Back in April I decided to once again use Monarch's service to Granada to visit family in Spain. Getting to Andalucia involves some simple choices; there's a wealth of flights to Malaga, but it's 90 miles from where i need to get to: The Lecrin Valley, East of Granada. By contrast, cheery little LEGR is 20 miles away, so Granada it was.
I could use Ryanair, but that means getting to Stansted from Hampshire in the south; a pain in the arse. Monarch operate the service from Gatwick, which is really not that far from my home yet somehow seems to take forever to get to, road or train. Should Flybe ever choose to start operating ERJ195's to GRX straight out of SOU, I'll be a happy camper, but I digress.
I first used the service in July '05. Monarch's website is absolutely kick ass, really easy to use and everything works properly. I stumped up the extra fiver to choose a seat and picked 8F for the outbound. It cost me a little more than usual, but it was half term, and the airlines knew it. Monarch were still far and away the best fare.
Getting to the airport is surely half the fun, and I always allow plenty of time for the journey, just to relax and allow for shit-happens, especially as I'd be using the railway. Southwest Trains have included Clapham Junction as a stop on most London services now; this is a big deal, as that's the connection that takes you to Gatwick. The whole thing usually takes about 3 hours, even though it's about 70 miles as the crow flies.
I was quite lightly loaded with an overnight bag and my camera case (which basically looks like a travel rucksack). There was one minor problem: I felt like shit. My housemate had decided that we should go out the night before for 'one drink'. Naturally, the instruction got lost in translation somewhere and we ended up getting completely trashed. I woke up feeling like I'd slept with an old man's flip-flop in my mouth (not entirely unlikely) a really, really bad throat, and completely flooded sinuses. Awesome. I didn't remember much about the walk to the station, other than having that delightful clammy feeling only a hangover can give, which makes any kind of physical exertion ten times harder.
The trains ran like clockwork, and I arrived at gatwick at about 1130, leaving me plenty of time to check in. The flight was at 1535. I walked into the subdued check in area, and headed upstairs for a coffee. I always like the hustle and bustle of airports; that feeling of going somewhere; travel, excitement, business. It always gets me going. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds: Tannoy announcements for passengers from Sierra Leone; businessman barking into mobile phones, mothers herding tired children around whilst the harassed husbands try and arrange transport. There's always at least one person fast asleep. Where had they come from? How long had they been there? It's people watching at it's best.
I finished my latte, browsed Smith's and decided to try check in. Although I was early, this seldom seemed to bother the agents at Gatwick. I spoke to an extremely charming young man from Swissport (after a wait of about two minutes) who was very chatty. Lifted my mood quite a bit seeing someone who enjoyed his job. He must have been new.
I turned toward the partitioned jaws of the security area that separates check-in from the airside lounge, and again went through very quickly. Again security were friendly, and quick. Unusual; when I travel on my own I normally get collared and have my shoe soles inspected. The departure lounge at Gatwick is very light and airy, thanks to the large overhead window area; a contrast to the subdued feel of the check-in zone. For some reason, it seems to possess an unusually high number of extremely hot female workers, although that could have been latent beer-goggles considering how I was feeling.
I did the only thing a man in my position could do. I headed for the bar. As is customary for me at Gatwick, I had a double scotch and sat down in a dark corner. The bar actually has very nice views of the apron, but I've never managed to score a seat there; this time it was populated by a load of guys who appeared to be on some kind of stag-do somewhere, and they were getting some heavy-duty boozing in early.
After marveling at the spectacularly tatty decor of the bar and inhaling in the delightful fragrance of nicotine and stale beer, I decided to head upstairs to the viewing area. The layout had been changed; the childrens play area was there, and the kids were going mad for all the aircraft movements. There was a good vibe, and it was a buzz to see people enthused about aviation. Needless to say BAA will probably put a stop to this nonsense - people don't come to airports to look at planes, do they? Why allow that when they could be feeding cash into the shops.
