Well, it was that time of year again when I needed to think of what to buy my mum for her birthday. Knowing how she likes our little day-trips by air (have previously done Amsterdam, Dublin and Belfast as 'gifts' to her). I decided to try out Air Southwest's new service to Bristol from Leeds/Bradford as fares were just £19 each way incl taxes (I booked in advance).
Tuesday 3 May 2005
Scheduled Dep: 09.15
Actual Dep: 09.35
Scheduled arrival: 10.25
Actual arrival: 10.25
Aircraft: Bombardier Dash8-300 G-WOWC
So we got to the check-in desk at LBA at around 07:50 where two Servisair representatives were checking in our flight. Whilst not unpleasant, they certainly didn't go overboard with being friendly either (very 'functional'). We were assigned seats 7C and D and immediately went through security to the airside departure lounge.
I'm starting to become something of a regular at LBA as this was the 4th time I was taking a flight from there since January. The departure lounge was still quite busy even though the early morning rush had departed. The JetX MD-82 leased to Jet2 was still on the ground as it had suffered a delay on it's early morning flight to AMS, but departed soon afterwards. Also departing (on schedule) was one of Jet2's two daily flights to AGP (soon to be increased to three for the summer peak), whilst the Astraeus 73G operating on behalf of MYT this summer left on time at 09:00 to PMI with a healthly load of chavs onboard (I saw them boarding, baseball caps and trakky bottoms galore!). FlyBe Q400 G-JEDE also came and went on its services to/from BHD.
The monitors soon displayed that we were required to pass to gate 2, which is normally used by all the flights to Ireland but was free for our flight to use. After just a couple of minutes sat there, we saw our aircraft arrive, G-WOWC on it's inbound flight from Newquay via Bristol. We seemed to be sat for ages waiting for the two Servisair reps to allow us to board. Eventually, the doors were opened and we began to walk to our aircraft. As I stepped aboard, i was greeting by a very friendly member of the cabin crew, Clare, who's name tag stated she was Cabin Crew Trainer. Our other attendant was Nicky who was also very nice and I wondered if she was new to the airline, hence having the Trainer with her! If so, then it didn't show as both were to provide an excellent and professional service and their friendliness was a fantastic advert for Air Southwest.
Photo © Paul Dopson - AirTeamImages
Photo © Paul Dopson - AirTeamImages
Anyhow, I'd just settled into my seat (window seat of course!) then who I should I see, but a former work colleague of mine, Chris, who was travelling down to my former employers Bristol office. He was to be sat in the seat behind me, what a coincidence! He saw me and said hello and we made a little small talk (it had been 18 months since I left the company). In the meantime the flight was filling up nicely. The LBA-BRS-NQY service had only commenced three weeks earlier and I'd heard loads had been really good from day one. This was to prove so on my flight too. Once everyone was aboard there were very few spare seats, the pax total being somewhere between 40 and 45.
Soon we were being pushed back and the safety demonstration was given. From my window I could see 3 Jet2 733's parked up, including the special liveried aircraft with 'Yorkshire' billboard titles. We taxied our way down to the end of 14 and held for moment before lining up for take-off. Power increased and we were hurtling down the runway and soon lifted into the air. I was able to watch the main landing gear retracting, which is something I always enjoy watching when on the Dash 8. I immediatley suspected that this aircraft was an older -300 (without NVS) as it has much more vibration and noise in the cabin than the BACX Q300 I had flown on last year (G-NVSB) which had been one of the nicest turboprop flights I had ever experienced. Nonetheless, it wasn't unpleasant by any means just a bit louder. Soon, Nicky and Clare where hauling the snack cart up the aisle. My mum and I decided we didn't really need anything on this mid-morning flight and trade was not great elsewhere, just the odd cup of tea or coffee being sold (at £1.50, in line with other carriers which charge for refreshments). The weather on our flight was fairly good, no turbulence at all, with broken clouds below us. The remainder of the flight was fairly uneventful (but very enjoyable). The interior of WOW's aircraft are fitted with purple leather seats with a slightly paler shade for the headrest covers which sounds hideous but was actually very nice. Legroom was more than ample for a shortarse like myself and would probably have been more than ample for anyone up to around 6ft tall.
