Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I step off my ride from Zagreb at 15h40. I have two hours to go before my flight to Basel. I know I write this in every post I make of Vienna airport, but the place really is just such a complete and utter rathole. It’s not just that the signage is useless. It’s just really very ugly and feels very cramped and uncomfortable. The many twists and turns also make it difficult to keep your orientation inside the terminal building.

I pass through immigration and make the long schlepp to security. The pier itself is not very crowded, but the security checkpoint is very busy. My boarding pass says that I have access to the priority lane for security. Only, I can’t seem to find the entrance to the priority lane. I ask one of the airport guides for help, who then escorts me to the line at the far end of the hall – which is cordoned off. Apparently, the priority line is only directly accessible to passengers starting their journey in Vienna. If, like me, you’re in transit, you have to ask somebody to let you in.

The Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge

The entrance to the lounge is the only thing I manage to take a photo of. That’s because the lounge is completely full when I arrive. There is literally not a single seat left available, and people are just milling about nursing their drinks like it’s one big cocktail party. I figure I probably have better things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of loud Germans regaling their colleagues with tales of epic heroism in the corporate jungle “Ja, und dann habe ich gesagt, das akzeptiere ich so nicht… bla bla bla bla…”. Yeah. No.

So I leave the lounge and find a place to settle at one of the empty gates. Just for future reference – a) like the rest of the terminal, the seats are so unpleasant and uncomfortable to work on they give me a backache, and b) the public wifi is a source of major suckage.

Boarding

The screen shows that the gate is open, and boarding will start at 17h50. Eventually, boarding starts at 18:05. The gate agent can’t be bothered with changing the overdue status of the flight from gate open to boarding. There’s also no boarding announcement save for a rather unmotivated “Basel?”, laced with a very unhealthy dollop of couldn’t have less of a shit to give attitude from the gate agent.

The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of six passengers. On the Embraer Austrian keeps the adjacent seat empty for a bit more space. I’m on row 1, where the seat pitch is excellent. I’m also the only passenger in the forward cabin.

The Service

The MC working the Business Class cabin is simply excellent, really lovely. As soon as I take my seat, she rushes by to greet me by name and hands me a bottle of still water and a wet towel. Throughout the flight she keeps checking on me to see if there’s anything else I’d like. Her interaction is friendly and sincere.

The Meal

The meal service begins when the MC asks me what I’d like to drink. Of course I ask her for an Almdudler. Next she brings the tray with the meal, which is two slices of chicken breast on a celeriac salad. For dessert there is a piece of chocolate & coffee cake.

After the meal, my tray is quickly removed. Shortly after, the MC brings me two chocolates on a tray. She tells me one is for me and the other is for the person looking forward to having me back, which I think is a nice gesture.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The weather’s even worse than it was in Zagreb. It’s raining heavily and it’s also rather cold.

Conclusion

The MC on this flight was a delight. She managed to turn even such a short flight in a cramped little aircraft into a pleasurable experience. I think that inconsistencies in the service delivery should be one of the biggest concerns for airlines today. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out against the competition, your staff assume an important role. In as much, it is somewhat regrettable that at Austrian Airlines the friendly MC on my flight from Vienna to Basel was something of an oddity among Austrian Airlines staff.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Zagreb to Vienna

Introduction

Zagreb airport is about 10 kilometres away from the city. What I have learned from my stay here of four days, is that the road traffic can be rather unpredictable, so that the journey between the airport and the city can take anything between 25 minutes an over an hour. Luckily, today I don’t have far to go from the course venue to the terminal, and one of the controllers has kindly offered me a ride.

Check-in

The terminal building is rather nice from the outside. Apparently, the waved roof is designed to remind the onlooker of a cloudy sky. The roof should originally have been made of glass, until somebody realised that the structure would not be able to support the weight of it.

Inside, the landside area and check-in are rather gloomy and dark. There’s also a lot of empty, wasted space – which gives the place a kind of half-finished appearance. Lighting is better once you go through security and passport control and access the airside area.

Check-in for Austrian Airlines is done by its Star Alliance partner Croatia Airlines.

Security is one floor up from check-in, on the mezzanine level. There’s even a separate Fast Track for Business Class passengers. It’s shame though that the young lady managing the queue has obviously decided to ignore the Fast Track queue. Eventually, I decide that it’s just easier and quicker for me to walk back the way I came and join the Economy Class queue… it’s all very classy of course.

The Primeclass Lounge Zagreb

Most airlines at Zagreb use the Primeclass lounge, the entrance to which is opposite gate 22. And it really is a very shabby lounge: ugly and mismatched furniture that is worn and damaged in places, no windows and plenty of fake, plastic plants. The food selection is limited to packaged sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese and meat boreg.

The lounge’s only redeeming feature is the funky pancake maker. I don’t try a pancake, but the machine fascinates me.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a slight delay. Passengers in groups 1 (status holders) and 2 (Business Class) are invited to board first – which I don’t. The gate agents are friendly enough, but it still seems a bit odd that they’re both not wearing a uniform.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight. I’m sat on row 2, so I can stow my luggage under the seat in case the overhead bins are already full by the time I board the aircraft – which they are.

Seat pitch on row two is good and the window is sufficiently well aligned with the seat to offer a view.

The Meal

The flight time is announced as forty minutes. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew jump into action to make sure they manage to feed everyone before we land again in Vienna.

The tray consists of a box of sandwiches and a refreshing towel. In addition, there is a full bar service that includes hot beverages.

The sandwiches are very tasty. There are three finger sandwiches filled with cream cheese, cucumber and pieces of mint.

