Air France, Airbus A 320 – Economy Class: Zagreb to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Getting to the Airport

The journey from Zagreb to the airport takes 18 minutes by Uber. Within walking distance of the Canopy Hotel, where I was staying, is also the bus terminal, from where Croatia Airlines operates a bus service to the airport.

Zagreb airport has a terminal building that may not be very large in relative terms but seems somewhat excessive for the amount and type of traffic it handles.

Check-in

The departures concourse is best described as a large, cavernous space. Air France checks in on counters C08 to C11 and there is a dedicated counter for SkyPriority passengers. Check-in opens only two hours before departure, so there’s really no point in arriving too early. There isn’t anything much to do either.

On a postive note, there is a fast track for security for SkyPriority passengers.

The Lounge

There is only one lounge at the airport that is used by all carriers operating into Zagreb. The Primeclass lounge is located right behind the duty free, between gates 33 and 32.

On my way to the airport, I kept trying to remember what the lounge looks like. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember. As it turns out, that’s likely because the lounge really is not particularly memorable. Although I must say, the food offerings are great. And I can highly recommend their vast selection of Burek.

I’m not sure what’s going on with my booking. So far, all I’ve managed to do on the app is check in. And when I finally managed that, I found myself suddenly seated on 3A, which is not the original seat I reserved.

What’s more, when I tried again at the self-service kiosk at the airport, the screen wanted to know if I had a visa for France. When I selected ‘no’, the system crashed and the screen went black…

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure from gate 31. SkyPriority passengers are invited the board first. Alas, taking pictures from inside the terminal is slighly problematic…

The Cabin

Row 3 is the first row of Economy Class, which means I have the divider curtain right in front of me. The seat pitch is very tight, but still okay. Not sure I’d want to do a longer flight in this seat though…

This, in case you’re wondering, is to hang your jacket on the seat.

Boarding happens very fast. The next thing I know, we’re already pushing back while the crew scramble to get all passengers seated.

Fortunately for me, by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat on 3B remains empty.

As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start preparations for their service. The flight time is one hour and forty minutes.

The Meal

The service consists of a complimentary snack and drinks from the bar trolley. To eat there is a choice between a tuna, parsley and lemon bagel or a hummus and grilled vegetables sandwich. The crew pass through the cabin twice offering sandwiches.

To drink I ask for sparkling water. What’s really nice on Air France is that even in Economy Class they will give you a complete can of Perrier.

Arrival

The rest of the flight passes quickly and pleasantly enough. We land in Paris just a few minutes ahead of schedule. But there’s a delay reaching our gate, because the stand is still occupied by a Tarom B 737. By the time we make onto the stand, it’s 20h07. I now have 53 minutes to make my connection from terminal 2E to 2G, which is pretty much out in the booneys.

Croatia Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Zürich to Zagreb

This week has me combining two trips into one. First, today I shall travel to Zagreb to attend a meeting. And then from there, I shall travel to Luxembourg to give another course.

The nice thing about Croatia Airlines’ evening service from Zürich to Zagreb is that the flight departs at 20h05, which gives you more or less a full day in the office before having to head for the airport.

When I arrive at the airport just after 18h07, the airport is very quiet. I’m guessing the main bank of departures is already over.

Check-in

Croatia Airlines uses check-in 3 in Zürich, which is the check-in area right above the tracks of the railway station. I print my boarding pass and baggage tag at the self-service machine and then proceed to the counter to drop off my bag.

Another nice feature of a 20h05 departure time is that security is nearly deserted when I get there at around 18h30. Which is a good thing, because although there’s only one guy ahead of me in the queue, he’s exuding the rather pungent stink of young man. It ain’t pretty…

Airside

The airside area is eerily quiet too. Perhaps it’s because of Knabenschiessen, which is a half-day public holiday in the city of Zürich only. In case you’re wondering, Knabenschiessen is not quite as old a tradition as the Zürchers will have you believe. Besides, nowadays the event is more of an excuse for the hopelessly pretentious and nouveau rich to be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘right’ crowd.

Boarding

Zagreb being a non-Schengen destination, the flight will be boarding from the D gates, on the ground floor level of the B pier, behind immigration.

