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

Introduction

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.

Check-in

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.

The Lounge

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.

Boarding

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.

The Cabin

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.

The Meal

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.

First Course

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.

Main Course

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.

Arrival

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

Conclusion

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

Getting to the Airport

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.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

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

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.

The Crew

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

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.

Arrival

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

Introduction

I know, I know. Carbon footprint 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…

Getting to 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 Skyview Lounge

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!

Boarding

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 Cabin

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.

The Meal

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.

Arrival

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.

Getting into Town

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, Club Class – Airbus A 350-1000: London Heathrow to Madrid

Introduction

Last week I returned from my Sunday run, all sticky and sweaty, only to be informed by the light of my life that we were booked to sample the British Airways A 350-1000 in a week’s time!

I mean, how cool is that? New type for me and literally a new aircraft!

The flight to Madrid is scheduled for a 06:20 departure out of Heathrow, which is why I spent last night at the Sofitel Heathrow T5, in walking distance to the terminal and connected via a footbridge.
There are two security checkpoints in T5. However, only checkpoint South has a fast track.
This must be the quickest security chech I’ve ever done. There’s no queue and I’m done in less than three minutes!
Airside, the terminal is still pretty deserted and the shops haven’t even opened yet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heathrow so empty!

The Executive Club Lounge

My first stop is the BA lounge for breakfast!
Breakfast is something they do really well at the BA lounge. And fortunately, it already opens at 05:00 in the morning.

Boarding

At 05:40 my flight shows up on the screens as ‘boarding’. The flight will be departing from C61 in one of the satellite terminals. First thing to note: there is a lounge in satellite B and on the main concourse of the A gates. But there is no lounge at the C satellite. Second thing to note: you are not free to move as you please between the satellites. At least not without going through security.
Boarding is delayed by thirty minutes, due to the fact that the aircraft had not been towed over from the maintenance area to its parking stand on time. Sadly, gate C61 also happens to be just about the most impossible gate to take a picture of the aircraft from…

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is very positive. Again, I find the colours all rather dark, but it’s still a very elegant and classy looking cabin.
The seat is definitely a vast improvement over that idiotic seat BA has on the rest of its fleet, which feels like an old and sagging armchair.
This seat is much, much nicer and is very comfortable.
The seat is very practical in its design and offers a lot of storage space.
Moreover, the seats are not aligned in a row. So that even with the door to the seat open, you still have a lot of privacy.

The Meal

The flight time is announced at 1 hour and 50 minutes. The service begins with the distribution of the hot towels, followed by the menus. There is a choice of three meals for the main course.
The food is delivered as a tray service, with each passenger’s meal brought out individually. The crew work efficiently. Even so, the combination of a short flight time with a fairly large Club Class section means that the individual waiting time is rather long.
As usual, I decide to go with the English breakfast, which is brought to me with a croissant and a bun on it.
To celebrate the centenary, on this flight the crew distribute a box with two hazelnut pralines from Hotel Chocolat. The chocolates are good, but they clearly lack the finess of Swiss chocolate.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Madrid with a delay of about 20 minutes. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite pier of Terminal 4. The queue for immigration is long, but at least it moves quickly. And even thought the automatic gate can’t seem to scan my face, the immigration officer can’t be bothered today and just lets me through anyway.

Getting into Town

I have five hours to spend here in Madrid on a lovely summer’s day. So upon exiting through arrivals, my first stop is the metro. I have a public transport card for Madrid which is quite convenient, because you can load multiple tickets on it. However, for trips to and from the airport, there is a EUR3.- surcharge that you can only load onto the card on the actual day of travel.

My two flights with British Airways yesterday and today were very pleasant. Of course, the brand new Airbus A 350-1000 this morning was a pleasant change from the usual narrowbodies.

But apart from that, I think British Airways has implemented some fundamental changes that I would definitely consider a huge improvement. From the Do&Co catering to the installation of the new seat, which is expected to be rolled out on the Boeing B 777 fleet shortly as well.

Of course, tastes vary. But for me, the hard product on the A 350-1000 and the improved catering definitely put British Airways on a par with Air France. With the Lufthansa group coming in far, far behind.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Zürich

Transfer in London Heathrow

The Gulf Air flight from Bahrain arrives in Heathrow at 06h50, on schedule. I now have one hour and forty minutes to make my connection to the SWISS flight to Zürich, which will depart from T2. T4 is connected to the central terminal area at Heathrow by shuttle bus. Normally, the busses will use the service tunnel that passes under runway 09R/27L. However, the tunnel is currently closed for maintenance as so, busses have to take a slightly longer route along the perimeter fence and under the threshold of runway 27L to get to Terminal 2. Which has the rather pleasant side effect that passengers are given quite a tour of Heathrow, including BA’s maintenance facility and the Concorde that they have on display there. The journey takes 12 minutes to complete.

