Outbound:London Stansted to Murcia 21 Sept 2004 1315 FR8022 738 EI-CDI
Inbound: Murcia to London Stansted 27 Sept 2004 1715 FR8021 738 EI-CSA
These were very much typical Ryanair flights, but unlike last time I did the same route on the same airline, I decided to be unorthodox and stray away from herd behaviour.
Unlike last March, when I got to the airport 2 hours in advance only to find a long queue on the designated check-in desk for my flight, I did it with 50 minutes to the flight. On this occasion there was nobody at the queue and there would be no hanging around the airport.
The disadvantage is that I would get a high sequence number: FR has a priority queue for boarding for those 65 pax that first check in (after families with children and people with limited mobility). The remainder board last.
But I had decided that is exactly what I would do. And so, with 40 minutes to the flight, I should have been at the gate, but instead stopped at Pret a Manger for a lovely crayfish and rocket sandwich, washed down with a smoothie. I did buy an apple and cinnamon cake that I would later have onboard with some PG tips tea (the only drinkable product among FR's range of hot drinks -same that British Rail used to have and that, thankfully Richard Branson and others have changed to espresso machines and better quality products-)
So, on arrival at the gate, the queues which had perhaps formed 30 minutes before were starting to move. But I had time for a wonder to the large windows and have a look at the plane I'd be on 5 minutes hence: It had the new livery, and so it had the non-reclineable seats, no seat pockets, safety card on seat backs. On the plus side it had leather or a smart imitation material and it smelled very new indeed. The return would be on the other, older version of the 800s.
Despite boarding almost last, and on a virtually full flight, I found my seat (4D) very easily. OK, an aisle seat, but then I did not expect anything else. But it has advantages: One can get up to get a book, a poncho or anything else from one's bag in the overhead compartment, or indeed go to the toilet without having to ask the permission of 2 other people.
As I sat down, one of the FAs was coming along with a dozen seat belt extensions. They were all put to good use. The lady who was sitting -mostly- on 4B strapped hers on with mastery. She must have been used to them.
It was then that I though of a possible disadvantage of boarding last: Having to share seat 4A with the lady's overflowing flab would not have been nice. That must have been the only theoretically available seat on the plane.
Others were filled with golfers in their 50s and 60s trying miserably to look younger, sun-abusers with plastified skin, platform flip-flops and colourfully painted toe nails and other sun seekers hitherto undamaged by the sun, but many by the British diet.
Safety announcement were made: Ryanair FA's seem to know the speeches by heart and deliver them very fast. There was a recording in Spanish too, that started with a reading of the riot act on anyone who might even think of smoking. It also mentioned something about emergency exits locations as they were being pointed out, but the cabin crew were busy elsewhere. They probably did not even understand what was being said.
As I read the first issue of Ryanair's in-flight magazine, called RA:M, I torn open the cake I'd bought earlier, and its aroma exploded, causing general salivation in the vicinity.
The magazine is a fine light read, and it had articles on Venice, Edinburgh, Marrakesh (is this Moroccan city in their sight?), and one eloquently written, but totally misguided one on coffee culture. Certainly when it came to Colombian coffee, the writer went on about (almost extinct) condors, espresso machines (definitely not a Colombian method for coffee preparation), and cigars (in a country that smoking is not commonplace, even less cigars! -does he think that he can extrapolate Cuba to the rest of Latin America?!)
So, a smooth landing, quick disembarking, and I was out of the airport in no time and without having to breath the cigarrette smoke of the tobacco army who light up in unison as soon as they get to the side of the conveyor belt: An advantage of traveling with no checked luggage. A bit more of a queue for the car hire, but that because of lingering passengers of the MyTravelLite from BHX that had already turned around. It did give me time to see the smoke from the controlled burning vegetation: A method used to clear the soil in preparation for the construction of a second 2000 m runway at MJV and a new, badly needed car park. Considering that on a regular day, Murcia sees no more than 10 flights a day, one might wonder why a second runway is needed. But it seems that the current 2400 m one has time restrictions, perhaps because it is shared with military traffic.
So after 6 days of glorious weather, some sea, beach, driving to dusty towns in rural and arid Murcia and surroundings, a pleasant night out in Murcia city and passing assorted dead dogs on the side of the roads in varying levels of decomposition, it was time to fly back.
Again, I made it to the airport with less than 1 hour to the flight, and yet the queue was still long. It gave me time to have a hot meal in the cafeteria, from where every corner of the small terminal can be seen, before I checked in. Again, I boarded almost last, and again I managed to find a fine aisle seat (9D).
The flight left 10 minutes early, just as it had done 24 hours earlier. Then I saw it overfly the beach where a fellow Finnish aircraft enthusiast also raised his gaze and followed its path. I learned from him, among other travel stories that the "M" in a Tupolev 134M stands for "modern", and how he and his boyfriend had flown on one from St Petersburg to Barcelona exactly a year before.
It would be another good Ryanair flight, that arrived in STN 30 minutes before the generous timetabled arrival time.
I always find FR FA's to be friendly enough, assertive and very hard working. They were mostly Irish females, though on the way back there was a German girl, and an extremely jolly Spanish one who got off the plane to single-handedly check boarding cards. In the frantic boarding process no passports were inspected.