TAP Express, Business Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Porto

INTRODUCTION

Taking this trip is probably not a good idea. Four weeks after the pain started, my back is still no better. But, in the end I couldn’t resist.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I catch the 16h31 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich airport at 16h44. Fortunately, this service has level carriages at platform height, so I won’t have to climb any steps.

CHECK-IN

I’ve checked in online. I don’t have the TAP app because I don’t really use them that often. But the web check-in works fine on my iPhone. Airport check-in for TAP is done in check-in 1, which is the Star Alliance area, or at one of the self-service ticket machines in check-in 3, above the airport’s railway station.

LOUNGE

I arrive at the lounge at 17h15 and the place is crawling with people. I end up standing around for a few minutes for a seat to become available because the place is so crowded.

Eventually, I find a place to sit in a rather oddly shaped corner of the lounge. I’m guessing this is the ‘business’ area where passengers can work. One wall is kept in this really ugly and unfinished looking plywood. Or course, the opportunity to bullshit is too great for SWISS to pass up, which is why of course they have to put up a plaque declaring that this wall is hypoallergenic and made of freshly pressed hay from the Alps. Really SWISS, is that what you’re going with? You’re too cheap to properly renovate your lounge and now you’re going to pretend it’s because you’re doing your passengers a favour…

Eventually I figure I might as well step outside and find a place to sit there. It’ll be more comfortable for my back, and probably better for my blood pressure too…

BOARDING

Boarding is from gate A 75. There are four rows set up in front of the counter to queue. From right to left: one for ‘premium’ passengers, one for passengers without bulky hand luggage and two for everybody else. Boarding starts with a delay of fifteen minutes, which was caused due to the late arrival of the plane form Porto.

CABIN

On the Embraer 190, Portugalia, who operated the flight on behalf of TAP under the TAP Express brand, has managed to squeeze in an impressive 106 seats. To this end, the aircraft only has a quarter of a Business Class galley, so that row 1is more or less opposite the L1 door.

Unlike many airlines, seat numbers on this aircraft are A and B on the port side and C and D on the starboard side. A and D are the window seats. There are no seats 1A and 1B. Thus, the seats with the best legroom are the bulkheads rows on 1CD or 2AB.

Other than that, I have to say that the Embraer 190 is a very uncomfortable little aircraft that really should not be deployed by any airline on sectors of more than one hour. I know I have a back injury right now, but that does not account for the fact that I and the guy next to me eventually agree that the seat is rather unpleasant. By the time we land in Porto, my back is pretty much jammed up and my kneecaps are more or less locked in the bent position.

Oh yes, and more thing: in Business Class TAP Express will not leave the seat next to you empty.

CREW

There are three females working the cabin on this evening’s flight. And I have to say, they really are very lovely. They have friendly, warm smiles and their service is attentive and chic.

SERVICE

While we’re on the ground, there is no service at all. Boarding is completed at around 18h10. At around 18h40 the captain comes on the blower to explain that only the first fifteen minutes of our delay were cause by the aircraft being late. He explains that Swissport, the handling agent, is have problems finding an available tug to push us back from our stand. ‘Swissport company provides bad service at this airport…’.

Eventually, at 18h44 we push back. We are airborne at 19h03, with a delay of one hour.

THE MEAL

The other issue with the tightness of the Embraer 190 and the fact that both seats on a row are sold, is that it can be rather difficult to eat in this seat. At least not without shoving your elbow in the kisser of the person on your left.

But anyway, the tray arrives. It contains:

A small salad with shrimps, served with olive oil dressing

A pasteis de nata – which is something of a Portuguese national dish. It’s a filo pastry with a vanilla custard filling and burned sugar on top

A packaged refreshing towel

A small piece of milk chocolate

To drink with the meal, I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon. And then after the meal a cup of tea.

ARRIVAL

We land in Porto after a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s already dark outside, which makes for a very nice approach right over the city with all the lights.

Porto airport is a bit of a surprise, because I was expecting the same kind of patched up facility as that in Lisbon. But instead, Porto has a very nice, spacious and airy terminal.

To get into town I take the metro, or tram rather, which makes the journey form the airport to the city in about thirty minutes, depending on where you’re going. A one way ticket will cost EUR2.30.


Posted in Business Class, Embraer 190, Portugalia, TAP Air Portugal | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Air France by HOP, Economy Class – CRJ700: Paris Orly to Basel

INTRODUCTION

The last time I saw Tutankhamun was more than twenty years ago, when I was in Cairo studying Arabic. And so, when I read that there would be an exhibition with artefacts from his vast tomb treasure in Paris, I figured it was too good an opportunity to miss. Before you ask: no, the death mask is not one of the exhibits and I very much doubt if that will ever leave Egypt again. One way or another though, the exhibition is well worth seeing and provides a glimpse into the ancient Egyptians’ understanding of eternity.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

On Sunday morning I leave the CitizenM hotel at Gare de Lyon at 09h30 and walk the short distance across the Seine to the Gare d’Austerlitz, from where I want to catch the RER C to Rungis and from there the shuttle to Orly airport. My flight to Basel will be departing at 12h00.

Only, once I get to the Gare d’Austerlitz I find out that there are no trains running, and instead there is a replacement bus to take me part of the way. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have taken that bus, because quite frankly, none of the staff that were positioned along the way to help stranded passengers actually knew what was going on. And so, two busses and one Uber later, I finally manage to arrive at the airport 35 minutes before departure.

