The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), First Class – Giruno RABe 501: Zürich Airport to Milano Centrale

Introduction

Today I am on my way to Milan to see Salome at La Scala. To be honest, I find Salome more than just a little disturbing, but I have been meaning to see an opera at La Scala for a long time, and now seemed like a good time. I figured I could also use this as an opportunity to run a little experiment of my own and compare journey times between the train and airplane on the route between Zürich and Milan.

First Leg – Zürich Airport to Zürich Main Station

I catch the 14:48 train from the airport to Zürich Main Station. Trains are frequent, and the journey time is usually about eight minutes give and take. At the Main Station I have nine minutes to make my connection.

Second Leg – Zürich Main Station to Lugano

Direct trains between Zürich and Milan run every two hours. Alternatively, there are trains to Lugano with a good connection to Milan, which is what I am doing today. Strangely, the connection via Lugano is even slightly shorter. The departure from Zürich is at 15:05, with an arrival in Lugano at 16:58.

The services to Milan are operated with rolling stock belonging to the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). The Giruno is a fairly new addition to the fleet that was introduced to replace the highly unreliable Pendolino trains that previously ran on the line. Like its predecessor, the Giruno has tilting capabilities that allow it to travel at higher speed through Switzerland’s mountainous terrain. The Giruno is built by Swiss manufacturer Stadler.

The Cabin & Seat

There are four First Class coaches, one dining car and six Second Class coaches that make up a unit. Today two units have been coupled together. The First Class cabin is spacious and comfortable in a 1 + 2 configuration. There are plenty of seat options available depending on whether you are travelling on your own, as a couple or in a larger group. However, if you are planning to work on your laptop, take note that not all seats have a tray table suitable to place a laptop on. Some seats do not have a tray table at all.

Every seat comes with a coat hook and a power outlet, with separate plugs for European and Swiss standards.

The Route

The journey from Zürich to Milan is interesting and scenic, as it takes the train past Lake Zürich, Lake Zug, and Lake Lucerne. The route also passes through the world’s longest railway tunnel, the Gotthard, with a length of 57 kilometres. The journey through the tunnel takes about 20 minutes. It is the only time the train speeds up to 200km/h on the journey.

Catering

The dining car serves a wide selection of hot and cold dishes that you can enjoy in the dining car or that can be taken away to eat at your seat.

Third Leg – Lugano to Milano Centrale

I have four minutes to make the connection in Lugano. And from what I am told, they usually wait if there is a bit of a delay. The trip from Lugano to Milan is operated by a Swiss regional train. There is a First Class section at the head of the train, but reservations are not possible. Seating is arranged in facing pairs. The only difference to Second Class is that the pitch is slightly better. The train leaves Lugano at 17:02, to arrive at 18:15. However, we pick up a delay on the way, so that the train does pull into Centrale until 18:28.

Getting to the Hotel

In Milan I am staying at the Room Mate Giulia Hotel near the Duomo, in walking distance to La Scala. It is four stops by metro from Centrale. Eventually, I arrive at the hotel at 18:45, more or less four hours after I departed from Zürich Airport.

Conclusion

The journey from Zürich Airport to Milano Centrale is easy and straightforward. The Giruno is a very nice and comfortable train. It is also very nice that the hotel is only four stops away by metro, which is very convenient. The only negative aspect of the journey is the regional train for the last sector from Lugano to Milan. Not only is that train not very comfortable, it was also incredibly crowded from Como onwards and all the way to Centrale. I think next time, I would make sure to catch one of the direct services instead.

Thai Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Milan Malpensa to Bangkok

744px-Thai-Airlines-Logo_2008.svg
map

Introduction

Today I am travelling from Milan’s Malpensa airport to Bangkok. The flight is operated by an Airbus A 350-900. I must say, I’m quite taken by the A 350 – it’s width gives it a very spacious feel and it just comes across as being a lot more solid, or less flimsy, than the Boeing 787, which I always find has the look and feel of a narrow-body.

