Well well, here I go again. I made my first trip to Trinidad and Tobago in 2 years with this journey on BWIA. On my outward journey to POS
I flew in Economy Class but I upgraded to First Class for my return by using some of my BWee Miles. I also made a jaunt to Tobago on Tobago Express, one of the carriers serving the domestic route. Let's jet off to the Caribbean...
SUNDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2004.
BWIA FLIGHT BW
AIRBUS A340-311 9Y
-JIL (C/N 16).
As usual I went to London the day before to ensure I got to LHR
early, as the BW
flight leaves at 1100HR (at least when it's on time). My journey from Cardiff to London on Saturday 20 November was itself a bit of an ordeal. I left home later than expected, having misplaced some things and thus had to scramble onto the bus into town. As Wales was hosting New Zealand in a rugby union test on that day the city centre was closed and so the bus terminated on Greyfriars Road, leaving me with a long crawl across town to reach the bus station on Wood Street to check in with National Express. The bus dropped me off at 1500HR - leaving me just 10 minutes to cross town in the rain with 2 cases! Needless to say I did not get there on time and I glimpsed the airport bus making its way off to LHR
. Nonetheless I made it to the station at 1535HR and checked in, paying a £1.50 extra charge to change the ticket for the next bus, scheduled to leave at 1715HR. After doing so I waited in the cold outdoors until about 1645HR, when the lounge was reopened. At 1705 all of the passengers for the bus were met by an agent who took us over to the Fitzhammon Embankment on the River Taff, where the bus pulled up. Finally I was on my way at 1715HR. (Now, while I did not spend the night at LHR
or a nearby hotel, it was cheaper to buy a return bus ticket to the airport so that I had the return portion for my trip back to Cardiff.)
The bus stopped in Newport, Bristol and Reading Colcot before reaching LHR
at 2100HR. Exhausted and wanting to get by my cousin's place in Falconwood quickly, I took Heathrow Express to Paddington and the Tube (Bakerloo) to Charing Cross. While there I proceeded to have a pint in the pub and in so doing missed my train! Alarmed, I waited outside for the next one and eventually arrived safely at 2305HR!
All the same I arranged a minicab to LHR
for 0600HR the next day, intent on arriving early and beating the huge crowds who always fly BW
from there. After saying goodbye to my cousin I set off on the long journey across London, which was eerily quiet on that Sunday morning. I arrived at LHR
at 0710HR where BW
flight 901 was already being checked in. At that time there was no line and so by 0725 I was checked in, my 2 pieces of luggage sent through. I then went to a restaurant to have breakfast - a full English one at that which was OK
but pricey (then again this is LHR
after all...). While eating I viewed a few planes taking off.
With my stomach now full I strolled around the shops, buying some chocolates and some last minute gifts. The plane was originally due to depart at 1105HR but that time soon came and went without anything as even an assembly call. Once again BW
was late, living up to its old reputation "But Will It Arrive!" The flight was finally called at 1135HR. As I made my way to gate 20 I saw just a short line and thus took the opportunity for a pit stop. Even as I sorted internal matters the line rapidly assembled greatly so by the time I got back 5 minutes later there was a huge queue along the corridor. BW
as usual then! I eventually got checked through and boarded 9Y
's second A340-300 which is still in white livery with only the tailfin with BW
's logo. My request for a window seat was successful as I got seat 48K, which was on the starboard side astride the wing. I sat next to a Scotsman now resident in Trinidad and thus had good company throughout the flight.
This A340 is an ex-Virgin bird. The Economy Class seats were in yellow, green and purple and were 8 abreast (2-4-2). Altogether though the interior looked a bit worn and, worst of all, the IFE control unit at my seat was missing altogether. There were individual PTV's but the one at my seat did not work at all during the long haul but somehow fired to life later on the short trip from UVF to POS
. A close inspection of the tailfin showed the green paint of BW
peeling off to reveal the red of Virgin Atlantic on the leading edge.
