Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Zürich to Singapore

Transfer in Zürich

With six hours to kill before my flight to Singapore, I decide not to head for the First Class lounge straight away. It is a lovely day outside, so I might as well make the best of it.

The Circle is a complex of offices and shops located land side, right behind the bus terminal. Access to The Circle is either at ground level or through a tunnel that connects it to the terminal buildings. Apparently, the tunnel has become a bit of a thing with the young and terminally hip Tik Tok and Insta community. As a result, do not be surprised to find a group of young people blocking most of the tunnel and trying to capture photos of themselves that they can post and that, at least they think, will secure their future social media fame and fortune…

The Circle has been modelled after the Niederdörfli, which is part of the old town of Zürich. Behind the buildings is a small, artificial hillock covered in thick forest. It is quite nice, and if it were not for the distant noise of the aircraft and the Autobahn, you might easily forget that you are in fact in the back yard of a major transport hub.

Check-in

Two hours later I figure I might as well head back into the terminal. I mean, I have a lot of investigating to do for this blog before my departure to Singapore.

My first stop is the First Class check-in area, just to make sure that the itinerary has not changed in the meantime. The young lady confirms that I am all good and then escorts me to the escalators leading up the the First Class lounge.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the A pier

Access to the First Class lounge is via the escalators to the left of the Edelweiss Bar in Terminal A or Check-in 1. I head up the stairs, where I am welcomed by a friendly middle-aged woman. She scans my boarding pass and inquires if I would like to go straight across to the E pier, or if I would rather wait here. I tell her I would prefer to go immediately, so she puts my name down for the shuttle in fifteen minutes and invites me to head through security in the meantime.

The lounge above Terminal A is fairly large. The design is very typical for Switzerland, I think. It is more comfortable than ostentatious.

I take a seat and immediately a young man comes to ask me if there is anything I would like to drink. I decline and tell him I will not be staying long.

First Class shuttle to the E pier

At 18h40 I head one floor up and walk down the long corridor to the departure point for the First Class shuttle to the E pier. I am the only one making the journey at this time. The driver takes me downstairs to clear immigration, and then we head out my ride to the E pier.

SWISS has these dedicated, purpose built mini vans to take passengers across, and they really are very funky. Basically, they look like a small version of a SWISS First Class cabin, complete with lamps and wood furnishings.

SWISS First Class day rooms on the E pier

The driver accompanies me up to the third floor with the lift, which ejects me in front of reception of the First Class lounge. SWISS has a limited number of day rooms available in the lounge. The receptionist informs me that “St. Moritz” is still available if I am interested. Of course I am!

The day rooms are brilliant. They are fairly small. There is no room for a desk or anything. However, each room has a comfortable double bed and a nice toilet and shower.

The view from the window is not too shabby either. But make sure to close the curtains before taking a shower, as the deck in front of the window is accessible from the lounge.

I manage to get a few hours of sleep. After a refreshing shower I decide to head out and investigate the lounge. It is fairly quiet today.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the E pier

There is no buffet service in the lounge. However, there is a large dining area and the staff are happy to also serve food on the deck outside.

My bird to Singapore is the B 777 parked next to the A 340-300.

No idea what this squirt is doing here…

I order the smoked salmon tatar with toast, which is quite tasty. Meanwhile, the evening bank has rolled on, returning the SWISS short-haul fleet home for the night. It is quite spectacular to watch, with the full moon and the mountains in the background.

Boarding

At 22h00 I head downstairs for the document check ahead of boarding. By this time the shops have already started shutting down for the night.

As I pass the gate, the gate agents tells me I will need to put on a mask for the duration of the flight as per regulation of the Singaporean authorities.

The cabin & seat

I step aboard the aircraft through the L2 door and make my way through the Stübli to the First Class cabin. I am seated on 1A. Eight out of eight seats are occupied tonight.

At my seat there is already a 50cl bottle of water and a voucher for 50Mb of complimentary wifi usage.

Once I am settled, the crew bring me the menu and the pajamas. A vanity kit and slippers are already at my seat.

The seat is wide, spacious and offers a lot of storage space that I think I must have missed on my last trip on the A 340 to Dubai. The cupboard has two hangers and two compartments to store smaller items and shoes.

There is also a small reading lamp that gives off pleasant, warm light in the dark.

The cupboard serves a second purpose to close off the seat from the aisle for more privacy. There is also a small divider that is operated electrically and which extends from the side of the seat. All in all, it is not a bad solution. The point of having these enclosed cabins is not really to have more privacy, but to prevent being disturbed in your sleep by crew and people passing by your seat.

The service

There are two crew working the First Class cabin, and both of them are excellent hosts. The service starts on the ground with the distribution of icy cold oshibori, which are highly welcomed – because although the aircon is running, the aircraft is still warm from standing around in the sun all day.

The meal

While we are still on the ground I am brought a glass of orange juice and an amuse bouche of flûtes from Sprüngli and a green tomato coulis with red tomato mousse. It is very refreshing.

