Garuda Indonesia, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Surabaya to Jakarta

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Introduction

Had I already mentioned it’s the monsoon season in Java? Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. No sooner have we left the hotel, the rain starts. This must be what they mean when people speak of the heavens opening. Within minutes the streets turn to rivers and it becomes nearly impossible to see anything up ahead of the car. I think it’s kind of atmospheric though, sitting in the comfort of the car with the rain pelting down on the roof as we drive through the rain drenched streets of Surabaya under a thunderous sky. And the Indonesians? To be honest, I think they hardly notice the rain. At least they all seem to be going about their business as usual – and their driving certainly hasn’t slowed down…

Getting to the Airport

My flight to Jakarta will be leaving at 18h00. Given how long it took me to get from the airport into Surabaya when I got here, I arrange for the car to pick me up from the Majapahit at 15h00. Of course I hadn’t considered that this being Friday there would be less traffic. And so it happens that the trip to the airport only takes me fifty minutes to complete instead of ninety.

Check-in

Garuda has its own domestic terminal here in Surabaya, which is Terminal 2. The facility looks rather new and very modern. The check-in area is only accessible for passengers with a valid ticket and you are required to show your ticket or boarding pass to enter the restricted area.

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There is a separate check-in are for premium customers, located opposite the regular check-in counters. The lady at check-in is friendly and obviously in a good mood, and apparently she was expecting me. I was able to check in using the app, but downloading the boarding pass to my Wallet or sending it by mail or text message didn’t work.

The Garuda Business Class Lounge

The security check point and lounge area are located one floor up from check-in. Much to my surprise, there is even a lounge for Business Class passengers. It’s fairly small. In addition, there are a few weather related delays, making it difficult to find a place to sit. But eventually I manage.

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There are no washrooms in the lounge, and passengers should use the toilets next to the prayer room.

Boarding

I think it’s safe to say we’re not going to leave on time. The previous service to Jakarta at 15h30 has been delayed due to weather and will now only be departing at 19h00. At some point, my flight shows up with a delay of thirty minutes, for a departure at 18h30.

Surprisingly though, 18h30 is when the boarding for my flight starts, which isn’t too bad. Eventually we close doors and push back at 19h10, with a delay of slightly more than an hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and six minutes. Although eventually, with the holding in Jakarta it’s more like ninety minutes.

The Cabin

The cabin and seat configuration on the A 330-200 is identical to Garuda’s A 330-300 that I flew on from Melbourne to Jakarta. There is a pillow at every seat and blankets are available upon request.

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The Crew

The flight is full this evening, so there are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. Again they’re friendly and polite. The steward approaches me and ask me if I’d like a welcome drink. He returns shortly after with a glass of apple juice and a scented cold towel.

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The Meal

As on the flight from Jakarta to Surabaya, the meal consists of

  1. a bowl of fruit,
  2. a bread roll and butter,
  3. a strange dessert which I suspect and hope is made out of rice,
  4. a hot meal with a choice of either fish or chicken.

I go with the chicken, which is quite enjoyable. I have really no idea what the white and green dessert thingy is supposed to be, but it tastes okay actually.

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Arrival

Eventually we land with a delay of not quite two hours. The aircraft comes to a stop at a gate on the international concourse, which means that after disembarking, we are bussed to domestic arrivals. There are separate busses for Business Class passengers. I will be spending my last night in Indonesia at the FM7 Hotel close to the airport. Ground transportation in Indonesia really is a nightmare, and the FM7 is only about a ten minute drive away from the airport.

Garuda Indonesia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Jakarta to Surabaya

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Introduction

Surabya Johnny, warum bist du so roh…? Surabaya Johnny, no-one’s meaner than you…

I just landed in Jakarta on a flight from Melbourne. We’re coming up to eleven in the morning. I’m not staying in Jakarta though. Instead, I’ve decided to heed the advice of my friend P., otherwise known as the Flying Dutchman, and head for Surabaya instead.

Why Surabaya, I hear you say? Don’t worry, I will explain later.

Transfer in Jakarta

The process is fairly straightforward. If you’re continuing on a domestic flight, you will have to clear immigration and customs in Jakarta. Once you exit customs, just follow the signs for domestic check-in. Eventually, the escalators will eject you on the second floor of Terminal 3, which is home to Garuda and its SkyTeam partners.

Domestic check-in for Garuda is on rows E and F. The SkyPriority counters are F2 and F3.

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The Garuda Domestic Business Class Lounge

There is a dedicated line for security for SkyPriority passengers and when I arrive, the place is deserted. The staff manning the check point are very friendly and seem glad to see somebody. I suspect they’re probably just bored out of their wits.

The new terminal in Jakarta is airy and spacious. Surprisingly though, it’s also already showing first signs of wear and tear, despite that fact that it hasn’t been open that long. The roof is leaking in places, while other parts of the facility appear to be not quite finished or completed yet.

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The Garuda lounge is fairly large, but here too there is some urgent need for repairs. The lounge’s big selling point though, is that they serve Indonesian food! I don’t know what half the stuff I’m eating is here, but it sure is tasty!

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Boarding

I think ‘organised chaos’ best describes the experience of flying in Indonesia. At 13h00 my flight shows up as ‘now boarding’ from gate 15. Only, when I reach gate 15 they’re still in the process of boarding the previous flight, which is heading for Denpasar. But still my flight is showing as being on time for a 13h30 departure.

