Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Budapest to Zürich

Introduction

I spend five days in Budapest attending a workshop and conference on qualitative research in language testing. I hadn’t been to Budapest in a very long time, so it’s nice to be back. Of course it helps that the weather is stunning. It’s warm, but without the oppressive heat of summer.

Getting to the airport

To get to Ferihegy airport by public transport there are several options. The bus lines 100E and 200E run from the city out to the airport and are obviously the cheapest option. They’re also the slowest option. Google will tell you that the journey takes forty minutes, but depending on a set of variables – from the driver’s level of insanity to the state of the traffic on the roads – it’s more like an hour.

Then there’s the train. But this I really wouldn’t do. There is a railway station opposite the entrance to the old Ferihegy 1 terminal, which is no longer in use. It’s not really that far from there to Ferihegy 2, but I was unable to find any information about how to get from the railway station to the passenger terminal.

And then there’s the hotel shuttle, which the concierge of your hotel can order for you. The journey costs EUR6.- and the journey time really depends on where your hotel is located and on how many other pick ups the driver has to make on the way to the airport.

Check-in

Terminal 2 is divided in sections 2A and 2B. The former is for the Star Alliance and SkyTeam Alliance.

The Lufthansa group checks in on counters 1 to 4. There are two counters open for passengers in First or Business Class.

It’s fairly busy when I arrive. There is a fast track for security and there are self-service machines where you can purchase tickets to access the fast track. Access to the fast track is only for passengers with at least Star Gold status. So just having a Business Class ticket is not enough.

Airside & lounge

The airside area is attractive. It’s a wide open space with a high, vaulted ceiling. On the upper level there is a large food court. This is also where two of the premium lounges are located. However, the lounge that SWISS an the other Star carriers use is on the main level. The entrance to the Platinum lounge is opposite gate A7. But it’s hardly worth the bother. It’s dark and gloomy inside and there are no windows either. It’s also not very big.

Boarding

Life is so full of disappointments. Originally, when I booked this flight it should have been operated by an E2, which would have been my first flight on the type. When I checked in the day before, the SWISS app didn’t show any aircraft type. So I’m a bit upset when I arrive at the gate to find yet another old E1 standing there.

The cabin

Still, there is a silver lining because seating on Helvetic is really just so incredibly tight – even on row 2 where I’m seated. At least they keep the adjacent seat empty, so by sitting sideways I can at least minimise the risk of getting a third slipped disc from sitting in this torture instrument.

The crew

I find the crews on the Helvetic Airways flights are a lot more friendly than those on SWISS, and this flight is no exception. The purser working the Business Class cabin is a charming young lady who goes about her duties in a very professional manner.

Once boarding is completed, each passenger receives a bottle of water and a refreshing towel. For some reason I’m very thirsty and more or less down the water in one big schluck.

The next time the purser passes through the cabin, she notices and promptly brings me a new bottle on her way back to the rear of the aircraft. By the time she returns a few minutes later, the second bottle is also already empty. She picks it up on her way to the forward galley and immediately returns with the third bottle, commenting that “actually, you’re right. I should also drink more in my line of work”, clearly in an attempt to not make me feel awkward, which I think is rather nice.

Having said that, I’m not sure about the other two cabin crew. They’re both male and also very friendly. One of them is of South Asian origin. I suspect he may be a trainee. The problem is that he’s the one making the announcements, and his pronunciation is so bad that it’s difficult even to make out if he’s speaking German or English. It’s not a big deal, because his manners are excellent and he’s very friendly. An accent is something you can learn to control, whereas manners are more of a question of attitude.

In any case, our departure from Budapest is quite spectacular. We take off and make a wide left-hand turn that brings us back over the city. From my seat on 2F I have an excellent view of the parliament building, the centre of town and castle hill.

The meal

And then the meal service begins, perfectly performed by the purser. It’s not much more than a snack, but it’s the middle of the afternoon anyway and the quality of the food is good.

The main dish is two slices of smoked salmon, and it’s a very good piece of fish. It’s not at all chewy, it’s tender and tastes of salmon and not just fishy, which is what usually happens with inferior cuts. With that there is an avocado cream and a bit of taboulé.

And then of course, there is the cheese. My guess would be Gruyère for the flat slice and a very young Tilsiter for the wedge of cheese.

Bread rolls are served with the meal and the purser comes through the cabin for seconds and thirds.

Crackers and butter are also available.

The dessert is a panna cotta with strawberry. And to end the meal I have cup of Sirocco’s mint tea.

And, unlike the crews on my two previous SWISS flights, this crew actually remembers to pass through the cabin with the fabulous SWISS chocolate.

