ANA All Nippon Airways, Business Class (The Room) – Boeing B 777-300: Tokyo Haneda to London Heathrow

Getting to Haneda Airport from Shinjuku

I haven’t been in Japan long enough to get jetlag, which is good because it means that when I leave my hotel in Shinjuku just before six in the morning, I’m actually feeling rather bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

To get from Shinjuku to Haneda airport by public transport, you can either catch an airport bus from the bus terminus at Shinjuku, or you can take a train and then the monorail – which is what I do. First, I take the Yamanote JR Line to Hamamatsucho. The nice thing about the Yamanote is that it runs in a circle. So even if you catch a train going the wrong way, you’ll still get there in the end.

From Hamamatsucho I catch the Tokyo Monorail from one floor up to take me to Haneda. The train’s first stop at the airport is Terminal 3, which is from where the international flights leave. The ticket is JPY700 for a oneway from Shinjuku to Haneda.

Check-in

ANA checks in on rows C, D and E. If you’re in Business Class and not using the check-in kiosks, head for row C. But be warned… The Japanese are incredibly polite, but also incredibly complicated. It takes me 20 minues to reach the head of the queue, mainly because the check-in agents spend a lot of time doing utterly useless things. For example, they label a suitcase on the conveyor belt. Next they open the security screen, check twice that there is nothing stuck in the conveyor belt, and then push the button for the belt to start moving and the suitcase to move forward to the main belt. Once the suitcase is gone, they close the screen, again checking that nothing has managed to get stuck anywhere. Mindfullness is one thing, but this just really very inefficient and very frustrating. I mean, it’s not as though lives hang in the balance by leaving the screen for the main conveyor belt open.

The check-in agent checks me in to Heathrow and then informs me that she cannot check me in for the last leg, because ANA has no check-in interline agreement in place with BA…

After check-in comes security, which again seems way more complicated in how it’s organised than it need be. But eventually, I manage, I’m through security and passport control.

The ANA Business Class Lounge

At Haneda airport ANA has a First Class lounge and the Business and Star Gold lounge. The views from the lounge are excellent. Too bad the place is crawling with people and there’s hardly any place to sit.

The lounge has an interesting selection of hot and cold Western and Japanese food items available from a buffet. The selection is good, but you need a bit of patience…

The entrance to the lounge is opposite gate 110, which also happens to be my gate for London.

Boarding

Boarding is by zones and a very orderly and quiet process. It looks as though it’s going to be a full flight.

Our departure is scheduled for 09:25. However, there’s a bit of a hold up because of something related to having to check the hold luggage. By the time we push back, we running an hour late.

The Room

ANA’s Boeing B 777-300 fleet has The Room Business Class seat installed. The main feature of the seat is a side panel that can be raised and a sliding door for more privacy. The door isn’t very high, though. The unevenly numbered seats are rear-facing and closer to the window, whereas the evenly-numbered seats are forward-facing and closer to the aisle.

The big advantage of this seat is that it is quite spacious. Other than that though, I have to say that it’s one of the more uncomfortable seats I’ve ever experienced, especially given that our flight time to London today is going to be 14 hours. First of all, the seat is very low above the ground. With my feet flat on the floor, the angle of my thighs to my torso is about 45 degrees and not very comfortable. The seatback is fully flat and offers zero back support.

I am 184 cm tall, which is pretty average for a male adult. Even so, it’s impossible for me to stretch out fully with the seat extended to a bed. The best results are achieved by lying at an angle, but even then it is not a comfortable surface to sleep on.

As far as I’m concerned, the seat’s only redeeming feature is that it gives me a comfortable and unobstructed view of the wing and the engine. The size of those things…

The Service

There are two Western cabin crew on this flight. One of them is male. The rest of the cabin crew are female. Service begins on the ground with the distribution of the welcome drinks. On offer are sparkling wine and orange juice. The cabin crew kindly oblige me with a still water instead.

After an hour of more or less incessant announcements in both Japanese and English, none of which make any sense, we’re finally ready to push. As we taxi out to our runway, we pass a whole line up of aircraft that look as though they have not been active in quite a while, including this B 787 with both its engines missing.

You can say what you like, but the B 777-300 is a total beast. Even heavily laden for a 14 hour leg across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans the acceleration is impressive. Our climb out takes us in a zig-zag route over Tokyo toward Narita, from where we start our Pacific crossing.