To drink with that I have an Almdudler.

And just before landing, chocolates are offered.

Arrival

We land slightly ahead of schedule. The ramp in Vienna looks rather empty and quiet. We make our way to our stand, and then I have two hours to make my onward connection to Basel.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Berlin to Vienna

For the trip back from Berlin to Basel, the easiest thing, no pun intended, would have been to book the direct easyJet flight. The only problem with that was that I booked the Air France trip at fairly short notice, once it became clear where the inaugural flight of the A 220 would be going to. By which time there weren’t any extra legroom seats left on easyJet. At my age and with two herniated discs, that’s a serious consideration. And so I figured I might as well return with Austrian via Vienna.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt

I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Berlin. I suppose after all the bad press the airport received and the serious delay for it to finally open, I think I was probably expecting some half finished ruin. Turns out the terminal is rather nice airside. The wood finish gives it a nice, warm feel.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the airport in the future. Many of the low-cost carriers operating to Berlin have already said that they would like to return to the old DDR-era Schönefeld terminal once it reopens after Covid. But as it is, most of the traffic at the new terminal is by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair or easyJet. If they were to return to the old facility, the new one would be even more oversized that it clearly already is now.

Lufthansa lounge

The Lufthansa lounge is in an odd place, is an odd size and an odd shape. If you’re walking too fast, there’s also a good chance you’ll miss the entrance to the staircase that takes you to the lounge.

In a way, the lounge is something of a relic from a bygone era. When the airport was announced, Lufthansa had big plans for it. Ten years down the line and the only two routes operated by Lufthansa out of Berlin are to Frankfurt and Munich. In as much, it’s really quite surprising they still have a lounge at all.

The décor of the lounge is in the typical Lufthansa style, which is a matter of personal taste. Some may like it, and others not. Personally, in general I find the Lufthansa brand rather dated and frumpy. One way or another, there’s something off about the lounge, and I can’t really explain what it is. It has all the Lufthansa branded furniture, but is otherwise nearly completely lacking in any sort of decorations or… something that might give it character.

There are the usual food options, although they’re looking quite unappealing – even the rice looks dry! But I will say that the views are good.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B07 and starts with a call for passengers in Business Class or with status. It’s going to be a full flight. I take my seat on the window on 1F and wait for the aircraft to fill up.

The crew

Alas, the crew on this flight are…meh. They’re a big, uncoordinated mess. I’m not even sure what exactly the issue is, but for some reason they seem disorganised and totally stressed before we even get going. I think part of the problem is that one of the two young men on the crew is, with all due respect, rather useless. He’s either inexperienced or he simply doesn’t care. So that leaves only three crew to do the job of four.

The flight time is 55 minutes, and once we’re airborne, the service is unnecessarily rushed and hectic. Even though there’s plenty of time with only ten passengers in the forward cabin.

The seat and cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on the flight, which is quite surprising, given that there were only two rows originally when I booked the flight. Of the twelve seats, nine are occupied. Although I might also like to add that there were eight passengers booked in Business Class, plus one Italian who figured he’d try it out and see if anybody noticed. They did eventually, and at least he had the decency of paying for the upgrade right there and then…

On row one the pitch is probably the worst in the whole Business Class cabin, because on all subsequent rows at least you can stick your feet under the seat in front of you. As usual, the middle seat is kept empty.

Austrian has the standard issue Lufthansa group seat with zero cushioning on its short-haul fleet. The seat is okay, but even after only 55 minutes of flight my butt is starting to ache.

The meal

Food is always a highlight on Austrian, and this flight is no exception. For the main course there is a plate with three sandwiches: salmon and cream cheese, cheddar and onion chutney, and tuna with chives. Although apparently the crew have not been informed and have no idea what they’re serving (Mr 2F, behind me, asks and get something of a strange reply from the crew…).

The sandwiches are really tasty and have not totally dried up on their way from Vienna to Berlin.

Dessert is a piece of Tiroler cake, I’d say, which is a hazelnut cake with chocolate chips in it. This is okay, but a bit too oily.

Arrival in Vienna

By the time we start our descent, the sun has already started to set. I always hate the shift back to winter time, precisely because it gets dark even earlier.

Vienna airport is very busy and there is hardly anywhere to sit while I wait to catch the connecting flight to Basel. But I will spare you the details on that flight.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, catering on Austrian is something they do really well. The dishes are usually nicely prepared and appeal to an international audience. The three sandwiches on this flight were simple but very tasty. Other than that though, the whole experience was a bit underwhelming and the crew were just disappointing. Which makes you wonder how much training these people actually receive before they’re let loose on humanity.

Of course, I did wonder during the flight if perhaps my perception of the flight was tarnished by my previous experience with Air France, which was very elegant and polished. Because that’s probably wouldn’t be fair either – there’s hardly any point in comparing a somewhat insignificant subsidiary such as Austrian to one of Europe’s leading airlines.

But I don’t think it’s that. A crew will make or break a passenger experience, and that’s precisely the problem with Austrian – their crews are unpredictable and more often than not they’re likely to disappoint. Which does not exactly instill me with a strong desire to book my next trip with them.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Vienna to Basel

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Vienna back to Basel. My flight departs at 17h40 and the hotel refuses to grant me a late check-out. So I exit the SO/ Vienna hotel just after 12h00 and make my way to Wien Mitte railway station to dump my suitcase and bag in a locker. It’s only ten minutes on foot from the hotel to the station. You could take public transport instead, but I suspect that would probably take longer.

Once that’s settled, I decide to pay a visit to Schloss Belvedere, which houses an extensive collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.

