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

The weather here in Malta has been lovely all week, with cloudless blue skies and a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

But it’s time to head back to Switzerland and the cold.

Getting to the Airport

I check out of The Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana at noon. The next bus to the airport will be the 12:35 X4, which leaves from the B pier of the main terminus. The B and C piers are located in St. James’ ditch, below what used to be Duke of York Avenue.

The X4 bus has a luggage rack, which is really convenient, because the bus continues all the way to Birzebbuga in the south and therefore tends to get very full.

Despite the fairly reliable public transport service, traffic in Malta continues to get worse. The journey to the airport takes 35 minutes to cover a distance of 7 kilometres.

As such, by the time I arrive at the airport, it’s already 13:15 and the flight will start boarding at 13:55.

Check-in

The check-in area is quite busy, with the Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights leaving around the same time as the flight to Zürich.

Security is well organised and quick. But the airside lounge is definitely getting too small for the amount of traffic the airport handles. It feels cramped and crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts just after 14h. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.

More importantly though, we’ll be boarding via stairs and without a bus. So loads of opportunities for me to geek-out about an aeroplane. I can just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll…

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers. However, there are only two other passengers with me in the forward cabin today.

There’s something charmingly old-fashioned and typically Maltese about the cabin of this aircraft – from the pictures of Malta on the bulkheads, to the nicely padded seats that will all be a thing of the past with the change over to the NEO.

Service on the ground consists of the distribution of newspapers and a welcome drink.

It’s a lovely, warm day with good visibility. We take off towards the northwest and fly the full length of Malta, before making a right turn to point us in the direction of Palermo.

The Meal

Once the crew is released, the service starts with the distribution of the unscented hot towels. This is followed immediately by the meal service.

Everything is served on one tray.

The main course is a caesar salad of sorts with three slices of chicken breast.

This is served with warm bread and a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico.

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

The meal is nice enough. And especially the mousse is very rich and creamy!

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

The flight time today is two hours and twenty minutes, which is quite long for this route. But at least the views are great and the Alps look spectacular.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Zürich at 16:54. By 17:09 I’m already on the train on my way home.

Things are rapidly changing for Air Malta. Already today they are no longer the largest carrier to the island of Malta and take second place behind Ryanair.

But at least, with the minister of transport and tourism resigning this week over claims of corruption, there is hope the government will stop its constant meddling and interference in how Air Malta should be run.

One way or another though, if Air Malta wants to stay competitive, it seems to me they still have a way to go, particularly when it comes to their website and reliably making a purchase for ancillary services via airmalta.com.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Luxembourg to Zürich

Getting to the Airport

It’s Friday evening and I’m finally on my way home. The flying Dutchman drops me off at Luxembourg airport on his way back to Holland. The journey from Kirchberg, where the offices are, to the airport is only about 15 minutes by car or by bus.

Check-in

The Star Alliance carriers operating out of Luxembourg check in on row 16 for Economy Class and row 17 for First and Business Class passengers.

The Lounge

The lounge in Luxembourg is quite nice, and has a nice selection of snacks and drinks. Especially their cakes are lovely! The views of the apron are pretty good. Throughout the terminal, wifi is available either through the airport’s network or through Eduroam.

I always feel slightly out of place in this lounge. Because while all the bankers are milling about in their sharp suits, I’m just lounging in my sneakers and jeans…

The inbound appear to have left Zürich with quite a delay, and is now not expected to land until 18:30, which is the boarding time for the return flight from Luxembourg to Zürich.

Boarding

Despite the arrival delay, boarding for my flight start with only a minor delay of about ten minutes. It’s a lovely late summer evening outside.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 3A. There are four rows of Business Class, for a total of twelve seats. Although only seven are occupied this evening.

I really like the cabin of the A220. It feels very spacious and airy. And the seat pitch up front is excellent.

I’m the last passenger to board. I take my seat and one of the flight attendants brings me a bottle of still water and a wet towel.

