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

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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.

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

Introduction

Air Malta is currently in the middle of a rebranding exercise, which includes new uniforms for the crew and also a new livery which made its debut in September 2012. Things have been rather tough for this little airline in recent years: it is in an awkward position in that it has many masters and is trying to serve all of them equally well. A futile endeavour! There is the government and the national Maltese tourism industry which relies heavily on the carrier to bring tourist to its shores. But with the increasing popularity of the Maltese islands as a holiday destination, the competition for Air Malta has also increased. And then there is the obligation to provide connections for Maltese nationals wishing to travel abroad, albeit a very small niche market. One way or another, with the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair eating away at Air Malta’s leisure traffic, and Lufthansa and Emirates taking whatever is left, Air Malta finds itself stuck in the middle. The future will tell what will become of Air Malta.

Date: 17. August 2012
From: Zürich
To: Malta
Airline: Air Malta
Aircraft: A319
Cabin: Economy
Seat: 10E, aisle on the emergency exit

My narrative begins as I make my way to the viewing gallery on the reconstruction of what used to be terminal B at Zürich airport. It’s a lovely day and quite warm. But at least there is a slight breeze going to make the temperature outside bearable. I put my rucksack in a locker and pay the CHF5 entrance for the viewing gallery. 

The airport is calm around this time of day and save for an Air France Embraer 190 all the stands are empty.

I really like the design of the building from the outside. From the inside it is a tad cramped. Anyway, there are steps leading down onto the roof of one of the airbridges, which allows you to get up pretty close to the aircraft.

Boarding

Much to my shame I must confess that I don’t really take the heat and sun very well, despite the fact that I was born in Malta, where temperatures in excess of 35 degrees Celsius are not uncommon from late May to early November.

Eventually the heat becomes too much for me and I decide to head airside.

I arrive at the gate and surreptitiously peek at the screen displaying the DCS information for this flight: two passengers in Business Class, 115 passengers in Economy. Not a bad load considering the holiday season is over. In actual fact, from what I can tell from the conversations I pick up and the passports I can see, most passengers would appear to be Maltese anyway.

Boarding

The Swissport agent announces that boarding will commence shortly. She also informs us that due to the incredible heat in the airbridge, boarding by seat rows will be strictly enforced to avoid people standing in the sweltering heat too long. And true to their word the two ladies proceed to do the most orderly boarding process I have every seen. No mean feat if a bunch of Maltese is involved.

The Cabin

I am greeted at the door by the purser, an elderly and very friendly looking gentleman. He looks like he could be your favourite granddad. The other crew member is a young lady with stunning features: black long hair and blue eyes. She’s quite a looker and she knows it. The entire crew is wearing the new uniform and I must say it is a vast improvement over what they had.

I grab a free copy of the Times of Malta, which is available to all passengers and laid out right by the entrance to the aircraft, and head for my seat.

Initially I am seated on 9F, but then a couple takes the seats next to me and starts snogging wildly. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing against a good snog, but the mere sound of others slobbering all over each other makes me want to throw up. I look behind me to find the aisle seat on the emergency row is still empty, so are the middle seats. So I quickly ask a crew member if I can change. He tells me that sure I can, proviso I pay the fee for the extra leg room. The slobbering continues on row 9 and so I consent. The fee is EUR25. The seats are marked with the word ‘RESERVED’ written on the head rest covers.

The legroom on the exit row is, of course, excellent.Departure is from runway 28. Shortly after take-off we to a left turn to point the aircraft southwards for the Alps, the Med and eventually Malta. Our routing takes us over mainland Italy to Rome, from where set out across the Thyrrenian sea to Palermo in Sicily and from there on to Malta.

The Crew

The crew is friendly and makes detailed announcements in Maltese and English, followed by a recorded message in German. Soft drinks, one beer or wine are for free. Any further alcoholic drink must be paid for.

The Meal

There are two options on the flight today. The vegetarian one is a tomato and mozzarella salad on iceberg lettuce. On the tray there is also a small tub of butter and a small container with salad dressing, a large bun and a cupcake. The non-vegetarian option is cheese with ham, boiled eggs and tomatoes on a bed of iceberg lettuce. The dessert is an almond filled biscuit type thing. It’s a small meal but it serves its purpose on a flight of one hour and 50 minutes.

Arrival

By the time we reach Palermo and we begin our initial descent, the sun has already started to set and the light outside turns a warm and balmy colour.

The approach into Malta is very atmospheric. As the aircraft dips its nose and the engines go increasingly silent to slow us down, a hush of anticipation spreads throughout the cabin as the tourists and Maltese alike peer out of the windows excitedly to catch a first glimpse of the islands rising out of the sea.

For most of the descent the aircraft flies head on towards Gozo, the northern island. Outside the passengers see only the vastness of the Mediterranean sea and the golden reflection of the sun dancing on the waves. But the then aircraft banks every so light to the left and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Gozo appears – the island of Calypso. The aircraft flies along the north-eastern coast of the island, then past Comino and then along the island of Malta proper. It’s usually at this stage the tourists cannot be amazed at how dry the island is and how few trees there are. The Maltese, like myself, look out and glance down at this small rock in the sea and attempt to conceal that yes, they are moved.

Eventually the aircraft reaches the south end of Malta. The right wing dips and we round Delimara point, pass the natural harbour of Marsaxlokk and eventually line up with runway 31 as we cross over St. George’s bay. And then we land and I am home.

I wait until everybody has disembarked and then walk to the rear of the aircraft to exit through the back. This gives me an opportunity to take a few pictures from an unusual angle.

I get on the bus. I even manage to take a picture of the new uniform before the doors close and we are bussed to the Schengen arrivals.

That concludes the aviation part of this report. I leave you with a few shots from Malta taken the next day.

Republic Street aka King’s Way
After all it was once a British Dominion…
Typically Maltese: at 10:00 head for the Café Premier for a refreshing Kinnie and some Pastizzi
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
The Auberge de Castille
Looking across the Grand Harbour towards the cottonera: L-Isla, Birgu and Bormla
The water taxi connecting Birgu with Valletta