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

Introduction

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.

The Lounge

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

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.

The Cabin

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.

The Crew

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 Meal

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

Arrival

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.

Conclusion

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, 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.

Airside

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.

The Crew

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.

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

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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The 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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The Crew

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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Getting to the Hotel

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.

Conclusion

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…!