Finnair, Business Class – A 320: Milan Malpensa to Helsinki

Nine boarding pass receipts later and I find myself in the contractor lounge at Milan’s Malpensa airport. I arrived earlier in the morning on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok. You’re probably wondering why on earth I chose Milan to change planes from Thai Airways to Finnair, given that it’s neither a Star Alliance nor a Oneworld hub. Well, the simple fact is, I didn’t choose. I should have been heading for Zürich, but then my plane went tech. The details of that trip you can find in my Thai Airways post.

Date: 13 September 2012
Airline:
Finnair
Aircraft:
A320
From:
Milan Malpensa
To:
Helsinki
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
4A

Check-in

I haven’t got a boarding pass. Actually, for that matter I haven’t got a ticket either. All I have is a FIM – a Flight Interruption Manifest. Essentially it is a document permitting the transporting carrier, Finnair in this case, to accept me as a passenger without a ticket due to an involuntary rerouting. The FIM will ensure that Finnair get paid for providing transportation despite the lack of a coupon to prove they did.

The Lounge

I’m sitting in the contractor lounge provided for Finnair passengers. The Thai Airways representative brought me here to ensure they let me into the lounge without a boarding pass or ticket.

It’s a nice enough lounge but it’s a pity there aren’t any windows. It’s turning into a lovely early autumn day outside. Even so, the lack of any natural light does not prevent all the Italian business men here from donning their sunglasses.

About an hour before departure I head downstairs to the gate area. Downstairs I find a place with some good views of landing and departing aircraft. I was unaware of how many freighters Malpensa receives.

Once the gate opens, I approach the counter. I hand over my FIM and in return I am issued a boarding pass for seat 3F, a window seat on the right side of the aircraft. There are 20 seats in Business Class but only eight passengers today.

At the gate next door they’re getting an Air Malta flight ready to depart.

Boarding

Boarding starts and status members, Business Class passengers and families with kids are requested to board first. I don’t think the flight is going to be full judging by the queue.

The Cabin

I like the Finnair cabin. The bulkhead is covered in this pattern that I assume is intended to look like snow flakes falling. It’s nice, but I think if you live in a country that sees so much snow anyway, you’d probably appreciate some bright and sunny design more.

The seat is the standard RECARO slimline variety. The middle seat is kept empty in Business Class for more personal space and comfort. Once boarding is completed, I move across to 4A. I’m hoping to get at least one picture of the Thai Airways bird that brought me here earlier in the day. When we left Bangkok it was gone midnight and simply too dark for any decent pictures.

Departure is to the north and unfortunately we’re on the outer one of the two parallel runways. This means that even with the zoom I’ll be too far away to take any decent photos of the Thai bird. To reach the runway we pass behind the threshold of the inner runway. This still leaves enough height clearance for approaching aircraft passing overhead for landing.

Having spent the last two weeks flying mainly on heavy widebodies, I’m somewhat taken aback by the force and acceleration of the A320. We rocket into the sky and climb out past the low cost terminal.

We do a sharp right turn to fly along the Alps. In the distance I can make out the airfield of Lugano Agno. The mountains look so nice today, quite as though you could reach out and touch them.

We stay on an easterly track and maintain a rather steep rate of climb for a while until we’re clear of the mountains. Then we bank left again to point the aircraft towards Finland.

The Crew

Oh I know, stereotypes and all that. But what will you do? Today’s crew really consists of four severely blond female flights attendants in their dark blue uniforms. They’re quite a contrast to the colourful Thai Airways crew from the previous flight. But they’re nice enough.

Before we depart the crew come round distributing Finnish, Italian and English newspapers.  Once we’re airborne, service begins with the distribution of the menu and hot towels. They’re not scented.

After that comes a drinks round. I have a Diet Coke and a packet of Pretzels.

The Meal

And then comes the meal. For starters we have a shrimp and potato salad with dill on some kind of rye bread toast. The main course is marinated and tremendously tender beef in a horseradish sauce with broccoli and some root vegetable mash, I mean purée. Dessert is some creamy thing with berries. With the meal the crew also pass round a basket of warm bread. I have a sparkling water to drink with that.

Generally speaking the quality of the meal is good, in fact it’s rather tasty. But the presentation is somewhat lacking. First of all, would it really cost so much more to serve the hot meal in a real dish, rather than that unsightly tin? Secondly, it would be nice to have the plastic lids removed from the dishes before the meal is served. And thirdly, the tray is too big. The meal looks a bit forlorn, quite as though there were a few items missing.  But the meal hits the spot alright.

I’m starting to feel sleepy, but in a good way. Once the meal is removed I lean back, close my eyes and in that warm, oh so comfortable space before sleep overcomes me, the memories of my trip to Vietnam unfold before my eyes. It’s as though I am there again, but of course it is only a dreamtime. I think I will long remember Vietnam.

Arrival

North of the Alps the weather is rather cloudy. It stays like that all the way to Helsinki. When we land the temperature is a mere 17 degrees Celsius.

We turn off the active runway and do one quick and short taxi to the gate.

We park next to this Icelandair B757-200 with a familiar sounding name…

The airport is busy when I arrive. Basically the development of the facility has not kept pace with the ambitions of its hub carrier Finnair. There are people everywhere. There are not enough places to sit, so in addition to the passengers actually going somewhere, there are also those passengers standing around for a loss of any better place to stand and wait. The fact that arriving and departing passengers are not segregated does not help either.

I exit the terminal building and it strikes me just how cold it is here, I’m definitely wearing the wrong clothes. Still, it feels like autumn already and I like that. So I shan’t complain.

