ANA All Nippon Airways, Business Class (The Room) – Boeing B 777-300: Tokyo Haneda to London Heathrow

Getting to Haneda Airport from Shinjuku

I haven’t been in Japan long enough to get jetlag, which is good because it means that when I leave my hotel in Shinjuku just before six in the morning, I’m actually feeling rather bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

To get from Shinjuku to Haneda airport by public transport, you can either catch an airport bus from the bus terminus at Shinjuku, or you can take a train and then the monorail – which is what I do. First, I take the Yamanote JR Line to Hamamatsucho. The nice thing about the Yamanote is that it runs in a circle. So even if you catch a train going the wrong way, you’ll still get there in the end.

From Hamamatsucho I catch the Tokyo Monorail from one floor up to take me to Haneda. The train’s first stop at the airport is Terminal 3, which is from where the international flights leave. The ticket is JPY700 for a oneway from Shinjuku to Haneda.

Check-in

ANA checks in on rows C, D and E. If you’re in Business Class and not using the check-in kiosks, head for row C. But be warned… The Japanese are incredibly polite, but also incredibly complicated. It takes me 20 minues to reach the head of the queue, mainly because the check-in agents spend a lot of time doing utterly useless things. For example, they label a suitcase on the conveyor belt. Next they open the security screen, check twice that there is nothing stuck in the conveyor belt, and then push the button for the belt to start moving and the suitcase to move forward to the main belt. Once the suitcase is gone, they close the screen, again checking that nothing has managed to get stuck anywhere. Mindfullness is one thing, but this just really very inefficient and very frustrating. I mean, it’s not as though lives hang in the balance by leaving the screen for the main conveyor belt open.

The check-in agent checks me in to Heathrow and then informs me that she cannot check me in for the last leg, because ANA has no check-in interline agreement in place with BA…

After check-in comes security, which again seems way more complicated in how it’s organised than it need be. But eventually, I manage, I’m through security and passport control.

The ANA Business Class Lounge

At Haneda airport ANA has a First Class lounge and the Business and Star Gold lounge. The views from the lounge are excellent. Too bad the place is crawling with people and there’s hardly any place to sit.

The lounge has an interesting selection of hot and cold Western and Japanese food items available from a buffet. The selection is good, but you need a bit of patience…

The entrance to the lounge is opposite gate 110, which also happens to be my gate for London.

Boarding

Boarding is by zones and a very orderly and quiet process. It looks as though it’s going to be a full flight.

Our departure is scheduled for 09:25. However, there’s a bit of a hold up because of something related to having to check the hold luggage. By the time we push back, we running an hour late.

The Room

ANA’s Boeing B 777-300 fleet has The Room Business Class seat installed. The main feature of the seat is a side panel that can be raised and a sliding door for more privacy. The door isn’t very high, though. The unevenly numbered seats are rear-facing and closer to the window, whereas the evenly-numbered seats are forward-facing and closer to the aisle.

The big advantage of this seat is that it is quite spacious. Other than that though, I have to say that it’s one of the more uncomfortable seats I’ve ever experienced, especially given that our flight time to London today is going to be 14 hours. First of all, the seat is very low above the ground. With my feet flat on the floor, the angle of my thighs to my torso is about 45 degrees and not very comfortable. The seatback is fully flat and offers zero back support.

I am 184 cm tall, which is pretty average for a male adult. Even so, it’s impossible for me to stretch out fully with the seat extended to a bed. The best results are achieved by lying at an angle, but even then it is not a comfortable surface to sleep on.

As far as I’m concerned, the seat’s only redeeming feature is that it gives me a comfortable and unobstructed view of the wing and the engine. The size of those things…

The Service

There are two Western cabin crew on this flight. One of them is male. The rest of the cabin crew are female. Service begins on the ground with the distribution of the welcome drinks. On offer are sparkling wine and orange juice. The cabin crew kindly oblige me with a still water instead.

After an hour of more or less incessant announcements in both Japanese and English, none of which make any sense, we’re finally ready to push. As we taxi out to our runway, we pass a whole line up of aircraft that look as though they have not been active in quite a while, including this B 787 with both its engines missing.

You can say what you like, but the B 777-300 is a total beast. Even heavily laden for a 14 hour leg across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans the acceleration is impressive. Our climb out takes us in a zig-zag route over Tokyo toward Narita, from where we start our Pacific crossing.

Our routing today takes us up north along the Kamchatka peninsula. We then cross the Bering strait and make a beeline for Greenland, then Iceland and eventually Scotland. As we fly over the Northpole, it’s fascinating to watch the compass on screen gradually adjust.

The Meal – First Service

As on the outbound flight, I decide to go with the Japanese option.

The planned amuse bouche has been swapped and replaced with a special Japanese New Year dish of dried fish and something. It’s not very good and rather bland.

To be perfectly honest, the meal is incredibly boring and very bland. Essentially, it’s soy sauce with a variety of different veggies, meat or fish that all taste of, well… soy sauce and not much else.

The only remarkable thing about this meal is the stupendous chocolate mousse, which is rich, creamy and sumptuous.

