KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: Amsterdam to Bergen

Getting to the airport

My day begins at 06h45 when I exit the CitizenM in Amsterdam South to walk the short distance to the railway station. From there I catch one of the frequent trains to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The journey takes six minutes to complete and the train is nearly empty.

Check-in

There is no need for me to check-in for the flight to Bergen, as that was already done for me at Basel airport the previous day. The safety checkpoint area is in the process of being expanded at Schiphol airport. Premium passengers are segregated and go through security one floor up from the main check-in concourse. The only down side is that to access the upper level, you have to go via the SkyTeam check-in desk area.

The nice thing about new regime is that once you’re through, there is a direct access to the airlines lounges, which leads you more or less straight to the entrance of the KLM Crown lounge.

The KLM Crown lounge

As the result of the new security area on the upper floor, the shape and size of the KLM lounge has changed. They’ve also added some new furniture, since I was here the time, about a year ago.

I spend my time writing a few office mails, until eventually it’s time to make the long schlepp to gate B32, from where the flight is departing. At a leisurely walking pace, the walk from the Crown lounge to gate B32 takes about 10 minutes.

Boarding

There’s been an aircraft change. The flight will now be operated by the smaller Embraer 175. I wait to board last, seeing as I’m seated on 1A anyway. From what I can tell, the aircraft is only two thirds full.

At no point are my travel or vaccine documents checked before the flight.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class with a total of eight seats, and I’m the only passengers seated in the Business Class section. If, like me, you enjoy looking out the window, I would not recommend taking a seat on row 1 on the E 175 though. In order to squeeze in an extra row of seats, row 1 is so far forward that the window on that row is abeam with the seat. So that you really need to crank your neck to be able to look out.

The crew

The crew is very attentive and friendly. As soon as the pilot announces there will be a short delay with our departure while they finish loading the luggage, one of the crew brings me a bottle of still and sparkling water and asks me which one I would prefer while we wait. She also brings me a wet wipe.

Once we’re airborne, the crew inform the passengers that the forward lav is for Business Class only, while the aft lav is for everybody else. And they actually enforce this during the flight, which makes for one rather entertaining conversation with a Japanese lady. As she tries to sneak past the crew to access the forward toilet, one of them stops her and explains to her that the Economy Class toilet is in the rear. To which the Japanese lady says “yes, but the one at the back is locked”. To which the cabin crew makes the rather obvious remark: “yes, because there’s somebody in it…”. “Oh” says the Japanese lady and walks off, quite as thought the concept of an occupied airplane loo were quite novel…

The flight time is one hour and 25 minutes.

The meal

With a departure at 09h15, breakfast is served on this flight. It’s a different meal to the one I had on the flight from Basel the previous day. Although I’m not sure if a small bowl of grapes already qualifies as a “fresh fruit salad”.

Arrival

Just before we reach the top of descent, the pilot comes on to inform us that the weather in Bergen is cold, wet and with limited visibility. Which is great, because I forgot to take a jacket on this trip – so I’m about to get soaked and freeze…

When we land, the airport is very empty. We’re the only international arrival and most of the terminal looks shut down.

As per 20 July 2021, upon arrival in Norway, passengers are segregated in two lines: one for passengers who are fully vaccinated and have the necessary documentation on them, and one for the passengers who do not. At the checkpoint I have to show both my Covid certificate and my passport. The immigration officer wants to know which vaccine I had received. The guy behind me is turned away and instructed to contact KLM about getting him back to Amsterdam, because he’s only had one vaccine. He explains that he hasn’t had a second dose because he’d already had Covid19. But when he is unable to provide a doctor’s certificate to that end, that’s it. Out.

Other than that, the rules seem to be more relaxed in Norway, or at least in the greater Bergen area. Nearly nobody is wearing a mask in public or on public transport. And social distancing is attempted, rather than implemented.

Getting to Haugesund

For the journey to Haugesund I could have taken the plane. However, that would have meant a boring four hours wait at the airport for a flight of 30 minutes. And let’s face it, the place is so eeriely quiet right now, it’s not like there’s anything much to watch going on outside on the ramp.

So instead, I decide to go for the more cumbersome, but certainly more scenic option and take the tram, a bus, a ferry and then the bus again to get me to Haugesund. The journey from the airport to Bergen by tram takes 45 minutes. I don’t have a bus to Haugesund until after 13h, so I’m not in a hurry. Otherwise, instead of going all the way into Bergen, it would also be possible to change from the tram to the Haugesund bus at Nestun.

From Bergen the X400 bus will take you straight to Haugesund. The journey takes about three hours and 15 minutes. After about one hour’s drive, the road abruptly ends by the water and makes way for a ferry landing.

The journey by ferry takes 45 minutes. And then it’s another hour to Haugesund on the bus.

Fortunately, the weather starts to improve and the rain stops. By Wednesday it’s simply glorious! So that I am at least able to stick my feet in the water at Akresand after the meeting I’m attending.

Conclusion

All in all, while I enjoyed my day in Amsterdam on Monday and the trip to the beach on Wednesday, I found the travelling part quite tiresome and inconvenient for the most part. My initial reaction to that being that travelling in times of Covid19 is simply a whole lot of hassle and not much else. However, upon closer inspection, it dawns on me that air travel has not really changed all that much because of Covid. But I have. And all things considered, I rather enjoy a much quieter life, working from home at my own pace.

