Air Malta – Boeing B 720B

Introduction

I am aware of the fact that for many people, the isolation that comes with social distancing is distressing and may be the cause of concern and anxiety; and by no means to I want to diminish or disregard the struggle of anyone finding it difficult to cope in the face of this unprecedented situation.

For me though, the pandemic has also had its good sides. It has certainly allowed me to slow down considerably, especially given how much travelling I was doing before the outbreak. And when I feel the need to escape the physical confines of the current situation, my happy place are the memories of the many places I have been fortunate enough to visit over the years. And of course, those memories tend to come with a very heavy dosage of airplanes and airports.

This blog post is not so much of a trip report. I’d rather avoid calling it a trip down memory lane too because that is just lame… But rather, when I went through the photos I am posting here, I kept wondering to myself ‘man, how on earth did they manage back then…?’. I like to think that in many years to come, people will look back on 2020 and think the same; and then come to the realisation that while perhaps nothing is still the same, at least it has changed for the better.

So, it’s 1987, 33 years ago. I’m a slightly awkward thirteen year-old adolescent. My face, or rather my upper lip, is covered in a dark, downy fluff which I’d like to get rid of. But rumour has it among the other boys at school that if I take my dad’s shaver to get rid of the stuff, it’ll only come back stronger, until eventually I’ll have it all over my face and will have to get rid of it on a daily basis – unless of course, I want to end up looking like captain caveman…

Buying a ticket

In 1987 the world wide web is still three years away. As such, tickets have to be purchased with a travel agent or directly with the airline by phone or by visiting one of their airport or town offices.

But at least for your efforts the airlines have the decency to provide you with a ticket wallet for your travel documents.

The airline ticket is something that exists independently of the flight booking or PNR. The ticket has a document number and a ticket number. The first three numbers are the airline designator. So in this case, 643 marks an Air Malta document. The airline ticket is a booklet with a maximum of four coupons, the passenger receipt and the audit coupon.

And yes, back in 1987 a hand-written ticket is actually quite normal, as long as the validator in the top right corner is visible. Bascally, every coupon in the ticket had a sheet of red carbon paper at the back, so what is written on the first page is printed on all subsequent pages too.

In Economy Class there are only few different booking classes, such as the APEX, PEX, SUPERPEX and Full fare. The main difference between the PEX fares and the full fare is that the fomer have a restricted validity period, for example one month from the date of original departure.

Check-in

In the absence of computers or a check-in system, in Malta at least, check-in is done completely manually. Which means that first the station prints a passenger list with all the names. Then a twin desk of counters opens for check-in, with two agents sharing large sheets of papers with small stickers on them with seat numbers. To issue the boarding pass, the check-in agent first peels off the sticker and stamps it to an empty boarding pass. Then they write down the seat assignment on the passenger list. Check-in closes when there are no stickers left or all the names have been ticked off…

The Boeing B 720

When the Maltese government decided to set up its own airline, it soon realised there was no expertise on the island to do so. Initially, the tender to support the government in setting up an airline was supposed to go to Pan Am. But then at the last moment Pakistan International Airline made a bid that was simply too good to refuse – because it also included three used Boeing B 720s. At the time, the offer faced a lot of opposition in Malta, because it was obvious that the aircraft PIA was offering Air Malta were already quite old. Even so, the Maltese government went ahead and in April of 1974, Air Malta set up operation. Later on, they would purchase two more of the type from Western Airlines to operate a total of five aircraft. The Boeing B 720 remained with Air Malta until 1989, when they were replaced with a fleet of six factory new Boeing B 737-200s.

I more or less grew up with the Boeing B 720. We lived in St. George’s bay, which is quite near the airport in Malta. The P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines were outrageously loud by today’s standard and made a very distinct noise that sounded a lot like a whistle. As such, they were rather hard to miss.

I always enjoyed the B 720 because it felt very solid, as though it was built to last. But as a child you don’t realise or understand that nothing lasts for ever. When I was young I was always keen to try out new aircraft when we travelled as a family. When Air Malta started taking delivery of the B 737s, I would always hope there would be an aircraft change and that we’d get one of those instead of the rickety old 720s. But today I must say, I really miss the aircraft.

Catering

Back in those days, catering was not one of Air Malta’s fortes, and quite frankly they could have done without asking your for beef or chicken, because most of the time it was impossible to identify what was on the tray in front of you anyway. I haven’t got any photos of Air Malta meals from back then, but I did find some interesting ‘accessories’ in my archives.

Conclusion

Air Malta is now 46 years old, like me. After the Boeing B 720 and the B 737-200 the company went on to operate the B 737-300, -400 and -700, the B 727-100 and -200, the BAe ATP, the Avro RJ70, the Airbus A 310-200, and a few wet-leased types. Right now, the company is in the process of replacing its A 320 fleet with the A 320NEO. It remains to be seen how Air Malta will weather the storm, especially given that tourism is Malta’s bread and butter and the airline’s main role is to deliver fresh tourists to the island.

The BAe ATP and the Airbus A 310 are the only two types operated by Air Malta that I never flew on with the airline. The B 737s were always fine. The Avro RJ70 was dreaful and so cramped it really was nothing short of a human rights violation. But the Boeing B 720B will always be the best of the lot. Probably not just beause it dates back to an era when airlines simply saw now need to have to pack in the tourist and could therefore afford to give passengers at least some comfort – even in Economy Class. But I also think I will always be very fond of the B 720B because I associate it with summer holidays at the beach in Malta.

