Thomas Cook Economy Plus A321 Review

Towards the end of 2017, Thomas Cook Airlines announced that they would be launching an Economy Plus service on their short and medium haul services. Traditionally, Premium Economy services are only found on short-haul routes when operated by wide-bodied aircraft; intrigued to see how this would fare on a much smaller Airbus A321, I hopped on board with Thomas Cook from Palma to Birmingham.

When booking my flight, I could have travelled in the main economy cabin for as little as £10.99! The Economy Plus ticket cost £65.99, which I feel was great value for everything that was Included. Any passenger travelling on this fare can check one piece of luggage weighing up to 25kgs, one piece of hand luggage up to 10kgs, a whole host of other extras, including a tasty James Martin Inflight meal and complimentary drinks are packaged together into this exceptional money-saving fare.

The Plus fare includes a wide range of extras for one low price! Credit: Thomas Cook Airlines
MT1249 PALMA DE MALLORCA – BIRMINGHAM:

Having checked in online for my flight, I was able to head straight to security when arriving at the terminal. Access to the Priority Security Lane was included in my ticket and allowed me to quickly head through into the departures hall. After a spot of duty free shopping and a quick bite to eat, I made my way down to the gate and waited for my flight to begin boarding.

When arriving at the gate, myself and my fellow passengers arrived to find that It was still occupied by an easyJet flight to Gatwick. They were awaiting the final passengers to come forward for boarding, but with no sign of them rushing to the gate, it was clear that a delay may be in store. 15 minutes after boarding should of commenced, the screen changed over to a Thomas Cook logo with Birmingham labelled across it.

The gate agent apologised for the delay, and invited priority passengers and families to come forward for boarding. After making my way on board the bus, a short ride took us to a remote stand where our Airbus A321 was waiting. G-TCDE would be flying me back to Brum and after a quick photo, I made my way up the stairs to board. Before reaching my seat, I was greeted by the familiar face of one of my former Monarch colleagues.  Following a brief catch up, I settled into my bulkhead seat, 1A. Before my flight I had used Thomas Cook’s Airshoppen service which allows you to pre order your duty free to be delivered on the flight. This was bought to me at my seat before the doors had even closed.

Boarding G-TCDE

After another short slot delay, we eventually pushed back and departed from Runway 06R. A bumpy climb through the clouds over the Mediterranean kept us seated for slightly longer than usual but eventually the seat belt signs were switched off and Inflight services begun. It was at this point that I encountered my only issue in an otherwise great flight experience. As the meal service began, I found myself not served. As the bar service came through, I ordered myself a Pepsi Max and found myself being asked to pay. I asked the crew member serving me if drinks were complimentary to economy plus passengers, she replied that they were, but that I was a normal economy passenger!

After taking away my boarding pass and booking confirmation email to show the cabin manager. I received a swift apology, my drink and my meal. All Inflight meals served on board Thomas Cook Airlines are designed in co-operation with celebrity chef James Martin. Today’s offering was a Chicken Tikka Masala and coconut rice, accompanied by a Treacle Sponge Pudding with crackers and cheese. The food served was delicious! It’s clear to see why Thomas Cook take pride in working with James Martin and want to push their Inflight Meals as much as possible. For anyone travelling with them in the future, I highly recommend pre purchasing a meal as they are very tasty and great value for money. For anyone that doesn’t, Thomas Cook don’t offer any sandwiches on their bar services so you will be going hungry for the duration of the flight!

The Tikka Masala was a lot tastier than it looked!

After my meal was cleared away, I caught up on some sleep before my arrival back home. Economy Plus doesn’t have a separate cabin on board the Airbus A321, but passengers will find themselves seated in rows 1-4. The seats on board aren’t big and bulky, unlike those that can be found on other airlines flying the A321. I personally found the ones on board very comfortable, lightweight and quite spacious. Being 6” 0’  tall, legroom is normally something I have to struggle with, but not on this flight thanks to my bulkhead seat. With seat selection being complimentary, I made sure that I had the best seat available to me. The overall cabin appearance is well presented, however seeing the drop down IFE screens on an aircraft that is just 4 years old did surprise me.

