MONDAY 21 AUGUST 2006.
CARDIFF INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (CWL) – IBIZA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (IBZ).
FLIGHT FH / FUA 1726.
BOEING 737-46J EC-IZG (C/N 27213/2585).
Photo © Georg Noack
In planning for this trip to Ibiza I checked out flights from CWL. Now, there are three (3) weekly from CWL, two (2) with Thomsonfly on Wednesday and Saturday and one (1) with Airtours, operated by Futura Airlines. The Futura flight offered the best times and fares and so I selected a seat-only fare with the airline and sorted accommodation and a rental car separately. The overall rate was not bad when one considers that mid to late August is definitely high season in Ibiza.
What I did not – and could not – cater for was a massive security alert! The UK Government raised its security level to the highest possible – red alert – shortly after I booked the holiday. The airports were plunged into chaos as people could not take hand luggage, save clear plastic bags with bare basic items. Flights were cancelled across the UK with CWL seeing four (4) cancellations and many delays on the day the events broke – Thursday 10 August. I thus followed the unfolding events closely to see whether the most stringent restrictions would remain in place by the time I was scheduled to fly. By Monday 14 August the threat level was reduced and a small piece of hand luggage was again allowed but without any liquids, though these could be purchased after security control (unless flying to the USA). I thus was able to take my trusty backpack along as it easily satisfied the measurement requirements. The one thing it meant for me was that I could not take a bottle of alcohol hand gel through – that is something I always travel with to clean my hands before eating as airports and planes are, even at the best of times, very dirty.
Nonetheless I gradually got more and more excited as time went on and I looked forward to my trip. The thing though was that, as seems to happen very often when I travel, I had to work the night before. I thus had to drive across Cardiff home in order to drop the car off home and then virtually retrace my steps to the airport. I had hoped to use the train service to CWL again but the timetable made it very difficult to get there on time. There is one (1) train per hour to Rhoose station, from where a shuttle bus runs to the terminal. With the stated check-in time being three (3) hours prior to the 1230HR departure time I just could not get the 0847HR service from Cardiff Central. Instead I called a taxi after getting home at 0803HR.
The taxi arrived at 0830HR and dropped me off at CWL at 0907HR. To be truthful I was actually very tired despite the night having been quiet. At the time of arrival, too, the check-in desks for the IBZ flight had not opened and the lines were extremely long. The notice board also noted that the flight was delayed to 1355HR, one hour and twenty-five minutes after the listed time. Many other flights were being checked in, including Aer Arann (RE) flights to DUB and ORK, bmibaby (WW) services to AGP and PRG, KL to AMS, MyTravel (VZ) to Reus and Onur Air (8Q) to Dalaman in Turkey. Meanwhile, the line to IBZ just grew relentlessly, snaking across the terminal. There were many groups of young people, all going ostensibly for the fun that Ibiza has to offer and they chattered away excitedly, largely unconcerned about the delay. In fact, one group of girls started taking pictures in front of me and so I offered to take one of all of them – they happily agreed!
The check-in desk finally opened at 0930HR but with only one (1) agent on hand for half an hour the line barely budged. Once two (2) other agents joined him at 1000HR the line moved more quickly. I finally checked in at 1030HR – if I had actually not rushed myself and taken the train an hour later I would actually have been fine! (It was my fault though as I did not listen to the radio on my way home, instead preferring to get into the Ibiza mood with some dance music.) All the same I was checked in and my one (1) suitcase sent through. I then went upstairs for some long-overdue breakfast at 1040HR, a full English being the order of the day (the airport restaurant does not yet do a full Welsh). Once there I was shocked to see construction by the windows, thus greatly reducing the Tarmac views once afforded from the restaurant area. It seems as though they are building some new walkways or something there.
All the same, while eating I observed the 8Q A321-231, TC-OAL (C/N 1004), land and park in preparation for its flight to Dalaman. It came in at 1051HR and would leave at 1200HR. At 1115HR an RE ATR 42 departed on the flight to DUB and was soon followed by KL F100 PH-OFG (C/N 11275) which left for AMS. After breakfast I cleared the security – which included the unedifying tasks of removing my belt and putting my shoes through the X-ray machine – and then once through having to virtually put myself back together again. Personally I do not mind the security checks as they are necessary for flight safety but, taking shoes off – they do not provide a carpet or something to walk on, you have to walk on the airport’s floor – and airports are dirty places. Think about all those who would have walked barefooted on the floor – certainly the majority of passengers during the summer season of travel.
