Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Paris CDG to Dubai

Transfer in Paris Roissy

Immediately behind the immigration booths in Terminal 2G is the exit to the bus stop for the airside busses that connect to the other terminals. Terminal 2E M is served by the red line. Frequencies vary depending on which terminal they’re serving.

The journey by bus from 2G to 2E M take about five minutes.

The Lounge

I haven’t transferred through the M satellite before. But I have to say, it’s a very nice facility. The main lounge area is on the first floor.

I think Air France has put a lot of effort into updating, expanding and modernising the lounges at its hub in Paris in recent years. And this one here is no exception. The lounge has a very nice, spacious feel to it and it’s also rather quiet and stays like that for the duration of my stay. It’s a far cry from the horrific Lufthansa Business Class lounges in Munich and Frankfurt, which are somehow always too small.

The lounge has a business area with desks to work on, a kid’s playing area and a quiet zone where passengers can lie down and have a rest. There are showers that are available on a first come, first serve basis, as well as a Clarins ‘Spa’ for passengers to get a complimentary facial treatment.

As far as food options are concerned, during my stay the lounge is serving breakfast. The dishes change according to the time of day, obviously. There are scrambled eggs and bacon available, in addition to a large selection of pastries, fruit, cheese and hams.

And of course, there’s also a few eternal alcoholics helping themselves to the hard booze at nine o’clock in the morning. ‘It’s the jetlag, darling…’.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts one hour before departure from gate M 28. Boarding is done by zones, with zone 1 and zone 2 for the SkyPriority passengers boarding first.

And it looks like there’s been an aircraft change. And what a nice one it is too! Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by a Boeing B 777-300. But outside, staring my in the face in all her glory, in an Airbus A 380! I mean, I know the Business Class on this bird isn’t quite as fancy as that on the B 777-300, but I also have to say that since Airbus announced the end of production and Air France and Lufthansa announced that they were downsizing their respective fleets, every flight I can snag on one of these aircraft is a bonus. Of course, it also means that I’m determined to make sure I fly with every airline that operates the A 380 before they go out of service. Luckily, I don’t have too many left on the list.

The Cabin

The cabin is in a old fashioned 2 + 2 + 2 configuration and admittedly, there isn’t much privacy in the setup Air France has. There is no divider in between the seats and all the six seats in a row are aligned.

Storage space is also limited in comparison to the B 777 seat of Air France. There is obviously space to put things, but somehow most of that space is not really in a convenient position.

The seat is slightly angled, but it is still possible to sleep on your side or on your stomach without having to make any serious contortions.

One of the biggest problems of the Airbus A 380, which I think should be considered a design flaw, is that the aircraft is just so bloody quiet, even with the engines on take-off thrust. I mention this here because there are two Frenchman on this flight that are obviously determined to talk all the way to Dubai, which is six very long hours away. Throughout the flight, various passengers tell them to done it down, but apparently, it’s to no avail…

The Crew

The crew are what I have come to understand as being very typical of Air France crews. There friendly and efficient in their work, but there’s not much warmth in them – the service and their interaction with the passengers seems quite formal.

The Service

When I reach my seat, a big pillow, a thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at my seat. Once boarding is completed, the service on the ground begins. First, there is a drink service with a choice of champagne, water or fruit juice.

Shortly after, the vanity kits and the menus for the flight are distributed. And then eventually, thick hot towels are passed round and orders for the main course are taken.

The Meal

The meal service is always a highly enjoyable experience with Air France in that the quality of the food is normally very good and you certainly needn’t worry about going hungry. And today’s flight is no exception.

Amuse Bouche

For a pre-meal drink I have a Coke Zero, which is served with a small box of packed cranberries and cashews and a small ramekin with a beet mousse and cheese crumble.

First Course

The first course is a plate of sautéd shrimps with a mango tartare and a couscous with flowers, grapefruit and vegetables. The first course is served with a choice of either brown or white bread.

Salad

There is also a salad with pine nuts, served with a small bottle of olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar.

Main Course

For the main dish I have the poached pollock with a curry and coconut sauce and Camargue rice.

The Cheese

Dessert

And finally, for dessert I go with the apricot tart and vanilla ice cream.

The meal is very enjoyable and flavourful. The mango tartare goes nicely with the shrimps and the pollock is flaky and juicy, and complemented nicely by the rice.

The Second Service

About one hour out of Dubai, the lights come on again and the second service begins. It’s really just a small snack and consists of a small plate with a small vol au vent, a piece of apricot pie and a chicken wrap.

Arrival

We touch down in Dubai at 23h05, twenty minutes ahead of schedule. We park on the non-Emirates pier, from where we have to take a shuttle train to the arrivals hall. Luckily, I reach the immigration just ahead of the rush hour, so at least I don’t have too long to wait there.

