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.
I‘m on my way to Belgium. Before the pandemic, Brussels Airlines operated two daily flights between Basel and Brussels on weekdays. Alas, the route has been discontinued. My other option from Basel would have been Easyjet, but they were already sold out. There currently aren‘t any direct trains from Basel to Brussels anymore. I then decided to book a ticket on the TGV & Thalys via Paris. But then two days before departure, a private matter meant I would not be able to take the train. So eventually I booked a ticket on SWISS. Fortunately, they still had fairly competitive prices available, even at such short notice.
This post begins with me arriving at Zürich airport by train at 16h44 for my 18h15 departure to Brussels.
Check-in 3 marks the area above the airport’s railway station. SWISS recently introduced new, fully automated check-in machines there. The process is swift. A SWISS representative scans my electronic boarding pass and prints the baggage tag for my flight. She puts the tag on my suitcase and instructs me to proceed to the drop-off machine.
I dump by bag on the belt just as another SWISS rep hurries by to help me. The staff are all very friendly. All in all though, I couldn’t really say if the process is any good or how easy it is to operate, because the staff basically take care of everything for me.
Next, I head over to Terminal A and the security checkpoint. The airport seems very quiet.
There are two separate entrances for security, one for Economy Class passengers and another for First and Business Class passengers.
Security is quickly done. By the time I’m through, it’s already 17h30. I only have twenty minutes or so before boarding begins. These days I usually can’t be bothered with the lounges, so I head straight for gate A 63 to see if I can catch a glimpse of the aircraft taking me to Brussels this evening.
This is my first flight on an A 321 NEO, which SWISS keeps in a very high density configuration of 215 seats. Subsequently, it takes an eternity for the flight to board. I’m seated on 31 all the way in the back of the bus.
Apart from the massive engines, the A 321 Neo is easily distinguished from the the CEO version by the configuration of the doors. The A 321 CEO has two doors forward of the wing, no overwing exits and one door at the rear, whereas the A 321 NEO only has one door in the front, two overwing hatches and two doors behind the wing.
The A 321 NEO is a very long aircraft. In the SWISS configuration in Economy Class there is one lavatory in the rear of the aircraft and one right by the R2 exit. The finish of the cabin is nice, and the brown seats give the cabin a nice warm feel. There is a hook for a jacket at every seat.
The seat pitch is okay as long as you’re sitting fully upright. Even so, I’m wondering just where you’re supposed to put your legs if you have a thick winter jacket with you. The flight time to Brussels is 55 minutes, which is fine. However, from what I gather on flightradar, after its return from Brussels this aircraft was scheduled to operate the red-eye to Tel Aviv, which has a block time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. And that, I don’t think I would want to try out on this bird.
Among the other noteworthy features of this aircraft, it has video screens throughout the cabin. On the downside, from row nine on, the seats cannot be reclined. One the one hand, I’m guessing this a cost-saving measure to reduce maintenance on the seats. On the other hand, given the tight pitch it’s probably not a bad idea…
Whatever, I just like sitting behind the wing for a change and being able to watch the flaps moving during take-off and landing.
There are six cabin crew. They’re all female and their interaction with the crew is rather limited. One of them has this haunted look on her face. She’s standing in the cabin during boarding, but doesn’t bother to say a word of greeting to passengers as they file past her. I say Grüezi to her in my best Baseldüütsch, but don’t get a reply. Later on when we deplane, I take the initiative again and say Adieu. Nothing. I suspect that perhaps the problem is not just a lack of manners but also a lack of language skills. But it’s still awkward.
A while back SWISS announced that they would stop using binary salutations and terms of address, such as Ladies & Gentlemen, and would be replacing them with gender-neutral formulations. I salute SWISS for their initiative and the fact that the crew on this flight are really very disciplined about it. On the other hand, I must admit that it does sound a bit weird. The crew either address passengers with Dear guests, or they do not use an address term at all, which is a bit strange. I guess it’ll just take getting used to.
I must say I’m quite impressed with the NEO’s performance. The take-off is powerful and you can really feel the acceleration.
