SBB, First Class: Genève Cointrin airport to Adelboden

Introduction

I arrive in Geneva on a Luxair flight from Luxembourg. It’s Maundy Thursday and the beginning of the long Easter weekend.

I exit through customs and turn left. At the end of the terminal is the entrance to the airport’s railway station.

On my way to the platform, I come across this sign. Manor is a Swiss department store. I find it interesting that their poster clearly mentions the new Easyjet dimensions for cabin luggage. And that they’re using the Easyjet branding.

Boarding

Geneva airport is a terminus station, trains can only arrive and depart from one direction. The last time I visited, admittedly a few years ago, the place was very dark and looked like a sad reject from the 70s. So it’s rather nice to see it updated.

The train

The journey from Geneva will take me directly to Berne, with the train calling at Geneva’s main station, Lausanne, and Fribourg on the way.

The service is operated by a Bombardier Dosto train of the Swiss Federal Railways. The Dosto is a modern and attractive train that the Swiss public just loves to hate. Mainly, this is due to the fact that the train allegedly has some amazing new technology that allows it to take curves at a higher speed. However, the system has been plagued with many issues. As a result, the train sometimes starts rocking violently from side to side and for no apparent reason. It’s strong enough to knock you off your feet if you’re not holding on to something.

The First Class cabin of the Dosto is bright and feels unclustered. The seats are comfortable and soft and all come with their own power socket and a reading lamp. The recline and pitch are generous. The only drawback is that there‘s not a lot of storage space on the upper deck. The hat racks are very narrow and not very high. They can hold little else than a coat. There are baggage racks, but they’re not really large enough to hold anything more than one large suitcase.

Seating is three abreast, with groups of four facing seats on one side and groups of two facing seats on the other. There are only two single seats in each First Class carriage. I rather like these seats, because they’re private and offer a little bit extra room to place things.

The route

A long stretch of the journey runs along lake Geneva. It’s a lovely evening and the views of the lake below are just gorgeous!

The journey from Geneva to Berne takes just under two hours. I make a brief stop to get dinner in Berne, and then continue to Adelboden. To get there, I first take a fast train to Spiez, change there to a regional train to Frutigen, and then from there catch the bus to Adelboden. By the time I arrive at the hotel it’s just gone 22h00.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. She then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose job it is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an espresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tows us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Dubai

Introduction

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Dubai to give the next course. In Paris I stayed at the Roissypole Pullmann hotel, which is just a few metres from the entrance to the station. I exit the hotel just before 10h in the morning to make my way to Terminal 2.

I like the rather brutalist concrete architecture of the station. Although I think the effect would be much better if it weren’t littered with vending machines and just the big, empty hall.

The Roissyval only takes about five minutes to make the journey to Terminal 2 and passengers are obviously making the effort to keep their distance on the train.

Terminal 2 is the home of Air France and some of its partners. Terminal 2F is for Schengen flights, whereas I shall be leaving from Terminal 2E.

Check-in

The La Première check-in area is at the far end of the terminal. There is an Air France agent standing at the entrance. And so the La Première experience begins. I show him my passport and he smiles at me: “Mr. A., bonjour. We’ve been expecting you. Take a seat and let me take care of everything”. And he does. Paul calls over a porter to take my suitcase, while Michelle brings me a glass of Perrier to drink.

Paul checks my vaccination status and the negative PCR test I took in Oslo. With that out of the way, he returns my passport and tells me to take my time with the Perrier. Michelle will be back to escort me through the terminal in a few minutes.

Michelle is a charming woman with excellent conversational skills. She takes me through security, stopping other passengers for me to pass ahead of them and she will not even let me pull out the trays myself for me to put my belongings on the belt.

Behind security she brings me to a lift which takes us up into the La Première lounge.

Air France La Première lounge, Terminal 2E

Michelle asks me if perhaps I would like some breakfast. She makes sure I’m settled at my dining table and tells me she’ll be back in a few minutes with my boarding pass and passport.

Meanwhile, a friendly young man brings me the menu and takes my request for freshly pressed orange juice.

I just love the little sea horse, which Air France staff apparently refer to as ‘la crevette’ – the shrimp.

The selection on the menu is very good. I order the scrambled eggs with confit onions. The young man asks me if I prefer my eggs soft or well done.

I also order the plate of French cheese with mustard seed chutney.

And some fresh fruit salad as my saving grace.

And a lovely cappuccino.

There is also a buffet with small snacks to choose from. However, I decide to show at least some restraint in light of what lies ahead.

Once I’m done with the meal, I take a seat on one of the comfy sofas and read until it’s time to leave. Michelle will be back to pick me up at 12h50 for my 13h30 departure.

Boarding

Just before 13h00 Michelle arrives to bring me to the aircraft. There’s a slight delay because of an issue with the L1 door. I am driven to the aircraft in my own car. I think it’s a BMW. But beyond that, I couldn’t say what type of car it is. But it’s certainly a very smooth and powerful ride.

It’s raining quite heavily when we reach our stand. Michelle gets out of the car, takes the umbrella out of the booth and opens the door for me, to prevent me from getting wet.

I manage to sneak one picture of the mighty B777 taking me to Dubai today. And then from there we take a lift to the airbridge.

There are four flight attendants standing by the L2 door as I enter and they greet me like they’re genuinely happy to see me. Michelle introduces me by name to the purser, who welcomes me aboard. She then escorts me to my seat, where she informs me that she has checked again that my suitcase has been loaded on to the flight. With that, she bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant flight. Merci Madame, vous êtes très aimable!

The La Première cabin

There are four seats in the First Class cabin, and a young couple will be joining me on the way to Dubai. So, three out of four seats are occupied on today’s flight. The cabin and the seat are very well designed and offer a lot of storage space. The cabin also looks very elegant.

There’s a comfortable ottoman to rest your feet on, or use if you would like one of the other passengers to join you for dinner. Beneath the ottoman is a large drawer which contains a red blanket and the slippers.

Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is a soft pillow on it which provides good lumbar support. There’s also a blanket, shoe spoon and slippers in the ottoman.

In short succession, the crew come to introduce themselves and hand me the vanity kit…

… and pjs. The flight attendant very diplomatically asks which size I take, which is a nice gesture, I think.

I’m also handed a Covid kit, and the flight attendant recommends I frequently wash my hands and change my mask after four hours. I also notice the whole crew regularly disinfecting their hands throughout the flight.

I’m also brought a glass of the Veuve Clicquot 2008 Grand Dame with a hot towel and a packet of mixed cranberries and cashews.

Meanwhile, the weather outside is getting worse and worse.

Once we’re airborne though, we’re treated to some spectacular views and the horrible weather in Paris quickly clears up to reveal a snowy European landscape.

The meal service

The meal service in La Première is always a delight. And this flight is no different. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew distribute the menus and take orders for the meal.

The table is set and once again, I am struck by the attention to detail by the crew. They set the table always making sure that the flying sea horse is looking the right way up.

The side plate has both salted and unsalted butter on it.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a vodka and lime whipped cream

In preparation for the first course, the crew pass through the cabin with a bread basket containing a nice selection of breads and rolls.

Soup: porcini mushroom cream

The soup is excellent. It is served very hot, and has a rich flavour to go with the velvety texture.

