EasyJet – Airbus A 320: Friedrichshafen to London Gatwick

Schaffhausen is probably best known for its proximity to the spectacular Rhine falls in Neuhausen. But it’s definitely also worth a visit in its own right.

In Schaffhausen I spend the night at the lovely Hotel Rüden, which is located close to the railway station, on the fringe of the old town.

There are two ways to get from Schaffhausen to Friedrichshafen airport. The boring way is to take the train and change in Friedrichshafen. The journey will take 1 hour and 27 minutes. The alternative is quite a bit longer at 2 hours and thirty minutes, but definitely more fun!

First, I take the 09h49 train from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, which is a journey of about fifty minutes, part of which run along a very scenic route next to the river and then the lake.

In Kreuzlingen I have three minutes to make the connection to Konstanz, which is only another four minutes by train.

And then in Konstanz, I have twelve minutes to connect to the catamaran that goes across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen.

Only, it turns out that because of the wind, the catamaran will not be operating. So I’m just going to have to take the train.

But that’s not quite so straightforward. First, I take the 11h40 train to Radolfzell, which is a ride of fifteen minutes.

And then in Radolfzell I have ten minutes before my train to Friedrichshafen arrives. This being Germany, it’s late of course. But it’s a diesel train, which we don’t have in passenger service in Switzerland. I think it’s kind of cool, and sounds like a bus more than a train.

In Friedrichshafen I just have enough time to walk down to the lake to take a look at the water, which is starting to look a bit rough.

And then from Friedrichshafen Stadt I take yet another diesel train at 13h09, which takes five minutes to get to the airport.

From the airport station it’s just a short walk across the road to the terminal, which is a nondescript, flat building. But there is an Ibis hotel.

Departures are to the left of the building. Despite its limited size, inside every carrier has its own dedicated check-in counters. Although having said that, I hardly think there are all that many operators out of FDH.

Security for all gates is off the the left of the check-in hall. And of course, once you’re through security, you’re immediately ejected in the duty free shop.

All in all, there are seven gates, of which the five A gates are for Schengen departures and the two B gates for non-Schengen flights.

About 45 minutes before departure, the immigration officers appear to open up shop. The guy at my counter looks at my Maltese passport and just says ‘cool’ with this gleeful tone in his voice. ‘I’ve been there, you have great weather down there…’. And then he just lets me through.

At 14h20 the inbound from Gatwick glides down on runway 24. The A 320 looks slightly out of place and a but oversized compared to the terminal.

Boarding starts at 14h45 for a 15h05 departure. But that’s okay, because it turns out there’s only 49 passengers on the flight anyway…

Originally, I’m seated on 1C. But once boarding is completed two minutes later, I switch to the window on 1F and have the whole row to myself!

On the first row the pitch is comfortable enough. I don’t think it’s much less than on the first row of SWISS’ A 320s. The only complaint I have though, is that there’s cold air coming in through the R1 door inflight. Obviously it’s not enough to depressurise the cabin, but it certainly gives you cold feet!

On the climb out of Friedrichshafen we’re treated to some excellent views of the lake.

Once the buy on board service starts, I purchase a large cup of hot chocolate with two shortbread finger biscuits for GBP4.-, which I think is quite fair.

The crew are a friendly bunch and they’re obviously enjoying not having a full load of passengers for a change.

The flight passes quickly, and eventually we land after a flight time of 90 minutes and taxi to our stand at the satellite of the North Terminal.

The airport is surprisingly quiet and I’m through immigration in no time. From arrivals I head one floor up to catch the shuttle train to the South Terminal, from where the Gatwick Express into London’s Victoria station will be leaving.

The journey into London takes 32 minutes if you’re lucky enough to catch the express and there are multiple trains per hour.

For a change, this time I won’t be staying in the West End. Instead, I’m off to Brixton…

I won’t be writing a post about the return flight to Basel with easyJet, so this is going to be my last post of 2019. I want to thank all those of you who have visited my blog throughout the year and read the posts or just looked at the pictures, but especially all those of you who also were kind enough to leave a comment – be it a question, criticism, explanation or correction. Thank you!

I wish you all a happy holiday and a spectacular festive season!

– William

Air Malta, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Malta to Zürich

The weather here in Malta has been lovely all week, with cloudless blue skies and a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

But it’s time to head back to Switzerland and the cold.

I check out of The Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana at noon. The next bus to the airport will be the 12:35 X4, which leaves from the B pier of the main terminus. The B and C piers are located in St. James’ ditch, below what used to be Duke of York Avenue.

The X4 bus has a luggage rack, which is really convenient, because the bus continues all the way to Birzebbuga in the south and therefore tends to get very full.

