Swiss International Air Lines powered by Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Luxembourg

This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At sone point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.

The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.

I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lunge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef. Although I suspect his real job is mostly to ensure that visitors don‘t over indulge and drive up the costs for the lounge… I mean, it‘s not like he does any real cooking.

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. Sort of. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!

The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I hold back to be the last to board. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.

I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on roway seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.

There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.

Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.

The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.

We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket – kind of clandestine.

To conclude, I’m just assuming the visible lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.

Helvetic Airways, Embraer 190 – Business Class: Zürich to London City

My colleague at work, let‘s call him the talented Mr. F., recently complained about the apparent lack of any new posts on my blog in recents weeks. The talented Mr. F., incidentally, gets his name from his truly exceptional talent of getting airlines to pay him compensation for all sorts of things, including some reported cases where the airlines hadn‘t actually done anything wrong – other than being on time…

So here you go, this one‘s for you, Mr. F. May it inspire you to even greater greatness. Or something.

As usual, I arrive at Zürich Airport by train. It‘s just gone 16:15. One hour to go before my departure to London.
Security is quite busy. After all, it‘s still the holiday season. But it‘s nowhere near as bad as when I flew to Bucharest two weeks ago, just as the summer holidays in Switzerland got underway!
My flight will be boarding from D57. Which is a bus gate on the ground floor level of the non-Schengen terminal. I don‘t think I‘ve ever used one of these gates before. I rather like the B/D pier though. Even if the ceilings are quite low.
I can‘t be bothered with the SWISS lounge, so instead I buy myself some chocolate goodness from Sprüngli on my way to passport control.
Today‘s flight is operated by Helvetic Airways, on behalf of SWISS. Helvetic has 15 E2s on order, which are expected to enter the fleet in Q4 of this year. Ten of their aircraft are on a permanent wet lease to SWISS. My flight today will be with an Embraer 190.
I‘m seated on 1A. So I figure I might as well take my time and board last. And take a few pictures while I wait.
The pitch on row 1, the bulkhead row, is great. Although from past experience I have to say, it get‘s awfully tight towards the back.
The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the cold towels and a bottle of still water. There are five passengers in Business this afternoon. One thing I really like on SWISS, is that they keep the seat next to you empty.
No sooner has the seatbelt sign gone off after take-off, the meal service begins. There is no choice available, so if you‘re vegetarian or picky about what you eat, you may want to pre order a special meal.
Today‘s offering is vitello tonnato, served with rocket, capers and red onion.
Warm breads and crackers are served with the meal. The maître de does an excellent job of explaining what all the items on the tray are.
Of course, being SWISS, there has to be a small plate with cheese.
The dessert is brownies on a citrus yoghurt cream and strawberry compote.
The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a small Swiss chocolate.
We land in London City more or less on time. The airport is busy. There‘s a bit of a hold up because the guy bringing the stairs is having problems puttting it in position. The captain shrugs at me and says: ‚they expect us to land on something the size of a stamp, but they struggle with the stairs…‘.
It‘s a lovely evening in London, and so I decide to walk to the hotel. From London City airport it‘s a walk of about thirty minutes to the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that takes you across the Thames. The journey takes about ten minutes and you can pay either by Oyster card or with a touch credit card.
At the other end, the cable car spits you out in front of the O2 arena. I stop off at Wagamama and the make my way to the Intetcontinental O2.
I‘ve been to many lovely places across the globe. Including some I didn‘t know existed before I had to go there! And feel priviledged for the opportunity to travel and see so much of the world. But no matter where I go, sooner or later I‘m always drawn back to this city. For me, there really is no place like London!

P. S. In the background of the last picture, on the hill, is Woolwich, where my nannu was originally from.

Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190: Luxembourg to Zürich

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

It’s only just gone 13h on Friday afternoon, and the flying Dutchman P. has kindly offered to drive me to the airport. I suspect he probably just took pity on me, after I’d been nagging the whole week about how cold it was in Luxembourg…

The journey by car from Kirchberg to the airport takes about fifteen minutes in moderately busy traffic.

CHECK-IN

At Luxembourg airport, Lufthansa and SWISS check-in on rows 15 to 17. There are also self-service machines available. I’ve checked in on the app.