Once we are airborne and the crew is released and the service begins. I am very much impressed that they actually manage to pull off the full meal service within less than two hours after take-off and without making the service seem rushed.

Starter: asparagus salad…

…and salmon trout with cucumber and trout mousse. Both of the starters are excellent. The salad leaves have managed not to go all limp in the heat, and the trout mousse is exceptional. It has a lovely smokey taste and a smooth, velvety texture.

Soup: gazpacho with shaved almonds. The soup is also very good, and has a strong dose of garlic – which at least I like very much. Not so sure about my fellow passengers though…

Main course: veal with morel jus and onion chutney, asparagus, and cheese polenta. I have no idea what compelled me to try this dish. I normally do not eat meat much, and certainly not very often on a plane. Whatever it was, I am glad I did because this dish is lovely. The polenta is rich and creamy and the meat has managed to stay juicy but without being bloody.

Cheese: a selection of cheese from the region around Lake Lucerne. Served with mustard chutney, grapes and fig bread. The blue one was a bit too salty for my liking, but the others were rather nice.

Dessert: chocolate pie. Oh my god, for a moment there I am not quite sure I will survive this dessert. It is very good, but it is also amazingly sweet and so, so rich.

Once the meal is done, I change into my pajamas and ask for the bed to be made up. I manage to sleep for a solid seven hours.

Second service

As soon as the cabin crew notice I am awake they come to ask me if I would like coffee. The young lady working the First Class cabin brings me the coffee and tells me that for one horrible moment she thought the coffee machine – the most important piece of equipment even before the engines in her view – may have gone US. But luckily she managed to get it going again.

She then ask me if I am having breakfast. There is no menu, so I challenge her to surprise me. Which she and her colleague take to mean I will try a bit of everything!

With breakfast done, I’m feeling fit to burst. Thank goodness we only have about one more hour to run to Singapore, where I can get off the plane and walk off some of all this lovely food.

Arrival in Singapore

The approach into Singapore is very scenic and takes us right past the waterfront and Changi airport, before we then make a wide 180 degree turn to line up and land.

As we pull onto our stand, the cleaning crew are already expecting us. I am guessing it is very humid, because they look as though they are trying to move as little as possible.

Conclusion

This experience with SWISS was a very pleasant surprise. I think it also proved, yet again, that the crew can make or break a flight in First Class. The crew working this flight were friendly and engaged with the passengers in a pleasant and effortless way that made you feel welcome – as though they were happy to have you with them. The lounge in Zürich was also very nice and the day rooms were just brilliant.

Of course, those of you who regularly read this blog may be wondering how SWISS compared to Air France. The answer is, I think I could not really say – mainly because their products are very different. The Air France service in La Première is elegant, polished and very grand – or just really very French. For example, when you order a drink in La Première, they will always serve it to you from a silver tray, whereas at SWISS they would just bring you a glass from the galley, without a tray. It is a minor thing and not really all that important. On the other hand, I found the service on SWISS a lot more personable.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Dubai to Amsterdam

Introduction

When I originally booked this trip, my return was supposed to be on the Air France flight from Dubai back to Paris. However, an aircraft change meant that instead of the classy B 777-300ER in the reverse herringbone configuration, Air France would be sending one of the aircraft they normally deploy on the holiday routes to France’s overseas territories. Those aircraft do not have a La Première cabin and are equipped in a rather unpleasant and outdated two-three-two configuration, which means that you unavoidably end up climbing over somebody, or getting climbed over. So I decided to rebook to the KLM flight, which leaves around the same time. That flight is operated by a Boeing B 777-200 in a two-two-two configuration. I’ve selected a seat on the middle row of two, which means I will have free access to the aisle and nobody clambering over me in the middle of the night. And it’s been a while since my last trip on a KLM widebody. So there is that too.

Check-in

I arrive at Dubai’s Terminal 1 at 23h00. Air France KLM check in on row 1. The terminal is very quiet this evening, with just my KLM flight, the SWISS flight to Zürich and a Syrian Arab Airlines flight to Damascus preparing to depart.

There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers for check-in. I can walk up to a counter immediately, where a friendly young man checks me in and tags my suitcase all the way to Basel.

Emigration is a bit of a mess. At the entrance a vapid young lady is sending all passengers in the direction of the smart gates, clearly oblivious to the fact that you need to have a biometric passport for that to work. As a result, the whole process is a mess, as half the passengers have to be turned away and pointed in the direction of a manned counter. Still, the advantage is that it spreads out the distribution of passengers in the queue for security, which is swift and really painless. Behind security I take the metro to the D gates.

The Dubai SkyTeam lounge

The SkyTeam group of airlines have their own lounge in Dubai. It’s actually a really nice place and looks a lot like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 – including the living wall. Although here in Dubai, judging by the many gaps in the wall, it’s more like a half dead wall.

