Flight: RE 217
Aircraft: ATR 42 EI-CVS
Photo © Alexandru Magurean
I arrived at the airport at 1515 for the 1705 departure. I was expecting the airport to be bustling ahead of Christmas but it’s so busy nowadays it didn’t seem much busier than usual. I went straight to the Aer Arann check-in area where there was a short queue for the two check-in desks in operation. After a wait of less than 5 minutes I was checking in and was issued with a boarding card efficiently but informed of a delay. The agent said the flight would now be departing at 1845 but I should be at the gate for the scheduled 1705 departure just in case the situation changes. This was no problem as my main concern was just getting lunch at this stage….got to get my priorities right. Besides I have come to realise that two things in life are certain – death, and delays when travelling Aer Arann. If you’re unlucky you might get the two in one go.
After check-in I made my way to the domestic security channel. Every time I use it there’s never a queue so it’s a nice perk when flying within Ireland. It basically allows you to jump the queue at the security area at the Pier A end of the check-in hall. While it’s a great advantage for domestic passengers ideally they should have a separate x-ray machine and metal detector for domestic passengers as it annoys other passengers who aren’t travelling domestically when someone gets to jump the security queue ahead of them. But hey that’s the DAA’s problem.
Security at DUB has been the butt of jokes following the failure of an EU audit earlier this year. Shoes come off, belts come off, and laptops come out of bags in addition to the usual requirements. Once my belt came off my trousers seemed to be intent on falling to my ankles so I had to keep a hold of them till I was re-united with my belt. Once through the metal detector I re-dressed myself before heading for a very late lunch and didn’t my stomach know it. First of all I went to Pier B but the two eateries there were busy and the self-service restaurant had no free tables anyway (not unusual). The walkway down to Pier B is a mess with wires everywhere as the place is being renovated. The new shop on the walkway had just opened but the whole area stank of something similar to sewage mixed with landfill. Delightful. So after no joy in Pier B I decided to head for Pier C which is one of the nicer parts of DUB. There are two eateries there – Caffe Ritazza and O’Briens. I opted for O’Briens as it is usually quieter due to its location at the far end of Pier C. There was a sign outside Caffe Ritazza stating that O’Briends was open .Typically enough the moving walkways leading down Pier C were having one of their non-moving days. It’s a bit of an epidemic at DUB as the lifts and escalators tend to suffer from the same illness! Frequently the ATMs join in with sympathy strikes. When I got to O’Briens it was unsurprisingly shut so I did a u-turn and went back to Caffe Ritazza and took a seat by the large windows which offer a panoramic view of the proceedings outside. The place was very drafty for some reason and everyone sat around their tables in their coats which looked a bit odd, like people who have just come off the street in winter into a soup kitchen. Lots of excited kids were running around as two flights to the Canaries (EIR to Fuerteventura and MON to Tenerife) were departing for people (mainly families) wanting to get some Christmas sun. I also witnessed some additional flights for the Baltic immigrants heading home for Christmas – Air Baltic and Lithunian Airlines. Both airlines operate regular scheduled flights into DUB but usually at the wee small hours of night so they’re not a common sight here.
At about 1645 I made my way to Pier A (less than 10 minutes walk) to be there for 1705 as advised by the check-in agent. On the walkway between the shopping area and Pier A it’s customary to receive an intervention from the Ryanair credit card people going on about the super-duper Ryanair credit card (try reading the Ts&Cs of those things). However to my delight on this occasion they had buggered off – weyhey an early Christmas present! When I got to Pier A I looked at the flight information monitors but this being DUB the screen with my flight on it was not working so I wandered on down and found more info monitors that actually displayed my flight. It was still showing the flight as delayed till 1845. I proceeded to my gate anyway in the lower level of the pier and took a seat in the hope that the delay would shorten – after all Pier A is a bit of a dive to be honest. About 15 passengers had already congregated in the area.
Time ticked by and the delayed departure time never changed. I read a newspaper, the Dublin Airport magazine and then just sat and waited while listening to music – although with the latter I had to compete with the constant bombardment of annoying Ryanair announcements which involve a pre-boarding announcement, followed shortly afterwards by an actual boarding announcement, sometimes followed by a reminder to follow the boarding system at the gate, followed by a boarding call for all remaining passengers, followed by a ‘final call’ announcement, followed by a ‘would the last two remaining passengers get their arse in gear?’ announcement, followed by a threatening announcement to the missing passengers involving the offloading of their bags. This would happen for nearly every Ryanair flight departing from that area the whole two hours I was there.
