Eurowings, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Köln to Zürich

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Introduction

The meeting at EASA goes as well as can be expected when EASA and ICAO meet. The European agency’s offices are located five minutes away from Köln Hauptbahnhof and the Kölner Dom, which is definitely worth visiting.

Getting to the Airport

The train journey from the city to the airport will take you fifteen minutes by train lines 13 and 19. A ticket costs EUR2.90 for a single, second class.

The railway station is located in the basement of the airport and from there it is a fairly long schlep to the Eurowings concourse in the C area of the terminal.

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the airline’s website. Rather conveniently, if you’re only travelling with hand luggage, you can also check in at the self-service machines which are located right in front of the entrance to the security checkpoint. There also appears to be a dedicated entrance to the checkpoint for Eurowing’s BizClass passengers.

Airside

I didn’t actually bother to check if they have a Lufthansa lounge. And even if there is, I’m not actually sure I’d be entitled to use it. So the tall, blond M. and I grab a coffee and park ourselves by the window. As it happens, the café is located right next to our departure gate at C70.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of some thirty minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft from Pisa. From what I’ve read on the net, this is something of a recurring theme with Eurowings… I hold back until the end and count about 100 passengers on the flight.

The aircraft is parked on a remote stand.

The Cabin

This flight is operated by an aircraft of Germanwings. Upon entering, the first thing I notice is that the plane looks tidy, neat and incredibly dull. In fact, if it weren’t for the Germanwings logo on the cabin divider, you might easily think you’re aboard a Lufthansa bird.

The tall, blond M. has checked online and tells me this bird is already pushing 28 years, probably making it one of the oldest in the Lufthansa Group’s fleet.

We’re seated on the emergency exit again, on 12F and 12E. I’m on the window seat. Although I feel somewhat compelled to add that it’s not that I won’t let my colleague sit by the window because I’m a creep, he just doesn’t really seem all that interested. Which, personally, I find even stranger…

Boarding finishes and once again, the tall, blond M. shifts across to take the aisle seat.

The Crew

The crew are a bit of a mixed bag. There are four ladies working the cabin. The youngest one looks as though she really, really couldn’t give a shit and would love to be just about anywhere else but on this plane. Then there is one very senior lady who is clearly botoxed to within an inch of her life and probably started her flying career on the Vickers Viscount or so. And the other two are okay, I guess.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes. As soon as the seatbelt sign comes off, the service begins: I don’t get it. Honestly. On this flight, everybody gets a complimentary snack box and a drink. This time I go with the Kuchen instead of the Käsebrötchen. Which is okay, except for the fact that it has these odd, unidentifiable bits and pieces in it…

Arrival

And then very soon we start out descent. We do one holding circuit before we are eventually allowed to make the approach.

Conclusion

So I must admit, I am confused. This was a Eurowings flight that was operated by Germanwings. Why couldn’t they just keep the Germanwings brand? And what’s with the service concept? Why bother keeping the Lufthansa brand on short-haul at all? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to dump the Lufthansa short-haul brand and hand over everything to Eurowings/Germanwings/What-ever-brand-airline instead?

Eurowings, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Köln

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Getting to the Airport

I’m on my way to Cologne to attend a meeting with EASA and ICAO. I finish teaching at 15h20, return to my office to collect my bag and then I’m off to the railway station. The flight will be leaving at 17h30, so it should be enough for me to catch the 15h58 train from Winterthur to Zürich airport.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online. I don’t have the Eurowings app installed, but I received a mail a few days ago with a link to the Eurowings check-in page. The process on the website could be smoother, but I manage to check-in fairly quickly.

I’m travelling with the tall, blond M. on this trip. So I’ve taken the precaution of booking the middle and window seats on the emergency row – seats 15E and F – to have enough space for the guy’s long legs.

Airside

Zürich airport is busy today. It’s the first week of the autumn vacation here in Switzerland, so half the nation is travelling this and next week. But despite all the people, security is a fairly smooth process.

The lady in the queue in front of me is travelling with her cat. To go through the security checkpoint, she has to remove the cat from his carrier bag. And he’s obviously not happy, judging by the expression on his face. Later on it turns out that the cat’s name is Bowie in honour of David Bowie. Clearly, his owner must have excellent taste…

Boarding

Boarding starts on time and it’s the usual scrum for the automatic scanners. You’d think they’re giving it away for free to watch them.

Much to my surprise, I look out the window at my gate to find that the flight today is being operated by a Boeing B 737-800 of TUIFly, which is operating the flight on behalf of Eurowings.

The Cabin

The cabin is in fairly decent condition. There is no cabin divider but the first few rows of seats have headrest covers marked as ‘Biz Class’. The seat pitch on the emergency exit is of course very good. The only down side is that there is no armrest on that side of the seat adjacent to the window.

Eventually, boarding is completed and the aisle seat on our row is still empty. So the tall, blond M. quickly shifts over one seat to give us a bit of extra space.

The Crew

The crew are friendly and seem a lot happier that I would have expected them to be. But perhaps that’s because they’re TUIFly and not Eurowings crews.

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes.

