Air France by HOP!, Business Class – Embraer 170: Basel to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I arrive at Basel airport at 09h30 to check in for my flight to Paris at 11h00. Much to my surprise, the Air France KLM counters are deserted – there’s no queue at all. The check-in agent labels my suitcase, but only to Paris, and then hands me my boarding pass.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge Basel

The Skyview lounge is just as quiet. Where is everyone? Any moment now I epxect to see some tumble weed rolling across my path…

In my humble opinion, one of the lounge’s best features is the open air terrace, which originally was built to function as the smoking area. On a day like today it’s just lovely to sit there in the shade, watching the aircraft coming and going.

At about 10h40, ten minuntes after boarding for my flight to Paris should have started, the little Embraer 170 pulls onto its stand at gate 1, on the French side of the terminal. As a rule of thumb, if I slowly start packing up my belongings and perhaps quickly nip into the gents just as the aircraft comes to a standstill, by the time I make the schlepp from the lounge to gate 1, boarding is either just about to start or has just started.

Boarding

Boarding is… complicated and confusing. And I don’t quite know why. SkyTeam Priority and Business Class passengers, so zones 1, 2 and 3, are invited to board the aircraft through the exit on the left side of the counter, only to then have to cross over to the right side behind the counter. Once all passengers in zones 1, 2 and 3 have boarded, the riffraff is also allowed to board via the exit to the right of the counter only – you guessed it – to then have to queue on the left side. Only once all boarding passes have been scanned and all passengers are accounted for are we allowed to actually get on the plane.

The cabin

Today’s flight is operated by a dreaded Embraer E 170. I really don’t like these planes, they just feel so cramped and tight. There are two rows of Business Class, although you wouldn’t notice to look at it, given that Air France KLM refuse to keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class.

And then of course there’s the curse of the misaligned windows. I really don’t understand what it is with this aircraft, but I’ve yet to find an airline that has managed to properly align its seats on the Embraer 170 to allow passengers an unobstructed view outside without having to crank their neck back.

The crew

There are two young females working the flight, and both of them are very friendly. What I also notice though, and I know this is what I do for a living, is that both the cabin and cockpit crews’ English is not all that good. The pilot making the announcements has a thick French accent hovering precariously close to the brink of comprehensibility, and the cabin crew are not much better.

A bottle of still water is already at my seat when I arrive.

We are welcomed to the flight and the crew apologise for our delay, which apparently was caused by some dreadful weather in Paris. Eventually, by the time we start our take-off roll we’re already running 30 minutes late.

The meal

This is the first time I get to experience the newish Air France domestic Business Class that was introduced a few years back without Covid restrictions or anyting of the sort. Basically, passengers sitting up front get a wider selection of drinks to choose from and both a savory and a sweet snack. The savory snack are these small crépes filled with soft cheese, which are okay. The sweet snack are three rather tasty and buttery sablés. To drink I have a glass of Coke Zero, as the cabin crew looks on despondently as every one of the eight passengers in the Business Class cabin declines her offer for a glass of champagne.

Arrival

As we approach Paris, the turbulence picks up. I’m starting to see what they were on about with that. It’s bad, like the trolley temporarily lifting off the floor kind of turbulence. As a result, our approach into Paris is rather circuitous, as we try to avoid the nastiest looking cloud cells.

Eventually we land with a delay 45 minutes and it looks as though there’s just been a severe downpour. The flight ends at Terminal 2G, which has been reopened again after a hiatus of two years because of Covid. And while I think it’s good news for Air France that traffic is picking up to the point that they can reopen a whole terminal, I also think 2G is just a bit inconvenient, because it really is just so far out in the boonies.

Getting to Roissypole from Terminal 2G

My hotel is at Roissypole, which is located roughly midway between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1, which is still closed. To get to Terminal 2F from Terminal 2G there is a shuttle that runs directly to the second entrance of Terminal 2F on the departures level. The journey time is about ten minutes, which isn’t bad if you happend to be one of the lucky ones that manage to grab a seat.

From 2F there is then the Roissyval shuttle to Roissypole.

Conclusion

So far, so good. Of course there isn’t really all that much to say about such a short flight. It was okay, but I really do think that it makes no sense to offer a Business Class cabin on an aircraft of this size, at least not if the airline is unwilling to keep the adjacent seat empty. The meal service and the champagne I honestly don’t care about on a flight of 45 minutes. But the space is important.

Air France, Classe Affairs – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

This evening I‘m on my way to Paris. Since February I’ve been going to the office again more or less every day. So I’ll be starting my journey in Winterthur.

I catch the 16h54 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich Airport at 17h06. It‘s Friday late afternoon, and most people have probably left early to enjoy the lovely warm weather. Because the train is more or less empty.

Speaking of empty, so is the airport. Air transport has been rather slow to recover in Switzerland. SWISS, as Zürich‘s hub carrier, has one last bank of departures between 17h and 18h, but that’s then basically it. In the evening there’s just a handful of long-haul departures.

Check-in

Air France checks in at Check-in 2. There is a separate line and two counters for SkyPriority passengers. Currently, online check-in is not possible with Air France, as they want to see your Covid pass before checking you in.