I did not actually see the Futura jet, EC-IZG, land but it arrived at around 1220HR. My flight was called at 1230HR, at which time the 737-400 was offloading its passengers returning to Wales from the Balearic sunshine. The line quickly assembled and soon all of us passengers strolled out to the 737, which was parked at the eastern end of the airport, away from the jetway bridges. I boarded at 1247HR via the rear and took up seat 29C, an aisle seat in the aft cabin. As far as I could make out there were only about four (4) empty seats on the plane. The plane was outfitted with blue upholstered seats in a one (1) class arrangement with six (6) abreast seating. There were also TV monitors but the IFE was not operated at all. Another passenger nearby asked about it later on but was told that the equipment was not operational. (The in-flight magazine stated that entertainment was available on 737-800 services so the older siblings offered no such luxury.)
The plane was pushed back at 1314HR, the time interval allowing luggage to be loaded. As the plane was moved the safety instructions were given out. I noticed though that my seat pocket, among several others, had no safety card! I always read safety cards carefully before take-off, even if it is on a plane I am familiar with. I think that this is a bit of a lapse in standards. The only occupant of the pocket was a weathered copy of Futura’s in-flight magazine, which was trilingual (Spanish, English and German), which I read bits of during the flight.
The 737-400 then taxied off to the threshold of runway 30 and then the two (2) CFM56 engines were powered up, issuing a din as the plane raced down the runway and headed skywards at 1327HR. The 737 proceeded westwards for a short distance before turning to the south and crossing the Bristol Channel while heading towards Devon.
At 1400HR (UK time or 1500HR in Ibiza itself, the time that will be used subsequently) drinks were served – I had a cola. While I usually have a glass of wine on my flights I did not feel too inclined to pay above the odds for anything. The dinner was served at 1530HR but as I had not pre-ordered any food (it would have cost £12.99 each way extra) I got none. Many of the other passengers had bought meals and so the flight attendants went around and ensured everybody had their requisite meals – the special meals were served first followed by the regular ones.
With no IFE I viewed what I could from the window, which was separated from my seat by two (2) other seats. The plane’s course took it over Devon, past Exeter then over the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, over Brittany in France and then over the Bay of Biscay towards northern Spain, the rugged coastline of which became visible. The plane then turned across Spain and passed the lofty Pyrenees, their snow-capped peaks providing a spectacular backdrop to the Spanish landscape unfolding beneath the plane.
As the plane passed over the Spanish Mediterranean coast and started to descend, at 1605HR, the duty-free trolley appeared. The attendants took it to the fore part of the cabin and then walked around, asking passengers if they wanted anything. Of course, something caught my eye – the model of the Futura 737-800 in the catalogue. I asked for one and was duly rewarded with a stunning model which includes blended winglets! It cost just €10 and is on my desk next to me as I write this.
The duty-free sales, to be honest, were very rushed as the plane descended into IBZ. Pretty soon the plane descended and passed the stunning rock called Es Vedra, off the south-east coast of the island before passing around the island itself. The plane landed on runway 06 at 1625HR and soon parked.
IBZ was very busy. Several IB planes were on the ground, including Dash 8s and A320s along with a Niki A321 and BA A320. Many other planes came and went during the time I was there. Both the fore and aft exits were opened and so I exited via the rear – the first time in several years that I had boarded and deplaned via the rear. A shuttle bus came up to ferry the passengers to the terminal, the vehicle decorated with apology messages stating that for health and safety reasons the buses had to be used. Once taken over to the terminal the immigration check was simple enough but, with the flight 1 hour late, there was a further delay of 1 hour in transferring the luggage to the terminal! So the full complement of passengers stood impatiently by the carousel, awaiting the luggage, which never came. In the meantime several other flights arrived and the luggage delivered in a timely manner. It was 1730HR before the trolleys came to the carousel and the luggage was delivered, to loud applause and cheers from the Cardiff passengers.
Once I got my case I went out into the warm Balearic sunshine to get a taxi, only to face another long queue. Nonetheless I was able to enjoy the first of the sunshine and eventually got to my hotel in San Antonio Bay (Bahia de Sant Antoni de Portmany) by around 1900HR.
So, what were my first impressions of Futura? The Mallorca - based airline, which is part owned by Irish flag bearer Aer Lingus, seemed a good airline. The service was quite good but the low-cost set-up was unmistakeable – charges for everything. Perhaps that is the new reality of air travel all around. I was impressed with that model though and the leg-room was quite comfortable – it was much better than that on First Choice, on which I flew to TFS earlier this year (and issued a report here). Since I did not buy a meal, I cannot comment on the food service. Overall, though, I would give them a good rating. The severe delay to the luggage however was a downside and the airline’s explanation to another passenger was that there was no equipment to unload it since the plane missed its slot by arriving late. That is perhaps not a poor reflection on the airline but on the airport itself – certainly summer is a busy time for IBZ and one would have thought that they would have some contingency arrangements for problems of the sort, which are far from uncommon.
