He stows away my jacket in my own personal cabinet and then leaves me to settle in.

As I’m the only passenger in La Première tonight, he suggests making up 1D for me as a bed after take-off, so then I can switch depending on what I feel like doing.

The Air France cabin really is a class act. It’s not just that it looks nice, it’s also nicely finished and has been well thought through.

And I have to say, it is very cool to know I’ll have this gorgeous cabin all to myself tonight!

The Crew

In short succession the maître de and then the captain come to introduce themselves and wish me a pleasant flight. They all stay and chat a while, but without prying or being nosy. In short, they go out of their way to make me feel at home and to make sure I’m comfortable.

The Service

While we’re still on the ground, the male cabin crew in charge of the La Première cabin brings me the vanity kit, the pyjamas, the menu and some fresh orange juice with a ramekin of nuts. The slippers and a pair of socks, as well as a thick pillow are already at my seat when I arrive.

I change in to my pjs while we’re still on the ground in Dubai. The flight time is announced as six hours and fifty minutes.

The Meal

Given that it’s already approaching two in the morning by the time the crew are released to start their service, I inform the flight attendant that I’d rather sleep straight away, but that he should wake me with enough time for breakfast. He makes up the bed for me and brings me a small bottle of Evian and a box of chocolates. And then I go off to sleep.

Around 80 minutes out of Paris, the flight attendant gently wakes me up to inform me that it’s time for breakfast. By the time I draw the curtains to get up, he’s already set the table on 1A for breakfast. There is a choice of two hot meals. I go with the banana pancakes and the apricot and strawberry compote.

A lot has been said in many of the travel forums about the horrific instant coffee Air France serves in La Première. My suggestion is to go with the espresso instead of the coffee, because the former is made with a proper coffee machine and tastes much, much better.

The meal consists of:

a selection of breads and pastries, served with butter and jam

natural yoghurt

fresh fruit

banana pancakes

The pancakes are lovely and the accompanying compote is sweet with a hint of vanilla. Catering is something I think they do really well on Air France, even in Business Class.

Arrival

The weather in Paris is cold and misty. In fact, the visibility is down to 200 metres, which is why we end up doing an automatic landing. Eventually, the aircraft comes to a stop at one of the gates on the M satellite of Terminal 2E. When the doors open, there’s already an Air France ground agent expecting me. The crew bid me farewell and hand me over to the ground crew.

We take the stairs down one floor and then step outside, where a BMW is waiting to take me to the main terminal building. Once we get there, we take a separate, dedicated counter for immigration and then head downstairs to the baggage reclaim area.

The ground agent retrieves my suitcase and then escorts me out to arrivals. It’s nice to be back in Europe!

I shall be spending Saturday here in Paris, as I still have an appointment with royalty that I haven’t seen twenty years.

Conclusion

On my way to the airport in Dubai, I was wondering if Air France would be able to live up to my expectations from my previous, exceptional La Première experience to Singapore in January. As it turns out, they certainly could. Once more, the service is flawless and opulent and the crew go out of their way to make me feel welcome.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300ER: Singapore to Paris CDG

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Introduction

In Singapore I’m staying at the Changi Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has direct access to Terminal 3. I spend a blissfully lazy Saturday by the pool. I mean, what else could you possibly ask for? I have a room that opens directly onto the pool, it’s warm outside and all I have to do to watch the aeroplanes taking off is to look up from my Kindle whenever I hear one thundering by.

Getting to the Airport

To get from the hotel to Terminal 1, I exit the hotel on the second floor level and do two right turns, which brings me to the Skytrain station for the short trip across to Terminal 1.

Check-in

The Air France check-in counters are on the very first row of counters when you enter Terminal 1 coming from the direction of the Skytrain. You really can’t miss them.

Online check-in is available, but it is not possible to save the boarding pass to Passbook or to have it printed. Still, it makes no difference to me, seeing as I’ll be checking in a suitcase anyway. There is one counter for La Première, four for SkyPriority and two baggage drop-off counters for Economy Class passengers.