The Captain greeted the passengers and apologized for the late operation. He mentioned that the plane had been delayed 40 minutes in getting a gate at LHR
on arrival and that contributed to the flight being 2 hours late overall. All the same he described the flight as "The flight to the West Indies" - which was confusing as JM
-JMP was nearby, loading up at another gate! The JM
flight was destined for MBJ
(Montego Bay) and KIN
(Kingston). The BW
plane eventually pushed back at 1238HR and taxied about 3 minutes later, finally on its way to UVF (St. Lucia Hewanorra) and POS
(Port of Spain, Trinidad).
As usual LHR
had a long queue of planes waiting to depart from runway 27 Left. The first I saw departing was a Eurowings ARJ, followed by AZ
MD80 in snowflake livery, UA
A320-200, another AZ
747-400 and finally my flight. Behind my flight were several other planes including LH
A300-600 and BA
A320-200. The Airbus finally departed at 1305HR from 27L and soon entered cloud, eventually coming out after 5 minutes. I noticed that, despite all the flak that the A340 seems to gather for poor take-off performance, the A340 picked up speed very quickly and made its way smoothly to altitude.
The IFE was started soon after take-off but with my module completely absent there was no entertainment for me! Nonetheless I had good company and looked through the window (which I prefer to do anyway when flying). Thick clouds obscured the view of South England but eventually they parted to allow some glimpses of the coast. Soon enough England was far away.
The plane went up to a maximum altitude of 33 000ft (10 000m) and travelled along the coast to Land's End then turned to the South-West across the Atlantic, passing directly over the Azores and trekking on to the Caribbean. Dinner was served about 1 hour after departure with drinks preceding. I ordered a glass of red wine, only to be asked to pay £3 for it - easyjet style! I took it nonetheless but was duly alarmed - I have never paid for alcohol on BW
before. The dinner comprised a choice of beef and chicken - I took chicken. Another drink was offered - I had more wine and later washed it down with tea.
I saw the Azores slip past below, some 3 and a half hours after departure. These islands are easy to miss unless you look out for them but are very important as they are the only diversion point for a long way - indeed BW
has had to land TriStars there when they have gone tech. No such occurrence this time - the flight was very smooth and comfortable and the cabin noise was very low.
After about 4 hours in flight the duty-free trolley came around. I asked about model planes only to be presented with a choice - BW
A340, MD83, 737-800 and TriStar in new colours plus BWee Express Dash 8 300! This impressed me - certainly not many airlines offer such a wide range all at once! After picking and choosing a bit (and being influenced by the flight attendants) I bought one of each - they are adorning my desk now as I write this along with a model of the TriStar in old colours that I had previously.
Evening tea was served at about 2000HR GMT (or 1600HR in the Eastern Caribbean - all subsequent times during this flight will be given in Eastern Caribbean time). It comprised a scone and a sandwich with tea (which I had) or coffee. All in all the Airbus gave a very good ride and the service was the usual good BW
service, giving the feeling of being home once you step on board. The smooth ride, however, gave way to bumps at 1705HR as the plane descended towards St. Lucia as huge rain clouds were all around. Heavy rain fell around the aircraft as it made its way down - after about 15 minutes it left the clouds and Martinique was visible. Soon after passing the French island St. Lucia appeared, the plane flying along the East Coast then around the South Coast and lined up with runway 10. The famous Pitons were visible as the plane circled then, as the plane lined up, St. Vincent was visible 20 miles (32km) to the South. The Airbus set upon runway 10 at 1744HR and roared to a halt before parking next to the terminal.
UVF is St. Lucia's international airport and is generally quieter than George Charles Airport (SLU) to the north, which is smaller, nearer to Castries (3km compared to 64 for UVF) and receives inter-island flights. The other planes at UVF were BA
777-200 G-VIIO, VS
747-400 G-VROY and a private 737-200. During the 30 minute stay the Airbus took on fuel and several passengers for POS
while the VS
bird loaded with passengers. Neither of the British jets would leave before my flight, which pushed back at 1813HR and back-tracked the runway before leaving runway 10 at 1828HR for the 35 minute flight to POS
There was no service on this sector but BWee's World was shown on all of the PTV's (including mine, which suddenly started to work). The plane flew past St. Vincent at 25 000ft (7580m approx) and then made its way to POS
, passing over the Northern Range and heading Westwards towards Port of Spain. Along the way I identified the towns of Sangre Grande, Valencia, Arima, Tunapuna and the populated East-West Corridor which looked like a Christmas tree with many lights. Even Guiria in Venezuela was visible as the plane turned to line up with runway 10. The smooth landing was at 1905HR and the plane docked 5 minutes later. I deplaned via the jetway and was back in the tropical warmth - a welcome change from cold Britain - but it was very wet outside.
