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.

Posted in Aeromexico, Boeing B 737-800, Business Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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

Alitalia, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Zürich to Rome

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Date: 06. May 2017.
Departure: 18:42.
Arrival: 19:45.
Flight time: 1 hour 3 minutes.
Seat: 10C, aisle.

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INTRODUCTION
On 25 April 2017 Alitalia’s management announced that the unions had rejected the carrier’s restructuring plan, even though Etihad Airways and the Italian government, in a moment of mental aberration, had agreed to inject even more money into the notoriously lossmaking operation in Rome.

And so the carrier’s management was left no other option but to declare bankruptcy. In the meantime, the Italian government announced that it would only be able to give the airline a credit (never to be seen again…) to keep the airline afloat until a more permanent solution can be found. Meanwhile though, the banks in Italy have explained that they were not in a position to invest in the company.

So is this the end of the road for Alitalia? It very much looks like it. But strangely enough, even while I write this, in my mind I can hear Gloria Gaynor belting out a powerful rendition of that tedious epic classic ‘I will survive’…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I’m travelling with the wiry R. again. We’re starting out from the office in Winterthur, which is a journey of about fifteen minutes by train to Zürich airport. We catch the 16h28 train and already it’s standing room only.

CHECK-IN
At Zürich airport Alitalia’s handling is done by DNATA on row 2 of check-in 2. Web check-in, app check-in and self-service check-in are not possible in Zürich, so you have to go to the counter to obtain your boarding pass.

BOARDING
The flight is boarding from gate B34. There is a first boarding call which seems a bit useless, given that it isfor passengers in Business Class, Frecce Alata, Etihad Guest, SkyTeam Elite and SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers – which probably account for about 90% of the passengers on this evening’s flight.

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CABIN & SEAT
The seat pitch is good and I can easily stretch my legs. What’s more, row 10 is properly aligned with the window, which means you can look out the window without any major contortions.

The cabin and seat look very neat, clean and well maintained. As far as comfort goes though, the seat could be better. But this seems to be a general issue on the Embraers: the seats are a bit too low for my liking.

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SERVICE & CREW
There are two cabin crew on the flight, one male and one female and both of them are in their early forties, I would say. And both of them have the biggest ‘couldn’t give a shit’ expression on their faces I’ve ever seen. Okay, so let’s be gentle with them and put it down to concern over their beloved employer’s impending demise.

During the service, the crew’s mood shifts from ‘couldn’t give a shit’ to ‘my goodness, I’m so glamorous because actually, I’m a model you know’. Which, for the female means that she laughs like an imbecile for no apparent reason while the male simply gives everyone the stink eye and refuses to talk to anybody other than his colleague. Charming, I’m sure.

THE MEAL
Ooh, crackers! And a choice of water, Coke or Diet Coke. That’s it. This is usually where I go off on the kind of tangent that really irritates the more aeronautically interested readers of my blog who are keen on airplane pictures and not food descriptions – all very well written and tastefully poetic of course – of the catering. But what can say? It’s just crackers. Although I must say the sparkling water I have with that really goes well. A symphony actually!

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ARRIVAL
The flight time to Rome is just over one hour and we have good visibility all the way, providing some excellent views of the Alps as we make the crossing. We park on a remote stand, from where we are bussed to the terminal. Our flight arrives in Terminal 1.

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GETTING INTO TOWN:
In Rome we’re staying at the Hilton Garden Inn at Fiumicino Airport. There is a complimentary shuttle bus that runs from the departure concourse of Terminal 1 to the hotel every fifteen minutes and takes about ten minutes to make the journey.

CONCLUSION
All in all there is nothing much to say about this flight. The crew could have been perhaps a bit more engaging and a bit less useless. Other than that, I can’t really complain. They got me there.

Posted in Alitalia, Economy Class, Embraer 175 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Amsterdam

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Date: 29. April 2017.
Departure: 09:20.
Arrival: 12:50.
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 1F, window.

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INTRODUCTION
I’ve just completed another course in Lisbon. I’ve rather enjoyed myself. The Portuguese really make me laugh. No matter what’s going on they’re so full of life. Of course, it also helped that while back home in Switzerland trees were collapsing under the heavy weight of the falling snow, here in Lisbon it’s t-shorts and flip flops weather.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Because the course is near the airport anyway, I’m staying at the TRYP Hotel Lisbon airport this time. The terminal building is only a 5 minutes walk away. So I think you’re probably fastest walking. However, if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage, there is a shuttle bus to bring you to the airport.