The meal service
The meal service consists of a complimentary bottle of SWISS’ iconic (sic.) still water and a piece of Swiss chocolate. More substantial meals can be bought on board or pre-ordered online. For its buy on board service, SWISS has teamed up with Sprüngli. I’m not quite sure what to make of this though, because Sprüngli tends to be rather pricey. So if they’re trying to attract the price-sensitive Economy Class customer, I’m not sure Sprüngli is the way to go. Just as an example, you can buy a tub of Birchermüsli (200 gramms) for CHF7.50.
Only 25 minutes after we take-off from Zürich, we’re already starting our descent into Brussels. It’s a lovely day in Belgium, with a ground temperature of 20 degrees celsius.
The airport is quite busy, no doubt with EU diplomats heading home for the weekend. It’s quite a treck from the arrival gate to baggage claim. On a positive note though, this means that by the time I reach the luggage belt for the flight from Zürich, my suitcase is just coming around the corner.
Getting into town
Like Zürich, Brussels airpot has a railway station located in the basement of the terminal. There are frequent trains from the airport into town, most of which will stop at the three main stations in Nord, Centraal and Midi. A one-way ticket costs EUR2.60 and there is an airport supplement of EUR5.70. The journey to Midi take about 20 minutes.
All things considered, this flight was pleasant enough. It was on time and they delivered me to Brussels safely, which is the main thing. I rather liked the A 321 NEO though, it felt solid. The finish of the cabin was rather elegant. On the downside, I think I would really think twice about getting on one of them again in Economy Class – especially on a longer journey. The pitch was really not comfortable.
The crew and service were decidely nondescript. It’s probably hard to convey Swissness when most of the crew are very obviously not Swiss.
This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012
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.
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 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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.
Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.
The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.
We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket.
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.
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.
I just stepped off my flight from Haugesund. I now have three hours to make my connection to Zürich. The airline industry is a strange business. I’m flying on a ticket booked with SAS, on the code-share flight with SWISS, which is operated by Helvetic Airways. Or something like that…
Transfer in Oslo
Changing planes in Oslo is easy and straightforward, even if you’re connecting from a domestic flight to an international one. All gates are under one roof, so all you need to do is find the exit to leave Norwegian territory. And that’s it.
The terminal has a bright and airy feel. There are quite a few restaurants and there is ample space to walk or sit around. Not being quite sure what to expect on SWISS Economy Class on a flight of this length, I decide I better find something to eat. Of course it helps that most of the restaurants in the terminal offer some exceptionally good apron views…
Once that’s been taken care, I find myself a quiet corner and settle down with my Kindle.
There is a bit of a hold up boarding the flight, because the aircraft previously occupying our gate is running late and only moved off stand after the SWISS flight had landed.
It looks like it’s going to be a full flight this evening. Even so, we still manage to complete boarding in time for a punctual departure.
Luckily, I was able to snag a seat on the emergency exit row. Helvetic Airways is one of the few airlines I know of that has a row 13 on its aircraft. As it happens, row 13 is the emergency exit on their Embraer 190.
On the exit row the seat pitch is really very good. There is ample space to spread out. Otherwise though, as I already commented on in one of my previous posts, seat pitch on the Helvetic Embraer is pretty tight.
Alas, the seat next to me is taken by a middle-aged woman. The two seats on the opposite side of the aisle are taken up by one of her daughters on the aisle seat, and the daughter’s husband on the window seat. The row behind me is taken up by her other daughter on the aisle seat and her son on the aisle seat opposite and a wannabe music producer on the window seat next to the son. And man, do they talk! They start yapping even before pushback. They totally miss the gorgeous sunset on climb out for all the talking and they don’t stop talking even when the crew make their announcements via loudspeaker.
There are three cabin crew on this evening’s flight. Two females and one male with the rather unfortunate name Randy.
Anyway, the service is efficient. Randy and the maître d’ don’t seem too happy. But the other female crew member is really friendly. She’s all smiles during the service and generally seems quite content to be there.
There’s a funny smell in the cabin as we board the plane. It’s an odd combination of the stench of old socks and something decomposing in the ventilation system. Once the cabin crew is released, it soon materialised what the source of the smell is: the Economy Class service consists of complimentary drinks and what the Swiss lovingly refer to as a ‘Chäschüechli’. It’s usually a popular term to try at a party if there are foreigners in the room… ‘go on, try saying Chäschüechli…’. In case you’re wondering, a Chäschüechli is basically a small cheese quiche.
