KLM Cityhopper, Embraer 190 – Economy Class: Amsterdam to Basel

Introduction

I spend two whole days in the Netherlands. And I must say, the change of scenery did me good. Back home the monotony of working from home seems to make my days just fly by. Which isn’t bad either, but it leaves you with a sense of everything being rushed, even when it’s not.

In Amsterdam I stayed at the CitizenM South, which I think is in a great location. It’s close to the the railway and metro station at Amsterdam Zuid and the tram line number 5, which takes you all the way into the city centre, stops just outside the hotel.

The staff at the hotel were really great, and did a brilliant job of trying to put visitors at ease and make them feel comfortable. Occupancy was only at 10%.

Amsterdam was very quiet and subdued. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so calm and deserted. Of course, it probably didn’t help that the weather was atrocious during my visit…

Getting to the Airport

Trains between Amsterdam Zuid and Schiphol airport run frequently. The journey takes six minutes. The use of face masks is mandatory on public transport in the Netherlands right now.

The central plaza at Schiphol airport is very quiet. The place is usually crawling with clueless tourists trying to figure out how to purchase a ticket and which train to take. But not any more.

Only very few shops are open. It’s difficult to say though, if the closed ones are just opening later because of the reduced number of visitors to the airport, or if they are closed indefinitely.

Check-in

Check-in is surprisingly busy. The queue for security is quite long, and there is no longer a dedicated lane for SkyPriority passengers. Although I’m not sure if this may be due to the obvious construction that is going on.

I think the security check experience at Amsterdam really highlights the catch 22 the airlines and airports are facing right now: I would say most people in the queue were wearing face masks, but otherwise ignored the round markings on the floor indicating a distance of 1.5 metres. And in a way, I don’t blame them. Most of them looked like holiday makers that were probably relieved to finally get out and about and excited to travel again.

But that’s not the point and not so important. Ultimately, everyone must choose for themself if they want to play their part in bringing the situation under control or not. But Amsterdam, like many other hubs in Frankfurt, London or Paris, was built soley for the one purpose of operating a high performance hub, with many flights feeding a lot of passenger into their long haul networks. But right now, that seems rather difficult to reconcile with social distancing measures. First, because the airlines are all operating on a reduced schedule. This means that layovers at the transfer airports tend to be quite a bit longer than usual – which is precicely what the authorities are trying to prevent: a lot of people in a confined space for any length of time. And second, because Amsterdam Schiphol is probably already too small if the authorities were serious about properly implementing all the recommended social distanting measures – despite the diminshed network and the lower passenger volumes. As long as passenger numbers are down, the issue is manageable. But at airports arond the globe, the moment will come where the crowds will be too big to be kept under control.

The KLM Crown Lounge

The Crown lounge is open. It’s changed a lot since my last visit. The back part, which used to overlook the check-in area, is gone. Instead, the lounge has expanded sideways and now also covers an area which, I believe, was previously occupied by the Swissport lounge.

There is no longer a buffet in the lounge, and instead passengers have to queue at the bar to place their orders with one of the lounge attendants. Within the lounge, most people keep their masks on, perhaps only removing them to have a drink. As far as I can tell, there is hardly and food on offer.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B02, which is a bus gate. Passengers are more or less evenly distributed across the two busses. The load is roughly 70 passengers.

The gate agents are very meticulous and stop anybody who tries to pass the gate without a mask. There’s a school class of mainly hormonal teenage boys. So as you can imagine, the gate agents have their work cut out before the last bus is finally allowed to leave for the aircraft…

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, but only two seats on row 1 are occupied. I am on 3F, the first Economy Plus row. The whole row behind me is empty and there’s only one other passenger on 3A. So we’re good.

There’s a bit of a delay because of a technical issue that needs looking into, and for a moment I dread that next the pilot will have to inform us that we’ve missed out slots But then I chuckle to myself as it dawns on me that, very likely, it’ll be a few years before Amsterdam is restricted for slots again…

Eventually, we taxi out with a delay of about 15 minutes. As we turn on to the runway, I catch a glimpe of the new A pier, which is gradually nearing completion. Although I think it will still be a while before it is in it’s final configuration. Right now, there is still a categing facility between the A and the B pier, which will have to go sooner or later.

The Meal

The service is more or less the same as on the outbound: a small box with a cheese sandwich, a cookie and a tub of water. In addition, the crew distribute an information sheet by the Swiss federal government as well as a contact form for every passenger to complete in case anybody on the flight develops symptoms later on. The forms are collected by the ground agent upon disembarking.

Arrival

The flight time is one hour, most of which I Spend looking out the window. I’ve missed the view from the wing so, so much…

The weather in Basel is much better than in Amsterdam. We make our approach from the south, which means we come in right over the swimming pool where I usually do my laps. Which is convenient, because the place looks deserted from above. So I guess that answers what I’ll be doing this afternoon…

We land, and literally ten minutes later I’m already sitting in the bus on my way home.

Conclusion

So, this brings to a close my report on the new normal of air travel. I think it is likely that it will be at least another five to six years before the airline industry fully makes a recovery. Until then, I fear a lot of jobs will be lost and many airlines will pass on into history as yet another casualty of the pandemic. Especially the coming winter will not be easy.

