Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320NEO: London Heathrow to Malta

My flight to Malta will be departing at 11:25. I check on flightradar24 for the whereabouts of my aircraft. It looks as though the inbound from Malta will be on time.

Today’s flight is special for two reasons: first of all, because today I’m finally getting my cherry popped, so to speak, because it’s my first time ever on a NEO. And secondly, this will be my first flight with Air Malta since the introduction of their new Business Class catering.

In Heathrow, Air Malta serves Terminal 4. They check-in on row H.

There are three check-in counters open. Two for Economy Class and one for Business Class passengers.

Air Malta uses The House Lounge, which previously belonged to Etihad Airways. The lounge is located one floor down from the SkyTeam lounge and the entrance is near gate 10.

There are only few passengers in the lounge at this time of day.

The lounge is rather nice and even has a separate dining area, where you can have food from the buffet or à la carte menu.

Washrooms and showers are also available in the lounge.

The flight is boarding from gate 20, which is a bitch to take pictures of the aircraft from…

I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but boarding is chaos. The flight is totally sold out and they’ve screwed up most people’s advanced seat reservations.

I’m seated on 1F. The cabin on the NEO has new seats installed that are thinner than those on the rest of the fleet.

Red is an interesting colour to pick for the seat covers, but I think they manage to pull it off.

Seat pitch is great on row 1. The middle seat is kept empty and there are electricity plugs too. On today’s flight there are 6 rows of Business Class for a total of 24 seats. And the cabin is sold out!

Service on the ground starts with a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice or water for a welcome drink and the distribution of newspapers.

Departure is at 12:40 and the flight time is two hours and 50 minutes. The one thing I do notice about the NEO, is that it’s very quiet on take-off.

As soon as the cabin crew is released, the service for the meal starts. First the crew take orders for drinks. I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon.

Next the menu is distributed, which seems a bit unnecessary, seeing as there are no choices anyway except for the dessert.

Ahead of the meal, hot towels are handed out.

The new Business Class product is quite nice, I think, and captures the feel of the Maltese islands well. The tray is served with the first course, olive oil and warm bread on it.

The presentation of the meal is nice. But the quality of the food is not all that good. The starter is smoked salmon tartar with crème fraîche.

Once I’m done with the starter, the dish is removed and the main course is served. This is veal filled with a chicken and cheese stuffing. It’s quite okay. Sorry about the photo. I had already started to dig in before I remembered to take a picture…

And finally, for dessert I go with the fruit.

The service is by individual tray. So there is no trolley in the aisle. While I generally agree that this is a nicer way to present the food, I also think today’s flight shows that it’s unsuitable for a full cabin: the crew are walking up and down the aisle throughout the meal service, bringing or removing things. As a result, there’s constantly foot traffic in the cabin during the meal service.

Drinks are rather difficult to come by on this flight. And the crew are not proactively offering to replenish drinks Either. Even so, about 90 minutes into the flight, they run out of sparkling water and Coke Zero.

But the flight passes quickly, and eventually we land at 15:30. It’s certainly warmer here!

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of today’s experience. On the one hand, I think Air Malta is desperately tring to set itself apart from the low-cost competition. But at the same time, their whole new Business Class concept lacks focus and quality. First of all, there’s the issue of the seat reservations, which they made a mess of. If you’re going to offer the service, then commit to it. If you can’t do that, then just drop it. Furthermore, now that it’s buy on board in Economy Class on Air Malta, there really is no reason why they had to introduce a fancier Business Class product. And even that is done half-heartedly. The drinks running out in mid-flight is just strange and unprofessional.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Zürich to London Heathrow

I finish teaching early today, mainly because the audio system in the classroom I’m using is inop and nobody had bothered to tell me. Today was my last time teaching this particular class, which is a shame really, because they were rather nice. At least, on a positive note, this was also my last class until September of next year!

I leave the university just after 15h to catch the 15:24 train to Zürich airport. It’s only a 12 minutes train ride from Winterthur.

Zürich airport is already decked out in full-on Christmas mode. I think it looks quite nice with all the lights. But where is everybody…?

I’ve already checked in on my mobile phone. So instead of going to the SWISS terminal, I head three floors up from the train station, then across the bridge to access check-in area 5 and then from there I go one floor up to the access point for security – which I’d say is probably the most direct routing.

The security check is quick and efficient. There are no queues. My flight is departing from the D gates, which is the non-Schengen area of the B pier at Zürich.

Because there isn’t really much to see from the waiting area, I figure I might as well go to the SWISS lounge, which is located behind immigration.

The lounge is your typical SWISS branded lounge. It has the usual selection of loud business men talking on the phone, light snacks and drinks. It’s not at all crowded when I arrive.

