Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 318: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Geneva

Airline: Air France
Aircraft:
Airbus A 318
From:
Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
To:
Genève Cointrin
Departure: 13h03
Arrival:
14:33
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Seat: 3A

This post marks the beginning of my sabbatical: my six months of paid leave start on 1 March 2020. Before I eventually do get on the plane to Oz though, there are still a few things that need taking care off. So I will still need to go to Luxembourg twice before I’m well and truly gone. This post and the next are of the positioning flights to break in the ticket, so to speak.

Check-In

The first leg will be from Paris Roissy Geneva. The flight is operated by Air France, but also carries the codes of SWISS and Air Mauritius.

As such, the flight will operate out of Terminal 2F, which is the Air France Schengen terminal. Air France has a dedicated check-in zone for its SkyPriority and Business Class passengers.

During the check-in process I interact with three Air France employees and obviously they have all been properly trained in customer care. The first is a middle aged man at the entrance to the check-in area. I approach him and ask if I can check in here, even though I‘m booked on the LX flight number.

He welcomes me to Air France and tells that bien sûr, I‘m welcome to check in here, and makes a joke that with SWISS being located in the ‚flying saucer’ on the other side, by which I figure he means Terminal 1, boarding might be a bit cumbersome.

Next a young woman ushers me to a free counter, where another young lady welcomes me to Air France and checks me in. Of course, I know that this amount of staff is a luxury not many airlines can afford. And I know Air France isn‘t exactly in excellent shape financially. But seriously, from the perspective of the passenger experience, this is really how it‘s done. Lufthansa, are you even paying attention…? As I exit the check-in area, all three wish me a pleasant flight.

The Lounge

The two piers at 2F are very elegant and stylish, but also not very practical. Today it‘s okay because there aren‘t that many passengers. But when it‘s busy, it‘s difficult to get through.

The lounge is one level down from the main airside area and is spread out over two levels. In typical Air France manner, the services available on both levels are identical and include a fully stocked bar as well as a counter with savoury dishes and another with sweet dishes. I can highly recommend the crêpes sucrées. Although you probably don‘t necessarily need to have five like me…

Throughout the lounge the Air France branding is visible, from the posters on the wall to the pattern on the floor. The lower level is usually a little less crowded, by the way.

The Cabin

Boarding is strictly by zones, with Business Class passengers boarding in zone 1.

From the inside, the Air France A 318 is easy to distinguish from the A 319 because it has cloth seat covers instead of leather. On every row of three there are four USB ports. The aircraft also has wifi available and the crew will distribute information cards in Business Class with instructions how to log in.

On today‘s flight there are six rows ahead of the cabin divider for a total of 24 seats. I count 20 passengers in the forward cabin. Incidentally, on the port side, there is no row 1. So row 2 is the bulkhead row.

Service

There are two cabin crew in the Business Class cabin. Both of them are middle aged. The female cabin crew is elegant in her appearance and very charming in dealing with passengers.

Once the doors close, packaged and scented wet towels are handed out. The flight time is 55 minutes.

The Meal

Despite the short flight time, Air France does a full meal service on this flight. Given the size of the cabin, the trays are served from the trolley.

On the tray there is an asparagus salad and shrimps on a raspberry coulis, which taste much better than they sound.

In addition, there is a small plate of cheese. The crew offer warm bread from the basket to go with that.

For dessert there is a rhubarb tarte and a small piece of dark chocolate. The flight attendant is very attentive and goes out of her way to make passengers feel comfortable. If only flying could always be like this…

Arrival

At 13h40 the captain comes on the PA to inform us that there will be a delay of about thirty minutes for our arrival, due to the fact that there was a dog on the runway and all arrivals had to be halted for forty minutes while they caught it.

As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of Air France. Even so, I have to say that on this trip they really impressed me. First of all, because I find it refreshing that the staff on the front line who deal with the passengers obviously seem to enjoy their jobs. Or at least are sufficiently motivated to deliver a seamless and rather pleasant customer experience.

