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

jfk

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.

MINT by Jetblue, First Class – Airbus A 321: San Francisco to Boston

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Date: 18 August 2016
Departure: 12:55
Arrival: 21:30
Flight time: 5 hours and 10 minutes
Seat: 3C, aisle on the port side

bos

Introduction

I first visited San Francisco in 2008. I was on a round the world trip and arrived from Tokyo. It must have been some time around January. I remember the weather was awful, cold and wet. I did not manage to see the Golden Gate Bridge that time, because it was shrouded in dense fog all the time I was there. And it’s been bugging me ever since!

But this time, finally, after eight years I finally get to see and cross the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Granted, the weather is not much better this time round, but at least I can still see the city in the distance.

So now that has been taken care of and I can finally strike another item of the bucket list, I figure I might as well move on…

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Car rental.
Journey time: 55 minutes on local roads or 35 minutes on the highway.
Driving in the US really is rather cool. They have these enormous roads with four or six lanes in each direction. What is even more impressive though, is that despite the wide roads they still seem to have way too many cars on the road.

From the car rental drop off station it takes about five minutes to the terminal complex using the fully automated AirTrain. The views from the AirTrain are excellent by the way!

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Check-in

Location: International Terminal A, row 10.
Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, self-service check-in or check-in at the counter.
Counters: There are two counters for JetBlue Mosaic and Mint customers and three counters for Economy Class passengers.

Airside

Alas, JetBlue does not operate a lounge at SFO and does not use any contractor lounge either. But that is really quite okay. Complimentary wifi is available in the terminal building and the view from gate A3A, from where my flight will be boarding, is simply excellent. I even get to witness a Virgin America A 320 executing a rejected take-off due to conflicting traffic on the crossing arriving runway.

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Boarding

Mint passengers are invited to board after passengers with special needs.

Something tells me this flight is going to be just brilliant, if the first impression I get from the gate agent is anything to go by. The guy obviously takes his job seriously and makes a point of keeping passengers informed about the entire boarding process. He also strictly enforces the boarding sequence.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 and 1 + 1.
Seat: Jetblue operates the A 321 in two configurations. The aircraft used in transcontinental services are branded as MINT by Jetblue. The aircraft have a seating capacity of 158, with 16 seats in Business Class. Rows 1, 3 and 5 are in a 2 + 2 configuration, while rows 2 and 4 are in a 1 + 1 configuration. The seats on the even numbered rows are referred to as the Business Suites. They have slightly greater pitch and more privacy, including a rather superfluous and useless sliding door. The suites are available on a first come first served basis.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Length as a bed: 80 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities:

  1. There are two 110 volt power ports and USB ports at each seat.
  2. Complimentary wifi is available on board and there are various price plans should you require more capacity.

Audio and Video:

  1. 15 inch LCD screen.
  2. There are more than 100 online radio programmes.
  3. There are 100 television programmes and a selection of films on flights longer than two hours.
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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

I reach my seat and there is a card welcoming me on board that has been signed by the two cabin crew working the forward cabin. In addition, the crew make a point of stopping at every seat to welcome every passenger on board individually. They explain the features of the seat, what the service is going to be like and then take orders for a welcome drink before handing every passenger the menu for the flight.

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I think what impresses me most about the crew is that they genuinely seem to enjoy their job and their interaction with the passengers seems authentic.

After take-off the crew distribute earphone and vanity kits, which are really nice, even if they do not really contain anything you might need during the flight. However, toothbrushes and toothpaste are available on request.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Honey infused limeade and fresh mint.
Towel before the meal: Hot towel, not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Another honey infused limeade, served with artichoke and avocado dip and taro chips.
Choice:
Passengers are invited to choose three dishes from a selection five, which includes two cold and three hot dishes.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  1. Herby lentil salad with baby romaine, haricots verts, avocado, toasted pecans and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
  2. Lobster risotto with crimini mushrooms, Swiss cheese and herb breadcrumbs.
  3. Turkey chilli with avocado, cherry tomatoes and cotija cheese.
  4. Seasonal fruit salad.
  5. Organic blue marble ice cream.
  6. Tea or coffee.

I think it is safe to say that this must be one of the best airline meals I have ever had. Firstly, all the dishes are still hot when the tray arrives. But apart from that, the quality and the taste of the food is excellent. The chilli is nice and spicy and the lobster risotto is just lovely. The dessert at the end is good too.

Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin, making sure all passengers have everything they need. In addition, there is a self-service bar at the rear of the First Class cabin, which is stocked with soft drinks and a selection of snacks – things like crisps or Pretzels.

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Boston. The crew make another round with hot towels for passengers to freshen up. After that, the purser comes through the cabin with a selection of cookies and personally thanks ever passenger for flying JetBlue. He even makes a point of addressing every passenger by name!

Conclusion

I think this flight on JetBlue was absolutely bloody brilliant! These guys are really giving the likes of Virgin America or American Airlines a good run for their money. And in fact, although this service was ‘only’ a regular domestic First Class service, I think it is way better than the American Airlines experience I had from New York to Los Angeles.

Of course, there are certain shortcomings, such as the lack of a dedicated lounge on the ground in San Francisco. And perhaps the tray the meal is served on is not quite so fancy. But I think what this flight really shows is that it really is the crew that makes the experience. And today’s crew – Derek and Margaret – were just excellent and demonstrated some great hospitality! I like.

Virgin America, First Class Plus – Airbus A 320: Los Angeles to San Francisco

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Date: 14 August 2016
Departure: 18:40
Arrival: 19:40
Flight time: 1 hour
Seat: 1A, window seat on the port side

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 3.
Facilities: Web check-in, self-service check-in at the airport or check-in at the counter.
Counters: There are two counters open for First Class passengers and another two for Economy Class passengers. In addition, staff are on hand for passengers needing assistance checking in at the self-service machines.

Virgin America is the only airline I know of that has lounge music blaring away in the check-in are. Just because they are so completely different from the other carriers…

The Virgin America Lounge

Location: One floor up from the main airside area. The stairs are by the Burger King.
Type of Lounge:
Virgin America lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets. That’s it. There are no workstations or anything of the sort. But there are plenty of power sockets.
Catering: Soft drinks and a limited selection of snacks – things like fruit or nuts – are complimentary. In addition, full meals and alcoholic drinks are also available against payment.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge. The password can be obtained at the bar.

From what I understand, only members of Virgin’s frequent flyer programme have access to the lounge. For all other passengers, even when travelling in First Class, access to the lounge is only against payment. You can purchase the lounge access at the time you make your booking or later when you check-in online. The fee for the lounge access is USD30.

It is hard to say if the USD30 are well spent. On the face of it, certainly not. Because the only thing this lounge has going for it, is the excellent view of the two northern runways at LAX. On the other hand, having said that, Terminal 3 is a real stinker. The place is old and tatty. The floors are carpeted, which make the whole place stink like a pair of really, really old socks. And the waiting area is somewhat crowded. So considering the alternative, USD30 to access the lounge is perhaps not such a bad deal after all.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: The first boarding call is for First Class passengers. What always strikes me in the US, is how well trained the passengers are. The call for First Class is made and literally nobody moves until the passengers concerned have passed the gate and the gate agent invites everybody else to board. If that were Europe, everyone would be pushing their way to the front of the line before the gate agent even manages to finish the announcement.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: There are two rows of seats in First Class, which makes for eight seats in the First Class cabin. In the main cabin, Virgin America distinguishes between Main Cabin Extra and normal Economy Class. The difference between the two is the seat pitch.

The First Class seat is a recliner, so not fully lie flat, but it has a leg rest.
Pitch: 55 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: There is a reading lamp and a power outlet for every seat.
Audio and Video: Every seat in First Class comes with its own 9 inch screen. There are roughly 3000 MP3s to choose from, but the selection of films is somewhat limited. There are also a few television programmes available, including the first ever episode of The Big Bang Theory. The earphones, by the way, are completely useless. Wifi is available on board.

