Luxair, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Luxembourg to Paris

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Introduction

For my return trip back to Basel I normally take the KLM flight at 18h20, which gets me into Basel at 21h45. But today I’ve decided to travel via Paris, mainly due to the fact that my meeting already ended at 14h00 and I didn’t fancy hanging around the office until the evening.

Getting to the Airport

Fortunately, my meeting is with the Luxembourg Civil Aviation Authority, whose offices are also located near the airport. Very kindly, after the meeting they offer to drop me off at the terminal.

The roads aren’t very busy, mainly because the summer holidays have started across Europe, during which most the many expats living in Luxembourg abandon the city and head home.

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Check-in

Yeah, about that… You see, I’m travelling on an Air France ticket. The French airline has a code-share in place with Luxair on the Luxembourg to Paris CDG route. Check-in is not possible though, neither on the Luxair nor the Air France app. However, eventually I do manage to complete the process on the Luxair website. It’s a bit awkward though that the Air France site will not automatically redirect you to Luxair and the error message I keep getting on the Air France site is not particularly useful either.

Alternatively there are slef-service machines at the airport. But you’ll have to select Luxair on the main screen to start the process, even if you’re travelling on an Air France flight number.

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The Lounge

So now what? I’m a Platinum member with Air France. But although my flight is operated under an Air France flight number, Luxair is not a member of SkyTeam, so I’m not entirely sure I even have access to the lounge.

I enter the lounge with my boarding pass and Platinum card ready, but there’s nobody at reception. In fact, I can’t see a single employee anywhere. I wait a few minutes for somebody to arrive, figuring they’re probably just busy. While I’m waiting, an utterly fashionable Italian guy walks in, sunglasses donned, talking on his mobile phone in an irritatingly loud voice. He ignores me but immediately notices the absence of the lounge dragon from reception. Without batting an eyelid he puts away again his boarding pass and heads straight for the buffet, behaving quite as though he belongs here. I figure, when in Rome…and follow him in.

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I spend about forty minutes in the lounge, during which I don’t encounter a single lounge employee. Judging by the emptiness of the buffet, they’ve been gone quite a while. So I still don’t know if I’m actually entitled to lounge access.

The lounge in Luxembourg is quite nice, but it does tend to get fairly crowded in the evenings. Toilets are available inside the lounge and the food options, although basic, are not bad. Oh yes, and the views of the apron and runway are pretty decent.

Boarding

My flight is departing from pier B. The building that houses pier B used to be part of the original terminal facility at Luxembourg but was shut down in 2008 when the new, current terminal opened. Due to a significant increase in traffic in recent years, the pier was recently renovated and eventually reopened in June, once a walkway to the new terminal had been constructed.

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From what I understand, the new pier is intended for use by Luxair’s regional aircraft only. The building is nice and very bright, with lots of natural light. But keep in mind that there are really no facilities at all here – no shops or anywhere to buy a drink.

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The Cabin

The Bombardier Dash 8/400 forms the backbone of the Luxair fleet. What I like about Luxair’s aircraft is that the seats that are installed on these planes are very comfortable and have significantly better padding than the slim and flimsy seats many other carriers have installed on the Dash 8.

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One thing to be watchful of though, is that the ventilation system runs along the floor and takes up some leg space if you’re sitting by the window due to the curvature of the hull. Fortunately, the aircraft is only about half full this afternoon, which means the seat next to me stays empty and I have enough space to spread out.

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I’m seated on 8F, which is right under the wing. There is not really that much to see from this seat while you’re on the ground, because you have the engine right in front of your window. But obviously, with the Dash 8 having a shoulder-mounted wing, once you’re airborne you have an unobstructed view below.

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The Crew

There are two female cabin crew working the cabin. Both are middle aged and very friendly. Announcements are made in French, English and Luxembourgish. The latter is really hilarious to listen to because it sounds like a rather unfortunate and unsuccessful attempt to merge German and French. But Luxembourgish is actually a thing, in case you were wondering.

The Meal

The flight time to Paris is only 45 minutes. Immediately after take-off, the crew pass through the cabin distributing small paper bags containing a bottle of still water and a packet of those notorious Happy Snacks. Still, for 45 minutes it’ll do.

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Arrival

We land in Paris on time. Luxair operates out of Terminal 2G in Paris, which is the facility used for regional aircraft and Air France’s HOP fleet.

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Making a transfer from 2G is always a bit of a wild card. I now there is an airside shuttle transfer because I’ve previously taken it. But if you blindly follow the signs for flight connections to 2F, from where my flight to Zürich is departing, eventually you will be spat out in the arrivals hall, landside. This is not a particularly big deal as such, because there is a complimentary landside shuttle too. But it does mean that you will have to go through security again for your next flight.

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Conclusion

Luxair is a neat little airline that is tailored to the needs of its local market. Recently Easyjet and even Ryanair have started flights to Luxembourg, but so far the little carrier seems to be fairing pretty well against its much larger competitors. I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with Luxair, but they’re definitely okay. Of course it helped that today’s flight was only about half full.

