SEN for £128.20? -BHX-ZRH-BCN-ZRH-BHX with Swiss and Helvetic
Hello all – Told you I had something on the boil… and welcome to rare GhettoIFE trip report – an intra-European Trip report. Normally, I wouldn’t bother with an intra-European trip report, but this seemed to be a good reason – in fact one purpose only… and it’s the express purpose of getting Miles and More Senator status. Some traditions are maintained, like economy class travel, extremely bad puns, Youtube videos…. and maybe… just maybe GhettoIFE systems … so lets get to the fun stuff 😉
Sadly again people, I’m keeping up the idea of a trip report wrapped up into a travel monologue. Or something like that. I guess I just enjoy writing about random things really, and you lot are the people who have to suffer. Such is is the joy of life ;).
Yes, I will sell my soul for shiny bits of plastic (The Introduction).
So as you can tell from the title, I love shiny bits of plastic. And Lufthansa’s own Senator bit of plastic will be the eventual way I go when BMI folds in to Miles and More one day.
I might as well accelerate the process then where possible ;).
Some time ago, Flying Blue matched me from my Continental Gold to Flying Blue Gold. I thought I’d make use of Flying Blue Gold (until the single way fares on KLM made me choke a few months). However recently, Lufthansa offered a match from Flying Blue Gold to Lufthansa Senator (Star Gold).
Now, the term I’m looking for is “I’m having some of that!” for a chance to have a backup Star Alliance Gold card – with 2 years of SEN and 2 years of FTL (Star Sliver), this is a very attractive proposition to me.
After the match request was sent in, it was time to book. And I had a selection
1) I could go to DUS
2) I could go to MUC
3) I could go to FRA
4) I could have *real* fun with this trip…
Lets destroy the options above one by one
1) DUS was pricing out WAY to high for a weekend stop. My rough rule of thumb is anything over £50 a segment for intra-EU is overpriced, and anything more than £65 is a con. Pricing up at £150 return was laughable.
2) MUC – The timings were quite frankly awful, resulting in a lot of dead time, or arriving back at Birmingham at the dead of night, and having to risk the 900 home. That and it was regional jets all the way.
3) FRA – Whilst FRA priced down very very low, there was a big question – and that was the BMI Operated flights and if they would count. And £89 on a risk is way too much in my book still. The last remaining LH Metal flights were going into the silly numbers too.
Idly I considered Brussels Airlines before quickly not considering them on price. Almost resigned to head to LHR to do this run, I remembered the Swiss option – and low and behold – whilst fares to ZRH were over the top as usual, fares onto other places were boarding on reasonable, with Barcelona pricing up the lowest of the lot at £128.80.
Looking when the flights were available, and there was sparse availability – except for the next weekend! I hummed and ahhed for a day, and finally clicked the book button.
Now whilst the Swiss booking engine is efficient, the first moan of the trip – and it’s the lack of integration Swiss into Amadeus. It’s a little thing, but I tend to use the excellent MyFlights to keep a track on my flights. Simple integration, but it’s a little thing. Oh well… time to enter the details manually – again.
Your map: http://www.gcmap.com
As this had a forced overnight in Zurich, I hummed more as the Swiss for “Hotel” seems to be “Open your wallet and scream loudly”. Prices for hotels were all within a £25 range. In the end I plumped for the Holiday Inn Express – not original, but there’s some points in it – which is nice.
Right, enough of the chitterchatter – lets get rocking!
The day before and the day after…
As OLCI Opened, I checked in for the first set of flights. The seats were assigned and as usual, I opted to have my boarding passes issued at the airport. Whilst the rest of the Swiss site is very nice and shiny, the OLIC looks like it was contracted out to a 3rd party, and thus – looks crap. But eventually I got some seats that would work for me (least of all I have this nasty feeling I’m going to have to run at Barcelona the next day). With the outbound sewn up, the inbound check in request also came through – and wouldn’t allow me to check in.
Sighing, I knew this one would have to be sorted when I got to Zurich. One more thing to worry about…
However, a leisurely start to the day as working some Saturdays has benefits – namely time off in lieu (as the words “overtime” seem to be a swearword in my office). So after waking up late, popping my travel trash in a bag, it was time for the off. After a quick diversion to the bank to get a few pennies, it was a quick dive to Mordor Haptbahnhof (Birmingham New Street).