The Meal

Food and drinks are available for purchase in Economy Class, I think. Much to my surprise though, once the service starts and the crew pass through the cabin, the tall, blond M. is handed a small snack box containing a small container of still water and half a cheese sandwich. Very generously, he offers to share both with me. And when the crew pass through the cabin with the drinks trolley, we’re even offered something else to drink.  Which is kind of surprising, because I thought food and drinks were only available for purchase.

It only dawns on me later on that the reason the tall, blond M. received the snack box in the first place is that he’s changed seats to the aisle. In other words, the aisle seat remained empty because the passenger booked on that seat had no-showed.

For a moment I think of telling the crew about the misunderstanding. But given that I’ve already demolished half the sandwich by this time, I figure it no longer makes any difference…

Arrival

The flight passes quickly and shortly after the trash is cleared away, we’re already descending into Cologne. Which is kind of cool, because basically the pilot’s idea of ‘descent’ is just to deploy the speed breaks and pitch the aircraft in a steep dive. It’s certainly efficient…

And so we land in Cologne on time. And fortunately for me, we come to a stop on a remote stand, which means I get to take a few pictures of my aircraft as I disembark.

Conclusion

All in all, there isn’t anything much to say about this flight. It was completely unremarkable and I doubt I will remember it as an exceptional experience. But it was okay. They delivered me safely from A to B without delay. No more, no less.

Scandinavian Air System, SAS Go – Boeing B 737-800: Haugesund to Oslo

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Getting to the Airport

The meeting in Akrehamn finishes just before 14h00. Which is good, because I’ve ordered a taxi to take me to Haugesund’s Karmoy airport at 14h00. The journey by taxi to the airport takes roughly twenty minutes and will cost you NOK500, which is pretty good by Norwegian standards. Theoretically, you could also go by bus. But in most cases this will be inconvenient, because the busses are infrequent and there is no direct bus from Akrehamn to the airport anyway.

Haugesund airport itself is a dinky little thing. The landside departure area is basically one big room with check-in counters, self-service machines and a highly efficient security lane.

Check-in

I’m unable to check-in online. Or rather, I can check-in, but I can’t get my boarding pass. I try the self-service machine, which at least allows me to change my seat for the onward flight, but eventually only spits out the boarding pass for the flight to Oslo. So I head over to the Wideroe counter, where a frumpy middle-aged female explains that she has no idea what I did exactly, because I’m checked in just fine. What do I know woman, it’s your check-in system. I’m just a lowly passenger, and apparently one in dire need of being lectured…

Airside

There is no lounge at Haugesund airport. Which is hardly surprising, given that the departure area has all of three gates and is roughly the size of a very small broom cupboard. But there is a kiosk where you can purchase snacks, drinks, magazines and last minute souvenirs.

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly ahead of schedule, due to the fact that the plane arrived in Haugesund nearly ten minutes early. I’m all excited, because there are no air bridges in Haugesund. So I’m going to have to walk across the apron and use stairs to get aboard. Woohoo! I know I’m a nerd, but I’ll admit that I purposely selected a seat on row 20, just so I could use the rear door of the aircraft for boarding.

Of course, what I don’t take into consideration, is that this is September in Norway. I exit the terminal building, which is precisely the moment the heavens open. Moreover, it’s blowing a gale. Perhaps a normal human being would just get on with it and make a run for the stairs. But the opportunity is just too good and the plane just way too pretty. So I keep stopping to take photos of my aircraft.

Eventually, by the time I get on board, I’m soaking wet all down the back of my trousers. I look as though I just embarrassed myself with excitement. But I don’t mind, because after all, I got to take aeroplane photos up close, so it’s really not that far from the truth…!

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is in much better condition than those of the two Boeing B 737-700s I flew with to get to Haugesund. The aircraft has wifi installed, which is available at a price in the SAS Go cabin. Moreover, it has the new cabin interiors with the dark grey Recaro seats installed. Seat pitch on row 20 is good and the seat is comfortable enough.

That is, of course, until Mr. 20B arrives. Seriously? I mean, admittedly, his physique really is quite spectacular, and I dare say that back in the good old days he probably would have made even the toughest Viking warrior look like a bit of a wimpy weakling with fitness anxieties. The only way he can fit his long legs into the seat, is to sit there spread-eagled and with his elbows poking into my side. Worse still, I can’t even complain to him, even if I dared to, because it’s obvious that he’s really trying his best to take up as little space as possible. But at least the flight to Oslo is only forty minutes.

The Crew

There are four crew on this flight. One young man who allegedly smiled the last time way back around the turn of the century, and three senior females who could be his mom, granny and great-granny respectively. I can’t really say anything much about the cabin crew because there is no interaction with them. During boarding they successfully ignore their passengers and pretend we all aren’t really there, and then after take-off, I drop off to sleep and miss the service. Such as it were.

The Meal

In SAS Go, tea and coffee are complimentary. All other snacks and drinks are available for purchase, subject to the duration of the flight.

Arrival

The landing in Oslo is quite bumpy. But at least the weather is much better here, so I get some good views of the landscape on the approach.

I have three hours to make my connection. Transferring in Oslo is painless and easy. The biggest problem really, is that the facility is too crowded, so getting through can be difficult at times.

