Part 1: Stuttgart (STR) – Shannon (SNN) on Condor / Thomas Cook A 320-200
Part 2: A planned flight to the Aran Islands with Aer Arann Islands (Islander) that was cancelled
Part 3: Galway (GWY) – Dublin (DUB) on Aer Arann Express ATR 42-300
Part 4: Dublin (DUB) – Shannon (SNN) on Aer Lingus A 330-300
Part 5: Shannon (SNN) – Stuttgart (STR) on DBA B 737-300
If you don’t want to read the whole report, feel free to skip any of the parts. You will find the beginning of each part by having a look at the photos.
Ireland is a country I always wanted to visit. Now I finally found the time to do so. My trip to and across the country included four flights with four different airlines. Originally the trip should contain six flights, but unfortunately two of them had to be cancelled (but more details to this later).
The first airline of my trip was not too exotic – I took a direct Condor-service (or maybe you prefer saying Thomas Cook ?) from my home airport Stuttgart (STR) to Shannon (SNN). These flights are offered weekly every Saturday from May till September, so my flight on 01 May was the very first one on this route this year. Originally I was supposed to leave STR at 6:00 in the morning on a DBA-plane (like other charter airlines, Condor uses a few sub-charter planes at the weekends during summer – these days mainly DBA and HHI Hamburg International). But about four weeks before my flight I received an E-Mail from Thomas Cook saying that my flight time had changed. Obviously due to poor load factors they had put together STR and MUC, so the MUC-SNN-service had an additional stopover at STR to pick up the STR-passengers. So I left in the afternoon instead of the early morning, which meant on the one hand that I would loose some hours in Ireland, but on the other hand I could sleep a bit longer (charter airline departures at 6:00 in the morning are a real pain, especially if you keep in mind that there is no late-night check in offered for the flights operated by DBA). And I got an additional airline (DE) and type (A320) on my trip, so I was not too unhappy about this, even though neither airline nor aircraft were really new to me.
I arrived at STR at a much more convenient time, at about 11:00 am. This was going to be my first departure from the brand new Terminal 3.
Photo © Peter Unmuth - VAP
There were five counters for DE – all flights - open, but as there were all in all 6 DE-planes leaving within the next 3 hours (among them a 763), there were huge crowds in front of each of them. “Welcome to charter travel”, I thought. Well, after all the waiting time was with about half an hour still acceptable. I got my reserved seat, 30A. As the aircraft should arrive with passengers from MUC and I didn’t want to be stuck in a middle seat, I thought the EUR 16,00 DE charges for seat reservations (for both outbound and inbound flight) were well-spent money in this case.
Saturday, 01 May 2004
Stuttgart (STR) – Shannon (SNN)
Airline: Thomas Cook / Condor
Flight number: DE 6572
Scheduled departure time: 14:10 (local)
Scheduled arrival time: 15:35 (local) / time change –1 hour, so flight time was 2:25
Type of aircraft: Airbus A 320-200
Photo © Adrian Kluthe
Photo © Oliver Brunke
After some time on the observation deck I passed security check and customs. While the airside of Terminal 3 offers a large selection of shops, restaurants and bars, the non-Schengen-area in T3 (after you have cleared customs) is really deserted: not a single coffee bar or news stand to kill some time. Just a quite small gate area with two gates (it can be enlarged by opening and closing some glass doors depending on the actual needs). The reason for this might be that all main airlines offering flights to non-Schengen destinations are still departing from T1 (LH, BA, TK, DL) and T4 (most of the Turkish charter airlines).
The only other flight leaving from that area at that time was a HLX 735 to DUB. There was some confusion as the check-in agents had printed wrong gate numbers on all boarding passes for this HLX-flight (the boarding passes showed a domestic gate number instead of an international / non-Schengen gate). The HLX flight was delayed and blocked the only finger position in this area, so the Condor A 320 that had arrived from MUC on time had to find a place on the apron which lead to a gate change for the SNN-flight as well. But that was no problem at all as there were only about 40 passengers joining this flight at STR.
