Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Singapore to Zürich

Transfer in Changi 3

My A 380 from Sydney pulls onto its stand just after 21h. The flight ends at Terminal 3, which is also from where my flight to Zürich will be leaving. In fact, I can see my B 777 parked at the gate three stands down. The A 380 I just arrived on will be departing again in about two hours for London Heathrow.

Terminal 3 is a lot livelier than Sydney airport was. Before I head for the lounge, I decide to go on a bit of a walkabout to stretch my legs a bit after the long flight from Sydney. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting before I’m done with the journey home.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge T3

The Silver Kris Lounge in T3 was only recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment. They’ve added some nice touches. But over all, I still can’t say I really like Singapore Airlines’ corporate design. The lounge looks a lot like the lobby of one of the big hotel chains in the United States, which I’m sure has it’s own appeal if you’re over seventy…

SWISS First Class passengers are eligible to use the First Class lounge, the entrance to which is off to the left from reception.

The only thing I’m really after in the lounge is a nice long shower. Luckily, it appears that at this time of night people are not inclined to take showers, so basically I can take my pick and there’s no queue. The shower rooms are well stocked with shaving kits, tooth brushes and a no name brand of shower gel and shampoo.

The shower hits the spot nicely. I then take a seat and catch up on a few work emails. Not point in trying to put of the inevitable anymore, I guess.

Boarding

I arrive at the gate at 22h45 to find there’s a long queue for security. I really don’t like this concept of having closed gates with individual security checkpoints. I mean, it’s great that the Singapore government is obviously trying to create jobs here, but it is awfully inconvenient. So I decide to take a seat outside and wait for the actual boarding to start.

After a few minutes, a young lady from SWISS’ handling agent approaches me. She’s holding a sign with my name on it. She checks my boarding pass and then asks me to follow her, apparently she’s going to escort me through security. I’m in two minds about the whole process though. On the hand, I think it’s great that SWISS takes care of its premium passengers, and it’s not their fault the boarding situation in Changi is what it is. On the other hand, I must say it’s kind of awkward to have so many people directing the stink eye at me for cutting the queue. I feel like telling them it’s not my fault and pointing at the young lady, but that would be throwing the poor gate agent under the bus.

The cabin

On this flight I’m seated on 2A, which is basically the same seat I had on the outbound – just one row further back. The cabin is full tonight, with eight out of eight seats taken. What is interesting, is that there isn’t a single passenger in First Class heading for Zürich. One passenger is connecting to London City, two to Brussels, two to Copenhagen, two to Amsterdam and then me to Paris.

The service

There are two female cabin crew working the First Class cabin this evening. One of them is a German young lady, who is very bright and sharp. She basically anticipates what passengers want before they even realise it themselves. Her colleague is a Romande and very French in her manners, which makes for an interesting and rather charming combination in terms of the composition of the crew.

In short sequence I am brought the pajamas, a cold refreshing towel, a glas of water and the amuse bouche.

The crew come to take my order for dinner. But I tell them it’s already been a long day, so after take-off I would like to have the bed made up for me straight away so I can get some sleep. The flight time is announced as twelve hours and thirty minutes.

True to their word, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the German cabin crew arrives with hangers for me to go change out of my clothes while she makes up my bed.

The meal – midnight snack

I actually manage to get nearly seven hours of sleep. It doesn’t take long for the crew to notice I’m awake again, and immediately they both come to check if there’s anything I’d like. I tell them I’m feeling a bit hungry, so a small snack would be nice. “Überlassen Sie das uns…” the German one says, leave it to us. A few minutes later they are back with a cup of coffee, a cheese platter with a selection of crackers and bread, three packets of popcorn, two packets of Zweifel crisps and two packets of cashew nuts. The French crew reassures me that there’s plenty more where that came from and to just let them know. I must say, I thik I could get used to being mothered like this…! It’s kind of sweet.

