Lübeck Air, Economy Class – ATR 72: Heringsdorf to Bern Belp

Lufthansa screws up… again

Originally, I should have returned to Switzerland from Heringsdorf on Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Two weeks before the flight, I receive an email from Lufthansa, advising me to contact them about my booking. I open the app with a due sense of trepidation to find that the original flight from Frankfurt to Basel has been cancelled and I’ve been rebooked. There’s just one little snag in the plan: I’ve been rebooked onto an earlier flight from Frankfurt to Basel which departs Frankfurt before my flight from Heringsdorf arrives in Frankfurt. To cut a long story short, Lufthansa’s customer service was atrocious – as usual. The agent trying to handle the issue was clueless, obviously very badly trained, spoke next to no functional English, German or French (I tried) and was overall just useless, clearly more concerned with sticking to the rules that trying to resolve a situation that had been caused by the airline and not the customer. Eventually, Lufthansa’s grand plan was to rebook me onto a flight to Basel the next day, which also meant that I would be paying for hotel accommodation at Frankfurt of course.

But the Bible teaches us that God helps those who help themselves. On Saturday morning I wake up to an overcast sky in Heringsdorf and ponder my journey back home – and the fact that I really don’t fancy having to spend the night in that hovel they call Frankfurt airport.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I check out the Heringsdorf airport website to find that, lo and behold, there’s a flight in the afternoon from Heringsdorf to Berne with Lübeck Air. I quickly check their website to find they still have seats available on the flight. The flight arrives in Berne at 17h30, which means I’ll be back home in Basel by eight this evening. Sold!

Getting to the airport

Getting to Heringsdorf airport is pretty straightforward. First I catch the 290 bus from Schloonsee to Heringsdorf Bahnhof, and then from there I have a connection on the 284 directly to the airport. If you’re staying at a hotel in the Heringsdorf area, you will receive a complimentary Kurkarte for the local public transport.

The overall journey takes about fifty minutes. The busses aren’t frequent, and only operate to the airport during peak hours. If I’d taken the Lufthansa flight, which departs at 19h00, I would have had to take a taxi.

Check-in

What you see in the photo below is both departures on the right, and arrivals on the left, so basically the while terminal. Heringsdorf airport is just a little bigger than a shoe box.

Inside there is a large seating area and a bar serving hot and cold drinks and a few snacks.

There are four check-in counters, although only the one is open when I arrive, which serves all airlines. The check-in agent checks my suitcase to Berne, and then wishes me a pleasant flight. She’s also the person who does the boarding for the flight, which means that while boarding for our flight is underway, check-in for the Luxair flight departing after us has to be interrupted.

More importantly, there’s also a viewing terrace on the first floor of the adjacent building housing the tower.

I wait on the terrace to watch my flight arrive from Lübeck. It’s really quite a nice view from up here.

The queue for security starts on the pavement, by the bus stop. Which probably sounds a lot more dramatic than it actually is, given how small the building is. There is only the one gate, and the holding area is not all that big.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts ahead of schedule. I count 44 passengers in total for the flight.

The cabin

The cabin is in pristine condition and looks very new, and the aircraft even still has a bit of that new car smell to it. The most striking feature of the cabin is the exceptionally generous seat pitch of 35 inches. There are only 16 rows in a 2 + 2 configuration and I have plenty of space to stretch my legs.

There’s also a very funky sick bag in every seat.

The service

There are two female cabin crew. Both are in their mid-thirties. They’re very unusual in that they look perfectly content in their profession. I noticed on this vacation that you rarely see cabin crew anymore these days giving you a genuine smile.

The flight time is announced as two hours and twenty minutes.

The meal

Lübeck Air prides itself on not producing any package waste. Which I guess is a nice gesture, although I really don’t think it makes that much of a difference. Sure, they produce less plastic waste on the flight, but it also means they use more fuel to uplift the heavier crockery and glass ware. But anyway…

On offer is a small chocolate cup filled with chocolate mousse.

And a small glass jar with with savoury snacks.

And to drink I have a cup of coffee, which is actually quite good, and a glass of sparkling water.

The crew do a second drinks round and then finish the meal service with candy from a big jar.

