Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Oslo

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m on my way to Norway. The flight to Oslo isn’t leaving until 09:40. But I figure I might as well take my usual train from Basel to avoid the worst of the morning rush hour.

I arrive at Zürich Airport at 07:20. They’re currently replacing the tracks in the station, so half the platform is closed off. It’s not so much of an issue, but it means that the platforms are quite crowded and it can take a while for the queue to move.

Either the morning rush for security is already over, or most companies have already spent their travel budget for this year because the airport is very quiet.

My first stop is the lounge. I’m starving! Luckily, the lounge isn’t too crowded either.

When it’s empty, you can actually appreciate the design of the SWISS Business lounge. I’m not so sure if the Swiss rustic look will age all that well, but for the time being it’s okay.

There is a small buffet with a rather limited choice of food. However, the centrepiece of the lounge is the open kitchen, where you can order hot dishes. So I help myself to some bread and cheese and order an omelette with chives and some beans to go with that.

I answer a few office e-mails and then decide I’d much rather be looking at the aircraft outside. So I leave the lounge around 08:30, with 50 minutes to go before boarding starts.

My flight is departing from gate B41 on the mixed Schengen/non-Schengen pier.

There are six rows of Business Class for a total of 18 seats. However, there are only nine passengers seated up front this morning. I am on 3A, with the aisle seat next to me empty. Seat pitch on row 3 is good and very comfortable.

I really like the the A 220’s cabin, because it feels so spacious. Although I probably shouldn’t confess to that to my colleague Mr Bighead, who worked on the development of the CSeries.

As usual, the service starts with the distribution of still water and towels.

Departure is from runway 28, right behind an A340 which only just manages to get off the ground…

Once the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. It consists of a tray with cheese, melon, parma ham and some disgusting liver parfait. Yuk!

With that, there is a selection of breads offered by the crew. Although Mr 3D manages to grab a total of five buns before the flight attendant can stop him. Some people…

And with that there is butter and apricot jam. There’s also a small jar of very sweet berry Müsli.

And to conclude there is a Swiss chocolate, which strangely vanished before I could take a photo…

As we head further north, the weather rapidly deteriorates. And much to my horror, when we break through the cloud on our descent, the ground below is covered in snow.

Eventually we land after a flight time of two hours and twenty minutes. The runway and taxiways are covered with ice, but nobody seems phased by that.

Once we stop at the gate there is an ID check before we’re allowed into the terminal. But the check is painless enough. I now have 90 minutes to make my connection.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Luxembourg to Zürich

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INTRODUCTION
It’s Friday afternoon, so it’s time for me to pack my bags and make my way back to Switzerland. The flying Dutchman has kindly offered to drop me off at the airport before returning to the office to do a Sim session.

I think I’ve already written more than enough about Luxembourg airport, so I guess we might as well skip ahead to the actual flight, without bothering with the preliminaries of getting to the airport, checking in, etc.

BOARDING
The flight is scheduled to depart at 14h55, with boarding expected to commence at 14h30. Clearly, that’s not likely to happen today, given that the aircraft only touches down in Luxembourg until after 14h30. The monitors are showing a minor delay of ten minutes, with an expected time of departure at 15h05.

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Apparently, there’s a bit of a confusion about a VIP passenger, who is first allowed to board the aircraft but later on asked to step off the plane and wait with everybody else…

Boarding starts just after 15h00, so it looks like the 15h05 departure isn’t going happen either. Eventually we take-off at 15h32, forty minutes behind schedule.

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THE CABIN
I really must say, I like the cabin of the CSeries. It feels so roomy. Having said that, I was recently browsing on the SWISS website and saw that on some days the CSeries is deployed even as far afield as Cairo. No matter how nice the CSeries is, I think a four-hour sector to Cairo is definitely pushing it in terms of passenger comfort…

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The Luxembourg route is highly susceptible to last minute aircraft changes. When I made the booking, the outbound should have been a CSeries 300 and the return should have been operated by a Helvetic Airways Embraer 190. As it turned out though, the CSeries on the outbound was substituted by an Embraer, while the Embraer on this afternoon’s flight has been replaced by a CSeries 100. I mention this because the configuration on the Embraer is 2 + 2. So it makes no difference which side of the vessel you’re seated on, because in Business Class the seat next to you always remains empty. But on the CSeries, the configuration is 2 + 3. Which means that if you’re on the starboard side, you will still possibly have to climb over the person on the aisle to get out.

Luckily enough for me though, today the aisle seat on my row stays empty.

