SN Brussels Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Transfer in Brussels

The flight from Stockholm ejects me straight onto the A concourse of the Europa pier in Brussels. All the Schengen lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area at the start of the pier.

The SAS Business Class Lounge

My Senator status entitles me to use any Star Gold lounge, so obviously I decide to go for the SAS lounge for the simple reason that I’m quite intrigued to see that they even have their own lounge in Brussels.

The facilities inside the lounge are nice, this could be a SAS lounge anywhere in Scandinavia. The only thing I’m not really so sure about though, are the orange Buddah figurines covered in velvet that have been nailed to the wall…

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A 35, which is a bus gate. And judging by how few passengers get on the bus before we eventually leave, I suspect the flight is going to be more or less empty.

The flight today is operated by a Bombardier Dash 8-400 of Austrian Airlines, which still retains it’s Austrian livery. Only the titles have been removed and replaced with those of SN Brussels Airlines.

Over the years, Basel has seen just about every narrowbody type ever operated either by SN Brussels Airlines or on their behalf operating the Brussels to Basel route.

The Cabin

It is somewhat unfortunate that the branding expert at Austrian Airlines is evidently colour blind. At least, I have no other explanation for the onslaught of colour that hits me as I enter the cabin. I mean, the red uniforms with those hideous red stockings are bad enough. But the way the red clashes with the various shades of snot-green colour of the upholstery and carpet is seriously making my eyeballs hurt. But at least one of the bulkheads is sky blue.

On the up side, the flight is nearly empty, so I can pick any seat I like!

The Meal

Given that the flight time to Basel is usually a little less than fifty minutes, there is no buy on board on this flight. Instead, each passenger is treated to any choice of drink from the bar trolley and a packet of Doritos, which I have no intention of eating and don’t even bother to open.

Arrival

And then we’re already descending into Basel and then I’m back in the sweltering heat.

Conclusion

SN Brussels is a strange airline. Okay, as a former Swissair employee there’s probably still some resentment in me for the airline formerly known as SABENA. But even so, I just find SN Brussels very boring and nondescript. I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid them, but I also don’t think I’d actively seek them out for my next trip.

Luxair, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Paris Roissy to Luxembourg

Airline: Luxair
Aircraft: Q400
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2G
To: Luxembourg Findel
Departure: 10h30
Arrival:
11h15
Flight time:
45 minutes
Seat:
14F, window

The Air France Lounge

As soon as I enter the terminal building coming off my flight from Basel, I head straight for the Air France lounge to get some breakfast. I don’t quite know what it is about this lounge, but I really like it. Even when it’s quite busy, it still feels very cosy, as though you’re sitting in somebody’s living room. The view of the aircraft approaching the southern runways is also nice.

My flight is scheduled to depart at 09h35, but there’s an initial delay of 35 minutes due to bad weather in Luxembourg. The new departure time is 10h10. The flight is operated by Luxair, with Air France as a code-share partner. As such, you can make use of your SkyPriority privileges, such as lounge access or priority boarding, just as long as the flight has been booked on the Air France flight number.

Boarding

The gate areas of Terminal 2G have the look and feel of a provisorium, as though the building is only there as a temporary installation. The gate area also tends to be quite cold.

The Cabin

The cabin of the Dash 8 is very tight and uncomfortable. There just isn’t really any room for anything much. Usually, on these small aircraft it’s a lot more comfortable once you’re seated.

But sadly, that isn’t the case for the Dash 8. I have to make a mental note to remember not to select a window seat ever again on these planes. Because the rail the seat is mounted on is in a rather awkward and uncomfortable position.

On row 14 I’m sitting pretty much under the wing, so the view of the outside is somewhat limited on the ground.

By the time we push back from the gate, it’s already past 10h10. And although Terminal 2G is located close to the threshold for runway 26R on the south side of the airfield, we’re still guided to runway 27L on the north side of the airfield, which only helps to add to our delay.

The Snack

In Economy Class the service consists of a small chocolate muffin that is served in a paper bag with a napkin. In addition, the crew pass through the cabin with the drinks trolley, which has a very limited selection. I mean, they don’t even have sparkling water.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the cabin this morning. And both of them are quite dreadful. It’s not that they’re rude or anything of the sort. They just come across as being somewhat lacking in interest for their job.

Arrival

Very soon we start our descent. The crew inform us that we’ll be doing an automatic landing due to the low visibility conditions at Luxembourg airport, and therefore we are all required to fully turn off our mobiles.

The landing is smooth enough, and indeed, the runway only comes into view a short moment before we touch down. Judging by the splash we’re making as we taxi in, it must have been raining fairly recently.

