An old friend telephoned me back in November asking to meet up during the Christmas break. He asked if we could jet off somewhere slightly warmer than England. The usual drill followed - a quick search on the U2 website for their cheapest deal. They had a "Christmas has come early" sale, and were offering most destinations from LGW for around GBP30 return. VLC was the cheapest at GBP23 return each, including all taxes and charges. However, U2 only operate one flight a day from LGW to VLC, so we would have to stay overnight. A quick search on easyJetHotels found we could stay at a rather nice three star hotel in the city for GBP15 each. So we booked - the total cost of the trip being just GBP38 each.
London Gatwick (LGW/EGKK) – Valencia (VLC/LEVC)
Airbus A319 G-EZAH
Wednesday 13th December 2006
Scheduled departure: 1530 Actual departure: 1555
Scheduled arrival: 1845 Actual arrival: 1839
Unlike most of my trips abroad, the flight was mid afternoon rather than early in the morning, so I'd planned to be at LGW in plenty of time and get assigned to Boarding Group A (I didn't check in online as I had hold luggage to check in). However, my travelling companion came from Berkshire on the train, and his first train was delayed so he missed his connection and, to cut a long story short, arrived at LGW at 1430, just an hour before the flight. He didn't want me to check in without him, so I waited at LGW railway station until he arrived.
Lo and behold, we were assigned to Boarding Group D at check in. U2 flights to AGP, BFS, GLA, EDI and FAO were all checking in at the same time, so we had to wait in a queue for a little while. The U2 check in area at LGW is right opposite the large VS check in area which, at this time of the day, was completely deserted.
We went through departures quickly, sampled the Mint Chocolate Baileys in the departure lounge, and ate a McFlurry in the viewing area. I was a little disappointed with the lack of activity at LGW - but I suppose mid afternoon in the low season at LGW isn't the best for spotting. All the interesting North American heavies had been and gone, as had all the BA 777s and VS 747s. We just saw a few GT A320s, BA 737s and U2 A319s.
That said, there was one interesting aircraft parked up at the South Terminal. This Oasis 747 was preparing for an evening departure to HKG:
Our flight was called only a few minutes after I'd finished my McFlurry and we walked over to the gate. Our boarding passes and passports were checked again and we sat down in a seating area just by the airbridge. I looked through the small window in the seating area to see G-EZAH parked outside; the very same plane I flew on from NCE to LGW in November. U2 have so many A319s, so I thought I'd never fly on the same plane twice. How wrong I was!
The usual U2 procedure followed; the gate opened, then parents with young children, those requiring assistance and those who had purchased Speedy Boarding were called.
As we waited for our group to be called, a U2 member of staff arrived at the gate. He said "Is Mr X here?" (I can't remember what name he called out). Mr X got up and said "I'm Mr X". The staff member said "Are you travelling to Faro?". "Yes" Mr X replied. "Sir, you are at the wrong gate. This is the flight to Valencia". They both then left the gate area in a hurry to catch the flight to FAO. That proves the gate staff didn't carefully check the boarding passes. Surely they must've noticed his boarding pass didn't say Valencia. Quite shocking.
Anyway, we were on the plane shortly after 1530, and I got one of the last window seats. The flight must've had quite a high load factor.
Here's the view from my window. The other A319 (G-EJAR) was the flight to FAO.
We were sat at the gate for a while as it took the baggage handlers a long time to get the bags on. By this time, it was starting to get dark. I must say I don't like English winters, when it gets dark mid afternoon.
I watched this FR 737 (EI-DAS) pushback for departure to ORK:
We pushed back at about 1550, and within five minutes we turned onto 26L and started the roll (apologies for the blur in this photo; I didn't use the correct settings on my camera).
We got airborne into the gloomy skies; I took this photo within seconds of bumping into the clouds:
The cloud was extremely thick. We bumped around for a long time as we gained height. Eventually, we popped out of the clouds into the bright blue sky above. The low sun was absolutely beautiful. We reached our cruising height over the English Channel. Here, the northern French coast can be seen:
It got dark as we flew south along the west French coast. I chatted to my friend for most of the flight - we had a lot to catch up on as we hadn't seen each other since the summer.
We touched down in VLC at 1839 local time, after 1 hour 44 minutes of flying time. There wasn't much to see during the descent - just darkness and a few lights from roads and houses to the west of Valencia.
The plane parked at a remote stand after turning 180 degrees in the bay (when sitting behind the wing in an A319, it feels like you are turning on the spot when the front wheel is on full lock). Most extraordinary.
The darkness made us feel tired, and we wanted to get to the city as soon as possible. We disembarked from the plane using the rear stairs and boarded a bus that was waiting. Here's the plane on stand:
We followed signs to baggage reclaim and collected our luggage before exiting the building (our passports weren't checked, which was surprising). While waiting for our bags, we heard a boarding announcement for U25152 back to LGW, which was the return flight of our aircraft.
A quick glance at the arrivals board showed a few IB domestic flights, an FR flight from STN and a Spanair flight from PMI.
We caught the yellow bus from the departures road to Valencia city - at a cost of just 1 Euro. The bus ride was long due to it being the rush hour - but it was fun nevertheless.
We had a super time in Valencia. We checked into the hotel before experiencing a local restaurant and some Spanish nightlife. The next morning, we did a spot of sightseeing and saw most of the famous sights. A very nice city I thought. We got the bus back to the airport (from the stop near the hotel) at lunchtime.
