Air Baltic 737 Business Class Review

As you will read in this flight review, my trip on Air Baltic was two things: a massive success and a massive failure.

Air Baltic had initially invited me to fly out on their 737-300 and fly back into London, the very next day, on their flagship Bombardier CS300, both in business class. However, due to an unforeseen operational mishap, my CS300 was swapped at the last minute for another 737Classic, thus leaving me without a trip on the new Bomabrdier jet. However, as you will later find out, my return flight inherently became the best flights of my life, knocking the incredible A350-1000 flight with Raj off the top spot.

My outbound flight was the evening departure from London Gatwick to Riga (one of 2 daily services). This flight is supposed to be operated by the CS300 so it was horrible luck that I ended up on the 737Classic twice (this first flight was a known equipment swap). However, I was yet to fly on the -300 variant of the 737 so I was not fussed. Air Baltic has a total of 6 737-300 and 5 737-500 ageing classics in their fleet and currently operate the largest CS300 fleet in the world with a total of 20 aircraft ordered and eight currently flying. They have recently placed an order for 30 more CS300s and acquired options for a further 30 aircraft. The total value of this order is being placed at about $2.9 billion, based on list prices.

“I am excited to grow our fleet up to 80 CS300 aircraft while phasing out our other aircraft types in the next three years.” Air Baltic’s Chief executive, Martin Gauss.

Photo Credit: Air-Baltic

Flight Number 1 | Air Baltic B737-300 Business Class

Business class passengers departing from London Gatwick can enjoy the No.1 lounge at South Terminal, with access via passes handed out during the check in process. This lounge is perfect for a quick drink and a snack and has hot food on order. The fact it is also a ‘pay to enter’ lounge means it is unsurprisingly busy most of the time. However, it does offer an amazing view over the apron of which you can gaze at for hours watching the busy airport life pass by.

Priority boarding at the gate was strictly enforced and the handling agent made sure business class passengers boarded first. Once on-board the crew distributed pre-departure drinks, with a choice of orange or still water. Menu cards were handed out while still on the ground.

Once boarding was complete we had to incur a small delay while waiting for a take-off slot.

Taxiing out towards 08R

The Business class configuration on-board Air Baltic is very similar to the product of most other European carriers whereby the middle seat is blocked off. The Recaro seats show their age but the seat itself was pleasant enough for the near 3 hour flight, the tray tables were adequately large and do slide towards the user.

After the long taxi out to Runway 08R, we took to the skies bound for Latvia and after reaching a safe altitude, the cabin crew were released and more beverages were served. One thing I noticed throughout the entire flight was how diligent the crew were, as I was constantly asked if I would like a refill or another drink.

After a short while orders were taken for the hot meals. I opted for the sweet and sour chicken with rice. As I was flying on standby, however, this wasn’t the normal meal of a business class passenger but you can see the business class meal in my second flight below. As the flight progressed the sun continued to set over Europe, a sight best seen from 39,000ft.

Sunset from 39,000ft

The flight itself had been for the most part, smooth and this was no exception for the stunning approach into Riga, where we touched down safely on Runway 36 with only 15minutes of delay. Riga airport is home to only a small handful of jet bridges, so it is no surprise that we were parked on a remote stand with buses back to the terminal. After a small flight deck visit and photo opportunity with the crew I boarded the bus back to the terminal where border control took an easy five minutes. I  was soon off to my hotel where I enjoyed a pleasant night in Riga city center.

Touching down on Runway 36

View from St Peters Church

Flight Number 2 | Air Baltic 737-300 – With a Twist

My flight back home was scheduled to be operated by the Bombardier CS300, hence the trip out to Riga to review their flagship product. However it seems the aviation gods were messing around today and flight radar had my flight down as being operated by a 73C (The same aircraft type I had previously flown only a few hours ago). I was evidently frustrated at the time, in essence rendering my trip a failure.

I had obtained special permission to film onboard this flight as I was supposed to be making a small video about the CS300 and thankfully I still had the permission to film as it was granted for flight BT653 from RIX-LGW, no matter which aircraft.

