FlyNiki, Economy Class – Airbus A320: Vienna to Zürich

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Getting to the Airport

Mode of Transport: Train
Journey Time: 30 minutes
Price: EUR3.60
Leaves from: Wien Mitte / Landstrasse subway station
Arrives: Wien Flughafen Schwechat
Frequency: four trains an hour

Just a word of caution. There are two ways of getting to and from Vienna airport from the city by train. There is the S-Bahn – the commuter trains – which make the journey in about 30 minutes and which will cost you as little as EUR3.60. And then there’s the CAT, a glitzy and fancy affair which makes the journey nonstop in just under half time but more than twice the price of the S-Bahn. To be honest, I wouldn’t bother if I were you…

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I arrive at the airport about two hours prior to departure. And once more I’m struck by the incredibly bad signposting and the circuitous routings you have to take as a passenger. This is ridiculous. You start following the signs to a particular area and then suddenly, at some point the signs to that particular place disappear and you’re left guessing for where to go next.

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Check-in

Niki uses check-in area 1. I’ve only got hand luggage, so I checked in using the Air Berlin app, which works incredibly well. Much better in fact than the KLM one for example. It also seems to me that Niki try to keep the seat next to you empty if you’re a status card holder. I’m travelling with my colleague M. but we’re booked on different PNRs. We both look at the seat plan on our respective iPhones. I park myself on an empty row and the moment I do, M. can no longer select any seat on that row. So eventually we work our way around the problem by having him select his seat first and me then parking myself next to him.

As it happens, 1A is still available. And I take 1C.

Airside

My flight will be leaving from one of the C gates, which are located on the old terminal. On my way there I pass the booth for smokers, which is absolutely packed. I have to stifle a laugh. Seriously? This is just so undignified.

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Little do I know that the Air Berlin ‘lounge’ a few steps further up is really not much better. Except perhaps that it’s less busy. It’s a small, sterile looking room with not much to offer in terms of food and drink. Wifi is available throughout the terminal anyway, courtesy of Vienna Airport. They don’t even have a lounge dragon. How uncivilised is that? Instead you just scan your boarding pass and you’re in. I don’t like.

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So instead I take a seat at the bar in the atrium around which the C gates are arranged. I have myself a toasted panino, a cappuccino and a coke zero for EUR10, which isn’t that bad really.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: apparently

According to the announcement, boarding for the flight is done by cabin zones. However, in practise this doesn’t really count for anything much. There is a gate agent, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in what’s going on and so it’s pretty much a free for all.

Newspapers are available at the door as we enter the aircraft.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: standard configuration
Facilities: none
Audio and Video: audio and video, although on this flight only the moving map and tacky Etihad adverts are available

Niki does not have a Business Class. I think the fact that they subsequently don’t have a cabin divider either gives the cabin a very spacious and airy feel. Apart from that there isn’t really that much to say.

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The Crew

The last time I flew Niki, many moons ago, their cabin crew wore these ridiculous silver uniforms that made them look like sausages rolls wrapped in tinfoil. I’m not sure if that was the intended effect but in any case I’m glad to see that the uniforms evidently have matured with the company. Nowadays it’s a much more understated pink blouse and indigo coloured jeans. Yes, much better.

The crew aren’t exactly gushing, but they’re friendly enough and their smiles seem genuine.

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The Meal

  1. Sandwich of chicken breast with salad and barbecue sauce
  2. Hot and cold drinks

I’m not really hungry. It’s just that the food service helps to shorten the journey time. There is a choice between a cheese sandwich and chicken. I go with the latter and I must say it’s rather tasty.

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Arrival

The flight time is only one hour. It’s a lovely evening for flying. We come in over lake constance, crossing it’s entire length from east to west. We land on runway 14. It’s a nice balmy evening here in Zürich.

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Four weeks and fourteen flights later and I’m finally back home again, even if it’s only for a week. It’s good to be home.

So what about Niki? I thought they were okay. Admittedly the experience was nothing to write home about and I very much doubt it will stick in my mind as a particularly outstanding experience. But I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.

Epilogue

In Vienna I stayed at the Hilton Plaza. The facility recently underwent a complete facelift and only reopened on 6 June 2014. There are still a few teething problems but all in all it’s a very nice hotel and the rooms still have that smell of new furniture. The location of the hotel on the Schottenring is excellent and the U-Bahn stop is literally just around the corner, making it easy to reach any point in the city quickly.

