Date: 31. August 2016. Departure: 09:35. Arrival: 10:10. Flight time: 35 minutes. Seat: 15F, then 9A.
Lugano airport is located in a narrow valley, closed in by steep hills on three sides. In addition, the lake just south of the airport puts further limitations on the length of the runway. As a result, even SWISS’ Avro RJ100 is still too large and too heavy to operate safely in and out of Lugano. For a while, service to and from Lugano were operated by Darwin on behalf of SWISS. But then once Darwin was rebranded as Etihad regional, there was no way the relationship could continue and eventually, the route was taken over by Austrian Airlines who operate the Q400 on the route.
And so I find myself on my way to Zürich early on a Sunday morning to catch an Austrian Airlines flight from Zürich to Lugano.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Train. Departure: 06h33 from Basel Main Station. Arrival: 07h47 at Zürich Flughafen. Journey time: 1 hour and 14 minutes, including the transfer at Zürich Main Station.
Facilities: Web check-in via the SWISS app. Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. Advanced seat reservation is possible against payment on the SWISS website or web app.
The Passbook app does not really work well for SWISS. The whole point about Passbook should be that the boarding pass appears on your lock screen. So that you only need to swipe the screen to display the pass, rather than having to type your PIN code each time. But for some reason that never seems to work with SWISS.
Location: Upper level of the airside terminal. Type of Lounge: SWISS and Star Alliance Business Class lounge operated by Swissport on behalf of SWISS. Facilities: Toilets and showers, computer workstations, newspaper rack. Catering: For a change, there is a fairly decent breakfast spread, with different types of bread, cold cuts, Müsli and a fruit salad. Internet: Available in the lounge and in the terminal, courtesy of the airport authority.
At least for once the place is empty and looks fairly tidy. Two things strike me as I wolf down my croissant. First, the lounge is starting to look dated. SWISS’ branding has not really aged very well and what was once cool simplicity is starting to look worn and plain drab. And secondly, have the staff here actually received any training? None of them are actually doing anything. Instead, two of them are discussing a roster swap while the three Latinos are having a bit of an argument in Spanish about some guy who is, and they all agree here, a bit ‘tonto’ and a bit ‘loco’. Seriously? If it were not for them, the place would be nice and quiet…
We are boarding from gate A55, which is a bus gate on the ground floor. I count 40 passengers on the bus, which is more than I had been expecting for such a flight on Sunday morning.
Configuration: 2 + 2. Seat: The Q400 has a seating capacity of 76 in Austrian Airlines’ configuration. Pitch: 30 inches. Width: 17 inches. Facilities: None to mention really, but there is a coat hook.
Originally, I am on 15F, which is a window seat. But the guy next to me seems to be needing a lot of space, which is kind of strange considering he is not really such a big guy. But fortunately for me, there are still a few rows left empty by the time boarding is completed. And so I move forward to 9A, which is also a window seat.
There is a Business Class cabin on the aircraft. Business Class seats have a headrest cover, which the Economy Class seats do not have.
There are two cabin crew working the flight today. The flight is operated with Austrian Airlines crew, which is why the two ladies are dressed in that carrier’s rather trashy red uniform.
Type of meal: Snack. Meal:
Still water (a Swiss brand)
Small bar of chocolate.
To be honest, I am rather surprised they serve anything at all, given that the flight time is only 30 minutes. But in any case, the chocolate hits the spot nicely.
We fly a circuitous route around the mountains on our descent into Lugano. Eventually, we fly into the valley from the south, coming in over the lake. We then make a wide left hand turn to line up with the runway and land in a southerly direction.
‘Dinky’ is the best word I can think of to describe Lugano airport. It is just so small. It is probably one of the few airports I have ever been to where you can get the entire arrivals and departures areas in one shot.
Vienna is a very pleasant place to be. The city is laid out very generously and the many buildings that date back to the city’s imperial history are quite splendid. And so I decide to walk to the academy this morning.
At noon the course comes to a close and according to the original plan, I should now be heading home to Switzerland. But something has cropped up and I urgently need to be in the Canary Islands by Saturday morning. Given that the course in Vienna only ends at noon, my best option is to return to Zürich on the Austrian Airlines ticket I am holding and then to continue to Spain from there.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Train – CAT nonstop train or the suburban line 7. Journey time: 16 to 25 minutes, depending on which train you take. Departs from: Wien Hauptbahnhof. Arrives: Wien Flughafen. Frequency: The CAT departs at 06 and 36 past the hour from the city. Cost: EUR4.30 for a oneway ticket. The CAT train that makes the journey from the city to the airport in only 16 minutes and will set you back EUR12 for a oneway ticket or EUR19 for a return.
Location: Terminal 3, counters 331 to 368. Facilities: Airport check-in, self-service check-in, online and app check-in. Counters: There are separate counters for Business and STAR Gold passengers.
By the time I reach the airport it is already 14h30 and my flight to Zürich is expected to start boarding at 14h55. So I quickly drop off my suitcase and head for security. Fortunately, the airport is not very busy at this time of day and there are no queues at the bags drop off or at security. I shall be eating the on the plane, so I figure I might as well skip the lounge and go straight to the lounge.
Separate boarding for Business Class passengers, status card holders, families with children and passengers requiring assistance. Once they are all on board, there are not that many passengers left really… There is a slight delay for the boarding process to commence, and as a result we loose our original slot for departure. Eventually, by the time we push back from our stand we are already running a bit more than thirty minutes late.
Configuration: 3 + 3 Seat: The Airbus A 320 has a seating capacity of 168 in a mixed Business Class/Economy Class configuration. Pitch: 30 inches. Width: 18 inches. Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlets and no overhead screens.
