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

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INTRODUCTION
June is probably one of the best months to visit the Maltese archipelago. The weather is already reliably and consistently warm but without the oppressive and stifling heat of July and August, when temperatures peak in the upper thirties and have even been known to exceed the forties. In contrast, the sea is already warm enough to swim in, while the beaches are still far form being too crowded.

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In Malta even the cats are crazy…

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As luck would have it, it was decided that this year’s user group meeting and a workshop on language test item development would be held in Malta in June. All in all, the meeting went well. Encouraged by the lovely weather on the island, the course participants were very efficient and disciplined in their work – obviously keen to finish on time every day so they would still have enough time to explore the sights and sounds of Malta.

And I even managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach at Mellieha bay, thanks to the meeting ending early and the stupendous driving skills of the valiant M., who joined me on this trip.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The journey by car from Valletta to the airport normally takes about twenty minutes, depending on traffic. Or seven minutes if the valiant M. is driving and making an impressive effort to blend in with the natives, mainly by adapting his style of driving to that of the locals.

Alternatively, you can also take the bus for EUR1.50. The driving is still crazy but at least the busses are slower, making the journey in roughly thirty minutes. The busses are fairly frequent and the service is quite reliable these days. Busses depart from the terminus right outside the city gate in Valletta.

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CHECK-IN
There is one dedicated check-in counter for Club Class passengers and check-in is possible up to 23 hours before departure. The young lady working the desk is unusually efficient. She issues my boarding pass, tags my luggage for priority and hands me an invitation to the La Valette lounge, which is the only lounge at Malta airport.

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The terminal is currently undergoing expansion to cope with the increased number of additional passengers. As a result, there’s a bit of a detour right now for security. But at least the detour is clearly signposted (Are you reading this Vienna airport?).

There is a dedicated queue for premium passengers. Once I’m airside, I head for the lounge.

THE LOUNGE
The La Valette lounge was recently relocated. To access the lounge you have to walk through the duty free store, past the cashiers and then take a sharp left. You should then end up standing in from of a lift that will take you up to the lounge’s entrance on the third floor.

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The lounge is very nicely designed and there is even a fairly large open air seating area in the lounge. Although with the sweltering heat I’m not sure who in his right mind would want to sit outside. The place is also much bigger than the previous lounge.

The food offerings are good and include a wide range of local snacks.

Most importantly though, the lounge has an excellent view of the apron.

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BOARDING
Boarding is via a bus. Our flight today is operated by a fairly new addition to the Air Malta fleet which only joined the airline in April of 2017. The aircraft is wearing hybrid colours of sorts, with a white hull and red engine cowlings. The only marking I can see is a small ‘Air Malta’ sticker next to the L1 door. Interestingly, unlike the other aircraft in the Air Malta fleet, which all have CFM56 engines, this specimen is equipped with the V2500.

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THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is nearly identical with the rest of the Air Malta fleet. But not entirely. The seats and carpets are the same but the bulkhead looks different and also provides more leg space. And there is no cabin divider to separate the Club Class and Economy Class cabins. This turns out to be rather irritating immediately after take-off, when seemingly half the aircraft a) decide now would be a good time to go to the loo and b) fail to realise that there are in fact two perfectly functional loos in the rear of the aircraft.

SERVICE
There are four females on this aircraft and they really are excellent. Especially the purser Joyce is very charming and personable. They take their time to chat with the passengers during the service and they’re very proactive in their service delivery – for example offering to bring down my backpack from the overhead lockers after take-off without me even asking.

I’m also quite surprised that they make their announcements in Maltese, English and in German.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of newspapers and either juice or water for a welcome drink. The hot towels they used to provide appear to have fallen by the wayside. Instead, there is a pre-packed scented cold towel on the tray with the food.

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Mellieha Bay
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Comino and the Blue Lagoon on the right, part of Gozo on the left

THE MEAL
The meal service starts with a drinks round. Of course I have a Kinnie with ice and lemon.

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The meal service hasn’t changed much since my last trip with Air Malta. Only the menu is different. The main course consists of a plate of roast beef with crumbled Gorgonzola and a skewer of tomato and mozzarella on a creamy mustard seed dressing. There is a dish with three different types and cheese and also a profiterole filled with some sort of nutty cream. There are also two warm buns with butter on the tray and during the meal service the crew come by twice offering more bread and butter.

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The meal is good and hits the spot nicely, although on a flight of over two hours I think a hot meal would not be too much to ask.