Conclusion

Just one thing remains. I guess those of you who have followed this series from the start are wondering if things did work out all right in the end. No, they did not. When I arrive at the hotel I log in to my KLM account to check if my flights for the next day from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam are still there, just as the Thai Airways lady had promised. Of course they are not. A quick call to KLM establishes that Thai Airways did not actually do anything about the booking. As a result, I no-showed on the original Zürich-Amsterdam-Helsinki legs so the return was cancelled.

I ask the friendly KLM agent if she can reinstate the flights or something. But she tells me that the flights I was booked on are completely sold out, even with my Platinum status she cannot even get me on the wait list. So I have no other choice but to buy a new ticket with Lufthansa via Munich. Their flight leaves 15 minutes later than the original booking with KLM and arrives in Basel 30 minutes after the KLM flight. Just in case you’re wondering, a full fare Y class oneway from Helsinki to Basel will cost you in excess of CHF1000. But I am not angry. I guess I should have known better, having worked in ticketing for an airline myself for many years. Still, I give the Thai Airways lady full marks for trying. And I’m certainly not going to let this hiccup at the end ruin what has been a fantastic trip and really good fun.

Thai Airways, First Class – A 340-600: Bangkok to Milan Malpensa

Let me explain. I’m on my way back from my vacation in Southeast Asia. The original plan would have seen me returning from Bangkok to Zürich in Thai Airways First Class and then immediately carrying on with KLM via Amsterdam to Helsinki for a meeting. But then it all goes horribly wrong…read on!

Date: 13 September 2012
Airline:
Thai Airways
Aircraft:
A 340-600
From:
Bangkok
To:
Milan Malpensa
Cabin:
First Class
Seat:
2K

Check-in

I spend my last day in Asia exploring the sights of Bangkok, and I think I manage to do most of them.  I check out of the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at eight o’clock in the evening, once I’ve finished packing and had a shower. I then make my way through the deserted underground passageway linking the hotel to the railway station and the terminal beyond.

I arrive at the Thai Airways First Class check-in area on row A just after 20h00.

First I am ushered to a sofa and brought a drink and a refreshing towel.

The friendly Thai Airways check-in agent apologises profusely as she informs me that the flight to Zürich has gone tech and instead of departing at 00h30, it is now scheduled for a departure at 07h30 in the morning, arriving in Zürich after 14h00 of the same day. So instead, she suggests I fly on the Thai Airways flight to Milan and then take a Swiss flight to Zürich from there, which would arrive at 11:00. I explain that I have a flight to Amsterdam with KLM at 09h50 on a separate ticket and need to be in Helsinki by the evening. So that won’t work.

In a bid to find a solution she first suggests I take the Thai Airways flight to Arlanda and then from there a Finnair flight to Helsinki. However the idea is quickly discarded because that would mean downgrading me to Business Class. On the Arlanda route Thai Airways operates a B747-400 with the old First Class seat, which is sold as Business Class. I don’t fancy that. So eventually we settle on a routing that will take me with Thai Airways from Bangkok to Milan in First Class after all, and then from there with Finnair to Helsinki in Business Class. Thai Airways generously also offer to endorse the KLM ticket, despite the fact that it’s not really their problem. For me this means that I will still be able to use the return portion from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam. I ask the check-in agent if this will work, they can’t just take another airline’s ticket and use part of it as they like. But she assures me that it will be fine. They will cancel the outbound from Zürich via Amsterdam to Helsinki and I keep the return for the following day.

I’m quite happy with the arrangement and as an aviation fan I normally welcome such irregularities. Although in this case it’s quite a pity because I was hoping to clock another flight with the B737-900 from Amsterdam to Helsinki. Some other time maybe. The check-in agent brings me a bottle of water and asks me for some more patience while she makes all the necessary arrangements.

40 minutes later, with my boarding pass for the Milan flight and a Flight Interruption Manifest for Helsinki in hand, I’m good to go.

The Thai Airways First Class Lounge

From check-in there is a direct access to a dedicated security lane and behind that is immigration for First Class passengers. The check-in agent escorts me through to the other side. It’s a swift process and even the immigration officer is all smiles and charm, even cracking a joke at seeing my ‘exotic’ passport. Blimey!

Behind immigration there is an escalator heading downstairs, straight into the Royal Silk Business Class lounge. At the bottom of the stairs another Thai agent is already expecting me with the funkiest buggy I’ve ever seen. The check-in agent bids me goodbye. I get on board my chariot and am whisked away to the entrance of the Royal First Class lounge.

Inside the lounge I am given yet another tremendously cold refreshing towel and a glass of some fruit juice. I also order a glass of sparkling water with a slice of lime.

My head has been bothering me all day, I think it must have been the uncomfortable seats on the river taxi, so I decide to head over to the Thai Spa and see if a massage might be able to do something about it. I am escorted to the Spa and handed over to my masseuse. First she gives me another refreshing towel (I’ve stopped counting…) and a glass of cold ginger tea. We discuss what I need taken care of and then head to the quiet area and the massage seats. The woman is a genius and over that ensuing forty minutes she works magic on my neck and shoulders. It feels like I’m being butchered but by the time she finishes me off I return to the First Class lounge feeling quite elated. And soon after it’s time to head to gate A3 for boarding.

Boarding

Boarding starts just a few minutes after I arrive at the gate. First Class and premium passengers are invited to board first through the L1 door. I am the second passenger to arrive in the First Class cabin.

Amenities

The vanity kit, a selection of newspapers, the earphones and an orchid are already at me seat. In short succession I am also given yet another refreshing towel, this time a warm one, a glass of water and my pjs.

The Cabin

The cabin and seat look nice and well maintained. In fact the seat looks nearly new. There are two cushions on every seat, as well as a blanket.