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All the window shades are down as I enter the plane. The only light in the cabin is from above the overhead bins. The lights are a mix of blue and magenta, which certainly makes for a dramatic effect during the boarding process.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com
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The Crew

There are two cabin crew standing in the forward galley welcoming passengers aboard. At least I think that is what they should be doing. But the young lady obviously has an attitude issue and will not say ‘hello’ until the passengers say it first. The young man is very different in that respect: he just does not say anything at all and averts his eyes when you look at him. Fortunately though, the co-pilot steps on to the plane at some point with his delivery from Starbuck’s and the mood lightens. In fact, the two cabin crew are so engrossed in their drinks that they forget about the passengers and just completely ignore everybody.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice in a plastic cup.
Choice:
There is a selection of snacks to choose from, things like popcorn or crisps.
Type of meal:
Meal is a rather generous term to use here…

  1. Salted Popcorn.
  2. Diet Coke.

I know the flight time is only one hour, and I had been warned about the lack of service on US domestic flights, but this so much worse than I expected. I ask for a Diet Coke and all I get is one cup. Apparently, the whole can would really just be asking too much.

Arrival

By the time we land, the sun is already setting. We have a short taxi to the terminal, which looks modern and clean – and does not have carpets! And with that my Virgin America flight comes to an end.

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The first time I flew Virgin America a few years back was on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Back then, I thought their product was innovative and fresh. But from what I can tell, it has not aged very well. It is a thin line between really being different from the competition and just being annoyingly pretentious.

American Airlines, First Class – Airbus A 321: New York JFK to Los Angeles

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Date: 14. August 2016.
Departure: 10:00.
Arrival: 13:15.
Flight time: 5 hours 25 minutes.
Seat: 2A.

lax

Introduction

I spend the night in New York at the Crowne Plaza near JFK airport. Today I am travelling on to the West Coast.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Hotel shuttle.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Departs from: Outside the hotel lobby.
Arrives: Departures concourse of Terminal 8.
Cost: Complimentary.

The shuttle will drop you off right outside your terminal on the departures level. Just tell the driver where you are going as you get aboard. There are nine passengers on the shuttle this morning, seven of which are Delta crew on their way to Terminal 4.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 8, which is the American Airlines terminal and also home to some of the other OneWorld carriers like Royal Jordanian.
Facilities: Web check-in and App check-in.
Counters: The American Airlines Priority counters are located on row 5 of the terminal.

The American Airlines Terminal has a modern, bright and airy feel to it. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Of course it helps that the place is not so busy, presumably because it is Sunday morning.

The Lounge

Location: C concourse in the satellite terminal.
Type of Lounge:
American Airlines Admiral’s Lounge.
Facilities:
Computer workstations, toilets, showers.
Catering: A small selection of breakfast items – things like bagels with Philadelphia cheese, müslis, oatmeal. Coffee, orange juice and ice water are complimentary. Other beverages are available at a charge.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge.

Only passengers who have status in American Airlines’ frequent flyer programme are entitled to use the lounge, even if they are travelling in Domestic First Class. The transcontinental services from JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco are exceptions. If you are travelling in First Class on one of these services, you are entitled to use the lounge and may even avail yourself of the international lounge on the main concourse.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: There is a separate queue for Priority passengers and First Class passengers are invited to board first, followed by Business Class and then Economy Class passengers.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 1.
Seat: American Airlines operates the Airbus A 321 in three different configurations. The aircraft that operate the transcontinental flights has four cabins: First, Business, Main Cabin Extra and Economy. The total capacity is for 102, which is very low for the Airbus A 321. The seat is a flat bed with 180 degree recline. There are 10 seats in the First Class cabin.
Pitch: 62 inches.
Length: 82.5 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities:

  1. AC power port and USB port.
  2. Wifi is provided by AirCell gogo.

Audio and Video:

  1. 4 inch HD capable monitor with touchscreen.
  2. Bose noise cancelling earphones.
  3. 15 games.
  4. 350 audio programmes on demand.
  5. 75 films and 150 television programmes on demand.

The seat is comfortable and feels intimate and private. The only complaint I have is that the cabin looks rather drab, given that everything from the bulkhead to the seats is dark grey.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com
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Amenities

A pillow and blanket as well as the menu have already been placed at the seat as I enter the aircraft. There is also a bottle of still water and an amenity kit with eye shades, socks, dental kit and some other travel goodies.

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Other than that, the crew a friendly and chatty and make a lot of effort to make sure passengers are comfortable.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, still water or champagne.
Towel before the meal: Hot but not scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Coke Zero served with a ramekin of warm mixed nuts (plus refill on the nuts…).
Choice:
Two choices for the starter, three choices for the main course and two choices for dessert.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Early lunch.
Meal:

  1. Tomato and goat cheese strata with pickled ginger vinaigrette.
  2. Salad with fresh strawberries and hearts of palm with a choice of dressing.
  3. Selection form the breadbasket.
  4. Pan seared crab cakes with jicama slaw and tomatillo poblano cream sauce.
  5. Vanilla ice cream with a choice of topping.