There’s a bit of a hold up checking in. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the agents are taking their sweet time processing the passengers. Although admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that there’s one woman travelling on her own with, and I kid you not, five large Rimowa suitcases, four rucksacks, two laptop bags and one handbag. When the check-in agent breaks the news to her that, surprisingly, she’s exceeded her baggage allowance, she looks totally surprised…

The Lounge

Air France uses the DNATA lounge in Terminal 1, which is fairly big but also very busy when I arrive. There’s hardly anywhere left to sit. The lounge has a good selection of hot and hold dishes and a wide selection of drinks. Other than that, it’s not a particularly memorable lounge.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from gate D34, and on the boarding pass it says that boarding will commence at 22h30 for the 23h10 departure. I figure 22h30 indicates the time to report at the gate for the security check. Luckily, there is a separate and much shorter queue for SkyPriority passengers. Just as I’m packing away my things, boarding for the flight starts, with an invitation for SkyPriority passengers to board first.

The Cabin

On the Boeing B 777-300ER Air France has a reverse herringbone configuration, with the window seats facing towards the windows for more privacy. The seat is fully lie-flat and has more than enough storage space. USB and electricity plugs are also available. The seat is quite wide, so that when in the fully flat position, there’s still enough space to toss and turn in your sleep.

There are two Business Class cabins, one forward of the L2 door and the other aft of it. I am sitting in the forward cabin on 4A, which is the second row in the forward cabin with four rows of seats.

The cabin and seat are kept in Air France’s colours – white, red and blue – and look very attractive and fresh. When I arrive at my seat, a pillow, blanket and slippers have already been placed at my seat.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are excellent. They’re quite senior and they do an outstanding job. Throughout the flight they’re checking that the snack bar is replenished and the toilets are regularly checked, kept stocked and clean.

The Service

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of champagne or fruit juice on the tray, but other drinks are also available on request. After that, scented hot towels are handed out.

The flight time is announced at thirteen hours and twenty minutes.

Once we’re airborne, the crew distribute the menus and pass through the cabin with a tray offering more champagne.

The Meal

Originally, the plan was that I’d eat in the lounge and just go straight off to sleep once we’re airborne. Which is why I nearly overdosed on the creamy mashed potatoes they had in the lounge. That and the fact that I’m just a sucker for a good plate of mash… In any case, I make the mistake of looking at the menu and decide that it does all sound rather interesting. And I’m not really tired yet anyway, so… bugger it. I’m in! The tray arrives with the first course, the salad and the cheese already on it.

First Course

Semi-cooked tuna in a black pepper crust, served on quinoa salad and poached shrimp on a citrus salad with cucumber and a yuzu vinaigrette.

This is a tasty dish and the presentation works well. It’s also properly seasoned (which is something Singapore Airlines didn’t manage quite so well…).

Salad

The salad comes with a small bottle of balsamico mixed with olive oil. It’s mostly leaves but it’s still a fairly large salad. With that the crew offer a selection of breads.

Main Course

Penne with a mushroom ragout, roast tomatoes and garlic oil.

There is a choice of four different dishes for the main course. The pasta is good and has managed not to go all hard and rubbery as it sometimes tends to do on a plane. The ragout is flavourful and creamy.

The Cheese

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anywhere what the cheeses are, but they’re very good!

Dessert

Chocolate praline éclair, violet mousse, yuzu meringue tart and strawberry sorbet.

For dessert there is a choice of either ice cream (banana, vanilla or strawberry sorbet) or three small pastries. I initially go for the pastries, but then the flight attendant tells me that the strawberry sorbet out of Singapore is usually rather nice too. Just in case I’m interested. Oh very well then, bring it on. Je souffre en silence…

After the meal, the crew set up a fairly substantial buffet in the galley with a good selection of some delectable French sweets by Fauchon, sandwiches, noodle soups and fruit.

And I go off to the land of nod for a solid seven hours. Incidentally, the blankets Air France provides in Business Class are lovely. They’re cosy and warm and fluffy.

Amenities

The amenity kit is some special edition to commemorate Air France’s 85th jubilee. It may not necessarily look like much, but at least it contains some useful items, including eye shades, ear plugs, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, a comb, and a pen.

The Second Service

The second service begins ninety minutes out of Paris. The lights come on and passengers are given a scented hot towel to revive.

The tray arrives with the hot meal and all the other items already on it. There are three choices for the hot meal. My meal consists of:

crêpes in a vanilla sauce with a passion fruit and mango salsa

The breakfast is quite substantial and the hot meal is simply divine. This is total comfort food. The vanilla cream is rich and not overly sweet and the pancakes are light and thin.

