Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Dubai to Paris Roissy

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-200
From: Dubai
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle
Departure: 07h00
Arrival:
11h10
Flight time: 7 hours 10 minutes
Seat:
3C, aisle seat

Air France operates two daily flights from Dubai to Paris. AF655 is the night time service which departs Dubai at 01h30, to arrive in Paris at 06h15 in the morning. This flight is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER and features Air France’s fabulous la Première.

AF659 is the day time service that leaves Dubai at 06h40 and arrives in Paris at 11h40. This service is operated by an Airbus A 330-200. Air France is currently in the process of refurbishing the Business Class cabin on its Airbus A 330s. In both the old and new versions, the seating configuration is 2 + 2 + 2, seeing as the aircraft are mostly deployed on mid-haul sectors only. The main difference between the new and the old seat is that the old seat is an angled lie-flat, while the new seat is also lie-flat but horizontal.

Theoretically, only aircraft in the new configuration are operated to Dubai. However, for operational reasons it may happen that you will find yourself sitting in an aircraft in the old configuration.

If check the seat map, in the new cabin the first row on the port side is row 1. Whereas in the old configuration, the bulkhead row on the port side is row 2.

I leave the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa at 04h26. The journey to the airport takes exactly 14 minutes to complete – partly because there is hardly any traffic with it being the weekend, and mainly because the driver clearly has a pressing appointment with death and thinks I might fancy coming along for the ride.

Air France operates out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Check-in is done in area 2 and there are seven counters open when I arrive.

When I arrived in Dubai a week ago, the immigration officer stored my passport data, so that I could use the biometric smart gates. As a result, passport control for departures is now very swift and painless.

At this time of the day, Terminal 1 is not very busy. As such, security only takes a few minutes and then I’m on my way to the shuttle that will take me to the D gates.

In Dubai Air France uses the SkyTeam lounge for its Business Class passengers. The lounge is very spacious. I’d like to say it’s also quiet, but that would be a lie, because there’s this beastly little squirt making enough noise for ten. Luckily the little creep soon vanishes when the Saudia flight to Jeddah is called for boarding. Peace at last…

Boarding starts at 05h55. It’s still dark outside and the location of the gate makes photos of the aircraft impossible.

Boarding is by zones, with Business Class passengers in zone 1 boarding first.

My first impression of the seat is good. The cabin looks tidy and the seat configuration is practical. There is a stowage compartment right below the video screen and in the side of the seat.

The inflight entertainment has touch screen technology and the picture is very sharp. Complimentary wifi for text messages is available. For more capacity, passengers can purchase individual packages.

The divider between the two seats is good, and in the open position offers at least some privacy.

On this service, Air France serves the main meal immediately after take-off, which I think is rather inconvenient, because most passengers have had an early start and want to sleep, more than anything else. And so I decide to skip the meal and go off to Noddy land instead. In the bed position the seat is very comfortable, and together with the thick blanket and plump pillow makes for a good few hours of sleep.

I wake up halfway into the flight. One of the crew sees me and immediately comes to ask if I’ll have breakfast, which she subsequently brings me with an espresso and fresh orange juice.

The meal consists of a plate of smoked salmon and smoked turkey.

Fruit salad and yoghurt.

And a selection of bread.

There is also a choice of English breakfast or sweet crêpes. But seeing as I already had something to eat in the lounge, I decide to skip the hot meal.

A bit over an hour out of Paris the lights come on and a light snack is served.

It consists of three small canapés with cheese, salmon and grilled vegetables.

A bowl of fruit.

And a strange looking dessert I steer clear of…

The crew on this flight are truly excellent. Throughout the journey they are constantly passing through the cabin and even actively asking passengers if there’s anything they can do for them.

Eventually, we land in Paris ahead of schedule, despite the detour via Saudi Arabia. The flight ends at Terminal 2E. I now have to make my way to 2F for my onward connection.

Oman Air, Business Class – A 330-200: Muscat to Zürich

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
I just arrived in Muscat on an Oman Air flight from Dubai. In a few hours time I shall continue my journey to Zürich.

TRANSFER IN MUSCAT
The transfer in Muscat is easy, convenient and quick. The bus from the aircraft drops me off at arrivals. Straight ahead is the counter for visas on arrival and immigration beyond that.

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Transit passengers however, turn left and then take the escalators one floor up to security and the transfer area. There are quite a few flights leaving around this time of day, even so, the line for security can hardly be described as being busy.

LOUNGE
Location:
The Oman Air lounge is located behind the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge: Dedicated Oman Air lounge.
Facilities: Toilets, showers in the lounge.
Internet: Free wifi, the password is available at reception.

The lounge is a good size. It is not really very big, but then again there do not seem to be that many passengers using it either. The facility is currently undergoing construction and extension.

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The selection of food and drinks is very good, with a wide choice of Arabic and Western dishes, both hot and cold.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate shuttle bus for passengers travelling in Business Class. In Muscat Oman Air boards Economy Class passengers first. Business Class passengers are boarded last. Theoretically you could try boarding one of the Economy Class busses, but the gate dragons are certainly not amused if you try to pull that one on them.

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More than anything, I am just delighted by the opportunities the ramp boarding gives me to get up close and personal with the aircraft.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
1 x 2 x 1.
Pitch: 88 inches.
Length as a bed: 5 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities: One AC port, two USB ports, Ethernet socket and audio video assumption (RCA) socket per passenger in Business Class. There is also wifi available on board, provided by onair, which is the same provider Emirates uses. So if you have an account already, you will be able to use it on Oman Air as well. However, passengers in Business Class also have to pay for wifi connectivity.
Audio and Video: The selection is limited and the choice of films is somewhat strange.
Seat: There are twenty seats in the Business Class cabin, which is divided in two separate cabins. The larger cabin is located between the front galley and the second galley and has a total of twelve seats on three rows. The rear Business Class cabin is behind the second galley and has another eight seats on two rows.