Arrival

Our approach into Berne brings us in right over the city and the Bundeshaus, the seat of the Swiss Parliament. In the distance the Alps are clearly visible. Berne airport is not all that much bigger than Heringsdorf, I’d say.

I enter the terminal and just have enough time to visit the loo before the luggage starts arriving on the belt. All in all, it takes me seven minutes from deplaning to reaching the bus stop.

The bus stop is located just to the right when you exit the terminal building. The bus runs every twenty minutes to Belp railway station. The journey from the airport to the railway station takes ten minutes.

At Belp there is a train connection to Berne main station. The journey takes fifteen minutes.

And then in Berne I catch a train to Basel, which takes one hour.

Conclusion

This brings to an end my summer vacation. The flight with Lübeck Air was unexpected and unexpectedly pleasant. Other than that, it’s quite amazing just how unpredictable travel has become in 2022 in the post-pandemic haze. In summary:

  • The Basel to Rennes flight was changed twice, including a rerouting and schedule change.
  • The Eurostar to London changed schedule twice and also the rolling stock that was used on the journey.
  • The Air Europa flight had a schedule change and an aircraft change.
  • The Aegean flight was a replacement for a booking I had made originally on Scoot to Berlin, which had three schedule changes that eventually resulted in a completely different date of departure.
  • And the Lübeck Air flight was instead of a Lufthansa flight which also had a schedule change that would have meant me spending an extra night in Frankfurt and arriving home a day later than planned.

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 170: Amsterdam to Rennes

Introduction

Today marks the beginning of my summer vacation. And Rennes will be my first stop. Originally, I was booked to fly from Basel to Rennes via Paris. However, that connection was cancelled and rebooked via Amsterdam. The originally rebooked departure from Basel to Amsterdam should have been just after 10 in the morning. But then another schedule change meant that I was rebooked again to depart from Basel to Amsterdam on the morning departure at the ungodly time of 06h30. This also meant that I would have a layover in Amsterdam of about six hours.

Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use that layover to go into Amsterdam for breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel in the seedy part of town by the central station. However, given that KLM is currently advising passengers to show up for security screening four hours (!) before departure, I figured I better not risk it.

I’ll be making a separate post of my stay at the Yotel Air at Amsterdam Schiphol. This post is about the flight from Amsterdam to Rennes.

Boarding

The flight to Rennes departs at 13h40, with boarding expected to start at 13h13, which is an oddly specific time… And of course our aircraft is on a remote stand, so we’ll have to be bussed there.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, but the forward cabin remains empty on this flight. I’m seated on 3A, the first row of Economy. As I’ve already mentioned, and complained about in previous posts, properly aligning the seat rows with the windows appears to be a bit of a problem on the E170 aircraft. And this includes the configuration Air France has them in. I do have a window seat on 3A, but I seriously need to crank my head back to be able to look out.

I count a total of 68 passengers.

The crew

The cabin crew are two females in their mid- to late thirties, if I had to guess. They’re both business friendly. Not gushing, but not rude or unfriendly either.

The flight time is announced at one hour and ten minutes.

The snack

The service consists of a small and very tasty, buttery biscuit and a cup of Perrier. Air France have stopped using plastic cups and serve all their drinks in Economy in cardboard cups instead.

After the meal I’m still tired. I quickly doze off and only awaken again when the captain comes on to announce the “début de déscente”, the top of descent.

The landscape below is very flat, green and lush. And not exactly densely populated.

Arrival

Our arrival is a bit shaky because of the wind. We land on runway 28 and then have to backtrack up the runway, as the only taxiway doesn’t reach all the way to the end.

There are only open stands at Rennes airport, which is very small and really quite dinky.

I completely forget that we’ve arrived on an international service. In as much, it takes me by surprise to find myself in front of an immigration counter upon entering the terminal. The check is not really so much about the passport or ID, but about checking the vaccination status of arriving passengers entering into France.

Getting into town

To get to the bus stop, make a sharp left upon exiting the terminal and just keep on walking until eventually you will see the bus stop. Both the C6 and 57 bus lines run to the centre of town. The journey takes about thirty minutes and costs EUR1.50. Apparently, you don’t need to buy a paper ticket and can normally just badge in with your credit card. However, when I try that, it doesn’t work. So I have to buy a ticket from the driver, who can only accept cash.