Within Terminal 4 for the signposting to the shuttle bus is clear and easy to follow. Busses run regularly.

The Lufthansa Lounge

The security check is done in Terminal 2, before heading up to the departure concourse. Luckily, there aren’t many passengers this morning and there isn’t even a queue. There is a separate fast track for security which is dedicated to STAR GOLD, First and Business Class passengers.

Behind security are the escalators leading one floor up. There is a passport check just before entering the departures hall, although I’m not sure if this is for immigration purposes, for security reasons or a combination of the two. As I enter the terminal hall, the Star Alliance service desks are on the right. I present my baggage receipt to the lady behind the counter, as instructed by the check-in agent back in Dubai. She scans the stub and my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

By the time I’m done, we’re just coming up to 07h50. The gate for my flight to Zürich will be showing up on the screens shortly, and not much later boarding should start. So I quickly grab a coffee, call the light of my life to say hello and then take a moment to relax.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight to Zürich is from gate A18. There is a separate queue for Business Class, HON Circle and Senator passengers. As we start boarding for the flight, it soon materialises that there are some passengers in the queue that aren’t flying Business Class and have no status either. Don’t get me wrong, I generally salute the ground crews for enforcing the rules. But I also think there’s really no need for the gate agent to scold passengers. After all, I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance they weren’t trying to jump the queue and perhaps don’t travel often enough to even know what the two queues are for.

The Cabin

There are four rows to the Business Class cabin on this morning’s flight, which is surprising given it’s a public holiday. I would have thought most people would have tried to return home by Maundy Thursday. In any case, as my luck will have it, there are 15 passengers in Business Class this morning. And the only seat left empty is the one on the aisle of my row of three. Cool!

The Crew

There are three and a half cabin crew on the flight and I’m pretty sure that none of them are above the age of twenty-five. Three of the cabin crew are wearing the normal SWISS uniform. The third one though, is wearing ‘civilian’ clothes and a badge that says ‘I am a new crew member’ rather than her name. I’m not quite sure why being a new cabin crew member means she shouldn’t be wearing a uniform. However, given how shabby the SWISS uniform generally looks, I can’t really blame her for not wanting to wear that.

Other than that, the crew are friendly and really make an effort to accommodate passengers. Even if they’re a bit clumsy at times. For example, once boarding is completed, one of the female flight attendants working in the Economy Class section asks if there’s still any space left in the overhead bins up front, so she can stow one fairly large piece of hand luggage. The maître de yells back to her form the front that yes, there is space left. ‘But let him lift his suitcase himself, it’s his problem so you’re not expected to do that…’. Of course, the maître de does have a point. When I still worked at Swissair they always used to say that passengers are allowed to take just about anything into the cabin, as long as it fits the dimensions and they could still carry it themselves. But I’m pretty sure there might have been a politer way of saying that.

But perhaps I’m just irritated by the fact that the maître de is wearing turquoise coloured underwear. And in case you’re wondering why I know that, he’s shoved his uniform shirt into his undies and pulled them up so high that the waistband is showing above the trousers. It’s all very classy really!

The service on the ground is the standard bottle of still water and a refreshing towel. We push back on time and then make our way to the holding point for runways 09R. The flight time is announced as one hour and ten minutes.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is no choice for the meal. Much to my surprise, SWISS offers a hot breakfast on this route, despite the short flight time. I’m guessing this to accommodate its British customer base. The trays are delivered from a trolley. The meal consists of:

A small plate of cheese.

Butter and jam.

A small dish of Quinoa müsli.

And the hot meal.

The hot meal is more of a brunch than a breakfast and consists of a grilled tomato with a Provençale crust, brown lentils and a slice of cheese quiche. I must say, the meal is quite good. With that I also have a croissant and a bun from the bread basket.

Despite the short flight, the crew manage to do two nicely paced runs for drinks and with the breadbasket.

Arrival

It’s a lovely day for flying. The approach into Zürich brings us in right over Basel, my home town, from where we make a left hand turn to head east, before lining up for the landing on runway 14. After landing we taxi to the B pier, which can accept both Schengen and non-Schengen flights. I make my way down to immigration and am positively surprised that a) there’s hardly anybody there and b) they appear to have updated the software of the passport readers, so that I can now use the e-gates with my Maltese passport.

