Aegean Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Athens to Berlin

Getting to the airport

In Athens I stay at the Sofitel Athens Airport, which is literally just across the road and one floor down from the terminal. Journey time: 2 minutes. If you’re coming from the city though, there is a train and a metro that run out to the airport. The journey time from Syntagma square is about 45 minutes and the trains only run every thirty minutes. A oneway ticket will cost you EUR9.90.

Check-in

I enter the terminal building just after 12h00 and it’s crawling with people. Currently, the terminal is a bit of a construction site, because expansion works are underway. And about time too, by the looks of it.

Athens attracts quite some unexpected traffic. American, United, Delta and Air Canada all operated two flights a day from their respective hubs. In addition, all the middle eastern carriers, like Gulf Air, Saudia and Emirates, also operate a regular schedule to the Greek capital.

There is a fast track for security, with no queue at all. It’s a bit misleading though that there’s a sign asking passengers to remove nail clippers and scissors from their bags – because most passengers interpret that to mean that they won’t need to remove liquids or laptops (which are not mentioned explicitly) – only to be barked at by the dragon at the security checkpoint.

The Aegean Airlines lounge

The Aegean lounge is located at the far end of the terminal, near gates 11 and 12. The young lady at reception informs me that the lounge is full up. She hands me a voucher of EUR10 to buy food and drinks at any one of the concessions outside and asks me to come back later to check if there’s any space in the lounge.

Let’s face it, the view is much better outside the lounge anyway, which just overlooks the car park…

Boarding

Our boarding gate changes twice, and actually I don’t know what the original gate should have been. I just keep receiving notifications from Aegean in the app. First we are redirected to gate B20, only to be informed when we get there that we should all go to gate B27 instead. The boarding announcement is in the style of “I’ll just yell something incomprehensible in my thick Greek accent and wait for passengers to start moving”. And then the scrum begins. Their only saving grace is that we’ll be boarding from a bus gate.

The cabin

There are four rows of Business Class for a total of 16 seats. And the cabin is full. On a row of three the middle seat is kept empty, and there is a little table that folds out of the seatback of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Other than that though, there are no video screens, no electricity plugs and no wifi.

The leg space on row three is excellent.

Alas, the cleanliness of the cabin leaves much to be desired. There’s a snotty hankerchief in my seat pocket, and the others don’t look much better either…

The service

While boarding is underway, the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering champagne, orange juice or still water.

There are five crew on this flight. It is noticeable that all of them are very young. There is only one male in the crew and the four females are heavily, but at least professionally, made up. They’re quite friendly and interact with passengers with ease.

The meal

While we’re still on the ground we’re also handed the menus. However, I already booked my meal online at the time of booking. Preodering is not just available for special meals.

The meal service begins very soon after take off. First, a cover is placed on the tray table.

The meal is quite extensive.

For the main course I go with the fish and the celeriac and potato mash, which is very nice. The fish is juicy and the mash is quite unusual.

There’s also a salad. And if I ever meet the creep who though adding pomegranate to every blood thing was a good idea, I’m seriously going to give him a piece of my mind. I mean, why?

On the tray is also a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico and crackers…

… some tasty greek cheese…

… and dessert. Bread rolls are also offered from the bread basket.

The dessert is very good, but also very rich. It’s basically pieces of biscuits with milk chocolate.

After the meal, the crew don’t offer coffee or tea. However, they do offer small boxes of dark and milk chocolate.

For the rest of the flight, I busy myself reading and wondering if the American sitting in front of me was raised on a farm, of if perhaps she just thinks it’ll look better on her Insta profile to post picture after picture of her duck face, while she dirties the seat with her shoes. Some people…

Arrival

The flight time to Berlin is two hours and forty minutes.

It’s very bumpy on the approach, which probably accounts for the very positive landing we experience… We taxi to our stand and then I make the long schlepp to arrivals and then the railway station.

Getting into Berlin

From the airport I first catch an intercity train going to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, which takes about thirty minutes. And then from there I catch the S Bahn for three stops to Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten in what used to be West Berlin.

Air Europa, Business Class – Boeing B787-8: Madrid to Athens

Getting to Madrid Barajas Terminal 2

The entrance to the Plaza de España metro station is located just a few steps away from the main entrance to the hotel. The ticket to the airport, including the surcharge, is EUR4.90 for a oneway for one person. The journey time, including changing trains at Nuevos Ministerios, is about 45 minutes.

I alight at the stop for terminals 1,2 and 3 and make the long schlepp to the check-in area.

Check-in

Air Europa checks in at Terminal 2.

There are two counters open for Business Class passengers. However, I think this is only the check-in for European or Schengen flights. I’ve already checked in online, so I can bypass the counters and head straight for the fast track for security, which is empty.

The AENA Puerta del Sol lounge

Air Europa no longer has its own lounges at Madrid. What used to be their lounge on the E concourse has now become the AENA Puerta del Sol lounge, operated by the Madrid airport authority.

Which also means that the place is rather busy when I get there, and all the window seats with their fabulous views of the apron are taken. The buffet in the lounge only serves cold snacks.