Eventually, we land at 14h33 and taxi to our stand in the French sector of the airport. And that‘s when the culture shock sets in…

LOT Polish Airlines, Business Class – Embraer 195: Warsaw to Zürich

It’s just coming up to 16h by the time I enter the terminal building. The airport is very busy, and there are people everywhere. I make my way to the LOT Business Class lounge, which is one floor up from the public airside area.

I think the place is probably cramped at the best of times, but right now it’s also completely full. It doesn’t look at all inviting. I don’t even bother to look for a place to sit, because I have a much better idea anyway…

So instead I head one floor down again to the foodcourt, which is where I spot just what I’m looking for: a Polish restaurant that also serves Pierogi. It’s basically just a fast food joint. But the Pierogi are just so good, covered in fried onion and served with a healthy dollop of sour cream!

With that out of the way, I make my way to gate 32. There’s a slight delay for boarding. And the flight is completely full, the gate agent says.

There are seven rows of seats ahead of the cabin divider. This aircraft is clearly older than the one I had on my way to Warsaw on Sunday. But it’s still a nice looking cabin and the seat pitch is great.

Again there are no welcome drinks, but the crew hand out chocolate biscuits, followed by Polish and English language newspapers.

The crew on this flight are a lot more pleasant and approachable. The purser is a portly, middle-aged gentlemen and he’s very friendly.

The flight time is announced as one 1 hour and 45 minutes, although in actual fact it later turns out to have been only 91 minutes.

The service in Business Class is slightly different to Premium Economy, in that there is a drinks service ahead of the meal. I just have a glass of sparkling water, which is served with dried slices of veg in a cajun spice mix. Not a good combination…

Next, the tray with the food is served. It looks pretty much like the Premium Economy tray, except of course that the plates are not plastic.

The right dish is quinoa with aubergines, spinach and feta cheese. I think.

The left dish is roast beef with feta and broccoli and bell pepper. It’s good that I had the Pierogi.

With the meal the crew offer bread from a basket. It’s just a minor thing, but I’m quite sure it wouldn’t hurt to warm up the bread in the oven to upgrade it from recently defrosted to at least room temperature.

The flight passes smoothly. The crew have kept the cabin lights dimmed, which makes for a nice, cosy atmosphere on board.

Eventually, we land at 19h56. By 19h15 I’m already on the train on my way home.

And that brings to an end my first experience with LOT. All in all, the four flights I took were not unpleasant. And I think the hardware – things like seat comfort or the meal service – were fine. Bu the crews were a bit of a mixed bag. And as a result, the service delivery lacked consistency. I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly LOT. But at least I wouldn’t actively avoid them either.

LOT Polish Airlines, Premium Economy – Embraer 195: Zürich to Warsaw

The international phonetic alphabet was introduced specifically to be able to have a written representation of what a word sounds like, irrespective of the rules of orthography that abide in the language.

Which is, of course, a good thing because I’m on my way to Poland this evening to give a course, and the Poles seem to have quite an unhealthy obsession with impossible to pronounce consonant clusters.

I mention this here, because today I’m on my way to Rzeszow. And in case you’re wondering, it should be pronounced something like /ʒɛʃuf/ in the IPA, which sounds similar to ‘jeshoof’...

I was intending to take the 17h07 train from Basel to Zürich. But that service is operated by a German ICE train that originates in Germany. And of course it’s been cancelled…

So instead I’m on the 16:43 service, which stops in Liestal, Sissach, Aarau and Lenzburg on the way. The journey is ten minutes longer than on the nonstop train.

In Zürich I change trains to the 18h05 for the airport. As my luck would have it, second class rolling stock is currently in short supply, apparently, which is why the train consists of plush, comfortable first class carriages operating as second class carriages.

LOT is located in check-in 2 at Zürich airport and uses row 5, which is conveniently located on the mezzanine level, just as you come off the foot bridge connecting the shopping mall to the terminal. AAS is LOT’s handling agent.

By the time I change some Polish money and make my way through security, it’s 18h30. My flight should start boarding at 19h25. The lines for security are very light. And there are just three people ahead of me.

And the two lines open for Business Class passengers are deserted. So I ask one of the employees milling about if I could also use one of those two lines, considering they’re empty. To which she gives me her best disapproving look, or maybe she’s just constipated, and tells me that if I’m in that much of a hurry, I may use one of the empty lines.

