Just in case you haven't read the U2 report: EasyJet LGW-MXP-LGW Daytrip W/pics (by Sam1987 Jun 24 2006 in Trip Reports)
I had since got a new passport and was all prepared.
This time, I was staying at my destination for slightly longer than a few hours (two weeks to be precise), so any mishaps or delays were less of a worry.
This trip was my eighth to Cyprus, but first onboard BA, primarily because BA only recently started flying to Paphos (PFO).
We usually go on the the leisure airlines - I've travelled between the UK and PFO onboard tristars of Caledonian, A320s, A321s and 757s of Air 2000 (who have since become First Choice) and 757s of Airtours (who have since become My Travel).
Our last visit to Cyprus was in 2003, when the tight leg room and bad service of Air 2000 really got to us. So it came as a pleasant surprise when BA announced a new route between LGW and PFO.
For those who aren't so familar with BA operations at LGW, the bulk of their operations is operated with 737s (domestic and European routes) and 777s (North American routes). Their leisure franchise, GB Airways, operates A320s and A321s on BA's behalf to various leisure destinations in France, Austria, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Malta, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt. At the moment, all BA flights from LGW are full service (with the exception of INV, which is operated by BA Connect).
PFO is Cyprus's second airport, behind Larnaca (LCA). PFO is a small airport, with a few scheduled connnections to major European cities (most of which are Cyprus Airways services that start at LCA), plus a load of British and German leisure carriers that fly in the holidaymakers. The busiest days are Wednesdays and Sundays, which are the main British changeover days for tour operators.
BA's link to PFO is advertised as "British Airways operated by GB Airways". You can expect to see eight flights a week from LGW (twice on Wednesday) and five flights a week from MAN (Mon, Weds, Thurs, Sat and Sun). The LGW flights are mainly operated by A321s, whilst the MAN flights are mainly operated by A320s.
London Gatwick (LGW/EGKK) to Paphos International (PFO/LCPH)
British Airways, operated by GB Airways
Airbus A321 G-TTIE
Thursday 29th June 2006
Scheduled departure: 1400 Actual departure: 1432
Scheduled arrival: 2030 Actual arrival: ----
Photo © T.Laurent
Photo © Sergio Domingos
The above photos are the only two on the a.net database - the aircraft is very new.
Before leaving home, we made good use of BA's online check in facility. We chose our seats and printed our boarding passes. When I last travelled on GB Airways (to MPL), I noticed the curtain between Club Europe and Euro Traveller is moveable. This means there are often a few rows of Club Europe seats at the front of Euro Traveller. I chose the very front of the Euro Traveller section (row 6 on this flight) in the hope I would get a large seat.
Upon arrival at the North Terminal at LGW we made our way to the Fast Bag Drop desks. Much to my surprise, there was a substantial queue at Fast Bag Drop. So much for being fast! That said, it wasn't even a third of the length of the actual check in queue, so that was rather good.
The check in man said we would be boarding from gate 62, which was a little disappointing as I was hoping we would be boarding at Pier 6 (the one with the world's largest air passenger bridge), but no such luck today.
We made our way through departures and went to find lunch at Starbucks. I looked out of the window and, lo and behold, there was a BA A321 at its gate right outside (the AA 777 in the background, by the way, was about to depart as AA173 to RDU).
After closer inspection, I noticed the gate was actually gate 58, so it wasn't going to be ours. I later found out it was BA6884 to FAO.
Over to the right, I could see an AA 767 tail (AA79 to DFW) and another BA A321 tail. This one waS going to be ours.
At 13:30, boarding was announced. We made our way down to gate 62 (passing gate 61 on our way, where the passengers for AA79 were getting security screened for the second time).
Our plane (G-TTIE) at the gate:
We walked down the airbridge at 13:40.
The chaps on the flight deck welcomed us on board just after 14:00. The First Officer said he would be doing the flying on the way there, and the flight time was expected to be just over 4 hours. We just had to wait for a few more bags before push back at 14:10.
