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
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.
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 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.
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 service begins as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off. 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.
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.
There’s a lovely selection of warm bread served with the meal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
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.
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 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 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.
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…
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 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
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
The tray arrives with the following:
Shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream.
A mixed green salad.
A plate of cheese (goat’s cheese, Cantal and Camembert)
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)
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 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.
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.
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…!
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.
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.
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
The ground agent leaves me at reception and tells me she’ll
be back to take me to the aircraft at 12h50.
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 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
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
And I have to say, it is very cool to know I’ll have this
gorgeous cabin all to myself tonight!
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.
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.
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
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.
A bowl of fresh fruit.
The hot meal – in my case the 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
time is announced at thirteen hours and twenty minutes.
airborne, the crew distribute the menus and pass through the cabin with a tray
offering more champagne.
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!
tray arrives with the first course, the salad and the cheese already on it.
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…).
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
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.
Selection of cheese
it doesn’t say anywhere what the cheeses are, but they’re very good!
praline éclair, violet mousse, yuzu meringue tart and strawberry sorbet.
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…
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 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.
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.
service begins ninety minutes out of Paris. The lights come on and passengers
are given a scented hot towel to revive.
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:
A selection of bread, croissants and pain au chocolat
Crêpes in vanilla sauce with a passion fruit and mango salsa.
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.
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.
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 CDG 2
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.
LOUNGE / AIRSIDE
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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:
Caviar with a crêpe and sturgeon cream.
Cream of chicory soup.
Made to order – it contains chicory, mushrooms, smoked haddock and beets.
Pan-fried scallops with potato rose and a balsamic vinaigrette.
Chicken breast glazed in a rare pepper and citrus honey, with caramelised pineapple and mango and vegetable sticks.
Selection of gourmet cheese
Beaufort, Pérail and Langres.
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.
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
A small bowl of grapefruit and orange.
Served with granola.
A selection of pastries and bread
I have a small bun and a brioche, served with butter and jam.
Choice of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before we depart from the hotel, the driver hands me a refreshing towel and a bottle of still water.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
CREW & SERIVCE
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.
There are a whole lot of goodies expecting me at my seat:
the food and drinks menus for the flight,
noise cancelling earphones,
a vanity kit,
a set of stationary with a pen,
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.
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:
a dental set,
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).
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…
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.
Orders for the meal are taken before we push back.
The meal service begins with the caviar service, which is served with warm blinis, crème fraîche and shrimp crackers. And more of the champagne.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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!
And then I go off to sleep again.
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.
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.
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.
For dessert I have the plate of fruit, which includes two slices of Guava and manages to quench the fire burning in my mouth!
And then to conclude, I have mint tea, served with two sticks of Valrhona chocolate.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
SKYBUS COACH 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 AT TERMIANL 2, ROW B
All of row B 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.
QANTAS BUSINESS CLASS 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.
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 FROM GATE 8 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.
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.
OLD SCHOOL SEATING ON THE BOEING B 777-300ER 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.
SERVICE & 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?
A VANITY KIT THAT MAKES SENSE 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.
À LA CARTE DINING WHEN IT SUITS YOU 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.
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.
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.
And then for dessert I have the ice cream – chocolate and vanilla, with mixed berries and a chocolate biscuit thing that tastes very good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ARRIVAL 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.
Date: 20 December 2016. Departure: 13:00. Arrival: 06:24. Flight time: 10 hours, 30 minutes. Seat: 1K, window on the starboard side.
I awake just before seven in the morning. I open the curtains to take a look outside. It was late when I arrived yesterday evening, so I could not really see anything much. It is a lovely day today, but immediately I am taken aback by just how incredibly ugly Frankfurt airport is. Apart from the fact that the whole facility was designed with everything but the passenger’s convenience in mind, the buildings are quite simply ugly, badly maintained and dilapidated. Paris Charles de Gaulle may not be up there in the top ten of the world’s most convenient airports either, but at least that place has style.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Mode: Shuttle bus.