On my way back to Wien Mitte I make a brief stop at the Konditorei Oberlaa for a last helping of Kaiserschmarn, a kind of fluffy shredded pancake served with jam and has comfort food written all over it.

Getting to Vienna Schwechat airport

From Wien Mitte there are frequent trains to Vienna airport. The journey will take about 25 minutes and costs EUR4.80 for a single trip for one person. However, if you’re travelling with somebody else, you already qualify as a group, in which case the fare is only EUR5.20 for both.

“Europe without Greece is like partying without drugs”. Indeed, it’s very patriotic and I think the Greece ministry of tourism should adopt this as its new slogan…

Check-in

Austrian Airlines checks in at Terminal 3. I’ve already received my boarding pass online, but I still need to drop off my suitcase. Austrian Airlines’ self-check in process for Economy Class passengers is easy to use and has been well planned. As you come off the escalators that lead up to departures, there is a large area with very easy to use scanning machines.

You scan your boarding pass and the machine will ask you to confirm your name. Once that’d done, the baggage label is printed. The queue for the fast bag drop is long, but at least it moves quickly.

At the counter where a check-in agent once used to sit, there is now another scanner. You place the suitcase on the conveyor belt, scan the bar code on the label, and that’s it. Gone!

Airside

The airport is busy this time of day. The other terminals in Schwechat have been shut down due to the pandemic, so Terminal 3 is now handling all the traffic – and it’s rather a tight fit. Eventually, I find a place to sit at the very last gate on the Schengen pier. As it happens, this is where the Ryanair flight to Thessaloniki is about to board. And I really must say, it’s rather entertaining. The gate agent is, with all due respect, a complete and utter bitch and the way she treats the passengers boarding the flight is nothing short of outrageous. You have to be really hard up financially to be willing to put up with this level of verbal abuse. I think given the choice I would prefer not to travel at all than have to endure this kind of treatment.

This is something I have never been able to understand about the business model of many of the low cost carriers. Yes, their prices are amazingly low sometimes. But irrespective of how high or low the price for the ticket is, people are still paying their good money to avail themselves of a service. The amount they paid should not determine the politeness or courtesy of service they receive. And it certainly should not determine how rudely they are treated by the staff. Of course the saying goes that you get what you pay for, and if the likes of Ryanair are not willing to pay for polite and properly trained staff or handling agents, then that’s just too bad. But I disagree.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts with a slight delay and takes for ever. This is largely due to the fact that in Austria it is mandatory for passengers to wear FFP2 masks. Every passenger wearing a standard issue surgical mask is stopped by the L1 door and given an FFP2 mask to wear instead, which they must put on in front of the cabin crew before they are allowed beyond the galley and into the cabin.

The crew & service

The crew are quite friendly, which is rather unusual for Austrian Airlines. The purser is clearly trying to respect all the rules in place, and while I personally think she should be commended for that and for putting the passengers’ health first, I think we also need to acknowledge that in Europe the lack of harmonization between countries is a huge pain in the ass and makes it near impossible to travel between countries without breaking at least one rule or other.

The flight itself is short and uneventful.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Basel after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes. The cabin crew announce that deboarding will be by seat numbers. Passengers should remain seated until their row is called. In theory, it may make a lot of sense to deboard the plane in such a way. But in practice, the sad truth is that it is completely useless: Basel airport is on French soil and has a French and a Swiss sector. There is one long corridor that connects the arrival gates to the head of the terminal building and immigration. Even though Austria and France are both part of the Schengen treaty, France has suspended the free movement of persons, which means that they have reintroduced border controls. This does not apply to Switzerland. But the exit to Switzerland is only at the very end of the corridor, meaning there is no way for passengers entering into Switzerland to bypass the queues for immigration for France. Regrettably, we land right after two full easyJet Airbus A 320s, and the queue for immigration is endless. It takes me forty minutes to reach the head of the queue. At least by the time I arrive at the luggage belt, my suitcase is already there.

Conclusion

So, I’ve now done six flights with Austrian Airlines in short succession – mostly in Business Class. On a positive note, I’m very much impressed by the quality of their food. It should not be taken for granted these days to be given a hot meal in Business Class on a short sector of only one hour. Other than that though, I found their service a bit lacking and seriously inconsistent. First, I really think it wouldn’t hurt Austrian Airlines to provide at least a bottle of water to passengers in Business Class as a kind of welcome drink. Second, I find it rather interesting that on all six flights I took, an announcement was made that deboarding would be done by seat rows, from front to back. But in fact this was only enforced by the crew on the last flight. My point is not whether or not the procedure makes sense. I just find it rather unprofessional to make such an announcement and then very obviously not give a rats bum. Austrian Airlines are okay, and their network to southeastern Europe is extensive. Other than that though, they’re hardly worth bothering with.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by an Airbus A 321, with a departure from Tirana at 17h00. But then, a few weeks later I received a schedule change from Austrian Airlines, informing me that the flight would now be operated by an Airbus A 320 and that the departure had moved forward to 15h00. It seems that Austrian has replaced the A 321 with two flights. One is an Airbus A 320 that leaves at 15h00, and the other is an Embraer 195 which departs a few minutes later.

Getting to the airport

There’s a lot of excitement in Tirana this morning, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting on her farewell tour of the Balkans. As a result, the authorities have shut down all the access roads to the airport for traffic. Nobody gets in, and nobody gets out. But it’s only a short distance from the facilities of the Albanian ANSP to the terminal, and it’s a lovely day for a walk anyway.