Conclusion

I had a really early start this morning, which didn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies – even if it was to get on a plane to Amsterdam and then on another to Rennes. However, that quickly changed the moment I stepped of the plane when we arrived in Rennes. This place is just so nice, and the weather is stunning! And tomorrow, I’m off to Mont St. Michel!

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, Economy Class – Airbus A 321 NEO: Zürich to Brussels

Introduction

I‘m on my way to Belgium. Before the pandemic, Brussels Airlines operated two daily flights between Basel and Brussels on weekdays. Alas, the route has been discontinued. My other option from Basel would have been Easyjet, but they were already sold out. There currently aren‘t any direct trains from Basel to Brussels anymore. I then decided to book a ticket on the TGV & Thalys via Paris. But then two days before departure, a private matter meant I would not be able to take the train. So eventually I booked a ticket on SWISS. Fortunately, they still had fairly competitive prices available, even at such short notice.

This post begins with me arriving at Zürich airport by train at 16h44 for my 18h15 departure to Brussels.

Check-in

Check-in 3 marks the area above the airport’s railway station. SWISS recently introduced new, fully automated check-in machines there. The process is swift. A SWISS representative scans my electronic boarding pass and prints the baggage tag for my flight. She puts the tag on my suitcase and instructs me to proceed to the drop-off machine.

I dump by bag on the belt just as another SWISS rep hurries by to help me. The staff are all very friendly. All in all though, I couldn’t really say if the process is any good or how easy it is to operate, because the staff basically take care of everything for me.

Next, I head over to Terminal A and the security checkpoint. The airport seems very quiet.

There are two separate entrances for security, one for Economy Class passengers and another for First and Business Class passengers.

Boarding

Security is quickly done. By the time I’m through, it’s already 17h30. I only have twenty minutes or so before boarding begins. These days I usually can’t be bothered with the lounges, so I head straight for gate A 63 to see if I can catch a glimpse of the aircraft taking me to Brussels this evening.

This is my first flight on an A 321 NEO, which SWISS keeps in a very high density configuration of 215 seats. Subsequently, it takes an eternity for the flight to board. I’m seated on 31 all the way in the back of the bus.

Apart from the massive engines, the A 321 Neo is easily distinguished from the the CEO version by the configuration of the doors. The A 321 CEO has two doors forward of the wing, no overwing exits and one door at the rear, whereas the A 321 NEO only has one door in the front, two overwing hatches and two doors behind the wing.

The cabin

The A 321 NEO is a very long aircraft. In the SWISS configuration in Economy Class there is one lavatory in the rear of the aircraft and one right by the R2 exit. The finish of the cabin is nice, and the brown seats give the cabin a nice warm feel. There is a hook for a jacket at every seat.

The seat pitch is okay as long as you’re sitting fully upright. Even so, I’m wondering just where you’re supposed to put your legs if you have a thick winter jacket with you. The flight time to Brussels is 55 minutes, which is fine. However, from what I gather on flightradar, after its return from Brussels this aircraft was scheduled to operate the red-eye to Tel Aviv, which has a block time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. And that, I don’t think I would want to try out on this bird.

Among the other noteworthy features of this aircraft, it has video screens throughout the cabin. On the downside, from row nine on, the seats cannot be reclined. One the one hand, I’m guessing this a cost-saving measure to reduce maintenance on the seats. On the other hand, given the tight pitch it’s probably not a bad idea…

Whatever, I just like sitting behind the wing for a change and being able to watch the flaps moving during take-off and landing.

The crew

There are six cabin crew. They’re all female and their interaction with the crew is rather limited. One of them has this haunted look on her face. She’s standing in the cabin during boarding, but doesn’t bother to say a word of greeting to passengers as they file past her. I say Grüezi to her in my best Baseldüütsch, but don’t get a reply. Later on when we deplane, I take the initiative again and say Adieu. Nothing. I suspect that perhaps the problem is not just a lack of manners but also a lack of language skills. But it’s still awkward.

