Hi everyone, this is my first TR after enjoying reading many of the trip reports on here. We took this trip back in May, it's taken me this long to get my act together. I apologize in advance for not having more pictures, but when we went on this trip I wasn't thinking about posting it!
I have been following with interest the experience of all business class airlines like Eos, Maxjet, Silverjet, etc. In May, we decided to try Maxjet. I know the product is not as strong as Eos, but the price was very attractive ($1000 roundtrip, IAD-STN, per person). Wanting just to get away for a weekend, we decided to take Maxjet to Stansted, and then an Easyjet flight to Bilbao for 3 days. We had no idea what to expect, having never flown Maxjet and having never been to northern Spain before.
Check-in in Dulles was a pleasant surprise. This flight was in late May, and it was either the first or second day after Maxjet restarted operations from IAD, so the check-in staff seemed a little confused about what to do, but overall check-in was easy, with no line, and appetizers being served to passengers during the check-in process.
The lounge was the NW lounge. This was a bit of a joke, as it was so full that the lounge staff opened the conference rooms so passengers sat around the conference room table waiting for the flight to board. Being NW Platinum for many years, I was familiar with the NW lounges, and one in IAD is nothing special. Boarding commenced on time, and nice touch, passengers left from behind the lounge directly to the gate.
Now on to the Maxjet plane. The plane is OLD! I don't think it's the oldest plane I've been on (that distinction probably belongs to a particular One-Two-Go 747 I once took from HKT to BKK), but it's close. The interior, however, has been reasonably updated. The most important of long-haul flights for me is the seat, and the Maxjet seat is great. Some say Maxjet is a premium-economy airline, and that is simply not the case (I've been on premium economy in TG, SQ, and BA). It's a real, bona-fide business-class seat. I find these seats far more comfortable than angled lie-flat seats, but obviously not as nice as a 180 seat. It's fine for sleeping, for me at least. Shortly after takeoff, menus and DVD players were passed out. The Maxjet DVD player is an interesting concept, and I think I like it better than in-seat IFE because you can play with the angle and positioning, and there's no risk of getting a bad seat with inoperable IFE. I have to imagine it makes economic sense for the airline too! Maxjet service is great, the crew were friendly and attentive and always around if you needed something. Food was OK -- I think older planes generally don't cook food as well as newer planes, and the Maxjet meal was overcooked and dried out. Most important part, though, was that I was able to sleep for most of the flight, and arrived in STN feeling well-rested.
Overal ratings for IAD-STN on Maxjet:
In-flight Service: A
In-flight Food: B-
In-flight Entertainment: A-
Maxjet seat: B
Upon arrival in STN, we had a few hours to kill before our flight to BIO, so we decided to check out the Radisson SAS hotel, where Maxjet passengers have access to the gym and showers. We both took a shower. This was a real joke, it reminded me of an old high-school locker room. Having used showers in the KE lounge in ICN, the NW lounge in DTW, the UA lounge in NRT and ORD, MH lounge in KUL, I am familiar with what to expect in airline-provided showers. The Radisson facility is not up to par, I would grade it as a D.
The Easyjet flight to BIO was fine, take off and landing on time, and typical Easyjet efficiency. A bus gate and boarding through forward and aft doors is always fun. Bilbao is a fun place to spend a weekend, with the Guggenheim museum and some fantastic driving roads. Here's a picture from our daylong driving tour:
Returning from BIO-STN was interesting. BIO is an old airport, with very little in terms of passenger amenities. I thought it was kind of fun, but bring a book if you have a long time to wait there. The nice thing about BIO is that the passenger waiting area looks out directly on the main runway, so you can see traffic takeoff and land. Boarding on Easyjet was typical cattle-call, but the flight back to STN was on-time and perfectly executed.
Here's an interesting-looking private aircraft doing touch-and-goes at BIO that day:
Here's the view of BIO's main passenger waiting area and our Easyjet flight before we board:
And here's a very dirty, dirty, airplane:
At STN, we went to the check-in counter for Maxjet, at the other end of the terminal. This is where things get interesting. While waiting in the short line, a CSR gave us a typed letter, explaining that the Maxjet plane for our flight that day suffered some damage, and that our flight would be serviced by a private charter 737-800. The plane had a limited number of F seats, and every effort would be made to put us in those F seats, and they apologized for the inconvenience. And oh by the way, the plane will land at Gander for refueling. For our troubles, they gave us each a $500 credit towards a future Maxjet flight. I was a little mad at Maxjet, but on the other hand I've never flown in a 737 across the Atlantic before. Ah well, it is what it is!
The Easyjet lounge in STN is very nice, lots of space for passengers and lots of good food and drink. From there, we could see the Miami Air charter pull in to the gate:
Thankfully, all the Maxjet passengers were seated in the F seats on the 737. These were typical US-domestic F seats, with probably 38" pitch. It definitely was NOT as nice as the Maxjet seats. The crew were efficient and friendly, even though they were trying to deliver Maxjet service and were obviously not familiar with the service steps. The Maxjet FAs and pilots were in the back of the plane, and it looked like they each had a row of Y seats to themselves to stretch out and sleep. Interestingly, the 737-800 was a lot newer than Maxjet's plane, so it was quieter and the food and service were great, just the seats were bad. In all, about 30 passengers on the flight (makes me wonder what happened to the rest of them, or if the load was that light in actuality).
The side trip to Gander was fun! Coming in on approach, it felt like we were landing in the middle of no-where, with just forests and fields all around us. It was very post-apocalyptic. The airport felt like it was frozen in time, and we were definitely the only flight using the airport during the 1 hour refueling stop. Even though it was Canada (or maybe because it WAS Canada?) they allowed us off the plane and into the airport area, without going through any security or customs or immigration. Even the crew came in, bought some liquor at the store, etc. The store had some interesting books and postcards showing Gander on September 11, when multiple heavies were diverted there and passengers camped out for several days. Here are some pics of the airport and re-boarding our flight:
The flight back to IAD was short and uneventful, and we got back about an hour later than scheduled. It looked like the plane would then make the trip back to STN with a new load of passengers and crew. I have no idea how long Maxjet ran the Miami Air charter, but it must have cost them a bundle. Overall, I thought it was a decent solution to a tough problem for them, and I will definitely fly Maxjet again with our ticket credit, see if they have improved their experience. If you are hesitant about flying Maxjet, I'd say go for it if it's your own money. If you're corporate and your expense account can stomach it, I'd stick with a mainline carrier to the UK, since there's much more of a safety cushion in case things go wrong with scheduling and aircraft swaps.
That's it! The most unusual flight I ever took. Next month we'll be going DAY-DEN (3 hours in a CRJ!), DEN-LAX, LAX-TPE-BKK in Eva J, and BKK-SIN in SQ Y. I'll be sure to take lots of pictures next time around!