Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.

I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.

So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.

Boarding

The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.

The Service

The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.

The Meal

The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.

After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.

Conclusion

The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Zagreb to Vienna

Introduction

Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.

Check-in

The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.

Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.

Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.

Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.

The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb

Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.

The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.

Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.

The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.

The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.

To drink with that I have an Almdudler.

And just before landing, chocolates are offered.

Arrival

We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Berlin to Vienna

For the trip back from Berlin to Basel, the easiest thing, no pun intended, would have been to book the direct easyJet flight. The only problem with that was that I booked the Air France trip at fairly short notice, once it became clear where the inaugural flight of the A 220 would be going to. By which time there weren’t any extra legroom seats left on easyJet. At my age and with two herniated discs, that’s a serious consideration. And so I figured I might as well return with Austrian via Vienna.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt

I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Berlin. I suppose after all the bad press the airport received and the serious delay for it to finally open, I think I was probably expecting some half finished ruin. Turns out the terminal is rather nice airside. The wood finish gives it a nice, warm feel.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the airport in the future. Many of the low-cost carriers operating to Berlin have already said that they would like to return to the old DDR-era Schönefeld terminal once it reopens after Covid. But as it is, most of the traffic at the new terminal is by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair or easyJet. If they were to return to the old facility, the new one would be even more oversized that it clearly already is now.

Lufthansa lounge

The Lufthansa lounge is in an odd place, is an odd size and an odd shape. If you’re walking too fast, there’s also a good chance you’ll miss the entrance to the staircase that takes you to the lounge.

In a way, the lounge is something of a relic from a bygone era. When the airport was announced, Lufthansa had big plans for it. Ten years down the line and the only two routes operated by Lufthansa out of Berlin are to Frankfurt and Munich. In as much, it’s really quite surprising they still have a lounge at all.

The décor of the lounge is in the typical Lufthansa style, which is a matter of personal taste. Some may like it, and others not. Personally, in general I find the Lufthansa brand rather dated and frumpy. One way or another, there’s something off about the lounge, and I can’t really explain what it is. It has all the Lufthansa branded furniture, but is otherwise nearly completely lacking in any sort of decorations or… something that might give it character.

There are the usual food options, although they’re looking quite unappealing – even the rice looks dry! But I will say that the views are good.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B07 and starts with a call for passengers in Business Class or with status. It’s going to be a full flight. I take my seat on the window on 1F and wait for the aircraft to fill up.

The crew

Alas, the crew on this flight are…meh. They’re a big, uncoordinated mess. I’m not even sure what exactly the issue is, but for some reason they seem disorganised and totally stressed before we even get going. I think part of the problem is that one of the two young men on the crew is, with all due respect, rather useless. He’s either inexperienced or he simply doesn’t care. So that leaves only three crew to do the job of four.

The flight time is 55 minutes, and once we’re airborne, the service is unnecessarily rushed and hectic. Even though there’s plenty of time with only ten passengers in the forward cabin.

The seat and cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on the flight, which is quite surprising, given that there were only two rows originally when I booked the flight. Of the twelve seats, nine are occupied. Although I might also like to add that there were eight passengers booked in Business Class, plus one Italian who figured he’d try it out and see if anybody noticed. They did eventually, and at least he had the decency of paying for the upgrade right there and then…

On row one the pitch is probably the worst in the whole Business Class cabin, because on all subsequent rows at least you can stick your feet under the seat in front of you. As usual, the middle seat is kept empty.

Austrian has the standard issue Lufthansa group seat with zero cushioning on its short-haul fleet. The seat is okay, but even after only 55 minutes of flight my butt is starting to ache.

The meal

Food is always a highlight on Austrian, and this flight is no exception. For the main course there is a plate with three sandwiches: salmon and cream cheese, cheddar and onion chutney, and tuna with chives. Although apparently the crew have not been informed and have no idea what they’re serving (Mr 2F, behind me, asks and get something of a strange reply from the crew…).

The sandwiches are really tasty and have not totally dried up on their way from Vienna to Berlin.