Despite the fairly reliable public transport service, traffic in Malta continues to get worse. The journey to the airport takes 35 minutes to cover a distance of 7 kilometres.

As such, by the time I arrive at the airport, it’s already 13:15 and the flight will start boarding at 13:55.

The check-in area is quite busy, with the Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways flights leaving around the same time as the flight to Zürich.

Security is well organised and quick. But the airside lounge is definitely getting too small for the amount of traffic the airport handles. It feels cramped and crowded.

Boarding for the flight starts just after 14h. There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers.

More importantly though, we’ll be boarding via stairs and without a bus. So loads of opportunities for me to geek-out about an aeroplane. I can just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll…

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers. However, there are only two other passengers with me in the forward cabin today.

There’s something charmingly old-fashioned and typically Maltese about the cabin of this aircraft – from the pictures of Malta on the bulkheads, to the nicely padded seats that will all be a thing of the past with the change over to the NEO.

Service on the ground consists of the distribution of newspapers and a welcome drink.

It’s a lovely, warm day with good visibility. We take off towards the northwest and fly the full length of Malta, before making a right turn to point us in the direction of Palermo.

Once the crew is released, the service starts with the distribution of the unscented hot towels. This is followed immediately by the meal service.

Everything is served on one tray.

The main course is a caesar salad of sorts with three slices of chicken breast.

This is served with warm bread and a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico.

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

The meal is nice enough. And especially the mousse is very rich and creamy!

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

The flight time today is two hours and twenty minutes, which is quite long for this route. But at least the views are great and the Alps look spectacular.

Eventually we land in Zürich at 16:54. By 17:09 I’m already on the train on my way home.

Things are rapidly changing for Air Malta. Already today they are no longer the largest carrier to the island of Malta and take second place behind Ryanair.

But at least, with the minister of transport and tourism resigning this week over claims of corruption, there is hope the government will stop its constant meddling and interference in how Air Malta should be run.

One way or another though, if Air Malta wants to stay competitive, it seems to me they still have a way to go, particularly when it comes to their website and reliably making a purchase for ancillary services via airmalta.com.

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

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.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Frankfurt to Malta

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INTRODUCTION
I’m on my way to Malta for this year’s edition of the Malta Marathon. I shall be running the half-marathon with a distance of 21.1 kilometres, which is in fact longer than the width of the island!

I confess I’m a bit of a wuss, I’ve never been able to bring up the cojones to attempt a full marathon. That’s still one for the bucket list. Others of course, like my friend the valiant M., probably do a nippy full marathon every morning, just to work up an appetite for breakfast…

But I digress. Again. So yes, last year I flew with Lufthansa via Munich and I must say, I was hardly impressed. But given my recent, rather positive experiences on SWISS, I figured I might as well give Lufthansa another chance. There’s also that fact that their schedule is the most convenient for my purpose.

GETTING TO THE FRANKFURT
Just to give Lufthansa a bit of a head start, I shall not regale you with a full trip report of the Basel to Frankfurt sector. Suffice to say it was not so nice. My biggest complaint is the aircraft. Those Canadair RegionalJets really are stinkers! Everything is really tight and cramped and the bins are simply too small for all the hand luggage people take on board these days.

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE ON CONCOURSE A
The bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me somewhere in the bowels of the A concourse of Terminal 1. From here I take the stairs one floor up and make my way to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge.

The lounge is nicely designed and very bright, using a lot of white paint and light wooden panelling. The views of the apron are quite spectacular too, despite those pesky stripes that run along the width of the windows.

It’s just too bad there hardly any place left to sit. There are people everywhere and I’m left wondering if all these good men and women really have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than hang around an airport lounge. But it doesn’t matter. I only have about 15 minutes in the lounge before it’s time for me to head for gate A 36, from where the flight will be boarding.

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BOARDING
Only, getting to the gate may prove to be a bit trickier than I thought. The queue of passengers for Schengen emigration is so long that it’s blocking access to the A concourse, which is in the opposite direction from the non-Schengen area. But eventually, after a long stream of ‘uh…sorry…hello…’tschuldigung…was that your toe, sorry…excuse me’ I finally get through and reach my gate just as boarding is about to start.

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THE CABIN
Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 321. I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. On this side of the aircraft, row 2 is the first row of Business Class, there is no row 1. Whereas on the opposite side there is.

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The leg space is excellent on the bulkhead row. Other than that though, the seat is very hard, with little or no cushioning and – and I know I keep saying this – the grey metallic finish of the panelling really makes the cabin look rather dark and gloomy.