ATR 42 EI-CVS eventually turned up on Stand 15T (right in the armpit of Pier A when you look at diagram of the airport) at about 1845. Nobody seemed too bothered and boarding didn’t start until about 1910. EI-CVS was manufactured in 1986 and previously operated as F-GIRC with TAT and Air Littoral. It still has the old Aer Arann livery. I think EI-BYO is the only Aer Arann ATR 42 with the new livery at present.
Passengers were offered a complimentary newspaper from the sole cabin crew member as they boarded the aircraft and quickly took their seats. The flight was 100% full and not everyone’s hand luggage could be accommodated so some of it had to be transferred to the main baggage hold. Due to the full load and the fact that people were going home for Christmas there was a lot of hold luggage which had to be reshuffled a few times in order to fit everything in. Once all the re-jigging had been done and the paperwork finished the aircraft pushed off blocks at about 1925. The cabin crew member did the safety demonstration while a recording did all the oral work. The aircraft taxied to Runway 28 for an immediate departure. The aircraft departed straight out with the bright lights of Dublin’s urban sprawl to the left. Shortly afterwards soft drinks were available for purchase onboard. A couple of years ago Aer Arann used to offer a choice of still water, sparkling water or orange juice for no charge. This was then changed to a choice of waters. Now it’s a pay service which I have no problem with as it’s such a short hop.
Although the cabin of the ATR was noisy (due to the engines, not gobby passengers – it was both when I flew with Binter from TFN to LPA!) flying conditions were great and there was hardly a bump all flight. After a short cruise at 16,000 feet the flight crew commenced our descent. There was nothing visible the whole way due the combination of darkness and blanket cloud over the country. As we got closer to Sligo lights started to appear faintly through misty conditions. The wind was calm and a straight-in approach to Runway 29 was performed. This involves coming in straight over Sligo town before landing at the airport some 7km away. The airport is located beside the village of Strandhill and is fairly unique as it is situated on a sand spit with the surging Atlantic on one side of the 1200-metre runway and the relatively placid Sligo Bay on the other. Even in the calmest weather there are significant breakers at Strandhill beach. It’s great for surfing – but beware of the deadly rip currents.
The aircraft touched down just after 2000, more than 2 hours behind schedule. We turned 360 degrees on the runway and backtracked to the short taxiway leading to the apron. Once on blocks (just 2 minutes later) disembarkation was swift as people were keen to get home at this stage.
Sligo Airport has a small flying school and is a Search and Rescue helicopter base. The Euroceltic F-27 G-ECAT that was involved in a serious runway excursion in November 2002 is still there. It hasn’t flown since the incident and its hull is now used for fire training. Nice to see it going to good use. On this particular evening there was also a Swiss Citation parked up. At 0100 that morning it had flown in from Zurich with the boyband Westlife who were jetting home for Christmas.
As soon as you enter the terminal you are in ‘baggage reclaim’. There is no security/customs so people meeting passengers can walk into the arrivals hall no problem. This is fine except on this particular occasion the place was packed. As I waited for the bags I saw the Conways Sisters (of TV’s X Factor fame) boarding the aircraft heading for DUB. Just for the record Tabby from the first series of X Factor is also from Sligo so for a town of 20,000 people it has produced a lot of cheesy pop acts in recent times!
The bags were unusually slow to arrive as the baggage handlers gave priority to the loading of the outbound flight before towing the cart of inbound luggage over to the terminal. The bags are brought into the terminal in a room beside the baggage hall and then passed individually through a hatch in the wall. A bit like something you’d get on Craggy Island in Father Ted. As the bags passed through something resembling a rugby scrum developed due to the sheer number of people in the small room and the desire to get home for Christmas. Unfortunately I had to wait for a second cart of bags to arrive before I got mine and could finally head home.