Air Malta, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Malta

Airline: Air Malta
Aircraft: Airbus A 320 (previously operated by SriLankan)
From: Zürich Airport
To: Malta International Ariport
Departure: 18h15
Arrival: 20:10
Flight time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Seat: 12A, window seat on the first overwing emergency exit row on the port side

Introduction

Today I’m on my way to Malta. The big plan is to spend two weeks working on my research in peace and quiet, without any of the usual distractions at work. The first part of this journey is pretty much identical to my penultimate post on Air Europa last week, to the extent that I take the same train from my office to the airport and even check-in at the same place. Air Malta checks in with Swissport on row 3 of Check-in 2.

Given that I only recently posted two reports on Air Malta, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to post yet another. But then I realised it’s been a while since my last flight in Economy Class with Air Malta, and certainly this is my first flight since they introduced full buy on board service. So there you go.

Airside

I reach the gate at 17h05, which is the boarding time indicated on the boarding pass. My aircraft is just pulling onto the stand, having arrived in Zürich with a delay of thirty minutes.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 17h30, ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. The flight is surprisingly busy, given that it’s the low season. It’s not completely sold out, but from what I can tell there aren’t that many empty seats left.

The Cabin

I’ve reserved seat 12A, which is the window on the port side emergency exit. On the A 320 there are two exit rows. The first one is my preferred choice because it’s far enough from the next row that the guy behind you cannot poke his knobbly knees into your coccyx and the guy infront of you can’t recline because the exit row is behind them. Perfect!

As my luck would have it, the middle and aisle seats remain empty for the whole flight. So I have a whole row of three to myself.

The Crew

There are five crew on this flight and they really are excellent. They’re very laid back but still professional. One of them explains the operation of the emergency exit to the guy behind me and he tells her he’s seen this all before. Undeterred, she explains very nicely that she’s obliged to explain it to him just the same.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for hot snacks. There’s a choice of about five hot dishes on the inflight menu. Although two already sold out on the inbound to Zürich. So I decide to go with the vegan Lasagna. I’m not even that hungry, but I’m curious.

Twenty minutes later my food arrives. With that I order a Diet Kinnie and a KitKat, for a total of EUR10. The Lasagna is surprisingly not bad, considering what it is. I’ve had worse. Like on Dragon Air. Much worse. Even so, I do find EUR10 a bit steep for such a meal.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful. We land in Malta at 20h10, with a delay of only ten minutes and after a flight time of slightly less than two hours. Alas, we’re parked sufficiently far away from the terminal to warrant sending a bus to pick us up. I was hoping we’d be allowed to walk, so I could take a picture of my aircraft.

The weather is not up to Malta’s usual standards, unfortunately. It’s only about 15 degrees Celsius and overcast. But at least it’s not raining and it’s still 15 degrees warmer than Zürich when we departed this evening.

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Zürich

The weather here in Malta has been lovely all week, with cloudless blue skies and a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

But it’s time to head back to Switzerland and the cold.

Getting to the Airport

I check out of The Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana at noon. The next bus to the airport will be the 12:35 X4, which leaves from the B pier of the main terminus. The B and C piers are located in St. James’ ditch, below what used to be Duke of York Avenue.

The X4 bus has a luggage rack, which is really convenient, because the bus continues all the way to Birzebbuga in the south and therefore tends to get very full.

Despite the fairly reliable public transport service, traffic in Malta continues to get worse. The journey to the airport takes 35 minutes to cover a distance of 7 kilometres.

As such, by the time I arrive at the airport, it’s already 13:15 and the flight will start boarding at 13:55.

Check-in

The check-in area is quite busy, with the Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights leaving around the same time as the flight to Zürich.

Security is well organised and quick. But the airside lounge is definitely getting too small for the amount of traffic the airport handles. It feels cramped and crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts just after 14h. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.

More importantly though, we’ll be boarding via stairs and without a bus. So loads of opportunities for me to geek-out about an aeroplane. I can just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll…

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers. However, there are only two other passengers with me in the forward cabin today.

There’s something charmingly old-fashioned and typically Maltese about the cabin of this aircraft – from the pictures of Malta on the bulkheads, to the nicely padded seats that will all be a thing of the past with the change over to the NEO.

Service on the ground consists of the distribution of newspapers and a welcome drink.

It’s a lovely, warm day with good visibility. We take off towards the northwest and fly the full length of Malta, before making a right turn to point us in the direction of Palermo.

The Meal

Once the crew is released, the service starts with the distribution of the unscented hot towels. This is followed immediately by the meal service.

Everything is served on one tray.

The main course is a caesar salad of sorts with three slices of chicken breast.

This is served with warm bread and a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico.

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

The meal is nice enough. And especially the mousse is very rich and creamy!

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

The flight time today is two hours and twenty minutes, which is quite long for this route. But at least the views are great and the Alps look spectacular.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Zürich at 16:54. By 17:09 I’m already on the train on my way home.

Things are rapidly changing for Air Malta. Already today they are no longer the largest carrier to the island of Malta and take second place behind Ryanair.

But at least, with the minister of transport and tourism resigning this week over claims of corruption, there is hope the government will stop its constant meddling and interference in how Air Malta should be run.

One way or another though, if Air Malta wants to stay competitive, it seems to me they still have a way to go, particularly when it comes to their website and reliably making a purchase for ancillary services via airmalta.com.