The suitcases for the London flight will be delivery on belt 22. I figure my suitcase probably hasn’t survived having to change planes in Bahrain and London Heathrow, so instead of going to belt 22, I make a beeline for the Swissport lost and found in the hope of saving some time.

But lo and behold, just before I get there, something silvery in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I look over to belt 22 to find that by some divine intervention, my suitcase has actually made it.

Conclusion

And quicker than you know, the first four months of the year are over. Just like that. And I’ve spent most of that time travelling. My return to Switzerland on SWISS marks the end of the busy travel period for me. From now on, it’s really just the occasional short-haul trip here and there. And thank god for that. I really love flying, but there are limits to how much flying even I can handle at a time…

Happy Easter everyone!

William

Gulf Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Bahrain to London Heathrow

Transfer in Bahrain

We pull up on our stand at 23h40 local time. Bahrain is one hour behind Dubai. There are currently some major construction works going on at Bahrain airport for a new pier and terminal, with different parts already in an advanced state of completion. Alas, it’ll be a while before the new facility becomes available and until then, I am going to have to contend with the current facility, which is, with all due respect, a hovel. The terminal looks like something straight out of the late seventies. It’s worn and tired looking and obviously not much care has gone into maintaining the building and public areas properly. The corridors are long, narrow, with low ceilings and the smell of old socks that you only get in countries that have spent way too much time around the British and their obsessive compulsion with having carpets in really inconvenient places…

There is a security checkpoint that passengers need to go through to access the transfer area one floor up. But to be honest, I don’t quite understand what the point of it is, because clearly nobody gives a rat’s bum. The lady in front of me beeps. The male staff all look at each other and, realising there is no woman at hand to give the passenger a pat down, simply wave her through…

The Gulf Air Business Class Golden Falcon Lounge

The upper level of the terminal is not much better. Of course, the duty free shop and the food outlets have been updated over the years. But apart from that, the terminal reminds me a lot of Shannon airport. And anyone who’s ever been to Shannon will know that’s not exactly a compliment.

The lounge is yet one floor further up from the duty free shopping area. Like everything else here, it also looks very old fashioned and not particularly attractive. But at least there are no carpets. The place is also very full when I arrive, which is why I refrain from taking any pictures in the lounge.

But by far the most memorable feature of the lounge, is its receptionist. Sweet baby Jesus, what is that? It’s not just that she’s laid on the makeup pretty thickly. She must also be colour blind, because the two very bright pink circles on each check are clashing badly with the green stuff she’s also pasted on to her cheeks, around the pink. Shouldn’t the green stuff go on the eye lids? She also has the most obscenely thick and obviously artificial eye lashes. I mean, she’s freakish enough to make a drag queen yearn to dress up in chinos and a polo shirt!

Boarding

Fifty minutes before departure, the flight shows up on the departure screens as boarding. So I figure I might as well make my way to gate 11, from where my flight will depart. Perhaps that will keep me from going off to sleep.

There’s an additional checkpoint to enter the gate area, and for a moment I feel like I have done the Bahrainis an injustice for assuming they haven’t got their security under control. There’s even a separate queue for Business Class passengers. Only, this security check is just about as useless and ineffectual as the previous one. And so, I resign myself to accepting that it’s probably just a cultural thing. Under the guise of pluralism and inclusion it’s really quite amazing just what you can get away with these days.

There is an initial boarding call for Business Class passengers. And I mean that quite literal. Instead of using the microphone, the young male Philippino suddenly starts yelling at the top of his voice ‘only Falcon Gold, only Falcon Gold’…

Off we go…

The Cabin

So far, as you already might have guessed, I’m not too impressed by Gulf Air. But the Business Class cabin of this Boeing B 787-9 is just gorgeous. The dark colours give the whole cabin an elegant, subdued feel and the fact that passengers are boarding through the L2 door somehow makes the first impression just a little bit more dramatic, because from the L2 door the whole of the Business Class cabin is visible.

If I’m not mistaken, this is more or less the same gig that Japan Airlines and Oman Air have for their Business Class product. According to the Gulf Air inflight magazine, the pitch on this seat is 78 inches. And it really is quite impressive. When extended into a bed, the seat is still long enough that I still have room above my head and below for my feet. I’m about 184 cm tall.

The seats are staggered in such a way that the aisle seats are not abeam but slightly behind the window seats. As a result, every passenger has direct access to the aisle and a lot of privacy. And there is a divider which can be raised to provide more privacy. Of course, the window seat is a lot more private than the aisle seats. But from what I have seen, the shell of the seat reaches sufficiently far forward to ensure that passengers on the aisle seat are not completely exposed either.

