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!

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!

Air France, Economy Class – A 319: Zürich to Paris-Roissy

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INTRODUCTION
Finally, it is time for my summer vacation. With only eleven flights, by my standards I have a very modest itinerary to cover in two weeks.

The first leg of this series sees me travelling on one of Airbus’s smallest aircraft – the Air France A319 – from Zürich to Paris-Roissy. This, of course, is merely a positioning flight. Originally, this flight should have been operated by an A318. However, I know from a reliable source that Air France has a tendency to swap aircraft on this route rather frequently.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Train.
Departs from: Basel Swiss Railway station (Being right in the corner between Switzerland, France and Germany, Basel has three railway stations).
Frequency: Every 30 minutes via Zürich main railway station, where you have to change. From there you have a train to the airport at 07, 09 and 37 and 39 past the hour. Alternatively, there is an hourly train at 40 past the hour, which runs directly from Basel Swiss Railway station to Zürich Flughafen.
Journey time: About 80 minutes.
Fare: CHF38 for a second class one way ticket. The fare is the same, whether you take the direct train to the airport or change at Zürich main station.

Rather than carting my suitcase all the way to Winterthur and then back again in the evening, I decide to hop off at Zürich airport on my way to the office in the morning. Lockers are located one floor up from the platform, to the left of the escalators leading up from platforms three and four. There are lockers in different sizes and prices range from CHF6 for a small locker that can take one piece of large hand luggage, to CHF15 for a locker large enough for two standard size suitcases.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Check-in 2, row 4.
Facilities: Check-in machines, Web Check-in.
Counters: One counter for SkyPriority passengers and two for all other travellers.

I always thought the KLM app was much better than the Air France one. However, recently both KLM and Air France released updates of their respective apps and I must say, the Air France one is now much better and more attractive. I think what I dislike the most about the new KLM app is that finding information is far less intuitive. Just try looking up a ticket number for one of your bookings!

During the check-in process, I am given the option to upgrade to Business Class for CHF125 or to select an emergency exit seat for extra space. The standard price for an emergency exit seat is CHF11 for regular passengers, CHF5.50 for Gold card holders and free of charge for Platinum card holders.

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LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the airside centre.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated SkyTeam lounge, operated by DNATA.
Facilities:
None to mention really. The toilets are outside the lounge, no showers.
Food: Sandwiches, biscuits, soup. The food changes throughout the day.
Bar: Selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and juices, including, somewhat surprisingly, cranberry juice.
Internet:
Free wifi, the code is issued at reception.

The lounge has been done up since my last visit. There are new bistro style tables and chairs to match. It is a vast improvement over the chairs there used to be in the lounge. The entire bar area is new too. They also appear to have expanded their food options. Apart from the soup and sandwiches there are now also small bowls with different types of salad available.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Available and strictly enforced.

Our flight is delayed arriving from Paris, and so boarding starts about thirty minutes late. The first call is for Business Class and status card holders only and I am quite impressed by how the sequence is enforced, with passenger not falling into either category being turned away and asked to wait.

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CABIN
Seat:
10D, aisle seat on the emergency exit.
Configuration: 3 + 3
Pitch: 32 inches
Width: 17.5 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp and an air vent, adjustable headrest.
Audio and Video: None.

Air France’s A319 have a seating capacity of 125 in a two-class cabin, with an Economy Class and a Business Class section. Although it should also be mentioned that Air France operates the A319 in two different configurations. On domestic routes the aircraft only has one class and is configured for a capacity of 142.

The cabin is comfortable and spacious. The seats have leather covers and look fairly new. In fact I do not think I have every been on an Air France aircraft with this type of cabin.

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SERVICE
The cabin service is provided by four cabin crew, one male and three females. I did not have any interaction with the male, but the three ladies were all very charming, friendly and chatty.

THE MEAL

  1. Brioche bun with salted butter and Emmental cheese
  2. Coke Zero
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This makes for an interesting comparison. As far as the quality of the sandwich is concerned, I think KLM has the upper hand. Their cheese sandwiches are tastier because the bread they use is not as rubbery as the bun provided by Air France. Furthermore, KLM have some Dutch cheese in their sandwiches, which is a nice local touch. Given the vast number of delectable French cheese, it is somewhat alienating that they should use a Swiss Emmental instead!