The Meal – Inflight Snacking

ANA has a wide selection of snacks available in case you get the hungries on such a long flight, of which I try the delectable fondant biscuits, the vanilla ice cream, the fruit, the cheese plate and the IPPUDO plant-based ramen. If I’d known earlier, I think I would have skipped the main meal and just had the ramen.

The ramen can be spiced up with a small red sachet of red chilli paste, which is lovely!

The Meal – Second Service

Two hours out of Heathrow, the second meal service starts, and again I go for the Japanese option. Perhaps a note for vegetarians: ANA is really not very good with non-meat dishes. If you don’t want to go hungry, I would strongly recommend ordering a special meal ahead.

As expected, the second service tastes a lot like soy sauce. I have a coffee and a fondant biscuit for dessert just to make sure I’m not suffering from a sudden loss of taste.

Arrival into Heathrow

We make landfall over Scotland and fly down the length of the UK to make an approach from the East. Our final decent brings us in right over London and the West End. It’s a spectacular view that just never gets old!

Despite our departure delay of one hour, we land in Heathrow exactly on time, at 15:25. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite terminal 2B. I now have two hours to make my connection from Terminal 5.

Conclusion – The Verdict

Meh…! That was a bit of a let down, from the mess at check-in and the crowds in the lounge to the very bland food on the plane and the uncomfortable seat, this was not a pleasant experience with ANA. I seriously think I’m going to have to see a chiropractor when I get back. The flight’s redeeming features were a) the crew, which were all just so nice and friendly, and b) the fact that the flight was operated by a Boeing B 777-300. I mean, have you seen the size of those engines…!? Other than that, I wouldn’t actively avoid ANA in future, but I definitely won’t go out of my way to fly with them either.

ANA All Nippon Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Frankfurt to Tokyo Haneda

Transfer in Frankfurt

The bus that picked us up at our aircraft arriving from Amsterdam ejects me somewhere deep in the bowels of the A concourse of Frankfurt airport, and I still need to make my way through the underworld and the passage of doom that connects the A and B concourses at Frankfurt airport and go through passport control. There is a guy with a sign for the ANA flight standing there as I enter the building, which I consider a good sign. He gives me instructions for how to reach the B concourse and tells me there is enough time. They have advised the gate ahead and they are holding the flight for me and the three other passengers coming off the Amsterdam flight. Frankfurt is very busy, so that by the time I finally reach the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. So no photos of the outside of the aircraft. It’s dark outside anyway…

The Cabin

On the B 787-9 ANA does not offer a First Class cabin. Instead, the Business class cabin is divided in two sections. There are two different cabin configurations on the B 787-9 that operate internationally. On my bird, row 8 is the bulkead row in the rear Business Class cabin. The aircraft is configured in a staggered 1 + 2 + 1 layout. The evenly numbered seats are window seats and offer a bit more privacy. The unevenly numbered seats are aisle seats, which are also nice – but a little less private. In addition, there are no middle seats on row 8, which makes my seat feel even more secluded and cosy. The proximity of the seat to the galley is not an issue during the flight.

The seat is a bit strange is that while there is ample space to place things, there is no storage space in the sense of a small bin that can be closed.

The IFE can be operated either by touch screen or by remote control. The screen is close enough for me to be able to use the touch screen functionality comfortably. Not that it really matters, because I only use the moving map to track our progress, and not much else.

The foot well is a good size, so that I am able to move and turn comfortably despite my size 10 feet.

Amenities

At my seat when I board is a nice comfortable memory foam pillow, a soft blanket with an opening to place your feet, a thin but very useful mattress, a pair of slippers, the earphones (Sony) and the vanity kit.

The vanity kit contains a toothbrush and toothpaste, eye shades, ear plugs, lip balm and yuzu facial mist (…??). There are more dental kits and mouth wash available in the lavatories.

The Service

The service on the ground begins with either orange juice or champagne for a welcome drink, which are served American-style from plastic cups. I ask for a bottle of still water instead.

The refreshing towels are now pre-packaged, which I’m guessing is a Covid-related move.

The flight begins with a string of seemingly endless short films: first comes the safety on board video, followed by a video about the hygene measures on board and a PhD-worthy treatise on air circulation on a modern airliners, and then another video on how to prevent the spreading of Covid.

The Meal – First Service

For the main service, there are three options to choose from – two international choices (beef or fish) and one Japanese option, which is what I have.

To drink I have a glass of sparkling water and something that is referred to on the menu as Kabusu, which is a signature soft drink made of citrus fruit for ANA. It’s very sweet, but also very tasty.

On the right is the foie gras amuse bouche. I’ll really never be a fan…

The Japanese meal is very tasty. It’s also nicely presented. The simmered beef (top left) looks kind of strange but tastes very good.

The main course is served with Gohan (rice), miso soup and pickels.

My only complaint about the meal service is that it simply takes too long. We were airborne by 21h05. It then takes over two hours to get the meal service done. By the time I finish with the main course, I’m just so tired that I decide to skip dessert. Instead, I go change into a pair of shorts, make up the bead and go off to Noddy land.

