I have not idea what it was like for others of course, but many moons ago, for me as a student studying linguistics, I often wondered if I’d made the right choice. I used to worry I wouldn’t be able to find a job once I graduated or that I’d end up doing something I didn’t really enjoy for a loss of anything better to do.
Fortunately, with a lot of luck and a bit of help, things worked out. But little did I imagine back in those days what my life would be after I graduated. Today I consider myself very fortunate in that my work is something I really enjoy. My work has also allowed me to travel the world and meet so many fascinating people.
Looking back, there are a few moments that have stuck in my memory. Mainly, because I recall thinking to myself at the time: ‘How on earth to you end up here…?’. For example, the first time I gave a speech in the great assembly hall at ICAO HQ in Montreal. I wasn’t too phased by the audience of about 300 delegates watching. But I must confess, as a life long aviation geek it just gave me such a thrill knowing that the front of the podium I was standing behind was embalzoned with the ICAO logo.
Another such ‘how on earth’ moment was the trip I made in 2013 to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei to attend a conference on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements. My colleague the flying Dutchman eventually ended up on the evening news and I made into the daily papers. In particular, I remember sitting next to an Indonesian captain at lunch, who was capable of flawlessly saying ‘Ja, ich han gärn Rösti’ – a phrase he picked up during his training at Swissair for his type rating on the MD-11. The phrase means ‘yes, I like Rösti’. He also had a few swear words and obscentities he could do in Swiss German, which certainly kept me entertained through lunch. But let’s not go there.
Another thing I remember about Brunei is that apart from being vey friendly, most of the locals I met were, in some form or other, related to the Sultan. Whereever I went, I was introduced to people who would mention, by way of greeting, that ‘yeah, he is my cousin…’.
And so it goes without saying that the Sultan even features in my departure from Bunei on my way back home to Switzerland via Singapore.
At the Airport
My flight to Singapore is scheduled to depart in the late afternoon, to connect to the night time service to Zürich. Brunei airport is a decently sized facility. It’s also very quiet.
The Business Class lounge is located on the first floor of an odd structure that looks as though it had been haphazardly plonked in the middle of the airside lounge area as an afterthought. For all I know, quite possibly that’s actually true.
The facilities at the lounge are fairly basic, but it has a good internet connection and the seating options are comfortable enough. Generally speaking, my one complaint about the whole terminal building is that views of the outside are very difficult and generally obstructed in one form or other.
Eventually, I see my aircraft from Singapore gliding down to land between the shutters. The aircraft slows to taxi speed, turns right off the runway and onto the taxiway – and then stops. The engines are turned off and a set of stairs is brought to the L1 door of the aircraft. Next, a red carpet is rolled out from the bottom step. Around the same time, a long line of about twelve black limousines line up, parallel to the aircraft.
One or two persons at a time emerge from the aircraft, walk down the stairs and into the first waiting limousine. The car drives off, and another two persons emerge and do the same thing. Until eventually, the last car leaves. The stairs are removed with the red carpet, the aircraft is hooked to a tug and subsequently towed to the gate. By this time the return flight’s departure time is just coming up.
Eventually, boarding starts with quite a delay. I have a long layover in Singapore, so I’m not all that bothered. But some of the other passengers are looking decidely concerned about their connection in Singapore.
The crew are in a mad rush to get passengers settled as quickly as possible. But that is no reason for the fabulous Singapore girls to forget their manners. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in the red Kebaya comes through the cabin to welcome every passenger on board individually and apologize for the delay. When she reaches my seat, I ask her what the black limousines were all about. She explains to me that apparently, his royal highness was on a state visit with his entourage but his aircraft went tech. As a result, the poor man had no other option but to suffer the inconvenience of booking the whole of the First and Business Class section for his return trip on a ‘commercial’ airline. I find that kind of ironic though, because the Sultan has a current type rating for the B747, an A 340 and a Gulfstream that he owns…
Once we’re airborne, the service begins with welcome drinks. I have a glass of apple juice, which is served with a packet of mixed nuts.
The First Course
For the first course, there is a small bowl of salmon sashimi served with a bit of salad and pickles.
The Main Course
For the main course, I have the Nasi Uduk with fish. It’s basically a plate of steamed coconut rice that is served with pieces of fried fish, a boiled egg and some dried fish and peanuts for condiments. It’s very tasty. And the size of the portion is decent too!
