As mentioned in myl ast tripreport, I was stuck far from an airport for quite a while. But after almost 6 months in the UK it was finally time to go back to Switzerland. I was already dreading to take another flight from Cardiff via Amsterdam, but luck had it that exactly at this week there was something new: a direct flight from Cardiff to Zurich.
My travel date was the 31st of March, so it seemed like I would miss the inaugural flight by one day. Well, you can't have everything...
Some info on the flight operations:
Helvetic Airways is a Swiss airline with 6 Fokker 100s, two of which were only acquired last year (HB-JVH and -JVI, the other ones being JVC, JVE, JVF, and JVG). 3 of these are operated for Swiss on routes like Birmingham, Budapest etc., the others on their own behalf, but with Swiss codeshare on some routes. I had flown them to Birmingham quite many times, so I knew that the aircraft would be ok, service would be something new. Let's see how they perform on their own flights.
Flights to Cardiff started on March 30th with a 4x weekly schedule, with an early morning flight on Mondays and flights around lunchtime on Wed, Thu and Fri.
13th flight on Helvetic Airways
1st flight on their own behalt
18th flight on a Fokker 100
1st flight on HB
180th flight altogether
11th flight in 2011
Flight: 2L 443
Aircraft: Fokker 100, HB
Takeoff: 1503 lcl
Landing: 1724 lcl
The flight was booked via our travel agent, so no experience on this. But it seemed like a fairly standard booking machine, so I wouldn't expect any trouble when booking myself. Some days before departure it became obvious that I would exceed the baggage limit of 20 kg, which was included in the ticket. So I called the airline to book another 10 kg extra for 30€ - not the cheapest, but way better than to pay at the airport, which would mean 10€ per extra kg. I was also worried about excess hand luggage, because I had two computers with me, plus my camera bag and a guitar bag. The latter one dropped out eventually as one of my colleagues could take it in his car for me.
The day of the flight I was picked up at my apartment by a taxi, also organized by the company, for the two hour drive to Cardiff airport. Without any problems we arrived with about 1.5 hours to departure. The plane was already sitting on the ground, which surprised me. Normally it should only arrive about 45 minutes prior to departure. Something was strange here. And then it dawned on me, that when I checked my flight time the day before, the flight to ZRh on 30th and the flight to CWL
on 31st were shown as fully booked. I couldn't imagine that except for some special reason. After all, this is an unusual city pair and some are still wondering who is to be attracted by these flights. Okay, I know a company that has use for these flights, but they do not send enough people to fill a 100-seater 4 times a week in both directions...
No photos from the outside as I had an encounter with police once at this same place and I wanted to avoid another entry on my report. But some ads for the new route inside the terminal:
I proceeded to the counter which was, as I expected, empty. I talked to the gate agent and he informed me that there would be 63 people on the flight. Not a bad load, I thought. When asked about the flight from the day before, he told me it was cancelled. A bad sign? We will see later.
I checked in my bags with one computer in one of them, so the hand luggage problem was solved: Laptop + 1 additional bag was ok. Unfortunately I exceeded my extra allowance as well, so I was given a paper to show at the ticket counter to pay for more luggage. And here's where it started to go not so smoothly. Given that it was effectively the first day of operations from Cardiff for Helvetic, I was apparently the first one with excess luggage to pay. It took a while, but Ceri and Michelle were really friendly and helpful all the way through and apologized many times. Good that I had allowed for some extra time. After about thirty minutes and with the third credit card (AmEx? Doesn't work. Visa? Not as a debit card... Mastercard? Yes, that works!) I had paid for everything and could return to the counter. A longer cue had formed here, judging from the talks and some glimpses on the passports, almost all of them German or Swiss. My bags were finally completely checked and I got my boarding passs for a seat just at the wing.
Knowing Cardiff Airport, I proceeded to the security check directly. And it was exactly as expected: Only one line open, moving terribly slow. I don't know what it is at this airport, but security never seems to be a quick affair. Of course my camera got the drug sweep, but no problems, also as usual.