The Meal – Second Service

And what a trip it is to Noddy land! At some point during the night I begin to stir. I cautiously lift the lid of my eye shades to find the cabin brightly lit. At first I figure it’s the obnoxious mother seated on row 9, who has been pestering the poor crew ever since she stepped aboard the aircraft with Satan’s spawn in Frankfurt. Although to be fair, the kid is really cute and rather well behaved. It’s just a shame the same cannot be said for his mother.

I digress. I take a look at my watch and that’s when I realise the cabin is lit up because they’ve started with the breakfast service. We have 90 minutes to run to Handea, which means that I slept nearly eight hours solid without a murmur. Not bad. So, I quickly change back into my street clothes while the cabin crew bring me an orange juice and coffee.

For the second service there are also three options – Japanese, International and Continental. I go with the international meal.

The meal consists of a frittata, bacon and grilled veg.

A small bowl of fruit.

And pastries from the bread basket, served with butter and jam.

Arrival into Haneda

By the time we land in Haneda at 17:40 it’s already dark outside. I step off the plane and prepare to do a lot of waiting while I get processed to be able to enter the country. Much to my surprise though, the whole process doesn’t actually take that long, if you’re prepared. Basically, you will need three QR codes: the immigration form, the customs form and the COVID declaration form. A link to complete the forms was sent to me a few weeks before departure from ANA.

Getting from Haneda to Shinjuku

In Tokyo I’ll be staying in Shinjuku. I first take the monorail from the airport to Hamamtsucho, which takes roughly 20 minutes. There I connect to the Yamanote line, which takes another 30 minutes to reach Shinjuku. A oneway tickets costs Y500. The ticket vending machines accept cash only.

Conclusion

B***h momma aside, I rather enjoyed this flight with ANA. I think what really struck me, was just how noisy the Boeing B 787-9 was. Admittedly, that might also have been because I was sitting right next to the engine. Other than that, the seat was very comfortable and private. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well and so long on a plane!

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

Transfer in Vienna

I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.

I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.

So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.

Boarding

The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.

The Service

The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.

The Meal

The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.

After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.

Conclusion

The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Zagreb to Vienna

Introduction

Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.

Check-in

The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.

Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.

Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.

Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.

The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb

Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.

The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.

Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.

The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.

The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.

To drink with that I have an Almdudler.

And just before landing, chocolates are offered.

Arrival

We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Amsterdam to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Transfer in Amsterdam… it is not pretty!

My flight from Bogotà arrives in Amsterdam at eleven in the morning. My onward connection to Paris is not until 14h30. At 11h15 the aircraft comes to a stop on its stand, we disembark and I make my way to security – where there’s already a very long queue forming. There are ground staff everywhere, trying to manage the queues. All in all it takes me over ninety minutes to reach the head of the queue. The security staff do an excellent job, despite the fact that they are basically being subjected to a constant stream of verbal abuse, yelled at, and even threatened.

I think what strikes me the most about the situation in Amsterdam is the incredibly high level of aggression among passengers. That, and the complete and utter stupidity of the human race. Standing in a queue for ninety minutes brings out all the worst in humanity, and makes you wonder how we managed even to invent the bloody wheel before killing each other. There’s one guy giving the girl from security hell, insisting that his Business Class ticket gives him privileges to jump the queue. She makes several attempts to explain to him that the priority line has been shut down, and there there is only the one, very long queue. Then there’s the American family who feel they need to jump the queue because their flight will be leaving in 45 minutes, to which another American tells them to just shut the f**k up and deal with it, he actually watched his flight depart without him from the queue… It really is quite horrible. Still, at least the queue for immigration is very short.

By the time I get to the Crown lounge in the Schengen area it’s already coming up to 13h00 and the place is crawling with disgruntled passengers. Bugger this, I’m better off outside where I can at least see the aircraft departing.

Boarding

My flight is leaving from C07. Next to us at C05 is the previous flight to Paris, which leaves only thirty minutes earlier, at 14h00. While I sit and wait, I watch the poor front line staff dealing with passenger after passenger who arrives at the gate, only to be told that they have missed their connection. What’s probably worse, is that the aircraft is still on stand, probably due to a slot restriction. And passengers don’t get that, “if the aircraft is still here, why won’t you let me on…?”.

My flight is running more than an hour late by the time we start boarding. The missed connections from the flight at 14h00 contact the gate agent of my flight to be reprotected, only to be told that the flight is already full. Which is, of course, a joke, because by this time everybody on the flight knows that not all passengers that are booked on the flight are going to make it through security on time. There’s a lot of frustration everywhere, especially when eventually we push back from the gate with twenty reported no-shows, twenty empty seats that could have been taken by the passengers from the previous flight.

The seat

I’m seated on 3A. The middle seat is left empty, and there is an elderly American gentleman on 3C. Seat pitch on row three is very tight, my best option is to spread my legs wide to avoid having my knee caps crushed when the guy in front of me decides to recline his seat while we wait. Other than that, the seat has a USB port integrated in the arm rest and there’s wifi available on board. There are six rows of Business Class on this flight, and all seats are taken.

The service

While we wait for our ATC clearance, the cabin crew pass through the cabin with packaged towels and still water.

