I got off work around lunchtime and got a collague to drop me off at the local station. From there it was a 30 min train trip to Charleroi Sud train station. However, bearing in mind I am already 20 mins by train in the right direction, anyone taking the train from central Brussels has almost an hour just to get to the railway station.
From the station, I waited about 15 mins for the bus 68 which would take me the last few km to Charleroi airport. The bus ride takes about 10 mins on the ring road.
Once at the tiny CRL airport, the first time I have been there since it has become Ryanair’s hub, I went and checked in. The airport is colour-coded in Ryanair’s distinctive Blue and Gold colours, being the only airline of substance to fly there apart from the odd charter flight. Two check-in areas are available, but it seems that there is never more than one side in operation. In fact Ryanair had high hopes for its Charleroi hub, but at the moment it seems to me to have misfired. From memory many of the destinations were to be at least 2 times a day, yet Pisa, Carcassonne, Shannon and Venice are now on a daily 732 rotation only. Brussels and Dublin do better with 4 flights and Glasgow gets 2.
The terminal building’s public areas offer zero view of the tarmac and even venturing outside yielded no results (at least within reasonable walking distance). What is more these public areas barely seem to cop with current passenger loads which only rarely sees more than one ryanair flight leaving at once.
I soon headed through the immigration point and into the spartan “holding area”. One plus is the shop has been renovated since last I was there. There are two gates for the non-schengen area – 1A and 1B. 2A and 2B are through the glass for the schengen departures.
With the plane due to depart at 1640, I was getting a little concerned when no plane was in sight at 1620. Being a 737-800 scheduled, I imagined it would take some time to unload passengers and baggage, even in ryanair terms. False hope was had when a jet noise was heard but it turned out to be 2 Belgian airforce fighters doing a low level pass over the runway. Most impressive (for those who don’t know, Charleroi seems to be quite an important Air Force base as well). There was also a couple of cessnas from the airport’s flying school doing touches and goes.
25 January 2002, Brussels South Charleroi – London Stansted, Ryanair, FR 1017, 737-800, EI-CSQ, Seat: 5A (free choice), PB: 1649, TO: 1657 Rwy 25, LA: 1638 Rwy 23.
Photo © Edwin Olinowetz
Finally 737-800 EI-CSQ landed at 1623. It taxiied quickly to the terminal parking right in front of the glass. Once the engines were stopped, pax immediately started deboarding from the stairs rapidly put in place (1625). Amazingly the main boarding call (after pax with children had already boarded) was at 1638 – 13 mins later! It was 1649 when we pushed back and after a longish taxi to the end of the runway we took off at 1657. An incredible 34 mins landing to takeoff with a full 737-800. I was most impressed? But I believe it is commonplace at Ryanair.
On taxi, I saw a USAF A-10 tankiller (is that what they’re called). First time to see one of these – nasty, menacing looking things. Also eyeballed a couple of Belgian fighters but no idea as to their identity – military aircraft aren’t my thing.
This was my first 737-800 flight but to be honest was nothing special, considering I have flown 737NGs before. What is more, Ryanair only buys the basics so there was certainly no plush seats or fancy IFE to talk of. The crew were of an efficiency that I have never before seen. The cabin manager spoke so fast that she ended out of breath yet did not slip up once or seem to miss one detail. She also somehow managed to keep it sounding friendly rather than the machine-like speeches you sometimes hear. They were certainly busy enough (it is after all a very short flight) that I wasn’t going to give them my flight data sheet for the captain and once airborne there wasn’t a moment where a F/A was free so that I could ask. Oh well…
The flight was very short – 41 mins and there wasn’t much to see due to the thick and low cloud. The 4 F/As somehow managed to go through the cabin selling drinks and snacks, returning twice to collect rubbish then come around with the gifts/duty free trolley. I suppose they have to – I believe the latter is where most of Ryanair’s money comes from. At under A$50 each way (25USD) including all (substantial) taxes they sure aren’t making money from me. And others had even cheaper fares. But talk of efficiency.
We landed at Stansted and made a high speed taxi to the gate. The little I saw of Stansted impressed – a new large airport. However they must rue the cost of the fancy new airbridges… STN is almost exclusively low-cost airline territory (bases for Buzz, Go and Ryanair as well as several UK charter companies) and none of them use the airbridges. Probably 1. Too costly, 2. Too time consuming.
Once off the train we board a little automated railway which takes us from the gate areas to the main terminal. I didn’t know of this at STN and it surprised me. Very high-tech (driverless) and very impressive. The trains reminded me a bit of Osaka Kansai and Frankfurt.
Well once through immigration (very quick), I headed straight downstairs (no checked baggage) to the train station directly below the terminal. There, trains leave for London every 15-30 mins which makes STN a very accessible airport. However if you are budgeting $A, the £23 return journey certainly makes you choke. Hint: buy the ticket on board the flight – you get it for a still-pricey but cheaper £17.