Journey time: Five to seven minutes, depending on traffic.
Price: Complimentary shuttle, provided by Fraport. Frequency: Every five minutes.
I am staying at the Hilton Frankfurt airport, which is perched above the long distance railway station. To access Terminal 2, take the escalator down from the hotel lobby. At the bottom turn left into the covered footbridge that connects the station to Terminal 1. There are a few cafes on the footbridge. When I arrived yesterday evening, they had already closed and there were mice running around all over the bar and tables. So you may want to get your coffee somewhere else unless you fancy a mouse poo macchiato…
At the end of the footbridge, turn left and take the stairs down to the ground floor. The stop for the shuttle bus to Terminal 2 is on your right.
Terminal: 2. Sector: E. Airport check-in: Check-in counters are open from 09:30 to 12:10. There is:
one counter for First Class passengers,
one counter for Business Class passengers,
one counter for Premium Economy passengers, and
three for standard Economy Class passengers.
Web check-in: Online check-in open 48 hours before departure.
Self-service check-in: There are red self-service check-in machines available and Cathay Pacific staff are on hand in case something should go wrong.
I have already checked in using the Cathay Pacific app, but I decide to pass by the First Class check-in desk anyway. The lady there is very friendly and chatty. She reissues my boarding pass in paper, together with an invitation to the lounge in Frankfurt, a small map of Terminal 2 for me to find my way around, as well as an invitation to the arrivals lounge in Hong Kong.
Location: Before the security checkpoint for gates E2 to E9.
Type of Lounge: Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge.
Access: By invitation. The entrance is right opposite the security checkpoint.
Toilets: Available in the lounge.
Showers: There are three showers in the lounge that appear to be permanently attended. Food & Beverages: There is a selection of hot and cold snacks. When I arrive at the lounge just after ten, they are just clearing away the breakfast dishes and replacing them with the lunchtime snacks. There is no noodle bar in this lounge, but noodle soups can be ordered from the staff.
To add a bit of seasonal atmosphere, there is also a plate with Christstollen and next to that a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
Connectivity: Complimentary wifi is available, no password required.
Newspapers & Magazines: There is a good selection of international magazines and newspapers.
Comment: The lounge is fairly large. There is no dedicated First Class section. Other than that, there are dedicated workspaces if you need a bit of privacy as well as computer workstations.
Priority Boarding: There is a priority lane for security. Boarding is first for families with children and then for First and Business Class passengers.
Number of Airbridges: There are two airbridges, First and Business Class passengers use the L1.
CABIN & SEAT
Configuration: 1 + 1 + 1. Capacity:
First Class, 6 seats.
Business Class, 53 seats.
Premium Economy, 34 seats.
Economy Class, 182 seats.
Seat Layout: The seat feels very private, despite the fact that it is not a suite type seat. First of all, the window seats are all angled to face towards the window, so you do not have to look at the other passengers. In addition, the shell of the seat is quite high and deep.
Pitch: 81 inches. Width: 36 inches.
AC Power: 110 V AC power port available at every seat. Audio and Video:
Touch screen enabled.
I cannot really say anything much about the inflight entertainment, because I did not use it.
Connectivity: Cathay Pacific does not provide wifi on the B777-300ER. Toilets: There are two toilets for the First Class cabin, although one is in fact the crew toilet, which is used when the actual First Class toilet is occupied. The cosmetics in the toilet are by Aesop, the same as in the vanity kit. The actual First Class toilet is large enough for a grown man to be able to change comfortably enough. It also has a proper sink and the faucet is turned on and off manually, instead of automatically.
Comment: The cabin is very elegant and spacious. This is partly due to the fact that there are no overhead bins and there are only three seats abreast. Even so, there is more than enough storage space and every passenger has their own small closet, with enough space for a jacket, trousers and shirt.
