EasyJet, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Basel

Airline: easyJet Switzerland
Aircraft: Airbus A 319
From: Prague Ruzyne Airport
To: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
Departure: 16:15
Arrival:
17:20
Flight time:
one hour and five minutes
Seat:
1F

The journey from the Czech air navigation service provider’s offices to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. The driver drops me off right outside Terminal 1, because that’s where the short term parking is located.

Terminals 1 and 2 are connected with each other, both landside and airside. EasyJet checks in at Terminal 2.

The check-in hall is a big, cavernous space. EasyJet’s counters are at the far end of the terminal, on the row closest to the security check point.

For my trip today I have speedy boarding as well as fast track access for security.

I like that Prague is probably one of the few airports I know of, where you are not ejected directly into the duty free shop once you pass through security. In fact, the duty free shops are all rather low key and small.

My flight will be departing from the D pier. But seeing as I still have a while to go before my flight even leaves from Basel, I figure I might as well walk to the very end of the C pier, where there is a long row of seats along the window front with a great view of the apron. At least, there would be if the weather weren’t so bad…

I really don’t know how easyJet does it. I mean, I watch my plane land and then taxi in. When the aircraft enters the ramp, I stand up and make my way back to the departure gate. I do make a brief stop at the gents on my way, but I’m quite sure even with that it can’t take me more than six or seven minutes to reach gate D5, from where the flight will be leaving. Even so, when I get there, boarding is already in full swing and there is a long queue to enter the airbridge. Surely, did it really only take so little time for the aircraft to park, the passengers of the incoming flight to disembark and them to start boarding again?

Of course, with the speedy boarding I am entitled to jump the queue and just waltz on the plane when I want. But honestly, I always find that’s a bit of a dick move when I see others doing it, and I figure it makes no difference anyway.

I am seated on 1D, the aisle seat. At the time I booked the flight, that was the only seat on row 1 that was still available. On 1A there is a middle-aged gentleman. Very late, 1B nd 1C are taken up by an elderly couple. The husband is not exactly a lightweight, to put is nicely…

Boarding is completed and 1E and 1F next to me both stay empty. So I figure I might as well move over to the window seat, which is where I usually sit. Only, as soon as I move, Mr 1B and his spouse move too. Apparently, he doesn’t like that there’s no bulkhead on the other side of the aisle.

I mean, how dumb can some people possibly be? If you already have the luxury of having a few empty seats on your row, you could spread out, for example by taking an aisle seat each. Like that, the middle seat would stay empty and we would all have so much more space and comfort. But no, of course not. Because the selfish, self-centred git don’t fancy not having a bulkhead.

Okay, rant over. Deep breaths, in and out. Thinking of happy little puppies, calm down. Oh yeah, great leg room on row 1, by the way!

Once we’re airborne, the onboard sales begin and I order a mint tea and the new chocolate brownie. Together, the two items set me back by EUR4.50, which I think is reasonable for what you get and cheaper than the M&S products you find on BA.

Other than that, the flight is uneventful and short. We start our descent into Basel and eventually land at 17h20, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

There are quite a few easJet aircraft on the ground when we arrive.

Apparently, the Czech Republic is considered ‘clean’ by the prefecture of Haut-Rhin, because we pull up to a stand on the Schengen ramp upon arrival. Which also means that it’s a long walk outside to get from the aircraft to the terminal. On the up side, that means great photo opportunities for people like me. On the down side, it also means that if it’s raining you’ll probably get soaked by the time you enter the building…

Flying with easyJet is a lot like taking a bus. There‘s really none of the magic or romance I associated with air travel when I was young. Even so, I think the easyJet product is solid and consistent, to the point that I think I would prefer easyJet to British Airways, given the choice. But probably that says a lot more about the current sad state of British Airways than it does about easyJet.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Prague

Airline: SWISS
Aircraft: Airbus A 220-300
From: Zürich Airport
To: Prague Ruzyne Airport
Departure: 17:47
Arrival:
18:44
Flight time:
57 minutes
Seat: 1A, window seat on the bulkhead row of the port side

Yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, I flew back from London Heathrow to Basel just as the chaos of another epic IT failure started to unfold in Heathrow. The upshot of that being that I had to spend three hours sitting in agony in BA’s painfully cramped Economy Class to make a journey that normally should only last a bit more than an hour. So as you may well imagine, I didn’t really fancy getting on a plane again on Monday. But this is for work, and I guess there are worse things to have to endure than SWISS’ Business Class.