Starter: Oyster mushrooms with honey and Melfor vinegar served with cheese, beet hummus, sunchoke purée and crushed pumkin with orange

Now this dish is spectacular. The combination of flavours is just divine and so subtle. I also love the presentation.

Main course: Langoustines served with scallops filled with truffles and a reduction with julienne vegetables

The main course is simply outstanding. The truffles go exceptionally well with the scallops and the reduction complements the delicate flavour of the langoustines perfectly. I am completely smitten by this dish.

Mixed salad with boiled egg

Air France has a wide selection of sides that can be added to the salad. However, by this stage I think it’s wisest to keep it simple. The salad is served with a olive oil and balsamico dressing.

The cheese: Bleu d’auvergne, Camembert, Cantal, Crottin de Chavignole & Maroilles

With the cheese I have a lovely class of Sauternes. I also ask the flight attendant to really just give me a taster of each cheese. The dish is served with more bread and the selection is excellent. But way too much for one person after such an epic meal. And there is still dessert, after all…

Dessert: hazelnut ice cream & a verbena chocolate finger

By this stage I’m already quite full. But I must keep going in the name of investigative blogging. At least that’s my excuse. The hazelnut ice cream is excellent and reminds me of my childhood in Malta. Back then, dessert in restaurants was either chocolate or hazelnut ice cream.

The chocolate finger is amazing, with a delicate hint of the verbena. But it’s so rich I can hardly finish it.

And to calm the stomach after such an excellent meal, I have some mint tea.

After the meal, the crew quickly clear everything away and ask me if I’d like them to make up the bed. I tell them I won’t be needing a duvet and just ask the curtains to be drawn. One of the flight attendants brings me two nice fluffy pillows and wishes me bon repos. The meal is completed in about two hours and thirty minutes.

Arrival

We land in Dubai with a slight delay after a flight time of six hours and fifteen minutes. The airport is calm and the terminal quiet. The First Class flight attendant asks me to follow her to the L2 door to disembark, as the L1 door is still inop. At the door she and three other flight attendants thank me for choosing Air France and then hand me over to the Merhaba agent who escorts me through immigration, baggage claim and eventually drops me off in front of my ride to the hotel.

Conclusion

This was another highly enjoyable flight with Air France. I booked the trip with them because I wanted to avoid the hassle of travelling in times Covid. However, I also wondered if the flight with Air France would be able to live up to my previous experiences with their Le Première product. If anything, I think this flight may have been even better than the last. The processes on the ground are seamless and really take away all the hassle of air travel. What’s more, the staff on the ground and in the air are all just so nice and friendly. Everyone seems genuniely concerned with making the experience a pleasurable one. It’s little things, like the fact that they very purposefully announce every dish as they place it in front of you and give you detailed explanations of what’s on the plate. Or the fact that one flight attendant brought me two big pillows when she realised I just needed a cat nap. As far as I’m concerned, Air France has to have – hands down – the best First Class product currently in the business.

Emirates Airlines, Boeing B 777-300ER – First Class: Dubai to Zürich

Introduction

I awake early on Friday morning with a large red sore across the bridge of my nose from having had to wear a face mask for the last seven days. But the course I was in Ras Al-Khaima for is now done, and I’m ready to go home. Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, cumbersome and tiring.

Getting to the airport

Ras Al-Khaima is about 80 minutes away from Dubai airport by car. Given that my departure to Zürich is just after eight in the morning and I really don’t feel like having to wake up at the crack of dawn, on Thursday afternoon I head back to Dubai to spend my last night at the Sofitel Downtown.

I’ve ordered an Emirates car to pick me up just before six in the morning; which is still early. The journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes. You can order the car yourself online in the ‘Manage my Booking’ section of the Emirates website, which is where you can also book a car to pick you up at the airport at your destination.

If you’re travelling in First Class, you get a larger and more ostentatious type of vehicle than you would in Business Class. And so, taking me to the airport this morning is a gorgeous BMW 7.

Check-in

Emirates checks in at Terminal 3, and there is a dedicated section of the terminal for Business and First Class check-in only. I wouldn’t say the place is teeming with people when I arrive, but it’s certainly a lot busier than I would have expected in the current situation.

There is no queue for the First Class check-in counters and I’m surprised by just how many counters are actually open. The check-in agent makes quick work of my suitcase and then I head for security and immigration.

The e-gates are available for passengers leaving the country. To use them you have to register your passport when you arrive in the country.

Emirates temporary First Class lounge

The lounges are located one floor up from the public airside area. The standard Emirates First Class lounge is temporarily closed to passengers, however. Instead, one half of the Business Class lounge has been sectioned off and converted into the First Class lounge.

The main feature of the lounge is the dining area. In accordance with the current situation, there is no buffet and passengers are served at their table. The menu is available online via QR code. There are some passengers in the lounge, but I wouldn’t say it is crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 07h45. I arrive at the gate a few minutes later and the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. I ask the gate attendant and she confirms that while the load in Business Class is looking quite okay, in Economy it’s rather light. In First Class there are three passengers.

The cabin and seat

I’ve never really liked the look of the Emirates First Class cabin and seat. Generally speaking, I find the fake wood and fake gold trimmings a bit tacky. And the grey leather covers are about as bland and boring as Lufthansa.

But the seat is very comfortable and offers a lot of privacy and space.

I think what impresses me most about the seat, is the amount of thought that has obviously gone into the design to create a private space for the passenger that is functional, practical and very comfortable.

The minibar in the side panel of the seat has a standard stock of drinks. However, the crew are happy to change the contents of the minibar to suit your requirements.

Every passenger also gets a bowl of snacks, which are replenished throughout the flight.

There’s also a travel hygene kit at my seat. It contains two face masks, two pairs of plastic gloves and disinfectant.

On the shorter day time flights Emirates does not offer a vanity kit nor pjs. But they do offer cosmetics at the seat, and toothbrushes and toothpaste are available in the lavatory.

There’s also a drawer with a writing pen and a small notebook. The pen is rather useless though, and doesn’t write very well.

There is ample storage space for personal items in the seat.

Before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin handing out forms that need to be completed on arrival into Switzerland.

Next, they pass through the cabin for the traditional coffee and dates welcome, with every date packaged in plastic individually.

We take off in a southeasterly direction and then make a right hand turn to point us in the general direction of Europe. The SID takes us right over Sheikh Zayed Road and the fabulous Burj Khalifa.

A la carte service

The service is à la carte and passengers can order any time they like. I already had breakfast in the lounge, and so I decide to have a nap first.

Apéritif

Around three hours out of Zürich I order lunch. The menu is quite extensive and offers a good selection of breakfast items, starters, main courses and desserts. I start with a bowl of warm mixed nuts, a glass of sparkling water and a glass of the Dom Perignon 2008.

The first course

Next, the table is set for the meal. This is one area where I think Emirates could improve. The whole meal service, like the seat, it functional and on point but not really very elegant – be it in the design of the tableware or the presentation of the food on the plate.

Before the crew start serving the food, they ask me if I would prefer the dishes to be served with the covers still on and remove them myself or if I would rather have them removed.