Once onboard, I greeted the crew and showed them the letter of approval. The flight crew were very accommodating and let me mount my GoPro in the flight-deck to get some footage for the video. As you will see from the pictures below, I was also invited into the flight-deck for landing after securing special permission from Air Baltic HQ. This really did make it one of the most incredible experiences! Being able to sit on a jump-seat is the pinnacle of any av-geeks dream and is the closest you can get to flying the real thing!

View from the jump seat

I will not go into any significant detail of this flight, as it was operated by the same aircraft type, and I was sitting in the same class cabin. My experience in Business class was still faultless and the crew were still great. This time round I was able to try out their proper Business class meal, on this particular flight it was Salmon with Sweet Potato. The meal was served piping hot and was excellent. Due to huge electrical storms over England the flight back to London was unsurprisingly bumpy and we had to route around the weather, but the crew still managed to land safely and on-time.

Salmon with Sweet Potato

My Conclusion

Both my Air Baltic flights had consisted of exceptional service and professionalism. The crew on both flights were attentive in their service, constantly making sure you were well fed and hydrated. The aircraft them-self, although old in their age, were well maintained but lacked what I would call ‘modern day necessities’ like universal power sockets or USB charging ports. I would never hesitate to fly Air Baltic again and i would love to properly test out their CS300 product.

The only negative that stood out was the Business Class ticket price and indeed the economy ticket price. You are paying a hefty premium to fly Air Baltic over the likes of the low-cost carriers operating in this region, such as WizzAir or Ryanair, and for some this premium may not simply be worth it for the 2hr30minute flight. For example on the 13th June a one way ticket from London to Riga would cost £65 with WizzAir from Luton, whereas Air Baltic from Gatwick would set you back a hefty £282 (Economy class Ticket). Worth the price? That’s up to you.

diclaimer: This trip was fully provided by Air Baltic. I was under no pressure to express any specific point of view and all opinions are my own.

More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

WestJet B737MAX Review

Buckle up ladies and gentlemen because this flight review is certainly extra ordinary. It all began while curiously searching Kayak, my favourite search engine, a week or so ago, I had noticed that the seasonal WestJet service to Halifax Nova Scotia from Glasgow, Scotland had just restarted. This WestJet operated flight from Glasgow to Halifax does not, however, finish up in Halifax, the final destination is Toronto Pearson. Prices from Glasgow to Toronto were seemingly cheap and – with some further price hunting – I managed to score a fantastic deal from Glasgow to Toronto via Halifax, and then from Toronto back to London Gatwick, also via Halifax. Flying back into London Gatwick was not only more convenient for me as I am based in Brighton, but it allowed me to compare Westjet’s brand new 737MAX8 to their ageing 737-700 product. I have always been intrigued about how these narrow body 737s fly transatlantic, and how this impacts the passenger experience, and now I had the chance to put this theory to the test and try them both for myself!

Photo Credit: AirwaysMag

It was only a few days later when I found myself eagerly awaiting my flight to Canada at Glasgow Airport. I had pre-booked my priority security which was only £4.99, and unlike the priority security at most other UK airports, it was super-efficient, and did not merge with the other security traffic. I was through security in 3 minutes, saving me upwards of 15-20 minutes.

Glasgow Airport has certainly seen better days, the facilities airside were not too bad, but the overall architecture was ancient and the airport will need renovation in the near future. When it was eventually time to board the aircraft, the ‘zone’ boarding system WestJet has in place was properly enforced, however once in the jetty way we found ourselves waiting for nearly 15 minutes for the ground crew and flight attendants to finish prepping the cabin and aircraft. Once on-board I took my seat 6A, which had a fantastic view on the 737-700 and I started setting up my GoPro and other camera equipment.

Wingview from seat 6F

 

After sitting on the ground for upwards of  30 minutes with no update from the flight crew, it was evident something was wrong. The captain finally informed us that due to a discrepancy between the aircrafts log book and the Thomas Cook engineers at Glasgow, we could not take off immediately, and had to await information from WestJet’s maitainance team. In the meantime, the crew offered water to all passengers. Then finally, with a delay of 1 hour, we pushed back from our stand at Glasgow Airport, still unaware of the actual technical problem that we faced earlier. Nevertheless we took off from runway 23,  1 hour late, bound for Nova Scotia!