In total, there are 14 Business Class seats on this service. Occupancy is at 50%, with six human beings and a rather regal looking feline who looks as though he owns the aircraft. And Lufthansa actually…

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SERVICE & CREW
The maître de is a woman in her fifties, I should say. What strikes me about her is the eloquence and ease with which she makes her announcements. It seems unrehearsed, but it comes across as being very polished, charming and approachable.

The service only begins really once the aircraft is airborne. Until then, unlike SWISS or KLM, there is no welcome drink, refreshing towel or anything of the sort.

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THE MEAL
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins. Despite the fairly long flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes it is obviously not foreseen that there should be a drinks service before the meal.

The meal is cold and consists of:

  • a very nice yoghurt, the content of which I was unable to make out, save for the slice of orange and the pistachios,
  • a plate of cheese,
  • a plate of cold meats,
  • a bowl of fruit,
  • a selection of buns and croissants that are served warm and nearly burn your fingers,
  • the bread is served with unsalted butter and Hero strawberry jam,
  • cream, sugar and a towl are also on the tray.

As the flight attendant passes through the cabin with the bread basket, she encourages the passengers to take as much as they like, insisting that there’s really more than enough. All in all, the meal is rather tasty and hits the spot nicely.

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ARRIVAL
It looks like it’s my lucky day today. Landings and take-offs are towards the north, which means that passengers seated on the starboard side of the aircraft are treated to a spectacular view of the island.

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The airport is fairly busy when we arrive, but seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m already on the X2 bus to St. Julian’s within just 15 minutes of landing.

5 Star Airline – I don’t think so…
So what about my Lufthansa experience? First of all, to be fair, I think I should say straight away that this experience was by far much more agreeable to the flight from Munich to Malta last year. Where last year’s crew were a right bunch of nasty old witches, this lot was a more accommodating and willing to interact in a professional and friendly way with the passengers. On this flight I actually felt welcome, and not like I was a burden.

On the down side, and I know this is something Lufthansa has only limited control over, the experience on the ground in Frankfurt really is a nightmare. The airport is a rat hole, with long journeys by bus to and from the aircraft, seemingly endless corridors to walk along and people everywhere that make it difficult to get through.

The inflight product on the other hand, is something Lufthansa very much can control, which makes it all the more unfortunate that precisely this is the carrier’s weakest point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what passengers are offered on board in Business Class, it’s just that it’s quite obvious that every attempt has been made to cut costs. I don’t in principle think there’s anything wrong with that. After all, the airline is accountable to its shareholders. But even so, I think the passengers should never be allowed to see the cost cutting.

Other than that, throughout today’s flight there was a constant stream of passengers coming through from Economy Class to use the forward toilet. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them, given that the crew left the curtain between Business Class and Economy open throughout the flight and actually encouraged passengers to use the forward loo. Again, this is in itself not a big issue. But it certainly makes me wonder wherein exactly Lufthansa sees the selling point of its European Business Class product: it’s not the lounges, because they’re too full to be enjoyed anyway; it’s not the catering; and the seat is the same one they have installed in the back of the bus. Which leaves what exactly?

So in the sum of all things, yeah this flight was not bad. But honestly, if anyone at Skytrax seriously thinks Lufthansa is deserving of its 5 Star ranking, then I suspect they probably also still believe in Father Christmas.

Garuda Indonesia, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Surabaya to Jakarta

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INTRODUCTION
Had I already mentioned it’s the monsoon season in Java? Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. No sooner have we left the hotel, the rain starts. This must be what they mean when people speak of the heavens opening. Within minutes the streets turn to rivers and it becomes nearly impossible to see anything up ahead of the car. I think it’s kind of atmospheric though, sitting in the comfort of the car with the rain pelting down on the roof as we drive through the rain drenched streets of Surabaya under a thunderous sky. And the Indonesians? To be honest, I think they hardly notice the rain. At least they all seem to be going about their business as usual – and their driving certainly hasn’t slowed down…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My flight to Jakarta will be leaving at 18h00. Given how long it took me to get from the airport into Surabaya when I got here, I arrange for the car to pick me up from the Majapahit at 15h00. Of course I hadn’t considered that this being Friday there would be less traffic. And so it happens that the trip to the airport only takes me fifty minutes to complete instead of ninety.

CHECK-IN
Garuda has its own domestic terminal here in Surabaya, which is Terminal 2. The facility looks rather new and very modern. The check-in area is only accessible for passengers with a valid ticket and you are required to show your ticket or boarding pass to enter the restricted area.

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There is a separate check-in are for premium customers, located opposite the regular check-in counters. The lady at check-in is friendly and obviously in a good mood, and apparently she was expecting me. I was able to check in using the app, but downloading the boarding pass to my Wallet or sending it by mail or text message didn’t work.