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I have two cups of coffee at the end of the meal. But even so, I’m so exhausted that I doze off immediately once the tray is removed and I don’t wake up until the aircraft rolls onto stand and comes to a halt at the gate.

CONCLUSION
We land in Zürich with a delay of roughly thirty minutes, which was caused by a problem starting up the engines when we were still in Malta and that needed to be looked at by Air Malta’s ground engineers. But apart from that, this was a really nice flight and even the valiant M. is feeling generous and willing to give Air Malta ten out of ten for the on board experience!

As the financial problems at Air Malta continue, the carrier’s future hangs in the balance. The government has announced that in two weeks time a new strategic plan will be presented to the unions for review. Air Malta is a nice little airline and I think it would be a shame to see them go. But to be honest, I won’t hold my breath for their new strategy if it is driven by the government, when in fact Air Malta’s biggest problem has always been the government’s persistent and incessant interference.

– William

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

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Date: 14. July 2016.
Departure: 14:35.
Arrival: 17:00.
Flight time: 2 hours 25 minutes.
Seat: 3A, window on the port side.

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INTRODUCTION
Our stay in Malta has been a very relaxing and enjoyable one. The weather has held up beautifully, with temperatures in the range of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. To be honest though, I really do not think I handle the heat very well, and I am looking forward to returning home to Switzerland, where the temperature should be cooler.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Rented car.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Cost: EUR160 for three whole days, including fuel.

We leave Valletta just after noon. The easiest way to get around Malta is by rented car. However, if you are staying in Valletta, finding a place to park can be a problem. There is a large underground parking just outside city gate, and parking your car there will cost you EUR5 for 24 hours.

CHECK-IN
Location:
The departures concourse is to the left of the terminal when you are looking at it with the car park behind you.
Facilities: Web check-in, mobile check-in or check-in at the airport.
Counters: Dedicated Air Malta counters. There are separate counters for Club Class passengers and for baggage drop.

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LOUNGE
Location:
As you come up the escalators from security, you first pass through the duty free shop. The La Vallette lounge is on the right side of the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge:
La Vallette contractor lounge. If you have lounge access, you are also entitled to use the fast track for security.
Facilities:
Toilets but no showers, work stations with Mac computers, a selection of magazines.
Catering: A good selection of hot and cold dishes with a decidedly Maltese flavour – things like hobz biz-zejt, pastizzi, etc.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge. The password is shown at various locations in the lounge and is hard to miss.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.
Boarding starts on time. There is a short queue for Economy Class, but it is obvious that the flight is not going to be full today. There are no contact stands in Malta, so what ever happens, you will board the aircraft via the stairs, which gives you the opportunity to take some good pictures of the aircraft you are travelling on.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 configuration, the middle seat is kept empty.
Seat: There are four rows of Business Class on the flight today, which makes for a total of 16 seats all together. Nine of the seats are occupied today. Initially, I am on 3C, which is the aisle seat on the starboard side. But once it transpires that the Business Class cabin will not be full, I shift to 3A, the window seat on the port side. The aircraft has a maximum seating capacity of 180.
Pitch: –
Width:

Audio and Video: Overhead dropdown screens showing the safety on board video and the moving map.

SERVICE
There are four cabin crew on the flight today and they all seem rather friendly. As we take our seats, one of the cabin crew passes through the cabin offering passengers the Times of Malta to read. The purser is an elderly gentleman, and I am somewhat surprised to hear him making the welcome on board announcement in rather good German.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice or water.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Selection from the bar, I have Kinnie of course.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Antipasti plate with feta cheese rolled in zucchini, smoked meat, shrimps and smoked salmon with aubergine, peppers, olive, fennel and salad.
  • A selection of cheese.
  • Apple pie.
  • Two rolls with butter.
  • Tea or coffee.

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The meal is light and tasty, especially the salmon is very good and does not taste at all fishy. The apple pie for dessert is fruity and makes an interesting change to the usual creamy desserts they normally serve on planes.

ARRIVAL
As we approach our destination, the weather outside starts to deteriorate. The captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that the expected temperature on arrival in Zürich will be 14 degrees Celsius, 20 degrees colder than it was when we left Malta earlier this afternoon. And it is raining.