But there seems to be a problem with the baggage delivery. Or rather, it’s a bit unfortunate that they put the Air France flight as the same baggage carousel as the Lufthansa flight, because it means there are the combined bags of a whole A 380 and a B 747-400 to delivery onto the same belt.

Eventually, my suitcase arrives after a wait of 45 minutes. And then I head outside to grab a taxi to my hotel.

Here in Dubai I’ll be giving a course for Flydubai, which has become the newest airline to use the English language test for pilots I developed.

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

Introduction

The course with Etihad was good fun and went by really quickly. The people attending the course were easy going and really impressed me by their professionalism. Of course, it also helps that the Etihad training facilities near the airport are modern, with well-equipped classrooms.

On Thursday afternoon we finish around lunch, and I even get to take the tour of the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, which is quite dazzling. The white marble is so bright that I can hardly stand to look at the building, it’s literally blinding.

But on Monday the next course will be starting in Luxembourg, so it’s high time for me to leg it back Europe. Which is a shame really, because the weather here in Abu Dhabi has been a delight this last week, with pleasantly mild temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Celsius.

Getting to the Airport

Being the weekend, there’s hardly any traffic on the roads. Which means we manage to make the journey to the airport in just over fifteen minutes. The trip from the Hilton Capitol to the airport will cost you roughly UAD50.- by taxi.

Check-in

Terminal 3 is dedicated to Etihad Airways and there are separate entrances for First and Business Class passengers. The Business Class area of the terminal is calm. It looks rather elegant. There are seven counters open when I arrive.

Right next to check-in, there is a dedicated Fast Track for immigration and right behind that the security check. Most of Etihad’s flying out of Abu Dhabi occurs during the night time, which is probably why the airport is surprisingly quiet, given the size of the facility.

The Etihad Airways Business Class Lounge

The Etihad Business Class lounge is located opposite gate 35, and it’s enormous. There is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to choose from at the buffet, ranging from Indian to Japanese, Western and Arab dishes. There are also, as far as I can tell, three bars. Although only one of them is currently open.

I have a bit of lunch, seeing as the flight will not be departing until 13h45 and I’m not likely to eat anything before about 15h00.

Once I demolish my plate (I seem to be developing a serious liking for mash in my old age) I decide to check out the Six Senses Spa, also located in the lounge. I still have slightly more than an hour to go before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a full body massage of one hour.

Boarding

My flight is departing from gate 33. At the entrance to the gate, my passport is first checked, followed by a secondary security check during which all electronic devices I’m carrying are briefly switched on and checked. And then I’m free to board.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 12A, which is the same seat I had on the outbound flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. This cabin configuration is starting to grow on me, I must say. I really like the abundance of storage space, which allows you to keep everything you might need during the flight within easy reach. What’s more, no matter how many passengers there are in the cabin, it never feels full or crowded.

The Crew

I’m told that Etihad have a crew complement of 22 in the cabin of their Airbus A 380. Today’s crew is yet another interesting mix of ethnicities and races. They’re not exactly warm or personable at first, but they’re professional and courteous in the way they go about their duty.

Amenities

A blanket, a pillow, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive. No sooner have I settled in, the crew bring me a rose scented hot towel and a glass of lemon and mint juice, which are both very refreshing.

Just before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for drinks after departure.

The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off, the service begins, and I’m brought a ramekin of warm nuts and another glass of the lemon and mint juice. The service is à l carte, and passengers have the option when they’d like to eat.

The First Course

Mezze – muhammara, hummus, a filled grape leaf, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with a feta-like cheese and served with a slice of lemon.

This dish tastes much better than the one I hand on my way down to Abu Dhabi, I’m guessing that’s because this dish was locally made in the UAE. Especially the muhammara is very good and the lemon gives it a refreshing twist.

The first course is served on a tray, together with the breads, butter, olive oil and salt and pepper shakers.

The Main Course

Rigatoni with a sugo of sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic pesto, parmigiano and fresh basil.

When the flight attendant arrives with my main course, I comment on the fact that I think it’s a shame the airlines tend not to serve spicy food and that the only thing missing for my main course is a bit of spice. The flight attendant puts my plate down and then rather abruptly dashes off. He returns just a short while later grinning and with a bottle of Tobasco for me, which I think is pretty cool and a very nice gesture.

The dish is exceptionally good. The sugo has a lovely tangy flavour that is perfectly balanced with the pesto and you can actually still taste the fresh basil.

Dessert

Almond and pistachio pudding with butterscotch sauce.

Instead of one of those horrific gelatinous blobs of tasteless gunk that most airlines seem to serve these days (…and rather unconvincingly disguise as ‘mousse’), Etihad makes the effort to offer a real dessert. And sweet baby J., it’s divine! It’s still warm and the texture is just so dense and rich. Gorgeous!