The meal hits the spot nicely, but it is way too much food. Perhaps I should not have had that second ramekin of nuts. Especially the sundae with hot fudge and nuts for dessert is divine – probably the best dessert I have ever had on a plane.

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I spend the rest of the flight reading and, well, basically eating. First the crew brings me two packets of sea slated crisps, then the smell of warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies starts wafting through the cabin and I figure it would be a shame not to try one. Oh okay, maybe two so I have something to go with the coffee…

Arrival

Eventually we touch down on the northernmost runway at Los Angeles airport. The view out the window is quite spectacular. There are already four A 380s standing there and just behind us, Air France arrives to make it five.

Transfer in Los Angeles

American Airlines uses Terminal 4 in Los Angeles. From here I need to transfer to Terminal 3 for my onward connection. Apparently, there is a shuttle bus that links all of the airport’s terminals but I am unable to locate the stop. Eventually I figure it is a nice enough day here in Los Angeles, not too hot. And so I walk to Terminal 3 instead. It only takes about seven minutes to walk across.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Airbus A 340-300: Bangkok to Zürich

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Introduction

Previously, LX180 left Zürich at around 22h45 to arrive in Bangkok early in the afternoon the next day. The aircraft would then stand around in Bangkok until the evening for a departure around midnight, to arrive in Zürich just in time for the night curfew to be lifted at 06h00 in the morning. Thus, the airline offered a schedule that was ideally suited to the business or premium traveller, who tends to prefer night flights.

With the beginning of the winter timetable of 2014 though, Swiss International Air Lines changed its schedule to and from Bangkok. The outbound now leaves Zürich in the late afternoon to arrive in Bangkok in the morning. As a result, the inbound flight – LX181 – now departs Bangkok at 12h45 as a day flight and arrives back in Zürich at 19h30. Of course, for SWISS the new schedule makes far more sense, because it means much less down time for the aircraft. However, it also shows just how insignificant the Thai market has become for SWISS, particularly in the premium segment, if the optimisation of the aircraft’s utilisation takes precedent over offering the customer an attractive schedule. But to be fair, SWISS is not the only carrier struggling on the route and in fact, recently Thai Airways switched its operation to Zürich to a Boeing B 777-300 which does not even offer a First Class product any more.

Getting to the Airport

The Novotel Suvarnabhumi is connected to the airport’s railway station and terminal via a tunnel. Once you reach the terminal, you can either take the escalators or the lifts to the fourth floor, which is the departures level of the terminal.

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Check-in

Location: Row G.
Facilities: Airport check-in, web check-in. There are self-service check-in machines at Suvarnabhumi, but I am not sure if SWISS uses those as well.
Counters: There are three Economy Class counters, one Business Class counter, a counter for First Class, HON and Star Gold passengers and a baggage drop-off counter.

Check-in for the flight is swift, there is nobody ahead of me at the counter. While one agent is issuing my boarding pass, a young lady appears from behind me to escort me through security and immigration. To access the Premium Lane fast track for security, you will need a voucher which you should receive at check-in.

Immigration is right behind security. From there we head one floor down to the transit level, which is where the Thai Airways lounges are.

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The Thai Airways First Class Lounge

Location: Near the intersection of the D and C concourses.
Type of Lounge:
Thai Airways First Class lounge.
Facilities:
The lounge has a large open seating area. In addition, there are also semi-private rooms, all of which have their own large TV and a computer workstation. There is a separate dining area and a buffet area with a selection of sweet and savoury dishes. In addition, as soon as you are seated, one of the many lounge attendants will come to ask you if you would like to eat or drink anything. The food is served either at your seat or in the dinning room. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, L’Occitane toiletries are provided by Thai Airways, although I am not sure if the ladies have the same toiletries.
Internet:
Wifi is available, password required.

I only have about thirty minutes in the lounge. But it has already been at least two hours since my last meal and I am starting to feel a bit peckish. So I order a Coke Zero and a green curry with chicken, which is truly excellent. Which is also the reasons why I forgot to take a picture of the meal.