Before the security checkpoint in Luxembourg, Luxair ground staff check to make sure that passengers’ hand luggage is within the permissible dimensions and weight. And they’re quite strict about it.

LOUNGE

The lounge is still quiet. It tends to get a lot busier after 17h. So I grab myself a seat with a good view of the runway. And then I while away my time reading and watching the landing and departing aircraft.

The lounge in Luxembourg is nice. However, in order to accommodate all the passengers that use the facility, seating in the lounge is rather tight.

There are no showers in the lounge and as far as catering is concerned, only cold snacks are available. Although they do have some tasty cakes on offer too…

BOARDING

The flight is delayed arriving from Zürich. No reason is given for the delay by the gate attendants nor later on by the crew. In any case, as a result, boarding starts about fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Once boarding is completed, the captain comes on to inform us that there will be a further delay of ten minutes because we’re going to have to de-ice on stand first. Eventually, we depart with a delay of thirty minutes.

CABIN

This aircraft has a cabin divider to separate the Business Class cabin from Economy. But this is not always the case with Helvetic Airways. I’m not sure what the logic here is. I suspect that perhaps those aircraft assigned to SWISS are equipped with a cabin divider, whereas those operating for Helvetic Airways are not.

Pitch is good good enough on the first row, and definitely much better than the rows behind.

There are two rows of Business Class and three of the four available seats are occupied.

CREW

There are three cabin crew on this flight and the maître de serving the Business Class cabin is an absolute delight. She’s still quite young and seems a bit reserved or formal. But her manners are flawless. Every time she addresses one of the passengers, she uses their family name. And later during the short flight, when she comes to clear the tray tables, she makes a point of asking each passenger individually if they enjoyed the meal.

SERVICE

As usual, a small bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel are handed out once boarding is completed.

Once de-icing is done, we push back from the gate. The flight time to Zürich is expected to be 45 minutes. But somewhere along the line we receive a shortcut or something, because eventually we land in Zürich after a flight time of only 39 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal is more of a snack really, and consists of the usual three ramekins. Today we have salmon tartar, a cheese mousse with beetroot and apple crumble.

The salmon tartar and the crumble are good, but the cheese mousse thing is horrible and has a rather unappealing texture.

ARRIVAL

As we approach Switzerland, the weather starts to improve. At some point during our steep descent, the aircraft banks left to fly in an easterly track. As we come out of the bank, the Alps come in to view. They’re all covered in snow and look so majestic, towering above the clouds.

We land at 16h09 and make our way to one of the open stands alongside runway 28. Fortunately, SWISS has remembered to send out the dedicated Business Class bus to pick us up (which isn’t always the case…). And with only three passengers we’re quickly off towards the terminal.

Saturday I’ll have the day off. But then on Sunday I’m on the move again.

Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Oslo to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
I just stepped off my flight from Haugesund. I now have three hours to make my connection to Zürich. The airline industry is a strange business. I’m flying on a ticket booked with SAS, on the code-share flight with SWISS, which is operated by Helvetic Airways. Or something like that…

TRANSFER IN OSLO
Changing planes in Oslo is easy and straightforward, even if you’re connecting from a domestic flight to an international one. All gates are under one roof, so all you need to do is find the exit to leave Norwegian territory. And that’s it.

MOOCHING AROUND OLSO AIRPORT
The terminal has a bright and airy feel. There are quite a few restaurants and there is ample space to walk or sit around. Not being quite sure what to expect on SWISS Economy Class on a flight of this length, I decide I better find something to eat. Of course it helps that most of the restaurants in the terminal offer some exceptionally good apron views…

Once that’s been taken care, I find myself a quiet corner and settle down with my Kindle.

BOARDING
There is a bit of a hold up boarding the flight, because the aircraft previously occupying our gate is running late and only moved off stand after the SWISS flight had landed.

It looks like it’s going to be a full flight this evening. Even so, we still manage to complete boarding in time for a punctual departure.

THE CABIN
Luckily, I was able to snag a seat on the emergency exit row. Helvetic Airways is one of the few airlines I know of that has a row 13 on its aircraft. As it happens, row 13 is the emergency exit on their Embraer 190.

On the exit row the seat pitch is really very good. There is ample space to spread out. Otherwise though, as I already commented on in one of my previous posts, seat pitch on the Helvetic Embraer is pretty tight.

