EasyJet – Airbus A 320: London Gatwick to Basel

Airline: easyJet
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: London Gatwick
To: Euroairport Basel-Muhlouse Freibourg
Departure: 18:28
Arrival:
20:42
Flight time:
one hour and fourteen minutes
Seat:
1F, window seat on the starboard bulkhead row

By the time I collect my suitcase from the luggage belt at Gatwick’s South Terminal, it’s already coming up to 16h30. I now have ninety minutes to make my connection to Basel with easyJet from the North Terminal.

Signposting is very good, and the shuttle that takes you to the North Terminal is on the same level as the landside arrivals area. The journey by shuttle only takes a few minutes.

Once I arrive at the other end, the easyJet check-in area is straight through the door, on the same level as the shuttle from the South Terminal.

I don’t know how many automatic check-in counters there are, but the row seems endless for sure. Which also means that I can just walk up to check in my suitcase without having to queue. This is my first time using one of these self-service machines, because I normally travel without checked luggage.

The process is easy to follow, if not perhaps a bit painful in my case… You see, at the time I made the booking, I remember paying extra to be able to check in a suitcase. Only, what I had purchased at the time was one checked bag weighing no more than 15 kilos. But two weeks in Malta is a long time, during which it’s only too easy to buy a few things here or there to take back with you.

So when I check in my suitcase at Gatwick, the scales indicate that it weighs in excess of 20 kilos, and the price for that is a whopping GBP60. And rather conveniently, you can pay the amount due right there at the check-in counter with your credit card.

Security is quick and efficient. That’s one of the few things I think the British really do very well. Once I’m through security, I just have enough time for a quick meal at Wagamama before it’s time to head for the gate. And for a changes there’s even no queue for a table.

My flight is departing from gate 102, which is located in the satellite that is connected to the main terminal by a bridge that aircraft can taxi under. It’s already dark though, so there’s not much to see.

I’m seated on 1F. I was hoping to take a picture of the seat as I boarded, but alas Ms 1D is already there and it’s impossible for me to take a photo without her in it. Still, she’s a very nice woman and very helpful with getting my backpack stowed away properly.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good and certainly comfortable enough for the short flight to Basel. Moreoever, the one thing I appreciate about easyJet is that their aircraft always appear to be in mint condition.

We start up and push back on time. but we don’t get very far. We make one right turn and then stop. The cockpit crew shut down one of the engines again and inform us that there will be a slight delay, with our slot time not coming up for another twenty minutes. Other aircraft are also having to wait.

There’s nothing much to say about the crew, seeing as I don’t make any inflight purchases with them. The only thing I can say is that the purser is a young Italian man who’d make an interesting linguistic study. From his accent he’s unmistakably Italian. Other than that though, he’s highly proficient and uses many idiomatic expressions that you normally wouldnt’t expect from a speaker with such a heavy accent. Sorry, end of geek-out…

After sixteen days away from home, I’m finally back in Basel. And it’s good to be back. But god it’s cold here…

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Malta to London Gatwick

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: Malta International Airport
To: London Gatwick
Departure: 13:35
Arrival:
15:50
Flight time:
three hours and fifteen minutes
Seat:
5F, window on the starboard side

This trip has been just brilliant. First of all, I can’t remember the last time I went away on vacation for as much as two whole weeks in a row and without changing time zones! I had no idea how relaxing that can be! Of course, it helps that the weather in Malta has been lovely, with sunshine and temperatures hovering around 18 degrees celsius every day.

To get to the airport from Valletta and Floriana by public transport, there are four buses you can take. The X4 is the ‘express’ which runs to Birzebbuga (there are a few diacritics missing there, sorry…) via the airport. The X4 actually stops right outside the terminal building and runs every half hour.

But then there are also the bus lines 71, 72 and 73, all of which go to Iz-Zurrieq and/or Qrendi on the other side of the airport. All three call at the bus stop ‘Cintra’, which is just at the entrance to the road tunnel under the runway. From ‘Cintra’ it’s a walk of about three minutes to the terminal building and there’s a pavement all the way. The 71, 72 and 73 run every six minutes. The journey time is 20 minutes.

When I arrive at check-in, quite a few of the check-in counters are open in preparation for the early afternoon rush. British Airways has its own, dedicated counters, with one counter for Club Class passengers and status card holders and three for all other passengers. Check-in is handled by Air Malta staff on behalf of British Airways.

The check-in agent tags my suitcase, issues me a boarding pass and an invitation to the the La Valette lounge.