LOT Polish Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 175: Rzeszow to Warsaw

LOT Polish Airlines Logo. (PRNewsFoto/LOT Polish Airlines)

Introduction

One of the things I enjoy about my job, is that everywhere I go, people go out of their way to make me feel welcome. And Rzeszow is no exception. But it’s probably still a good thing I’m leaving today, because I seriously could get used to Polish food. As far as I’m concerned, Pierogi Ruski are the epitome of comfort food and deserving of a Nobel prize!

Getting to the Airport

Uber does not have a licence to operate in Rzeszow. Instead, a similar service is provided by Bolt. And to be honest, I think I like their app better than Uber’s, because it’s easier to use.

In any case, the journey from Rzeszow to the airport will take between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on a range of variables, such as traffic or your driver’s maniacal inclinations.

Fortunately, the latter does not appear to be a concern with my driver. And so we make the journey in pleasantly civilised 25 minutes and without putting at risk the lives of the inhabitants of the Subcarpathians.

Apparently, there is also a bus to the airport. But unless you speak Polish, information about the schedule may be hard to come by.

The terminal is a modern building on three levels with a domed ceiling.

Check-in

Arrivals and departures are both on ground level, with the airside area located on the upper floor. The airlines that operate to Rzeszow – namely LOT, Ryanair and Lufthansa – have their own dedicated counters. Check-in doesn’t open until 90 minutes before departure though. So don’t be too early!

LOT has a dedicated check-in line for Business Class and status card holders. But this is also still closed when I arrive.

There are a few places to eat, both landside and airside. Alas, none of them serve Pierogi. But the potato pancakes with sour cream help to console my disappointment…

Incidentally, there’s a HolidayInn Express just across the road from the airport.

And… there’s even an open air viewing gallery. Now if only there just a bit more traffic!

Security is very pleasant. It’s just me, and for a change the staff seem glad to see me. The airport is so quiet, they must be bored to tears most of the time!

The Lounge

Much to my surprise, there’s even a lounge, which is small but serves its purpose perfectly.

When I enter, there‘s one person in the lounge. He’s obviously on the Munich flight, which has just started boarding, and seems determined to do that I’m-way-too-cool-to-board-first thing. Now if only he would stop pacing up and down checking the gate situation. It kind of spoils the effect.

There’s a large tv screen showing the news. I can’t understand a word of what’s going on, but I still enjoy listening and trying to figure out the Polish language. But the lounge attendant obviously mistakes my baffled expression with dissatisfaction – and promptly switches channels to Michael Bolton live in concert. I’m not fully sure that’s an improvement though…

Eventually, Michael gives his last encore. But my reprieve is only short-lived, because next up is a ‘best of the nineties’ medley featuring Brian Adams and the tedious Lenny Kravitz.

Okay, enough’s enough. Okay? ‘Can you feel the love tonight’ has me wanting to hit someone. I’m leaving. This must be worse than waterboarding…

Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time. There is a separate queue for status card holders, but there’s no special announcement.

The flight is operated by an Embraer 175. I’m seated on 1A.

The Cabin

The seats on this aircraft are different to those on my flight to Rzeszow. Or maybe they’re just a different colour.

Eventually we depart five minutes ahead of schedule. The flight time is thirty minutes.

We break through the clouds just in time to witness a glorious sunset.

The Snack

The service is the same as on the outbound leg. This time I have the waffle and sparkling water.

Arrival

Eventually, we land at 15:35. Shame though that the ground crew are not expecting us. And so we wait for 15 minutes for the stairs and a bus to arrive to take us to the terminal.

LOT Polish Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Warsaw to Rzeszow

LOT Polish Airlines Logo. (PRNewsFoto/LOT Polish Airlines)

Transfer in Warsaw

By 21h45 I’ve disembarked my flight from Zürich to Warsaw. I consider visiting the lounge, but it’s only 25 minutes before boarding for the flight to Rzeszow begins. So I figure I might as well head for the gate. Warsaw airport is quite busy at this time of night, especially the non-Schengen area.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 22h25 with a slight delay. And it looks like it’s going to be a full flight.

The Cabin

Sitting on row 1 on a full flight is difficult, because you’re always holding up the queue. So no photos.

I dump my stuff in the overhead bin and take my seat on 1A. Seat pitch is very good.

The Snack

On domestic flights LOT doesn’t appear to offer a Business Class service, it’s Economy throughout. Which is fair enough, the flight time to Rzeszow is only 32 minutes.

Even so, that’s still enough time for the crew to pass through the cabin with a basket full of chocolate wafers and sour jelly sticks for passengers to pick from. There’s also a choice of still or sparkling water.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are more senior Than the previous crew. And possibly also more experienced. Perhaps that’s why they’re a lot more pleasant and far more relaxed about the service – despite the short flight time.

Arrival

Eventually we land at 23h30. The airport is deserted, save for a Lufthansa Cityline aka Germanwing aka Eurowings aka Let’s-see-what-they’ll-come-up-with-next Bombardier Regional jet which has also just landed.

Getting into Town

The airport is very small and easy to navigate through. Once I’m landside, I grab a taxi into town. There are no more busses this time of day. The journey takes about 25 minutes.

Uber has no licence to operate in Rzeszow. But instead there’s Bolt, which is pretty much the same thing.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

Introduction

Heathrow is having one of those days. The gusting winds mean there is more separation between the approaching aircraft, and as a result, everything seems to be running late – in some cases even as much as one hour or more.

