Here's my last report for this series of 3 consecutive weekends flying Ryanair. This one actually pulls a kind of a stunt as I will be making a Ryanair connection in STN! This is not sold nor supported by Ryanair so if anything goes wrong, I may end up in deep shit, somewhere far from home, or having to spend an insane amount of money to get back home and go thru the hassle of recovering my car from the airport parking lot in CRL, given that I'd probably be landing at BRU if things go bogus.
Sat Jan 26: CRL-STN FR9583 B738 6F
We had a wild company New Year party planned last night and I tried to come home at the reasonable hour of around midnight, which I did, add an hour to that.
It was a difficult wake-up and by the time I got in my car, I knew I didn't have time to make it to the long term parking, so I opted to park at the more convenient but more expensive airport terminal parking (35€ for 2 days instead of 24€ for 2 days including transfers). Made my way through customs, and was in the waiting area early enough for priority boarding. Trouble is there was no plane in the tarmac this morning. About the time of departure passed, they announced the flight would be late, with no further details. Having 2 1/2 hours to connect at STN, I immediately thought that if the flight is delayed beyond 1-1 1/2 hour, I should rather turn back and forget about the adventure. To get more information, I called the airport and enquired about the delay, which they told me would be about 1h, and it was. I had been in for a cold shower and a clear warning that I am attempting a stunt and tempting Murphy.
Boarding got chaotic as the people of two flights normally leaving 1 hour apart of each other were gathered in a single hall. They decided to call those boarding for DUB at the same time as those boarding for STN, and people were left and right so it got really out of hands. I eventually made my way to the priority boarding queue and got on the plane (forgot the registration, it seems I have bad memory with registrations, I guess I'll try to write them down in the future), I sat in 5F. It was a Boeing 737-800 with winglets, no eye-browse windows and with window shades (again, I'm really starting to believe this is a myth about Ryanair), but cloth seat covers and not the usual yellow degraded bins and walls. The pitch seemed better however. We had a local VIP onboard today with the presence of (former?) Belgian Senate member Dallemagne and his family (a lady and two daughters) obviously on a weekend tour to London. The flight took 55 minutes and was smooth, the English countryside on the approach to STN was beautiful under the early morning sunshine. We walked out of the aircraft stairs directly into the concourse after a 50 m stretch of pedestrian tarmac.
STN doesn't seem to be a very large airport and it seems to be no-frills airlines heaven. I did notice an EOS Boeing 757-200 and an AA Boeing 767-300ER though, but what is that after counting no less than 12 FR tails on the tarmac at that time of day! It said there's a path for connecting passengers but eventually you end up leaving the airside area and having to enter again. I'm glad I had planned enough time between flights which, even with the delay, allowed me to make my way back in through the stringent security that including taking a swap at my MacBook (!) to check it for explosives and putting my shoes in a dedicated scanner. Those are two firsts for me. I'm sure they worth it but I also know that unfortunately "When there's a will, there's a way".
I know I might sound very continental but I don't quite understand why prices are not even quoted in Euros or why one can't pay in Euros. I mean, so there's an area of 15 countries surrounding England from where loads of people come from and where to loads of people go to and yet they try to rip off British pound and Euro money holders alike with exchange commissions. so I bought sushi to take onboard from Prêt-à-manger and paid with a credit card (at least they won't charge me the "£3 only"), it was nice enough.
Sat Jan 26: STN-ALC FR8382 B738 7A
It's amazing how early the queue takes shape, 1 hour before the flight, people were already standing in line at the gate. I took place in the priority boarding lane and we walked to the aircraft, just like 50 m from the gate. I elected to sit in 6A in order to have some room for my left handed person's elbow to rotate in the window space while eating the sushi using chopsticks. This aircraft was the standard Boeing 737-800 with winglets, leather seats, and window shades.
I wanted to drink a strawberry smoothie but only had a 50€ note and that had proved problematic on the inbound from CRL. However, the purser told me I could pay by credit card if I wish, at no extra charge (MySmoothie sells for 2.50€), interesting from an airline that charges 6€ to book a return ticket and pay it by same use of a credit card. The skies were clear and the view en-route was beautiful: English countryside, France, Pyrenean and finally beautiful Spain. We landed in Alicante early and got off to an air-bridge. It was a long walk to the exit and I'm still wondering why in the hell the heaters were turned on in the terminal building with 18°c outside.
The bus from the airport to the city is a bargain at 1 each way, but it's not very frequent and you shouldn't trust the displayed schedule. I had a problem here as I was still traveling with my 50€ notes. The bus driver of course got quite upset but let me in nonetheless. I got lucky to need that bus from the hotel to the town later that day and had managed to break my note (I had to ask 3 hotels to achieve this!), it was the same driver so I paid my two tickets. It's a very nice place with a wonderful climate for this time of the year. Saturday 18°c and Sunday 16°c until the sun broke through the clouds. There are sandy beaches and touristic spots, and a lot of family attractions. This trip is conclusive on the destination so I will be taking my family here for a vacation next Autumn.
Sun Jan 27: ALC-STN FR8383 B738 EI-DHS 10A
Priority boarding is becoming a joke as there are numerous people using the privilege. I would particularly be annoyed if I had paid for it rather than qualify for it thanks to online check-in. Also, despite being early at the airport, they announced the gate only as the plane had landed and docked, by which time (and by I don't know which miracle), scores of people had already formed a long queue. The standard aircraft, with window shades yet again. I got lucky no one sat in the middle seat next to me, and put my MacBook there to watch a movie (Star Wars: Episode V). We had left on time (within 15 minutes of schedule) and landed a bit early in London. Security at STN was a mess and I was happy to have 3 hours to go through transit. It took ages to go out and again ages to get back in, all in all about an hour.
Sun Jan 27: STN-CRL FR9586 B738 EI-CSW 3A
After a light dinner from Prêt-à-Manger sandwiches I found my way to the gate. It was the exact same gate as the day before on my way to ALC: gate 42. The priority queue wasn't that packed this time and it didn't get really busy either until boarding. This was again a jet with cloth seat covers like that flown on the CRL-STN leg. It was an uneventful flight, I listened to my iPod most of the time, and we landed in Charleroi 10 minutes early. In no time I went thru customs, paid my parking, went down the stairs to my car and I was home in Evere (not far from BRU) about 40 minutes. Oh, our local "VIP" and suite were on the passengers list as well.
Again another great experience with FR except for that 1st flight delay and the lack of communication about it. I guess I wouldn't be afraid to try the stunt of connecting again, but always earmarking no less than two hours to allow room for delays and security checks. Alicante is a great place and I surely will be there again in the future. Stansted is a nice airport (it doesn't look old at all, has it been built not so long ago?) but there is a lot of walking involved and it must be a challenge for older people. Now I'm looking forward to trying the new CRL (in service since January 29) but first I will be trying two other low-cost airlines around Easter as I have booked with EasyJet to Berlin and with Clickair to Valencia. More reports for sure!