There are three female and one male cabin crew on the flight to Zürich this afternoon. The three ladies are very friendly and obviously get along with each other. So the atmosphere in the cabin is relaxed and laid back. The male cabin crew also seems friendly, but very serious and reserved.
For EUR15 you have the possibility to pre-order a meal on European flights in Economy Class, and there is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes available. Catering for Austrian Airlines is provided by Do&Co.
Potato and cucumber salads
This meal really is just so good. Seriously, the chicken has miraculously managed not to dry up completely and the cucumber and potato salad is really tasty. But the piece de resistance is certainly the excellent chocolate mousse. It is so rich and creamy!
I normally do not recognise all that much on the ground. But today I am lucky and we are treated to an excellent view of the city of Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls nearby.
Eventually we land with a delay of fifteen minutes. By the time I have retrieved my suitcase, it is already 17h30. I now have just over one hour to dump this suitcase in a locker and retrieve my rucksack from another locker I deposited it in before I left for Vienna.
Transferring in Munich is easy enough. My flight to Vienna will be leaving at 19h25 and is boarding from gate G 38.
Available but a bit useless. The first boarding call is for Business Class passengers and Senators only, which seems a bit superfluous given that a bus will be taking us to the aircraft. So priority basically means that you get to choose the best seats on the bus…
Configuration: 2 + 3 Seat: 15A, window seat on the row of two. The seat looks rather nice and the dark colours give the cabin a very classy appearance. It looks as though Austrian has refurbished its F 100s. The overhead bins for example have a much more modern look and feel compared to KLM’s F 70s. Having said that, the capacity of the overhead bins is limited in comparison to KLM. And as a result, this being a full flight, passengers and crew are having difficulties finding enough space in the cabin to store the copious amounts of luggage people have carted on board. Pitch: 30 inches. Width: 17 inches.
There are three female cabin crew on this flight. And to be honest, all three of them exude the warmth and charm of a corpse. The most senior one of the three witches of Eastwick is standing at the door to welcome passengers as they board. At least that is what I think she should have been doing. But in actual fact she is standing there eyeballing the passengers with this serious couldn’t-give-a-fuck expression on her face. She also seems to have lost her ability to speak somewhere along the way. I say ‘hello’ when she looks at me and I all I get in return is another glare and silence. Oh yes, she’s definitely a really class act this one.
The meal consists of a small packed of savoury biscuits and a cup of still water.
Fortunately, our flight time is only 40 minutes and we land in Vienna right on time at 20h20. Unfortunately, it is going to be yet another bus to the terminal. I wait for all the other passengers to disembark before I get up to collect all my stuff and put on my coat. Obviously, by this time the bus is completely packed. There are still passengers standing around on the apron trying to figure out where to sit. And that includes me. Not that the crew or the bus driver could give a shit.
Getting to the Hotel
I shall be leaving Vienna again fairly early tomorrow morning, so I will not bother to go into the city. The NH Hotel is located just a short distance from the terminal and is easily accessed via the subway that leads to the airport’s railway station. Just follow the signs marked ‘Hotel’.
Lufthansa, whatever happened to you? I mean, I know it has been a while since my last intra-European flight with the Lufthansa group. Even so, I really am quite amazed at how service standards have deteriorated – even by Economy Class standards. On the Lufthansa flight from Luxembourg to Munich the crew were anonymous and completely exchangeable, there was nothing about them that made you think ‘ah yes, this is what I like about Lufthansa’. And I assume that is probably because it is not even really Lufthansa anymore. The aircraft was branded as Lufthansa Group and an announcement was made that apparently the flight was operated by Germanwings. God who pays the crew’s salary. The overall effect though, is of a totally soulless and undefined carrier that really does not in any way stand out from the competition and probably even looses in some areas, like inflight service, when compared to operators like Easyjet.
And Austrian Airlines are simply bizarre. I just do not understand. Their crews are like the aeronautical equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On long-haul flights I find that Austrian Airlines really shines and its crews are something else. But on European short-haul they just suck very much.
A while back I abandoned Lufthansa and Miles & More, mainly because I could achieve Platinum status with Air France and Silver status with British Airways with only half the effort it takes to remain a Senator. Unfortunately, my experience with Lufthansa and Austrian on these two short flights did nothing to make me want to reconsider and return to the fold.
So long Lufthansa, it was nice while it lasted but all good things must come to an end…
I have one hour before my flight to Basel departs. Fortunately there are not that many people at the airport and so I manage to quickly clear immigration and security. Since my last visit to Vienna last summer, they appear to have improved the signage. Or maybe it is just me and I am getting used to the place. Even so, I really cannot help but wonder who on earth designed this facility? It does not even feel like an airport. Instead, the narrow aisles and long corridors give the impression of walking aimlessly in the Ministry of Truth. You turn the corner and expect to find yourself standing by the door to room 101. The worst thing in the world.
Location: Uhm, good question. Just follow the signs for the G gates and then you should find the lounge. There is a common entrance to the lounge. The Business Class area is to the left and the Star Gold section is to the right. Type of Lounge: Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge. Facilities: Business centre, toilets in the lounge, no showers, a small selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks, newspapers and magazine. Internet: Wifi is available throughout the terminal building. No password required.
What with it being Easter Sunday, the lounge is fairly quiet. There are only a few people here and there. The food options are somewhat limited, not that I am hungry after all the food we were served on the plane.
Priority Boarding: Boarding is from Gate F 13, which is the same gate at which my flight from Narita arrived. In fact the aircraft is still standing there. In any case, our aircraft for the short hop to Basel is parked at a remote stand, so we are having to take a bus to the aircraft.
When eventually the bus pulls up on a remote stand, I am surprised to find there has been an aircraft change and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400, the flight will now be operated by the larger Fokker 70. I take my time to get on board the aircraft – I am sitting at the very front anyway – which gives me the chance to take a few pictures of my aircraft and watch the other action on the ramp.