Arrival

Just under forty minutes out of Paris, we start our initial descent into Paris. The captain comes on to inform us that we’ll be doing an automatic landing in Pairs because visibility on the ground is very bad.

We touch down, the mighty triple seven gives us one last impressive roar as the reversers open to slow us down, and then it’s done. We’ve landed and I’m back in Europe. By the time we arrive at our gate in Terminal 2E it’s already 06h10. I now have just slightly over an hour to make my connection back to Zürich from Terminal 2F.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris CDG to Singapore

Date: January 2019
Origin: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2E
Destination: Singapore Changi, Terminal 1
Seat: 1A – window on the port side
Flight time: 12 hours 10 minutes

Transfer in Paris Roissy

The driver takes me to Terminal 2E, which is where the First Class lounge is located. He explains that afterwards, he’ll also be escorting me to the aircraft when the time comes.

Along the way, the driver chats pleasantly about this and that. Funnily enough, his curiosity gets the better of him and he cannot help but ask how my experience so far compares to the First Class product of other carriers.

The Lounge

Once we arrive at the terminal, he takes my passport and boarding pass and tells me he’ll return them once the police have checked them. After that, he leads me upstairs and gives me a brief explanation of where everything is in the lounge.

There are a few passengers in the lounge, but I would not go so far as to say it’s crowded. Quite the contrary. The lounge is large and the way it is laid out, there is plenty of room for passengers to disperse.

The lounge is well equipped with everything the travel-weary passenger may seek or desire to relax and revive from the labours of modern air travel. There are large showers with toiletries, a dedicated dining area, a relaxation area and a small spa.

But apart from all that, the lounge is very elegantly appointed and both the facility and the staff have a lot of style about them. The lounge is not flashy, but it’s definitely comfortable.

Boarding

Around forty minutes before departure, my driver comes to pick me up and drive me to the waiting aircraft. Theoretically, I could have walked. But to be honest, I figured that if we took the car, that might give me a better chance of taking a picture of the aircraft carrying me to Singapore tonight.

The Cabin

As I step aboard the plane, the driver welcomes me aboard and introduces me to the First Class flight attendant, who is already expecting me. The driver then bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant journey.

I then make the right turn into the cabin and I’m really speechless. Of course, I’d already seen pictures of the new First Class cabin, but seeing it for real is something else. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the design of Air France’s First Class cabin, both in terms of the comfort and functionality of the seat, but also with regard to branding.

The little seahorse, Air France’s trademark, is omnipresent in the cabin. You will find it on the lamp, pillows, pyjamas, slippers, etc.

But I think what surprises me the most, is the mint condition of the cabin. Either this is a fairly new aircraft, or Air France just takes excellent care of its fleet.

In the take-off and landing position, the seat doesn’t offer much privacy. However, there is a screen that can be raised around the back and side of the seat. In addition, there are curtains that can be drawn and which provide a lot of privacy and darkness.

The seat has an ottoman, which could also be used for a second passenger to join for the meal, for example. Below the ottoman is enough storage space for a large laptop bag, the slippers and a blanket.

In the sum of all thing, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the First Class product of quite a few of the world’s leading airlines. But the Air France hardware is definitely my new favourite.

The Crew

The First Class cabin is served by a very charming and very professional middle-aged lady. I really cannot express how good she is at her job. I know it probably sounds like a horrible stereotype to say this, but she’s just so very French in the best possible way. Her manners are impeccable and her attention to detail is flawless. For example, it strikes me during the meal service that whenever she brings a new dish, she always makes sure the seahorse logo on the crockery is the right way up. I know this may sound like a small and unimportant thing, but I still think it’s a nice feature that enhances the First Class experience.

The Service

While we’re still on the ground, the crew bring me my pyjamas and a vanity kit and check to make sure I’m comfortably settled in my seat for the next twelve hours. With that out of the way, I am offered and subsequently brought a glass of the Krug Champagne and a small ramekin of mixed nuts and dried fruit. The menus are not handed out until after take-off.

Amenities

The amenity kit contains the usual collection of mostly useless items. There is no toothbrush or toothpaste in the kit, but these are available in the lavatory, where there is also mouthwash.

The pyjamas come in a nice felt folder. They have a nice, comfortable cut. The cabin crew will ask you what size you would prefer. I’m 184 cm tall and the size L fits me perfectly.