Check-in

The airport is a lot busier today than it was the last time I was here a week ago at three o’clock in the morning. In fact, I’d say the terminal facility is way too small for the amount of passengers it handles.

The girl at check-in has some serious Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde issues going on. When I reach the counter, the guy checking in at the counter next to me has scattered a ton of suitcases all over the place. He’s basically blocking three check-in counters but using only one. My check-in agent gives me the sweetest smile and welcomes me to Austrian Airlines. Then she turns to face the guy with the many suitcases and basically just rips him a new one in Albanian. I have no idea what on earth she says to him, but by the time she’s done, I’m really starting to feel sorry for the guy.

Tirana Airport Business Class lounge

The queue at security is long, but it moves quickly and the staff are very efficient. Once I’m through, I head one floor up to the Business Class lounge. It’s already gone 13h30 and I haven’t had lunch yet.

The lounge offers a nice selection of snacks, soft drinks and warm drinks. I’m not sure if alcohol is available too. Lavatories are available on the premises and are very clean. Complimentary wifi is also available in the lounge, with the password marked all over the place.

I ask the lady behind the buffet if she can just give me a bit of a taste of the Albanian dishes, which apparently means everything and in copious amounts. I end up with three plates. On the picture below you see pickled peppers filled with soft cheese, some shredded bell pepper, a healthy dollop of fresh cheese and another dollop of ajvars. Her English is about as good as my Albanian, but she makes it clear that the idea is that you mix the cheese with the ajvars and smear it on bread. Not in the picture are the plate full of bread and another plate with a cheese borek and a spinach borek that have been warmed. That should tie me over for the next week…

Boarding

Boarding already starts at 14h15. Even though it says 14h30 on the boarding pass. I get the feeling the ground staff are planning ahead in case there are any delays caused by all the diplomatic traffic. There’s a military Learjet from Macedonia and a Serb Embraer, in addition to Mutti’s Airbus of the Deutsche Bundeswehr.

The first bus departs just as I exit the terminal, but at least we’re allowed to wait outside in a closed off area for the next bus to arrive.

Most passengers are either making a mad dash to board the aircraft, or trying to capture a picture of the German Bundeswehr jet. My attention is immediately drawn to the completely white, non-standard engine cowling. What’s up with this bird?

The cabin

In the cabin there’s also something slightly different about this bird. First, the fittings on the seats are in silver colour, and not the usual Austrian Airlines red. And secondly, the Austrian Airlines logo is missing from the right bulkhead.

There’s a passenger missing and the crew are busy preparing the cabin for our departure, so I don’t want to pester them by asking about the aircraft.

There are three rows of Business Class on this aircraft, and there is one other gentlemen in the forward cabin with me.

The crew

The crew on this flight are a mixed bag, which seems to be quite normal on Austrian. Again, it’s just a small thing, but I really think it would be kind of nice to ask passengers if they’d like something to eat first, and not just dump the tray in front of them, whether they like it or not.

In any case, departure is to the north, flying directly towards Albania’s beautiful coastline. It’s a brilliant day for flying and visibility is excellent. About ten minutes into the climb, the captain comes on the mic to inquire if a certain passenger is on board. He explains that the second aircraft is delayed on the ground because of a missing passenger, and the handling agent figured he may have boarded the wrong aircraft ‘by accident’. Well that’s comforting…

The meal

After all the food in the lounge, I can’t honestly say that I’m still hungry. But goodness, the chocolate mousse cake for dessert sure looks tasty. And I mean, I didn’t have anything sweet in the lounge. It would be just such a shame to waste it. Oh, f*%@ it…

Now this dessert is really something. It’s very, very rich and sweet. The first spoon has my heart racing! But it really is just so good.

And just in case I hadn’t had enough chocolate yet, the crew pass through the cabin with farewell chocolates as we start the descent.

Arrival

Our arrival route into Vienna takes us past the airport on the downwind, to make an approach from the north. The light and shadows of the clouds dancing on the ground make the landscape look as though it has been painted on an enormous canvas.

We park on a remote stand. But at least this time the bus brings us to the head of the concourse, so we won’t have to walk too far.

Getting into Vienna

Next week the autumn semester starts and my life basically comes to a grinding halt until the end of the semester just before Christmas. So I figure I might as well break the journey and spend a few days in Vienna on a kind of mini-vacation.

To get into town, the train is probably the fastest and cheapest option. There are regular trains that run to either Wien Hauptbahnhof or Wien Mitte. The journey takes about 25 minutes to complete. There is a dedicated airport train called the CAT. However, apart from the fact that it’s currently not operating, it’s also outrageously expensive and really not worth the extra price.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Embraer E195: Basel to Vienna

Introduction

It’s Sunday evening and I’m on my way back to the airport to give a second course in Tirana. After last week’s experience on WizzAir with Satan’s army of burping and crapping infants, I figured I would go for something a little more civilized this time and travel with Austrian again. It’s not the most exotic flight connection, but hey, my options are rather limited.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online, but I still need to make a stop at the counter to drop my suitcase. I’m carrying a ton of paper, and I’ve already got a back ache just from carting my stuff to the airport. The Star Alliance carriers have their own dedicated counters. There is one Business Class and one Economy Class counter open. Both of them are deserted when I arrive.

Airside

Security is such a delight at Basel airport these days. The fact that you can just walk up without any queues and without having to witness the stupidest specimens of humanity as they make their way through the beeping security gates is something I will one day be telling my grandbabies about. This is the stuff legends are made of.

