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.


W!ZZ to Warsaw: Airbus A321 Flight Review

BACKGROUND: W!ZZING TO WARSAW

Wizz Air is one of the fastest growing carriers in Europe at the moment. They primarily fly throughout Eastern Europe, but, recently, they have branched out – offering flights as far afield as Dubai and opening a major base in London’s Luton Airport. In 2018, Wizz will offer over 550 routes across Europe, Israel, Asia and the UAE. Recently, they inaugurated their brand new fleet additions: The Airbus A321  with sharklets – which they call ‘the most efficient aircraft in the skies’. With this celebration, came a new livery, a rebrand and a mission to fulfil their slogan ‘Now we can all fly’. But, will we all enjoy a polished flight experience, or a lacklustre low cost escapade? I flew to Warsaw with Wizz Air to find out.

AIRPORT EXPERIENCE: LONDON LUTON

Luton Airport often gets a bad rap in the media (and has even been voted worst UK airport in a multitude of surveys) – many believe it is a cramped, low cost airport catering only for holiday makers. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find a well organised, efficient and modern operation. Security was handled with ease, and the selection of well-known eateries and premium-brand shops available was on par with other regional airports in the UK, such as Birmingham or Liverpool. The management team at LLA are taking big strides to improve the airport’s overall experience, with new retail outlets and seating areas being added. In the future, this will continue to improve the prospects of travelling through London Luton and future prosperity of the airport.

IN-FLIGHT: LONDON LUTON-WARSAW

At 0730am, the gate for my flight to Warsaw-Chopin was announced. Boarding was efficient and organised, not chaotic – unlike some experiences I’ve had on comparable low cost airlines. Boarding commenced soon after and, as I embarked on my journey, I was met with a warm “Dzień Dobry” (Good Day) from Justyna and directed to my seat. The cabin immediately gave an impression of space, with a light, airy feel but not sterile and unwelcoming.

Wizz Air possesses 23 A321ceo aircraft, equipped with sharklets for additional fuel efficiency.

Wingview from Seat 8A

A large amount of these are based in Poland – with Gdańsk and Warsaw being the largest; a tribute to the fact Wizz commenced its journey to one of Europe’s leading low cost carriers in these cities back in 2004. My aircraft – HA-LXK – was delivered in November 2016 and the modernity of the aircraft was evident.

Disembarking at Warsaw.

These aircraft are configured in a single-class configuration, with 230 Economy Class seats with 30″ of seat pitch. In spite of this, it appeared evident cabin crew were keen to sell the extra-legroom seats left unoccupied, so this is something to bear in mind. Even though 230 passengers can fly on Wizz’s A321 aircraft, this is achieved by Airbus’ Space-Flex scheme and slim line seats which achieve great economics simultaneously with adequate space and comfort.

Wizz Air Flight 1302 to Warsaw became airborne at 0836am – just 20 minutes behind schedule – and we were informed of a flight time of 1hr 50mins. Soon after departure, Monica and Anna passed through the cabin with the food options for the journey.

The cabin crew on my flight were truly caring and cheery. They give the impression that they thoroughly enjoy working for Wizz and refer to themselves as ‘Wizz Ambassadors’ proudly sporting their vivid and vibrant brand. They completed every task with a smile, and had a genuine enthusiasm for their work. I was very impressed! View the slideshow below to take a look at the cabin and in-flight service:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I love the freshness of the Wizz Air brand; it stands out in the aviation industry and reflects many of their revolutionary policies such as Wizz Flex or Wizz Discount Club. The Wizz Discount Club is a membership scheme that results in massive savings for those who travel frequently, and even those who only travel twice or three times a year. It also results in perks such as priority boarding, and access to ‘Member-Only’ deals. These benefits can also be extended to your travel companions. What’s more, Standard Membership only costs €29.99. In addition, Wizz’s new Flexible Travel Partner service provides you the opportunity to create a new reservation without adding all passenger names at the time of booking. When creating the booking, it is sufficient to provide only one name and include more passengers without an additional fee, unlike other airlines.

DESTINATION: WARSAW

Warsaw is a true gem – up and coming as one of the best cities to savour across Europe. An architectural mix of St Petersburg and Paris, old and new are elegantly combined, with a shiny centre and a quaint ‘Old Town’ (rebuilt after the horrors of the Second World War). Lazienki Park provides a reprieve from the bustling Old Town, with a beautiful ‘floating palace’, large expanses of greenery and an abundance of Red Squirrels. Add this to superb value for money, frequent flights from the UK with Wizz Air, authentic atmosphere and a heart-warming local cuisine and Warsaw is a new name topping the list of many European travellers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE VERDICT: WIZZ AIR

Compared to other low cost carriers, Wizz Air tops the league table easily. Organised, welcoming and comfortable; they fulfil their slogan ‘Now we can all fly’ with pride and honesty, reaching out to more people than ever before with an ever-growing network. The fact that Wizz Air also flies to Chopin airport, rather than Ryanair’s alternative of Modlin, is very convenient – being only 20 minutes from central Warsaw.