I’m only in the lounge for about 20 minutes – enough time for a cup of tea – before I decide it’s time to make my way to the gate.

Boarding for my flight is from gate D39 and starts exactly thirty minutes before departure with a call for priority passengers to board first.

Unfortunately, the location of the gate makes it impossible to take a decent picture of my plane.

I’m seated on 1A, and clearly Mr. 1C is not happy about that. I’m not sure what his problem is, but he’s definitely not a happy bunny.

He demonstratively plonks his fake Canada Goose jacket on the middle seat. I’m actually surprised he doesn’t say something to the effect of ‘I claim this territory for England’… or something like that.

Boarding for the flight is quick, and it looks as though the load on this evening’s flight is very light.

Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and packaged towels. SWISS appear to have recently switched suppliers, because their towels have a different smell than they used to.

Safety is always a bit sloppy on SWISS, which is really not good. And this flight is no different. The flight attendant asks Mr. 1D to either put on his jacket or stow it in the overhead bin for take-off. Alas, Mr. 1D is not willing to cooperate and simply asks why? To which the flight attendant literally replies that she really has no idea either, but that’s just the rule. And walks away.

Seriously? Mr. 1C has his earphones on during take-off, and nobody seems too bothered by that either. And the lights are not dimmed, even though it’s already dark outside.

Eventually, we take off just slightly ahead of schedule. The flight time is one hour and 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes holding.

The meal service starts straight away. There is no choice. The tray has on it a plate of cold roast beef with a potato salad, a plate of cheese and a creamy looking dessert.

I wasn’t intending to eat the meat, which is all the same because it smells rather awful. The salad is nice enough though.

The cheese is lovely. Can’t really go wrong there. It is served with a selection of white or dark bread from the basket. The crew come through the cabin twice with bread. Although it takes them so long for the second round that everybody has already finished their meal anyway by that time.

And the dessert is simply dreadful, despite the cute Läckerli on it, which is a speciality of Basel, where I live.

The cream is just horribly sweet and tastes awfully artificial.

But the flight passes quickly, and despite the holding, we still arrive on stand ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Immigration at Terminal 2 is quick this evening, and I’m through in no time.

All in all, this evening’s flight was no better or worse than any other airline’s short-haul European Business Class flight. I’m also pretty sure that SWISS takes passenger safety very seriously, because any airline’s reputation hinges on that being so. Nonetheless, I really do think they could improve on their crews’ attitude toward safety.

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

I know, I know. Carbon footprint, Greta and all that. And I have to say that I have been trying to reduce the number of private trips I make by plane. But Lord knows it’s not always easy. And so, I find myself on Saturday morning making plans to head for the airport…

At 10:01 I leave my flat to catch the 10:03 express bus from the main railway station to Basel airport. The express bus is not necessarily any faster than the regular service, but at least it doesn’t stop anywhere along the way. The journey takes about 15 minutes and there is no surcharge for the express.
The airport is moderately busy. It’s the end of August and the trailing end of the summer vacation in Europe, usually the time when couples without kids at school make their escape.
There is a separate fast track for security and the queue is not very long.
The Swissport Aspire lounge in Basel is always a pleasure. It sits above the main airside area and offers a 360 degree view of what’s going on outside.
Half the seating area has been closed off, presumably to save on cleaning during the quiet summer months when business travel in Europe is quite reduced.
The lounge’a best feature, though, has to be the outside viewing area which also functions as the smokers’ lounge.
On the downside, the lounge is located in the Schengen area of the terminal. With most flights now operating as non-Schengen out of Basel, there can be quite a long wait at immigration, so it’s best to plan ahead!
I time it just a bit too finely. I also didn’t consider that there was an Air Algérie flight leaving around the same time. And so the queue is fairly long for passport control. But it moves quickly.
BA boards its flights by groups. Business Class passengers and Executive Club card holders are in group 1. Although by the time I get to the gate, they’re already boarding group 4.
The very first thing you notice as you step on board the aircraft, is how dark the cabin looks. The bulkhead is a dark shade of grey and the moodlights are a dark blue.
In Club Class on BA 1A is the window seat and 1C the aisle seat. The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small table for extra storage space. The seatbacks have a headrest that can be adjusted in height and that has a set of ears for better support.
Leg space on the first row is great. But keep in mind that on 1C you’re quite exposed, with boarding passenger turning right into the cabin right in front of you. But it does give you a great cockpit view at least.
There are eight rows of Club Class on this flight, for a total of 32 seat. According to the purser, the flight is completely sold out.
There are two middle aged gentlemen working the Club Class cabin, and I must say they’re really excellent: polite, engaging and very helpful. The latter is clearly appreciated by the many elderly Americans on the flight.
Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with nicely scented hot towels.
With a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, there is only a cold meal service on this flight. However, there is a choice between a quinoa salad or grilled chicken breast for the main course.
Quinoa salad with herbs, feta, cucumber and cherry tomato.
Mixed salad on the side, served with vinaigrette.
A selection of warm breads. There are no seconds for bread.
And for dessert, a delectable chocolate mousse with caramel topping that is outrageously sweet and obscenely good. Although probably the noises I’m making while I demolish it are worse…
35 minutes out of Heathrow, the trays are removed and I am brought a mug of milky sweet tea. This is served with a small chocolate from Hotel Chocolat to celebrate BA’s centenary.
We land in Heathrow ten minutes ahead of schedule, and I‘m really quite amazed how quiet the place is, which a very rare occurrence in Heathrow.
I head down into the basement and catch the Heathrow Express into Paddington. The journey takes 15 minutes and costs GBP18. And with the current rate of exchange to the Swiss Frank, that‘s not even so expensive.
I must say, after my last Club Class experiences with BA I wasn‘t expecting anything much. In fact, I’ve tried to avoid them recently. But it seems that the carrier may have just been going through a bit of a rough time. Because this was a much better and more pleasant experience, very much like what you would expect from a global carrier like British Airways. The crew were great and the food choice and quality were also good, especially given the short duration of the flight.