This is just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t know in what parallel universe there is anybody who greatly enjoys queueing for security at airports…

My flight is departing from A86. The departure time comes and goes, but the gate staff are too busy bitching about what a sad airline LOT is to even bother making an announcement.

Eventually, boarding starts about 15 minutes behind schedule.

My first impression of the cabin is very good. I think this aircraft is either new or recently had a new cabin fitted. Seats are in a soft, beige coloured leather and the seat pitch on 3A is excellent.

What I don’t understand though, is that my seat on 3A is in front of the cabin divider, even though I’m travelling on a Premium Economy Class ticket. And the seat next to me is empty, although I don’t know if this is intentional or just that the flight is not entirely full.

By way of a welcome, passengers up front are handed a chocolate biscuit, but no drink.

The flight time is one hour and 35 minutes.

Once the meal service begins, the small differences between Premium Economy and Business Class start to become clear. But they seem fairly minor to me. Rows 1 and 2 have proper linen table cloths, whereas row 3 does not. Furthermore, my meal is served on reusable plastic, and not on proper porcelain.

The meal consists of two dishes. One is a pasta salad, and the other is cold beef with cucumber and a cream cheese.

Bread is offered with the meal. And there is also a small chocolate on the tray.

To drink I have sparkling water, and after the meal some tea. The meal concludes with a chocolate wafer.

All in all, I think the food is rather good and the meal tasty. But the service seems unnecessarily rushed. By the time the crew come through with the second bread service, I haven’t even started on the first piece. They don’t smile much either!

Having said that, once my tray is removed, one of the cabin crew brings me a pillow and blanket, without me even asking for them.

Eventually we land at 21h36, 14 minutes ahead of schedule. My flight to Rzeszów will start boarding at 22h10.

This was my first flight with LOT and to be honest, I’d been expecting much, much worse. But so far so good…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is served on one tray.

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

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

For dessert there is chocolate mousse and fruit salad.

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

To drink I have a Kinnie, of course.

The meal concludes with a cup of coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winterthur has, undoubtedly, the ugliest railway station in all of Switzerland. Right after Mumpf station, which looks like it was built from one ugly slab of concrete. But hey, no judgement…

So the holidays are definitely over and I’m back to my usual tricks. But the countdown is ticking. I think next weekend I can book the flights for my sabbatical next year. But until then, yes, it’s another short hop to Luxembourg, courtesy of KLM.

And in case you don’t believe me, here’s the dark and gloomy Winterthur station.
My train pulls into the station of Zürich Airport at 16:00. By 16:06 I’m already standing at security. There are automatic boarding pass scanners to access the airside area of the terminal and there is a dedicated fast track for security, to which SkyPriority passengers also have access.

I decide to skip visiting the lounge and head straight for the gate. On my way to A64 a gate change is announced. And instead, my flight will be departing from A73. Gate A64 will now be boarding the SWISS flight to Amsterdam, which leaves at exactly the same time as the KLM flight. Which is not confusing at all…
When I arrive at A73, the gate is already occupied by another aircraft. I open the KLM app, only to find that the flight hasn’t even left Amsterdam yet. The new departure time is 17:55 from Zürich, which seems a bit overly optimistic, given that the aircraft is still on the ground in Amsterdam when I check at 16:50.
A short while later, I check again. Our departure has now moved back to 18:30. This ought to be interesting…
At least the KLM website is kept up to date. It turns out that part of the problem is that the employees at Schiphol airport are on strike.
Eventually, my aircraft rolls onto its stand at 17:50. The ground crew spring into action and are obviously making their best effort to turn around the aircraft as quickly as possible.
The aircraft taking me to Amsterdam this evening looks absolutely gorgeous in what looks like a fresh lick of paint. I think it’s really cool that KLM has bucked the Eurowhite trend that so persistently haunts the liveries of the European airlines. Are you reading this, Aer Lingus…?
Boarding starts just after 18:00. The gate agent specifically makes an announcement that boarding will be by zones, starting with zones 1 and 2. So immediately the electronic gates are clogged by passengers not in zones 1 and 2. And by the looks of it, if you’re not in one of the eligible zones. The gates won’t open.
The gate agent asks the first passenger to step aside. To which his only reply is that letting him on immediately is ‘the least you can do’ after such a ‘horrific’ delay… M’kay.
According to the purser, the flight is completely sold out. There are two rows of Business Class, and all eight seats are occupied.
I’m seated on 1A, and the pitch on the bulkhead row is excellent. I also like the KLM blue.
The crew are clearly in a hurry so as not to miss our slot time. Even so, it’s obvious that they’re making the extra effort to make passengers feel welcome. There are quite a few passengers with onward connections that are worried about missing their flight.
We take off from runway 28. The flight time is announced at one hour and twenty minutes.
As soon as we’re above the clouds, the service begins. But I just ask for a Coke Zero, which the purser brings me with a small packet of spicy corn. I hope this doesn’t mean they’ve done away with those delectable salty almonds…
Throughout the flight the crew take excellent care of all passengers and make a point of giving regular updates about the progress of the flight and any possible impact on connecting flights.
Eventually, we land at 20:02. It then takes us another 15 minutes to make our way to our stand on the C pier. By the time the aircraft comes to a stop, we’re exactly one hour late.
KLM handles irregularities really well. Of course delays are inconvenient and nobody likes having to worry about their travel plans. But when something like this happens, it’s nice to feel you’re in good hands. And in actual fact, it turns out all passengers would make their connection.

