Qatar Airways A350-1000 Delivery Flight Experience

The day had been looming since mid-2007. At some point in the future, the first ever Airbus A350-1000 aircraft would leave Toulouse. It wasn’t until 2012, however, that it became clear where this flight would depart to. On December 3rd, Qatar and Airbus announced that the original order of 20 Airbus A350-800 aircraft was to be converted into three -900 variants and 17 -1000s. From that moment on, the clock was ticking.

The original plan was to deliver the aircraft towards the end of 2017 but due to the ‘unbelievably high standards’ of CEO Akbar Al Baker, the fitting of ‘Q Suites’ (Qatar’s new state of the art business class) on the aircraft delayed the delivery further. On January 22nd, it was rumoured by Reuters that the delivery would take place towards the end of February. They were correct.

Once I knew that I would be onboard the ferry flight to Doha and the surrounding celebrations, I was overcome with excitement. This was to be my very first delivery flight and I couldn’t wait to work alongside Qatar Airways for the first time, too.

On Tuesday 20th February, I flew out to the Airbus factory in Toulouse where I was met by an Airbus chauffeur who shuttled me straight to a press conference hosted by Qatar and Airbus. It was here that Al Baker announced that they are considering converting some of the -900 orders to the larger -1000 so as to receive even more of the larger variant. The conference was also special as it was Fabrice Brégier’s last day as Airbus President.

The press conference was hosted by Airbus, Qatar and Rolls Royce

So What Makes the -1000 Different?

In basic terms, the A350-1000 is a bigger version of the -900 model. It features a larger cabin and new Trent XWB 97 engines. The engine differs from the XWB 84 model in that it delivers an extra 13,000lb of thrust to carry the bigger jet. The engines are made by Airbus’ trusted partner Rolls Royce.  The major difference, however, is that the -1000 jets are all fitted with the new Q Suite product, unlike the old -900s. This is, however, about to change as Al Baker announced that all future aircraft deliveries apart from the 787s will be Q Suite fitted. The 787 will also feature an upgraded product, he announced. He also confirmed that First class will stay on the A380 but not feature on any other aircraft.

The Trent 97 is HUGE

Tuesday:

After landing in Toulouse and attending the press conference, we were whisked off to the Airbus Delivery Centre where we visited A7-ANA, the first ever A350-1000 aircraft to be delivered to an airline. My first impressions of the aircraft were positive. As we walked around the jet you could sense it was new by the way that everything was as clean as a whistle. The aircraft really was beautiful. As we entered the plane I was hit with a strong smell: new aircraft. If you have ever had a chance to smell an aircraft which is just months old then you will know what I’m talking about! If not, I’m not crazy, don’t worry.

Ultimate cleanliness for the tour

The visit on Tuesday was a really great chance to check out how the product looked so here is my review of both cabins:

Business Class Q Suite

In Tuesday’s press conference, Al Baker and Brégier both pressed the point of how revolutionary the Q Suite was. When I got on board, I finally knew what they were talking about. The Q Suite has a fantastic look to it and is a massive upgrade from the old business class product. The suites feature full privacy with sliding doors, bigger TV screens, hi-tech electronic blinds and are pretty damn comfy, too.

The revolutionary Q Suite product

The Q Suite layout is designed in such a way that a double bed can be made out of the two middle suits if travelling with a partner and a small meeting room can also be made. By lowering the middle blinds, four people can join tables to make a large one in the middle. By keeping the blinds on the sides up, a fully private meeting room is created. Genius.

The dividers are moved on request to create the conditions you want

The idea behind the Q Suite truly is revolutionary and it requires you to see it in person to really appreciate it. The Q Suite covers rows 1 to 12 and the configuration is 1-2-1.

Economy Class

The economy class on the A350 also really impressed me. With no premium economy product, the two economy cabins have the task of impressing those who normally would choose premium. In a typical 3-3-3 configuration, the seats are slimline and modern.

A standard 3-3-3 configuration. Very spacious feel.

The seat pitch felt sufficient when I tried it (albeit mid-flight for about 5 minutes) and width was more than acceptable. Because of the slimline seats and clean feel to the aircraft, the cabin felt really spacious which I liked. The economy class fills up the rear two cabins. As someone who has flown a lot of premium economy, I thought the cabin felt fantastic and is on par with many of the premiums I have flown.

Great look to the cabin too!

Once our tour was over, we headed back to the hotel and prepared to finish our evening in quite some manner. We were all brought back to the Delivery Centre where we were offered champagne and little snacks that made me feel as pompous as ever (they did taste incredible though…) before entering into the dining hall for a wonderful dinner and unbelievable light show.

Gatecrashing the big boys at the Gala!

The aircraft was revealed in a spectacular performance of strobe lighting and then the drama came inside as projectors lit up our tables in incredible fashion. It was truly spectacular.

The stunning light show blew my mind!

Delivery Flight:

Having been out the night before at the Gala it was incredibly hard getting up at 4.00am to head back to the Delivery Centre. So hard, in fact, that I didn’t do it. After waking up half an hour late I dashed outside, got a taxi and paid an extortionate fee to arrive for check-in. The irony was, however, that my taxi driver drove so fast that I actually arrived earlier than everyone else!

The Delivery Centre has its own little check in area with two desks. We all queued in excitement, got our boarding passes and seats then ventured upstairs to where we had attended the Gala party just five hours previously.

Check in queues!

Laid out for us was a very spectacular spread of pastries and nibbles with small bar areas to get coffees and juices. A really professional looking layout, I thought.

Some small snacks for us!

Once we had eaten I went through the small security lines and boarded my first ever delivery flight! Exciting right? The atmosphere was fantastic; a good mix of journalists and excited young bloggers meant that wherever you were on the plane you had a wide variety of people to chat with and share your enthusiasm.

My seat for the 7-hour ferry flight was 6J, a window seat in the larger front cabin. The crew were amazing in showing me around. They began by offering me a drink, hot towel and asking about my food preferences before showing me around my seat and telling me all about the features of the Q Suite.

Going non-alcoholic lasted for an impressive one drink

What an impressive suite! One of my favourite features was the little area between my seat and the window. If you pull the tab it reveals a storage area but when down can be used as a table for your camera or bag. At one point it even became a seat for James until I kicked him out! With that said, the table area in front is already extremely impressive. With a little shelf below the actual table it provides plenty of storage space. Be sure to clear it before takeoff though or everything will fly off and hit you!

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We pushed back and departed Toulouse at around 9am so as to arrive in Doha in daylight for the press. Departing at 9am meant breakfast was served pretty much straight after takeoff. I opted for the ‘platter of seasonal cut fruits’ as a starter and the ‘cheddar cheese omelette with sausages’ for my main. The meal was really beautifully presented by the wonderful crew but took about 30 minutes to arrive! As this wasn’t an ordinary flight, however, I didn’t mind as I was up wondering the aircraft anyway.