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About twenty minutes later, I decide to check on the departures monitors about my flight. Only to find that the gate has been changed to 20, which is quite a schlep from gate 15. So I trek down to gate 20, where apparently they’re boarding a flight to somewhere else. My flight is also on the display and still down as on time, despite the fact that it’s already 13h35.

The only thing in the way of an announcement is one of the gate agents yelling something at the top of her voice in Bahsa. I approach one of the ten (!) agents at gate 20 to inquire about the status of my flight. She tells me that boarding will start soon from this gate.

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Eventually boarding starts at 14h20. By the time we push back it’s 14h40. So by now we’re already more than an hour behind schedule. The captain comes on the speaker to inform us that we’re currently number 15 in the departure sequence and will probably have to wait another forty minutes before it’s our turn depart…

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The flight time is announced as one hour and twenty minutes.

The Cabin

Even for such a short hop, Garuda offers a Business Class product with a dedicated Business Class cabin. The seat has a pitch of 42 inches and a width of 19 inches. The design of the seat looks similar to the one I had on the Virgin Australia flight. The only difference being that Garuda also has a footrest installed on its seat, which really is much more comfortable to relax in when the seat is in the recline position.

There are twelve seats in a 2 + 2 configuration on three rows.

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The Crew

The Business Class cabin is taken care of by one female flight attendant. While boarding is still in progress she brings me a scented cold towel and a glass of orange juice. She’s obviously more focussed than friendly, but that’s okay.

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The Meal

Eventually we take off. The first few minutes of the flight are really bumpy, so it takes a while for the seatbelt sign to be turned off.

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Quite surprisingly, the crew are planning on doing a full tray service, despite the short flight time. They even use tablecloths!

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The tray arrives and consists of a bowl of fruit, another bowl with something sweet and a side plate with a cheese bun and butter.

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It’s only after I start on the fruit that I realise there’s also a hot meal, which is served separately. There is even a choice between two dishes: one is a piece of fish, while the other is chicken in a spicy gravy. I go with the latter and I really must say, the meal is excellent. But apart from that, I’m quite amazed how Garuda manages to serve up a hot meal on a flight of just over one hour, and how one flight attendant manages to serve twelve passengers in that time and remains friendly and courteous throughout.

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Surabaya. The light outside looks strange. It’s murky and wet. The approach is quite nice though. We come in over the sea, we make landfall, flying over these enormous rice feels. It’s a very poetic landscape, especially in the strange light.

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Garuda operates out of Terminal 2 in Surabaya.

Getting into Town

Traffic in Indonesia is so bad, it’s legendary. And while Surabaya may not be quite as atrocious as Jakarta, it’s still bad. The airport is 19km away from the hotel where I’m staying. With the really nasty traffic it takes us ninety minutes to make the journey.

Czech Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Prague to Amsterdam

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Introduction

The very first time I visited the city of Prague was 24 years ago, after I graduated from secondary school in Switzerland. We travelled by train, mainly because it was a lot cheaper than taking a flight in those days. Back then, the city and her inhabitants were still slowly adjusting to the advent of capitalism in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Parts of the city were shabby and run down from years of neglect. But even as an obnoxious and, admittedly, totally clueless young man, I could not help but be impressed by just how beautiful the city was.

Since then a lot of water has passed under the famous Charles Bridge. Today, Prague is a modern, confident city that has been meticulously restored to its former splendour.

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Getting to the Airport

The journey from the centre of Prague to the airport takes roughly thirty minutes by car. There is of course the option to take public transport, but from the location of the meeting I attended, public transport would mean taking a tram and changing metro lines twice. So a taxi it is.

Check-in

There are two terminals in Prague. Fortunately, my driver is a knowledgeable guy. So when he asks me ‘which terminal’ and draws a blank, he just asks me where I’m going. I explain I’m heading for Amsterdam, to which he nods and says ‘Terminal 2’. Well okay, if you say so…

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Terminal 2 is a strange building. The check-in area is essentially one very big hall with a few rows of check-in counters. I’m not sure how long the facility has been open, but they appear to still be working on half the check-in area.

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Czech Airlines have their own row of counters and there is one dedicated row for SkyPriority passengers.

SkyPriority passengers are entitled to use the fact track at security. The airport is not very, so the process is painless and swift.

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The Czech Airlines Business Class Lounge

Czech Airlines does not have its own lounge in Prague and uses the Premier contractor lounge operated by Prague airport.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. The decoration of the lounge is a question of personal taste, I guess. But it gives the impression of being rather gloomy and dark.

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Food options are limited to finger food and light snacks.

Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time at 16:55, as indicated on the boarding pass. There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers, who are invited to board first. The gate agent announces that the flight is very full and therefore, oversized pieces of luggage will need to be checked in.

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The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is very good. I rather like the colours and I think it’s just brilliant that Czech Airlines has decided not to follow the trend of using leather seat covers

The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small tray table that folds out of the back of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Legroom on the first row is also good. There are two rows of Business Class with a total of eight seats, five of which are occupied on this evening’s flight.

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The Crew

There are two female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. One of them is very charming and all smiles as I step on board. The other looks very serious. But it later turns out that that is her default facial expression and in facts she’s very friendly and takes good care of the passengers in the forward cabin.

