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

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

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!

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.

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!

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

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)

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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

KLM Cityhopper, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Amsterdam to Basel

INTRODUCTION

I spend a very relaxing day in Amsterdam. I go to De Bakerswinkel for breakfast in the centre of Amsterdam and then indulge in a spot of retail therapy to revive the spirits. It’s still very windy here in Amsterdam, which has the positive side effect that aircraft are flying right over central Amsterdam at very low altitude on their approach into Schiphol.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Seeing as I only arrived in Amsterdam very late the day before, my hotel in Amsterdam is the CitizenM at Schiphol airport. I think it probably takes more time to walk from the entrance of the terminal to the KLM check-in counters than it does to walk from the hotel to the terminal building. In any case, it’s not far.

CHECK-IN

KLM has a separate check-in area for SkyPriority passengers, which is located to the right as you come off the escalators, coming up from the Schiphol plaza. I’ve already checked in on the app, so it’s really just a question of checking in the suitcase I’ve been carting around since I left for Shannon and then Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.

There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers for security.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The airport is very quiet this evening and there’s a nice hushed atmosphere in the lounge. With so few passengers around, it’s easy to find a quiet space in the huge lounge. Since my last visit, there have been a few changes to the lounge. First of all, the KLM branded cutlery and plates have been replaced by something neutral and not branded. It’s a shame really, because there was always something very decidedly Dutch about the old tableware. The food selection is also different, although in this case I think it’s actually an improvement over what they had before, because there’s now more choice.

BOARDING

The screens inside the lounge are showing a delay for my flight of 35 minutes, so 21h10 instead of 20h35. My flight will be boarding from gate B24, which is roughly a 10-minute schlep from the Crowne Lounge.

Eventually, boarding start at 20h55 and it’s all a bit messy. Luckily though, the Embraer 175 is a very small plane, so that despite the mess we’re all happily or not so happily settled in our seats by 21h05. The captain then steps out of the cockpit and puts on his jacket before he makes a public address. When that happens with KLM, you know it’s bad news. So the captain informs us that the delay was caused by the gusting winds here in Amsterdam, which has meant increased separation and thus less capacity per hour per runway. But he assures us that we’ll be on our way shortly.

At 21h25 the first officer comes on the PA and informs us that there’s a problem with the manifest, which doesn’t add up. Apparently, there are passengers in seats they shouldn’t be occupying and that needs to be cleared up first. Eventually, at 21h38 we push back from our stand and the engines start up. We’re now running slightly more than an hour behind schedule.

CABIN

Good heavens, these seats are tight. Either I’ve grown some more (highly unlikely) since I last flew KLM or they’ve decreased the seat pitch. My knees are pushing into the seatback of the seat in front of me. What’s more, I’m sitting in front of a young man with seriously long legs who in turn is pushing his knees into the back of my seat. As such, it’s a bit unfortunate to be kept waiting on the ground for thirty minutes before the flight begins. Finally though, I find a position in which I can minimise the amount of damage to my kneecaps and coccyx.

CREW

The crew looks slightly harassed and a bit tired. Even so, I think they do an excellent job in dealing with the disgruntled passengers, all of which are clearly just tired and weary from their travels at this stage.

The crew announce the flight time as 55 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal service on this flight consists of a wrap filled with cheese, egg and lettuce that is served in a small box with a little tub of still water. In addition to that, the crew pass through the cabin with a drinks trolley, offering hot and cold beverages. By this stage, I’m too tired to eat, let alone to remember to take a photo. But in my twilight state of semi-consciousness, I remember to dump the wrap in my backpack to take a picture of it once I get home.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land at 22h40, 55 minutes behind schedule. The airport is already very busy, what with the Basel based easyJet fleet returning home for the evening. This does not bode well for immigration, me thinks. Much to my surprise though, we’re marshalled to a stand in the French domestic sector of the apron, which means that once inside the terminal, we will in fact not have to go through immigration at all, just like the good old days.

