China Southern, Business Class – A 380: Beijing to Guangzhou

Folie1

Introduction

This flight nearly did not happen. To all good intent, the only reason I chose this routing was to get another flight on the A380. At the time of booking there were two daily flights from Beijing to Guangzhou operated by China Southern’s A380: CZ3000 at 09h30 in the morning and CZ3104 in the afternoon at 15:30.

Originally I booked the earlier flight. However, about two weeks before departure, I checked my itinerary again, only to find that there had been an aircraft change and the flight would be operated by an A330-300 instead. Please do not get me wrong. I think the A330-300 is one of the most elegant airliners out there, while the A380’s looks are – quite frankly – sinful. But that is not the point.

And then the saga began. I shall spare you the gory details. But what I will say is that it took me no less than six calls to the Frankfurt office and another seven phone calls to the Beijing office before eventually I was able to rebook my ticket. I must say though, that while the process itself is absolutely atrocious and not at all passenger friendly, China Southern’s staff were friendly and very polite at all times.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Car provided by the hotel. It is a BMW, but I have no idea what model.
Journey time: 40 minutes.

The journey back the airport is fairly smooth. There is a bit of a traffic jam right outside the hotel, but that soon eases up.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 2, domestic departures.
Facilities: Web check-in is available.
Counters: There is a dedicated check-in area for China Southern’s VIP customers. Unfortunately, the place is not signposted in any way, so eventually I have to ask at one of the airline’s ticketing counters for directions to the premium check-in area.

The VIP check-in area is quite large, with six or seven counters and chairs for passengers to sit while they wait to be checked in. There are no conveyor belts for luggage, just the scales. A porter will then take your checked luggage and put it on a belt for you. In theory it is a nice idea and is very similar to the dedicated First Class area many other carriers have. Quite frankly though, the place here just looks grimy and filthy. The carpets are tread bare in some places, while in other places there are stains and lumps of dust that look suspiciously like the fur balls my cat Boozey used to wretch up.

The exit from the check-in area is to the left. From there a red carpet will guide you to the security check for First Class and Business Class passengers.

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The China Southern Domestic First Class Lounge

Location: Opposite gate 21, from where the A380 flights depart.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated China Southern First Class lounge.
Facilities:
A limited selection of food and drinks, no toilets or showers available.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is provided by the airport authority. However, you need a Chinese mobile number to receive the password to access the internet!

I am issued a lounge invitation together with my boarding pass. There is a small map on the invitation, indicating the location of the lounges. There is the ‘normal’ VIP lounge and then there is the ‘A380 high-end passenger lounge’ next to the departing gate for the A380 flights.

I think somebody is missing the point here. Actually, I think somebody is missing quite a few points here. First of all, of course it is nice to have a lounge adjacent to the departing gate, but that really only makes sense if there is a direct access from the lounge to the aircraft, similar to what Lufthansa or Emirates have at their hubs or like what BA used to have in Heathrow’s Terminal 4, where passengers had direct access from the Concorde Room to the aircraft. But this is obviously not the case here. Secondly, you would have thought it is a simple enough calculation: the number of Business Class seats on the A380 dictates the capacity of the lounge. But this is clearly not the case here and at some point the staff actually start setting up folding chairs for all the passengers wishing to enter the lounge.

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Boarding

Boarding is chaotic. Even so, by 15h30 – our scheduled departure time – the airbridges are removed from the aircraft. That is when the captain comes on the loudspeaker to welcome us aboard and inform us about an ATC delay of thirty minutes. Eventually by the time we push back from the gate we are running more than an hour later.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1.
Seat: I am sitting on 20A, which is a window seat on the port side of the aircraft. China Southern has the Business Class cabin on the upper deck of the aircraft. There are seventy seats in total. There is a smaller cabin with six rows in the forward section, with the main section behind the second galley. The seat itself is very similar to the one Emirates has installed in Business Class on its A380. It is a comfortable seat and offers a lot of privacy. In the smaller cabin, the window seats on uneven numbered rows offer more privacy, because they are farther away from the aisle. In the larger cabin however, the opposite is the case and the seats on even numbered rows are the ones away from the aisle. Stowage space is excellent, especially if you are sitting by the window. This is mainly due to the curvature of the hull. There is quite a gap between the wall of the cabin and the seat. Airbus has put in extra storage bins in this space which are quite convenient. The seat extends into a fully flat bed. I am 184 cm tall. In the fully extended position I can lie stretched out and even have a little space left above my head.
Pitch: 77 inches.
Width: 24 inches.
Facilities: AC and USB power ports are available in Business Class.
Audio and Video: Audio and Video on demand. The system can be operated either using the touch screen or the remote control.

Just a word of warning here. China Southern has the same strange policy that the American carriers have. Their domestic Business Class is labelled as First Class. As a result, even though I booked First Class I am in fact sitting in the Business Class cabin of the beast. Apparently, the international First Class seats are not available for sale on this route.

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The Crew

There is not really very much I can say about the cabin crew. They are courteous in the way they go about their duties, but other than that, interaction with the crew is somewhat limited by the language barrier.

The seat looks as though it has been set up for a long-haul flight. There are two pillows and a thick blanket at every seat. Slippers, a shoe bag, water and noise cancelling earphones are also available.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Apple juice.
Towel before the meal: Cold, unscented towel served with the welcome drink on the ground.
Pre-meal drink:
Still water and a bowl of nuts.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main dish.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Early dinner.
Menu:
A menu is available, which the cabin crew will let you have a look at, if you ask nicely. However, she will wait by your seat until you have made a choice and will then disappear again with the menu.
Meal:

  1. Noodle soup with braised beef and pak choy, condiments.
  2. Fruit
  3. Coffee.

Much to my surprise, the meal is excellent! The beef is incredibly tender and tasty. The noodles are chunky and chewy and the spicy sauce and the chilli give the soup a fragrant touch.

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Arrival

We fly a circuitous route into Guangzhou. Apparently there is a thunderstorm in progress. We do a few en route holding circuits at 38’000 feet, which looks pretty cool on the map, and as we start our descent into Bayun airport we are zigzagging around big towering CBs.

Eventually we land with a delay of 75 minutes, which seems pretty good by Chinese standards. Our aircraft is parked at the international pier in preparation for its next flight, which means that all passengers will be bused to the terminal. There are dedicated minibuses for First Class passengers. Most importantly, I get to see the A380 at ground level!

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Metro line 3.
Departs from: Airport basement.
Journey time: 55 minutes.
Fare: RMB8.- per person for a single journey. The ticketing machine only accepts cash and only note of RMB5 and 10.

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Baiyun airport is served by the number 3 metro line. From the airport it is about 45 minutes to Tiyu West Road, which is the terminus station of this branch of line 3. If you need to continue your journey on the line 3 in the direction of Panyu Square, exit the train on the right side at Tiyu West Road. The train bound for Panyu Square calls at the opposite platform. From there it is only one stop to Zhujiang Station, where my hotel is.