SERVICE & CREW
As I step aboard the plane, I am greeted by a chirpy young lady. She shows me to my seat on 1K and hangs my jacket for me. She introduces herself and in short sequence three other members of the crew stop to say hello, welcome me aboard and introduce themselves. The purser tells me we will have a fairly quick flight today at only ten hours and thirty minutes. Once I am settled, I am brought, in short sequence, my pyjamas, a vanity kit, earphones, the menu and a welcome drink and an amuse bouche.
Pyjamas: The pyjamas are very comfortable, but they are cut very wide. I am a fairly big guy. But I was given an L and it was still quite big on me.
Vanity kit: The kit is by Australian brand Aesop, and there are different kits for men and women. It contains:
a cloth to clean spectacles with.
Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Towel before the meal: Hot towel served on the ground.
Pre-meal drink: Cathay Delight, it is one of the airline’s non-alcoholic signature drinks – made with kiwi, mint and coconut milk. Choice: There is a selection of Western and Chinese dishes that can be mixed. There is also a vegetarian option
Delivery: À la carte service.
Type of meal: Lunch
Amuse bouche: Seared tuna on sweet potato mash, served chilled and with a cracker.
First course: Caviar and Champagne with trimmings. Second course: Minted pea and Edamame soup. Third course: Poached Maine lobster with baby corn, asparagus, capers, dried tomatoes and romaine salad, with a French dressing.
Main course: Braised Cod, ginger, scallion, mushroom and oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy and carrot.
Cheese: Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Manchego, and Caciotta with crackers, bread, grapes and dried fruit.
Dessert: Chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and dulce de leche ice cream.
Krug with the caviar,
Earl Grey tea with dessert.
Breadbasket: A selection of rolls and garlic bread.
Hot towel after the meal: Yes, not scented.
Comment: Okay, so… Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa you can definitely go home. Qatar, if you don’t mind, I’ll just put you on the back burner for the time being. Because I think I have a new favourite First Class airline. And yes, the meal is definitely what tips the scale. It is quite simply outstanding. First of all, unlike many other airlines, Cathay Pacific will actually give you a whole tin of caviar and not just a sad, small spoon full like Lufthansa does. But apart from that, the size of the portions is very good and the tastes and flavours are simply amazing, especially considering that we are at 37’000 feet! The Chinese main course is fragrant and spicy.
But without a doubt, the undisputed highlight of the meal is the dessert. Oh. My. God. This is divine. It is soft, warm and gooey on the inside, but firm on the outside (yeah okay, so I write a bit of food porn too. Is that going to be a problem…?). This soufflé is so good, it really needs a weapons licence.
Surprisingly, four hours out of Hong Kong I am feeling hungry again. I order the wonton noodle soup, which is served with a glass of still water and a Coke Zero. Even for just a snack, the crew set the table properly, with a napkin and tablecloth. The soup is nice and warm and has this smoky taste. The wontons are delicious.
THE SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal: No.
Pre-meal drink: Mixed berries smoothie.
Choice: There are two Western (one sweet and one savoury) dishes and one Chinese hot dish to choose from for breakfast.
Delivery: À la carte service.
Type of meal: Breakfast.
First course: Fresh seasonal fruit.
Main course: Banana pancake with Mascarpone and maple syrup.
Breadbasket: A selection of bread, buns or fresh toast, served with butter, honey and jam.
Hot towel after the meal: Yes, lightly scented.
Comment: The breakfast service starts about ninety minutes out of Hong Kong. The plate of fruit is simple enough and serves its purpose perfectly. But then comes the main dish and my jaw literally drops – it is huge! There are three banana pancakes on the plate that are plump and fluffy. They are sweet and syrupy from the maple syrup drizzled over them and in the middle of the plate there is a huge, inviting dollop of mascarpone cream. Divine! Throughout the breakfast service the crew come to check that I have everything I need and top up my drinks. The meal concludes with a hot towel. By this time we only have another fifty minutes to go to Hong Kong.
