Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350-1000: London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

Getting to Terminal 4

My flight to Abu Dhabi leaves at 09:00. At 07:00 in the morning, I exit the Hilton at T4 and take the bridge that connects the hotel with the terminal. It’s about five minutes on foot. Probably a bit less.

Check-in

Etihad checks-in in Zone C. There are three counters for First and Business Class passengers. Althogh the A 350 does not actually have a First Class cabin with Etihad.

There is a dedicated Fast Track for security right next to the Zone C check-in area. I nearly miss it at first, because I hadn’t realised that the Fast Track sign doesn’t have anything to do with the IHG advert below it.

The Fast Track is empty and quick.

The Etihad Heathrow Terminal 4 Lounge

From security I head for the Etihad lounge which is located opposite gate 10, from where my flight will be boarding this morning.

Don’t follow the signs, they only guide you to a pair of escalators to take you down one floor to the reception of the lounge. There is also a set of stairs on the right, and it’s really not much of a schlepp to get either up or down.

Inside the lounge, waiting staff are available to serve you food and drinks. As I only just had breakfast, I merely ask for a cappuccino & a glass of sparkling water.

Eventually though, I get bored and decide to have a look around the terminal. There isn’t much to see in the lounge. In contrast, there are so many aircraft to watch that we don’t get in Switzerland, which to me is far more interesting.

Qatar Airways has a departure to Doha at 08:00, and then another at 08:35. The latter service is operated by the A 380.

Boarding

There are two separate lanes for Business Class passengers to board. Behind the gate counters the two lanes merge with that of Economy Class passengers. At the end of the corridor there are two airbirdges, and there is an Etihad gate attendant guiding passengers to the L1 or L2 door as the case may be.

The Cabin & Seat

On the A 350-1000 Etihad has installed a new seat in a herringbone configuration. I’m not sure if it’s identical to the new seat BA has on the A 350, but it’s pretty close, and that includes the sliding door for some extra privacy. Having said that, during the flight I notice that hardly any of the passengers made use of their sliding doors. But perhaps that’s because it’s a day flight.

The IFE monitor is quite large and is a touch screen.

There’s also an inbuilt charger for mobile devices.

There’s quite a lot of storage space.

There are no overhead bins for the seats in the middle of the cabin, which gives you a good sense of just how wide the A 350 cabin is.

At my seat when I arrive is a vanity kit, a wellness kit, the menu, a pillow and a blanket. The vanity kit contains socks and eye shades, a toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as hand cream and a sampler of Aqua di Parma perfume.

The Crew & Service

The crew on this flight are amazing. Right from the start it becomes clear that this is going to be one of those very enjoyable trips where everything just goes right. The crew interact easily with passengers. They’re also very attentive. No sooner have I stowed away my things, I am brought a warm towel and a glass of lemon juice and mint.

The crew ask me to have a look at the menu. They tell me they’ll come to take orders for lunch after take-off. The service is à la carte.

We take off in an Easterly direction, which takes us right over the city of London as we climb out of Heathrow.

And I am totally impressed by what a beast the A 350 is. The aircraft is stable, very quiet and climbs effortlessly.

The Meal – Lunch

I ask the crew to serve my lunch at around 12:30 CET. We start with a bowl of mixed nuts and a glass of Bellini, which is just lovely.

First course: leek and pea soup with herb ricotta. The first course is served with two slices of garlic bread, a small breadbasket with both butter and olive oil. To drink I have sparkling water. The soup is flavourful and has a beautiful, velvety texture.

Main course: spinach ravioli with goat cheese. This is again a very good dish. The goat cheese is not at all overpowering, as it sometimes can be, and gives the ravioli a nice twist.

Cheese: After the ravioli come the cheese and crackers with jelly. Unfortunately, no information is given about what cheese it is. The jelly goes very well with it.

Dessert: Sticky Banoffee pudding with strawberry. At this stage I think I really should have stopped. But when the cabin crew asks me what I’d like and adds that both the pudding and the apple crumble are delectable, there is only so much a man can withstand. God, this is good!

After that epic meal, the crew bring me a cup of coffee with a thin Godiva chocoloate. And then I need a little nap.

Arrival

We arrive in Abu Dhabi at 19:30, after a flight time of six hours and twenty minutes. The new terminal has still not opened, but rumour has it that this will be the year it does. I think it would probably be good if it did, because the current terminal is pretty full.

Just before the landing, the crew pass through the cabin with Fast Track access cards for passengers ending their journey in Abu Dhabi. The card gives you access to the premium queue at immigration, which is a huge advantage and saves you time in the regular queue, wich is quite busy.

Conclusion

Wow! On this flight the starts truly lined up. The crew were excellent, the food was delicious with a good variety of choices, and the hardware on the A 350 is just brilliant. As far as I’m concerned, the herringbone is still my favourite seating configuration in a Business Class cabin. Today’s experience on Etihad blew my other recent trips in Business Class out of the water. Hopefully lightning will strike twice – I’m already looking forward to the return flight…

Edelweiss Air, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Muscat to Zürich

Introduction

The main advantage in taking the Edelweiss Air flight back to Zürich is that it is one of the few flights that leave Muscat bound for Europe as a day flight. Most of the other flights depart in the dead of night, which is not at all pleasant. With a flight time of only seven hours, a night flight is usually not long enough to get a good night’s rest. The Edelweiss Air flight however, departs Muscat at 09h20, to arrive back in Zürich at 13h40. Previously, Muscat was served from Zürich as a tag-on to SWISS’ daily Zürich to Dubai service. Since the flight was taken over by Edelweiss, it only operates once a week on Saturdays.

Getting to the Airport

I’ve spent the whole of the last week in Sohar, which is Oman’s second city in the West of the country. From Sohar to Muscat it’s a little more than 200km. There is the old main road and what looks like a recently completed six lane motorway. I would recommend taking the motorway, simply because it’s a much more pleasant drive and the scenery is quite beautiful. Just watch our for the goats that have a nasty habit of walking into the middle of the motorway like they own the place…

I spend my last night in Oman at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is roughly 15 minutes away by car from the airport terminal. The close proximity to the airport is great if, like me, you forget your passport, ID, and wallet in the hotel safe and have to return to get them – because you only remember as your car pulls up at the curb outside the terminal that you didn’t take them out of the safe.

