The journey from Valletta to the airport normally takes about 20 minutes. However, they’re currently in the process of finishing some major roadworks near the airport, and as a result, there have been a lot of traffic jams recently. Last week the Times of Malta reported that the airport bus got stuck in traffic, so that eventually passengers for the airport had to alight and walk the last kilometre to the terminal carting their suitcases behind them.
I leave the hotel at 07h10, and arrive at the airport at 07h45, 35 minutes later.
SWISS checks in on rows 12 to 14. There are two counters for Economy Class passengers, and one counter for Business Class and status holders. I check my suitcase in and then head one floor up to security.
There is a dedicated priority lane for Business Class passengers.
The Malta Airport La Valette Lounge
The lounge is busy, just like the rest of the terminal. Which is why I don’t take any photos. It has a buffet with a good selection of hot and cold breakfast dishes. There is also a well stocked bar. Unfortunately, there is also a French peaking man with his two badly behaved brats yelling everytime they speak. For crying out loud, it’s only just gone 08h00 in the morning! Personally, I think parents and their children should not be allowed to enter airport lounges.
Boarding is from gate 5. From what I can tell, I would say there are about 100 passengers on the flight today. As the aircraft is parked quite far away from the terminal, we are bussed to it.
I’m always amazed by the size of the E2’s engines.
There are six rows of Business Class on this aircraft, for a total of 12 passengers. Surprisingly, there is no cabin divider between the Economy and Business Class section. Which becomes a bit awkward during the flight, when the crew turn away passengers wanting to use the forward loo by explaining to them that they need to use the Economy Class one in the back of the bus. To be fair, without any curtain or cabin divider, how are you supposed to know when the Business Class cabin begins – or even that there is one?
The crew on this flight are a delight. They’re very attentive, and really just so friendly. Throughout the flight they’re permanently in the cabin making sure that passengers are comfortable. The service starts with a bottle of still water and a wet towel, which are handed out while we’re still on the ground.
We take off in a northwesterly direction, from the intersection of the taxiway and runway 31, roughly half way down.
As we climb out, we pass St. Paul’s bay and then Comino’s Blue Lagoon.
Together with the friendly cabin crew, I think the meal is really where SWISS blows Lufthansa out of the water. The meal service is extensive and tasty.
The hot meal is a poached egg in a spicy tomato sauce with Rösti and a bacon rasher.
A plate of cheese, of course.
A berry müsli.
And a plate of fruit.
With that the cabin crew offer a selections of buns and croissants from the bread basket.
And to drink I have a coffee and an orange juice.
The meal concludes with a small Swiss chocolate. The crew bring me a pillow and I nod off until we start our descent.
The flight time to Zürich is two hours. As we make our way across the Alps, the aircraft gently eases off the thrust and we start our descent. I’m surprised by how much snow there still is on the peaks, considering it’s already the end of May.
We park on a remote stand adjacent to runway 28.
There is a dedicated shuttle for Business Class passengers already waiting to take us to the terminal.
There’s a bit of a hold up for the suitcases, but nothing major. Eventually, I arrive in the office just after 13h.
This flight with Helvetic Airways really was a pleasure. The service was impeccable and the food was very good. With the start of the next winter schedule, SWISS aims to reduce the number of wetleases operating its services. While I can understand that they may not want to dilute the SWISS brand, I hope their plans will not affect Helvetic. Mainly, because their crews tend to be far more attentive and friendly than those of SWISS. I’m very positively surprised!
We’re in week five of the new year, and so far I have spent a grand total of seven days at home. Not seven consecutive days though, I might add. Another two weeks and then the semester starts. And then I’m done travelling for a while.
Getting from Berne to Zürich Airport
This year, the Swiss Federation is celebrating 175 years since the constitution of 1848 was ratified. To mark the occasion, the Bundeshaus is offering special guided tours to the public – which is why I’m in Berne today.
The tour ends just after 14:30, which gives me enough time to grab a cake and coffee from Loeb before heading across the square to collect my luggage and catch the 15:31 train to the airport. The journey takes eighty minutes, with the train stopping at Zürich Main Station and Oerlikon on the way.
Once again I am absolutely amazed by just how incredibly ugly the railway station in Berne is. Think brutalist meets dead boring and painfully bland.
The service to the airport today is operated by a Dosto composition. That’s right, it’s the train I mentioned previously that shakes about violently enough to cause disorientation, blurred vision and possibly also concussion.
But at least the First Class carriages are quite nice – and empty.
Speaking of empty, Zürich airport isn’t exactly jumping this afternoon either. Most of the people landside seem to be shoppers, not passengers. Check-in 1, where SWISS checks in, is pretty much deserted.
There is one counter for First and Senator passengers, which is where I head to drop off my suitcase. Something seems to have changed on the Wallet app, because I can open my boarding pass, but I can’t seem to save it.
SWISS Senator Lounge Zürich Airport
There is a Senator lounge in the Schengen area, and another on the non-Schengen D concourse. When I inquire with the check-in agent though, she tells me she’s not sure if the lounge on the D concourse is even open and suggests therefore, that I use the Schengen lounge instead.
Just like the rest of the airport, the lounge is quiet. The mute noise and the high ceiling make it feel a bit like being in a church.
There is a hot and cold buffet in the lounge, with a small but nice selection of dishes.
I go for the Älpermagrone, a Swiss dish of pasta with a cheesy sauce, apple compote and fried onions.