Takeoff out of Glasgow

Once airborne the fantastic WestJet connect became available to use. Most of WestJet’s fleet are equipped with this ‘SATCOM’ antenna which provides services like entertainment, flight map, and for an added fee, Wi-Fi to your tablet device. You must have the official WestJet app downloaded to be able to take advantage of this. I personally found the service flawless and I ended up purchasing a small amount of inflight Wi-Fi although sadly that was not as fast as I had hoped. I started my own inflight meal service about 20minutes in and I tucked into my WHSmiths meal deal; I knew that there was only a snack and small drink offered so I needed to bring my own refreshments. When the free service was finally offered by the flight attendants, I chose a coke and a small bag of pretzels. I will emphasise that you must buy food beforehand, as coping 6hours on a small bag of pretzels and a coke is certainly not do-able! As the flight progressed I was surprisingly relaxed, the legroom on the 737-700 was great and well above my expectations.

There was a universal power adapter on each seat to charge your electronic devices as well as a USB charge port. The 737-700 Next Generation CFM56 engines were quite loud but with headphones in it was much less noticeable and compared to the option of a WestJet Boeing 767 from London, it was most likely similar.  It also felt certainly more personal on the narrow aisle 737 and your interaction with the crew is more intimate too.

Due to the cramped flight deck of the 737,  and the longer flight time transatlantic, the flight crew kept switching giving them some time to stretch their legs. I got talking to the first officer while he was on his break and this was when I found out that the technical problem we encountered back in Glasgow was that this aircraft was no longer ETOPS. An ETOPS certified aircraft can fly more than 60 minutes from a diversion airport, in essence allowing the 737 to fly transatlantic, but due to a discrepancy on the ground the aircraft was no longer flying ETOPS. Therefore, the flight crew had to plan an alternative route to Canada overflying central Greenland, maintaining close proximity to land, hence our delay in Glasgow.  From a photographer’s perspective this was phenomenal, overflying central Greenland provided some incredible views and with crystal clear skies it was a truly magical experience.

Overflying Greenland

The 6 hour flight time had seemingly flown by, after watching a couple of films we were practically already in Canada! Flying on-board the smallest 737 had been impressively comfortable, not what I would have expected from a narrow aisle jet. We started our descent into Nova Scotia where the weather was also stunning with now only 30minutes of delay. After the “WestJet Stretch” on the ground at Halifax I had a quick flight deck visit and chat with the jolly flight crew from today’s flight. At Halifax all passengers have to de-plane, even those carrying on to Toronto and pass through the Canadian Border Control. I unfortunately then had to pass through immigration as well which ate into my connection time. At this point Passengers with checked luggage have to pick up their hold luggage from a carousel and then like all other connecting passengers then pass through security for domestic departures, the same process as the security in Glasgow. A handy tip I found out when talking to a security agent is that any duty free purchased in Glasgow over 100ml will not be allowed through and so they recommend after picking up your luggage from the carousel putting it in there.

A fellow 737MAX pushing back next to us for a flight to Ottawa

Once back airside at Halifax there was just enough time to grab a smoothie before boarding my onward flight to Toronto. This leg of the flight was being operated by WestJet’s brand new Boeing 737MAX8. I would recommend waiting until you are airside in Halifax or even waiting until you have landed in Toronto for buying a coffee, as my connection time was 2hours and I only just made it through security in time. The plus side is that you arrive in Toronto as a domestic arrival so you do not have to go through border control.

Wingview from seat 20F

Once on-board you could immediately tell that this aircraft was brand spanking new, the cabin was absolutely spotless. The MAX sure does set itself apart from the Next Generation 737s, as I mentioned in my LOT MAX review, it feels like mini Dreamliner! WestJet have ordered a whopping 65 Boeing 737MAXs to replace their ageing fleet of -600s/700s. Their older aircraft will no doubt ably swap hands into their new low-cost subsidiary, “Swoop” which will begin flying in June 2018. After taking my seat, I went to attach my GoPro to my window, as I would normally do. As soon as it made contact with the window an angry flight attendant descended on me and swiftly told me to remove the device as it may “shoot off the window due to the pressure changes”. I was in no place to argue as I was already super tired and I did not want to cause a scene but I have never been asked before to remove my GoPro. The pressure change would never cause the gopro to fly of as the suction cup is attached to the window, and the cabin pressure is maintained throughout the flight so there would not be any dangerous pressure build up that would cause the camera to fly off. Instead I had to resort to manual iPhone filming for the YouTube review, this was in no way as stable footage but it would do for this flight.

