(Bear with me as this is the first report I've written for a while!)
23rd November 2002
Newcastle - London Gatwick
After leaving home in the centre of Newcastle I took the Metro service to the Airport. I arrived at about 0810 and proceeded to Check-in. This was concluded swiftly as I only had hand-luggage and there was hardly any queue. Newcastle airport on an early Saturday morning is a bit empty....the only traffic I noted was a Go flight to Stansted and a couple of charters.
After recieving my boarding pass for seat 15A, I proceeded upstairs to go through security. NCL regulars will be thinking 'Huh?' at the moment as Domestic departures is usually on the ground floor. Apparently for the last 3 weeks all passengers have been using the International section as they are refurbishing the domestic area. As passport control at all UK airports is done at Checkin (on departure anyway) this is not a problem. So I popped upstairs to security after a quick detour in WHSmith.
The International lounge was totally empty so I had plenty of room for moving around the limited Duty Free. I can imagine when there are a couple of charter flights departing in the summer this area can get a bit crowded! Didn't buy anything apart from a Sandwich and an OJ at the Bar (which was massive - remember, we're in Newcastle here!).
Boarding was announced and we were all shepherded through passageways towards Gate 8 (on the domestic side). Our BA 737-300 was waiting there, together with a BA 737-400 at the Heathrow gate (the only domestic one at NCL with an airbridge). As is normal for NCL we were left waiting in the holding lounge for about 10 minutes until they finally cleared the a/c for boarding. When this was done it was by seat rows and there was a decidedly low-tech method of coupon collection: as you went down the stairs your BP was torn, the coupon removed and placed in a pile. Presumably they have to sort the manifest out very quickly before pushback!
Once on board I stowed my carryon and sat down. I was one of the first to board so had plenty of space to get sorted out. Pretty soon one of the stewardesses came on the PA apologising for the cold temperature in the cabin: apparently the APU wasn't functioning to provide heating in the a/c while it was sitting on the ground. We'd have to wait for the engines to start before we could be warm!
Pretty soon everyone was tucked in and we pushed back to start engines pretty much on time at 0935. We taxied out to Newcastle's west-facing runway. By this time an RJ85 of SNBA had arrived on the International side together with a F100 of KLM. We held at the threshold, spooled up the engines, released the brakes and away we went. Climbout was swift with some quite sharp banks - I think the FO was enjoying himself!
The cabin crew quickly started the breakfast service. After experiencing peanuts and champagne on a 1:10 flight in United First from SAN-SFO this summer, all I can say is I am perpetually impressed with BA who manage to serve a full hot breakfast on this 55 minute flight - to all 100+ passengers. This was followed by 2 rounds of coffee/tea/juices. What interests me is that BA serve a traditional breakfast on the LGW flight in the mornings but on the LHR flights they serve a hot bacon roll.....apparently it's all to do with customer demand. Although I think from an economics point of view it would be cheaper to have one meal for all flights....however, I guess Citiflyer (which operates the LGW service - or should I call it Citiexpress?) hasn't been totally integrated yet!
Above Birmingham we started to descend from our level of FL 260. We had a great view of Reading (....."look, I can see my house!") and headed down towards Gatwick. By the time we were on the approach to Gatwick's easterly runway, the clouds and rain were quite thick and it was getting quite bumpy. Touchdown was on time at 1045. Quite a few interesting aircraft at LGW: a UAE A319CJ and a couple of the US majors (NW, DL, CO) that you don't often get to see at LHR.
We parked and were led off the aircraft to buses. I then made my way through the North Terminal to catch the train to London.
24th November 2002
London Heathrow - Newcastle
Boeing 737-400 G-DOCH, G-DOCP
Act Dep. 2135
Act Arr. 2230
I had decided to return from LHR as the flights were better suited for my times. At about 1730 I boarded the Heathrow Express at Paddington Station. Although it's an absolute rip-off at £13 ($18) for a single ticket, it's efficient and does the job, which is more than can be said for the rest of the UK rail system. I'm continually intrigued by how 'international' and 'european' London is becoming.....there is even a French fruit stall on Oxford Street these days! Very continental. This HeX service was no exception: I think I was probably the only English-speaker in the entire carriage. Including two absolutely stunning Italian blondes sitting in the seats in front of me....I would have loved to have joined them on their flight to Milano!
But not this time. We arrived within 15 minutes at 'Heathrow Central' and I made my way to BA's Domestic checkin. This was done without any problems and I headed through the security section. This is currently being refurbished and is a bit of a scrum on a Monday morning, however on this Sunday evening it wasn't too bad! I got to the Gate 5 lounge after looking at the new gadgets in Dixons (mmm....Palm Tungsten T.....makes my iPaq look dated!) and had a small beverage. One aircraft of note taxiiing past was a BMI A319 - I believe these are new? I had bought Wallpaper* and GQ and settled down to read them. The flight was called from Gate 6 so we had to all leave the lounge, walk along the concourse and sit down. I had my customary inner fume at airlines who continually announce boarding only to make people wait at another drab holding facility.
Anyway, again boarding was called by seat rows so I got on fairly soon to seat 17F. Did the usual pre-flight shuffle through 'Business Life' although it gets a bit boring on the 10th time this month! Just as the doors were closing the Captain came over the PA apologising that they were 'running through' things in the cockpit and would be a couple of minutes. This turned into 10 when another PA was made, advising us that they were waiting for some engineers to report back with a verdict on the 'little problem' they had. Some 10 minutes later it was obvious that something was up: the Captain emerged from the cockpit and made a PA standing right at the top of the aisle. Basically the engineers couldn't resolve the problem and we would have to switch aircraft. I had been pleasantly passing the time watching a procession of BMI A320, A319 and F100s out the window but now it was time to move. Only problem was that the new aircraft would be landing in 15 minutes and would have to be prepped for the flight.
To cut a long story short we left G-DOCH and were bussed to G-DOCP, which ironically was parked where the NCL flights usually leave, at Gate 74/76. After waiting ages for a tug, we pushed back at 2130, almost 2 hours late. There was then a long taxi to 9R as we joined the queue of Asian and Middle Eastern widebodies leaving for points east. We were rolling by 2140 and it was another 'brakes on' departure. We climbed through some medium chop and the crew came round with BA's All Day Deli offering. I'm actually quite a fan of this: I can remember the days when you got a horrendous rubbery ham salad - definitely an improvement. There was a drinks service and I had a lager to relax.
Pretty soon we were descending through cloud into Newcastle. We came in over the sea from the east, landing in the westerly direction. This resulted in a very short taxi to the terminal, where a JMC 757, AF RJ85 and a BA RJ100 was parked, in addition to the usual brace of Jetstream 41s.
We were on stand by 2230, and I got through the terminal very quickly, and the Metro back into the city.
All in all these were 2 more good flights with BA and they reinforce my opinion of them as my airline of choice. They handled the tech problem very well, and the advert is correct: they do have back-up when things go wrong. If I was flying Go (their main competition on the LON-NCL sector) I probably would have had to stay the night in STN, or have an even lengthlier delay.
Next up, another NCL-LHR and then a LHR-BAH on Gulf Air. Haven't flown them for over 2 years, so will see if they have improved.
Regards to all.