My mobile chimed. It was a reminder. My Sister's birthday was in four days. Shit. I rang her and persuaded her to tell me precisely what she wanted, which was something from Clinique. My heart stopped. The last time I went into one of those places, I had to physically fight off a sales girl who seemed determined to cover me in every fragrance known to man, however, I would be - on this occasion - brave. I gingerly found the world duty free shop and did a quick recce to establish where the clinique stand was. I didn't want to ask anybody, because they might start spraying stuff at me. It was - of course - right at the back. I gingerly approached an orange coloured sales girl (I think it was a girl, there was a lot of makeup) who could have been aged anywhere between 25 and 80, and asked her if they had the goods. She immediately grabbed a little box and asked me if the colour was okay. I pointed out it wasn't for me, but that I'm sure it would be fine. I paid up and then bought a card with an appropriately smart arsed comment about turning 40, then legged it out of there. I think I was actually perspiring.
Time eventually rolled round to boarding. I had to get to the satellite, which involves a bit of a walk, but you get fabulous views of the apron. The glass covered walkway is beautifully open and airy, and I felt quite serene as I trundled along the first of about 50 travelators. My hand was gently brushing the railing as I moved, and I stared out at the aircraft and the silver spring sky. It was a beautiful moment, until I reached the end and tripped over.
My cat-like reflexes saved me, and I caught myself mid fall, and desperately tried to look cool in front of the girl who was just behind me, whom I suspect was unimpressed. What felt like about three hours later, I arrived at the satellite, which was pretty deserted. I had only been there once before, and considering it was finished in the early 80’s, it looks really quite dated. Boarding started pretty much immediately. The aircraft was G-MONX, an A320 as expected. There was a brief hold up as the dispatcher very politely asked if he can please get into the aircraft. In my slightly tired state I caught myself looking at the space between the door and the outside world, where the paint fades and chips a little bit, then over to the plate near the door that declared the aircraft was owned by Monarch leasing.
The interior was very clean, I took my seat and looked at details on the wing skin and engine pylon. It was apparent by the slightly matte look that the aircraft wasn’t new, but still looked in great shape. The seat pitch wasn’t fantastic; I’m 6’3” and fairly lean, and whilst I wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, I had my fingers crossed that the person in front didn’t recline their seat-back. I settled in and just took in the atmosphere, as a very cute, petite Spanish flight attendant with a million dollar smile wandered up and down the aisle, as they do.
Pushback happened on time, and each CFM quietly droned into life, settling into that electrical-like distinctive hum, then a hiss as the bleed air stirred the aircon to life. We began the long trundle to runway 26. As we waited in line I watched the departing and arriving aircraft doing their choreographed ballet, then it was our turn. The cabin once again fell silent as the bleeds were switched off, and we slowly crept into the lineup position. The cfm’s gently rasped in that funny way they do as power is increased, then made that distinctive whine followed by the really quite intrusive fan noise that always seems to attract some curious glances from those seated near the front.
After what seemed like quite a long roll, we rotated gently into the gloomy sky and rode a few bumps through the cloudbase. Cruise was comfortable, a complete non-event really, although I did succumb to the 6 quid main meal, which I have to say was a rather tasty beef thing. The descent into Granada was very beautiful and scenic, with some nice turns above some pretty mountainous terrain as we settled into an approach on the Easterly runway. Touchdown was absolutely smooth, one of the nicest I’ve experienced in the A320, and deceleration was equally gentle as I watched the reverser doors spring open on the CFM’s purple cowling.
LEGR is a quiet little place. There were a number of German-registered GA aircraft, and a single Citation sitting on the apron, plus a sole Iberian MD-87. I caught site of the follow me car, and we taxied to a parking space pretty much in front of the control tower. On of the FA’s donned a fluorescent jacket and caught my eye, so I said “you’re really rocking the safety look” and she shot a smile at me that basically said “f*** off.”
I wondered out of the aircraft, past the MD87 which had the airstairs at the rear down, and into the terminal for baggage reclaim, which this time was pretty quick – the previous occasion I visited it took 40 minutes for the hold luggage to appear. I met my dad there, went home, and fell fast asleep.
P.S. didn't get many pictures, because my camera wasn't actually charged, but here's one of G-MONX on the apron in LEGR:
[Edited 2006-05-28 23:05:12]