CHECK-IN

Air France’s domestic and Schengen flights operated out of Orly 1, otherwise known as Orly Sud. Luckily, I’ve already checked in online. Originally, I was hoping to check in my bag. But by the time I arrive at the terminal, I figure that check-in is already closed.

AIRSIDE

There are people standing around everywhere and there’s literally no getting through. Eventually I have to climb over a whole row of seats with my suitcase to bypass all the passengers and reach the entrance for the priority security lane. And Indeed, I think if it weren’t for my status with Air France, which allows me to use the priority lane, I’m pretty sure I’d have missed the flight.

Finally, I arrive at the gate about five minutes before boarding begins. Enough time to visit the loos. The flight is boarding from gate A22, which is in a part of the terminal that was recently extended and renovated.

BOARDING

Boarding starts with a call for SkyPriority passengers. The gate agent tags my suitcase for me to leave it at the bottom of the aircraft’s steps. I think she’s surprised that I thank her for that, rather than start complaining…

CABIN

This is a strange bird. F-GRZL was delivered to Britair in 2006 and was later on transferred to the HOP by Air France fleet. But the cabin is different to that on the CRJ-900 and the CRJ-1000. The bulkhead is lavender coloured, the seats are in dark grey, the window panels look old-fashioned and there is no Air France branding inside the aircraft.

Other than that though, pitch is good on row two and the seats are properly aligned with the windows to give passengers a good outside view.

CREW

There are two quite senior cabin crew on this flight. One male and one female. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re professional and polite.

SERVICE

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes. The cabin crew start their service and inform passengers that due to the rather short flight time, they will only be serving passengers one drink each to speed things up and to make sure that every passenger gets at least something.

THE MEAL

There is a choice of hot and cold drinks, including alcoholic beverages like beer. Passengers also have a choice between a sweet or a savoury snack. The gentleman sitting next to me asks for the savoury snack, which turns out to be a packet of Pretzels. I have the sweet snack, which is a Madeleine filled with jam.

ARRIVAL

It’s a nice day for flying today and as we approach Basel the ground visibility improves further. Eventually we land after a flight time of only 42 minutes. We park on a remote stand, and there’s even a bus to drive us the 200 metres from the aircraft to the passenger terminal. Ten minutes after we touch down, I exit the terminal building on the Swiss side and head for the bus stop.

I now have a whole working week in the office ahead of me before my next trip on Friday. Woohoo!

Posted in Air France, Bombardier CRJ700, Economy Class, HOP | Leave a comment

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris CDG

INTRODUCTION

The course with Flydubai was really good fun. The course participants were eager and keen to learn, which always makes my job a lot easier. I’ll be back in Dubai for another course with Emirates in three weeks’ time. But now it’s time to start on the journey back home. I have three classes I’m teaching at the university on Monday.

Air France currently operates two daily services to Paris out of Dubai. There is the daytime service which leaves at exactly noon. And then there is the night time service which leaves at 01h35, roughly around the same time as all the other European carriers. To be honest, I would have preferred the daytime service. However, that flight is operated by an Airbus A 330-200 which still has the old Business Class configuration and has no First Class. The night time service is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER in the new configuration.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

On this trip I stayed at the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa and the Mall of Dubai. I leave the hotel on Friday evening at 22h30. Being the weekend here in the UAE, traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road is unusually quiet and calm. As a result, the journey to the airport only takes twenty minutes to complete by car.

To get to the airport, you can either take a taxi from the hotel for AED50 or a Lexus limo for AED70 or the metro for AED20. The metro obviously takes a bit longer because it stops a few times on the way. But there is a metro stop about two minutes away from the hotel, with trains running from there directly to the airport.

CHECK-IN

Air France serves Terminal 1 in Dubai. It’s a bit unfortunate that the check-in rows for the various airlines are not marked outside the terminal. As a result, drivers tend to just pull up to the first vacant spot on the side of the road and offload you there.

Air France and KLM check in on row 1, which is at the far end of the terminal. As far as I can tell, the whole of check-in row 1 is dedicated to Air France and KLM and their flights to Paris and Amsterdam respectively.

There is one check-in counter for La Première passengers, which is cordoned off. There is a DNATA representative standing by the entrance to the SkyPriority counters. I approach him to ask if this is also the queue for First Class. He asks my name and he’s obviously been expecting me, because he immediately escorts me to the La Première counter and calls for a ground agent to escort me from check-in to the First Class lounge.

As soon as my suitcase is labelled, the check-in agent wishes me a pleasant flight and sends me on my way. The ground agent collects my passport and boarding pass holder and off we go. We take the normal entrance to immigration, but once we’re past the checkpoint, she guides me to the diplomatic passports section and then from there to a separate, dedicated security screening area. The process is very swift and efficient and just like that I’m through immigration and security in no time.

LOUNGE

Air France arrives and departs on the D concourse, which is where pretty much all other airlines except Emirates operate from. The shuttle to the D concourse takes only a few minutes to make the journey.

In Dubai Air France uses the Ahlan lounge for its La Première passengers. The lounge is quite large, but rather oddly shaped around the mezzanine level of the airside area. There is a separate dining area and a large buffet with a lovely smell of Indian food coming from it.

Other than that, the lounge has showers but no area where passengers can have a lie down and sleep. The wifi access code is available at reception.

