737-300 (Robin Hood Baby)
Sched dep./actual -17:15/17:50
Sched arr./actual -18:15/18:35
I arrived in Manchester terminal 1 just after 14:30 for my flight for home. Baby now use the bmi mainline desks located beside the Aer Lingus counters, this area is much more spacious especially given the large ques for baby flights, today was no exception, with my Belfast flight, along with Cork and Prague departing close together. Initially only one desk was open, resulting in a long slow queue, a second and third desk where eventually opened. The bmi agent was friendly and efficient informing me of a 15min delay, while my online seat reservation was confirmed, a handy feature when traveling with baby.
The surrounding desks where crowded, with two Air-Berlin flights departing at the same time, I had no idea they had such a presence in Manchester. The channel Islands, and Ireland security channel was typically crowded, especially with airport staff skipping the queue, while the security area itself was fairly quiet. After watching the BBC documentary `Whistle Blower` showing gaps in the airports security I was interested to see how the screening would go. The kid in front of me had a metal belt buckle and was asked to remove it, however my aircraft seatbelt style buckle was hidden by my jacket and wasn`t detected by the metal detectors, this seemed worrying. Otherwise the security seemed fine.
I sat drinking Starbucks looking out the huge glass windows observing the terminal 1 pier, there was clearly an afternoon lull, seeing only a couple of Thomas Cook A320`s and the Air Berlin flights, 737-800 and F100 come and go. The 14:30 baby flight to Belfast was suffering from the typical baby lateness syndrome and was only boarding at 16:25 from gate 5 as I wondered up to gate 15 for my flight. The very end of the pier was completely full, standing room only, again the joys of flying low cost! At 16:45 there was no sign of the aircraft, however it was a relief considering the earlier delayed flight was still sitting, doors open with a full load people trapped onboard.
At 17:00 our vintage 737 finally arrived, and after a swift turn around we started boarding at 17:30, just as the lunchtime Belfast flight took off. The flight was almost completely full, mainly with families coming home after watching the football. The crew consisted of two girls and a guy, all under the age of 25, but where friendly and professional. An apology was given for the delay, usual story of late inbound aircraft. The take-off was slow with the plenty of vibration being felt in the cabin. The aircraft was clean, however it appeared very worn, while the crew still wear those terrible unprofessional looking t-shirts. The flight was routine and uneventful, while the crew had an easy flight as nobody pressed the call button to buy anything.
We made up time well and landed in a quiet Belfast only 20mins late. We parked at the old BA
gate, I didn`t think baby used these gates, but it was handy considering the small walk to the baggage carrousels. Saw the earlier baby flight parked, along with a couple of eastJet 737`s from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our bags took ages to be unloaded, while mine fell off the belt into the middle meaning the belt had to be stopped to rescue it.
737-300 op. Hola Airlines
Sched dep./actual -15:55/16:50
Sched arr./actual -16:45/17:30
After a nice few days at home it was time to head back to uni. I arrived at 14:30 for my flight, this is later than I would have liked and accordingly there was a huge queue for the flight, a group of 20 school kids where checking in, I just knew they`d be sitting near me. The agent said there was no delay, and that all the baby flights had been running on time that day. I was due in work at 18:00 so was hoping for a delay so I wouldn’t have to go in. I hadn’t traveled from BFS
in over a year, and the changes where shocking, gone are the panoramic windows overlooking the apron, instead a series of narrow corridors guide you through a new retail space. The entire departure lounge seemed like half a construction site and half a shopping center. This is all very well but there is virtually no seating for passengers around the bmi baby gate, around 50 chairs meant people where forced to sit on the floor or just stand around, this really isn`t good enough. I bought a coffee and found the last few remaining windows at the Coffee outlet, observing loads of easy flights come and go, a Jet2 and baby flight to Barcelona and Teeside.