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CHECK-IN
Lisbon airport is a strange place. The city is gradually encroaching on the airport. So space is limited. As a result, the design of the facility is dictated by space restrictions rather than practicality or convenience and the terminal building seems a lot like a patchwork of extensions and reconstructions.

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I check in online for this flight. The app works well (You paying attention KLM…?) and I am able to change my original seat on 1D to the window on 1F.

FAST TRACK SECURITY
The security checkpoint is hidden away on the opposite side of the hall from the TAP Air Portugal check-in area. There is a fast track for security, which is very efficient. And while at other airports the security staff can be a nasty and unfriendly lot, this being Portugal everyone is very nice and totally laid back. They’re conscientious about their job but they’re also nice about it and take a lot of patience with the elderly passengers in the queue ahead of me.

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LOUNGE
Airside there have been quite some changes since my last visit. The transit area has been expanded and modernised. There is now a central atrium with shops and a lot more space to sit. The lounge is accessed via escalators leading up from the atrium.

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TAP Air Portugal no longer have their own lounge and instead they share the same common purpose lounge with all the other carriers in the Schengen area, which is operated by the airport authority ANA.

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The lounge is rather dark and gloomy and the place is crowded when I get there. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There is also free wifi and a good selection of newspapers.

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Food and drink options are somewhat limited. In fact, there are only sandwiches available.

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But… the view from the lounge is nice and provides a good vantage point to monitor the proceedings and movements on the apron and the runway.

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BOARDING
The flight is departing from gate S26 today, which is one of the few contact stands in the Schengen part of the terminal. Most aircraft are parked on a remote stand. The aircraft come up quite close to the building, which means you can take some pretty descent pictures of them.

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Boarding starts rather unceremoniously with the gate agent calling out for all Business Class and frequent flyer passengers to board first. You know, you could use a microphone…

CABIN
There are three rows of Business Class. The configuration is the typical European style layout with the middle seat kept empty. The seat looks rather old fashioned, an effect which I think is partly also produced because of the grey seat covers. However, on my flight down from Amsterdam to Lisbon I was on an A 321 which had been refitted with a newer, more modern style of seat.

Other than that, the seat is fairly basic and there are no power plugs at all in the cabin. The seat pitch seems rather tight. But at least I have the whole row to myself so I can stretch my legs.

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CREW & SERVICE
There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they truly are excellent. They’re friendly and obviously determined to make passengers feel welcome. Their interaction is easy going and professional.

THE MEAL
The service begins as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off. The crew pass through the cabin offering prepacked scented towels that have a refreshing lemony smell.

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There is no choice for the meal. The breakfast consists of a plate with cold meats and cheese, a bowl of fresh fruit, yoghurt, butter and jam and breads from the breadbasket. To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice.

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The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket a number of times (You paying attention Lufthansa?) and top up coffee and tea straight away. The cold cuts don’t look too appealing though, so I don’t try any.

Generally speaking, I think the quality of the food is good and the amount of food on the tray is quite generous.

ARRIVAL
The flight passes surprisingly quickly. After the meal service one of the crew brings me a Coke Zero and I spend the rest of the flight reading and watching the world go by.

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We land in Amsterdam about ten minutes ahead of schedule. By the time we taxi in from the Polderbaan though, we’re running slightly behind schedule.

CONCLUSION
I rather enjoyed this flight, even though I think the food selection on the outbound was better because there was a choice of two hotmeals for the main course. Other than that, I thought the crew were really very nice on TAP and the aircraft appeared to be in fairly good condition. The only thing I’d be wary about is that the pitch does seem rather tight, even in Business Class. But apart from that, I think I’d fly them again without hesitation. Pity they’re in the Star Alliance.

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Hotel Esplanade Zagreb

Once upon a time, a very long time ago and long before the age of airspace congestion and low cost carriers, when travel still had the aura of glamour and adventure and passengers travelled with a set of valises and not just a backpack, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits operated a network of luxury trains across Europe. In their heyday, many of the routes operated by the Compagnie were often the only reliable connection to get from one place to another.

