Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Budapest to Zürich

Introduction

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.

Check-in

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.

Boarding

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.

The cabin

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.

The crew

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.

The meal

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.

Arrival

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…

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Airport

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

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

Check-in

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

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

The Lounge

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

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

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

Boarding

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

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

The Cabin

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

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

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

The Crew

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

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

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

The Meal

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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