Old school IFE screens on a 4 year old aircraft!

Our descent into Birmingham began soon after the crew passed through the cabin collecting donations for their partner charity. After arriving onto stand, the worlds best ground handling agency (If you’ve ever flown into Birmingham, you will know that this is me being sarcastic!), Swissport, managed to encounter a problem operating the air bridge. Rather than wait for it to be fixed, disembarkation began at the rear of the aircraft. After a while, the air bridge was reattached to the aircraft, and I was free to make my way home.

summary:

As mentioned before in the article, my experience with Thomas Cook was exceptional. All of the crew on board took genuine pride in being able to deliver a nice experience on board my flight and being able to catch up with an old friend was an unexpected privilege. To find a fare that includes everything you can possible need when flying on a budget carrier for a very low price is quite frankly brilliant. Should I ever be flying out to a leisure destination again and be faced with a choice of flying with the likes of TUI, Jet2 and Thomas Cook, I certainly know who I will be choosing!

 

Want More Airbus A320 Family Reviews? Check Them Out Below!

 

Air Nostrum: Island Hopping

Air Nostrum are a regular sight when flying into or out of the Balearic Islands. Their mixed fleet of Turbo Prop and Jet engine aircraft fly in the colours of Iberia Regional and connect both passengers and cargo to destinations that aren’t always on the beaten track. On my recent trip to Spain, I flew with Air Nostrum between Ibiza and Palma, to experience what life is like on these sometimes essential services.

Always wanting to get the best possible deal, I used Momondo to find the cheapest flight price!

Despite lying only a 40 minute flight away, the islands of Ibiza and Mallorca are a 2 hours away from each other by ferry. With locals having to travel between the two Islands often to see family, for work or to collect essential supplies for everyday life; the air services that are provided are vital to some Island residents.

The ‘retro’ style information boards in Ibiza
ib8111 ibiza – palma de mallorca:

When booking my flight I was supposed to be flying on the Bombardier CRJ1000. Just a few days before my departure however, I received an email from Iberia notifying me of a change to my itinerary. My flight would now be on a ATR 72-500, Operated by Canaryfly for Air Nostrum on behalf of Iberia!

The day of the flight came and I arrived at Ibiza Airport one hour before my departure. With the peak holiday season not yet underway across Europe, I was expecting the airport to be quiet but getting air side in 5 minutes was a surprise to me. With some sections of security closed for refurbishment, I can imagine that there are some delays when the airport is operating at full capacity.

Large sections of Security and the Departures Hall are sectioned off.

With some gift shops and food outlets, I had soon explored all of the departures lounge and was glad to hear that Iberia Flight 8111 was now ready for boarding at Gate 5. The gate agents invited families, passengers requiring special assistance and priority passengers to board first. Then came the turn of any passengers sat in rows 20 – 10, the finally my self and my fellow passengers sat in rows 10 – 1.

As I approached the desk, my mobile boarding pass was scanned and my cabin baggage was tagged to go into the hold as it was too large to be placed into the overhead locker. That’s when the problem started…

The doors to the tarmac are controlled by magnetised locks and a key card access panel. As passengers were boarding the doors were naturally open but they returned to the closed position as the last group of passengers arrived. With her card not working on the panel, the gate agent rang a colleague and explained the situation to them. After a five minute wait, an engineer arrived and after a few seconds pressing buttons on the panel, I got the impression that he had come to the conclusion that the door was broken. After another phone call and wait, the door on the adjoining gate was opened so that we could make our way to the aircraft.

Boarding EC-KRY from the rear steps

As I boarded the 10 year old ATR, I took to seat 3A that I had pre-booked for free when checking in on the Iberia App. Immediately after sitting down, I began the struggle of getting comfortable is this rather cramped seat with very little legroom. The interior for this whole aircraft was dated and certainly showed it’s age. Luckily for me, this flight has an average flying time of just 25 minutes. I wouldn’t have to be uncomfortable for very long.