WestJet 737MAX cabin (Photo by WestJet)
Takeoff out of Halifax, NS

We experienced some “light chop” for most part of this short hop to Toronto. The snack service was identical to the one on my previous flight. I must say, I was getting annoyed of the WestJet pretzels by the 4th bag!

The MAX itself was remarkably quiet, just as I had remembered it from my flight with LOT Polish late last year. The legroom was fantastic, and not only due to the generous 33”, but the considerably larger overhead storage (the new ‘Space Bins’) allows travelers to store all their carry-on luggage above them, eliminating the need to place bags under the seat in front of you. Another noticeable feature of the MAX is the redesigned light switches that helps to avoid calling flight attendants by mistake. The flight itself was largely uneventful, and after the scenic descent into Toronto, we touched down on runway 23, 10 minutes ahead of schedule! But a long taxi made that 10 minutes a more realistic five. At Toronto, as mentioned previously, you simply exit into the departure lounge where I was 10 paces away from my flight back to Halifax. Any passengers that have their travels terminate at Toronto can simply exit the terminal as a domestic passenger, as you cleared border control back in Nova Scotia.

Westjet 737MAX pushing back at Toronto

I am not going to bore you with the details of the 2 flights I took after deboarding in Toronto, as they were quite simply the reverse of what I had just done, landing in Gatwick rather than Glasgow. These flights were also on the 737-700 and 737MAX, so my passenger experience was near identical. The flight crew upheld the high standards set by the crews on my earlier two flights and I arrived back into Halifax and Gatwick on time!

Landing on Runway 26L at Gatwick

Overall, my personal WestJet experience had been flawless. The cabin crew were great fun yet professional and the seat pitch and width were great. The entertainment worked really well on the WestJet connect app.

Don’t be put off by the thought of a narrow body plane to cross the Atlantic; it’s probably one of the most pleasant flights I have had in economy!

I always check my flights through Kayak, this way I can found out what aircraft type I am flying pre-booking, and therefore tailor my sectors based on the aircraft type. I then proceed to SkyScanner to book.

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Cobalt Air Business & Economy A320 Review

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


Cheap fares on this amazing aircraft? Be sure to check out SkyScanner who have amazing prices on this leg.


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!

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.



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.

 

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

British Airways B787-9 Premium Economy 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.

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More Boeing 787 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Flybe ATR-72 Economy Review

100 new routes are launched with the ATR every year. Flybe’s foray into the UK domestic market from London Southend is a prime example of how marginal routes can be made viable by the ATR – with new routes to Glasgow, Manchester and also across the channel to Continental Europe, promoting and increasing connectivity to secondary and tertiary markets, boosting local economies. Due to its versatility, these efficient turboprops are operated by over 200 airlines and depart every 8 seconds! Stobart Air has taken advantage of the ATR’s positives, whose fleet comprises mainly of turboprop aircraft, three of which are operated by Flybe. Whilst I’d experienced the aircraft back in August with Aer Lingus’ Regional division, I was intrigued to see how Flybe was changing the dynamic of the UK domestic market with their new flights from Manchester to London Southend. Since Flybe’s rebrand in 2014, when the now iconic purple livery was introduced, they have used the ‘faster than road or rail’ slogan for their domestic services, so is Flybe actually the best way to travel across Britain?

As most of Flybe’s flights don’t use jet bridges, boarding began from the ground floor gates at Manchester Terminal 3 approximately half an hour before departure. After a warm welcome from Patrick, Elizabeth helped the passengers find their allocated seats and I settled in. EI-FMJ, my ride for the day, surprised me with the modernity of the cabin. At just two years old, it again proved the stereotype that all turboprop aircraft are old and uncomfortable completely wrong.

The ATR offers a modern, airy cabin, in a 2-2 configuration.

The seats were slim line, and upholstered with black leather. Every row had ample legroom – I was able to stretch my legs out straight in front of me – which offered unparalleled comfort for such a short journey, compared to a train or coach.  Personal overhead panels were also available, with reading lights, fresh air nozzles and a call button, which were surrounded by ambient blue mood lighting. The cabin was configured in a one-class configuration, in a 2-2 setup, seating 70 people.