FlyBe on behalf of SN Brussels, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Brussels to Basel

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Date: 11 September 2016
Departure: 17:05
Arrival: 17:50
Flight time: 45 minutes
Seat: 9C, aisle

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Introduction

I arrive in Brussels on a flight from London Heathrow. It is just gone 13h30 and my connecting flight to Basel will not be boarding before 16h40.

The path from the arrival gate to security is pretty straightforward. My boarding pass for the onward connection was already issued in London.

There is a bit of a queue at security, given that there is only one lane open. But the queue moves quickly. And soon enough I am through security and Schengen immigration and find myself airside again.

Schengen flights leave from the A dock, which used to be connected to the main terminal via an underground walkway. Since I was last here, the underground passage has been closed off, and instead a bridge has been built in its place to connect the dock. Generally speaking, Brussels airport is very generously laid out and the high ceilings somehow prevent the place from ever being loud.

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The Brussels Airlines Business Class Lounge

Location: At the beginning of the A dock, where it is connected to the bridge to the main building.
Type of Lounge:
The Loft – Brussels Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Nap boxes, showers, toilets, video games, portable devices that can be borrowed from reception, newspapers and magazines.
Catering: Wow! There is a separate bar that is attended, where you can order drinks. The food options are excellent and very tasty. There is soup, a tray with different types of quiche, fresh bread and a buffet with salads and desserts. And, most importantly, they also have fresh Belgian waffles!
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available.

Blimey, this is certainly one of the nicer Star Alliance lounges I have been to in a while. The design of the lounge is very elegant in an understated way that makes it feel very comfortable and cosy.

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Boarding

Half an hour before departure I exit the lounge and head for my departure gate. I really would like to know just how on earth they manage to get and keep the floor in the terminal looking so shiny with all the passengers stomping around on it all day?

Our aircraft is parked on a contact stand, but the airbridge has not been connected to the aircraft, which means better photo opportunities for me!

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: No information could be obtained on the cabin layout and the seat’s dimensions. Basically, the aircraft is decked out in what seems to be the standard seat for the Q400, which is comfortable enough for such a short flight. In fact, the seat pitch is rather good. The only problem is that there does not seem to be any air conditioning on the ground and this aircraft must have been standing around all day, because it is stiflingly hot in the cabin. Other than that, the cabin lights are switched to mood lighting, which is kind of funky on such a little airplane.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

There are two young men working the cabin. The purser working the forward cabin seems friendly and obviously takes safety very seriously, which is the way it should be. Other than that through, interaction with the crew is fairly limited.

The Non-Meal

This is perhaps the most surprising part of the flight. From what I could tell on the previous leg from London to Brussels, passengers in Economy were served a sandwich and a drink. On this flight however, absolutely everything is buy on board. Otherwise you do not get anything, not even a cup of water. Nada. I mean, it hardly makes a difference with a flight time of only 45 minutes, but it just seems odd to serve nothing at all.

It says in the buy on board menu that if you are connecting from a long-haul flight you will be served a soft drink free of charge upon presenting your boarding pass of that flight.

Arrival

Soon enough we land in Basel. The airport is on French territory. France is still in a state of emergency. As a result, the Schengen treaty appears to have been temporarily suspended and even intra-European flights now have to use the non-Schengen part of the terminal, which is bursting at the seems. It also means that you must go through passport control upon arrival.

Edelweiss Air, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Skopje

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Date: 02 August 2016
Departure: 12:50
Arrival: 14:26
flight time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Seat: 11F, window on the starboard side

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Introduction

In my gap year between finishing secondary school and starting university I briefly had a job as a flight attendant. Back then I used to fly to Skopje in Macedonia frequently, mostly with ethnic traffic.

I have rather fond memories of those flights. On the one hand, the passengers used to drive me nuts with the copious amounts of ‘hand luggage’ they would have with them. You could expect anything from vacuum cleaners to televisions – all being brought into the cabin. Most of the time the flights left late because it just took a while to get all the passengers settled. But it was also heart warming to watch. As soon as the aircraft would land in Skopje, the passengers would get excited at the prospect of finally being home. Usually before the fasten seatbelt sign was turned off, they would be helping each other taking things down from the overhead bins, quite as though they could not wait any longer to set foot again in their home country.

That was over twenty years ago. And now, today I find myself travelling yet again, to Skopje with a planeload of Macedonians. Only this time, I am a passenger.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 1 or 3. Check-in 1 is the SWISS and Star Alliance terminal.
Facilities: Web check-in, app check-in or check-in at the airport.

I arrive at the airport at 10:38, with a little under two hours before departure. It is the middle of the Swiss holiday season and the airport is packed. I head up to Check-in 1 to find a queue going all the way back to the SWISS ticketing counters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it at Zürich airport. It takes me 15 minutes just to reach the start of the queue and then another 20 minutes to reach the baggage drop counter.

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I think part of the problem is that SWISS has not properly signposted the process. As a result, like me, most passengers are unsure if they need to check-in at the self-service machines first or if they can do everything at the counter.