At 18:00 I leave the lounge to make my way to gate D 52. I still need to go through passport control. Although I needn’t have worried, because there’s hardly anybody around here either. This is now becoming just a wee bit eerie.
D 52 is a bus gate. I just miss the first bus when I arrive, but it doesn’t look as though the flight is packed. Before boarding there is a document check for all passengers.
Our aircraft is parked on a remote stand. Really the remotest of remote stands at the far end of runway 16, near the old Swissair hangar. On our way, we pass a long line up of Swiss, Edelweiss and Helvetic aircraft that don’t look as though they’ll be heading off somewhere anytime soon.
There are four rows of Business Class on this aircraft. I’m the only passenger in the forward cabin this evening, which means that I can take my pick from any one of the eight available seats. I park myself on 1F, just in case they bring us in for an approach from the East in Heathrow, which would take us right over the Westend.
Seat pitch on row 1 is okay. However, it quickly diminishes towards the back of the bus, and Helvetic really know how to pack them in.
The Crew & Service
There are three crew on the flight this evening. They’re very young and also very good. I’m quite impressed actually. Straight off the bat they address me with my family name in every interaction they have with me. They are friendly and polite.
The service on the ground begins with a small bottle of still water and a scented disinfectant towel. Just before we reach the threshold for runway 28, one of the crew asks me if I’ll be having dinner and takes my order for drinks after take-off. The flight time is eighty minutes.
The meal consists of a plate of smoked duck with wedges of parsnip, celery and potato mash and red cabbage. I don’t try the meat, but the vegetables all taste very good – especially the mash.
During the meal, the crew make two rounds with the breadbasket. I have one roll with the cheese and a packet of Darvida biscuits with butter. To drink I have a Coke Zero.
Throughout the meal, the crew keep close tabs on me – checking regularly to inquire if they can get me anything. Once I’m done with the food, the tray is quickly removed and I am brought a mug of mint tea. And then shortly after that, the crew hand out the chocolates and we start our descent.
Cool. The approach does indeed bring us in over London. We break through the cloud abeam London City airport and then continue past the Shard, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace towards Heathrow.
There’s a bit of a hold up for the luggage to be delivered. But other than that, the arrival in Heathrow is fairly smooth.
Getting to the Hotel
Tomorrow, I’ll be departing from Terminal 4. That’s why I decide to spend the night at one of the hotels near T4. Getting there from Terminal 2, where my flight from Zürich arrives, takes a while. First, because you walk quite a bit and have to go up and down many flights of stairs. And second, because trains from the central Heathrow railway station to Terminal 4 are infrequent and only run every thirty minutes in the evening.
The trip between terminals is complimentary. However, you’ll still need a ticket to get through the barriers to reach the platform. There is a dedicated vending machine that prints tickets to that end. They’re really hard to miss.
Today begins an extended period of travel for me. Some trips I will be taking by plane, whereas for others I will be taking the train. By the time I am permanently back home in Switzerland it will be the middle of February. This first leg to Amsterdam also marks my first flight on the KLM E 195-E2, and I have been geeking out about it all day with excitement!
Gettin to the Airport
The first part of my journey from Basel to Zürich is on one of the more recent acqusitions of the Swiss Federal Railways. The Dosto was built by Bombardier and is intended as a double decked composition with high speed tilting capabilities to accommodate the mountainous Swiss terrain. Too bad the technology is a complete and utter fail. The staff complain that their joints ache after working on the train for a whole day. And I know from experience that working on your laptop on this train can be treacherous. The constant jolts mean that you are very likely to accidentally open the wrong file or application…
But at least they look nice inside…
At Zürich HB I transfer to one of the many trains running to the airport. Zürich airport is still looking very festive.
The airport is surprisingly busy. There are two security lanes open for premium passengers, but the process is taking some time, mainly because there are families with kids ahead of me in both lanes.
I do not bother with the lounge a) because I do not have much longer to wait until boarding starts, and b) because KLM recently changed lounges in Zürich, and the new one is really nothing to write home about. Unless, of course, you enjoy sitting in a broom cupboard.
Boarding starts on time, and I am delighted that the DNATA staff strictly enforce boarding by zones.
When I step on board, the cabin lights are dimmed and set to a funky mood lighting in shades of pink and blue. It looks rather cool, I must say. Other than that though, I think some more brightness would be great, as passengers are struggling to find the seat numbers in the near-darkness of the cabin. The lights remain like this for the entire flight, except during take-off and landing, when they are turned off completely.
I am seated on row 3, which is one of the rows with extra legroom. The seat is very comfortable, and obviously a lot of thought has gone into maxing out the available space.
There are two power sockets for every pair of seats. There is an adjustable head rest with ears for support, and there is also a holder for iPhones and iPads for passengers to watch their own movies.
We push back from the gate at 17:31, on schedule. The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.
There are three crew on this flight. All three of them are quite young. None of them are overly friendly. However they are perfectly polite and efficient in their interaction with passengers.
The crew swiftly prepare the cabin for departure and turn off the funky disco lights as we mae our way to runway 28 for take-off.
The meal service consists of a cheese sandwich with Beemster and some spicy mayo. As I previously mentioned in another post, I think KLM’s European Economy Class sandwiches are really quite tasty, and I honestly prefer them to the content of those Business Class cardboard boxes any day!
To drink I have a cup of sparkling water.