At this point the baby syndrome kicked in, while the departure status for every other flight was constantly being updated, our flight number and destination was the only thing on screen. The boarding time came and went, as did the departure time, no information was given. Delayed easy passengers where being given constant updates regarding flight status on the departure screens and over the PA system. The baby gate is really only a door that remains looked, I`m guessing this is to a avoid a stampede of angry passengers trying to find out whats happening.
Our only clue to the status of the flight was the arrival of an all white anonymous 737-300 arriving at our gate. At 16:30 our flight was called, one announcement for all passengers with no apology for the delay. The stampede began as we where slowly herded down a dingy flight of stairs into what can only be described as a cattle market. Once our boarding cards where checked at the door, everyone was forced to stand like lemmings in the room. Clearly designed for easyjet, the room was divided into boarding sequence zones, welcome to low cost flying I thought. Anyway after 20mins standing, a lone agent opened the door and another stampede began towards to stairs of our aircraft.
Boarding took forever with only one door in use, the three crew members looked exhausted, while exchanging vague sheepish glances with passengers. The interior of this aircraft was in tatters, legroom was tight, seat fabrics worm and torn. The seats had baby head covers, but otherwise this was clearly a vintage aircraft from another carrier. Looking around me I noticed how filthy everything was, all plastics looking yellow and battered. While the mounting around the emergency exits and some ceiling panels was falling off, my seat behind the wing gave a perfect view of the blackened wing, while grey paint was peeling of the flaps. Once boarded we where welcomed onboard this Hola airlines flight operating for bmi baby.com. The Spanish cabin crew struggled with every announcement, the safety demo had the attendants laughing as the performance struggled on culminating in a round of applause from the bemused passengers. For first time flyers this would be far from reassuring.
We finally departed after 16:50, the full load led to a slow labored take-off, the rattles and vibrations echoed throughout the battered interior. The cabin lights remained off for the entire flight, this was actually very relaxing. An announcement was made from `Julie` the onboard baby rep saying only that no catering would be available, until completing their landing checks the crew where not visible for the any off the flight. Decent was rough as we made our way through dense cloud cover, although the view was stunning once we cleared the cover as the skyline was illuminated. Final approach was disorientating as we banked heavily and frequently, raising a few scared looks for people sitting around me. Heavy winds meant for a rocky approach, as we passed the perimeter fence the rocking continued, I really thought we where going to clip a wing tip. Passing terminal 3 our aircraft slammed to ground, after a couple of bounces, brakes where applied and we eventually stopped, interestingly no reverse thrust was used.
While taxiing to our gate we heard from Julie again, she completed the final announcements, it seemed strange she did these, but not any of the other more important announcements, I figured this was a contractual rule, but at least she apologised for the late arrival. After a long day I waited for everyone else to push their way off and I was last to leave. I said goodbye to the crew, I felt sorry for them as they looked wrecked. There where no awaiting passengers at our gate, so I figured that was the last flight for our aircraft. In typical Manchester fashion the luggage took nearly half an hour to arrive, a baggage cart was visible through the plastic slats, but it took a bmi agent to begrudgingly walk out to eventually retrieve our luggage.
Overall this was a very disappointing experience with bmi baby. The entire operation seems shoddy and unprofessional, there is a real lack of care for passengers. While the flight crew where friendly, it is the ground operation that lets baby down so badly, it seems like passengers cattle, with no real face or representative to deal with. The treatment at Belfast summed up the whole operation, no information, nothing, just an opened door when the flight finally showed up. The entire operation is completely over stretched, too many bases, not enough aircraft or staff, while I realise the Hola aircraft was probably chartered to cover the damaged aircraft from the `collision` last week, it provides a very negative impression to the flying public of a inconsistent operation. With the imminent invasion of Manchester from Jet2, baby have lost a golden chance to build up a true hub operation, while their notorious unreliability will see them crumble under the competition. To conclude, the problems at baby echoe those at the parent company, a bitty inconsistent route network, over stretched and unreliable.
Hope you like the report,