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Luxair, Business Class – Boeing B 737-700: Vienna to Luxembourg

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Introduction

The flight from Bangkok arrives at 05:45, we’re on time. I now have nearly four hours to make my connection to Luxembourg at 09:30. I’m rather curious to see if the transfer will be easier this time.

Transfer in Vienna – take I

Our aircraft has parked at the very beginning of the G concourse. So after I exit the airbridge and turn left, it’s only a short walk to the immigration counters. My flight to Luxembourg will be leaving from the B concourse in the old terminal. But I’m not really sure if there is a lounge facility there and I do still have quite a wait. So instead I follow the signs to the F concourse, which is the Schengen area of the new terminal. To access the Schengen area I have to go through a security check, as I’m arriving from overseas. So far so good.

When I checked in at Bangkok airport I was issued my boarding pass for the onward connection to Luxembourg. While the boarding pass for the first leg from Bangkok to Vienna showed my Senator status, the boarding pass for the onward leg only shows that I am a Miles and More member. Presumably this has something to do with Luxair’s somewhat odd status as a Miles and More airline that is not part of the Star Alliance.

The Austrian Airlines Senator Lounge

Location: on the F concourse
Type of Lounge: Austrian Airlines Senator lounge, there is one reception area that serves the HON lounge, Senator lounge and Business Class lounge
Facilities:
hot and cold food and drink, workstations, showers (for HONs and Senators only)
Internet:
wifi provided by Vienna Airport, no password required

The lounge is fairly busy when I arrive just after six in the morning. After a short while though, the place empties rather quickly until eventually there’s barely anybody there except me.

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Transfer in Vienna, take II

What a labyrinth! About 40 minutes before departure I decide to venture out in search of my gate on the B concourse. With the experience of the outbound journey still fresh in my mind I figure it might take me a while to find my way. And indeed, the route to the B concourse is complicated and entirely counter intuitive and sees me first going up one escalator, around a few corners and then down another escalator before eventually, without really knowing how, I’m landside again. I keep on walking until I finally arrive in the old terminal. I scan my boarding pass and I am airside once more. I even manage to find the B concourse, where of course I have to go through security again. I ask some young chap in an Austrian Airlines uniform if there’s a lounge anywhere, and he informs me that there is, but I’ll have to go back through security again to get there.

Boarding

Boarding is via a bus gate. As usual it pays to be patient. 64 passengers squeeze into the first, hot bus. It leaves for the aircraft and another bus duly arrives to pick up the remaining four passengers…

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: staggered rows, European standard Business Class with the middle seat left empty
Facilities: none
Audio and Video: audio and video available, only the moving map are in use on today’s flight.

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There’s been another last minute aircraft change, and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400 it’s now a Boeing B737-700 that will be operating the flight. I’m not quite sure why though, as I overhear the purser telling the captain that the headcount is correct at 69 + 2, which should fit into a Dash-8. As it happens, it’s even exactly the same aircraft I had on the outbound.

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The Crew

The crew on this service are much friendlier and warmer than their colleagues on the outbound. Maybe I was just unlucky that time. But this lot is much better.

The Meal

Pre departure drinks: no
Pre meal drinks: no
Delivery:
individually served trays
Type of meal:
brunch
Menu:
there is a menu for the drinks and food

  1. sliced orange
  2. müsli
  3. butter, strawberry jam and apricot jam
  4. bread basket
  5. cottage cheese
  6. grilled tomato slices
  7. Emmental cheese
  8. smoked ham
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The meal is a big surprise and a vast improvement over what was served on the outbound. I like the breadbasket in particular. It’s rather a substantial meal, especially given that the flight time is only slightly more than one hour.

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Arrival

We arrive in Luxembourg slightly ahead of schedule. For a change we make our approach right over the city, coming in fairly low. I don’t have long to wait for my suitcase.

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I shall be staying at the Doubletree again. There’s a shuttle available and if you call enough in advance, they’ll even come and pick you up from the airport.

Conclusion

This flight was a vast improvement over my previous experience in Luxair Business Class. Given the short duration of the flight you’d think there could hardly be any differences, which makes this flight all the more surprising. It’s probably a combination of things. First of all, the food was much more to my liking than on the outbound. Secondly, the crew simply seemed more genuine in the way they welcomed the passengers aboard. And that makes a huge difference.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Vienna to Bangkok

I just arrived in Vienna on a Luxair flight from Luxembourg. I now have nearly four hours to make my connection to Bangkok.