I find myself a seat next to where the Easyjet flight to Hamburg is boarding and entertain myself watching human nature unfold. It’s quite entertaining, really. And then I come across this guy. I know it’s rude to surreptitiously take pictures of random strangers, but… get a load of this: Easyjet-proof trousers. Take a closer look. The man has an iPad stashed in the upper pocket of his cargo pants, and a 5dl bottle of water in the lower one. Not in the photo are a baby elephant and a Fiat Cinquecento in his right pockets. And no, he’s probably not that glad to see me, but probably just figured he’d also try taking his grand piano aboard as well by shoving it down his front…

Well that was fun. With the grand piano safely on its way to Hamburg, I make my way to gate 46, from where the flight to Vienna will be boarding.

Boarding

As you can see in the photo above, the passengers on the arriving flight disembark via stairs. They are taken to a waiting bus that brings them to arrivals. Strangely, once that is done, the stairs are removed and the airbridge is attached for us to board. I’m not quite sure what this is all about, but I assume this still has to do with the French government’s decision to suspend the Schengen treaty not quite so temporarily.

Oh yeah, and the lights in the airbridge aren‘t working, which gives me the opportunity to take the photo below. I kind of dig the haunted ‘I could see a light at the end of the tunnel and a feeling of calm came over me’ effect.

The cabin

The seats on Austrian’s Embraers are very comfortable. I am sitting on row 4 and the seat pitch is excellent. Even with my rucksack stowed under the seat, I still have plenty of space for my legs and to wiggle my tootsies.

The crew

My only interaction with the crew on this flight consists of the disinfecting towel I am handed as I board the plane. That’s it. Everything else on Austrian is buy on board, except for the farewell chocolate at the end of the flight.

I’m starting to think that the crews on Austrian Airlines tend to be rather unpredictable. Which is really just a euphemism to avoid having to admit that this lot are not exactly a credit to Austria’s reputation for outstanding hospitality.

Once we’re airborne, the inflight service, such as it were, begins. Which means the curtain separating the Business Class cabin is drawn by the crew. Is it me, or does the picture below remind others too of some old biddy’s bloomers hung out to dry? I mean, why bother if this is the best they can do?

Arrival

The flight time to Vienna is one hour and ten minutes, and we land on time just after 21h. I now have one hour to make my connection to Tirana, which should give me enough time to discover a few more things about the airport that I don’t like. I know, I’m really turning into a right grumpy bastard in my old age…

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Tirana to Vienna

Introduction

I’m not really sure what made me think a departure from Tirana at 04h25 in the morning would be a good idea. But here I am at 03h00 in the morning, walking the short distance from the Hotel Airport Tirana to the terminal building. Still, at least this way I’ll be back home by 11h00.

The terminal building is small and compact, with departures and check-in on the left side, and arrivals on the right side.

Check-in

Check-in for the flight to Vienna is already open. And much to my surprise, there’s even a manned Business Class desk that isn’t being laid siege to by a hoard of unruly Albanians who, I’m am finding out, really have a very, very strong aversion to queueing of any sort.

The Tirana Airport lounge

Security and immigration are painless. There are hardly any passengers this time of the morning.

So I decide to investigate the Business Class lounge, which is open at this ungodly hour, even if I only have about 15 minutes before boarding begins.

The lounge is nice enough and looks fairly new. There’s a buffet with pastries and sandwiches to choose from, and there are more dishes in the kitchen that are available on request from the staff.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 03h55. Our aircraft is parked rather far away, which is why we’re being bussed to our remote stand.

The cabin

There are three rows of Business Class, for a total of 12 seats. However, only six of them are occupied. The cabin looks neat and tidy and the splashes of red in the Austrian sign on the bulkhead or the seat covers and seat belts make the cabin look a lot less shabby than Lufthansa’s.

Leg space on row 2 is very good and I am able to stretch my legs easily.

Service

There are four cabin crew on today’s flight, and all of them male. They’re business friendly, I’d say. Not very warm or genuine, but not rude either. There is no pre-departure drink. Passengers are just handed a disinfectant towel as they board.

Breakfast

Given the flight time of only one hour and ten minutes, I’m surprised they’re actually serving a hot meal on the short hop to Vienna. There are no options. Despite it’s rather unappealing appearance, the hot meal is rather good.

Croque monsieur with turkey ham.

Fruit salad.

A very creamy and fluffy yoghurt.

The potion that gives life.

Warm croissants.

During the meal service, the crew make multiple runs through the cabin with the breadbasket.

Arrival

The flight passes very quickly. At some point I think I even nod off to sleep. We touch down in Vienna at 05h40 and make our way to a remote stand. I now have a little less than two hours to make my connection to Zürich.

Ethiopian Airlines, Economy Class – Boeing B787-8: Vienna to Stockholm

Folie1

Introduction

There is reason to my madness you know. Yesterday I flew from Luxembourg to Vienna because today, literally at the crack of dawn, I shall be flying to Stockholm on Ethiopian’s Boeing B 787-8. The flight originates in Addis Abeba obviously, and arrives in Vienna just before six in the morning and then continues to Stockholm at 06h50.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 3, rows 331.
Facilities: There are dedicated check-in counters for the Ethiopian Airlines flight. There is even a plush green carpet in front of the Business Class counter. Web check-in is also possible. I have already checked in online for the flight.

IMG_0050

From the NH Hotel it is just a short walk across the road to the airport.

The flight will be boarding from gate D25, which is in the non-Schengen area of the old terminal. Once you are airside, you need to pass through the large duty-free shopping area. At the end turn left and head for the D gates until eventually you reach immigration. If you like shopping at airports, be sure to get everything you need before immigration, because there are not that many shops on the other side.