Having said that, Air France certainly has the better drinks selection. Whereas in KLM you have a choice of orange of apple juice, coke or still water, Air France offer a nicely stocked bar even in Economy Class.

ARRIVAL
Terminal:
2F

Terminal 2F is where most of the Schengen flights of Air France and their partners arrive and depart. Like everything else in Roissy Airport, the facility certainly looks very sleek and stylish but not very user or passenger friendly. In particular, transferring between one terminal and another can be quite a nightmare in Paris, which is why I have decided to spend the night here before starting on the journey proper.

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GETTING TO THE HOTEL
Transport:
Complimentary Roissy-Val shuttle train.
Departs from: Terminals 1 and 2.
Frequency: Every few minutes
Journey time: About 15 minutes door to door.
Fare: Free of charge.

I am only spending the one night in Paris, so I figure I might as well stay near the airport. This time, I shall be staying at the CitizenM. To reach the hotel from Terminal 2, first take the complimentary Roissy-Val shuttle train, which links the three terminals. Alight at Terminal 3, then take exit 1 and follow the signs. The CitizenM is about two minutes on foot from the Terminal 3 stop.

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Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – A 320: Zürich to Vienna

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Silence, as I cross the deserted square from my apartment to the main entrance of the railway station. And darkness. This is early. Four twenty five to be precise. I’m catching the four forty train to Zürich Airport. It is just a bit over a week since I returned from my Christmas vacation in Japan and I’m travelling again. This time it’s a business trip though. I’m giving a course in Cyprus.

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The journey time to Zürich Airport is one hour and sixteen minutes. The fare for a return ticket in second class starts at CHF37.50.

Recently they introduced new rolling stock on the line that runs from Basel’s main station to Zürich Airport. Essentially they’re new regional trains. But they’re comfortable enough. My only gripe is that there really is no space at all to stow luggage. But at this time of day the train will hardly be full.

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It’s quite amazing how difficult it is to reach Cyprus from Switzerland in the low season, particularly of you’re not travelling on a week’s package vacation and only need to visit the island for a few days. Only Cyprus Airways operates scheduled flights from Larnaca to Zürich, but that flight is not daily and only operates twice a week during the winter – as it happens on days which are of no use to me. The two best alternatives therefore, appear to be either with British Airways via London Heathrow or with Austrian Airlines via Vienna. Somehow I dislike the idea of flying all the way to London, only to catch a plane back in the opposite direction to get to Cyprus. So I’ve decided to take the Austrian Airlines option instead. But there’s just one snag. There is no same day connection from Basel to Larnaca. Which is why I find myself, at this ungodly hour, on a train bound for Zürich, feeling tired and bleary-eyed.

CHECK-IN

I forgot to check-in on the Austrian website the evening before my flight. I figure it doesn’t matter seeing as I’ll be dropping off a bag anyway. But then on the train I decide I might as well give it a try. The Lufthansa App is showing my booking, but because the flight is originating in Switzerland, I am advised to check in with SWISS. So I try the SWISS App, which promptly issues my boarding pass for the flight to Vienna but not for the onward connection. Well, at least it’s a start.

I arrive at the airport with fifteen minutes to spare before meeting up with my colleague who will be joining me on this trip. Enough time to get my boarding passes sorted and have my bag checked through to Larnaca.

Check-in for Swiss flights at Zürich Airport is done either in Check-in 1, in what used to be Terminal A, or in Check-in 3, which is conveniently located one floor up from the railway tracks, so you really don’t have far to go.

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I like the ventilation fans they have…

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THE LOUNGE

The Senator lounge in Zürich was recently closed for refurbishment. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the end product is somewhat of an anti-climax. Essentially, all they’ve done is to remove the comfortable loungers there used to be and replaced them with smaller and less comfortable looking seats that take up less space, thus allowing them to put more seat in the lounge. Oh yes, and they changed the model aircraft in the lounge from the old A 340-300 to the A 330-300 in the new livery. Glad to see they got their priorities straight.

