Croatia Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Zürich to Zagreb

This week has me combining two trips into one. First, today I shall travel to Zagreb to attend a meeting. And then from there, I shall travel to Luxembourg to give another course.

The nice thing about Croatia Airlines’ evening service from Zürich to Zagreb is that the flight departs at 20h05, which gives you more or less a full day in the office before having to head for the airport.

When I arrive at the airport just after 18h07, the airport is very quiet. I’m guessing the main bank of departures is already over.

Croatia Airlines uses check-in 3 in Zürich, which is the check-in area right above the tracks of the railway station. I print my boarding pass and baggage tag at the self-service machine and then proceed to the counter to drop off my bag.

Another nice feature of a 20h05 departure time is that security is nearly deserted when I get there at around 18h30. Which is a good thing, because although there’s only one guy ahead of me in the queue, he’s exuding the rather pungent stink of young man. It ain’t pretty…

The airside area is eerily quiet too. Perhaps it’s because of Knabenschiessen, which is a half-day public holiday in the city of Zürich only. In case you’re wondering, Knabenschiessen is not quite as old a tradition as the Zürchers will have you believe. Besides, nowadays the event is more of an excuse for the hopelessly pretentious and nouveau rich to be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘right’ crowd.

Zagreb being a non-Schengen destination, the flight will be boarding from the D gates, on the ground floor level of the B pier, behind immigration.

Although there are hardly any people on the D concourse, the place is litered with garbage. You’d think they’d manage to clean up the place. None of this stuff in the picture is mine…

Boarding starts exactly on time, even though the bus taking us to the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s when I realise that most passengers are travelling with fairly large pieces of hand luggage, which fit perfectly in the overhead bins of an A 320, but not in the shoe box size bins of the Dash 8. So it takes the gate agent a moment to label all the hold baggage and scan the boarding passes all by herself.

The Dash 8 is a sharp looking aircraft, but it really is rather small and cramped in the cabin. Standing room is okay. But once you’re seated, the pitch is fairly tight for an average sized caucasian male.

What’s more, there’s a rail on which the seats are mounted that runs along the side of the cabin. As a result, if like me you’re on the window seat, leg space is a bit more limited than on the aisle.

Also, on 8F you’re sitting right next to the engine. This means that window views are somewhat obstructed and the vibrations from the engines are really very strong and quite loud.

The flight time is one hour and ten minutes. There are two cabin crew. The female is the purser, I think. She’s definitely got an attitude, but in a surprisingly good way. And she’s also very meticulous about safety.

The other crew is a male with a slighty grumpy demeanour. When the service begins, he stops at my row, shoves a packet of something under my nose unceremoniously and makes a sound that might be loosely interpreted as ‘would you care for a snack’ but is, in fact, little more than a grunt.

To drink, there is a whole bar trolley for choice. The snack and drinks are complimentary.

However, I did also notice in their Sky Shop magazine that there are other food items and beverages available for purchase, although no information to that effect was given during the flight.

All in all, the flight is pleasant and uneventful. Our landing in Zagreb is very smooth and quiet. We come to a stop on a stand right in front of the terminal. But once we disembark, we still have to take a bus to bring us to arrivals.

From the airport I take an Uber into the city, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.

Croatia Airlines is another one of those small European flag carriers that is struggling to stay afloat and compete against the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s hard to say if Croatian, like Air Malta or Tarom, would even be missed if they went out of business.

Having said that, Their product is certainly not bad and pretty much on a par with that of others. I’d fly with them again any time. But unless you want to go to Croatia, that may not even be quite so easy to achieve.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Bombardier Q400: Zagreb to Zürich

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Date: 05. August 2016.
Departure: 09h20.
Arrival: 10h45.
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side.

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INTRODUCTION
The bus drops us off just outside the terminal on the arrivals side. The terminal building really is inappropriately small, especially given that the ramp is rather busy with arriving and departing aircraft. I enter the building and much to my surprise, only few passengers are heading for arrivals and immigration for Croatia. The vast majority are turning left to queue for transfer immigration and security.

And God, how slow the process is! It takes fifty minutes from the moment I enter the terminal building until I am finally through security and in the transfer area. All things considered, that is pretty fast though, seeing as there is only one check point for all the passengers.

LOUNGE
Location:
Behind the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge: Contractor lounge.
Facilities:
The view of the apron. There are no toilets.
Catering: A machine serving juice, another machine serving soft drinks and another for instant coffee and tea. Bad pastries.
Internet:
Wifi is available, the code is plastered on the walls all over the lounge.

The Business Class lounge is obviously a compromise, both in terms of location and size. If you are, like me, arriving in the terminal from another flight, once you clear security you have to walk all the way through the duty free shop and then up the stairs. Because the lounge is actually located in the hall leading passengers starting their journey in Zagreb from security to the airide area, you will have to fight your way through all the passengers heading the opposite direction. And once you arrive at the lounge you will no doubt be wondering why on earth you even bothered!

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The lounge is rather ugly, dingy and small. Its one redeeming feature is that it is not quite as crowded as the public area outside the lounge, which is way too small for all the passengers.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Boarding is by bus, so the question does not arise.
My gate is located on the far right of the lounge area and I have a bit of a problem accessing the gate because the Vueling and Germanwings flight at the neighbouring gates are so crowded. But eventually, I sort myself out with a bit of pushing and shoving.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2.
Seat: The seat is kept in the same colours as those on the Airbus fleet. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the aircraft has a capacity of 76 passengers. There are two and a half rows in Business Class. On the port side there is a row 1 and 2. On the starboard side however, there is only a row 2, which is the bulkhead row. It is also the emergency exit row, so legroom is in fact rather good here. The flight is completely full and I suspect there are at least four commercial upgrades in Business Class. And incidentally, the seat next to you is not kept empty in Business Class.