Configuration: 1 + 2 Seat: European style Economy Class seating, with the adjacent seat being kept empty in Business Class. Pitch: 30’. Width: 17’. Facilities: Reading lamp, air vents.
There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight and there are only two passengers. Seating on the Fokker 70 is 2 + 3, although on Austrian Airlines the adjacent seat is kept empty to provide more space. Thus, on the left hand side, the two-seater, the aisle seat is blocked, while on the right hand side, the middle seat in the row of three is blocked.
Just a word of warning: on Austrian Airlines’ Fokker 70 you should try to avoid sitting on row 1 because while the pitch is the same as in the rest of the aircraft, not being able to stick your legs under the seat in front seriously limits leg space.
There are two cabin crew on the flight. They seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly gushing. But I do not think it is a question of them just doing the job and nothing else, they just both seem very reserved.
Welcome drink on the ground: None. Hot towel before the meal: None. Pre-meal drink: None. Choice: None. Delivery: Tray service. Type of meal: Snack.
Fish in a batter, on potato salad, corn salad and tomato.
Selection from the breadbasket.
Chocolate mousse with cherries.
Milka Easter Bunny.
The contrast in service between Austrian Airlines’ long- and short-haul operations never quite seizes to amaze me. While the meals on the flight from Tokyo to Vienna were opulent, on this short-haul flight to Basel service is kept to the absolute minimum.
One way or another, the meal is quite tasty. Especially the chocolate mousse is delicious and rich.
Our routing takes us past lake Constance and north of Zürich airport to approach Basel airport from the east. You can see the airport below on the right hand side of the aircraft. Approaches are from the south this afternoon, which means we continue for a short distance past the airport heading west, before eventually doing a left turn and heading south, away from the airport. Two more left turns later and we are lined up for the approach pointing north. I like this approach because it means we will be coming in over the city of Basel. Fortunately the weather has cleared and it is a beautiful afternoon.
That was fun. Admittedly, it was rather a short trip but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. This was now my sixteenth visit to Japan and I still have not had enough yet. What I did notice about myself on this trip is that the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese and their culture no longer have the power to intimidate or confuse me. What I do not know, is whether this is due to the fact that the Japanese are becoming more relaxed in their dealings with foreigners or if perhaps I have simply become accustomed to their ways.
Transport: Narita Express train. Departs from: Yokohama station. Frequency: Roughly every 90 minutes but varies depending on the time of day. Journey time: 1 hour and 48 minutes. Fare: ¥4290 one way including mandatory seat reservation.
In Yokohama I am staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. I leave the hotel just after 06h30 in the morning and head across the street to the Queen’s Twin Towers. It is only a five minutes walk from the hotel to the subway station at Minatomirai on the subway line that goes by the same name. It is two stops from Minatomirai to Yokohama Station, although the express trains do not stop at the station in between and go nonstop to Yokohama Station.
At Yokohama I change to the JR Lines network. The Narita Express will be leaving at 07h28 from platform 10. What always impresses me about Japanese trains is that there are markers along the platform indicating the number of each carriage and the position of the doors of that particular carriage. The impressive thing is that the system has never failed in sixteen visits I have made to Japan over the years. And I still have not figured out how they manage to stop the trains so accurately.
Location: Terminal 1, south wing, row B, departures level on the fourth floor; row B is right by the escalators as you come up from the station in the basement. Facilities: Web check-in or dedicated check-in counters. Counters: Dedicated Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS Business Class counters, the staff are from ANA.
There are hardly any people when I arrive at row B and I am seen to straight away. The check-in agent issues my boarding passes to Vienna and then Basel, points me in the right direction for security and wishes me a pleasant journey. It is a very quick and efficient process.
Security is at the opposite end of row B and there is a dedicated fast track for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers. Here too there are only few passengers and I am through security without having to queue. I forget to remove my liquids from the bag, but nobody seems to notice. Or perhaps that is not a requirement here in Japan.
From Security I head one floor down to immigration.
Location: Behind immigration, one floor down from the gates level. The escalators leading down to the lounge are at the far end of the concourse, opposite gate 43. Type of Lounge: ANA Lounge. Facilities: Meeting rooms, work area, toilets and showers in the lounge, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes, a bar with beer on tap, a noodle bar with a selection of staple Japanese fare. Internet: Wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.
God I am starving. It was still early when I left Yokohama this morning. I did manage to grab a cappuccino and a small sandwich, but that was barely enough to tie me over until we reach Narita.
So once I find a place to sit, I head over to the noodle bar and order myself a bowl of curry Udon, which hit the spot nicely.
The ANA Business Class lounge is nice. It is more functional than elegant, but that is okay. My only complaint is that there are no windows and subsequently no views of the aircraft outside.
Priority Boarding: I arrive at the gate just after 10h30 and boarding has just started. The first call is for Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 2 + 2 + 2 on even numbered rows. Pitch: 48 inches. Width: 19.37 inches. Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet. Length as a bed: 78 inches. Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand.
Austrian Airlines has 48 seats installed in Business Class on the Boeing B 777-200. I am not sure if this is exactly the same seat that SWISS has installed in its Business Class cabin, but if not, the seat is certainly very similar.
The appearance of the cabin is nice enough and the combination of blue and red gives the cabin a cheerful look and feel. The seat is comfortable in the sitting position, but is somewhat tight in the extended, lying position. Furthermore, if you are sitting in the seat while you extend it into the lying position, beware. At some point your legs are likely to get in the way.
There are two Business Class cabins on this aircraft. The larger cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors, the smaller one, which only has three rows, is located right after the L2 door. Today’s flight is very full in Business Class. In fact, at some point during the flight I take a look at the rear Business Class cabin, only to find that it is completely empty. And even in the main cabin there are still quite a few empty seats.