Our routing today takes us up north along the Kamchatka peninsula. We then cross the Bering strait and make a beeline for Greenland, then Iceland and eventually Scotland. As we fly over the Northpole, it’s fascinating to watch the compass on screen gradually adjust.

The Meal – First Service

As on the outbound flight, I decide to go with the Japanese option.

The planned amuse bouche has been swapped and replaced with a special Japanese New Year dish of dried fish and something. It’s not very good and rather bland.

To be perfectly honest, the meal is incredibly boring and very bland. Essentially, it’s soy sauce with a variety of different veggies, meat or fish that all taste of, well… soy sauce and not much else.

The only remarkable thing about this meal is the stupendous chocolate mousse, which is rich, creamy and sumptuous.

The Meal – Inflight Snacking

ANA has a wide selection of snacks available in case you get the hungries on such a long flight, of which I try the delectable fondant biscuits, the vanilla ice cream, the fruit, the cheese plate and the IPPUDO plant-based ramen. If I’d known earlier, I think I would have skipped the main meal and just had the ramen.

The ramen can be spiced up with a small red sachet of red chilli paste, which is lovely!

The Meal – Second Service

Two hours out of Heathrow, the second meal service starts, and again I go for the Japanese option. Perhaps a note for vegetarians: ANA is really not very good with non-meat dishes. If you don’t want to go hungry, I would strongly recommend ordering a special meal ahead.

As expected, the second service tastes a lot like soy sauce. I have a coffee and a fondant biscuit for dessert just to make sure I’m not suffering from a sudden loss of taste.

Arrival into Heathrow

We make landfall over Scotland and fly down the length of the UK to make an approach from the East. Our final decent brings us in right over London and the West End. It’s a spectacular view that just never gets old!

Despite our departure delay of one hour, we land in Heathrow exactly on time, at 15:25. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite terminal 2B. I now have two hours to make my connection from Terminal 5.

Conclusion – The Verdict

Meh…! That was a bit of a let down, from the mess at check-in and the crowds in the lounge to the very bland food on the plane and the uncomfortable seat, this was not a pleasant experience with ANA. I seriously think I’m going to have to see a chiropractor when I get back. The flight’s redeeming features were a) the crew, which were all just so nice and friendly, and b) the fact that the flight was operated by a Boeing B 777-300. I mean, have you seen the size of those engines…!? Other than that, I wouldn’t actively avoid ANA in future, but I definitely won’t go out of my way to fly with them either.

ANA All Nippon Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Frankfurt to Tokyo Haneda

Transfer in Frankfurt

The bus that picked us up at our aircraft arriving from Amsterdam ejects me somewhere deep in the bowels of the A concourse of Frankfurt airport, and I still need to make my way through the underworld and the passage of doom that connects the A and B concourses at Frankfurt airport and go through passport control. There is a guy with a sign for the ANA flight standing there as I enter the building, which I consider a good sign. He gives me instructions for how to reach the B concourse and tells me there is enough time. They have advised the gate ahead and they are holding the flight for me and the three other passengers coming off the Amsterdam flight. Frankfurt is very busy, so that by the time I finally reach the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. So no photos of the outside of the aircraft. It’s dark outside anyway…

The Cabin

On the B 787-9 ANA does not offer a First Class cabin. Instead, the Business class cabin is divided in two sections. There are two different cabin configurations on the B 787-9 that operate internationally. On my bird, row 8 is the bulkead row in the rear Business Class cabin. The aircraft is configured in a staggered 1 + 2 + 1 layout. The evenly numbered seats are window seats and offer a bit more privacy. The unevenly numbered seats are aisle seats, which are also nice – but a little less private. In addition, there are no middle seats on row 8, which makes my seat feel even more secluded and cosy. The proximity of the seat to the galley is not an issue during the flight.

The seat is a bit strange is that while there is ample space to place things, there is no storage space in the sense of a small bin that can be closed.

The IFE can be operated either by touch screen or by remote control. The screen is close enough for me to be able to use the touch screen functionality comfortably. Not that it really matters, because I only use the moving map to track our progress, and not much else.

The foot well is a good size, so that I am able to move and turn comfortably despite my size 10 feet.