Boarding started on time and a bus took us to our aircraft. It was D-AICD, an aircraft I have already been on in 2002 (STR-MLA) which was a big coincidence as I have rather few flights with holiday airlines (in fact I haven’t had one since this flight to Malta). We were welcomed by 3 female and one male flight attendants and were offered the typical newspaper selection of the main German papers. With the additional passengers from STR, the aircraft was nearly full (according to the DE booking system I had checked the night before, there were four free seats). The passengers were the typical mixture of people you would expect on a low-season charter flight to Ireland: the majority being aged 50-70, some families with small children and only a few student-aged people.
Boarding was completed quickly and we were ready to go. But then the captain made an announcement that due to high traffic (probably in the Paris area) we had a slot for 14:50, which meant a delay of 40 minutes. Especially some of the MUC-passengers who had already lost 2 hours due to this unplanned stopover were not really happy to hear this, but as everybody was looking forward to the holidays, the atmosphere on the plane was still good. The cabin crew started a pre-flight drink service. An elderly lady asked the flight attendant: “It is not possible to use the toilet while we are on the ground, is it?” Did she expect to be on a train ?…
At about 14:30 we were pushed back and the Airbus taxied to the runway for take-off. A very nice feature on the DE-fleet is the on-board camera which shows pictures, taken from the front landing gear, on the flat screens the A 320 is equipped with. Before take-off it is in a forward position; later it turns down so that you can see directly to the ground. Very impressive!
Later the screens showed a map with the actual position of the plane; for me they wouldn’t have to change the programme as I always find it interesting to know where I am flying. But after some time they showed an in-flight programme designed for short-haul flights consisting of some short films about Condor destinations, travel, people and lifestyle. The typical stuff you could also watch on some early-evening TV magazine. Well, at least no Mr. Bean or Pink Panther… In addition to that, they had 10 different audio programmes with all kinds of music and a children’s channel. Headphones were sold (for EUR 2,50 I think) but I had brought my own ones with me. I find it quite enjoyable if you can listen to some music while flying.
Meal service started shortly after, consisting of a roll, a yoghurt and a cheese cake, all packed into a paper bag (no trays). The food hasn’t changed since my last DE-flight in 2002. Not bad, but nothing special either – all right for a European flight of about 2,5 hours. In addition to that, there were two drink services. After the meal service they came trough with on-board shopping, but they didn’t sell much. The crew was all in all friendly and professional.
The captain made a very detailed announcement and explained the flight route which lead us over France, North of Paris, the Channel, Southern England and Wales to Ireland. Unfortunately it was cloudy during the whole flight so there was not much to see.
On descent into SNN the on-board camera was switched on again and provided some great pictures of the “Green Island” with meadows, lakes, rivers, small villages. A very nice first impression of this beautiful country.
After a turn over the country the Airbus approached SNN in Western direction and touched down on the runway. We came to stand at a finger gate position. On leaving the aircraft, many passengers (including me) thanked the crew for the good service. A gesture you usually only see on charter flights. As this was the first flight of the year on this route, there were no passengers for the return flight, so the aircraft would go empty to F.RA.
At the next gate there was a Martinair having just arrived from AMS, besides an Aer Lingus A330 and an A 320, a BA Dash 8, a Ryanair 732 and a Skynet 734 were on the apron. Later an LH CRJ 700 arrived on a charter service from D.US.
I made my way to customs and waited for my luggage to arrive (rather a long wait, but maybe I’m only spoilt by STR where luggage arrives always extremely quickly).
The next few days I explored Ireland’s West a bit. A really recommendable destination: great landscape, nice towns, friendly people... all you need for a good holiday. I travelled by bus to Galway which is about 100 km North of SNN.
One of the highlights of the trip was supposed to be a flight to the Aran Islands. To those of you who are not that familiar with the geographic situation at the far Western end of Europe (like me before I went on this trip): The Aran Islands are three small islands in front of the Irish Atlantic coast, near Galway. All three islands are served by Aer Arann Islands with a fleet of three Britten-Norman Islanders (don’t mix up with Aer Arann Express, a sister company that uses ATR’s on Irish domestic routes and to the UK).