Arrival in Schiphol
Somewhere along the way we must have taken a few short cuts, because we eventually land in Amsterdam after a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, bringing us into Amsterdam 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
We park on a remote stand and are then bussed to the terminal building. It is cold and windy here in Amsterdam.
This was another enjoyable flight with KLM, which is now one of only a few airlines left in Europe with complimentary catering in Economy Class. The E2 is nice, and in the KLM configuration it offers a lot of comfort and space. The mood lighting gives the cabin a very modern and funky appearance, and the crew obviously enjoyed trying out different settings. However, I wonder if perhaps it would speed up boarding and deboarding to have brighter lights on during the process…
It is probably safe to say that the Embraer E2 family of jets have not been the commercial success the Brazilian manufacturer had hoped for. To date, fewer than 270 aircaft have been ordered, whereas the rival Airbus A220 is gradually approaching 790 orders and calls some of the world’s most prestigious airlines its customers – and that includes Air France, Air Canada, and Delta.
Even though the E2 family was rolled out in 2013, to date only 55 aircraft have been delivered. In as much, and as I know from my own experience, catching a flight on one of these elusive birds is not easy. Currently, the two largest operators of the type are KLM and Helvetic Airways, both of which I use quite frequently. Even so, to date every time I was booked on a flight supposedly operated by an E2, there was a last minute aircraft change and a missed opportunity.
Until today. Finally, after several failed attempts I get to sample Helvetic Airways’ E2 on a flight from Luxembourg to Zürich operated on behalf of SWISS. Ironically, this opportunity arose unexpectedly as the result of yet another aircraft change.
At the Airport
If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the bit about getting to the airport or describing the lounge I didn’t visit… My flight departs Luxembourg at 15:00. When I get there, the place is deserted and there are hardly any people. Whatever the case may be, it means that I can settle by the window and watch the traffic until my E2 makes an appearance.
Just after 14:03 the inbound flight touches down and very gradually makes its was to its stand at gate A17.
The first thing that strikes me about the E2 is the size of its engines.
Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of 15 minutes. I count 85 passengers on the flight today. There are nine rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats, of which 16 are taken.
The first impression as you step on the plane is very good. The cabin is tidy and neat. Other than that though, the narrow diameter of the hull gives it the look and feel of a commuter aircraft, which is not quite so apparent on the A220.
I’m seated on row 7, where the seat pitch is painfully tight. Fortunately, sitting in Business Class means that the seat next to me is empty, so at least I can stretch my legs sideways.
On each row of two seats there are four USB sockets.
There is also an overhead reading light and an air vent for each passenger. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Helvetic Airways’ seating configuration – apart from the overall lack of space and comfort – is that the seats on most rows are missaligned with the windows.
There are three cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a woman with a thick eastern European accent but otherwise flawless English and German. In the back of the bus is a friendly young man who interacts pleasantly with passengers and a young lady who looks as though she’s afraid of her own shadow. She passes through the cabin wordlessly like a ghost.
Before we depart, the MC distributes refreshing towels and small bottles of still water.
The pictures of the outside were taken by sticking my iPhone next to the ear of the guy in front of me (and hoping he won’t notice) and then twisting my hand to the right to aimlessly point the camera lense in the general direction of the wing.
The meal service consists of a small tray with a plate of two stale canapés – egg & tomato and ham & cheese – and a small jar of vermicelles mousse and plums.
Before I even manage to take a bite, the ghost appears offering the chocolates. The guy in front of me asks if he might be allowed to take a second one “for my kid” (right…) to which he only receives an ever so slight and silent nod of the head.
The tray tables are a bit of a problem, mainly because they’re very small and my tray keep sliding off. Other than that, is it really too much to train the crew to crew to wait until the end of the flight to hand out the chocolates?
If I actually had a window, the views outside would be gorgeous. The colours are gradually changing to autumn, casting the landscape in a warm colour.
During the descent the crew advise passengers with connecting flights to go straight to their gates if they have connections within the hour. Beyond that though, no information about the departure gates of the connecting flights is given.
We park on a remote stand, where the dedicated bus for Business Class passengers is already expecting us to take us to the terminal building, which is eerily quiet.
I’m happy I finally got to try the elusive E2. In the sum of all things though, I can’t really say I was too impressed. First, considering that it is a fairly new design I thought the cabin looked rather old-fashioned. Second, no matter how hard you try to give the cabin an airy, spacious feel, there’s no denying that this is an aircraft with a very narrow fuselage. In as much, at least as far as I’m concerned, the E2 is no match for the A220 in terms of comfort and passenger experience. I also found that the aircraft is much louder inside than I expected.
Yet again, the crew were Helvetic’s saving grace on this flight, even though the one crew member didn’t actually say anything – but perhaps it’s for the better that way.
Today I’m flying back home from Bogotà. Once I’m fully awake, I check my iPhone to find that my colleague, the excellent B, has sent me a Whatsapp message. And it’s one of those messages with a very angry smiley. You know, the one with the orange face and steam coming out of his nose. You see, in my last post on the flight from Paris to Bogotà I referred to the pasta, or should I say pâtes, in the picture below as ravioli. And the excellent B took umbrage, because apparently they’re not Italian ravioli but French ravioles. Trust my luck they happen to be a speciality from the excellent B’s home town, Valence, in France…
Of course, my inner foodie is telling me that it doesn’t really matter what you call those squishy, tasty little buggers – they’re just seriously delicious. Having said that, as a linguist I am compelled to agree with Winston Churchill, who argued that a man should always say what he means, otherwise he can never mean what he says. And a gentleman should always mean what he says. So there you have it.
