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

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Bucharest

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INTRODUCTION
Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Switzerland. It’s sunny and warm but without the oppressive heat yet that you get in July or August. The vegetation is a lush, dark green and it crosses my mind for just the briefest moment that I would miss all this if I were to leave this world.

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CHECK-IN
Today I’m on my way to Bucharest, where I have an appointment on Monday morning. The summer holidays are about to kick off, which is why the airport is crawling with passengers. I take the escalators up to Check-in 1, which is home to SWISS, and I have trouble getting off the escalators without falling over somebody. The queue for the Economy Class baggage drop-off stretches halfway across the terminal building. And it’s moving very slowly…

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The lines for security are no better!

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THE LOUNGE
The Business Class lounge in the Schengen area is still not open. Originally it was scheduled to reopen in May following refurbishment. But apparently that deadline has now quietly been moved back to mid-July. But at least, seeing as my flight is departing from the non-Schengen area, there’s always the SWISS lounge on the D concourse, which is behind immigration.

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As can be expected, this lounge is pretty full. There is a small selection of hot and cold snacks but quite honestly, it’s nothing to write home about.

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BOARDING
Boarding is from gate D 54, which is a bus gate and therefore good news for me. By the time I reach the gate, the first bus has already departed. But when my bus pulls up next to the stairs to our aircraft, the passengers from the first bus are still milling around at the bottom of the stairs waiting to get on board. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why, but the whole boarding process takes forever. But I don’t complain. First, because that gives me time to take some pictures of my aircraft and secondly, because while I’m standing around the daily Singapore Airlines departs right in front of my nose. Cool!

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By the time all the passenger settle in the cabin, it’s already gone 12h05, the scheduled departure time. The captain makes his welcome announcement and informs us that the flight time will be one hour and 55 minutes and that we should expect an on time arrival.

Famous last words… eventually we depart with a delay of more than 45 minutes.

THE CABIN
The cabin is in the usual 2 + 2 configuration where the middle seat is kept empty in Business Class. I don’t know if this is the case for all of the SWISS Airbus narrow-body fleet, but in any case this aircraft is not equipped with power plugs at the seats.

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THE CREW
There are two young ladies and two middle aged ladies working the cabin on today’s flight. I think one of the two young ones is still in training. She’s not shy but sometimes seems a bit unsure of herself. But she more than makes up for it with her personality. She’s very friendly and obviously putting a lot of effort into delivering a good service.

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Before take-off the usual still water and refreshing towel are distributed.

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THE MEAL
The meal consists of a cold main course, a plate of cheese and dessert. The main course is smoked salmon with ratatouille, with avocado and mango and a quinoa salad. With that I have a Silser bun that was obviously designed to look like a football, and a normal bun.

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When the tray first arrives, my first thought is that it all looks rather frugal. But I must admit that it actually all tastes very good. It’s clearly a good quality cut of salmon and the salad is flavourful.

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For dessert there is a small glass ramekin with white chocolate mousse (encore…!) on a coulis of raspberries.

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And then to conclude the meal, I have a coffee and a football shaped chocolate. By the time the meal service ends, there are only fifty minutes left to go to Bucharest.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Bucharest with a delay of fifty minutes.

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But at least I only have hand luggage, so I’m out of the terminal in no time. As I’m staying in the centre of town, my best option is the bus 783. The bus stop in on the ground level, one floor down from arrivals. As you exit the arrivals hall, you will find the ticket booth on your right. But keep in mind that you can’t just buy a ticket and must have a chip card first, on to which you can then charge money. All of this can be done at the ticket booth. You can’t purchase tickets on the bus.

The journey into the centre will take you roughly forty minutes in good traffic.

Posted in Airbus A 320, Economy Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Luxembourg to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Friday afternoon, so it’s time for me to pack my bags and make my way back to Switzerland. The flying Dutchman has kindly offered to drop me off at the airport before returning to the office to do a Sim session.

I think I’ve already written more than enough about Luxembourg airport, so I guess we might as well skip ahead to the actual flight, without bothering with the preliminaries of getting to the airport, checking in, etc.

BOARDING
The flight is scheduled to depart at 14h55, with boarding expected to commence at 14h30. Clearly, that’s not likely to happen today, given that the aircraft only touches down in Luxembourg until after 14h30. The monitors are showing a minor delay of ten minutes, with an expected time of departure at 15h05.

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Apparently, there’s a bit of a confusion about a VIP passenger, who is first allowed to board the aircraft but later on asked to step off the plane and wait with everybody else…

Boarding starts just after 15h00, so it looks like the 15h05 departure isn’t going happen either. Eventually we take-off at 15h32, forty minutes behind schedule.

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THE CABIN
I really must say, I like the cabin of the CSeries. It feels so roomy. Having said that, I was recently browsing on the SWISS website and saw that on some days the CSeries is deployed even as far afield as Cairo. No matter how nice the CSeries is, I think a four-hour sector to Cairo is definitely pushing it in terms of passenger comfort…

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The Luxembourg route is highly susceptible to last minute aircraft changes. When I made the booking, the outbound should have been a CSeries 300 and the return should have been operated by a Helvetic Airways Embraer 190. As it turned out though, the CSeries on the outbound was substituted by an Embraer, while the Embraer on this afternoon’s flight has been replaced by a CSeries 100. I mention this because the configuration on the Embraer is 2 + 2. So it makes no difference which side of the vessel you’re seated on, because in Business Class the seat next to you always remains empty. But on the CSeries, the configuration is 2 + 3. Which means that if you’re on the starboard side, you will still possibly have to climb over the person on the aisle to get out.