The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.
Probably due to the relatively light load, the ratio of cabin crew to passengers is outstanding on this flight. During the service I count three cabin crew for each of the two aisles. Like most European carriers, Austrian Airlines has Japanese staff working on the flight.
The crew are very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. Their attention to details is quite outstanding. Originally, I am seated on 4C, the aisle. But then one of the flight attendants informs me that 5A, a throne seat, will remain empty and I am more than welcome to change. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin to check on passengers and make sure they are okay.
Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, sparkling wine or water. The orange juice comes with a slice of orange in it. Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented hot towels – but they are rather flimsy. Pre-meal drink: Almdudler, an Austrian non-alcoholic drink made with herbs. Choice: There are two Western choices and two Japan-inspired choices for the main course. Appearance: The starter is served from a trolley, so passengers can pick and choose as they please. Type of meal: Lunch. Menu: There is a food and beverage menu and a separate menu for coffees.
Antipasti from the trolley: smoked salmon with cream cheese, volcano ham and mountain cheese, traditional sweet pepper and ricotta spread, deep fried cauliflower with sauce tartar.
Beef consommé with butter dumpling.
The Main Course
Grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.
Warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).
If you’re still not done…
Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.
This meal is excellent! In fact it was so good I find it slightly irritating because this Business Class meal is far, far better than the grub I was served in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Haneda!
Where to begin? First of all, I really like the selection of antipasti that is available. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Austrian Airlines has gone for the good quality stuff. The smoked salmon is not at all fishy and has a rich, smoky taste; the ham is not at all chewy and the tartar sauce is subtle and balanced.
The main course is excellent and I find myself a) seriously wondering if I have ever had such a nice piece of meat on a plane before and b) if it would be rude to ask for a second helping. First of all, the pork has managed to stay juicy, even in the middle. The meat has a nice grilled flavour to it and the gravy it is served with is simply delicious. The dumpling that comes with it is just heaven. Enough said.
By the time I am through, I have more or less decided to skip dessert. I really do not think I can face anything else. But then the trolley reaches my row and I swear I can hear the apricot strudel calling out to me. The truffle cake is so rich my tongue is more or less glued to the top of my mouth. What a taste! Thank God for the whipped cream to dilute this hefty, moist revelation…
The apricot strudel is still warm when it is placed before me, and so is the vanilla sauce. I really do not know what to say, except perhaps ‘can I have some more…?’.
What also impresses about the crew is the efficiency and timing of the service. The meal does not feel rushed at all, but at the same time there is never a long wait in between courses.
Eventually the dishes are cleared away, one of the cabin crew brings me a bottle of still water and I settle in. I am already looking forward to the next meal!
Around half way between Narita and Vienna the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks. I have some fruit and an Onigiri. To drink the crew has orange juice and apple juice on offer. However, when she reaches my row, the flight attendant assures me that obviously she will be very glad to bring me anything else I would like to drink!
The Second Service
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, another flimsy scented affair. Delivery: Trolley service. Choice: There are two options for the main course.
Ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.
Chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.
Eventually we land in Vienna just a few minutes ahead of schedule and a rather pleasant experience with Austrian Airlines draws to an end. And what did I think of Austrian Airlines? The service was attentive, quite impeccable. The crew were friendly and approachable. The catering is something else and I really do think the quality and the selection available in Austrian Airlines’ Business Class puts to shame Lufthansa’s offering in First Class.
On the downside, I have certain reservations about the seat. If you are sitting on one of the single seats, there is ample storage space and somehow you are able to squeeze in and out of the seat when it is in the fully extended position. However, if you are sitting at by the window on one of the double seats, I seriously think you might have trouble getting in and out of the seat without disturbing your neighbour. The pitch is awfully tight. I am only 6’2 and even I was having trouble fitting my legs in the space provided. Apart from that, to be honest, it does kind of feel like what I imagine lying in a coffin is like.
The flight from Bangkok arrives at 05:45, we’re on time. I now have nearly four hours to make my connection to Luxembourg at 09:30. I’m rather curious to see if the transfer will be easier this time.
Transfer in Vienna – take I
Our aircraft has parked at the very beginning of the G concourse. So after I exit the airbridge and turn left, it’s only a short walk to the immigration counters. My flight to Luxembourg will be leaving from the B concourse in the old terminal. But I’m not really sure if there is a lounge facility there and I do still have quite a wait. So instead I follow the signs to the F concourse, which is the Schengen area of the new terminal. To access the Schengen area I have to go through a security check, as I’m arriving from overseas. So far so good.
When I checked in at Bangkok airport I was issued my boarding pass for the onward connection to Luxembourg. While the boarding pass for the first leg from Bangkok to Vienna showed my Senator status, the boarding pass for the onward leg only shows that I am a Miles and More member. Presumably this has something to do with Luxair’s somewhat odd status as a Miles and More airline that is not part of the Star Alliance.
The Austrian Airlines Senator Lounge
Location: on the F concourse Type of Lounge: Austrian Airlines Senator lounge, there is one reception area that serves the HON lounge, Senator lounge and Business Class lounge Facilities: hot and cold food and drink, workstations, showers (for HONs and Senators only) Internet: wifi provided by Vienna Airport, no password required
The lounge is fairly busy when I arrive just after six in the morning. After a short while though, the place empties rather quickly until eventually there’s barely anybody there except me.