Although there are hardly any people on the D concourse, the place is litered with garbage. You’d think they’d manage to clean up the place. None of this stuff in the picture is mine…

Boarding starts exactly on time, even though the bus taking us to the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s when I realise that most passengers are travelling with fairly large pieces of hand luggage, which fit perfectly in the overhead bins of an A 320, but not in the shoe box size bins of the Dash 8. So it takes the gate agent a moment to label all the hold baggage and scan the boarding passes all by herself.

The Cabin

The Dash 8 is a sharp looking aircraft, but it really is rather small and cramped in the cabin. Standing room is okay. But once you’re seated, the pitch is fairly tight for an average sized caucasian male.

What’s more, there’s a rail on which the seats are mounted that runs along the side of the cabin. As a result, if like me you’re on the window seat, leg space is a bit more limited than on the aisle.

Also, on 8F you’re sitting right next to the engine. This means that window views are somewhat obstructed and the vibrations from the engines are really very strong and quite loud.

The Crew

The flight time is one hour and ten minutes. There are two cabin crew. The female is the purser, I think. She’s definitely got an attitude, but in a surprisingly good way. And she’s also very meticulous about safety.

The other crew is a male with a slighty grumpy demeanour. When the service begins, he stops at my row, shoves a packet of something under my nose unceremoniously and makes a sound that might be loosely interpreted as ‘would you care for a snack’ but is, in fact, little more than a grunt.

The Meal

To drink, there is a whole bar trolley for choice. The snack and drinks are complimentary.

However, I did also notice in their Sky Shop magazine that there are other food items and beverages available for purchase, although no information to that effect was given during the flight.

Arrival

All in all, the flight is pleasant and uneventful. Our landing in Zagreb is very smooth and quiet. We come to a stop on a stand right in front of the terminal. But once we disembark, we still have to take a bus to bring us to arrivals.

Getting into Town

From the airport I take an Uber into the city, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.

Conclusion

Croatia Airlines is another one of those small European flag carriers that is struggling to stay afloat and compete against the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s hard to say if Croatian, like Air Malta or Tarom, would even be missed if they went out of business.

Having said that, Their product is certainly not bad and pretty much on a par with that of others. I’d fly with them again any time. But unless you want to go to Croatia, that may not even be quite so easy to achieve.

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

Introduction

I know, I know. Carbon footprint and all that. And I have to say that I have been trying to reduce the number of private trips I make by plane. But Lord knows it’s not always easy. And so, I find myself on Saturday morning making plans to head for the airport…

Getting to the Airport

At 10:01 I leave my flat to catch the 10:03 express bus from the main railway station to Basel airport. The express bus is not necessarily any faster than the regular service, but at least it doesn’t stop anywhere along the way. The journey takes about 15 minutes and there is no surcharge for the express.
The airport is moderately busy. It’s the end of August and the trailing end of the summer vacation in Europe, usually the time when couples without kids at school make their escape.
There is a separate fast track for security and the queue is not very long.

The Skyview Lounge

The Swissport Aspire lounge in Basel is always a pleasure. It sits above the main airside area and offers a 360 degree view of what’s going on outside.
Half the seating area has been closed off, presumably to save on cleaning during the quiet summer months when business travel in Europe is quite reduced.
The lounge’a best feature, though, has to be the outside viewing area which also functions as the smokers’ lounge.
On the downside, the lounge is located in the Schengen area of the terminal. With most flights now operating as non-Schengen out of Basel, there can be quite a long wait at immigration, so it’s best to plan ahead!

Boarding

I time it just a bit too finely. I also didn’t consider that there was an Air Algérie flight leaving around the same time. And so the queue is fairly long for passport control. But it moves quickly.
BA boards its flights by groups. Business Class passengers and Executive Club card holders are in group 1. Although by the time I get to the gate, they’re already boarding group 4.

The Cabin

The very first thing you notice as you step on board the aircraft, is how dark the cabin looks. The bulkhead is a dark shade of grey and the moodlights are a dark blue.
In Club Class on BA 1A is the window seat and 1C the aisle seat. The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small table for extra storage space. The seatbacks have a headrest that can be adjusted in height and that has a set of ears for better support.
Leg space on the first row is great. But keep in mind that on 1C you’re quite exposed, with boarding passenger turning right into the cabin right in front of you. But it does give you a great cockpit view at least.
There are eight rows of Club Class on this flight, for a total of 32 seat. According to the purser, the flight is completely sold out.
There are two middle aged gentlemen working the Club Class cabin, and I must say they’re really excellent: polite, engaging and very helpful. The latter is clearly appreciated by the many elderly Americans on the flight.
Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with nicely scented hot towels.

