I may have skipped posting some of the trips I did after my return from the UAE with Gulf Air via Bahrain and London Heathrow. Since then I’ve done only short-haul trips which are usually not worth mentioning. In fact, I only just returned from another uninspired trip to Luxembourg yesterday evening.
This trip report sees me returning to the UAE for yet another
course with the Emirates Flight Training Academy.
This is my fourth visit to the UAE this year, and despite the
flying dutchman’s insistence, I’m pretty sure it probably won’t be the last
time… still, I don’t mind. Especially given the fact that the A380 programme
has been officially shut down and I don’t know how many more chances I’ll get
to fly on this magnificent bird.
In any case, here in Switzerland it feels as though summer is only
just around the corner. It’s already warm but not stifling, and the sky is a crystal
clear blue, unblemished even by a single cloud.
Emirates checks-in on row 1 of check-in 2 and there are ten counters open for the flight.
Considering it’s such a lovely day, I figure I might as well go
out onto the viewing gallery and while away the time until boarding begins
there. And as my luck will have, I arrive on the terrace just as the lunchtime
rush of outbounds gets underway.
By the time I can tear myself away from the long line of departing widebodies, it’s already 14h40. The flight leaves at 15h25 and I still have to make my way through security, immigration and then take the shuttle across to the E dock, from where my flight will be departing.
For some reason or other, the usual A 380 stand was still occupied when my aircraft arrived on the inbound from Dubai. And so, instead we’re parked at gate E19 today, which is a single level gate. At least, by the time I arrive at the gate boarding is nearly completed, so the queue is fairly short.
Ahead of me is some old guy in a suit. As he passes the gate, the
scanner beeps. He turns to me and says ‘oh my, not another complimentary
upgrade to First…’. He’s obviously going for unimpressed indifference with this
one, trying hard not to sound gleeful and clearly failing miserably. I actually
feel kind of sorry for the guy when the gate agent looks at him and simply say
‘ ah…no actually, they just hadn’t scanned your passport’. Aw…!
On today’s flight I’m sitting on 7A, which is the window on the bulkhead row and the first row by the window in the main Business Class cabin. I like the A seats because they’re removed from the aisle and thus offer quite some privacy.
The wine and food menus have already been placed at my seat and there is also a thick blanket, a pillow and a pair of earphones.
In short succession I’m handed a glass of the Veuve Cliquot, which
gives me a headache before we even leave the ground, and then a warm, scented
Ahead of the lunch service I order a virgin mojito, which is served with a small plate of warm mixed nuts.
The First Course
The first course is served together with a salad, which are both delivery on a tray. I’ve ordered the mezze for the starter, which includes black olives, a stuffed vine leaf, muhammara, houmous, and baba ghanouj.
The Main Course
Next up, I’m having the beef with green beans, mash and leeks. To be honest, I’m not much of a meat eater at the best of times. But I’m a total sucker for mash…
And for dessert I have the chocolate cake with Earl Grey infused vanilla sauce.
One of the things I really like about Emirates, is that the meal
service is always very efficient but never rushed. Two hours into the flight,
the trays have been removed and it’s time for me to extend the seat into a bed
Incidentally, on day flights Emirates does not provide amenity
kits. However, a pair of eye shades with ear plugs is provided at every seat
and dental sets are available in the toilets. The dental kits are Colgate
branded and the tooth brush is of good quality.
Eventually, we arrive in Dubai on time without having to do a single circuit in a holding pattern. Judging by the sound of his voice, I think even the pilot is surprised.
Immigration is swift. The Emirates Business Class boarding pass
entitles the holder to use the fast track for security. There’s still a queue,
but it’s nowhere near as bad as that for Economy Class passengers.
Getting into Town
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the queue for the taxis, which is ridiculously long. It takes me thirty minutes just to reach the head of the queue. And then, once I get a taxi, it’s another forty minutes to my hotel, which is just down the road from the Emirates Flight Training Academy.
The course with the Emirates Flight Training Academy in
Dubai ends at lunch time on Maundy Thursday. I have the rest of the day off,
which gives me some time to relax and rest before I fly home in the evening.
It’s been a long week.
This year I visited the UAE in February, March, and April.
And it looks like I’ll be back again in June and then again in September. So I
think I can hardly be blamed for wanting to add a bit of variety with the
flights I take: to break the monotony of business travel by using the
opportunity to try some new airlines. For the trip to Dubai, I had intended to
fly via Beirut, with the aim of course, of sampling MEA Middle East Airlines.
But then Air France broke the triple seven that was supposed to take me to
Beirut, and I was subsequently rebooked onto the nonstop flight I’d already
taken the previous month.
For the return, I’ve booked myself on a flight from Dubai
via Bahrain to London Heathrow, for the sole purpose of trying out Gulf Air and
their new Dreamliner.
I should have been on the day flight to London on Good Friday. But then it was
announced that they would be resurfacing one of the runways in Dubai, which would
inevitably lead to a reduction in capacity of 32%. This is achieved, mainly, by
airlines thinning their schedules to and from Dubai. As a result, I was
rebooked onto the night time service from Bahrain, with the feeder flight
departing from Dubai at 23h35.
Getting to the Airport
I leave the hotel in Al Barsha at 20h40. From here the journey
by car to Dubai airport takes 27 minutes. It’s the weekend here in the UAE,
when the traffic on the road tends to get a bit frantic by mid-afternoon and
then gradually deteriorates from there into the evening.
