Helvetic Airways, Embraer 190 – Business Class: Zürich to London City

Introduction

My colleague at work, let‘s call him the talented Mr. F., recently complained about the apparent lack of any new posts on my blog in recents weeks. The talented Mr. F., incidentally, gets his name from his truly exceptional talent of getting airlines to pay him compensation for all sorts of things, including some reported cases where the airlines hadn‘t actually done anything wrong – other than being on time…

So here you go, this one‘s for you, Mr. F. May it inspire you to even greater greatness. Or something.

As usual, I arrive at Zürich Airport by train. It‘s just gone 16:15. One hour to go before my departure to London.
Security is quite busy. After all, it‘s still the holiday season. But it‘s nowhere near as bad as when I flew to Bucharest two weeks ago, just as the summer holidays in Switzerland got underway!
My flight will be boarding from D57. Which is a bus gate on the ground floor level of the non-Schengen terminal. I don‘t think I‘ve ever used one of these gates before. I rather like the B/D pier though. Even if the ceilings are quite low.
I can‘t be bothered with the SWISS lounge, so instead I buy myself some chocolate goodness from Sprüngli on my way to passport control.
Today‘s flight is operated by Helvetic Airways, on behalf of SWISS. Helvetic has 15 E2s on order, which are expected to enter the fleet in Q4 of this year. Ten of their aircraft are on a permanent wet lease to SWISS. My flight today will be with an Embraer 190.
I‘m seated on 1A. So I figure I might as well take my time and board last. And take a few pictures while I wait.
The pitch on row 1, the bulkhead row, is great. Although from past experience I have to say, it get‘s awfully tight towards the back.
The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the cold towels and a bottle of still water. There are five passengers in Business this afternoon. One thing I really like on SWISS, is that they keep the seat next to you empty.
No sooner has the seatbelt sign gone off after take-off, the meal service begins. There is no choice available, so if you‘re vegetarian or picky about what you eat, you may want to pre order a special meal.
Today‘s offering is vitello tonnato, served with rocket, capers and red onion.
Warm breads and crackers are served with the meal. The maître de does an excellent job of explaining what all the items on the tray are.
Of course, being SWISS, there has to be a small plate with cheese.
The dessert is brownies on a citrus yoghurt cream and strawberry compote.
The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a small Swiss chocolate.
We land in London City more or less on time. The airport is busy. There‘s a bit of a hold up because the guy bringing the stairs is having problems puttting it in position. The captain shrugs at me and says: ‚they expect us to land on something the size of a stamp, but they struggle with the stairs…‘.
It‘s a lovely evening in London, and so I decide to walk to the hotel. From London City airport it‘s a walk of about thirty minutes to the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that takes you across the Thames. The journey takes about ten minutes and you can pay either by Oyster card or with a touch credit card.
At the other end, the cable car spits you out in front of the O2 arena. I stop off at Wagamama and the make my way to the Intetcontinental O2.
I‘ve been to many lovely places across the globe. Including some I didn‘t know existed before I had to go there! And feel priviledged for the opportunity to travel and see so much of the world. But no matter where I go, sooner or later I‘m always drawn back to this city. For me, there really is no place like London!

P. S. In the background of the last picture, on the hill, is Woolwich, where my nannu was originally from.

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

Transfer in London Heathrow

The Gulf Air flight from Bahrain arrives in Heathrow at 06h50, on schedule. I now have one hour and forty minutes to make my connection to the SWISS flight to Zürich, which will depart from T2. T4 is connected to the central terminal area at Heathrow by shuttle bus. Normally, the busses will use the service tunnel that passes under runway 09R/27L. However, the tunnel is currently closed for maintenance as so, busses have to take a slightly longer route along the perimeter fence and under the threshold of runway 27L to get to Terminal 2. Which has the rather pleasant side effect that passengers are given quite a tour of Heathrow, including BA’s maintenance facility and the Concorde that they have on display there. The journey takes 12 minutes to complete.

