My brief excursion to Bilbao (BIO) only served one purpose â€“ to finally nail the elusive Boeing 717, which had evaded all my previous attempts to fly her. While I had to cancel a Germanwings 717 service to STN (operated by AeBal) in February due to business reasons, my second attempt to fly on an AeBal 717 between MAH and MAD was foiled, because my girlfriend and I had to cancel our vacations on Menorca after she had started a new job and still was on job probation. Therefore on June 23, I flew to BCN from DUS early in the morning and returned to my home airport later the same evening after the mission was â€œaccomplishedâ€ (trip report covering this: http://www.airliners.net/discussions/trip_reports/read.main/59978/).
I booked this daytrip to BCN for a very affordable 58 Euro return during one of Air Berlinâ€™s special sales. Additionally, due to the fare war within Spain, I was also able to acquire the segments to and from BIO for a very fair 37 Euro (outbound on IB) and 50 Euro (return on JK B717). While travelling on Peasant Class on a domestic Spanish trip isnâ€™t really the â€œleading edgeâ€ of cabin service, these trips were still very memorable due to the new impressions coming from a new airport (BIO) and aircraft type (717).
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN)
Having arrived by Air Berlin during the morning rush hour at BCN, I quickly proceeded to the land side in order to pick up my boarding pass. Iberia is offering web check-in via their website at http://www.iberia.com up to 24 hours before departure, and I had already reserved my seat as soon as this option was available. Or so I thought.
BCN has several landside modules, Terminal 2 being one of them. Check-in and arrivals are both at the same level, which can lead to quite sizeable crowds especially during the big rushes. While the check-in desks are located towards the airside, the hall is also filled with ticket desks, newsagents, small souvenir shops and art of questionable quality (see below). Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholderâ€¦
While there were huge queues at the Iberia desks dedicated for â€œvuelos internacionalesâ€, the section for â€œvuelos domesticosâ€ remained fairly empty. Nevertheless, being the technology geek that I am, I still wanted to check-in using the automats located next to the manned desks, and entered my locator ID â€“ it didnâ€™t work. â€œOKâ€, so I thought, â€œthen just try one of the other optionsâ€. No chance- neither checking in by passport ID number or passenger name revealed my records. I was becoming both a little nervous and impatient, so with a sigh of resignation - brave new world of technology â€“ I walked over a few steps towards the next empty check-in desk and asked the friendly girl behind the counter to take care of my reservation.
Seemingly, something was in fact a little unusal about my booking, and it took her a good number of minutes until she had retrieved my reservation and printed out my boarding pass. As a little compensation and maybe thanks to my somewhat rusty, but nevertheless working Spanish, I even got a seat at the emergency exit. Neato!
Still having about two hours to spare, I wandered around the airport. Outside, the typcial Spanish smell of burning plastic foil (those of you, who have ever visited the coastal regions of the Mediterranean know, what I am talking about!) was greeting me, while a huge cavalcade of taxis and private cars were dropping off or picking up passengers. Bienvenido en Espana!
Inside, the hustle and bustle of the lively downtown of Barcelona was replicated in the departure hall â€“ there were people rushing everywhere, nervous travellers trying to find their check-in desks or gates, airport employees going about their businessâ€¦ to cut a long story short, I had enough of this antâ€™s nest after a few minutes and went airside.
Once I had arrived on the airside, my mood changed quickly for the better, because the long hallways were fairly deserted â€“ it was actually possible to take a leisurely stroll along the panoramic windows facing the apron and the shops located here in order to watch some of the action outside.
Both big players at BCN â€“Iberia and Spanair, were busy preparing their morning departures for destinations all around the country and Europe. For a fan of the â€œLong Beach Sewer Tubeâ€, a.k.a. this perpective alone was worth the travel! While the MD-80 is becoming increasingly rare in central Europe, it is still a very common sight at Spanish airports, with Iberia operating almost fourty MD-87 and â€“88 and Spanair also flying the 717 and MD-80 in sizeable numbers.
I finally arrived at the triangular shaped departure lounge dedicated to our flight (M3). Barcelona El Prat features four of those triangles (M1 - M4), where several jetways at each of them provide easy access to the aircraft connected to them. Our Airbus, EC-ICS â€œSierra de Grazalemaâ€ was already greeting me from the outside, being fed and watered for the departure to the Basque Countryâ€¦
â€¦however our departure lounge itself remained curiously empty, even with the departure only being 45 minutes way. Well, I didnâ€™t mind and just waited patiently until a few more passengers trickled in and boarding was started about 20 minutes before departure.