As we pushed back from the stand just a few minutes behind schedule, the Captain made his introduction in both Spanish and English, and the following safety demonstration was again broadcast in both languages. The short taxi to Runway 24 came to an end, the crew secured the cabin and we began our hop over to Majorca.

These seats have an advertised legroom of 30″. It feels a lot smaller!

Not particularly looking forward to fighting the passenger next to me for the middle arm rest, I moved into row 2 as soon as the seat belt signs were switched off. With both seats being free, I was able to stretch out and settle into the flight. Understandably, no Inflight services are carried out on this flight, although items from the bar are available upon request. Interested in exploring my Inflight entertainment options, I pulled out a fairly worn copy of ‘Ronda‘, the Inflight magazine, after a quick flick through and coming to the conclusion that there were no Hollywood blockbusters to be watched, my headphones went on and I sat looking out the window.

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The approach into Palma was turbulent but soon we were taxiing off of the runway and towards our gate. Coming into this flight I hadn’t expected much, I certainly knew It wouldn’t be comparable to my recent Business Class flight with Qatar. However, as I sat and looked around this dated cabin, I knew that this flight Isn’t operated to make large amounts of money. It is operated almost as a public obligation so that residents of the Balearic Islands can carry on with their day to day lives.

 

Want More Like This?  Check out our Iberia Express review, are they worse than Ryanair?!

EasyJet A320NEO Flight Review LGW-ACE



I have had the EasyJet A320NEO on my radar for some time and now a whopping 5 aircraft are based around the UK and luckily for me 3 of those found themselves flying out of London Gatwick. I happen to have a few inside contacts at EasyJet and on a late Friday night, UZHA (EasyJet’s first NEO) was scheduled to flight to Lanzarote the following morning. The temptation to fly this beautiful bird was too overwhelming and I found myself booking seats for the early Lanzarote flight. Unfortunately, the flight was oversold so I used my connections to get on standby, although my chances were already not looking too great.

Although I was travelling on a standby staff ticket today, as a frequent flyer i suggest booking my tickets through SkyScanner (low fares) or Momondo (great business class fares)

Descending into ACE

EasyJet bought into the A320NEO back in 2013 in order to maintain a modern and efficient fleet with improved levels of passenger comfort. The new EastJet cabin was fitted to aircraft delivered from May 2016 and all existing A320s will be retrofitted by the end of Spring 2018.

“In 2013 easyJet confirmed an order for 100 new generation Airbus A320neo aircraft for delivery from 2017 to 2022 and has taken purchase rights on a further 100 aircraft. These aircraft, equipped with CFM LEAP-1A engines and wing ‘Sharklets’, will be 13% to 15% more fuel efficient than existing aircraft types.” – Easyjet

Back to the Flight

I had to arrive at Gatwick the following morning with plenty of time. First I got my security pass to get to the gate where I had to patiently and nervously wait while all the passengers boarded the aircraft as it is only after all the passengers have boarded that you find out if you have been successful or not.

In this case, I got on! I was going to be flying on the orange NEO! The huge downside of flying standby is that you don’t get a seat choice, you fit in where there is space and in this case, it was arguably the worst seat on the plane: an aisle seat right at the very back directly next to the toilet. The charming EasyJet crew came to the rescue, however and after a great chat with the flight crew during pre-flight checks, the lead cabin manager sourced me a free window seat right at the front, offering the best engine view around!

View from seat 4F

Push back from our remote stand was on-time and we were lining up perfectly on our STD. Gatwick was using 26 operations today and after a powerful and sporty take-off by the brand new CFM Leap 1A engines we banked left, heading south towards France.  The inflight service began soon after take-off, I had not yet had anything to eat today so I ordered the EasyJet meal deal, opting for the feta and rocket sandwich as the main.  The meal deal at EasyJet is reasonably priced at 7€/9£. This ended up satisfying me quite well, the sandwich is of reasonable size and quality and I couldn’t fault it!