Arrival

About eighty minutes out of Heathrow, the cabin lights slowly start to go on again and the crew come through the cabin asking passengers if there’s anything they’d like from the menu before they start preparing the cabin for landing. I’m still quite full from lunch, so I just order some ice cream and leave it at that.

Originally, we’re scheduled to touch down at 17h15. But traffic in Heathrow is busy and so we end up doing two laps in a holding pattern north-east of the capital before we are eventually released for the approach. By the time we land, it’s already 17h45.

Terminal 4 is much busier than when I left and there are people everywhere. But still I manage, and before long I’m through security and on my way to the SkyTeam lounge.

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

Introduction

I spend the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Terminal 4. The hotel only opened in October 2018 and still retains that smell of new building and new furniture. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and the staff are obviously still eager to please. The only issue I have, is that I mistakenly booked a room in the quiet zone of the building, which by default means a room away from the airport. So no airport views.

Getting to the Airport

This must be one of the shortest airport transfers ever! I exit the hotel at 11h15 and make my way up the escalator onto the foot bridge to Terminal 4, which is about two minutes away if you’re walking at a leisurely pace. The foot bridge ejects me on the departures level of the terminal.

Check-in

Etihad Airways checks-in in sector C, which is at the opposite end of the terminal from where I entered the building coming from the hotel. There is one counter for First Class passengers, three for Business Class passengers and five for Economy Class.

The check-in agent tags my suitcase and, seeing my passport, chats idly about how nice she thought Malta was when she visited… But then for one horrible moment I think I’m royally screwed as she informs me I’ll need to apply for a visa for Abu Dhabi before I enter the country. But then she realises that she’s made a mistake and used the country code for the Maldives instead of Malta. So we’re good after all.

The House Lounge

There’s a fast track for security, which is pretty much empty when I arrive. One thing they do really well at Heathrow, is the security check – it’s well organised, quick and efficient. Before I visit the lounge, I decide to take a stroll around the departure concourse. The whole length of the terminal is littered with luxury boutiques from all the well-known brands, with the occasional restaurant thrown in for good measure. The glitzy shops are all empty though, while the Prêt à Manger is the only place that’s busy.

Other than that, architecturally Terminal 4 is not likely to win any prizes any time soon. And I’d also like to know what sort of cruel soul designs a terminal in such a way that most windows will not give you an unobstructed view of the airplanes…?

Along the way, I pass a sign pointing passengers in the direction of the all-purpose prayer rooms. I find the sign rather odd though, because it uses the plural ‘ablutions’ but with a singular verb.

The House lounge is located opposite gate 10, from where my flight to Abu Dhabi will be boarding later on. The entrance to The House is to the right of the SkyTeam lounge.

The receptionist welcomes me in and then shows me around. The lounge has a separate dining room. The tables are all nicely set, with a small vase of flowers on each table. There is a choice between an à la carte menu and a selection of hot dishes from the buffet. Figuring it’ll probably be a while before I get to eat on the plane, I order the Tortelloni with truffle oil, creamy pumpkin and hazelnut pesto, which tastes excellent.

The staff in the lounge are polite, friendly and very attentive. Once I’ve finished the meal, I find myself a quiet corner to sit and relax a bit with my Kindle. I only realise once I sit down that I’m actually sitting next to actor Bill Nighy!

Boarding

Boarding starts at 13h20 for our 14h05 departure. First and Business Class passengers are instructed to take the exit to the airbidge on the far right, which leads to the upper deck.

The Cabin

Upon entering the cabin, there are two cabin crew welcoming passengers aboard. The flight attendant acknowledges my status as one of their frequent flyers with a very formal ‘welcome back, sir’ and points me in the general direction of my seat.

The cabin lights are dimmed and the mood lighting is set to a warm glow. Etihad Airways has an interesting configuration in the Business Class cabin of their A 380, in that the seats are arranged in pairs facing each other. The advantage of course, is that every passenger has direct aisle access.

The window seats, so A and K, face in the direction of travel, whereas the C and H seats are on the aisle and face in the opposite direction. Obviously, this also means that the window seats have more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.

The seat itself is easy to get in and out of and in the sleep position it’s wide enough to be able to turn easily. The seat also has a lot of storage space, partly also due to the large bins on the side, under the windows. The inflight entertainment system is touch screen enabled and can be operated either directly or using the hand held remote.

The cabin is nice enough. And once again, I’m impressed by how quiet the A 380 cabin is. My only issue, and this is something beyond Etihad’s control, is that there is a woman sitting right behind me whose perfume is so heavy and overpowering it’s actually starting to give me a headache.

