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BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Wed Aug 03, 2005 7:04 am

Well, July 2005 has been a good month in terms of travel for me. This trip report completes a trio of flights from Belfast, Northern Ireland, all taken on turbo-prop aircraft, and is also the last trip I’ll be making from the province for some time: next month I’m piling all my worldly possessions into the car to head back to England, before I relocate to Montréal in Canada in September. My next report will be on board one of Thomas Cook’s 189 seat B757-200s, from LGW to YUL.

But until then, if you enjoy this report, please check out the first two, and compare my experiences with two other airlines operating out of Northern Ireland.
BHD-ORK-BHD With Aer Arann (w/pics) (by Jamesontheroad Jul 15 2005 in Trip Reports) BHD-NWI-BHD With FlyBe (w/pics) (by Jamesontheroad Jul 20 2005 in Trip Reports)

Note that the photographs in the Cork report didn’t load properly the first time, so scroll down that report and you’ll find them posted again in the replies. Sorry about the large images in this page – it may take a while to load on slower connections. I’ve tried to be as wordy as possible to slow you down. For those who are interested, I booked these flights three months ahead of travel, and paid £61.98 return, of which £27.00 were ‘taxes and charges’.

A couple of firsts for me on this trip – first time to Cardiff, first time with Air Wales, and the first time I’ve ever done it backwards  Wow! … (stop that sniggering)


Saturday 30 July 2005
Belfast International (BFS) – Cardiff (CWL)
Airline: BMI-Baby, operated by Air Wales
Flight number: WW8596
Scheduled departure time: 0850 (actual: 0945)
Scheduled arrival time: 1010 (actual: 1055)
Type of aircraft: ATR42
Registration: G-WLSH
Seat: 1D

Another early morning, and another trip away. Unfortunately for my bodily composure, these two were also preceded by another Friday night on the sauce, with one Guiness too many at a certain Belfast bar that takes its name from an Ulster poet (whose collected works accompanied and entertained me on this trip) followed by a few cans of Milwaukee’s Best at a house-cooling (i.e. moving out, not moving in) party. All I can say is that if that’s Milwaukee’s Best, I’ll definitely be avoiding their worst…

My first trip this month was a cultural break in the south of Ireland, the second was to go and see Ian Brown rocking Thetford Forest in an open air gig. This time, however, there was a much more important reason for flying, and this time it was to surprise my girlfriend on her birthday, deep in rural Wales.

So, with just four and a half hour’s sleep under my belt (why do I always think it’ll be ok in the morning?) I’m up and trying to absorb what remains of last night’s foolishness with the last of a loaf of wheaten. A cab is at my door for 0615 – in the past I have walked into town to catch the bus to one of Belfast’s two airports, but a couple of months ago, while walking to the City Airport bus early on a Saturday morning, I was glassed and attacked by two youths close to the University. Every since then, I’ve played it safe and opted for a £3.50 cab ride instead. For added entertainment value (and as is quite common in Belfast) I’m sharing the car with two other passengers who are already on board, two slightly tired looking fellas who aren’t sure about whether it’s worth going to a party in Holywood (in east Belfast) which might still be going on.

The cabbie dropped me at the side entrance to the Europa Buscentre, from where Translink operate two airport services – the 600 City Airlink to Belfast City Airport (BHD) and the 300 Airbus to Belfast International Airport (BFS). Both now operate every twenty minutes throughout the day, and half hourly at off peak times. For Belfast City Airport, the fare is £1.20 single or £2 return; for my bus to International, it’s £6 single, £9 return. If you have a student card, you can try using it for a discount, although normally Ulsterbus and NIR services only give a discount to holders of local (ie Translink) student travel cards.

The bus pulled out on time, with about a dozen passengers on board. Alongside us, a pair of Ulsterbus Tours coaches were pulling up to take low-cost holiday makers to mainland GB for holidays in Scotland and England: don’t let the lo-co airlines fool you into thinking that they’ve made it affordable for everyone to fly.

The bus flies through a very quiet Belfast city centre, and up onto the M2, alongside the L’Derry rail line and then up and round the Cavehill. It’s a journey of about half an hour, stopping on request en route at Templepatrick, where Union flags are still flying after this year’s July celebrations.

We arrived at BFS just after 0700. On the approach to the terminal building are a number of large bill boards, including an unfortunate one for EU-Jet, the regional airline based at Kent International Airport (KIA) that went bust a week earlier. Somewhat tellingly the advert consisted largely of a map of the region around KIA with the various sites and attractions of the region highlighted. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough: passenger numbers were just too low, and to be honest I’m not surprised because that was the first advert I’d ever seen for EUJet anywhere in Northern Ireland, despite their previously daily service to Kent.

