Air France, Airbus A 320 – Economy Class: Zagreb to Paris Charles de Gaulle

The journey from Zagreb to the airport takes 18 minutes by Uber. Within walking distance of the Canopy Hotel, where I was staying, is also the bus terminal, from where Croatia Airlines operates a bus service to the airport.

Zagreb airport has a terminal building that may not be very large in relative terms but seems somewhat excessive for the amount and type of traffic it handles.

The departures concourse is best described as a large, cavernous space. Air France checks in on counters C08 to C11 and there is a dedicated counter for SkyPriority passengers. Check-in opens only two hours before departure, so there’s really no point in arriving too early. There isn’t anything much to do either.

On a postive note, there is a fast track for security for SkyPriority passengers.

There is only one lounge at the airport that is used by all carriers operating into Zagreb. The Primeclass lounge is located right behind the duty free, between gates 33 and 32.

On my way to the airport, I kept trying to remember what the lounge looks like. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember. As it turns out, that’s likely because the lounge really is not particularly memorable. Although I must say, the food offerings are great. And I can highly recommend their vast selection of Burek.

I’m not sure what’s going on with my booking. So far, all I’ve managed to do on the app is check in. And when I finally managed that, I found myself suddenly seated on 3A, which is not the original seat I reserved.

What’s more, when I tried again at the self-service kiosk at the airport, the screen wanted to know if I had a visa for France. When I selected ‘no’, the system crashed and the screen went black…

Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure from gate 31. SkyPriority passengers are invited the board first. Alas, taking pictures from inside the terminal is slighly problematic…

Row 3 is the first row of Economy Class, which means I have the divider curtain right in front of me. The seat pitch is very tight, but still okay. Not sure I’d want to do a longer flight in this seat though…

This, in case you’re wondering, is to hang your jacket on the seat.

Boarding happens very fast. The next thing I know, we’re already pushing back while the crew scramble to get all passengers seated.

Fortunately for me, by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat on 3B remains empty.

As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start preparations for their service. The flight time is one hour and forty minutes.

The service consists of a complimentary snack and drinks from the bar trolley. To eat there is a choice between a tuna, parsley and lemon bagel or a hummus and grilled vegetables sandwich. The crew pass through the cabin twice offering sandwiches.

To drink I ask for sparkling water. What’s really nice on Air France is that even in Economy Class they will give you a complete can of Perrier.

The rest of the flight passes quickly and pleasantly enough. We land in Paris just a few minutes ahead of schedule. But there’s a delay reaching our gate, because the stand is still occupied by a Tarom B 737. By the time we make onto the stand, it’s 20h07. I now have 53 minutes to make my connection from terminal 2E to 2G, which is pretty much out in the booneys.

Croatia Airlines, Economy Class – Dash 8-400: Zürich to Zagreb

This week has me combining two trips into one. First, today I shall travel to Zagreb to attend a meeting. And then from there, I shall travel to Luxembourg to give another course.

The nice thing about Croatia Airlines’ evening service from Zürich to Zagreb is that the flight departs at 20h05, which gives you more or less a full day in the office before having to head for the airport.

When I arrive at the airport just after 18h07, the airport is very quiet. I’m guessing the main bank of departures is already over.

Croatia Airlines uses check-in 3 in Zürich, which is the check-in area right above the tracks of the railway station. I print my boarding pass and baggage tag at the self-service machine and then proceed to the counter to drop off my bag.

Another nice feature of a 20h05 departure time is that security is nearly deserted when I get there at around 18h30. Which is a good thing, because although there’s only one guy ahead of me in the queue, he’s exuding the rather pungent stink of young man. It ain’t pretty…

The airside area is eerily quiet too. Perhaps it’s because of Knabenschiessen, which is a half-day public holiday in the city of Zürich only. In case you’re wondering, Knabenschiessen is not quite as old a tradition as the Zürchers will have you believe. Besides, nowadays the event is more of an excuse for the hopelessly pretentious and nouveau rich to be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘right’ crowd.

