Flying First Class in a Pandemic: SWISS vs. Emirates

Background

At the start of January 2021, I travelled from Switzerland to Dubai to give a course in Ras Al-Khaimah, which is one of the emirates that make up the UAE. I decided to fly in First Class on this trip to avoid having to sit next to another passenger. I’m quite willing to believe that the HEPA filters are effective. But I’m not sure how much help that is if the guy you’re sitting next to in Business Class is infected.

On the outbound I flew SWISS. Originally, I should have returned on Saturday on SWISS. But eventually, I got myself a new ticket on Emirates, which allowed me to return home a day early. As such, I was able to make a direct comparison between the two carriers in general, as well as of how they handle flying in the pandemic.

Schedule

Currently, both SWISS and Emirates still operate on the Zürich to Dubai route. However, neither one of the two carriers provides a daily service anymore. Emirates flies five times a week, and the route has been downgraded from an Airbus A 380 to the Boeing B 777-300. Whereas SWISS operates three to four times a week and is sending anything from the Airbus A 330-300 to the Boeing B 777-300 down to Dubai these days. SWISS has terminated the extension of the flight from Dubai to Muscat.

The SWISS flight has been rescheduled and now departs Zürich at 16h15, to arrive in Dubai at 01h25. The Emirates flight departs Zürich at 14h35, to arrive in Dubai at 23:45.

The return flight with SWISS departs from Dubai at 03h50 and arrives back in Zürich at 08h05. Whereas Emirates departs from Dubai at 08h25, to arrive at 12h25.

As far as I’m concerned, Emirates has the more attractive schedule in both directions, simply because you’re not travelling in the middle of the night. At a block time of about six hours, the flight is hardly long enough to get any decent sleep. And a departure at 03h50 from Dubai is simply a human rights violation to me.

Booking

The whole purpose of flying First Class on this trip was for me to have as much personal space as possible on the aircraft. Both SWISS and Emirates have a First Class cabin layout in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. Clearly, my intention on this trip was to secure one of the single seats. However, on the Emirates website you only get to see which seats are still available in the cabin once you have completed the booking and go into the ‘Manage my Booking’ section to select your seats. This is much better on the SWISS website, where the seats can be selected before payment is made.

Getting to and from the airport

Emirates’ complimentary chauffeur service is a hard act to follow and just takes another burden off your mind when travelling. Public transport in Switzerland is excellent and generally very reliable, even in snow and adverse weather. But these days you still have to contend with the Corona sceptics who refuse, on principle, to wear their mask properly as a rather puerile act of civil disobedience. I have no idea if the masks really offer that much protection. But that’s neither here nor there and quite frankly, if you think refusing to wear a mask in public is what defines you as a person, I think you’re rather a sad human being.

Experience on the ground & lounge access

At their hub in Zürich airport, SWISS has more or less shut down all of its usual First Class services. There are two First Class check-in counters, but the First Class island is temporarily closed. The lounges on the A and E piers are also closed, and with them the segregated security lines too.

In Dubai SWISS only uses remote stands. And I mean really remote. The transfer to the terminal is by bus and takes about ten minutes. There is a dedicated First Class bus, but that’s still not as convenient as a contact stand. SWISS does not provide a lounge for its departing passengers in Dubai, which is particularly nasty if you’re looking at a departure at 03h50 in the morning.

At their hub in Dubai airport, Emirates has kept the First and Business Class terminal open. The First Class lounge is temporarily closed. However, the Business Class lounge remains open and one half of it has been sectioned off for First Class passengers only. In the First Class section food can be ordered from the staff, the menu is available online and can be viewed using a QR code.

In Zürich, there is no lounge available for First Class passengers on Emirates, as their lounge is located on the E pier which is currently in hibernation.

Interaction with the staff and crew

On the ground I couldn’t really say there was much of a difference in the way passengers interact with the staff. There are Plexiglas screens at the check-in counters, and staff were all wearing their face masks properly.

With the cabin crew though, it’s a very different story: on SWISS the crew were merely wearing face masks. An announcement was made informing passengers to keep their masks on for the duration of the flight and especially when approached by the cabin crew. On my flight this was mostly respected. There have been a few minor changes in the service on SWISS: the starters are no longer served from a trolley and instead, passengers are brought all their courses individually, directly from the galley.

In contrast, the crew on Emirates are wearing this strange paper cover over their uniform. In addition to the face masks, they’re also wearing protective shields over their eyes. At the start of the meal service, the cabin crew explicitly asked me a) if I wanted them to bring the food with the covers removed, b) if I wanted them to remove the covers once the individual dishes were served or c) if I wanted to remove the covers myself. As such, my impression was the Emirates was more proactively addressing passengers’ concerns with the service aboard the aircraft.

Cleanliness of the cabin

On SWISS the cushions were sealed in plastic. There were no blankets available, though. Every passenger was given one small disinfectant towel.

On Emirates the pillow, duvet and mattress were sealed in plastic. In addition, every passenger was given a travel kit which contained two sealed face masks, two pairs of plastic gloves and seven sachets of disinfecting gel.

The cabin and seat

Irrespective of the pandemic, the SWISS First Class cabin is elegant and stylish and a pleasure to behold. It’s typically Swiss I find, in that the designers were clearly aiming for understated elegance and a somewhat rustic vibe with the light wood finish. Other than that though, the seat isn’t really all that comfortable – in the sitting or sleeping position. What’s more, when extended into a bed there was a hard bit pressing into the small of my back, and it was impossible to find a comfortable position to sleep in. The seat isn’t very private either. The doors do not fully close, and the partitions are not very high. So that when you’re sitting fully upright, your head sticks out above. Storage space is limited and inconveniently located.

In contrast, the old Emirates First Class seat really is just very ugly to look at. The finish is garish and ostentatious and the faux gold just looks cheap. If you can see beyond all that thought, it is an immensely comfortable seat. It’s very practical in its design and offers a lot convenient storage space. It’s also very private. The partitions are high enough to ensure that you are completely concealed form view with the doors closed.

Food & beverage

The meal service is always a highlight on SWISS. The crew tend to celebrate the best of Swiss hospitality in First Class. And despite the adaptations that were made to the service because of the pandemic, this was still the case on the flight from Zürich to Dubai. The tableware is simple but elegant and the setup of the table makes it look inviting. From the amuse bouche to dessert and the drink pairings suggested by the crew, the meal was a pleasure. The quality of the food was also very good.

On Emirates, the tableware looks a bit old-fashioned in style. For example, where SWISS has these sturdy looking wooden salt and pepper mills, on Emirates they’re made of plastic and look as though they’ve seen better days. The table set up is functional rather than enticing. It’s little things: there is a cheese course offered on both Emirates and SWISS, but on the former it doesn’t tell you anywhere what the cheese are. The quality of the food on Emirates was okay, although I don’t think it was as good as SWISS, and the plating of the dishes was not done quite so expertly either.

