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.

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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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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

Aer Lingus Flagship Dublin Lounge Review

After arriving in Dublin from Southend at around 16:00, I had around 2 hours before boarding began for my connecting flight to Manchester. Unfortunately, although my previous flight was operated by Stobart Air (which uses Terminal 2 under the ‘Aer Lingus Regional’ brand), this flight used the older Terminal 1. Prior to my flight, I had seen conflicting reviews about the terminal transit process in Dublin, but I found the whole experience very smooth.

To connect between terminals, you do have to pass through the Irish Border at passport control. After exiting into the Baggage Reclaim area, simply continue to walk through the hall, following signs for ‘flight connections’. At this point you will take a flight of stairs and arrive at a small passageway into the Terminal 2 Security area. This process seemed almost too simple, but you must have your onward boarding pass with you to use this system.

Whilst Terminal 1 at Dublin airport is claustrophobic, chaotic and in dire need of refurbishment, the relatively new Terminal 2 has a completely different feel. Terminal 2 is where you’ll find Aer Lingus, Etihad and most other long-haul carriers at Dublin – so it has a more premium and modern feel. To access the lounge from the connections security area, I simply turned left and followed a corridor down to the premium lounges at Dublin – these included the Etihad lounge, a generic Dublin Airport lounge (used by a variety of airlines) and the Aer Lingus flagship lounge.

The entrance to the lounge is extremely modest and understated for its size.

Entrance to the Aer Lingus Lounge at Dublin.

After a warm welcome into the lounge, I was met with a surprisingly spacious expanse, with a feature wall paying tribute to important Irish figures, such as the first female President – Mary Robinson. The lounge is full of natural light and, thus, has a fantastic view of the apron for us aviation enthusiasts. iMacs were available for guests’ use – along with a communal desk area –  and there was fast and quick Wi-Fi – something that I value greatly in a lounge. All showers to the lounge are located on the upper mezzanine level (one of the lounge attendants will guide you to an available room, should you want to access the facilities). Whilst I didn’t make use of the shower, this could well be a useful facility.

On the ground floor, the furnishings were tasteful – with a colour scheme of green and warming mahogany, which gave the lounge a homely feel – despite its size. There was a relaxing mezzanine level with an additional mini self-service bar and large seating area – which was completely unoccupied during my time here. The main self-service bar area offered scones, pastries and a selection of hot drinks – whereas the upstairs bar only had a limited offering. The evening’s hot food offering was Beef Goulash – which tasted superb – but I was rather disappointed with the lack of hot food available. I can only suggest that there is a more plentiful food offering at different times of the day.

What really impressed me about the lounge was the amount of power ports available and the positioning. Close to every seat, a power port was available, which is obviously an imperative feature for business travellers.

Although this lounge has big plusses (such as the tranquil and unpretentious atmosphere) and was an inherently positive experience, for a flagship lounge, I wish more food options could be available throughout the day.  Otherwise, I’d have no hesitations using the lounge facility again.


Featured photo courtesy of Aer Lingus

London Southend ‘SkyLife’ Lounge Review

London Southend Airport is one of the easiest airports to traverse in the country, with a promise of under 4 minutes to pass through security. All of this means you have more time to relax in the airport, and the Skylife lounge is the perfect place to do just that.

Whilst the rest of the airport is a relaxing experience to begin with, the Skylife lounge provides a more comfortable environment to wait for your flight. Located immediately after passing Security – on the mezzanine level – above the main departure lounge area, lounge access is not exclusive to business travellers or frequent flyer members. Any passengers flying through the airport are welcome to use the facility; I think that’s a huge selling point for less frequent flyers. You can pre-book entry to the lounge online for £17.95 or take advantage of the walk-in option, which costs £20.95. Special offers are available when combining lounge access with airport parking, and children under 14 enjoy a reduced rate of just £9.95.

My initial impressions of the lounge were very positive. Ambient blue mood lighting created a tranquil atmosphere – there was no lack of seating, with sofas, chairs and stools with desks all available.

The lounge had a distinctively modern feel.

The lounge itself is split into three sections; one by the entrance, which offered stools around one table – striking me as the perfect place for meetings and conferences ‘on the go’ for those travelling on Business. The other two sections were more relaxed, with lots of comfortable seating areas and easy access to the self-service bar. The lounge isn’t particularly spacious, but with the relatively small volume of passengers using the facility, rather than feeling claustrophobic, it felt homely and almost private.

There certainly wasn’t a lack of seating available.

There are lots of power points located around the lounge, in the arms of the chairs, which is essential for most travellers nowadays. In addition, in the seating area overlooking the main airport, adjustable tablet holders were available – perfect for using your iPad or tablet easily. Fast and free Wi-Fi, exclusive to those in the lounge, was also available.

The Skylife lounge provides a great view of the departure area.

Located on the main wall of the lounge, a walk-up self service bar was available. It offered a range of hot beverages, chilled alcoholic drinks, sandwiches, sweet treats and snacks. Unfortunately, it appeared that there was no hot food available in the lounge – so that’s something to bear in mind.

In conclusion, Southend Airport is a great place to be regardless, but the lounge offers more comfort, refreshments, snacks and an all round more relaxing aura. If you have a long layover or some time to spare, kicking back in the lounge and getting your journey off to a smooth and sophisticated start is a great option.


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