Air Malta, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Frankfurt

Introduction

So eventually the marathon had to be cancelled because of the storm. And what a storm it was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. On Sunday morning I fire up the flightradar24 app just for the fun of watching one aircraft after another executing a missed approach and coming around for a second attempt – and hoping the weather will have calmed down by the time my flight to Frankfurt leaves at 16h25…

Getting to the Airport

I leave the Hilton in St. Julian’s at around 14h20. The trip to the airport normally only takes about twenty minutes in good traffic. But given the weather situation, god knows what might happen on the way. And indeed, I do pass a car accident on the road, that was caused by a falling tree.

Check-in

There are now multipurpose machines for check-in at Malta Airport. However, seeing as I’ll have to go to a manned check-in counter anyway to pick up my invitation to the La Valette lounge, I figure I might as well go to the counter straight away.

In front of me at the dedicated Business Class counter is an Economy Class passenger who is refusing to pay for his checked luggage. But he obviously picked the wrong young lady in an Air Malta uniform, because she’s obviously not having any of his nonsense. It’s quite funny to watch. Eventually, she moves him aside and tells him she needs to check in some passengers while he decided what he wants to do. But clearly, she’s not going to give him an inch…

The Lounge

The departure lounge at the airport has become too small for the amount of traffic it handles. There are people everywhere and barely enough places to sit. Although of course there are also those who just sit on the floor out of principle, because they’re just so unconventional…

Thank god I have access to the Business Class lounge… which turns out to be unusually busy. Even so, I like this lounge, it ticks all the boxes: good views of the apron, comfortable seating and a small but nice food selection (Kinnie and pastizzi, what else…).

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. All the flights are running just a little bit late today, mainly because most of them have had to do a go around on the inbound. The distance to the plane is only a short one to walk. But it’s started to rain again, so I must say I’m rather glad when I see a bus pulling up at our gate to take us to the aircraft.

The Cabin

There are just a few minor oddities in this cabin. At a glance, it looks like your regular Air Malta cabin. However, first I notice that there is no cabin divider and no other sign to mark off the Business Class section of the aircraft from the Economy Class section, other than the headrest covers. Secondly, the seats are different. Previously, the first few rows of seats were installed with a small table between the aisle and the window seat which folded away into the back of the middle seat to convert the seat into an Economy Class configuration. But that does not seem to be the case here.

Initially, I’m seated on 1D, the aisle seat. But once boarding is completed, it becomes clear that there are three rows of Business Class for only three Business Class passengers. So I move back to 2F for a seat by the window.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on the flight. Two men and two women. The service on the ground is done by the younger one of the females, while the main service during the flight is done by the maître de. The latter is very attentive. Throughout the meal service she’s prowling the cabin. No sooner has a passenger finished their meal, she removes the tray and asks about tea or coffee.

While we’re still on the ground, the crew offer still water or orange juice as a welcome drink. They also pass through the cabin with copies of the Sunday Times of Malta.

The flight time is announced as two hours and thirty minutes. What’s more, for the very first time in my life, we’ll be departing from runway 05. This is the first runway that was ever built for the original airport after World War II. It’s only 2300 metres long and therefore only used nowadays when the wind makes it necessary. Like today.

Our take-off is surprisingly calm. It’s only bumpy for the first minute or so. As we climb out over the coast, the sea still looks really rough and quite violent.

The fasten seat belt sign is turned off only once we settle into the cruise at 34’000 feet. The crew pass through the cabin taking orders for pre-meal drinks and distributing hot towels. Of course it goes without saying that I have a Kinnie.

The Meal

Much to my surprise and delight, Air Malta offers a hot meal on its service to Frankfurt. The service consists of:

First Course

Tomato and Mozzarella salad with spinach, black olives and olive oil.

Main Course

Chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with polenta and steamed vegetables.

The Cheese

A slice of Camembert, Cheddar and Gbejna, served with two warm rolls. Gbejna is a Maltese goat cheese.

Dessert

Coconut cake with a thin layer of cream and strawberry jam.

And to conclude, I have a cup of black tea.

Once that’s over, it’s really not as though I haven’t had enough food. But I give in to my craving – which sounds so much nicer than compulsion – and buy myself a packet of Twistees from the inflight shop. Twistees are just one of those things I remember from my childhood in Malta. I don’t think you can get them anywhere else than Malta, which is why they are so closely linked to my childhood in my mind.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Frankfurt at 19h25. By the time we pull up to our assigned stand, it’s just gone 19h30 and I now have one hour to make the connection to Basel.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Frankfurt to Malta

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Malta for this year’s edition of the Malta Marathon. I shall be running the half-marathon with a distance of 21.1 kilometres, which is in fact longer than the width of the island!