Gulf Air operates out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. I’ve already checked in online. However, the boarding passes cannot be transferred to the wallet, even though, according to the app, Dubai is one of the few airports from which the service should work. But I need to check-in my suitcase anyway.
Gulf Air checks in on row 5. Check-in is done by DNATA. There are four dedicated Gulf Air counters on row 5, with one row for premium passengers. But the check-in agent is friendly enough. He checks my suitcase all the way through to Zürich, gives me instructions for the lounge and then wishes me a pleasant flight.
The Gulf Air Falcon Gold Lounge
Gulf Air has its own lounge on the D concourse. And what a depressing
place it is. The lounge is located one floor up from the general airside area,
above the duty free shop.
The lounge has its own smoking room, which is furnished in
the traditional Arab style, and not much else. The selection of hot and cold
dishes looks good though, but I don’t try any of the food, figuring I’ll be
eating on the plane.
Boarding for the flight starts at 23h00. There is no call
for premium passengers, but there is a separate queue for Business Class
The first impression of the cabin is good, although I must
say it does looks rather old-fashioned. There are four rows of seats in the
Business Class section, and Gulf Air has a proper, dedicated Business Class
seat in a 2 + 2 configuration.
The seat covers are leather. There is a foot rest for every
seat. Unfortunately though, there is also a large IFE box under the window seat
of the row in front, which means that there’s actually no room to fully stretch
Each seat has its own power socket, but mine is not working
on this flight. The seat controls are operated mechanically, and not electrically.
There are four crew on the flight. Two females working the rear section, and two males in the front working the Business Class cabin. The two men are not particularly friendly and do not seem overly enthusiastic about being there either.
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drink.
There is a choice of water, orange juice and a lemon and mint juice. I go with
the latter, but it’s not very good. It tastes like the seriously diluted
version of a similar but much more flavourful drink you get on Qatar Airways.
Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute the towels
and then the cardamom infused coffee with dates. For the towel there is a
choice between a hot and a cold towel. I request a hot towel, but it’s not
really warm anymore.
As we taxi out, the crew pass through the cabin taking
orders for dinner. From what I understand the flight attendant telling the lady
in 1A in Arabic, there is a choice of salad with shrimp or some sort of cheese
sandwich. By the time the crew reaches row two, where I’m sitting, he merely
wants to know what I’d like to drink. And I figure he’s probably out of options
for the meal service and will just bring the rest of the passengers what’s left.
The flight time is announced at 55 minutes.
Once we’re airborne, the service begins. I get my tea, the
passengers on row 1 are given their trays with the food and then the crew
vanish in the galley behind the curtain. The guy sitting next to me doesn’t get
anything. Not even the small bottle of water he’d ordered. The crew only appear
again briefly before landing, to open and secure the curtain.
We land in Bahrain after a flight time of 50 minutes. The
farewell message for passengers is recorded, so the poor crew are not made to
endure the presence of their pesky passengers unduly. Now let’s hope the next
flight will be a better experience. Because this one rubbish!
The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without
a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the
runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway
station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from
where the flight to Beirut will be departing.
Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The
SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the
SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane
for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at
the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security
checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.
This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when
I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a
way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright
in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that
really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.
Air France tends to start boarding for its
flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding
already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish
writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure
they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time
I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the
final staged of boarding.
The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER.
There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8.
And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on
this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat
Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample
storage space. And it looks good too.
Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There
is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have.
Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and
slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.
By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.
A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us
that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to
return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are
informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or
less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving
forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose
gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to
swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate
agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go
to the lounge.
I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in
Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me
not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge
agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut
flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto
tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to
Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation
very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to
Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…
The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which
means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately,
I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take
the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the
shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go
through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly
because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.
Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s
just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as
well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a
smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my
smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s
not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle
of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps –
which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…
At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.
The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the
previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the
time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running
45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes,
so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.
The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.
The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that
the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut
shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream
Goat’s cheese, Cantal & Camembert
The Main Course
And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)
For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake
All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.
The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly,
but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal
service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on
during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at
the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley,
only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten
seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any
turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor
thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines
that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also
say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.
The Second Service
An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the
crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked
salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have
the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.
Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!
I check out of the Doubletree in Al Barsha at around 21h00 on Thursday evening and make my way to the airport for the flight back to Switzerland. The departure time is scheduled for 01h35. I really don’t like these flights that leave in the middle of the night. Especially when they’re as short as the one from Dubai to Zürich. By the time you step onto the plane you’re exhausted from a really long day and no matter what you do, it’s a fact that you’re not going to get enough sleep because the flight time is not nearly long enough…
SWISS checks in at Terminal 1, together with all the other foreign carriers at DXB. With the exception of the low-cost carriers and Hajj flights that is, which operate out of Terminal 2.
SWISS is located on row 5. There are only two counters available: one for Economy Class and another for First Class and HON Circle passengers.
The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge
This is the first time I’m using the new D gates. The facility is rather nice, mainly because there are not as many people milling about as there normally are on the Emirates concourses.