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

My colleague at work, let‘s call him the talented Mr. F., recently complained about the apparent lack of any new posts on my blog in recents weeks. The talented Mr. F., incidentally, gets his name from his truly exceptional talent of getting airlines to pay him compensation for all sorts of things, including some reported cases where the airlines hadn‘t actually done anything wrong – other than being on time…

So here you go, this one‘s for you, Mr. F. May it inspire you to even greater greatness. Or something.

As usual, I arrive at Zürich Airport by train. It‘s just gone 16:15. One hour to go before my departure to London.
Security is quite busy. After all, it‘s still the holiday season. But it‘s nowhere near as bad as when I flew to Bucharest two weeks ago, just as the summer holidays in Switzerland got underway!
My flight will be boarding from D57. Which is a bus gate on the ground floor level of the non-Schengen terminal. I don‘t think I‘ve ever used one of these gates before. I rather like the B/D pier though. Even if the ceilings are quite low.
I can‘t be bothered with the SWISS lounge, so instead I buy myself some chocolate goodness from Sprüngli on my way to passport control.
Today‘s flight is operated by Helvetic Airways, on behalf of SWISS. Helvetic has 15 E2s on order, which are expected to enter the fleet in Q4 of this year. Ten of their aircraft are on a permanent wet lease to SWISS. My flight today will be with an Embraer 190.
I‘m seated on 1A. So I figure I might as well take my time and board last. And take a few pictures while I wait.
The pitch on row 1, the bulkhead row, is great. Although from past experience I have to say, it get‘s awfully tight towards the back.
The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the cold towels and a bottle of still water. There are five passengers in Business this afternoon. One thing I really like on SWISS, is that they keep the seat next to you empty.
No sooner has the seatbelt sign gone off after take-off, the meal service begins. There is no choice available, so if you‘re vegetarian or picky about what you eat, you may want to pre order a special meal.
Today‘s offering is vitello tonnato, served with rocket, capers and red onion.
Warm breads and crackers are served with the meal. The maître de does an excellent job of explaining what all the items on the tray are.
Of course, being SWISS, there has to be a small plate with cheese.
The dessert is brownies on a citrus yoghurt cream and strawberry compote.
The meal ends with a cup of coffee and a small Swiss chocolate.
We land in London City more or less on time. The airport is busy. There‘s a bit of a hold up because the guy bringing the stairs is having problems puttting it in position. The captain shrugs at me and says: ‚they expect us to land on something the size of a stamp, but they struggle with the stairs…‘.
It‘s a lovely evening in London, and so I decide to walk to the hotel. From London City airport it‘s a walk of about thirty minutes to the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that takes you across the Thames. The journey takes about ten minutes and you can pay either by Oyster card or with a touch credit card.
At the other end, the cable car spits you out in front of the O2 arena. I stop off at Wagamama and the make my way to the Intetcontinental O2.
I‘ve been to many lovely places across the globe. Including some I didn‘t know existed before I had to go there! And feel priviledged for the opportunity to travel and see so much of the world. But no matter where I go, sooner or later I‘m always drawn back to this city. For me, there really is no place like London!

