Friday 9th June 2006
Seat 2A (Excel One)
Photo © Roberto Benetti
Photo © Ben Pritchard
Following my day trip to Barbados in 2004 - Day Trip To Barbados - Bwia MAN-BGI-MAN (by Mhodgson Aug 29 2004 in Trip Reports) - we finally got round to taking a holiday at the resort which required my trip - Royal Westmoreland. After retiming the trip several times before booking, first for business commitments, and later for flight availability, it turned out that our dates now clashed with a hugely important business deal for my dad, which he could not miss. This meant he could not come with us. Seeing as we were within 2 weeks of departure, no refund was possible, and so we invited an uncle along instead, who was able to take leave from work at short notice. Along with my mum, brother, uncle and myself, we also had 3 more relations joining us - another uncle, his wife, and their daughter.
We booked Excel One for the price - at £480 per person, they undercut Virgin and BA economy by at least £200, and also negated the need for a journey to LGW, or another £60 per person on a domestic flight down.
When we all made it to the airport, and had collected our tickets, we made our way downstairs to the Excel check in counters. Excel offer Premium economy, and Excel One customers a seperate check in desk, and our group of seven were the only ones in this queue. We checked in as two groups, as we had each booked seperately. I had prebooked us all seats (another perk of One), though due to the name change in our itinerary, my uncle had no reservation, and thus 2B had been taken by a passenger who had checked in earlier at LGW (XLA852/3 route LGW-MAN-BGI-MAN-LGW).
Once checked in, we passed through security, and proceeded to the Servisair Lounge (another perk!). The checkin agent had neglected to issue us with an invitation, so we had to wait a bit while the receptionist called Excel to confirm that we were entitled to access (I personally though the 'F' in the class box on the boarding pass was a bit of a giveaway...). Once in, we relaxed while waiting for our flight to call. The lounge had plenty of drinks available, both soft and alcoholic, though was a little lacking in food - I think the SQ passengers had raided the lounge before us! The monitor in the room soon asked us to proceed to gate 203, so we did. En-route, my mum managed to make the purchase of a simple hairbrush an ordeal (its never a case of walk into shop, select item, pay and leave, is it?), but we finally made it to 203. I noted our aircraft was G-VKNG (as I had been informed beforehand - the only long haul configured 763 in the fleet), and that door 2L was in use for boarding - finally, the mythical 'turn left on boarding'!
We were soon called for boarding, with Excel One and Premium Economy passengers being boarded first. I turned left when entering the aircraft, and took seat 2B, next to a woman who had boarded in LGW. On my seat was a blanket, pillow, amenity kit (socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, eyemask, pen and earplugs in a quite nice looking 'pouch') and some noise reducing headphones. I took my camera out, and placed the bag under the seat, observing the exciting view from my window:
A crew member appeared with drinks; I took a champagne. Thanks to the number of passengers boarding at Gatwick, boarding didn't take too long, although we had to wait on stand for a while due to slot constraints (Presumably as we wanted to cross the Atlantic at the same time as everyone else!). With the gate removed, and as we pushed back, I could see more action. An An-124 was loading on the apron:
The T2 lineup:
We pushed back to face T1, where there were a number of charter and scheduled aircraft on stand:
We taxied to 06R behind a Finnair A319, SN RJ-100, a Balkan A320 and a BMI A330:
We lined up behind the A330, which seemed to be struggling in some crosswinds:
Behind us was a First Choice B763, also heading for BGI:
We started our takeoff roll, which took quite a while.
An empty T3:
We finally rotated, and climbed into the sky, over Manchester, and out towards Wallasey. We flew over the Mersey Docks; LPL airport could be seen in the distance through gaps in the cloud.
Once the crew were released, menus were handed out:
Drinks orders were taken, and I opted for a Jack Daniels and Coke. Meal orders were taken at the same time - I chose the chicken to start, followed by the beef. When our drinks were brought to us, a small dish of crisps was also brought, which was a nice touch.