British Airways, Airbus A319 – Economy Class: London Heathrow to Basel

For my return flight to Switzerland, I’ll be travelling with British Airways from London’s Heathrow airport. The main reason being that there is currently no direct service from London City airport to Basel.

To get to Heathrow airport from the O2 arena, I’ve decided to take the most scenic option, which is the ferry on the Thames. The journey from the O2 arena to the centre of London will take near to an hour and takes you past Greenwich, tower bridge and the tower of London. The jetty is just under ten minutes walking distance from the hotel.
I alight form the ferry at Embankment. I take the few steps up to street level, cross the road and then I’m already in the tube station.
The Bakerloo line runs from Embankment to Paddington station and takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.
At Paddington station I change to the Heathrow Express. Just a piece of advice here: try to book your tickets for the Heathrow Express well in advance, and you can get some really good deals with tickets starting at GBP5.50. If however, like me, you completely forget to purchase a ticket in advance, you’re looking at ‘saver’ fares starting at GBP25…
Paddington to Heathrow takes about fifteen minutes by train.
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is very busy, as usual. Even so, security is efficient and swift. I don’t even have to queue.
The only thing I don’t like about Heathrow, is that they only advise the gate thirty minutes before departure, to give people an incentive to roam through the terminal building and spend loads of cash at the many duty free shops.
My flight today is departing from gate A6, which is one of those gates with a ridiculously long air bridge. It also means the aircraft is concealed from view and impossible to take a photo of.
I think it’s going to be one of those flights. We board the aircraft and it’s hot. What’s more, there seems to be an unusually high number children on the plane today.
The first officer comes on the loudspeaker and welcomes all passengers on board. He also apologises for the heat and explains that the APU on this aircraft is currently not working, so it’ll be a while before the cabin cools down, once one of the engines has been started.
Nice, but try telling that to a bunch of tired, hungry and sweaty kids. And so, it doesn’t take too long before the crying and the wining begins. Luckily, the lady on the aisle seat of my row is travelling with her six months old kid, which is really cute and quite happy to play footsie with her stuffed dinosaur. But the kid on the other side of the aisle is a total menace. She’s busy doing a convincing, and rather frightening, rendition of Rosemarie’s Baby. Meanwhile, her brother in the middle seat decides that now would be a good moment to spill a cup of water over himself, his dad, Rosemarie’s Baby and his mum…
The quality of this picture is not very good. I only took it because if you look at the tail of the very last aircraft way at the back, you may notice that it is in fact BA’s first Airbus A 350…
Departures are from runway 27L this afternoon. There are just a few aircraft ahead of us taxiing out. Meanwhile, we decide to race this SAS Boeing B 737-600 to the holding point.
The flight time to Basel is one hour and ten minutes. Service on the flight is buy on board and you may only pay by credit card or avios.
The seat pitch is better than I remember. But the seat still isn’t very comfortable and forces you to sit fully upright, which becomes tiring after a while. I really wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so in this seat.
We arrive in Basel just a few minutes behind schedule. I’m a bit apprehensive when I see an Air Arabia, WizzAir and a Turkish Airliines aircraft already on the ground, because that usually means that the queues for immigration and customs will be endless. But much to my surprise, there are hardly any passengers at the passport control.