The SkyTeam Lounge

In Terminal 4 KLM shares the Business Class lounge with some of its other SkyTeam partners, including China Southern, Korean Air and Aeroflot. I rather like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow. It’s got a modern and fresh feel to it, and the choice of hot and cold food is rather good.

This evening though, the lounge is full of unhappy Frenchmen. The Air France flight to Paris is running nearly ninety minutes late and passengers with connecting flights in Paris have already been informed that they’re likely not going to make their onward flights. Which of course is a merde.

Boarding

My flight is running slightly late as well. Boarding is scheduled for 19h55, which passes without the ground crew announcing that there’s going to be a delay. Eventually, at 20h30 boarding for the flight begins.

Tonight’s flight is being operated by an Embraer 175 of KLM Cityhopper. The flight is more or less sold out, which is why the ground crew are offering passengers to check in their baggage free of charge. I’m guessing this is the reason why eventually it takes us until 21h10 to finally complete the boarding process.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class seats on this flight, although on KLM Cityhopper it’s difficult to tell the difference, seeing as both seats on the row of two are sold, even in Business Class. Luckily, I’m on 1A, and by the time boarding is completed, the aisle seat next to me is still empty.

The Crew

There are two young ladies working the flight today. They’re your usual KLM friendly cabin crew. What they lack in finesse, they certainly make up for with their genuine and unpretentious approach to dealing with passengers.

There is no service on the ground. The flight time to Amsterdam is forty-five minutes.

The Meal

No sooner has the main landing gear left the ground, the aircraft starts shaking and swinging around as though it were a feather. Even so, before the fasten seatbelt sign is even turned off, the crew start their preparations for the service.

A while ago, KLM updated the boxes and the meals that are serve in Business Class on the Cityhopper flights. I’m mean, it’s still a box. But even so, I still think it’s an improvement in that the new box seems bigger and more spacious.

Inside the box there is a falafel and hummus salad, two pieces of bread and butter and a dessert.

The salad is good and very light. I soak up the hummus with one of the breads provided with the meal and that is still warm. I don’t try the dessert.

Arrival

Very soon we start our descent into Amsterdam. The weather here is no better and we dip and roll violently on the approach. Eventually, after a flight time of only forty minutes, we touch down on the Polderbaan. From here it’s another ten minutes taxiing to the Cityhopper apron. By the time we come to a stop on our designated remote stand, it’s just gone 23h00 and we’re running thirty minutes late.

We enter the terminal, which is deserted at this time of night. At least that means it doesn’t take long for the bags to start arriving…

Aeromexico Connect, Economy Class – Embraer 170: Querétaro to Mexico City

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Date: 13 May 2017
Departure:
14:30
Arrival:
15:00
Flight time:
30 minutes
Seat:
16C, aisle

Introduction

Querétaro Airport is about 35km from the old town and the journey there can take you anything between thirty minutes and two hours, depending on traffic. Fortunately for me, it’s Saturday morning and although there is quite some traffic around, it’s still rather harmless in comparison to weekdays.

Getting to the Airport

The hotel orders an Uber to pick me up at the hotel at 11h15. As far as I know, there is no public transport out to the airport. The journey by Uber costs 250 pesos.

Check-in

Querétaro airport has a dinky little terminal that is obviously way too small to handle all the traffic the airport gets. From what I can tell though, the terminal is currently in the process of expansion and renovation.

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The check-in agent informs me when I check in that there will be a delay to our flight of roughly 45 minutes, which has the wiry R. complaining about not wanting to sit inside the terminal when it’s such a lovely day out. I think he just wants a smoke. And so we decide to park ourselves in the shade outside the terminal until it’s time for us to go through security.

Airside

There is a lounge but apparently it’s not open for passengers of any of the airlines operating into Querétaro unless they are Priority Pass members.

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Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of 45 minutes. The gate agent comes on the speaker to make an announcement about the flight, but the volume of the mike is so loud that nobody can understand a word of what he’s saying. Whatever. Luckily for me, there are no contact stands at Querétaro, so we’re going to have to walk across the apron in the sun.

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The Cabin

The cabin is in an Economy Class only layout and contrary to my expectations, the seat pitch is rather good and comfortable. I’m sitting on row 16, which is nice because it’s not very often I get to sit behind the wing and can watch the control surfaces moving.

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The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough, although they refuse to speak anything other than Spanish. But they obviously take safety very seriously on this flight, which is the main thing.

The Meal

I really haven’t been too lucky with the meal services on Aeromexico and this flight is no exception. Despite the fact that the flight from Querétaro to Mexico City is only thirty minutes long, Aeromexico still do a full drinks service and also distribute packets of nuts. But alas, by the time we start out initial descent, they have only reached row 12 and I’m on row 16. And so the service is abruptly ended and the trolley stowed away before the rear of the aircraft is served. I don’t think I mind not being given anything to eat or drink, but I must say I do find it a bit strange, to say the least, that the crew can’t even be bothered to make an announcement to apologize.

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Arrival

And so, very quickly we’re already coming in over the vastness of Mexico City, where the smog is lying thick above the ground as usual.

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Transfer in Mexico City

Aeromexico uses Terminal 2 in Mexico City. Despite the delay arriving in Mexico City, I still have layover of another six hours before my connection departs from Terminal 1. So I’ve booked myself into the Marriott Courtyard at the airport, which is connected via footbridge to Terminal 1. The nice thing about the Courtyard is that there is a complimentary shuttle from Terminal 2.