The breads in the breadbasket come individually wrapped in plastic that can be heated in the oven. They’re not really good though, because the steam cannot escape properly and as a result, the bread turns soggy fairly quickly.

For the starter I go with the cold-smoked ocean trout, served with pickled potatos, capers and crème fraîche. It’s a lovely piece of trout, but the presentation is a bit of a mess.

The salad

The salad is very nice. There is the option to add some grilled beef or shrimps and it is served either with a French dressing or olive oil and Balsamico.

The main course

For the main course, I go with the prawns in a shellfish sauce, served with wild rice with lemon zest and cardamom. This is a flavourful dish, and the rice complements the prawns nicely. The cardamom and lemon zest really make the dish and add an exotic twist to it.

Dessert

To end the meal, I ask for the chocolate fondant and some mint tea. The dessert is a bit of a let down though. The centre of it is still not quite melted and the outer texture is rubbery. It’s hard to say if the dish was just not properly heated in the oven or if it just isn’t a good recipe.

The meal concludes with a small box of Emirati pralines.

The meal service is nicely paced. There are no long waits in between the individual courses, but the whole service is still unrushed. I guess it probably helps that there are only three passengers in the cabin on today’s flight.

Arrival

Thirty minutes out of Zürich our Spanish captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that we have reached the top of descent have have another half hour to run to Zürich. The temperature is minus 2 and they’re expecting it to have just finished snowing by the time we land. From above it certainly looks pretty outside.

We touch down on runway 16, which is quite unusual. I’m not sure if this is due to the snow (perhaps runway 14, which is normally in use for landings, has not been cleared) or if it was specifically requested by crew because it allows for a much shorter taxi time to the gate.

The E concourse, which is normally used for the non-Schengen flights, is currently in hibernation and all flights now depart from the D concourse on the B pier. This also means that there is currently no lounge available for Emirates passengers, as this is also located on the E concourse.

Immigration is swift. The e-gates are currently only available for citizens of Switzerland and Lichtenstein, though.

There’s a bit of a hold up with the luggage, and eventually we end up waiting for forty minutes before the first bags appear on the belt. I exit through customs and turn right, as instructed by the Emirates ground crew, in search of my driver.

Getting home

The chauffeur service is very well organised. In Zürich, Emirates works with a company called Blacklane. After I booked the service on the Emirates website, I received a mail from Blacklane directly, confirming the reservation. If you download their app and log in using the mail address and name used in the Emirates PNR, you can see the reservation with the contact details of the driver.

My driver today is a friendly young lady. She is quite petite and looks oddly out of place behind the steering of the enormous Mercedez. But she does a brilliant job and tells me not to worry about the copious amounts of snow everywhere. The drive back to Basel takes us a bit less than an hour and is very comfortable.

Conclusion

This has been an interesting trip for me. On the one hand, it made me realise just how much I’ve missed travelling. On my way from Dubai to Ras Al-Khaima we came across a group of camels standing in the middle of the road. I found the sight quite moving. Not necessarily because I’m particularly fond of camels, but because the experience perfectly captured what I enjoy about travel – the opportunity of doing and and seeing things you normally wouldn’t be able to. Having said that though, I can’t really say I enjoyed the trip – because with Covid 19 the outside world has become a hostile place to me.

TGV Lyria, Business First: Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel SBB

The meeting at ICAO ends just after noon. But by the time everybody has said good bye to everybody else and pretended the whole situation isn‘t just one big fat mess caused by ICAO and EASA together, it‘s gone 13h by the time I get to have lunch.

Getting to the Station

My train isn‘t leaving until 16:23. But the weather in Paris today is something nasty. And so, at 14:15 I descend down into the Metro at Les Sablons in Neuilly Sur Seine. From here I have a direct train on the line number 1 all the way to Gare de Lyon.

The journey takes thirty minutes between Les Sablons and Gare de Lyon.

The SNCF Salon Voyageur Lounge

Today I‘m travelling in BusinessPremière, which is located in car number 11. In BusinessPremière passengers receive complimentary newspapers, a welcome drink and a hot meal. It also means I‘m entitled to use the Salon Grand Voyageur, which is located in Hall 3, one floor down from Hall 2.

The Salon is quite small, which is why I don‘t take any pictures. But it‘s comfortable enough. There are toilets in the lounge. There is also a coffee machine serving complimentary hot drinks.

Boarding for the train starts 20 minutes before departure and terminates two minutes before departure.

The train is quite full, presumably because it‘s Friday afternoon and people are on their way home for the weekend.

The Cabin

The seat is quite comfortable. There is a power socket and a footrest. Seat pitch is good, but the foot rest is in a slightly inconvenient position…

The Meal

The service begins about 20 minutes out of Paris with the distribution of the scented hot towels, newspapers and drinks. There is a full bar service available. I settle for some sparkling water.

The meal consists of a carrot cake with goat‘s cheese and peppers and two small pieces of salmon quiche.

And for dessert I have a slice of lemon cake with apricots.

It‘s really more of a snack than a meal, but given the time of day, I think it‘s perfectly adequate and quite tasty.

The meal ends with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.

Arrival

The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive in Basel with a delay of three minutes which, funnily enough, we picked up only on the last eight kilometres of the journey from Paris.

As you may have guessed by now, I‘m a great fan of the TGV. It‘s fast, safe, reliable and it comes without the hassle of security checkpoints. And if everything else fails, the train just looks good inside and out.

The BusinessPremière product is attractive and certainly competitive with the airlines, especially when you take into account the much lower ticket price and the city centre departure from the Gare de Lyon.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris CDG

Introduction

The course with Flydubai was really good fun. The course participants were eager and keen to learn, which always makes my job a lot easier. I’ll be back in Dubai for another course with Emirates in three weeks’ time. But now it’s time to start on the journey back home. I have three classes I’m teaching at the university on Monday.

Air France currently operates two daily services to Paris out of Dubai. There is the daytime service which leaves at exactly noon. And then there is the night time service which leaves at 01h35, roughly around the same time as all the other European carriers. To be honest, I would have preferred the daytime service. However, that flight is operated by an Airbus A 330-200 which still has the old Business Class configuration and has no First Class. The night time service is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER in the new configuration.

Getting to the Airport

On this trip I stayed at the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa and the Mall of Dubai. I leave the hotel on Friday evening at 22h30. Being the weekend here in the UAE, traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road is unusually quiet and calm. As a result, the journey to the airport only takes twenty minutes to complete by car.

To get to the airport, you can either take a taxi from the hotel for AED50 or a Lexus limo for AED70 or the metro for AED20. The metro obviously takes a bit longer because it stops a few times on the way. But there is a metro stop about two minutes away from the hotel, with trains running from there directly to the airport.

Check-in

Air France serves Terminal 1 in Dubai. It’s a bit unfortunate that the check-in rows for the various airlines are not marked outside the terminal. As a result, drivers tend to just pull up to the first vacant spot on the side of the road and offload you there.

Air France and KLM check in on row 1, which is at the far end of the terminal. As far as I can tell, the whole of check-in row 1 is dedicated to Air France and KLM and their flights to Paris and Amsterdam respectively.