The meal – second service

A few hours later the cabin begins to stir and passengers start waking up. The French crew approaches me and asks if I’d like to get a head start on breakfast before the rush begins, which is very considerate of her. Shen then proceeds to basically bring me a bit of everything there is on the menu:

A bread basket, served with butter and a selection of preserves and honey.

Fresh orange juice and coffee to drink.

Birchermüsli and fresh fruit.

And yoghurt (recommended by the crew, who tell me it’s delicious – which it really is).

Oh yes, and just in case I’m still feeling hungry, an omelette with sausage, bacon, tomato and potato.

By the time breakfast is done, we’re just past Belgrade with another eighty minutes to run to Zürich. I mean, I really was quite upset having to leave Australia. But sitting here watching Europe gradually wake up to a new day is also very nice, and I become aware of just how much I’ve missed my home continent, my family and my friends. It’s good to be back!

Arrival in Zürich

We’re the second aircraft to touch down in Zürich after the curfew is lifted at six. We make a quick taxi to our gate and the crew come to wish me a safe onward journey. They also tell me the driver will be waiting for us as we disembark through the L1 door to drive us to the Schengen area. The first thing that strikes me as I deplane, is just how different Switzerland smells. It’s oddly familiar but feels somewhat exotic after the smell of Australia these last two months.

And because this is an airline blog after all, I just want to mention that I think the B 777 is really hot shit. What a beast, and the size of those formidable engines is just… just…

We all pile into the minibus and then we’re off – and I nearly have a heart attack before I remember that they drive on the right side of the road here – and not on the left. I’ll have to reprogramme my brain… again.

Once we get to the main terminal at the other side of runway 28, we go through immigration and are then escorted up to the First Class lounge to wait for our onward connections. If you’re arriving from Singapore, at least in First Class there is no need to go through security again.

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

Introduction

Two months have passed in the blink of an eye, and it’s already time for me to start making my way back home again. I always find leaving Australia difficult, probably because it’s not so easy to get to, or at least not so quick. Of course, it doesn’t help that Australia is gradually moving into spring, which means that the weather during this last week has been gorgeous.

On my last visit to Australia, I had breakfast at The Pantry on Manly Beach on my last day. It’s where I promised that one day I’d be back. So I figure it’s a good omen if I do the same this time, in the hope that eventually I will return some day.

Getting to the airport

The regular ferry from Manly to Circular Quay takes between twenty and twenty-five minutes to make the journey. However, if you’re lucky or plan ahead, you might just end up on one of the old Manly ferries, which are slower and take about thirty minutes to make the journey. The Freshwater that you can see in the photo below is one of those old ferries. She makes her first journey from Circular Quay to Manly at 09h30 in the morning, and from then on every two hours. I enjoy taking the old ferry, it’s a far more pleasant and leisurely trip than than on the newer, faster catamarans which depart every twenty minutes.

From Circular Quay , the journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes by train or taxi.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row F, which is more or less in the middle of the check-in concourse.

Singapore Airlines occupies the whole of one side of row F of the check-in counters. There are nine counters in total, of which two are for Suites passengers. My bags are checked all the way through to Paris, and then I’m on my way.

There is a separate line for First and Business Class passengers for immigration. But don’t hold your breath, because right behind immigration there is only one queue for security for all passengers. It’s rather long too, but at least it moves quite fast.

Behind security, you are ejected into a large duty free area with a wide offering of Australian products, including the fabulous TimTam biscuits and Vegemite.

On my way to the lounge, I spot my aircraft trying to hide behind an Air Niugini and a Speedbird.

Most of the airside retailers and restaurants are still closed, including Mc Donald’s.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge

Given the number of flights Singapore Airlines operates out of Sydney, it’s hardly surprising that they have their own lounge facility. There is one reception area for all passengers, and then those travelling in Suites access the First Class section through a door on the right side of the reception desk.