Zagreb being a non-Schengen destination, the flight will be boarding from the D gates, on the ground floor level of the B pier, behind immigration.

Although there are hardly any people on the D concourse, the place is litered with garbage. You’d think they’d manage to clean up the place. None of this stuff in the picture is mine…

Boarding starts exactly on time, even though the bus taking us to the aircraft hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s when I realise that most passengers are travelling with fairly large pieces of hand luggage, which fit perfectly in the overhead bins of an A 320, but not in the shoe box size bins of the Dash 8. So it takes the gate agent a moment to label all the hold baggage and scan the boarding passes all by herself.

The Dash 8 is a sharp looking aircraft, but it really is rather small and cramped in the cabin. Standing room is okay. But once you’re seated, the pitch is fairly tight for an average sized caucasian male.

What’s more, there’s a rail on which the seats are mounted that runs along the side of the cabin. As a result, if like me you’re on the window seat, leg space is a bit more limited than on the aisle.

Also, on 8F you’re sitting right next to the engine. This means that window views are somewhat obstructed and the vibrations from the engines are really very strong and quite loud.

The flight time is one hour and ten minutes. There are two cabin crew. The female is the purser, I think. She’s definitely got an attitude, but in a surprisingly good way. And she’s also very meticulous about safety.

The other crew is a male with a slighty grumpy demeanour. When the service begins, he stops at my row, shoves a packet of something under my nose unceremoniously and makes a sound that might be loosely interpreted as ‘would you care for a snack’ but is, in fact, little more than a grunt.

To drink, there is a whole bar trolley for choice. The snack and drinks are complimentary.

However, I did also notice in their Sky Shop magazine that there are other food items and beverages available for purchase, although no information to that effect was given during the flight.

All in all, the flight is pleasant and uneventful. Our landing in Zagreb is very smooth and quiet. We come to a stop on a stand right in front of the terminal. But once we disembark, we still have to take a bus to bring us to arrivals.

From the airport I take an Uber into the city, which makes the journey in about twenty minutes.

Croatia Airlines is another one of those small European flag carriers that is struggling to stay afloat and compete against the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s hard to say if Croatian, like Air Malta or Tarom, would even be missed if they went out of business.

Having said that, Their product is certainly not bad and pretty much on a par with that of others. I’d fly with them again any time. But unless you want to go to Croatia, that may not even be quite so easy to achieve.

Hotel Esplanade Zagreb

Once upon a time, a very long time ago and long before the age of airspace congestion and low cost carriers, when travel still had the aura of glamour and adventure and passengers travelled with a set of valises and not just a backpack, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits operated a network of luxury trains across Europe. In their heyday, many of the routes operated by the Compagnie were often the only reliable connection to get from one place to another.

The legendary Orient Express is perhaps the most notorious train of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, made famous also by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which firmly established her as the Queen of crime fiction through the cunning of her most successful character, the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The Orient Express originally ran from Constantinople to Paris, with slip cars from Athens and Bucarest joining the train at Belgrade and some cars continuing on to London from Paris. The journey would take the train three days to complete.

Along the route of the Orient Express a whole series of luxury hotels was established to accommodate the illustrious guests of the Orient Express when they needed to interrupt their journey. One of these establishments is the Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb, which still stands today.

The hotel is located right on the square just in front of Zagreb’s main railway station, on the fringe of the city’s elegant centre, which traces its history back to when Croatia was still part of the Habsburg empire. The hotel is now ninety years old. A few years ago it was completely renovated and has now been beautifully restored to its former elegance, underscoring its reputation as the most prestigious hotel in the city.

If you’re visiting Zagreb, you should definitely pay the Esplanade a visit, even if only to walk through the very grand foyer and to relive, just for a brief moment, the luxury and style of a bygone era.

Here’s the link to the website of the hotel.

