Sunday, 18 March 2012

Trip report 10, Part 2 - IST-ZRH-BHX - LX C

It was a rainy Monday morning in Istanbul and I was being told it was much nicer weather at home. I got a taxi back to Ataturk airport which featured some fairly advanced driving in wet conditions. I wouldn't want to drive in Istanbul.

They take security rather seriously in Turkey, the Hilton has a metal detector you pass through, so you actually need to go through security in order to check in. There is no priority queue but they weren't that long. I was behind a gentleman travelling with a handsome ginger cat, who had to be held by a security guard whilst the gent was frisked. Swiss check-in was deserted, as in devoid of staff. I decided to go with the small bag as hand-luggage rather than check it in, I realised that this might cause a problem at Zürich, but I wasn't looking to hang around.

I made my way to the Turkish Airlines lounge, which has rather a good reputation, I can see why. It's large, it's tastefully decorated if a little random and cluttered in places, it also has a fairly wide range of offerings. There's a large sweet and cake section, several salad bars, a wide range of drinks and two stations producing some hot offerings. Very nice, I settled down with some sour cherry juice and a bowl of lentil soup with some good bread.

After couple of hours there, it was time to head to duty-free, get some fags and then find the smoking area. This is rather un-signposted and somewhat hidden away upstairs behind a rather attractive looking restaurant and bar up on a level with "the other lounges" including a HSBC Premier lounge which I considered crashing, but decided not to.

The queue for gate security was quite long, but I decided to join it, my mobile boarding pass caused some problems, but these were quickly resolved by the two gents running the check. Pretty much as soon as I went through, boarding started and I got on quickly before any baggage police arrived in order to grab some overhead locker space.

Considering the queues, boarding was completed quite quickly and we were underway fairly much on time. Service was prompt and I decided it was time for a nice Gin and Tonic before lunch was served.

Lunch looked pretty bad, but was surprisingly tasty. The salad was as naff as hell, but the chicken main course with the sliced potatoes was pretty good except for the veg which tasted a bit like a used stock mirepoix. The cheese was good and the fruit mousse desert was excellent and not too sweet. There was, of course, coffee and the Swiss chocolates to go with it.

We made extremely good progress on our way back to ZRH, it seemed like no time at all before we were heading back into better weather and there were plenty nice views to be appreciated before landing. We actually landed about 15 minutes early and went straight to a jet-bridge. I managed to be first to an empty transfer security and then quickly to the smoking room.

After that I wandered to the D Senator lounge for a drink, the reception was frosty to say the least, although the single word "Lufthansa" was uttered at me. The afternoon goodies were even more sparse than the lunchtime ones, but a small slice of chocolate cake and some Coke Light were imbibed. The chocolate cake wasn't the world's freshest, but the cold drink was very welcome.

With the "Go to Gate" flashing, it was time to board, what a pleasure it was to board the Fokker back to Birmingham via a jetty rather than via a bus, especially as there was no sign of the baggage checkers. We were quite cramped in Business Class, although at least the middle seats weren't taken up by upgrades which can sometimes happen. We left a couple of minutes late and were quickly on our way back to BHX.

It took a fairly long time for service to start in the cabin, maybe half an hour or more, however, when it started the young lady doing business class worked like a Trojan throughout, even with some nice touches like placing the snacks on a little plate, service well up to Swiss standards and a bit beyond from the Helvetic crew. The cold plate was unexciting, bits of chicken with rice and oddly thousand island dressing, but the cheese was nice and the dessert was the same as the flight out.

We landed a few minutes early and with hand luggage I was on my way to the taxi queue within 10 minutes of landing and back home within 40 minutes.