Boarding

Our flight arrives late on its previous flight from New York, it taxies past the lounge on its way to the gate. Boarding is a complete mess. There are two lanes – one for Economy Class passengers, and another for passengers needing assistance, families travelling with their satanic brood and SkyPriority passengers. Boarding starts about forty minutes late, and there are no announcements by the staff and the departure screen at the gate is not updated either.

When eventually boarding does begin, there’s another hold up because the obnoxious, entitled hipster parent of one of the little demons is refusing to have the stroller put in the hold.

The cabin

The cabin looks nice, especially with the mood lighting. As we enter, I take a quick photo of the Economy Class section, which looks quite spacious.

The Business Class seat is rather old fashioned. There are 22 seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration. The seat is fully lie-flat, but it’s not very long. I would also recommend taking your shoes off before lying down. I wear a size 46 and couldn’t fit my feet in the little cubby with my shoes still on.

There isn’t a lot of storage space either. To be precise, the storage space available is in odd places and not very conveniently located. Furthermore, all the storage areas are marked with “Do not use during take-off, taxi or landing” stickers.

The inflight entertainment has touch screens.

Other than that, the seat is very grimey. There’s old dirt and pieces of food in the cracks and the off white of the seat looks greasy in places.

The service

The service start with still water or orange juice being served as a welcome drink. Sure, the plastic cups are probably not the height of sophistication. But at least we get a drink, which is more than I can say for my previous flight with Iberia.

In addition, the crew pass through the cabin with complimentary wifi codes (which don’t work) and earphones.

As we taxi out, I notice two Airbus A 380s of BA parked up for long-term storage. The photo is a bit grainy. But judging from the state they’re in, I’m guessing it’ll take quite a lot of work to make those two aircraft airworthy again…

Eventually we take off in a southeasterly direction and then turn towards Barcelona, from where we start our Mediterranean crossing. The route takes us over Sardinia and Italy, and then over the Adriatic into the Balkans. The flight time is three hours.

The meal

There are no menus, and from what I can tell there is also no meal choice on this flight. The main dish is tortellini filled with mushrooms and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, melted cheese and cranberries. Although my partner’s dish is missing the cranberries.

There is also a small salad of something, which mainly tastes of artificial basil.

There is butter and a small triangle of La Vache Qui Rit cheese, which I always hated as a kid and still don’t like much. There are also crackers and two rolls of bread.

After the meal, coffee is served in cardboard cups. And it really is quite horrific coffee. I also think that on a flight of three hours it would not have been too much to ask to have a proper cup.

When the cabin crew comes to remove my tray, I feel just a wee bit like Oliver Twist as I inquire if there’s any dessert at all. The cabin crew looks at me with rather unconvincing surprise and tells me she’ll check and be right back. At this point I’m expecting her to return and tell me that catering forgot to load dessert. However, much to my surprise she returns with a bowl of dessert that she miraculously produced out of nowhere. With that, she gives me a wooden stirring stick to eat the piece of cake. It’s roughly around now that I start to suspect the good lady is trying to take the piss. I shouldn’t have bothered…

Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, until eventually our aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent into Athens.

We land and then taxi to our parking stand on the satellite pier. This is my first time using the satellite here in Athens. On my previous visits it was not open. From the pier there’s a very long underground passage to the main terminal.

Conclusion

I used to enjoy flying Air Europa. Their catering was innovative and the crews always seemed warm and sincere. But the cost cutting over the last two years appears to have taken its toll on the airline. The catering on this flight was… meh, and the crews have basically stopped caring. Shortly I’ll be travelling to South America. I had looked at Air Europa too for my trip. Now I’m kind of relieved I didn’t book them in the end.

Iberia, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: London Heathrow to Madrid Barajas

I know this is the old logo, but the new one is just so boring…

Catching the new Elizabeth Line to Heathrow

Just a few weeks ago, London opened parts of its new Elizabeth line, which runs from the East to the West of London and its suburbs. The trains also run to Heathrow, providing a viable and very attractive alternative to the outrageously priced Heathrow Express. Together with the Piccadilly tube line, there are now three options to get to Heathrow by public transport. The Heathrow Express is the fastest, and runs from Paddington to the airport in about fifteen minutes. The Elizabeth Line is much cheaper, but takes about thirty minutes to make the journey – if it goes according to plan. The tube is clearly the cheapest option but takes for ever!

In the end, so did my trip to Heathrow too. I depart from Paddington on the 15h47 train bound for Heathrow’s T4. The ticket costs GBP7.50. I’ll need to change trains at the T1-3 station for a train bound for T5. Only, when we reach Hayes & Harrington, where the line branches off to the airport, passengers are informed that the train will not be able make it to Heathrow. So instead, we should wait for the second train on the next platform, which will then run to T5.

So we all move to the next platform where soon enough the train pulls into the station. It runs nonstop to the station at T1-3. Only, when we get there, another announcement is made to inform passengers that there’s been a change of plan, and therefore, our train will now be running to T4 instead of T5. For the latter, passengers should wait on the same platform for the next train to arrive in ten minutes.