The Meal

With a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, there is only a cold meal service on this flight. However, there is a choice between a quinoa salad or grilled chicken breast for the main course.
Quinoa salad with herbs, feta, cucumber and cherry tomato.
Mixed salad on the side, served with vinaigrette.
A selection of warm breads. There are no seconds for bread.
And for dessert, a delectable chocolate mousse with caramel topping that is outrageously sweet and obscenely good. Although probably the noises I’m making while I demolish it are worse…
35 minutes out of Heathrow, the trays are removed and I am brought a mug of milky sweet tea. This is served with a small chocolate from Hotel Chocolat to celebrate BA’s centenary.

Arrival

We land in Heathrow ten minutes ahead of schedule, and I‘m really quite amazed how quiet the place is, which a very rare occurrence in Heathrow.

Getting into Town

I head down into the basement and catch the Heathrow Express into Paddington. The journey takes 15 minutes and costs GBP18. And with the current rate of exchange to the Swiss Frank, that‘s not even so expensive.
I must say, after my last Club Class experiences with BA I wasn‘t expecting anything much. In fact, I’ve tried to avoid them recently. But it seems that the carrier may have just been going through a bit of a rough time. Because this was a much better and more pleasant experience, very much like what you would expect from a global carrier like British Airways. The crew were great and the food choice and quality were also good, especially given the short duration of the flight.

Easyjet, Airbus A 320: Madrid to Basel

I spend a lovely day at the Campo Juan Carlos, a large park close to the exposition area of Madrid and easily accessible by metro.

Just after 14h I return to the metro station and make my way back to the airport. The stop for terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5 is the next one from Feria de Madrid.
My flight to Basel will be checking in and boarding from Terminal 1, which is the longest distance away from the metro station and probably explains why it is home to all the low cost carriers and Turkish Airlines.
On my way there, I spot this old DC-9/32 which appears to have been turned into art. I‘m surprised to see the aircraft still has its engines mounted.
Easyjet seem to have their own operation here in Madrid. Apart from their own dedicated check-in counters, they also seem to have their own fleet of ramp vehicles. And the rampers are all dressed in Easyjet uniforms too.
I really don‘t mind flying Easyjet once I get on the plane. But the getting on the plane is unnecesarily tedious, because we‘re boarding in increments.
The inbound from Basel has only just touched down, and already the outbound is showing up as ‚last call‘…
When boarding eventually does start, they allow us to proceed to the entrance of the airbridge, but no further, because the arriving passengers are still deplaning. Meanwhile, the rest of us wait.
Once that‘s done, they let us proced to the entrance to the plane. And there we wait again while they clean up the cabin.
A pair of young girls come on and inform the purser that one of them has a ‚really, really, really acute‘ allergy against garlic, apples and mushrooms. And apparently even the smell could be lethal. So the cabin crew make an announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating any of those during the flight. Because even the smell ‚could be dangerous’. Quite frankly, I suspect the bimbo airhead had an unspectacular holiday in Spain and figured she’d try something different on the return flight to make herself a bit more interesting. All three allergies really do exist, but you actually have to eat the stuff to get a reaction…
The leg space on the first row is good. And it‘s kind of nice that they introduced a bulkhead. So at least you‘re not completely exposed to the elements if you‘re seated on the first row.
The flight is uneventful and calm. I order a drink from the on board bistro for EUR2.50 for a large can.
We reach Basel after a flight time of 1 hour and 55 minutes. The airport isn‘t busy at all, and 10 minutes after landing, I‘m already sitting on the bus on my way home.

Easyjet really is quite okay if you ignore the boarding experience, which I find unpleasant and unnecessarily so. I also think the limitations of the low cost model are beginning to show. The old legacy carriers have clearly done their homework, and you can purchase just about anything as an ancillary service nowadays. But on a low cost carrier, that is only possible up to a point. For example, if I purchase an upgrade on Swiss or KLM, that automatically comes with the priority check-in, fast track security, lounge access, better seat pitch and an empty middle seat.

