Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Shanghai to Copenhagen

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INTRODUCTION
I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.

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CHECK-IN
To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…

SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.

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From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.

The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.

The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.

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THE LOUNGE
In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.

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The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.

There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.

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The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.

BOARDING
Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…

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The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.

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Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…

… still howling…

… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.

THE CABIN
The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.

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On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.

 

SERVICE
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.

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After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.

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The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.

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THE MEAL
The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.

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The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.

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For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.

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For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.

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For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.

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By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!

Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.

SECOND SERVICE
I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.

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ARRIVAL
Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.

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VERDICT
Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.

Posted in Airbus A 340-300, Business Class, SAS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cathay Dragon, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Hong Kong to Shanghai Pudong

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INTRODUCTION
Originally, we were supposed to continue to Shanghai on Sunday, the day after we arrived in Hong Kong. But then Typhoon Ampil had other ideas, our flight to Shanghai was cancelled and instead, we ended up staying in Hong Kong until Tuesday afternoon. Still, it was a pleasant stay and I managed to get quite a bit of work done.

In Hong Kong I stayed at the Novotel Citygate, which is only about ten minutes away from the airport by shuttle. It’s also a great location if you want to explore Lantau island or visit the Tian Tan Buddah. The station for the cable car that takes you up to the Buddah is only about ten minutes away from the hotel.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The Novotel provides a regular, complimentary shuttle service between the airport and the hotel. Busses leave the hotel every twenty minutes, starting on the hour. The journey time to the airport is ten minutes, and the driver will drop you off at departures on the upper level.

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CHECK-IN
Cathay Dragon checks in at terminal 1, which is where most of the airlines serving Hong Kong seem to be located. The counters for Cathay Dragon are conveniently located on row H, which is at the far end of the terminal building, opposite the entrance to security.

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There is a separate queue for Business Class and OneWorld card holders. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to Shanghai and issues an invitation to the Cathay Pacific lounge together with the boarding pass.

Luckily, since my last visit, Hong Kong has introduced biometric passport scanners, which significantly speed up the process of leaving the city, even if they do work rather slowly.

THE LOUNGE
I was not aware of the fact that Cathay Dragon is an ‘associated’ member of the OneWorld alliance through its affiliation with Cathay Pacific. Which means that I can access the lovely Cathay Pacific lounges and I can even take along the valiant M. as a guest.

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I’ve never been to this particular lounge though, and I’m wondering if it’s only here provisionally. It’s located at the west end of the ‘T’ of Hong Kong’s terminal. It’s a nice lounge, but it’s definitely not as large as their lounge on the east wing.

The lounge is situated further along from the gorgeous QANTAS lounge in Hong Kong. Although to access the lounge you will need to go down one level first.

The lounge is nicely laid out and has good facilities, including showers, a dining area and a quiet zone, and good wifi. More importantly though, the food selection is very good. Apart from a fairly wide selection of hot and cold dishes, there is also the much loved noodle station, where you can have a variety of different Hong Kong style noodle dishes made to order.

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BOARDING
The flight to Shanghai will depart from gate 504, which is in the satellite to the west of the terminal facility. Because you have to head downstairs to get across, I was kind of expecting that we would need to take an underground train or something of the sort. But in actual fact there’s just a normal bus that runs frequently across the apron between the main building and the satellite.

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I can’t really say I had much time to explore the satellite, because no sooner had we arrived, we realised that our flight was already in the final stages of boarding.

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THE CABIN
Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 320 in the new Cathay Dragon livery. The first thing I notice upon entering the aircraft, is that it has new overhead bins that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on this type of aircraft: the bins fold down instead of up and the opening and closing device is a button with a small light in it. The bins also seems to be smaller, because I happened to see quite a few passengers struggling to stuff their belongings into the bins.

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Other than that though, the cabin is nice. It’s clean and even in Economy Class the seat pitch is good and comfortable enough for the flight of two hours and ten minutes to Shanghai. Pillows and blankets are also available.

Cathay Dragon does not use overhead screen, but wifi and video streaming is available. Although I’m not even sure if that’s such a good thing. Because the two guys in front of me have decided to watch some god awful Chinese history/fantasy/action film together, which looks like a heap of crap to me and sounds so too, judging by the hideous and copious amounts of yelling and flying through the air sound effects that I’m sure everybody, and I really mean everybody in the aircraft can hear…

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Oh yes, and don’t worry about your seat assignment. Cathay Dragon has a rather strange system, whereby they leave out certain numbers of rows. I was seated by the window on 39K, which is right behind the wing.

