Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Fokker F100: Zürich to Luxembourg

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INTRODUCTION
I’m in my second week of a five-week travel marathon. I was in Luxembourg last week. Today I shall be heading in the same direction again, before continuing farther afield on Tuesday. It’s Easter Monday and the sun has finally decided to make an appearance after a really nasty and long spell of cold and grey over central Europe.

I’ve decided to do a trip report of this leg for two reasons. First, because I haven’t ever posted on Helvetic’s Fokker F100. Given how old these aircraft are, I probably better get this out of the way sooner rather than later, while they’re still in service. Secondly, so far I’ve only ever experienced the Business Class breakfast service on the flight to Luxembourg. So I’m curious about what SWISS will dish out for ‘dinner’.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I catch the train from Basel’s Swiss station at 14h33, which arrives in Zürich main station at 15h26. From there I have a train to the airport at 15h37, which should get me to the airport just before 16h00. Roughly one hours before boarding for the flight begins.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the SWISS app as usual. The boarding pass still won’t show up on my locked screen and SWISS still doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to change that. Am I the only one who finds that a bit irritating?

SECURITY, AIRSIDE & LOUNGE
The airport is quite busy. Although mostly it’s shoppers taking advantage of the airport’s convenient opening hours during the public holiday. There’s a bit of a queue for security, but all in all, the whole process is fairly smooth.

In case you’re wondering, there are currently no SWISS lounges in the Schengen area in Zürich. Apparently they’re closed for refurbishing and expansion. I’m not sure what to think of how SWISS is handling the issue though. They’ve set up a small desk in front of where the lounges used to be. From what I overheard one of the evicted lounge dragons telling one passenger, you have two options. You can either try the Aspire or DNATA lounges. Although the understanding is that passengers of other carriers have priority over SWISS’s. Or, if those lounges are full, you can request a voucher for a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants in the terminal.

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BOARDING
We’re boarding from gate A55, which means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand, away from the terminal. It also means I will get a chance to take a few pictures of my chariot. The downside is that gate A55 is in a building that was initially put there as an interim solution but which later on they somehow forgot to tear down again. Because of the limited space, before boarding begins all the passengers are herded into a holding pen like sheep. And there they wait until the bus arrives.

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CABIN
Apparently, my aircraft for today’s flight is now 25 years old. But I have to say, time and some serious TLC have obviously been kind to this old bird. Of course, you notice small things, like the overhead panel and the fixtures for the overhead lamp or the air vents, which look dated. But apart from that, the cabin is neat. The seats are dark grey, which contrasts nicely with the read curtain in the front of the cabin. The crew’s uniforms have the same combination of grey and red, and the ensemble really does look quite fetching.

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The seating configuration is 2 + 3, with the middle seat on the row of three kept empty. I am on 1F, which is the window seat on the bulkhead row of three. Fortunately for me though, the middle and the aisle seats both remain empty, so I can really spread out. Other than that, the seats are also pretty old school, which essentially means you get some decent padding and a very comfortably flight!

There is no cabin divider between the Economy and Business Class sections. The same goes for the Embraer 190 operated by Helvetic as well as SWISS’s CSeries.

But apart from all that, I think what really impresses me most, is the noise. Or rather the lack thereof. It’s quite amazing. Even when the pilot applies full thrust for us to take off, up front you cannot hear the engine noise at all.

THE CREW & SERVICE
The cabin crew consists of two young ladies and they really are excellent. This is one of the friendliest crews I’ve encountered in a long time. Although, having said that, my experience recently has been that the Helvetic crews tend to be better than the SWISS ones.

Once the doors are closed, the service begins with the distribution of the packed refreshing towels and a small bottle of still water. As the lead flight attendant comes through the cabin distributing the water and towels, she addresses every passenger individually by name and wishes them a pleasant flight. Blimey!