Meal deal section of inflight Bistro magazine

For most of the flight my eyes were fixed on the gorgeous wing view, those huge engines really added something to the flight experience, not to mention the fact that the flight was super quiet, I could actually listen in on conversations seats in front of me, unheard of on CEO A320s. I recently flew to Gibraltar on the CEO A320 and any form of conversation is drowned out by the noise of the old CFM56 engines. I couldn’t talk to my neighbour without raising my voice, but on the NEO such conversation was now possible! After nearly 3 hours in the air we were staring our descent into sunny Lanzarote, it was gusting quite heavily on short final but the fantastic flight crew pulled off a greaser despite of the wind conditions.

Once again another successful and enjoyable flight on EasyJet and I still believe that they are up there as one of the best low cost airlines, with friendly crew willing to engage in conversation and inviting, chatty pilots.

While EasyJet may not be part of any alliances or have a points system, they truly are a great low-cost airline. While the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ may be true to some extent, the cheap prices make up for that.

More A320 Family Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Worse than Ryanair? Iberia Express A320

Last week, I needed to connect from Lanzarote to Madrid for an evening flight back to London. I decided to try the low-cost subsidiary of Iberia, Iberia Express.

‘Iberia Express is a Spanish low-cost airline owned by Iberia, which operates short- and medium-haul routes from its parent airline’s hub at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, providing feeder flights onto Iberia’s long-haul network’ – Pretty self-explanatory right? I assumed being a subsidiary owned by Iberia it would rate pretty well and perhaps even trump some of the other alternative low cost carries based in Europe, but boy was I wrong!

I was already at Lanzarote Airport and after managing to swap my middle seat to a window seat, I made my way through to departures to find, to my horror, that I have messed up my timings. It turns out that due to time zone changes my 2-hour connection in Madrid had now become 1 hour and to add my worries, the inbound flight from Madrid was 40 minutes behind schedule, presumably delayed after an aircraft swap as it was not the aircraft that was confirmed on flight radar the night before. After a tense period of procrastination as I awaited the arrival of the inbound flight  at ACE, the departure boards read boarding. I made my way over to the gates where I found myself slightly confused. As the jet-bridge was still being attached to the aircraft, passengers were already walking down the jetty way to the plane! It turns out the staff had been premature and so we ended up waiting for around 25minutes in the queue with half of the passenger only meters away from the aircraft.

When we finally made it on-board I could only have assumed due to the delay inbound they had decided not to clean the aircraft. With bottles of water on the floor and crumbs on my seat it was obvious they were trying to claw back time for an on-time departure. I should be complaining here but I wouldn’t have made my connection in Madrid if they had decided to clean the aircraft. It  also turned out that we had left the cool air-conditioned terminal for a hot and sweaty metal tube, operating a full flight to Madrid today. However, surprisingly my neighbours were super interested in my photography and my camera equipment so the tedious delay was made slightly more tolerable. At this point I was sure I was going to miss my connection back to London.

We took off from runway 03 bound for Madrid, 30minutes behind schedule. Once airborne I tried, several times, to connect to the inflight entertainment offered via Wi-Fi. It appeared you had to log into your Iberia Express account which I tried many times, but with no luck. As the flight progressed it seemed encounters with crew were rare, some were polite some not so much. I did end up paying for a bottle of sparkling water during the on-board meal service, for some reason €3 did not seem fair for small bottle of water, but at this point I was roasting alive and willing to make the small sacrifice.

The cabin itself was very old, seats had small bits missing, the leather had seen brighter days and the overall atmosphere was second-rate. The legroom was on par with EasyJet – enough for this 2hour flight to Spain’s capital. Thankfully, the incredible views en-route to Madrid helped me enjoy the flight a little more. Apart from the view there was really nothing else to report.

As we began our descent into Madrid I was becoming increasingly worried about my connection, as it stood I had 30 minutes until my flight back to London actually took off. Once on the ground in Madrid and surviving the painful taxi across the entire airport we arrived on stand at Terminal M. Jubilant at the sight of the jetty bridge I tried to muscle my way through the cabin as everyone unbuckled their seat belt, however the doors did not open for a further 10 minutes, adding to my long list of problems. After finally disembarking, we were led downstairs at the end of the jetty bridge, not across into the terminal. Oh god, yes… Bus connection to the terminal. My chances of making my connection were at this point close to nothing and after another painful wait for the bus to fill up, I was able to peg it through to the transit train to the Satellite terminal in Madrid, thus making my connection with seconds to spare. British Airways were aware of a couple of passengers on my flight and had kindly decided to hold the aircraft for a couple of minutes.