My flight is scheduled to depart at 17h35. I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur, which arrives in Zürich Airport at 16h40. The airport is very quiet, which may have something to do with the fact that I think it’s the public school skiing holiday, when a lot of people head for the slopes with their families. All the better for me, because it means there are only very short queues for security.

I haven’t really got that much time left before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well head to the gate directly. I take a few pictures of my aircraft on the way.

Boarding starts on time. And I’m pleased to say that they appear to have implemented some changes to the check-in system which trigger an alarm if passengers try to board before their boarding group is called. It makes the whole process a lot more efficient.

There are four rows of Business Class on today’s flight, for a total of twelve seats. However, only six of the seats are occupied and the load in Economy Class doesn’t appear to be all that heavy either.

Generally speaking, I rather like the cabin layout SWISS has on the A 220-300. It’s a very comfortable experience for the passenger. The only thing I don’t like is the colour scheme, which looks rather bland and drab.

Another thing I really like on the A 220, is the Business Class loo, which is very roomy and large enough for me to be able to stand up straight in front of the sink. Usually, on the A 320 the curvature of the hull makes it impossible to stand upright.

The crew in the cabin consists of three young females. The maître de is 26 years old. She was married to a guy from Antigua and she really just couldn’t imagine living in the US, which is why he moved to Switzerland after they got married. But that only lasted for two years, because you know, honestly, after two years she’d really just had enough and couldn’t stand being married anymore. Like. I can also tell you what she studied and then broke off, what she’s currently studying, what she wants to do in future, and where she gets her nails done.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s actually very good at her job. She’s just a bit of a little Miss Chatterbox and clearly unaware of the fact that yes, the A 220 really has got very quiet engines indeed.

The service on the ground is the usual packaged towel and still water.

We make our way to runway 28 for departure. The weather really is quite dreary here today…

Much to my surprise, there’s a full meal service, depsite the short flight time. There is no choice for the meal. But I like that every passenger is served individually from the galley.

The main course is roast beef (bleeach…!) with potato salad, pickled radishes and carrots.

The meal is served with the usual small plate of Swiss cheese.

The crew pass through the cabin twice offering warm breads.

And for dessert there is a Läckerli cream thingy (better if you google that one…). And as if I haven’t had enough sweetness for one day, I have a coffee to finish the meal, which is served with a little SWISS chocolate.

The roast beef is really so not my thing. But the potato salad is quite okay and the dessert is just lovely.

Before I manage to finish the coffee, we’ve already started our descent into Prague, where eventually we land on time. The one thing I never fully understood about Prague is that although the airport is quite large, it’s also usually fairly empty. At least when I visit. And today is no exception, there are only a few aircraft standing around.

Public transport to and from the airport is a bit tricky in Prague. There is a bus that will take you to the closest metro station. But there is no rail link from the airport to the city. The hotel has organised a car to pick me up though, which makes the journey into town in about twenty minutes.

EasyJet – Airbus A 320: London Gatwick to Basel

Airline: easyJet
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: London Gatwick
To: Euroairport Basel-Muhlouse Freibourg
Departure: 18:28
Arrival:
20:42
Flight time:
one hour and fourteen minutes
Seat:
1F, window seat on the starboard bulkhead row

By the time I collect my suitcase from the luggage belt at Gatwick’s South Terminal, it’s already coming up to 16h30. I now have ninety minutes to make my connection to Basel with easyJet from the North Terminal.

Signposting is very good, and the shuttle that takes you to the North Terminal is on the same level as the landside arrivals area. The journey by shuttle only takes a few minutes.

Once I arrive at the other end, the easyJet check-in area is straight through the door, on the same level as the shuttle from the South Terminal.

I don’t know how many automatic check-in counters there are, but the row seems endless for sure. Which also means that I can just walk up to check in my suitcase without having to queue. This is my first time using one of these self-service machines, because I normally travel without checked luggage.

The process is easy to follow, if not perhaps a bit painful in my case… You see, at the time I made the booking, I remember paying extra to be able to check in a suitcase. Only, what I had purchased at the time was one checked bag weighing no more than 15 kilos. But two weeks in Malta is a long time, during which it’s only too easy to buy a few things here or there to take back with you.

So when I check in my suitcase at Gatwick, the scales indicate that it weighs in excess of 20 kilos, and the price for that is a whopping GBP60. And rather conveniently, you can pay the amount due right there at the check-in counter with your credit card.

Security is quick and efficient. That’s one of the few things I think the British really do very well. Once I’m through security, I just have enough time for a quick meal at Wagamama before it’s time to head for the gate. And for a changes there’s even no queue for a table.