A while back SWISS announced that they would stop using binary salutations and terms of address, such as Ladies & Gentlemen, and would be replacing them with gender-neutral formulations. I salute SWISS for their initiative and the fact that the crew on this flight are really very disciplined about it. On the other hand, I must admit that it does sound a bit weird. The crew either address passengers with Dear guests, or they do not use an address term at all, which is a bit strange. I guess it’ll just take getting used to.

I must say I’m quite impressed with the NEO’s performance. The take-off is powerful and you can really feel the acceleration.

The meal service

The meal service consists of a complimentary bottle of SWISS’ iconic (sic.) still water and a piece of Swiss chocolate. More substantial meals can be bought on board or pre-ordered online. For its buy on board service, SWISS has teamed up with Sprüngli. I’m not quite sure what to make of this though, because Sprüngli tends to be rather pricey. So if they’re trying to attract the price-sensitive Economy Class customer, I’m not sure Sprüngli is the way to go. Just as an example, you can buy a tub of Birchermüsli (200 gramms) for CHF7.50.

Arrival

Only 25 minutes after we take-off from Zürich, we’re already starting our descent into Brussels. It’s a lovely day in Belgium, with a ground temperature of 20 degrees celsius.

The airport is quite busy, no doubt with EU diplomats heading home for the weekend. It’s quite a treck from the arrival gate to baggage claim. On a positive note though, this means that by the time I reach the luggage belt for the flight from Zürich, my suitcase is just coming around the corner.

Getting into town

Like Zürich, Brussels airpot has a railway station located in the basement of the terminal. There are frequent trains from the airport into town, most of which will stop at the three main stations in Nord, Centraal and Midi. A one-way ticket costs EUR2.60 and there is an airport supplement of EUR5.70. The journey to Midi take about 20 minutes.

Conclusion

All things considered, this flight was pleasant enough. It was on time and they delivered me to Brussels safely, which is the main thing. I rather liked the A 321 NEO though, it felt solid. The finish of the cabin was rather elegant. On the downside, I think I would really think twice about getting on one of them again in Economy Class – especially on a longer journey. The pitch was really not comfortable.

The crew and service were decidely nondescript. It’s probably hard to convey Swissness when most of the crew are very obviously not Swiss.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Vienna back to Basel. My flight departs at 17h40 and the hotel refuses to grant me a late check-out. So I exit the SO/ Vienna hotel just after 12h00 and make my way to Wien Mitte railway station to dump my suitcase and bag in a locker. It’s only ten minutes on foot from the hotel to the station. You could take public transport instead, but I suspect that would probably take longer.

Once that’s settled, I decide to pay a visit to Schloss Belvedere, which houses an extensive collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.

On my way back to Wien Mitte I make a brief stop at the Konditorei Oberlaa for a last helping of Kaiserschmarn, a kind of fluffy shredded pancake served with jam and has comfort food written all over it.

Getting to Vienna Schwechat airport

From Wien Mitte there are frequent trains to Vienna airport. The journey will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR4.80 for a single trip for one person. However, if you’re travelling with somebody else, you already qualify as a group, in which case the fare is only EUR5.20 for both.

“Europe without Greece is like partying without drugs”. Indeed, it’s very patriotic and I think the Greece ministry of tourism should adopt this as its new slogan…

Check-in

Austrian Airlines checks in at Terminal 3. I’ve already received my boarding pass online, but I still need to drop off my suitcase. Austrian Airlines’ self-check in process for Economy Class passengers is easy to use and has been well planned. As you come off the escalators that lead up to departures, there is a large area with very easy to use scanning machines.

You scan your boarding pass and the machine will ask you to confirm your name. Once that’d done, the baggage label is printed. The queue for the fast bag drop is long, but at least it moves quickly.

At the counter where a check-in agent once used to sit, there is now another scanner. You place the suitcase on the conveyor belt, scan the bar code on the label, and that’s it. Gone!