So what's next? A pretty busy two months back at home, then a few summer trips which may be worth reporting on. There's a trip to Berlin in LH Y, which would be unremarkable except I'm going into Tegel on one of the last days and flying out of the new Berlin Brandenburg just after it opens. So, there will be coverage of a new airport and hopefully a new SEN lounge. After that, there's a trip to Warsaw and Barcelona which should be worth reporting on. Other than that, it's just a dull selection of DUS, FRA and MUC which I won't bother with. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Istanbul and Hilton Istanbul

On reflection, it probably wasn't the best weekend to go to Istanbul. Whilst the weather back in Birmingham was sunny and mild, Istanbul was cold, overcast and on the Sunday rainy. It meant that I didn't go and see a lot of things I would have liked to have seen and I probably didn't enjoy the walks I did take as much as I should.

However, I did explore the Taksim area, I did go to the Grand Mosque and Hagia Sophia and I did spent some time in the Galata area. When I worked out the public transport system, it worked well for me - cheap but a bit crowded and I did enjoy a couple of fine lunches, one of fish and salad and another of adana kebab and salad.

I will have to return in better weather, early May has been recommended to me and may well be do-able next year.

The hotel is quite recommendable, on arrival I was upgraded to an Exec Floor Bosphorus view, which was great and I spent quite a bit of time on the balcony, which meant that the room didn't get too smoky. There was fruit and water for free on arrival and the fruit was replenished most days. Nice toiletries as well. The slight down side was that there was a nightspot below my balcony and that was a bit noisy on the Friday and Saturday nights. 

The Exec Lounge was a delight, with attentive staff, a wide selection of beverages, a lovely selection at breakfast (I liked the spicy veal sausage) and nice hot appetisers. I'd certainly be happy to return there.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Trip report 10, Part 1 – LX BHX-ZRH-IST, C-class

This was supposed to be a bit of a break in the Queen of Cities which might have better weather than the UK. As it was, home was 14C and sunny and Istanbul was 8 degrees and damp. C’est la vie.

As some of you know, LX has a rather favourable upgrade class which still earns full miles and points and whilst I suffer from mild Zürcherphobia, the need to get a few miles in to requalify for Senator by the end of this year is quite high – especially as Vater Lufthansa appear to be messing around with their fare classes (I think I’ll requalify on the 30th of December) So Swiss Business Class it was by paying the extra 100 quid for the upgrade.

Now, of course, Zürich has changed, the repulsive B-bus gates are gone, replaced by a new area and there are various other enhancements. So that was worth a look as well.

The first leg, is, of course, a trip on the DaddyFokker wetleased from Helvetic which I’ve done a fair few times before. So, knowing what to expect, I pass through security, avoid the vile BHX lounge and got to Pret. Pret have no baguettes, so I decide to treat myself to a Full English in what used to be Yates and is now calling its self “The Meriden”. I’ll give the full English 7/10 and the coffee 2/10.

After the usual pisspoor BHX ground handling experience, we are finally signalled by a bellow that we can board the Fokker. It’s a pretty full flight, about 90% and there is the usual stream of rejected Hand Luggage that doesn’t fit in the smaller bins on the Fokker 100. So we leave late, which possibly could have been avoided if the ground handlers had even 25% of the persistence of the Zürcherkofferpolizei.

Of course, someone has obviously been reading Flyertalk at LX headquarters, where I have pointed out that Swiss do hot breakfast on all their other UK/Ireland flights except Birmingham, which also has the highest average ticket price. The yoghurt and bit of frozen fruit with the minging mini-crossiant have been enhanced, the fruit has gone and there is a hot dish and a bit of cheese and something repulsive looking. The hot dish appears to be an airline omelette with a pale sossidge (could be chicken, could be veal, could be repulsive), tomato concasse and spinach and it smells bad. I turn it down, but its unpleasant stench lingers for much of the two hour flight to Zürich.

Needless to say, no breakfast means no further service except for the offer of booze and fags duty-free. Whilst there are good Helvetic crews, the average is not good and this one is distinctly average.