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Our taxi out to the active runways is short, given that we’re parked on a stand adjacent to runway 28. The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

THE MEAL
No sooner has the crew been released that the meal service begins. I rather like the way the meal is presented in three small ramekins. The first contains some sort of chicken curry salad with melon and almond flakes. The second is a vegetable omelette with cherry tomatoes. And the third one is the dessert. It’s a kind of panna cotta with orange slices and pieces of chocolate sponge cake. And I suspect a bit of Cointreau. It’s rather nice! To drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

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ARRIVAL
The flight is so short that there isn’t even enough time for the crew to come through the cabin with the obligatory Swiss chocolate before we land. So instead, as passengers disembark the aircraft upon arrival, the captain himself is standing by the door, wishing everyone good bye and holding the basket with the chocolates. It’s only a small but rather charming gesture.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Fokker F 100: Munich to Vienna

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TRANSFER IN MUNICH
Transferring in Munich is easy enough. My flight to Vienna will be leaving at 19h25 and is boarding from gate G 38.

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BOARDING
Priority boarding: Available but a bit useless.

The first boarding call is for Business Class passengers and Senators only, which seems a bit superfluous given that a bus will be taking us to the aircraft. So priority basically means that you get to choose the best seats on the bus…

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CABIN
Configuration: 2 + 3
Seat: 15A, window seat on the row of two. The seat looks rather nice and the dark colours give the cabin a very classy appearance. It looks as though Austrian has refurbished its F 100s. The overhead bins for example have a much more modern look and feel compared to KLM’s F 70s. Having said that, the capacity of the overhead bins is limited in comparison to KLM. And as a result, this being a full flight, passengers and crew are having difficulties finding enough space in the cabin to store the copious amounts of luggage people have carted on board.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.

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THE MEAL & SERVICE
There are three female cabin crew on this flight. And to be honest, all three of them exude the warmth and charm of a corpse. The most senior one of the three witches of Eastwick is standing at the door to welcome passengers as they board. At least that is what I think she should have been doing. But in actual fact she is standing there eyeballing the passengers with this serious couldn’t-give-a-fuck expression on her face. She also seems to have lost her ability to speak somewhere along the way. I say ‘hello’ when she looks at me and I all I get in return is another glare and silence. Oh yes, she’s definitely a really class act this one.

The meal consists of a small packed of savoury biscuits and a cup of still water.

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ARRIVAL
Fortunately, our flight time is only 40 minutes and we land in Vienna right on time at 20h20. Unfortunately, it is going to be yet another bus to the terminal. I wait for all the other passengers to disembark before I get up to collect all my stuff and put on my coat. Obviously, by this time the bus is completely packed. There are still passengers standing around on the apron trying to figure out where to sit. And that includes me. Not that the crew or the bus driver could give a shit.

HOTEL NH VIENNA AIRPORT
I shall be leaving Vienna again fairly early tomorrow morning, so I will not bother to go into the city. The NH Hotel is located just a short distance from the terminal and is easily accessed via the subway that leads to the airport’s railway station. Just follow the signs marked ‘Hotel’.

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MY JOURNEY WITH THE LUFTHANSA GROUP
Lufthansa, whatever happened to you? I mean, I know it has been a while since my last intra-European flight with the Lufthansa group. Even so, I really am quite amazed at how service standards have deteriorated – even by Economy Class standards. On the Lufthansa flight from Luxembourg to Munich the crew were anonymous and completely exchangeable, there was nothing about them that made you think ‘ah yes, this is what I like about Lufthansa’. And I assume that is probably because it is not even really Lufthansa anymore. The aircraft was branded as Lufthansa Group and an announcement was made that apparently the flight was operated by Germanwings. God who pays the crew’s salary. The overall effect though, is of a totally soulless and undefined carrier that really does not in any way stand out from the competition and probably even looses in some areas, like inflight service, when compared to operators like Easyjet.

And Austrian Airlines are simply bizarre. I just do not understand. Their crews are like the aeronautical equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On long-haul flights I find that Austrian Airlines really shines and its crews are something else. But on European short-haul they just suck very much.

A while back I abandoned Lufthansa and Miles & More, mainly because I could achieve Platinum status with Air France and Silver status with British Airways with only half the effort it takes to remain a Senator. Unfortunately, my experience with Lufthansa and Austrian on these two short flights did nothing to make me want to reconsider and return to the fold.

So long Lufthansa, it was nice while it lasted but all good things must come to an end…