During the flight I visit the toilet and it is very clean and well stocked with products from Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Blanc and Essence de Thé Vert. All the refreshing towels are scented with the latter.

We depart slightly behind schedule due to the heavy traffic out of Bangkok tonight. Once we get airborne, we are treated to an excellent view of the urban sprawl that is Bangkok.

The Crew

Service on this flight is efficient and friendly. The First Class cabin is served by the male purser, a very charming and funny middle-aged lady and a younger but equally friendly gentleman. All the female crew are wearing these beautiful traditional Thai costumes made of silk.

The purser introduces himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He tells I’m in good hands with his colleagues and if there is anything I need, all of them will be more than glad to help.

The Meal

There are no nibbles or canapés with the drinks before departure.

Once we take off the crew obviously want to make sure passengers manage to get as much rest as possible and so they get started with the service straight away. First the table is set for the meal. Every passenger has his own breadbasket. There is garlic bread too, I love garlic bread! Later on once I’ve demolished the bread basket a new one arrives.

The Caviar Service

First we have the caviar service. This is really tasty. Once I finished I am offered a second helping but I figure that would be too much of an indulgence.

The Soup

The caviar is followed by a tasty minestrone with two side dishes of smoked salmon and a puff pastry filled with paté.

The Main Course

For the main course I have the salmon with linguine, basil sauce and Mediterranean vegetables.

Dessert

And for dessert some fresh fruit.

After the meal I go and change while the flight attendant makes up my bed.

It’s seven hours later. I managed to have a really good sleep on the very comfy seat/bed.

I’ve overdosed on the garlic bread. I completely forgot I’ll be meeting with a business partner later on today. I head for the loo to brush me teeth. I even try scrubbing my tongue with copious amounts of high quality Colgate toothpaste. But it’s of no avail, now I can only hope the immigration officer will not have me arrested for threatening the life of an official of the Italian police with my lethal garlic breath. That was potent stuff on that bread.

The Second Service

Shortly after I take my seat again it’s time for breakfast. We start with another refreshing hot towel. After that the table is set again for breakfast. I check to make sure, yes there is no more garlic bread this time round.

We start with fruit salad, and very delicious it is.

Next come the Cornflakes with some milk and a bit of sugar.

And then comes the hot meal: Spanish omelette with grilled tomato, hash brown, sausage and bacon. I follow the purser’s suggestion and have some chilli sauce with that. And very tasty it is too.

During the breakfast service my coffee cup is replenished regularly. The meal ends with one last hot towel.

Arrival

In the meantime it has been gradually becoming light outside. I look out to see the sun slowly rising over the Alps. You can tell it’s the end of summer because there is barely any snow left, even on the peaks.

We come in over the flatlands of the river Po. I must say, it’s been a nice holiday but I am still glad to be back to more familiar climes and sights.

The purser and the other two attendants working the First Class cabin pass from seat to seat to bid each passenger farewell individually and to thank them for flying Thai.

We bank left to point in a southern direction on the downwind for arrival. We pass the airport and then start doing a series of gentle right hand banks until eventually we are lined up with the runway. Just before touchdown I see an Air One A320 accelerating and an Easyjet bird waiting to line up behind it on the parallel runway to ours.  And then we’re down.

We taxi in behind a Delta B767-400 but I forget to check where it’s coming from.

The L2 door opens and all the passengers in Business Class are instructed to wait while the First Class passengers disembark. As we do, each passenger is given another orchid as a farewell gift.

Transfer in Milan Malpensa

Outside there is a representative from the handling agent expecting me. She welcomes me to Milan and then escorts me through the airport, through security and immigration until we are eventually in the A concourse. She takes me up to the contractor lounge Finnair uses and briefs the receptionist about the irregularity. The receptionist will contact Finnair about two hours before departure to check me in, I can then collect my boarding pass directly at the gate as I board.

With that done she apologises once more on behalf of Thai Airways for the inconvenience and bids me a safe onward journey and a good day.

Conclusion

Where do I begin? First of all there is that Thai Airways lady at the front line, the person who deals with my case. She really tried her best, she had a very ‘can-do’ approach to finding a viable solution to my problem. But it’s not just her, the whole operation – at least from what I can tell as a passenger – is very polished, right down to the way I am taken care of upon arrival in Milan.

Qatar Airways, Business Class – B 777-300: Hanoi to Bangkok

Introduction

My holiday in Southeast Asia is quickly drawing to an end and it’s time for me to begin the long journey home. It’s been a lot of fun. Even so, I am looking forward to returning to more familiar climes. Vietnam is a lovely place and I hope to return some day, but it is also a vicious assault on the senses that leaves you reeling.

Date: 11. September 2012
Airline: Qatar Airways
Aircraft: B777-300
From: Hanoi
To: Bangkok
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1B, aisle seat
In Hanoi I stayed at the Sofitel Legende Metropole. The original building, which still stands today and is still in use as a hotel, was opened in 1901. At the time it was the only decent place to stay in Hanoi and subsequently became the preferred hang out of the rich and famous, both resident and visiting.

Later on during the American war, it became a refuge and a safe haven to the foreigners in the beleaguered city, at the time many embassies converted the guest’s rooms at the hotel into offices and set up shop there.

After the war, the place fell into disuse and neglect, and by the time the Accor Hotel Group took over the building in the nineties, it was merely a derelict and rat infested ruin.

Today the Metropole is restored to its original splendour and enjoys once more the reputation of being the best place to stay on town.