The meal

The flight time to Paris is fifty minutes. Service is by FlyingBlue status, and as a result, I ended up being served first, which is rather awkward, to be honest. The meal consists of a zucchini and mozzarella salad, bread and camembert cheese and a very rich chocolate cake that is so thick that I am unable to finish it.

Arrival

The weather in Paris is lovely. It’s sunny but not too warm, with a temperature of about 22 degrees. We land from the West, and then take the long taxi route to our stand at 2F.

More delays

But the fun doesn’t stop there, boys and girls. First, there is a delay with the delivery of the luggage, which takes about thirty minutes to start arriving. Still, at least my suitcase made it, so there is that.

Getting into town

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Molitor Hotel near the Roland Garros tennis court. Only, the RER B train line from CDG airport is not running today. So instead, I first have to catch a replacement bus to Stade de France.

Then from there I catch the RER D train to Châtelet-Les Halles.

Then from there the RER A to Auber.

And then from there the metro line 9 to Ange-Molitor. In total it takes me two whole hours to get form the airport to the hotel. By the time I arrive I’m just a total wreck.

Conclusion

The short hop from Amsterdam to Paris was incredibly tiring and really not at all enjoyable. It wasn’t just that there were many delays and a lot of queueing involved. These things happen. What made the whole experience unpleasant was the extremely high level of anger and aggression – and the rather off-putting stench of entitlement coming off some of the passengers.

I salute all the front line staff in the call centres, at security, the receptionists at the lounges, the gate agents, the cabin crew, the ground handlers and rampers, the stoic pilots and the excellent air traffic controllers for their professionalism. You guys are doing an incredible job in the face of adversity this summer. May you receive really, really fat bonuses and pay rises for it very soon. You deserve it. Not everybody would put up with the shit you guys are having to deal with. Until then, you have my gratitude for returning me home safely. Thank you!


– William

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bogota El Dorado

Introduction

I’m on my way to Bogota to give a course. The flight from Paris departs at 15h40 on Monday. However, there either is no connecting flight from Basel or it’s already fully booked, which means that I end up spending Sunday evening at the Pullman Hotel at Paris airport.

Check-in at Terminal 2E

Terminal 2E is Air France’s non-Schengen terminal. From the SkyPriority check-in area passengers have direct access to the priority lane for immigration.

I think they have a rather clever process in place in Terminal 2. In addition to the main concourse K, there are also the two satellite terminals L and M. While immigration is centralized for all passengers leaving France on the K concourse, security screening for departures from the L and M gate is done directly in the satellite, which clearly helps to better manage the queues.

The view from the train is rather nice too…

The security screening is done on the ground floor, the main airside area is then one floor up.

Le Salon Air France in satellite M

The Business Class lounge is busy when I arrive. Not that it makes a difference, because it’s only once I’m in the lounge that I remember I forgot my belt at security, so I leave again and make the schlepp back down there to retrieve it.

Once I get back to the lounge again just after 14h00, the peak is just over. It’s still busy, but not full. During peak hours there is a second, smaller food station available in the lounge. However, once the mad rush is over they close this one down.

Boarding

I rather like the archiecture of 2F. The terminal is spacious and with plenty of seating opportunities.

On my way to the gate I’m distracted by this gorgeous looking aircraft. How can anybody not like the A 350? I really need to get myself on a flight with one of these.

Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky taking photos of my own ride to Bogota. The way the aircraft is parked means that I only get to take the photo below.

Boarding is by zones, starting with SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. There’s also a Covid check for connecting passengers.

The cabin

Air France does not have a First Class cabin on the Boeing B 787-9. The Business Class cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors and comprises of 32 seats in a reverse herringbone configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 arrangement. I’m on 1A, which I think it just brilliant because it offers a lot of privacy. Because the seats are staggered, there is no seat on the other side of the aisle. I don’t find the proximity to the galley bothersome and the curtains block out all the light.

A cushion and a proper, thick blanket are already at my seat when I arrive.

There is more than enough storage space in the seat. Morover, there’s a small compartment that houses the earphones and that can also be used to store smaller items.

There’s also a multi-purpose electricity plug and usb port.

The service

The crew on this flight are a friendly, chirpy bunch. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in Business Class comes to welcome me aboard and introduce herself to me. I notice she and her colleagues consistently address me by my family name.

The service begins with a welcome drink – there is water, champagne and orange juice on offer.

Next comes the distribution of the vanity kits, which feature Clarins cosmetics, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, eye shades, socks, and earplugs.

The crew also offer sanitary kits for our arrival in Bogota, where it is mandatory to wear face masks inside the terminal building.

The menus are also distributed. I notice that the crew first take orders from the Platinum members before asking the other passengers for their meal choices.

And finally, a very hot towel is distributed to passengers.

We take off in a Westerly direction , which takes us past the Musé de L’Air at Le Bourget and then the city of Paris with the Eiffel tower and then Versailles. The flight time to Bogota is just over ten hours.

The meal – first service

There are four choices for the main course. I go with the vegetarian couscous.

The meal begins with an apéritif. At the flight attendant’s suggestion, I try the Vermouth with Perrier, which is not bad. With that, there is a small box of cashew nuts and cranberries.