Luckily enough for me though, today the aisle seat on my row stays empty.

THE CREW
The cabin crew consists of three flight attendants, two young ladies and one young man, who is also the maître de. One of the females is exclusively working the Economy Class cabin, so I only catch a glimpse of her. The maître de is working the Business Class cabin and is occasionally assisted by the third crew member. Which is a good thing because she’s obviously having a bad day. Poor boo…! Apparently she’s made a vow of silence too, because she refuses to speak. And that’s just all sorts of awkward when you have a job that involves interacting with other human beings…

But the young man is excellent! He has very good manners and obviously goes to great lengths to make all the passengers feel comfortable.

Once the doors are closed, the crew distribute pre-packaged, scented towels and small bottles of still water. I think this is a nice touch and something that SWISS does on every flight, unlike KLM, who will only distribute water in case of a delay, so soften the blow so to speak…

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THE MEAL
The meal consists of the usual three ramekins. The first one is filled with a red cabbage salad on cream cheese, the second is pieces of duck on a barley salad and the third is the dessert – a milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse.

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With the meal I ask for some coffee, which is served from a cardboard cup and which doesn’t seem very premium to me…

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The flight time to Zürich is thirty minutes and the cockpit crew are obviously making the effort to make up for some of the delay.

Just before the landing, the crew distribute the chocolates. The usual small, red bars of goodness have been replaced with little round chocolates wrapped up like a football to mark the occasion of the world cup. And then there’s a bit of an awkward moment when the maître de makes an announcement that ‘…in preparation for lading, please consult the safety on board cards and take a moment to located the nearest emergency exit in the likely event of an evacuation…’. But I think it goes to show just how little the travelling public gives a shit about the on board announcements, because nobody turns a hair, leaving the young man clearly confused about what he actually intended to say and what eventually came out…!

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Eventually we land and taxi to one of the remote stands near the old SR Technics hangar. This time there’s a small minibus waiting to pick up all the Business Class passengers. I say ‘this time’ because the Business Class shuttle tends to be a bit unreliable…

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Posted in Bombardier CS100, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My meeting yesterday was close to the airport, which is why I decided to stay at the TRYP Lisbon airport hotel for just the one night. The TRYP is a nice hotel with spacious rooms and all the amenities you might expect from an airport hotel.  My only grippe about it, is that the breakfast is not very nice.

Originally, I had planned to walk from the hotel to the terminal building. It’s not more than five minutes to walk. But when I woke up this morning, it had started raining and I could even see the occasional burst of lightning in the distance. And so, instead of walking, I decide to take the complimentary shuttle, which runs every twenty minutes and takes approximately five minutes as well to complete the journey from the hotel to the terminal.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in online the day before. TAP Air Portugal has its own check-in area, and there is even a dedicated, separate section for Business Class passengers. Despite the fact that the terminal complex is a labyrinth of halls, corridors and building sites, all of which have been added haphazardly over the years, it’s still fairly easy to navigate and well signposted.

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There is a fast track for security, which is brilliant. First of all, because the queue is much, much shorter than the regular Economy Class queue. And secondly, because the staff here are just so relaxed and friendly!

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THE LOUNGE
Since I was here last, TAP has moved its lounge. Or rather, they now have their own lounge and no longer use the contractor lounge next door. Which is, quite frankly, a shame because the new TAP lounge is definitely not as nice as the other place. I also think it’s quite apparent that it’s not large enough to handle all the traffic at the airport.

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BOARDING
Boarding is from gate S26, which is the last gate in the newest part of the terminal. There are three queues for boarding: one for premium passengers, another for zone A and a third one for zone B passengers.

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‘Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville…’

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THE CABIN
The aircraft I am flying on has already been refitted with the new cabin interior. It’s the regular RECARO slimline seat but the colours TAP has selected are quite elegant. Every seat has an adjustable headrest and there are two power plugs for the three seats.

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The seats are arranged in a typical 2 + 2 configuration, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. As my luck would have it, the aisle seat on my row remains empty and I have it all to myself to spread out. I am seated by the window on 1F.

SERVICE
The crew consists of four young ladies who are all very nicely turned out. Their make-up is subtle and they wear TAP Air Portugal’s bright uniform well!

Once we’re airborne, the service begins with the distribution of pre-packaged, scented towels. But unlike many other carriers, who normally have very flimsy towels made out of paper, this is actually a real cloth towel.

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THE MEAL
Every passenger is served individually. The whole meal is served on one tray and it is quite a large breakfast. It consists of:

  • a plate of fresh fruit,
  • a bowl of yoghurt with Mango coulis, which is served with a side order of Müsli,
  • a plate with cold cuts, cheese and some salad,
  • a piece of Portuguese milk chocolate,
  • a selection of breads from the breadbasket,
  • butter and jam.

