SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Berlin

Introduction

It’s been a long time since I last visited Berlin, probably twelve years or so. My recent trip for the inauguration of the Air France A220 doesn’t count, because that time I continued to Vienna after a short layover of about two hours. This time around I’ll actually be leaving the airport and spending two nights in the city.

Some of the more regular readers to this blog will probably know that this year’s plan was to make the best of Covid 19, by visiting the many sights of Europe without having to deal with all the overseas tourist. So far I’ve ticked off the bucket list:

  • Le Chateau de Versailles in Paris
  • La Gioconda in the Louvre Museum in Paris
  • A night at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris
  • La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
  • The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in Rome
  • The Colosseum in Rome
  • St. Peter’s in Rome
  • The Duomo di Milano
  • Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna
  • A night at the Staatsoper in Vienna
  • Linzer Torte in Linz

In Berlin, my aim is to finally visit the Pergamon Museum to see its reconstruction of the famour Ishtar Gate.

But first things first. The narrative begins as I am ejected from security into the airside duty free at Zürich airport. It’s just gone 17h30, and even though security was quiet, there are a lot of people airside. The airport is already decked out for Christmas, which is nice. But I must say that Covid 19 doesn’t really give me the warm and fuzzies, so it’s not as though I’m in much of a Christmas mood yet.

My first attempt to enter the SWISS lounge is foiled by the long queue to enter. It looks like there are more people inside the lounge than outside. And there isn’t a mask to be seen inside either. Okay, maybe not then…

So I go for a bit of a walkbout. Which is nice too, becaue it gives you an interesting, if not pretty, glimpse into the strangeness of the human race…

I also spot one of SWISS’ new A 321NEOs pulling onto its stand. Like WizzAir, SWISS has opted for a configuration with only one door on either side before the wing and two overwing hatches.

The lounge

Just before 18h00 I decide to try my luck again. I’ve had enough of mankind anyway, and the maskless shaker-movers in the lounge have mostly dispersed.

SWISS has a separate Senator lounge and a Business Class lounge in Zürich. As on my previous visit, they have the connecting door between the two lounges open and passengers can sit in either one or the other. Shortly after I enter though, they start removing the buffet and prepare to shut down the Business Class lounge.

I wasn’t planning on eating anything in the lounge. But a man is only so strong… have I mentioned that I love Spätzli? I think there is not very much I wouldn’t do for a plate of that doughy goodness. As it turns out, later on I will be grateful for having next to zero discpline where food is concerned…

Boarding

My boarding pass says that boarding will start at 18h10 for an 18h30 departure. But when I arrive at the gate just after 18h15, boarding is already in the final stages.

I’m seated on the window seat, on 2F. The middle seat is kept empty, and there are two bottles of SWISS’ famous, iconic no-brand water and two refreshing towels on the middle seat.

The cabin

I’m not sure how many times exactly the aircraft type for this flight changed since I booked it. At some point it looked as though it might be an A 320NEO, but thankfully my kneecaps and two herniated discs have been spared, and instead the flight is operated by the slightly less tight A 320CEO.

I think there are seven or eight rows of Business Class, and while the Business Class cabin is not sold out, I’d say it’s a fairly good load.

As we taxi out, the purser informs us that on today’s flight wifi is available. And as the system is still being tested, the service is complimentary for all passengers. I give it a try, but at no point during the flight am I able to log in. But it’s not that important to me anyway.

The crew

The two female cabin crew are both German and make the snow queen look like a very chirpy people person. They’re not rude or anything, but just totally lacking in anything that might remotely be recognised as an interest in their passengers. Probably it doesn’t help that 1D is either a Senator or a HON and is hellbent on making sure that everybody, probably even the guy on row 31, knows just how experienced a flyer he is. Honestly, the guy would put me is a foul mood too.

The meal

The meal is served with the plastic still on it, which I’m assuming is due to Covid 19. And sweet baby Jesus, what in the name of creation is this meal supposed to be anyway?

The main dish is two slices of some kind of dried meat with a few limp leaves of salad on top of it and a globule of pumkin flavoured gelatine.

And a dollop of… mayonnaise? Just in case the whole thing wasn’t already greasy enough.

The meal’s saving grace are the two slices of cheese.

And for dessert, it’s more gelatine – this time of the sweet variety. Let nobody every say SWISS catering is boring.

At least they didn’t forget to dish out the little chocolates, as they have a tendency of doing on Austrian Airlines.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes and I’m really glad to be allowed off the plane. Our stand is more or less in the middle of the terminal. Even so, it’s still quite a schlepp from the gate to the exit.

My hotel is near Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten. I could take the S9, which is a direct service that takes about 55 minutes to make the journey from the airport. But that won’t be leaving for another 18 minutes. So I catch a train to Ostkreuz, which takes 15 minutes, and then from there a S5 service to Zoologischer Garten. Even with the change at Ostkreuz, the journey is shorter and only takes 42 minutes to complete.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-100: Zürich to Malta

Introduction

It’s been more than 18 months since I last visited Malta, and I’m seriously starting to have withdrawal symptoms. Add to that the fact that it has rained pretty much every day here in Switzerland since mid-June, and I’m feeling positively ecstatic at the prospect of some sunshine!

I booked this trip at relatively short notice (one week before departure). Even so, I was still able to secure a miles tickets in Business Class on SWISS for the outbound, which suggests that tourist traffic to Malta is still only just picking up again. It probably also helps that the school summer holidays are nearing the end in Switzerland, which means that most of the traffic on the route will be heading back north at this stage.