My flight is departing from gate 102, which is located in the satellite that is connected to the main terminal by a bridge that aircraft can taxi under. It’s already dark though, so there’s not much to see.

I’m seated on 1F. I was hoping to take a picture of the seat as I boarded, but alas Ms 1D is already there and it’s impossible for me to take a photo without her in it. Still, she’s a very nice woman and very helpful with getting my backpack stowed away properly.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good and certainly comfortable enough for the short flight to Basel. Moreoever, the one thing I appreciate about easyJet is that their aircraft always appear to be in mint condition.

We start up and push back on time. but we don’t get very far. We make one right turn and then stop. The cockpit crew shut down one of the engines again and inform us that there will be a slight delay, with our slot time not coming up for another twenty minutes. Other aircraft are also having to wait.

There’s nothing much to say about the crew, seeing as I don’t make any inflight purchases with them. The only thing I can say is that the purser is a young Italian man who’d make an interesting linguistic study. From his accent he’s unmistakably Italian. Other than that though, he’s highly proficient and uses many idiomatic expressions that you normally wouldnt’t expect from a speaker with such a heavy accent. Sorry, end of geek-out…

After sixteen days away from home, I’m finally back in Basel. And it’s good to be back. But god it’s cold here…

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Malta to London Gatwick

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: Malta International Airport
To: London Gatwick
Departure: 13:35
Arrival:
15:50
Flight time:
three hours and fifteen minutes
Seat:
5F, window on the starboard side

This trip has been just brilliant. First of all, I can’t remember the last time I went away on vacation for as much as two whole weeks in a row and without changing time zones! I had no idea how relaxing that can be! Of course, it helps that the weather in Malta has been lovely, with sunshine and temperatures hovering around 18 degrees celsius every day.

To get to the airport from Valletta and Floriana by public transport, there are four buses you can take. The X4 is the ‘express’ which runs to Birzebbuga (there are a few diacritics missing there, sorry…) via the airport. The X4 actually stops right outside the terminal building and runs every half hour.

But then there are also the bus lines 71, 72 and 73, all of which go to Iz-Zurrieq and/or Qrendi on the other side of the airport. All three call at the bus stop ‘Cintra’, which is just at the entrance to the road tunnel under the runway. From ‘Cintra’ it’s a walk of about three minutes to the terminal building and there’s a pavement all the way. The 71, 72 and 73 run every six minutes. The journey time is 20 minutes.

When I arrive at check-in, quite a few of the check-in counters are open in preparation for the early afternoon rush. British Airways has its own, dedicated counters, with one counter for Club Class passengers and status card holders and three for all other passengers. Check-in is handled by Air Malta staff on behalf of British Airways.

The check-in agent tags my suitcase, issues me a boarding pass and an invitation to the the La Valette lounge.

The entrance to the La Valette lounge is immediately on your left as you exit through the obligatory duty free shop. Access to the lounge is via lift.

Seeing as it’s the only lounge at the airport, it’s also very busy at this time of day. There are three Air Malta flights, Lufthansa’s Frankfurt service, the Emirates flight and the BA flight to Gatwick all leaving at more or less the same time.

I grab myself a Kinnie from one of the fridges and then head outside to catch some sun. Luckily, I manage to snag a chair with a perfect view of the apron. I’m going to miss the warmth of the sun when I get back to Switzerland.

The easyJet and British Airways flights from Gatwick arrive in short sequence and both of them are running thirty minutes late due an ATC strike in France…

Gates 11 through 18 are the non-Schengen gates behind immigration. And today it’s a mess. The terminal is clearly very rapidly reaching full capacity during peaks. The British Airways flight is boarding from gate 18, which is the farthest gate. Next to us is the easyJet flight to Gatwick, next to that is the Ryanair flight to East Midlands, and next to that is the Ryanair flight to Manchester. And it’s chaos!

But at least I am rewarded for my labours, which include being body-checked by some vicious granny trying to jump the queue for the Manchester flight, because there is no bus for boarding and we are allowed to walk across the apron to our waiting chariot.

The cabin of this aircraft looks and feels different to that of the aircraft that operate to and from Heathrow. However, I don’t know if this bird is an exception or if this is the case for the entire Gatwick fleet. First of all, the cabin is not branded and the bulkhead is white with grey dots, instead of the dark grey coloured one with the Speedbird that you find on the Heathrow fleet.

And the seat is different too. There is no adjustable headrest. Other than that, the cabin looks very worn and in serious need of some TLC. They’ve removed the overhead screens. But instead of covering up the electric sockets where they used to be, they’ve just left everything uncovered. Not only does it not looks very nice, it also gives the impression that really this aircraft should be in maintenance and not in service.