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THE CABIN

When I arrive at the gate, boarding is already underway. Austrian Airlines have an interesting boarding concept. The first call is for Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members. They may pass the gate in the traditional way, meaning the gate agent scans the boarding pass and wishes you a nice flight. After that the scrum for general boarding begins, with passengers required to use the automatic gates for boarding instead.

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I step on board to the sound of Strauss blaring away. I’m kind of in two minds about this one, if I’m perfectly honest. I guess it’s a nice touch, but it is also a bit tacky. The cabin is decked out in the same slim seats BMI used to have and which, if I’m not mistaken, Lufthansa also have. Very obviously the colour red dominates in the cabin. Today’s flight is rather full in the back but there are still a few seats left available in Business Class from what I can tell.

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SERVICE

The cabin crew is a nondescript bunch. This is not meant in a negative way or anything. It’s just that there is really nothing much in the way they go about their job that might set them apart from the crews of other airlines.

Take-off is from runway 28. It’s a lovely day for flying and we’re treated to some excellent views of the Alps on our way to Vienna.

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THE MEAL

The meal consists of a round of hot and cold drinks. To eat there a Nuss Schnecke, which is a pastry with ground hazelnuts in it. I take one but eventually leave it untouched. My colleague, who later on eats both his and my Nuss Schnecke, assures me that it wasn’t as dry as it looked.

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ARRIVAL

The quantity of the meal is perfectly adequate for a flight of only 80 minutes. The rubbish is removed and shortly after we begin our descent into Vienna.

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This is the first time I’m using the new pier in Vienna. Perhaps it’s just me but I find the whole design somewhat inconvenient and unpractical. I also think the facility looks rather cheap and drab; the signage is really bad. Next stop: Larnaca.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Avro RJ100: Basel to Copenhagen

INTRODUCTION

In the week between Christmas and New Year I normally visit Japan. In 2011 however, I decided to do something different for a change. It had also been quite a stressful year so I didn’t really want to stray too far from home anyway.

So where to go? Obviously, given that I probably do have a bit of an obsession – I like to call it a keen interest – with airplanes, apart from a new destination the routing would have to include a new type and preferably also a new airline.

Eventually, the solution came to me and I decided to head for Oulu in Finland. To get there, I would first fly with Swiss from Basel to Copenhagen and then from there on to Helsinki with Blue1 and then on to Oulu.

This trip review is about the first leg of my trip from Basel to Copenhagen. A route which has since been discontinued.

If you’re just interested in the pictures I took in Copenhagen, please scroll down to the bottom.

Date: 26. December 2011
From: Basel
To: Copenhagen
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft: Avro RJ100
Class: Business Class
Seat: 1D

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

After celebrating Christmas with the family at my parents place, I leave Basel for Copenhagen in the afternoon of 26 December – Boxing Day. My first stop is the main railway station to get some Danish Krona and then catch the bus to the airport from just outside the main entrance of the station. It being the day after Christmas, I was not really expecting there to be any people. Much to my surprise though, the bus is full and the airport is also rather busy when I arrive.

The main entrance to the Swiss Railway Station in Basel

The airport bus from the inside. A few minutes later it was packed!

The departures level of terminal building, taken from the Swiss side of the airport. The boarder with France runs right through the middle of the building.

THE LOUNGE

I’ve already done online check-in, so once I arrive at the airport, I head straight through security to the Swiss Business Class lounge, which is nearly deserted. This however, has nothing to do with the Christmas holiday and seems to be the usual state of affairs for this lovely lounge. As you can see, it looks wonderful with the warm light of the low winter sun seeping in through the windows in the roof.

My aircraft being prepared for the flight to Copenhagen. The Avros are getting a bit long in the tooth. Swiss International Air Lines intends to decommission the last one in 2016 as the Bombardier CSeries comes online. Quite frankly, I don’t see the Avro lasting that long.

BOARDING

I looks as though the flight is going to be packed. and indeed, it turns out there is only one row of Business Class. There is another passenger in Business Class. He has the window seat 1F. The seat between us is empty and I am on 1D. I’m hoping to shift to 1A once boarding is completed, but no such luck.