Breakfast is served!

While walking around chatting to everyone it was amazing to see just how enthusiastic the Airbus and Qatar staff were. It was really nice to see just how confident they were in this new jet. As we neared the end, we were lucky enough to step inside the flight deck. This moment is one that I had wanted to do ever since I was a young child and it didn’t disappoint. Sitting in the flight deck at 41,000ft was amazing and I can’t thank Captain Konstantinos Iliakis enough for allowing the visit.

Childhood dream come true

My final meal came from the snack platter menu specially devised for this flight. It was a selection of meat, fish, vegetables and tasted even better than it looked.

A final meal. Excellent. I took the photo after greedily eating one piece of chicken. Oops.

As we descended into Doha we did something I have never done before. We descended to 1000ft and circled Corniche to show off the new plane! The views from the inside were spectacular. After Corniche we cruised towards Hamad airport where we performed a fly-by. Just as we neared the end of the runway, the captain applied full throttle and we powered out on another loop. It felt incredible from the inside.

The fly-by was spectacular

Upon touchdown in Doha we were met by the world’s media and airport staff. It was an amazing feeling to be part of the media team actually onboard the aircraft.

This flight was very special to me as it was my first ever delivery flight. I had an absolutely amazing time onboard the flight thanks to the amazing company and fantastic crew. I want to make a special mention to Daryn from the Philippines who treated me so nicely onboard. I will remember her for a very long time for sure!

I’d by lying if I said this shot was easily planned…

The A350 really is a remarkable aircraft. With the -1000 variant under their belt, Qatar are in a very strong position. The revolutionary Q Suite is a state of the art product that people will, undoubtedly, start to choose over other outdated business class products. Mix this with the fuel efficiency of operating the A350-1000 and I can see Qatar Airways increasing their dominant hold over luxury air travel in the future. Well done and thank you Qatar Airways.

 

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Be sure to check out some of my friends websites who were also on this trip!

Josh Cahil – gotravelyourway.com

Stefan Unterwegs – globaltraveler.tv

Brian Kelly and Zach Honig – thepointsguy.com

Sam Chui – samchui.com

 

London Southend: Simply Easier

During December of last year, I had the pleasure of passing through London Southend and receiving a tour of the airport’s fantastic facilities. The airport bases everything it does around the simple but effective slogan: ‘simply easier’. The strapline couldn’t be more apt. 

Although the airport in its current form is a new entrant to the aviation scene, Southend Airport has a deep rooted history. It originated as an airfield, in World War I and the airport was officially opened as a municipal airport on 18 September 1935. However, World War II reared its head and the airport was requisitioned by the Government’s Air Ministry – being referred to as RAF Rochford. Fast forward six decades, to 2008, and the airport was bought by the Stobart Group for £21 million. This is where the transformation began to form the best and fastest growing airport in the British capital.  Between 2008 and 2012, the airport underwent a game-changing transformation. As the replacement control tower began to operate, passenger flights returned in March 2011. In 2012, the runway extension was opened – allowing flights to destinations further afield like Lanzarote – an on-site railway station and, ultimately, the new airport terminal was opened by the Transport Secretary in February 2012.

Flybe & EasyJet are the largest clients at the airport.

To understand why Southend Airport is the Which? Best Ranked UK Airport for 4 years in a row, we have to look at its history. Whilst London Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and others have grown rapidly – they have experienced growing pains. After cobbling together new terminal buildings, all of which are now running at full capacity, most major British airports are bursting at the seams. But not Southend. London Southend was designed in 2008 – with the future in mind. It is built around the customer’s needs and conveniences. On the ground floor, you’ll find a land-side café, along with car hire desks and a handful of check-in desks. You then ascend the escalators and reach the security area. No signage is needed, because the process is so simple.

Southend has a rather ambitious target for it’s security checks. Their promise to you; pass through security in under 4 minutes. This is a pledge to customers Gatwick & Heathrow could only dream of. Sure enough, I was through security in not 4, but 2 minutes. As you exit security, you are presented with an airy mezzanine level, looking down on the departure lounge.

The departure lounge at Southend is strategically located next to the departure gates, with the passenger in mind

As if the LSA experience wasn’t relaxing enough, there is also the option to kick back in the SkyLife lounge.  While they don’t offer hot food, if you have a long layover the lounge can’t be beaten for a calm atmosphere and a feeling of exclusivity. The gates are located around the main departure lounge area. Whilst it is small, space has been found for all the necessities of modern travel. The obligatory airport WHSmith shop is present and so is a Duty Free section. The stylishly designed Bourgee (which I’m told is a favourite among TOWIE “stars”!) offers an inventive change from the usual airport eatery.

The swish Bourgee set-up!

Next to this is the Lakers Bar & Restaurant – inspired by the famous aviation entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker, whose Southend Airport connections go back to the 50s and 60s, with operators like Channel Air Bridge, when the airport was the third busiest in the UK. In tribute to Sir Freddie, you’ll find the walls of Lakers lined with images that recall the golden age of flight.

LSA’s biggest asset, though, is the on-site railway station. It is located literally steps from the airport terminal and offers up to eight trains per hour to central London. Liverpool Street is 53 minutes away – and you could reach East London in Stratford in just 44 minutes! From here, you can connect onto the vast TfL network (including Overground & Underground) and step off in central London. Anecdotally, I’ve heard people say “Southend Airport is in Essex – not London”. Firstly, none of the major London airports – apart from London City – are actually in London. Secondly, catching the Tube from Heathrow to Paddington takes as long as the transit from Southend. It is clear that this railway station essentially allowed Southend to call itself a London airport. When I spoke to the Marketing Manager about Southend’s status as a “London Airport”, the railway connection was the first thing he mentioned. The train has certainly been instrumental in Southend’s success.

easyJet on apron (c) London Southend Airport, 2017.jpg
EasyJet begun a 10-year partnership with LSA in 2011.

This year, Southend will welcome even more growth. After launching connections to Manchester, Dublin & Glasgow in October, Flybe will offer a new connection to the Belgian city of Antwerp from March. The new flights to Manchester & Dublin were crucial in allowing the population of the South East to avoid London altogether, instead flying from Southend and connecting to long haul flights from Dublin (using US Border Pre-Clearance) and Manchester. EasyJet will base another aircraft, launching flights to Bordeaux, Prague, Dubrovnik & Pula, and only today three new routes were announced with Air Malta. As London’s capacity crisis only grows, I hope London Southend can realise its potential with even more growth, while keeping it’s gold standard in customer service. I would have no hesitation about recommending Southend to anyone who is exasperated with the chaos of major airports.