On the down side, there is not a lot of storage space on this seat. Also, I find it quite uncomfortable trying to sleep in this seat, although that may also have to do with the fact that I currently have a slipped disc…

Amenities

The vanity kit provided by Gulf Air is extensive. In addition to the obligatory toiletries, Gulf Air will also provide pyjamas on night flights as well as a pair of solid slippers. Bedding for the seat is also provided.

The Crew

The crew is a mix of European and Middle Eastern nationals. And all of them give the impression of really just doing their job but not much else and without discernible signs of pride or enjoyment. The whole customer experience seems rather process oriented: the boarding process takes forty minutes to complete, which is ample time for the crew to take orders for food from the passengers. But instead, the food orders are only taken once boarding is completed. Inevitably, this means that the crew don’t manage to collect all the orders before they are required to take their seats for departure.

After take-off I’m simply too tired to wait any longer. I figure I’ll manage to get something to eat at some point and I don’t want dinner. I just want to sleep. So I change into my pjs, extend the seat into a bed, and go off to sleep. Forty minutes later the crew are finally released to start the service. One hour into the flight the ‘chef’ comes to wake me up to ask me what I’d like to eat. I mean, seriously? On a flight of six hours they won’t even let a guy sleep because they need to get his order in for food?

I explain I won’t be having dinner but yes, if they’re serving breakfast, I’ll probably join.

The service on the ground starts with the welcome drinks. Given my previous experience with the mint juice, this time I try the orange juice. This is followed by the newspapers, vanity kit, pjs, the menu and the towels. Again, there is a choice between a hot towel and a cold one. This time I go with the cold towel, but it’s lukewarm – just like the hot towel I had on the previous flight.

The Meal

We’re still two hours out of London when the crew start the breakfast service. Which to me seems just a tad early, given that there are only 26 seats in Business Class. The sequence in which the meal is served is odd.

First, I am brought a cup of coffee with milk, which is very weak, incidentally. Next the other flight attendant shows me a selection of preserves and marmalades to choose from. I request some apricot jam and then sit there thinking that it would be really cool to have something to smear the jam onto – a piece of bread spontaneously comes to mind. As though he can read my mind, the male crew member appears with a bread basket and asks me if I’d prefer toast or a croissant. I tell him I’ll have toast, and ask him if perhaps I might have a knife to smother the jam with and a napkin to put the bread on? To which he tells me the tray will be arriving ‘later’.

When eventually the tray arrives, the cabin crew have to first open my tray table, which is stowed in the side of the seat. Only, that’s where the coffee is standing. So I pick the saucer and cup up with my left hand, because I’m still holding my two slices of toast with the other hand, while the cabin crew juggles my tray in one hand and tries to open the table with the other.

But eventually we manage. And the tray does looks rather nice. There’s even a wire basket for me to put the toast in. But I still don’t understand why they couldn’t have brought the tray first and then the jam, bread and coffee.

The tray has on it a plate of fresh fruit.

A small ramekin of butter.

A glass of water & glass of juice.

Apparently, according to the menu, there also would have been yoghurt and Müsli. But the crew seem to be strangely unaware of any of this.

Once I have finished the fruit, the plate is removed and a short while later, my hot meal arrives. I’ve decided to go with the American pancakes with berries and maple syrup.

The pancakes are thick and fluffy. But to be honest, the whole thing is just a bit of a sugar overdose and could have done very well without either the maple syrup or the berries.

Arrival

By the time the crew clear everything away, we still one hour out of London. I lean back in my seat and watch the world go by far below, until eventually old Blighty comes in to view. Our approach into Heathrow offers some excellent views. First ATC bring us in due north of the city, with good views of the West End and Hyde Park. Initially, we’re on a westerly track, flying parallel to the runways at Heathrow. But it looks as though they’re going to bring us in on 09R, which is more convenient because Gulf air operates out of Terminal 4 in Heathrow, which is south of the runway. So eventually we turn south and fly overhead Heathrow, with the BA maintenance facility and Concorde clearly visible.

We land on time and make the short taxi to Terminal 4. It’s good to be back in Europe! I now have 95 minutes to make my connection.

Conclusion

Man, what a let down. When I booked this flight, I was expecting Gulf Air to be something of a boutique carrier, if there is such a thing. I knew I couldn’t expect anything on the scale of Emirates or Qatar, but maybe a bit like Oman Air. What I certainly hadn’t expected though was the badly managed, uncoordinated mess and the total lack of consistency in the service delivery of Gulf Air.

