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

Transfer in Vienna

I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.

I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.

So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.

Boarding

The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.

The Service

The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.

The Meal

The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.

After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.

Conclusion

The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.

My first negative blog post about KLM, Business Class – Embraer 190: Amsterdam to Basel

Introduction

Consider this blog post a time piece. It was written in a state of emotional turmoil and upset, but still is, I think, fair.

Transfer in Amsterdam

The transfer in Amsterdam could not be easier. When I arrive at the security checkpoint, coming off my flight from Dubai, the place is deserted. The fact that you don’t have to remove anything from your bags makes the process very swift.

To be honest, I had been expecting the worst. On a daily basis the Dutch newspapers are reporting on acute staff shortages as Schiphol airport: passengers having to queue for security for five hours, passengers passing out in the queue from exhaustion and others getting into a brawl to vent their frustration…

In any case, I just have enough time in the Schengen Crown lounge to post my trip from Dubai. And then I leave the lounge to make my way to the B pier, where my flight should be boarding for Basel at gate B 36, starting at 08h00.

You’d think I’d know better. The B pier is crawling with passengers. Only once I finally manage to find a place to sit, do I bother to check on the location of my aircraft – it’s not at the gate. Crap, it looks as though the aircraft won’t be arriving from Stavanger until until 08h06, so after it should start boarding.

But never mind, I have a window seat. All is good. Eventually, boarding starts at 08h30, the original departure time. The last passengers arrive and the crew close the L1 passenger door. Next, the pilot comes on the mic to inform passengers that “due to staff shortages at Schiphol”, we were still waiting for catering to come and remove the trolleys from the Stanvanger flight and to replace them with the catering for our flight. And so we wait…

Evnetually, we take off at 09h10, forty minutes behind schedule. Which is not too bad considering the two hours delay on my way from Paris to Dubai.

You delayed the flight for this…?

There are two rows of Business Class on the flight this morning. With only three passengers that means that we all get a whole row of two to ourselves. I’m on 1F. The crew pass through the cabin handing out the dreaded European Business Class meal box. KLM has taken the Covid pandemic as an opportunity to abolish bread rolls from its European catering. Instead, there is a larger plastic container with fruit, and another with what the menu describes as “scrambled egg” with smoked salmon. And then there is the granola mix with plain yoghurt.

I guess we can negotiate the fruit. But the main dish? I mean, KLM’s European catering has always leaned towards the adventurous, but this is where I draw the line. The scrambled egg is more of a curried egg salad and mainly tastes of mayonnaise and fish – from the salmon. I think we’ll skip that. And that brings me to the healthy option.

Whoever designed this box? So, KLM will give you a plastic container with granola (exhibit a) and a second container with the plain yoghurt (exhibit b). The main idea, of course, is to prevent the granola from getting all soggy. Only, there are two problems here. First, there’s no point in keeping the granola and the yoghurt separate because there’s not enough liquid in the yoghurt for that. And second, there’s way more granola in exhibit a than there is room for in exhibit b. So I gingerly attempt to pour just a bit of the contents of exhibit a into exhibit b and proceed to make a complete and utter mess. There’s granola everywhere, even on me. I try to mix the granola with the yoghurt as a precaution, to avoid asphyxiation by granola. But honestly, eventually I just give up. But at least KLM now has wooden cutlery, which is of course a lot more sustainable than the plastic the whole meal is poured into…

Oh yes, and the menu says that the crew will distribute additional items of catering during the flight. Depending on the time of day, this may vary. We get a carrot, pumpkin and mango smoothie which, quite frankly, I wish I’d never opened. I wonder if anybody at KLM ever bothered to try this before unleashing it on its unsuspecting customers?

Arrival

Eventually we land in Basel with twenty minutes delay. I’m so glad to be home, everything looks so green and lush!

This time, we park in the French sector, so at least there are no long queue for immigration. At Basel airport the rules changes so often and so quickly that you’re never quite sure what to expect when you land.

For some reason our flight is not showing up on the arrivals screen, which makes it kind of difficult to know which belt the luggage will be arriving on. The Air France luggage is being delivered on belt 4, so I figure that’s where the KLM luggage will arrive to – which it does eventually.

A commentary

KLM and Schiphol airport have been very busy playing the blame game these last few days. Unfortunately, as these thing usually happen, their petty little strife is being played out on their customers’ back. I’m willing to believe that the airport authority in Amsterdam is trying to save money by rostering less staff at the security checkpoints. But the staff shortage that resulted in the late delivery of the catering had nothing to do with that. Catering is the airline’s responsibility, not the airport’s.