By the time I have checked in and changed some money, it is already 11h45 and my flight is about to board from the midfield Dock E. So I head straight for security, fearing that here too there will be long queues. But much to my surprise, the place is fairly deserted and security is swift.

From security I head two floors down into the basement of the terminal to catch the metro shuttle. On my way to the gate I briefly stop at the Deli to get myself a sandwich, because I am not entirely sure what or if they will be serving anything on this flight.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of about 15 minutes. There is a first call for families with children, before the general boarding process starts. Despite the fact that the flight is packed to the gills, boarding is completed in less than 15 minutes. These guys must be eager to get home! Most of the passengers appear to be Macedonians on their way home. And from what I can tell a lot of passengers are connecting from one of SWISS’ North American flights.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The Edelweiss Air Airbus A 320 comes in two different configurations, depending on whether it is an original Edelweiss Air bird or if it is one of the aircraft leased from SWISS, which retain the original cabin configuration. The height of the head rest is adjustable. On flights to Skopje, there is no Business Class and the aircraft operates in an Economy Class only configuration. I am on 11F, which is the first of the two emergency rows.
Pitch: 34 or 32 inches, which then gradually decreases to 31 inches towards the back of the bus.
Width:
17 inches.
Facilities:
Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlet.
Audio and Video: Moving map. The Edelweiss aircraft that are not leased from SWISS also allow you to stream the IFE on your mobile device. In order to do so though, you need to download the Edelweiss app in advance. The system works very well. The only grippe I have though, is that it would be good to also have power outlets at the seats then.

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The Crew

There are four crew on this flight and all of them are very friendly and all smiles, pretty much like all the Edelweiss crews I have experienced recently. The flight time is announced as ninety-five minutes.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Snack.

  1. Cheese sandwich.
  2. Choice of hot and cold drinks.
  3. A Kägi Fret, which is a typically Swiss biscuit that is basically a few layers of waffle with chocolate in between and then coated in chocolate.
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Once the service is done, there are still sandwiches left, so the crew pass through the cabin offering seconds to those who are still hungry. The sandwich is okay, with some tomato and pepper spread and cheese in it. The bread is a bit rubbery though.

Arrival

Eventually, after an uneventful flight we start our descent into Skopje. The airport is located in a scenic landscape of hills. It looks hot outside.

As the aircraft slows to taxing speed I get another blast from the past. No sooner have we turned off the runway that you can hear seatbelts unclickling and the passengers start getting up to take their belongings from the overhead bins. Well some things obviously never change.

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The terminal in Skopje looks fairly new and is a far cry from the run down, rickety old facility there used to be when I flew here all those years back. Immigration is swift. There is a bit of a hold up waiting for the luggage, what with the Air Serbia flight arriving right behind us.

Getting into Town

In Skopje I will be staying at the Marriott, which only opened a few weeks ago. The journey to from the airport will take roughly 25 minutes in good traffic and will cost you EUR20 or 1250 Macedonia Dinars.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Zürich to Lugano

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Date: 31. August 2016.
Departure:
09:35.
Arrival:
10:10.
Flight time:
35 minutes.
Seat:
15F, then 9A.

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Introduction

Lugano airport is located in a narrow valley, closed in by steep hills on three sides. In addition, the lake just south of the airport puts further limitations on the length of the runway. As a result, even SWISS’ Avro RJ100 is still too large and too heavy to operate safely in and out of Lugano. For a while, service to and from Lugano were operated by Darwin on behalf of SWISS. But then once Darwin was rebranded as Etihad regional, there was no way the relationship could continue and eventually, the route was taken over by Austrian Airlines who operate the Q400 on the route.

And so I find myself on my way to Zürich early on a Sunday morning to catch an Austrian Airlines flight from Zürich to Lugano.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Departure: 06h33 from Basel Main Station.
Arrival: 07h47 at Zürich Flughafen.
Journey time: 1 hour and 14 minutes, including the transfer at Zürich Main Station.

Check-in

Facilities: Web check-in via the SWISS app. Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. Advanced seat reservation is possible against payment on the SWISS website or web app.

The Passbook app does not really work well for SWISS. The whole point about Passbook should be that the boarding pass appears on your lock screen. So that you only need to swipe the screen to display the pass, rather than having to type your PIN code each time. But for some reason that never seems to work with SWISS.

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The Lounge

Location: Upper level of the airside terminal.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS and Star Alliance Business Class lounge operated by Swissport on behalf of SWISS.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers, computer workstations, newspaper rack.
Catering: For a change, there is a fairly decent breakfast spread, with different types of bread, cold cuts, Müsli and a fruit salad.
Internet:
Available in the lounge and in the terminal, courtesy of the airport authority.