Eventually, the trip from Paddington to Heathrow’s T5 takes me over an hour.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online, so there’s no need for me to stop at a counter and I can head straight for the fast track for security. It’s Friday evening, which would normally be a busy time to travel. But Heathrow is eerily quiet. There are a lot of aircraft movements outside, but it certainly doesn’t look as though they’re very full, with so few passengers in the terminal.

Security is painless. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through so quickly at Heathrow!

My flight will be departing from the C satellite of T5, which means I’m going to have to take the shuttle train or walk – which I’m not sure I would recommend. It’s not a very nice walk.

The lounge in T5C is still closed, so passengers are adivsed to use the lounge in T5B, which is even quieter than the main terminal.

British Airways T5B lounge

The British Airways lounge is not much better either. Where is everybody? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this place so quiet.

I don’t actually have all that much time to spare. By the time I sit down in the lounge with a glass of sparkling water, it’s already coming up to six in the evening.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 18h05. However, given that I still need to get from T5B to T5C, the displays are all already showing the flight as Boarding. The process starts with group 1, which is all Business Class passengers. Which is all the same, because the A 350 taking me to Madrid is parked in such an awkward location that it’s impossible to get a clean shot of the aircraft.

As I pass the gate, the agent informs me I’ll need to wear a face mask for the duration of my stay onboard.

The cabin & seat

I’m a big fan of the A 350. It’s such an elegant looking bird. It’s also very quiet and comfortable inside. Flying a wide-body on a short intra-European sector is always nice, too.

The Business Class section is located between the L1 and L2 doors. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. The single seats on the even numbered rows are the window (A) seats, and offer much more privacy than the single seats in the unevenly numbered rows, which are the aisle (C) seats.

The seat offers good storage space.

The inflight entertainment system is operated either from a hand-held device, or you can use the touch screen to operate it.

We taxi out with a delay of about 30 minutes, due to them having to offload the suitcases of passengers that never made it onto the flight. Our flight time is announced at two hours.

The meal

While we’re on the ground there are no welcome drinks or anything. The only interaction with the crew is when they distribute the menus.

After take-off, the service quickly begins. I go with the vegetarian dish, and I must say I’m quite surprised with the quantity and the quality, especially of the main dish.

I also admit though that I don’t touch the shrimp. With the meal, the crew make two rounds with the bread basket, which is offered together with olive oil.

The dessert is very good.

To finish the meal, the crew pass through the cockpit with small pieces of dark chocolate, which is incredibly rich.

Service

The service on this flight is what I would describe as typically Spanish. The crew are business friendly. They are helpful and they do their job in a professional and efficient manner. The food service is well paced. Other than that though, there is zero interaction. No smiles, nothing.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Madrid at 22h11, only slightly behind schedule. Our arrival brings us in right over the centre of Madrid. Once we land, we quickly taxi to our stand on the satellite terminal. From there I need to catch the train to the main terminal.

There is a health screening for passengers arriving from non-Schengen countries, and that includes Britain. Other than that, Madrid seems even quieter than London.

Getting into Madrid

To get into Madrid I first catch the line number 10 to Nuevos Ministerios and then the line 8 to Plaza de España, where my hotel is. If you’re travelling from the new terminal at Madrid, there is a supplement to pay which is automatically added to your ticket.

KLM Cityhopper: if I could just make a little suggestion about the catering…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to regale you with yet another blog post of a brief hop from Basel to Amsterdam. And I’m also not going to go droning on about crap catering. No, this time I come in peace. And as a peace offering I bring a useful and constructive suggestion of how to make things better. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!

So yes, this morning at the a** crack of dawn I was already on my way, on a Saturday no less, to catch a flight to Amsterdam. I was sitting in Economy Class. On early morning flights KLM will offer its passengers a small sandwich, which is either filled with cheese or, as in my case, a boiled egg mix with mayo and herbs, dill.

In any case, two things struck my as I sat there really very much enjoying my egg sandwich: first, Air France KLM are one of the few remaining airlines in Europe that will give you complimentary food in short-haul Economy. And second (and more importantly) I became aware of the fact that I enjoyed this sandwich a lot more than I did my last Business Class meal on KLM Cityhopper.

I identified several reasons for this unexpected, and quite frankly shocking and very disturbing, turn of events. First is of course the fact that a small sarnie is a lot more convenient and easier to eat than having to juggle that stupid Business Class box on the tray of an Embraer jet, which is not all that big. Second, there is the issue of that horrible müsli and yoghurt combo which is simply impossible to eat while attempting at least a modicum of decorum…

Okay, moving on before this does inadvertently turn into another rant after all… So, my big idea was this: why does Air France KLM still serve passengers in Economy Class complimentary food? After all, Marie-Antoinette said that if the plebs can’t have bread, let them eat cake.

