Sunday, 7 April 2013

Highlights of SQ345

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Date: Sunday, 03 Jul 11
Aircraft: 9V-SKC, Airbus A380
Seat: 78K
Departure Gate: E59

Scheduled Departure Time: 1145 LT
Boarding Time: 1105 LT
Taxi Out: 1149 LT
Takeoff: 1213 LT on runway 16

Scheduled Arrival Time: 0555 LT
Touchdown: 0545 LT on runway 20R
Actual Arrival Time: 0549 LT
Arrival Gate: A10

23 Days of Sun, Snow and Fun

The oft-heard saying that time flies when having fun can't be more true when we took our last train ride on a S-bahn train to Kloten to check in for our final night of rest on this Europe adventure. We had chosen Hotel Allegra which is located near the airport due to its convenient location, and would help save us a costly ride to the airport since we no longer had a valid Swiss Pass or Eurail Pass. It was one of the best accommodations that we had during our trip, and the room rate for the 4-star rated property was a bargain as we paid half of the usual marketed tariff by booking through hostelworld.com.

Upon noticing the brilliant morning sunlight, our group decided to skip breakfast at the hotel lobby (which is not included in the room tariff) and elected to head to the airport earlier for spotting. Hotel Allegra provides a complimentary airport shuttle for their guests and is operated by a Volkswagen midibus with a luggage trailer. Despite the bright morning sunlight and that it was approaching the middle of summer, the temperature was at a cool 13 degrees Celsius.

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After a short 8-minute ride, we were dropped off at the ground floor near Dock A and we proceeded to the departure level of Check-In 2 (Dock B where the check-in row for Singapore Airlines was located).
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Although it was 5 hours before the scheduled departure time, we decided to try our luck at early check-in to free ourselves of our check-in luggage. However, we were politely informed by the ever-courteous staff at the information counter that the counters would only be opened 3 hours before hand.

Zürich Kloten Airport

The development of Zürich Kloten airport could be traced back to 1948 when the first commercial flight was operated by a Swissair DC-4 at the current site after Dübendorf Airfield was solely delegated for military use. Since then, the airport had undergone a series of expansions and reconstructions to its current form today. Dock B (Check-In 2) forms the oldest part of the terminal building today and the check-in for international flights is located in this area. Completed in 1976, the dock handled international flights until the midfield terminal was completed in 2009. The finger pier structure of Dock B had since been demolished and rebuilt, and was reopened in December 2011 to service Schengen flights.

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We decided to split into two groups, with one group heading to Parking 3 to spot aircrafts while the other group chose to have a sit-down breakfast and photograph the buses and trams that call at the Airport Transit Centre.

Transport Hub

Apart from being Switzerland's busiest airport, Zürich Flughafen is an important transport hub for the northern Glattal, Furttal, Effretikon and Volketswil suburbs of the city. The main public bus operator that service the airport is VBG (Glattalbus) while PostAuto and Stadtbus Winterthur also call at the transport hub.
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Upcoming departures of trains, trams and buses are displayed in the passenger terminal building leading to the Airport Transit Centre. One of the highlights of Zürich's excellent public transportation system is the seamless integration of information across different transport modes.
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VBG Service 10 provides another alternative from the SBB-CFF-FFS Intercity trains and VBZ S-bahn trains for visitors who wish to head into the city centre Zürich. One of the operator's Be 5/6 Cobra tram was photographed approaching the Zürich Flughafen stop.
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A Mercedes Benz Citaro v1 of VBG was photographed departing Zürich Flughafen on Kloten feeder Service 733.
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PostAuto Service 520 provides twice hourly connections between Embrach-Rorbas Bahnhof and Zürich Flughafen using articulated buses. A Mercedes Benz Citaro G was photographed entering Zürich Flughafen.
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An Austrian registered Neoplan Cityliner coach operated by Tanzberger Reisen was also photographed at the transport hub.
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A large billboard mounted on the south side of Parking 3 promotes SQ's new business class product on the A380. Singapore Airline's Singapore - Zürich route was initially operated by the B747-400 before it was switched to the B777-300ER and the two daily B77W flights were finally combined to a single daily A380 rotation in March 2010.
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Aviation Hub & Spotting at Zürich Kloten Airport