Arrival

The flight time to Zürich is ninety minutes. Although Zürich is quite busy, we are still able to make an approach straight in, without having to hold, for an on time arrival. We park on a remote stand. For Business Class passengers there is a small minibus to take us to the terminal. It takes the luggage from my flight 45 minutes to start arriving and the luggage belt is crawling with passengers, as the flights from Brussels, Athens, and Malta are also being delivered to this belt. Eventually, I manage to catch a train an hour after I land at 17h15, which is still not bad, even if it’s not up to Zürich’s usual standards. And so the quest for the E2 continues…

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Budapest

Introduction

I’m on my way to Budapest to attend a language testing conference. The evening before my flight I try to check in on the SWISS app, but for some reason it’s not working. After several failed attempts I go to the Lufthansa app and try there, and this time it works. But I can’t download the boarding pass from the link I received by SMS. The next morning I try again on both the SWISS and Lufthansa apps, but no. Not working. I guess it makes no difference, seeing as I’ll be checking in a suitcase and will need to pass by a counter anyway. But you do wonder.

Check-in

Zürich airport is surprisingly busy when I get there at 10h45. In check-in 3 SWISS has installed self-service baggage drop counters, which seem to be rather popular, judging by the length of the queue. Business Class passengers have their own dedicated lane, which leads to two womanned counters for checking in the old-fashioned way.

From check-in I head straight to security, figuring there’s likely to be a queue there too. Which there is. However, it moves quickly and the wait there is really no more than about seven minutes in the priority lane.

The lounge

The lounge looks quiet enough from the outside, so I decide to give it a try. Uhm, yeah. No. Inside, the place is crawling with disgruntled looking business men and women. All of them look as though they’d much rather be somewhere else. And given the size of the queue for the buffet, I can’t really blame them! Where are all these people going?

So I make a u turn and exit the lounge from where I came in. But I’m still hungry. I check out the café at the beginning of the A pier, but they’re actually asking CHF7.80 for a rather small salami sandwich with some wilted looking lettuce and a few slices of salami. I refuse to pay that kind of money for a simple bloody salami sandwich. So I guess I’m doomed. My faith rests now in the hands of SWISS. My only hope now is that they won’t serve up one of their odd concotions, or that the crew won’t have mistakenly already served all the Business Class meals, as was the case on my last flight from Brussels back to Zürich.

Boarding

My aircraft arrived from Palma de Mallorca and is running just a few minutes late. Instead of at 11h55, boarding will now begin at 12h05. Seeing as I’m seated up front, I might as well wait for everybody else to board first. So I head for the window to admire the elegant Airbus A 220-300 that will be carrying me to Budapest this afternoon. It really is such a nice aircraft!

The cabin

Originally I’m on 3A. However, once boarding is completed, the twin seats on rows 1 and 2 are still empty, so I move forward to 2A so the guy on 2D can take my seat to be closer to his wife and kid on 4B and 4A. There are six rows of Business Class, and with me there are eleven passengers in the Business Class cabin. Which is a lot more than I had expected.

Row 2 on the A 220 is excellent. The seat pitch is very good and because you have the seat next to you empty, you needn’t worry about finding a place to store your bag if the overhead bins are full.

We take off from runway 28. The SID takes us in a southwesterly direction, before bringing us back to fly parallel to the departing runway, heading in the opposite direction.

Our routing takes us past lake Constance and further in an easterly direction into Austria.

It’s a lovely day here in Switzerland. However, as we progress east the weather gradually deteriorates. By the time we land in Budapest it’s overcast and slightly fresher than Zürich.

The meal

The meal is surprisingly not bad. It consists of some Asian-style noodles with a sesame oil dressing, some veg and two slices of smoked tuna. It’s a very small dish, but then again the flight is only slightly over one hour.

With that there is a small plate with two pieces of cheese. I’d say a Camembert and an Appenzeller. But I’m not sure.

For dessert is something that I think should be Tiramisu, but is essentially small pieces of soggy cantucci on gelatine with coffee. Meh…

And to finish the meal: a coffee.

The crew

The crew on this flight are friendly. They’re also totally with the birds. When they start the service, they had the bread basked on the trolley, but obviously forget to ask passengers if they’d like a bread roll. The male flight attendant plonks down my tray and moves on. So I ask him, in English, if I could have a bread roll for the cheese. First, he replies: “Es Brötli?”. He then uses the tongs to grab a roll from the basket, and then promptly places it on my tray so that it immediately rolls off and lands on the floor before either one of us can catch it. So then he asks me if I’m okay with that, or if I’d like another one. It’s really on the tip of my tongue to tell him that I’m not in the habit of eating bread rolls that have been hand picked off the seedy carpets of commercial airliners. But I let it go and just ask for a new Brötli.