Once airside, I tried to figure out which gate we would have. It's a little game I like to play: as UK airports don't announce the gate until 20-30 minutes before departure, I always awander around to see which one it is. A quick affair this time, HB
-JVI was already parked at Gate 3, easily visible from the restaurant windows:
After I took this picture, i was asked "Are you a member of the Helvetic group?"-"No, just flying with them."-"Ok, sorry." Ok, something was going on here...
So now I knew which gate to go to - just no can do, because the doors to the gates are locked until the gates are announced and also passport check is at these doors. I started to feel hungry, and I took out the food which I brought with me. The Helvetic operations were announced to be Buy on Board, so I prepared something myself. Still holding a grudge against the airport restaurant from former times - standing at the bar for 10 minutes without anyone serving me is not what I call good service - I didn't feel like spending money there. While eating, some of the "Helvetic group" tried to enter the gate area, apparently unfamiliar with the procedures. I talked shortly to them and a few minutes later the gate area was opened and I went through as one of the first.
Finally a view from the sunny side (well, it was cloudy anyway) on the plane. Some minutes later, some people were asked to come to the gate. They joined some airport staff members and apparently one other Helvetic member or someone from the airport wearing a jacket with "Marketing & Communications" on the back. The plane crew deboarded and everyone gathered at the bottom of the stairs for a short ribbon-cutting ceremony. The ribbon stated 30th March, although it was really the 31st:
Maybe this wasn't going exactly as planned. Anyway, once the ribbon was cut, boarding started. Many people were taking pictures, but it still went quick and smooth. The staff at the gate was friendly and the same can be said for the flight attendants who greeted us at the stairs. There was a special feeling with this for sure.
I made my way to row 14, which was the first Economy row. I stowed my handluggage and then began taking some pictures. As you can see, the seat pitch is quite generous (34") and the same for all rows. The difference between Business Class, called Viva!, and Eco is the headrest. Red for Viva!, grey for all others.
Soon after we were ready to depart. A short wait until the Flybe Dash8-Q400 next to us was pushed back and then it was our turn. A short taxi to Runway 30 and soon enough we were airborne. Flapless takeoff, as usual with the Fokker and a quite short takeoff roll due to the light load: 6 Eco and 57 Business. Maybe this was only the official load, on my pictures I couldn't count as many...
This definitely was a delegation from the airline. Apparently they had used the first to flights for a short getaway to Cardiff. The flight attendants distributed water for everyone, shortly after menus and hot towels. I was surprised to get a menu - the Buy on Board menu was in the Magazine.
Safety card and Waste bag:
Well, it turned out that to celebrate the inaugural flight, everyone would get the full business experience. Nice detail with the menu: it is slotted on the folding side, so that the food menu can be changed easily. The drinks seem to stay the same for longer.
So we had the following menu:
- Mini bell peppers stuffed with cabbage
- Small pepper pastry with lingonberry sauce
- Bresaola (dried beef)
- Zugerberg Cheese
- Engelberg Tomatolino
With that came some bread rolls.
The drinks choice included two white and two red wines (one of each was from Switzerland) and Champagne. I opted for Champagne and the Swiss red (No. 1 Cuvée E Obrist Chardonne), as I don't get this treat that often. Altogether it looked like this:
I'm not sure if it was intended, but the whole menu showed a subtle mix of reddish and white - the Swiss colours. To finish the meal, coffee and tea were offered in real china cups.
The food was immaculate as were the drinks. The attendants came around frequently for more drinks or bread rolls. Perfect service from my point of view.
Much too soon the flight was over, we broke through the clouds an landed in a overcast and slightly drizzly Zurich. No picture of this, it would destroy the nice impression
Upon deboarding, I waited a bit to be the last one and snatched a picture of the cabin. A thanks to the crew and out to the waiting bus.
The baggage was delivered quickly and soon I was out to get me taxi - with over 50 kg of baggage I just didn't feel like taking the train...
And that was it, my second inaugural flight. The Helvetic service did not leave anything to be desired. Certainly the food choices will be more limited in normal operations, but the crew does a good job here. Considering the prices, I could imagine that the Viva! class will draw some attention to it. After all, it is just a bit more that double the price of the economy ticket. Not too bad of a premium to get the extras.
Just one week after, I was on my next trip to Vienna on a new airline. Watch out for it and thanks for reading!