Part two of the experiment is now to see how long it takes me to get back to Zürich by plane. I have a late breakfast and then take a last walk through the misty streets of Milan. At 11:20 I check out of the hotel and walk the short distance to the metro station. This time I catch a line 1 train to Cadorna railway station, three stops down the line. From there I catch a Malpensa Express to the airport. From Cadorna trains run every thirty minutes and take 37 minutes to make the journey to the airport.
Check-in at Terminal 1
The Lufthansa group has quite a presence at Malpensa. The group checks in on row 6 of Terminal 1. Security is swift and oddly efficient, and unlike any other airport I have visited recently, the staff are friendly and polite.
The Malpensa Lufthansa Lounge
Lufthansa even has its own lounge in Malpensa. It is a fairly big too, and has a surprisingly good selection of food and drinks. And it offers some decent views of the apron.
I have to laugh though, because apparently this lounge does not have toilets but, and I quote, „premium restrooms in cooperation with Villeroy and Boch“. I mean, it is still a loo, you know…
Originally, the flight today should have been operated by a Helvetic Embraer 190. But there seems to have been an aircraft change, and instead the flight is now operated by an A 321 CEO. A rather empty A 321, I might add.
I am seated on row 27. I booked the absolutely lowest possible fair on this route, which means that even with my Senator status I would still need to pay to sit further up front. Given that the aircraft is nearly empty, it makes no difference. Other than that, the CEOs are a lot more comfortable than the NEOs, it seems to me.
The cool thing about sitting so far back in the aircraft is that I have a perfect view of the movements of the wing!
The flight time is announced at forty minutes. There is twenty minutes delay pushing off stand, because apparently Zürich is very busy with all the WEF traffic.
On such short sectors SWISS does not offer buy on board. Instead, every passenger gets a bottle of water and the signature Swiss chocolate.
Arrival into Zürich
Just over 24 hours after my last landing at Zürich Airport coming from Muscat, I am back again. As we approach the airport, the weather starts to clear up. We make a short taxi to one of the stands on the A pier, and with that, I am finally back home again after three weeks of travel. Shame I shall be leaving again tomorrow.
Getting to Zürich Main Station
With only hand luggage on me, I manage to catch the 16:31 train from the airport, which stops in Oerlikon and Hardbrücke on the way. I alight at Zürich Main Station at 16:45, five hours and twenty minutes after leaving the hotel in Milan. It has taken me 80 minutes longer to make the same journey I did in reverse yesterday. Of course, one could argue that the additional hour arose from the wait of one hour I had at the airport until boarding. But while that may true, I see no reason to subtract that hour from the overall journey time. Having to take a metro, a train, a plane and another train is hardly efficient either. And even though I have rarely had such a pleasant safety screening as the one at Malpensa, not having to undergo screening when you travel by train is always much nicer. So in the sum of all things, I would say the score is train: 1, airplane: 0.
It is probably safe to say that the Embraer E2 family of jets have not been the commercial success the Brazilian manufacturer had hoped for. To date, fewer than 270 aircaft have been ordered, whereas the rival Airbus A220 is gradually approaching 790 orders and calls some of the world’s most prestigious airlines its customers – and that includes Air France, Air Canada, and Delta.
Even though the E2 family was rolled out in 2013, to date only 55 aircraft have been delivered. In as much, and as I know from my own experience, catching a flight on one of these elusive birds is not easy. Currently, the two largest operators of the type are KLM and Helvetic Airways, both of which I use quite frequently. Even so, to date every time I was booked on a flight supposedly operated by an E2, there was a last minute aircraft change and a missed opportunity.
Until today. Finally, after several failed attempts I get to sample Helvetic Airways’ E2 on a flight from Luxembourg to Zürich operated on behalf of SWISS. Ironically, this opportunity arose unexpectedly as the result of yet another aircraft change.
At the Airport
If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the bit about getting to the airport or describing the lounge I didn’t visit… My flight departs Luxembourg at 15:00. When I get there, the place is deserted and there are hardly any people. Whatever the case may be, it means that I can settle by the window and watch the traffic until my E2 makes an appearance.
Just after 14:03 the inbound flight touches down and very gradually makes its was to its stand at gate A17.
The first thing that strikes me about the E2 is the size of its engines.
Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of 15 minutes. I count 85 passengers on the flight today. There are nine rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats, of which 16 are taken.
The first impression as you step on the plane is very good. The cabin is tidy and neat. Other than that though, the narrow diameter of the hull gives it the look and feel of a commuter aircraft, which is not quite so apparent on the A220.
I’m seated on row 7, where the seat pitch is painfully tight. Fortunately, sitting in Business Class means that the seat next to me is empty, so at least I can stretch my legs sideways.
On each row of two seats there are four USB sockets.
There is also an overhead reading light and an air vent for each passenger. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Helvetic Airways’ seating configuration – apart from the overall lack of space and comfort – is that the seats on most rows are missaligned with the windows.
There are three cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a woman with a thick eastern European accent but otherwise flawless English and German. In the back of the bus is a friendly young man who interacts pleasantly with passengers and a young lady who looks as though she’s afraid of her own shadow. She passes through the cabin wordlessly like a ghost.
Before we depart, the MC distributes refreshing towels and small bottles of still water.
The pictures of the outside were taken by sticking my iPhone next to the ear of the guy in front of me (and hoping he won’t notice) and then twisting my hand to the right to aimlessly point the camera lense in the general direction of the wing.
The meal service consists of a small tray with a plate of two stale canapés – egg & tomato and ham & cheese – and a small jar of vermicelles mousse and plums.
Before I even manage to take a bite, the ghost appears offering the chocolates. The guy in front of me asks if he might be allowed to take a second one “for my kid” (right…) to which he only receives an ever so slight and silent nod of the head.
The tray tables are a bit of a problem, mainly because they’re very small and my tray keep sliding off. Other than that, is it really too much to train the crew to crew to wait until the end of the flight to hand out the chocolates?