The Meal

A welcome drink is served on the gorund. There is a choice of water, sparkling wine or orange juice. Although it’s a bit of a shame the drinks are served in plastic cups.

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As soon as the crew is released after take-off, the service begins. The cabin crew place a table cloth of crisps, white linen each tray table. Much to my surprise, one of them informs me that, apparently, I’ve ordered a vegetarian meal. She notices the look of surprise on my face and tells me that the standard meal is also available if I’d rather have that. But I decide to stick the veggie meal that’s been ordered for me.

Even more to my surprise, the meal is actually rather nice and consists of a plate of raw vegetables. I’m quite amazed at how crisp everything has managed to stay. For dessert I have a bowl of fresh fruit. The tray comes with a refreshing towel and a small tub of margarine.

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My only complaint about the meal is that it might have been nice to have some olive oil or vinegar to put on the veg.

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After the meal I have a cup of coffee. Kudos to Czech Airlines for serving coffee that is hot and not just tepid.

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The tray is removed and shortly afterwards we start our descent into Amsterdam.

Conclusion

To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting anything much from Czech Airlines. In fact, I suspected I would be treated to another sad experience with an airline the world doesn’t really need and that nobody would really miss. But I have to say, I am quite impressed. The crew were friendly, the seat was comfortable enough and the food was not bad at all.

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Colombo to Abu Dhabi

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Date: 16. April 2017
Departure: 21:10
Arrival: 00: 35
Flight time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Seat: 2A, window

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Introduction

Time to move on. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Sri Lanka a little while longer. I’ve rather enjoyed being here. But I have to get back home because I’ll be traveling week after next and still need to get a few things done before then.

Let’s see. I’ve tried Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Emirates. So I think it’s only fair to give Etihad a try before I make up my mind if Qatar Airways really is my favourite airline.

The flight to Abu Dhabi will not be leaving until 21h10. Which means I have the whole day to spend by the pool revising a paper I have to submit soon and having afternoon tea at the lovely Galle Face Hotel before it’s time to head for the airport.

Getting to the Airport

I’ve ordered a car to pick me up at the hotel at 17h30. The journey to the airport is only 36 kilometres. Colombo is still only just coming back to life after most of the city folk left the city behind to celebrate the Singalese New Year with their families.

Security at the airport is very tight and there are roadblocks and barriers set up all along the road leading to the terminal.

Check-in

The driver drops me off before the entrance to departures. And then the hassle begins. First, I need to show a police officer standing guard by the entrance my passport and a copy of my ticket to even be allowed to enter the terminal building. Immediately inside the terminal is a first security checkpoint where I need to have all my bags screened and another police officer pats me down. From there I follow a long corridor that looks as though it was originally set up as a provisional building but then accidentally, brutally started sprouting retail space.

At the end of the corridor I finally enter the terminal proper. From here passengers have to go through another security checkpoint and show their passport again to enter the actual check-in area. Photography is strictly prohibited within the terminal.

Check-in for the Etihad flight opens three hours before departure. The departure hall is very crowded with passengers checking in for their flights with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Sri Lankan which all seem to depart around the same time.

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From check-in I walk to the far right of the departure hall and queue again for immigration. I’m not really sure why they bother though, because the officer is obviously so busy reading text messages that he nearly forgets to stamp my passport.

And then, finally, I’m airside.

The Araliya Lounge

Etihad Airways uses the Araliya lounge, which is at the beginning of the pier on the left hand side. The lounge only has very basic facilities, but there is a small selection of hot and cold snacks, there’s wifi and the toilets and shower are very clean. The lounge’s best feature though, is the excellent view of the action on the apron.

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Boarding

Not again, seriously? My flight will be departing from gate B5, which is a bus gate. To enter the gate area I need to show my boarding pass and passport again to another police officer guarding the staircase. Once he lets me pass, I head downstairs to the holding area for the gate, which pretty much looks like a badly converted broom cupboard. But not as pretty. And yes, I have to go through security. Again. I don’t have to take out any liquids or laptops but I do have to take off my shoes and get another pat down under the watchful eyes of no less than eight police officers manning one conveyor belt and one security gate.

Shortly after, and somewhat unceremoniously, boarding begins. Our bus pulls up to the rear stairs of the aircraft and I step outside. I try to make my way to the forward door but one of the five police officers guarding the plane won’t let me pass and insists I take the rear door. But then a member of Etihad’s ground crew here in Colombo talks to her and I’m allowed to walk to the forward door.

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The Cabin

I rather like the cabin. I think the design and colours have some serious retro vibe going on, but somehow it works. There are four rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration for a total of 16 seats. Every seat has an AC and USB power port. The aircraft also has wifi, although I don’t actually try it out. The air is very humid tonight and as a result, there is thick mist coming out of the air conditioning system, which is a pretty nifty effect.

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The recline of the seat is good and the seat controls are electric. Stretching my legs is problematic though because of the IFE box under the seat in front of me which takes up a lot of space.

A large blanket, pillow, earphones and the menu have already been placed at the seats. The blanket is rather funky in that one side is in this velvety fake fur material which feels kind of kinky. Now I know what Jane Fonda must have felt like rolling around naked on that fur rug during the opening credits of Barbarella.