There is a bit of a hold up as we fly around a number of nasty looking build ups along the way. Eventually we land with a delay of about twenty minutes. I step off the plane and I must admit, it really is quite chilly. But I am not complaining…

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Air Malta, Business Class – A 319: Malta to Zürich

KM to ZRH

INTRODUCTION
Those of you living in central Europe, for example in a place like Switzerland, will be quite familiar with those long stretched of bleak autumn grey. Weeks of endless, cold misty grey and rain. There are days when it will just rain perpetually – a light, gentle drizzle.

But Malta is not like that. Definitely not. The air cools down to a more balmy, temperate sensation and there may be occasional bouts of rain. But when that happens, when it rains… My God, how it rains. Short outbursts of just a few minutes, but with such a force and in such copious amounts have the island submerged in water in no time.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Taxi.
Journey time: 35 minutes.
Fare: EUR21.-

My flight back to Zürich is leaving at 14h20. Normally I would have taken the X2 bus, which runs directly from St. Julian’s to the airport. But there another vicious downpour happening outside and so I decide to take a taxi instead.

By car the journey should normally only take about 20 minutes from St. Julian’s to the airport. But not today. With the heavy rain there has been during the night, a wall somewhere along the main artery that connects the south and the north has collapsed, and so we have to make a slight detour.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Check-in is on the first floor.
Facilities: Online check-in and airport check-in. There is no Air Malta app.
Counters: The airport is very busy when I arrive. Alitalia, Lufthansa and Emirates are all check-in their flights and there are quite a few Air Malta flights departing around the same time as well. Fortunately, there are two dedicated Club Class and Diamond member check-in counters.

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The check-in agent labels my suitcase, and hands me my boarding pass. He also writes up an invitation to the La Valette Business Class lounge. The lounge invitation will also give you access to the priority lane at security.

LOUNGE
Location:
Airside, behind the duty-fee shop.
Type of Lounge:
La Valette contractor lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets but no showers, four work stations with Mac Computers, newspapers, buffet with hot and cold snacks and drinks.
Internet:
Free wifi is available in the lounge.

This is the only lounge facility in the terminal. As a result, the place has a fairly good occupancy when I arrive. What I like about this lounge is that it is very well kept. There is enough cleaning staff at hand to ensure that tables are cleared and cleaned. It is also a nice place to grab a last taste of Malta and have a glass of Kinnie, Hobz biz-Zejt or Ftira filled with tuna.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Yes.

Boarding for the flight starts on time. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers, but seeing as we will be taking a bus to the aircraft anyway, I figure there is not much point in using the priority lane.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 (European Business Class configuration with the middle seat left empty)
Seat: On Air Malta, there is a tray in the back of the middle seat, which is folded down in the Business Class configuration. The idea is that you can then raise the armrest on that side of your own seat to give you a bit more width. The height of the headrest is adjustable. The recline is good.
Audio and Video: Available, but only used for the safety briefing on this flight.

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. Seven of the seats are occupied on today’s flight.

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SERVICE
The service begins with a choice of orange juice or water as a welcome drink. This is followed by the newspaper service. There is a choice of two Maltese dailies, including the Time of Malta.

After departure, a hot towel is served ahead of the start of the meal service.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Kinnie with lemon and ice.
Choice:
There is no choice for the main meal. However, snacks are available for purchase after the main meal service is over.
Delivery:
Individual tray service, no trolleys.
Type of meal:
Light dinner.
Meal:

  • Tomato and Mozzarella salad with a pesto sauce
  • A few slices of some smoked meet with salad leaves.
  • A plate of fresh cheese with melon and mint.
  • Cream caramel.
  • Bread and butter
  • Coffee

The meal is tasty enough, although I do not touch the smoked meat. As I get older I find I am eating less meat. The flight passes quickly and quietly, and there is a very comfortable and lazy atmosphere in the cabin.

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ARRIVAL
We are lucky today. It is a beautiful day here in Switzerland, and so we are treated to a magnificent view of the Alps as we start our descent into Zürich. The airport is fairly busy, and so there is a bit of a hold up for our luggage to arrive, despite the fact that is was priority tagged in Malta.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Train.
Departs from: Railway station in the basement of the airport.
Journey time: Roughly every 30 minutes.
Fare: CHF38.- for a one-way ticket.
With my suitcase arriving so late, I just manage to miss the airport train to Basel, which runs every hour and departs from Zürich airport at four minutes past the hour. So instead I take a train to Zürich main station, from where there are four trains to Basel every hour.

 

Air Malta, Business Class – A 319: Zürich to Malta

KM to MLA

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Departs from: Winterthur main railway station.
Frequency: Nonstop trains run every thirty minutes.
Journey time: 13 minutes.