After a bit of dicking around holding, we are finally allowed into Zürich a mere 25 minutes late, however, this is where the improvements really start to kick in. Business class passengers now have a separate minibus of their own, which really speeds up transit to the terminal, unfortunately, ZRH then joins FRA on the list of airports which insist UK pax go through security again and as they have just done this new terminal they really don’t have the excuse FRAport has. However. Despite no obvious priority lane, security is quick and easy almost up to Birmingham’s excellent standard. The new D-area is a vast improvement on the old B-bus gates, it’s light airy and well designed and the only thing it really lacks are a few shops. I notice that my IST is running 20 minutes late and so I head off to the new D lounge.

The D-lounge is a fair way from the gates and has a very stoic gate warden who really didn’t want to communicate at all in German or English. There is a Business section, which is pretty Spartan and sort of hidden Senator section which is also pretty Spartan. I wasn’t pointed towards the Senator section, but that may be because the lounge warden is a mute. The food in the Business section consisted of soup, a hot place of rice and some fruit. The Senator section was enhanced with some sarnies and that tasty Swiss speciality Macaroni with Potatoes and Cheese. There are no toilets (they lurk just outside the lounge), there are no smoking areas and there are very few passengers in there. One wonders what Swiss immigration would say if you gave your immigration reason as “to visit a decent lounge and buy some Luxemburgli, I’ll only be an hour”. I left after about 10 minutes and found that there is a rather nice smoking room mid terminal in the B-gates, next to a cash bar which looks more enticing than the D-lounge.

ZRH D SEN Lounge - the Cold Stuff

ZRH D SEN Lounge the miserable hot stuff

All in all. Thumbs up for the Business Class bus, Thumbs up for the new D-area, Thumbs down for the D-lounge and thumbs down for the whole Non-Schengen-Non-Schengen transit experience which feels a bit third-rate.

Anyway, the boarding experience for the Airbus 321 to Istanbul is a bit better than the Birmingham One. They announce that Business Class, HON Circle, Senators and Star Gold’s have a separate boarding line and then they don’t open it. Twats. One obviously over-entitled passenger goes and asks about it, argues a bit with them, they open it and the shut it behind him. Twats. I just join the main queue as usual, rather than try and push in the front and get the evils. Oddly enough there is no sign of the baggage police who used to lurk around the old B-bus gates, which means that various people bring the kitchen sink on board.

The A321 is clean and bright had has the horrible NEK seats, but I think all LH group aircraft have now acquired these iron hard bundles of joy. Boarding seems to take ages, but there is a reasonable amount of eye-candy to be seen which brightens it all up after after a bit of a wait, we are all done and away and I end up without a seat opponent, so it's all good.

For this leg, I have picked a window seat, because there the route means that if the weather is clear, there is some nice views to be seen. Whilst cloudy over most of Croatia and Bosnia, it was clear from Zürich to Laibach and from bits of scenary peeking through the clouds from Skopje to Sofia and onwards to the Queen of Cities.

Anyway, this flight has a very good crew, the lady in charge of those of us in Business Class is prompt, busy and cheerful. Drinks are kept flowing all the way to the last half hour of the flight. There is a choice of Hot Lunch, either Veal or Risotto, I choose the Veal. It’s a Veal boulette with a sort of bubble and squeak and madeira sauce and some unshelled peas. It comes with a small and dull salad, two pieces of nice cheese presented on a slate, a small pot of Chocolate mousse on top of cherry compote and one and only one small bread rolls. The veal is good, the pudding is nice but very, very sweet. Decent Swiss white wine and two cups of coffee complete the meal. There is also a pass of the choccy basket.

Sorry, didn't get a decent shot of the veal dish.

Arrival was a little bit late into Istanbul, which didn't really matter, the connection had been made and I wasn't planning on doing anything in a hurry anyway. By the time I'd purchased my visa and got through the fast track passport control, my baggage was on the belt. A quick stop for a fag and it was into a taxi to take me to the Hilton. Probably about 20-25 minutes doors open to kerbside which is highly acceptable.

So, all in all, another OK to naff flight with Helvetic, a decent transfer with some disappointments at Zürich and a very good flight to Istanbul.