W!ZZ’s branding is unique among the aviation industry.

Wizz Air operates frequent flights from Luton to Warsaw with fares starting from £24.99 (One way, including all taxes, non-optional charges and one cabin bag), enabling everyone to explore this beautiful city. Wizz Air also flies to Warsaw from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Doncaster Sheffield and Liverpool. Flights can be booked at wizzair.com. I can’t wait to explore more of what Poland has to offer, with Wizz.


Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Wizz Air

Singapore Airlines Unveils Luxurious New Cabins

For months, Singapore has had the aviation industry excited. With so many disruptive new Premium products introduced by airlines, such as Etihad’s Residence and Qatar’s Q Suites, Singapore Airlines needed to re-establish its place at the forefront of the market. As part of this, Singapore Airlines is unveiling new Suites, business, premium economy, and economy products. Recently, you could say Singapore has been ‘teasing’ us with videos and pictures showing different aspects of the suite. Here is one such of those videos, released on the launch of the new cabins:

Singapore air first class suites

This is how Singapore Airlines describes the new Suites in their press release:

With six Suites tucked spaciously within the front cabin of the upper deck, customers will experience a sense of exclusivity and intimate privacy aboard the A380. Behind its artistically-designed sliding door lies a personal oasis complete with lavish furnishing and finishes. Each Suite is furnished with a separate full-flat bed with adjustable recline and plush leather chair, enabling customers to lounge comfortably in the chair or rest in bed without the need to convert the bed from a sitting position. For couples travelling together, the beds in the first two Suites of each aisle can be converted to form a double bed. Each seat is fully adjustable using an electronic control side panel which can accommodate a variety of sitting and lounging positions. The swivel capability of the chair with recline up to 45 degrees provides added flexibility for dining and relaxation. Each Suite also has a full-sized personal wardrobe, customised handbag stowage compartment, amenity box lined with soft leather, specially designed carpet and a feature wall with mood lighting – all exquisitely crafted to give a touch of luxury and intimacy.

Singapore challenged Etihad with their individual suite, here. Creating a ‘Residence-Style’ experience, which certainly looks exclusive and luxurious.

The Individual First Suite

One possible disappointment is that Singapore won’t be offering onboard showers, such as Emirates, but rather two lavatories including a smaller ‘standard’ suite (although this looks anything but standard to those who fly Economy!). Then, they will offer a larger lavatory, including a dressing table.

Singapore Airlines’ New Lavatory

Continuing with their tradition, Singapore will again offer double-beds. In this product, the second row of the suites will convert, offering two seats and a double bed.

Singapore’s Duo Suites

One fault of this seems to be that there is no space for a couple to dine together, unlike on Etihad. This is of course a minor issue, but when comparing the products, this could be a game-changer.

Singapore air new business class

Singapore will offer cocoon style seats, again, with individual seats by the window:

Singapore’s New Business Class

Whereas in the centre of the cabin, they will offer a convertible double-bed. This is a game-changer in Business Class, and looks like the ultimate luxury for couples on business. However, does this deter people from paying that extra money for Suites Class?

Centre Double Seats on Singapore’s new Business Class

Singapore will debut their new cabins on the five new A380s they will receive over the next couple of years. The first route will be Singapore to Sydney – from 18th December 2017 – although I find it hard to believe London will be far behind.

Although this offering is underwhelming for some, I think that this, coupled with Singapore’s renowned in-flight service, will help the airline to reposition itself as the leader of the market once again.

Aer Lingus Regional ATR-72 Review

The ATR aircraft family is the fastest selling turboprop worldwide since 2005. With over 200 airline operators, these efficient turboprops impressively land and depart every 8 seconds! Stobart Air’s fleet comprises wholly of ATR aircraft, two smaller ATR-42 aircraft and 15 larger ATR-72 aircraft, operated on behalf of Aer Lingus Regional in Ireland, and, in the UK, Flybe. On 30th August, I had the pleasure of experiencing first hand, the comfort, efficiency and modernity of this aircraft and the close-knit Aer Lingus Regional family.