But I don’t know what it is with this guy and his “Brötli”. Because after my row he continues asking all the passengers “would you like es Brötli?”. I don’t know if he thinks he’s giving the service a bit of Swissness, because honestly, it’s just weird.

Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering, there is no SWISS chocolate at the end of the flight for the Business Class passengers. I don’t know if the crew just forget, or if Business Class passengers no longer get a chocolate because they were treated to coffee flavoured gelatine. Such a treat…!

Arrival

Despite our slightly delayed departure form Zürich, we still manage to land in Budapest on time. We come to a stop next to my friends in blue. Passengers disembark via an airbridge. However, at the other end of the airbridge we are directed to go downstairs to board a bus which then drives us to the arrivals hall. I have no idea what all that is about.

The luggage doesn’t take much time to arrive and then I’m already on my way to Budapest on the 100E bus.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 321 NEO: Zürich to Brussels

Introduction

I‘m on my way to Belgium. Before the pandemic, Brussels Airlines operated two daily flights between Basel and Brussels on weekdays. Alas, the route has been discontinued. My other option from Basel would have been Easyjet, but they were already sold out. There currently aren‘t any direct trains from Basel to Brussels anymore. I then decided to book a ticket on the TGV & Thalys via Paris. But then two days before departure, a private matter meant I would not be able to take the train. So eventually I booked a ticket on SWISS. Fortunately, they still had fairly competitive prices available, even at such short notice.

This post begins with me arriving at Zürich airport by train at 16h44 for my 18h15 departure to Brussels.

Check-in

Check-in 3 marks the area above the airport’s railway station. SWISS recently introduced new, fully automated check-in machines there. The process is swift. A SWISS representative scans my electronic boarding pass and prints the baggage tag for my flight. She puts the tag on my suitcase and instructs me to proceed to the drop-off machine.

I dump by bag on the belt just as another SWISS rep hurries by to help me. The staff are all very friendly. All in all though, I couldn’t really say if the process is any good or how easy it is to operate, because the staff basically take care of everything for me.

Next, I head over to Terminal A and the security checkpoint. The airport seems very quiet.

There are two separate entrances for security, one for Economy Class passengers and another for First and Business Class passengers.

Boarding

Security is quickly done. By the time I’m through, it’s already 17h30. I only have twenty minutes or so before boarding begins. These days I usually can’t be bothered with the lounges, so I head straight for gate A 63 to see if I can catch a glimpse of the aircraft taking me to Brussels this evening.

This is my first flight on an A 321 NEO, which SWISS keeps in a very high density configuration of 215 seats. Subsequently, it takes an eternity for the flight to board. I’m seated on 31 all the way in the back of the bus.

Apart from the massive engines, the A 321 Neo is easily distinguished from the the CEO version by the configuration of the doors. The A 321 CEO has two doors forward of the wing, no overwing exits and one door at the rear, whereas the A 321 NEO only has one door in the front, two overwing hatches and two doors behind the wing.

The cabin

The A 321 NEO is a very long aircraft. In the SWISS configuration in Economy Class there is one lavatory in the rear of the aircraft and one right by the R2 exit. The finish of the cabin is nice, and the brown seats give the cabin a nice warm feel. There is a hook for a jacket at every seat.

The seat pitch is okay as long as you’re sitting fully upright. Even so, I’m wondering just where you’re supposed to put your legs if you have a thick winter jacket with you. The flight time to Brussels is 55 minutes, which is fine. However, from what I gather on flightradar, after its return from Brussels this aircraft was scheduled to operate the red-eye to Tel Aviv, which has a block time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. And that, I don’t think I would want to try out on this bird.

Among the other noteworthy features of this aircraft, it has video screens throughout the cabin. On the downside, from row nine on, the seats cannot be reclined. One the one hand, I’m guessing this a cost-saving measure to reduce maintenance on the seats. On the other hand, given the tight pitch it’s probably not a bad idea…

Whatever, I just like sitting behind the wing for a change and being able to watch the flaps moving during take-off and landing.

The crew

There are six cabin crew. They’re all female and their interaction with the crew is rather limited. One of them has this haunted look on her face. She’s standing in the cabin during boarding, but doesn’t bother to say a word of greeting to passengers as they file past her. I say Grüezi to her in my best Baseldüütsch, but don’t get a reply. Later on when we deplane, I take the initiative again and say Adieu. Nothing. I suspect that perhaps the problem is not just a lack of manners but also a lack of language skills. But it’s still awkward.