Amenities

At my seat when I board is a nice comfortable memory foam pillow, a soft blanket with an opening to place your feet, a thin but very useful mattress, a pair of slippers, the earphones (Sony) and the vanity kit.

The vanity kit contains a toothbrush and toothpaste, eye shades, ear plugs, lip balm and yuzu facial mist (…??). There are more dental kits and mouth wash available in the lavatories.

The Service

The service on the ground begins with either orange juice or champagne for a welcome drink, which are served American-style from plastic cups. I ask for a bottle of still water instead.

The refreshing towels are now pre-packaged, which I’m guessing is a Covid-related move.

The flight begins with a string of seemingly endless short films: first comes the safety on board video, followed by a video about the hygene measures on board and a PhD-worthy treatise on air circulation on a modern airliners, and then another video on how to prevent the spreading of Covid.

The Meal – First Service

For the main service, there are three options to choose from – two international choices (beef or fish) and one Japanese option, which is what I have.

To drink I have a glass of sparkling water and something that is referred to on the menu as Kabusu, which is a signature soft drink made of citrus fruit for ANA. It’s very sweet, but also very tasty.

On the right is the foie gras amuse bouche. I’ll really never be a fan…

The Japanese meal is very tasty. It’s also nicely presented. The simmered beef (top left) looks kind of strange but tastes very good.

The main course is served with Gohan (rice), miso soup and pickels.

My only complaint about the meal service is that it simply takes too long. We were airborne by 21h05. It then takes over two hours to get the meal service done. By the time I finish with the main course, I’m just so tired that I decide to skip dessert. Instead, I go change into a pair of shorts, make up the bead and go off to Noddy land.

The Meal – Second Service

And what a trip it is to Noddy land! At some point during the night I begin to stir. I cautiously lift the lid of my eye shades to find the cabin brightly lit. At first I figure it’s the obnoxious mother seated on row 9, who has been pestering the poor crew ever since she stepped aboard the aircraft with Satan’s spawn in Frankfurt. Although to be fair, the kid is really cute and rather well behaved. It’s just a shame the same cannot be said for his mother.

I digress. I take a look at my watch and that’s when I realise the cabin is lit up because they’ve started with the breakfast service. We have 90 minutes to run to Handea, which means that I slept nearly eight hours solid without a murmur. Not bad. So, I quickly change back into my street clothes while the cabin crew bring me an orange juice and coffee.

For the second service there are also three options – Japanese, International and Continental. I go with the international meal.

The meal consists of a frittata, bacon and grilled veg.

A small bowl of fruit.

And pastries from the bread basket, served with butter and jam.

Arrival into Haneda

By the time we land in Haneda at 17:40 it’s already dark outside. I step off the plane and prepare to do a lot of waiting while I get processed to be able to enter the country. Much to my surprise though, the whole process doesn’t actually take that long, if you’re prepared. Basically, you will need three QR codes: the immigration form, the customs form and the COVID declaration form. A link to complete the forms was sent to me a few weeks before departure from ANA.

Getting from Haneda to Shinjuku

In Tokyo I’ll be staying in Shinjuku. I first take the monorail from the airport to Hamamtsucho, which takes roughly 20 minutes. There I connect to the Yamanote line, which takes another 30 minutes to reach Shinjuku. A oneway tickets costs Y500. The ticket vending machines accept cash only.

Conclusion

B***h momma aside, I rather enjoyed this flight with ANA. I think what really struck me, was just how noisy the Boeing B 787-9 was. Admittedly, that might also have been because I was sitting right next to the engine. Other than that, the seat was very comfortable and private. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well and so long on a plane!

Lufthansa Cityline, Business Class – Canadair CRJ-900: Amsterdam to Frankfurt

Introduction

I spend the day exploring the town of Utrecht, which is located south of Amsterdam and is directly accessible by train from Schiphol airport. A return first class ticket will cost you EUR33. Utrecht is a lovely town, and I certainly want to return here, but preferably not in winter, not when it’s raining and not when it’s cold.

At 13:21 I catch the intercity back to the airport. The Dutch have these rather funky looking trains…

I still have some time to kill, so I figure I might as well make a stop at Amsterdam South to visit Wagamama before returning to the airport.

