SN Brussels Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Transfer in Brussels

The flight from Stockholm ejects me straight onto the A concourse of the Europa pier in Brussels. All the Schengen lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area at the start of the pier.

The SAS Business Class Lounge

My Senator status entitles me to use any Star Gold lounge, so obviously I decide to go for the SAS lounge for the simple reason that I’m quite intrigued to see that they even have their own lounge in Brussels.

The facilities inside the lounge are nice, this could be a SAS lounge anywhere in Scandinavia. The only thing I’m not really so sure about though, are the orange Buddah figurines covered in velvet that have been nailed to the wall…

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A 35, which is a bus gate. And judging by how few passengers get on the bus before we eventually leave, I suspect the flight is going to be more or less empty.

The flight today is operated by a Bombardier Dash 8-400 of Austrian Airlines, which still retains it’s Austrian livery. Only the titles have been removed and replaced with those of SN Brussels Airlines.

Over the years, Basel has seen just about every narrowbody type ever operated either by SN Brussels Airlines or on their behalf operating the Brussels to Basel route.

The Cabin

It is somewhat unfortunate that the branding expert at Austrian Airlines is evidently colour blind. At least, I have no other explanation for the onslaught of colour that hits me as I enter the cabin. I mean, the red uniforms with those hideous red stockings are bad enough. But the way the red clashes with the various shades of snot-green colour of the upholstery and carpet is seriously making my eyeballs hurt. But at least one of the bulkheads is sky blue.

On the up side, the flight is nearly empty, so I can pick any seat I like!

The Meal

Given that the flight time to Basel is usually a little less than fifty minutes, there is no buy on board on this flight. Instead, each passenger is treated to any choice of drink from the bar trolley and a packet of Doritos, which I have no intention of eating and don’t even bother to open.

Arrival

And then we’re already descending into Basel and then I’m back in the sweltering heat.

Conclusion

SN Brussels is a strange airline. Okay, as a former Swissair employee there’s probably still some resentment in me for the airline formerly known as SABENA. But even so, I just find SN Brussels very boring and nondescript. I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid them, but I also don’t think I’d actively seek them out for my next trip.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Zürich to Lugano

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Date: 31. August 2016.
Departure:
09:35.
Arrival:
10:10.
Flight time:
35 minutes.
Seat:
15F, then 9A.

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Introduction

Lugano airport is located in a narrow valley, closed in by steep hills on three sides. In addition, the lake just south of the airport puts further limitations on the length of the runway. As a result, even SWISS’ Avro RJ100 is still too large and too heavy to operate safely in and out of Lugano. For a while, service to and from Lugano were operated by Darwin on behalf of SWISS. But then once Darwin was rebranded as Etihad regional, there was no way the relationship could continue and eventually, the route was taken over by Austrian Airlines who operate the Q400 on the route.

And so I find myself on my way to Zürich early on a Sunday morning to catch an Austrian Airlines flight from Zürich to Lugano.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Departure: 06h33 from Basel Main Station.
Arrival: 07h47 at Zürich Flughafen.
Journey time: 1 hour and 14 minutes, including the transfer at Zürich Main Station.

Check-in

Facilities: Web check-in via the SWISS app. Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. Advanced seat reservation is possible against payment on the SWISS website or web app.

The Passbook app does not really work well for SWISS. The whole point about Passbook should be that the boarding pass appears on your lock screen. So that you only need to swipe the screen to display the pass, rather than having to type your PIN code each time. But for some reason that never seems to work with SWISS.

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The Lounge

Location: Upper level of the airside terminal.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS and Star Alliance Business Class lounge operated by Swissport on behalf of SWISS.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers, computer workstations, newspaper rack.
Catering: For a change, there is a fairly decent breakfast spread, with different types of bread, cold cuts, Müsli and a fruit salad.
Internet:
Available in the lounge and in the terminal, courtesy of the airport authority.