Check-in

I check out of the Sheraton at around 09h45 and make my way to Terminal 1. Thai Airways checks in on row 16, which they share with Qatar Airways. Check-in opens three hours prior to departure. There are two Business Class counters, both of which have thick and rather grubby looking carpets laid out before them.

IMG_0001.JPG
IMG_0002.JPG

Both counters are attending to passengers when I arrive, but I figure it won’t be long before it’s my turn. Or maybe not. The lady working the check-in counter on the left is obviously related to Little Miss Chatterbox. Oh hell…’veramente, senza occhiali…niente…bla bla bla…ieri sera, nel treno aveva ritardo…bla bla bla…’.

IMG_0003.JPG

Eventually, the lady on the other counter takes pity on me and figures I probably do actually want to take the flight, considering that I’ve bothered to make the schlep out to the airport this morning. So she issues my boarding passes to Bangkok and my final destination, tags my hand luggage and sends me on my way.

IMG_0006.JPG

Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering – no online check-in is available for Thai Airways ex Milan.

The Lounge

There is a dedicated fast track for First and Business Class passengers. But the lines for passport control can get rather long when the airport is busy.

IMG_0007.JPG

Thai Airways uses the Pergolesi lounge in Malpensa, which is a contractor lounge operated by the Milan airport authority if I’m not mistaken. The lounge is located behind passport control. To be honest, it’s really not much to write home about, so you may want to skip this one. First of all, and I know others may have different priorities for a lounge, there are no windows – it’s basically just one big, gloomy room. The food and drinks selection is limited to things like fruit salad, sandwiches, focaccia and cake.

IMG_0012.JPG
IMG_0014.JPG
IMG_0015.JPG

Wifi is complimentary, but be warned that electricity plugs are in short supply in the lounge.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 12h35, thirty minutes before departure. First, passengers with children are invited on board, followed by Business Class passengers. The airbridge is attached to the L2 door, which means that Business Class passengers turn left as they step aboard, while Economy Class passengers take a right.

IMG_0009.JPG
IMG_0017.JPG

The Cabin

The Business Class cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors. I’m seated on 14B, which is an aisle seat on the port side.

IMG_0018.JPG
IMG_0019.JPG
IMG_0020.JPG
IMG_0025.JPG
IMG_0026.JPG

Thai Airways operates the A 350 in a two-class configuration with 289 seats in Economy Class and 32 seats in Business Class. The seat is fully lie-flat and horizontal; it has a width of 20 inches and a pitch of 44 inches in the seated position. In the lying position, the seat has a length of 73.5 inches.

The Business Class cabin is laid out in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, so that every passenger has direct access to the aisle.

IMG_0029.JPG
IMG_0030.JPG

When I made the booking for this trip, only aisle seats were available – which are the B and J seats on even numbered rows and the D and G seats on uneven numbered rows. Before the flight, I was concerned that I might feel a bit exposed, especially with the seat extended into a bed. But turned out not to be an issue. First of all, the seats are staggered, with the seat on the other side of the aisle slightly further back to give you a bit more privacy. Secondly, the shell of the seat curves around the side of the seat, so that when you extend the seat into a bed, you’re partly shielded from the aisle.

A pillow, a blanket, a thin mattress, the amenity kit, earphones and the menus are already at my seat when I arrive. Soon after, I am brought a lightly scented hot towel and my choice of drink.

IMG_0031.JPG
IMG_0032.JPG
IMG_0033.JPG

Amenities

The amenity kit is by FURLA and comes with the usual complement of items for which I have no use, except perhaps for the ear plugs and eye shades. In addition, and I think Thai Airways deserve some serious brownie points for this, they also provide slippers in Business Class.

IMG_0027.JPG
IMG_0028.JPG
IMG_0037.JPG

The Meal

The meal service begins with a drinks round. I have a Coke Zero, which is served with a bowl of mixed nuts.

IMG_0039.JPG
IMG_0040.JPG

Thai Airways offers Western and Thai menus. For both menus there are two options for the main dish. Although strangely enough though, there are no vegetarian options. I decide to go with the Thai menu.