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THE CREW
There are six crew on the flight today, which seem a tad exaggerated but kind of helps to highlight the difference between the European carriers for example, who usually just fly around with the minimum crew complement, and the Asian airlines, where salaries are low enough for this not to be such an issue. Admittedly, none of the crew seem overly friendly. But they’re efficient and they get the job done.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re airborne, the service begins. In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting to be given anything. Which is probably why I’m even more surprised when the trolley stops at my aisle and they ask me if I’d prefer the fish with potatoes or the pork with rice. I decide to try the fishy.

The meal service is pretty old school and consists of a tray with:

  • a bowl with pasta salad,
  • a cup of still water,
  • a pre packaged bun with butter,
  • a cup of Hägen Dasz strawberry ice cream,
  • the hot meal.

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The hot meal is not very good, even by Economy Class standards. The fish is rather gross and the potatoes are all soggy from the sauce. The veg is bland and tasteless. And the ice cream is just too sweet. But that’s not the airline’s fault.

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During the meal service, the crew make three drink runs though, which is much appreciated. The trays are removed fairly quickly once the meal service has been completed.

The rest of the flight passes quickly, while the valiant M. tries to teach me geology 101. It’s riveting, I’m telling you…! In all fairness though, it really does put the average eighty or so years a human spends on earth into perspective, when you compare that to the millions of years it took to produce something as magnificent as the Alps, for example. It also makes me hopeful that earth will continue to exist, even long after the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.

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ARRIVAL
But enough of geology and philosophy. By the time we turn on to the final approach, it’s already dark in Shanghai. The approach is fairly stable, right up until the end when we suddenly start to roll and yaw. But Mr. Pilot keeps it together and eventually we land about twenty minutes behind schedule.

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Immigration doesn’t take too long, even though it looks as though we just arrived behind a full flight from Japan. By the time I exit immigration, the suitcases have already been removed from the belt and deposited at the collection area for premium passengers.

In Shanghai I’ll be staying in the Fudan area of the city. The journey from the airport will take about 45 minutes to complete in good traffic and will cost about RMB160.

 

Posted in Airbus A 320, Cathay Dragon, Economy class | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Stockholm to Hong Kong

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TRANSIT IN STOCKHOLM
I just stepped off an Airbus A 321 of SWISS, arriving from Zürich. It’s just gone nine o’clock in the morning and I now have another six hours to make my connection to Hong Kong.

THE LOUNGE
There is no SAS or Star Alliance lounge in the non-Schengen sector of the F concourse, from where the flight to Hong Kong will be leaving. But SAS has a Business Class lounge and a dedicated lounge for Star Alliance Gold members in the Schengen area.

The Business Class lounge is nice, although it is quite small and tends to get very busy at times. Here too there’s a bit of a IKEA showroom/Starbucks café vibe going on. But given that this is the heartland of IKEA and I’m shameless enough to stereotype, I guess that’s fair enough.

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The food and drinks selection is somewhat limited though. But I’m guessing the lounge had been designed mainly to cater for short-haul traffic, seeing as the number of long-haul flights from Stockholm is fairly limited. But the wifi connection is good.

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BOARDING
One hour before departure the valiant M. has solved yet another series of mathematical somethings that only an engineer could find exciting, and so we head off for our departure gate. The queue at immigration is quite busy, especially seeing as the Thai Airways and Emirates flights are departing ahead of our flight to Hong Kong. But the line moves quickly.

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The non-Schengen area has closed gates, so when the flight starts boarding, that only means that passengers are invited to enter the holding area. But at least there are plenty of places to sit.

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THE CABIN
I must say, I rather like the new SAS Business Class cabin. The colours are admittedly a bit dark, but I think that only makes the cabin look more elegant. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration and there are eight rows of seats, which means a total capacity of 32 seats in Business Class – all of which have direct access to the aisle.

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On the even numbered rows the window seats and the D aisle seats have a bit more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.

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The seats are staggered, so that the window seats are slightly in front of the middle seats.

The seat is comfortable to sit and lounge in. In the bed position though, it feels a bit tight because there isn’t a lot of height clearance to move the legs.

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The touch screen is very responsive. Moreover, you can touch the screen from your seat without even having to bend forward.

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Apparently, there is complimentary wifi on board for Business Class passengers. But I try a couple of times throughout the flight, and it never works.

A duvet, pillow, seat cover and the amenity kit have already been placed at every seat.

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After take-off the crew also distribute slippers.

SERVICE
The crew on today’s flight is really excellent. They’re very friendly and their interaction with the passengers is relaxed and welcoming. It’s nice to experience a crew on a flight that actually looks happy to be there, for a change.