The lounge is small and has an nice, intimate feel. There is a dining area as well as a few large, comfortable armchairs by the window.

Although there is an extensive buffet available, waiting staff serve you directly at your seat. First I have some dim sum and a beef pie.

Then one of the waiters brings me two duck pancakes and chicken satay. The pancakes are not very good. I’ve never been much of a fan of duck anyway, but the pancakes are just very stiff, hard and too chewy to be enjoyable.

The satay are good though.

Boarding

Boarding for our 15h00 departure starts at 14h30 from gate 57.

There is a separate queue for upper deck passengers. I pass through the gate and make my way down the airbridge. And that’s when it hits me with a pang that this is really happening and I’m about to leave Australia.

The cabin

The First Class Suites are located to your left as you enter the aircraft on the upper deck, right behind the galley. There are six suites in a 1 + 1 configuration.

The suites are not quite as private as the Air France La Première seat because the walls do not reach all the way up to the ceiling and there are apertures in the door for crew to check on you. Nonetheless, it’s still quite private and quiet.

The main feature of the Suites, of course, is the bed that is separate from the seat.

One of my beefs with the Suite is that you have to swivel your seat around to face towards the door in the dining position. However, as can be seen in the photo below, that means that during the meal service you end up having to face the passenger sitting across the aisle. At least on today’s flight the Suite opposite mine remains empty.

The Suite offers a lot of storage space. Having said that, I also think there’s a lot of unnecessary space that seems wasted and hardly serves any purpose. Still, all in all it’s a very pleasant set up.

Amenities

A set of B&O earphones, eye shades and socks are already at my seat when I arrive.

Singapore Airlines also offers a vanity kit to Suite passengers. Although to be honest, I think the Singapore Airlines vanity kit must be one of the most useless ones in the industry. Inside it are a scented candle and a small bar of hand soap. I mean, I get that the vanity kit is also intended as a small gift to passengers, but does it really have to be something that is so obviously useless? Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the two bathrooms.

The service

The crew on this flight are excellent and really just very funny in their interaction with passengers. Even so, they’re also very efficient and provide the kind of flawlessly elegant service that Singapore Airlines is known for. Throughout the flight, the crew use my family name each time the address me.

As soon as I step aboard, one of the crew helps me stow away my things and settle in, while the other brings me a glas of the Dom Perignon. Out of curiosity, I ask how many bottles of champagne they go through on an A 380 in one flight. They tell me they usually have six bottles of the Dom outbound from Sydney, and if that runs out, they still have the Krug as the backup.

The menu for the flight is already at my seat when I arrive. The crew come to ask if I have any questions about the menu and to let me know they’re happy to help me with the wine pairings. I tell them I’ll only be having sparkling water with the meal. The crew’s attention to detail is really quite impressive: at no stage of the meal is my glas ever empty.

The meal – first service

After take off, the crew come to take my order. I’m a bit undecided, so the green kebaya flight attendant suggests that I should try a bit of everything from the starters and then see how I feel about the rest as we go along. I mean, if you really insist… The meal begins with an initial drink service and a small ramekin of warmed nuts.

And then the table is set for the meal.

First starter: we start with the traditional caviar service. Each passengers gets a whole jar, which is served with blinis, boiled egg, chives, lemon and crème fraîche.

The crew pass through the cabin with the bread basket once only, which is good because otherwise I’ll only end up overdosing on the garlic bread…

Second starter: seared salmon with pickled kohlrabi. This dish is similar to the one I had the last time I flew out of Sydney on Singapore Airlines. This time around though, it tastes much better. Especially the horseradish gives the dish a nice zing.

Third starter: the pancetta soup. Now this dish is really quite amazing. It’s a bit like a minestrone, but they’ve managed to make it more sophisticated and lighter at the same time.

Main course: chicken Sha Jehani style. For the main course I go with the Indian dish, which is chicken in a spicy gravy served with dhal and vegetables. This is a lovely dish and very fragrant.