For the airlines that survive though, I think it is important right now that they work on their reputation management. For the time being, people may not be travelling because of the uncertainties of travelling abroad. But sooner or later, the restrictions will ease. When that happens, it would serve the airlines well to have regained the trust and confidence of their customers, many of which have been rather badly treated by the airlines in recent months.

I appreciate that refunding all the unsued tickets all at once would probably have more or less grounded all airlines within days. Fair enough. But this voucher business the airlines are currently offering instead of a proper refund is, for the most part, a scam. Treating your customers badly has never been a good idea. Treating them like idiots only adds insult to injury.

KLM Cityhopper, Embraer 190 – Economy Class: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

125 days ago, I returned to Basel from giving a course in Luxembourg. The week after, I was scheduled to make one last trip to Luxembourg before heading off to Australia on sabbatical for six months. While in Australia, I should have made a side trip to Bangkok, and then another to Ulan Baatar via Singapore and Hong Kong. But then the world shut down – slowly, gradually and irrevocably.

And my world slowed to a pleasant, leisurely pace. I was fully expecting to miss the flying. I was also fully expecting to well and truly get on everybody’s nerves once the withdrawal symptoms kicked in. If the effort it took to get me off the pacifier when I was four years old was anything to go by, I was convinced this was not going to be pretty…

But 125 days later, my watch has left a pale mark on my bronzed wrist from all the cycling and swimming I’ve managed to do. My PhD is on track and in the peaceful tranquility of my own home I have been so much more productive than I ever could have been in an office full of people.

And now today, I am taking my first flight. I’m curious to see how much aviation has changed in just 125 days.

Getting to the airport

I leave my flat at 10:25 to catch the bus line 50 to the airport. The 10:33 service runs nonstop to the airport, although I’m not quite sure what the point is, because it’s not really any faster than the regular service.

Since Monday, 06 July 2020 it is a mandatory requirement to wear face masks on all public transport in Switzerland. So today is the first time I’m using public transport and therefore, also the first time I’ve had to use a face mask. I don’t want to argue about the merits or disadvantages of wearing one of these things. But… first, I think my face is too big for a standard issue face mask. If I pull it up to properly cover my nose, then my chin keeps slipping out the bottom and the mask rides up to uncover my mouth. If I pull it down, my nose is uncovered… And second, the mask is a bit of a nuisance if, like me, you have varifocals, because it pushes the glasses higher up on your nose. And as a result, you end up looking into the distance through that part of the lens which is actually intended for short distances. And my breath is making the glasses fog up too. So basically, in the sum of all things I kind of feel like something out of Gorillas in the Mist… but cross-eyed.

Sixteen minutes later we arrive at the departures level of the airport, and the other four passengers and I disembark.

There’s a sign at the entrance to the terminal, advising passengers that wearing a face mask is mandatory inside.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online. As a Platinum member with Air France KLM I can select any seat on the aircraft free of charge. Originally I was seated on row 7, which was the first row in the Economy Class cabin. A few days before departure though, KLM does the inventory for its flights, which means that they usually open up seats further up front once the final position of the cabin divider is decided. And so I move forward to row 2 at check-in.

Check-in is eerily quiet. It looks as though everyone just left abruptly and forgot to switch off the lights.

Airside

I don’t think I’ve ever been through security at Basel airport this quickly. There are hardly any passengers, and even with just the one line open, the staff still have plenty of time to check every passengers very carefully and still manage to have a enough time to chatter and gossip.

I think I always understood that magnitude of recent events and their impact on the aviation industry. But today is the first time I have the opportunity to witness the devastation up close. It’s really quite upsetting.

The beautiful Swissport lounge is closed.

Boarding

The only place with signs of life is gate 1, from where the flight to Amsterdam will be departing. I count a total of 77 passengers, which isn’t a bad seat load factor for an Embraer 190 with a capacity of about 90 seats. Although having said that, KLM is currently operating just the one flight to Basel, where previously they had four.

Boarding is by seat rows from the back of the plane and takes a lot longer to ensure there are no queues in the air bridge or in the cabin. KLM strictly enforces the use of face masks on its flights, and it is stated at the time of booking and in the confirmation e-mail that passengers without a mask will not be admitted to the flight.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew, one female and one male. I think it’s quite obvious they’re making an effort to appear as though this flight is business as usual, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for trying to do a good job in seriously adverse conditions. But I’m not sure it’s working. Because the atmosphere on board is subdued. Passengers are wary and tense, as though they’d much rather be somewhere else.

The Cabin

There is one row of Business Class on today’s flight, and the forward toilet is reserved for the crew only. All passengers are required to use the toilet in the rear of the aircraft.

The Meal

The flight time is one hour. As this is a lunchtime service, every passenger in Economy is given a small box with a packaged half of a cheese sandwich, a biscuit and some water. In addition to that, there is a separate drinks service from the trolley.

While I applaud KLM for their effort to maintain a standard level of service in these strange times, I think on such a short flight they might as well do away with the service for the time being. Either that, or they should provide disinfectant wipes to passengers. From what I can tell, not that many passengers actually touch the food.

I stash mine away to eat when I get to the hotel.