Much of the Isle of Man and Ireland was obscured under haze and cloud, so photos became difficult, though I did see Dun Laoghaire next to the glistening Irish Sea:
As we climbed, the entertainment was switched on. In addition to the main screeen and audio offerings, passengers in Excel One also have PTVs, which pop-up from the armrest between each pair of seats. There were 6 movies in total which could be viewed, including the Pink Panther, Stuart Little 3 and a few films I can't remeber the names of! One was a recent one about an arctic expedition forced to leave their dogs behind, and the other about a woman wrongly diagnosed with cancer who splashed out on an extravagant holiday (called 'Final Holiday' or something!).
None of the films appealed to me, so I read my book and plugged the noise reducing headphones into my MP3 player. Before I knew it, my starter was placed in front of me. I was impressed with the presentation - the meal looked as if it had been individually prepared. The food was placed on proper plates, with metal cutlery. The chicken starter was a little dry, but very tasty, and the salad was crisp and fresh. Hot rolls were offered with the starter, and again these tasted fresh. The main course of beef was much nicer, very tender with a delicious dressing. Wine was offered with the meal.
I was supposed to get my camera out and take photos of the meal, but the 50" legroom combined with a tray table meant my camera was out of reach! The lemon tart desert was gorgeous, though the coffee served with it left a lot to be desired. Finally, a plate of cheese and biscuits was served, along with a single Lindor chocolate. There were two cheeses offered, though I'm not totally sure what they were!
The next few hours passed uneventfully, with my book and MP3 player keeping me amused, though I did decide to watch the Pink Panther; which wasn't too bad a film. The cabin crew passed through the cabin frequently, offering drinks to those who wanted them. I moved onto beer - Kronenbourg 1664, which was quite refreshing.
About an hour from descent, Afternoon Tea was offered. This consisted of a hot cheese and ham paninni, and a scone with clotted cream and jam. The scone was warm - delicious! Again, the tea itself left a lot to be desired, but I don't think this is a problem affecting Excel specifically.
We were soon descending. The pilots used plenty of airbraking, and before we knew it we were overflying the south western tip of the island. Soon we flew adjacent to the south coast, passing Bridgetown, Rockley and St Lawrence Gap:
We then flew inland overhead Oistins. I was amazed at how close to the approach houses were built; probably less than 100' vertically!
The landing was firm, and receved a smattering of applause from the passengers, though 'clappers' were in the minority. As we slowed, I saw the terminal, with an Air Canada A319, and a VS B747 (G-VLIP, I think), plus an American B757 and a BWIA B737, as well as plenty of inter-island DH-8s:
We parked next to the American 757, and waited for steps to be brought to us:
The 50" seat pitch in Excel One:
The steps were placed at door L1, which allowed us to be among the first off the aircraft and into the humid air of Barbados. We rushed down the stairs and into a waiting bus, which when full took us to the new arrivals area at BGI. The new arrivals is much improved on the previous hall at BGI, which was massively cramped - there are now 6 baggage belts, and 10 immigration booths. The hall is quite light and airy, making waiting for your luggage much more pleasant. Though we got a little bored of it - after waiting two hours for one of our groups' bag, it turned out it was still in MAN, which tainted the beginning of the holiday a little. All credit to Excel, though, as the bag was brought out the next day and delivered to our villa.
Friday 23rd June 2006
Seat 2H (Excel One)
After a relaxing two weeks, we were back at the airport, too soon it seemed - like any holiday, the days sped by! Once again, Excel offered priority checkin, though the normal queue wasn't too large. This time, we were kept together as a group, though we had to be moved to the other side of the aircraft to facilitate this - not a bad thing, as it provided much better views at both airports. No lounge access is available at BGI.
The new arrivals hall at BGI has enabled the departure hall to be improved too - now there are multiple immigation counters, and several additional X-Ray machines, which speed the process up considerably; again the areas have been tidied up and are now much more pleasant. As we took seats airside, the first thing I noticed was that there were two VS B744s parked - G-VGAL (Jersey Girl) and G-VROM (Barbarella). VROM was being looked at by BA Engineering, though both aircraft were being fueled. I'm guessing one of them went tech, though I cannot be sure of that. Also of note on the ground was Jordan Aviation A310 JY-JAV, as well as an Air Canada A319, an American B757, First Choice B767 and our own B767, G-VKNG. Later, BA 777 G-VIID arrived, looking great in the Caribbean sun.