Transfer in Vienna, take II
What a labyrinth! About 40 minutes before departure I decide to venture out in search of my gate on the B concourse. With the experience of the outbound journey still fresh in my mind I figure it might take me a while to find my way. And indeed, the route to the B concourse is complicated and entirely counter intuitive and sees me first going up one escalator, around a few corners and then down another escalator before eventually, without really knowing how, I’m landside again. I keep on walking until I finally arrive in the old terminal. I scan my boarding pass and I am airside once more. I even manage to find the B concourse, where of course I have to go through security again. I ask some young chap in an Austrian Airlines uniform if there’s a lounge anywhere, and he informs me that there is, but I’ll have to go back through security again to get there.
Boarding is via a bus gate. As usual it pays to be patient. 64 passengers squeeze into the first, hot bus. It leaves for the aircraft and another bus duly arrives to pick up the remaining four passengers…
Configuration: 3 + 3 Seat: staggered rows, European standard Business Class with the middle seat left empty Facilities: none Audio and Video: audio and video available, only the moving map are in use on today’s flight.
There’s been another last minute aircraft change, and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400 it’s now a Boeing B737-700 that will be operating the flight. I’m not quite sure why though, as I overhear the purser telling the captain that the headcount is correct at 69 + 2, which should fit into a Dash-8. As it happens, it’s even exactly the same aircraft I had on the outbound.
The crew on this service are much friendlier and warmer than their colleagues on the outbound. Maybe I was just unlucky that time. But this lot is much better.
Pre departure drinks: no Pre meal drinks: no Delivery: individually served trays Type of meal: brunch Menu: there is a menu for the drinks and food
butter, strawberry jam and apricot jam
grilled tomato slices
The meal is a big surprise and a vast improvement over what was served on the outbound. I like the breadbasket in particular. It’s rather a substantial meal, especially given that the flight time is only slightly more than one hour.
We arrive in Luxembourg slightly ahead of schedule. For a change we make our approach right over the city, coming in fairly low. I don’t have long to wait for my suitcase.
I shall be staying at the Doubletree again. There’s a shuttle available and if you call enough in advance, they’ll even come and pick you up from the airport.
This flight was a vast improvement over my previous experience in Luxair Business Class. Given the short duration of the flight you’d think there could hardly be any differences, which makes this flight all the more surprising. It’s probably a combination of things. First of all, the food was much more to my liking than on the outbound. Secondly, the crew simply seemed more genuine in the way they welcomed the passengers aboard. And that makes a huge difference.
I’m in a bit of a state today, I must confess. On Sunday evening I visited the Peninsula’s gym for a workout. The gym they have there is rather well equipped and what’s more, I had the place all to myself. But I think I may have overdone it, because this morning I’m feeling decidedly sore all over. So I decide to spend my last day in Bangkok lounging by the pool and generally taking it easy.
Honest, I used sunblock, I kept my t-shirt on most of the time when I was out of the water and I sat in the shade in one of those cute little mini cabanas. And still I managed to get a really bad sunburn.
Occupancy at the Peninsula is rather low right now. For one, because the rain season is about to begin, so not that many tourists visit around this time of year anyway. For another, no matter how much calmer the situation is since the Junta took over, the political unrest has certainly had an impact on the number of visitors to the capital.
But for me all this is good news, because it means I am granted late check-out from the hotel at 20:00.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: BMW 7 Journey time: 30 minutes – a new record, it can take you as much as an hour and sometimes even a bit more when there is no curfew in place Cost: included in the room rate
The problem with big German cars is that they’re really very quiet and you barely notice the speed at which you’re actually going. At least that is the only explanation I have for making it from the Peninsula to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport in 30 minutes flat! And I really don’t think the driver was speeding. It’s 20:30 and the curfew doesn’t come into effect until midnight.
Five minutes before we reach the airport, the driver calls ahead to let the hotel’s porter at the airport know that we’ll be arriving shortly. And indeed, as we pull up outside the entrance for check-in row G, he’s already expecting us. The chauffeur opens the door, wishes me a pleasant journey and bids me good bye.
The nice thing about staying at a hotel like the Peninsula is that once we enter the building, the porter makes a beeline for the Austrian Airlines Business Class counter, as though it doesn’t even occur to him that I might be travelling in Economy. Well, fortunately I’m not.
Location: row G, which is also where Lufthansa and Swiss check-in, the staff manning the Austrian Airlines counter is wearing a Lufthansa uniform Facilities: I get an e-mail inviting me to do web check-in, despite the fact it won’t work for my connecting flight from Vienna to Luxembourg.
The porter places my suitcase on the scales and waits patiently in the background until I’ve finished. He then accompanies me to the security check, where he bids me goodbye and takes his leave.
There are various security checkpoints at Suvarnabhumi airport. To access the Premium Lane, you must obtain a voucher from your airline at check-in. Immediately behind security is immigration.
Location: one floor down from check-in Type of Lounge: Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Star Gold) Facilities: various food stations serving a wide selection of hot and cold European and Asian dishes, workstations, wide selection of papers and magazines Internet: good wifi connection, password required
As you come out of passport control 2, you will find yourself in front of a huge piece of artwork, which depicts a scene from Siam’s ancient mythology.
If you want to do some shopping, this is the place to be, with many designer shops on both sides of the hall. The artwork kind of marks the halfway point, so don’t worry that you might be missing some of the good shops on the other side, they’re the same ones.
Keep walking east. At some point you will come across the signs for the Thai Airways lounges on your left. These will lead you to an escalator which takes you one floor down. As you come off the escalator you will find yourself right in front of the reception area of the Royal Silk lounge.
The lounge is positively enormous. So far I’ve only ever used the First Class lounge in Bangkok, which is already rather large. But this is huge. I did at some point intend to take some pictures, but eventually I figured it made no sense, because the pictures can hardly do justice to the size and length of the lounge.
There is quite a variety of choice in terms of food options. I go with some sticky rice and tandoori chicken. This being Thailand, when you have tandoori chicken it’s actually rather spicy, not like the lame stuff they often have in airline lounges.