For dessert I have a chocolate brownie with vanilla sauce, which makes a change from those dreadful creams many other airlines offer and that are so generic and usually not very tasty either…
Eventually we land in Singapore with quite a delay. Which suits me well, because it shortens the time of my layover in Singapore.
I was going to start by saying that I’m on my way home. But given that I’ll only be home for something like 24 hours, let’s just say that, sadly, it’s time for me to leave Sydney and head back to Europe. I’ve enjoyed being here! Fortunately, I know I’ll be back next year and then I’ll be able to spend a bit more time here. Otherwise, I think I’d be seriously depressed at the prospect of returning to the cold, snowy weather!
Getting to the Airport
One last time, I make the journey on the ferry from Manly to Circular Quay. And what a lovely day it’s turned out to be for it. At Circular Quay I change to the train, which pulls into the station just as I reach the platform. The only difference is that today I will be going one stop further, to the international terminal.
Singapore Airlines checks in on row K, which is the last row of check-in counters, farthest away from the escalators that bring you up to the departures concourse. There is a separate line with two counters for Suites passengers. When I arrive, both counters are already occupied, so I’m swiftly ushered to one of the Business Class counters instead.
From check-in, you have to make the schlepp all the way back to row C, which is where the entrance to the fast track is located. Although in this case, I might as well not have bothered, because the e-gate reader cannot read my biometric passport. As a result, I have to walk all the way back in the direction from where I came, because that’s where the staffed immigration counters are located. And then once I’m through immigration, I’m ushered all the way back again in the direction of the e-gates, because that’s where they’ve just opened a new queue for security that the queue manager wants to me to join.
With that done,
I’m finally airside and head straight for the Singapore Airlines Kris Lounge
near gate 61, from where my flight will be leaving. And that’s quite a schlepp
The Silver Kris Lounge
Airlines operates its own lounges here in Sydney, and there is a dedicated First
Class lounge. It’s a fairly big lounge, and I even manage to grab a seat by the
windows overlooking the apron. Cool!
seated, the waiter brings me a refreshing hot towel and the à la carte menu.
There’s also a buffet with warm dishes to choose from.
The lavatories seem to be a bit of a problem at Sydney airport, in that they’re not exactly the cleanest. And those in the lounge are no different…
starts at 11h45. Suite passengers queue with the Business Class passengers for
the upper deck.
All in all, I
find the Singapore Airlines Suites experience on the ground somewhat
underwhelming, especially if you compare it to Air France (sorry, I can’t help
it…). In fact, it feels a lot more like Business Class than First Class, but
maybe that’s just me.
Currently, SQ 232 is the flight out of Sydney that is operates in the new First Class configuration. The key feature of the Suite is that there is a separate bed, in addition to the seat.
At a glance, the Suite looks very nice. There is a lot of storage space and the video screen is enormous. There are a few things which seem a bit strange though, such as the fake orchids in every Suite. I think either they should go for real orchids or nothing at all.
Another thing that strikes me, is that during the meal service, when the seat is turned towards the table, you’re facing the aisle, which means that during the whole meal service you and the person sitting in the Suite opposite are looking at each other. I suppose you could keep the door to your suite closed while you eat, but that just seems strange. You also can’t recline your seat when it’s in the forward facing position.
And finally, it should also be noted that the Suite is not really that private, because the dividers don’t reach that far up. I’m 184 cm tall, and could look over the top.
The Singapore Airlines Suite reminds me of what Etihad has installed on its A 380s. But I prefer Singapore Airlines’ solution, because despite the things I mentioned above, this still is a very nice product. What’s more, with all the available space it feels more like an actual room than a seat.
Oh yes, and the loos are huge…!
B&O earphones, the amenity kit and the menu are already at my seat when I arrive. There are also socks and slippers, which are stored in the large closet of each Suite. Once I’m seated, the crew come to welcome me on board and bring me, in short sequence, a glass of Perrier with lemon, a refreshing towel and the pyjamas. The lead flight attendant in the red kebaya introduces herself to me and explains how everything in the Suite works.
The crew seem friendly enough. They’re chatty and engage easily with the passengers. There’s not a hint of the robotic behaviour the Singapore Airlines crews are sometimes criticised for. I think what it is, is that the whole service comes across like a highly optimised process. As a result, it doesn’t exactly feel very exclusive.