SWISS uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dubai. The lounge looks quite new and is designed in the typical Lufthansa corporate design. It’s a style that either you like or you don’t…
The lounge is rather small and feels very cramped. So that eventually it gets too crowded for me and I decide to go for a walk through the terminal instead. Along the way, I come across these rather strange containers that I’ve never seen at any other airport. Apparently, if you have excess baggage, you can dump it in one of the containers for Dubai airport to dispose of. But I don’t get it. I mean, who would bother to make the schlep to get airside with an entire suitcase, only to dump it behind security? Is there something I’m missing here?
I’m seated on 4A, which is one of the so called throne seats. Rows 4 and 5 are the first two rows of Business Class, located between the First Class cabin and the L2 galley. With only two rows, this mini cabin feels quite intimate and a lot quieter than the larger Business Class section behind the L2 galley.
The first thing I notice about the seat is that it doesn’t seem to have aged all that well. The seat and the cabin are well maintained, that’s not what I mean. But rather, the whole cabin and seat are starting to look a bit old fashioned.
As for the amenities, there’s a vanity kit at my seat, a pillow and a towel. There have been some improvements here. The vanity kit is in the shape of an aluminium tin that is Victorinox branded. It contains lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs and socks. There are additional cosmetics in the toilets.
But perhaps the most positive development for me are the blankets. They’re really quite nice and thick. And so’s the pillow.
The crews are always SWISS’ weakness, I think. All of them have a rather disgruntled expression and not one of them seems to be overly enthusiastic about their job. There is no drinks service on the ground. Before we depart, the crew distribute flimsy scented hot towels. After that they pass through the cabin with the menus for the flight and the order forms for breakfast. I think this is a really good idea, because is significantly shortens the duration of the service in the morning, giving passengers more time to sleep.
As soon as we’re airborne, I extend my seat into a bed and go off to Noddy land.
The Second Service
I awake about seventy minutes out of Zürich, just as the meal service is about to start. So I quickly head for the toilets to change back into my normal clothes, ahead of the usual rush before landing.
The breakfast service consists of plain yoghurt, a bowl of fruit, two buns with butter and cherry jam, a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee and the hot meal. The latter consists of a pancake filled with scrambled egg, a hash brown and some grilled veg and spinach. The bread is really good. But the egg/pancake thing has this very strange eggy flavour with a hind of plastic. It’s really not very good.
After the meal, I ask for a second cup of coffee, which one of the younger flight attendants brings me. I say ‘thank you’ but all I get in return is ‘I’m going to have to come back to collect that now…’. Was it something I said…?
Eventually we land just slightly ahead of schedule. It’s nice to be home again after two weeks. It’s also nice to be back in cooler temperatures again. Our flight ends at the E pier, from where you need to catch the underground metro to get to the main terminal area. But we’re only the second arrival of the day. So the train is not too crowded and immigration is swift.
As soon as I collect my bags from the belt, I head out through customs and then one floor up, which is where the SWISS arrivals lounge is located. Luckily enough a shower room is available for me to freshen up before I head into the office. The arrivals lounge is nice and convenient. It’s also surprisingly empty and quiet this morning.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad flight with SWISS. I don’t think I’ll ever be fan but they got me home in one piece. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with them. I think when I next fly to Dubai Emirates will be my first choice. Simply because Dubai is their hub and they therefore have the superior product on the ground. In addition, I also think Emirates provide the better on board experience. At least their crew aren’t so grumpy all the time.
Today I’m on my way from Luxembourg to Dubai. As there are currently no direct flights between the two cities, I have a choice of connecting flights with either BA, KL, AF, LH, TK or LX. I’ve decided to fly SWISS this time, for the simple reason that their flight already arrives in Dubai at 20h45. Which is good, because from Dubai I’ll still have to travel all the way to Al Ain, where I’ll be giving a course starting early the next day. Al Ain is about ninety minutes away from Dubai by car.
Getting to the Airport
Late in 2017 Luxembourg introduced a tram to the city. Right now it only runs along a short stretch of about 5km on the Kirchberg plateau. But this year the line will be opened up all the way into the city, and within three years it should also run all the way to the airport. Until then, to get to the airport by public transport I first have to get the tram to LUXEXPO, and then from there transfer onto the bus line 16. The journey from the Kirchberg to the airport takes no more than 20 minutes to complete.
I’ve already checked in on the SWISS app. I’m on 1A on the first leg and then on 4A on the second leg to Dubai. Security is quite busy this morning and the process in not really that well organised either. In any case, by the time I’m through security and take a seat by the windows overlooking the ramp, it’s just gone 09h15. One hour before boarding. Roughly around the same time I receive an text message from SWISS informing me that the flight to Zürich will be delayed by thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft in Zürich, coming from Paris.
This all rather unfortunate of course, because even if the flight were on time, I only have 45 minutes to make the connection in Zürich. So this ought to be interesting… A bit later on an announcement is made that boarding for the flight is expected to start at around 11h10, with a delay of about forty minutes. I approach the gate agent and ask her about my connection, to which she answers that the information they received from Zürich is that all connections are guaranteed.
Eventually we push back from the gate at 11h30, with a delay of just over one hour. The flight time is announced as forty minutes, which means we’ll be arriving in Zürich at 12h10, fifteen minutes before my scheduled departure time to Dubai.
This is my first time on SWISS’s Bombardier CS300. Which isn’t that much of a big deal, given that the cabin is identical to that of the shorter CS100. To speed up the turnaround, they obviously didn’t bother to clean the aircraft, which probably explains why there are chunks of apple (I think) on the floor and pieces of red cabbage stuck in the seat.