I suppose my saving grace is that the excellent B is a Frenchman. In as much, his message to me simply includes a demand to correct my mishap, which I hereby do. If he were Italian, I’d probably have a dead horse’s head in my bed tomorrow…!
I can’t really say that I saw anything much of Bogotà, seeing as this was a work visit. What I can say though, is that the people here are really just so friendly. It’s quite heart warming, and even though I don’t actually speak any Spanish worth mentioning, and many of them don’t speak any English either, they’re easy to interact with, always helpful and generous to a fault.
Other than that, I certainly felt the 2800 metres altitude at which the city lies during my stay. Just going up a flight of stairs here has me out of breath and gasping for air. It’s quite disconcerting in the beginning. The one thing I honestly have to say I don’t like, is the food. If you’re not much of a carnivore and don’t enjoy overly greasy food much, you may want to pack a few boxes of crackers before you visit.
Getting to the airport
In Bogotà I am staying at the Hilton Garden Inn El Dorado, which is conveniently located five minutes away on foot from the course venue. The hotel runs a shuttle to the airport every hour on the hour, and the journey time is fifteen minutes.
International flights operate out of Terminal 1. Air France checks in on counters 42 through 48, which are located exactly opposite entrance number 7 to the terminal bulding.
There are two SkyPriority counters available. The young lady checks in my suitcase and hands me a voucher to visit the El Dorado lounge opposite gate 47.
The El Dorado lounge
The El Dorado lounge is a Priority Pass lounge. And from what I can tell, most of the guests in the lounge are there with their Priority Pass, not because they’re travelling on a Business Class ticket. The Priority Pass will get you entry into the lounge. But if you’re looking for grub and booze there’s a USD8.- surcharge. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother.
The lounge is a very odd, long shape. It’s gloomy and feels more like a factory canteen than a lounge. Normally there would be a buffet. But with Covid measures still in place in Colombia, there are two ladies behind a separation that are serving passengers.
I have rice and melanzane parmigiana, because that was the least meaty option – and it’s so disgusting. I mean, you can’t really screw up rice. But the melanzane…
The flying Dutchman and I spend a grand total of about seven minutes in the lounge. After that, we leave again and head for the Juan Valdez coffee shop to get some real food that does not taste like, look like and make you want to puke.
The views from the public lounge are also much better. It’s not everyday you get to see some of these babies below (at least not if you live in Switzerland).
KLM operates to Bogotà routing AMS-BOG-CTG-AMS, which means that there are Cartagena-bound passengers on the aircraft from Amsterdam, who then have to spend ninety minutes loitering about before continuing their journey for another hour to Cartagena.
Boarding starts rather unceremoniously, first boarding the passengers with Cartagena as their final destination, and then the passengers boarding in Bogotà for Amsterdam.
The cabin & seat
The cabin and seat configuration KLM has on the B 787-9 is nearly identical to that of Air France. Mostly, the differences are because of the branding. This time, I’m seated on 1K, so the opposite side from where I sat on the inbound from Paris with Air France.
Privacy on 1K is great, as there are no middle seats. However, behind the curtain is the toilet. Although I have to say this is not an issue during the flight and there are never any queues.
The menus, vanity kit and water are already on the seat when I arrive – together with the pillow and blanket.
The Bogotà to Cartagena service
The crew operating the flight to Cartagena is the same one that flew the inbound from Amsterdam. Even so, they’re still friendly and don’t look too worse for wear. While we’re on the ground there is a welcome drink service with a choice of champagne, water, apple juice or orange juice.
The flight time from Bogotà to Cartagena is one hour.
During the short flight the crew serve more drinks and a packet of nuts. This time I have the apple juice to drink.
Transit in Cartagena
As soon as we touch down in Cartagena, the aircraft’s window’s start fogging up with the humidity. It’s also a lot warmer here. In Cartagena passengers need to stay on board the plane while a security team searches the aircraft. The turn around is about one hour. I still manage to snag a few photos from the door. Cartagena international airport makes Heringsdorf airport look like a major international hub…
In Cartagena the crew changes. And I can tell this crew is having a bad day straight away. I couldn’t really say what it is. Perhaps they’re just tired and jetlagged, but they seem a bit dull and distracted.
Service on the Cartagena to Amsterdam leg
Once more a welcome drink is served on the ground.
After take-off there’s an aperitif service with some warm nuts, which are served in an incredibly ugly plastic cap that looks a bit like the lid you get when you order a Frappuccino – just without the hole in the middle. I mean, would it have been too much to ask for something a little more attractive…?
There are two choices for the starter. I go with the soup, which is served on a tray with butter and the salad. The salad contains peppers and palm hearts. During my stay in Colombia I was always careful not to eat anthing raw – and I make no exception on KLM with their catering.
Where Air France takes orders for the meal in order of passengers’ seniority as Flying Blue members, KLM just go row by row.
Only one round is made by the crew with the bread basket, which I think is just a bit shabby, to be honest.
Initially, when the tray arrived there was no dressing. That is served quite a while later, by which time I’m sure most passengers have already finished their salads.
For the main course there are three options, and so I go with the egg noodles with pak choy, and even the flying Dutchman agrees with me that the catering on this flight is really quite digusting and more or less inedible.