AIRSIDE/LOUNGE
The security check point and lounge area are located one floor up from check-in. Much to my surprise, there is even a lounge for Business Class passengers. It’s fairly small. In addition, there are a few weather related delays, making it difficult to find a place to sit. But eventually I manage.

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There are no washrooms in the lounge, and passengers should use the toilets next to the prayer room.

BOARDING
I think it’s safe to say we’re not going to leave on time. The previous service to Jakarta at 15h30 has been delayed due to weather and will now only be departing at 19h00. At some point, my flight shows up with a delay of thirty minutes, for a departure at 18h30.

Surprisingly though, 18h30 is when the boarding for my flight starts, which isn’t too bad. Eventually we close doors and push back at 19h10, with a delay of slightly more than an hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and six minutes. Although eventually, with the holding in Jakarta it’s more like ninety minutes.

CABIN
The cabin and seat configuration on the A 330-200 is identical to Garuda’s A 330-300 that I flew on from Melbourne to Jakarta. There is a pillow at every seat and blankets are available upon request.

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CREW & SERIVCE
The flight is full this evening, so there are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. Again they’re friendly and polite. The steward approaches me and ask me if I’d like a welcome drink. He returns shortly after with a glass of apple juice and a scented cold towel.

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THE MEAL
As on the flight from Jakarta to Surabaya, the meal consists of

  • a bowl of fruit,
  • a bread roll and butter,
  • a strange dessert which I suspect and hope is made out of rice,
  • a hot meal with a choice of either fish or chicken.

I go with the chicken, which is quite enjoyable. I have really no idea what the white and green dessert thingy is supposed to be, but it tastes okay actually.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land with a delay of not quite two hours. The aircraft comes to a stop at a gate on the international concourse, which means that after disembarking, we are bussed to domestic arrivals. There are separate busses for Business Class passengers. I will be spending my last night in Indonesia at the FM7 Hotel close to the airport. Ground transportation in Indonesia really is a nightmare, and the FM7 is only about a ten minute drive away from the airport.

Garuda Indonesia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Jakarta to Surabaya

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INTRODUCTION
Surabya Johnny, warum bist du so roh…? Surabaya Johnny, no-one’s meaner than you…

I just landed in Jakarta on a flight from Melbourne. We’re coming up to eleven in the morning. I’m not staying in Jakarta though. Instead, I’ve decided to heed the advice of my friend P., otherwise known as the Flying Dutchman, and head for Surabaya instead.

Why Surabaya, I hear you say? Don’t worry, I will explain later.

TRANSFER
The process is fairly straightforward. If you’re continuing on a domestic flight, you will have to clear immigration and customs in Jakarta. Once you exit customs, just follow the signs for domestic check-in. Eventually, the escalators will eject you on the second floor of Terminal 3, which is home to Garuda and its SkyTeam partners.

Domestic check-in for Garuda is on rows E and F. The SkyPriority counters are F2 and F3.

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AIRSIDE/LOUNGE
There is a dedicated line for security for SkyPriority passengers and when I arrive, the place is deserted. The staff manning the check point are very friendly and seem glad to see somebody. I suspect they’re probably just bored out of their wits.

The new terminal in Jakarta is airy and spacious. Surprisingly though, it’s also already showing first signs of wear and tear, despite that fact that it hasn’t been open that long. The roof is leaking in places, while other parts of the facility appear to be not quite finished or completed yet.

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The Garuda lounge is fairly large, but here too there is some urgent need for repairs. The lounge’s big selling point though, is that they serve Indonesian food! I don’t know what half the stuff I’m eating is here, but it sure is tasty!

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BOARDING
I think ‘organised chaos’ best describes the experience of flying in Indonesia. At 13h00 my flight shows up as ‘now boarding’ from gate 15. Only, when I reach gate 15 they’re still in the process of boarding the previous flight, which is heading for Denpasar. But still my flight is showing as being on time for a 13h30 departure.

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About twenty minutes later, I decide to check on the departures monitors about my flight. Only to find that the gate has been changed to 20, which is quite a schlep from gate 15. So I trek down to gate 20, where apparently they’re boarding a flight to somewhere else. My flight is also on the display and still down as on time, despite the fact that it’s already 13h35.

The only thing in the way of an announcement is one of the gate agents yelling something at the top of her voice in Bahsa. I approach one of the ten (!) agents at gate 20 to inquire about the status of my flight. She tells me that boarding will start soon from this gate.