As I already
mentioned, while we’re still on the ground the crew offer refreshments and I ask
for a glass of sparkling water with lemon.
airborne, another crew member comes to take my order for lunch and asks me at
what phase of the flight I’d like to eat. Given that it’s already gone lunch time,
I tell her I’d prefer to eat straight away.
while later, she returns with the Singapore Sling I ordered (I mean, what
else…?) and a small bowl of warm nuts.
The meal service on this flight is efficient and timed at a pleasant pace. Clearly, the crew want to make sure passengers have enough time to rest. About one hour after our departure from Sydney, the table is set for the meal. There is no amuse bouche to start, but there are so many courses that it’s probably better this way.
The First Course
Seared Salmon with pickled kohlrabi and an edamame and wasabi purée. The salmon is good, but the rest of the dish is a bit bland. I think maybe the food is still too cold, because I can hardly make out any of the other tastes.
Sweetcorn and shellfish soup with herb oil. Now this is a very flavourful soup with a hint of saffron. It tastes like summer on the Mediterranean.
Honey roasted beet salad with feta cheese. The salad is also very good, with the feta complementing the beets nicely.
The Main Course
Pan roasted grouper with salsa verde. I chose this dish despite the fact that it’s served with fennel, which I can’t stand. I just don’t much feel like meat. The taste is good, it’s a nice piece of fish and they’ve managed to keep it moist. But again, I can’t really make out the taste of the salsa verde.
Chocolate marquise with caramelised pecans. The dessert is okay. It’s your standard creamy chocolate airplane dessert.
Shadow of Blue, Mafra cloth bound Cheddar, Woombye triple Brie, Savourine goat’s cheese. The cheese is served with fruit bread and crackers. It’s a good cheese selection and I particularly like the Shadow of blue.
To drink I stick with the Perrier. I also have a glass of the 2004 Krug.
After the meal, I request for the bed to be made up for me and then I lie down to read.
The amenity kit is by Lalique and looks rather nice. The only thing though, is that its content is utterly and completely useless. There is a small bar of soap, lip balm, body lotion… and a scented candle?
Things like tooth brushes or shaving kits are available in the toilets. Earplugs and eye shades are on request to the crew.
and pyjama that are provided are also by Lalique. I am given an XL for both the
slippers and the pjs, which are just a bit too big for me but still
The Second Service
For the second service, there is a choice of either an Angus beef burger or a selection of dim sum. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore anyway, I decide to go with the dim sum. The dish is served with a small bowl of a suitably spicy red sauce and something which I think the flight attendant said was a sort of mashed celery cake. Whatever it is, I like it.
After a flight time of seven hours and twenty minutes the flight draws to an end. I must admit, even though I still think the A 380 is ugly as sin, it’s always an experience.
land, we slowly trundle along until eventually we arrive on our parking stand
at Changi’s Terminal 3.
In the sum of all things, I enjoyed the flight. But I think a lot of that also has to do with the A 380. As for Singapore Airlines, I like the new First Class cabin because it’s spacious and roomy, although perhaps not very private. The service was okay, I guess, but nothing more. And the food was rather bland.
Three days before my flight back to London, I receive an e-mail from the Garuda First Class concierge asking me a) what I had in mind for the complimentary pick-up, b) if I had any specific dietary requirements they should know about and c) what size pyjama I take. That more or less sets the tone for my flight back home and the end of what has been a truly relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable vacation…
Getting to the Airport
I leave the FM7 Hotel at 09h30. This morning the traffic is much thicker and for some unearthly reason we find ourselves taking backroads through some small village. The journey to the airport takes twenty minutes to complete.
Before we depart from the hotel, the driver hands me a refreshing towel and a bottle of still water.
We pull up to Terminal 3, where I am already being expected by the First Class ground crew. I step out of the car and a young lady greets me by name. She welcomes me to the flight, while a young man takes my luggage out of the booth. The young lady then escorts me to the dedicated First Class check-in area and invites me to take a seat while she checks me in and tags my suitcase.
Once that’s done, she accompanies me through security and immigration. There is a dedicated lane for First Class passengers for security and behind that, we head straight for the counter for holders of diplomatic passports – which of course speeds things up considerably…
The Garuda First Class Lounge
And then form there we head for the First Class lounge on the mezzanine level. The place is deserted when I arrive. The lounge is a nice size, although it seems a bit large now, given that currently Garuda’s flight to London is the only with a First Class service and even that only operates three times a week.