But seriously, my point is this: the sandwich that was offered in Economy Class today was far more superior to the dreaded Wandels box KLM throws at you in short-haul Business Class these days. Therefore, they should do away with that thing, and instead start serving these lovely sandwiches to Business Class passengers. Of course, this would then either mean not offering complimentary food anymore in the back of the bus, or at least drastically curbing what’s on offer.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Budapest to Zürich

Introduction

I spend five days in Budapest attending a workshop and conference on qualitative research in language testing. I hadn’t been to Budapest in a very long time, so it’s nice to be back. Of course it helps that the weather is stunning. It’s warm, but without the oppressive heat of summer.

Getting to the airport

To get to Ferihegy airport by public transport there are several options. The bus lines 100E and 200E run from the city out to the airport and are obviously the cheapest option. They’re also the slowest option. Google will tell you that the journey takes forty minutes, but depending on a set of variables – from the driver’s level of insanity to the state of the traffic on the roads – it’s more like an hour.

Then there’s the train. But this I really wouldn’t do. There is a railway station opposite the entrance to the old Ferihegy 1 terminal, which is no longer in use. It’s not really that far from there to Ferihegy 2, but I was unable to find any information about how to get from the railway station to the passenger terminal.

And then there’s the hotel shuttle, which the concierge of your hotel can order for you. The journey costs EUR6.- and the journey time really depends on where your hotel is located and on how many other pick ups the driver has to make on the way to the airport.

Check-in

Terminal 2 is divided in sections 2A and 2B. The former is for the Star Alliance and SkyTeam Alliance.

The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 1 to 4. There are two counters open for passengers in First or Business Class.

It’s fairly busy when I arrive. There is a fast track for security and there are self-service machines where you can purchase tickets to access the fast track. Access to the fast track is only for passengers with at least Star Gold status. So just having a Business Class ticket is not enough.

Airside & lounge

The airside area is attractive. It’s a wide open space with a high, vaulted ceiling. On the upper level there is a large food court. This is also where two of the premium lounges are located. However, the lounge that SWISS an the other Star carriers use is on the main level. The entrance to the Platinum lounge is opposite gate A7. But it’s hardly worth the bother. It’s dark and gloomy inside and there are no windows either. It’s also not very big.

Boarding

Life is so full of disappointments. Originally, when I booked this flight it should have been operated by an E2, which would have been my first flight on the type. When I checked in the day before, the SWISS app didn’t show any aircraft type. So I’m a bit upset when I arrive at the gate to find yet another old E1 standing there.

The cabin

Still, there is a silver lining because seating on Helvetic is really just so incredibly tight – even on row 2 where I’m seated. At least they keep the adjacent seat empty, so by sitting sideways I can at least minimise the risk of getting a third slipped disc from sitting in this torture instrument.

The crew

I find the crews on the Helvetic Airways flights are a lot more friendly than those on SWISS, and this flight is no exception. The purser working the Business Class cabin is a charming young lady who goes about her duties in a very professional manner.

Once boarding is completed, each passenger receives a bottle of water and a refreshing towel. For some reason I’m very thirsty and more or less down the water in one big schluck.

The next time the purser passes through the cabin, she notices and promptly brings me a new bottle on her way back to the rear of the aircraft. By the time she returns a few minutes later, the second bottle is also already empty. She picks it up on her way to the forward galley and immediately returns with the third bottle, commenting that “actually, you’re right. I should also drink more in my line of work”, clearly in an attempt to not make me feel awkward, which I think is rather nice.

Having said that, I’m not sure about the other two cabin crew. They’re both male and also very friendly. One of them is of South Asian origin. I suspect he may be a trainee. The problem is that he’s the one making the announcements, and his pronunciation is so bad that it’s difficult even to make out if he’s speaking German or English. It’s not a big deal, because his manners are excellent and he’s very friendly. An accent is something you can learn to control, whereas manners are more of a question of attitude.

In any case, our departure from Budapest is quite spectacular. We take off and make a wide left-hand turn that brings us back over the city. From my seat on 2F I have an excellent view of the parliament building, the centre of town and castle hill.

The meal

And then the meal service begins, perfectly performed by the purser. It’s not much more than a snack, but it’s the middle of the afternoon anyway and the quality of the food is good.

The main dish is two slices of smoked salmon, and it’s a very good piece of fish. It’s not at all chewy, it’s tender and tastes of salmon and not just fishy, which is what usually happens with inferior cuts. With that there is an avocado cream and a bit of taboulé.

And then of course, there is the cheese. My guess would be Gruyère for the flat slice and a very young Tilsiter for the wedge of cheese.

Bread rolls are served with the meal and the purser comes through the cabin for seconds and thirds.

Crackers and butter are also available.

The dessert is a panna cotta with strawberry. And to end the meal I have cup of Sirocco’s mint tea.

And, unlike the crews on my two previous SWISS flights, this crew actually remembers to pass through the cabin with the fabulous SWISS chocolate.

