To be honest, I wasn’t actually going to write a review of my return trip from Oslo to Zürich, figuring it would just be more of the same as the outbound.
As such, this isn’t much of a trip report either, consider it therefore, as an update or, for me at least, a very pleasant surprise.
I already figured this would turn out to be a good flight the moment I stepped on board. The female maître de and her male colleague were standing at the L1 door as though their only reason to be there was to welcome passengers aboard the flight.
This continued throughout the flight, with all the cabin crew giving the impression of wanting to make sure passengers felt comfortable and welcome.
The biggest surprise though, came when the inflight service started. With a departure at 13:55, SWISS considers the Oslo to Zürich flight a lunch time service.
As such, the service started with an apéritif. Here too, the crew very proactively offered wine and champagne to passengers. The maître de looked charmingly disappointed when I informed her I’d just be having a Coke Zero.
The drinks were served with a small packet of snacks made with olive oil and containing pieces of black olives.
The male flight attendant then went through the cabin addressing every passenger individually and by name. He informed me that for lunch there was a choice of beef or Spätzli for the main course. As I’m not much of a carnivore, I went with the latter. One way or another, I must admit I wasn’t expecting a hot meal.
The Main Course
The meal was served on one tray and consisted of the main course, which was Spätzli with rosted onions and a cheesy cream sauce.
The First Course
A small bowl with potato and smoked sausage salad, served with a chunky piece of smoked salmon.
A small plate of cheese, served with bread from the basket.
An excellent piece of apple pie with cherry compote and a chestnut mousse.
Throughout the service drinks were regularly replenished by the crew.
In summary, this really was a highly enjoyable flight I had with SWISS. The crew were excellent and gave the impression of having been properly trained. They were motivated and relaxed, but without being sloppy. Of course, it also helped that I had the whole row of three all to myself and could spread out comfortably.
In fact, I got so comfy that I dosed off and slept for the rest of the flight with the warm feeling of sunshine on my face.
The fabulous Swiss chocolates served at the end of the flight, which have become SWISS’ trademark, were offered to passengers as they disembarked, which I thought was another nice touch.
I finish teaching early today, mainly because the audio system in the classroom I’m using is inop and nobody had bothered to tell me. Today was my last time teaching this particular class, which is a shame really, because they were rather nice. At least, on a positive note, this was also my last class until September of next year!
I leave the university just after 15h to catch the 15:24 train to Zürich airport. It’s only a 12 minutes train ride from Winterthur.
Zürich airport is already decked out in full-on Christmas mode. I think it looks quite nice with all the lights. But where is everybody…?
I’ve already checked in on my mobile phone. So instead of going to the SWISS terminal, I head three floors up from the train station, then across the bridge to access check-in area 5 and then from there I go one floor up to the access point for security – which I’d say is probably the most direct routing.
The security check is quick and efficient. There are no queues. My flight is departing from the D gates, which is the non-Schengen area of the B pier at Zürich.
The SWISS Business Class Lounge
Because there isn’t really much to see from the waiting area, I figure I might as well go to the SWISS lounge, which is located behind immigration.
The lounge is your typical SWISS branded lounge. It has the usual selection of loud business men talking on the phone, light snacks and drinks. It’s not at all crowded when I arrive.
I’m only in the lounge for about 20 minutes – enough time for a cup of tea – before I decide it’s time to make my way to the gate.
Boarding for my flight is from gate D39 and starts exactly thirty minutes before departure with a call for priority passengers to board first.
Unfortunately, the location of the gate makes it impossible to take a decent picture of my plane.
I’m seated on 1A, and clearly Mr. 1C is not happy about that. I’m not sure what his problem is, but he’s definitely not a happy bunny.
He demonstratively plonks his fake Canada Goose jacket on the middle seat. I’m actually surprised he doesn’t say something to the effect of ‘I claim this territory for England’… or something like that.
Boarding for the flight is quick, and it looks as though the load on this evening’s flight is very light.
Once boarding is completed, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and packaged towels. SWISS appear to have recently switched suppliers, because their towels have a different smell than they used to.
Safety is always a bit sloppy on SWISS, which is really not good. And this flight is no different. The flight attendant asks Mr. 1D to either put on his jacket or stow it in the overhead bin for take-off. Alas, Mr. 1D is not willing to cooperate and simply asks why? To which the flight attendant literally replies that she really has no idea either, but that’s just the rule. And walks away.
Seriously? Mr. 1C has his earphones on during take-off, and nobody seems too bothered by that either. And the lights are not dimmed, even though it’s already dark outside.
Eventually, we take off just slightly ahead of schedule. The flight time is one hour and 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes holding.
The meal service starts straight away. There is no choice. The tray has on it a plate of cold roast beef with a potato salad, a plate of cheese and a creamy looking dessert.
