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FLIGHT REVIEW: Qantas A330-300 Business Class, Singapore – Sydney (SIN-SYD)

In November 2022, Qantas resumed flights between Singapore and Australia, after a 20-month hiatus since Australia closed its borders in March 2020.

With Australia allowing Singapore citizens into the country since November last year as a pilot before reopening the borders, I thought I’d take a trip Down Under in February this year to see a couple of friends that I have not met for years.

I had a good experience with Qantas several years ago, and was excited to see if the experience remained the same.

In this post:
Flight today
Pre-trip planning
Checking in
The seat
The service
Food & drinks
Qantas amenity kit
Final thoughts

Flight today

Qantas QF82
Singapore (SIN)
– Sydney (SYD)
16 February 2022
Depart: 9:00PM
Arrive: 7:20PM (+1 day)
Duration: 7 hr 20 min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 7F (Business Class)

Pre-trip planning

Visa

Most visitors to Australia will require an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) or a visa to enter, including Singapore citizens.

Citizens of over 33 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Japan can apply for the ETA through the Australia ETA app. Each ETA is valid for 12 months and costs A$20.

This is incredibly important and I cannot emphasise how many Singaporeans have always forgotten to apply for an ETA until they get to the airport. In the past, airlines were able to do this ETA for you at the airport for a hefty fee, but this is no longer the case as Australia Departure of Home Affairs has now restricted applications to be done solely through the app.

If you have an APEC Business Travel Card, that also forms a valid visa and you will not have to apply for an ETA for your visit, even if it’s for leisure.

Covid tests

At the point of time when I travelled, Australia required a pre-departure test using either a PCR at most 3 days before the flight, or an ART 24 hours before the departure time.

Australia will drop all pre-departure testing requirements from 18 Apr 2022, so you are only subject to an on-arrival test which in most cases are a self-administered ART within 24 hours of arrival.

Checking in

Qantas operates out of Changi Airport Terminal 1, and currently operates out of row 8, sharing the row with its low cost subsidiary Jetstar.

Check in Row 8

The configuration has now changed a little since the pandemic. There is an agent stationed at the front of the kiosks and counters to check that you have all the necessary documents, before leading you to a self check-in kiosk.

After you retrieved your boarding pass and bag tags, you can then proceed to the baggage counters to drop off your bags. Note that your boarding passes printed from the kiosks should be seen and stamped by an agent. Mine wasn’t stamped, and I was turned back at the pre-immigration point to get my boarding pass stamped.

The seat

Qantas uses the Thompson Aerospace seat product across its entire wide-body fleet. The product is now almost 10 years old, and fans of Qantas would be familiar with the hard product. 

Qantas A330-300 business class seat

With the phase-out of the older business class products that used to be on the A330-200s, Qantas now only has a single seat product on all its long-haul widebody aircraft, making it easier for travellers, so you don’t have to figure out what seat you are travelling in.

Given that I have reviewed this product before, you can read more about the seat here.

The service

QF82 is a red-eye flight to Sydney, with a total flight time of 7 hours and 20 minutes.

Boarding commenced 45 minutes before the scheduled take off time. I went to the boarding gate at about 30 minutes before, only to find an incredibly long queue for the security screening. Lucky for me there’s a separate queue for business class passengers, which was considerably shorter than the economy one.

Gatehold room

Within 10 minutes I was done with security and was on my way straight to the aircraft. The business cabin was surprisingly full today, with all but two seats occupied in the 28-seat section.

Promptly I took my seat at 7F. The mattress topper, along with the comforter, was wrapped in plastic and placed on the seat along with an unwrapped pillow.

On the side console was a pair of menus, one for the supper service, and a separate breakfast card for me to check off the items I wanted before landing. This card was collected even before the aircraft took off, so that’s some mighty efficiency there.

Menu cards

A cabin crew came around to offer a pre-departure drink of either water, juice or champagne, along with a set of the famed Qantas pyjamas. It was pretty refreshing to be offered a drink while the plane was still on the ground, given that some other airlines took the chance to do away with it.

Soon we were on the way, with the push back of the aircraft happening about 15 minutes after the scheduled departure time of 8.30pm.

Food & drinks

Right after take-off, dinner service commenced at about 9.45pm. The crew pushed a trolley through the cabin, setting up the table setting along with a first choice of drink. Instead of a table cloth, the setting was all done on a pre-set tray: a side salad, a bread plate and the glassware. I took one slice of bread, and went with a glass of red wine.

Dinner setup

The supper menu was rather simple: a choice of main course, followed by dessert. There were four main courses to choose from, and a good selection of post-meal sweets or cheeses.

Business class dinner menu

For my main course tonight, I chose the prawn wanton dumplings (a misnomer, given that wantons are dumplings). Unfortunately, the main course took another 20 minutes before it got to me.

Prawn wanton dumpling soup

The wantons were served with a serving of springy egg noodles, as well as a side of Asian greens, spring onions and green vinegared chillis. Overall it was a pretty hearty supper, and I liked that it was served not too hot. The greens looked like they are out for too long, but otherwise everything else was excellent.

The only other problem is that this dish didn’t exactly go with a slice of bread and a side salad, but I’ll let that pass.

After I was done with dinner, the tray was promptly cleared. The dessert came around in a form of a trolley, which I chose an ice cream from (10.30pm). Out of Singapore, Qantas carries a selection of Haagen Daz ice cream, and the flavour of the day was strawberry.

Dessert and wine

Soon after, I set out my own mattress topper on the seat, reclined the bed into bed mode and fell into snooze land.

Given that breakfast was ordered at the beginning of the flight, this means that the crew didn’t have to wake passengers up too early for breakfast. The breakfast card offered three options: a full breakfast served 90 minutes before landing, an ‘express breakfast’ served 60 minutes before landing, or no breakfast at all.