A while back SWISS announced that they would stop using binary salutations and terms of address, such as Ladies & Gentlemen, and would be replacing them with gender-neutral formulations. I salute SWISS for their initiative and the fact that the crew on this flight are really very disciplined about it. On the other hand, I must admit that it does sound a bit weird. The crew either address passengers with Dear guests, or they do not use an address term at all, which is a bit strange. I guess it’ll just take getting used to.

I must say I’m quite impressed with the NEO’s performance. The take-off is powerful and you can really feel the acceleration.

The meal service

The meal service consists of a complimentary bottle of SWISS’ iconic (sic.) still water and a piece of Swiss chocolate. More substantial meals can be bought on board or pre-ordered online. For its buy on board service, SWISS has teamed up with Sprüngli. I’m not quite sure what to make of this though, because Sprüngli tends to be rather pricey. So if they’re trying to attract the price-sensitive Economy Class customer, I’m not sure Sprüngli is the way to go. Just as an example, you can buy a tub of Birchermüsli (200 gramms) for CHF7.50.

Arrival

Only 25 minutes after we take-off from Zürich, we’re already starting our descent into Brussels. It’s a lovely day in Belgium, with a ground temperature of 20 degrees celsius.

The airport is quite busy, no doubt with EU diplomats heading home for the weekend. It’s quite a treck from the arrival gate to baggage claim. On a positive note though, this means that by the time I reach the luggage belt for the flight from Zürich, my suitcase is just coming around the corner.

Getting into town

Like Zürich, Brussels airpot has a railway station located in the basement of the terminal. There are frequent trains from the airport into town, most of which will stop at the three main stations in Nord, Centraal and Midi. A one-way ticket costs EUR2.60 and there is an airport supplement of EUR5.70. The journey to Midi take about 20 minutes.

Conclusion

All things considered, this flight was pleasant enough. It was on time and they delivered me to Brussels safely, which is the main thing. I rather liked the A 321 NEO though, it felt solid. The finish of the cabin was rather elegant. On the downside, I think I would really think twice about getting on one of them again in Economy Class – especially on a longer journey. The pitch was really not comfortable.

The crew and service were decidely nondescript. It’s probably hard to convey Swissness when most of the crew are very obviously not Swiss.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

It’s the end of April and the last week of work before my sabbatical starts. My second attempt to go on sabbatical, that is. I arrive by train at Zürich airport at 16:15 with a little over one hour to go before my departure to Amsterdam. Online check is now possible again, after it had been suspended during Covid for them to be able to check certificates. So I bypass check-in at the airport and head straight fro security. Landside everything seems normal enough.

But the monent I step through the electronic gates to enter the security checkpoint, it’s a complete mess. There are people everywhere, and you can actually watch the queue getting longer by the second. Usually there’s a separate queue for First & Business Class passengers. But with nobody from the airport there to manage the queues, it’s just chaos and nothing else.

Airside

By the time I‘m through security, there‘s only half a hour left before boarding. In Zürich KLM uses the DNATA lounge, which is really nothing to write home about. So, I figure I might as well go sit outside on the terrace of the airside sports bar.

Boarding

As the result of the Covid pandemic, Zürich airport recently shelved its plans to demolish and reconstruct the A pier, which is a real shame because the place is just about bursting at the seams right now.

KLM’s handling is done by DNATA, and I‘m impressed by how religiously the gate agents stick to the boarding process, starting with zones 1 and 2. Mind you, I’m in zone 1, but I still wait until everybody elses has boarded to get on the plane.

Literally the moment I pass through the gate, an alert pops up on my KLM app, informing me that my return flight has been cancelled. But this is KLM, so I’m not really too bothered. Their irregularity team is great, so I’m confident they‘ll find a solution for me.

Boarding takes for ever, and by the time we push back from the gate, we’re running just over thirty minutes late. We depart from runway 28 and then make a wide left hand turn of 180 degrees to point us in the direction of Lake Constance, bringing us back over the airport.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. On row two, all four seat are occupied. However, on row one only the window seats are occupied. I’m on 1A, so I have a whole row of three to myself.

The crew

The purser is working the Business Class cabin. She’s in her late forties I’d say, and she really is brilliant. She’s very funny and an excellent hostess. For example, shortly after she serves me my tea at the end of the meal, we encounter some pretty severe turbulence. She immediately comes to clear everything away before I’ve even touched it, to prevent it from spilling over and scalding me. Later on, once the turbulence calms down, she brings me a fresh cup of tea without me even asking. That’s excellent service.