The Oman Air seat is really very nice for a Business Class product. In actual fact, it is more akin to the First Class seat on many other carriers. The cabin is kept in shades of brown and beige. Upon entering the cabin, the first thing you notice is the smell. I do not know where it comes from, but I think it is quite obvious that it is a smell that is intentionally fed into the air conditioning system. It is very subtle and instantly gives you the sensation of having stepped on board a carrier from the Middle East.

I am seated on row 10, which is the bulkhead row in the forward Business Class cabin. Today’s flight has a good load in both classes. In the forward Business Class cabin only two seats remain empty. In the rear cabin there are also only few empty seats.

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SERVICE
The Business Class crew on today’s flight is made up predominantly of females of southeast Asian descent. They are much friendlier than the crew on the previous flight and interact with the crew in a very pleasant manner.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink:
There is a choice of water, orange juice or lemon and mint juice. I have the orange juice.

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Hot Towel: Hot towels are served before the doors close. And they really are very hot towels!

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Choice: There are five choices for the first course and four choices for the main course, with at least one vegetarian option for the first and main course. For dessert there are three options plus cheese.

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Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Drink with warm nuts.
  • Arabic red lentil soup with pita bread croûtons.
  • A selection of cheese with fig bread, served with dried apricot and walnuts.
  • Selection of ice cream.
  • Tea or coffee.

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To be honest, I am not really that hungry yet. I am still rather full from the meal I had on the short hop from Dubai to Muscat. So instead of indulging in another full meal, I go for the red lentil soup and some cheese after that.

The soup is excellent. It is flavourful and quite spicy for an airline meal. The cheese platter which follows is good, although it is way too much cheese for just one person.

For dessert I have the ice cream, which is described in the menu as ‘a selection of ice creams’, which I take to mean that there are different choices. But in actual fact, when it arrives the dessert consists of three scoops of ice cream in one plate, with chocolate sauce drizzled over them and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts.

SECOND SERVICE
Towel:
Hot scented towel.

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Choice: No.
Delivery: Individual tray service.
Type of meal: Light snack.
Meal:

  • Mixed salad with chicken.
  • Crumbed chicken goujons with sweet chilli dip.
  • Grilled vegetable and cream cheese panini.
  • Frosted mini chocolate muffin.

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A bit more than two hours out of Zürich I start to get hungry. I ask one of the flight attendants if perhaps there might be something to eat before the second snack service. A few minutes she returns and sets the table for me. She then brings me a very tasty salad with marinated chicken breast.

By the time I am finished, it is time for the second service and I figure I might as well have that too.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually the flight draws to an end. The aircraft gently dips its nose and we start our initial descent over Austria. Along the way, we pass the Alps, which look beautiful still covered in their coat of white. They are quite a contrast to the landscapes we left behind just a few hours previously.

Like most of the long-haul flights, Oman Air uses the E dock in Zürich.

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GETTING INTO THE CITY
Transport:
Train
Departs from: The railway station is located under the central terminal facility. The station is connected to the Swiss national and international rail network and offers services to many parts of Switzerland.
Journey time: One hour and twenty minutes, there is a direct train to Basel at 4 minutes past the hour. The last train leaves for Basel at 21h04.
Fare: CHF35 one way.

CONCLUSION
I last flew with Oman Air three years ago on the same routing. I think what impresses me most about the carrier is the consistency of their product. In fact, the flights I took with them on this trip were an exact replica of the previous trip, save perhaps that horribly flashy vanity kit they used to have which has since been replace by something a little more subtle.

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The new airport in Muscat is quickly taking shape and will probably open not too long from now. With this new facility, Oman Air will have a hub that will be comparable to the products in neighbouring Dubai or Doha, at least in terms of comfort if not in size. Having said that, I do think it is a pity the old airport at Seeb will be closing down. One of the things I have always liked about Oman is that it is a very traditional country. And to me, to a certain extent, the old airport exemplifies that very well. But I guess you cannot stop progress.

And now what? Now I have the luxury of being able to spend an entire week in the office in Switzerland without travel. And then the week after that I will be going to Luxembourg, the week after that to Bucharest, the week after that to Tokyo and the week after that to Luxembourg again.

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – A 330-300: Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
I am feeling surprisingly fresh, all things considered. I woke up at 05:30 on 26 December to catch my flight from Zürich to Paris. And save for two hours’ sleep on the flight from Paris to Kuala Lumpur, I’ve been awake the whole time.

I step off the A 380 that brought me in from Paris and make my way to Malaysia’s satellite lounge.

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LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the public area, above the metro station that connects the satellite with the main building.
Type of Lounge:
Malaysia Airlines First Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, separate dining area, workstations.
Internet: Available for free, password required.

There is a common reception area for the Malaysia Airlines lounges in Kuala Lumpur. The Business Class lounge is to the left of the counter, while the First Class lounge is to the right. Even though my onward connection to Brisbane will be only in Business Class, the lounge dragon still grants me access to the First Class lounge once she has checked the PNR for my trip.

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The lounge itself is pretty empty and it seems to me that the place has been renovated or refurbished recently. The toilets look much newer than the last time I was here. Then again, appearances can be misleading…I decide to have a shower to freshen up before the next flight. At close inspection however, the showers look badly maintained and not particularly clean. What can I say? I am a doctor’s son, so perhaps I may be a tad picky when it comes to hygiene. So eventually I decide to give the showers a miss.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Kind of…

I leave the lounge roughly forty-five minutes before departure because I still have to go through security to enter the holding area of my gate. When I arrive at C16, from where my flight will be leaving, the place is a complete mess. A beautiful Iraqi Airways Boeing 777-300 has just pulled up at the gate next to ours. As the passengers of that flight disembark, they are blocking the way for passengers queuing for security for gates C16 and C17.