Conclusion

Luxair is a somewhat boring, nondescript little airline. There really isn’t anything remarkable about them, which is okay I guess, seeing as you’re only every going to be likely to really have to fly them if you’re intending to visit Luxembourg.

Luxair, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Paris to Luxembourg

Transfer in Paris Roissy

My flight from Zagreb arrives at terminal 2E, which is used for non-Schengen flights. My flight to Luxembourg will be departing from terminal 2G, which is reserved for regional aircraft ops.

The security check is done in terminal 2E. From there, the way to the shuttle bus to 2G is clearly signposted.

The airport is fairly quiet, and in total there are only four of us making the trip to 2G. Sitting up front we have an elderly American lady with her daughter, who’s obviously decided now would be a good moment to have a hissy fit because her mum left her handbag with her to go to the loo…

Boarding

My timing couldn’t be better. In 2G I first have to go through passport control to enter Schengen. From there I head to my departure gate at G27, where boarding has just started. One hour connecting time between 2E and 2G is perfectly fine, but there’s probably not going to be any time left to raid the duty free shop.

The Cabin

Being such a little aircraft, there’s a baggage cart parked by the stairs of the plane and passengers with larger items have to place them there for them to be loaded into the hold. These items are retrieved directly at the aircraft upon arrival in Luxebourg.

The cabin of the Dash 8 really is tight. Although at least, the Luxair aircraft are configured in a much more comfortable configuration with greater pitch and a seat with better cushioning than on Croatia Airlines.

Sadly, the window seat is of no use, because it’s already dark outside and the guy next to me has his reading light on.

The Snack

The flight time is forty minutes. The service in Economy consists of a small paper bag containing a bottle of still water and a packet of Happy Snacks savoury crackers. The service is delivered by the crew without any attempt at being polite or civil or at least pretending to give a rat’s bum.

Arrival

We land just slightly behind schedule. Seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m out through customs quickly and then head one floor up to catch the bus line 16 to Luxexpo. I try paying the EUR2.- for my ticket, but one machine is inop and the other just won’t take my money…

Conclusion

I have to say, I’m quite impressed by how painless and easy the transfer in Paris works. It seems to me that Charles de Gaulle is better than its reputation. Ai France were also great. The crew were attentive and the food choices were very good. As for Luxair, this is another one that nobody is likely to really miss should one day disappear.

Croatia Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Zürich to Zagreb

This week has me combining two trips into one. First, today I shall travel to Zagreb to attend a meeting. And then from there, I shall travel to Luxembourg to give another course.

The nice thing about Croatia Airlines’ evening service from Zürich to Zagreb is that the flight departs at 20h05, which gives you more or less a full day in the office before having to head for the airport.

When I arrive at the airport just after 18h07, the airport is very quiet. I’m guessing the main bank of departures is already over.

Check-in

Croatia Airlines uses check-in 3 in Zürich, which is the check-in area right above the tracks of the railway station. I print my boarding pass and baggage tag at the self-service machine and then proceed to the counter to drop off my bag.

Another nice feature of a 20h05 departure time is that security is nearly deserted when I get there at around 18h30. Which is a good thing, because although there’s only one guy ahead of me in the queue, he’s exuding the rather pungent stink of young man. It ain’t pretty…

Airside

The airside area is eerily quiet too. Perhaps it’s because of Knabenschiessen, which is a half-day public holiday in the city of Zürich only. In case you’re wondering, Knabenschiessen is not quite as old a tradition as the Zürchers will have you believe. Besides, nowadays the event is more of an excuse for the hopelessly pretentious and nouveau rich to be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘right’ crowd.

Boarding

Zagreb being a non-Schengen destination, the flight will be boarding from the D gates, on the ground floor level of the B pier, behind immigration.

Although there are hardly any people on the D concourse, the place is litered with garbage. You’d think they’d manage to clean up the place. None of this stuff in the picture is mine…

Boarding starts exactly on time, even though the bus taking us to the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s when I realise that most passengers are travelling with fairly large pieces of hand luggage, which fit perfectly in the overhead bins of an A 320, but not in the shoe box size bins of the Dash 8. So it takes the gate agent a moment to label all the hold baggage and scan the boarding passes all by herself.

The Cabin

The Dash 8 is a sharp looking aircraft, but it really is rather small and cramped in the cabin. Standing room is okay. But once you’re seated, the pitch is fairly tight for an average sized caucasian male.

What’s more, there’s a rail on which the seats are mounted that runs along the side of the cabin. As a result, if like me you’re on the window seat, leg space is a bit more limited than on the aisle.