At least for once the place is empty and looks fairly tidy. Two things strike me as I wolf down my croissant. First, the lounge is starting to look dated. SWISS’ branding has not really aged very well and what was once cool simplicity is starting to look worn and plain drab. And secondly, have the staff here actually received any training? None of them are actually doing anything. Instead, two of them are discussing a roster swap while the three Latinos are having a bit of an argument in Spanish about some guy who is, and they all agree here, a bit ‘tonto’ and a bit ‘loco’. Seriously? If it were not for them, the place would be nice and quiet…

Boarding

We are boarding from gate A55, which is a bus gate on the ground floor. I count 40 passengers on the bus, which is more than I had been expecting for such a flight on Sunday morning.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: The Q400 has a seating capacity of 76 in Austrian Airlines’ configuration.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: None to mention really, but there is a coat hook.

Originally, I am on 15F, which is a window seat. But the guy next to me seems to be needing a lot of space, which is kind of strange considering he is not really such a big guy. But fortunately for me, there are still a few rows left empty by the time boarding is completed. And so I move forward to 9A, which is also a window seat.

There is a Business Class cabin on the aircraft. Business Class seats have a headrest cover, which the Economy Class seats do not have.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the flight today. The flight is operated with Austrian Airlines crew, which is why the two ladies are dressed in that carrier’s rather trashy red uniform.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Snack.
Meal:

  1. Still water (a Swiss brand)
  2. Small bar of chocolate.

To be honest, I am rather surprised they serve anything at all, given that the flight time is only 30 minutes. But in any case, the chocolate hits the spot nicely.

Arrival

We fly a circuitous route around the mountains on our descent into Lugano. Eventually, we fly into the valley from the south, coming in over the lake. We then make a wide left hand turn to line up with the runway and land in a southerly direction.

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‘Dinky’ is the best word I can think of to describe Lugano airport. It is just so small. It is probably one of the few airports I have ever been to where you can get the entire arrivals and departures areas in one shot.

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

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Date: 08. July 2016
Departure:
16:00
Arrival: 17:05
Flight time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Seat: 18A

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Introduction

Vienna is a very pleasant place to be. The city is laid out very generously and the many buildings that date back to the city’s imperial history are quite splendid. And so I decide to walk to the academy this morning.

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At noon the course comes to a close and according to the original plan, I should now be heading home to Switzerland. But something has cropped up and I urgently need to be in the Canary Islands by Saturday morning. Given that the course in Vienna only ends at noon, my best option is to return to Zürich on the Austrian Airlines ticket I am holding and then to continue to Spain from there.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train – CAT nonstop train or the suburban line 7.
Journey time: 16 to 25 minutes, depending on which train you take.
Departs from: Wien Hauptbahnhof.
Arrives: Wien Flughafen.
Frequency: The CAT departs at 06 and 36 past the hour from the city.
Cost: EUR4.30 for a oneway ticket.
The CAT train that makes the journey from the city to the airport in only 16 minutes and will set you back EUR12 for a oneway ticket or EUR19 for a return.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 3, counters 331 to 368.
Facilities: Airport check-in, self-service check-in, online and app check-in.
Counters: There are separate counters for Business and STAR Gold passengers.

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Airside

By the time I reach the airport it is already 14h30 and my flight to Zürich is expected to start boarding at 14h55. So I quickly drop off my suitcase and head for security. Fortunately, the airport is not very busy at this time of day and there are no queues at the bags drop off or at security. I shall be eating the on the plane, so I figure I might as well skip the lounge and go straight to the lounge.

Boarding

Separate boarding for Business Class passengers, status card holders, families with children and passengers requiring assistance. Once they are all on board, there are not that many passengers left really… There is a slight delay for the boarding process to commence, and as a result we loose our original slot for departure. Eventually, by the time we push back from our stand we are already running a bit more than thirty minutes late.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: The Airbus A 320 has a seating capacity of 168 in a mixed Business Class/Economy Class configuration.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlets and no overhead screens.

The Crew

There are three female and one male cabin crew on the flight to Zürich this afternoon. The three ladies are very friendly and obviously get along with each other. So the atmosphere in the cabin is relaxed and laid back. The male cabin crew also seems friendly, but very serious and reserved.

The Meal

For EUR15 you have the possibility to pre-order a meal on European flights in Economy Class, and there is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes available. Catering for Austrian Airlines is provided by Do&Co.