A pillow, a blanket, a bottle of water, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

The Crew

The crew are a mix of Eastern Europeans and nationals of the Indian subcontinent. Their service seems quite formal. As a result, they’re quite unobtrusive and not all that noticeable in the cabin, and I’m not sure if this is intentional or not. I find it quite pleasant.

The service on the ground consists of a welcome drink of my choice and a scented hot towel. Unlike many other airlines, just the one hot towel is offered during this flight. To drink I go with a glass of fresh orange juice. Just before we push back, the crew come through the cabin taking orders for lunch. I notice that they approach passengers for their choice in order of their frequent flyer status.

The Meal

After take-off, the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. I have a glass of sparkling water and a ramekin of nuts that have a distinct hint of cardamom.

The First Course

The first course is served on a tray which also has on it the bread, salt and pepper as well as butter and olive oil with balsamico. The mezze are hummus, stuffed vine leaves, pickled vegetables, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with spinach, the name of which I don’t know.

The Main Course

The main course I chose is a nice piece of grilled salmon, served with spinach, asparagus and mashed potatoes.

Dessert

The lava cake is served with a small pot of warm custard.

The meal is good. The mezze is tasty, although perhaps not quite as good as that served on QR. The size of the portion is also much smaller. The grilled salmon is nice and juicy on the inside and the asparagus have managed to not go all soggy. For me though, the hot chocolate lava cake is definitely the highlight of the meal.

Once the crew have cleared away my table, they bring me a mug of Moroccan mint tea, which is served with two small biscuits.

Amenities

The amenity kit is by Acqua di Parma. It contains a small tube of hand cream, a sample flacon of perfume as well as ear plugs, socks, eye shades and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste. No slippers are provided on this flight.

Arrival

After a flight time of just under six hours, the engines are gently eased back and we start our descent into Abu Dhabi. Luckily, the airport isn’t too busy, which means there are none of the holding delays that seem to be getting more and more frequent in Dubai.

Eventually we land after a total flight time of six hours and ten minutes. Abu Dhabi is currently in the process of building a new terminal. The facility should have opened a few years ago but got repeatedly held up. Apparently, it’s now expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2019. And it’s about time too, because the current facility was clearly not laid out to handle the amount of traffic and the size of aircraft currently operating into Abu Dhabi.

But the process is swift. Etihad Business Class passengers are given an access card to the fast track immigration and within thirty minutes of landing, I’ve retrieved my suitcase and sitting in a taxi on my way to the hotel.

Singapore Airlines, First Class Suites – Airbus A 380: Sydney to Singapore

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Introduction

I was going to start by saying that I’m on my way home. But given that I’ll only be home for something like 24 hours, let’s just say that, sadly, it’s time for me to leave Sydney and head back to Europe. I’ve enjoyed being here! Fortunately, I know I’ll be back next year and then I’ll be able to spend a bit more time here. Otherwise, I think I’d be seriously depressed at the prospect of returning to the cold, snowy weather!

Getting to the Airport

One last time, I make the journey on the ferry from Manly to Circular Quay. And what a lovely day it’s turned out to be for it. At Circular Quay I change to the train, which pulls into the station just as I reach the platform. The only difference is that today I will be going one stop further, to the international terminal.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row K, which is the last row of check-in counters, farthest away from the escalators that bring you up to the departures concourse. There is a separate line with two counters for Suites passengers. When I arrive, both counters are already occupied, so I’m swiftly ushered to one of the Business Class counters instead.

From check-in, you have to make the schlepp all the way back to row C, which is where the entrance to the fast track is located. Although in this case, I might as well not have bothered, because the e-gate reader cannot read my biometric passport. As a result, I have to walk all the way back in the direction from where I came, because that’s where the staffed immigration counters are located. And then once I’m through immigration, I’m ushered all the way back again in the direction of the e-gates, because that’s where they’ve just opened a new queue for security that the queue manager wants to me to join.

With that done, I’m finally airside and head straight for the Singapore Airlines Kris Lounge near gate 61, from where my flight will be leaving. And that’s quite a schlepp too.

The Silver Kris Lounge

Singapore Airlines operates its own lounges here in Sydney, and there is a dedicated First Class lounge. It’s a fairly big lounge, and I even manage to grab a seat by the windows overlooking the apron. Cool!

Once I’m seated, the waiter brings me a refreshing hot towel and the à la carte menu. There’s also a buffet with warm dishes to choose from.

The lavatories seem to be a bit of a problem at Sydney airport, in that they’re not exactly the cleanest. And those in the lounge are no different…

Boarding

Boarding starts at 11h45. Suite passengers queue with the Business Class passengers for the upper deck.

All in all, I find the Singapore Airlines Suites experience on the ground somewhat underwhelming, especially if you compare it to Air France (sorry, I can’t help it…). In fact, it feels a lot more like Business Class than First Class, but maybe that’s just me.