Southend continues to attract new airlines, with it’s top-rated customer service

Southend Airport is also experiencing unprecedented growth; it is now considered to be the capital’s fastest growing airport. Flybe, operated by Stobart Air, and easyJet, already cover 34 popular domestic and European destinations including Amsterdam, Groningen, Prague, Budapest, Cologne, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Ibiza – all from London’s most punctual and most customer-friendly airport. However, in the announcement of a new partnership, Southend will offer it’s passengers access to three Mediterranean destinations. Air Malta will launch three destinations from London Southend, beginning this summer.

A new partnership will allow Southend to grow even more.

Specifically, they will operate:

  • Twice-weekly from Southend to Cagliari (Sardinia)
  • Twice-weekly from Southend to Catania (Sicily)
  • Three-weekly from Southend to Valetta (Europe’s 2018 Capital of Culture) on the island of Malta

The flights are already bookable on Air Malta’s website and start from just £35. Dr Charles Mangion, chairman of Air Malta believes these flights will not only benefit British travellers, but also Maltese, Sicilian and Sardinian tourists visiting London. Glyn Jones, the CEO of London Southend,  looks forward to providing an excellent service for it’s new customers. Ultimately, this is a big occasion for London Southend. They are benefitting from the endless capacity crisis amongst London’s larger airports and providing a real alternative – expanding their route portfolio.

 

February Guest Review: Moscow to Sochi on a Tupolev Tu-154

Background: Flying the Russian private “Diamond” airline to Sochi

Alrosa-Avia is a charter airline which is owned by diamond mining company “Alrosa”. The airline in its first name “Mirninskoye Aviapredpriyatie”  was founded few month later after Alrosa started mining expensive gems in 1992.

Alrosa’s Fleet

Now it operates a fleet consisting of 13 aircraft and thus can develop regular routes to such popular tourist destinations as Saint-Petersburg,  Krasnodar, Sochi, Tomsk, Ekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.

These flights are operated by Boeing 737-800s. But in the early ages, Alrosa faced a problem of transporting miners between home and work: Udachny and Mirny mines. Even until now it is the main function of the airline. As these airports are located literally in the middle of nowhere – the landing conditions there are awful – short runways with old, cracked concrete; essentially what could be described as the “Severe Russian north”. The only plane suitable for that kind of place is the Tupolev Tu-154 – the mighty “Tushka”…

These flights are closed for the mere mortals, but if you want to get on that hop anyway – be ready, the cost for that kind of ticket starts from 30.000 roubles, which is about £380 – and that’s only economy class. However, I was lucky when my flight from Moscow to Sochi was substituted for a Tupolev. The best part? The ticket was just £24.

Airport Experience: Domodedovo International

Domodedovo is one of three major Moscow airports. Modern, clean and following the 90 seconds experience rule. Most international flights depart from here. DME is also the base airport for Alrosa’s fleet. (apart from the 5 non-flying Tupolevs, which are stored at Mirny). Moscow Domodedovo would be where my journey began!

In-Flight: Moscow Domodedovo – Sochi

At 10:00 AM it was announced that the bus will take us from gate to the plane. The boarding was well organised and completed right in time, but it was rather easy as the plane was fulfilled for just one half. The bus has taken us to the faraway stand where the “Tushka” was parked. As bus doors opened, I realized that our plane for today’s flight is going to be the RA-85684  “The Hero of Izhma” – the famous Tupolev which was restored to the flying state after the emergency landing on the abandoned airfield of Izhma, caused by complete blackout during the flight.

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The plane is now painted in Alrosa’s fashionable livery and is still flying 7 years after the incident.

All of the aviation enthusiasts immediately start taking pictures of the great trijets exterior. Passengers got a little bit scared by the *klick-klick* sound of many cameras around. But they were about to find out, that this sound will follow them during the whole flight! As I enter the plane I’m met by the warm “Dobro pozhalovat na bort!” (welcome on board) from Elena Vladimirovna Razumova, who was awarded Order of Courage as the head flight attendant of the Izhma flight. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_Courage).

As she knows that the plane is going to be half empty, she offers me to choose any cabin to seat, but I decide to stay with my pre-checked-in place – 23F – as the best view on the wing is in the second cabin.

As I was the first to enter the plane I had some time to take a look on the cockpit and cabin interior. As you can see – one of the best features of old soviet seats is that the one in front of you can be easily folded if no one seats there! So, you can stretch your legs out in front of you; I took full advantage.

The boarding took us about 20 minutes, and after that our plane got towed to the starting position – I got my legs off the row in front and returned to the normal position.

We had a quick line up on the runway – and the engines of the trijet started “singing” in the take-off mode.

Finally, we are in the sky! And 30 minutes after takeoff the service has started! The food was simply amazing! Everything was packed into the sky blue lunch box – filled with different cold snacks or as we call them in Russia –  “zakuskas” (the sides for the vodka).

Alrosa’s Meal Service. I was very impressed!

In addition to the service above, you can have a second cup of any drink of your choice. A slightly odd exchange happened between me and the flight attendant!

FA: – What kind of juice do you want? The options are: apple, orange and tomato.

Me: – Apple juice, please!

FA: – OK. But you know, young man, You can easily drink apple juice at home, with comfort. People mostly choose tomato juice when flying on a plane. But no worries, I’ll give you the one you asked for…

After the meal, I began taking shots of those all important wing views. If you ever have the privilege to experience the Tu-154, the seats with the best views ever are 25A/F. Also, keep in mind, that rows 26/27/28… etc. aren’t suitable for any kind of photography – no windows there,  just a plain wall. I seized the opportunity to make a 360 degree inflight cabin tour of the rare Tupolev’s cabin.

The classic Tupolev wingview.

The flight to Sochi took us 2 hrs 02 minutes (too short a time on the Tu-154) and we arrived about 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time.

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This guest review was written by Innokenty Grigoriev. If you wish to apply for next month’s guest review, contact one of the team.

Worst A380 Economy? Qantas Flight Review

Our keen readers will remember that in my last flight review, I flew to Dublin and back for near to nothing with Ryanair. Last week I decided to step it up a notch and booked last minute on a super cheap return fare to Dubai with Qantas on the A380 superjumbo! With Qantas changing their base to Singapore in the coming months I jumped at the chance of getting on the A380 for such a bargain! The stage was set, I was to depart London Heathrow at midday on the Saturday, on QF10 to Melbourne, hop off at Dubai, and return to London 3 hours later on QF1!