If I actually had a window, the views outside would be gorgeous. The colours are gradually changing to autumn, casting the landscape in a warm colour.
During the descent the crew advise passengers with connecting flights to go straight to their gates if they have connections within the hour. Beyond that though, no information about the departure gates of the connecting flights is given.
We park on a remote stand, where the dedicated bus for Business Class passengers is already expecting us to take us to the terminal building, which is eerily quiet.
I’m happy I finally got to try the elusive E2. In the sum of all things though, I can’t really say I was too impressed. First, considering that it is a fairly new design I thought the cabin looked rather old-fashioned. Second, no matter how hard you try to give the cabin an airy, spacious feel, there’s no denying that this is an aircraft with a very narrow fuselage. In as much, at least as far as I’m concerned, the E2 is no match for the A220 in terms of comfort and passenger experience. I also found that the aircraft is much louder inside than I expected.
Yet again, the crew were Helvetic’s saving grace on this flight, even though the one crew member didn’t actually say anything – but perhaps it’s for the better that way.
By the time I’m comfortably settled on one of the sofas in the SWISS First Class lounge it’s 06h30. I have another hour before my departure to Paris. As soon as I take a seat, one of the lounge attendants comes over and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to order from the menu. I tell her a coffee would be great. Other than that, I’m still quite full from breakfast on the plane.
The one thing that really always strikes me about SWISS, is just how incredibly ugly their uniforms are. And it’s not just that they’re ugly, they’re also clearly of very poor quality, badly cut and would even make a supermodel look frumpy. I understand that not all airlines can be like Singapore Airlines with their timeless and iconic SQ Kebaya that was designed by Balmain in 1968. But I also think that the appearance of an airline’s staff in their uniforms and the pride with which they wear it says a lot about the corporate culture and management’s appreciation for their frontline staff.
At 07h15 I exit the lounge and make my way to the boarding gate at A66. I figure I might as well wait for the initial scrum to pass before I step aboard. By the time I reach the gate it’s already more or less emptied, with just a few remaining passengers milling about. You know the ones. They wait until the very last moment to step aboard because of some incredibly important call they need to make at the top of their voices… Well let them, I’m tired and I need to sit down, so I make a B-line for the gate attendant who scans my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.
I’m seated on 1A. A bottle of still water and a refreshing towel are already at my seat when I arrive.
There are two middle-aged women working the Business Class cabin, and they couldn’t be more different from the crew of the previous flight from Singapore. One of them barely speaks any functional German and has a strong Eastern European accent when she speaks English. Meanwhile, her colleague is doing a convincing interpretation of the Queen of Frump. But I must say, they are friendly, if perhaps a tad reserved. We can’t all be social butterflies…
There are nine rows of Business Class, for a total of 36 seat. However, there are only four passengers in the forward cabin on this flight. I ask one of the cabin crew and apparently they’re expecting a full load on the inbound to Zürich.
The expected flight time is one hour.
The meal – breakfast
Within minutes of getting airborne, the crew start preparing for breakfast. On the small tray there is a glas of berry Birchermüsli and a plate with cold cuts, cheese and egg.
To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket. As soon as I’m done, the crew remove my tray.
Looking from above, the difference between Europe and Australia is really quite striking. In Europe more or less every inch of land is exploited for agriculture, whereas in Australia you can spend hours flying over vast stretches of untouched wilderness.
Very soon we’re starting our descent into Paris. The crew pass through the cabin with the chocolates while the passengers are treated to a complimentary sightseeing tour of Paris. Our approach brings us in past Notre Dame cathedral, then the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile. We continue on a Westerly track in the direction of Versailles before eventually doing a 180 degree turn to line up for an approach towards the East.
I already miss Australia, but I’ve very much missed this too. No matter what troubles Europe may be heading into right now, the age and traditions of its cities are comforting to me – because they speak of longevity and of resilience.
Our aircraft comes to a stop at one of the stands on the D concourse, and within minutes my suitcases appear on the luggage belt. And just like that I’m back where it all began two months ago.
This brings to an end my sabbatical of 2022, which should have happened in 2020 originally, and then very nearly didn’t happen at all. Before I left on this trip, my dad asked me why it had to be Australia, if the purpose of this trip was for me to have some time to work on my Phd thesis in peace and quiet. And I guess it’s a valid point. All I can say is that I really like being in Australia. The lethal snakes, spiders, sharks and croccodiles aside, I like the way the earth smells in Australia, I enjoyed going for long walks along the beach early every morning in Manly, and I loved listening to the unique strangeness of the whistles and chirps (and also screeches…) of the birds. And I really, really enjoyed the openess and the friendly curiosity of the Australians.
My A 380 from Sydney pulls onto its stand just after 21h. The flight ends at Terminal 3, which is also from where my flight to Zürich will be leaving. In fact, I can see my B 777 parked at the gate three stands down. The A 380 I just arrived on will be departing again in about two hours for London Heathrow.
Terminal 3 is a lot livelier than Sydney airport was. Before I head for the lounge, I decide to go on a bit of a walkabout to stretch my legs a bit after the long flight from Sydney. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting before I’m done with the journey home.
The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge T3
The Silver Kris Lounge in T3 was only recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment. They’ve added some nice touches. But over all, I still can’t say I really like Singapore Airlines’ corporate design. The lounge looks a lot like the lobby of one of the big hotel chains in the United States, which I’m sure has it’s own appeal if you’re over seventy years old…
SWISS First Class passengers are eligible to use the First Class lounge, the entrance to which is off to the left from reception.
The only thing I’m really after in the lounge is a nice long shower. Luckily, it appears that at this time of night people are not inclined to take showers, so basically I can take my pick and there’s no queue. The shower rooms are well stocked with shaving kits, tooth brushes and a no name brand of shower gel and shampoo.
The shower hits the spot nicely. I then take a seat and catch up on a few work emails. Not point in trying to put of the inevitable anymore, I guess.