Dessert is a piece of Tiroler cake, I’d say, which is a hazelnut cake with chocolate chips in it. This is okay, but a bit too oily.

Arrival in Vienna

By the time we start our descent, the sun has already started to set. I always hate the shift back to winter time, precisely because it gets dark even earlier.

Vienna airport is very busy and there is hardly anywhere to sit while I wait to catch the connecting flight to Basel. But I will spare you the details on that flight.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, catering on Austrian is something they do really well. The dishes are usually nicely prepared and appeal to an international audience. The three sandwiches on this flight were simple but very tasty. Other than that though, the whole experience was a bit underwhelming and the crew were just disappointing. Which makes you wonder how much training these people actually receive before they’re let loose on humanity.

Of course, I did wonder during the flight if perhaps my perception of the flight was tarnished by my previous experience with Air France, which was very elegant and polished. Because that’s probably wouldn’t be fair either – there’s hardly any point in comparing a somewhat insignificant subsidiary such as Austrian to one of Europe’s leading airlines.

But I don’t think it’s that. A crew will make or break a passenger experience, and that’s precisely the problem with Austrian – their crews are unpredictable and more often than not they’re likely to disappoint. Which does not exactly instill me with a strong desire to book my next trip with them.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Vienna back to Basel. My flight departs at 17h40 and the hotel refuses to grant me a late check-out. So I exit the SO/ Vienna hotel just after 12h00 and make my way to Wien Mitte railway station to dump my suitcase and bag in a locker. It’s only ten minutes on foot from the hotel to the station. You could take public transport instead, but I suspect that would probably take longer.

Once that’s settled, I decide to pay a visit to Schloss Belvedere, which houses an extensive collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.

On my way back to Wien Mitte I make a brief stop at the Konditorei Oberlaa for a last helping of Kaiserschmarn, a kind of fluffy shredded pancake served with jam and has comfort food written all over it.

Getting to Vienna Schwechat airport

From Wien Mitte there are frequent trains to Vienna airport. The journey will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR4.80 for a single trip for one person. However, if you’re travelling with somebody else, you already qualify as a group, in which case the fare is only EUR5.20 for both.

“Europe without Greece is like partying without drugs”. Indeed, it’s very patriotic and I think the Greece ministry of tourism should adopt this as its new slogan…

Check-in

Austrian Airlines checks in at Terminal 3. I’ve already received my boarding pass online, but I still need to drop off my suitcase. Austrian Airlines’ self-check in process for Economy Class passengers is easy to use and has been well planned. As you come off the escalators that lead up to departures, there is a large area with very easy to use scanning machines.

You scan your boarding pass and the machine will ask you to confirm your name. Once that’d done, the baggage label is printed. The queue for the fast bag drop is long, but at least it moves quickly.

At the counter where a check-in agent once used to sit, there is now another scanner. You place the suitcase on the conveyor belt, scan the bar code on the label, and that’s it. Gone!

Airside

The airport is busy this time of day. The other terminals in Schwechat have been shut down due to the pandemic, so Terminal 3 is now handling all the traffic – and it’s rather a tight fit. Eventually, I find a place to sit at the very last gate on the Schengen pier. As it happens, this is where the Ryanair flight to Thessaloniki is about to board. And I really must say, it’s rather entertaining. The gate agent is, with all due respect, a complete and utter bitch and the way she treats the passengers boarding the flight is nothing short of outrageous. You have to be really hard up financially to be willing to put up with this level of verbal abuse. I think given the choice I would prefer not to travel at all than have to endure this kind of treatment.

This is something I have never been able to understand about the business model of many of the low cost carriers. Yes, their prices are amazingly low sometimes. But irrespective of how high or low the price for the ticket is, people are still paying their good money to avail themselves of a service. The amount they paid should not determine the politeness or courtesy of service they receive. And it certainly should not determine how rudely they are treated by the staff. Of course the saying goes that you get what you pay for, and if the likes of Ryanair are not willing to pay for polite and properly trained staff or handling agents, then that’s just too bad. But I disagree.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a slight delay and takes for ever. This is largely due to the fact that in Austria it is mandatory for passengers to wear FFP2 masks. Every passenger wearing a standard issue surgical mask is stopped by the L1 door and given an FFP2 mask to wear instead, which they must put on in front of the cabin crew before they are allowed beyond the galley and into the cabin.