Conclusion

When I flew to China with SAS in July, I have to say I rather enjoyed their product and service on long-haul. But on short-haul, I think they’re a complete stinker. As I already mentioned before, their aircraft tend to be filthy and tattered, which makes you wonder about the state of those parts of the aircraft that you can’t see. But apart from that, the crews on all flights were totally uninspired and bland, which again is a stark contrast to my experience with them on long-haul.

Scandinavian Air System , SAS Plus – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Oslo

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Introduction

A few years ago, I think it was somewhere around 2014, SAS took the decision to abolish its Business Class product on short-haul intra-European routes. Instead, it launched a new cabin concept comprising SAS Go, which is your classic Economy Class with buy on board set up, and SAS Plus, which replaced what used to be Business Class.

In SAS Plus you get more or less all the perks you can normally expect from a European Business Class product: fast track at security, lounge access, complimentary meals, etc. The only difference to other carriers appears to be that the middle seat is not left empty in SAS Plus.

Getting to the Airport

I depart from the office at 12h17 to catch the 12h28 train to the airport. The worst of the summer is over here in Switzerland, and although it’s a lovely, bright and sunny day, you can already feel that the sun is losing its heat and the harshness of summer.

Check-in

SAS checks in on row 2 of terminal 2 in Zürich. Their handling agent is DNATA. There are self-service machines available for check-in as well. One day before the flight, I receive a text message from SAS, informing me that online check-in for the flight is open. Strangely enough though, although I can check in, I can’t upload my boarding pass to passbook.

Airside

By the time I’m through security and airside, it’s already 12h55. My flight will be boarding from gate A72. So I decide to skip the SWISS lounge and head for my gate instead to watch the movements on the apron.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time and it looks as though the flight is fairly full. Before the gate agent even manages to finish his announcement, there’s already a scrum for the automatic gate readers… You’d think they’re giving it away for free.

The Cabin

There is no cabin divider, which I always find slightly awkward. Instead, there is a small sign attached to the aisle seat, indicating where SAS Plus ends and SAS Go begins. On today’s flight there is just the one row of SAS Plus. Leg space on row 1 is very good. I am seated on 1A. On the opposite side of the cabin, there is even more pitch between the seats and the bulkhead.

I also needn’t worry about having somebody sitting next to me, as I’m the only passenger in SAS Plus today and therefore have the whole row to myself.

The one thing that strikes me though, is that the cabin is really dirty. And it’s old dirty that has spent years maturing into grime.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew. The service up front is conducted by a rather unhappy looking female just past her middle age, and a gentleman of roughly the same age who does not necessarily look happy but at least seems less unhappy than the female.

While the aircraft is on the ground, there is zero interaction between the crew and the passengers. There are no welcome drinks, no newspapers, nothing.

The flight time is announced as two hours and fifteen minutes.

The Meal

In SAS Go the service is buy on board, with the exception of tea and coffee. In contrast, in SAS Plus passengers are served the full range of complimentary food and drinks available from the snack menu.

The service begins with a partially wet towel, which should probably have been served warm. Shortly after that, the cold meal is served in a rather stylish but oddly shaped square cardboard box with cutlery that looks like something they nicked from a pre-schooler.

The box contains a salad of carrots with honey glazed chicken, a yoghurt dressing and pollen sprinkles, which I still hadn’t figured out by the time I’d finished the meal.

The quality of the meal is good and so are the flavours, at least they are if you like overdosing on carrots and beets. Otherwise, I think you may have a problem. Fortunately, in SAS Plus you can order anything you like from the buy on board for free. And so, in a bid to ward off a vitamin-induced coma of too healthy food (I hope the tall, blond M. ain’t reading this…), I ask for a packet of those delectable Larsson crisps I enjoyed so much on my last flight with SAS from Shanghai back to Copenhagen…

To drink with the meal, I have a Coke Zero.

After the meal, the male cabin attendant comes to clear my box away and brings me a cup of coffee and unceremoniously plonks a small box of not really very nice chocolates in front of me.

Arrival

As we approach Oslo the weather starts to deteriorate. When I left Zürich, the temperature was a balmy 27 degrees Celsius. But here in Oslo they’re expecting rain showers and a maximum temperature of only 14 degrees…

Eventually, by the time we land it’s already 16h16. My connecting flight to Haugesund will already be departing at 16h55.

Conclusion

I’m not really sure what to make of my SAS Plus experience. All in all, the flight was okay, I guess. And it certainly helped that I had the first row all to myself. But even so, the entire experience was kind of underwhelming and unspectacular, from the dirty cabin to the rather lacklustre service.

I think next time, if I have an alternative on European short-haul, I’ll take it.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 340: Copenhagen to Zürich

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Transfer in Copenhagen

At 18h38 Astrid Viking gently glides down over the Ore Sund after a flight time of ten hours and twenty minutes, bringing to an end the long journey from Shanghai. I now have just over one hour to make my connection to Zürich.

The flight ends at the C pier, which is the only pier at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport that is large enough to handle wide-body jets and ergo serves as the airports non-Schengen pier.

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If you have a transfer from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight at Kastrup, you first go through security and then immigration. I exit through the biometric gates and check on one of the big screens about the status of my flight. It turns out that the flight to Zürich is showing a departure delay of thirty minutes, meaning the flight is now expected to depart at 20h30. Good, enough time for a short visit to the lounge!