THE CREW
The cabin crew consists of three flight attendants, two young ladies and one young man, who is also the maître de. One of the females is exclusively working the Economy Class cabin, so I only catch a glimpse of her. The maître de is working the Business Class cabin and is occasionally assisted by the third crew member. Which is a good thing because she’s obviously having a bad day. Poor boo…! Apparently she’s made a vow of silence too, because she refuses to speak. And that’s just all sorts of awkward when you have a job that involves interacting with other human beings…

But the young man is excellent! He has very good manners and obviously goes to great lengths to make all the passengers feel comfortable.

Once the doors are closed, the crew distribute pre-packaged, scented towels and small bottles of still water. I think this is a nice touch and something that SWISS does on every flight, unlike KLM, who will only distribute water in case of a delay, so soften the blow so to speak…

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THE MEAL
The meal consists of the usual three ramekins. The first one is filled with a red cabbage salad on cream cheese, the second is pieces of duck on a barley salad and the third is the dessert – a milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse.

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With the meal I ask for some coffee, which is served from a cardboard cup and which doesn’t seem very premium to me…

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The flight time to Zürich is thirty minutes and the cockpit crew are obviously making the effort to make up for some of the delay.

Just before the landing, the crew distribute the chocolates. The usual small, red bars of goodness have been replaced with little round chocolates wrapped up like a football to mark the occasion of the world cup. And then there’s a bit of an awkward moment when the maître de makes an announcement that ‘…in preparation for lading, please consult the safety on board cards and take a moment to located the nearest emergency exit in the likely event of an evacuation…’. But I think it goes to show just how little the travelling public gives a shit about the on board announcements, because nobody turns a hair, leaving the young man clearly confused about what he actually intended to say and what eventually came out…!

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Eventually we land and taxi to one of the remote stands near the old SR Technics hangar. This time there’s a small minibus waiting to pick up all the Business Class passengers. I say ‘this time’ because the Business Class shuttle tends to be a bit unreliable…

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Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Bombardier CSeries: Zürich to Luxembourg

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INTRODUCTION
As some of the more regular readers of this blog will know, I’m not exactly a fan of Lufthansa and the Lufthansa group of airlines. But sometimes, circumstances change and we can either adapt to them or spend a lot of time not feeling sexy.

Late in 2017 it became clear that I would be spending a lot more time in Luxembourg. I think I should explain at this point that I don’t have a car, and a few years ago the direct train link between Basel, where I live, and Luxembourg was terminated, making it necessary to change trains at least once in Strassbourg and sometimes even a second time in Metz.

That’s why, so far, I have always chosen KLM for my trips to Luxembourg. First of all, because that allowed me to arrive and depart from Basel. And secondly, because I rather like KLM and their Flying Blue programme.

But of course, there are a few drawbacks in flying KLM. Mainly, over a distance of roughly 400 km it hardly makes sense to have to change aircraft in Amsterdam, which only makes the journey unnecessarily long and doesn’t really do anything to improve my carbon footprint either.

And so, more out of necessity than conviction, I have decided to shift back to SWISS – at least for the trips to Luxembourg. On the one hand, flying from Zürich will allow me to travel to and from Luxembourg without interfering too much with my work in Switzerland. On the other hand, it’s only a short 45 minute flight from Zürich to Luxembourg.

I have no status with the Miles and More programme and these days, achieving any sort of status is near impossible, unless you spend most of your waking hours on a plane or pay unreasonably high fares simply for a booking in an RBD that yields a higher mileage per segment. Both of which don’t strike me as exceptionally exciting right now.

Well, so be it. On European short-haul flights I think you can get by perfectly well without a lounge anyway. And for long-haul trips I would travel Business Class, which gives me lounge access anyway.

I won’t regale you with a post for every one of the planned flights between Zürich and Luxembourg. But I figured it would be good to post about my first experience under the new regime. After all, who knows what might happen. Perhaps I’ll be back to my old tricks with KLM in a month’s time…

CHECK-IN
I arrive at Zürich airport by train at 07h15. Much to my surprise, it looks as though the morning rush is already over and there aren’t that many people milling about.

I’ve already checked in online. The app works well and is easy enough to navigate, but still, for some reason the SWISS boarding passes don’t show up on my iPhone’s locked screen.

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AIRSIDE/LOUNGE
The SWISS Schengen lounge is currently closed for refurbishing. As a compromise – the Swiss are good at that – SWISS passengers have the option to use one of the other lounges in Zürich. With the understanding however, that the other carriers’ passengers are given preference. If the lounge is full when you arrive, you are given a voucher for a coffee in one of the public airside outlets.