I really wish they wouldn’t serve stuff like this on planes. The thing is served in a cardboard box. But by the time the crew reach row 13, the grease from the Chäschüechli has seeped into the cardboard box in which it is served and I start to get heart burn just from looking at it.
But at least the service is efficient and the thing is removed again fairly quickly, leaving behind an even stronger stench of eau de chaussettes.
The service concludes with the distribution of the chocolates, which is always a highlight.
I can’t really say the rest of the flight passes peacefully. The mum next to me has gone to sleep. But one row back, here son has inadvertently struck a conversation with the young man next to him, who is a tremendously successful (his words) music producer and obviously loves talking about himself.
Eventually though, the flight draws to an end. Because it’s already late, the approach is made onto runway 28, which usually means that once we touch down, the crew have to break like something nasty to make the turn off in time. And today is no exception. I love it.
The flight with Helvetic Airways was okay. At least they try and the fact that you still get complimentary food and drinks in Economy Class sets SWISS apart from a lot of the competition. Although from what I understand, that may be about to change.
Sweet Dreams (are made of this) was first released back in 1983, when music videos were still in their infancy and I was nine years old. I actually remember the first time I saw the video of Sweet Dreams. I think the moment has stayed with me through all these years because I think it was the first time that music triggered something in me. I sat in front of the television with my mouth agape, completely mesmerised by the fabulous Annie Lennox with her orange crewcut, standing in a field with a cow. I just thought she was so cool!
More than thirty years later, I’m still listening to Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. And so of course, when I heard she would be giving a concert in London in March 2018, there was no question that I would attend.
And so I flew to London from Basel the day after I returned to Zürich from Bucharest. The outbound flight on Saturday was with British Airways. There was absolutely nothing at all that would warrant writing a trip report about my experience with the Speedbird, my experience with them was totally replaceable and nondescript.
Of course, all of this does have a positive impact on the competition. I am flying back to Zürich today on Helvetic Airways, who is operating the flight on behalf of SWISS. Even if I only get a stale biscuit and the flight attendant has the bedside manner of the older ugly sister of Frankenstein’s monster, it’ll still be an improvement over anything the Speedbird dished out on the inbound.
Getting to the Airport
In London I stayed at the Hilton Angel in Islington, mainly because it’s quite close to the venue of the concert – the Saddler’s Wells theatre. The hotel is only a short walk away from the tube station ‘Angel’, on the Northern line. To get to London’s City airport, I have to take a southbound train to Bank and then transfer there onto an eastbound DLR train for the airport. Given the rush hour, it takes me close to one hour to make the journey.
I’ve already checked in using the SWISS app, which is playing up again. I’ve selected 13F, which is an window seat on the emergency exit. Although I did at some point receive an error message during the process, I was eventually able to complete the process. So I’m guessing, and hoping, that I actually am on 13F.
As you exit the DLR station at London City, there is a whole row of self-service check-in machines and inside the terminal building they have added even more of the check-in kiosks.
The security check is something they do really well at London City. So despite all the people, the process is fairly quick and painless.
There is no premium lounge at London City airport. But that’s totally okay by me, because the general lounge area offers some really excellent views of the apron and the runway behind it. There’s just one problem: the aircraft park with the rear facing towards the terminal building, which means that when they apply thrust to push off stand, they spray all the muck on the ground at the building. And as a result, the windows are rather grubby from the recent snow and deicing liquid.
The flight to Zürich is boarding from gate 10, which is the last gate at the west end of the facility.
I board the aircraft through the rear door, even though it would have made more sense to board through the front. It’s just that I can’t remember the last time I boarded a plane through the rear. This is brilliant!
I already mentioned the cabin of the Helvetic Airways Embraer in a post from January, when I flew Helvetic from Zürich to Milan. The flight to Milan was only thirty minutes, but by the time we landed, I could no longer feel my kneecaps.
The seat pitch is definitely much better on the emergency exit.
SERVICE Surprisingly, there are four cabin crew on the flight today. I’m wondering if perhaps one of them is still in training or something. Whoever recruits the cabin crew at Helvetic Airways obviously has an eye for the ladies, which is fine. But I really do think they should teach them to tone it down with the make-up. When the lipstick stains the teeth, it’s definitely too much!