I was looking forward to this Saturday morning departure from International, because it’s a busy day during the summer season: I hadn’t quite expected to find this!

Easyjet use ten of the forty check in desks for all their flights. Throw in the handful of BMI Baby flights, the daily New York Newark departure and some seasonal charters to (amongst other places) coastal Bulgaria, and suddenly the big check-in hall was feeling nice and cosy.  crowded 

A quick note about the arrangement of this flight – it’s operated by Air Wales using a CWL based aircraft. BMI Baby have made CWL a big base for their operations, but (as I understand it – I don’t have the printed timetable to hand) all of their flights to and from Cork, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow Prestwick and some to Jersey are operated by Air Wales. It is not a code-share: although these destinations are listed in the Air Wales in flight magazine and mentioned on their website, they can only be booked through BMI Baby. Although Air Wales are fairly well known in Wales, this arrangement probably makes more sense than going it alone: the BMI Baby brand has a much broader reach across the UK.

So, my initial target were the designated BMI Baby check in desks, but I was re-directed to desk 35, up at the other end of the hall. Aviance are the ground handling staff for Baby at BFS. My sincere apologies to anyone reading this who works for Aviance, but I’m afraid they don’t rate highly in my books. You’ll soon see why my prejudices are justified…

There was only one person in front of me at the desk. Check in was swift, although I was interested to see that the boarding pass handed to me was unlike the usual printed one: in fact it was much smaller and had my details hand written on it. Unlike Easyjet and Ryanair, BMI Baby are proud exponents of allocated seating, although as you can see, this wasn’t the case for this flight. I’ve yet to establish whether this was because of a computer problem or whether there was another reason.

It came to matter shortly afterwards, as I headed up the link tunnel to the older terminal building, and queued for security. On seeing this pass, the security agent asked me again to show him my boarding card. I directed his attention to the words ‘BOARDING CARD’ printed on the ticket, and he was silenced. Until, that was, he decided to check with his supervisor. I was asked to stand aside until she was available. When she did, there was much checking of paper and muttering, until a family of passengers got to the head of the queue also holding this type of boarding card, which I noticed were (hand written) for Nottingham EMA. Once again there was confusion. I remain perplexed as to how a handling agent can issue boarding cards that the airport security staff aren’t familiar with.

Incidentally, these boarding cards also looked remarkably easy to reproduce at home – printed in black on ordinary thin card. For that reason I’ve not shown you the other side, which carried other information relevant to the day and flight.

The security area has recently been renovated, or rather re-modelled to cope with greater numbers of passengers. All four channels were open, and things moved swiftly enough.

The view presented to passengers after security just about sums up everything I hate about airports today. For a start, it looks like a shopping mall. Low-cost airlines are great, but it just seems to encourage airport operators to prioritise commercial gain over good airport design. The information screens have got larger airside at BFS, but so have the shops and catering concessions, obliterating a once rather generous view over the aircraft stands. Get down to the gates, of course, and you find the same old threadbare carpet and tired fixtures and fittings, which haven’t been refurbished in years and simply aren’t a priority.  banghead 

On the departure screen were (I only noted destinations, so I’ve only mentioned airlines where I can be sure): Nice (EZY), Bristol (EZY), Fuerteventura, London Luton (EZY), Toronto (Air Transat), Glasgow (EZY), Berlin Schonefeld (EZY), Edinburgh (EZY), Nottingham EMA (BMI Baby), Liverpool (EZY), Leeds Bradford (Jet2), Manchester (BMI Baby), Newcastle (EZY), Birmingham (BMI Baby), London Stansted (EZY), Varna (Hemus) and my flight to Cardiff (BMI Baby).

I wandered towards the satellite gates (20 and up). And sure enough, it was proving to be a very busy day indeed.

A pair from Easyjet’s fleet.

From left to right; G-GTDM, which didn’t appear to be going anywhere while I was around, N17133, today’s visitor from New York Newark, and hiding in the distance, TF-ELA, the least attractive (ie white) Jet2 737.

A closer look at N17133.

And then, a real treat… LZ-HMS, arriving from Bulgaria to take one of two Hemus Air charter flights to Varna and Burgas. I don’t recall seeing a TU-154 in a long time, and I’ve never flown on one. Her arrival was, to be honest, quite noisy, and I’m not re-assured by the severe discolouration behind the two fuselage mounted engines, but I was still in awe of this beast. Probably the most attractive tri-jet ever built: reminiscent of an era when aeroplane designs (even those behind the Iron Curtain!) were inspired by sci-fi TV shows like Thunderbirds  old 

Ah, yes, the delightful gurning mug shot of Northern Ireland’s only celebrity chef, Paul Rankin, and Jeanine, his equally oh-so-happy wife. What a pleasure it is to be subjected to their posed grins every time I pass through BFS.  scratchchin 

Anyway, I chose a seat carefully out of Paul and Jeanine’s sight, and kept an eye on proceedings. Behind me, a couple of passengers were talking, and one was chatting to a colleague or friend who was working somewhere else in the airport today, presumably in the tower. A general lack of space on the ground seemed to be the problem, and sure enough, three successive announcements over the PA system advised passengers on BMI Baby flights that they were likely to be delayed due to a lack of ‘aircraft parking’. Is it cynical to presume that Easyjet flights got priority over Baby, because they base a number of a/c at BFS?