The meal

The meal begins with the drinks service. I ask for a Coke Zero, and the purser asks me if I’d like that with ice and sugar.

KLM’s Business Class meal tray service appears to have been permanently replaced with the cardboard box they previously only served on the Cityhopper flights.

Catering on KLM tends to be somewhat experimental, and that’s not always a good thing. The salad is fine though. However, as part of the cost cutting measures they no longer serve bread, which I think is just a bit of a shame.

The dessert is revolting. It’s basically a flavoured blob of gelatinous goo. Why can’t they just serve something normal, like a biscuit?

Arrival

Eventually we land with only a few minutes delay, after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The flight ends at gate C5, at the very beginning if the C pier.

Getting to Rotterdam

There are regular direct trains between Amsterdam Schipol airport and Rotterdam, where I will be spending the weekend. The regular trains take about 55 minutes to make the journey. However, there are also intercity trains which run nonstop in just 26 minutes. For those you need to pay a supplement though.

Conclusion

I suppose the tragedy of the airlines is that their customer base is so diverse, and different people appreciate or pay attention to different things when they fly. The food on this flight was a bit of a mixed bag, and then dessert was just… no. Having said that, the cabin crew were stellar, which is what I have come to expect from KLM and which they consistenly deliver. The cancellation of my return flight is of course inceonvient. However, with KLM consistency also means that I can rest assured they they will find the best alternative for me. And by alternative, I do not mean simply offering me to refund the half-return price of my ticket.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Berlin

Introduction

It’s been a long time since I last visited Berlin, probably twelve years or so. My recent trip for the inauguration of the Air France A220 doesn’t count, because that time I continued to Vienna after a short layover of about two hours. This time around I’ll actually be leaving the airport and spending two nights in the city.

Some of the more regular readers to this blog will probably know that this year’s plan was to make the best of Covid 19, by visiting the many sights of Europe without having to deal with all the overseas tourist. So far I’ve ticked off the bucket list:

  • Le Chateau de Versailles in Paris
  • La Gioconda in the Louvre Museum in Paris
  • A night at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris
  • La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
  • The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in Rome
  • The Colosseum in Rome
  • St. Peter’s in Rome
  • The Duomo di Milano
  • Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna
  • A night at the Staatsoper in Vienna
  • Linzer Torte in Linz

In Berlin, my aim is to finally visit the Pergamon Museum to see its reconstruction of the famour Ishtar Gate.

But first things first. The narrative begins as I am ejected from security into the airside duty free at Zürich airport. It’s just gone 17h30, and even though security was quiet, there are a lot of people airside. The airport is already decked out for Christmas, which is nice. But I must say that Covid 19 doesn’t really give me the warm and fuzzies, so it’s not as though I’m in much of a Christmas mood yet.

My first attempt to enter the SWISS lounge is foiled by the long queue to enter. It looks like there are more people inside the lounge than outside. And there isn’t a mask to be seen inside either. Okay, maybe not then…

So I go for a bit of a walkbout. Which is nice too, becaue it gives you an interesting, if not pretty, glimpse into the strangeness of the human race…

I also spot one of SWISS’ new A 321NEOs pulling onto its stand. Like WizzAir, SWISS has opted for a configuration with only one door on either side before the wing and two overwing hatches.

The lounge

Just before 18h00 I decide to try my luck again. I’ve had enough of mankind anyway, and the maskless shaker-movers in the lounge have mostly dispersed.

SWISS has a separate Senator lounge and a Business Class lounge in Zürich. As on my previous visit, they have the connecting door between the two lounges open and passengers can sit in either one or the other. Shortly after I enter though, they start removing the buffet and prepare to shut down the Business Class lounge.

I wasn’t planning on eating anything in the lounge. But a man is only so strong… have I mentioned that I love Spätzli? I think there is not very much I wouldn’t do for a plate of that doughy goodness. As it turns out, later on I will be grateful for having next to zero discpline where food is concerned…

Boarding

My boarding pass says that boarding will start at 18h10 for an 18h30 departure. But when I arrive at the gate just after 18h15, boarding is already in the final stages.

I’m seated on the window seat, on 2F. The middle seat is kept empty, and there are two bottles of SWISS’ famous, iconic no-brand water and two refreshing towels on the middle seat.

The cabin

I’m not sure how many times exactly the aircraft type for this flight changed since I booked it. At some point it looked as though it might be an A 320NEO, but thankfully my kneecaps and two herniated discs have been spared, and instead the flight is operated by the slightly less tight A 320CEO.