Flight: RE 218
Aircraft: ATR 72 G-HERM
Photo © Jan Severijns
Arrived at Sligo Airport at 1745 for the 1815 departure. I always leave it last minute at Sligo as there is nothing to do there apart from sit in the bar. It’s not as bad as the bar in Knock though where you get the impression that some of the drinkers have been there since 1989 and list staring at people as their favourite hobby. The operating aircraft was on approach to Runway 11 as I got to the terminal. The Search and Rescue Sikorsky (EI-CXS?) was out of its hangar and waiting for the ATR to park on stand before lifting off. A twin-engine N-reg prop was also on the ramp. Don’t tell the local press or they’ll probably start speculating that it is performing US government ‘rendition’ flights…. Then again maybe it is!
I took a seat across from the check-in desks and noticed that were only a handful of passengers coming off the inbound flight. At about 1800 the flight departing for Dublin was called over the PA system. Everyone proceeded to the security check. This involves showing your boarding card to a guy at a door that leads into the security hall. Through the window of the hall I then noticed that the aircraft was not an Aer Arann machine but the Air Atlantique ATR 72 G-HERM. This made a nice change because I had never experienced a –72 on the Sligo flights. It also explained why an Aer Arann flight on DUB-SXL was on time. The aircraft previously operated as OH-KRC for Finnair and Aero Airlines and was constructed in 1989.
Unfortunately Sligo Airport has now adopted the same security procedures as Dublin, ie belts, shoes, etc off. Pain in the ass. Bizarrely there are 6 people manning the security check at the airport. A bit OTT for a small regional airport. Having re-dressed myself again for the second time on this trip I proceeded to the small seating area at the gate but there was no time for sitting around as the flight was already boarding. Unlike the ATR 42 where boarding is always done through the rear the –72 could be boarded at the front or back. However on this night they were just utilising the forward door where we were greeted by a pleasant English girl who also distributed complimentary newspapers to the passengers.
I was seated near the front of the aircraft. The check-in agents had treated the aircraft as a –42 so the back few rows were empty. Prior to departure the senior cabin crew member asked the captain if he wanted any of the 43 passengers onboard to be distributed further back for mass and balance reasons. One row of passengers was moved back as a result and then we were ready to go.
We were off blocks at 1820. This time as there were two cabin crew members (as the aircraft had more than 50 seats this time) there was no need for a ready-made recording to assist the demonstrator. The aircraft turned left and taxied down the runway where it turned full circle and lined up for take off on Runway 11 adjacent to the Atlantic. At 1825 the aircraft was airborne and heading east straight out over Sligo Bay and then the town. Again winds were calm so there was not much in the way of turbulence coming off the mountains like I have experienced in the past on climbout.
We climbed to our cruising altitude of 15,000 feet and the cabin crew had it nice and easy as there was no in-flight service at all this time. Again this was no problem with me as personally I don’t care about frills when flying. However I don’t see how Aer Arann could justify charging fares of up to €150 for such a basic and short service on a route that is subsidised by the government through the PSO scheme. I found the Air Atlantique aircraft much more comfortable and than the Aer Arann one and it also had a much smarter interior.
Like the outgoing flight the aircraft was noisy but very smooth and there was not much to see as again it was dark and clouds obscured anything that would have been visible on the ground. At about 1840 we commenced descent into DUB. The aircraft broke through the cloud to the north of the airport and it turned right and made its way along the coast before lining up on the approach to Runway 28. The visibility was excellent and the lights of Dublin and its suburbs stretched for miles on the lefthand side. Dublin may only have a population of 1 million people but because it’s such a low-rise city the population is spread out over a large area and at night the lights make it look massive. The aircraft touched down at 1855. It seemed to land a little long but a bit of sharp braking meant it managed to exit the runway at E5. We taxied to a remote stand across from Pier A and as soon as the seat belts signs went off people were on their feet in an instant. Once off the aircraft we boarded a bus that would take us to the terminal. I was expecting to be just taken over to Pier A as had always happened in the past but this time we were actually taken all the way to the baggage hall. On all other previous occasions as a domestic passenger I have had to go through that ridiculous passport control area in Pier A so maybe the DAA are finally copping on?
The baggage hall was more or less deserted which was a welcome site. I had no checked-in luggage this time so I made a swift exit from the terminal and headed for the city centre.