Airside

The airport is busy this time of day. The other terminals in Schwechat have been shut down due to the pandemic, so Terminal 3 is now handling all the traffic – and it’s rather a tight fit. Eventually, I find a place to sit at the very last gate on the Schengen pier. As it happens, this is where the Ryanair flight to Thessaloniki is about to board. And I really must say, it’s rather entertaining. The gate agent is, with all due respect, a complete and utter bitch and the way she treats the passengers boarding the flight is nothing short of outrageous. You have to be really hard up financially to be willing to put up with this level of verbal abuse. I think given the choice I would prefer not to travel at all than have to endure this kind of treatment.

This is something I have never been able to understand about the business model of many of the low cost carriers. Yes, their prices are amazingly low sometimes. But irrespective of how high or low the price for the ticket is, people are still paying their good money to avail themselves of a service. The amount they paid should not determine the politeness or courtesy of service they receive. And it certainly should not determine how rudely they are treated by the staff. Of course the saying goes that you get what you pay for, and if the likes of Ryanair are not willing to pay for polite and properly trained staff or handling agents, then that’s just too bad. But I disagree.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a slight delay and takes for ever. This is largely due to the fact that in Austria it is mandatory for passengers to wear FFP2 masks. Every passenger wearing a standard issue surgical mask is stopped by the L1 door and given an FFP2 mask to wear instead, which they must put on in front of the cabin crew before they are allowed beyond the galley and into the cabin.

The crew & service

The crew are quite friendly, which is rather unusual for Austrian Airlines. The purser is clearly trying to respect all the rules in place, and while I personally think she should be commended for that and for putting the passengers’ health first, I think we also need to acknowledge that in Europe the lack of harmonization between countries is a huge pain in the ass and makes it near impossible to travel between countries without breaking at least one rule or other.

The flight itself is short and uneventful.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Basel after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes. The cabin crew announce that deboarding will be by seat numbers. Passengers should remain seated until their row is called. In theory, it may make a lot of sense to deboard the plane in such a way. But in practice, the sad truth is that it is completely useless: Basel airport is on French soil and has a French and a Swiss sector. There is one long corridor that connects the arrival gates to the head of the terminal building and immigration. Even though Austria and France are both part of the Schengen treaty, France has suspended the free movement of persons, which means that they have reintroduced border controls. This does not apply to Switzerland. But the exit to Switzerland is only at the very end of the corridor, meaning there is no way for passengers entering into Switzerland to bypass the queues for immigration for France. Regrettably, we land right after two full easyJet Airbus A 320s, and the queue for immigration is endless. It takes me forty minutes to reach the head of the queue. At least by the time I arrive at the luggage belt, my suitcase is already there.

Conclusion

So, I’ve now done six flights with Austrian Airlines in short succession – mostly in Business Class. On a positive note, I’m very much impressed by the quality of their food. It should not be taken for granted these days to be given a hot meal in Business Class on a short sector of only one hour. Other than that though, I found their service a bit lacking and seriously inconsistent. First, I really think it wouldn’t hurt Austrian Airlines to provide at least a bottle of water to passengers in Business Class as a kind of welcome drink. Second, I find it rather interesting that on all six flights I took, an announcement was made that deboarding would be done by seat rows, from front to back. But in fact this was only enforced by the crew on the last flight. My point is not whether or not the procedure makes sense. I just find it rather unprofessional to make such an announcement and then very obviously not give a rats bum. Austrian Airlines are okay, and their network to southeastern Europe is extensive. Other than that though, they’re hardly worth bothering with.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer E195: Basel to Vienna

Introduction

It’s Sunday evening and I’m on my way back to the airport to give a second course in Tirana. After last week’s experience on WizzAir with Satan’s army of burping and crapping infants, I figured I would go for something a little more civilized this time and travel with Austrian again. It’s not the most exotic flight connection, but hey, my options are rather limited.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online, but I still need to make a stop at the counter to drop my suitcase. I’m carrying a ton of paper, and I’ve already got a back ache just from carting my stuff to the airport. The Star Alliance carriers have their own dedicated counters. There is one Business Class and one Economy Class counter open. Both of them are deserted when I arrive.

Airside

Security is such a delight at Basel airport these days. The fact that you can just walk up without any queues and without having to witness the stupidest specimens of humanity as they make their way through the beeping security gates is something I will one day be telling my grandbabies about. This is the stuff legends are made of.