I wasn’t intending to eat the meat, which is all the same because it smells rather awful. The salad is nice enough though.
The cheese is lovely. Can’t really go wrong there. It is served with a selection of white or dark bread from the basket. The crew come through the cabin twice with bread. Although it takes them so long for the second round that everybody has already finished their meal anyway by that time.
And the dessert is simply dreadful, despite the cute Läckerli on it, which is a speciality of Basel, where I live.
The cream is just horribly sweet and tastes awfully artificial.
But the flight passes quickly, and despite the holding, we still arrive on stand ten minutes ahead of schedule.
Immigration at Terminal 2 is quick this evening, and I’m through in no time.
All in all, this evening’s flight was no better or worse than any other airline’s short-haul European Business Class flight. I’m also pretty sure that SWISS takes passenger safety very seriously, because any airline’s reputation hinges on that being so. Nonetheless, I really do think they could improve on their crews’ attitude toward safety.
The meeting at ICAO ends just after noon. But by the time everybody has said good bye to everybody else and pretended the whole situation isn‘t just one big fat mess caused by ICAO and EASA together, it‘s gone 13h by the time I get to have lunch.
Getting to the Station
My train isn‘t leaving until 16:23. But the weather in Paris today is something nasty. And so, at 14:15 I descend down into the Metro at Les Sablons in Neuilly Sur Seine. From here I have a direct train on the line number 1 all the way to Gare de Lyon.
The journey takes thirty minutes between Les Sablons and Gare de Lyon.
The SNCF Salon Voyageur Lounge
Today I‘m travelling in BusinessPremière, which is located in car number 11. In BusinessPremière passengers receive complimentary newspapers, a welcome drink and a hot meal. It also means I‘m entitled to use the Salon Grand Voyageur, which is located in Hall 3, one floor down from Hall 2.
The Salon is quite small, which is why I don‘t take any pictures. But it‘s comfortable enough. There are toilets in the lounge. There is also a coffee machine serving complimentary hot drinks.
Boarding for the train starts 20 minutes before departure and terminates two minutes before departure.
The train is quite full, presumably because it‘s Friday afternoon and people are on their way home for the weekend.
The seat is quite comfortable. There is a power socket and a footrest. Seat pitch is good, but the foot rest is in a slightly inconvenient position…
The service begins about 20 minutes out of Paris with the distribution of the scented hot towels, newspapers and drinks. There is a full bar service available. I settle for some sparkling water.
The meal consists of a carrot cake with goat‘s cheese and peppers and two small pieces of salmon quiche.
And for dessert I have a slice of lemon cake with apricots.
It‘s really more of a snack than a meal, but given the time of day, I think it‘s perfectly adequate and quite tasty.
The meal ends with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.
The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive in Basel with a delay of three minutes which, funnily enough, we picked up only on the last eight kilometres of the journey from Paris.
As you may have guessed by now, I‘m a great fan of the TGV. It‘s fast, safe, reliable and it comes without the hassle of security checkpoints. And if everything else fails, the train just looks good inside and out.
The BusinessPremière product is attractive and certainly competitive with the airlines, especially when you take into account the much lower ticket price and the city centre departure from the Gare de Lyon.
My flight from Zagreb arrives at terminal 2E, which is used for non-Schengen flights. My flight to Luxembourg will be departing from terminal 2G, which is reserved for regional aircraft ops.
The security check is done in terminal 2E. From there, the way to the shuttle bus to 2G is clearly signposted.
The airport is fairly quiet, and in total there are only four of us making the trip to 2G. Sitting up front we have an elderly American lady with her daughter, who’s obviously decided now would be a good moment to have a hissy fit because her mum left her handbag with her to go to the loo…
My timing couldn’t be better. In 2G I first have to go through passport control to enter Schengen. From there I head to my departure gate at G27, where boarding has just started. One hour connecting time between 2E and 2G is perfectly fine, but there’s probably not going to be any time left to raid the duty free shop.
Being such a little aircraft, there’s a baggage cart parked by the stairs of the plane and passengers with larger items have to place them there for them to be loaded into the hold. These items are retrieved directly at the aircraft upon arrival in Luxebourg.
The cabin of the Dash 8 really is tight. Although at least, the Luxair aircraft are configured in a much more comfortable configuration with greater pitch and a seat with better cushioning than on Croatia Airlines.
Sadly, the window seat is of no use, because it’s already dark outside and the guy next to me has his reading light on.
The flight time is forty minutes. The service in Economy consists of a small paper bag containing a bottle of still water and a packet of Happy Snacks savoury crackers. The service is delivered by the crew without any attempt at being polite or civil or at least pretending to give a rat’s bum.