After slating Iberia Express heavily in this review, I need to fly flagship Iberia to weigh up how they compare against each other, as, in regards to Iberia, all the feedback i have heard has been positive. Hopefully later in the year i will get the chance to fly their new A350 from London to Madrid!

More A320 Family Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Titan Airways Boeing 737-400 Review



Booking

As with most of my other flight reviews, this trip began late on a Friday night searching Kayak for a flight for the next day. This time I chose to fly with British Airways to Faro from London Gatwick. Seems quite boring right? Well, there is a plot twist this flight was to be operated by Titan Airways. This was to be no ordinary flight, the aircraft taking me to  Faro was a “new” Boeing 737-400 classic (G-POWS) that was just brought out of retirement from Victorville. As it occurs, she happens to be ex-BA as well (G-DOCT). It is indeed ironic that she is now flying for her old airline and from her old base!

Titan Airways

Now, many of you are probably wondering, “Who the heck are Titan Airways? I have never heard of them before.” According to their Wiki page and website, “Titan Airways is a British charter airline founded in 1988 and based at London Stansted Airport. The carrier specialises in short notice ACMI and wet lease operations as well as ad-hoc passenger and cargo charter services to tour operators, corporations, governments and the sports and entertainment sectors.” In this case, British Airways lack the aircraft and crew to be able to cover the Monarch slots they took on after its demise, and they turned to fully crewed Titan aircraft to fill these holes in their schedule.

The Flight

It was the morning of the flight and I had checked in at the British Airways desks at south terminal to discover, to my horror, that the flight was FULL and I had been assigned a middle seat in the back. After some shameful begging at the check in desk they let me have an exit row seat for free…result! As customary to my flights departing from South Terminal, I visited Nando’s in the departure lounge however, during my lunch it appeared that my 737 was now operating the Lanzarote flight! Scary! I went to the BA assistance desk who reassured me that the 737 was operating on my flight and the Lanzarote flight was being flown by British Airways themselves. Why was I so worried about what aircraft I was flying on? Well the reason I booked this sector was because Titan uses old aircraft such as the 737-300/400 for their short haul operations, these aircraft have been retired all around Europe at this point and it is near impossible to find flights on them. With Titan operating for BA on select flights I jumped at the chance to fly on-board one of these classics!

It was now approaching boarding time and I made my way to the gate to find G-POWS awaiting me! Boarding was somewhat organised but still pretty chaotic. Once on-board I was pleasantly surprised by the retrofitted cabin, it was very similar to the cabin on the 757-200 I flew with Titan to Zadar last year. My seat, 13A had fantastic legroom, being an exit row seat and had a fantastic view of the wing. The cabin was not representative of the aircraft’s old age of 25 and I could hardly tell it apart from a Next Generation 737. While on the ground at Gatwick we were reminded repeatedly that this was a Titan Airways flight operating for BA, I found it odd that they needed to remind us so many times. The seatback contained the latest inflight magazine from British Airways but no menu, food on-board today was complimentary.

With a small ATC delay of 20minutes, we pushed back and joined the queue for take-off, Gatwick was on its usual westerly operations today which meant a 26L departure. The classic 737 screamed as we took off for Portugal! Flying conditions were perfect and the cruise was for the most part smooth and uneventful. Shortly after the cabin crew were released the complimentary meal service began and I was handed a small sandwich, flapjack and a drink. All of which were very welcome and surprisingly tasty. Good on BA for opting for complimentary snacks on these Titan operated flights. This was only a 2hour50minute flight so there wasn’t too much to report on, the crew on-board were friendly, on par with the level of service with BA but they were no EasyJet crew.

