Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Paris

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Embraer 190
From: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2G
Departure: 06h20
Arrival: 07h20
Flight time:
one hour
Seat:
7F, window

On Friday evening I receive an e-mail from Air France, informing me that HOP would be going on strike on Monday and that my flight to Paris may be affected. I should be routing Basel – Paris – Luxembourg. On Sunday morning I call Air France from Malta to ask them what to do. Air France customer service is really very good, at least it is if you’re a Platinum member. A Belgian friend of mine, let’s call him the big, friendly C., refuses to fly Air France because he says their frequent strikes make them unreliable. But I tend to disagree, because Air France is a professional striker, in the sense that when they do go on strike, it’s usually in a well prepared, very organised and civilised way. If BA or Lufthansa were to go on strike, it would be complete and utter chaos, because they’re amateur strikers and used to everything going according to plan. But I digress. So their customer relations are very good and within minutes I’ve been rebooked onto the KLM flight via Amsterdam and even have a new e-ticket confirmation.

On Suday evening I arrive back in Basel from Malta at 22h40, one hour later than expected. As we taxi in, I notice the KLM flight that nightstops in Basel is conspicuously abesent, even though it should normally have arrived by 21h45.

I get on the bus to take me home, which is when I receive a message from KLM informing me that the flight from Basel to Amsterdam has been cancelled due to severe weather in Amsterdam. So once I get home, in between unpacking and packing again, I’m on the phone again to Air France.

At least by now they already know that my original flight to Paris will not be affected by the strike after all, and therefore, I am rebooked onto the original flights I had selected for this trip. And that girls and boys, is how I find myself at 05h25 on the airport bus again after a really rather short night’s rest.

There are two early morning flights to Paris which leave within just a few minutes of each other. The one flight goes to Orly, while the second flight goes to Roissy. The flights board from gates 2 and 1 respectively. My flight to Roissy this morning is completely sold out, no doubt due to the passengers that have been reprotected from the cancelled KLM flight.

This is my first flight with Air France since the introduction of the domestic Business Class product. The first two rows are for Business Class passengers. Unfortunately, on row 7 I’m too far back to catch a glimpse of what the service is like. What I do know though, is that seating is the same as on KLM, meaning that the adjacent seat is not left empty.

The seat pitch on row 7 is good though. The only complaint I have, is that it’s right next to the engine and the noise is quite loud.

We take off towards the south and then make a right turn to point us in a westerly direction.

The service in Economy Class consists of a choice of hot and cold drinks and a small packaged madeleine, which hits the spot nicely. The flight attendant tells me to mix one creamer and sugar with my hot chocolate for the best possible result. And she’s right.

There are two females working in the cabin this morning, and both of them are really good. They’re very friendly and do a lot of smiling and chatting with the passengers as they pass through the cabin.

Eventually we land after a flight time of one hour. It’s wet and windy here in Paris this morning. At Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, terminal 2G is dedicated to small regional jets and turboprop operations and is the hub of Air France’s HOP operation.

It’s a bit remote from the main terminal complex at CDG2, but for me its very convenient, because the flight to Luxembourg will also be leaving from here, so I will not have to change terminals.

First though, it’s time for breakfast!

EasyJet, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Basel

Airline: easyJet Switzerland
Aircraft: Airbus A 319
From: Prague Ruzyne Airport
To: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
Departure: 16:15
Arrival:
17:20
Flight time:
one hour and five minutes
Seat:
1F

The journey from the Czech air navigation service provider’s offices to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. The driver drops me off right outside Terminal 1, because that’s where the short term parking is located.

Terminals 1 and 2 are connected with each other, both landside and airside. EasyJet checks in at Terminal 2.

The check-in hall is a big, cavernous space. EasyJet’s counters are at the far end of the terminal, on the row closest to the security check point.

For my trip today I have speedy boarding as well as fast track access for security.

I like that Prague is probably one of the few airports I know of, where you are not ejected directly into the duty free shop once you pass through security. In fact, the duty free shops are all rather low key and small.