Check-In

At As-Seeb airport there is a segregated check-in area for First and Business Class passengers. Even if you’ve checked in online, I would still recommend you pass by the Business Class check-in area, as it gives you direct access to a dedicated queue for immigration and security.

Muscat Prime Class Lounge

The only lounge other than the Oman Air lounges is the Prime Class lounge, which is located one floor up from the duty free shopping area. This is also where you’ll find the entrance to the airport transit hotel.

The lounge is large and has many comfortable seating options. It also has wifi, and showers are available too.

The food options look interesting. There is a good choice of hot and cold dishes. Behind the buffet area is an attended bar where you can order alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Given that I had to go back to the hotel and then hurry back to the airport, I don’t spend all that much time in the lounge.

Boarding

The new terminal uses a closed gate concept. There is only one queue, and there is no priority for Business Class passengers to access the gate area, so that by the time I enter the gate, boarding has already started. I figure I might as well wait for the initial scrum to settle and busy myself taking photos of my aircraft instead.

The Cabin & Seat

The cabin layout of Edelweiss’ Business Class is a bit strange. The Business Class cabin is sandwiched between the forward Economy Class cabin and the rear Economy Class section. As you enter through the L2 door, the Business Class section is to your right. Which basically means that the Business Class cabin shares two loos with the entire forward Economy Class section.

There are seven rows of seats in the Business Class cabin. Row 11 is the bulkhead row. On rows 11, 14, and 16 the seats are configured in a 1+2+1 layout, whereas on the other rows they are in a 2+2+1 layout. The port side seats 11A, 14A and 16A are the throne seats that offer some additional storage space compared to the other seats. 14A also has a larger foot well, which come in handy with my size 11s.

The Business Class seat is essentially the same one that SWISS has installed on its long-haul fleet. The main difference being that the Edelweiss seat is covered in a light blue fabric.

The seat is comfortable enough, and being able to sit on your own is nice. But it doesn’t offer much in terms of privacy.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are excellent. They’re very friendly and hard working. Being a day flight, most passengers stay awake, and the crew make sure they have everything they need, passing through the cabin regularly offering snacks and drinks. It’s also noteworthy that the number of crew who actually speak Swiss German is much higher than it is on SWISS.

As soon as I take my seat and stow my luggage, one of the cabin crew comes to offer me a choice of orange juice, champagne or water and a packaged cold towel.

Amenity Kit

The amenities (socks and a tooth brush) are packaged in a cardboard box for “maximum impact”. I kind of like the idea. But I’m not sure how effective that box is in mitigating the CO2 emmissions being produced by the aircraft’s four engines.

In any case, at 09:35 we push back from our gate. One after the other, the four engines come to life with a quiet murmur and we slowly make our way to the active runway. The flight time is seven hours.

The Meal – Breakfast

The main meal service is breakfast. There is no menu, and there do not appear to be any choices either.

The crew set the table with every dish individually. The downside of that, of course, is that it means you cannot get out of your seat unless you remove every item individually.

The meal consists of a very tasty bircher müsli and small fruit salad.

A plate with a slice of Emmental, some smoked cheese and some revolting looking slice of cold cut that I don’t touch.

The hot meal is an omelette with peppers in a tomato sauce with creamy spinach and potatos.

With that the crew serve a wide selection of breads, which are served with butter and a variety of HERO jams or honey. The crew makes several rounds with the bread basket, which may account for how I end up having five slices of buttery Zopf…

At 11:00 the remains of the meal are cleared away. And I am mightily impressed. Just 80 minutes after wheels up the meal service is over, and passengers can kick back and relax. I fire up my laptop to work on my thesis.

The Second Meal

Ninety minutes out of Zürich, the crew pass through the cabin with sandwiches. There is a choice of roast beef or grilled peppers with cream cheese. And they’re very tasty. For dessert passengers are served a Biberli, which is a kind of honey and gingerbread sweet filled with almonds.

Arrival in Zürich

Shortly after, our A 340 dips its nose and we begin our descent into the murky Swiss clouds. It’s so much greener here than in Oman. Eventually, we touch down at 13:40, exactly on time, and make our way to the parking stand at the E pier, which is the satellite terminal. From there I catch the SkyMetro to the main terminal. There’s quite a queue for immigration, but at least it moves quickly.

Conclusion

I have to say that I rather enjoyed this flight with Edelweiss. I’m not even sure what I was expecting exactly, but this was certainly better. The crew was excellent and very friendly and the food was adequate for a flight of seven hours. The only thing I didn’t like that much was the seat, because you’re quite exposed in it. Other than that, it was good to get another flight on the A 340, as these aircraft are becoming increasingly hard to come by.

As for my trip to Oman, it was really great to be back. The one thing that always impresses me about the Omanis, and that I think really sets them apart from many of the other Gulf states, is just how incredibly friendly, down to earth and hospitable they are. There is something very dignified in their pride for their country. They make you feel welcome from the very first step you take off the aircraft when you arrive. And the ruggedness of the landscape is stunningly beautiful. I hope I’ll be back one day!

British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

Transfer in Heathrow

I step off the mighty Boeing B 777-300 from Tokyo and follow the signs for Heathrow flight connections. I take a set of escalators down into the basement and then cross under the taxiway that separates the satellite 2B from the main terminal. At the other end, I go up another set of escalators to reach the first floor, and then from there down another set to take me to ground level for the bus stop for T2 to T5 transfers. It’s awfully quiet in Heathrow today, and there are only four of us making the journey to T5.

British Airways Club Class Lounge Southside

The lounge is still decked out in Christmas decorations, and Christmas songs are blaring from the loudspeakers. Wish all you like Mariah, but you’re going to have to wait another year.

The lounge looks as though there’s just been a Mongol invasion. There’s hardly any place to sit and all the tables look as though the cleaning staff may have overdosed on eggnogg at the Christmas party and havn’t recovered since.