27 January 2002, London Stansted-Brussels South Charleroi, Ryanair, FR 1012, 737-200, EI-CKR, Seat: 4F (free choice), PB: 1237, TO: 1245 Rwy 23, LA: 1418 Rwy 25.
Photo © Thomas Fischer
I had to get up at 8am after a very late and drunken evening to catch my train to the airport, so you can imagine my annoyance and frustration at the hopeless British railway system when I arrived at Tottenham Hale to discover that on Sundays the Stansted trains no longer stop there as marked everywhere, but at Seven Sisters. Luckily the latter was one stop on the tube away but nevertheless, better communication would have helped. Certainly the internet timetables I had checked had said nothing. Luckily as always I had given myself more time.
Well once at the airport after catching the train from Seven Sisters, I turn up to the desk to be told that for operational reasons my flight was one hour late. OK I said. No problem. Inside I thought of the extra hour’s sleep I could have had. I took the time to look around the smallish terminal which was obviously undergoing some sort of refurbishment. However once again from the passenger sides, very little (well, nothing) could be seen of the tarmac. So I decided I’d go through the security (no immigration when leaving the UK even though it is outside Schengen). Once at the central passenger area, I checked the info boards which now listed my flight as 2hrs 15 late. Defeated, I sat down in a couch and pulled out the book my cousin had lent me the day before.
I started chatting to another couple grumbling about being on the same flight. I also called up my friends in Brussels warning them not to pick me up at the station as arranged. However, suddenly, my flight was retimed to leave in 20 mins – only 45 mins late, and could we all go to Gate 11 ASAP. Not thinking I had time to call back, I headed for the automated train and to my gate. As I arrived, my plane landed (obvious as it was a 737-200 and FR operate only a few of these out of STN – mostly 737-800 flights) and as before it wasn’t long before we were ready to board. In the meantime, I discovered what a wonderful viewing area these piers are, especially as I had never seen buzz and go aircraft before. I particuarly like the little slogans on the go aircraft involving the word ‘go’, such as “amiGO”, “ready, set GO”. I wonder if there is a “GO away”!!! I also saw two FR logojets – one for Hertz, the other I think Kilkenny beer, which add colour to the airport. Various other charter a/c were to be seen. I took some pictures but the light was such that I doubt they’ll turn out well.
Well we boarded soon, and though I like being early to board (seat selection!) there was a bunch of young belgian d***heads who pushed and shoved to get in and considering how they smelt I was quite happy to give way (I’m not usually fussed about such people but these had to be seen to be believed). If they hadn’t been Belgians headig BACK to Belgium I would have guessed it was their first flight.
On board, it turned out to be once again a full flight. I managed to secure 4F – as close to the front as I could get at the same time as getting a window. Then came the “guess the plane” game that I have on Ryanair 737-200s. Basically Ryanair do the minimum conversion for their 2nd hand planes and from that you can work out where they came from. Last year’s flight had Brittannia seat buckles which gave it away. This time all the exits and other signs were also in dutch (good for a belgian based plabe actually). This makes me wonder if it came from KLM or else some other dutch airline. No doubt someone knows the history of EI-CKR.
We waited a while before pushback as there were 2 no-shows at the gate and their luggage had to be found. No doubt they saw the 2 hour delay posted and went out for a bite to eat. They would have returned pretty pissed off because I’m pretty sure Ryanair (with their reputation) wouldn’t have just put them on the next flight. That said, you never can tell, but this is coming from the airline which prints in its conditions that no hotels or meal couchers will be provided no matter the delay. Then again, how much did I pay?
Once airborne, it was straigth away rock and roll, all the way to Brussels where it was pouring down (London wasn’t much better – all weekend). The service was quite adequate, and the crew efficient, though the cabin manager or whatever she is called, couldn’t beat the performance of the flight going over.
We landed at Charleroi under 40 mins late which considering the circumstances wasn’t bad. After all the delay was from fog in Venice on a previous flight which is hardly Ryanair’s fault. As we deplaned, another 732 roared in next to us, creating quite a “busy” look for little old charleroi. No military planes to be seen though.
As I had just missed the bus and there was no more for an hour, I decided to sit down and read. However, I overheard a british man asking his friend about Brussels etc and how he thought the airport was near town (as opposed to being over 50km away in a totally different city). I went over and explained the situation and quickly told him that a taxi into Brussels would be an utter waste of money. In gratitude, he let me join him in a taxi to the local railway station (Charleroi sud) free of charge, so that I could be in time for the next train to brussels. In fact the bus and train is so badly timed that on Sundays the bus from the airport arrives at the station at 30 past the hour whilst the trains leave for Brussels at 27 past the hour. So I killed two birds with one stone.
Anyway, sorry for the long-winded report, but for those who don’t know, this could give a few tips on the Ryanair experience as well as on STN and CRL airports. Thanks for reading. The last installment of my trip will be available online post Feb 15.
And for those who care about Adelaide Airport (a bit of advertising), my website has recently been updated. However, the new timetable is still about 24 hours away, despite what the page says (see my signature/profile for address).