Priority Boarding: Yes and no. Bangkok uses closed gates. From what I can tell there’s no priority lane for Business Class passengers to access the gate. However, once boarding starts, premium passengers are invited to board first. There is a dedicated airbridge for Business Class passengers.
The exit from the Thai Airways lounge is near gate D01, my flight this evening will be departing from gate D07. It doesn’t sound like much of a trek, but given that every one of these gates is capable of handling a B747, they are generously spaced out. By the time I reach the gate area, most of the regular passengers have already boarded. From what I can tell only the staff travellers are still in the gate area, waiting to find out if they got a seat or not.
Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1 Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’ Width: 19.37’ Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality
The Business Class cabin is completely full this evening, not an empty seat to be had. Later on, during the flight I go check out the little mini Business Class cabin behind the galley, and there too every seat is taken.
But apart from that, this seat is really growing on me. It’s very comfortable and there’s plenty of stowage space. My only complaint about the seat is that the mechanism to open and close the tray table is a bit cumbersome and not at all intuitive.
Okay Austrian, you win! As on the outbound flight, the crew this evening are really excellent, very friendly and charming. The young ladies working the Business Class cabin are doing a great job in attending to the passengers. There is one tall girl in particular who is all smiles, competent and efficient. Nothing every seems to be too much trouble and what ever request you have, she takes care of it immediately.
Pre departure drinks: yes, I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail Pre meal drinks: yes, another OJ and a glass of water, served with a dish of nuts Choice: three choices for the first course, four choices for the main, five choices for dessert Delivery: individual service, separately laid out table Type of meal: dinner Menu: there is a menu for the drinks and food plus another menu for the coffees
Red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croûtons. I start with the red lentil soup, which is very rich and tasty. The ciabatta croûtons give the soup an interesting twist. In fact I would say the soup is truly outstanding.
Potpourri of smoked salmon carpaccio with capers, chives and crème fraîche, a thick slice of salmon with grilled fennel and lemon, a thin slice of salmon with a sauce Hollondaise on a bed of frisée salad. The salmon starter is also good, although the tartar is a bit bland and doesn’t really taste of anything much, other than salmon. But the Hollondaise sauce with the thinly sliced piece of salmon is very good.
At some point during the meal the tall flight attendant approaches me and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. Eventually she ends up convincing me to try Almdudler, a very typically Austrian soft drink made of herbs from the Alps. It’s rather interesting and reminds me a bit of the Kinnie we have in Malta or the Italian Chinotto, but less bitter and not quite so strong. Later on during the meal she stops at my seat to inquire if I like the Almdudler and if I’d perhaps like another.
The Main Course
Fillet of beef with a sesame and soy chutney, green asparagus, red pepper coulis and potato terrine.
Austrian bread and butter pudding, chocolate cake, macadamia nut parfait
I still can’t decide which is my favourite, the macadamia nut parfait or the bread and butter pudding. Don’t get me wrong, the chocolate cake is also very good, but ultimately, after such a meal, it’s just a bit too rich for me. The dessert, once more, is an absolute delight. It really is quite amazing how they manage to pack so much flavour into each dish, particularly given that your sense of taste is considerably diminished at an altitude of 39’000 feet.
I’ve already changed into my shorts and a t-shirt. So once the meal is over, I slide my seat into bed mode and go off to sleep. Once more I manage a solid six hours of peaceful respite, despite the fact that my back is still quite sore from the sunburn. I awake just under two hours out of Vienna.
The Second Service
a bowl of fresh fruit
a selection of breads
an omelette with mushrooms, mozzarella, a spinach-filed tomato and toast
coffee, orange juice, mango smoothie
As soon as the tall flight attendant becomes aware of the fact that I’m awake, she brings me a hot towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I decide to go with the mango smoothie, which is pleasantly sweet, rich and creamy.
We arrive in Vienna bang on time. It’s just gone 05h45 and the place is still fairly quiet. I make my way through security and then from there up to the Austrian Airlines Senator Lounge in the Schengen area. Now all I have to do is wait for my onward connection.
Once more Austrian Airlines manages to impress me with the quality of the food, the comfort of the seat and, above all, the professionalism and courtesy of the crew. From what I can tell Austrian Airlines has really understood what it means to cater to the business traveller. The service is swift and the crew is friendly but without being intrusive. Now let’s see about transferring in Vienna…
I just arrived in Vienna on a Luxair flight from Luxembourg. I now have nearly four hours to make my connection to Bangkok.
Transfer in Vienna
The flight from Luxembourg is operated as a code-share with Austrian Airlines. Even so, the bus from the aircraft to the terminal eventually drops us off at the C arrivals concourse, which is in one of the two wings of the old terminal.
And this is where things start to get a bit confusing. Upon entering the building, I follow the signs to the G gates, from where apparently my flight to Bangkok will be leaving. There is a shuttle that runs from the arrivals area C to the G gates. However, this only runs every 15 minutes and the service is provided by a little minibus.
When I arrive at the pick up point for the shuttle, there are already quite a few people waiting. As a result, when eventually the shuttle arrives, only about a quarter of the queue find a place on the shuttle.
One of the passengers starts telling off the driver and the two of them start having an argument right there, outside, on the ramp and in front of everybody. Eventually the driver storm off, gets into the driver’s seat and drives off in a huff, leaving all the passengers who didn’t find a place in the shuttle standing there on the ramp unattended.
Well this is just rubbish me thinks, so eventually I decide that probably the easiest thing will be to follow the signs marked ‘Exit Vienna’ and then to find my way to the new terminal landside. Much to my surprise though, just before I finally reach the exit there is yet another sign marked for the G gates. So I figure I might just give this a try. After all, I still have a few hours before my next flight.