You may have noticed that there are no posts of food and no comments about the service on board this flight. That’s because there’s really nothing for me to say. With the introduction of buy on board, the airline’s interaction with the passenger is quite limited. Especially the way the BA crews go about it. I watched them during the serivce. What struck me, was that they just passed through the cabin without really saying anything much. If passengers wanted to order something, it was up to them to make sure the crew noticed them. The low cost carriers do that much better I think, because on Easyjet for example, the crews are proactively trying to make a sale. As such, the onboard sales, and with that also the airline’s brand, assume a much more prominent role.

In contrast, I must admit I found this experience on BA completely interchangeable with just about any other airline, because the service I purchased has literally been stripped down to just taking me from A to B.

Aer Lingus, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Shannon

TRANSFER IN HEATHROW

My flight from Basel arrives in Terminal 5, which is served only by British Airways and Iberia. My flight with Aer Lingus will be departing from Terminal 2, the Queen’s Terminal. I follow the signs for flight connections to other terminals, which eventually takes me one floor down to ground level. From here, there is a regular airside shuttle service to Terminal 2. The journey time by bus is roughly ten minutes. It’s kind of nice, a bit like taking a tour of the airport. On the way, we pass British Airways’ impressive line-up of long-haul aircraft parked at the B satellite of Terminal 5.

Once the bus arrives at Terminal 2, I head one floor up for security and another floor up to immigration, even though I’m only changing planes in Heathrow. On a side note, there is a separate channel for passengers continuing their journey to Ireland and the UK, although I’m not even sure there are any domestic flights out of Terminal 2. And then once that’s done, I’m airside.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE

The Aer Lingus lounge is located one floor up from the public airside area. The entrance is opposite the escalators. The lounge is fairly large and the interior is welcoming, if somewhat worn in places. There’s a decidedly Irish touch to the place, with bright green carpets that have been designed to look like grass.

And the toilets are certainly better than those in the British Airways lounge back in Terminal 5! Other than that though, drink and food choices are limited. In fact, there is only a pot of creamy chicken soup by way of proper food. Other than that, it’s really just biscuits and packets of crisps.

The location of the lounge gives you a good view of the outside and the threshold of runway 09L. Unfortunately though, there is this metal construction in front of the windows which kind of obstructs the view. But it’s still good enough.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts at 14h40 for a 15h20 departure. In fact, by the time I reach the gate at 14h45, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. The flight has a good load, but is not fully booked, and there are still a few empty seats. Luckily, the middle seat on my row also stays empty.

CABIN

Aer Lingus operates its short-haul fleet in an Economy Class only configuration. Although I recently heard that they were considering reintroducing a sort of Business Class on some routes.

The seats are in dark blue leather and are nicely padded and comfortable. The seat pitch is also very good. The headrest is adjustable.

CREW

The crew consists of five middle aged ladies. They’re not overly friendly, but their service is professional and polite towards the passengers. The flight time is given as one hour.

THE MEAL

Food is buy on board on Aer Lingus. Once we’re airborne, I order a cup of tea for EUR3.

The one thing that strikes me about Aer Lingus, is that the atmosphere in the cabin is always quite pleasant and relaxed. And today’s flight is no different. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Aer Lingus’ passengers are just used to the concept of buy on board. As a result, you don’t get that undercurrent of resentment from both the crews and the passengers about having to fork out for a drink and a snack.

ARRIVAL

We land in Shannon on time and the weather is horrible. The apron is fairly quiet, save for two Ryanair flights that are in the final stages of boarding, with passengers hurrying along to get out of the pouring rain. I guess that’s one way to speed up the boarding process… At least Aer Lingus has the decency to use an airbridge.

The terminal building at Shannon airport really is exceptionally ugly. It’s old and any work that has been done in recent years has been done primarily to expand the facility, but obviously not to embellish. But never mind, it’s a passenger terminal, not a five star hotel.

The flying Dutchman has rented a car, which we’ll need to get from Limerick, where the hotel is, to the venue of the course. The journey by car from the airport into Limerick takes under thirty minutes.

British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

INTRODUCTION

Next round. It’s Sunday morning and I’m on my way to the airport again. This time though, my trip will be starting from Basel instead of Zürich. I’m on my way to give two courses back to back. I will be joined on both trips by the flying Dutchman, P., who I should be meeting in Heathrow.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The journey by car from the main railway station to Basel airport takes about fifteen minutes to complete. Being early Sunday morning, there’s hardly any traffic and I seem to be hitting all the green lights.

CHECK-IN

Because I’ll be gone for two weeks, I’m travelling with a suitcase this time. Which means my first stop once I get to the airport will be at the check-in counters. I did try checking in online, but apparently the interface between British Airways and Aer Lingus doesn’t work very well, because the BA website is unable to generate a boarding pass in the app to download into the passbook app, and the Aer Lingus app can’t do it either because they have no ticket data for my onward connection.