Dessert: Orange and almond cake with custard. Oh my goodness, this is really just to die for. The custard complements the orange perfectly and the cake is perfectly moist and full of flavour. There are small pieces of caramelised nuts on the plate too, which give it a nice bit of extra crunch.

After all that, the red kebaya flight attendant comes to ask me if it’s okay for her to bring me the cheese selection. She looks rather crestfallen when I beg for mercy and tell her that I really, really couldn’t eat anything else because I’m so full. So we compromise and she asks me if then at least she can bring me some coffee.

After the meal I go to one of the two very large bathrooms at the front of the cabin to change into my pajamas, while the crew make up the bed for me to have a nap.

The bed is rather hard, which I find quite pleasant because its easier on my back and my two slipped discs. My only complaint is that for a guy my size the bed is just very narrow. It’s fine as long as you’re not moving. But every time I turn I’m very careful to make sure I don’t end up rolling off the bed.

The meal – second service

About ninety minutes out of Singapore the crew notice I’m moving around and ask me if I’d like them to remove the bedding. They also ask me if I’d like anything to eat before we land, so I’ll be able to go straight to bed on the connecting flight.

I decide to go with the seafood congee, which not bad. Although it’s also rather bland. For dessert I have a plate of fruit.

Arrival into Singapore

Our arrival into Singapore is smooth. We land and very slowly make our way to our parking stand at Terminal 3. I thank the crew as I disembark and they wish me a pleasant onward journey. I now have just under two hours to make my connection to Zürich. Sadly, Australia already feels far, far away.

QANTAS, First Class – Airbus A 380: Singapore to Sydney

Transfer in Changi

I step off the SWISS flight from Zürich at 17h20. Apparently, we are running fifteen minutes late. On the scale of events though, after a twelve hour flight that seems rather unimportant. My connection with QANTAS to Sydney will be departing from Terminal 1 at 19h30. There is a young lady holding up a sign with my name as I exit the airbridge. I approach her and she gives me instructions how to get to Terminal 1. She also tells me the gate will be D46.

So I catch the Skytrain from the station opposite my arrival gate. The journey only takes a few minutes.

Once I reach Terminal 1, I follow the signs for the QANTAS First Class lounge, which is separate from the Business Class lounge.

QANTAS First Class lounge Singapore

The lounge is quite busy, so I do not have any good opportunities to take any photos. It is quite a spacious lounge, with a fairly large dining area.

There are also showers available in the lounge.

Just before 19h00 I decide to leave and make my way to D46. There is a queue forming outside the lounge as I leave, which I consider a good sign, because it means my aircraft has arrived as QF2 from Heathrow.

Boarding

The security check takes place at the gate and there is a separate queue for First and Business Class passengers. Our A 380 is in the process of being turned around for the onward journey to Sydney.

Boarding should have started at 19h00. However, 19h30 comes and goes and there are still no signs of activity. The ground crew make an announcement to inform passengers that boarding will not start until 20h30. By this time I urgently need to take a leak, so I decide to exit the gate area because there are no loos behind the security checkpoint.

I go for a walkabout and return at around 20h20, again going through security to enter the gate area. At 20h30, another announcement is made to inform us that one of the high loaders for the cargo accidentally drove into the aircraft when it arrived. The Singaporean civil aviation authorities and a team from Airbus support are trying to determine if the aircraft is still airworthy. So the departure time is moved back to 22h30, and passengers in First and Business Class are advised to return to their respective lounges.

By this time I am starting to feel hungry again, so I figure I might as well eat in the lounge and then skip the meal on the plane. I can highly recommend the shrimp wontons in chilli and ginger oil.

I return to the gate at 22h20 and go through security a third time. Just as I enter the gate area, the crew announce that the aircraft is finally ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the first passenger in the First Class cabin to board, which gives me ample opportunity to take photos.