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I’m feeling rather hungry anyway, so instead I go directly one floor down to the Marché restaurant in the passage between the B pier and the A pier and have myself a rather tasty and quiet breakfast there.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts on time at 08h35. The gate agent is new, I’m guessing. The announcements she makes are oozing with the embarrassment of a person not used to hearing the sound of their own voice.

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Business Class passengers are invited to board first. But I’m sitting on 1A, so I figure I might as well wait so as not to get in everybody’s way.

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As I step aboard the aircraft, I am greeted by the maître de – a German female – and a young man, also German.

SERVICE
As soon as I take my seat, the young man brings me a small bottle of water and a pre packed refreshing towel. He seems kind of shy, mostly avoiding having to interact with the passengers as much as he can, which seems a bit strange given that you do have quite a bit of interacting to do when you’re a flight attendant.

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The maître de is polite, but otherwise, as we say in Maltese, a kaxxa silg, an ice box. Whenever she smiles you feel guilty for the pain it must be causing her…

CABIN
The cabin on the CS100 is nice. The seats are a nice warm brown colour and the bulkhead and walls are white, which makes a refreshing change from that godawful and depressing Lufthansa grey.

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The seating configuration is 2 + 3. In Business Class the seat next to you is always kept empty. On the downside, in the fully upright position the seatback is quite far forward, so you really have to sit very upright. Secondly, there is no cabin divider at all. Not even a curtain. It’s no big deal really, but I think a divider would be nice.

The windows on the CS100 are definitely are larger than on other aircraft. The inflight video screens, in contrast, are minute and I really wonder what on earth they were thinking installing those in the first place.

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THE MEAL
We take off and very soon after we find ourselves climbing above the clouds. The view of the snow peaked mountains is spectacular. And then the meal service begins. It consists of a thin, long plate which contains

  • a brioche filled with smoked salmon and horseradish,
  • a small ramekin of müsli,
  • a bowl of fresh fruit.

To drink I have an orange juice.

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Hot drinks are available from a thermos, and don’t look and smell too appealing. The guy one row behind me on the other side of the aisle orders a cup of coffee and I think you can actually hear his jaw hit the floor as the flight attendant serves him his drink in a cardboard cup. I mean, admittedly, it’s not the most elegant presentation but the flight time is only 45 minutes. So I think they can be forgiven for not bringing out the bells and whistles and the fine bone china cups.

ARRIVAL
We’re only in cruise flight for about twenty minutes before we start our descent again. Eventually the aircraft dives under the thick layer of clouds as we start our final approach into Luxembourg. Before we land, the cabin crew pass through the cabin with a basket full of Swiss chocolate and shortly after we touch down.

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The SWISS flight quite reliably uses a contact stand at Luxembourg airport. And so, ten minutes after landing, I’m already on the bus line 16 on my way to Kirchberg.

CONCLUSION
So, I left Basel on the 06h07 train and I was in the office in Luxembourg at 10h30. I timed it. If I’d taken the train, I would have left Basel at 06h21 and would have arrived at Luxembourg station at 10h21 – which means I would have been in the office at around 10h45. So in summary, the flight is roughly the same duration as the train.

Other than that, what can I say about SWISS? Obviously the flight was hardly long enough for them to distinguish themselves. While I rather like the meal service and the table ware it is served on, I still found the whole experience a bit lacklustre.

I also thought the crews were subpar. On the one hand, they were obviously not interested in engaging with the passengers in any way, even though the flight was far from full and they would have had the time. On the other hand, I also noticed that their uniforms are evidently of very bad quality and quite frankly, they just looked shabby. They were okay, I guess. But that doesn’t make me a convert yet.

Air Baltic, Business Class – Bombardier CSeries 300: Riga to Zürich

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Date: 15. January 2017.
Departure: 12:20.
Arrival: 13:30.
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Seat: 3F, window seat on the starboard side.

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INTRODUCTION
Riga is a lovely city. It is very generously laid out and there are a lot of parks along the river, which snakes its way through the old town before vanishing under the railway station. Of course the snow lying thick and heavy on the ground lends the whole place a very romantic, sleepy feel, which only adds to the atmosphere.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus lines 22 and 222.
Journey time:
20 minutes.
Departs from:
13 January square, near the railway station.
Arrives:
Riga airport, departures level.
Fee: EUR1.15 or EUR2 if you pay on the bus.