Immigration and Customs were straightforward and I went out to await my mother's arrival. Back home again! I was already very happy and impressed with BWIA again.
THURSDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2004.
TOBAGO EXPRESS FLIGHT TB
DASH 8 Q311 9Y
-WIN (C/N 499).
My flight to Tobago was scheduled for 0900HR. In this light I checked arrived at POS
at 0745HR for check-in. I had one piece of luggage, my smaller suitcase around which I fastened a purple strap for identification and security reasons. Both my suitcases had straps on the long haul flight and they arrived safely so I decided to carry on the practice. It would however take a while to check in as TB
checks in by flight and so I would not get checked in until 0805HR - a rather long wait for a 15 minute flight!
After that I went to Pizza Boys for breakfast and had fry bakes with smoked herring. While I was there a Cimber Air ATR72, OY-CIP, arrived. Now the POS
sector has become increasingly busy in recent years and the demand for flights has outstripped supply. Tobago Express had been set up 3 years ago to be dedicated to the service but has not been able to cope. In fact, what has happened is that TB
has actually taken over BWee Express' 3 Dash 8 Q300s (9Y-WIL, WIN, WIP) and thus has 5 planes, having had 2 Dash 8s of its own (9Y-WIT and WIZ). At the same time BW
has had TB
operate several of its regional services (namely GND, BGI
and PBM) and that has affected the domestic route, so much so that TB
has now been stopped from operating those services by the Civil Aviation Authority. Of late BW
has had to wet lease planes to help out the domestic service; initially a JAT DC9 (YU-AJI) was used but of late 2 Danish ATRs (the other being OY-CIV) have been flown. Between both carriers there are now 20 flights daily between the islands and LIAT and Caribbean Star also have a daily flight each in both directions.
After my filling breakfast I went downstairs and filtered into the departure lounge. Since I did not then realize that the Cimber aircraft was flying for BW
I thought it was actually my flight and did not want to be late! After taking a seat and waiting for a bit, at which time a BW
flight to TAB
was called and the pax boarded the ATR did I realize the aforementioned fact. My own flight was eventually delayed a bit by bad weather (it still being quite rainy), the plane being used being delayed in its departure from TAB
. Other planes around POS
at the time were Icelandair 757-200 flying for Universal Airlines (thus giving POS
a distinctly Scandinavian flavour!), BW
737-800s plus one of CO
(which departed) and AA
757-200 along with the ever-present Dash 8s of LI
The delays to my flight rolled on and on... initially the flight was rescheduled for a 0920HR departure but the plane would not return from TAB
until 0930HR. The plane used was Dash 8 Q300 9Y
-WIN, still in old BWee Express colours. Finally the flight was called at 0940HR and I boarded, my pass directing me to seat 12A. Once on board, though, a group of other travellers were occupying my seat plus the others around it so I took up seat 10D, by the exit and thus getting the extra legroom. One thing I noticed on boarding was that the noise and vibration reduction system controls situated near the entrance were covered by a notice reading "Inoperative". Alas, then, the Q in Q300 of this Dash 8 meant nothing!
After the safety briefing the flight taxied out for take-off and turned onto runway 10 from which it lifted off at 1014HR. Despite the many clouds it was possible to gain a spectacular view of Trinidad and at one point I was able to see both the West and East coasts of the island at the same time - no mean feat given that Trinidad is some sixty kilometres wide on average. The Royal borough of Arima soon passed below, then Sangre Grande further east before the plane turned to the North and passed the Northern Range before making its way over the Galleons' Passage, the sea separating Trinidad and Tobago. All too soon it was time for descent and landing, the plane lining up with runway 9 and landing smoothly at 1032HR. TAB
had no other planes in at the time.