The crew & service

The crew are quite friendly, which is rather unusual for Austrian Airlines. The purser is clearly trying to respect all the rules in place, and while I personally think she should be commended for that and for putting the passengers’ health first, I think we also need to acknowledge that in Europe the lack of harmonization between countries is a huge pain in the ass and makes it near impossible to travel between countries without breaking at least one rule or other.

The flight itself is short and uneventful.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Basel after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes. The cabin crew announce that deboarding will be by seat numbers. Passengers should remain seated until their row is called. In theory, it may make a lot of sense to deboard the plane in such a way. But in practice, the sad truth is that it is completely useless: Basel airport is on French soil and has a French and a Swiss sector. There is one long corridor that connects the arrival gates to the head of the terminal building and immigration. Even though Austria and France are both part of the Schengen treaty, France has suspended the free movement of persons, which means that they have reintroduced border controls. This does not apply to Switzerland. But the exit to Switzerland is only at the very end of the corridor, meaning there is no way for passengers entering into Switzerland to bypass the queues for immigration for France. Regrettably, we land right after two full easyJet Airbus A 320s, and the queue for immigration is endless. It takes me forty minutes to reach the head of the queue. At least by the time I arrive at the luggage belt, my suitcase is already there.

Conclusion

So, I’ve now done six flights with Austrian Airlines in short succession – mostly in Business Class. On a positive note, I’m very much impressed by the quality of their food. It should not be taken for granted these days to be given a hot meal in Business Class on a short sector of only one hour. Other than that though, I found their service a bit lacking and seriously inconsistent. First, I really think it wouldn’t hurt Austrian Airlines to provide at least a bottle of water to passengers in Business Class as a kind of welcome drink. Second, I find it rather interesting that on all six flights I took, an announcement was made that deboarding would be done by seat rows, from front to back. But in fact this was only enforced by the crew on the last flight. My point is not whether or not the procedure makes sense. I just find it rather unprofessional to make such an announcement and then very obviously not give a rats bum. Austrian Airlines are okay, and their network to southeastern Europe is extensive. Other than that though, they’re hardly worth bothering with.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by an Airbus A 321, with a departure from Tirana at 17h00. But then, a few weeks later I received a schedule change from Austrian Airlines, informing me that the flight would now be operated by an Airbus A 320 and that the departure had moved forward to 15h00. It seems that Austrian has replaced the A 321 with two flights. One is an Airbus A 320 that leaves at 15h00, and the other is an Embraer 195 which departs a few minutes later.

Getting to the airport

There’s a lot of excitement in Tirana this morning, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting on her farewell tour of the Balkans. As a result, the authorities have shut down all the access roads to the airport for traffic. Nobody gets in, and nobody gets out. But it’s only a short distance from the facilities of the Albanian ANSP to the terminal, and it’s a lovely day for a walk anyway.

Check-in

The airport is a lot busier today than it was the last time I was here a week ago at three o’clock in the morning. In fact, I’d say the terminal facility is way too small for the amount of passengers it handles.

The girl at check-in has some serious Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde issues going on. When I reach the counter, the guy checking in at the counter next to me has scattered a ton of suitcases all over the place. He’s basically blocking three check-in counters but using only one. My check-in agent gives me the sweetest smile and welcomes me to Austrian Airlines. Then she turns to face the guy with the many suitcases and basically just rips him a new one in Albanian. I have no idea what on earth she says to him, but by the time she’s done, I’m really starting to feel sorry for the guy.

Tirana Airport Business Class lounge

The queue at security is long, but it moves quickly and the staff are very efficient. Once I’m through, I head one floor up to the Business Class lounge. It’s already gone 13h30 and I haven’t had lunch yet.

The lounge offers a nice selection of snacks, soft drinks and warm drinks. I’m not sure if alcohol is available too. Lavatories are available on the premises and are very clean. Complimentary wifi is also available in the lounge, with the password marked all over the place.