P. S. In the background of the last picture, on the hill, is Woolwich, where my nannu was originally from.

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris CDG 2

Date: 10. January 2019
Origin: Zürich Kloten
Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
Seat: 10F
Flight time: 57 minutes

INTRODUCTION

Considering he’s an aerospace engineer, and rather a good one at that, it really is quite astounding just how little my friend, the wiry R., is interested in aviation and aircraft. As such, it is hardly surprising that when I tell him about my itinerary for my upcoming trip to Dubai, all he can muster is the kind of mournful ‘why’ that is usually reserved for parents to use on their four year old kid when he decided to drop a whole box of detergent in the toilet to see if the flushing would create bubbles. Not of course, that I got up to that sort of thing as a child…

But in any case, the answer really is quite simple. I’m on my way to Dubai. This is my third trip this year to the UAE, after having visited Abu Dhabi in February, and Dubai in March. And so, as the routine starts to get a bit long in the tooth, I figured I might as well take the opportunity to try some of those airlines I’ve always wanted to try but which somehow were always just a bit inconvenient or out of the way.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur to the airport. The Swiss Federal Railways recently started to introduce new rolling stock on the network. I have to admit, even though trains really don’t do it for me in the same way that planes do, that the vehicles do look rather good from the outside. They’re sleek.

From a passenger’s perspective though, they’re somewhat problematic. After a series of technical issues which delayed their introduction into service, the Swiss association for persons with disabilities filed a complaint, quite rightly, because the trains were in fact inaccessible for passengers with reduced mobility, because although they have level access, none of the doors has a ramp with an inclination of less than 15 degrees. All I can say as an able-bodied passenger is that there isn’t much storage space and the cabin is rather cramped.

CHECK-IN

Just as we pull out of the station, I receive a sms from Air France informing me that the flight is full, and that therefore they’re willing to check in my luggage free of charge. Which is admittedly a bit useless, seeing as I have a luggage allowance anyway with may status. The flight is operated by an Airbus A 318, which is admittedly rather small and has limited storage space too. So my first stop is the SkyTeam check-in counters on row 2 of check-in 2, where my suitcase is tagged to Paris and then sent on its way.

AIRSIDE

It’s the week before the big Easter weekend, and it looks like the whole world has elected to travel today. At the exchange office there’s a guy ahead of me inquiring whether they’ll accept Euros in Sri Lanka, because he’s just changed Swiss Francs into Euros and now has two crisp looking EUR500 notes in his hands…

The queue for security is endless and stretches all the way back to the entrance of the security area. The vapid Japanese chick behind me is on the blower, complaining to her bestie because Iberia forced her to check in her suitcase. ‘I mean, I thought they were, like, a normal airline, like, if they’re in the Star Alliance…like…’. She also doesn’t quite see why Iberia wanted her to check in the bag in the first place, even though, in her own words, there were so many shoes in the suitcase that the wheels collapsed.

BOARDING

Boarding starts about ten minutes ahead of schedule. And it really is quite amazing just how many passengers you can fit in to this puny little aircraft. Fortunately, we started boarding early, because it’s taking for ever to find space for the copious bags passengers are bringing into the cabin, despite the gate agents’ best efforts to put as many bags as possible in the hold.

CABIN

The cabin of the Airbus A 318 looks the same as that of all the other Airbus narrow bodies. But it is striking just how short this little airplane is. It’s kind of cute… I’m sitting on row 10, which is the emergency exit, and the legroom is excellent.

CREW

There are four cabin crew on the flight today. They’re very professional, but these guys are also very friendly and seem totally unphased by the luggage issue. Thanks to their excellent effort, we manage to push back just a few minutes behind schedule.

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. Much to my surprise, given the flight time of only one hour, this consists of a selection of hot and cold drinks as well as a sandwich. There is no choice for the sandwich. It’s filled with cream cheese, apple and celery and tastes quite good.