I arrive at the gate at 22h45 to find there’s a long queue for security. I really don’t like this concept of having closed gates with individual security checkpoints. I mean, it’s great that the Singapore government is obviously trying to create jobs here, but it is awfully inconvenient. So I decide to take a seat outside and wait for the actual boarding to start.
After a few minutes, a young lady from SWISS’ handling agent approaches me. She’s holding a sign with my name on it. She checks my boarding pass and then asks me to follow her, apparently she’s going to escort me through security. I’m in two minds about the whole process though. On the hand, I think it’s great that SWISS takes care of its premium passengers, and it’s not their fault the boarding situation in Changi is what it is. On the other hand, I must say it’s kind of awkward to have so many people directing the stink eye at me for cutting the queue. I feel like telling them it’s not my fault and pointing at the young lady, but that would be throwing the poor gate agent under the bus.
On this flight I’m seated on 2A, which is basically the same seat I had on the outbound – just one row further back. The cabin is full tonight, with eight out of eight seats taken. What is interesting, is that there isn’t a single passenger in First Class heading for Zürich. One passenger is connecting to London City, two to Brussels, two to Copenhagen, two to Amsterdam and then me to Paris.
There are two female cabin crew working the First Class cabin this evening. One of them is a German young lady, who is very bright and sharp. She basically anticipates what passengers want before they even realise it themselves. Her colleague is a Romande and very French in her manners, which makes for an interesting and rather charming combination in terms of the composition of the crew.
In short sequence I am brought the pajamas, a cold refreshing towel, a glas of water and the amuse bouche.
The crew come to take my order for dinner. But I tell them it’s already been a long day, so after take-off I would like to have the bed made up for me straight away so I can get some sleep. The flight time is announced as twelve hours and thirty minutes.
True to their word, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the German cabin crew arrives with hangers for me to go change out of my clothes while she makes up my bed.
The meal – midnight snack
I actually manage to get nearly seven hours of sleep. It doesn’t take long for the crew to notice I’m awake again, and immediately they both come to check if there’s anything I’d like. I tell them I’m feeling a bit hungry, so a small snack would be nice. “Überlassen Sie das uns…” the German one says, leave it to us. A few minutes later they are back with a cup of coffee, a cheese platter with a selection of crackers and bread, three packets of popcorn, two packets of Zweifel crisps and two packets of cashew nuts. The French crew reassures me that there’s plenty more where that came from and to just let them know. I must say, I think I could get used to being mothered like this…! It’s kind of sweet.
The meal – second service
A few hours later the cabin begins to stir and passengers start waking up. The French crew approaches me and asks if I’d like to get a head start on breakfast before the rush begins, which is very considerate of her. Shen then proceeds to basically bring me a bit of everything there is on the menu:
A bread basket, served with butter and a selection of preserves and honey.
Fresh orange juice and coffee to drink.
Birchermüsli and fresh fruit.
And yoghurt (recommended by the crew, who tell me it’s delicious – which it really is).
Oh yes, and just in case I’m still feeling hungry, an omelette with sausage, bacon, tomato and potato.
By the time breakfast is done, we’re just past Belgrade with another eighty minutes to run to Zürich. I mean, I really was quite upset having to leave Australia. But sitting here watching Europe gradually wake up to a new day is also very nice, and I become aware of just how much I’ve missed my home continent, my family and my friends. It’s good to be back!
Arrival in Zürich
We’re the second aircraft to touch down in Zürich after the curfew is lifted at six. We make a quick taxi to our gate and the crew come to wish me a safe onward journey. They also tell me the driver will be waiting for us as we disembark through the L1 door to drive us to the Schengen area. The first thing that strikes me as I deplane, is just how different Switzerland smells. It’s oddly familiar but feels somewhat exotic after the smell of Australia these last two months.
And because this is an airline blog after all, I just want to mention that I think the B 777 is really hot shit. What a beast, and the size of those formidable engines is just… just…
We all pile into the minibus and then we’re off – and I nearly have a heart attack before I remember that they drive on the right side of the road here – and not on the left. I’ll have to reprogramme my brain… again.
Once we get to the main terminal at the other side of runway 28, we go through immigration and are then escorted up to the First Class lounge to wait for our onward connections. If you’re arriving from Singapore, at least in First Class there is no need to go through security again.
Two months have passed in the blink of an eye, and it’s time for me to start making my way back home again. I always find leaving Australia difficult, probably because it’s not so easy to get to, or at least not so quick. Of course, it doesn’t help that Australia is gradually moving into spring, which means that the weather during this last week has been gorgeous.
On my last visit to Australia, I had breakfast at The Pantry on Manly Beach on my last day. It’s where I decided that one day I’d be back. So I figure it’s a good omen if I do the same this time, in the hope that eventually I will return some day.
Getting to the airport
The regular ferry from Manly to Circular Quay takes between twenty and twenty-five minutes to make the journey. However, if you’re lucky or plan ahead, you might just end up on one of the old Manly ferries, which are slower and take about thirty minutes to make the journey. The Freshwater that you can see in the photo below is one of those old ferries. She makes her first journey from Circular Quay to Manly at 09h30 in the morning, and from then on every two hours. I enjoy taking the old ferry, it’s a far more pleasant and leisurely trip than than on the newer, faster catamarans which depart every twenty minutes.
From Circular Quay , the journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes by train or taxi.
Singapore Airlines checks in on row F, which is more or less in the middle of the check-in concourse.
Singapore Airlines occupies the whole of one side of row F of the check-in counters. There are nine counters in total, of which two are for Suites passengers. My bags are checked all the way through to Paris, and then I’m on my way.
There is a separate line for First and Business Class passengers for immigration. But don’t hold your breath, because right behind immigration there is only one queue for security for all passengers. It’s rather long too, but at least it moves quite fast.
Behind security, you are ejected into a large duty free area with a wide offering of Australian products, including the fabulous TimTam biscuits and Vegemite.
On my way to the lounge, I spot my aircraft trying to hide behind an Air Niugini and a Speedbird.
Most of the airside retailers and restaurants are still closed, including Mc Donald’s.