The Cabin

Currently, SQ 232 is the flight out of Sydney that is operates in the new First Class configuration. The key feature of the Suite is that there is a separate bed, in addition to the seat.

At a glance, the Suite looks very nice. There is a lot of storage space and the video screen is enormous. There are a few things which seem a bit strange though, such as the fake orchids in every Suite. I think either they should go for real orchids or nothing at all.

Another thing that strikes me, is that during the meal service, when the seat is turned towards the table, you’re facing the aisle, which means that during the whole meal service you and the person sitting in the Suite opposite are looking at each other. I suppose you could keep the door to your suite closed while you eat, but that just seems strange. You also can’t recline your seat when it’s in the forward facing position.

And finally, it should also be noted that the Suite is not really that private, because the dividers don’t reach that far up. I’m 184 cm tall, and could look over the top.

The Singapore Airlines Suite reminds me of what Etihad has installed on its A 380s. But I prefer Singapore Airlines’ solution, because despite the things I mentioned above, this still is a very nice product. What’s more, with all the available space it feels more like an actual room than a seat.

Oh yes, and the loos are huge…!

B&O earphones, the amenity kit and the menu are already at my seat when I arrive. There are also socks and slippers, which are stored in the large closet of each Suite. Once I’m seated, the crew come to welcome me on board and bring me, in short sequence, a glass of Perrier with lemon, a refreshing towel and the pyjamas. The lead flight attendant in the red kebaya introduces herself to me and explains how everything in the Suite works.

The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough. They’re chatty and engage easily with the passengers. There’s not a hint of the robotic behaviour the Singapore Airlines crews are sometimes criticised for. I think what it is, is that the whole service comes across like a highly optimised process. As a result, it doesn’t exactly feel very exclusive.

As I already mentioned, while we’re still on the ground the crew offer refreshments and I ask for a glass of sparkling water with lemon.

Once we’re airborne, another crew member comes to take my order for lunch and asks me at what phase of the flight I’d like to eat. Given that it’s already gone lunch time, I tell her I’d prefer to eat straight away.

A short while later, she returns with the Singapore Sling I ordered (I mean, what else…?) and a small bowl of warm nuts.

The Meal

The meal service on this flight is efficient and timed at a pleasant pace. Clearly, the crew want to make sure passengers have enough time to rest. About one hour after our departure from Sydney, the table is set for the meal. There is no amuse bouche to start, but there are so many courses that it’s probably better this way.

The First Course

Seared Salmon with pickled kohlrabi and an edamame and wasabi purée. The salmon is good, but the rest of the dish is a bit bland. I think maybe the food is still too cold, because I can hardly make out any of the other tastes.

The Soup

Sweetcorn and shellfish soup with herb oil. Now this is a very flavourful soup with a hint of saffron. It tastes like summer on the Mediterranean.

The Salad

Honey roasted beet salad with feta cheese. The salad is also very good, with the feta complementing the beets nicely.

The Main Course

Pan roasted grouper with salsa verde. I chose this dish despite the fact that it’s served with fennel, which I can’t stand. I just don’t much feel like meat. The taste is good, it’s a nice piece of fish and they’ve managed to keep it moist. But again, I can’t really make out the taste of the salsa verde.

Dessert

Chocolate marquise with caramelised pecans. The dessert is okay. It’s your standard creamy chocolate airplane dessert.

The Cheese

Shadow of Blue, Mafra cloth bound Cheddar, Woombye triple Brie, Savourine goat’s cheese. The cheese is served with fruit bread and crackers. It’s a good cheese selection and I particularly like the Shadow of blue.

To drink I stick with the Perrier. I also have a glass of the 2004 Krug.

After the meal, I request for the bed to be made up for me and then I lie down to read.

Amenities

The amenity kit is by Lalique and looks rather nice. The only thing though, is that its content is utterly and completely useless. There is a small bar of soap, lip balm, body lotion… and a scented candle?

Things like tooth brushes or shaving kits are available in the toilets. Earplugs and eye shades are on request to the crew.

The slippers and pyjama that are provided are also by Lalique. I am given an XL for both the slippers and the pjs, which are just a bit too big for me but still comfortable.

The Second Service

For the second service, there is a choice of either an Angus beef burger or a selection of dim sum. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore anyway, I decide to go with the dim sum. The dish is served with a small bowl of a suitably spicy red sauce and something which I think the flight attendant said was a sort of mashed celery cake. Whatever it is, I like it.

Arrival

After a flight time of seven hours and twenty minutes the flight draws to an end. I must admit, even though I still think the A 380 is ugly as sin, it’s always an experience.

After we land, we slowly trundle along until eventually we arrive on our parking stand at Changi’s Terminal 3.