By the time we taxi out for departure, it’s 19h15. The flight time is 35 minutes, which means we’ll still be arriving on time.

The Crew

The crew on this flight really is excellent. The Business Class cabin is served by the purser, a friendly German young man with really excellent manners. He takes his time with every passenger and explains what’s in the three ramekins that are served on this flight.

The Meal

The first ramekin contains what is, apparently, Egyptian tartar. It’s vegetarian and I think it’s probably something similar to muhammara. It tastes similar too. Then there is a chicken curry. And the dessert is a mocca cream served on a bed of glazed mandarins.

Arrival

Meanwhile, the view outside with the setting sun is just so beautiful and very atmospheric. It’s quickly getting dark as we start our descent into Zürich.

Eventually we land just after eight in the evening, with just a few minutes delay. A big, orange full moon is slowly rising on the horizon and I’m just happy to be home again.

Conclusion

Sometimes things just line up. Even though it was only very short, I greatly enjoyed the flight this evening. The lovely weather, the quiet and spacious cabin, the tasty food and the brilliant service made for an utterly pleasant travel experience with SWISS.

My next trip to Luxembourg will be in October. In future I will probably be using the plane less and less on this route, now that the SNCF have introduced two daily TGV trains from Mulhouse to Luxembourg. The introduction of these two services mean that I can make the journey, door to door, in under four hours even with changing trains in Mulhouse.

Helvetic Airways, Embraer 190 – Business Class: Zürich to London City

Introduction

My colleague at work, let‘s call him the talented Mr. F., recently complained about the apparent lack of any new posts on my blog in recents weeks. The talented Mr. F., incidentally, gets his name from his truly exceptional talent of getting airlines to pay him compensation for all sorts of things, including some reported cases where the airlines hadn‘t actually done anything wrong – other than being on time…

So here you go, this one‘s for you, Mr. F. May it inspire you to even greater greatness. Or something.

As usual, I arrive at Zürich Airport by train. It‘s just gone 16:15. One hour to go before my departure to London.
Security is quite busy. After all, it‘s still the holiday season. But it‘s nowhere near as bad as when I flew to Bucharest two weeks ago, just as the summer holidays in Switzerland got underway!
My flight will be boarding from D57. Which is a bus gate on the ground floor level of the non-Schengen terminal. I don‘t think I‘ve ever used one of these gates before. I rather like the B/D pier though. Even if the ceilings are quite low.
I can‘t be bothered with the SWISS lounge, so instead I buy myself some chocolate goodness from Sprüngli on my way to passport control.
Today‘s flight is operated by Helvetic Airways, on behalf of SWISS. Helvetic has 15 E2s on order, which are expected to enter the fleet in Q4 of this year. Ten of their aircraft are on a permanent wet lease to SWISS. My flight today will be with an Embraer 190.
I‘m seated on 1A. So I figure I might as well take my time and board last. And take a few pictures while I wait.
The pitch on row 1, the bulkhead row, is great. Although from past experience I have to say, it get‘s awfully tight towards the back.
The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the cold towels and a bottle of still water. There are five passengers in Business this afternoon. One thing I really like on SWISS, is that they keep the seat next to you empty.
No sooner has the seatbelt sign gone off after take-off, the meal service begins. There is no choice available, so if you‘re vegetarian or picky about what you eat, you may want to pre order a special meal.
Today‘s offering is vitello tonnato, served with rocket, capers and red onion.
Warm breads and crackers are served with the meal. The maître de does an excellent job of explaining what all the items on the tray are.
Of course, being SWISS, there has to be a small plate with cheese.
The dessert is brownies on a citrus yoghurt cream and strawberry compote.
The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a small Swiss chocolate.
We land in London City more or less on time. The airport is busy. There‘s a bit of a hold up because the guy bringing the stairs is having problems puttting it in position. The captain shrugs at me and says: ‚they expect us to land on something the size of a stamp, but they struggle with the stairs…‘.
It‘s a lovely evening in London, and so I decide to walk to the hotel. From London City airport it‘s a walk of about thirty minutes to the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that takes you across the Thames. The journey takes about ten minutes and you can pay either by Oyster card or with a touch credit card.
At the other end, the cable car spits you out in front of the O2 arena. I stop off at Wagamama and the make my way to the Intetcontinental O2.
I‘ve been to many lovely places across the globe. Including some I didn‘t know existed before I had to go there! And feel priviledged for the opportunity to travel and see so much of the world. But no matter where I go, sooner or later I‘m always drawn back to this city. For me, there really is no place like London!