For dessert there is a choice of something sweet or cheese. But by this time, everything has take so long that I just give up. I only want to sleep and I’m pretty convinced I won’t miss much by skipping dessert.
The second service
Ninety minutes out of Amsterdam the crew serve breakfast. And here too there is a choice for the hot meal. I have the pineapple filled pancakes with mango and they really are beyond belief. They’re hard as a brick and near impossible to cut. There’s also a funky smell of burning plastic coming off them. There are only croissants in the bread basket, and again the crew only make one round.
To drink with that I have a coffee and orange juice.
And then to end the flight, the crew come through the cabin with the Delft houses.
Eventually we touch down in Amsterdam just after 11h00 in the morning, after a flight time just short of ten hours. Everything looks so colourful and lush here!
Schiphol is very busy when we land, and all the gates at the non-Schengen pier are occupied, which does not bode well if I’m to believe all the stories these last few weeks about the staff shortages at Amsterdam airport.
Indeed, the stories turn out to be true. But I’ll leave the description of my horrific transfer at Amsterdam for the next post…
All in all, this flight was a bit of a let down. The crew were clearly not feeling it and it showed. They were unfocussed and seemed distracted. Other than that, the food was so bad it was really unacceptable. And the routing via Cartagena unnecessarily make a long journey even longer. The only thing this flight has going for it, is that it departs from Bogotà and arrives in Amsterdam at a civilised time. The Air France flight to Paris doesn’t leave until after 23h00. Even so, if I ever have to visit Bogotà again, I would still consider the Air France flight for the return.
Just a few weeks ago, London opened parts of its new Elizabeth line, which runs from the East to the West of London and its suburbs. The trains also run to Heathrow, providing a viable and very attractive alternative to the outrageously priced Heathrow Express. Together with the Piccadilly tube line, there are now three options to get to Heathrow by public transport. The Heathrow Express is the fastest, and runs from Paddington to the airport in about fifteen minutes. The Elizabeth Line is much cheaper, but takes about thirty minutes to make the journey – if it goes according to plan. The tube is clearly the cheapest option but takes for ever!
In the end, so did my trip to Heathrow too. I depart from Paddington on the 15h47 train bound for Heathrow’s T4. The ticket costs GBP7.50. I’ll need to change trains at the T1-3 station for a train bound for T5. Only, when we reach Hayes & Harrington, where the line branches off to the airport, passengers are informed that the train will not be able make it to Heathrow. So instead, we should wait for the second train on the next platform, which will then run to T5.
So we all move to the next platform where soon enough the train pulls into the station. It runs nonstop to the station at T1-3. Only, when we get there, another announcement is made to inform passengers that there’s been a change of plan, and therefore, our train will now be running to T4 instead of T5. For the latter, passengers should wait on the same platform for the next train to arrive in ten minutes.
Eventually, the trip from Paddington to Heathrow’s T5 takes me over an hour.
I’ve checked in online, so there’s no need for me to stop at a counter and I can head straight for the fast track for security. It’s Friday evening, which would normally be a busy time to travel. But Heathrow is eerily quiet. There are a lot of aircraft movements outside, but it certainly doesn’t look as though they’re very full, with so few passengers in the terminal.
Security is painless. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through so quickly at Heathrow!
My flight will be departing from the C satellite of T5, which means I’m going to have to take the shuttle train or walk – which I’m not sure I would recommend. It’s not a very nice walk.
The lounge in T5C is still closed, so passengers are adivsed to use the lounge in T5B, which is even quieter than the main terminal.
British Airways T5B lounge
The British Airways lounge is not much better either. Where is everybody? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this place so quiet.
I don’t actually have all that much time to spare. By the time I sit down in the lounge with a glass of sparkling water, it’s already coming up to six in the evening.
Boarding for the flight starts at 18h05. However, given that I still need to get from T5B to T5C, the displays are all already showing the flight as Boarding. The process starts with group 1, which is all Business Class passengers. Which is all the same, because the A 350 taking me to Madrid is parked in such an awkward location that it’s impossible to get a clean shot of the aircraft.
As I pass the gate, the agent informs me I’ll need to wear a face mask for the duration of my stay onboard.
The cabin & seat
I’m a big fan of the A 350. It’s such an elegant looking bird. It’s also very quiet and comfortable inside. Flying a wide-body on a short intra-European sector is always nice, too.
The Business Class section is located between the L1 and L2 doors. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. The single seats on the even numbered rows are the window (A) seats, and offer much more privacy than the single seats in the unevenly numbered rows, which are the aisle (C) seats.
The seat offers good storage space.
The inflight entertainment system is operated either from a hand-held device, or you can use the touch screen to operate it.
We taxi out with a delay of about 30 minutes, due to them having to offload the suitcases of passengers that never made it onto the flight. Our flight time is announced at two hours.
While we’re on the ground there are no welcome drinks or anything. The only interaction with the crew is when they distribute the menus.
After take-off, the service quickly begins. I go with the vegetarian dish, and I must say I’m quite surprised with the quantity and the quality, especially of the main dish.
I also admit though that I don’t touch the shrimp. With the meal, the crew make two rounds with the bread basket, which is offered together with olive oil.
The dessert is very good.
To finish the meal, the crew pass through the cockpit with small pieces of dark chocolate, which is incredibly rich.
