Lufthansa CityLine, Business Class – CRJ-900: Basel to Munich

Airline: Lufthansa Cityline
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-900
From: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
To: München Airport
Departure: 06:30
Arrival: 07:20
Flight time: fifty minutes
Seat: 2F, window seat on the starboard side

It‘s just coming up to five o‘clock on Saturday morning as I make my way across the station square to catch the airport bus. Remind me, why am I doing this again?

There aren‘t many people about at this time of the night. The bus isn‘t very full either. So I grab a seat at the very back and desperately try to catch just a few more minutes of sleep.

At least that means check-in and security are quiet too.

My flight to München is boarding from gate 60, which is inconvenient because it means I shall have to pass through the duty free shop to get to the lounge – and I really do need a coffee right now – and then back again to board my flight.

Boarding starts on time. By the time I reach the gate there are only a few passengers left… ‚after-you-no-after-you-please-I-insist-after-you…‘.

As passengers step on board, we are handed a small chocolate biscuit sandwich. In Economy Class that is the full extent of the inflight service. But it is a very short flight after all!

The crew aren‘t exactly exuberant, but they seem friendly enough and a vast improvement over my previous experience with Lufthansa.

There are six rows of Business Class for a total of twelve passengers. And the cabin is full. On the CRJ-900 the bulkhead row on the port side of the aircraft is row 1. On the starboard side, the bulkhead is on row 2, because the toilet is located on what would be row 1.

The CRJ-900 is a dreadful aircraft, it‘s tight and cramped and the cabin colours Lufthansa went for are just drab, dull and dark. Not sure in what universe off-grey is not depressing and ugly… on the upside though, on row 2 the aircraft really is exceptionally quiet.

Once we‘re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the service begins. First the crew roll down the aisle with the food trolley, dishing out the trays. Only after all passengers have their meal do the two flight attendants return to the galley to bring out the drinks trolley.

The meal is presented in a small basket with a checkered pattern, which is kind of cute. The basket contains a müsli bar of sorts, which is rather vile, a bottle of strawberry and banana smoothie that gives me heartburn before I‘ve even finished it, a few grapes, and a ham sandwich. As I said, it‘s only a short flight.

The cruise isn’t very long obviously, and very soon we’re already descending into Munich. Eventually, we land at 07h15.

The flight comes to an end on one of the few remote stands for the CRJs immediately next to the terminal building. So at least there will be no bus transfer and passengers can just walk straight into the terminal.

I now have two hours before my onward flight.

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Paris Roissy

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Embraer 190
From: Basel-Mulhouse
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
Departure: 11:10
Arrival: 11:55
Flight time: 45 minutes
Seat: 1A, bulkhead row, window seat

Getting to the Airport

Nine days into the new year my travel activities resume. I catch the 09h27 bus line 50 from in front of the Swiss railway station.

Check-in

At the airport, I cross over into the French sector for check-in. There are three counters open: one for SkyPriority passengers and two for everybody else.

The check-in agent tags my luggage and issues my boarding pass for this flight and the next. I then head one floor up for security. There is a dedicated line with a separate entrance for priority passengers. As at check-in, here too there are no queues.

The Lounge

My departure gate is right opposite the exit from security. But I still have some time to kill and I’m hungry. So I figure I might as well make the schlepp to the Swissport lounge.

By 09:57 I’m enjoying a plate of eggs and beans in the lounge. I don’t take any pictures because the lounge is quite busy. But I really do think it’s still one of the most nicely designed lounges around, especially with the winter sun coming through the windows.

And what on earth is it with women that even the most untalented and uninspired among them all seem to think they know how to sing? For heaven’s sake! There’s this big, blousy American lady, by no means a spring chicken, belting out a Motown medley as she meanders in and out of the buffet section. She’s dreadful and sounds like somebody’s strangling the cat. But she just won’t stop!

By 10h10 I can’t stand it (her) anymore and head for the gate, where boarding should start soon anyway.

Boarding

Boarding starts on time with a call for SkyPriority passengers to board first. But there’s a scrum for the gate the moment the gate agent picks up the microphone, making it difficult to actually get to the counter.

The Cabin

On the Embraer 190, Air France has two large storage compartments at the front of the cabin, which are great if, like me, you’re on the bulkhead row and the overhead bins are already full. Pitch on row 1 is brilliant!