Slippers are also provided and can be found in the drawer underneath the ottoman.

The Meal

The meal service is definitely one of the highlights of the Air France First Class experience. The table is set up nicely, with a choice of either balsamic olive oil or tomato infused olive oil and a choice of both salted and unsalted butter. Throughout the meal, the crew replenish the bread and drinks. For each dish, a new set of cutlery is provided.

And I must say, in terms of the quantity and quality of the food, it’s excellent.

Amuse Bouche

Caviar with a crêpe and sturgeon cream.

Soup

Cream of chicory soup.

Salad

Made to order – it contains chicory, mushrooms, smoked haddock and beets.

First course

Pan-fried scallops with potato rose and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Main Course

Chicken breast glazed in a rare pepper and citrus honey, with caramelised pineapple and mango and vegetable sticks.

The Cheese

Beaufort, Pérail and Langres.

Dessert

Blueberry tarte by Lenôtre, served with two scoops of gingerbread sorbet.

I stick to Perrier with the meal, and for dessert I have a mint tea, which is served with a box Michel Cluizel chocolates.

The meal is excellent, and with every new dish that she brings out, the flight attendant makes a point of explaining to me what I’m eating and what the dish includes. By the time the service finishes, I’m totally full and completely and utterly impressed. I think, if I compare this service to the Garuda First Class experience for example, the Air France service just seems a lot more polished. Furthermore, because all the dishes have a very European or French touch, the crew just come across as being very authentic in their explanations of what the food is.

The Second Service

I actually manage to get about five hours of sleep. When I wake up, we’re still about three hours out of Singapore. As soon as the flight attendant notices I’m awake, she comes to ask me if there’s anything I need. So I request a cup of coffee and ask her to remove the bedclothes while I change back into my clothes.

About two hours out of Singapore, I decide it’s time for breakfast, which the flight attendant thinks is a brilliant idea.

The breakfast is quite extensive, and all the dishes are brought more or less at once, instead of having them served as different courses. My breakfast consists of

coffee and orange juice

fruit: a small bowl of grapefruit and orange

yoghurt served with granola

a selection of pastries and bread: I have a small bun and a brioche, served with butter and jam

hot dish: I go with the scrambled eggs with mushrooms and a mushroom sauce

Everything tastes excellent and the presentation of the hot meal, which is served with the lid still on the dish, is just so elegant.

Once the meal is over, the flight attendant clears my table and we have a nice little chat about flying and travelling until it’s time for her to start preparing the First Class cabin for landing.

Arrival

We land at 16h30 local time, five minutes ahead of schedule. It’s either just been raining or it’s just really very humid outside because the ground is wet.

Air France serves Terminal 1 at Singapore Changi airport. The doors open, and there’s already a young lady expecting me to guide me through immigration. The flight attendant bids me good bye and hands me over to the ground crew. And with that, my La Première experience comes to an end.

Epilogue

To get into town, I will be taking the MRT. The MRT departs from Terminal 2, so I first need to take the Skytrain from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2. The Skytrain is a complimentary service.

Purchasing a ticket for the MRT is not as straightforward as one might assume in Singapore. A single ticket into town will cost you SGD2.80. However, you can only purchase a single ticket if you buy it at the machine and only if you pay in cash. If you’re not paying in cash, you need to go to the counter, but there you can’t only purchase a single ticket. So instead, I buy a two-days card for SGD10 plus SGD16. The SGD10 are a deposit that is refunded when you bring the card back…

Only the green line runs into town from the airport. At the second stop, which is Tanah Merah, passengers alight and connect to another green line train heading into the city from the opposite platform.

Conclusion

This experience with Air France’s La Première has impressed me. First of all, I think the overall quality of the product is very high and also very consistent. From the car they sent to pick me up in Winterthur, to the very elegant experience in the lounge in Paris and the beautifully appointed cabin and amenities aboard the aircraft, clearly a lot of thought has gone into the design of the product. Not only of the cabin and seat, but also of the ancillary products.

I think Air France’s interpretation of the First Class seat with the curtain is brilliant – because it offers a level of privacy that most other carriers simply cannot match. Even with Garuda for example, where you have a fully enclosed suite, you are not completely concealed from view because the doors of the suite do not reach all the way to the ceiling.

I also just love the branding of the First Class product with the little seahorse, which is omnipresent in the lounge and in the cabin and promotes this sense of consistency of the experience and in the product.