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Eventually, by the time I manage to get into the holding area, boarding for my flight has already started. There is no separate queue for security. There is however, a separate exit to the aircraft for Business Class.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2
Seat: The first thing that strikes me about the overall cabin is that it is very dirty. There are even stains of food on the wall paneling and there are crumbs of food all over the place. The seat’s hard shell back  is quite low. Consequently, it does not offer much in terms of privacy. But at least there is a divider on every pair of seats. Storage space is also somewhat limited.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width:
20 inches.
Facilities:
USB port and power supply (115 volt).
Length as a bed: 75.2 inches.
Audio and Video:
Touch screen audio video on demand.

As I enter the cabin and reach my seat, there is hardly any room to sit. The space is taken up by a large pillow, a thick blanket and a thin mattress on every seat.

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SERVICE
What a nightmare. I really think it is safe to say that I have never experienced such an awful crew in all my life, on any airline. During the boarding process, assisting passengers with their luggage and helping them stow all the blankets, pillows etc. does not seem part of the crew’s job description and they generally have an attitude of could not care less.

There is a large group of Indian businessmen on the flight today and they are, admittedly, behaving rather badly. Nonetheless, the crew are so apparently pissed off with them that they first start ignoring the passengers, then start being rude to them, move on to yelling at them and eventually end up doing all of the above at the same time.

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After take-off the vanity kits are distributed. The content is more or less the same as in the First Class kit I received on the previous flight.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Guava juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Water.
Choice:
There are three choices for the main course, but no menus are distributed, so I have not idea what was on offer. I just had the chicken.
Type of meal:
Good question…
Meal:

  • Satay – mixed chicken and beef with accompaniments
  • Starter – something (tuna?) with raw peppers and celery.
  • Main course – Chicken Indian style.
  • Dessert – fruit.

The meal service is a chaotic mess. One flight attendant approaches passengers and asks them if they have already made a choice, which seems just a bit dumb given that no menus were distributed on the flight. When passengers ask what the choices are, the cabin crew roll their eyes and mumble something about ‘chicken, salmon….’. Ah, so much better.

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At least the service does not take too long to complete. The trays are cleared away, the cabin lights are dimmed and most of the passengers go off to sleep. And so do the crew. There is one guy among the crew on this flight who spends most of his time sitting in one of the Business Class seats reading the paper. At some point he passes through the cabin, presumably to keep up appearances, sees my empty tray and instructs one of the other cabin crew to pick it up and remove it, rather than simply doing it himself. Another crew member is sleeping on the jump seat, with his legs sprawling across the aisle. I have to climb over him to get to the toilet.

SECOND SERVICE
The second service is hardly worth mentioning. It consists of two rather small and bland canapés – one with cream cheese and the other with a strange combination of marinated spicy chicken, tomato sauce and pineapple.

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ARRIVAL
By the time we start our descent into Brisbane it is already getting dark outside. Our approach sees us approaching the airport from the west and then executing a left-hand 270 degrees turn to land in a southerly direction.

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The international terminal is deserted when we arrive. Malaysia Airlines hands out express cards for immigration and customs to their Business Class passengers. But the airport is so quiet this evening that the express lane for customs has already closed down.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi.
Departs from: Taxi rank in front of the terminal building.
Frequency:
Journey time: 25 Minutes.
Fare: AUD47.- to New Farm.

There are bus and train services that frequently run from the airport into the city and to Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise. But according to Google Maps the journey by public transport to where I am going will take more than an hour. So I think I shall take a taxi, if that is all the same with you.

CONCLUSION

Good heavens, what on earth was that? I mean Malaysia Airlines. As I already mentioned in my previous post, their First Class product on the A 380 is a lot more like a Business Class experience on other Asian carriers, although the hardware on the A 380 is excellent. But this last flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane in Business Class was a complete and utter nightmare. I am aware of the fact that the carrier has been brought under government control in a bid to stabilise the company before moving ahead with privatisation. But to be perfectly honest, as far as I can tell privatisation has definitely put the carrier in a downward spiral it may not recover from. Especially on the last flight it became apparent that the staff’s motivation has reached rock bottom. Paired with the fact that their hard product in Business Class is no longer competitive with the likes of Thai, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Emirates, it seems hardly unlikely that Malaysia Airlines will rise from the ashes the way the Malaysian government is intending. Pity.

KLM, Business Class – A 330-200: Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
Normally I make a point of arriving at the airport about two hours before departure – just in case. But I have now been travelling for five weeks – sixteen flights later and to be quite honest, I think I have had enough. Besides, this is Basel airport, so it is quite enough for me to arrive just over one hour before departure.

I am on my way to Montreal for another visit to ICAO. I am flying via Amsterdam, as usual. The only difference being – and it really does give me quite a pang to have to accept it – that the flight is no longer operated by the mighty MD-11 and has been transferred to the Airbus A 330.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus line 50.
Departs from: Outside the main entrance to Basel’s Swiss railway station on the station square.
Frequency: Every 10 minutes.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Fare: CHF5.60

CHECK-IN
Location:
In the French sector.
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and counters.
Counters: Check-in for all KLM flights is done by Air France at Basel airport.

There is a fast track for security if you are a status card holder or travelling in Business Class. But the boarding pass scanner is only able to read the bar code on the boarding passes printed at the counter. Passbook and online check-in boarding passes will not gain you access to the fast track.

LOUNGE
Location:
Near gate 44, where the terminal forks for the non-Schengen area – there is no lounge in the non-Schengen sector.
Type of Lounge:
Swissport Skyview lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, bar, work stations, hot and cold snacks.
Internet:
Free wifi is available, no password is required but you must provide your details when you log in.

Passengers flying with KLM are entitled to use the lounge, Air France passengers are not because the flights from Basel to Paris are treated as domestic services.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There are two lines for boarding and a dedicated queue for SkyPriority passengers. Inevitably nobody bothers to take the right queue and priority is not enforced either.