MONDAY 28 AUGUST 2006.
IBIZA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (IBZ) – CARDIFF INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (CWL).
FLIGHT FH/FUA 1725.
REG. EC-JSS (C/N 24128/1715).
Photo © Alexander Portas
Holidays are always characterised by one (1) inescapable fact – they end too quickly! I really enjoyed Ibiza – its beaches, historic areas such as the Dalt Vila, a great array of restaurants and, of course, the many nightclubs that have made it legendary. As it was summer a lot was still going on. I would imagine in the winter, when most of the clubs are shut, the island would be much quieter and then one could really have a quiet escape although it would not be quite so warm. I think that a return trip to visit those areas I missed this time would be well worth it so watch this space…
All the same, my return trip started with a jolt. My flight to CWL was scheduled for a 1000HR departure with check-in two (2) hours before. I had asked my hotel receptionist on the day before to book a taxi for about 0730HR to take me down to the airport but they did not succeed – the companies were too busy. I did not mind at all and decided to leave it till the next morning. After staying out until 0200HR on Sunday night (not clubbing this time as I knew I had to go) and remaining awake until 0500HR while packing the suitcase I fell asleep, only to shake myself up at…0800HR! I was alarmed but remained calm and set about getting ready to run as quickly as possible. I finished packing, got changed and dashed to the hotel desk where they were able to call a taxi straight away (phew!). The taxi came five (5) minutes later, at 0830HR and I knew I was safe.
I got to the airport at 0855HR and immediately went to the check-in desks for the FUA flight to CWL. The desks, it appeared, were at the very furthest reach of the massive departures area of IBZ. Nevertheless I joined the short and rapidly-diminishing line as the last person to check-in for the flight and was sorted at 0905HR. From there I went to the departures lounge and walked around a bit, browsing the shops which were stuffed with all sorts of club-branded merchandise. After a few minutes, though, I noticed the enormous line for the security check and joined it. The line, however, moved fairly quickly and so I was soon through. Once again I had to take my belt off but not my shoes this time.
Once through I walked around a bit, looking for a newsagent to buy a local newspaper, which I duly found. I learned Spanish in school many years ago and so whenever I visit Spain I try to converse en español as much as possible. By deliberately reading the menus etc. in Spanish rather than English I find that I am able to brush up my vocabulary which has become a bit rusty. The truth be told, my conversing in Spanish added an extra element to my trip as I had several enjoyable conversations with people I met such as taxi drivers and shopkeepers. People really do appreciate it when one converses in the native tongue and help you a lot more – so in general I would recommend anybody travelling to a place with a different language to learn at least a few phrases in the native language. It is the most effective ice-breaker when travelling.
On another note about languages, IBZ is indeed a trilingual airport. In recent years the Balearic Islands have returned to their roots by turning to Catalan as the official language, rather than Castilian Spanish. All public signs on streets and government buildings are thus in Catalan. In the airport the signs are in Catalan, English and Castilian in that order. Flight departures for domestic services were announced in Spanish, English and Catalan while international flights were given in Spanish and English. I also noticed that the public address system had the same voices as did the one in BCN when I flew from there last year, which I thought was interesting.
After buying the paper I made my way to the departure gate. The flight was called soon afterwards and boarding started at 0935HR. After the boarding pass was checked by the agent I descended the stairs to the waiting bus which shuttled the passengers to the waiting jet, EC-JSS, which was decorated with titles “Doblecero.com” and “El Corte Inglés”. Doblecero is the title of a fashion magazine issued by the famous Spanish department store. (The trouble is that though I looked, there is no branch of El Corte Inglés in Ibiza. The nearest branch is in Palma. I like the shoes they offer and have bought several pairs on previous occasions.) The plane was parked on the Tarmac, along with several other planes such as an Iberia A320 and two Air Nostrum (YW) Dash 8s. Most notable of all was JK A320-232 EC-INM (C/N 1979), which was resplendent in Star Alliance colours and which departed for MAD.