Breakfast card

A full breakfast meant any number of items on the menu, while an express breakfast was a choice of one food item and one drink. I picked two drinks – a juice and a coffee – and a savoury item for breakfast, and I was woken up only about 40 minutes before landing, so I guess you could get away with two drinks for an express breakfast.

Express business class breakfast – Brioche roll with bacon and egg

Breakfast was a brioche roll with bacon and egg, which was delicious. The bacon was over cooked and incredibly salty even at 35,000 feet, so I took out most of it. I also chose a cold pressed juice and a white coffee. The crew was too busy to offer a second round of coffee, so when I finally managed to get the attention of a crew for a review, the captain asked to prepare the cabin for landing. This meant that my review had to come in a paper cup, given that all crockery would have to be stowed for landing by that time.

Qantas amenity kit

You might be wondering about the amenity kit. Qantas usually offers an amenity kit on the flight, but as there were not enough on this flight, the kits were only available on demand. I learnt about this only when I requested for an eye shade, and the crew discreetly explained why they didn’t hand them out to all the passengers.

The amenity kit this season was designed in commemoration of Qantas’ centenary in 2020, with a range of designs in a nod to its colourful history. The kit itself was a throwback to the 1960s era, decked in pastel blue.

Qantas amenity kit (credit: Qantas)

Within the kit was an eye shade in the same design as the kit, a dental kit, ear plugs and also a mini-kit of amenities from Australian wellness brand Li-Tya, comprising lip balm, face cream and hand cream. Qantas has also chose the eco-friendly route of packing these items in paper (rather than plastic), in a nod to their sustainability efforts.

Qantas amenity kit

Qantas also offers pyjamas in its business cabin for overnight flights. On this flight, the PJs were handed out on the ground, right after the pre-departure drinks were served. Note that if you are taking a day flight out of Australia to Asia, PJs will not be offered; if you ask, sometimes they do have a set or two lying around that they can offer you with.

Qantas business class pyjamas

One thing to note: Qantas business class cabins have a dearth of lavatories, so there is almost always a line of people waiting to wash up and change out. To avoid that and to maximise sleep, I usually wear my own sweatpants and change into the pyjamas top only, and change out only after I arrive and get out of the airplane.

Final thoughts

It was an incredibly enjoyable flight, partly accentuated by the fact that I was visiting Australia for the first time after a three-year gap. It was encouraging to see that the flight was relatively packed in both cabins, and that will only continue to grow as international travel relaxes further with time.

The cabin service also remained fairly consistent from before. While all airlines have been reeling from a drastic drop in revenue over the last two years, I’m also glad that Qantas has stuck out and not further reduced cabin service. In contrast, Singapore Airlines have now reduced meal service on Australian flights to just a single meal service, which in my opinion is way too little.

Overall I’m relieved and happy that the Qantas experienced remained more or less similar to its pre-Covid days. While the schedule is not as favourable given it only operates only a single overnight flight out of Singapore, it is still nonetheless a very comfortable flight to be on.

Review: Courtyard by Marriott Cologne, Twin Guest Room

Courtyard by Marriott is no Ritz Carlton, but it’s functional and usually well located. So here’s a functional review.

We don’t always need a fancy hotel when we travel. Comfort, yes, but the bells and whistles, sometimes. There is good value in having a top-grade hotel sometimes, but in some cities, a reliable, trusted property is all you need.

On this trip, Cologne is one such city, and Courtyard by Marriott served that purpose: no-frills, comfortable, fairly decent location and great value for money.

For those who are not familiar with the Courtyard brand, they are typically mid-tier properties offering a less frills experience as compared to the mother brand. These properties still have the necessary amenities as a full service hotel, but without the premium frills such as a spa or a pool. Think of it as like a full service economy class air ticket (probably a 3 or 4 star airline), rather than a low cost carrier.

The brand is predominantly found in US, with a small splattering of presence in other continents. In Europe, it has 77 properties across 20 countries, with the largest network here in Germany with 16 Courtyard properties.

Asia has 97 Courtyard properties, where China account for about half of them and India for another quarter.

In this post:
Location
About the hotel
Checking in
The room
Restaurant – The Bistro
Facilities & amenities
Final thoughts

Location

A little orientation of Köln or Cologne: The heart of the city is split by the Rhine river into east and west. Most of the tourist attractions and where visitors will want to be is on the west side.

Cologne map

Cologne has two key train stations: the first being Köln Hauftpbanhof, or the Cologne Central Station, and another one further out called Messe/Deutz Banhof, which is located on the east bank of the Rhine.

Courtyard by Marriott Cologne is located in the city centre amid the famous Eigelstein neighborhood, within a reasonable walking distance to several key landmarks, including the famous Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), as well as a plethora of restaurants and shopping.

The hotel is about 1km away from Cologne Central Station. If you are arriving by train from another city, you are likely to be arriving at Messe/Deutz, which will require a change of trains to reach Central Station. Alternatively you can take the S-Bahn to Hansaring, and then weave through the smaller streets to reach the hotel, although I would strongly discourage you from doing so if you are carrying heavy bags.

The hotel

At this property in Cologne, the hotel has 236 rooms housed within its six-storey building. Rooms are laid across floors 1-5.

Courtyard by Marriott Cologne

The hotel only has 4 room types:

  • King Guest Room
  • Twin Guest Room
  • Larger King Guest Room
  • Corner King Guest Room

Courtyard by Marriott properties typically have a fairly standardised set of room types, as they are designed for business travellers who simply need a no-frills, full service hotels. The standardised rooms allow for the hotel to focus on a consistent set of experience without the need to go over the top in both service and product for top-end rooms and suites.

This works out well for leisure travellers as well who value price and location over the bells and whistles that the hotel may offer, as there’s also a sizeable group of travellers who minimise their time spent in the room.

Checking in

The lobby is modest, which works well for properties like these. With only three check-in counters, There were hardly anyone else when we arrived just after mid day, around the usual check in hours, so we were attended to almost immediately.