And finally, there is the professionalism of the staff, who have all clearly been trained well for their roles working with the First Class product. The maître de on the flight from Zürich to Paris went out of her way to provide as much of a First Class experience, even on a short sector of 50 minutes. Then the driver, who managed to make pleasant conversation but without being either tedious or prying and who had excellent manners.

And finally, last but certainly not least, there is the fabulous, splendid and simply formidable flight attendant working the First Class cabin. I think she did a really outstanding job. I know I already mentioned this above, but her attention to detail and the fact that she made sure the seahorse logo was always the right way up says everything about her work ethics and the service standard she delivered.

It’s difficult to say from memory which First Class product I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. One thing’s for sure though, of the four European carriers that still offer a First Class product, to my mind Air France’s is definitely the best one.

Garuda Indonesia, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Jakarta to London

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Introduction

Three days before my flight back to London, I receive an e-mail from the Garuda First Class concierge asking me a) what I had in mind for the complimentary pick-up, b) if I had any specific dietary requirements they should know about and c) what size pyjama I take. That more or less sets the tone for my flight back home and the end of what has been a truly relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable vacation…

Getting to the Airport

I leave the FM7 Hotel at 09h30. This morning the traffic is much thicker and for some unearthly reason we find ourselves taking backroads through some small village. The journey to the airport takes twenty minutes to complete.

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Before we depart from the hotel, the driver hands me a refreshing towel and a bottle of still water.

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Check-in

We pull up to Terminal 3, where I am already being expected by the First Class ground crew. I step out of the car and a young lady greets me by name. She welcomes me to the flight, while a young man takes my luggage out of the booth. The young lady then escorts me to the dedicated First Class check-in area and invites me to take a seat while she checks me in and tags my suitcase.

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Once that’s done, she accompanies me through security and immigration. There is a dedicated lane for First Class passengers for security and behind that, we head straight for the counter for holders of diplomatic passports – which of course speeds things up considerably…

The Garuda First Class Lounge

And then form there we head for the First Class lounge on the mezzanine level. The place is deserted when I arrive. The lounge is a nice size, although it seems a bit large now, given that currently Garuda’s flight to London is the only with a First Class service and even that only operates three times a week.

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I take a seat in the lounge and am brought yet another refreshing towel, followed by some still water, a plate of fresh fruit and the menu for the lounge. There is no buffet in the First Class lounge, so food can only be ordered from the staff. I go with the Gnocchi Neapolitana, which is very good.

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Boarding

At around 11h45 the gate agent comes to inform me that the flight is now in the final stages of boarding. It’s time to leave. At the lounge’s reception area all the staff are lined up to say goodbye and wish me a pleasant trip.

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We breeze through the boarding gate and take the left aisle down to the airbridge for First Class passengers only. Here too there are ground staff in the First Class uniform wishing me a pleasant flight. I step on board. The ground attendant hands me over to the purser – who also greets me by name – then says goodbye and wishes me a safe journey. One of the First Class cabin crew then shows me to my seat on 2K.

The Cabin

Garuda’s First Class cabin is really quite amazing. Every seat is enclosed in a sort of mini-suite, with sliding doors that can be closed for more privacy. Apart from that, the cabin and seat have a very elegant appearance and are kept in rich, dark colours.

There is plenty of storage space, including a closet with two hangers that is wide enough for me to hang my clothes in once I change into the pyjamas.

The seat is very comfortable and the sliding doors certainly give the you the feeling of being in your own suite. It’s not just that the sliding doors will give you more privacy. I also think you are disturbed a lot less when you rest because you really don’t notice at all when somebody passes by your seat.

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The Crew

As I already mentioned, the crew are expecting me at the door as I step on board. By the way, the curtain to Business is closed during boarding, which is just a minor detail but something I really like.

Amenities

There are a whole lot of goodies expecting me at my seat:

  1. the food and drinks menus for the flight,
  2. noise cancelling earphones,
  3. a vanity kit,
  4. two pillows,
  5. a set of stationary with a pen,
  6. the pyjamas.
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As soon as I take my seat, one of the cabin crew comes to offer me a welcome drink. A few moments later she returns with a scented hot towel, a glass of the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and a small ramekin of warm macadamia nuts.