Airside

From check-in I head straight for security. There’s hardly any queue. Like most other airports, Zürich has a dutyfree shop right behind security. If, like me, you want to avoid have to weave in and out of deranged last minute shoppers, my suggestion is that you do a sharp left turn before the dutyfree shop begins. That will bring you to a corridor that takes you past the lavatories. But it’s still much quicker than going through the shop!

From security, I head one floor down to the sports bar located at the Southern end of the terminal. I’m not into sports bars really. But its one redeeming feature is the outside viewing terrace. It can’t be missed on such a balmy evening!

Just before 18h I make my way back inside. Boarding should be starting in just a few minutes.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate B 39 on the B pier, which is split into a Schengen and a non-Schengen part. From what I can tell, the flight is completely sold out today.

The Classe Affairs cabin

I’m seated on row 2. The seat features an individual USB port, a cup holder and a hook to hang a jacket.

There are three rows of Business Class with twelve seats in total. Ten out of twelve seats are occupied.

Seat pitch row 2 is very tight.

The crew & service

Once boarding is done, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and disinfectant towels.

The crew and friendly and professional. During the meal service one of the crew is constantly patrolling the cabin to make sure passengers have refills of drinks or to not keep them waiting to remove the tray.

The meal

The meal is tasty and more than adequate for a flight time of one hour.

The meal consists of a tasty cucumber andcouscous salad with a poached egg on puréed peas.

With that, there is also a plate with two types of cheese and sone butter.

There is also a selection of rolls from the bread basket.

And for dessert there is this obscenely rich chocolate fondant. With dessert I have some mint tea.

Arrival

We land on time and taxi to our stand at Terminal 2F. In contrast to Zürich, Paris Roissy seems quite busy. There’s a huge queue to enter into France, because they’re checking that only passengers with Paris as their final destination are allowed into the country. That wasn’t the case last week when I did the same trip.

Getting from CDG2 to La Défense

In Paris I’ll be staying at La Défense, out West of the city. To get there, I first need to catch an RER B train to Châtelet-Les Halles , and then from there an RER A train to La Défense.

Not all of the RER B trains from CDG serve all stations on their way into the city. And this evening I’m in luck. I catch a train the only stops at the Expo and then runs through, all the way to Gare du Nord. All in all, the journey to La Défense takes me under an hour.

Air France, Business Class – Embraer 190: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Basel

Transfer in Paris Charles de Gaulle

My driver picks me up at the L2 door as I exit the mighty Boeing B 777-300 that has just brought me to Paris from Dubai. We descend to ground level and exit onto the apron. She opens the door for me to take a seat and then takes my bag and puts it in the booth. It’s just a short ride to the La Première lounge. Once we arrive at the lounge, I go through security and passport control.

We then go up to the main level and my driver wishes me a nice stay and tells me she’ll be back to pick me up at 08h40. The lounge is still quiet at this time of day. That is, until two Chinese gentlemen enter and start making phone calls. Apparently the reception is not so good, because it sounds like they’ve decided to shout whatever it is they want to discuss all the way to China instead of using the good old-fashioned phone. I think I’ll just go take a shower first…

The showers in the lounge are large and spacious. They’re basically fully equipped bathrooms and come with slippers, fluffy towels and a bathrobe.

By the time I’m done with the shower, there’s only me left in the lounge. It’s peaceful again. First, I ask for a cappuccino and a fresh orange juice.

Followed by Viennoiserie, still water and hot cocoa.

Boarding

At 08h40 my driver comes to collect me. My aircraft is parked on a remote stand at Terminal 2G. The terminal is currently closed, but the stands are still being used.

The busses with the other passengers are right behind our car. There’s a bit of a delay to let passengers onto the aircraft. Apparently, the purser is arriving off a flight from Turin which landed with a bit of a delay.

When eventually they give us the thumbs up, my driver comes to open the door for me and hands me my luggage. Funnily enough, I notice some of the passengers in the first bus taking photos of me and the car – probably just in case I turn our to be somebody famous. Don’t bother, it’s only me.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers, seeing as KLM and Air France do not block the adjacent seat on the regional jets. But there are only three passengers anyway in Business Class this morning, so we still all get a row to ourselves.

Seat pitch on row 1 is excellent!

The service

There’s a further delay loading the suitcases onto the aircraft due to a shortage of rampers caused by Omicron. While we wait, the purser hands us a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

We push off our stand with a delay of 35 minutes. However, with a flight time of only 45 minutes this morning we’ll only be about 15 minutes late arriving in Basel.

The cabin crew inform us that due to the Covid restrictions imposed by the French government, there will be no service on today’s flight.

The meal

Much to my surprise though, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the cabin crew passes through the Business Class cabin asking passengers if there’s anything we’d like. I ask for a chocolat chaud, which she serves me with two buttery biscuits.

I have no idea if this the regular domestic Business Class service, or if this is also the result of the Covid measures.

Arrival

The weather en route is lovely, with good ground visibility. It’s a beautiful sunny day – until we reach les Vosges. The Rhine valley sits in a depression between Les Vosges in the west, the Schwarzwald in the east and the Jura in the south, making it susceptible to dense and often very persistent fog. Just like today.

The captain instructs passengers to completely turn off their mobile phones in preparation for an automatic landing.

And it really is bad. The ground only comes into view seconds before we touch down. The view reminds me a bit of that film ‘The Others’ with Nicole Kidman. There’s this scene when her dead husband returns from war and she meets him out in the forest… it’s that kind of low visibility.