The tray arrives with the salad and the first course. The foie gras is an Air France staple, and probably a reason to order an Asian vegetarian meal in future… The other starter is an asparagus salad. I don’t touch the foie gras, but the mango chutney it is served with is nice. There is a selection of rolls on offer too.

The salad comes with pine nuts and a small bottle of olive oil and balsamico.

Once the first course is removed, the crew bring the cheese dish and more bread.

And then comes the main course: vegetable couscous with lemon. And very nice it is too.

For dessert there is a choice of vanilla ice cream, coffee ice cream, strawberry sorbet, or a selection of pastries – or any combination of all.

The service is unrushed but efficient. There are no long waits in between courses, and once I’m done my tray is quickly removed. For the rest of the flight I reline my seat and read. Outside there is nothing much to see except the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.

Second service

Ninety minutes out of Bogota, the second service begins. There are two options available – fish or pasta.

I go with the ravioli filled with cheese in a cream sauce with champignons, which is a really excellent and rather substatial dish for the second service. In addition, there is also a bowl of pear compote and a buttery piece of cake.

Arrival

By the time we land in Bogota at 19h15 it’s already dark outside. The crew come to say good bye, and then it’s already time to disembark. Immigration in Bogota is easy and very quick. Within twenty minutes after landing, I’m already through customs and on my way to the taxi stand.

At Bogota airport you can either take a regular yellow taxi from the taxi rink outside exit six. However, this may not be the safest option. Alternatively, you can ask for a taxi and the taxi booth near exit five. They will log your journey with your name and passport details and those of your driver. You also pay directly at the counter, and not the driver.

Aegean Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Athens to Berlin

Getting to the airport

In Athens I stay at the Sofitel Athens Airport, which is literally just across the road and one floor down from the terminal. Journey time: 2 minutes. If you’re coming from the city though, there is a train and a metro that run out to the airport. The journey time from Syntagma square is about 45 minutes and the trains only run every thirty minutes. A oneway ticket will cost you EUR9.90.

Check-in

I enter the terminal building just after 12h00 and it’s crawling with people. Currently, the terminal is a bit of a construction site, because expansion works are underway. And about time too, by the looks of it.

Athens attracts quite some unexpected traffic. American, United, Delta and Air Canada all operated two flights a day from their respective hubs. In addition, all the middle eastern carriers, like Gulf Air, Saudia and Emirates, also operate a regular schedule to the Greek capital.

There is a fast track for security, with no queue at all. It’s a bit misleading though that there’s a sign asking passengers to remove nail clippers and scissors from their bags – because most passengers interpret that to mean that they won’t need to remove liquids or laptops (which are not mentioned explicitly) – only to be barked at by the dragon at the security checkpoint.

The Aegean Airlines lounge

The Aegean lounge is located at the far end of the terminal, near gates 11 and 12. The young lady at reception informs me that the lounge is full up. She hands me a voucher of EUR10 to buy food and drinks at any one of the concessions outside and asks me to come back later to check if there’s any space in the lounge.

Let’s face it, the view is much better outside the lounge anyway, which just overlooks the car park…

Boarding

Our boarding gate changes twice, and actually I don’t know what the original gate should have been. I just keep receiving notifications from Aegean in the app. First we are redirected to gate B20, only to be informed when we get there that we should all go to gate B27 instead. The boarding announcement is in the style of “I’ll just yell something incomprehensible in my thick Greek accent and wait for passengers to start moving”. And then the scrum begins. Their only saving grace is that we’ll be boarding from a bus gate.

The cabin

There are four rows of Business Class for a total of 16 seats. And the cabin is full. On a row of three the middle seat is kept empty, and there is a little table that folds out of the seatback of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Other than that though, there are no video screens, no electricity plugs and no wifi.

The leg space on row three is excellent.

Alas, the cleanliness of the cabin leaves much to be desired. There’s a snotty hankerchief in my seat pocket, and the others don’t look much better either…

The service

While boarding is underway, the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering champagne, orange juice or still water.

There are five crew on this flight. It is noticeable that all of them are very young. There is only one male in the crew and the four females are heavily, but at least professionally, made up. They’re quite friendly and interact with passengers with ease.

The meal

While we’re still on the ground we’re also handed the menus. However, I already booked my meal online at the time of booking. Preodering is not just available for special meals.

The meal service begins very soon after take off. First, a cover is placed on the tray table.

The meal is quite extensive.

For the main course I go with the fish and the celeriac and potato mash, which is very nice. The fish is juicy and the mash is quite unusual.

There’s also a salad. And if I ever meet the creep who though adding pomegranate to every blood thing was a good idea, I’m seriously going to give him a piece of my mind. I mean, why?

On the tray is also a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico and crackers…

… some tasty greek cheese…

… and dessert. Bread rolls are also offered from the bread basket.

The dessert is very good, but also very rich. It’s basically pieces of biscuits with milk chocolate.

After the meal, the crew don’t offer coffee or tea. However, they do offer small boxes of dark and milk chocolate.

For the rest of the flight, I busy myself reading and wondering if the American sitting in front of me was raised on a farm, of if perhaps she just thinks it’ll look better on her Insta profile to post picture after picture of her duck face, while she dirties the seat with her shoes. Some people…

Arrival

The flight time to Berlin is two hours and forty minutes.