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320NEO: London Heathrow to Malta

Introduction

My flight to Malta will be departing at 11:25. I check on flightradar24 for the whereabouts of my aircraft. It looks as though the inbound from Malta will be on time.

Today’s flight is special for two reasons: first of all, because today I’m finally getting my cherry popped, so to speak, because it’s my first time ever on a NEO. And secondly, this will be my first flight with Air Malta since the introduction of their new Business Class catering.

Check-in

In Heathrow, Air Malta serves Terminal 4. They check-in on row H.

There are three check-in counters open. Two for Economy Class and one for Business Class passengers.

The Lounge

Air Malta uses The House Lounge, which previously belonged to Etihad Airways. The lounge is located one floor down from the SkyTeam lounge and the entrance is near gate 10.

There are only few passengers in the lounge at this time of day.

The lounge is rather nice and even has a separate dining area, where you can have food from the buffet or à la carte menu.

Washrooms and showers are also available in the lounge.

Boarding

The flight is boarding from gate 20, which is a bitch to take pictures of the aircraft from…

I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but boarding is chaos. The flight is totally sold out and they’ve screwed up most people’s advanced seat reservations.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 1F. The cabin on the NEO has new seats installed that are thinner than those on the rest of the fleet.

Red is an interesting colour to pick for the seat covers, but I think they manage to pull it off.

Seat pitch is great on row 1. The middle seat is kept empty and there are electricity plugs too. On today’s flight there are 6 rows of Business Class for a total of 24 seats. And the cabin is sold out!

Service on the ground starts with a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice or water for a welcome drink and the distribution of newspapers.

Departure is at 12:40 and the flight time is two hours and 50 minutes. The one thing I do notice about the NEO, is that it’s very quiet on take-off.

The Meal

As soon as the cabin crew is released, the service for the meal starts. First the crew take orders for drinks. I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon.

Next the menu is distributed, which seems a bit unnecessary, seeing as there are no choices anyway except for the dessert.

Ahead of the meal, hot towels are handed out.

First Course

The new Business Class product is quite nice, I think, and captures the feel of the Maltese islands well. The tray is served with the first course, olive oil and warm bread on it.

The presentation of the meal is nice. But the quality of the food is not all that good. The starter is smoked salmon tartar with crème fraîche.

Main Course

Once I’m done with the starter, the dish is removed and the main course is served. This is veal filled with a chicken and cheese stuffing. It’s quite okay. Sorry about the photo. I had already started to dig in before I remembered to take a picture…

And finally, for dessert I go with the fruit.

The service is by individual tray. So there is no trolley in the aisle. While I generally agree that this is a nicer way to present the food, I also think today’s flight shows that it’s unsuitable for a full cabin: the crew are walking up and down the aisle throughout the meal service, bringing or removing things. As a result, there’s constantly foot traffic in the cabin during the meal service.

Drinks are rather difficult to come by on this flight. And the crew are not proactively offering to replenish drinks Either. Even so, about 90 minutes into the flight, they run out of sparkling water and Coke Zero.

Arrival

But the flight passes quickly, and eventually we land at 15:30. It’s certainly warmer here!

Conclusion

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of today’s experience. On the one hand, I think Air Malta is desperately tring to set itself apart from the low-cost competition. But at the same time, their whole new Business Class concept lacks focus and quality. First of all, there’s the issue of the seat reservations, which they made a mess of. If you’re going to offer the service, then commit to it. If you can’t do that, then just drop it. Furthermore, now that it’s buy on board in Economy Class on Air Malta, there really is no reason why they had to introduce a fancier Business Class product. And even that is done half-heartedly. The drinks running out in mid-flight is just strange and unprofessional.

Air Malta, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Frankfurt

Introduction

So eventually the marathon had to be cancelled because of the storm. And what a storm it was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. On Sunday morning I fire up the flightradar24 app just for the fun of watching one aircraft after another executing a missed approach and coming around for a second attempt – and hoping the weather will have calmed down by the time my flight to Frankfurt leaves at 16h25…

Getting to the Airport

I leave the Hilton in St. Julian’s at around 14h20. The trip to the airport normally only takes about twenty minutes in good traffic. But given the weather situation, god knows what might happen on the way. And indeed, I do pass a car accident on the road, that was caused by a falling tree.

Check-in

There are now multipurpose machines for check-in at Malta Airport. However, seeing as I’ll have to go to a manned check-in counter anyway to pick up my invitation to the La Valette lounge, I figure I might as well go to the counter straight away.

In front of me at the dedicated Business Class counter is an Economy Class passenger who is refusing to pay for his checked luggage. But he obviously picked the wrong young lady in an Air Malta uniform, because she’s obviously not having any of his nonsense. It’s quite funny to watch. Eventually, she moves him aside and tells him she needs to check in some passengers while he decided what he wants to do. But clearly, she’s not going to give him an inch…

The Lounge

The departure lounge at the airport has become too small for the amount of traffic it handles. There are people everywhere and barely enough places to sit. Although of course there are also those who just sit on the floor out of principle, because they’re just so unconventional…

Thank god I have access to the Business Class lounge… which turns out to be unusually busy. Even so, I like this lounge, it ticks all the boxes: good views of the apron, comfortable seating and a small but nice food selection (Kinnie and pastizzi, what else…).