The nice thing about arriving in Basel with Air France is that you can save yourself the aggravation of having to queue endlessly to enter France and then Switzerland.

Instead, we end up waiting forty minutes for the first bags to finally arrive on the belt. Here too the handlers are having to deal with a staff shortage caused by Omicron. But these things happen. I wish all those affected a swift and full recovery and no lasting effects.

As of 15 January 2022 persons entering Switzerland by air must complete an entry form online within 48 hours prior to their arrival. They also need to show a negative PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to the start of their journey, even if they are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Before customs and the exit to Switzerland the airport authority has set up a checkpoint for passengers entering Switzerland with this large queueing system. There are signs everywhere asking passengers to get their QR code and negative test result ready for inspection. Only… there’s nobody there and I just walk through.

God, I’m glad to be back home again!

Conclusion

This brings to an end the first two weeks of 2022 and my first bout of travel for this year. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, it’s been interesting to see how the authorities in different countries are trying to handle the pandemic and the population. I think the measures in place say a lot about a society and its culture. Having said that, I’m not going to discuss what I think it says about Norway that they think not selling alcohol is an appropriate measure to combat the spreading of Covid 19…

Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, a nuisance, and expensive. There is also an apparent lack of harmonization between countries that makes it difficult to prepare. In 2022 I think there is no longer such a thing as an seasoned traveller, because the rules keep changing. However, this trip also made me realise that many of the rules have probably not been put in place because they are, in and of themselves, considered effective measures to combat the spreading of the virus. My arrival in Basel is just one of many examples of that. I got a PCR test done in Dubai before I left and I registered online within 48 hours of arrival – even though the evidence suggests that the authorities couldn’t even be bothered to have somebody man the checkpoint at the airport to make sure. It seems to me, therefore, that the only real point of many of these measures is simply to deter people from travelling.

I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it. There is only one effective way out of this pandemic: you need to get vaccinated and you need to get your booster. It is your civil and moral obligation, and everything else is just selfishness. It’s unlikely that we’re going to eradicate Covid completely, so we might as well start getting used to living with it.

In terms of airlines, on this trip I flew with KLM, SAS/Air Baltic and Air France. KLM’s short-haul Business Class product on the mainline fleet was a disappointment. It has been stripped down to the absolute minimum. It’s basically the same service you get on the Cityhopper flights. But while the latter tend to be fairly short runs, the mainline routes can be fairly long.

SAS was a major source of overall suckage. They’re currently transitioning into something of a virtual airline, and frankly, it hasn’t done them a world of good. Their frumpy staff and the fact that they only appear to cater unhealthy and unappealing food options did not exactly give me the warm and fuzzies. It’s kind of tragic that I consider myself lucky that the flight from Oslo to Paris with SAS was actually not operated by them! And Air France were simply brilliant. Not only did they manage to meet my expectations from previous experiences with their La Première product, they even succeeded in surpassing them! Flying is quite a hassle with Covid 19, but Air France’s impeccable premium service reduced that hassle to the absolute minimum.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. She then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose job it is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an espresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tows us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Dubai

Introduction

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Dubai to give the next course. In Paris I stayed at the Roissypole Pullmann hotel, which is just a few metres from the entrance to the station. I exit the hotel just before 10h in the morning to make my way to Terminal 2.

I like the rather brutalist concrete architecture of the station. Although I think the effect would be much better if it weren’t littered with vending machines and just the big, empty hall.

The Roissyval only takes about five minutes to make the journey to Terminal 2 and passengers are obviously making the effort to keep their distance on the train.

Terminal 2 is the home of Air France and some of its partners. Terminal 2F is for Schengen flights, whereas I shall be leaving from Terminal 2E.

Check-in

The La Première check-in area is at the far end of the terminal. There is an Air France agent standing at the entrance. And so the La Première experience begins. I show him my passport and he smiles at me: “Mr. A., bonjour. We’ve been expecting you. Take a seat and let me take care of everything”. And he does. Paul calls over a porter to take my suitcase, while Michelle brings me a glass of Perrier to drink.

Paul checks my vaccination status and the negative PCR test I took in Oslo. With that out of the way, he returns my passport and tells me to take my time with the Perrier. Michelle will be back to escort me through the terminal in a few minutes.

Michelle is a charming woman with excellent conversational skills. She takes me through security, stopping other passengers for me to pass ahead of them and she will not even let me pull out the trays myself for me to put my belongings on the belt.

Behind security she brings me to a lift which takes us up into the La Première lounge.

Air France La Première lounge, Terminal 2E

Michelle asks me if perhaps I would like some breakfast. She makes sure I’m settled at my dining table and tells me she’ll be back in a few minutes with my boarding pass and passport.

Meanwhile, a friendly young man brings me the menu and takes my request for freshly pressed orange juice.

I just love the little sea horse, which Air France staff apparently refer to as ‘la crevette’ – the shrimp.

The selection on the menu is very good. I order the scrambled eggs with confit onions. The young man asks me if I prefer my eggs soft or well done.

I also order the plate of French cheese with mustard seed chutney.

And some fresh fruit salad as my saving grace.

And a lovely cappuccino.

