Early this year a good friend and I started planning a spotting trip and HLX’s new service from Stuttgart to Manchester helped us to make a decision. 19,99 Euro for STR-MAN was a little bit more than nothing and for the return trip we booked VBird to Munich, via Niederrhein (see my return trip report), for 49 Euro.
First we thought about staying all the time at MAN or probably going on a car drive to Birmingham but then we found some more LCC offers. So we decided to continue onwards from MAN to Edinburgh, then to Belfast and later to Leeds/Bradford. We booked a rental car from LBA in order to drive back to Manchester after arrival.
bmi regional, easyjet and Jet2 offered nice fares and we payed about 120 Euro for these three additional flights.
Stuttgart (STR) – Manchester (MAN)
X3 5520, 09.20-10.05
D-AHLG (1990 model, msn 1848)
About 90 minutes prior to departure we arrived at Stuttgart’s Terminal 3 to check in at HLX. Only few people were in front of us and very soon we had our boarding passes. Only some minutes later we found ourselves at the gate area and had a look at the movements outside. I noticed a white RR-powered B757 parked at the military part, N-registered, unfortunately I couldn’t read the numbers. It was definitely not an Air Force aircraft. Maybe somebody knows more about it?
D-AHLG, a STR-based B737-500 arrived ten minutes early from Venice and the first of our flight seemed to take off on time. Since we also had checked luggage we really hoped none of our four flights would be delayed.
Boarding started on time and I didn’t hurry to get onto the aircraft, I knew most people would take their seats in the front part of the cabin. As expected I found the rear section still quite empty and chose the last row, my all time favourite. Just like the company’s B73G the B735 was equipped with comfortable grey leather seats, seat pitch was limited, but not too bad. The colour of overhead bins and cabin lining showed the aircraft’s age. It seems only the leather seat covers were changed after the aircraft’s return from Malev (formerly HA-LEP). All cabin crew members were pretty ladies, and all of them were very friendly. Boarding was soon completed and many seats remained empty, with only around 80 passengers on board.
We pushed back on time, passed germanwings’ two ex-LH A319s (D-AILI and D-AILK) and left Stuttgart shortly after 09.20.
There were three overhead monitors in the cabin and they showed the flight path which is a nice feature, especially on a B737 classic. I decided to purchase breakfast onboard and found some offers on the airline’s price list (which was located at every seat pocket!). I took the ‘Good Morning’ offer for 4 Euro, consisting of hot beverage, yogurt drink and croissant. However I requested to replace the croissant by a cake, since both a croissant and a cake cost 2 Euro if you take them without an offer. First the FA wasn’t sure and disappeared to ask – then she came back and said it’s ok. The cappuchino was made of instant coffee, but it was Jacobs and tasted better than expected. The cake was not big but the whole offer was ok, not the kind of rip off which you find aboard the O’Leary bombers.
The rest of the flight was uneventful, except for the crew giving out printed summer timetables to the passengers. Almost exactly on time we landed at MAN and left the aircraft at Terminal 1.
Manchester (MAN) – Edinburgh (EDI)
BD 385, 12.05-13.00
G-RJXD (2000 model, msn 207)
Directly after picking up our luggage we immediately walked to Terminal 3 to check in for bmi regional’s flight to Edinburgh. There were several counters open, no queues and friendly bmi ground staff welcomed us. Within a few minutes we received our boarding passes, with gate information still vacant. We looked around at the domestic area of the terminal and spotted one single bmi ERJ – in Star Alliance colours – parked and without any vehicles around. Ok, we thought about the chances to get it – and our conclusion was it might be well possible…
For the next 45 minutes we went on level 13 of the car park and enjoyed a great view at the airport. There were some very interesting aircraft to see, including PIA B777, bmi A330 Star Alliance, Antonov Design Bureau An-124, Dragonair B743F and Air Atlanta/Travelcitydirect.com B742.
Later we returned to the domestic area of Terminal 3 and went through security. Meanwhile we knew our gate – but it was not the one the Star Alliance ERJ was parked in front of. We still thought they might move it over – but then any hopes were destroyed as a regularly painted ERJ (G-RJXD) arrived and taxied towards our gate. Thanks a lot, bad luck…
So we waited for boarding and soon could enter the jungle jet and take our seats in row 8…always a pleasure to see tall guys with heads down forcing themselves through the aisle. Due to the narrow and low cabin we decided to give the jungle jet another nickname – Angströhre (= fear tube)…
Load factor was not bad, somewhere around 70% I guess. Shortly after push back the vacuum cleaner sound of the engines started and we taxied to the runway. At around 12 o’clock pm there wasn’t much traffic and we didn’t have to line up. Take off was boring as expected, so was the entire climb out.