Arrival

The flight time to Zürich is ninety minutes. Although Zürich is quite busy, we are still able to make an approach straight in, without having to hold, for an on time arrival. We park on a remote stand. For Business Class passengers there is a small minibus to take us to the terminal. It takes the luggage from my flight 45 minutes to start arriving and the luggage belt is crawling with passengers, as the flights from Brussels, Athens, and Malta are also being delivered to this belt. Eventually, I manage to catch a train an hour after I land at 17h15, which is still not bad, even if it’s not up to Zürich’s usual standards. And so the quest for the E2 continues…

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

Introduction

I’m on my way to Budapest to attend a language testing conference. The evening before my flight I try to check in on the SWISS app, but for some reason it’s not working. After several failed attempts I go to the Lufthansa app and try there, and this time it works. But I can’t download the boarding pass from the link I received by SMS. The next morning I try again on both the SWISS and Lufthansa apps, but no. Not working. I guess it makes no difference, seeing as I’ll be checking in a suitcase and will need to pass by a counter anyway. But you do wonder.

Check-in

Zürich airport is surprisingly busy when I get there at 10h45. In check-in 3 SWISS has installed self-service baggage drop counters, which seem to be rather popular, judging by the length of the queue. Business Class passengers have their own dedicated lane, which leads to two womanned counters for checking in the old-fashioned way.

From check-in I head straight to security, figuring there’s likely to be a queue there too. Which there is. However, it moves quickly and the wait there is really no more than about seven minutes in the priority lane.

The lounge

The lounge looks quiet enough from the outside, so I decide to give it a try. Uhm, yeah. No. Inside, the place is crawling with disgruntled looking business men and women. All of them look as though they’d much rather be somewhere else. And given the size of the queue for the buffet, I can’t really blame them! Where are all these people going?

So I make a u turn and exit the lounge from where I came in. But I’m still hungry. I check out the café at the beginning of the A pier, but they’re actually asking CHF7.80 for a rather small salami sandwich with some wilted looking lettuce and a few slices of salami. I refuse to pay that kind of money for a simple bloody salami sandwich. So I guess I’m doomed. My faith rests now in the hands of SWISS. My only hope now is that they won’t serve up one of their odd concotions, or that the crew won’t have mistakenly already served all the Business Class meals, as was the case on my last flight from Brussels back to Zürich.

Boarding

My aircraft arrived from Palma de Mallorca and is running just a few minutes late. Instead of at 11h55, boarding will now begin at 12h05. Seeing as I’m seated up front, I might as well wait for everybody else to board first. So I head for the window to admire the elegant Airbus A 220-300 that will be carrying me to Budapest this afternoon. It really is such a nice aircraft!

The cabin

Originally I’m on 3A. However, once boarding is completed, the twin seats on rows 1 and 2 are still empty, so I move forward to 2A so the guy on 2D can take my seat to be closer to his wife and kid on 4B and 4A. There are six rows of Business Class, and with me there are eleven passengers in the Business Class cabin. Which is a lot more than I had expected.

Row 2 on the A 220 is excellent. The seat pitch is very good and because you have the seat next to you empty, you needn’t worry about finding a place to store your bag if the overhead bins are full.

We take off from runway 28. The SID takes us in a southwesterly direction, before bringing us back to fly parallel to the departing runway, heading in the opposite direction.

Our routing takes us past lake Constance and further in an easterly direction into Austria.

It’s a lovely day here in Switzerland. However, as we progress east the weather gradually deteriorates. By the time we land in Budapest it’s overcast and slightly fresher than Zürich.

The meal

The meal is surprisingly not bad. It consists of some Asian-style noodles with a sesame oil dressing, some veg and two slices of smoked tuna. It’s a very small dish, but then again the flight is only slightly over one hour.

With that there is a small plate with two pieces of cheese. I’d say a Camembert and an Appenzeller. But I’m not sure.

For dessert is something that I think should be Tiramisu, but is essentially small pieces of soggy cantucci on gelatine with coffee. Meh…

And to finish the meal: a coffee.

The crew

The crew on this flight are friendly. They’re also totally with the birds. When they start the service, they had the bread basked on the trolley, but obviously forget to ask passengers if they’d like a bread roll. The male flight attendant plonks down my tray and moves on. So I ask him, in English, if I could have a bread roll for the cheese. First, he replies: “Es Brötli?”. He then uses the tongs to grab a roll from the basket, and then promptly places it on my tray so that it immediately rolls off and lands on the floor before either one of us can catch it. So then he asks me if I’m okay with that, or if I’d like another one. It’s really on the tip of my tongue to tell him that I’m not in the habit of eating bread rolls that have been hand picked off the seedy carpets of commercial airliners. But I let it go and just ask for a new Brötli.

But I don’t know what it is with this guy and his “Brötli”. Because after my row he continues asking all the passengers “would you like es Brötli?”. I don’t know if he thinks he’s giving the service a bit of Swissness, because honestly, it’s just weird.

Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering, there is no SWISS chocolate at the end of the flight for the Business Class passengers. I don’t know if the crew just forget, or if Business Class passengers no longer get a chocolate because they were treated to coffee flavoured gelatine. Such a treat…!

Arrival

Despite our slightly delayed departure form Zürich, we still manage to land in Budapest on time. We come to a stop next to my friends in blue. Passengers disembark via an airbridge. However, at the other end of the airbridge we are directed to go downstairs to board a bus which then drives us to the arrivals hall. I have no idea what all that is about.