The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of orange juice, water and champagne. While we’re still on the ground, the crew also distribute the nicely designed menu for the flight and an unscented hot towel.

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After take-off, once the service begins, I notice that the crew always make sure to start the service at the same time on both aisles. This is really just a minor thing, but still I think it’s a nice gesture.

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THE MEAL
The meal service begins with a large bowl of mixed nuts and an aperitif. I decide to go with the Apple Must, which is some sort of thick apple juice and very tasty.

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After that, the table is set. For the first course there is a mixed salad, which the crew prepare in front of you. There is also a choice of two first courses. I go with the smoked cod served on a bed of pickled root vegetable julienne and a mustard, dill and brown sugar dressing. During the first course the crew make two bread rounds and actively encourage passengers to take as much bread as they like.

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For the main course there is a selection of four main dishes. Again, I go with the fish and have the baked cod with herb butter, parsley potatoes, cabbage with onions, oven dried tomatoes and a Hollandaise sauce.

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After the main course there is a cheese and dessert service, which is served from a trolley and really looks very nice. I have the rhubarb tart and strawberries, which are served with thick whipped cream. With that I have a Sauternes to drink.

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And then to conclude the meal, I have a coffee.

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All in all, I have to say I really enjoy the meal. I think the quality of the food is very good. What’s more, there’s copious amount of it and the presentation on the trolley is nice. After the meal service the crew set up a self-service bar by the side of the L2 galley. And here too there is a large selection of items to choose from, including crisps, biscuits, instant noodles and fresh fruit.

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THE SECOND SERVICE
Ninety minutes out of Hong Kong, one of the cabin crew comes to wake me up, it’s time for the second service. This consists of:

  • a selection of breads and butter,
  • yoghurt and müsli,
  • a selection of cold cuts, cheese and vegetables,
  • a small Stilton and broccoli pie,
  • coffee and juices.

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The timing of the meal is very good and shows that the breakfast service needn’t take for ever. Again, the quality of the meal is very good.

ARRIVAL
Normally you can expect arrival traffic into Hong Kong to be fairly busy, causing long delays for the approach. But today is different and we’re on the ground fairly quickly. I guess it probably has to do with the fact the SAS is one of the earliest arrivals from the European airlines in Hong Kong, with most of the others not arriving until the afternoon.

Posted in Airbus A 330-300, Business Class, SAS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Zürich to Stockholm

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INTRODUCTION
The valiant M. and I are on our way to Shanghai to present a paper on the use of Rasch measurement in testing. The first part of our journey will take us from Zürich to Stockholm on SWISS.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem in this case. Admittedly, the connection via Stockholm is not the best, with a six-hour layover in Sweden. Worse still, the flight from Zürich to Stockholm will already be departing at 06h50. Alas, the first train from Basel to Zürich does not arrive at the airport until 06h07 according to the schedule. Also, the Swiss Federal Railways are currently operating on a reduced summer schedule, and the information on their app is somewhat unreliable. I think if I were only travelling with hand luggage, I’d probably risk it. But with the big suitcase I’ll need to check in, I’ve decided to go to the airport the evening before and spend the night at the Radisson Blu at Zürich airport.

The Radisson Blu is not a very good hotel, I don’t think. But it has the advantage of being the only hotel that is directly connected to the terminal and check-in 1, which is home to SWISS.

CHECK-IN
The check-in area for premium passengers at Check-in 1 was done up not too long ago. It looks nice. Although I’m not really sure how having a little desk lamp on the counter top is supposed to enhance my experience… On the other hand, I must admit that the check-in process is very swift. Despite the fact that it’s the busy holiday period, there is no queue and the check-in agent immediately checks my suitcase all the way through to my destination.

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AIRSIDE
There is a separate access point to the security area for Business Class passengers. And there are two lanes open at the checkpoint for Business Class passengers. Pretty much like every other time I’ve travelled with the valiant M., I pass through security without a hitch, while he has to endure having the security staff more or less take apart his entire hand luggage, only to eventually tell him that he’s okay…

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THE LOUNGE
By the time the valiant M. has reassembled his carefully packed bags, it’s 05h23. The SWISS Business Class lounge doesn’t open until 05h45 though. So we mosey around the airside area for another twenty minutes before I can get my morning coffee fix.

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The SWISS lounge recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment, which, in my view, was long overdue. The first thing that strikes me, is that there are automatic gates to access the lounge. I find this quite striking, because it means that if you’ve checked-in online and you use one of the gates to access the lounge, even as a premium passenger your interaction with the airline is quite limited.

