British Airways, Airbus A319 – Economy Class: London Heathrow to Basel

For my return flight to Switzerland, I’ll be travelling with British Airways from London’s Heathrow airport. The main reason being that there is currently no direct service from London City airport to Basel.

To get to Heathrow airport from the O2 arena, I’ve decided to take the most scenic option, which is the ferry on the Thames. The journey from the O2 arena to the centre of London will take near to an hour and takes you past Greenwich, tower bridge and the tower of London. The jetty is just under ten minutes walking distance from the hotel.
I alight form the ferry at Embankment. I take the few steps up to street level, cross the road and then I’m already in the tube station.
The Bakerloo line runs from Embankment to Paddington station and takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.
At Paddington station I change to the Heathrow Express. Just a piece of advice here: try to book your tickets for the Heathrow Express well in advance, and you can get some really good deals with tickets starting at GBP5.50. If however, like me, you completely forget to purchase a ticket in advance, you’re looking at ‘saver’ fares starting at GBP25…
Paddington to Heathrow takes about fifteen minutes by train.
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is very busy, as usual. Even so, security is efficient and swift. I don’t even have to queue.
The only thing I don’t like about Heathrow, is that they only advise the gate thirty minutes before departure, to give people an incentive to roam through the terminal building and spend loads of cash at the many duty free shops.
My flight today is departing from gate A6, which is one of those gates with a ridiculously long air bridge. It also means the aircraft is concealed from view and impossible to take a photo of.
I think it’s going to be one of those flights. We board the aircraft and it’s hot. What’s more, there seems to be an unusually high number children on the plane today.
The first officer comes on the loudspeaker and welcomes all passengers on board. He also apologises for the heat and explains that the APU on this aircraft is currently not working, so it’ll be a while before the cabin cools down, once one of the engines has been started.
Nice, but try telling that to a bunch of tired, hungry and sweaty kids. And so, it doesn’t take too long before the crying and the wining begins. Luckily, the lady on the aisle seat of my row is travelling with her six months old kid, which is really cute and quite happy to play footsie with her stuffed dinosaur. But the kid on the other side of the aisle is a total menace. She’s busy doing a convincing, and rather frightening, rendition of Rosemarie’s Baby. Meanwhile, her brother in the middle seat decides that now would be a good moment to spill a cup of water over himself, his dad, Rosemarie’s Baby and his mum…
The quality of this picture is not very good. I only took it because if you look at the tail of the very last aircraft way at the back, you may notice that it is in fact BA’s first Airbus A 350…
Departures are from runway 27L this afternoon. There are just a few aircraft ahead of us taxiing out. Meanwhile, we decide to race this SAS Boeing B 737-600 to the holding point.
The flight time to Basel is one hour and ten minutes. Service on the flight is buy on board and you may only pay by credit card or avios.
The seat pitch is better than I remember. But the seat still isn’t very comfortable and forces you to sit fully upright, which becomes tiring after a while. I really wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so in this seat.
We arrive in Basel just a few minutes behind schedule. I’m a bit apprehensive when I see an Air Arabia, WizzAir and a Turkish Airliines aircraft already on the ground, because that usually means that the queues for immigration and customs will be endless. But much to my surprise, there are hardly any passengers at the passport control.

You may have noticed that there are no posts of food and no comments about the service on board this flight. That’s because there’s really nothing for me to say. With the introduction of buy on board, the airline’s interaction with the passenger is quite limited. Especially the way the BA crews go about it. I watched them during the serivce. What struck me, was that they just passed through the cabin without really saying anything much. If passengers wanted to order something, it was up to them to make sure the crew noticed them. The low cost carriers do that much better I think, because on Easyjet for example, the crews are proactively trying to make a sale. As such, the onboard sales, and with that also the airline’s brand, assume a much more prominent role.

In contrast, I must admit I found this experience on BA completely interchangeable with just about any other airline, because the service I purchased has literally been stripped down to just taking me from A to B.

Eurowings, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Köln

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I’m on my way to Cologne to attend a meeting with EASA and ICAO. I finish teaching at 15h20, return to my office to collect my bag and then I’m off to the railway station. The flight will be leaving at 17h30, so it should be enough for me to catch the 15h58 train from Winterthur to Zürich airport.

CHECK-IN

I’ve already checked in online. I don’t have the Eurowings app installed, but I received a mail a few days ago with a link to the Eurowings check-in page. The process on the website could be smoother, but I manage to check-in fairly quickly.

I’m travelling with the tall, blond M. on this trip. So I’ve taken the precaution of booking the middle and window seats on the emergency row – seats 15E and F – to have enough space for the guy’s long legs.

AIRSIDE

Zürich airport is busy today. It’s the first week of the autumn vacation here in Switzerland, so half the nation is travelling this and next week. But despite all the people, security is a fairly smooth process.

The lady in the queue in front of me is travelling with her cat. To go through the security checkpoint, she has to remove the cat from his carrier bag. And he’s obviously not happy, judging by the expression on his face. Later on it turns out that the cat’s name is Bowie in honour of David Bowie. Clearly, his owner must have excellent taste…

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time and it’s the usual scrum for the automatic scanners. You’d think they’re giving it away for free to watch them.

Much to my surprise, I look out the window at my gate to find that the flight today is being operated by a Boeing B 737-800 of TUIFly, which is operating the flight on behalf of Eurowings.

THE CABIN

The cabin is in fairly decent condition. There is no cabin divider but the first few rows of seats have headrest covers marked as ‘Biz Class’. The seat pitch on the emergency exit is of course very good. The only down side is that there is no armrest on that side of the seat adjacent to the window.