Hotel lobby

The receptionist checked our documents and more importantly, our vaccination records, before speedily processing the rest of our check in. In less than 5 minutes, we were on our way to our rooms, located on the second floor.

The room

For this stay we booked a Twin room. The room measures 22 square metres in size, which is fairly spacious by European standards. The corner rooms are slightly bigger at 29 square metres, but similar to the regular rooms in both form and function.

Twin Guest Room

In the twin configured room, both twin beds are standard singles, and each comes with its own bedside table, reading light and set of power sockets.

Work desk

On the far side of the room, there is also a glass work desk with an office chair, which is suitable for working in room although i wouldn’t recommend sitting in that chair for too long. There’s also a table lamp that is oddly positioned, with its stem awkwardly sticking out of the bedside table. I get that lamps need an electrical source but this arrangement is simply aesthetically off.

Across from the bed is a wall mounted flat screen television, above a simple console tabletop where the complimentary coffee and tea are placed.

Wall mounted TV, console

The room comes with a simple wardrobe near the windows, in which you will find the in-room safe, ironing board and iron as well as the hairdryer.

Wardrobe

During the time of Covid, housekeeping is only offered every third night, but you can always call up the front desk to request for daily clean up if you need it.

In another aspect of its functionality, Courtyard by Marriott Cologne offers a simple bathroom, with a walk-in shower, single vanity and sink and a toilet.

Bathroom

The hotel provides bath amenities which are branded Nirvae, which is found exclusively in the hotel industry. The amenities itself is nothing too exciting, but good enough for you to use without much concerns.

Note that the toilet does not come with a bidet or washing hose, so if that’s a concern, you may have to look elsewhere.

Restaurant – Bistro

In another aspect that reinforces its chain operations, the hotel’s restaurant name is also standardised across the brand: the Bistro. Opened for breakfast daily and dinner Mondays to Saturdays, the Bistro offers a good range of meals and drinks for guests.

Bistro
Day of weekOperating hours
Mondays to Fridays6.30am to 10.30am
3pm to 11pm
Saturdays7am to 12pm
3pm to 11pm
Sundays & Public Holidays7am to 12pm
Bistro operating hours

Breakfast is charged at €18 per person and is served between 6.30am and 10.30am on weekdays, and 7am to 12pm on weekends. Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elite members and above enjoy complimentary breakfast, regardless whether their room rates include them.

While I didn’t have breakfast at the hotel, the restaurant staff kindly offered complimentary coffee in the morning when I had to get some work done. A quick glance at the breakfast spread saw a mostly continental spread, with some hot items including bacon and eggs. At EUR18, you will be better off walking out to grab breakfast, such as from this lovely little Italian place near the hotel.

Bistro breakfast

The lunch and dinner menus looked a little more promising, although not a large menu. Most food items are reasonably priced: for instance, expect to pay €5- €11 for snacks and starters, €10,5-€13,5 for sandwiches, and up to €21 for main dishes.

Drinks wise, beer is your go-to option, with Happy Hour happening every Friday and Saturday, 5 to 7pm where you can get a glass of Kölsch for €2,50, with a free bite to go along. For the uninitiated, Cologne is home to the Kölsch, the local’s favourite brew and default choice for a beer.

Cocktails and wines are generally more expensive in Germany, but the Bistro prices them similar to many other restaurants. Expect to pay about €12,50 for a mixed drink, while a glass of wine goes upwards of €7,50.

Facilities & Amenities

FacilityOperating HoursLocation
Fitness Centre 24 hoursLevel 5
Business Centre 24 hoursGround floor
Convenience Store 24 hoursGround floor

Fitness and recreation

Courtyard by Marriott Cologne only has a fitness centre located on the top floor. Accessible 24/7, the gym has an array of equipment, including cardio machines such as treadmills and ellipticals, as well as a rack of dumbbells and two benches.

Fitness Centre

Unfortunately, the hotel does not have a swimming pool, nor does it offer access to any swimming pools nearby.

Business Centre

The hotel does not have a business centre, but on the ground floor you can find a little business corner further in from the front desks, equipped with two Macs.

Business Centre

In the same corner you will also find an ATM (comes with a fee, on top of what your bank may charge you), as well as a cigarette vending machine.

The business centre comes with a printer, so it will be handy for printing the extra documents you may need.

Business Centre

Convenience Store

The Market

Another distinct feature of Courtyard properties are the in-house convenience store, which they named the Market. I have seen this before in the US properties as well, which usually carry a variety of items from food, drinks, alcohol to other consumables such as laundry power, soap, dental care items and more.

The full price list is as follow:

The Market – Price List

Final thoughts

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the review, travelling doesn’t always have to include a fancy hotel. There are several fundamental criteria such as comfort, safety, and location, all of which Courtyard by Marriott Cologne has met during my stay and I’m pleased with it.

If there’s only one thing to pick: the hotel doesn’t have a lively bar, and perhaps that’s the point. There are some nights where you just want a quiet glass of wine after a long day out, instead of a boisterous beerhaus, so the hotel fits the bill just for that.

REVIEW: Gekko House – A Tribute Portfolio Collection, Superior Room

The final stop of my German run, this hotel is the first Tribute Portfolio hotel I’ve ever stayed in. While it didn’t take my breath away, the property ranks pretty high on design, and is good value for money especially for solo travellers.

In this post:
What are Tribute Portfolio Hotels?
About the hotel
Location
Checking in
The room – Superior Room
The facilities
Restaurant – Chicago Williams
Breakfast
Final thoughts

What are Tribute Portfolio Hotels?

A network of about 50 individual boutique hotels, this soft brand (as the industry calls it) is a collection of independent boutique hotels that each has its own unique styles and operating models. The Tribute Portfolio brand embraces quirky and personable properties for guests seeking unique and diverse experiences, which can be a breather for some who wish to experience smaller, quirkier hotels when they want something different that the larger chains offer.

Tribute Portfolio was first introduced by Starwood Hotels and Resorts back in 2015, and it’s kind of an answer to Marriott’s very own Autograph Collection, also another mid-tier collection of boutique hotels.