Inside the lounge there is a large buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes. Perhaps just a word of warning here though for the vegetarians among us. Non-meat options are seriously lacking in this lounge.

Just after midnight I leave the lounge and head for gate D17, where boarding should be starting at 00:10.

Boarding

Boarding is something Air France KLM do really well, and this evening’s flight is no different. After passengers with young children and other disabilities, it’s the turn for zone 1, which is Business Class passengers.

The cabin

The general appearance of the cabin is nice. It has aged well and looks as though KLM takes good care of the aircraft. The twin seats on the window rows are angled to point outwards. The row of two in the middle is angled to the right in the direction of travel. I can’t say I’m a fan of this seating configuration, although I guess it is nice that having angled seats means that they are not fully adjacent. The seat to my left is slightly further back for a bit more privacy.

The seat is not really very practical. There is little storage space and what storage space there is, is rather inconveniently placed behind the seat.

When I arrive at my seat, there is a nice large pillow, a blanket, the vanity kit, menus, and a bottle of still water.

Noddy land

In future I think I’m only going to fly Emirates to the UAE, by merit of the fact that they have departures back to Europe at civilized hours of the day. In contrast, most of the European airlines depart from Dubai at the most ungodly hours of the night. And KLM is no different. We push back at 00h55 and honestly, I just want to sleep. But instead I have to keep my seat upright while we taxi for twenty minutes to the active runway.

As soon as the landing gear leaves the ground I don the earplugs and shades and extend the seat into a lying position. By the time I drift off to sleep I think we probably haven’t even passed 10’000 feet yet. And then I sleep for nearly five hours.

The seat is comfortable enough in the lying position, and the pillow and blanket make for a pleasant rest.

Breakfast

About ninety minutes out of Amsterdam the lights come on and the crew start a leisurely breakfast service for those passengers that are already awake. The breakfast is quite extensive and includes all the items on the menu. And it’s rather tasty as well.

Arrival

We land in Amsterdam at 05h50, five minutes ahead of schedule. We taxi to our stand at E3, at the beginning of the E pier. On my way to security I have the opportunity to take a few potos of the mighty B 777 that brought me here.

Security in Amsterdam is a breeze. There are hardly any transfer passengers on my flight. It also helps that you don’t need to remove any items from your bag or any pieces of clothing to pass through security. Why can’t all airports be like this?

Conclusion

The dreadful departure time aside, this was another pleasant flight with KLM. The crew were very friendly and professional and the quality & quantity of the meal were very good, much better than I had expected actually. Normally, catering ex Dubai tends to be not all that good. On the down side, the seat KLM currently has installed on the B 777-200 is not so good. The angled position gives you the feeling of constantly having to compensate how you sit to face in the direction in which you’re moving. Furthermore, the seat is tight and the storage space is limited and very inconveniently located. There’s also very little privacy. Luckily, KLM has already announced that they will gradually refit these aircraft with the reverse herringbone they have installed in the B 787. And it’s about time too, because the current product is getting old.

As for Dubai, I think I see problems looming on the horizon. At a glance, I’d say Dubai has definitely lost its luster. Dubai has always tried to position itself as a premium destination. But to all good intent, it’s now just another mass tourism spot for deranged people who think it’s healthy to lounge by the pool all day in plus 40 temperatures. And quite frankly, some of them have the cultural sensitivity of a bulldozer.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. She then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose job it is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an espresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tows us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris Roissy to Dubai

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
To: Dubai
Departure: 14h00
Arrival: 23h50
Flight time: 6h50mins
Seat: 3L, window seat

Introduction

To date, the UAE’s three largest airlines, some of the country’s ANSPs and a few smaller operators use the tests my university is responsible for. Which is why I regularly travel to the UAE to train new assessors. Every time I come here, the flying Dutchman tells me it’ll probably be the last trip for a while. But that never really seems to be the case…!

I go through immigration in terminal 2G, at which I just arrived on a flight from Basel. Behind passport control is the stop for the shuttle bus, which pulls up just as I’m through passport control. The journey to terminal 2E(K) is nine minutes.

On the way I get a nice tour of some of Paris’ best sights (at least I think so…):

Once I enter the building at 2K, I head one floor up to the main concourse. My flight to Dubai is boarding from K41, which is the gate immediately next to the escalators.

Boarding

I don’t recall having passed through this terminal before. And I must say, the architecture is spectacular.

Just as I step off the escalator, boarding for my flight begins, 55 minutes before departure. That seems rather early to me, but I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just get comfortable on board instead.

Well hello, gorgeous! Aren’t you a lovely big girl… in case you hadn’t realised, I seriously have a thing for the B777. Those engines…!

The Cabin

The Business Class cabin on Air France’s B777-300ER is configured in a reverse herring bone layout. There is a smaller Business Class cabin of four rows between the L1 and L2 doors, and then the larger cabin after the L2 door. Row 3 is the bulkhead row of the forward cabin, immediately behind La Première.

Air France has one of my favourite Business Class products. The design of the seat is great and the amount of privacy offered is also very good.