Terminal: 1. We land at 06:25, nearly thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is only just coming to life. I disembark the aircraft and head downstairs to catch the automated people mover to bring me to the head of the terminal. The queues at immigration are already starting to form but are still fairly modest by Hong Kong’s standards.
In Hong Kong I will be staying at the Novotel Citygate, which I chose because I will only be here the one night and my next flight will already be leaving at 9 o’clock in the morning.
Well, what can I say and where to begin? As far as I am concerned, Cathay Pacific really clinched the spot as the best First Class experience I have ever had, coming in ahead of Qatar Airways and Asiana Airlines. I am sure if you want to look at the details of the flight there are probably areas that might be improved, but the overall package is really quite overwhelming. The crew are incredibly friendly, chatty and attentive but without being obtrusive. The hardware is great too. The seat is comfortable and provides a lot of space and privacy, giving the entire cabin a very cosy and exclusive feel. But without a doubt the food is really the selling point here for me. Apart from the fact that you certainly do not go hungry on Cathay Pacific, the quality of the dishes and the composition of the meal are outstanding. I shall have to do this again!
INTRODUCTION Fourteen hours after I arrive home from my trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil, I find myself on my way back to Basel airport for my last overseas trip this year. I am on my way to Montreal again for another meeting with ICAO. When I checked my iPhone this morning, Montreal was reporting a temperature of -8 degrees. Why can they not have these meetings in summer?
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Bus line 50. Journey time: About fifteen minutes, depending on whether it is a nonstop bus or not. Departs from: Basel SBB, the main Swiss railway station. Arrives: Euroairport, departures on level 2. Cost: I think CHF3.50.
Location: Hall 1 in the French sectors. As you enter the terminal on level 2, which is the departure concourse, turn right. Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, airport check-in counters, self-service machines. Counters: There is a dedicate counter for SkyPriority passengers. It is usually cordoned off, but a member of the ground staff will let you through on request. They do not even want to see your card or anything like that.
I drop my bag off. I have not really got that much stuff with me, I am only gone for two days, but it is just easiest to check-in a suitcase to make sure my suit does not get all crunched up.
LOUNGE In theory, passengers with Air France are allowed to use the Swissport SkyView lounge on the Swiss side of the terminal. However, since the events in Paris last week, the French side of the terminal has been hermetically sealed off airside from the rest of the terminal. So instead of visiting the lounge, I grab myself a Coke Zero at the self-service café and settle down near a power outlet to work on my computer (When you go through security in France, it is important that you make sure your battery is still charged).
Priority Boarding: SkyPriority have a separate queue and the gate dragons are strict in turning away passengers who are not entitled to use that queue.
Boarding is via the apron, which gives me the opportunity to snap a few pictures of my ride to Paris today. The flight is pretty full, from what I can tell.
CABIN I seem to have lucked out today and despite the heavy load, the seat next to me on this short hop to Paris will remain empty. Previously I had not noticed that the Embraer 170 does not appear to have any overwing emergency hatches.
SERVICE There are two middle-aged female cabin crew working the flight today. They seem friendly enough.
THE MEAL The flight time to Paris is only 50 minutes. Hence, ‘the meal’ is limited to a cup of coffee and two tasty lemon flavoured biscuits.
TRANSFER IN PARIS CHARLES de GAULLE TERMINAL 2 As usual, the regional flights arrive and depart from Terminal 2G, which is really way out in the sticks. My connecting flight will be leaving from the L concourse of Terminal 2E. As I enter the terminal, I simply follow the signs for 2E. Immigration takes place in 2G, before you step on board the shuttle to take you to 2E.
Type of Lounge: Salon Air France. Location: One floor up from the main transit area. Facilities: Two buffets with cold snacks, hot and cold drinks, desks to work on (but no computers), toilets are available in the lounge. Internet: Complimentary wifi, no password required.
The lounge is very busy when I arrive. Even so, there are still plenty of seats available as the lounge is rather huge. I will not be staying here for very long anyway.