Korean Air, First Class – B 777-300: Seoul Incheon to Beijing

Folie07

Introduction

If I had known there was going to be an aircraft change on the Hong Kong to Seoul leg, then I could have gone straight from Hong Kong to Beijing instead. After all, the only point of taking that flight to Seoul had been an attempt to hitch a ride on Asiana’s A380. But never mind. This is but a minor detour. Besides, like this I have a good excuse to make a further attempt with Asiana…

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Complimentary airport shuttle.
Frequency: Hourly shuttle at 45 minutes past the hour.
Journey time: Roughly fifteen minutes.

My flight will be leaving at around 11 o’clock in the morning, so I figure it is probably best to catch the 08h45 shuttle to the airport. The shuttle will drop you off at arrivals on the ground level. The stop for the hotel is at the far end of the terminal building, near exit 14.

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Check-in

Location: Korean Air checks in on rows A, B and C. First Class, Business Class and SkyPriority counters are located on row C.
Counters: There are four counters for First Class passengers, three of which are open when I arrive to check-in. There is a separate queue for First Class passengers.

I booked this ticket online. Apparently, at some point I should have contacted a Korean Air office somewhere to show them the credit card and provide evidence that I am in fact the holder of the credit card with which the ticket was paid. So I am required to show the check-in agent the card before she can issue my boarding pass. As soon as she is done, she calls one of her colleagues over to escort me through security and to make sure I make it safely to the lounge.

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There is a separate channel for security for First and Business Class passengers, which is just to the right of the Economy Class entrance to security. Immigration is right behind the security check.

The Korean Air First Class Lounge

Location: After you exit immigration, turn left and then left again. Take the escalators one floor up to access the lounge.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Korean Air First Class lounge.
Facilities:
Dining area, toilets and showers, a buffet with hot and cold dishes.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi available, no password required.

The lounge is nothing special really. The nice thing about it though, is that it is very big, rather empty and has excellent views of the apron. The food selection is good and the offerings change depending on the time of day. When I arrive just before ten in the morning, they are just starting to clear away the breakfast.

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Boarding

There is a separate queue for First Class and Business Class passengers, who also board the aircraft through the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers use the L2.

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Boarding is completed on time. The load in First Class and Business Class is light. In fact, there are just two of us sitting next to each other in First Class.

At some point, the captain comes on the loudspeaker to welcome all passengers to the flight. He announces that we have an ATC delay of sixty minutes. Two episodes of The Big Bang Theory later, he comes on the mike again to inform us that apparently there is a military exercise in progress in China and thus we should expect a further delay of another 45 minutes. Eventually we push back with a delay of 90 minutes.

The Cabin

Configuration: Korean Air operates the Boeing B 777-300 in two different configurations, both of which feature a First Class. While the -300ER, which serves long-haul routes, has a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, the -300 serves regional routes with a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration. There is only one row of seats in First Class, so there are six seats in total.
Seat: I am sitting on 1B, an aisle seat on the port side of the aircraft. The seat is more or less identical to the Business Class seat, the difference being that there is no middle seat.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 21.1 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt power port and USB ports available, there is also a small privacy screen between each pair of seats.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: The aircraft has audio and video on demand.

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The Crew

The First Class cabin is served by three cabin crew, which gives an interesting ratio of passengers to crew, given that it is just the two of us. In short succession I receive a welcome drink with macadamia nuts, a scented hot towel and the menu for the flight. I am also offered a newspaper.

A pillow and slippers have already been placed at my seat. Once I am settled in, one of the crew offers me a blanket in case I might be feeling chilly.

During our wait on the ground the crew repeatedly come to ask if there was anything I needed and kept me in a constant supply of macadamias and water.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Perrier with macadamia nuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented and served while still on the ground.
Choice:
There is only one choice for the starter and dessert and two choices for the main, one Korean and one Chinese option.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.

The First Course

Lobster on a bed of ruccola and sun dried tomatoes.

The starter is very good, the ruccola is fragrant but without being bitter. The lobster is nice and chunky. The main dish is surprisingly spicy for airline food and really makes my nose run. The other passenger is having the Korean option, which is some kind of black sesame soup with noodles and two small dishes with pickles. Apparently, the soup is very bland.

The coffee is, quite simply, atrocious!

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The Main Course

Spicy beef stir-fry with Chinese noodles and mixed vegetables.

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The Fruit

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Arrival

Very soon we start our descent into Beijing. The cabin crew all come to say thanks and goodbye and wish me a safe continuation of my journey. As we land we glide past the impressive structure of Terminal 1, which is home to Air China, the SykTeam and a few others.

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Korean Air uses the old Terminal 2, which receives all of the SkyTeam carriers.

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Getting into Town

Transport: BMW sent from the hotel.
Journey time: 45 minutes with traffic.

As I exit into the arrivals hall, the representative from the Peninsula Beijing is already expecting me. The traffic in Beijing is quite simply atrocious. The journey to the hotel takes roughly 45 minutes to complete. The main issue appears to be that the Chinese do not abide by any rules when driving. Or rather, their modus operandi is to have one hand firmly on the horn and hope for the best. The traffic situation is further aggravated because there are so many accidents.

Conclusion

In comparison to my flight with Emirates from Bangkok to Hong Kong, the experience with Korean Air was much more polished, proving yet again that sometimes less really is more. The seat in nowhere near as garish or as flashy as the Emirates one, but on a flight of not even two hours, do you really need a lie flat anyway?

I really enjoyed the flight. It certainly helped that there were only two of us in First Class. Even so, I must say that quite frankly I really do not quite get it. I assume the flight was not full in Economy Class either. So why operate the massive B 777-300 on such a route when probably even a B 737-800 would have been perfectly sufficient?

Emirates Airlines, First Class – A 380: Bangkok to Hong Kong

Folie1

Getting to the Airport

Transport: BMW provided by the hotel.
Departs from: Right outside the hotel lobby.
Journey time: About 40 minutes, depending on traffic and the extent to which the driver’s sense of self-preservation is developed.

In case you are wondering, the Emirates website explicitly states that their limousine service is not available to passengers travelling only between Bangkok and Hong Kong. That is why I had to organise a car from the hotel to take me.

Check-in

Location: Entrance 9 on the departures level, rows T and U.
Facilities: One First Class counter, four Business Class counters, nine Economy Class counters. The day before the flight I receive an email from Emirates inviting me to avail myself of their web check-in service.

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We pull up to the terminal near entrance 9, where the hotel’s airport concierge is already expecting me. He takes my luggage and guides me to the Emirates check-in counters. The check-in agent is very friendly and all smiles. She hands me my boarding pass, together with a voucher for the Premium Lane security check and immigration and sends me on my way. In the meantime, the concierge has been waiting dutifully. He then accompanies me to the entrance for security, wishes me a pleasant and safe journey and bids me goodbye.

The entrance for the Premium Lane is on the same level as check-in. All other passengers however, need to go one floor up.

The Emirates First Class Lounge

Location: One floor down from the check-in level. To reach the lounge, turn right after immigration until you reach the intersection of the D and E concourses. Take the escalators one floor down to level 3 and do a 90 degrees left turn at the bottom. Keep on walking until you reach to lounge.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Emirates only lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, workstations with printer.
Internet:
Wifi is available, password required.