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. All the flights are running just a little bit late today, mainly because most of them have had to do a go around on the inbound. The distance to the plane is only a short one to walk. But it’s started to rain again, so I must say I’m rather glad when I see a bus pulling up at our gate to take us to the aircraft.

The Cabin

There are just a few minor oddities in this cabin. At a glance, it looks like your regular Air Malta cabin. However, first I notice that there is no cabin divider and no other sign to mark off the Business Class section of the aircraft from the Economy Class section, other than the headrest covers. Secondly, the seats are different. Previously, the first few rows of seats were installed with a small table between the aisle and the window seat which folded away into the back of the middle seat to convert the seat into an Economy Class configuration. But that does not seem to be the case here.

Initially, I’m seated on 1D, the aisle seat. But once boarding is completed, it becomes clear that there are three rows of Business Class for only three Business Class passengers. So I move back to 2F for a seat by the window.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on the flight. Two men and two women. The service on the ground is done by the younger one of the females, while the main service during the flight is done by the maître de. The latter is very attentive. Throughout the meal service she’s prowling the cabin. No sooner has a passenger finished their meal, she removes the tray and asks about tea or coffee.

While we’re still on the ground, the crew offer still water or orange juice as a welcome drink. They also pass through the cabin with copies of the Sunday Times of Malta.

The flight time is announced as two hours and thirty minutes. What’s more, for the very first time in my life, we’ll be departing from runway 05. This is the first runway that was ever built for the original airport after World War II. It’s only 2300 metres long and therefore only used nowadays when the wind makes it necessary. Like today.

Our take-off is surprisingly calm. It’s only bumpy for the first minute or so. As we climb out over the coast, the sea still looks really rough and quite violent.

The fasten seat belt sign is turned off only once we settle into the cruise at 34’000 feet. The crew pass through the cabin taking orders for pre-meal drinks and distributing hot towels. Of course it goes without saying that I have a Kinnie.

The Meal

Much to my surprise and delight, Air Malta offers a hot meal on its service to Frankfurt. The service consists of:

First Course

Tomato and Mozzarella salad with spinach, black olives and olive oil.

Main Course

Chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with polenta and steamed vegetables.

The Cheese

A slice of Camembert, Cheddar and Gbejna, served with two warm rolls. Gbejna is a Maltese goat cheese.

Dessert

Coconut cake with a thin layer of cream and strawberry jam.

And to conclude, I have a cup of black tea.

Once that’s over, it’s really not as though I haven’t had enough food. But I give in to my craving – which sounds so much nicer than compulsion – and buy myself a packet of Twistees from the inflight shop. Twistees are just one of those things I remember from my childhood in Malta. I don’t think you can get them anywhere else than Malta, which is why they are so closely linked to my childhood in my mind.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Frankfurt at 19h25. By the time we pull up to our assigned stand, it’s just gone 19h30 and I now have one hour to make the connection to Basel.

Air Malta, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Zürich

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Introduction

June is probably one of the best months to visit the Maltese archipelago. The weather is already reliably and consistently warm but without the oppressive and stifling heat of July and August, when temperatures peak in the upper thirties and have even been known to exceed the forties. In contrast, the sea is already warm enough to swim in, while the beaches are still far form being too crowded.

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As luck would have it, it was decided that this year’s user group meeting and a workshop on language test item development would be held in Malta in June. All in all, the meeting went well. Encouraged by the lovely weather on the island, the course participants were very efficient and disciplined in their work – obviously keen to finish on time every day so they would still have enough time to explore the sights and sounds of Malta.

And I even managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach at Mellieha bay, thanks to the meeting ending early and the stupendous driving skills of the valiant M., who joined me on this trip.

Getting to the Airport

The journey by car from Valletta to the airport normally takes about twenty minutes, depending on traffic. Or seven minutes if the valiant M. is driving and making an impressive effort to blend in with the natives, mainly by adapting his style of driving to that of the locals.

Alternatively, you can also take the bus for EUR1.50. The driving is still crazy but at least the busses are slower, making the journey in roughly thirty minutes. The busses are fairly frequent and the service is quite reliable these days. Busses depart from the terminus right outside the city gate in Valletta.

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Check-in

There is one dedicated check-in counter for Club Class passengers and check-in is possible up to 23 hours before departure. The young lady working the desk is unusually efficient. She issues my boarding pass, tags my luggage for priority and hands me an invitation to the La Valette lounge, which is the only lounge at Malta airport.

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The terminal is currently undergoing expansion to cope with the increased number of additional passengers. As a result, there’s a bit of a detour right now for security. But at least the detour is clearly signposted (Are you reading this Vienna airport?).

There is a dedicated queue for premium passengers. Once I’m airside, I head for the lounge.

The Lounge

The La Valette lounge was recently relocated. To access the lounge you have to walk through the duty free store, past the cashiers and then take a sharp left. You should then end up standing in from of a lift that will take you up to the lounge’s entrance on the third floor.

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The lounge is very nicely designed and there is even a fairly large open air seating area in the lounge. Although with the sweltering heat I’m not sure who in his right mind would want to sit outside. The place is also much bigger than the previous lounge.

The food offerings are good and include a wide range of local snacks. Most importantly though, the lounge has an excellent view of the apron.

