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

Introduction

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

Getting to the airport

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

Check-in

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

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

Tirana Airport Business Class lounge

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

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

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

Boarding

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

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

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

The cabin

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

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

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

The crew

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

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

The meal

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

Getting into Vienna

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

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

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

Transfer in Vienna

My flight from Basel lands just after 21h00. I now have one hour to make the connection to Tirana. As my blog is getting a bit heavy on the Austrian Airlines posts, and it’s dark outside with not much to see anyway, I figured I’d just post an abridged post here with only the most important information.

Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge

Austrian Airlines has a Business Class lounge in both the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. Luckily I decide to head for the Schengen lounge to grab something to eat before I do anything else, and then go through passport control after. And what an excellent choice that turns out to be! Because the Business Class lounge in the non-Schengen area is only open in the mornings from 07h45 to 13h30.

The cabin

This evening’s flight to Tirana is operated by an A 320. There are three rows of Business Class and only four passengers. I’m seated on 1A, and to be honest, I’m not a fan. The pitch on row 1 is not as good as on the other rows : it’s impossible to stretch my legs because of the bulkhead. But I can’t really move them sideways either, because the tray on row 1 is stowed in the arm rest, which therefore cannot be raised. So overall, I’m feeling a bit like an unhappy Pretzel.

The crew

The crew on this flight are not exactly gushing, but they are polite. They make quite a few announcements about Covid, the correct use of the masks and how to disembark once we reach Tirana – and then go on to immediately violate their own recommendations and not follow through with what they advised passengers to do.

The crew of this flight operates the Tirana rotation as a kind of split shift. Meaning that the same crew that arrives with this flight at 00h15 will also be returning to Vienna on the same aircraft that departs at 04h25. And I know this because they’re in the same hotel as me, and I hear them requesting a wake up call at 03h10. To be honest, I think if that were me, I really would not be all that motivated either.

The meal

Without even asking any of the passengers if they’d like to eat, the crew rather unceremoniously plonk a tray of grub in front of each passenger. I’m not complaining, because while I think that Austrian’s cabin crew training is seriously lacking, catering is obviously something they do really, really well. I mean, what other airline will serve you a hot meal on a flight with a block time of only 75 minutes?

Tonight’s offering is Paprika chicken with Spätzle.

And a passion fruit panna cotta for dessert. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the bread basket. Both the main and the dessert are excellent. The chicken sauce is rich and creamy and the Spätzle have retained their chewy fluffiness. Perhaps they could do some work on presentation though, because the dessert looks a bit forelorn on the large plate.

Arrival

We land in Tirana at 00h15. We’re on time, and for a change there is no queue at immigration. Within minutes I’m at the luggage belt waiting to pick up my suitcase, which duly arrives after only a very short wait.

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

Transfer in Vienna

Nothing about Vienna airport really makes any sense to me. The impression you get is that the airside facility was built with everything but the passenger and the usability of the terminal in mind. My aircraft from Tirana parks at a remote stand, which means we are taken to the terminal by bus. But instead of dropping the passengers off near the beginning of the pier, which is where the security checkpoint and passport control are located, the bus driver only drives a few meters and then has us disembark at the very end of the concourse. From where it’s a long schlepp to immigration and the Covid certificate check, before eventually you arrive at the very beginning of the pier and the queue for security.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge

The Austrian Airlines lounge is behind security, but in the completely opposite direction to the Schengen gates on the F pier.

The lounge is already quite full when I get there. The food options are rather nice, though. Other than that, the interior design is quite cheap. The seats in the dining area are covered in fake leather and aren’t really all that comfortable either.

Boarding

Eventually, I leave the lounge to walk around a bit and stop me from falling asleep.

The cabin

I am seated on 2F. There are five rows of business class for a total of twenty seats. On this flight, only eight seats are occupied. And funnily enough, I’m the only passenger seated on the right side. I’m guessing the other passengers all chose to sit on the left to get a better view of the alps en route.

The crew

The crew on this flight are all female and very friendly. They’re all smiles and are engaging with the passengers. Unlike SWISS, Austrian does not offer any pre-departure drinks or refreshing towels.

The meal

As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the maître de starts preparing for breakfast. The curtain is closed, but I can hear her pottering around in the galley as she loads the hot meals into the trolley. But then suddenly, there’s a terrific crash as the whole trolley tumbles backwards and eventually keels over. The flight attendant opens the curtain with a horrified expression on her face and simply mutters: “Na, jetzt is mir der Trolley umgfallen…”. It seems like an odd thing to say because the crash was so loud that I’m pretty sure they probably heard it all the way back in Vienna.

Eventually, the crew manage to get the trolley upright, but most of the food has spilled. I really feel for the cabin crew, because she’s obviously distraught and so embarrassed. She keeps passing through the cabin apologizing and explaining that she can’t possibly serve the meal, as “so was gibt’s nicht amol bei der Ryanair”… Clearly, to her Ryanair is rock bottom and if not even they would serve such a messy looking meal, then she certainly won’t either in Austrian Business Class. She’s really quite funny in her state of upset.