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Eventually boarding starts at 14h20. By the time we push back it’s 14h40. So by now we’re already more than an hour behind schedule. The captain comes on the speaker to inform us that we’re currently number 15 in the departure sequence and will probably have to wait another forty minutes before it’s our turn depart…

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

CABIN
Even for such a short hop, Garuda offers a Business Class product with a dedicated Business Class cabin. The seat has a pitch of 42 inches and a width of 19 inches. The design of the seat looks similar to the one I had on the Virgin Australia flight. The only difference being that Garuda also has a footrest installed on its seat, which really is much more comfortable to relax in when the seat is in the recline position.

There are twelve seats in a 2 + 2 configuration on three rows.

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CREW & SERIVCE
The Business Class cabin is taken care of by one female flight attendant. While boarding is still in progress she brings me a scented cold towel and a glass of orange juice. She’s obviously more focussed than friendly, but that’s okay.

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THE MEAL
Eventually we take off. The first few minutes of the flight are really bumpy, so it takes a while for the seatbelt sign to be turned off.

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Quite surprisingly, the crew are planning on doing a full tray service, despite the short flight time. They even use tablecloths!

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The tray arrives and consists of a bowl of fruit, another bowl with something sweet and a side plate with a cheese bun and butter.

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It’s only after I start on the fruit that I realise there’s also a hot meal, which is served separately. There is even a choice between two dishes: one is a piece of fish, while the other is chicken in a spicy gravy. I go with the latter and I really must say, the meal is excellent. But apart from that, I’m quite amazed how Garuda manages to serve up a hot meal on a flight of just over one hour, and how one flight attendant manages to serve twelve passengers in that time and remains friendly and courteous throughout.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Surabaya. The light outside looks strange. It’s murky and wet. The approach is quite nice though. We come in over the sea, we make landfall, flying over these enormous rice feels. It’s a very poetic landscape, especially in the strange light.

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Garuda operates out of Terminal 2 in Surabaya.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Traffic in Indonesia is so bad, it’s legendary. And while Surabaya may not be quite as atrocious as Jakarta, it’s still bad. The airport is 19km away from the hotel where I’m staying. With the really nasty traffic it takes us ninety minutes to make the journey.

Emirates Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Dubai to Amsterdam

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I awake to my 43rd birthday at five in the morning at the Sofitel Downtown Dubai. I’ve spent the whole week giving a course in Al Ain and now it’s finally time to head home. So I shall be spending a large part of my birthday on an Airbus A380 somewhere between heaven and earth. I could think of worse ways to spend the day…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Emirates’ chauffeur service really works rather well and can be booked online when you make your flight reservation. From what I understand, there is a maximum range for the drop-you off/pick-up at the outstations, but from their hub in Dubai the service covers all of the Emirates.

One day before I’m scheduled to fly, I even receive a text message from Emirates to confirm the service with the time of the pick-up.

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The Sofitel Downtown is located on Sheikh Zayed Road, within walking distance of the Burj Khalifa and right next door to the metro station by the same name. The journey from the hotel to the airport will take you about 20 minutes by car. Although if you’re traveling in the evening, it is likely to be significantly longer with all the traffic. In fact, unless you are, like me, travelling in the wee hours of the morning, I really would recommend you take the metro to the airport instead and save yourself some serious agro.

By metro it’s 36 minutes on the red line from the Sofitel to the airport and a single ticket will cost AED14.

CHECK-IN
Emirates has a dedicated terminal for First Class and Business Class passengers, which is fairly deserted this morning. Check-in is swift and my suitcase is tagged all the way to my final destination. There are not many passengers checking in at this time of day and half the check-in counters are closed.

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In contrast, the transit area is packed with bleary eyed transfer passengers –Emirates’ bread and butter – transiting through Dubai on the carrier’s morning wave.

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LOUNGE
The flight today is leaving from the C concourse, which is in the original midfield terminal at Dubai and is thus much older than the A and B piers that were purpose built for the A380. As a result, there is no segregation between Economy Class passengers and Business Class/First Class passengers. It’s also quite a schlep from the security check-point to the C concourse.

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The Emirates lounge on the C concourse is much smaller than those on the A and B concourses too. It’s a bit gloomy and looks quite old-fashioned, although the latter can also be said of the other lounges, which are somewhat conservative in their design.

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BOARDING
Boarding is from gate C25 and there is a long queue to enter the holding pen. Once boarding starts, Business Class passengers are invited to head one floor up via the escalators to board the upper deck of the aircraft.

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THE CABIN
The aircraft deployed on the Amsterdam route do not have a First Class cabin. So upon entering the aircraft on the upper deck, you find yourself in the Economy Class cabin. During boarding this isn’t really such an issue, and the fact that the Business Class cabin is located in the aft of the aircraft means you don’t have half the aircraft filing past you through the cabin. However, it also means that when deplaning, Business Class passengers have to wait for most of the upper deck to disembark before they can finally get off the plane.