CABIN
Aircraft:
Embraer 190.
Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: It is the standard European Economy Class seat with one of the seats on every row left empty. There are two rows of Business Class.

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I am the only passenger flying Business Class on today’s flight, so I have the entire cabin to myself. The Embraer is a strange plane. On the one hand, I rather like the layout and design of the cabin, which feels a lot more modern than that of the Fokker 70, which KLM also operates on this route. On the other hand though, the seat is not particularly comfortable. I always find that the seat is too low. As a result, my legs usually start to ache after just a short while.

SERVICE
The service in Business Class is done by the lead flight attendant, who seems friendly enough. In total there are two cabin crew on the flight.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Bottle of still water.
Pre-meal drink:
With just me in the cabin, the crew take things at a leisurely pace. There is even time for a drink before the meal. I have a Diet Coke and some of those tasty smoked almonds.
Choice:
Vegetarian sandwich (cheese) or beef sandwich.
Delivery:
Cardboard box.
Type of meal:
Light lunch.
Menu:

  • Cheese sandwich.
  • Mixed salad with mozzarella pearls.
  • Speculatius crumble for dessert.

The meal is tasty and perfectly adequate for the duration of the flight.

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TRANSFER IN AMSTERDAM
I enter the terminal building at around 13h20. I now have slightly less than two hours to make my connection to Montreal.

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I already have the boarding pass for my flight to Montreal and my suitcase has been checked through as well. My flight will be leaving from the D gates, passed immigration. The immigration counters are located next to the stairs leading up to the KLM Schengen Crown Lounge and the C gates.

At immigration there are machines available for travellers with biometric passports, but from what I understand, these may only be used by holders of a European Union passport.

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LOUNGE
Location:
The non-Schengen Crown Lounge is located above the F gates, if you are walking at a leisurely pace it may take you about ten minutes to reach the D gates.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated KLM lounge.
Facilities:
Showers, bathrooms, quiet rooms, work stations, hot and cold snacks, bar.
Internet:
Free wifi, the code changes daily and is displayed in various locations throughout the lounge.

Amsterdam airport is currently undergoing modification and extension. As a result, most of the windows in the lounge have been covered over to mask the constructions site.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
The boarding pass shows a boarding time of 14h15, which is exactly one hour before departure. This is due to the fact that passengers will have to undergo a further security screening before entering the holding area of the gate. If you arrive at the indicated boarding time, you usually end up having to queue quite a bit. So it is better to arrive about thirty minutes prior to departure, when most passengers are already in the holding area.

There is a dedicated queue for security for SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. The actual boarding normally starts about thirty minutes before departure with a call for Business Class passengers and then families with children.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2.
Seat: KLM currently offers three different Business Class products on its wide-body fleet. There is the new fully horizontal life-flat, which is only installed on the Boeing B 747-400. Although from what I understand this seat is about to be introduced to the B 777 fleet as well.

And then there is the angled lie-flat seat installed on the Boeing B 777-300 and the Airbus A 330-300. If I am not mistaken, this is pretty much the same seat Air France has installed in its wide-bodies right now.

And finally of course, there is the old angled seat on the Boeing B 777-200 and the Airbus A 330-200, which is what I shall be travelling in today. This seat is really passed it. It is comfortable enough to lounge in but it can be a tad difficult to sleep in unless you really are completely exhausted. It is the same seat KLM used to have on the MD-11 until she was decommissioned. But somehow, on the A 330 it just seems very dated. Legroom on the first row is very good, but nowhere near as good as on the MD-11.
Facilities: Reading lamp, power outlet, noise cancelling earphones.

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Upon entering the cabin, there is already a blanket and a pillow at every seat. Menus are distributed after departure. Luckily enough for me, the seat next to me is one of the few to remain empty on today’s flight.

SERVICE
As usual with KLM, the cabin crew are quite senior and very professional. In short succession one flight attendant comes to hang up my coat before I am offered a welcome drink and a vanity kit. There are different kits for men and women. For a welcome drink there is a choice of sparkling wine, beer, orange juice and still water.

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We push back on time. We shall be departing from runway 18L today and there is a queue of six aircraft ahead of us and another six behind us. As we taxi out, I look across to KLM’s huge MRO facility on the other side of the field. And that is when I suddenly catch a glimpse of her, standing quietly in the shadows. The last time I flew to Montreal it was the might MD-11 that carried me there. Such fond memories… Oh Audrey, Maria, Florence; we could have been happy together…how could you desert me like that?

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Fresh orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: The scented hot towels KLM has on offer in Business Class are truly excellent, much better than those flimsy little things BA offers in First.
Pre-meal drink:
Another fresh orange juice, the drink is served with a bowl of nuts or a selection of Dutch cheese.
Choice:
Two starters and three mains.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Full meal.
Menu:

  • Shrimps with grapes and mint oil with garlic and almond soup
  • Rice salad with beetroot, goat cheese and pine nuts with a raspberry dressing
  • Braised veal with gnocchi and vegetables
  • A selection of warm breads
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Skewer of fruit

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The food on KLM is normally quite good in Business Class, as is the service. And today’s flight is no exception, at least as far as the quality of the food is concerned. But for some reason the service is taking an eternity to complete. In fact it lasts for more than two hours and thirty minutes from the moment I am served a drink and the bowl of nuts to when eventually everything is cleared away. I do not really mind that on a flight of maybe twelve hours. But on a flight of only slightly more than seven hours I really do think it should be possible to deliver a faster service.

Once the meal is over I settle in with my Kindle and spend the rest of the flight reading and gazing out the window. The scenery outside is quite beautiful. We are routing relatively far up north, grazing the southern tip of Greenland.

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SECOND SERVICE
Type of meal:
Snack.
Choice: There are two main dishes to choose from.
Menu:

  • Waldorf salad
  • Vegetarian club sandwich
  • Warm Dutch apple pie
  • Crisps

With slightly less than two hours to go to Montreal the second service begins. Before the meal starts, a second hot towel is offered by the crew. The meal is perfectly adequate for the time of day and the duration of the flight.

