Air Malta, Business Class – Airbus A 320 NEO: Malta to Zürich

Introduction

Goodness, the heat! I hadn’t been to Malta in the summer for a very long time, even before Covid19. And I think I now remember why. The heat is incredible. The day I arrived it was 41 degrees and it was so hazy it looked overcast, when in fact it was just the humidity. Luckily, two days into my stay, the temperature cooled off to 37, which at least made the sky look a lot clearer.

Today I’m flying back to Switzerland. The Air Malta flight departs at 14h20, which gives me the whole morning to do some shopping and have one last Kinnie before I leave.

Getting to the airport

Once I’ve checked out, I brace myself for the heat just inside the hotel lobby. I’m dreading having to go out there carting my luggage… There are four busses that take you to the airport. The X4 is the dedicated airport line and stops right outside the terminal building. Then there are the lines 71, 72 and 73 which all go in the general direction of Zurrieq on the other side of the airport. The stop Cintra is right before the airport tunnel that goes under the runway. From there it’s only about three minutes on foot to the terminal building. The journey time is the same for all busses, more or les.

Check-in

The airport is very busy when I arrive. All counters are open, checking in flights for Ryanair, Wizzair, EasyJet, SWISS, British Airways and Air Malta. There is one Business Class counter open for Air Malta, and the guy working the counter is struggling to deal with two young couples and their satanic brood (six cranky kids…) and what looks like a metric ton of suitcases, strollers, car seats and god knows what else. Still, the check-in guy uses the group’s apparent lack of functional English to his full advantage and manages to get them sorted and out of the way in about ten minutes.

To check in, passengers need to show a completed passenger locator form, which is sent by Air Malta by email a few days prior to departure, as well as their digital covid certificate. At check-in, you are then handed another two forms that need to be completed before boarding. Without the two sheets of paper, you will not be allowed airside. One of the documents is for the Swiss authorities, although I’m not sure what this is for because nobody bothers with it. The other form is for Air Malta. It is collected at boarding and handed over to the ground agent upon arrival in Zürich.

La Valette lounge

Fortunately, the priority lane for guests of the La Valette lounge is open, as is the lounge itself. Inside the lounge there is a strict seating regime, and passengers are assigned a seat when they enter. The guy who enters behind me is absolutely scandalised by this, tells off the poor lounge attendant (like it’s her fault…) and storms out again. As I’ve said before, if you think wearing or not wearing a face mask in public is what defines you as a man, you must have a really very small… personality.

The buffet is semi self-service. On the one side, facing the room, are cold dishes that are packaged, like salads and sandwiches. Passengers can help themselves to these. On the other side of the buffet are the hot dishes and drinks. This area is closed off and a lounge attendant serves the food and drinks to passengers from there.

I go for another Kinnie and a selection of unhealthy Maltese snacks: two pastizzi, one arancini and Twistees. Okay, and a bowl of salad as my saving grace.

The viewing terrace is also open, mainly for the smokers. I go out to check the view, but seriously, the heat…!

Boarding

Boarding is from a bus gate. Passengers are instructed to scan their boarding passes themselves and leave the passenger locator form on a pile prepared by the ground staff.

Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 320 NEO, of which Air Malta currently has four in service. It’s really quite surprising how few flights I’ve had on a NEO, especially given that they seem to be everywhere these days.

The Business Class cabin

I’m seated on 1F, which is the window seat on the right side of the aircraft. There are three rows of Business Class for a total of 12 seats. There are only two other passengers in the forward cabin with me today, one on 3A and the other on 3F.

The headrest on these seats is adjustable in height and the sides can be folded up for better support. The recline is decent, and the pitch on row 1 is very comfortable.

The crew

The crew are business friendly. They’re polite, but that’s just about it. Because of the Covid measures that have been put in place by the government, there is no welcome drink anymore, and instead of offering newspapers, the crew pass through the cabin with hygenic wet wipes and kits.

We take off from runway 34, which means we fly along the length of Malta and Gozo, from where we turn north towards Palermo. From there it’s more or less a straight line until we hit the mainland near Genova.

St. Paul’s bay, where St. Paul is alleged to have suffered shipwreck on the island on his way to Rome.
L-Ghadira bay near Mellieha. My favourite beach.
Gozo.

The meal

The meal is rather extensive and nicely presented in typically Maltese crockery. It’s a nice looking tray. There are no options to choose from for the meal and no menu is handed out. The crew bring the tray out without even as much as asking if I’d like to eat or telling me what’s on offer. The meal is served with the covers on. The photo was obviously taken after I’d removed them all.

The main dish is a salad of shrims and boiled egg.