This is a really nice lounge. There is a lot of wood, with beige and brown leather sofas. There are two things that really strike me about this place: first of all, there are toilets and even showers in the lounge itself, which is quite unusual in Bangkok. In fact the only other lounges with facilities at Bangkok airport are those of Thai Airways. The second thing is the food. There is so much of it and it is so tasty! There is even a separate dining area with proper dining tables.

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Boarding

I am quickly coming to the realisation that most airports that receive the A380 are not really equipped to handle the beast. At least not properly. If you think that providing a third airbridge that goes to the upper deck is enough, I think you better think again. Alas, Bangkok is no exception here. Boarding starts and very soon it becomes apparent that there simply is not enough room for all the passengers wishing to board the plane (Just to give you the general idea, I have sequence number 543 on my boarding pass). At some point, one of the Emirates ground agents asks the passengers to move to the back of the gate and take a seat while we wait for boarding to begin. Nobody moves. The agent obviously has some serious attitude issue going on, and simply gives us this rather cocky ‘hello’, behaving quite as though we are deranged or mentally challenged for not falling in with his instruction to move to the back and take a seat. I think it never even dawns on him that there is simply no getting through to the back of the gate because it is in fact full.

Eventually boarding starts with a delay of thirty minutes.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 1K, window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. The Emirates First Class suite hardly needs an introduction. When it was first introduced, the airline truly caused a sensation. The suite is very private, due to the fact that it has sliding doors to screen passengers for more privacy. The suite is not completely closed though, and if you are standing in the aisle, you can still look into the individual suites from above. The First Class cabin is located on the upper deck and there are fourteen suites in total. Emirates operates the A380 in two configurations. In both cases, First and Business Class are on the upper deck. Economy Class is on the lower deck and the difference between the two configurations is the number of seats in Economy Class.
Pitch: 86 inches.
Width: 23 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt AC power port, wifi available through OnAir (who also provide the wifi for Qatar Airways), individual bar with a selection of soft drinks.
Audio and Video: Each seat is equipped with Emirates’ ICE inflight entertainment system with a huge selection of films, games, music and television programmes. The selection is extensive and has a good mix of classic and fairly recent films.

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Crap! The seats are covered in faux leather. I really do not like that because the plastic makes me feel sticky and sweaty. But apart from that, I think I shall never be a fan of this seat. In fact, I think it is in really bad taste. There is fake wood and gold coloured plastic everywhere. Furthermore, the design of the seat does not really make much sense either. On the side of the seat/suite there is the cabinet with the drinks. This is also where the remote control is. As a result, there is not really any space to put any drinks here. Either because the remote control is in the way, or because then you cannot open the drinks cabinet. As a result, the crew place things like drinks, nuts or the hot towel on the shelf in front of the screen. Which is okay. The only problem with that though, is that the shelf is too far away to be reached when you are sitting in your seat. There are a few other issues like this. There is a button on the left armrest to move the seat closer to the dining table. The only problem though, is that once the table is open, you can barely reach the buttons because they disappear under the table.

Oh yes, and after about thirty minutes the remote control decides to die on me. No more battery. And so I resort to using the touch screen, which again cannot be reached from a sitting position. All this is really no big deal, but it is hardly what you would expect from a first class product.

The Crew

There are twenty-three cabin crew on this flight. There is not really much I can say about them. They all seem friendly enough, although there is nothing personable about them and interaction with the passengers is kept to the minimum.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Coffee and a date filed with walnut.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel served on the ground. Unlike Qatar Airways, the towel is not handed to you on a dish but placed straight in your hand.
Pre-meal drink:
Orange juice with mixed warm nuts.
Choice:
There are two choices for the starter, four choices for the main course and four choices for dessert, including cheese.
Type of meal:
Lunch.

And what an appalling meal it is! I mean seriously? Where shall I start? *Standby for a major rant*

  1. Both appetizers on the menu do not sound or look overly attractive (really dry looking salmon or greasy duck), so I give that one a pass and simply start with the salad.
  2. I have just managed to put one macadamia nut in my mouth when the salad appears. We have a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes and only five passengers in First. Do you think you could maybe slow down a bit guys?
  3. The salad is really puny, like something SWISS would serve in Business Class. And that is not a compliment.
  4. About thirty seconds after the salad arrives, the main course makes its first appearance. I ask the cabin crew if she would mind bringing it back in a few minutes, once I have finished the salad.
  5. Big mistake. By the time I have finished the salad and the pasta arrives, it has already cooled down and is somewhat crispy… At least the portion is minute so I will not have to have a guilty conscience for not finishing all of it.
  6. For dessert I try the chocolate pear tart, which, for some unearthly reason, is salty and not sweet and generally not very tasty.
  7. And finally, to finish, a cup of instant coffee.
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The Salad

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The Main Course

Rigatoni with a creamy tomato sauce, aubergine and courgettes.

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The Dessert

Chocolate pear tart.

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Arrival

Shortly after the table is cleared again, it is already time for us to start our descent into Hong Kong. When we land, British Airways, Air France and Emirates are already there with their own A380. The odd one out is Lufthansa, who operate to Hong Kong with the B747-8.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Airport express and metro.
Departs from: Terminals 1 and 2, arrivals level.
Journey time: roughly 40 minutes.
Fare: HKD19.- for the airport express to Tsing Yi for two persons, and HKD18 for the metro from Tsing Yi to Mong Kok for two persons.

I am staying at the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok this time round. The easiest way to get there from the airport is to take the airport express and alight at the first stop, which is Tsing Yi. The journey from the airport to Tsing Yi takes about 15 minutes. From Tsing Yi you have to take the orange line one stop in the direction of Central. Then from there, all you need to do is cross the platform and catch a red line train also heading to Central. Mong Kok is the sixth stop.

Conclusion

Do not worry, I still have quite a way to go. Even so, following this somewhat sobering experience on Emirates First Class, I think now is a good time to share some thoughts.

First of all, personally I think Emirates really cannot keep up with Qatar Airways, both in terms of hardware and the overall experience. The Qatar Airways First Class cabin is very classy and understated. In contrast, the hardware on Emirates is in really quite bad taste. Honestly, who designed this kitsch? As far as usability is concerned, the Emirates suite also has some serious shortcomings. I also think that the Emirates First Class cabin and suite are starting to look a bit old fashioned and rather drab.

Furthermore, the crew on Qatar Airways are very friendly and pay a lot of attention to detail. It is little things. Whereas Qatar Airways will hand you the hot towel on a dish, on Emirates the flight attendant just places it in your hand, which is somewhat inconvenient if the towel is still hot.