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ARRIVAL
The crew clear the trays. The distribution of the famous little Bols houses marks the end of the flight.

We arrive exactly on time. Quite surprisingly, the airport is completely deserted. There is no queue for immigration and the suitcases arrive in next to no time at all.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi.
Departs from: Dedicated taxi stand.
Journey time: About 25 minutes.
Fare: Fixed at CAD40.-

CONCLUSION
This was another good flight by KLM today. Their service is perhaps not as refined and elegant was what you get on Cathay Pacific or Swiss. But what always impresses me about KLM is that their service is very consistent and I have as yet to experience a bad crew.

This was my first trip to Montreal on KLM that was not operated by an MD-11. For sure, the A 330 is the more modern aircraft. Even so, personally I think the MD-11 was just so much more fun.

Hawaiian Air, First Class – A 330-200: San Francisco to Kahului via Honolulu

INTRODUCTION

Yesterday I arrived in San Francisco on a United Airlines flight from Las Vegas. I spent the night at the Hyatt Regency close to the airport and today I am finally on my way Hawaii.

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Date: 29. January 2013
From: San Francisco
To: Honolulu
Airline: Hawaiian Air
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-200
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1A

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

It’s gone six and I am standing outside the entrance to the Hyatt, waiting for my shuttle to arrive to take me back to San Francisco airport.

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The shuttle makes a stop at the Marriott on its way to the Hyatt and is already quite full when it arrives. Most of the passengers are flight crews about to start another working day. There’s one guy who looks like the caricature of a pilot, complete with leather jacket and Frisbee cap.

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All of the passengers descend at the domestic terminal, except for me. Although the flight to Honolulu is a domestic service, it departs from the international terminal.

San Francisco International.
San Francisco International.

CHECK-IN

The facility is fairly deserted when I arrive. There is already a small queue forming for the Hawaiian Air counters. Apparently they’re having trouble of sorts with their check-in system. The ground crew apologise for the inconvenience and tell us they shan’t be long. And indeed, a few minutes later the ATB printer is happily printing a test boarding pass.

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There is a separate line and counter for passengers in First Class and passengers with status in Hawaiian’s frequent flyer programme. When it’s my turn the check-in agent welcomes me to the flight and thanks me for flying Hawaiian. She then proceeds to print my boarding passes for the flight to Honolulu as well as the onward connection to Kahului on Maui. She also directs me to the priority lane for security, not that it makes a difference with so few passengers around this morning.

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THE LOUNGE

The terminal is only just opening and most of the shops are still closed. Which is a bit unfortunate as Hawaiian doesn’t have a lounge in San Francisco and I’m dying for a coffee. Eventually I find a place towards the end of the concourse that is already open and is very close to A8, my departure gate for this flight.

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A cappuccino, fresh orange juice and a toasted bagel later and I’m feeling much more alive than I did when I first reached the airport. I switch on the complimentary wifi and give my mum a quick call on Facetime to report on my progress thus far – it’s cold and rainy in Switzerland, the usual. In contrast, the view from where I’m sitting is just fine.

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After I ring off I cross to the other side of the facility to take a closer look at my bird for today. And I am truly smitten. She’s simply gorgeous and I can barely take my eyes off her!

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Boarding starts right on time with a call for passengers with reduced mobility and special needs. Once the passengers with kids and wheelchairs have passed the gate, the ground crew halt the boarding process to give the special needs passengers enough time to settle in. I like that, very sensible. Next it’s the boarding call for the premium passengers. There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, premium passengers should use the left one.

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THE CREW

I am the first to board the aircraft. I am greeted by a friendly ‘aloha’ and I am struck by how much better looking and, well…happy…the cabin crew look than those I encountered on United. They’re smiles all round and give the impression of actually looking forward to having you on board as their guest! I am mesmerized; thank God I didn’t choose United for this flight!

THE CABIN

The cabin on this bird is either very new or very well kept. The First Class seat is not state of the art and only offers limited recline. The seat controls are mechanical rather than electrical. Still, the seat is comfortable enough for the journey of five hours across the Pacific to Hawaii. The First Class cabin comprises three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration, making for a total of 18 seats. Twelve seats will be occupied on today’s flight.

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A blanket and pillow are already at my set when I arrive.

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SERVICE

I stow away my things and take my seat on 1A. Immediately a flight attendant appears, places a napkin on the armrest and asks me if I’d like a glass of champagne, guava juice or a combination of both. I ask for the guava juice and have to make an effort to stop my jaw from dropping as the flight attendant actually brings me just what I’d asked for: a glass of juice, not a plastic cup!

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A short while later the same flight attendant brings me the menu for today’s flight. She points out that all the items on the menu will be served.

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DEPARTURE

And shortly after that we’re ready for departure. The ground crew make an announcement wishing all the passengers a pleasant journey and officially hand us over to the cabin crew. Then the doors are closed, the airbridges are removed and we push back. The journey begins!

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Take-off is surprisingly sluggish, considering it’s an A 330. I’m sitting on the left side, so I’m hoping to get a view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. But as my luck will have it, we begin a left turn towards the open Pacific before we reach the bridge.

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After take-off service begins with the distribution of earphones. I haven’t tried them yet, but I think they’re rather cool to look at. After that the crew come to ask what we’d like to drink and I have another guava juice, which is brought to me with a small dish of mixed nuts and berries.

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THE MEAL

From my seat I have a good view of what’s going on in the galley, the curtains have not been drawn. I am particularly impressed and quite surprised to find that the plates with the hot meal have not been prepared beforehand. Instead, the flight attendant doing the galley is preparing and decorating every plate individually. The meal consists of:

  • a warm muffin with orange zest
  • a selection of fresh fruit – pineapple, melon, grapes, strawberries and mint
  • a lomi lomi salmon omelette
  • steamed rice with chicken, taro and shitake mushrooms
  • a slice of carrot cake for dessert

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And very tasty the meal is too, in particular the omelette is nice and fluffy and full of flavour.