The ground agent leaves me at reception and tells me she’ll be back to take me to the aircraft at 12h50.

BOARDING

At exactly 12h50, the ground agent appears in the lounge to inform me that it’s time to leave. We go downstairs and from there board a golf buggy to take us to gate D18. It’s actually not that far, but given that my back is still painful, despite the painkillers, I’m definitely not complaining.

Rather embarrassingly, it turns out they’ve been waiting at the gate for me to arrive so they can start boarding. The ground agent escorts me past the long queues and no sooner has my boarding pass been scanned, one of the gate agents announces that the flight is now ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the only passenger in La Première this evening.

The entrance to the L1 airbridge is cordoned off. A security watchman opens it for us when he sees us approaching and then immediately closes it again once we’re through.

As on my previous experience with Air France in Paris, the ground agent steps aboard ahead of me and then introduces me to the flight attendant who has been expecting me at the door. She then wishes me a pleasant flight and leaves.

CABIN

The flight attendant introduces himself to me with a genuine, friendly smile. He takes my backpack off me and escorts me to my seat on 1A. He stows away my jacket in my own personal cabinet and then leaves me to settle in.

As I’m the only passenger in La Première tonight, he suggests making up 1D for me as a bed after take-off, so then I can switch depending on what I feel like doing.

The Air France cabin really is a class act. It’s not just that it looks nice, it’s also nicely finished and has been well thought through.

And I have to say, it is very cool to know I’ll have this gorgeous cabin all to myself tonight!

CREW

In short succession the maître de and then the captain come to introduce themselves and wish me a pleasant flight. They all stay and chat a while, but without prying or being nosy. In short, they go out of their way to make me feel at home and to make sure I’m comfortable.

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, the male cabin crew in charge of the La Première cabin brings me the vanity kit, the pyjamas, the menu and some fresh orange juice with a ramekin of nuts. The slippers and a pair of socks, as well as a thick pillow are already at my seat when I arrive.

I change in to my pjs while we’re still on the ground in Dubai. The flight time is announced as six hours and fifty minutes.

THE MEAL

Given that it’s already approaching two in the morning by the time the crew are released to start their service, I inform the flight attendant that I’d rather sleep straight away, but that he should wake me with enough time for breakfast. He makes up the bed for me and brings me a small bottle of Evian and a box of chocolates. And then I go off to sleep.

Around 80 minutes out of Paris, the flight attendant gently wakes me up to inform me that it’s time for breakfast. By the time I draw the curtains to get up, he’s already set the table on 1A for breakfast. There is a choice of two hot meals. I go with the banana pancakes and the apricot and strawberry compote.

A lot has been said in many of the travel forums about the horrific instant coffee Air France serves in La Première. My suggestion is to go with the espresso instead of the coffee, because the former is made with a proper coffee machine and tastes much, much better.

The meal consists of:

A selection of breads and pastries, served with butter and jam.

Natural yoghurt.

A bowl of fresh fruit.

The hot meal – in my case the banana pancakes.

Orange juice.

The pancakes are lovely and the accompanying compote is sweet with a hint of vanilla. Catering is something I think they do really well on Air France, even in Business Class.

ARRIVAL

The weather in Paris is cold and misty. In fact, the visibility is down to 200 metres, which is why we end up doing an automatic landing. Eventually, the aircraft comes to a stop at one of the gates on the M satellite of Terminal 2E. When the doors open, there’s already an Air France ground agent expecting me. The crew bid me farewell and hand me over to the ground crew.

We take the stairs down one floor and then step outside, where a BMW is waiting to take me to the main terminal building. Once we get there, we take a separate, dedicated counter for immigration and then head downstairs to the baggage reclaim area.

The ground agent retrieves my suitcase and then escorts me out to arrivals. It’s nice to be back in Europe!

I shall be spending Saturday here in Paris, as I still have an appointment with royalty that I haven’t seen twenty years.

CONCLUSION

On my way to the airport in Dubai, I was wondering if Air France would be able to live up to my expectations from my previous, exceptional La Première experience to Singapore in January. As it turns out, they certainly could. Once more, the service is flawless and opulent and the crew go out of their way to make me feel welcome.

Posted in Air France, Boeing B 777-300, First Class | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Paris CDG to Dubai

TRANSFER IN CDG 2

Immediately behind the immigration booths in Terminal 2G is the exit to the bus stop for the airside busses that connect to the other terminals. Terminal 2E M is served by the red line. Frequencies vary depending on which terminal they’re serving.

The journey by bus from 2G to 2E M take about five minutes.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

I haven’t transferred through the M satellite before. But I have to say, it’s a very nice facility. The main lounge area is on the first floor.

I think Air France has put a lot of effort into updating, expanding and modernising the lounges at its hub in Paris in recent years. And this one here is no exception. The lounge has a very nice, spacious feel to it and it’s also rather quiet and stays like that for the duration of my stay. It’s a far cry from the horrific Lufthansa Business Class lounges in Munich and Frankfurt, which are somehow always too small.

The lounge has a business area with desks to work on, a kid’s playing area and a quiet zone where passengers can lie down and have a rest. There are showers that are available on a first come, first serve basis, as well as a Clarins ‘Spa’ for passengers to get a complimentary facial treatment.

As far as food options are concerned, during my stay the lounge is serving breakfast. The dishes change according to the time of day, obviously. There are scrambled eggs and bacon available, in addition to a large selection of pastries, fruit, cheese and hams.