There is also a buffet with small snacks to choose from. However, I decide to show at least some restraint in light of what lies ahead.

Once I’m done with the meal, I take a seat on one of the comfy sofas and read until it’s time to leave. Michelle will be back to pick me up at 12h50 for my 13h30 departure.

Boarding

Just before 13h00 Michelle arrives to bring me to the aircraft. There’s a slight delay because of an issue with the L1 door. I am driven to the aircraft in my own car. I think it’s a BMW. But beyond that, I couldn’t say what type of car it is. But it’s certainly a very smooth and powerful ride.

It’s raining quite heavily when we reach our stand. Michelle gets out of the car, takes the umbrella out of the booth and opens the door for me, to prevent me from getting wet.

I manage to sneak one picture of the mighty B777 taking me to Dubai today. And then from there we take a lift to the airbridge.

There are four flight attendants standing by the L2 door as I enter and they greet me like they’re genuinely happy to see me. Michelle introduces me by name to the purser, who welcomes me aboard. She then escorts me to my seat, where she informs me that she has checked again that my suitcase has been loaded on to the flight. With that, she bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant flight. Merci Madame, vous êtes très aimable!

The La Première cabin

There are four seats in the First Class cabin, and a young couple will be joining me on the way to Dubai. So, three out of four seats are occupied on today’s flight. The cabin and the seat are very well designed and offer a lot of storage space. The cabin also looks very elegant.

There’s a comfortable ottoman to rest your feet on, or use if you would like one of the other passengers to join you for dinner. Beneath the ottoman is a large drawer which contains a red blanket and the slippers.

Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is a soft pillow on it which provides good lumbar support. There’s also a blanket, shoe spoon and slippers in the ottoman.

In short succession, the crew come to introduce themselves and hand me the vanity kit…

… and pjs. The flight attendant very diplomatically asks which size I take, which is a nice gesture, I think.

I’m also handed a Covid kit, and the flight attendant recommends I frequently wash my hands and change my mask after four hours. I also notice the whole crew regularly disinfecting their hands throughout the flight.

I’m also brought a glass of the Veuve Clicquot 2008 Grand Dame with a hot towel and a packet of mixed cranberries and cashews.

Meanwhile, the weather outside is getting worse and worse.

Once we’re airborne though, we’re treated to some spectacular views and the horrible weather in Paris quickly clears up to reveal a snowy European landscape.

The meal service

The meal service in La Première is always a delight. And this flight is no different. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew distribute the menus and take orders for the meal.

The table is set and once again, I am struck by the attention to detail by the crew. They set the table always making sure that the flying sea horse is looking the right way up.

The side plate has both salted and unsalted butter on it.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a vodka and lime whipped cream

In preparation for the first course, the crew pass through the cabin with a bread basket containing a nice selection of breads and rolls.

Soup: porcini mushroom cream

The soup is excellent. It is served very hot, and has a rich flavour to go with the velvety texture.

Starter: Oyster mushrooms with honey and Melfor vinegar served with cheese, beet hummus, sunchoke purée and crushed pumkin with orange

Now this dish is spectacular. The combination of flavours is just divine and so subtle. I also love the presentation.

Main course: Langoustines served with scallops filled with truffles and a reduction with julienne vegetables

The main course is simply outstanding. The truffles go exceptionally well with the scallops and the reduction complements the delicate flavour of the langoustines perfectly. I am completely smitten by this dish.

Mixed salad with boiled egg

Air France has a wide selection of sides that can be added to the salad. However, by this stage I think it’s wisest to keep it simple. The salad is served with a olive oil and balsamico dressing.

The cheese: Bleu d’auvergne, Camembert, Cantal, Crottin de Chavignole & Maroilles

With the cheese I have a lovely class of Sauternes. I also ask the flight attendant to really just give me a taster of each cheese. The dish is served with more bread and the selection is excellent. But way too much for one person after such an epic meal. And there is still dessert, after all…

Dessert: hazelnut ice cream & a verbena chocolate finger

By this stage I’m already quite full. But I must keep going in the name of investigative blogging. At least that’s my excuse. The hazelnut ice cream is excellent and reminds me of my childhood in Malta. Back then, dessert in restaurants was either chocolate or hazelnut ice cream.

The chocolate finger is amazing, with a delicate hint of the verbena. But it’s so rich I can hardly finish it.

And to calm the stomach after such an excellent meal, I have some mint tea.

After the meal, the crew quickly clear everything away and ask me if I’d like them to make up the bed. I tell them I won’t be needing a duvet and just ask the curtains to be drawn. One of the flight attendants brings me two nice fluffy pillows and wishes me bon repos. The meal is completed in about two hours and thirty minutes.

Arrival

We land in Dubai with a slight delay after a flight time of six hours and fifteen minutes. The airport is calm and the terminal quiet. The First Class flight attendant asks me to follow her to the L2 door to disembark, as the L1 door is still inop. At the door she and three other flight attendants thank me for choosing Air France and then hand me over to the Merhaba agent who escorts me through immigration, baggage claim and eventually drops me off in front of my ride to the hotel.