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Boarding

Boarding is via a bus. Our flight today is operated by a fairly new addition to the Air Malta fleet which only joined the airline in April of 2017. The aircraft is wearing hybrid colours of sorts, with a white hull and red engine cowlings. The only marking I can see is a small ‘Air Malta’ sticker next to the L1 door. Interestingly, unlike the other aircraft in the Air Malta fleet, which all have CFM56 engines, this specimen is equipped with the V2500.

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The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is nearly identical with the rest of the Air Malta fleet. But not entirely. The seats and carpets are the same but the bulkhead looks different and also provides more leg space. And there is no cabin divider to separate the Club Class and Economy Class cabins. This turns out to be rather irritating immediately after take-off, when seemingly half the aircraft a) decide now would be a good time to go to the loo and b) fail to realise that there are in fact two perfectly functional loos in the rear of the aircraft.

There are four females on this aircraft and they really are excellent. Especially the purser Joyce is very charming and personable. They take their time to chat with the passengers during the service and they’re very proactive in their service delivery – for example offering to bring down my backpack from the overhead lockers after take-off without me even asking.

I’m also quite surprised that they make their announcements in Maltese, English and in German.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of newspapers and either juice or water for a welcome drink. The hot towels they used to provide appear to have fallen by the wayside. Instead, there is a pre-packed scented cold towel on the tray with the food.

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Mellieha Bay
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The Meal

The meal service starts with a drinks round. Of course I have a Kinnie with ice and lemon.

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The meal service hasn’t changed much since my last trip with Air Malta. Only the menu is different. The main course consists of a plate of roast beef with crumbled Gorgonzola and a skewer of tomato and mozzarella on a creamy mustard seed dressing. There is a dish with three different types and cheese and also a profiterole filled with some sort of nutty cream. There are also two warm buns with butter on the tray and during the meal service the crew come by twice offering more bread and butter.

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The meal is good and hits the spot nicely, although on a flight of over two hours I think a hot meal would not be too much to ask.

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I have two cups of coffee at the end of the meal. But even so, I’m so exhausted that I doze off immediately once the tray is removed and I don’t wake up until the aircraft rolls onto stand and comes to a halt at the gate.

Arrival

We land in Zürich with a delay of roughly thirty minutes, which was caused by a problem starting up the engines when we were still in Malta and that needed to be looked at by Air Malta’s ground engineers. But apart from that, this was a really nice flight and even the valiant M. is feeling generous and willing to give Air Malta ten out of ten for the on board experience!

Conclusion

As the financial problems at Air Malta continue, the carrier’s future hangs in the balance. The government has announced that in two weeks time a new strategic plan will be presented to the unions for review. Air Malta is a nice little airline and I think it would be a shame to see them go. But to be honest, I won’t hold my breath for their new strategy if it is driven by the government, when in fact Air Malta’s biggest problem has always been the government’s persistent and incessant interference.

– William

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Zürich

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Date: 14. July 2016
Departure: 14:35
Arrival: 17:00
Flight time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Seat: 3A, window on the port side

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Introduction

Our stay in Malta has been a very relaxing and enjoyable one. The weather has held up beautifully, with temperatures in the range of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. To be honest though, I really do not think I handle the heat very well, and I am looking forward to returning home to Switzerland, where the temperature should be cooler.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Rented car.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Cost: EUR160 for three whole days, including fuel.

We leave Valletta just after noon. The easiest way to get around Malta is by rented car. However, if you are staying in Valletta, finding a place to park can be a problem. There is a large underground parking just outside city gate, and parking your car there will cost you EUR5 for 24 hours.

Check-in

Location: The departures concourse is to the left of the terminal when you are looking at it with the car park behind you.
Facilities: Web check-in, mobile check-in or check-in at the airport.
Counters: Dedicated Air Malta counters. There are separate counters for Club Class passengers and for baggage drop.

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The Lounge

Location: As you come up the escalators from security, you first pass through the duty free shop. The La Vallette lounge is on the right side of the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge:
La Vallette contractor lounge. If you have lounge access, you are also entitled to use the fast track for security.
Facilities:
Toilets but no showers, work stations with Mac computers, a selection of magazines.
Catering: A good selection of hot and cold dishes with a decidedly Maltese flavour – things like hobz biz-zejt, pastizzi, etc.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge. The password is shown at various locations in the lounge and is hard to miss.

Boarding

There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers. Boarding starts on time. There is a short queue for Economy Class, but it is obvious that the flight is not going to be full today. There are no contact stands in Malta, so what ever happens, you will board the aircraft via the stairs, which gives you the opportunity to take some good pictures of the aircraft you are travelling on.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 configuration, the middle seat is kept empty.
Seat: There are four rows of Business Class on the flight today, which makes for a total of 16 seats all together. Nine of the seats are occupied today. Initially, I am on 3C, which is the aisle seat on the starboard side. But once it transpires that the Business Class cabin will not be full, I shift to 3A, the window seat on the port side. The aircraft has a maximum seating capacity of 180.
Pitch: –
Width:

Audio and Video: Overhead dropdown screens showing the safety on board video and the moving map.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on the flight today and they all seem rather friendly. As we take our seats, one of the cabin crew passes through the cabin offering passengers the Times of Malta to read. The purser is an elderly gentleman, and I am somewhat surprised to hear him making the welcome on board announcement in rather good German.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice or water.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Selection from the bar, I have Kinnie of course.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  1. Antipasti plate with feta cheese rolled in zucchini, smoked meat, shrimps and smoked salmon with aubergine, peppers, olive, fennel and salad.
  2. A selection of cheese.
  3. Apple pie.
  4. Two rolls with butter.
  5. Tea or coffee.
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The meal is light and tasty, especially the salmon is very good and does not taste at all fishy. The apple pie for dessert is fruity and makes an interesting change to the usual creamy desserts they normally serve on planes.