However, what is certainly a big plus on Emirates, for me at least, is that the meal service is à la carte, so passengers can have their meal any time they like. On SWISS the entire First Class cabin is served at the same time, usually right after take-off and irrespective of the time of night or day.

Overall impression

My overall impression of the two flights in comparison is that the Emirates experience seems a lot more professional and standardised in terms of dealing with passengers when flying in a pandemic. I don’t think the experience was particularly personal on Emirates, but I felt well taken care of and the hassle of travel was kept to the minimum, while at the same time respecting the regulations in place.

SWISS has much more personal touch to its service. On the one hand, that can be rather nice. But overall, it makes the whole product susceptible to variability as the result of the human factor. Furthermore, the adaptations made by SWISS make the experience not quite so hassle free.

Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Riga to Zürich

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Introduction

It’s Friday morning and time for me to return to Switzerland. I enjoyed my trip to Riga. Above all, the Latvians were really excellent hosts and took good care of me.

Getting to the Airport

My flight will be departing from Riga at 07h50. Which means I have ordered a taxi to leave the Ibis Centre at 06h00. I’m being lazy and taking a taxi this time, simply because I didn’t bother to check at what time the busses start running and the bus journey takes longer anyway.

Just a word of caution about the taxis, though: apparently, they’ve got quite a racket going on in Riga and everyone I spoke to warned me that the drivers are not to be trusted. Indeed, I was told the journey should not cost more then EUR15. When I checked at the hotel though, I was told it was a fixed fare of EUR18. By the time I reached the airport, the driver was asking for EUR20…

Check-in

Another word of warning. Or two, rather. Mornings can get very busy in Riga and the airport is becoming too small to handle all the passengers. As a result, the queues for check-in and security can stretch very far back. So if you can, make sure you check-in online or use one of the self-service machines. If you’re travelling with Air Baltic, fast track security is included in the Business Class ticket. Otherwise, fast track access can be purchased at the time of booking for EUR10. And I would seriously advise getting the fast track access.

Lounge

Since my last visit the passage connecting the original pier B to the newly constructed pier C has opened. And with that, the new and larger Business Class lounge has also moved. It is now located in the passage between the two piers and one floor up from the general airside area.

Air Baltic doesn’t have it’s own lounge and instead uses the Premier Lounge, which, as far as I can tell, is the only contractor lounge at the airport and is used by all other carriers as well.

The new lounge certainly offers more space. Fortunately, like the old lounge, it also has excellent views of the ramp and the runway.

Boarding

Boarding starts on time. And it looks like it’s going to be a full flight. Despite the fact that our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, much to my delight we shall be boarding via steps, the traditional way. So I can basically knock myself out taking photos…

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is slightly different from the one on the inbound flight, in that there is no bulkhead on the port side of the cabin. Apparently, this is why they try not to assign this row to passengers unless the flight is completely sold out.

I’m on 2A today, which is the window seat on the second row. Originally, there’s this enormous, very muscly Russian on the aisle seat 2C. But once the doors close, he asks if he can move to 1A and I have the whole row to myself again.

The Crew

The crew working the Business Class cabin consists of two well-groomed and very polite young men. They’re not as cordial and warm as the two female cabin crew on the outbound flight. But still, their manners are impeccable.

The service runs very much along the same lines as the flight from Zürich to Riga: welcome drink, newspapers, menu, hot towels.

The Meal

Again, a hot meal is served. It consists of:

  1. Greek yoghurt with granola, berries and mango coulis,
  2. Pancakes, served with strawberry jam,
  3. Cream cheese,
  4. a selection from the breadbasket,
  5. orange juice,
  6. coffee

The meal is quite good. The granola could have done with a bit more yoghurt, but other than that it’s fine. I especially like the pancakes, which are thick and chunky and taste lovely with the strawberry jam.

Not that many passengers are actually eating, preferring to sleep instead. Apparently, most of them are connecting from Tbilisi, Moscow and Almaty, which are night flights

So once the meal is removed, I figure when in Rome… I only wake up shortly before landing, when the cabin crew ask me to put my seat back in the upright position again for touch down.

Arrival

Zürich airport is still calm when we arrive, so there’s no hold up for landing. After all, it’s only just gone 09h10 here in Switzerland so the airport is in between traffic peaks. As my luck would have it, we park on the very first stand at the start of pier A, which means it’s only a very short walk to arrivals and then the railway station. By 10h15 I’m already in my office again in Winterthur.

Just one more trip, and then I’m done…

Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Zürich to Riga

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Introduction

Today I’m on my way to Riga. And just in case you’re wondering what on earth I’m doing right now, travelling from one country to another, I should explain that this is all part of the research I am doing for my thesis.

Luckily, once I’ve been to Riga, I’ll only to make one more trip to Slovenia and then I’m done with the data collection.

Getting to the Airport

I leave the office just after four in the afternoon. The plan is to catch the 16h25 train from Winterthur, to arrive at Zürich airport at 16h38. For some reason or other, the trains to and from Winterthur are all running with a delay of about four minutes, which, admittedly, does not even qualify as a delay in some countries but in Switzerland means that words will be had…

Check-in

And so I arrive at Zürich airport way behind what I’d anticipated, at 16h41. I’ve already checked in on the Air Baltic website, which works nicely. I save the boarding pass to my iPhone wallet. And contrary to SWISS, with Air Baltic the pass appears on your lock screen, so all you have to do is swipe it for it to appear.

The Lounge

Yeah, about that… In my previous post I may have mentioned that the SWISS Schengen lounge is still not open. The upshot of this, of course, is that the Aspire Lounge and also the DNATA lounge, which Air Baltic uses, have to absorb some of the SWISS passenger. As a result, more often than not, both lounges tend to be very crowded and not at all that pleasant.

Besides, departures are on runway 10 this afternoon, so I’m better off sitting somewhere on the A concourse by the window.

Boarding

Boarding starts just slightly behind schedule. The first call is for Business Class passengers. It turns out that I’m the only passenger in Business Class today. Behind me, the next call is for passengers with children ‘and other disabilities’. I always find that such a funny phrase…

The Cabin

As far as commercial airliners go, by no means is the Boeing B 737-300 a spring chicken. Even so, it looks as though Air Baltic has taken very good care of this aircraft, which is fitted with the usual thin, modern seats. The configuration is 2 + 2, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. In addition, the armrests can be folded outwards towards the middle seat, to make the aisle and the window seats a bit wider. There is a small tray table in the middle for extra storage and underneath it there are two pillows and blankets on every row in Business Class.

I am seats on the window in 1F.