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The meal is tasty and the quality of the food good. I try two different types of bread roll. One is a brioche type dough with coconut on top, while the other is savoury and goes well with the cheese.

Throughout the meal service the crew make repeated runs through the cabin, offering more drinks and bread.

As soon as I’ve finished, one of the cabin crew comes to remove my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink.

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ARRIVAL
And so the flight passes quickly, and before long we’re already descending into Luxembourg. It’s much cooler here today than it was yesterday when I left and certainly cooler than the weather in Lisbon.

ABOUT TAP AIR PORTUGAL…
I guess it really speaks for how old I am that I was working for Swissair at the time when the Portuguese government was planning to privatise TAP by selling it off to the Swiss. Ironically, Swissair went bankrupt in the meantime, while TAP Air Portugal seems to be going strong. Right now the airline’s future looks bright, with an order book of new Airbuses the renew and rejuvenate the fleet. The service on board TAP is quite good, but it remains to be seen whether the airport at their hub in Lisbon will be able to keep up with the pace at which the airline and traffic to Lisbon in general is growing.

Posted in Airbus A 319, Business Class, TAP Air Portugal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Luxair, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Luxembourg to Lisbon

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INTRODUCTION
I’m on my way to Lisbon for a meeting in the afternoon. Fortunately, the fairly large expat community of Portuguese in Luxembourg means that there are numerous flights between Luxembourg’s Findel airport and beautiful Lisbon.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
To get to the airport from the Novotel, I first catch a tram from ‘Europa Parlament’ towards ‘Luxexpo’, which is currently the tram’s terminus, until they eventually extend the line to the airport. At Luxexpo I transfer to the bus line 16, which runs from there to the airport, which is its last stop. The journey takes about forty minutes to complete.

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CHECK-IN
Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. I don’t know if there is a Luxair app but you can definitely check-in online and save the boarding pass to your wallet, if you’re using an iPhone.

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There are self-service machines and check-in counters at the airport. To be honest though, I’m not entirely sure what the procedure is here in Luxembourg with the check-in desks, because some flights appear to have their own designated counters, while others don’t. I don’t think it should make a difference though, seeing as Luxair is the only handling agent at the airport.

AIRSIDE
Luxembourg is nice little airport that is quickly reaching capacity, even though they only recently reopened the old B pier.  The really cool thing about the airport though, is that once you’re airside, you have some really good views of the apron and the runway beyond.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts slightly behind schedule from gate A 20 in the Schengen part of the terminal. Gate A 20 is a bus gate, which of course has me doing a little happy dance right there in front of the gate because it means me taking pictures of my aircraft from up close.

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THE CABIN
I wonder if perhaps this is the first flight this aircraft will be doing today, because the cabin is stifling and very warm. The APU isn’t running and, because we’re on a remote stand, there’s no means of hooking us up to an external cooling system. Other than that though, I think the Luxair cabin on the Boeing B 737 looks quite nice. The seats are in light blue leather, while the headrests are white. The sides of the headrest can be folded up for extra comfort.

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On the downside, seat pitch on Luxair’s B 737s is among the worst I’ve ever experienced. The aircraft are mainly deployed on typical charter routes, where the main objective is quantity and not quality. Which is why today I’ve decided to splurge on a seat on the emergency exit on row 12.

The advanced seat reservation for 12A cost me EUR25 and was made online at the time of booking. I know EUR25 may seem like a lot, but given the prospect of spending two hours and half with my knees stuck under my chin, I think it’s money well invested.

Unfortunately though, despite the fact that I’m on the window seat, I only have a limited view of the outside, because the outer glass is severely scratched.

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Luxair does not have a cabin divider between Economy and Business Class, by the way.

SERVICE
The crew on this flight consists of three cabin crew, all of which are fluent in Letzebuergesch, French, English and of course Portuguese. The two younger cabin crew seem friendly enough but a bit reserved. The maître de however, is a really friendly guy and interacts well with the passengers, especially the fairly large number of elderly Portuguese travellers.

THE MEAL
Once we’re airborne, I immediately nod off… Luckily, I wake up just as the service trolley reaches the row in front of me, making me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge when he wakes up on Christmas morning to find that he hasn’t missed anything because the ghosts of Christmas passed, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come have taught him a lesson all within the scope of one night. Oh, you know what I mean (the tall, blond M. will probably have a field day with this…).

And much to my surprise, the meal isn’t half bad either. There is a complimentary full bar trolley service that even includes a Luxemburgish sparkling wine. To eat there is a choice between a chicken or a cheese sandwich. The sandwiches are a good size and look and taste as though they were freshly made. I choose the cheese sandwich.

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Unlike the pre-packaged rubbish you get on most European airlines that still offer a complimentary meal service, which usually ends up tasting like the plastic and cardboard it was packaged in, this sandwich is in fact very tasty. The bread is multigrain and inside the sandwich there’s not only the cheese but also a bread spread, cucumbers and a bit of salad.

To drink I have a Coke Zero and a coffee.

The service is well paced. The crew are unrushed but still don’t leave us waiting too long before passing through the cabin to remove the trash.