All too soon we began our descent into BRS and cloud cover was more so than when we left LBA. Even so, there was very little turbulence and we touch down safely at BRS on time after around 50 mins in the air. On the ground there was an easyJet 73G (can't remember the reg, it's the one with the grey nosecone for you local BRS people!) along with a KL F70, SN RJ100, 2 x BA ER4's, a HS748 and another WOW Dash 8, G-WOWB.
We parked at remote part of the apron alongside G-WOWB, which had recently arrived from MAN. When we came to a halt, Clare (cabin crew) announced that those flying to NQY could remain in their seats but that a search of the aircraft would be made for security reasons during their anticipated time on the ground of around 20 mins. I would say that around a dozen passengers remained on the aircraft to continue to NQY. As the BRS pax disembarked, Clare thanked everyone with a big smile (Nicky must have been in the rear of the cabin) and we went onto the waiting airport bus which would take us to the terminal, which also had the pax from the MAN flight on. After a couple of minutes, around 6 people got off the bus and got onto our aircraft. These were people who were connecting from the MAN flight to travel to NQY. The bus then set off and headed for the terminal. Once off the bus and indoors it was immediately apparrant that some major works are ongoing at BRS at the moment. The airside arrivals area was like a building site, not a good first impression! As my mum and I only had hand luggage we headed straight for the exit, but first went to our respective loo's, which in the case of the gents was horrid! It consisted of a single loo (with a lock on the door) and the floor was wet with urine! Yuk! I also had a couple of people trying to get in whilst I was in there which was a bit disruptive! I think this must have been the emergency loo as I'm sure the ones in landside arrivals will have been much more up to scratch. Anyhow, after this, we made our way outside to catch the Bristol Flyer bus service for our day in Bristol. This service costs £7 for a return ticket (doesn't have to be a day return). Whilst waiting for the bus, we immediately noticed a BBC film crew outside the terminal who were filming scenes for the TV programme, Holby City! I don't watch the show so didn't recognise any of the actors but it was fun to see and helped pass the time whilst waiting for the bus to arrive! The bus jouney to the city was anything but a 'Flyer' as we hit road works and the traffic seemed really bad, however, en-route I did get to catch glimpses of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Ashton Gate, home of Bristol City Football Club!
My mum and I had a great day in Bristol, we stayed within the city centre which seems really vibrant. My mum certainly enjoyed all those stores!! That from a woman who is a well seasoned Leeds shopper (possibly the city with the best retail experience outside of London). We wanted to head to the harbourside as we had heard it was nice down there but we kept getting caught in heavy rain showers and thought we would get drenched if we risked it. I certainly plan on returning to Bristol again as there is much i didn't get to see, the people seemed so friendly too!
Anyhow, all too soon it was time to get the bus back to the airport. The bus station in Bristol is having some major redevelopment work done at the moment, in fact the feeling from the whole city is that it is on the up! . On arriving back at BRS we went to the check-in desk to find that BA are the handlers for WOW at BRS, which was nice! We even got BA boarding cards for our flight home, flight WOW486, with allocated seats of 6C and D. We kept landside for a while and went upstairs to the restaurant/cafe area where views of arrivals/departures can be had. The usual U2 737's and BA ER4's came and went, alongside a BE Q400 and 146 arrival. Another SN RJ100 also prepared for departure. We then went through the security to airside and went for a drink at the bar, again upstairs. There seemed to be many spanish people here, waiting for U2's flights to MAD and BCN perhaps. It took me by surprise a little at first as I never realised BRS would attract so many spaniards, but it made a really good cosmopolitan atmosphere! . Whilst there I had a pint of Kronenberg and my mum had a glass of white wine. I could also see all the comings goings of the aircraft too. Interestingly, I got to see a KL F100 and F70 taxiing one behind the other, the F100 was departing (a little late, after a late arrival) whilst the F70 had just arrived. Also saw a FCA A321 arrive along with G-BYAR B757-200 of Thomsonfly.com.