Eventually, it was time to board. We had to go to Gate 16, which is an outdoor gate. No priority boarding for this flight, though we were among the first to board anyway.
Again, we boarded through door 2L, meaning I got to turn left. I was soon settled in, and was enjoying a Bucks Fizz, while I observed the First Choice B767 next to us. We were soon pushing back, and taxiing to Runway 09 past the main terminal, and the executive jet apron:
One thing that still plagues my mind is that of Concorde - where is it? I did not see a single hangar or building that looked like it was capable of holding the aircraft; let alone one befitting its fame and appeal!
We lined up on 09 once G-VROM had departed ahead of us, and were soon rotating into the cloudy Bajan skies. We soon turned to the east - I wouldn't see any land until we were on vectors for the approach into MAN!
The rpocedure for this flight was very similar to the last, with food and drink orders taken. The crew also asked if we wished to be woken for breakfast - I said yes, though as it happened I didn't get any sleep anyway!
The menu for this flight:
I opted for the salmon to start, followed by the cod, Again, the meal was suprisingly tasty, and very well presented. The cheese plate was presented with desert, and this time a 'Roses' chocolate was offered. I hit the jackpot and selected the vanilla fudge .
After the meal, I read my book (Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons"), and completed it. At this point I tried, and failed, to get to sleep. Annoyingly, the movies shown were the same as on the outbound flight, and so I read a Daily Mail which had been offered to me before takeoff. I read almost article, before managing to finish the paper, too! Luckily, once the mainscreen film finished, a selection of TV programmes was shown - 'Little Britain', followed by Spongebob Squarepants. Afterwards, I continued to try and sleep, and again failed. I instead watched the film 'Final Holiday' without any sound, which probably improved it according to my uncle. Finally, as the film came to an end, I heard the sounds of movement in the galley, which meant it was nearly time for breakfast. At the same time, light appeared on the horizon.
The breakfast provided was a dish of fruit, which was disappointing as my fruit didn't seem all that fresh. The bagel and cream cheese which accompanied it more than made up for that fact, though! Breakfast was served with Orange Juice and tea or coffee. As breakfast was cleared away, we started our descent, though cloud cover was very thick, so I had no clue where we were! It was only when we dropped below the cloud that I realised that we were very close to Manchester, when I could see Salford Quays and the Manchester Ship Canal.
We flew beyond Manchester, and on towards the Pennines, to intercept the ILS for 24R. In the distance, the city of Manchester could be seen in the dawn sunlight:
We were soon on short final, with the familiar landmarks of B&Q and Morrisons beneath us. Then, the Airport Pub:
Another firm touchdown followed, and we passed T3, which was packed with nightstopping aircraft:
We taxied to a remote stand on T2, via the temporary 'chicane' opposite Terminal 2, required while work is carried out on taxiways. Plenty of aircraft were visible, including FlyJet's new B762 and Jet2's BAe146. Terminal 2 was full of charter aircraft, and so we were taken to a bus gate, which was no suprise really, as MAN is solely a disembarkation point for XLA853, thus no airbridge is required. A Britannia 763 parked next to us:
It took a little while for steps to arrive, but once we were off the aircraft, we were soon in the terminal and through passport control. As we approached baggage belt 1 (shivering in the typically freezing reclaim hall, which is ALWAYS cold), our bags were already coming out, and in less than 2 minutes we had all our possessions. We proceeded through customs, and were sniffed by a sniffer dog before finally getting to arrivals. This was the end of the holiday, and we all split up to make our ways home.
Excel One is a superb product for the price - while it is unreasonable to expect BA refinement, or VS technology, the crew do their best, and the airline provides a highly creditable business class service, at a very affordable price. Even better when you consider the saving we made over booking into BA or VS economy! Well Done to Excel!
Thanks for reading my report; please feel free to comment!