The Crew

The crew up front consists of a young man of Pakistani origin and a Chinese young lady. Both of them are friendly and courteous in their manner and give all the passengers a warm greeting as they board the plane.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a hot towel.

Amenities

The flight time to Abu Dhabi is four hours and twenty minutes. Etihad does not provide a full vanity kit on this flight, but they do provide eye shades, socks and earplugs.

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IFE

The IFE is touchscreen enabled and works really very well. The selection is fairly large, but as usual there’s nothing I’d really be interested in watching.

The Meal

… or HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL…
The meal service is a bit of a let down and definitely not on a par with Qatar Airways’ offerings. We start with an aperitif and a bowl of warm nuts.

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The First Course

For the first course I have the Arabic mezze, which basically is a small dollop of hummus, with a huge portion of parsley that’s been drowned in lemon juice and some vegetable pickles and a greasy samosa. The tray is served with a bun, Arabic flat bread and butter. The taste of the food is so so, but the presentation of the tray really is nice.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the Indian chicken and pea curry, which is quite simply disgusting. Yuk! There’s something chewy and green on the plate that tastes of nothing and is hard to bite. The chicken itself is mainly bone and skin and I decide not to touch it. The only edible parts of the meal are the spicy coconut rice and the warm beetroot.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I make the mistake of ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream, which is served with a sablé on top. The only problem is, the ice cream is so cold the sablé is welded to it. I can’t get it off! And the ice cream is so hard I think you could knock somebody unconscious with it if you threw it at them. So I wait a few minutes. But eventually my impatience gets the better of me and I make the fatal mistake of trying to take a spoonful of ice cream.

Next thing I know, the spoon hits the bowl with a clank, and the blob of ice cream slips off to the left and goes flying through the cabin. The whole thing happens in slow motion. I swear I can actually hear the opening chords of Strauss’ ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ and feel the compulsion to ask HAL what’s going on… But then I manage to catch the ball of ice cream with my hand, but the thing is slippery and gets away, eventually landing and sitting in my lap. Well fine. I scoop the ice cream off my groin and when the flight attendant passes my seat next, I tell him to take the ice cream with him. A few minutes later though he returns. Apparently he’s put the blob in the oven to thaw it a bit for me. Which is kind of a nice gesture, only now the ice cream has a faint and very disturbing taste of the curry chicken I refused to eat a short while previously…

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Arrival

But at least the flight passes quickly and before long we’re starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. We land in darkness and then taxi for a very long time to the main apron. We park on a remote stand, but things happen so quick that I don’t really have any time to take any photos before the Business Class bus whisks us off to the terminal.

Conclusion

Of all the flights I’ve done on this trip, I think this one was the most unremarkable one. The crew were friendly enough and very polite but the food really was bad. The seat was okay, But I think a flight time of over four hours is really pushing it for passenger comfort in the premium cabin.

SriLankan, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Kuala Lumpur to Colombo

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Date: 14. April 2017
Departure: 15:05
Arrival: 16:10
Flight time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Seat: 6K

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Introduction

At last, a new airline! This will be my first trip on SriLankan and my first visit to Sri Lanka. I must say, every since K., herself Sri Lankan, engineer extraordinaire and purveyor of incredibly spicy food started working for us as an intern, I’ve been rather curious about Sri Lanka. This will only be a short visit. But I can always go back if I like it.

To get from KL to Colombo I have two options for a nonstop flight, either Malaysia Airlines or SriLankan. Given that both are Oneworld members and the fact that I’ve already sampled Malaysian a couple of times – and wasn’t too impressed – of course my choice would be SriLankan.

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Check-in

Check-in for the flight opens three hours before departure and SriLankan has its counters on row M. There is a dedicated Business Class counter and the young lady behind the desk makes quick work of checking me in. She also prints an invitation for the Plaza Lounge in the satellite terminal.

The journey to the C gates in the satellite is via an automated train that runs partly underground and partly above ground. Alas, the windows are all plastered with stickers, so there’s no photo taking on the journey.

The Plaza Premium Lounge

As a Silver member in BA’s Executive Club I have a number of options for the lounge. I’ve been in the Malaysia lounge and wasn’t too impressed with that either. So in the interest of investigative blogging, or something, I decide to try the Plaza Lounge as envisaged by SriLankan.

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Man, what a big mistake! They’re actually queuing outside the lounge entrance for access. I’m sure there are more people inside this lounge than there are outside right now. This seems to be the lounge for just about all carriers operating out of KL’s satellite that don’t have their own lounge. Them and all the credit card companies that give you lounge access if you’re a respectable shopaholic aka good customer. I think it’s time to leave.

The Cathay Pacific Lounge

Okay, time to head across to the Cathay Pacific lounge which is a) much nicer, b) empty, and c) quiet. The food options are better too. I’m not sure there are toilets or showers in this lounge though.

Boarding

If you’re departing on a flight from KL, the boarding time for your flight will be one hour prior to departure. That’s because the security check takes place at the gate. It also means that usually it’s better not to arrive too early so you won’t have queue or wait too long inside the lounge. Unless of course, you’re the kind of weirdo who’ll arrive early on purpose to take a few shots of the aircraft you’ll be travelling on…

And thank God I did arrive early! Because there’s been an aircraft change. And what a nice one it is too. The scheduled Airbus A 321 narrowbody has been replaced by an Airbus A 330-300 in the new seating configuration. Oh ye might airline gods, how can I ever thank you enough? I shall have to offer my first born as a sacrifice to thank you.