Alitalia, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Zürich to Rome

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Date: 06 May 2017
Departure: 18:42
Arrival: 19:45
Flight time: 1 hour 3 minutes
Seat: 10C, aisle

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Introduction

On 25 April 2017 Alitalia’s management announced that the unions had rejected the carrier’s restructuring plan, even though Etihad Airways and the Italian government, in a moment of mental aberration, had agreed to inject even more money into the notoriously lossmaking operation in Rome.

And so the carrier’s management was left no other option but to declare bankruptcy. In the meantime, the Italian government announced that it would only be able to give the airline a credit (never to be seen again…) to keep the airline afloat until a more permanent solution can be found. Meanwhile though, the banks in Italy have explained that they were not in a position to invest in the company.

So is this the end of the road for Alitalia? It very much looks like it. But strangely enough, even while I write this, in my mind I can hear Gloria Gaynor belting out a powerful rendition of that tedious epic classic ‘I will survive’…

Getting to the Airport

I’m travelling with the wiry R. again. We’re starting out from the office in Winterthur, which is a journey of about fifteen minutes by train to Zürich airport. We catch the 16h28 train and already it’s standing room only.

Check-in

At Zürich airport Alitalia’s handling is done by DNATA on row 2 of check-in 2. Web check-in, app check-in and self-service check-in are not possible in Zürich, so you have to go to the counter to obtain your boarding pass.

Boarding

The flight is boarding from gate B34. There is a first boarding call which seems a bit useless, given that it isfor passengers in Business Class, Frecce Alata, Etihad Guest, SkyTeam Elite and SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers – which probably account for about 90% of the passengers on this evening’s flight.

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The Cabin

The seat pitch is good and I can easily stretch my legs. What’s more, row 10 is properly aligned with the window, which means you can look out the window without any major contortions.

The cabin and seat look very neat, clean and well maintained. As far as comfort goes though, the seat could be better. But this seems to be a general issue on the Embraers: the seats are a bit too low for my liking.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight, one male and one female and both of them are in their early forties, I would say. And both of them have the biggest ‘couldn’t give a shit’ expression on their faces I’ve ever seen. Okay, so let’s be gentle with them and put it down to concern over their beloved employer’s impending demise.

During the service, the crew’s mood shifts from ‘couldn’t give a shit’ to ‘my goodness, I’m so glamorous because actually, I’m a model you know’. Which, for the female means that she laughs like an imbecile for no apparent reason while the male simply gives everyone the stink eye and refuses to talk to anybody other than his colleague. Charming, I’m sure.

The Meal

Ooh, crackers! And a choice of water, Coke or Diet Coke. That’s it. This is usually where I go off on the kind of tangent that really irritates the more aeronautically interested readers of my blog who are keen on airplane pictures and not food descriptions – all very well written and tastefully poetic of course – of the catering. But what can say? It’s just crackers. Although I must say the sparkling water I have with that really goes well. A symphony actually!

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Arrival

The flight time to Rome is just over one hour and we have good visibility all the way, providing some excellent views of the Alps as we make the crossing. We park on a remote stand, from where we are bussed to the terminal. Our flight arrives in Terminal 1.

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Getting into Town

In Rome we’re staying at the Hilton Garden Inn at Fiumicino Airport. There is a complimentary shuttle bus that runs from the departure concourse of Terminal 1 to the hotel every fifteen minutes and takes about ten minutes to make the journey.

Conclusion

All in all there is nothing much to say about this flight. The crew could have been perhaps a bit more engaging and a bit less useless. Other than that, I can’t really complain. They got me there.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: Inverness to Amsterdam

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Date: 02 October 2016
Departure: 11:05
Arrival: 13:30
Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side – upgraded from 6A

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Car rental
Journey time: 45 minutes because we got lost…

I leave The Coul House at 08h40. The air up here is just so fresh that it really is a pleasure to just stand there inhaling a few breaths of the crisp, cool air. It must have been cold last night, because the windscreen is covered in a thin layer of ice where the night’s dew froze on the car.

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The sun is just coming up over the highlands. The valleys are still thick with fog, and as the sun rises higher in the sky, the light creates strange and beautiful illusions.

Check-in

Location: On the ground floor of the terminal, on your right as you enter the building.
Counters: There are two counters for KLM, one is the drop-off counter and the other is the SkyPriority counter for Business Class passengers and Platinum/Gold card holders.
Facilities: Counter check-in, self-service check-in, Web check-in via the KLM app.

By the time the car has been dropped off and I reach check-in, it is 09h45 and my flight is scheduled to depart in about one hour. There is a bit of a hold up at the SkyPriority counter because there are two guys checking in weapons.

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The Swissport Aspire Lounge

Type of lounge: Swissport Aspire contractor lounge.
Location: Near gate 3
Facilities: Comfortable sofas to sit on as well as other seating options, toilets are available outside the lounge.
Catering: A selection of hot and cold drinks and small breakfast snacks – things like Cornflakes or scones with clotted cream.
Wifi: Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge, the password is printed on the wall.

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To be honest, I am quite surprised they have a lounge at all here in Inverness. It is a nice place with good amenities. The view in particular is brilliant because you are at ground level and have excellent views of the ramp. The lounge is managed by an elderly gentleman and he really is brilliant. He is very chatty and quite funny actually, and makes passengers feel instantly welcome with his joking. He keeps a low profile in the lounge, and most of the time you do not even notice he is there, but somehow everything is cleared up straight away.