The lounge itself is nice, although the valiant M. and I agree that it’s also a bit sterile. I’m not sure what to make of the design though, because it looks like a strange mix between an IKEA showroom and a Starbucks coffee shop that has hipster written all over it.

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The good news is that there’s a lot more place to sit now. Partly, this has also been achieved because the smoker’s lounge and bar on the upper floor of the lounge have been removed to make space for extra seating. Although no food is permitted on the upper floor.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts at 06h30, twenty minutes before departure. Economy Class passengers are expected to use the automatic gates, while Business Class passengers can either use those or jump the queue and have their boarding pass scanned by the gate agent.

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THE CABIN
There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin with a total of twelve seats. Nine seats are occupied by paying passengers and two are taken by staff that have been bumped up from Economy.

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The seat pitch on the second row is good, as the x-rated picture of my hairy legs shows. To be honest, I prefer the second row to the first, because you can get on the plane last and just dump your bag under the middle seat of the row in front if the overhead bins are already full. There are no power plugs for passengers on this aircraft.

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I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat.

SERVICE
The crews on SWISS can be a bit of a hit or miss affair. Either they just really so couldn’t care less and make it painfully obvious, or they’re outstanding. There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. Luckily, today’s crew fall in the latter category. They are very courteous in the way they address the passengers, very polite and they make a point of addressing every passenger by their last name, literally every time they address them.

Once the boarding process is completed, the crew distribute the prepacked scented towels and a small bottle of still water.

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We take off in a northerly direction on runway 34. The flight time is announced as two hours.

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THE MEAL
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins.

The meal is served on one tray. There is a choice of two hot meals: a cheese omelette or scrambled egg with bacon, a small rösti and a grilled tomato. Also on the tray is a bowl of Bicher Müsli, a plate of fruit and another plate with cheese and butter. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket.

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Again, it strikes me that the crew are so attentive with their service. So far, I must say, I’m quite positively surprised by SWISS. This meals service is definitely way above the airline’s usual standards and the crew is excellent!

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ARRIVAL
The flight passes quickly and there’s a comfortable, quiet hush in the cabin as we head towards Stockholm. Eventually we land in Stockholm pretty much on time.

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CONCLUSION
This flight was really nice. The crew were attentive but still left passengers in peace and quiet. The experience with check-in and the lounge made me think though. Perhaps not even so much about SWISS specifically, but because of the way that air travel appears to be evolving. As I mentioned above, you can check-in, access the lounge and even board the plane without having to interact with a single person. Which mean that the first and only opportunity for the airline to interact with its passengers is through its cabin crew. But even in this respect, opportunities are somewhat limited if, for example, the airline offers buy on board.

For a very long time, the airline industry was very much focussed on hospitality and offering the passenger a personalised experience. But that no longer seems to be the case, or at least it is, but only to a lesser degree.

Posted in Airbus A 321, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Air Serbia, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Belgrade to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
Belgrade is a strange place, when you think of it. First of all, it’s not exactly pretty. There are a few elegant buildings that look as though they were recently done up, scattered around the city. But the vast majority of the streets and buildings look as though they’re in a sad state of repair. Of course, the buildings littered around town that still carry the vestiges of war, even after all these year, certainly don’t help to make the city look appealing.

But nonetheless, there is something about Belgrade. It’s a city I like being in. Probably it has something to do with the green trams you see in the street that were given to Belgrade transport by the city of Basel in Switzerland, where I live.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
In Belgrade I’m staying at the Radisson Blu Old Mill, which is located on the fringe of the city centre. It’s a really nice building and the rooms are elegantly appointed. To get to the airport this morning I’ve decided to order the hotel shuttle. As far as I’m concerned, the shuttle is good value for money at EUR25 per ride for up to four passengers. The shuttle van is extremely comfortable, there’s wifi and they’ve even provided water.

CHECK-IN
I’ve checked-in online using the Air Serbia website. At the airport, Air Serbia has its own dedicated section in the terminal and there are a lot of check-in counters available. It is also possible to check in using the self-service devices. But access to these is blocked by a very long queue of passengers checking in for the Antalya flight when I arrive.

Immigration is one floor up from the general check-in area. There’s even a fast track for Business Class passengers. Although in the sum of all things, it’s likely to be the most useless, superfluous fast track ever. First of all, because it’s only the fast track for immigration, the security check is done right at the gate. And secondly, because the passport booth at the end of the fast track is unmanned. The one next to it is marked ‘staff only’, and just by looking at her it becomes apparent that the immigration officer on that line really, really couldn’t give a shit…

THE LOUNGE
From immigration I head straight for the lounge. There are two lounges right next to each other at Belgrade airport. The Air Serbia lounge is a bit further down the hall from the general purpose lounge. But it’s well signposted.