Within Terminal 4 for the signposting to the shuttle bus is clear and easy to follow. Busses run regularly.

The Lufthansa Lounge

The security check is done in Terminal 2, before heading up to the departure concourse. Luckily, there aren’t many passengers this morning and there isn’t even a queue. There is a separate fast track for security which is dedicated to STAR GOLD, First and Business Class passengers.

Behind security are the escalators leading one floor up. There is a passport check just before entering the departures hall, although I’m not sure if this is for immigration purposes, for security reasons or a combination of the two. As I enter the terminal hall, the Star Alliance service desks are on the right. I present my baggage receipt to the lady behind the counter, as instructed by the check-in agent back in Dubai. She scans the stub and my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

By the time I’m done, we’re just coming up to 07h50. The gate for my flight to Zürich will be showing up on the screens shortly, and not much later boarding should start. So I quickly grab a coffee, call the light of my life to say hello and then take a moment to relax.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight to Zürich is from gate A18. There is a separate queue for Business Class, HON Circle and Senator passengers. As we start boarding for the flight, it soon materialises that there are some passengers in the queue that aren’t flying Business Class and have no status either. Don’t get me wrong, I generally salute the ground crews for enforcing the rules. But I also think there’s really no need for the gate agent to scold passengers. After all, I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance they weren’t trying to jump the queue and perhaps don’t travel often enough to even know what the two queues are for.

The Cabin

There are four rows to the Business Class cabin on this morning’s flight, which is surprising given it’s a public holiday. I would have thought most people would have tried to return home by Maundy Thursday. In any case, as my luck will have it, there are 15 passengers in Business Class this morning. And the only seat left empty is the one on the aisle of my row of three. Cool!

The Crew

There are three and a half cabin crew on the flight and I’m pretty sure that none of them are above the age of twenty-five. Three of the cabin crew are wearing the normal SWISS uniform. The third one though, is wearing ‘civilian’ clothes and a badge that says ‘I am a new crew member’ rather than her name. I’m not quite sure why being a new cabin crew member means she shouldn’t be wearing a uniform. However, given how shabby the SWISS uniform generally looks, I can’t really blame her for not wanting to wear that.

Other than that, the crew are friendly and really make an effort to accommodate passengers. Even if they’re a bit clumsy at times. For example, once boarding is completed, one of the female flight attendants working in the Economy Class section asks if there’s still any space left in the overhead bins up front, so she can stow one fairly large piece of hand luggage. The maître de yells back to her form the front that yes, there is space left. ‘But let him lift his suitcase himself, it’s his problem so you’re not expected to do that…’. Of course, the maître de does have a point. When I still worked at Swissair they always used to say that passengers are allowed to take just about anything into the cabin, as long as it fits the dimensions and they could still carry it themselves. But I’m pretty sure there might have been a politer way of saying that.

But perhaps I’m just irritated by the fact that the maître de is wearing turquoise coloured underwear. And in case you’re wondering why I know that, he’s shoved his uniform shirt into his undies and pulled them up so high that the waistband is showing above the trousers. It’s all very classy really!

The service on the ground is the standard bottle of still water and a refreshing towel. We push back on time and then make our way to the holding point for runways 09R. The flight time is announced as one hour and ten minutes.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is no choice for the meal. Much to my surprise, SWISS offers a hot breakfast on this route, despite the short flight time. I’m guessing this to accommodate its British customer base. The trays are delivered from a trolley. The meal consists of:

A small plate of cheese.

Butter and jam.

A small dish of Quinoa müsli.

And the hot meal.

The hot meal is more of a brunch than a breakfast and consists of a grilled tomato with a Provençale crust, brown lentils and a slice of cheese quiche. I must say, the meal is quite good. With that I also have a croissant and a bun from the bread basket.

Despite the short flight, the crew manage to do two nicely paced runs for drinks and with the breadbasket.