There is ample storage space and the layout of the seat is very practical.

When I reach my seat, a pair of slippers, a thick pillow, a nice, fluffy blanket, and a bottle of Evian have already been placed there.

The Service

A member of the crew quickly comes to greet me and then hangs my jacket.

Once boarding is completed, service begins with a welcome drink. There is a choice of champagne or fresh juice. I have the latter, which turns out to be a combination of apple, banana, orange, pineapple, spinach and something else I’ve now forgotten. It’s quite tasty!

This is followed by the distribution of the unscented hot towels, which are also very fluffy.

We take off heading westwards. Our flight today is routing via Switzerland, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The flight time is six hours and 25 minutes.

After take-off, the vanity kits and menus are distributed.

The Meal

The service begins as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off.

Amuse Bouche

To start, I just have a glass of Perrier, which is served with the appetizer, which is smoked duck with a celery and hazelnut purée. There’s also a packet of cheese-filled crackers.

First Course

The tray is served with the first course and salad on it. The starter is foue gras, which I simply don’t like, and a lentil and cauliflower salad, which is very tasty and flavourful.

Salad

There’s a lovely selection of warm bread served with the meal.

Main Course

For the main dish, I have the fish, which isn’t all that good and has a somewhat off-putting smell from the reheated mussels.

The Cheese

Next is the cheese course, which is served with more bread. There are three pieces of cheese, a camembert, a cantal and a goat’s cheese. All three are quite subtle and go well with a glass of port.

Dessert

And finally, for dessert I have a small ramekin of mocha ice cream, which is a refreshing conclusion to the meal. Two hours after take-off, the service is completed.

For the rest of the flight I lounge in my seat, reading my Kindle. I can highly recommend Ian McEwan’s The Cockroach, which is a brilliant satire based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse, in which a cockroach finds himself transformed into the British prime minister.

The Second Service

90 minutes out of Dubai, the lights are turned on again and a light snack is served ahead of our arrival.

The snack consists of a chicken wrap and two sweet pastries and is perfectly adequate, given the short flight time.

Arrival

Eventually we land after six hours and fifty minutes, including 25 minutes spent holding over Dubai. The airport seems very quiet and there are hardly any people on the shuttle to the arrivals building.

Immigration is deserted. I’m seen to by a friendly young guy, who tells me he’s now registered me in their system, so I’ll be able to use the eGates on my next visit.

I grab a taxi and make my way to the hotel. It suddenly starts raining heavily, and within minutes Sheikh Zayed Road is flooded is places. I’ve never seen Dubai like this. It’s still warm though.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300ER: Singapore to Paris CDG

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Introduction

In Singapore I’m staying at the Changi Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has direct access to Terminal 3. I spend a blissfully lazy Saturday by the pool. I mean, what else could you possibly ask for? I have a room that opens directly onto the pool, it’s warm outside and all I have to do to watch the aeroplanes taking off is to look up from my Kindle whenever I hear one thundering by.

Getting to the Airport

To get from the hotel to Terminal 1, I exit the hotel on the second floor level and do two right turns, which brings me to the Skytrain station for the short trip across to Terminal 1.

Check-in

The Air France check-in counters are on the very first row of counters when you enter Terminal 1 coming from the direction of the Skytrain. You really can’t miss them.

Online check-in is available, but it is not possible to save the boarding pass to Passbook or to have it printed. Still, it makes no difference to me, seeing as I’ll be checking in a suitcase anyway. There is one counter for La Première, four for SkyPriority and two baggage drop-off counters for Economy Class passengers.

There’s a bit of a hold up checking in. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the agents are taking their sweet time processing the passengers. Although admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that there’s one woman travelling on her own with, and I kid you not, five large Rimowa suitcases, four rucksacks, two laptop bags and one handbag. When the check-in agent breaks the news to her that, surprisingly, she’s exceeded her baggage allowance, she looks totally surprised…

The Lounge

Air France uses the DNATA lounge in Terminal 1, which is fairly big but also very busy when I arrive. There’s hardly anywhere left to sit. The lounge has a good selection of hot and hold dishes and a wide selection of drinks. Other than that, it’s not a particularly memorable lounge.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from gate D34, and on the boarding pass it says that boarding will commence at 22h30 for the 23h10 departure. I figure 22h30 indicates the time to report at the gate for the security check. Luckily, there is a separate and much shorter queue for SkyPriority passengers. Just as I’m packing away my things, boarding for the flight starts, with an invitation for SkyPriority passengers to board first.

The Cabin

On the Boeing B 777-300ER Air France has a reverse herringbone configuration, with the window seats facing towards the windows for more privacy. The seat is fully lie-flat and has more than enough storage space. USB and electricity plugs are also available. The seat is quite wide, so that when in the fully flat position, there’s still enough space to toss and turn in your sleep.

There are two Business Class cabins, one forward of the L2 door and the other aft of it. I am sitting in the forward cabin on 4A, which is the second row in the forward cabin with four rows of seats.