And then, a promising sign. GWLSH touching down on the runway adjacent to the terminal. She taxied out of sight to the left, so I headed up to the gates at that end of the terminal, fully expecting a bus from one of those gates to the plane.

And then it all went a little pear shaped. The photo above was taken at 0827. Surely even Aviance could turn around a small and on time flight?

Er, no.  banghead 

At 0845 the screens advised passengers to head to gate 16 (downstairs, away from the main lounges). G-WLSH was parked away from the terminal on a remote stand, but quite visible from the lounge. I went to gate 16, and met a group of passengers coming up the stairs from the ground level lounge saying that a member of ground staff had told them the screen was wrong and that we should go to 14. So about we went, and headed to gate 14, where there were no staff, and no signs of an imminent departure. We waited for about ten minutes, and then I volunteered (by this time of course, everyone had managed to start talking and exchange worst-flight-ever stories) to go back downstairs to gate 16 to check there. I found a lounge full of passengers, and a screen that still said 16. Eventually the few who had been personally advised to go to gate 14 returned to gate 16. Five minutes later, and a passing member of Aviance staff had been pin holed and he called control. It was, he assured us, definitely gate 14.

So, another little walk ensued (including the staircase back the upper level again, not a good thing for elderly or infirm passengers to tackle three times in one morning). We waited at gate 14, until 0845, when we realised the flight was actually boarding through gate 11 (pick a number, any number, just not the gate number you’re already at…)  mad 

Although the plane was only 100 metres away, the walk would have taken us across a taxi-way, so we were put on a bus, and then partook of some more waiting around (fifteen minutes, in fact). The delay this time was a single passenger who had lost his (admittedly small and easy to lose) boarding pass during the scramble from one gate to another.

I noticed while waiting on the bus, that it was only at about 0855, almost thirty minutes after landing, that the bags were only just being unloaded from the baggage hold of the plane. This would be a very good point at which to note that in the last twelve months I’ve taken at least six flights out of BFS, and not one has ever left on time. The delays have always (and I have checked with cabin crew on each occasion) been due to a handling delay. Either a dispatcher held up with another flight, not enough staff to board the flight, missing tugs etc etc etc. If the threads I’ve read on PPRUNE are correct, Aviance have not done well at BFS.

Eventually the missing passenger emerged from the terminal and sheepishly hopped on the bus. A party of businessmen who were returning to Wales were kind enough to name and shame the gentleman to the rest of the passengers. You know who you are, and so, in fact, does everyone else who was on that flight Big grin

One small thing I did notice during the long wait (by talking to and listening to other passengers talking) was that many of the passengers perceived the Air Wales plane and/or service to be inferior to the regular BMI Baby service. Various comments were made about being on a smaller prop aircraft instead of a large jet, suggesting that it was potentially annoying to book on a BMI Baby service and then get carried on the smaller ATR42. I personally don’t have any problem with this, and generally prefer to be on board a prop, but it is one downer to the arrangement that Air Wales have with BMI Baby: they may be perceived to be lower quality than WW.

The bus took ten seconds to cross to the plane, and shortly afterwards we were boarding. Having only made my first trip on an ATR42 a few weeks previously (see the link at the top of the page) and knowing that, unusually for a BMI Baby flight, we had unreserved seating, I knew to head for the front of the cabin, for the emergency row of seats with the extra legroom.

I was the fourth on board, boarding as normal by the port steps at the rear of the plane. While queuing I was able to appreciate up close for the first time the excellent Air Wales Livery. It’s very simple, but striking and suitably bold for an airline that has effectively become the flag carrier of Wales.

Once in the cabin, we were welcomed by the lone female cabin crew member. I made my way as forcefully and politely as possible past the dithering folks who were cluttering up the aisle to the front of the cabin. On board the ATR42 I’d flown to and from Cork, there was a row of rear facing seats at the front of the cabin, but these weren’t available for passenger use. On this ATR, however, a full row of four rear-facing seats at row 1 were available for passengers to use. I wasn’t quite sure whether they were available, but after checking with the stewardess, I grabbed 1D, which has an extra window fore of the emergency escape. 1A does not.