It was the big day and I arrived at Heathrow a few hours early so decided to use the pay to enter lounge at Terminal 3, the No.1 lounge, of which I have visited before on my flight to Los Angeles. As it was before, the lounge was quite packed although I managed to grab a nice window view overlooking Runway 27L/09R. No.1 lets you have a free snack, ordered at the bar using your menu (of which you get the complimentary meal/snack). Usually you can pick from the likes of, Beans on Toast, Fish finger Sandwich etc. There are also other cold items on offer, of which you can help yourself. My service was of poor standard today and after a 30minute wait for my beans on toast it was apparent that they had been sent to the wrong table. After explaining this to the barman another one was ordered and after another 20minute wait I had my food. It had seemed they have significantly downsized the portions since my last visit, if I was only paying for entrance for the food, I do not think that at the price of £40 (for 3 hours) this is justifiable.

With 1-hour till boarding, I parted ways with the No.1 lounge and headed to gate 1, where my red A380 awaited me! When I arrived at the gate I still couldn’t believe I was soon to fly on this beast. I have never had the chance to fly the A380 before as most of the long-haul sector is dominated by the 777 and 787, but today was to be different! As I arrived at the gate, I got talking to the lead cabin manager for today’s flight and he sorted me pre-boarding so I could get shots of the empty cabin. Economy passengers are seated in the lower deck (in a 3-4-3 configuration), with a few rows at the back of the upper deck (in a 2-4-2 configuration). The economy product on Qantas is very poor in my opinion, it was designed during a time Qantas was in some tricky water, the seat pitch offered is 31’ and width 17.8’, the seat itself feels very old and the IFE was, well there is no other way of putting this, the worst I had ever used, but I’ll come back to that later.

But one thing I couldn’t fault was the crew – great hostesses made every passenger feel welcomed as they stepped on-board. Furthermore the cabin itself felt very roomy, signature to the A380. Awaiting me on my seat was a blanket, a pillow, and the worst headphones ever. There were some small cracks in the overhead panels above me, of which I could peep through and see the installation. These A380s are starting to show their age. All this was forgiven when I looked out of the window, just WOW! My view from seat 49A was incredible and I had a fantastic view of the 2 left Trent 900 engines! Totally worth the £25 seat reservation.

After a small but concise welcome brief from the captain, we pushed back on-time from our stand at Terminal 3 bound for Dubai. Kudos to the A380, I heard nothing during engine start.  Heathrow was using westerly ops for today so it was a 27R departure for us. This was what I paid for, the take-off was spectacular and I was in awe of this huge jet, and the simple fact that it can lift off of the ground at all. Conditions today were not the greatest but after piecing the cloud layer we had crystal blue sky.

It wasn’t long after departure until the crew came round handing out water and a menu for today’s flight. I opted for the beef and it was one of the tastiest meals I have had in the sky however, I was a very disappointed at the amount of food offered, especially when compared to airlines such as Turkish. To eat using this awful seat requires the capability to keep yourself in such an awkward narrow position while attempting to use the fork and knife so you don’t knock your co-passenger unconscious. The petite tray table barely fits the  food tray which as mentioned is significantly smaller than most airlines anyway.

As the hours began to tick by I made my peace with the IFE and tried to watch a film, but the process was tedious and the IFE was horribly slow, the selection of films were poor and the remote was very dirty. Considering that Wi-Fi isn’t offered the IFE will be most passengers form of entertainment, Qantas is servery let down by the IFE and that would be a key decision maker in choosing Emirates over Qantas, who are the current leaders in in-flight entertainment (also a direct competitor to QF on this route). After an hour of raging with the IFE I decided to try and get a few hours’ sleep. The blanket provided was larger than I expected and far better quality than ones I have seen before. I was able to get a somewhat decent sleep, despite being in economy. The worst part however is when the person infront reclines their seat. I am quite small at about 167cm but when the seat is reclined, I had close to negative legroom. A very poorly designed seat that induced several backaches throughout the flight.

I awoke 1 hour before landing for the last snack to be offered to us economy passengers. Today it was some kind of weird sausage roll, I didn’t take to it and just left mine in its box. Passing Iran and Kuwait on our way into Dubai we had the most insane view of the blood orange moon. Cruising at 39,000ft also gave us an incredible view of all the bright Arab cities on approach to Dubai, note there was not a cloud in the sky on this night.

We started our descent very close to Dubai itself and I could certainly feel it. The time was now approaching midnight and it was pitch black outside. After making a right turn over the Persian Gulf near Dubai we touched down smoothly onto Runway 30L, and it was a short taxi to our Gate at Terminal 1A. As per all my flights I made my way to the flight deck for a small tour from the captain and then unfortunately disembarked the whale. It was not long, however, until I would be back on-board OQB for the return flight to London!

Dubai airport itself was not as large as I was expecting, there were A LOT of duty free shops in my concourse of which I was expecting. Being a homesick brit abroad I made my way to McDonalds for a snack before my flight back to the UK. However, when about to check out I find out my debit card had been blocked, fantastic news to hear while in different continent thousands of miles from home in the middle of the night. I remained cool and unpassed and just decided to wait at the gate for the next flight and just wait for some food on-board. Before I knew it we were boarding QF1 back to London.

I’m going to spare your time as this flight was near identical to the first but it was dark the entire flight and I was asleep so nothing to really talk about there. I also somehow managed to miss the meal service, leaving me weak and hungry while waiting at immigration back in the UK.

Overall I would call my last minute trip a success considering my primary aim was to experience the A380 which was extremely pleasant, but if I was to fly to Australia and had the choice of Emirates or Qantas, there would be no hope of me ever picking Qantas over such a passenger focused airline like Emirates. The economy product on Qantas’ A380 was very uncomfortable for me, and as I mentioned previously am quite small at 167cm weighing around 50kgs. Now imagine what this will be like for an average sized person. I would fly Qantas again as I could not fault the crew, my flight deck tour on the ground at Dubai was ace and the crew were super engaging and happy to chat, but I will never be booked onto their A380 again unless I can go first class.

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As Bad as it Looks? Ryanair Flight Review

Being the avgeek I was, I was sitting at home on a cold Tuesday night, laptop on, browsing cheap deals on Kayak when I noticed that I had never actually flown Ryanair. I was stumped, this incredibly successful and influential low cost European giant and I had never had the full O’Leary experience. I only had 1 lesson at college for the next day and so I plugged in tomorrow’s date and BAM! London Gatwick – Dublin – London Gatwick for only £35! Result! By far the cheapest return airfare I have ever bought. By this time, it was nearly 11pm at night so I decided to get an early night for the flight to Dublin the next day.