British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 350-1000: London Heathrow to Madrid

Introduction

Last week I returned from my Sunday run, all sticky and sweaty, only to be informed by the light of my life that we were booked to sample the British Airways A 350-1000 in a week’s time!

I mean, how cool is that? New type for me and literally a new aircraft!

The flight to Madrid is scheduled for a 06:20 departure out of Heathrow, which is why I spent last night at the Sofitel Heathrow T5, in walking distance to the terminal and connected via a footbridge.
There are two security checkpoints in T5. However, only checkpoint South has a fast track.
This must be the quickest security chech I’ve ever done. There’s no queue and I’m done in less than three minutes!
Airside, the terminal is still pretty deserted and the shops haven’t even opened yet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heathrow so empty!

The Executive Club Lounge

My first stop is the BA lounge for breakfast!
Breakfast is something they do really well at the BA lounge. And fortunately, it already opens at 05:00 in the morning.

Boarding

At 05:40 my flight shows up on the screens as ‘boarding’. The flight will be departing from C61 in one of the satellite terminals. First thing to note: there is a lounge in satellite B and on the main concourse of the A gates. But there is no lounge at the C satellite. Second thing to note: you are not free to move as you please between the satellites. At least not without going through security.
Boarding is delayed by thirty minutes, due to the fact that the aircraft had not been towed over from the maintenance area to its parking stand on time. Sadly, gate C61 also happens to be just about the most impossible gate to take a picture of the aircraft from…

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is very positive. Again, I find the colours all rather dark, but it’s still a very elegant and classy looking cabin.
The seat is definitely a vast improvement over that idiotic seat BA has on the rest of its fleet, which feels like an old and sagging armchair.
This seat is much, much nicer and is very comfortable.
The seat is very practical in its design and offers a lot of storage space.
Moreover, the seats are not aligned in a row. So that even with the door to the seat open, you still have a lot of privacy.

The Meal

The flight time is announced at 1 hour and 50 minutes. The service begins with the distribution of the hot towels, followed by the menus. There is a choice of three meals for the main course.
The food is delivered as a tray service, with each passenger’s meal brought out individually. The crew work efficiently. Even so, the combination of a short flight time with a fairly large Club Class section means that the individual waiting time is rather long.
As usual, I decide to go with the English breakfast, which is brought to me with a croissant and a bun on it.
To celebrate the centenary, on this flight the crew distribute a box with two hazelnut pralines from Hotel Chocolat. The chocolates are good, but they clearly lack the finess of Swiss chocolate.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Madrid with a delay of about 20 minutes. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite pier of Terminal 4. The queue for immigration is long, but at least it moves quickly. And even thought the automatic gate can’t seem to scan my face, the immigration officer can’t be bothered today and just lets me through anyway.

Getting into Town

I have five hours to spend here in Madrid on a lovely summer’s day. So upon exiting through arrivals, my first stop is the metro. I have a public transport card for Madrid which is quite convenient, because you can load multiple tickets on it. However, for trips to and from the airport, there is a EUR3.- surcharge that you can only load onto the card on the actual day of travel.

My two flights with British Airways yesterday and today were very pleasant. Of course, the brand new Airbus A 350-1000 this morning was a pleasant change from the usual narrowbodies.

But apart from that, I think British Airways has implemented some fundamental changes that I would definitely consider a huge improvement. From the Do&Co catering to the installation of the new seat, which is expected to be rolled out on the Boeing B 777 fleet shortly as well.

Of course, tastes vary. But for me, the hard product on the A 350-1000 and the improved catering definitely put British Airways on a par with Air France. With the Lufthansa group coming in far, far behind.

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.

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

The Etihad Airways First Class Lounge

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

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

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

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

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

Boarding

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

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

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The Cabin

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

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

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

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

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The Crew

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

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

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Amenities

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

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

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

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

The Meal

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

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

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

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The First Course

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

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The Main Course

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

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The Cheese

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

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Dessert

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

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After the meal I am handed another hot towel.

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

Arrival

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

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Conclusion

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

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

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Colombo to Abu Dhabi

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Date: 16. April 2017
Departure: 21:10
Arrival: 00: 35
Flight time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Seat: 2A, window

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Introduction

Time to move on. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Sri Lanka a little while longer. I’ve rather enjoyed being here. But I have to get back home because I’ll be traveling week after next and still need to get a few things done before then.