Arrival

As we approach our destination, the weather outside starts to deteriorate. The captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that the expected temperature on arrival in Zürich will be 14 degrees Celsius, 20 degrees colder than it was when we left Malta earlier this afternoon. And it is raining.

There is a bit of a hold up as we fly around a number of nasty looking build ups along the way. Eventually we land with a delay of about twenty minutes. I step off the plane and I must admit, it really is quite chilly. But I am not complaining…

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Air Malta, Business Class – A 319: Malta to Zürich

KM to ZRH

Introduction

Those of you living in central Europe, for example in a place like Switzerland, will be quite familiar with those long stretched of bleak autumn grey. Weeks of endless, cold misty grey and rain. There are days when it will just rain perpetually – a light, gentle drizzle.

But Malta is not like that. Definitely not. The air cools down to a more balmy, temperate sensation and there may be occasional bouts of rain. But when that happens, when it rains… My God, how it rains. Short outbursts of just a few minutes, but with such a force and in such copious amounts have the island submerged in water in no time.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 35 minutes.
Fare: EUR21.-

My flight back to Zürich is leaving at 14h20. Normally I would have taken the X2 bus, which runs directly from St. Julian’s to the airport. But there another vicious downpour happening outside and so I decide to take a taxi instead.

By car the journey should normally only take about 20 minutes from St. Julian’s to the airport. But not today. With the heavy rain there has been during the night, a wall somewhere along the main artery that connects the south and the north has collapsed, and so we have to make a slight detour.

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Check-in

Location: Check-in is on the first floor.
Facilities: Online check-in and airport check-in. There is no Air Malta app.
Counters: The airport is very busy when I arrive. Alitalia, Lufthansa and Emirates are all check-in their flights and there are quite a few Air Malta flights departing around the same time as well. Fortunately, there are two dedicated Club Class and Diamond member check-in counters.

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The check-in agent labels my suitcase, and hands me my boarding pass. He also writes up an invitation to the La Valette Business Class lounge. The lounge invitation will also give you access to the priority lane at security.

The Lounge

Location: Airside, behind the duty-fee shop.
Type of Lounge:
La Valette contractor lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets but no showers, four work stations with Mac Computers, newspapers, buffet with hot and cold snacks and drinks.
Internet:
Free wifi is available in the lounge.

This is the only lounge facility in the terminal. As a result, the place has a fairly good occupancy when I arrive. What I like about this lounge is that it is very well kept. There is enough cleaning staff at hand to ensure that tables are cleared and cleaned. It is also a nice place to grab a last taste of Malta and have a glass of Kinnie, Hobz biz-Zejt or Ftira filled with tuna.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers, but seeing as we will be taking a bus to the aircraft anyway, I figure there is not much point in using the priority lane.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 (European Business Class configuration with the middle seat left empty)
Seat: On Air Malta, there is a tray in the back of the middle seat, which is folded down in the Business Class configuration. The idea is that you can then raise the armrest on that side of your own seat to give you a bit more width. The height of the headrest is adjustable. The recline is good.
Audio and Video: Available, but only used for the safety briefing on this flight.

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. Seven of the seats are occupied on today’s flight.

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The service begins with a choice of orange juice or water as a welcome drink. This is followed by the newspaper service. There is a choice of two Maltese dailies, including the Time of Malta.

After departure, a hot towel is served ahead of the start of the meal service.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Kinnie with lemon and ice.
Choice:
There is no choice for the main meal. However, snacks are available for purchase after the main meal service is over.
Delivery:
Individual tray service, no trolleys.
Type of meal:
Light dinner.
Meal:

  1. Tomato and Mozzarella salad with a pesto sauce
  2. A few slices of some smoked meet with salad leaves.
  3. A plate of fresh cheese with melon and mint.
  4. Cream caramel.
  5. Bread and butter
  6. Coffee

The meal is tasty enough, although I do not touch the smoked meat. As I get older I find I am eating less meat. The flight passes quickly and quietly, and there is a very comfortable and lazy atmosphere in the cabin.

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Arrival

We are lucky today. It is a beautiful day here in Switzerland, and so we are treated to a magnificent view of the Alps as we start our descent into Zürich. The airport is fairly busy, and so there is a bit of a hold up for our luggage to arrive, despite the fact that is was priority tagged in Malta.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Train.
Departs from: Railway station in the basement of the airport.
Journey time: Roughly every 30 minutes.
Fare: CHF38.- for a one-way ticket.
With my suitcase arriving so late, I just manage to miss the airport train to Basel, which runs every hour and departs from Zürich airport at four minutes past the hour. So instead I take a train to Zürich main station, from where there are four trains to Basel every hour.

Air Malta, Business Class – A 319: Zürich to Malta

KM to MLA

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Departs from: Winterthur main railway station.
Frequency: Nonstop trains run every thirty minutes.
Journey time: 13 minutes.