The cabin and seat are kept in Air France’s colours – white, red and blue – and look very attractive and fresh. When I arrive at my seat, a pillow, blanket and slippers have already been placed at my seat.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are excellent. They’re quite senior and they do an outstanding job. Throughout the flight they’re checking that the snack bar is replenished and the toilets are regularly checked, kept stocked and clean.

The Service

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of champagne or fruit juice on the tray, but other drinks are also available on request. After that, scented hot towels are handed out.

The flight time is announced at thirteen hours and twenty minutes.

Once we’re airborne, the crew distribute the menus and pass through the cabin with a tray offering more champagne.

The Meal

Originally, the plan was that I’d eat in the lounge and just go straight off to sleep once we’re airborne. Which is why I nearly overdosed on the creamy mashed potatoes they had in the lounge. That and the fact that I’m just a sucker for a good plate of mash… In any case, I make the mistake of looking at the menu and decide that it does all sound rather interesting. And I’m not really tired yet anyway, so… bugger it. I’m in! The tray arrives with the first course, the salad and the cheese already on it.

First Course

Semi-cooked tuna in a black pepper crust, served on quinoa salad and poached shrimp on a citrus salad with cucumber and a yuzu vinaigrette.

This is a tasty dish and the presentation works well. It’s also properly seasoned (which is something Singapore Airlines didn’t manage quite so well…).

Salad

The salad comes with a small bottle of balsamico mixed with olive oil. It’s mostly leaves but it’s still a fairly large salad. With that the crew offer a selection of breads.

Main Course

Penne with a mushroom ragout, roast tomatoes and garlic oil.

There is a choice of four different dishes for the main course. The pasta is good and has managed not to go all hard and rubbery as it sometimes tends to do on a plane. The ragout is flavourful and creamy.

The Cheese

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anywhere what the cheeses are, but they’re very good!

Dessert

Chocolate praline éclair, violet mousse, yuzu meringue tart and strawberry sorbet.

For dessert there is a choice of either ice cream (banana, vanilla or strawberry sorbet) or three small pastries. I initially go for the pastries, but then the flight attendant tells me that the strawberry sorbet out of Singapore is usually rather nice too. Just in case I’m interested. Oh very well then, bring it on. Je souffre en silence…

After the meal, the crew set up a fairly substantial buffet in the galley with a good selection of some delectable French sweets by Fauchon, sandwiches, noodle soups and fruit.

And I go off to the land of nod for a solid seven hours. Incidentally, the blankets Air France provides in Business Class are lovely. They’re cosy and warm and fluffy.

Amenities

The amenity kit is some special edition to commemorate Air France’s 85th jubilee. It may not necessarily look like much, but at least it contains some useful items, including eye shades, ear plugs, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, a comb, and a pen.

The Second Service

The second service begins ninety minutes out of Paris. The lights come on and passengers are given a scented hot towel to revive.

The tray arrives with the hot meal and all the other items already on it. There are three choices for the hot meal. My meal consists of:

crêpes in a vanilla sauce with a passion fruit and mango salsa

The breakfast is quite substantial and the hot meal is simply divine. This is total comfort food. The vanilla cream is rich and not overly sweet and the pancakes are light and thin.

Arrival

Just under forty minutes out of Paris, we start our initial descent into Paris. The captain comes on to inform us that we’ll be doing an automatic landing in Pairs because visibility on the ground is very bad.

We touch down, the mighty triple seven gives us one last impressive roar as the reversers open to slow us down, and then it’s done. We’ve landed and I’m back in Europe. By the time we arrive at our gate in Terminal 2E it’s already 06h10. I now have just slightly over an hour to make my connection back to Zürich from Terminal 2F.

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Melbourne to Doha

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Date: 16. February 2017
Departure: 23:15
Arrival: 05:25
Flight time: 13 hours 55 minutes
Seat: 3B, aisle seat

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Introduction

Next Monday the new semester begins, which means it is high time for me to get a move on and head back home. Again, I shall be travelling in Qatar Airways’ formidable Business Class, which admittedly softens the blow of having reached the end of my vacation…

My flight to Doha will depart at 23h00 from Melbourne, which means I have all of Thursday at my disposal.

Getting to the Airport

In Melbourne I am staying at the Radisson on Flagstaff, which is just a short ten minutes walk away from the coach terminus at Southern Cross Rail Station. The journey from the city centre to the airport takes approximately 25 minutes and there is a Skybus coach leaving for the airport every 10 minutes. A one way ticket will set you back AUD19. There are no trains to the airport.

Check-in

All of row B in Terminal 2 is dedicated to Qatar Airways. You can check in online for this flight too. Even so, it is probably still worth it to make a stop at the check-in counter when you get to the airport because Business Class passengers are given a voucher for the security fast track that they can use in both Melbourne and Doha. You will also need to complete a customs form for departing passengers, which is also available at the check-in counter.