An early morning lesson at college surpassed and I was on the Gatwick Express to the Airport, to embark on my low cost adventure! Ryanair uses south terminal at Gatwick, personally my favourite out of the 2. Check in was done the night before to avoid the dreaded £50 airport check in fee. By this point it was late morning and the security lines were tiny, I was through in a few minutes and inside Nandos for an early lunch. After some inside information from friends that work on the ramp at Gatwick, I headed to gate 14M, to await the arrival of my 7-year-old Boeing 737-800 EI-EMH, sadly no sky interior on this one. Only registration FXX are fitted with the new sky interior. I arrived at the gate, but there was no yellow and blue 737 to greet me, the aircraft was in fact holding due to worsening weather conditions down here on the ground. The winds today were incredibly strong and as I awaited the arrival of EI-EMH I saw several go-arounds and missed approaches. Then, 30 minutes late, the aircraft pulled onto stand, and within minutes’ priority boarding had begun. Now I was curious to see if Ryanair would enforce the proriety boarding and to some extent they did, but by the end it was just chaos and it didn’t matter what priority you had.

Ryanair do not use jetways, as a cost cutting measure, so it was a short walk out onto the apron and over to the aircraft in the pouring rain. As I walked up the steps into the aircraft, I received somewhat of a cold welcome from the most senior cabin crew member, and made my way to my pre-reserved seat, 6A. The most expensive seats at the front seem to be the emptiest, as a lot of passengers avoided reserving seats and were all pre-assigned seats in the rear. Ryanair’s 737s are configured with 189 seats in an all economy configuration with a width of 17” and pitch of 29.9” (no recline). I was quickly becoming un-attracted to the cabin, the seats were sticky and the cabin felt tacky and stuffy.  The blight yellow branding tainted my vision, quite literally. However, a welcoming briefing from the captain was a nice surprise.

We were due to push back with a delay of 20minutes, followed by a short taxi out to 27L for departure towards Dublin. We were warned of a ‘Sporty” take-off, and it sure lived up to its description. After 5 minutes of what I can only describe as being in a washing machine, we broke through the cloud layer to the relief of my neighbor.

Ryanair’s vast route network

The flight itself was mostly uneventful, using the magazines handed out on the ground I could order from the on-board food and drinks menu. Prices were not ridiculously high and somewhat reasonable. However, I voted against buying on-board today and decided to wait for some hot food in Dublin. After another short briefing from the captain, we began our descent into Dublin, conditions similar to London, so we knew it was going to get interesting to say the least. After a spectacular landing by the Captain in blustery conditions, we pulled up on stand with only 10 minutes of delay. I managed to bag myself a small flight deck visit and the captain left me grab a few shots before I de-boarded.

Small flight-deck visit on the ground at Dublin

Now, on the ground at Dublin, I had to make my way through to flight connections to catch my flight back to London Gatwick. Passport control in Dublin was smooth and efficient, and security near enough the same. Dublin has quite a variety of restaurants on offer and I selected Burger King as my restaurant of choice as all I wanted was some tasty comfort food. Dublin Airport also has small stands dotted around the airport where you can pick up a water for only €1, a great way hydrate without spending loads in WHSMITHS or on-board the aircraft.

FR126 to London Gatwick, that’s me.

I checked flight radar to see what registration my flight home was going to be and I was pleasantly surprised to see I was going to be flying on EI-FTC! A 1year old 737-800 equipped with the brand new sky interior and new cabin. My flight was also on time and priority boarding was enforced to a T! As I made my way across the apron to the 737 and up the stairs, I was greeted by one of the nicest crew members, I was directed to my seat and boy was I surprised. The new cabin and sky interior eclipsed my impression of Ryanair when I boarded this morning’s aircraft. It felt spacious and the yellow had been turned down considerably. The new thin seats offered more legroom than the old interior.

Boarding EI-FTC

 

After a short taxi to Runway 28 we took off in the evening sun back towards London. After the crew were released and came down asking for hot food orders, I asked for the pancakes but they had none on-board, shame! Instead I ordered from the cold trolley, some pretzels and some lemon drink. Total €6.50 which is quite expensive for what it is, I really should have stocked up in Dublin.

Again, like the last, most of the cruise was uneventful and surprisingly relaxing. I had a full 2 rows to myself! (not that I needed that many seats). As we began our descent into Gatwick we hit some pretty nasty weather and some heavy rain, although the conditions had drastically improved since take-off they were still not ideal. We landed on time at Gatwick and took the bus back to the terminal.

This 2nd flight had been a real game changer, the new cabin, sky interior and welcoming crew had left me with no impression that Ryanair was a low cost carrier. I had very much enjoyed this flight and would jump at a similar opportunity again. However, if I was basing my review solely on the first flight I would not fly Ryanair again! Therefore, I finish this review with mixed feelings, its luck of the draw really with the interior and the crew, but hopefully soon in the future the old interior will begin to be phased out of the fleet, and as for the crew that is down to pure luck.

Flybe Dash-8 Flight Review Manchester-Southampton

Introduction: A new feel for Flybe

Having tried Stobart Air’s regional product, I was keen to sample Flybe’s UK domestic service, under their new philosophy of “Close To You”.  The strapline has several interesting facets. Principally, it revolves around connecting people across Britain, reflecting the extent of Flybe’s strong presence in airports across the regions – meaning they are quite literally ‘close to you’ wherever you are in the UK. However, the new brand is also designed to reflect Flybe’s personable and friendly service and reinforcing previous campaigns such as “One Stop to the World” – connecting seamlessly through metropolitan air hubs such as London or Manchester, from your local airport. So, are Flybe’s plethora of domestic air-links the most convenient, friendly and seamless way to traverse the British Isles?


The Journey: Manchester-Southampton

Transiting from ‘The Station’ at Manchester couldn’t be easier – it was my first time using the train to get to the airport – and it really couldn’t be beaten. With train services from Crewe, Wilmslow, Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Leeds, York and more – it is also quite convenient. From the main station complex, it takes about 8 minutes to walk through the Skyline to Terminal 3 – even quicker to the other two terminals Although Terminal 3 is often claustrophobic, at less peak times, it’s compact nature makes it pleasant. Unfortunately, for an airport the size of Manchester, the facilities in what was once the domestic terminal, aren’t up to scratch but its encouraging to see that – even in the midst of the redevelopment programme at Terminal 2 – MAG is still making changes for the better at the opposite end from the airport.  My flight was to be operated by G-JECZ; a 10 year-old Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, which had been painted in the revised purple livery just days before.

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All UK domestic flights board from a ground-floor area, and was done in an organised manner. It is astounding how quickly boarding and disembarkation can be carried out with smaller turboprop aircraft, compared to a Boeing 737, for example.

Flybe’s fleet mainly comprises of Dash-8 aircraft, with 56 forming the backbone of their operations. They are configured with one-class, in a 2-2 setup, with the capacity to seat 78 passengers. The cockpit is positioned on a raised-level, with all the modern digital systems you’d expect.