I disembarked quickly and went to the small luggage collection facility for my suitcase. Alas, on retrieving it I noticed that the purple strap that I tied around it for safety and identification purposes was missing! Alarmed I checked the locks (intact) and went over immediately to the TB
office to report the loss, from where I was sent to the line manager by the check-in area. There I was told to report the matter to an e-mail address which I duly did... and I am still awaiting a reply. I will admit that TB
states that it is not responsible for straps on luggage but still that sort of loss is upsetting. The strap was fastened around the case and under the handle so it would have been difficult for it to just fall off. In any case both of my cases had straps when I came down from LHR
and nothing was missing on arrival in POS
, yet on the short trip to TAB
the strap gets lost! The fact that the case was brought straight from the plane to the collection point suggests that the thing got lost in POS
A bitter twist was thus added to my trip.
SUNDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2004.
TOBAGO EXPRESS FLIGHT TB
DASH 8 Q300 9Y
-WIN (C/N 499).
My holiday in Tobago was all too short. I got out to the beaches a lot and enjoyed the sunshine, which finally made its way through once the rains had passed. On several days I was in the Crown Point area and was able to glimpse the air traffic in TAB
has certainly become very busy of late. In addition to the many domestic flights mentioned earlier there is a range of international flights. BA
has 3 flights weekly from LGW
has 1. Charters also come from UK (Excel Airways), Amsterdam (Martinair), Italy (Lauda) and Germany (Condor/Thomas Cook). Add the LI
and 8B inter-island services and TAB
can see planes in and out every 5-10 minutes at peak periods (generally the early evenings).
This evening of my return to POS
was a typical case in point. I arrived at TAB
from my grandmother's house at 1755HR. Thomas Cook was present, its 767-300 of Condor starting up for departure as I arrived. Another TB
flight was departing at the time too. Unlike the planes the check-in line moved very slowly indeed - they seemed to be checking in 1 flight at a time and the result was a snail's pace of action. Over at the BW
counter the story was the same with many passengers jammed in the lines and the standby line too was busy with some local entertainers trying to get back to Trinidad. My cousin who was with me identified local singing star Iwer George in the BW
I was finally checked in at 1810HR and sent through my one case, minus strap of course. I then said goodbye to my relatives and took a stroll to see some of the planes coming in and out. After the Condor plane left a BW
ATR 72 came as the other of the leased ATR's left, then an 8B Dash 8 300 came in and left after 10 minutes (1820HR). I then went to the vendors selling local candy and stocked up, those being great snacks and good to share with friends. I then made my way to the domestic departure lounge and got inside by 1830HR.
At 1835HR a LI
Dash 8 300, V2
-LES, arrived from BGI
and GND and was prepared for its onward leg to POS
. 5 minutes later 9Y
-WIN, which would again serve my flight, arrived from POS
. Oddly enough the TB
plane would keep its starboard engine running continuously when on the ground - a practice that is common for LI
flights in many of the smaller islands in order to ensure quick turn-arounds but not often seen in POS
. It appeared as though there was no external power unit available for the plane, hence the use of the engine to maintain cabin lights and the like.
Both flights to POS
were called at the same time, 1845HR and the mad rush that erupted in the lounge was sufficient to keep the 2 agents busy directing each passenger to the correct aeroplane. Once onboard I took up my assigned seat 10B - again in the exit row and on an aisle. The Dash 8 seats 50 with 12 rows 4 abreast and 1 back-facing row in front on the starboard side only, with 2 seats. Soon after boarding the safety briefings were read and the plane started up at 1900HR. The LI
plane left ahead of my flight, taking off at 1850HR. As my flight taxied towards the runway 9 threshold it had to pause while another TB
flight arrived (I did not see the registration). My flight then took to the runway and was airborne at 1910HR. The coast of Tobago was visible for a short while as the plane made a sharp turn to the right towards Trinidad. Another plane was visible approaching TAB
- it was probably one of the BW
The plane flew smoothly to POS
and pretty soon the North Coast of Trinidad was visible, then Arima and ultimately the whole of Trinidad, lit up like a giant Christmas tree. I listened carefully to determine whether there was a difference on this plane without the NVS as compared to flights on which it was operative. The cabin noise was certainly not excessive but was greater than I remembered on NVS flights and was comparable to that on Air Wales ATRs, which do not have NVS systems.