We land just slightly behind schedule. Seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m out through customs quickly and then head one floor up to catch the bus line 16 to Luxexpo. I try paying the EUR2.- for my ticket, but one machine is inop and the other just won’t take my money…
I have to say, I’m quite impressed by how painless and easy the transfer in Paris works. It seems to me that Charles de Gaulle is better than its reputation. Ai France were also great. The crew were attentive and the food choices were very good. As for Luxair, this is another one that nobody is likely to really miss should one day disappear.
The journey from Zagreb to the airport takes 18 minutes by Uber. Within walking distance of the Canopy Hotel, where I was staying, is also the bus terminal, from where Croatia Airlines operates a bus service to the airport.
Zagreb airport has a terminal building that may not be very large in relative terms but seems somewhat excessive for the amount and type of traffic it handles.
The departures concourse is best described as a large, cavernous space. Air France checks in on counters C08 to C11 and there is a dedicated counter for SkyPriority passengers. Check-in opens only two hours before departure, so there’s really no point in arriving too early. There isn’t anything much to do either.
On a postive note, there is a fast track for security for SkyPriority passengers.
There is only one lounge at the airport that is used by all carriers operating into Zagreb. The Primeclass lounge is located right behind the duty free, between gates 33 and 32.
On my way to the airport, I kept trying to remember what the lounge looks like. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember. As it turns out, that’s likely because the lounge really is not particularly memorable. Although I must say, the food offerings are great. And I can highly recommend their vast selection of Burek.
I’m not sure what’s going on with my booking. So far, all I’ve managed to do on the app is check in. And when I finally managed that, I found myself suddenly seated on 3A, which is not the original seat I reserved.
What’s more, when I tried again at the self-service kiosk at the airport, the screen wanted to know if I had a visa for France. When I selected ‘no’, the system crashed and the screen went black…
Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure from gate 31. SkyPriority passengers are invited the board first. Alas, taking pictures from inside the terminal is slighly problematic…
Row 3 is the first row of Economy Class, which means I have the divider curtain right in front of me. The seat pitch is very tight, but still okay. Not sure I’d want to do a longer flight in this seat though…
Boarding happens very fast. The next thing I know, we’re already pushing back while the crew scramble to get all passengers seated.
Fortunately for me, by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat on 3B remains empty.
As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start preparations for their service. The flight time is one hour and forty minutes.
The service consists of a complimentary snack and drinks from the bar trolley. To eat there is a choice between a tuna, parsley and lemon bagel or a hummus and grilled vegetables sandwich. The crew pass through the cabin twice offering sandwiches.
To drink I ask for sparkling water. What’s really nice on Air France is that even in Economy Class they will give you a complete can of Perrier.
The rest of the flight passes quickly and pleasantly enough. We land in Paris just a few minutes ahead of schedule. But there’s a delay reaching our gate, because the stand is still occupied by a Tarom B 737. By the time we make onto the stand, it’s 20h07. I now have 53 minutes to make my connection from terminal 2E to 2G, which is pretty much out in the booneys.
This week has me combining two trips into one. First, today I shall travel to Zagreb to attend a meeting. And then from there, I shall travel to Luxembourg to give another course.
The nice thing about Croatia Airlines’ evening service from Zürich to Zagreb is that the flight departs at 20h05, which gives you more or less a full day in the office before having to head for the airport.
When I arrive at the airport just after 18h07, the airport is very quiet. I’m guessing the main bank of departures is already over.
Croatia Airlines uses check-in 3 in Zürich, which is the check-in area right above the tracks of the railway station. I print my boarding pass and baggage tag at the self-service machine and then proceed to the counter to drop off my bag.
Another nice feature of a 20h05 departure time is that security is nearly deserted when I get there at around 18h30. Which is a good thing, because although there’s only one guy ahead of me in the queue, he’s exuding the rather pungent stink of young man. It ain’t pretty…
The airside area is eerily quiet too. Perhaps it’s because of Knabenschiessen, which is a half-day public holiday in the city of Zürich only. In case you’re wondering, Knabenschiessen is not quite as old a tradition as the Zürchers will have you believe. Besides, nowadays the event is more of an excuse for the hopelessly pretentious and nouveau rich to be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘right’ crowd.
Zagreb being a non-Schengen destination, the flight will be boarding from the D gates, on the ground floor level of the B pier, behind immigration.
Although there are hardly any people on the D concourse, the place is litered with garbage. You’d think they’d manage to clean up the place. None of this stuff in the picture is mine…
Boarding starts exactly on time, even though the bus taking us to the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s when I realise that most passengers are travelling with fairly large pieces of hand luggage, which fit perfectly in the overhead bins of an A 320, but not in the shoe box size bins of the Dash 8. So it takes the gate agent a moment to label all the hold baggage and scan the boarding passes all by herself.