The SAS Business Class Lounge

In Copenhagen SAS has a dedicated Business Class lounge and a separate lounge for Star Gold members. The lounges share the same entrance, which is more or less opposite the beginning of the C pier. The upper floor is the Gold lounge.

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The lounge is larger than the one in Stockholm but the décor is very much the same as that of the SAS lounge in Stockholm I visited on the outbound. Just somehow here the IKEA vibe seems a bit out of place. Because, well…, it’s not Sweden.

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Just after 20h00 the flight shows up as ‘go to gate’. I exit the lounge and immediately start heading the wrong way towards the A and B piers. The airside shops are already starting to close, with the last long-haul departure being the 21h00 SAS flight to Beijing. I absentmindedly glance outside and spot a tail of white and red. It looks as though I’m going the wrong way and my flight to Zürich will be boarding from gate C10, which can be used either for Schengen or non-Schengen flights.

In my hazed, jetlagged state it takes me a moment to actually realise that the thing in white and I red I just saw looks awfully large for an A 321. It’s only then that I take another look outside and notice that there’s obviously been an aircraft change and the originally scheduled narrow-body has been substituted by an Airbus A 340. Well that makes a change, I guess…

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Boarding

Eventually, boarding for the flight starts at 20h40. The gate area isn’t really full and I’m left wondering what might have prompted the short notice aircraft change. There are three cabin crew at the door, welcoming passengers aboard. All three of them are quite senior and seem friendly enough.

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The Cabin

There are only five passengers in Business Class this evening. Which is why we’ve all been reseated so that all five of us are sitting in the Stübli, the small Business Class cabin located between the L2 door and the First Class cabin.

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When SWISS first launched the current Business Class product it has installed on the A 340, I remember thinking how elegant it was, with various shades of white, cream and brown. But looking at it now, I think the seat hasn’t really aged all that well. The brown colours look a bit dated and the cabin, although obviously very well maintained, is showing signs of wear and tear. Of course it doesn’t help that the magazine holders are empty because it’s only a short-haul flight. It makes the cabin look empty and rather bland.

The Crew

Ah, yes. It looks as though the excellent crew I experienced on the Zürich to Arlanda flight a week ago must have been a flash in the pan. We’re back to the middle-aged men and women who couldn’t give a and spend more time gossiping about their colleagues and bitching about their employer. Oh, how welcome and valued as a customer this makes me feel…

The flight time to Zürich is announced as one hour and twenty minutes. Nobody bothers to apologise for the delay or even to explain what caused it.

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We taxi out to the departing runway and make a rolling start heading south. The aircraft must be really empty on this short hop, because the acceleration is quite impressive and very different to the sluggish sortie we made from Shanghai.

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The Meal

After about ten minutes the seat belt sign is turned off and the crew start the service. And it really is bad. It’s so blatantly obvious that they just want to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible.

One of the flight attendants comes through the cabin and without even as much as bothering to ask if the passengers are eating or not, he starts popping open the tray tables. Shortly after he comes through the cabin and rather unceremoniously plonks a sad looking little tray with food on the table. Dude, I’m not even hungry…

The meal consists of a plate with cold beef and potato salad, a plate with cheese and the dessert, which seems to be cream with some sort of fruit compote. Behind him, his colleague is already waiting with the breadbasket. So I quickly take a picture for the purpose of completeness and when the flight attendant returns with the Coke Zero, I ask him to remove the tray again untouched so I can flake out.

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Fifty seconds later, another flight attendant comes through the cabin with the chocolates – and that’s it. The crew vanish and there is silence. Finally. I visit the loo a short while later and find them lounging around in the larger Business Class cabin having dinner together. Well that looks cosy…

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Arrival

It’s already approaching eleven o’clock in the evening by the time we finally land on runway 28. Initially, I suspect the pilot flying was aiming to exit the active runway via the intersection with runway 16. But the flare is a bit too long and so we end up having to keep on going until the end of runway 28 before we can turn off.

Rather abruptly the flight comes to an end. Again, nobody bothers to apologise for the delay.

By the time our bags finally appear on the conveyor belt, it’s already past eleven and my next train to Zürich main station is at 23h13. I bid my farewell to the valiant M. who was, as ever, a really excellent travel companion. I’ll be home in Basel at 00h47.

Conclusion

This flight with SWISS really, really sucked. Perhaps I might not have found them so bad if I hadn’t had such a brilliant experience with the SAS crew on the flight from Shanghai, who were the complete opposite from this crew in the way they went about their job. Of course, I understand that on a flight of just over one hour your possibilities are somewhat limited, compared to a flight of over ten hours. Even so, SWISS crew came across as though they were being intentionally obnoxious.

Other than that though, I’m satisfied with the way the presentation of our paper went. And Professor Bond, Professor McNamara: it was a pleasure to finally meet you both!

Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Shanghai to Copenhagen

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Introduction

I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…

Getting to Pudong Airport

The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.

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Check-in

To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…

SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.

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From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.

The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.

The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.

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The Air China Premium Lounge

In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.

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The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.

There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.

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The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.

Boarding

Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…

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The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.

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Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…

… still howling…

… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.

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On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.

Amenities

The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.

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After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.

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The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.

The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.

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The Meal

The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.

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The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.

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The First Course

For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.

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The Salad

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The Main Course

For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.

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Dessert

For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.

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By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!

Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.

The Second Service

I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.

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Arrival

Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.

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Conclusion

Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.

Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Stockholm to Hong Kong

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Transfer in Stockholm Arlanda

I just stepped off an Airbus A 321 of SWISS, arriving from Zürich. It’s just gone nine o’clock in the morning and I now have another six hours to make my connection to Hong Kong.

The SAS Lounge

There is no SAS or Star Alliance lounge in the non-Schengen sector of the F concourse, from where the flight to Hong Kong will be leaving. But SAS has a Business Class lounge and a dedicated lounge for Star Alliance Gold members in the Schengen area.

The Business Class lounge is nice, although it is quite small and tends to get very busy at times. Here too there’s a bit of a IKEA showroom/Starbucks café vibe going on. But given that this is the heartland of IKEA and I’m shameless enough to stereotype, I guess that’s fair enough.

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The food and drinks selection is somewhat limited though. But I’m guessing the lounge had been designed mainly to cater for short-haul traffic, seeing as the number of long-haul flights from Stockholm is fairly limited. But the wifi connection is good.

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Boarding

One hour before departure the valiant M. has solved yet another series of mathematical somethings that only an engineer could find exciting, and so we head off for our departure gate. The queue at immigration is quite busy, especially seeing as the Thai Airways and Emirates flights are departing ahead of our flight to Hong Kong. But the line moves quickly.

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The non-Schengen area has closed gates, so when the flight starts boarding, that only means that passengers are invited to enter the holding area. But at least there are plenty of places to sit.

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The Cabin

I must say, I rather like the new SAS Business Class cabin. The colours are admittedly a bit dark, but I think that only makes the cabin look more elegant. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration and there are eight rows of seats, which means a total capacity of 32 seats in Business Class – all of which have direct access to the aisle.

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On the even numbered rows the window seats and the D aisle seats have a bit more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.

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The seats are staggered, so that the window seats are slightly in front of the middle seats.

The seat is comfortable to sit and lounge in. In the bed position though, it feels a bit tight because there isn’t a lot of height clearance to move the legs.

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The touch screen is very responsive. Moreover, you can touch the screen from your seat without even having to bend forward.

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Apparently, there is complimentary wifi on board for Business Class passengers. But I try a couple of times throughout the flight, and it never works.

Amenities

A duvet, pillow, seat cover and the amenity kit have already been placed at every seat.

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After take-off the crew also distribute slippers.

The Crew

The crew on today’s flight is really excellent. They’re very friendly and their interaction with the passengers is relaxed and welcoming. It’s nice to experience a crew on a flight that actually looks happy to be there, for a change.

The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of orange juice, water and champagne. While we’re still on the ground, the crew also distribute the nicely designed menu for the flight and an unscented hot towel.

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After take-off, once the service begins, I notice that the crew always make sure to start the service at the same time on both aisles. This is really just a minor thing, but still I think it’s a nice gesture.

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The Meal

The meal service begins with a large bowl of mixed nuts and an aperitif. I decide to go with the Apple Must, which is some sort of thick apple juice and very tasty.

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After that, the table is set.

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The Salad

The salad is prepared in front of you.

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The First Course

There is a choice of two first courses. I go with the smoked cod served on a bed of pickled root vegetable julienne and a mustard, dill and brown sugar dressing. During the first course the crew make two bread rounds and actively encourage passengers to take as much bread as they like.

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The Main Course

For the main course there is a selection of four main dishes. Again, I go with the fish and have the baked cod with herb butter, parsley potatoes, cabbage with onions, oven dried tomatoes and a Hollandaise sauce.

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Dessert

After the main course there is a cheese and dessert service, which is served from a trolley and really looks very nice. I have the rhubarb tart and strawberries, which are served with thick whipped cream. With that I have a Sauternes to drink.

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And then to conclude the meal, I have a coffee.

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Inflight Snacks

All in all, I have to say I really enjoy the meal. I think the quality of the food is very good. What’s more, there’s copious amount of it and the presentation on the trolley is nice. After the meal service the crew set up a self-service bar by the side of the L2 galley. And here too there is a large selection of items to choose from, including crisps, biscuits, instant noodles and fresh fruit.

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The Second Service

Ninety minutes out of Hong Kong, one of the cabin crew comes to wake me up, it’s time for the second service. This consists of:

  1. a selection of breads and butter,
  2. yoghurt and müsli,
  3. a selection of cold cuts, cheese and vegetables,
  4. a small Stilton and broccoli pie,
  5. coffee and juices.
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The timing of the meal is very good and shows that the breakfast service needn’t take for ever. Again, the quality of the meal is very good.

Arrival

Normally you can expect arrival traffic into Hong Kong to be fairly busy, causing long delays for the approach. But today is different and we’re on the ground fairly quickly. I guess it probably has to do with the fact the SAS is one of the earliest arrivals from the European airlines in Hong Kong, with most of the others not arriving until the afternoon.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Zürich to Stockholm

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Introduction

The valiant M. and I are on our way to Shanghai to present a paper on the use of Rasch measurement in testing. The first part of our journey will take us from Zürich to Stockholm on SWISS.

Getting to the Airport

Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem in this case. Admittedly, the connection via Stockholm is not the best, with a six-hour layover in Sweden. Worse still, the flight from Zürich to Stockholm will already be departing at 06h50. Alas, the first train from Basel to Zürich does not arrive at the airport until 06h07 according to the schedule. Also, the Swiss Federal Railways are currently operating on a reduced summer schedule, and the information on their app is somewhat unreliable. I think if I were only travelling with hand luggage, I’d probably risk it. But with the big suitcase I’ll need to check in, I’ve decided to go to the airport the evening before and spend the night at the Radisson Blu at Zürich airport.

The Radisson Blu is not a very good hotel, I don’t think. But it has the advantage of being the only hotel that is directly connected to the terminal and check-in 1, which is home to SWISS.

Check-in

The check-in area for premium passengers at Check-in 1 was done up not too long ago. It looks nice. Although I’m not really sure how having a little desk lamp on the counter top is supposed to enhance my experience… On the other hand, I must admit that the check-in process is very swift. Despite the fact that it’s the busy holiday period, there is no queue and the check-in agent immediately checks my suitcase all the way through to my destination.

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The SWISS Business Class Lounge

There is a separate access point to the security area for Business Class passengers. And there are two lanes open at the checkpoint for Business Class passengers. Pretty much like every other time I’ve travelled with the valiant M., I pass through security without a hitch, while he has to endure having the security staff more or less take apart his entire hand luggage, only to eventually tell him that he’s okay…

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By the time the valiant M. has reassembled his carefully packed bags, it’s 05h23. The SWISS Business Class lounge doesn’t open until 05h45 though. So we mosey around the airside area for another twenty minutes before I can get my morning coffee fix.

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The SWISS lounge recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment, which, in my view, was long overdue. The first thing that strikes me, is that there are automatic gates to access the lounge. I find this quite striking, because it means that if you’ve checked-in online and you use one of the gates to access the lounge, even as a premium passenger your interaction with the airline is quite limited.

The lounge itself is nice, although the valiant M. and I agree that it’s also a bit sterile. I’m not sure what to make of the design though, because it looks like a strange mix between an IKEA showroom and a Starbucks coffee shop that has hipster written all over it.

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The good news is that there’s a lot more place to sit now. Partly, this has also been achieved because the smoker’s lounge and bar on the upper floor of the lounge have been removed to make space for extra seating. Although no food is permitted on the upper floor.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 06h30, twenty minutes before departure. Economy Class passengers are expected to use the automatic gates, while Business Class passengers can either use those or jump the queue and have their boarding pass scanned by the gate agent.

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The Cabin

There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin with a total of twelve seats. Nine seats are occupied by paying passengers and two are taken by staff that have been bumped up from Economy.

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The seat pitch on the second row is good, as the x-rated picture of my hairy legs shows. To be honest, I prefer the second row to the first, because you can get on the plane last and just dump your bag under the middle seat of the row in front if the overhead bins are already full. There are no power plugs for passengers on this aircraft.

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I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat.

The Crew

The crews on SWISS can be a bit of a hit or miss affair. Either they just really so couldn’t care less and make it painfully obvious, or they’re outstanding. There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. Luckily, today’s crew fall in the latter category. They are very courteous in the way they address the passengers, very polite and they make a point of addressing every passenger by their last name, literally every time they address them.

Once the boarding process is completed, the crew distribute the prepacked scented towels and a small bottle of still water.

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We take off in a northerly direction on runway 34. The flight time is announced as two hours.

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The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins.

The meal is served on one tray. There is a choice of two hot meals: a cheese omelette or scrambled egg with bacon, a small rösti and a grilled tomato. Also on the tray is a bowl of Bicher Müsli, a plate of fruit and another plate with cheese and butter. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket.

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Again, it strikes me that the crew are so attentive with their service. So far, I must say, I’m quite positively surprised by SWISS. This meals service is definitely way above the airline’s usual standards and the crew is excellent!

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Arrival

The flight passes quickly and there’s a comfortable, quiet hush in the cabin as we head towards Stockholm. Eventually we land in Stockholm pretty much on time.

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Conclusion

This flight was really nice. The crew were attentive but still left passengers in peace and quiet. The experience with check-in and the lounge made me think though. Perhaps not even so much about SWISS specifically, but because of the way that air travel appears to be evolving. As I mentioned above, you can check-in, access the lounge and even board the plane without having to interact with a single person. Which mean that the first and only opportunity for the airline to interact with its passengers is through its cabin crew. But even in this respect, opportunities are somewhat limited if, for example, the airline offers buy on board.

For a very long time, the airline industry was very much focussed on hospitality and offering the passenger a personalised experience. But that no longer seems to be the case, or at least it is, but only to a lesser degree.