The luggage doesn’t take much time to arrive and then I’m already on my way to Budapest on the 100E bus.

My first negative blog post about KLM, Business Class – Embraer 190: Amsterdam to Basel

Introduction

Consider this blog post a time piece. It was written in a state of emotional turmoil and upset, but still is, I think, fair.

Transfer in Amsterdam

The transfer in Amsterdam could not be easier. When I arrive at the security checkpoint, coming off my flight from Dubai, the place is deserted. The fact that you don’t have to remove anything from your bags makes the process very swift.

To be honest, I had been expecting the worst. On a daily basis the Dutch newspapers are reporting on acute staff shortages as Schiphol airport: passengers having to queue for security for five hours, passengers passing out in the queue from exhaustion and others getting into a brawl to vent their frustration…

In any case, I just have enough time in the Schengen Crown lounge to post my trip from Dubai. And then I leave the lounge to make my way to the B pier, where my flight should be boarding for Basel at gate B 36, starting at 08h00.

You’d think I’d know better. The B pier is crawling with passengers. Only once I finally manage to find a place to sit, do I bother to check on the location of my aircraft – it’s not at the gate. Crap, it looks as though the aircraft won’t be arriving from Stavanger until until 08h06, so after it should start boarding.

But never mind, I have a window seat. All is good. Eventually, boarding starts at 08h30, the original departure time. The last passengers arrive and the crew close the L1 passenger door. Next, the pilot comes on the mic to inform passengers that “due to staff shortages at Schiphol”, we were still waiting for catering to come and remove the trolleys from the Stanvanger flight and to replace them with the catering for our flight. And so we wait…

Evnetually, we take off at 09h10, forty minutes behind schedule. Which is not too bad considering the two hours delay on my way from Paris to Dubai.

You delayed the flight for this…?

There are two rows of Business Class on the flight this morning. With only three passengers that means that we all get a whole row of two to ourselves. I’m on 1F. The crew pass through the cabin handing out the dreaded European Business Class meal box. KLM has taken the Covid pandemic as an opportunity to abolish bread rolls from its European catering. Instead, there is a larger plastic container with fruit, and another with what the menu describes as “scrambled egg” with smoked salmon. And then there is the granola mix with plain yoghurt.

I guess we can negotiate the fruit. But the main dish? I mean, KLM’s European catering has always leaned towards the adventurous, but this is where I draw the line. The scrambled egg is more of a curried egg salad and mainly tastes of mayonnaise and fish – from the salmon. I think we’ll skip that. And that brings me to the healthy option.

Whoever designed this box? So, KLM will give you a plastic container with granola (exhibit a) and a second container with the plain yoghurt (exhibit b). The main idea, of course, is to prevent the granola from getting all soggy. Only, there are two problems here. First, there’s no point in keeping the granola and the yoghurt separate because there’s not enough liquid in the yoghurt for that. And second, there’s way more granola in exhibit a than there is room for in exhibit b. So I gingerly attempt to pour just a bit of the contents of exhibit a into exhibit b and proceed to make a complete and utter mess. There’s granola everywhere, even on me. I try to mix the granola with the yoghurt as a precaution, to avoid asphyxiation by granola. But honestly, eventually I just give up. But at least KLM now has wooden cutlery, which is of course a lot more sustainable than the plastic the whole meal is poured into…

Oh yes, and the menu says that the crew will distribute additional items of catering during the flight. Depending on the time of day, this may vary. We get a carrot, pumpkin and mango smoothie which, quite frankly, I wish I’d never opened. I wonder if anybody at KLM ever bothered to try this before unleashing it on its unsuspecting customers?

Arrival

Eventually we land in Basel with twenty minutes delay. I’m so glad to be home, everything looks so green and lush!

This time, we park in the French sector, so at least there are no long queue for immigration. At Basel airport the rules changes so often and so quickly that you’re never quite sure what to expect when you land.

For some reason our flight is not showing up on the arrivals screen, which makes it kind of difficult to know which belt the luggage will be arriving on. The Air France luggage is being delivered on belt 4, so I figure that’s where the KLM luggage will arrive to – which it does eventually.

A commentary

KLM and Schiphol airport have been very busy playing the blame game these last few days. Unfortunately, as these thing usually happen, their petty little strife is being played out on their customers’ back. I’m willing to believe that the airport authority in Amsterdam is trying to save money by rostering less staff at the security checkpoints. But the staff shortage that resulted in the late delivery of the catering had nothing to do with that. Catering is the airline’s responsibility, not the airport’s.

Other than that, as you may have guessed, I was not amused by the food that was served on this flight. There’s no need to make a big thing out of it, as I had enough food on the flight from Dubai and ample time to gorge myself in the lounge, if I’d wanted to. The fact that they no longer serve bread rolls is unfortunate, but no biggie either. However, what I find more problemantic is that those vile little boxes of… food have now become the standard also on KLM’s mainline fleet. And that is a mistake. Even BA can do better!