And secondly, I think it is quite apparent that Lufthansa’s Mr Spohr and his colleagues with all the American carriers have found an excellent scapegoat to hide their own shortcomings and failures in Emirates. Repeatedly, Emirates has been made responsible for the ailing carrier’s appalling financial performance. But quite frankly, if Mr Spohr seriously thinks the premium product of an airline like Emirates is competition, then I can only deduce from this that he has obviously never tried them. But apart from all that, I really do think that the Middle East carriers – and that includes Qatar Airways – will always be at a serious disadvantage because no matter how short the transfer time at their hub in Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi is and not matter how fancy their premium product on the ground is, they will not be able to make up for the loss of time and inconvenience of not taking a nonstop flight.

And finally, as far as Emirates is concerned, there was a time when they set the industry standard. I very much feel that this is no longer the case.

The Peninsula Bangkok

Here is the link to the Peninsula website.

I really like the Bangkok Peninsula. In fact, I think it is probably the best one of the riverside hotels in Bangkok. The Hilton a bit further down is just enormous and somewhat anonymous, while the Mandarin Oriental on the opposite river bank from the Peninsula just seems slightly past its sell-by date.

The garden and poolside area is certainly one of the Peninsula’s best features. There are three cascading pools leading down to the balustrades overlooking the river. The upper pool is 25 metres long, so you can do laps.

The bar attendants make regular rounds with small snacks and drinks to make sure that all guest sitting by the pool have everything they need. On the down side, the last time I was staying at the Peninsula, there were two Geckos playing in the trees, which eventually disrupted a small green snake’s siesta time and subsequently ended up landing in my cabana and frightening me absolutely shitless, if I may say so.

The Peninsula’s gym is also rather good. Moreover, your typical Peninsula resident does not seem to frequent the gym that often and most of the time the place is deserted and you have all the machines and equipment to yourself. Most of the equipment in the gym is for cardio training but there are weights available if you are into lifting.

There is also a very good Thai restaurant in the garden of the hotel that goes by the name Thiptara. I am told by my dear friend D., who lived in Bangkok for a few years, that this one of the best places for Thai food in town. It certainly is very tasty. But beware if you do not like spicy food, because even when they cook a mild dish for westerners, it is still likely to blow the top of your head off!

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Qatar Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Doha to Bangkok

Folie11Folie1

Introduction

The ground attendant who picked me up from the Paris flight makes sure I am comfortable in the lounge before she bids me goodbye. She reminds me that she will be coming back to escort me to the aircraft at 01h15 for a 01h50 departure to Bangkok.

AL-Mourjan Business Class Lounge

Location: One floor up from the arrivals and transit security level.
Facilities:
À la carte and buffet restaurant one floor up from the main lounge area, bistro style restaurant on the main level, drinks and snack stations are available throughout the lounge; washrooms and showers are available, but you need to make an appointment for the showers.
Internet:
Free wifi is available throughout the entire lounge. The opening of the Qatar Airways First Class lounge is a long and complicated saga. Originally, it should have opened last April, at least that was the last date that was given for the opening, and even that had been moved a couple of times. I am not quite sure what the hold up is. In a way it is not really that important, given that Qatar Airways’ Business Class lounge puts many First Class lounges of other carriers to shame.

Boarding

The gate is on two levels. There is a separate waiting area for First and Business Class passengers on the upper level. To this end, premium passengers enter the lounge through a separate entrance, which leads straight to the stairs and lift to the upper level. At 01h15 the ground attendant returns to the lounge to pick me up. It is about five minutes from the lounge to the departure gate. She takes my boarding pass and passport and escorts me to the entrance of the aircraft, where she hands me over to the inflight service manager. Like the previous flight, tonight’s flight to Bangkok will be full.
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The Cabin

I am sitting on 2A, which is the first row in front of the galley. Initially I was a bit concerned it may be a bit noisy here, but in actual fact I am able to sleep perfectly and do not not hear a thing all night. A more detailed description of the cabin and seat can be found in my previous post. However, I manage to take some more photos before the other passengers on my row appear.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are even friendlier than the ones on the previous flight. I like the way they interact with the passengers. They are chatty and personable but still leave passengers their space.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Lime and mint juice with a ramekin of warm nuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Hot rose scented towel (I know M., …)
Type of meal:
Breakfast.

By the time we push back from the gate, it is already gone two o’clock. The flight time is announced as six hours and twenty minutes. So instead of indulging in another full meal, I decide to sleep instead. Before departure one of the crew comes to ask me if she should wake me for breakfast and to take my order for the meal.

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First Coure

Greek yoghurt with peach compote and toasted granola.

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The Main Course

Scrambled egg with a small piece of steak, Portobello mushrooms, hash brown.

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Amenities

Later on, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, she returns and makes up my bed for the night while I head for the bathroom to change. On night flights Qatar Airways will provide a Missoni pyjama and slippers. Basically, there are two sizes for the pjs – S/M and L/XL. The same goes for the slippers, although they are very comfortable.

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In any case, again the meal is very tasty and hits the spot nicely. It is not a full size meal but for me it is perfectly adequate.

Arrival

Despite the departure delay, we still manage to arrive in Bangkok more or less on time. The Emirates A380 has landed ahead of us, and for one horrible moment I am afraid this will mean chaos at immigration. But fortunately, that is not at all the case and even though I need a visa on arrival, I am out through immigration in no time.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Rolls-Royce sent by the hotel.
Departs from: Arrivals level at the airport.
Journey time: About 45 minutes, depending on the traffic. Once I have cleared immigration, I pass through customs and then proceed to gate B, which is located near carousel number 12. As I exit, the driver from the Peninsula is already expecting me. He takes my luggage and walks me to where the Rolls is already waiting.

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Qatar Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Paris-Roissy to Doha

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Folie1

Introduction

This is where the fun starts. I must say, since my trip to Singapore with Qatar Airways in June I have become quite a fan. Back in June I was certainly impressed by the quality of Qatar’s Business Class product, which only left me wondering what they could possibly offer with their new First Class product on the A380 that could top their Business Class. Time to find out, me thinks.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: RoissyVal – automated shuttle train.
Departs from: Roissypôle station, which serves Terminal 3. The CitizenM is two minutes away on foot.
Journey time: Roughly five minutes, the shuttle makes an intermediary stop at the long-term car park on its way to Terminal 1.
Fare: Complimentary.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 1, Hall 2.
Facilities: Airport check-in, Web check-in.
Counters: There are seven Economy Class counters, one counter for Qatar Airways status card holders, two Business Class counters, one First Class counter and a supervisor’s desk.

Check-in is swift and efficient. Fortunately, there is no queue for the First Class counters. The agent issues my boarding pass for the flight to Doha and for my connecting flight, hands me a lounge invitation and sends me on my way. There is nothing overly First Class about the transaction, but that is okay.

The boarding pass is marked with Accès No 1, which is the dedicated fast track for immigration and security later on. And thank God for that because the ‘normal’ queue for immigration is endless.

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The Air France Première Lounge

Location: The lounge is located behind immigration. To access the lounge, there are lifts at the very back of the duty free area. So far back that you are likely to miss the lifts if you are not paying attention. The Air France lounge is on the tenth floor.
Type of Lounge:
An invitation card is required to access the lounge.
Facilities:
None actually, loos are outside.
Catering: None either. There is s small bar with biscuits, Jacob’s crackers, instant noodle soup and some really sad looking sandwiches which taste of something indistinguishable but should be tuna. I think.
Internet:
Apparently free wifi is available, but I would not know because both my iPhone and my MacBook Air are unable to pick up a signal.