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One immediate difference I noticed between the ATR flights I’d flown on in 2017, and the Bombardier Dash-8, was the width of the cabin. The ATR has a cabin-width of 2.57m, with a minimum seat width of an extremely comfortable 18.6″. On the contrary, the Dash-8 was 0.8m narrower and had a seat width of only 17.3″. Thankfully, Flybe opted for a generous configuration with only 78 seats, meaning what the seats lacked in width, was made up for in legroom. We departed from Manchester’s 23R at around 12:15 and set course for Southampton.

Emma – one of the cabin crew members – was extremely friendly. She personifies Flybe’s campaign to “establish a warm, friendly presence in the faceless hustle and bustle of the aviation industry”. The crew can make a massive difference to how you perceive a flight – especially one as short as this one. She couldn’t have been more accommodating to any of the passengers and I was really lucky to have had such engaging and warm crew on my flight.

The onboard service centres around Flybe’s Café Air onboard bistro service. For a domestic flight, there was a range of snacks and beverages available and its clear to see that Flybe have been more adventurous rather than the stereotypical low-cost airline offering – and that’s something I can really appreciate. At just before 1pm, we touched down in Southampton, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. In January 2017, Flybe topped an OAG punctuality league table – being named the most punctual airline in the UK and coming 6th on a worldwide basis. At least anecdotally, I can clearly see why – both of my flights arrived ahead of schedule and my return journey even departed before our slot!

At the heart of Flybe’s new strapline is people’s desire to fly from their local airport – which offers ease and relaxation. Having travelled through London Southend last year, Southampton Airport drew many similarities. It is clear that they are designed with the passenger in mind from the outset. Landside, the airport felt airy and modern, yet compact – offering a small seating area, check-in desks and a Costa Coffee, centred around the entrance to security. When I passed through the security checks, I was the only passenger doing so and I found myself moving from landside to airside in around 2 minutes – an experience major airports could only dream of offering their customers. Despite its size, all the facilities are readily available to passengers; duty free shopping, WHSmith, an ‘Olive Tree’ Restaurant and yet another Costa Coffee, around which six gates are positioned in a right-angle.

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The experience was infinitely more relaxing, quiet and seamless than many other airports – giving you the sense that flying can be done without the hustle and bustle of our major hubs, which are bursting at the seams in an in-escapable capacity crisis. Its very easy to see why more and more passengers are choosing to make use of their local airport, contributing to the local economy and making flights like Flybe’s (that connect every corner of the UK) more viable every day. Therefore, I applaud Flybe for recognising this in their new campaign.

The Conclusion: Flybe is the way forward

In conclusion, Flybe lives up to all its straplines. It is faster, better value and more relaxing than road or rail and it is ‘closer to you’ in almost every aspect. For most people, Flybe may simply be a means of getting around the nation but many of the benefits of flying go unnoticed. From the warm crew, to the fast journey times and local airports – Flybe is definitely the way forward.


Train VS Plane: Manchester-Southampton

Manchester Piccadilly-Southampton Central by Train – 4hr14mins

Manchester Piccadilly-Southampton Central by Plane – 1hr52mins (approx. 2hrs)

Piccadilly-Manchester Airport-Southampton Airport-Southampton

15mins               45mins               45mins                           7mins

January Guest Review: American Airlines 787-9

American Airlines’ 787 Dreamliner dominates most international routes out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). I was supposed to be flying from Chicago O’Hare to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) with the service of Main Cabin Extra in seat 11A. However, due to adverse weather conditions and  my previous flight from Dayton being late by 45 minutes, I missed miss my connection to Shanghai. American then rebooked me on a flight to Tokyo Narita (NRT) and then connecting from there with ANA on flight NH921. Luckily for me, the flight to Tokyo is also on a 787-8 Dreamliner. Although I wasn’t too pleased to find out I was moved to seat 19K (a middle seat in the exit row) which American still considers as Main Cabin Extra; they wouldn’t refund me the difference for the seating. I wasn’t happy about being stuck in the middle seat after $189 for my original window seat.

Once on board, I got to my seat and it wasn’t all that bad, I ended up having 8 feet of space in front of me which offered some consolation for the middle seat! Minutes after we finished boarding, the captain informed us that we would have to wait around 20 minutes for deicing which turned out to be a huge lie as we sat for 90 minutes before we even stated de-icing, owing to a large queue at O’Hare.

Deicing was extensive and delayed the flight by quite a margin.

After a long 2 hours of waiting at the gate, we finally started taxiing to the runway – which, surprisingly, took a relatively small amount of time.

Sunset over the Pacific.

Around 20 minutes after departure, cabin crew started serving us drinks. American has a very good selection of drinks onboard and I chose Dr Pepper. Soon after the drink service, they began to serve meals, there was chicken with shrimp or beef noodles, I chose the beef noodles, to my surprise it tasted phenomenal, good job American!

Mood lighting then came on after they collected litter. Although the mood lighting created a very relaxing atmosphere, I wasn’t tired so settled in for a movie. In the exit row of seats, you have to pull the tray table and IFE out of the armrest, thus slightly hampering seat width. However, to make up for that, they offered the movie “IT” which has been one of the films on my “must see” list!

The seats on the Dreamliner were fairly comfortable for the 13 and a half hour flight however I would of liked them to be a bit wider. My original plan was to lean on the window to sleep but I found myself having trouble in the middle. I only slept for 2 hours on this long flight which wasn’t fantastic. I did manage to sleep through the distribution of landing cards for immigration in Japan and when I got up to ask the flight attendant about this, she was rude and said she couldn’t help me because she was “busy” for whatever reason. This was disappointing.

The iconic 787 cabin.

A bit later, we got a little snack which consisted of a Turkey Sandwich and some ice cream, the sandwich was great but the ice cream was hard as rock so I didn’t eat that. In the galley, there was a little snack bar with chips, breads, and cookies that anyone could walk up and take, I didn’t take a lot of food but I did hang out there for quite a while, serving as a good place to stretch and walk around on these long trans-pacific journeys.

American’s “Snack” Meal Service.

Soon after, we recieved our final meal service and began our descent, that meal was a ham and cheese filled croissant which was really good, the croissant was soft and the meat was warm along with the cheese. A nice touch. About 20 minutes before landing the flight attendants told my neighbours and I, since we are in the exit row, that we had to put our bags back in the overhead locker and after we did, in what felt like a blink of an eye, we touched down in Tokyo.

Once I got off the plane, there were lots of gate agents helping everyone with connections since our plane was delayed, I had around 25 minutes for my connection which was not enough for me at all but lucky for me an agent helped me rush through security and she took me on a bus to my gate. The bus ride was around 10 minutes and it gave a really good view of the airport but it was night time so I couldn’t snag any good pictures without glare. To conclude the trip, due to the delayed arrival of my flight, I missed my onward connection and wasn’t able to be with my family for Christmas.

