Brussels Airlines, Economy Class – AVRO RJ100: Stockholm Bromma to Brussels

This is a previously unpublished report from 2012.

Introduction

SN Brussels Airlines is, to the best of my knowledge, one of only very few international airlines that operate to Stockholm Bromma Airport and not to Arlanda. Until the 1960s Bromma was Stockholm’s only airport. When the facility was first established, it was still on the outskirts of the city. However, by the time Arlanda opened, the city was starting to infringe on the airport. And perhaps that explains why Arlanda was built so far out of town: to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen again so quickly.

Getting to the Airport

To get from Gashaga Bryggen, where I’m staying, to Bromma airport by public transport, you first need to take the Lidingöbanan from Gashaga to Ropsten, and then from there you connect to the T13 metro line that will take you to the central station.

The Flygbussarna, or airport bus, leaves from the Central Station. Apparently, not that many people know that there are two airports in Stockholm. Which probably explains why the bus driver, with a resigned tone of voice and a heavy sigh, tells every single passenger as they board that this bus is going to Bromma airport, not Arlanda, and the bus will not stop anywhere on the way. Okay?

Eventually, the bus fills up and we depart. We probably haven’t even moved 200 metres when the bus driver makes yet another announcement asking all passengers if they’re sure they’re on the right bus and want to go to Bromma, not Arlanda. And of course some Spanish woman pipes up from the back of the bus, runs frantically to the front and begs the driver to drop her off because she really, really needs to go to Arlanda, not Bromma…

Check-in

Bromma airport is really very small. It’s a two story building that looks like it hasn’t changed much since the 60s or 70s. It’s actually interesting to see how much airport design has changed over they years.

The Lounge

The only available lounge is the Yellow Room operated by Malmö Aviation. But apparently, SN Brussels were too cheap to contract this lounge for their Senators. But it’s no big deal, I rather like this dinky little airport.

Boarding

Boarding is also very old school. There are no airbridges (woohoo..!), which means that passengers walk across the apron to their aircraft. There are covered walkways though, although I’m not sure how efficient these might be during a snow storm in the cold Swedish winter.

The Cabin

The Avro RJ100 is a strange size in that the cabin diameter actually permits for a six abreast configuration in Economy Class, which is what British Airways Citiflyer and Cityjet have gone for. And it ain’t pretty, because the seat pitch is also quite tight. Fortunately though, SN Brussels has gone with the five abreast configuration, which means that while the circulation to your legs is just as likely to stop on these birds too, at least you can flap your arms around with greater ease and comfort as you gradually start to panic as the loss of sensation to your legs sets in.

The AVRO RJ100, which was originally conceived as the BAe 146-300, was designed as a STOL (short take off or landing) passenger transport that could operate from smaller airports with limited infrastructure. To ensure that passengers could board and deboard easily, the aircraft carries its own set of steps for the forward L1 door. However, this meant that the wing of the aircraft would have to be placed above the fuselage in order maintain enough clearance for the engines but still be low enough above the ground to be able to use integrated stairs.

As a passenger and a geek, I’ve always enjoyed the RJ100’s unique design. First of all, because it gives you excellent ground visibility from pretty much any seat on board, and secondly, because it’s interesting to watch the movement of the flaps during the climb out and landing phase.

The Meal

Service on SN Brussels Airlines is strictly buy on board in Economy Class. There is a menu and pricelist in every seatpocket.

I decide to with a balanced and healthy combination of Coke Zero and a muffin for EUR4.-, which is reasonable I think.

Arrival

And then, very soon we start our descent into Brussels, which means I’m now glued to the window to make sure I don’t miss the flaps being deployed. Although of course, there’s no chance of anyone on the plane missing that given the noise the RJ100 makes when the flaps are moved either up or down. It’s rather hard to describe. I suppose it sounds a bit like a racing car zooming past your ears at close quarters. As the flaps are deployed the sound is descending, so as though the ‘car’ were slowing down. I asked our aerodynamicist in the office once if he had any idea what caused the sound. But I shall not give you his answer to avoid offending anyone…

Transfer in Brussels

Eventually, we land in Brussels on time. I now have two hours to make my connection to Basel.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Brussels to Zürich

Introduction

I have a colleague at work. For argument’s sake, let’s call him Mr. Bighead. In any case, Mr. Bighead worked on the development of the Bombardier CSeries. He recently gave me his candid, and of course totally unbiased opinion about my blog. According to which, I could be a bit more enthusiastic in my praise for the fabulous CSeries. I promised to make amends, especially seeing as the CSeries is indeed starting to grow on me. And so, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let it be known that I, William, think the Bombardier CSeries aka the Airbus A 220 is a rather nice aircraft.

Getting to the Airport

The course at Eurocontrol ends just before 15h00. My flight back to Zürich is not until 18h50. But instead of hanging around the office, I figure I might as well go to the airport and find myself somewhere quiet to sit with a good book. I’m so looking forward to finally going home.

Eurocontrol in Brussels is pretty much out in the sticks. In fact, I think there are more wild bunnies per square metre than there are humans on the premises. But at least, being out in the boonies means you can avoid the notoriously horrific traffic around Brussels. The journey to the airport by taxi takes roughly 12 minutes and costs EUR18.

Check-in

SWISS checks in on rows 1 and 2, which is where the Brussels Airlines counters are located. Brussels Airlines does the check-in on behalf of its Star Alliance partner SWISS at Brussels airport. Rows 1 and 2 are in the best spot of the departures concourse, because they’re closest to the escalators as you come up from the car park and railway station. They’re also closest to the entrance to security.