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The flight time is announced at 14 hours and 15 minutes. Brilliant! All the more time to enjoy Garuda’s First Class service!

The crew on this flight are truly excellent. They’re personable, charming and very friendly. They make passengers feel at ease in a way that seems very natural.

The amenity kit is of no particular brand. It contains:

  1. a brush,
  2. earplugs,
  3. lip balm,
  4. eyeshades,
  5. a dental set,
  6. two Payot branded creams.

What strikes me about the vanity kit is that the content is of less good quality than the one I was given in Business Class on the Melbourne to Jakarta leg of this trip. The toothbrush for example, is rather small and more like a kid’s tooth brush (although adult size toothbrushes are available in the lavatory).

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The pyjama is black and not of any particular brand. It’s comfortable enough but be warned, the cut is rather tight. I’m wearing an XL and the pants still make me look like a primo ballerino…

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In contrast, the slippers are excellent. They’re solid and very comfortable. There’s a bit of an awkward moment when the cabin crew bring me the slippers, because they insist on helping you take off your shoes and kneel before you to do so, which is something most Europeans are probably not so used to.

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The Meal

Orders for the meal are taken before we push back.

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The Caviar Service

The meal service begins with the caviar service, which is served with warm blinis, crème fraîche and shrimp crackers. And more of the champagne.

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The First Course

For the first course, I go with the chicken musakhan roll, served with a beetroot relish and garlic sauce. I have no idea what the brown powder dusted on the rolls is, but it’s certainly fragrant, with a subtle hint of citrus.

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The Soup

Next comes the pumpkin soup with enoki mushroom and crème fraîche. The soup is served with toasted bread. Perhaps the soup might have been a tad warmer. But other than that, it’s a very hearty soup with a strong underlying flavour of celery.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the grilled beef sirloin. This is served with a thyme jus, asparagus, mushrooms and grilled cherry tomatoes. It should also have had a potato soufflé, which I request to have swapped for the truffle ravioli, which are excellent. The meat is good too, it’s cooked just right and has a nice charcoal flavour.

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The Cheese

And then I have the cheese board and crackers. There is no information about what cheese it is – I’m guessing some sort of camembert, a cheddar and maybe a Roquefort.

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Dessert

And then, for dessert I have the chocolate lava with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The lava also could have spent some more time in the oven. But other than that, you can’t really go wrong with anything that contains warm melted chocolate, can you?

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And just in case I’m still hungry, the cabin attendant brings me two shortbread biscuits with the cappuccino. And that concludes the meal service. And I feel totally gorged!

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After the meal, one of the flight attendants makes up my bed for me to sleep. The duvet I’m given is amazingly fluffy and the pillows are nice and comfortable. There’s also a thick mattress on the seat for greater comfort. With the doors closed, the suite feels very intimate and cosy.

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The Inflight Snack

At some point during the flight I wake up and ask for a noodle soup and a drink. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a decanted Diet Coke!

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And then I go off to sleep again.

The Second Service

I awake about two hours out of London. Just in time for the second meal service. There is a whole list of items to choose from, the second service consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.

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The First Course

To start I have the cream of asparagus with a dumpling and fresh asparagus. This dish is excellent. The soup has a velvety texture and the different flavours are very finely balanced.

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The Main Course

For the main course I go with the seabass in a turmeric pickle sauce and potato croquettes, baby pak choy and vegetables. When I order the fish, I notice a slight hesitation from the flight attendant, and I can’t help but feel that she’s trying to dissuade me from having it. Once I tuck in, I realise why: because what I thought were green beans are in fact small and really vicious green chillies that nearly blow the top of my head off! My friend, the valiant M. always says he doesn’t get how I can eat very spicy food and enjoy it, but this is too much even for me! Other than that though, the fish is moist and the sauce is flavourful and tangy.

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The Fruit

For dessert I have the plate of fruit, which includes two slices of Guava and manages to quench the fire burning in my mouth!

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And then to conclude, I have mint tea, served with two sticks of Valrhona chocolate.

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I really must say, the quality and quantity of the food served in Garuda’s First Class is quite impressive. The tableware is attractive and the presentation of the dishes shows a lot of attention to detail. My other friend, the tall, blond M. has a stomach that is a bottomless pit. I really don’t know where the guy puts it all. But I’m sure he would have had a whale of a time on this flight!