There is one check-in counter for La Première passengers, which is cordoned off. There is a DNATA representative standing by the entrance to the SkyPriority counters. I approach him to ask if this is also the queue for First Class. He asks my name and he’s obviously been expecting me, because he immediately escorts me to the La Première counter and calls for a ground agent to escort me from check-in to the First Class lounge.

As soon as my suitcase is labelled, the check-in agent wishes me a pleasant flight and sends me on my way. The ground agent collects my passport and boarding pass holder and off we go. We take the normal entrance to immigration, but once we’re past the checkpoint, she guides me to the diplomatic passports section and then from there to a separate, dedicated security screening area. The process is very swift and efficient and just like that I’m through immigration and security in no time.

The Lounge

Air France arrives and departs on the D concourse, which is where pretty much all other airlines except Emirates operate from. The shuttle to the D concourse takes only a few minutes to make the journey.

In Dubai Air France uses the Ahlan lounge for its La Première passengers. The lounge is quite large, but rather oddly shaped around the mezzanine level of the airside area. There is a separate dining area and a large buffet with a lovely smell of Indian food coming from it.

Other than that, the lounge has showers but no area where passengers can have a lie down and sleep. The wifi access code is available at reception.

The ground agent leaves me at reception and tells me she’ll be back to take me to the aircraft at 12h50.

Boarding

At exactly 12h50, the ground agent appears in the lounge to inform me that it’s time to leave. We go downstairs and from there board a golf buggy to take us to gate D18. It’s actually not that far, but given that my back is still painful, despite the painkillers, I’m definitely not complaining.

Rather embarrassingly, it turns out they’ve been waiting at the gate for me to arrive so they can start boarding. The ground agent escorts me past the long queues and no sooner has my boarding pass been scanned, one of the gate agents announces that the flight is now ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the only passenger in La Première this evening.

The entrance to the L1 airbridge is cordoned off. A security watchman opens it for us when he sees us approaching and then immediately closes it again once we’re through.

As on my previous experience with Air France in Paris, the ground agent steps aboard ahead of me and then introduces me to the flight attendant who has been expecting me at the door. She then wishes me a pleasant flight and leaves.

The Cabin

The flight attendant introduces himself to me with a genuine, friendly smile. He takes my backpack off me and escorts me to my seat on 1A. He stows away my jacket in my own personal cabinet and then leaves me to settle in.

As I’m the only passenger in La Première tonight, he suggests making up 1D for me as a bed after take-off, so then I can switch depending on what I feel like doing.

The Air France cabin really is a class act. It’s not just that it looks nice, it’s also nicely finished and has been well thought through.

And I have to say, it is very cool to know I’ll have this gorgeous cabin all to myself tonight!

The Crew

In short succession the maître de and then the captain come to introduce themselves and wish me a pleasant flight. They all stay and chat a while, but without prying or being nosy. In short, they go out of their way to make me feel at home and to make sure I’m comfortable.

The Service

While we’re still on the ground, the male cabin crew in charge of the La Première cabin brings me the vanity kit, the pyjamas, the menu and some fresh orange juice with a ramekin of nuts. The slippers and a pair of socks, as well as a thick pillow are already at my seat when I arrive.

I change in to my pjs while we’re still on the ground in Dubai. The flight time is announced as six hours and fifty minutes.

The Meal

Given that it’s already approaching two in the morning by the time the crew are released to start their service, I inform the flight attendant that I’d rather sleep straight away, but that he should wake me with enough time for breakfast. He makes up the bed for me and brings me a small bottle of Evian and a box of chocolates. And then I go off to sleep.

Around 80 minutes out of Paris, the flight attendant gently wakes me up to inform me that it’s time for breakfast. By the time I draw the curtains to get up, he’s already set the table on 1A for breakfast. There is a choice of two hot meals. I go with the banana pancakes and the apricot and strawberry compote.

A lot has been said in many of the travel forums about the horrific instant coffee Air France serves in La Première. My suggestion is to go with the espresso instead of the coffee, because the former is made with a proper coffee machine and tastes much, much better.

The meal consists of:

a selection of breads and pastries, served with butter and jam

natural yoghurt

fresh fruit

banana pancakes

The pancakes are lovely and the accompanying compote is sweet with a hint of vanilla. Catering is something I think they do really well on Air France, even in Business Class.

Arrival

The weather in Paris is cold and misty. In fact, the visibility is down to 200 metres, which is why we end up doing an automatic landing. Eventually, the aircraft comes to a stop at one of the gates on the M satellite of Terminal 2E. When the doors open, there’s already an Air France ground agent expecting me. The crew bid me farewell and hand me over to the ground crew.

We take the stairs down one floor and then step outside, where a BMW is waiting to take me to the main terminal building. Once we get there, we take a separate, dedicated counter for immigration and then head downstairs to the baggage reclaim area.

The ground agent retrieves my suitcase and then escorts me out to arrivals. It’s nice to be back in Europe!

I shall be spending Saturday here in Paris, as I still have an appointment with royalty that I haven’t seen twenty years.

Conclusion

On my way to the airport in Dubai, I was wondering if Air France would be able to live up to my expectations from my previous, exceptional La Première experience to Singapore in January. As it turns out, they certainly could. Once more, the service is flawless and opulent and the crew go out of their way to make me feel welcome.

Singapore Airlines, First Class Suites – Airbus A 380: Sydney to Singapore

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Introduction

I was going to start by saying that I’m on my way home. But given that I’ll only be home for something like 24 hours, let’s just say that, sadly, it’s time for me to leave Sydney and head back to Europe. I’ve enjoyed being here! Fortunately, I know I’ll be back next year and then I’ll be able to spend a bit more time here. Otherwise, I think I’d be seriously depressed at the prospect of returning to the cold, snowy weather!

Getting to the Airport

One last time, I make the journey on the ferry from Manly to Circular Quay. And what a lovely day it’s turned out to be for it. At Circular Quay I change to the train, which pulls into the station just as I reach the platform. The only difference is that today I will be going one stop further, to the international terminal.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row K, which is the last row of check-in counters, farthest away from the escalators that bring you up to the departures concourse. There is a separate line with two counters for Suites passengers. When I arrive, both counters are already occupied, so I’m swiftly ushered to one of the Business Class counters instead.

From check-in, you have to make the schlepp all the way back to row C, which is where the entrance to the fast track is located. Although in this case, I might as well not have bothered, because the e-gate reader cannot read my biometric passport. As a result, I have to walk all the way back in the direction from where I came, because that’s where the staffed immigration counters are located. And then once I’m through immigration, I’m ushered all the way back again in the direction of the e-gates, because that’s where they’ve just opened a new queue for security that the queue manager wants to me to join.

With that done, I’m finally airside and head straight for the Singapore Airlines Kris Lounge near gate 61, from where my flight will be leaving. And that’s quite a schlepp too.

The Silver Kris Lounge

Singapore Airlines operates its own lounges here in Sydney, and there is a dedicated First Class lounge. It’s a fairly big lounge, and I even manage to grab a seat by the windows overlooking the apron. Cool!

Once I’m seated, the waiter brings me a refreshing hot towel and the à la carte menu. There’s also a buffet with warm dishes to choose from.

The lavatories seem to be a bit of a problem at Sydney airport, in that they’re not exactly the cleanest. And those in the lounge are no different…

Boarding

Boarding starts at 11h45. Suite passengers queue with the Business Class passengers for the upper deck.