I ask the lady behind the buffet if she can just give me a bit of a taste of the Albanian dishes, which apparently means everything and in copious amounts. I end up with three plates. On the picture below you see pickled peppers filled with soft cheese, some shredded bell pepper, a healthy dollop of fresh cheese and another dollop of ajvars. Her English is about as good as my Albanian, but she makes it clear that the idea is that you mix the cheese with the ajvars and smear it on bread. Not in the picture are the plate full of bread and another plate with a cheese borek and a spinach borek that have been warmed. That should tie me over for the next week…

Boarding

Boarding already starts at 14h15. Even though it says 14h30 on the boarding pass. I get the feeling the ground staff are planning ahead in case there are any delays caused by all the diplomatic traffic. There’s a military Learjet from Macedonia and a Serb Embraer, in addition to Mutti’s Airbus of the Deutsche Bundeswehr.

The first bus departs just as I exit the terminal, but at least we’re allowed to wait outside in a closed off area for the next bus to arrive.

Most passengers are either making a mad dash to board the aircraft, or trying to capture a picture of the German Bundeswehr jet. My attention is immediately drawn to the completely white, non-standard engine cowling. What’s up with this bird?

The cabin

In the cabin there’s also something slightly different about this bird. First, the fittings on the seats are in silver colour, and not the usual Austrian Airlines red. And secondly, the Austrian Airlines logo is missing from the right bulkhead.

There’s a passenger missing and the crew are busy preparing the cabin for our departure, so I don’t want to pester them by asking about the aircraft.

There are three rows of Business Class on this aircraft, and there is one other gentlemen in the forward cabin with me.

The crew

The crew on this flight are a mixed bag, which seems to be quite normal on Austrian. Again, it’s just a small thing, but I really think it would be kind of nice to ask passengers if they’d like something to eat first, and not just dump the tray in front of them, whether they like it or not.

In any case, departure is to the north, flying directly towards Albania’s beautiful coastline. It’s a brilliant day for flying and visibility is excellent. About ten minutes into the climb, the captain comes on the mic to inquire if a certain passenger is on board. He explains that the second aircraft is delayed on the ground because of a missing passenger, and the handling agent figured he may have boarded the wrong aircraft ‘by accident’. Well that’s comforting…

The meal

After all the food in the lounge, I can’t honestly say that I’m still hungry. But goodness, the chocolate mousse cake for dessert sure looks tasty. And I mean, I didn’t have anything sweet in the lounge. It would be just such a shame to waste it. Oh, f*%@ it…

Now this dessert is really something. It’s very, very rich and sweet. The first spoon has my heart racing! But it really is just so good.

And just in case I hadn’t had enough chocolate yet, the crew pass through the cabin with farewell chocolates as we start the descent.

Arrival

Our arrival route into Vienna takes us past the airport on the downwind, to make an approach from the north. The light and shadows of the clouds dancing on the ground make the landscape look as though it has been painted on an enormous canvas.

We park on a remote stand. But at least this time the bus brings us to the head of the concourse, so we won’t have to walk too far.

Getting into Vienna

Next week the autumn semester starts and my life basically comes to a grinding halt until the end of the semester just before Christmas. So I figure I might as well break the journey and spend a few days in Vienna on a kind of mini-vacation.

To get into town, the train is probably the fastest and cheapest option. There are regular trains that run to either Wien Hauptbahnhof or Wien Mitte. The journey takes about 25 minutes to complete. There is a dedicated airport train called the CAT. However, apart from the fact that it’s currently not operating, it’s also outrageously expensive and really not worth the extra price.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Vienna to Tirana

Transfer in Vienna

My flight from Basel lands just after 21h00. I now have one hour to make the connection to Tirana. As my blog is getting a bit heavy on the Austrian Airlines posts, and it’s dark outside with not much to see anyway, I figured I’d just post an abridged post here with only the most important information.

Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge

Austrian Airlines has a Business Class lounge in both the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. Luckily I decide to head for the Schengen lounge to grab something to eat before I do anything else, and then go through passport control after. And what an excellent choice that turns out to be! Because the Business Class lounge in the non-Schengen area is only open in the mornings from 07h45 to 13h30.

The cabin

This evening’s flight to Tirana is operated by an A 320. There are three rows of Business Class and only four passengers. I’m seated on 1A, and to be honest, I’m not a fan. The pitch on row 1 is not as good as on the other rows : it’s impossible to stretch my legs because of the bulkhead. But I can’t really move them sideways either, because the tray on row 1 is stowed in the arm rest, which therefore cannot be raised. So overall, I’m feeling a bit like an unhappy Pretzel.

The crew

The crew on this flight are not exactly gushing, but they are polite. They make quite a few announcements about Covid, the correct use of the masks and how to disembark once we reach Tirana – and then go on to immediately violate their own recommendations and not follow through with what they advised passengers to do.

The crew of this flight operates the Tirana rotation as a kind of split shift. Meaning that the same crew that arrives with this flight at 00h15 will also be returning to Vienna on the same aircraft that departs at 04h25. And I know this because they’re in the same hotel as me, and I hear them requesting a wake up call at 03h10. To be honest, I think if that were me, I really would not be all that motivated either.

The meal

Without even asking any of the passengers if they’d like to eat, the crew rather unceremoniously plonk a tray of grub in front of each passenger. I’m not complaining, because while I think that Austrian’s cabin crew training is seriously lacking, catering is obviously something they do really, really well. I mean, what other airline will serve you a hot meal on a flight with a block time of only 75 minutes?

Tonight’s offering is Paprika chicken with Spätzle.

And a passion fruit panna cotta for dessert. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the bread basket. Both the main and the dessert are excellent. The chicken sauce is rich and creamy and the Spätzle have retained their chewy fluffiness. Perhaps they could do some work on presentation though, because the dessert looks a bit forelorn on the large plate.

Arrival

We land in Tirana at 00h15. We’re on time, and for a change there is no queue at immigration. Within minutes I’m at the luggage belt waiting to pick up my suitcase, which duly arrives after only a very short wait.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer E195: Basel to Vienna

Introduction

It’s Sunday evening and I’m on my way back to the airport to give a second course in Tirana. After last week’s experience on WizzAir with Satan’s army of burping and crapping infants, I figured I would go for something a little more civilized this time and travel with Austrian again. It’s not the most exotic flight connection, but hey, my options are rather limited.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online, but I still need to make a stop at the counter to drop my suitcase. I’m carrying a ton of paper, and I’ve already got a back ache just from carting my stuff to the airport. The Star Alliance carriers have their own dedicated counters. There is one Business Class and one Economy Class counter open. Both of them are deserted when I arrive.

Airside

Security is such a delight at Basel airport these days. The fact that you can just walk up without any queues and without having to witness the stupidest specimens of humanity as they make their way through the beeping security gates is something I will one day be telling my grandbabies about. This is the stuff legends are made of.

I find myself a seat next to where the Easyjet flight to Hamburg is boarding and entertain myself watching human nature unfold. It’s quite entertaining, really. And then I come across this guy. I know it’s rude to surreptitiously take pictures of random strangers, but… get a load of this: Easyjet-proof trousers. Take a closer look. The man has an iPad stashed in the upper pocket of his cargo pants, and a 5dl bottle of water in the lower one. Not in the photo are a baby elephant and a Fiat Cinquecento in his right pockets. And no, he’s probably not that glad to see me, but probably just figured he’d also try taking his grand piano aboard as well by shoving it down his front…

Well that was fun. With the grand piano safely on its way to Hamburg, I make my way to gate 46, from where the flight to Vienna will be boarding.

Boarding

As you can see in the photo above, the passengers on the arriving flight disembark via stairs. They are taken to a waiting bus that brings them to arrivals. Strangely, once that is done, the stairs are removed and the airbridge is attached for us to board. I’m not quite sure what this is all about, but I assume this still has to do with the French government’s decision to suspend the Schengen treaty not quite so temporarily.

Oh yeah, and the lights in the airbridge aren‘t working, which gives me the opportunity to take the photo below. I kind of dig the haunted ‘I could see a light at the end of the tunnel and a feeling of calm came over me’ effect.

The cabin

The seats on Austrian’s Embraers are very comfortable. I am sitting on row 4 and the seat pitch is excellent. Even with my rucksack stowed under the seat, I still have plenty of space for my legs and to wiggle my tootsies.

The crew

My only interaction with the crew on this flight consists of the disinfecting towel I am handed as I board the plane. That’s it. Everything else on Austrian is buy on board, except for the farewell chocolate at the end of the flight.

I’m starting to think that the crews on Austrian Airlines tend to be rather unpredictable. Which is really just a euphemism to avoid having to admit that this lot are not exactly a credit to Austria’s reputation for outstanding hospitality.

Once we’re airborne, the inflight service, such as it were, begins. Which means the curtain separating the Business Class cabin is drawn by the crew. Is it me, or does the picture below remind others too of some old biddy’s bloomers hung out to dry? I mean, why bother if this is the best they can do?

Arrival

The flight time to Vienna is one hour and ten minutes, and we land on time just after 21h. I now have one hour to make my connection to Tirana, which should give me enough time to discover a few more things about the airport that I don’t like. I know, I’m really turning into a right grumpy bastard in my old age…

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Vienna to Zürich

Transfer in Vienna

Nothing about Vienna airport really makes any sense to me. The impression you get is that the airside facility was built with everything but the passenger and the usability of the terminal in mind. My aircraft from Tirana parks at a remote stand, which means we are taken to the terminal by bus. But instead of dropping the passengers off near the beginning of the pier, which is where the security checkpoint and passport control are located, the bus driver only drives a few meters and then has us disembark at the very end of the concourse. From where it’s a long schlepp to immigration and the Covid certificate check, before eventually you arrive at the very beginning of the pier and the queue for security.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge

The Austrian Airlines lounge is behind security, but in the completely opposite direction to the Schengen gates on the F pier.

The lounge is already quite full when I get there. The food options are rather nice, though. Other than that, the interior design is quite cheap. The seats in the dining area are covered in fake leather and aren’t really all that comfortable either.

Boarding

Eventually, I leave the lounge to walk around a bit and stop me from falling asleep.

The cabin

I am seated on 2F. There are five rows of business class for a total of twenty seats. On this flight, only eight seats are occupied. And funnily enough, I’m the only passenger seated on the right side. I’m guessing the other passengers all chose to sit on the left to get a better view of the alps en route.

The crew

The crew on this flight are all female and very friendly. They’re all smiles and are engaging with the passengers. Unlike SWISS, Austrian does not offer any pre-departure drinks or refreshing towels.

The meal

As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the maître de starts preparing for breakfast. The curtain is closed, but I can hear her pottering around in the galley as she loads the hot meals into the trolley. But then suddenly, there’s a terrific crash as the whole trolley tumbles backwards and eventually keels over. The flight attendant opens the curtain with a horrified expression on her face and simply mutters: “Na, jetzt is mir der Trolley umgfallen…”. It seems like an odd thing to say because the crash was so loud that I’m pretty sure they probably heard it all the way back in Vienna.

Eventually, the crew manage to get the trolley upright, but most of the food has spilled. I really feel for the cabin crew, because she’s obviously distraught and so embarrassed. She keeps passing through the cabin apologizing and explaining that she can’t possibly serve the meal, as “so was gibt’s nicht amol bei der Ryanair”… Clearly, to her Ryanair is rock bottom and if not even they would serve such a messy looking meal, then she certainly won’t either in Austrian Business Class. She’s really quite funny in her state of upset.

Eventually, we agree for her to just give me the hot meal and a coffee. It just wouldn’t be very gentlemanly to have to lick the yoghurt of the tray… The hot meal is an omelet with cheese served with spinach.

To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin offering small chocolates. They’re not as good as the SWISS ones, but they rarely are.