The service on this flight is what I would describe as typically Spanish. The crew are business friendly. They are helpful and they do their job in a professional and efficient manner. The food service is well paced. Other than that though, there is zero interaction. No smiles, nothing.
Eventually we land in Madrid at 22h11, only slightly behind schedule. Our arrival brings us in right over the centre of Madrid. Once we land, we quickly taxi to our stand on the satellite terminal. From there I need to catch the train to the main terminal.
There is a health screening for passengers arriving from non-Schengen countries, and that includes Britain. Other than that, Madrid seems even quieter than London.
Getting into Madrid
To get into Madrid I first catch the line number 10 to Nuevos Ministerios and then the line 8 to Plaza de España, where my hotel is. If you’re travelling from the new terminal at Madrid, there is a supplement to pay which is automatically added to your ticket.
Today marks the beginning of my summer vacation. And Rennes will be my first stop. Originally, I was booked to fly from Basel to Rennes via Paris. However, that connection was cancelled and rebooked via Amsterdam. The originally rebooked departure from Basel to Amsterdam should have been just after 10 in the morning. But then another schedule change meant that I was rebooked again to depart from Basel to Amsterdam on the morning departure at the ungodly time of 06h30. This also meant that I would have a layover in Amsterdam of about six hours.
Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use that layover to go into Amsterdam for breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel in the seedy part of town by the central station. However, given that KLM is currently advising passengers to show up for security screening four hours (!) before departure, I figured I better not risk it.
I’ll be making a separate post of my stay at the Yotel Air at Amsterdam Schiphol. This post is about the flight from Amsterdam to Rennes.
The flight to Rennes departs at 13h40, with boarding expected to start at 13h13, which is an oddly specific time… And of course our aircraft is on a remote stand, so we’ll have to be bussed there.
There are two rows of Business Class, but the forward cabin remains empty on this flight. I’m seated on 3A, the first row of Economy. As I’ve already mentioned, and complained about in previous posts, properly aligning the seat rows with the windows appears to be a bit of a problem on the E170 aircraft. And this includes the configuration Air France has them in. I do have a window seat on 3A, but I seriously need to crank my head back to be able to look out.
I count a total of 68 passengers.
The cabin crew are two females in their mid- to late thirties, if I had to guess. They’re both business friendly. Not gushing, but not rude or unfriendly either.
The flight time is announced at one hour and ten minutes.
The service consists of a small and very tasty, buttery biscuit and a cup of Perrier. Air France have stopped using plastic cups and serve all their drinks in Economy in cardboard cups instead.
After the meal I’m still tired. I quickly doze off and only awaken again when the captain comes on to announce the “début de déscente”, the top of descent.
The landscape below is very flat, green and lush. And not exactly densely populated.
Our arrival is a bit shaky because of the wind. We land on runway 28 and then have to backtrack up the runway, as the only taxiway doesn’t reach all the way to the end.
There are only open stands at Rennes airport, which is very small and really quite dinky.
I completely forget that we’ve arrived on an international service. In as much, it takes me by surprise to find myself in front of an immigration counter upon entering the terminal. The check is not really so much about the passport or ID, but about checking the vaccination status of arriving passengers entering into France.
Getting into town
To get to the bus stop, make a sharp left upon exiting the terminal and just keep on walking until eventually you will see the bus stop. Both the C6 and 57 bus lines run to the centre of town. The journey takes about thirty minutes and costs EUR1.50. Apparently, you don’t need to buy a paper ticket and can normally just badge in with your credit card. However, when I try that, it doesn’t work. So I have to buy a ticket from the driver, who can only accept cash.
I had a really early start this morning, which didn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies – even if it was to get on a plane to Amsterdam and then on another to Rennes. However, that quickly changed the moment I stepped of the plane when we arrived in Rennes. This place is just so nice, and the weather is stunning! And tomorrow, I’m off to Mont St. Michel!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to regale you with yet another blog post of a brief hop from Basel to Amsterdam. And I’m also not going to go droning on about crap catering. No, this time I come in peace. And as a peace offering I bring a useful and constructive suggestion of how to make things better. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
So yes, this morning at the a** crack of dawn I was already on my way, on a Saturday no less, to catch a flight to Amsterdam. I was sitting in Economy Class. On early morning flights KLM will offer its passengers a small sandwich, which is either filled with cheese or, as in my case, a boiled egg mix with mayo and herbs, dill.
In any case, two things struck my as I sat there really very much enjoying my egg sandwich: first, Air France KLM are one of the few remaining airlines in Europe that will give you complimentary food in short-haul Economy. And second (and more importantly) I became aware of the fact that I enjoyed this sandwich a lot more than I did my last Business Class meal on KLM Cityhopper.
I identified several reasons for this unexpected, and quite frankly shocking and very disturbing, turn of events. First is of course the fact that a small sarnie is a lot more convenient and easier to eat than having to juggle that stupid Business Class box on the tray of an Embraer jet, which is not all that big. Second, there is the issue of that horrible müsli and yoghurt combo which is simply impossible to eat while attempting at least a modicum of decorum…
Okay, moving on before this does inadvertently turn into another rant after all… So, my big idea was this: why does Air France KLM still serve passengers in Economy Class complimentary food? After all, Marie-Antoinette said that if the plebs can’t have bread, let them eat cake.