After push back, we taxiied towards the runway, passing the North Terminal on our left. 08R was in use, so our taxi was expected to be quite long.
The AA 767 to DFW
A BA 737 preparing for departure to TLS as BA7953
The famous airbridge that goes above the taxiway for passengers departing from Pier 6
Here's a rare sight: A BA A319 (G-EUPB) at the gate at the North Terminal. This aircraft is actually based at LHR, but was temporarily operating from LGW as some of the 737s were in maintenence.
As we taxied alongside the disused runway (08L/26R), a BA 737 (G-DOCU) overtook us, on its way to FCO
Also taxiing along the disused was this U2 A319 (G-EZAB) on its way to LIN
This Monarch A320 (G-OZBB) to LIS took off just before we did
This Zoom 767 was taxiing along the disused too, with something landing (Astraeus I think) on 08R in the background
We turned onto the runway at 14:31 and were rolling at 14:32. I sat on the left in the hope I would get some good views of the airport on take off. Indeed I did!
Although I have travelled on A321s quite a few times in the past, I was still surprised by how quiet the engines were. This particular A321 was only delivered to BA this year, so does that mean that new technology since the A321 was first made has caused the engine noise to be much quieter?
Anyway, back to the report. We climbed straight out of LGW over the long term car park, the London to Brighton railway line and the M23 motorway.
As we headed east, we neared the North Sea. Here's Manston (AKA "Kent International"), just south of the Thames estuary.
We reached our cruising height of 33,000ft over the Belgian coastline. I spotted an airport. Can anyone guess which airport this is?
Once the pursar had given all sorts of information about the well being pages in the High Life magazine, the First Officer came on to tell us about today's routing.
We were currently over Belgium, and would continue south east towards Frankfurt, then onto Munich, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, then towards Paphos from the north. I thought this was mildly odd as we usually go that way on the way back - every other time I've flown to PFO, we've taken a more southerly track (over France, the Alps, Italy, some of the Greek islands, before approaching PFO from the west). Must've been something to do with winds or ATC I imagine. That said, the last few times we flew to PFO, we had no choice but to take a southerly routing because the Turkish did not allow flights to the Greek side of Cyprus to fly through Turkish airspace. I assume that is no longer the case.
Our expected arrival time in PFO was on time, at 20:30. The temperature was 29 degrees and the sun was shining. Good stuff.
The televisions were soon lowered from the overhead lockers. Being in row 6, we were behind the curtain divider between Club Europe and Euro Traveller, so we couldn't see one.
Never mind, I hadn't heard of the movie anyway. On the plus side, we did have spacious Club Europe legroom.
The cloud built up as we got closer to Frankfurt, although I did see a number of other aircraft in the area.
The cabin crew came round with the drinks trolley as the movie started. This is where I really appreciated BA - the drinks were included in the ticket price; something that is getting rarer (it makes them leagues ahead of the other airlines). I do hope Willie Walsh doesn't make BA's LGW operation low cost. They would lose my custom for sure.
We were offered two drinks - one for now, and one to have with the meal. Unfortunately I was on antibiotics that couldn't be mixed with alcohol... such a pain! We made the most of the funny little table between us for our drinks.
Somewhere between Frankfurt and Munich, it started getting very bumpy. The seatbelt signs went on and the First Officer apologised for the "lumps and bumps". He said he had spoken to the aircraft in front of us, and the turbulence was expected to last about ten minutes.
Twenty minutes later and the seatbelt sign was still on. We were bumping all over the place, in and out of cloud. The First Officer said we were now south east of the storms over Munich, but there were still more to come, so he said the seatbelt signs would stay on for another ten minutes or so.
Not much to see!
It was nearly two hours into the flight before the meal was served. Whether that is always the case, or whether they had just delayed the meal because of the turbulence, I wasn't sure.
Nevertheless, the meal was very nice. Again, it was included in the ticket price, so I didn't need to get my wallet out once. Excellent.
For the rest of the flight, I read both High Life and Medlife (the two inflight magazines) and enjoyed a little snooze.