The Crew

The service begins on the ground when the purser comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink and newspapers. I order an apple juice but decline the paper, even though they have quite a selection of English language papers to choose from.

The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very charming and quite funny in the way they interaction with me. They’re definitely courteous but they haven’t lost their sense of humour over it.

As we push back, the purser hands me the menu for today’s flight.

The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the service begins. The purser asks me what I’d like to drink and then brings me the glass of water I requested, together with a scented hot towel. She then brings out the tray with the meal, which today consists of:

  1. a soft cream cheese with cumin and a strawberry salsa,
  2. grilled chicken breast in a saffron sauce, served with roasted vegetables and a creamy barley risotto,
  3. a rhubarb tarte tatin,
  4. a selection from the breadbasket all to myself, served with butter.

To drink I have water.

After the meal, the cabin attendant brings me a cappuccino and a piece of chocolate cake from a pre-ordered meal, the passenger of which apparently no-showed. Once that is removed, she brings me a bottle of still water and leaves me to work.

A bit later, the purser sees me working on my laptop and promptly closes the sun blinds on the opposite side of the cabin, which is in the sun, so that I can see better what’s on my screen.

Arrival

The fasten seatbelt sign remains on for most of the flight, and it’s quite bumpy all the way. Latvia looks like a lovely country from above and very different from Switzerland in that it’s very flat.

We land at 22h10, slightly behind schedule, in the middle of what appears to be Air Baltic’s evening bank of arrivals.

Getting into Town

I exit the building within ten minutes of landing, and the bus 22 into the city is already standing outside the terminal.

The journey into town will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR2. The bus stop isn’t right in front of the building, but across the road to your right as you exit arrivals.

The bus will take you to Riga’s main railway station in the centre of the city.

Conclusion

I think Air Baltic are a brilliant airline. Their service in Business Class is definitely superior to that of many of the legacy carriers, including SWISS or KLM. What’s more though, the crew on today’s flight were absolutely charming. I very much enjoyed this flight!

Aeromexico, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: La Habana to Mexico City

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Date: 09 May 2017
Departure: 15h10
Arrival: 17:00
Flight time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Seat: 1A, window

Introduction

Cuba was an interesting experience and in its heyday Havana must have been a very beautiful city. But I’m now ready to leave again and quite frankly, this is a place I think I shall not be returning to.

Getting to the Airport

The flight to Mexico City will be departing at 15h10. So at around 12h30 we grab a taxi from the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel on the main square to take us to the airport. The journey takes pretty much thirty minutes to complete and costs CUC30, which seems to be a set price for the journey.

Check-in

Aeromexico operates from Terminal 3 at Havana airport, although I’m not quite sure how many terminals there are exactly, given that there is only one terminal building designed and constructed in that strangely bizarre but freakishly stylish Soviet style from the early eighties.

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There are two counters open for check-in. Unfortunately, it only dawns on my friend, the wiry R., when we reach the head of the queue that he’s forgotten his passport in the safe in the hotel. And there are two hours left before departure. So he dashes off to grab a taxi and tells me he’ll see me later. Or maybe not.

In theory, I think it might have worked for him to make the flight if he’d checked in online in advance. But alas, the mighty airline Gods had other designs for the young man, and eventually check-in for the flight closes thirty minutes before departure without the wiry R.’s name on the passenger manifest.

The Lounge

There is a lounge which goes by the name of the ‘Elegante VIP Lounge’ and I suspect they weren’t even trying to be funny when they came up with that name. In any case, Aeromexico does not have a contract in place with the lounge and so I have to stand around in the crowded terminal with the rest of the riff raff.

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Boarding

The boarding process is interesting. The departure board states that the flight will be boarding from gate 13. Only that’s where I can see a KLM Airbus A 330 parked outside on the ramp, which, incidentally, should have been boarding from gate 11 according to the departure screen. The Aeromexico aircraft is parked in front of gate 08, although there is nothing to indicate that this is the right gate and the screen above the gate is showing a blank.

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The Cabin

I am seated on 1A, as on the inbound flight. I’m not quite sure if the cabin was cleaned at all or if it was just not cleaned very well. In any case, there is litter all over the place.

The Crew

The crew on this flight seem distracted and not particularly interested. For some reason no less than three different crew members pass by offering me a landing card for Mexico. How many of these bloody things do they think I need anyway?

The flight attendant working the Business Class cabin is obviously suffering from a serious case of short-term memory loss because no matter how many times the non-Spanish passengers tell her that sorry, they don’t understand, she insists on addressing everyone in Spanish and then apologises for not realising they didn’t speak Spanish. It’s a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog day…

Welcome drinks are served before departure, but there is no towel service on this flight.

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The Meal

The meal service takes a while to get started. I quickly go to the toilet and as I pass the galley I realise the service hasn’t started because the flight attendant is busy demolishing her own lunch with gusto. When eventually the service does start, the flight attendant takes out a tray from the trolley with small ramekins of nuts. But somehow she can’t be arsed to do a drinks run before the main meal service. So she places the tray back inside the trolley and starts distributing the trays with the meal instead.

Hey, guess what, it’s exactly the same crap they served on the previous flight. Although clearly there have been a few extravagant upgrades and the green salad now also includes two pieces of zucchini while the grease blob otherwise known as a croissant now also comes with a grilled tomato. The flight attendant is already about the saunter off when I call her back and tell her I think I’d rather have the ramekin with the nuts, thanks very much…

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Arrival

The approach into Mexico is quite spectacular because it makes you realise just how large and sprawling the city is.

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I shall be spending the night at the Marriott Courtyard in Terminal 1. The hotel has a small office in the arrivals hall in Terminal 2. You can check-in there and they will organise a complimentary shuttle to the hotel for you.

Eventually the wiry R. manages to reach the hotel just before midnight, travelling on an Interjet flight from Havana which was scheduled for 19h45 but then had an hour’s delay.

Conclusion

I really can’t say I liked Aeromexico much. Sure, the wide seat is nice on a narrowbody. But the food is nothing short of plain disgusting and the crew on this second flight was obviously not feeling it.

Aeromexico, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Mexico City to La Habana

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Date: 07 May 2017
Departure: 10:40
Arrival: 13:50
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 1A, window

Introduction

Mexico City airport has two terminals. Terminal 1 is the old grotty place that is used by all airlines with the exception of Aeromexico. Terminal 1 is old and there is hardly enough space for all the passengers, given that the major European carriers all operate to Mexico City using B 747s and even the A 380.

Terminal 2 is a much nicer getup and reserved exclusively for use by Aeromexico. The design of the building is really cool, with very high ceilings and a lot of space for passengers to move around. The NH Collection Hotel is located on the sixth floor of Terminal 2 and from the rooms you have some excellent views of the arriving and departing traffic. Terminals 1 and 2 are connected by the Aertrain, which runs on some days but not on others.