Ten minutes later my suitcase arrives. I exit on the Swiss side of terminal and make my way to the bus stop. The bus is crowded, but I still manage to snag a seat.

I now have a whole day at home before I head off again on Monday…

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.

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.

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.

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.

SERVICE

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.

LOUNGE
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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CABIN & SEAT
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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SERVICE & 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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GETTING TO TERMINAL 1
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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CABIN & SEAT
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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SERVICE & 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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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: 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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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…

SERVICE
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 flights, which looks better than it sounds. Really.
Menu:

  • Greek salad with feta cheese and pumpkin, with a mango chilli and lime dressing.
  • Salmon and egg wrap with spinach and cream cheese.
  • Tropical Pina Colada mousse with a lime topping.
  • A selection of hot and cold drinks.
  • 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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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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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…

SERVICE
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:

  • A small sandwich of grilled bread, filled with Mozzarella, tomato, ruccola and a pesto sauce.
  • A cup of mineral water.
  • 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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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
Priority Boarding:
Not available.

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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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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SERVICE
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.

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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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 MEAL
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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Air France, Business Class – Embraer 170 and Boeing B 777-200: Basel via Paris to Montreal

AF to YUL

INTRODUCTION
Fourteen hours after I arrive home from my trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil, I find myself on my way back to Basel airport for my last overseas trip this year. I am on my way to Montreal again for another meeting with ICAO. When I checked my iPhone this morning, Montreal was reporting a temperature of -8 degrees. Why can they not have these meetings in summer?

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus line 50.
Journey time: About fifteen minutes, depending on whether it is a nonstop bus or not.
Departs from: Basel SBB, the main Swiss railway station.
Arrives: Euroairport, departures on level 2.
Cost: I think CHF3.50.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Hall 1 in the French sectors. As you enter the terminal on level 2, which is the departure concourse, turn right.
Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, airport check-in counters, self-service machines.
Counters: There is a dedicate counter for SkyPriority passengers. It is usually cordoned off, but a member of the ground staff will let you through on request. They do not even want to see your card or anything like that.

I drop my bag off. I have not really got that much stuff with me, I am only gone for two days, but it is just easiest to check-in a suitcase to make sure my suit does not get all crunched up.

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LOUNGE
In theory, passengers with Air France are allowed to use the Swissport SkyView lounge on the Swiss side of the terminal. However, since the events in Paris last week, the French side of the terminal has been hermetically sealed off airside from the rest of the terminal. So instead of visiting the lounge, I grab myself a Coke Zero at the self-service café and settle down near a power outlet to work on my computer (When you go through security in France, it is important that you make sure your battery is still charged).

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
SkyPriority have a separate queue and the gate dragons are strict in turning away passengers who are not entitled to use that queue.

Boarding is via the apron, which gives me the opportunity to snap a few pictures of my ride to Paris today. The flight is pretty full, from what I can tell.

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CABIN
I seem to have lucked out today and despite the heavy load, the seat next to me on this short hop to Paris will remain empty. Previously I had not noticed that the Embraer 170 does not appear to have any overwing emergency hatches.

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SERVICE
There are two middle-aged female cabin crew working the flight today. They seem friendly enough.

THE MEAL
The flight time to Paris is only 50 minutes. Hence, ‘the meal’ is limited to a cup of coffee and two tasty lemon flavoured biscuits.

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TRANSFER IN PARIS CHARLES de GAULLE TERMINAL 2
As usual, the regional flights arrive and depart from Terminal 2G, which is really way out in the sticks. My connecting flight will be leaving from the L concourse of Terminal 2E. As I enter the terminal, I simply follow the signs for 2E. Immigration takes place in 2G, before you step on board the shuttle to take you to 2E.

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LOUNGE
Type of Lounge:
Salon Air France.
Location: One floor up from the main transit area.
Facilities: Two buffets with cold snacks, hot and cold drinks, desks to work on (but no computers), toilets are available in the lounge.
Internet: Complimentary wifi, no password required.