Birmingham New Street – Birmingham International Airport
Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino, First Class.
Travelling at peak time is never a good idea. But heck, needs must. Thankfully the train manager saw sense and declassified a first class car for Standard passenger use. Which is where I headed. And really, I can understand why people pay for first class on a train, but there are better uses of cash. Oh well, at least I wasn’t directly paying for it. Which is nice. The train was about a minute or two late pulling out, which resulted the train bein 2 minutes late.
A quick run up the escalator, and I realised the tiny little thing I forgot to do – get some Swiss francs. A stop at the forex shop before the airport (whilst the rates aren’t good, they’re better than Travelex’s at the airport rate), and it was off on the cable-liner into the airport.
Check in was swift and brief, and boarding passes issued to ZRH – with the others having to be picked up tomorrow. This has all the makings of serious fun later on….
Security was comparatively quick and easy for Birmingham Airport (I think they’ve worked out the profile of a digital SLRat long last) and I headed to the lounge after negotiating the relaying out of the airport – once again – Birmingham Airport has modified where the duty free area is, where the access to the lounge is and how to get to gates. Stupid place. Designed by committee – and the desire to make money. Nothing changes I suppose in any airport in world.
Lounge Stop – ServisAir Lounge (Star Gold Lounge)
I wandered into the lounge, and presented my BMI Gold card and Swiss BP, and was greeted in (yes, I may be a Miles and More nothing at this moment, but my BMI Gold card works perfectly well. ). Now in the past I’ve been nasty about this lounge in how they cram everyone in. Well it seems that someone up top is listening and has spaced out the chairs creating “space” in the lounge. Yes, it’s slightly better than a bad United Red Carpet Club, but it’s still better than the zoo in the main terminal.
Trust me, it’s an improvement
Still, it has a window view, and it’s not that bad. Just not good.
With a view of the runway, I kept my eye open for the little Fokker to arrive and at that point – decamped to the gate. As I arrived at the gate I met one of my friends who I know from the shuttle bus at work – who was on the same flight. After quickly chatting and catching up, we were boarding via Jetbridge – an ongoing rarity for me at BHX…
The little Fokker 100
LX 425 Birmingham Airport to Zurich Airport, 20/05/2011
Swiss International Airlines Operated by Helvetic Airways AG,
Seat 4F, Economy Class, Fokker 100.
573 Miles Flown, 125 Miles Earned.
A warm welkommen, and I made my way aboard to 4F – a seat in a bank of 3. Why 4F in a bank of 3? I had a bet the flight was going to be going out half empty – and I was right when the load count was done of 53 people. Or was it 54? This also confounded the loaders and flight crews who seemed to have overloaded the plane with an extra person Eventually, this was sorted, and we pushed back with a safety demo being carried out (manual demo).
A trundle around BHX shortly lined us up for take off, and permission was granted for takeoff… which those rear engines did very well pushing the plane into the air
And yes, there’s a Youtube video – well there’s 8 of them in this trip. You can tell I have my iPhone4 back can’t you? 😉
After a longish takeoff roll we turned double backed on ourselves, then across to London, over the channel and then to Zurich.
BHX from the air
Seating in the aircraft was around 31″ – in other words typical economy class seating. It didn’t help that the seat kept wanting to go backwards. Legroom was bearable, and with no one sat next to me in the middle seat, acceptable.
Insert appropriate legroom shot
A lot of rattling in the galley occurred once we cleared 10,000ft marker and soon enough the shorthaul service begun, with a mixed bar. After a vodka and cola in the lounge (or two), I decided to be a bit more presentable and have a orange juice instead. See I can behave sometimes.
Service was delivered with a smile – even with my GCSE D Grade German was seemly appreciated
Also at the same time, the sandwiches were given out. And for a short haul in-flight snack product, it tasted fresher than anything Lufthansa have knocked out and whilst a bit on a small side, was very edible.
Orange Juice and Sandwich
So much so that when the lead flight attendant came round with seconds (as it was the last leg of the day), I couldn’t say no to a second one 😉
One is sometimes not enough..