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The Cabin

This is what I call the Cathay Pacific seat, which is basically a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration in a reverse herringbone layout. There’s not quite as much storage space as on the Cathay Pacific seat but other than that, this is still one of my favourite airplane seats out there. My only complaint is that SriLankan have gone for faux leather seat covers and within just a few minutes of sitting down, I’m already starting to feel sticky.

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Earphones, two pillows and a blanket have already been placed at every seat. Originally I’m on 3G, which is an aisle seat. However, as soon as boarding is completed it becomes apparent that the Business Class cabin is going to be everything but full. So I ask the flight attendant if it’s okay for me to change seats and then move back to the window on 6K.

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The Crew

Ah yes, the flight attendants. Bugger me! The crew on this flight is made up of a group of young men and women. And what a good-looking bunch they are too. The men all look rather dapper in their dark blue suits and the ladies are wearing these very elegant looking dresses in a peacock design. And they look gorgeous!

But apart form all that, the crew all seem really friendly and give the impression of being rather happy in their jobs and well, happy to see you as a customer. Which is always nice.

While we’re still on the ground, a welcome drink is served along with a scented hot towel that is so hot I’m sure my epidermis is about to dissolve… Other than that, I notice when the crew place the glasses down they all make sure the airline’s logo on the glass is visible. This is something they continue to pay attention to throughout the flight. Their interaction with the passengers is charming and easy going.

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The Meal

Before departure a menu is handed out and then a flight attendant comes by to take my order. For an aperitif I have a glass of Harvey Bristol cream, which is served with a dish of warm cashews.

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The First Course

For the starter there is a salad of mixed shredded vegetables with sesame seeds, presented with a wasabi and ginger sauce, which is quite tasty and light.

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The Main Course

For the main course I go with the vegetarian option – vegetable biryani with vegetable makhani and a potato and cauliflower masala with raita. This is really very tasty, and I think K. would approve, even if this is nowhere as spicy as the stuff she normally makes.

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The salad is served with a selection from the breadbasket, which is my queue to overdose on the garlic bread again. For dessert there is a fresh fruit, which is the vile and healthy option, and a bread and butter pudding with almond flakes, the sinfully delectable option, which is served with tea.

The Fruit

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Dessert

Bread and butter pudding

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Obviously, this being Ceylon I’m heading for, I decide to go with a Ceylon Early Grey tea to finish off.

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Colombo after a flying time of about three hours. There are quite a few CBs around, so it’s quite a bumpy ride. I’m struck by just how green and lush Sri Lanka looks from above.

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The terminal is fairly busy when we arrive. I make my way to immigration where the friendly immigration officer informs me that I need a visa for Sri Lanka which I should have obtained before arrival. Eventually though, we’re able to resolve the whole thing, I pay the fee and I’m in the country. Something tells me I’m going to like it here…

Conclusion

So what about SriLankan? Well, if I’m perfectly honest I have to say I really like them very much. The seat and cabin were in mint condition and this really is a much nicer way to travel on a three hours sector than on some narrowbody. The food was good too. But most of all, I think what really impressed me were their cabin crew who were really quite charming in the way they went about their business. I wouldn’t mind flying SriLankan again actually.

Oman Air, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Muscat to Kuala Lumpur

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Date: 13. April 2017
Departure: 10:10
Arrival: 20:40
Flight time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Seat: 10A, window

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Transfer in Muscat

Upon entering the terminal building in Muscat, transit passengers turn left and then head up one floor to transit security and the airside area beyond. As in Zürich, the terminal seems very quiet and is certainly calmer than the last time I was here in 2016.

The Lounge

The Oman Air lounge is operated by the same company that runs the Chedi hotel in Muscat and it shows clearly in the design of the lounge. The gentleman at reception informs me that boarding for my flight to Kuala Lumpur will be from inside the lounge.

The lounge is also very quiet, with only a few seats here and there occupied. The lounge has all the amenities one might expect, including toilets and showers on the premises and a spa. Complimentary wifi is also available. Lounge access comes with a 15 minutes complimentary massage.

In theory, the lounge has some excellent views of the apron, but the curtains obstruct the view and I’m not about the make a spectacle of myself by lifting them to take pictures…

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The buffet is excellent!

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Boarding

At 08h20 I go to the boarding desk inside the lounge and the gate agent directs me down the stairs to ground level, where a small mini bus is waiting to take the KL bound passengers to their aircraft.

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Eventually pull up next to an Airbus A 330-300, together with the two regular busses carrying the Economy Class passengers. And then we wait. And we wait. And then we wait some more. Eventually, when our bus does start moving again, it’s to take us back to arrivals. I ask the bus driver what’s up but he’s none the wiser. So I step inside the arrivals hall and ask one of the Oman Air agents there about the status of my flight. To which he tells me to go back upstairs, through security again and then to gate 20 for further information.

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So I do that. At gate 20 nobody really seems to want to be responsible. So I ask some random guy in an Oman Air uniform what’s going on and he tells me that our flight has gone tech. I should return to the lounge and await further instructions. Brilliant! Oh yes, and I’m given the rather funky and very old school Egypt Air transit card. Not quite sure what to do with this though…

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So I return to the lounge and figure I might as well have breakfast. After about thirty minutes in the lounge, the flight to KL is called again and so I head downstairs once more to the waiting bus. This time everything seems to go without a hitch. Eventually we take off form Muscat with a delay of 75 minutes at 10h05.