The lounge – no offence – really sucks. There is no other way to put it and I really cannot for the life of me imagine what is supposed to be First Class about it. I am aware of the fact that space is limited in Terminal 1 and the facility is difficult to expand. But it is not just that. Basically the Lounge looks like some sad, rundown hotel lobby from before I was born.

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Boarding

Theoretically there are two separate gates for this flight, one for the upper deck and another for the lower deck.

About an hour before departure I decide it is time to head for the gate. I mean, it is not exactly as though I will be missing anything much in the lounge… Security is swift, thanks to the Accès No 1 priority lane.

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Behind security though, the place is a mess. Quite simply, the satellites at Terminal 1 are way too small to accommodate an aircraft the size of the A380. The place is crawling with people and there is really no getting through. Eventually, there is even a gate change due to the fact that there is a United Airlines aircraft parked to our left and security will not allow the Qatar Airways passengers to walk past the entrance to the airbridge for that flight. And that is when chaos ensues. So in the sum of all things, yes there should be priority boarding, but there is not on this occasion. To be fair though, I should add that none of this is really any of Qatar Airways’ fault.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: I am sitting on 1A, which is the window seat on the left side of the aircraft. There are eight seats in total, all of which are 180 degrees lie flats. The seat is not necessarily as private as the Emirates seat or the Thai Airways A380 suite, but it is certainly much classier and very elegantly appointed. The only downside, from what I can tell, is that there does not appear to be a lot of storage space for items you may need during the flight. Other than that, small items of hand luggage can be placed under the footrest. For larger items there is a cupboard in front of the First Class cabin. Alternatively, every seat comes with its own closet behind the television screen, which offers enough space to hang some clothes and place a few items of hand luggage. Qatar Airways has installed the First Class cabin on the upper deck, ahead of the Business Class cabin. The lower deck is Economy Class only.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 23 inches.
Facilities: AC power outlets and USB ports are available at every individual seat in all cabin classes; wifi is also available on board and free of charge for First Class passengers.
Length as a bed: 83 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and Video on Demand. There is a large selection of films, television programmes and music to choose from, with a good mix of new releases and some classics.
Toilets: There are two toilets for eight passenger in First Class, which are located on either side of the stairs leading to the lower deck. There are fresh roses and even real orchids in the toilet. Cosmetics are provided by Rituals.

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As I step aboard, I am greeted by the inflight service manager, who immediately calls for one of the flight attendants to show me the way and help me get settled in my seat. Another flight attendant appears and asks me if there is anything I would like to drink and whether I would prefer a hot or a cold towel. She disappears and shortly after yet another flight attendant appears with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a ramekin with nuts and a rose scented hot towel (According to the valiant M., rose scent if for old ladies. And while I must concede that he does have point, I must also admit the towel is very refreshing…). A bit later on, two new cabin crew appear offering the traditional Arabic welcome of coffee and dates. I do not have a date but the coffee is excellent, with a subtle hint of cardamom.

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At some point I stop counting how many crew there are up front. Somehow it is always somebody else who serves me.

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Amenities

The amenity kit is in the closet of my seat. There are different kits for men and women. The kit for men contains:

  1. Socks.
  2. Eye shades.
  3. Ear plugs.
  4. Lip balm.
  5. Armani Acqua di Gio perfume.
  6. Armani Acqua di Gio aftershave balm.
  7. Armani Acqua di Gio energising lotion.

Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the toilets.

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The Meal

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice with nuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Rose scented hot or cold towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Fruity fizz mocktail – a refreshing balance of apple, cranberry and lime.
Choice:
There are four choices for the starter and one soup, plus four choices for the main, a cheese platter and four choices for dessert. It rarely happens to me but on this flight I am really lost for what to choose because all the dishes sound rather tasty.
Delivery:
À la carte dining is available throughout the flight.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Menu:
There is a separate menu for the wines. But I do not drink much anyway and rarely on a plane.

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Amuse Bouche

Amuse bouche of fig with cream cheese and a date filled with almond flakes and walnut paste.

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The Soup

Carrot and cumin soup with spices almond flakes and lemon crème fraîche.

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The First Course

Smoked mackerel and spring onion potato cake with garden peas, asparagus, sun dried tomato salad and horseradish dressing.

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The Main Course

Kerala style chicken Korma with chilli potatoes, onion and pine nut pilaf rice, cashew nuts and coriander rice with edamame beans and carrot stir-fry.

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Dessert

Warm dark chocolate and walnut tart with raspberries and crème fraîche ice cream.

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What can I say? The meal is truly excellent. But it is not just the taste, the presentation of the food is also very nice and every dish looks as though it was assembled individually.

The soup and the dessert are definitely the highlights of the meal. The soup has a nice tangy flavour and the spices really bring out the taste of the carrot. As for the warm tart, that simply tastes of heaven.

Arrival

The rest of the flight passes quickly. About an hour before we land in Doha, one of the flight attendants drops by and asks me if there is anything else I would like to eat before we land. But I am still full from the lunch and just have a cappuccino to wake me up.

Transfer in Doha

We land with a delay of about thirty minutes. As I exit the aircraft, there is a ground attendant expecting me to escort me through security and to the lounge. She advises me that she will return to pick me up when it is time for boarding.

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Lufthansa, First Class – Boeing B 747-8i: Frankfurt to Tokyo Haneda

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Transfer in Frankfurt

Transport: Mercedes Benz.
Departs from: Right outside the aircraft.
Journey time: About ten minutes.

I emerge from the aircraft to find the First Class and Hon transfer service already waiting. There are two other gentlemen making the journey to the terminal complex with me. The car drops me off at arrivals near the B gates.

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From here I take the stairs one floor up and then do a u turn which eventually brings me to immigration. From there I keep on walking until I reach gate B 22, where there are stairs and a lift to go up one floor to the First Class lounge on the B concourse.

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The Lufthansa First Class Lounge

Location: Near gate B 22 in the main terminal complex.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Lufthansa First Class lounge.
Facilities:
À la Carte dining restaurant as well as a very extensive and also very tasty buffet of hot and cold dishes, an incredibly well stocked bar, day rooms, shower rooms and bathrooms, lounging area, meeting rooms, smoking room, work stations.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge. A password is not required.

I really must hand it to Lufthansa: the lounges at their hub are really brilliant, just like this one. At reception I am welcomed by two friendly receptionist, who immediately take offence at my SWISS boarding pass that had been issued in Basel and immediately replace it with a Lufthansa branded one, which, incidentally, they also place in one of those totally camp, hopelessly useless but still rather nice board pass holders.

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Once I settle in, I decide to go freshen up. The lounge is completely deserted, literally. There are only two of us here. Even so, I expect there are probably rarely any queues for the showers – I count at least five shower rooms. Every room is stocked with fresh, soft towels, slippers, bathrobes and some nice toiletries by ETRO.