Though there was enough space under the seats in front of us we had been asked to leave our hand luggage at the entrance – very nice. Seat pitch and space was quite generous, at least at the aisle seat. Window seats offer less space to the cabin’s curve on the floor. I had a look at bmi’s inflight magazine and found out that I would earn 150 miles for this flight! Wow, impressive, all miles flown with the extra cheap internet fares are reduced to a quarter of the actual miles.
Though this flight was a low cost flight in terms of fare (GBP26,80 in total) for us, we certainly enjoyed the luxury of being served free of charge. We got one drink and a little bag of rice crackers…what a culinary delight! As we started approaching EDI the crew offered sweets – I took one and found out it was a very huge round candy, hard and sour. It was so huge that it could become a real danger to the throat in a case of turbulence – the wrong move at the wrong time and you get carried out of the aircraft… Watch out bmi, when certain presidents almost die due to a pretzel, then this large candy monster can easily be a much bigger threat…
We landed on time at EDI, taxied to a remote position and were transported to the terminal building. Our luggage showed up soon and since we still had two hours until easyJet check in would open we went to the terminal’s “food plaza”. Afterwards we left the terminal building and walked towards a car park where we had good view at the international ramp. On the way we passed some freshly prepared Scottish holiday destination travellers…you know what I mean. The kind of guys who proudly present their naked, white coloured, upper part of their body as soon as the sun comes out a bit…unfortunately the sun was out…
We then enjoyed some nice movements, including Air Scotland B757 and Flyglobespan B733. Surprisingly within only two hours three KLM planes showed up, one B734 and two Fokker 70s…Dutch invasion?
Edinburgh (EDI) – Belfast International (BFS)
EZY 488, 16.50-17.45
G-EZJM (2002 model, msn 1118)
As there had been so much traffic to watch outside we returned to the terminal quite late, about an hour prior to departure. And that was a big mistake as easyJet check in counters were totally crowded and queues were growing every minute. After some ten minutes nothing had changed and suddenly the counter staff started to reshuffle the queues. They sent people from one queue to another and therefore we had to wait even longer – obviously too many passengers for a soon departure to Luton had still be waiting in row. Well, maybe our easy guys should just open more counters next time? Never had seen such a check in chaos.
After waiting and waiting we finally received our boarding passes and could proceed through security. At least this time we didn’t have to wait.
Our gate was already filled but nothing was supposed to happen for another 20 minutes so we had a look outside. We had always guessed the flight would be operated by an EDI-based B733 – at least that’s what some local forum members had told me before. However, there was no B737-300 – the only easyJet plane on the ground was a –700. The gate didn’t have windows and so we couldn’t definitely conclude if the aircraft would be ours. There was still a chance another -300 was parked out of sight but soon we found ourselves being surprised – the -700 G-EZJM was the Belfast-bound aircraft!
For the first time in years I wasn’t prepared and didn’t have a fleet list for the easy -700, I just had printed out the -300s. But my guess (2001 model) was quite close since it’s a 2002 model.
Too bad we had found ourselves in the third boarding group, so we didn’t really expect getting good seats. However, the left last row was only occupied by one person, a lady sitting at the aisle. So I took the chance and chose my favourite seat. Seat pitch seemed to be the worst among all LCCs so far – but it might have been an effect of the last row. I don’t know if the pitch at other rows is better. I liked easy’s interior with grey seats and orange design as well as orange panels at the overhead bins. Of course no monitors were available. The FAs, a very young pretty girl and an older male guy were very friendly. However, the guy was very strict with safety issues, he checked seat belts extremely carefully and even ordered the hand luggage under the middle seat to be placed in the overhead bin. Never seen that before. That guy must have been over 50…with the ongoing pension discussion in Germany we joked that we both might find ourselves as well as Low cost FAs after being fired with 50…
The load factor must have been close to 100%, really amazing for a departure time in the late afternoon. We left the gate on time and while I was watching the recent arrivals I spotted an easyJet A319! Not bad, quite unexpected at EDI – and its registration G-EZEM showed it was brand new one. Poor plane…being forced to carry 156 seats…
Take off was not sensational, as was climb out. After a few minutes the FAs started selling food and drinks but no price lists were available. I decided not to buy anything and considered instead trying out Jet2’s catering later. We crossed the sea between Scotland and Ireland and after a very short (and low) cruise we already started the descent into BFS, flying over a beautiful Irish countryside. After only 40 minutes in the air the aircraft touched down and taxied to the gate, joining some other easyjet aircraft. Parked at a more distant gate there was a Jet2 B737-300 – obviously not our plane because that was supposed to arrive from Leeds later.