By the time we’re ready to start up, the operating regime has changed and arrivals and departures are to the east. This means that essentially we’re parked right on the access taxiway to the runway threshold, giving us a taxi time from our stand to the holding point of just about 30 seconds flat!
Taking off from London City is always fun, and today is no exception. The pilot applies the parking break and then pushes the throttle all the way forward to the take-off thrust setting. The whole plane start shaking violently, and then – just when you think it’s going to start falling to bits – he releases the brakes and we go careening down the runway.
Once we’re settled into the cruise, the meal service begins. I’m expecting something along the lines of a pre-packaged muffin that has been prepared specially to stay fresh and fluffy for at least ten years. Much to my surprise though, we are served nice, fresh Gipfeli. A Gipfeli is the Swiss interpretation of the croissant. It’s savoury and usually smaller than any self-respecting French croissant but with a more buttery flavour. With that I have a coffee and a cup of sparkling water.
After the meal service, the crew pass through the cabin with the highlight of the flight – the chocolates!
Our routing takes us right over my hometown, Basel. Fortunately, it’s a lovely day with good visibility and some excellent vistas of the Alps and we descend into Zürich. There’s no delay and we make an approach straight in without having to hold. And it appears to be my lucky day, because here in Zürich too we’re using a remote stand!
The bus drops us off at the B arrivals, which is the non-Schengen area. From there it’s an amazingly circuitous route to get to immigration: upon entering the building turn left, go up the escalators to the first floor, right, right again, down the escalators to the ground floor, right, through the departure gate area, right again, then straight ahead, left, down the escalators into the basement and then straight on to passport control and up the escalators again to the ground floor on the other side…
This brings to an end my ten day odyssey to Malta, Bucharest and London. The marathon in Malta was fun, and so was the rejected take-off in Frankfurt until Lufthansa lost the plot. The course in Bucharest was brilliant, with professional and friendly participants. And the Annie Lennox concerts in London was simply beyond belief. Annie Lennox has an amazing presence when she’s on stage and live her voice sounds even better than on the recording!
Finally! It’s time for my well-deserved winter vacation and man, do I need it! I’ve so busy getting things finished that I feel as though I completely missed most of Christmas cheer this year. But anyway, I’ve submitted my presentation and my paper for my last assignment of 2017 and so I’m good to go.
The first segment of this trip sees me flying from Zürich to Milan Malpensa with Helvetic Airways. The flight is operated with an Embraer 190 on behalf of Swiss International Air Lines. This is only my second flight ever with Helvetic Airways. The last time I flew them was from London Gatwick to Zürich back in 2004, I believe. Back then, the carrier hadn’t yet entered into a strategic partnership with SWISS and was desperately and, let’s face it, rather unsuccessfully, trying to position itself as some kind of low-cost hybrid. Oh yes, and they had these cutesy pink little aeroplanes. Although I’m told it was actually magenta, not pink.
Getting to the Airport
The flight to Milan will not be leaving until 20h55. So I figure I might as well stay in the office a bit longer. Eventually, I take the 18h55 train from Winterthur, which brings me into Zürich airport just after 19h.
I’ve checked in using the SWISS app. Depending on the fare you’ve purchased, seat selection is either free of charge or available against payment. In addition, there are also preferred seats, the exit row for example, which are available at an extra cost, unless of course you have status with Miles & More.
If you do not select a seat at the time of booking, the check-in system will automatically assign you a seat 20 hours prior to departure that meets the preference specified in your profile – so basically aisle or window. This means that you have four hours to pick a seat yourself from the moment the flight opens for check-in. On today’s flight this isn’t really an issue, because the flight is operated by an Embraer 190 which has no middle seat. However, on the A 320 family or the C Series and depending also on the route, I think I might consider paying for a seat, if the alternative means having to sit in the cursed middle seat.
On this particular flight I am travelling with a bottom of the food-chain run of the mill fare that does not have the seat reservation included. I could have added that at a charge of CHF12, which is reasonable and comparable to other airlines’ practice.
If you’re using the traditional airport check-in facilities, SWISS is at home in Terminal A, or Check-In 1, which is also home to some of the other Star Alliance carriers in Zürich. I like this building, because it incorporates parts of the original airport building that was built sometime in the late fifties or early sixties.