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I don’t much like the design of the cabin. The colours are not especially attractive, the faux wood panelling is just tacky and overall the cabin is starting to look a bit dated, especially when compared to what airlines like Air France or Qatar Airways offer these days. Even so, the layout of the seat is good and if you’re seated on an A or K seat, there is a lot of storage space. The A and K seats are also very private.

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
The Emirates ICE inflight entertainment system is just brilliant and offers a huge selection of films, television programmes, games, etc. As a rule, I don’t normally have any use for the IFE. However, on this flight, I manage to watch two Pirates of the Caribbean films (don’t judge, okay…) and a whole season of the Big Bang Theory.

THE CREW & SERVICE
A while back I had the impression that Emirates went through a bit of a bad patch with their cabin crew and the on board service. I suspect their growth was so rapid that perhaps this may have had a negative impact on cabin crew training. But that appears to have been remedied and the crew on this flight, as on the outbound, are friendly and professional.

On daytime flights, Emirates does not distribute amenity kits. However, socks and eye shades can be found in the seat and tooth brushes and shaving kits are available in the toilets.

The service before on the ground consists of a selection of juices and champagne for a welcome drink, the distribution of the menus and the rather nicely scented, thick hot towels.

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THE MEAL
On the morning flight leaving Dubai for Amsterdam there are two meal services. Immediately after take-off a light breakfast is served, which is delivered on one tray. It consists of

  • a yoghurt,
  • a raisin brioche,
  • butter and jam
  • a bowl of cold cuts, cheese and cucumber
  • a choice of juices and coffee or tea.

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Just over two hours out of Amsterdam the main meal is served, which is lunch. Much to my surprise, it’s still the same menu they were offering when I last flew with Emirates back in April this year.

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Back then, I had opted for the chicken main course, which was not very good. The two other options for the hot meal do not sound too appealing either. And so, instead, I decide to have two starters: the tomato soup and the fish appetiser.

The food is served on one tray and includes a small salad, a glass of still water and one roll. The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket during the service.

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The dessert is served separately once the tray has been cleared away.

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CONCLUSION
Emirates has managed to establish itself as the industry benchmark for comfort in travel, through a whole series of innovations in all service classes, both in the air and on the ground. However, on this trip I got the impression that their product is gradually starting to get a bit long in the tooth. The lounges are starting to look old-fashioned and dated and their Business Class cabin can no longer keep up with the competition either. I think they’re still a good airline, but I think they’re going to have to work a bit harder to make sure that stays that way. In future, they will not be able to rely solely on the reputation they have built for themselves over the years.

Other than that, I still think the Airbus A380 is ugly as sin. But the passenger experience remains impressive, each time I fly with this beast. Apart from the fact that it is truly is quite difficult to wrap your brain around the fact that something so big can actually fly, the sound in the cabin is just so quiet.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand Est region of France and the official seat of the European parliament. It’s a very neat and pretty city that is easy to navigate on foot. The centrepiece of the city is, of course, the magnificent cathedral – a huge, imposing building with intricate masonry and a very tall bell tower.

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Personally though, I think my favourite it the main railway station. The original building is already very nice, with large windows with coloured glass looking onto the platforms. The entire building is now covered inside a huge glass structure that is quite unusual.

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In Strasbourg I am staying at the MGallery Hotel Cour du Corbeau, which belongs to the Accor Group of hotels and is ideally located just on the other side of the canal from the cathedral. The facility has been open since 2009 and is obviously very well maintained, because there are hardly any signs of wear and tear. The hotel consists of a number of old buildings and town houses that have been beautifully restored and parts of the original buildings have been integrated into the hotel’s structure.

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The rooms are nicely appointed and very clean. Next time I’m visiting Strasburg I’ll definitely be staying at this hotel again.

Here’s the link to the hotel.

Germania, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Rostock

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INTRODUCTION
Admittedly, I know I’m an embarrassment to all self-respecting southern Europeans, given that I really don’t handle the heat very well. On the other hand, having said that, it really is unusually hot in Switzerland right now – with temperatures constantly in the mid-thirties.

But thank God, there are some places on the continent that have been spared the stifling heat. So that’s where I’m heading for the weekend.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I take the train from Winterthur at 11h58. I’m actually at the station early enough to catch the earlier train at 11h55. But as soon as that comes rumbling into the station, I figure I’m not is such a rush after all. The regular 11h55 train has been replaced with something that avid train spotters would probably lovingly refer to as vintage, which, Swiss Federal Railways lingo, is a euphemism for carriages with no air conditioning.