This also means that I’m randomly assigned a seat on the Aer Lingus flight that I can’t change in the app. They actually want to put me on an aisle seat!

But all’s well that ends well. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to my final destination and also changes my seat from an aisle to a window seat.

British Airways checks-in in the Swiss sector of the airport.

AIRSIDE & LOUNGE

Many moons ago, the benefits of flying in and out of Basel were that a) the airport is much smaller than Zürich and therefore b) less busy and c) only fifteen minutes away from my home. But ever since the Schengen treaty was suspended at Basel airport, it’s really not so much fun anymore. Security has been tightened, so that at any given time, the queue is rarely shorter than fifteen to twenty minutes. What’s more, the lounge is located before you go through immigration. And with all the additional flights that are now being handled as non-Schengen departures, the queues at immigration have increased too.

Of course, it doesn’t help that humanity appears to have a natural compulsion to congregate like sheep the moment they step into an airport and also seem to think that, surely, the 100ml rule can’t possibly apply to them too…

The SkyView lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, although admittedly, you wouldn’t think so to look at the photo I’ve posted. It’s just that most passengers tend to go upstairs where all the food, the views and the open air viewing terrace are located. Although the latter seems to be functioning more as the smoking area in this cold weather.

BOARDING

British Airways seem to have this paranoia about starting the boarding process as early as possible in order to avoid any departure delays which could see you holding over London for what seems like an eternity later on. Which is why boarding for today’s flight start forty minutes before departure.

British Airways has this nifty boarding process, whereby status holders and Business Class passengers queue according to the group indicated on their boarding pass. Only once the queues for groups 1, 2 and 3 have been cleared, does boarding for the general riffraff begin.

CABIN

Fortunately, I’ve managed to secure an emergency exit row seat for the flight to London. And thank god for that, because since the European fleet has been refurbished, your only chance as an average sized adult to squeeze your legs into a standard row is either to sit sideways or to spread your legs wider than is modestly acceptable in public…

On a positive note, the headrest has sides that can be folded up to support your bonce if you need to nap.

Luckily, the flight is not full today, so the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays empty.

CREW

The crew are friendly enough. Their service is polite but very formal. I can’t really say anything much else about them.

THE MEAL

Service in Economy Class is buy on board. British Airways has teamed up with British retailer Marks & Spencer to provide inflight catering in the back of the bus.

I have a Twining mint tea and the box set of vegetarian sandwiches. There are four sandwich quarters in the box. The sandwiches are: boiled egg with tomato, cucumber and cream cheese, cheddar cheese and tomato and boiled egg with lettuce.

ARRIVAL

The flight time to London is one hour and ten minutes. Surprisingly, there’s no hold up at all, despite the fact that we’re running early. By the time we reach the gate, we’re just over thirty minutes early.

And now, I have to transfer to Terminal 3.

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 777-200: Madrid to London Heathrow

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TRANSFER IN BARAJAS
My flight from Jerez comes to a standstill on stand K103, which is the one but last stand on the north side of Madrid’s terminal 4. My onward connection will be departing from gate S35 in the satellite terminal across the apron. The satellite is connected to the main terminal building by light railway, which makes the journey in about five minutes.

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The only problem though, is that there is a passport check once you get to the other side. And there are people everywhere. It looks as though half of Latin America has decided to congregrate in Madrid’s T4S. It’s round about this time that I start to wonder about the things I do just to fly on a particular aircraft. I could have taken the Iberia flight from Madrid back to Basel – no hassle, non non-Schengen. But no, I had to go with the mighty tripple seven.

There are separate counters for Schengen passport holders, but even this queue is endless, which is hardly surprising given that most of the people in the queue have probably never heard of Schengen. But anyway, eventually it takes me 20 minutes just to reach the head of the queue.

When I finally arrive at the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of preparation for departure. I take the stairs down to the ground floor to catch the bus to the aircraft, only to find it is nearly empty. Eventually, we make our way across the apron. Me and the remaining five passengers.

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Still, one has to look on the bright side: it’s not every day that you get to board a wide-body on a remote stand…

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CABIN
The British Airways cabin is rather unique, with half the seats facing towards the rear of the aircraft and the other half facing forward. The nice thing about this is that if, like me, you like airplanes (you may have guessed), you have a good view of the wing and engines, without having to contort to look back. The window seats are all rear facing.

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Other than that, I really don’t like BA’s long-haul seat. First of all, where other carriers are moving to four seats abreast in their Business Class cabins, British Airways managed to squeeze in a staggering eight seats. The upshot being that there is little to no storage space once you’re in the seat. There is a drawer at floor level, but this is so small that even my 15’ MacBook won’t fit. Also, the seat is fairly low and not particularly convenient to get out of, especially for elderly or less mobile persons. I could go on about all the things I don’t like about this seat and cabin configuration. Suffice to say it is quite apparent that BA’s hardware in Business Class is designed for mass production rather than quality.