Also, on 8F you’re sitting right next to the engine. This means that window views are somewhat obstructed and the vibrations from the engines are really very strong and quite loud.

The Crew

The flight time is one hour and ten minutes. There are two cabin crew. The female is the purser, I think. She’s definitely got an attitude, but in a surprisingly good way. And she’s also very meticulous about safety.

The other crew is a male with a slighty grumpy demeanour. When the service begins, he stops at my row, shoves a packet of something under my nose unceremoniously and makes a sound that might be loosely interpreted as ‘would you care for a snack’ but is, in fact, little more than a grunt.

The Meal

To drink, there is a whole bar trolley for choice. The snack and drinks are complimentary.

However, I did also notice in their Sky Shop magazine that there are other food items and beverages available for purchase, although no information to that effect was given during the flight.

Arrival

All in all, the flight is pleasant and uneventful. Our landing in Zagreb is very smooth and quiet. We come to a stop on a stand right in front of the terminal. But once we disembark, we still have to take a bus to bring us to arrivals.

Getting into Town

From the airport I take an Uber into the city, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.

Conclusion

Croatia Airlines is another one of those small European flag carriers that is struggling to stay afloat and compete against the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s hard to say if Croatian, like Air Malta or Tarom, would even be missed if they went out of business.

Having said that, Their product is certainly not bad and pretty much on a par with that of others. I’d fly with them again any time. But unless you want to go to Croatia, that may not even be quite so easy to achieve.

Luxair, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Luxembourg to Paris CDG

Introduction

The Ibis at Luxembourg airport is currently in the process of being refurbished. And I think that’s probably a good thing. The room I’m in is nice enough, but the public areas are starting to look grubby. The carpets should probably be declared a bio hazard, and the smell of boiled cabbage is ‘interesting’…

The hotel’s redeeming feature though, is that it’s very close to the airport terminal, within walking distance.

Getting to the Airport

On foot, the airport is only about ten minutes away from the hotel. However, there’s also a shuttle that runs every thirty minutes and is available for guests. The service is complimentary, but advance reservations are mandatory. The drive takes about four minutes.

Check-in

I’m booked on the Air France flight from Luxembourg to Paris-Roissy, which is in fact a code-share operated by Luxair. There are two counters open for Business Class passengers and there is no queue when I arrive, given that it is, after all, the weekend.

The Lounge

From check-in I head straight for the security check. There is a checkpoint at either side of the terminal facility, and trying to figure out which one is currently in use is not always that clear when you’re standing in front of the check-in counters. Which means that it’s not uncommon at Luxembourg airport to see disoriented passengers moving back and forth between the two, with the look lemmings get when they’re trying to figure out if they’re really in the mood to go jumping off a cliff with their pals…

But anyway, the lounge is very quiet. All the bankers that normally populate the lounge have gone home to count their millions. I grab myself a coffee and a bottle of water, in the hope they will turn me into a functioning human being again.

Boarding

The flight is departing from gate B08, which is in the new part of the facility and specially designed to handle small regional aircraft. As in, regional aircraft that do not use a contact stand and thus require passengers to walk across the apron and, as a pleasant side-effect, give me cause to geek out on my obsession with airplanes.

I’m seated on 1A, so I figure I might as well wait until the very end to board, so as not to be in the way. The Dash 8 is a small aircraft. Besides, I have a back injury, so my movements are a bit slow right now. And every moment I do not have to stand in a queue is bliss right now!

The Cabin

There is literally half a row of a Business Class cabin on this aircraft. Because on row 1 there are only the A and C seats on the port side. And as it happens, I’m the only Business Class passenger on today’s flight. The seat is comfortable and nicely padded. It’s very pleasant on the bum and also on my damaged back.

Leg space is also good on the bulkhead row and the seat next to me is kept empty.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight today, one male and one female. Both of them are perhaps not the world’s most extrovert individuals, but their service is attentive, friendly and polite.

There is a trolley set up by the entry door of the aircraft, where passengers can pick up a magazine or newspaper before taking their seat. The selection is rather good. I go for Time magazine, mainly because their cover catches my interest.

Other than that though, there is no service at all on the ground. The flight time is indicated as 45 minutes.

The Meal

As soon as the crew are released after take-off, the male cabin attendant asks me what I’d like to drink with breakfast. He subsequently brings me a glass of orange juice, served in a real glass, and a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. The coffee is good, but I wonder if they really couldn’t have splurged on a proper cup instead of the cardboard one.

They put down a paper table cloth for the meal. Agreed, it won’t make the meal larger or better, but it’s still a nice touch.

