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

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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

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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.

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

Folie1

Introduction

My last meeting in the office comes to a happy end just after 15:30. In just over two hours my flight to Malta will be leaving. It’s been quite a while since my last trip home, mainly due to the fact that I’ve been travelling around so much for work lately that I haven’t really had the time – nor the desire – to get on a plane again in my private time as well. But the semester is now finally over, the exams have been duly corrected and so I think I’ll be off.

Getting to the Airport

Mode of Transport: train
Journey Time: ca. 10 minutes
Price:
Leaves from: Winterthur
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen
Frequency: there are five trains an hour, four of which are nonstop

I catch the train at 15:58, arriving at Zürich Airport just after 16h. In about an hour’s time my flight to Malta will be boarding, which gives me enough time to go get myself some Euros before heading airside. On my way to security I decide to walk through the new check-in area in Terminal B or whatever it’s called nowadays, and I’m rather surprised to find the place deserted, despite the fact that the school holidays started in many parts of Switzerland last weekend. DNATA isn’t checking in a single flight on row 1 and Swissport on row 4 doesn’t look much busier either.

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Check-in

Handling agent: Swissport
Location: row 4
Facilities: there is one dedicated queue for Business Class passengers

Air Malta doesn’t have an app. However, you can check-in online. If you’re checking in for the flight from Switzerland, the Air Malta website will redirect you to the Swissport check-in page, which works very well.

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The Lounge

Type of Lounge: Swiss International Air Lines Business Class lounge
Location: upper level of the airside centre – turn right as you exit the duty free shop behind security

Presumably because the flight to Malta is operated as a code-share with SWISS, Air Malta uses the SWISS lounge in Zürich. Today though, I decide to give the lounge a miss. First of all because I only have another 15 minutes to wait before boarding starts, and secondly because I really don’t think I’m missing much by not using the SWISS lounge, which is always very crowded.

Incidentally, if you book the flight on the Air Malta website it will normally be about CHF100 or so cheaper than on the SWISS website. Even so, if you check-in on the SWISS website, you will be checked in on the LX flight number and if you enter your Senator number you will be entitled to access the Senator lounge.

In any case, my ride to Malta is just pulling onto stand as I reach the gate. I really must say I wasn’t much of a fan of the new livery when I first saw it, but slowly it’s beginning to grow on me. At least it’s different!

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Boarding

Only one call for boarding is made and there is no special queue for Business Class passengers or members of the frequently flyer programme Flypass. By the looks of it, today’s flight is going to be full. Later on when the gate agent brings the load sheet she mentions a total of 136 passengers, which is pretty good for our little Airbus A 319.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: standard European Economy Class with the middle seat left empty. The back of the middle seat folds down to provide an additional stowage area
Facilities: none
Audio and video: audio and video are available, but on today’s flight only the moving map and flight information are available

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The Crew

There are four cabin crew on today’s flight – three middle aged females and one younger male. All of them are very friendly and courteous in the way they treat the passengers. We’re six in total in Business Class today and I notice the crew have obviously done their homework and gone through the passenger list: I’m addressed in Maltese and by my family name by the crew, which is always a nice touch.

Announcements are made live in English and Maltese, with additional pre recorded messages in German. Our captain today is female. She makes a point of making her announcements in Maltese and English and keeps us updated on our progress throughout the flight.

Service begins with the distribution of the Times of Malta while we’re still on the ground. Next there’s a welcome drink with a choice of water or orange juice.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: yes, orange juice
Hot towel before the meal: yes, not scented
Pre meal drink: no
Choice: no
Delivery: individual tray service
Type of meal: light supper, cold meal
Menu:

  1. salmon tartar
  2. grilled aubergine and bell pepper with a dressing of pine nuts and parmesan shavings
  3. two bread rolls
  4. cheese plate with three different cheeses, including the typically Maltese Gbejna
  5. sponge cake with cherries
  6. hot and cold drinks

It takes a while for the crew to be released as it’s quite a bumpy ride and takes us a while to clear the clouds. The service eventually begins with the distribution of hot towels.

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Since I last flew Air Malta Business Class in November 2013 they appear to have changed their menu. The meal is adequately portioned for the duration of the flight and the day time of the flight. It’s also surprisingly tasty, although I will admit that may have something to do with the fact that I skipped lunch today.

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To drink I have a Kinnie and throughout the meal service the crew make sure all passengers are sufficiently hydrated and satisfied. It’s little things that set a good crew apart. As the cabin crew come to remove the trays after the meal they make a point of asking each passenger if perhaps they’d like another drink or if there’s anything else they need.

Arrival

Our routing today takes us from Zürich across the Alps to Genova, from where we cross the Tyrrhenian sea to Palermo in Sicily. As we pass Palermo our aircraft gently dips it’s nose and we start our descent into Malta.

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The airport is quiet when we arrive. There is just a Ryanair flight which landed ahead of us and a B747 freighter standing around on the ramp. I only have hand luggage with me, so 15 minutes after landing I’m already sitting in a taxi on my way to Valletta.

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

Introduction

After a somewhat mild and rather pleasant start to winter, the beginning of February 2012 saw temperatures across Europe go way below the freezing point, with icy cold winds blowing in all the way from Siberia. Here in Switzerland the temperature went as low as -15 Celsius on some nights. To me, that’s really where it stops being funny, no matter how pretty everything looks covered in snow. So it was around the same time the cold set in that I decided it was time to head for the warmer climes of my native country for the weekend. This trip review is of the return flight back to Switzerland.