My flight will be departing from the D pier. But seeing as I still have a while to go before my flight even leaves from Basel, I figure I might as well walk to the very end of the C pier, where there is a long row of seats along the window front with a great view of the apron. At least, there would be if the weather weren’t so bad…

I really don’t know how easyJet does it. I mean, I watch my plane land and then taxi in. When the aircraft enters the ramp, I stand up and make my way back to the departure gate. I do make a brief stop at the gents on my way, but I’m quite sure even with that it can’t take me more than six or seven minutes to reach gate D5, from where the flight will be leaving. Even so, when I get there, boarding is already in full swing and there is a long queue to enter the airbridge. Surely, did it really only take so little time for the aircraft to park, the passengers of the incoming flight to disembark and them to start boarding again?

Of course, with the speedy boarding I am entitled to jump the queue and just waltz on the plane when I want. But honestly, I always find that’s a bit of a dick move when I see others doing it, and I figure it makes no difference anyway.

I am seated on 1D, the aisle seat. At the time I booked the flight, that was the only seat on row 1 that was still available. On 1A there is a middle-aged gentleman. Very late, 1B nd 1C are taken up by an elderly couple. The husband is not exactly a lightweight, to put is nicely…

Boarding is completed and 1E and 1F next to me both stay empty. So I figure I might as well move over to the window seat, which is where I usually sit. Only, as soon as I move, Mr 1B and his spouse move too. Apparently, he doesn’t like that there’s no bulkhead on the other side of the aisle.

I mean, how dumb can some people possibly be? If you already have the luxury of having a few empty seats on your row, you could spread out, for example by taking an aisle seat each. Like that, the middle seat would stay empty and we would all have so much more space and comfort. But no, of course not. Because the selfish, self-centred git don’t fancy not having a bulkhead.

Okay, rant over. Deep breaths, in and out. Thinking of happy little puppies, calm down. Oh yeah, great leg room on row 1, by the way!

Once we’re airborne, the onboard sales begin and I order a mint tea and the new chocolate brownie. Together, the two items set me back by EUR4.50, which I think is reasonable for what you get and cheaper than the M&S products you find on BA.

Other than that, the flight is uneventful and short. We start our descent into Basel and eventually land at 17h20, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

There are quite a few easJet aircraft on the ground when we arrive.

Apparently, the Czech Republic is considered ‘clean’ by the prefecture of Haut-Rhin, because we pull up to a stand on the Schengen ramp upon arrival. Which also means that it’s a long walk outside to get from the aircraft to the terminal. On the up side, that means great photo opportunities for people like me. On the down side, it also means that if it’s raining you’ll probably get soaked by the time you enter the building…

Flying with easyJet is a lot like taking a bus. There‘s really none of the magic or romance I associated with air travel when I was young. Even so, I think the easyJet product is solid and consistent, to the point that I think I would prefer easyJet to British Airways, given the choice. But probably that says a lot more about the current sad state of British Airways than it does about easyJet.

EasyJet – Airbus A 320: London Gatwick to Basel

Airline: easyJet
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: London Gatwick
To: Euroairport Basel-Muhlouse Freibourg
Departure: 18:28
Arrival:
20:42
Flight time:
one hour and fourteen minutes
Seat:
1F, window seat on the starboard bulkhead row

By the time I collect my suitcase from the luggage belt at Gatwick’s South Terminal, it’s already coming up to 16h30. I now have ninety minutes to make my connection to Basel with easyJet from the North Terminal.

Signposting is very good, and the shuttle that takes you to the North Terminal is on the same level as the landside arrivals area. The journey by shuttle only takes a few minutes.

Once I arrive at the other end, the easyJet check-in area is straight through the door, on the same level as the shuttle from the South Terminal.

I don’t know how many automatic check-in counters there are, but the row seems endless for sure. Which also means that I can just walk up to check in my suitcase without having to queue. This is my first time using one of these self-service machines, because I normally travel without checked luggage.

The process is easy to follow, if not perhaps a bit painful in my case… You see, at the time I made the booking, I remember paying extra to be able to check in a suitcase. Only, what I had purchased at the time was one checked bag weighing no more than 15 kilos. But two weeks in Malta is a long time, during which it’s only too easy to buy a few things here or there to take back with you.