Naturally, when Marriott acquired Starwood, the mammoth group took over these properties as well in the following years. Some observers may have gambled on that Tribute Portfolio will be folded into Autograph Collection, but even up to today Marriott held true to its promise that it will keep the two separate.

Marriott has a distinct brand positioning for both soft brands: Autograph Collection Hotels are selected for their rich design and immersive stories; while Tribute Portfolio brings together characterful hotels with vibrant social scenes that create a sense of belonging for guests and locals.

Today, the portfolio remained fairly small with only about 50 boutique hotels globally, with most of them found mainly in Europe where it first began.

About the hotel

The Gekko House opened only in January 2020 – right before Covid-19 ravished the world – as part of Germany’s Gekko Group, a hospitality outfit (not to be confused with Accor’s french subsidiary Gekko Group).

Gekko House

Gekko House is the group’s first house branded hotel. Gekko Group’s founders, Micky Rosen and Alex Urseanu, are veterans to design-led hotels, with a portfolio that includes celebrated properties like Roomers, The Pure and Gerbermühle, with a total of eight properties across Germany. The Roomers hotels in Berlin, Munich and Baden-Baden, are also Design Hotels (also a Marriott brand).

The hotel stands at 8 storeys high and comprises 128 rooms, which is fairly sizeable given the small plot of land it occupies.

The ground floor is taken up mainly by the restaurant (more on that later), while rooms decked out floors 1 through 7. The rooftop is on the eighth floor, and serves as a rooftop bar only during summer months, although you can still access it year-round.

The hotel offers seven room types:

  • Superior
  • Superior Comfort
  • Premium
  • Premium Comfort
  • Premium Comfort Twin
  • Select King
  • Junior Suite

The key difference between Superior and Premium rooms are the size of the beds: Superior rooms offer a 160cm wide Queen bed, while Premium rooms come with a 180cm wide King sized bed.

If you want twin beds, your only option is the Premium Comfort Twin, which cost about €30 more expensive than the base rooms.

If you need some fresh air in your room, the Select rooms are the only ones in the house with a balcony.

At the top end of the range is the Junior Suite, which is the only room type in the hotel that offers a bathtub. However, the industrial-looking tub is in the room itself right under the TV, so depending on your personal preference, you might want to choose another hotel if the tub matters a lot.

Junior Suite (photo: Marriott)

Location

The hotel is located in the Gallus district in Frankfurt Am Main. While somewhat near to Frankfurt Hauptbanhof, but it’s not exactly that near: two trams stops or 800m away to be exact.

Gekko House is located some 800m away from the Hauptbahnhof

Don’t let the map fool you – while it seems like it’s somewhat near the tracks and main station, the walking distance from the entrance of the station is a good 15 minutes to the hotel, or longer depending on the amount of bags you have.

Take trams 11, 14 and 21 from stops right outside the main station for two stops, and you will only be a short walk away from the hotel. Even with a single trip ticket, you are allowed a free transfer from the trains to the trams.

Checking in

Once you walk into the hotel, you will be greeted by the restaurant. The cash desk at the restaurant currently doubles up as the lobby, where all check in formalities are currently being done.

Gekko House restaurant Chicago Williams & check-in desk (photo: Marriott)

With the current Covid-19 restrictions in place, Germany imposes a 2G+ requirement for hotels. Guests who are staying for leisure are required to show proof of vaccination, plus either a booster or a valid ART test taken within the last 24 hours.

Previously, check in was supposed to be done at a separate lobby which is pocket-sized, decked out with cherry wood panelling and tapestries astride deep olive walls.

Check-in desk; now some service counters of sorts

The room

For this stay I have opted for the entry-level room – the Superior room with a queen-sized bed. Once you enter the 17 square metres room, while compact, you won’t feel claustrophobic at all; the room is rather minimalist but yet sufficient for a single person.

Superior Room

The room controls are activated by a master key near the door, you will need to insert your keycard into the holder before any of the electricals can work.

Key holder

Unfortunately the reverse is also true: the moment you take out your keycard, everything in the room goes dark. I would prefer if they had some kind of a lag of a couple of seconds before that happens.

The rooms at Gekko House are designed in a grunge industrial fashion with exposed concrete walls and ceilings, in a nod to the area’s industrial character. There are whimsical touches to the room, such as the large hand-blown glass bulb lamp, representing the area’s burgeoning creative vibes.

Superior Room

The queen bed is backed on a velvet bedframe, a porcelain stool on one side and a wooden stool on the other side, both doubling up as beside tables. There are also wall sockets on both sides of the bed, providing that touch of convenience that is not lost despite it being a minimalist design.

There is also a small cupboard by the side, which houses a small safe within, as well as a nespresso coffee machine atop along with several glassware.

Amenity table with drinkware, coffee machine
Safe and laundry bag

Facing the bed was a wall-mounted television, with a wall-mounted television console as well as a Marshall speaker, which I appreciate for a tinkle of late night music when I wind down.

TV and speaker

The bathroom is pretty simple in its design and function as well. Standard sized standing shower, single vanity and a toilet bowl take up most of the room in the bathroom. The sink has an extended area for your own stuff, and if you need more, feel free to place them on the ledge on top.

Superior Room bathroom

Gekko House uses Grown Alchemist amenities – surprise, surprise: from Australia! – in the bathrooms. Founded by Australian brothers Keston and Jeremy Muijs in 2008, the Melbourne-based beauty brand is a skincare line that focuses on sustainable and organic ingredients.

Grown Alchemist bath amenities

The hotel uses handpump bottles fixed to the wall, so as to reduce single-use amenities that tend to get thrown away each time the room is refreshed.

Note that the hotel does not provide any other bath amenities, including dental kits or shaving kits. If you need any of those, you will have to purchase them from the Spati on the ground floor (more on this later).

