My flight from Basel lands just after 21h00. I now have one hour to make the connection to Tirana. As my blog is getting a bit heavy on the Austrian Airlines posts, and it’s dark outside with not much to see anyway, I figured I’d just post an abridged post here with only the most important information.
Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge
Austrian Airlines has a Business Class lounge in both the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. Luckily I decide to head for the Schengen lounge to grab something to eat before I do anything else, and then go through passport control after. And what an excellent choice that turns out to be! Because the Business Class lounge in the non-Schengen area is only open in the mornings from 07h45 to 13h30.
This evening’s flight to Tirana is operated by an A 320. There are three rows of Business Class and only four passengers. I’m seated on 1A, and to be honest, I’m not a fan. The pitch on row 1 is not as good as on the other rows : it’s impossible to stretch my legs because of the bulkhead. But I can’t really move them sideways either, because the tray on row 1 is stowed in the arm rest, which therefore cannot be raised. So overall, I’m feeling a bit like an unhappy Pretzel.
The crew on this flight are not exactly gushing, but they are polite. They make quite a few announcements about Covid, the correct use of the masks and how to disembark once we reach Tirana – and then go on to immediately violate their own recommendations and not follow through with what they advised passengers to do.
The crew of this flight operates the Tirana rotation as a kind of split shift. Meaning that the same crew that arrives with this flight at 00h15 will also be returning to Vienna on the same aircraft that departs at 04h25. And I know this because they’re in the same hotel as me, and I hear them requesting a wake up call at 03h10. To be honest, I think if that were me, I really would not be all that motivated either.
Without even asking any of the passengers if they’d like to eat, the crew rather unceremoniously plonk a tray of grub in front of each passenger. I’m not complaining, because while I think that Austrian’s cabin crew training is seriously lacking, catering is obviously something they do really, really well. I mean, what other airline will serve you a hot meal on a flight with a block time of only 75 minutes?
Tonight’s offering is Paprika chicken with Spätzle.
And a passion fruit panna cotta for dessert. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the bread basket. Both the main and the dessert are excellent. The chicken sauce is rich and creamy and the Spätzle have retained their chewy fluffiness. Perhaps they could do some work on presentation though, because the dessert looks a bit forelorn on the large plate.
We land in Tirana at 00h15. We’re on time, and for a change there is no queue at immigration. Within minutes I’m at the luggage belt waiting to pick up my suitcase, which duly arrives after only a very short wait.
Location: Departures on the first floor. Facilities: Self-service machines and dedicated counters. Counters: There are three counters (64 – 66) available for Star Alliance flights in check-in hall 1 on the Swiss side of the terminal, although only one of the two Economy Class counters and the Business Class counter are staffed when I arrive.
The check-in agent seems a bit upset. I am not really sure if it because I am only going on such a far away trip for the weekend of if she just does not approve of my somewhat limited luggage. ‘Do you have check-in luggage?’ ‘Uhm, no.’ She wrinkles her nose. ‘May I see your hand luggage…? Is that all your luggage?’ ‘Uhm, yeah’. She wrinkles her nose again. She issues my boarding passes. No bye, no thank you, nothing. Yes, well it was nice talking to you to, Ma’am.
I head for the stairs to take me one floor up to security and the departure gates. Just as I am about to climb the stairs some dude comes rushing up from the Easyjet check-in area and body-checks just about everyone, including me, in his way as he elbows his way forward. Apparently, his Easyjet flight is leaving in ten minutes. So apparently, his on time performance is totally crap too.
Once I am through security I go and take a look, just out of curiosity. I do not think he is going to make it. There is only one Easyjet aircraft standing around, heading for Thessaloniki, and that is just pushing back…Shame the queue for security is so long today.
In any case, I shall refrain from giving you another full-on review of the flight to Frankfurt. First of all, because it is hardly long enough. Secondly, because I have already covered things like the lounge in Basel in some of my previous reports.
The flight to Frankfurt is operated by an Embraer 190 with a configuration of 2 + 2. In Business Class, one of the two seats is kept empty and a small tray table is fixed to the spare seat to provide some extra storage area. There are five passengers in Business Class on today’s flight.
Despite the relatively short flight time of only 50 minutes, Lufthansa serves a meal on a tray on this sector. In this particular case, the meal consists of a double-decker sandwich with a layer of smoked salmon and cream cheese and another with boiled egg and watercress. The meal is fine, but perhaps a tad heavy on the sweet stuff. There is a Danish pastry on the plate, as well as two filled Easter eggs and a small box of chocolates.
Transfer in Frankfurt
Transport: Mercedes Benz Departs from: Right outside the aircraft Journey time: About ten minutes
We land on the northern most runway, which is not really that big a deal if you are travelling in First Class because at least this runway is closer to some of the remote stands for Lufthansa’s regional fleet, right behind the threshold of runway 18.
I emerge from the aircraft to find the First Class and Hon transfer service already waiting. There are two other gentlemen making the journey to the terminal complex with me. The car drops me off at arrivals near the B gates.
From here I take the stairs one floor up and then do a u turn which eventually brings me to immigration. From there I keep on walking until I reach gate B 22, where there are stairs and a lift to go up one floor to the First Class lounge on the B concourse.
I suppose I should be feeling a pang of remorse, an agony of regret for the things that once were and could have been. But there is nothing. We have reached the end of the line. This will be my last flight with SWISS as a Senator before I return to being a normal mortal with the Star Alliance. It is true, I suppose I could have at least tried to make the effort and become a gold member with some obscure frequent flyer programme of an equally obscure little airline. But to be honest, I find that just a tad cheap.