The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge
Given the number of flights Singapore Airlines operates out of Sydney, it’s hardly surprising that they have their own lounge facility. There is one reception area for all passengers, and then those passengers travelling in Suites access the First Class section through a door on the right side of the reception desk.
The lounge is small and has an nice, intimate feel. There is a dining area as well as a few large, comfortable armchairs by the window.
Although there is an extensive buffet available, waiting staff serve you directly at your seat. First I have some dim sum and a beef pie.
Then one of the waiters brings me two duck pancakes and chicken satay. The pancakes are not very good. I’ve never been much of a fan of duck anyway, but the pancakes are just very stiff, hard and too chewy to be enjoyable.
The satay are good though.
Boarding for our 15h00 departure starts at 14h30 from gate 57.
There is a separate queue for upper deck passengers. I pass through the gate and make my way down the airbridge. And that’s when it hits me with a pang that this is really happening and I’m about to leave Australia.
The First Class Suites are located to your left as you enter the aircraft on the upper deck, right behind the galley. There are six suites in a 1 + 1 configuration.
The Suites are not quite as private as the Air France La Première seat because the walls do not reach all the way up to the ceiling and there are apertures in the door for crew to check on you. Nonetheless, it’s still quite private and quiet.
The main feature of the Suites, of course, is the bed that is separate from the seat.
One of my beefs with the Suite is that you have to swivel your seat around to face towards the door in the dining position. However, as can be seen in the photo below, that means that during the meal service you end up having to face the passenger sitting across the aisle. At least on today’s flight the Suite opposite mine remains empty.
The Suite offers a lot of storage space. Having said that, I also think there’s a lot of unnecessary space that seems wasted and hardly serves any purpose. Still, it’s a very pleasant set up.
A set of B&O earphones, eye shades and socks are already at my seat when I arrive.
Singapore Airlines also offers a vanity kit to Suite passengers. Although to be honest, I think the Singapore Airlines vanity kit must be one of the most useless ones in the industry. Inside it are a scented candle and a small bar of hand soap. I mean, I get that the vanity kit is also intended as a small gift to passengers, but does it really have to be something that is so obviously useless? Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the two bathrooms.
The crew on this flight are excellent and really just very funny in their interaction with passengers. Even so, they’re also very efficient and provide the kind of flawlessly elegant service that Singapore Airlines is known for. Throughout the flight, the crew use my family name each time they address me.
As soon as I step aboard, one of the crew helps me stow away my things and settle in, while the other brings me a glas of the Dom Perignon. Out of curiosity, I ask how many bottles of champagne they go through on an A 380 in one flight. They tell me they usually have six bottles of the Dom outbound from Sydney, and if that runs out, they still have the Krug as the backup.
The menu for the flight is already at my seat when I arrive. The crew come to ask if I have any questions about the menu and to let me know they’re happy to help me with the wine pairings. I tell them I’ll only be having sparkling water with the meal. The crew’s attention to detail is really quite impressive: at no stage of the meal is my glas ever empty.
The meal – first service
After take off, the crew come to take my order. I’m a bit undecided, so the green kebaya flight attendant suggests that I should try a bit of everything from the starters and then see how I feel about the rest as we go along. I mean, if you really insist… The meal begins with an initial drink service and a small ramekin of warmed nuts.
And then the table is set for the meal.
First starter: we start with the traditional caviar service. Each passengers gets a whole jar, which is served with blinis, boiled egg, chives, lemon and crème fraîche.
The crew pass through the cabin with the bread basket once only, which is good because otherwise I’ll only end up overdosing on the garlic bread…
Second starter: seared salmon with pickled kohlrabi. This dish is similar to the one I had the last time I flew out of Sydney on Singapore Airlines. This time around though, it tastes much better. Especially the horseradish gives the dish a nice zing.
Third starter: the pancetta soup. Now this dish is quite amazing. It’s a bit like a minestrone, but they’ve managed to make it more sophisticated and lighter at the same time.
Main course: chicken Sha Jehani style. For the main course I go with the Indian dish, which is chicken in a spicy gravy served with dhal and vegetables. This is a lovely dish and very fragrant.
Dessert: Orange and almond cake with custard. Oh my goodness, this is really just to die for. The custard complements the orange perfectly and the cake is perfectly moist and full of flavour. There are small pieces of caramelised nuts on the plate too, which give it a nice bit of extra crunch.
After all that, the red kebaya flight attendant comes to ask me if it’s okay for her to bring me the cheese selection. She looks rather crestfallen when I beg for mercy and tell her that I really, really couldn’t eat anything else because I’m so full. So we compromise and she asks me if then at least she can bring me some coffee.
After the meal I go to one of the two very large bathrooms at the front of the cabin to change into my pajamas, while the crew make up the bed for me to have a nap.
The bed is rather hard, which I find quite pleasant because its easier on my back and my two slipped discs. My only complaint is that for a guy my size the bed is just very narrow. It’s fine as long as you’re not moving. But every time I turn I’m very careful to make sure I don’t end up rolling off the bed.
The meal – second service
About ninety minutes out of Singapore the crew notice I’m moving around and ask me if I’d like them to remove the bedding. They also ask me if I’d like anything to eat before we land, so I’ll be able to go straight to bed on the connecting flight.
I decide to go with the seafood congee, which not bad. Although it’s also rather bland. For dessert I have a plate of fruit.
Arrival into Singapore
Our arrival into Singapore is smooth. We land and very slowly make our way to our parking stand at Terminal 3. I thank the crew as I disembark and they wish me a pleasant onward journey. I now have just under two hours to make my connection to Zürich. Sadly, Australia already feels far, far away.
How rude! 23 hours before my departure to Sydney, I receive two emails: one if from Air France and the other is from QANTAS. The email from Air France informs me that my flight to Sydney has been cancelled and I can request a refund of my FlyingBlue miles ticket. The email from QANTAS tells me that they’re working to rebook me and will get back to me within 72 hours. Great! A short while later another message arrives to inform me that QANTAS has found an alternative and booked me on the departure from Melbourne at 21h00 instead of 13h00. Alternatively, I can select another option under the ‘Manage booking’ tab on the app. Only, the other options are a departure at 06h00 or at 07h00 in the moring. So a refund it is. Luckily, I find an alternative flight on the Virgin Australia website, and it even has a better timing – with a departure from Melbourne at 14h00.