If you’ve never flown backwards before (and I don’t imagine that many people will have) it’s quite a strange experience, not least because you’re conscious of everyone in the cabin (especially those in row 2, immediately opposite you) looking towards you. Leg room between the rear facing row 1 and the forward facing row 2 is not at all bad: knees didn’t touch once during the flight. Hand luggage is a problem though, and the stewardess coldly told the male passenger in 2C that he would not be allowed to put his bag underneath the rear facing row of seats, even though this technically contradicted what she’d just advised us to do in the welcome announcement.

After we were boarded, the female captain introduced herself over the PA system, and introduced her colleague in the first officer’s seat. She explained that although they had had a short delay leaving CWL, the real problems had started on arrival at BFS, waiting not only for the bags to be offloaded, but for a bus to take passengers to the terminal, a generator to be found for the aircraft, and now for our bags to be loaded and a tug to be found to push us back.

This announcement came at 0915, 25 minutes after our scheduled departure. We could hear the bags finally being loaded at 0925, and the aircraft was pushed back by 0935.

Also running late (by almost three quarters of an hour), N17133 turns to taxi to the runway ahead of us.

Belfast International Airport terminal, as seen from our plane as we taxi to the runway.

Seat 1D gave me an excellent view of the starboard engine, and these shots offer the unusual clean view away from the direction of travel.

We were on the edge of the runway at 0945 exactly, having head N17133 rumble off on her long flight to New York. And my initial perception of a backwards take off? Well, if you’ve never done it before, remember the two sensations your body experiences while taking off and landing (being pushed into your seat, and being pulled out of it). Now switch them around, and you’ve got it. The sensation on rotation is initially disturbing, but nothing particularly unpleasant. Lots of opportunities for rear-facing photos though…

We took off towards the north-east, over the distinctive Irish rural landscape. My initial reaction of the ATR42 cabin environment once again leaves my preference for the Dash 8 Q400 (see my FlyBe report linked at the top of page) in no doubt: the sophisticated vibration and noise cancelling technology in the Q400 is truly impressive when compared to the ATR42. During take off and the ascent, I found the vibrations and background noise in this particular aircraft to be in the upper levels of what I would find tolerable. It’s not uncomfortable by any means, but the ATR42 seems to have been outclassed by the newer Q400.

The cabin itself was very comfortable: dark blue upholstery and a deep red carpet that matched the fabric headrest covers. Ventilation and lighting were fine. The perception of space was obviously much better at the front of the aircraft with these facing seats than I’d found sat further back on my last flight in an ATR. This plane carries 48 passengers; there were 45 on board our flight.

Once we were well on our way to the cruising altitude of 18,000ft, the stewardess informed us of the drinks and snacks service that was about to be offered. I didn’t partake, but it was the usual range of instant hot drinks and off the shelf snacks, sold at an expected mark-up. I settled down to read, and on a visit to the toilet at the back of the cabin (clean, well stocked) I took this shot of the cabin.

And here is one surreptitious shot (with the camera resting on my arm rest) of the front two rows of seats. I presume that any passenger who pre-booked (and pre-paid) for an allocated seat would have been annoyed by the free seating on today’s flight. I would suggest to Air Wales that an extra trick would be to offer these seats to groups of three or more people who would like to sit together during the flight, because they are certainly more sociable.  chat 

During the flight the captain spoke to us once more, advising of an anticipated arrival at 1055, about 45 minutes late. Shortly afterwards, the first officer emerged from the front of the aircraft and chatted with the hostess in the galley.

For much of the journey we were flying high above a pretty solid blanket of cloud. Our descent brought us down through the cloud and over the Severn Estuary. We banked over a small island in the middle of the estuary with a lighthouse on it… my guess from a quick glance at the map is Flat Holm. Could anyone confirm?

With Barry and the south coast of Wales to our right, we approached the airport from the south-east, passing the distinctive railway viaduct of the Vale of Glamorgan railway line (which runs close to the periphery of the airport) on our right hand side. The touchdown was bumpy, but controlled and comfortable. It was a beautiful summer’s day, with a clear blue sky over the estuary letting the sun shine down on Cardiff Airport. We taxied in and the aircraft came to a halt on stand behind the western wing of the terminal. As far as I can see, the gates that were once accessed from this part of the building are no longer used, and all passengers board buses or aircraft from the gates at the eastern end of the building.

Waiting for us next to our stand was an unusual visitor, although unfortunately one that I didn’t get the chance to photograph: Scot Airways Dornier 328-100. I know Scot have previously operated charters for sports teams – was this visit carrying a team to Wales for a match?