THE CABIN

In the row behind me there is a family with two young children sharing the row of three. The flight attendant informs them that they need to be reseated as there are no additional oxygen masks on the row of three, therefore one parent will have to sit on the other side of the aisle with one of the children. So the guy in the aisle seat on the row of two gets up to change seats with the dad, but instead of swapping seats, he just parks himself in the empty two-seater of the Business Class cabin. What’s more, the flight attendant lets him stay there for the entire flight.

DEPARTURE

It’s a lovely day for flying. The little Avro is obviously struggling with the heavy load, subsequently our climb is not exactly steep. We take off in a southerly direction, then do a 270 degree right hand turn and crossed the river Rhine into German airspace. We then fly a easterly track to lake Constance, on the German-Swiss boarder, and from there set course for Denmark.

Crossing the Rhine.

SERVICE

The service on board this flight is nothing much to write home about either. The mini Business Class cabin is served by a German flight attendant who would obviously much rather be at home with her family or by the beach, or climbing a mountain – anywhere but just not on a flight to Copenhagen. Looks like the Avros are not the only ones that Swiss urgently need to decommission. She plonks down the tray with the meal before me, get the drinks and then disappears. No idea where to. She reappears to remove the tray about 15 minutes before we arrive in Copenhagen.

THE MEAL

The lunch that is served is rather strange and consists of shredded Zucchini with a slice of poached salmon and some Bündnerfleisch – dried meet. It also seems that since my previous trip in Business Class, Swiss has reverted back to using plastic dishes and cutlery. It’s so stylish…

ARRIVAL

The rest of the flight is uneventful, which is rather obvious. The good thing about having a vanishing flight attendant is that it seriously reduces the risk of having red wine or something accidentally spilled over you.

CONCLUSION

What can I say? This flight was certainly not one of Swiss International Air Lines’ finest moments. First of all, the airline should make up its mind on whether or not to provide a Business Class product on flights from Basel or not. If the decision is to have such a service, then it should be executed properly, and not be treated as some kind of unnecessary burden for the staff.

And indeed, in the meantime this route has been discontinued, together with a number of other destinations from Basel. For an airline like Swiss there is no money to be made in Basel, given the strong presence of Easyjet, which now has something like eight Airbus A 319s stationed at the airport. First of all, the old little Avro – with its four engines and only 97 seats – can hardly compete, from an economic perspective at least, with Easyjet’s A 319s, which can seat up to 156 passengers.Furthermore, Easyjet’s dominance at Basel airport should be a clear enough indication that the market it serves has no use or interest in a premium product.

Obviously, Swiss’ plan for Basel was not to make money but simply to try and regain some of the market it had lost to Easyjet. But this is the kind of strategy you can only pursue if you have sufficient funds to keep it up over a longer period of time, which is evidently not the case for Swiss or any airline in Europe right now.

EPILOGUE

In Copenhagen I stayed at the Hotel Nimb, the entrance of which is opposite the main railway station. The Nimb is actually on the premises of the Tivoli amusement park and access is for free for guests. The Tivoli itself is a really magical place to visit in winter.

Fireplace in my room.

The hotel bar.

The hotel from the outside, taken from my room overlooking the Tivoli.

The classic Copenhagen shot.

Water taxi.

The opera house.

She needs no introduction.

A shop that sells cupcakes only.

He was also staying at the Tivoli.

Darwin Airlines, Econonmy Class – Saab 2000: Zürich to Genova to Zürich

INTRODUCTION

It’s the Wednesday before Ascension, and I’ve decided to travel to Genoa in Northern Italy on the new Darwin Airlines service from Zürich. I leave the office at 14h40 and head for the airport by train.

Date: 16. May 2012
From: Zürich
To: Genova
Aircraft: Saab 2000
Airlines: Darwin
Class: Economy Class
Seat: originally 6A, then moved to 7F

CHECK-IN

The airport is quite busy when I arrive.

Let’s just see if I can trick the DCS check-in system. I select ‘Swiss’ on the self-service machine, knowing very well that my ticket has the F7 flight number and was issued by Darwin Airlines. But there is a code-share in place. And perhaps if I check-in as a Swiss passenger, that may give me access to the lounge. It works like a charm with Air Malta every time.