And of course, there’s also a few eternal alcoholics helping themselves to the hard booze at nine o’clock in the morning. ‘It’s the jetlag, darling…’.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts one hour before departure from gate M 28. Boarding is done by zones, with zone 1 and zone 2 for the SkyPriority passengers boarding first.

And it looks like there’s been an aircraft change. And what a nice one it is too! Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by a Boeing B 777-300. But outside, staring my in the face in all her glory, in an Airbus A 380! I mean, I know the Business Class on this bird isn’t quite as fancy as that on the B 777-300, but I also have to say that since Airbus announced the end of production and Air France and Lufthansa announced that they were downsizing their respective fleets, every flight I can snag on one of these aircraft is a bonus. Of course, it also means that I’m determined to make sure I fly with every airline that operates the A 380 before they go out of service. Luckily, I don’t have too many left on the list.

CABIN

The cabin is in a old fashioned 2 + 2 + 2 configuration and admittedly, there isn’t much privacy in the setup Air France has. There is no divider in between the seats and all the six seats in a row are aligned.

Storage space is also limited in comparison to the B 777 seat of Air France. There is obviously space to put things, but somehow most of that space is not really in a convenient position.

The seat is slightly angled, but it is still possible to sleep on your side or on your stomach without having to make any serious contortions.

One of the biggest problems of the Airbus A 380, which I think should be considered a design flaw, is that the aircraft is just so bloody quiet, even with the engines on take-off thrust. I mention this here because there are two Frenchman on this flight that are obviously determined to talk all the way to Dubai, which is six very long hours away. Throughout the flight, various passengers tell them to done it down, but apparently, it’s to no avail…

CREW

The crew are what I have come to understand as being very typical of Air France crews. There friendly and efficient in their work, but there’s not much warmth in them – the service and their interaction with the passengers seems quite formal.

SERVICE

When I reach my seat, a big pillow, a thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at my seat. Once boarding is completed, the service on the ground begins. First, there is a drink service with a choice of champagne, water or fruit juice.

Shortly after, the vanity kits and the menus for the flight are distributed. And then eventually, thick hot towels are passed round and orders for the main course are taken.

THE MEAL

The meal service is always a highly enjoyable experience with Air France in that the quality of the food is normally very good and you certainly needn’t worry about going hungry. And today’s flight is no exception.

Appetizer

For a pre-meal drink I have a Coke Zero, which is served with a small box of packed cranberries and cashews and a small ramekin with a beet mousse and cheese crumble.

First course

The first course is a plate of sautéd shrimps with a mango tartare and a couscous with flowers, grapefruit and vegetables. The first course is served with a choice of either brown or white bread.

Salad

There is also a salad with pine nuts, served with a small bottle of olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar.

Main course

For the main dish I have the poached pollock with a curry and coconut sauce and Camargue rice.

Cheese

Dessert

And finally, for dessert I go with the apricot tart and vanilla ice cream.

The meal is very enjoyable and flavourful. The mango tartare goes nicely with the shrimps and the pollock is flaky and juicy, and complemented nicely by the rice.

SECOND SERVICE

About one hour out of Dubai, the lights come on again and the second service begins. It’s really just a small snack and consists of a small plate with a small vol au vent, a piece of apricot pie and a chicken wrap.

ARRIVAL

We touch down in Dubai at 23h05, twenty minutes ahead of schedule. We park on the non-Emirates pier, from where we have to take a shuttle train to the arrivals hall. Luckily, I reach the immigration just ahead of the rush hour, so at least I don’t have too long to wait there.

But there seems to be a problem with the baggage delivery. Or rather, it’s a bit unfortunate that they put the Air France flight as the same baggage carousel as the Lufthansa flight, because it means there are the combined bags of a whole A 380 and a B 747-400 to delivery onto the same belt.

Eventually, my suitcase arrives after a wait of 45 minutes. And then I head outside to grab a taxi to my hotel.

Here in Dubai I’ll be giving a course for Flydubai, which has become the newest airline to use the English language test for pilots I developed.

Posted in Air France, Airbus A 380, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Luxair, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Luxembourg to Paris CDG

INTRODUCTION

The Ibis at Luxembourg airport is currently in the process of being refurbished. And I think that’s probably a good thing. The room I’m in is nice enough, but the public areas are starting to look grubby. The carpets should probably be declared a bio hazard, and the smell of boiled cabbage is ‘interesting’…

The hotel’s redeeming feature though, is that it’s very close to the airport terminal, within walking distance.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

On foot, the airport is only about ten minutes away from the hotel. However, there’s also a shuttle that runs every thirty minutes and is available for guests. The service is complimentary, but advance reservations are mandatory. The drive takes about four minutes.

CHECK-IN

I’m booked on the Air France flight from Luxembourg to Paris-Roissy, which is in fact a code-share operated by Luxair. There are two counters open for Business Class passengers and there is no queue when I arrive, given that it is, after all, the weekend.

LOUNGE

From check-in I head straight for the security check. There is a checkpoint at either side of the terminal facility, and trying to figure out which one is currently in use is not always that clear when you’re standing in front of the check-in counters. Which means that it’s not uncommon at Luxembourg airport to see disoriented passengers moving back and forth between the two, with the look lemmings get when they’re trying to figure out if they’re really in the mood to go jumping off a cliff with their pals…

But anyway, the lounge is very quiet. All the bankers that normally populate the lounge have gone home to count their millions. I grab myself a coffee and a bottle of water, in the hope they will turn me into a functioning human being again.