I find myself a seat next to where the Easyjet flight to Hamburg is boarding and entertain myself watching human nature unfold. It’s quite entertaining, really. And then I come across this guy. I know it’s rude to surreptitiously take pictures of random strangers, but… get a load of this: Easyjet-proof trousers. Take a closer look. The man has an iPad stashed in the upper pocket of his cargo pants, and a 5dl bottle of water in the lower one. Not in the photo are a baby elephant and a Fiat Cinquecento in his right pockets. And no, he’s probably not that glad to see me, but probably just figured he’d also try taking his grand piano aboard as well by shoving it down his front…

Well that was fun. With the grand piano safely on its way to Hamburg, I make my way to gate 46, from where the flight to Vienna will be boarding.

Boarding

As you can see in the photo above, the passengers on the arriving flight disembark via stairs. They are taken to a waiting bus that brings them to arrivals. Strangely, once that is done, the stairs are removed and the airbridge is attached for us to board. I’m not quite sure what this is all about, but I assume this still has to do with the French government’s decision to suspend the Schengen treaty not quite so temporarily.

Oh yeah, and the lights in the airbridge aren‘t working, which gives me the opportunity to take the photo below. I kind of dig the haunted ‘I could see a light at the end of the tunnel and a feeling of calm came over me’ effect.

The cabin

The seats on Austrian’s Embraers are very comfortable. I am sitting on row 4 and the seat pitch is excellent. Even with my rucksack stowed under the seat, I still have plenty of space for my legs and to wiggle my tootsies.

The crew

My only interaction with the crew on this flight consists of the disinfecting towel I am handed as I board the plane. That’s it. Everything else on Austrian is buy on board, except for the farewell chocolate at the end of the flight.

I’m starting to think that the crews on Austrian Airlines tend to be rather unpredictable. Which is really just a euphemism to avoid having to admit that this lot are not exactly a credit to Austria’s reputation for outstanding hospitality.

Once we’re airborne, the inflight service, such as it were, begins. Which means the curtain separating the Business Class cabin is drawn by the crew. Is it me, or does the picture below remind others too of some old biddy’s bloomers hung out to dry? I mean, why bother if this is the best they can do?

Arrival

The flight time to Vienna is one hour and ten minutes, and we land on time just after 21h. I now have one hour to make my connection to Tirana, which should give me enough time to discover a few more things about the airport that I don’t like. I know, I’m really turning into a right grumpy bastard in my old age…

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Paris Roissy to Copenhagen Kastrup

Introduction

On Sunday morning, just after eight, I have an early breakfast and then head out for the palace. I want to make the most of my stay and visit the palace grounds again. The palace building does not open to the public until noon on Sundays, but the gardens are open already and they are deserted at this time of day, save for a few keen joggers.

Getting form Versailles to Paris Roissy airport

For the next leg of my grand tour, I will be taking a flight from Paris to Copenhagen. As Versailles is to the south of Paris, while Roissy airport is to the north, I figure I better spend the night at a hotel close to the airport to avoid an early start. Normally, the journey from Versailles to Roissy is quite straightforward: first, take an RER C train from Versailles Les Chantier to Massy-Palaiseau and then from there catch an RER B train to Roissy airport. The journey should take about 90 minutes. However, this summer somebody had the bright idea of doing maintenance works on both the RER B and C lines simultaneously. As a result, parts of both lines are disrupted. And so, I end up alighting at Massy-Palaiseau but then taking a replacement bus service to Les Baconnets, and then from there catching another train to the airport. I depart from Versailles Les Chantiers just after 16h. All in all, the inconvenience is minimal and only adds thirty minutes to the whole journey, so that I arrive at the hotel just after 18h.

Getting from the CitizenM Roissy to Terminal 2

At Roissy airport I spend the night at the CitizenM, which is located at Roissypole – the airport’s main transport hub that is located midway between Terminals 1 and 2. An automated shuttle runs frequently between the terminals.

I like the CitizenM hotels. They’re easy to use and very convenient. I also like that their lobbies are a nice showcase for Vitra design furniture.

The hotel is only a short three minutes walk from Roissypole station.