All in all, I find the Singapore Airlines Suites experience on the ground somewhat underwhelming, especially if you compare it to Air France (sorry, I can’t help it…). In fact, it feels a lot more like Business Class than First Class, but maybe that’s just me.

The Cabin

Currently, SQ 232 is the flight out of Sydney that is operates in the new First Class configuration. The key feature of the Suite is that there is a separate bed, in addition to the seat.

At a glance, the Suite looks very nice. There is a lot of storage space and the video screen is enormous. There are a few things which seem a bit strange though, such as the fake orchids in every Suite. I think either they should go for real orchids or nothing at all.

Another thing that strikes me, is that during the meal service, when the seat is turned towards the table, you’re facing the aisle, which means that during the whole meal service you and the person sitting in the Suite opposite are looking at each other. I suppose you could keep the door to your suite closed while you eat, but that just seems strange. You also can’t recline your seat when it’s in the forward facing position.

And finally, it should also be noted that the Suite is not really that private, because the dividers don’t reach that far up. I’m 184 cm tall, and could look over the top.

The Singapore Airlines Suite reminds me of what Etihad has installed on its A 380s. But I prefer Singapore Airlines’ solution, because despite the things I mentioned above, this still is a very nice product. What’s more, with all the available space it feels more like an actual room than a seat.

Oh yes, and the loos are huge…!

B&O earphones, the amenity kit and the menu are already at my seat when I arrive. There are also socks and slippers, which are stored in the large closet of each Suite. Once I’m seated, the crew come to welcome me on board and bring me, in short sequence, a glass of Perrier with lemon, a refreshing towel and the pyjamas. The lead flight attendant in the red kebaya introduces herself to me and explains how everything in the Suite works.

The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough. They’re chatty and engage easily with the passengers. There’s not a hint of the robotic behaviour the Singapore Airlines crews are sometimes criticised for. I think what it is, is that the whole service comes across like a highly optimised process. As a result, it doesn’t exactly feel very exclusive.

As I already mentioned, while we’re still on the ground the crew offer refreshments and I ask for a glass of sparkling water with lemon.

Once we’re airborne, another crew member comes to take my order for lunch and asks me at what phase of the flight I’d like to eat. Given that it’s already gone lunch time, I tell her I’d prefer to eat straight away.

A short while later, she returns with the Singapore Sling I ordered (I mean, what else…?) and a small bowl of warm nuts.

The Meal

The meal service on this flight is efficient and timed at a pleasant pace. Clearly, the crew want to make sure passengers have enough time to rest. About one hour after our departure from Sydney, the table is set for the meal. There is no amuse bouche to start, but there are so many courses that it’s probably better this way.

The First Course

Seared Salmon with pickled kohlrabi and an edamame and wasabi purée. The salmon is good, but the rest of the dish is a bit bland. I think maybe the food is still too cold, because I can hardly make out any of the other tastes.

The Soup

Sweetcorn and shellfish soup with herb oil. Now this is a very flavourful soup with a hint of saffron. It tastes like summer on the Mediterranean.

The Salad

Honey roasted beet salad with feta cheese. The salad is also very good, with the feta complementing the beets nicely.

The Main Course

Pan roasted grouper with salsa verde. I chose this dish despite the fact that it’s served with fennel, which I can’t stand. I just don’t much feel like meat. The taste is good, it’s a nice piece of fish and they’ve managed to keep it moist. But again, I can’t really make out the taste of the salsa verde.

Dessert

Chocolate marquise with caramelised pecans. The dessert is okay. It’s your standard creamy chocolate airplane dessert.

The Cheese

Shadow of Blue, Mafra cloth bound Cheddar, Woombye triple Brie, Savourine goat’s cheese. The cheese is served with fruit bread and crackers. It’s a good cheese selection and I particularly like the Shadow of blue.

To drink I stick with the Perrier. I also have a glass of the 2004 Krug.

After the meal, I request for the bed to be made up for me and then I lie down to read.

Amenities

The amenity kit is by Lalique and looks rather nice. The only thing though, is that its content is utterly and completely useless. There is a small bar of soap, lip balm, body lotion… and a scented candle?

Things like tooth brushes or shaving kits are available in the toilets. Earplugs and eye shades are on request to the crew.

The slippers and pyjama that are provided are also by Lalique. I am given an XL for both the slippers and the pjs, which are just a bit too big for me but still comfortable.

The Second Service

For the second service, there is a choice of either an Angus beef burger or a selection of dim sum. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore anyway, I decide to go with the dim sum. The dish is served with a small bowl of a suitably spicy red sauce and something which I think the flight attendant said was a sort of mashed celery cake. Whatever it is, I like it.

Arrival

After a flight time of seven hours and twenty minutes the flight draws to an end. I must admit, even though I still think the A 380 is ugly as sin, it’s always an experience.

After we land, we slowly trundle along until eventually we arrive on our parking stand at Changi’s Terminal 3.

Conclusion

In the sum of all things, I enjoyed the flight. But I think a lot of that also has to do with the A 380. As for Singapore Airlines, I like the new First Class cabin because it’s spacious and roomy, although perhaps not very private. The service was okay, I guess, but nothing more. And the food was rather bland.

Etihad Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

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Date: 17 April 2017
Departure: 07:50
Arrival: 12:30
Flight time: 7 hours 20 minutes
Seat: 2H, aisle seat

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Introduction

It’s just gone five in the morning as I exit the Plaza Premium airport hotel in terminal 1 and make my way over to terminal 3 and the elusive Etihad First Class lounge and spa. I’m rather looking forward to this part of the trip after having already heard so many good things about the lounge and about Etihad’s First Class product aboard the mighty A 380.

Currently the A 380 is deployed on routes to London, Mumbai, Melbourne, Sydney and New York. During the high season, in the summer, Paris will also be added to the list of A 380 destinations.

The Etihad Airways First Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is located right next to the Fendi shop in terminal 3 and looks quite unpretentious in fact. The lounge dragon at the entrance welcomes me to the lounge and as the doors close to take me up to the second floor, I see her making a call upstairs to advise them that I’m on my way. And indeed, the moment I step out of the lift I’m greeted by a young woman who welcomes me to the lounge and shows me around.

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The lounge has a small gym (no weights though), a spa with a massage salon and a barber and hairdresser. Every First Class passenger is entitled to one complimentary treatment at the spa or at the barber’s. The largest part of the lounge is made up of the dining area. There is also a relaxation room with loungers, although the room has this brightly lit wall that keeps changing colours and hence makes you wonder just how relaxing it really is.

The staff seem a bit disoriented, quite as though they’re not really prepared to deal with customers. When I enter the lounge I take a seat at one of the tables near the window. A waiter comes to take my order. But then a few minutes later another waiter appears wanting to take my order. So I tell her that my order has already been taken. And so she saunters off. A short while later, yet another waiter appears – guess why – to take my order for breakfast. It’s no big deal really but it’s hardly First Class either. But the food is good!

Just before six in the morning I head over to the barber’s reception to request an appointment for a shave. Only the young lady informs me that the next slot will not be until 07h00 in the morning, which seems a bit tight given that my flight should start boarding at 07h10.