The First Course

The first course is smoked salmon in a yuzu ponsu dressing, with avocado and crème fraîche. The starter is identical for both menus and is really very tasty, with the avocado blending nicely with the salty smoked salmon.

IMG_0041.JPG
IMG_0043.JPG
IMG_0042
IMG_0044.JPG

The Main Course

The main course consists of a range of dishes:

  1. a green pork curry
  2. steamed rice with pak choi
  3. a clear soup with shitake mushrooms and a cucumber filled with minced pork
  4. a small bowl with a spicy chili sauce

These dishes are also very good. The curry is flavourful and spicy and actually tastes like authentic Thai food.

IMG_0045.JPG
IMG_0046.JPG
IMG_0047.JPG
IMG_0048.JPG
IMG_0049.JPG

The Cheese

After the hot meal comes the cheese course, which is served with grapes, dried fruit and crackers.

IMG_0051.JPG

Dessert

And then finally, for dessert, I have the taro in coconut milk, which is just weird and rather bland.

IMG_0052.JPG
IMG_0050.JPG

The Inflight Snack

A few hours after the first meal service, I start to feel peckish again. So I order the noodle soup from the menu. Now this dish has some serious umpf – God it’s spicy! The noodles are served with boiled egg, crispy onion flakes and bits of minced pork.

IMG_0054.JPG

The Second Service

The second service starts just over two hours out of Bangkok. A flight attendant brings me a hot towel and takes my order for a coffee and orange juice.

IMG_0055.JPG
IMG_0056.JPG
IMG_0057.JPG

Shortly after, the tray is delivered. I’m quite surprised by how extensive this second service is. The tray contains

  1. a bowl of fruit,
  2. a yoghurt with müsli,
  3. a bowl with bread and pastries and
  4. the hot meal – which consists of a large portion of scrambled eggs, a pork sausage, bacon and cherry tomatoes.
img_0058.jpg
IMG_0063.JPG
IMG_0059.JPG
IMG_0060.JPG
IMG_0061.JPG
IMG_0062.JPG

Arrival

We land at 05h10 local time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bangkok airport looking so deserted and quiet. Eventually, our aircraft comes to a standstill on a remote stand. But unfortunately it’s still too dark for me to be able to take any decent pictures.

IMG_0064.JPG

The bus spits us out at international arrivals, which is located more or less in the middle of the D concourse. From here I head two floors up to security and then from there to the Thai Airways Business Class lounge. I now have slightly more than one hour to make my connection. The transfer in Bangkok is fairly painless, but it’s not very well signposted.

Conclusion

Thai Airways provided a solid product on this flight. The seat was comfortable, the crew were friendly and attentive and the food was actually very good. All in all though, I don’t think that my flight in Thai Airways Business Class on this flight was anything outstanding. I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly with them again but I certainly wouldn’t avoid them either. I just don’t think they can keep up with the likes of Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways, both of which, in my view, clearly have a superior product in terms of hardware and software.

Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Milan Malpensa

2000px-Swiss_International_Air_Lines_Logo_2011.svg
Big28
map

Introduction

Finally! It’s time for my well-deserved winter vacation and man, do I need it! I’ve so busy getting things finished that I feel as though I completely missed most of Christmas cheer this year. But anyway, I’ve submitted my presentation and my paper for my last assignment of 2017 and so I’m good to go.

The first segment of this trip sees me flying from Zürich to Milan Malpensa with Helvetic Airways. The flight is operated with an Embraer 190 on behalf of Swiss International Air Lines. This is only my second flight ever with Helvetic Airways. The last time I flew them was from London Gatwick to Zürich back in 2004, I believe. Back then, the carrier hadn’t yet entered into a strategic partnership with SWISS and was desperately and, let’s face it, rather unsuccessfully, trying to position itself as some kind of low-cost hybrid. Oh yes, and they had these cutesy pink little aeroplanes. Although I’m told it was actually magenta, not pink.