I leave the office at 15h45 to catch the train at 15h55. My flight to Malta will be leaving at 17h40, which should give me enough time. There is another train at 15h58, which is a good thing because on this particular occasion I actually manage to miss the earlier train.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Check-in 2, row 3.
Facilities: Online check-in and airport check-in. There is no Air Malta app.
Counters: Air Malta checks in on row 3, which is where the multipurpose counters of handling agent Swissport are located. There is a dedicated Business Class counter, At this time of day the whole place is pretty deserted and there are no other passengers checking in.

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While the agent is tagging my suitcase, another Swissport agent walks up to the counter and asks him what the seat load for the Air Malta flight is. Apparently, the flight was originally overbooked. However, there are quite a few no-shows and so, only 128 of the 141 seats are occupied. Still, considering that it is the end of October and the holiday season is over, it is not a bad load.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Airside, turn right as you exit from the duty-free shop.
Type of Lounge:
Swiss International Air Lines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Limited seating area, toilets and showers on the premises, two buffets.
Internet:
Free wifi is available throughout the terminal.

Crap! Of all the lounges at Zürich airport, Air Malta had to choose the SWISS one for its Business Class passengers. What a rat hole! The place is completely packed when I arrive and it is standing room only. The buffet looks as though a bomb just went off and there are empty glasses, dishes and bottles everywhere. But it is not just that the place is far from being tidy, it is also starting to look shabby and I think most of that has to do with the fact that the lounge is a) way too small for all the passengers it is supposed to hold, and b) I think SWISS’ branding is starting to look tired and worn.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
No.

Boarding for the flight starts on time. There is a bit of a scrum once the boarding announcement is made, so I wait for the mad rush to subside before I make my way on board the aircraft.

I am greeted at the door by a charming young lady who is all smiles, and an older gentleman who later turns out to be the purser. He seems to be in a good mood, chatting and joking with the passengers as they board the aircraft. He takes a look at my boarding pass and makes a point of addressing me in Maltese.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 (European Business Class configuration with the middle seat left empty).
Seat: 1F, window on the right side of the aircraft. On Air Malta, there is a tray in the back of the middle seat, which is folded down in the Business Class configuration. The idea is that you can then raise the armrest on that side of your own seat to give you a bit more width. The height of the headrest is adjustable. The recline is good.
Audio and Video: Available, but only used for the safety briefing on this flight.

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. Five of the seats are occupied on tonight’s flight.

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SERVICE
The service begins with a choice of orange juice or water as a welcome drink. This is followed by the newspaper service. There is a choice of two Maltese dailies, including the Time of Malta.

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After departure, a hot towel is served ahead of the start of the meal service.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Kinnie with lemon and ice.
Choice:
There is no choice for the main meal. However, snacks are available for purchase after the main meal service is over.
Delivery:
Individual tray service, no trolleys.
Type of meal:
Light dinner.
Meal:

  • Salad with black olives and grilled artichoke hearts with slices of chicken breast and tomato.
  • Cheese platter.
  • Chocolate fudge cake.
  • Bread and butter

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It is just a light meal that Air Malta serves and it is perfectly adequate given the duration of the flight. Especially the chocolate fudge cake is very tasty. My only complaint about the food in Air Malta Business Class is that it tends to be slightly repetitive and they do not seem to change the menus very often.

After the meal I order a packet of Twistees from the on board menu. Twistees are Malta’s answer to Pringles. It is rather difficult to describe the taste of Twistees, and to be honest, I am not even entirely sure what they are made of…

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ARRIVAL
The airport is fairly quiet when we arrive. Nothing much has changed since my last visit over a year ago. And it is just so nice to be able to deplane without a jacket and not feel cold, when back in Zürich is was decidedly chilly when we departed.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi.
Departs from: Outside the arrivals hall.
Journey time: About 25 minutes.
Fare: EUR21.

Maltese taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off innocent, unsuspecting tourist. That is why they introduced an interesting system at the airport a few years back. In order to get an official taxi, you have to proceed to the official taxi counter first, where there is a price list with most towns and hotels on it. You tell the agent at the counter where you are heading and pay the fare at the counter. You are then given a ticket, which is then assigned to a specific driver.

On this trip, I shall be staying at the Hilton in St. Julian’s, mainly because the Phoenicia, where I normally stay, is currently under renovation. The Hilton is ideally located right on the rocks, overlooking the seat. It was still warm enough to sleep with the balcony door open. There is something very soothing about falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks.

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