Lübeck Air, Economy Class – ATR 72: Heringsdorf to Bern Belp

Lufthansa screws up… again

Originally, I should have returned to Switzerland from Heringsdorf on Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Two weeks before the flight, I receive an email from Lufthansa, advising me to contact them about my booking. I open the app with a due sense of trepidation to find that the original flight from Frankfurt to Basel has been cancelled and I’ve been rebooked. There’s just one little snag in the plan: I’ve been rebooked onto an earlier flight from Frankfurt to Basel which departs Frankfurt before my flight from Heringsdorf arrives in Frankfurt. To cut a long story short, Lufthansa’s customer service was atrocious – as usual. The agent trying to handle the issue was clueless, obviously very badly trained, spoke next to no functional English, German or French (I tried) and was overall just useless, clearly more concerned with sticking to the rules that trying to resolve a situation that had been caused by the airline and not the customer. Eventually, Lufthansa’s grand plan was to rebook me onto a flight to Basel the next day, which also meant that I would be paying for hotel accommodation at Frankfurt of course.

But the Bible teaches us that God helps those who help themselves. On Saturday morning I wake up to an overcast sky in Heringsdorf and ponder my journey back home – and the fact that I really don’t fancy having to spend the night in that hovel they call Frankfurt airport.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I check out the Heringsdorf airport website to find that, lo and behold, there’s a flight in the afternoon from Heringsdorf to Berne with Lübeck Air. I quickly check their website to find they still have seats available on the flight. The flight arrives in Berne at 17h30, which means I’ll be back home in Basel by eight this evening. Sold!

Getting to the airport

Getting to Heringsdorf airport is pretty straightforward. First I catch the 290 bus from Schloonsee to Heringsdorf Bahnhof, and then from there I have a connection on the 284 directly to the airport. If you’re staying at a hotel in the Heringsdorf area, you will receive a complimentary Kurkarte for the local public transport.

The overall journey takes about fifty minutes. The busses aren’t frequent, and only operate to the airport during peak hours. If I’d taken the Lufthansa flight, which departs at 19h00, I would have had to take a taxi.

Check-in

What you see in the photo below is both departures on the right, and arrivals on the left, so basically the while terminal. Heringsdorf airport is just a little bigger than a shoe box.

Inside there is a large seating area and a bar serving hot and cold drinks and a few snacks.

There are four check-in counters, although only the one is open when I arrive, which serves all airlines. The check-in agent checks my suitcase to Berne, and then wishes me a pleasant flight. She’s also the person who does the boarding for the flight, which means that while boarding for our flight is underway, check-in for the Luxair flight departing after us has to be interrupted.

More importantly, there’s also a viewing terrace on the first floor of the adjacent building housing the tower.

I wait on the terrace to watch my flight arrive from Lübeck. It’s really quite a nice view from up here.

The queue for security starts on the pavement, by the bus stop. Which probably sounds a lot more dramatic than it actually is, given how small the building is. There is only the one gate, and the holding area is not all that big.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts ahead of schedule. I count 44 passengers in total for the flight.

The cabin

The cabin is in pristine condition and looks very new, and the aircraft even still has a bit of that new car smell to it. The most striking feature of the cabin is the exceptionally generous seat pitch of 35 inches. There are only 16 rows in a 2 + 2 configuration and I have plenty of space to stretch my legs.

There’s also a very funky sick bag in every seat.

The service

There are two female cabin crew. Both are in their mid-thirties. They’re very unusual in that they look perfectly content in their profession. I noticed on this vacation that you rarely see cabin crew anymore these days giving you a genuine smile.

The flight time is announced as two hours and twenty minutes.

The meal

Lübeck Air prides itself on not producing any package waste. Which I guess is a nice gesture, although I really don’t think it makes that much of a difference. Sure, they produce less plastic waste on the flight, but it also means they use more fuel to uplift the heavier crockery and glass ware. But anyway…

On offer is a small chocolate cup filled with chocolate mousse.

And a small glass jar with with savoury snacks.

And to drink I have a cup of coffee, which is actually quite good, and a glass of sparkling water.

The crew do a second drinks round and then finish the meal service with candy from a big jar.

Arrival

Our approach into Berne brings us in right over the city and the Bundeshaus, the seat of the Swiss Parliament. In the distance the Alps are clearly visible. Berne airport is not all that much bigger than Heringsdorf, I’d say.

I enter the terminal and just have enough time to visit the loo before the luggage starts arriving on the belt. All in all, it takes me seven minutes from deplaning to reaching the bus stop.

The bus stop is located just to the right when you exit the terminal building. The bus runs every twenty minutes to Belp railway station. The journey from the airport to the railway station takes ten minutes.

At Belp there is a train connection to Berne main station. The journey takes fifteen minutes.

And then in Berne I catch a train to Basel, which takes one hour.

