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.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-100: Zürich to Malta

Introduction

It’s been more than 18 months since I last visited Malta, and I’m seriously starting to have withdrawal symptoms. Add to that the fact that it has rained pretty much every day here in Switzerland since mid-June, and I’m feeling positively ecstatic at the prospect of some sunshine!

I booked this trip at relatively short notice (one week before departure). Even so, I was still able to secure a miles tickets in Business Class on SWISS for the outbound, which suggests that tourist traffic to Malta is still only just picking up again. It probably also helps that the school summer holidays are nearing the end in Switzerland, which means that most of the traffic on the route will be heading back north at this stage.

As per 11 August 2021, passengers from the Schengen area are required to complete the PLF form, that Italy is also using, to enter Malta by plane. You need to create a login before you can complete the form. Once you’re done, you will receive a mail confirmation that you must be able to present at boarding and upon arrival on the island – either in print or digital form.

About a week before my departure, I start receiving almonst daily mails from SWISS, reminding me to check the entry requirements for Malta and to ensure that I have completed all the necessary paperwork before I depart. SWISS’ approach is sensible and makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s clear that we’re all going to have to come to terms with the fact that Covid19 is here to stay, so we better start getting used to it. It is every individual’s own responsibility to stay safe and with that, to decide how much they are willing to let this virus run their lives.

Getting to the airport

The flight to Malta departs at 12h15. I have not been to Zürich airport in six months, and I have no idea what the situation will be when I get there. So I take the 08h33 train from Basel, which runs nonstop to Zürich main station in 49 minutes. In Zürich I change trains to the airport, where I arrive at 09h42 with plenty of time to spare.

The second class carriages are quite full, but I have a First Class carriage nearly all to myself!

Considering how crowded the trains were, I’m expecting the airport to be very busy. But much to my surprise it’s rather quiet. There are people, but it’s certainly not as busy as it used to be.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online, but I really don’t fancy schlepping around my suitcase. So the first stop is one of the Business Class check-in counters in Check-in 1, the home of SWISS and the Lufthansa group.

The young lady is friendly and efficient. She tags my bag, issues the boarding pass and wishes me a safe journey and a great holiday. As I turn to leave, she eyes my Maltese passport: “I’ve never seen one of these…”. Yes, I know. I get that quite often… she does not ask to see the completed entry form or my Covid certificate.

My next stop is security. There is a dedicated entrance to the checkpoint for First and Business Class passengers. Not that it matters today, because the place is deserted and I can just walk straight up to any one of the entrances without waiting at all.

SWISS Business Class lounge for Schengen flights

The lounge situation in Zürich is a bit confusing right now. When I arrive, the Business Class lounge is closed, so all passengers must use the Senator lounge instead. Initially, the place is far from crowded. However, as the time for the midday bank of departures approaches, the place begins to fill up until eventually they have no other choice but to open the Business Class lounge too.

The lounge is well stocked and SWISS seem to have upped their game with the catering. Due to COVID19, there is no longer a buffet, but there’s a very charming lady behind the counter serving passengers. There is a choice of warm or cold breakfast sets, but they’re quite generous and willing to provide you any other combination of dishes you might request.

Much to my surprise, by the time I leave the lounge just after 11h30, there quite a queue forming at the entrance. I’m not entirely sure if this is because of social distancing or because the lounge is just too full.

Boarding

My flight is boarding from gate A56, which is good news and bad. It’s good news, because it means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand. So I’ll get to take a few pictures. It’s bad news though, because gate A56 is in a dreadful hovel that was errected provisionally many moons ago but that they then forgot to tear down again. It’s small, and cramped and simply not large enough for all the people waiting to board their flights at the same time. There are people everywhere!

It’s not until boarding for my flight starts that I realise what the problem is: in order to maintain social distancing, they’re only allowing about 35 passengers per bus. Which means that even for our small Airbus A 220-100 with a load of only 84 passengers they still need to use three busses.

I wait to board the last bus. And all my woes are forgotten to moment we pull up next to our aircraft for today’s flight. Well hello, Sweetness…!

The cabin

There are five rows of Business Class for a total of 15 seats, of which twelve are occupied today. Right in front of me is an obnoxious old bat, who won’t even let her poor husband sit by himself. So instead of taking advantage of an empty seat next to her on the row of two, with him on the aisle seat on the other side, she insists that he sits with her on the twin seat. She spends the rest of the flight chatting at the top of her voice. Thank God for the Sony WH-1000XM4 earphones I remembered to pack this time. Let me see, the Sisters of Mercy should do the trick to drown out the sound of her horrible voice droning on… “… she looks good in ribbons…just walk away…”.

Oh yes, and there’s a bottle of still water at my seat when I arrive. Excuse me while I go off on a tangent, because this is yet another instance of useless SWISS marketing rubbish: according to the SWISS website, the water is bottled exclusively for SWISS in Glarus, from a source at an elevation of 1156 metres. Hence the name. The website also tells us that the bottle comes in a ‘distinctive design’. I mean, I’ve lived in Switzerland long enough to know how much pride they take in the spectacular beauty of the Swiss Alps. Even so, I’m pretty sure most people honestly don’t give a rat’s bum about the altitude at which the source is, as long as they can rest assured that taking a sip of the bottle is not likely to give them diphtheria or something equally disturbing. And second, with all due respect, a distinctive design is the timeless shape of the Perrier bottle or the iconic Evian logo. But not this.

So the bottome line, boys and girls, is that SWISS serves a no name brand of still water that nobody has ever heard of. But they’re trying to pretend it’s because it’s so exclusive.

The crew

The crew on this flight is absolutely brilliant. I really cannot praise them enough, especially the maître de. If every SWISS crew were like this, I seriously wouldn’t bother flying any other airlines. The maître de is German. His announcements are clear, properly enunciated and nicely structured to form well-rounded and grammatically correct and coherent sentences in both German and in English. What’s more, he makes a point of remiding passengers repeatedly during the flight about the requirement to wear a face mask.

During the service, his interaction with the passengers is charming and easy going. Honestly, it’s a joy being taken care of by him! But first, let’s get the flight underway…

The meal

The meal is a very pleasant surprise. The maître de informs me that there’s going to be a hotmeal for lunch and there are two choices. The meat option is beef meatballs, whereas the vegetarian option is rice with grilled vegetables.

I decide to go with the meatballs pretty much the moment he mentions that they are served with mashed potatos and green beans in a creamy mushroom sauce. Total sucker for the mash here.

Also on the tray, there is a salad of mixed leaves with sunflower seeds.

A plate of soft and hard cheese. I have no idea what cheese it is, and at altitude everything tastes different anyway. My guess would be that the soft cheese is a French Camembert, whereas the hard cheese is probably a Gruyère.

There is also a selection of dark and white bread and crackers and a small bottle of vinaigrette for the salad.

And finally, for dessert there is a slice of rhubarb crumble with raspberry coulis and what I’m guessing is either a vanilla or white chocolate mousse.

To drink with that I have a glass of apple juice, which the maître de serves me together with a glass of sparkling water without me even having to ask for it.

To complete the meal, I ask for a mint tea, which is served with a small piece of chocolate. SWISS serves Sirocco tea on its flights. Now that, to me, would be a lot more worthwhile to mention if I were SWISS. Sirocco is a very old Swiss company that has been in the tea trading business for over a hundred years. Their teas are excellent, and apart from the more traditional blends, they also have a few fairly unusual and very tasty ones too.

The quality of the food is very good, well done SWISS. The salad is not at all limp and the main course is really just very tasty and filling.

Arrival

The flight passes surprisingly quickly. There’s a lot of heat haze, making it difficult to see the ground. I can barely make out that we’re just leaving the coastline behind and figure that must by Sicily. So it can’t be much longer.

Our approach into Malta is quite unusual. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever arrived like this. We’re making the approach from the southeast. What is unusual, is that we’re flying down along Malta’s southern coast, putting the island on our left. We pass Filfla island below and continue out to sea, past Malta, before eventually turning back to line up with runway 13.

The Med looks lovely, with the sun glittering on the surface. The pilot informs us that the temperature on the ground is 39 degrees Celsius, and expected to rise to a high of 41 degrees before it starts to cool down again. As soon as we cross the shoreline, the aircraft is hit by the hot air rising, making the last few minutes of the descent rather bumpy. But we land safely. Malta hanina, I’ve missed you, 18 months is too long, and I’m so glad to be back!

There are only three aircraft standing on the apron, one Air Malta A 320, a Ryanair B 737-800 and the Emirates B 777-300. However, right behind us, another Air Malta, then a Ryanair and an Easyjet arrive.

We’re parked on a remote stand away form the terminal, which means we’re going to have to take a bus to arrivals. By the time I arrive at the luggage belt a short while later, my suitcase is already there. Behind customs is the health check that all passengers have to go through upon arrival on the islands. You will need to show your passport, the completed health declaration form and your Covid certificate if you ticked the box that you are fully vaccinates. The process is fairly painless and efficient. There are twenty counters open processing arriving passenger.

With that out of the way, it’s time to make my way to the hotel.

Lufthansa, Business Class – CRJ-900: Frankfurt to Basel

Airline: Lufthansa Cityline
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-900
From: Frankfurt
To: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
Departure: 22h05
Arrival:
22h40
Flight time: 35 minutes
Seat:
4A

My flight from Malta ends at gate A18. I now need to make my way through that depressing tunnel that connects the A pier to the B gates. The lifts taking passengers down to the tunnel at basement level are hopelessly overloaded, so I take the stairs instead.

Part of the tunnel is closed, hopefully for embellishing, but in this rat hole I‘m pretty sure that‘s a lost cause… at least there aren‘t that many people down here and I make quick progress.

As soon as I arrive at the gate, they make an announcement inviting all passengers who have been to China in the last two weeks, or to a country with reported cases of corona virus or who have a Chinese passport to contact the ground staff. I find this rather odd. While I understand that there is clearly cause for concern over the spreading of the corona virus, I still think it’s racist and rather awkward to single out the nationals of one country only.

In any case, once boarding begins, we go down once more into the bowels of the terminal complex and then take the compliemtary bus tour of Frankfurt airport to reach our aircraft, which is literally parked on the remotest remote stand, in the eastern-most corner of the apron.

Boarding is quickly completed and the flight is not full. The Business Class cabin has eight rows. Although there are only two people on row 5, behind me, and another passenger across the aisle from me on 4F.

There are two male crew in the cabin. Again, they make an interesting linguistic case study. The purser is obviously Australian. His German is very good and he only makes few mistakes with his declensions. His colleague is probably German. His English is fine, but with a slighly strange accent. Allegedly, he also speaks French, most of which, though, is incomprehensible.

As passengers board, they are handed a packed of almonds.

We make our way out to runway 18, which is at the completely opposite end of the airfield, despite the fact the threshold for runway 25C is only a few hundred metres away from our stand.

We reach the runway, stop abruptly and then turn back. Apparently, the wind has changed and runway 18 is no longer available. So we have to make our way back to the threshold of runway 25C and wait for a slot for us to open…

One hour and fifteen take-offs later it’s finally our turn to make our departure. The initial climb is very bumpy, but then very quickly we settle into the cruise and the crew begin their service.

For dinner there is small plate with a skewer of feta cheese, olive and cucumber, another piece of vitello tonnato wrapped around some leaves of rocket, and a few slices of melon. For dessert there a passion fruit mousse and more of the chocolates. By the time the crew clear away the trays, we’re already descending into Basel.

We land at 22h40, one hour behind schedule. Which is not so good, because it’s also around the same time the easyJet fleet based in Basel returns home. As a result, the bus heading into town tends to get very full. As we taxi in, I notice the KLM flight from Amsterdam is nowhere to be seen, which is strange and slightly worrying, considering it should have landed at 21h45. I suppose I should be alarmed, but that’s another story, I’m too tired…

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

Airline: Lufthansa
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: Malta International Airport
To: Frankfurt
Departure: 17h25
Arrival:
19h50
Flight time:
2 hours 25 minutes
Seat:
2F, window on the starboard side

Introduction

Lufthans currently operates three daily flights out of Malta. There is one flight to Munich and two to Frankfurt. The last flight leaves Malta at 17h10 for Frankfurt, which is nice because it gives you a full day on the day of departure.

Check-in

At Malta airport Lufthansa has its own dedicated check-in, which usually opens three hours before departure. There are three Economy Class and one Business Class/First Class counters. In order to access the fast track lane for security and the La Vallette lounge, you need to have an invitation issued at the counter.

The La Valette Lounge

These days the lounge in Malta tends to be crowded no matter what time you‘re there. It is a nice lounge, though, and has a good selection of local snacks and drinks. And the outside viewing area is just brilliant!

Boarding

Boarding for the Frankfurt flight is at gate 5. Lufthansa tends to park on the same position at the north end of the apron, which requires passengers to be brought to the aircraft by bus. Much to my surprise, there is a dedicated bus for Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members only, which is very pleasant.

The Cabin

The Business Class cabin has six rows, and from what I can see, there are twenty passengers in the forward cabin this evening. On row two the seat pitch is generous.

We start taxiing out just as the golden hour begins in Malta. It’s that special time of day when the setting sun casts a golden light on the Maltese limestone. Be depart in a northwesterly direction, flying down the full length of the island before heading north to Palermo.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are polite but reserved. And the purser’s enunciation when she makes an announcement is just strange, even in her first language… The service is pretty much the same as on the outbound yesterday, except with better food.

The Meal

There is a small dish with a chunky piece of smoked salmon on a very tasty potato salad, some vitello tonnato with parmigiano shavings and some soft cream cheese on a coulis of bell peppers. For dessert there is some vanilla cream with strawberries and a small box with two pralines, but the chocolate is not as refined as the Swiss stuff.

En route we’re treated to a gorgeous sunset, until eventually the world disappears into darkness. It’s quite poetic to watch!

Arrival

Our descent into Frankfurt, on the other hand, is very rough, with low clouds, rain and gusting winds. We touch down at 19h50 and make our way to the A pier, and by 20h00 we‘re pulling on to our stand at gate A18. I now have thirty minutes before the flight to Basel starts boarding.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Munich to Malta

Airline: Lufthansa
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: München Airport
To: Malta International Airport
Departure: 09h30
Arrival:
11h15
Flight time:
1 hour 45 minutes
Seat:
2F, window on the starboard side

The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

The flight to Malta will be departing from one of the K gates, which is the Schengen concourse of Munich‘s satellite pier. The transfer by underground from the main building takes about two minutes.

There is a lounge on the K concourse, and this morning it‘s very empty. When Lufthansa opened its lounges in the ‚new‘ corporate design a few years, I thought they looked fresh and modern. But I don‘t think the design has aged well, looking at it now. Don‘t get me wrong. The lounge is in great condition and very clean. But the whole design seems slightly old-fashioned now.

Boarding

At 09h00 I leave the lounge and make my way to gate K07, where boarding starts just as I arrive. It‘s a Saturday morning in February and Lufthansa manages to get the flight full. I count 24 passengers in Business Class. I‘m not surprised about Lufthansa but by Malta, and the fact that it appears to have become a year round destination. Forty years ago, when we emigrated, everybody was just trying to leave the island…!

The Crew

The crew on this flight seem friendly enough. If I had to guess, I would say the purser is a Dutchman who has been in Germany for quite some time. At least for a linguist his accent is interesting.

There is no cold towel, no welcome drink or anything else of the sort while we‘re still on the ground.

The Cabin

The cabin is your typical European Business Class set up. The seats are exceptionally thin but sufficiently comfortable. There are no power plugs and there are no overhead screens either.

Once we take off, we turn south towards the Alps. Our flight is routing from Munich to Ljubljana and then along the Croatian coast to Zadar. From there we cross the Adriatic to Pescara in Italy and continue on to Palermo and finally Malta. It‘s an unusual routing for sure. But we have a strong tailwind, giving us a very short flight of only one hour and 45 minutes.

The Meal

The meal service is from a trolley and every passenger is served their meal first. Once that‘s out of the way, the crew take the trolley back to the galley and then return into the cabin with the drinks trolley. I‘m guessing this is the most efficient way to do it. Because then they can just keep on going with the service in Economy Class.

The meal service hasn‘t changed at all since the last time I took this flight a year ago. And I really mean, not at all.

The tray consists of a small dish of smoked salmon on buttered pumpernickel, a bowl of cream cheese sprinkled with radish, a bowl with a slice of salami, parma ham and one stick of a bell pepper and some yoghurt with a few berries on it. The crew only pass through the cabin once offering bread, and seconds are obviously discouraged. Other than that, salt and pepper are absent from the tray.

The crew are efficient and clear away the trays promptly.

Arrival

For the rest of the flight I nap, it‘s been an early start today. But then we start our descent, and suddenly I‘m wide awake again. I don‘t know how many times I‘ve returned to Malta since we left in 1979, but somehow the approach never seems to get old. Not for me at least.

We make a slight left turn and Malta comes into view. We pass Kalafrana and continue out to sea before doing a sequence of gentle right turns until eventually we’re lined up for a runway 34 arrival, bringing us in right over Birzebbuga, where I spent my childhood.

Conclusion

While there’s nothing overtly wrong with the Lufthansa service, I think it’s blatantly obvious that the airline is trying to save costs at every corner. Which is what pretty much every airline is trying to do these days. What I find problematic with Lufthansa though, is that they’re obviously trying to save money in all the wrong places. First of all, because I think the premium cabins are definitely not where the money should be saved. Secondly, what’s worse is that as a passenger you actually notice the cuts, and that’s never a good thing. Other than that, if an airline really has to rely on not having a small packet of salt and pepper on the tray, then they really must be in a very sad state.

But apart from all that, even if the airline isn’t really able to offer the passenger anything much in terms of the quantity or quality of the food that is served, that is still no reason for the service, such as it were, to be so indifferent and tired.

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

Introduction

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.

Getting to the Airport

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.

Check-in

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 La Valette Lounge

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…

Boarding

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

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

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.

The Meal

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.

The First Course

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.

The Main Course

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

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.

Dessert

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…

Arrival

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

Airline: Air Malta
Aircraft: Airbus A 320 (previously operated by SriLankan)
From: Zürich Airport
To: Malta International Ariport
Departure: 18h15
Arrival: 20:10
Flight time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Seat: 12A, window seat on the first overwing emergency exit row on the port side

Introduction

Today I’m on my way to Malta. The big plan is to spend two weeks working on my research in peace and quiet, without any of the usual distractions at work. The first part of this journey is pretty much identical to my penultimate post on Air Europa last week, to the extent that I take the same train from my office to the airport and even check-in at the same place. Air Malta checks in with Swissport on row 3 of Check-in 2.

Given that I only recently posted two reports on Air Malta, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to post yet another. But then I realised it’s been a while since my last flight in Economy Class with Air Malta, and certainly this is my first flight since they introduced full buy on board service. So there you go.

Airside

I reach the gate at 17h05, which is the boarding time indicated on the boarding pass. My aircraft is just pulling onto the stand, having arrived in Zürich with a delay of thirty minutes.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 17h30, ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. The flight is surprisingly busy, given that it’s the low season. It’s not completely sold out, but from what I can tell there aren’t that many empty seats left.

The Cabin

I’ve reserved seat 12A, which is the window on the port side emergency exit. On the A 320 there are two exit rows. The first one is my preferred choice because it’s far enough from the next row that the guy behind you cannot poke his knobbly knees into your coccyx and the guy infront of you can’t recline because the exit row is behind them. Perfect!

As my luck would have it, the middle and aisle seats remain empty for the whole flight. So I have a whole row of three to myself.

The Crew

There are five crew on this flight and they really are excellent. They’re very laid back but still professional. One of them explains the operation of the emergency exit to the guy behind me and he tells her he’s seen this all before. Undeterred, she explains very nicely that she’s obliged to explain it to him just the same.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for hot snacks. There’s a choice of about five hot dishes on the inflight menu. Although two already sold out on the inbound to Zürich. So I decide to go with the vegan Lasagna. I’m not even that hungry, but I’m curious.

Twenty minutes later my food arrives. With that I order a Diet Kinnie and a KitKat, for a total of EUR10. The Lasagna is surprisingly not bad, considering what it is. I’ve had worse. Like on Dragon Air. Much worse. Even so, I do find EUR10 a bit steep for such a meal.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful. We land in Malta at 20h10, with a delay of only ten minutes and after a flight time of slightly less than two hours. Alas, we’re parked sufficiently far away from the terminal to warrant sending a bus to pick us up. I was hoping we’d be allowed to walk, so I could take a picture of my aircraft.

The weather is not up to Malta’s usual standards, unfortunately. It’s only about 15 degrees Celsius and overcast. But at least it’s not raining and it’s still 15 degrees warmer than Zürich when we departed this evening.

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

The weather here in Malta has been lovely all week, with cloudless blue skies and a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

But it’s time to head back to Switzerland and the cold.

Getting to the Airport

I check out of The Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana at noon. The next bus to the airport will be the 12:35 X4, which leaves from the B pier of the main terminus. The B and C piers are located in St. James’ ditch, below what used to be Duke of York Avenue.

The X4 bus has a luggage rack, which is really convenient, because the bus continues all the way to Birzebbuga in the south and therefore tends to get very full.

Despite the fairly reliable public transport service, traffic in Malta continues to get worse. The journey to the airport takes 35 minutes to cover a distance of 7 kilometres.

As such, by the time I arrive at the airport, it’s already 13:15 and the flight will start boarding at 13:55.

Check-in

The check-in area is quite busy, with the Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights leaving around the same time as the flight to Zürich.

Security is well organised and quick. But the airside lounge is definitely getting too small for the amount of traffic the airport handles. It feels cramped and crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts just after 14h. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.

More importantly though, we’ll be boarding via stairs and without a bus. So loads of opportunities for me to geek-out about an aeroplane. I can just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll…

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers. However, there are only two other passengers with me in the forward cabin today.

There’s something charmingly old-fashioned and typically Maltese about the cabin of this aircraft – from the pictures of Malta on the bulkheads, to the nicely padded seats that will all be a thing of the past with the change over to the NEO.

Service on the ground consists of the distribution of newspapers and a welcome drink.

It’s a lovely, warm day with good visibility. We take off towards the northwest and fly the full length of Malta, before making a right turn to point us in the direction of Palermo.

The Meal

Once the crew is released, the service starts with the distribution of the unscented hot towels. This is followed immediately by the meal service.

Everything is served on one tray.

The main course is a caesar salad of sorts with three slices of chicken breast.

This is served with warm bread and a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico.

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

The meal is nice enough. And especially the mousse is very rich and creamy!

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

The flight time today is two hours and twenty minutes, which is quite long for this route. But at least the views are great and the Alps look spectacular.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Zürich at 16:54. By 17:09 I’m already on the train on my way home.

Things are rapidly changing for Air Malta. Already today they are no longer the largest carrier to the island of Malta and take second place behind Ryanair.

But at least, with the minister of transport and tourism resigning this week over claims of corruption, there is hope the government will stop its constant meddling and interference in how Air Malta should be run.

One way or another though, if Air Malta wants to stay competitive, it seems to me they still have a way to go, particularly when it comes to their website and reliably making a purchase for ancillary services via airmalta.com.

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.

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

Introduction

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

Getting to the Airport

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

Check-in

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

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

The Lounge

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

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

Boarding

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

The Cabin

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

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

The Crew

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

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

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

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

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

The Meal

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

First Course

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

Main Course

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

The Cheese

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

Dessert

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

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

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

Arrival

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