Arrival

We land in Amsterdam on time. There’s definitely a lot more traffic here than there was in Basel, but it’s still a far cry from what it used to be like not so long ago. What’s more, there are aircraft parked everywhere. And obviously they’re there for long term storage. It’s really quite sad to see.

At least since my last visit the construction of the new A pier at Amsterdam has progressed quite a lot, although I still don’t quite get what the final layout of the building will be.

Our flight pulls up to a stand at the B pier. The weather in Amsterdam is atrocious. It’s raining and much cooler than Basel.

There aren’t many passengers in the terminal, and most of the shops appear to be closed. Half the luggage belts in the arrivals hall are turned off permanently.

Conclusion

I must say, this flight today has been quite an eye opener. As I previously mentioned, I was already aware of the disastrous consequences the events of the last few months have had on the airline industry. But seeing the devastation up close from the passenger’s perspective is sobering and really quite depressing.

It is difficult to assess the current situation without coming across as being overly pessimistic. But right now, things are really not looking very good for the airline industry – despite the significant rescue packages some of them have received from their governments and the slow resumption of flights. It is common wisdom in the industry that the airlines earn most of their money during the peak summer months. What they don’t manage to earn during that period, they will not be able to recover in the slower winter season.

Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Shannon to London Heathrow

Introduction

It’s Thursday afternoon. The course with the IAA in Shannon went well. My job is done, and so it’s time to move on. The next course will be starting in two days.

Shannon airport is located about fifteen minutes away by car from IAA’s HQ. We arrive at the car park for the car rental returns and it’s pouring with rain. Although that isn’t really worth mentioning because it seems to be the normal state of affairs in Ireland. Which makes it all the more impressive how everyone here manages to stay so friendly and easy going.

There is a shuttle from the Hertz office to the terminal, but given that it’s only a two minute walk, that hardly seems worth it – even with the rain.

Check-in

The terminal building is a strange place. The check-in area is in a part of the terminal which looks as though it’s much newer than the rest of the building. There are four rows of check-in counters, but half of them look as though they haven’t been used in years. I’m also not really sure what to make of the seventies style wood panelling everywhere.

In any case, I’m already checked in, but I still need to drop off my enormous suitcase. My first stop is at one of the Aerlingus self-service machines, but apparently they will only issue a boarding pass but not the baggage tag. So eventually I just head over to the check-in counter. Aerlingus has six counters in Shannon, but only one is manned when I arrive for check in.

The Lounge

The departure gates are located one floor up from the check-in area. Luckily, the security check point is deserted when I arrive, which, as far as the Irish are concerned, is another great opportunity to have a little natter before sending me on my way. This must be just about the nicest security check I’ve ever undergone!

Aerlingus does not have its own lounge in Shannon, but Executive Club Silver passengers flying on Aerlingus are entitled to use the Boru lounge that is operated by Shannon airport.

The lounge is small but nicely laid out. The toilets are clean and there’s even a shower. As far as food goes, it’s really just hot and cold drinks and snacks to eat – things like scones and cake.

Boarding

There are two separate queues for boarding. One for Priority passengers, and one for everyone else. Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure.

The Cabin

This aircraft is in the same layout as that of my inbound flight. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think it’s the same plane. Today I’m seated on the emergency exit on 12A, which is the first of the two emergency exit rows on the A 320. Row 12 is the best place to sit, I think. On the one hand, because in addition to the extra legroom, the fact that it’s an exit row means the passengers in the row before cannot recline their seats. While at the same time, because the next row is also an emergency exit, the extra pitch means you won’t have the person sitting behind you grinding their kneecaps into your lower back. Unless of course, the person behind you is the tall, blond M. with his awfully long legs.

The Crew

The crew are friendly, like everybody else I met on this trip to Ireland. The purser in an elderly gentleman who, quite frankly, looks as though he started his flying career back in the days of the elegant Vickers Viscount. Perhaps that also explains his excellent manners and customer care. I think he’s brilliant!

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, I buy a Coke Zero which sets me back EUR2.50. Which is reasonable for a 0.33l can.

Arrival

Initially, the flight time is announced as one hour, which would have meant us arriving in Heathrow at 18h30. But instead we’re kept circling for a while before we make the approach. So that eventually, by the time we come to a stop on our designated stand, it’s already 19h05.

The Aerlingus gates in Terminal 2 are very conveniently located a very short walk away from the luggage belts. If you’re arriving from Ireland you will not have to go through immigration in the UK. At least not until the end of March.

My first stop after I exit through customs is at Marks & Spencer’s to get some food. And then from there I head down into the bowels of the Queen’s Terminal to catch the complimentary rail shuttle to Terminal 4.

All in all, from exiting the aircraft to entering my hotel room it takes me slightly more than ninety minutes. Mainly, because the shuttle to Terminal 4 only runs very thirty minutes at 03 and 33 past the hour.

Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Shannon

Transfer in Heathrow

My flight from Basel arrives in Terminal 5, which is served only by British Airways and Iberia. My flight with Aer Lingus will be departing from Terminal 2, the Queen’s Terminal. I follow the signs for flight connections to other terminals, which eventually takes me one floor down to ground level. From here, there is a regular airside shuttle service to Terminal 2. The journey time by bus is roughly ten minutes. It’s kind of nice, a bit like taking a tour of the airport. On the way, we pass British Airways’ impressive line-up of long-haul aircraft parked at the B satellite of Terminal 5.