The legendary Orient Express is perhaps the most notorious train of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, made famous also by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which firmly established her as the Queen of crime fiction through the cunning of her most successful character, the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The Orient Express originally ran from Constantinople to Paris, with slip cars from Athens and Bucarest joining the train at Belgrade and some cars continuing on to London from Paris. The journey would take the train three days to complete.

Along the route of the Orient Express a whole series of luxury hotels was established to accommodate the illustrious guests of the Orient Express when they needed to interrupt their journey. One of these establishments is the Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb, which still stands today.

The hotel is located right on the square just in front of Zagreb’s main railway station, on the fringe of the city’s elegant centre, which traces its history back to when Croatia was still part of the Habsburg empire. The hotel is now ninety years old. A few years ago it was completely renovated and has now been beautifully restored to its former elegance, underscoring its reputation as the most prestigious hotel in the city.

If you’re visiting Zagreb, you should definitely pay the Esplanade a visit, even if only to walk through the very grand foyer and to relive, just for a brief moment, the luxury and style of a bygone era.

Here’s the link to the website of the hotel.

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Etihad Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

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Date: 17. April 2017.
Departure: 07:50.
Arrival: 12:30.
Flight time: 7 hours 20 minutes.
Seat: 2H, aisle seat.

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INTRODUCTION
It’s just gone five in the morning as I exit the Plaza Premium airport hotel in terminal 1 and make my way over to terminal 3 and the elusive Etihad First Class lounge and spa. I’m rather looking forward to this part of the trip after having already heard so many good things about the lounge and about Etihad’s First Class product aboard the mighty A 380.

Currently the A 380 is deployed to London, Mumbai, Melbourne, Sydney and New York. During the high season in the summer Paris will also be added to the list of A 380 destinations.

LOUNGE
The entrance to the lounge is located right next to the Fendi shop in terminal 3 and looks quite unpretentious in fact. The lounge dragon at the entrance welcomes me to the lounge and as the doors close to take me up to the second floor, I see her making a call upstairs to advise them that I’m on my way. And indeed, the moment I step out of the lift I’m greeted by a young woman who welcomes me to the lounge and shows me around.

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The lounge has a small gym (no weights though), a spa with a massage salon and a barber and hairdresser. Every First Class passenger is entitled to one complimentary treatment at the spa or at the barber’s. The largest part of the lounge is made up of the dining area. There is also a relaxation room with loungers, although the room has this brightly lit wall that keeps changing colours and hence makes you wonder just how relaxing it really is.

The staff seem a bit disoriented, quite as though they’re not really prepared to deal with customers. When I enter the lounge I take a seat at one of the tables near the window. A waiter comes to take my order. But then a few minutes later another waiter appears wanting to take my order. So I tell her that my order has already been taken. And so she saunters off. A short while later yet another waiter appears – guess why – to take my order for breakfast. It’s no big deal really but it’s hardly First Class either. But the food is good!

Just before six in the morning I head over to the barber’s reception to request an appointment for a shave. Only the young lady informs me that the next slot will not be until 07h00 in the morning, which seems a bit tight given that my flight should start boarding at 07h10.

All in all I think the First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi is okay, but to be honest I don’t think it’s anything special. It looks a lot like the dining room in a hotel. So as far as the First Class lounges are concerned at least, Qatar Airways certainly has the upper hand.

BOARDING
Abu Dhabi airport is completely overcrowded, so getting from the lounge to the departure gate takes a while because there’s simply no getting through all the passengers making their way to and from their flights. A new terminal is under construction, but it looks like it might take a while before that opens for business.

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A separate call is made for First and Business Class passengers to board first.

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CABIN & SEAT
As far as the First Class cabin and seat are concerned, Etihad wins hands down. No questions asked. Seriously, this is really quite an amazing set up they’ve got here. First of all, unlike that god awful and tacky Emirates First Class cabin with its fake gold trimmings, this cabin is much more elegant and very beautifully finished. It’s also a lot more lavish and private than the Qatar Airways First Class seat.

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They’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the design of the cabin and the seats themselves: every apartment comes with its own little vanity mirror and a mini bar that you can have stocked specifically to your wishes. And there’s plenty of storage space.

