I love flying. All kinds of flying. I have a pilot license for two-seater planes (ultralätt klass B (UL-B) in Sweden; light aircraft pilot licence (LAPL) in Europe). For various reasons, I have not been very active when it comes to this hobby, but I plan to return to it in the future. In addition to flying myself, I enjoy flying commercially. Many people get an attack of anxiety when you mention planes and airports. They associate these with crowds and stress. I am lucky enough that I don’t share this opinion. Lucky because I fly relatively much, so it would be a shame if I did not enjoy it.
I started flying a lot when I moved to Sweden for my PhD studies back in 2008. All of a sudden, I flew both privately and for work. I would typically have 30 flights per year (in case you want to take a look at all my commercial flights, look no further). In the beginning I did not think much of it, or much about it, but it grew on me with time. There was one event that pushed me over the edge and made me become a so-called aware air-traveler. With this term I mean that I look for ways to maximize the flying experience I get for my money, whether it is flying in business class, visiting an airport I have not been to before, trying out a new airline or plane type, and similar. The event in question was getting a free upgrade to business class for Aneta and me on a flight from Frankfurt to New York, which not only made the flight itself a great experience, but it also gave us access to Lufthansa’s business lounge prior to the flight. For those that have never been in an airport lounge, somewhat simplified, I can describe them as oases of tranquility in a typically stressfull environment. Oases which include free food and drinks. When I got to experience this the first time, I wanted more of it. Fast forward to today, I have Gold status with Star alliance (a collaboration of 27 different airlines, the biggest of three such alliances), which gives me access to lounges even when flying in economy class.
There is much more to being an aware air-traveler than what these two paragrafs show (in case you are interested, http://www.businessclass.se/forum/ is a great resource), but they are a very brief introduction to the topic of this blog post, rather than the topic itself. Sometimes I go flying commercially not for the sake of getting somewhere, but for the sake of flying. Here is a description of the most recent such trip I made. In February 2018 I flew from Stockholm to Copenhagen, then to Oslo and then back home to Stockholm. There were two main reasons for the trip (other than the general enjoyment I get from these trips) – I wanted to try a new airline and I wanted to spend some time at Oslo airport, which I had previously visited only once, more than three years ago. The airline in question is Ethiopian airlines. It flies from Oslo to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, via Stockholm. Since it is possible to buy a relatively cheap ticket for the segment Oslo – Stockholm, it was a great opportunity to experience this, for me quite exotic airline. As icing on the cake, I would get to try one of the most modern airplane types, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
I just needed to get to Oslo from Stockholm. There are many direct flights per day, but for an aware air-traveler a direct flight is a missed opportunity. My idea was to fly to Oslo via Zurich, because one of the best business lounges in Europe is located there, and I have not had the chance to visit it yet. Unfortunately, the flights were scheduled in such a way that I was risking coming late to Oslo and missing the flight with Ethiopian. It would also leave no time for experiencing Oslo airport. So I decided it was best not to be over zealous. I left the lounge in Zurich for a future trip and opted for a flight to Oslo via Copenhagen instead. I visited Copenhagen airport several times, and I cannot claim I like it especially much, but I have not been there since 2016, so why not?
I started the day very early, I left my apartment at 6 am. I am not a morning person, but waking up for days like these is never a problem. Upon arriving to Arlanda airport I took a walk through several of its terminals, a walk that I did many times before, but a walk that I equally enjoy even today. The departure hall was more crowded than usually. The biggest queues were for the SAS charter check-in and for the special luggage counters. Yes, it was the peak of the skiing season. But I had no luggage, I basically only had a phone charger with me. And I checked in online the previous evening so the security check was my next step. Surprisingly, there was no queue there. Not that I care, since one of the perks of Star alliance Gold status is access to fast track security, which is basically a separate security check that only a relatively small number of travelers has access to. After a short stroll through the airside, I went to a very calm SAS Gold lounge for breakfast. SAS lounges paint the quintessential picture of Sweden, they are reliable but not very luxurious. Familiar and cozy, but they don’t stand out in any way. They are exactly as they need to be. The are lagom. They are taman (I wrote this just to show that Swedish is not the only language that has a single word for “just the right amount”, as is widespread belief in Sweden; Croatian and its related languages have it too). I love the breakfast in the SAS lounge – havregrynsgröt (oatmeal porridge), hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese and croissants. There is more to choose from, but this is my breakfast of choice.