All in all, I think the First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi is okay, but to be honest I don’t think it’s anything special. It looks a lot like the dining room in a hotel. So as far as First Class lounges are concerned at least, Qatar Airways certainly has the upper hand.

Boarding

Abu Dhabi airport is completely overcrowded, so getting from the lounge to the departure gate takes a while because there’s simply no getting through all the passengers making their way to and from their flights. A new terminal is under construction, but it looks like it might take a while before that opens for business.

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A separate call is made for First and Business Class passengers to board first.

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The Cabin

As far as the First Class cabin and seat are concerned, Etihad wins hands down. No questions asked. Seriously, this is really quite an amazing set up they’ve got here. First of all, unlike that god awful and tacky Emirates First Class cabin with its fake gold trimmings, this cabin is much more elegant and very beautifully finished. It’s also a lot more lavish and private than the Qatar Airways First Class seat.

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They’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the design of the cabin and the seat: every apartment comes with its own little vanity mirror and a mini bar that you can have stocked specifically to your wishes. And there’s plenty of storage space.

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The bed is separate from the seat and takes up the whole length of the apartment. It is long enough for me to stretch out comfortably. My only criticism is that the bed seems fairly narrow. Actually, I don’t think it’s any narrower than other First Class seats, but whereas in other seats you are confined on three sides, on this seat there is no support at all on one side, and as a result I am constantly aware of the edge of the bed and trying to avoid rolling off.

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And then there’s the shower, which works really well and is also much nicer than the one Emirates has. I must say you feel a lot less grimy traveling when you have a shower to use on board. Every passenger gets five minutes of water, after which the supply automatically stops. However, during the shower you can interrupt the flow of water any time, so that the five minutes are more than enough to lather up and rinse down. For the shower passengers are provided with nice fluffy towels, conditioner, shower gel and shampoo.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight seem friendly enough and once I am seated they all come to introduce themselves. The young lady in charge of my cabin is Brazilian. She give me a tour of the features of the apartment, in case I’m not familiar with them.

As a welcome drink I have a glass of still water with ice and lemon, which is served with a bowl of dates, a hot towel and a welcome note from Etihad Airways signed by the inflight service manager.

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Amenities

Next, the chef comes to introduce himself and hands me the drinks and food menu. He also asks me if I’d like to book a slot for the shower.

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Before take-off another crew member drops in and brings me a large bag containing my slippers and the pyjamas.

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The vanity kit is stored inside the vanity mirror and includes:

  1. cleansing wipes,
  2. moisturizing hand cream,
  3. pulse point oil,
  4. pillow mist,
  5. facial cream,
  6. lip balm,
  7. eyeshades,
  8. toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste,
  9. shaving kit,
  10. earplugs,
  11. socks.
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What strikes me as slightly inconsistent is that the vanity kit and the pyjamas are of no name brands. I don’t mind and they’re in good quality. But given that Etihad has really gone for a high end finish for the rest of its First Class product, it just seems slightly unusual that they didn’t do the same for the vanity kits and pjs.

The Meal

There are plenty of options for the meal. On the one hand, there is a full breakfast service right after take-off. In addition, there is also a menu with a wide selection of dishes that passengers can combine as they wish.

I skip the breakfast service because I’m feeling tired. So I have a nap instead. When I awake, we’re just under four hours out of London and I’m feeling hungry. So I call for the chef to discuss the food options.

First, the table is laid out for the meal. The cutlery and chinaware are elegant. I am also given a small ramekin with butter and another empty one for olive oil. One of the crew comes by with the breadbasket.

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The First Course

For a starter I have the chef’s salad, which consists of fresh, crisp salad, fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and smoked salmon and is served with a light balsamic vinaigrette. The salmon is obviously of very good quality, light in colour and with a very subtle taste that is complemented nicely by the champagne.

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The Main Course

Next, I have the wagyu sirloin, served with creamy mashed potato and green beans. I have a sauce Hollondaise with the meat, which is light and goes very well with the meet. The beans are served with a hint of lemon zest, giving them a refreshing twist.

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The Cheese

And then comes the cheese course, which is served with jelly, slices of fresh apple and grapes and crackers. The presentation of the dish is nice. For the cheese dish I turn down a third glass of champagne and instead have a glass of the sauternes, which is excellent.

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Dessert

And then to conclude the meal, I have a slice of rich and tasty carrot cake with a cappuccino.

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After the meal I am handed another hot towel.

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Overall I think the quality of the meal is very good. The meat was cooked just the way I requested and the ingredients are obviously of good quality.

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent, the crew come to say goodbye and the young lady from Brazil hands me her business card in case I have any comment to make on the flight.

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Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? As far as the First Class product is concerned, I think Etihad Airways really nails the inflight experience. The cabin and the seat are not only very elegant and attractive, they also make for a very pleasant journey at a level of comfort and privacy that Qatar Airways and Emirates can’t match. However, overall there are certain inconsistencies in their product. The First Class experience on the ground, for example, is really lacking. Especially given that Abu Dhabi is quite a maze and very busy, an escort to and from the lounge would have been a nice idea. Also, while the lounge is okay, it’s definitely nowhere near as grand and impressive as Qatar Airways’ First Class lounge in Doha.

Based on my experience yesterday evening on the flight from Colombo to Abu Dhabi though, I think I would say that Qatar Airways has the superior Business Class product, followed by Emirates in second place and Etihad in third.

Cathay Pacific, First Class – Boeing 777-300: Frankfurt to Hong Kong

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Date: 20 December 2016
Departure: 13:00
Arrival: 06:24
Flight time: 10 hours, 30 minutes
Seat: 1K, window on the starboard side

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Introduction

I awake just before seven in the morning. I open the curtains to take a look outside. It was late when I arrived yesterday evening, so I could not really see anything much. It is a lovely day today, but immediately I am taken aback by just how incredibly ugly Frankfurt airport is. Apart from the fact that the whole facility was designed with everything but the passenger’s convenience in mind, the buildings are quite simply ugly, badly maintained and dilapidated. Paris Charles de Gaulle may not be up there in the top ten of the world’s most convenient airports either, but at least that place has style.

Getting to the Airport

Mode: Shuttle bus
Journey time:
Five to seven minutes, depending on traffic.
Price:
Complimentary shuttle, provided by Fraport.
Frequency: Every five minutes.

I am staying at the Hilton Frankfurt airport, which is perched above the long distance railway station. To access Terminal 2, take the escalator down from the hotel lobby. At the bottom turn left into the covered footbridge that connects the station to Terminal 1. There are a few cafes on the footbridge. When I arrived yesterday evening, they had already closed and there were mice running around all over the bar and tables. So you may want to get your coffee somewhere else unless you fancy a mouse poo macchiato…

At the end of the footbridge, turn left and take the stairs down to the ground floor. The stop for the shuttle bus to Terminal 2 is on your right.

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Check-in

Terminal: 2, sector E
Airport check-in: Check-in counters are open from 09:30 to 12:10. There is:

  1. one counter for First Class passengers,
  2. one counter for Business Class passengers,
  3. one counter for Premium Economy passengers, and
  4. three for standard Economy Class passengers.