Once the bus arrives at Terminal 2, I head one floor up for security and another floor up to immigration, even though I’m only changing planes in Heathrow. On a side note, there is a separate channel for passengers continuing their journey to Ireland and the UK, although I’m not even sure there are any domestic flights out of Terminal 2. And then once that’s done, I’m airside.

The Lounge

The Aer Lingus lounge is located one floor up from the public airside area. The entrance is opposite the escalators. The lounge is fairly large and the interior is welcoming, if somewhat worn in places. There’s a decidedly Irish touch to the place, with bright green carpets that have been designed to look like grass.

And the toilets are certainly better than those in the British Airways lounge back in Terminal 5! Other than that though, drink and food choices are limited. In fact, there is only a pot of creamy chicken soup by way of proper food. Other than that, it’s really just biscuits and packets of crisps.

The location of the lounge gives you a good view of the outside and the threshold of runway 09L. Unfortunately though, there is this metal construction in front of the windows which kind of obstructs the view. But it’s still good enough.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 14h40 for a 15h20 departure. In fact, by the time I reach the gate at 14h45, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. The flight has a good load, but is not fully booked, and there are still a few empty seats. Luckily, the middle seat on my row also stays empty.

The Cabin

Aer Lingus operates its short-haul fleet in an Economy Class only configuration. Although I recently heard that they were considering reintroducing a sort of Business Class on some routes.

The seats are in dark blue leather and are nicely padded and comfortable. The seat pitch is also very good. The headrest is adjustable.

The Crew

The crew consists of five middle aged ladies. They’re not overly friendly, but their service is professional and polite towards the passengers. The flight time is given as one hour.

The Meal

Food is buy on board on Aer Lingus. Once we’re airborne, I order a cup of tea for EUR3.

The one thing that strikes me about Aer Lingus, is that the atmosphere in the cabin is always quite pleasant and relaxed. And today’s flight is no different. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Aer Lingus’ passengers are just used to the concept of buy on board. As a result, you don’t get that undercurrent of resentment from both the crews and the passengers about having to fork out for a drink and a snack.

Arrival

We land in Shannon on time and the weather is horrible. The apron is fairly quiet, save for two Ryanair flights that are in the final stages of boarding, with passengers hurrying along to get out of the pouring rain. I guess that’s one way to speed up the boarding process… At least Aer Lingus has the decency to use an airbridge.

The terminal building at Shannon airport really is exceptionally ugly. It’s old and any work that has been done in recent years has been done primarily to expand the facility, but obviously not to embellish. But never mind, it’s a passenger terminal, not a five star hotel.

The flying Dutchman has rented a car, which we’ll need to get from Limerick, where the hotel is, to the venue of the course. The journey by car from the airport into Limerick takes under thirty minutes.

Adria Airways, Economy Class – CRJ-900: Zürich to Ljubljana

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Introduction

My flight to Ljubljana will be departing at 15h05. So I leave the office at 13h40 to catch the 13h55 train from Winterthur, which should get me into Zürich airport at around 14h10, leaving me fifty minutes to reach the gate.

Check-in

I already checked in for the flight the evening before using the Adria Airways app. I think this must be a Star Alliance or a Miles & More thing, because like SWISS, the Adria Airways boarding passes do not show up on the locked screen of my iPhone, even though I have them saved to the Passbook wallet.

Airside

It’s only once I reach security that I realise I may be cutting it a bit fine arriving at the airport less than an hour before departure, because the queue for the security checkpoint is long and nasty. Luckily, just a short while after I reach the tail end of the queue, they open up the lower level security area, which at least speeds up the process.

Because I’m running rather late and I still need to get something from the duty free, I don’t have time to visit the refurbished and recently reopened SWISS lounge. Instead, by the time I’m ejected from the duty free store, it’s time for me to head to gate A 56, the boarding gate for today’s flight.

Boarding

Gate A 56 is located in a provisional building that was erected many years ago but which they then ‘forgot’ to tear down. A 56 is a bus gate and it’s not a particularly nice area of the terminal.

The same gate agent is manning the gate today as I had a month ago when I flew to Macedonia via Ljubljana. She’s not particularly friendly, and I’m kind of surprised myself that I even remember her.

I’m on the first bus to the aircraft. There’s a bit of a hold up once we get to the aircraft, because apparently they’re still refuelling. But eventually, just as the second bus arrives, we are finally allowed to board.

The Cabin

I really, really don’t like the CRJ-900. It’s such an unpleasant little aircraft. Once you’re actually seated, it’s not that bad. Adria Airways has a pretty decent seat pitch on these aircraft and they also still have these old school seats that have good padding.

But the cabin is very tight, narrow and cramped. Of course it also doesn’t help that today’s flight is quite full, which gives even more of an impression of the cabin being crowded.

I’ve decided to sit on 18A today, which means that for a change I’m seated behind the wing and will be able to watch the various surfaces of the wing move during the flight.

Yeah, okay. So I’m a geek, what’s your excuse…?