Conclusion

In the sum of all things, I enjoyed the flight. But I think a lot of that also has to do with the A 380. As for Singapore Airlines, I like the new First Class cabin because it’s spacious and roomy, although perhaps not very private. The service was okay, I guess, but nothing more. And the food was rather bland.

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

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Introduction

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

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Getting to the Airport

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

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Check-in

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

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

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

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The Cabin

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

The Crew

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

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

The Meal

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

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

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

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No chocolates are served on this flight.

Missed Connection in Zürich

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

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

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

The Emirates Meal

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

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

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The First Course

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

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The Main Course

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

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Dessert

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

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Conclusion

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

Etihad Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

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Date: 17 April 2017
Departure: 07:50
Arrival: 12:30
Flight time: 7 hours 20 minutes
Seat: 2H, aisle seat

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Introduction

It’s just gone five in the morning as I exit the Plaza Premium airport hotel in terminal 1 and make my way over to terminal 3 and the elusive Etihad First Class lounge and spa. I’m rather looking forward to this part of the trip after having already heard so many good things about the lounge and about Etihad’s First Class product aboard the mighty A 380.

Currently the A 380 is deployed on routes to London, Mumbai, Melbourne, Sydney and New York. During the high season, in the summer, Paris will also be added to the list of A 380 destinations.

The Etihad Airways First Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is located right next to the Fendi shop in terminal 3 and looks quite unpretentious in fact. The lounge dragon at the entrance welcomes me to the lounge and as the doors close to take me up to the second floor, I see her making a call upstairs to advise them that I’m on my way. And indeed, the moment I step out of the lift I’m greeted by a young woman who welcomes me to the lounge and shows me around.

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The lounge has a small gym (no weights though), a spa with a massage salon and a barber and hairdresser. Every First Class passenger is entitled to one complimentary treatment at the spa or at the barber’s. The largest part of the lounge is made up of the dining area. There is also a relaxation room with loungers, although the room has this brightly lit wall that keeps changing colours and hence makes you wonder just how relaxing it really is.

The staff seem a bit disoriented, quite as though they’re not really prepared to deal with customers. When I enter the lounge I take a seat at one of the tables near the window. A waiter comes to take my order. But then a few minutes later another waiter appears wanting to take my order. So I tell her that my order has already been taken. And so she saunters off. A short while later, yet another waiter appears – guess why – to take my order for breakfast. It’s no big deal really but it’s hardly First Class either. But the food is good!

Just before six in the morning I head over to the barber’s reception to request an appointment for a shave. Only the young lady informs me that the next slot will not be until 07h00 in the morning, which seems a bit tight given that my flight should start boarding at 07h10.

All in all, I think the First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi is okay, but to be honest I don’t think it’s anything special. It looks a lot like the dining room in a hotel. So as far as First Class lounges are concerned at least, Qatar Airways certainly has the upper hand.

Boarding

Abu Dhabi airport is completely overcrowded, so getting from the lounge to the departure gate takes a while because there’s simply no getting through all the passengers making their way to and from their flights. A new terminal is under construction, but it looks like it might take a while before that opens for business.

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A separate call is made for First and Business Class passengers to board first.

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The Cabin

As far as the First Class cabin and seat are concerned, Etihad wins hands down. No questions asked. Seriously, this is really quite an amazing set up they’ve got here. First of all, unlike that god awful and tacky Emirates First Class cabin with its fake gold trimmings, this cabin is much more elegant and very beautifully finished. It’s also a lot more lavish and private than the Qatar Airways First Class seat.

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They’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the design of the cabin and the seat: every apartment comes with its own little vanity mirror and a mini bar that you can have stocked specifically to your wishes. And there’s plenty of storage space.

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The bed is separate from the seat and takes up the whole length of the apartment. It is long enough for me to stretch out comfortably. My only criticism is that the bed seems fairly narrow. Actually, I don’t think it’s any narrower than other First Class seats, but whereas in other seats you are confined on three sides, on this seat there is no support at all on one side, and as a result I am constantly aware of the edge of the bed and trying to avoid rolling off.

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And then there’s the shower, which works really well and is also much nicer than the one Emirates has. I must say you feel a lot less grimy traveling when you have a shower to use on board. Every passenger gets five minutes of water, after which the supply automatically stops. However, during the shower you can interrupt the flow of water any time, so that the five minutes are more than enough to lather up and rinse down. For the shower passengers are provided with nice fluffy towels, conditioner, shower gel and shampoo.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight seem friendly enough and once I am seated they all come to introduce themselves. The young lady in charge of my cabin is Brazilian. She give me a tour of the features of the apartment, in case I’m not familiar with them.

As a welcome drink I have a glass of still water with ice and lemon, which is served with a bowl of dates, a hot towel and a welcome note from Etihad Airways signed by the inflight service manager.