Mr 1C is a fat guy in his late fifties, I’d say. He obviously think he’s hot stuff, the big shaker-mover. He’d also obviously already assumed the seat next to him would stay empty, judging by the unhappy look he throws me when I appear. I just think he’s a creep.

He literally spends the whole flight intentionally spreading out as much as he can and generally has the manners of a pig.

On domestic services, Air France does not have a Business Class product. Also, seats on domestic flights are assigned automatically and cannot be selected until check-in opens. Although in my experience, they make sure that status holders are seated as far up front as possible.

The Meal

Service consists of a selection of hot and cold, non-alcoholic drinks and a choice between a savoury and a sweet snack. Which is not bad for a flight of 45 minutes.

I go with some Perrier and a piece of lemon and poppy seed cake, which tastes okay.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of two gentlemen in their forties. They’re your typical Air France cabin crew. Friendly and professional but perhaps not very warm.

Arrival

The flight passes quickly and eventually we land in Paris on schedule. The flight ends at terminal 2G, which is used for smaller commuter flights.

The facility is fairly quiet. Passport control for my next flight, so leaving Schengen, is done in terminal 2G, before I catch the shuttle bus to terminal 2K.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

This year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is celebrating its centenery – one hundred years of continuous service under the same name and brand, making it the oldest airline in the world. This year, British Airways also decided it was time for a celebration, although somehow, that seems a bit like cheating, seeing as today’s British Airways wasn’t set up until 1974.

To be honest, I would have liked my KLM jubliee post to be something a bit more grand than just a short hop from Basel to Amsterdam. Perhaps a long-haul trip with the Queen of the skies, or so. Alas, the powers that be decided it was not meant to be. Even so, I didn’t want to ignore the Dutch jubliee entirely. And so, here you go: this one’s for KLM, happy birthday! You’re looking good at 100!

Getting to the Airport

My day begins very, very early. The flight to Amsterdam departs at 06:20, which has me taking the 04:55 departure of the bus line 50 from the main railway station to the airport.

The bus arrives at the airport at 05:09. The check-in area and security are already very busy processing the first bank of departures.

Luckily, my Air France Platinum status gives me access to the fast track for security, which is not quite so busy as the line for Economy Class.

The KLM flights usually depart from gate 18, which is in the Schengen area of the airport. And that‘s a good thing, because the queue for the non-Schengen gates is endless!

By 05:18 I‘m through security and on my way to the lounge. The place is still fairly calm. I get myself a coffee, find a quiet corner and slowly start to wake up…

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 05:55 and is a somewhat chaotic affair. I don‘t think anybody quite knows what‘s going on. Initially there is just one queue. But then at some point a second one opens to speed up boarding. And then a while later, more or less as an after thought, one of the gate agents opens up a third queue for SkyPriority passengers, which is a bit pointless at this stage.

The Cabin

I‘m sitting on 1F, which is the bulkhead row, so seat pitch is very good. On the Embraer 190 stowage space is never an issue because there are two large cupboards up front.

The flight is busy but not completely full. By the time boarding finishes, the seat next to me is still empty. I think that‘s the one thing I really don‘t like with KLM. Even on the Cityhopper flights I think they should keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class By default. That‘s something Lufthans does better, for a change.

Outside it‘s still dark. Overnight the rain has set in again.

The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes. We take off in a northerly direction. The first stages of the flight is quite bumpy, as we ascend higher through layer after layer of thick cloud.

The Meal

As soon as the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. Okay, so the delivery in a cardboard box may not be an expression of the highest sophistiction, but then again you don‘t eat the cardboard, do you?

Breakfast is a nicely balanced meal consisting of a bowl of fruit, yoghurt and Müsli, egg salad, bread and butter, and a selection of Dutch cheese and cold meat.

To drink I have a coffee and orange juice.

Arrival

Sooner than expected we‘re already descending towards Amsterdam. The many greenhouses below produce a strange effect and illuminate the sky in a bright and unnatural looking yellow light.

Eventually we land 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Amaterdam is even more atrocious than it was in Basel. It‘s cold, windy and wet.

By the time the bus ejects me at the terminal, it‘s 07:30. I have one hour to go before my connecting flight. I can‘t be bothered with the lounge, which is in the opposite direction to pier B, from where my flight will be leaving. So instead I browse through the shops without the intention of buying anything.

TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Basel

Introduction

March 31 2019 marks the beginning of the northern hemisphere summer schedule for air travel, and the change to the new schedule is usually when airlines launch operations to new destinations. Today, TAP Air Portugal is launching a new, twice daily service from Lisbon to Basel. This is not the first time TAP has operated to Basel, and in fact I still remember seeing them with the Boeing B 727-200 at Basel airport towards the end of the 80s.

Of course, I figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the first flight!

Getting to the Airport

I spend the night at the TRYP hotel at Lisbon airport, which is five minutes on foot to the terminal for an able-bodied person, and a bit longer if you have a back problem.

Check-in

Lisbon has an unusual designation for its terminal facility, in that the arrivals concourse is Terminal 1, while departures are located in Terminal 2. Check-in for the flight to Basel is in sector A, which appears to be the designated TAP Air Portugal/Star Alliance area.

There is a separate check-in area for premium passengers. Because the terminal at Lisbon airport has been gradually expanded over the years, the flow of passengers does not really follow any clearly laid out concept. As such, the security checkpoint is not so easy to find. It also doesn’t help that they’re currently building inside the terminal and have removed some of the signage.

The TAP Portugal Premium Lounge

The queue for the regular security checkpoint is endless. It reminds me a bit of the Easter processions we have in Malta, just with more complaining. But luckily, there is a fast track for security which is more or less deserted at this time of the morning.

From security I head one floor up and through the duty free shop to access the general airside area. The TAP Air Portugal lounge is located in the new part of the terminal building, one floor up from the general airside area.

The lounge is not necessarily the most elegant one I’ve ever seen, but I think it makes the most of the limited space available. The food selection is quite good, with a nice collection of local snacks. Although my suggestion to anybody transiting through this lounge would be to keep away from the coffee machine, because it’s vile.

Boarding

My flight will be departing from gate S25. A photographer is already there taking pictures of the aircraft and crew of flight to Basel. Before boarding starts, the photographer requests a group photo with the gate staff. Somehow, by the time everybody has removed any real or imagined bits and pieces of lint from their uniforms, patted down their beard, rearranged their ties or touched up their lipstick, the number of gate attendants has suddenly increased from three to eight!

The Cabin

The cabin divider is behind row 6, which means there is a total of 24 seats in the Business Class cabin. But the flight is not full today in both cabins, so that by the time boarding is completed, there are only four passengers in Business Class. One gentleman on 1A, a couple on 2A and 2C and me on 1F.

I like the design of the TAP seat. The dark colours look elegant. Every seat has a headrest that is adjustable in height and also has ears that can be folded out for support. The leg space is also good on row 1. From what I can tell though, the cabin divider is really just a curtain in the aisle.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a gentleman in his fifties, I should say, and he is assisted by a female colleague in her forties. And the two of them are just brilliant. They’re very attentive, and although they seem quite reserved, I think they do a really good job at making passengers feel welcome.

In the rear there is one young lady and a young man working the Economy Class cabin. I don’t interact much with them during the flight, although they seem friendly enough. What I can say though, is that the trousers the young male flight attendant is wearing are so tight, it’s nearly obscene. Somebody tell the guy to put his suit jacket back on again, already!

There is no service on the ground. Only once we’re airborne a packaged and scented towel is provided ahead of the meal service.

The Meal

It takes about fifty minutes after take-off for the meal service to begin. The meal consists of:

A plate of cheese and cold cuts.

A plate of fresh fruit.

A bowl of yoghurt with fruit compote.

A small ramekin of müsli.

A small ramekin of unsalted butter with jam.

In Business Class TAP provides an individual tray service, instead of serving the meals from a trolley in the cabin. As she hands me my tray, the cabin crew asks me what I’d like to drink and shortly after brings me a glass of orange juice and a coffee. The coffee incidentally, is rather good.

The crew do two rounds with the breadbasket. There is a wide selection of sweet and savoury pastries and bread to choose from.

Once the meal is done, the crew come to remove the tray and ask me if there’s anything else I’d like. One of them brings me a blanket and a pillow and shortly after I slip off to the land of nod.

Arrival

At 09h40 the captain announces that we’ve reached the top of descent. It’s a lovely day for flying this morning and as we come in over the Alsace, everything looks green and lush.

We touch down at 10h10. The perimeter fence is lined with photographers taking pictures of our arrival, and as we turn off the active runway, I can already spot the fire engines preparing for the water canon salute. I mean, you can call me an attention slut if you will, but I have to say there is something rather grand about the arrival of an inaugural service, that brings back the old magic of air travel.