Once I finish the meal, the tray is removed. I take out my Kindle and read until we start our descent into Honolulu. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin a number of times, asking passengers if there’s anything they need or if they’d like to have a drink.

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Just before we leave our flight level, the crew distribute hot towels. They’re not scented, but that’s okay.

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ARRIVAL

After a flying time of five hours our flight draws to an end and we make a lovely approach into Honolulu. Honolulu is a nice airport, a lot of the terminal is open air and it feels good to be able to walk around without a jacket.

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Last turn onto finals.
Last turn onto finals.

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Transit area.
Transit area.

From Honolulu I have an onward connection with Hawaiian Air to Kahului. So I find a nice place to sit outside, take some pictures and wait for my flight to board. There is First Class lounge for the intra-island flights, but to be honest it’s not really that nice.

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There isn’t really anything much to say about the onward connection to Kahului, after all it’s only a 20 minute hop. About thirty minutes before departure I head for the gate and take a seat to whatch all sorts of birds flying around.

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A short while later I see my aircraft pulling onto stand.

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Date: 29. January 2013
From: Honolulu
To: Kahului
Airline: Hawaiian Air
Aircraft: B 717
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1C

BOARDING

My plane arrives at the gate 20 minutes before departure and I start to think that we’re probably not going to make an on time departure. Little do I know how hard they work those little B 717s.

My plane.
My plane.

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THE CABIN

Boarding starts on time.

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Waiting by the entrance.
Waiting by the entrance.

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Even on these short hops Hawaiian have a dedicated First Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this is quite an amazing little airline. Little of course only by American standards.

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The bulkhead.
The bulkhead.

Don't forget your manners just because you on holiday, so don't put your feet up against the bulkhead.
Don’t forget your manners just because you on holiday, so don’t put your feet up against the bulkhead.

The front office.
The front office.

THE SERVICE

Despite the short flying time, in Business Class Hawaiian still serve a pre-departure drink and another drink with a packet of nuts inflight. But they’re expecting quite some chop on today’s flight so the flight attendant distributes the nuts on the ground.

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I didn’t take any further pictures of the flight. It was quite turbulent and with the shaking it was impossible to take any decent pictures.

CONCLUSION

Hawaiian Air really impressed me. Their service is truly excellent and the crew are just so nice and friendly. I don’t think I’d want to do the direct flight from JFK to Honolulu in that seat – it’s a ten hours flight – but for the journey from San Francisco it was certainly more than adequate.

EPILOGUE

On Maui I call the Makena Beach Resort home. As I sit here on the balcony of my room writing this up and occasionally looking out to sea, I can actually see and even hear whales breaching in the distance – beautiful!

This concludes the series of reports on my American vacation. America is such a vast country, full of contrast and with so much to see and do. It has been a memorable trip and I certainly hope to return to Hawaii some day. I leave you with some pictures of Hawaii.

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Cathay Pacific, Business Class – A 330-300: Hong Kong to Bangkok

TRANSFER IN HONG KONG

Changing planes in Hong Kong is a painless affair, even more so because passengers are only required to remove laptops from their bags. Their liquids and other toiletries can stay in the bag. I don’t have to take off my belt either.

Once I’m through security I head one floor up to departures and have the agonising decision to make as to which lounge I want to visit. I settle on The Cabin, mainly because it’s closer to my departure gate than the wing. Also, I visited The Wing lounge a few years back when I was flying back to Zürich from Hong Kong with Swiss.

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Date: 27. November 2012
From: Hong Kong
To: Bangkok
Airline: Cathay Pacific Airways
Aircraft: A 330-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 17A

THE LOUNGE

The lounge is not very full when I arrive. Even so, I decide to turn to the right, where there is a smaller lounge area that is much more intimate. This part of the lounge only has a small bar, the food is in the other part. As a result most people tend to congregate in that corner of the lounge where all the grub is. I have nearly three hours to make my connection. So I spend my time reading emails and catching up on work.

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The view from where I was sitting in the lounge.
The view from where I was sitting in the lounge.

DEPARTURE

Boarding for the flight starts on time, thirty minutes before departure. Eventually though, we end up leaving with a delay of 15 minutes because of three missing passengers whose connecting flight arrived late. But the flight time is shorter than scheduled, so we still manage to arrive in Bangkok on time.

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On my way to the gate I see this big girl getting ready for departure.
On my way to the gate I see this big girl getting ready for departure.

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My bird.
My bird.

THE CABIN

The cabin on this bird is quite a contrast to the one on my previous flight. First of all, judging by the old overhead panels and bins, the aircraft has already been in service for quite a while. It also still has the old regional Business Class seat which – although very comfortable – is starting to look its age. At the time I made the booking, the seat map indicated that the flight would be operated by an aircraft with a 1-2-1 configuration. This bird however, has a 2-2-2 configuration. But at least the empty seat fairy does her magic again and as the doors close I am one of the few passengers again who has nobody in the seat next to me.

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Does it get any more retro than this?
Does it get any more retro than this?

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, the crew first distribute blankets and earphones. Next come more hot towels, followed by a selection of welcome drinks. Again I choose the Oriental Breeze, which I think I could drink until it’s coming out of my ears.

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The crew also distribute landing cards for Thailand, together with a voucher for the premium fast track at Suvarnabhumi airport, which in my case is of no use as I have to obtain a visa on arrival anyway. But I jump ahead.

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THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne it takes the crew quite a while to get the show on the road. We start with another drink round and again I have an Oriental Breeze.

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There are no nibbles with the drinks. Shortly after, my meal tray arrives. On it there is a small salad with a few shrimps that have been marinated and cooked with curry. The salad is served with a balsamico vinaigrette. With the salad I have two slices of crunchy garlic bread.