At least on row 5 the seat pitch is still good enough for a flight of thre hours.

The crew on this flight are also unusual. First of all, the purser is a nice, friendly chap. But honestly, I’m wondering if he’s already old enough to have to shave. He’s also not wearing a standard issue uniform shirt. Either that or British Airways recently changed to off-white uniform shirts for their male crew that have the kind of matted grey colour you can only hope to achieve from chucking in a perfectly white shirt with your undies and socks to wash by mistake…

But apart from that, I have to say that all of the crew are excellent. They’re very friendly and they are constantly present in the cabin during the flight. They take could care of the passengers.

The flight today is full, and there are 36 passengers in the Business Class cabin.

The flight time is three hours and fifteen minutes due to the ATC strike. We take off towards the northwest, routing via Palermo and Rome, then across the Alps into Austria and then Germany and Belgium to avoid France.

The mix of passengers in the cabin is interesting. I think it’s safe to say that at 45 years of age, I am by far the most junior passenger in the forward cabin. The rest are all in their late sixties and early seventies and probably still remember Malta from when they were stationed there with the RAF, before Malta became independent.

And all of them look as though they’re travelling for leisure. Behind me is another elderly couple. The husband is your typical cockney geezer who insists on calling the female cabin crew ‘sweetheart’ – and has me wondering how long before he inadvertently becomes part of the #metoo movement but for all the wrong reasons.

There is no service at all on the ground. I don’t know if this is normal or just because the crew are in a hurry to get away as soon as possible.

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin with lightly scented hot towels and distribute the menus for the flight.

There are three choices for the main dish.

Ahead of the meal there is a drinks service, and passengers have a coice of nuts or biscuits as a snack to go with that.

The whole meal is served on one tray from the galley, so there is no trolley service. While of course it is nicer to have your meal brought to you from the galley, instead of it being taken out of a trolley, I also think that tray service doesn’t really work on a narrow body, especially if you have a fairly large and full Business Class cabin as on this flight. By the time the crew deliver the last meals to row 9, the passengers on row 1 are already having their tea or coffee.

There’s something delightfully oldfashioned about the starter, which is crayfish in a spicy cocktail sauce. It’s not bad, although a bit less sauce would have been perfectly fine too.

For the main course I have the fish, which is very good and has managed not to to dry up completely in the oven.

The cheese is my favourite part of the meal on BA and I just love that they serve it with chutney and crackers.

In addition to the crackers, the crew also make two rounds with the bread basket and there is a selection of white and brown breads.

The dessert is fine but really just way to sweet. My teeth ache just from looking at it. I give up on this one and only have half of it.

To finish off the meal I have a cup of mint tea to help pry my tongue off my hard palate after that sticky dessert…

Later on, as we start our descent into Gatwick, the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of Border’s biscuits. The biscuits are good, but I’m wondering if the presentation could be improved – because the crew pass through the cabin with this enormous retail size box of biscuits and distribute them from that. It’s not the height of sophistication to be honest…

En route over Italy the crew were able to get an improvement on our routing, to the extent that the delay is reduced to less than fifteen minutes. But by the time we’re sequenced for arrival and eventually touch down, we’re thirty minutes later after all.

The flight ends at Gatwick’s South Terminal. I now need to retrieve my suitcase and then make my way to the North Terminal for my connecting flight.

While there were a few oddities on this flight, such as the consition of the aircraft cabin, the appearance of the crew and the mix of passengers in the Business Class cabin, all in all this was not a bad flight. Moreover, I think that Gatwick is by far the much more pleasant passenger experience than Heathrow.

Flying British Airways may not be everyone’s cup of tea and honestly, they’re usually not my first choice anymore either. Even so, I still think it’s impressive that on a Friday afternoon in early February, which is during Malta’s deepest low season, they still manage to fill 36 seats in Business Class.

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

Airline: Air Malta
Aircraft: Airbus A 320 (previously operated by SriLankan)
From: Zürich Airport
To: Malta International Ariport
Departure: 18h15
Arrival: 20:10
Flight time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Seat: 12A, window seat on the first overwing emergency exit row on the port side

Today I’m on my way to Malta. The big plan is to spend two weeks working on my research in peace and quiet, without any of the usual distractions at work. The first part of this journey is pretty much identical to my penultimate post on Air Europa last week, to the extent that I take the same train from my office to the airport and even check-in at the same place. Air Malta checks in with Swissport on row 3 of Check-in 2.

Given that I only recently posted two reports on Air Malta, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to post yet another. But then I realised it’s been a while since my last flight in Economy Class with Air Malta, and certainly this is my first flight since they introduced full buy on board service. So there you go.