My flight ended at 1925HR as the plane set down on runway 10 of POS
. Several other planes were in POS
at the time, including V2
-JIL and 9Y
Dash 8 9Y
-WIT and OY-CIV. I disembarked after 5 minutes and retrieved my luggage before meeting my folk.
There thus ended my obligatory Tobago trip. I always go there for a few days. I really recharge my batteries when over there.
SUNDAY 5 DECEMBER 2004.
BWIA FLIGHT BW
AIRBUS A340-313X 9Y
-TJN (C/N 93).
Well well, all too soon my short trip to Trinidad and Tobago was over. I have had a great time there with my sister's wedding being the highlight of my trip. The wedding was the day before I left so I woke up a bit worse for wear on the morning but nonetheless I quickly recovered. The day was a bit of a scramble as I gathered all my things and got all packed up for the flight back to the UK, namely BW
900, scheduled for departure at 1920HR.
My mother and aunt dropped me to Piarco (POS
) at 1810HR. As I was now in First Class I had a dedicated line for check-in and I was 2nd in line on arrival. My check-in was uneventful and within 5 minutes I was through.
I then went upstairs to the Pizza Boys outlet for a drink - I had a beer while the others had soft drinks. After chatting for awhile and gazing at the planes at the airport it was soon time to go. The Pizza Boys outlet overlooks the domestic tarmac and the usual mix of BW
planes were present, coming and going incessantly. 9Y
-WIL, a Dash 8 Q300, left on a TB
flight followed by OY-CIV on a BW
flight. CIV's Danish sister 9Y
-CIP arrived soon after.
I said farewell to my folks at about 1915HR and went into the duty-free area, looking around a little bit. I was a bit alarmed though that I had heard no announcements for the departure of BW
900. I nonetheless bought 2 bottles of rum punch and then went on through the security check and on to gate 11, where it seemed as though almost everybody else had already boarded! Indeed another of the wedding guests, who was awaiting another flight to Barbados, spotted me in the departure lounge and commented that I was the last one to board! I got on board the A340-300 immediately and was promptly ushered to my First Class seat, 1A, right in front and by the window.
Now, the First Class interior of 9Y
-TJN is simply superb. The seats are fully reclining, well-spaced and covered in grey upholstery. In all there are about 32 seats in First Class but only 8 were occupied as the plane left POS
with no-one joining the front end in UVF (St Lucia Hewanorra). The IFE was intact and overall this plane seemed in much better condition than the other Airbus. Now I have to be fair and ask whether I am comparing like with like - namely Standard Class in one plane with First in the other - but the contrast was very stark.
The flight was originally scheduled for departure at 1920HR but this was delayed by 25 minutes due to delays in the plane returning from LHR
that day. Nevertheless the plane was further delayed as some other passengers made their ways onboard (so I was not last). Even so, 3 did not show up at all and so further delays were incurred as their bags were off-loaded. The safety briefings were read at 2000HR with push-back 5 minutes later. My journey was finally underway.
was very busy. Apart from the TAB
flights (9Y-WIL returned from TAB
before I left), 737-800s of BW
arrived and, in the queue ahead of my plane, was a Thomas Cook Condor 767-300. Condor! What was that doing in POS
? It normally serves TAB
and does so on Sunday with a flight from FRA
so perhaps it was diverted due to weather (which was quite rainy that day). OY-CIP was next in line, then my flight with Dash 8's of TB
and 8B following. The A340 soon turned onto runway 10 and powered up, those 4 CFM56s producing their usual whine as the plane hurtled down the runway and became airborne at 2025HR. Trinidad soon slipped away underneath as the plane headed East then North and promptly headed into clouds. The short sector to UVF was very rough so there was no service. That was a pity as before take off the flight attendant came to me and asked me what I wanted to drink. When I asked her what was available she repeated the original question! It had not yet sunken in - I was in First Class and had the pick of the house! I had requested a red wine to start things going but had to await arrival in UVF.
The flight, which was operated at 23 000ft or 7000m, was quite bumpy as mentioned earlier and the flight tracker showed the plane's route quite clearly. I also had my earphones from this sector so I was able to listen to the music selections, which were quite good. The route took the plane past the Grenadines and then St. Vincent before heading to the West and doing a 180-degree turn to approach UVF. The landing there on runway 10 occurred at 2103HR and the plane parked at the remote bay 3 minutes later - the same bay where the VS
planes were parked on my outward journey. This time though there was no other plane at the aerodrome and it appeared as if the BW
flight was the last of that day.