The meal arrived in a cardboard box. It contains:

  1. a salami sandwich
  2. an yoghurt
  3. an apple pasty
  4. and a packaged refreshing towel

Transfer in Paris Roissy

Eventually, we land in Paris more or less on time. Luxair uses terminal 2G, which is exclusively for small regional aircraft. It’s also very far out in the sticks. The only way to access any of the other terminals from here is by bus. Depending on which terminal your onward connection is departing from, there is an airside or a landside transfer.

I shall be departing from the M concourse, which is basically the non-Schengen satellite of Terminal 2E. Transfer to 2E is airside, which means that I will not have to undergo security screening again here in Paris. On the downside, emigration is done in 2G and the queues are very long.

Luxair, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Luxembourg to Paris

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Introduction

For my return trip back to Basel I normally take the KLM flight at 18h20, which gets me into Basel at 21h45. But today I’ve decided to travel via Paris, mainly due to the fact that my meeting already ended at 14h00 and I didn’t fancy hanging around the office until the evening.

Getting to the Airport

Fortunately, my meeting is with the Luxembourg Civil Aviation Authority, whose offices are also located near the airport. Very kindly, after the meeting they offer to drop me off at the terminal.

The roads aren’t very busy, mainly because the summer holidays have started across Europe, during which most the many expats living in Luxembourg abandon the city and head home.

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Check-in

Yeah, about that… You see, I’m travelling on an Air France ticket. The French airline has a code-share in place with Luxair on the Luxembourg to Paris CDG route. Check-in is not possible though, neither on the Luxair nor the Air France app. However, eventually I do manage to complete the process on the Luxair website. It’s a bit awkward though that the Air France site will not automatically redirect you to Luxair and the error message I keep getting on the Air France site is not particularly useful either.

Alternatively there are slef-service machines at the airport. But you’ll have to select Luxair on the main screen to start the process, even if you’re travelling on an Air France flight number.

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The Lounge

So now what? I’m a Platinum member with Air France. But although my flight is operated under an Air France flight number, Luxair is not a member of SkyTeam, so I’m not entirely sure I even have access to the lounge.

I enter the lounge with my boarding pass and Platinum card ready, but there’s nobody at reception. In fact, I can’t see a single employee anywhere. I wait a few minutes for somebody to arrive, figuring they’re probably just busy. While I’m waiting, an utterly fashionable Italian guy walks in, sunglasses donned, talking on his mobile phone in an irritatingly loud voice. He ignores me but immediately notices the absence of the lounge dragon from reception. Without batting an eyelid he puts away again his boarding pass and heads straight for the buffet, behaving quite as though he belongs here. I figure, when in Rome…and follow him in.

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I spend about forty minutes in the lounge, during which I don’t encounter a single lounge employee. Judging by the emptiness of the buffet, they’ve been gone quite a while. So I still don’t know if I’m actually entitled to lounge access.

The lounge in Luxembourg is quite nice, but it does tend to get fairly crowded in the evenings. Toilets are available inside the lounge and the food options, although basic, are not bad. Oh yes, and the views of the apron and runway are pretty decent.

Boarding

My flight is departing from pier B. The building that houses pier B used to be part of the original terminal facility at Luxembourg but was shut down in 2008 when the new, current terminal opened. Due to a significant increase in traffic in recent years, the pier was recently renovated and eventually reopened in June, once a walkway to the new terminal had been constructed.

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From what I understand, the new pier is intended for use by Luxair’s regional aircraft only. The building is nice and very bright, with lots of natural light. But keep in mind that there are really no facilities at all here – no shops or anywhere to buy a drink.

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The Cabin

The Bombardier Dash 8/400 forms the backbone of the Luxair fleet. What I like about Luxair’s aircraft is that the seats that are installed on these planes are very comfortable and have significantly better padding than the slim and flimsy seats many other carriers have installed on the Dash 8.

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One thing to be watchful of though, is that the ventilation system runs along the floor and takes up some leg space if you’re sitting by the window due to the curvature of the hull. Fortunately, the aircraft is only about half full this afternoon, which means the seat next to me stays empty and I have enough space to spread out.

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I’m seated on 8F, which is right under the wing. There is not really that much to see from this seat while you’re on the ground, because you have the engine right in front of your window. But obviously, with the Dash 8 having a shoulder-mounted wing, once you’re airborne you have an unobstructed view below.

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The Crew

There are two female cabin crew working the cabin. Both are middle aged and very friendly. Announcements are made in French, English and Luxembourgish. The latter is really hilarious to listen to because it sounds like a rather unfortunate and unsuccessful attempt to merge German and French. But Luxembourgish is actually a thing, in case you were wondering.