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Check-in

In Terminal 2 Aeromexico has a dedicated set of counters for SkyTeam priority passengers and there are many counters open. Check-in is swift and there is even a dedicated lane for security for priority passengers. There is no immigration as such, however, as you board the aircraft the gate agent will collect the embarkation card you completed before entering Mexico. And if you no longer have the card, expect to pay a hefty fine.

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The Lounge

The lounge is located right above the security checkpoint. It’s a fairly small place for the amount of passengers it serves and there are only few places left to sit when I get there. What I like about the lounge is that there are waiters on duty that will bring you drinks and from which you can order food. The wifi also works very well inside the lounge.

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Boarding

Boarding in Mexico City is by zones and priority passengers are invited to queue in zone 1, which is boarded first. As I head down the ramp into the airbridge I even manage to take a picture of my chariot today!

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The Cabin

The aircraft operating the flight today must be fairly new. For one, as I step aboard I notice it has the new sky interior with the type of luggage bins that folds down to open. I don’t know how much more capacity these bins have, but the cabin certainly looks and feels a lot more spacious and roomy, which I have always found the B 737’s weak point when compared to the wider A 320 family. I know the A 320 cabin is only 19 cm wider than that of the B 737, but I think you do notice the difference.

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The seat is very comfortable and looks very similar to the ones Garuda and Malaysian have on their B 737s. There are four seats abreast in Business Class and there are four rows in the premium cabin, although only eight of 16 seats are occupied on today’s flight. Other than that, the seat has power ports and video screens. Earphones are distributed at the beginning of the flight.

The Crew

There is one young lady working the Business Class cabin, who seems rather serious to begin with. However, later on during the flight her interaction with the passengers is friendly and very helpful.

The service starts on the ground with a welcome drink. There is a choice of water or orange juice. They also distribute these small earplugs for the IFE.

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The Meal

Uhm, yeah. About that. The meal is really quite disgusting. I’m not even sure if it was intended to be a late breakfast or brunch, or something else. Or a randomly put together tray of inedible stuff. It consists of a warm croissant served with melted cheese and a ‘meat item…’ and mustard. In addition, there is a large green salad with a balsamic dressing and a pre-packaged tub of milk rice. Still, at least the warm nuts they serve before the meal are okay.

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And it’s really bad. The croissant is so greasy you can see the oil oozing out of it when you press gently on the top of it and the milk rice has the most artificial flavour I’ve ever come across and which, upon further inspection, turns out to be cinnamon. You could have fooled me I’m telling you!

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Arrival

The approach into Cuba is rather nice, as you fly along the coast until you hit the airport. Immigration in Cuba however is not so nice. When I arrive the place is crawling with people and the queues are only moving very slowly.

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When eventually I reach the head of the queue, that’s when the problems start. First of all, the immigration officers find it strange that my nationality is not identical with my place of residence. Once that’s dealt with they have a problem matching the photo they take of me with the one they scan off my passport. So eventually, it takes me close to two hours to enter the country.

Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier CSeries 300: Riga to Zürich

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Date: 15 January 2017
Departure: 12:20
Arrival: 13:30
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 3F, window seat on the starboard side

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Introduction

Riga is a lovely city. It is very generously laid out and there are a lot of parks along the river, which snakes its way through the old town before vanishing under the railway station. Of course the snow lying thick and heavy on the ground lends the whole place a very romantic, sleepy feel, which only adds to the atmosphere.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Bus lines 22 and 222
Journey time:
20 minutes
Departs from:
13 January square, near the railway station
Arrives:
Riga airport, departures level
Fee: EUR1.15 or EUR2 if you pay on the bus

In Riga I am staying at the RadissonBlu Elisabeth, which is ideally located on the fringe of the old town and in close proximity to the railway station. I leave the hotel just after 9 in the morning and walk through the park along the river to the bus stop. It is a 10 minutes leisurely walk.

Check-in

Terminal: Departures are on the upper level of the terminal
Counters: Dedicated Air Baltic counters
Number of counters: There is a very long row of Air Baltic check-in counters, although this morning only one Business Class counter and one Economy Class counter are open.
Web check-in:
Check-in is available on the Air Baltic website and works very well. There is no app but if you have Passbook on your mobile, you can have the boarding pass sent to you by mail and can then download it onto your phone.
Self-service check-in at the airport:
Multi-purpose check-in machines are available right next to the entrance to the terminal.

Lounge

Location: At the beginning of the B dock.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge.
Name of the lounge: Prime Class lounge.
Access: There appears to be just the one lounge at Riga airport, which serves as the common purpose lounge for all airlines serving the facility. Access is either with a Business Class ticket or status in one of the airlines’ frequent flyer programmes.
Catering: The lounge has a good selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks.
Internet: Complimentary Wifi is available, the password is indicated throughout the lounge. In addition, there are Samsung workstations with internet access.
Facilities: The lounge is a good size and there are plenty of seating options. The upper level of the lounge is the quiet zone. Toilets are available in the lounge.

Boarding

Priority boarding: No.
Boarding for the flight starts pretty much on time. There is no separate call for Business Class passengers.

Today I shall be flying on the second CSeries aircraft Air Baltic received, which was delivered on 31 December 2016 and has only been in revenue service for less than two weeks.

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The Cabin


Configuration:
2 + 3.
Pitch: 30 inches throughout the cabin. Only the overwing exit row has a larger pitch.
Width: 18 inches for the aisle and window seats, 19 inches for the middle seat on the row of three.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Air Baltic has the same miniature size screens installed as SWISS. Those screens really are useless, they are smaller in size than the iPhone 6 Plus and because they are angled, if you are sitting by the window on the row of three, you can barely see anything on the screen.
Connectivity: Not available.

Air Baltic’s CSeries 300 have a seating capacity of 145. In Business Class the middle seat on the row of three and the aisle seat on the row of two are kept empty, which means there are three seats per row in the Business Class cabin. With the first four rows in the cabin dedicated to Business Class, this means the forward cabin has a maximum capacity of eleven seats (there is no A or C seat on row 1).

Obviously lot of thought has gone into the design and functionality of the cabin, which has a roomy, airy feel. The seats are in a very light shade of grey, so the cabin seems very bright.

The recline of the seat is good. Interestingly enough, when you recline the back of the seat, the whole seat also moves slightly forward.

The only negative point, as far as I can tell, is that there is no cabin divider.

The Crew

The crew on this flight is friendly and welcoming like the one on the flight over the day before. There is a baby seated in the row in front of me crying his eyes out and the crew go out of their way to make the baby and his parents comfortable. In the good old days one might simply have assumed the child were possessed and would have had him exorcised. But alas, with all the political correctness going on these days people are somewhat reluctant to take such drastic measures…

Before the doors close, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the menu, newspaper and welcome drinks. There is a choice of water or orange juice.