And from there, the journey to Terminal 2 takes about four minutes.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online, but I still need to drop my bag at the SkyPriority counter. The check-in agent is friendly and swift. Access to the fast track security line is right next to the SkyPriority check-in area.

The Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

I just love the design of the airside area of Terminal 2F. By the time I’m through security, I still have a little less than an hour to go before boarding, so I figure I might as well visit the lounge.

The lounge is quite busy, which is why I don’t take many pictures. They have removed some furniture to make space for more socially distanced seating. And I also think they’ve reduced their buffet offerings, because the buffet area is looking decidedly empty!

Other than that, I am considering writing a letter to Air France to suggest they ban families with children from the lounges. The kids usually aren’t even that much of an issue, but sometimes you get the impression that their parents just don’t know how to behave around their own kids in the presence of strangers.

Boarding

There is a separate lane for SkyPriorty passengers to queue for boarding, which is nice and helps to avoid the usual rush once the flight’s departure is announced. Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 318 and it appears to be full.

The cabin

The cabin looks neat and tidy. I was able to secure a window seat on the exit row. So the leg space is simply brilliant on row 10.

On each row of three seats there are four USB powers sockets. The aircraft is also equipped with wifi. The use of the network for receiving and sending messages is complimentary. For writing mails or surfing, there is a charge of EUR15 in Economy Class.

The crew

As usual on Air France, the three cabin crew members are very nicely turned out and put together. It always impresses me how much more professional they manage to look than some of the vapid flight crews you get on SWISS sometimes. I mean, the ugly SWISS uniform is not really their fault, but I do think that somebody should tell them that a foulard around the neck is really not the height of sophistication, and neither is the lipstick laid on so thick that it ends up sticking to their teeth and makes them looks as though they have a severe case of bleeding gums.

Upon entering the aircraft, the crew hand out surgical face masks to all passengers wearing one made out of cloth. Apparently, it is a legal requirement in France for it to be a bona fide surgical mask that has to be worn aboard an aircraft. The cloth masks won’t do.

The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

The meal

The meal service consists of a packaged croissant and a very limited selection of hot and cold drinks. As airline coffee in Economy on European short-haul flights usually leans towards the crap instant variety, I only ask for a cup of water. Other than that, I think the only other cold option is orange juice.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Copenhagen on time, just before 10h30. Unlike Paris, Copenhagen airport looks fairly quiet. What’s more, half the shops appear to be closed, which makes the whole place really look kind of sad.

Fairly quickly my suitcase arrives on the luggage belt. And then I’m off to explore the city.

Getting into Copenhagen city

Probably the most convenient and cheapest way to get into the city is via the Metro line M. The station for the metro is located right at the far end of the main terminal building. Trains run frequently and only take about 20 minutes to make the journey from the airport to the city centre, the sights and the shops.

Wideroe, Economy Class – Dash 8-300: Haugesund to Bergen

Getting to the airport

Skudeneshavn is a picturesque fishing village on the southern tip of Karmoy island. Before I head to the airport, 35 minutes away by car, I find a small café/souvenir shop and have some lunch. What you can see here in the picture is a ‘Kanelknute’, a very yeasty dough that’s chewy and sweet, with a subtle hint of cardamom and cinnamon. In the interest of investigative blogging, I had three. And I can confirm that they were all of the same outstanding quality. The wrap I also had was tasty as well.

Check-in

It’s not very often I manage to get the entire terminal facility and adjoining office building in one shot. So here you have it, boys and girls, Haugesund international airport in all its glory.

Check-in for this flight is interesting. The routing HAU-BGO-AMS-BSL was purchased and issued on one ticket via the KLM app. However, check-in on the app is not possible. However, 24 hours before departure, I receive an email from Wideroe, informing me that check-in is now open and that I have been assigned 7D on the Haugesund to Bergen leg. I am able to download all three boarding passes into my iPhone wallet. I’m must say, I’m impressed. The interface with other airlines is not always so nicely implemented!

Because of Covid, access to the terminal building is currently only permitted for passengers. Although there’s nobody there to check, really.