Conclusion

This was another highly enjoyable flight with Air France. I booked the trip with them because I wanted to avoid the hassle of travelling in times Covid. However, I also wondered if the flight with Air France would be able to live up to my previous experiences with their Le Première product. If anything, I think this flight may have been even better than the last. The processes on the ground are seamless and really take away all the hassle of air travel. What’s more, the staff on the ground and in the air are all just so nice and friendly. Everyone seems genuniely concerned with making the experience a pleasurable one. It’s little things, like the fact that they very purposefully announce every dish as they place it in front of you and give you detailed explanations of what’s on the plate. Or the fact that one flight attendant brought me two big pillows when she realised I just needed a cat nap. As far as I’m concerned, Air France has to have – hands down – the best First Class product currently in the business.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Berlin to Vienna

For the trip back from Berlin to Basel, the easiest thing, no pun intended, would have been to book the direct easyJet flight. The only problem with that was that I booked the Air France trip at fairly short notice, once it became clear where the inaugural flight of the A 220 would be going to. By which time there weren’t any extra legroom seats left on easyJet. At my age and with two herniated discs, that’s a serious consideration. And so I figured I might as well return with Austrian via Vienna.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt

I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Berlin. I suppose after all the bad press the airport received and the serious delay for it to finally open, I think I was probably expecting some half finished ruin. Turns out the terminal is rather nice airside. The wood finish gives it a nice, warm feel.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the airport in the future. Many of the low-cost carriers operating to Berlin have already said that they would like to return to the old DDR-era Schönefeld terminal once it reopens after Covid. But as it is, most of the traffic at the new terminal is by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair or easyJet. If they were to return to the old facility, the new one would be even more oversized that it clearly already is now.

Lufthansa lounge

The Lufthansa lounge is in an odd place, is an odd size and an odd shape. If you’re walking too fast, there’s also a good chance you’ll miss the entrance to the staircase that takes you to the lounge.

In a way, the lounge is something of a relic from a bygone era. When the airport was announced, Lufthansa had big plans for it. Ten years down the line and the only two routes operated by Lufthansa out of Berlin are to Frankfurt and Munich. In as much, it’s really quite surprising they still have a lounge at all.

The décor of the lounge is in the typical Lufthansa style, which is a matter of personal taste. Some may like it, and others not. Personally, in general I find the Lufthansa brand rather dated and frumpy. One way or another, there’s something off about the lounge, and I can’t really explain what it is. It has all the Lufthansa branded furniture, but is otherwise nearly completely lacking in any sort of decorations or… something that might give it character.

There are the usual food options, although they’re looking quite unappealing – even the rice looks dry! But I will say that the views are good.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B07 and starts with a call for passengers in Business Class or with status. It’s going to be a full flight. I take my seat on the window on 1F and wait for the aircraft to fill up.

The crew

Alas, the crew on this flight are…meh. They’re a big, uncoordinated mess. I’m not even sure what exactly the issue is, but for some reason they seem disorganised and totally stressed before we even get going. I think part of the problem is that one of the two young men on the crew is, with all due respect, rather useless. He’s either inexperienced or he simply doesn’t care. So that leaves only three crew to do the job of four.

The flight time is 55 minutes, and once we’re airborne, the service is unnecessarily rushed and hectic. Even though there’s plenty of time with only ten passengers in the forward cabin.

The seat and cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on the flight, which is quite surprising, given that there were only two rows originally when I booked the flight. Of the twelve seats, nine are occupied. Although I might also like to add that there were eight passengers booked in Business Class, plus one Italian who figured he’d try it out and see if anybody noticed. They did eventually, and at least he had the decency of paying for the upgrade right there and then…

On row one the pitch is probably the worst in the whole Business Class cabin, because on all subsequent rows at least you can stick your feet under the seat in front of you. As usual, the middle seat is kept empty.

Austrian has the standard issue Lufthansa group seat with zero cushioning on its short-haul fleet. The seat is okay, but even after only 55 minutes of flight my butt is starting to ache.

The meal

Food is always a highlight on Austrian, and this flight is no exception. For the main course there is a plate with three sandwiches: salmon and cream cheese, cheddar and onion chutney, and tuna with chives. Although apparently the crew have not been informed and have no idea what they’re serving (Mr 2F, behind me, asks and get something of a strange reply from the crew…).

The sandwiches are really tasty and have not totally dried up on their way from Vienna to Berlin.

Dessert is a piece of Tiroler cake, I’d say, which is a hazelnut cake with chocolate chips in it. This is okay, but a bit too oily.

Arrival in Vienna

By the time we start our descent, the sun has already started to set. I always hate the shift back to winter time, precisely because it gets dark even earlier.

Vienna airport is very busy and there is hardly anywhere to sit while I wait to catch the connecting flight to Basel. But I will spare you the details on that flight.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, catering on Austrian is something they do really well. The dishes are usually nicely prepared and appeal to an international audience. The three sandwiches on this flight were simple but very tasty. Other than that though, the whole experience was a bit underwhelming and the crew were just disappointing. Which makes you wonder how much training these people actually receive before they’re let loose on humanity.

Of course, I did wonder during the flight if perhaps my perception of the flight was tarnished by my previous experience with Air France, which was very elegant and polished. Because that’s probably wouldn’t be fair either – there’s hardly any point in comparing a somewhat insignificant subsidiary such as Austrian to one of Europe’s leading airlines.

But I don’t think it’s that. A crew will make or break a passenger experience, and that’s precisely the problem with Austrian – their crews are unpredictable and more often than not they’re likely to disappoint. Which does not exactly instill me with a strong desire to book my next trip with them.