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Once I finish and exit the shower, one of the lounge attendants approaches me and asks me if there is anything I would like to drink. I grab some food from the buffet and make a start on the report. At this time of day there are only cold options at the buffet, with many different antipasti. Eventually I go for a plate with Hummus, Baba Ganouj, grilled asparagus with Parmesan, aubergines Parmigiana and some Asian inspired cucumber salad with chilli and coriander. Very tasty, but I will resist the desserts.

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Boarding

At 17:35 I return to reception. One of the lounge ladies accompanies me to the lift. As the doors close she says good bye and wishes me a safe journey. Thank you!

The lift opens again at ground level, where a young man is already expecting me. My driver. This time I shall be travelling in a Porsche Cayenne. This is just so cool. We are moving at a leisurely pace past the A 380s and B 747s lined up at the Z dock before eventually we pull up next ‘Bremen’, which will be flying me to Haneda today.

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We enter the building and take the lift one floor up. M., if you are reading this, it is not my fault. Honest! He did not even ask if I wanted to take the stairs instead! My driver accompanies me to the first of the two airbridges attached to our aircraft and wishes me a safe journey.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 1 on the first two rows, 1 + 2 + 1 on the third row.
Pitch: 85 inches.
Width: 31.5 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet, wifi provided by Skynet.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, remote control or touch screen operation.

On the Boeing 747-8i, Lufthansa has installed the First Class cabin on the main deck. There are eight seats in total. Due to the curvature of the nose of the aircraft towards the front, there are no seats in the middle on the first two rows, there only being seats 1A/K and 2A/K. There are two seats in the middle on row 3 though.

In the sitting position, the seat has a very open and airy feel to it. However, for more privacy there is a screen that can be raised around the sides and back of the seat.

The cabin and seat are very elegantly appointed, with lots of indirect lighting. The colours are a combination of brown, cream and white, which are soothing and calming.

Apparently the Boeing B 747-8i has a bit of an issue with the insulation, which tends to soak up the humidity in the cabin air. As a result, on long flights the excess liquid has been known to start dripping from the ceiling, earning the aircraft the name ‘Tropfsteinhöhle’ – Stalactite Cave – from the crew.

Of the eight seats, six are already taken when I arrive. At the time boarding is completed, that one seat remains vacant.

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The Crew

The captain comes on the PA to welcome us aboard. He also informs us that the tailwind component on runway 18 is too strong. Subsequently, all departing aircraft are going to have to use runway 25C instead. As a result, we will have to wait on board the aircraft for at least another hour. And indeed, eventually we end up taking off with a delay of ninety minutes over our scheduled departure time.

There is one young lady serving the First Class cabin today. She is friendly, warm and very professional.

Amenities

In short sequence she brings me the slippers, pjs, vanity kit, the macadamia nuts and the orange juice I ask her for.

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Later on, when it becomes apparent that there is not going to be any improvement on our departure time, she distributes the menus, takes orders for a second drinks rounds and serves the amuse bouche.

Amuse Bouche

Crab meat salad with pickled cucumber and roe of flying fish.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: orange juice with macadamia nut, later still water and plum wine.
Hot towel before the meal: scented hot towel. It is rather a strong and masculine smell.
Pre-meal drink:
still water.
Choice:
there is a choice between a Japanese meal and a Western meal. In both cases there are two options for the main course.
Delivery:
trolley service.
Appearance:
the starters are served from a trolley and passengers are free to combine, mix and match as they like.
Type of meal:
dinner.

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The Caviar Service

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The First Course

A selection of marinated asparagus saladas, sorted hams, smoked fish mousse and cucumber salad.

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The Salad

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The Main Course

Steak with fried onions, leek and potato mash.

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The Cheese

Cabrissac, Blue Stilton, Pont l’Evêque, Chaource, Felsenkeller with orange chutney.

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Dessert

Manjari chocolate, coffee ice cream and golden nuts.

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All in all, the quality and taste of the food is quite good. My only complaint really, is the presentation of the main course. I mean, look at it! The green makes the leek and potato mash look positively venomous, even though it tastes just fine. A chef once told me that in a decent restaurant, a plate will always be served with an uneven number of items on it. Apparently the eye finds this more appealing. To be honest, I had never really paid much attention, but having seen this main course, I think understand what he meant now.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: yes, another one of those nice hot and scented affairs.
Drinks: orange juice, followed by a choice of filter coffee or cappuccino

  1. fresh fruit
  2. cornflakes with milk
  3. mango and passion fruit curd with passion fruit seed yoghurt
  4. selection of cheese and cold cuts
  5. scrambled egg with bacon or chives on demand
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Arrival

The weather in Japan is about as bad as it was in Switzerland yesterday, with the difference that it is much warmer here. 40 minutes out of Haneda we descend into the murky grey below and only emerge underneath the cover of cloud shortly before touchdown.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Bus line 7.
Departs from: International Terminal.
Journey time: About 40 minutes.
Fare: 569 Yen.
If you are travelling to Yokohama, the easiest way to get there from Haneda is by direct bus. There are even busses that go directly to most of the large hotel chains. However, the frequency of the hotel busses is not so good. So instead, I shall be taking a bus to Yokohama railway station and will try to make my way to the hotel from there.

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Alternatively, if you prefer taking the train, take the Keikyu Line to Shinagawa. The journey from Haneda to Shinagawa takes 13 minutes. At Shinagawa, transfer to a JR Tokaido Line train to Yokohama, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.

Conclusion

So what about my Lufthansa experience? It has been quite a while since my last flight with the carrier, so I was rather curious to see what they are like now, or perhaps what my perception of them is. As far as the ground product goes, I really do think that there is no European carrier that can touch Lufthansa. I think Frankfurt is one huge mess, but if you are travelling in First Class with Lufthansa, none of that really matters and the carrier goes to great lengths to keep you away from the chaos, the hustle and bustle and the crowds.

The inflight product on the other hand, is a different matter. The Boeing B 747-8 is a gorgeous bird, really. I also think it was the right decision by Lufthansa to move the First Class cabin from the upper deck into the nose of the main deck. Having said that, I am not really sure all passengers will equally be ale to appreciate the location of the First Class cabin in the nose of the beast. I was on 1K, so I had the entire cabin behind me. I was also very far away from the noise. But I think If I had been on row 3 I may not have been such a happy bunny, the noise and the light from the galley are quite glaring.

The crew were friendly enough, no complaints there. And the food was good too. But all in all, presentation was lacking and choices were limited. If you do not like meat, you are in serious trouble in Lufthansa First Class.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Embraer 190: Feeding into the mega hub

Check-in

Location: Departures on the first floor.
Facilities: Self-service machines and dedicated counters.
Counters: There are three counters (64 – 66) available for Star Alliance flights in check-in hall 1 on the Swiss side of the terminal, although only one of the two Economy Class counters and the Business Class counter are staffed when I arrive.