The Crew

The service on today’s flight is done by two female cabin crew. I think they’re really brilliant. They’re very chic. And both of them are friendly and enthusiastic about their job and their interaction with the passengers is polite, relaxed and unrushed.

The captain comes on the loudspeaker to welcome us on the flight and informs us that we will have to wait another forty minutes before we’ll be allowed to start the engines. Something about congested airspace over Austria and thunderstorms in the Zürich area… Before he’s even finished the announcement, the crew are already passing through the cabin offering complimentary cups of water to passengers, which is a nice touch.

Eventually, we depart with a delay of 45 minutes. The flight time is announced at fifty minutes.

The Meal

On Adria Airways water is complimentary in Economy Class. In addition, there is also a selection of items that can be purchased from the buy on board menu. In the name of scientific research and progress, I decide to order a Coke Zero and a cheese sandwich, which will set you back EUR5.- and which is quite decent, I think. What’s more, the sandwich is very tasty! It’s filled with ruccola, nice bread spread and some sort of lovely smoked cheese.

The flight passes quickly. This is my idea of bliss. Sitting on an aeroplane flying through unsettled weather, with decent food and watching the world go by beneath me.

Arrival

Eventually we land with a delay of slightly more than one hour. The approach is very bumpy and quite rough. In the distance I can see dark storm clouds looming on the horizon.

Getting into Town

There is the bus, which will take you to the railway station. This takes about fifty minutes to make the journey and will cost EUR4.-. The bus only runs every hour on the hour.

Then there is also the shuttle service, which will drop you off anywhere in the city. The price is EUR9.- and the shuttle will only leave once there are at least five passengers. The journey into town will take about thirty minutes.

And then there is the taxi, which also takes about thirty minutes but will cost you EUR50.-.

Aeromexico Connect, Economy Class – Embraer 170: Querétaro to Mexico City

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Date: 13 May 2017
Departure:
14:30
Arrival:
15:00
Flight time:
30 minutes
Seat:
16C, aisle

Introduction

Querétaro Airport is about 35km from the old town and the journey there can take you anything between thirty minutes and two hours, depending on traffic. Fortunately for me, it’s Saturday morning and although there is quite some traffic around, it’s still rather harmless in comparison to weekdays.

Getting to the Airport

The hotel orders an Uber to pick me up at the hotel at 11h15. As far as I know, there is no public transport out to the airport. The journey by Uber costs 250 pesos.

Check-in

Querétaro airport has a dinky little terminal that is obviously way too small to handle all the traffic the airport gets. From what I can tell though, the terminal is currently in the process of expansion and renovation.

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The check-in agent informs me when I check in that there will be a delay to our flight of roughly 45 minutes, which has the wiry R. complaining about not wanting to sit inside the terminal when it’s such a lovely day out. I think he just wants a smoke. And so we decide to park ourselves in the shade outside the terminal until it’s time for us to go through security.

Airside

There is a lounge but apparently it’s not open for passengers of any of the airlines operating into Querétaro unless they are Priority Pass members.

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Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of 45 minutes. The gate agent comes on the speaker to make an announcement about the flight, but the volume of the mike is so loud that nobody can understand a word of what he’s saying. Whatever. Luckily for me, there are no contact stands at Querétaro, so we’re going to have to walk across the apron in the sun.

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The Cabin

The cabin is in an Economy Class only layout and contrary to my expectations, the seat pitch is rather good and comfortable. I’m sitting on row 16, which is nice because it’s not very often I get to sit behind the wing and can watch the control surfaces moving.

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The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough, although they refuse to speak anything other than Spanish. But they obviously take safety very seriously on this flight, which is the main thing.

The Meal

I really haven’t been too lucky with the meal services on Aeromexico and this flight is no exception. Despite the fact that the flight from Querétaro to Mexico City is only thirty minutes long, Aeromexico still do a full drinks service and also distribute packets of nuts. But alas, by the time we start out initial descent, they have only reached row 12 and I’m on row 16. And so the service is abruptly ended and the trolley stowed away before the rear of the aircraft is served. I don’t think I mind not being given anything to eat or drink, but I must say I do find it a bit strange, to say the least, that the crew can’t even be bothered to make an announcement to apologize.

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Arrival

And so, very quickly we’re already coming in over the vastness of Mexico City, where the smog is lying thick above the ground as usual.

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Transfer in Mexico City

Aeromexico uses Terminal 2 in Mexico City. Despite the delay arriving in Mexico City, I still have layover of another six hours before my connection departs from Terminal 1. So I’ve booked myself into the Marriott Courtyard at the airport, which is connected via footbridge to Terminal 1. The nice thing about the Courtyard is that there is a complimentary shuttle from Terminal 2.

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

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Date: 14 January 2017
Departure: 14:20
Arrival: 17:30
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 10C, aisle on the emergency exit row

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Introduction

For a very long time it looked as though the Bombardier CSeries might never fly. The development of the aircraft was marred by a series of technical problems with the power plant which eventually lead to a financial crisis that had the manufacturer Bombardier taking a serious nose dive. But all’s well that ends well as they say, and this rather elegant looking aircraft is finally being rolled out with airlines across Europe. Swiss International Air Lines was the launch customer for the type in the standard dash 100 version, while Air Baltic was the launch customer for the larger dash 300 version. On Sunday 15 January 2015 the aircraft is scheduled to operate the service from Riga to Zürich. Having just submitted my term paper and with nothing much else to do, I decide to fly to Riga on Saturday to be able to make the journey back to Zürich on the new shiny bird the next day.