Getting to the Airport

Just before 15h00 my butler knocks at my door to collect my baggage. I check out and head downstairs to the lobby, outside the driver is already expecting us. I leave central Hanoi just after 15h00, the journey to the airport takes some 45 minutes to complete. The roads and streets in central Hanoi are small and narrow, it’s a tight squeeze for us and the incessant swarm of the omnipresent Vespas.

Check-in

The driver drops my bag on the carpet in front of the Qatar Airways Business Class check-in counter. He wishes me a pleasant journey and then bids me goodbye.

The agent at check-in issues my boarding pass as well as the lounge invitation. In Hanoi all airlines use the same lounge, with the exception of Vietnam Airlines who have their own one.

The Lounge

The lounge is one floor up from the public area. The terminal is a strange place, it’s packed with souvenir stalls with gaudy lights in some places, while other parts of the building are more or less deserted and empty.

The lounge itself is rather large for the airport and offers both warm and cold food and drinks. I help myself to the glass noodles with pak choy and enjoy the view outside until the time comes for me to board my flight to Bangkok.

Boarding

At 16h50 a Qatar Airways rep comes to the lounge and invites all passengers to board. By the looks of it there are eight adults and four beastly kids on the flight this evening. By the time I reach the gate they’re already making the final call for the flight.

The Cabin

The cabin of this bird is very nice. I think of all the intra-Asian flights (some of which I’ll post later on) I took on this trip this is the nicest one. There is even a small kind of pot mounted to the bulkhead on both rows and the roses in it are actually real and very fresh. There is a cushion at every seat, as well as a pair of earphones, which have been placed in their specific compartment by the side of the seat.

The toilet on this bird is enormous. You could throw a party in there. It’s also well stocked with Molton Brown goodies, shaving kits and dental kits.

The Crew

The crew, as is to be expected, are an interesting mix of nationalities. All of them are very friendly and take a professional approach to their job.

Service begins with drinks, served while we are still on the ground. I choose the lime and mint squash and it is delicious and refreshing.

After that I receive a small lacquer plate with a warm rose scented towel. This is followed by the distribution of the menus on this short sector. The flying time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

We push back right on time. We’re number three for departure behind a FedEx A310 and an Air Mekong Canadair Regional Jet. For an aircraft as grand and majestic as the Triple Seven it would be appropriate to describe the take-off roll in terms of power and grace, to go rambling on about thundering down the runway and defying the earth’s gravity and that kind of talk. But in actual fact the more suitable description in this case would be to say that we bounce down the runway until eventually we bounce into the air and stay there. The runway in Hanoi is the most uneven one I have every departed from! It has the whole plane shaking.

The Meal

There are no choices on the flight today. The flight isn’t really long enough. When the tray arrives it contains a hot meal that is beef with rice, carrots and pak choy with garlic. The pak choy tastes very bitter so I just leave that. The rest is okay. Nothing outstanding, but it’s okay.

For dessert there is a fruit salad with dragon fruit, papaya, strawberries, pineapple and grapes.

To drink I have another glass of the excellent lime and mint juice and some San Pellegrino sparkling water. After the meal I have a cup of coffee.

All in all it’s an unspectacular flight, there no ‘wow’ moment but I have nothing to fault Qatar Airways with either on this short sector.

Arrival

There is one very strong point in Qatar Airways’ favour. Before we land the cabin crew distribute the embarkation cards for Thailand. For passengers in Business Class they also provide a fast track voucher for immigration. This is something Egypt Air did not provide when I flew with them from Kuala Lumpur back to Bangkok earlier during the trip.

Conclusion

Out of the four airlines I did international flights with in Asia on this journey – Royal Jordanian, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways – Qatar Airways gave by far the most professional and polished performance.

Epilogue

As we climb out of Hanoi and the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam slowly vanish under a veil of humidity and heat haze, I reflect back upon my journey through this fascinating and amazing country. It will take me a while to fully appreciate and understand the country and the people I encountered. I don’t think I’ve ever before experienced anything quite like Vietnam.

Egypt Air, Business Class – B 777-300: Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok

Introduction

Mission accomplished, I’ve finally seen the Petronas Towers. In fact my hotel, the Traders, stands right opposite the towers and offers unobstructed views of them. They look particularly nice by night when they are lit up.

So I guess I might as well leave. For my return to Bangkok I’ve picked another exotic 5th freedom flight, this time in Egypt Air Business Class aboard the mighty B777-300.   

Date: 2 September 2012
Airline:
Egypt Air
Aircraft:
B777-300
From:
Kuala Lumpur
To:
Bangkok
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
10C, aisle

Getting to the Airport

My flight back to Bangkok will not be leaving until 22h00 today. Although I haven’t really got any high expectations of the flight, I am still very much looking forward to it because it will be my first flight with Egypt Air and I am quickly becoming a fan of the mighty Triple Seven.

So in theory, it would be quite sufficient to be at the airport at around 20h30, which would mean leaving central KL at around 19h00. But I want to get to the airport before sunset to catch a glimpse and possibly take a few pictures of the incoming aircraft, which is scheduled to arrive at 18h10.

Just after 17h00 I leave the hotel and head across the park to the KL Conference Centre to catch the Monorail to Sentral Stesen, the main station. It’s about a 10 minutes leisurely walk from the Traders Hotel.

The Monorail journey to Sentral Stesen takes about 15 minutes, it’s six stops from the KLCC. The trip costs something like 2.4 Ringgit, which is virtually nothing.

At Sentral Stesen I get out and take the escalators down into the basement of the building from where the KLIA Ekspres departs.

The journey to the airport takes 28 minutes according to the announcement made on the train.

Check-in

I arrive for check-in at Kuala Lumpur airport just after 18h45.