The furniture is also looking decidely worse for wear and is either stained with things I don’t want to know, or simply damaged.

Boarding

At the boarding time indicated on my boarding pass, I make my way down to gate A20, from where the flight will be boarding. There’s a slight delay that was caused on the inbound from Stockholm.

Boarding is strictly by zones, and the ground crew check to make sure passengers are queuing in the right lane.

The Cabin

There are four rows of Business Class on this flight. The cabin looks neat and elegant, but it’s also a bit gloomy – especially with the dark grey bulkhead.

I am seated on 2A, and the seat pitch is still quite good. It reduces rapidly towards the rear, to the point that it becomes painful.

The Service

There are two cabin crew working the Club Class cabin. One is a friendly elderly gentleman, and the other is a calm and efficient young lady with the most outrageously oversized fake eyelashes I’ve ever seen. I mean, she’s great and does a really good job, but those things are hideous!

Before departure, the crew pass through the cabin offering disinfectant towels.

The Meal

Given that the flight time to Amsterdam is usually just slightly over 30 minutes, I’m not really expecting anything special on this flight. Much to my surprise though, there are actually three options to choose from: cold roast beef, sweet potato salad or a couscous and beetroot salad, which is what I have.

The presentation of the main dish is very nice, and the taste is good. There is also a small bun and a dessert on the tray.

The dessert is some sort of Tiramisu, and it’s sinnfully good!

To finish the meal, I have a cup of peppermint tea. Zero points for presentation though.

We land after a flight time of 35 minutes and then make the long taxi to our gate on the non-Schengen D pier.

Conclusion

Perhaps it’s because my expectations were really low, but I was rather pleasantly surprised by this flight. The crew were friendly, the seat pitch wasn’t too dreadful, and the catering was very nice. But that lounge is in dire need of some TLC.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris Roissy to Zagreb

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Paris to Zagreb. My options are Croatia Airlines or Air France. Normally, I would go with Air France. However, this time around there were several good reasons to take Croatia Airlines instead. First, they use an A319 on the route, whereas Air France operates an Embraer 175. And second, the schedule with Croatia Airlines is more appealing, with an arrival in Zagreb at 13h10.

Getting to the Airport

I’m staying at the Sofitel Le Scribe in Paris, which is just around the corner from the Opéra Garnier. The car picks me up in front of the hotel at 08:35 to take me to the airport. Being early Sunday morning, the traffic is fairly smooth – right up until we join the access road to CDG airport, where the traffic comes to a grinding halt. As a result, the trip ends up taking just shy of 60 minutes in total.

Check-in

Croatia Airlines checks in at Terminal 2D, Hall 3. Currently, they’re working on the outside of the terminal, so access to 2D is via 2B.

There are three counters open for Croatia Airlines passengers: one for Business Class and two for Economy Class.

Access to the security checkpoint is between terminals 2B and 2D. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and the process is quick.

CDG2 Extime Lounge

Croatia Airlines uses the Extime Lounge, which is in the Schengen area of the terminal building. There are no lounges in the non-Schengen part from where Croatia Airlines boards. Access to the lounge is via a corridor that leads off from the main area just in front of the Relay kiosk.

The lounge is certainly one of the better ones at CDG if you’re not travelling on Air France. And it’s certainly much better than the dreadful lounge I visited in July on my way to Australia!

The lounge has a large buffet with a good selection of hot and cold dishes.

Boarding

At 10h45 I exit the lounge and make my way to passport control. It’s not very busy. I reach the gate for my flight at B29, where the last remaining passengers of the inbound are just disembarking.

Alas, taking a decent picture of my chariot is impossible.

Boarding starts ten minutes late. The first call is for Business Class passengers only.

The Cabin

Croatia Airlines operates six A 319s in two different configurations. This aircraft is configured for a capacity of 150 passengers, which is also why it has two overwing exits on each side, contrary to your usual, standard issue A 319, which only has one on either side.

Seat pitch on row 1 is good. It also helps that the Business Class cabin is not full. So once boarding is completed, the guy on 1C moves one row back so that we each have a whole row of three to ourselves.

Service

There are three cabin crew on this flight and they’re lovely, very friendly and helpful. While we’re still on the ground, they offer a welcome drink and disinfectant towel.

Today’s traffic regime at CDG sees parallel approaches happening on the two southern runways, and departures on the inner one of the two northern runways. On our way there, we pass CDG 1, which is still closed, where I spot Conviasa’s A 340 and an Aerolineas Argentinas A 330. CDG 1 is scheduled to reopen next year.

The Meal

The flight time to Zagreb is one hour and forty minutes. It’s difficult to find anything nice to say about the meal service. One could forgive the rather ugly presentation if the content were good but…

…we start with porc sausage slices…

…followed by a paté of sorts made of more porc (49%!) and then some porc.

Which basically leaves me with pickled vegetables and crackers and a piece of walnut cake. Tragically, the crackers are limp and the walnut cake is just dead boring.

And to drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

I also order a coffee. To be honest, even if you normally have your coffee black, if you’re drinking the Croatia Airlines stuff you may want to add the cream and sugar they provide for the sake of your taste buds. It’s not their fault…

The tray also comes with cutlery, although I’m not sure what I’m supposed to use it for, except perhaps to stick the fork in my leg in the hope that the pain will distract from just how hungry I am by this stage.

Arrival

Our route takes me overhead Basel, where I live, and then on to Innsbruck and Ljubljana. The flight is uneventful and the views of the mountains are beautiful, even though there’s still not much snow on them.

Eventually, we land with a delay of fifteen minutes.

Getting into Town

The airport bus runs to the city every thirty minutes. The journey takes 25 minutes to complete and will take you to the main bus terminus, which is still quite a walk away from the centre of town. The journey will cost you 45 Kuna, which is roughly EUR6.-. Only cash payment is possible on the bus, but there’s a telling machine at arrivals, just opposite the exit for the airport bus. The stop is on your far right as you exit the airport building.