I take a seat in the lounge and am brought yet another refreshing towel, followed by some still water, a plate of fresh fruit and the menu for the lounge. There is no buffet in the First Class lounge, so food can only be ordered from the staff. I go with the Gnocchi Neapolitana, which is very good.
At around 11h45 the gate agent comes to inform me that the flight is now in the final stages of boarding. It’s time to leave. At the lounge’s reception area all the staff are lined up to say goodbye and wish me a pleasant trip.
We breeze through the boarding gate and take the left aisle down to the airbridge for First Class passengers only. Here too there are ground staff in the First Class uniform wishing me a pleasant flight. I step on board. The ground attendant hands me over to the purser – who also greets me by name – then says goodbye and wishes me a safe journey. One of the First Class cabin crew then shows me to my seat on 2K.
Garuda’s First Class cabin is really quite amazing. Every seat is enclosed in a sort of mini-suite, with sliding doors that can be closed for more privacy. Apart from that, the cabin and seat have a very elegant appearance and are kept in rich, dark colours.
There is plenty of storage space, including a closet with two hangers that is wide enough for me to hang my clothes in once I change into the pyjamas.
The seat is very comfortable and the sliding doors certainly give the you the feeling of being in your own suite. It’s not just that the sliding doors will give you more privacy. I also think you are disturbed a lot less when you rest because you really don’t notice at all when somebody passes by your seat.
As I already mentioned, the crew are expecting me at the door as I step on board. By the way, the curtain to Business is closed during boarding, which is just a minor detail but something I really like.
There are a whole lot of goodies expecting me at my seat:
the food and drinks menus for the flight,
noise cancelling earphones,
a vanity kit,
a set of stationary with a pen,
As soon as I take my seat, one of the cabin crew comes to offer me a welcome drink. A few moments later she returns with a scented hot towel, a glass of the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and a small ramekin of warm macadamia nuts.
The flight time is announced at 14 hours and 15 minutes. Brilliant! All the more time to enjoy Garuda’s First Class service!
The crew on this flight are truly excellent. They’re personable, charming and very friendly. They make passengers feel at ease in a way that seems very natural.
The amenity kit is of no particular brand. It contains:
a dental set,
two Payot branded creams.
What strikes me about the vanity kit is that the content is of less good quality than the one I was given in Business Class on the Melbourne to Jakarta leg of this trip. The toothbrush for example, is rather small and more like a kid’s tooth brush (although adult size toothbrushes are available in the lavatory).
The pyjama is black and not of any particular brand. It’s comfortable enough but be warned, the cut is rather tight. I’m wearing an XL and the pants still make me look like a primo ballerino…
In contrast, the slippers are excellent. They’re solid and very comfortable. There’s a bit of an awkward moment when the cabin crew bring me the slippers, because they insist on helping you take off your shoes and kneel before you to do so, which is something most Europeans are probably not so used to.
Orders for the meal are taken before we push back.
The Caviar Service
The meal service begins with the caviar service, which is served with warm blinis, crème fraîche and shrimp crackers. And more of the champagne.
The First Course
For the first course, I go with the chicken musakhan roll, served with a beetroot relish and garlic sauce. I have no idea what the brown powder dusted on the rolls is, but it’s certainly fragrant, with a subtle hint of citrus.
Next comes the pumpkin soup with enoki mushroom and crème fraîche. The soup is served with toasted bread. Perhaps the soup might have been a tad warmer. But other than that, it’s a very hearty soup with a strong underlying flavour of celery.
The Main Course
For the main course I have the grilled beef sirloin. This is served with a thyme jus, asparagus, mushrooms and grilled cherry tomatoes. It should also have had a potato soufflé, which I request to have swapped for the truffle ravioli, which are excellent. The meat is good too, it’s cooked just right and has a nice charcoal flavour.
And then I have the cheese board and crackers. There is no information about what cheese it is – I’m guessing some sort of camembert, a cheddar and maybe a Roquefort.
And then, for dessert I have the chocolate lava with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The lava also could have spent some more time in the oven. But other than that, you can’t really go wrong with anything that contains warm melted chocolate, can you?
And just in case I’m still hungry, the cabin attendant brings me two shortbread biscuits with the cappuccino. And that concludes the meal service. And I feel totally gorged!
After the meal, one of the flight attendants makes up my bed for me to sleep. The duvet I’m given is amazingly fluffy and the pillows are nice and comfortable. There’s also a thick mattress on the seat for greater comfort. With the doors closed, the suite feels very intimate and cosy.