The lounge is empty when I arrive. I take a seat and once the staff have finished discussing whatever, one of the young ladies comes to ask me what I’d like to drink.

The lounge is nice and includes a separate dining area, toilets and showers and separate washrooms for ablution before the Muslim prayer. There is also a separate dining area. As you enter the lounge they’ll tell you that no boarding calls are made. Which is true, although the lounge dragon will still come to light a fire under your butt if she thinks you’re overstaying.

BOARDING
Belgrade uses a closed gate system, which is all sorts of awkward. First of all, because there’s hardly enough space in the gate area to hold all the passengers of a fully booked Airbus A 319. Secondly, because there’s no separate lane or anything of the sort for Business Class passengers. Once you’re inside the gate, there is a separate queuing line for Business Class passengers, but nobody, including the gate agent, seems to pay that any attention.

THE CABIN
The last time I flew Air Serbia, they still had a dedicated Business Class cabin, which was really something else and made a refreshing change from the usual misguided European concept of Business Class comfort. But alas, with Etihad pulling the plug on Air Serbia, the carriers has had to adapt to the harsh realities of the European aviation market, and has replaced those lovely seats it had with standard Economy Class seats – simply leaving the middle seat empty in Business Class. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with Air Serbia adapting its product to that of the competition. But Air Serbia also operates the A 319 on flights to Abu Dhabi, which has a block time of about six hours. Luckily, I’ve never had to do it myself, but I’m very sure I would not want to spend six hours in this seat, especially not if I’m paying a Business Class fare for it.

SERVICE
There are three cabin crew on this flight. The lead purser is very senior, to the point where I’m wondering why she hasn’t retired yet to be able to spend more time with her grandchildren. Having said that, the advantage of having such senior cabin crew, is that they tend to be more at ease with themselves and usually have a way with passengers. And the purser on today’s flight is no exception.

While we’re still on the ground, one of the cabin crew offers me a bottle of still water. But there are no refreshing towels or anything of the sort.

The flight time is announced as one hour and thirty minutes.

THE MEAL
While the aircraft is still on the ground, the crew distribute menus for me and the other passenger in the Business Class cabin.

Although to be honest, I really wonder why they even bothered. The appetizer (!) is announced as a packet of peanuts. And for the main course, there is a choice between Serbian mezze and a Caesar salad. I order the Serbian mezze, which means that the other passenger is inevitably left with the Caesar salad, because apparently they only loaded one of each.

When I last flew Air Serbia, I really was quite blown away by their service. In fact, truth be told, back then I thought it was a bit over the top. In addition to the nice, comfortable seats, they also served a hot meal on a short flight of ninety minutes and even found time for a proper starter and dessert. But the meal I am served on today’s flight couldn’t be more different. I mean, given the sad state of Etihad and Air Serbia, I really wasn’t expecting a hot meal service any more. But not this. The meal arrives in a cardboard box. They don’t even use proper cutlery anymore, and instead, the crew give me a plastic fork and knife to contend with. Even the Coke Zero I order is served in a plastic cup. There is no bread with the service and the peanut appetizer, as it were, has obviously also been done away with unceremoniously. For dessert there should have been a choice between some typically Serbian walnut biscuit and a vanilla biscuit. Again, in reality the word ‘choice’ really means that I am given one biscuit, while the other passenger receives the other. Whether he likes it or not…

After the meal, I ask for a cup of coffee. To be honest, I already started to regret my request before the coffee had even arrived. The purser asks me if I’d like a black coffee, so Nescafé. I tell her I’d like some milk as well. To which she explains that they don’t have milk any more but that she could make me an instant cappuccino instead, if I don’t mind it being a little sweet…

ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. Fortunately, 14h30 is not a busy time at Zürich, so there’s no hold up for the approach. We come to a stop at one of the B gates at 14h28. By 14h43 I’m already on the train to Zurich main station, from where I’ll catch a train to Basel.

Air Serbia is falling apart
I must say, I really am quite amazed by my experience on Air Serbia today. There was really nothing at all about this flight that made it deserving of the label ‘Business Class’. Since Etihad stopped its funding in the company, Air Serbia has really gone to shit. As such, their progression into decay seems somewhat symptomatic of the state of the whole Etihad group. From the look of things, Etihad’s modus operandi so far appears to have been to simply throw as much money at an airline until it starts to look like yet another version of Etihad. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if only Etihad were a better airline.