I boarded the 737 via the rear entrance and took up my seat 28C, again on the aisle in the aft cabin. I immediately recognized a family who travelled to IBZ on my flight a week earlier and who were sitting just behind me. I chatted a bit with them and commented on the half-empty cabin. Was the plane really about to go half-full? That would not be the case as soon after a second bus came, bringing the rest of the Cardiff-bound passengers. The plane was thus full except for at least 4 seats. I also noticed a rather obese lady who took a seat in the row just in front of me with her family. A flight attendant brought out an extension seat belt for her to be strapped in – this was the first time I had ever seen this. It is perhaps a reflection of the increase in obesity in modern society.
Shortly afterwards the safety briefing was read – and this time there were safety cards in all of the seat pockets so I familiarised myself with the 737-400, a type which despite having been in service for eighteen (18) years has only now been added to my logbook of types flown on. The briefing was read in English. Interestingly, safety instructions on the back of the tray tables were in German, English, Spanish and Turkish! This reflects the plane’s varied history – it was initially bought by Hapag-Lloyd (HF) of Germany. Hapag-Lloyd is incidentally now part of the expanding World of TUI. The plane flew as D-AHLO there (and was leased to Blue Panorama (BV)) before going to Poland as SP-KEN to fly with White Eagle (WEA) and then to Turkey as TC-MNI, where it served with MNG Pax (MB). The Spanish instructions were written on a sticker which was placed on the tray, below the other writings.
The plane soon departed and taxied to the threshold of runway 24, where it paused briefly as a YW (Iberia Express / Air Nostrum) Dash 8 landed. The 737 then turned onto the runway and powered up, sprinting down the runway and getting airborne at 1001HR, just dead on time. The plane soared past the rocky islet of Es Vedra and headed to the west on its way to the ultimate cruising altitude of 11 000m and speed of 850 km/h, as indicated by the Captain.
Drama occurred soon afterwards as the chief flight attendant became ill. The other attendants rushed her to an empty seat behind me and got her to rest and have a hot drink. In the middle of the rush I wondered… would I have to get involved? I have responded to medical emergencies on board other flights though thankfully none was ever very serious. All the same I knew that flight attendants are quite adept at handling these sorts of emergencies. Soon enough the hubbub settled down and the flight attendant fell asleep. It was quite a sight to see the elegant flight attendant asleep, clearly looking somewhat the worse for wear.
The rest of the crew soldiered on, though and drinks were offered at 1030HR. I had a glass of orange juice. Breakfast was served at 1100HR (Ibiza time or 1000HR BST, which I will use subsequently) but since I had not ordered a meal I had none. Again there was no in-flight entertainment so I merely looked out of the window at the view below the plane. In any case there was enough of a soap-opera in the cabin itself as the family seated in front of me (including the aforementioned lady and not the family I had met before, who were behind me) started arguing about virtually everything imaginable, from picking on the daughter who tried to get a little sleep (bless her) to quarrelling over buying drinks and so on during the flight. I guess travel brings you into contact with all sorts of people, doesn’t it?
The plane’s route was a reversal of the outward journey so again the Spanish landscapes and lofty Pyrenees offered spectacular vistas from the plane. The route then went over the Bay of Biscay and directly northwards towards the UK, passing over part of France in the process. The descent started at 1057HR, again just as the duty-free trolley was rolled out. This time around I bought nothing, having already bought the model on the outward journey (bitter experience having taught me to buy these at the first opportunity). At the same time the plane encountered a bit of turbulence and the Captain put on the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign. The descent took the plane past Exeter in Devon and then over the Bristol Channel, where it turned towards the west as it headed towards CWL, passing Cardiff and Barry in the process. Unfortunately for me, my ears really got congested and painful during the descent. This sort of thing happens uncommonly for me but perhaps because I was starting to develop a cold it occurred. It was the worst ear-ache I had experienced for a long time.
The plane landed on runway 30 at 1122HR and soon parked at the eastern end of the terminal. Again I disembarked from the rear stairs and this time all the passengers walked to the terminal. Immigration and baggage collection were very swift and I was soon out into the cool Welsh air. I then got the bus connection to the train at Rhoose station and thus got the train home, arriving back at my pad at 1300HR.
My trip was thus over. Futura is a good little airline and I would fly them again – if for nothing else, the fact that their legroom is far better than on many comparable carriers. The service was good and the planes were quite clean and comfortable. Who knows, I may fly them again when I return to Ibiza!
As for the 737-400, it is a good sturdy plane but its older CFM56 engines are somewhat louder than those of the Next Generation 737s and A320 family. It certainly gave a very smooth ride. Too bad about the IFE not working though although perhaps when it comes to frills like that the airline would certainly prioritise its newer planes.
Overall it was a great trip to a fabulous island with great air services from Futura. Until next time, hasta la vista!
[Edited 2006-09-02 18:26:08]