The entrance to the La Valette lounge is immediately on your left as you exit through the obligatory duty free shop. Access to the lounge is via lift.

Seeing as it’s the only lounge at the airport, it’s also very busy at this time of day. There are three Air Malta flights, Lufthansa’s Frankfurt service, the Emirates flight and the BA flight to Gatwick all leaving at more or less the same time.

I grab myself a Kinnie from one of the fridges and then head outside to catch some sun. Luckily, I manage to snag a chair with a perfect view of the apron. I’m going to miss the warmth of the sun when I get back to Switzerland.

The easyJet and British Airways flights from Gatwick arrive in short sequence and both of them are running thirty minutes late due an ATC strike in France…

Gates 11 through 18 are the non-Schengen gates behind immigration. And today it’s a mess. The terminal is clearly very rapidly reaching full capacity during peaks. The British Airways flight is boarding from gate 18, which is the farthest gate. Next to us is the easyJet flight to Gatwick, next to that is the Ryanair flight to East Midlands, and next to that is the Ryanair flight to Manchester. And it’s chaos!

But at least I am rewarded for my labours, which include being body-checked by some vicious granny trying to jump the queue for the Manchester flight, because there is no bus for boarding and we are allowed to walk across the apron to our waiting chariot.

The cabin of this aircraft looks and feels different to that of the aircraft that operate to and from Heathrow. However, I don’t know if this bird is an exception or if this is the case for the entire Gatwick fleet. First of all, the cabin is not branded and the bulkhead is white with grey dots, instead of the dark grey coloured one with the Speedbird that you find on the Heathrow fleet.

And the seat is different too. There is no adjustable headrest. Other than that, the cabin looks very worn and in serious need of some TLC. They’ve removed the overhead screens. But instead of covering up the electric sockets where they used to be, they’ve just left everything uncovered. Not only does it not looks very nice, it also gives the impression that really this aircraft should be in maintenance and not in service.

At least on row 5 the seat pitch is still good enough for a flight of thre hours.

The crew on this flight are also unusual. First of all, the purser is a nice, friendly chap. But honestly, I’m wondering if he’s already old enough to have to shave. He’s also not wearing a standard issue uniform shirt. Either that or British Airways recently changed to off-white uniform shirts for their male crew that have the kind of matted grey colour you can only hope to achieve from chucking in a perfectly white shirt with your undies and socks to wash by mistake…

But apart from that, I have to say that all of the crew are excellent. They’re very friendly and they are constantly present in the cabin during the flight. They take could care of the passengers.

The flight today is full, and there are 36 passengers in the Business Class cabin.

The flight time is three hours and fifteen minutes due to the ATC strike. We take off towards the northwest, routing via Palermo and Rome, then across the Alps into Austria and then Germany and Belgium to avoid France.

The mix of passengers in the cabin is interesting. I think it’s safe to say that at 45 years of age, I am by far the most junior passenger in the forward cabin. The rest are all in their late sixties and early seventies and probably still remember Malta from when they were stationed there with the RAF, before Malta became independent.

And all of them look as though they’re travelling for leisure. Behind me is another elderly couple. The husband is your typical cockney geezer who insists on calling the female cabin crew ‘sweetheart’ – and has me wondering how long before he inadvertently becomes part of the #metoo movement but for all the wrong reasons.

There is no service at all on the ground. I don’t know if this is normal or just because the crew are in a hurry to get away as soon as possible.

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin with lightly scented hot towels and distribute the menus for the flight.

There are three choices for the main dish.

Ahead of the meal there is a drinks service, and passengers have a coice of nuts or biscuits as a snack to go with that.

The whole meal is served on one tray from the galley, so there is no trolley service. While of course it is nicer to have your meal brought to you from the galley, instead of it being taken out of a trolley, I also think that tray service doesn’t really work on a narrow body, especially if you have a fairly large and full Business Class cabin as on this flight. By the time the crew deliver the last meals to row 9, the passengers on row 1 are already having their tea or coffee.

There’s something delightfully oldfashioned about the starter, which is crayfish in a spicy cocktail sauce. It’s not bad, although a bit less sauce would have been perfectly fine too.

For the main course I have the fish, which is very good and has managed not to to dry up completely in the oven.

The cheese is my favourite part of the meal on BA and I just love that they serve it with chutney and crackers.

In addition to the crackers, the crew also make two rounds with the bread basket and there is a selection of white and brown breads.

