Well, what better way to start 2005 than with a Trip Report! This trip report covers my New Year's trip to Newcastle, where I flew to spend New Year's with some friends of mine. Off we now go from the old year 2004 into the new 2005...
FRIDAY 31 DECEMBER 2004.
CWL - NCL.
AIR WALES FLIGHT 6G 852.
ATR 42 300 REG. G-TAWE (c/n 371).
I initially felt inclined to take the new express bus X91 to CWL but due to my movements being a bit late I drove to the airport instead. I arrived at 1525HR and parked in the long-stay car-park, which to say the least was full to overflowing - only the overflow park had any room. From there I walked over to the terminal as the courtesy bus shuttle was not in action at the time.
I reached the check-in desk at 1530HR and was processed immediately. I had just my backpack so there was no luggage to check in. Now, if one wanted the true definition of a ghost town, CWL on that day was certainly that. The terminal was almost deserted and with only 3 flights on the board (mine, First Choice flight 7542 to TFS and, later, flight LTE 915 also for TFS) the airport seemed almost ready to shut completely down. My flight was scheduled for departure at 1630HR.
I went upstairs to the seating area and for awhile was the only person around. I bought a cup of mint tea and sat, looking at the almost empty tarmac. The First Choice A320, G-OOAX, was parked at a gate nearby. Shortly afterwards bmibaby 737-5Q8 G-BVZH arrived and took up a parking strand to the East of the terminal. I sat there in a rather reflective mood, this of course being the end of a generally good year for me and the threshold of a new one. Above all, at this evocative time, I was about to fly, to travel, one of my very favourite activities.
The Air Wales plane, G-TAWE, arrived at CWL at 1554HR. It turned out that flight 6G 852 actually originated in Plymouth City (PLH) and stopped in CWL on its way to NCL. It also parked to the East of the terminal and 9 minutes later the boarding call was made. Now, not too long ago another writer noted that several UK airports only announce the gate of departure just before boarding. CWL seems to follow this practice too and it was only at that time that gate 7 was declared the one for the flight. This may seem an effective way of keeping people in the shops and bar rather than queuing endlessly at the gate area. A really sly marketing ploy then!
Since it was now time to go, I made my way through the security check point and on past the shops to gate 7, where the other passengers joining the flight were queued up. The bmibaby jet G-BVZH was present as was sister ship 737-5Q8 G-BVZG, which was closed up and silent. The Air Wales plane was parked a bit further away. The boarding started at 1610HR; I took up seat 4D, by a starboard window. The plane took on 10 passengers in CWL with 14 already on board from PLH. By 1621HR, with darkness falling, the safety briefing was over and the plane was pushed back and its port engine was started. Soon enough the plane was taxing to runway 30 for take-off, which followed at 1628HR. The First Choice A320 was also pushed back at the same time and its imminent departure would have left CWL with no activity save for 1 or 2 later arrivals plus the other TFS departure.
The plane flew off to the North West and then turned Northwards. Along the way I could see several landmarks such as Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and indeed the whole city, which was preparing for its New Year's Calennig celebrations that night. The route followed the A4232 road, then over the M4 and Northwards past Caerphilly (Caerffili), its large castle clearly visible. As the plane accelerated and flew up to 17 000ft (5500m) a layer of clouds below obscured the view for several minutes until a very large cluster of lights became visible to the East. Now I am not very familiar with UK geography that far North so I debated - is that city Hereford or Shrewsbury? As the plane continued, though, the presence of the North Wales coast and the Wirral nearby (vaguely visible in the darkness) gave me the answer - that city was actually Liverpool. The flight flew around Liverpool and then headed Eastwards towards Manchester, which was another blaze of lights.
The plane itself was very smooth but the cabin noise was relatively high, something in which the ATR compares unfavourably with the Q-series Dash 8 planes. Drinks were served about 10 minutes out of Cardiff - I had my obligatory red wine and once again paid £3 - why does a bottle that small cost so much? All the same I should be the last to complain! As with low cost airlines Air Wales sells refreshments but I maintain their fares are not low-cost at all. All the same 2004 had been a turbulent year for the airline, what with public concerns about safety standards and an almost complete redrawing of its route map every month. It started then stopped and restarted services to Liverpool, dropped London City and started Norwich and Newcastle (NCL), restarted Belfast (BFS) and Cork (ORK) as a partner of bmibaby and also serves Prestwick (PIK) on behalf of the major's baby. Nonetheless it has good services and the sole flight attendant, Kimberley, was fabulous (not to mention very good-looking!).
As the plane then headed over the Pennines and Yorkshire Dales the lights below petered out until the descent, which started at 1715HR. Newcastle and environs appeared as a large cluster of lights. The flight went over the city then turned over the North Sea before aligning with runway 25 and descending more rapidly. The plane touched down at 1734HR and rapidly slowed down before taxing to the terminal.
NCL also appeared sleepy with just a few planes around. A Channel Express 737-300 freighter, an HS 748 (whose owner I could not make out) and a myTravel A320 were parked at remote stands while a flybe. Dash 8 Q400 was silent at the terminal. The ATR parked next to a BA 737-400 which was loading up for a flight to LGW. I disembarked a few minutes later and walked into the terminal. With no luggage to worry about it was a straight walk out to the front of the terminal where my friend was waiting.
The terminal at NCL is quite large, in fact much larger than CWL but it was also relatively quiet on this New Year's Eve. Its size was the lingering impression as I left that evening to welcome in 2005.