Flybe’s ATR seats 70 passengers comfortably.

We departed just after our schedule departure time of 08:25am, breaking through the thick layer of cloud to reveal a beautiful sunrise view. This reminded me how much I love flying.

Departing Manchester, passengers were treated to a fabulous view – something you don’t find on a train.

Shortly after departure, Patrick and Elizabeth began the onboard service. This is provided by Flybe’s ‘Café Air’ buy on board scheme, and offers a wide range of refreshments. Tapas, sweet treats, porridge and meal deals were all available – in addition to the usual tea and coffee options. Prices were reasonable, but much better value than food from motorway services for example. The flight from then on was extremely relaxing and I engaged in some conversation with the cabin crew, who shared my excitement about taking the new E-Jet flight from Southend-Dublin later that day, and said they’d be working the flight to Rennes in France next before travelling back to cloudy Manchester.

CONCLUSION: Is Flybe the best option for travelling domestically?

It may not surprise you that I’m a huge fan of flying, but when travelling domestically in the UK, Flybe really is convenient.

Flying is both more convenient, relaxing and enjoyable – especially with Stobart Air.

They offer a relaxing but fast experience, always with a friendly face – with the added benefit of a swift airport process in London Southend – 5 minutes from plane to train – and a transit of only 53 minutes directly into Liverpool Street. What’s more, Flybe offers much better value than their larger competitors such as British Airways on many domestic sectors with fares from just £29.99 one way (incl taxes and charges) and numerous frequencies, with three flights every weekday.


Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Flybe, on behalf of Stobart Air.


  • Flybe ATR-72 Manchester-London
  • Southend Airport ‘SkyLife’ Lounge Review
  • Flybe Embraer E195 London-Dublin
  • Southend Airport: Simply Easier
  • Aer Lingus Flagship Dublin Lounge Review
  • Aer Lingus Airbus A320 Dublin-Manchester

Air Canada 737MAX and A320 Review

On the 11th of December 2017, Air Canada achieved a milestone in their history as Canada’s National Carrier; their first revenue Boeing 737 MAX flight. This is a huge moment for Air Canada as their short to medium haul fleet is in dire need of replacement. Air Canada’s A320 type aircraft have an average age of 23.9 years. Unfortunately, their due date is fast approaching.

The MAX will open up many opportunities for the airline, ranging from sending them overseas to regular fights within Canada and to the USA. It is imperative that the MAX will become the workhorse of the airline and will become the common sight of the airline.

Air Canada has ordered 50 MAX 8 type aircraft and significantly reduced their MAX 9 order to 11. Despite Air Canada’s desire to make the MAX the backbone of their short haul fleet, there is speculation that Air Canada is more interested in Boeing’s MoM and would make more sense economically than the larger MAX. Others say that Air Canada is planning to keep their A321’s for longer than expected and would deem the MAX 9 irrelevant. To further enforce this point, all current A321s are going to be retrofitted in Air Canada’s new interior which we will see in the new MAX.

So, background information over, lets get on to the all important flight experience. Before enjoying the experience of an inaugural flight itself, I must first get to Toronto, then jet off to Calgary for the celebrations, turning around and coming back to Montreal (again on the MAX), then finally return home to Halifax. I knew, this was to be some journey.

Route 1: YHZ-YYZ

Aircraft: Airbus A320-211

Registration: C-FTJO

Age: 26.8 years old

Seat: 17A

This is my first leg of my four-leg journey across Canada and back. This morning’s flight is AC608, departing from Halifax at 05:25 and arriving in Toronto at around 06:30. A prime example of the ageing nature of Air Canada’s short haul fleet – this flight is operated by a 26.8-year-old Airbus A320-211 C-FTJO.

Upon arriving at gate 22, I went to see the gate agent if I could get a seat change as I was sitting in 23B which is a middle seat. The kind lady at the desk changed my seat to 17A, an exit row (SCORE!).

Boarding started on time at 04:50. I was Zone 5 so I was one of the last to board. Once at my seat, I settled in. Being that this row was an exit row, the seats didn’t recline, however, what lacks in recline is made up of legroom, a lot of it. I am 5 “ 11 and I had ample legroom, in addition, the middle seat was vacant allowing me to spread out. Frankly, I was very comfortable.