So when I check in my suitcase at Gatwick, the scales indicate that it weighs in excess of 20 kilos, and the price for that is a whopping GBP60. And rather conveniently, you can pay the amount due right there at the check-in counter with your credit card.

Security is quick and efficient. That’s one of the few things I think the British really do very well. Once I’m through security, I just have enough time for a quick meal at Wagamama before it’s time to head for the gate. And for a changes there’s even no queue for a table.

My flight is departing from gate 102, which is located in the satellite that is connected to the main terminal by a bridge that aircraft can taxi under. It’s already dark though, so there’s not much to see.

I’m seated on 1F. I was hoping to take a picture of the seat as I boarded, but alas Ms 1D is already there and it’s impossible for me to take a photo without her in it. Still, she’s a very nice woman and very helpful with getting my backpack stowed away properly.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good and certainly comfortable enough for the short flight to Basel. Moreoever, the one thing I appreciate about easyJet is that their aircraft always appear to be in mint condition.

We start up and push back on time. but we don’t get very far. We make one right turn and then stop. The cockpit crew shut down one of the engines again and inform us that there will be a slight delay, with our slot time not coming up for another twenty minutes. Other aircraft are also having to wait.

There’s nothing much to say about the crew, seeing as I don’t make any inflight purchases with them. The only thing I can say is that the purser is a young Italian man who’d make an interesting linguistic study. From his accent he’s unmistakably Italian. Other than that though, he’s highly proficient and uses many idiomatic expressions that you normally wouldnt’t expect from a speaker with such a heavy accent. Sorry, end of geek-out…

After sixteen days away from home, I’m finally back in Basel. And it’s good to be back. But god it’s cold here…

Air Nostrum, Business Class – CRJ-1000: Madrid to Basel

Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-1000, operated by Air Nostrum
From: Madrid Barajas
To: Basel Mulhouse
Departure: 10h16
Arrival:
12h29
Flight time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Seat:
3F, window seat

The 7 Islas Hotel is located just off the Gran Via in the centre of Madrid. I exit the hotel just after 7h00 in the morning and walk five minutes to Tribunal metro station.

From there I take the metro line 10 to Nuevos Ministerios, which is two stops away. And then from there I catch the metro line 8 to Terminal 4. The metro service starts at 06hoo in the morning, with trains running every eight minutes.

At Terminal 4 I take the lift three floors up from the metro station to departures on level 2. Iberia Business Class counters are located on rows 780 to 799.

There is a dedicated security checkpoint for Business Class passengers, which is completely segregated from the other passengers and very efficient.

The Iberia Business Class lounge is hard to miss as you exit from security. The lounge is enormous and offers a wide range of seating options. It‘s a very nice looking lounge. As for food options though, it‘s a bit of a let down and only has very limited choices.

Terminal 4 is huge, and recently the airport authority was given planning permission to expand this already vast facility. My flight is boarding from gate K95, at the north end of the terminal, which is equivalent to Amsterdam’s Fokker farm.

I must say, I really dislike the Bombardier CRJ1000, because it’s such a badly designed aircraft and from the passenger’s perspective, it’s just narrow, tight and unpleasant.

On the starboard side there is a row one, right behind the lavatory. On the port side though, row 2 is the bulkhead row. According to the seat map when I checked in, there’s one person on row 1, two on row 2 – one on either side – and one person – that would be me – on row three on the starboard side.

Just before the doors close, a middle aged gentleman and his son appear from behind the cabin divider and park themselves on 3A and 3C and I have the sneaking suspicion the shouldn’t actually be sitting there. The doors close and the crew go through their routine duties, with the passenger address and then the safety briefing.

Unfortunately, for messrs father and son, the flight attendant notices something’s amisss and checks the flight manifest to figure out what it is. Of course it doesn’t take very long for her to realise that there are two passengers too many sitting in the Business Class section.

Sometimes the stupidity of humanity can be interesting to watch. If perhaps also a tad pathetic at times. The flight attendant asks the father what his assigned seat number is, to which he replies that he doesn’t know. So she then asks to see his boarding pass, only to find he should have been seated on row 16. When she explains this to him, he tells her he knows but suffers from an acute case of claustrophobia, which is of course made worse by sitting on row 16 and having to look all the way down this long metal tube.