The departure screen may perhaps explain the empty terminal…

Airside

There is no lounge for premium passengers at the airport. Initially, when I arrive at around 14h15, the place is pretty much deserted, save for a few diehards getting in some serious drinking before they board their flight. I just hope they’re not on my flight…

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time. Don’t you just love an airport without airbridges? From what I can tell, there are about 40 passengers on the flight.

The cabin

Outside and inside the aircraft and cabin are in mint condition. In my experience with SAS, they tend to work their aircraft pretty hard, and it usually shows. So I was expecting the same thing from Wideroe. But much to my surprise, the aircraft looks new. The cabin is fresh and roomy and the seats are plush and comfortable. The pitch is also good and provides good leg space. Much better, incidentally, than KLM’s E175.

The only downside of my seat on 7D is that it’s right under the wing, limiting the views of the outside while we’re still on the ground. The flight has a block time of 30 minutes, although our actual flight time is only 20 minutes.

The cabin crew

There is one cabin crew aboard this aircraft, which means that the seating capacity is not more than 50. The young lady is friendly enough and goes about her duties in an efficient, friendly manner. Obviously, with a flight time of only 20 minutes, there is no service. But that’s okay, because our route takes us along Norway’s coast. And the weather today is just glorious!

Arrival

The first thing I notice when we land, is that the airport is a lot busier than it was when I arrived. We taxi to the new domestic terminal and disembark in front of the terminal.

Transfer to Amsterdam

In Bergen I’m transferring to a KLM flight to Amsterdam. It’s quite a long schlepp from the domestic terminal to the international terminal, but at least you won’t have to go through security a second time.

The international terminal is deserted, as ours is the only flight to depart from this part of the airport. Most shops are closed, and I’m surprised to see there’s a kiosk open, where you can by drinks and snacks, like those horrific artificially pink sausages they seem to love in Norway.

Before boarding, my Covid documents and passport are checked, seeing as this was not done on the domestic flight from Haugesund to Bergen.

Epilogue

The trip back to Basel is quite uneventful, so I will spare you the details. Entering Switzerland is always a mess in Basel, ever since France suspended the Schengen treaty over security concerns. The Covid situation in France has done little to make the process any smoother or any more pleasant. But this too will pass.

Overall, this was a pleasant trip. Everything worked well, and it was nice to spend some time again in Amsterdam and in Haugesund. But before I let you go, I just have three things I’d like to get off my chest:

First, I really, really do not like the E175. Not just in KLM’s configuration (which is one of the better ones out there), but in general. It feels cramped and tight and the seats are simply very hard and overall just uncomfortable, even on row 1.

Second, KLM and Air France’s strategy is clearly to bring as much of the network as possible back online as quickly as possible. With the exception of the last flight from Amsterdam to Basel though, none of the flights I took were really full. I’m obviously not complaining because it’s always nice to have a bit more space. My point is that, like many of the European carriers, KLM and Air France were able to secure substantial funds to tie them over until traffic starts to pick up in earnest. While one might argue about the merits of investing literally billions of EUROs into an industry that was already heavily lossmaking even before Covid, at least KLM and Air France have done something useful with those funds. And I wish them and their staff the best of luck with that.

And third, most importantly, get your vaccine as soon as you can. Your arm will hurt a bit just after you get the jab, but it will not become magnetic, no matter what people tell you. Get your vaccine as soon as you can, not just to protect yourself, but to protect others too. That is your civic duty. And seriously, it certainly beats having to queue for a stupid test every time you want to go partying, travel abroad, visit a concert or go to the museum.

Stay healthy, all of you!

William

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

This is a previously unpublished report from 2012.

Introduction

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

Getting to the Airport

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

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

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

Check-in

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

The Lounge

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

Boarding

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

The Cabin

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

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

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

The Meal

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

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

Arrival

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

Transfer in Brussels

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

Swiss International Air Lines powered by Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Luxembourg

Introduction

This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At some point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.

The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.

I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.

The SWISS Business Class lounge

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lounge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!

The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I keep back so I can board last. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.

The cabin

I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on row seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.

Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.

The Meal

The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.

Arrival

We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket.

Conclusion

To conclude, I’m just assuming the apparent lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network, and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.