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The Cabin

The seat on this aircraft is the same as the one on the Boeing B 787-9. Immediately after take-off I change into my running shorts and lie down to have a nap. The seat really is very comfortable and provides ample space, even for a larger person. I am 184cm tall and could stretch out fully. The seat is also wide enough for me not to hit anything or knock something over when I turn.

Every seat is equipped with USB ports and an AC power port.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are much better than the previous lot. You can tell by the ease with which they interact with the passengers and the efficiency with which they complete their pre-departure tasks. To be fair, they’re probably also in a good mood because there are only eight passengers in the Business Class cabin on this flight.

Amenities

The vanity kit is identical to the one I received on the previous flight from Zürich. I think I forgot to mention in my previous post that the kit for men also includes a one-way shaver with shaving cream.

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Once I wake up again, I make a closer inspection of the inflight entertainment system. The selection is sufficiently large, but even so, I think there isn’t a single thing I would actually want to watch. Then again, perhaps there are people who actually do enjoy watching the untalented Mr Gosling trying to make his mind up whether he wants to talk or sing his way through an entire movie…

The First Service

On this flight the service makes a lot more sense than it did on the previous flight and follows the same sequence as my morning flight from Dubai to Amsterdam the week before. Just after departure a small breakfast is served, which I pass on, and then the proper of full meal service takes place before landing in KL.

The Meal

About two and a half hours out of KL passengers are starting to stir from sleep so it’s time for the crew to begin their main service. As on the previous flight, there are four options for the first course, main course and dessert.

Amuse Bouche

Cream cheese and smoked salmon canapés.

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The Soup

Cream of asparagus. It’s served with a cheese stick and lemon, which goes surprisingly well with the fine taste. There’s also something spicy in there to give the soup a bit of a zing.

The Salad

Seasonal salad with vinaigrette.

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The Main Course

Linguine pasta with a creamy pesto and parmesan shavings. The main course is tasty, although the pasta is definitely overcooked, which is normally the case when you have pasta on a plane.

Dessert

Ice cream selection with pistachios and chocolate sauce.

Arrival

We land in KL at around 20h40, more than an hour later than our scheduled arrival time. The approach is pretty spectacular. There are storm cells in the vicinity of the airport and with the darkness around us, the bursts of lighting look pretty impressive!

Conclusion

Okay. On this flight Oman Air definitely managed to redeem themselves after last night’s rather unpleasant flight from Zürich to Muscat. The delay was not such a major issue for me and we were only a bit more than an hour late arriving in KL. However, I do think the staff on the ground could have handled the situation much better. No information was given at any time unless you explicitly asked for it, which is obviously not the way to do it in case of an irregularity. All in all, Oman Air is a nice little airline but they lack polish and professionalism in my opinion.

Oman Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Zürich to Muscat

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Date: 12. April 2017
Departure: 21:50
Arrival: 05:57
Flight time: 6 hours 7 minutes
Seat: 15A, window

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Introduction

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. In Switzerland Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holidays so all public services and most offices and shops will be closed. Many people take advantage of the long weekend to go away. And so I’m expecting Zürich Airport to be rather busy when I arrive by train. Much to my surprise though, the place is really quiet. In fact, it’s a lot quieter than usual.

Check-in

Oman Air has its check-in counters on row 1 of terminal 2 at Zürich Airport. There is one counter for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class passengers. And there’s loads of staff milling about. What on earth do they need all these people for? Some of them are check-in agents from Swissport that are just wearing an Oman Air tie or a scarf. Others however, look as though they’re employed by Oman Air and are wearing the airline’s full uniform.

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I step onto the plush, soft carpet in front of the Business Class counter. The young lady behind the desk issues my boarding passes straight away and has already prepared for me the lounge invitation for my transit in Muscat. If you’ve already checked in online, Oman Air will hand you a ‘proper’ boarding pass at the gate and will hand you your lounge invitation for Muscat at the gate.

The young lady informs me that an Oman Air rep will come to the lounge to collect me once boarding begins. So far I’m quite impressed by the operation here in Zürich.

The Lounge

Oman Air uses the Swissport Aspire Lounge in the E dock. My flight will be departing form gate E46.

The stairs leading up to the Aspire lounge are located right in front of the Starbucks Café on the E concourse. The selection of food and beverages in the lounge is limited to small cold and warm snacks, things like greasy spring rolls and very sweet cakes.

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The design of the lounge is nice, bright and airy. However, there are no toilets or showers on the premises. Despite all this, I very much like this lounge for its one redeeming feature which really is a major selling point in my view: it has an outdoor deck. It’s a good thing it’s already getting dark, otherwise I think I’d seriously be at risk of missing my flight for all the plane spotting you can do here. As it happens, runway 28 is in use for arrivals this evening, which means I get to see Emirates’ evening A 380 service to Zürich applying some pretty serious braking action on the relatively short runway.

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Boarding

Boarding is from gate E46 and start about forty minutes before departure. I’m guessing that with the very strict curfew in place at Zürich Airport the airline is keen the make sure to get away without any major delays.

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Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first.