Boarding

Priority boarding is available. A separate call is made for Business Class passengers and Platinum members only, then for Gold and Silver members and eventually for everybody else. There is also a separate queue.

The scanner issues an alert as my boarding pass is scanned and the gate agent informs me I have been upgraded to Business Class again. It is quite surprising just how often that seems to happen on KLM these days.

I take my new pass and head out across the apron, taking pictures of the shiny chariot that will be taking me to Amsterdam this morning.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Pitch: 32 inches, which gradually decreases to 30 inches by row nine.
Width: 17 inches
Seat: There are two rows of Business Class on this flight. The seat next to me is kept empty. The seat on the Embraer 175 looks slightly different to that on the Embraer 190. Other than that though, it feels pretty much the same to sit in. On the first few rows the windows on the Embraer 175 are properly aligned with the passenger seats, so at least you have a good view of the outside. Towards the back though, the windows are increasingly unaligned. As a result, you end up either cranking your head back to look out through the window behind you, or sharing the window with the guy sitting in front of you, which is likely to give you tunnel vision…

The Crew

There are two crew working the cabin. The purser is a young man in his mid-twenties, I should say. The other is a young woman who seems younger. Both of them are very professional and friendly, just your typical bog standard KLM flight attendants basically, which is what I like about KLM.

Before the doors close, the young man comes by offering a selection of English, French, German and Dutch newspapers.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Lunch
Selection: Two choices for the sandwich
Service: Individual service – the meal is served in a box on the Cityhopper lights, which looks better than it sounds.

  1. Greek salad with feta cheese and pumpkin, with a mango chilli and lime dressing.
  2. Salmon and egg wrap with spinach and cream cheese.
  3. Tropical Pina Colada mousse with a lime topping.
  4. A selection of hot and cold drinks.
  5. After the meal I have a coke Zero, which is served with two packets of some really tasty almonds.
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Arrival

It is a lovely day for flying and the views outside are spectacular. After take-off from Inverness we head out onto the North Sea, and stay there pretty much until we hit the coast of the Netherlands. The weather in Amsterdam is pretty bad though and we are required to circle over the sea before eventually we are cleared to make our approach.

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In Amsterdam I have two hours to make my connection to Basel.

Alitalia, Econonmy Class – ERJ175/A320: Zürich via Rome to Tirana

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Date: 19 April 2016.
Departure: 18:55 from Zürich.
Arrival: 23:45 in Tirana
Flight time: One hour and twenty minutes from Zürich to Rome, 55 minutes from Rome to Tirana.
Seat:

Introduction

It is time for the annual User Group Meeting. This year, the authorities in Albania have kindly invited us to host the event in the capital Tirana. I am rather looking forward to this trip, even though it is going to be only a very short visit. This will be my first visit to Tirana.

I am not looking forward to flying to Tirana though, because I am certainly not a fan of Alitalia’s. For that I think I have simply had too many bad experiences with them. With striking being a popular national pastime in Italy for one, and their hub at Rome Fiumicino a filthy hovel for another, you really do not have much of an incentive to fly Alitalia. Even so, I chose Alitalia for this trip out of pure necessity. On Tuesdays I am teaching until the early afternoon. Alitalia is the only operator to offer a connection from Zürich to Tirana that will allow me to leave Zürich in the evening, without missing a day in the office or classroom.

I leave the office just after 17h00. I think spring is finally only just around the corner. It is a warm balmy evening, which is quite amazing, given that is was really cold and misty this morning.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Journey time: 13 or 17 minutes, depending on whether you take a fast train or the suburban train.
Departs from: Winterthur.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Cost: CHF4.30 for a one-way ticket.
Frequency: There are seven trains an hour between Winterthur and the airport, which depart at 03, 14, 25, 28, 44, 55, and 58 minutes past the hour. The departure at 44 minutes past the hour will take 17 minutes to complete the journey. All other trains run the course in 13 minutes.
Web link: For all schedule information, including real time information on delays, check out the website of the Swiss Federal Railways at www.sbb.ch. You can also purchase tickets via the website.

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I catch the 17:25 departure from Winterthur, which arrives at the airport at 17:38. My flight will start boarding at 18:20, so I will not have long to wait.

From the platform of the airport station to the centralised security checkpoint for airside access, it is roughly a 10 minutes walk at a leisurely pace.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 2.
Facilities: Check-in is only available at the counter in Zürich. Web check-in is not available and Alitalia does not use check-in machines in Zürich either.
Counters: Check-in is done on row 3, at the counters of DNATA.

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The young man checking me in is friendly enough. To be honest, I think he is just so bored he is glad to have somebody to talk to. He issues both my boarding passes and then sends me on my way.

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The Lounge

Location: One floor up from the main airside centre. The stairs and lift are at the far end of the airside centre, to the left and just before the escalators to the B and D concourse.
Type of Lounge:
DNATA Aspire lounge.
Facilities:
Bistro style tables and a variety of sofas and loungers, newspapers and magazines. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A selection of mainly cold dishes like sandwiches or cheese. However, there is usually also a hot option, for example soup.
Internet:
At reception an access code for the internet is printed for you.