Getting to the airport
In Melbourne I was renting a flat in Southbank, very close to the Yarra river, the CBD and Flinders Street station. Check-out is at 10h00 in the morning. I then make my way with all my luggage to the southern end of the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street station. There’s a train from here to Southern Cross station roughly every ten minutes. The journe takes about four minutes and costs AUD4.60.
At Southern Cross I alight and change to the SkyBus for the airport.
The oneway ticket is AUD19. If you get a return ticket each way is slightly cheaper, meaning you’ll only pay AUD32.
The journey takes about 25 minutes.
Virgin checks in at Terminal 3, which is the first stop on the Skybus. The SkyBus drops you off at arrivals on the ground level. Departures are one floor up.
Business Class passengers can either use the self-service check-in machines or one of the check-in counters, which is what I do. While the friendly lady checks me in, we have a little natter about the heat wave they’re having in Europe. While we’re at it, she tells me that weather in Melbourne is a bit like a woman’s mood: it changes four times a day but never the way you expect it too. I’ll take that into consieration, Ma’am. She gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way.
The Virgin Australia Business Class lounge
The Virgin lounge is located right in between the E and F piers, before security. However, there are exits on both sides of the lounge that will eject you in a dedicated, segregated security- screening area for lounge visitors only.
The lounge is very big and not all that busy. It also doesn’t seem to be operating at full capacity, as not all the bars are open. There are also magazine shelves but no magazines, which I’m guessing is because of Covid19.
The large buffet is permanently manned, which makes it impossible to take pictures of it without getting the staff in the photos too.
The best feature of the lounge though, is the large window front that runs along the full length of it and that gives you good views of the ramp.
While I wait I track the progress of my aircraft. It’s running nearly two hours late on its previous flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne. Somewhere along the line, I notice there’s an aircraft change and our flight will now be operated on a different aircraft currently inbound from Hobart. That one will not reach Melbourne until 13h52, which means the 14h00 departure time is still not going to happen either way.
Once VH-VUS is safely on the ground and parked on its stand, I figure I might as well leave the lounge and go for a walkabout until boarding starts.
I reach gate 3 and they’re still unloading the cargo from the previous flight. The baggage carts with the Melbourne bound suitcases are already waiting, and I’m happy to spot my luggage on it too. The aluminium RIMOWA with all the stickers in the top left corner is one of mine.
Eventually, boarding starts at around 14h35, which means we’re probably going to be running an hour late by the time we depart. Which actually suits me better. I step aboard as one of the last passengers. The purser welcomes me aboard, followed by “there you are”. Before I can even take my seat, she asks me if I’d like some sparkling wine or still water.
On my previous flight, I was seated on row 1. This time I’m on row 2. The seat pitch is geat. There is a large seat pocket and the seat has USB and electricity plugs.
I can’t seem to get it right. I don’t know, maybe the Aussies just struggle with my accent. On my last flight, the choice was between the chicken burger and a chickpea salad. I ordered the chickpea salad and all the purser understood was something with ‘chick…’, and immediately brought me the burger instead. Which was not good. So this time, the choice is between another chicken burger and a salad. The guy next to me orders the burger. And even though I clearly enunciate ‘salad’, all the purser hears is “same”. Only this time, I’m prepared, and I immediately correct her and specify that I want the salad.
And it’s a good choice. The salad comes with little pieces of rice-shaped pasta, rocket, pumpkin, bell peppers and a yoghurt dressing. It’s very nice. With that there is another packet of crackers with cheese and a chocolate heart. God, I’m missing Swiss chocolate right now…
By the time we pull onto our stand it’s 16h10, so we’re running over an hour later. Which suits me fine, because I’m picking up the light of my life today, who will be arriving at 17h20 at the international terminal. My late arrival means a shorter wait.
My suitcases arrive very quickly. I then make my way outside to catch the complimentary Tbus that connects the domenstic terminals with the international terminal. The Tbus is orange, and you really can’t miss it. It runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes about ten minutes, depending on the traffic on the roads.
It had always been a dream of mine that one day I would watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House. This weekend the stars lined up for me, and I was able to get a ticket to watch the last performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I tought it was a brilliant production. The whole cast were solid. But the soprano’s rendition of the fabulous Un bel di vedremo was literally a show stopper.
Getting to the airport
At 11h40 on Sunday morning I step of the ferry from Manly and walk the short distance to Circular Quay station, from where I can catch a T8 train to Sydney airport. The journey should take about twenty minutes to the domestic terminal.
As it turns out though, they’re working on the line today. So the station is closed and trains to and from the airport are only running as far as Central station. So instead, I walk a few extra steps and board the L2 tram from Circular Quay to Central station. The journey takes about twenty minutes and both the L2 and the L3 run to Central.
And then from Central Station I catch the train to the airport. All in all, the journey from Circular Quay to the airport takes me about 45 minutes instead of 20, but I’m good for time. So no harm done. On public transport in Sydney there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. You can just badge in and out with your credit card as you go. The maximum amount you’ll pay for a whole day of travel is AUD16.
I alight at the stop for the domestic terminals, which serves both Terminals 2 and 3. Virgin Australia operates out of Terminal 2.
Considering how big Sydney airport is, the distance from the station to the check-in area is surprisingly short.
I’ve already checked in using the app, so I head straight for security. There is no separate queue for Business Class passengers.
The Virgin Australia lounge
It’s rather nice that in Australia, on domestic flights you only have to take out laptops, and not all your liquids as well. The entrance to the Virgin lounge is off to the right as you exit security. It’s quite busy, so I don’t take a lot of photos. The lounge has a wide window front overlooking the apron and the runways beyond – perfect for some plane watching!