Eventually, we agree for her to just give me the hot meal and a coffee. It just wouldn’t be very gentlemanly to have to lick the yoghurt of the tray… The hot meal is an omelet with cheese served with spinach.

To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin offering small chocolates. They’re not as good as the SWISS ones, but they rarely are.

Arrival

We approach Zürich from the East, which brings us in right over lake Constance. It’s a gorgeous day for flying.

The maître de welcomes us to Zürich amid more profuse apologies at having ruined breakfast. She insists that in all her career, this is really the first time this has ever happened to her. I feel quite sorry for her, because she’s clearly very upset.

Zürich airport is very empty and quiet when we land. Even after all these years, I still think it’s impressive to think that we touched down on runway 16 at 09h00, and by 09h13 I’m already sitting on the train home!

Conclusion

Catering is, and has always been, one of the airline’s strongest points. And today’s two flights from Tirana to Vienna and then on to Zürich were no different – despite the mishap with the trolley. To serve a hot meal on a flight of barely one hour is certainly not bad at all and definitely a lot more substantial than anything I was expecting. On the other hand, I think it’s a shame they won’t even place a bottle of water at every seat as a pre-departure beverage.

The crew were very nice, which is a pleasant surprise. In the past, I’ve had crews on Austrian that were really just plain rude. For Tirana, I really think Austrian has the best and most frequent connections. Which is why I chose them. However, if it weren’t for their extensive eastern European network, I don’t think I would go out of my way to actively seek them out for my next trip. I find the whole experience a bit bland, and the unpredictability of the crew doesn’t help. I wouldn’t intentionally avoid them though, either.

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

Introduction

I’m not really sure what made me think a departure from Tirana at 04h25 in the morning would be a good idea. But here I am at 03h00 in the morning, walking the short distance from the Hotel Airport Tirana to the terminal building. Still, at least this way I’ll be back home by 11h00.

The terminal building is small and compact, with departures and check-in on the left side, and arrivals on the right side.

Check-in

Check-in for the flight to Vienna is already open. And much to my surprise, there’s even a manned Business Class desk that isn’t being laid siege to by a hoard of unruly Albanians who, I’m am finding out, really have a very, very strong aversion to queueing of any sort.

The Tirana Airport lounge

Security and immigration are painless. There are hardly any passengers this time of the morning.

So I decide to investigate the Business Class lounge, which is open at this ungodly hour, even if I only have about 15 minutes before boarding begins.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. There’s a buffet with pastries and sandwiches to choose from, and there are more dishes in the kitchen that are available on request from the staff.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 03h55. Our aircraft is parked rather far away, which is why we’re being bussed to our remote stand.

The cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of 12 seats. However, only six of them are occupied. The cabin looks neat and tidy and the splashes of red in the Austrian sign on the bulkhead or the seat covers and seat belts make the cabin look a lot less shabby than Lufthansa’s.

Leg space on row 2 is very good and I am able to stretch my legs easily.

Service

There are four cabin crew on today’s flight, and all of them male. They’re business friendly, I’d say. Not very warm or genuine, but not rude either. There is no pre-departure drink. Passengers are just handed a disinfectant towel as they board.

Breakfast

Given the flight time of only one hour and ten minutes, I’m surprised they’re actually serving a hot meal on the short hop to Vienna. There are no options. Despite it’s rather unappealing appearance, the hot meal is rather good.

Croque monsieur with turkey ham.

Fruit salad.

A very creamy and fluffy yoghurt.

The potion that gives life.

Warm croissants.

During the meal service, the crew make multiple runs through the cabin with the breadbasket.

Arrival

The flight passes very quickly. At some point I think I even nod off to sleep. We touch down in Vienna at 05h40 and make our way to a remote stand. I now have a little less than two hours to make my connection to Zürich.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Fokker 70: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I have one hour before my flight to Basel departs. Fortunately there are not that many people at the airport and so I manage to quickly clear immigration and security. Since my last visit to Vienna last summer, they appear to have improved the signage. Or maybe it is just me and I am getting used to the place. Even so, I really cannot help but wonder who on earth designed this facility? It does not even feel like an airport. Instead, the narrow aisles and long corridors give the impression of walking aimlessly in the Ministry of Truth. You turn the corner and expect to find yourself standing by the door to room 101. The worst thing in the world.

The Lounge

Location: Uhm, good question. Just follow the signs for the G gates and then you should find the lounge. There is a common entrance to the lounge. The Business Class area is to the left and the Star Gold section is to the right.
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Business centre, toilets in the lounge, no showers, a small selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks, newspapers and magazine.
Internet:
Wifi is available throughout the terminal building. No password required.

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What with it being Easter Sunday, the lounge is fairly quiet. There are only a few people here and there. The food options are somewhat limited, not that I am hungry after all the food we were served on the plane.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: Boarding is from Gate F 13, which is the same gate at which my flight from Narita arrived. In fact the aircraft is still standing there. In any case, our aircraft for the short hop to Basel is parked at a remote stand, so we are having to take a bus to the aircraft.

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When eventually the bus pulls up on a remote stand, I am surprised to find there has been an aircraft change and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400, the flight will now be operated by the larger Fokker 70. I take my time to get on board the aircraft – I am sitting at the very front anyway – which gives me the chance to take a few pictures of my aircraft and watch the other action on the ramp.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2
Seat: European style Economy Class seating, with the adjacent seat being kept empty in Business Class.
Pitch: 30’.
Width: 17’.
Facilities: Reading lamp, air vents.

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight and there are only two passengers. Seating on the Fokker 70 is 2 + 3, although on Austrian Airlines the adjacent seat is kept empty to provide more space. Thus, on the left hand side, the two-seater, the aisle seat is blocked, while on the right hand side, the middle seat in the row of three is blocked.

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Just a word of warning: on Austrian Airlines’ Fokker 70 you should try to avoid sitting on row 1 because while the pitch is the same as in the rest of the aircraft, not being able to stick your legs under the seat in front seriously limits leg space.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight. They seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly gushing. But I do not think it is a question of them just doing the job and nothing else, they just both seem very reserved.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: None.
Hot towel before the meal: None.
Pre-meal drink:
None.
Choice:
None.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.

  1. Fish in a batter, on potato salad, corn salad and tomato.
  2. Selection from the breadbasket.
  3. Chocolate mousse with cherries.
  4. Milka Easter Bunny.
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The contrast in service between Austrian Airlines’ long- and short-haul operations never quite seizes to amaze me. While the meals on the flight from Tokyo to Vienna were opulent, on this short-haul flight to Basel service is kept to the absolute minimum.

One way or another, the meal is quite tasty. Especially the chocolate mousse is delicious and rich.

Arrival

Our routing takes us past lake Constance and north of Zürich airport to approach Basel airport from the east. You can see the airport below on the right hand side of the aircraft. Approaches are from the south this afternoon, which means we continue for a short distance past the airport heading west, before eventually doing a left turn and heading south, away from the airport. Two more left turns later and we are lined up for the approach pointing north. I like this approach because it means we will be coming in over the city of Basel. Fortunately the weather has cleared and it is a beautiful afternoon.

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Conclusion

That was fun. Admittedly, it was rather a short trip but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. This was now my sixteenth visit to Japan and I still have not had enough yet. What I did notice about myself on this trip is that the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese and their culture no longer have the power to intimidate or confuse me. What I do not know, is whether this is due to the fact that the Japanese are becoming more relaxed in their dealings with foreigners or if perhaps I have simply become accustomed to their ways.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Tokyo Narita to Basel via Vienna

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Narita Express train.
Departs from: Yokohama station.
Frequency: Roughly every 90 minutes but varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Fare: ¥4290 one way including mandatory seat reservation.

In Yokohama I am staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. I leave the hotel just after 06h30 in the morning and head across the street to the Queen’s Twin Towers. It is only a five minutes walk from the hotel to the subway station at Minatomirai on the subway line that goes by the same name. It is two stops from Minatomirai to Yokohama Station, although the express trains do not stop at the station in between and go nonstop to Yokohama Station.

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At Yokohama I change to the JR Lines network. The Narita Express will be leaving at 07h28 from platform 10. What always impresses me about Japanese trains is that there are markers along the platform indicating the number of each carriage and the position of the doors of that particular carriage. The impressive thing is that the system has never failed in sixteen visits I have made to Japan over the years. And I still have not figured out how they manage to stop the trains so accurately.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 1, south wing, row B, departures level on the fourth floor; row B is right by the escalators as you come up from the station in the basement.
Facilities: Web check-in or dedicated check-in counters.
Counters: Dedicated Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS Business Class counters, the staff are from ANA.

There are hardly any people when I arrive at row B and I am seen to straight away. The check-in agent issues my boarding passes to Vienna and then Basel, points me in the right direction for security and wishes me a pleasant journey. It is a very quick and efficient process.

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Security is at the opposite end of row B and there is a dedicated fast track for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers. Here too there are only few passengers and I am through security without having to queue. I forget to remove my liquids from the bag, but nobody seems to notice. Or perhaps that is not a requirement here in Japan.

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From Security I head one floor down to immigration.

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The Lounge

Location: Behind immigration, one floor down from the gates level. The escalators leading down to the lounge are at the far end of the concourse, opposite gate 43.
Type of Lounge:
ANA Lounge.
Facilities:
Meeting rooms, work area, toilets and showers in the lounge, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes, a bar with beer on tap, a noodle bar with a selection of staple Japanese fare.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.

God I am starving. It was still early when I left Yokohama this morning. I did manage to grab a cappuccino and a small sandwich, but that was barely enough to tie me over until we reach Narita.

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So once I find a place to sit, I head over to the noodle bar and order myself a bowl of curry Udon, which hit the spot nicely.

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The ANA Business Class lounge is nice. It is more functional than elegant, but that is okay. My only complaint is that there are no windows and subsequently no views of the aircraft outside.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: I arrive at the gate just after 10h30 and boarding has just started. The first call is for Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 2 + 2 + 2 on even numbered rows.
Pitch: 48 inches.
Width: 19.37 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand.

Austrian Airlines has 48 seats installed in Business Class on the Boeing B 777-200. I am not sure if this is exactly the same seat that SWISS has installed in its Business Class cabin, but if not, the seat is certainly very similar.

The appearance of the cabin is nice enough and the combination of blue and red gives the cabin a cheerful look and feel. The seat is comfortable in the sitting position, but is somewhat tight in the extended, lying position. Furthermore, if you are sitting in the seat while you extend it into the lying position, beware. At some point your legs are likely to get in the way.

There are two Business Class cabins on this aircraft. The larger cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors, the smaller one, which only has three rows, is located right after the L2 door. Today’s flight is very full in Business Class. In fact, at some point during the flight I take a look at the rear Business Class cabin, only to find that it is completely empty. And even in the main cabin there are still quite a few empty seats.

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The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.

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The Crew

Probably due to the relatively light load, the ratio of cabin crew to passengers is outstanding on this flight. During the service I count three cabin crew for each of the two aisles. Like most European carriers, Austrian Airlines has Japanese staff working on the flight.

The crew are very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. Their attention to details is quite outstanding. Originally, I am seated on 4C, the aisle. But then one of the flight attendants informs me that 5A, a throne seat, will remain empty and I am more than welcome to change. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin to check on passengers and make sure they are okay.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, sparkling wine or water. The orange juice comes with a slice of orange in it.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented hot towels – but they are rather flimsy.
Pre-meal drink:
Almdudler, an Austrian non-alcoholic drink made with herbs.
Choice:
There are two Western choices and two Japan-inspired choices for the main course.
Appearance:
The starter is served from a trolley, so passengers can pick and choose as they please.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Menu:
There is a food and beverage menu and a separate menu for coffees.

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First Course

Antipasti from the trolley: smoked salmon with cream cheese, volcano ham and mountain cheese, traditional sweet pepper and ricotta spread, deep fried cauliflower with sauce tartar.

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The Soup

Beef consommé with butter dumpling.

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The Main Course

Grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.

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Dessert

Warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).

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If you’re still not done…

Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.

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This meal is excellent! In fact it was so good I find it slightly irritating because this Business Class meal is far, far better than the grub I was served in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Haneda!

Where to begin? First of all, I really like the selection of antipasti that is available. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Austrian Airlines has gone for the good quality stuff. The smoked salmon is not at all fishy and has a rich, smoky taste; the ham is not at all chewy and the tartar sauce is subtle and balanced.

The main course is excellent and I find myself a) seriously wondering if I have ever had such a nice piece of meat on a plane before and b) if it would be rude to ask for a second helping. First of all, the pork has managed to stay juicy, even in the middle. The meat has a nice grilled flavour to it and the gravy it is served with is simply delicious. The dumpling that comes with it is just heaven. Enough said.

By the time I am through, I have more or less decided to skip dessert. I really do not think I can face anything else. But then the trolley reaches my row and I swear I can hear the apricot strudel calling out to me. The truffle cake is so rich my tongue is more or less glued to the top of my mouth. What a taste! Thank God for the whipped cream to dilute this hefty, moist revelation…

The apricot strudel is still warm when it is placed before me, and so is the vanilla sauce. I really do not know what to say, except perhaps ‘can I have some more…?’.

What also impresses about the crew is the efficiency and timing of the service. The meal does not feel rushed at all, but at the same time there is never a long wait in between courses.

Eventually the dishes are cleared away, one of the cabin crew brings me a bottle of still water and I settle in. I am already looking forward to the next meal!

Around half way between Narita and Vienna the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks. I have some fruit and an Onigiri. To drink the crew has orange juice and apple juice on offer. However, when she reaches my row, the flight attendant assures me that obviously she will be very glad to bring me anything else I would like to drink!

The Snack

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The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Yes, another flimsy scented affair.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Choice: There are two options for the main course.

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First Course

Prosciutto, aubergine, zucchini, mozzarella, gryuere.

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The Main Course

Ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.

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Dessert

Chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.

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Arrival

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Eventually we land in Vienna just a few minutes ahead of schedule and a rather pleasant experience with Austrian Airlines draws to an end. And what did I think of Austrian Airlines? The service was attentive, quite impeccable. The crew were friendly and approachable. The catering is something else and I really do think the quality and the selection available in Austrian Airlines’ Business Class puts to shame Lufthansa’s offering in First Class.

On the downside, I have certain reservations about the seat. If you are sitting on one of the single seats, there is ample storage space and somehow you are able to squeeze in and out of the seat when it is in the fully extended position. However, if you are sitting at by the window on one of the double seats, I seriously think you might have trouble getting in and out of the seat without disturbing your neighbour. The pitch is awfully tight. I am only 6’2 and even I was having trouble fitting my legs in the space provided. Apart from that, to be honest, it does kind of feel like what I imagine lying in a coffin is like.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Bangkok to Vienna

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Introduction

I’m in a bit of a state today, I must confess. On Sunday evening I visited the Peninsula’s gym for a workout. The gym they have there is rather well equipped and what’s more, I had the place all to myself. But I think I may have overdone it, because this morning I’m feeling decidedly sore all over. So I decide to spend my last day in Bangkok lounging by the pool and generally taking it easy.

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Honest, I used sunblock, I kept my t-shirt on most of the time when I was out of the water and I sat in the shade in one of those cute little mini cabanas. And still I managed to get a really bad sunburn.

Occupancy at the Peninsula is rather low right now. For one, because the rain season is about to begin, so not that many tourists visit around this time of year anyway. For another, no matter how much calmer the situation is since the Junta took over, the political unrest has certainly had an impact on the number of visitors to the capital.

But for me all this is good news, because it means I am granted late check-out from the hotel at 20:00.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: BMW 7
Journey time: 30 minutes – a new record, it can take you as much as an hour and sometimes even a bit more when there is no curfew in place
Cost: included in the room rate

The problem with big German cars is that they’re really very quiet and you barely notice the speed at which you’re actually going. At least that is the only explanation I have for making it from the Peninsula to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport in 30 minutes flat! And I really don’t think the driver was speeding. It’s 20:30 and the curfew doesn’t come into effect until midnight.

Five minutes before we reach the airport, the driver calls ahead to let the hotel’s porter at the airport know that we’ll be arriving shortly. And indeed, as we pull up outside the entrance for check-in row G, he’s already expecting us. The chauffeur opens the door, wishes me a pleasant journey and bids me good bye.

The nice thing about staying at a hotel like the Peninsula is that once we enter the building, the porter makes a beeline for the Austrian Airlines Business Class counter, as though it doesn’t even occur to him that I might be travelling in Economy. Well, fortunately I’m not.

Check-in

Location: row G, which is also where Lufthansa and Swiss check-in, the staff manning the Austrian Airlines counter is wearing a Lufthansa uniform
Facilities: I get an e-mail inviting me to do web check-in, despite the fact it won’t work for my connecting flight from Vienna to Luxembourg.

The porter places my suitcase on the scales and waits patiently in the background until I’ve finished. He then accompanies me to the security check, where he bids me goodbye and takes his leave.

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There are various security checkpoints at Suvarnabhumi airport. To access the Premium Lane, you must obtain a voucher from your airline at check-in. Immediately behind security is immigration.

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The Lounge

Location: one floor down from check-in
Type of Lounge:
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Star Gold)
Facilities:
various food stations serving a wide selection of hot and cold European and Asian dishes, workstations, wide selection of papers and magazines
Internet:
good wifi connection, password required

As you come out of passport control 2, you will find yourself in front of a huge piece of artwork, which depicts a scene from Siam’s ancient mythology.

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If you want to do some shopping, this is the place to be, with many designer shops on both sides of the hall. The artwork kind of marks the halfway point, so don’t worry that you might be missing some of the good shops on the other side, they’re the same ones.

Keep walking east. At some point you will come across the signs for the Thai Airways lounges on your left. These will lead you to an escalator which takes you one floor down. As you come off the escalator you will find yourself right in front of the reception area of the Royal Silk lounge.

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The lounge is positively enormous. So far I’ve only ever used the First Class lounge in Bangkok, which is already rather large. But this is huge. I did at some point intend to take some pictures, but eventually I figured it made no sense, because the pictures can hardly do justice to the size and length of the lounge.

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There is quite a variety of choice in terms of food options. I go with some sticky rice and tandoori chicken. This being Thailand, when you have tandoori chicken it’s actually rather spicy, not like the lame stuff they often have in airline lounges.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: Yes and no. Bangkok uses closed gates. From what I can tell there’s no priority lane for Business Class passengers to access the gate. However, once boarding starts, premium passengers are invited to board first. There is a dedicated airbridge for Business Class passengers.

The exit from the Thai Airways lounge is near gate D01, my flight this evening will be departing from gate D07. It doesn’t sound like much of a trek, but given that every one of these gates is capable of handling a B747, they are generously spaced out. By the time I reach the gate area, most of the regular passengers have already boarded. From what I can tell only the staff travellers are still in the gate area, waiting to find out if they got a seat or not.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1
Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has
Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’
Width: 19.37’
Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net
Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality

The Business Class cabin is completely full this evening, not an empty seat to be had. Later on, during the flight I go check out the little mini Business Class cabin behind the galley, and there too every seat is taken.

But apart from that, this seat is really growing on me. It’s very comfortable and there’s plenty of stowage space. My only complaint about the seat is that the mechanism to open and close the tray table is a bit cumbersome and not at all intuitive.

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The Crew

Okay Austrian, you win! As on the outbound flight, the crew this evening are really excellent, very friendly and charming. The young ladies working the Business Class cabin are doing a great job in attending to the passengers. There is one tall girl in particular who is all smiles, competent and efficient. Nothing every seems to be too much trouble and what ever request you have, she takes care of it immediately.

The Meal

Pre departure drinks: yes, I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail
Pre meal drinks: yes, another OJ and a glass of water, served with a dish of nuts
Choice: three choices for the first course, four choices for the main, five choices for dessert
Delivery:
individual service, separately laid out table
Type of meal:
dinner
Menu:
there is a menu for the drinks and food plus another menu for the coffees

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The Soup

Red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croûtons. I start with the red lentil soup, which is very rich and tasty. The ciabatta croûtons give the soup an interesting twist. In fact I would say the soup is truly outstanding.

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First course

Potpourri of smoked salmon carpaccio with capers, chives and crème fraîche, a thick slice of salmon with grilled fennel and lemon, a thin slice of salmon with a sauce Hollondaise on a bed of frisée salad. The salmon starter is also good, although the tartar is a bit bland and doesn’t really taste of anything much, other than salmon. But the Hollondaise sauce with the thinly sliced piece of salmon is very good.

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At some point during the meal the tall flight attendant approaches me and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. Eventually she ends up convincing me to try Almdudler, a very typically Austrian soft drink made of herbs from the Alps. It’s rather interesting and reminds me a bit of the Kinnie we have in Malta or the Italian Chinotto, but less bitter and not quite so strong. Later on during the meal she stops at my seat to inquire if I like the Almdudler and if I’d perhaps like another.

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The Main Course

Fillet of beef with a sesame and soy chutney, green asparagus, red pepper coulis and potato terrine.

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Dessert

Austrian bread and butter pudding, chocolate cake, macadamia nut parfait

I still can’t decide which is my favourite, the macadamia nut parfait or the bread and butter pudding. Don’t get me wrong, the chocolate cake is also very good, but ultimately, after such a meal, it’s just a bit too rich for me.
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I’ve already changed into my shorts and a t-shirt. So once the meal is over, I slide my seat into bed mode and go off to sleep. Once more I manage a solid six hours of peaceful respite, despite the fact that my back is still quite sore from the sunburn. I awake just under two hours out of Vienna.

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The Second Service

Menu:

  1. a bowl of fresh fruit
  2. müsli
  3. a selection of breads
  4. an omelette with mushrooms, mozzarella, a spinach-filed tomato and toast
  5. coffee, orange juice, mango smoothie

As soon as the tall flight attendant becomes aware of the fact that I’m awake, she brings me a hot towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I decide to go with the mango smoothie, which is pleasantly sweet, rich and creamy.

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Arrival

We arrive in Vienna bang on time. It’s just gone 05h45 and the place is still fairly quiet. I make my way through security and then from there up to the Austrian Airlines Senator Lounge in the Schengen area. Now all I have to do is wait for my onward connection.

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Conclusion

Once more Austrian Airlines manages to impress me with the quality of the food, the comfort of the seat and, above all, the professionalism and courtesy of the crew. From what I can tell Austrian Airlines has really understood what it means to cater to the business traveller. The service is swift and the crew is friendly but without being intrusive. Now let’s see about transferring in Vienna…

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Vienna to Bangkok

I just arrived in Vienna on a Luxair flight from Luxembourg. I now have nearly four hours to make my connection to Bangkok.

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Transfer in Vienna

The flight from Luxembourg is operated as a code-share with Austrian Airlines. Even so, the bus from the aircraft to the terminal eventually drops us off at the C arrivals concourse, which is in one of the two wings of the old terminal.

And this is where things start to get a bit confusing. Upon entering the building, I follow the signs to the G gates, from where apparently my flight to Bangkok will be leaving. There is a shuttle that runs from the arrivals area C to the G gates. However, this only runs every 15 minutes and the service is provided by a little minibus.

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When I arrive at the pick up point for the shuttle, there are already quite a few people waiting. As a result, when eventually the shuttle arrives, only about a quarter of the queue find a place on the shuttle.

One of the passengers starts telling off the driver and the two of them start having an argument right there, outside, on the ramp and in front of everybody. Eventually the driver storm off, gets into the driver’s seat and drives off in a huff, leaving all the passengers who didn’t find a place in the shuttle standing there on the ramp unattended.

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Well this is just rubbish me thinks, so eventually I decide that probably the easiest thing will be to follow the signs marked ‘Exit Vienna’ and then to find my way to the new terminal landside. Much to my surprise though, just before I finally reach the exit there is yet another sign marked for the G gates. So I figure I might just give this a try. After all, I still have a few hours before my next flight.

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At long last I arrive at a passport control. For a moment I’m not sure if this is really to leave or to enter the Schengen area. But I pass through the check anyway, continue walking and eventually arrive at a security checkpoint, despite the fact that I’m transiting from another Schengen country, which should in fact not require me to go through security again. But in the sum of all things, that is just a minor issue and finally I find myself in the G concourse.

You know how sometimes you see or experience something and wonder ‘what on earth were they thinking’? Well, at Vienna airport it’s really more a question of ‘were they actually thinking’? And it’s not just the cumbersome transfer either. Everything in the new facility seems very cheaply made, giving the entire place the unfinished air of a temporary installation.

Check-in

My suitcase has been checked through to Bangkok. I was also issued a Luxair boarding pass for my onward connection when I checked in at Luxembourg airport. Which means I can head straight for the lounge. 

The Lounge

Location: at the beginning of the G concourse
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Senator lounge
Facilities:
small rest area with loungers to lie on, showers, three workstations with computers
Internet:
Vienna airport network, which is in fact very fast and works nicely

Austrian Airlines has three lounges: a Business Class lounge, Senator lounge and the Hon Lounge. There is a common reception area for the lounges, which is also where the lavatories and showers are located.

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I arrive in the middle of a bitch fight going on between two of the three lounge dragons. One of them wants to know who let ‘that woman’ into the Hon lounge, who quite evidently should not be there. To which the other replies that she has simply no idea, despite the fact that she always has to do all the dirty work. Charming!

The lounge is quite small. But that’s alright really because the place is hardly crowded. In fact it looks rather abandoned.

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At this time of the day the food options don’t really looks that appetizing anymore either. But apart from that, all the food seems rather greasy. As a warm dish there’s something that looks like macaroni cheese and for the two cold dishes there’s a potato salad with way too much mayonnaise and grilled aubergines drowned in an oily tomato sauce.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: Yes. Vienna has automatic gates. However, there is a priority lane for premium passengers. There are also two airbridges attached to the aircraft, with the left one being for Business Class passengers.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1
Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has
Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’
Width: 19.37’
Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net
Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality

All in all the seat is rather nice. It’s very similar to Swiss’ product in Business Class. Austrian Airlines has evidently put a lot of thought into how to make the best of the available space. Of course it helps that I’m sitting on one of the single seats which have stowage space on both sides of the seat. But it’s also little things like the shoe net for you to place shoes during the flight or the bottle holders on either side of the screen, which incidentally are also rather handy for your iPhone.

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The seat is very comfortable. The only thing I can complain about is that it’s a bit tight when you try to convert to seat into a bed. I’m a rather average 6’1 and my legs kept getting in the way. Once the seat has been expanded into a bed though, it’s not a problem any more.

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When I arrive at my seat, the vanity kit has already been placed there.

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The Crew

Excellent! I have rarely come across such a professional crew. They are quite a stark contrast to the OS crews I experienced earlier in the year on my trip to Cyprus. The crew on today’s flight are all very friendly and welcoming. The service is impeccable but without being fussy and you get the impression that the crew are making a point to give the passengers as much personal space as they can but without ignoring them. Another thing which really strikes me, I am a linguist after all, is the very high level of English spoken by the Austrian crew. Not to mention the Thai spoken by the captain.

The Meal

For a pre departure drink I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail

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First Course

Smoked Salmon with beetroot.

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The Soup

Consommé of beef with dumplings.

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Main Course

Rigatoni with lamb ragout and permesan.

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Dessert

Chocolate mouse with a centre of green coconut crème brûlée, a ball of frozen yoghurt and Austrian style pancakes with berries.

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Wow, what a meal! First of all I think it’s quite unusual to be given a choice of three starters in Business Class these days. What’s more, it’s seems that most passengers are having at least two of the options, which does not seem to bother the crew in any way, despite the fact that the load in Business is rather high.

I have the salmon starter, which is very good. It’s a good quality piece of salmon, which isn’t fishy at all. I also like the beetroot hummus. The taste of the tahini is clearly discernible, but with a distinct hint of beetroot.

The soup is very tasty and light. The dumpling in it is simply divine. I have no idea what they put in this but it’s excellent. Full of many different well balanced flavours.

But the whole thing just keeps getting better and better. The rigatoni are nice and chewy and the ragout tastes like something you might get at an Italian restaurant somewhere in Rome. This is excellent!

By the time I finish the main course, I’ve already made a mental note to skip dessert and the cheese. That is, until I see the desserts, at which point I decide that it would be a pity to disappoint the people who read the stuff I write by not taking pictures of the dessert. And so one suffers in silence…

I don’t know how the Austrians do it, but they certainly know their stuff when it comes to making desserts. The chocolate mouse is so chocolaty and fluffy that it seems hardly possible, and the combination with the crème brûlée deserves a Nobel prize as far as I’m concerned.  With dessert I have a glass of sweet wine, as suggested by the cabin crew. But I forget to ask what it was.

Unfortunately the pictures can hardly do justice to this epic and excellent meal. Especially seeing as the lighting conditions were not very good. But it certainly was a very fine meal.

And then I change into my shorts and go off to bed. I only awake 90 minutes out of Bangkok and feel really relaxed and rested. I haven’t slept so well on a plane in a long time!

Just as I return to my seat, the second service is about to begin. Orders for the breakfast service are taken right after departure from Vienna by the on board chef.

The Second Service

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A bowl of fresh fruit.

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Yoghurt with home made granola (very tasty).

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A selection of breads, including toast.

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An omelette with bell peppers and mozzarella, potatoes and tomatoes.

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Coffee and orange juice (there are also smoothies available)

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Once more I am amazed, not only by the tempo of the service, but also by the quality and taste of the food and how it is presented on the plate.

Arrival

We arrive in Bangkok a few minutes ahead of schedule. The Austrian Airlines flight is normally one of the earlier ones to come in during the afternoon bank. As a result, the queues for immigration are quite manageable. If, like me, you need a visa on arrival, you will need to pay THB1000.- for the visa. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to wait, for an additional THB200.- you can have your request processed at the fast track counter, which will take you not more than two minutes.

Austrian Airlines does not provide fast track cards for immigration to its passengers.

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Getting into Town

Talk about a déjà-vu! The driver from the Peninsula is the same guy who picked me up last time. What’s more, he even recognises me! I’m driven to the hotel in a lovely BMW 7. It’s in the standard Peninsula forest green and it looks gorgeous.

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We pull up by the main entrance, where I am already being expected. Check-in at the Peninsula is done in the room. On our way up to the 25th floor, the young lady informs me that they have taken the liberty to put me in the same room as on my previous stay.

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This place is just so nice!

Conclusion

Austrian Airlines’ inflight product is excellent on this flight. The crew are highly professional and experienced, the hard product is pretty decent and the food is simply to die for. Let’s put it this way, if the return turns out to be equally good, then I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply assume that my not so good experience to Cyprus was an exception.

Austrian is a bit unlucky to have to call a place like Vienna airport its hub. I really do think the facility has some serious issues going on that make it really very unpleasant and rather unattractive too. So I guess in future, it will be a question of weighing the tastiness of the rigatoni and lamb ragout against the inconvenience of transiting through Vienna.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – A 320: Vienna to Larnaca

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Transfer in Vienna

I’m standing in the new pier at Vienna airport, I have just arrived with Austrian Airlines from Zürich. The facility has two separate departure levels for Schengen and non-Schengen flights. The F gates are for Schengen flights, with non-Schengen traffic departing from the G gates one floor up.

Cyprus is a non-Schengen country. Strangely, on the outbound you will only have to go through Immigration and do not need to go through security again. On the inbound though, you need to go through immigration and security.

The Lounge

The non-Schengen lounge is located right behind immigration. It’s completely packed when I arrive, with only a few seats available here and there. The food selection is not bad though and includes a variety of pastries, bread, cheese and ham, as well as a small selection of hot items.

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I think I’ve been travelling a bit too much of late. I look up at the departure screen to check the gate and status of my flight – and draw a blank: I’ve actually completely forgotten where I’m supposed to be flying too! I truly haven’t got the faintest idea anymore. Fortunately I’m not on my own and my colleague, the valiant Martin, has everything under control so I just plod along behind him when the time comes to leave.

My chariot awaits.
My chariot awaits.

The Cabin

The flight is completely full today, which comes as a bit of a surprise to me, as I figured nobody would be flying to the Med this time of the year. Still more surprising is the fact that Business Class is full too, with all twenty seats occupied.

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As with the previous flight, there is more Strauss blaring away as I step on board.

Seating is in a three-three configuration, with the middle seat left empty. Apart from that though, I really must say these seats are a real agony on longer journeys. Ninety minutes into the flight I can no longer feel my buttocks. They’ve gone to sleep. I didn’t even know they could do that. The leg space is good though.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are as nondescript as their colleagues on the previous flight from Zürich. They’re not rude, unfriendly or anything. They just seem rather bland.

The Meal

The service on this flight has been reduced to the absolute minimum. Despite a flying time of three hours and more than enough time for a leisurely service, there are no hot towels and no aperitifs. It’s really just the tray with the meal and that’s it. The service is also pretty rushed. Most people still haven’t finished their hot meal when the flight attendant comes through the cabin offering tea or coffee. What’s the hurry anyway?

On the other hand, Austrian Airlines must be one of the few airlines left that still provide menus on European flights, which are distributed before departure.

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First Course

Nicoise salad with chicken breast

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Main Course

Prawn curry with creamy spinach, green peas and steamed rice

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Dessert

traditional raspberry cream tart

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Admittedly, the food is rather good – with the exception of dessert perhaps. To drink I just have a Coke Zero.

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Our routing takes us over some lovely landscapes. Fortunately the weather is quite good for most of the journey, with good views to be had along the route.

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Arrival

Shortly after we leave the Turkish mainland, somewhere near Antalya, we begin our descent into Larnaca. It’s quite a steep descent. We come in over the eastern tip of the island and then fly along the coast before eventually touching down.

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In Cyprus I will be staying in Nicosia, which is about 60 kilometres away from the airport. I’m staying at the Hilton Cyprus, which may not be the newest hotel out there but is very well maintained and managed. If you’re interested, the hotel also has rather good gym facilities.

Conclusion

Austrian Airlines was a bit of a let down. On this trip I had the opportunity to sample both their Economy and Business Class products. They got me there and back safely, so thanks for that. But apart from that I really don’t think the flights were anything special. Admittedly the quality of the food was not bad, but apart from that the service was unnecessarily rushed and hurried and pretty uninspired. I also think they haven’t quite got their priorities straight. I mean, the menus really aren’t necessary. However, an additional drink run before the meal is. Dehydration on long flights is a proven fact. And indeed, the one thing that really struck me about this flight is that the passengers were constantly summoning the cabin crew to ask for drinks.

Epilogue

So what about Cyprus? Obviously, I didn’t really get to see that much of the islands. And save for a very long detour for a very short visit to the coast at Agia Napa on the way to the airport, I spent most of my time in Nicosia and the training centre. Nonetheless, I must say I really liked Cyprus. Moreover, I really liked the Cypriots. All the people we met were just so friendly, genuinely warm and welcoming. It’s also a great place to visit if you like good food in huge portions.