It has to be said that BRS has a really good selection of shops and facilities for a regional airport. The airside departures area is significantly larger than LBA (my home airport) which I thought would be a fairly even comparison. After my earlier poor impression of BRS that day with the toilet situation, I have to say that my overall impression of BRS is that it is a very pleasant (and enjoyable) airport to pass through, well worthy of CO service to the US this summer!
Well, our flight back to LBA was now displayed on the monitors as leaving from gate 2 so we made our way there, which is about as far away from the bar as you can get! As we queued to board an announcement went out that the FlyBE flight to Bergerac was now boarding. My mum asked me where Bergerac was, bless her! She thought it was in the Channel Islands! Lol. I explained to her that it was in rural France where a lot of Brits now have second homes. She's a quite a smart cookie and soon realised why such a service might be popular these days. As we passed for boarding, my mum was told that her seat had now changed to 6B (across the aisle) so she asked if we would both be still sat together. The lady at the gate said she would check, as she took my boarding card. My seat had also changed, to 6A. the lady confirmed that this would mean we were still together (which I had worked out, of course!). My mum then asked me why they would change our seats, I told that that it was likely that people who had boarded at NQY on the previous leg of our flight were now in our original seats.
We then had to board the bus again as our aircraft was at the same remote stand as it had been when we had arrived that morning. As the bus made it's way there we were treated to a FREE ramp tour, just like many of us A.Netters had experienced at FRA a few monthes ago, but on a much smaller scale of course! Fantastic! We made our way at very close proximity past a FlyBE 146, KL F70, BY 757, U2 73G and FCA 321 before swinging towards a pair of Air Southwest Dash 8's. One would be going to MAN, the other was our flight to LBA. At first we went up to G-WOWC, which everyone saw had a female co-pilot sat in the cockpit. A few people mentioned this but just as we thought this was our aircraft we picked up speed again and went to G-WOWB. A few people expressed their disappointment at not getting the aircraft with the female FO!
We disembarked the bus in fine weather and boarded our Dash 8. Just like our flight earlier that day, around a dozen people had originated at NQY and were already on board, with around 35 people boading at BRS, giving another almost-capacity load. I was so pleased to see the aircraft full, WOW have really done their homework with this new service since they first announced it, with lots of advertising through the local media (in stark contrast to bmi's almost zero advertising of their ill-fated LBA-LCY service, which was quickly dropped due to insufficient pax numbers, bmi TAKE NOTE!!!).
Our flight attendants for the flight home were Dawn and Vicky, who again, were very friendly towards the passengers. I won't go into as much detail for the flight back as many of the aspects were the same as the outbound flight. However, the bar service was in much demand on the flight home! With this being an evening flight back (17:20 departure), most people were purchasing from the tolley service. The snack/bar trolley made a very healthy contribution to WOW's income in this flight! Lol. I decided to have a red wine and my mum had another white wine, at £3 each, but not bad value as the bottles were larger than we had expected and did 1.5 glasses. After that I realised my mum was getting merry (after just 2 white wines!) as she never stopped talking for the rest of the flight, bless her. She's not much of a drinker, but she was happy (not in an embarassing way, I must add!). After a 55 min flight we landed only slightly behind schedule at LBA, where the leased Jet2 MD-82 was still running about 1.5 hours behind schedule as it had just landed before us from PMI, before having to head out again to AMS that evening. Just behind us a bmi ER4 landed, I found out afterwards it had been operating the LHR flights all day due to an aircraft shortage (overbooking overload!) related to the F100's recent retirement (got one of their F100's in the nick of time 3 weeks previous back from the LHR Meet!!!)   Ah well, that's bmi for you. As we disembarked from our seats, a couple (only in their 30's) who had been sat in the row in front overheard part of a conversation my mum and I were having and commented on how lucky my mum was on having a son who took her away on these trips. I felt a bit embarrassed and was very modest in my comments back as I also get a lot from our little trips by air!
In summary, Air Southwest are great!!!
WOW market themselves as a low-cost regional carrier, and do offer excellent fares if you can be flexible with travel dates. However, with the exception of having to pay for snacks (which many legacy carriers do now anyway), there is nothing low cost about them. They are a very professional outfit and I have to say their crew are absolutley first rate and provide an excellent advertisement for the company. Very well done Air Southwest, and keep up the excellent work! I will certainly be flying you again before long!