Alas, the seat next to me is taken by a middle-aged woman. The two seats on the opposite side of the aisle are taken up by one of her daughters on the aisle seat, and the daughter’s husband on the window seat. The row behind me is taken up by her other daughter on the aisle seat and her son on the aisle seat opposite and a wannabe music producer on the window seat next to the son. And man, do they talk! They start yapping even before pushback. They totally miss the gorgeous sunset on climb out for all the talking and they don’t stop talking even when the crew make their announcements via loudspeaker.

SERVICE
There are three cabin crew on this evening’s flight. Two females and one male with the rather unfortunate name Randy.

Anyway, the service is efficient. Randy and the maître d’ don’t seem too happy. But the other female crew member is really friendly. She’s all smiles during the service and generally seems quite content to be there.

THE MEAL
There’s a funny smell in the cabin as we board the plane. It’s an odd combination of the stench of old socks and something decomposing in the ventilation system. Once the cabin crew is released, it soon materialised what the source of the smell is: the Economy Class service consists of complimentary drinks and what the Swiss lovingly refer to as a ‘Chäschüechli’. It’s usually a popular term to try at a party if there are foreigners in the room… ‘go on, try saying Chäschüechli…’. In case you’re wondering, a Chäschüechli is basically a small cheese quiche.

I really wish they wouldn’t serve stuff like this on planes. The thing is served in a cardboard box. But by the time the crew reach row 13, the grease from the Chäschüechli has seeped into the cardboard box in which it is served and I start to get heart burn just from looking at it.

But at least the service is efficient and the thing is removed again fairly quickly, leaving behind an even stronger stench of eau de chaussettes.

The service concludes with the distribution of the chocolates, which is always a highlight.

ARRIVAL
I can’t really say the rest of the flight passes peacefully. The mum next to me has gone to sleep. But one row back, here son has inadvertently struck a conversation with the young man next to him, who is a tremendously successful (his words) music producer and obviously loves talking about himself.

Eventually though, the flight draws to an end. Because it’s already late, the approach is made onto runway 28, which usually means that once we touch down, the crew have to break like something nasty to make the turn off in time. And today is no exception. I love it.

CONCLUSION
The flight with Helvetic Airways was okay. At least they try and the fact that you still get complimentary food and drinks in Economy Class sets SWISS apart from a lot of the competition. Although from what I understand, that may be about to change.

Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Fokker F100: Zürich to Luxembourg

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INTRODUCTION
I’m in my second week of a five-week travel marathon. I was in Luxembourg last week. Today I shall be heading in the same direction again, before continuing farther afield on Tuesday. It’s Easter Monday and the sun has finally decided to make an appearance after a really nasty and long spell of cold and grey over central Europe.

I’ve decided to do a trip report of this leg for two reasons. First, because I haven’t ever posted on Helvetic’s Fokker F100. Given how old these aircraft are, I probably better get this out of the way sooner rather than later, while they’re still in service. Secondly, so far I’ve only ever experienced the Business Class breakfast service on the flight to Luxembourg. So I’m curious about what SWISS will dish out for ‘dinner’.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I catch the train from Basel’s Swiss station at 14h33, which arrives in Zürich main station at 15h26. From there I have a train to the airport at 15h37, which should get me to the airport just before 16h00. Roughly one hours before boarding for the flight begins.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the SWISS app as usual. The boarding pass still won’t show up on my locked screen and SWISS still doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to change that. Am I the only one who finds that a bit irritating?

SECURITY, AIRSIDE & LOUNGE
The airport is quite busy. Although mostly it’s shoppers taking advantage of the airport’s convenient opening hours during the public holiday. There’s a bit of a queue for security, but all in all, the whole process is fairly smooth.

In case you’re wondering, there are currently no SWISS lounges in the Schengen area in Zürich. Apparently they’re closed for refurbishing and expansion. I’m not sure what to think of how SWISS is handling the issue though. They’ve set up a small desk in front of where the lounges used to be. From what I overheard one of the evicted lounge dragons telling one passenger, you have two options. You can either try the Aspire or DNATA lounges. Although the understanding is that passengers of other carriers have priority over SWISS’s. Or, if those lounges are full, you can request a voucher for a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants in the terminal.