Apart from all that, this particular aircraft is also in exceptionally bad condition. There are bits hanging from the ceiling where the panelling has not been properly mounted and the seat and floor are quite simply filthy with old dirt. I don’t mean the kind of oops-we-forgot-to-vacuum dirt but rather the biohazard variety that comes from years of neglect.

CREW
The crew seems friendly enough. I suppose it’s a question of personal preference whether a person uses make-up or not. But I also think it’s a thin line between looking well turned-out and looking like a total slapper. Strangely enough, many British females tends to overdo the make-up and end up falling into the latter category.

We move off stand slightly behind schedule and taxi out to runway 36L for departure. It’s a lovely day for flying and despite the fact that the airport is very busy this time of day, our wait is not too long.

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The fight time is announced as one hour and fifty-five minutes.

THE MEAL
The service begins with the distribution of those flimsy little hot towels. After that, drinks are served with a small packet of cashew nuts.

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BA recently introduced a new meal concept on its European Business Class product, which essentially means they’re trying to reduce costs further by offering less food. And what a sad meal it is! There is a choice between a cheese and beef panino and a chicken and potato salad.

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I decide to go with the beef and cheese panino. The crew hands me the tray, on which there is one plate with two panini and another with dessert. I really have to say this must be one of the most unattractive looking meal trays I’ve ever seen on a Business Class flight. I fully appreciate that all airlines need to reduce their costs to survive, but does that really mean serving meals with such an apparent lack of attention to detail?

By the time the tray is removed, we’re still forty minutes out of Heathrow. I ask the crew if perhaps I might have a cup of coffee, which is apparently not something they want to encourage. Grudgingly, one of them eventually brings me a cup and plonks is on my tray table. Charming, I’m sure…

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ARRIVAL
Surprisingly, we’re not sent into a holding, which makes a nice change from what normally happens at Heathrow. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we’re running late. Our approach brings us in from the east, right over the city, and I am reminded of just how much I really love London. I think I should plan for a visit some time soon. But maybe not necessarily on BA…

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We park on a remote stand. But apparently, the ground services were not expecting us. There are no busses to bring passengers to the terminal. Eventually, after ten minutes on the stand without anything much happening, one lonely bus eventually does pull up next to the aircraft. I’m just not quite sure they’ll manage to fit in all the passengers of a full triple seven into one standard size bus though…

CONCLUSION
The problem with large airlines like British Airways or Lufthansa is that their home markets are huge and can be relied on. As such, they don’t really have an incentive to do better. Because unlike me, most people will prefer to take a direct flight over an connection via another hub. And it shows. The hardware of BA’s product is old, worn and unattractive. The service and the food are bland and boring.

But apart from all that, I also think there has been a continuous deterioration in standards recently and I cannot help but feel that British Airways is going to the dogs.

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 747-400: Mexico City to Heathrow

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Date: 13. May 2017.
Departure: 21:50.
Arrival: 13:30.
Flight time: 9 hours 50 minutes.
Seat: 62K, window.

INTRODUCTION
This has been one of the most tiring trips I have made in a very long time, so I’m rather glad it’s finally over and I am on my way home again. Although I must say that travelling with the wiry R. has been rather fun and really easy going.

CHECK-IN
My flight back to Heathrow will depart at 21h40. Just after 20h I check out of the hotel and make my way across the footbridge to Terminal 1. Signage inside the terminal is really bad, verging on non-existent, and eventually we find the check-in counters more by chance than by design.

British Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters in area F of the terminal. From check-in you have to walk back quite a bit to area G, which is where the security checkpoint is.

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Generally speaking, the impression I get of Terminal 1 is of an old and tatty facility that has grown organically and without order and method. Apart form the bad signage the building has very low ceilings and was obviously designed by somebody who is either blind as a bat, has absolutely zero taste or who has no aesthetic appreciation whatsoever. It’s an incredibly ugly airport!

LOUNGE
Of course we walk straight past the Iberia lounge the first time because there are no signs here either… To access the lounge you have to head up two flights of stairs. The lounge is rather nice though and looks as though it was only recently opened or refurbished. With the Iberia flight to Madrid leaving around the same time as ours to London it’s quite full and there are only few places left to sit. We only have about ten minutes in the lounge, enough to have a drink, before it’s time to head back downstairs and to the gate for boarding.

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BOARDING
Boarding planes is something the Mexicans do really well. There are separate lanes for First and Club Class passengers and another queue for the working classes. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. By this time I’m so exhausted I head straight up the airbridge and then for the upper deck so I can sit down and start dozing.