Zürich-Kloten airport serves as the main hub of operation for the national carrier, Swiss Intl Airlines (LX) and an important destination for a variety of US and Asian airlines as a gateway to the country and Central Europe. Heading out from the departure level, we admired a lineup of narrowbody aircraft from Swiss Intl Airlines and other operators on the ramp before the morning wave of departures to regional destination (with the exception of PrivatAir which operated on behalf of Swiss Intl Airlines to Newark).
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The airport is also famed among aviation enthusiasts for the number of good spotting locations located around the airport complex. On weekends, landings are only conducted on runway 34 from 6am to 9am except in cases of exceptionally strong cross or tail wind as part of the noise abatement procedures.

Thai Airways A340-600 HS-TNC arriving in the brilliant early morning sunshine. As Zürich is located in a the middle of a valley, it can be a challenge to get good weather during one's visit. The weather conditions also change quickly throughout the day.
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A familiar sight in a foreign land. Singapore Airlines A380 9V-SKC on final approach for runway 34 as SQ346 from Singapore. She would later turnaround to operate our flight back to Singapore as SQ345.
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Delta Airlines B767-300ER N153DL. All the US carriers that operate into Zürich uses the highly versatile B767 family of aircraft.
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US Airways B767-200ER N245AY on final approach in less than desirable lighting conditions.
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Lufthansa B737-300 D-ABEM from Frankfurt.
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KLM Cityhopper ERJ-190-100 PH-EZH departing on an early morning flight to Amsterdam-Schipol (AMS). I certainly miss the old Fokkers which had used to operate on this route!
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Edelweiss A320 HB-IHZ soon followed suit for departure on runway 34. The company's aircraft feature the Edelweiss flower prominently in its livery.
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Air Berlin A319 HB-IOY still retained the company's old livery when this photograph was taken.
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Swiss Intl Airlines Avro RJ100 HB-IYU with a Star Alliance special scheme.
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Swiss Intl Airlines A319 HB-IPT taxies out on another morning regional flight.
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Helvetic operates a fleet of Fokker 100, such as HB-JVC as photographed below.
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Adria Airways CRJ-900 S5-AAL arriving from Ljubljana (the capital city of Slovenia).
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HB-IZG Saab 2000 operated by Darwin Airlines.
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In addition to aircraft, it was also possible to obtain photos of the apron buses which shuttle passengers to the aircraft parked at the remote bays. Zürich-Kloten Airport operates all three generations of the locally built COBUS apron buses. In addition, the buses are also adorned with a full body advertisement to promote the tourism authority's latest campaign 'Discover the Plus'. Different variants of the advertisement feature different cityscapes and natural scenery in the country.
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Check-In