The dessert is fine but really just way to sweet. My teeth ache just from looking at it. I give up on this one and only have half of it.

To finish off the meal I have a cup of mint tea to help pry my tongue off my hard palate after that sticky dessert…

Later on, as we start our descent into Gatwick, the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of Border’s biscuits. The biscuits are good, but I’m wondering if the presentation could be improved – because the crew pass through the cabin with this enormous retail size box of biscuits and distribute them from that. It’s not the height of sophistication to be honest…

En route over Italy the crew were able to get an improvement on our routing, to the extent that the delay is reduced to less than fifteen minutes. But by the time we’re sequenced for arrival and eventually touch down, we’re thirty minutes later after all.

The flight ends at Gatwick’s South Terminal. I now need to retrieve my suitcase and then make my way to the North Terminal for my connecting flight.

While there were a few oddities on this flight, such as the consition of the aircraft cabin, the appearance of the crew and the mix of passengers in the Business Class cabin, all in all this was not a bad flight. Moreover, I think that Gatwick is by far the much more pleasant passenger experience than Heathrow.

Flying British Airways may not be everyone’s cup of tea and honestly, they’re usually not my first choice anymore either. Even so, I still think it’s impressive that on a Friday afternoon in early February, which is during Malta’s deepest low season, they still manage to fill 36 seats in Business Class.

EasyJet – Airbus A 320: Friedrichshafen to London Gatwick

Schaffhausen is probably best known for its proximity to the spectacular Rhine falls in Neuhausen. But it’s definitely also worth a visit in its own right.

In Schaffhausen I spend the night at the lovely Hotel Rüden, which is located close to the railway station, on the fringe of the old town.

There are two ways to get from Schaffhausen to Friedrichshafen airport. The boring way is to take the train and change in Friedrichshafen. The journey will take 1 hour and 27 minutes. The alternative is quite a bit longer at 2 hours and thirty minutes, but definitely more fun!

First, I take the 09h49 train from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, which is a journey of about fifty minutes, part of which run along a very scenic route next to the river and then the lake.

In Kreuzlingen I have three minutes to make the connection to Konstanz, which is only another four minutes by train.

And then in Konstanz, I have twelve minutes to connect to the catamaran that goes across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen.

Only, it turns out that because of the wind, the catamaran will not be operating. So I’m just going to have to take the train.

But that’s not quite so straightforward. First, I take the 11h40 train to Radolfzell, which is a ride of fifteen minutes.

And then in Radolfzell I have ten minutes before my train to Friedrichshafen arrives. This being Germany, it’s late of course. But it’s a diesel train, which we don’t have in passenger service in Switzerland. I think it’s kind of cool, and sounds like a bus more than a train.

In Friedrichshafen I just have enough time to walk down to the lake to take a look at the water, which is starting to look a bit rough.

And then from Friedrichshafen Stadt I take yet another diesel train at 13h09, which takes five minutes to get to the airport.

From the airport station it’s just a short walk across the road to the terminal, which is a nondescript, flat building. But there is an Ibis hotel.

Departures are to the left of the building. Despite its limited size, inside every carrier has its own dedicated check-in counters. Although having said that, I hardly think there are all that many operators out of FDH.

Security for all gates is off the the left of the check-in hall. And of course, once you’re through security, you’re immediately ejected in the duty free shop.

All in all, there are seven gates, of which the five A gates are for Schengen departures and the two B gates for non-Schengen flights.

About 45 minutes before departure, the immigration officers appear to open up shop. The guy at my counter looks at my Maltese passport and just says ‘cool’ with this gleeful tone in his voice. ‘I’ve been there, you have great weather down there…’. And then he just lets me through.

At 14h20 the inbound from Gatwick glides down on runway 24. The A 320 looks slightly out of place and a but oversized compared to the terminal.

Boarding starts at 14h45 for a 15h05 departure. But that’s okay, because it turns out there’s only 49 passengers on the flight anyway…

Originally, I’m seated on 1C. But once boarding is completed two minutes later, I switch to the window on 1F and have the whole row to myself!

On the first row the pitch is comfortable enough. I don’t think it’s much less than on the first row of SWISS’ A 320s. The only complaint I have though, is that there’s cold air coming in through the R1 door inflight. Obviously it’s not enough to depressurise the cabin, but it certainly gives you cold feet!

On the climb out of Friedrichshafen we’re treated to some excellent views of the lake.