The Cabin

Today’s flight is being operated by a brand spanking new Boeing B 787-9 which has only been in revenue service for six weeks. After the short hop last month from Heathrow to Paris CDG on Air Frances’ B 787-9, this will be my second journey on this type. Yes, I know I’m a nerd but that’s still no reason to be sloppy with the details. Yeah?

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Seat numbering is rather strange on Oman Air. The airline is in the process of abolishing its First Class product and refitting all aircraft with a Business Class/Economy Class seating configuration. Even so, Business Class has retained the original numbering, so that the first row in this cabin is row 11. On the Boeing B 787-9 the main Business Class cabin is located between the L/R1 and L/R2 doors. In addition, there is a single row in a mini cabin located behind the galley before the Economy Class cabin starts. This is row 15 and is where I am sitting today.

I really like the colours in the Oman Air cabin. Everything is kept in earthy tones, with light and dark brown colours and a bit of turquoise thrown in for good measure.

The configuration in Business Class is 2 + 2 + 2. The seat is based on a similar principle as the Japan Airlines seat in that the two seats on every pair are staggered. There is also a privacy screen that can be raised after take-off in case you don’t fancy staring at your neighbour’s ugly mug for six hours. The best feature though, is that the staggered seating configuration enables that passengers seated by the window to also have aisle access without the embarrassment of having to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat. Storage space is good. Being a night flight, a blanket and pillow have already been placed at every seat.

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The Crew

The crew are the usual mix of nationalities that you find on all the Middle East carriers. I’m guessing some of the crew are form the Philippines, some from Thailand and a few from India.

The service starts with a welcome drink, hot towel and the distributions of the menus and vanity kits. Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the traditional Omani welcome of dates and saffron scented Arabic coffee.

Amenities

The vanity kit has a good toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, eye shades, earplugs and a range of cosmetics from Oman’s Amouage perfume, which is, admittedly, an acquired taste and very strong.

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The IFE screen is fairly big and can be operated either using the remote control or via touchscreen, although the latter is somewhat inconvenient given the distance between the seat and the screen.

The Meal

There is a choice of four options to choose from for the first course, main course and dessert and there is usually a vegetarian option included on the menu. Given that it’s already late and the flight is not that long, I decide to go with just the Arabic mezze.

The meal service does not start until more than an hour after take-off and it is quite obvious that the crew are unprepared for passengers like me that just want a light meal in order to give them some time to sleep. So instead of dishing out the food straight away, the crew go all out and start serving the aperitifs and an amuse bouche. By this time it’s become quite apparent that it’ll be a while longer until they finally start serving the meal. So the next time a member of the crew walks by, I tell them I’m tired and that I’ve decided not to have dinner after all.

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The Second Service

I awake about eighty minutes out of Muscat. As soon as the crew notice I’m awake, they bring me the breakfast, which consists of:

  1. coffee
  2. a bowl with different rolls and pastries
  3. a bowl of yoghurt with some green unidentifiable fruity stuff in it
  4. a bowl of fruit salad
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According to the menu there should also have been some cheese, but none of the passengers seem to get any of that. What’s more, there is no jam and if you want a juice you have to request it specifically.

Arrival

The new terminal in Muscat has yet to open. But I ain’t complaining because as long as the old facility is still in use, all passengers will need to deplane via stairs and journey to arrivals by bus.

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There is a separate, dedicated Business Class bus to bring passengers to the terminal.

Conclusion

All in all, I think Oman Air’s performance can only be described as an epic fail. First of all, I think their service concept on this flight is highly unsuitable for the flight time and schedule. On a flight that leaves fairly late in the evening, it should be expected that many passengers will want to get to sleep as quickly as possible and there should be an appropriate meal option for them.

Other than that though, I also found today’s crew somewhat unprofessional and inattentive. For example, my coffee cup was not collected prior to take-off and the passenger seated next to me did not eat one of the canapés that was served as an amuse bouche. When I woke up for breakfast a few hours later, the small plate had still not been removed and the amuse bouche looked decidedly unappealing.

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Doha to Frankfurt

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Date: 17. February 2017
Departure: 08:00
Arrival: 12:10
Flight time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 4A

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Introduction

I have just enough time to upload and post my review of the Melbourne to Doha leg, and then it is already time to head to the departure gate for my flight to Frankfurt. I suppose you could say I am literally on my last leg…!

Boarding

The flight is departing from gate B8, which is the end gate on the B pier. As such, the position of the gate in relation to how the aircraft is actually parked is awkward and does not allow for any reasonable photos. Add to that the fact that the windows on the B pier have these opaque dots on them and it becomes near impossible to take any decent pictures of your awaiting chariot.

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The Cabin

The Airbus A 350 features Qatar Airways’ new Business Class configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 layout that gives every passenger direct access to the aisle. The additional width of the A 350 really comes into its own in this cabin layout, giving a spacious and airy feel to the cabin.

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The only thing I do not like about this aircraft is the fact that it has those electronically controlled window blinds. And while these are obviously a lot of fun to play with if, like me, you spend way too much time around engineers than is really good for you, they have the disadvantage of being remote controllable by the crew.