It’s very bumpy on the approach, which probably accounts for the very positive landing we experience… We taxi to our stand and then I make the long schlepp to arrivals and then the railway station.

Getting into Berlin

From the airport I first catch an intercity train going to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, which takes about thirty minutes. And then from there I catch the S Bahn for three stops to Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten in what used to be West Berlin.

Air Europa, Business Class – Boeing B787-8: Madrid to Athens

Getting to Madrid Barajas Terminal 2

The entrance to the Plaza de España metro station is located just a few steps away from the main entrance to the hotel. The ticket to the airport, including the surcharge, is EUR4.90 for a oneway for one person. The journey time, including changing trains at Nuevos Ministerios, is about 45 minutes.

I alight at the stop for terminals 1,2 and 3 and make the long schlepp to the check-in area.

Check-in

Air Europa checks in at Terminal 2.

There are two counters open for Business Class passengers. However, I think this is only the check-in for European or Schengen flights. I’ve already checked in online, so I can bypass the counters and head straight for the fast track for security, which is empty.

The AENA Puerta del Sol lounge

Air Europa no longer has its own lounges at Madrid. What used to be their lounge on the E concourse has now become the AENA Puerta del Sol lounge, operated by the Madrid airport authority.

Which also means that the place is rather busy when I get there, and all the window seats with their fabulous views of the apron are taken. The buffet in the lounge only serves cold snacks.

Boarding

Our flight arrives late on its previous flight from New York, it taxies past the lounge on its way to the gate. Boarding is a complete mess. There are two lanes – one for Economy Class passengers, and another for passengers needing assistance, families travelling with their satanic brood and SkyPriority passengers. Boarding starts about forty minutes late, and there are no announcements by the staff and the departure screen at the gate is not updated either.

When eventually boarding does begin, there’s another hold up because the obnoxious, entitled hipster parent of one of the little demons is refusing to have the stroller put in the hold.

The cabin

The cabin looks nice, especially with the mood lighting. As we enter, I take a quick photo of the Economy Class section, which looks quite spacious.

The Business Class seat is rather old fashioned. There are 22 seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration. The seat is fully lie-flat, but it’s not very long. I would also recommend taking your shoes off before lying down. I wear a size 46 and couldn’t fit my feet in the little cubby with my shoes still on.

There isn’t a lot of storage space either. To be precise, the storage space available is in odd places and not very conveniently located. Furthermore, all the storage areas are marked with “Do not use during take-off, taxi or landing” stickers.

The inflight entertainment has touch screens.

Other than that, the seat is very grimey. There’s old dirt and pieces of food in the cracks and the off white of the seat looks greasy in places.

The service

The service start with still water or orange juice being served as a welcome drink. Sure, the plastic cups are probably not the height of sophistication. But at least we get a drink, which is more than I can say for my previous flight with Iberia.

In addition, the crew pass through the cabin with complimentary wifi codes (which don’t work) and earphones.

As we taxi out, I notice two Airbus A 380s of BA parked up for long-term storage. The photo is a bit grainy. But judging from the state they’re in, I’m guessing it’ll take quite a lot of work to make those two aircraft airworthy again…

Eventually we take off in a southeasterly direction and then turn towards Barcelona, from where we start our Mediterranean crossing. The route takes us over Sardinia and Italy, and then over the Adriatic into the Balkans. The flight time is three hours.

The meal

There are no menus, and from what I can tell there is also no meal choice on this flight. The main dish is tortellini filled with mushrooms and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, melted cheese and cranberries. Although my partner’s dish is missing the cranberries.

There is also a small salad of something, which mainly tastes of artificial basil.

There is butter and a small triangle of La Vache Qui Rit cheese, which I always hated as a kid and still don’t like much. There are also crackers and two rolls of bread.

After the meal, coffee is served in cardboard cups. And it really is quite horrific coffee. I also think that on a flight of three hours it would not have been too much to ask to have a proper cup.

When the cabin crew comes to remove my tray, I feel just a wee bit like Oliver Twist as I inquire if there’s any dessert at all. The cabin crew looks at me with rather unconvincing surprise and tells me she’ll check and be right back. At this point I’m expecting her to return and tell me that catering forgot to load dessert. However, much to my surprise she returns with a bowl of dessert that she miraculously produced out of nowhere. With that, she gives me a wooden stirring stick to eat the piece of cake. It’s roughly around now that I start to suspect the good lady is trying to take the piss. I shouldn’t have bothered…

Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, until eventually our aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent into Athens.

We land and then taxi to our parking stand on the satellite pier. This is my first time using the satellite here in Athens. On my previous visits it was not open. From the pier there’s a very long underground passage to the main terminal.

Conclusion

I used to enjoy flying Air Europa. Their catering was innovative and the crews always seemed warm and sincere. But the cost cutting over the last two years appears to have taken its toll on the airline. The catering on this flight was… meh, and the crews have basically stopped caring. Shortly I’ll be travelling to South America. I had looked at Air Europa too for my trip. Now I’m kind of relieved I didn’t book them in the end.