Other than that, as you may have guessed, I was not amused by the food that was served on this flight. There’s no need to make a big thing out of it, as I had enough food on the flight from Dubai and ample time to gorge myself in the lounge, if I’d wanted to. The fact that they no longer serve bread rolls is unfortunate, but no biggie either. However, what I find more problemantic is that those vile little boxes of… food have now become the standard also on KLM’s mainline fleet. And that is a mistake. Even BA can do better!

The airlines and airports around the world, not just KLM and Amsterdam, are relentlessly lamenting in the media the dire state of their staff shortages. As a result, they’re having to cancel flights and thin out their schedules with seemingly little consideration for the disruption they cause to passengers. While I can see that these shortages are quickly becoming something the travelling public is going to have to deal with, I do wonder just exactly who the airlines and airports think they have to blame for this misery? Furthermore, what I find particularly annoying is that they have the gall to shamelessly deliver their sob stories in the wake of literally billions in tax payers’ money that was given to them without even as much as a thought to how they would repay these “loans” and what they would use them for.

KLM, I know you read my blog. And I’m still one of your greatest fan. Be that at is may, you really need to pull your socks up. And I mean presto!

Air France by HOP!, Business Class – Embraer 170: Basel to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I arrive at Basel airport at 09h30 to check in for my flight to Paris at 11h00. Much to my surprise, the Air France KLM counters are deserted – there’s no queue at all. The check-in agent labels my suitcase, but only to Paris, and then hands me my boarding pass.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge Basel

The Skyview lounge is just as quiet. Where is everyone? Any moment now I epxect to see some tumble weed rolling across my path…

In my humble opinion, one of the lounge’s best features is the open air terrace, which originally was built to function as the smoking area. On a day like today it’s just lovely to sit there in the shade, watching the aircraft coming and going.

At about 10h40, ten minuntes after boarding for my flight to Paris should have started, the little Embraer 170 pulls onto its stand at gate 1, on the French side of the terminal. As a rule of thumb, if I slowly start packing up my belongings and perhaps quickly nip into the gents just as the aircraft comes to a standstill, by the time I make the schlepp from the lounge to gate 1, boarding is either just about to start or has just started.

Boarding

Boarding is… complicated and confusing. And I don’t quite know why. SkyTeam Priority and Business Class passengers, so zones 1, 2 and 3, are invited to board the aircraft through the exit on the left side of the counter, only to then have to cross over to the right side behind the counter. Once all passengers in zones 1, 2 and 3 have boarded, the riffraff is also allowed to board via the exit to the right of the counter only – you guessed it – to then have to queue on the left side. Only once all boarding passes have been scanned and all passengers are accounted for are we allowed to actually get on the plane.

The cabin

Today’s flight is operated by a dreaded Embraer E 170. I really don’t like these planes, they just feel so cramped and tight. There are two rows of Business Class, although you wouldn’t notice to look at it, given that Air France KLM refuse to keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class.

And then of course there’s the curse of the misaligned windows. I really don’t understand what it is with this aircraft, but I’ve yet to find an airline that has managed to properly align its seats on the Embraer 170 to allow passengers an unobstructed view outside without having to crank their neck back.

The crew

There are two young females working the flight, and both of them are very friendly. What I also notice though, and I know this is what I do for a living, is that both the cabin and cockpit crews’ English is not all that good. The pilot making the announcements has a thick French accent hovering precariously close to the brink of comprehensibility, and the cabin crew are not much better.

A bottle of still water is already at my seat when I arrive.

We are welcomed to the flight and the crew apologise for our delay, which apparently was caused by some dreadful weather in Paris. Eventually, by the time we start our take-off roll we’re already running 30 minutes late.

The meal

This is the first time I get to experience the newish Air France domestic Business Class that was introduced a few years back without Covid restrictions or anyting of the sort. Basically, passengers sitting up front get a wider selection of drinks to choose from and both a savory and a sweet snack. The savory snack are these small crépes filled with soft cheese, which are okay. The sweet snack are three rather tasty and buttery sablés. To drink I have a glass of Coke Zero, as the cabin crew looks on despondently as every one of the eight passengers in the Business Class cabin declines her offer for a glass of champagne.

Arrival

As we approach Paris, the turbulence picks up. I’m starting to see what they were on about with that. It’s bad, like the trolley temporarily lifting off the floor kind of turbulence. As a result, our approach into Paris is rather circuitous, as we try to avoid the nastiest looking cloud cells.