Once the buy on board service starts, I purchase a large cup of hot chocolate with two shortbread finger biscuits for GBP4.-, which I think is quite fair.

The crew are a friendly bunch and they’re obviously enjoying not having a full load of passengers for a change.

The flight passes quickly, and eventually we land after a flight time of 90 minutes and taxi to our stand at the satellite of the North Terminal.

The airport is surprisingly quiet and I’m through immigration in no time. From arrivals I head one floor up to catch the shuttle train to the South Terminal, from where the Gatwick Express into London’s Victoria station will be leaving.

The journey into London takes 32 minutes if you’re lucky enough to catch the express and there are multiple trains per hour.

For a change, this time I won’t be staying in the West End. Instead, I’m off to Brixton…

I won’t be writing a post about the return flight to Basel with easyJet, so this is going to be my last post of 2019. I want to thank all those of you who have visited my blog throughout the year and read the posts or just looked at the pictures, but especially all those of you who also were kind enough to leave a comment – be it a question, criticism, explanation or correction. Thank you!

I wish you all a happy holiday and a spectacular festive season!

– William

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.

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.

Helvetic Airways, Embraer 190 – Business Class: Zürich to London City

My colleague at work, let‘s call him the talented Mr. F., recently complained about the apparent lack of any new posts on my blog in recents weeks. The talented Mr. F., incidentally, gets his name from his truly exceptional talent of getting airlines to pay him compensation for all sorts of things, including some reported cases where the airlines hadn‘t actually done anything wrong – other than being on time…

So here you go, this one‘s for you, Mr. F. May it inspire you to even greater greatness. Or something.

As usual, I arrive at Zürich Airport by train. It‘s just gone 16:15. One hour to go before my departure to London.
Security is quite busy. After all, it‘s still the holiday season. But it‘s nowhere near as bad as when I flew to Bucharest two weeks ago, just as the summer holidays in Switzerland got underway!
My flight will be boarding from D57. Which is a bus gate on the ground floor level of the non-Schengen terminal. I don‘t think I‘ve ever used one of these gates before. I rather like the B/D pier though. Even if the ceilings are quite low.
I can‘t be bothered with the SWISS lounge, so instead I buy myself some chocolate goodness from Sprüngli on my way to passport control.
Today‘s flight is operated by Helvetic Airways, on behalf of SWISS. Helvetic has 15 E2s on order, which are expected to enter the fleet in Q4 of this year. Ten of their aircraft are on a permanent wet lease to SWISS. My flight today will be with an Embraer 190.
I‘m seated on 1A. So I figure I might as well take my time and board last. And take a few pictures while I wait.
The pitch on row 1, the bulkhead row, is great. Although from past experience I have to say, it get‘s awfully tight towards the back.
The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the cold towels and a bottle of still water. There are five passengers in Business this afternoon. One thing I really like on SWISS, is that they keep the seat next to you empty.
No sooner has the seatbelt sign gone off after take-off, the meal service begins. There is no choice available, so if you‘re vegetarian or picky about what you eat, you may want to pre order a special meal.
Today‘s offering is vitello tonnato, served with rocket, capers and red onion.
Warm breads and crackers are served with the meal. The maître de does an excellent job of explaining what all the items on the tray are.
Of course, being SWISS, there has to be a small plate with cheese.
The dessert is brownies on a citrus yoghurt cream and strawberry compote.
The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a small Swiss chocolate.
We land in London City more or less on time. The airport is busy. There‘s a bit of a hold up because the guy bringing the stairs is having problems puttting it in position. The captain shrugs at me and says: ‚they expect us to land on something the size of a stamp, but they struggle with the stairs…‘.
It‘s a lovely evening in London, and so I decide to walk to the hotel. From London City airport it‘s a walk of about thirty minutes to the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that takes you across the Thames. The journey takes about ten minutes and you can pay either by Oyster card or with a touch credit card.
At the other end, the cable car spits you out in front of the O2 arena. I stop off at Wagamama and the make my way to the Intetcontinental O2.
I‘ve been to many lovely places across the globe. Including some I didn‘t know existed before I had to go there! And feel priviledged for the opportunity to travel and see so much of the world. But no matter where I go, sooner or later I‘m always drawn back to this city. For me, there really is no place like London!

P. S. In the background of the last picture, on the hill, is Woolwich, where my nannu was originally from.

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…

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

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…

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…

VANITY KIT

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.

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.

SERVICE

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.

A 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…

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.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

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.

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.

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.