No sooner has the fasten seatbelt sign turned off after take-off the blinds come down and can no longer be opened individually until about ninety minutes out of Frankfurt.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are a chirpy bunch. Their service is efficient but unrushed and they are obviously determined not to waste any time so passengers can maximise the amount of rest they can get before we reach our destination. This is yet another thing that Qatar Airways does really well in my opinion. One of the things I really cannot stand on Singapore Airlines or SWISS is that for some reason their main meal service always seems to take for ever. On a flight across the Atlantic you are usually already half way there by the time they finally finish and clear everything up.

Amenities

The vanity kit is another one of the senselessly oversized tube of aftershave balm variety. Come to think of it, it would be interesting to know what is in the ladies’ vanity kit and if that has any more sensible contents.

The Meal

I know it has not been that long since my breakfast on the inbound from Melbourne, but I am feeling peckish nonetheless. I blame it on the jet lag.

I start with a tasty strawberry and banana smoothie with is rich and creamy.

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Next I have the Bircher Müsli with berries and nuts, which is served nicely decorated with a sprig of mint that gives it a refreshing twist.

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And then for the main course I have the Indian dish, in this case something called Aloo paneer tikki with jeera potatoes, green pea upma, makhani sauce and sambhar. And what an excellent dish it is too, even though I am really not quite sure what it is I am eating. Luckily, Qatar Airways always seem to have at least one Indian dish on their menu, usually the vegetarian option.

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For dessert I have a combination of lychee éclair and a coffee and chocolate mousse cake, which is also very good.

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Once the meal is over, I figure I may as well make another trip to Noddy land to pass the time before the next feeding.

The Second Service

Ninety minutes out of Frankfurt the cabin crew pass through the cabin asking passengers if there is anything they would like to eat before we arrive in Frankfurt. There is a section with light options on the menu for passengers to choose from. I decide to go with the shredded beef salad with Thai noodles. The dish is good and tastes authentic, but I am kind of disappointed because I had been hoping for something with a bit of ‘umpf’ in it, which this dish does not have.

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Arrival

Twenty-three hours after departing from Melbourne I arrive back in Frankfurt. We approach the airport from the East and land on the new runway that lies north of the apron. As I step off the plane I finally get a chance to take a proper look at her and take a few pictures. This is a really very cool plane!

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Conclusion

This flight brings to a close my journey to the land of Oz with the fabulous Qatar Airways. Their performance on the four flights I took has been truly stellar. What’s more, they are consistent in the service level they provide, even in comparison to my experience on previous trips with them. In comparison to the other Middle Eastern carriers I have tried, I think Qatar Airways definitely takes the biscuit. They are certainly more professional than Oman Air and their service feels a lot more sophisticated than Emirates. I also think their cabins are a lot classier than Emirates, which tends to be a bit flashy, bordering on gaudy. Of course Qatar Airways also has the advantage that with Hamad airport, they have a very spacious and nicely designed hub.

I shall be flying with Etihad for the first time in two months, and I am curious to see how they will compare to Qatar Airways, but I think it is safe to say that Qatar Airways is a hard act to follow.

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.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Adelaide to Melbourne

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Date: 09. February 2017
Departure: 19:20
Arrival: 20:20
Flight time: 1 hour
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard of the aircraft

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Introduction

I step off Qatar’s Airbus A 350 and make my way to immigration, which is deserted. From what I can tell, ours is the only international flight to arrive around this time. The guy at customs seems a bit surprised to see me travelling such a long way with only a small carry-on suitcase, but eventually he lets me pass anyway.

If you are catching a domestic connection, simply exit customs and then turn left. There is an escalator that takes you one floor up to the departures level.

Check-in

Virgin Australia have their own dedicated check-in area and there is a separate counter for Business Class passengers.

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It had not been possible to check me in for this flight already in Frankfurt or in Doha.

The Virgin Australia Lounge

Location: Opposite immigration for international departures.
Name of Lounge:
Virgin Airlines lounge.
Access:
As you exit the security checkpoint, turn left.
Toilets & showers:
Available in the lounge.
Food & Beverages: The food selection in the lounge is limited to junk food and toast. Drinks are ordered at the counter.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is available. The password is given to you at check-in.

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Boarding

Business Class passengers and frequent flyers are invited to board first.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat Layout: There are two rows of seats, making a total of eight seats in Business Class. The aircraft has a dedicated, proper Business Class cabin and seat.
Pitch: 38 inches.
Width: 19.5 inches.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Virgin offers wireless inflight entertainment that you can watch on your own handheld device. But you need to download their app for that first.

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The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough. They work efficiently to get the service through in just one hour, but without making it feel rushed.

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Taking off over Glenelg.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Sparkling water.

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Choice: There is a choice of either chicken or a salad with beetroot.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Dinner.
Main course:
Chicken breast with creamed corn and tomatoes.

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Dessert: A really very tasty carrot cake.

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Cheese: A plate of camembert with fig chutney and rice crackers.

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Beverages: Coke Zero.

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Bread: One bun, served with butter.

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Coming from Europe, it is quite amazing to be offered a hot meal on a flight of only one hour and to have a proper Business Class seat at your disposal. I am certainly impressed!

Arrival

We arrive in Melbourne more or less on time. Virgin Australia have their own terminal in Melbourne.

From arrivals it takes me about five minutes to walk the short distance to the Holiday Inn hotel, where I will be staying for just the one night.

In summary, I rather like Virgin Australia and I am very glad to say that their service is still as good as I remember it from when I travelled with them last back in 2013.