By the time I get to Schiphol airport it’s 15:30. I have another three hours to kill before my flight. But given my last experience here at security on my way back from Bogotà, I figure I better plan ahead.

Check-In

Lufthansa checks in at Departures 3. From there it is quite a schlepp to the access gates for the security screening for the Schengen gates.

Apparently, there is a dedicated row for security for Business Class passengers – which is closed today. Still, it doesn’t really make a difference: the queue is moving quickly and the new scanners at Amsterdam mean you don’t have to remove anything from your bag.

The Amsterdam Star Alliance Lounge

The Star Alliance has its own lounge in the Schengen area at Amsterdam, lounge 27. Access is via stairs or lift. The lounge is located one floor up from the public airside area.

I must say, the lounge is rather nice. Of course it also helps that it’s not very busy when I visit.

The lounge has a large selection of hot and cold dishes from a buffet.

There are plenty of seating options in the lounge, including office desks if you’re trying to get some work done.

Of course, my favourite seat is by the window…

The toilets in the lounge are nice and clean. There are no showers, though.

Boarding

Boarding is expected to begin at 18:05 from gate B23. However, at some point there is a gate change and a delay for our flight. As a result, eventually boarding starts at 18:30, which is the departure time, from gate B17. There is a further hold up because the check-in system is not working properly, and the lone gate agent is having to board passenger in the system manually.

The Cabin

There are six rows of Business Class on the flight this evening. In total there are six passengers in the forward cabin.

I am seated on row two, which is the bulkhead row on the starboard side of the cabin. The leg space is good, and with so few passengers the cabin feels roomy.

The Service

There are two cabin crew working this flight. Both of them are middle aged females. They are friendly and laid back, but without being sloppy. What I always find interesting about the Germans, compared to the Swiss, is that they put a sinking intonation when they make an utterance, even if it is intended as a question. The immediate effect of that is that makes them sound as though they just really have so little of a s**t to give, when really it is just the way they talk.

While we are still on the ground, bottles of still water are handed out. Meanwhile I am growing increasingly concerned about my connection in Frankfurt, which would already have been just an hour even if we were on time.

Eventually, we take off at 19:05. With an expected flight time of 45 minutes that should bring me into Frankfurt with 15 minutes to spare before the next flight starts boarding.

The Meal

This is my first experience with the Lufthansa Taste of Heimat catering, and I am not sure what to make of it. The tray is definitely an improvement over the KLM cardboard boxes. But what is it with the Germans and their obsessive compulsion for meat?

The meal consists of a plate of some mushroom terrine, an egg and cream cheese paste and two slices of meat in an onion dressing. The meal is served with a selection of breads.

For dessert there is a piece of chocolate cake in some sort of coulis.

And to end the meal there is a small piece of chocolate, which I am guessing is SWISS rubbing off on Lufthansa.

Transfer in Frankfurt

Of course, the flight takes a little longer than 45 minutes, of course we have to land on the northern most (and remote) runway, and of course we have been assigned the remotest stand to park on. By the time the bus taking us to the terminal gets moving, it is already 20:15. My connecting flight has just started boarding, while I am stuck on a bus getting the grand tour of what must be the ugliest airport in Europe…

KLM Cityhopper, Economy Class – Embraer 195 E2: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

Today begins an extended period of travel for me. Some trips I will be taking by plane, whereas for others I will be taking the train. By the time I am permanently back home in Switzerland it will be the middle of February. This first leg to Amsterdam also marks my first flight on the KLM E 195-E2, and I have been geeking out about it all day with excitement!

Gettin to the Airport

The first part of my journey from Basel to Zürich is on one of the more recent acqusitions of the Swiss Federal Railways. The Dosto was built by Bombardier and is intended as a double decked composition with high speed tilting capabilities to accommodate the mountainous Swiss terrain. Too bad the technology is a complete and utter fail. The staff complain that their joints ache after working on the train for a whole day. And I know from experience that working on your laptop on this train can be treacherous. The constant jolts mean that you are very likely to accidentally open the wrong file or application…

But at least they look nice inside…

Check-In

At Zürich HB I transfer to one of the many trains running to the airport. Zürich airport is still looking very festive.

Airside

The airport is surprisingly busy. There are two security lanes open for premium passengers, but the process is taking some time, mainly because there are families with kids ahead of me in both lanes.