You might notice that there isn’t a mini-bar in the room, nor are there additional amenities such as toothbrush or combs in the room. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the hotel’s ethos: by reducing these items in the room, they can keep rates low as well, and anything you need can be bought from vending machines which they lovingly call “Spati” at the lobby.

Spati

Prices at the Spati is by no means cheap. Forgot your dental kit? That’s €3. If you like the Grown Alchemist amenities and want to bring home a pump bottle, that’s €25 each.

Need some bottled water in the room? That’s €3,50 each. Beers at €4, and if you are in a mood for some bubblies, a 20cl bottle of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial goes for a cool €22.

At these prices, you are better off picking up some of these items at the local supermarket.

There’s a small tablet that is tucked away on the lower shelf of the TV console, which serves as your handy guide to the hotel. You will find information about the hotel, including a list of the items and prices at the Spati.

In-room tablet with all you need to know

The facilities

Gekko House is kind of a bare bones hotel, with no facilities on site.

Apart from the Spati that serves as a self-service convenience corner at the hotel, there are only a small handful of common areas within the hotel for use.

The first is this small little corner near the front of the hotel, which can also be a waiting area if there’s a line for check in.

Lobby waiting area

There is also a rooftop accessible via the lifts. On the warmer months this serve as a rooftop bar, but since I visited in winter, there was nothing going on at the moment.

Rooftop
Rooftop bar area

Restaurant – Chicago Williams

The signature bar and restaurant, Chicago Williams, is located at the first floor of the hotel, and is also the centrepiece of the property.

Chicago Williams restaurant

Specialising in American barbecue, Chicago Williams offers a rather simple menu where you can order grilled meats mostly by weight, except chicken where it comes either in half or full bird.

The full menu is below:

Food menu

Drinks wise, the restaurant specialises in highballs, with a selection of either standard or premium highballs to choose from. My observation is that mixed drinks in Germany tend to be relatively more expensive than beer (of course) and wine.

Drinks menu

The experience starts when you first step into the restaurant. Right at the front of house is a huge pot of corn chowder, and the staff will scoop out a complimentary bowl serve it to you as they bring you to your table.

Corn chowder

I ordered a half chicken and cauliflower, as well as mac and cheese on the side. I got a glass of rose along with the meal, which turned out to be a pretty good choice.

Half chicken
Mac n cheese
Grilled cauliflower

The cauliflower blew my mind a little, as I wasn’t expecting to be so flavourful. The cauliflower is both smoked and sauteed, dressed with parsley pesto and walnut oil before being topped with some spring onions.

Breakfast

As I wasn’t a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite member, my room didn’t come with a complimentary breakfast. Breakfast can be added for €19 per person per day, so I didn’t book breakfast.

Breakfast Hours
Mondays to Fridays: 6.30am to 10.30am
Saturdays & Sundays: 6.30am to 12pm

However, the hotel is happy to provide complimentary coffee if you head down to ask. Coffee is dispensed from a one-touch machine.

When I was collecting coffee one morning, I managed to snap a few photos of the breakfast offering. It seemed to be a continental offering, with no hot food in sight.

Breakfast – Cereal, bread and jams
Breakfast – pastries
Breakfast – cold cuts, salad bar
Breakfast – Fruit, juice and water

Final thoughts

Gekko House may be styled as a Tribute Portfolio independently-managed hotel with some character, but in reality it probably felt more like an upscale ‘hostel’ with individual rooms. The lack of amenities can be bothersome, but if you are on a leisure stay you really shouldn’t be staying in the hotel all that much.

While the lack of in-room amenities may bother some people, I’m pretty cool with it: I’m all for providing less in the room, and for guests to either bring their own or request (or even buy) one only if it’s necessary.

I initially thought I wouldn’t enjoy the hotel, but I soon realised it was sufficient for a solo traveller, with a good price point at well under €100 per night. The restaurant serves a great American barbecue dinner, but I’d advise against buying breakfast there, as you can get way better value for €19.

FLIGHT REVIEW: Finnair A350-900 Business Class, Helsinki – Singapore

Finland is hardly one of the top travel destinations in Europe, despite the charm of the Nordic countries in the past years. Nonetheless, long-time fans of oneworld airlines would know Finnair as a viable alternative to British Airways for transcontinental travel between Europe and Asia.

This flight came around as a surprise: I was originally booked in economy class from New York back to Singapore via Helsinki, but due to a change in plans, I had to reroute to return from Frankfurt, again via Helsinki. Fortunately or unfortunately, there were no more award availability in economy class (first time I’ve ever heard of this), but there were still available award space in business.

Booking

For this flight, I have used my Asia Miles for the seat. Finnair is a oneworld member, so there are plenty of options for redemption.

This itinerary cost me 70,000 miles, which was incredibly value for money given that a direct Singapore Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Singapore would have cost me 92,000 Krisflyer miles.

If you have points or miles in other oneworld FFPs, these are the redemption options you have between Singapore and Frankfurt. Additional fees and taxes vary between S$50 and S$160 depending on where you depart from and which programme you redeem from, with most itineraries falling under S$100.

Frequent Flyer ProgrammeBetween Singapore
and Helsinki
Between Singapore
and Frankfurt
(via HEL)
60,00060,000
70,00070,000
90,000104,500
92,750108,250
120,000150,000
Miles/Points required for one way business class award

Flight today

Finnair AY131
Helsinki (HEL) – Singapore (SIN)

13 January 2022
Depart: 11:55PM
Arrive: 5:15PM (+1 day)
Duration: 11hr 20min
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Seat: 8A (Business Class)

Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport is not a terribly big airport, but it can still be pretty disorienting for a first visit.

Helsinki Airport Terminal 2

The airport comprises two terminals, although in practice, the two terminals are linked both on the public and transit areas. The separation is clearer in the public areas, as the transit areas are seamlessly linked via a continuous walkway.