CABIN & SEAT
On this leg I’m sitting on 62K, which is the window seat on the emergency exit of the upper deck. And quite frankly, I think this must be the best seat in the house. First of all, being a window seat you have a lot of additional storage space – which the aisle seat is lacking. More importantly though, it’s one of only two seats – the other is 62A – that gives you access to the aisle without having to climb over your neighbour on the aisle seat.

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CREW & SERVICE
The crew on the upper deck consists of two elderly gentlemen that are very friendly and laid back. The service follows the same sequence as the outbound flight, with wash bags, menus and welcome drinks being offered in sequence.

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By this time though, I’m simply too exhausted. I feel stupidly tired in fact. While we’re still on the ground I change into my shorts to reveal my hunky hairy legs and even studlier Happy Socks for the benefit and pleasure of all of humanity. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off I extend the seat into a bed and awake over six hours later, just due west of the Irish coast and with three hours left to go to London.

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THE MEAL
So I actually miss the first meal service. And to be honest, in hindsight I think I wish I’d missed the breakfast too. Yuk, this really is the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had on a plane. How on earth can you manage to totally ruin Rösti? Have they got a salt shortage in Mexico or something? But it’s not just that, the scrambled eggs taste last lumpy bits of plastic and the pink little sausage is disconcertingly reminiscent of a… Still, at least the baked buns and the yoghurt are edible.

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ARRIVAL
Around forty minutes out of Heathrow the Jumbo’s nose gently tilts down and we start our descent. It’s a lovely day in London for flying and we are treated to some really spectacular views of central London. We approach the city from the west, flying an easterly track just south of the city. We turn on to the approach abeam of London city airport, which has already reopened after the weekend by the looks of it. And then from there we fly along the Thames, before eventually gliding down to runway 27L. I’m home again.

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CONCLUSION
In my opinion there really is no other aircraft that can rival the Boeing B 747. I know the Airbus A 380 is much larger, heavier and what not. But the 747 simply has style. Alas, the type is very quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more aircraft are choosing to replace their existing 747 fleets either with the Boeing 777 or the larger A 380. So I’m kind of left wondering if perhaps this may have been my last flight on the Queen of the skies. I hope not!

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British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Basel to Heathrow

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Date: 25 March 2017.
Departure: 07:00.
Arrival: 07:30.
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Aircraft: Airbus A 319.
Seat: 10A, window seat on the exit row.

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This is more of a commentary than a trip report. At the beginning of this year, British Airways implemented a whole range of changes to adapt its business model to that of the low cost carriers by aligning its short-haul Economy Class product to that of the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair.

Seat reservations are only available at a charge – and they are not cheap, especially if you’ve set your heart on one of the extra leg-room exit row seats. Even with Executive Club Silver status advanced seat reservations are only possible against payment.

And then in January 2017 British Airways introduced buy on board food and beverages on short-haul Economy Class. The carrier has teamed up with Marks & Spencer, presumably hoping that the retailer’s excellent brand recognition will do something to offset customers’ undoubtedly frosty reception to buy on board service.

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There are only snack available really. Things like the plowman’s cheddar sandwich, chocolate bars, etc. And of course it’s really all very healthy. The prices are rather steep though. A sandwich will set you back GBP3, while a coffee is GBP2.80, which I find rather a lot.

I’m an old romantic at heart and I yearn for the good old days when hot meals in Economy Class were the norm and not the exception and were actually edible. Even so, British Airways’ move makes a lot of business sense to me. By reducing complimentary services in the rear of the cabin, the gap between the Economy Class product and the Business Class product is widening again, without the burden of having to invest in a costly upgrade to the premium product or cabin.

But of course the whole thing could also go horribly wrong. From what I could tell, on today’s flight not that many people ordered something from the buy on board selection. Unless British Airways can make this venture worthwhile for Marks & Spencer, it will probably not last very long. But we shall see.

British Airways, Club Class – A 319: Basel to London and beyond…

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INTRODUCTION

I spent all of last week commuting to the office by train. Every day, the same routine. Actually I thought it was quite exotic for a change. But today I’m back to the old routine. Exactly one week and one day after I return from London, I’m off again. This time, I’m heading for…eh…London again. In my defence, I shall only be changing planes in Heathrow this time. What’s more, at least I had the decency of picking another flight for the outbound than I did last time.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: BVB bus line 50
Departs from: Basel SBB railway station, by the main exit
Frequency: Every 8 to 10 minutes
Journey time: 16 minutes
Fare: CHF4.20, one-way
Link: Basler Verkehrsbetriebe – BVB

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To look at the amount of luggage I’m carting with me on this trip, you’d easily be mislead to think I’m emigrating to Australia. Not this time. But I will be gone for two weeks, and it is a business trip after all.