I reach the gate at 17h05, which is the boarding time indicated on the boarding pass. My aircraft is just pulling onto the stand, having arrived in Zürich with a delay of thirty minutes.

Eventually, boarding starts at around 17h30, ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. The flight is surprisingly busy, given that it’s the low season. It’s not completely sold out, but from what I can tell there aren’t that many empty seats left.

I’ve reserved seat 12A, which is the window on the port side emergency exit. On the A 320 there are two exit rows. The first one is my preferred choice because it’s far enough from the next row that the guy behind you cannot poke his knobbly knees into your coccyx and the guy infront of you can’t recline because the exit row is behind them. Perfect!

As my luck would have it, the middle and aisle seats remain empty for the whole flight. So I have a whole row of three to myself.

There are five crew on this flight and they really are excellent. They’re very laid back but still professional. One of them explains the operation of the emergency exit to the guy behind me and he tells her he’s seen this all before. Undeterred, she explains very nicely that she’s obliged to explain it to him just the same.

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for hot snacks. There’s a choice of about five hot dishes on the inflight menu. Although two already sold out on the inbound to Zürich. So I decide to go with the vegan Lasagna. I’m not even that hungry, but I’m curious.

Twenty minutes later my food arrives. With that I order a Diet Kinnie and a KitKat, for a total of EUR10. The Lasagna is surprisingly not bad, considering what it is. I’ve had worse. Like on Dragon Air. Much worse. Even so, I do find EUR10 a bit steep for such a meal.

The flight is uneventful. We land in Malta at 20h10, with a delay of only ten minutes and after a flight time of slightly less than two hours. Alas, we’re parked sufficiently far away from the terminal to warrant sending a bus to pick us up. I was hoping we’d be allowed to walk, so I could take a picture of my aircraft.

The weather is not up to Malta’s usual standards, unfortunately. It’s only about 15 degrees Celsius and overcast. But at least it’s not raining and it’s still 15 degrees warmer than Zürich when we departed this evening.

Air Nostrum, Business Class – CRJ-1000: Madrid to Basel

Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-1000, operated by Air Nostrum
From: Madrid Barajas
To: Basel Mulhouse
Departure: 10h16
Arrival:
12h29
Flight time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Seat:
3F, window seat

The 7 Islas Hotel is located just off the Gran Via in the centre of Madrid. I exit the hotel just after 7h00 in the morning and walk five minutes to Tribunal metro station.

From there I take the metro line 10 to Nuevos Ministerios, which is two stops away. And then from there I catch the metro line 8 to Terminal 4. The metro service starts at 06hoo in the morning, with trains running every eight minutes.

At Terminal 4 I take the lift three floors up from the metro station to departures on level 2. Iberia Business Class counters are located on rows 780 to 799.

There is a dedicated security checkpoint for Business Class passengers, which is completely segregated from the other passengers and very efficient.

The Iberia Business Class lounge is hard to miss as you exit from security. The lounge is enormous and offers a wide range of seating options. It‘s a very nice looking lounge. As for food options though, it‘s a bit of a let down and only has very limited choices.

Terminal 4 is huge, and recently the airport authority was given planning permission to expand this already vast facility. My flight is boarding from gate K95, at the north end of the terminal, which is equivalent to Amsterdam’s Fokker farm.

I must say, I really dislike the Bombardier CRJ1000, because it’s such a badly designed aircraft and from the passenger’s perspective, it’s just narrow, tight and unpleasant.

On the starboard side there is a row one, right behind the lavatory. On the port side though, row 2 is the bulkhead row. According to the seat map when I checked in, there’s one person on row 1, two on row 2 – one on either side – and one person – that would be me – on row three on the starboard side.

Just before the doors close, a middle aged gentleman and his son appear from behind the cabin divider and park themselves on 3A and 3C and I have the sneaking suspicion the shouldn’t actually be sitting there. The doors close and the crew go through their routine duties, with the passenger address and then the safety briefing.

Unfortunately, for messrs father and son, the flight attendant notices something’s amisss and checks the flight manifest to figure out what it is. Of course it doesn’t take very long for her to realise that there are two passengers too many sitting in the Business Class section.

Sometimes the stupidity of humanity can be interesting to watch. If perhaps also a tad pathetic at times. The flight attendant asks the father what his assigned seat number is, to which he replies that he doesn’t know. So she then asks to see his boarding pass, only to find he should have been seated on row 16. When she explains this to him, he tells her he knows but suffers from an acute case of claustrophobia, which is of course made worse by sitting on row 16 and having to look all the way down this long metal tube.