By the time I have changed some money – fifty Swiss Franks will end you up with 5000 Albanian Leks – and gone through security, there is not that much time left, so I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just spend what little time I have watching the traffic on the apron.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: Available, although so many passengers are eligible for priority boarding with Alitalia that I figure I might as well not bother.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: 9A, window on the port side of the vessel.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18.2 inches.
Description: The last time I flew on Alitalia’s Embraer 175, the experience was hardly anything to write home about. My biggest rant with the cabin at the time was that none of the seats were properly aligned with the windows. As a result, you either had to twist your neck backwards painfully to look out, or make due with a window half concealed by the seat in front of you.

Much to my surprise though, the cabin on today’s flight is in much better condition, in fact it looks rather attractive. The seats are fairly thin but still comfortable. They are in dark blue leather. The headrests are of bright red material, which makes for an attractive contrast. At 30 inches the seat pitch is good and there is plenty of space to stretch your legs.

On this evening’s flight, there are two rows of Business Class. The rest of the cabin is for Economy Class. The seat load is good, but there are still a few empty seats here and there.

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As I board the aircraft, two things strike me immediately. First of all, the cabin is awfully hot because the APU has not been turned on. The cabin feels like a sauna. The second thing, and this is where it gets really bizarre, is that they have Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ blaring away as the passengers file through the aircraft to find their seat…

The Crew

There are two cabin crew. The purser is a gentleman of Indian descent and seems friendly enough. The other cabin crew is a female in her early fifties. The only remarkable thing about her is that she has the most outrageously oversized fake eyelashes.

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The Meal

Okay, so the bad news is that Alitalia’s famous blood orange juice has fallen victim to Etihad’s rigorous attempts to give Alitalia any semblance of being a ‘proper’ airline. The good news however, is that they are serving proper food again and not just a packet of stale peanuts. The meal consists of:

  1. A small sandwich of grilled bread, filled with Mozzarella, tomato, ruccola and a pesto sauce.
  2. A cup of mineral water.
  3. A nicely scented wet wipe which smells very similar to Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Vert.

The meal hits the spot nicely. Outside the Alps provide a spectacular backdrop during dinner.

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Arrival

Our flight time to Rome is only one hour and twenty minutes. Thus, we arrive thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The approach is truly spectacular. First we pass right over the centre of the city, below the engine I can make out the Emanuele Vittorio monument, which looks like a giant wedding cake in the evening light. We continue on a southerly track for a while, before eventually we do a 180 turn onto the approach, which takes us along the coast. With the sun setting in the distance, the Mediterranean looks quite dramatic.

Transfer in Rome

Our aircraft parks at the far end of the B concourse. From here I follow the signs for the shuttle bus to the H concourse, from where my flight to Tirana will be leaving. The transfer is pretty easy and straightforward. The journey time is roughly five minutes. Immigration is conducted in the B concourse before getting on the bus.

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The Lounge

If there is one, I can not find it. The H concourse looks like a provisionally erected building. I am assuming the facility will close down once the new terminal opens later this year.

In the absence of a lounge, I buy myself a sandwich, a salad and a Coke Zero for EUR13.50 from the only bar available in the whole waiting area.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from a bus gate. The flight is completely full, so it takes three buses to bring all the passengers to the aircraft.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: 15F, window seat on the starboard side of the vessel.
Pitch: 33 inches on the first row, which then gradually decreases to 30 inches by row 8.
Width: 17 inches.
Description: Alitalia operates the Airbus A 320 in two different configurations with a seating capacity of either 148 in a mixed class configuration for international flights, or with a capacity of 165 in a single class Economy Class only configuration for domestic flights. However, the distinction is not always clear and often Alitalia will also use the high-density configured aircraft on international routes as well.

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The Crew

There are three ladies and one gentleman as cabin crew on tonight’s flight. In contrast to the crew from the previous flight, this bunch is really excellent. They are very alert, charming in a way only the Italians can pull off and they are very conscientious about safety on board.

The Meal

The meal service on this flight is identical to the previous flight’s, despite the relatively short flight time of only 55 minutes. Given that it is already past ten in the evening by the time the service begins, I opt for a packet of biscuits, rather than having another sandwich.

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Arrival

Eventually we land in Tirana with a delay of about thirty minutes, which we incurred departing from Rome. As it happens, the Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna has just landed ahead of us. As a result, the queues for immigration are rather long and it takes about 35 minutes to reach the head of the queue.

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In Tirana I will be staying at the Tirana Airport Hotel, which is right across the road from the terminal.

Conclusion

So what about Alitalia? As I mentioned in the beginning, I really was expecting the worst from them. In hindsight though, I must admit that they weren’t actually all that bad. More over, it seems to me that you can definitely see Etihad’s influence coming through. Somehow, the staff in the air and on the ground just seem more customer oriented.

HOP by Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Basel to Paris Charles de Gaulle

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Date: 05 March 2016
From: Basel Mulhouse
To: Paris Charles de Gaulles
Departure:
10:40
Arrival: 11:40
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 5A
Aircraft type: Embraer 175

Introduction

I arrived home from a course in Luxembourg yesterday evening. Today, less than twelve hours later, I find myself back at the airport for a short flight to Paris. This is, as you may have guessed, just a positioning flight.

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Check-in

Location: Departures level, French sector.
Counters: Two SkyPriority counters and two Economy Class counters.
Facilities: There are four self-service machines available at the airport. Check-in on the Air France app is also possible.
The flight from Basel to Paris Charles de Gaulle is treated as a domestic flight. As the passenger you do not really notice any difference, save for the fact that you have to check in for the flight and pass through security in the French sector of the terminal.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge

Name: SkyView Lounge.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge operated by Swissport.
Location: In the international Schengen area, right behind the duty free kiosk.
Facilities: Workstations, newspapers and magazines.
Internet: Wifi available free of charge.
Catering: Hot and cold snacks available throughout the day.
Behind security, the French sector is connected airside to the rest of terminal, which means that you can still access the duty free shop and, more importantly, the Swissport SkyView lounge. Admittedly, it is quite a trek from the French sector to the lounge, but at least that helps to pass the time.