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The check-in agent seems a bit upset. I am not really sure if it because I am only going on such a far away trip for the weekend of if she just does not approve of my somewhat limited luggage. ‘Do you have check-in luggage?’ ‘Uhm, no.’ She wrinkles her nose. ‘May I see your hand luggage…? Is that all your luggage?’ ‘Uhm, yeah’. She wrinkles her nose again. She issues my boarding passes. No bye, no thank you, nothing. Yes, well it was nice talking to you to, Ma’am.

I head for the stairs to take me one floor up to security and the departure gates. Just as I am about to climb the stairs some dude comes rushing up from the Easyjet check-in area and body-checks just about everyone, including me, in his way as he elbows his way forward. Apparently, his Easyjet flight is leaving in ten minutes. So apparently, his on time performance is totally crap too.

Once I am through security I go and take a look, just out of curiosity. I do not think he is going to make it. There is only one Easyjet aircraft standing around, heading for Thessaloniki, and that is just pushing back…Shame the queue for security is so long today.

In any case, I shall refrain from giving you another full-on review of the flight to Frankfurt. First of all, because it is hardly long enough. Secondly, because I have already covered things like the lounge in Basel in some of my previous reports.

The flight to Frankfurt is operated by an Embraer 190 with a configuration of 2 + 2. In Business Class, one of the two seats is kept empty and a small tray table is fixed to the spare seat to provide some extra storage area. There are five passengers in Business Class on today’s flight.

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The Cabin

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The Meal

Despite the relatively short flight time of only 50 minutes, Lufthansa serves a meal on a tray on this sector. In this particular case, the meal consists of a double-decker sandwich with a layer of smoked salmon and cream cheese and another with boiled egg and watercress. The meal is fine, but perhaps a tad heavy on the sweet stuff. There is a Danish pastry on the plate, as well as two filled Easter eggs and a small box of chocolates.

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Transfer in Frankfurt

Transport: Mercedes Benz
Departs from: Right outside the aircraft
Journey time: About ten minutes

We land on the northern most runway, which is not really that big a deal if you are travelling in First Class because at least this runway is closer to some of the remote stands for Lufthansa’s regional fleet, right behind the threshold of runway 18.

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I emerge from the aircraft to find the First Class and Hon transfer service already waiting. There are two other gentlemen making the journey to the terminal complex with me. The car drops me off at arrivals near the B gates.

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From here I take the stairs one floor up and then do a u turn which eventually brings me to immigration. From there I keep on walking until I reach gate B 22, where there are stairs and a lift to go up one floor to the First Class lounge on the B concourse.

Korean Air, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Seoul to Frankfurt

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Introduction

I suppose it probably is unusual for me to take as much as four flights with the same carrier in one trip. Perhaps that is also why I am not really quite sure what else to write about on this last leg of my journey. Having said that, I think the fact that I really am somewhat at a loss for what to write is a testimony to the consistency and strength of the Korean Air product. On all the flights I have taken, the crews have been excellent, friendly and very professional.

In the sum of all things, I think Korean Air is highly underrated. But possibly that is just my perception because I live in Switzerland. Although Korean Air flies to Zürich, they are not at all prominent in the market, most likely because the Swiss market is such a Star Alliance stronghold. In a way, Korean Air feels a lot like an invisible airline, and I can not fully explain why, because I think they can certainly hold their own compared to many of the other Asian carriers.

In my view, the only area where Korean Air is seriously lacking, is the inflight entertainment. The selection is really very limited and the available choices are somewhat strange. The Business Class earphones are nothing to write home about either. But at least you can work your way around that problem and use your own pair. The standard plug works.

Check-in

My first stop is at the check-in counters on Row C to drop off my bag for the flight to Frankfurt. My boarding pass for the flight was already issues the day before when I checked in for the flight from Auckland to Seoul. The check-in agent writes the gate number on my boarding pass and wishes me a pleasant journey.

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The airport is very busy this morning, especially the Korean Air counters. The line for Economy Class check-in is winding itself along the length of rows A, B and C. Even so, everything is neat, calm and orderly and even security and emigration do not take long to complete, despite all the passengers.

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The Korean Air Lounge

In contrast, the Korean Air lounge is nearly deserted this morning. Later on, one of the flight attendants explains to me that there is a big Korean holiday in two days time. I suspect that might explain the long queue for Economy check-in and the lack of Korean passengers in the Business Class lounge.

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Boarding

As it happens, my flight today will be boarding from gate 22, from where I caught the flight to Nadi earlier in the week. There do not appear to be any First Class passengers on today’s flight.

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The Cabin

The load on today’s flight is very light. Of the fourteen seats in the forward Business Class compartment only six are occupied. One of the cabin crew confirms that there are many empty seats on today’s flight.

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The Crew

Once the doors close, the cabin crew position themselves in both aisles at the front if each cabin compartment and bow as the first announcement is made, welcoming passengers aboard. Once the announcement is finished, the purser comes by to introduce herself personally and thank each passenger for flying Korean Air. It is obviously just a small gesture, but I think it has style.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: A choice of sparkling wine, still water, guava juice or orange juice, served with a packet of coated peanuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel
Pre-meal drink:
Sherry
Choice:
There are two Korean dishes and two Western dishes to choose from.
Delivery:
Trolley service
Type of meal:
Lunch

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Amuse Bouche

Green olive, mozzarella and cherry tomato in olive oil.

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The First Course

Seared scallops with mixed salad, black mushroom and filled aubergine.

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The Main Course – Bibimbap

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The Cheese

Crackers and cheese – Chaumes, Carré de l’Est, St. Maure de Touraine.

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Dessert

Mocca Chiffon cake.

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Just as the meal finishes, I look out to see we are just passing over Beijing, the airport clearly visible from above.

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The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Choice:
There is one Korean dish and two Western dishes to choose from.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Snack.

  1. Seasonal greens with roasted garlic, courgette and aubergine with dressing
  2. Rice cake soup
  3. Seasonal fresh fruit
  4. Selection from the bread basket
  5. Tea or coffee
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The second service starts four hours out of Frankfurt. By the time the service is completed, we still have three hours to go to our destination. So the lights go out again. This is really the one thing I do not understand about Korean Air. Would it not make more sense to start the service later, rather than waking people up to feed them in mid-flight, at the risk of them not being able to fall asleep again?

The rice cake soup was a mistake, by the way. Like a really big mistake. It is not that the meal was badly cooked or anything like that, it is just that it does not really tasty of anything much. When the cabin crew sees my plate is still full, she immediately offers to bring me something else from the menu. She seems genuinely upset that I did not like the dish. I try to explain to her that it is okay, but she seems reluctant to let it go.

Arrival

45 minutes out of Frankfurt the captain makes an announcement to inform us that we have started our initial descent. The cabin crew make one last drink round, offering water and juices and then secure the cabin for arrival.

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Korean Air uses Terminal 2 in Frankfurt. I collect my suitcase and head over to Terminal 1 from where my flight to Basel will be leaving.

Malaysia Airlines, First Class – A 380: Paris to Kuala Lumpur

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Transfer in Paris Roissy

I just landed in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on a SWISS flight from Zürich. The only benefit in choosing SWISS over Air France for this journey is that they operate out of Terminal 1 – which is the same terminal Malaysia Airlines uses.