I do not bother with the lounge a) because I do not have much longer to wait until boarding starts, and b) because KLM recently changed lounges in Zürich, and the new one is really nothing to write home about. Unless, of course, you enjoy sitting in a broom cupboard.

Boarding

Boarding starts on time, and I am delighted that the DNATA staff strictly enforce boarding by zones.

The Cabin

When I step on board, the cabin lights are dimmed and set to a funky mood lighting in shades of pink and blue. It looks rather cool, I must say. Other than that though, I think some more brightness would be great, as passengers are struggling to find the seat numbers in the near-darkness of the cabin. The lights remain like this for the entire flight, except during take-off and landing, when they are turned off completely.

I am seated on row 3, which is one of the rows with extra legroom. The seat is very comfortable, and obviously a lot of thought has gone into maxing out the available space.

There are two power sockets for every pair of seats. There is an adjustable head rest with ears for support, and there is also a holder for iPhones and iPads for passengers to watch their own movies.

We push back from the gate at 17:31, on schedule. The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

The Crew

There are three crew on this flight. All three of them are quite young. None of them are overly friendly. However they are perfectly polite and efficient in their interaction with passengers.

The crew swiftly prepare the cabin for departure and turn off the funky disco lights as we mae our way to runway 28 for take-off.

The Meal

The meal service consists of a cheese sandwich with Beemster and some spicy mayo. As I previously mentioned in another post, I think KLM’s European Economy Class sandwiches are really quite tasty, and I honestly prefer them to the content of those Business Class cardboard boxes any day!

To drink I have a cup of sparkling water.

Arrival in Schiphol

Somewhere along the way we must have taken a few short cuts, because we eventually land in Amsterdam after a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, bringing us into Amsterdam 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

We park on a remote stand and are then bussed to the terminal building. It is cold and windy here in Amsterdam.

Conclusion

This was another enjoyable flight with KLM, which is now one of only a few airlines left in Europe with complimentary catering in Economy Class. The E2 is nice, and in the KLM configuration it offers a lot of comfort and space. The mood lighting gives the cabin a very modern and funky appearance, and the crew obviously enjoyed trying out different settings. However, I wonder if perhaps it would speed up boarding and deboarding to have brighter lights on during the process…

Sofitel Le Scribe, Paris

The Sofitel Le Scribe sits right on the corner of Rue Scribe and Boulevard des Capucines. The hotel’s location is excellent. In close proximity you have the old Opéra Garnier and the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. Just around the corner is also the stop for the airport bus that takes you directly to Roissy airport.

I’m staying at Le Scribe because I have tickets to see Mayerling at the Opéra.

The hotel is very well kept. Everything is spotlessly clean and looks as though it was only recently renovated. Reception is on the ground floor, to the left. Also on the ground floor is a small tea room, the lobby bar and the dining restaurant. The breakfast room is one floor down in the basement of the building, which is not uncommon in Paris.

The reception staff are cordial and friendly in their interaction with guests.

I’m staying in room 372, which is, I believe, a Premium Luxury Room.

The doors to the bathroom and separate toilet are off to the right as you enter the room.

Like the rest of the hotel, the room is clean and has a pleasant smell of new furniture. The room has a high ceiling. Other than that, the surface of the room is rather small and space is quite limited.

As a result, there is only very limited space to hang and store clothes. I’m here only for the one night. In as much, there is enough space for two persons to put their belongings. However, if you’re staying for longer, the lack of space could be an issue.

The room has a Nespresso machine and a water cooker, and complimentary tea and coffee are available.

The bathroom is quite large and features a separate bath and shower.

My room looks out onto the Rue Scribe, which is a quiet side street with limited access. In as much, noise is not a problem. However, the Boulevard des Capucines is quite a busy thoroughfare, and I can imagine that noise from the traffic could be an issue if you have a room overlooking the Boulevard.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m staying at Le Scribe because of the Opéra Garnier. The hotel is just a five-minute walk from the Opéra. If you’re not into ballet or the opera, you can still visit the Opéra Garnier during the day, if only to catch a glimpse of the sumptuous elegance of the interior of the building. The Opéra Garnier, by the way, inspired Gaston Leroux to write what is probably his best known piece of fiction – Le Fantôme de L’Opera – which was later turned into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.

I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.

So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.

Boarding

The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.