Eventually, boarding is completed and the aisle seat on our row is still empty. So the tall, blond M. quickly shifts over one seat to give us a bit of extra space.

THE CREW

The crew are friendly and seem a lot happier that I would have expected them to be. But perhaps that’s because they’re TUIFly and not Eurowings crews.

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes.

THE MEAL

Food and drinks are available for purchase in Economy Class, I think. Much to my surprise though, once the service starts and the crew pass through the cabin, the tall, blond M. is handed a small snack box containing a small container of still water and half a cheese sandwich. Very generously, he offers to share both with me. And when the crew pass through the cabin with the drinks trolley, we’re even offered something else to drink.  Which is kind of surprising, because I thought food and drinks were only available for purchase.

It only dawns on me later on that the reason the tall, blond M. received the snack box in the first place is that he’s changed seats to the aisle. In other words, the aisle seat remained empty because the passenger booked on that seat had no-showed.

For a moment I think of telling the crew about the misunderstanding. But given that I’ve already demolished half the sandwich by this time, I figure it no longer makes any difference…

ARRIVAL

The flight passes quickly and shortly after the trash is cleared away, we’re already descending into Cologne. Which is kind of cool, because basically the pilot’s idea of ‘descent’ is just to deploy the speed breaks and pitch the aircraft in a steep dive. It’s certainly efficient…

And so we land in Cologne on time. And fortunately for me, we come to a stop on a remote stand, which means I get to take a few pictures of my aircraft as I disembark.

CONCLUSION

All in all, there isn’t anything much to say about this flight. It was completely unremarkable and I doubt I will remember it as an exceptional experience. But it was okay. They delivered me safely from A to B without delay. No more, no less.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris to Madrid

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Date: 25 March 2017.
Departure: 15:10.
Arrival: 16:50.
Flight time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Aircraft: Airbus A 319.
Seat: 2F, window on the second row.

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INTRODUCTION
Terminal 2E and 2F are connected airside and you can easily make the transfer on foot. On this particular occasion the process is incredibly swift, given that I’m the only customer at the security checkpoint and the many staff at the four open security lanes look absolutely bored out of their wits.

CHECK-IN
I checked in for the flight using the Air France app, which works very well since the last release. As I already mentioned, my flight will be leaving from Terminal 2F, which is the Schengen terminal for all SkyTeam carriers. There are two piers to the terminal.

I really like the architecture of the building.

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LOUNGE
There is an Air France Business Class lounge located in the tip of the pier and both piers have their own lounge. However, right now the lounge on the one pier is closed for refurbishment. The lounge that is opens appears to have undergone recent refurbishment. They didn’t do anything drastic, it’s more of a facelift really.

The lounge is nice and has many seating options along the huge curved windows that offer some excellent views of the activities on the apron.

The food options in the lounge are good, with a wide selection of salads, soup, sandwiches, cheese and sweet snacks.

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Showers and toilets are available in the lounge.

BOARDING
Boarding for the flight is from gate F21, which is a bus gate. Which means I hit the jackpot and my ride to Madrid is parked on a remote stand. Oh happy day!

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CABIN & SEAT
The cabin layout is your bog standard European Economy Class seat with the middle seat left empty. Even so, I think Air France have done a good job working on the appearance of the aircraft, which looks elegant and bright. There is a red pillow at every seat as I board the aircraft.

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Seven of the twelve seats are occupied.

SERVICE & CREW
There is one gentleman working the Business Class cabin. I assume he must be the purser. His English and Spanish are both excellent and he goes about his duties conscientiously.

The service on the ground begins with the distribution of small bottles of water and packed refreshing towels which are lightly scented.

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THE MEAL
There is no drinks service ahead of the meal being served. Despite the flight time of one hour and forty minutes, we are served the same type of meal that you also get on the much shorter sector from Paris to Zürich. But somehow, given my recent experience with Lufthansa from Munich to Malta, that really should not surprise me. Short-haul Business Class catering in Europe is definitely going to the dogs.

It’s not that there is something wrong with the meal and it tastes okay, I just think it’s a bit small. It’s also an odd combination of randomly selected items.

The meal consists of:

  • a savoury cheese muffin, served warm
  • a brioche filled with cream cheese and tomato paste
  • two shrimps sautéed in sesame oil, served cold
  • a berry maccaron
  • one profiterole
  • and some incredibly rich chocolate thing that clings to your teeth
  • a box of chocolate covered wafers

To drink I have a Coke Zero and then coffee.

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ARRIVAL
I think this is the first time I’ve landed in Madrid coming in from the north. The airport is fairly busy, with quite a few departures to Latin America. There are three LATAM aircraft parked at the gate and two Avianca Dreamliners taxiing out for departure.

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In Madrid, Air France uses Terminal 2. Normally you can make your way into town using the metro. However, for the time being, the station and tunnels of the metro line that runs to the airport are out of service for maintenance. But a there is a replacement bus service in operation – the SE2 – that takes passengers to the next open metro station. Just stay on the bus until the final destination and then follow the other passenger.

CONCLUSION
Air France provided a solid service on both flights today. The crews were friendly and professional and the aircraft both looked as though they were in mint condition, with a tidy and modern cabin. Of course it helps that the B 787-9 from London to Paris still has that ‘new car’ smell to it and the crew were obviously very proud and eager to show off the product.

As I said, the meal was a bit of a let down. But I think that has less to do with Air France and more likely reflects a general trend among the European carriers.

The transfer in Paris was painless, highly efficient and certainly much more pleasant than connecting at that rat hole they call Frankfurt airport.