BOARDING Priority boarding: I arrive at gate L42 about fifty minutes before departure and boarding has already started. There is a separate line for SkyPriority passengers. Before you join the queue, your passport and boarding pass are checked by a security office. Business Class and Premium Economy Class passengers board the aircraft through the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers board via the L2.
CABIN Configuration: 2 + 3 + 2 Seat: 1B. The Business Class section on this aircraft is located between the L1 and L2 doors. In total there are 35 seats on five rows. On today’s flight only three of the middle seats on the rows of three have remained empty. Other than that the flight is full.
The seat is of the angled lie-flat type. Other than that though, it is fairly comfortable. Obviously the biggest drawback is the configuration with seven abreast. Apart from the fact that I certainly would not want to be the guy stuck in the middle, the configuration is now pretty outdated and can hardly match the level of privacy that Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines offer in Business Class. Pitch: 79 inches.
Width: 21 inches. Facilities: 110 volt ac power port is available at every seat, located at the bottom of the middle console. Audio and Video: The entertainment system has a 10 inch screen and uses some very basic touch screen technology, which works really badly. In fact, the same thing can be said for the entire entertainment system – during the flight is has to be rebooted no less than three times and still it does not work!
SERVICE The crew on this flight is friendly but quite reserved. Everyone is professional in the way they go about their duties, but they are completely lacking of any personal touch or warmth.
When I board the aircraft, a pillow, a nice thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at each seat. Just a piece of advice: the covers for the earphones are inside the slippers.
While we are still on the ground, the crew first distribute the vanity kits, followed by a welcome drink and a scented hot towel.
I really like Air France’s vanity kits. Not only do they look chic, I also find they are well stocked and include Colgate toothpaste and mouthwash.
Welcome drink on the ground: There is a choice of orange juice, still water, champagne and fruit of the forest juice. Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink: Ice tea, served with butter sticks and an amuse bouche of artichoke cream with beetroot and Jerusalem artichoke.
Choice: There are four choices for the main course – fish, pasta, duck or lamb.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Duck and goose foie gras terrine; a medley of yellow and red sun-dried tomatoes with zucchini, carrots, Permesan cheese sautéed black grapes.
Green salad with a choice of balsamic dressing or red pepper and olive oil dressing.
Filet of cod with a leek cream sauce, onion, carrot and saffron basmati rice.
Sainte-Maure and Camembert cheese.
Selection from the breadbasket with butter.
Praliné cream puff, lemon cupcake, pineapple parfait with vanilla cream and passion fruit sorbet.
Tea or coffee.
A piece of black chocolate.
The food is very tasty and filling, although I absolutely refuse to eat the foie gras. After the meal I spend my time reading in my Kindle. At some point the inflight entertainment does briefly work, and I watch an ancient episode of the Bing Bang Theory.
THE SECOND SERVICE
Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal: Light snack.
Cream of cauliflower with caviar.
A chicken muffin with tomato and basil, which tastes better than it sounds.
And a boursin cheese and cucumber roulade.
Lemon cream puff, raspberry and apple tart, fresh fruit salad.
Tea or coffee.
The meal is really just a snack, but it hits the spot nicely. After all, it is already gone 21h in Europe by this time. The meal is removed and shortly thereafter we start our descent into Montreal. Before the seatbelt sign comes on, the crew distribute another hot towel.
ARRIVAL The airport is surprisingly quiet when we arrive. I am the first to disembark and in fact I am also the first person to queue for immigration. I head downstairs to collect my suitcase, which arrives a short while later. And then I step out into the freezing cold to grab a taxi into the city. And it really is freezing, with the temperature at -3 degrees Celsius. Well, at least there is no snow…
GETTING INTO THE CITY
Transport: Taxi. Journey time: 30 minutes. Fare: CAD40, it is a fixed rate from the airport to the city.