Air France, Airbus A 220-300 inaugural service: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Berlin in Classe Affaire

Introduction

Early in October 2021, Air France took delivery of its first of 60 Airbus A 220-300s, making it the largest operator of the type in Europe. F-HZUA has spent most of the month flying around France for crew training purposes. With the beginning of the winter schedule on Sunday, 31 October 2021, the aircraft will be deployed on Air France’s extensive European network. The inaugural flight will see it flying to Berlin.

Check-in

I check-in for the flight on the Air France app. However, boarding passes are not issued on the app because of Covid. So instead, the boarding pass is issued as a pdf that needs to be printed. One way or another, you’ll have to contact one of the check-in counters directly at the airport.

Terminal 2F is Air France’s Schengen terminal and has a dedicated SkyPriority area for check-in. I have a pleasant chat with the lady at check-in. She issues me a boarding pass and wishes me a lot of fun on my flight to Berlin.

From the check-in area there is a direct access to the security screening area.

The new Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

As I already mentioned in my previous post, Air France recently opened a new Business Class lounge in between the two piers of Terminal 2F. The lounge is very nice and enjoyable!

Boarding

The flight departs at 09:55, and boarding is scheduled for 09:10.

When I reach gate F55, all the video screens are showing off the new Air France A 220-300, highlighting its fuel efficiency and improved fuel burn compared to older types. There are Air France ground staff everywhere, holding up signs that read ‘Welcome A 220’.

Boarding starts with zone 1, which is for SkyPriority passengers with status or seated in Business Class. And I really must say, Air France has risen to the occasion to make the even something special. As I enter the airbridge, there are two Air France staff holding trays with Air France A220 branded gear pins.

And then in the airbridge, there is a lineup of staff on both sides holding up the same ‘Welcome A 220’ signs. As passengers pass by them, they are greeted by every one of the staff individually.

The cabin

Air France has its A 220-300 in a standard 2 + 3 configuration. In Business Class, only one of the seats on a row of two is sold, and on the row of three the middle seat is kept empty.

The seats have good pitch, and it’s the same pitch throughout the cabin. Every seat has a USB and thunderbolt port, a cup holder and a headrest that can be adjusted for height.

The seats are in dark blue, and there are the usual brand elements you find everywhere on Air France, for example the little red swish embroidered on the headrest. The little seahorse is emblazoned on the winglets, on the engine cowlings and on the fuselage right next to the L1 door.

The crew

The crew on this flight are truly excellent and have obviously been trained specifically for this event. Both the cockpit and cabin crew make all their announcements in French, German and English and make sure to point out how delighted they are to be joining this inaugural flight to Berlin. They also actively encourage passengers to ask them anything about the new aircraft.

But apart from that, they seem genuinely happy to be there. They’re all smiles and very attentive.

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with sealed refreshing towels.

And then we’re on our way…

The meal

It takes a while for the meal service to begin, and I suspect the crew are still trying to find their way around the new aircraft. I also think the trolley containing the food has been specially chosen for this flight, because it’s spotlessly clean and looks new.

The meal consists of a crêpe with a tasty vegetable and cream cheese filling. There is also a dollop of cream cheese on top of the crêpe, as well as a spicy red pepper sauce. A slice of French cheese completes the dish.

In addition, there is a separate bowl of yoghurt with jam and a plate with apricot jam and butter. The crew make two rounds through the cabin with bread rolls and croissants. And of course, being a French airline, there are copious amounts of Laurent-Perrier going around.

The meal is very good and hits the spot nicely. To drink I have a glass of orange juice and some still water.

Arrival into Berlin

The flight time to Berlin is 80 minutes, which brings us in at around 11:30. As we start the descent, the crew pass through the cabin with flight certificates.

We taxi off the runway and come to a stop right in front of the Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt sign, presumably for the photo shoot that is likely to happen while the aircraft is on the ground in Berlin.

And with that, my inaugural flight on the Air France A 220-300 is over. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and Air France did a good job in bringing back a bit of the excitement of flying in their organisation of the event.

Presenting the New Salon Air France in Terminal 2F, Paris Roissy Airport

Terminal 2F is the Schengen Terminal for the mainline fleet of Air France. It has two piers. Previously, there was a separate lounge in the tip of each pier, one floor down from the public airside areas. The lounges tended to get crowded quickly. Because they were located on the ground- and first floors, the views were somewhat limited.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and Air France has opened a new and very elegant centralised lounge, located right in between the two piers. The new lounge covers a large area and stretches over two floors. There are plenty of seating options on both levels, and there are multiple bars for guests to get food and drinks.

Perhaps the most important improvement of this lounge is that is has a lot more showers, which can be booked at reception. There’s also a dedicated quiet zone, with dimmed light and heavy curtains for passengers in need of a rest.

Most noticeable, the design of the lounge is very beautiful and modern. The centerpiece of the lounge is the grand white staircase leading to the upper level of the lounge. There is plenty of natural light, which is complemented by shifting mood lighting.