In Riga I am staying at the RadissonBlu Elisabeth, which is ideally located on the fringe of the old town and in close proximity to the railway station. I leave the hotel just after 9 in the morning and walk through the park along the river to the bus stop. It is a 10 minutes leisurely walk.

CHECK-IN
Terminal: Departures are on the upper level of the terminal.
Counters: Dedicated Air Baltic counters.
Number of counters: There is a very long row of Air Baltic check-in counters, although this morning only one Business Class counter and one Economy Class counter are open.
Web check-in:
Check-in is available on the Air Baltic website and works very well. There is no app but if you have Passbook on your mobile, you can have the boarding pass sent to you by mail and can then download it onto your phone.
Self-service check-in at the airport:
Multi-purpose check-in machines are available right next to the entrance to the terminal.

LOUNGE
Location:
At the beginning of the B dock.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge.
Name of the lounge: Prime Class lounge.
Access: There appears to be just the one lounge at Riga airport, which serves as the common purpose lounge for all airlines serving the facility. Access is either with a Business Class ticket or status in one of the airlines’ frequent flyer programmes.
Catering: The lounge has a good selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks.
Internet: Complimentary Wifi is available, the password is indicated throughout the lounge. In addition, there are Samsung workstations with internet access.
Facilities: The lounge is a good size and there are plenty of seating options. The upper level of the lounge is the quiet zone. Toilets are available in the lounge.

BOARDING
Priority boarding:
No.
Boarding for the flight starts pretty much on time. There is no separate call for Business Class passengers.

Today I shall be flying on the second CSeries aircraft Air Baltic received, which was delivered on 31 December 2016 and has only been in revenue service for less than two weeks.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
2 + 3.
Pitch: 30 inches throughout the cabin. Only the overwing exit row has a larger pitch.
Width: 18 inches for the aisle and window seats, 19 inches for the middle seat on the row of three.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Air Baltic has the same miniature size screens installed as SWISS. Those screens really are useless, they are smaller in size than the iPhone 6 Plus and because they are angled, if you are sitting by the window on the row of three, you can barely see anything on the screen.
Connectivity: Not available.

Air Baltic’s CSeries 300 have a seating capacity of 145. In Business Class the middle seat on the row of three and the aisle seat on the row of two are kept empty, which means there are three seats per row in the Business Class cabin. With the first four rows in the cabin dedicated to Business Class, this means the forward cabin has a maximum capacity of eleven seats (there is no A or C seat on row 1).

Obviously lot of thought has gone into the design and functionality of the cabin, which has a roomy, airy feel. The seats are in a very light shade of grey, so the cabin seems very bright.

The recline of the seat is good. Interestingly enough, when you recline the back of the seat, the whole seat also moves slightly forward.

The only negative point, as far as I can tell, is that there is no cabin divider.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew on this flight is friendly and welcoming like the one on the flight over the day before. There is a baby seated in the row in front of me crying his eyes out and the crew go out of their way to make the baby and his parents comfortable. In the good old days one might simply have assumed the child were possessed and would have had him exorcised. But alas, with all the political correctness going on these days people are somewhat reluctant to take such drastic measures…

Before the doors close, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the menu, newspaper and welcome drinks. There is a choice of water or orange juice.

We taxi out for departure, but there is a tick layer of snow on the wings and so we will have to deice first.

THE MEAL
Towel before the meal:
A fresh, scented hot towel is served ahead of the meal service.
Drink before the meal:
Apple juice.
Choice:
There is only one choice for the meal.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
First course:
Orange salad with pine nuts and parmiggiano shavings.
Main course:
Grilled salmon teriyaki with jasmine rice and shitake mushrooms.
Dessert:
Chocolate mousse.
Beverages:
Diet Coke.
Bread:
A selection of bread from the breadbasket, served with butter.

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The meal is really very good. The cheese goes surprisingly well with the orange in the first course and the main dish is quite tasty. The dessert is good too, but awfully sweet and sticky.

ARRIVAL
By the time the tray is removed, we have just under one hour to go to Zürich, so I ask for a pillow, lean back and go off to sleep…

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When we land in Zürich at 13h30 we are making history, as this is the first time ever that a Bombardier CSeries 300 has ever visited the airport. And it is quite apparent. On the final approach the field on the other side of the road from the perimeter fence is lined with spotters and once we touch down, many of the ramp workers are also stopping what they are doing to take a picture of our aircraft taxiing in – including the police!

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All in all, I rather enjoyed this flight. Perhaps it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that there were far less vibrations on this aircraft than on the previous CSeries flight I took with SWISS last year. But I shall have to ask our aerodynamicist at work about that.