I think there are seven or eight rows of Business Class, and while the Business Class cabin is not sold out, I’d say it’s a fairly good load.

As we taxi out, the purser informs us that on today’s flight wifi is available. And as the system is still being tested, the service is complimentary for all passengers. I give it a try, but at no point during the flight am I able to log in. But it’s not that important to me anyway.

The crew

The two female cabin crew are both German and make the snow queen look like a very chirpy people person. They’re not rude or anything, but just totally lacking in anything that might remotely be recognised as an interest in their passengers. Probably it doesn’t help that 1D is either a Senator or a HON and is hellbent on making sure that everybody, probably even the guy on row 31, knows just how experienced a flyer he is. Honestly, the guy would put me is a foul mood too.

The meal

The meal is served with the plastic still on it, which I’m assuming is due to Covid 19. And sweet baby Jesus, what in the name of creation is this meal supposed to be anyway?

The main dish is two slices of some kind of dried meat with a few limp leaves of salad on top of it and a globule of pumkin flavoured gelatine.

And a dollop of… mayonnaise? Just in case the whole thing wasn’t already greasy enough.

The meal’s saving grace are the two slices of cheese.

And for dessert, it’s more gelatine – this time of the sweet variety. Let nobody every say SWISS catering is boring.

At least they didn’t forget to dish out the little chocolates, as they have a tendency of doing on Austrian Airlines.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes and I’m really glad to be allowed off the plane. Our stand is more or less in the middle of the terminal. Even so, it’s still quite a schlepp from the gate to the exit.

My hotel is near Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten. I could take the S9, which is a direct service that takes about 55 minutes to make the journey from the airport. But that won’t be leaving for another 18 minutes. So I catch a train to Ostkreuz, which takes 15 minutes, and then from there a S5 service to Zoologischer Garten. Even with the change at Ostkreuz, the journey is shorter and only takes 42 minutes to complete.

Swiss International Air Lines powered by Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Luxembourg

Introduction

This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At some point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.

The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.

I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.

The SWISS Business Class lounge

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lounge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!

The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I keep back so I can board last. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.

The cabin

I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on row seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.

Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.

The Meal

The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.

Arrival

We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket.

Conclusion

To conclude, I’m just assuming the apparent lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network, and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.

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

Transfer in Geneva

Man, what a rathole! I disembark from my flight from Paris at 14h40. Boarding for my next flight should start in ten minutes. But apparently, connecting from the French sector to the Schengen area is not really foreseen in Geneva. And so I end up going up and down a whole set of ugly and narrow corridors, at the end of which I am ejected in front of a security check point. Okay, fine…

The airport is very busy and crowded. There are people sitting on the floor everywhere. The SWISS lounge is one floor up from the gate area. Turn left and right a few times and eventually you should get there…

The SWISS Business Class lounge Genève

If my First Class departure from Zürich were on the same day, I’d be entitled to use the First and Hon lounge in Geneva, but because my departure is still more than two weeks away, it’s the regular Business Class lounge for me today. And it’s quite nice. It’s a descent size and rather empty this afternoon.

The flight is delayed by twenty minutes because of an incident with a dog on the runway earlier on. Boarding will be from gate A02.

Boarding…

… is a complete mess. There are grumpy passengers pushing and shoving everywhere. At some point, a Portuguese speaking mother boards with her baby in a pram and what looks like the combined baggage allowance of about twenty passengers. Oh yes, and she‘s also decided that standing in the middle of the aisle is a brilliant place to make a phone call. Eventually, the passenger behind her explains that she has a tight connection in Zürich, so it would be really good for the mother to get out of the way to let the other passengers board quickly.

So the mother quickly dumps her stuff in five overhead bins and then vanishes behind the curtain to find her seat in Economy Class.

Of course this isn‘t any of SWISS‘ fault. There are annoying passengers on every airline. But I do also think it might have helped if the crew had been in the cabin to help the poor woman, instead of hiding in the forward galley and doing a bloody convincing impersonation of somebody who is both blind and deaf.

The crew

Which brings me, of course, to the crew on this flight. Upon entering the aircraft, there is one male crew standing in the galley. He has one job, to say hello and welcome to passengers as they step aboard, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

Instead, he just stands there in his waistcoat, which is really not doing anything to hide just how badly fitting and tight the uniform is. He hasn‘t bothered to close the top button of his shirt either and looks, in short, like a complete and utter slob.

And just to make sure there‘s as little interaction as possible, the usual refreshing towel and bottle of water have been placed on the seats before boarding.