At long last I arrive at a passport control. For a moment I’m not sure if this is really to leave or to enter the Schengen area. But I pass through the check anyway, continue walking and eventually arrive at a security checkpoint, despite the fact that I’m transiting from another Schengen country, which should in fact not require me to go through security again. But in the sum of all things, that is just a minor issue and finally I find myself in the G concourse.
You know how sometimes you see or experience something and wonder ‘what on earth were they thinking’? Well, at Vienna airport it’s really more a question of ‘were they actually thinking’? And it’s not just the cumbersome transfer either. Everything in the new facility seems very cheaply made, giving the entire place the unfinished air of a temporary installation.
My suitcase has been checked through to Bangkok. I was also issued a Luxair boarding pass for my onward connection when I checked in at Luxembourg airport. Which means I can head straight for the lounge.
Location: at the beginning of the G concourse Type of Lounge: Austrian Airlines Senator lounge Facilities: small rest area with loungers to lie on, showers, three workstations with computers Internet: Vienna airport network, which is in fact very fast and works nicely
Austrian Airlines has three lounges: a Business Class lounge, Senator lounge and the Hon Lounge. There is a common reception area for the lounges, which is also where the lavatories and showers are located.
I arrive in the middle of a bitch fight going on between two of the three lounge dragons. One of them wants to know who let ‘that woman’ into the Hon lounge, who quite evidently should not be there. To which the other replies that she has simply no idea, despite the fact that she always has to do all the dirty work. Charming!
The lounge is quite small. But that’s alright really because the place is hardly crowded. In fact it looks rather abandoned.
At this time of the day the food options don’t really looks that appetizing anymore either. But apart from that, all the food seems rather greasy. As a warm dish there’s something that looks like macaroni cheese and for the two cold dishes there’s a potato salad with way too much mayonnaise and grilled aubergines drowned in an oily tomato sauce.
Priority Boarding: Yes. Vienna has automatic gates. However, there is a priority lane for premium passengers. There are also two airbridges attached to the aircraft, with the left one being for Business Class passengers.
Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1 Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’ Width: 19.37’ Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality
All in all the seat is rather nice. It’s very similar to Swiss’ product in Business Class. Austrian Airlines has evidently put a lot of thought into how to make the best of the available space. Of course it helps that I’m sitting on one of the single seats which have stowage space on both sides of the seat. But it’s also little things like the shoe net for you to place shoes during the flight or the bottle holders on either side of the screen, which incidentally are also rather handy for your iPhone.
The seat is very comfortable. The only thing I can complain about is that it’s a bit tight when you try to convert to seat into a bed. I’m a rather average 6’1 and my legs kept getting in the way. Once the seat has been expanded into a bed though, it’s not a problem any more.
When I arrive at my seat, the vanity kit has already been placed there.
Excellent! I have rarely come across such a professional crew. They are quite a stark contrast to the OS crews I experienced earlier in the year on my trip to Cyprus. The crew on today’s flight are all very friendly and welcoming. The service is impeccable but without being fussy and you get the impression that the crew are making a point to give the passengers as much personal space as they can but without ignoring them. Another thing which really strikes me, I am a linguist after all, is the very high level of English spoken by the Austrian crew. Not to mention the Thai spoken by the captain.
For a pre departure drink I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail
Smoked Salmon with beetroot.
Consommé of beef with dumplings.
Rigatoni with lamb ragout and permesan.
Chocolate mouse with a centre of green coconut crème brûlée, a ball of frozen yoghurt and Austrian style pancakes with berries.
Wow, what a meal! First of all I think it’s quite unusual to be given a choice of three starters in Business Class these days. What’s more, it’s seems that most passengers are having at least two of the options, which does not seem to bother the crew in any way, despite the fact that the load in Business is rather high.
I have the salmon starter, which is very good. It’s a good quality piece of salmon, which isn’t fishy at all. I also like the beetroot hummus. The taste of the tahini is clearly discernible, but with a distinct hint of beetroot.
The soup is very tasty and light. The dumpling in it is simply divine. I have no idea what they put in this but it’s excellent. Full of many different well balanced flavours.
But the whole thing just keeps getting better and better. The rigatoni are nice and chewy and the ragout tastes like something you might get at an Italian restaurant somewhere in Rome. This is excellent!
By the time I finish the main course, I’ve already made a mental note to skip dessert and the cheese. That is, until I see the desserts, at which point I decide that it would be a pity to disappoint the people who read the stuff I write by not taking pictures of the dessert. And so one suffers in silence…
I don’t know how the Austrians do it, but they certainly know their stuff when it comes to making desserts. The chocolate mouse is so chocolaty and fluffy that it seems hardly possible, and the combination with the crème brûlée deserves a Nobel prize as far as I’m concerned. With dessert I have a glass of sweet wine, as suggested by the cabin crew. But I forget to ask what it was.
Unfortunately the pictures can hardly do justice to this epic and excellent meal. Especially seeing as the lighting conditions were not very good. But it certainly was a very fine meal.
And then I change into my shorts and go off to bed. I only awake 90 minutes out of Bangkok and feel really relaxed and rested. I haven’t slept so well on a plane in a long time!
Just as I return to my seat, the second service is about to begin. Orders for the breakfast service are taken right after departure from Vienna by the on board chef.
The Second Service
A bowl of fresh fruit.
Yoghurt with home made granola (very tasty).
A selection of breads, including toast.
An omelette with bell peppers and mozzarella, potatoes and tomatoes.
Coffee and orange juice (there are also smoothies available)
Once more I am amazed, not only by the tempo of the service, but also by the quality and taste of the food and how it is presented on the plate.