Conclusion

In the sum of all things, I thought Croatia Airlines were quite okay. The aircraft was comfortable enough and the crew were really great and very friendly. On the down side, the food was seriously lacking. To be fair, they are the airline of Croatia. Even so, I think it would not be too much to ask for them to cater to a more international palate, shall we say.

Emirates Airlines, Boeing B 777-300ER – First Class: Dubai to Zürich

Introduction

I awake early on Friday morning with a large red sore across the bridge of my nose from having had to wear a face mask for the last seven days. But the course I was in Ras Al-Khaima for is now done, and I’m ready to go home. Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, cumbersome and tiring.

Getting to the airport

Ras Al-Khaima is about 80 minutes away from Dubai airport by car. Given that my departure to Zürich is just after eight in the morning and I really don’t feel like having to wake up at the crack of dawn, on Thursday afternoon I head back to Dubai to spend my last night at the Sofitel Downtown.

I’ve ordered an Emirates car to pick me up just before six in the morning; which is still early. The journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes. You can order the car yourself online in the ‘Manage my Booking’ section of the Emirates website, which is where you can also book a car to pick you up at the airport at your destination.

If you’re travelling in First Class, you get a larger and more ostentatious type of vehicle than you would in Business Class. And so, taking me to the airport this morning is a gorgeous BMW 7.

Check-in

Emirates checks in at Terminal 3, and there is a dedicated section of the terminal for Business and First Class check-in only. I wouldn’t say the place is teeming with people when I arrive, but it’s certainly a lot busier than I would have expected in the current situation.

There is no queue for the First Class check-in counters and I’m surprised by just how many counters are actually open. The check-in agent makes quick work of my suitcase and then I head for security and immigration.

The e-gates are available for passengers leaving the country. To use them you have to register your passport when you arrive in the country.

Emirates temporary First Class lounge

The lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area. The standard Emirates First Class lounge is temporarily closed to passengers, however. Instead, one half of the Business Class lounge has been sectioned off and converted into the First Class lounge.

The main feature of the lounge is the dining area. In accordance with the current situation, there is no buffet and passengers are served at their table. The menu is available online via QR code. There are some passengers in the lounge, but I wouldn’t say it is crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 07h45. I arrive at the gate a few minutes later and the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. I ask the gate attendant and she confirms that while the load in Business Class is looking quite okay, in Economy it’s rather light. In First Class there are three passengers.

The cabin and seat

I’ve never really liked the look of the Emirates First Class cabin and seat. Generally speaking, I find the fake wood and fake gold trimmings a bit tacky. And the grey leather covers are about as bland and boring as Lufthansa.

But the seat is very comfortable and offers a lot of privacy and space.

I think what impresses me most about the seat, is the amount of thought that has obviously gone into the design to create a private space for the passenger that is functional, practical and very comfortable.

The minibar in the side panel of the seat has a standard stock of drinks. However, the crew are happy to change the contents of the minibar to suit your requirements.

Every passenger also gets a bowl of snacks, which are replenished throughout the flight.

There’s also a travel hygene kit at my seat. It contains two face masks, two pairs of plastic gloves and disinfectant.

On the shorter day time flights Emirates does not offer a vanity kit nor pjs. But they do offer cosmetics at the seat, and toothbrushes and toothpaste are available in the lavatory.

There’s also a drawer with a writing pen and a small notebook. The pen is rather useless though, and doesn’t write very well.

There is ample storage space for personal items in the seat.

Before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin handing out forms that need to be completed on arrival into Switzerland.

Next, they pass through the cabin for the traditional coffee and dates welcome, with every date packaged in plastic individually.

We take off in a southeasterly direction and then make a right hand turn to point us in the general direction of Europe. The SID takes us right over Sheikh Zayed Road and the fabulous Burj Khalifa.

A la carte service

The service is à la carte and passengers can order any time they like. I already had breakfast in the lounge, and so I decide to have a nap first.

Apéritif

Around three hours out of Zürich I order lunch. The menu is quite extensive and offers a good selection of breakfast items, starters, main courses and desserts. I start with a bowl of warm mixed nuts, a glass of sparkling water and a glass of the Dom Perignon 2008.

The first course

Next, the table is set for the meal. This is one area where I think Emirates could improve. The whole meal service, like the seat, it functional and on point but not really very elegant – be it in the design of the tableware or the presentation of the food on the plate.

Before the crew start serving the food, they ask me if I would prefer the dishes to be served with the covers still on and remove them myself or if I would rather have them removed.

The breads in the breadbasket come individually wrapped in plastic that can be heated in the oven. They’re not really good though, because the steam cannot escape properly and as a result, the bread turns soggy fairly quickly.

For the starter I go with the cold-smoked ocean trout, served with pickled potatos, capers and crème fraîche. It’s a lovely piece of trout, but the presentation is a bit of a mess.

The salad

The salad is very nice. There is the option to add some grilled beef or shrimps and it is served either with a French dressing or olive oil and Balsamico.

The main course

For the main course, I go with the prawns in a shellfish sauce, served with wild rice with lemon zest and cardamom. This is a flavourful dish, and the rice complements the prawns nicely. The cardamom and lemon zest really make the dish and add an exotic twist to it.

Dessert

To end the meal, I ask for the chocolate fondant and some mint tea. The dessert is a bit of a let down though. The centre of it is still not quite melted and the outer texture is rubbery. It’s hard to say if the dish was just not properly heated in the oven or if it just isn’t a good recipe.

The meal concludes with a small box of Emirati pralines.

The meal service is nicely paced. There are no long waits in between the individual courses, but the whole service is still unrushed. I guess it probably helps that there are only three passengers in the cabin on today’s flight.

Arrival

Thirty minutes out of Zürich our Spanish captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that we have reached the top of descent have have another half hour to run to Zürich. The temperature is minus 2 and they’re expecting it to have just finished snowing by the time we land. From above it certainly looks pretty outside.

We touch down on runway 16, which is quite unusual. I’m not sure if this is due to the snow (perhaps runway 14, which is normally in use for landings, has not been cleared) or if it was specifically requested by crew because it allows for a much shorter taxi time to the gate.