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Croatia Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Skopje to Zagreb

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Date: 05. August 2016.
Departure: 05h45.
Arrival: 06h45.
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 1F.

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INTRODUCTION
It is four o’clock in the morning as I step outside the hotel. It is still dark but already the temperature is quite high. It also feels a lot more humid than it has been these last few days. One way or another, it is time to go home. And so I get in the car. And off we go.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Taxi.
Journey time: 20 minutes.
Cost: 900 Macedonian Dinar, roughly 20 Euros.

The journey from the centre of town to the airport does not take long to complete at this time of day and we appear to have hit a green streak with the lights. There is also a bus to the airport apparently, but whenever I tried to ask about it at the hotel, I drew a blank.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Ground floor.
Facilities: Web check-in (better not) or check-in at the desk (advisable).
Counters: There is one counter for Economy Class passengers to Zagreb, and another counter for Business Class passengers. In addition, there are two other counters on reserve, to ensure that check-in moves swiftly.

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My suitcase it tagged all the way through to Zürich and I am issued the boarding passes for both flights, even though I have already checked in on the Croatia Airlines website and have added the boarding passes to Passbook.

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From check-in I head straight for security. I show the guy checking boarding passes my iPhone and draw a blank. All I get from him is ‘no’. But then I give him the paper boarding pass I was issued at the counter and he seems happy to go along with that.

LOUNGE
Location:
Opposite the exit from security.
Type of Lounge:
Prime Class contractor lounge.
Facilities:
None really, other than a few comfortable couches. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A limited selection of cold drinks. There is also a Nescafe machine, but that appears to be out of order. To eat there are a few pastries and bowls with nuts, none of which I try though. To be honest, everything looks a bit stale.
Internet:
Wifi is provided by T-Online in the lounge. Passwords are available at the reception desk outside.

I grab myself a bottle of water and take a seat in a remote corner of the lounge to get out of harm’s way. I overdosed on garlic at dinner last night and I still reek of the stuff. It is so bad that the guy ahead of me in the queue for security actually let me pass just to stop me breathing down his neck.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate line for Business Class passengers and they are invited to board first.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2. The middle seat in the row of three is kept empty.
Seat: There are three rows of Business Class, which should in theory mean that there are twelve passengers in Business Class today. However, I notice that on some rows the middle seat has not been kept empty and there are in fact three people sitting in a row. According to the Croatia Airlines inflight magazine, the Airbus A 319 has a seating capacity of 144.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Audio and Video: There are overhead screens showing advertisements for Croatia as a holiday destination.

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SERVICE
The crew seem pleasant enough, they are not overly friendly but then again it is rather early in the morning. So I can hardly hold it against them… The flight time is advised as one hour and five minutes.

THE MEAL
Delivery:
Plastic box from the trolley.
Type of meal:
Breakfast, I guess…
Meal:

  • Cold cuts and cheese with a small cherry tomato.
  • Jam and butter.
  • Chocolate brownie.
  • Pre-packed roll of bread.
  • Tea or coffee, soft drinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, and the award for the worst Business Class meal presentation goes to… Croatia Airlines. Well done!

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To be fair, the quality of the food is good, except perhaps for the spongy bread that looks and tastes as though is has been chemically treated to expire about forty years after I have expired of old age. But that is compensated by the delectable brownie, which is to die for. And the coffee is good too.

But enough with the niceties. The presentation of the meal is really, really not good. What is more, the cabin crew distribute the plastic boxes and the bread and then disappear. Uhm…how about some cutlery? Eventually, when half the Business Class cabin is already busy licking their sticky cheese fingers, the crew emerge from the galley, this time with napkins and cutlery.

ARRIVAL
And then very soon we start our descent into Zagreb. It is a lovely day outside. We land in the middle of what appears to be Croatia Airlines’ morning bank of transfers. A new terminal is currently under construction at Zagreb. For the time being though, the operational apron only has open stands, which means I get to disembark via the stairs. Cool.

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