MONDAY 3 JANUARY 2005.
NCL - CWL.
AIR WALES FLIGHT 6G 851.
ATR 42 300 REG G-SSEA (c/n 196).
All too soon my short trip was over. Newcastle is quite a sophisticated city with lots of attractions, especially Tyneside where much development has occurred since its joint bid with Gateshead (right across the river) for European Capital of Culture 2008 (which was won by Liverpool). I did not manage to get to the Angel of the North, another major attraction - but that will be the main attraction of another trip.
My flight 6G 851 was scheduled for departure at 0940HR. I thus arrived at the airport at 0825HR and checked in. As I did so I was able to admire the terminal at NCL. The terminal is quite large and spacious and has 2 rows of check-in desks, one lot mostly used by charters and bigger scheduled airlines like BA, the other row mostly handling the low-cost airlines like Ryanair and easyjet and also smaller airlines like Air Wales. I did not have any wait for check-in and, again with no luggage, I was sorted out very quickly. As for the airlines there is quite a wide range at NCL - the departure board featured flights by BA, AF, U2, FR, KL, SK, BE and several others.
I went upstairs with my friend to get some tea at the Costa outlet but found a very long line. After waiting a few minutes we decided to head downstairs instead to another Costa outlet and, with no line there, got our drinks. We chatted for several minutes until 0900HR, when I headed upstairs towards the security check area. As I cleared the security check, a passenger behind me was stopped - his bag was x-rayed and was found to contain a pair of scissors. Now, he argued that he had forgotten about it but, after all, 4 years after 11 September 2001 people are still forgetting the new restrictions of hand luggage! The officers were talking to him about what to do when I left - one cannot be too nosy in those sorts of situations.
It was then enough time to stroll around the departure lounge, which featured a lot of seats by the windows overlooking the tarmac. 2 BA planes were at the facility, namely A319-131 G-EUPV and 737-436 G-DOCF. I arrived just in time to see the Air Wales plane, G-SSEA, arrive from PLH and CWL - it touched down at 0905HR. The announcement for the flight back to CWL was made almost at the same time so I walked through the huge departure area, which contains many shops, and on to gate 9. As I arrived there a Cimber Air CRJ-200, OY-RJB arrived on an SK flight from CPH. It took up a remote stand and the passengers boarded a bus to the terminal. Beyond it the Channel Express 737-300, the HS 748 and the myTravel A320-213, G-SUEW were parked - none of them would move while I was there.
After waiting in the gate area for several minutes, the gate was opened at 0920HR and boarding was very quick. The 17 passengers boarded very quickly and soon the plane was pushed back at 0933HR. The safety briefing was given and the engines were started - the starboard engine first just before pushback then the port engine once pushback was complete. As the plane taxied out for take-off 3 easyjet planes arrived - the only 1 I got the number of was 737-73V G-EZJG. The plane taxied very quickly and took off at 0940HR - dead on time! It is not often that I have had such prompt on-time service on an airline. The departure was from runway 25.
The flight headed Westwards across the Yorkshire Dales and generally took the reverse route to the outward journey but heavy cloud cover obscured the view for much of the way. The plane ascended to 16 000ft (5000m). Initially the bright sunshine that illuminated the sky above the grey clouds revealed no other planes but, as the plane passed Manchester and Liverpool and headed Southwards for CWL several jets could be see flying past at altitude. Many of these appeared to be heading for London or the Continent while others were headed for North America. As for the ATR itself it again was very smooth but with a high cabin noise level. Additionally many of the seats had no tray tables - it looked as though some had been ripped out altogether. Is that meant as a cost-cutting exercise and if so why did some seats still have them? Certainly on G-TAWE all the seats had tray tables in place. On another note, both planes have 50 seats with 12 rows of 4 plus 2 rear-facing seats in front on the starboard side. On this flight I had seat 11A and thus sat on the port side just aft of the wing.
About 10 minutes after take-off the flight attendant, Andrea, came around with the trolley but nobody bought anything. Oh well, I guess that the passengers decided that they were not really up to this low-cost airline strategy. All the same, she was very professional.
At 1026HR the plane started its descent into CWL while still over South Powys. It soon descended and Cardiff (Caerdydd) passed on the port side. The plane then turned Westwards towards the airport, passing Barry (Y Barri) to the starboard and Weston super Mare and the Somerset coast further off to port. The landing occurred safely at 1040HR, a bit ahead of time (arrival was initially scheduled for 1100HR) but a favourable tail-wind helped the journey. The plane then taxied off runway 30 and parked to the East of the terminal in the same stand from where my outbound flight had departed. The other planes at CWL were another Air Wales ATR 42 (I did not get the number), bmibaby 737-5Q8 G-BVZH (just arrived from CDG) and KLM F70 PH-KZD.
After disembarking I walked straight through the arrivals area with my backpack and headed for the carpark to collect my car. As I got to my car I suddenly heard the shrill sound of JT8D engines and drove around to see what had come in. Lo and behold it was Ryanair 737-204 EI-CJF, proving that the old workhorses are still doing the DUB-CWL run. I headed into the city after that.
Overall this was a great little trip with Air Wales and as always I found their staff to be very professional and their services on time and reliable. I wish Happy New Year 2005 to everyone at Air Wales and to everyone on this great website, airliners.net. May we all have many great flying experiences and good lives in this year.