I presented my boarding pass to the gate agent and went inside the jetway.
The flight (BCN-BIO)
Barcelona El Prat (BCN) â€“ Bilbao Sondika (BIO)
Flight number: IB 1454
Scheduled block time: 1030h â€“ 1135h
Take-Off: 1045h (RWY 25R)
Touch-down: 1130h (RWY 30)
EC-ICS â€œSierra de Grazalemaâ€œ
delivered: October 21, 1991
Seat 10A (Clase Turista)
Photo © Harry Artner
Once arriving inside the aircraft, I was greeted by a friendly middle aged flight attendant. Passing further down the aisle, another flight attendant â€“ again friendly- assisted passengers with their seat location and the stowage of the hand baggage. The friendliness of the crew â€“which remained constant throughout the prepration and the flight itself â€“ cannot be stressed enough, because many fellow a.net users like to bash Iberia for shoddy service and arrogant cabin crews. Having travelled Iberia about once per year over the last six or seven years, I cannot attest to that. At least my domestic and European flights with them were always operated with attentive and motivated cabin crews. I cannot speak for long-haul though and the reliability is also another questionâ€¦ I had some very nasty experiences with IB during the late 1990â€™s and vowed never to fly them again, but some good experiences have in the meantime convinced me to give the carrier another chance.
After the last passngers had arrived at their seats â€“ this flight was surpisingly going out as a â€œfull houseâ€ with a seat load factor probably exceeding 90 percent â€“ the F/Aâ€™s came down the aisle with a selection of free national newspapers like â€œEl Paisâ€ and â€œEl Diaroâ€.
Soon after that, the cabin was secured for take-off and the plane commenced pushing back from the terminal.
The IFE screens above every third seat row were lowered for the demonstration of the safety video. These screens were not of the â€œmodernâ€ flat LCD type, but rather small TV sets with â€œthickâ€ backs (I donâ€™t know how to describe this in any other way), showing that EC-ICS was in fact not one of the newer generation A320-214â€™s, but instead one of the original bunch of Airbusses, which were sourced into the IB fleet in the early 1990â€™s, being designated an A320-211.
Taxying towards the threshold of RWY 25R was only a matter of minutes because of the light traffic at this mid-morning time, and after a Spanair MD-82 in front of us had thundered down the runway and taken off into the bright blue sky, it was our turn for take-off.
Our lightly loaden Airbus sped down the runway and lifted up easily with a spirited display of power and elegance after passing only slightly more than half of the runway length. Climbing across the Mediterranean for a few minutes, flaps and slats were retracted and with a â€œclean wingâ€, we continued our ascent after executing a gentle right hand turn towards the inland.
Once we had reached our cruising altitide of 27.000 feet and velocity peaked at our crusing speed of 480 knots (880 kph), the IFE screens were again lowered, showering the passengers with Iberiaâ€™s version of the ubiquitous inflight video magazine featuring the usual amount of self promotion, travel advices and unfunny â€œfunny clipsâ€.
Also, cabin service was initiated, which comprised some beverage and light meal service in the front four rows of the cabin, which were curtained off as Business Class this morning. In Economy Class, however, service looked a little different.
Taking a sad lead in European aviation, Iberia had decided to get rid of copmplimentary cabin service in Economy Class on domestic and most European and North African flights afew years ago. All segments with a travel time below 3 hours (or something very similar) now offer the chance to pruchase food on board. The program, which is affectionally called â€œTï¿½ menuâ€ by the Iberia PR blurb, should rather be caleld â€œTï¿½ pagasâ€ â€“ you pay â€“ because the prices are quite remarkably high. Thus, not surpisingly, sales in our part of the cabin remained pretty low â€“ or would you buy a small baguette with ham, a small bottle of wine and some sweets and pay about 25 percent of your total fare for that? As a little compensation for not showing you guys a picture of a sandwich and a drink now, Iâ€™ll treat you with a photo of the menu. Enjoy!
The remainder of our voyage went by quicklyâ€¦
â€¦and soon we commenced our final descent into Bilbao, which was despite the sumemr season, surrounded by a remarkably green landscape.
We soared across some commercial development alongside a motorway during the final few seconds of our flight, fighting off some severe turbulence generated by the topographical situation of the airport between a couple of mountain ridgesâ€¦
â€¦ and touched down firmly on BIOâ€™s runway under a murky midday sky. Thrust reverser were deployed and after some heavy braking action, were were able to vacate the runway about 2/3 down the strech of concrete.