We disembarked quickly (at about 1100, as expected) and I was the last off. A bus was waiting for us, and it bussed us right to the other end of the terminal, where we disembarked and entered the baggage reclaim lounge. I was travelling light with hand luggage only, so I headed straight out to enjoy what little sun was suddenly left, and to watch the world go by. My lift arrived a short while later, and a few hours later I managed to execute the perfect surprise by ‘accidentally’ meeting my girlfriend in the grounds of a ruined abbey in Pembrokeshire…  cloudnine 


Monday 1 August 2005
Cardiff (CWL) – Belfast International (BFS)
Airline: BMI-Baby, operated by Air Wales
Flight number: WW8597
Scheduled departure time: 1800 (on time)
Scheduled arrival time: 1910 (actual: 1915)
Type of aircraft: ATR42
Registration: G-TAWE
Seat: 13A

My weekend was all too quickly spent, and on Monday afternoon I was deposited at Carmarthen railway station to make my way back to Cardiff. Earlier this year, a new railway station at Rhoose, a few miles from CWL, opened to passenger services on the Vale of Glamorgan line. An hourly shuttle now operates in both directions between Bridgend (where I connected on to the service) and Cardiff.

Just after 1515, two trains arrived at Rhoose, one from Bridgend and one from Cardiff. I’m not sure if this is deliberate timetabling, but if it is it’s a clever idea, because it means two trains connect with the free shuttle bus that meets every train and takes passengers to the airport. It took less than ten minutes to get to the terminal.

In the right of this picture you can see the rear end of the X91 bus shuttle that runs from the airport to Cardiff. This vehicle has a special all-over vinyl wrap advert for BMI Baby, featuring Tiny, the airline mascot, on a skateboard. Altogether now… AWWWWWW  Smile

I was early for check-in, having allowed a fair cushion in case of delay on the train. As I walked into the check-in hall, I could see to my right through the security gate two Air Wales ATRs parked to the west of the terminal: G-TAWE and G-WLSH, just arriving from Aberdeen and Liverpool.

The check-in hall was busy with passengers checking in for charter flights. On the screen were Dalaman (MyTravel), Paris, Edinburgh, Glasgow Prestwick (all BMI Baby), Newcastle (Air Wales), Amsterdam (KLM Cityhopper), Las Palmas (Thomson), Prague, Belfast (both BMI Baby), Las Palmas (Futura), Edinburgh (BMI Baby), Plymouth (Air Wales), Dalaman (unknown airline), Cork (BMI Baby), Dublin (Ryanair) and Corfu (unknown airline).

I was half an hour early for check-in, and there wasn’t an agent at the desk allocated for my flight. However, I checked two desks up where an Aviance agent was checking in for Glasgow, and he happily hopped over to my desk and checked me in.

The check-in hall at CWL is on ground level. From there I went up the stairs to the first floor landside departures area, where there’s a Burger King, newsagent, bar, games machine area and information desk. The bar looks out over the car park and the western stands where Air Wales seem to operate most of their flights from. The Burger King offers a reasonable view of the runway. Not particularly fussed by the facilities, I decided to head through security to the main departure lounge… a big mistake, I’m afraid, as I spotted a startling similarity between CWL and BFS (both owned and operated by TBI incidentally. Yep, it was another departure lounge disguised as a cheap shopping mall. The fixtures and fittings were fine, but the environment was not. Badly ventilated with the horrible mixing smell of perfume spreading out from the duty free shop, and cigarette smoke wafting out from the bar. None of the gates were directly accessed from this lounge, and the only windows I could find were by the business lounge (facing landside, overlooking the car park) and in the bar (overlooking the eastern aircraft stands). If, like me, you don’t particularly enjoy being shut in while you’re waiting for your flight, take my advice and wait landside until the last moment.

Which I then did. Checking with security, who said it was ok, I passed back out of the departures lounge and to the landside area. The Burger King restaurant was not in great shape, with trays of finished meals left on tables and food on the floor. Very little attention was being paid to the cleanliness of the place. However, I’ve got thick skin, and unlike some people, I don’t have to use CWL again, so I took a seat by the window and looked out over the runway. A number of small Cessnas and the like coming and going, some doing touch-and-gos on this hot summer’s afternoon. I watched G-WLSH take off, BMI Baby 737 G-TOYD arrive and taxi in (to then head off to Prague a short while later) as well as an unidentified KLM Fokker depart for AMS.

I waited until after 1700 to head back through security, and lost myself in the newspaper before being called to gate 1 at about 1740. We headed down the steps (taken with some difficulty by an elderly lady who did not appear to have been offered any assistance) and onto a bus. This gate is at the eastern end of the main terminal building, so once we (and three Aviance ground staff) were on board, we chugged round the front of the terminal (past G-JOEM, A MyTravel A320-231, carrying MyTravelLite colours) and then to the Air Wales stands at the back of the eastern end of the terminal. Resplendent in the late afternoon sunlight was G-TAWE.