The SkyView lounge is open to all passengers. If you are not holding a Business Class ticket and are not an upper tier member of any frequent flyer programme, you may still use the facilities for a fee of CHF38.- per person.

The lounge was recently refurbished on the entrance level. Apart from the new furniture, they appear to have planted new palm trees in the courtyard, which makes a huge difference. The palms that had been there before were starting to look rather sad.

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The main area of the lounge and the buffet are on the upper level. The food & beverages selection is pretty fair and, in my view, perfectly adequate for a lounge at a regional airport. Throughout the day, there is a good selection of hot and cold snacks to choose from. There is also an open-air terrace which doubles as the smoking area. You need not worry about the cigarette smoke though, because the terrace is fairly large.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time. Air France/KLM does not have a dedicated line for status holders and Business Class passengers. However, the first boarding call is for SkyTeam Priority passengers only, who are invited to just push to the front of the line. I always feel a tad uncomfortable, although most travellers seem to be used to it by now and you rarely get any complaints any more.

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The Crew

The cabin crew on this flight is made up of two middle-aged gentlemen. I would not say they are rude or impolite, they are just not gushing either. Evidently, they are also refusing to speak anything but French.

The Cabin

There are two things that really elude me about the cabin of HOP’s Embraer 175. First of all, I cannot understand why there is a cabin divider when HOP only offers an Economy Class product. And secondly, why is it that HOP, like Alitalia, finds it so hard to align the passenger seats with the windows of the aircraft? On most rows the windows are rather inconveniently positioned. As a result, to look out you generally have to twist you neck round quite a bit.

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The Snack

The flight time to Paris is announced as 55 minutes. Given that this is really just a short hop and a domestic one at that, it is rather nice that HOP will offer you hot and cold drinks and a choice of either sweet or savoury biscuits. As a rule, I would try to avoid the savoury snack because it is usually not very good. The sweet biscuits on the other hand, I can highly recommend. They are lovely, sweet and have a rich buttery flavour.

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Arrival

We land in a westerly direction, which means we have rather a long taxiway all the way back to Terminal 2G, which is the easternmost terminal in CDG. Terminal 2G is where all the HOP/Regional flights arrive and depart, in addition to a few other carriers like Luxair. There is an airside and landside connection from 2G to the other terminals.

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Oman Air, Business Class – A 330-200: Dubai to Zürich via Muscat

Introduction

After a week of work at the new and very empty Dubai World Central Airport, it is time for me to head home to Switzerland. This Oman Air trip review covers the return segments from Dubai via Muscat to Zürich.

Part I: Positioning to Muscat

Date: 29. June 2012
From: Dubai
To: Muscat
Airline: Oman Air (WY)
Aircraft: Embraer E-175
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1F, first row of Business Class, window

Getting to the Airport

It is Friday morning, the weekend here in Dubai. So the streets are empty and the journey to the airport only takes 30 minutes to complete. I am at the airport by 07h45.

Oman Air check-in in Dubai is done by DNATA in sector E. There is no queue for the Business Class counter. The check-in agent is an efficient, friendly young man. With the boarding passes he also hands me an invitation to the Gulf Air lounge near gate 122, which Oman Air shares.

The airport is quiet, so immigration and security are painless. The latter also has to do with the fact that in Dubai you do not have to take out your laptop and liquids before going through security.

From security it is down the escalators and across the pedestrian walk way underneath the apron, which connects the departure gates to the terminal building.

In contrast to check-in, the transit area is incredibly busy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people sleeping in such uncomfortable looking positions in one place. There’s one guy lying stretched out across the floor face down and slobbering on the carpet. For a moment I wonder if perhaps he may have passed out.

The Lounge

But fortunately I am able to make an escape from it all. I enter the Gulf Air lounge, where I am greeted by a friendly young lady. She tells me she will inform me when my flight is ready for boarding. How nice of her.

The lounge is empty when I arrive. It has a nice feel to it and I quite like the Bedouin theme of the place, with individual seating areas covered by a stylised tent. Outside there is an Emirates B777 being readied for departure. Not sure where it is heading, but it’s interesting to watch the activity around the aircraft as it is prepared for departure.

The lounge is sufficiently well stocked, especially given that it caters only for Gulf Air and Oman Air passengers doing the short hop to either Bahrain, Muscat and possibly Salalah.

Boarding

There appears to have been an aircraft change and instead of the Boeing B737-800 I was expecting, I suddenly see an Embraer E-175 of Oman Air taxiing past the lounge. That’s quite okay I guess.

At 09h10 I notice the flight is showing as ‘boarding’, which in Dubai is the equivalent to ‘Gate open’ or ‘Go to Gate’ at other airports. When I arrive at gate 112 most passengers are already  waiting inside the holding pen.

I think I can truly say that I have never seen such vast amounts of ‘cabin’ luggage in all my life. There is one guy pushing and dragging two large suitcases that can only be called ‘carry-ons’ by a very considerable stretch of the imagination. His son, probably not more than four years old, is trying to pull a third suitcase of equal dimensions, which is slightly larger than him. What on earth do these people have in there for heaven’s sake?