The flight to Riga is operated by a Boeing B 737-500 which first flew in 1999 and spent the first years of its life flying for Air France.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train
Journey time:
1 hour 14 minutes, changing trains at Zürich main station
Departs from:
Basel Swiss station (Basel SBB)
Arrives:
Zürich Flughafen

It is snowing heavily in Basel as I make my way from my flat, across the square to the station. My train is just pulling in as I come down the escalators onto the platform. Considering how few people are travelling, it is quite surprising just how long the train is.

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The view outside is lovely. There is snow everywhere and everything is looking bright, despite the lack of sunshine.

Check-in

Terminal: Check-in 2
Row: 3
Counters: Swissport common purpose counters
Number of counters:
There is one Business Class counter, one baggage drop-off counter and two Economy Class counters.
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:
Not available.
Apparently it is possible to collect miles in Etihad’s frequent flyer programme when travelling on Air Baltic. However, you will have to contact a check-in counter to have the number of your card added to the booking. If you check-in on the Air Baltic website you can only insert a number with their own frequent flyer programme.

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Airside

This is one of those rare occasions when I am travelling without access to a lounge. But never mind. Inspired by a recommendation made to me by my friend and gourmet at large, the wiry R., I park myself at the Sprüngli café right after the duty free shop on the upper level and treat myself to a cup of hot chocolate and a truffe du jour. The hot chocolate is excellent and is served with shavings of dark chocolate on top. Lovely!

Boarding

It is just gone 13h30 when I see my aircraft turning the corner of the A dock. The flight will be boarding from gate A65, which is the first gate on the A dock and gives me some great photo opportunities.

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Boarding starts with a slight delay at 13h50, which is hardly a problem given that the load on today’s flight is very low and probably not even quite 50%.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Connectivity: Not available.
The first impression of the cabin is good. Everything looks clean and tidy and the aircraft seems well maintained. There are still a few traces here and there of the aircraft’s previous owner, for example the ‘secours’ sign above the emergency exit.

The pitch on the emergency exit is good. On this particular aircraft (YL-BBD) the emergency exit is on row 10 and seating is row is only available at a charge unless the aircraft is full. The A and F seats on row 10, which are the window seats, have very good legroom because there is no window seat on 9A and F, so if you are seated on one of these seats, you can really spread out. I am on 10C, the aisle seat, and the legroom here is also very good.

The seat is the typical slimline Recaro seat that has become so typical for many of the European carriers. Storage space in the seat back is fairly limited, because the seat is lacking a net on the lower half of the seat back.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on the flight. All three of them are friendly young ladies and I suspect the way they look may have been an important factor during the recruiting process…

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The Meal

Towel before the meal: A cold and pre-packed scented towel is provided on the tray.
Choice:
There is a huge selection of dishes to choose from and combine on the Air Baltic website.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Spicy salad with peppers, carrot, cucumber and dill.
Main course:
Chicken breast with roast potatoes and vegetables.
Dessert:
Chocolate truffe cake.
Beverages:
Still water.
Bread:
A slice of some dark bread with a tasty and strong flavour of spices, served with butter.
Air Baltic gives you the opportunity to pre order your meal before the flight. The selection of available dishes is really quite impressive and you can combine main courses with desserts and starters as you please. The standard hot meal will cost you EUR15 for the tray, including bread, a starter, dessert and a drink. If you do not order the meal at the time of booking, you can still do so when checking in online.

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As far as I am concerned, I think the meal offers good value for money. The food is tasty, the portions are good and the price is quite reasonable and certainly cheaper than dining at one of the expensive airport eateries.

Arrival

The flight is very smooth and the atmosphere in the cabin feels very cosy and laid back. Of course it helps that the flight is nearly empty. Eventually we start our descent into Riga. As we come out of the clouds I can see thick layers of snow on the ground. It is also a bit misty.

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After landing we taxi to the non-Schengen dock and then from there we are bussed to the Schengen part of the facility. The terminal in Riga is really quite small and does not really seem sufficiently large for the amount of traffic it handles.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Bus
Journey time:
20 minutes
Departs from:
Arrivals level, just follow the signs
Arrives:
Riga main railway station
Cost:
EUR1.15 if you buy at the ticket vending machine or EUR2 if you pay the driver.
Ticket purchase:
If you are willing to pay the higher price, you can pay the driver. Keep in mind though that not all bus stops actually have a ticket machine. However, if there is a kiosk nearby you can usually purchase your tickets there.

Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Shannon to London Heathrow

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Date: 03 December 2016
Departure: 08h50
Arrival: 10h10
Flight time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Seat: 10F

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Introduction

I always enjoy the courses in Ireland very much. The people are all very welcoming and friendly and wherever you go, you can always be sure to find somebody or other eager to strike up a conversation. But still I am glad I am on my home. It is the end of the year and I can feel myself loosing steam. Just two more business trip this year, one next week and then the week after and I am done.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi
Journey time:
30 minutes
Departs from:
Absolute Hotel in the centre of Limerick
Arrives:
In front of the departures concourse at Shannon airport
Cost:
EUR45

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Check-in

Terminal: There is only the one terminal building
Counters: Aer Linugs have their own row of dedicated check-in counters. There is one desk for Aer Lingus frequent flyers, one for Aer Lingus Business Class and another for Economy Class passengers.
Web check-in:
Urgh!
Self-service check-in:
There are four machines at the airport

Well that interface certainly does not work…! I booked the ticket I am flying on via the BA website. But for some reason, although the Aer Lingus flight is operated as a BA codeshare, interline check-in is not possible.

When I try to check in on the BA app I get a message that check-in for the flight is only possible at the airport. When I try to check in on the Aer Lingus app, I receive the message that there is something wrong with my booking. But if I try to check in online via the Aer Lingus website, I can check in but I cannot select any seats or additional services.

So by the time I arrive at the airport, I am still missing the boarding pass for this flight. I try the self-service kiosk, which informs me that there is no booking in my name. Interesting. So I approach one of the counters, where a friendly Irishman swiftly checks me in, no questions asked, and even offers if I’d prefer a window seat over the aisle seat I had originally selected at check-in (I did…?).

Airside

Other than that, Shannon’s terminal is easy to navigate through. I think what impresses me most about the structure is how high the ceiling is in the check-in area – it makes the place feel more like a church than an airport.

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Boarding

Boarding is from gate 4 – which, luckily for me – means the aircraft is parked at a remote stand. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. My boarding pass is scanned and I step outside into the cold morning air. I walk along the outside of the building to where our aircraft is parked. The crew are obviously not ready for boarding yet, and so we are left standing outside in the cold for ten minutes before eventually we are allowed on board.

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The Cabin

Configuration: Economy Class only configuration.
Seat Layout: 3 + 3.
Pitch: 32 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Connectivity: Not available.
Comment:
The A 320 has a seating capacity of 174 in Aer Lingus’ configuration. The seats are rather comfortable and certainly not as hard as many of those new flimsy Recaro affairs that leave your butt sore after an hour of flying.

Seat pitch is good. Every seat comes with a coat hook and the headrest is adjustable in height. Emergency exit seats can be purchased at the time of booking.

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The Crew

The crew are of course typically Irish. All of them are very friendly and take their time to chat with the passengers. They are actually quite funny to watch during the on board duty free sales as they go cooing over the design of some of the scarves and comparing notes with each other and the passengers on the quality of this facial cream and that Dead Sea mud…

The Meal

Food and beverages are strictly buy on board on Aer Lingus short-haul flights. They have a good selection of hot and cold snacks and on flights departing before eleven o’clock in the morning there is also a traditional Irish breakfast available. Prices are reasonable to me. I have a cheese and coleslaw bap with coffee and a bottle of still water, which sets me back EUR10.50.

The quality of the food is good. The bap tastes fresh and the coffee is strong enough to revive the spirits.

Arrival

Terminal: 2.
The flight time to Heathrow is one hour. In fact we are slightly ahead of schedule, which is rarely a good idea in Heathrow, and subsequently we are sent into a holding for about ten minutes before we are allowed to make our approach into the airport from the west.

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Transfer in Heathrow

In Heathrow I am connecting onto the British Airways flight to Basel, which means I will have to make the transfer from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5. And I really have to say, the journey is really painless and smooth. I step off the Aer Lingus flight at 10h22. By 10h50 I am already in Terminal 5 and through security. The transfer process is fairly straight forward as long as you know which terminal you are looking for.

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Conclusion

Overall I rather liked Aer Lingus. Their strongest selling point is certainly their staff, all of which were friendly and polite at all times. The boarding process is a bit cumbersome and very much had the look and feel of a low cost carrier. But other than that, I would fly with them again.

Adria Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Tirana to Munich

Folie1

Date: 20 April 2016
Departure: 18:55
Arrival: 20:55
Flight time: 2 hours
Seat: 8A

Introduction

The Albanian authorities have been excellent hosts. In addition, the weather in Tirana today was quite simply stunning. The temperature was pleasantly warm, with a nice breeze preventing it from getting too hot. The dramatic location of the city, surrounded by mountains, is quite spectacular and with the clear air, the mountains look close enough to touch.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: Roughly thirty minutes.
Departs from: Hotel Mondial.
Arrives: Tirana Rinas Airport.
Cost: 2000 Albanian Lek or EUR14.

The user group meeting comes to an end at 15h30. By the time I finish saying goodbye to every one and pack up my things, it is already four o’clock in the afternoon.

Check-in

Location: Left half of the terminal, ground floor.
Facilities: Check-in counters for the Adria Airways flight open two hours before departure. Counters 17 and 18 are reserved for Adria Airways check-in.

Alternatively, there are also multipurpose self-service check-in machines. The self-service machines are located facing the entrance to the terminal. They are red and can hardly be missed.

Once I get that out of the way, I step outside to have a coffee and watch the world go by in the warm sun. This is just lovely.

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The Lounge

Location: First floor, right behind immigration.
Type of Lounge:
Multipurpose contractor lounge.
Facilities:
A variety of different seating options, two Mac workstations, toilets are available in the lounge.
Catering: There is a small buffet with a small but good selection of snacks.
Internet:
At reception an access code for the internet is printed for you.