ARRIVAL
After the meal I sit back with the intention of reading in my Kindle. But instead, I end up going off to sleep again. What’s going on here…? By the time I wake up again, we’ve already started our initial descent and the crew are coming through the cabin with these small baskets filled with toffees and other sweets to help alleviate the pressure in the ears as we descend. I don’t quite know why, but I find there something nicely old-fashioned about this.

From what I can tell through the scratched window, the approach into Lisbon is gorgeous and takes us right over the city and then out to sea, before eventually coming around and turning on to the final approach. The landing however, is perhaps not so gorgeous… we actually bounce three times before eventually settling on the runway!

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Here in Lisbon we’ll be using a remote stand, which is hardly surprising given that the terminal building is literally bursting at the seams and has only very few contact stands. As we taxi in, we pass an Airbus A 330NEO in the colours of TAP Air Portugal but still in its French registration. And then eventually, we make a last right turn and come to a stop right next to an Airbus A 321NEO of Azores Airlines.

ABOUT LUXAIR…
I’m in two minds about Luxair. Their home market is highly affluent but also tragically small. As such, I think the airline does a good job in striking the right balance between offering a reliable air service from its hub in Luxembourg to the major business centres in Europe on the one hand, while at the same time also serving the leisure traffic market. Even so, one cannot help but wonder what the point is of small countries like Luxembourg trying to maintain their own airline.

Posted in Boeing B 737-700, Economy Class, Luxair | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Royal Air Maroc, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Casablanca to Paris Orly

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INTRODUCTION
I wake up this morning to find it’s raining. The light outside is strange, with the sun trying to push through the cloud while the rain is still pelting down. We’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about how long it takes to leave the country, so we’ve decided to make an early start.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
We exit the hotel just after 8 in the morning. The journey from Mohammedia to the airport should take roughly an hour and we still need to refuel our car and return it to Europcar.

About five minutes into the drive the heavens open. At least this will hopefully slow down the traffic which is ‘interesting’ here in Morocco, to say the least… Theoretically, you could also take the train all the way from Mohammadia to the airport, but I don’t think I have the nerve for that this morning.

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CHECK-IN
We return the car without any issues and then make our way towards the terminal. And this is where the fun starts. To enter the terminal, you first have to go through security and have your passport checked (1). Fortunately, you only need to show your passport and not your ticket, because I only have that in electronic form.

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From there I head one floor up to the departures level. Royal Air Maroc operates out of terminal 2. There is a dedicated area for Business Class passengers. The check-in agent is not overly friendly and not overly bright I don’t think. There are immigration forms on the counter, but it doesn’t occur to her to point out to me that I might need to complete one of these for immigration, even when she checks my passport (2).

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From check-in I head for the dedicated fast track for security and passport control. To enter the fast track area, again you have to show your passport (3). Immediately behind the security check is the passport control (4), where my passport is checked and stamped. And then behind passport control there is another guy who checks your passport (5) before allowing you inside the actual airside part of the terminal.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The lounge really doesn’t look like anything much to write home about. In addition, I’m here with the wiry R., whose flight to Brussels will be leaving 5 minutes after mine. So instead of staying in the lounge by myself, we decide to have a coffee and this really tasty chocolate thing at one of the many cafés in the terminal.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts twenty minutes behind schedule, due to a medical case that needs to be boarded first. When eventually boarding starts, I first show the gate agent my passport (6) and boarding pass, which he scans. Immediately behind the boarding gate another guy is already waiting to inspect my passport (7). And then finally, before I can enter the airbridge, I actually have to show my passport again (8)!

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THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is quite nice. Royal Air Maroc has a dedicated Business Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I really like the colours of the cabin and seats. The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the fact that the seats are covered in leather rather than cloth.

Other than that though, the seat is comfortable. There is a pillow on every seat when I board the plane. The leg room is good and even when the woman in front of me reclines her seat, I still have more than enough space. There is also an extendable footrest.

Mind though that there are no power plugs on the seat.

For inflight entertainment, Royal Air Maroc uses a system called Sky-RAM. You need to download the Royal Air Marco app first. Once that’s done, you can turn on the wifi and watch films, listen to music, etc. on your own device for free.

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SERVICE
The service in the Business Class cabin is done by a really friendly and very charming young Moroccan lady. While we’re still on the ground, she passes through the cabin with a selection of drinks. She also distributes newspapers and magazines.

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Once we’re airborne, the maître de distributes the menus, which have the same intricate pattern as the bulkhead. Before the meal service begin, the crew hand out hot towels that are scented with jasmine.

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THE MEAL
The meal service is really the highlight of this flight. We start with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne and a bag of salted almonds.

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Shortly after, the table is set. The trays are then brought out individually and contain the first course and the dessert.

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The first course is a plate of honey-marinated scallops with salad and asparagus. This is quite good and the vinaigrette served with the meal goes well with the lemon as a dressing for the scallops.