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CHECK-IN
My flight is at 13h50, but I already checked in at the airport this morning at 05h15, when I dropped off my dad at the airport on his way to Malta.

Germania does not have web check-in or self-service check-in. At Zürich airport they are handled by Swissport in Terminal 2.

When I return to the airport in the early afternoon, the place is a lot busier than it was in the morning. Even so, I manage to secure a nice spot on the A pier, with a good view of the apron and runway 28. Today 28 is in use for arrivals, with 32 and 34 in use for departures.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts about forty minutes late. The aircraft was already late arriving in Zürich by about thirty minutes.

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The heat in the glass airbridge is agony. For a moment I feel compelled to do my best ‘I’m melting, I’m melting…’ impression of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. But then I remember I forgot to put on my green makeup this morning so people might think I’m odd…

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Anyhow, once we board, the crew inform us about a further twenty minutes delay before we can finally start our engines due to ATC restrictions over Germany. Eventually we depart one hour behind our scheduled departure time.

CABIN & SEAT
Germania’s Boeing 737-700 have a seating capacity of 148. Today’s load is a bit over one hundred passengers, I should say.

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Germania Doesn’t offer a Business Class as such. However, the first row are the so called XL seats, which are available for advanced seat reservation at a cost of EUR30 each. Included in the price is a bulkhead seat with slightly more pitch, earphones as well as complimentary alcoholic drinks and snacks from the buy on board menu.

The pitch is not bad on row 1. However, the lack of width of the seat is quite striking. The cabin feels a lot more crowded and tighter than for example on KLM. I suspect that maybe Germania went with a slightly narrower seat in favour of a wider aisle.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew are a friendly and interesting lot. Strangely enough though, the entire cabin crew is made up of Spaniards and an eastern European and none of them speak even a single word of German, which is a bit unusual for a German carrier, I find. 

THE MEAL
The meal service is confusing. There is a buy on board price list in the seat pocket, which contains drinks and snacks like crisps or chocolate. By at the same time, Germania will also serve you a complimentary snack. On today’s flight there is a choice of either a salami or a cheese sandwich.

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With the sandwich I have a coffee and a sparkling water, both of which are apparently free of charge. I also ask for a Kit Kat, which I haven’t had in ages!

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ARRIVAL
Rostock airport is a dinky little place with only two airbirdges. It is also home to a large Eurofighter base. Because there are so few flights up here, the bus into town is scheduled to coincide with the arriving flights. But seeing as our flight is more than an hour late by the time we land, the bus has already left. Instead, there is a replacement service for EUR9.80 per person.

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The journey from the airport into town will take you about thirty minutes.

CONCLUSION
The tall, blond M., himself triathlete extraordinaire, engineer and skeptic of all sciences that don’t involve numbers, has pointed out that I did give my candid opinion on Germania in the original post.

So here goes: all in all I very much doubt I would go out of my way to fly with Germania. By the same token though, I wouldn’t actively avoid them either. The service was okay but not outstanding, either in a positive or a negative way. I think EUR30 is a bit steep for a front row seat, the additional complimentary snack and complimentary earbuds, particularly given that the earbuds didn’t look as though they were any good and the flight time was only slightly more than an hour anyway.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Munich to Malta

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Date: 04 March 2017.
Departure: 09h35.
Arrival: 11:40.
From: München.
To: Malta.
Flight time: 2 hours 5 minutes.
Seat: 2F, window.

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INTRODUCTION
A while back I figured it might be a fun idea to participate in the Malta half marathon on Sunday, 5 March 2017. The 21.1km race begins in Rabat, just outside the city gate of Malta’s elegant old capital, Mdina. From there the course takes you all the way down towards the east coast of the island, past Mtarfa, through Mriehel and Marsa to Floriana. From il-Bombi the route branches off to the left, down to the water’s edge at Sa Maison for the last five kilometres, which run along the shoreline of Marsamxet harbour, through the outskirts of Gzira, Msida and Ta’Xbiex to cross the finish line at il-Ferry in Sliema.

GETTING TO MÜNCHEN
And so I find myself in Munich on an early Saturday’s morning. It’s just gone seven as I step off the Bombardier CRJ-900 that has brought me here from Basel. I really think Lufthansa should get rid of these little airplanes. I mean, I love flying but those things are just so narrow and awkward that even I start to get claustrophobia.

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Normally I make a point of flying Air Malta when I travel to the island, mainly because you’re never quite sure if perhaps it might be your last flight with them, given the financial state they’re in. But I only have the weekend to make the trip. I have to be back in Basel by Sunday evening. So on this occasion, Lufthansa was simply the best choice and allowed me to arrive in Malta at noon on Saturday and leave again the next evening after the race. As the German saying goes, in der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen!