Arrival

It’s a lovely day for flying. The approach into Zürich brings us in right over Basel, my home town, from where we make a left hand turn to head east, before lining up for the landing on runway 14. After landing we taxi to the B pier, which can accept both Schengen and non-Schengen flights. I make my way down to immigration and am positively surprised that a) there’s hardly anybody there and b) they appear to have updated the software of the passport readers, so that I can now use the e-gates with my Maltese passport.

The suitcases for the London flight will be delivery on belt 22. I figure my suitcase probably hasn’t survived having to change planes in Bahrain and London Heathrow, so instead of going to belt 22, I make a beeline for the Swissport lost and found in the hope of saving some time.

But lo and behold, just before I get there, something silvery in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I look over to belt 22 to find that by some divine intervention, my suitcase has actually made it.

Conclusion

And quicker than you know, the first four months of the year are over. Just like that. And I’ve spent most of that time travelling. My return to Switzerland on SWISS marks the end of the busy travel period for me. From now on, it’s really just the occasional short-haul trip here and there. And thank god for that. I really love flying, but there are limits to how much flying even I can handle at a time…

Happy Easter everyone!

William

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

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Transfer in Copenhagen

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

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

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

The SAS Business Class Lounge

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

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

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

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

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Boarding

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

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The Cabin

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

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

The Crew

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

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

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

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The Meal

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

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

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

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

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Arrival

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Luxembourg to Zürich

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Introduction

It’s Friday afternoon, so it’s time for me to pack my bags and make my way back to Switzerland. The flying Dutchman has kindly offered to drop me off at the airport before returning to the office to do a Sim session.

I think I’ve already written more than enough about Luxembourg airport, so I guess we might as well skip ahead to the actual flight, without bothering with the preliminaries of getting to the airport, checking in, etc.

Boarding

The flight is scheduled to depart at 14h55, with boarding expected to commence at 14h30. Clearly, that’s not likely to happen today, given that the aircraft only touches down in Luxembourg until after 14h30. The monitors are showing a minor delay of ten minutes, with an expected time of departure at 15h05.

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Apparently, there’s a bit of a confusion about a VIP passenger, who is first allowed to board the aircraft but later on asked to step off the plane and wait with everybody else…

Boarding starts just after 15h00, so it looks like the 15h05 departure isn’t going happen either. Eventually we take-off at 15h32, forty minutes behind schedule.

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The Cabin

I really must say, I like the cabin of the CSeries. It feels so roomy. Having said that, I was recently browsing on the SWISS website and saw that on some days the CSeries is deployed even as far afield as Cairo. No matter how nice the CSeries is, I think a four-hour sector to Cairo is definitely pushing it in terms of passenger comfort…

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The Luxembourg route is highly susceptible to last minute aircraft changes. When I made the booking, the outbound should have been a CSeries 300 and the return should have been operated by a Helvetic Airways Embraer 190. As it turned out though, the CSeries on the outbound was substituted by an Embraer, while the Embraer on this afternoon’s flight has been replaced by a CSeries 100. I mention this because the configuration on the Embraer is 2 + 2. So it makes no difference which side of the vessel you’re seated on, because in Business Class the seat next to you always remains empty. But on the CSeries, the configuration is 2 + 3. Which means that if you’re on the starboard side, you will still possibly have to climb over the person on the aisle to get out.

Luckily enough for me though, today the aisle seat on my row stays empty.

The Crew

The cabin crew consists of three flight attendants, two young ladies and one young man, who is also the maître de. One of the females is exclusively working the Economy Class cabin, so I only catch a glimpse of her. The maître de is working the Business Class cabin and is occasionally assisted by the third crew member. Which is a good thing because she’s obviously having a bad day. Poor boo…! Apparently she’s made a vow of silence too, because she refuses to speak. And that’s just all sorts of awkward when you have a job that involves interacting with other human beings…

But the young man is excellent! He has very good manners and obviously goes to great lengths to make all the passengers feel comfortable.