As per 11 August 2021, passengers from the Schengen area are required to complete the PLF form, that Italy is also using, to enter Malta by plane. You need to create a login before you can complete the form. Once you’re done, you will receive a mail confirmation that you must be able to present at boarding and upon arrival on the island – either in print or digital form.

About a week before my departure, I start receiving almonst daily mails from SWISS, reminding me to check the entry requirements for Malta and to ensure that I have completed all the necessary paperwork before I depart. SWISS’ approach is sensible and makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s clear that we’re all going to have to come to terms with the fact that Covid19 is here to stay, so we better start getting used to it. It is every individual’s own responsibility to stay safe and with that, to decide how much they are willing to let this virus run their lives.

Getting to the airport

The flight to Malta departs at 12h15. I have not been to Zürich airport in six months, and I have no idea what the situation will be when I get there. So I take the 08h33 train from Basel, which runs nonstop to Zürich main station in 49 minutes. In Zürich I change trains to the airport, where I arrive at 09h42 with plenty of time to spare.

The second class carriages are quite full, but I have a First Class carriage nearly all to myself!

Considering how crowded the trains are, I’m expecting the airport to be very busy. But much to my surprise it’s quiet. There are people, but it’s certainly not as busy as it used to be.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online, but I don’t fancy schlepping around my suitcase. So the first stop is one of the Business Class check-in counters in Check-in 1, the home of SWISS and the Lufthansa group.

The young lady is friendly and efficient. She tags my bag, issues the boarding pass and wishes me a safe journey and a great holiday. As I turn to leave, she eyes my Maltese passport: “I’ve never seen one of these…”. Yes, I know. I get that quite often… she does not ask to see the completed entry form or my Covid certificate.

My next stop is security. There is a dedicated entrance to the checkpoint for First and Business Class passengers. Not that it matters today, because the place is deserted and I can just walk straight up to any one of the entrances without having to wait at all.

SWISS Business Class lounge for Schengen flights

The lounge situation in Zürich is a bit confusing right now. When I arrive, the Business Class lounge is closed, so all passengers must use the Senator lounge instead. Initially, the place is far from crowded. However, as the time for the midday bank of departures approaches, the place begins to fill up until eventually they have no other choice but to open the Business Class lounge too.

The lounge is well stocked and SWISS seem to have upped their game with the catering. Due to COVID19, there is no longer a buffet, but there’s a very charming lady behind the counter serving passengers. There is a choice of warm or cold breakfast sets, but they’re quite generous and willing to provide you any other combination of dishes you might request.

Much to my surprise, by the time I leave the lounge just after 11h30, there’s a queue forming at the entrance. I’m not entirely sure if this is because of social distancing or because the lounge is just too busy.

Boarding

My flight is boarding from gate A56, which is good news and bad. It’s good news, because it means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand. So I’ll get to take a few pictures. It’s bad news though, because gate A56 is in a dreadful hovel that was erected provisionally many moons ago but that they then conveniently forgot to tear down again. It’s small, and cramped and simply not large enough for all the people waiting to board their flights at the same time. There are people everywhere!

It’s not until boarding for my flight starts that I realise what the problem is: in order to maintain social distancing, they’re only allowing about 35 passengers per bus. Which means that even for our small Airbus A 220-100 with a load of only 84 passengers they still need to use three busses.

I wait to board the last bus. And all my woes are forgotten to moment we pull up next to our aircraft for today’s flight. Well hello, Sweetness…!

The cabin

There are five rows of Business Class for a total of 15 seats, of which twelve are occupied today. Right in front of me is an obnoxious old bat, who won’t even let her poor husband sit by himself. So instead of taking advantage of an empty seat next to her on the row of two, with him on the aisle seat on the other side, she insists that he sits with her on the twin seat. She spends the rest of the flight chatting at the top of her voice. Thank God for the Sony WH-1000XM4 earphones I remembered to pack this time. Let me see, the Sisters of Mercy should do the trick to drown out the sound of her horrible voice droning on… “… she looks good in ribbons…just walk away…”.

Oh yes, and there’s a bottle of still water at my seat when I arrive. Excuse me while I go off on a tangent, because this is yet another instance of useless SWISS marketing rubbish: according to the SWISS website, the water is bottled exclusively for SWISS in Glarus, from a source at an elevation of 1156 metres. Hence the name. The website also tells us that the bottle comes in a ‘distinctive design’. I mean, I’ve lived in Switzerland long enough to know how much pride they take in the spectacular beauty of the Swiss Alps. Even so, I’m pretty sure most people honestly won’t give a rat’s bum about the altitude at which the source is, as long as they can rest assured that taking a sip of the bottle is not likely to give them diphtheria or something equally disturbing. And second, with all due respect, a distinctive design is the timeless shape of the Perrier bottle or the iconic Evian logo. But not this.

So the bottome line, boys and girls, is that SWISS serves a no name brand of still water that nobody has ever heard of. But they’re trying to pretend it’s because it’s so exclusive.

The crew

The crew on this flight is absolutely brilliant. I really cannot praise them enough, especially the maître de. If every SWISS crew were like this, I seriously wouldn’t bother flying any other airlines. The maître de is German. His announcements are clear, properly enunciated and nicely structured to form well-rounded and grammatically correct and coherent sentences in both German and in English. What’s more, he makes a point of remiding passengers repeatedly during the flight about the requirement to wear a face mask.

During the service, his interaction with the passengers is charming and easy going. Honestly, it’s a joy being taken care of by him! But first, let’s get the flight underway…

The meal

The meal is a very pleasant surprise. The maître de informs me that there’s going to be a hotmeal for lunch and there are two choices. The meat option is beef meatballs, whereas the vegetarian option is rice with grilled vegetables.