The seat & cabin

The QANTAS First Class seat is the strangest thing I have ever seen. I really do not get what they were trying to achieve with this seat. There are fourteen seats in a 1 + 1 + 1 configuration. In the take-off position, the seat faces forward. However, to recline or extend the seat into a bed, it turns about 45 degrees towards the windows. There just seems to be a lot of unnecessarily wasted space. And you sit far away from the windows.

There is no storage space for a larger item such as a laptop. There are two small drawers, but one of those is already being used to stow the earphones. The USB port is also located in a strange position.

You also feel quite exposed in the seat. There is a screen that can be raised for more privacy, but it is not really all that effective.

The First Class cabin is located on the lower level between the L1 and L2 doors. Behind it is the galley and then the Economy Class cabin.

The service

There are four crew working the First Class cabin. They are friendly and very Australian. Martin comes to introduce himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He brings me a glass of sparkling water and a plate with a caviar canapé and a cracker with baba ghanoush, which seems like rather an odd combination.

Next his colleague brings me the vanity kit, slippers and pajamas.

And then the menu. Not a single refreshing towel is offered during the entire flight.

The meal

Catering on QANTAS is something that I have always found quite odd. I just do not get it. I am never quite sure what the concept for the meal service is supposed to be, which also makes it difficult to know exactly what and how to order. I am still full from the wontons anyway, so I tell the crew to make my bed up immediately after take-off. I will not be having dinner, but I want to be woken for breakfast.

In the middle of the night I wake up feeling a bit hungry. So I make my way to the galley and ask if there might be any snacks available, to which one of the female cabin crew suggests the chocolate cake with pears. I also check the inflight map, which shows that we are running four hours late.

The second service

Two hours out of Sydney, I ask for a coffee, apple juice and breakfast. Apparently you can order food à la carte. Nonetheless, it takes the crew a whole hour after bringing me the drinks to start laying the table for breakfast.

I order a Birchermüsli and toast. The first thing that strikes me is that for QANTAS a Birchermüsli means something very different to what it means in Switzerland. What I get is a bowl of dry müsli with a large dollop of yoghurt. The only problem is that the yoghurt hardly has enough liquid for the müsli to soak up, so it is rather a dry affair.

The other thing that strikes me is that the crew ask me what I would like with my toast. I say marmalade, and that is exactly what I get. On SWISS I got a whole dish with four different preserves to choose from.

At the suggestion of the crew I also decide to try the breakfast brioche. And what a mistake that turns out to be. It is basically a brioche bun with a hash brown, egg, tomato chutney and bacon in it. I can hear my arteries clogging up just looking at it…

Arrival

The weather in Sydney is dreadful. It is windy and raining. As a result, there is a bit of a delay for our arrival. By the time we touch down, we are already more than four hours behind schedule.

We pull up to our stand and the captain comes on the PA to ask all passengers to remain seated. Apparently, one of the passengers developed Covid symptoms during the flight, and now they need to be checked before anybody is allowed to disembark. Eventually we wait for forty minutes before we are allowed off the plane, by this time nearly five hours late.

The good news is that we are so late that the early morning queue at immigration has already died down. But that is about as far as my luck goes. For reasons that are not explained, it then takes another whole hour for the first suitcases to arrive on the belt, and another twenty minutes for my suitcase to arrive.

Conclusion

It really is difficult to know what to say about this flight. Sure, the delays were not really the fault of the airline, and I think all passengers appreciated that the crew wanted the damage checked before we got airborne. Other than that though, I found the whole First Class experience on QANTAS seriously underwhelming. Their only saving grace were the friendly crew. The seat was just plain weird and the food offerings were sparce and more like an average Business Class product you would get on other airlines.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Zürich to Singapore

Transfer in Zürich

With six hours to kill before my flight to Singapore, I decide not to head for the First Class lounge straight away. It is a lovely day outside, so I might as well make the best of it.