We taxi out for departure, but there is a tick layer of snow on the wings and so we will have to deice first.

The Meal

Towel before the meal: A fresh, scented hot towel is served ahead of the meal service.
Drink before the meal:
Apple juice.
Choice:
There is only one choice for the meal.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Orange salad with pine nuts and parmiggiano shavings.
Main course:
Grilled salmon teriyaki with jasmine rice and shitake mushrooms.
Dessert:
Chocolate mousse.
Beverages:
Diet Coke.
Bread:
A selection of bread from the breadbasket, served with butter.

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The meal is really very good. The cheese goes surprisingly well with the orange in the first course and the main dish is quite tasty. The dessert is good too, but awfully sweet and sticky.

Arrival

By the time the tray is removed, we have just under one hour to go to Zürich, so I ask for a pillow, lean back and go off to sleep…

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When we land in Zürich at 13h30 we are making history, as this is the first time ever that a Bombardier CSeries 300 has ever visited the airport. And it is quite apparent. On the final approach the field on the other side of the road from the perimeter fence is lined with spotters and once we touch down, many of the ramp workers are also stopping what they are doing to take a picture of our aircraft taxiing in – including the police!

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All in all, I rather enjoyed this flight. Perhaps it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that there were far less vibrations on this aircraft than on the previous CSeries flight I took with SWISS last year. But I shall have to ask our aerodynamicist at work about that.

Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-500: Riga to Zürich

Folie1

Introduction

So here we are. This is it: my last flight of 2015 will be from Riga back to Zürich. From what little I manage to see this morning, I rather like Riga. It is very modern and looks like a perfect symbiosis of Vilnius and Tallinn.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Bus.
Fare: EUR2.- if you pay on the bus or EUR1.15 if you purchase the ticket in advance at a kiosk.
Journey time: There are two busses that serve the airport, the minibus line 222 and the normal bus line 22. The difference between the two being that the minibus does not serve all stops on the route and once it is full, it will just keep going. Thus, the journey time is between 20 and 30 minutes depending on which bus you take.
Frequency: Both bus lines run more or less every 20 minutes.
Departs from: You can pick up both busses from the stop near the main railway station. The bus stop goes by the name of 13 January.
Arrives at: Riga airport departures.

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Check-in

Location: Departures concourse on the first floor, counters 8 – 17.
Facilities: Web Check-in with passbook, self-service check-in machines and counter check-in.
Fast track: Dedicated Business Class counters and fast track for security.

Thank god for the fast track! As I enter the terminal building, there is a very long queue for security which reaches all the way back to the check-in counters. But fortunately, Business Class passengers can bypass the queue using the fast track, which is off to the right of the general security screening. The process here is much swifter. There are two young families travelling with very young kids in strollers, and getting everybody through security takes a moment. But other than that, it is a smooth process.

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Lounge

Location: Just follow the signs for the B gates. Eventually, you will reach the transfer desk for Air Baltic. The entrance to the lounge is to the right of the transfer desk.
Type of lounge: TAV Premium Class contractor lounge. From what I can tell, this is the only lounge at the airport.
Facilities: Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers. There are Samsung laptops available as well.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. Password required.
Catering: There is a small buffet with a good selection of salads and bread. There is also a pot of something that looks like rice pudding and some very tasty looking pancakes.

The lounge is nice and fairly quiet when I arrive, presumably it would be slightly different on weekdays. I rather like that the lounge is on two levels. The upper area is the quiet zone and indeed, I am the only person there. The views from the lounge are also very good, now if only there were also some traffic to watch…

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Boarding

Boarding is from B10, which is a bus gate. I would say there are about 70 passengers in total on the flight today. Seated on row 1 gives me a good excuse to keep back in the queue and take some pictures of the chariot carrying me away to Zürich.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, in Business Class the middle seat on the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: 1C, aisle. There is a tray table on the middle seat to provide some additional storage space. There are three rows of Business Class for a total of twelve seats. Of those, eight are occupied.

Just one word of caution though, especially if you are sitting on row one on the port side of the aircraft: there is no bulkhead. In other words, there is no wall to protect passengers sitting on 1A and 1C from the wind and icy temperatures this time of the year. So I would recommend you keep your coat on until boarding is completed, unless you enjoy freezing. On the up side, the nonexistent bulkhead means you have unlimited leg space.

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The Crew

There are three cabin crew, two women and one man. All of them seem very young but they go about their job in a very professional and courteous way.

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The Meal

Drink before the meal: Yes, I have a Coke Zero.
Type of meal: Lunch.
Service: Individual tray service.
Meal:

  1. Roast beef with hummus and pickled cucumber.
  2. Chicken in a Garam Masala crust, with vegetables and potatoes.
  3. Mango cheesecake.
  4. A selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee with milk or cream.

As on the previous flight the day before, passengers are handed a menu while the aircraft is still on the ground. The meal is tasty enough, although the dessert on this flight is nowhere near as good as that on the flight from Stockholm.

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Arrival

Miraculously, I even manage to doze off for about an hour after the flight. When I awake, we are still forty minutes out of Zürich. Even so, the male flight attendant approaches me and asks me if I would like a cup of coffee before we land, explaining that I was already sleeping when he came round offering tea or coffee the first time.

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And then we land. Zürich airport is fairly quiet, the last departures of the midday bank can be seen queuing for departure from runway 16 as we glide past them to touch down on runway 14.

Twenty two minutes after the landing gear makes contact with runway 14, I am already sitting on the train back to Basel. Since the timetable change early in December, the airport train to Basel now also runs via Zürich Main Station, which only further increases the journey time and make the train even more inconvenient.

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And so another year of travel draws to an end.

Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Stockholm to Riga

Folie1

Introduction

In Stockholm I am staying at the Hotel J in Nacka Strand on the outskirts of the city. I like the Hotel J very much, and over the years I have kept coming back here for a short but quiet weekend. Particularly during the winter time it is nice to curl up with a book near the open fire in the main building.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Boat ferry and train.
Fare: SEK300 per person for the Arlanda Express train if you are travelling as a couple. The ticket for the ferry costs SEK39 and is valid on all ferries and busses within zone A. Although in this particular case, the ticket is included in the hotel package I booked.
Journey time: By ferry it is about 25 to 30 minutes from Nacka Strand to the city centre. From there it is another 20 to 25 minutes on foot to the central railway station, through the main shopping area and then another 20 minutes on the Arlanda Express from the city to the terminus at Arlanda North.
Frequency: During the wintertime the ferry to Nacka Strand runs roughly once an hour at 03 minutes past the hour. If you are in a hurry, alternatively you can take the bus from Nacka Strand to Slussen, which takes roughly 15 minutes. From Slussen you can either walk or take the underground train for two stops to the central station. The Arlanda Express runs every 15 minutes.
Departs from: Nacka Strand ferry.
Arrives at: Arlanda North.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 5. Departures are located on the first floor. Check-in counters 71 – 90. Check-in for Air Baltic is done by SAS in Stockholm. Counter 90 is the Business Class counter.
Facilities: Web Check-in with passbook, or airport check-in at the counter or self-service machine.
Fast track: Dedicated Business Class counters and fast track for security.