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Transfer in Vienna

The flight from Luxembourg is operated as a code-share with Austrian Airlines. Even so, the bus from the aircraft to the terminal eventually drops us off at the C arrivals concourse, which is in one of the two wings of the old terminal.

And this is where things start to get a bit confusing. Upon entering the building, I follow the signs to the G gates, from where apparently my flight to Bangkok will be leaving. There is a shuttle that runs from the arrivals area C to the G gates. However, this only runs every 15 minutes and the service is provided by a little minibus.

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When I arrive at the pick up point for the shuttle, there are already quite a few people waiting. As a result, when eventually the shuttle arrives, only about a quarter of the queue find a place on the shuttle.

One of the passengers starts telling off the driver and the two of them start having an argument right there, outside, on the ramp and in front of everybody. Eventually the driver storm off, gets into the driver’s seat and drives off in a huff, leaving all the passengers who didn’t find a place in the shuttle standing there on the ramp unattended.

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Well this is just rubbish me thinks, so eventually I decide that probably the easiest thing will be to follow the signs marked ‘Exit Vienna’ and then to find my way to the new terminal landside. Much to my surprise though, just before I finally reach the exit there is yet another sign marked for the G gates. So I figure I might just give this a try. After all, I still have a few hours before my next flight.

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At long last I arrive at a passport control. For a moment I’m not sure if this is really to leave or to enter the Schengen area. But I pass through the check anyway, continue walking and eventually arrive at a security checkpoint, despite the fact that I’m transiting from another Schengen country, which should in fact not require me to go through security again. But in the sum of all things, that is just a minor issue and finally I find myself in the G concourse.

You know how sometimes you see or experience something and wonder ‘what on earth were they thinking’? Well, at Vienna airport it’s really more a question of ‘were they actually thinking’? And it’s not just the cumbersome transfer either. Everything in the new facility seems very cheaply made, giving the entire place the unfinished air of a temporary installation.

Check-in

My suitcase has been checked through to Bangkok. I was also issued a Luxair boarding pass for my onward connection when I checked in at Luxembourg airport. Which means I can head straight for the lounge. 

The Lounge

Location: at the beginning of the G concourse
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Senator lounge
Facilities:
small rest area with loungers to lie on, showers, three workstations with computers
Internet:
Vienna airport network, which is in fact very fast and works nicely

Austrian Airlines has three lounges: a Business Class lounge, Senator lounge and the Hon Lounge. There is a common reception area for the lounges, which is also where the lavatories and showers are located.

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I arrive in the middle of a bitch fight going on between two of the three lounge dragons. One of them wants to know who let ‘that woman’ into the Hon lounge, who quite evidently should not be there. To which the other replies that she has simply no idea, despite the fact that she always has to do all the dirty work. Charming!

The lounge is quite small. But that’s alright really because the place is hardly crowded. In fact it looks rather abandoned.

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At this time of the day the food options don’t really looks that appetizing anymore either. But apart from that, all the food seems rather greasy. As a warm dish there’s something that looks like macaroni cheese and for the two cold dishes there’s a potato salad with way too much mayonnaise and grilled aubergines drowned in an oily tomato sauce.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: Yes. Vienna has automatic gates. However, there is a priority lane for premium passengers. There are also two airbridges attached to the aircraft, with the left one being for Business Class passengers.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1
Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has
Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’
Width: 19.37’
Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net
Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality

All in all the seat is rather nice. It’s very similar to Swiss’ product in Business Class. Austrian Airlines has evidently put a lot of thought into how to make the best of the available space. Of course it helps that I’m sitting on one of the single seats which have stowage space on both sides of the seat. But it’s also little things like the shoe net for you to place shoes during the flight or the bottle holders on either side of the screen, which incidentally are also rather handy for your iPhone.

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The seat is very comfortable. The only thing I can complain about is that it’s a bit tight when you try to convert to seat into a bed. I’m a rather average 6’1 and my legs kept getting in the way. Once the seat has been expanded into a bed though, it’s not a problem any more.

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When I arrive at my seat, the vanity kit has already been placed there.