As we disembark the aircraft, there are two representatives from Basel airport handing out Läckerli to passengers. A Läckerli is a type of sweet, a bit like a biscuit, typical for the Basel region of Switzerland. As I pass the gate on my way to arrivals, I can see that they’ve set up a buffet with Portuguese specialities for passengers booked on the return flight to Lisbon.

Conclusion

Well that was fun! TAP Air Portugal will be operating the Basel service twice daily with an Airbus A 319. Clearly, the airline is hoping to cash in on connecting passengers that will transfer through its hub in Lisbon onto the carrier’s extensive Latin American network. But while the Portuguese expat communities in Switzerland and the Alsace are quite considerable, the question remains whether TAP will be able to generate acceptable revenues on this route, given that Easyjet also operates between Basel and Lisbon.

SkyWork, Economy Class – Saab 2000: London City to Basel

Sky_Work_Airlines_logo

Date: 14. May 2017
Departure: 19:40
Arrival: 22:00
Flight time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Seat: 1F, window

Introduction

I just landed in Heathrow on a Boeing B 747-400 of British Airways, coming from Mexico City. I have to say, Europe is still my favourite continent. Although of course one might argue whether or not Britain should be counted to Europe.

In any case, from Heathrow I take a Heathrow Express train into Paddington station and from there the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus. You see, I figured if I’m passing through London on my way home anyway, I might as well take the opportunity to have a grand thali at the Masala Zone behind Carnaby Street.

The one way ticket on the Heathrow Express will cost you GBP16.60 for a journey of fifteen minutes in second class. The Oyster Card is not valid on the Heathrow Express.

Getting to the Airport

By the time I finish my dessert of Gulab Jamun with ginger ice cream it’s time for me to get a move on and make my way to London’s City Airport. From Oxford Circus I take the Central line to Bank and from there I change onto the DLR for London City. Being a nice and sunny Sunday afternoon, there are not too many people on the tube. I arrive at the airport just after 18h00.

Check-in

Check-in is a bit of a pain to be honest. Web check-in is possible on SkyWorks Airlines, but I still need to check-in the suitcase I’ve been carting around since I left for Mexico. I don’t quite know what the hold up is, but eventuality it takes me 25 minutes to reach the head of the queue.

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Airside

Security is well organised and fairly swift. As far as I know there are no airline lounges at London City airport. There is a large waiting area just behind security and passengers are expected to wait there until the boarding gate for their flight is announced. I find this rather irritating, because seating is fairly limited in the waiting area, whereas the gate area has recently been renovated and expanded and offers ample and comfortable seating (including some great ramp views).

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a bit of a delay. Apparently we have to wait for the BA Embraer parked to the left of our aircraft to move off stand before they can let us walk the short distance across the apron.

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The Cabin

Today’s flight is operated by a Saab 2000, which looks as though it were in pretty decent condition. Of course, some of the illuminated signs are starting to look a bit dated, but generally speaking the impression is good. The seats are comfortable and look and feel as though they were only recently upholstered.

Admittedly, the Saab 2000 does feel rather cramped as long as you’re standing or moving around the cabin. But once you’re seated there is lots of personal space and the seat pitch is very good.

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The Crew

There is one cabin crew on today’s flight. She is rather friendly and there is something ever so Swiss about her, although I don’t think I could put my finger on it and say what exactly it is that gives me the impression.

The other thing I notice about here is that the uniform is way too big for her. The collar of her blouse looks wide enough for two people and the sleeves of her jacket are so long they even cover her hands.

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The Meal

Catering consists of a choice of a complimentary chocolate muffin or a Dutch apple pie, with either water, juice, coffee or tea. Other drinks and a few more snacks are also available. However, these have to be purchased.

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Arrival

Inevitably, by this time I’m really exhausted. Despite the fact that I managed to sleep on the plane from Mexico, it’s still been a long journey and eventually I pass out in my seat. I am awoken in Basel by the thump of the main lading gear hitting the runway.

Immigration is a very tedious affair in Basel these days. The state of emergency imposed by the prefecture of Haute-Alsace is still in place, which de facto means the Schengen treaty has been suspended for all flights arriving and departing in Basel from outside France. As a result, the queues for immigration at arrival are ridiculous and I spend a good thirty minutes waiting to have my passport checked. At least by the time I finally manage to get through my suitcase has already been delivered on the carousel.