I confess I’m a bit of a wuss, I’ve never been able to bring up the cojones to attempt a full marathon. That’s still one for the bucket list. Others of course, like my friend the valiant M., probably do a nippy full marathon every morning, just to work up an appetite for breakfast…

But I digress. Again. So yes, last year I flew with Lufthansa via Munich and I must say, I was hardly impressed. But given my recent, rather positive experiences on SWISS, I figured I might as well give Lufthansa another chance. There’s also that fact that their schedule is the most convenient for my purpose.

Getting to the Airport

Just to give Lufthansa a bit of a head start, I shall not regale you with a full trip report of the Basel to Frankfurt sector. Suffice to say it was not so nice. My biggest complaint is the aircraft. Those Canadair RegionalJets really are stinkers! Everything is really tight and cramped and the bins are simply too small for all the hand luggage people take on board these days.

Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

The bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me somewhere in the bowels of the A concourse of Terminal 1. From here I take the stairs one floor up and make my way to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge.

The lounge is nicely designed and very bright, using a lot of white paint and light wooden panelling. The views of the apron are quite spectacular too, despite those pesky stripes that run along the width of the windows.

It’s just too bad there hardly any place left to sit. There are people everywhere and I’m left wondering if all these good men and women really have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than hang around an airport lounge. But it doesn’t matter. I only have about 15 minutes in the lounge before it’s time for me to head for gate A 36, from where the flight will be boarding.

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Boarding

Only, getting to the gate may prove to be a bit trickier than I thought. The queue of passengers for Schengen emigration is so long that it’s blocking access to the A concourse, which is in the opposite direction from the non-Schengen area. But eventually, after a long stream of ‘uh…sorry…hello…’tschuldigung…was that your toe, sorry…excuse me’ I finally get through and reach my gate just as boarding is about to start.

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The Cabin

Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 321. I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. On this side of the aircraft, row 2 is the first row of Business Class, there is no row 1. Whereas on the opposite side there is.

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The leg space is excellent on the bulkhead row. Other than that though, the seat is very hard, with little or no cushioning and – and I know I keep saying this – the grey metallic finish of the panelling really makes the cabin look rather dark and gloomy.

In total, there are 14 Business Class seats on this service. Occupancy is at 50%, with six human beings and a rather regal looking feline who looks as though he owns the aircraft. And Lufthansa actually…

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The Crew

The maître de is a woman in her fifties, I should say. What strikes me about her is the eloquence and ease with which she makes her announcements. It seems unrehearsed, but it comes across as being very polished, charming and approachable.

The service only begins really once the aircraft is airborne. Until then, unlike SWISS or KLM, there is no welcome drink, refreshing towel or anything of the sort.

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The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins. Despite the fairly long flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes it is obviously not foreseen that there should be a drinks service before the meal.

The meal is cold and consists of:

  1. a very nice yoghurt, the content of which I was unable to make out, save for the slice of orange and the pistachios,
  2. a plate of cheese,
  3. a plate of cold meats,
  4. a bowl of fruit,
  5. a selection of buns and croissants that are served warm and nearly burn your fingers,
  6. the bread is served with unsalted butter and Hero strawberry jam,
  7. cream, sugar and a towl are also on the tray.

As the flight attendant passes through the cabin with the bread basket, she encourages the passengers to take as much as they like, insisting that there’s really more than enough. All in all, the meal is rather tasty and hits the spot nicely.

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Arrival

It looks like it’s my lucky day today. Landings and take-offs are towards the north, which means that passengers seated on the starboard side of the aircraft are treated to a spectacular view of the island.

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The airport is fairly busy when we arrive, but seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m already on the X2 bus to St. Julian’s within just 15 minutes of landing.

Conclusion

5 Star Airline – I don’t think so…

So what about my Lufthansa experience? First of all, to be fair, I think I should say straight away that this experience was by far much more agreeable to the flight from Munich to Malta last year. Where last year’s crew were a right bunch of nasty old witches, this lot was a more accommodating and willing to interact in a professional and friendly way with the passengers. On this flight I actually felt welcome, and not like I was a burden.

On the down side, and I know this is something Lufthansa has only limited control over, the experience on the ground in Frankfurt really is a nightmare. The airport is a rat hole, with long journeys by bus to and from the aircraft, seemingly endless corridors to walk along and people everywhere that make it difficult to get through.

The inflight product on the other hand, is something Lufthansa very much can control, which makes it all the more unfortunate that precisely this is the carrier’s weakest point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what passengers are offered on board in Business Class, it’s just that it’s quite obvious that every attempt has been made to cut costs. I don’t in principle think there’s anything wrong with that. After all, the airline is accountable to its shareholders. But even so, I think the passengers should never be allowed to see the cost cutting.