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 170: Amsterdam to Rennes

Introduction

Today marks the beginning of my summer vacation. And Rennes will be my first stop. Originally, I was booked to fly from Basel to Rennes via Paris. However, that connection was cancelled and rebooked via Amsterdam. The originally rebooked departure from Basel to Amsterdam should have been just after 10 in the morning. But then another schedule change meant that I was rebooked again to depart from Basel to Amsterdam on the morning departure at the ungodly time of 06h30. This also meant that I would have a layover in Amsterdam of about six hours.

Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use that layover to go into Amsterdam for breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel in the seedy part of town by the central station. However, given that KLM is currently advising passengers to show up for security screening four hours (!) before departure, I figured I better not risk it.

I’ll be making a separate post of my stay at the Yotel Air at Amsterdam Schiphol. This post is about the flight from Amsterdam to Rennes.

Boarding

The flight to Rennes departs at 13h40, with boarding expected to start at 13h13, which is an oddly specific time… And of course our aircraft is on a remote stand, so we’ll have to be bussed there.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, but the forward cabin remains empty on this flight. I’m seated on 3A, the first row of Economy. As I’ve already mentioned, and complained about in previous posts, properly aligning the seat rows with the windows appears to be a bit of a problem on the E170 aircraft. And this includes the configuration Air France has them in. I do have a window seat on 3A, but I seriously need to crank my head back to be able to look out.

I count a total of 68 passengers.

The crew

The cabin crew are two females in their mid- to late thirties, if I had to guess. They’re both business friendly. Not gushing, but not rude or unfriendly either.

The flight time is announced at one hour and ten minutes.

The snack

The service consists of a small and very tasty, buttery biscuit and a cup of Perrier. Air France have stopped using plastic cups and serve all their drinks in Economy in cardboard cups instead.

After the meal I’m still tired. I quickly doze off and only awaken again when the captain comes on to announce the “début de déscente”, the top of descent.

The landscape below is very flat, green and lush. And not exactly densely populated.

Arrival

Our arrival is a bit shaky because of the wind. We land on runway 28 and then have to backtrack up the runway, as the only taxiway doesn’t reach all the way to the end.

There are only open stands at Rennes airport, which is very small and really quite dinky.

I completely forget that we’ve arrived on an international service. In as much, it takes me by surprise to find myself in front of an immigration counter upon entering the terminal. The check is not really so much about the passport or ID, but about checking the vaccination status of arriving passengers entering into France.

Getting into town

To get to the bus stop, make a sharp left upon exiting the terminal and just keep on walking until eventually you will see the bus stop. Both the C6 and 57 bus lines run to the centre of town. The journey takes about thirty minutes and costs EUR1.50. Apparently, you don’t need to buy a paper ticket and can normally just badge in with your credit card. However, when I try that, it doesn’t work. So I have to buy a ticket from the driver, who can only accept cash.

Conclusion

I had a really early start this morning, which didn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies – even if it was to get on a plane to Amsterdam and then on another to Rennes. However, that quickly changed the moment I stepped of the plane when we arrived in Rennes. This place is just so nice, and the weather is stunning! And tomorrow, I’m off to Mont St. Michel!

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

Introduction

Encore une fois! The last time my colleague, the Flying Dutchman, told me we probably wouldn’t be returning to Dubai for a while, I figured that would probably not be the case. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon though. My last trip to Dubai was only in January 2022. So this is a bit of a déjà vue, really. But then again, Air France’s La Première is always nice for a review.

And so this trip report begins with me stepping off the Roissyval at the terminus station at Terminal 2F. From what I can tell, traffic levels at Charles de Gaulle seem to be recovering nicely from the pandemic, the place is certainly very busy.

Check-in

I walk from the Roissyval station to Terminal 2E, which is home to the non-Schengen flights for Air France and their SkyTeam partners. The La Première check-in is located at the far end of the terminal. When I arrive, there is only one couple with their cat checking in. Otherwise, the place is deserted. Anne takes my suitcase off me and asks me if I’d like anything to drink. She brings me a cold Perrier while she completes all the necessary check-in formalities. She tells me to take my time with the drink. I should just let her know when I’m ready to go airside. And that more or less sets the tone for my La Première experience.

Getting airside is cumbersome with so many people, so it’s even more convenient to have your own Air France escort to help you briskly bypass all the long queues for immigration and security. She even helps me to take out my laptop and liquids; and to replace everything once we’re through security.

The lounge

The lounge is very busy. The entrance has been decorated specifically to mark the occasion of the Cannes film festival. There’s even a red carpet laid out in front of the lift as you arrive in the lounge.

Anne asks me what I would like to do first, while I’m in the lounge. I tell her a bit of lunch wouldn’t be bad. So she guides me to one of the single tables and hails for a waiter to attend to me. While we wait, she tells me she can highly recommend the coquillettes jambon et trufes. Only once she has made sure that I have been handed over to the lounge staff does she bid me good bye and wish me a good flight.

As usual, there are traces of the little flying seahorse everywhere. Had I already mentioned how much I like the Air France branding?

Sweet baby Jesus! This dish is just divine. It’s so sumptuous and delicious. It’s small pasta with cooked ham, pieces of cheese and a buttery black truffle sauce. And it really is so, so good!