ARRIVAL

We land in Paris after a flight time of less than 60 minutes. Visibility is not too good, which is a shame, because we fly right over central Paris on the approach.

Eventually, the flight comes to an end on a remote stand. Which means a cool picture of my chariot – hurrah! I figure I might as well wait for all the passengers to disembark, so as not to have wait on the bus. The good thing about large airports like Roissy is that by the time I finally make it to the luggage belt, I only have to wait two minutes for my bag to arrive.

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Roissy Sheraton, which is perched right over the main railway station for Terminal 2 and within easy walking distance of Terminal 2F, where I just arrived, and Terminal 2E, from where I shall be leaving tomorrow.

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

INTRODUCTION

On Tuesday afternoon I leave the office just before 16h. I’m catching the 16h01 train to the airport for a 17h30 departure with KLM to Amsterdam. It’s a lovely day here in Winterthur, with nice sunny weather and balmy temperatures. And apparently it’s been like this since last week. Which is more than I can say about my recent trip to Malta.

CHECK-IN

I’ve checked in using the KLM app, which has been working a bit more reliably recently. If you’re using the KLM app, the boarding pass of your next flight with them will show up on your locked screen, so you can just swipe it at the gate. In Zürich, KLM checks in at row 2 of check-in 2.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

Today I am certainly not going to visit the contractor lounge, because… yes! It’s so nice out that the terrace of the sports bar is open. There’s no service out there yet. Or rather, if you want something you have to order it at the bar and then take it outside yourself. But hey, I’m here for the view.

And it really is a lovely view. The aircraft come up really close to the terrace and as they apply thrust to move off stand, you get a glorious whiff of kerosene fumes. And as my luck will have it, the KLM flight arrives just a short while later and comes to a stop on the stand closes to the terrace!

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time, at 17h00. There is a first boarding call for Business Class passengers, before everybody else is invited to get aboard.

CABIN

There are six rows of Business Class, for a total of 24 seats. The cabin is not quite full though, and as a result I have a whole row of three all to myself.

I’m not sure if this applies to all seats, but on row 3, where I’m seated, there are two electricity plugs on either side of the middle seat.

The seat pitch is good. The one thing I don’t like though, is that the recline of the seat back, even in the upright position, is just a bit too slanted. I always feel like I’m half lying down and about to slide off the seat.

THE CREW

There are two middle aged ladies working the Business Class cabin. As usual on KLM, they’re chirpy and chatty. One of them is a big fan of Switzerland, and has even picked up a few bits and pieces of Swiss German, much to the entertainment of the passengers as she tries out her language skills with the m as the board. It’s really quite funny, but in a very charming way.

SERVICE

Like Lufthansa, KLM does not provide any service on the ground. No welcome drinks or anything of the sort. The flight time is announced as 1 hour and 15 minutes, which means we should be arriving in Amsterdam at 18h55, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

THE MEAL

As soon as the crew is released, the service begins. Every passenger is served individually from the galley. The meal consists of:

a small plate of salad with chilli shrimps, served with olive oil

a small ramekin of marinated vegetables and feta cheese with couscous – served with rolls from the breadbasket

To be honest, my opinion of the meal is… meh. The shrimps have an off-putting fishy smell, the salad is limp and the dessert is what it is. KLM has been serving this type of dessert for years, and I don’t know why they bother trying to explain what it is on the menu, because whether it’s passionfruit mousse or raspberry coulis, it always tastes the same.

At least that’s my excuse for asking for some of those fabulous smoked almonds KLM caters. I love those, they’re seriously addictive. A bit like the Twistees I had on Air Malta on Sunday… I ask the flight attendant if perhaps I could have a packet. She saunters off and returns a short while later with five packets of the delectable almonds. Hurrah! I think it would be a shame to waste them… and rude to turn them down.

And so I spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle, snacking on almonds and enjoying the spectacular sunset we’re being treated to.