Web check-in: Online check-in open 48 hours before departure.
Self-service check-in:
There are red self-service check-in machines available and Cathay Pacific staff are on hand in case something should go wrong.

I have already checked in using the Cathay Pacific app, but I decide to pass by the First Class check-in desk anyway. The lady there is very friendly and chatty. She reissues my boarding pass in paper, together with an invitation to the lounge in Frankfurt, a small map of Terminal 2 for me to find my way around, as well as an invitation to the arrivals lounge in Hong Kong.

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The Cathay Pacific Lounge

Location: Before the security checkpoint for gates E2 to E9.
Type of Lounge:
Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge.
Access:
By invitation. The entrance is right opposite the security checkpoint.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge.
Showers:
There are three showers in the lounge that appear to be permanently attended.
Food & Beverages: There is a selection of hot and cold snacks. When I arrive at the lounge just after ten, they are just clearing away the breakfast dishes and replacing them with the lunchtime snacks. There is no noodle bar in this lounge, but noodle soups can be ordered from the staff.

To add a bit of seasonal atmosphere, there is also a plate with Christstollen and next to that a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Connectivity: Complimentary wifi is available, no password required.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a good selection of international magazines and newspapers.

The lounge is fairly large. There is no dedicated First Class section. Other than that, there are dedicated workspaces if you need a bit of privacy as well as computer workstations.

Boarding

There is a priority lane for security. Boarding is first for families with children and then for First and Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges, First and Business Class passengers use the L1.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 1 + 1.
The seat feels very private, despite the fact that it is not a suite type seat. First of all, the window seats are all angled to face towards the window, so you do not have to look at the other passengers. In addition, the shell of the seat is quite high and deep.
Pitch: 81 inches
Width: 36 inches
AC Power:
110 V AC power port available at every seat
Audio and Video: On demand, touch screen enabled., Bose earphones

I cannot really say anything much about the inflight entertainment, because I did not use it.

Connectivity: Cathay Pacific does not provide wifi on the B777-300ER.
Toilets: There are two toilets for the First Class cabin, although one is in fact the crew toilet, which is used when the actual First Class toilet is occupied. The cosmetics in the toilet are by Aesop, the same as in the vanity kit. The actual First Class toilet is large enough for a grown man to be able to change comfortably enough. It also has a proper sink and the faucet is turned on and off manually, instead of automatically.

The cabin is very elegant and spacious. This is partly due to the fact that there are no overhead bins and there are only three seats abreast. Even so, there is more than enough storage space and every passenger has their own small closet, with enough space for a jacket, trousers and shirt.

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The Crew

As I step aboard the plane, I am greeted by a chirpy young lady. She shows me to my seat on 1K and hangs my jacket for me. She introduces herself and in short sequence three other members of the crew stop to say hello, welcome me aboard and introduce themselves. The purser tells me we will have a fairly quick flight today at only ten hours and thirty minutes. Once I am settled, I am brought, in short sequence, my pyjamas, a vanity kit, earphones, the menu and a welcome drink and an amuse bouche.

Amenities

The pyjamas are very comfortable, but they are cut very wide. I am a fairly big guy. But I was given an L and it was still quite big on me.

The vanity kit is by Australian brand Aesop, and there are different kits for men and women. It contains:

  1. mouthwash,
  2. toothbrush,
  3. Colgate toothpaste,
  4. a comb,
  5. earplugs,
  6. a cloth to clean spectacles with.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Towel before the meal:
Hot towel served on the ground.
Pre-meal drink:
Cathay Delight, it is one of the airline’s non-alcoholic signature drinks – made with kiwi, mint and coconut milk.
Choice: There is a selection of Western and Chinese dishes that can be mixed. There is also a vegetarian option
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch
Beverages:

  1. Krug with the caviar,
  2. Evian,
  3. Earl Grey tea with dessert.

Breadbasket: A selection of rolls and garlic bread.
Hot towel after the meal:
Yes, not scented.

Okay, so… Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa you can definitely go home. Qatar, if you don’t mind, I’ll just put you on the back burner for the time being. Because I think I have a new favourite First Class airline. And yes, the meal is definitely what tips the scale. It is quite simply outstanding. First of all, unlike many other airlines, Cathay Pacific will actually give you a whole tin of caviar and not just a sad, small spoon full like Lufthansa does. But apart from that, the size of the portions is very good and the tastes and flavours are simply amazing, especially considering that we are at 37’000 feet! The Chinese main course is fragrant and spicy.

But without a doubt, the undisputed highlight of the meal is the dessert. Oh. My. God. This is divine. It is soft, warm and gooey on the inside, but firm on the outside (yeah okay, so I write a bit of food porn too. Is that going to be a problem…?). This soufflé is so good, it really needs a weapons licence.

Amuse Bouche

Seared tuna on sweet potato mash, served chilled and with a cracker.

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The Caviar Service

Caviar and Champagne with trimmings.

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The Soup

Minted pea and Edamame soup.

The Entrée

Poached Maine lobster with baby corn, asparagus, capers, dried tomatoes and romaine salad, with a French dressing.

The Main Course

Braised Cod, ginger, scallion, mushroom and oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy and carrot.

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The Cheese

Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Manchego, and Caciotta with crackers, bread, grapes and dried fruit.

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Dessert

Chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and dulce de leche ice cream.

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Inflight Snack

Surprisingly, four hours out of Hong Kong I am feeling hungry again. I order the wonton noodle soup, which is served with a glass of still water and a Coke Zero. Even for just a snack, the crew set the table properly, with a napkin and tablecloth. The soup is nice and warm and has this smoky taste. The wontons are delicious.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: No.
Pre-meal drink:
Mixed berries smoothie.
Choice:
There are two Western (one sweet and one savoury) dishes and one Chinese hot dish to choose from for breakfast.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
First course:
Fresh seasonal fruit.
Main course:
Banana pancake with Mascarpone and maple syrup.
Breadbasket:
A selection of bread, buns or fresh toast, served with butter, honey and jam.
Hot towel after the meal:
Yes, lightly scented.

The breakfast service starts about ninety minutes out of Hong Kong. The plate of fruit is simple enough and serves its purpose perfectly. But then comes the main dish and my jaw literally drops – it is huge! There are three banana pancakes on the plate that are plump and fluffy. They are sweet and syrupy from the maple syrup drizzled over them and in the middle of the plate there is a huge, inviting dollop of mascarpone cream. Divine! Throughout the breakfast service the crew come to check that I have everything I need and top up my drinks. The meal concludes with a hot towel. By this time we only have another fifty minutes to go to Hong Kong.

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Arrival

We land at 06:25, nearly thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is only just coming to life. I disembark the aircraft and head downstairs to catch the automated people mover to bring me to the head of the terminal. The queues at immigration are already starting to form but are still fairly modest by Hong Kong’s standards.

In Hong Kong I will be staying at the Novotel Citygate, which I chose because I will only be here the one night and my next flight will already be leaving at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Conclusion

Well, what can I say and where to begin? As far as I am concerned, Cathay Pacific really clinched the spot as the best First Class experience I have ever had, coming in ahead of Qatar Airways and Asiana Airlines. I am sure if you want to look at the details of the flight there are probably areas that might be improved, but the overall package is really quite overwhelming. The crew are incredibly friendly, chatty and attentive but without being obtrusive. The hardware is great too. The seat is comfortable and provides a lot of space and privacy, giving the entire cabin a very cosy and exclusive feel. But without a doubt the food is really the selling point here for me. Apart from the fact that you certainly do not go hungry on Cathay Pacific, the quality of the dishes and the composition of the meal are outstanding. I shall have to do this again!