Other than that, throughout today’s flight there was a constant stream of passengers coming through from Economy Class to use the forward toilet. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them, given that the crew left the curtain between Business Class and Economy open throughout the flight and actually encouraged passengers to use the forward loo. Again, this is in itself not a big issue. But it certainly makes me wonder wherein exactly Lufthansa sees the selling point of its European Business Class product: it’s not the lounges, because they’re too full to be enjoyed anyway; it’s not the catering; and the seat is the same one they have installed in the back of the bus. Which leaves what exactly?

So in the sum of all things, yeah this flight was not bad. But honestly, if anyone at Skytrax seriously thinks Lufthansa is deserving of its 5 Star ranking, then I suspect they probably also still believe in Father Christmas.

Lufthansa, Business Class – ERJ-190: Frankfurt to Basel

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Introduction

It’s rather difficult to describe Frankfurt without availing oneself of language unsuitable for social media and the web. The place is way too big and quite simply a mess.

Transfer in Frankfurt

Mode of transport: Automated Skytrain on the roof of Terminal 2.
Frequency: Every two minutes during peak times.
Journey time: Five minutes
Fast track for security: For First and Business Class passengers.

The Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong arrives at Frankfurt’s Terminal 2. My onward connection to Basel will be departing from Terminal 1’s A gates. The quickest was to the A gates from Terminal 2 is via the Skytrain located on the roof.

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The final stop of the Skytrain is for the Z and A gates of Terminal 1. But first I have to go through security. There is a dedicated line for First and Business Class passengers, which is considerably shorter than the Economy Class queue.

From security you should theoretically be able to head two floors down to immigration to enter the Schengen area. But not this morning. The stairs have been cordoned off. Apparently the queues at immigration are too long. So instead, we’re advised to walk all the way to immigration near gate A 26, five minutes away. In theory there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, I’ve just spent nearly thirteen hours on a plane without any major physical activity. However, given that I’ll have to backtrack all the way once I reach the Schengen area on the lower level to reach the Senator lounge is, the whole thing does seem awfully dumb really.

The Lufthansa Senator Lounge

Location: On the Schengen level, in the atrium of the new A+ gates
Type of Lounge: Senator lounge
Facilities: Washrooms, showers, public computers, buffet
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi; there is no password

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Where on earth have all these people come from? Haven’t they got anything better to do on a Sunday morning than hang around at Frankfurt airport? The lounge is absolutely packed when I arrive, the only places left to sit are the bar stools. Well, I guess at least this will keep me from falling asleep. I get myself a caffé latte and continue working on my trip report.

Boarding

A69 is a bus gate, there is no separate bus for Business Class passengers

Thank God I decided to walk all the way to the Senator lounge once I’d reached the Schengen area. Initially I’d contemplated using the Business Class lounge right behind immigration, but eventually figured it would be more convenient to take a lounge located in closer proximity to my departure gate. Even so, it’s still a ten minute walk from the Senator lounge to gate A 69 at the very end of the A+ pier.

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I arrive to find the gate already deserted. I head downstairs and even though I’m holding up the proceedings and the bus, I still have to give in to my impulse to take a picture of the B 747-8 parked right in front of us.

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Our Embraer is parked right behind the threshold of runway 18, at the far end of the apron. The journey by bus to get there takes 10 minutes to complete with all the stopping and starting.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: Standard economy seat with one of the seats on the row of two kept empty
Facilities: Hook to hang a jacket

The cabin looks very cleared up, although with all the grey it also looks a bit bland. There are seven rows of Business Class on today’s flight, with fourteen passengers in total. In the back there are only about another twenty passengers or so.

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At least the good thing of parking in such a remote spot is that we don’t have far to go to reach the departing runway.

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The Crew

There are two female flight attendants working the flight. The purser is a middle-aged, friendly woman. The other is also female, younger and exudes about as much charm and warmth as a visit to the dentist.

The Meal

Delivery: Individual tray
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery, glassware and a paper cup for the coffee
Type of Meal: Continental breakfast

  1. Natural Yoghurt with berries and almonds
  2. A cold plate with cheese and smoked meat
  3. A selection from the breadbasket
  4. Freshly squeezed orange juice
  5. Tea or coffee
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The quality of the meal is very good and the presentation is also nice and appealing. Furthermore, it’s quite a substantial meal, particularly given that the flight time to Basel is only 35 minutes!

Arrival

We approach the airport from the north, passing over the Peugeot factory in France. In the background there appears to be snow on the hills on the other side of the Rhine in Germany.

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From the gate it’s just a short walk to the luggage reclaim area. As I reach the luggage carousel for my flight, I’m somewhat surprised to find that apparently the suitcases for our flight are expected in 12 minutes, which seems awfully long for such a small airport. Eventually though, we end up having to wait a full thirty minutes before the first bags start arriving. At least both of the suitcases I checked in made it back to Basel with me.