Once the doors are closed, the crew distribute pre-packaged, scented towels and small bottles of still water. I think this is a nice touch and something that SWISS does on every flight, unlike KLM, who will only distribute water in case of a delay, so soften the blow so to speak…

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The Meal

The meal consists of the usual three ramekins. The first one is filled with a red cabbage salad on cream cheese, the second is pieces of duck on a barley salad and the third is the dessert – a milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse.

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With the meal I ask for some coffee, which is served from a cardboard cup and which doesn’t seem very premium to me…

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The flight time to Zürich is thirty minutes and the cockpit crew are obviously making the effort to make up for some of the delay.

Just before the landing, the crew distribute the chocolates. The usual small, red bars of goodness have been replaced with little round chocolates wrapped up like a football to mark the occasion of the world cup. And then there’s a bit of an awkward moment when the maître de makes an announcement that ‘…in preparation for lading, please consult the safety on board cards and take a moment to located the nearest emergency exit in the likely event of an evacuation…’. But I think it goes to show just how little the travelling public gives a shit about the on board announcements, because nobody turns a hair, leaving the young man clearly confused about what he actually intended to say and what eventually came out…!

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Eventually we land and taxi to one of the remote stands near the old SR Technics hangar. This time there’s a small minibus waiting to pick up all the Business Class passengers. I say ‘this time’ because the Business Class shuttle tends to be a bit unreliable…

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Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Dubai to Zürich

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Introduction

I check out of the Doubletree in Al Barsha at around 21h00 on Thursday evening and make my way to the airport for the flight back to Switzerland. The departure time is scheduled for 01h35. I really don’t like these flights that leave in the middle of the night. Especially when they’re as short as the one from Dubai to Zürich. By the time you step onto the plane you’re exhausted from a really long day and no matter what you do, it’s a fact that you’re not going to get enough sleep because the flight time is not nearly long enough…

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Check-in

SWISS checks in at Terminal 1, together with all the other foreign carriers at DXB. With the exception of the low-cost carriers and Hajj flights that is, which operate out of Terminal 2.

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SWISS is located on row 5. There are only two counters available: one for Economy Class and another for First Class and HON Circle passengers.

The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

This is the first time I’m using the new D gates. The facility is rather nice, mainly because there are not as many people milling about as there normally are on the Emirates concourses.

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SWISS uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dubai. The lounge looks quite new and is designed in the typical Lufthansa corporate design. It’s a style that either you like or you don’t…

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The lounge is rather small and feels very cramped. So that eventually it gets too crowded for me and I decide to go for a walk through the terminal instead. Along the way, I come across these rather strange containers that I’ve never seen at any other airport. Apparently, if you have excess baggage, you can dump it in one of the containers for Dubai airport to dispose of. But I don’t get it. I mean, who would bother to make the schlep to get airside with an entire suitcase, only to dump it behind security? Is there something I’m missing here?

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The Cabin

I’m seated on 4A, which is one of the so called throne seats. Rows 4 and 5 are the first two rows of Business Class, located between the First Class cabin and the L2 galley. With only two rows, this mini cabin feels quite intimate and a lot quieter than the larger Business Class section behind the L2 galley.

The first thing I notice about the seat is that it doesn’t seem to have aged all that well. The seat and the cabin are well maintained, that’s not what I mean. But rather, the whole cabin and seat are starting to look a bit old fashioned.

Amenities

As for the amenities, there’s a vanity kit at my seat, a pillow and a towel. There have been some improvements here. The vanity kit is in the shape of an aluminium tin that is Victorinox branded. It contains lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs and socks. There are additional cosmetics in the toilets.

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But perhaps the most positive development for me are the blankets. They’re really quite nice and thick. And so’s the pillow.

The Crew

The crews are always SWISS’ weakness, I think. All of them have a rather disgruntled expression and not one of them seems to be overly enthusiastic about their job. There is no drinks service on the ground. Before we depart, the crew distribute flimsy scented hot towels. After that they pass through the cabin with the menus for the flight and the order forms for breakfast. I think this is a really good idea, because is significantly shortens the duration of the service in the morning, giving passengers more time to sleep.