There are three crew on this flight. And I really must say they’re rather useless. At least the two males up front are. There’s also a female working the rear cabin, but I only notice her towards the end of the flight when she briefly visits the forward galley. But yeah, the other two? Totally vapid. The maître de apparently thinks it’s the height of sophistication to just nod at everyone and give them a curt ‘monsieur’, he doesn’t look you in the eye when he talks to you, smiling is apparently not part of his contract of employment and he quite obviously really couldn’t give a shit.
The other one is just a walking, talking cliché of a male flight attendant. Totally clueless and obviously far more invested in what’s happening on his mobile phone than in doing his job well.
The meal service consists of three small ramekins, which is the standard on this flight. One is filled with a rice and vegetable salad and topped with bacon/duck/something unidentifiable.
The second is fish mousse (I think, but I’m not sure).
And the third one is the dessert – a tasty sweet white chocolate thing.
No chocolates are served on this flight.
Missed Connection in Zürich
By the time we reach Zürich, we miraculously managed to increase our delay. We’re now running seventy minutes behind schedule. The maître de comes on the loudspeaker and advises passengers that those continuing to Montreal and New York will have a direct connection bus. He then gives a whole list of destinations, flight numbers and gates. But he doesn’t mention the Dubai flight once. When I ask him, he tells me that, strangely, he has not received any information about this flight. Which, in hindsight, is just a blatant lie.
Eventually we touch down at 12h20. As we taxi in I switch on my mobile to find a message from SWISS informing me that I’ve been rebooked on the Emirates flight in the afternoon. As if to add insult to injury, we’re parked on a remote stand. And once we come to a stop, it takes another five minutes for the stairs and busses to arrive.
So instead of heading directly for the E gates, I exit through arrivals for Terminal A and then head two floors up and over to Terminal B for the Emirates check-in. The check-in agent prints my boarding pass and then sends me over to the Emirates counter to book the chauffeur service to take me from Dubai to Al Ain, which is more convenient than a taxi.
The Emirates Meal
I won’t bore you with yet another Emirates trip report. However, I’m glad to report that since my last journey with them, Emirates has finally changed the menu. So here it goes:
For a pre-meal drink I have a virgin cucumber and lime gimlet, which is very refreshing. The drink is served with a small dish of nuts.
The First Course
For the starter I have the warm smoked salmon, which is served with fava beans. The salmon is a bit dry, but otherwise quite good. I don’t touch the beans though because I’m allergic to them. The starter is served on a tray that also includes a small salad and bread.
The Main Course
For the main course I go with the chicken cordon bleu, which is served with pizokel and vegetables. Pizokel is a very Swiss speciality from canton Graubünden. It’s basically Switzerland’s answer to the German Spätzle. This dish is quite good. What I like in particular is that the food is still hot, and not just warm, when it is served.
And then for dessert I go with the chocolate mousse on a dark chocolate ganache and raspberry compote. Dessert is something Emirates does really well I think, and this one is no exception. It’s obscenely rich, with a dense texture that just melts in your mouth.
Eventually, I arrive in Al Ain at 01h30 in the morning. I’m exhausted! Delays happen, and I can hardly fault SWISS for that. Also, they did proactively rebook me onto the very next departure to Dubai. So that’s something. Even so, I do feel that the delay was not handled very well. I got the distinct impression that the staff at the frontline – the handling agent in Luxembourg and the cabin crew – was not properly trained in dealing with such an irregularity. I think next time I’ll just book Emirates to begin with and save myself the agro…
The end of the year is quickly approaching and so it’s time for me to make my last business trip for this year. I’m on my way to Dubai again, this time to give a course for Emirates Airlines.
Getting to the Airport
I leave Winterthur on the 12h25 train to Zürich airport. The train is not very busy. It’s a sunny, warm day and it feels like a typical lazy Friday afternoon.
Christmas is already in full swing at Zürich airport, there are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling everywhere, with ornately decorated Christmas trees and even the occasional selfie-taking snowman thrown in for good measure.
Emirates clearly managed to get the best counters in check-in area 2. You can hardly miss them, seeing as they are located right opposite the escalators. There are two counters open for Business Class passengers and there is no queue when I check in just after 13h.
Check-in is done by DNATA for Emirates in Zürich. The check-in agent is a friendly young lady. She sees my Maltese passport and tells me she knows the islands very well, because her husband spent two years living there. A few years back SR Technics opened an MRO in Malta and sent down expertise from Zürich to help build up the facility.
I still have one hour to go before boarding starts and I’m starving. So instead of taking the sky metro and heading across to the E concourse, I decide to have lunch at the main restaurant on the upper level of the airside centre. This restaurant serves typically Swiss fare. At least, it serves what tourists to Switzerland think is typically Swiss food.
I decide to go with the Wurst-Käse Salat, which is a cold dish made with pieces of Swiss cheese and Cervelat – a type of sausage. Their rendition of the dish is not entirely authentic I think. But it certainly hits the spot. Although that may also have something to do with the chips I ordered on the side…
At around 13h45 I make my way across to the E concourse. The terminal seems very quiet and empty. You see, the Emirates flight leaves Zürich at the tail end of the lunchtime departure bank.