P. S. In the background of the last picture, on the hill, is Woolwich, where my nannu was originally from.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris to Beirut… or maybe not

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Getting to the Airport

The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from where the flight to Beirut will be departing.

Check-in

Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.

The Lounge

This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.

Boarding

Air France tends to start boarding for its flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the final staged of boarding.

The Cabin

The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER. There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8. And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample storage space. And it looks good too.

Service

Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have. Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.

A Problem

By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.

A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go to the lounge.

I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…

The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately, I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps – which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…

Boarding Again

At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.

The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running 45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes, so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.

The Meal

Amuse Bouche

The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.

The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut service.

First Course

shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream

Salad

The Cheese

Goat’s cheese, Cantal & Camembert

The Main Course

And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)

Dessert

For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake

All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.

The Crew

The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly, but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley, only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.

The Second Service

An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!

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

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Getting to the Airport

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

Check-in

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

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

Airside

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

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

Boarding

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

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

The Cabin

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

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

The Crew

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

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes.

The Meal

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

Conclusion

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

Iberia, Business Class, Airbus A 319: Zürich to Madrid

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Introduction

I’m now into my fourth week of travel and in looks like this is going to be another one of those trips…: I’m on my way to Casablanca for the user group meeting. But because I’m teaching until 13h30 on Tuesdays and the meeting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, my choices for flights are somewhat limited. Which is why, initially, I booked myself on an Air France service from Zürich via Paris. With that I would leave at 15h00 after teaching and would arrive in Casablanca at 21h35, so not too late. But then of course, Air France decided to go on strike…

Initially, I was rebooked by Air France on a Lufthansa service via Frankfurt, with a departure from Zürich at 20h00. The only problem with that though, is that the flight doesn’t arrive in Casablanca until 00h35, by which time the car rental office in Casablanca is already closed. So I had to come up with another option quickly…

And so I find myself on a late Tuesday afternoon on my way to Zürich airport.

Check-in

Iberia checks in at Check-in 2 in Zürich and the carrier has its own dedicated counters which are, I think, manned by DNATA staff. I’ve already checked in using the app, but my luggage is heavy with all the documents I’m carting around. So I figure it will be more pleasant to check it in. The check-in agent kindly labels the case to Madrid only, seeing as I’m going to have to spend the night there, and then wishes me a pleasant journey.

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Airside

I’m travelling with the wiry R. on this trip, who clearly has a bit of a sweet tooth and is a bit of a culinary snob. And so we forfeit the comfort of the Aspire lounge in favour of the Sprüngli Café behind security and indulge in a milky coffee and a truffe du jour. Which is, admittedly, very good for the taste buds but not so good for the waste line.

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The two following pictures were taken from the airside sports bar, which has an open terrace that lets you get up quite close to the aircraft.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from gate B33. The B concourse is quite busy at this time of the day. There’s a slight delay to start boarding, apparently because the aircraft already arrived from Madrid behind schedule.

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The Cabin

I’m seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side. Row 2 is also the bulkhead row on this side of the aircraft. On the port side though, the bulkhead is row 1. Seating on this aircraft is in your standard 2 + 2 Recaro Slimline configuration, with the middle seat on a row of three left empty. The cabin looks rather drab, in varying shades of a rather boring grey colour. The cabin isn’t really all that clean either. And it’s not the type of new ‘sorry, we’re in a hurry so we didn’t clean the cabin’ dirt, but rather the type of old crusty muck that comes from years of neglect. The seat pitch is good though.