After re-grouping, we proceeded to the check-in queue to check-in at the rows located near Dock B for our flight.
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An entire check-in row of 11 counters had been dedicated to process passengers for our flight and reduce the waiting time. We were directed to the next available counter after a 10-minute wait and our hand luggage was weighed and tagged.
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As we had focused on keeping the check-in luggage within the 20kg allowance, we had earlier transferred some of the contents to our hand carry. Unfortunately, the check-in staff was very adamant in ensuring that our hand carry conform to the strict allowance of 7kg and requested us to repack the contents into our check-in luggage (which she didn't mind if it was slightly over the allowance). Satisfied that our carry-on baggage had met the requirements after close to 10 minutes of repacking in front of the check-in counter, we were finally given our boarding passes with the seats which we had reserved earlier. The coloured sticker on the boarding pass indicates the boarding zone that the seat is located in.
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Singapore Airlines flight SQ345 to Singapore is codeshared with the carrier's other Star Alliance partners - Swiss International Airlines, US Airways and LOT Polish Airlines.
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The entrance to the restricted area is located at Dock A and this necessitated a trek back across to the eastern end of the terminal building. In what is perhaps an innovative crowd control solution, the boarding pass check is separated into two storeys of the terminal building to double the handling capacity. We bade a fond farewell to a travelling companion who would be continuing his holiday to Spain and Portugal before returning to Australia.
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After our boarding passes were verified and a flyer promoting the airport's duty-free shopping was conveniently slipped into our documents, we were let into the Schengen area. The “double deck” boarding pass check facility also doubled the available retail space and passengers are channeled into a corridor that is flanked by duty free shops on both side. It is perhaps not surprising that there are an overwhelming number of shops selling confectionary and chocolates!
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The modern glass fronted facade on the airside allowed for an expansive view of the schengen apron (Dock A & B) and also admitted natural light into the terminal building.
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The reconstruction of Dock B had been completed in Dec 2011 and now houses a new viewing mall on the roof.
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The A pier is currently used to handle Schengen flights to intra-EU destinations. Austrian Airlines A319 OE-LDG 'Tbilisi' pushing back for her flight to Vienna.
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A close-up of the nose of Swiss Intl Airlines A320 HB-IJD being pushed back from her gate.
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The full height glass windows also allowed passengers and enthusiasts to watch 'heavies' bound for intercontinental destinations climb out of runway 16 in the brilliant morning summer sun. United Airlines B767-300ER N656UA adorned in the carrier's latest post-merger livery which featured United titles being added atop Continental's base colours.
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Swiss Intl Airlines A330-300 HB-JHD departing from runway 16.
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American Airlines B767-300ER N381AN with blended winglet modification. It was also my very first time personally seeing and photographing an AA aircraft. The eye-catching polished bare metal finish did not disappoint, and this photo was certainly one of the most memorable aircraft photos for the year. Unfortunately, AA had since introduced a new corporate identity which had did away with the signature bare metal finish on the aircraft.
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Following which, we proceeded down to the basement where the passport control for flights departing from the midfield terminal is located. It was a breeze clearing through immigration as there were no queues and was as hassle-free as we had experienced on our arrival 3 weeks ago. After immigration clearance, passengers were directed to the Skymetro people mover system which shuttled passengers to the midfield terminal which handles international non-schengen flights. We spent some time documenting the unique inter-terminal transportation system with our cameras and watched with amazement as the automated cable-car system whisked passengers with typical Swiss efficiency.

The Skymetro is a 1.1km long people mover system connecting the midfield terminal (Gates E) with the main terminal building.
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Rather than an on-board electric motor, it is propelled by a moving cable and is thus technically classified as a cable car. Another unique feature is the use of air cushion like a hovercraft rather than wheels for a smoother ride.
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Crowded Skymetro station at the midfield terminal with the wave of long haul arrivals in the morning from the USA.
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The security check was divided into two areas with one area for flights parked at the northern end of the terminal and another for the southern end. A total of 5 lines were in operation with an average queue of ten minutes. Following which, passengers were directed to another set of escalators which led to the departure level of the midfield terminal. The boarding passes of passengers were further checked at two mobile counters that were set up near the holding area.
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Gate E59 had been specially adapted to service the A380 and features three aerobridges to facilitate the boarding of passengers. A large poster at the gate guides passengers of the boarding sequence and the colours on the poster correspond to that pasted on the boarding passes during check-in. Boarding was called 40 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time and lit signs as well as LCD displays at the gate entrance help to inform passengers of the boarding sequence.
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Boarding was called 40 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time and lit signs as well as LCD displays at the gate entrance help to inform passengers of the boarding sequence.
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Gate E59 had been specially adapted to service the A380 and features three aerobridges to facilitate the boarding of passengers.
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Ground handling staff were also stationed along the aerobridges to guide passengers towards the correct aerobridge for their seat number.
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While walking through the aerobridge, we also spotted an untitled Fokker 100 4O-AOL which was operating for Montenegro Airlines..
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The Flight