Boarding for the flight starts on time. The flight boards from two gates: E59 is the upper deck gate for Business and First Class passengers, while E67 is the gate for Economy Class passengers on the lower deck.
The boarding process is fairly calm and laid back, which gives me the opportunity to take a few pictures of my chariot from the glass encased airbridges.
I’m sitting on 25K, which is the penultimate row in the rear Business Class cabin, which is smaller than the main cabin and only has five rows of seats. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I really would not recommend row 25, because there is quite a bit of noise coming from the bar at the very end of the cabin. I’m on a day flight, so it’s not as though the noise will keep me from sleeping. But on a night flight I think I would be seriously annoyed.
But the view of the wing is excellent…
The service on this flight is very polished. The crew are all very friendly and polite. One thing that strikes me though, is that the crew use red, iPhone-sized devices to take and check the status of passengers’ meal orders. I understand that it’s probably quite an achievement to organise the service on an aircraft the size of the A 380. But while this system seems to work quite efficiently, the downside is that the crew spend most of their time staring into the little devices as they pass through the cabin.
The service starts on the ground with the distribution of welcome drinks, the menu for the flight and a hot towel.
I’ve only just had lunch in the terminal, so I decide to just have the chocolate Brownie with the little éclair and caramel sauce, which really tastes very good. The sauce has a rich texture and the Brownie is moist and dense.
The service looks very efficient and what ever you ask the crew for, you never have to wait for long for them to bring it to you. I also like that the crew serve drinks and smaller items from these round trays that they hold in one hand.
Eventually though, the service winds down and the cabin settles as we fly into the night.
On day flights Emirates only provides a pair of socks and eye shades at every seat. However, dental kits are available in the toilets. And I have to say, they really are very good kits with Colgate products.
About an hour out of Dubai the crew come through the cabin with ice cream and the last of three scented hot towels handed out on this flight.
Our approach into Dubai is quite cool, as they bring us in from the northwest, to fly past the airport. On the downwind I can actually see the lights of the aircraft ahead of us lining up for arrival like a string of pearls. As we begin our turn to line up, I look back and see the lights of five aircraft following behind us.
Eventually we come to a stop at a stand on the A pier, which is not so good because it’s the remotest concourse from the terminal and you need to catch an underground train to get you to arrival and baggage claim. The good thing though, is that by the time I reach the conveyor belt, my suitcase has already been delivered.
It really is interesting how our perceptions are influenced and shaped. I admit that I did think it was kind of cool to watch the spectators watching our aircraft taxi out for departure. The A 380 is the kind of beast that still has you stopping in your tracks to look at – because it is inconceivable that something that size should be able to fly at all.
But then, just over five hours later, you land in Dubai and your A 380 glides down the runway past a long row of other A 380 that are just standing outside the MRO facility waiting to be checked. And nobody turns a hair. In Dubai, the A 380 is just business as usual…
I awake to my 43rd birthday at five in the morning at the Sofitel Downtown Dubai. I’ve spent the whole week giving a course in Al Ain and now it’s finally time to head home. So I shall be spending a large part of my birthday on an Airbus A380 somewhere between heaven and earth. I could think of worse ways to spend the day…
Getting to the Airport
Emirates’ chauffeur service really works rather well and can be booked online when you make your flight reservation. From what I understand, there is a maximum range for the drop-you off/pick-up at the outstations, but from their hub in Dubai the service covers all of the Emirates.
One day before I’m scheduled to fly, I even receive a text message from Emirates to confirm the service with the time of the pick-up.
The Sofitel Downtown is located on Sheikh Zayed Road, within walking distance of the Burj Khalifa and right next door to the metro station by the same name. The journey from the hotel to the airport will take you about 20 minutes by car. Although if you’re traveling in the evening, it is likely to be significantly longer with all the traffic. In fact, unless you are, like me, travelling in the wee hours of the morning, I really would recommend you take the metro to the airport instead and save yourself some serious agro.
By metro it’s 36 minutes on the red line from the Sofitel to the airport and a single ticket will cost AED14.
Emirates has a dedicated terminal for First Class and Business Class passengers, which is fairly deserted this morning. Check-in is swift and my suitcase is tagged all the way to my final destination. There are not many passengers checking in at this time of day and half the check-in counters are closed.
In contrast, the transit area is packed with bleary eyed transfer passengers –Emirates’ bread and butter – transiting through Dubai on the carrier’s morning wave.
The Emirates Business Class Lounge
The flight today is leaving from the C concourse, which is in the original midfield terminal at Dubai and is thus much older than the A and B piers that were purpose built for the A380. As a result, there is no segregation between Economy Class passengers and Business Class/First Class passengers. It’s also quite a schlep from the security check-point to the C concourse.
The Emirates lounge on the C concourse is much smaller than those on the A and B concourses too. It’s a bit gloomy and looks quite old-fashioned, although the latter can also be said of the other lounges, which are somewhat conservative in their design.
Boarding is from gate C25 and there is a long queue to enter the holding pen. Once boarding starts, Business Class passengers are invited to head one floor up via the escalators to board the upper deck of the aircraft.
The aircraft deployed on the Amsterdam route do not have a First Class cabin. So upon entering the aircraft on the upper deck, you find yourself in the Economy Class cabin. During boarding this isn’t really such an issue, and the fact that the Business Class cabin is located in the aft of the aircraft means you don’t have half the aircraft filing past you through the cabin. However, it also means that when deplaning, Business Class passengers have to wait for most of the upper deck to disembark before they can finally get off the plane.