  1. Chicken Schnitzel
  2. Potato and cucumber salads
  3. Bread
  4. Chocolate mousse
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This meal really is just so good. Seriously, the chicken has miraculously managed not to dry up completely and the cucumber and potato salad is really tasty. But the piece de resistance is certainly the excellent chocolate mousse. It is so rich and creamy!

Arrival

I normally do not recognise all that much on the ground. But today I am lucky and we are treated to an excellent view of the city of Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls nearby.

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Eventually we land with a delay of fifteen minutes. By the time I have retrieved my suitcase, it is already 17h30. I now have just over one hour to dump this suitcase in a locker and retrieve my rucksack from another locker I deposited it in before I left for Vienna.

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

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Date: 06. July 2016.
Departure:
18:30.
Arrival: 19:35.
Flight time: 1 hour 5 minutes.
Seat: 18A, window.

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Introduction

It is Wednesday afternoon and I am on my way to Vienna to give a course at the Austrian Military Academy. From Zürich to Vienna you have a choice of SWISS, Austrian Airlines and Niki. Owing to the fact that they offered the most convenient timings on this occasion, I have decided to go with Austrian Airlines.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Journey time: 13 or 17 minutes.
Departs from: Winterthur main station.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen station.
Cost: CHF4.30 for a oneway ticket.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 3, which is one floor up from the railway station platforms or Check-in 1, the former Terminal A. In both check-in areas there are dedicated counters for Swiss International Air Lines and their Star Alliance partners – including Austrian Airlines.
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines, online and app check-in.
Counters: There are dedicated counters with a separate queue for Business Class and STAR Gold passengers.

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The Lounge

Location: Upper level of the airside centre.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class lounge operated by Swissport on behalf of SWISS.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, there are also workstations with computers.
Catering: Hot and cold snacks are available in the lounge, the quality of which is pretty awful.
Internet:
Available throughout the terminal.

I walk into the lounge and head up the stairs to the main seating area and unfortunately, by the looks of it nothing much has changed here since my last visit. What is this? The place is very crowded and looks like a crime scene. All the tables are full of dirty dishes, which evidently nobody seems to be too eager to clear away, and the guests in the lounge are assaulting the buffet with a vengeance. It dawns on me that it will probably be much less crowded outside the lounge. Besides, I think I hear Sprüngli calling my name…

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Boarding

Dedicated queue for Business Class and Star Gold passengers. All other passengers use the self-service boarding gates.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The Airbus A 320 has a seating capacity for 168 in a mixed Business Class/Economy Class configuration. The Austrian Airlines seat is one of those flimsy and highly uncomfortable affairs. To save space and subsequently decrease seat pitch, there is close to no padding on the seat, which is not really very easy on the butt. Fortunately, the flight is only a bit more than one hour, but I think a longer journey on this seat might be quite agonizing.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlets. There are no video screens on this aircraft.

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The Crew

There are four crew on this flight. They seems very friendly, they smile and interact easily with the passenger. The captain comes on the loudspeakers to welcome passengers aboard. He introduces himself as Robert and after he provides us with the usual departure and route information, he goes on to tell us that today he will be flying us to Vienna with his brother Greg, who is the co-pilot. I this is a really nice touch and the way he announces his brother is quite charming.

The Meal

Choice: On European flights, Austrian Airlines serves a complimentary drink and a small snack – usually something like a bag of nuts or some stale crackers. However, for EUR15 you also have the possibility to purchase more substantial meals, and there is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes available. Catering for Austrian Airlines is provided by Do&Co. On this evening’s flight I am the only passengers to make use of this service.

  1. Tomato and mozzarella salad with dressing.
  2. Chicken in red pepper sauce with traditional sheep cheese and cherry tomatoes and chives. Served with Spätzle.
  3. Mango and lime Meringue.
  4. A bag with three small breads and butter.
  5. There is a bottle of water on the tray and you can order anything else from the drinks trolley.