The airlines and airports around the world, not just KLM and Amsterdam, are relentlessly lamenting in the media the dire state of their staff shortages. As a result, they’re having to cancel flights and thin out their schedules with seemingly little consideration for the disruption they cause to passengers. While I can see that these shortages are quickly becoming something the travelling public is going to have to deal with, I do wonder just exactly who the airlines and airports think they have to blame for this misery? Furthermore, what I find particularly annoying is that they have the gall to shamelessly deliver their sob stories in the wake of literally billions in tax payers’ money that was given to them without even as much as a thought to how they would repay these “loans” and what they would use them for.

KLM, I know you read my blog. And I’m still one of your greatest fan. Be that at is may, you really need to pull your socks up. And I mean presto!

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

Introduction

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

Check-in

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

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

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

The Dubai SkyTeam lounge

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

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

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

Boarding

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

The cabin

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

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

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

Noddy land

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

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

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

Breakfast

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

Arrival

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Air France by HOP!, Business Class – Embraer 170: Basel to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I arrive at Basel airport at 09h30 to check in for my flight to Paris at 11h00. Much to my surprise, the Air France KLM counters are deserted – there’s no queue at all. The check-in agent labels my suitcase, but only to Paris, and then hands me my boarding pass.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge Basel

The Skyview lounge is just as quiet. Where is everyone? Any moment now I epxect to see some tumble weed rolling across my path…

In my humble opinion, one of the lounge’s best features is the open air terrace, which originally was built to function as the smoking area. On a day like today it’s just lovely to sit there in the shade, watching the aircraft coming and going.

At about 10h40, ten minuntes after boarding for my flight to Paris should have started, the little Embraer 170 pulls onto its stand at gate 1, on the French side of the terminal. As a rule of thumb, if I slowly start packing up my belongings and perhaps quickly nip into the gents just as the aircraft comes to a standstill, by the time I make the schlepp from the lounge to gate 1, boarding is either just about to start or has just started.

Boarding

Boarding is… complicated and confusing. And I don’t quite know why. SkyTeam Priority and Business Class passengers, so zones 1, 2 and 3, are invited to board the aircraft through the exit on the left side of the counter, only to then have to cross over to the right side behind the counter. Once all passengers in zones 1, 2 and 3 have boarded, the riffraff is also allowed to board via the exit to the right of the counter only – you guessed it – to then have to queue on the left side. Only once all boarding passes have been scanned and all passengers are accounted for are we allowed to actually get on the plane.

The cabin

Today’s flight is operated by a dreaded Embraer E 170. I really don’t like these planes, they just feel so cramped and tight. There are two rows of Business Class, although you wouldn’t notice to look at it, given that Air France KLM refuse to keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class.

And then of course there’s the curse of the misaligned windows. I really don’t understand what it is with this aircraft, but I’ve yet to find an airline that has managed to properly align its seats on the Embraer 170 to allow passengers an unobstructed view outside without having to crank their neck back.

The crew

There are two young females working the flight, and both of them are very friendly. What I also notice though, and I know this is what I do for a living, is that both the cabin and cockpit crews’ English is not all that good. The pilot making the announcements has a thick French accent hovering precariously close to the brink of comprehensibility, and the cabin crew are not much better.

A bottle of still water is already at my seat when I arrive.

We are welcomed to the flight and the crew apologise for our delay, which apparently was caused by some dreadful weather in Paris. Eventually, by the time we start our take-off roll we’re already running 30 minutes late.

The meal

This is the first time I get to experience the newish Air France domestic Business Class that was introduced a few years back without Covid restrictions or anyting of the sort. Basically, passengers sitting up front get a wider selection of drinks to choose from and both a savory and a sweet snack. The savory snack are these small crépes filled with soft cheese, which are okay. The sweet snack are three rather tasty and buttery sablés. To drink I have a glass of Coke Zero, as the cabin crew looks on despondently as every one of the eight passengers in the Business Class cabin declines her offer for a glass of champagne.

Arrival

As we approach Paris, the turbulence picks up. I’m starting to see what they were on about with that. It’s bad, like the trolley temporarily lifting off the floor kind of turbulence. As a result, our approach into Paris is rather circuitous, as we try to avoid the nastiest looking cloud cells.

Eventually we land with a delay 45 minutes and it looks as though there’s just been a severe downpour. The flight ends at Terminal 2G, which has been reopened again after a hiatus of two years because of Covid. And while I think it’s good news for Air France that traffic is picking up to the point that they can reopen a whole terminal, I also think 2G is just a bit inconvenient, because it really is just so far out in the boonies.

Getting to Roissypole from Terminal 2G

My hotel is at Roissypole, which is located roughly midway between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1, which is still closed. To get to Terminal 2F from Terminal 2G there is a shuttle that runs directly to the second entrance of Terminal 2F on the departures level. The journey time is about ten minutes, which isn’t bad if you happend to be one of the lucky ones that manage to grab a seat.

From 2F there is then the Roissyval shuttle to Roissypole.