But the flight attendant obviously has been doing this for a while, so she very sweetly explains just how bad she feels for him, and that he will have to move nonetheless once the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off. So there you have it kids, don’t lie. It doesn’t pay off. You only end up looking like a dick in front of your son, at an age when he already thinks you’re nothing short of embarrssing anyway.

We take off towards the north. I’ll say this though about the CRJ1000: when you’re sitting up front, it really is very quiet and there’s something quite poetic climbing out of the vast expanse of the flat landscape around Madrid.

No sooner has the seat belt sign been turned off, the crew are released to start their service, which begins with a glass of orange juice, followed by an unscented hot towel. One of the cabin crew comes through the cabin asking what we’d like for brunch. There is a choice between a melted cheese and ham sandwich and a tortilla.

The tray is served with the hot meal, a bowl of fruit and the cutlery on it. My first impression is that the tray looks very empty. But then the crew come though the cabin with warm bread and shortly after make a second round offering croissants and chocolate doughnuts.

The hot meal consists of a warm tortilla, spinach, pumpkin and a sausage.

To drink with the meal I ask for a coffee and some sparkling water. I’m surprised when the cabin crew brings me a half-litre bottle and leaves it there for me.

I spend the rest of the flight reading with the warm glow of the morning sun on my face. Eventually we make our approach into Basel from the south. But the clouds are very low today, so that we’re already more or less past the city before we actually break through the cloud.

Our flight comes to an end on the non-Schengen side of the terminal. However, we are then bussed to the other side, which is also non-Schengen but for flights arriving from countries which would actually be in the Schengen area if France so much as respect the Schengen agreement. Every time I pass through Basel, they’ve thought up something new to make the process even more convoluted and complicated…

At least the airport isn’t too busy, so there’s next to no queue for immigration and my suitcase arrives quickly.

I now have three days in the office before I’ll be gone for a while… stay tuned.

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Paris Roissy

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Embraer 190
From: Basel-Mulhouse
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
Departure: 11:10
Arrival: 11:55
Flight time: 45 minutes
Seat: 1A, bulkhead row, window seat

Nine days into the new year my travel activities resume. I catch the 09h27 bus line 50 from in front of the Swiss railway station.

At the airport, I cross over into the French sector for check-in. There are three counters open: one for SkyPriority passengers and two for everybody else.

The check-in agent tags my luggage and issues my boarding pass for this flight and the next. I then head one floor up for security. There is a dedicated line with a separate entrance for priority passengers. As at check-in, here too there are no queues.

My departure gate is right opposite the exit from security. But I still have some time to kill and I’m hungry. So I figure I might as well make the schlepp to the Swissport lounge.

By 09:57 I’m enjoying a plate of eggs and beans in the lounge. I don’t take any pictures because the lounge is quite busy. But I really do think it’s still one of the most nicely designed lounges around, especially with the winter sun coming through the windows.

And what on earth is it with women that even the most untalented and uninspired among them all seem to think they know how to sing? For heaven’s sake! There’s this big, blousy American lady, by no means a spring chicken, belting out a Motown medley as she meanders in and out of the buffet section. She’s dreadful and sounds like somebody’s strangling the cat. But she just won’t stop!

By 10h10 I can’t stand it (her) anymore and head for the gate, where boarding should start soon anyway.

Boarding starts on time with a call for SkyPriority passengers to board first. But there’s a scrum for the gate the moment the gate agent picks up the microphone, making it difficult to actually get to the counter.

On the Embraer 190, Air France has two large storage compartments at the front of the cabin, which are great if, like me, you’re on the bulkhead row and the overhead bins are already full. Pitch on row 1 is brilliant!

Mr 1C is a fat guy in his late fifties, I’d say. He obviously think he’s hot stuff, the big shaker-mover. He’d also obviously already assumed the seat next to him would stay empty, judging by the unhappy look he throws me when I appear. I just think he’s a creep.

He literally spends the whole flight intentionally spreading out as much as he can and generally has the manners of a pig.

On domestic services, Air France does not have a Business Class product. Also, seats on domestic flights are assigned automatically and cannot be selected until check-in opens. Although in my experience, they make sure that status holders are seated as far up front as possible.

Service consists of a selection of hot and cold, non-alcoholic drinks and a choice between a savoury and a sweet snack. Which is not bad for a flight of 45 minutes.

I go with some Perrier and a piece of lemon and poppy seed cake, which tastes okay.

The crew on this flight consists of two gentlemen in their forties. They’re your typical Air France cabin crew. Friendly and professional but perhaps not very warm.

The flight passes quickly and eventually we land in Paris on schedule. The flight ends at terminal 2G, which is used for smaller commuter flights.

The facility is fairly quiet. Passport control for my next flight, so leaving Schengen, is done in terminal 2G, before I catch the shuttle bus to terminal 2K.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Amsterdam

This year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is celebrating its centenery – one hundred years of continuous service under the same name and brand, making it the oldest airline in the world. This year, British Airways also decided it was time for a celebration, although somehow, that seems a bit like cheating, seeing as today’s British Airways wasn’t set up until 1974.

To be honest, I would have liked my KLM jubliee post to be something a bit more grand than just a short hop from Basel to Amsterdam. Perhaps a long-haul trip with the Queen of the skies, or so. Alas, the powers that be decided it was not meant to be. Even so, I didn’t want to ignore the Dutch jubliee entirely. And so, here you go: this one’s for KLM, happy birthday! You’re looking good at 100!

My day begins very, very early. The flight to Amsterdam departs at 06:20, which has me taking the 04:55 departure of the bus line 50 from the main railway station to the airport.

The bus arrives at the airport at 05:09. The check-in area and security are already very busy processing the first bank of departures.

Luckily, my Air France Platinum status gives me access to the fast track for security, which is not quite so busy as the line for Economy Class.

The KLM flights usually depart from gate 18, which is in the Schengen area of the airport. And that‘s a good thing, because the queue for the non-Schengen gates is endless!

By 05:18 I‘m through security and on my way to the lounge. The place is still fairly calm. I get myself a coffee, find a quiet corner and slowly start to wake up…

Boarding for the flight starts at 05:55 and is a somewhat chaotic affair. I don‘t think anybody quite knows what‘s going on. Initially there is just one queue. But then at some point a second one opens to speed up boarding. And then a while later, more or less as an after thought, one of the gate agents opens up a third queue for SkyPriority passengers, which is a bit pointless at this stage.

I‘m sitting on 1F, which is the bulkhead row, so seat pitch is very good. On the Embraer 190 stowage space is never an issue because there are two large cupboards up front.

The flight is busy but not completely full. By the time boarding finishes, the seat next to me is still empty. I think that‘s the one thing I really don‘t like with KLM. Even on the Cityhopper flights I think they should keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class By default. That‘s something Lufthans does better, for a change.

Outside it‘s still dark. Overnight the rain has set in again.

The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes. We take off in a northerly direction. The first stages of the flight is quite bumpy, as we ascend higher through layer after layer of thick cloud.

As soon as the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. Okay, so the delivery in a cardboard box may not be an expression of the highest sophistiction, but then again you don‘t eat the cardboard, do you?

Breakfast is a nicely balanced meal consisting of a bowl of fruit, yoghurt and Müsli, egg salad, bread and butter, and a selection of Dutch cheese and cold meat.

To drink I have a coffee and orange juice.

Sooner than expected we‘re already descending towards Amsterdam. The many greenhouses below produce a strange effect and illuminate the sky in a bright and unnatural looking yellow light.

Eventually we land 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Amaterdam is even more atrocious than it was in Basel. It‘s cold, windy and wet.

By the time the bus ejects me at the terminal, it‘s 07:30. I have one hour to go before my connecting flight. I can‘t be bothered with the lounge, which is in the opposite direction to pier B, from where my flight will be leaving. So instead I browse through the shops without the intention of buying anything.

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

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

At 10:01 I leave my flat to catch the 10:03 express bus from the main railway station to Basel airport. The express bus is not necessarily any faster than the regular service, but at least it doesn’t stop anywhere along the way. The journey takes about 15 minutes and there is no surcharge for the express.
The airport is moderately busy. It’s the end of August and the trailing end of the summer vacation in Europe, usually the time when couples without kids at school make their escape.
There is a separate fast track for security and the queue is not very long.
The Swissport Aspire lounge in Basel is always a pleasure. It sits above the main airside area and offers a 360 degree view of what’s going on outside.
Half the seating area has been closed off, presumably to save on cleaning during the quiet summer months when business travel in Europe is quite reduced.
The lounge’a best feature, though, has to be the outside viewing area which also functions as the smokers’ lounge.
On the downside, the lounge is located in the Schengen area of the terminal. With most flights now operating as non-Schengen out of Basel, there can be quite a long wait at immigration, so it’s best to plan ahead!
I time it just a bit too finely. I also didn’t consider that there was an Air Algérie flight leaving around the same time. And so the queue is fairly long for passport control. But it moves quickly.
BA boards its flights by groups. Business Class passengers and Executive Club card holders are in group 1. Although by the time I get to the gate, they’re already boarding group 4.
The very first thing you notice as you step on board the aircraft, is how dark the cabin looks. The bulkhead is a dark shade of grey and the moodlights are a dark blue.
In Club Class on BA 1A is the window seat and 1C the aisle seat. The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small table for extra storage space. The seatbacks have a headrest that can be adjusted in height and that has a set of ears for better support.
Leg space on the first row is great. But keep in mind that on 1C you’re quite exposed, with boarding passenger turning right into the cabin right in front of you. But it does give you a great cockpit view at least.
There are eight rows of Club Class on this flight, for a total of 32 seat. According to the purser, the flight is completely sold out.
There are two middle aged gentlemen working the Club Class cabin, and I must say they’re really excellent: polite, engaging and very helpful. The latter is clearly appreciated by the many elderly Americans on the flight.
Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with nicely scented hot towels.
With a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, there is only a cold meal service on this flight. However, there is a choice between a quinoa salad or grilled chicken breast for the main course.
Quinoa salad with herbs, feta, cucumber and cherry tomato.
Mixed salad on the side, served with vinaigrette.
A selection of warm breads. There are no seconds for bread.
And for dessert, a delectable chocolate mousse with caramel topping that is outrageously sweet and obscenely good. Although probably the noises I’m making while I demolish it are worse…
35 minutes out of Heathrow, the trays are removed and I am brought a mug of milky sweet tea. This is served with a small chocolate from Hotel Chocolat to celebrate BA’s centenary.
We land in Heathrow ten minutes ahead of schedule, and I‘m really quite amazed how quiet the place is, which a very rare occurrence in Heathrow.
I head down into the basement and catch the Heathrow Express into Paddington. The journey takes 15 minutes and costs GBP18. And with the current rate of exchange to the Swiss Frank, that‘s not even so expensive.
I must say, after my last Club Class experiences with BA I wasn‘t expecting anything much. In fact, I’ve tried to avoid them recently. But it seems that the carrier may have just been going through a bit of a rough time. Because this was a much better and more pleasant experience, very much like what you would expect from a global carrier like British Airways. The crew were great and the food choice and quality were also good, especially given the short duration of the flight.

Easyjet, Airbus A 320: Madrid to Basel

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

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

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

British Airways, Airbus A319 – Economy Class: London Heathrow to Basel

For my return flight to Switzerland, I’ll be travelling with British Airways from London’s Heathrow airport. The main reason being that there is currently no direct service from London City airport to Basel.

To get to Heathrow airport from the O2 arena, I’ve decided to take the most scenic option, which is the ferry on the Thames. The journey from the O2 arena to the centre of London will take near to an hour and takes you past Greenwich, tower bridge and the tower of London. The jetty is just under ten minutes walking distance from the hotel.
I alight form the ferry at Embankment. I take the few steps up to street level, cross the road and then I’m already in the tube station.
The Bakerloo line runs from Embankment to Paddington station and takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.
At Paddington station I change to the Heathrow Express. Just a piece of advice here: try to book your tickets for the Heathrow Express well in advance, and you can get some really good deals with tickets starting at GBP5.50. If however, like me, you completely forget to purchase a ticket in advance, you’re looking at ‘saver’ fares starting at GBP25…
Paddington to Heathrow takes about fifteen minutes by train.
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is very busy, as usual. Even so, security is efficient and swift. I don’t even have to queue.
The only thing I don’t like about Heathrow, is that they only advise the gate thirty minutes before departure, to give people an incentive to roam through the terminal building and spend loads of cash at the many duty free shops.
My flight today is departing from gate A6, which is one of those gates with a ridiculously long air bridge. It also means the aircraft is concealed from view and impossible to take a photo of.
I think it’s going to be one of those flights. We board the aircraft and it’s hot. What’s more, there seems to be an unusually high number children on the plane today.
The first officer comes on the loudspeaker and welcomes all passengers on board. He also apologises for the heat and explains that the APU on this aircraft is currently not working, so it’ll be a while before the cabin cools down, once one of the engines has been started.
Nice, but try telling that to a bunch of tired, hungry and sweaty kids. And so, it doesn’t take too long before the crying and the wining begins. Luckily, the lady on the aisle seat of my row is travelling with her six months old kid, which is really cute and quite happy to play footsie with her stuffed dinosaur. But the kid on the other side of the aisle is a total menace. She’s busy doing a convincing, and rather frightening, rendition of Rosemarie’s Baby. Meanwhile, her brother in the middle seat decides that now would be a good moment to spill a cup of water over himself, his dad, Rosemarie’s Baby and his mum…
The quality of this picture is not very good. I only took it because if you look at the tail of the very last aircraft way at the back, you may notice that it is in fact BA’s first Airbus A 350…
Departures are from runway 27L this afternoon. There are just a few aircraft ahead of us taxiing out. Meanwhile, we decide to race this SAS Boeing B 737-600 to the holding point.
The flight time to Basel is one hour and ten minutes. Service on the flight is buy on board and you may only pay by credit card or avios.
The seat pitch is better than I remember. But the seat still isn’t very comfortable and forces you to sit fully upright, which becomes tiring after a while. I really wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so in this seat.
We arrive in Basel just a few minutes behind schedule. I’m a bit apprehensive when I see an Air Arabia, WizzAir and a Turkish Airliines aircraft already on the ground, because that usually means that the queues for immigration and customs will be endless. But much to my surprise, there are hardly any passengers at the passport control.

You may have noticed that there are no posts of food and no comments about the service on board this flight. That’s because there’s really nothing for me to say. With the introduction of buy on board, the airline’s interaction with the passenger is quite limited. Especially the way the BA crews go about it. I watched them during the serivce. What struck me, was that they just passed through the cabin without really saying anything much. If passengers wanted to order something, it was up to them to make sure the crew noticed them. The low cost carriers do that much better I think, because on Easyjet for example, the crews are proactively trying to make a sale. As such, the onboard sales, and with that also the airline’s brand, assume a much more prominent role.

In contrast, I must admit I found this experience on BA completely interchangeable with just about any other airline, because the service I purchased has literally been stripped down to just taking me from A to B.

TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Basel

INTRODUCTION

March 31 2019 marks the beginning of the northern hemisphere summer schedule for air travel, and the change to the new schedule is usually when airlines launch operations to new destinations. Today, TAP Air Portugal is launching a new, twice daily service from Lisbon to Basel. This is not the first time TAP has operated to Basel, and in fact I still remember seeing them with the Boeing B 727-200 at Basel airport towards the end of the 80s.

Of course, I figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the first flight!

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I spend the night at the TRYP hotel at Lisbon airport, which is five minutes on foot to the terminal for an able-bodied person, and a bit longer if you have a back problem.

CHECK-IN

Lisbon has an unusual designation for its terminal facility, in that the arrivals concourse is Terminal 1, while departures are located in Terminal 2. Check-in for the flight to Basel is in sector A, which appears to be the designated TAP Air Portugal/Star Alliance area.

There is a separate check-in area for premium passengers. Because the terminal at Lisbon airport has been gradually expanded over the years, the flow of passengers does not really follow any clearly laid out concept. As such, the security checkpoint is not so easy to find. It also doesn’t help that they’re currently building inside the terminal and have removed some of the signage.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

The queue for the regular security checkpoint is endless. It reminds me a bit of the Easter processions we have in Malta, just with more complaining. But luckily, there is a fast track for security which is more or less deserted at this time of the morning.

From security I head one floor up and through the duty free shop to access the general airside area. The TAP Air Portugal lounge is located in the new part of the terminal building, one floor up from the general airside area.

The lounge is not necessarily the most elegant one I’ve ever seen, but I think it makes the most of the limited space available. The food selection is quite good, with a nice collection of local snacks. Although my suggestion to anybody transiting through this lounge would be to keep away from the coffee machine, because it’s vile.

BOARDING

My flight will be departing from gate S25. A photographer is already there taking pictures of the aircraft and crew of flight to Basel. Before boarding starts, the photographer requests a group photo with the gate staff. Somehow, by the time everybody has removed any real or imagined bits and pieces of lint from their uniforms, patted down their beard, rearranged their ties or touched up their lipstick, the number of gate attendants has suddenly increased from three to eight!

CABIN

The cabin divider is behind row 6, which means there is a total of 24 seats in the Business Class cabin. But the flight is not full today in both cabins, so that by the time boarding is completed, there are only four passengers in Business Class. One gentleman on 1A, a couple on 2A and 2C and me on 1F.

I like the design of the TAP seat. The dark colours look elegant. Every seat has a headrest that is adjustable in height and also has ears that can be folded out for support. The leg space is also good on row 1. From what I can tell though, the cabin divider is really just a curtain in the aisle.

CREW

There are four cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a gentleman in his fifties, I should say, and he is assisted by a female colleague in her forties. And the two of them are just brilliant. They’re very attentive, and although they seem quite reserved, I think they do a really good job at making passengers feel welcome.

In the rear there is one young lady and a young man working the Economy Class cabin. I don’t interact much with them during the flight, although they seem friendly enough. What I can say though, is that the trousers the young male flight attendant is wearing are so tight, it’s nearly obscene. Somebody tell the guy to put his suit jacket back on again, already!

SERVICE

There is no service on the ground. Only once we’re airborne a packaged and scented towel is provided ahead of the meal service.

THE MEAL

It takes about fifty minutes after take-off for the meal service to begin. The meal consists of:

A plate of cheese and cold cuts

A plate of fresh fruit

A bowl of yoghurt with fruit compote

A small ramekin of müsli

A small ramekin of unsalted butter with jam

In Business Class TAP provides an individual tray service, instead of serving the meals from a trolley in the cabin. As she hands me my tray, the cabin crew asks me what I’d like to drink and shortly after brings me a glass of orange juice and a coffee. The coffee incidentally, is rather good.

The crew do two rounds with the breadbasket. There is a wide selection of sweet and savoury pastries and bread to choose from.

Once the meal is done, the crew come to remove the tray and ask me if there’s anything else I’d like. One of them brings me a blanket and a pillow and shortly after I slip off to the land of nod.

ARRIVAL

At 09h40 the captain announces that we’ve reached the top of descent. It’s a lovely day for flying this morning and as we come in over the Alsace, everything looks green and lush.

We touch down at 10h10. The perimeter fence is lined with photographers taking pictures of our arrival, and as we turn off the active runway, I can already spot the fire engines preparing for the water canon salute. I mean, you can call me an attention slut if you will, but I have to say there is something rather grand about the arrival of an inaugural service, that brings back the old magic of air travel.

As we disembark the aircraft, there are two representatives from Basel airport handing out Läckerli to passengers. A Läckerli is a type of sweet, a bit like a biscuit, typical for the Basel region of Switzerland. As I pass the gate on my way to arrivals, I can see that they’ve set up a buffet with Portuguese specialities for passengers booked on the return flight to Lisbon.

CONCLUSION

Well that was fun! TAP Air Portugal will be operating the Basel service twice daily with an Airbus A 319. Clearly, the airline is hoping to cash in on connecting passengers that will transfer through its hub in Lisbon onto the carrier’s extensive Latin American network. But while the Portuguese expat communities in Switzerland and the Alsace are quite considerable, the question remains whether TAP will be able to generate acceptable revenues on this route, given that Easyjet also operates between Basel and Lisbon.