Arriving at our airbridge only three minutes after touchdown next to a Vueling A320, the doors were opened within a matter of minutes and the passengers flocked out of the Airbus and intothe terminal building.
Bilbao Sondika Airport (BIO)
Once I had arrived on landside, I proceeded straight back to the departure level, walked towards one of Spanairâ€™s check-in machines and entered my booking reference number. Would it work this time? I had reserved my seat a day before on http://www.spanair.com, but after my experience with the quirky Iberia technology I was starting to become a little sceptical about the merits of such technology. But lo and behold! It really worked this time, and the machine printed out my boarding pass with the desired seat 9E.
I had about four hours to spare until my departure nback to Barcelone, which unfortunately was too short to take the bus downtown, so instead I explored the terminal building. The structure is quite different from your standard, run-off-the-mill concrete or steel-and-glass building, sicne it was designed by the famous Basque architect Santiago Calatrava. Seen from above, the main terminal is shaped like a dove, with the airside halls form the long, stretched-out wings and the landside part forming the tail of â€œLa palomaâ€, or â€œthe doveâ€, as Bilbaoâ€™s citizens call the building.
While there are a few logistical inefficiencies coupled with this design â€“ after all, being an airport planer myself, I tend to analyze airports, which are new to me, very thoroughly. The looks and atmosphere insideâ€¦
â€¦and outside of the building breath an air of elegance and uniqueness.
After snapping a few pictures of the terminal from every legally accessible position, I went back inside, passed through the security checkpoint and walked through the long and airy departure hall, which was fairly devoid of any people during the early afternoon lull.
Being my curious self, I strolled down the hall to our gate in order to find out if our 717 would already be there â€“ and almost got a heart attack!!! Connected snuggily to the jetway was a Spanair aircraft, but not the beautiful 717, object of my desire and reason for an investment of about 150 Euro for such a nonsense tripâ€¦ instead, an A321 was waiting for passengers at this location.
ARRGHH!!! Did Spanair change the equipment at the very last minute to treat us with another generic Airbus!?! Fortunately, the story was a little different, as the monitor at the gate showed the destination of the A321 to be Arrecife/ Lanzarote (ACE) instead of BCN, and a departure of the Airbus about one hour before our flight.
Relieved, I spend the next hour or so, sitting on one of the unusual looking concrete benches at the very southern tip of the terminal, watching the tranquil traffic outside. To give you an impression of the traffic at BIO, there was a Lufthansa 737-530 heading back to FRAâ€¦
â€¦ an EasyJet flying to Stansted after a brief turnaround plus a few Air Europa 737-800â€™s flying to MAD and Las Palmas/ Gran Canaria (LPA).
As little highlights, the WDL Bae-146, which is currently flying on behalf of Iberia Regional/ Air Nostrum arrived from AGP and parked on the commuter flights apron adjacent to my windowâ€¦
â€¦ and while I was walking towards my boarding gate about 45 minutes before scheduled off-block time, I even managed to get a glimpse of an Iberworld Airbus A330-300, probably the largest aircraft visiting the airport, arriving from an unknown destination.
The big question remained, however. Would there be a 717 on our flight or would we get another Airbus (noooâ€¦!) or MD-80 (acceptable, but still a pity)? Waiting at the empty gate â€“the A321 bound for Arrecife had left a few minutes before â€“ I saw a small white dot arriving across the mountains. The dot grew bigger, wings became visible, then a T-tail was discernible and a Spanair 717 touched down on the runway in front of us, decelerating quickly and pulling of the runwayâ€¦
â€¦and towards our gate. A happy ending after all â€“I would be flying with EC-HUZ, a B717-23S originally destined for Heartland Airlines, but then being delivered to Spanairâ€™s regional subsidiary AeBal instead. The plane is called after the town of â€œValldemossaâ€, on the island of Spanairâ€™s homebase and company seat Mallorca.
Having watched the proverbial quick turnaround for a few minutes, it was soon time to walk downstairs to the gateâ€¦
â€¦ and board the aircraft.
The flight (BIO-BCN)
Bilbao Sondika (BIO) - Barcelona El Prat (BCN)
Flight number: JK 6519
Scheduled block time: 1440h â€“ 1540h
Take-off: 1446h (RWY 30)
Touch-down: 1536h (RWY 25L)
delivered: May 15, 2001
Seat 9E (Economy Class)
Photo © Roman Doleys
I entered the cabin, greeted the two friendly and young female flight attendants standign at the door and walked towards my seat. The cabin filled up very quickly until almost every seat was taken â€“ another full flight during a usually unattractive time of the day â€“ the lower average fare on this flight probably helped stimulating some demand for such a trip.