For dessert I go with the Baba au Rhum, which certainly doesn’t disappoint. First, the waiter brings the bottle of rum.

The Baba is served in this lovely silver dish. The waiter cuts the Baba in half in front of me, drowns it in the rum and then puts a generous dollop of cream on top of it.

And then after the meal I have an espresso.

I then move to the lounge area and read until my driver comes to pick me up to take me to the aircraft.

Boarding

At 13h00 a friendly young man comes to pick me up. He takes my passport and hand luggage off me and guides me to the lift down to the ground floor. There’s a brief stop for the police to check my vaccine status, and then we’re off. I take a seat in the back of the sleek black BMW and enjoy the view outside.

The cabin

I’m the first passenger to arrive in La Première. Apparently, all four seats are taken, so I’m quite lucky to have managed to secure 1A – my favourite seat.

The cabin crew welcome me on board, and David comes to introduce himself to me. He’ll be doing the service in La Première. Already at my seat is a tray with Evian and a refreshing towel; a Covid travel kit with one mask, hand sanitizer gel and a sanitizing towel; and the newly designed La Première vanity kit. Slippers and a red blanked are already in the ottoman, and shortly after, the crew bring me the pyjamas in case I want to change.

The crew

The crew are friendly and attentive. Eventually we end up stuck on the aircraft for nearly two hours. First, some passengers needed to be offloaded because they didn’t have the correct travel documents, then there appeared to be some hydraulic failure with the breaks, and then we missed our slot. Throughout our wait on the ground, the crew pass through the cabin regularly, topping up drinks and making sure passengers are comfortable. Even the captain comes out of the cockpit several times to keep passengers in the La Première cabin updated about the flight’s status.

The meal

The meal service is just one of the many highlights of any journey in La Première, and this flight is no exception.

After our first hour on the ground, the crew serve the appetizer to pass the time. With the caviar there’s also a small ramekin of warm cashews and berries.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a lime and vodka whipped cream.

Eventually we take off with a delay of two hours. We depart to the West, flying straight past Le Bourget and the city of Paris to our left.

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew spring into action and start setting my table for a late lunch.

Soup: Chilled cucumber soup with aniseed and fresh goat’s cheese.

This is excellent and very refreshing. The combination of the goat’s cheese with the cucumber goes very well together to create a nicely balanced taste.

Starter: Honey and ponzu langoustines with celeriac salad, green apple and wasabi jelly.

I just love the presentation of this dish. The langoustines are flavourful and chunky, and the wasabi jelly gives the dish a nice hint of spice.

Main course: Rolled filets of sole with a tomato and verbena jus, served on Swiss chard ravioles.

This is another excellent dish. It is served with the sauce on the side and the taste is truly magnificent. I don’t know how they do it, but somehow Air France always manage to not completely ruin the taste of fish on a plane. The rolls are chewy and moist.

Salad: To conclude the first part of the meal, I have a salad of mixed leaves with smoked salmon and asparagus. The photo was taken during a brief moment of turbulence, hence the blur…

By this time, we’re already cruising over the Eastern Mediterranean, and the views are spectacular.

Cheese: Camembert, Cantal, Bleu d’Auvergne, Maroilles, and Crottin de Chavignoles. What can I say, French cheese…

Dessert: Blackcurrant and violet fresh cheese finger on a fine biscuit layer.

By the time dessert comes around, I’m already quite full. David laughs when I tell him so, but confess that my curiosity is compelling me to have something just the same. So eventually, he suggests I just try the blackcurrant cheesecake finger. And I really must say it is very good. The taste of cassis is exquisite and delicate and the biscuit is buttery rich.

To end the meal, I have some mint tea, which is served with a small box of three chocolates from the Maison du Chocolat. But I’ll save those for later.

Bedtime

David makes up my bed for the remainder of the flight. The meal service takes about two hours, so there are still four hours to go to Dubai. He asks me if he should wake me for the pre-arrival snack, but I tell him there’s no way I could eat anything more. Except maybe for that small box of chocolates…

The bedding is comfortable. A memory foam mattress is put on top of the seat to make it more comfortable. It looks a lot nicer when I return to my seat after David has finished making up the bed. But I sit down before I remember to take a picutre. My apologies!

Arrival

We land in Dubai with two hours delay. It’s gone midnight. The airport is quiet, as many operators have moved their service to the new airport temporarily while the second runway is resurfaced. A rep from Merhaba ground services is there to pick up the La Première passengers. As we step off the plane, the cabin crew point out our names to the agent, who then escorts us to the train and then, once we reach the main terminal, to the dedicated Merhaba immigration counter.

Conclusion

And that ends yet another epic Air France La Première experience. What impresses me most about Air France is the consistency of their service delivery. Sometimes, you have a great experience on a flight. But then the next time you try it, you find it significantly diminished in comparisson to what your memory suggested. But that is not the case here. Whether its their service on the ground or in the air, Air France is reliably consistent. As far as I can tell, currently their’s is the best First Class product currently available on the market. And in a month’s time I’ll have the chance to test that theory ‘scientifically’.