The cabin was cleared down as the evening light drew in and after a duty free run was completed, and the first of many Swiss chocolates were given.
The first of many…
Soon enough we begun our decent down to Zurich , and day turned to night.
Landing video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJZPz5tbdrg
After a short taxi, the plane parked up at Regional Jet farm, and a bus was waiting to take us to the terminal. Once the stairs were attached, it was time to disembark. A friendly Tüss, and it was off to the stop of the night.
Overall: What a lovely service conducted quickly, promptly and with a smile. Food and Beverages were appropriate to the length of service, and an excellent flight.
Willkommen in Zürich!
After making the push off the plane, and seeing that you can cram 54 people in one of those airport buses, it was off for a quick ramp tour – not that you can see anything at night – to Arrivals 2. It was then a matter of “follow the signs” (to which my friend couldn’t seemly do – eventually I worked out where she was heading and sent her off to the E dock whilst I needed the city). With passport control quiet, I found a semi empty queue, and was seen to quickly, and before you know it through customs and out into the airport.
After hiking around the airport, I located the Swiss check-in centre and entered my PNR into one of the machines, where the 2nd boarding pass spat out unhappily at me.
Of course, the being nearly 10pm at Check-in 1, the place was empty.
I found 2 people who were packing to go home at the ticket desk, who had a look at my PNR, and issued my boarding passes for the next day. With those in hand, this would make my Barcelona transit easier, and it was time to find the shuttle bus stops – at the lower side of Arrivals 2.
I knew I should had brought Hiking boots.
Eventually I found the shuttle bus stop, and found it was going on the ¼ and ¾ of the hour. Which considering I had arrived at 22:07, was a good thing. Eventually a Transit Van with a cargo truck arrived and after filling up, whisked me off to my abode for the night – the Holiday Inn Express Zurich Airport.
Holiday Inn Express, Zurich Airport
Price paid: Far too much for a crappy Holiday Inn Express (127.50CHF)
I’ll be plainly blunt – hotel prices were over the top. And I couldn’t face going back to an Ibis for the sake of £25. The thought of a sofa in a transit hotel didn’t appeal, so therefore I decamped to the Holiday Inn Express Zurich Airport.
The useful thing is there is a non chargeable airport shuttle. That’s a good thing considering how much this place costs.
After being welcomed, and given a room key with a whole hour of internet access free of charge, I made my way to the room. And whilst the room is a typical HI Express room (Basic, rollaway sofa, toiletries in a dispenser), I do expect one or two little things.
One of those is for the bed not to be as soft as heck.
Maybe I’m old, but I like a firm bed, not one that I feel I’m going to through the bottom of.
Oh well, it was for a mere 8 hours.
The TV selection was good, with a mix of Swiss, German and English programming (Including BBC News) which is good – expect you have to add one hour to the times…
Eventually, I drifted off into a flitful sleep – I guess my body didn’t want to shut down that night. 4:30 local rolled around again with no small wake up call from the dawn chorus – iPhone4 the second (regulars know what happened to iPhone the 1st), and after making myself presentable, I checked out.
A stop for breakfast with fresh cold meats, juices, coffees and all very nice things – much better than the questionable scrambled egg you get in the UK branches – then it was back into the shuttle van to the airport.
Overall: Nice enough property, but sort out the bedding please. I want to be able to sleep in one, not feel like I’m going to collapse in it. Maybe that couch and blanket at the airside intransit hotel might be a good idea next time…
Back to ZRH.
A short drive later, and we were dropped off near the bottom of check-in 2, which was then a short walk to check-in 1 and then pass boarding pass compliance, and then off to a lounge
Swiss Senator Lounge
My timing seemed to be perfect – as soon as I arrived, the lounge opened for the morning. Very timely even by standards.
I was welcomed and invited in the Senators side of the lounge – which lets face it – is bloody nice. Nice plush chairs, Well lit (unlike a certain lounge), with lots of breakfast things (all cold). Alas, Swiss are starting to feed my bad Nespresso habit (Which I developed in Seoul) – with a “Pro” Nespresso machine. 2 shots of that, and I was ready for anything after the crappy bed last night.
Also they opened a bottle of pop – and there was Movenpick Ice Cream.
Breakfast in Style. Don’t look at me like that.