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BOARDING
We’re boarding from gate A55, which means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand, away from the terminal. It also means I will get a chance to take a few pictures of my chariot. The downside is that gate A55 is in a building that was initially put there as an interim solution but which later on they somehow forgot to tear down again. Because of the limited space, before boarding begins all the passengers are herded into a holding pen like sheep. And there they wait until the bus arrives.

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CABIN
Apparently, my aircraft for today’s flight is now 25 years old. But I have to say, time and some serious TLC have obviously been kind to this old bird. Of course, you notice small things, like the overhead panel and the fixtures for the overhead lamp or the air vents, which look dated. But apart from that, the cabin is neat. The seats are dark grey, which contrasts nicely with the read curtain in the front of the cabin. The crew’s uniforms have the same combination of grey and red, and the ensemble really does look quite fetching.

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The seating configuration is 2 + 3, with the middle seat on the row of three kept empty. I am on 1F, which is the window seat on the bulkhead row of three. Fortunately for me though, the middle and the aisle seats both remain empty, so I can really spread out. Other than that, the seats are also pretty old school, which essentially means you get some decent padding and a very comfortably flight!

There is no cabin divider between the Economy and Business Class sections. The same goes for the Embraer 190 operated by Helvetic as well as SWISS’s CSeries.

But apart from all that, I think what really impresses me most, is the noise. Or rather the lack thereof. It’s quite amazing. Even when the pilot applies full thrust for us to take off, up front you cannot hear the engine noise at all.

THE CREW & SERVICE
The cabin crew consists of two young ladies and they really are excellent. This is one of the friendliest crews I’ve encountered in a long time. Although, having said that, my experience recently has been that the Helvetic crews tend to be better than the SWISS ones.

Once the doors are closed, the service begins with the distribution of the packed refreshing towels and a small bottle of still water. As the lead flight attendant comes through the cabin distributing the water and towels, she addresses every passenger individually by name and wishes them a pleasant flight. Blimey!

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Our taxi out to the active runways is short, given that we’re parked on a stand adjacent to runway 28. The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

THE MEAL
No sooner has the crew been released that the meal service begins. I rather like the way the meal is presented in three small ramekins. The first contains some sort of chicken curry salad with melon and almond flakes. The second is a vegetable omelette with cherry tomatoes. And the third one is the dessert. It’s a kind of panna cotta with orange slices and pieces of chocolate sponge cake. And I suspect a bit of Cointreau. It’s rather nice! To drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

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ARRIVAL
The flight is so short that there isn’t even enough time for the crew to come through the cabin with the obligatory Swiss chocolate before we land. So instead, as passengers disembark the aircraft upon arrival, the captain himself is standing by the door, wishing everyone good bye and holding the basket with the chocolates. It’s only a small but rather charming gesture.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – ERJ 190: London City to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
Sweet Dreams (are made of this) was first released back in 1983, when music videos were still in their infancy and I was nine years old. I actually remember the first time I saw the video of Sweet Dreams. I think the moment has stayed with me through all these years because I think it was the first time that music triggered something in me. I sat in front of the television with my mouth agape, completely mesmerised by the fabulous Annie Lennox with her orange crewcut, standing in a field with a cow. I just thought she was so cool!

More than thirty years later, I’m still listening to Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. And so of course, when I heard she would be giving a concert in London in March 2018, there was no question that I would attend.

And so I flew to London from Basel the day after I returned to Zürich from Bucharest. The outbound flight on Saturday was with British Airways. There was absolutely nothing at all that would warrant writing a trip report about my experience with the Speedbird, my experience with them was totally replaceable and nondescript.

Of course, all of this does have a positive impact on the competition. I am flying back to Zürich today on Helvetic Airways, who is operating the flight on behalf of SWISS. Even if I only get a stale biscuit and the flight attendant has the bedside manner of the older ugly sister of Frankenstein’s monster, it’ll still be an improvement over anything the Speedbird dished out on the inbound.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
In London I stayed at the Hilton Angel in Islington, mainly because it’s quite close to the venue of the concert – the Saddler’s Wells theatre. The hotel is only a short walk away from the tube station ‘Angel’, on the Northern line. To get to London’s City airport, I have to take a southbound train to Bank and then transfer there onto an eastbound DLR train for the airport. Given the rush hour, it takes me close to one hour to make the journey.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve already checked in using the SWISS app, which is playing up again. I’ve selected 13F, which is an window seat on the emergency exit. Although I did at some point receive an error message during the process, I was eventually able to complete the process. So I’m guessing, and hoping, that I actually am on 13F.