BOARDING

The flight is departing from gate B08, which is in the new part of the facility and specially designed to handle small regional aircraft. As in, regional aircraft that do not use a contact stand and thus require passengers to walk across the apron and, as a pleasant side-effect, give me cause to geek out on my obsession with airplanes.

I’m seated on 1A, so I figure I might as well wait until the very end to board, so as not to be in the way. The Dash 8 is a small aircraft. Besides, I have a back injury, so my movements are a bit slow right now. And every moment I do not have to stand in a queue is bliss right now!

CABIN

There is literally half a row of a Business Class cabin on this aircraft. Because on row 1 there are only the A and C seats on the port side. And as it happens, I’m the only Business Class passenger on today’s flight. The seat is comfortable and nicely padded. It’s very pleasant on the bum and also on my damaged back.

Leg space is also good on the bulkhead row and the seat next to me is kept empty.

CREW

There are two cabin crew on the flight today, one male and one female. Both of them are perhaps not the world’s most extrovert individuals, but their service is attentive, friendly and polite.

SERVICE

There is a trolley set up by the entry door of the aircraft, where passengers can pick up a magazine or newspaper before taking their seat. The selection is rather good. I go for Time magazine, mainly because their cover catches my interest.

Other than that though, there is no service at all on the ground. The flight time is indicated as 45 minutes.

THE MEAL

As soon as the crew are released after take-off, the male cabin attendant asks me what I’d like to drink with breakfast. He subsequently brings me a glass of orange juice, served in a real glass, and a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. The coffee is good, but I wonder if they really couldn’t have splurged on a proper cup instead of the cardboard one.

They put down a paper table cloth for the meal. Agreed, it won’t make the meal larger or better, but it’s still a nice touch.

The meal arrived in a cardboard box. It contains:

A salami and cheese sandwich

A yoghurt

An apple pastry

A packaged refreshing towel is also given to me with the boxed food set.

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we land in Paris more or less on time. Luxair uses terminal 2G, which is exclusively for small regional aircraft. It’s also very far out in the sticks. The only way to access any of the other terminals from here is by bus. Depending on which terminal your onward connection is departing from, there is an airside or a landside transfer.

I shall be departing from the M concourse, which is basically the non-Schengen satellite of Terminal 2E. Transfer to 2E is airside, which means that I will not have to undergo security screening again here in Paris. On the downside, emigration is done in 2G and the queues are very long.

Posted in Bombardier Q400, Business Class, Luxair | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Amsterdam to Bergen

Transfer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Schiphol overtook Frankfurt a while back as Europe’s third busiest airport. And I think it’s beginning to show. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. Where previously one of the airport’s strongest points was the abundance of space within the terminal building for passengers to move about, it’s now starting to get very crowded. But it’s still one of my favourite airports.

Airside & Lounge

I decide not to take any photos of the lounge, because it’s crawling with people. And you don’t want to piss people off when they’re probably already tired from a long working day or just from the labours of travel, right?

It’s interesting to watch though, how quickly the lounge empties at some point, as KLM’s evening outbound wave of flights gets underway, including mine.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from C18, which is at the very end of the C pier. The flight is operated by a Boeing B 737-800 and according to the gate agent, it’s going to be a full flight. They’re making announcements offering to check Economy Class passengers’ luggage free of charge.

Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on this flight, and a total of five passengers. I’m sitting on 1A and I have the whole row of seats to myself.

Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are fabulous. One is a gentleman who probably looks older than he is, because his hair and beard are completely white. The other is a younger gentleman of South Asian descent. And he’s just so camp. Which is totally okay, it’s just that his effeminate mannerisms are completely at odds with the fact that he’s built like a brick shit house, as my granddad used to say.

In any case, the two of them keep the whole of the Business Class well entertained throughout the flight and take excellent care of the passengers. 1D is an elderly lady. She’s alert but looks very frail. The care and gentleness with which the cabin crew treat her is just outstanding. They take all the time in the world with her, making sure she’s comfortable but without ever being patronising in that way many people tend to be around elderly people.

The older one of the two is the maître de. As soon as the doors close, he welcomes every passenger aboard by name and shakes each passenger’s hand. From then on, whenever he or the younger crew member address the passengers, it’s always by name. More on that later…

The Meal

The meal is comparable to the one I had on the Zürich to Amsterdam leg. Only on this flight it’s not shrimps but a very nice chunk of hot smoked salmon. And it’s very tasty! I don’t know if this is a seasonal thing or just a new feature, but on this flight KLM also has fresh apple juice on offer, and it really is very tasty. It’s quite addictive actually!

After the meal I ask for a cup of mint tea, which is served with one of those Punselies biscuits.

Arrival

We land in Bergen just before 23h. It’s been a long day! Since my last visit the terminal building in Bergen has been significantly expanded. And with the expansion they’ve also extended the city’s tram line to the airport. As a result, there are now a number of options to get into town: a taxi will take about twenty minutes and costs a staggering NOK700. Then there’s the airport bus, which takes about the same amount of time as the taxi but only costs NOK110. And finally, the journey by tram will take about 45 minutes, but only costs NOK36.

I take the bus, mainly because I know from a previous visit that it stops right in front of my hotel.