Conclusion

So far, so good. Of course there isn’t really all that much to say about such a short flight. It was okay, but I really do think that it makes no sense to offer a Business Class cabin on an aircraft of this size, at least not if the airline is unwilling to keep the adjacent seat empty. The meal service and the champagne I honestly don’t care about on a flight of 45 minutes. But the space is important.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Brussels to Zürich

Getting to the airport

The Belgian ANSP has a very convenient shuttle that runs from the Brussels tower to the main terminal building. The really cool thing though, is that the shuttle passes along the inner side of the airport perimeter fence. It’s a bit like getting your own prviate tour of Brussels airport. The journey takes about twenty minutes, which is a lot less than it would take on the public road.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online for the flight, so I can just head straight for security and the lounge. Brussels only has one terminal with two piers. There is no priority lane for Business Class passengers at security. However, despite the many people around, the queue is very well managed and moves along swiftly. Behind security you are forced through a complex labyrinth of duty free shops and restaurants before eventually emerging on the other side to find yourself at the head of the A pier, from where the Schengen flights depart.

Qatar Airways B 787-8 to Doha at the non-Schengen B pier.
Tintin’s infamous rocket.

The lounges on the Schengen pier are located one floor up from the main passenger concourse.

The lounge

Brussels Airlines operates The Loft Lounge on behalf of its Star Alliance partners. Access to the lounge is only for Business class passengers and Star Gold members.

The lounge has a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to chose from. More importantly, there is a row of comfortable sofas that runs along the windows overseeing the main apron. So that’s where I park myself until it’s time for my flight.

I’m sorry, but the new livery really does look a hell of a lot like that of Croatia Airlines…

I think I’m starting to remember why I don’t really enjoy airline lounges all that much. If you will just indulge my rant, what is it with some people that a) they have no other means to occupy themselves other than by making one phone call after the other, and b) that said phone calls have to be done with them yelling at the top of their voice? And don’t get me started on the Scandinavian Airlines passengers, who basically see a trip abroad as an opportunity to access cheap or, in the case of the lounge, complimentary booze. Okay, thanks. I’m feeling better now…

But I digress. The lounge is very nice, despite the patrons.

Boarding

Boarding is done by groups, with a first call for status holders (group 1) and Business Class passengers (group 2). The process is very similar to flying with Easyjet. We walk down the airbridge and are stopped by one of the handling agents half way down. Apparently they’re not done cleaning the plane yet. So we spend another five minutes in the smelly airbridge waiting for the cleaners to be done. Here’s a novel idea: if the plane is not ready yet, why did you start boarding in the first place…?

The cabin

There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin. There are three people on row 2, and just me on row 1.

Once boarding is done, the crew pass through the cabin with still water and towels.

The crew

In the past, I have been accused of being overly critical of SWISS. But I really don’t think that’s entirely my fault, and this flight is no exception. Once we’re airborne, the purser informs the Business Class cabin that she made a mistake on the outbound leg and accidentally served all the meals for the return leg too. Although I’m not fully sure how that happens “accidentally”. Instead, we’re going to have to choose something off the Economy Class buy on board menu.

When she comes to apologise, I tell her not to worry about it, and make a joke about having overdosed on Belgian waffles in the lounge anyway. To which she tries to make a joke by saying that I really ought to be careful, because “you wouldn’t want to end up with diabetes…”. I mean, is it just me, or is that not something inappropriate to make a joke about?

Later on, as we start our descent into Zürich, the purser seems very preoccupied by the gorgeous sunset. So she kneels on the ground on row 1 to take a few pictures, commenting loudly to her colleague in Swissgerman that “das isch jo huere geil”. “Geil” litterally means horny, whereas “huere” acts as an intensifier to express that you think something is really, really very good. It is a bit awkward that “huere” derives from the German word for a whore. So in other words, “huere geil” roughly translates into “fucking brilliant”.

The meal

The option is between a chicken breast sandwich or a pulled beef brioche. I go with the chicken, and I must say, it’s very good. Once we’re done, the guy behind me asks about dessert. He saw on the Economy Class menu that there were Luxeburgerlis, Sprüngli’s signature confectionary. In no uncertain terms the crew tell him that he can have them, but he’ll have to pay, which I just find a bit cheap. Surprisingly, the passenger declines…

Arrival

Zürich airport really is just brilliant! We touch down on runway 28 at 21:26. We pull onto our stand at 21:30. By 21:41 I‘m already at the station waiting to catch the train home at 21:45.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a pleasant enough flight. It always helps when the cabin isn’t full and you can spread out. The mishap with the food was unfortunate. But these things happen and the alternative that was offered was good. To be perfectly honest, I’d say the Sprüngli sandwich I received was probably way better than what should have been served on that flight in Business Class. However, I do think they could have given the guy behind me his Luxeburgerli for free, considering it was their fault to start with that there was no dessert.

The cabin crew were generally very friendly, and that includes the purser. I also think she gets kudos for not making up some cock and bull story about the botched catering and just being honest about it. Never any harm done in telling the truth. But her joke about the diabetes was imply in bad taste and her – let’s call it overly enthusiastic – choice of words to comment on the spectacular vistas was really very badly chosen.