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we land in Amsterdam at 18h55, just as the pilot had announced in Zürich. But we’ve landed on 18R, so that by the time we reach our stand at gate C4, we’re running five minutes late! I now have two hours to make my connection.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris CDG to Zürich

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I must admit that I am just slightly worried about my connection in Paris. After all, Roissy is a big place that sprawls over a vast area. Fortunately, it turn out that Terminals 2E and 2F are connected to each other and within walking distance. So I needn’t have worried, because the whole process is swift and effortless.

There are separate queues for SkyPriority passengers for both security and immigration, which make the transfer painless. Twenty minutes after I exit the aircraft from Singapore, I’m already sitting in the lounge in Terminal 2F. My flight will be departing from gate F50.

LOUNGE

The pier has been completely redone since my last visit. And the lower level, which is also where the lounge is, has been extended to create an entirely new floor.

The lounge is already busy. But I’ll only be here for about thirty minutes anyway, to grab a coffee and go to the loo before my onward connection to Zürich.

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time and it looks as though it’s going to be a full flight, because they’ve already started labelling the larger items of hand luggage of passengers sitting in Economy Class to take down into the aircraft’s hold.

CABIN

Today I’m seated on 2A. The pitch is fairly tight on the second row. Once boarding is completed, I notice that 1D and 1F are still available. But eventually I decide that 2A isn’t that tight and I can’t be bothered to move again. I’m tired.

This morning there are five rows of Business Class and it looks as though the forward cabin is full.

CREW

The flight attendant serving Business Class is this big, friendly woman and she’s either totally cool or has nerves of steel. Because her service is friendly and unhurried. She’s doing a full tray service, serving twenty passengers individually and on her own with a flight time of only 55 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal consists of:

Cooked ham with pickled vegetables

A selection of cheese and a chorizo soufflé

Milk rice

Strawberry tartare

Selection from the bread basket

The breakfast tray has a good size and combines a nice selection of different tastes and flavours. No sooner has the flight attendant handed the passenger behind me their tray, the captain comes on and announces the top of descent. But our flight attendant is hardly impressed and just carries on regardless. Excellent!

ARRIVAL

Being early on a Sunday morning means we’ll be making an approach for runway 34. Which is good news, because it means they’ll be bringing us in over lake Zurich and closer to the Alps, which look lovely covered in snow.

Eventually we land at 08h40. By the time we taxi to the gate it’s 08h50. And that brings to an end my Australian adventure. Tomorrow I’ll be off again, but nowhere near as nice as Australia.

CONCLUSION

All I can say is that this trip has firmly established Air France as one of my favourite airlines. The consistency of the product, the friendliness and professionalism of their staff, as well as the very high quality and quantity of the food make it a real pleasure to travel with Air France. I also think that both Air France and Roissy airport have made an impressive effort these last few years to upgrade and improve their service and the customer experience. I shall look forward to my next trip with them!

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 340: Copenhagen to Zürich

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TRANSFER IN COPENHAGEN
At 18h38 Astrid Viking gently glides down over the Ore Sund after a flight time of ten hours and twenty minutes, bringing to an end the long journey from Shanghai. I now have just over one hour to make my connection to Zürich.

The flight ends at the C pier, which is the only pier at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport that is large enough to handle wide-body jets and ergo serves as the airports non-Schengen pier.

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If you have a transfer from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight at Kastrup, you first go through security and then immigration. I exit through the biometric gates and check on one of the big screens about the status of my flight. It turns out that the flight to Zürich is showing a departure delay of thirty minutes, meaning the flight is now expected to depart at 20h30. Good, enough time for a short visit to the lounge!

SAS Business Class lounge
In Copenhagen SAS has a dedicated Business Class lounge and a separate lounge for Star Gold members. The lounges share the same entrance, which is more or less opposite the beginning of the C pier. The upper floor is the Gold lounge.

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The lounge is larger than the one in Stockholm but the décor is very much the same as that of the SAS lounge in Stockholm I visited on the outbound. Just somehow here the IKEA vibe seems a bit out of place. Because, well…, it’s not Sweden.

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Just after 20h00 the flight shows up as ‘go to gate’. I exit the lounge and immediately start heading the wrong way towards the A and B piers. The airside shops are already starting to close, with the last long-haul departure being the 21h00 SAS flight to Beijing. I absentmindedly glance outside and spot a tail of white and red. It looks as though I’m going the wrong way and my flight to Zürich will be boarding from gate C10, which can be used either for Schengen or non-Schengen flights.