Within the public area, Terminal 1 serves all Star Alliance airlines (except Turkish Airlines), while all other airlines are in Terminal 2. Terminal 2 also serves all transcontinental services, which explains why Turkish Airlines operates out of the terminal.

Within the transit area, the demarcation is not as clear. As Finland is a Schengen country, Helsinki Airport divides the transit area into two parts, the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. Gates 5 to 36 serve Schengen flights, while gates 37 to 55 are for non-Schengen flights.

Finnair operates out of Terminal 2, which saw some expansion works back in 2019, including a larger non-Schengen area as well as new check-in and baggage facility at Terminal 2.

Transit in Helsinki

If you are transiting in Helsinki from a Schengen country, you will enter the Schengen transit area upon arrival. For those transferring to a long-haul flight, you will need to pass through passport control before making your way to your departure gate.

If you are doing tax refunds out of Helsinki airport, the customs office and the Global Blue counter is in a small corner before passport control, across from Gate 29.

Customs clearance office across from gate 29
Look for this little Tulli counter next to the Pharmacy

Unfortuantely, flying Finnair out of Helsinki became somewhat of a hassle during the times of Covid.

I had the most unfortunate experience when flying through Helsinki. As a result of newly implemented restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron, Finland has decided to reimpose a curfew, requiring shops and restaurants to shut at 6pm. Unfortunately, this restriction extends to the airport as well, affecting all shops, restaurants and even lounges.

Finnair Lounge – Non-schengen area

I had a pretty long layover of nine hours from my flight from Frankfurt, so I took some time earlier in the day to head into the city, expecting to come back to the airport to freshen up in the lounge. To my dismay, I found the entire airport dimmed as most shops are closed, and both lounges are also shut to passengers. Only a single restaurant within the non-Schengen area was open – for takeaways only.

What this meant was that for a 11.55pm flight, all guests had to dwell in the common areas for over six hours, with only vending machines at their disposal.

You would imagine what a relief was it for everyone when they started boarding calls!

Boarding

As a VTL flight, there are plenty of document checks that need to be completed. Finnair decided to do this at the gate, and I suspect is due to the volume of transit passengers on the flight.

Boarding gate 42

To facilitate a smooth boarding, Finnair uses one of those gates that has a sterile holding area, pretty much similar to what some airports have for US-bound flights. Document check started almost 90 minutes, and passengers are funneled into a segregated holding area to wait for boarding after having their documents checked.

If you require the use of the restrooms, you should use it before clearing the document check.

The actual boarding began about 40 minutes before the scheduled take off time. While there were group numbers printed on the boarding passes, the gate agent called for multiple groups at once to board, causing quite a big number of people heading to queue at the same time.

Boarding was through a single door, the second left door between the two business class sections. My seat for the day was 10L, which was in the second, smaller section of the business class cabin. Note that the smaller business class was after the second set of doors, so that means that all the economy class passengers will inevitably filter pass your seat if you are seated there.

The aircraft

A note about Finnair: the northern European carrier uses Airbus aircraft exclusively, plus a small fleet of Embraer 190s and ATR 72s for domestic and regional use.

Finnair operates the A350-900 as its main wide body workhorse, with 16 aircraft in its stable and another three on order. Of which, there are only two configurations: one with 12 rows of business class seats, while the other seats only 8 rows.

A350-900 business class

The aircraft I travelled on today was the one with 12 rows, for a total of 46 seats (row 9 is missing 2 seats).

The forward cabin comprises 8 rows in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, while the smaller business class section comprises 14 seats. Both sections are separated by a galley and lavatories, while the rear section is separated from economy class with only a partition and curtails.


The proximity to economy class may bother some people, so be sure to avoid rows 9-12 if that’s the case for you.

One other key thing to note: the forward cabin does not have any overhead compartments for the middle seats, so if you are seated there your bags will have to be stowed above the window seats. These may be cumbersome for some people, as they prefer not to have other people hovering above them mid-flight. I didn’t take a photo of the forward cabin, but you can see it from OMAAT’s photo below.

Forward cabin (photo credit: One Mile at a Time)

The rear section however has overhead storage for the middle seats, so those may be better options for those with plenty of carry-on bags.

The seat

Finnair has opted for the Zodiac Cirrus seats in a reverse herringbone configuration for its business class cabin, similar to Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. In a 1-2-1 configuration, this means every seat gets direct aisle access, which is pretty standard today.

Finnair A350 Business Class seat

The window seats are pointed towards the windows, while the middle seats face each other. If you are placed in the middle but are travelling alone, there’s a partition you could pull up to have a little more privacy and avoid the awkward eye contact moments with your neighbour.

However, if you are travelling with a partner, these seats are your best options. Nonetheless, despite the middle two seats facing each other, you will still need to stretch forward to talk with your seat partner.

Couple seats in the middle

The angled seat means that your seat reclines into a footwell. Unlike the Japan Airlines version, the foot well is relatively spacious, and I had no issues having a comfortable rest throughout my flight.

Footwell

Underneath the foot well is another compartment, good for storage of your shoes during the flight. The good thing is that the seat doesn’t not have a calf rest segment, so as you recline whatever you left on the floor will not get crushed.

On the side of the seat closest to the aisle is also an adjustable armrest. During take off and landing this has to be stowed to seat level, but during the flight itself this can be brought up to your elbow level for your comfort.

Entertainment screen

The in-flight entertainment system screen is stowed to the back of the forward seat. To use it, you will have to press a release catch, and then swivel the screen towards you. As screens need to be stowed during take-off and landing, this means that you will be unable to use the screens at all during these times, which is a significant disadvantage of this configuration.

Another way to control the screen is to use the remote control stowed to the side of the seat. Along with it you will also find the headphone jacks, a USB socket and a power socket. There’s also a reading light should you need one.

Seat controls, power sockets

Each seat is also provided with a pair of slippers, as well as a comforter. The slippers were trending towards the thin side, but comfortable nonetheless.