The counters for the flight are still being set up, but there’s already a long queue forming and for a horrible moment I suspect this may end up being the most chaotic check-in ever. But once the counters are set up, it becomes apparent that the Malaysia Airlines ground crew checking in the flight will not be standing for any nonsense and after just a few minutes the chaos has turned into orderly queues.

There is a separate counter for Business Class passengers. The agent types my Senator number into the reservation and issues me a boarding pass and the invitation to the Malaysia Airlines international lounge in the satellite building.

From check-in I head straight through immigration and security and then from there to the monorail station.

Once I reach the satellite I make a beeline for gate C22 from where my bird allegedly will be leaving, but much to my dismay, the gate is still empty. I hang around for a few more minutes, but nothing happens. And so I head for the Malaysia Airlines lounge instead.

The Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge

The lounge is right above the station where the shuttle arrives.

I arrive at the lounge and am greeted by a friendly receptionist. She asks me to wait a second while she makes a phone call. Strange. The next thing I know, she hands me the phone and says ‘for you’. Stranger. I take the receiver. It’s the check-in agent from the Business Class counter. He just wants to make sure about my nationality. He explains that if I am from Malta I can get a visa on arrival in Bangkok. If however I’m from Mali, I would not be allowed to travel as I would need a visa. So I explain to him that I am in fact from Malta and not Mali. I feel compelled to ask if he had noticed at all when checking me in that I am in fact a rather pale pinkish colour, pale even by Maltese standards, and would therefore probably be unlikely to blend in as one of the locals in downtown Bamako.

The lounge is rather spectacular and offers some good views.

The lounge is huge and has a very high ceiling, giving it the feel of being in a cathedral.

There are various stations with different types of food and drinks. I try the Malaysian dishes and they are very nice and a bit spicy.

The only thing that is perhaps ‘out of cast’ is the toilets, which look kind of old and worn.

Boarding

One hour before departure my flight already shows ‘BOARDING’. Kuala Lumpur uses closed gates. So basically ‘boarding’ merely means that the gate is open. So I probably still have time. Even so, I figure the load will probably be light to Bangkok so we may see an early departure. I collect my belongings and head for gate C22.

When I arrive, I am somewhat surprised to find a very long queue for the security check at the gate.

I enter the holding pen and then we wait for about 20 minutes before the actual boarding finally starts. There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft at the L1 and the L2 doors. Given that I am travelling in Business Class, I am directed to use the L1 door. This initially causes some confusion with the security guard manning the airbridge but eventually all is well and I am allowed on board.

I am greeted at the door by a friendly young woman who speaks very good English.

The Cabin

The first row of Business Class, which is also the first row on the aircraft, starts at number eight with Egypt Air.

I am on 10C, which means the third row from the front. There’s another passenger on 10A. Just as I close my seatbelt with a click, the announcement comes that boarding is completed. I look around and there’s another passenger sitting on 11A. But apart form that, the forward Business Class compartment is empty. 28 seats to share between three passengers. So I grab my stuff and move one row forward to the window on 9A.

The general impression of the seat is excellent. It is very comfortable and has a fresh and modern look to it, much better than Royal Jordanian.

This seat belt buckle is obviously much older than the rest of the plane. While in the new logo the Horus is merely stylised, on this buckle he is still more bird-like in appearance, as in the previous logo.

Later on after the meal, the lights are dimmed to reveal a star covered ceiling. It looks rather pretty actually!

There isn’t really much to say about our departure, except perhaps that the Triple Seven really packs a punch. Even once we’re airborne you can still feel the aircraft accelerating.

The Crew

I cannot praise the crew on this flight enough. They are so friendly and so much fun, truly excellent ambassadors to the country and people of Egypt and their legendary hospitality.

Once I realise I will be able to take pictures without bothering anybody, I embark on a photo shooting frenzy, trying to make sure I capture every detail of the aircraft. Suddenly one of the flight attendants, a middle-aged lady stops me and tells me ‘No, no Sir, you can’t take pictures like that’. For a moment I fear she’s going to do the no-photography-for-security-reasons routine on me. But instead she looks at me and says ‘you have to have a picture of me if you take a picture on Egypt Air’ and laughs. At this the male flight attendant appears and decides to join in the fun. And here’s the outcome.

Later on during the flight one of the attendants actually comes up to me and tells me how nice I am because I have a friendly smile. Shukran Gazilan, thank you very much!

But I digress. Service begins on the ground with a drinks round. There is a choice of guava juice, orange juice or still water. I choose the guava juice and it’s very refreshing. The drinks on the ground are served in plastic ‘glasses’ though.

After that a hot towel is distributed to each passenger. It’s out of paper but it does its job very well. In typically Arab style it’s heavily scented and more over, so hot I can barely hold it! I am also offered earphones and the evening’s edition of the Thai English language newspaper.

As we push back, the male attendant asks me what I would like to eat. There is no menu but he tells me there is a choice of chicken or beef. I go for the chicken.

The Meal

As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, one of the crew sets the table with a table cloth of crisp white linen with the Horus logo embroidered on it.

And then the meal arrives.

The First Course

A starter of salmon tartar with dill, capers and lemon rind, served with a slice of papaya, lemon and some greens.

The Salad

A mixed salad that comes with a light and tasty vinaigrette.

The Main Course

Spicy chicken with white rice and grilled veg with coriander.

The Cheese

A plate of cheddar and camembert cheese, served with a plum, grapes and butter.

The crew come round with warm bread.

Dessert

Chocolate and pistachio trifle with passion fruit infused sponge cake.

After the meal I have a cup of coffee and do a bit of stargazing.

Arrival

The flight is only 95 minutes. Very soon the throttles are eased back and Horus dips his nose. Our approach brings us in very close to the airport, which we pass due east on a northerly track. We do an elaborated 180 degree left turn and eventually land on the western one of the two runways.