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The bed is separate from the seat and takes up the whole length of the apartment. It is long enough for me to stretch out comfortably. My only criticism is that the bed seems fairly narrow. Actually, I don’t think it’s any narrower than other First Class seats, but whereas in other seats you are confined on three sides, on this seat there is no support at all on one side, and as a result I am constantly aware of the edge of the bed and trying to avoid rolling off.

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And then there’s the shower, which works really well and is also much nicer than the one Emirates has. I must say you feel a lot less grimy traveling when you have a shower to use on board. Every passenger gets five minutes of water, after which the supply automatically stops. However, during the shower you can interrupt the flow of water any time, so that the five minutes are more than enough to lather up and rinse down. For the shower passengers are provided with nice fluffy towels, conditioner, shower gel and shampoo.

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CREW & SERVICE
The crew on this flight seem friendly enough and once I am seated they all come to introduce themselves. The young lady in charge of my cabin is Brazilian. She introduces herself and shows me around the features of the apartment, in case I’m not familiar with them.

As a welcome drink I have a glass of still water with ice and lemon, which is served with a bowl of dates, a hot towel and a welcome note from Etihad Airways signed by the inflight service manager.

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Next the chef comes to introduce himself and hands me the drinks and food menu. He also asks me if I’d like to book a slot for the shower.

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Before take-off another crew member drops in and brings me a large bag containing my slippers and the pyjamas.

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VANITY KIT & PJs
The vanity kit is stored inside the vanity mirror and includes:

  • cleansing wipe
  • moisturizing hand cream
  • pulse point oil
  • pillow mist
  • facial cream
  • lip balm
  • eyeshades
  • toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste
  • shaving kit
  • earplugs
  • socks

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What strikes me as slightly inconsistent is that the vanity kit and the pyjamas are of no name brands. I don’t mind and they’re in good quality. But given that Etihad has really gone for a high end finish for the rest of its First Class product, it just seems slightly unusual that they didn’t do the same for the vanity kits and pjs.

MEAL SERVICE
There are plenty of options for the meal. On the one hand, there is a full breakfast service right after take-off. In addition, there is also a menu with a wide selection of dishes that passengers can combine as they wish.

I skip the breakfast service because I’m feeling tired and have a nap instead. When I awake again, we’re just under four hours out of London and I’m feeling hungry. So I call for the chef to discuss the food options.

First the table is laid out for the meal. The cutlery and chinaware is elegant. I am also given a small ramekin with butter and another empty one for olive oil. One of the crew comes by with the breadbasket.

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For a starter I have the chef’s salad, which consists of fresh, crisp salad, fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and smoked salmon and is served with a light balsamic vinaigrette. The salmon is obviously of very good quality, light in colour and with a very subtle taste that is complemented nicely by the champagne.

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Next I have the wagyu sirloin, served with creamy mashed potato and green beans. I have a sauce Hollondaise with the meat, which is light and goes very well with the meet. The beans are served with a hint of lemon zest, giving them a refreshing twist.

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And then comes the cheese course, which is served with jelly, slices of fresh apple and grapes and crackers. The presentation of the dish is nice. For the cheese dish I turn down a third glass of champagne and instead have a glass of the sauternes, which is excellent.

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And then to conclude the meal I have a slice of rich and tasty carrot cake with a cappuccino.

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After the meal I am handed another hot towel.

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Overall I think the quality of the meal is very good. The meat was cooked just the way I requested and the ingredients are obviously of good quality.

ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent, the crew come to say goodbye and the young lady from Brazil hands me her business card in case I have any comment to make on the flight.

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CONCLUSION
So what’s the verdict? As far as the First Class product is concerned, I think Etihad Airways really nails the inflight experience. The cabin and the seat are not only very elegant and attractive, they also make for a very pleasant journey at a level of comfort and privacy that Qatar Airways and Emirates can’t match. However, overall there are certain inconsistencies in their product. The First Class experience on the ground for example is really lacking. Especially given that Abu Dhabi is quite a maze and very busy, an escort to and from the lounge for example might be a nice idea. Also, while the lounge is okay, it’s definitely nowhere near as grand and impressive as Qatar Airways’ First Class lounge in Doha.

Based on my experience yesterday evening on the flight from Colombo to Abu Dhabi though, I think I would say that Qatar Airways has the superior Business Class product, followed by Emirates in second place and Etihad in third. I think I shan’t bother with Oman Air in future.