The Aircraft

Stobart Air’s ATR72-600 aircraft are some of the most modern in the skies. EI-FAW operated my first flight of the day, an aircraft just three years old. Contrary to the obsolete stigma that turboprop aircraft carried, they are – in reality – quiet, comfortable & efficient, helping the viability of ‘thin’ but vital connections between the UK and Ireland and developing secondary and tertiary airports. For example, 100 new routes are launched every year with ATR aircraft.

In addition, the aircraft helps Stobart Air operate profitably, with unbeatable economics for regional routes. Operating costs on the competing turboprop aircraft are 20% higher than then ATR while regional jets are at least 40% higher and, as my Captain, Shane, pointed out, an A320 aircraft simply taking off and banking used nearly as much fuel as our ATR aircraft would need for the whole flight from Dublin to Leeds Bradford.

Wingview approaching Dublin

The cabin was impressive and extremely spacious. The seats used were lightweight, but very comfortable and the legroom offered was adequate enough to stretch your legs straight out, thanks to the generous 31” seat pitch and slimline seats. The cabin also boasted the widest seats and aisles of any other regional aircraft, allowing the seats to have 18.6” of width. In terms of short haul travel, it was definitely one of the best cabins I have experienced, and enjoyed my journey in great comfort. It is configured in a 2-2 layout, accommodating 70 people and, like Aer Lingus Mainline, there is no business class cabin.

The comfortable and modern cabin of the ATR.

The cockpit is also one of the most technologically advanced I have seen, bringing the latest technology to regional aviation, the ATR -600 features a glass cockpit by Thales. In addition, being made in Toulouse, it inherits lots of similarities from the Airbus family cockpits.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Outbound – LBA-DUB

My outbound flight was scheduled to leave at 0855, however, due to highly efficient boarding, we departed 10 minutes earlier. Juan and Jakub did a great job of preparing the cabin for departure and issued a warm welcome to everyone on board. Then came the beautiful buzz of the propellers. Sat in seat 4F, I had an exceptional view of the wing, and as this was my first flight on a turboprop aircraft, I was very over-excited! The only thing to bear in mind when flying with Stobart Air is the food and refreshment selection is very limited – don’t expect hot food as the aircraft simply does not have the equipment or, for that matter, the time on such a short hop. Around 20 minutes ahead of schedule, we touched down in Dublin. Once on stand, I made my way up to the cockpit. Because of the ATR’s design, you must walk through a small corridor where cargo and hold luggage is held to get to the flight deck. The Captain and First Officer gave me a great explanation as to how everything works, and said they’d be heading to Bristol in 50mins. Sure enough, whilst walking through St. Stephen’s Green in the centre of Dublin, EI-FAW soared above me, with the crew I’d just met at the helm.

“Under the Wing!”

If I thought my outbound flight was good, I was in for a treat on the inbound sector!

 Inbound – DUB-LBA

1 hour prior to boarding, I was met by John Dillon – the Duty Manager for Stobart Air’s flights out of Dublin – who informed me that he would be able to get me out to the aircraft for a tour as soon as it arrived from Edinburgh. Whilst EI-FAS (my ride home) was on final approach, we made our way out to the remote stands, where the regional aircraft boarded. As this was my first experience of an airside tour, I was overwhelmed as I watched my aircraft arrive on stand. I boarded the aircraft to be met by Shane – the Captain for our flight home, who offered a full tour of the aircraft, and explained everything inside and out, in such a friendly and enthusiastic manner. I consider myself to be knowledgeable about aviation, but I learned so much from this tour. To be up close and personal with all aspects of the aircraft and the cockpit was amazing. As the other passengers boarded, I met Calvin and Catherine, the endearing cabin crew operating my flight, who went above and beyond to help their guests, clearly taking great pride in their work. They made every effort to ensure their passengers had a great flight; going to great lengths to make sure everyone was sitting with their travel companion – something you wouldn’t find any other airline doing! Thanks to their warm and helpful attitudes, and the overwhelming experience I had beforehand, this flight will go down as one of the best.

Conclusion

In conclusion, flying Aer Lingus Regional was a great experience. From the friendly faces of the crew, to the punctuality of the flights, it really accumulates to become an effective way to fly between Ireland and the UK, in addition to being able to connect to the US, from UK regional airports such as Leeds, Southampton and Newquay, utilising Dublin’s US Border Pre-Clearance facility. Stobart Air is ambitious about its future, welcoming Embraer 195s into its fleet from October this year which I will also be reviewing, and I am confident that this small, but charming airline will continue to prosper as it grows.

Aer Lingus Regional flies thirteen times per week between Leeds/Bradford and Dublin, with prices starting from £25 one way. For more information on fares and schedules and to book log on to www.aerlingus.com.

disclaimer: this trip was provided by Stobart Air