The seat on the B 787 is gorgeous, and the 787 is a very comfortable aircraft, from a passenger’s perspective. But even so, the inconvenient flight schedule, the rather unpleasant transfer at their very unattractive hub in Bahrain and the bad service really don’t make me really ever want to try Gulf Air again.

But I’ll give them this much, their livery is one of the best out there right now…

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

Introduction

Heathrow is having one of those days. The gusting winds mean there is more separation between the approaching aircraft, and as a result, everything seems to be running late – in some cases even as much as one hour or more.

The SkyTeam Lounge

In Terminal 4 KLM shares the Business Class lounge with some of its other SkyTeam partners, including China Southern, Korean Air and Aeroflot. I rather like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow. It’s got a modern and fresh feel to it, and the choice of hot and cold food is rather good.

This evening though, the lounge is full of unhappy Frenchmen. The Air France flight to Paris is running nearly ninety minutes late and passengers with connecting flights in Paris have already been informed that they’re likely not going to make their onward flights. Which of course is a merde.

Boarding

My flight is running slightly late as well. Boarding is scheduled for 19h55, which passes without the ground crew announcing that there’s going to be a delay. Eventually, at 20h30 boarding for the flight begins.

Tonight’s flight is being operated by an Embraer 175 of KLM Cityhopper. The flight is more or less sold out, which is why the ground crew are offering passengers to check in their baggage free of charge. I’m guessing this is the reason why eventually it takes us until 21h10 to finally complete the boarding process.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class seats on this flight, although on KLM Cityhopper it’s difficult to tell the difference, seeing as both seats on the row of two are sold, even in Business Class. Luckily, I’m on 1A, and by the time boarding is completed, the aisle seat next to me is still empty.

The Crew

There are two young ladies working the flight today. They’re your usual KLM friendly cabin crew. What they lack in finesse, they certainly make up for with their genuine and unpretentious approach to dealing with passengers.

There is no service on the ground. The flight time to Amsterdam is forty-five minutes.

The Meal

No sooner has the main landing gear left the ground, the aircraft starts shaking and swinging around as though it were a feather. Even so, before the fasten seatbelt sign is even turned off, the crew start their preparations for the service.

A while ago, KLM updated the boxes and the meals that are serve in Business Class on the Cityhopper flights. I’m mean, it’s still a box. But even so, I still think it’s an improvement in that the new box seems bigger and more spacious.

Inside the box there is a falafel and hummus salad, two pieces of bread and butter and a dessert.

The salad is good and very light. I soak up the hummus with one of the breads provided with the meal and that is still warm. I don’t try the dessert.

Arrival

Very soon we start our descent into Amsterdam. The weather here is no better and we dip and roll violently on the approach. Eventually, after a flight time of only forty minutes, we touch down on the Polderbaan. From here it’s another ten minutes taxiing to the Cityhopper apron. By the time we come to a stop on our designated remote stand, it’s just gone 23h00 and we’re running thirty minutes late.

We enter the terminal, which is deserted at this time of night. At least that means it doesn’t take long for the bags to start arriving…

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

Introduction

The course with Etihad was good fun and went by really quickly. The people attending the course were easy going and really impressed me by their professionalism. Of course, it also helps that the Etihad training facilities near the airport are modern, with well-equipped classrooms.

On Thursday afternoon we finish around lunch, and I even get to take the tour of the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, which is quite dazzling. The white marble is so bright that I can hardly stand to look at the building, it’s literally blinding.

But on Monday the next course will be starting in Luxembourg, so it’s high time for me to leg it back Europe. Which is a shame really, because the weather here in Abu Dhabi has been a delight this last week, with pleasantly mild temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Celsius.

Getting to the Airport

Being the weekend, there’s hardly any traffic on the roads. Which means we manage to make the journey to the airport in just over fifteen minutes. The trip from the Hilton Capitol to the airport will cost you roughly UAD50.- by taxi.

Check-in

Terminal 3 is dedicated to Etihad Airways and there are separate entrances for First and Business Class passengers. The Business Class area of the terminal is calm. It looks rather elegant. There are seven counters open when I arrive.

Right next to check-in, there is a dedicated Fast Track for immigration and right behind that the security check. Most of Etihad’s flying out of Abu Dhabi occurs during the night time, which is probably why the airport is surprisingly quiet, given the size of the facility.