Photo © William Ronciere
Photo © William Ronciere
Well, this trip with an Islander to Inishmore (the biggest of the three islands) was planned on Tuesday, 04 May 2004. I had a booking for the 10:00 flight from Inverin Connemara airport. There are two airports at Galway: Galway “International” for flights to DUB and the UK and Inverin which is a 40 minutes-ride west of Galway and which is exclusively used for flights to the Aran Islands. Aer Arann Islands offers a shuttle service with mini buses from Galway City to their airport. I jumped on the 9:00 bus service, together with 6 other passengers. On their web-site they explain that there is an additional fee of EUR 3,00 for the bus which you have to pay to the driver, but nobody asked for any money. By the way: they charge EUR 44,00 for a return flight from mainland to the islands (compared to EUR 20,00 for a ferry ticket). Flight time is about 10 minutes. But back to my trip: The weather was not really good, it already had rained several times that day. But that is nothing too unusual in Western Ireland (the weather man on TV had called this “showery” ). Besides, it was quite windy, but I wouldn’t call it a storm what I experienced in Galway City this morning. The bus left on time and arrived at Inverin Airport about 40 minutes later.
Out there the weather situation was much worse than in Galway: it was heavily raining and there was a real heavy storm. The passengers entered the small terminal building. The lady who was check-in agent, ticket seller and office staff in one person told everybody that there were no flights possible at the moment due to the heavy storm. Passengers were asked to wait in the waiting lounge; the airline would start operations as soon as the storm would turn down a bit. As the weather can change very quickly at the seaside, there was no specific time announced. The passengers all stayed calm and patient. Most of them were Irish and obviously used to unpredictable weather situations. So I followed the others into the waiting lounge which resembled more a living room than an airport terminal: There were a few wooden tables and some chairs. Tea, coffee, sandwiches, cold beverages and newspapers were available from a small bar. About 20 passengers were waiting with me, including some people who wanted to attend a funeral on one of the islands and who were standing there with flowers.
I talked to the “check-in / office / ticket” lady a bit. She told me that because of this funeral they had also planned some flights between the islands, but out on the islands the situation was even worse than on the mainland. Two of their three aircraft were in the hangar at Inverin while one was out on the islands. So if the storm would turn down a bit they would take all waiting passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible. There is no strict schedule like on main airlines. The pilots were also sitting there waiting for their flights.
Well, to make a long story short: after a bit more than an hour, passengers were told that the weather situation had become even worse and they didn’t see a chance to depart within the next time. There might be some flights in the late afternoon / evening, but even this was not likely as the forecast was bad. And indeed this was the worst storm I have ever experienced in my life. The bus would go back to Galway and everybody who didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere was recommended to take it. So did I. They asked everybody for a phone number so that all passengers would be informed if there were some flights later that day.
Back in Galway I waited until afternoon. A phone call with Aer Arann Islands lead to the conclusion that the situation hadn’t changed. They offered me a flight on the next day or any other day. But as I had a flight to DUB booked for the next day, I sadly had to cancel this trip. They asked me for my credit card number to refund the ticket price. Well, you can be sure this trip will be repeated… While others are hunting an A 318, I’m hunting an Islander.
But now finally to a trip that also took place:
Wednesday, 05 May 2004
Galway (GWY) – Dublin (DUB)
Airline: Aer Arann Express
Flight number: RE 234
Scheduled departure time: 14:25
Scheduled arrival time: 15:10
Type of aircraft: ATR 42-300
Photo © William Ronciere
Photo © Colin K. Work - AirTeamImages
As there is no bus service from Galway city to Galway “International” Airport, I took a taxi (fix price EUR 15,00). It is a nice little airport with four check-in counters, one waiting lounge, a small café and some car rental counters, everything in one room. Very short ways, typical for a regional airport. All signs are in English and Irish language (a Celtic language that is still spoken in some parts of Western Ireland) Most of the flights out of GWY are operated by the ATR fleet of Aer Arann Express (DUB 5 times a day, LTN twice, MAN, BHX and ED.I once daily). Besides, there is a daily Loganair flight to GLA. There is a reduced schedule on weekends, so GWY is mainly a business airport. However, on Saturday during the summer months they have a weekly LX Saab 2000 from Zurich. Due to the very short runway, GWY can only handle turboprops.
The apron was visible through the windows of the terminal as well as from outside. After an ATR 72 had left for LTN, there was not a single aircraft out there. Check-in opened at around noon. There were two counters open for all RE-flights (DUB, ED.I and LTN were to depart between 14:25 and 15:15). I was the first passenger to check in and received seat number 6A.