Well it would had been rude to say no… (A little rule for me – Bubbles takes precedence over Vodka).
Time alas passes and 6:45 rolled its way round and the “go to gate” command was issued. At that point, it was a matter of decamping myself, making sure I was properly tweaked on the caffeine (and boy I was!) and heading off to the far end of the A Gates.
Upon arrival it was time to face security although were busy – were quick and effective in their procedures. A quick collection of my junk, and at the gate where general boarding had commenced.
LX1952 Zurich Airport to Barcelona El Pratt Airport, 21/05/2011
Swiss International Airlines, Seat 7A, Economy Class
533 Miles Flown, 125 Miles Earned.
A Gutten Morgan, and I headed to my seat – in the first row after business class as I honestly could only guess what the transit arrangement would be like for BCN. The plane was filling up with people, but no one seemed to want to sit with me in the middle seat. So my friend in 7C and me in 7A had a bit of space to spread out in.
Soon enough, Boarding Complete was announced, and the doors closed, where upon the Swiss Safety Video was played in English. Other announcements were made in German (live) and pre-recorded in Spanish.
After a short taxi, we joined the queue for takeoff, and soon enough the engines spooled up, and we were off.
The plane climbed out, giving a wonderful view of the lake, the turned and headed for the Alps, Bern, Lyon and then onto Barcelona with the captain giving various announcements on the climb-out.
Zurich on climbout
After 10,000 the crew sprang into action, closing the cabin divider and commencing the breakfast service. Meanwhile down the back, preparations were made, and soon enough the trolley came to the front of the economy section for breakfast – which in economy was a Pan au Chocolate and since I needed a bit more caffeine in me – a Diet Coke.
Meanwhile outside, the Swiss Alps provided a lovely backdrop to a breakfast.
As the Alps turned into the French Countryside, a clear down and duty free run was done.
Meanwhile, I tried a GhettoIFE system without the paper bag. To some success with a power-sleeve attached
It sort of works.. Needs refinement later….
And then of course chocolate run…. 😉
Start counting them kids…
The crew were in good spirits, this being the first leg of the way, and were interacting with the passengers in four languages at least. Service took some time as an Airbus A321 is a pretty long aircraft.
Tracking the Med
As we tracked the Mediterranean coast the plane was prepared for landing, curtains were retracted, and the plane came in for a gentle landing at Barcelona El Pratt, with a short taxi to the gate.
A bong went off, and everyone begun the made scramble to get off the plane.
I thanked the Maitre De Cabine, and said “See you in 10 minutes”.
“Are you coming back with us?”
A confused look, a smile , a hop a skip and a jump up the airbridge, and I was in Barcelona El Pratt Airport.
Overall: A good flight with an attentive crew, and a very different breakfast option. If United/Continental and Air Canada are watching this, have a look at the short haul breakfast. Now take a long hard look at that breakfast. It still whups the pants off the second service you lot offer….
Pratting around El Pratt.
A swift exit to find out if I had to re-clear security. And the good news is – I didn’t – I was still in the secure zone. This makes life a lot easier.
The next stop was to stretch my legs for a bit and see what the the terminal was like. And it looked pretty. The gift shops were overpriced, as everything else, so I quickly scrubbed that off as well as a lounge visit as it would take too long to mess around and headed back to the gate.
For those of you who want to use BCN as a turnaround point for a Swiss flight, good news – you exit into the secure area, so it’s a case of getting out of the plane, and when boarding announced – get on your plane. Just make sure you’re checked in first…
Boarding was called soon enough, and after a little child bashed the glass doors separating the world form the airbridge (what was that about control your children at an airport? Never mind), I made it on the plane and greeted the Maitre De Cabine again – who now was expecting me back on. A quick why are youi back here discussion, and the reasons why, and I was welcomed back aboard.
LX1953 Zurich Airport to Barcelona El Pratt Airport to Zurich Airport, 21/05/2011
Swiss International Airlines, Seat 27A, Economy Class
533 Miles Flown, 125 Miles Earned.
After a little bit of banter and the crew thinking I was mostly bananas to rejoin them, I settled in my seat in Row 27. Again, like the flight before, the middle seat stayed free… except in the C seat, I had the I think the Spanish equivalent of a stoned surfer dude aboard.