I decide to go with the meatballs pretty much the moment he mentions that they are served with mashed potatos and green beans in a creamy mushroom sauce. Total sucker for the mash here.

Also on the tray, there is a salad of mixed leaves with sunflower seeds.

A plate of soft and hard cheese. I have no idea what cheese it is, and at altitude everything tastes different anyway. My guess would be that the soft cheese is a French Camembert, whereas the hard cheese is probably a Gruyère.

There is also a selection of dark and white bread and crackers and a small bottle of vinaigrette for the salad.

And finally, for dessert there is a slice of rhubarb crumble with raspberry coulis and what I’m guessing is either a vanilla or white chocolate mousse.

To drink with that I have a glass of apple juice, which the maître de serves me together with a glass of sparkling water without me even having to ask for it.

To complete the meal, I ask for a mint tea, which is served with a small piece of chocolate. SWISS serves Sirocco tea on its flights. Now that, to me, would be a lot more worthwhile to mention if I were SWISS. Sirocco is a very old Swiss company that has been in the tea trading business for over a hundred years. Their teas are excellent, and apart from the more traditional blends, they also have a few fairly unusual and very tasty ones too.

The quality of the food is very good, well done SWISS. The salad is not at all limp and the main course is just very tasty and filling.

Arrival

The flight passes surprisingly quickly. There’s a lot of heat haze, making it difficult to see the ground. I can barely make out that we’re just leaving the coastline behind and figure that must by Sicily. So it can’t be much longer.

Our approach into Malta is quite unusual. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever arrived like this. We’re making the approach from the southeast. What is unusual, is that we’re flying down along Malta’s southern coast, putting the island on our left. We pass Filfla island below and continue out to sea, past Malta, before eventually turning back to line up with runway 13.

The Med looks lovely, with the sun glittering on the surface. The pilot informs us that the temperature on the ground is 39 degrees Celsius, and expected to rise to a high of 41 degrees before it starts to cool down again. As soon as we cross the shoreline, the aircraft is hit by the hot air rising, making the last few minutes of the descent rather bumpy. But we land safely. Malta l-hanina, I’ve missed you, 18 months is too long, and I’m so glad to be back!

There are only three aircraft standing on the apron, one Air Malta A 320, a Ryanair B 737-800 and the Emirates B 777-300. However, right behind us, another Air Malta, then a Ryanair and an Easyjet arrive.

We’re parked on a remote stand away form the terminal, which means we’re going to have to take a bus to arrivals. By the time I arrive at the luggage belt a short while later, my suitcase is already there. Behind customs is the health check that all passengers have to go through upon arrival on the islands. You will need to show your passport, the completed health declaration form and your Covid certificate if you ticked the box that you are fully vaccinates. The process is fairly painless and efficient. There are twenty counters open processing arriving passenger.

With that out of the way, it’s time to make my way to the hotel.

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Copenhagen Kastrup to Rome Fiumicino

Introduction

I’m guessing that the more frequent visitors to my travel blog probably knew exactly what I was planning the moment I mentioned catching a plane from Paris to Copenhagen: as the result of decreased demand for air travel between Singapore and Europe, Singapore Airlines has merged its routes to Copenhagen and Rome into one flight. Flight SQ352 routes SIN-CPH-FCO and then back the same way. What is interesting about the flight, is that the aircraft and its crew spend a total of thirty hours on the ground in Rome. IT then returns home with the same crew. And the airline has secured fifth freedom rights between Denmark and Italy!

Getting to the airport

I spend the night in Copenhagen at the Comfort hotel at Kastrup airport. The facility is fairly new, and I’m quite sure I’m the first person to spend the night in that room. Everything looks new. Other than that though, the hotel is a bit meh… service is not something they do well in Scandinavia. The nice thing is that the hotel is only about three minutes away from Terminal 3 on foot and has some great views!

Check-in

I really want to argue the case of the airlines, because I don’t think it’s fair the way they are being treated. And the entry requirements into Italy are a good example of this: I check in online for the flight to Rome. Then one day before departure, I get another mail from Singapore Airlines with a link to the ELF, which is the system the Italian government is using to track all arrivals into the country. You need to create a login and the whole process is just one huge pain in the ass.

Then when you arrive at the gate for boarding, you are handed another form that you need to complete and hand over to the authorities upon arrival in Rome. Only, when eventually I land in Rome there’s nobody there to hand my form to. My point is that a lot of restrictions and rules have been imposed on the airlines that a) do not apply to ground transportation for no apparent reason, and b) are then secretly removed without anybody bothering to inform the airlines about the changes.

The SAS lounge

As a member of the Star Alliance, Singapore Airlines uses the SAS lounge in Copenhagen, which is in the Schengen area. The lounge is divided in two floors. Normally, the upper level is for gold passengers, while the lower level is for regular Business Class passengers. However, with the diminished demand for air travel, the lower floor has been closed off, and now all passengers use the upper level.

The design of the lounge is very nice and has a nordic feel to it. But that may just be an impression caused by my own cultural biases!

The food offerings are adequate and make for a nice breakfast spread. However, I remember from my previous stay that the selection does not change throughout the day.

Boarding

This is where the fun part begins: the non-Schengen concourse is on the C pier, which is where the flight from Singapore ends. Passengers making the journey from Singapore to Rome have to go through immigration in Copenhagen. And then from there, the flight continues as a Schengen flight to Rome. As the C pier is not equipped for dual Schengen/non-Schengen ops, boarding for the flight to Rome is from one of the bus gates on the E pier, which is really out in the sticks. As my luck will have it, boarding is through the rear door. Oh happy day…!

The load in Economy Class and Premium Economy is not too bad. In Business Class there are six passengers.

