Entering a crowded market is never an easy task – the London to Dublin route has over 50 flights every day, all with carriers already established on the route. In fact, 4.5 million passengers travelled between the British & Irish capitals in 2015, making it the busiest air route in Europe. But in October, Flybe launched services from London Southend – offering a completely different proposition to carriers already in the market. With a three-daily frequency, flying from Southend with Flybe is more relaxing, comfortable and convenient for a whole host of people living in Southeast England and London. So is this the best way to cross the water to Ireland?
At around 14:00, the gate was called for my flight to Dublin. The six gates at London Southend Airport form a horseshoe shape around the departure lounge, meaning my departure gate was literally steps away.
My aircraft was the sole Embraer E195 operating for Stobart Air – G-FBEF – which they received in November, and dated back to 2007. Despite being 10 years old, the aircraft’s exterior is aesthetically pleasing and modern, and that doesn’t change when you step onboard. The cabin is configured in a single-class configuration, offering 118 Economy Class seats. The purpose of the Embraer 195 is to straddle the boundaries between a regional and a mainline market – offering better economics to regional carriers who want a regional aircraft. This makes the E195 the perfect aircraft for Stobart Air to expand its route portfolio with, and to launch a trunk route such as London-Dublin.
With jovial crew member Donantinou on hand to greet passengers, my initial impressions of the cabin were positive. The seats had lots of padding, making them very comfortable and easy to relax in – rather than more modern slim- line alternatives. The entrance to the aircraft was spacious and the cabin had a very airy feel – with extremely large eye-level windows (up to 30% larger than most other aircraft) to let in lots of natural light. Although the seats were provided lots of comfort, with ample legroom for the short hop across the Irish sea, they had a low seat back with no headrest. This is a minor point, but one to consider, as one may want to take a travel pillow with them for extra comfort.
The benefit of a 2-2 configuration is not to be underestimated. The “Double-Bubble” fuselage concept is a shape derived from overlapping two ovals to form a four-abreast cross section. The widest point of the upper oval is at the passenger’s elbow level, maximising personal space and allowing for wider seats and aisles than larger aircraft. The lower oval is widest in the baggage and cargo hold which boosting space for your luggage. With no dreaded middle seat, easy access to onboard facilities such as overhead lockers, and lots of headroom – this concept makes the Embraer a winner with passengers and superior to many mainline cabin standards. This configuration is also highly beneficial for companies too, with fast boarding and deplaning, allowing for quick turnaround times.
Flybe uses the same ‘Café Air’ onboard refreshment service on all flights, but included some hot food options on this route – something that wasn’t available on my ATR flight from Manchester. Prices were not unreasonable for short-haul low cost flying.
The crew – Gerry, Sharon & Donantinou – were very pleasant throughout, and I spoke to Donantinou several times during the flight. He kindly let me stay onboard after disembarkation to take some pictures of the empty cabin and he shared his thoughts with me about his career and enjoying his work aboard the Embraer.
Our routing took us north of the M25, over the Cotswolds and the valleys of Southern Wales before making the trip over the Irish sea. We arrived into Dublin ahead of schedule, at 15:45 and I visited the cockpit – which sports fly-by-wire technology.
This flight had a more personable feel to those mainline and ultra low-cost carrier flights, all to familiar on UK-Dublin sectors. It proved to be more relaxing, quick, easy and comfortable than any other flights I’ve taken – from the punctuality, to the relaxing cabin and ease of London Southend airport. If you are looking to fly from London to Dublin in an effortless and calm manner, look no further from Flybe’s express across the water.