But the flight attendant obviously has been doing this for a while, so she very sweetly explains just how bad she feels for him, and that he will have to move nonetheless once the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off. So there you have it kids, don’t lie. It doesn’t pay off. You only end up looking like a dick in front of your son, at an age when he already thinks you’re nothing short of embarrssing anyway.

We take off towards the north. I’ll say this though about the CRJ1000: when you’re sitting up front, it really is very quiet and there’s something quite poetic climbing out of the vast expanse of the flat landscape around Madrid.

No sooner has the seat belt sign been turned off, the crew are released to start their service, which begins with a glass of orange juice, followed by an unscented hot towel. One of the cabin crew comes through the cabin asking what we’d like for brunch. There is a choice between a melted cheese and ham sandwich and a tortilla.

The tray is served with the hot meal, a bowl of fruit and the cutlery on it. My first impression is that the tray looks very empty. But then the crew come though the cabin with warm bread and shortly after make a second round offering croissants and chocolate doughnuts.

The hot meal consists of a warm tortilla, spinach, pumpkin and a sausage.

To drink with the meal I ask for a coffee and some sparkling water. I’m surprised when the cabin crew brings me a half-litre bottle and leaves it there for me.

I spend the rest of the flight reading with the warm glow of the morning sun on my face. Eventually we make our approach into Basel from the south. But the clouds are very low today, so that we’re already more or less past the city before we actually break through the cloud.

Our flight comes to an end on the non-Schengen side of the terminal. However, we are then bussed to the other side, which is also non-Schengen but for flights arriving from countries which would actually be in the Schengen area if France so much as respect the Schengen agreement. Every time I pass through Basel, they’ve thought up something new to make the process even more convoluted and complicated…

At least the airport isn’t too busy, so there’s next to no queue for immigration and my suitcase arrives quickly.

I now have three days in the office before I’ll be gone for a while… stay tuned.

Air Europa, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Zürich to Madrid

Airline: Air Europa
Aircraft: Embraer 195
From: Zürich
To: Madrid Barajas
Departure: 18:51
Arrival:
20:36
Flight time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Seat:
14D, aisle seat on the emergency exit

At 16:54 I catch the train back to Zürich airport and make my way to Check-In 2, row 3, which is where Swissport has its counters for the smaller airlines like Air Baltic, Air Malta and Air Europa.

There‘s nobody else checking-in right now, so I‘m seen to straight away. And then from there I head for security, which is just as quiet.

Air Europa uses the Dnata lounge in Zürich, located towards the end of the airside centre, near the B pier. The lounge is completely packed and there‘s hardly any room to sit.

Eventually, I find a place to settle and get myself some food. The selection in the lounge is good, with a choice of salads, soup and a pasta dish to choose from.

Considering they‘re a handling agent, boarding an aircraft is something Swissport doesn‘t do very well at all. An announcement is made that boarding will be by zones, starting with zone 1. only, no further announcement is made, resulting in the inevitable scrum by passengers. In fact, boarding is utter chaos and the original two queues expand quickly into a riot-scale pushing and shoving extravaganza.

Eventually though, I make it onto the plane and settle into my seat on the emergency exit.

Again, the seat pitch on the exit row is great. I also think Air Euopa have better padding on their seats in the Embraer than KLM, Air France or Helvetic.

There are three crew in the cabin. As I don‘t make any purchases from the inflight menu, my interaction with them is limited. But the safety briefing they give is professional.

The flight itself is very bumpy for most of the journey. To the extent that even the crew had to be seated. Which is good, because the rocking puts me right off to sleep!

We land slightly head of schedule. In Madrid Air Europa operates out of Terminal 3, which has its own metro station. Public transport in Madrid is quite cheap. Although you need to purchase a supplement for journeys to and from the airport.

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 321: Paris Roissy to Zürich

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Airbus A 321
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
To: Zürich
Departure: 13h20
Arrival:
14h15
Flight time: 55 minutes
Seat:
25A, emergency exit on the port side

I disembark the Airbus A330-200 that brought me to Paris from Dubai and enter into Terminal 2E. My connecting flight to Zürich will depart from Terminal 2F, which sits opposite 2E. The route to take is clearly signposted for connecting passengers.

The security check is done in Terminal 2E and there is a dedicated queue for SkyPriority passengers. Right behind security is the passport control to enter the Schengen area. And then from there it‘s just a short walk to the main airside area of 2F.

Terminal 2F has two piers. And like the other terminals, it also has a striking desing.

By the time I get to 2F it‘s 12h, and I still have 50 minutes before boarding for the next flight begins.