The cabin

Singapore Airlines has its own signature scent for its aircraft, and the familiar smell hits me the moment I step aboard.

The Business Class seat is large and bulky and looks nice. There is also a lot of storage space available in the seat. Other than that though, I can’t say that I’m a fan of this seat. First, because I don’t think it’s all that convenient if passengers need to stand up and get out of their seat to convert it into a bed. Second, I think the fact that Singapore Airlines seems to see the need to show a video on how to operate the seat says a lot. Third, it’s difficult to find a comfortable lounging position without having to turn the seat into a bed. And finally, speaking for myself only, I have tendency to align with the bed I’m lying in when I sleep. As such, the necessity to lie at an odd angle to fit into the bed is inconvenient. Still, for a flight of two hours it certainly beats Alitalia, and any SAS narrow-bodied.

The cabin crew

This is where Singapore Airlines really shines on this flight. The crew are just so polite and properly trained. Their manners are impeccable and they are personable and friendly. Which is even more amazing considering that they’ve already been on this aircraft for about twelve hours, having come all the way from Singapore. When I reach my seat, there is a bottle of water, a sanitary pack and a set of earphones waiting for me. The crew help me with my luggage and then bring me a glass of orange juice.

Originally, I’m on 12A, but 11A appears to have had a bath in some dreadful aftershave that’s making it hard for me to breathe. So the crew help me to resettle on 16A, where I have loads of peace and quiet. Throughout the flight, the crew address me by my family name and take good care of all the passengers.

The meal

Just before departure, one of the crew comes to take my order for the inflight snack. There are no menus, but she tells me there is a choice of some sort of portobello mushroom sandwich or a smoked salmon focaccia. I go with the latter.

The meal is a bit of a let down. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a full on Business Class hot meal, but I think they could have done a bit better than just a cold and soggy bit of bread with salmon.

After the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with a snack basket and champagne twice. I request a coffee and some lovely salted almonds.

Arrival

And then all too soon we’re descending into Rome. The weather outside is lovely, and the pilot reports they’re expecting a temperature of 36 degrees upon arrival.

The airport is quite busy when we land. We come to a stop at the newest pier in Fiumicino and I disembark into the heat. From our gate it’s a fairly long walk to customs and arrivals, and as I already mentioned, nobody checks my passport, temperature, certificate or anything of the sort.

Getting into town

To get into town I’m taking the train. The Leonardo Express is the nonstop train that runs to Roma Termini in just 30 minutes. There is a surcharge on this train, which is why you need to get a first class ticket for EUR14. Tickets are only valid on the train selected at the time of purchase. There are cheaper trains, but they take much longer and stop at basically every hay stack in between the airport and the city.

The station at Fiumicino is two floors up from arrivals and well signposted.

Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus A 340-300 – First Class: Zürich to Dubai

Introduction

The day before my departure, I get a call from Swiss International Air Lines about my flight to Dubai. The friendly agent informs me that

  • there are no lounges open at Zürich Airport,
  • there is no First Class check-in available,
  • only Terminal 3 remains open in Dubai,
  • and therefore, SWISS will not provide a meet and greet service on arrival nor a lounge on departure from Dubai.

So basically, this means the SWISS First Class experience is going to be limited to the service on board.

Getting to the airport

The schedule for the SWISS flight to Dubai has changed. The flight now leaves at 16h15, instead of at noon, and arrives at the rather ungodly hour of 01:15. The flight also no longer continues on to Muscat from Dubai.

I take the 13h37 airport train from Basel’s Swiss railway station, which gets me into Zürich Airport at 15h04, slightly more than an hour before my flight to Dubai is scheduled to depart. With the Swiss Federal Council’s recommendation to do home office whenever possible, the trains are not so full these days. And so, today I have a whole carriage all to myself up until the last stop before the airport.

Check-in

My first stop is at the check-in counters in Zürich’s Terminal A. The lady checking me in is friendly. We have a brief chat behind the plexiglass screen and it turns out she and I worked for Swissair in the same building at the same time.

The check-in area is very quiet.

Airside & boarding

The situation airside is not much better. Most of the restaurants are closed, except for those that are able to provide food for take away. A lot of the shops are closed as well. It’s quite sad to see, really.

The ramp outside isn’t all that busy either.

The E pier at Zürich airport has been shut down, with the stands there being used for aircraft storage. As a result, all long-haul flights are now serving the B pier, which has both a Schengen and non-Schengen area. The non-Schengen gates are on the lower D concourse.

I go through passport control and head one floor down to ground level – and the place is crawling with people. My flight is departing from D43, which is the last gate. There is a document check before you can enter the holding area. There is no social distancing, half the passengers just walk through, seemingly oblivious to the queues and the staff can only watch helplessly as the chaos unfolds. It’s not really their fault, although I think it is quite apparent that there simply isn’t enough staff on hand to properly manage the situation.

Boarding begins with a call for HON Circles, Senators and Star Gold members to board first. And immediately, the scrum begins… The picture below was taken even before the boarding call was made.

So I figure I might as well wait for the queue to disperse before heading on board. There is only one airbridge attached to the L2 door.

The cabin

This is my first trip in SWISS First Class in a very long time and my first flight in the upgraded First Class seat with the sliding door. Generaly speaking, I think the seat is quite nice to look at. The first impression is good. But I also think the cabin looks a bit bland and, quite frankly, boring. And I suspect it will probably not age well either.

Storage space is good, though. There is place to store bags under the ottoman, and there’s also a drawer in the ottoman itself. More conveniently, there is a fairly large space in the side of the seat that is big enough to store a laptop.

Trying to find a position that is fully comfortable is not quite so easy, and the the pre-selected settings for sleeping and lounging are not much use. But the cool thing about the seat is that every part of it can be moved independently.