At least for once the place is empty and looks fairly tidy. Two things strike me as I wolf down my croissant. First, the lounge is starting to look dated. SWISS’ branding has not really aged very well and what was once cool simplicity is starting to look worn and plain drab. And secondly, have the staff here actually received any training? None of them are actually doing anything. Instead, two of them are discussing a roster swap while the three Latinos are having a bit of an argument in Spanish about some guy who is, and they all agree here, a bit ‘tonto’ and a bit ‘loco’. Seriously? If it were not for them, the place would be nice and quiet…

Boarding

We are boarding from gate A55, which is a bus gate on the ground floor. I count 40 passengers on the bus, which is more than I had been expecting for such a flight on Sunday morning.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: The Q400 has a seating capacity of 76 in Austrian Airlines’ configuration.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: None to mention really, but there is a coat hook.

Originally, I am on 15F, which is a window seat. But the guy next to me seems to be needing a lot of space, which is kind of strange considering he is not really such a big guy. But fortunately for me, there are still a few rows left empty by the time boarding is completed. And so I move forward to 9A, which is also a window seat.

There is a Business Class cabin on the aircraft. Business Class seats have a headrest cover, which the Economy Class seats do not have.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the flight today. The flight is operated with Austrian Airlines crew, which is why the two ladies are dressed in that carrier’s rather trashy red uniform.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Snack.
Meal:

  1. Still water (a Swiss brand)
  2. Small bar of chocolate.

To be honest, I am rather surprised they serve anything at all, given that the flight time is only 30 minutes. But in any case, the chocolate hits the spot nicely.

Arrival

We fly a circuitous route around the mountains on our descent into Lugano. Eventually, we fly into the valley from the south, coming in over the lake. We then make a wide left hand turn to line up with the runway and land in a southerly direction.

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‘Dinky’ is the best word I can think of to describe Lugano airport. It is just so small. It is probably one of the few airports I have ever been to where you can get the entire arrivals and departures areas in one shot.

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

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Date: 11. July 2016
Departure: 12:00
Arrival: 14:15
Flight time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Seat: 1F

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Introduction

Well that was quick. Yesterday late afternoon I arrived back in Zürich from Lanzarote. It is now ten o’clock on Monday morning and I am back at the airport. This time, I am on my way to Malta.

I am travelling with two guys from work – the tall, blond M, with whom I previously travelled to Singapore, and the silent, broody S. The latter will be leaving in summer to start a new job in the autumn. So in a way, this trip to Malta is a kind of last farewell.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 3 above the railway tracks, or Check-in 1, which is the dedicated Star Alliance terminal in Zürich.
Facilities: Online and app check-in, self-service ticketing machines or counters.
Counters: There are separate counters for Business Class passengers in both check-in areas and there is a separate queue to speed things up.

We catch the 10h25 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich airport at 10h38. The summer holidays have only just started, so the queues for check-in are something nasty. Fortunately, there are next to no passenger queuing up for Business Class and I am seen to right away. The check-in agent tags my suitcase with a priority sticker and sends me on my way.

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The SWISS Business Class Lounge

Location: SWISS Business Class lounge on the upper level of the airside centre.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers, workstations with computers, a selection of newspapers.
Catering: A limited selection of rather hot and cold snacks.
Internet:
Available in the lounge. The password is available at reception but there is complimentary wifi available throughout the terminal.

Much to my surprise, the lounge is not at all full. It is still a mess though, and I really think they need to have a word with their cleaning staff.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: Good question.

When we arrive at the gate, there is already a long queue forming for our flight, even though boarding will only start in about ten minutes. Eventually, when boarding does start, no boarding call is made. The gates just open and boarding starts. Given that the three of us are sitting on row 1, we figure we might as well wait until all the other passengers have boarded.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 in a mixed Business/Economy Class configuration with the middle seat left empty in Business Class.
Seat: SWISS has recently completed reconfiguring its narrow body fleet. As a result, they have managed to squeeze a staggering 182 seats into the Airbus A 320, which is only four seats short of the maximum.
Pitch: 32 inches on the first row, which gradually degreases to 31 inches towards the back of the bus.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Audio and Video: There are overhead screens showing a lot of SWISS ads, short films and the route map.

The cabin looks very neat and clean. Especially the SWISS logo on the bulkhead makes a sharp contrast and adds a bit of colour.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

The crew are all Germans from what I can tell. This is something that creeps up regularly in various aviation forums. The lack of Swiss staff apparently tarnishes the airline’s Swissness. To be honest though, I am not quite sure what the big deal is. The four young ladies working the flight today are friendly, charming and attentive. What do I care if they are not Swiss? After all, if you take an airline like Emirates, it may well happen that you have as many different nationalities in the crew as there are crew members. And nobody seems to have an issue with that either.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Small bottle of still water.
Towel before the meal: Scented, pre-packed towel served with the bottle of water.
Pre-meal drink:
No.
Choice:
There are two choices for the main course, one is vegetarian.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.

  1. Salad with balsamico dressing.
  2. Vegetable ravioli with a creamy tomato sauce.
  3. A plate with two different cheeses.
  4. A lemon tiramisu.
  5. Selection of bread from the breadbasket.
  6. Tea or coffee.
  7. Chocolate
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The meal is tasty enough and the crew even appear to respect passengers’ status in taking orders for the main course. However, the whole experience does seem a bit lacklustre. I mean, with a flight time of 1 hour and 50 minutes and only 12 passengers in the cabin, surely it would not have been too much to ask to offer a drink before the meal.