As soon as we’re airborne, I extend my seat into a bed and go off to Noddy land.

The Second Service

I awake about seventy minutes out of Zürich, just as the meal service is about to start. So I quickly head for the toilets to change back into my normal clothes, ahead of the usual rush before landing.

The breakfast service consists of plain yoghurt, a bowl of fruit, two buns with butter and cherry jam, a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee and the hot meal. The latter consists of a pancake filled with scrambled egg, a hash brown and some grilled veg and spinach. The bread is really good. But the egg/pancake thing has this very strange eggy flavour with a hind of plastic. It’s really not very good.

After the meal, I ask for a second cup of coffee, which one of the younger flight attendants brings me. I say ‘thank you’ but all I get in return is ‘I’m going to have to come back to collect that now…’. Was it something I said…?

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Arrival

Eventually we land just slightly ahead of schedule. It’s nice to be home again after two weeks. It’s also nice to be back in cooler temperatures again. Our flight ends at the E pier, from where you need to catch the underground metro to get to the main terminal area. But we’re only the second arrival of the day. So the train is not too crowded and immigration is swift.

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As soon as I collect my bags from the belt, I head out through customs and then one floor up, which is where the SWISS arrivals lounge is located. Luckily enough a shower room is available for me to freshen up before I head into the office. The arrivals lounge is nice and convenient. It’s also surprisingly empty and quiet this morning.

Conclusion

All in all, this wasn’t a bad flight with SWISS. I don’t think I’ll ever be fan but they got me home in one piece. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with them. I think when I next fly to Dubai Emirates will be my first choice. Simply because Dubai is their hub and they therefore have the superior product on the ground. In addition, I also think Emirates provide the better on board experience. At least their crew aren’t so grumpy all the time.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – ERJ 190: London City to Zürich

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Introduction

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) was first released back in 1983, when music videos were still in their infancy and I was nine years old. I actually remember the first time I saw the video of Sweet Dreams. I think the moment has stayed with me through all these years because I think it was the first time that music triggered something in me. I sat in front of the television with my mouth agape, completely mesmerised by the fabulous Annie Lennox with her orange crewcut, standing in a field with a cow. I just thought she was so cool!

More than thirty years later, I’m still listening to Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. And so of course, when I heard she would be giving a concert in London in March 2018, there was no question that I would attend.

And so I flew to London from Basel the day after I returned to Zürich from Bucharest. The outbound flight on Saturday was with British Airways. There was absolutely nothing at all that would warrant writing a trip report about my experience with the Speedbird, my experience with them was totally replaceable and nondescript.

Of course, all of this does have a positive impact on the competition. I am flying back to Zürich today on Helvetic Airways, who is operating the flight on behalf of SWISS. Even if I only get a stale biscuit and the flight attendant has the bedside manner of the older ugly sister of Frankenstein’s monster, it’ll still be an improvement over anything the Speedbird dished out on the inbound.

Getting to the Airport

In London I stayed at the Hilton Angel in Islington, mainly because it’s quite close to the venue of the concert – the Saddler’s Wells theatre. The hotel is only a short walk away from the tube station ‘Angel’, on the Northern line. To get to London’s City airport, I have to take a southbound train to Bank and then transfer there onto an eastbound DLR train for the airport. Given the rush hour, it takes me close to one hour to make the journey.

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Check-in

I’ve already checked in using the SWISS app, which is playing up again. I’ve selected 13F, which is an window seat on the emergency exit. Although I did at some point receive an error message during the process, I was eventually able to complete the process. So I’m guessing, and hoping, that I actually am on 13F.

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As you exit the DLR station at London City, there is a whole row of self-service check-in machines and inside the terminal building they have added even more of the check-in kiosks.

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The security check is something they do really well at London City. So despite all the people, the process is fairly quick and painless.