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The Crew

I wouldn’t go so far and say the crew are friendly, but they’re polite, helpful and very professional. They also adhere to the defined service process, which I think is rather nice.

There are no welcome drinks or towels before departure. The only thing the crew distribute on the ground are the Spanish and foreign language newspaper.

The flight time is announced as two hours.

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The Meal

As soon as the crew is released after take-off, one of the flight attendants comes through the cabin taking orders for dinner. There is a choice of pasta with salmon or stuffed chicken breast with green beans. I go with the latter option.

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The meal is not that bad actually. The tray contains the hot meal, a green salad with dressing, a plate of cheese and a tub of yoghurt for dessert. Bread and butter are served separately from a basket.

The salad hasn’t gone completely limp and the hot meal has a rich creamy sauce. The chicken breast is filled with some type of cream cheese, apricots and olives – which work surprisingly well together.

To drink I have a Coke Zero. Once I’m done with the meal, the flight attendant removes my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to have. So I order a coffee, which is served with a small piece of pretty decent chocolate.

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Arrival

Our descent into Madrid is very atmospheric, with the setting sun putting on a spectacular show of colours.

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Eventually we land in Madrid at 21h15, slight behind schedule. Iberia calls Terminal 4 home, which I still find quite a spectacular construction! The building is massive and the design is modern and elegant. It’s also very empty!

Getting to the Hotel

In Madrid I’ll be staying at the Madrid Airport Hilton. It’s quite a bit away from Terminal 4, but there is a regular complimentary shuttle bus that takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris Roissy

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Bucharest to give a course with the Romanian air navigation service provider. As I’m teaching on Tuesdays until 13h30, the direct flight with SWISS was not an option for me, because it leaves too early. And so I ended up being booked with Air France via Paris.

Getting to the Airport

I’m not having much luck with transportation this week. Monday started with a rejected take-off in Frankfurt that Lufthansa turned into a dog’s breakfast and which eventually saw me arriving in Zürich with a delay of four hours and several missed meetings late.

My flight today will start boarding at 14h40, so I figure I had probably best take the 13h55 train to get me to the airport at 14h10. But of course I miss that train and the next one, three minutes later, has been cancelled. And the one after that is running late. Crap!

But eventually, things turn out for me. At 14h20 my train pulls into the station at Zürich Flughafen. I even have enough time to change some currency before continuing on my way to the security checkpoint.

Check-in

Air France is checked in by DNATA at Zürich airport and has obviously succeeded in securing one of the best locations in check-in 2. As you get off the escalators, coming from the railway station, the check-in counters are just on your left.

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I’ve already checked in using the Air France app, so I can head straight for security. There is one lane open for Business Class passengers and the queue is fairly long when I arrive. But obviously they’re preparing for the evening rush hour and after only a few minutes a further line is opened to speed things up.

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By the time I’m through, there’s just another five minutes to go before boarding begins, and so I head straight for gate B31 from where the flight will be departing.

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Boarding

Boarding starts more or less on time. The first call is for Business Class and Platinum card holders to board through the attended gate. Once that is done, the remaining passengers are invited to board via the automatic gates.

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The flight is not full today, so boarding is quickly completed.

The Cabin

The Airbus A 318 is a strange little aeroplane. It’s essentially an Airbus A 319 which never fully grew. The aircraft has not been a commercial success and to be honest, I’m not sure if the production line is even still open for this type. In any case, Air France currently has a fleet of 18 of these short, stubby little aircraft.

They are configured with a seating capacity of a maximum of 118 seats. On today’s flight there are four rows of Business Class with a total of 14 seat. On the port side of the vessel there is no row 1, the bulkhead row on this side is row 2. I am seated on 2A, a window seat. With only three passengers in the Business Class cabin in total, I have the whole row to myself, which is obviously very luxurious and makes for a very comfortable ride. The seat pitch throughout is 32 inches. In addition, there is a red pillow at every seat, which gives the impression of a very bright and fresh cabin.