Let’s see. I’ve tried Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Emirates. So I think it’s only fair to give Etihad a try before I make up my mind if Qatar Airways really is my favourite airline.

The flight to Abu Dhabi will not be leaving until 21h10. Which means I have the whole day to spend by the pool revising a paper I have to submit soon and having afternoon tea at the lovely Galle Face Hotel before it’s time to head for the airport.

Getting to the Airport

I’ve ordered a car to pick me up at the hotel at 17h30. The journey to the airport is only 36 kilometres. Colombo is still only just coming back to life after most of the city folk left the city behind to celebrate the Singalese New Year with their families.

Security at the airport is very tight and there are roadblocks and barriers set up all along the road leading to the terminal.

Check-in

The driver drops me off before the entrance to departures. And then the hassle begins. First, I need to show a police officer standing guard by the entrance my passport and a copy of my ticket to even be allowed to enter the terminal building. Immediately inside the terminal is a first security checkpoint where I need to have all my bags screened and another police officer pats me down. From there I follow a long corridor that looks as though it was originally set up as a provisional building but then accidentally, brutally started sprouting retail space.

At the end of the corridor I finally enter the terminal proper. From here passengers have to go through another security checkpoint and show their passport again to enter the actual check-in area. Photography is strictly prohibited within the terminal.

Check-in for the Etihad flight opens three hours before departure. The departure hall is very crowded with passengers checking in for their flights with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Sri Lankan which all seem to depart around the same time.

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From check-in I walk to the far right of the departure hall and queue again for immigration. I’m not really sure why they bother though, because the officer is obviously so busy reading text messages that he nearly forgets to stamp my passport.

And then, finally, I’m airside.

The Araliya Lounge

Etihad Airways uses the Araliya lounge, which is at the beginning of the pier on the left hand side. The lounge only has very basic facilities, but there is a small selection of hot and cold snacks, there’s wifi and the toilets and shower are very clean. The lounge’s best feature though, is the excellent view of the action on the apron.

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Boarding

Not again, seriously? My flight will be departing from gate B5, which is a bus gate. To enter the gate area I need to show my boarding pass and passport again to another police officer guarding the staircase. Once he lets me pass, I head downstairs to the holding area for the gate, which pretty much looks like a badly converted broom cupboard. But not as pretty. And yes, I have to go through security. Again. I don’t have to take out any liquids or laptops but I do have to take off my shoes and get another pat down under the watchful eyes of no less than eight police officers manning one conveyor belt and one security gate.

Shortly after, and somewhat unceremoniously, boarding begins. Our bus pulls up to the rear stairs of the aircraft and I step outside. I try to make my way to the forward door but one of the five police officers guarding the plane won’t let me pass and insists I take the rear door. But then a member of Etihad’s ground crew here in Colombo talks to her and I’m allowed to walk to the forward door.

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The Cabin

I rather like the cabin. I think the design and colours have some serious retro vibe going on, but somehow it works. There are four rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration for a total of 16 seats. Every seat has an AC and USB power port. The aircraft also has wifi, although I don’t actually try it out. The air is very humid tonight and as a result, there is thick mist coming out of the air conditioning system, which is a pretty nifty effect.

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The recline of the seat is good and the seat controls are electric. Stretching my legs is problematic though because of the IFE box under the seat in front of me which takes up a lot of space.

A large blanket, pillow, earphones and the menu have already been placed at the seats. The blanket is rather funky in that one side is in this velvety fake fur material which feels kind of kinky. Now I know what Jane Fonda must have felt like rolling around naked on that fur rug during the opening credits of Barbarella.

The Crew

The crew up front consists of a young man of Pakistani origin and a Chinese young lady. Both of them are friendly and courteous in their manner and give all the passengers a warm greeting as they board the plane.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a hot towel.

Amenities

The flight time to Abu Dhabi is four hours and twenty minutes. Etihad does not provide a full vanity kit on this flight, but they do provide eye shades, socks and earplugs.

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IFE

The IFE is touchscreen enabled and works really very well. The selection is fairly large, but as usual there’s nothing I’d really be interested in watching.

The Meal

… or HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL…
The meal service is a bit of a let down and definitely not on a par with Qatar Airways’ offerings. We start with an aperitif and a bowl of warm nuts.