There is a fairly large buffet with a selection of cold snacks, such as crackers and cheese, egg sandwiches, tuna wraps, and salads. There is also a choice of two soups.
At around 14h15 I start to get bored, so I figure I mights as well make my way to the gate. Boarding should start at 14h35.
There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and passengers travelling with children or with special needs. If you’re sitting at the back of the bus, you can actually take the stairs down onto the ramp and then walk across to board the aircraft through the rear door.
Virgin Australia has two rows of Business Class. Each seat has an adjustable headrest. I think I prefer this seat to that of QANTAS simply because of the fact that the seat back is more upright. For my liking the recline of the QANTAS seat in the upright position is a bit exagerated.
The seat pitch on row 1 is good.
And there’s a small tray that can be pulled out of the armrest for a bit of extra space.
The service begins on the ground with either still water or sparkling wine. Other than that, the crew are very friendly. What is perhaps the most noticeable difference to QANTAS is that Virgin seem to take the Covid measures a lot more seriously. As passengers board, they are reminded to put on their face masks and there’s also a recorded announcement reminding passengers how the face mask should be worn properly.
We move off stand just after 15h00 and make our way to runway 34R, which is quite a schlepp from the domestic apron.
We take off and make a sharp right turn towards the sea. In the distance I can see Bondi beach and the North and South Heads.
To eat there are two choices: a chicken katsu sandwich with Japanese mayo or a Morroccan chickpea salad. It is perhaps a tad unfortunate that both dishes start with chick…, because I actually order the chickpea salad. Only, what I end up with is the chicken. I don’t bother to point out the mistake. The flight time is only seventy minutes or so. I think I’ll live. also on the tray is a package of cheese and crackers and a small chocolate heart.
And what a dreadful meal it is. The sandwich is incredibly oily and the chicken has a revolting rubbery texture. Needless to say, I put the thing down after one bite. The crackers are good, though.
Our approach brings us in right over the city, with St. Kilda visible in the distance. The weather in Melbourne is not as nice as it was in Sydney. It’s overcast and also cooler.
We make a quick taxi to Terminal 3, which is where Virgin operates out of here in Melbourne.
Getting into Melbourne from the airport
Right outside the exit from arrivals is the bus stop for the Skybus, which runs into Melbourne every ten minutes. The journey takes about thirty minutes to Southern Cross station and a one way tickets costs AUD16.
And… it’s a double decker bus. Suitcases are stowed on the lower level, and passengers sit on the upper level. If you’re sitting on the first row, you get some great views as the bus approaches the city.
With six hours to kill before my flight to Singapore, I decide not to head for the First Class lounge straight away. It is a lovely day outside, so I might as well make the best of it.
The Circle is a complex of offices and shops located land side, right behind the bus terminal. Access to The Circle is either at ground level or through a tunnel that connects it to the terminal buildings. Apparently, the tunnel has become a bit of a thing with the young and terminally hip Tik Tok and Insta community. As a result, do not be surprised to find a group of young people blocking most of the tunnel and trying to capture photos of themselves that they can post and that, at least they think, will secure their future social media fame and fortune…
The Circle has been modelled after the Niederdörfli, which is part of the old town of Zürich. Behind the buildings is a small, artificial hillock covered in thick forest. It is quite nice, and if it were not for the distant noise of the aircraft and the Autobahn, you might easily forget that you are in fact in the back yard of a major transport hub.
Two hours later I figure I might as well head back into the terminal. I mean, I have a lot of investigating to do for this blog before my departure to Singapore.
My first stop is the First Class check-in area, just to make sure that the itinerary has not changed in the meantime. The young lady confirms that I am all good and then escorts me to the escalators leading up the the First Class lounge.
The SWISS First Class lounge on the A pier
Access to the First Class lounge is via the escalators to the left of the Edelweiss Bar in Terminal A or Check-in 1. I head up the stairs, where I am welcomed by a friendly middle-aged woman. She scans my boarding pass and inquires if I would like to go straight across to the E pier, or if I would rather wait here. I tell her I would prefer to go immediately, so she puts my name down for the shuttle in fifteen minutes and invites me to head through security in the meantime.
The lounge above Terminal A is fairly large. The design is very typical for Switzerland, I think. It is more comfortable than ostentatious.
I take a seat and immediately a young man comes to ask me if there is anything I would like to drink. I decline and tell him I will not be staying long.
First Class shuttle to the E pier
At 18h40 I head one floor up and walk down the long corridor to the departure point for the First Class shuttle to the E pier. I am the only one making the journey at this time. The driver takes me downstairs to clear immigration, and then we head out my ride to the E pier.
SWISS has these dedicated, purpose built mini vans to take passengers across, and they really are very funky. Basically, they look like a small version of a SWISS First Class cabin, complete with lamps and wood furnishings.
SWISS First Class day rooms on the E pier
The driver accompanies me up to the third floor with the lift, which ejects me in front of reception of the First Class lounge. SWISS has a limited number of day rooms available in the lounge. The receptionist informs me that “St. Moritz” is still available if I am interested. Of course I am!
The day rooms are brilliant. They are fairly small. There is no room for a desk or anything. However, each room has a comfortable double bed and a nice toilet and shower.
The view from the window is not too shabby either. But make sure to close the curtains before taking a shower, as the deck in front of the window is accessible from the lounge.
I manage to get a few hours of sleep. After a refreshing shower I decide to head out and investigate the lounge. It is fairly quiet today.
The SWISS First Class lounge on the E pier
There is no buffet service in the lounge. However, there is a large dining area and the staff are happy to also serve food on the deck outside.
My bird to Singapore is the B 777 parked next to the A 340-300.
No idea what this squirt is doing here…
I order the smoked salmon tatar with toast, which is quite tasty. Meanwhile, the evening bank has rolled on, returning the SWISS short-haul fleet home for the night. It is quite spectacular to watch, with the full moon and the mountains in the background.
At 22h00 I head downstairs for the document check ahead of boarding. By this time the shops have already started shutting down for the night.