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Abu Dhabi Airport Hotel

If you have a long layover in Abu Dhabi but still not enough time to go into the city, you have a number of options at the airport. Landside there is the PremierInn, which is connected to the terminal via a walkway. But there is also the airport hotel airside within the terminal. Directions to the hotel are clearly signposted upon entering the terminal building.

The hotel is operated by Plaza Premium lounges and is located in terminal 1, which is about a 5 minutes walk away from terminal 3. The rooms are clean, modern and functional. They even provide you with shampoo, shower gel and a range of other amenities.

The charge for a twin room is USD168 for a minimum of six hours.

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Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Colombo to Abu Dhabi

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Date: 16. April 2017.
Departure: 21:10.
Arrival: 00: 35.
Flight time: 4 hours 25 minutes.
Seat: 2A, window.

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INTRODUCTION
Time to move on. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Sri Lanka a little while longer. I’ve rather enjoyed being here. But I have to get back home because I’ll be traveling week after next and still need to get a few things done before then.

Let’s see. I’ve tried Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Emirates. So I think it’s only fair to give Etihad a try before I make up my mind if Qatar Airways really is my favourite airline.

The flight to Abu Dhabi will not be leaving until 21h10. Which means I have the whole day to spend by the pool revising a paper I have to submit soon and having afternoon tea at the lovely Galle Face Hotel before it’s time to head for the airport.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I’ve ordered a car to pick me up at the hotel at 17h30. The journey to the airport is only 36 kilometres. Colombo is still only just coming back to life after most of the city folk left the city behind to celebrate the Singalese New Year with their families.

Security at the airport is very tight and there are roadblocks and barriers set up all along the road leading to the terminal.

CHECK-IN
The driver drops me off before the entrance to departures. And then the hassle begins. First, I need to show a police officer standing guard by the entrance my passport and a copy of my ticket to even be allowed to enter the terminal building. Immediately inside the terminal is a first security checkpoint where I need to have all my bags screened and another police officer pats me down. From there I follow a long corridor that looks as though it was originally set up as a provisional building but then accidentally, brutally started sprouting retail space.

At the end of the corridor I finally enter the terminal proper. From here passengers have to go through another security checkpoint and show their passport again to enter the actual check-in area. Photography is strictly prohibited within the terminal.

Check-in for the Etihad flight opens three hours before departure. The departure hall is very crowded with passengers checking in for their flights with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Sri Lankan which all seem to depart around the same time.

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From check-in I walk to the far right of the departure hall and queue again for immigration. I’m not really sure why they bother though, because the officer is obviously so busy reading text messages that he nearly forgets to stamp my passport.

And then, finally, I’m airside.

LOUNGE
Etihad Airways uses the Araliya lounge, which is at the beginning of the pier on the left hand side. The lounge only has very basic facilities, but there is a small selection of hot and cold snacks, there’s wifi and the toilets and shower are very clean. The lounge’s best feature though, is the excellent view of the action on the apron.

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BOARDING
Not again, seriously? My flight will be departing from gate B5, which is a bus gate. To enter the gate area I need to show my boarding pass and passport again to another police officer guarding the staircase. Once he lets me pass, I head downstairs to the holding area for the gate, which pretty much looks like a badly converted broom cupboard. But not as pretty. And yes, I have to go through security. Again. I don’t have to take out any liquids or laptops but I do have to take off my shoes and get another pat down under the watchful eyes of no less than eight police officers manning one conveyor belt and one security gate.

Shortly after, and somewhat unceremoniously, boarding begins. Our bus pulls up to the rear stairs of the aircraft and I step outside. I try to make my way to the forward door but one of the five police officers guarding the plane won’t let me pass and insists I take the rear door. But then a member of Etihad’s ground crew here in Colombo talks to her and I’m allowed to walk to the forward door.

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CABIN & SEAT
I rather like the cabin. I think the design and colours have some serious retro vibe going on, but somehow it works. There are four rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration for a total of 16 seats. Every seat has an AC and USB power port. The aircraft also has wifi, although I don’t actually try it out. The air is very humid tonight and as a result, there is thick mist coming out of the air conditioning system, which is a pretty nifty effect.