The meal is served with a ramekin of three buns that have been heated in the oven.

Dressing for the salad.

A very tasty but very rich dessert of chocolate mousse and dried figs. It’s very unsual but so, so sweet.

A bowl of cheese with Gbejna (Maltese), Cheddar (British) and Camembert (French).

And a fruit salad.

Vinaigrette instead of butter.

I really wonder how much kerosene could be saved if airlines stopped carting around what must be tons of unnecessary cutlery. Air Malta is no exception. I unfold my napkin to find two forks, two knives and two teaspoon. I mean, am I supposed to be sharing…?

And to drink, one last Kinnie.

Arrival

The flight passes very quickly. As we approach the Alps, thick clouds appear, some of them towering high above us as we make our descent into Zürich.

The descent is fairly rough until we break through the clouds. Below, everything just looks so lush and green!

Arrivals are on runway 28, from the east. Which brings us in right past the town where I work.

The airport is fairly busy when we land. As we taxi in, the crew advise passengers to remain seated, and that initially only rows 1 to 10 should stand up to get ready for deboarding. I figure this is never going to work, but much to my surprise, the people in the back of the bus actually seem to be complying with the request.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this trip a lot, although I think in future I will keep avoiding going to Malta in the height of summer. The heat just really got to me, as you may have noticed. In comparison, the flight down on SWISS was by far more polished and ‘normal’ than the return with Air Malta. I felt that the SWISS crews went out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable and to put them at ease. The SWISS flight was nice.

The service on Air Malta was a bit lacklustre. Right now, I think it’s easy to give in to the temptation and blaming everything on the pandemic and the Covid restrictions in place. But I don’t think it’s just that. Having an extensive meal service is nice, but an airline must also be willing to invest in its staff.

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

Getting to the Airport

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

Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

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

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

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

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Boarding

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

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The Cabin

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

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

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

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The Crew

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

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

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The Meal

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

The meal is cold and consists of:

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

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

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Arrival

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

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

Conclusion

5 Star Airline – I don’t think so…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introduction

June is probably one of the best months to visit the Maltese archipelago. The weather is already reliably and consistently warm but without the oppressive and stifling heat of July and August, when temperatures peak in the upper thirties and have even been known to exceed the forties. In contrast, the sea is already warm enough to swim in, while the beaches are still far form being too crowded.

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As luck would have it, it was decided that this year’s user group meeting and a workshop on language test item development would be held in Malta in June. All in all, the meeting went well. Encouraged by the lovely weather on the island, the course participants were very efficient and disciplined in their work – obviously keen to finish on time every day so they would still have enough time to explore the sights and sounds of Malta.

And I even managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach at Mellieha bay, thanks to the meeting ending early and the stupendous driving skills of the valiant M., who joined me on this trip.

Getting to the Airport

The journey by car from Valletta to the airport normally takes about twenty minutes, depending on traffic. Or seven minutes if the valiant M. is driving and making an impressive effort to blend in with the natives, mainly by adapting his style of driving to that of the locals.

Alternatively, you can also take the bus for EUR1.50. The driving is still crazy but at least the busses are slower, making the journey in roughly thirty minutes. The busses are fairly frequent and the service is quite reliable these days. Busses depart from the terminus right outside the city gate in Valletta.

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Check-in

There is one dedicated check-in counter for Club Class passengers and check-in is possible up to 23 hours before departure. The young lady working the desk is unusually efficient. She issues my boarding pass, tags my luggage for priority and hands me an invitation to the La Valette lounge, which is the only lounge at Malta airport.

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The terminal is currently undergoing expansion to cope with the increased number of additional passengers. As a result, there’s a bit of a detour right now for security. But at least the detour is clearly signposted (Are you reading this Vienna airport?).

There is a dedicated queue for premium passengers. Once I’m airside, I head for the lounge.

The Lounge

The La Valette lounge was recently relocated. To access the lounge you have to walk through the duty free store, past the cashiers and then take a sharp left. You should then end up standing in from of a lift that will take you up to the lounge’s entrance on the third floor.

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The lounge is very nicely designed and there is even a fairly large open air seating area in the lounge. Although with the sweltering heat I’m not sure who in his right mind would want to sit outside. The place is also much bigger than the previous lounge.

The food offerings are good and include a wide range of local snacks. Most importantly though, the lounge has an excellent view of the apron.

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Boarding

Boarding is via a bus. Our flight today is operated by a fairly new addition to the Air Malta fleet which only joined the airline in April of 2017. The aircraft is wearing hybrid colours of sorts, with a white hull and red engine cowlings. The only marking I can see is a small ‘Air Malta’ sticker next to the L1 door. Interestingly, unlike the other aircraft in the Air Malta fleet, which all have CFM56 engines, this specimen is equipped with the V2500.