Getting to the Airport

The flight to Milan will not be leaving until 20h55. So I figure I might as well stay in the office a bit longer. Eventually, I take the 18h55 train from Winterthur, which brings me into Zürich airport just after 19h.

IMG_0001.JPG
IMG_0002.JPG

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the SWISS app. Depending on the fare you’ve purchased, seat selection is either free of charge or available against payment. In addition, there are also preferred seats, the exit row for example, which are available at an extra cost, unless of course you have status with Miles & More.

IMG_0003.JPG

If you do not select a seat at the time of booking, the check-in system will automatically assign you a seat 20 hours prior to departure that meets the preference specified in your profile – so basically aisle or window. This means that you have four hours to pick a seat yourself from the moment the flight opens for check-in. On today’s flight this isn’t really an issue, because the flight is operated by an Embraer 190 which has no middle seat. However, on the A 320 family or the C Series and depending also on the route, I think I might consider paying for a seat, if the alternative means having to sit in the cursed middle seat.

On this particular flight I am travelling with a bottom of the food-chain run of the mill fare that does not have the seat reservation included. I could have added that at a charge of CHF12, which is reasonable and comparable to other airlines’ practice.

Airside

If you’re using the traditional airport check-in facilities, SWISS is at home in Terminal A, or Check-In 1, which is also home to some of the other Star Alliance carriers in Zürich. I like this building, because it incorporates parts of the original airport building that was built sometime in the late fifties or early sixties.

IMG_0004.JPG

The airport is really quiet for a Friday evening. Security is a breeze and the B dock, from where my flight will be leaving, is eerily quiet.

IMG_0005
IMG_0006.JPG

Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time at 20h30. Surprisingly though, nobody seems to give a shit. The announcement is made, but none of the passengers seem to be in much of a hurry to get on board. And so I end up being the first one to step aboard.

IMG_0009.JPG
IMG_0010.JPG

The Cabin

The first four rows of the cabin are Business Class. They remain empty on this evening’s flight. I am sitting on 6A, which is the window seat on the port side of the aircraft.

Helvetic Airways operates the Embraer 190 in a 2 + 2 configuration with a seating capacity of 112, which is 12 seats or three rows more than what KLM Cityhopper has on its aircraft and the maximum number of seats possible on the Embraer 190. According to seatguru.com, the pitch on the Helvetic Airways aircraft is 32 inches throughout. Although to be honest, I think this can hardly be true. In fact, the seat is awfully cramped and not at all comfortable.

Fortunately, the flight time to Milan is only thirty minutes. Even so, by the time we land, the circulation to my legs has all but stopped, my kneecaps hurt like something nasty and my bum is numb. Ouch! No wonder the other passengers weren’t in a hurry to get on the plane.

Other than that, what really strikes me is that the cabin of this aircraft looks really drab and, quite frankly, boring.

IMG_0011.JPG
IMG_0012.JPG
IMG_0013.JPG
IMG_0015.JPG
IMG_0017.JPG

The Crew

The crew consists of three female flight attendants. One of them is German, while the other two speak both Italian and Swiss German fluently and without an accent. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re not unfriendly either and the announcements are nicely articulated with a good enunciation. Had I mentioned I’m a linguist…?

IMG_0014

The Meal

Given the short flight time, the service consists of a small piece of Frey chocolate and a small bottle of still mineral water.

IMG_0016.JPG

Arrival

We arrive at the gate at 21h45, which means we’re pretty much on time. The airport is fairly deserted.

IMG_0019.JPG

Getting to the Hotel

I will be spending just the one night in Milan. So rather than making the long schlep into the city, I’ve booked a room at the Malpensa Sheraton, which is directly connected to Terminal 1 and takes about ten minutes to reach from there on foot.