Air Canada’s Airbus A320 Cabin – the old face of Air Canada’s short haul fleet.

The captain made his announcement with the details of the flight: 2h3min flight time,  2h43mins gate to gate and stated that we should be expecting a smooth flight right into Toronto where it was currently -6 Celsius (brrr).

We pushed back on time at 05:15 and taxied to the deicing pad. De-Icing took around 10 minutes, we then made the short taxi to runway 25 and took off at 05:40.

The “Onboard Café” service started right after the seatbelt sign was turned off, following the drink service. I had opted out of food as I had just eaten back at the airport, for drinks; I had the usual: a coffee and water. This is always my go-to for early morning flights –  basically, as much caffeine that I can get.

Flight attendants distributed water, about 10 minutes after the main drink service. This is one aspect that I greatly appreciate from Air Canada, as a frequent flyer, water is a key to surviving these long days. I try to have at least 3 glasses of water a flight, this way, you stay hydrated and alert.

We started descending about 30 minutes prior to landing. The seatbelt signs came on as we neared our final approach onto runway 6R. The landing was smooth and within 10 minutes, we were at gate 26 and disembarked.

Now, the inaugural ceremony!

Route 2: YYZ – YYC

Aircraft: Boeing 737 MAX 8

Registration: C-FSCY

Age: 3 days old

Seat: 31E

I had just arrived off of my Halifax flight, the gate of the inaugural was only a couple of minutes walk down the hallway. Upon arriving at the gate, there was a banner saying “ Welcome aboard Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX”. Lying in wait, there was a large table with multiple croissants, water, fruit and muffins.

The MAX was parked at the gate in full view of the lounge area. The livery on the aircraft looks amazing in person, even better than in photos.

The MAX lying in wait.

It was evident that there was a lot of employees and so called av-geeks around, people were taking pictures and everyone seemed in high spirits given the time of morning (07:00). Boarding started a little late at 08:00.  I Was sitting in seat 31E, a middle seat. Upon entering the jet bridge, all passengers were handed a small gift pack that includes a small package of Air Canada sticky notes, an Air Canada rondelle pin and a keychain.

Once aboard, I settled into the middle seat. First impressions of the cabin are really good. It is modern, clean and has that distinctive new plane smell.

The ‘Sky Interior’ onboard the 737 MAX.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me was the lack of legroom; although not terrible, It closely resembles the legroom onboard Air Canada Rouge A319s and A321s, it is definitely a little tight. My knees were up against the seat pocket.

Once everyone boarded, the enthusiastic captain came onto the loudspeaker to introduce the new aircraft and give us flight times. Flight time for today is 3h50 minutes with a relatively smooth ride. Once pushed back, for the second time of the day, we taxied to the de-ice pad where we stayed for 15 minutes.

One thing I’d like to note when sitting in the very back of the plane, it is just as loud as an a320 on takeoff roll, I am told that in front of the engines is where the real difference is. On my return leg, I’m sitting in preferred so I’ll be very close to the engines. Service started with a champagne service for all economy passengers to celebrate the new aircraft!  The drink and food service soon followed. Since I was sitting in the rear of the plane, I got served one hour into the flight. I  bought a small chicken wrap, it was very tasty.

The Air Canada Café offering.

I then decided to venture off the bathrooms. A320 bathrooms are very generous compared to the rear economy bathrooms on the MAX. Although doable, the bathrooms are super small. You can barely move around in them, I couldn’t imagine it for larger passengers, they wouldn’t be able to fit! Literally!

Besides the point, Boeing did a really good job micro-sizing the bathroom and everything is compact and easy to use.

We started descending into Calgary and landed a little after 11 am. We got to the gate and disembarked. I was taken back to the fact that there was no water cannon salute as when Air Canada first flew their 787, there was one.

Route 3: YYC – YUL

I now embarked on my next journey – with the same MAX I had just disembarked. At the gate, there was a similar setup to the inauguration ceremony in Toronto; a small table with cupcakes and water. Complimentary, of course.  The flight was delayed approximately 30mins due to the crew needing to do a safety check of the aircraft as it was new.