I was last on board, and quickly seated in 13A. Unfortunately the baggage compartments were full, so my bags had to go quite a long way down the cabin. We were welcomed on board by the captain who gave us an estimated journey time of about one hour and fifteen minutes. Our hostess started the recorded safety announcement and did the briefing, and soon we were on our way, taxing to the south-eastern end of the runway. We idled on the threshold for about a minute, and then we were off. A smooth ascent lifted us up through the clouds to the eventual cruising altitude of 18,000ft. There were 44 passengers on board. The cabin finishes were much the same as in G-WLSH, although the blue fabric on the seats was much more worn in this a/c, practically thread bare on the edge of my seat boss.

Although I didn’t go forward to check, the cabin in this aircraft appeared to be slightly different, with row 1 only consisting of two seats to the right of the aisle. The luggage compartment (between the passenger cabin and the cockpit) appeared to come further into the cabin on the left of the aisle than it did on the right.

During the flight I sat back and enjoyed the sun shining in on me, while reading some of the paper and a couple of lines from the collected works of the aforementioned poet. En route the captain spoke to us again, advising of a slight head wind that was slowing us slightly and that would have us on stand by about 1915. On my left was the Isle of Man, looking beautiful as ever, and still tempting me with a trip (so far, a destination I’ve never made it to). Our descent began at about 1855, and we came down through the clouds over the eastern coast of County Down, cross the mouth of Belfast Lough near Helen’s Bay. I craned my neck, but couldn’t spot any aircraft below us heading into BHD. We crossed the north shore of the lough, and passed over the clearly visible Belfast to Larne railway line, currently closed for track laying and highly visible because of the bright fresh ballast recently laid in preparation for new sleepers and rails.

We turned towards the south-west, and continued our descent towards BFS. So although the plane was going in the opposite direction, I was facing the same direction as I had during take off Big grin

We touched down smoothly and came to a very swift halt, and taxied in alongside G-EZJX, just arrived from Liverpool and shortly off to London Luton. Apart from G-CELY, a Jet2 737 that was just departing, we were on the only other aircraft at BFS.

Disembarkation was quick, and through the rear port door as before. Just time for one quick photo…

… and that was it. My last flight through BFS and into Northern Ireland for a long time.


And that’s it. Three trip written, done, dusted and filed for your comments and corrections! 2004-2005 has been a great year in Northern Ireland for me. I’ve enjoyed living and working here very much, and I’ve also enjoyed plenty of trips. Counting my boarding cards and checking my diary, I’ve had 8 flights with BMI Mainline, 16 with BMI Baby, 1 with Easyjet, 6 with FlyBe and 2 with Aer Arann. I’m sorry more of them haven’t been reported here, but I’m only a recent addition to the airliners.net community, and many were taken before I started writing this reports.

As already mentioned, the autumn of 2005 with see many changes in my life, as I head across the Atlantic to start a new job and maybe a new life in Canada. I foresee many opportunities to cast a European eye over many North American flights: watch this space for more in the next twelve months.

Thanks for getting this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please let me know what you think, and clarify anything I haven’t been able to confirm or get right.

Happy flying,

James  bigthumbsup 
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Joined: Tue Jul 05, 2005 8:20 pm

RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Wed Aug 03, 2005 9:59 am

excellent report. lol @ the aircrafts reg# on which u flew the outbound leg, G-W(E)LSH Big grin
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Joined: Sat Jul 16, 2005 1:52 am

RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Wed Aug 03, 2005 8:52 pm

lol @ the aircrafts reg# on which u flew the outbound leg, G-W(E)LSH

Hehe, yeah I noticed that one as well, and it's not the only one... note also G-S(wan)SEA (although Air Wales no longer operate from there) and G-C(AR)D(I)FF  Smile

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Photo © Steve Hall

One addendum about my suggestion for the pre-booking of the front two rows. As I understand it, regulations forbid the pre-booking of exit row seats, but the facing seats can be requested on a first come first served basis at check-in. Since my outbound flight didn't pay heed to any pre-booked seats, it would worth a go if you're travelling in a group.

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Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2004 9:37 pm

RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Thu Aug 04, 2005 6:14 am

Very nice report!

I am a local of CWL and fly from there quite frequently. Air Wales seem to be doing well and so does CWL. As for the departure lounge, I know.. it isn't the best but management have said they want to refurbish the area and introduce more viewing areas. It has to be an improvement on the current lounge.

Croeso i Faes Awyr Rhyngwladol Caerdydd - Welcome to Cardiff International Airport
Posts: 566
Joined: Sat Sep 27, 2003 1:45 am

RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Thu Aug 04, 2005 9:17 pm

Great report! Hope that you had a good time in Wales.