The Circle is a complex of offices and shops located land side, right behind the bus terminal. Access to The Circle is either at ground level or through a tunnel that connects it to the terminal buildings. Apparently, the tunnel has become a bit of a thing with the young and terminally hip Tik Tok and Insta community. As a result, do not be surprised to find a group of young people blocking most of the tunnel and trying to capture photos of themselves that they can post and that, at least they think, will secure their future social media fame and fortune…

The Circle has been modelled after the Niederdörfli, which is part of the old town of Zürich. Behind the buildings is a small, artificial hillock covered in thick forest. It is quite nice, and if it were not for the distant noise of the aircraft and the Autobahn, you might easily forget that you are in fact in the back yard of a major transport hub.

Check-in

Two hours later I figure I might as well head back into the terminal. I mean, I have a lot of investigating to do for this blog before my departure to Singapore.

My first stop is the First Class check-in area, just to make sure that the itinerary has not changed in the meantime. The young lady confirms that I am all good and then escorts me to the escalators leading up the the First Class lounge.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the A pier

Access to the First Class lounge is via the escalators to the left of the Edelweiss Bar in Terminal A or Check-in 1. I head up the stairs, where I am welcomed by a friendly middle-aged woman. She scans my boarding pass and inquires if I would like to go straight across to the E pier, or if I would rather wait here. I tell her I would prefer to go immediately, so she puts my name down for the shuttle in fifteen minutes and invites me to head through security in the meantime.

The lounge above Terminal A is fairly large. The design is very typical for Switzerland, I think. It is more comfortable than ostentatious.

I take a seat and immediately a young man comes to ask me if there is anything I would like to drink. I decline and tell him I will not be staying long.

First Class shuttle to the E pier

At 18h40 I head one floor up and walk down the long corridor to the departure point for the First Class shuttle to the E pier. I am the only one making the journey at this time. The driver takes me downstairs to clear immigration, and then we head out my ride to the E pier.

SWISS has these dedicated, purpose built mini vans to take passengers across, and they really are very funky. Basically, they look like a small version of a SWISS First Class cabin, complete with lamps and wood furnishings.

SWISS First Class day rooms on the E pier

The driver accompanies me up to the third floor with the lift, which ejects me in front of reception of the First Class lounge. SWISS has a limited number of day rooms available in the lounge. The receptionist informs me that “St. Moritz” is still available if I am interested. Of course I am!

The day rooms are brilliant. They are fairly small. There is no room for a desk or anything. However, each room has a comfortable double bed and a nice toilet and shower.

The view from the window is not too shabby either. But make sure to close the curtains before taking a shower, as the deck in front of the window is accessible from the lounge.

I manage to get a few hours of sleep. After a refreshing shower I decide to head out and investigate the lounge. It is fairly quiet today.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the E pier

There is no buffet service in the lounge. However, there is a large dining area and the staff are happy to also serve food on the deck outside.

My bird to Singapore is the B 777 parked next to the A 340-300.

No idea what this squirt is doing here…

I order the smoked salmon tatar with toast, which is quite tasty. Meanwhile, the evening bank has rolled on, returning the SWISS short-haul fleet home for the night. It is quite spectacular to watch, with the full moon and the mountains in the background.

Boarding

At 22h00 I head downstairs for the document check ahead of boarding. By this time the shops have already started shutting down for the night.

As I pass the gate, the gate agents tells me I will need to put on a mask for the duration of the flight as per regulation of the Singaporean authorities.

The cabin & seat

I step aboard the aircraft through the L2 door and make my way through the Stübli to the First Class cabin. I am seated on 1A. Eight out of eight seats are occupied tonight.

At my seat there is already a 50cl bottle of water and a voucher for 50Mb of complimentary wifi usage.

Once I am settled, the crew bring me the menu and the pajamas. A vanity kit and slippers are already at my seat.