The seat offers a reasonable amount of privacy with its sliding doors, even though they don’t fully close. It’s not quite as private as the heavy curtains Air France has in its First Class cabin, but I think it’s better than nothing.

A pillow wrapped in plastic, a pair of slippers, a disinfectant towel and the vanity kit are already at my seat when I finally get on board.

First Class passengers are also given a voucher for 50MB of complimentary wifi during the flight, which doesn’t work all that well, though.

Welcome drink

As soon as I’m settled, the crew bring me the menus and offer me a drink. I have a glass of sparkling water, served with warm cashew nuts with herbs, which I don’t try.

By the time we push back, we’re already running forty minutes late. The flight time is announced at six hours. The first officer welcomes all passengers aboard and informs us that we’re going to have to make a stop at the de-icing pad on our way to the active runway and that as a result, we should expect a one hour delay on arrival in Dubai.

Even in these strange and troubling times, I take comfort in the fact that some things obviously never change… and the Airbus A 340-300 remains a really very bad climber. The engines spool up with an agonised howl and we gradually, slowly start picking up speed, until eventually we’re airborne.

The meal

Once we settle into the cruise, the crew start their preparations for the meal service. My table it set with a crisp white table cloth.

Amuse bouche

To start off the meal, there is a mousse of gruyère cheese, served with a butter flûte in cumin. With that I have a glass of the Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle, which is a nice pairing. For the rest of the meal I have still water only.

Passengers have a choice of olive oil, butter or both to go with the warm bread.

The table is set with the wooden salt and pepper mills, which I find rather surprising, given the COVID19 situation. I would have thought they would have taken those out of use, at least temportarily.

First course

There is a wide selection of dishes to choose from for the first course. Due to the restrictions in place, the first course is not plated in front of the passengers from a trolley any more. Instead, passengers order with the crew, who will then bring the plates out directly from the galley.

I go with the Balik salmon, served with crème fraîche, and the smoked char with a romanesco and cauliflower couscous and cauliflower cream. Both starters are really very good and of good quality.

Salad

The salad is lovely. It comes with caramelised apples, veal speck, pumpkin seeds and a pumpkin vinaigrette.

Main course

For the main course, again I go with the fish. And what an exceptionally good piece of fish it is! This must be one of the best main dishes I’ve ever had on a plane. The fish is perfectly cooked. It’s moist and not at all dry and the lemon beurre blanc is a smooth, velvety revelation. I am absolutely delighted!

The cheese

Let’s face it, by this time I’m already quite full. But I’ve always been a sucker for a nice bit of cheese. And so, when the friendly cabin crew comes to remove the main course and asks me if I’d like to try the cheese… a man is only so strong.

The plate is nicely presented on a round slate. The cheese on it are Tomme, Chèvre Frais, Vacherin, Gruyère Vieux and Bleu de Gruyère. The cheese is served with pear bread, warm buns and crackers. With that I have a glass of sweet white wine, the name of which I forget.

Dessert

I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a place to go for a jog during my stay in Dubai to pay for my sins… Yes, I confess. I have dessert too. And I’m not even all that ashamed of it either. Perhaps a little bit guilty. Dessert is mousse of white and dark Toblerone chocolate, served with slices of fresh orange and an orange sorbet. With that I have some Sirocco mint tea, which is served in an elegant, small tea pot.

To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin with a box of Sprüngli pralines, which most passengers refuse. I ask the cabin crew if she knows what the individual ones are. To which she responds that she really doesn’t know. However, she offers me a deal, and tells me I can have as many of them as I like, as long as I promise to tell her what’s in them for future reference. And so it falls to me to help out the poor woman in her cluelessness. But I will not say how many I eventually end up having…

After the meal, I close the doors and extend the seat into a lounging position to read until we start our descent. The crew pass through the cabin a number of times with snacks. But I resist.

The crew

The crew on this flight are really good. They very strictly enforce the COVID19 measures and are quick to remind passengers to do the same. Apart from that though, I think they’re putting a lot of effort into making the best of a really shitty situation, by trying to make passengers comfortable and putting them at ease. Their interaction with the passengers is friendly and personal, but without ever crossing the line and being intrusive. And I think they do a good job. Throughout the flight the passengers in the First Class cabin are very well taken care of, and nothing seems to be too much effort for the crew.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Dubai with a delay of about 45 minutes. It’s just coming up 2 o’clock in the morning when we touch down. I think this is the first time I’ve ever arrived into Dubai without there being any holding delays. The airport is very quiet. We taxi to the remotest remote stand they could have possibly found, passing row after row of grounded Emirates aircraft. It’s quite upsetting to get a first hand glimpse of the extent of the fallout that has been caused by the pandemic.

The eight First Class passengers deboard first and are taken to Terminal 3 in a separate bus.

As we enter the terminal, I am struck by the silence and how eerily quiet the whole place is. Before I can head downstairs to arrivals, there is a checkpoint, where passengers have to show that they are holding a negative PCR test.

The e-gates for immigration have been closed, and all passengers have to go to one of the desks, where again they have to provide proof of a negative PCR test no older than 96 hours before they are allowed into the country.

Conclusion

This was an interesting experience with SWISS. I have to say, getting onto the plane is a hassle, as you struggle to maintain your social distance in the face of the blatant, and often times frustrating stupidity of the human race. You look at the way the passengers behave at the gate and wonder how we ever managed even to invent the wheel. No wonder some people believe that aliens built the pyramids…

But once you step on board, things improve – at least in First Class. The crew genuinely made an effort and I am honestly very thankful to them for that. This trip was unavoidable for me. I’m here to give another course that could not be postponed. Even so, I must say that this flight down to Dubai has made it clear to me that I will not be undertaking any further travels by air in the forseeable future, save for the flight back to Switzerland, and certainly not without vaccination.