The E concourse, which is normally used for the non-Schengen flights, is currently in hibernation and all flights now depart from the D concourse on the B pier. This also means that there is currently no lounge available for Emirates passengers, as this is also located on the E concourse.

Immigration is swift. The e-gates are currently only available for citizens of Switzerland and Lichtenstein, though.

There’s a bit of a hold up with the luggage, and eventually we end up waiting for forty minutes before the first bags appear on the belt. I exit through customs and turn right, as instructed by the Emirates ground crew, in search of my driver.

Getting home

The chauffeur service is very well organised. In Zürich, Emirates works with a company called Blacklane. After I booked the service on the Emirates website, I received a mail from Blacklane directly, confirming the reservation. If you download their app and log in using the mail address and name used in the Emirates PNR, you can see the reservation with the contact details of the driver.

My driver today is a friendly young lady. She is quite petite and looks oddly out of place behind the steering of the enormous Mercedez. But she does a brilliant job and tells me not to worry about the copious amounts of snow everywhere. The drive back to Basel takes us a bit less than an hour and is very comfortable.

Conclusion

This has been an interesting trip for me. On the one hand, it made me realise just how much I’ve missed travelling. On my way from Dubai to Ras Al-Khaima we came across a group of camels standing in the middle of the road. I found the sight quite moving. Not necessarily because I’m particularly fond of camels, but because the experience perfectly captured what I enjoy about travel – the opportunity of doing and and seeing things you normally wouldn’t be able to. Having said that though, I can’t really say I enjoyed the trip – because with Covid 19 the outside world has become a hostile place to me.

Brussels Airlines, Economy Class – AVRO RJ100: Stockholm Bromma to Brussels

This is a previously unpublished report from 2012.

Introduction

SN Brussels Airlines is, to the best of my knowledge, one of only very few international airlines that operate to Stockholm Bromma Airport and not to Arlanda. Until the 1960s Bromma was Stockholm’s only airport. When the facility was first established, it was still on the outskirts of the city. However, by the time Arlanda opened, the city was starting to infringe on the airport. And perhaps that explains why Arlanda was built so far out of town: to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen again so quickly.

Getting to the Airport

To get from Gashaga Bryggen, where I’m staying, to Bromma airport by public transport, you first need to take the Lidingöbanan from Gashaga to Ropsten, and then from there you connect to the T13 metro line that will take you to the central station.

The Flygbussarna, or airport bus, leaves from the Central Station. Apparently, not that many people know that there are two airports in Stockholm. Which probably explains why the bus driver, with a resigned tone of voice and a heavy sigh, tells every single passenger as they board that this bus is going to Bromma airport, not Arlanda, and the bus will not stop anywhere on the way. Okay?

Eventually, the bus fills up and we depart. We probably haven’t even moved 200 metres when the bus driver makes yet another announcement asking all passengers if they’re sure they’re on the right bus and want to go to Bromma, not Arlanda. And of course some Spanish woman pipes up from the back of the bus, runs frantically to the front and begs the driver to drop her off because she really, really needs to go to Arlanda, not Bromma…

Check-in

Bromma airport is really very small. It’s a two story building that looks like it hasn’t changed much since the 60s or 70s. It’s actually interesting to see how much airport design has changed over they years.

The Lounge

The only available lounge is the Yellow Room operated by Malmö Aviation. But apparently, SN Brussels were too cheap to contract this lounge for their Senators. But it’s no big deal, I rather like this dinky little airport.

Boarding

Boarding is also very old school. There are no airbridges (woohoo..!), which means that passengers walk across the apron to their aircraft. There are covered walkways though, although I’m not sure how efficient these might be during a snow storm in the cold Swedish winter.

The Cabin

The Avro RJ100 is a strange size in that the cabin diameter actually permits for a six abreast configuration in Economy Class, which is what British Airways Citiflyer and Cityjet have gone for. And it ain’t pretty, because the seat pitch is also quite tight. Fortunately though, SN Brussels has gone with the five abreast configuration, which means that while the circulation to your legs is just as likely to stop on these birds too, at least you can flap your arms around with greater ease and comfort as you gradually start to panic as the loss of sensation to your legs sets in.

The AVRO RJ100, which was originally conceived as the BAe 146-300, was designed as a STOL (short take off or landing) passenger transport that could operate from smaller airports with limited infrastructure. To ensure that passengers could board and deboard easily, the aircraft carries its own set of steps for the forward L1 door. However, this meant that the wing of the aircraft would have to be placed above the fuselage in order maintain enough clearance for the engines but still be low enough above the ground to be able to use integrated stairs.

As a passenger and a geek, I’ve always enjoyed the RJ100’s unique design. First of all, because it gives you excellent ground visibility from pretty much any seat on board, and secondly, because it’s interesting to watch the movement of the flaps during the climb out and landing phase.

The Meal

Service on SN Brussels Airlines is strictly buy on board in Economy Class. There is a menu and pricelist in every seatpocket.

I decide to with a balanced and healthy combination of Coke Zero and a muffin for EUR4.-, which is reasonable I think.

Arrival

And then, very soon we start our descent into Brussels, which means I’m now glued to the window to make sure I don’t miss the flaps being deployed. Although of course, there’s no chance of anyone on the plane missing that given the noise the RJ100 makes when the flaps are moved either up or down. It’s rather hard to describe. I suppose it sounds a bit like a racing car zooming past your ears at close quarters. As the flaps are deployed the sound is descending, so as though the ‘car’ were slowing down. I asked our aerodynamicist in the office once if he had any idea what caused the sound. But I shall not give you his answer to avoid offending anyone…

Transfer in Brussels

Eventually, we land in Brussels on time. I now have two hours to make my connection to Basel.

EasyJet, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Basel

Airline: easyJet Switzerland
Aircraft: Airbus A 319
From: Prague Ruzyne Airport
To: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
Departure: 16:15
Arrival:
17:20
Flight time:
one hour and five minutes
Seat:
1F

Getting to the Airport

The journey from the Czech air navigation service provider’s offices to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. The driver drops me off right outside Terminal 1, because that’s where the short term parking is located.