CWL is a dump. The Burger King is always dirty and the departure lounge shops are poor, not to mention the almost complete lack of viewing opportunities, unless you want to hang out in the bar with the chav brigade en route to Shagalluf.

Having said that, I have flown a few times with Air Wales, and I like them. Hopefully they will continue to expand and perhaps upgrade their fleet at some point in the future.
Posts: 1976
Joined: Tue Mar 16, 2004 8:01 am

RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Fri Aug 05, 2005 4:03 am

Excellent report and an interesting read - thanks for sharing.

Quoting Jamesontheroad (Thread starter):
If you’ve never flown backwards before (and I don’t imagine that many people will have) it’s quite a strange experience

I agree! I've done it several times in the past (and I'm talking quite a few years ago) on Air UK Heralds between LHR and GCI, and once on a Monarch BAC1-11 IBZ-LTN. I have to say that the 1-11 was the most interesting - those 1-11's seemed to take off almost vertically and I remember feeling like I was going to slide right out of the seat and land in a great heap on the complete stranger opposite!

All the best with the new life.


Ladies & gentlemen this is Captain Tobias Wilcock welcoming you aboard Coconut Airways flight 372 to Bridgetown Barb
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RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Thu Aug 11, 2005 6:23 am

Great report! Hope that you had a good time in Wales.

Thanks - it's always a pleasure, although commercial flights to an airport closer to Cardigan would have saved me an awful long drive that backtracked the route I'd just flown in the opposite direction  dopey 

CWL is a dump. The Burger King is always dirty and the departure lounge shops are poor...

Yes, it's a real shame about the terminal. When I first saw it after touch down I was most impressed - it's quite a big and imposing building. But once we had disembarked round the back where the Air Wales fleet gets parked up I was pretty shocked by the dilapidated wing of the terminal that isn't used for passengers any more. There were very few aircraft while I was going in and out, it really seems to be sadly below capacity at the moment.

...not to mention the almost complete lack of viewing opportunities, unless you want to hang out in the bar with the chav brigade en route to Shagalluf.

Hm, yes, I have to say I'm surprised to hear Welsh rugby fans making fun of Gavin Henson's haircut, when 90% of the blokes checking in for the charter flights that day seemed to have ladelled an equal amount of gel into their hair.... and all those polyester tracksuits ... surely a fire hazard?  mischievous 

Having said that, I have flown a few times with Air Wales, and I like them. Hopefully they will continue to expand and perhaps upgrade their fleet at some point in the future.

From humble beginnings, eh? I wish them every success. Perhaps the rumours of 6G trans-Atlantic services from CWL are a bit optimistic, but FlyBe, Air SouthWest and Aer Arann are proof enough that you can make it with a prop fleet, even with the big loco boys breathing down your neck.

I have to say that the 1-11 was the most interesting - those 1-11's seemed to take off almost vertically and I remember feeling like I was going to slide right out of the seat and land in a great heap on the complete stranger opposite!

Well, as it happened it was a Belfast lass in 2D, so I wouldn't have complained, although the fella in 2C might have ...

All the best with the new life.

Thank you! Just five weeks to go. Oh, and if anyone knows any architects in Montréal who're hiring right now....... wave 

Happy flying,


Recent trips: BHD-NWI-BHD With FlyBe (w/pics) (by Jamesontheroad Jul 20 2005 in Trip Reports) BHD-ORK-BHD With Aer Arann (w/pics) (by Jamesontheroad Jul 15 2005 in Trip Reports)

Next trip:
TCX6K B757-200 LGW-YUL 18/9/2005
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RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Thu Aug 11, 2005 7:37 am

Great report James -- it's always fun to read the "I got a C-class upgrade from LHR-HGK and had 8 meals and the seat was a massage bed..." reports, but most of my flying is...the US version of Belfast-Cardiff/return. Interesting to see the similarities and differences between the continents.

ATRs are scarce 'round here--I always liked those lil' fellas. I did an interesting, all-in-the-snow run from ORD-CMI once, just before American Eagle lost their ATR over Roseville, IN due to icing issues. Talk about a retrospective "eek." Had I know then what we learned later, eh. But a good fair-weather plane--comfy, and miles ahead of the BaE Jetstreams TWExpress was using CMI-STL (the "other" way out of CMI.)

Good luck in Montreal--a good town for architects (among others!)
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RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Fri Aug 12, 2005 11:03 pm

Quoting Jamesontheroad (Reply 6):
I was pretty shocked by the dilapidated wing of the terminal that isn't used for passengers any more

I believe this will be demolished before too long, presumably to create more parking stands?

Quoting Jamesontheroad (Reply 6):
There were very few aircraft while I was going in and out, it really seems to be sadly below capacity at the moment.