The airport is really quiet for a Friday evening. Security is a breeze and the B dock, from where my flight will be leaving, is eerily quiet.
Boarding starts exactly on time at 20h30. Surprisingly though, nobody seems to give a shit. The announcement is made, but none of the passengers seem to be in much of a hurry to get on board. And so I end up being the first one to step aboard.
The first four rows of the cabin are Business Class. They remain empty on this evening’s flight. I am sitting on 6A, which is the window seat on the port side of the aircraft.
Helvetic Airways operates the Embraer 190 in a 2 + 2 configuration with a seating capacity of 112, which is 12 seats or three rows more than what KLM Cityhopper has on its aircraft and the maximum number of seats possible on the Embraer 190. According to seatguru.com, the pitch on the Helvetic Airways aircraft is 32 inches throughout. Although to be honest, I think this can hardly be true. In fact, the seat is awfully cramped and not at all comfortable.
Fortunately, the flight time to Milan is only thirty minutes. Even so, by the time we land, the circulation to my legs has all but stopped, my kneecaps hurt like something nasty and my bum is numb. Ouch! No wonder the other passengers weren’t in a hurry to get on the plane.
Other than that, what really strikes me is that the cabin of this aircraft looks really drab and, quite frankly, boring.
The crew consists of three female flight attendants. One of them is German, while the other two speak both Italian and Swiss German fluently and without an accent. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re not unfriendly either and the announcements are nicely articulated with a good enunciation. Had I mentioned I’m a linguist…?
Given the short flight time, the service consists of a small piece of Frey chocolate and a small bottle of still mineral water.
We arrive at the gate at 21h45, which means we’re pretty much on time. The airport is fairly deserted.
Getting to the Hotel
I will be spending just the one night in Milan. So rather than making the long schlep into the city, I’ve booked a room at the Malpensa Sheraton, which is directly connected to Terminal 1 and takes about ten minutes to reach from there on foot.
It’s been a while since I last flew with SWISS or one of its subsidiaries. I thought this flight was fine and pretty much comparable to the offerings of other airlines on sectors of a similar duration in Europe. However, having said that, given the really short flight time, there was hardly an opportunity for the crew and the service to shine – there was also hardly an opportunity for them to screw it up either. Except perhaps for the seat, which is really bad and very uncomfortable. The Helvetic Airways model of the Embraer 190 has an increased gross weight to give it more range. Apparently, originally Helvetic intended to deploy these aircraft as far afield as the Canaries, which are roughly four hours away from Zürich. I really cringe at the thought of my sore kneecaps…!
I suppose I should be feeling a pang of remorse, an agony of regret for the things that once were and could have been. But there is nothing. We have reached the end of the line. This will be my last flight with SWISS as a Senator before I return to being a normal mortal with the Star Alliance. It is true, I suppose I could have at least tried to make the effort and become a gold member with some obscure frequent flyer programme of an equally obscure little airline. But to be honest, I find that just a tad cheap.
I have not exactly chosen the most exotic route for my farewell either. Then again, this flight is not about the journey, it is simply a means to an end. A positioning flight from Zürich to Paris. No more and no less.
I spend the night at the Radisson Blu Zürich Airport, which lies in close proximity to Terminal 1. The hotel has a direct connection to the airport facility across the road.
The hotel is clean enough and the rooms are in good condition. However, I cannot really say I like the place, mainly because I find the public area very dark and gloomy.
Location: Terminal 1. Facilities: Mobile check-in, online check-in, self-service machines, manned counters. Counters: SWISS dominates Terminal 1. There are a few more airlines of the Star Alliance which also use this facility, but I suspect that would certainly not be the case if SWISS finally managed to have their way…
The terminal is a mess this morning and the queue for passengers wanting to drop of their bags is stretching across the entire check-in area. The queue is so long that it is getting in the way of the passengers trying to get off the escalators.
The security check is no better, and I very much doubt that Zürich Airport will be able to live up to its promise of having passengers queue for not more than 10 minutes at security. Fortunately, I still am a Senator and I am able to bypass the outrageous mass of people.
The SWISS Senator Lounge
Location: Airside Centre. Type of Lounge: Dedicated SWISS Senator / Star Alliance Gold lounge. Facilities: Showers, toilets, very limited selection of hot and cold dishes, limited selection of hot and cold drinks. Internet: Available, password required.