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One thing that strikes me about Cathay Pacific is that they serve you a glass of still water with the meal, whether you ask for it or not. It’s a nice touch actually.

There are three choices for the main course. I choose the agnolotti pasta filled with eggplant and bell peppers and served with a basil and tomato sauce and parmesan shavings. The main dish really is superb and the pasta is just right. Very often they don’t get the pasta right on planes and end up cooking it to death until the edges are all hard. But not so here.

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For dessert we have Hägen Dasz ice cream – cookies and chocolate ice cream.

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The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a praline.

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By the time the meal is over I’m feeling rather drowsy, it’s been a long journey. So I just lean back, cover myself with the blanket and doze off until the cabin is prepared for landing.

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ARRIVAL

As I mentioned before, as a Maltese national I am required to obtain a visa on arrival for Thailand. The procedure it pretty straight forward, but I have the misfortune to be queuing behind a larger group of tourists from some Asian country. As a result it takes me about 30 minutes to clear immigration. And then, once I’m through I go one floor down, grab a taxi and head for the hotel.

CONCLUSION

I greatly enjoyed these two flights with Cathay Pacific. I think they have a very solid product in Business Class. I particularly like the hardware on the B 777-300 because of the high level of comfort and privacy the new Business Class seat offers. The crew are a further strong point in Cathay Pacific’s favour, they were all very competent, friendly and polite. I think I prefer the Cathay Pacific crews to those of Thai Airways for example because they are much more approachable and not so robotic.

EPILOGUE

I spend four nights in Bangkok before returning home via the same routing. I arrive back in Basel on Sunday, 02 December 2012. Two days later I’m off again, this time on a business trip to Montreal for one night with KLM.

Oman Air, Business Class – A 330-200 / E-175: Zürich to Dubai via Muscat

I’m on the airport train. I’m heading for Zürich again. I’m off on a business trip to Dubai, where I will spend nearly a week. It’s nearly the end of June and the temperature has picked up, the clouds have subsided – finally. And something else is different. The light. My train departs Basel’s main station at 19h40 when the low evening light casts a lovely warm glow, brilliant shades of gold across the land.

Date: 22. June 2012
From: Zürich
to: Muscat
Airline: Oman Air (WY)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Cabin: Business
Seat: 10K, first row of Business Class, window

‘Are there really no direct flights between Zürich and Dubai?’ I hear you ask. Of course there are. Swiss operates a daily A330-300. The last time I was on that flight, we had a ratio of one flight attendant to every passenger in First Class.

And then of course there’s Emirates, operating two daily flights to Zürich. Both of which I believe, are operated with a Boeing B777.  I chose Oman Air out of simple curiosity. That, and because I want to try their new Embraer E-175.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Here are some pictures of the train journey to Zürich Airport. Everything is a lush green and so different from the landscapes I am heading for.

Loads of leg space.

This here is the original castle Habsburg, from where the Habsburgs set out to become the most dominant political power of their day. It’s near Brugg.

A regional train in Brugg station.

CHECK-IN

I arrive at Zurich Airport just before 21h00. The place is fairly quiet. I reach check-in and here too, there are not many people. There is one couple checking in at an Economy Class counter and another, elderly couple checking in at the Business Class counter. There is a thick, lush carpet spread out before the check-in counter. As I arrive, an agent from DNATA, the handling agent, welcomes me to the flight and tags my luggage. Very friendly and polite.

THE LOUNGE

From there I head through security and then on to the DNATA lounge. The lounge is located one floor up from the transit area, next to the Skyteam lounge. The offerings are more or less the same too, perhaps with the only difference is that the DNATA lounge is even smaller.

BOARDING

My stay is a short one. The flight will be leaving from the E dock, like most of the wide-bodies, so I assume there will be a long queue at immigration. And indeed, when I arrive, there are six lanes open and all of them look very busy. But I’m lucky and the queue of passengers moves quickly. After passport control I head downstairs to catch the Skymetro to the E dock.

A quick phone call to my mum later and I’m at my departure gate E46, where boarding for the flight has already started. Although there are two airbridges at the gate, only one is in use today. Even so, I do not have to queue and can go straight on board.

At the door I am welcomed by a friendly Asian female flight attendant and an oriental looking male. He takes my boarding pass and guides me to my seat in the first row of the cabin.

THE CABIN & SEAT

The first impression of the cabin is very good. First of all, I can’t but notice that the seat and stowage space are more like what many other airlines have on offer in First Class. The central bulkhead has two integrated small vitrines showcasing Omani craftsmanship and jewellery.

SERVICE

I stow away my things and sit down. Nick, the cabin manager arrives and introduces herself. She brings me a scented refreshing towel and a glass of Elder juice. While we’re chatting, one of her colleagues arrives with the vanity kit and the drinks and food menu. The vanity kit is an opulent affair in gold. Inside there are the famous Amouage cosmetics, as well as the usual shaving kit, toothbrush and tooth paste, a comb and socks. A nice big white pillow and a thick blanket are already at my seat.

THE MEAL

The experience begins shortly before the doors close, I am served a tasty, sweet date and a cup of Arabic coffee. A nice touch, me thinks!

Departure is to the north and very smooth. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the cabin crew start taking orders for dinner. I ask for mineral water and receive a glass of San Pellegrino with warm nuts. Something tells me I’m going to enjoy this…

Dining is à la carte and there is a rich and interesting selection of dishes. First there is a vol-au-vent filled with a mousse of grilled aubergine, together with a shaving of Tête de Moine cheese and chives. ‘Tête de Moine’ literally translates into ‘Monk’s Head’. It’s a typically Swiss cheese. It gets its name from the fact that each serving is shaved off the top of the slab of cheese, making it look like the bald head of a monk.

