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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Age: 26.8 years old
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.
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
Age: 3 days old
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve been reading my delivery reports recently, you’ll know that Norwegian are receiving B787s at a rapid rate. They currently have 32 on order but that will most likely be rising in the future. I flew one of their 787s on DY7016 – New York JFK to London Gatwick – in Norwegian’s ‘Premium’ cabin to see what they were offering.
Norwegian have both B787-8 and B787-9 Dreamliners in their fleet. The -8 variant has 32 premium seats and the -9 has 35. I flew on G-CJUI, a 787-9 model that was delivered to Norwegian in April 2017. The aircraft is setup with 42 rows – the first 5 rows are fitted with ‘Haeco model 3050’ premium seats in a 2-3-2 configuration and the following 37 with economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.
The Premium seats offer a generous 46” of pitch and 19” of width. The legroom offered is actually the most you will find on any premium economy product on any airline behind Open Skies who offer an inch more. This gives you an idea of the generosity of the product. This compares to the economy seats which offer only 31” of pitch and 17” of width. My seat for the transatlantic flight was 3J.
The 787 Dreamliners boast a complete overhaul in onboard product from the old aircraft people are used to flying. Ranging from windows with automatic dimming to a state of the art cockpit, the 787 really is how the next generation of flying will look. The flight deck is similar to that of the B737MAX which I flew a few days earlier in terms of automation.
The aircraft is powered by two Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines which generate a whopping 74,000lbs of thrust each. With that said, they are some of the quietest engines in the industry, thanks to noise reducing chevrons fitted to the rear. The aircraft has 3 galleys and nine toilets. The toilets are also fitted with mood lighting which automatically changes when the doors are locked and unlocked. The crew rest is fitted at the rear of the cabin above the rear galley.
Premium passengers are treated to complimentary lounge access at available airports. One of those airports is New York JFK. Norwegian used to use the Korean Air lounge but have recently moved to the Alitalia Lounge at gate 3. I’d heard mixed reviews of Korean Air’s lounge but was eager to find out what the Alitalia lounge offered. The lounge offers complimentary WiFi which I found a little slow at times. There is no hot food available, just sandwiches and salads from the fridge, crisps and other light snacks and quite a wide range of soft drinks and alcoholic beverage. The lounge windows offered a view of a few gates and it was nice to watch the sun go down and some evening departures.
I sat down with a light dinner and did some work. While the lounge is a nice way of relaxing before a flight, it is nothing special.
Once the cleaners were finished I was allowed free access onto the aircraft to photograph the cabin and meet the crew.
Our scheduled departure time was 23.00 but we were delayed during boarding and finally pushed back 20 minutes late at 23.20 – nothing major and handled very well by the cabin crew. After boarding, I was offered a drink and given a set of headphones by Louise who was operating as one of the two premium crew for the day. We took off from runway 22R at 23.50 and were offered another drink shortly after.
We began our cruise at 39,000ft before ascending to 41,000ft until we hit the western point on Wales where we began to descend for arrival into LGW. The cruise was smooth apart from some very heavy turbulence over the eastern point of Canada. Dinner was served 50 minutes after takeoff at 12.40 New York time. For dinner, I was given a choice of ‘Savory Grilled Chicken Breast’, ‘Rich and Tender Grilled Beef Filet’ and ‘Seared Shrimp Basted in Creamy Lemon Beuree Sauce’. The meals in Premium are still served in Norwegian’s standard boxes. I would love to see a plated meal introduced to Norwegian’s menu. I went for the beef, seeing as I had chicken on the MAX trip up to New York.
The meal was well presented and tasted good. I was, without a doubt, full for the rest of the trip. After the meal service, the whole cabin was offered tea or coffee and a choice of either Cognac or Bailey’s. This was a really nice touch.
Premium seats are fitted with flip-out IFE screens which come out of the middle arm rest. The screens are bigger than those in economy class and have a good selection of films and TV programs available. I really enjoyed the different maps that were available to use during the crossing and had these up for most of the flight. The IFE also has a nice feature which allows you to order drinks (complimentary for premium passengers) and snacks.
Charging points are included in the premium seat which allows to work on the go. This compares to the economy product where there are two plugs per three seats. The 787s haven’t, yet, been fitted with wifi which is a shame. I’d love to see this coming in the future.
Around an hour before landing we were offered breakfast. I have to say I thought the breakfast was superb. I wasn’t expecting anything major for breakfast but was greeted with a really nice mix of food. My breakfast included a bread roll, slice of parma ham, ball of cream cheese, two slices of cheddar cheese and a selection of fruit pieces accompanied by a coffee. I was really impressed with the breakfast.
Perks of flying premium include a complimentary blanket, headphones, unlimited complimentary drinks, dinner, breakfast, pre-boarding and access out of the aircraft before economy passengers. Thanks to a good flight time we landed at 11.09am on runway 26L at London Gatwick, thus making up for the delays at JFK. Disembarkation was handled professionally and premium passengers were speedily whisked off the aircraft.
The premium seat offered by Norwegian is a cheaper option than most premium economies. I selected a random date in summer 2018 to compare prices. A premium economy fare with British Airways from LHR-JFK on July 17th will set you back £1707. On the same date, a Premium fare with Norwegian will cost you £502. Being a lot cheaper, you would expect Norwegian’s premium service to be a lot worse than that of its competitors but I didn’t find that. I found that I had a surplus of legroom (46” – more than any of its competitors in London) and enjoyed complimentary drinks throughout the flight. A premium fare also gives you the flexibility of taking two checked bags onboard, seat reservation and fast track access at selected airports. Upgrading to Norwegian’s premium fare from a basic economy fare, on my selected day in summer 2018, will cost you £140.
Norwegian’s premium seat offers better levels of comfort at a very competitive price and that should be taken advantage of by all you keen travelers.
Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Norwegian Air.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.