The terminal building is not very attractive and shows its age. Not too many carriers operate to BFS, many important domestic carriers such as flyBe or Britsh Airways only operate to Belfast City. Again, our luggage appeared early and so we could go check in for the last time today.
Belfast International (BFS) – Leeds/Bradford (LBA)
LS 294, 19.55-20.50
G-CELS ’Jet2 LeedsBradford’ (1986 model, msn 1294)
The check in hall was very empty as we checked in two hours prior to departure, within a few minutes we got our boarding passes. There wasn’t much to do at this small terminal so we went to the visitors’ terrace – unbelievable, but true, there was definitely such a facility – and a really good one! Traffic was not the best, but interesting planes were a Spanair A321 and A300s of DHL and TNT. As we later entered our gate, another Jet2 aircraft arrived, this time it was G-CELS, named Jet2 LeedsBradford – the airline’s first aircraft. As most of its sisterships the aircraft is leased from Channel Express and had formerly operated by Ansett Australia.
Jet2 allocates seat numbers at the boarding passes and since I had my last row seat there was no reason to hurry. The flight was well booked, I guess there were around 120 passengers. I entered the aircraft via the front entrance and once more had a close look at the stunning silver livery along with its large red titles and red engines. The FAs were friendly, but not as ‘intensively’ as the easy crew before. The cabin seemed to be in good shape at the first look, with new grey leather seats. However, as soon as I was seated I realized only the seat covers were new – everything else, including seats themselves (especially tables and armrests) or overhead bins clearly showed their age. Interestingly the music played in the background was not the usual monotonous stuff – they played some new hits.
Again we left the gate on time and due to non existent traffic at that time we took off immediately. Climb out was very steep, clearly different from all the other flights today. FA then started offering drinks and snacks – again without any price information. And it seemed the didn’t even offer sandwiches, but only small stuff. I’m not sure about that – any ideas or confirmation? Due to the missing transparency I decided not to buy anything – I wasn’t very interested in facing a bad surprise.
The last row didn’t seem to be as cramped as on easy – but I’m not absolutely sure. There were several overhead video monitors above the aisle, but they remained non operative. Probably another Ansett feature not needed any longer.
Flying time was only around 45 minutes and after an interesting descent over some parts of Yorkshire’s landscape we touched down at Leeds/Bradford. Reverse thrust and brakes were fully set and the aircraft was stopped very fast. While taxiing back we passed a total of five other Jet2 aircaft parked side by side – including the new Yorkshire logojet. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch its registration. After leaving the plane we had to walk quite a long distance to the terminal entrance and for the first time I saw a bmi regional ERJ135. Other aircraft parked were two bmi Fokker 100s.
Our luggage was sent in very soon and I was glad all four flights had worked out well and I could grab my luggage for the last time that day.
Our final tasks were to pick up the rental car and to drive back to Manchester were we spent another day for spotting.
With easyJet and Jet2 I could try out two more LCCs and I must say I wasn’t positively surprised. Both are very average, being very similar to Ryanair in terms of comfort (onboard and ground). As far as staff and FAs are concerned easyJet and Jet2 still win over Ryanair. I’m really wondering about all the good stories about Jet2 I have heard so far – in my opinion they are just average.
Hapag Lloyd Express was not new to me but my good impression was confirmed. They offer comfortable seats, their pricing for food and drinks is clearly visible due to lists in every seat pocket, their FAs are the most convincing in terms of attitude towards the passengers. Cabins have always been clean and they offer flight path information on every flight. Just like germanwings, HLX easily beats easyjet, Ryanair and Jet2.
A final comparison will soon follow in my return trip report – then I will also rate VBird. Watch out for the report!