The food really is very tasty, I must say. There are quite a few pieces of chicken in the hot meal and the Spätzle are nice and chunky. The dessert hits the spot nicely, especially if, like me, you have a sweet tooth. It is certainly much better than the Business Class meal you get in Business Class on a flight of this length.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Train, suburban line 7.
Journey time: 25 minutes.
Departs from: Wien Flughafen station.
Arrives: Wien Mitte.
Frequency: Trains depart at 09 and 39 past the hour from the airport if you are taking the nonstop train.
Cost: EUR4.30 for a oneway ticket.
Alternatively, you can also take the CAT train, which is a nonstop train that makes the journey into the city in only 16 minutes. The CAT will set you back EUR12 for a oneway ticket or EUR19 for a return.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Fokker F 100: Munich to Vienna

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Transfer in Munich

Transferring in Munich is easy enough. My flight to Vienna will be leaving at 19h25 and is boarding from gate G 38.

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Boarding

Available but a bit useless. The first boarding call is for Business Class passengers and Senators only, which seems a bit superfluous given that a bus will be taking us to the aircraft. So priority basically means that you get to choose the best seats on the bus…

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 3
Seat: 15A, window seat on the row of two. The seat looks rather nice and the dark colours give the cabin a very classy appearance. It looks as though Austrian has refurbished its F 100s. The overhead bins for example have a much more modern look and feel compared to KLM’s F 70s. Having said that, the capacity of the overhead bins is limited in comparison to KLM. And as a result, this being a full flight, passengers and crew are having difficulties finding enough space in the cabin to store the copious amounts of luggage people have carted on board.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.

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The Crew

There are three female cabin crew on this flight. And to be honest, all three of them exude the warmth and charm of a corpse. The most senior one of the three witches of Eastwick is standing at the door to welcome passengers as they board. At least that is what I think she should have been doing. But in actual fact she is standing there eyeballing the passengers with this serious couldn’t-give-a-fuck expression on her face. She also seems to have lost her ability to speak somewhere along the way. I say ‘hello’ when she looks at me and I all I get in return is another glare and silence. Oh yes, she’s definitely a really class act this one.

The Meal

The meal consists of a small packed of savoury biscuits and a cup of still water.

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Arrival

Fortunately, our flight time is only 40 minutes and we land in Vienna right on time at 20h20. Unfortunately, it is going to be yet another bus to the terminal. I wait for all the other passengers to disembark before I get up to collect all my stuff and put on my coat. Obviously, by this time the bus is completely packed. There are still passengers standing around on the apron trying to figure out where to sit. And that includes me. Not that the crew or the bus driver could give a shit.

Getting to the Hotel

I shall be leaving Vienna again fairly early tomorrow morning, so I will not bother to go into the city. The NH Hotel is located just a short distance from the terminal and is easily accessed via the subway that leads to the airport’s railway station. Just follow the signs marked ‘Hotel’.

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Conclusion

Lufthansa, whatever happened to you? I mean, I know it has been a while since my last intra-European flight with the Lufthansa group. Even so, I really am quite amazed at how service standards have deteriorated – even by Economy Class standards. On the Lufthansa flight from Luxembourg to Munich the crew were anonymous and completely exchangeable, there was nothing about them that made you think ‘ah yes, this is what I like about Lufthansa’. And I assume that is probably because it is not even really Lufthansa anymore. The aircraft was branded as Lufthansa Group and an announcement was made that apparently the flight was operated by Germanwings. God who pays the crew’s salary. The overall effect though, is of a totally soulless and undefined carrier that really does not in any way stand out from the competition and probably even looses in some areas, like inflight service, when compared to operators like Easyjet.

And Austrian Airlines are simply bizarre. I just do not understand. Their crews are like the aeronautical equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On long-haul flights I find that Austrian Airlines really shines and its crews are something else. But on European short-haul they just suck very much.

A while back I abandoned Lufthansa and Miles & More, mainly because I could achieve Platinum status with Air France and Silver status with British Airways with only half the effort it takes to remain a Senator. Unfortunately, my experience with Lufthansa and Austrian on these two short flights did nothing to make me want to reconsider and return to the fold.

So long Lufthansa, it was nice while it lasted but all good things must come to an end…

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – A 320: Zürich to Vienna

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Getting to the Airport

Silence, as I cross the deserted square from my apartment to the main entrance of the railway station. And darkness. This is early. Four twenty five to be precise. I’m catching the four forty train to Zürich Airport. It is just a bit over a week since I returned from my Christmas vacation in Japan and I’m travelling again. This time it’s a business trip though. I’m giving a course in Cyprus.