I don’t much like the design of the cabin. The colours are not especially attractive, the faux wood panelling is just tacky and overall the cabin is starting to look a bit dated, especially when compared to what airlines like Air France or Qatar Airways offer these days. Even so, the layout of the seat is good and if you’re seated on an A or K seat, there is a lot of storage space. The A and K seats are also very private.
The Emirates ICE inflight entertainment system is just brilliant and offers a huge selection of films, television programmes, games, etc. As a rule, I don’t normally have any use for the IFE. However, on this flight, I manage to watch two Pirates of the Caribbean films (don’t judge, okay…) and a whole season of the Big Bang Theory.
A while back I had the impression that Emirates went through a bit of a bad patch with their cabin crew and the on board service. I suspect their growth was so rapid that perhaps this may have had a negative impact on cabin crew training. But that appears to have been remedied and the crew on this flight, as on the outbound, are friendly and professional.
On daytime flights, Emirates does not distribute amenity kits. However, socks and eye shades can be found in the seat and tooth brushes and shaving kits are available in the toilets.
The service before on the ground consists of a selection of juices and champagne for a welcome drink, the distribution of the menus and the rather nicely scented, thick hot towels.
The First Service
On the morning flight leaving Dubai for Amsterdam there are two meal services. Immediately after take-off a light breakfast is served, which is delivered on one tray. It consists of
a raisin brioche,
butter and jam
a bowl of cold cuts, cheese and cucumber
a choice of juices and coffee or tea.
Just over two hours out of Amsterdam the main meal is served, which is lunch. Much to my surprise, it’s still the same menu they were offering when I last flew with Emirates back in April this year.
Back then, I had opted for the chicken main course, which was not very good. The two other options for the hot meal do not sound too appealing either. And so, instead, I decide to have two starters: the tomato soup and the fish appetiser.
The food is served on one tray and includes a small salad, a glass of still water and one roll. The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket during the service.
The dessert is served separately once the tray has been cleared away.
Emirates has managed to establish itself as the industry benchmark for comfort in travel, through a whole series of innovations in all service classes, both in the air and on the ground. However, on this trip I got the impression that their product is gradually starting to get a bit long in the tooth. The lounges are starting to look old-fashioned and dated and their Business Class cabin can no longer keep up with the competition either. I think they’re still a good airline, but I think they’re going to have to work a bit harder to make sure that stays that way. In future, they will not be able to rely solely on the reputation they have built for themselves over the years.
Other than that, I still think the Airbus A380 is ugly as sin. But the passenger experience remains impressive, each time I fly with this beast. Apart from the fact that it is truly is quite difficult to wrap your brain around the fact that something so big can actually fly, the sound in the cabin is just so quiet.
I have just completed a course in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. The list of course participants includes an Emirati, two Australians, a Kiwi, one Zimbabwean, one Pakistani, two Indians, two Americans and two Brits. Which is pretty cool me thinks. All the people I met on this course were just so friendly and very welcoming. But I’ve been travelling for two weeks now, having previously done a course in Luxembourg before coming straight to the Gulf. So I’m glad to finally be on my way back home again.
Getting to the Airport
I have ordered the Emirates limousine service to pick me up from the Doubletree in Al-Barsha, which is located behind the Mall of Dubai. The service can be ordered online under the ‘manage my booking’ section of the Emirates website or otherwise via the app. You only need to select your hotel from a drop-down menu and Emirates will suggest a time for the car to pick you up to be at the airport at the latest two hours before departure.
The limousine service is available at both Amsterdam and Dubai. However, as I will continue from Amsterdam back to Basel later on today by plane, I only needed the service to get me from the hotel to Dubai airport. The type of car you will get is subject to availability.
Thirty hours before departure I receive an e-mail reminder from Emirates informing me that check-in is now open. I am seated on 12K, which is a window seat. The check-in process works really well and the upload of the boarding pass to my passbook is seamlessly.
Emirates is an airline of superlatives. Where other carriers have a dedicated Business Class check-in area, Emirates and its own dedicated Business Class terminal with its own security screening facility and immigration.
My flight will be departing from gate A23, which is on the pier that was purpose built for the A 380. From security you need to catch an underground train to reach the A concourse.
The main transit area is on three levels. The lower level is for Economy Class passengers, the mid-level for First Class passengers and the top level for Business Class. This means that apart from the fact that you will not need to mix and mingle with the travelling riffraff, you will also be able to board the aircraft directly from the Business Class lounge.
The Emirates Business Class Lounge
The term ‘lounge’ is relative for the likes of Emirates. Given that it sprawls across the entire length of the A pier, I’m not even sure you can still call it a lounge. It certainly does not feel like a lounge and it’s not exactly cosy either.
The facilities in the lounge are very good though. There is a fully equipped business centre, numerous buffets with a good selection of hot and cold dishes, newspapers and showers (expect long queues though). The toilets are nicely appointed and clean and Emirates provides toothbrushes and shaving kits. Complimentary wifi is available throughout the lounge.
The style of the lounge is rather old fashioned and dated, it reminds me a lot of the lobby in a hotel you might find in the States.
I arrive at gate A23 at 07h25. Most of the passengers have already boarded. So I can take my time to snap a few pictures of my chariot to Amsterdam this morning.