In conclusion I have to say this wasn’t my greatest experience in the skies, however not my worst either. The Dreamliner is a fantastic plane to fly on however, I feel that American would have made my trip a lot better if I wasn’t stuck in that middle seat for so long. If you are ever flying to Japan, I would definitely recommend ANA or JAL over a US carrier just because, at least in my experience, Japanese carriers are more enjoyable to fly on.


This guest review is written by Fengning Liu. To apply for our February Guest Review position, go to www.londonspotter.co.uk/guestreview, fill in the form and send us a sample of your work. 

British Airways B787-9 Flight Review

When British Airways announced they would start to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the Heathrow-Madrid route I booked the inaugural flight for October 29th and couldn’t wait. I was, however, invited to attend the Inaugural JL42 flight to Tokyo which ultimately took priority.

I knew that I wanted to come back and try this route one day so on January 13th I was accompanied by James on BA460 to Madrid onboard G-ZBKN, a Boeing 787-9 model.

James joined me for today’s adventure!

My journey began in a strange way – I was unable to check in online because I had an ‘unmatched E-Ticket’. I, therefore, had to check in at the airport. I was worried that this would mean I was going to be given a poor seat but in actual fact, the flight was pretty empty so I was able to sit where I wanted – the Premium Economy cabin in seat 20K.

The airport wasn’t very busy at all and I was through security in under five minutes. I hadn’t been through normal security for a while at T5 as I had been using ‘Fast Track’ for most of my flights beforehand. I was really impressed with the speed at which we were airside.

Once through security I managed to kill time by having a bite to eat and heading to the Concourse C gates on the transfer train. Flying out of C gates can be very hectic and confusing at Heathrow but I found the procedure easy and care-free this time around. I organised pre-boarding to the aircraft for shots, went for a coffee and before I knew it we were ready to go.

Being such a quiet flight, boarding was organised in a very relaxed manner and we took our seats ready for the flight.

I headed to the back as boarding began.

The Cabin:

British Airways have brought in an updated cabin for the B787-9 aircraft. It differs from the -8 model as it has a First cabin at the front of the aircraft instead of only ‘Club World’ (BA’s long-haul business class). The First cabin has 8 semi-enclosed suites which have been updated from the old First suite. The cabin is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration and offers 73” of pitch and 22” of width. You can see the difference between old and new below.

 

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The Club section of the aircraft is split into two cabins. The first is a cosier one with only two rows (6 and 7) and the second is a much larger addition covering rows 10 to 13. The Club seats are laid out in the usual formation of alternate staggered seating over a 2-3-2 configuration. Each row has seven seats however, three are facing backwards. Each seat has direct cabin access but seats in the middle of the cabin (E seats) are ones to avoid at all costs. While sitting in this seat I felt a little claustrophobic and closed in which isn’t the feeling you want in business class. Overall the cabin has a really nice feel to it and if you’re flying Club I would definitely recommend getting a seat in the front cabin. The seat offers 72” of pitch (note that is only 1” less than First) and 20” of width.

The second Club cabin. A lot larger.

The next cabin is the Premium Economy cabin or World Traveller Plus as BA call it. The cabin is nicely laid out to feel cosy and at the same time very spacious. The cabin is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration and covers rows 16-21. The seat to avoid in this cabin is the window seat in row 21 as there is no window. My initial impression of the cabin was good: large seats with a spacious feel. As I sat down it struck me just how good the comfort really was. The 38 inches of legroom is plenty to stretch out your legs and is far better than the Club Europe product BA offer on their short haul fleet.

The Premium economy cabin

The seat recline is the best I have seen on a Premium product which may sound like a positive but I found it to have a negative impact. While most modern Premium Economy products have seat shells protecting the passengers behind when you recline, BA have opted not to install this. Seeing as the recline is so good, you can easily end up with a seat in your face. This is something other premium economies such as Air France and Japan Airlines don’t have. This disappointed me. It is possible to see this from either angle, however. If you need to sleep, the recline really is excellent. The footrest under the seat in front is a fantastic addition to the cabin, too.

Premium economy mid-flight. Very spacious indeed.

The final cabin on the aircraft is the economy cabin or World Traveller. This cabin is configured in a 3-3-3 layout and covers rows 30-43.

The economy cabin feels very big but at the same time very cramped. The 128 seats are crammed in a nine-abreast setup. The legroom offered is 31” which doesn’t seem too bad when compared to other airlines. The cabin did, however, feel tight and no way near as comfortable as the Premium cabin.

Less attractive and less comfortable in my opinion.

We pushed back and departed from runway 09R at 13.30 before banking right and heading through the Bay of Biscay to Madrid Barajas Airport. We began our descent at around 16.20 local time and landed on runway 32L at 16.51. The landing was slightly turbulent but it was a great novelty being able to complete a two-and-a-half-hour flight on a 787.

Mid-cruise – what a view

Service

Being a European flight, BA operated it just as they would an A320. The economy section was offered the usual buy on board products from M&S and Club was given a complimentary meal. The First cabin wasn’t used for this flight as it is only utilised on short haul when the Club cabin is overbooked.

I found the crew to be a mixed bag. A special mention goes out to both Arthur and Declan who were attentive and a great laugh. The cabin manager, on the other hand, came across as rude and easily irritable. This was disappointing and reinforced my opinion of preferring Euro Fleet crew.

Entertainment

One of the major perks of flying the 787 on short haul routes is the ability to use IFE (In-Flight-Entertainment). The screens are the same in both economy and premium economy which, in my honest opinion, was pretty poor. The screens had a decent selection of films, games and music but were poor in quality, slow and had terrible touchscreen responsivity. British Airways haven’t, unfortunately, rolled out WiFi on their 787 fleet so connectivity wasn’t available during the flight.

Premium’s entertainment.

Another major benefit of the Premium cabin is that you get USB plugs in your seat. This can be very handy for keeping you charged during a long flight.

Bonus points to Premium

 

Overall, I had a fantastic time onboard British Airways’ B787 aircraft and was really impressed with both the Club and World Traveller Plus cabins. I was less impressed, however, with the First cabin, which I thought was a nice improvement from the old cabin but still didn’t impress me as a First Class offering, and the economy or World Traveller cabin which was uncomfortable and seemed very cramped. The crew were impressive but the Cabin Manager really let them down with her attitude.

If you’re interested in flying a 787 but can’t afford to fly it long haul then fly to Madrid and experience the Dreamliner in all its glory. A fantastic aircraft and an awesome experience.

Interested in more 787 reviews? Last year we reviewed Norwegian in Premium Class, Air France in Premium Economy and Japan Airlines in Premium Economy and Economy and Virgin Atlantic in Economy!