We were not particularly satisfied with rows 74 and 75 on our outbound flight and were thus glad that we had chosen different rows for our return sector. To our delight, we discovered that rows 77 and 78 had the windows aligned correctly with the seat and both rows had functional side stowage bins - something which not all of us managed to enjoy on the outbound journey. The economy class menus and amenity kits were swiftly distributed after the bulk of the passengers had settled down.
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A hot towel service followed soon after where the extra effort made in serving piping hot towels (instead of lukewarm) to help passengers to freshen up before the flight was very much appreciated. The cockpit crew soon came on the PA system and informed passengers that the initial cruise altitude would be at 35,000ft and light turbulence would be expected for the first four hours of the flight. As with the outbound sector, the onboard announcements were provided in both English and Deutsch.

Pushback was approved 4 minutes after our scheduled departure time and extra care was taken by the ground crew to avoid clipping the A380's 79m long wingspan against the terminal building or adjacent aircraft. Following which, the four Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines spooled up and the sheer quietness as compared to other widebody aircraft was remarkable. As an indication of the amount of hydraulic power that was required to power the control surfaces on the world's largest passenger aircraft, an audible thump was heard throughout the cabin each time the hydraulic power system was turned on and the ailerons were reset in turn to its neutral position.

Shortly after we started to taxi out towards the threshold of runway 16 for departure, the ground crew wasted no time in towing in a Thai Airways A340-600 (HS-TNC) into the gate that we had just vacated. I could not help but imagine that I would be flying in that slender Airbus instead if everything had went according to plan! The short taxi was excruciatingly slow and we were overtaken by a United Airlines B767-300ER along the way (which had for unknown reasons, later aborted its take-off roll and returned to gate).

A last look at Switzerland. I would be sure to miss the great service, breathtaking scenery, a truly world class transport system, and the succulent rosti!
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A former Air Afrique DC-8-53 TU-TCP now serves as a training aid for the airport's fire service near the threshold of runway 16.
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After the experience on the outbound flight, we were dearly hoping that the less than sterling performance of the aircraft was perhaps a one-off event. Unfortunately, we were disappointed once again as the heavy aircraft shuddered violently after rotation and visibly struggled to gain speed as it clawed into the air.