The Air France lounge, le Salon, is located one floor below the gate area.

The lounge is very busy, which is why I don‘t take any photos. It has a good selection of hot and cold drinks and cold snacks, which are replenished and changed throughout the day.

At 12h35 I leave the lounge to find my gate. The flight is departing from F49, which is right next to the escalator coming up from the lounge. Boarding has just started for zones 1 and 2.

I‘m seated on row 25, which is the second emergency exit row on the A 321. Leg space is absolutely brilliant. What‘s more, the middle seat stays empty, so I have more than enough space to spread out!

On the down side, there is no window on row 25. But it‘s cloudy all the way to Zürich anyway, so that‘s okay.

As soon as we‘re airborne, the service begins. As a snack there is a tomato and egg sandwich. To drink I have a can of Perrier.

Eventually we touch down at 14h15. By 14h46 I‘m already on the train to the office, where I need to sign off a few documents. And then from there I head back to the airport.

On the four flights I took with Air France for this trip to Dubai, the airline provided a solid product at a consistently high standard. Unlike boring Lufthansa in its perpetual identity crisis and dreadful BA, flying with Air France is still a pleasure, firmly establishing them, in my view, as Europe‘s best airline right now.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Dubai to Paris Roissy

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-200
From: Dubai
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle
Departure: 07h00
Arrival:
11h10
Flight time: 7 hours 10 minutes
Seat:
3C, aisle seat

Air France operates two daily flights from Dubai to Paris. AF655 is the night time service which departs Dubai at 01h30, to arrive in Paris at 06h15 in the morning. This flight is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER and features Air France’s fabulous la Première.

AF659 is the day time service that leaves Dubai at 06h40 and arrives in Paris at 11h40. This service is operated by an Airbus A 330-200. Air France is currently in the process of refurbishing the Business Class cabin on its Airbus A 330s. In both the old and new versions, the seating configuration is 2 + 2 + 2, seeing as the aircraft are mostly deployed on mid-haul sectors only. The main difference between the new and the old seat is that the old seat is an angled lie-flat, while the new seat is also lie-flat but horizontal.

Theoretically, only aircraft in the new configuration are operated to Dubai. However, for operational reasons it may happen that you will find yourself sitting in an aircraft in the old configuration.

If check the seat map, in the new cabin the first row on the port side is row 1. Whereas in the old configuration, the bulkhead row on the port side is row 2.

I leave the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa at 04h26. The journey to the airport takes exactly 14 minutes to complete – partly because there is hardly any traffic with it being the weekend, and mainly because the driver clearly has a pressing appointment with death and thinks I might fancy coming along for the ride.

Air France operates out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Check-in is done in area 2 and there are seven counters open when I arrive.

When I arrived in Dubai a week ago, the immigration officer stored my passport data, so that I could use the biometric smart gates. As a result, passport control for departures is now very swift and painless.

At this time of the day, Terminal 1 is not very busy. As such, security only takes a few minutes and then I’m on my way to the shuttle that will take me to the D gates.

In Dubai Air France uses the SkyTeam lounge for its Business Class passengers. The lounge is very spacious. I’d like to say it’s also quiet, but that would be a lie, because there’s this beastly little squirt making enough noise for ten. Luckily the little creep soon vanishes when the Saudia flight to Jeddah is called for boarding. Peace at last…

Boarding starts at 05h55. It’s still dark outside and the location of the gate makes photos of the aircraft impossible.

Boarding is by zones, with Business Class passengers in zone 1 boarding first.

My first impression of the seat is good. The cabin looks tidy and the seat configuration is practical. There is a stowage compartment right below the video screen and in the side of the seat.

The inflight entertainment has touch screen technology and the picture is very sharp. Complimentary wifi for text messages is available. For more capacity, passengers can purchase individual packages.

The divider between the two seats is good, and in the open position offers at least some privacy.

On this service, Air France serves the main meal immediately after take-off, which I think is rather inconvenient, because most passengers have had an early start and want to sleep, more than anything else. And so I decide to skip the meal and go off to Noddy land instead. In the bed position the seat is very comfortable, and together with the thick blanket and plump pillow makes for a good few hours of sleep.

I wake up halfway into the flight. One of the crew sees me and immediately comes to ask if I’ll have breakfast, which she subsequently brings me with an espresso and fresh orange juice.

The meal consists of a plate of smoked salmon and smoked turkey.

Fruit salad and yoghurt.

And a selection of bread.

There is also a choice of English breakfast or sweet crêpes. But seeing as I already had something to eat in the lounge, I decide to skip the hot meal.