SAS, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-600: Stockholm Arlanda to Zürich

This post isn’t so much of a trip report as it is a commentary. The Boeing B 737 is the most successful jet airliner in aviation history, with a total of more than 10’500 aircraft of the type built. It is currently in its fourth generation with the ill-fated B737 Max, the future of which does not look too bright in the wake of the two fatal accidents more than two years ago.

The B 737 was originally designed to operate from small airports with limited infrastructure. This meant that the aircraft’s layout required it not to be too high off the ground for better access by the service vehicles and for the possibility to incorporate a set of retractable passenger stairs.

The result was an aircraft with a short, stuby appearance. It is most easily recognisable by the fact that the engines had to be mounted directly under the wing in order to maintain enough clearance to the ground and thus to avoid them becoming contaminated by ingesting debris lying on the ground.

Over the years, the B 737’s fuselage has been stretched a number of times. The wing has also been modified, together with new avionics and more powerful engines. The original B 737-100 was only 29 metres long. Today, the longest version of the type is the B 737-900 at 42 metres.

The B 737-600 is a bit of a squirt, at just 31 metres length. It is also the least successful model of the B 737 series, with only 69 aircraft ever built. Of those 69 aircraft, only about half remain in active service in 2020. Part of the -600’s problem was that it was simply too heavy for the number of passengers it was able to carry, which might also explain why it is the only version of the B 737 for which the manufacturer did not offer the option to have winglets, which would only serve to make the aircraft even more overweight.

SAS was the first and, at one time, the largest operator of the B 737-600, with a fleet of 30 units that were ordered mainly for domestic operations in Sweden. Their intention had been to replace part of their fleet of old DC-9s and MD-80s with the -600. The Scandinavian airline decommissioned its last B 737-600 in 2019.

The much more elegant MD-80 that the B 737-600 ought to have replaced…

For the passenger though, the -600 had a lot to offer in terms of comfort, because the cabin of the B 737 in general is much wider than that of other hundred seaters currently in the market, such as the Embraer 195 or the A 220. At least on the -600 there were hardly ever any issues finding a place to store your hand luggage in the overhead bin. As such, it made for a rather pleasant ride on the sector such as Stockholm to Zürich, which has a flight time of slightly more than two hours.

On the face of it, the benefits of having a standard model aircraft for a specific type of mission and then offering it in different models in varying sizes makes a lot of sense, especially in terms of crew training, planning flexibility and maintenance. And for the larger of the B 737 types, that obviously seems to have worked rather well. But the -600 also shows that at the bottom end of the scale, there comes a point where the benefits of having cockpit commonality and sharing parts with other types can no longer make up for the fact that you are, at the end of the day, carrying around with you a lot of dead weight that directly translates in the amount of kerosene you have to upload. That was pretty much the also experience Airbus made with its mini Airbus A 318, of which only 80 were built.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Stockholm Arlanda

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Introduction

I’ve decided to visit Stockholm for a long weekend. It’s nearing the end of summer so I figure it should be nice up north around this time of year. Probably, for most people the summer is a time to be outside having barbecues and stuff. But quite frankly, despite the fact that I was born on a Mediterranean island, I’ve never been able to handle the summer heat all that well. So a weekend trip to Stockholm, to me at least, holds the promise of respite from the oppressive humidity and the summer heat in Switzerland.

Getting to the Airport

On Friday afternoon I catch the train from Zürich Main Station to Zürich Airport. In July and August Switzerland pretty much comes to a halt, as this is when most families with kids go on vacation, and so the train is not very full.

Neither is the airport actually. It’s 10 August, which means that now all the traffic will be home bound tourists returning ahead of the start of the autumn semester at school.

Check-in

The SWISS check-in area is calm. There are no business travellers about either, which is kind of nice. Not because of the business travellers as such, but because it’s just nice to travel without hassle.

Which also means you can take your time at security without being rushed by the staff.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

I make a brief stop at the lounge to grab something to eat and drink – just in case. Most of the flights I take with SWISS these days are usually short hops of one hour or so, which means I’m not really quite sure what to expect from the flight to Stockholm with a block time of over two hours.

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule and the gate agent is obviously working to make sure we still manage to get away on time. So boarding is not by priority, just the usual scrum. But I figure that’s okay, because the flight is not that full anyway.

The Cabin

The cabin, or rather the seats, are not exactly in the best of condition. The leather on the seat is worn and threadbare and there are scratches on the back covers. There’s also some food left from the previous flight stuck in my seatbelt. Which is totally unfair, because the guy next to me still had a half eaten chocolate in his seat pocket…

The Crew

The crew seem tense and preoccupied. They’re certainly not rude or anything, but they all seem a bit distant. Either they’re worried about delays the passengers don’t know about, or perhaps they just haven’t found their groove as a crew.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the smell of warm food starts wafting through the cabin. Initially, I figure they’re probably just heating up the crew meals for the cockpit. But then once the service starts, it turns out the hot meals are for the passengers. Hurrah!

… or maybe not hurrah. Good heavens! The hot snack consists of a sort of rectangular pizza that has been heated in its card board box. KLM also serves these on longer flights in Europe and they’re just so, so bad. The taste isn’t really so much of an issue, if you’re into greasy fast food with zero nutritional value that will clog up your arteries and gives you heart burn just from looking at it.

But it just looks so vile. The bottom of the cardboard box is all greasy, where the oil has seeped into it and soaked the cardboard. Which I guess is a win, because that means the grease is not in your body, which is probably better for your digestive system and your life expectancy.