Following the demise of Air Berlin and their rather ill-advised investment in Alitalia – at least they should have seen that one coming…- Etihad Airways announced recently that it would be focussing its strategy on providing good air service to and from its home in Abu Dhabi. There’s nothing wrong about that either, in theory. But Abu Dhabi is not Dubai. Abu Dhabi is quiet, more conservative and unlikely to attract the tourists like Dubai does. Which leaves the local market. But that will hardly work for Etihad, given that it’s a very small market that is, moreover, only a ninety minutes’ drive away from Dubai airport.

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Air Serbia, Economy Class – ATR 72: Ljubljana to Belgrade

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INTRODUCTION
With my business here in Slovenia successfully completed, it’s time for me to head home. But of course, it would hardly be like me if I just got on a plane going directly back to Zürich. And so, instead my next stop will be Belgrade.

I enjoyed my stay in Ljubljana very much. It’s a small city, but it’s very well kept, and the scenery, with the mountains surrounding the city on all sides, is truly grand.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My flight will be departing from Ljubljana at 10h05. So at 08h40 I exit the hotel and take a taxi to the airport. Being Saturday morning, the traffic is light and the journey only takes about 25 minutes to complete. The journey to the airport only costs EUR35, whereas the inbound journey is more expensive at EUR50.

CHECK-IN
Ljubljana’s terminal is a dinky little thing. I’m sure it must be one of the smallest terminals I’ve ever been through. Online check-in for the flight is not possible, so my first stop will have to be the Air Serbia counter. Which, incidentally, is located literally in the far corner of the terminal.

There are two counters for check-in, one for Economy and one for Business Class and Gold members of Etihad’s frequent flyer programme. Strangely enough though, both counters are occupied by one couple which has managed to spread out and has luggage littered all over the place.

But eventually I receive my boarding pass. For a moment my heart sinks as I take in the endless queue of passengers. But then I realise they’re not in fact queuing for security but for check-in for the Wizzair flight to Luton.

AIRSIDE
Once I’m through security, I head one floor up and then turn right. This is where the passport control takes place to exit the Schengen area. From there I head one floor down again on the other side to where the bus gates in the non-Schengen area are located.

THE CABIN
Boarding starts on time, and it looks as though the flight today is not completely full. On the ATR-72 boarding is through the aft door of the aircraft. Row numbering starts at the front of the cabin, as usual. Which means that the priority seats are located at the rear of the aircraft, to be closer to the door.

I can’t say I like the bright blue colour of the seats much. Other than that though, I think the seat pitch is good and once seated, there is enough space.

I am seated on 3A, which is just slightly forward of the propeller. Unfortunately though, the view of the outside is not really good enough to take pictures because the outer glass as started to turn opaque.

SERVICE
There are two female cabin crew on this flight. The more senior one is very friendly, whereas the younger one has a somewhat surly expression and a general aura of really not wanting to be there…

Like Adria Airways, Air Serbia has a buy on board service on Economy Class. However, with Air Serbia this means that literally everything is buy on board and you don’t even get offered a cup of water. Furthermore, and I find this rather strange, despite the fact that there is a buy on board service, the crew do not pass through the cabin with a trolley and don’t make any announcements either. So if you want to make a purchase, you have to call the crew to order. All in all, I think Adria Airways’ approach to inflight sales is a lot more charming and also makes a lot more sense. I think if the crew announce that there is possibility to make a purchase and pass through the cabin, the likelihood of somebody actually buying something is greater than if you just have a menu in the seat pocket and assume that passengers will see it. Perhaps one of Air Serbia’s many issues is that the interests of the cabin crew are strangely at odds with those of the airline’s management…

ARRIVAL
We land after a flight time of seventy minutes. It’s obviously just been raining recently, because the runway is still damp. The ramp is busy with some exotic aircraft. Air Serbia’s only A 330 is being readied for another sortie to JFK, there are two A 320s of Etihad and Qatar Airways respectively, and there is an A 300 of Iran Air getting ready to depart.

As I’m only travelling with hand luggage, I’m out of the terminal in record time. To get into town I shall be taking the A1 airport bus. The fare is RSD300 or EUR3. If you pay in Euros, you will even be given change in Euros. The journey will take about twenty minutes and there is a stop by the old main railway station in the heart of the city and one further on in the centre of town.

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Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a very nice and elegantly laid out city. In the evenings it’s just lovely to take a stroll through the old town and down to the river, the banks of which are lined with busy bars, cafés and restaurants.

Nonetheless, and you can call me biased if you like, the city’s main attraction lies outside the city at the airport: just in front of the offices of the Slovenian ANSP you will find this DC-6. Apparently, the aircraft was in service with Adria Airways for ten years, from 1962 to 1972. Once it was decommissioned, the aircraft was towed to its original spot and put on display where they later built the airport’s new parking. It was subsequently moved to its current location. Until very recently it was not clear who in fact owned the aircraft. As a result, this gorgeous veteran is in dire need of some TLC. Even so, I think she’s in pretty good shape for her age and it’s brilliant to be able to come up so close to such a grand old aircraft that, sadly, I am too young to ever have seen flying in real live.

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

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

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

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

Because I’m running rather late and I still need to get something from the duty free, I don’t have time to visit the refurbished and recently reopened SWISS lounge. Instead, by the time I’m ejected from the duty free store, it’s time for me to head to gate A 56, the boarding gate for today’s flight. Gate A 56 is located in a provisional building that was erected many years ago but which they then ‘forgot’ to tear down. A 56 is a bus gate and it’s not a particularly nice area of the terminal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To get into town from Ljubljana you have a number of options:

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

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

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

Posted in Adria Airways, Bombardier CRJ900, Economy class | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Riga to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Friday morning and time for me to return to Switzerland. I enjoyed my trip to Riga. Above all, the Latvians were really excellent hosts and took good care of me.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My flight will be departing from Riga at 07h50. Which means I have ordered a taxi to leave the Ibis Centre at 06h00. I’m being lazy and taking a taxi this time, simply because I didn’t bother to check at what time the busses start running and the bus journey takes longer anyway.

Just a word of caution about the taxis, though: apparently, they’ve got quite a racket going on in Riga and everyone I spoke to warned me that the drivers are not to be trusted. Indeed, I was told the journey should not cost more then EUR15. When I checked at the hotel though, I was told it was a fixed fare of EUR18. By the time I reached the airport, the driver was asking for EUR20…

CHECK-IN
Another word of warning. Or two, rather. Mornings can get very busy in Riga and the airport is becoming too small to handle all the passengers. As a result, the queues for check-in and security can stretch very far back. So if you can, make sure you check-in online or use one of the self-service machines. If you’re travelling with Air Baltic, fast track security is included in the Business Class ticket. Otherwise, fast track access can be purchased at the time of booking for EUR10. And I would seriously advise getting the fast track access.

THE LOUNGE
Since my last visit the passage connecting the original pier B to the newly constructed pier C has opened. And with that, the new and larger Business Class lounge has also moved. It is now located in the passage between the two piers and one floor up from the general airside area.

Air Baltic doesn’t have it’s own lounge and instead uses the Premier Lounge, which, as far as I can tell, is the only contractor lounge at the airport and is used by all other carriers as well.

The new lounge certainly offers more space. Fortunately, like the old lounge, it also has excellent views of the ramp and the runway.

BOARDING
Boarding starts on time. And it looks like it’s going to be a full flight. Despite the fact that our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, much to my delight we shall be boarding via steps, the traditional way. So I can basically knock myself out taking photos…

THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is slightly different from the one on the inbound flight, in that there is no bulkhead on the port side of the cabin. Apparently, this is why they try not to assign this row to passengers unless the flight is completely sold out.

I’m on 2A today, which is the window seat on the second row. Originally, there’s this enormous, very muscly Russian on the aisle seat 2C. But once the doors close, he asks if he can move to 1A and I have the whole row to myself again.

THE CREW
The crew working the Business Class cabin consists of two well-groomed and very polite young men. They’re not as cordial and warm as the two female cabin crew on the outbound flight. But still, their manners are impeccable.

SERVICE
The service runs very much along the same lines as the flight from Zürich to Riga: welcome drink, newspapers, menu, hot towels.

THE MEAL
Again, a hot meal is served. It consists of:

  • Greek yoghurt with granola, berries and mango coulis,
  • Pancakes, served with strawberry jam,
  • Cream cheese,
  • a selection from the breadbasket,
  • orange juice,
  • coffee

The meal is quite good. The granola could have done with a bit more yoghurt, but other than that it’s fine. I especially like the pancakes, which are thick and chunky and taste lovely with the strawberry jam.

Not that many passengers are actually eating, preferring to sleep instead. Apparently, most of them are connecting from Tbilisi, Moscow and Almaty, which are night flights

So once the meal is removed, I figure when in Rome… I only wake up shortly before landing, when the cabin crew ask me to put my seat back in the upright position again for touch down.