Arrival

By the time the second service ends, we’re already nearing the top of descent. It’s just gone eight in the evening and traffic in Heathrow is calm. As the flight draws to an end, one of the cabin crew takes my vanity kit, slippers and pyjamas and places them in a Garuda First Class branded bag for me to take with me.

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We land in an easterly direction without even having to hold, and then very slowly taxi to our gate at Terminal 3. When eventually we reach our stand, only the airbridge for the L2 door is attached because the police are there to meet our flight. Apparently they’re looking for one particular passenger. Once he is removed from the flight, we’re free to disembark. It’s really quite embarrassing how the cabin crew request all the Business Class passengers to step aside to allow me and the other three First Class passengers to disembark first.

There is a representative from Garuda holding a sign up with my name as I step off the plane. He welcomes me to London and then escorts me through immigration, assists me with my bag and takes me through customs. Once we’re landside again, he gives me instructions on how to get to Terminal 5, where I’ll be spending the night, before sending me on my way.

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Conclusion

I’m wondering where Garuda is going with its First Class product right now. Personally, I think this was one of the best First Class experiences I’ve had in a long time that was truly deserving of the term first class. The hard product is excellent and the crews on the ground and in the air obviously made an enormous effort to provide passengers with a service that is refined and polished. But it just seems like an awful lot of effort for just the one route with a service that doesn’t even operate daily to Heathrow.

But apart from that, I think Garuda Indonesia offers a good and solid product, both in Business Class and in First. Admittedly, I do think they could significantly improve the experience on the ground for passengers not travelling in First. I understand that the two domestic flights I did were delayed due to the severe weather that the airline has no influence over, and perhaps it goes without saying in Indonesia that all you can do in such cases is to sit and wait for it to pass. Even so, I think it wouldn’t hurt Garuda to communicate more proactively in cases of irregularity – and with that I don’t mean having a gate agent yelling at the top of her voice in Bahasia only.

I sincerely wish Garuda the best of luck for the future. And I hope their new CEO will succeed in maintaining the high standard of service and professionalism that I experienced and enjoyed on all my flights with the airline so far.

Would I choose Garuda again? Definitely!

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Melbourne to Doha

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Date: 16. February 2017
Departure: 23:15
Arrival: 05:25
Flight time: 13 hours 55 minutes
Seat: 3B, aisle seat

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Introduction

Next Monday the new semester begins, which means it is high time for me to get a move on and head back home. Again, I shall be travelling in Qatar Airways’ formidable Business Class, which admittedly softens the blow of having reached the end of my vacation…

My flight to Doha will depart at 23h00 from Melbourne, which means I have all of Thursday at my disposal.

Getting to the Airport

In Melbourne I am staying at the Radisson on Flagstaff, which is just a short ten minutes walk away from the coach terminus at Southern Cross Rail Station. The journey from the city centre to the airport takes approximately 25 minutes and there is a Skybus coach leaving for the airport every 10 minutes. A one way ticket will set you back AUD19. There are no trains to the airport.

Check-in

All of row B in Terminal 2 is dedicated to Qatar Airways. You can check in online for this flight too. Even so, it is probably still worth it to make a stop at the check-in counter when you get to the airport because Business Class passengers are given a voucher for the security fast track that they can use in both Melbourne and Doha. You will also need to complete a customs form for departing passengers, which is also available at the check-in counter.

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The Lounge

Qatar Airways uses the lounge of its Oneworld partner Qantas in Melbourne. And thank God for that, because lounges are something Qantas does really well. It is a fairly large space with a variety of seating options. I like the design of the Qantas lounges. My only grippe with the lounge is that it is rather dark.

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Apart from that though, the food selection is rather good and there are salads, various pasta dishes, soup and a really delectable and sinful tasting chocolate cake.

Boarding

At around 22h10 I leave the lounge to stretch my legs one last time before the long flight. Boarding for the flight has already started, even though we still have another hour to go before departure. I wonder if perhaps the crew is hoping to get away earlier for some reason or other.

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Melbourne airport is quite busy at this time of night. To our left, Singapore’s A 380 is being readied for its flight back to Singapore, to our right the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok is also in the final stages of boarding, and as we taxi out, I also spot aircraft from Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Qantas and Emirates.