We arrive in Bangkok a few minutes ahead of schedule. The Austrian Airlines flight is normally one of the earlier ones to come in during the afternoon bank. As a result, the queues for immigration are quite manageable. If, like me, you need a visa on arrival, you will need to pay THB1000.- for the visa. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to wait, for an additional THB200.- you can have your request processed at the fast track counter, which will take you not more than two minutes.
Austrian Airlines does not provide fast track cards for immigration to its passengers.
Getting into Town
Talk about a déjà-vu! The driver from the Peninsula is the same guy who picked me up last time. What’s more, he even recognises me! I’m driven to the hotel in a lovely BMW 7. It’s in the standard Peninsula forest green and it looks gorgeous.
We pull up by the main entrance, where I am already being expected. Check-in at the Peninsula is done in the room. On our way up to the 25th floor, the young lady informs me that they have taken the liberty to put me in the same room as on my previous stay.
This place is just so nice!
Austrian Airlines’ inflight product is excellent on this flight. The crew are highly professional and experienced, the hard product is pretty decent and the food is simply to die for. Let’s put it this way, if the return turns out to be equally good, then I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply assume that my not so good experience to Cyprus was an exception.
Austrian is a bit unlucky to have to call a place like Vienna airport its hub. I really do think the facility has some serious issues going on that make it really very unpleasant and rather unattractive too. So I guess in future, it will be a question of weighing the tastiness of the rigatoni and lamb ragout against the inconvenience of transiting through Vienna.
Silence, as I cross the deserted square from my apartment to the main entrance of the railway station. And darkness. This is early. Four twenty five to be precise. I’m catching the four forty train to Zürich Airport. It is just a bit over a week since I returned from my Christmas vacation in Japan and I’m travelling again. This time it’s a business trip though. I’m giving a course in Cyprus.
The journey time to Zürich Airport is one hour and sixteen minutes. The fare for a return ticket in second class starts at CHF37.50.
Recently they introduced new rolling stock on the line that runs from Basel’s main station to Zürich Airport. Essentially they’re new regional trains. But they’re comfortable enough. My only gripe is that there really is no space at all to stow luggage. But at this time of day the train will hardly be full.
It’s quite amazing how difficult it is to reach Cyprus from Switzerland in the low season, particularly of you’re not travelling on a week’s package vacation and only need to visit the island for a few days. Only Cyprus Airways operates scheduled flights from Larnaca to Zürich, but that flight is not daily and only operates twice a week during the winter – as it happens on days which are of no use to me. The two best alternatives therefore, appear to be either with British Airways via London Heathrow or with Austrian Airlines via Vienna. Somehow I dislike the idea of flying all the way to London, only to catch a plane back in the opposite direction to get to Cyprus. So I’ve decided to take the Austrian Airlines option instead. But there’s just one snag. There is no same day connection from Basel to Larnaca. Which is why I find myself, at this ungodly hour, on a train bound for Zürich, feeling tired and bleary-eyed.
I forgot to check-in on the Austrian website the evening before my flight. I figure it doesn’t matter seeing as I’ll be dropping off a bag anyway. But then on the train I decide I might as well give it a try. The Lufthansa App is showing my booking, but because the flight is originating in Switzerland, I am advised to check in with SWISS. So I try the SWISS App, which promptly issues my boarding pass for the flight to Vienna but not for the onward connection. Well, at least it’s a start.
I arrive at the airport with fifteen minutes to spare before meeting up with my colleague who will be joining me on this trip. Enough time to get my boarding passes sorted and have my bag checked through to Larnaca.
Check-in for Swiss flights at Zürich Airport is done either in Check-in 1, in what used to be Terminal A, or in Check-in 3, which is conveniently located one floor up from the railway tracks, so you really don’t have far to go.
I like the ventilation fans they have…
The Senator lounge in Zürich was recently closed for refurbishment. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the end product is somewhat of an anti-climax. Essentially, all they’ve done is to remove the comfortable loungers there used to be and replaced them with smaller and less comfortable looking seats that take up less space, thus allowing them to put more seat in the lounge. Oh yes, and they changed the model aircraft in the lounge from the old A 340-300 to the A 330-300 in the new livery. Glad to see they got their priorities straight.
When I arrive at the gate, boarding is already underway. Austrian Airlines have an interesting boarding concept. The first call is for Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members. They may pass the gate in the traditional way, meaning the gate agent scans the boarding pass and wishes you a nice flight. After that the scrum for general boarding begins, with passengers required to use the automatic gates for boarding instead.
I step on board to the sound of Strauss blaring away. I’m kind of in two minds about this one, if I’m perfectly honest. I guess it’s a nice touch, but it is also a bit tacky. The cabin is decked out in the same slim seats BMI used to have and which, if I’m not mistaken, Lufthansa also have. Very obviously the colour red dominates in the cabin. Today’s flight is rather full in the back but there are still a few seats left available in Business Class from what I can tell.
The cabin crew is a nondescript bunch. This is not meant in a negative way or anything. It’s just that there is really nothing much in the way they go about their job that might set them apart from the crews of other airlines.
Take-off is from runway 28. It’s a lovely day for flying and we’re treated to some excellent views of the Alps on our way to Vienna.
The meal consists of a round of hot and cold drinks. To eat there a Nuss Schnecke, which is a pastry with ground hazelnuts in it. I take one but eventually leave it untouched. My colleague, who later on eats both his and my Nuss Schnecke, assures me that it wasn’t as dry as it looked.
The quantity of the meal is perfectly adequate for a flight of only 80 minutes. The rubbish is removed and shortly after we begin our descent into Vienna.
This is the first time I’m using the new pier in Vienna. Perhaps it’s just me but I find the whole design somewhat inconvenient and unpractical. I also think the facility looks rather cheap and drab; the signage is really bad. Next stop: Larnaca.