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No sooner has the first course been removed that the hot meals are brought out. Royal Air Maroc places all the hot meals on a cart, which is nicely decorated with roses. There is a choice of lamb tagine or chicken breast in a cream sauce with rice and vegetables. I decide to go with the latter, and it really is good. The vegetables are not at all soggy and don’t give you the impression of having been cooked to death. The chicken has a tasty grill flavour and the rice also very flavourful.

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After the hot meal, the plates are removed and the cheese cart is rolled out. Blimey! There is a choice of five different cheeses. I make the mistake of asking to try a small piece of each one. But obviously the charming young lady’s interpretation of ‘small’ is not the same as mine and she cuts me a large chunk of each cheese. The cheese is served with bread, crackers and fruit.

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And then finally, it’s time to tackle the dessert which has been eyeing me all through the meal. The wiry R. would be drooling right now if he saw this. It’s a tasty pecan caramel pie that is simply lovely. I really wish more airlines would make desserts like this. Seriously, it’s divine. The pasty is crumbly and buttery. The caramel is sweet, with a subtle hint of salt.

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The meal concludes with a glass of sweet Moroccan tea, served from a dainty little silver tea pot.

ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Paris Orly just slightly ahead of schedule. Royal Air Maroc operates out of the south terminal, together with all the other carriers from the Maghreb. But the process is fairly swift and efficient and within just a few minutes I’m through passport control and already have my suitcase back.

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And now I shall kick back and enjoy the weekend in Paris! To get into town, I exit the terminal through door C and then take the shuttle bus to the RER station Pont de Rungis. A ticket on the shuttle will cost EUR2.-. From Pon de Rungis I take the RER train to the Gare d’Austerlitz. That ticket costs EUR10.40.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I must admit I was quite surprised by Royal Air Maroc. Quite frankly, I thought they were going to be a real stinker. But it turns out their service is in fact quite professional and elaborate. Admittedly, I’m not so sure I’d want to connect through Casablanca – their hub – which is just tedious and really very boring. But other than that I don’t think I’d mind having to travel with them again.

Posted in Boeing B 737-800, Business Class, Royal Air Maroc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Air Nostrum, Business Class – Bombardier CRJ1000: Madrid to Casablanca

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Wednesday morning and we’re running a day late, which means we’re going to miss the start of the user group meeting in Mohammedia. On a positive note though, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day here in Madrid.

We take the Hilton airport shuttle at 08h00, which get us to terminal 4 around ten minutes later.

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CHECK-IN
There is a separate check-in area for Business Class passengers. The nice thing about Madrid’s terminal 4 is that no matter what time of day you come here, there never seems to be anyone there. And today is no different.

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There is a dedicated fast track for security for Business Class passengers.

THE LOUNGE
As our flight is operating to a non-Schengen country, the flight will be departing from the satellite terminal, which can only be reached as a passenger by airside metro. The journey across will take a little more than five minutes.

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The entrance to the lounge is literally in the middle of the duty free shop, which as good a place as any I guess.

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I think the only thing one can criticise about this lounge is that it has no toilets and showers. Other than that though, I think this is really one of the nicest lounges I’ve ever been to. Of course it helps that, like the rest of the terminal, the place is more or less deserted. But even so, the lounge has a very elegant, understated look and feel and the light filtering in through the blinds casts some nice shadows across the otherwise bright space.

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The food and drinks options are also very good and the way everything is presented is simple but nice.

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BOARDING
We leave the lounge about ten minutes before boarding should be begin. But by the time we reach the gate just a few minutes later, the status of the flight is already ‘gate closing’. We head through the gate and then downstairs to where a bus is waiting to bring us to our aircraft. And then we wait.

At this point I should perhaps comment that I’ve never been on a flight with Iberia which did not include Spaniards bitching about the sad state of their national airline. It seems to be a bit of a national sport and I’m not even quite sure why. And this flight is no different. All of a sudden, a young man steps outside and starts complaining to the bus driver about how scandalous it is to keep us waiting in such a tight bus (this guy has obviously never experienced rush hour on the Central line…).

In any case, eventually we drive off and a short while later our bus pulls up in front of our aircraft for today’s flight, a Bombardier CRJ1000 of Air Nostrum.

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THE CABIN
I have already commented a few times that I really, really do not like the CRJ series of aircraft. I find them very cramped and uncomfortable. But fortunately, this aircraft has some decent seats with a good enough amount of padding to be comfortable.

The seating configuration is 2 + 2 throughout, even in Business Class. Initially, I’m sitting next to the wiry R., who has managed to snag the window. But once boarding is completed, the cabin attendant himself comes to point out to me that I may shift to the other side of the aisle, where both seats are still empty.

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SERIVCE
The cabin crew consists of a young male and a young female flight attendant. The male is really good at his job. He’s personable and tries to anticipate any wishes his passengers may have. The young lady is okay, but I think she might improve if she were less focussed on looking pretty.

While we’re still on the ground the crew pass through the cabin with a good selection of Spanish and international newspapers and distribute pre-packed scented towels.

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THE MEAL
I think the meal service on Air Nostrum is probably better than the one you get on Iberia. The breakfast consists of a bowl of fruit, gazpacho soup and a choice of either toast with olive oil and cheese or a ham and cheese quiche. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the breadbasket.