The Cabin

Tonight’s flight is being operated by one of my favourite aircraft, the mighty Boeing B 777-300ER – so please excuse my little fanboy outburst…

The last time I flew on Qatar Airways’ Boeing B 777-300ER was back in 2012 on a short flight from Hanoi to Bangkok. Admittedly, the cabin on the Boeing 777 is not near as nice as that of the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A 350. The seating configuration is in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout, which is rather old school and less private. But still, the seat is very comfortable, even when it is extended into a bed. The inflight entertainment is pretty much on a par with that of the other Qatar Airways aircraft I have flown with on this trip. The only major difference, from what I can tell, is that there is no wifi available on board this aircraft. But in the sum of all things, I do not really mind any of this. First of all, because it is the crew that makes the flight and secondly, no matter what the cabin may look or feel like, as far as I am concerned, the Boeing 777 is just one hell of a machine…oops, there goes the fanboy again.

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The Crew

Just when you think you have seen it all and done it all, along comes Qatar just to remind you that really, you are just so clueless. The crew on this flight are even better than those of the two previous flights. They are courteous and friendly, considerate and attentive and nothing seems to be too much for them. Throughout the flight they are constantly present in the cabin, making sure passengers are comfortable and properly hydrated. The toilets are kept in impeccable condition during the flight.

The service sequence follows the usual protocol, what else?

Amenities

While I think it is nice that airlines provide a vanity kit, I often wonder what on earth they were thinking when putting together the content. On the two previous flights with Qatar, the vanity kit included this really enormous tube of Armani aftershave cream, which somehow seems a bit of a waste. At least on this flight, the aftershave balm has been replaced with a large tube of Armani shower gel, which to me just makes more sense. There is also a small flacon of the perfume in the kit. Toothbrushes are available in the toilets.

The Meal

As a welcome drink I have another one of those tasty lime and mint affairs, which probably contains more sugar in one glass than an average, mid-sized country consumes in a whole month. But it is just so good.

When the cabin crew comes round to take my order – Susanna from Macedonia – I explain to her that I really just want to sleep right now. Of course, this being Qatar, she tells me that that will not be a problem. She will take my order and put it aside and then I can eat whenever I wake up.

And so, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, I convert my seat into a bed and head off to Noddy Land for six hours.

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First Course

For a starter I have the Arabic mezze, which is very tasty and includes hummus, something with red pepper and tabouleh. A few years ago I flew to Singapore with my colleague, the tall blond M., who struck up a conversation with one of the Arab cabin crew on that flight. At some point the guy told us that as an Arab he would only ever have the mezze on flights out of Doha, because the quality of the mezze is just so much more authentic. And I think I tend to agree. While this mezze platter is good, I think it kind of lacks a bit of zing. As far as the hummus is concerned, I think it could have done with a bit more tahina.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the gnocchi with a spinach and blue cheese sauce that is served with walnuts and ruccola leaves. I notice that the food is piping hot, whereas the plate is not. I can only assume therefore, that the food is not plated in advanced and instead is assembled on the aircraft.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I have the ice cream – chocolate and vanilla, with mixed berries and a chocolate biscuit thing that tastes very good.

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The Valhorna chocolate after the meal has been replaced with a praliné by Godiva.

The Second Service

The second service already starts two hours and thirty minutes out of Doha because the crew is expecting heavy turbulence as we approach our destination. But in fact the bad weather starts much earlier, and the service has to be interrupted repeatedly.

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The breakfast service begins with a warm, rose scented hot towel to wake me up, followed by some Greek yoghurt with cherry compote and granola. The yoghurt is good, but the compote is just a bit too sweet, even for me.

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For the main course I have the Arabic breakfast, which is very tasty and quite extensive. There is a small plate with pita bread, another plate with cucumber, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese and a separate, hot dish of foul mudames, which is made with beans.

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The main is excellent, it is not spicy in the sense of being hot, but there are just a lot of different spices in the dish that make it very fragrant.

Transfer in Doha

Eventually we land after a flight time of 13 hours and 55 minutes. In the end it was not quite as bumpy after all on the approach. Much to my surprise though, the ground is wet and the captain informs us that there have been heavy rain showers in the area.

Security is already busy. It is quite apparent that this is the rush hour here in Doha. Even so, with the separate fast track for security, I am quickly processed and soon find myself airside again. Time to head for the lounge.

I had hoped to be able to take a shower, but they guy in charge tells me there is a waiting list that will take about an hour to clear.