We turn off the runway but the pilot informs us that our gate is still occupied by another aircraft. Subsequently we will have to wait for it to depart, which will be in the next 10 minutes.

Upon arrival I head for the visa on arrival lane, which is pretty empty at this time of day, it’s nearly midnight. Which is a good thing, because Egypt Air does not provide Fast Track passes. After customs I take the underground walkway to the Novotel Suvarnabhumi. I am only staying the one night.

Conclusion

I suppose there really is no point in comparing Royal Jordanian and Egypt Air, apart form the fact that I tried them in short succession on the same route, albeit in the opposite direction. Even so, I must say that Royal Jordanian really is no match for Egypt Air. Essentially it’s the crew’s performance that tips the scale in Egypt Air’s favour. That and the fact that the Triple Seven is one hell of a beast and this example in particular was in mint condition.

Sure the service was more polished over all with Royal Jordanian. But what’s all that worth if the cabin crew can’t even smile or react to you, seemingly because it doesn’t say so in the service manual? Would I fly Egypt Air again? Certainly, any time!

Royal Jordanian, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur

I arrived in Bangkok earlier in the afternoon on a Swiss International Air Lines flight from Zürich. Two hours later I am scheduled to depart to Kuala Lumpur. This is my fourth visit to the city and I am hoping to finally get to see the Petronas Towers.

Date: 31. August 2012
Airline:
Royal Jordanian
Aircraft:
A330-200
From:
Bangkok
To:
Kuala Lumpur
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
4K, window

Check-in

I’m standing at the Royal Jordanian transfer counter. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a complicated check-in process. First the agent needs to see the original credit card with which I paid for the ticket. Then she does some more typing to verify if I, as a Maltese national, am eligible to travel to Malaysia without a visa. Once that’s done, she makes a couple of phone calls in Thai, no idea what that’s all about. And then she also needs to see the confirmation of my ticket to leave Malaysia to prove that I will only be staying for two days. Another phone call and then she issues me a boarding pass for a seat in the middle row. I explain to her that I would prefer a window seat, so she tears up the boarding pass and issues me a new one for a window seat on row four, the last row of Business Class. That is printed on a Royal Jordanian branded boarding pass. But she also needs to print a lounge access pass, which is however printed on a Thai Airways document…I’m half expecting her to look up from her screen at some point and say ‘the computer says no’.

But all is well and after some 20 minutes of hammering into her keyboard like the crazed woman locked up in the attic, I’ve finally managed to get myself checked in.

Incidentally, the Swiss ground attendant, duty-bound, stays by my side while all this unfolds. Eventually she collects my boarding pass and lounge access and asks me to follow her to the Royal Silk Thai Airways lounge.

The Thai Airways Business Class Lounge

The lounge is rather empty when I arrive. The Swiss agent hands the lounge access to the Thai Airways receptionist, wishes me a safe onward journey and then takes her leave.

My previous flight at its gate, still being offloaded. Regrettably there are these small dots on all the windows at Bangkok Airport, making it somewhat difficult to take any decent pictures.

By this time it’s 15h20, so in theory I only have 40 minutes before departure to Kuala Lumpur. But amidst all the typing and other shenanigans, the transfer check-in agent did find the time to inform me that the flight to Kuala Lumpur would be delayed by some 45 minutes.

At around 16h15 my flight is showing as ‘go to gate’. I’m also feeling a bit bleary eyed from the previous flight as the jetlag sets in, so I decide it’s best to go walk a little and enjoy the sights of Suvarnabhumi Airport. Some might call it industrial design. Whatever it is, I do not find it quite so attractive.

Boarding

My flight is scheduled to leave from gate E5, which is in the same wing as the lounge and means I don’t have too far to walk. When I arrive at the gate, the aircraft is nowhere to be seen. So I ask the gate agent how long the delay will be, figuring we won’t possibly be leaving at 16h45. But she tells me the aircraft is on its way to the gate. Departure will be at 16h45. I doubt it.
Outside it looks as though the apocalypse is about to unfold. Dark and thick rain clouds are visible in the distance and the wind has picked up.

Eventually the aircraft arrives. The A330 is such a beautiful aircraft that wears the Royal Jordanian livery well. Unfortunately the lighting conditions and the grubbiness of the windows are not conducive to producing photos that will fully do this gracious bird justice.

Eventually boarding starts at 16h50. At the door I am welcomed by a female flight attendant wearing Royal Jordanian’s striking red uniform, which does have a certain retro chic.

As I board, I notice the slats are still open and the flaps are too, partly.

The Cabin

The floor area around the galley and doors has this rather odd wood-like finish, although it’s obviously not wood. Apart from that, the cabin is not exactly shabby, but it looks neglected. It’s little things really. I notice that there are a few screws missing in the seat back in front of me. Apart from that, the cabin design and colour spectrum is equally boring and bland to what you find on Lufthansa’s European fleet these days, shades of grey in grey.

Note that the overhead bin over the middle row are smaller in size. To open them, they slide down, similar to the ones on the B 777. The Airbus standard are bins with a door that opens upwards, which this aircraft has only for the bins on the sides of the cabin.

The seat seems okay for the short hop to KL but I’m not sure I’d want to sit in it all the way back to Amman. First of all, the pitch seems awfully tight. Secondly, the seat covers are leather, which has a tendency to make you sweat more, I find.

The seat also has power outlets.

There is also a blanket and a pillow at my seat when I arrive. In the empty seat in front of me both blanket and pillow have not been used and are still in their plastic covers. Mine are not, so I can only assume that they had already been used by the previous occupant of my seat on the Amman to Bangkok leg. And that I find rather an off-putting thought.