Virgin Trains, First Class: London Euston to Lancaster

INTRODUCTION
I’m on my way to Lancaster for the graduation ceremony. This is the third Master’s degree I’ll be picking up. I then start on my PhD at Lancaster University in January.

GETTING TO EUSTON
In London I stayed at the old County Hall hotel, which is right next door to the London Eye and close to Waterloo station. The train to Lancaster will be leaving from Euston station, which is roughly 25 minutes away from Waterloo on the Northern line. Given the fact that the tube is prone to unexpected delays, I decide to make an early start. My train will be departing at 11h30. So I leave the hotel just after 10h00.

THE LOUNGE
By the time I reach Euston, I still have an hour to spare before the train leaves. Luckily, Virgin Trains operate a First Class lounge at the station, which is located one floor up from the main public area and the platforms.

The lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, but there is still plenty of room to sit. The lounge looks a lot like the many airline lounges I’ve been to at various airports around the world. In addition, there is also a bar, where you can order freshly brewed coffee. To eat there are mainly sweet snack items like biscuits or brownies.

There is also complimentary wifi access in the lounge, which works surprisingly well.

BOARDING
Our train will be departing from platform seven and there is a ticket check just before you access the platform. The train seems quite busy. Even so, the queues for the ticket check are short and move quickly.

Departure is exactly on time at 11h30. The journey time is announced at 2 hours and 24 minutes, which should get us into Lancaster at 13h54.

THE TRAIN
The seating configuration in First Class is 2 + 1, with seats facing each other. As a result, the leg space, while not tight, is somewhat limited and does not allow you to stretch your legs.

Furthermore, there is a table across the full length of the compartment of four, which cannot be removed. So if you’re seated at the window and need to get out, the person on the aisle seat will have to move first.

Complimentary wifi is available on board and works very well.

THE SERVICE
I count four crew members working the First Class section. They’re polite and all, but somehow they all seem rather unhappy to be there and are not overly friendly either. The service comes across as being a bit rough and unpolished.

THE MEAL
In First Class, Virgin Trains will serve you a complimentary meal of sorts, the content of which varies according to the time of day. There is a printed menu available at every table and there are various options to choose from.

The service begins when the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. There is a fairly large selection of alcoholic and soft drinks.

Next, one of the crew passes through the cabin with a choice of oatmeal biscuits or mini brownies. After that, two other crew members pass through the cabin offering either tea or coffee. I try the coffee, which is quite horrific. Apparently, the same goes for the tea, because that’s what the lady across the aisle has ordered and she’s positively outraged…

And then after that comes the hot meal. They’re really just snacks that are easy to heat up in a microwave. I have the vegetarian option, which is some sort of bubble and squeak with a vegetarian pesto sausage. And this dish is just about as vile as the tea and coffee. I knew I should have bought a sandwich from Marks… But I will say that it’s nice to be able to use proper cutlery on a train, instead of some flimsy plastic.

Over all, the sequence of the meal service seems a bit random to me and doesn’t really follow any logical pattern. Once the meal service has ended, the crew come to remove all used items and advise the passengers to help themselves to the bottles of water that have been set up in the middle of the carriage.

ARRIVAL
By the time we reach Lancaster, the train has managed to pick up a delay of twenty minutes. Which is not really surprising on a British train, even though I also have to admit that I didn’t notice any period during the journey when the train was going exceptionally slow or even stopped. But it makes no difference to me, one way or another.

Lancaster station is located on the fringe of the town, roughly ten minutes on foot to the centre.

CONCLUSION
Virgin Trains has a pricing system similar to that of the airlines. For this trip I booked an advanced purchase, non-changeable and non-refundable ticket that was relatively cheap for a First Class ticket for a journey of more than two hours. Even so, the next time I make this journey, I don’t think I would buy a First Class ticket again. Seat comfort is not really that good and the catering they might just as well do away with completely in my opinion.

Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Shanghai to Copenhagen

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INTRODUCTION
I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.

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CHECK-IN
To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…

SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.

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From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.

The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.

The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.

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THE LOUNGE
In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.

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The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.

There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.

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The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.

BOARDING
Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…

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The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.

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Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…

… still howling…

… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.

THE CABIN
The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.

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On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.

 

SERVICE
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.

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After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.

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The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.

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THE MEAL
The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.

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The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.

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For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.

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For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.

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For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.

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By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!

Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.

SECOND SERVICE
I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.

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ARRIVAL
Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.

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VERDICT
Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.