Boarding

There is no premium lounge at London City airport. But that’s totally okay by me, because the general lounge area offers some really excellent views of the apron and the runway behind it. There’s just one problem: the aircraft park with the rear facing towards the terminal building, which means that when they apply thrust to push off stand, they spray all the muck on the ground at the building. And as a result, the windows are rather grubby from the recent snow and deicing liquid.

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The flight to Zürich is boarding from gate 10, which is the last gate at the west end of the facility.

I board the aircraft through the rear door, even though it would have made more sense to board through the front. It’s just that I can’t remember the last time I boarded a plane through the rear. This is brilliant!

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The Cabin

I already mentioned the cabin of the Helvetic Airways Embraer in a post from January, when I flew Helvetic from Zürich to Milan. The flight to Milan was only thirty minutes, but by the time we landed, I could no longer feel my kneecaps.

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The seat pitch is definitely much better on the emergency exit.

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SERVICE
Surprisingly, there are four cabin crew on the flight today. I’m wondering if perhaps one of them is still in training or something. Whoever recruits the cabin crew at Helvetic Airways obviously has an eye for the ladies, which is fine. But I really do think they should teach them to tone it down with the make-up. When the lipstick stains the teeth, it’s definitely too much!

By the time we’re ready to start up, the operating regime has changed and arrivals and departures are to the east. This means that essentially we’re parked right on the access taxiway to the runway threshold, giving us a taxi time from our stand to the holding point of just about 30 seconds flat!

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Taking off from London City is always fun, and today is no exception. The pilot applies the parking break and then pushes the throttle all the way forward to the take-off thrust setting. The whole plane start shaking violently, and then – just when you think it’s going to start falling to bits – he releases the brakes and we go careening down the runway.

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The Meal

Once we’re settled into the cruise, the meal service begins. I’m expecting something along the lines of a pre-packaged muffin that has been prepared specially to stay fresh and fluffy for at least ten years. Much to my surprise though, we are served nice, fresh Gipfeli. A Gipfeli is the Swiss interpretation of the croissant. It’s savoury and usually smaller than any self-respecting French croissant but with a more buttery flavour. With that I have a coffee and a cup of sparkling water.

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After the meal service, the crew pass through the cabin with the highlight of the flight – the chocolates!

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Arrival

Our routing takes us right over my hometown, Basel. Fortunately, it’s a lovely day with good visibility and some excellent vistas of the Alps and we descend into Zürich. There’s no delay and we make an approach straight in without having to hold. And it appears to be my lucky day, because here in Zürich too we’re using a remote stand!

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The bus drops us off at the B arrivals, which is the non-Schengen area. From there it’s an amazingly circuitous route to get to immigration: upon entering the building turn left, go up the escalators to the first floor, right, right again, down the escalators to the ground floor, right, through the departure gate area, right again, then straight ahead, left, down the escalators into the basement and then straight on to passport control and up the escalators again to the ground floor on the other side…

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Conclusion

This brings to an end my ten day odyssey to Malta, Bucharest and London. The marathon in Malta was fun, and so was the rejected take-off in Frankfurt until Lufthansa lost the plot. The course in Bucharest was brilliant, with professional and friendly participants. And the Annie Lennox concerts in London was simply beyond belief. Annie Lennox has an amazing presence when she’s on stage and live her voice sounds even better than on the recording!

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Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Bucharest to Zürich

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Introduction

The course with the Romanian ANSP goes well. With that out of the way, it’s time for me to pack up my bags and head back home. On the return flight I’m travelling with SWISS, mainly because they have a direct service from Bucharest to Zürich and the timing was convenient.

Getting to the Airport

Everybody in Bucharest seems to use Uber these days. In fact, taxis are rather hard to come by and when you do find one, there is a latent risk that you will be ripped off. I’m not sure what to think of Uber. But what I like, is that the drivers are not constantly trying to engage you in conversation or giving you advice on where to find the best prostitutes.