Air Serbia, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Belgrade to Zürich

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Introduction

Belgrade is a strange place, when you think of it. First of all, it’s not exactly pretty. There are a few elegant buildings that look as though they were recently done up, scattered around the city. But the vast majority of the streets and buildings look as though they’re in a sad state of repair. Of course, the buildings littered around town that still carry the vestiges of war, even after all these year, certainly don’t help to make the city look appealing.

But nonetheless, there is something about Belgrade. It’s a city I like being in. Probably it has something to do with the green trams you see in the street that were given to Belgrade transport by the city of Basel in Switzerland, where I live.

Getting to the Airport

In Belgrade I’m staying at the Radisson Blu Old Mill, which is located on the fringe of the city centre. It’s a really nice building and the rooms are elegantly appointed. To get to the airport this morning I’ve decided to order the hotel shuttle. As far as I’m concerned, the shuttle is good value for money at EUR25 per ride for up to four passengers. The shuttle van is extremely comfortable, there’s wifi and they’ve even provided water.

Check-in

I’ve checked-in online using the Air Serbia website. At the airport, Air Serbia has its own dedicated section in the terminal and there are a lot of check-in counters available. It is also possible to check in using the self-service devices. But access to these is blocked by a very long queue of passengers checking in for the Antalya flight when I arrive.

Immigration is one floor up from the general check-in area. There’s even a fast track for Business Class passengers. Although in the sum of all things, it’s likely to be the most useless, superfluous fast track ever. First of all, because it’s only the fast track for immigration, the security check is done right at the gate. And secondly, because the passport booth at the end of the fast track is unmanned. The one next to it is marked ‘staff only’, and just by looking at her it becomes apparent that the immigration officer on that line really, really couldn’t give a shit…

The Lounge

From immigration I head straight for the lounge. There are two lounges right next to each other at Belgrade airport. The Air Serbia lounge is a bit further down the hall from the general purpose lounge. But it’s well signposted.

The lounge is empty when I arrive. I take a seat and once the staff have finished discussing whatever, one of the young ladies comes to ask me what I’d like to drink.

The lounge is nice and includes a separate dining area, toilets and showers and separate washrooms for ablution before the Muslim prayer. There is also a separate dining area. As you enter the lounge they’ll tell you that no boarding calls are made. Which is true, although the lounge dragon will still come to light a fire under your butt if she thinks you’re overstaying.

Boarding

Belgrade uses a closed gate system, which is all sorts of awkward. First of all, because there’s hardly enough space in the gate area to hold all the passengers of a fully booked Airbus A 319. Secondly, because there’s no separate lane or anything of the sort for Business Class passengers. Once you’re inside the gate, there is a separate queuing line for Business Class passengers, but nobody, including the gate agent, seems to pay that any attention.

The Cabin

The last time I flew Air Serbia, they still had a dedicated Business Class cabin, which was really something else and made a refreshing change from the usual misguided European concept of Business Class comfort. But alas, with Etihad pulling the plug on Air Serbia, the carriers has had to adapt to the harsh realities of the European aviation market, and has replaced those lovely seats it had with standard Economy Class seats – simply leaving the middle seat empty in Business Class. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with Air Serbia adapting its product to that of the competition. But Air Serbia also operates the A 319 on flights to Abu Dhabi, which has a block time of about six hours. Luckily, I’ve never had to do it myself, but I’m very sure I would not want to spend six hours in this seat, especially not if I’m paying a Business Class fare for it.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. The lead purser is very senior, to the point where I’m wondering why she hasn’t retired yet to be able to spend more time with her grandchildren. Having said that, the advantage of having such senior cabin crew, is that they tend to be more at ease with themselves and usually have a way with passengers. And the purser on today’s flight is no exception.

While we’re still on the ground, one of the cabin crew offers me a bottle of still water. But there are no refreshing towels or anything of the sort.

The flight time is announced as one hour and thirty minutes.

The Meal

While the aircraft is still on the ground, the crew distribute menus for me and the other passenger in the Business Class cabin.

Although to be honest, I really wonder why they even bothered. The appetizer (!) is announced as a packet of peanuts. And for the main course, there is a choice between Serbian mezze and a Caesar salad. I order the Serbian mezze, which means that the other passenger is inevitably left with the Caesar salad, because apparently they only loaded one of each.

When I last flew Air Serbia, I really was quite blown away by their service. In fact, truth be told, back then I thought it was a bit over the top. In addition to the nice, comfortable seats, they also served a hot meal on a short flight of ninety minutes and even found time for a proper starter and dessert. But the meal I am served on today’s flight couldn’t be more different. I mean, given the sad state of Etihad and Air Serbia, I really wasn’t expecting a hot meal service any more. But not this. The meal arrives in a cardboard box. They don’t even use proper cutlery anymore, and instead, the crew give me a plastic fork and knife to contend with. Even the Coke Zero I order is served in a plastic cup. There is no bread with the service and the peanut appetizer, as it were, has obviously also been done away with unceremoniously. For dessert there should have been a choice between some typically Serbian walnut biscuit and a vanilla biscuit. Again, in reality the word ‘choice’ really means that I am given one biscuit, while the other passenger receives the other. Whether he likes it or not…

After the meal, I ask for a cup of coffee. To be honest, I already started to regret my request before the coffee had even arrived. The purser asks me if I’d like a black coffee, so Nescafé. I tell her I’d like some milk as well. To which she explains that they don’t have milk any more but that she could make me an instant cappuccino instead, if I don’t mind it being a little sweet…

Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. Fortunately, 14h30 is not a busy time at Zürich, so there’s no hold up for the approach. We come to a stop at one of the B gates at 14h28. By 14h43 I’m already on the train to Zurich main station, from where I’ll catch a train to Basel.