Thankfully, he fell asleep during the safety briefing, and as is becoming a tradition for this trip, I videoed the take off.
BCN from the air
After tracking out of the airport, we turned 180, tracking back along the Med and back towards Switzerland and Zurich.
Tracking the coast
In the meantime, I set up a GhettoIFE system to see if this would work on this aircraft…
Being further back in the aircraft meant the service took a while to get to me – however, it eventually did. And I Swiss got a special deal on Turkey this month..
Yes, another turkey sandwich
The crew members were still inquisitive and asking questions to which I answered – mainly to confuse them more 😉
However the flight was reasonably loaded, and service was brisk and friendly – a real trademark of that crew and the style they carried forward. Even the cockpit was still giving the odd update out. Again – excellent service.
Cleardowns occurred soon after and soon we were tracking the Alps again
And giving out more chocolates.
So… that’s 6 of the things now?
20 minutes to landing, the cabin was secured and we begun our decent into Zurich Airport with the cabin crew waking up the sleepy stoner.
After a while we lined up, and another flight was over.
After a short taxi back to the A Gates (and near the top of them), the plane docked, and I made my way off the plane after the stoner decided to get his trash. I thanked the crew for their excellent service, and made my way off the plane.
Overall: Perhaps it’s hard to judge Swiss service with one crew, but these were examples of great people giving excellent service on a short flight. Catering is brilliant for the flight length (again, something a LOT of carriers could learn from), with customers service to match.
For short haul – what more can you want?
A Quick Zurich Adventure – sort of a One Time Exception.
One Day ticket Zurich Zuirch airport to Zurich Hbf– 12.80CHF.
I got to admit, sometimes, I love to put myself through hell. And it was all down to the request of one of my co-workers to get her some “Branches” Chocolate.
And I love a challenge – lets face it.
Catching the S-Bhan into Zurich City Centre is an easy job – Buy a ticket, go downstairs, catch the S16 or S2 to the Haptbahnhof. Once you’ve mastered the ticket machine of course. And that’s a skill in itself. Mind you – it’s slightly more intelligible than the Frankfurt ticket machines. Which vary from useless to completely non useable. Call me old fashioned, but entering a number to where you want to go just isn’t intuitive.
Of course, this being Switzerland, Double Decker trains are the norm. Which are fun – lets face it compared to some of the fun of trains elsewhere in the world (I’m sad – if I find a double decker train, it has to be the top deck). Whist these are short distance trains, they’re perfectly serviceable for the trip needed.
We like double decker trains
But anyhoo, catch the train and 12 Minutes and 3 stops later, you’re in the city centre. Zurich is compact enough to walk about on foot, and soon enough a branch of Magnos was found, with the chocolates obtained.
For those of you know love chocolate, and don’t want to pay a lot (and lets face it this is Switzerland), heading to the supermarkets will give you lots of choices… for not a lot of Swiss francs. And lets face it, in these austere times, saving a few pennies never hurts (and even more so since my bank is taking it’s own sweet time reissuing my debit card…).
For those who brought a day ticket and don’t want to walk themselves silly, the tram network is very good and covers the major points – and if you’ve ponied up for a day ticket, you’ll recoop the cost of the train ticket with tram rides in a few rides.
Which is nice if you don’t fancy walking to the Lakefront, or walking through Bahnhoff Strasse (even though you’re missing a wealth of shopping opportunities)
Alas, the one thing I forgot to do was keep an eye on the clock, and realising it was 16:00, it was time to head back to the airport.
Again, I wandered up to Check In 1, and through the boarding pass scan, and made a bealine for the B gates – and more important the Non-Shengen B gates.
After having my passport scanned, and the ever so efficient security, it was “Welcome to the basement of Zurich Airport”. Dark and Dingy – unlike the wide open spaces above.
But for such a short wait – I wasn’t that bothered. I just fired up the laptop and typed for a bit.
The plane was late arriving from the inbound leg, and soon we were all called forward into a holding pen – with no bus arrived. This got jammed packed and unpleasant until the bus arrived, where it took the first group of us onto the plane, with a second bus tootling along behind us.