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As you exit the DLR station at London City, there is a whole row of self-service check-in machines and inside the terminal building they have added even more of the check-in kiosks.

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The security check is something they do really well at London City. So despite all the people, the process is fairly quick and painless.

BOARDING
There is no premium lounge at London City airport. But that’s totally okay by me, because the general lounge area offers some really excellent views of the apron and the runway behind it. There’s just one problem: the aircraft park with the rear facing towards the terminal building, which means that when they apply thrust to push off stand, they spray all the muck on the ground at the building. And as a result, the windows are rather grubby from the recent snow and deicing liquid.

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The flight to Zürich is boarding from gate 10, which is the last gate at the west end of the facility.

I board the aircraft through the rear door, even though it would have made more sense to board through the front. It’s just that I can’t remember the last time I boarded a plane through the rear. This is brilliant!

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THE CABIN
I already mentioned the cabin of the Helvetic Airways Embraer in a post from January, when I flew Helvetic from Zürich to Milan. The flight to Milan was only thirty minutes, but by the time we landed, I could no longer feel my kneecaps.

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The seat pitch is definitely much better on the emergency exit.

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SERVICE
Surprisingly, there are four cabin crew on the flight today. I’m wondering if perhaps one of them is still in training or something. Whoever recruits the cabin crew at Helvetic Airways obviously has an eye for the ladies, which is fine. But I really do think they should teach them to tone it down with the make-up. When the lipstick stains the teeth, it’s definitely too much!

By the time we’re ready to start up, the operating regime has changed and arrivals and departures are to the east. This means that essentially we’re parked right on the access taxiway to the runway threshold, giving us a taxi time from our stand to the holding point of just about 30 seconds flat!

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Taking off from London City is always fun, and today is no exception. The pilot applies the parking break and then pushes the throttle all the way forward to the take-off thrust setting. The whole plane start shaking violently, and then – just when you think it’s going to start falling to bits – he releases the brakes and we go careening down the runway.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re settled into the cruise, the meal service begins. I’m expecting something along the lines of a pre-packaged muffin that has been prepared specially to stay fresh and fluffy for at least ten years. Much to my surprise though, we are served nice, fresh Gipfeli. A Gipfeli is the Swiss interpretation of the croissant. It’s savoury and usually smaller than any self-respecting French croissant but with a more buttery flavour. With that I have a coffee and a cup of sparkling water.

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After the meal service, the crew pass through the cabin with the highlight of the flight – the chocolates!

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ARRIVAL
Our routing takes us right over my hometown, Basel. Fortunately, it’s a lovely day with good visibility and some excellent vistas of the Alps and we descend into Zürich. There’s no delay and we make an approach straight in without having to hold. And it appears to be my lucky day, because here in Zürich too we’re using a remote stand!

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The bus drops us off at the B arrivals, which is the non-Schengen area. From there it’s an amazingly circuitous route to get to immigration: upon entering the building turn left, go up the escalators to the first floor, right, right again, down the escalators to the ground floor, right, through the departure gate area, right again, then straight ahead, left, down the escalators into the basement and then straight on to passport control and up the escalators again to the ground floor on the other side…

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CONCLUSION
This brings to an end my ten day odyssey to Malta, Bucharest and London. The marathon in Malta was fun, and so was the rejected take-off in Frankfurt until Lufthansa lost the plot. The course in Bucharest was brilliant, with professional and friendly participants. And the Annie Lennox concerts in London was simply beyond belief. Annie Lennox has an amazing presence when she’s on stage and live her voice sounds even better than on the recording!

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Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Milan Malpensa

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INTRODUCTION
Finally! It’s time for my well-deserved winter vacation and man, do I need it! I’ve so busy getting things finished that I feel as though I completely missed most of Christmas cheer this year. But anyway, I’ve submitted my presentation and my paper for my last assignment of 2017 and so I’m good to go.