Epilogue

So about the KLM crew on this flight: I return home from Bergen the following day, on Wednesday. As I step aboard the plane, I recognise the crew from the previous day. They’ve obviously night stopped in Bergen. The maître de takes a look at me and says ‘Mr. A., you’re back again. You know, I think you travel too much! Where are you sitting?’ I mean, I’m already surprised they recognise my face. But the fact that they both still remember my name is quite surprising.

Later on, as I disembark the plane in Amsterdam, the maître de wishes me a safe onward journey, while the younger one says good bye and asks me ‘I guess we’ll probably be seeing you again tomorrow or so?’

I must say, I’m quite exhausted from all my travels at this stage. And I’m so happy that I won’t be getting on a plane again until week after next. But I also have to say that it’s people like the crew on this flight that make such a difference. Of course they can’t replace your friends and family back home, but at least they can relieve some of the hassle of travel, by making you feel just a little bit less anonymous as the passenger.

KLM, gents: you were just brilliant. Thank you!

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KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

INTRODUCTION

On Tuesday afternoon I leave the office just before 16h. I’m catching the 16h01 train to the airport for a 17h30 departure with KLM to Amsterdam. It’s a lovely day here in Winterthur, with nice sunny weather and balmy temperatures. And apparently it’s been like this since last week. Which is more than I can say about my recent trip to Malta.

CHECK-IN

I’ve checked in using the KLM app, which has been working a bit more reliably recently. If you’re using the KLM app, the boarding pass of your next flight with them will show up on your locked screen, so you can just swipe it at the gate. In Zürich, KLM checks in at row 2 of check-in 2.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

Today I am certainly not going to visit the contractor lounge, because… yes! It’s so nice out that the terrace of the sports bar is open. There’s no service out there yet. Or rather, if you want something you have to order it at the bar and then take it outside yourself. But hey, I’m here for the view.

And it really is a lovely view. The aircraft come up really close to the terrace and as they apply thrust to move off stand, you get a glorious whiff of kerosene fumes. And as my luck will have it, the KLM flight arrives just a short while later and comes to a stop on the stand closes to the terrace!

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time, at 17h00. There is a first boarding call for Business Class passengers, before everybody else is invited to get aboard.

CABIN

There are six rows of Business Class, for a total of 24 seats. The cabin is not quite full though, and as a result I have a whole row of three all to myself.

I’m not sure if this applies to all seats, but on row 3, where I’m seated, there are two electricity plugs on either side of the middle seat.

The seat pitch is good. The one thing I don’t like though, is that the recline of the seat back, even in the upright position, is just a bit too slanted. I always feel like I’m half lying down and about to slide off the seat.

THE CREW

There are two middle aged ladies working the Business Class cabin. As usual on KLM, they’re chirpy and chatty. One of them is a big fan of Switzerland, and has even picked up a few bits and pieces of Swiss German, much to the entertainment of the passengers as she tries out her language skills with the m as the board. It’s really quite funny, but in a very charming way.

SERVICE

Like Lufthansa, KLM does not provide any service on the ground. No welcome drinks or anything of the sort. The flight time is announced as 1 hour and 15 minutes, which means we should be arriving in Amsterdam at 18h55, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

THE MEAL

As soon as the crew is released, the service begins. Every passenger is served individually from the galley. The meal consists of:

a small plate of salad with chilli shrimps, served with olive oil

a small ramekin of marinated vegetables and feta cheese with couscous – served with rolls from the breadbasket

To be honest, my opinion of the meal is… meh. The shrimps have an off-putting fishy smell, the salad is limp and the dessert is what it is. KLM has been serving this type of dessert for years, and I don’t know why they bother trying to explain what it is on the menu, because whether it’s passionfruit mousse or raspberry coulis, it always tastes the same.

At least that’s my excuse for asking for some of those fabulous smoked almonds KLM caters. I love those, they’re seriously addictive. A bit like the Twistees I had on Air Malta on Sunday… I ask the flight attendant if perhaps I could have a packet. She saunters off and returns a short while later with five packets of the delectable almonds. Hurrah! I think it would be a shame to waste them… and rude to turn them down.

And so I spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle, snacking on almonds and enjoying the spectacular sunset we’re being treated to.

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we land in Amsterdam at 18h55, just as the pilot had announced in Zürich. But we’ve landed on 18R, so that by the time we reach our stand at gate C4, we’re running five minutes late! I now have two hours to make my connection.

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Lufthansa Cityline, Business Class – Bombardier CRJ-900: Frankfurt to Basel

TRANSFER IN FRANKURT

My flight from Malta comes to an end at the C pier, which is just about the worst thing that can happen to you if you’re connecting through Frankfurt onto another Schengen flight. Because although passengers exit into the Schengen area, the moment you step out of the gate, you’re no longer in the secured area, which means that for my onward flight to Basel from the A pier, I am going to have to go through security again – which is kind of missing the point.

There is a separate security line for premium passengers. But somehow they even manage to screw that up in Frankfurt, because the queue for security at the premium lane is actually much longer than the regular Economy Class queues.

LOUNGE

By the time I’m airside, it’s just coming up to eight in the evening. The flight should start boarding in about twenty minutes. As it’s on my way anyway, I decide to stop briefly in the lounge. As it turns out, the place is far more crowded than the public airside area. There are people everywhere and there literally isn’t any place at all to sit. There are people milling around randomly, holding a glass of beer in one hand while trying to hold a plate of food and eat at the same time with the other hand.