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: New York JFK to Frankfurt

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Date: 25. August 2016
Departure: 21h30
Arrival: 15h30
Flight time: 8 hours, plus 5 hours sitting around
Seat: 14A

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Introduction

The last time I took the Singapore Airlines flight from New York to Frankfurt was on 17 January 2008, on the last leg of a round the world ticket. Back then, the flight was still operated by a Boeing B 747-400. Let’s put it this way: the A 380 may not be as elegant as the mighty B747, but she is certainly a worthy successor.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Underground, train and automated shuttle.
Journey time: 90 minutes, door to door.
Departs from: 50th Street Station.
Arrives: New York JFK Airport, Terminal 4.
Cost: USD19.

Getting to JFK from Manhattan by public transport is horrible. The CitizenM is literally just a stone’s throw away from the underground station for the C and E lines on the corner of 8th Avenue and 50th Street, both of which make the journey downtown to Pennsylvania Station in about 5 minutes (USD3.- for a oneway ticket).

At Penn Station, follow the signs for the LIRR – The Long Island Rail Road. Unfortunately, the signposting is really bad, and if you are unfamiliar with the place, it may take you some time to get your orientation.

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From Penn Station take a train for Jamaica. The journey to Jamaica will take roughly 20 minutes (USD10.- for a oneway). At Jamaica, the way to the AirTrain is signposted. The AirTrain takes another 12 minutes to make the journey to Terminal 4 (USD6.-).

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 4, row 5.
Facilities: Singapore Airlines send an invitation to check-in by mail and by SMS 23 hours before departure. However, there really is not much point in checking in online, as you will have to present yourself at the counter at the airport anyway.
Counters: There are two counters for Business Class passengers.

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

Location: Behind security, turn right.
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, there are also computers to work on and there is a quiet room. Power plugs are a rare commodity in the lounge, though. It is actually quite funny to watch the oh so important business types in the lounge skulking around the lounge looking for somewhere to plug in their laptops!
Catering: I think the catering in this lounge is much better than the stuff they serve in SWISS’ flagship lounges in Zürich. There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes. I have the lentil soup and it really is very tasty.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge, the password is displayed at reception.

Apart from SWISS and Singapore Airlines, Egypt Air, Avianca and COPA also use this lounge.

Boarding

There are three separate queues for First, Business and Economy Class passengers.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Fully lie flat with 180 degree recline. Singapore Airlines operates the A 380 in four different configurations. Basically there are some aircraft that feature SQ’s new Premium Economy seat and other which do not or not yet have that cabin installed. Add to that that capacity and layout in the different cabins may vary.
Pitch: 55 inches.
Width: 30 inches.
Facilities:

  1. AC power outlet.
  2. USB port.
  3. Wifi hotspot by OnAir.

Audio and Video:

  1. 4 inch LCD monitor.
  2. Phitek noise cancelling earphones.
  3. 700 audio CDs.
  4. 22 on demand radio programmes.
  5. 180 television programmes on demand.
  6. 100 films on demand.
  7. Games are also available.
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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

The crew on this flight are good and the purser in particular is chatty and quite entertaining in the way he interacts with the passengers.

However, what strikes me is that the meal service is somewhat inconvenient for the flight time and the time of departure: by the time we depart New York it is already 21h30 and our flight time is announced as seven hours. There is no light or quick option for the meal. When the crew come to take orders for dinner, I inform the young lady that I will not be having a starter or dessert and just would like to have a main course and then go to sleep. Even so, once the crew are released after take-off, I get the full treatment nonetheless.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Tonic water with orange juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Tiger beer, served with a ramekin of warm nuts.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main course.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Later dinner.

  1. Antipasto selection: cured meat, tomato and mozzarella, grilled shrimp and a grilled scallop on a bed of mixed salad.
  2. Chicken soup, served with chicken slices, mushroom, rice noodles and seasonal greens. There is also a small dish of soy sauce with chilli accompanying the dish.
  3. Selection from the bread basket.

The meal really is quite revolting and must rate among the vilest I have ever had on a plane. First of all, the antipasto plate: I only eat the tomato and mozzarella because the scallop and shrimp are emitting a rather off-putting stench.

Then the soup arrives and it is really not much better. Yuk! The slices of chicken are still slightly pink, instead of white and the rice noodles are all about 1 cm long each, making it quite impossible to eat them with the chopsticks. So I give up, and when one of the cabin crew passes through the cabin to top up the drinks, I ask her to remove everything so I can get ready for bed.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Negative.
Pre-meal drink:
Negative.
Choice:
Negative.
Delivery:
Individual service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast snack.

  1. Fruit salad.
  2. Two croissants.
  3. Tea or coffee.
  4. Glass of water.

Five hours after departure from New York the captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that due to ‘a series of diversion’ en route we do not have enough fuel to make it all the way to Frankfurt, so instead we are going to divert to Heathrow to refuel.

Around about the same time, the crew start their breakfast, which seems a tad early, given that we are still two hours out of London and the breakfast service is not really that extensive. It’s pretty frugal actually.

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Diversion to London Heathrow

The crew seem somewhat unprepared for this turn of events and suddenly the whole service becomes rushed. And for what? By the time my breakfast is cleared away, we still have more than an hour to go to London. I think it would have made more sense to let passengers sleep a bit longer, especially seeing as the seat is so inconvenient to convert from a sleeping position back into a sitting position.

Eventually, we land in Heathrow at 09h40, when we should have arrived in Frankfurt. We pull on to a remote stand and the refuelling starts. In the meantime, the crew have ordered snack boxes from one of the Heathrow caterers.

At 10h55 the captain comes on the loudspeaker again to inform us that refuelling is completed and we should be ready to go. But now the aircraft has developed an electrical problem.

No sooner has the problem been solved, a number of passengers decide they are feeling nervous and no longer wish to continue to Frankfurt. So a bus needs to be called to allow them to disembark. They are also going to have to unload their luggage, which can take a while on an A 380.

Conclusion

In any case, eventually we land in Frankfurt with a delay of five hours, at 15h30. I check on my app to find there is a Lufthansa flight to Basel departing at 16h40. So I decide to take a chance on that one and quickly make the booking while we taxi to our stand. I make the connection to Basel only by the skin of my teeth.

Now about Singapore Airlines: there are probably few airlines around the world that enjoy the reputation and brand recognition of Singapore Airlines. It is a reputation which, in my view, is no longer justified or deserved. As I mentioned in my post of the outbound flight, the seat really is just plain uncomfortable and inconvenient. It is too tight to lounge in and unpractical to convert into a bad.

As for the food, the presentation was so so. But the quality of the food on this last flight was quite simply atrocious. I also think the meals they serve are somewhat frugal. On many other carriers, you will at least receive a small salad in addition to the main course.

Would I go out of my way to fly Singapore Airlines again? No, I don’t think so.