I was seated in 15A in the new “preferred section” of the plane. There are 8 rows of preferred behind the business class cabin.

The preferred section of the aircraft had much improved legroom and I’d definitely recommend paying that little extra.

I was relatively restless as the flight prior, I was squished into that dreaded middle seat in the normal economy with limited legroom.  And oh boy what a treat this was: The preferred section has legroom compared to business class! At least double the legroom of the normal economy, I could stretch out and for an added bonus, the middle seat was free!

This was great, however, the only drawback is that the window in 15A is aligned ahead of the seat. In order to see out the window, I must lean forward. Besides that, despite my best efforts to make the most of the flight, I fell asleep right after takeoff and didn’t wake up until the meal service started around 1 hour later.

Climbing out of Calgary!

The preferred experience is the perfect balance between Air Canada’s Business class product and Economy product. It is tailored to the passenger that don’t necessarily have the money to spend on a big Business class ticket but still wants to be comfortable and have decent legroom.

The difference between Preferred economy and Economy is night and day. I would highly advise anyone to pay the extra fee to upgrade as I believe it is only $70, you will arrive at your destination much more relaxed and fresh.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. We started our descent with 20 minutes left into the flight and landed on 24R. It was another couple of minutes to get to the gate where we were parked for about 15 minutes in order to conduct tests.

A320 VS 737 MAX: How do they compare?

To settle all arguments regarding the A320 and the 737 MAX 8, I will do a quick comparison between the two. I’ll go over Legroom, window alignment, seat recline bathrooms, the IFE and overall comfort.

A320:

Window alignment on the 320 is good, it is just below or at head level for me. The windows are typical A320 windows that offer good visibility. However, as an added bonus, the exit windows have a shade that slides up from the bottom allowing full view of the window without that typical notch that is left on the top when the window shade is up.

I have flown on Air Canada’s A320s countless times and the legroom in typical economy is good as it is. Normal economy legroom is usually enough for me while still leaving room for my knees to spread out. The exit row allows more legroom and more room to spread out. As a typical exit seat, the seat doesn’t recline but are matched in legroom.

Seat recline in normal economy is typical, nothing special. It allows for a relaxing position if you want to call an economy seat relaxing. However, one thing on the 320 is that when the seat in front of you reclines, your personal IFE comes right up in your face, you almost always need to adjust it.

Bathrooms on the 320 are yet again, nothing special. Simply typical aircraft washrooms, small with one wall being a mirror. There are no windows (unlike the 787 and the 777), and it is clean. The IFE on the A320 offers Legacy type Personal touch-screen TVs. This Legacy IFE system was one of the first generations of personal IFE. Compared to Air Canada’s new Panasonic ex2 on their 777 and 787 type aircraft, the Legacy system is slow and relatively outdated as this system has been in all of Air Canada’s mainline jets since 2005.  Having said this, selection is extensive with all kinds of new movies, TV shows, and documentaries, it is sure to keep you entertained for your flight

737 MAX:

To have a completely fair comparison, I will compare my earlier a320 experience with my later Calgary-Montreal Experience as I was in preferred.

To start off, legroom is about the same as in an A320 exit row, nice and spacey, enough to stretch out. The seat itself I find more comfortable as the ones on the 320 as the ones on the max are fully padded leather. Window alignment is okay, its a minor issue, but the Airbus A320 takes the prize for this one.

The biggest difference between the two is without a question, the IFE. The IFE on the MAX is state-of-the-art, it boosts fast response times, an incredibly user-friendly layout, an awesome interactive 3D map and probably the best quirk of them all; A city guide to whichever city your destination is. This is really ingenious on the part of Air Canada, instead of passengers not really knowing about a foreign city, they can go on to their IFE’s and read up about the best places to stay, eat and shop. It is truly impressive and I’ve never seen it elsewhere.

The MAX boasts a state-of-the-art IFE system, guaranteed to keep passengers entertained.

Overall, unless sitting in preferred in the MAX, the old-school A320 is better for passenger comfort, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the MAX is uncomfortable, If you were sitting next to people you knew like your family, you could obviously stretch out a little more, also, if you had a free seat next to you it would certainly augment the experience and be more comfortable, and it goes without a doubt that the preferred product on the MAX is nothing short of amazing. It is definitely worth the extra money!