I step aboard the aircraft, the cabin attendant looks at my boarding pass and says: ‘Bongu, Sur Agius! You must be Maltese too’. She points me in the direction of my seat at 12K, wishes me a good flight and tells me she’ll come check up on me once we’re in the air.
Throughout the flight she comes by to check that everything is okay and that I have everything I need. We chat about Malta, Emirates and the likely imminent demise of Air Malta. I know it’s just something small but I think it’s kind of nice that the flight attendant acknowledged also being Maltese. It lends the whole experience a more personal touch.
The seat is comfortable in the sitting, lounging and sleeping positions and if you’re seated by the window on the A 380, there is ample storage space. Emirates or Airbus have taken full advantage of the curvature of the aircraft’s hull by installing bins on the side. There is also plenty of storage space in the seat itself.
There is the small bar installed at every seat which contains a selection of soft drinks and juices. Other than that, every seat has an AC power outlet and HDMI and USB port. The seating configuration is 1 + 2 + 1. For a single seat you have a choice between and aisle seat and a window seat. Personally, I much prefer the window seats. Not only because of the view, but also because these seats feel way more private.
All in all, I think the Emirates seat on the A 380 is well designed, practical and very functional. The only thing I don’t like is the design. The faux wooden panelling on the cabin walls and the seat just looks really very cheap and quite tacky actually.
At the rear of the Business Class cabin there is the infamous Emirates lounge. I admit it does look rather cool and certainly makes you realise just what a beast the A 380 is. However, it does tend to get rather noisy at the back when the bar is busy, so if peace and quiet is what you’re after, you may want to sit far, far away from the bar area.
I am very impressed by just how quiet the cabin is during the flight though.
There are twenty two cabin crew aboard the flight today. The atmosphere in the cabin is pleasant and relaxed and the crew take good care of the passengers.
The service begins with a welcome drink of freshly pressed orange juice, water, apple juice or champagne. Next come the menus and the scented hot towels.
Blankets and pillows are on the seat as I board the aircraft. The mattress is stowed in one of the lockers for my seat.
Emirates does not provide vanity kits on day flights. But everything you may need and that you would normally find in a vanity kits is available from the crew upon request or in the lavatories. Socks and eye shades are placed at every seat.
On the way down to Dubai from Amsterdam I was on the night flight that leaves Amsterdam at 21h50. The vanity kit I was given is Bulgari branded and contains a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, tissues, a comb, a shaver and shaving foam by Gillette, as well as a range of products of Bulgari’s Essence de Thé noir which is a very heavy scent that seems to be very popular in the Middle East but probably gives most people a seriously bad headache.
The First Service
On flights departing Dubai in the morning, a continental breakfast is served with orange juice and tea or coffee right after take-off. The tray contains:
Swiss Emi apricot yoghurt.
A croissant with butter and Hero strawberry jam.
A small dish of cucumber, chicken breast, cold cuts and cheese.
The trays are served individually and the crew make repeated rounds with the breadbasket.
About two hours and thirty minutes out of Amsterdam, the second service begins, which is in fact the main service. The cabin attendant suggests I should try one of their mocktails. Eventually I can’t decide, so I tell her to surprise me. When she returns a few minutes later, she has both an apple spritzer with mint and an orange fizz made of orange juice and ginger ale. She tells me she’s decided I need to try both. Okay, thanks! The drinks are served with a bowl of warm nuts.
The menu is rather extensive and there are three options for the first course, main course and dessert.
The First Course
For the first course I have the salmon roulade filled with cream cheese and served with seared tuna, smoked halibut and asparagus with a lemon sauce. The first course is served on a tray with a small mixed salad and a warm bun. The flight attendant also comes by offering slices of warm garlic bread.
The Main Course
For the main course I have the roast chicken in a pepper coulis, which is served with baked potatoes and broccoli. This is, admittedly, rather bland and quite vile. The pepper coulis tastes of nothing, the potatoes are like pulp and feel like sand in my mouth and the chicken is giving off such a strong smell I don’t even touch it.
For dessert I have the chocolate cheesecake with raspberries and vanilla custard, which is rather tasty.
The meal concludes with a scented hot towel and a box of chocolates.
We arrive in Amsterdam fifteen minutes behind schedule. Apparently there had been some delay in leaving Dubai as two passengers and their luggage had needed to be offloaded for health reasons.
Transfer in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam Emirates uses the end gate at the F pier. From here it’s a short walk to the new centralised security checkpoint. It’s fairly quiet and I’m the only person there.
From the security checkpoint its another ten minutes to Schengen immigration.
So far I have tried three Middle East carriers: Emirates, Oman Air and Qatar Airways. Of the three I think Qatar Airways is definitely the one that offers a very polished service and a truly premium experience. Oman Air is kind of nice too and is a bit of a boutique airline, if there is such a thing, which is a nice way of saying they sometimes seem slightly amateurish in the way they run their operation. Which just leaves Emirates. Truth be told, I don’t quite get the fuss people always seem to make about them. Admittedly, they have a few nice perks like the limousine pickup or the direct access to the aircraft from the lounge and the crews seem professional and personable. But even with all that I think it’s quite apparent that theirs is a product designed and intended for mass production. It’s not elegant and it lacks finesse. Don’t get me wrong, from the passenger’s perspective I think Emirates are okay. I just don’t think they’re any better or worse than any of the others.