The lounge is one floor up from the check-in area. There is a common reception for the Business Class and Senator lounges. The entrance to the latter is on the left of the reception area.
The Senator lounge is divided in two levels. The lower level was recently refurbish and henceforth designated the Senator Bistro, which essentially is a somewhat futile attempt to gloss over the fact that they dumped those nice plump armchairs and replaced them with significantly less comfortable but smaller furniture in a bid to cram even more people into the lounge (If any of my students are reading this, please try to avoid making such long sentences).
But at least the lounge is very empty this morning. The food selection in the Bistro area is somewhat limited, in fact there are only croissants and buns on offer. I check out the food selection on the upper level, which is more substantial and includes cheese and cold cuts but not a single hot item.
Priority Boarding: Kind of…
My flight is departing from A 86 today, which is the remotest gate on the A dock. There are three boarding pass checkpoints at A 86. Two of them are automatic but not working this morning. The checkpoint closest to the counter is for Business Class passengers and status holders. Once boarding starts, the gate attendant even makes an announcement specifically inviting only Business Class passengers and status holders to board first. But obviously none of the passengers seem to care, and neither does the gate attendant. And so, immediately the boarding process turns into the usual hapless mess it always is with SWISS. Surely this cannot be that difficult to enforce, if other airlines manage.
Configuration: 3 + 3 Seat: The Recaro seat SWISS has installed on its narrow-body fleet is not particularly comfortable. In order to improve leg space without having to increase the pitch, the seats are very thin and thus pretty much lack any sort of padding. For a flight of one hour the seat is perfectly acceptable. However, on longer routes of two hours or more, it can be uncomfortable. Pitch: 34 inches on the first row, which gradually reduces to 31 inches towards the back. Width: 17 inches Facilities: Reading lamp Audio and Video: Drop down screens throughout the cabin. The screens show the safety on board instructions, a lot of SWISS adverts and, if you’re really unlucky, those ‘Just for Laughs’ clips which are everything but funny.
My seat is broken. Rather, the recline button is kaput. I try to bring the seatback into the upright position, but it is of no avail and as soon as I lean back, the seat reclines again.
Boarding is completed. The purser makes an announcement in German, obviously his mother tongue. Even so, his enunciation is really poor, and pausing is something that obviously only ever happens to other people, making him rather difficult to understand. What can I say, I am a linguist, I pay attention to stuff like that. His English and French announcements are no better either.
And then, without an announcement, the safety on board video starts playing. The volume is too low, it is barely audible and nobody is paying attention. Neither is the crew for that matter and they obviously do not really care if anybody is paying attention.
‘…for take-off, please fasten your seatbelt and place the back of your seat in the fully upright position…’. Yeah, I am trying you know. I have to give them credit though for at least noticing my seat is not in the upright position. But that is about as far it goes. The cabin crew asks me to put my seat in the upright position – I tell her I cannot – she tells me it is a safety issue – I tell her it is a technical problem – she shrugs her shoulders and walk off – so much for that. Seriously?
We take-off in a northerly direction. Once we level off though, I decide this is not really that comfortable so I ask the cabin crew if I could at least have a pillow to place behind my back. To which she informs me that she has no pillows in Economy Class. I am compelled to ask her – just out of curiosity – if she has even the faintest notion of the meaning of the word ‘service’. But then again I have come to expect so little from SWISS that I do not even bother with that.
My mummy taught me not to speak badly of people, because sometimes they just cannot help being the way they are. Well fine, suits me. But in that case this section of the trip report is going to be very short.
Selection of hot and cold drinks.
One chocolate at the end of the flight. And just in case you are wondering boys and girls, Santa Clause does not really exist, and the chocolate SWISS serve on their flights is not Swiss either – no matter what the wrapping says.
ARRIVAL Our flight time to Paris is only one hour this morning. SWISS operates to and from Terminal 1 in Paris, which is convenient because my next flight will also be leaving from here.
I do not really think I could say whether the flying saucer layout of Roissy Terminal 1 makes any sense at all. And from what I can tell the facility is quickly reaching capacity. Even so, personally I think it must be one of the coolest airports out there. The entire building is just so stylish and very futuristic in a very retro kind of way. Kind of.