As I pass the gate, the gate agents tells me I will need to put on a mask for the duration of the flight as per regulation of the Singaporean authorities.
The cabin & seat
I step aboard the aircraft through the L2 door and make my way through the Stübli to the First Class cabin. I am seated on 1A. Eight out of eight seats are occupied tonight.
At my seat there is already a 50cl bottle of water and a voucher for 50Mb of complimentary wifi usage.
Once I am settled, the crew bring me the menu and the pajamas. A vanity kit and slippers are already at my seat.
The seat is wide, spacious and offers a lot of storage space that I think I must have missed on my last trip on the A 340 to Dubai. The cupboard has two hangers and two compartments to store smaller items and shoes.
There is also a small reading lamp that gives off pleasant, warm light in the dark.
The cupboard serves a second purpose to close off the seat from the aisle for more privacy. There is also a small divider that is operated electrically and which extends from the side of the seat. All in all, it is not a bad solution. The point of having these enclosed cabins is not really to have more privacy, but to prevent being disturbed in your sleep by crew and people passing by your seat.
There are two crew working the First Class cabin, and both of them are excellent hosts. The service starts on the ground with the distribution of icy cold oshibori, which are highly welcomed – because although the aircon is running, the aircraft is still warm from standing around in the sun all day.
While we are still on the ground I am brought a glass of orange juice and an amuse bouche of flûtes from Sprüngli and a green tomato coulis with red tomato mousse. It is very refreshing.
Once we are airborne and the crew is released and the service begins. I am very much impressed that they actually manage to pull off the full meal service within less than two hours after take-off and without making the service seem rushed.
Starter: asparagus salad…
…and salmon trout with cucumber and trout mousse. Both of the starters are excellent. The salad leaves have managed not to go all limp in the heat, and the trout mousse is exceptional. It has a lovely smokey taste and a smooth, velvety texture.
Soup: gazpacho with shaved almonds. The soup is also very good, and has a strong dose of garlic – which at least I like very much. Not so sure about my fellow passengers though…
Main course: veal with morel jus and onion chutney, asparagus, and cheese polenta. I have no idea what compelled me to try this dish. I normally do not eat meat much, and certainly not very often on a plane. Whatever it was, I am glad I did because this dish is lovely. The polenta is rich and creamy and the meat has managed to stay juicy but without being bloody.
Cheese: a selection of cheese from the region around Lake Lucerne. Served with mustard chutney, grapes and fig bread. The blue one was a bit too salty for my liking, but the others were rather nice.
Dessert: chocolate pie. Oh my god, for a moment there I am not quite sure I will survive this dessert. It is very good, but it is also amazingly sweet and so, so rich.
Once the meal is done, I change into my pajamas and ask for the bed to be made up. I manage to sleep for a solid seven hours.
As soon as the cabin crew notice I am awake they come to ask me if I would like coffee. The young lady working the First Class cabin brings me the coffee and tells me that for one horrible moment she thought the coffee machine – the most important piece of equipment even before the engines in her view – may have gone US. But luckily she managed to get it going again.
She then ask me if I am having breakfast. There is no menu, so I challenge her to surprise me. Which she and her colleague take to mean I will try a bit of everything!
With breakfast done, I’m feeling fit to burst. Thank goodness we only have about one more hour to run to Singapore, where I can get off the plane and walk off some of all this lovely food.
Arrival in Singapore
The approach into Singapore is very scenic and takes us right past the waterfront and Changi airport, before we then make a wide 180 degree turn to line up and land.
As we pull onto our stand, the cleaning crew are already expecting us. I am guessing it is very humid, because they look as though they are trying to move as little as possible.
This experience with SWISS was a very pleasant surprise. I think it also proved, yet again, that the crew can make or break a flight in First Class. The crew working this flight were friendly and engaged with the passengers in a pleasant and effortless way that made you feel welcome – as though they were happy to have you with them. The lounge in Zürich was also very nice and the day rooms were just brilliant.
Of course, those of you who regularly read this blog may be wondering how SWISS compared to Air France. The answer is, I think I could not really say – mainly because their products are very different. The Air France service in La Première is elegant, polished and very grand – or just really very French. For example, when you order a drink in La Première, they will always serve it to you from a silver tray, whereas at SWISS they would just bring you a glass from the galley, without a tray. It is a minor thing and not really all that important. On the other hand, I found the service on SWISS a lot more personable.
A week after my return from Bogotà I am at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport again. In pre-Covid times the Lufthansa carriers operated out of Terminal 1 and even had their own, dedicated satellite. However, Terminal 1 has been closed since the start of 2020. And for the time being, the Lufthansa airlines have had to relocate to Terminal 2B.
From the RER B railway station at Terminal 2, it is about five minutes on foot to Terminal 2B. To get there, you first need to cross the departure hall of 2D.
In Terminal 2B there are two check-in areas. The Lufthansa group checks in its flights in area 1. There are two First Class counters, three Business Class counters and six Economy Class counters. The check-in agent sends my suitcase on its way and then wishes me a pleasant flight.
With my passport and three boarding passes in hand, I make my way to the security checkpoint, which is located between terminals 2B and 2D.
I really like the architecture of 2B/2D. The security checkpoint is one floor up, and there is a dedicated queue for First and Business Class passengers.
The security check is a bit of a mess, mainly because the staff are too busy bitching about the passengers to pay attention to what they are doing. But eventually I still manage to get through.
The contractor lounge is incredibly ugly, dirty and not very appealing. Although SWISS can hardly be blamed for that. The food options are simply strange and the place is a complete mess. I do a walk through and quickly realise I am probably better off outside where at least I can see the aircraft movements. I honestly think the public seating areas in this terminal are nicer than those in the lounge.
The added benefit of not staying in the lounge means that I am at the gate to watch the inbound from Zürich pulling onto its stand. The flight today is operated by an A 220-100, and the flight is full.
I’m the last to board. Sitting on 1A I think there’s hardly any reason to board first, only to have to watch the entire aircraft file past.
The cabin is well maintained. There are four rows of Business Class for a total of twelve passengers. All twelve seats are occupied.