The Inflight Snack
At some point during the flight I wake up and ask for a noodle soup and a drink. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a decanted Diet Coke!
And then I go off to sleep again.
The Second Service
I awake about two hours out of London. Just in time for the second meal service. There is a whole list of items to choose from, the second service consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.
The First Course
To start I have the cream of asparagus with a dumpling and fresh asparagus. This dish is excellent. The soup has a velvety texture and the different flavours are very finely balanced.
The Main Course
For the main course I go with the seabass in a turmeric pickle sauce and potato croquettes, baby pak choy and vegetables. When I order the fish, I notice a slight hesitation from the flight attendant, and I can’t help but feel that she’s trying to dissuade me from having it. Once I tuck in, I realise why: because what I thought were green beans are in fact small and really vicious green chillies that nearly blow the top of my head off! My friend, the valiant M. always says he doesn’t get how I can eat very spicy food and enjoy it, but this is too much even for me! Other than that though, the fish is moist and the sauce is flavourful and tangy.
For dessert I have the plate of fruit, which includes two slices of Guava and manages to quench the fire burning in my mouth!
And then to conclude, I have mint tea, served with two sticks of Valrhona chocolate.
I really must say, the quality and quantity of the food served in Garuda’s First Class is quite impressive. The tableware is attractive and the presentation of the dishes shows a lot of attention to detail. My other friend, the tall, blond M. has a stomach that is a bottomless pit. I really don’t know where the guy puts it all. But I’m sure he would have had a whale of a time on this flight!
By the time the second service ends, we’re already nearing the top of descent. It’s just gone eight in the evening and traffic in Heathrow is calm. As the flight draws to an end, one of the cabin crew takes my vanity kit, slippers and pyjamas and places them in a Garuda First Class branded bag for me to take with me.
We land in an easterly direction without even having to hold, and then very slowly taxi to our gate at Terminal 3. When eventually we reach our stand, only the airbridge for the L2 door is attached because the police are there to meet our flight. Apparently they’re looking for one particular passenger. Once he is removed from the flight, we’re free to disembark. It’s really quite embarrassing how the cabin crew request all the Business Class passengers to step aside to allow me and the other three First Class passengers to disembark first.
There is a representative from Garuda holding a sign up with my name as I step off the plane. He welcomes me to London and then escorts me through immigration, assists me with my bag and takes me through customs. Once we’re landside again, he gives me instructions on how to get to Terminal 5, where I’ll be spending the night, before sending me on my way.
I’m wondering where Garuda is going with its First Class product right now. Personally, I think this was one of the best First Class experiences I’ve had in a long time that was truly deserving of the term first class. The hard product is excellent and the crews on the ground and in the air obviously made an enormous effort to provide passengers with a service that is refined and polished. But it just seems like an awful lot of effort for just the one route with a service that doesn’t even operate daily to Heathrow.
But apart from that, I think Garuda Indonesia offers a good and solid product, both in Business Class and in First. Admittedly, I do think they could significantly improve the experience on the ground for passengers not travelling in First. I understand that the two domestic flights I did were delayed due to the severe weather that the airline has no influence over, and perhaps it goes without saying in Indonesia that all you can do in such cases is to sit and wait for it to pass. Even so, I think it wouldn’t hurt Garuda to communicate more proactively in cases of irregularity – and with that I don’t mean having a gate agent yelling at the top of her voice in Bahasia only.
I sincerely wish Garuda the best of luck for the future. And I hope their new CEO will succeed in maintaining the high standard of service and professionalism that I experienced and enjoyed on all my flights with the airline so far.
The Majapahit Hotel, Surabaya was built in 1910 by Lucas Sarkies, who also founded The Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here. The hotel has the same old world charm as other, more famous establishments – like The Savoy in London or The Peninsula in Hong Kong. The public area in the lobby is kept in the Art Deco style, while the rooms are elegantly appointed in what I can only describe as a colonial style – although nowadays it’s probably politically incorrect to say something like that.
The hotel is laid out in a number large courtyards with lush vegetation and neatly trimmed lawns. The rooms are all located around the individual courtyards, giving the hotel a very open and exotic feeling.
During my stay I was lucky enough to be upgraded to a Heritage Suite, thanks to my status with the Accor group of hotels. Apart from the fact that suite really is huge, it also has direct access to the pool, which incidentally is 25 metres long.