IMG_0053

The security check takes place right in front of the gate. There is no queue for security and once I am inside the lounge, I inquire with the gate attendant about the load on this morning’s flight. She informs me that the flight is only about half full and there are merely five passengers joining the flight in Vienna for the tag on to Stockholm.

IMG_0055

Boarding

With only five passengers joining the flight in Vienna, there is hardly anything to say about the boarding process. It is certainly quick! As I board the aircraft, an Ethiopian young lady is standing by the door to welcome us aboard. She is wearing a typical flight attendant’s uniform, but instead of a uniform jacket she has on a white, see-through wrap around with a bright floral pattern along the hem. The crew are all smiles and seem genuinely friendly, especially compared to the bats from hell that were working yesterday’s Austrian Airlines service.

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3 + 3
Seat: Originally, I am seated on 18C, which is an aisle seat. However, given that the flight is not full, I move back to 33A for take-off to get a better view of the aircraft’s legendary wingflex. The seat is nice and comfortable and has very generous pitch. I think even a long flight in this seat would be manageable.
Pitch: 32 inches.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: USB port.
Inflight entertainment: 15.4 inch touch screen with 85 channels. The system is very interactive and offers a lot of options. I did not watch any films, but their selection of movies is quite good and up to date. I only use the moving map on this flight.

The cabin on this bird looks rather nice. It is just a pity that nobody bothered to clear up the place a bit before boarding the passengers for the flight to Stockholm. Probably because all passengers arriving from Addis Abeba remain on the plane during the layover in Vienna and the crew does not change either. So everything looks just a bit untidy. There are pillows, blankets and used earphones lying about everywhere.

IMG_0056
IMG_0057
IMG_0058
IMG_0059
IMG_0062
IMG_0083
IMG_0088

The B 787 is a very quiet bird. It takes me a moment to realise the engines are already running. In fact, the noise inside the cabin is so small you even can hear the motors operating the flap actuators.

IMG_0065
IMG_0068
IMG_0072
IMG_0073
IMG_0074
IMG_0075

The Meal

Type of meal: Breakfast.

  1. Bun with butter and strawberry jam.
  2. Cinnamon and apple muffin.
  3. Fruit salad.
  4. Apple juice.
  5. Tea or coffee.

The meal is a bit of a trip down memory lane. God, I cannot even remember the last time I was given a meal on a tray in Economy Class on a short-haul European flight!

The fruit salad is made with tinned fruit and is very sweet. The bun and the muffin though are quite okay and the coffee is surprisingly good.

IMG_0077
IMG_0078

After the meal tray is removed, I spend the rest of my time watching that spectacular wingflew.

IMG_0080
IMG_0082
IMG_0084
IMG_0085

Arrival

There is something very poetic about the scenery outside. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that the B 787 is so quiet and the wing can really flex. Somehow I keep thinking that it feels a bit like what I imagine flying is like for a bird, if you know what I mean…?

Eventually we land in Arlanda. We taxi for quite a long time before eventually we reach our parking position at Terminal 5.

IMG_0090
IMG_0092.jpg

Getting into Town

Transport: Train.
Departs from: Arlanda North. There is direct access to the station from Terminal 5.
Arrives: Stockholm central station.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Frequency: Every 15 minutes.
Costs: SEK600 per person for a return if you are travelling as a couple.

With public transport you can access the city either using the Arlanda Express train or the airport busses. The airport busses are cheaper, admittedly. However, keep in mind that Arlanda is quite far out of town, so that the journey by bus will inevitably take you much longer than the journey by train, the latter travelling at 184km/h.

IMG_0098.jpg
IMG_0099
IMG_0100

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Fokker 70: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I have one hour before my flight to Basel departs. Fortunately there are not that many people at the airport and so I manage to quickly clear immigration and security. Since my last visit to Vienna last summer, they appear to have improved the signage. Or maybe it is just me and I am getting used to the place. Even so, I really cannot help but wonder who on earth designed this facility? It does not even feel like an airport. Instead, the narrow aisles and long corridors give the impression of walking aimlessly in the Ministry of Truth. You turn the corner and expect to find yourself standing by the door to room 101. The worst thing in the world.

The Lounge

Location: Uhm, good question. Just follow the signs for the G gates and then you should find the lounge. There is a common entrance to the lounge. The Business Class area is to the left and the Star Gold section is to the right.
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Business centre, toilets in the lounge, no showers, a small selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks, newspapers and magazine.
Internet:
Wifi is available throughout the terminal building. No password required.

IMG_7281
IMG_7282
IMG_7284
IMG_7286

What with it being Easter Sunday, the lounge is fairly quiet. There are only a few people here and there. The food options are somewhat limited, not that I am hungry after all the food we were served on the plane.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: Boarding is from Gate F 13, which is the same gate at which my flight from Narita arrived. In fact the aircraft is still standing there. In any case, our aircraft for the short hop to Basel is parked at a remote stand, so we are having to take a bus to the aircraft.

IMG_7288

When eventually the bus pulls up on a remote stand, I am surprised to find there has been an aircraft change and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400, the flight will now be operated by the larger Fokker 70. I take my time to get on board the aircraft – I am sitting at the very front anyway – which gives me the chance to take a few pictures of my aircraft and watch the other action on the ramp.

IMG_7291
IMG_7292
IMG_7293
IMG_7295
IMG_7296
IMG_7297
IMG_7298

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2
Seat: European style Economy Class seating, with the adjacent seat being kept empty in Business Class.
Pitch: 30’.
Width: 17’.
Facilities: Reading lamp, air vents.