For the main dish I go with the toast and cheese, which is simple but nice. My first choice from the breadbasket is a nice big croissant. The second time they pass through the cabin, I have the other pastry, which is filled with some sort of vanilla cream and is also excellent.

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Shortly after the trays have been removed, the strait of Gibraltar comes into view. And I must say, it really is quite a sight to behold. It also makes you realise just how close Europe really is to Africa.

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We cross into Africa and I’m surprised by how lush and green everything looks! I must admit I was kind of expecting desert all the way… Eventually we start our descent, flying over vast stretches of farmland.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Casablanca more or less on time. The airport is fairly busy and as a result, it takes us a whole hour of queueing at passport control before we are finally allowed into the country. You need to complete an embarkation card to enter, but nobody will bother to tell you that in advance and the signposting is non-existent.

Posted in Air Nostrum, Bombardier CRJ1000, Business Class, Iberia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Iberia, Business Class, Airbus A 319: Zürich to Madrid

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INTRODUCTION
I’m now into my fourth week of travel and in looks like this is going to be another one of those trips…: I’m on my way to Casablanca for the user group meeting. But because I’m teaching until 13h30 on Tuesdays and the meeting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, my choices for flights are somewhat limited. Which is why, initially, I booked myself on an Air France service from Zürich via Paris. With that I would leave at 15h00 after teaching and would arrive in Casablanca at 21h35, so not too late. But then of course, Air France decided to go on strike…

Initially, I was rebooked by Air France on a Lufthansa service via Frankfurt, with a departure from Zürich at 20h00. The only problem with that though, is that the flight doesn’t arrive in Casablanca until 00h35, by which time the car rental office in Casablanca is already closed. So I had to come up with another option quickly…

And so I find myself on a late Tuesday afternoon on my way to Zürich airport.

CHECK-IN
Iberia checks in at Check-in 2 in Zürich and the carrier has its own dedicated counters which are, I think, manned by DNATA staff. I’ve already checked in using the app, but my luggage is heavy with all the documents I’m carting around. So I figure it will be more pleasant to check it in. The check-in agent kindly labels the case to Madrid only, seeing as I’m going to have to spend the night there, and then wishes me a pleasant journey.

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AIRSIDE
I’m travelling with the wiry R. on this trip, who clearly has a bit of a sweet tooth and is a bit of a culinary snob. And so we forfeit the comfort of the Aspire lounge in favour of the Sprüngli Café behind security and indulge in a milky coffee and a truffe du jour. Which is, admittedly, very good for the taste buds but not so good for the waste line.

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The two following pictures were taken from the airside sports bar, which has an open terrace that lets you get up quite close to the aircraft.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight is from gate B33. The B concourse is quite busy at this time of the day. There’s a slight delay to start boarding, apparently because the aircraft already arrived from Madrid behind schedule.

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CABIN
I’m seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side. Row 2 is also the bulkhead row on this side of the aircraft. On the port side though, the bulkhead is row 1. Seating on this aircraft is in your standard 2 + 2 Recaro Slimline configuration, with the middle seat on a row of three left empty. The cabin looks rather drab, in varying shades of a rather boring grey colour. The cabin isn’t really all that clean either. And it’s not the type of new ‘sorry, we’re in a hurry so we didn’t clean the cabin’ dirt, but rather the type of old crusty muck that comes from years of neglect. The seat pitch is good though.

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SERVICE
I wouldn’t go so far and say the crew are friendly, but they’re polite, helpful and very professional. They also adhere to the defined service process, which I think is rather nice.

There are no welcome drinks or towels before departure. The only thing the crew distribute on the ground are the Spanish and foreign language newspaper.

The flight time is announced as two hours.

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THE MEAL
As soon as the crew is released after take-off, one of the flight attendants comes through the cabin taking orders for dinner. There is a choice of pasta with salmon or stuffed chicken breast with green beans. I go with the latter option.

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The meal is not that bad actually. The tray contains the hot meal, a green salad with dressing, a plate of cheese and a tub of yoghurt for dessert. Bread and butter are served separately from a basket.

The salad hasn’t gone completely limp and the hot meal has a rich creamy sauce. The chicken breast is filled with some type of cream cheese, apricots and olives – which work surprisingly well together.

To drink I have a Coke Zero. Once I’m done with the meal, the flight attendant removes my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to have. So I order a coffee, which is served with a small piece of pretty decent chocolate.

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ARRIVAL
Our descent into Madrid is very atmospheric, with the setting sun putting on a spectacular show of colours.

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Eventually we land in Madrid at 21h15, slight behind schedule. Iberia calls Terminal 4 home, which I still find quite a spectacular construction! The building is massive and the design is modern and elegant. It’s also very empty!

In Madrid I’ll be staying at the Madrid Airport Hilton. It’s quite a bit away from Terminal 4, but there is a regular complimentary shuttle bus that takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.