I have not exactly chosen the most exotic route for my farewell either. Then again, this flight is not about the journey, it is simply a means to an end. A positioning flight from Zürich to Paris. No more and no less.
I spend the night at the Radisson Blu Zürich Airport, which lies in close proximity to Terminal 1. The hotel has a direct connection to the airport facility across the road.
The hotel is clean enough and the rooms are in good condition. However, I cannot really say I like the place, mainly because I find the public area very dark and gloomy.
Location: Terminal 1. Facilities: Mobile check-in, online check-in, self-service machines, manned counters. Counters: SWISS dominates Terminal 1. There are a few more airlines of the Star Alliance which also use this facility, but I suspect that would certainly not be the case if SWISS finally managed to have their way…
The terminal is a mess this morning and the queue for passengers wanting to drop of their bags is stretching across the entire check-in area. The queue is so long that it is getting in the way of the passengers trying to get off the escalators.
The security check is no better, and I very much doubt that Zürich Airport will be able to live up to its promise of having passengers queue for not more than 10 minutes at security. Fortunately, I still am a Senator and I am able to bypass the outrageous mass of people.
The SWISS Senator Lounge
Location: Airside Centre. Type of Lounge: Dedicated SWISS Senator / Star Alliance Gold lounge. Facilities: Showers, toilets, very limited selection of hot and cold dishes, limited selection of hot and cold drinks. Internet: Available, password required.
The lounge is one floor up from the check-in area. There is a common reception for the Business Class and Senator lounges. The entrance to the latter is on the left of the reception area.
The Senator lounge is divided in two levels. The lower level was recently refurbish and henceforth designated the Senator Bistro, which essentially is a somewhat futile attempt to gloss over the fact that they dumped those nice plump armchairs and replaced them with significantly less comfortable but smaller furniture in a bid to cram even more people into the lounge (If any of my students are reading this, please try to avoid making such long sentences).
But at least the lounge is very empty this morning. The food selection in the Bistro area is somewhat limited, in fact there are only croissants and buns on offer. I check out the food selection on the upper level, which is more substantial and includes cheese and cold cuts but not a single hot item.
Priority Boarding: Kind of…
My flight is departing from A 86 today, which is the remotest gate on the A dock. There are three boarding pass checkpoints at A 86. Two of them are automatic but not working this morning. The checkpoint closest to the counter is for Business Class passengers and status holders. Once boarding starts, the gate attendant even makes an announcement specifically inviting only Business Class passengers and status holders to board first. But obviously none of the passengers seem to care, and neither does the gate attendant. And so, immediately the boarding process turns into the usual hapless mess it always is with SWISS. Surely this cannot be that difficult to enforce, if other airlines manage.
Configuration: 3 + 3 Seat: The Recaro seat SWISS has installed on its narrow-body fleet is not particularly comfortable. In order to improve leg space without having to increase the pitch, the seats are very thin and thus pretty much lack any sort of padding. For a flight of one hour the seat is perfectly acceptable. However, on longer routes of two hours or more, it can be uncomfortable. Pitch: 34 inches on the first row, which gradually reduces to 31 inches towards the back. Width: 17 inches Facilities: Reading lamp Audio and Video: Drop down screens throughout the cabin. The screens show the safety on board instructions, a lot of SWISS adverts and, if you’re really unlucky, those ‘Just for Laughs’ clips which are everything but funny.
My seat is broken. Rather, the recline button is kaput. I try to bring the seatback into the upright position, but it is of no avail and as soon as I lean back, the seat reclines again.
Boarding is completed. The purser makes an announcement in German, obviously his mother tongue. Even so, his enunciation is really poor, and pausing is something that obviously only ever happens to other people, making him rather difficult to understand. What can I say, I am a linguist, I pay attention to stuff like that. His English and French announcements are no better either.
And then, without an announcement, the safety on board video starts playing. The volume is too low, it is barely audible and nobody is paying attention. Neither is the crew for that matter and they obviously do not really care if anybody is paying attention.
‘…for take-off, please fasten your seatbelt and place the back of your seat in the fully upright position…’. Yeah, I am trying you know. I have to give them credit though for at least noticing my seat is not in the upright position. But that is about as far it goes. The cabin crew asks me to put my seat in the upright position – I tell her I cannot – she tells me it is a safety issue – I tell her it is a technical problem – she shrugs her shoulders and walk off – so much for that. Seriously?
We take-off in a northerly direction. Once we level off though, I decide this is not really that comfortable so I ask the cabin crew if I could at least have a pillow to place behind my back. To which she informs me that she has no pillows in Economy Class. I am compelled to ask her – just out of curiosity – if she has even the faintest notion of the meaning of the word ‘service’. But then again I have come to expect so little from SWISS that I do not even bother with that.
My mummy taught me not to speak badly of people, because sometimes they just cannot help being the way they are. Well fine, suits me. But in that case this section of the trip report is going to be very short.
Selection of hot and cold drinks.
One chocolate at the end of the flight. And just in case you are wondering boys and girls, Santa Clause does not really exist, and the chocolate SWISS serve on their flights is not Swiss either – no matter what the wrapping says.
ARRIVAL Our flight time to Paris is only one hour this morning. SWISS operates to and from Terminal 1 in Paris, which is convenient because my next flight will also be leaving from here.
I do not really think I could say whether the flying saucer layout of Roissy Terminal 1 makes any sense at all. And from what I can tell the facility is quickly reaching capacity. Even so, personally I think it must be one of the coolest airports out there. The entire building is just so stylish and very futuristic in a very retro kind of way. Kind of.