The Etihad Airways Business Class Lounge

The Etihad Business Class lounge is located opposite gate 35, and it’s enormous. There is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to choose from at the buffet, ranging from Indian to Japanese, Western and Arab dishes. There are also, as far as I can tell, three bars. Although only one of them is currently open.

I have a bit of lunch, seeing as the flight will not be departing until 13h45 and I’m not likely to eat anything before about 15h00.

Once I demolish my plate (I seem to be developing a serious liking for mash in my old age) I decide to check out the Six Senses Spa, also located in the lounge. I still have slightly more than an hour to go before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a full body massage of one hour.

Boarding

My flight is departing from gate 33. At the entrance to the gate, my passport is first checked, followed by a secondary security check during which all electronic devices I’m carrying are briefly switched on and checked. And then I’m free to board.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 12A, which is the same seat I had on the outbound flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. This cabin configuration is starting to grow on me, I must say. I really like the abundance of storage space, which allows you to keep everything you might need during the flight within easy reach. What’s more, no matter how many passengers there are in the cabin, it never feels full or crowded.

The Crew

I’m told that Etihad have a crew complement of 22 in the cabin of their Airbus A 380. Today’s crew is yet another interesting mix of ethnicities and races. They’re not exactly warm or personable at first, but they’re professional and courteous in the way they go about their duty.

Amenities

A blanket, a pillow, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive. No sooner have I settled in, the crew bring me a rose scented hot towel and a glass of lemon and mint juice, which are both very refreshing.

Just before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for drinks after departure.

The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off, the service begins, and I’m brought a ramekin of warm nuts and another glass of the lemon and mint juice. The service is à l carte, and passengers have the option when they’d like to eat.

The First Course

Mezze – muhammara, hummus, a filled grape leaf, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with a feta-like cheese and served with a slice of lemon.

This dish tastes much better than the one I hand on my way down to Abu Dhabi, I’m guessing that’s because this dish was locally made in the UAE. Especially the muhammara is very good and the lemon gives it a refreshing twist.

The first course is served on a tray, together with the breads, butter, olive oil and salt and pepper shakers.

The Main Course

Rigatoni with a sugo of sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic pesto, parmigiano and fresh basil.

When the flight attendant arrives with my main course, I comment on the fact that I think it’s a shame the airlines tend not to serve spicy food and that the only thing missing for my main course is a bit of spice. The flight attendant puts my plate down and then rather abruptly dashes off. He returns just a short while later grinning and with a bottle of Tobasco for me, which I think is pretty cool and a very nice gesture.

The dish is exceptionally good. The sugo has a lovely tangy flavour that is perfectly balanced with the pesto and you can actually still taste the fresh basil.

Dessert

Almond and pistachio pudding with butterscotch sauce.

Instead of one of those horrific gelatinous blobs of tasteless gunk that most airlines seem to serve these days (…and rather unconvincingly disguise as ‘mousse’), Etihad makes the effort to offer a real dessert. And sweet baby J., it’s divine! It’s still warm and the texture is just so dense and rich. Gorgeous!

Arrival

About eighty minutes out of Heathrow, the cabin lights slowly start to go on again and the crew come through the cabin asking passengers if there’s anything they’d like from the menu before they start preparing the cabin for landing. I’m still quite full from lunch, so I just order some ice cream and leave it at that.

Originally, we’re scheduled to touch down at 17h15. But traffic in Heathrow is busy and so we end up doing two laps in a holding pattern north-east of the capital before we are eventually released for the approach. By the time we land, it’s already 17h45.

Terminal 4 is much busier than when I left and there are people everywhere. But still I manage, and before long I’m through security and on my way to the SkyTeam lounge.

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

Introduction

I spend the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Terminal 4. The hotel only opened in October 2018 and still retains that smell of new building and new furniture. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and the staff are obviously still eager to please. The only issue I have, is that I mistakenly booked a room in the quiet zone of the building, which by default means a room away from the airport. So no airport views.

Getting to the Airport

This must be one of the shortest airport transfers ever! I exit the hotel at 11h15 and make my way up the escalator onto the foot bridge to Terminal 4, which is about two minutes away if you’re walking at a leisurely pace. The foot bridge ejects me on the departures level of the terminal.

Check-in

Etihad Airways checks-in in sector C, which is at the opposite end of the terminal from where I entered the building coming from the hotel. There is one counter for First Class passengers, three for Business Class passengers and five for Economy Class.

The check-in agent tags my suitcase and, seeing my passport, chats idly about how nice she thought Malta was when she visited… But then for one horrible moment I think I’m royally screwed as she informs me I’ll need to apply for a visa for Abu Dhabi before I enter the country. But then she realises that she’s made a mistake and used the country code for the Maldives instead of Malta. So we’re good after all.