Admittedly, there isn’t really anything much to see or do in Surabaya city and the traffic is bad enough to make a grown man cry. But if ever you happen to find yourself in this part of the world, it would be a shame to miss the fabulous and stylish Majapahit Hotel.
Date: 25. August 2016 Departure: 21h30 Arrival: 15h30 Flight time: 8 hours, plus 5 hours sitting around Seat: 14A
The last time I took the Singapore Airlines flight from New York to Frankfurt was on 17 January 2008, on the last leg of a round the world ticket. Back then, the flight was still operated by a Boeing B 747-400. Let’s put it this way: the A 380 may not be as elegant as the mighty B747, but she is certainly a worthy successor.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Underground, train and automated shuttle. Journey time: 90 minutes, door to door. Departs from: 50th Street Station. Arrives: New York JFK Airport, Terminal 4. Cost: USD19.
Getting to JFK from Manhattan by public transport is horrible. The CitizenM is literally just a stone’s throw away from the underground station for the C and E lines on the corner of 8th Avenue and 50th Street, both of which make the journey downtown to Pennsylvania Station in about 5 minutes (USD3.- for a oneway ticket).
At Penn Station, follow the signs for the LIRR – The Long Island Rail Road. Unfortunately, the signposting is really bad, and if you are unfamiliar with the place, it may take you some time to get your orientation.
From Penn Station take a train for Jamaica. The journey to Jamaica will take roughly 20 minutes (USD10.- for a oneway). At Jamaica, the way to the AirTrain is signposted. The AirTrain takes another 12 minutes to make the journey to Terminal 4 (USD6.-).
Location: Terminal 4, row 5. Facilities: Singapore Airlines send an invitation to check-in by mail and by SMS 23 hours before departure. However, there really is not much point in checking in online, as you will have to present yourself at the counter at the airport anyway. Counters: There are two counters for Business Class passengers.
There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers.
The SWISS Business Class Lounge
Location: Behind security, turn right. Type of Lounge: SWISS Business Class lounge. Facilities: Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, there are also computers to work on and there is a quiet room. Power plugs are a rare commodity in the lounge, though. It is actually quite funny to watch the oh so important business types in the lounge skulking around the lounge looking for somewhere to plug in their laptops! Catering: I think the catering in this lounge is much better than the stuff they serve in SWISS’ flagship lounges in Zürich. There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes. I have the lentil soup and it really is very tasty. Internet: Wifi is available in the lounge, the password is displayed at reception.
Apart from SWISS and Singapore Airlines, Egypt Air, Avianca and COPA also use this lounge.
There are three separate queues for First, Business and Economy Class passengers.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 Seat: Fully lie flat with 180 degree recline. Singapore Airlines operates the A 380 in four different configurations. Basically there are some aircraft that feature SQ’s new Premium Economy seat and other which do not or not yet have that cabin installed. Add to that that capacity and layout in the different cabins may vary. Pitch: 55 inches. Width: 30 inches. Facilities:
AC power outlet.
Wifi hotspot by OnAir.
Audio and Video:
4 inch LCD monitor.
Phitek noise cancelling earphones.
700 audio CDs.
22 on demand radio programmes.
180 television programmes on demand.
100 films on demand.
Games are also available.
The crew on this flight are good and the purser in particular is chatty and quite entertaining in the way he interacts with the passengers.
However, what strikes me is that the meal service is somewhat inconvenient for the flight time and the time of departure: by the time we depart New York it is already 21h30 and our flight time is announced as seven hours. There is no light or quick option for the meal. When the crew come to take orders for dinner, I inform the young lady that I will not be having a starter or dessert and just would like to have a main course and then go to sleep. Even so, once the crew are released after take-off, I get the full treatment nonetheless.
Welcome drink on the ground: Tonic water with orange juice. Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel. Pre-meal drink: Tiger beer, served with a ramekin of warm nuts. Choice: There are four choices for the main course. Delivery: À la carte service. Type of meal: Later dinner.
Antipasto selection: cured meat, tomato and mozzarella, grilled shrimp and a grilled scallop on a bed of mixed salad.
Chicken soup, served with chicken slices, mushroom, rice noodles and seasonal greens. There is also a small dish of soy sauce with chilli accompanying the dish.
Selection from the bread basket.
The meal really is quite revolting and must rate among the vilest I have ever had on a plane. First of all, the antipasto plate: I only eat the tomato and mozzarella because the scallop and shrimp are emitting a rather off-putting stench.