The flight to Copenhagen was uneventful (I slept through most of it). Well, except for a technical fault with the cabin temperature control prior to start. We had to taxi back to the gate to get it fixed, which caused us to be an hour late. Late departures can be a cause of anxiety. Well, where an inexperienced air-traveler sees stress, an aware air-traveler sees opportunity. Delays and disruptions possess a certain allure (when I have the flexibility of being late). It’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get when being re-routed. Except for money, you know you are going to get money as compensation. For instance, as compensation for an overbooked flight we got vouchers which we used for a trip to Aruba when Emili was five months old. The flight we were rebooked to because of this overbooked flight was the one I mentioned above, where we got a courtesy upgrade to business class, so double win here. Another example is when our flight back home from Hong Kong was cancelled, which gave us cash compensation that covered more than the original tickets and the hotels in Hong Kong. But I digress…
This time there were no serious disruptions, other than having one hour less at Copenhagen airport than I was originally supposed to. I went straight for the SAS Gold lounge where I had a quick snack, some tea and cookies and a sip of Gammel Dansk (which I am not a big fan of). The flight to Oslo I used for another power nap. I woke up just before landing.
The first thing on the agenda was a walk through the airside. “Wow, what a nice, airy terminal”, was my first impression. Wood and glass were the dominating materials. The sun certainly contributed to the experience, but even a couple of hours later, as night fell, the terminal kept its sense of unobstructed light. After walking around in the airside for international departures, I went to the SAS Gold lounge. This only improved my impression of Oslo airport, the lounge is better than the one at Arlanda and the one at Copenhagen airport. Ok, to be fair, I was lucky to have completely avoided the rush hour. But still, the lounge is very nice. A big plus for views of the landside, the airside and of the apron. I don’t know of any other lounge that offers this. There is something soothing about sipping tea in a calm place and watching the beehive outside. I remember when I was younger, my cousin and I found it very calming to watch ships dock after a night out (we had a night out, not the ships; well ok, the ships also had a night out in a way). I find it equally calming to observe airplane movements on the apron.
I had quite a lot of time before the flight home, so after having eaten I went out to the landside. I was worried I might raise some eyebrows at customs, as I had no luggage whatsoever, not even a backpack, which can be a red flag. But nobody stopped me for questioning. Returning back to the airside, I now had access to another SAS lounge, the one in the domestic part of the airside. Having had experience with the SAS domestic lounge at Arlanda, the expectations were not low, they were non-existent. But I still wanted to take a look, as this was a new lounge for me. Wow, this turned out to be the highlight of the trip. A barista making coffees to order, a wider spread of food than any other SAS lounge I had seen, a gym, and a whole room full of gadgets for demonstration. I tried a VR game where I was a hockey goalie. It was extremely fun, but I got worried I would miss my flight back home. I realized that boarding had already started while I was still in the lounge. So I rushed out.
Even though I was flying only from Oslo to Stockholm, which is an intra-Schengen flight, I had to go through passport control, since the whole Oslo-Stockholm-Addis Ababa flight is non-Schengen. Upon entering the plane, something was not right. Something was off. The plane was… old. “How can a 787 look like this?”, I wondered. I reached for the safety information card which said in plain bold letters that seemed to mock me: “Boeing 777”. I was struck by one of the worst things that can happen to an aware air-traveler, equipment change. This is how I feel about an equipment change: I look forward to a certain plane type but the airline, for some operational reason that I have no understanding for in that delicate state of being betrayed, uses an old bucket of a plane instead. First world problem, yes, but a huge disappointment nevertheless. Despite the age, the plane had quite a good entertainment system. But watching a movie was out of the question during my 45 minute flight. One thing that puzzled me is that I got a typical Mediterranean snack on a flight operated by an African airline between two Scandinavian cities. How does that add up? On second thought, Ethiopia was occupied by Italy, maybe that is the connection…
Upon landing in Stockholm, I wanted to try one more thing that I had not done on Arlanda before. When you arrive on a non-Schengen flight, you are separated from the Schengen departures (on the other hand, the Schengen arrivals and departures are not separated, they have access to the same part of the terminal on Arlanda). Having passed passport control, there was a security check between me and Schengen departures/arrivals. I did not know if they would want to see a boarding pass for an onward flight, which I obviously did not have. But I was ready to argue for my cause, my goal was Pontus in the air, a decent airport restaurant. “Decent airport restaurant” is, admittedly, a relatively new fenomenen. Just a few years ago bad food in an airport restaurant was as certain as bad weather in Scandinavia. Anyway, no questions were asked, and I was on my way to Pontus, with my taste buds looking forward to honey-fried plums, vanilla ice-cream and crushed walnuts, all served on a Swedish version of the American French toast. But alas, Saturday is the only day of the week that Pontus closes early. I went home instead, slightly disappointed by Ethopian’s Boeing 777 and by my angry taste buds, but at the same time very satisfied with a successful day of larpurlartism, flying for the sake of flying.
I am aware that this is a very nerdy way of spending a day, but it makes me happy. And I do have support and understanding for it from my family, which I am very thankful for. Looking forward to the next one…