The meal

The meal service consists of one of the sandwiches they usually serve in Economy on international flights. The slob shoves the tray under my nose, without as much as asking if I‘d like to eat anything. I ask him what‘s in the sandwich, but he just shrugs and continues to ignore me. Turns out it‘s mozzarella with mushrooms and hits the spot nicely.

The purser quickly hands out chocolates, again without saying a word. Oh yes, and there is no drinks service. Apparently, the welcome drink was it.

Arrival

Luckily, it‘s not a long flight and we land in Zürich at 16h30 after a short flight of 30 minutes.

Conclusion

The difference between Air France and SWISS on these two flights was like night and day. The Air France staff on the ground and in the air were so friendly and nicely turned out. The interaction with them was just brilliant and really left a good impression.

The SWISS crew, on the other hand, were really not good. They have zero motivation, they look as though they’re really unhappy to be there and resent you for actually making them work. I’m aware of that fact that a short hop of thirty minutes hardly gives any airline an opportunity to shine and interact with the customer. But even so, I have to say that on this flight it really felt like they were intentionally not making the effort.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Prague

Introduction

Yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, I flew back from London Heathrow to Basel just as the chaos of another epic IT failure started to unfold in Heathrow. The upshot of that being that I had to spend three hours sitting in agony in BA’s painfully cramped Economy Class to make a journey that normally should only last a bit more than an hour. So as you may well imagine, I didn’t really fancy getting on a plane again on Monday. But this is for work, and I guess there are worse things to have to endure than SWISS’ Business Class.

Getting to the Airport

My flight is scheduled to depart at 17h35. I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur, which arrives in Zürich Airport at 16h40. The airport is very quiet, which may have something to do with the fact that I think it’s the public school skiing holiday, when a lot of people head for the slopes with their families. All the better for me, because it means there are only very short queues for security.

Boarding

I haven’t really got that much time left before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well head to the gate directly. I take a few pictures of my aircraft on the way.

Boarding starts on time. And I’m pleased to say that they appear to have implemented some changes to the check-in system which trigger an alarm if passengers try to board before their boarding group is called. It makes the whole process a lot more efficient.

The cabin

There are four rows of Business Class on today’s flight, for a total of twelve seats. However, only six of the seats are occupied and the load in Economy Class doesn’t appear to be all that heavy either.

I rather like the cabin layout SWISS has on the A 220-300. It’s a very comfortable experience for the passenger. The only thing I don’t like is the colour scheme, which looks rather bland and drab.

Another thing I really like on the A 220, is the Business Class loo, which is very roomy and large enough for me to be able to stand up straight in front of the sink. Usually, on the A 320 the curvature of the hull makes it impossible to stand upright.

The crew

The crew in the cabin consists of three young females. The maître de is 26 years old. She was married to a guy from Antigua and she really just couldn’t imagine living in the US, which is why he moved to Switzerland after they got married. But that only lasted for two years, because you know, honestly, after two years she’d really just had enough and couldn’t stand being married anymore. Like. I can also tell you what she studied and then broke off, what she’s currently studying, what she wants to do in future, and where she gets her nails done.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s actually very good at her job. She’s just a little Miss Chatterbox and clearly unaware of the fact that yes, the A 220 really has got very quiet engines indeed.

The service on the ground is the usual packaged towel and still water.

We make our way to runway 28 for departure. The weather really is quite dreary here today…

The meal

Much to my surprise, there’s a full meal service, depsite the short flight time. There is no choice for the meal. But I like that every passenger is served individually from the galley.

The main course

The main course is roast beef (bleeach…!) with potato salad, pickled radishes and carrots.

The cheese

The meal is served with the usual small plate of Swiss cheese.

The crew pass through the cabin twice offering warm bread rolls.

Dessert

And for dessert there is a Läckerli cream thingy (you better google that one…). And as if I haven’t had enough sweetness for one day, I have a coffee to finish the meal, which is served with a little SWISS chocolate.

The roast beef is so not my thing. But the potato salad is quite okay and the dessert is just lovely.

Arrival

Before I manage to finish the coffee, we’ve already started our descent into Prague, where eventually we land on time. The one thing I never fully understood about Prague is that although the airport is quite large, it’s also usually fairly empty. At least when I visit. And today is no exception, there are only a few aircraft standing around.

Getting into town

Public transport to and from the airport is a bit tricky in Prague. There is a bus that will take you to the closest metro station. But there is no rail link from the airport to the city. The hotel has organised a car to pick me up though, which makes the journey into town in about twenty minutes.