It goes to say that the MAX is the new generation of Air Canada. We will all get used to it over time, it will become the norm.

Final thoughts

Wow, what an amazing trip, traveling 7855 km in one day, across Canada and back, it was definitively worth it. To be the amongst the first 169 individuals to fly on the first flight is a very special feeling. To think that there will be thousands and thousands of people that will sit in that same seat that you did on the first flight is a surreal thought; you are making history. Also, it’s not very often that you get to experience that ‘new plane smell’.

Overall, the MAX is revolutionary, it is an amazing piece of machinery. Air Canada is going to use this plane as their workhorse. From sending them overseas to operating Rapid Air flights, it will change the scene completely.


This month’s guest review is by Will Dalton (@halifaxplanes).


Interested in being featured on LondonSpotter.co.uk? Email one of the team, or ethanegcc@gmail.com – to receive an application form and this could be you in January 2018. 

More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

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:

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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.

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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

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Thomson 757-200 Flight Review

  1. Thomson 757-200 Flight Review London Gatwick – Preveza

Thomson Airways have 14 Boeing 757-200s in their UK fleet and they are all set up in a 3-3 configuration with 221 seats! Yes, 221!

I flew onboard G-OOBP from London Gatwick to Preveza in ths summer to see what Thomson was offering in comparison to other European short-haul carriers I had tried.

Boarding the 757

I so quite excited for this flight as it was my first time on a 757. My first impression of the aircraft was that it definitely looked its age, from the seats to the overhead bins and even to the A/C system, you could tell it was an old bird. The mood lighting onboard, however, was a nice touch.

The seats used by Thomson on the 757 have 28″ of pitch which is a lot lower than many of the budget economy cabins seen today. If you, however, require more legroom, there are 18 seats with 33-34 inches of pitch that Thomson charge an extra cost to sit in. These seats are located in rows 9,10 and 11.

A notable feature of the 757 are the size of it’s windows. The windows are no way near comparable to those on the 787 and the CS100 but, nonetheless, gave a lovely view throughout the flight.

Cabin of G-OOBP

The aircraft is powered by 2 RB211 engines which deliver a huge amount of thrust for a single-aisle aircraft. This is a lovely feature of the 757. The aircraft is fitted with two galleys (rear and front) and four toilets.

We pushed back on time at London Gatwick and I was really impressed with the crew who were friendly and professional. The senior cabin crew member had no issue with me taking photos of the cabin before takeoff and after landing. Because there is no business class product onboard this aircraft, I booked a seat right at the front of the cabin for the best view, it also meant that fewer people were walking through the cabin during the flight as the front toilet is allocated for rows 1-10.

Inflight

Takeoff and climbout were smooth and the service started shortly after takeoff. There was the usual buy on board menu of which I ordered the chips and a coke (I had already eaten at Gatwick) They were not of the highest quality as the chips were a little soggy. They arrived within a minute of buying, however. The buy onboard menu was sufficient for the 4hour flight and you could pay in cash, YES CASH! (you hear that BA?) Later on in the flight they offered the lottery tickets, I am always up for those games on aircraft as they get rid of my loose change and all the money goes to charity, I even won a £2 voucher. With around an hour until landing, a second buy on board service was offered.

We started our descent into Preveza 3 and a half hours after we took off and the approach was beautiful. The landing was hard but safe as Preveza has a relitvely short runway due to it being an old military base so we needed enough time to slow down. As we pulled onto stand  I was allowed another visit to the flightdeck where I spent half an hour with the pilot talking about the aircraft and the future. It is always nice to see friendly pilots that are willing to chat to wannabe pilots! It was interesting to note that they carried their fuel for the return leg on the outbound flight as prices in Greece are very expensive.

Cockpit of G-OOBP

Overall my experience was positive and I was impressed with the service offered by Thomson. The crew were friendly and let me take shots of the aircraft almost whenever I wanted. TUI UK offer good prices when bought through package holidays which are often hard to beat when purchasing your own tickets. One downside of flying TUI is that you cant see what aircraft you are flying on until the day of travel.

Flying TUI is definitely one of the cheapest ways to fly during the summer season and is a nice example of a no-frills product done with sufficient ease for the passengers. Good job TUI.