There was more turbulence not far from Sofia, so the seat belt sign went on again. This was more dramatic then the first batch of turbulence; babies were crying and others were being sick. Not nice.
About 40 minutes from landing, the sun started to set. This was most odd as it was only 17:50 UK time. I'd just got use to light evenings where the sun didn't set until 21:30. Ah well!
The sky was still quite light, but the ground below looked dark.
The clock on my phone was now set to Cypriot time (two hours ahead of the UK) and, at about 20:05, my ears told me we were descending.
Then the fun started. The First Officer gave an announcement.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. There is a problem at Paphos. An aircraft burst four tyres on landing. It is still on the runway, so the airport is now closed. We are now going to land in Larnaca".
Well well. My first divert!
Much speculation followed. We wondered how BA would eventually get us to PFO; would we have to get a bus? Would we be flown there? And what about those who were returning to LGW on our aircraft the same evening?
Shortly after the announcement, it was almost completely dark and it became obvious we were descending south east over the Troodos mountains towards LCA.
The curtain between Club Europe and Euro Traveller was pulled back so I got a last glance at the small overhead screens before they disappeared into the overhead lockers. They said we were at 3500ft. I looked out of my window, only to find we were directly overhead LCA. One aircraft was lining up for take off.
The cabin crew soon announced the cabin lights would be dimmed for landing. Not only were they dimmed, but they were turned completely off!
The sea was getting closer and closer as we turned 180 degrees left onto finals for 04.
I managed to get a quick view down the runway as we turned - all four VASI lights were red! I looked down and the sea just kept on getting closer...
The First Officer clearly knew what he was doing; a low but fast approach. At 20:38 the wheels were on the ground and the whole aircraft vibrated down the runway as the reverse thrust kicked in.
"Welcome to Cyprus... but not to Paphos".
All the usual announcements about the outside temperature, not smoking and keeping your seatbelt fastened followed.
A 'follow me' truck guided us to our remote stand, passing an incredibly long line of light aircraft on our left. We also passed the fire station and the control tower.
An Aegean 737 was to the left of us once we had parked (apologies for the shocking quality)
The Captain announced he needed to make a few phone calls - to BA in Cyprus, to BA in the UK, and to the authorities in Paphos. We were either going to be taken by coach to PFO or, if the airport was going to reopen in the not too distant future, we might fly there.
I was very much looking forward to flying there - a short domestic hop in Cyprus would have been great fun!
A few minutes later, I noticed the baggage containers pulling up outside our plane. So the decision had been made to take us by coach to the other side of the island.
The Captain then confirmed my suspicions, and said PFO may not reopen until the next morning because the aircraft with the burst tyres was still on the runway. We were told to get a bus to the terminal, collect our baggage in the normal way and find the coaches in the coach park that would take us to PFO.
I took a couple of photos of our plane from the bus. A very rare sight - a BA A321 from LGW in LCA.
Our bus ride took us past a couple of A330s of Cyprus Airways and a B737 of Olympic.
A very helpful lady met us at the terminal, where she announced where the buses would be departing from.
Our passports were checked and we went through to the baggage reclaim hall. Unsurpisingly, our flight wasn't listed so it was a question of following everyone else before finding out which belt our bags would appear on.
Luckily, all of our bags were there, but at least four or five of the passengers didn't have any bags. Some were transit passengers at LGW, so their luggage didn't manage to catch the flight. I felt very sorry for them - not only had we landed at the wrong airport, but their bags hadn't turned up either. Not a good day for them.
We waited a long time for the bus in the bus station, during which time We enquired about the situation at PFO. The BA staff told us the "crashed" aircraft was German and the expected opening time of the airport was 08:00 local.
Apparently, passengers for BA6843 back to LGW (the return service of our aircraft and crew) were already on buses from PFO. Our plane had to leave LCA by 23:30 (the scheduled departure from PFO was 21:30) otherwise the crew would be out of hours. I never found whether they made the time; can anyone shed any light on this topic? Did they have to overnight in LCA before returning to LGW the next morning?