Valencia (VLC/LEVC) - London Gatwick (LGW/EGKK)
Airbus A319 G-EZEB
Thursday 14th December 2006
Scheduled departure: 1600 Actual departure: 1629
Scheduled arrival: 1725 Actual arrival: 1728
We arrived in plenty of time, so we had a chance to grab some lunch. We had decent baguettes from a cafe with super views over the airport. The check in queue formed before the desks actually opened. We joined the queue, and were the 13th and 14th passengers to check in, so we got in Boarding Group A. The desks next to us were for the 1635 U23840 to STN.
Anyway, whilst eating lunch I got the following snaps.
Note the FR 737 top right, which had just landed from BGY, but taken a left off the runway to allow the Air Europa 737 to take off.
After closer inspection, it looks as these IB Airbuses are in storage in VLC.
I was very impressed by the high number of IB regional flights (operated by Air Nostrum) - if only BA could offer such an extensive regional network in the UK!
We went through security to the departure lounge (I had to take my belt off to be scanned; such a hassle!) and sat down in a waiting area.
We watched an IB A320 depart for LHR and a Transavia 737 arrive from AMS while we were waiting for our flight.
Boarding opened at 1545 but, as usual, we waited in the gate area before we were allowed onto buses. I was the first onto the bus - in front of the crowd that paid for Speedy Boarding! Sure good job I didn't pay for Speedy Boarding, because the buses arrived at the aircraft at the same time.
While we drove over to the plane, I got this shot of the STN bound A319 (on the left) and our LGW bound A319. Apologies for the window reflection.
We drove past the back of the STN bound A319 (G-EZEZ) and stopped outside our plane, which was G-EZEB, the second A319 delivered to U2 in the UK in 2004. The doors of the bus didn't open for a while as we had to wait for a thumbs up from the crew. As we waited, litter from the outbound flight was removed from the aircraft in bright orange bags:
Note the old slogan "the web's favourite airline" (rather than "come on, let's fly" which is painted on all newer A319s).
Finally, the doors opened, and I was first off the bus and onto the stairs. The cabin crew welcomed us onboard, telling us to sit only where there was an open locker; something I'd never seen done before. I assumed it was to evenly spread out the passengers throughout the aircraft. I overhead one cabin crew member say to another "there's only 50 on this flight". Perhaps that was why it was so cheap!
I sat down near the front on the left, and took a photo of the cabin behind:
Just before we got going, the Captain welcomed us onboard, apologising for the late departure. Apparently it was because the ground staff couldn't get the stairs attached to the plane after it had landed. He said it took them 15 minutes before the passengers could get off.
The engines then started and the crew started the safety briefing. The chap at the front of the cabin couldn't stop giggling - presumambly putting on a fake lifejacket gets humorous after you've done it a few hundred times!
We taxiied across the active runway, then turned to wait on a taxiway for these things to land:
At 1629 local time, we started the roll:
We departed east right over the top of Valencia city centre:
The views of the eastern Spanish coast were spectacular. I enjoyed a large snack from the easyKiosk before sitting back and watching the sunset.
We cruised at FL390, over the Pyranees...
...and up the west coast of France as the sun set, passed Bordeaux and La Rochelle:
As it got dark, the cabin lights were dimmed.
The Captain announced we were about to start our descent as we neared the Cherbourg Peninsular.
As we passed through FL330, I spotted Jersey (apologies for the bad quality; the light wasn't perfect). The bright red light to the far end of the island is JER.
We entered cloud over the English Channel, and from then on there was absolutely nothing to see until we popped out of the clouds over the lit up Morman Temple which is under the flight path for 26L.
We made a smooth landing, and taxiied to the same gate that we departed from a day earlier. A nice line up of U2 A319s were on the same pier, preparing for departure to various destinations including MXP, ALC, CIA, EDI and BFS.
Once again, U2 provided a comfortable, on time, friendly and good value service. Their A319s are smart, their crew are friendly and helpful, and the ticket price was exceedingly cheap.
Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.
Next flights: LGW-LBA-LGW, LHR-SIN-SYD, SYD-BKK-LHR, LGW-GRO, GRO-CIA, CIA-MAD, MAD-LGW
One thing I'm a bit confused on - the flight timings on Wednesday are different from Thursday for the U2 VLC flights, are they? Or do they have an extra LGW service on Thursday? (seeing as you departed in the light on the 14th having arrived in the dark on the 13th)
Sorry to miss you on MSN earlier!
Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned forever skyward
Sam1987 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2005, 946 posts, RR: 1
Reply 6, posted (8 years 4 months 2 weeks 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 4560 times:
Quoting BA319-131 (Reply 2): I don't use EZY that often, last time I used the on line check-in after buying the ticket which was about 2 wks prior to the flight, it gave me Group D, won't be using that again!
Since last summer, they've made that a little better by automatically assigning online boarding passengers to Boarding Group C, but even so, if they want to encourage online check in, I say Boarding Group B would be better!
Quoting LHR27C (Reply 4): One thing I'm a bit confused on - the flight timings on Wednesday are different from Thursday for the U2 VLC flights, are they? Or do they have an extra LGW service on Thursday? (seeing as you departed in the light on the 14th having arrived in the dark on the 13th)
Well observed! U2 only operate one flight a day from LGW to VLC but, for some reason, from 14th December (the day we returned) U2 began a new timetable for a lot of their routes, meaning the VLC round trip was earlier in the day.