Then the soup arrives and it is really not much better. Yuk! The slices of chicken are still slightly pink, instead of white and the rice noodles are all about 1 cm long each, making it quite impossible to eat them with the chopsticks. So I give up, and when one of the cabin crew passes through the cabin to top up the drinks, I ask her to remove everything so I can get ready for bed.
The Second Service
Hot towel before the meal: Negative. Pre-meal drink: Negative. Choice: Negative. Delivery: Individual service. Type of meal: Breakfast snack.
Tea or coffee.
Glass of water.
Five hours after departure from New York the captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that due to ‘a series of diversion’ en route we do not have enough fuel to make it all the way to Frankfurt, so instead we are going to divert to Heathrow to refuel.
Around about the same time, the crew start their breakfast, which seems a tad early, given that we are still two hours out of London and the breakfast service is not really that extensive. It’s pretty frugal actually.
Diversion to London Heathrow
The crew seem somewhat unprepared for this turn of events and suddenly the whole service becomes rushed. And for what? By the time my breakfast is cleared away, we still have more than an hour to go to London. I think it would have made more sense to let passengers sleep a bit longer, especially seeing as the seat is so inconvenient to convert from a sleeping position back into a sitting position.
Eventually, we land in Heathrow at 09h40, when we should have arrived in Frankfurt. We pull on to a remote stand and the refuelling starts. In the meantime, the crew have ordered snack boxes from one of the Heathrow caterers.
At 10h55 the captain comes on the loudspeaker again to inform us that refuelling is completed and we should be ready to go. But now the aircraft has developed an electrical problem.
No sooner has the problem been solved, a number of passengers decide they are feeling nervous and no longer wish to continue to Frankfurt. So a bus needs to be called to allow them to disembark. They are also going to have to unload their luggage, which can take a while on an A 380.
In any case, eventually we land in Frankfurt with a delay of five hours, at 15h30. I check on my app to find there is a Lufthansa flight to Basel departing at 16h40. So I decide to take a chance on that one and quickly make the booking while we taxi to our stand. I make the connection to Basel only by the skin of my teeth.
Now about Singapore Airlines: there are probably few airlines around the world that enjoy the reputation and brand recognition of Singapore Airlines. It is a reputation which, in my view, is no longer justified or deserved. As I mentioned in my post of the outbound flight, the seat really is just plain uncomfortable and inconvenient. It is too tight to lounge in and unpractical to convert into a bad.
As for the food, the presentation was so so. But the quality of the food on this last flight was quite simply atrocious. I also think the meals they serve are somewhat frugal. On many other carriers, you will at least receive a small salad in addition to the main course.
Would I go out of my way to fly Singapore Airlines again? No, I don’t think so.
In Singapore I spend the entire week at the Singapore Air Show, as an exhibitor in the Swiss Pavilion. It’s certainly been an interesting week. Not only do I get up close and personal with Qatar’s gorgeous B 787, I also have the chance to meet the A 350 in real life for the first time. The A 350 in particular is a bit of a surprise, I must say. She is certainly much larger than I had expected and after some initial reservations about her nose, she is slowly starting to grow on me.
But it’s also been rather tiring. I’ve been travelling for two weeks now, and I think I’m ready to go home.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Hourly shuttle from the hotel to Changi’s terminals 1 and 2. Departs from: First floor, in front of the lobby Frequency: Once an hour on the hour Journey time: 15 minutes Fare: Nil; a taxi will cost you ca. SGD15
In Singapore I’m staying at the Village Hotel in Katong. It’s a pleasant enough hotel in a lively residential area of Singapore, with many good restaurants right behind the hotel. We chose to stay here for a number of reasons: first of all, the place was recommended to us by the organisers of the event for the Swiss delegation. Secondly, because the journey from the hotel to the air show is only about 25 minutes by taxi. On the down side, it’s a bit far out of the city, by Singaporean standards, and not really close to any train station.
Location: Departures level on the second floor Facilities: Staffed check-in counter only Counters: Dedicated Cathay Pacific counters on row 12, separate counters for Business Class passengers, Marco Polo Members and Economy Class passengers.
48 hours before my departure from Singapore, I receive an e-mail from Cathay Pacific, informing me that my flight to Hong Kong is now open for check-in. I also receive a reminder on my BA app that check-in is open. Even so, I’ll check-in at the counter, as my suitcases will need to be checked in anyway, and I seriously doubt if I could check-in on the Cathay Pacific website all the way to my final destination.