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The First Course

For the first course I have the Arabic mezze, which basically is a small dollop of hummus, with a huge portion of parsley that’s been drowned in lemon juice and some vegetable pickles and a greasy samosa. The tray is served with a bun, Arabic flat bread and butter. The taste of the food is so so, but the presentation of the tray really is nice.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the Indian chicken and pea curry, which is quite simply disgusting. Yuk! There’s something chewy and green on the plate that tastes of nothing and is hard to bite. The chicken itself is mainly bone and skin and I decide not to touch it. The only edible parts of the meal are the spicy coconut rice and the warm beetroot.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I make the mistake of ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream, which is served with a sablé on top. The only problem is, the ice cream is so cold the sablé is welded to it. I can’t get it off! And the ice cream is so hard I think you could knock somebody unconscious with it if you threw it at them. So I wait a few minutes. But eventually my impatience gets the better of me and I make the fatal mistake of trying to take a spoonful of ice cream.

Next thing I know, the spoon hits the bowl with a clank, and the blob of ice cream slips off to the left and goes flying through the cabin. The whole thing happens in slow motion. I swear I can actually hear the opening chords of Strauss’ ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ and feel the compulsion to ask HAL what’s going on… But then I manage to catch the ball of ice cream with my hand, but the thing is slippery and gets away, eventually landing and sitting in my lap. Well fine. I scoop the ice cream off my groin and when the flight attendant passes my seat next, I tell him to take the ice cream with him. A few minutes later though he returns. Apparently he’s put the blob in the oven to thaw it a bit for me. Which is kind of a nice gesture, only now the ice cream has a faint and very disturbing taste of the curry chicken I refused to eat a short while previously…

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Arrival

But at least the flight passes quickly and before long we’re starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. We land in darkness and then taxi for a very long time to the main apron. We park on a remote stand, but things happen so quick that I don’t really have any time to take any photos before the Business Class bus whisks us off to the terminal.

Conclusion

Of all the flights I’ve done on this trip, I think this one was the most unremarkable one. The crew were friendly enough and very polite but the food really was bad. The seat was okay, But I think a flight time of over four hours is really pushing it for passenger comfort in the premium cabin.

SriLankan, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Kuala Lumpur to Colombo

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Date: 14. April 2017
Departure: 15:05
Arrival: 16:10
Flight time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Seat: 6K

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Introduction

At last, a new airline! This will be my first trip on SriLankan and my first visit to Sri Lanka. I must say, every since K., herself Sri Lankan, engineer extraordinaire and purveyor of incredibly spicy food started working for us as an intern, I’ve been rather curious about Sri Lanka. This will only be a short visit. But I can always go back if I like it.

To get from KL to Colombo I have two options for a nonstop flight, either Malaysia Airlines or SriLankan. Given that both are Oneworld members and the fact that I’ve already sampled Malaysian a couple of times – and wasn’t too impressed – of course my choice would be SriLankan.

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Check-in

Check-in for the flight opens three hours before departure and SriLankan has its counters on row M. There is a dedicated Business Class counter and the young lady behind the desk makes quick work of checking me in. She also prints an invitation for the Plaza Lounge in the satellite terminal.

The journey to the C gates in the satellite is via an automated train that runs partly underground and partly above ground. Alas, the windows are all plastered with stickers, so there’s no photo taking on the journey.

The Plaza Premium Lounge

As a Silver member in BA’s Executive Club I have a number of options for the lounge. I’ve been in the Malaysia lounge and wasn’t too impressed with that either. So in the interest of investigative blogging, or something, I decide to try the Plaza Lounge as envisaged by SriLankan.

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Man, what a big mistake! They’re actually queuing outside the lounge entrance for access. I’m sure there are more people inside this lounge than there are outside right now. This seems to be the lounge for just about all carriers operating out of KL’s satellite that don’t have their own lounge. Them and all the credit card companies that give you lounge access if you’re a respectable shopaholic aka good customer. I think it’s time to leave.

The Cathay Pacific Lounge

Okay, time to head across to the Cathay Pacific lounge which is a) much nicer, b) empty, and c) quiet. The food options are better too. I’m not sure there are toilets or showers in this lounge though.