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight and there are only two passengers. Seating on the Fokker 70 is 2 + 3, although on Austrian Airlines the adjacent seat is kept empty to provide more space. Thus, on the left hand side, the two-seater, the aisle seat is blocked, while on the right hand side, the middle seat in the row of three is blocked.

IMG_7299
IMG_7300
IMG_7303

Just a word of warning: on Austrian Airlines’ Fokker 70 you should try to avoid sitting on row 1 because while the pitch is the same as in the rest of the aircraft, not being able to stick your legs under the seat in front seriously limits leg space.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight. They seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly gushing. But I do not think it is a question of them just doing the job and nothing else, they just both seem very reserved.

IMG_7304
IMG_7307

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: None.
Hot towel before the meal: None.
Pre-meal drink:
None.
Choice:
None.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.

  1. Fish in a batter, on potato salad, corn salad and tomato.
  2. Selection from the breadbasket.
  3. Chocolate mousse with cherries.
  4. Milka Easter Bunny.
IMG_7308
IMG_7310
IMG_7309
IMG_7311

The contrast in service between Austrian Airlines’ long- and short-haul operations never quite seizes to amaze me. While the meals on the flight from Tokyo to Vienna were opulent, on this short-haul flight to Basel service is kept to the absolute minimum.

One way or another, the meal is quite tasty. Especially the chocolate mousse is delicious and rich.

Arrival

Our routing takes us past lake Constance and north of Zürich airport to approach Basel airport from the east. You can see the airport below on the right hand side of the aircraft. Approaches are from the south this afternoon, which means we continue for a short distance past the airport heading west, before eventually doing a left turn and heading south, away from the airport. Two more left turns later and we are lined up for the approach pointing north. I like this approach because it means we will be coming in over the city of Basel. Fortunately the weather has cleared and it is a beautiful afternoon.

IMG_7312
IMG_7313
IMG_7315
IMG_7316
IMG_7317

Conclusion

That was fun. Admittedly, it was rather a short trip but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. This was now my sixteenth visit to Japan and I still have not had enough yet. What I did notice about myself on this trip is that the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese and their culture no longer have the power to intimidate or confuse me. What I do not know, is whether this is due to the fact that the Japanese are becoming more relaxed in their dealings with foreigners or if perhaps I have simply become accustomed to their ways.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Tokyo Narita to Basel via Vienna

Folie12

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Narita Express train.
Departs from: Yokohama station.
Frequency: Roughly every 90 minutes but varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Fare: ¥4290 one way including mandatory seat reservation.

In Yokohama I am staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. I leave the hotel just after 06h30 in the morning and head across the street to the Queen’s Twin Towers. It is only a five minutes walk from the hotel to the subway station at Minatomirai on the subway line that goes by the same name. It is two stops from Minatomirai to Yokohama Station, although the express trains do not stop at the station in between and go nonstop to Yokohama Station.

IMG_7183
IMG_7184
IMG_7185

At Yokohama I change to the JR Lines network. The Narita Express will be leaving at 07h28 from platform 10. What always impresses me about Japanese trains is that there are markers along the platform indicating the number of each carriage and the position of the doors of that particular carriage. The impressive thing is that the system has never failed in sixteen visits I have made to Japan over the years. And I still have not figured out how they manage to stop the trains so accurately.

IMG_7187
IMG_7188
IMG_7196
IMG_7199
IMG_7200
IMG_7202

Check-in

Location: Terminal 1, south wing, row B, departures level on the fourth floor; row B is right by the escalators as you come up from the station in the basement.
Facilities: Web check-in or dedicated check-in counters.
Counters: Dedicated Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS Business Class counters, the staff are from ANA.

There are hardly any people when I arrive at row B and I am seen to straight away. The check-in agent issues my boarding passes to Vienna and then Basel, points me in the right direction for security and wishes me a pleasant journey. It is a very quick and efficient process.

IMG_7203
IMG_7204

Security is at the opposite end of row B and there is a dedicated fast track for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers. Here too there are only few passengers and I am through security without having to queue. I forget to remove my liquids from the bag, but nobody seems to notice. Or perhaps that is not a requirement here in Japan.

IMG_7205

From Security I head one floor down to immigration.

IMG_7206
IMG_7208
IMG_7211
IMG_7212
IMG_7213
IMG_7224
IMG_7225
IMG_7226

The Lounge

Location: Behind immigration, one floor down from the gates level. The escalators leading down to the lounge are at the far end of the concourse, opposite gate 43.
Type of Lounge:
ANA Lounge.
Facilities:
Meeting rooms, work area, toilets and showers in the lounge, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes, a bar with beer on tap, a noodle bar with a selection of staple Japanese fare.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.

God I am starving. It was still early when I left Yokohama this morning. I did manage to grab a cappuccino and a small sandwich, but that was barely enough to tie me over until we reach Narita.

IMG_7217
IMG_7218
IMG_7219
IMG_7220
IMG_7221

So once I find a place to sit, I head over to the noodle bar and order myself a bowl of curry Udon, which hit the spot nicely.

IMG_7222

The ANA Business Class lounge is nice. It is more functional than elegant, but that is okay. My only complaint is that there are no windows and subsequently no views of the aircraft outside.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: I arrive at the gate just after 10h30 and boarding has just started. The first call is for Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft.

IMG_7214
IMG_7215
IMG_7216
IMG_7227
IMG_7228
IMG_7229
IMG_7230
IMG_7231

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 2 + 2 + 2 on even numbered rows.
Pitch: 48 inches.
Width: 19.37 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand.