Eventually we land with a delay 45 minutes and it looks as though there’s just been a severe downpour. The flight ends at Terminal 2G, which has been reopened again after a hiatus of two years because of Covid. And while I think it’s good news for Air France that traffic is picking up to the point that they can reopen a whole terminal, I also think 2G is just a bit inconvenient, because it really is just so far out in the boonies.

Getting to Roissypole from Terminal 2G

My hotel is at Roissypole, which is located roughly midway between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1, which is still closed. To get to Terminal 2F from Terminal 2G there is a shuttle that runs directly to the second entrance of Terminal 2F on the departures level. The journey time is about ten minutes, which isn’t bad if you happend to be one of the lucky ones that manage to grab a seat.

From 2F there is then the Roissyval shuttle to Roissypole.

Conclusion

So far, so good. Of course there isn’t really all that much to say about such a short flight. It was okay, but I really do think that it makes no sense to offer a Business Class cabin on an aircraft of this size, at least not if the airline is unwilling to keep the adjacent seat empty. The meal service and the champagne I honestly don’t care about on a flight of 45 minutes. But the space is important.

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…

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

Introduction

I’m on my way to Haugesund in Norway. In the old days, I would have taken a SWISS or SAS flight from Zürich to Olso and connected there to a domestic service to Haugesund. But then COVID happend.

In the summer of 2021 the connection via Oslo no longer exists. There aren’t that many flights between Zürich and Oslo anymore, making an overnight stay in Oslo unavoidable. So I figure I might as well do something completely different and make an outing of it. My first leg takes me from Basel to Amsterdam, a route I have now travelled more often than I can count. In as much, this post is not really so much about the cabin design or the food served on board. It is more of a time piece about European short-haul travel during COVID.

Check-in

As per 18 July 2021, you can still check in on the KLM app or online. You will need to complete a health declaration form, which has been integrated into the check-in process. Also, even if you have checked in online, you will still need to go to the check-in desk at the airport for the airline to verify your travel documents and issue the boarding pass.

So when I arrive at the airport the next day, I’m not really surprised to find a considerable queue at the Air France/KLM counters. Even so, the Platinum status means I can join the SkyTeam queue only have to wait about 10 minutes before it’s my turn. The check-in agent scans my passport and the COVID certificate issued by Switzerland and then issues the boarding pass.

Security is surprsingly painless and a fairly civilised affair. You get the impression that passengers are aware of the fact that we’re really all in the same boat in this, which is nice.

Lounge/Airside

The Swissport lounge has now been closed for over a year, and it doesn’t look like it will be opening any time soon, which is hardly surprising. It’s mainly a low-cost operation at Basel right now. British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa only fly sporadically, leaving only Austrian Airlines, KLM and Turkish Airlines.

So instead, I find myself a place by the window to admire the view. The nice thing at Basel airport is that the aircraft come up really close at some stands.

Boarding

Boarding is the usual scrum. Some things obviously never change. As I’m seated on row two anyway, I figure I might as well wait for everybody else to board. I would say the flight is three quarters full today.

The crew have obviously been trained, or at least briefed about, how to deal with difficult passengers and the COVID deniers. The passenger on 1C hasn’t got her face mask on, and the flight attenendant makes quick work of reminding her, and making sure she has, and keeps, her mask on.

The seat

An important point to note is that on the Embraer, KLM sells both seats on a row of two in Business Class, unlike the Lufthansa group, where the seat next to you always stays empty. I think I may have complained about this before… I’d say that KLM clearly has a disadvantage here, because I’m quite sure there would be quite a few passengers willing to pay a bit more for a Business Class seat in the current situation, simply to avoid having to sit next to a stranger who may or may not be contagious.

The Meal

I think we might as well go straight to the meal section of the report. And I’m happy to find that nothing much has changed in this department. The only differences I can tell are that there is only one bun, which is sealed in plastic, and that the salt and pepper shakers have been removed. Other than that though, the meal is just fine for a flight time of one hour. To drink with that I have glass of apple juice.

Arrival

After a flight time of just over one hour, we land in Amsterdam. It’s certainly busier than when I was here a year ago, but I think we’re still very, very far off from calling the place busy in the usual sense of the term. The airport has certainly made a huge effort to adapt to the new realities: there are hand sanitising stations everyhere and all counters with direct customer contact have now been decked out with glass or plexiglass partitions.

Getting into town

I’ll be spending the one night in Amsterdam at Amsterdam South, which is only seven minutes by train from Schiphol airport but still very close to the city centre in walking distance.

It’s a lovely day. So once I get to the hotel and finish off my work, I head out for a long walk. Okay, I head for scones and creamy cakes at De Bakkerswinkel. But at least I have the decency to walk back to work off the calories when I’m done. No judgement, okay?

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.