Seating on row one is quite tight, with not much leg room.
The crew up front is a lovely young woman, presumably of Eastern European origin. She’s the maître de and she’s really excellent. She is serious, but not unfriendly, and very professional in her interaction with the passengers. Once the doors close, she passes through the cabin with small bottles of water and packaged towels.
The flight time is fifty minutes. The meal is another SWISS original – a hearty Wurst & Käse salad (slices of Cervelat with cheese, boiled egg, cornichons and radishes). You may like it, or you may not… With that, bread rolls and butter are served from a basket. Dessert is some gelatinous concoction. To drink I have a Coke Zero, and the cabin crew even ask me if I would like lemon and ice with that.
And there is a silver lining: at least on this flight the crew remember to pass through the cabin with chocolates for the Business Class cabin.
We land in Zürich at 16h20 after an uneventful flight. I now have six hours and twenty minutes to make my onward connection. I think I am slowly starting to get excited about this trip…!
I spend five days in Budapest attending a workshop and conference on qualitative research in language testing. I hadn’t been to Budapest in a very long time, so it’s nice to be back. Of course it helps that the weather is stunning. It’s warm, but without the oppressive heat of summer.
Getting to the airport
To get to Ferihegy airport by public transport there are several options. The bus lines 100E and 200E run from the city out to the airport and are obviously the cheapest option. They’re also the slowest option. Google will tell you that the journey takes forty minutes, but depending on a set of variables – from the driver’s level of insanity to the state of the traffic on the roads – it’s more like an hour.
Then there’s the train. But this I really wouldn’t do. There is a railway station opposite the entrance to the old Ferihegy 1 terminal, which is no longer in use. It’s not really that far from there to Ferihegy 2, but I was unable to find any information about how to get from the railway station to the passenger terminal.
And then there’s the hotel shuttle, which the concierge of your hotel can order for you. The journey costs EUR6.- and the journey time really depends on where your hotel is located and on how many other pick ups the driver has to make on the way to the airport.
Terminal 2 is divided in sections 2A and 2B. The former is for the Star Alliance and SkyTeam Alliance.
The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 1 to 4. There are two counters open for passengers in First or Business Class.
It’s fairly busy when I arrive. There is a fast track for security and there are self-service machines where you can purchase tickets to access the fast track. Access to the fast track is only for passengers with at least Star Gold status. So just having a Business Class ticket is not enough.
Airside & lounge
The airside area is attractive. It’s a wide open space with a high, vaulted ceiling. On the upper level there is a large food court. This is also where two of the premium lounges are located. However, the lounge that SWISS an the other Star carriers use is on the main level. The entrance to the Platinum lounge is opposite gate A7. But it’s hardly worth the bother. It’s dark and gloomy inside and there are no windows either. It’s also not very big.
Life is so full of disappointments. Originally, when I booked this flight it should have been operated by an E2, which would have been my first flight on the type. When I checked in the day before, the SWISS app didn’t show any aircraft type. So I’m a bit upset when I arrive at the gate to find yet another old E1 standing there.
Still, there is a silver lining because seating on Helvetic is really just so incredibly tight – even on row 2 where I’m seated. At least they keep the adjacent seat empty, so by sitting sideways I can at least minimise the risk of getting a third slipped disc from sitting in this torture instrument.
I find the crews on the Helvetic Airways flights are a lot more friendly than those on SWISS, and this flight is no exception. The purser working the Business Class cabin is a charming young lady who goes about her duties in a very professional manner.
Once boarding is completed, each passenger receives a bottle of water and a refreshing towel. For some reason I’m very thirsty and more or less down the water in one big schluck.
The next time the purser passes through the cabin, she notices and promptly brings me a new bottle on her way back to the rear of the aircraft. By the time she returns a few minutes later, the second bottle is also already empty. She picks it up on her way to the forward galley and immediately returns with the third bottle, commenting that “actually, you’re right. I should also drink more in my line of work”, clearly in an attempt to not make me feel awkward, which I think is rather nice.
Having said that, I’m not sure about the other two cabin crew. They’re both male and also very friendly. One of them is of South Asian origin. I suspect he may be a trainee. The problem is that he’s the one making the announcements, and his pronunciation is so bad that it’s difficult even to make out if he’s speaking German or English. It’s not a big deal, because his manners are excellent and he’s very friendly. An accent is something you can learn to control, whereas manners are more of a question of attitude.
In any case, our departure from Budapest is quite spectacular. We take off and make a wide left-hand turn that brings us back over the city. From my seat on 2F I have an excellent view of the parliament building, the centre of town and castle hill.
And then the meal service begins, perfectly performed by the purser. It’s not much more than a snack, but it’s the middle of the afternoon anyway and the quality of the food is good.
The main dish is two slices of smoked salmon, and it’s a very good piece of fish. It’s not at all chewy, it’s tender and tastes of salmon and not just fishy, which is what usually happens with inferior cuts. With that there is an avocado cream and a bit of taboulé.
And then of course, there is the cheese. My guess would be Gruyère for the flat slice and a very young Tilsiter for the wedge of cheese.
Bread rolls are served with the meal and the purser comes through the cabin for seconds and thirds.
Crackers and butter are also available.
The dessert is a panna cotta with strawberry. And to end the meal I have cup of Sirocco’s mint tea.
And, unlike the crews on my two previous SWISS flights, this crew actually remembers to pass through the cabin with the fabulous SWISS chocolate.
The flight time to Zürich is ninety minutes. Although Zürich is quite busy, we are still able to make an approach straight in, without having to hold, for an on time arrival. We park on a remote stand. For Business Class passengers there is a small minibus to take us to the terminal. It takes the luggage from my flight 45 minutes to start arriving and the luggage belt is crawling with passengers, as the flights from Brussels, Athens, and Malta are also being delivered to this belt. Eventually, I manage to catch a train an hour after I land at 17h15, which is still not bad, even if it’s not up to Zürich’s usual standards. And so the quest for the E2 continues…