The seat is wide, spacious and offers a lot of storage space that I think I must have missed on my last trip on the A 340 to Dubai. The cupboard has two hangers and two compartments to store smaller items and shoes.

There is also a small reading lamp that gives off pleasant, warm light in the dark.

The cupboard serves a second purpose to close off the seat from the aisle for more privacy. There is also a small divider that is operated electrically and which extends from the side of the seat. All in all, it is not a bad solution. The point of having these enclosed cabins is not really to have more privacy, but to prevent being disturbed in your sleep by crew and people passing by your seat.

The service

There are two crew working the First Class cabin, and both of them are excellent hosts. The service starts on the ground with the distribution of icy cold oshibori, which are highly welcomed – because although the aircon is running, the aircraft is still warm from standing around in the sun all day.

The meal

While we are still on the ground I am brought a glass of orange juice and an amuse bouche of flûtes from Sprüngli and a green tomato coulis with red tomato mousse. It is very refreshing.

Once we are airborne and the crew is released and the service begins. I am very much impressed that they actually manage to pull off the full meal service within less than two hours after take-off and without making the service seem rushed.

Starter: asparagus salad…

…and salmon trout with cucumber and trout mousse. Both of the starters are excellent. The salad leaves have managed not to go all limp in the heat, and the trout mousse is exceptional. It has a lovely smokey taste and a smooth, velvety texture.

Soup: gazpacho with shaved almonds. The soup is also very good, and has a strong dose of garlic – which at least I like very much. Not so sure about my fellow passengers though…

Main course: veal with morel jus and onion chutney, asparagus, and cheese polenta. I have no idea what compelled me to try this dish. I normally do not eat meat much, and certainly not very often on a plane. Whatever it was, I am glad I did because this dish is lovely. The polenta is rich and creamy and the meat has managed to stay juicy but without being bloody.

Cheese: a selection of cheese from the region around Lake Lucerne. Served with mustard chutney, grapes and fig bread. The blue one was a bit too salty for my liking, but the others were rather nice.

Dessert: chocolate pie. Oh my god, for a moment there I am not quite sure I will survive this dessert. It is very good, but it is also amazingly sweet and so, so rich.

Once the meal is done, I change into my pajamas and ask for the bed to be made up. I manage to sleep for a solid seven hours.

Second service

As soon as the cabin crew notice I am awake they come to ask me if I would like coffee. The young lady working the First Class cabin brings me the coffee and tells me that for one horrible moment she thought the coffee machine – the most important piece of equipment even before the engines in her view – may have gone US. But luckily she managed to get it going again.

She then ask me if I am having breakfast. There is no menu, so I challenge her to surprise me. Which she and her colleague take to mean I will try a bit of everything!

With breakfast done, I’m feeling fit to burst. Thank goodness we only have about one more hour to run to Singapore, where I can get off the plane and walk off some of all this lovely food.

Arrival in Singapore

The approach into Singapore is very scenic and takes us right past the waterfront and Changi airport, before we then make a wide 180 degree turn to line up and land.

As we pull onto our stand, the cleaning crew are already expecting us. I am guessing it is very humid, because they look as though they are trying to move as little as possible.

Conclusion

This experience with SWISS was a very pleasant surprise. I think it also proved, yet again, that the crew can make or break a flight in First Class. The crew working this flight were friendly and engaged with the passengers in a pleasant and effortless way that made you feel welcome – as though they were happy to have you with them. The lounge in Zürich was also very nice and the day rooms were just brilliant.

Of course, those of you who regularly read this blog may be wondering how SWISS compared to Air France. The answer is, I think I could not really say – mainly because their products are very different. The Air France service in La Première is elegant, polished and very grand – or just really very French. For example, when you order a drink in La Première, they will always serve it to you from a silver tray, whereas at SWISS they would just bring you a glass from the galley, without a tray. It is a minor thing and not really all that important. On the other hand, I found the service on SWISS a lot more personable.

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.