Conclusion

It’s been a while since I last flew with SWISS or one of its subsidiaries. I thought this flight was fine and pretty much comparable to the offerings of other airlines on sectors of a similar duration in Europe. However, having said that, given the really short flight time, there was hardly an opportunity for the crew and the service to shine – there was also hardly an opportunity for them to screw it up either. Except perhaps for the seat, which is really bad and very uncomfortable. The Helvetic Airways model of the Embraer 190 has an increased gross weight to give it more range. Apparently, originally Helvetic intended to deploy these aircraft as far afield as the Canaries, which are roughly four hours away from Zürich. I really cringe at the thought of my sore kneecaps…!

Finnair, Business Class – A 320: Milan Malpensa to Helsinki

Nine boarding pass receipts later and I find myself in the contractor lounge at Milan’s Malpensa airport. I arrived earlier in the morning on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok. You’re probably wondering why on earth I chose Milan to change planes from Thai Airways to Finnair, given that it’s neither a Star Alliance nor a Oneworld hub. Well, the simple fact is, I didn’t choose. I should have been heading for Zürich, but then my plane went tech. The details of that trip you can find in my Thai Airways post.

Date: 13 September 2012
Airline:
Finnair
Aircraft:
A320
From:
Milan Malpensa
To:
Helsinki
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
4A

Check-in

I haven’t got a boarding pass. Actually, for that matter I haven’t got a ticket either. All I have is a FIM – a Flight Interruption Manifest. Essentially it is a document permitting the transporting carrier, Finnair in this case, to accept me as a passenger without a ticket due to an involuntary rerouting. The FIM will ensure that Finnair get paid for providing transportation despite the lack of a coupon to prove they did.

The Lounge

I’m sitting in the contractor lounge provided for Finnair passengers. The Thai Airways representative brought me here to ensure they let me into the lounge without a boarding pass or ticket.

It’s a nice enough lounge but it’s a pity there aren’t any windows. It’s turning into a lovely early autumn day outside. Even so, the lack of any natural light does not prevent all the Italian business men here from donning their sunglasses.

About an hour before departure I head downstairs to the gate area. Downstairs I find a place with some good views of landing and departing aircraft. I was unaware of how many freighters Malpensa receives.

Once the gate opens, I approach the counter. I hand over my FIM and in return I am issued a boarding pass for seat 3F, a window seat on the right side of the aircraft. There are 20 seats in Business Class but only eight passengers today.

At the gate next door they’re getting an Air Malta flight ready to depart.

Boarding

Boarding starts and status members, Business Class passengers and families with kids are requested to board first. I don’t think the flight is going to be full judging by the queue.

The Cabin

I like the Finnair cabin. The bulkhead is covered in this pattern that I assume is intended to look like snow flakes falling. It’s nice, but I think if you live in a country that sees so much snow anyway, you’d probably appreciate some bright and sunny design more.

The seat is the standard RECARO slimline variety. The middle seat is kept empty in Business Class for more personal space and comfort. Once boarding is completed, I move across to 4A. I’m hoping to get at least one picture of the Thai Airways bird that brought me here earlier in the day. When we left Bangkok it was gone midnight and simply too dark for any decent pictures.

Departure is to the north and unfortunately we’re on the outer one of the two parallel runways. This means that even with the zoom I’ll be too far away to take any decent photos of the Thai bird. To reach the runway we pass behind the threshold of the inner runway. This still leaves enough height clearance for approaching aircraft passing overhead for landing.

Having spent the last two weeks flying mainly on heavy widebodies, I’m somewhat taken aback by the force and acceleration of the A320. We rocket into the sky and climb out past the low cost terminal.

We do a sharp right turn to fly along the Alps. In the distance I can make out the airfield of Lugano Agno. The mountains look so nice today, quite as though you could reach out and touch them.

We stay on an easterly track and maintain a rather steep rate of climb for a while until we’re clear of the mountains. Then we bank left again to point the aircraft towards Finland.

The Crew

Oh I know, stereotypes and all that. But what will you do? Today’s crew really consists of four severely blond female flights attendants in their dark blue uniforms. They’re quite a contrast to the colourful Thai Airways crew from the previous flight. But they’re nice enough.

Before we depart the crew come round distributing Finnish, Italian and English newspapers.  Once we’re airborne, service begins with the distribution of the menu and hot towels. They’re not scented.