The lounge is very busy when I arrive. Even so, there are still plenty of seats available as the lounge is rather huge. I will not be staying here for very long anyway.

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BOARDING
Priority boarding: I arrive at gate L42 about fifty minutes before departure and boarding has already started. There is a separate line for SkyPriority passengers. Before you join the queue, your passport and boarding pass are checked by a security office. Business Class and Premium Economy Class passengers board the aircraft through the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers board via the L2.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 3 + 2
Seat: 1B. The Business Class section on this aircraft is located between the L1 and L2 doors. In total there are 35 seats on five rows. On today’s flight only three of the middle seats on the rows of three have remained empty. Other than that the flight is full.

The seat is of the angled lie-flat type. Other than that though, it is fairly comfortable. Obviously the biggest drawback is the configuration with seven abreast. Apart from the fact that I certainly would not want to be the guy stuck in the middle, the configuration is now pretty outdated and can hardly match the level of privacy that Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines offer in Business Class.
Pitch: 79 inches.
Width:
21 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt ac power port is available at every seat, located at the bottom of the middle console.
Audio and Video: The entertainment system has a 10 inch screen and uses some very basic touch screen technology, which works really badly. In fact, the same thing can be said for the entire entertainment system – during the flight is has to be rebooted no less than three times and still it does not work!

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SERVICE
The crew on this flight is friendly but quite reserved. Everyone is professional in the way they go about their duties, but they are completely lacking of any personal touch or warmth.

When I board the aircraft, a pillow, a nice thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at each seat. Just a piece of advice: the covers for the earphones are inside the slippers.

While we are still on the ground, the crew first distribute the vanity kits, followed by a welcome drink and a scented hot towel.

I really like Air France’s vanity kits. Not only do they look chic, I also find they are well stocked and include Colgate toothpaste and mouthwash.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
There is a choice of orange juice, still water, champagne and fruit of the forest juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Ice tea, served with butter sticks and an amuse bouche of artichoke cream with beetroot and Jerusalem artichoke.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main course – fish, pasta, duck or lamb.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Duck and goose foie gras terrine; a medley of yellow and red sun-dried tomatoes with zucchini, carrots, Permesan cheese sautéed black grapes.
  • Green salad with a choice of balsamic dressing or red pepper and olive oil dressing.
  • Filet of cod with a leek cream sauce, onion, carrot and saffron basmati rice.
  • Sainte-Maure and Camembert cheese.
  • Selection from the breadbasket with butter.
  • Praliné cream puff, lemon cupcake, pineapple parfait with vanilla cream and passion fruit sorbet.
  • Tea or coffee.
  • A piece of black chocolate.

The food is very tasty and filling, although I absolutely refuse to eat the foie gras. After the meal I spend my time reading in my Kindle. At some point the inflight entertainment does briefly work, and I watch an ancient episode of the Bing Bang Theory.

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THE SECOND SERVICE
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Light snack.
Meal:

  • Cream of cauliflower with caviar.
  • A chicken muffin with tomato and basil, which tastes better than it sounds.
  • And a boursin cheese and cucumber roulade.
  • Lemon cream puff, raspberry and apple tart, fresh fruit salad.
  • Tea or coffee.

The meal is really just a snack, but it hits the spot nicely. After all, it is already gone 21h in Europe by this time. The meal is removed and shortly thereafter we start our descent into Montreal. Before the seatbelt sign comes on, the crew distribute another hot towel.

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ARRIVAL
The airport is surprisingly quiet when we arrive. I am the first to disembark and in fact I am also the first person to queue for immigration. I head downstairs to collect my suitcase, which arrives a short while later. And then I step out into the freezing cold to grab a taxi into the city. And it really is freezing, with the temperature at -3 degrees Celsius. Well, at least there is no snow…

GETTING INTO THE CITY
Transport:
Taxi.
Journey time: 30 minutes.
Fare: CAD40, it is a fixed rate from the airport to the city.

The journey into the city takes between thirty and forty minutes, depending on traffic and the driver’s driving style, which in this particular case can best be described as sporty.