Conclusion

I must say, I really am quite amazed by my experience on Air Serbia today. There was really nothing at all about this flight that made it deserving of the label ‘Business Class’. Since Etihad stopped its funding in the company, Air Serbia has really gone to shit. As such, their progression into decay seems somewhat symptomatic of the state of the whole Etihad group. From the look of things, Etihad’s modus operandi so far appears to have been to simply throw as much money at an airline until it starts to look like yet another version of Etihad. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if only Etihad were a better airline.

Following the demise of Air Berlin and their rather ill-advised investment in Alitalia – at least they should have seen that one coming…- Etihad Airways announced recently that it would be focussing its strategy on providing good air service to and from its home in Abu Dhabi. There’s nothing wrong about that either, in theory. But Abu Dhabi is not Dubai. Abu Dhabi is quiet, more conservative and unlikely to attract the tourists like Dubai does. Which leaves the local market. But that will hardly work for Etihad, given that it’s a very small market that is, moreover, only a ninety minutes’ drive away from Dubai airport.

Air Serbia, Economy Class – ATR 72: Ljubljana to Belgrade

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Introduction

With my business here in Slovenia successfully completed, it’s time for me to head home. But of course, it would hardly be like me if I just got on a plane going directly back to Zürich. And so, instead my next stop will be Belgrade.

I enjoyed my stay in Ljubljana very much. It’s a small city, but it’s very well kept, and the scenery, with the mountains surrounding the city on all sides, is truly grand.

Getting to the Airport

My flight will be departing from Ljubljana at 10h05. So at 08h40 I exit the hotel and take a taxi to the airport. Being Saturday morning, the traffic is light and the journey only takes about 25 minutes to complete. The journey to the airport only costs EUR35, whereas the inbound journey is more expensive at EUR50.

Check-in

Ljubljana’s terminal is a dinky little thing. I’m sure it must be one of the smallest terminals I’ve ever been through. Online check-in for the flight is not possible, so my first stop will have to be the Air Serbia counter. Which, incidentally, is located literally in the far corner of the terminal.

There are two counters for check-in, one for Economy and one for Business Class and Gold members of Etihad’s frequent flyer programme. Strangely enough though, both counters are occupied by one couple which has managed to spread out and has luggage littered all over the place.

But eventually I receive my boarding pass. For a moment my heart sinks as I take in the endless queue of passengers. But then I realise they’re not in fact queuing for security but for check-in for the Wizzair flight to Luton.

Airside

Once I’m through security, I head one floor up and then turn right. This is where the passport control takes place to exit the Schengen area. From there I head one floor down again on the other side to where the bus gates in the non-Schengen area are located.

The Cabin

Boarding starts on time, and it looks as though the flight today is not completely full. On the ATR-72 boarding is through the aft door of the aircraft. Row numbering starts at the front of the cabin, as usual. Which means that the priority seats are located at the rear of the aircraft, to be closer to the door.

I can’t say I like the bright blue colour of the seats much. Other than that though, I think the seat pitch is good and once seated, there is enough space.

I am seated on 3A, which is just slightly forward of the propeller. Unfortunately though, the view of the outside is not really good enough to take pictures because the outer glass has started to turn opaque.

The Crew

There are two female cabin crew on this flight. The more senior one is very friendly, whereas the younger one has a somewhat surly expression and a general aura of really not wanting to be there…

The Meal

Like Adria Airways, Air Serbia has a buy on board service on Economy Class. However, with Air Serbia this means that literally everything is buy on board and you don’t even get offered a cup of water. Furthermore, and I find this rather strange, despite the fact that there is a buy on board service, the crew do not pass through the cabin with a trolley and don’t make any announcements either. So if you want to make a purchase, you have to call the crew to order. All in all, I think Adria Airways’ approach to inflight sales is a lot more charming and also makes a lot more sense. I think if the crew announce that there is possibility to make a purchase and pass through the cabin, the likelihood of somebody actually buying something is greater than if you just have a menu in the seat pocket and assume that passengers will see it. Perhaps one of Air Serbia’s many issues is that the interests of the cabin crew are strangely at odds with those of the airline’s management…

Arrival

We land after a flight time of seventy minutes. It’s obviously just been raining recently, because the runway is still damp. The ramp is busy with some exotic aircraft. Air Serbia’s only A 330 is being readied for another sortie to JFK, there are two A 320s of Etihad and Qatar Airways respectively, and there is an A 300 of Iran Air getting ready to depart.

As I’m only travelling with hand luggage, I’m out of the terminal in record time. To get into town I shall be taking the A1 airport bus. The fare is RSD300 or EUR3. If you pay in Euros, you will even be given change in Euros. The journey will take about twenty minutes and there is a stop by the old main railway station in the heart of the city and one further on in the centre of town.