It doesn’t help that there is a faint stench of old sweat in the cabin, the kind of smell that somebody emits who probably last had a wash a few days before getting on a plane to Bangkok. But Royal Jordanian can’t be blamed for that and once the air conditioning comes on again, the pong nearly vanished completely.

Eventually we leave Bangkok at around 17h25, more than an hour behind schedule. The cabin manager is an elderly gentleman who sounds as though he’s been smoking Gauloise sans filtre for the last 50 years or so and has a somewhat questionable work ethic. He makes the usual welcome announcements in Arabic and English and obviously hasn’t got the faintest intention of apologising for the delay.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of a combination of Arabs and Thais. The Thais seem friendlier. Even so, it’s difficult trying ‘to make contact’ with any of the crew. They’re not rude but they’re not overly friendly either. They’re just doing their job without any ambition of excelling at what they do.

Service begins with a welcome drink while we’re still on the ground in Bangkok. I have an apple juice with an ice cube in it. Don’t think I’ve ever seen such dark apple juice!

After take-off we are served hot scented towels.

Shortly after that the table is set with nice crisp linen.

The Meal

To be honest, as far as both the crew, their service and the food were concerned, I was expecting very little or close to nothing from this flight. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps that is also the reasons why I am very pleasantly surprised by the meal service.

A side note. When I enrolled for the BA Executive Club at the beginning of 2012, I somehow ended up with a Hindu Vegetarian meal stored in my profile for reasons I still do not fully understand. In fact, I only noticed when I flew from Amsterdam to New York on BA at Easter and I was served a Hindu Vegetarian meal on the Amsterdam to London City sector.

In any case, at the time I booked this leg with Royal Jordanian, the special meal was still in my profile. I have since removed it but obviously the change was not transmitted to Royal Jordanian. I did consider contacting them for a while, but then I figured I probably wasn’t going to get much to eat on the flight anyway, so that it really didn’t matter.

In hindsight I must say I’m very glad I didn’t have the special meal removed from my booking because it’s a very tasty and spicy meal I receive in the end.

The First Course

The meal is served in three courses. The tray arrives with a side plate with a bun on it, as well as a mixed salad with French dressing. As a first course there is also a plate of curried pumpkin served on a leaf of red cabbage.
The pumpkin is okay but a bit bland.

To drink I have a glass of still water and a glass of Pepsi Max.

The Main Course

Once I finish the first course, the plate is removed and I am brought the hot meal, which consists of a Dhal, a spinach and cheese dish, white rice and a roti. Not only is the food very flavourful and spicy, what I particularly like is that the dish is piping hot when it arrives.

After that the whole tray is removed. Dessert and tea/coffee are served from the trolley. Coffee is served in big mugs.

Dessert

The dessert is tasty and quite unusual. It is some kind of rice and pistachios in a saffron and cardamon custard. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.

The meal finishes off with another hot towel.

Outside the sun has already started to set. So I just lean back and sip my coffee while I watch the view and the beautiful spectacle of colours unfold as night descends upon Malaysia.

Arrival

Passport control is a quick and easy affair. From there I head through customs and then I am landside. I take the escalators two floors down to the basement of the building to catch the KLIA Ekspres for Sentral Stesen or Central Station. From there I grab a taxi to my hotel.

Conclusion

This time I am staying at the Trader’s Hotel. The Traders is the Low Cost version of the Shangri-La. I like it. My room has excellent views of the Petronas towers and is only a stone’s throw away from Marks & Spencer and the metro.
The rooms are nothing special, compared to other hotels in the Asia-Pacific region. But they are clean and serve their purpose.

Royal Jordanian is somewhat hard to place. On the one hand, there is nothing overtly wrong with the product. And the meal they offer on the short leg from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is pretty much on a par with what I experienced with Malaysia Airlines one year previously on the same route.

Even so, I can’t really say I like Royal Jordanian. The cabin is slightly grubby and the toilets are worse. The crew were reserved but not unfriendly. Would I use them again? Well, certainly not as a first choice.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – A 340-300: Zürich to Bangkok

Date: 30 August 2012
Airline:
Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft:
A340-300
From:
Zürich
To:
Bangkok
Cabin:
First Class
Seat:
1A

Getting to the Airport

Zürich airport has its own railway station underground. The station is highly convenient it that it is connected to the national and international rail network. There are frequent trains to Zürich Main Station (four trains an hour, journey time is about eight minutes) as well as to most major cities in Switzerland. The journey from Basel, where I live, to the airport takes one hour and 16 minutes. The distance is only 79 kilometres, but the train takes the northern line from Basel to Zürich, which is speed restricted, and stops no less than seven times between Basel and the airport.

Zürich airport has all the necessary facilities one can expect from a medium to large size European hub. After I disembark from the train from Basel, I take the escalators one floor up. Immediately on your left are the counters of the Swiss Federal Railways, who also operate a Bureau De Change. As my final destination will be Vietnam on this trip, I exchange some Thai Bhat and Vietnamese Dongs. And suddenly I’m a millionaire! I exchange CHF300 and in return I receive no less than 5’300’000 Dongs, a fat wad of green and red banknotes with the kind and benevolent face of Uncle Ho on them beaming at me!

Check-in

I then make my way to Check-in 1, the home of Swiss International Air Lines and the Star Alliance. It’s quite amazing just how quiet the airport is around this time of day (the flight to Bangkok leaves at 22h45). The place looks deserted.

I head inside the First Class check-in lounge and receive my boarding pass for the flight to Bangkok. Quite unusually, I’m sitting on 1A tonight. My normal seat is 1K on the right hand side. But that’s okay, it makes no difference.

After check-in I make my way through security. Here there has been a vast improvement at Zürich Airport. With the opening of the new centralised security check, First Class passengers go through security before heading for the lounge, rather than having to go through security before they take the shuttle across to the E dock. The only complaint, if you want to be pedantic, is that there is no separate lane for First Class passengers and they have to share security with the Business Class passengers.

The SWISS First Class Lounge

As usual in the Swiss First Class lounge in Zürich, the main area towards the left of the reception area is comfortably full, certainly not crowded. So I decide to check out the area on the other side of the reception and once again I have the whole place to my self!The lounge is well stocked. There are two bars and the larger one also has a warm buffet with a selection of cold and warm food. There is also a small area with about five or six tables where passengers can also order à la carte dining before their flight.


But tonight I intend to eat on the plane, so I just have a small canapé with Mozzarella, tomato and peppers and make myself a small cheese sandwich to tie me over. To drink I have a Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

The toilets are nicely appointed in the First Class lounge, although here too there has evidently been some cost saving. Nowadays the liquid soap in the soap dispenser is of the cheap variety you find everywhere else in the terminal.

Boarding

At 22h00 I return to the reception area for the shuttle across to the E dock. With only three other passengers making the journey across to the E gates with me, passport control is quickly done.Normally Swiss uses Mercedes Minivans to move people across to the E dock. When there are not that many passengers, the BMW7 will also do.

The E Dock on the other side of runway 28 is much busier this time of night than the main terminal complex.

At the gate there are two lanes. One is for the Economy Class passengers and the other is for premium passengers and those with status.

There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, but the L1 door is closed, so all passengers have to board through the L2 door.

The Cabin

The cabin is in good condition. Tonight’s flight is showing a very healthy load, the First Class cabin is nearly completely full with seven out of eight seats taken. By the looks of it Swiss also has new cushions or at least cushion covers.

The usual Bally amenity kit, slippers and earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

As soon as I am seated the First Class service begins. Service is done by two middle aged and friendly female flight attendants. I am asked if I would like a newspaper and a drink. I choose the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and a glass of still water with a slice of lemon.

A short while later I am brought an amuse bouche of crab cake with a mango and zucchini salsa and a few butter sticks.

As soon as I finish that, the plate is removed and I am brought a scented, warm towel to refresh myself.

Departure is from runway 34. In the evenings it is either 34 or 32 that are in use for departures to minimise the noise pollution. As usual there are quite a few departures this time of night, we are number three in the departure sequence and I count a further three widebodies behind us.

Take-off is the usual lame A340-300 ‘will-he-make-it-before-the-end-of-the-runway’ departure. The acceleration and climb are barely perceivable. As soon as we get airborne we experience some significant turbulence which last for the first 45 minutes or so of the flight. Once the lights go on again and we are free to move, the flight attendant brings me my pajamas and I go and change for the night.

The Meal

The meal service begins with the table being set. I have my own breadbasket and a saucer of olive oil to dip the bread in.

With the meal I have sparkling mineral water with lemon.

The First Course

Balik Salmon with Crème Fraîche, chives and blinis. An excellent dish you can hardly go wrong with.

The Soup

Cream of sweet corn soup with popcorn. Very tasty, Swiss do a good soup.

The Salad

Mixed salad with croutons, cherry tomatoes and boiled egg. Excellent, they seem to have a new Italian dressing and it’s very tasty.

The Main Course

Zürich style shredded veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with Rösti and carrots sautéed in butter. Now this is simply outstanding. This is a signature dish you get in most self-respecting restaurants in Switzerland. Even so, I really don’t think I’ve ever had one in a restaurant that tasted this good. The sauce is rich and creamy and you even make out the white wine used for the sauce. Even the Rösti is cooked to perfection and has remained crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

The Cheese

A platter of assorted Swiss cheese with mustard seed chutney, walnuts, grapes, crackers and dried prunes and apricots. Here is another cost saving measure. When I flew this same route last year, the cheese service came from an open trolley and every passenger could choose himself which cheese he wanted to try.

The flight attendant tries to convince me to have dessert. But I decline and admit defeat.

After that it’s off to bed. Good night!

The Second Service

I awake about two hours out of Bangkok. Perfect timing because it gives me enough time for a leisurely breakfast. I don’t like being rushed in the mornings.

I change back into my normal clothes. When I return to my seat the flight attendant has already placed a nice cup of coffee there for me with a glass of water.

She asks me what I’ll be having with breakfast and I ask for just an orange juice.

Next she sets up the table again for the meal. Breakfast consists of Zopf, a typically Swiss bread, and a croissant. With this I have some cherry jam and butter.

Apricot yoghurt.

French toast with berries.


After the meal the table is cleared again and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I ask for a bottle of still water. After that I lean back to enjoy the views and nap some more before we land.

Arrival

Our route into Bangkok is a circuitous one.

Once we land, I bid the crew farewell and disembark through the L1 door. On the other side of the airbridge there is a SWISS ground attendant holding up a sign with my name on it. She asks me to follow her to a golf mobile. I get on board and she whisks me off to the transfer security check. From there we head one floor up to the Royal Jordanian transfer counter.

Conclusion

In summary it’s not a bad flight I have with Swiss. The crew is professional and efficient but still manages to be friendly and give the whole experience a personal touch. The tempo of the service is good and the food is very tasty.

Welcome

Hello and welcome to this travel blog!

This is an online travel journal about the journeys I have taken. I hope you may find in it useful information about airports, airlines and hotels and their products and services. Perhaps you will also find here some inspiration for future places to visit and journeys to take.

– William