A bit over an hour out of Paris the lights come on and a light snack is served.

It consists of three small canapés with cheese, salmon and grilled vegetables.

A bowl of fruit.

And a strange looking dessert I steer clear of…

The crew on this flight are truly excellent. Throughout the journey they are constantly passing through the cabin and even actively asking passengers if there’s anything they can do for them.

Eventually, we land in Paris ahead of schedule, despite the detour via Saudi Arabia. The flight ends at Terminal 2E. I now have to make my way to 2F for my onward connection.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris Roissy to Dubai

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
To: Dubai
Departure: 14h00
Arrival: 23h50
Flight time: 6h50mins
Seat: 3L, window seat

To date, the UAE’s three largest airlines, some of the country’s ANSPs and a few smaller operators use the tests my university is responsible for. Which is why I regularly travel to the UAE to train new assessors. Every time I come here, the flying Dutchman tells me it’ll probably be the last trip for a while. But that never really seems to be the case…!

I go through immigration in terminal 2G, at which I just arrived on a flight from Basel. Behind passport control is the stop for the shuttle bus, which pulls up just as I’m through passport control. The journey to terminal 2E(K) is nine minutes.

On the way I get a nice tour of some of Paris’ best sights (at least I think so…):

Once I enter the building at 2K, I head one floor up to the main concourse. My flight to Dubai is boarding from K41, which is the gate immediately next to the escalators.

I don’t recall having passed through this terminal before. And I must say, the architecture is spectacular.

Just as I step off the escalator, boarding for my flight begins, 55 minutes before departure. That seems rather early to me, but I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just get comfortable on board instead.

Well hello, gorgeous! Aren’t you a lovely big girl… in case you hadn’t realised, I seriously have a thing for the B777. Those engines…!

The Business Class cabin on Air France’s B777-300ER is configured in a reverse herring bone layout. There is a smaller Business Class cabin of four rows between the L1 and L2 doors, and then the larger cabin after the L2 door. Row 3 is the bulkhead row of the forward cabin, immediately behind La Première.

Air France has one of my favourite Business Class products. The design of the seat is great and the amount of privacy offered is also very good.

There is ample storage space and the layout of the seat is very practical.

When I reach my seat, a pair of slippers, a thick pillow, a nice, fluffy blanket, and a bottle of Evian have already been placed there.

A member of the crew quickly comes to greet me and then hangs my jacket.

Once boarding is completed, service begins with a welcome drink. There is a choice of champagne or fresh juice. I have the latter, which turns out to be a combination of apple, banana, orange, pineapple, spinach and something else I’ve now forgotten. It’s quite tasty!

This is followed by the distribution of the unscented hot towels, which are also very fluffy.

We take off heading westwards. Our flight today is routing via Switzerland, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The flight time is six hours and 25 minutes.

After take-off, the vanity kits and menus are distributed.

The service begins as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off. To start, I just have a glass of Perrier, which is served with the appetizer, which is smoked duck with a celery and hazelnut purée. There’s also a packet of cheese-filled crackers.

The tray is served with the first course and salad on it. The starter is foue gras, which I simply don’t like, and a lentil and cauliflower salad, which is very tasty and flavourful.

There’s a lovely selection of warm bread served with the meal.

For the main dish, I have the fish, which isn’t all that good and has a somewhat off-putting smell from the reheated mussels.

Next is the cheese course, which is served with more bread. There are three pieces of cheese, a camembert, a cantal and a goat’s cheese. All three are quite subtle and go well with a glass of port.

And finally, for dessert I have a small ramekin of mocha ice cream, which is a refreshing conclusion to the meal. Two hours after take-off, the service is completed.

For the rest of the flight I lounge in my seat, reading my Kindle. I can highly recommend Ian McEwan’s The Cockroach, which is a brilliant satire based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse, in which a cockroach finds himself transformed into the British prime minister.

90 minutes out of Dubai, the lights are turned on again and a light snack is served ahead of our arrival.

The snack consists of a chicken wrap and two sweet pastries and is perfectly adequate, given the short flight time.

Eventually we land after six hours and fifty minutes, including 25 minutes spent holding over Dubai. The airport seems very quiet and there are hardly any people on the shuttle to the arrivals building.

Immigration is deserted. I’m seen to by a friendly young guy, who tells me he’s now registered me in their system, so I’ll be able to use the eGates on my next visit.

I grab a taxi and make my way to the hotel. It suddenly starts raining heavily, and within minutes Sheikh Zayed Road is flooded is places. I’ve never seen Dubai like this. It’s still warm though.