Terminals 1 and 2 are connected with each other, both landside and airside. EasyJet checks in at Terminal 2.

Check-in

The check-in hall is a big, cavernous space. EasyJet’s counters are at the far end of the terminal, on the row closest to the security check point.

For my trip today I have speedy boarding as well as fast track access for security.

Airside

I like that Prague is probably one of the few airports I know of, where you are not ejected directly into the duty free shop once you pass through security. In fact, the duty free shops are all rather low key and small.

My flight will be departing from the D pier. But seeing as I still have a while to go before my flight even leaves from Basel, I figure I might as well walk to the very end of the C pier, where there is a long row of seats along the window front with a great view of the apron. At least, there would be if the weather weren’t so bad…

Boarding

I really don’t know how easyJet does it. I mean, I watch my plane land and then taxi in. When the aircraft enters the ramp, I stand up and make my way back to the departure gate. I do make a brief stop at the gents on my way, but I’m quite sure even with that it can’t take me more than six or seven minutes to reach gate D5, from where the flight will be leaving. Even so, when I get there, boarding is already in full swing and there is a long queue to enter the airbridge. Surely, did it really only take so little time for the aircraft to park, the passengers of the incoming flight to disembark and them to start boarding again?

Of course, with the speedy boarding I am entitled to jump the queue and just waltz on the plane when I want. But honestly, I always find that’s a bit of a dick move when I see others doing it, and I figure it makes no difference anyway.

The Cabin

I am seated on 1D, the aisle seat. At the time I booked the flight, that was the only seat on row 1 that was still available. On 1A there is a middle-aged gentleman. Very late, 1B nd 1C are taken up by an elderly couple. The husband is not exactly a lightweight, to put is nicely…

Boarding is completed and 1E and 1F next to me both stay empty. So I figure I might as well move over to the window seat, which is where I usually sit. Only, as soon as I move, Mr 1B and his spouse move too. Apparently, he doesn’t like that there’s no bulkhead on the other side of the aisle.

I mean, how dumb can some people possibly be? If you already have the luxury of having a few empty seats on your row, you could spread out, for example by taking an aisle seat each. Like that, the middle seat would stay empty and we would all have so much more space and comfort. But no, of course not. Because the selfish, self-centred git don’t fancy not having a bulkhead.

Okay, rant over. Deep breaths, in and out. Thinking of happy little puppies, calm down. Oh yeah, great leg room on row 1, by the way!

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the onboard sales begin and I order a mint tea and the new chocolate brownie. Together, the two items set me back by EUR4.50, which I think is reasonable for what you get and cheaper than the M&S products you find on BA.

Arrival

Other than that, the flight is uneventful and short. We start our descent into Basel and eventually land at 17h20, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

There are quite a few easJet aircraft on the ground when we arrive.

Apparently, the Czech Republic is considered ‘clean’ by the prefecture of Haut-Rhin, because we pull up to a stand on the Schengen ramp upon arrival. Which also means that it’s a long walk outside to get from the aircraft to the terminal. On the up side, that means great photo opportunities for people like me. On the down side, it also means that if it’s raining you’ll probably get soaked by the time you enter the building…

Conclusion

Flying with easyJet is a lot like taking a bus. There‘s really none of the magic or romance I associated with air travel when I was young. Even so, I think the easyJet product is solid and consistent, to the point that I think I would prefer easyJet to British Airways, given the choice. But probably that says a lot more about the current sad state of British Airways than it does about easyJet.

EasyJet – Airbus A 320: London Gatwick to Basel

Airline: easyJet
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: London Gatwick
To: Euroairport Basel-Muhlouse Freibourg
Departure: 18:28
Arrival:
20:42
Flight time:
one hour and fourteen minutes
Seat:
1F, window seat on the starboard bulkhead row

Self-hubbing in Gatwick

By the time I collect my suitcase from the luggage belt at Gatwick’s South Terminal, it’s already coming up to 16h30. I now have ninety minutes to make my connection to Basel with easyJet from the North Terminal.

Signposting is very good, and the shuttle that takes you to the North Terminal is on the same level as the landside arrivals area. The journey by shuttle only takes a few minutes.

Check-in

Once I arrive at the other end, the easyJet check-in area is straight through the door, on the same level as the shuttle from the South Terminal.

I don’t know how many automatic check-in counters there are, but the row seems endless for sure. Which also means that I can just walk up to check in my suitcase without having to queue. This is my first time using one of these self-service machines, because I normally travel without checked luggage.

The process is easy to follow, if not perhaps a bit painful in my case… You see, at the time I made the booking, I remember paying extra to be able to check in a suitcase. Only, what I had purchased at the time was one checked bag weighing no more than 15 kilos. But two weeks in Malta is a long time, during which it’s only too easy to buy a few things here or there to take back with you.

So when I check in my suitcase at Gatwick, the scales indicate that it weighs in excess of 20 kilos, and the price for that is a whopping GBP60. And rather conveniently, you can pay the amount due right there at the check-in counter with your credit card.

Airside

Security is quick and efficient. That’s one of the few things I think the British really do very well. Once I’m through security, I just have enough time for a quick meal at Wagamama before it’s time to head for the gate. And for a changes there’s even no queue for a table.

My flight is departing from gate 102, which is located in the satellite that is connected to the main terminal by a bridge that aircraft can taxi under. It’s already dark though, so there’s not much to see.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 1F. I was hoping to take a picture of the seat as I boarded, but alas Ms 1D is already there and it’s impossible for me to take a photo without her in it. Still, she’s a very nice woman and very helpful with getting my backpack stowed away properly.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good and certainly comfortable enough for the short flight to Basel. Moreoever, the one thing I appreciate about easyJet is that their aircraft always appear to be in mint condition.

We start up and push back on time. but we don’t get very far. We make one right turn and then stop. The cockpit crew shut down one of the engines again and inform us that there will be a slight delay, with our slot time not coming up for another twenty minutes. Other aircraft are also having to wait.