The Meal

The flight time to Paris is only 45 minutes. Immediately after take-off, the crew pass through the cabin distributing small paper bags containing a bottle of still water and a packet of those notorious Happy Snacks. Still, for 45 minutes it’ll do.

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Arrival

We land in Paris on time. Luxair operates out of Terminal 2G in Paris, which is the facility used for regional aircraft and Air France’s HOP fleet.

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Making a transfer from 2G is always a bit of a wild card. I now there is an airside shuttle transfer because I’ve previously taken it. But if you blindly follow the signs for flight connections to 2F, from where my flight to Zürich is departing, eventually you will be spat out in the arrivals hall, landside. This is not a particularly big deal as such, because there is a complimentary landside shuttle too. But it does mean that you will have to go through security again for your next flight.

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Conclusion

Luxair is a neat little airline that is tailored to the needs of its local market. Recently Easyjet and even Ryanair have started flights to Luxembourg, but so far the little carrier seems to be fairing pretty well against its much larger competitors. I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with Luxair, but they’re definitely okay. Of course it helped that today’s flight was only about half full.

FlyBe on behalf of SN Brussels, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

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Date: 11 September 2016
Departure: 17:05
Arrival: 17:50
Flight time: 45 minutes
Seat: 9C, aisle

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Introduction

I arrive in Brussels on a flight from London Heathrow. It is just gone 13h30 and my connecting flight to Basel will not be boarding before 16h40.

The path from the arrival gate to security is pretty straightforward. My boarding pass for the onward connection was already issued in London.

There is a bit of a queue at security, given that there is only one lane open. But the queue moves quickly. And soon enough I am through security and Schengen immigration and find myself airside again.

Schengen flights leave from the A dock, which used to be connected to the main terminal via an underground walkway. Since I was last here, the underground passage has been closed off, and instead a bridge has been built in its place to connect the dock. Generally speaking, Brussels airport is very generously laid out and the high ceilings somehow prevent the place from ever being loud.

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The Brussels Airlines Business Class Lounge

Location: At the beginning of the A dock, where it is connected to the bridge to the main building.
Type of Lounge:
The Loft – Brussels Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Nap boxes, showers, toilets, video games, portable devices that can be borrowed from reception, newspapers and magazines.
Catering: Wow! There is a separate bar that is attended, where you can order drinks. The food options are excellent and very tasty. There is soup, a tray with different types of quiche, fresh bread and a buffet with salads and desserts. And, most importantly, they also have fresh Belgian waffles!
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available.

Blimey, this is certainly one of the nicer Star Alliance lounges I have been to in a while. The design of the lounge is very elegant in an understated way that makes it feel very comfortable and cosy.

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Boarding

Half an hour before departure I exit the lounge and head for my departure gate. I really would like to know just how on earth they manage to get and keep the floor in the terminal looking so shiny with all the passengers stomping around on it all day?

Our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, but the airbridge has not been connected to the aircraft, which means better photo opportunities for me!

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: No information could be obtained on the cabin layout and the seat’s dimensions. Basically, the aircraft is decked out in what seems to be the standard seat for the Q400, which is comfortable enough for such a short flight. In fact, the seat pitch is rather good. The only problem is that there does not seem to be any air conditioning on the ground and this aircraft must have been standing around all day, because it is stiflingly hot in the cabin. Other than that, the cabin lights are switched to mood lighting, which is kind of funky on such a little airplane.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

There are two young men working the cabin. The purser working the forward cabin seems friendly and obviously takes safety very seriously, which is the way it should be. Other than that through, interaction with the crew is fairly limited.

The Non-Meal

This is perhaps the most surprising part of the flight. From what I could tell on the previous leg from London to Brussels, passengers in Economy were served a sandwich and a drink. On this flight however, absolutely everything is buy on board. Otherwise you do not get anything, not even a cup of water. Nada. I mean, it hardly makes a difference with a flight time of only 45 minutes, but it just seems odd to serve nothing at all.

It says in the buy on board menu that if you are connecting from a long-haul flight you will be served a soft drink free of charge upon presenting your boarding pass of that flight.

Arrival

Soon enough we land in Basel. The airport is on French territory. France is still in a state of emergency. As a result, the Schengen treaty appears to have been temporarily suspended and even intra-European flights now have to use the non-Schengen part of the terminal, which is bursting at the seems. It also means that you must go through passport control upon arrival.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Zagreb to Zürich

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Date: 05. August 2016.
Departure: 09h20.
Arrival: 10h45.
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side.