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The Crew

The service up front is done by the maître de, a young French woman. Apparently, the English language continues to be a problem for Air France. But as long as I can communicate with her in French, I think we should be alright. While boarding is still in process, she welcomes me on board, brings me a refreshing towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I order a bottle of still water.

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Throughout the flight she takes good care of the three of us, in addition to helping out with the service in the back. What I particularly like though, is that Air France strictly enforces a closed curtain policy on its flights.

The Meal

As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service begins. The flight time is estimated at 1 hour and 5 minutes, which is not very much. The meal service consists of one tray that has on it:

  1. a wholegrain, bresaola and horseradish sandwich,
  2. pickled vegetables served with a tartar sauce,
  3. a warm cheese stick,
  4. a bowl of diced pear in honey,
  5. a Tropézienne cake and a small but sinfully dense chocolate cake thingy,
  6. a box with two chocolate pralines.

To drink with that I have a Coke Zero. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also available after the meal, but I decline the flight attendant’s offer.

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The meal is not particularly big or anything, but given the short flight time I think it is perfectly adequate.

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Paris. It’s quite windy, but at least it’s a bright sunny day here – despite the cold. Terminal 2F is home to Air France’s European Schengen flights. My connecting flight will depart from 2E, which is in walking distance and very quick and easy to reach from 2F.

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Air France/Cityjet, Economy Class – RJ85: Basel to Paris Roissy

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Introduction

Ever since I saw the sketch about the Death Star Canteen on Youtube, I’ve been a big fan of Eddie Izzard’s. So much so that I thought it would be cool to see him live some day. And indeed, this year he was on a world tour to promote his new book and show. But unfortunately, there was never an opportunity for me to go see that.

Getting to the Airport

But then I saw on Facebook that Izzard would be doing stand-up comedy in Paris in December. And so it came about that I find myself on the way to Basel airport on a Saturday afternoon to catch the HOP by Air France service from Basel to the iconic Paris Orly airport. The flight should leave at 14h20, which should get me into Paris around 15h30. In other words, I should have enough time for some Christmas shopping and to grab a bite to eat before the show begins at 20h00. Or something like that…

Check-in

Check-in for Air France and KLM is in the French sector of the terminal building. There are four self-service machines. Strangely enough though, three of the machines have ‘Vol Paris CDG ou Amsterdam’ showing on the screen, while the fourth machine reads ‘Paris Orly’ only. For some strange reason, it is indeed the case that the flight to Orly is checked-in on a different machine on which the other flights to CDG and to Amsterdam do not exist. And vice versa.

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I’m not sure what this is about exactly, but I suspect it was something to do with the flight operating as a domestic flight rather than an international one.

Boarding

With my Platinum card I have access to the fast lane, which doesn’t really mean anything at all. Because just before the security checkpoint the fast track merges with the normal line. Which means you end up with everyone in the normal queue giving you the stink eye for – in their view – trying to jump the line. Which, of course, is a very grave case of serious misconduct in France, given their history of égalite, fraternité and all that nonsense.

One way or another, the truth of the matter is that I’m a bit of a wuss – I’m not a big enough asshole to simply not give a shit. And so, I try an apologetic smile. I’m hoping the smile conveys something along the lines of a ‘Mea culpa, I promise never to do that again, cross my heart and hope to die, Ma’am’. But then I catch my reflection in one of the glass doors and conclude that I have rather a pained expression and look more like I urgently need to go to the bathroom for a number two…

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The Cabin

There’s been an aircraft change, and instead of the scheduled ATR42, the flight is operated by a Bombardier CRJ1000. And oh, how I hate this aircraft! This really one of those cases where you look at a thing or use it and keep asking yourself ‘what on earth were they thinking’?

So what on earth were they thinking exactly? For a 100 seater I really do think the width of the cabin of this aircraft is insufficient. There is very little storage space, boarding takes for ever because the aircraft is just so long and basically, everything feels just a little cramped and tight. Even though I’m one of the lucky ones to be seated on 1F with the seat next to me empty.