The Cabin

There are four passengers in Business Class this morning. I have row one for me alone and the seat next to me stays empty. Behind me are two ladies happily chatting and on the other side of the aisle from them is some dude who evidently thinks he is way too cool for this world.

The doors close, the red cap and flight attendant say good bye to each other with a polite ‘Ma’a as-Salama’. And we’re on our way.

Our take-off route is a spectacular one. We depart in a northwesterly direction. Once we are over the sea, we do a long, gentle left turn. It looks as though we’re orbiting around the Burj Khalifa. As we come out of the turn, the Palm Island and Burj al-Arab become visible on the right.

Considering all the junk the passengers have brought aboard this flight, boarding is surprisingly fast. As soon as the red cap informs the flight attendant that we’re all on, the service up front begins with the distribution of those nicely scented cold towels. This is followed by a drinks round and I choose a glass of excellent and very refreshing lime squash.

As the glass is removed, the flight attendant informs me that we will be served a continental breakfast. She would like to know if she should prepare a coffee or tea for me with that. And coffee it is for me.

The Meal

Shortly after take-off the meal is served. First the table is set with linen and the metal cutlery. The tray itself consists of a plate with a warm croissant and a warm cardamom roll, which is very tasty. There is also butter, strawberry jam and a small bowl of dried fruit and dates.

The coffee is served on its own, separate tray.

Arrival

The flight is only 45 minutes long, just enough time to leisurely drink the coffee. Our co-pilot on this flight is obviously German, judging by his accent. He’s a very friendly guy and gives us a detailed update about the flight’s progress.

Our arrival is rather unspectacular. As on the outbound trip, Business Class passengers have their own bus to the terminal. It’s kind of strange to watch. As soon as the plane stops, one of the two attendants working the Business Class cabin immediately jumps up, rushes towards the back and closes the curtain to prevent the Economy Class passengers from getting in the way. Of course this does not give me much of a photo opportunity, I don’t want to hold up everything, so I just snap a quick shot of the cabin and then I’m on to the bus. It’s much more humid here in Muscat and my glasses and camera immediately steam up.

Part II: And then Home to Zürich

Date: 29. June 2012
From: Muscat
To: Zürich
Airline: Oman Air (WY)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 14E, first row of the second Business Class cabin, aisle seat

The Lounge

Once I’m in the terminal building I head straight for the lounge again. All four passengers in Business on this flight do the same. As it turns out later on, they’re also all heading to Zürich on the same flight as me.

This time round the lounge is empty when I arrive. I help myself to some of the lovely Mezze and then find a nice spot to sit and answer my e-mails.

Boarding

Gradually the lounge begins to fill up. Even so, I’m so engrossed in answering office mails that I barely notice. In fact I’m so concentrated that I completely miss the last call for my flight and nearly end up missing the flight. But only nearly and when I arrive the last Economy bus has just left. The Business Class bus is being held up – by me. I hate it when that happens. Worse still when I’m the cause.

We arrive at the bottom of the stairs of our plane and I get my camera ready. But it is to no avail and I surrender to the fact that my camera is having a seriously bad time coping with the humidity in the air and the heat.

The Cabin

The cabin is nice and clean, quite similar to the outbound flight a week previously from Zürich to Muscat. Again there are no overhead bins in the middle, which gives the cabin even more semblance of a First Class rather than a Business Class cabin.

Service begins on the ground with the distribution of scented hot towels – very hot towels – and another glass of that tasty lime juice.

Next come the newspapers, the totally camp vanity kit and the menus.

Once the doors close, two attendants come by offering Arabic coffee and fresh dates. It’s the first time I’ve tried a fresh date and it tastes lovely!

The Meal

Once the seatbelt sign goes off, the meal service begins. While I wait for the food to arrive I have another glass of the excellent lime juice and some warm nuts.

Then the table is set.

Amuse Bouche

We begin with an amuse bouche of chicken in a pistachio and garlic pesto with a spicy chutney.

The First Course

Next I have the centre cut smoked salmon with grilled vegetable timbale, homemade grissini and a creamy pesto sauce.

The Soup

After that I have the Arabic red lentil soup with pita bread croutons and a slice of fresh lemon.

The Main Course

For the main course I have the Omani spiced fish (hamour) with zaatar butter with sautéed vegetables and coriander rice.

Dessert

And to finish off the meal, a chocolate mouse cake with a chocolate fondant sauce and mixed berries.

And to conclude the meal, some fresh mint tea.

After the meal I decide to explore the IFE. The first movie I watch is John Carter. It’s about some guy who accidentally finds himself transported from the America of the Civil war to planet Mars, which is inhabited. This must be, without a doubt, the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire life! Hands down, really! Don’t ask me about the plot, I didn’t get it because it didn’t have one. The next film I watch is the Adventures of Tintin. And this is, I have to say, rather entertaining.

The Second Service

By the time Tintin comes to a heroic end, it’s already time for the afternoon snack before we make our arrival into Zürich. Once again I am brought a refreshing towel, this time a cold one.

Followed by some canapés and a cup of Earl Grey. There were more options, but I was still rather full from lunch.

Another toilet with a view, like SAS.

And this brings to an end my adventure. It was, I think, a successful week, but it was also very tiring. And the heat certainly takes getting used to. I leave you with the last image I took on the approach into Zürich. I am glad to be back, everything is just so green here!