CHECK-IN
I check in using the Lufthansa app, which works nicely. I also think Lufthansa do a very good job in keeping you up to date on the status of your flight, sending you notifications of gate changes by mail and by text message.

LOUNGE
My first stop is the Lufthansa Business Class lounge. It was still early when I left Basel this morning so I only had a coffee at the airport and some still water on the flight to Munich.

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The lounge in Munich is pretty nondescript. Essentially it is just one big cavernous room with a somewhat anonymous, nondescript atmosphere. It gives the appearance of somebody having really made a gargantuan effort to strip the place of any character it might have had. Who designed this place?

I don’t try the showers but the toilets are definitely starting to look a bit rough around the edges. They’re not exactly in the cleanest condition either.

The food options are okay. There is a buffet with typical breakfast fare – a good selection of different breads, cheese, cold cuts, cucumber and tomato. There is also Müsli, fruit salad and scrambled eggs.

BOARDING
Boarding starts at 09h10, fifteen minutes behind the time advised on the boarding pass. The initial call is for Business Class passengers and status card holders to board first, although from what I can tell nobody is really paying attention and the gate agent doesn’t seem too bothered about that either.

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CABIN & SEAT
The seat and cabin have been stripped to the absolute minimum level of comfort. There are no power plugs at all and from what I can tell there is also no inflight entertainment system either, which is okay because the flight attendant doing the safety on board demo seems to be having a whale of a time pretending she’s on the catwalk in Milan or Paris…

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There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin this morning, with eleven of the twelve seats occupied. Originally, I’m the lucky guy with a whole row of three to myself. But after take-off Mr 1C moves across to sit next to me on 2D. I suspect he’s probably had enough of the crew tripping over his feet every time they exit the galley.

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 SERVICE & CREW…WHERE ART THOU?
The crew are nondescript too. Not overly gushing but not rude or impolite either. As far as the service is concerned though, I think I’m starting to see a pattern here. In fact I think the service is about as lackluster as the lounge and the crew and the cabin of the aircraft. There are no welcome drinks and no refresher towels. After take-off there is no drinks service ahead of the meal service either.

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THE MEAL
So essentially, this means the service on this flight consists of a unmotivated flight attendant unceremoniously parking a tray before you with grub on it. And what a frugal meal it is! There is a small bowl of some passion fruit concoction, which does, admittedly, taste rather nice. Then there is a small plate, a really small plate, with one slice of some sort of ham, one piece of hard cheese, a blob of cream cheese and more fruit. And that’s it. For a moment I wonder if perhaps somebody I know is trying to give me an oh so subtle hint that I should loose weight by ordering the low-calorie meal for me. But no such luck.

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To drink I have coffee which is tepid and bland and probably even too weak for an American.

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The crew come through the cabin with a large breadbasket, which has more than enough bread in it for the eleven passengers in the Business Class cabin. However, it is quite apparent that seconds from the breadbasket are not encouraged and actually frowned upon by the crew.

When the flight attendant comes to remove my tray she asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. For a moment I consider giving her my best puppy eyes and asking her, with a shaky voice and trembling lips if ‘please Ma’am, can I have some more…’? But then I decide against that, figuring she probably wouldn’t know Dickens anyway. Besides, I think it might cause her physical pain to smile and I’m not that cruel. And so she saunters off in the direction of the galley looking mightily pissed off. A few seconds later she returns with the bread tongs holding one single piece of bread. After all, we wouldn’t want any of the other passengers getting funny ideas now, would we?

I smile and say thank you, to show her I appreciate her effort. But alas, as the saying goes, there’s no hell on earth that’s like a woman’s scorn and my flippant trespass shall not be forgiven so quickly and so the snow queen simply gives me an icy glare before she silently glides away.

The rest of the flight passes just as unspectacularly uneventful as the boring meal service. The woman behind me sounds like she’s got a serious bout of hooping cough, which apparently is alleviated by not covering your mouth when you cough to achieve maximum exposure to your germs for all the passengers in the immediate vicinity, which can be quite a few people in the confined space of an airplane cabin.

ARRIVAL
But all of that recedes into the background as we leave the Sicilian coastline behind us and the captain initiates the descent. We get some spectacular views on the approach. The islands look so green around this time of the year.

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Eventually, we land slightly ahead of schedule. As I step down onto the apron I am consumed by a mix of emotion – wondering what on earth I was thinking to register for the race tomorrow, feeling happy to be back home again and making a mental note to never ever again waste money on a Lufthansa Business Class ticket.

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