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Amenities

Next, the chef comes to introduce himself and hands me the drinks and food menu. He also asks me if I’d like to book a slot for the shower.

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Before take-off another crew member drops in and brings me a large bag containing my slippers and the pyjamas.

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The vanity kit is stored inside the vanity mirror and includes:

  1. cleansing wipes,
  2. moisturizing hand cream,
  3. pulse point oil,
  4. pillow mist,
  5. facial cream,
  6. lip balm,
  7. eyeshades,
  8. toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste,
  9. shaving kit,
  10. earplugs,
  11. socks.
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What strikes me as slightly inconsistent is that the vanity kit and the pyjamas are of no name brands. I don’t mind and they’re in good quality. But given that Etihad has really gone for a high end finish for the rest of its First Class product, it just seems slightly unusual that they didn’t do the same for the vanity kits and pjs.

The Meal

There are plenty of options for the meal. On the one hand, there is a full breakfast service right after take-off. In addition, there is also a menu with a wide selection of dishes that passengers can combine as they wish.

I skip the breakfast service because I’m feeling tired. So I have a nap instead. When I awake, we’re just under four hours out of London and I’m feeling hungry. So I call for the chef to discuss the food options.

First, the table is laid out for the meal. The cutlery and chinaware are elegant. I am also given a small ramekin with butter and another empty one for olive oil. One of the crew comes by with the breadbasket.

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The First Course

For a starter I have the chef’s salad, which consists of fresh, crisp salad, fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and smoked salmon and is served with a light balsamic vinaigrette. The salmon is obviously of very good quality, light in colour and with a very subtle taste that is complemented nicely by the champagne.

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The Main Course

Next, I have the wagyu sirloin, served with creamy mashed potato and green beans. I have a sauce Hollondaise with the meat, which is light and goes very well with the meet. The beans are served with a hint of lemon zest, giving them a refreshing twist.

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The Cheese

And then comes the cheese course, which is served with jelly, slices of fresh apple and grapes and crackers. The presentation of the dish is nice. For the cheese dish I turn down a third glass of champagne and instead have a glass of the sauternes, which is excellent.

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Dessert

And then to conclude the meal, I have a slice of rich and tasty carrot cake with a cappuccino.

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After the meal I am handed another hot towel.

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Overall I think the quality of the meal is very good. The meat was cooked just the way I requested and the ingredients are obviously of good quality.

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent, the crew come to say goodbye and the young lady from Brazil hands me her business card in case I have any comment to make on the flight.

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Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? As far as the First Class product is concerned, I think Etihad Airways really nails the inflight experience. The cabin and the seat are not only very elegant and attractive, they also make for a very pleasant journey at a level of comfort and privacy that Qatar Airways and Emirates can’t match. However, overall there are certain inconsistencies in their product. The First Class experience on the ground, for example, is really lacking. Especially given that Abu Dhabi is quite a maze and very busy, an escort to and from the lounge would have been a nice idea. Also, while the lounge is okay, it’s definitely nowhere near as grand and impressive as Qatar Airways’ First Class lounge in Doha.

Based on my experience yesterday evening on the flight from Colombo to Abu Dhabi though, I think I would say that Qatar Airways has the superior Business Class product, followed by Emirates in second place and Etihad in third.

Thai Airways, First Class – A 380: Hong Kong to Bangkok

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Airline: Thai Airways
Aircraft:
Airbus A 380
Cabin:
First Class
Seat:
3K, window
From:
Hong Kong
To:
Bangkok
Date:
24 August 2013
Departure:
13:25
Arrival:
15:05

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It’s only at this stage that things got really out of hand when I was planning this trip. I’d got my dates all messed up and realised rather late that instead of spending one night in Hong Kong before eventually heading home, I’d be spending two full days in Hong Kong. Of course the easiest thing would have been to simply rearrange the rest of my schedule. Like that I might have had a full day in Perth for example, which I really liked the look of – from what little I saw.

Or I could do something else that would be tremendously fun. I could significantly increase my carbon footprint with yet another bout of senseless flying, simply for the joy of cruising at 38’000 feet.

Getting to the Airport

At 11:00 I check out of The Peninsula. It’s such a beautiful hotel. Even the lobby is a work of art.

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And this here will be taking me to the airport today. Sitting in the back, the sound of the engine is but a mere murmur, like the satisfied purr of a fat cat that’s just polished off a bowl of rich cream. It’s quite sexy actually.

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The journey by car from Tsim Sha Tsui on the southern tip of Kowloon to the airport takes approximately thirty minutes to complete. We pull up in front of terminal 2, where a porter from the hotel is already expecting me to take my luggage and escort me to the Thai Airways check-in counters.

