Germania, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Rostock

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INTRODUCTION
Admittedly, I know I’m an embarrassment to all self-respecting southern Europeans, given that I really don’t handle the heat very well. On the other hand, having said that, it really is unusually hot in Switzerland right now – with temperatures constantly in the mid-thirties.

But thank God, there are some places on the continent that have been spared the stifling heat. So that’s where I’m heading for the weekend.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I take the train from Winterthur at 11h58. I’m actually at the station early enough to catch the earlier train at 11h55. But as soon as that comes rumbling into the station, I figure I’m not is such a rush after all. The regular 11h55 train has been replaced with something that avid train spotters would probably lovingly refer to as vintage, which, Swiss Federal Railways lingo, is a euphemism for carriages with no air conditioning.

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CHECK-IN
My flight is at 13h50, but I already checked in at the airport this morning at 05h15, when I dropped off my dad at the airport on his way to Malta.

Germania does not have web check-in or self-service check-in. At Zürich airport they are handled by Swissport in Terminal 2.

When I return to the airport in the early afternoon, the place is a lot busier than it was in the morning. Even so, I manage to secure a nice spot on the A pier, with a good view of the apron and runway 28. Today 28 is in use for arrivals, with 32 and 34 in use for departures.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts about forty minutes late. The aircraft was already late arriving in Zürich by about thirty minutes.

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The heat in the glass airbridge is agony. For a moment I feel compelled to do my best ‘I’m melting, I’m melting…’ impression of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. But then I remember I forgot to put on my green makeup this morning so people might think I’m odd…

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Anyhow, once we board, the crew inform us about a further twenty minutes delay before we can finally start our engines due to ATC restrictions over Germany. Eventually we depart one hour behind our scheduled departure time.

CABIN & SEAT
Germania’s Boeing 737-700 have a seating capacity of 148. Today’s load is a bit over one hundred passengers, I should say.

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Germania Doesn’t offer a Business Class as such. However, the first row are the so called XL seats, which are available for advanced seat reservation at a cost of EUR30 each. Included in the price is a bulkhead seat with slightly more pitch, earphones as well as complimentary alcoholic drinks and snacks from the buy on board menu.

The pitch is not bad on row 1. However, the lack of width of the seat is quite striking. The cabin feels a lot more crowded and tighter than for example on KLM. I suspect that maybe Germania went with a slightly narrower seat in favour of a wider aisle.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew are a friendly and interesting lot. Strangely enough though, the entire cabin crew is made up of Spaniards and an eastern European and none of them speak even a single word of German, which is a bit unusual for a German carrier, I find. 

THE MEAL
The meal service is confusing. There is a buy on board price list in the seat pocket, which contains drinks and snacks like crisps or chocolate. By at the same time, Germania will also serve you a complimentary snack. On today’s flight there is a choice of either a salami or a cheese sandwich.

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With the sandwich I have a coffee and a sparkling water, both of which are apparently free of charge. I also ask for a Kit Kat, which I haven’t had in ages!

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ARRIVAL
Rostock airport is a dinky little place with only two airbirdges. It is also home to a large Eurofighter base. Because there are so few flights up here, the bus into town is scheduled to coincide with the arriving flights. But seeing as our flight is more than an hour late by the time we land, the bus has already left. Instead, there is a replacement service for EUR9.80 per person.

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The journey from the airport into town will take you about thirty minutes.

CONCLUSION
The tall, blond M., himself triathlete extraordinaire, engineer and skeptic of all sciences that don’t involve numbers, has pointed out that I did give my candid opinion on Germania in the original post.

So here goes: all in all I very much doubt I would go out of my way to fly with Germania. By the same token though, I wouldn’t actively avoid them either. The service was okay but not outstanding, either in a positive or a negative way. I think EUR30 is a bit steep for a front row seat, the additional complimentary snack and complimentary earbuds, particularly given that the earbuds didn’t look as though they were any good and the flight time was only slightly more than an hour anyway.

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

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INTRODUCTION
June is probably one of the best months to visit the Maltese archipelago. The weather is already reliably and consistently warm but without the oppressive and stifling heat of July and August, when temperatures peak in the upper thirties and have even been known to exceed the forties. In contrast, the sea is already warm enough to swim in, while the beaches are still far form being too crowded.

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In Malta even the cats are crazy…

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As luck would have it, it was decided that this year’s user group meeting and a workshop on language test item development would be held in Malta in June. All in all, the meeting went well. Encouraged by the lovely weather on the island, the course participants were very efficient and disciplined in their work – obviously keen to finish on time every day so they would still have enough time to explore the sights and sounds of Malta.

And I even managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach at Mellieha bay, thanks to the meeting ending early and the stupendous driving skills of the valiant M., who joined me on this trip.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The journey by car from Valletta to the airport normally takes about twenty minutes, depending on traffic. Or seven minutes if the valiant M. is driving and making an impressive effort to blend in with the natives, mainly by adapting his style of driving to that of the locals.

Alternatively, you can also take the bus for EUR1.50. The driving is still crazy but at least the busses are slower, making the journey in roughly thirty minutes. The busses are fairly frequent and the service is quite reliable these days. Busses depart from the terminus right outside the city gate in Valletta.

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CHECK-IN
There is one dedicated check-in counter for Club Class passengers and check-in is possible up to 23 hours before departure. The young lady working the desk is unusually efficient. She issues my boarding pass, tags my luggage for priority and hands me an invitation to the La Valette lounge, which is the only lounge at Malta airport.

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The terminal is currently undergoing expansion to cope with the increased number of additional passengers. As a result, there’s a bit of a detour right now for security. But at least the detour is clearly signposted (Are you reading this Vienna airport?).

There is a dedicated queue for premium passengers. Once I’m airside, I head for the lounge.

THE LOUNGE
The La Valette lounge was recently relocated. To access the lounge you have to walk through the duty free store, past the cashiers and then take a sharp left. You should then end up standing in from of a lift that will take you up to the lounge’s entrance on the third floor.

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The lounge is very nicely designed and there is even a fairly large open air seating area in the lounge. Although with the sweltering heat I’m not sure who in his right mind would want to sit outside. The place is also much bigger than the previous lounge.

The food offerings are good and include a wide range of local snacks.

Most importantly though, the lounge has an excellent view of the apron.

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BOARDING
Boarding is via a bus. Our flight today is operated by a fairly new addition to the Air Malta fleet which only joined the airline in April of 2017. The aircraft is wearing hybrid colours of sorts, with a white hull and red engine cowlings. The only marking I can see is a small ‘Air Malta’ sticker next to the L1 door. Interestingly, unlike the other aircraft in the Air Malta fleet, which all have CFM56 engines, this specimen is equipped with the V2500.

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THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is nearly identical with the rest of the Air Malta fleet. But not entirely. The seats and carpets are the same but the bulkhead looks different and also provides more leg space. And there is no cabin divider to separate the Club Class and Economy Class cabins. This turns out to be rather irritating immediately after take-off, when seemingly half the aircraft a) decide now would be a good time to go to the loo and b) fail to realise that there are in fact two perfectly functional loos in the rear of the aircraft.

SERVICE
There are four females on this aircraft and they really are excellent. Especially the purser Joyce is very charming and personable. They take their time to chat with the passengers during the service and they’re very proactive in their service delivery – for example offering to bring down my backpack from the overhead lockers after take-off without me even asking.

I’m also quite surprised that they make their announcements in Maltese, English and in German.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of newspapers and either juice or water for a welcome drink. The hot towels they used to provide appear to have fallen by the wayside. Instead, there is a pre-packed scented cold towel on the tray with the food.

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Mellieha Bay

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Comino and the Blue Lagoon on the right, part of Gozo on the left

THE MEAL
The meal service starts with a drinks round. Of course I have a Kinnie with ice and lemon.

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The meal service hasn’t changed much since my last trip with Air Malta. Only the menu is different. The main course consists of a plate of roast beef with crumbled Gorgonzola and a skewer of tomato and mozzarella on a creamy mustard seed dressing. There is a dish with three different types and cheese and also a profiterole filled with some sort of nutty cream. There are also two warm buns with butter on the tray and during the meal service the crew come by twice offering more bread and butter.

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The meal is good and hits the spot nicely, although on a flight of over two hours I think a hot meal would not be too much to ask.

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I have two cups of coffee at the end of the meal. But even so, I’m so exhausted that I doze off immediately once the tray is removed and I don’t wake up until the aircraft rolls onto stand and comes to a halt at the gate.

CONCLUSION
We land in Zürich with a delay of roughly thirty minutes, which was caused by a problem starting up the engines when we were still in Malta and that needed to be looked at by Air Malta’s ground engineers. But apart from that, this was a really nice flight and even the valiant M. is feeling generous and willing to give Air Malta ten out of ten for the on board experience!

As the financial problems at Air Malta continue, the carrier’s future hangs in the balance. The government has announced that in two weeks time a new strategic plan will be presented to the unions for review. Air Malta is a nice little airline and I think it would be a shame to see them go. But to be honest, I won’t hold my breath for their new strategy if it is driven by the government, when in fact Air Malta’s biggest problem has always been the government’s persistent and incessant interference.

– William

Posted in Air Malta, Airbus A 320, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SkyWork, Economy Class – Saab 2000: London City to Basel

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Date: 14. May 2017.
Departure: 19:40.
Arrival: 22:00.
Flight time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
Seat: 1F, window.

INTRODUCTION
I just landed in Heathrow on a Boeing B 747-400 of British Airways, coming from Mexico City. I have to say, Europe is still my favourite continent. Although of course one might argue whether or not Britain should be counted to Europe.

In any case, from Heathrow I take a Heathrow Express train into Paddington station and from there the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus. You see, I figured if I’m passing through London on my way home anyway, I might as well take the opportunity to have a grand thali at the Masala Zone behind Carnaby Street.

The one way ticket on the Heathrow Express will cost you GBP16.60 for a journey of fifteen minutes in second class. The Oyster Card is not valid on the Heathrow Express.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
By the time I finish my dessert of Gulab Jamun with ginger ice cream it’s time for me to get a move on and make my way to London’s City Airport. From Oxford Circus I take the Central line to Bank and from there I change onto the DLR for London City. Being a nice and sunny Sunday afternoon, there are not too many people on the tube. I arrive at the airport just after 18h00.

CHECK-IN
Check-in is a bit of a pain to be honest. Web check-in is possible on SkyWorks Airlines, but I still need to check-in the suitcase I’ve been carting around since I left for Mexico. I don’t quite know what the hold up is, but eventuality it takes me 25 minutes to reach the head of the queue.

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AIRSIDE
Security is well organised and fairly swift. As far as I know there are no airline lounges at London City airport. There is a large waiting area just behind security and passengers are expected to wait there until the boarding gate for their flight is announced. I find this rather irritating, because seating is fairly limited in the waiting area, whereas the gate area has recently been renovated and expanded and offers ample and comfortable seating (including some great ramp views).

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts with a bit of a delay. Apparently we have to wait for the BA Embraer parked to the left of our aircraft to move off stand before they can let us walk the short distance across the apron.

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CABIN & SEAT
Today’s flight is operated by a Saab 2000, which looks as though it were in pretty decent condition. Of course, some of the illuminated signs are starting to look a bit dated, but generally speaking the impression is good. The seats are comfortable and look and feel as though they were only recently upholstered.

Admittedly, the Saab 2000 does feel rather cramped as long as you’re standing or moving around the cabin. But once you’re seated there is lots of personal space and the seat pitch is very good.

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SERVICE & CREW
There is one cabin crew on today’s flight. She is rather friendly and there is something ever so Swiss about her, although I don’t think I could put my finger on it and say what exactly it is that gives me the impression.

The other thing I notice about here is that the uniform is way too big for her. The collar of her blouse looks wide enough for two people and the sleeves of her jacket are so long they even cover her hands.

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THE MEAL
Catering consists of a choice of a complimentary chocolate muffin or a Dutch apple pie, with either water, juice, coffee or tea. Other drinks and a few more snacks are also available. However, these have to be purchased.

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ARRIVAL
Inevitably, by this time I’m really exhausted. Despite the fact that I managed to sleep on the plane from Mexico, it’s still been a long journey and eventually I pass out in my seat. I am awoken in Basel by the thump of the main lading gear hitting the runway.

Immigration is a very tedious affair in Basel these days. The state of emergency imposed by the prefecture of Haute-Alsace is still in place, which de facto means the Schengen treaty has been suspended for all flights arriving and departing in Basel from outside France. As a result, the queues for immigration at arrival are ridiculous and I spend a good thirty minutes waiting to have my passport checked. At least by the time I finally manage to get through my suitcase has already been delivered on the carousel.

Posted in Economy Class, Saab 2000, Skywork | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 747-400: Mexico City to Heathrow

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Date: 13. May 2017.
Departure: 21:50.
Arrival: 13:30.
Flight time: 9 hours 50 minutes.
Seat: 62K, window.

INTRODUCTION
This has been one of the most tiring trips I have made in a very long time, so I’m rather glad it’s finally over and I am on my way home again. Although I must say that travelling with the wiry R. has been rather fun and really easy going.

CHECK-IN
My flight back to Heathrow will depart at 21h40. Just after 20h I check out of the hotel and make my way across the footbridge to Terminal 1. Signage inside the terminal is really bad, verging on non-existent, and eventually we find the check-in counters more by chance than by design.

British Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters in area F of the terminal. From check-in you have to walk back quite a bit to area G, which is where the security checkpoint is.

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Generally speaking, the impression I get of Terminal 1 is of an old and tatty facility that has grown organically and without order and method. Apart form the bad signage the building has very low ceilings and was obviously designed by somebody who is either blind as a bat, has absolutely zero taste or who has no aesthetic appreciation whatsoever. It’s an incredibly ugly airport!

LOUNGE
Of course we walk straight past the Iberia lounge the first time because there are no signs here either… To access the lounge you have to head up two flights of stairs. The lounge is rather nice though and looks as though it was only recently opened or refurbished. With the Iberia flight to Madrid leaving around the same time as ours to London it’s quite full and there are only few places left to sit. We only have about ten minutes in the lounge, enough to have a drink, before it’s time to head back downstairs and to the gate for boarding.

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BOARDING
Boarding planes is something the Mexicans do really well. There are separate lanes for First and Club Class passengers and another queue for the working classes. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. By this time I’m so exhausted I head straight up the airbridge and then for the upper deck so I can sit down and start dozing.

CABIN & SEAT
On this leg I’m sitting on 62K, which is the window seat on the emergency exit of the upper deck. And quite frankly, I think this must be the best seat in the house. First of all, being a window seat you have a lot of additional storage space – which the aisle seat is lacking. More importantly though, it’s one of only two seats – the other is 62A – that gives you access to the aisle without having to climb over your neighbour on the aisle seat.

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CREW & SERVICE
The crew on the upper deck consists of two elderly gentlemen that are very friendly and laid back. The service follows the same sequence as the outbound flight, with wash bags, menus and welcome drinks being offered in sequence.

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By this time though, I’m simply too exhausted. I feel stupidly tired in fact. While we’re still on the ground I change into my shorts to reveal my hunky hairy legs and even studlier Happy Socks for the benefit and pleasure of all of humanity. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off I extend the seat into a bed and awake over six hours later, just due west of the Irish coast and with three hours left to go to London.

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THE MEAL
So I actually miss the first meal service. And to be honest, in hindsight I think I wish I’d missed the breakfast too. Yuk, this really is the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had on a plane. How on earth can you manage to totally ruin Rösti? Have they got a salt shortage in Mexico or something? But it’s not just that, the scrambled eggs taste last lumpy bits of plastic and the pink little sausage is disconcertingly reminiscent of a… Still, at least the baked buns and the yoghurt are edible.

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ARRIVAL
Around forty minutes out of Heathrow the Jumbo’s nose gently tilts down and we start our descent. It’s a lovely day in London for flying and we are treated to some really spectacular views of central London. We approach the city from the west, flying an easterly track just south of the city. We turn on to the approach abeam of London city airport, which has already reopened after the weekend by the looks of it. And then from there we fly along the Thames, before eventually gliding down to runway 27L. I’m home again.

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CONCLUSION
In my opinion there really is no other aircraft that can rival the Boeing B 747. I know the Airbus A 380 is much larger, heavier and what not. But the 747 simply has style. Alas, the type is very quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more aircraft are choosing to replace their existing 747 fleets either with the Boeing 777 or the larger A 380. So I’m kind of left wondering if perhaps this may have been my last flight on the Queen of the skies. I hope not!

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Posted in Boeing B 747-400, British Airways, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Aeromexico, Economy Class, Embraer 175 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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La Habana

Havana is an interesting and eclectic mix that is difficult to take in and hard to understand. From a purely touristic point of view I can see that the city and country might have something to offer. Havana boasts a lot of very beautiful and old colonial architecture, with grand old buildings and elegant, imposing boulevards.

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Parts of the city have been beautifully restored to their former splendour, while in other quarters old and dilapidated buildings with trees going through the floors and on the verge of collapse dominate the face of the city. And although that may not necessarily sound to appealing, strangely enough these buildings too exude a charm of their own.

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But there are also a few down sides. The country is very poor and the local population really have next to nothing at all. The upshot of this is that literally everybody in this city is on the make and as a foreigner you are basically treated as nothing more than a walking bank. Everybody you meet will try to sell you some old useless crap. They’re not pushy but if you decline to buy, they will come right out with it and ask you if you have some money for them. I guess there’s nothing wrong with begging but somehow it comes across as rather undignified and leaves behind a rather unpleasant sense of desperation.

I’m not saying that the Western system we call capitalism is better or even good. But it seems to me that in Cuba’s interpretation of socialism, everyone is equal and in that everyone is equally badly off. The government’s propaganda follows you everywhere you go in Cuba and you cannot help but feel that its sole purpose is to justify the hardship the population is suffering. But surely, there has to be another way. Thus, it is my personal view that the Cuban government has failed its own people. The only thing that seems to work in the country is the healthcare system.

If socialism means living in squalor, in buildings on the verge of dilapidation and collapse, abject poverty and without the freedom to say that one plus one is two – because you know it and not because you’re told so – then basically the only conclusion I can draw is that socialism is has failed. And Cuba is a sad demonstration of just that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 747-400: Heathrow to Mexico

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Date: 06. May 2017.
Departure: 14:20.
Arrival: 19:30.Flight time: 11 hours 10 minutes.
Seat: 62J, aisle on the upper deck

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INTRODUCTION
My flight from Rome touches down in Heathrow at around 09h40 local time, which means I have about four hours to make the connection to Mexico City. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is busy as usual. Even so, the line for security moves quickly and efficiently.

LOUNGE
British Airways has two Club Class lounges in Terminal 5, at both ends of the main terminal. The north lounge is brighter but smaller than the south lounge. As runway 09R is the departing runway today, I decide to head for the south lounge, in the hope of finding a seat near the window with a view of the holding point.

Since my last visit a lot of the furniture appears to have been changed or replaced. I think they’ve also added more seating. Nonetheless, the lounge doesn’t feel crowded. Alas, the toilets are still in dire need of a facelift. I think the basic problem is that there simply are not enough toilets to cater for the size of the lounge. But apart from that, the facilities are not properly maintained either. Half the locks don’t work, some of the doors are damaged to the extent that the plywood is beginning to show, and the toilets are not too cleaned either.

The food options on the other hand, are very good and include a wide range of hot and cold dishes that change depending on the time of day.

BOARDING
About one hour prior to departure, my flight is showing up on the display. I shall be departing from the B concourse, which is in the satellite closest to the main terminal building. The transfer to the satellites is via an automated underground train that stops at both the B and C satellites.

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There’s still some time to go before boarding begins as I aproach gate B37, so I take my time taking pictures and ogling the beautiful aircraft that will be taking me to Mexico this afternoon. I think at some point I even start drooling… By this time the wiry R. is eyeing me carefully and I think I can actually see the realisation dawn in his eyes of just how much of an airline geek I actually am… But bless him, he indulges me patiently while I enjoy my hobby… Obsession is just such an ugly word, I think.

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CABIN & SEAT
When I made the booking for this trip I made sure I had a seat on the upper deck. After all, if you’re going to fly on the uncontested Queen of the skies, you have to sit in the hump, right? The nice thing about sitting on the upper deck is that even if the flight is full, it feels a lot more intimate that sitting downstairs in the much larger main cabin.

Every seating configuration and seat design on an aircraft will always be a compromise. It’s a trade-off between comfort, practicality and economics. On the one hand, I must confess I am full of admiration for BA for having come up with such a concept, which allows them to put in as many as eight seats abreast in the B 747 without the seat feeling cramped. I also think the seat is rather comfortable too.

But there are also quite a few downsides. The aisle seats have next to no storage space. There is one fairly small drawer in the side of the seat. But this is near the floor, which means that once you extend the seat into a bed, the seat itself prevents access to the drawer.

And then there is also the fact that if you’re sitting on the window seat, you have to climb over the passenger on the aisle seat to get out. Obviously people don’t tend to move around that much aboard a plane, but in times where Air France, KLM or Finnair are upping their game with the introduction of direct access for all passengers in Business Class with a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, BA’s hardware is slowly starting to fall behind.

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SERVICE & CREW
There are three lovely middle-aged ladies working the upper deck cabin. They are friendly and quite charming in the way they deal with the passengers. And I think one of them is trying to get me drunk.

The service on the ground starts with a choice of orange juice, water or champagne for a welcome drink. Next, hot towels, amenity kits and the menus are handed out.

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THE MEAL
The meal service starts very soon after take-off. Generally speaking, I think the timing of the food service is something British Airways does really well. First of all, because they get the service started fairly soon after take-off, and secondly because the service doesn’t take too long to complete. As a result, passengers can maximise on rest during the flight.

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To start I have a glass of the rosé champagne, the name of which I can’t remember. Admittedly it’s not as smooth as the stuff I had in the Etihad apartment a few weeks ago, but it’s still rather a pleasant champagne. With that I have a glass of sparkling water, served with ice and lemon, and a packet of cashew nuts.

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There are two options for the starter. I decide to go with the crayfish with bergamot gel and fennel salad. The dish is served on a tray and is accompanied by a nice side salad with mixed greens and beans and a balsamico dressing.

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The starter is very good. The bergamot gel is spectacular and goes exceptionally well with the crayfish. The presentation is nice too.

For the main course there are four choices. I have the beef with chantenay carrots, Lyonnaise potatoes, buttered savoy cabbage and a sherry and peppercorn sauce. The beef is nice and tender and cooked well done, which is the way I like it.

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And then, finally, for dessert I have the duo of chocolate and salted caramel fondant with the lemon and almond tart, which is served with a dollop of whipped cream. Especially the fondant is lovely and tastes really good with a glass of port.

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Two hours and ten minutes after take-off, the meal service is completed and I’m sipping a mug of Twining’s Early Grey.

INFLIGHT SNACK
British Airways has an inflight snack bar located on the main deck. The selection is fairly good. I try the finger sandwiches, which are very tasty.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Ninety minutes out of Mexico City the lights are turned on again and the second service starts. There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main. I figure I’ll go vegetarian this time round and start with the salad of brown rice, followed by the pasta with a grilled vegetable sauce. For dessert there is a plate of fruit with guava juice.

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The second service is quite extensive. The starter is very good and refreshing, while the main course is just okay. I think it all comes down to the problem of warming pasta in a hot air oven.

ARRIVAL
We land in Mexico City about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is a strange mix of old and new. Terminal 1 is old and tatty and smelly and really not very nice.

As I look out I notice that the KLM, Air France, Iberia and Lufthansa flights have already arrived and for one horrible moment I assume this means very long queues at immigration. But in fact entering the country turns out to be really no problem at all.

CONCLUSION
I very much enjoyed this flight with BA. I think their service is great, with friendly and chatty crews. The food offerings were quite good and especially the second service was a lot more elaborate than what you get on many other carriers. The only thing I wonder about is the seat and cabin layout, which is starting to look dated, even though the aircraft looked very well maintained. In any case, I like BA and I would certainly fly them on long-haul again any time.

Posted in Boeing B 747-400, British Airways, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Rome to Heathrow

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Date: 06. May 2017.
Departure: 08:00.
Arrival: 09:30
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 1F, window.

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INTRODUCTION
My journey begins at 06h00 in the morning as I step outside the hotel to make my way to the airport for the flight to London. The wiry R. is already expecting me, bright eyed and bushy tailed as he takes another lazy draw from his cigarette.

CHECK-IN
Ten minutes later the shuttle bus ejects us on the pavement, under the large roof of Terminal 3. British Airways’ check-in counters are on row 230, which is on the side of the terminal adjacent to Terminal 2. The check-in agent checks us in for both this flight and the onward connection and gives us directions for the lounge. Rather conveniently, the fast track for security is right in front of the British Airways counters.

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LOUNGE
Signage is definitely not the airport’s forte. I’m a linguist and the wiry R. is an engineer. But even so, between the two of us we still manage to not locate the lounge. So here goes. For all those who will come after us, be brave: behind immigration, walk through the duty free shop and you will find yourself in the terminal’s shopping mall. Walk on, all the way through the mall and at the end turn left. That is where you will spot a sign for the British Airways and Alitalia lounges. Take the escalators one floor up and you should land right in front of the entrance to the lounge.

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The British Airways lounge at Rome airport is fairly big. I’m assuming it’s probably available to the other OneWorld partners as well who operate here. Just one piece of advice though: keep away form the coffee machine. The stuff it produces is vile.

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BOARDING
The flight is departing from gate E18. By the time we get there, priority passengers are already stepping aboard the plane. And by the time I step aboard there is no longer any space in the overhead bins, which is a bit unfortunate, given that I’m sitting on row 1. Fortunately, the gentlemen seated on the row behind me is a nice, friendly American. As soon as he notices I’m having problems stowing my two bags, he starts moving his own stuff around and even puts one bag under the seat in front of him to make room for me.

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CABIN & SEAT
The cabin looks very smart and the first impression is good. However, the combination of the dark blue leather seats and the dark grey panelling on the bulkhead also make the cabin seem a bit dark and gloomy.

The seat is in the usual European getup with the middle seat kept empty and a tray placed between the aisle and window seats for some additional storage space. There are no ac power ports.

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SERVICE, CREW & SOCIOLINGUISTICS
The crew on this flight is very professional and their service is polished and very polite, which is something that always impresses me about the British Airways crews because they are quite consistent about it.

Sorry if I go off on a tangent here, okay, but after all languages are my business. It’s just that it seems to me that there is some inflation going on in the English language with regard to expressions of politeness and the cabin service manager is a good example of this. No matter if he’s collecting the hot towels or passing you the tray with the food, he keeps saying ‘thank you so much’. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that in general, but it does make me wonder what he says to express his gratitude when you do him a really big favour? My point is that this over use of the phrase ‘so much’ in an expression of gratitude is becoming an increasingly popular practice, especially among speakers of American English. Sorry, end of geeky linguist rant…

Oh yes, they serve you scented hot towels once boarding is completed. There are no pre-departure drinks or anything like that though, despite the flight time of over two hours.

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THE MEAL
At the start of 2017 British Airways launched a new catering concept on its European network. In Economy Class this means buy on board food, courtesy of Marks and Spencer.

In Business class there have been some changes too. First of all, there are now two options for the meal and accordingly, menus are distributed ahead of the meal service. In this particular case the choice is between a vegetarian omelette and the traditional full English breakfast. The tray is served with a tub of strawberry yoghurt, and there is a large selection of breads and croissants to choose from the breadbasket. Apparently, preserves have fallen by the wayside though and there is only butter but no jam on the tray. On a positive note, the hot meal is now served on a proper plate and not in a foil container as it used to be.

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ARRIVAL
The worst thing that can happen to you when you’re flying into London is that you’re flight arrives way too early for its slot, in which case you are sent into a holding patter until it is time for you to turn onto the approach. I end up going off to Noddy land just as we enter the holding, so I’m not quite sure how many orbits we complete but I think it must be close to half an hour.

As ever, Heathrow is very busy and on the approach I count twelve aircraft queuing up for departure on the other side of the apron for runway 09R.

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CONCLUSION
All in all this was a nice flight with BA that was pretty much up to their usual standards as far as I can tell. I thought the new service was fine. Apart from that, it never seizes to amaze me how British Airways manages to fill more than twenty seats in Business Class, even on an early Saturday morning.

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