I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.
I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.
The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge
The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.
So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.
The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.
There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.
The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.
The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.
After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.
We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.
The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.
Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.
The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.
Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.
Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.
Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.
The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb
Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.
The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.
Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.
There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.
Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.
The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.
The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.
The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.
To drink with that I have an Almdudler.
And just before landing, chocolates are offered.
We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.
For the trip back from Berlin to Basel, the easiest thing, no pun intended, would have been to book the direct easyJet flight. The only problem with that was that I booked the Air France trip at fairly short notice, once it became clear where the inaugural flight of the A 220 would be going to. By which time there weren’t any extra legroom seats left on easyJet. At my age and with two herniated discs, that’s a serious consideration. And so I figured I might as well return with Austrian via Vienna.
Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt
I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Berlin. I suppose after all the bad press the airport received and the serious delay for it to finally open, I think I was probably expecting some half finished ruin. Turns out the terminal is rather nice airside. The wood finish gives it a nice, warm feel.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the airport in the future. Many of the low-cost carriers operating to Berlin have already said that they would like to return to the old DDR-era Schönefeld terminal once it reopens after Covid. But as it is, most of the traffic at the new terminal is by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair or easyJet. If they were to return to the old facility, the new one would be even more oversized that it clearly already is now.
The Lufthansa lounge is in an odd place, is an odd size and an odd shape. If you’re walking too fast, there’s also a good chance you’ll miss the entrance to the staircase that takes you to the lounge.
In a way, the lounge is something of a relic from a bygone era. When the airport was announced, Lufthansa had big plans for it. Ten years down the line and the only two routes operated by Lufthansa out of Berlin are to Frankfurt and Munich. In as much, it’s really quite surprising they still have a lounge at all.
The décor of the lounge is in the typical Lufthansa style, which is a matter of personal taste. Some may like it, and others not. Personally, in general I find the Lufthansa brand rather dated and frumpy. One way or another, there’s something off about the lounge, and I can’t really explain what it is. It has all the Lufthansa branded furniture, but is otherwise nearly completely lacking in any sort of decorations or… something that might give it character.
There are the usual food options, although they’re looking quite unappealing – even the rice looks dry! But I will say that the views are good.
Boarding for the flight is from B07 and starts with a call for passengers in Business Class or with status. It’s going to be a full flight. I take my seat on the window on 1F and wait for the aircraft to fill up.
Alas, the crew on this flight are…meh. They’re a big, uncoordinated mess. I’m not even sure what exactly the issue is, but for some reason they seem disorganised and totally stressed before we even get going. I think part of the problem is that one of the two young men on the crew is, with all due respect, rather useless. He’s either inexperienced or he simply doesn’t care. So that leaves only three crew to do the job of four.
The flight time is 55 minutes, and once we’re airborne, the service is unnecessarily rushed and hectic. Even though there’s plenty of time with only ten passengers in the forward cabin.
The seat and cabin
There are three rows of Business Class on the flight, which is quite surprising, given that there were only two rows originally when I booked the flight. Of the twelve seats, nine are occupied. Although I might also like to add that there were eight passengers booked in Business Class, plus one Italian who figured he’d try it out and see if anybody noticed. They did eventually, and at least he had the decency of paying for the upgrade right there and then…
On row one the pitch is probably the worst in the whole Business Class cabin, because on all subsequent rows at least you can stick your feet under the seat in front of you. As usual, the middle seat is kept empty.
Austrian has the standard issue Lufthansa group seat with zero cushioning on its short-haul fleet. The seat is okay, but even after only 55 minutes of flight my butt is starting to ache.
Food is always a highlight on Austrian, and this flight is no exception. For the main course there is a plate with three sandwiches: salmon and cream cheese, cheddar and onion chutney, and tuna with chives. Although apparently the crew have not been informed and have no idea what they’re serving (Mr 2F, behind me, asks and get something of a strange reply from the crew…).
The sandwiches are really tasty and have not totally dried up on their way from Vienna to Berlin.
Dessert is a piece of Tiroler cake, I’d say, which is a hazelnut cake with chocolate chips in it. This is okay, but a bit too oily.
Arrival in Vienna
By the time we start our descent, the sun has already started to set. I always hate the shift back to winter time, precisely because it gets dark even earlier.
Vienna airport is very busy and there is hardly anywhere to sit while I wait to catch the connecting flight to Basel. But I will spare you the details on that flight.
As I mentioned, catering on Austrian is something they do really well. The dishes are usually nicely prepared and appeal to an international audience. The three sandwiches on this flight were simple but very tasty. Other than that though, the whole experience was a bit underwhelming and the crew were just disappointing. Which makes you wonder how much training these people actually receive before they’re let loose on humanity.
Of course, I did wonder during the flight if perhaps my perception of the flight was tarnished by my previous experience with Air France, which was very elegant and polished. Because that’s probably wouldn’t be fair either – there’s hardly any point in comparing a somewhat insignificant subsidiary such as Austrian to one of Europe’s leading airlines.
But I don’t think it’s that. A crew will make or break a passenger experience, and that’s precisely the problem with Austrian – their crews are unpredictable and more often than not they’re likely to disappoint. Which does not exactly instill me with a strong desire to book my next trip with them.
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.
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 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?
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Eventually, I leave the lounge to walk around a bit and stop me from falling asleep.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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 starts at 03h55. Our aircraft is parked rather far away, which is why we’re being bussed to our remote stand.
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.
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.
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.
A very creamy and fluffy yoghurt.
The potion that gives life.
During the meal service, the crew make multiple runs through the cabin with the breadbasket.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fish in a batter, on potato salad, corn salad and tomato.
Selection from the breadbasket.
Chocolate mousse with cherries.
Milka Easter Bunny.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From Security I head one floor down to immigration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.
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.
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.
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.
Beef consommé with butter dumpling.
The Main Course
Grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.
Warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).
If you’re still not done…
Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.
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 Second Service
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, another flimsy scented affair. Delivery: Trolley service. Choice: There are two options for the main course.
Ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.
Chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The Main Course
Fillet of beef with a sesame and soy chutney, green asparagus, red pepper coulis and potato terrine.
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. The dessert, once more, is an absolute delight. It really is quite amazing how they manage to pack so much flavour into each dish, particularly given that your sense of taste is considerably diminished at an altitude of 39’000 feet.
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.
The Second Service
a bowl of fresh fruit
a selection of breads
an omelette with mushrooms, mozzarella, a spinach-filed tomato and toast
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.
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.
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…