The Brussels Airlines Business Lounge

The security checkpoint at Brussels airport is very well organised. There is a separate queue for Fast Track security and the whole process is efficient and quick. The security checkpoint is located halfway between the A (Schengen) and the B (non-Schengen) piers.

Brussels Airlines and the Star Alliance carriers use The Loft lounge, which is one floor up from the main airside area of the A pier, just opposite the escalators.

The lounge is nice and it’s been extended since the last time I was there. In fact, I think its size has been doubled. It’s spacious, clean and modern and offers a wide range of comfortable seating options, including some with excellent vistas of the apron. The food is also very good, with a variety of hot and cold dishes that change regularly throughout the day.

One of the things I don’t much like about most lounges though, is the people you find in them. Like the German business man who has two large beers in front of him and is busy on the phone telling the caller about exactly what he told them in the meeting – and everybody else in the lounge, whether they care to listen or not.

And the table manners – or lack thereof – of some of these people! At some point I become aware of these obscenely revolting slurping sounds from behind me. I turn to find Slurpy the Wonderboy sitting behind me in a suit and tie, who’s obviously attempting to inhale the chicken soup he found at the buffet. Luckily, my aircraft choses that exact moment to appear from behind the B pier. I think it’s time to leave.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A45, which is close to the lounge. There is a separate call for Business Class passengers to board first and there is also a separate lane, so Business Class passengers can skip the queue. Seeing as I’m seated on 1A though, I take my time to board. No point in holding up the queue. Although in hindsight, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because the flight is not very full.

The Cabin

And… by the looks of it, the CS300 now has a cabin divider between the Business and Economy Class sections of the cabin. Or maybe it has always been there but I didn’t notice. I have no idea if only the -300 aircraft have these or if gradually the -100 will also be equipped with them. I shall have to ask one of my students who’s a flight attendant with SWISS.

The Crew

There are two young ladies working the forward cabin and both of them seem nice enough.

On the ground a packaged cold towel and a small bottle of still water are served. The flight time is announced at slightly less than fifty minutes.

The Meal

The Brussels service gets a meal served on a tray, unlike the Luxembourg flight, which is only slightly shorter but only gets a small snack. And despite the short flight time, the passengers are served individually instead of from a trolley.

On the tray there is the main event – a light meal – as well as a plate with two slices of cheese and a small glass jar with dessert. And what a thoroughly revolting meal it is. The main dish is allegedly beef tartar with egg and truffle oil, served with a small celery and pumpkin salad. I mean, what on earth were they thinking? I very much doubt that many people are all that fond of a combination of raw meat and raw egg. And by the looks of it, most of the six other passengers have touched the vile thing. Even the flight attendant comments on it.

And for dessert there is yet another gelatinous and very sweet looking blob of something with a soggy piece of cantuccio on it. Lööövely, as the tall, blond M. would say…

Arrival

I know I always say this, but it’s just always true. Zürich airport really is absolutely brilliant. Honestly! We touch down at 19h53. By 2013 I’ve collected my checked luggage, bought some cigarettes for the wiry R. at the duty free and taken a seat on the train to Zürich main station. And all that in twenty minutes!

Seven weeks, 23 flights and 60’000 kilometres later I’m finally home. I now have three whole days before I take my next trip. Woohoo!


Luxembourg to Brussels by Car and the Belgian State Railways

On Friday afternoon I hitch a ride with the flying Dutchman from Luxembourg to Liège, which is about a ninety minute drive from Luxembourg in good traffic.

In Liège I head across the square to the main entrance of the railway station that was designed by Calatrava and clearly carries his signature style.

Travelling by train in Belgium takes a lot of patience – especially if you’re from a place like Switzerland, where the federal railways have a bit of a paranoia about punctuality. My first stop is at the ticket machine to try to purchase a ticket to Brussels. Only, the ticket machine won’t accept credit cards, I keep getting an error message. Cash seems to be working, but only if you’re paying only in coins… At some point I give up and join the queue with what looks like seemingly half of Belgium.

Eventually, with my ticket in hand I board what should have been the 15h01 train to Bruxelles Midi. Only, we’re running fourteen minutes late. Fourteen seems to be something of a magic number for the Belgian railways, because most trains appear to run late, and most of the time the delay is fourteen minutes.

In any case, the journey from Liège to Bruxelles Midi should take exactly one hour. Only, by the time we finally arrive we’re somehow managed to pick up a further delay and are running twenty minutes late – giving me a total journey time from door to door of 3h20. Still, if I’d taken the train all the way from Luxembourg, I would have first had to get from the Kirchberg plateau to the city centre, which is where the railways station is. And then from there, make the journey from Luxembourg to Brussels with the direct train, which is 3h15. Plus a very likely delay…

In Brussels I’m staying at the Pullman Hotel at Bruxelles Midi, which sits atop the station and has an entrance onto the main passenger concourse. The hotel looks as though it has only recently been refurbished and even still retains that nice smell of new furniture.

The room I’m in is very big and spacious and comes with an electric kettle and a Nespresso machine. The drinks in the fridge are complimentary, although I think that’s because of my Platinum status. The cosmetics in the bathroom are by Bigelow Apothecaries.

Breakfast is served on the first floor in Victor’s restaurant. The buffet is quite extensive and offers a very wide range of hot and cold dishes. On the downside though, when I come down at 09h30 for breakfast, the place looks like a bomb has just gone off. The staff seem to be doing a lot of running around, but without really getting anything done. Most tables are still full with the old dishes of the previous guests, and those tables that have been cleared away have not been set for the next guests. And the buffet is a barren wasteland…

Despite the breakfast, I like the Pullman Bruxelles Centre Midi. The design and finish of the room and of the public areas is elegant in a simple way and comfortable at the same time. The breakfast experience could be improved though…