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SERVICE
The service on this flight is completely different to that on the previous flight. There are two ladies working the cabin and they are perfectly charming, very friendly and elegant. Of course it helps that their uniforms look pretty sharp.

While we are on the ground, the crew offer Croatian newspapers and pre-packed cold towels. The flight time is announced at one hour and twenty-five minutes.

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THE MEAL
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Meal:

  • Fruit salad.
  • Müsli with yoghurt and prunes.
  • A plate with cheese, tomato and olives.
  • A bun and a croissant with butter and this really tasty orange and fig jam.
  • Tea or coffee.
  • Apple juice.

Well this is much more like it. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy the meal. The Müsli is tasty and quite filling, especially with the large bottle of yoghurt. The fruit salad tastes fresh and the variety of cheese is good.

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I have a second coffee to keep me going (awake). But it is no use, it was just too early when I started on my way home and before I know it, my head is tilting forwards and I start dribbling into my polo shirt.

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ARRIVAL
I am awakened by the cabin who pats me on the shoulder and asks me to replace my tray table. The weather in Zürich looks nice and cool. It is overcast and the pilot announces a temperature on the ground of 15 degrees, much cooler than Skopje.

Zürich airport really is quite impressive, I must say. Despite the fact that the place is very busy with arriving and departing aircraft, by the time I reach the luggage belt I only have to wait for another two minutes before the suitcases start arriving. Mine is the third off the belt.

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CONCLUSION
I have been meaning to try Croatia Airline for a long time now, so I am glad I finally got that off my chest. So what’s the verdict? The first flight really was nothing special, but the second one way rather enjoyable. It is a pity that the ground experience in Zagreb is so unappealing. That old terminal really is getting a bit long in the tooth and probably should have been replaced many years ago already. But there is hope! Apparently in March 2017 the new terminal with its funky design is set to open. Hopefully, the new facility will have a nicer lounge and a better transfer process.

Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Skopje to Zagreb

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Date: 05. August 2016.
Departure: 05h45.
Arrival: 06h45.
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 1F.

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INTRODUCTION
It is four o’clock in the morning as I step outside the hotel. It is still dark but already the temperature is quite high. It also feels a lot more humid than it has been these last few days. One way or another, it is time to go home. And so I get in the car. And off we go.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Taxi.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Cost: 900 Macedonian Dinar, roughly 20 Euros.

The journey from the centre of town to the airport does not take long to complete at this time of day and we appear to have hit a green streak with the lights. There is also a bus to the airport apparently, but whenever I tried to ask about it at the hotel, I drew a blank.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Ground floor.
Facilities: Web check-in (better not) or check-in at the desk (advisable).
Counters: There is one counter for Economy Class passengers to Zagreb, and another counter for Business Class passengers. In addition, there are two other counters on reserve, to ensure that check-in moves swiftly.

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My suitcase it tagged all the way through to Zürich and I am issued the boarding passes for both flights, even though I have already checked in on the Croatia Airlines website and have added the boarding passes to Passbook.

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From check-in I head straight for security. I show the guy checking boarding passes my iPhone and draw a blank. All I get from him is ‘no’. But then I give him the paper boarding pass I was issued at the counter and he seems happy to go along with that.

LOUNGE
Location:
Opposite the exit from security.
Type of Lounge:
Prime Class contractor lounge.
Facilities:
None really, other than a few comfortable couches. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A limited selection of cold drinks. There is also a Nescafe machine, but that appears to be out of order. To eat there are a few pastries and bowls with nuts, none of which I try though. To be honest, everything looks a bit stale.
Internet:
Wifi is provided by T-Online in the lounge. Passwords are available at the reception desk outside.

I grab myself a bottle of water and take a seat in a remote corner of the lounge to get out of harm’s way. I overdosed on garlic at dinner last night and I still reek of the stuff. It is so bad that the guy ahead of me in the queue for security actually let me pass just to stop me breathing down his neck.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate line for Business Class passengers and they are invited to board first.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2. The middle seat in the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: There are three rows of Business Class, which should in theory mean that there are twelve passengers in Business Class today. However, I notice that on some rows the middle seat has not been kept empty and there are in fact three people sitting in a row. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the Airbus A 319 has a seating capacity of 144.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Audio and Video: There are overhead screens showing advertisements for Croatia as a holiday destination.

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SERVICE
The crew seem pleasant enough, they are not overly friendly but then again it is rather early in the morning. So I can hardly hold it against them… The flight time is advised as one hour and five minutes.

THE MEAL
Delivery:
Plastic box from the trolley.
Type of meal:
Breakfast, I guess…
Meal:

  • Cold cuts and cheese with a small cherry tomato.
  • Jam and butter.
  • Chocolate brownie.
  • Pre-packed roll of bread.
  • Tea or coffee, soft drinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, and the award for the worst Business Class meal presentation goes to… Croatia Airlines. Well done!

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To be fair, the quality of the food is good, except perhaps for the spongy bread that looks and tastes as though is has been chemically treated to expire about forty years after I have expired of old age. But that is compensated by the delectable brownie, which is to die for. And the coffee is good too.

But enough with the niceties. The presentation of the meal is really, really not good. What is more, the cabin crew distribute the plastic boxes and the bread and then disappear. Uhm…how about some cutlery? Eventually, when half the Business Class cabin is already busy licking their sticky cheese fingers, the crew emerge from the galley, this time with napkins and cutlery.

ARRIVAL
And then very soon we start our descent into Zagreb. It is a lovely day outside. We land in the middle of what appears to be Croatia Airlines’ morning bank of transfers. A new terminal is currently under construction at Zagreb. For the time being though, the operational apron only has open stands, which means I get to disembark via the stairs. Cool.

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