Posted in Airbus A 319, Business Class, Iberia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Dubai to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
I check out of the Doubletree in Al Barsha at around 21h00 on Thursday evening and make my way to the airport for the flight back to Switzerland. The departure time is scheduled for 01h35. I really don’t like these flights that leave in the middle of the night. Especially when they’re as short as the one from Dubai to Zürich. By the time you step onto the plane you’re exhausted from a really long day and no matter what you do, it’s a fact that you’re not going to get enough sleep because the flight time is not nearly long enough…

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CHECK-IN
SWISS checks in at Terminal 1, together with all the other foreign carriers at DXB. With the exception of the low-cost carriers and Hajj flights that is, which operate out of Terminal 2.

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SWISS is located on row 5. There are only two counters available: one for Economy Class and another for First Class and HON Circle passengers.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE
This is the first time I’m using the new D gates. The facility is rather nice, mainly because there are not as many people milling about as there normally are on the Emirates concourses.

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SWISS uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dubai. The lounge looks quite new and is designed in the typical Lufthansa corporate design. It’s a style that either you like or you don’t…

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The lounge is rather small and feels very cramped. So that eventually it gets too crowded for me and I decide to go for a walk through the terminal instead. Along the way, I come across these rather strange containers that I’ve never seen at any other airport. Apparently, if you have excess baggage, you can dump it in one of the containers for Dubai airport to dispose of. But I don’t get it. I mean, who would bother to make the schlep to get airside with an entire suitcase, only to dump it behind security? Is there something I’m missing here?

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THE CABIN
I’m seated on 4A, which is one of the so called throne seats. Rows 4 and 5 are the first two rows of Business Class, located between the First Class cabin and the L2 galley. With only two rows, this mini cabin feels quite intimate and a lot quieter than the larger Business Class section behind the L2 galley.

The first thing I notice about the seat is that it doesn’t seem to have aged all that well. The seat and the cabin are well maintained, that’s not what I mean. But rather, the whole cabin and seat are starting to look a bit old fashioned.

AMENITIES
As for the amenities, there’s a vanity kit at my seat, a pillow and a towel. There have been some improvements here. The vanity kit is in the shape of an aluminium tin that is Victorinox branded. It contains lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs and socks. There are additional cosmetics in the toilets.

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But perhaps the most positive development for me are the blankets. They’re really quite nice and thick. And so’s the pillow.

SERVICE
The crews are always SWISS’ weakness, I think. All of them have a rather disgruntled expression and not one of them seems to be overly enthusiastic about their job. There is no drinks service on the ground. Before we depart, the crew distribute flimsy scented hot towels. After that they pass through the cabin with the menus for the flight and the order forms for breakfast. I think this is a really good idea, because is significantly shortens the duration of the service in the morning, giving passengers more time to sleep.

As soon as we’re airborne, I extend my seat into a bed and go off to Noddy land.

SECOND MEAL SERVICE
I awake about seventy minutes out of Zürich, just as the meal service is about to start. So I quickly head for the toilets to change back into my normal clothes, ahead of the usual rush before landing.

The breakfast service consists of plain yoghurt, a bowl of fruit, two buns with butter and cherry jam, a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee and the hot meal. The latter consists of a pancake filled with scrambled egg, a hash brown and some grilled veg and spinach. The bread is really good. But the egg/pancake thing has this very strange eggy flavour with a hind of plastic. It’s really not very good.

After the meal, I ask for a second cup of coffee, which one of the younger flight attendants brings me. I say ‘thank you’ but all I get in return is ‘I’m going to have to come back to collect that now…’. Was it something I said…?

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ARRIVAL & ARRIVALS LOUNGE
Eventually we land just slightly ahead of schedule. It’s nice to be home again after two weeks. It’s also nice to be back in cooler temperatures again. Our flight ends at the E pier, from where you need to catch the underground metro to get to the main terminal area. But we’re only the second arrival of the day. So the train is not too crowded and immigration is swift.

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As soon as I collect my bags from the belt, I head out through customs and then one floor up, which is where the SWISS arrivals lounge is located. Luckily enough a shower room is available for me to freshen up before I head into the office. The arrivals lounge is nice and convenient. It’s also surprisingly empty and quiet this morning.

CONCLUSION
All in all, this wasn’t a bad flight with SWISS. I don’t think I’ll ever be fan but they got me home in one piece. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with them. I think when I next fly to Dubai Emirates will be my first choice. Simply because Dubai is their hub and they therefore have the superior product on the ground. In addition, I also think Emirates provide the better on board experience. At least their crew aren’t so grumpy all the time.

Posted in Airbus A 330-300, Business Class, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300 Luxembourg via Zürich to Dubai

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INTRODUCTION
Today I’m on my way from Luxembourg to Dubai. As there are currently no direct flights between the two cities, I have a choice of connecting flights with either BA, KL, AF, LH, TK or LX. I’ve decided to fly SWISS this time, for the simple reason that their flight already arrives in Dubai at 20h45. Which is good, because from Dubai I’ll still have to travel all the way to Al Ain, where I’ll be giving a course starting early the next day. Al Ain is about ninety minutes away from Dubai by car.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Late in 2017 Luxembourg introduced a tram to the city. Right now it only runs along a short stretch of about 5km on the Kirchberg plateau. But this year the line will be opened up all the way into the city, and within three years it should also run all the way to the airport. Until then, to get to the airport by public transport I first have to get the tram to LUXEXPO, and then from there transfer onto the bus line 16. The journey from the Kirchberg to the airport takes no more than 20 minutes to complete.