Conclusion

This brings to an end my summer vacation. The flight with Lübeck Air was unexpected and unexpectedly pleasant. Other than that, it’s quite amazing just how unpredictable travel has become in 2022 in the post-pandemic haze. In summary:

  • The Basel to Rennes flight was changed twice, including a rerouting and schedule change.
  • The Eurostar to London changed schedule twice and also the rolling stock that was used on the journey.
  • The Air Europa flight had a schedule change and an aircraft change.
  • The Aegean flight was a replacement for a booking I had made originally on Scoot to Berlin, which had three schedule changes that eventually resulted in a completely different date of departure.
  • And the Lübeck Air flight was instead of a Lufthansa flight which also had a schedule change that would have meant me spending an extra night in Frankfurt and arriving home a day later than planned.

SBB, First Class: Genève Cointrin airport to Adelboden

Introduction

I arrive in Geneva on a Luxair flight from Luxembourg. It’s Maundy Thursday and the beginning of the long Easter weekend.

I exit through customs and turn left. At the end of the terminal is the entrance to the airport’s railway station.

On my way to the platform, I come across this sign. Manor is a Swiss department store. I find it interesting that their poster clearly mentions the new Easyjet dimensions for cabin luggage. And that they’re using the Easyjet branding.

Boarding

Geneva airport is a terminus station, trains can only arrive and depart from one direction. The last time I visited, admittedly a few years ago, the place was very dark and looked like a sad reject from the 70s. So it’s rather nice to see it updated.

The train

The journey from Geneva will take me directly to Berne, with the train calling at Geneva’s main station, Lausanne, and Fribourg on the way.

The service is operated by a Bombardier Dosto train of the Swiss Federal Railways. The Dosto is a modern and attractive train that the Swiss public just loves to hate. Mainly, this is due to the fact that the train allegedly has some amazing new technology that allows it to take curves at a higher speed. However, the system has been plagued with many issues. As a result, the train sometimes starts rocking violently from side to side and for no apparent reason. It’s strong enough to knock you off your feet if you’re not holding on to something.

The First Class cabin of the Dosto is bright and feels unclustered. The seats are comfortable and soft and all come with their own power socket and a reading lamp. The recline and pitch are generous. The only drawback is that there‘s not a lot of storage space on the upper deck. The hat racks are very narrow and not very high. They can hold little else than a coat. There are baggage racks, but they’re not really large enough to hold anything more than one large suitcase.

Seating is three abreast, with groups of four facing seats on one side and groups of two facing seats on the other. There are only two single seats in each First Class carriage. I rather like these seats, because they’re private and offer a little bit extra room to place things.

The route

A long stretch of the journey runs along lake Geneva. It’s a lovely evening and the views of the lake below are just gorgeous!

The journey from Geneva to Berne takes just under two hours. I make a brief stop to get dinner in Berne, and then continue to Adelboden. To get there, I first take a fast train to Spiez, change there to a regional train to Frutigen, and then from there catch the bus to Adelboden. By the time I arrive at the hotel it’s just gone 22h00.

Trans Europ Express, First Class: Olten via Berne to Lucerne

Back in their heyday, the 47 train compositions that made up the fleet of the Trans Europ Express (TEE) were the Queens of the European railway network. They offered passengers an unrivalled and unprecedented level of luxury, comfort and service. The compositions originally only offered first class seating. It was only much later that second class carriages were introduced.

The Trans Europ Express was established in 1957 on the initiative of the Dutch national railways. They subsequently formed a consortium with the national railway companies of Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Switzerland. Later on, other members would join. In a way, the TEE was the natural successor to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lit. The new, eye-catching trains symbolized Europe’s return to prosperity and innovation after the hardships of World War II.

The first trains were diesel powered compositions, mainly because they would operate internationally and would therefore have to cross international borders. This is also the reasons why the compositions were equipped with a power and/or steering unit at both ends of the trains, as a means of shortening the turn around times at the border stations – by not having to change locomotives.

In 1961 the Swiss Federal Railways introduced the electrically powered RAe TEE II trains. What made these trains unique, was the fact that they were equipped with four pantographs, so that they could operate outside Switzerland and without having to make any major modifications to the units en route.

When I was a young boy, I even had a LIMA model of the Swiss TEE. But as is almost always the case, the tragedy of the human existence is that you are rarely aware of what you have until it is too late. I could kick myself for not having kept that model and for chucking it out when I was a teenager and thought I was way too cool and mature for toys.

Fortunately, the Swiss Federal Railways have retained one of the original TEE trains and have had it beautifully restored to its original splendour by their historical maintenance division . To mark the 60th anniversary of the TEE this year, the Swiss Federal Railways have laid on a Festzug. The TEE will start its journey in Olten, then travels to Berne and Lucerne. And then from there to Zürich, then Basel and eventually back to Olten. I will be joining the journey from Olten to Lucerne.