This has been an interesting stay in the United Arab Emirates. On Friday we completed a course in Al Ain, which is in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and lies about ninety minutes by car due east of Dubai, close to the boarder with the Sultanate of Oman.
Al Ain is very different from the hustle and bustle of hectic Dubai. The entire region is much greener, it is less densely populated and the sand dunes have a spectacular red hue that the sand is the area around Dubai does not have. Al Ain is not really a tourist destination, mainly due to the fact that it is nowhere near the sea and there are not really that many things to do.
In Al Ain I stayed at the Hilton. It is not a bad place to stay, although it is somewhat disconcerting how empty the place is. The hotel also functions as the city’s local recreational facility, and thus boasts a fully equipped gym and a lap pool of 25 metres.
On Saturday morning, my colleague – the valiant and intrepid M. – and I decide to head for Dubai. Our flight will be leaving from Dubai on Sunday morning at 10h00. Originally we had planned to stay in Al Ain until Sunday and leave the hotel at around 05h30 in the morning to be at the airport with enough time to spare to bring back the car. But then the course participants told us all sorts of stories about the horrific traffic in the Dubai area, until eventually we decided to spend our last night a bit closer to Dubai airport.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Rented car. Journey time: 30 minutes. First we need to fill the tank before we return the car. We pay AED75 for 43 litres, which is roughly CHF20. Just in case you were wondering, in Switzerland you would have to pay something to the tune of CHF68 for the same amount of petrol…
The journey to the airport is pleasant enough. The traffic is still light, but I suspect it will be picking up shortly. We drop off the rented car at Parking A2, on the departures level opposite the terminal.
Location: Oman Air operates out of Terminal 1 at Dubai airport, which is the facility most carriers use. Terminal 2 is used by Flydubai and a few others. Counters: The Oman Air counters are located on row E. There are four Economy Class counters and two Business Class counters. Check-in for all flights opens three hours before departure, which means we are still a few minutes early, thanks to the expert driving skills of the valiant M (Let me just say it was one of those moments when you see your entire life flashing by….).
At 07h00 sharp two young ladies appear to start check-in for the flight. I am quickly issued my boarding passes and an invitation to the Gulf Air lounge. My suitcase has been tagged all the way to Zürich.
Location: Just past gate C22. Type of Lounge: Gulf Air lounge. Facilities: Toilets and showers in the lounge. Internet: Free wifi available in the lounge. The password is signposted throughout the lounge.
Dubai airport uses a closed gate system. Subsequently, my boarding pass states that boarding for the flight will begin at 09h00, one hour before departure. But in actual fact, 09h00 is just the time the gate opens.
Configuration: 2 x 2. Pitch: 40 inches. Width: 21 inches. Facilities: None. Audio and Video: Not available. Seat: There are twelve seats on three rows in Business Class on the Boeing B 737-700. It is nice to travel on a narrow-body with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat, even if the flight time from Dubai to Muscat is only a short forty minutes.
The seats are in leather, or probably plastic that looks and feels like leather. Given the hot temperatures in this part of the world, this is not necessarily the best idea, seeing as leather does not really ‘breathe’ and has a tendency to leave you hot and sticky.
There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin today. Their manner is what I would call business friendly. But in a way, you cannot really blame them for that. With a flight time of only 45 minutes, they are all too busy trying to serve a full cabin of twelve passengers in time.
It is very hazy here in Dubai today. In fact, the visibility already started deteriorating the previous evening. As a result, there is a bit of a queue for departure and we are number nine in line. It is really interesting to see how ATC sets up the aircraft for departure in Dubai. Aircraft are lined up simultaneously on four taxiways in parallel on both sides of the active runway.
Eventually, after waiting in queue for about twenty minutes, we take-off in an easterly direction with a delay of one hour.
A selection of water and juices. I have the lemon and mint juice, which is very refreshing.
Once the doors close, the crew pass through the cabin offering fresh dates and Arabic coffee. Hot Towel: There is a choice of hot or cold towels. Both of which are very lightly scented. Meal: There is a choice of two main dishes. Delivery: Individual tray service. Type of meal: Lunch. Meal:
Mixed salad with feta, cucumber and bell peppers.
Tortellini filled with meat on a cheese sauce with tomatoes, broccoli and pumpkin.
Cheesecake for dessert.
The meal is very tasty. More than anything though, I am amazed that Oman Air not only provide a choice of main course on a sector of only 45 minutes, but that they also offer a hot meal as one of the choices!
Halfway into demolishing the cheesecake, the seatbelt sign goes on again and the pilots informs us that we have started out initial descent into Muscat.
The weather in Muscat is pretty much the same as in Dubai. It is a balmy 25 degrees Celsius with low visibility due to the haze. In Muscat, the new terminal infrastructure is quickly taking shape. The construction of the terminal appears to be finished, it is now only a question of putting in the fittings. We land on the newly built runway, which runs in parallel to the existing one but on the other side of the newly built apron. Out taxi time to the old apron, which is still in use is about 5 minutes.
Transfer in Muscat
In Muscat there are no air bridges, so all passengers have to be transported to the terminal by bus. There is a dedicated shuttle bus for Business Class passengers only. I always find it a tad uncomfortable on Oman Air to watch one of the flight attendants rush to block the Economy Class passengers from disembarking before all the Business Class passengers have left the aircraft.