The Service

The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.

The Meal

The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.

After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.

Conclusion

The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Zagreb to Vienna

Introduction

Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.

Check-in

The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.

Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.

Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.

Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.

The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb

Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.

The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.

Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.

The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.

The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.

To drink with that I have an Almdudler.

And just before landing, chocolates are offered.

Arrival

We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris Roissy to Zagreb

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Paris to Zagreb. My options are Croatia Airlines or Air France. Normally, I would go with Air France. However, this time around there were several good reasons to take Croatia Airlines instead. First, they use an A319 on the route, whereas Air France operates an Embraer 175. And second, the schedule with Croatia Airlines is more appealing, with an arrival in Zagreb at 13h10.

Getting to the Airport

I’m staying at the Sofitel Le Scribe in Paris, which is just around the corner from the Opéra Garnier. The car picks me up in front of the hotel at 08:35 to take me to the airport. Being early Sunday morning, the traffic is fairly smooth – right up until we join the access road to CDG airport, where the traffic comes to a grinding halt. As a result, the trip ends up taking just shy of 60 minutes in total.

Check-in

Croatia Airlines checks in at Terminal 2D, Hall 3. Currently, they’re working on the outside of the terminal, so access to 2D is via 2B.

There are three counters open for Croatia Airlines passengers: one for Business Class and two for Economy Class.

Access to the security checkpoint is between terminals 2B and 2D. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and the process is quick.

CDG2 Extime Lounge

Croatia Airlines uses the Extime Lounge, which is in the Schengen area of the terminal building. There are no lounges in the non-Schengen part from where Croatia Airlines boards. Access to the lounge is via a corridor that leads off from the main area just in front of the Relay kiosk.

The lounge is certainly one of the better ones at CDG if you’re not travelling on Air France. And it’s certainly much better than the dreadful lounge I visited in July on my way to Australia!

The lounge has a large buffet with a good selection of hot and cold dishes.

Boarding

At 10h45 I exit the lounge and make my way to passport control. It’s not very busy. I reach the gate for my flight at B29, where the last remaining passengers of the inbound are just disembarking.

Alas, taking a decent picture of my chariot is impossible.

Boarding starts ten minutes late. The first call is for Business Class passengers only.

The Cabin

Croatia Airlines operates six A 319s in two different configurations. This aircraft is configured for a capacity of 150 passengers, which is also why it has two overwing exits on each side, contrary to your usual, standard issue A 319, which only has one on either side.

Seat pitch on row 1 is good. It also helps that the Business Class cabin is not full. So once boarding is completed, the guy on 1C moves one row back so that we each have a whole row of three to ourselves.

Service

There are three cabin crew on this flight and they’re lovely, very friendly and helpful. While we’re still on the ground, they offer a welcome drink and disinfectant towel.

Today’s traffic regime at CDG sees parallel approaches happening on the two southern runways, and departures on the inner one of the two northern runways. On our way there, we pass CDG 1, which is still closed, where I spot Conviasa’s A 340 and an Aerolineas Argentinas A 330. CDG 1 is scheduled to reopen next year.

The Meal

The flight time to Zagreb is one hour and forty minutes. It’s difficult to find anything nice to say about the meal service. One could forgive the rather ugly presentation if the content were good but…

…we start with porc sausage slices…

…followed by a paté of sorts made of more porc (49%!) and then some porc.

Which basically leaves me with pickled vegetables and crackers and a piece of walnut cake. Tragically, the crackers are limp and the walnut cake is just dead boring.

And to drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

I also order a coffee. To be honest, even if you normally have your coffee black, if you’re drinking the Croatia Airlines stuff you may want to add the cream and sugar they provide for the sake of your taste buds. It’s not their fault…

The tray also comes with cutlery, although I’m not sure what I’m supposed to use it for, except perhaps to stick the fork in my leg in the hope that the pain will distract from just how hungry I am by this stage.

Arrival

Our route takes me overhead Basel, where I live, and then on to Innsbruck and Ljubljana. The flight is uneventful and the views of the mountains are beautiful, even though there’s still not much snow on them.

Eventually, we land with a delay of fifteen minutes.