The journey into the city takes between thirty and forty minutes, depending on traffic and the driver’s driving style, which in this particular case can best be described as sporty.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Hotel limo. Journey time: Roughly one hour from the Morumbi area.
In Sao Paolo I am staying at the Hilton Morumbi. I chose this hotel because it is conveniently located near the site of the training course at the domestic airport in Congonhas. Other than that though, it is somewhat removed from the city centre and quite a long way away from Guarulhos airport. It does not really help either that the traffic in Sao Paolo is notoriously bad.
Location: Terminal 3, first floor, check-in counters on row H. Facilities: Airport check-in and web check-in. Counters: There is one First Class counter, one Business Class counter, an internet check-in counter and one counter for passengers with special needs.
I arrive at Guarulhos airport at 16h20 after a horrible trip from the city. My driver is so busy WhatsApping while driving that he misses the turn off the motorway for the airport. As if that were not already bad enough, rather than continuing and taking the next exit, he decides to pull on to the emergency strip and then reverse all the way back to the turn off he missed…
Check-in is fairly swift. There are no passengers in line ahead of me. Strangely enough, there do not appear to be any dedicated Economy Class counters and I am left wondering if perhaps a) the flight is not really that full or b), check-in for Economy Class only starts later.
There is no dedicated queue for security for Business Class and First Class passengers. Accordingly, there the line is huge. But fortunately, it is moving quickly.
Immediately behind security is immigration. A friendly officer stamps my passport, confesses that he has never before met a guy from Malta and wishes me a pleasant journey.
Location: Behind passport control turn left. Eventually you will see an escalator and lifts going up one floor, off to the left. This is where all the airline lounges are located.
Type of Lounge: Star Alliance Lounge.
Facilities: Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, workstations and rest area. Catering: The lounge has quite an extensive buffet of cold items. There is a huge bowl of salad with a variety of garnishes, in addition to small dishes, like individual raviolis in a tomato salsa or stick crudités in a yoghurt dip. There is also a limited selection of warm dishes, with a choice of pasta, tomato soup or a selection of warm local pastries.
Internet: Complimentary wifi provided by the airport, the password is given to you upon entering the lounge.
Much to my surprise, I rather like the décor of this lounge. I am not quite sure what I was expecting – probably another one of those awful Lufthansa branded lounges – but this is really nice. The lounge is fairly busy when I arrive. Even so, it is quite large so it does not feel crowded. The lounge offers a wide range of different seating option. Furthermore, it is on the same level as the huge windows commanding excellent views of the apron and departing aircraft.
Priority Boarding: Yes.
Two airbridges are connected to the aircraft. First and Business Class passengers board via the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers board via the L2. When I arrive at the gate at 18h10, boarding has already started.
I am greeted at the door by a gentleman and a young lady wearing the elegant Singapore Airlines Kebaya. As she escorts me to my seat I inquire about the load and she tells me there are 19 passengers in Business Class this evening and only 90 in Economy Class.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 Seat: 11A, window on the port side of the vessel.
Singapore Airlines operates the B 777-300ER in two configurations with three or four different cabin classes. On the route to Sao Paolo, the three-class configuration is used with a First, Business and Economy Class. There are 48 seats in total in Business Class. The first two rows are ahead of the L2 galley, with the remaining ten rows aft of the L2 galley. Row 11 is the first row of Business Class. The Singapore Airlines seat is definitely very wide and offers a lot of privacy for a Business Class seat. The upholstery is covered in leather or some other material.
The seat provides a lot of storage space. To the left of the screen there is a specific compartment to store spectacles and the compartment housing the earphones is large enough to place an iPhone 6+ and an Apple charger in it. Pitch: 50 inches. Width: 30 inches. Facilities: Wifi provided by OnAir, USB port and 110 volt a/c power outlet. Audio and Video: Every Business Class seat is equipped with a 15’4’’ LCD screen. The Krisworld entertainment system has more than 700 audio channels, 295 video on demand movies and 180 television programmes to choose from.