After the plane parked the FA
's came around with the wine and with a bowl of nuts (chick peas and cashews), which I enjoyed. All too soon they came around with more! I really started to enjoy the personalized service which included being called by my name. The plane itself refuelled and took on many more passengers before being pushed back at 2143HR; it then taxied out towards runway 10 and I noticed that the approach lights were switched off, implying closure of the airport after BW
900's departure. The Airbus was airborne again at 2153HR and first headed East then turned North as it flew along the Eastern coast of St. Lucia. The capital of Castries soon passed and within minutes Martinique appeared. The plane soon turned to the North-East and away from the chic French isle and I looked longingly at it as it slipped out of view, a last look at the sunny Caribbean as I headed back to the cold UK.
The flight attendants came back around at 2200HR (0200HR GMT and from this point all times will be referred to in terms of GMT). I had more red wine. 15 minutes later came dinner which was a 3-course meal. My first course was salmon salad followed by a main course of beef with rice and potatoes. The dessert comprised cheese and crackers with port (I turned down the port as I had a glass of bubbly going). This was served at 0245HR. At 0400HR the duty free trolleys came around twice but I bought nothing, having already stocked up on the model planes!
The First Class cabin offered a variety of movies (as the FA
showed me) but I the incurable plane fan preferred the flight tracker which traced the plane's journey over the North Atlantic. In common with the bilingual signs (English and French) throughout the plane, the flight tracker betrayed its AC
heritage by continuously showing references to St. Pierre, a tiny French dependency (with Miquelon) just off the coast of Nova Scotia. This I noticed for a large part of the journey - in all I slept very little despite the comfortable reclining seat. More than anything I was hoping to glimpse the Azores again but clouds down below obscured the view. Additionally the tracker did not help much as it only shifted its reference to the Azores after the plane had passed them!
The plane continued across the ocean but for long patches it was very rough as the Jet Stream made it bumpy and on occasion the "Fasten Seat Belts" sign was switched on The plane ultimately flew at an altitude of 33 000ft or 10 000m. The sunrise was rather late, in keeping with the advent of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Breakfast was served at 0800HR - I had fruit and cereal with bread rolls and jam, tea and orange juice. Yes, they offered seconds of the rolls!
Soon, the air traffic became visible as the plane closed in on London. A large twin became visible and as it closed in on my plane I made it out as an AA
777. Pretty soon the Airbus approached London and entered the holding pattern for LHR
with the Triple Seven just behind. Clouds, however, prevented any view of the city beneath until the plane entered the approach path and descended. I was sitting on the port side and saw parts of South West London (complete with South West Trains' colourful units) until finals. The plane landed on Runway 27 Left at 0953HR and made a swift exit, only to turn back onto the runway straight afterwards, forcing the Triple Seven to do a go-around and I noticed the mighty twin racing skywards directly over my plane. After taxing on the ground for about 10 minutes the plane parked at the gate. I bade farewell to the flight attendants as they really looked after me very well and I truly enjoyed the First Class experience.
On disembarking all the passengers had their passports checked and their bags sniffed by dogs (presumably for drugs). After that it was the long walk to Immigration, through which I used the Fast Track lane (as I was a First Class passenger) and then collected my bags. By 1020HR I was through and bought a replacement strap for my bag (for future trips) and then waited for the bus back to Cardiff, which eventually left at 1225HR and took 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there.
So, all in all, I must say that I remain impressed with BW
's service and I truly enjoyed First Class - it will be hard for me to return to Standard Class in the future! I must say though that I was not so impressed with the condition of 9Y
-JIL - 9Y
-TJN seems much better kept. If -JIL is to stay in BW
's fleet for the long term then the airline should invest in repairing the IFE units and bringing the interiors up to scratch. Additionally the loss of my suitcase strap was upsetting and though the airline (Tobago Express) will not claim responsibility for it the evidence suggests that it was removed rather than merely dropping off.
All told though, those were minor setbacks to what was overall a great trip with BWIA West Indies Airways.
[Edited 2004-12-27 22:33:08]