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The Lounge

Qatar Airways uses the lounge of its Oneworld partner Qantas in Melbourne. And thank God for that, because lounges are something Qantas does really well. It is a fairly large space with a variety of seating options. I like the design of the Qantas lounges. My only grippe with the lounge is that it is rather dark.

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Apart from that though, the food selection is rather good and there are salads, various pasta dishes, soup and a really delectable and sinful tasting chocolate cake.

Boarding

At around 22h10 I leave the lounge to stretch my legs one last time before the long flight. Boarding for the flight has already started, even though we still have another hour to go before departure. I wonder if perhaps the crew is hoping to get away earlier for some reason or other.

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Melbourne airport is quite busy at this time of night. To our left, Singapore’s A 380 is being readied for its flight back to Singapore, to our right the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok is also in the final stages of boarding, and as we taxi out, I also spot aircraft from Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Qantas and Emirates.

The Cabin

Tonight’s flight is being operated by one of my favourite aircraft, the mighty Boeing B 777-300ER – so please excuse my little fanboy outburst…

The last time I flew on Qatar Airways’ Boeing B 777-300ER was back in 2012 on a short flight from Hanoi to Bangkok. Admittedly, the cabin on the Boeing 777 is not near as nice as that of the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A 350. The seating configuration is in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout, which is rather old school and less private. But still, the seat is very comfortable, even when it is extended into a bed. The inflight entertainment is pretty much on a par with that of the other Qatar Airways aircraft I have flown with on this trip. The only major difference, from what I can tell, is that there is no wifi available on board this aircraft. But in the sum of all things, I do not really mind any of this. First of all, because it is the crew that makes the flight and secondly, no matter what the cabin may look or feel like, as far as I am concerned, the Boeing 777 is just one hell of a machine…oops, there goes the fanboy again.

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The Crew

Just when you think you have seen it all and done it all, along comes Qatar just to remind you that really, you are just so clueless. The crew on this flight are even better than those of the two previous flights. They are courteous and friendly, considerate and attentive and nothing seems to be too much for them. Throughout the flight they are constantly present in the cabin, making sure passengers are comfortable and properly hydrated. The toilets are kept in impeccable condition during the flight.

The service sequence follows the usual protocol, what else?

Amenities

While I think it is nice that airlines provide a vanity kit, I often wonder what on earth they were thinking when putting together the content. On the two previous flights with Qatar, the vanity kit included this really enormous tube of Armani aftershave cream, which somehow seems a bit of a waste. At least on this flight, the aftershave balm has been replaced with a large tube of Armani shower gel, which to me just makes more sense. There is also a small flacon of the perfume in the kit. Toothbrushes are available in the toilets.

The Meal

As a welcome drink I have another one of those tasty lime and mint affairs, which probably contains more sugar in one glass than an average, mid-sized country consumes in a whole month. But it is just so good.

When the cabin crew comes round to take my order – Susanna from Macedonia – I explain to her that I really just want to sleep right now. Of course, this being Qatar, she tells me that that will not be a problem. She will take my order and put it aside and then I can eat whenever I wake up.

And so, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, I convert my seat into a bed and head off to Noddy Land for six hours.

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First Course

For a starter I have the Arabic mezze, which is very tasty and includes hummus, something with red pepper and tabouleh. A few years ago I flew to Singapore with my colleague, the tall blond M., who struck up a conversation with one of the Arab cabin crew on that flight. At some point the guy told us that as an Arab he would only ever have the mezze on flights out of Doha, because the quality of the mezze is just so much more authentic. And I think I tend to agree. While this mezze platter is good, I think it kind of lacks a bit of zing. As far as the hummus is concerned, I think it could have done with a bit more tahina.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the gnocchi with a spinach and blue cheese sauce that is served with walnuts and ruccola leaves. I notice that the food is piping hot, whereas the plate is not. I can only assume therefore, that the food is not plated in advanced and instead is assembled on the aircraft.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I have the ice cream – chocolate and vanilla, with mixed berries and a chocolate biscuit thing that tastes very good.

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The Valhorna chocolate after the meal has been replaced with a praliné by Godiva.

The Second Service

The second service already starts two hours and thirty minutes out of Doha because the crew is expecting heavy turbulence as we approach our destination. But in fact the bad weather starts much earlier, and the service has to be interrupted repeatedly.

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The breakfast service begins with a warm, rose scented hot towel to wake me up, followed by some Greek yoghurt with cherry compote and granola. The yoghurt is good, but the compote is just a bit too sweet, even for me.

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For the main course I have the Arabic breakfast, which is very tasty and quite extensive. There is a small plate with pita bread, another plate with cucumber, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese and a separate, hot dish of foul mudames, which is made with beans.

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The main is excellent, it is not spicy in the sense of being hot, but there are just a lot of different spices in the dish that make it very fragrant.

Transfer in Doha

Eventually we land after a flight time of 13 hours and 55 minutes. In the end it was not quite as bumpy after all on the approach. Much to my surprise though, the ground is wet and the captain informs us that there have been heavy rain showers in the area.