Arrival

We approach Zürich from the East, which brings us in right over lake Constance. It’s a gorgeous day for flying.

The maître de welcomes us to Zürich amid more profuse apologies at having ruined breakfast. She insists that in all her career, this is really the first time this has ever happened to her. I feel quite sorry for her, because she’s clearly very upset.

Zürich airport is very empty and quiet when we land. Even after all these years, I still think it’s impressive to think that we touched down on runway 16 at 09h00, and by 09h13 I’m already sitting on the train home!

Conclusion

Catering is, and has always been, one of the airline’s strongest points. And today’s two flights from Tirana to Vienna and then on to Zürich were no different – despite the mishap with the trolley. To serve a hot meal on a flight of barely one hour is certainly not bad at all and definitely a lot more substantial than anything I was expecting. On the other hand, I think it’s a shame they won’t even place a bottle of water at every seat as a pre-departure beverage.

The crew were very nice, which is a pleasant surprise. In the past, I’ve had crews on Austrian that were really just plain rude. For Tirana, I really think Austrian has the best and most frequent connections. Which is why I chose them. However, if it weren’t for their extensive eastern European network, I don’t think I would go out of my way to actively seek them out for my next trip. I find the whole experience a bit bland, and the unpredictability of the crew doesn’t help. I wouldn’t intentionally avoid them though, either.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

I’m not really sure what made me think a departure from Tirana at 04h25 in the morning would be a good idea. But here I am at 03h00 in the morning, walking the short distance from the Hotel Airport Tirana to the terminal building. Still, at least this way I’ll be back home by 11h00.

The terminal building is small and compact, with departures and check-in on the left side, and arrivals on the right side.

Check-in

Check-in for the flight to Vienna is already open. And much to my surprise, there’s even a manned Business Class desk that isn’t being laid siege to by a hoard of unruly Albanians who, I’m am finding out, really have a very, very strong aversion to queueing of any sort.

The Tirana Airport lounge

Security and immigration are painless. There are hardly any passengers this time of the morning.

So I decide to investigate the Business Class lounge, which is open at this ungodly hour, even if I only have about 15 minutes before boarding begins.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. There’s a buffet with pastries and sandwiches to choose from, and there are more dishes in the kitchen that are available on request from the staff.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 03h55. Our aircraft is parked rather far away, which is why we’re being bussed to our remote stand.

The cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of 12 seats. However, only six of them are occupied. The cabin looks neat and tidy and the splashes of red in the Austrian sign on the bulkhead or the seat covers and seat belts make the cabin look a lot less shabby than Lufthansa’s.

Leg space on row 2 is very good and I am able to stretch my legs easily.

Service

There are four cabin crew on today’s flight, and all of them male. They’re business friendly, I’d say. Not very warm or genuine, but not rude either. There is no pre-departure drink. Passengers are just handed a disinfectant towel as they board.

Breakfast

Given the flight time of only one hour and ten minutes, I’m surprised they’re actually serving a hot meal on the short hop to Vienna. There are no options. Despite it’s rather unappealing appearance, the hot meal is rather good.

Croque monsieur with turkey ham.

Fruit salad.

A very creamy and fluffy yoghurt.

The potion that gives life.

Warm croissants.

During the meal service, the crew make multiple runs through the cabin with the breadbasket.

Arrival

The flight passes very quickly. At some point I think I even nod off to sleep. We touch down in Vienna at 05h40 and make our way to a remote stand. I now have a little less than two hours to make my connection to Zürich.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Zürich to Lugano

Austrian_Airlines_Logo.svg

Date: 31. August 2016.
Departure:
09:35.
Arrival:
10:10.
Flight time:
35 minutes.
Seat:
15F, then 9A.

map

Introduction

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.

Check-in

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.

IMG_2315.jpg

The Lounge

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…

Boarding

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.

The Cabin

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.

Austrian_Airlines_Q400.jpg
Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

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.

IMG_2338.jpg

The Meal

Type of meal: Snack.
Meal:

  1. Still water (a Swiss brand)
  2. 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.

Arrival

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.

IMG_2347

‘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.

IMG_2355.jpg