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

Airline: Air Malta
Aircraft: Airbus A 320 (previously operated by SriLankan)
From: Zürich Airport
To: Malta International Ariport
Departure: 18h15
Arrival: 20:10
Flight time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Seat: 12A, window seat on the first overwing emergency exit row on the port side

Introduction

Today I’m on my way to Malta. The big plan is to spend two weeks working on my research in peace and quiet, without any of the usual distractions at work. The first part of this journey is pretty much identical to my penultimate post on Air Europa last week, to the extent that I take the same train from my office to the airport and even check-in at the same place. Air Malta checks in with Swissport on row 3 of Check-in 2.

Given that I only recently posted two reports on Air Malta, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to post yet another. But then I realised it’s been a while since my last flight in Economy Class with Air Malta, and certainly this is my first flight since they introduced full buy on board service. So there you go.

Airside

I reach the gate at 17h05, which is the boarding time indicated on the boarding pass. My aircraft is just pulling onto the stand, having arrived in Zürich with a delay of thirty minutes.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 17h30, ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. The flight is surprisingly busy, given that it’s the low season. It’s not completely sold out, but from what I can tell there aren’t that many empty seats left.

The Cabin

I’ve reserved seat 12A, which is the window on the port side emergency exit. On the A 320 there are two exit rows. The first one is my preferred choice because it’s far enough from the next row that the guy behind you cannot poke his knobbly knees into your coccyx and the guy infront of you can’t recline because the exit row is behind them. Perfect!

As my luck would have it, the middle and aisle seats remain empty for the whole flight. So I have a whole row of three to myself.

The Crew

There are five crew on this flight and they really are excellent. They’re very laid back but still professional. One of them explains the operation of the emergency exit to the guy behind me and he tells her he’s seen this all before. Undeterred, she explains very nicely that she’s obliged to explain it to him just the same.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for hot snacks. There’s a choice of about five hot dishes on the inflight menu. Although two already sold out on the inbound to Zürich. So I decide to go with the vegan Lasagna. I’m not even that hungry, but I’m curious.

Twenty minutes later my food arrives. With that I order a Diet Kinnie and a KitKat, for a total of EUR10. The Lasagna is surprisingly not bad, considering what it is. I’ve had worse. Like on Dragon Air. Much worse. Even so, I do find EUR10 a bit steep for such a meal.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful. We land in Malta at 20h10, with a delay of only ten minutes and after a flight time of slightly less than two hours. Alas, we’re parked sufficiently far away from the terminal to warrant sending a bus to pick us up. I was hoping we’d be allowed to walk, so I could take a picture of my aircraft.

The weather is not up to Malta’s usual standards, unfortunately. It’s only about 15 degrees Celsius and overcast. But at least it’s not raining and it’s still 15 degrees warmer than Zürich when we departed this evening.

Air Europa, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Zürich to Madrid

Airline: Air Europa
Aircraft: Embraer 195
From: Zürich
To: Madrid Barajas
Departure: 18:51
Arrival:
20:36
Flight time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Seat:
14D, aisle seat on the emergency exit

Check-in

At 16:54 I catch the train back to Zürich airport and make my way to Check-In 2, row 3, which is where Swissport has its counters for the smaller airlines like Air Baltic, Air Malta and Air Europa.

There‘s nobody else checking-in right now, so I‘m seen to straight away. And then from there I head for security, which is just as quiet.

The Lounge

Air Europa uses the Dnata lounge in Zürich, located towards the end of the airside centre, near the B pier. The lounge is completely packed and there‘s hardly any room to sit.

Eventually, I find a place to settle and get myself some food. The selection in the lounge is good, with a choice of salads, soup and a pasta dish to choose from.

Boarding

Considering they‘re a handling agent, boarding an aircraft is something Swissport doesn‘t do very well at all. An announcement is made that boarding will be by zones, starting with zone 1. only, no further announcement is made, resulting in the inevitable scrum by passengers. In fact, boarding is utter chaos and the original two queues expand quickly into a riot-scale pushing and shoving extravaganza.

The Cabin

Eventually though, I make it onto the plane and settle into my seat on the emergency exit.

Again, the seat pitch on the exit row is great. I also think Air Euopa have better padding on their seats in the Embraer than KLM, Air France or Helvetic.

The Crew

There are three crew in the cabin. As I don‘t make any purchases from the inflight menu, my interaction with them is limited. But the safety briefing they give is professional.

The flight itself is very bumpy for most of the journey. To the extent that even the crew had to be seated. Which is good, because the rocking puts me right off to sleep!

Arrival

We land slightly head of schedule. In Madrid Air Europa operates out of Terminal 3, which has its own metro station. Public transport in Madrid is quite cheap. Although you need to purchase a supplement for journeys to and from the airport.