While our aircraft was pushed back and commenced its taxying towards the threshold, I took a look around the cabin. Although the 717 is definietyl smaller in diameter than the 737 or A32X with only five-abreast seating, the clever design of the overhead bins and indirect lighting stuill produced the illusion of a much bigger cabin size than actually experienced. Also, the seats were highly comfortable and held in an elegant blue upholstery (sorry that the following picture can not really attest this impression, as I was unable to take a picture from the aisle due to the very full flight).
The best was yet to come â€“ once we had turned onto the active runway (RWY 30), thrust increased in order to push our Boing forward and up into the skies. The thrust was hardly audible at all! Granted, I was sitting at the cenetr of the cabin far away from the engines, but even compared to the Fokker 70/100, this was one heck of a quiet bird.
After lifting off, we continued our climb straight towards the Atlantic Coastâ€¦
â€¦ where we initiated a steep right hand turn back towards the inland, offering a scenic overview of downtown Bilbao in the process.
The rest of our flight went by quickly and without any disruptions. While the front few rows of Business Class received a quick beverage and snack service, steerage class remained unfed and unwatered. Unlike its biggest rival Iberia, Spanair does not offer pay-on-board products on domestic flights, which is probably a good idea judging from the limited appeal of IBâ€™s overpriced â€œTï¿½ menuâ€ product on comparable stage lenghts.
Having travelled across the Iberian peninsula for about half an hour at a crusing speed and â€“altitude comparable to our outbound leg, we initiated our final descent about 15 minutes from landing, passed across the Mediterranean coastline again in order to line up with BCNâ€™s main runways (25L or 25R)â€¦
The last few minutes offered some spectacular views across the Barcelona downtown and harbor quartersâ€¦
... and a birds-eye view on some forms of competing modes of transportation.
We touched down on BCNâ€™s new parallel runway 25L, which is located adjacent to the Mediterranean coastline right on time, and with only little use of thrust reversers, our Boeing vacated the runway soon after making contact with terra firma.
From here, a lengthy pilgrimage to our parking position commenced â€“ it actually took us twenty (!) minutes from touch down to on-block, because we had to taxy back all the way towards the threshold of parallel runway (25R), then again turn back towards the other direction, pass the terminals, before finally getting to our parking position on the very far edge of the western apron.
Thankfully, I wasnâ€™t in a hurry and did not have any other flight to catch within the next few hours, so I could just relax and enjoy the views of the activity outside.
The eastern apron was â€œIberia countryâ€ with a plethora of Airbusses being prepared for the next wave of departuresâ€¦
â€¦ a few regional aircraft from Iberiaâ€™s partner Air Nostrum also being among the flockâ€¦
.. while the eastern apron was curiously dominated not by Iberia Airbusses, but by â€œMad Dogsâ€ from Iberia and Spanair. No prize for guessing, which side was my favorite!
Eventually the engine noise subsided and parking brakes indicated that we had finally reached our stand. Leaving the aircraft and riding the bus to the terminal took a few more minutes, before I arrived back at the landside and made my way to downtown Barcelona, where I had planned to go shopping for Spanish food, which is hard to get in Germany, before my flight back to DUS in the evening.
Both Iberia and Spanair offer a decent product on domestic flights without any â€œbells and whistlesâ€ when it comes to cabin service. However, the low fares available on these flights nowadays are a perfect compensation for such shortcomings. After all, domestic flying within Spain is limited to a maximum flight time of about 1:15h (excluding trips from the mainland to the Canary Islands), so there is hardly a need for a snack, meal or beverage service anyway.
Iberia is still â€œon probationâ€ with me after some nasty events a few years ago, but again the carrier has fully met my service expectations, offering a reliable and punctual flight and attentive and professional cabin service. The â€œTï¿½ menuâ€ concept however needs to be readressed, since outrageous prices and the resulting lack of demand renders the program pretty useless IMO.
Spanair is showing a lot positive traits from the service philosophy of its major stakeholder Scandinavian Airlines, ranging from the elegant and fresh design of the cabin interior and uniforms to clean cabins and reliable ground and air operations. In direct comparison with Iberia, I would rate their product to be still superior to the Spanish national carrier r â€“ but Iberia is definitely on the right path and keeps improving every time I am flying with them.
Thanks for reading my report â€“ questions, comments, or criticism is always appreciated.