A short ramp tour back to the Regional Jet farm, and after being given the thumbs up by the crew, we were allowed to board
LX 424 Birmingham Airport to Zurich Airport, 20/05/2011
Swiss International Airlines Operated by Helvetic Airways AG, Seat 6A, Economy Class
573 Miles Flown, 125 Miles Earned.
Even with two planeloads of people, the little Fokker wasn’t that full – I’d say nearer ¾ full. For the first time this trip I had a seat mate join me – who promptly disappeared once the doors went to close.
So that’s four legs out of four I’ve had quiet seats next to me. I swear I don’t smell people….
Eventually, the captain came on the horn telling us we’d be off shortly, which was the cue for the manual safety demonstration.
Again, the plane lined up to take off, and soon enough the two Rolls Royce Tay engines roared into life, and up into the air
There seemed to be a delay from the galley, and soon enough, service began at the front of the plane (this being a Fokker, there is no cabin divider – only a couple of signs and headrests. Business class was served first… and then the crew hid behind the curtain for the next 20 minutes.
From the glimpses of light coming from the curtain I could see, it seemed like it was Dinner Time at the front desk. Which is nice – except it sorts of eats into the time you have on the plane – and the fact I didn’t head to the lounge earlier, I was a bit dehydrated.
Eventually, the trolley rattled out with the 2 cabin crew working the cabin slowly. Of course, can anyone guess the sandwich by now?
You should know by now…
As I said – Swiss must really have had a special on Turkey today – however – different bread.
Still, it’s a nice enough bite, more than you’d get on some sectors in the world and it’s fresh bread. And more importantly – edible. Since everyone at the front of the plane was heading down the route of alcohol, I joined in with a white wine. After all, I’m allegedly refined. Again, whilst noting special, the wine was drinkable, and offered with water too.
It’s the little touches that matter – and although Helvetic were slow out of the gate, they were ticking all the customers services boxes.
Meanwhile the seat wasn’t as bad as the previous flight. Either that, or these seats were in better condition…
The cabin itself was in a clean well maintained state. Which sometimes these more regional aircraft is a low concern.
Service was cleared down eventually and we crossed the channel, skies a-bright
Crossing over the UK coast
and then over London, with a certain London Airport to the left hand side….
You should all know which airport this is….
Shortly after the decent for Birmingham begun, and of course, a certain amount of Swiss Chocolates…
Another 4 – what are we up to … 10 now?? 😉
The cabin was buttoned down, and decent begun, touching down at Birmingham airport, and taxing back to Gate 58 – less than 24 hours before this began
The airbridge was attached, and it was time to make my way home. I thanked the crew, and headed off.
Overall: Not such a great impression to end with – service could had been a lot quicker. I know looking after the flight crew is important, but also looking after the people down the back is important too! However once they came up to speed the service was good.
Arriving into Birmingham was simple. Don’t run off the plane, but walk fast – you can avoid the slowcoaches who will clog up the immigration queues. Seeing the e-gates were shut, I went to the immigration booth and was welcomed back into the country with only one person in front of me.
It was then the through customs, and the new and seemingly obligatory arrivals duty free shop, and finally into the public area, where it was a case of reversing the joureny I made a day ago – back on the cableliner, into Birmingham International and the Virgin service back to New Street, and finally the 87 home.
The front door- home again.
Closing Up… Swistacular? Or just Swiss Made?
Well Swiss – and in some ways, Helvetic have spoilt me. Have I found a reasonable European Airline that hasn’t cut on the service, yet delivers a friendly experience? Whilst the speed of service on the final leg was tardy, it was overall a good set of flights.
At a good ground experience in their lounge – which has finally pushed me into buying a Nespresso machine for the home.
Damm you Swiss with your edible food, the nice drinks, your good lounges and your friendly service – I’ll have to fly you again some time!
A Swisstacular experience. Well done Swiss. Now about integrating your online booking system into Amadeus, and we’ll all be a lot happier.
At the time of writing, all the miles have posted, but I seem to have missed the “sweep” for SEN upgrading – hopefully in a few weeks it’ll all be done and dusted.
Right that’s your lot from me for a bit. I’m in the planning process of something – what – even I’m not sure of to be honest, but I’m sure it’ll be something interesting. Or it will be made interesting one way or another!
Thanks and your comments and thoughts are always welcome!
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