Arrival

Our routing takes us from Zürich to Genova and then from there more or less in a straight line across the water to Palermo. Just as we hit Sicily’s southern coast, the descent into Malta begins.

Wamos Air, Economy Class – Boeing B 747-400: Arrecife to Zürich

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Date: 09. July 2016
Departure:
Arrival:
Flight time:
Seat:

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Chronicle of chaos foretold…
Over the last few weeks Vueling has received a lot of negative press about flight cancellations and severe delays in the run up to the busy summer holiday period. As usual, rumours and accusations were many – with the Spanish newspapers allegedly knowing that in fact the Vueling staff were on strike and that this was the real cause for the many irregularities. The airline’s new management of course, blames everything on the old management, which was pushing hard for expansion at all costs.

The upshot of it all is that when the time came for Vueling to station an Airbus A 320 in Zürich for the summer, they realised that in fact they did not have an aircraft available to do so. But rather than cancelling the flights, Vueling decided to lease a Boeing B 747-400 from Wamos Air, just for the month of July. Of course, I simply couldn’t resist…

And so I find myself in Lanzarote on a sunny Saturday morning. It is just coming up 11 in the morning and I have just stepped off an Air Europa flight from Madrid. I now have four hours before my flight back to Zürich at 15h30, hopefully on the mighty Queen of the Skies.

But then at around 11h30 the messages and e-mails from Vueling start arriving, informing me that there are a few operational issues that will probably see my flight leaving with a delay. To be honest, I don’t really mind. Like this I can spend more time relaxing in the sun.

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The flight is first moved from 15h30 to 16h40. Then a bit later the departure is moved back further to 17h40. I check on the web and I think I can actually hear the crack as my heart breaks – there has been an aircraft change and instead of the 747 they are sending a Greek registered puny little Airbus A 319.

The flight time to Zürich is four hours and Lanzarote is one hour behind Zürich. Zürich airport has a curfew in place from 23h00 to 06h03. Now you do the maths. This is going to be tight. Eventually, boarding starts at 17h30 and I figure if we manage to get airborne by 18h00, we might just manage to squeeze in before the curfew. So all the passengers board the bus to take us to the aircraft – and nothing happens.

After waiting for about ten minutes for seemingly no reason at all and nobody on the ground bothering to tell us anything, a group of passengers disembark the bus and decide it is a really great idea to have a smoke, right there on the apron in front of all the pretty airplanes being refuelled. I tell the bus driver that smoking really is not permitted, to which he simply replies that he is just the bus driver from Swissport. By this time I’ve definitely had enough. I take my bag and walk back into the terminal. Much to me surprise, the gate agents don’t seem at all surprised to see me and instead they just hand me a pink transfer card.

Eventually, all the other passengers walk back into the terminal as well. There is no information provided by Swissport and quite evidently, they really couldn’t care less. By this time it is already past six in the evening, seven in Switzerland, so what ever happens, we will not be returning to Zürich tonight. I inquire with the gate attendant about the delay and she explains that the aircraft is overweight and they are trying to figure out what to do next.

In any case, to cut a long story short, by 19h30 it becomes perfectly apparent to everyone that the aircraft will not be flying to Zürich this evening. So instead, the flight will be rerouted to Barcelona. The passengers will be sent home the next day either via Rome or Barcelona. By this time though, I think it is sufficiently clear just how unreliable and unorganised Vueling is and I am not prepared any more to take my chances with them. I have another flight coming up on Monday from Zürich, which I don’t plan on missing because of somebody else’s bad planning. And so I make other arrangements.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Vienna to Zürich

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Date: 08. July 2016
Departure:
16:00
Arrival: 17:05
Flight time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Seat: 18A

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Introduction

Vienna is a very pleasant place to be. The city is laid out very generously and the many buildings that date back to the city’s imperial history are quite splendid. And so I decide to walk to the academy this morning.

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At noon the course comes to a close and according to the original plan, I should now be heading home to Switzerland. But something has cropped up and I urgently need to be in the Canary Islands by Saturday morning. Given that the course in Vienna only ends at noon, my best option is to return to Zürich on the Austrian Airlines ticket I am holding and then to continue to Spain from there.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train – CAT nonstop train or the suburban line 7.
Journey time: 16 to 25 minutes, depending on which train you take.
Departs from: Wien Hauptbahnhof.
Arrives: Wien Flughafen.
Frequency: The CAT departs at 06 and 36 past the hour from the city.
Cost: EUR4.30 for a oneway ticket.
The CAT train that makes the journey from the city to the airport in only 16 minutes and will set you back EUR12 for a oneway ticket or EUR19 for a return.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 3, counters 331 to 368.
Facilities: Airport check-in, self-service check-in, online and app check-in.
Counters: There are separate counters for Business and STAR Gold passengers.