Hey.. that's CWL for you, but things are looking up with an additional BY and XLA 737-800s next summer, plus the return of the 3rd bmiBaby aircraft, and more longhaul flights from BY and OOM

Quoting Cambrian (Reply 4):
The Burger King is always dirty

I know a little about the various catering outlets at CWL... suffice to say the company operating it is a complete mess, onsite management is a shambles, and the whole operation is under resourced.
I don't like signatures...
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RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Sun Aug 14, 2005 1:02 am

In addition to G-S(wan)SEA & G-C(AR)D(I)FF one of the other aircraft G-TAWE is named after the River Tawe, which is the river on which Swansea (Abertawe in Welsh) sits.

Very interesting to read an Air Wales trip report, as I am looking at traveling from North West Wales to Cardiff on Air Wales though LPL, but finding flights which match my travel dates is proving to be very difficult.

Have Air Wales cut their schedule between CWL-LPL-CWL lately?


Steve Berch
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RE: BFS-CWL-BFS With Air Wales (doing It Backwards...)

Fri Mar 24, 2006 2:51 am

I'm just adding this reply to bring this post back to the top of the thread for a little while, to say thanks to all the loyal and hard working Air Wales staff, and to wish them all the best now that time is up. Today (23 March 2006) Air Wales announced it's suspending scheduled operations, and will from now on will just handle cargo and charter flights.

Sympathies go to the 80 employees out of work. Thanks for the great experiences.  bigthumbsup 


Airline to end scheduled flights

Thursday, 23 March 2006, 16:15 GMT
Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4838022.stm

Air Wales has announced it is to stop running scheduled passenger flights from next month.

Up to 80 jobs will be lost as the Cardiff International Airport-based company moves to charter flights and freight transport only.

It blamed the move on "spiralling costs" and "aggressive competition" from larger low-cost airlines.

Three airlines are expected to take over routes to destinations including Aberdeen, Cork and Manchester.

The news came as ferry operator Stena Line announced it was cutting sailings between Holyhead and Ireland, also blaming budget airlines and rising fuel costs.

In a statement, Air Wales said it was becoming "increasingly impossible for independent regional airlines such as Air Wales to operate profitably without substantial subsidy".

Air Wales currently flies to 10 destinations from Cardiff and a number of others from bases in France, Manchester and Ireland.

The company is holding discussions with other carriers over handing on its routes to them.

Three have been announced already, with Aer Arann flying Cardiff to Cork, Eastern Airlines taking over Brussels, Aberdeen and Newcastle services and Air Southwest flying to Manchester and Newquay.

Increased costs and high competition in the market place have made it virtually impossible to exist as a passenger focused airline
Roy Thomas, Air Wales chairman

Just last month, it re-launched the service linking Cardiff with Brussels, with Welsh assembly government support.

An assembly government source said the money was awarded to the airport rather than the airline, so it had not been lost but would need to be taken over by another airline.

It is also hoped that staff losing their jobs will be offered posts with the companies taking over the routes.

Air Wales chairman Roy Thomas said they had made the decision "with sadness and regret".

"Increased costs and high competition in the market place have made it virtually impossible to exist as a passenger focused airline," he said.

"Without the vast economies of scale required to sustain and successfully compete in the passenger airline business today, it has become clear that Air Wales now needs to centre on charter and freight services to continue operating in the airline industry."

He added all passengers booked with the airline after 23 April would get a full refund and help finding alternative flights.

Assembly Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies said he was "disappointed" to hear the decision but delighted three airlines had come forward to take over some routes.

The airline began operating in November 1999, flying from Cardiff International Airport and Pembrey in west Wales to London, before expanding to Cork and other routes.

Cardiff International Airport's managing director Jon Horne said: "We are sad to learn that Air Wales is to cease scheduled operations and hope that the impact on jobs can be minimised.

"Meanwhile, other airlines are preparing to announce scheduled operations from Cardiff International on routes that Air Wales will be giving up."

The announcement of the end of scheduled services came hours after Stena Line ferries announced it was cutting back fast ferry services between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin.

Dr Anthony Beresford, a lecturer in transport in the Cardiff Business School said the ferry companies faced long winters and "peaky" sailing times.

He said: "Fuel costs are high yes, but they would be better off running smaller ships. The problem they've got is that they have very large vessels which are very thirsty to run.

"The impact of this is that if you cut the frequency, it is directly going to tend to push jobs into the part-time and informal sector".

Dr Beresford said the rising cost of fuel being blamed for the airline cuts was "quite frankly a red herring because other airlines are experiencing the same problem".

He added: "Yes, there is competition from other airlines, but the main competition budget airlines face [within the UK] is from people driving to their destination."

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