Security is already busy. It is quite apparent that this is the rush hour here in Doha. Even so, with the separate fast track for security, I am quickly processed and soon find myself airside again. Time to head for the lounge.

I had hoped to be able to take a shower, but they guy in charge tells me there is a waiting list that will take about an hour to clear.

Cathay Pacific, First Class – Boeing 777-300: Frankfurt to Hong Kong

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Date: 20 December 2016
Departure: 13:00
Arrival: 06:24
Flight time: 10 hours, 30 minutes
Seat: 1K, window on the starboard side

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Introduction

I awake just before seven in the morning. I open the curtains to take a look outside. It was late when I arrived yesterday evening, so I could not really see anything much. It is a lovely day today, but immediately I am taken aback by just how incredibly ugly Frankfurt airport is. Apart from the fact that the whole facility was designed with everything but the passenger’s convenience in mind, the buildings are quite simply ugly, badly maintained and dilapidated. Paris Charles de Gaulle may not be up there in the top ten of the world’s most convenient airports either, but at least that place has style.

Getting to the Airport

Mode: Shuttle bus
Journey time:
Five to seven minutes, depending on traffic.
Price:
Complimentary shuttle, provided by Fraport.
Frequency: Every five minutes.

I am staying at the Hilton Frankfurt airport, which is perched above the long distance railway station. To access Terminal 2, take the escalator down from the hotel lobby. At the bottom turn left into the covered footbridge that connects the station to Terminal 1. There are a few cafes on the footbridge. When I arrived yesterday evening, they had already closed and there were mice running around all over the bar and tables. So you may want to get your coffee somewhere else unless you fancy a mouse poo macchiato…

At the end of the footbridge, turn left and take the stairs down to the ground floor. The stop for the shuttle bus to Terminal 2 is on your right.

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Check-in

Terminal: 2, sector E
Airport check-in: Check-in counters are open from 09:30 to 12:10. There is:

  1. one counter for First Class passengers,
  2. one counter for Business Class passengers,
  3. one counter for Premium Economy passengers, and
  4. three for standard Economy Class passengers.

Web check-in: Online check-in open 48 hours before departure.
Self-service check-in:
There are red self-service check-in machines available and Cathay Pacific staff are on hand in case something should go wrong.

I have already checked in using the Cathay Pacific app, but I decide to pass by the First Class check-in desk anyway. The lady there is very friendly and chatty. She reissues my boarding pass in paper, together with an invitation to the lounge in Frankfurt, a small map of Terminal 2 for me to find my way around, as well as an invitation to the arrivals lounge in Hong Kong.

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The Cathay Pacific Lounge

Location: Before the security checkpoint for gates E2 to E9.
Type of Lounge:
Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge.
Access:
By invitation. The entrance is right opposite the security checkpoint.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge.
Showers:
There are three showers in the lounge that appear to be permanently attended.
Food & Beverages: There is a selection of hot and cold snacks. When I arrive at the lounge just after ten, they are just clearing away the breakfast dishes and replacing them with the lunchtime snacks. There is no noodle bar in this lounge, but noodle soups can be ordered from the staff.

To add a bit of seasonal atmosphere, there is also a plate with Christstollen and next to that a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Connectivity: Complimentary wifi is available, no password required.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a good selection of international magazines and newspapers.

The lounge is fairly large. There is no dedicated First Class section. Other than that, there are dedicated workspaces if you need a bit of privacy as well as computer workstations.

Boarding

There is a priority lane for security. Boarding is first for families with children and then for First and Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges, First and Business Class passengers use the L1.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 1 + 1.
The seat feels very private, despite the fact that it is not a suite type seat. First of all, the window seats are all angled to face towards the window, so you do not have to look at the other passengers. In addition, the shell of the seat is quite high and deep.
Pitch: 81 inches
Width: 36 inches
AC Power:
110 V AC power port available at every seat
Audio and Video: On demand, touch screen enabled., Bose earphones

I cannot really say anything much about the inflight entertainment, because I did not use it.

Connectivity: Cathay Pacific does not provide wifi on the B777-300ER.
Toilets: There are two toilets for the First Class cabin, although one is in fact the crew toilet, which is used when the actual First Class toilet is occupied. The cosmetics in the toilet are by Aesop, the same as in the vanity kit. The actual First Class toilet is large enough for a grown man to be able to change comfortably enough. It also has a proper sink and the faucet is turned on and off manually, instead of automatically.

The cabin is very elegant and spacious. This is partly due to the fact that there are no overhead bins and there are only three seats abreast. Even so, there is more than enough storage space and every passenger has their own small closet, with enough space for a jacket, trousers and shirt.