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Airside

By the time I reach the airport it is already 14h30 and my flight to Zürich is expected to start boarding at 14h55. So I quickly drop off my suitcase and head for security. Fortunately, the airport is not very busy at this time of day and there are no queues at the bags drop off or at security. I shall be eating the on the plane, so I figure I might as well skip the lounge and go straight to the lounge.

Boarding

Separate boarding for Business Class passengers, status card holders, families with children and passengers requiring assistance. Once they are all on board, there are not that many passengers left really… There is a slight delay for the boarding process to commence, and as a result we loose our original slot for departure. Eventually, by the time we push back from our stand we are already running a bit more than thirty minutes late.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: The Airbus A 320 has a seating capacity of 168 in a mixed Business Class/Economy Class configuration.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent. No power outlets and no overhead screens.

The Crew

There are three female and one male cabin crew on the flight to Zürich this afternoon. The three ladies are very friendly and obviously get along with each other. So the atmosphere in the cabin is relaxed and laid back. The male cabin crew also seems friendly, but very serious and reserved.

The Meal

For EUR15 you have the possibility to pre-order a meal on European flights in Economy Class, and there is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes available. Catering for Austrian Airlines is provided by Do&Co.

  1. Chicken Schnitzel
  2. Potato and cucumber salads
  3. Bread
  4. Chocolate mousse
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This meal really is just so good. Seriously, the chicken has miraculously managed not to dry up completely and the cucumber and potato salad is really tasty. But the piece de resistance is certainly the excellent chocolate mousse. It is so rich and creamy!

Arrival

I normally do not recognise all that much on the ground. But today I am lucky and we are treated to an excellent view of the city of Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls nearby.

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Eventually we land with a delay of fifteen minutes. By the time I have retrieved my suitcase, it is already 17h30. I now have just over one hour to dump this suitcase in a locker and retrieve my rucksack from another locker I deposited it in before I left for Vienna.

Transavia, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Amsterdam to Palma

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Date: 18. June 2016
From: Amsterdam
To: Palma
Departure: 06:30
Arrival: 08:40
Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 12A, window on the port side

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Introduction

The meeting ends in the early afternoon on Friday. My friend, the wiry R. will be returning to Zürich by KLM this evening. So we still have a few hours to kill. So we spend the last few hours walking around Amsterdam. We even find the time to have an excellent afternoon tea at De Backerswinkel, an idyllic spot set among the dildo shops and gay leather bars of old Amsterdam.

Getting to the Airport

It is Saturday morning and I awake just after four o’clock. Last night I slept at the CitizenM at Amsterdam airport, which is located roughly five minutes away on foot from the terminal complex. Outside everything is still fairly quiet.

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Check-in

Location: Departure concourse 1, rows 3 to 5.
Facilities: Check-in is available online, at the self-service machines at the airport or at the counter.

According to the Transavia website, the price to check-in a suitcase of up to 15 kilos is EUR21 if you pay in advance, or EUR32 if you pay at the airport – which is why I decided to pay the EUR21 at the time of booking. However, what the website does not tell you, is that if – like me – you are travelling with a slightly oversized carry-on, it will be taken from you at the gate and transported in the hold free of charge. If I had known, I think I would not have bothered.

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The KLM Crown Lounge

Location: On the upper level of the transit area, where the D concourse branches off from the main terminal complex.
Type of Lounge:
KLM Crown Lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There are also computer work stations available.
Catering: Catering in the lounge is fair and there is a good breakfast spread laid out with cheese, cold cuts, bread, cereals and fruit.
Internet:
Wifi is available throughout the lounge. You need to provide your family name to access the network.

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Flying Blue Gold and Platinum members are entitled to use the KLM Crown Lounge on all scheduled Transavia flights that are operated as a code-share with KLM. Charter flights are not eligible.

The lounge is pretty empty when I arrive. The television is on and CNN is blaring away in the background, with Amanpour giving us another rendition of the crap that is alleged to be investigative journalism.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate D63. There is no priority boarding as such, except for families travelling with small children, of which there seem to be copious amounts on this morning’s flight.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3 in an Economy Class only configuration. The aircraft has a seating capacity of 149.
Seat: On Transavia’s Boeing B 737-700 the emergency exit is located on row twelve. The seat is fairly comfortable and has sufficient padding to make the flight pleasant enough on the rump. There does not appear to be any inflight entertainment system on board this aircraft and there are no power outlets either.

The price for the emergency exit row is EUR10 per person and can be reserved at the time of booking or later on. Personally, I think they are EUR10 wisely invested as the pitch on row 12 is excellent. I can even stretch out my legs comfortably for a trip to Noddy land.

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The Meal

There are three female cabin crew on this flight and all three of them are really excellent. They are very friendly, joking and fooling around with the little ones on the plane to keep them entertained.

Service on Transavia is buy on board. The selection is good and includes a fairly wide range of drinks and snacks, mostly sandwiches, muffins etc. The prices are also okay. I order a medium sized Nescafe Cappuccino and a Dutch biscuit with a tasty almond filling, which sets me back EUR4. I think that is quite good actually. The crew pass through the cabin with the food trolley once the seatbelt sign goes off, but you can purchase food and drinks throughout the flight.