As soon as I reach my seat, one of the flight attendants comes to take my jacket, while another inquires if I would like a newspaper or magazine. There is a selection of Brazilian, Spanish and English papers. I am also brought a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a hot towel.
Singapore Airlines does not offer vanity kits in Business Class. However, they do distribute eyeshades, socks and slippers. Dental and shaving kits are available in the lavatories. Earplugs are available on request.
Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice. Still water and champagne are also available. Towel before the meal: Warm, lightly scented towel.
Pre-meal drink: Coke Zero.
Choice: There are four choices for the main course and two choices for dessert.
Delivery: Individual service.
Type of meal: Dinner.
Chicken and mutton satay with cucumber, onion and spicy satay sauce.
Marinated prawns Niçoise salad with tomato, green beans, boiled egg, olives and balsamic vinaigrette.
Vegetarian noodles with lettuce, black mushroom and chilli sauce.
Macadamia ice cream with a mango coulis.
Tallegio, Gorgonzola and Camembert with crackers and garnish (I am too stuffed to actually try this one…).
Selection from the breadbasket.
Tea or coffee.
The meal is very tasty. You can never really go wrong with the satay. My only grippe with that though, is that it is impossible to mop up the leftover sauce as the satay are served without cutlery. Such a waste…!
For the main course I choose the vegetarian noodles from the selection of inflight snacks. It is at moments like this that the professionalism of the Singapore Airlines crews shows. When the flight attendant comes to take my order, she does not bat an eyelid when I tell her I would prefer the noodles from the snack menu rather than something from the selection of main courses.
After the meal I watch ‘The man from U.N.C.L.E’, which is quite entertaining and a nice homage to the original series. And then I decide to have a nap. One of the flight attendants comes to make up my bed while I change into my shorts in the bathroom.
As soon as I hit the pillow I drop off to sleep and do not awake until two hours before the landing in Barcelona, when the crew come to wake me up for breakfast as I had requested them to do.
THE SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal: Hot, lightly scented.
Pre-meal drink: Apple juice.
Choice: There are three choices for the main course.
Delivery: Individual service.
Type of meal: Breakfast.
Selection of sliced fruit – strawberries, mango, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, orange and grapefruit.
Griddled buttermilk pancakes with berries compote, orange mascarpone and honey.
Selection from the breadbasket.
Coffee or Tea.
Oh my God, those pancakes! Who ever dreams up stuff like this? The dish arrives with the sticky honey dripping down the sides of the stack of pancakes. The meal is as tasty as it looks. It is sinfully sweet but oh so good!
Outside a new day is quickly dawning. One of the pilots comes on the loudspeaker to announce that we will be starting our decent into Barcelona shortly. And what a spectacular decent it is. We approach the city from the south, flying over the sea with the coast visible far off to the left. We fly past the airport and then execute a series of gentle left turns to line us up for an arrival in a southerly direction. By this time we are below the clouds. Even so, the rising sun can still be seen, glistening on surface of the Mediterranean.
If, like me, you are connecting to another flight in Barcelona, follow the signs marked ‘transfer’, which will bring you to the security check. Once you have cleared security, you can either take the escalators one floor up if you are connecting to a non-Schengen flight. Otherwise, turn right to go through immigration and enter the Schengen area. From there take the escalators one floor down to the main airside area.
ABOUT SINGAPORE AIRLINES
There are only few airlines that enjoy a reputation like that of Singapore Airlines. Even people who have never actually done a flight with them know what excellent service the passenger can expect from Singapore Airlines. To be honest, as far as the hardware and food is concerned, I do think there probably are quite a few airlines out there that can match and possibly even outshine Singapore Airlines – like Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways. However, the one thing none of those other carriers can rival, in my view, is the cabin crew. The professionalism and attention to detail that the crew on both the out- and inbound flights showed, is quite amazing. And that is probably what makes Singapore Airlines’ reputation so good. No matter where you are going, you always know what to expect.