The Crew

There’s nothing much to say about the crew, seeing as I don’t make any inflight purchases with them. The only thing I can say is that the purser is a young Italian man who’d make an interesting linguistic study. From his accent he’s unmistakably Italian. Other than that though, he’s highly proficient and uses many idiomatic expressions that you normally wouldnt’t expect from a speaker with such a heavy accent. Sorry, end of geek-out…

Arrival

After sixteen days away from home, I’m finally back in Basel. And it’s good to be back. But god it’s cold here…

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Malta to London Gatwick

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: Malta International Airport
To: London Gatwick
Departure: 13:35
Arrival:
15:50
Flight time:
three hours and fifteen minutes
Seat:
5F, window on the starboard side

Introduction

This trip has been just brilliant. First of all, I can’t remember the last time I went away on vacation for as much as two whole weeks in a row and without changing time zones! I had no idea how relaxing that can be! Of course, it helps that the weather in Malta has been lovely, with sunshine and temperatures hovering around 18 degrees celsius every day.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport from Valletta and Floriana by public transport, there are four buses you can take. The X4 is the ‘express’ which runs to Birzebbuga (there are a few diacritics missing there, sorry…) via the airport. The X4 actually stops right outside the terminal building and runs every half hour.

But then there are also the bus lines 71, 72 and 73, all of which go to Iz-Zurrieq and/or Qrendi on the other side of the airport. All three call at the bus stop ‘Cintra’, which is just at the entrance to the road tunnel under the runway. From ‘Cintra’ it’s a walk of about three minutes to the terminal building and there’s a pavement all the way. The 71, 72 and 73 run every six minutes. The journey time is 20 minutes.

Check-in

When I arrive at check-in, quite a few of the check-in counters are open in preparation for the early afternoon rush. British Airways has its own, dedicated counters, with one counter for Club Class passengers and status card holders and three for all other passengers. Check-in is handled by Air Malta staff on behalf of British Airways.

The La Valette Lounge

The check-in agent tags my suitcase, issues me a boarding pass and an invitation to the the La Valette lounge.

The entrance to the La Valette lounge is immediately on your left as you exit through the obligatory duty free shop. Access to the lounge is via lift.

Seeing as it’s the only lounge at the airport, it’s also very busy at this time of day. There are three Air Malta flights, Lufthansa’s Frankfurt service, the Emirates flight and the BA flight to Gatwick all leaving at more or less the same time.

I grab myself a Kinnie from one of the fridges and then head outside to catch some sun. Luckily, I manage to snag a chair with a perfect view of the apron. I’m going to miss the warmth of the sun when I get back to Switzerland.

The easyJet and British Airways flights from Gatwick arrive in short sequence and both of them are running thirty minutes late due an ATC strike in France…

Boarding

Gates 11 through 18 are the non-Schengen gates behind immigration. And today it’s a mess. The terminal is clearly very rapidly reaching full capacity during peaks. The British Airways flight is boarding from gate 18, which is the farthest gate. Next to us is the easyJet flight to Gatwick, next to that is the Ryanair flight to East Midlands, and next to that is the Ryanair flight to Manchester. And it’s chaos!

But at least I am rewarded for my labours, which include being body-checked by some vicious granny trying to jump the queue for the Manchester flight, because there is no bus for boarding and we are allowed to walk across the apron to our waiting chariot.

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft looks and feels different to that of the aircraft that operate to and from Heathrow. However, I don’t know if this bird is an exception or if this is the case for the entire Gatwick fleet. First of all, the cabin is not branded and the bulkhead is white with grey dots, instead of the dark grey coloured one with the Speedbird that you find on the Heathrow fleet.

And the seat is different too. There is no adjustable headrest. Other than that, the cabin looks very worn and in serious need of some TLC. They’ve removed the overhead screens. But instead of covering up the electric sockets where they used to be, they’ve just left everything uncovered. Not only does it not looks very nice, it also gives the impression that really this aircraft should be in maintenance and not in service.

At least on row 5 the seat pitch is still good enough for a flight of thre hours.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are also unusual. First of all, the purser is a nice, friendly chap. But honestly, I’m wondering if he’s already old enough to have to shave. He’s also not wearing a standard issue uniform shirt. Either that or British Airways recently changed to off-white uniform shirts for their male crew that have the kind of matted grey colour you can only hope to achieve from chucking in a perfectly white shirt with your undies and socks to wash by mistake…

But apart from that, I have to say that all of the crew are excellent. They’re very friendly and they are constantly present in the cabin during the flight. They take could care of the passengers.

The flight today is full, and there are 36 passengers in the Business Class cabin.

The flight time is three hours and fifteen minutes due to the ATC strike. We take off towards the northwest, routing via Palermo and Rome, then across the Alps into Austria and then Germany and Belgium to avoid France.

The mix of passengers in the cabin is interesting. I think it’s safe to say that at 45 years of age, I am by far the most junior passenger in the forward cabin. The rest are all in their late sixties and early seventies and probably still remember Malta from when they were stationed there with the RAF, before Malta became independent.

And all of them look as though they’re travelling for leisure. Behind me is another elderly couple. The husband is your typical cockney geezer who insists on calling the female cabin crew ‘sweetheart’ – and has me wondering how long before he inadvertently becomes part of the #metoo movement but for all the wrong reasons.

There is no service at all on the ground. I don’t know if this is normal or just because the crew are in a hurry to get away as soon as possible.

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin with lightly scented hot towels and distribute the menus for the flight.

The Meal

There are three choices for the main dish.

Ahead of the meal there is a drinks service, and passengers have a coice of nuts or biscuits as a snack to go with that.

The whole meal is served on one tray from the galley, so there is no trolley service. While of course it is nicer to have your meal brought to you from the galley, instead of it being taken out of a trolley, I also think that tray service doesn’t really work on a narrow body, especially if you have a fairly large and full Business Class cabin as on this flight. By the time the crew deliver the last meals to row 9, the passengers on row 1 are already having their tea or coffee.