I have already checked in for my flight. You will receive a reminder from Air Baltic by mail and SMS as soon as the flight opens for check-in. There is a dedicated fast track for security which, apparently, is only available to SAS and its Star Alliance partners. However, when I arrive at the counter for the boarding pass check, the guy tells me that I may use the fast track if I am travelling in Air Baltic Business Class.

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The security check will spit you out by the entrance to the large duty free store. If you are not interested in shopping, there is an exit on the left, just before the duty free area. But alas, it is probably not entirely by coincidence that the exit is blocked by trolleys, thus obliging all passengers to walk through the store.

The Lounge

Location: As you exit the duty free store, turn left and head for gate 1. To the left of the gate you will find lifts and stairs taking you up to the entrance of the lounge on the fourth floor.
Type of lounge: SAS Business Class lounge.
Facilities: Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. Apparently there is a password, but when I logged in, none was required.
Catering: There is a large buffet with a good selection of salads, crudités and bread. There is also a pot of tasty potato and leek soup, tea and coffee making facilities and a nice selection of cookies.

The lounge is really nice. It has been a while since I was here last and in the meantime the SAS lounges have had a complete make over. Of course it also helps that the lounge is fairly empty and quiet when I arrive.

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Boarding

Ah yes. This is where things look as though they may start to go horribly wrong. Boarding for my flight is expected to start at 14h45 for a 15h15 departure. However, when 15h00 rolls on and still nothing happens, I figure there may be a slight delay. Just a short while later the gate agents informs us that the aircraft suffered a bird strike on the approach into Stockholm and that therefore the propeller and engine will need to be checked first, before the aircraft is cleared to fly again. Eventually, boarding starts at 15h50, although we still have to wait for the mechanics to produce the documents before they can release the aircraft for the flight.

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During our stay on board, the crew do an excellent job of keeping us informed about the flight’s current status. At some point one of the flight attendants comes and asks me if she can bring me a drink while we wait. She also brings me a blanket in case I am starting to feel cold, what with he door still open.

Eventually we depart at 16h48, with a delay of slightly more than 90 minutes. Our flight time to Riga is given as 55 minutes.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, although in Business Class only one of the seats on the row of two is occupied.
Seat: 2A, window. This is pretty much the standard seat most if not all carriers have installed on the Q400. What I like about the seat is that it allows you to sit very upright. I do not have any information about the width or pitch of the seat. All I can say though, is that on 2A there is plenty of space to move around, and I am even able to cross my legs without any significant contortions. There are 2.5 rows of Business Class, for a total of three seats. Apart from me there is only one other passengers seated on 1A.

There is only a row 1 on the port side of the aircraft. On the starboard side row 2 is the first row and also offers quite a lot of legroom because of the emergency exit.

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The Crew

There are two young female cabin crew working the flight today and I think they are doing a really smashing job. They are taking good care of the passengers, handling those who are upset at the prospect of missing their connection in Riga. Nothing seems to be a problem for them and they seem very competent and in control.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Hot towel: Scented hot towels are handed out before the meal. Remember, this is a flight of only 55 minutes!
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Service: Individual tray service.
Meal:

  1. Goat’s cheese in a dill crust with grilled peppers and frisée salad.
  2. Chicken satay with pickled cucumber and carrot on a bed of frisée salad, served with a balsamico vinaigrette.
  3. Chocolate and pecan cake with caramel topping.
  4. A selection from the breadbasket.
  5. Tea or coffee.

Quite surprisingly, a menu is handed out before the meal. The service is very polished and I notice that the crew do not hand me anything directly but serve everything from a small round tray. The quality of the meal is very good and the dessert in particular is really to die for. It is just so rich and sweet. Just how I like it.

At the end of the meal the flight attendant comes to inquire if I fancy tea or coffee. She tells me they have black tea, rose tea, green tea and a special Christmas mix which she can highly recommend. I feel like a bit of a cad telling her I would prefer a cup of coffee. But even then she manages to surprise me and asks me if I prefer milk or cream in my coffee. A short while later she returns with the coffee and a bowl of sugar cubes and a small jug of milk.

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Arrival

A short while later we start our descent into Riga. Probably because we are running late our aircraft is parked right next to the terminal. So we can just walk the short distance across the apron to the terminal.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Bus.
Fee: EUR2.- if you buy the ticket on the bus or EUR1.15 if you buy it at the kiosk. There are ticket machines, but those are only for day cards and not for single-trip journeys.
Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes.
Departs from: Opposite the terminal building. Upon exiting arrivals turn right and follow the signs for public transport. Cross the road and you should reach the bus stop.
Arrives: If your hotel is in the centre of town, you can alight at the stop after the national library, on the other side of the river. From there it is really just a very short walk into the city. Alternatively, you can stay on the bus until the terminus at the railway station, which is another 10 minutes journey.

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Aegean Airlines, Business Class – A 321: London Heathrow to Athens

Date: 22 July 2011
From: London Heathrow
To: Athens
Airline: Aegean Airlines
Aircraft: A 321
Class: Business Class
Seat: 1D

Introduction

At around 09h00 in the morning I check out of the Sofitel and make my way across to Terminal 5 to catch the Heathrow Express to Terminal 1, from where my flight will be leaving at 11h00. Aegean Airlines allows passengers to check in online 48 hours before departure, so I already checked in the previous day before leaving Zurich.

The train journey itself is short, but from Heathrow Central it’s a trek of another ten minutes to Terminal 1 departures.

The Lounge

In Terminal 1 I have two lounges to pick from: the Star Alliance lounge or the BMI lounge. The Star Alliance lounge is rather gloomy, boring and offers no views at all. The BMI lounge in contrast, is spacious, has a good selection of food and drinks and, more importantly, offers some fantastic views of the ramp and runway 9L/27R. As luck would have it, runway 9L is in use for landings during my visit.

Boarding

The gate area is rather crowded when I arrive, it looks like it’s going to be a full flight today. Boarding starts on time.  But once everybody is seated, the captain makes an announcement to welcome us all aboard and inform us that we haven’t got a slot for departure until one hour after our scheduled departure time, despite the fact that we’re ready to leave on time. Apparently no reason is given for the delay by atc.