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CHECK-IN & SECURITY
I’ve already checked in on the SWISS app. I’m on 1A on the first leg and then on 4A on the second leg to Dubai. Security is quite busy this morning and the process in not really that well organised either. In any case, by the time I’m through security and take a seat by the windows overlooking the ramp, it’s just gone 09h15. One hour before boarding. Roughly around the same time I receive an text message from SWISS informing me that the flight to Zürich will be delayed by thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft in Zürich, coming from Paris.

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This all rather unfortunate of course, because even if the flight were on time, I only have 45 minutes to make the connection in Zürich. So this ought to be interesting… A bit later on an announcement is made that boarding for the flight is expected to start at around 11h10, with a delay of about forty minutes. I approach the gate agent and ask her about my connection, to which she answers that the information they received from Zürich is that all connections are guaranteed.

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Eventually we push back from the gate at 11h30, with a delay of just over one hour. The flight time is announced as forty minutes, which means we’ll be arriving in Zürich at 12h10, fifteen minutes before my scheduled departure time to Dubai.

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THE CABIN
This is my first time on SWISS’s Bombardier CS300. Which isn’t that much of a big deal, given that the cabin is identical to that of the shorter CS100. To speed up the turnaround, they obviously didn’t bother to clean the aircraft, which probably explains why there are chunks of apple (I think) on the floor and pieces of red cabbage stuck in the seat.

THE CREW
There are three crew on this flight. And I really must say they’re rather useless. At least the two males up front are. There’s also a female working the rear cabin, but I only notice her towards the end of the flight when she briefly visits the forward galley. But yeah, the other two? Totally vapid. The maître de apparently thinks it’s the height of sophistication to just nod at everyone and give them a curt ‘monsieur’, he doesn’t look you in the eye when he talks to you, smiling is apparently not part of his contract of employment and he quite obviously really couldn’t give a shit.

The other one is just a walking, talking cliché of a male flight attendant. Totally clueless and obviously far more invested in what’s happening on his mobile phone than in doing his job well.

THE MEAL
The meal service consists of three small ramekins, which is the standard on this flight. One is filled with a rice and vegetable salad and topped with bacon/duck/something unidentifiable.

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The second is fish mousse (I think, but I’m not sure).

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And the third one is the dessert – a tasty sweet white chocolate thing.

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No chocolates are served on this flight.

ARRIVAL
By the time we reach Zürich, we miraculously managed to increase our delay. We’re now running seventy minutes behind schedule. The maître de comes on the loudspeaker and advises passengers that those continuing to Montreal and New York will have a direct connection bus. He then gives a whole list of destinations, flight numbers and gates. But he doesn’t mention the Dubai flight once. When I ask him, he tells me that, strangely, he has not received any information about this flight. Which, in hindsight, is just a blatant lie.

Eventually we touch down at 12h20. As we taxi in I switch on my mobile to find a message from SWISS informing me that I’ve been rebooked on the Emirates flight in the afternoon. As if to add insult to injury, we’re parked on a remote stand. And once we come to a stop, it takes another five minutes for the stairs and busses to arrive.

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So instead of heading directly for the E gates, I exit through arrivals for Terminal A and then head two floors up and over to Terminal B for the Emirates check-in. The check-in agent prints my boarding pass and then sends me over to the Emirates counter to book the chauffeur service to take me from Dubai to Al Ain, which is more convenient than a taxi.

PROLOGUE WITH EMIRATES
I won’t bore you with yet another Emirates trip report. However, I’m glad to report that since my last journey with them, Emirates has finally changed the menu. So here it goes:

For a pre-meal drink I have a virgin cucumber and lime gimlet, which is very refreshing. The drink is served with a small dish of nuts.

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For the main course I have the warm smoked salmon, which is served with fava beans. The salmon is a bit dry, but otherwise quite good. I don’t touch the beans though because I’m allergic to them. The starter is served on a tray that also includes a small salad and bread.

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For the main course I go with the chicken cordon bleu, which is served with pizokel and vegetables. Pizokel is a very Swiss speciality from canton Graubünden. It’s basically Switzerland’s answer to the German Spätzle. This dish is quite good. What I like in particular is that the food is still hot, and not just warm, when it is served.

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And then for dessert I go with the chocolate mousse on a dark chocolate ganache and raspberry compote. Dessert is something Emirates does really well I think, and this one is no exception. It’s obscenely rich, with a dense texture that just melts in your mouth.

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CONCLUSION
Eventually, I arrive in Al Ain at 01h30 in the morning. I’m exhausted! Delays happen, and I can hardly fault SWISS for that. Also, they did proactively rebook me onto the very next departure to Dubai. So that’s something. Even so, I do feel that the delay was not handled very well. I got the distinct impression that the staff at the frontline – the handling agent in Luxembourg and the cabin crew – was not properly trained in dealing with such an irregularity. I think next time I’ll just book Emirates to begin with and save myself the agro…

Posted in Airbus A 330-300, Airbus A 380, Bombardier CS300, Business Class, Emirates, Swiss International Air Lines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments