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

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.

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.

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 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 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 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.

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!

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 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.

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 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 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 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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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…

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.

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.

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

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.

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…

AIRSIDE & 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.

SERVICE

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.

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.

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

TRANSFER IN MUNICH

Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners all call Terminal 2 home. The bus ejects me at the main terminal building. My onward connection to Malta will be departing from K09, which is the Schengen concourse in the satellite of Terminal 2. To get there, there is an underground shuttle that runs every few minutes and makes the journey across in slightly over one minute.

This is my first trip through the satellite and I have to say, I like it. It’s very spacious and despite the many travellers, the place is very quiet.

LOUNGE

There is a Business Class and a Senator lounge in the satellite. The Business Class lounge is not very busy when I arrive, probably because it is still early on a Saturday morning.

The toilets have apparently all gone out of order at the same time. So instead, passenger have to use the toilets in the shower rooms instead.

Other than that, it seems to me the lounge’s style hasn’t really aged all that well. It’s also quite small.

BOARDING

Before boarding even begins, there’s already a mob forming in front of the automatic gates. There is a separate gate for Business Class passenger, who are invited to board first, but it’s not that easy to get through with all the people milling about.

From what I can tell, it looks like it’s going to be a full flight this morning.

CABIN

There are four rows of Business Class on this flight, and twelve out of sixteen seats are occupied, which is surprisingly high. There also seem to be a lot of French passengers on the flight.

Leg space in Business Class is excellent. I’m sitting on 2F and I have ample space to stretch my legs. The windows are also nicely aligned for some excellent outside views.

CREW

There are two middle aged women working the Business Class cabin and they’re really excellent. Their service approach is relaxed but still professional. They interact with a lot of ease and charm with the passengers, which I think is indicative of a breed of usually senior flight attendants that have been properly trained but is sadly becoming increasingly difficult to come by these days.

SERIVCE

Again, there is absolutely no service on the ground. However, no sooner has boarding been completed, one of the crew members passes through the cabin offering nice fluffy pillows to passengers for some additional comfort.

We depart more or less on time. The flight time is announced as a quick 1 hour and 45 minutes. We take off in an easterly direction and then do a right turn to point us south. It’s a lovely crisp morning with good visibility. A perfect day for flying really.

The Alps look beautiful from above. They’re all covered in snow and some of the valleys are still shrouded in morning mist. It’s not a bad view to go along with breakfast.

MEAL

The meal service starts shortly after take-off. This time, the trays are delivered from a tray by one of the flight attendants. The tray has on it:

A sliver of smoked salmon on rye bread with mustard and dill.

Vanilla yoghurt with berries.

A small plate with a cream cheese with radishes.

Another small plate with salami and smoked ham.

A strawberry smoothie.

Butter and strawberry jam.

The crew also pass through the cabin with a bread basket. I’m starving, but I decide to just take one bun, given that my request for another when I took this flight a year previously did not go down so well with the crew.

Surprisingly though, the crew pass through the cabin a second time with a full bread basket that contains croissants as well as buns.

ARRIVAL

The weather stays good right up until we reach Sicily. From there on it gradually starts to cover up. The weather in Malta doesn’t look too bad though. There are some clouds in the sky but it’s mostly sunny and warm.

We land slightly ahead of schedule. Given that I only have hand luggage, I’m through to arrivals fairly quickly. I step outside and grab the X2 bus, which goes to St. Julian’s. The ticket price is EUR1.50.

CONCLUSION

If I’m perfectly honest, this flight was much better than I had expected. I think that partly has to do with the fact that Business Class was not entirely full. As a result, the crew were able to take their time with the service and tried very hard to make passengers feel comfortable.

Apart from that though, I do think it’s a shame how the service on Lufthansa on short-haul has been cut back to the absolute minimum. They’ve become as bad as British Airways – and I don’t mean that in a nice way! The flight was okay. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel Lufthansa.

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 FRANKFURT
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 ON CONCOURSE A
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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SERVICE & 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:

  • a very nice yoghurt, the content of which I was unable to make out, save for the slice of orange and the pistachios,
  • a plate of cheese,
  • a plate of cold meats,
  • a bowl of fruit,
  • a selection of buns and croissants that are served warm and nearly burn your fingers,
  • the bread is served with unsalted butter and Hero strawberry jam,
  • 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.

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.