Check-in

Location: Hall 5, in the basement of Terminal 1.
Facilities: Airport check-in.
Counters: Dedicated Malaysia Airlines counters, with a separate counter for First Class passengers.

Online check-in is not available for this flight because the trip was not booked via the Malaysia Airlines website. And using the Malaysia App only works if you are a member of their frequent flyer programme. So upon arrival from Zürich I head landside and then three floors down to the Malaysia Airlines counters to check-in for my flight. I have hand luggage only. The agent issues my boarding passes for Kuala Lumpur and beyond, hands me an invitation to the lounge and wishes me a good flight.

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Finding your way around Roissy 1 is not easy. Being a circle, you would think the place would be easy enough to navigate. But perhaps precisely because the building is round it can be quite challenging to find your bearings.

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The Salon Icare Lounge

Location: The lounge is located in the main building, before you cross over to the satellite.
Type of Lounge:
ICARE Aéroports de Paris contractor lounge.
Facilities:
A small bar area, there are no toilet facilities in the lounge.
Internet:
Available, no password required.

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The ICARE lounge leaves much to be desired. It is not a First Class lounge, just a very generic, old-fashioned and tired looking facility. There are even a few old Lufthansa seats. But it serves its purpose and the wifi connection is good enough for me to upload the first part of this trip report, covering my somewhat disappointing flight with SWISS from Zürich to Paris.

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Boarding

Departure for the flight is scheduled for 12:00. The gate opens at 10:30 and boarding starts at 11:15. The A 380 is a big girl. As a result, it takes three gates to board the aircraft. Gate 48 on the far left is for Economy Class passengers on the main deck. Gate 47 is for First Class passengers and status card holders, while gate 46 is for Business Class passengers and Economy Class passengers seated on the upper deck.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Malaysia Airlines has its First Class cabin on the lower deck. There are eight seats on two rows. The seat is large and plush and offers a lot of privacy. Perhaps the seat’s most striking feature is the huge amount of stowage space for small items in the sides. In addition, every seat has its own closet with three hangars. And there is enough space under the ottoman to stow one piece of carry on luggage. For passengers travelling with bulky items, there is also a separate, large locker at the front of the First Class cabin.

The seat has warm colours – red and brown – which give the cabin a very welcoming and cosy look and feel. All in all, the seat is very comfortable, also when extended into a bed.

Pitch: 89 inches
Width: 26.1 inches
Facilities: USB port and power supply (115 volt).
Length as a bed: 87 inches
Audio and Video: 23 inch monitor with audio and video on demand.

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Admittedly, the toilets on Malaysia’s A 380 are nowhere near as fancy and large as the ones Lufthansa has installed in First Class on the A 380. But they are large enough for an averagely sized adult male, okay me, to change comfortably. The toilet is stocked with Aigner cosmetics, including different eau de toilette for men and women.

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The Crew

There are four cabin crew working the First Class cabin – one female and three males. The purser comes to introduce himself and shakes my hand, which I think is a very nice gesture. The crew are all very charming, friendly and chatty. Their English is really excellent, which already struck me the last time I flew with Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong last year.

Amenities

In between the hot towel and the welcome drink the female flight attendant comes along with a large paper bag containing goodies for the flight. The bag contains:

  1. Pyjamas in my size (L)
  2. Decently sized slippers (I wear a size 46 shoe).
  3. A decent size vanity kit containing Bulgari cosmetics (Essence de Thé Blanc), a dental kit with Colgate toothbrush, tooth past and mouthwash, socks and eye shades. There are no earplugs in the kit. Shaving sets, more tooth brushes and combs are available in the toilet.

The flight attendant informs me that she will bring the earphones after take-off, once the IFE starts working.

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We take off in a westerly direction. I know I say this every time, but the A 380 really is amazing. Despite its size the aircraft accelerates rapidly down the runway, even though the flight is pretty full today. During the take-off roll the noise from the engines is so quiet that I can even hear a baby crying somewhere on the upper deck!

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Pre-meal drink:
Mineral water and a half glass of Dom Pérignon 2004, which I took more out of curiosity than anything else.
Choice:
Three starters and main courses.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.

The meal starts immediately once the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off. The pace of the service is excellent, there are no long waits but there is enough time between the courses for the meal not to be rushed. The crew are very attentive, making sure that glasses are regularly replenished.

Amuse Bouche

Duck magret and melon balls skewer.

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The Satay Course

Charcoal hand grilled beef and chicken satay with peanut sauce and accompaniments.

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The Caviar Service

Served with smoked salmon and asparagus, blinis, chopped onion, parley, crème fraîche and lemon.

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The Soup

Cream of potato with marinated chicken and crispy onion.

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The Main Course

Chicken Biryani with rice and vegetable pickles.

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The Fruit

A selection of fresh fruit.

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Dessert

Crunchy coffee pastry.

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After the meal I have a short nap. The flight attendant sees me settling in and brings me a larger, more comfortable and fluffy pillow and a thick blanket. However, he does not suggest making up my bed. So to be honest, I am not entirely sure if Malaysia even do a turn down service like SWISS or British Airways for example.

The Inflight Snack

I spend the rest of the flight in the cosiness of the warm cabin, lying under my blanket reading. Around halfway into the flight, roughly somewhere north of Karachi, I start to feel peckish again. I think it is time for another dose of protein and carbs. So I order the noodles in a vegetable-based soup with shredded chicken, prawns, bean curd, fish balls and Asian greens from the snack menu. The soup is served with a healthy dose of chilli and crispy onions. And to finish off the meal I have two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

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The Second Service

Wake up drink: Orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes.
Choice:
Four main courses.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Meal:

  1. Juice – fresh orange juice.
  2. Fresh fruits – melon, grapefruit, grapes, papaya, pineapple.
  3. Bread – individual basket with assorted rolls, served with strawberry jam and marmalade.
  4. Hot meal – Nasi Lemak – rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fresh ginger, prawn sambal, with traditional accompaniments (dried fish, peanuts, cucumber, boiled egg).
  5. Hot drink – Teh Tarik (milky sweet tea).

The second service starts about 90 minutes out of KL. Slowly the lights go on and I am brought a glass of fresh orange juice and a hot towel. Once more the service is swift and well paced. The food is very tasty, especially the Nasi Lemak is very fragrant and quite spicy.

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Arrival

Our arrival and approach into KL is quite spectacular. Below us there are thick clouds with frequent flashes of lightning. It is a spectacular backdrop as we descend through thick layers of cloud towards our destination. And then we land.

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All in all I enjoyed this Malaysia Airlines First Class experience, although it was a bit of a mixed bag. The hardware – the seat – is certainly very nice, in fact it is one of my favourites. However, as far as the service and the food is concerned, both looked and felt a lot more like a Business Class flight, and not even an exceptionally good one. It is the little details that can make a huge difference. And this is where I thought Malaysia was lacking, particularly compared to the competition.

I am still not quite there yet. One more flight to go…