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The recline of the seat is good and the seat controls are electric. Stretching my legs is problematic though because of the IFE box under the seat in front of me which takes up a lot of space.

A large blanket, pillow, earphones and the menu have already been placed at the seats. The blanket is rather funky in that one side is in this velvety fake fur material which feels kind of kinky. Now I know what Jane Fonda must have felt like rolling around naked on that fur rug during the opening credits of Barbarella.

CREW & SERVICE
The crew up front consists of a young man of Pakistani origin and a Chinese young lady. Both of them are friendly and courteous in their manner and give all the passengers a warm greeting as they board the plane.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a hot towel.

VANITY KIT
The flight time to Abu Dhabi is four hours and twenty minutes. Etihad does not provide a full vanity kit on this flight, but they do provide eye shades, socks and earplugs.

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IFE
The IFE is touchscreen enabled and works really very well. The selection is fairly large, but as usual there’s nothing I’d really be interested in watching.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL…
The meal service is a bit of a let down and definitely not on a par with Qatar Airways’ offerings. We start with an aperitif and a bowl of warm nuts.

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For the first course I have the Arabic mezze, which basically is a small dollop of hummus, with a huge portion of parsley that’s been drowned in lemon juice and some vegetable pickles and a greasy samosa. The tray is served with a bun, Arabic flat bread and butter. The taste of the food is so so, but the presentation of the tray really is nice.

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For the main course I have the Indian chicken and pea curry, which is quite simply disgusting. Yuk! There’s something chewy and green on the plate that tastes of nothing and is hard to bite. The chicken itself is mainly bone and skin and I decide not to touch it. The only edible parts of the meal are the spicy coconut rice and the warm beetroot.

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And then for dessert I make the mistake of ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream, which is served with a sablé on top. The only problem is, the ice cream is so cold the sablé is welded to it. I can’t get it off! And the ice cream is so hard I think you could knock somebody unconscious with it if you threw it at them. So I wait a few minutes. But eventually my impatience gets the better of me and I make the fatal mistake of trying to take a spoonful of ice cream.

Next thing I know, the spoon hits the bowl with a clank, and the blob of ice cream slips off to the left and goes flying through the cabin. The whole thing happens in slow motion. I swear I can actually hear the opening chords of Strauss’ ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ and feel the compulsion to ask HAL what’s going on… But then I manage to catch the ball of ice cream with my hand, but the thing is slippery and gets away, eventually landing and sitting in my lap. Well fine. I scoop the ice cream off my groin and when the flight attendant passes my seat next, I tell him to take the ice cream with him. A few minutes later though he returns. Apparently he’s put the blob in the oven to thaw it a bit for me. Which is kind of a nice gesture, only now the ice cream has a faint and very disturbing taste of the curry chicken I refused to eat a short while previously…

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ARRIVAL
But at least the flight passes quickly and before long we’re starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. We land in darkness and then taxi for a very long time to the main apron. We park on a remote stand, but things happen so quick that I don’t really have any time to take any photos before the Business Class bus whisks us off to the terminal.

CONCLUSION
Of all the flights I’ve done on this trip, I think this one was the most unremarkable one. The crew were friendly enough and very polite but the food really was bad. The seat was okay, But I think a flight time of over four hours is really pushing it for passenger comfort in the premium cabin.

 

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Colombo

Here’s the link to the hotel.

There is something very ‘empire’ about Sri Lanka, but it’s kind of hard to put my finger on it exactly. Maybe it’s the groups of men you come across standing around playing an improvised game of cricket in the blistering heat, or the tea with milk that is omnipresent. Or perhaps it’s just the hotel I’m staying at.

The Galle Face Hotel officially opened its door for business in 1864 and is one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka. The facility has recently undergone renovation and has been restored to its former splendour.

The location of the hotel could not be better, right on the sea front. When you’re sitting up on the veranda you can hear the waves crashing against the rock and watch the palm trees listing precariously in the breeze.

The grounds of the hotel are very well laid out, with a trim green lawn in the courtyard. There are two wings in the hotel, the old wing is from the original building, whereas the new building is a much more recent addition. I opted to stay in the older building and had an old but nicely renovated room with dark wooden floors and thick, soft carpets.

Oh yes, and they also serve afternoon tea!

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