The Cabin

My first impression of Aegean is somewhat mixed. Despite the fact that the aircraft looks rather new, the carpets and the curtains are in a sad and shabby state. The red colour on the curtains is faded in some places and covered in grease stains in others.

The Crew

The cabin crew come through the cabin offering pre departure drinks, with a choice of either still water or orange juice. I chose the latter and it tastes more like orange squash and not at all like juice. Furthermore, the pre departure drinks are served in plastic ‘glasses’, which is rather cheap in Business Class. On a positive note, the cabin crew are very friendly and competent. Moreover, it is quite apparent that Aegean Airlines selects its female cabin crew based on their good looks and their ability to fit into – or rather to fill – the rather tight, body-hugging dress they have as a uniform.Aegean Airlines also provides menus, which are also distributed while we’re still on the ground. The menus are followed by cold towels, earphones and pre meal drinks.After about an hour of sitting around and wondering how on earth anyone can possibly fit into one of those charmingly tight looking little blue uniforms, we push back. No need to get overly excited at this point though, we’re number 28 in the queue for departure from runway 09R.

The Meal

But eventually we do get airborne. Service begins just as we make landfall somewhere over France with a first drinks round. I have a Coke Zero with salty almonds.

The menu for the flight

  1. Appetizer
  2. Rocket and spinach leaf with chic peas, anthotiro cheese and gruyere rusks
  3. Hot Entrée choice of Chicken in a barley & herb crust, oven potatoes ad grilled vegetables (my choice)
    or
    Veal strips with capers, mushrooms and Cretan ‘Striftoudi’ pasta with dry ‘Mizithra’ cheese
  4. Cheese Anthotiro cheese ‘Dodoni’ and Graviera ‘Naxou’ with dried fruits
  5. Dessert Traditional Greek desserts

For sure the quantity of the meal is more than sufficient, in fact both the salad and the hot meal are huge. The quality is okay I guess, but not as good as on Swiss. In particular, I find the hot meal a bit too oily. It gives you heartburn just from looking at it.

Once the meal is over, the crew clears everything away. The menu explicitly states that they have Cappuccino available, which I decide to try more out of curiosity than anything else. Very often when there is Cappuccino available on a plane it’s one of those horrible instant concoctions you just add water to. In this case though, I am very pleasantly surprised to find that the Cappuccino is made with coffee and real warmed milk. So well done Aegean for that!

At this point I start to wonder what’s happened to dessert, seeing as the crew have already removed the trays. And then it comes: this is without a doubt the best and most spectacular part of the meal. See for yourself: strawberries with mint and Greek sweet pastries made with nuts.

It is outstanding, delicious and, like the rest of the meal, way too large!

Arrival

The rest of the flight passes quickly.

Upon arrival in Athens we park at a remote stand. In such cases Aegean provides a separate bus for Business Class passengers. On arrival we have a delay of more than one hour. There is a family with a very tight connection to Mykonos, so I refrain from taking any pictures so as not to keep them and the bus waiting.

Conclusion

At a glance the Aegean Airlines product is sound and most of their flight attendants look quite as though they could be models. However, at a closer inspection there are a few flaws: the cabin is dirty and the food is just very oily and not much else. The dessert however, is divine! Would I fly them again? Yes, I think I would.

Epilogue

As was to be expected, Athens is hot, very hot. I don’t really know what it is about this city: it’s not exactly pretty and it sprawls on seemingly for ever. But still I like it and always look forward to returning. I leave you with some impressions of the Greek capital.

Asiana Airlines, First Class – B 747-400: Basel to Seoul via Frankfurt

Part I: Positioning to Frankfurt

Date: 25 May 2012
From: Basel
To: Frankfurt
Airline: Lufthansa Cityline
Aircraft: Canadair Regional Jet 700
Class: Business Class
Seat: 2F

Getting to the Airport

What a lovely day for flying! My first stop today, of course, is the Swiss railway station, where I pick up some Japanese Yen and some South Korean Won. Basel has three railway stations: there is the German one on the other side of the Rhine, known as the ‘Badischer Bahnhof’. And then there are the French and Swiss stations that are integrated in one building known as Basel SBB.

I collect the cash and then catch the bus line 50 to the airport. The stop is right outside the main door of the building. The journey takes 15 minutes to complete with the airport as the terminus station.

In due course the bus pulls up at the departures level of the Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg – as the facility is officially known – which is quite empty at this time of day. My flight to Frankfurt leaves at 14h10.

Check-in

I recently decided that I prefer checking in at the airport to doing it online or via mobile. There is some old-school charm about checking in at the airport. So I walk up to the SWISS Business Class counter and am greeted by a friendly middle-aged woman. The moment she sees on her screen that I am travelling in First to Seoul, her manner changes. She becomes even more courteous and cannot do enough. She even offers to check me in for the flight to Fukuoka, which will not be until the day after tomorrow but is already open for check-in.

She places my boarding passes in a Lufthansa First Class folder, wishes me a pleasant flight and gives me instructions to the lounge.

Before I head upstairs through security I take a quick peek around the newly renovated, extended Easyjet check-in area at Basel airport. Looks rather nice actually!

The Lounge

Security is a breeze, in fact I am the whole queue.

And then I head to the lounge. Quiet as usual! The lounge is operated by Swissport on behalf of Swiss. It is the only lounge at the airport and is also available for passengers on BA. Air France/KLM passengers however, have no access, there is no agreement in place.

In many ways the lounge is like a fossil, it hails from the old days of aviation, when a setup like Crossair and its Eurocross hub at Basel was still regarded as a serious business proposition. Thus, the lounge is positively enormous! It is on two floors and offers some excellent views of the ramp from the upper level.

Boarding

Departure is delayed by some 20 minutes. Apparently the ILS for one of the runways in Frankfurt is out of order, causing a few delays. When the flight was then ready to leave Frankfurt for the flight to Basel, the crew had exceeded their duty time and a replacement crew had to take over, causing the delay.

The Cabin

There are nine rows of Business Class on this flight. On the Canadair Regional Jet Lufthansa only uses two of the four seats in each row in Business Class. This means that passengers will always have the seat next to them empty.

Whatever you do, if you’re travelling in Business Class with Lufthansa on a CRJ 700, never take a seat on row one. These must be the worst seats in the house, because they are exactly opposite the Business Class toilet. Thus, I am quite happy with my seat on the right-hand side of row two. It is a bulkhead too, but without the pong of the loo in your face all the time.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of two male flight attendants. The younger one of the two has a bit of an attitude issue. But not too bad.

The Meal

Shortly after take-off the meal is served. Here is the menu.

And it is all quite tasty too! The only thing I do not eat is the poached veal.