The first segment of this trip sees me flying from Zürich to Milan Malpensa with Helvetic Airways. The flight is operated with an Embraer 190 on behalf of Swiss International Air Lines. This is only my second flight ever with Helvetic Airways. The last time I flew them was from London Gatwick to Zürich back in 2004, I believe. Back then, the carrier hadn’t yet entered into a strategic partnership with SWISS and was desperately and, let’s face it, rather unsuccessfully, trying to position itself as some kind of low-cost hybrid. Oh yes, and they had these cutesy pink little aeroplanes. Although I’m told it was actually magenta, not pink…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Milan will not be leaving until 20h55. So I figure I might as well stay in the office a bit longer. Eventually, I take the 18h55 train from Winterthur, which brings me into Zürich airport just after 19h.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the SWISS app. Depending on the fare you’ve purchased, seat selection is either free of charge or available against payment. In addition, there are also preferred seats, the exit row for example, which are available at an extra cost, unless of course you have status with Miles & More.

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If you do not select a seat at the time of booking, the check-in system will automatically assign you a seat 20 hours prior to departure that meets the preference specified in your profile – so basically aisle or window. This means that you have four hours to pick a seat yourself from the moment the flight opens for check-in. On today’s flight this isn’t really an issue, because the flight is operated by an Embraer 190 which has no middle seat. However, on the A 320 family or the C Series and depending also on the route, I think I might consider paying for a seat, if the alternative means having to sit in the cursed middle seat.

On this particular flight I am travelling with a bottom of the food-chain run of the mill fare that does not have the seat reservation included. I could have added that at a charge of CHF12, which is reasonable and comparable to other airlines’ practice.

AIRSIDE/LOUNGE
If you’re using the traditional airport check-in facilities, SWISS is at home in Terminal A, or Check-In 1, which is also home to some of the other Star Alliance carriers in Zürich. I like this building, because it incorporates parts of the original airport building that was built sometime in the late fifties or early sixties.

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The airport is really quiet for a Friday evening. Security is a breeze and the B dock, from where my flight will be leaving, is eerily quiet.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts exactly on time at 20h30. Surprisingly though, nobody seems to give a shit. The announcement is made, but none of the passengers seem to be in much of a hurry to get on board. And so I end up being the first one to step aboard.

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CABIN
The first four rows of the cabin are Business Class. They remain empty on this evening’s flight. I am sitting on 6A, which is the window seat on the port side of the aircraft.

Helvetic Airways operates the Embraer 190 in a 2 + 2 configuration with a seating capacity of 112, which is 12 seats or three rows more than what KLM Cityhopper has on its aircraft and the maximum number of seats possible on the Embraer 190. According to seatguru.com, the pitch on the Helvetic Airways aircraft is 32 inches throughout. Although to be honest, I think this can hardly be true. In fact, the seat is awfully cramped and not at all comfortable.

Fortunately, the flight time to Milan is only thirty minutes. Even so, by the time we land, the circulation to my legs has all but stopped, my kneecaps hurt like something nasty and my bum is numb. Ouch! No wonder the other passengers weren’t in a hurry to get on the plane.

Other than that, what really strikes me is that the cabin of this aircraft looks really drab and, quite frankly, boring.

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CREW & SERIVCE
The crew consists of three female flight attendants. One of them is German, while the other two speak both Italian and Swiss German fluently and without an accent. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re not unfriendly either and the announcements are nicely articulated with a good enunciation. Had I mentioned I’m a linguist…?

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THE MEAL
Given the short flight time, the service consists of a small piece of Frey chocolate and a small bottle of still mineral water.

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ARRIVAL
We arrive at the gate at 21h45, which means we’re pretty much on time. The airport is fairly deserted.

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TRANSIT
I will be spending just the one night in Milan. So rather than making the long schlep into the city, I’ve booked a room at the Malpensa Sheraton, which is directly connected to Terminal 1 and takes about ten minutes to reach from there on foot.

VERDICT
It’s been a while since I last flew with SWISS or one of its subsidiaries. I thought this flight was fine and pretty much comparable to the offerings of other airlines on sectors of a similar duration in Europe. However, having said that, given the really short flight time, there was hardly an opportunity for the crew and the service to shine – there was also hardly an opportunity for them to screw it up either. Except perhaps for the seat, which is really bad and very uncomfortable. The Helvetic Airways model of the Embraer 190 has an increased gross weight to give it more range. Apparently, originally Helvetic intended to deploy these aircraft as far afield as the Canaries, which are roughly four hours away from Zürich. I really cringe at the thought of my sore kneecaps…!