By the way: the ticket price was EUR 34,99 one-way, plus (only!) EUR 4,00 tax. Obviously there is a reduced tax for Irish domestic regional flights.
I made my way through security check into the only waiting room which had two exits (Gate 1 and Gate 2). It was not too big, but as GWY is only served by small aircraft, it was far away from being crowded. There was a TV screen in the waiting room, but they didn’t show flight times there (like you might expect) but instead you could watch a children’s programme with a pink dinosaur singing always the same children songs. Definitely not the right programme for the waiting business people (I couldn’t see a single child anywhere) and even more annoying than - let’s say Nena “99 Red Balloons”, in the original 1986 version or “Cry me a river” – don’t you agree Ndebele and Sabena 332 ?
Two RE ATR’s arrived within a few minutes: An ATR 72 from Edinburgh and “my” ATR 42 from DUB. Being built in 1986, EI-CVS is a rather old bird which was originally flying for Finnair and later for Regional Airlines. However, you wouldn’t realize the age of the aircraft – it looked well-kept and tidy from outside and inside.
About 30 passengers left EI-CVS who had arrived from DUB. Boarding was announced shortly after. As there were two aircraft on the apron and no bus service, the gate agent pointed out to EI-CVS for the first passengers: “It’s the aircraft over there!”, then everybody walked across the airfield. One thing I realized: we didn’t board the aircraft on the board stairs (as you would expect on a turboprop) but on a special ground stair which was a bit more comfortable. A young flight attendant in her late 20s welcomed the passengers and everybody was offered a free newspaper (the Irish Independent). The aircraft was nearly fully booked. We were off-block soon and after a short way to the runway the little plane was in the air. It was still very windy outside; however you didn’t realize too much of it inside the cabin. It was cloudy outside so unfortunately there was not much to see. I looked a bit through their in-flight magazine “express it”. Drink service started shortly after take-off, and the flight attendant had to hurry as this was going to be a very short flight. But to my surprise, only few passengers took a drink, although it was free. Well, probably frequent Ryanair-passengers who were afraid that a drink might cost them EUR 19,80 (sorry – I have to put some Ryanair-joke in nearly all my reports).
The approach into DUB over the Irish Sea and the coastline was really impressive. After landing the ATR reached the gate quickly and everybody left the aircraft. Most of the passengers had connecting flights out of DUB. But I collected my luggage which was already on the belt when I arrived and made my way out of the airport. One remarkable thing: all passengers had to go through customs, even if it was a domestic flight. There seems to be no special domestic area at DUB.
Conclusion of this short flight: Aer Arann offers a reliable service within Ireland and to the UK to competitive prices. They seem to attract especially business travellers who have to save time. Service is friendly and efficient, their planes might be old but you don’t realize this as they are well maintained. They seem to be quite successful – their fleet is growing fast and even my flight in the early afternoon – a typical off-peak time - was nearly full.
However, especially within Ireland, there are cheaper ways to get from A to B: A bus ticket from Galway to Dublin is available for EUR 16,00 return taking 3:15 hours in each direction. The train is slightly quicker than the bus but also a bit more expensive. So it is a matter of time and money which means of transport you would use.
After some good time in Dublin (great city!) I caught the Aircoach from Dublin city to the airport.
Friday, 07 May 2004
Dublin (DUB) – Shannon (SNN)
Airline: Aer Lingus
Flight number: EI 111
Scheduled departure time: 13:45
Scheduled arrival time: 14:30
Type of aircraft: Airbus A 330-300
Registration: EI-DUB “St. Patrick / Padraig”
Photo © William Ronciere
Photo © Ben Pritchard
I was really looking forward to this flight as it was going to be my first flight on an A 330. The reason why these large birds are used on this short domestic service is the “Shannon stopover rule”: All airlines that want to offer long-haul flights out of DUB have to serve SNN as well. With this the Irish government wants to make sure that the Western parts of the country also receive some long-haul connections (that’s what I have read – I’m not an expert with Irish laws and regulations). So all flights from DUB to the USA have a stopover at SNN in at least one direction. For example: DL flies ATL-DUB-SNN-ATL on one day while the next day it is the other way round.