To drink I have a cup of water and a cup of coffee. The coffee is usually not too bad on SWISS. For dessert, of course, the crew pass through the cabin with those fabulous little SWISS chocolates.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful and passes quickly. Although it does take the crew a whole hour before they finally pass through the cabin to remove the trash. I guess that’s one way of keeping passengers in their seats.

Getting into Town

In Stockholm I’ll by staying at the Gashaga Sealodge. To get there, I first take the outrageously expensive Arlanda Express to the Central Station. Then from there it’s the tube line 13 to Ropsten and then finally, from there the Lidingöbanan, which is something of a hypbrid between a tram and a train.

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Bandar Seri Begawan to Singapore

This is a previously unpublished post from 2013

Introduction

I have not idea what it was like for others of course, but many moons ago, for me as a student studying linguistics, I often wondered if I’d made the right choice. I used to worry I wouldn’t be able to find a job once I graduated or that I’d end up doing something I didn’t really enjoy for a loss of anything better to do.

Fortunately, with a lot of luck and a bit of help, things worked out. But little did I imagine back in those days what my life would be after I graduated. Today I consider myself very fortunate in that my work is something I really enjoy. My work has also allowed me to travel the world and meet so many fascinating people.

Looking back, there are a few moments that have stuck in my memory. Mainly, because I recall thinking to myself at the time: ‘How on earth to you end up here…?’. For example, the first time I gave a speech in the great assembly hall at ICAO HQ in Montreal. I wasn’t too phased by the audience of about 300 delegates watching. But I must confess, as a life long aviation geek it just gave me such a thrill knowing that the front of the podium I was standing behind was emblazoned with the ICAO logo.

Another such ‘how on earth’ moment was the trip I made in 2013 to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei to attend a conference on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements. My colleague the flying Dutchman eventually ended up on the evening news and I made into the daily papers. In particular, I remember sitting next to an Indonesian captain at lunch, who was capable of flawlessly saying ‘Ja, ich han gärn Rösti’ – a phrase he picked up during his training at Swissair for his type rating on the MD-11. The phrase means ‘yes, I like Rösti’. He also had a few swear words and obscentities he could do in Swiss German, which certainly kept me entertained through lunch. But let’s not go there.

Another thing I remember about Brunei is that apart from being vey friendly, most of the locals I met were, in some form or other, related to the Sultan. Wherever I went, I was introduced to people who would mention, by way of greeting, that ‘yeah, he is my cousin…’.

And so it goes without saying that the Sultan even features in my departure from Bunei on my way back home to Switzerland via Singapore.

At the Airport

My flight to Singapore is scheduled to depart in the late afternoon, to connect to the night time service to Zürich. Brunei airport is a decently sized facility. It’s also very quiet.

The Lounge

The Business Class lounge is located on the first floor of an odd structure that looks as though it had been haphazardly plonked in the middle of the airside lounge area as an afterthought. For all I know, quite possibly that’s actually true.

The facilities at the lounge are fairly basic, but it has a good internet connection and the seating options are comfortable enough. Generally speaking, my one complaint about the whole terminal building is that views of the outside are very difficult and generally obstructed in one form or other.

Eventually, I see my aircraft from Singapore gliding down to land between the shutters. The aircraft slows to taxi speed, turns right off the runway and onto the taxiway – and then stops. The engines are turned off and a set of stairs is brought to the L1 door of the aircraft. Next, a red carpet is rolled out from the bottom step. Around the same time, a long line of about twelve black limousines line up, parallel to the aircraft.

One or two persons at a time emerge from the aircraft, walk down the stairs and into the first waiting limousine. The car drives off, and another two persons emerge and do the same thing. Until eventually, the last car leaves. The stairs are removed with the red carpet, the aircraft is hooked to a tug and subsequently towed to the gate. By this time the return flight’s departure time is just coming up.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts with quite a delay. I have a long layover in Singapore, so I’m not all that bothered. But some of the other passengers are looking decidely concerned about their connection in Singapore.

The Crew

The crew are in a mad rush to get passengers settled as quickly as possible. But that is no reason for the fabulous Singapore girls to forget their manners. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in the red Kebaya comes through the cabin to welcome every passenger on board individually and apologize for the delay. When she reaches my seat, I ask her what the black limousines were all about. She explains to me that apparently, his royal highness was on a state visit with his entourage but his aircraft went tech. As a result, the poor man had no other option but to suffer the inconvenience of booking the whole of the First and Business Class section for his return trip on a ‘commercial’ airline. I find that kind of ironic though, because the Sultan has a current type rating for the B747, an A 340 and a Gulfstream that he owns…

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the service begins with welcome drinks. I have a glass of apple juice, which is served with a packet of mixed nuts.

The First Course

For the first course, there is a small bowl of salmon sashimi served with a bit of salad and pickles.

The Main Course

For the main course, I have the Nasi Uduk with fish. It’s basically a plate of steamed coconut rice that is served with pieces of fried fish, a boiled egg and some dried fish and peanuts for condiments. It’s very tasty. And the size of the portion is decent too!

Dessert

For dessert I have a chocolate brownie with vanilla sauce, which makes a change from those dreadful creams many other airlines offer and that are so generic and usually not very tasty either…

Arrival

Eventually we land in Singapore with quite a delay. Which suits me well, because it shortens the time of my layover in Singapore.

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 some 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 SWISS Business Class lounge

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lounge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. 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 keep back so I can board last. 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 row 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.