BOARDING

Boarding is from a bus gate of course, which is never pleasant in Frankfurt, because you end up driving through the bowels of the terminal facility, stop starting all the way, before being ejected on the apron.

CABIN

There are six rows of Business Class on this evening’s flight.

CREW

There are two middle aged female cabin crew on the flight and they both so couldn’t give a shit it’s not even funny anymore. The one working the rear cabin has a set facial expression that is very much reminiscent of a bulldog – I think it’s the drooping jowls that help to create the effect after having spent too many years glaring at passengers without smiling.

SERVICE

The more senior flight attendant is not much better. Her announcements are made without any interest, professionalism, intonation or even pausing. Does she ever stop to breathe? Once the service begins, 1A asks her what there’s on offer to drink. To which her only reply is that she really hasn’t got time for this and that he should just tell her what he wants. She’ll be sure to tell him if they haven’t got in on board. Charming, I’m sure.

THE MEAL

The tray table on the empty seat next to me is down. I opened it to put my glasses on it. When the flight attendant reaches my row, she unceremoniously plonks down a tray without saying a word and just moves on to the next row. Ehm, thanks?

Surprisingly, the meal looks nicer than the breakfast the day before. There’s a plate with antipasti:

Vitello tonnato

A prune rolled in bacon

A mushroom filled with cream cheese

A fig and a piece of blue cheese

The meal is served with bread sticks, a chocolate bar and a dessert. In addition, bread is offered separately.

ARRIVAL

With a flight time of only thirty minutes, it’s quite impressive that Lufthansa should offer anything at all, and I really am quite surprised by the quality of the meal.

Before the crew have managed to serve all the passengers in Economy Class a drink, we’ve already started out descent into Basel. The senior flight attendant takes another very deep breath, so as not to have to interrupt to inhale and exhale while she speaks, and announces that the service shall not be completed because that villainous cad of a pilot has selfishly started the descent. I notice also that she doesn’t even consider for a moment making an apology…

CONCLUSION

If nothing else, avoiding Frankfurt airport is a good enough reason to not fly Lufthansa. The airport is an unattractive and inconvenient mix of randomly constructed buildings that are linked together without a concept and clearly without a thought to the unfortunate souls that have to transfer through this hovel. As for Lufthansa, I think it’s really quite tragic to see what a sad state their regional operation has degraded to. If you treat the people working for you badly, you shouldn’t expect them to treat your customers any better. And that’s okay too, but customers are fickle.

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Air Malta, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Frankfurt

INTRODUCTION

So eventually the marathon had to be cancelled because of the storm. And what a storm it was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. On Sunday morning I fire up the flightradar24 app just for the fun of watching one aircraft after another executing a missed approach and coming around for a second attempt – and hoping the weather will have calmed down by the time my flight to Frankfurt leaves at 16h25…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I leave the Hilton in St. Julian’s at around 14h20. The trip to the airport normally only takes about twenty minutes in good traffic. But given the weather situation, god knows what might happen on the way. And indeed, I do pass a car accident on the road, that was caused by a falling tree.

CHECK-IN

There are now multipurpose machines for check-in at Malta Airport. However, seeing as I’ll have to go to a manned check-in counter anyway to pick up my invitation to the La Valette lounge, I figure I might as well go to the counter straight away.

In front of me at the dedicated Business Class counter is an Economy Class passenger who is refusing to pay for his checked luggage. But he obviously picked the wrong young lady in an Air Malta uniform, because she’s obviously not having any of his nonsense. It’s quite funny to watch. Eventually, she moves him aside and tells him she needs to check in some passengers while he decided what he wants to do. But clearly, she’s not going to give him an inch…

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE

The departure lounge at the airport has become too small for the amount of traffic it handles. There are people everywhere and barely enough places to sit. Although of course there are also those who just sit on the floor out of principle, because they’re just so unconventional…

Thank god I have access to the Business Class lounge… which turns out to be unusually busy. Even so, I like this lounge, it ticks all the boxes: good views of the apron, comfortable seating and a small but nice food selection (Kinnie and pastizzi, what else…).

BOARDING

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. All the flights are running just a little bit late today, mainly because most of them have had to do a go around on the inbound. The distance to the plane is only a short one to walk. But it’s started to rain again, so I must say I’m rather glad when I see a bus pulling up at our gate to take us to the aircraft.

THE CABIN

There are just a few minor oddities in this cabin. At a glance, it looks like your regular Air Malta cabin. However, first I notice that there is no cabin divider and no other sign to mark off the Business Class section of the aircraft from the Economy Class section, other than the headrest covers. Secondly, the seats are different. Previously, the first few rows of seats were installed with a small table between the aisle and the window seat which folded away into the back of the middle seat to convert the seat into an Economy Class configuration. But that does not seem to be the case here.

Initially, I’m seated on 1D, the aisle seat. But once boarding is completed, it becomes clear that there are three rows of Business Class for only three Business Class passengers. So I move back to 2F for a seat by the window.

THE CREW

There are four cabin crew on the flight. Two men and two women. The service on the ground is done by the younger one of the females, while the main service during the flight is done by the maître de. The latter is very attentive. Throughout the meal service she’s prowling the cabin. No sooner has a passenger finished their meal, she removes the tray and asks about tea or coffee.

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, the crew offer still water or orange juice as a welcome drink. They also pass through the cabin with copies of the Sunday Times of Malta.

The flight time is announced as two hours and thirty minutes. What’s more, for the very first time in my life, we’ll be departing from runway 05. This is the first runway that was ever built for the original airport after World War II. It’s only 2300 metres long and therefore only used nowadays when the wind makes it necessary. Like today.

Our take-off is surprisingly calm. It’s only bumpy for the first minute or so. As we climb out over the coast, the sea still looks really rough and quite violent.

The fasten seat belt sign is turned off only once we settle into the cruise at 34’000 feet. The crew pass through the cabin taking orders for pre-meal drinks and distributing hot towels. Of course it goes without saying that I have a Kinnie.

THE MEAL

Much to my surprise and delight, Air Malta offers a hot meal on its service to Frankfurt. The service consists of:

First course – Tomato and Mozzarella salad with spinach, black olives and olive oil.

Main course – chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with polenta and steamed vegetables.

Cheese – a slice of Camembert, Cheddar and Gbejna, served with two warm rolls. Gbejna is a Maltese goat cheese.

Dessert – Coconut cake with a thin layer of cream and strawberry jam.

And to conclude, I have a cup of black tea.

Once that’s over, it’s really not as though I haven’t had enough food. But I give in to my craving – which sounds so much nicer than compulsion – and buy myself a packet of Twistees from the inflight shop. Twistees are just one of those things I remember from my childhood in Malta. I don’t think you can get them anywhere else than Malta, which is why they are so closely linked to my childhood in my mind.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land in Frankfurt at 19h25. By the time we pull up to our assigned stand, it’s just gone 19h30 and I now have one hour to make the connection to Basel.

Posted in Air Malta, Airbus A 320, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 320: München to Malta

TRANSFER IN MUNICH

Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners all call Terminal 2 home. The bus ejects me at the main terminal building. My onward connection to Malta will be departing from K09, which is the Schengen concourse in the satellite of Terminal 2. To get there, there is an underground shuttle that runs every few minutes and makes the journey across in slightly over one minute.

This is my first trip through the satellite and I have to say, I like it. It’s very spacious and despite the many travellers, the place is very quiet.

LOUNGE

There is a Business Class and a Senator lounge in the satellite. The Business Class lounge is not very busy when I arrive, probably because it is still early on a Saturday morning.

The toilets have apparently all gone out of order at the same time. So instead, passenger have to use the toilets in the shower rooms instead.

Other than that, it seems to me the lounge’s style hasn’t really aged all that well. It’s also quite small.

BOARDING

Before boarding even begins, there’s already a mob forming in front of the automatic gates. There is a separate gate for Business Class passenger, who are invited to board first, but it’s not that easy to get through with all the people milling about.

From what I can tell, it looks like it’s going to be a full flight this morning.

CABIN

There are four rows of Business Class on this flight, and twelve out of sixteen seats are occupied, which is surprisingly high. There also seem to be a lot of French passengers on the flight.

Leg space in Business Class is excellent. I’m sitting on 2F and I have ample space to stretch my legs. The windows are also nicely aligned for some excellent outside views.

CREW

There are two middle aged women working the Business Class cabin and they’re really excellent. Their service approach is relaxed but still professional. They interact with a lot of ease and charm with the passengers, which I think is indicative of a breed of usually senior flight attendants that have been properly trained but is sadly becoming increasingly difficult to come by these days.

SERIVCE

Again, there is absolutely no service on the ground. However, no sooner has boarding been completed, one of the crew members passes through the cabin offering nice fluffy pillows to passengers for some additional comfort.

We depart more or less on time. The flight time is announced as a quick 1 hour and 45 minutes. We take off in an easterly direction and then do a right turn to point us south. It’s a lovely crisp morning with good visibility. A perfect day for flying really.

The Alps look beautiful from above. They’re all covered in snow and some of the valleys are still shrouded in morning mist. It’s not a bad view to go along with breakfast.

MEAL

The meal service starts shortly after take-off. This time, the trays are delivered from a tray by one of the flight attendants. The tray has on it:

A sliver of smoked salmon on rye bread with mustard and dill.

Vanilla yoghurt with berries.

A small plate with a cream cheese with radishes.

Another small plate with salami and smoked ham.

A strawberry smoothie.

Butter and strawberry jam.

The crew also pass through the cabin with a bread basket. I’m starving, but I decide to just take one bun, given that my request for another when I took this flight a year previously did not go down so well with the crew.

Surprisingly though, the crew pass through the cabin a second time with a full bread basket that contains croissants as well as buns.

ARRIVAL

The weather stays good right up until we reach Sicily. From there on it gradually starts to cover up. The weather in Malta doesn’t look too bad though. There are some clouds in the sky but it’s mostly sunny and warm.

We land slightly ahead of schedule. Given that I only have hand luggage, I’m through to arrivals fairly quickly. I step outside and grab the X2 bus, which goes to St. Julian’s. The ticket price is EUR1.50.

CONCLUSION

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If I’m perfectly honest, this flight was much better than I had expected. I think that partly has to do with the fact that Business Class was not entirely full. As a result, the crew were able to take their time with the service and tried very hard to make passengers feel comfortable.

Apart from that though, I do think it’s a shame how the service on Lufthansa on short-haul has been cut back to the absolute minimum. They’ve become as bad as British Airways – and I don’t mean that in a nice way! The flight was okay. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel Lufthansa.

Posted in Airbus A 320, Business Class, Lufthansa | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment