Well, this is a bit of a trip report with a difference. I wanted to travel Newcastle, UK - London Heathrow and then onto Bahrain but unfortunately I booked it too late (it was a bit of a short notice trip) and couldn't get a suitable flight out of NCL - so I had to take the train. It's half price, but twice as long!
Great North Eastern Railways (GNER)
Equipment: Class 91 Intercity 225
I arrived at Newcastle Central at about 13.00 after my short Metro journey from the Haymarket. I looked on the board and noticed that there was an earlier train (13.28) to the one that I had been booked on. Adittionally, this train was starting from Newcastle so there would be a better chance of getting a free seat (I only had a booking for the 14.07 train). So I proceeded to Platform 4 after buying some newspapers in WH Smiths. The train pulled in (from the marshalling yards presumably) and we had to wait for about 5 minutes until they opened the doors and let us get on. I stowed my grip and found a nice seat which was one of a set of four surrounding a table. In GNER standard class the arrangement is 2-2, whereas in First it is a luxurious 2-1. The train was very empty with only about 20 people in my carriage. We pulled away at about 13.28 and the Customer Services operator announced that we'd be stopping at Durham, Darlington, Northallerton, York, Doncaster, Peterborough, Stevenage and arriving at London Kings Cross at 17.26. About 10 minutes out of NCL I went to the buffet car and had a beer and a smoked salmon sandwich. I returned to my seat to consume these. About every 30 minutes a very nice lady with a trolley laden with refreshments came through the train - with hot tea & coffee, soft drinks, food etc.
One of the nice things about travelling by train are the windows, and also the fact that you can use your laptop and send emails from your mobile phone, and talk on your mobile phone as well (apart from when you go through the moors in Yorkshire and there's no signal!).
So we hurtled down to London at maximum speeds of 125 mph - nothing compared to the French but still pretty fast. We had to wait at Doncaster for 5 minutes to allow the schedule to catch up with us (there is a lot of padding at the moment due to the engineering work). Pretty soon after that it got dark.
Eventually we arrived at a very busy Kings Cross at 17.24 - 2 minutes early! I grabbed my grip and my laptop bag and headed down the platform to the entrance to the Underground station. After travelling through a myriad of tunnels and buying tickets I eventually reached a platform that claimed it was for Westbound Circle trains. Eventually got on one and reached Paddington at about 1800. Paddington, by the way is where you get the Heathrow Express Rail Link from.
I found the Hex machine and bought a return ticket - I'll use this route when I come back. I hung around the new Paddington station for a while and saw the airport check in area which apparently is the 'World's leading city-centre checkin area' - there are loads of desks for all the major airlines as well as Oneworld and STAR desks.
Heathrow Express (HeX)
Equipment: Siemens Class 332 (x2 - coupled together)
Seat - just in front of the TV screen.
I got on the train at about 1820 for a 1825 departure. HeX runs every 15 minutes and takes 15 minutes. Shortly the train filled up with nationalities of many types including Americans and a group of very smart business travellers. We pulled out of the station on time and the Express TV started with an introduction and then a BBC News segment with the latest international news. Pretty soon we were speeding at 100mph out of London. The ticket inspectors came round (you can buy the ticket on the train as well) and shortly we left the Great Western Main Line by way of a flyover and plunged into a tunnel that would take us right to the centre of Heathrow. We pulled into Heathrow Central (for Terminals 1,2 & 3) on time at 1840. The HeX stations are just like Tube ones, only much bigger and much smarter - lots of grey concrete and polished metal everywhere. I went through the station following the signs for Terminal 3 - it's actually the closest terminal to the HeX station so not very far to walk.
Gulf Air Business Class
I reached zone C which is the checkin area for Gulf Air and collected my ticket from their reservations desk. I walked to the business class desk and checked in. They did my bags with no problems but when it came to print out my boarding pass all hell broke loose. To cut a long story short, they eventually wrote me out one using a pen! I then had 1 hour and 20 minutes to kill in the duty free - I visited Dixons (electronics), Berry Brothers and Rudd (wine) and the World Duty Free for a present for a friend. I also had a snack and beer in TGI Fridays.
Pretty soon it was 2100 and time to board. The gate had been changed from no 5 to no 9 by this time so I headed off there. The aircraft was regn. A40-KA which was the first of GF's 6 A330s to be delivered. The flight was not full as the number of people in the holding lounge was not large.
We boarded 'at our own convenience' as we were business class passengers. I made my way to seat 10K which fortunately was a window with noone sitting next to me! Almost as soon as I sat down a steward offered me champagne, orange or water and I took a glass of champagne. Pretty soon we were ready to go and the captain (Bahraini) came on with his announcements. The flying time was to be 5 hours and 55 minutes which is quite quick. We pushed back on time at 2200 and taxied to runway 9R which goes past the Cargo terminal and T4. While we were waiting a PIA 742 took off followed by an EVA Air 744. We got onto the runway, waited for a second and then the captain advanced the throttles all the way to the stops. I tell you, the A330 with RR engines accelerates like a bat out of hell! - especially with only 100 people on board! We hurtled past T3 and I saw the Emirates A330 to Dubai about to leave. We rotated at about the mid point of the runway and roared off into the sky. We had obivously been given an expedited climb becuase of the weight as the throttles were kept open and the aircraft at quite a sharp angle of attack. Eventually we levelled off and the roar of the engines subsided. I opened up the TV screen in my armrest which was the size of a laptop screen - well not quite as big - but still I think 10.4 inches across. It's touch sensitive so you can change channels and volume by touching it. There is also a tape player in the seat and you can order movies from the Cabin Crew - this is in addition to the 24 channels of TV and 24 channels of Audio you have.
The dinner service was started. It was a sushi/prawn dish to start, followed by a choice of chicken biryani, lamb navarin or salmon - I had the salmon which was deliciously light. One thing I like about Gulf Air is that the meal service in business and first is very ornate. When dessert is served the Cabin Crew come around with a huge silver trolley with the desserts - chocolate mousse cake, tiramasu, fresh fruit or cheese. I asked for a selection of cheese and picked some crackers. I was also plied with a glass of very nice port. The cheese was some brie, some stilton and a slice of cheddar. I think there was some Gruyliere but I wasn't sure - it wasn't to my taste!
After dinner at about 23.30 I asked to visit the cockpit. The steward said 'no problem' and came back 5 minutes later to collect me. I walked up through first class (which looked pretty full) and into the A330 cockpit. To say the least - it's fantastic. I think I prefer it the the 777 cockpit which I visited not so long ago. The captain (Bahraini) and his first officer (Omani) were very hospitable and took me through all the instruments. We were cruising at Mach .82 and at a height of 41,000 ft. We discussed the Boeing/Airbus debate, both pilots had transferred from the B767-300 to the A330 and they preferred the latter. I asked about the sidestick and they said they preferred it as it gave a clearer view of the instrument panel. However they did say that the aircraft is designed to be flown on autopilot and even hand flying it is not the same - for example if you put the aircraft in a bank with the sidestick and then take your hand off the aircraft will hold the bank angle for you - unlike in a Boeing aircraft. We also discussed the BA cockpit incident and the pilots agreed that the sort of drama would not happen in an Airbus. He showed me that you have to give the sidestick a pretty hefty push in order to disengage the autopilot - giving it knocks from side to side finds that it's locked in place. And also if you turn in your seat to face the attacker you block access to the sidestick completely as it ends up being behind the small of your back.
One cool thing about the A330-200 is that it has a very sophisticated fuel management system. There is a trim tank in the horizontal stabiliser and the aircraft is forever pumping fuel all over the place to maintain the most fuel efficient position in flight. There was quite a lot of traffic coming right under us in the opposite direction at 35,000 ft and we flashed our strobes to say 'hello' to a lot of them - all of them flashed back - I think it's one of the 'courtesies of the air'.
Eventually after about an hour I returned to my seat and went to sleep - the Biz seats are supremely comfortable, with good recline and a nice footrest.
I woke up about 1 hour from Bahrain and I drank the freshly squeezed oj that had been placed on my armrest. Soon a continental breakfast of all the usual things came round - very nice.
We started our descent before Dharhran and flew along the causeway and the north of Bahrain island. The nose cam was on the main screen which was very cool. We flew over the airfield, turned onto the downwind leg, went over the new port and then turned 180 degrees onto the approach and then lowered the landing gear. Unfortunately the nose cam turns off at 1000 ft altitude. We touched down very smoothly and applied full reverse. We taxied to the terminal building where a brace of GF A320s and 1 767 were in attendance. I could see over to the maint area where there were a number of C-17 Globemasters and an Airtours 767 that had gone tech the previous night. We disembarked quickly, headed through the immigration and picked up my bags.
All in all, a 5-star flight aboard Gulf Air - better in fact than the First Class trip which I took BAH-LHR in December.