Boarding

If you’re departing on a flight from KL, the boarding time for your flight will be one hour prior to departure. That’s because the security check takes place at the gate. It also means that usually it’s better not to arrive too early so you won’t have queue or wait too long inside the lounge. Unless of course, you’re the kind of weirdo who’ll arrive early on purpose to take a few shots of the aircraft you’ll be travelling on…

And thank God I did arrive early! Because there’s been an aircraft change. And what a nice one it is too. The scheduled Airbus A 321 narrowbody has been replaced by an Airbus A 330-300 in the new seating configuration. Oh ye might airline gods, how can I ever thank you enough? I shall have to offer my first born as a sacrifice to thank you.

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The Cabin

This is what I call the Cathay Pacific seat, which is basically a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration in a reverse herringbone layout. There’s not quite as much storage space as on the Cathay Pacific seat but other than that, this is still one of my favourite airplane seats out there. My only complaint is that SriLankan have gone for faux leather seat covers and within just a few minutes of sitting down, I’m already starting to feel sticky.

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Earphones, two pillows and a blanket have already been placed at every seat. Originally I’m on 3G, which is an aisle seat. However, as soon as boarding is completed it becomes apparent that the Business Class cabin is going to be everything but full. So I ask the flight attendant if it’s okay for me to change seats and then move back to the window on 6K.

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The Crew

Ah yes, the flight attendants. Bugger me! The crew on this flight is made up of a group of young men and women. And what a good-looking bunch they are too. The men all look rather dapper in their dark blue suits and the ladies are wearing these very elegant looking dresses in a peacock design. And they look gorgeous!

But apart form all that, the crew all seem really friendly and give the impression of being rather happy in their jobs and well, happy to see you as a customer. Which is always nice.

While we’re still on the ground, a welcome drink is served along with a scented hot towel that is so hot I’m sure my epidermis is about to dissolve… Other than that, I notice when the crew place the glasses down they all make sure the airline’s logo on the glass is visible. This is something they continue to pay attention to throughout the flight. Their interaction with the passengers is charming and easy going.

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The Meal

Before departure a menu is handed out and then a flight attendant comes by to take my order. For an aperitif I have a glass of Harvey Bristol cream, which is served with a dish of warm cashews.

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The First Course

For the starter there is a salad of mixed shredded vegetables with sesame seeds, presented with a wasabi and ginger sauce, which is quite tasty and light.

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The Main Course

For the main course I go with the vegetarian option – vegetable biryani with vegetable makhani and a potato and cauliflower masala with raita. This is really very tasty, and I think K. would approve, even if this is nowhere as spicy as the stuff she normally makes.

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The salad is served with a selection from the breadbasket, which is my queue to overdose on the garlic bread again. For dessert there is a fresh fruit, which is the vile and healthy option, and a bread and butter pudding with almond flakes, the sinfully delectable option, which is served with tea.

The Fruit

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Dessert

Bread and butter pudding

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Obviously, this being Ceylon I’m heading for, I decide to go with a Ceylon Early Grey tea to finish off.

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Colombo after a flying time of about three hours. There are quite a few CBs around, so it’s quite a bumpy ride. I’m struck by just how green and lush Sri Lanka looks from above.

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The terminal is fairly busy when we arrive. I make my way to immigration where the friendly immigration officer informs me that I need a visa for Sri Lanka which I should have obtained before arrival. Eventually though, we’re able to resolve the whole thing, I pay the fee and I’m in the country. Something tells me I’m going to like it here…

Conclusion

So what about SriLankan? Well, if I’m perfectly honest I have to say I really like them very much. The seat and cabin were in mint condition and this really is a much nicer way to travel on a three hours sector than on some narrowbody. The food was good too. But most of all, I think what really impressed me were their cabin crew who were really quite charming in the way they went about their business. I wouldn’t mind flying SriLankan again actually.

Oman Air, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Muscat to Kuala Lumpur

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Date: 13. April 2017
Departure: 10:10
Arrival: 20:40
Flight time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Seat: 10A, window

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Transfer in Muscat

Upon entering the terminal building in Muscat, transit passengers turn left and then head up one floor to transit security and the airside area beyond. As in Zürich, the terminal seems very quiet and is certainly calmer than the last time I was here in 2016.

The Lounge

The Oman Air lounge is operated by the same company that runs the Chedi hotel in Muscat and it shows clearly in the design of the lounge. The gentleman at reception informs me that boarding for my flight to Kuala Lumpur will be from inside the lounge.