I leave the office at 15h45 to catch the train at 15h55. My flight to Malta will be leaving at 17h40, which should give me enough time. There is another train at 15h58, which is a good thing because on this particular occasion I actually manage to miss the earlier train.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 2, row 3.
Facilities: Online check-in and airport check-in. There is no Air Malta app.
Counters: Air Malta checks in on row 3, which is where the multipurpose counters of handling agent Swissport are located. There is a dedicated Business Class counter, At this time of day the whole place is pretty deserted and there are no other passengers checking in.

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While the agent is tagging my suitcase, another Swissport agent walks up to the counter and asks him what the seat load for the Air Malta flight is. Apparently, the flight was originally overbooked. However, there are quite a few no-shows and so, only 128 of the 141 seats are occupied. Still, considering that it is the end of October and the holiday season is over, it is not a bad load.

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The Lounge

Location: Airside, turn right as you exit from the duty-free shop.
Type of Lounge:
Swiss International Air Lines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Limited seating area, toilets and showers on the premises, two buffets.
Internet:
Free wifi is available throughout the terminal.

Crap! Of all the lounges at Zürich airport, Air Malta had to choose the SWISS one for its Business Class passengers. What a rat hole! The place is completely packed when I arrive and it is standing room only. The buffet looks as though a bomb just went off and there are empty glasses, dishes and bottles everywhere. But it is not just that the place is far from being tidy, it is also starting to look shabby and I think most of that has to do with the fact that the lounge is a) way too small for all the passengers it is supposed to hold, and b) I think SWISS’ branding is starting to look tired and worn.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time. There is a bit of a scrum once the boarding announcement is made, so I wait for the mad rush to subside before I make my way on board the aircraft.

I am greeted at the door by a charming young lady who is all smiles, and an older gentleman who later turns out to be the purser. He seems to be in a good mood, chatting and joking with the passengers as they board the aircraft. He takes a look at my boarding pass and makes a point of addressing me in Maltese.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 (European Business Class configuration with the middle seat left empty).
Seat: 1F, window on the right side of the aircraft. On Air Malta, there is a tray in the back of the middle seat, which is folded down in the Business Class configuration. The idea is that you can then raise the armrest on that side of your own seat to give you a bit more width. The height of the headrest is adjustable. The recline is good.
Audio and Video: Available, but only used for the safety briefing on this flight.

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. Five of the seats are occupied on tonight’s flight.

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The service begins with a choice of orange juice or water as a welcome drink. This is followed by the newspaper service. There is a choice of two Maltese dailies, including the Time of Malta.

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After departure, a hot towel is served ahead of the start of the meal service.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Kinnie with lemon and ice.
Choice:
There is no choice for the main meal. However, snacks are available for purchase after the main meal service is over.
Delivery:
Individual tray service, no trolleys.
Type of meal:
Light dinner.
Meal:

  1. Salad with black olives and grilled artichoke hearts with slices of chicken breast and tomato.
  2. Cheese platter.
  3. Chocolate fudge cake.
  4. Bread and butter
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It is just a light meal that Air Malta serves and it is perfectly adequate given the duration of the flight. Especially the chocolate fudge cake is very tasty. My only complaint about the food in Air Malta Business Class is that it tends to be slightly repetitive and they do not seem to change the menus very often.

After the meal I order a packet of Twistees from the on board menu. Twistees are Malta’s answer to Pringles. It is rather difficult to describe the taste of Twistees, and to be honest, I am not even entirely sure what they are made of…

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Arrival

The airport is fairly quiet when we arrive. Nothing much has changed since my last visit over a year ago. And it is just so nice to be able to deplane without a jacket and not feel cold, when back in Zürich is was decidedly chilly when we departed.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Taxi.
Departs from: Outside the arrivals hall.
Journey time: About 25 minutes.
Fare: EUR21.

Maltese taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off innocent, unsuspecting tourist. That is why they introduced an interesting system at the airport a few years back. In order to get an official taxi, you have to proceed to the official taxi counter first, where there is a price list with most towns and hotels on it. You tell the agent at the counter where you are heading and pay the fare at the counter. You are then given a ticket, which is then assigned to a specific driver.

On this trip, I shall be staying at the Hilton in St. Julian’s, mainly because the Phoenicia, where I normally stay, is currently under renovation. The Hilton is ideally located right on the rocks, overlooking the seat. It was still warm enough to sleep with the balcony door open. There is something very soothing about falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks.

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Air Malta, Club Class – A 319: Malta to Zürich

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Getting to the Airport

Means of transport: bus
Fare: EUR1.50
Journey time: ca. 20 minutes, depending on traffic
Frequency: a mystery – the bus lines X4, X5 and X7 all run via different routes from Valletta to the airport

The development of Maltese public transport over the last few years is a bit of a saga. If, like me, you only visit the island occasionally and only catch a glimpse of what’s going on in the news, then it all seems like rather an entertaining comedy. If however, you live in Malta and have to deal with public transport on a daily basis, then it’s probably more like a tragedy.

Up until 2011 Malta operated a fleet of ancient buses. The buses were privately owned and operated on behalf of what was then the Malta Transport Authority. Back then, every town and village had its own dedicated bus line with a direct service to Valletta. The service was highly unreliable to say the least, the buses had no air conditioning and, more often than not, didn’t even have doors either. The fare was something of a gamble. Of course the service was dirt cheap officially, but if you looked remotely foreign you could be sure to get ripped off in a big way. There was general consent among the populace that really only the taxi drivers were more lowly than the bus drivers.