Check-in

Thai Airways has got quite an operation here in Hong Kong. Check-in is quickly done for the flight to Bangkok as well as the onward connection. I am also issued a lounge invitation.

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Before I leave, I inquire about the possibility of paying to upgrade to First Class. The check-in agent informs me that all seats are already taken, but one passenger has failed to turn up so far. She instructs me to contact the lounge attendant about thirty minutes before departure to check on the situation of the seat.

The Thai Airways First Class Lounge

From check-in I am escorted to the entrance for the security check. The porter bids me farewell and hopes I enjoyed my stay at The Peninsula. Oh you have no idea!

Terminal 2 is essentially a separate building with a set of check-in counters on the opposite side of the road from the main terminal building. Behind security and immigration there is an escalator leading down to the automated shuttle that takes you across to the gate area attached to terminal 1.

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From there I change trains and take the shuttle to the far end of the pier where gates 33 through 80 are located. The Thai Airways lounge is one floor up from the gates, overlooking gate 40. My flight today will be leaving from gate 62.

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The lounge is very colourful, with a good selection of hot and cold dishes.

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The big bird arrives.

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About thirty minutes before departure I approach the lounge reception where I am informed that the upgrade worked – jay! The flight has been closed for check-in with one empty seat up front. I am advised to go to the gate and pay the fare difference there, where I will also be issued a new boarding pass. The fare difference is merely HKD1600.

Boarding

So I contact one of about ten gate attendants for my flight to pay the fee. The new boarding pass is promptly issued and I shall be on 3K for this flight, a window seat.

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There are three separate queues for boarding. The left one is for Economy on the lower level of the vessel, the middle one is for First Class and the right one for Business Class, both of which are located on the upper deck.

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The Cabin

The cabin is very nice. Using a combination of wood and beige colours, there is something very soothing and inviting about the seat. There are two comfy pillows on my seat, as well as a day blanket for this short flight. There is also a folder with A 380 and Thai Airways stationary.

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We begin with the obligatory hot towels. If I’m not mistaken, they’re scented with Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Vert, which has a very refreshing and subtle perfume.

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Next, another flight attendant comes through the cabin with the Dom. I think he’s a bit upset when I ask him if I could have a Perrier instead. A bit later on, the same attendant brings me the menu and the wine list for today’s flight.

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Just before we push back, another big bird arrives at the gate next door.

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Take-off is sluggish, to say the least. You’d think we were flying all the way from Hong Kong to Europe, judging by how long it takes us to get airborne. Once we do take off, we hit some rather severe turbulence. It’s quite impressive really. To see or rather feel a little 737 doing all sorts of summersaults in the sky is one thing, but when it’s an A 380 it’s quite another. Fortunately before long we’re clear of the clouds and cruising through much calmer air.

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It’s quite funny to watch the other passengers. One guy has already lowered the blinds and another has changed into something a little less al dente. I’m not quite sure what’s going on exactly, the flight time to Bangkok is only two hours and ten minutes anyway.

Once the fasten seat belt sign goes off, I decide to explore the loo and the lounge area on the top floor.

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The loo is very stylish, I must say. It has a changing area which kind of sectioned off from the toilet.

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The Meal

Amuse Bouche

We begin with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon on cucumber and grilled vegetables. To drink I have a Singha beer.

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Then the table is set for the meal. The crew pay a lot of attention to detail. For example they make sure that the logo of the tablecloth is the right side up. And whenever one of them fills up my glass, they make sure the logo on the can of beer is facing toward me.

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There is also a breadbasket. Initially I think I may have been spared the temptation to overindulge on garlic bread. But it turns out that they bring that separately. In the end I think I have seven pieces of the stuff. I can’t help it, it’s a compulsion…

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The First Course

The first course is boiled Canadian scallops with capers mixed with almonds, sundried tomatoes and frisée lettuce and cucumber. A very tasty dish.

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The Main Course

Next comes the main course: pan-fried sea bream filet with a garlic sauce, served with vegetables and herb millet. It’s a nice chunky piece of fish, although it is perhaps a little on the dry side.

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The Cheese

Then comes a plate of anonymous cheeses with crackers and fruit – it doesn’t say on the menu what cheese it is.

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The Dessert

And finally for dessert we have Mövenpick yoghurt ice cream with diced fresh fruit.

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The meal concludes with a coffee and another scented hot towel. By this time we’re only 34 minutes out of Bangkok. Not bad at all.

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Arrival

The weather in Bangkok is pretty much the same as in Hong Kong: overcast, occasional rain and a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. Before the take their seats for arrival, the three cabin crew working the First Class cabin stop at every seat to say good bye, which is a nice touch.

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As I exit the airbridge I am already being expected by a Thai Airways representative with a golf mobile. We wait for another passengers and then off we go to the security check for my next flight.

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