The House Lounge

There’s a fast track for security, which is pretty much empty when I arrive. One thing they do really well at Heathrow, is the security check – it’s well organised, quick and efficient. Before I visit the lounge, I decide to take a stroll around the departure concourse. The whole length of the terminal is littered with luxury boutiques from all the well-known brands, with the occasional restaurant thrown in for good measure. The glitzy shops are all empty though, while the Prêt à Manger is the only place that’s busy.

Other than that, architecturally Terminal 4 is not likely to win any prizes any time soon. And I’d also like to know what sort of cruel soul designs a terminal in such a way that most windows will not give you an unobstructed view of the airplanes…?

Along the way, I pass a sign pointing passengers in the direction of the all-purpose prayer rooms. I find the sign rather odd though, because it uses the plural ‘ablutions’ but with a singular verb.

The House lounge is located opposite gate 10, from where my flight to Abu Dhabi will be boarding later on. The entrance to The House is to the right of the SkyTeam lounge.

The receptionist welcomes me in and then shows me around. The lounge has a separate dining room. The tables are all nicely set, with a small vase of flowers on each table. There is a choice between an à la carte menu and a selection of hot dishes from the buffet. Figuring it’ll probably be a while before I get to eat on the plane, I order the Tortelloni with truffle oil, creamy pumpkin and hazelnut pesto, which tastes excellent.

The staff in the lounge are polite, friendly and very attentive. Once I’ve finished the meal, I find myself a quiet corner to sit and relax a bit with my Kindle. I only realise once I sit down that I’m actually sitting next to actor Bill Nighy!

Boarding

Boarding starts at 13h20 for our 14h05 departure. First and Business Class passengers are instructed to take the exit to the airbidge on the far right, which leads to the upper deck.

The Cabin

Upon entering the cabin, there are two cabin crew welcoming passengers aboard. The flight attendant acknowledges my status as one of their frequent flyers with a very formal ‘welcome back, sir’ and points me in the general direction of my seat.

The cabin lights are dimmed and the mood lighting is set to a warm glow. Etihad Airways has an interesting configuration in the Business Class cabin of their A 380, in that the seats are arranged in pairs facing each other. The advantage of course, is that every passenger has direct aisle access.

The window seats, so A and K, face in the direction of travel, whereas the C and H seats are on the aisle and face in the opposite direction. Obviously, this also means that the window seats have more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.

The seat itself is easy to get in and out of and in the sleep position it’s wide enough to be able to turn easily. The seat also has a lot of storage space, partly also due to the large bins on the side, under the windows. The inflight entertainment system is touch screen enabled and can be operated either directly or using the hand held remote.

The cabin is nice enough. And once again, I’m impressed by how quiet the A 380 cabin is. My only issue, and this is something beyond Etihad’s control, is that there is a woman sitting right behind me whose perfume is so heavy and overpowering it’s actually starting to give me a headache.

A pillow, a blanket, a bottle of water, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

The Crew

The crew are a mix of Eastern Europeans and nationals of the Indian subcontinent. Their service seems quite formal. As a result, they’re quite unobtrusive and not all that noticeable in the cabin, and I’m not sure if this is intentional or not. I find it quite pleasant.

The service on the ground consists of a welcome drink of my choice and a scented hot towel. Unlike many other airlines, just the one hot towel is offered during this flight. To drink I go with a glass of fresh orange juice. Just before we push back, the crew come through the cabin taking orders for lunch. I notice that they approach passengers for their choice in order of their frequent flyer status.

The Meal

After take-off, the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. I have a glass of sparkling water and a ramekin of nuts that have a distinct hint of cardamom.

The First Course

The first course is served on a tray which also has on it the bread, salt and pepper as well as butter and olive oil with balsamico. The mezze are hummus, stuffed vine leaves, pickled vegetables, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with spinach, the name of which I don’t know.

The Main Course

The main course I chose is a nice piece of grilled salmon, served with spinach, asparagus and mashed potatoes.

Dessert

The lava cake is served with a small pot of warm custard.

The meal is good. The mezze is tasty, although perhaps not quite as good as that served on QR. The size of the portion is also much smaller. The grilled salmon is nice and juicy on the inside and the asparagus have managed to not go all soggy. For me though, the hot chocolate lava cake is definitely the highlight of the meal.

Once the crew have cleared away my table, they bring me a mug of Moroccan mint tea, which is served with two small biscuits.