Getting to Olten

Olten is kilometre 0 of the national network of the Swiss Federal Railways. Olten is normally thirty minutes away from Basel by train. Currently, the journey is taking a bit longer to complete because they’re building on the line at the weekends. I catch the 08h31 train, which gets me into Olten at 09h10 with enough time to take some photos of the exterior of the TEE as it pulls into the station.

When I arrive in Olten the mist is just starting to lift. So I’m hoping we’ll have good weather for this trip today. The departure platform is not displayed yet, but if the many train spotters with their huge lenses are anything to go by, I think I can make a pretty good guess where the train will be arriving.

Boarding

On the platform there are are plenty of staff of the SBB checking passengers’ Covid certificates. Which is good, because it means we’ll be able to keep our masks off on the train. It looks like it’s going to be a busy ride today, and there are many people milling about and taking pictures of our TEE once it pulls in.

What always drew me to the Swiss TEE, was its elegant design and the sleek lines of its nose section. That and the fact that the train can speed up to 160km/h, which was quite a lot back in its day and is still not too shabby for an old lady of 60 years.

The atmosphere on the train is nice. There’s a sense of excitement. All the passengers seem to be in a good mood, and most of them are commenting on what a classic the TEE is.

The cabin

The restoration of the train has turned out nicely, and I think the SBB did a good job in maintaining the original vibe of the cabin, while at the same time modernising it where necessary to meet today’s standards of comfort. On one side of the train are single seats that are arranged in pairs facing each other. On the other side, there are four seats in the same layout. Every seat has a foldaway table.

There is a proper dining car serving hot and cold meals and snacks. There’s also a bar for you to enjoy an aperitif or even just an espresso after the meal. The dining car and the bar are the most retro parts of the train and they’re just so cool, because you can just imagine what it must have been like to travel on one of these trains between Amsterdam and Basel or Milan back in the 1970s.

The seats are incredibly soft and very comfortable. To the point that once I settle in my seat, I find it difficult to stay awake while the train’s gentle movements lull me to sleep…

There is a welcome chocolate at every seat (common, this is Switzerland…) and a small brochure with information about the train and the TEE.

The journey

The journey takes us along the old route from Olten to Berne, the Swiss capital, in 45 minutes. This is honestly quite a bland route, and not just because the mist is still only beginning to dissipate. In Berne we have 15 minutes to step outside and stretch our legs.

From Berne, the train takes the old route through the Emmental (where the cheese is from) to Lucerne in just over two hours. By the time we leave Berne again, the weather has cleared up and it’s turned into a glorious day. The Emmental region is in the Voralpen, which means that you’re not surrounded by high mountains, towering above you on all sides. But the mountains are clearly visible in the distance. The landscape is dominated by softly rolling green hills with lush vegetation and so, so many happy looking cows grazing on them.

Other than that, the route is lined with train spotters, standing in fields or leaning precariously out of moving cars in an attempt to catch a glimpse of our train. Occasionally, we stop at a station to let another train pass. And wherever we stop, people are taking out their mobiles to take photos of the TEE!

Arrival

Eventually, we arrive in Lucerne on time at 13h23. And here too, there are spotters lining the far end of the platform, taking pictures of the TEE as she gracefully pulls into the station.

Conclusion

I suppose with this trip report my street cred as an avgeek will take a serious beating. But that can’t be helped. For me, this trip on the TEE has been a dream come true. As a kid, playing with that model I had, I always used to wonder what it must have been like travelling on such an elegant train back in the day. And thanks to the excellent work done by the team of the SBB historic division, at least I now have a bit of an idea. I sincerely hope that the TEE will be around for many more generations to enjoy. I certainly did!

Skywork Airlines has suspended operations as of Sunday, 29 October 2017.

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Introduction

About two minutes before I board my flight to Amsterdam on Saturday, I receive a text message from Skywork Airlines informing me that they have not managed to secure an operating licence from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation due to lack of funding. I am also advised that therefore all flights for the next day, including mine from Amsterdam to Berne, have been cancelled.

Perhaps not quite suite so surprising, I receive another text message just after I arrive in Amsterdam from them, informing me that the lines are busy and that so, should I have any queries, I had better send an email.

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Personally, I can’t really say I incurred any serious damages from these recent developments at Skywork – except perhaps for the fact that at 43 years of age I have still never managed to fly into the airport of Switzerland’s capital city – which I had hoped to remedy with the cancelled flight.

I think that right now the industry is more surprised that SkyWork managed to survive for as long as it has. I suspect that for a long time the small carrier had hoped to be able to come to some sort of arrangement with SWISS, similar to the one between the larger carrier and Helvetic Airways. But if that were truly the case, then I think SkyWork’s management must be really naïve.

Apparently, the airline’s management is still working hard to secure the necessary funds. But to he honest, I won’t hold my breath, which is a shame really, because I rather liked SkyWork.