But seriously, my point is this: the sandwich that was offered in Economy Class today was far more superior to the dreaded Wandels box KLM throws at you in short-haul Business Class these days. Therefore, they should do away with that thing, and instead start serving these lovely sandwiches to Business Class passengers. Of course, this would then either mean not offering complimentary food anymore in the back of the bus, or at least drastically curbing what’s on offer.
I spend five days in Budapest attending a workshop and conference on qualitative research in language testing. I hadn’t been to Budapest in a very long time, so it’s nice to be back. Of course it helps that the weather is stunning. It’s warm, but without the oppressive heat of summer.
Getting to the airport
To get to Ferihegy airport by public transport there are several options. The bus lines 100E and 200E run from the city out to the airport and are obviously the cheapest option. They’re also the slowest option. Google will tell you that the journey takes forty minutes, but depending on a set of variables – from the driver’s level of insanity to the state of the traffic on the roads – it’s more like an hour.
Then there’s the train. But this I really wouldn’t do. There is a railway station opposite the entrance to the old Ferihegy 1 terminal, which is no longer in use. It’s not really that far from there to Ferihegy 2, but I was unable to find any information about how to get from the railway station to the passenger terminal.
And then there’s the hotel shuttle, which the concierge of your hotel can order for you. The journey costs EUR6.- and the journey time really depends on where your hotel is located and on how many other pick ups the driver has to make on the way to the airport.
Terminal 2 is divided in sections 2A and 2B. The former is for the Star Alliance and SkyTeam Alliance.
The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 1 to 4. There are two counters open for passengers in First or Business Class.
It’s fairly busy when I arrive. There is a fast track for security and there are self-service machines where you can purchase tickets to access the fast track. Access to the fast track is only for passengers with at least Star Gold status. So just having a Business Class ticket is not enough.
Airside & lounge
The airside area is attractive. It’s a wide open space with a high, vaulted ceiling. On the upper level there is a large food court. This is also where two of the premium lounges are located. However, the lounge that SWISS an the other Star carriers use is on the main level. The entrance to the Platinum lounge is opposite gate A7. But it’s hardly worth the bother. It’s dark and gloomy inside and there are no windows either. It’s also not very big.
Life is so full of disappointments. Originally, when I booked this flight it should have been operated by an E2, which would have been my first flight on the type. When I checked in the day before, the SWISS app didn’t show any aircraft type. So I’m a bit upset when I arrive at the gate to find yet another old E1 standing there.
Still, there is a silver lining because seating on Helvetic is really just so incredibly tight – even on row 2 where I’m seated. At least they keep the adjacent seat empty, so by sitting sideways I can at least minimise the risk of getting a third slipped disc from sitting in this torture instrument.
I find the crews on the Helvetic Airways flights are a lot more friendly than those on SWISS, and this flight is no exception. The purser working the Business Class cabin is a charming young lady who goes about her duties in a very professional manner.
Once boarding is completed, each passenger receives a bottle of water and a refreshing towel. For some reason I’m very thirsty and more or less down the water in one big schluck.
The next time the purser passes through the cabin, she notices and promptly brings me a new bottle on her way back to the rear of the aircraft. By the time she returns a few minutes later, the second bottle is also already empty. She picks it up on her way to the forward galley and immediately returns with the third bottle, commenting that “actually, you’re right. I should also drink more in my line of work”, clearly in an attempt to not make me feel awkward, which I think is rather nice.
Having said that, I’m not sure about the other two cabin crew. They’re both male and also very friendly. One of them is of South Asian origin. I suspect he may be a trainee. The problem is that he’s the one making the announcements, and his pronunciation is so bad that it’s difficult even to make out if he’s speaking German or English. It’s not a big deal, because his manners are excellent and he’s very friendly. An accent is something you can learn to control, whereas manners are more of a question of attitude.
In any case, our departure from Budapest is quite spectacular. We take off and make a wide left-hand turn that brings us back over the city. From my seat on 2F I have an excellent view of the parliament building, the centre of town and castle hill.
And then the meal service begins, perfectly performed by the purser. It’s not much more than a snack, but it’s the middle of the afternoon anyway and the quality of the food is good.
The main dish is two slices of smoked salmon, and it’s a very good piece of fish. It’s not at all chewy, it’s tender and tastes of salmon and not just fishy, which is what usually happens with inferior cuts. With that there is an avocado cream and a bit of taboulé.
And then of course, there is the cheese. My guess would be Gruyère for the flat slice and a very young Tilsiter for the wedge of cheese.
Bread rolls are served with the meal and the purser comes through the cabin for seconds and thirds.
Crackers and butter are also available.
The dessert is a panna cotta with strawberry. And to end the meal I have cup of Sirocco’s mint tea.
And, unlike the crews on my two previous SWISS flights, this crew actually remembers to pass through the cabin with the fabulous SWISS chocolate.
The flight time to Zürich is ninety minutes. Although Zürich is quite busy, we are still able to make an approach straight in, without having to hold, for an on time arrival. We park on a remote stand. For Business Class passengers there is a small minibus to take us to the terminal. It takes the luggage from my flight 45 minutes to start arriving and the luggage belt is crawling with passengers, as the flights from Brussels, Athens, and Malta are also being delivered to this belt. Eventually, I manage to catch a train an hour after I land at 17h15, which is still not bad, even if it’s not up to Zürich’s usual standards. And so the quest for the E2 continues…
Consider this blog post a time piece. It was written in a state of emotional turmoil and upset, but still is, I think, fair.