Amenities

The amenity kit is by Acqua di Parma. It contains a small tube of hand cream, a sample flacon of perfume as well as ear plugs, socks, eye shades and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste. No slippers are provided on this flight.

Arrival

After a flight time of just under six hours, the engines are gently eased back and we start our descent into Abu Dhabi. Luckily, the airport isn’t too busy, which means there are none of the holding delays that seem to be getting more and more frequent in Dubai.

Eventually we land after a total flight time of six hours and ten minutes. Abu Dhabi is currently in the process of building a new terminal. The facility should have opened a few years ago but got repeatedly held up. Apparently, it’s now expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2019. And it’s about time too, because the current facility was clearly not laid out to handle the amount of traffic and the size of aircraft currently operating into Abu Dhabi.

But the process is swift. Etihad Business Class passengers are given an access card to the fast track immigration and within thirty minutes of landing, I’ve retrieved my suitcase and sitting in a taxi on my way to the hotel.

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

Introduction

It’s Thursday afternoon. The course with the IAA in Shannon went well. My job is done, and so it’s time to move on. The next course will be starting in two days.

Shannon airport is located about fifteen minutes away by car from IAA’s HQ. We arrive at the car park for the car rental returns and it’s pouring with rain. Although that isn’t really worth mentioning because it seems to be the normal state of affairs in Ireland. Which makes it all the more impressive how everyone here manages to stay so friendly and easy going.

There is a shuttle from the Hertz office to the terminal, but given that it’s only a two minute walk, that hardly seems worth it – even with the rain.

Check-in

The terminal building is a strange place. The check-in area is in a part of the terminal which looks as though it’s much newer than the rest of the building. There are four rows of check-in counters, but half of them look as though they haven’t been used in years. I’m also not really sure what to make of the seventies style wood panelling everywhere.

In any case, I’m already checked in, but I still need to drop off my enormous suitcase. My first stop is at one of the Aerlingus self-service machines, but apparently they will only issue a boarding pass but not the baggage tag. So eventually I just head over to the check-in counter. Aerlingus has six counters in Shannon, but only one is manned when I arrive for check in.

The Lounge

The departure gates are located one floor up from the check-in area. Luckily, the security check point is deserted when I arrive, which, as far as the Irish are concerned, is another great opportunity to have a little natter before sending me on my way. This must be just about the nicest security check I’ve ever undergone!

Aerlingus does not have its own lounge in Shannon, but Executive Club Silver passengers flying on Aerlingus are entitled to use the Boru lounge that is operated by Shannon airport.

The lounge is small but nicely laid out. The toilets are clean and there’s even a shower. As far as food goes, it’s really just hot and cold drinks and snacks to eat – things like scones and cake.

Boarding

There are two separate queues for boarding. One for Priority passengers, and one for everyone else. Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure.

The Cabin

This aircraft is in the same layout as that of my inbound flight. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think it’s the same plane. Today I’m seated on the emergency exit on 12A, which is the first of the two emergency exit rows on the A 320. Row 12 is the best place to sit, I think. On the one hand, because in addition to the extra legroom, the fact that it’s an exit row means the passengers in the row before cannot recline their seats. While at the same time, because the next row is also an emergency exit, the extra pitch means you won’t have the person sitting behind you grinding their kneecaps into your lower back. Unless of course, the person behind you is the tall, blond M. with his awfully long legs.

The Crew

The crew are friendly, like everybody else I met on this trip to Ireland. The purser in an elderly gentleman who, quite frankly, looks as though he started his flying career back in the days of the elegant Vickers Viscount. Perhaps that also explains his excellent manners and customer care. I think he’s brilliant!

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, I buy a Coke Zero which sets me back EUR2.50. Which is reasonable for a 0.33l can.

Arrival

Initially, the flight time is announced as one hour, which would have meant us arriving in Heathrow at 18h30. But instead we’re kept circling for a while before we make the approach. So that eventually, by the time we come to a stop on our designated stand, it’s already 19h05.

The Aerlingus gates in Terminal 2 are very conveniently located a very short walk away from the luggage belts. If you’re arriving from Ireland you will not have to go through immigration in the UK. At least not until the end of March.

My first stop after I exit through customs is at Marks & Spencer’s to get some food. And then from there I head down into the bowels of the Queen’s Terminal to catch the complimentary rail shuttle to Terminal 4.

All in all, from exiting the aircraft to entering my hotel room it takes me slightly more than ninety minutes. Mainly, because the shuttle to Terminal 4 only runs very thirty minutes at 03 and 33 past the hour.