Comforter and slippers

Amenity kit

For the current season, Finnair partnered Marimekko for its amenity kit. In the kit was an eyeshade that’s of the same design as the pouch. You will also find a dental kit, ear plugs and a lip balm enclosed for your comfort during the flight.

Marimekko amenity kit

Thankfully, Finnair has moved away from the previous loud and gaudy design for its in-flight amenities and opted for a classier finish.

The meal service

One little known fact: Finnair has cabin crew based in Singapore, and uses this set of crew for flights between Helsinki and Singapore. You will be hard pressed to find Finnish speaking crew on these flights, but of course, most Finns are fluent in English so the lack of Finnish language capabilities is hardly a problem.

Shortly after I have settled in, the cabin crew came around to offer a welcome drink of champagne, water or Finnair’s signature blueberry juice.

Pre-departure champagne

Finnair’s choice of champagne is the Joseph Perrier Brut NV, one of the lesser known champagne houses. It rates a paltry 3.9 on Vivino, and is also available for purchase in-flight for €27.

Similarly, all cabin crew were wearing face masks and rubber gloves when serving passengers. I can understand the nee for face masks and even shields, but I personally find the donning of rubber gloves very impersonal. It might be the type of gloves and even the way the gloves were worn that makes it look very shoddy, but it definitely doesn’t scream service.

Just before take off, the cabin crew serving my section came by to take my order for dinner. Seeing that I’m halfway through with my champagne, he offered to top it up for me, which I gladly obliged.

Physical menu cards were present, and for some people this is a semblance of pre-Covid normalcy and by extension, a new form of nostalgia.

Menu cards

Boarding was soon completed and the doors were closed. We remained at the aircraft stand for a long while as the cargo compartment was still busy with loading, and I fell asleep.

When I woke up again, I found that we were already in the air, with an hour past since the scheduled take off time. Almost like magic, my drinks – some water and a glass of champagne – which I ordered earlier were already served to me on the side console, along with a serve of salted almonds.

Drinks and nuts

About 15 minutes later, dinner was served. I made my choice of dinner earlier before the flight took off, as my order was taken during the rounds of drinks before take-off.

For those who are interested, this is the full menu:

To my surprise, the meal was served in a single tray, with the appetiser and main course presented together. There was also a mini salt and pepper shaker on the tray, as well as another empty plate for bread along with cutleries rolled up in a napkin.

Dinner service – Teriyaki chicken, eggplant with rice

I took a while to visually digest what was presented to me. The crew came around again with a basket of bread, with a selection of white bread rolls, brown sliced bread, or breadsticks. I went with a bread roll, which was fortunately warm.

The appetiser was minute – there were two prawns and two slices of halloumi – but incredibly tasty. Seafood was scarce in Germany, so prawns were the most delightful and refreshing for me.

The main on the other hand left much to be desired. I was craving rice (you can’t take me out of Asia but you can’t take the Asian out of me), and went for the grilled chicken and eggplant on rice, which turned out pretty disappointing. The grilled chicken was not the offending one although the portion was pretty minuscule, but the rice was definitely overheated to the point of being hard and dried out. Definitely a wrong bet.

When I was done with the meal, my tray along with the tablecloth was cleared promptly, before the crew brought around a tiny serve of the apple tart dessert i chose beforehand. Again, I was rather disappointed, I must say, having had excellent apple pies during my stay in Deutscheland.

Dessert – Apple pie

Overall, the meal was a little underwhelming in all aspects, from taste, to portion and presentation. I definitely didn’t feel well fed.

I can imagine for hearty eaters, the portion will definitely be insufficient. Normally this wouldn’t pose a problem given that most travellers would have eaten something in the lounge, but if the lounge was going to be closed during the interim, more food would have been appreciated.

For my drink, I went with the Riesling, which tasted pretty tart in the cabin. I didn’t finish my wine.

Exhausted and tired, I fell asleep almost immediately after the meal and slept for a good 4-5 hours.

As i woke up mid-flight so as to start adjusting my body clock to the Singapore time zone, I went to the galley to stretch my legs and hoping to get a coffee. Unfortunately I found no one there, so I returned to my seat and hit the call button instead.

Another crew member came around within the minute. I asked for a cappuccino and also asked what snacks were available, to which he told me he wasn’t sure what’s on board and he had to check. He went to the galley, and returned with my cappuccino shortly as well as a small selection of snacks, comprising gummy bears, a granola bar, Pringles potato chips and peanuts.

Based on anecdotal feedback, they used to carry cup noodles on this flight but not in recent months. Hence, there wasn’t any hot food available, so you might be out of luck if you need something warm to munch on.

Mid-flight snack

I do have a gripe about this particular crew member though. He was probably standing in while the first crew member went for his shift rest. Each time I made an order, he was really quick to want to walk away to fetch the drink, but always before I had finished my order. More than once I had to stop him from leaving, and it increasingly became annoying because it made me felt like I was bothering him.

Thankfully, the first crew member came back in time for breakfast service, and I was most happy to see him again. Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing. Before food, the cheery crew – obviously refreshed from his rest – came by with a hot towel, as well as a glass of finnair’s famed blueberry juice. I took a sip and was blown away, and probably had three servings of it throughout breakfast.

Blueberry juice

Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing. As a result of Covid, Finnair has moved away from a customised breakfast service where you get a breakfast card and select whether you want to wake up for a full breakfast or an express breakfast, but instead chooses to serve the same for all passengers.

Breakfast

Breakfast was a simple platter, with fruits, cold cuts, cheeses, scrambled eggs, hashbrown and sauteed vegetables. In my opinion this was probably a bigger meal than supper.

On board internet

Finnair provides in-flight internet across its entire fleet, including its single aisle aircraft, which makes it one of the leading European carriers in terms of wifi provision.

Internet access

The airline has gone with Viasat as its provider, which I understand has better speeds than both SITA OnAir and Panasonic, which Singapore Airlines uses on its fleet. The downside is that the coverage is not as good, so there are significant parts of the journey where wifi coverage is not available.