And then came Arriva. The bus service was privatised and promised to be better and faster. Suddenly the drivers wore uniforms with a shirt and tie, the buses had air conditioning and there was even something remotely resembling a schedule. At the time, knowing that as a rule the Maltese are an unruly lot, I wondered how long the new regime would last. Alas, the novelty quickly wore off.

Journey times increased because instead of taking the most direct routing to the terminus in Valletta, Arriva set up a series of hubs and interchanges around the island and merged some of the thinner routes. Then there was a series of accidents because the bendy buses proved too big for many of Malta’s narrow roads and ended up causing major damage to roads and buildings. Oh yes, and then there was also a series of buses catching fire in mid-journey, because the air conditioning couldn’t cope with the hot Maltese summer.

Eventually Arriva was kindly asked to leave Malta as quickly as possible and the service was temporarily returned into the hands and responsibility of the government. This could only go horribly wrong – and did.

And now it’s Sunday noon and I’m standing at the bus stop in Valletta, waiting for the bus driver to return from his break to take me to the airport. Apparently the previous bus that should have left ten minutes previously never showed up – not that anybody seems to notice or care. The uniforms, shirt and tie have disappeared and the driver is wearing shorts and a white t-shirt. Are those flip flops he’s got on?

I walk up to him and tell him I need a ticket to the airport. I speak in Maltese, hoping that this might make him think twice about ripping me off. Much to my surprise though, the complete opposite happens and instead of overpricing, he simply explains that he can’t be bothered to switch on the ticket machine. I thank him for a loss of anything else to say. As I take a seat it dawns on me that we’re really back to square one.

Check-in

Facilities: on flights departing from Malta, Air Malta offers web check-in, mobile check-in and airport check-in
Dedicated counters: there are dedicated counters for Club Class passengers and upper tier members of Air Malta’s frequent flyer programme

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The airport is quite busy when I arrive. After all, this is the busy summer season. I walk up to the check-in desk where a young lady first greets me in English, before switching to Maltese when she sees my passport. She prints my boarding pass and issues an invitation to the La Valette Business Class lounge. The invitation also gives you access to the priority lane for the security check.

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The Lounge

Type of lounge: La Valette contractor lounge
Facilities: toilets, business centre with Apple computers and a printer/fax
Wifi: available for free, there is a password
Food: an interesting selection of Maltese foods, like ftira with tuna, bigilla dip, and hobz biz-zejt

The lounge has been extended recently. I think it looks rather good and there are a few nice touches, like the lamps made out of colourful Malta Glass. What’s more, the food selection in the lounge is really good, with an interesting range of hot and cold snacks.

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No boarding calls are made in the lounge.

Boarding

At 13:55 my flight shows up as ‘boarding’ so I collect my stuff and make my way to gate five, from where the flight will be leaving. Just as I exit the lounge they’re already making the final call for the flight. Either somebody’s in a hurry or the flight really is not very full. As it turns out later on, there are 108 passengers on today’s flight.

From gate five we’re bussed to the aircraft. It’s a lovely day and once we pull up next to our Airbus A 319 I let all the other passengers disembark so I can take some pictures.

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The Cabin

There are three rows of Club Class, with a total of twelve seats. There are four passengers seated in Club and I notice there is a blanket and pillow available for every passenger.

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The Crew

Literally the moment I sit down a young man appears with a tray of drinks. He welcomes me on board and offers me a glass of orange juice. He vanishes into the galley and reappears a moment later with the Sunday Times of Malta. He also tells me there are Maltese language papers available as well if I’d prefer one of those instead.

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The purser on this flight is a woman in her late thirties and she’s truly quite amazing. She makes all the announcements live in Maltese, English and nearly flawless German – apart from an obvious, heavy Semitic accent. She’s also very proactive in taking care of the passengers: originally there is a gentleman sitting next to me on the aisle on 2D. As soon as boarding is completed, the purser comes along and informs us that we’re free to move around and change seats as we please. Later on, she notices one passenger reading and switches the overhead reading light on for him.

We take off in a northerly direction. As we climb out we get some good views of Malta from above. From where I’m sitting you can also see the writing on the inner side of the cowling very well.

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The Meal

Pre meal drink: yes
Type of service: individual tray service
Menu: no menus are provided
Choice: there is no choice available
Meal:

  1. a plate of cheese (Red Leicester, Gorgonzola and a goat’s cheese) with dried apricot, prune, grape and cucumber
  2. Cold breast of chicken in breadcrumbs with Salade Niçoise
  3. Two buns
  4. Strawberry mouse with chocolate flakes

Once the seatbelt sign is turned off, the purser comes through the cabin taking orders for the pre meal drinks. Of course I ask for a Kinnie, which is brought to me with a slice of lemon in it.

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Before the meal scented hot towels are distributed.

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The trays are served individually and I’m delighted to see it’s a different meal to the one I had on the outbound. The service remains attentive, with the crew regularly checking up on us to make sure the passengers have everything they need.

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A cup of coffee rounds off the meal, my tray is removed and I doze off. When I wake up again we’ve already crossed the Alps and we’re descending towards Zürich.

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Arrival

Not bad at all. At 16:41 the main landing gear makes contact with runway 16 and the thrust reversers open to slow us down. Eventually we come to a stop at the very last gate at the far end of the A dock. At 17:00 I’m already sitting on the train to Basel, with four minutes to go before we start. Tragically, I’ll be back at Zürich Airport in about eighteen hours.