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Introduction

The bus drops us off just outside the terminal on the arrivals side. The terminal building really is inappropriately small, especially given that the ramp is rather busy with arriving and departing aircraft. I enter the building and much to my surprise, only few passengers are heading for arrivals and immigration for Croatia. The vast majority are turning left to queue for transfer immigration and security.

And God, how slow the process is! It takes fifty minutes from the moment I enter the terminal building until I am finally through security and in the transfer area. All things considered, that is pretty fast though, seeing as there is only one check point for all the passengers.

The Lounge

Location: Behind the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge: Contractor lounge.
Facilities:
The view of the apron. There are no toilets.
Catering: A machine serving juice, another machine serving soft drinks and another for instant coffee and tea. Bad pastries.
Internet:
Wifi is available, the code is plastered on the walls all over the lounge.

The Business Class lounge is obviously a compromise, both in terms of location and size. If you are, like me, arriving in the terminal from another flight, once you clear security you have to walk all the way through the duty free shop and then up the stairs. Because the lounge is actually located in the hall leading passengers starting their journey in Zagreb from security to the airide area, you will have to fight your way through all the passengers heading the opposite direction. And once you arrive at the lounge you will no doubt be wondering why on earth you even bothered!

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The lounge is rather ugly, dingy and small. Its one redeeming feature is that it is not quite as crowded as the public area outside the lounge, which is way too small for all the passengers.

Boarding

My gate is located on the far right of the lounge area and I have a bit of a problem accessing the gate because the Vueling and Germanwings flight at the neighbouring gates are so crowded. But eventually, I sort myself out with a bit of pushing and shoving.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: The seat is kept in the same colours as those on the Airbus fleet. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the aircraft has a capacity of 76 passengers. There are two and a half rows in Business Class. On the port side there is a row 1 and 2. On the starboard side however, there is only a row 2, which is the bulkhead row. It is also the emergency exit row, so legroom is in fact rather good here. The flight is completely full and I suspect there are at least four commercial upgrades in Business Class. And incidentally, the seat next to you is not kept empty in Business Class.

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The Crew

The service on this flight is completely different to that on the previous flight. There are two ladies working the cabin and they are perfectly charming, very friendly and elegant. Of course it helps that their uniforms look pretty sharp.

While we are on the ground, the crew offer Croatian newspapers and pre-packed cold towels. The flight time is announced at one hour and twenty-five minutes.

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The Meal

Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.

  1. Fruit salad.
  2. Müsli with yoghurt and prunes.
  3. A plate with cheese, tomato and olives.
  4. A bun and a croissant with butter and this really tasty orange and fig jam.
  5. Tea or coffee.
  6. Apple juice.

Well this is much more like it. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy the meal. The Müsli is tasty and quite filling, especially with the large bottle of yoghurt. The fruit salad tastes fresh and the variety of cheese is good.

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I have a second coffee to keep me going (awake). But it is no use, it was just too early when I started on my way home and before I know it, my head is tilting forwards and I start dribbling into my polo shirt.

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Arrival

I am awakened by the cabin who pats me on the shoulder and asks me to replace my tray table. The weather in Zürich looks nice and cool. It is overcast and the pilot announces a temperature on the ground of 15 degrees, much cooler than Skopje.

Zürich airport really is quite impressive, I must say. Despite the fact that the place is very busy with arriving and departing aircraft, by the time I reach the luggage belt I only have to wait for another two minutes before the suitcases start arriving. Mine is the third off the belt.

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Conclusion

I have been meaning to try Croatia Airline for a long time now, so I am glad I finally got that off my chest. So what’s the verdict? The first flight really was nothing special, but the second one way rather enjoyable. It is a pity that the ground experience in Zagreb is so unappealing. That old terminal really is getting a bit long in the tooth and probably should have been replaced many years ago already. But there is hope! Apparently in March 2017 the new terminal with its funky design is set to open. Hopefully, the new facility will have a nicer lounge and a better transfer process.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Zürich to Lugano

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Date: 31. August 2016.
Departure:
09:35.
Arrival:
10:10.
Flight time:
35 minutes.
Seat:
15F, then 9A.

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Introduction

Lugano airport is located in a narrow valley, closed in by steep hills on three sides. In addition, the lake just south of the airport puts further limitations on the length of the runway. As a result, even SWISS’ Avro RJ100 is still too large and too heavy to operate safely in and out of Lugano. For a while, service to and from Lugano were operated by Darwin on behalf of SWISS. But then once Darwin was rebranded as Etihad regional, there was no way the relationship could continue and eventually, the route was taken over by Austrian Airlines who operate the Q400 on the route.