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Boarding

There is only one entrance to the holding area. However, both airbridges are in use; the one to the L1 door is for First Class passengers only.

Just after noon I make my way to the gate at C06. Much to my surprise, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. So I can walk right up to the counter and then straight on to the aircraft.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 1K, window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. There are eight seats in First Class. The SWISS First Class seat is more or less the same seat that was introduced by Swissair many moons ago before the carrier went bankrupt. The seat is inspired by the design of the famous Eames chair. The seat and the entire hardware are now getting a bit long in the tooth, quite frankly. In comparison to other First Class seats, this one here offers zero privacy. It has started to look dated and somewhat old fashioned.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt power port available in First and Business Class but not in Economy. That is about it, SWISS currently does not provide wifi on board any of its aircraft.
Length as a bed: 80 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand. The inflight entertainment system is quite simply a shambles. First of all, they have these really cheap no name earphones that have very bad quality. Secondly, the selection of films and music is quite limited, unless of course you do not mind watching Bridget Jones’ diary or Casino Royale – again. The controls of the IFE are also a far cry from what I would describe as state of the art. The system can only be operated by remote control that is now so old the buttons have stopped reacting unless you press on them very hard. And that of course, is if you are lucky and manage to get the screen out, which took me about five minutes, because even the button to release the screen from its holder no longer works properly either.

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The Crew

There are two gentlemen serving the First Class cabin on today’s flight. For some reason, the whole service seems very rushed from the very beginning. One of the two gentlemen in particular seems a bit flustered. Every time he addresses me, it is in High German, even though he is obviously Swiss. And every time I answer him in Swiss German. But that does not stop him from addressing me in High German the next time he comes around. It is not a big deal, but there is nothing really First Class about the experience either.

Amenities

In any case, a cushion, the vanity kit, slippers and the earphones have already been placed at my seat. Shortly after I am seated, the cabin crew also brings me a pajama.

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The Meal

Amuse Bouche

On the ground orange juice is served with an amuse bouche of grilled shrimp on a papaya and chilli salsa.

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A hot unscented towel is served on the ground just as we push back.

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The First Course

  1. Balik salmon with crème fraîche and lemon.
  2. Crab salad with avocado purée and cocktail dressing.
  3. Tomato and mozzarella with Thai basil and pesto.
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The Soup

Cream of carrot and ginger soup with croutons and parmesan shavings.

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The Main Course

Shredded veal Zürich style in a creamy white wine sauce, served with a mini Rösti and broccoli with almond flakes.

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The Cheese

  1. Wildbachkäse.
  2. Glattaler Mutschli.
  3. Gruyère AOC.
  4. Senneflade.
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Dessert

Basil infused Baba Rhum with a minestrone of tropical fruit and apricot sorbet.

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Over all, the meal is rather tasty. The starter looks very appealing and also tastes very nice. The soup is also good and creamy, although the taste of the ginger is too subtle for me to make out. The main is good. The sauce has a nice flavour but the mini Rösti is only so so.

The service comes to a somewhat abrupt end. I do not really know what is going on, but rather than asking passengers if they would like tea or coffee and offering them one of those delectable Sprüngli truffes – which is what normally happens in SWISS Fist Class – today, the flight attendant just dumps the truffes on the bar, clears the tables and vanishes for the rest of the flight. For those passengers willing to sleep, the crew will graciously make the seat up into a bed and will put down the mattress and duvet. However, if like myself, you are not planning on sleeping, then basically you are on your own. I even have to go scavenging for a blanket because the crew are obviously not interested.

During the entire flight, the crew does not do a single drinks run either.

The Second Service

There are about four choices for the second service. However, none of these are actually mentioned on the menu, and I forget what all the options are. In any case, I have:

  1. Vegetarian quiche, which was in fact more like a pie.
  2. With a small salad to accompany the pie.
  3. One bun.
  4. A piece of warm apple tart with slices of fresh apple, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
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The second meal is adequate, even though the savoury item is placed on rather a small plate, which looks a bit forlorn on the large table.

Arrival

We approach Switzerland from the east. Roughly forty minutes out of Zürich, we start our descent while we are still in Austrian airspace. It is a lovely, late summer’s evening and the landscape below is covered in a golden glow.

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