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The journey time to Zürich Airport is one hour and sixteen minutes. The fare for a return ticket in second class starts at CHF37.50.

Recently they introduced new rolling stock on the line that runs from Basel’s main station to Zürich Airport. Essentially they’re new regional trains. But they’re comfortable enough. My only gripe is that there really is no space at all to stow luggage. But at this time of day the train will hardly be full.

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It’s quite amazing how difficult it is to reach Cyprus from Switzerland in the low season, particularly of you’re not travelling on a week’s package vacation and only need to visit the island for a few days. Only Cyprus Airways operates scheduled flights from Larnaca to Zürich, but that flight is not daily and only operates twice a week during the winter – as it happens on days which are of no use to me. The two best alternatives therefore, appear to be either with British Airways via London Heathrow or with Austrian Airlines via Vienna. Somehow I dislike the idea of flying all the way to London, only to catch a plane back in the opposite direction to get to Cyprus. So I’ve decided to take the Austrian Airlines option instead. But there’s just one snag. There is no same day connection from Basel to Larnaca. Which is why I find myself, at this ungodly hour, on a train bound for Zürich, feeling tired and bleary-eyed.

Check-in

I forgot to check-in on the Austrian website the evening before my flight. I figure it doesn’t matter seeing as I’ll be dropping off a bag anyway. But then on the train I decide I might as well give it a try. The Lufthansa App is showing my booking, but because the flight is originating in Switzerland, I am advised to check in with SWISS. So I try the SWISS App, which promptly issues my boarding pass for the flight to Vienna but not for the onward connection. Well, at least it’s a start.

I arrive at the airport with fifteen minutes to spare before meeting up with my colleague who will be joining me on this trip. Enough time to get my boarding passes sorted and have my bag checked through to Larnaca.

Check-in for Swiss flights at Zürich Airport is done either in Check-in 1, in what used to be Terminal A, or in Check-in 3, which is conveniently located one floor up from the railway tracks, so you really don’t have far to go.

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I like the ventilation fans they have…

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The Lounge

The Senator lounge in Zürich was recently closed for refurbishment. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the end product is somewhat of an anti-climax. Essentially, all they’ve done is to remove the comfortable loungers there used to be and replaced them with smaller and less comfortable looking seats that take up less space, thus allowing them to put more seat in the lounge. Oh yes, and they changed the model aircraft in the lounge from the old A 340-300 to the A 330-300 in the new livery. Glad to see they got their priorities straight.

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The Cabin

When I arrive at the gate, boarding is already underway. Austrian Airlines have an interesting boarding concept. The first call is for Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members. They may pass the gate in the traditional way, meaning the gate agent scans the boarding pass and wishes you a nice flight. After that the scrum for general boarding begins, with passengers required to use the automatic gates for boarding instead.

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I step on board to the sound of Strauss blaring away. I’m kind of in two minds about this one, if I’m perfectly honest. I guess it’s a nice touch, but it is also a bit tacky. The cabin is decked out in the same slim seats BMI used to have and which, if I’m not mistaken, Lufthansa also have. Very obviously the colour red dominates in the cabin. Today’s flight is rather full in the back but there are still a few seats left available in Business Class from what I can tell.

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The Crew

The cabin crew is a nondescript bunch. This is not meant in a negative way or anything. It’s just that there is really nothing much in the way they go about their job that might set them apart from the crews of other airlines.

Take-off is from runway 28. It’s a lovely day for flying and we’re treated to some excellent views of the Alps on our way to Vienna.

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The Meal

The meal consists of a round of hot and cold drinks. To eat there a Nuss Schnecke, which is a pastry with ground hazelnuts in it. I take one but eventually leave it untouched. My colleague, who later on eats both his and my Nuss Schnecke, assures me that it wasn’t as dry as it looked.

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Arrival

The quantity of the meal is perfectly adequate for a flight of only 80 minutes. The rubbish is removed and shortly after we begin our descent into Vienna.

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This is the first time I’m using the new pier in Vienna. Perhaps it’s just me but I find the whole design somewhat inconvenient and unpractical. I also think the facility looks rather cheap and drab; the signage is really bad. Next stop: Larnaca.