Arrival

Just as I finish the meal, the descent begins. We approach Frankfurt from the south and then make a left turn to fly due west along the length of the airfield, before finally doing a right 180 degree turn back towards the airfield for the final.

I even manage to get a picture of the cockpit. The co-pilot even poses for me!

I then take the complimentary guided bus tour of Frankfurt airport, which eventually drops me off at arrivals somewhere deep in the bowels of the terminal complex.

Part II: The Fun Part

Date: 25 May 2012
From: Frankfurt
To: Seoul Incheon
Airline: Asiana Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400
Class: First Class
Seat: 2K

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The Lounge

From arrivals I head through passport control and then to the Senator lounge. My flight is leaving from B48, which is right beneath the lounge and gives me some excellent photo opportunities as my bird arrives on the inbound flight from Seoul. The lounge is not too crowded and I manage to secure a seat by the window, where I can overlook all the action.

Boarding

I arrive at gate B48 shortly before boarding begins. First and Business Class passengers have their own dedicated counter. I am the first to pass the gate. An Asiana member of staff introduces herself to me and shows me a piece of paper with the food options for my return flight in a week’s time. She would like to know what I would like to eat on the return so Asiana can prepare the experience for me. Blimey, I do not usually know what I fancy to eat one week in advance.

The Cabin

And then I go aboard my vessel. First impressions of the cabin are good. The colours are perhaps a bit strange – at least I do not fancy them much – and the seat may not be of the latest generation either. But it is rather comfortable and offers a lot of personal space and privacy. There is even a small closet for my shoes.

Amenities

A day blanket and a pillow have already been placed at my seat when I arrive. In short sequence the cabin crew come by to introduce themselves personally and bring me the excellent BOSE noise cancelling earphones, newspaper, slippers, pjs, immigration and customs forms for arrival in South Korea and, above all, a lovely vanity kit. It is made of the softest leather and contains all sorts of goodies of Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Blanc.

There are six passengers in First Class today. Four seats remain empty.

The Crew

Once the doors have been closed, two of the flight attendants working the First Class cabin on this flight position themselves in front of the bulkhead. As the purser makes his welcome aboard announcement, the two attendants bow deeply.

Service is everything you can expect it to be from an Asian carrier. The flight attendants pay a lot of attention to detail and are charming and polite. Moreover, they seem very personable in their approach. I am addressed by name and have a nice chat with some of the crew as they bring the food or remove the empty plates. They seem unrushed and very relaxed but very efficient.

Departure is to the east. Traffic is quite light so we do not have long to wait before it is our turn to depart.

Once we’re airborne I make myself comfortable. The flight to Seoul will take about ten hours. I take off my shoes and try the funky red slippers. Their XL is somewhat tight…

The Meal

Welcome drinks are not served while the boarding process is in progress on Asiana. But once we push back, I am asked if there is anything I would like to drink while we taxi out. I choose a Buck Fizz, which is duly delivered with a small bowl of warm nuts.

Immediately after take-off, the Asiana inflight experience begins and it is truly outstanding. Apart from its excellent crews, catering is definitely one of Asiana’s strongest points.

To drink I have Perrier with lemon and ice. The cabin crew are very attentive. Every time one of them notices my empty glass, I am asked if I would like some more. Moreover, Asiana obviously ‘don’t do’ refills, instead I am given a new glass each time I ask for more Perrier.

Amuse Bouche

We begin with an amuse bouche of grilled bell peppers and diced tomatoes rolled up in grilled eggplant with garlic and basil in a drizzle of olive oil.

Next the table is beautifully laid out for dinner. Asiana has lovely and delicate Fine Bone China and silver cutlery.

Next comes the breadbasket, which also includes some lovely garlic bread.

Caviar Service

While airlines like Lufthansa will give you only a portion of Caviar, Asiana gives you the entire jar!

First Course

Then we have an antipasto of veal with a roll of marinated eggplant and peppers and shrimps in herbs on a balsamico reduction.

The Soup

And then comes the carrot soup with pine nuts. This is simply out of this world.

The Salad

The soup is followed by a mixed salad with either a lemon and yoghurt or a French dressing.

The Main Course

For the main course, one of my favourites: Bibimbap.

The large bowl contains minced beef, marinated cucumber, shitake mushrooms, carrots and two different types of marinated cabbage.

First you poor sesame oil and add some of the spicy pepper paste to the large bowl.

To that you then add the rice and mix all together very well using the metal chopsticks.

You eat the Bibimbap with a tasty kind of seaweed omelette, dried small fish, a light fish broth with spring onion and Kimchi, Korea’s national dish. It is basically a cabbage that is smeared, layer by layer, with a paste made of chillies, garlic, soy sauce and oysters, which is then left to ferment. It is excellent, nourishing, very tasty and so spicy it really helps to clear the tubes if you happen to have a cold!

The Cheese

After the Bibimbap comes the fruit and cheese with crackers and bread.

And then there should have been dessert. But by this stage I am simply too full and so I decline. I opt for an Earl Grey tea instead.

Once the meal is over, I ask to have my bed made up while I change into my pjs. And then off I go to sleepy land until it is time for the next meal. Good night!

The Second Service

I get a few hours of sleep. But I am unsettled and keep tossing and turning. I probably have indigestion…As soon as the crew realise I am awake, I am brought a towel and asked if I would like to have breakfast. To which of course, I say yes! I head for the bathroom to change back into my clothes. When I return, the bedclothes and pjs have been cleared away and there is a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice awaiting me.

Then the table is set once more with the beautiful Fine Bone China and the silver ware. Then comes the breadbasket, which is immediately followed by a tray of preserves for me to choose from.

First Course

The first course is a plate of fruit.

The cornflakes are served with milk and a bowl of what must be the tastiest, creamiest and most enjoyable blueberry yoghurt I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.

Main Course

After that comes the hot dish. Leek quiche with grilled tomato and a crèpe of sweet and sour chicken breast.

During the meal the coffee and Perrier are refilled regularly.

Arrival

And then, all too soon, the flight draws to an end and we start our descent into Incheon. Just before we land one of the cabin crew comes by to thank me for having chosen to fly with Asiana. As a farewell present I receive a small designer terracotta pot with a scented candle inside it. Apart from KLM and their famous little Bols-filled town houses, Asiana is the only airline I know of that gives farewell presents. It is only a small gift and I am not really sure what to do with it, but still it is a very nice gesture.

Getting into Town

Incheon is rather quiet when we arrive. Customs and immigration do not take long at all to complete and very quickly I find myself landside.

The journey takes 43 minutes.

Conclusion

This concludes the first part of my journey. What can I say? Asiana were simply amazing, their crew, as well as both the quality and quantity of the food were outstanding.