The First Course

There’s something delightfully oldfashioned about the starter, which is crayfish in a spicy cocktail sauce. It’s not bad, although a bit less sauce would have been perfectly fine too.

The Main Course

For the main course I have the fish, which is very good and has managed not to to dry up completely in the oven.

The Cheese

The cheese is my favourite part of the meal on BA and I just love that they serve it with chutney and crackers.

In addition to the crackers, the crew also make two rounds with the bread basket and there is a selection of white and brown breads.

Dessert

The dessert is fine but really just way to sweet. My teeth ache just from looking at it. I give up on this one and only have half of it.

To finish off the meal I have a cup of mint tea to help pry my tongue off my hard palate after that sticky dessert…

Later on, as we start our descent into Gatwick, the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of Border’s biscuits. The biscuits are good, but I’m wondering if the presentation could be improved – because the crew pass through the cabin with this enormous retail size box of biscuits and distribute them from that. It’s not the height of sophistication to be honest…

Arrival

En route over Italy the crew were able to get an improvement on our routing, to the extent that the delay is reduced to less than fifteen minutes. But by the time we’re sequenced for arrival and eventually touch down, we’re thirty minutes later after all.

The flight ends at Gatwick’s South Terminal. I now need to retrieve my suitcase and then make my way to the North Terminal for my connecting flight.

Conclusion

While there were a few oddities on this flight, such as the consition of the aircraft cabin, the appearance of the crew and the mix of passengers in the Business Class cabin, all in all this was not a bad flight. Moreover, I think that Gatwick is by far the much more pleasant passenger experience than Heathrow.

Flying British Airways may not be everyone’s cup of tea and honestly, they’re usually not my first choice anymore either. Even so, I still think it’s impressive that on a Friday afternoon in early February, which is during Malta’s deepest low season, they still manage to fill 36 seats in Business Class.

EasyJet – Airbus A 320: Friedrichshafen to London Gatwick

Introduction

Schaffhausen is probably best known for its proximity to the spectacular Rhine falls in Neuhausen. But it’s definitely also worth a visit in its own right.

In Schaffhausen I spend the night at the lovely Hotel Rüden, which is located close to the railway station, on the fringe of the old town.

Getting to the Airport

There are two ways to get from Schaffhausen to Friedrichshafen airport. The boring way is to take the train and change in Friedrichshafen. The journey will take 1 hour and 27 minutes. The alternative is quite a bit longer at 2 hours and thirty minutes, but definitely more fun!

First, I take the 09h49 train from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, which is a journey of about fifty minutes, part of which run along a very scenic route next to the river and then the lake.

In Kreuzlingen I have three minutes to make the connection to Konstanz, which is only another four minutes by train.

And then in Konstanz, I have twelve minutes to connect to the catamaran that goes across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen.

Only, it turns out that because of the wind, the catamaran will not be operating. So I’m just going to have to take the train.

But that’s not quite so straightforward. First, I take the 11h40 train to Radolfzell, which is a ride of fifteen minutes.

And then in Radolfzell I have ten minutes before my train to Friedrichshafen arrives. This being Germany, it’s late of course. But it’s a diesel train, which we don’t have in passenger service in Switzerland. I think it’s kind of cool, and sounds like a bus more than a train.

In Friedrichshafen I just have enough time to walk down to the lake to take a look at the water, which is starting to look a bit rough.

And then from Friedrichshafen Stadt I take yet another diesel train at 13h09, which takes five minutes to get to the airport.

From the airport station it’s just a short walk across the road to the terminal, which is a nondescript, flat building. But there is an Ibis hotel.

Check-in

Departures are to the left of the building. Despite its limited size, inside every carrier has its own dedicated check-in counters. Although having said that, I hardly think there are all that many operators out of FDH.

Airside

Security for all gates is off the the left of the check-in hall. And of course, once you’re through security, you’re immediately ejected in the duty free shop.

All in all, there are seven gates, of which the five A gates are for Schengen departures and the two B gates for non-Schengen flights.

About 45 minutes before departure, the immigration officers appear to open up shop. The guy at my counter looks at my Maltese passport and just says ‘cool’ with this gleeful tone in his voice. ‘I’ve been there, you have great weather down there…’. And then he just lets me through.

At 14h20 the inbound from Gatwick glides down on runway 24. The A 320 looks slightly out of place and a but oversized compared to the terminal.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 14h45 for a 15h05 departure. But that’s okay, because it turns out there’s only 49 passengers on the flight anyway…

The Cabin

Originally, I’m seated on 1C. But once boarding is completed two minutes later, I switch to the window on 1F and have the whole row to myself!

On the first row the pitch is comfortable enough. I don’t think it’s much less than on the first row of SWISS’ A 320s. The only complaint I have though, is that there’s cold air coming in through the R1 door inflight. Obviously it’s not enough to depressurise the cabin, but it certainly gives you cold feet!

On the climb out of Friedrichshafen we’re treated to some excellent views of the lake.

The Meal

Once the buy on board service starts, I purchase a large cup of hot chocolate with two shortbread finger biscuits for GBP4.-, which I think is quite fair.

The Crew

The crew are a friendly bunch and they’re obviously enjoying not having a full load of passengers for a change.

Arrival

The flight passes quickly, and eventually we land after a flight time of 90 minutes and taxi to our stand at the satellite of the North Terminal.

Getting into Town

The airport is surprisingly quiet and I’m through immigration in no time. From arrivals I head one floor up to catch the shuttle train to the South Terminal, from where the Gatwick Express into London’s Victoria station will be leaving.

The journey into London takes 32 minutes if you’re lucky enough to catch the express and there are multiple trains per hour.

For a change, this time I won’t be staying in the West End. Instead, I’m off to Brixton…

I won’t be writing a post about the return flight to Basel with easyJet, so this is going to be my last post of 2019. I want to thank all those of you who have visited my blog throughout the year and read the posts or just looked at the pictures, but especially all those of you who also were kind enough to leave a comment – be it a question, criticism, explanation or correction. Thank you!

I wish you all a happy holiday and a spectacular festive season!

– William