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The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is nearly identical with the rest of the Air Malta fleet. But not entirely. The seats and carpets are the same but the bulkhead looks different and also provides more leg space. And there is no cabin divider to separate the Club Class and Economy Class cabins. This turns out to be rather irritating immediately after take-off, when seemingly half the aircraft a) decide now would be a good time to go to the loo and b) fail to realise that there are in fact two perfectly functional loos in the rear of the aircraft.

There are four females on this aircraft and they really are excellent. Especially the purser Joyce is very charming and personable. They take their time to chat with the passengers during the service and they’re very proactive in their service delivery – for example offering to bring down my backpack from the overhead lockers after take-off without me even asking.

I’m also quite surprised that they make their announcements in Maltese, English and in German.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of newspapers and either juice or water for a welcome drink. The hot towels they used to provide appear to have fallen by the wayside. Instead, there is a pre-packed scented cold towel on the tray with the food.

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The Meal

The meal service starts with a drinks round. Of course I have a Kinnie with ice and lemon.

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The meal service hasn’t changed much since my last trip with Air Malta. Only the menu is different. The main course consists of a plate of roast beef with crumbled Gorgonzola and a skewer of tomato and mozzarella on a creamy mustard seed dressing. There is a dish with three different types and cheese and also a profiterole filled with some sort of nutty cream. There are also two warm buns with butter on the tray and during the meal service the crew come by twice offering more bread and butter.

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The meal is good and hits the spot nicely, although on a flight of over two hours I think a hot meal would not be too much to ask.

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I have two cups of coffee at the end of the meal. But even so, I’m so exhausted that I doze off immediately once the tray is removed and I don’t wake up until the aircraft rolls onto stand and comes to a halt at the gate.

Arrival

We land in Zürich with a delay of roughly thirty minutes, which was caused by a problem starting up the engines when we were still in Malta and that needed to be looked at by Air Malta’s ground engineers. But apart from that, this was a really nice flight and even the valiant M. is feeling generous and willing to give Air Malta ten out of ten for the on board experience!

Conclusion

As the financial problems at Air Malta continue, the carrier’s future hangs in the balance. The government has announced that in two weeks time a new strategic plan will be presented to the unions for review. Air Malta is a nice little airline and I think it would be a shame to see them go. But to be honest, I won’t hold my breath for their new strategy if it is driven by the government, when in fact Air Malta’s biggest problem has always been the government’s persistent and incessant interference.

– William

Air Berlin, Economy Class – A 320: Malta to Basel

Dedication

I would like to dedicate this trip report to all the kind staff we encountered at Malta and Basel airport, to thank them for their excellent work, their dedication and help. The kindness and gentleness they demonstrated in the way they took care of my mum was really excellent. Thank you!

Introduction

I’ve had another blissful and relaxing week here in Malta, just taking it easy and catching up with old friends.

I usually make a point of travelling to and from Malta on Air Malta. But today will be an exception. Instead, I’ll be taking the seasonal nonstop Air Berlin service from Malta back to Basel.

The flight already leaves Malta at 09h35 in the morning, which means a very early start. Even so, this is the most convenient option for this journey. First of all because I live in Basel, so taking this flight will save me a ninety minute train journey from Zürich Airport to Basel. Secondly, I’m travelling with my parents. My mum is in a wheelchair, so flying to Basel will also mean much less of a hassle for her.

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Date: 14. July 2013
Airline: Air Berlin
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
Seat: 4F, window
From: Malta
To: Basel
Cabin: Economy Class

Getting to the Airport

We’ve organised a car to pick us up from the Hotel Phoenicia in Floriana – just outside Valletta city gate – at 07h30. This gives me just enough time to have one last tasty cappuccino on the veranda of the hotel overlooking Marsamxett harbor.

Being a Sunday, traffic is very light this morning, so the journey from the Phoenicia to the airport only takes us about 20 minutes to complete.

Check-in

We enter the terminal building with me dragging along two heavy suitcases and my dad pushing the wheelchair. And then I start to be impressed: an employee of the Malta Airport Authority spots us and makes a beeline for us. After he inquires about the flight we’re travelling on today, he informs us that check-in for the Air Berlin flight this morning will be done at counters 14 through 20. He advises us to make our way to one of the counters while he informs our handling agent that a passenger with reduced mobility – my mum – has arrived. And indeed, just as we reach the counter a gentleman from the handling agent – Global Handling I think – comes forward to greet us. Wow, is all I can say and for one of those strange twilight zone moments I suspect that maybe by some strange occurrence, miraculously the Maltese have become efficient!

The lady at check-in is very friendly and takes her time to explain everything to us. And then she wishes us a pleasant journey and sends us on our way. Am I the only one hearing the twilight zone music…?

And then the gentleman takes charge again and whisks my mum away to the security check, with my dad and I following closely behind. The queue at security is long, but it moves quickly enough and before long we find ourselves in the departures lounge waiting for our flight to Basel.

Boarding

The airport is very busy this morning. Apart from our flight there are three other Air Berlin flights going to Hamburg, Nuremberg and Stuttgart respectively, an Air France flight to Toulouse and a number of Air Malta flights to Gatwick, Düsseldorf and Hamburg.

As there are no airbridges at Malta Airport, we are picked up at the gate by a special purpose vehicle with a large cabin that can be raised to the level of the door of the aircraft. Another representative from the handling agent arrives to help us, he is a friendly young man. As we are driven to our aircraft he makes a point of explaining to my mum exactly what will happen once we reach the aircraft and tells her she should just relax and let him take care of everything.

The Cabin

Air Berlin have installed the same Recaro slimline seats on their A 320 fleet as Swiss, but without the netting at the bottom of the seat for stowage. The cabin makes a good first impression and looks very tidy. Legroom is good too. There are screens overhead on which the safety demonstration is shown. Later on during the flight the screens display a few tacky Etihad adverts, a few music videos and an episode of Big Bang Theory.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight is nearly entirely German, with the exception of the copilot, who is Swiss. The aircraft, incidentally, is registered in Switzerland. As we enter the aircraft we are greeted by a very friendly crew and offered sweets from a basket. There are also free newspapers available in the galley for passengers to take as they board.

One of the cabin crew shows my mum to row three and helps her to settle in her seat on 3F.  Initially I am on 3D, a aisle seat. However, by the time boarding is completed the flight is only half full. So I grab my things and move to the window one row back to seat 4F. I have the whole row to myself.

Boarding is quickly completed. The doors are closed and we start up slightly ahead of schedule. As we taxi out I manage to take a few pictures of the traffic, including an Antonov 124.

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This Air Malta bird was on lease to OLT until they seized operations. It has now returned to Air Malta but retains this rather unsightly livery:
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Air France A 319 to Toulouse:
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Air Malta A 319 to Düsseldorf, if I’m not mistaken:
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The monster:

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Given the light load, there is no need for us to backtrack all the way to the end of runway 32, and instead we line up for departure from the intersecting taxiway.

The Medavia MRO facility, with the SR Technics one behind:
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As we climb out we pass the old terminal building from where we emigrated to Switzerland back in 1979. The building has since been converted into the airport’s cargo facility.

It’s a sunny day, but with all the haze it’s difficult to get some good pictures.

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St. Paul’s Bay:

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But even with the haze the Mediterranean still looks stunning in the morning light, with the sun dancing on the surface.

The Meal

Just before the meal service begins, one of the cabin crew passes through the cabin with earphones for sale at three Euros a pair. To be honest, I wouldn’t bother on such a short flight if you have earphones of your own. The only draw back is that the sound will not be in stereo as it is a twin plug.

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The standard meal consists of a choice of either a cheese or salami or ham sandwich and free drinks. I go for the cheese sandwich, despite the fact that I have preordered a hotmeal breakfast.

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I must say, this is rather tasty. Soft cream cheese with small pieces of red bell peppers and a slice of some mild cheese. With that I have a coffee and an orange juice to drink.

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A few minutes later one of the cabin crew returns with the hotmeal. She is very attentive and asks me if I would like another drink, after all it’s been a while since she came through the cabin with the drinks.

The meal consists of grilled mushrooms, a gratinéed tomato, scrambled eggs and a slice of bacon. There is also a warm bun. The meal is tasty enough and hits the spot nicely, the only thing I don’t have is the bacon, which I prefer crispy.

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Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle and looking out the window. Our route today takes us from Malta to Palermo, across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Rome and from there across the Alps into Switzerland. We route via Berne, with the airport clearly visible on our right. From there we fly into French airspace to make our approach into Basel airport from the north.

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Conclusion

The airport is quiet at this time of day. We wait for all the passengers to disembark, by which time the handlers have already retrieved my mum’s wheelchair and placed it by the exit of the aircraft for her convenience. There is also an agent from the ground services provider at Basel, who insists on accompanying us to the luggage belt.

And so the journey ends. It wasn’t very spectacular, and that’s a good thing. No delays, no hassle, no problems. Just a lot of very helpful people and a relaxing holiday.