The Dash 8 is a sharp looking aircraft, but it really is rather small and cramped in the cabin. Standing room is okay. But once you’re seated, the pitch is fairly tight for an average sized caucasian male.
What’s more, there’s a rail on which the seats are mounted that runs along the side of the cabin. As a result, if like me you’re on the window seat, leg space is a bit more limited than on the aisle.
Also, on 8F you’re sitting right next to the engine. This means that window views are somewhat obstructed and the vibrations from the engines are really very strong and quite loud.
The flight time is one hour and ten minutes. There are two cabin crew. The female is the purser, I think. She’s definitely got an attitude, but in a surprisingly good way. And she’s also very meticulous about safety.
The other crew is a male with a slighty grumpy demeanour. When the service begins, he stops at my row, shoves a packet of something under my nose unceremoniously and makes a sound that might be loosely interpreted as ‘would you care for a snack’ but is, in fact, little more than a grunt.
To drink, there is a whole bar trolley for choice. The snack and drinks are complimentary.
However, I did also notice in their Sky Shop magazine that there are other food items and beverages available for purchase, although no information to that effect was given during the flight.
All in all, the flight is pleasant and uneventful. Our landing in Zagreb is very smooth and quiet. We come to a stop on a stand right in front of the terminal. But once we disembark, we still have to take a bus to bring us to arrivals.
Getting into Town
From the airport I take an Uber into the city, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.
Croatia Airlines is another one of those small European flag carriers that is struggling to stay afloat and compete against the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s hard to say if Croatian, like Air Malta or Tarom, would even be missed if they went out of business.
Having said that, Their product is certainly not bad and pretty much on a par with that of others. I’d fly with them again any time. But unless you want to go to Croatia, that may not even be quite so easy to achieve.
I spend a lovely day at the Campo Juan Carlos, a large park close to the exposition area of Madrid and easily accessible by metro.
Easyjet really is quite okay if you ignore the boarding experience, which I find unpleasant and unnecessarily so. I also think the limitations of the low cost model are beginning to show. The old legacy carriers have clearly done their homework, and you can purchase just about anything as an ancillary service nowadays. But on a low cost carrier, that is only possible up to a point. For example, if I purchase an upgrade on Swiss or KLM, that automatically comes with the priority check-in, fast track security, lounge access, better seat pitch and an empty middle seat.
Last week I returned from my Sunday run, all sticky and sweaty, only to be informed by the light of my life that we were booked to sample the British Airways A 350-1000 in a week’s time!
I mean, how cool is that? New type for me and literally a new aircraft!
The Executive Club Lounge
Getting into Town
My two flights with British Airways yesterday and today were very pleasant. Of course, the brand new Airbus A 350-1000 this morning was a pleasant change from the usual narrowbodies.
But apart from that, I think British Airways has implemented some fundamental changes that I would definitely consider a huge improvement. From the Do&Co catering to the installation of the new seat, which is expected to be rolled out on the Boeing B 777 fleet shortly as well.
Of course, tastes vary. But for me, the hard product on the A 350-1000 and the improved catering definitely put British Airways on a par with Air France. With the Lufthansa group coming in far, far behind.
My colleague at work, let‘s call him the talented Mr. F., recently complained about the apparent lack of any new posts on my blog in recents weeks. The talented Mr. F., incidentally, gets his name from his truly exceptional talent of getting airlines to pay him compensation for all sorts of things, including some reported cases where the airlines hadn‘t actually done anything wrong – other than being on time…
So here you go, this one‘s for you, Mr. F. May it inspire you to even greater greatness. Or something.
The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without
a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the
runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway
station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from
where the flight to Beirut will be departing.
Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The
SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the
SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane
for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at
the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security
checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.
This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when
I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a
way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright
in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that
really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.
Air France tends to start boarding for its
flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding
already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish
writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure
they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time
I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the
final staged of boarding.
The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER.
There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8.
And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on
this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat
Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample
storage space. And it looks good too.
Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There
is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have.
Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and
slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.
By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.
A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us
that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to
return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are
informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or
less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving
forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose
gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to
swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate
agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go
to the lounge.
I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in
Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me
not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge
agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut
flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto
tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to
Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation
very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to
Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…
The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which
means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately,
I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take
the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the
shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go
through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly
because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.
Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s
just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as
well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a
smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my
smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s
not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle
of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps –
which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…
At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.
The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the
previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the
time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running
45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes,
so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.
The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.
The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that
the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut
shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream
Goat’s cheese, Cantal & Camembert
The Main Course
And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)
For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake
All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.
The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly,
but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal
service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on
during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at
the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley,
only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten
seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any
turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor
thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines
that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also
say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.
The Second Service
An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the
crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked
salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have
the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.
Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!