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Arrival

The flight time to Palma is two hours and ten minutes according to the cabin crew. But the time passes quickly, mainly due to the fact that I manage to get a solid hour’s sleep.

The weather en route is pretty bad and only clears up just before we reach the island. By the time we land, the temperature is already a balmy 19 degrees Celsius.

And once again, I am in luck and we deplane via the stairs and not an airbridge. What’s more, they have also attached stairs to the rear door, giving me loads of opportunities to take pictures of the Boeing 737’s rather sexy looking stabilizer.

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The terminal is crawling with people and the aircraft just keep landing one after the other. My suitcase arrives pretty quickly though. But then I reach the Europcar counter and things start going south. They use a numbering system to queue. I have a ticket with the number 70, but they are still only just serving customer number 24. I figure to myself that surely it cannot possibly take that long to process the forty-six customers before me… So I wait. I go for a stroll around the arrivals and departure area. I read in my Kindle. I go to the loo – repeatedly – but no matter what happens, the Europcar queue is really moving so slowly it hurts. Eventually, it takes me three hours for my number finally to be called.

Conclusion

All in all, I rather liked Transavia. First of all, the crew was excellent. Secondly, they somehow lack the look and feel of a low cost carrier. My only complaint really, is the departure time. Something a bit more civilised would have been nice. But perhaps that has more to do with the destination and not the carrier.

Air China, Economy Class – Airbus A 321: Beijing to Xi’an

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Date: 29 May 2016
Departure: 08:55
Arrival: 11:10
Flight time: 2 hours and fifteen minutes
Seat: 15L, window on the right side of the aircraft

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Introduction

The transfer from an international to a domestic flight is pretty straightforward and well signposted. I have two hours to make the connection, and it takes me an hour to make the transfer owing to the sheer size of the terminal complex.

Transfer in Beijing

Location: Terminal 3, main concourse – right next to the terminus station of the automated people mover.
Counters: Two Economy Class and one Business Class counter.

I only have my backpack with me on this trip, so the transfer check-in is swift and easy. From check-in I take the escalators one floor up, which takes me landside of the terminal. At the top of the escalators I turn right and right again until I reach the boarding pass check point to go airside again. From there I head back down one floor to the automated people mover to take me to the D concourse. Once again, the entire process is pretty straightforward. But the facility at Beijing is enormous, so you end up walking fairly long distances, going up and down between different levels.

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The D concourse is pretty much deserted when I arrive. There are only a few people sitting at gate 13, the gate for my flight to Xi’an. There do not seem to be any other flights leaving any time soon.

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What can I say? I’m a linguist…

Boarding

There are three queues, one for First and Business Class passengers, one for Premium Economy Class and another for Economy Class passengers. Boarding starts way ahead of time, and the passengers are only slowly trickling in. Eventually though, the flight is full.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: Air China operates the A321 in two different configurations. The aircraft operating the service to Xi’an today has 16 seats in First Class and 161 in Economy Class. I am on row 15, which is right behind the emergency exit row. Seat pitch is good. Moreover, the seats are covered in material instead of the faux leather that seems to be so popular with most airlines these days. Seat numbering is a bit unusual if you are used to the European system. On most European carriers, the three seats on the port side are (from window to aisle) A, B, and C; while the three seats on the starboard side are (from aisle to window) D, E and F. On Air China though, the starboard seats are marked (from the aisle to the window) J, K and L.
Pitch: 31 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: No power outlets available.
Audio and Video: Drop down screens in the Economy Class cabin, audio track selection and volume control in the armrest. Earphones are distributed half-heartedly at the beginning of the flight – I should think it is obvious that a small tray of earphones is not likely to be enough for all passengers on a fully loaded A321. But the cabin crew are not deterred. They start passing out earphones at the front of the Economy Class cabin, and once they run out of earphones at the third row, the job is done.

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Service

The crew is a bit odd, I must confess. Either I am just suffering from a lack of sleep, or there is some cultural issue going on that I have not figured out yet. One way or another, the impression I get is that the crew really couldn’t give a shit.

A young male cabin attendant is standing next to me as I put my backpack in the overhead bin. I innocently ask him if the flight is going to be full, but all I get in reply is ‘maybe’.

The crew’s attitude to safety is also rather strange. On the one hand, they insist that you have all electronic devices fully off, not just in flight mode. One of the female cabin attendants nearly has a meltdown when she sees me taking photos with my iPhone during the climbout. On the other hand though, the safety demonstration video is interrupted repeatedly by the cockpit crew coming on to make announcements about the flight. And the volume is so low that you cannot really hear a thing anyway. As a result, the video is still running as we go thundering down the runway. But nobody is paying any attention to it anyway.

The Meal

Towel before the meal: Pre packed wet wipe with a decidedly unpleasant stink of disinfectant.
Type of meal:
Snack.
Meal:

  1. Orange juice.
  2. Bag of missed nuts.

This really is nothing more than a snack, but that is okay. After all, the flight time to Xi’an is slightly less than two hours and I am feeling rather exhausted right now anyway.