I manage to have a boarding pass printed with the Swiss logo on it, but no matter how hard I try, the Senator number cannot be inserted in the booking. They seem to be learning…I might as well make my way to security.

Later on I inquire at the lounge and it transpires that indeed, only passengers booked on a Swiss 724 ticket for the Genoa flight have access to the lounge. Not that the system Swissport uses is very sophisticated. Quite the contrary in fact. The staff manning the reception desk at the lounge have a print out of all passengers for the flight, with the names of those passengers entitled to use the lounge.

It’s not important, so I take a seat by the window, close to gate A63. The weather is indeed awful, I think it’s actually hailing. The positive effect of this, of course, is that it means aircraft are coming in on runway 28, which runs parallel to the terminal. I take a seat, unpack my Mac and in short sequence I have the pleasure of watching three Swiss Airbus A 340-300s battling the elements as they touch down right before my eyes. Welcome home!

BOARDING

At the announced boarding time of 16h25, I head down to gate A56, a bus gate, which is in a provisional building that was erected about ten years ago and then decided to become a permanent fixture.

We pull up by the side of our aircraft. I haven’t been on one of these for ages. Despite its age, the Saab still looks very modern and streamlined.

THE CABIN

The flight is not entirely full, with only a few empty seats here and there. Talk about a trip down memory lane. From the inside you might easily think you’re sitting in a Crossair plane, you can see it in the seats and the fonts used to indicate the seat numbers. And even the service is reminiscent of the old Crossair.

DEPARTURE

Once the door closes, I observe the very young flight attendant as she walks through the cabin slowly. From the way she is moving I guess she is passing through the cabin holding something in her hands, which is concealed from my view by the passenger seats. I assume it’s a tray or basket of sweets, but I find it somewhat strange that so many people decline. It’s only when she reaches my row that I realise she is holding a basket in her hands but that it contains application forms for a Corner Card Visa or Mastercard. So no sweeties then.

We take off from runway 32. On our way there we stop before crossing runway 28 to allow an A 321 to land.

Take-off is powerful but not very steep.

THE MEAL

As soon at the fasten seat belt sign is turned off, the sole flight attendant working the flight springs into action. Quite surprisingly, service consists of some rather tasty sandwiches. There are Silserli buns with Salami and salad, or otherwise a bun with cheese and tomato. I opt for the Salami and I have to say it really is very tasty. What’s more, even in Economy drinks are served in proper glass, not plastic. Now how quaint is that? Shortly after the flight attendant moves on to serve the row behind me, the pilot comes on the blower to inform us that we will already be landing in approximately 20 minutes. That was quick!

ARRIVAL

The approach into Genoa is truly magnificent and fortunately the weather here has decided to play along. Genoa is located on a thin strip of land between the mountains and the sea. Space is so limited that in fact the airport had to be built on reclaimed land. The approach takes you along the coast and offers excellent views of the city, the shore and the mountains behind.

I disembark and emerge into the beautiful sunshine. It’s quite amazing really that one hour ago I was watching the aircraft at Zurich being pelted with hail stones!

I exit the airport building and catch the bus into town. The return ticket costs EUR12. The journey takes about 30 minutes to the railway station.

CONCLUSION

Darwin Airlines really was an eye opener. To be honest, I was not expecting anything at all. In hindsight though, I have to say that they were great. With their little airplanes they really celebrate an art of customer service and hospitality in air travel that has long gone in many other parts of the world. The Saab 2000 are kept in mint condition. But alas, it is of no avail and sadly, the route has since been discontinued.

As for Genoa, simply enchanting!

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – A 320: Zürich to London Heathrow

Date: 21 July 2011
From: Zürich
To: London Heathrow
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Class: Business Class
Seat: 1A
Aircraft: A 320

 

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

My journey begins, as usual, on the train from Basel to Zürich Airport on the ‘Flugzug’, the airport train. This train does not go via Zürich main station, going instead straight to Zürich Airport. All of the direct trains between Zürich Airport and Basel have an LX flight number and can be booked on the airlines’ website as a feeder in connection with a flight to or from Zürich. In theory, when you book the air train on SWISS.COM, you’re booking a particular train. In practice however, the Swiss Federal Railways are very lenient and in fact you can take any train on the date of travel. You may even take a train that goes via the main station in Zürich.