Our bus left LCA at 22:10 and didn't arrive at PFO until nearly midnight, over three hours after our scheduled arrival time. The bus ride was somewhat eventful in itself. The driver was either drunk or just exceedingly bad at driving. We were all over the road, swerving here and there. One of the passengers even spoke to the driver to ask if he was alright.
Safely at PFO at last!
Just before we collected our hire car, I took a little walk over to the perimeter fence to see if I could see anything.
Indeed I could - in the distance (to the left of the small jet) I could pick out the tail and the window lights of an LTU A321 on the runway. I couldn't see much as it was dark, but here's the best I could do:
The next day I found an arrivals board on teletext ("megatext") on the television where we were staying.
As you can see from the photo below, the fourth (most important) column is missing. So really, this arrivals board is completely useless. It tells you absolutely nothing about the expected time of arrival. Nevertheless, it provided me with a little bit of information:
From this, I worked out the "crashed" plane must have been LTU356 from Dusseldorf, whilst our flight (marked as GBL6842 rather than BA6842), along with flights from Luton, Frankfurt, Cairo and Moscow were diverted.
Later in the holiday, we found out from the locals that PFO stayed closed until 19:00 on the Friday, so it was closed for over 24 hours. Luckily, no one onboard the LTU aircraft was hurt, but I imagine it was quite a task replacing tyres on an aircraft stranded on a runway.
More details of the incident here:
Paphos International (PFO/LCPH) to London Gatwick (LGW/EGKK)
British Airways, operated by GB Airways
Airbus A321 G-TTIE
Thursday 13th July 2006
Scheduled departure: 2130 Actual departure: 2136
Scheduled arrival: 0015 Actual arrival: 2358
Photo © T.Laurent
Photo © Sergio Domingos
After a fantastic fortnight in Cyprus, it was time to return home. We checked in online at our hotel, and I reserved the front row of Euro Traveller again. This time it was row 3, because there were only two rows of Club Europe. Naturally, I chose 3A, by the window.
We arrived at PFO around 19:15, with over two hours before the I flight time. It being a Thursday (rather than a Wednesday or a Sunday), movements at PFO were few and far between, so the check in hall was virtually empty.
The departures board shows ours as the last flight of the day
AJY401 was an AlphaJet (formerly Helios) service from LTN to LCA that stopped at PFO, the Mikonos flight was a private jet and CY555 was a Cyprus Airways flight from FRA that also stopped at PFO on its way to LCA.
After we had checked in, I went outside to the perimeter fence to see LT357 to Dusseldorf take off. Luckily the pilot had done a better job at landing the thing this week!
After departure from 29, all aircraft have to bank left slightly because of the noise abatement procedure over the built up area that is Paphos. Here's the A321 that is LT357 doing exactly that
After one last stroll along the beach, we made our way back to the terminal so we could go through security. The duty free shop in the departure lounge only stayed open for our flight; as soon as they called the flight, the shop closed.
I went to sit in the open air seating area to watch the activity on the apron. As expected, the LTN and FRA arrivals were right outside.
Shortly after 20:30, we heard an aircraft fly overhead. It went on to turn 180 degrees out to sea, before coming in to land. Only a few minutes late, our BA A321 touched down on runway 29.
I was hoping it was going to park where the Cyprus Airways plane had just left from, but it didn't. It parked next to the arrivals hall on the other side of the apron. While it was taxiing in, I got a photo, but my silly camera didn't want to focus. I could tell, however, it was G-TTIE, the same aircraft we had flown out on. The last time I saw her was in LCA exactly two weeks earlier.
Before the aircraft had even turned its engines off, boarding was announced through gate 3. There was no chance I was going to fall for that - I stayed well and truly where I was in the open air seating area.
The Cyprus Airways and AlphaJet aircraft both left for LCA while we were in the seating area.
We went through the gate shortly after 21:10, only to wait for a while before we were allowed onto the buses that would take us to the aircraft. Interestingly, they were closing the airport behind us - the lights went off in the departure lounge and doors were locked before we'd even got on the bus! The staff were obviously keen to get home.