Conclusion

To conclude, I’m just assuming the apparent 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.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Geneva to Zürich

Transfer in Geneva

Man, what a rathole! I disembark from my flight from Paris at 14h40. Boarding for my next flight should start in ten minutes. But apparently, connecting from the French sector to the Schengen area is not really foreseen in Geneva. And so I end up going up and down a whole set of ugly and narrow corridors, at the end of which I am ejected in front of a security check point. Okay, fine…

The airport is very busy and crowded. There are people sitting on the floor everywhere. The SWISS lounge is one floor up from the gate area. Turn left and right a few times and eventually you should get there…

The SWISS Business Class lounge Genève

If my First Class departure from Zürich were on the same day, I’d be entitled to use the First and Hon lounge in Geneva, but because my departure is still more than two weeks away, it’s the regular Business Class lounge for me today. And it’s quite nice. It’s a descent size and rather empty this afternoon.

The flight is delayed by twenty minutes because of an incident with a dog on the runway earlier on. Boarding will be from gate A02.

Boarding…

… is a complete mess. There are grumpy passengers pushing and shoving everywhere. At some point, a Portuguese speaking mother boards with her baby in a pram and what looks like the combined baggage allowance of about twenty passengers. Oh yes, and she‘s also decided that standing in the middle of the aisle is a brilliant place to make a phone call. Eventually, the passenger behind her explains that she has a tight connection in Zürich, so it would be really good for the mother to get out of the way to let the other passengers board quickly.

So the mother quickly dumps her stuff in five overhead bins and then vanishes behind the curtain to find her seat in Economy Class.

Of course this isn‘t any of SWISS‘ fault. There are annoying passengers on every airline. But I do also think it might have helped if the crew had been in the cabin to help the poor woman, instead of hiding in the forward galley and doing a bloody convincing impersonation of somebody who is both blind and deaf.

The crew

Which brings me, of course, to the crew on this flight. Upon entering the aircraft, there is one male crew standing in the galley. He has one job, to say hello and welcome to passengers as they step aboard, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

Instead, he just stands there in his waistcoat, which is really not doing anything to hide just how badly fitting and tight the uniform is. He hasn‘t bothered to close the top button of his shirt either and looks, in short, like a complete and utter slob.

And just to make sure there‘s as little interaction as possible, the usual refreshing towel and bottle of water have been placed on the seats before boarding.

The meal

The meal service consists of one of the sandwiches they usually serve in Economy on international flights. The slob shoves the tray under my nose, without as much as asking if I‘d like to eat anything. I ask him what‘s in the sandwich, but he just shrugs and continues to ignore me. Turns out it‘s mozzarella with mushrooms and hits the spot nicely.

The purser quickly hands out chocolates, again without saying a word. Oh yes, and there is no drinks service. Apparently, the welcome drink was it.

Arrival

Luckily, it‘s not a long flight and we land in Zürich at 16h30 after a short flight of 30 minutes.

Conclusion

The difference between Air France and SWISS on these two flights was like night and day. The Air France staff on the ground and in the air were so friendly and nicely turned out. The interaction with them was just brilliant and really left a good impression.

The SWISS crew, on the other hand, were really not good. They have zero motivation, they look as though they’re really unhappy to be there and resent you for actually making them work. I’m aware of that fact that a short hop of thirty minutes hardly gives any airline an opportunity to shine and interact with the customer. But even so, I have to say that on this flight it really felt like they were intentionally not making the effort.

Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus A 320Neo: Allow me to introduce you…

Today, 20 February 2020, SWISS received its first ever Airbus A 320Neo. The aircraft was delivered to the airline factory fresh from the Airbus plant in Hamburg Finkenwerder. Originally, the plan had been for the aircraft to land on runway 16 and then roll out slowly. This would have brought the aircraft right past the viewing gallery. However, as arriving traffic was quite heavy, it was eventually decided to vector the aircraft for a runway 14 arrival to fit it into the other arriving traffic. The aircraft landed at 10h50.

I was invited by one of the Swiss national newspapers to attend the welcoming ceremony in my capacity as an aviation expert, such as it were.

The event started at 10h30 on the viewing terrace. After the aircraft had landed and taxied to the maintenance apron, guests were taken by bus to the hangar to view the aircraft and attend the welcoming ceremony, which included the baptism of the aircraft to the name of Engelberg.

Generally speaking, I think SWISS did a good job of the event. The speeches were kept fairly short and the alphorn blowers really gave the event a convincing touch of Swissness. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would say the event was attended by about sixty persons, most of them from the media. The guest of honour was a monk from the monastery of Engelberg, which this year is celebrating 900 years of uninterrupted service.

Once the speeches were done, we were allowed aboard to take a look at SWISS’ new toy. First of all, the new aircraft will be installed with wifi. There will also be four USB ports per row of three. The seating capacity is for 180 passengers. The seat pitch on the first nine rows is 32 inches and then gradually decreases to a rather tight 29 inches on the last row. The seat back can only be reclined on the first nine rows.

While I generally think seat recline on narrow bodies is somewhat superfluous, you also have to keep in mind that SWISS will also operate this aircraft to Tel Aviv and Cairo, both of which have a block time of more than three hours and are both night time services. I’m not sure how much passengers will appreciate the lack of recline on those flights.

Other than that, there is only a small rear galley. Instead, half the space on the rear bulkhead is taken up by two toilets. This one I’m in two minds about. The toilets are wheelchair approved, which I think is a good idea. However, because the orientation of the toilets is towards the rear, the curvature of the hull is not an issue, which means that an adult man can stand fully upright in the toilet. Unfortunately, not all of us have impeccable target practice…

The space in the cabin where the toilets would otherwise be located, has been taken up by an additional row of seats, row 38. If you’re on this row you have the worst pitch and no view, because there are no windows.