As we started our descent into Faro, things got a little more exciting, as we hit the cloud layer we hit some pretty hard turbulence and our little 737 sure got thrown around a bit. Wind speed on the ground at Faro was around 30knots but as we touched down it had seemed to have all died down and the landing itself was relatively smooth. The friendly crew allowed me a small flight deck visit even though this flight was actually a training flight. Overall this has been another positive flight with Titan Airways and I wonder at which point we will meet again.

Tailstrike

Just an additional bit of information, G-POWS, the 737-400 I had just flown on, had a tail strike on take-off out of Gatwick just one day after my flight and the airport was closed while the runway was inspected. She is now back in service, still operating for BA out of Gatwick and you can book flights on-board her using Kayak. BA have no pattern to where the 737 is scheduled, if you join the London Area Aviation Spotting Facebook group you can find a document containing the month’s aircraft swaps and changes and in there are the details of the Titan Operating flights.

More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Cobalt Air Business & Economy Airbus A320 Flight Review

Featuring Cobalt Air’s New Airbus A320 Business Class & Economy Cabins




At 0920am, the gate was announced, and I made my way to the boarding area. After already completing one five-hour rotation from Larnaca, my aircraft was enjoying some well-earned rest on the tarmac. Cobalt Air flies to Manchester year-round and has done since 2016. In the winter season the route operates twice a week and, in summer, increases to three-weekly. Having been met by the dispatcher at check-in, I was able to take some photos of the empty cabin before the rest of the guests boarded and have a chat with the cabin crew.

5B-DCY sitting on Manchester’s apron at Terminal 1.

As I stepped onto the aircraft, my initial impression was that the cabin looked airy, comfortable and welcoming. It was also modern, fitted with Recaro seats which offer adjustable headrests and a substantial recline. Although a minor detail, the boarding music enhanced the relaxing and tranquil atmosphere onboard; as the flight was not full – boarding was done in an orderly and efficient manner, without being chaotic.

the cabins:

My Cypriot chariot for the outbound flight – 5B-DCY – is one of 6 aircraft in Cobalt’s fleet and is fitted with 12 Business Class seats in a 2-2 configuration and, as with all Airbus A320 aircraft, economy class was fitted in a 3-3 configuration and began in Row 4, with 144 seats. Obviously, the bulkhead seats were very comfortable; the rest of the Economy seats offered 30” of seat pitch, adjustable headrests and substantial recline. All of the Business Class seats offer a 40” seat pitch and lots of width – with a foot rest and several seat controls, allowing you to find a comfortable position. On my inbound flight, I flew on one of the airline’s Airbus A319 aircraft which are configured in an all-economy class setup with 144 seats. Cobalt received this A319 (5B-DCU) in November 2016 and had a much more dated cabin, but equally comfortable.

The Economy Class cabin. All economy class seats offer adjustable headrests and substantial recline.
business class: cobalt shines above its competitors

The new Business Class – introduced in December 2017 – is where Cobalt really shines above its competitors. British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and others offer an Economy Class setup, with a blocked middle seat. Whilst this is convenient for the airline and easy to amend depending on the load of a flight, for passengers, it offers little to no more comfort than those sitting at the back of the plane. Contrastingly, Cobalt’s Business Class looks more like a short-haul premium product you’d find in Asia or a US airline’s domestic ‘First Class’.

Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class in a 2-2 configuration.

For longer flights, this really does offer all of the comfort you would need. When flying in Business Class, guests will experience several amenities offered by the airline which make the experience more seamless and tailored around you:

• Express Check-In Lanes & Priority Boarding
• 2x 20kg Baggage Allowance
• Dine On-Demand Menu (just ask a crew member when you are ready to eat!). Of course, when flying on a Business Class ticket, you receive a full complementary meal service. If you are on a flight when you can simply upgrade to the seat, you will have the same food choices as economy passengers.

Cobalt’s Business Class offers 40″ of seat pitch onboard.

The full Business Class service is currently only available on routes to Gatwick, Heathrow, Athens, Abu Dhabi & Moscow – but I found you can upgrade to the cabin on other flights for just €75, without the additional benefits. This offers an attractive proposition for business travellers and, if I were to travel regularly between Europe and Cyprus/Middle East on business, I would undoubtedly choose this Business Class product over Cobalt’s other competitors. I simply cannot credit Cobalt enough for the introduction of this “proper” Business Class and its introduction reveals the pioneering and innovative attitude at the heart of the airline.