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Access to the lounge is via a set of stairs hidden away behind the duty-free shops. The lounge is open to status cardholders of most airlines. Alternatively, you can also pay EUR20 to use the facility.

Like the rest of the airport, the lounge is fairly small. But I rather like the design. It feels cosy.

Boarding

There is no priority boarding for this flight. However, given that there were only about forty passengers in total on the flight, it does not really matter that much.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: 9A, window on the port side of the vessel.
Pitch: No information.
Width: No information.
Description: Unfortunately, I was unable to find any useful information about the cabin configuration and seat of Adria Airways’ fleet of A 319s. The cabin looks nice enough and well maintained. However, the fact that everything is kept in various shades of grey does make the cabin look somewhat drab.

Other than that though, Adria has video screens installed throughout the aircraft and there is also internet connectivity available via OnAir, although I did not try it out on this flight.

Seating on this aircraft is fairly tight, but at lest the flight is only about a third full. Thus, I have a whole row to myself and manage to find a decently comfortable position to sit.

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The Crew

There are three cabin crew. The purser is a charming lady in her early fifties, I would guess. Announcements are made live in Albanian, Slovenian, English and in German. The crew is friendly enough and I notice that they rigorously enforce safety on board.

The Meal

All passengers are served a cup of still water. Other than that, food and drinks are available for purchase only. Mostly, it is just light snacks and drinks. But at least the prices are reasonable. I order a cheese sandwich, a Coke Zero and a Nescafe with milk and sugar for EUR8.

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It is another glorious day for flying outside. After take-off, our routing takes us along the Adriatic coast on a north-westerly track until eventually the coastline gives way to the Alps and eventually we cross into Germany.

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Arrival

We land a few minutes ahead of schedule. It is quickly approaching 21h in the evening, so Munich airport is already fairly quiet. I pass through security and immigration and take the stairs up to the G concourse, which is the Schengen area, from where my connection to Basel will be leaving.

Conclusion

All in all I though, Adria Airways were not that bad at all. True, buy on board is never cool, but the quality of the food available was good and came at a decent price. The aircraft was comfortable enough, although much of that had to do with the fact that is was mostly empty. On a longer or full flight I am not sure how comfortable the experience would be.

Aer Lingus, Economy Class – A 320: Dublin to Amsterdam

Folie1

Introduction

The beginning of September sees me travelling to Ireland to give another course. The venue of the course is near Shannon airport, so obviously the easiest thing would have been to fly to and from Shannon airport. But connections to Shannon are not really very good – at least if you’re coming from Switzerland – so eventually we decide to use Dublin Airport instead and rent a car from there.

The journey to and from Ireland is with KLM and Aer Lingus via Amsterdam. Flights between Amsterdam and Dublin are operated as a code-share with KLM. And even though Aer Lingus has no affiliation whatsoever with KLM and Flying Blue, you can still collect miles with them, as long as your ticket is issued on KLM stock and with the KLM flight number.

Check-in

Aer Lingus operates out of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. It is possible to check in at the self-service check-in machines and you will even be issued the boarding pass for your onward connection on KLM.

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The only draw back with this code-share is that there is no possibility for KLM passengers to check in online. As a result, if you are running late you just have to take what is left.

The Lounge

Flying Blue status card holder are entitled to use the Aer Lingus Lounge in Dublin when they are travelling on the service to Amsterdam. It does not seem to make a difference whether you are checked in on the KLM or Aer Lingus flight number.

The lounge looks rather nice but it is quite small. It also has an odd shape. It is quite narrow and long. There are computer workstations but the screens face the lounge, which means that anybody can easily peer over your shoulder to take a look at what you have on the screen. The food and drinks options are very limited, although perhaps that may also have something to do with the time of day when I visited.

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The Meal

Service on Aer Lingus is buy-on-board. I do not purchase anything but the prices seem fairly decent. Seat pitch on the A 320 is excellent, with loads of leg space. Furthermore, it is still a proper seat with comfortable padding, unlike those horrible Recaro slimline seats most carriers in Europe seem to use these days and which can be a bit severe on the backside.

The flight is uneventful, which is also why I do not take any pictures. There simply is nothing to photograph. The crew on the inbound and the outbound are hardly worth mentioning either. They do their job, but nothing else.

Transfer in Amsterdam

I have a connection of fifty minutes. So obviously I become slightly apprehensive when the flight from Dublin departs with a delay of twenty-five minutes. In fact I am pretty sure I am going to have to spend the night in Amsterdam.

Eventually we arrive at the gate in Amsterdam at 20:05. As it happens, it is the one but last gate on the D concourse. My flight to Basel will depart in exactly thirty minutes and I still have to walk all the way to the beginning of the concourse, clear immigration, go through security again and then make the long trek over to the B gates by the Fokker farm.

But surprisingly, tonight lady luck appears to be smiling upon me full of mercy and compassion. There is no queue at immigration and security takes all of two minutes to clear, and even that is only because my belt gets stuck. I am the last passenger to board. Nonetheless, we still manage to depart ten minutes ahead of schedule.