Internet speed

Pay per use rates are not expensive, with three options to choose from:

  • €7.95 for 1 hour
  • €11.95 for 3 hours
  • €19.95 for the entire flight

Needless to say, the pricing is best for the entire flight, averaging €1.7 per hour.

Business class passengers, along with Finnair Plus Gold members get an hour’s internet for free, while Finnair Plus Platinum and Platinum Lumo gets free internet for the entire flight. Beyond the complimentary provisions you will have to pay for a new allowance.

In-flight entertainment

Finnair’s entertainment system was pretty functional. I made a rough count and there are about 100 movies and 70 TV shows, so definitely sufficient content to last you through one flight. As with most European carriers they don’t carry a lot of Asian content, so that might be a downside for some travellers.

There is also a good selection of music and games, as well as an online shopping screen to browse the limited selection Finnair carries on their flights.

Final thoughts

Overall the flight was okay. The Finnair’s A350 business class seat is functional and fit for a long journey, but with this seat type being found on so many other carriers, it is practically nothing memorable.

Nonetheless, if you compare it to other European airlines, the seat definitely ranks far higher, and has good ancillary services such as good (and free!) wifi, and a fairly functional entertainment system.

Catering is passable, but lacking in both quantity and presentation for a business class product on a long haul flight if you compare them to what some Asian carriers offer. Service from the Singapore-based cabin crew is also rather inconsistent, and really boils down to the luck of the draw.

Nonetheless, Finnair is still a strong option particularly, if you are looking to burn some frequent flyer points out of Asia. The sweet spot it seats geographically also means that you can potential save quite a bit of miles or points when flying between Asia and Europe, so remember to do your homework. Finnair also run very compelling sale offers even in Business class from time to time, so that also makes it a strong contender for transcontinental travel.

Singapore switches VTL on-arrival testing to ART; reduces travel history requirements

On-arrival tests changed from PCR to ART; travel history requirements shortened to 7 days

Singapore earlier this week announced a slew of changes to the way it manages its Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore, and along with it made some key changes to travel requirements as well.

These changes are largely in a positive direction, including using cheaper testing requirements, and simplification of how it categorises source countries.

Cheaper ART test for VTL on-arrival testing

From 22 Feb 2022, VTL and Category I travellers will no longer need to perform an on-arrival PCR test. Instead, they will have up to 24 hours from their entry into Singapore to take a supervised self-swab ART at one of the testing centres (Combined Test Centres (CTCs) or Quick Test Centres (QTCs)) located across Singapore.

Supervised testing centre

In addition, the current enhanced testing regime requiring VTL travellers to take self-administered Antigen Rapid Test (ART) from Day 2 to Day 7 will also cease.

This change will see travellers save at least S$110 on testing, further lowering the costs of travelling into Singapore.

For those who were originally arriving on or after 22 Feb 2022 and booked a PCR test at Changi Airport through Changi Airport Safe Travel Concierge, you will be given a refund in the coming days, less a S$3 processing fee.

Note that you will be required to self-isolate until you get a negative result on the ART test at the test centre, so it’s best to book early.

No more testing requirements for transit passengers

In another critical development, transit passengers are also no longer required to take any form of pre-departure tests from 22 Feb 2022 if they are transiting in Singapore.

In tandem with the other adjustments to travel measures, CAAS will also be removing the pre-departure test requirements for all passengers transferring or transiting through Singapore. This will help reduce cost, improve convenience and enhance Singapore’s attractiveness as a transfer/transit hub.

The changes will apply to all flights arriving in Singapore from 21 February 2022, 2359 hours (Singapore Time), regardless whether the flight is a designated VTL flight.

CAAS

Note that this waiver only applies for passengers who are booked on a single ticket through Changi Airport. If passengers self-connect (i.e. booked two separate tickets) and have to pass through immigration, the prevailing rules (whether VTL or non-VTL) will apply, including test and quarantine requirements.

Previously, transit passengers are also required to produce a negative PCR or ART (only for Category I, II and III countries) test taken within two days before their flight. This has posed some challenges for some travellers, given the increasing number of countries – in particular European countries – that have completely done away with pre-departure tests.

With the scrapping of the transit testing requirement from 22 Feb 2022, passengers flying through Changi Airport will no longer need to carry a test result, unless of course their final destination requires it. 

Simplification of travel categories

In addition to the changes in testing requirements when travelling to Singapore, the authorities have also simplified how it categorises countries when travelling to Singapore.

The least restrictive Category I will remain as it is, and continue to enjoy quarantine-free entry into Singapore. Category I countries include China, Chinese territory of Macau, and Taiwan. Hong Kong has unfortunately been ‘demoted’ to Category II.

Similar to VTL travellers, travellers from Category I countries will also no longer be required to take a PCR test on arrival, instead they will also be required to take a supervised ART at an approved test centre within 24 hours of arrival.

Categories II, III, and IV will be combined into a single General Travel category. To this end, the SHN period for non-VTL travel from these countries will be standardised to 7 days, and can be taken at either a hotel of choice or a private residence.

A new category, Restricted countries/regions, will be introduced to allow for imposition of stricter measures where necessary.

Final thoughts

These changes are definitely good developments, with travel to become less restrictive and cost prohibitive.

The switch to post-arrival ART test from the current PCR testing regime is probably the most celebrated change; this alone will result in a S$110 savings, significant when travelling from a nearby country.

However, one key hassle in this new arrangement is the requirement to visit a test centre after arrival, as well as the need to isolate until you have received your negative result.

The simplification of the country categorisation, along with the shortening of travel history consideration (from 14 to 7 days) and the standardisation of SHN period is also another positive move. Travel today has been made complex, so any consolidation is always good news and easier to navigate.

Regardless, these moves are another step to the reopening of Singapore as a travel hub, and opened up even more travel opportunities and options for Singapore residents, even as we continue to inch towards a semblance of normalcy for international travel once more.