The comfy recliner seats also had all the amenities you’d expect for Business travellers; large tray tables, a power port and lots of space.

It’s also interesting to note that Cobalt is also now offering connections through their Larnaca hub. For example, you can now book flights from Manchester through to Tel Aviv & Beirut – providing a more comfortable, seamless and relaxing alternative connecting through the modern and simplistic airport of Larnaca, in comparison to other major European airlines with often chaotic and confusing hubs.

onboard service: reflecting cyprus

The Out of the Blue menu included Grilled Chicken, honey and mustard wraps, halloumi and lountza (a Cypriot meat), baguettes and a variety of Primo Gusto Pizzas. There was also a range of alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, hot drinks and the obligatory Pot Noodle selection. The prices were quite reasonable – in line with most other airlines – and the airline accepts both British Pounds & Euros onboard. Although I was impressed by the menu, as the airline makes the transition from a low-cost carrier to a full-service operator with the introduction of a designated Business Class cabin, I would like to see complementary beverages and snacks available, or at least at a lower price – especially on longer flights such as mine from Manchester & London to Cyprus.

I liked the fact that the airline was inventive with its menu choices – reflecting aspects of the country it represents. The crew also oozed typical Cypriot hospitality and were very personable, genuine and polite. Celine (the cabin manager) and indeed the rest of the crew were jovial and welcoming – especially so to the children onboard. Also, Cobalt being a Cypriot airline, I was able to use some of my Greek language skills with the cabin crew. Celine even commented that my Greek was ‘amazing’ – but I shrugged off the comment, being the modest person that I am!!

Cobalt claims to be ‘the favourite airline of the Cypriot people’ and, speaking to the locals, it seems to be so. Many believe Cobalt harvested the best of the now defunct national carrier – Cyprus Airways – then modernised it and instilled ambition. The airline is also growing rapidly, adding routes to London Heathrow, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Mykonos, Geneva and Abu Dhabi from its Larnaca hub this year. It appears that Cobalt Air is also committed to improving the medium-haul travel experience more generally. The airline has recently signed an agreement with Bluebox Aviation Systems to offer wireless streaming of in-flight entertainment to passengers onboard. Bluebox provides wireless content streamed to passenger devices in any aircraft cabin, including film, TV, audio, games and other digital content accessed through any web browser. The device can be stored in overhead lockers and each box’s single swappable and rechargeable battery offers the equivalent of delivering 15 hours of streamed video content to 50 passengers simultaneously. Yet again, this is an example of another area where Cobalt have distinguished themselves from their competitors.

my conclusion: cobalt are unique

Overall, Cobalt are a unique airline; in the words of the CEO Andrew Madar, “not LCC, not legacy, just Cobalt”.

Cobalt is certainly a hybrid carrier. With a business class of this calibre, it is clear that the airline is making a transition from low cost to full service carrier.

Medium-haul flying is often argued to be the most uncomfortable and tiring; 4-5 hours on a narrowbody aircraft, with no entertainment, poor legroom and lacklustre food. However, Cobalt seem to be committed to improving medium haul flying – whether that’s from the introduction of a spacious new Business cabin, to the friendliness of the crew. As they grow, with big ambitions for the future (including working intensively on a business plan so as to connect China, Africa and the US with Cyprus), I am certain that their ‘small airline, one big family’ feel won’t wear away. Despite big ambitions, Cobalt continues to put Larnaca back on the map as a regional air hub and contributes massively to the Cypriot economy.

With massive growth and big ambitions for the future, Cobalt is putting Larnaca on the map as an aviation hub of the future.

I hope that more people across Europe can turn their back on traditional holiday airlines and business carriers and sample a little slice of Cyprus in the sky. Flight bookings can be made on Cobalt’s website or here!


Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Cobalt Air, but I was not pressured to express specific opinions in any way. All the views expressed are fully my own and if you would like to ask me any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

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.

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.

More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Flybe Dash-8 Flight Review

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

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.