And so I find myself on my way to Zürich early on a Sunday morning to catch an Austrian Airlines flight from Zürich to Lugano.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Departure: 06h33 from Basel Main Station.
Arrival: 07h47 at Zürich Flughafen.
Journey time: 1 hour and 14 minutes, including the transfer at Zürich Main Station.

Check-in

Facilities: Web check-in via the SWISS app. Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. Advanced seat reservation is possible against payment on the SWISS website or web app.

The Passbook app does not really work well for SWISS. The whole point about Passbook should be that the boarding pass appears on your lock screen. So that you only need to swipe the screen to display the pass, rather than having to type your PIN code each time. But for some reason that never seems to work with SWISS.

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The Lounge

Location: Upper level of the airside terminal.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS and Star Alliance Business Class lounge operated by Swissport on behalf of SWISS.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers, computer workstations, newspaper rack.
Catering: For a change, there is a fairly decent breakfast spread, with different types of bread, cold cuts, Müsli and a fruit salad.
Internet:
Available in the lounge and in the terminal, courtesy of the airport authority.

At least for once the place is empty and looks fairly tidy. Two things strike me as I wolf down my croissant. First, the lounge is starting to look dated. SWISS’ branding has not really aged very well and what was once cool simplicity is starting to look worn and plain drab. And secondly, have the staff here actually received any training? None of them are actually doing anything. Instead, two of them are discussing a roster swap while the three Latinos are having a bit of an argument in Spanish about some guy who is, and they all agree here, a bit ‘tonto’ and a bit ‘loco’. Seriously? If it were not for them, the place would be nice and quiet…

Boarding

We are boarding from gate A55, which is a bus gate on the ground floor. I count 40 passengers on the bus, which is more than I had been expecting for such a flight on Sunday morning.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: The Q400 has a seating capacity of 76 in Austrian Airlines’ configuration.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: None to mention really, but there is a coat hook.

Originally, I am on 15F, which is a window seat. But the guy next to me seems to be needing a lot of space, which is kind of strange considering he is not really such a big guy. But fortunately for me, there are still a few rows left empty by the time boarding is completed. And so I move forward to 9A, which is also a window seat.

There is a Business Class cabin on the aircraft. Business Class seats have a headrest cover, which the Economy Class seats do not have.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the flight today. The flight is operated with Austrian Airlines crew, which is why the two ladies are dressed in that carrier’s rather trashy red uniform.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Snack.
Meal:

  1. Still water (a Swiss brand)
  2. Small bar of chocolate.

To be honest, I am rather surprised they serve anything at all, given that the flight time is only 30 minutes. But in any case, the chocolate hits the spot nicely.

Arrival

We fly a circuitous route around the mountains on our descent into Lugano. Eventually, we fly into the valley from the south, coming in over the lake. We then make a wide left hand turn to line up with the runway and land in a southerly direction.

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‘Dinky’ is the best word I can think of to describe Lugano airport. It is just so small. It is probably one of the few airports I have ever been to where you can get the entire arrivals and departures areas in one shot.

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Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Stockholm to Riga

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Introduction

In Stockholm I am staying at the Hotel J in Nacka Strand on the outskirts of the city. I like the Hotel J very much, and over the years I have kept coming back here for a short but quiet weekend. Particularly during the winter time it is nice to curl up with a book near the open fire in the main building.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Boat ferry and train.
Fare: SEK300 per person for the Arlanda Express train if you are travelling as a couple. The ticket for the ferry costs SEK39 and is valid on all ferries and busses within zone A. Although in this particular case, the ticket is included in the hotel package I booked.
Journey time: By ferry it is about 25 to 30 minutes from Nacka Strand to the city centre. From there it is another 20 to 25 minutes on foot to the central railway station, through the main shopping area and then another 20 minutes on the Arlanda Express from the city to the terminus at Arlanda North.
Frequency: During the wintertime the ferry to Nacka Strand runs roughly once an hour at 03 minutes past the hour. If you are in a hurry, alternatively you can take the bus from Nacka Strand to Slussen, which takes roughly 15 minutes. From Slussen you can either walk or take the underground train for two stops to the central station. The Arlanda Express runs every 15 minutes.
Departs from: Nacka Strand ferry.
Arrives at: Arlanda North.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 5. Departures are located on the first floor. Check-in counters 71 – 90. Check-in for Air Baltic is done by SAS in Stockholm. Counter 90 is the Business Class counter.
Facilities: Web Check-in with passbook, or airport check-in at the counter or self-service machine.
Fast track: Dedicated Business Class counters and fast track for security.

I have already checked in for my flight. You will receive a reminder from Air Baltic by mail and SMS as soon as the flight opens for check-in. There is a dedicated fast track for security which, apparently, is only available to SAS and its Star Alliance partners. However, when I arrive at the counter for the boarding pass check, the guy tells me that I may use the fast track if I am travelling in Air Baltic Business Class.