Date: 03. February 2012
Flight: KM4901
From: Malta
To: Zürich
Aircraft: A 319
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1F

Check-in

About two minutes after I enter the terminal building, check-in for the flight to Zürich begins. I find my check-in counter and immediately spot something interesting:

As my luck would have it, they are offering the Zürich route for a EUR99 upgrade to Business Class, an offer I simply cannot refuse. The offer is valid irrespective of the original fare you purchased. Which is a good thing as I’m travelling on a rock-bottom promotion fare for CHF225. For the EUR99 upgrade you get lounge access, the full Business Class treatment on board, priority for your luggage, which does not apply in my case, and full Business Class bonus points with Air Malta’s FFP Flypass. Not bad me thinks. Since I first tried out the scheme last summer they seem to have streamlined the process. The passenger is no longer required to queue separately at the Air Malta ticketing office and everything is done at the check-in counter. The friendly check-in agent assigns me seat 1F, hands me my boarding pass and lounge invitation and sends me on my way.

To reach the lounge you first have to go through security and then from there through the rather huge Duty Free shop.

Allow me to introduce you to Twistees. I think they’re Maltese but to be honest, I’m not even sure. Twistees are a Maltese snack. Apparently they’re not too bad for you because they’re made of backed rice. They taste of cheese and they come covered in this strange powder that cakes around your fingers as you eat the Twistees. They sound revolting, I know. And they probably really are too. But they remind me of when I was a child, sitting on the beach with a bottle of Kinnie.

The Lounge

The lounge is quite full. Apart from the Emirates flight which leaves at the same time as my flight, there is also a delayed Alitalia flight and the 07h50 departure to Heathrow, which is delayed to 14h25 due to the weather in London.

Boarding

As soon as the flight shows up as ‘BOARDING’ on the screen, I leave the lounge and make my way to gate 4. When I arrive most passengers have already boarded so I needn’t queue and can take my time taking pictures.

The Crew

Once on board, the purser comes round with a copy of the two English language newspapers. A female FA offers me a glass of orange juice as a welcome drink. There are two others sitting in Business Class on the flight.

Departure is to the northwest, from runway 31. Today’s load is fairly light, and with the temperature not too high either, we do not taxi all the way back to the beginning of the runway and instead make our departure from an access taxiway about half way down the runway.

The Valletta Peninsula, with Marsamxett Harbour on the left and the Grand Harbour to the right of the Peninsula.

The Cabin

Sitting on the first row, leg room is obviously very good. If perhaps you’re wondering if the EUR99 are worth it for an upgrade, the answer is a very clear ‘yes’. Back in Economy the seat pitch on Air Malta is tight for an average sized person. I’m 184 cm tall.

On the bulkhead Air Malta has these framed pictures of Maltese sceneries. I like them and I think they’re a nice touch for somebody visiting the islands for the first time.

Like most European carriers, Air Malta has a convertible seat in Business Class. Meaning it’s the standard set of three Economy Class seats. In a Business Class layout however, the back of the middle seat folds down to provide some extra space.

Once the seat belt sign is turned off, the crew closes the cabin divider. I like the red curtains, they go well with the dark blue seats.

The Meal

After take-off, the meal service starts with the distribution of the hot and rather soapy towels. This is followed by the table cloth and the tray with the meal. The tray contains a side plate with two different types a cheese, the blue one is particularly strong. There are also two bread rolls and an antipasto dish with rocket salad, hummus, slices of chicken breast, Kapunata (a Maltese dish made with eggplant, tomatoes and cheese), shrimps, zucchini and a parsley salad with lemon. And last but not least there are profiteroles filled with vanilla cream and smothered in chocolate for dessert. Divine!

This contraption is to stabilise the table.

Throughout the flight the crew takes good care of me and the other passengers and makes sure we have everything, frequently refilling empty glasses.

My last Kinnie.

Arrival

The best part of the flight comes as we start our descent into Zurich. It is a lovely, clear day and the Alps look simply stunning, just beautiful!

The route for the approach is rather surprising, as they bring us in right above the airport on a northerly track. This means doing a rather steep right hand turn to line up for an approach to runway 14.

Conclusion

All in all this has been an enjoyable flight with Air Malta. The staff were professional and friendly. I guess it helped that the flight was not full up front, which gave the crew more time for a more personalised service.

In December I’m heading to Malta for a short visit before Christmas. I’ve requested a miles upgrade on the way down but so far it has not been confirmed. I’m not so much alarmed about having to sit in Economy if the upgrade doesn’t come through, but I am slightly worried it may not materialise because Air Malta may decide to abolish Business Class by then. Please don’t!

Epilogue

Before I close, let me share with you a few images of Malta in the winter.

Street vendor at City Gate.
Glancing across the Grand Harbour to the Cottonera – the Three Cities: Bormla
Glancing across the Grand Harbour to the Cottonera – the Three Cities: Birgu.
Glancing across the Grand Harbour to the Cottonera – the Three Cities: L-Isla.
The Auberge de Castille, the Prime Minister’s office.
Friendly natives.
The main entrance into Mdina, the old capital.