The young man at check-in issues my three boarding passes, together with an invitation to the Skyview lounge in Singapore and another to one of the many lounges in Hong Kong.
My suitcase is tagged with a Business Class label and checked all the way through to the final destination – home.
The Skyview Lounge
Location: Behind immigration turn right; the escalator to the lounge is on your left side. Type of Lounge: Skyview Contract Lounge operated by DNATA, used mainly by Cathay Pacific Airways but also Air Mauritius and a few others. Facilities: Public computers (Apple), open air smoker’s terrace with excellent views of the ramp, no showers and no toilets. Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi, no password required.
The lounge is on the mezzanine level. It’s not a particularly nice lounge. And the furniture looks grubby around the edges. Apart from that, the coffee mugs are all stained and the allegedly clean glasses are full of grease stains.
There is quite a varied food selection. For cold dishes, there are prepacked salads, plus a selection of sandwiches with somewhat odd contents. As far as the hot dishes are concerned, there is steamed rice, boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, beef Rendang, some vegetable stew and tuna or chicken pies.
Single queue for security at the gate, separate First and Business Class passengers to access the holding area, separate airbridge to the L1 door for First and Business Class passengers
The security screening is done at the entrance to the gate. There are two queues and there is no dedicated fast track for First and Business Class passengers. After the security check, one of the gate agents scans my boarding pass and then I’m cleared to board the plane.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 Seat: Fully flat horizontal seat, the window seats point outwards, towards the windows and are very private, the seats on the middle row of two point towards each other Pitch: 34 inches Width: 19 inches Facilities: USB and electricity outlets, reading lamp, night lamp, overhead lamp, stowage for shoes, ample stowage area Audio and Video: Private screens, video on demand; earphones
This is a somewhat strange bird. First of all, I am surprised to find a B 777-300ER standing at the gate instead of a normal B 777-300. The aircraft has the new long-haul Business Class seat installed. However, there is no First Class, so the first row of Business class, row 11, is in fact the first row of the aircraft. Nonetheless, this bird must have had a First Class cabin installed at some point, which was later removed, as the forward toilets are larger than the standard Business Class loo and have a different kind of sink.
The cabin crew are from a variety of different Asian countries and very friendly. The maître de is just brilliant. She’s a middle aged Asian woman, very attractive and with an excellent sense of humour. Every time she stops at my seat we have a little natter and a laugh about this and that. But even the other crew take their time and I have an interesting discussion with one of the ladies about the quality of the cakes they serve out of Singapore, which, according to her, are the best on the entire Cathay Pacific network. I feel inclined to believe her.
I’m getting quite good with this routine by now: a pillow has been placed at every seat, while blankets are distributed individually. This is followed by the welcome drink service and then the scented hot towels.
Once we’re airborne, the cabin crew distribute the menus.
Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, scented Pre-meal drinks: Perrier with ice and lemon, served with a ramekin of warm almonds Choice: One chicken, one beef and one vegetarian option for the main course Delivery: Tray service from trolley Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware Type of Meal: Dinner, hot meal Menu: Separate menu and wine list
The First Course
Smoked salmon with lemon and lime zest, avocado and crème frîche cucumber rolls and petit pois.
Mixed salad with Japanese cucumber, radish, tomato and oriental dressing.
The Main Course
Grilled smoked Angus beef filet with thyme sauce, truffle mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.
Chocolate hazelnut mouse cake with mixed berries.
Cathay does it again and serves up another delectable meal on this three hour flight from Singapore to Hong Kong. The avocado cream and the smoked salmon are an excellent combination, it’s a very simple but extraordinarily flavourful dish. The mixed salad is refreshing and crisp, and the Japanese sesame oil dressing is just lovely.
And the main course is quite stupendous. In particular, the truffle mashed potatoes are divine, with the rich, creamy texture of the mash elegantly suffused with the subtle hint of truffles. And I just love the chocolate cake…!
By the time this monumental meal is over, there are only another 54 minutes to go to Hong Kong. The lights are dimmed and the cabin slowly settles into a calm cruise.
We arrive at Terminal 1, gate 27, which is conveniently located right next to the security check-point in the middle of Hong Kong’s vast pier. My onward connection will be leaving from gate 31. I think today I’ll try the Bridge lounge at the far end, where the pier divides into a Y.