Getting into Town

The airport bus runs to the city every thirty minutes. The journey takes 25 minutes to complete and will take you to the main bus terminus, which is still quite a walk away from the centre of town. The journey will cost you 45 Kuna, which is roughly EUR6.-. Only cash payment is possible on the bus, but there’s a telling machine at arrivals, just opposite the exit for the airport bus. The stop is on your far right as you exit the airport building.

Conclusion

In the sum of all things, I thought Croatia Airlines were quite okay. The aircraft was comfortable enough and the crew were really great and very friendly. On the down side, the food was seriously lacking. To be fair, they are the airline of Croatia. Even so, I think it would not be too much to ask for them to cater to a more international palate, shall we say.

Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Embraer 190-E2: Luxembourg to Zürich

Introduction

It is probably safe to say that the Embraer E2 family of jets have not been the commercial success the Brazilian manufacturer had hoped for. To date, fewer than 270 aircaft have been ordered, whereas the rival Airbus A220 is gradually approaching 790 orders and calls some of the world’s most prestigious airlines its customers – and that includes Air France, Air Canada, and Delta.

Even though the E2 family was rolled out in 2013, to date only 55 aircraft have been delivered. In as much, and as I know from my own experience, catching a flight on one of these elusive birds is not easy. Currently, the two largest operators of the type are KLM and Helvetic Airways, both of which I use quite frequently. Even so, to date every time I was booked on a flight supposedly operated by an E2, there was a last minute aircraft change and a missed opportunity.

Until today. Finally, after several failed attempts I get to sample Helvetic Airways’ E2 on a flight from Luxembourg to Zürich operated on behalf of SWISS. Ironically, this opportunity arose unexpectedly as the result of yet another aircraft change.

At the Airport

If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the bit about getting to the airport or describing the lounge I didn’t visit… My flight departs Luxembourg at 15:00. When I get there, the place is deserted and there are hardly any people. Whatever the case may be, it means that I can settle by the window and watch the traffic until my E2 makes an appearance.

Just after 14:03 the inbound flight touches down and very gradually makes its was to its stand at gate A17.

The first thing that strikes me about the E2 is the size of its engines.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of 15 minutes. I count 85 passengers on the flight today. There are nine rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats, of which 16 are taken.

The Cabin

The first impression as you step on the plane is very good. The cabin is tidy and neat. Other than that though, the narrow diameter of the hull gives it the look and feel of a commuter aircraft, which is not quite so apparent on the A220.

I’m seated on row 7, where the seat pitch is painfully tight. Fortunately, sitting in Business Class means that the seat next to me is empty, so at least I can stretch my legs sideways.

On each row of two seats there are four USB sockets.

There is also an overhead reading light and an air vent for each passenger. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Helvetic Airways’ seating configuration – apart from the overall lack of space and comfort – is that the seats on most rows are missaligned with the windows.

The Service

There are three cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a woman with a thick eastern European accent but otherwise flawless English and German. In the back of the bus is a friendly young man who interacts pleasantly with passengers and a young lady who looks as though she’s afraid of her own shadow. She passes through the cabin wordlessly like a ghost.

Before we depart, the MC distributes refreshing towels and small bottles of still water.

The pictures of the outside were taken by sticking my iPhone next to the ear of the guy in front of me (and hoping he won’t notice) and then twisting my hand to the right to aimlessly point the camera lense in the general direction of the wing.

The Meal

The meal service consists of a small tray with a plate of two stale canapés – egg & tomato and ham & cheese – and a small jar of vermicelles mousse and plums.

Before I even manage to take a bite, the ghost appears offering the chocolates. The guy in front of me asks if he might be allowed to take a second one “for my kid” (right…) to which he only receives an ever so slight and silent nod of the head.

The tray tables are a bit of a problem, mainly because they’re very small and my tray keep sliding off. Other than that, is it really too much to train the crew to crew to wait until the end of the flight to hand out the chocolates?

Arrival

If I actually had a window, the views outside would be gorgeous. The colours are gradually changing to autumn, casting the landscape in a warm colour.

During the descent the crew advise passengers with connecting flights to go straight to their gates if they have connections within the hour. Beyond that though, no information about the departure gates of the connecting flights is given.

We park on a remote stand, where the dedicated bus for Business Class passengers is already expecting us to take us to the terminal building, which is eerily quiet.