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And then it all starts going to sh…

We push back ahead of schedule at 14h14. Although the term pushback is used somewhat liberally in this particular case. Rather, we jerk backwards and then come to a stop again. And then nothing.

After about five minutes the pilot comes on the speakers to inform us that the pushback truck as damaged the nose gear and the incident will need to be investigated before we can depart. But it’s really nothing to worry about…

At 14h45 the captain informs us that the Air France ground engineer is already in his well-deserved weekend. So it will take him at least another hour to get to the airport. I just finish saying to myself ‘this is so going nowhere’, when they inform us that we will have to disembark while they check the aircraft.

At 15h00 we finally are allowed off the plane. A ground agent tells us we will have to go down to arrivals, then back up through security again and then to return to the departure gate for further information.

So I do just that. Only, the system won’t let me go through security because, according to the system, I’ve already been through once already. Which is in fact true. But this would not be France if there weren’t a jovial middle-aged man with a friendly smile who gives me his best ‘mais non, allez-y. Je vous laisse passer…’.

So I return to the gate, where they’re now boarding the flight to Charles de Gaulle. I ask one of the gate agents what’s going on. But she tells me she’s busy. So I check on the Air France app, only to find that there my original flight has been cancelled.

By this time, the CDG flight, which departs at 15h35, has completed the boarding process, so Madame finally has a moment to talk to me. The next thing I know, il n’ya aucun problem, and I’ve been reprotected on to the CDG flight instead.

I thank the gate agent for her flexibility and pass through the gate, thinking it must be my lucky day. As I do, I swear I can hear her sniggering. What’s that all about I wonder? And that’s when I realise: the CDG flight is operated by an ancient RJ85 in the 3+3 configuration. And…*this is the moment when I hear the music from the shower scene in Psycho in my head…*…and?

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The Cabin

And I’m on 4B, which means I’m stuck in the middle between two other people. This is really my worst nightmare. They can’t do this to me. Please Santa, I promise I’ll be good. I swear I’ll be nicer to my students. But please, not 4B.

The middle seat on 4B means the pitch is so tight that the only way I can fit into the seat is to sit there with my legs spreadeagled like a porno star, while Miss 4C sticks her elbow in my side.

Eventually we depart at 16h20. The flight was delayed so they could rebook all the passengers from the cancelled Orly flight.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of two men. The purser is in his early forties, I should say, and at least he obviously thinks he’s really hot stuff. What’s with the black leather gloves, dude? Even once the doors close, the leather gloves stay on and he even distributed the refreshing towels still wearing them.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service kicks in tout de suite. It consists of a selection of hot or cold drinks and a choice between a savoury or a sweet snack – or sucré ou salé, as we say at Air France.

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I decide to have the hot chocolate and a packet of really tasty apple biscuits. They’re really very buttery and full of flavour. The only problem though, is that being confined on either side by another passenger in such a tight seat, I’m actually having trouble reaching the food and cup without accidentally taking out one of my neighbours’ eyes and I start to wonder if this is what extinction must have felt like for the Tyrannosaurus Rex with their little stubby arms?

Arrival

By the time we land it’s already 17h15. And we still have to taxi all the way back to terminal 2G, which is out in the booneys. From 2G I have to catch a shuttle bus to terminal 2F and from there I have to walk to terminal 2E before I am finally at the counter for the busses that take you from CDG to the Gare de Lyon, which is closest to where I’m going.

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But still, I manage. There was no shopping and no lunch before the theatre. But I manage. In fact I arrive one minute before the curtain call.

Epilogue

I’m not going to write a report about the return leg. But just in case you were wondering: yes, that one was delayed by an hour too because of a technical problem. This was not one of Air France’s finest moments.

But all’s well that ends well. And so, for those of you who have managed to stick around until the very end,

I WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY HOLIDAY AND MANY HAPPY LANDINGS IN 2018!

Where ever your travels may take you, enjoy them and stay safe.

– William

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