In my hazed, jetlagged state it takes me a moment to actually realise that the thing in white and I red I just saw looks awfully large for an A 321. It’s only then that I take another look outside and notice that there’s obviously been an aircraft change and the originally scheduled narrow-body has been substituted by an Airbus A 340. Well that makes a change, I guess…

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BOARDING
Eventually, boarding for the flight starts at 20h40. The gate area isn’t really full and I’m left wondering what might have prompted the short notice aircraft change. There are three cabin crew at the door, welcoming passengers aboard. All three of them are quite senior and seem friendly enough.

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THE CABIN
There are only five passengers in Business Class this evening. Which is why we’ve all been reseated so that all five of us are sitting in the Stübli, the small Business Class cabin located between the L2 door and the First Class cabin.

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When SWISS first launched the current Business Class product it has installed on the A 340, I remember thinking how elegant it was, with various shades of white, cream and brown. But looking at it now, I think the seat hasn’t really aged all that well. The brown colours look a bit dated and the cabin, although obviously very well maintained, is showing signs of wear and tear. Of course it doesn’t help that the magazine holders are empty because it’s only a short-haul flight. It makes the cabin look empty and rather bland.

THE CREW
Ah, yes. It looks as though the excellent crew I experienced on the Zürich to Arlanda flight a week ago must have been a flash in the pan. We’re back to the middle-aged men and women who couldn’t give a and spend more time gossiping about their colleagues and bitching about their employer. Oh, how welcome and valued as a customer this makes me feel…

The flight time to Zürich is announced as one hour and twenty minutes. Nobody bothers to apologise for the delay or even to explain what caused it.

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We taxi out to the departing runway and make a rolling start heading south. The aircraft must be really empty on this short hop, because the acceleration is quite impressive and very different to the sluggish sortie we made from Shanghai.

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THE MEAL
After about ten minutes the seat belt sign is turned off and the crew start the service. And it really is bad. It’s so blatantly obvious that they just want to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible.

One of the flight attendants comes through the cabin and without even as much as bothering to ask if the passengers are eating or not, he starts popping open the tray tables. Shortly after he comes through the cabin and rather unceremoniously plonks a sad looking little tray with food on the table. Dude, I’m not even hungry…

The meal consists of a plate with cold beef and potato salad, a plate with cheese and the dessert, which seems to be cream with some sort of fruit compote. Behind him, his colleague is already waiting with the breadbasket. So I quickly take a picture for the purpose of completeness and when the flight attendant returns with the Coke Zero, I ask him to remove the tray again untouched so I can flake out.

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Fifty seconds later, another flight attendant comes through the cabin with the chocolates – and that’s it. The crew vanish and there is silence. Finally. I visit the loo a short while later and find them lounging around in the larger Business Class cabin having dinner together. Well that looks cosy…

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ARRIVAL
It’s already approaching eleven o’clock in the evening by the time we finally land on runway 28. Initially, I suspect the pilot flying was aiming to exit the active runway via the intersection with runway 16. But the flare is a bit too long and so we end up having to keep on going until the end of runway 28 before we can turn off.

Rather abruptly the flight comes to an end. Again, nobody bothers to apologise for the delay.

By the time our bags finally appear on the conveyor belt, it’s already past eleven and my next train to Zürich main station is at 23h13. I bid my farewell to the valiant M. who was, as ever, a really excellent travel companion. I’ll be home in Basel at 00h47.

CONCLUSION
This flight with SWISS really, really sucked. Perhaps I might not have found them so bad if I hadn’t had such a brilliant experience with the SAS crew on the flight from Shanghai, who were the complete opposite from this crew in the way they went about their job. Of course, I understand that on a flight of just over one hour your possibilities are somewhat limited, compared to a flight of over ten hours. Even so, SWISS crew came across as though they were being intentionally obnoxious.

Other than that though, I’m satisfied with the way the presentation of our paper went. And Professor Bond, Professor McNamara: it was a pleasure to finally meet you both!