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Aer Lingus Flagship Dublin Lounge Review

After arriving in Dublin from Southend at around 16:00, I had around 2 hours before boarding began for my connecting flight to Manchester. Unfortunately, although my previous flight was operated by Stobart Air (which uses Terminal 2 under the ‘Aer Lingus Regional’ brand), this flight used the older Terminal 1. Prior to my flight, I had seen conflicting reviews about the terminal transit process in Dublin, but I found the whole experience very smooth.

To connect between terminals, you do have to pass through the Irish Border at passport control. After exiting into the Baggage Reclaim area, simply continue to walk through the hall, following signs for ‘flight connections’. At this point you will take a flight of stairs and arrive at a small passageway into the Terminal 2 Security area. This process seemed almost too simple, but you must have your onward boarding pass with you to use this system.

Whilst Terminal 1 at Dublin airport is claustrophobic, chaotic and in dire need of refurbishment, the relatively new Terminal 2 has a completely different feel. Terminal 2 is where you’ll find Aer Lingus, Etihad and most other long-haul carriers at Dublin – so it has a more premium and modern feel. To access the lounge from the connections security area, I simply turned left and followed a corridor down to the premium lounges at Dublin – these included the Etihad lounge, a generic Dublin Airport lounge (used by a variety of airlines) and the Aer Lingus flagship lounge.

The entrance to the lounge is extremely modest and understated for its size.

Entrance to the Aer Lingus Lounge at Dublin.

After a warm welcome into the lounge, I was met with a surprisingly spacious expanse, with a feature wall paying tribute to important Irish figures, such as the first female President – Mary Robinson. The lounge is full of natural light and, thus, has a fantastic view of the apron for us aviation enthusiasts. iMacs were available for guests’ use – along with a communal desk area –  and there was fast and quick Wi-Fi – something that I value greatly in a lounge. All showers to the lounge are located on the upper mezzanine level (one of the lounge attendants will guide you to an available room, should you want to access the facilities). Whilst I didn’t make use of the shower, this could well be a useful facility.

On the ground floor, the furnishings were tasteful – with a colour scheme of green and warming mahogany, which gave the lounge a homely feel – despite its size. There was a relaxing mezzanine level with an additional mini self-service bar and large seating area – which was completely unoccupied during my time here. The main self-service bar area offered scones, pastries and a selection of hot drinks – whereas the upstairs bar only had a limited offering. The evening’s hot food offering was Beef Goulash – which tasted superb – but I was rather disappointed with the lack of hot food available. I can only suggest that there is a more plentiful food offering at different times of the day.

What really impressed me about the lounge was the amount of power ports available and the positioning. Close to every seat, a power port was available, which is obviously an imperative feature for business travellers.

Although this lounge has big plusses (such as the tranquil and unpretentious atmosphere) and was an inherently positive experience, for a flagship lounge, I wish more food options could be available throughout the day.  Otherwise, I’d have no hesitations using the lounge facility again.


Featured photo courtesy of Aer Lingus

E-Jet Express: Flybe E195 London-Dublin Review

Entering a crowded market is never an easy task – the London to Dublin route has over 50 flights every day, all with carriers already established on the route. In fact, 4.5 million passengers travelled between the British & Irish capitals in 2015, making it the busiest air route in Europe. But in October, Flybe launched services from London Southend – offering a completely different proposition to carriers already in the market. With a three-daily frequency, flying from Southend with Flybe is more relaxing, comfortable and convenient for a whole host of people living in Southeast England and London. So is this the best way to cross the water to Ireland?

The departure lounge at Southend is strategically located next to the departure gates, with the passenger in mind

At around 14:00, the gate was called for my flight to Dublin. The six gates at London Southend Airport form a horseshoe shape around the departure lounge, meaning my departure gate was literally steps away.

My aircraft was the sole Embraer E195 operating for Stobart Air – G-FBEF – which they received in November, and dated back to 2007. Despite being 10 years old, the aircraft’s exterior is aesthetically pleasing and modern, and that doesn’t change when you step onboard. The cabin is configured in a single-class configuration, offering 118 Economy Class seats. The purpose of the Embraer 195 is to straddle the boundaries between a regional and a mainline market – offering better economics to regional carriers who want a regional aircraft. This makes the E195 the perfect aircraft for Stobart Air to expand its route portfolio with, and to launch a trunk route such as London-Dublin.

With jovial crew member Donantinou on hand to greet passengers, my initial impressions of the cabin were positive. The seats had lots of padding, making them very comfortable and easy to relax in – rather than more modern slim- line alternatives. The entrance to the aircraft was spacious and the cabin had a very airy feel – with extremely large eye-level windows (up to 30% larger than most other aircraft) to let in lots of natural light. Although the seats were provided lots of comfort, with ample legroom for the short hop across the Irish sea, they had a low seat back with no headrest. This is a minor point, but one to consider, as one may want to take a travel pillow with them for extra comfort.

The E-195 seats 118 passengers, in a single class configuration

The benefit of a 2-2 configuration is not to be underestimated. The “Double-Bubble” fuselage concept is a shape derived from overlapping two ovals to form a four-abreast cross section. The widest point of the upper oval is at the passenger’s elbow level, maximising personal space and allowing for wider seats and aisles than larger aircraft. The lower oval is widest in the baggage and cargo hold which boosting space for your luggage. With no dreaded middle seat, easy access to onboard facilities such as overhead lockers, and lots of headroom – this concept makes the Embraer a winner with passengers and superior to many mainline cabin standards. This configuration is also highly beneficial for companies too, with fast boarding and deplaning, allowing for quick turnaround times.

Flybe uses the same ‘Café Air’ onboard refreshment service on all flights, but included some hot food options on this route – something that wasn’t available on my ATR flight from Manchester.  Prices were not unreasonable for short-haul low cost flying.

Deboarding G-FBEF in Dublin

The crew – Gerry, Sharon & Donantinou – were very pleasant throughout, and I spoke to Donantinou several times during the flight. He kindly let me stay onboard after disembarkation to take some pictures of the empty cabin and he shared his thoughts with me about his career and enjoying his work aboard the Embraer.

Our routing took us north of the M25, over the Cotswolds and the valleys of Southern Wales before making the trip over the Irish sea. We arrived into Dublin ahead of schedule, at 15:45 and I visited the cockpit – which sports fly-by-wire technology.

Conclusion

This flight had a more personable feel to those mainline and ultra low-cost carrier flights, all to familiar on UK-Dublin sectors. It proved to be more relaxing, quick, easy and comfortable than any other flights I’ve taken – from the punctuality, to the relaxing cabin and ease of London Southend airport. If you are looking to fly from London to Dublin in an effortless and calm manner, look no further from Flybe’s express across the water.