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Check-in

I checked in using the SWISS app. But for some reason I couldn’t obtain my boarding pass. Which is why my first stop at the airport is the Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS check-in counters to get an good old-fashioned, printed boarding pass.

The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 80 to 84, which are located in what is either a new extension to the terminal or a recently renovated part of the building I previously hadn’t noticed. In any case, it all looks very modern and new, especially in contrast with the rest of the facility which is starting to show its age.

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The young lady who checks me in hands me the lounge invitation and then sends me on my way.

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The Mastercard Lounge

In Bucharest SWISS uses the Mastercard lounge, which is located one floor up from the general airside area. The stairs to reach the lounge are located near gate 7.

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The lounge itself is nothing special. It has a very limited selection of drinks, and food options consist of a few sad looking, limp paprika chips and some stale peanuts. But. There’s one big but: the views from up here are excellent, and I even manage to get a seat by the window, from where I can watch all the proceedings outside.

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Boarding

Boarding is from gate 2, which is the closest stand to the terminal building. The first call is for Business Class and status card holders to board. There are four passengers in Business Class today.

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The Cabin

This aircraft is clearly a fairly new addition to the SWISS fleet. Either that, or they’ve taken exceptionally good care of this bird.

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of twelve seats. Which means that every passenger has a row to themselves. Unlike Lufthansa or Air France, SWISS has screens installed throughout the cabin. On the downside though, there are no electricity plugs for passengers.

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I’m seated on 1A. On the first row the seat pitch is good. Better, I should say, than on Air France or KLM on the bulkhead row.

The Crew

There are four cabin attendants. As I enter the plane, a middle aged female maître de and a clean-shaven, pleasant young man welcome me aboard the aircraft. Their manner is friendly and welcoming. While boarding is still in progress, the young man brings me a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

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Once boarding is completed, the captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that there will be a slight delay in leaving due to snow in Zürich. While we wait, the crew pass through the cabin with chocolate, which always goes down well.

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The flight time is announced as 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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The Meal

Shortly after take-off, the crew is released to start the service. The food trays with the meals are delivered individually from the galley.

The meal consists of:

  1. thinly sliced veal with a walnut vinaigrette and a salmon mouse on wholegrain bread,
  2. a plate of cheese and butter, which is served with bread,
  3. a dessert which tastes rather nice but of which I have no idea what it is supposed to be.
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The meal is okay, although I still think that a flight time of over two hours is enough time to serve a proper meal. I also think that compared to the lobster flan served on Air France on my way to Bucharest, the salmon mouse thing served by SWISS is rather underwhelming, heavy and just a bit weird.

Throughout the meal the crew pass through the cabin to check if there’s anything else the passengers need – offering top ups of drinks and more bread. The crew really are quite pleasant and take their time to interact with the passengers in a very natural way. I especially like that when they talk to you, both the maître de and the young man really look at you, as though their acknowledging you as a customer. It’s quite refreshing and something you don’t get that often anymore these days.

After the meal I ask for a coffee, which is served with yet another chocolate. Jay!

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Zürich. There’s a bit of a delay because apparently it’s still snowing heavily around the airport. About twenty minutes out of Zürich, the captain makes an announcement informing us that due to the low visibility we’ll be doing a fully automatic landing and therefore, all electronic devices will have to be turned off completely. And indeed, a short while later the cabin crew come through the cabin to check that mobiles and the likes are fully turned off and not just in flight mode.

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To be honest, if the pilot hadn’t said anything, I don’t think I would have known the difference.

When eventually we come to a stop on our stand, there’s a bit of a hold up with the airbridge. The young man is standing next to me. He apologises and tells me it hopefully won’t be long. I explain that given the rejected take-off and the subsequent delay of nearly four hours on Monday and the two-hour delay in Paris on Tuesday, a few minutes hardly seem worth mentioning…

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And so my trip to Bucharest ends. Tomorrow I shall go off to London for the week-end. But that trip will be in BA Economy Class, and I’m not really sure that will be worth reporting on…