A large number of onlookers and enthusiasts had turned up at the Heliport Grill Area spotting location to photograph the rotation of our aircraft on a relatively rare sunny day.
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Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft made a steep left hand turn to head east and passengers seated on the right side of the aircraft were treated to an impressive vista of the Swiss Alps.
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Snack service soon commenced and passengers had a choice of drink and were presented with two packets of peanuts. One of us had also supplemented the snack with a muffin which he had earlier grabbed from an airport cafe as he had decided to forgo breakfast while spotting aircraft at the carpark earlier!
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A choice of braised beef in garlic tomato sauce with sautéed vegetables and polenta or Gaeng Phed Kai was offered to economy class passengers for lunch. Gaeng Phed Kai is “Thai style red curry chicken with Asian vegetables and steamed rice” and did not disappoint us. The dish was well-heated and the spicy chicken pieces were also not overly dry as well. The only downside was that the portion was rather small but it would be a challenge to request for a second helping as the economy class cabin was totally full. Potato salad with turkey bacon was served as an appetizer. The ingredients were fresh and the ham was not overly salty. It was also noted that drinks were served in a cup and passengers were not handed the full can unless a specific request was made.
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As the crew came around to collect the trays, passengers were also handed a small tub of Movenpick chocolate ice cream and had their drinks refilled. It was certainly a wonderful dessert to top off the spicy meal as we indulged in the smooth texture and rich chocolate flavour of the Swiss made confectionary while watching a movie on the IFE system.
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Singapore Airlines offered an interesting selection of locally made movies on its IFE system to mark Singapore's National Day. In the July programming, the works by one of Singapore's leading film director Royston Tan were shown as well as other recent Singapore hits such as It's a Great Great World. The movie features scenes and stories from Great World, a prominent entertainment venue in Singapore back in 1960s and 70s.
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Apart from the usual Hollywood blockbuster hits, SQ also features a very interesting selection of Japanese movies. Hankyu Railway – A 15-Minute Miracle is shown in Japanese with English subtitles and had a truly engaging storyline and plot. The movie shows a grandmother and her granddaughter travelling on the Imazu line which connects the cities of Nishinomiya and Takarazuka in Japan. During the 15-minute journey of the duo, the movie focuses on the different stories of the passengers in the train, such as a woman who wore a white gown as a form of revenge to a wedding of her ex-lover and ended up touching the life of another passenger who was being bullied by her schoolmates. It was interesting to note the finesse at which the director had managed to combine several seemingly disparate plotlines together to form a touching story which had us riveted to the screen for the entire 119 minutes.
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Our route through continental Europe took us through Austria, Hungary, Romania where the aircraft further climbed to FL370 over the Black Sea before continuing on towards Georgia & Azerbaijan. This was followed by overflying the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and it was dusk when we overflew the mountainous region of Afghanistan.
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A snack was served four hours before arrival and passengers were invited to grope for one of the several snack options from a basket in the pitch dark cabin. Apples, chocolate muesli bars, potato chips and sandwiches were available to stave off the hunger pangs. However, a self-service bar located at the back of the cabin might be a much better option to give passengers a choice of the time that they would wish to snack.
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The orange mood lighting from the business class cabin in front seeped through under the curtains as our aircraft overflew the Andaman Islands and the lights in the economy cabin were snapped on shortly after. A hot towel service was offered to passengers and a hot breakfast was served 1 hour 45 minutes prior to arrival. A choice of egg roll with vegetables, veal chipolata, tomato and potatoes or braised egg noodles with barbeque pork, black mushroom and Chinese greens was offered. Some of us chose the Asian option again due to dietary restrictions. The char siew was tasteless and overpowered by the smell and taste of the coriander leaves which were sprinkled on the dish as a garnish. The noodles, while bland, had a satisfactory texture to it and the vegetables were also rather decent. Sweet pineapple cubes, melon and papaya were also served as an appetizer although the black grapes were of the non-seedless variety. The buns were not warmed but not rock hard and orange juice was served as a “default” drink without asking passengers for their choice.
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As the cabin was prepared for arrival into Singapore, we noted a glitch on the airshow system where it appeared that the aircraft had went into a wormhole while overflying Afghanistan and re-emerged in the middle of the Indian Ocean!
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The unexpected “detour” had also affected the accuracy of the information presented in the Airshow as well which showed that we had flown halfway across the world in the past 12 hours with a supersonic average speed. The Channel NewsAsia news ticker tape at the bottom of the screen is a new feature which can be activated or deactivated by pressing top right hand side button of the handset.
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Final approach into Singapore Changi Airport runway 20R.
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We made a firm landing ten minutes ahead of schedule and made a quick taxi to our parking position at Gate A10. A last look at row 78 on the upper deck. Singapore Airlines now utilises the newer A380s on the Zürich route which do not have an economy class at the rear of the upper deck.
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Being Singapore citizens, immigration clearance was swift by using the automated lanes and this was followed by a lengthy wait at the baggage carousel for our check-in baggage. Singapore Changi Airport has set a benchmark for ensuring that the first bag appears on the belt within 15 minutes after the arrival of the aircraft at the gate. However, it seemed that while this standard was still met, many passengers would often see the same few bags making several circuits of the baggage reclaim belt before the next batch of bags were released after an additional 10-15 minutes!
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With our arrival in Singapore, it marked the end of our 3-week sojourn. Even though the itinerary was intense and packed at times, the trip was certainly one of an adventure that would be etched in our minds and hearts. From the mountainous scenery of Switzerland to the Italian coast and the old Maltese classic buses – it was truly a trip of a lifetime that we would remember for years to come.

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Special thanks to my 4 travelling companions on this trip, and especially HR for all the editorial and research assistance that went into the posts.


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