Transfer in Amsterdam
The transfer in Amsterdam could not be easier. When I arrive at the security checkpoint, coming off my flight from Dubai, the place is deserted. The fact that you don’t have to remove anything from your bags makes the process very swift.
To be honest, I had been expecting the worst. On a daily basis the Dutch newspapers are reporting on acute staff shortages as Schiphol airport: passengers having to queue for security for five hours, passengers passing out in the queue from exhaustion and others getting into a brawl to vent their frustration…
In any case, I just have enough time in the Schengen Crown lounge to post my trip from Dubai. And then I leave the lounge to make my way to the B pier, where my flight should be boarding for Basel at gate B 36, starting at 08h00.
You’d think I’d know better. The B pier is crawling with passengers. Only once I finally manage to find a place to sit, do I bother to check on the location of my aircraft – it’s not at the gate. Crap, it looks as though the aircraft won’t be arriving from Stavanger until until 08h06, so after it should start boarding.
But never mind, I have a window seat. All is good. Eventually, boarding starts at 08h30, the original departure time. The last passengers arrive and the crew close the L1 passenger door. Next, the pilot comes on the mic to inform passengers that “due to staff shortages at Schiphol”, we were still waiting for catering to come and remove the trolleys from the Stanvanger flight and to replace them with the catering for our flight. And so we wait…
Evnetually, we take off at 09h10, forty minutes behind schedule. Which is not too bad considering the two hours delay on my way from Paris to Dubai.
You delayed the flight for this…?
There are two rows of Business Class on the flight this morning. With only three passengers that means that we all get a whole row of two to ourselves. I’m on 1F. The crew pass through the cabin handing out the dreaded European Business Class meal box. KLM has taken the Covid pandemic as an opportunity to abolish bread rolls from its European catering. Instead, there is a larger plastic container with fruit, and another with what the menu describes as “scrambled egg” with smoked salmon. And then there is the granola mix with plain yoghurt.
I guess we can negotiate the fruit. But the main dish? I mean, KLM’s European catering has always leaned towards the adventurous, but this is where I draw the line. The scrambled egg is more of a curried egg salad and mainly tastes of mayonnaise and fish – from the salmon. I think we’ll skip that. And that brings me to the healthy option.
Whoever designed this box? So, KLM will give you a plastic container with granola (exhibit a) and a second container with the plain yoghurt (exhibit b). The main idea, of course, is to prevent the granola from getting all soggy. Only, there are two problems here. First, there’s no point in keeping the granola and the yoghurt separate because there’s not enough liquid in the yoghurt for that. And second, there’s way more granola in exhibit a than there is room for in exhibit b. So I gingerly attempt to pour just a bit of the contents of exhibit a into exhibit b and proceed to make a complete and utter mess. There’s granola everywhere, even on me. I try to mix the granola with the yoghurt as a precaution, to avoid asphyxiation by granola. But honestly, eventually I just give up. But at least KLM now has wooden cutlery, which is of course a lot more sustainable than the plastic the whole meal is poured into…
Oh yes, and the menu says that the crew will distribute additional items of catering during the flight. Depending on the time of day, this may vary. We get a carrot, pumpkin and mango smoothie which, quite frankly, I wish I’d never opened. I wonder if anybody at KLM ever bothered to try this before unleashing it on its unsuspecting customers?
Eventually we land in Basel with twenty minutes delay. I’m so glad to be home, everything looks so green and lush!
This time, we park in the French sector, so at least there are no long queue for immigration. At Basel airport the rules changes so often and so quickly that you’re never quite sure what to expect when you land.
For some reason our flight is not showing up on the arrivals screen, which makes it kind of difficult to know which belt the luggage will be arriving on. The Air France luggage is being delivered on belt 4, so I figure that’s where the KLM luggage will arrive to – which it does eventually.
KLM and Schiphol airport have been very busy playing the blame game these last few days. Unfortunately, as these thing usually happen, their petty little strife is being played out on their customers’ back. I’m willing to believe that the airport authority in Amsterdam is trying to save money by rostering less staff at the security checkpoints. But the staff shortage that resulted in the late delivery of the catering had nothing to do with that. Catering is the airline’s responsibility, not the airport’s.
Other than that, as you may have guessed, I was not amused by the food that was served on this flight. There’s no need to make a big thing out of it, as I had enough food on the flight from Dubai and ample time to gorge myself in the lounge, if I’d wanted to. The fact that they no longer serve bread rolls is unfortunate, but no biggie either. However, what I find more problemantic is that those vile little boxes of… food have now become the standard also on KLM’s mainline fleet. And that is a mistake. Even BA can do better!
The airlines and airports around the world, not just KLM and Amsterdam, are relentlessly lamenting in the media the dire state of their staff shortages. As a result, they’re having to cancel flights and thin out their schedules with seemingly little consideration for the disruption they cause to passengers. While I can see that these shortages are quickly becoming something the travelling public is going to have to deal with, I do wonder just exactly who the airlines and airports think they have to blame for this misery? Furthermore, what I find particularly annoying is that they have the gall to shamelessly deliver their sob stories in the wake of literally billions in tax payers’ money that was given to them without even as much as a thought to how they would repay these “loans” and what they would use them for.
KLM, I know you read my blog. And I’m still one of your greatest fan. Be that at is may, you really need to pull your socks up. And I mean presto!