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The Crew

Excellent! I have rarely come across such a professional crew. They are quite a stark contrast to the OS crews I experienced earlier in the year on my trip to Cyprus. The crew on today’s flight are all very friendly and welcoming. The service is impeccable but without being fussy and you get the impression that the crew are making a point to give the passengers as much personal space as they can but without ignoring them. Another thing which really strikes me, I am a linguist after all, is the very high level of English spoken by the Austrian crew. Not to mention the Thai spoken by the captain.

The Meal

For a pre departure drink I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail

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First Course

Smoked Salmon with beetroot.

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The Soup

Consommé of beef with dumplings.

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Main Course

Rigatoni with lamb ragout and permesan.

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Dessert

Chocolate mouse with a centre of green coconut crème brûlée, a ball of frozen yoghurt and Austrian style pancakes with berries.

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Wow, what a meal! First of all I think it’s quite unusual to be given a choice of three starters in Business Class these days. What’s more, it’s seems that most passengers are having at least two of the options, which does not seem to bother the crew in any way, despite the fact that the load in Business is rather high.

I have the salmon starter, which is very good. It’s a good quality piece of salmon, which isn’t fishy at all. I also like the beetroot hummus. The taste of the tahini is clearly discernible, but with a distinct hint of beetroot.

The soup is very tasty and light. The dumpling in it is simply divine. I have no idea what they put in this but it’s excellent. Full of many different well balanced flavours.

But the whole thing just keeps getting better and better. The rigatoni are nice and chewy and the ragout tastes like something you might get at an Italian restaurant somewhere in Rome. This is excellent!

By the time I finish the main course, I’ve already made a mental note to skip dessert and the cheese. That is, until I see the desserts, at which point I decide that it would be a pity to disappoint the people who read the stuff I write by not taking pictures of the dessert. And so one suffers in silence…

I don’t know how the Austrians do it, but they certainly know their stuff when it comes to making desserts. The chocolate mouse is so chocolaty and fluffy that it seems hardly possible, and the combination with the crème brûlée deserves a Nobel prize as far as I’m concerned.  With dessert I have a glass of sweet wine, as suggested by the cabin crew. But I forget to ask what it was.

Unfortunately the pictures can hardly do justice to this epic and excellent meal. Especially seeing as the lighting conditions were not very good. But it certainly was a very fine meal.

And then I change into my shorts and go off to bed. I only awake 90 minutes out of Bangkok and feel really relaxed and rested. I haven’t slept so well on a plane in a long time!

Just as I return to my seat, the second service is about to begin. Orders for the breakfast service are taken right after departure from Vienna by the on board chef.

The Second Service

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A bowl of fresh fruit.

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Yoghurt with home made granola (very tasty).

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A selection of breads, including toast.

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An omelette with bell peppers and mozzarella, potatoes and tomatoes.

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Coffee and orange juice (there are also smoothies available)

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Once more I am amazed, not only by the tempo of the service, but also by the quality and taste of the food and how it is presented on the plate.

Arrival

We arrive in Bangkok a few minutes ahead of schedule. The Austrian Airlines flight is normally one of the earlier ones to come in during the afternoon bank. As a result, the queues for immigration are quite manageable. If, like me, you need a visa on arrival, you will need to pay THB1000.- for the visa. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to wait, for an additional THB200.- you can have your request processed at the fast track counter, which will take you not more than two minutes.

Austrian Airlines does not provide fast track cards for immigration to its passengers.

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Getting into Town

Talk about a déjà-vu! The driver from the Peninsula is the same guy who picked me up last time. What’s more, he even recognises me! I’m driven to the hotel in a lovely BMW 7. It’s in the standard Peninsula forest green and it looks gorgeous.

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We pull up by the main entrance, where I am already being expected. Check-in at the Peninsula is done in the room. On our way up to the 25th floor, the young lady informs me that they have taken the liberty to put me in the same room as on my previous stay.

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This place is just so nice!

Conclusion

Austrian Airlines’ inflight product is excellent on this flight. The crew are highly professional and experienced, the hard product is pretty decent and the food is simply to die for. Let’s put it this way, if the return turns out to be equally good, then I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply assume that my not so good experience to Cyprus was an exception.

Austrian is a bit unlucky to have to call a place like Vienna airport its hub. I really do think the facility has some serious issues going on that make it really very unpleasant and rather unattractive too. So I guess in future, it will be a question of weighing the tastiness of the rigatoni and lamb ragout against the inconvenience of transiting through Vienna.