ARRIVAL
Zürich airport is still calm when we arrive, so there’s no hold up for landing. After all, it’s only just gone 09h10 here in Switzerland so the airport is in between traffic peaks. As my luck would have it, we park on the very first stand at the start of pier A, which means it’s only a very short walk to arrivals and then the railway station. By 10h15 I’m already in my office again in Winterthur.

Just one more trip, and then I’m done…

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Air Baltic, Business Class – Boeing B 737-300: Zürich to Riga

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INTRODUCTION
Today I’m on my way to Riga. And just in case you’re wondering what on earth I’m doing right now, travelling from one country to another, I should explain that this is all part of the research I am doing for my thesis.

Luckily, once I’ve been to Riga, I’ll only to make one more trip to Slovenia and then I’m done with the data collection.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave the office just after four in the afternoon. The plan is to catch the 16h25 train from Winterthur, to arrive at Zürich airport at 16h38. For some reason or other, the trains to and from Winterthur are all running with a delay of about four minutes, which, admittedly, does not even qualify as a delay in some countries but in Switzerland means that words will be had…

CHECK-IN
And so I arrive at Zürich airport way behind what I’d anticipated, at 16h41. I’ve already checked in on the Air Baltic website, which works nicely. I save the boarding pass to my iPhone wallet. And contrary to SWISS, with Air Baltic the pass appears on your lock screen, so all you have to do is swipe it for it to appear.

THE LOUNGE / AIRSIDE
Yeah, about that… In my previous post I may have mentioned that the SWISS Schengen lounge is still not open. The upshot of this, of course, is that the Aspire Lounge and also the DNATA lounge, which Air Baltic uses, have to absorb some of the SWISS passenger. As a result, more often than not, both lounges tend to be very crowded and not at all that pleasant.

Besides, departures are on runway 10 this afternoon, so I’m better off sitting somewhere on the A concourse by the window.

BOARDING
Boarding starts just slightly behind schedule. The first call is for Business Class passengers. It turns out that I’m the only passenger in Business Class today. Behind me, the next call is for passengers with children ‘and other disabilities’. I always find that such a funny phrase…

THE CABIN & SEAT
As far as commercial airliners go, by no means is the Boeing B 737-300 a spring chicken. Even so, it looks as though Air Baltic has taken very good care of this aircraft, which is fitted with the usual thin, modern seats. The configuration is 2 + 2, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. In addition, the armrests can be folded outwards towards the middle seat, to make the aisle and the window seats a bit wider. There is a small tray table in the middle for extra storage and underneath it there are two pillows and blankets on every row in Business Class.

I am seats on the window in 1F.

SERIVCE
The service begins on the ground when the purser comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink and newspapers. I order an apple juice but decline the paper, even though they have quite a selection of English language papers to choose from.

The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very charming and quite funny in the way they interaction with me. They’re definitely courteous but they haven’t lost their sense of humour over it.

As we push back, the purser hands me the menu for today’s flight.

THE MEAL
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the service begins. The purser asks me what I’d like to drink and then brings me the glass of water I requested, together with a scented hot towel. She then brings out the tray with the meal, which today consists of:

  • a soft cream cheese with cumin and a strawberry salsa,
  • grilled chicken breast in a saffron sauce, served with roasted vegetables and a creamy barley risotto,
  • a rhubarb tarte tatin,
  • a selection from the breadbasket all to myself, served with butter.

To drink I have water.

After the meal, the cabin attendant brings me a cappuccino and a piece of chocolate cake from a pre-ordered meal, the passenger of which apparently no-showed. Once that is removed, she brings me a bottle of still water and leaves me to work.

A bit later, the purser sees me working on my laptop and promptly closes the sun blinds on the opposite side of the cabin, which is in the sun, so that I can see better what’s on my screen.

ARRIVAL
The fasten seatbelt sign remains on for most of the flight, and it’s quite bumpy all the way. Latvia looks like a lovely country from above and very different from Switzerland in that it’s very flat.

We land at 22h10, slightly behind schedule, in the middle of what appears to be Air Baltic’s evening bank of arrivals.

I exit the building within ten minutes of landing, and the bus 22 into the city is already standing outside the terminal.

The journey into town will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR2. The bus stop isn’t right in front of the building, but across the road to your right as you exit arrivals.

The bus will take you to Riga’s main railway station in the centre of the city.

CONCLUSION
I think Air Baltic are a brilliant airline. Their service in Business Class is definitely superior to that of many of the legacy carriers, including SWISS or KLM. What’s more though, the crew on today’s flight were absolutely charming. I very much enjoyed this flight!

Posted in Air Baltic, Boeing B 737-300, Business Class | 2 Comments