My pet peeve with the Flugzug is the duration of the journey. The distance between Basel and Zürich is merely 80kms. The direct nonstop trains to the main station usually make the journey in 49 minutes. The Flugzug however, takes 1hour and 16 minutes to make the journey. For one because it takes another route that is shorter but has speed restrictions, for another because it stops no less than seven times en route.

But let us now move on the trip review proper: as we pull out of Basel’s main, Swiss railway station the weather is still more or less fine. We haven’t really had much of a summer in Switzerland so far. After a promising start to summer, July was rather unsettled and also unusually cool and with lots of rain.

Within just a few minutes the weather situation starts to deteriorate, and by the time the train reaches Frick, the second of the seven stops between Basel and Zürich Airport, it is raining heavily. Alas, the situation does not improve any until I reach the airport. It is only a short while before boarding that the rain stops.

I’ve checked in online, so once I arrived the plan is to go airside immediately. On my way to the Senator lounge I spot the daily Air Malta flight to Malta. Yearning for the warmer climes the aircraft is heading for and overcome by a sudden bout of patriotism, I decide to sacrifice the comfort of the lounge to watch the Air Malta flight push back. As it happens though, the flight appears to have some slot issue and although it shows as departed, it is still parked at the gate at the time boarding for my flight to Heathrow starts.

BOARDING

My flight left from a bus gate in the non-Schengen area in Terminal B. This part of the terminal complex has since closed down.

Fortunately it’s stopped raining and the sun is trying to make a come back by the time our bus reaches the aircraft. There is a bit of a hold up for departure. Some woman is travelling with her cello, for which she apparently had made a correct booking for an extra seat to have the delicate instrument transported in the cabin with her. But nobody on the aircraft or from Swissport knows about the cello. There’s a bit of a commotion and a substantial delay as the ground crew attempt, and finally manage, to secure the cello in the cabin. What I find particularly funny though, is that while all this is going on, the captain suddenly comes on the PA and makes an announcement that there will be a delay due to a passenger ‘and her cello which we did not know about’. The poor woman looks as though she wants to go through the floor with embarrassment.

THE CABIN

The cabin is clean and tidy. Of course sitting on the bulkhead row the leg room is also very good.

SERVICE

Service begins on the ground with the distribution of small bottles of mineral water and prepacked cold refreshing towels. I don’t much like the ones Swiss uses, mainly because they’re so heavily scented they tend to give you a headache. There is a large selection of newspapers and I choose the Neu Zürcher Zeitung.

DEPARTURE

Take-off is from runway 28, which is the main departing runway at Zürich. A short while after we’re airborne, we’re already above the clouds.

THE MEAL

The service on this flight is nothing to write home about, really not. But at least the meal offered on this short sector is quite good. It consists of a chicken breast on rice salad with grilled artichokes. The meal is served with lovely crisp, warm bread and cheese and a dessert. Generally though, I find desserts are rarely any good in Swiss European Business Class and usually consist of something bland and overly sweet made with loads of gelatine. So I give this one a miss – as I usually do.

To drink I have a Diet Coke with lemon.

ARRIVAL

Very soon we start our descent into Heathrow, where the weather is even worse than in Zürich. We are coming in on runway 9L but unfortunately I remember only at the last moment that this means we’ll be flying straight over Windsor Castle. Hence the somewhat botched picture of the estate.

After we land there is a further delay because our gate is still being occupied by a South African Airways A 340. After about 20 minutes the aircraft finally moves off stand and we are able to make our way to the gate.

I’ll be spending the night at the Sofitel in Terminal 5, which means taking the Heathrow Express to get there from Terminal 1, which is home to most of the Star Alliance carriers in Heathrow. The Heathrow Express is free of charge for passengers only transferring between Terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5.

CONCLUSION

Swiss offered a pretty standard service on this flight. They weren’t bad at all, they just weren’t overly good either. I’m no fan of the Recaro slimline seats they have on their European fleet, the seats are somewhat hard on the backside after a while. Still, at least the food was good!