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Once I finish my bag of nuts, it becomes impossible for me to keep my eyes open any longer and I spend the remainder of the flight doing that thing tired people do who are trying to sleep sitting upright: every time I nod off and my head lolls forwards, I raise my head again quickly, hoping that nobody saw me and I can pretend I am fully awake. Only to do the same thing again a few seconds later…

Eventually, I am taken out of my misery. We start our descent into Xi’an and the prospect of a proper bed makes me perk up a little.

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Arrival

Xi’an airport is fairly large and has currently three terminals. Terminal 3 is for international flight, Terminal 2 for domestic traffic, while Terminal 1 is the old airport and no longer in use.

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I have requested the hotel to send a car to pick me up. The terracotta warriors are not actually in Xi’an but in a place called Lintong. The journey from the airport to the hotel in Lintong will take you roughly 45 minutes in good traffic.

Ethiopian Airlines, Economy Class – Boeing B787-8: Vienna to Stockholm

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Introduction

There is reason to my madness you know. Yesterday I flew from Luxembourg to Vienna because today, literally at the crack of dawn, I shall be flying to Stockholm on Ethiopian’s Boeing B 787-8. The flight originates in Addis Abeba obviously, and arrives in Vienna just before six in the morning and then continues to Stockholm at 06h50.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 3, rows 331.
Facilities: There are dedicated check-in counters for the Ethiopian Airlines flight. There is even a plush green carpet in front of the Business Class counter. Web check-in is also possible. I have already checked in online for the flight.

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From the NH Hotel it is just a short walk across the road to the airport.

The flight will be boarding from gate D25, which is in the non-Schengen area of the old terminal. Once you are airside, you need to pass through the large duty-free shopping area. At the end turn left and head for the D gates until eventually you reach immigration. If you like shopping at airports, be sure to get everything you need before immigration, because there are not that many shops on the other side.

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The security check takes place right in front of the gate. There is no queue for security and once I am inside the lounge, I inquire with the gate attendant about the load on this morning’s flight. She informs me that the flight is only about half full and there are merely five passengers joining the flight in Vienna for the tag on to Stockholm.

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Boarding

With only five passengers joining the flight in Vienna, there is hardly anything to say about the boarding process. It is certainly quick! As I board the aircraft, an Ethiopian young lady is standing by the door to welcome us aboard. She is wearing a typical flight attendant’s uniform, but instead of a uniform jacket she has on a white, see-through wrap around with a bright floral pattern along the hem. The crew are all smiles and seem genuinely friendly, especially compared to the bats from hell that were working yesterday’s Austrian Airlines service.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3 + 3
Seat: Originally, I am seated on 18C, which is an aisle seat. However, given that the flight is not full, I move back to 33A for take-off to get a better view of the aircraft’s legendary wingflex. The seat is nice and comfortable and has very generous pitch. I think even a long flight in this seat would be manageable.
Pitch: 32 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: USB port.
Inflight entertainment: 15.4 inch touch screen with 85 channels. The system is very interactive and offers a lot of options. I did not watch any films, but their selection of movies is quite good and up to date. I only use the moving map on this flight.

The cabin on this bird looks rather nice. It is just a pity that nobody bothered to clear up the place a bit before boarding the passengers for the flight to Stockholm. Probably because all passengers arriving from Addis Abeba remain on the plane during the layover in Vienna and the crew does not change either. So everything looks just a bit untidy. There are pillows, blankets and used earphones lying about everywhere.

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The B 787 is a very quiet bird. It takes me a moment to realise the engines are already running. In fact, the noise inside the cabin is so small you even can hear the motors operating the flap actuators.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Breakfast.

  1. Bun with butter and strawberry jam.
  2. Cinnamon and apple muffin.
  3. Fruit salad.
  4. Apple juice.
  5. Tea or coffee.

The meal is a bit of a trip down memory lane. God, I cannot even remember the last time I was given a meal on a tray in Economy Class on a short-haul European flight!

The fruit salad is made with tinned fruit and is very sweet. The bun and the muffin though are quite okay and the coffee is surprisingly good.

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After the meal tray is removed, I spend the rest of my time watching that spectacular wingflew.

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Arrival

There is something very poetic about the scenery outside. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that the B 787 is so quiet and the wing can really flex. Somehow I keep thinking that it feels a bit like what I imagine flying is like for a bird, if you know what I mean…?

Eventually we land in Arlanda. We taxi for quite a long time before eventually we reach our parking position at Terminal 5.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Train.
Departs from: Arlanda North. There is direct access to the station from Terminal 5.
Arrives: Stockholm central station.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Frequency: Every 15 minutes.
Costs: SEK600 per person for a return if you are travelling as a couple.

With public transport you can access the city either using the Arlanda Express train or the airport busses. The airport busses are cheaper, admittedly. However, keep in mind that Arlanda is quite far out of town, so that the journey by bus will inevitably take you much longer than the journey by train, the latter travelling at 184km/h.

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