It’s difficult to capture just how elegant this lounge is and the sense of space it gives. Personally, I think this new lounge is one of the nicest Business Class lounges I’ve every visited. I also think it’s probably the best Schengen Business Class lounge out the right now.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Vienna back to Basel. My flight departs at 17h40 and the hotel refuses to grant me a late check-out. So I exit the SO/ Vienna hotel just after 12h00 and make my way to Wien Mitte railway station to dump my suitcase and bag in a locker. It’s only ten minutes on foot from the hotel to the station. You could take public transport instead, but I suspect that would probably take longer.

Once that’s settled, I decide to pay a visit to Schloss Belvedere, which houses an extensive collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.

On my way back to Wien Mitte I make a brief stop at the Konditorei Oberlaa for a last helping of Kaiserschmarn, a kind of fluffy shredded pancake served with jam and has comfort food written all over it.

Getting to Vienna Schwechat airport

From Wien Mitte there are frequent trains to Vienna airport. The journey will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR4.80 for a single trip for one person. However, if you’re travelling with somebody else, you already qualify as a group, in which case the fare is only EUR5.20 for both.

“Europe without Greece is like partying without drugs”. Indeed, it’s very patriotic and I think the Greece ministry of tourism should adopt this as its new slogan…

Check-in

Austrian Airlines checks in at Terminal 3. I’ve already received my boarding pass online, but I still need to drop off my suitcase. Austrian Airlines’ self-check in process for Economy Class passengers is easy to use and has been well planned. As you come off the escalators that lead up to departures, there is a large area with very easy to use scanning machines.

You scan your boarding pass and the machine will ask you to confirm your name. Once that’d done, the baggage label is printed. The queue for the fast bag drop is long, but at least it moves quickly.

At the counter where a check-in agent once used to sit, there is now another scanner. You place the suitcase on the conveyor belt, scan the bar code on the label, and that’s it. Gone!

Airside

The airport is busy this time of day. The other terminals in Schwechat have been shut down due to the pandemic, so Terminal 3 is now handling all the traffic – and it’s rather a tight fit. Eventually, I find a place to sit at the very last gate on the Schengen pier. As it happens, this is where the Ryanair flight to Thessaloniki is about to board. And I really must say, it’s rather entertaining. The gate agent is, with all due respect, a complete and utter bitch and the way she treats the passengers boarding the flight is nothing short of outrageous. You have to be really hard up financially to be willing to put up with this level of verbal abuse. I think given the choice I would prefer not to travel at all than have to endure this kind of treatment.

This is something I have never been able to understand about the business model of many of the low cost carriers. Yes, their prices are amazingly low sometimes. But irrespective of how high or low the price for the ticket is, people are still paying their good money to avail themselves of a service. The amount they paid should not determine the politeness or courtesy of service they receive. And it certainly should not determine how rudely they are treated by the staff. Of course the saying goes that you get what you pay for, and if the likes of Ryanair are not willing to pay for polite and properly trained staff or handling agents, then that’s just too bad. But I disagree.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a slight delay and takes for ever. This is largely due to the fact that in Austria it is mandatory for passengers to wear FFP2 masks. Every passenger wearing a standard issue surgical mask is stopped by the L1 door and given an FFP2 mask to wear instead, which they must put on in front of the cabin crew before they are allowed beyond the galley and into the cabin.

The crew & service

The crew are quite friendly, which is rather unusual for Austrian Airlines. The purser is clearly trying to respect all the rules in place, and while I personally think she should be commended for that and for putting the passengers’ health first, I think we also need to acknowledge that in Europe the lack of harmonization between countries is a huge pain in the ass and makes it near impossible to travel between countries without breaking at least one rule or other.

The flight itself is short and uneventful.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Basel after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes. The cabin crew announce that deboarding will be by seat numbers. Passengers should remain seated until their row is called. In theory, it may make a lot of sense to deboard the plane in such a way. But in practice, the sad truth is that it is completely useless: Basel airport is on French soil and has a French and a Swiss sector. There is one long corridor that connects the arrival gates to the head of the terminal building and immigration. Even though Austria and France are both part of the Schengen treaty, France has suspended the free movement of persons, which means that they have reintroduced border controls. This does not apply to Switzerland. But the exit to Switzerland is only at the very end of the corridor, meaning there is no way for passengers entering into Switzerland to bypass the queues for immigration for France. Regrettably, we land right after two full easyJet Airbus A 320s, and the queue for immigration is endless. It takes me forty minutes to reach the head of the queue. At least by the time I arrive at the luggage belt, my suitcase is already there.

Conclusion

So, I’ve now done six flights with Austrian Airlines in short succession – mostly in Business Class. On a positive note, I’m very much impressed by the quality of their food. It should not be taken for granted these days to be given a hot meal in Business Class on a short sector of only one hour. Other than that though, I found their service a bit lacking and seriously inconsistent. First, I really think it wouldn’t hurt Austrian Airlines to provide at least a bottle of water to passengers in Business Class as a kind of welcome drink. Second, I find it rather interesting that on all six flights I took, an announcement was made that deboarding would be done by seat rows, from front to back. But in fact this was only enforced by the crew on the last flight. My point is not whether or not the procedure makes sense. I just find it rather unprofessional to make such an announcement and then very obviously not give a rats bum. Austrian Airlines are okay, and their network to southeastern Europe is extensive. Other than that though, they’re hardly worth bothering with.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by an Airbus A 321, with a departure from Tirana at 17h00. But then, a few weeks later I received a schedule change from Austrian Airlines, informing me that the flight would now be operated by an Airbus A 320 and that the departure had moved forward to 15h00. It seems that Austrian has replaced the A 321 with two flights. One is an Airbus A 320 that leaves at 15h00, and the other is an Embraer 195 which departs a few minutes later.