So I was booked on the short domestic sector of EI 111 which would fly DUB-SNN-JFK. The price for this short hop is one-way EUR 31,00 + tax EUR 16,57 + handling fee EUR 4,00 = EUR 51,57 all in all.
There were four EI check-in blocks at DUB: UK-flights, Europe and USA-flights. I was wondering which queue might be right for me: On the one hand my aircraft would go on to the USA, on the other hand I personally wouldn’t go there. As none of the queues was too long, I decided for the European flights – and was wrong. I had to check in at the USA-desk. Not a too big thing, but if they sell the domestic part of the flights, they might put up a sign “USA and Shannon flights” at the counters. I later found out that there was a small monitor which indeed explained that the SNN-flights were handled at the USA-counters, but if you use Dublin airport for the first time, you might overlook this. Check-in then was quick and friendly. I received a window seat (21A).
There were huge crowds in front of the security check and it took quite a time to get through. Then I had some time to watch the traffic at DUB which was really busy at this time around noon: some American carriers were leaving for the USA (CO, DL, US) as well as the A 330’s of EI. Besides a nice variety of European carriers including of course the EI short-haul fleet and some of O’Leary’s 732’s were around.
Boarding for my flight to JFK via SNN was announced half an hour before the scheduled departure time. The first impression of the aircraft was great – cloth seats in different colours (green, blue and yellow), everything modern, clean and tidy. Only about half of the economy seats were taken between DUB and SNN. I guess there were some more passengers joining the flight for JFK at SNN. At 13:45 (the scheduled departure time) there was an announcement by the cabin crew: “Is there a Mr. Patrick Alwayslate on board of this flight? If you are here, please contact a member of cabin staff!” Nobody appeared. So the captain announced that we were waiting for one missing passenger. It was around 14:00 now and they had decided to off-load Mr. Alwayslate’s luggage which would take some time as he had checked in three bags and they might be in different containers. If he would appear during that time, we might depart with him. He didn’t show up, so at 14:15 we finally left without Mr. Alwayslate and his luggage. Why does somebody check in for a transatlantic service and then doesn’t appear at the gate ??
The welcome announcements were made in Irish and English language while all other announcements including the safety video were only in English. Take-off with the A 330 was very powerful and a bit later the aircraft was in the clouds. Flight time was only 25 minutes, so there was no drink service. For the PTV-fans among you: No, this aircraft wasn’t equipped with PTV’s, so I was really bored to death sitting there for the whole 25 minutes without knowing what to do. Nevertheless, the audio programme was working and there were headphones in every seat-pocket.
Before landing at SNN the cabin crew announced that ALL passengers had to leave the plane at SNN, even those who wanted to continue the journey to JFK (which was the majority of the passengers, of course). Everybody was reminded to take ALL hand luggage and personal items, including newspapers, from the plane as the empty plane was going to be searched by security staff for the flight to the USA and therefore all personal items would be removed. I guess that’s the reason why there were no newspapers available on this flight – they were presumably distributed on leaving SNN.
After landing at SNN, the majority of the passengers made their way to the transit area with additional checks for the flight to the USA while all in all 7 passengers including me went to the baggage claim.
This was my first flight on EI. However, it was an extremely short flight, so I can’t really judge the airline from this first expression. All in all, crew was friendly and passengers were well informed about the reason for the delay, the aircraft was in a good condition, so the first impression of EI was definitely positive.
I spent the rest of the day looking around at SNN a bit:
Photo © Derek Pedley - AirTeamImages
Photo © Derek Pedley - AirTeamImages
SNN is quite modern (at least the departure terminal which was built in 2000 while the arrivals area is a bit older). The airport is rather big if you keep in mind that there is no really big city near the airport, but of course they have to handle all the trans-Atlantic flights. SNN is served by DL, CO and US, besides the EI A 330’s have a stop-over on their flights to the USA. Apart from that, there is some regional traffic (EI A 320 to LHR, BA to MAN, FlyBE to BHX) and Ryanair has based a 732 there. Skynet offers flights to AMS and Moscow. On Saturdays there are charter flights from continental Europe. Besides, SNN is a popular stopover for freight planes (I saw an LH Cargo B747-200) and US army “civil” flights (a lot of ATA TriStar’s and 757’s as well as North American planes can be seen).