After that, I have the creamy spring vegetable soup with garlic croutons and fine herbs. And it is outstanding. The taste is simply amazing, an interesting combination of pea and asparagus. The soup is served with a slice of lemon. The flight attendant explains that the idea is to squeeze the lemon in the soup. It proves an excellent combination!

After the soup I have the tart of red pepper, goats cheese and caramelized onions with a balsamic reduction. This is served on a bed of fresh herbs: coriander, dill, estragon and mint. I am still in two minds if this or the main course was my favourite. The taste is simply outstanding and the pastry is not in the least soggy!

And then comes the main course: pan fried sea bass fillet with lemon-caper butter, braised Mediterranean vegetables and steamed rice with herbs. The lemon-caper butter in particular is exquisite. It is a finely balanced combination of ingredients that complement each other beautifully.

To finish off this outstanding meal, I attempt to tackle the home baked chocolate cake with whipped cream and fresh berries. It’s wicked, but in the end the chocolate cake is invincible. After getting through half of it I must admit defeat and capitulate to its sweetness and richness. A battle I tremendously enjoy losing.

After this epic meal, the flight attendant brings me a pair of slippers and pjs. I head for one of the very clean toilets to change. When I return to my seat, it has already been extended into a bed. Over and out!

My only grippe with this flight is really that it is too short for a good night’s sleep. You depart Zürich at 22h30 and arrive in Muscat at 06h30, which is two hours ahead of Zürich. About 80 minutes before we arrive, I awake and immediately one of the attendants asks me if I’d like breakfast. I say yes, but in actual fact I am still full from dinner. I just have the fruit, a brioche, coffee and orange juice. It is worth pointing out that the milk for the coffee is warmed.

ARRIVAL

And then all too soon we start our descent through the heat haze for our arrival into Muscat.

There is a separate coach bus ready to take the 14 Business Class passengers to the terminal. There are no airbridges yet in Muscat, although construction of the new airport is already quite advanced.

Deplaning via the stairs gives me some excellent photo opportunities. But in actual fact I am too close to capture all of the mighty A330 in one shot.

Transfer in Muscat is an efficient and painless affair. The lounge is very full when I arrive. But a short while later, the Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Frankfurt flights are called and the place quickly empties.

Date: 23. June 2012
From: Muscat
To: Dubai
Airline: Oman Air (WY)
Aircraft: Embraer 175
Cabin: Business
Seat: 2A, first row of Business Class, window

THE LOUNGE

By the time the lounge empties, I’m starting to feel hungry again. The food selection in the lounge is an absolute delight. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. So I treat myself to an Arabic breakfast to revive the spirits. I have a hard time choosing from all the lovely dishes there are.

BOARDING

After the meal I decide to leave the lounge and have a walk about around the terminal. There has been a recent extension to the facility with additional gates. It has a modern feel to it, with an Arabic twist. And the effect is rather nice, with a reoccurring intricate mashrabiya theme.

On my way to my gate I stop at a shop selling Amouage perfume. It is one of the most expensive perfumes that exist today. The young lady there strikes up a conversation with me. Out of curiosity I ask her which is the famous ‘original’ scent. Before I know it she grabs my arm and sprays some of the stuff on my wrist. The smell is, I must confess, quite exquisite. It smells expensive. It also gives me a headache straight away and I am somewhat alarmed when the young lady assures me that it lasts up to two weeks on the skin. As it turns out, that is perhaps a tad overstated. I head downstairs to the ground level of the building extension, where the gates are.

First all Economy Class passengers are boarded, again with a bus, while the Business Class passengers are boarded last, using their own dedicated bus. And again I’m too close for any decent pictures of the whole aircraft, even if it’s a little mini like the E-175.

THE CABIN

The cabin of the aircraft seems new and has a dedicated and very spacious Business Class cabin in a 1 + 2 configuration. I am on 2A, the bulkhead row, which is on the row of single seats.

SERVICE

Service begins while we are still on the ground with the distribution of the very welcome and very refreshing cold towels. Right after this, the male cabin attendant makes a drinks round. I choose a glass of fresh lemonade with mint.

Everything is cleared away as we start our taxi to the runway. The ramp is quite busy at this time of the day. We stop at the holding point for a company E-175 to make its arrival. I can’t help noticing just how dry it looks outside, a vast expanse of desert.

THE FOOD

We take off in an easterly direction. Shortly after departure we make a wide left 180 degree turn over a beautiful green blue sea. Our flight time is announced as 45 minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the cabin crew spring in to action. The cabin is full, with 12 passengers in Business Class. Even so, the cabin crew ask every passenger individually what they would like to eat and drink.

I order a Perrier and a coffee. A short while later, the cabin attendant returns with this. Quite impressive for such a short flight:

A mixed platter of (from left to right) pumpernickel with cheese, grilled apple, smoked salmon on a brioche filled with cream cheese, falafel with humus and garlic.

Grilled peppers and olives drizzled in pesto and olive oil.

And for dessert a slice of tasty carrot cake. The size of the meal is perfectly adequate for the duration of the flight and the quality of the food is excellent. Just as I wash down the last of the carrot cake with the coffee, the fasten seatbelt sign comes on again and we start our approach to Dubai.

ARRIVAL

The approach is quite bumpy. It’s very hazy outside so I can’t really see anything much until we are only a few hundred metres above the ground. Fortunately the airport is deserted at this time of the day, unlike the evenings when most of the European carriers arrive in the city. I make my way to immigration and there is next to no queue at all. The immigration officer is a friendly, chatty guy. He checks my visa and passport, and I’m good to go. I pass through customs and then from there head outside to grab a taxi. And I nearly keel over with the heat!

CONCLUSION

So what did I think of Oman Air? From what I understand, Oman Air does and always has run at a loss. To be honest, I’m really not surprised. Their product is outstanding in terms of hardware, the quality of the food and the friendliness of their crews. Basically they offer a First Class product at Business Class prices. Would I fly them again? Certainly! I just hope they will last long enough at Zürich for me to try them again.