Getting to the airport

There’s a lot of excitement in Tirana this morning, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting on her farewell tour of the Balkans. As a result, the authorities have shut down all the access roads to the airport for traffic. Nobody gets in, and nobody gets out. But it’s only a short distance from the facilities of the Albanian ANSP to the terminal, and it’s a lovely day for a walk anyway.

Check-in

The airport is a lot busier today than it was the last time I was here a week ago at three o’clock in the morning. In fact, I’d say the terminal facility is way too small for the amount of passengers it handles.

The girl at check-in has some serious Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde issues going on. When I reach the counter, the guy checking in at the counter next to me has scattered a ton of suitcases all over the place. He’s basically blocking three check-in counters but using only one. My check-in agent gives me the sweetest smile and welcomes me to Austrian Airlines. Then she turns to face the guy with the many suitcases and basically just rips him a new one in Albanian. I have no idea what on earth she says to him, but by the time she’s done, I’m really starting to feel sorry for the guy.

Tirana Airport Business Class lounge

The queue at security is long, but it moves quickly and the staff are very efficient. Once I’m through, I head one floor up to the Business Class lounge. It’s already gone 13h30 and I haven’t had lunch yet.

The lounge offers a nice selection of snacks, soft drinks and warm drinks. I’m not sure if alcohol is available too. Lavatories are available on the premises and are very clean. Complimentary wifi is also available in the lounge, with the password marked all over the place.

I ask the lady behind the buffet if she can just give me a bit of a taste of the Albanian dishes, which apparently means everything and in copious amounts. I end up with three plates. On the picture below you see pickled peppers filled with soft cheese, some shredded bell pepper, a healthy dollop of fresh cheese and another dollop of ajvars. Her English is about as good as my Albanian, but she makes it clear that the idea is that you mix the cheese with the ajvars and smear it on bread. Not in the picture are the plate full of bread and another plate with a cheese borek and a spinach borek that have been warmed. That should tie me over for the next week…

Boarding

Boarding already starts at 14h15. Even though it says 14h30 on the boarding pass. I get the feeling the ground staff are planning ahead in case there are any delays caused by all the diplomatic traffic. There’s a military Learjet from Macedonia and a Serb Embraer, in addition to Mutti’s Airbus of the Deutsche Bundeswehr.

The first bus departs just as I exit the terminal, but at least we’re allowed to wait outside in a closed off area for the next bus to arrive.

Most passengers are either making a mad dash to board the aircraft, or trying to capture a picture of the German Bundeswehr jet. My attention is immediately drawn to the completely white, non-standard engine cowling. What’s up with this bird?

The cabin

In the cabin there’s also something slightly different about this bird. First, the fittings on the seats are in silver colour, and not the usual Austrian Airlines red. And secondly, the Austrian Airlines logo is missing from the right bulkhead.

There’s a passenger missing and the crew are busy preparing the cabin for our departure, so I don’t want to pester them by asking about the aircraft.

There are three rows of Business Class on this aircraft, and there is one other gentlemen in the forward cabin with me.

The crew

The crew on this flight are a mixed bag, which seems to be quite normal on Austrian. Again, it’s just a small thing, but I really think it would be kind of nice to ask passengers if they’d like something to eat first, and not just dump the tray in front of them, whether they like it or not.

In any case, departure is to the north, flying directly towards Albania’s beautiful coastline. It’s a brilliant day for flying and visibility is excellent. About ten minutes into the climb, the captain comes on the mic to inquire if a certain passenger is on board. He explains that the second aircraft is delayed on the ground because of a missing passenger, and the handling agent figured he may have boarded the wrong aircraft ‘by accident’. Well that’s comforting…

The meal

After all the food in the lounge, I can’t honestly say that I’m still hungry. But goodness, the chocolate mousse cake for dessert sure looks tasty. And I mean, I didn’t have anything sweet in the lounge. It would be just such a shame to waste it. Oh, f*%@ it…

Now this dessert is really something. It’s very, very rich and sweet. The first spoon has my heart racing! But it really is just so good.

And just in case I hadn’t had enough chocolate yet, the crew pass through the cabin with farewell chocolates as we start the descent.

Arrival

Our arrival route into Vienna takes us past the airport on the downwind, to make an approach from the north. The light and shadows of the clouds dancing on the ground make the landscape look as though it has been painted on an enormous canvas.

We park on a remote stand. But at least this time the bus brings us to the head of the concourse, so we won’t have to walk too far.

Getting into Vienna

Next week the autumn semester starts and my life basically comes to a grinding halt until the end of the semester just before Christmas. So I figure I might as well break the journey and spend a few days in Vienna on a kind of mini-vacation.

To get into town, the train is probably the fastest and cheapest option. There are regular trains that run to either Wien Hauptbahnhof or Wien Mitte. The journey takes about 25 minutes to complete. There is a dedicated airport train called the CAT. However, apart from the fact that it’s currently not operating, it’s also outrageously expensive and really not worth the extra price.