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The Crew

As I step aboard the plane, I am greeted by a chirpy young lady. She shows me to my seat on 1K and hangs my jacket for me. She introduces herself and in short sequence three other members of the crew stop to say hello, welcome me aboard and introduce themselves. The purser tells me we will have a fairly quick flight today at only ten hours and thirty minutes. Once I am settled, I am brought, in short sequence, my pyjamas, a vanity kit, earphones, the menu and a welcome drink and an amuse bouche.

Amenities

The pyjamas are very comfortable, but they are cut very wide. I am a fairly big guy. But I was given an L and it was still quite big on me.

The vanity kit is by Australian brand Aesop, and there are different kits for men and women. It contains:

  1. mouthwash,
  2. toothbrush,
  3. Colgate toothpaste,
  4. a comb,
  5. earplugs,
  6. a cloth to clean spectacles with.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Towel before the meal:
Hot towel served on the ground.
Pre-meal drink:
Cathay Delight, it is one of the airline’s non-alcoholic signature drinks – made with kiwi, mint and coconut milk.
Choice: There is a selection of Western and Chinese dishes that can be mixed. There is also a vegetarian option
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch
Beverages:

  1. Krug with the caviar,
  2. Evian,
  3. Earl Grey tea with dessert.

Breadbasket: A selection of rolls and garlic bread.
Hot towel after the meal:
Yes, not scented.

Okay, so… Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa you can definitely go home. Qatar, if you don’t mind, I’ll just put you on the back burner for the time being. Because I think I have a new favourite First Class airline. And yes, the meal is definitely what tips the scale. It is quite simply outstanding. First of all, unlike many other airlines, Cathay Pacific will actually give you a whole tin of caviar and not just a sad, small spoon full like Lufthansa does. But apart from that, the size of the portions is very good and the tastes and flavours are simply amazing, especially considering that we are at 37’000 feet! The Chinese main course is fragrant and spicy.

But without a doubt, the undisputed highlight of the meal is the dessert. Oh. My. God. This is divine. It is soft, warm and gooey on the inside, but firm on the outside (yeah okay, so I write a bit of food porn too. Is that going to be a problem…?). This soufflé is so good, it really needs a weapons licence.

Amuse Bouche

Seared tuna on sweet potato mash, served chilled and with a cracker.

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The Caviar Service

Caviar and Champagne with trimmings.

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The Soup

Minted pea and Edamame soup.

The Entrée

Poached Maine lobster with baby corn, asparagus, capers, dried tomatoes and romaine salad, with a French dressing.

The Main Course

Braised Cod, ginger, scallion, mushroom and oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy and carrot.

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The Cheese

Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Manchego, and Caciotta with crackers, bread, grapes and dried fruit.

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Dessert

Chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and dulce de leche ice cream.

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Inflight Snack

Surprisingly, four hours out of Hong Kong I am feeling hungry again. I order the wonton noodle soup, which is served with a glass of still water and a Coke Zero. Even for just a snack, the crew set the table properly, with a napkin and tablecloth. The soup is nice and warm and has this smoky taste. The wontons are delicious.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: No.
Pre-meal drink:
Mixed berries smoothie.
Choice:
There are two Western (one sweet and one savoury) dishes and one Chinese hot dish to choose from for breakfast.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
First course:
Fresh seasonal fruit.
Main course:
Banana pancake with Mascarpone and maple syrup.
Breadbasket:
A selection of bread, buns or fresh toast, served with butter, honey and jam.
Hot towel after the meal:
Yes, lightly scented.

The breakfast service starts about ninety minutes out of Hong Kong. The plate of fruit is simple enough and serves its purpose perfectly. But then comes the main dish and my jaw literally drops – it is huge! There are three banana pancakes on the plate that are plump and fluffy. They are sweet and syrupy from the maple syrup drizzled over them and in the middle of the plate there is a huge, inviting dollop of mascarpone cream. Divine! Throughout the breakfast service the crew come to check that I have everything I need and top up my drinks. The meal concludes with a hot towel. By this time we only have another fifty minutes to go to Hong Kong.

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Arrival

We land at 06:25, nearly thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is only just coming to life. I disembark the aircraft and head downstairs to catch the automated people mover to bring me to the head of the terminal. The queues at immigration are already starting to form but are still fairly modest by Hong Kong’s standards.

In Hong Kong I will be staying at the Novotel Citygate, which I chose because I will only be here the one night and my next flight will already be leaving at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Conclusion

Well, what can I say and where to begin? As far as I am concerned, Cathay Pacific really clinched the spot as the best First Class experience I have ever had, coming in ahead of Qatar Airways and Asiana Airlines. I am sure if you want to look at the details of the flight there are probably areas that might be improved, but the overall package is really quite overwhelming. The crew are incredibly friendly, chatty and attentive but without being obtrusive. The hardware is great too. The seat is comfortable and provides a lot of space and privacy, giving the entire cabin a very cosy and exclusive feel. But without a doubt the food is really the selling point here for me. Apart from the fact that you certainly do not go hungry on Cathay Pacific, the quality of the dishes and the composition of the meal are outstanding. I shall have to do this again!