After that comes a drinks round. I have a Diet Coke and a packet of Pretzels.

The Meal

And then comes the meal. For starters we have a shrimp and potato salad with dill on some kind of rye bread toast. The main course is marinated and tremendously tender beef in a horseradish sauce with broccoli and some root vegetable mash, I mean purée. Dessert is some creamy thing with berries. With the meal the crew also pass round a basket of warm bread. I have a sparkling water to drink with that.

Generally speaking the quality of the meal is good, in fact it’s rather tasty. But the presentation is somewhat lacking. First of all, would it really cost so much more to serve the hot meal in a real dish, rather than that unsightly tin? Secondly, it would be nice to have the plastic lids removed from the dishes before the meal is served. And thirdly, the tray is too big. The meal looks a bit forlorn, quite as though there were a few items missing.  But the meal hits the spot alright.

I’m starting to feel sleepy, but in a good way. Once the meal is removed I lean back, close my eyes and in that warm, oh so comfortable space before sleep overcomes me, the memories of my trip to Vietnam unfold before my eyes. It’s as though I am there again, but of course it is only a dreamtime. I think I will long remember Vietnam.

Arrival

North of the Alps the weather is rather cloudy. It stays like that all the way to Helsinki. When we land the temperature is a mere 17 degrees Celsius.

We turn off the active runway and do one quick and short taxi to the gate.

We park next to this Icelandair B757-200 with a familiar sounding name…

The airport is busy when I arrive. Basically the development of the facility has not kept pace with the ambitions of its hub carrier Finnair. There are people everywhere. There are not enough places to sit, so in addition to the passengers actually going somewhere, there are also those passengers standing around for a loss of any better place to stand and wait. The fact that arriving and departing passengers are not segregated does not help either.

I exit the terminal building and it strikes me just how cold it is here, I’m definitely wearing the wrong clothes. Still, it feels like autumn already and I like that. So I shan’t complain.

Conclusion

Just one thing remains. I guess those of you who have followed this series from the start are wondering if things did work out all right in the end. No, they did not. When I arrive at the hotel I log in to my KLM account to check if my flights for the next day from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam are still there, just as the Thai Airways lady had promised. Of course they are not. A quick call to KLM establishes that Thai Airways did not actually do anything about the booking. As a result, I no-showed on the original Zürich-Amsterdam-Helsinki legs so the return was cancelled.

I ask the friendly KLM agent if she can reinstate the flights or something. But she tells me that the flights I was booked on are completely sold out, even with my Platinum status she cannot even get me on the wait list. So I have no other choice but to buy a new ticket with Lufthansa via Munich. Their flight leaves 15 minutes later than the original booking with KLM and arrives in Basel 30 minutes after the KLM flight. Just in case you’re wondering, a full fare Y class oneway from Helsinki to Basel will cost you in excess of CHF1000. But I am not angry. I guess I should have known better, having worked in ticketing for an airline myself for many years. Still, I give the Thai Airways lady full marks for trying. And I’m certainly not going to let this hiccup at the end ruin what has been a fantastic trip and really good fun.

Thai Airways, First Class – A 340-600: Bangkok to Milan Malpensa

Let me explain. I’m on my way back from my vacation in Southeast Asia. The original plan would have seen me returning from Bangkok to Zürich in Thai Airways First Class and then immediately carrying on with KLM via Amsterdam to Helsinki for a meeting. But then it all goes horribly wrong…read on!

Date: 13 September 2012
Airline:
Thai Airways
Aircraft:
A 340-600
From:
Bangkok
To:
Milan Malpensa
Cabin:
First Class
Seat:
2K

Check-in

I spend my last day in Asia exploring the sights of Bangkok, and I think I manage to do most of them.  I check out of the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at eight o’clock in the evening, once I’ve finished packing and had a shower. I then make my way through the deserted underground passageway linking the hotel to the railway station and the terminal beyond.

I arrive at the Thai Airways First Class check-in area on row A just after 20h00.