The lounge is also very quiet, with only a few seats here and there occupied. The lounge has all the amenities one might expect, including toilets and showers on the premises and a spa. Complimentary wifi is also available. Lounge access comes with a 15 minutes complimentary massage.

In theory, the lounge has some excellent views of the apron, but the curtains obstruct the view and I’m not about the make a spectacle of myself by lifting them to take pictures…

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The buffet is excellent!

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Boarding

At 08h20 I go to the boarding desk inside the lounge and the gate agent directs me down the stairs to ground level, where a small mini bus is waiting to take the KL bound passengers to their aircraft.

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Eventually pull up next to an Airbus A 330-300, together with the two regular busses carrying the Economy Class passengers. And then we wait. And we wait. And then we wait some more. Eventually, when our bus does start moving again, it’s to take us back to arrivals. I ask the bus driver what’s up but he’s none the wiser. So I step inside the arrivals hall and ask one of the Oman Air agents there about the status of my flight. To which he tells me to go back upstairs, through security again and then to gate 20 for further information.

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So I do that. At gate 20 nobody really seems to want to be responsible. So I ask some random guy in an Oman Air uniform what’s going on and he tells me that our flight has gone tech. I should return to the lounge and await further instructions. Brilliant! Oh yes, and I’m given the rather funky and very old school Egypt Air transit card. Not quite sure what to do with this though…

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So I return to the lounge and figure I might as well have breakfast. After about thirty minutes in the lounge, the flight to KL is called again and so I head downstairs once more to the waiting bus. This time everything seems to go without a hitch. Eventually we take off form Muscat with a delay of 75 minutes at 10h05.

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The Cabin

The seat on this aircraft is the same as the one on the Boeing B 787-9. Immediately after take-off I change into my running shorts and lie down to have a nap. The seat really is very comfortable and provides ample space, even for a larger person. I am 184cm tall and could stretch out fully. The seat is also wide enough for me not to hit anything or knock something over when I turn.

Every seat is equipped with USB ports and an AC power port.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are much better than the previous lot. You can tell by the ease with which they interact with the passengers and the efficiency with which they complete their pre-departure tasks. To be fair, they’re probably also in a good mood because there are only eight passengers in the Business Class cabin on this flight.

Amenities

The vanity kit is identical to the one I received on the previous flight from Zürich. I think I forgot to mention in my previous post that the kit for men also includes a one-way shaver with shaving cream.

IFE
Once I wake up again, I make a closer inspection of the inflight entertainment system. The selection is sufficiently large, but even so, I think there isn’t a single thing I would actually want to watch. Then again, perhaps there are people who actually do enjoy watching the untalented Mr Gosling trying to make his mind up whether he wants to talk or sing his way through an entire movie…

The First Service

On this flight the service makes a lot more sense than it did on the previous flight and follows the same sequence as my morning flight from Dubai to Amsterdam the week before. Just after departure a small breakfast is served, which I pass on, and then the proper of full meal service takes place before landing in KL.

The Meal

About two and a half hours out of KL passengers are starting to stir from sleep so it’s time for the crew to begin their main service. As on the previous flight, there are four options for the first course, main course and dessert.

Amuse Bouche

Cream cheese and smoked salmon canapés.

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The Soup

Cream of asparagus. It’s served with a cheese stick and lemon, which goes surprisingly well with the fine taste. There’s also something spicy in there to give the soup a bit of a zing.

The Salad

Seasonal salad with vinaigrette.

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The Main Course

Linguine pasta with a creamy pesto and parmesan shavings. The main course is tasty, although the pasta is definitely overcooked, which is normally the case when you have pasta on a plane.

Dessert

Ice cream selection with pistachios and chocolate sauce.

Arrival

We land in KL at around 20h40, more than an hour later than our scheduled arrival time. The approach is pretty spectacular. There are storm cells in the vicinity of the airport and with the darkness around us, the bursts of lighting look pretty impressive!

Conclusion

Okay. On this flight Oman Air definitely managed to redeem themselves after last night’s rather unpleasant flight from Zürich to Muscat. The delay was not such a major issue for me and we were only a bit more than an hour late arriving in KL. However, I do think the staff on the ground could have handled the situation much better. No information was given at any time unless you explicitly asked for it, which is obviously not the way to do it in case of an irregularity. All in all, Oman Air is a nice little airline but they lack polish and professionalism in my opinion.