I catch the 05:35 bus. The passengers are mostly travellers with small carry-ons, gazing absentmindedly into their iPhones through tired eyes. Right opposite of me is a young couple. They look so sweet. I have no idea where they’re heading, but he is obviously very excited about the journey they are about to embark on. While she tenderly strokes his hand, quite obviously finding pleasure in relishing in his excitement.

CHECK-IN

Location: Departures level on the first floor, Swiss side
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and baggage drop counters
Counters: Dedicated British Airways counters
Link: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg

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I enter the terminal and head straight for the British Airways counters. Somewhere in the back of the building I can hear a man laughing. But it’s not a normal kind of laugh. More like the insane, evil laugh of the Über-villain in a James Bond movie. And he won’t stop either. The check-in agent simply rolls her eyes and explains that he’s a regular. Charming!

Incidentally, the check-in agent is a competent young lady with excellent manners. She’s French and speaks very good English. She checks my suitcase through to my final destination, gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way wishing me a pleasant flight.

There’s quite a queue for security this morning, but fortunately for me the priority lane is open and empty.

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LOUNGE

Location: Airside on the second floor, in the Schengen sector
Type of Lounge: Skyview contractor lounge operated by Swissport
Facilities: Washrooms, showers, public computers
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi; no password required
Link: Skyview lounge

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There are two young American gentlemen ahead of me as I enter the lounge. Apparently they’re travelling on the KLM service to Amsterdam. One young man is granted access to the lounge while the other is informed that he will not be allowed to enter without a status card. The two young men deliberate what to do next, seemingly oblivious to me, waiting behind them. Eventually the guy who has access to the lounge simply says: ‘Okay buddy, I’ll just grab a bite to eat here and I’ll be outside in about 25 minutes. See you at the gate. Bye’. Well that’s not very nice.

I only have a cappuccino in the lounge, in anticipation of another one of those delectable British Airways breakfasts.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Separate queue for status and Business Class passengers

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Boarding starts exactly on time. I exit the lounge, turn left to the non-Schengen gates and passport control. I don’t know how British Airways does it, honestly. The cabin divider is pushed all the way back to the row behind the emergency exit, which makes ten rows of Business Class with a total of forty seats. And from what I can tell, there are no empties this morning.

There’s a bit of a hold up for departure. It’s quite misty this morning so arrivals and departures have had to be slowed down.

CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: Standard European Economy Class seat with the middle seat left empty
Pitch: 34 inches
Width: 19 inches
Facilities: Overhead video screens, no audio outlet

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I’m becoming rather fond of these BA seats, I must say. So much better than those horribly thin seats most carriers seem to have on short-haul these days, that have your back aching and your butt going numb within minutes of sitting down. I still don’t know how I managed to fly all the way from Vienna to Larnaca in one of those. Yes, this is definitely so much better.

SERVICE

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin this morning – the male Customer Service Manager and a young lady. Initially I don’t much like the CSM because his smile looks kind of put on. Later on though I realise I must revise my impression of him. It’s just the way he smiles and he seems in fact genuinely friendly and very customer oriented.

MEAL SERVICE

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, slightly scented
Pre-meal drinks: None
Choice: English breakfast or a plate of cold cuts
Delivery: Tray service from trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware, hot meal served in tinfoil
Type of Meal: Breakfast, hot meal
Menu: No menu distributed
Meal:

  1. Scrambled eggs
  2. Cumberland sausage
  3. Grilled tomato
  4. Bacon
  5. Mushrooms
  6. Bread and butter, marmalade
  7. Cereal bar with cherries
  8. Tea or coffee, a selection of juices and soft drinks
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British Airways recently revamped their catering concept and there now appears to be a choice of two different dishes for every meal service. Of course I go with the English breakfast, which hits the spot nicely. The scrambled eggs in particular are really excellent, with a rich, creamy texture and a sinful buttery taste. The coffee is still an abomination though…

Outside it’s a beautiful day for flying. Just as we reach the French coast the trays are removed and we begin our descent into Heathrow. Time to sit back and contemplate…

ARRIVAL

Terminal: 5A, British Airways terminal – this is where most European flights arrive and depart

We’re treated to a beautiful approach into London this morning. We reach the city from the south east and then to a sharp left turn. As we come out of the turn I can clearly see the illuminated billboard on Piccadilly Circus. We then to another left turn to point us in a southwesterly direction, passing due south of Heathrow. We then execute a series of very gentle right turn until eventually we are lined up for a 09Left arrival.

As we touch down I spot three Cathay Pacific Airways Boeing B 777-300s. One of them is wearing the infamous and absolutely stunning Asia’s World City livery. Could this perhaps mean…hush my heart…hush…hush….

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What a babe…

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