First I am ushered to a sofa and brought a drink and a refreshing towel.

The friendly Thai Airways check-in agent apologises profusely as she informs me that the flight to Zürich has gone tech and instead of departing at 00h30, it is now scheduled for a departure at 07h30 in the morning, arriving in Zürich after 14h00 of the same day. So instead, she suggests I fly on the Thai Airways flight to Milan and then take a Swiss flight to Zürich from there, which would arrive at 11:00. I explain that I have a flight to Amsterdam with KLM at 09h50 on a separate ticket and need to be in Helsinki by the evening. So that won’t work.

In a bid to find a solution she first suggests I take the Thai Airways flight to Arlanda and then from there a Finnair flight to Helsinki. However the idea is quickly discarded because that would mean downgrading me to Business Class. On the Arlanda route Thai Airways operates a B747-400 with the old First Class seat, which is sold as Business Class. I don’t fancy that. So eventually we settle on a routing that will take me with Thai Airways from Bangkok to Milan in First Class after all, and then from there with Finnair to Helsinki in Business Class. Thai Airways generously also offer to endorse the KLM ticket, despite the fact that it’s not really their problem. For me this means that I will still be able to use the return portion from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam. I ask the check-in agent if this will work, they can’t just take another airline’s ticket and use part of it as they like. But she assures me that it will be fine. They will cancel the outbound from Zürich via Amsterdam to Helsinki and I keep the return for the following day.

I’m quite happy with the arrangement and as an aviation fan I normally welcome such irregularities. Although in this case it’s quite a pity because I was hoping to clock another flight with the B737-900 from Amsterdam to Helsinki. Some other time maybe. The check-in agent brings me a bottle of water and asks me for some more patience while she makes all the necessary arrangements.

40 minutes later, with my boarding pass for the Milan flight and a Flight Interruption Manifest for Helsinki in hand, I’m good to go.

The Thai Airways First Class Lounge

From check-in there is a direct access to a dedicated security lane and behind that is immigration for First Class passengers. The check-in agent escorts me through to the other side. It’s a swift process and even the immigration officer is all smiles and charm, even cracking a joke at seeing my ‘exotic’ passport. Blimey!

Behind immigration there is an escalator heading downstairs, straight into the Royal Silk Business Class lounge. At the bottom of the stairs another Thai agent is already expecting me with the funkiest buggy I’ve ever seen. The check-in agent bids me goodbye. I get on board my chariot and am whisked away to the entrance of the Royal First Class lounge.

Inside the lounge I am given yet another tremendously cold refreshing towel and a glass of some fruit juice. I also order a glass of sparkling water with a slice of lime.

My head has been bothering me all day, I think it must have been the uncomfortable seats on the river taxi, so I decide to head over to the Thai Spa and see if a massage might be able to do something about it. I am escorted to the Spa and handed over to my masseuse. First she gives me another refreshing towel (I’ve stopped counting…) and a glass of cold ginger tea. We discuss what I need taken care of and then head to the quiet area and the massage seats. The woman is a genius and over that ensuing forty minutes she works magic on my neck and shoulders. It feels like I’m being butchered but by the time she finishes me off I return to the First Class lounge feeling quite elated. And soon after it’s time to head to gate A3 for boarding.

Boarding

Boarding starts just a few minutes after I arrive at the gate. First Class and premium passengers are invited to board first through the L1 door. I am the second passenger to arrive in the First Class cabin.

Amenities

The vanity kit, a selection of newspapers, the earphones and an orchid are already at me seat. In short succession I am also given yet another refreshing towel, this time a warm one, a glass of water and my pjs.

The Cabin

The cabin and seat look nice and well maintained. In fact the seat looks nearly new. There are two cushions on every seat, as well as a blanket.

During the flight I visit the toilet and it is very clean and well stocked with products from Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Blanc and Essence de Thé Vert. All the refreshing towels are scented with the latter.

We depart slightly behind schedule due to the heavy traffic out of Bangkok tonight. Once we get airborne, we are treated to an excellent view of the urban sprawl that is Bangkok.