But even more interesting than the scheduled traffic are the aircraft being maintained and stored at the maintenance facilities: Shannon Aerospace, Lufthansa Technik, Aer Lingus and Air Atlanta have maintenance facilities at SNN. The Shannon Aerospace hangar accommodated a Lauda Air 737, an SAS MD 80 and a Skynet B 737 when I was there. A Wizzair A 320 was parked in front of LH Technik, as well as some other aircraft. One funny thing at SNN: Aircraft that are not being maintained but just stored may not parked on the apron. Some of them are parked on taxiways that are not in use any more. So you think the aircraft might move and take off within the next minute, but when you return the next day, it is still there. There were two ex-SAS B 767 (all white) and a BA / Sun Air ATP, among others. An old Iberia B 727 without engines will probably never leave SNN again.
The next morning I got up early for my return flight to STR.
Saturday, 08 May 2004
Shannon (SNN) – Stuttgart (STR)
Flight number: DI 8433
Scheduled departure time: 08:05 (local)
Scheduled arrival time: 11:10 (local) / time change +1 hour, so flight time was 2:05
Type of aircraft: Boeing B 737-300
Photo © Daniel Werner
Photo © Jorgos Tsambikakis
Check-in opened two hours before departure (at 6:05 in the morning / Servisair) and I was the first to check in, receiving seat number 1A. There were also flights to HAM (DBA) and MUC (DE) leaving around the same time. A few buses with tourists had arrived outside the terminal building.
Security check was finished quickly. As all finger dock positions were occupied by long-haul flights, the DBA B 737 stopped at a position outside on the apron. There are no buses in use at SNN, so the gate agent told the first passengers: “Your aircraft is the second one in this row”. She obviously meant the second PASSENGER aircraft. The second of all planes was a Russian freight aircraft (An 74 of Instone Air). And guess what: the first passengers really walked towards this freight plane at first! The crew of the freight plane was a bit surprised, but then things became clear and everybody found a seat on the DBA B 737-300.
The passengers were welcomed by the friendly crew (the captain was also standing in front of the cockpit joking with the passengers) and received a newspaper (only the Sueddeutsche and the magazine “Prinz” were available).
As this time the flight served only STR and not MUC, and the charter chain had just started, there were only about 30 passengers on this return flight SNN-STR. So boarding was finished quickly. As there were only German tourists on board, all announcements including safety procedures were in German language only. The aircraft was off-block and airborne shortly after. A complete U-turn after departure offered great views of SNN airport, the river Shannon and the green area around. This time it was a clear morning with only few ground fog in some areas.
The cabin crew started with breakfast service which was on a small tray this time and consisted of a roll, some bread, jam, different kinds of cheese / ham / salami, a yoghurt and some cake. As this flight was operated by DBA exclusively for Thomas Cook, I had expected the standard DE-bags and was positively surprised as I found this food offer better than on DE. Only the one-way plastic trays looked a bit cheap (and are not really environmentally friendly either), but as DBA doesn’t have a free in-flight service on their own flights at the moment, they need these trays only on their charter flights at the weekends.
After everybody had finished breakfast they started on-board sale and the crew really promoted the products available. They didn’t come through the aisle; instead everybody who wanted to go shopping was asked to come to the front of the cabin. I didn’t buy anything myself, but as I was sitting in row 1, I had a real queue next to my seat: more than half of the passengers bought something. This shows that on-board sale can be quite successful if it is advertised a bit by the crew.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. Other than on DE, there was no entertainment on board (no screens and no audio programme either), but I didn’t miss really anything. The only really good things of DE’s entertainment / information equipment in my opinion are the map and the onboard camera, but I can also do without.
D-ADIB arrived at STR on time and again many passengers thanked the crew on leaving the aircraft. It was an enjoyable flight as always on DBA. While for the crew this was the end of work for that say, D-ADIB went on to an other charter flight to Greece.
This is also the end of my (long) report about a really enjoyable trip with four different and interesting airlines. Thanks for reading it; I will be happy to answer your questions. Other comments are also welcome, of course.