Austrian Airlines has 48 seats installed in Business Class on the Boeing B 777-200. I am not sure if this is exactly the same seat that SWISS has installed in its Business Class cabin, but if not, the seat is certainly very similar.

The appearance of the cabin is nice enough and the combination of blue and red gives the cabin a cheerful look and feel. The seat is comfortable in the sitting position, but is somewhat tight in the extended, lying position. Furthermore, if you are sitting in the seat while you extend it into the lying position, beware. At some point your legs are likely to get in the way.

There are two Business Class cabins on this aircraft. The larger cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors, the smaller one, which only has three rows, is located right after the L2 door. Today’s flight is very full in Business Class. In fact, at some point during the flight I take a look at the rear Business Class cabin, only to find that it is completely empty. And even in the main cabin there are still quite a few empty seats.

IMG_7232
IMG_7233
IMG_7234
IMG_7235
IMG_7236
IMG_7237
IMG_7240
IMG_7238

The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.

IMG_7239
IMG_7241

The Crew

Probably due to the relatively light load, the ratio of cabin crew to passengers is outstanding on this flight. During the service I count three cabin crew for each of the two aisles. Like most European carriers, Austrian Airlines has Japanese staff working on the flight.

The crew are very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. Their attention to details is quite outstanding. Originally, I am seated on 4C, the aisle. But then one of the flight attendants informs me that 5A, a throne seat, will remain empty and I am more than welcome to change. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin to check on passengers and make sure they are okay.

IMG_7245
IMG_7246
IMG_7247
IMG_7248
IMG_7249

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, sparkling wine or water. The orange juice comes with a slice of orange in it.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented hot towels – but they are rather flimsy.
Pre-meal drink:
Almdudler, an Austrian non-alcoholic drink made with herbs.
Choice:
There are two Western choices and two Japan-inspired choices for the main course.
Appearance:
The starter is served from a trolley, so passengers can pick and choose as they please.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Menu:
There is a food and beverage menu and a separate menu for coffees.

IMG_7244
IMG_7250
IMG_7251
IMG_7252
IMG_7253
IMG_7254
IMG_7256

First Course

Antipasti from the trolley: smoked salmon with cream cheese, volcano ham and mountain cheese, traditional sweet pepper and ricotta spread, deep fried cauliflower with sauce tartar.

IMG_7257
IMG_7258

The Soup

Beef consommé with butter dumpling.

IMG_7259

The Main Course

Grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.

IMG_7260
IMG_7261

Dessert

Warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).

IMG_7262
IMG_7263
IMG_7264

If you’re still not done…

Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.

IMG_7265

This meal is excellent! In fact it was so good I find it slightly irritating because this Business Class meal is far, far better than the grub I was served in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Haneda!

Where to begin? First of all, I really like the selection of antipasti that is available. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Austrian Airlines has gone for the good quality stuff. The smoked salmon is not at all fishy and has a rich, smoky taste; the ham is not at all chewy and the tartar sauce is subtle and balanced.

The main course is excellent and I find myself a) seriously wondering if I have ever had such a nice piece of meat on a plane before and b) if it would be rude to ask for a second helping. First of all, the pork has managed to stay juicy, even in the middle. The meat has a nice grilled flavour to it and the gravy it is served with is simply delicious. The dumpling that comes with it is just heaven. Enough said.

By the time I am through, I have more or less decided to skip dessert. I really do not think I can face anything else. But then the trolley reaches my row and I swear I can hear the apricot strudel calling out to me. The truffle cake is so rich my tongue is more or less glued to the top of my mouth. What a taste! Thank God for the whipped cream to dilute this hefty, moist revelation…

The apricot strudel is still warm when it is placed before me, and so is the vanilla sauce. I really do not know what to say, except perhaps ‘can I have some more…?’.

What also impresses about the crew is the efficiency and timing of the service. The meal does not feel rushed at all, but at the same time there is never a long wait in between courses.

Eventually the dishes are cleared away, one of the cabin crew brings me a bottle of still water and I settle in. I am already looking forward to the next meal!

Around half way between Narita and Vienna the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks. I have some fruit and an Onigiri. To drink the crew has orange juice and apple juice on offer. However, when she reaches my row, the flight attendant assures me that obviously she will be very glad to bring me anything else I would like to drink!

The Snack

IMG_7266
IMG_7267

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Yes, another flimsy scented affair.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Choice: There are two options for the main course.

IMG_7269
IMG_7270
IMG_7271

First Course

Prosciutto, aubergine, zucchini, mozzarella, gryuere.

IMG_7272
IMG_7274

The Main Course

Ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.

IMG_7275

Dessert

Chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.

IMG_7273
IMG_7276

Arrival

IMG_7278
IMG_7279
IMG_7280

Eventually we land in Vienna just a few minutes ahead of schedule and a rather pleasant experience with Austrian Airlines draws to an end. And what did I think of Austrian Airlines? The service was attentive, quite impeccable. The crew were friendly and approachable. The catering is something else and I really do think the quality and the selection available in Austrian Airlines’ Business Class puts to shame Lufthansa’s offering in First Class.

On the downside, I have certain reservations about the seat. If you are sitting on one of the single seats, there is ample storage space and somehow you are able to squeeze in and out of the seat when it is in the fully extended position. However, if you are sitting at by the window on one of the double seats, I seriously think you might have trouble getting in and out of the seat without disturbing your neighbour. The pitch is awfully tight. I am only 6’2 and even I was having trouble fitting my legs in the space provided. Apart from that, to be honest, it does kind of feel like what I imagine lying in a coffin is like.