The Crew

Service on this flight is efficient and friendly. The First Class cabin is served by the male purser, a very charming and funny middle-aged lady and a younger but equally friendly gentleman. All the female crew are wearing these beautiful traditional Thai costumes made of silk.

The purser introduces himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He tells I’m in good hands with his colleagues and if there is anything I need, all of them will be more than glad to help.

The Meal

There are no nibbles or canapés with the drinks before departure.

Once we take off the crew obviously want to make sure passengers manage to get as much rest as possible and so they get started with the service straight away. First the table is set for the meal. Every passenger has his own breadbasket. There is garlic bread too, I love garlic bread! Later on once I’ve demolished the bread basket a new one arrives.

The Caviar Service

First we have the caviar service. This is really tasty. Once I finished I am offered a second helping but I figure that would be too much of an indulgence.

The Soup

The caviar is followed by a tasty minestrone with two side dishes of smoked salmon and a puff pastry filled with paté.

The Main Course

For the main course I have the salmon with linguine, basil sauce and Mediterranean vegetables.

Dessert

And for dessert some fresh fruit.

After the meal I go and change while the flight attendant makes up my bed.

It’s seven hours later. I managed to have a really good sleep on the very comfy seat/bed.

I’ve overdosed on the garlic bread. I completely forgot I’ll be meeting with a business partner later on today. I head for the loo to brush me teeth. I even try scrubbing my tongue with copious amounts of high quality Colgate toothpaste. But it’s of no avail, now I can only hope the immigration officer will not have me arrested for threatening the life of an official of the Italian police with my lethal garlic breath. That was potent stuff on that bread.

The Second Service

Shortly after I take my seat again it’s time for breakfast. We start with another refreshing hot towel. After that the table is set again for breakfast. I check to make sure, yes there is no more garlic bread this time round.

We start with fruit salad, and very delicious it is.

Next come the Cornflakes with some milk and a bit of sugar.

And then comes the hot meal: Spanish omelette with grilled tomato, hash brown, sausage and bacon. I follow the purser’s suggestion and have some chilli sauce with that. And very tasty it is too.

During the breakfast service my coffee cup is replenished regularly. The meal ends with one last hot towel.

Arrival

In the meantime it has been gradually becoming light outside. I look out to see the sun slowly rising over the Alps. You can tell it’s the end of summer because there is barely any snow left, even on the peaks.

We come in over the flatlands of the river Po. I must say, it’s been a nice holiday but I am still glad to be back to more familiar climes and sights.

The purser and the other two attendants working the First Class cabin pass from seat to seat to bid each passenger farewell individually and to thank them for flying Thai.

We bank left to point in a southern direction on the downwind for arrival. We pass the airport and then start doing a series of gentle right hand banks until eventually we are lined up with the runway. Just before touchdown I see an Air One A320 accelerating and an Easyjet bird waiting to line up behind it on the parallel runway to ours.  And then we’re down.

We taxi in behind a Delta B767-400 but I forget to check where it’s coming from.

The L2 door opens and all the passengers in Business Class are instructed to wait while the First Class passengers disembark. As we do, each passenger is given another orchid as a farewell gift.

Transfer in Milan Malpensa

Outside there is a representative from the handling agent expecting me. She welcomes me to Milan and then escorts me through the airport, through security and immigration until we are eventually in the A concourse. She takes me up to the contractor lounge Finnair uses and briefs the receptionist about the irregularity. The receptionist will contact Finnair about two hours before departure to check me in, I can then collect my boarding pass directly at the gate as I board.

With that done she apologises once more on behalf of Thai Airways for the inconvenience and bids me a safe onward journey and a good day.

Conclusion

Where do I begin? First of all there is that Thai Airways lady at the front line, the person who deals with my case. She really tried her best, she had a very ‘can-do’ approach to finding a viable solution to my problem. But it’s not just her, the whole operation – at least from what I can tell as a passenger – is very polished, right down to the way I am taken care of upon arrival in Milan.