Conclusion

I’m happy I finally got to try the elusive E2. In the sum of all things though, I can’t really say I was too impressed. First, considering that it is a fairly new design I thought the cabin looked rather old-fashioned. Second, no matter how hard you try to give the cabin an airy, spacious feel, there’s no denying that this is an aircraft with a very narrow fuselage. In as much, at least as far as I’m concerned, the E2 is no match for the A220 in terms of comfort and passenger experience. I also found that the aircraft is much louder inside than I expected.

Yet again, the crew were Helvetic’s saving grace on this flight, even though the one crew member didn’t actually say anything – but perhaps it’s for the better that way.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Transfer in Zürich

By the time I’m comfortably settled on one of the sofas in the SWISS First Class lounge it’s 06h30. I have another hour before my departure to Paris. As soon as I take a seat, one of the lounge attendants comes over and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to order from the menu. I tell her a coffee would be great. Other than that, I’m still quite full from breakfast on the plane.

The one thing that really always strikes me about SWISS, is just how incredibly ugly their uniforms are. And it’s not just that they’re ugly, they’re also clearly of very poor quality, badly cut and would even make a supermodel look frumpy. I understand that not all airlines can be like Singapore Airlines with their timeless and iconic SQ Kebaya that was designed by Balmain in 1968. But I also think that the appearance of an airline’s staff in their uniforms and the pride with which they wear it says a lot about the corporate culture and management’s appreciation for their frontline staff.

Boarding

At 07h15 I exit the lounge and make my way to the boarding gate at A66. I figure I might as well wait for the initial scrum to pass before I step aboard. By the time I reach the gate it’s already more or less emptied, with just a few remaining passengers milling about. You know the ones. They wait until the very last moment to step aboard because of some incredibly important call they need to make at the top of their voices… Well let them, I’m tired and I need to sit down, so I make a B-line for the gate attendant who scans my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

The service

I’m seated on 1A. A bottle of still water and a refreshing towel are already at my seat when I arrive.

There are two middle-aged women working the Business Class cabin, and they couldn’t be more different from the crew of the previous flight from Singapore. One of them barely speaks any functional German and has a strong Eastern European accent when she speaks English. Meanwhile, her colleague is doing a convincing interpretation of the Queen of Frump. But I must say, they are friendly, if perhaps a tad reserved. We can’t all be social butterflies…

The cabin

There are nine rows of Business Class, for a total of 36 seat. However, there are only four passengers in the forward cabin on this flight. I ask one of the cabin crew and apparently they’re expecting a full load on the inbound to Zürich.

The expected flight time is one hour.

The meal – breakfast

Within minutes of getting airborne, the crew start preparing for breakfast. On the small tray there is a glas of berry Birchermüsli and a plate with cold cuts, cheese and egg.

To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket. As soon as I’m done, the crew remove my tray.

Looking from above, the difference between Europe and Australia is really quite striking. In Europe more or less every inch of land is exploited for agriculture, whereas in Australia you can spend hours flying over vast stretches of untouched wilderness.

Arrival

Very soon we’re starting our descent into Paris. The crew pass through the cabin with the chocolates while the passengers are treated to a complimentary sightseeing tour of Paris. Our approach brings us in past Notre Dame cathedral, then the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile. We continue on a Westerly track in the direction of Versailles before eventually doing a 180 degree turn to line up for an approach towards the East.

I already miss Australia, but I’ve very much missed this too. No matter what troubles Europe may be heading into right now, the age and traditions of its cities are comforting to me – because they speak of longevity and of resilience.

Our aircraft comes to a stop at one of the stands on the D concourse, and within minutes my suitcases appear on the luggage belt. And just like that I’m back where it all began two months ago.

Conclusion

This brings to an end my sabbatical of 2022, which should have happened in 2020 originally, and then very nearly didn’t happen at all. Before I left on this trip, my dad asked me why it had to be Australia, if the purpose of this trip was for me to have some time to work on my Phd thesis in peace and quiet. And I guess it’s a valid point. All I can say is that I really like being in Australia. The lethal snakes, spiders, sharks and croccodiles aside, I like the way the earth smells in Australia, I enjoyed going for long walks along the beach early every morning in Manly, and I loved listening to the unique strangeness of the whistles and chirps (and also screeches…) of the birds. And I really, really enjoyed the openess and the friendly curiosity of the Australians.