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The security check will spit you out by the entrance to the large duty free store. If you are not interested in shopping, there is an exit on the left, just before the duty free area. But alas, it is probably not entirely by coincidence that the exit is blocked by trolleys, thus obliging all passengers to walk through the store.

The Lounge

Location: As you exit the duty free store, turn left and head for gate 1. To the left of the gate you will find lifts and stairs taking you up to the entrance of the lounge on the fourth floor.
Type of lounge: SAS Business Class lounge.
Facilities: Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. Apparently there is a password, but when I logged in, none was required.
Catering: There is a large buffet with a good selection of salads, crudités and bread. There is also a pot of tasty potato and leek soup, tea and coffee making facilities and a nice selection of cookies.

The lounge is really nice. It has been a while since I was here last and in the meantime the SAS lounges have had a complete make over. Of course it also helps that the lounge is fairly empty and quiet when I arrive.

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Boarding

Ah yes. This is where things look as though they may start to go horribly wrong. Boarding for my flight is expected to start at 14h45 for a 15h15 departure. However, when 15h00 rolls on and still nothing happens, I figure there may be a slight delay. Just a short while later the gate agents informs us that the aircraft suffered a bird strike on the approach into Stockholm and that therefore the propeller and engine will need to be checked first, before the aircraft is cleared to fly again. Eventually, boarding starts at 15h50, although we still have to wait for the mechanics to produce the documents before they can release the aircraft for the flight.

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During our stay on board, the crew do an excellent job of keeping us informed about the flight’s current status. At some point one of the flight attendants comes and asks me if she can bring me a drink while we wait. She also brings me a blanket in case I am starting to feel cold, what with he door still open.

Eventually we depart at 16h48, with a delay of slightly more than 90 minutes. Our flight time to Riga is given as 55 minutes.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, although in Business Class only one of the seats on the row of two is occupied.
Seat: 2A, window. This is pretty much the standard seat most if not all carriers have installed on the Q400. What I like about the seat is that it allows you to sit very upright. I do not have any information about the width or pitch of the seat. All I can say though, is that on 2A there is plenty of space to move around, and I am even able to cross my legs without any significant contortions. There are 2.5 rows of Business Class, for a total of three seats. Apart from me there is only one other passengers seated on 1A.

There is only a row 1 on the port side of the aircraft. On the starboard side row 2 is the first row and also offers quite a lot of legroom because of the emergency exit.

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The Crew

There are two young female cabin crew working the flight today and I think they are doing a really smashing job. They are taking good care of the passengers, handling those who are upset at the prospect of missing their connection in Riga. Nothing seems to be a problem for them and they seem very competent and in control.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Hot towel: Scented hot towels are handed out before the meal. Remember, this is a flight of only 55 minutes!
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Service: Individual tray service.
Meal:

  1. Goat’s cheese in a dill crust with grilled peppers and frisée salad.
  2. Chicken satay with pickled cucumber and carrot on a bed of frisée salad, served with a balsamico vinaigrette.
  3. Chocolate and pecan cake with caramel topping.
  4. A selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee.

Quite surprisingly, a menu is handed out before the meal. The service is very polished and I notice that the crew do not hand me anything directly but serve everything from a small round tray. The quality of the meal is very good and the dessert in particular is really to die for. It is just so rich and sweet. Just how I like it.

At the end of the meal the flight attendant comes to inquire if I fancy tea or coffee. She tells me they have black tea, rose tea, green tea and a special Christmas mix which she can highly recommend. I feel like a bit of a cad telling her I would prefer a cup of coffee. But even then she manages to surprise me and asks me if I prefer milk or cream in my coffee. A short while later she returns with the coffee and a bowl of sugar cubes and a small jug of milk.

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Arrival

A short while later we start our descent into Riga. Probably because we are running late our aircraft is parked right next to the terminal. So we can just walk the short distance across the apron to the terminal.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Bus.
Fee: EUR2.- if you buy the ticket on the bus or EUR1.15 if you buy it at the kiosk. There are ticket machines, but those are only for day cards and not for single-trip journeys.
Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes.
Departs from: Opposite the terminal building. Upon exiting arrivals turn right and follow the signs for public transport. Cross the road and you should reach the bus stop.
Arrives: If your hotel is in the centre of town, you can alight at the stop after the national library, on the other side of the river. From there it is really just a very short walk into the city. Alternatively, you can stay on the bus until the terminus at the railway station, which is another 10 minutes journey.

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