I was sitting in my spacious Club Europe seat (behind the curtain) at 21:20 and we were taxiing out by 21:33. We backtracked the runway before turning round and starting the roll at 21:36.
Unfortunately, as I was sitting on the left, I didn't get the good views of Paphos that passengers on the right had. Infact, I didn't see anything at all until we were over Greece.
Just over half an hour into the flight, and the drinks trolley came round. I had a shandy to start and some wine to have with my meal.
Twas very pleasant having a little table between us!
It wasn't another 45 minutes until the meal was served - a bit of a pain really, because most of us just wanted to eat the meal and get some kip. None of us wanted to sleep before the meal in case we missed it!
When it did eventually arrive, it was well worth the wait.
It's unusual for me to take photos of my meals on planes; I do feel a bit silly when everyone turns round to see what the flash was. Ah well!
At long last, the cabin lights were dimmed and I could enjoy a snooze. I woke up over Venice, which was beautiful as it was such a clear night. I looked at the in flight moving map (which is only shown once the movie finishes) and saw our route had taken us north west from Paphos (with a little curve around Turkey), before heading towards Greece, then up the sea towards Venice.
As we entered French airspace, one of the passengers collapsed. The cabin lights came on, all the cabin crew rushed over, oxygen was supplied... all very dramatic. Luckily, the passenger woke up so we didn't have to divert.
Meanwhile, I was watching lots of colourful flashes below us. I wondered what on earth they could be. After a good look, I realised they were fireworks. There were literally hundreds of them; it was quite a sight. They were appearing from almost every settlement. I looked at my watch and it was just after 23:00 (I had since changed my watch to English time, so it was 01:00 Cyprus time). It then dawned on me that translated as midnight in France.
I was then told that 14th July has great significance in France as a reference to the celebration of the storming of the Bastille in 1789 during the French Revolution. Quite extraordinary.
We watched fireworks for quite a time as we tracked north, just east of Paris.
In Northern France, we descended from 34,000ft to 33,000ft and continued cruising, before we started our descent properly over the French coast.
As we passed through 18,000ft the English coastline appeared. It was clear, but our position was all guess work from this point as the screens had been stowed.
I'm pretty sure we flew over Hastings before turning left so we were heading west. The First Officer then gave an announcement - we were holding at 11,000ft and it may be a while until we land as they were doing work on the main runway, so we might have to land on the second, disused runway (26R/08L).
Less than a minute later, the First Officer announced the runway had now been cleared and the holding pattern had been cancelled. What a shame; I was looking forward to landing on the other runway. Another time perhaps!
We started to descend quite steeply, and I saw the lights of Brighton off to our left. We were now downwind for arrival on 08R.
A few right turns put us onto finals, and the wheels touched the ground at 23:58, some 17 minutes early.
As we taxiied towards the North Terminal, we passed a variety of aircraft that were parked up for the night, including these BA 737s (the tails beyond belong to a U2 A319 and a FlyThomson aircraft)
We parked at the stand furthest away from the runway (sixty something I think) at 00:05.
The airbridge came towards our plane (it looked for one moment like he was going to connect the thing to my window!)
Within minutes, we were off the plane to start the long walk towards baggage reclaim. I took a photo of our plane, but it came out a badly because of the reflection.
Overall, BA did not disappoint. The seats were comfortable, the service was excellent, the ticket prices were good value and, when we were diverted, the crew kept us well informed and the BA ground staff at LCA were extremely helpful.
If there was one thing wrong with the flights, it would be the timings. If the whole round trip was a couple of hours earlier (ie: leave LGW at 12:00 and be back at LGW by 22:15) it would be a lot more convenient. Landing at LGW at midnight (which is 02:00 Cyprus time) was not really ideal, but I suppose if they want to keep the ticket prices down, then the timings can't be perfect.
I recommend GB Airways (GT) very highly. If you get the chance to fly them, do. I just hope they won't be swallowed into BA Connect like their MAN operation.
Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.