So for me gone are the days of booking a holiday a year in advance. Gone are the days of counting down the weeks and months on your calendar, wishing the time away, planning every day you're there and of course, the mandatory starting of the packing two weeks before you go! For me at least, travelling these days consists of thinking what I'm doing this weekend or the weekend after, seeing if I can fund the trip somehow and then seeing who else wants to go or perhaps vice versa. If I've been invited somewhere then I’ll seldom turn it down and will see how I can fund the trip. If all turns out I'm usually off some place and why shouldn't I be? I'm young dumb and full of debt but I wouldn't have it any other way regardless of what I say at times.
Counting down the months has become days, counting down the weeks has become hours.
The way this trip came about was thru a conversation with Mr Justin Wood. He asked did I want to go to Prague and I said yes. I'd been once in 2004 and I enjoyed the place. It had culture, history and good beer. That's all I need in a city break. In the end I left it up to Justin to book the flights as it also turned out there was an 'a.net' meet up going on in Prague that weekend and he wanted to co-ordinate our arrival with some other guys and gals. No issue there at all, at least we'd had some other people to hang around with whilst we were out there.
The flights got booked and he got us on the redeye 0735 flight from Heathrow with CSA Czech Airlines. I say redeye in the sense that at that time of the morning, our eyes would still be red raw from the hangover! The return flight was two days later on BA to Heathrow and was at 0735. Well that is the last time I let him book the flights, doesn't he know I don't do mornings?
As a result of the early flights I needed to get myself down to London from Manchester the night before. We decided to go halves on a night at the Jury's Inn which cost £24 each. I got a discounted staff ticket on BA booked three days before I left thus solving the issue of how to get to LHR. However I should also mention at this point that a few weeks prior to booking, my parents had booked the family on a five day holiday to Gibraltar which was leaving from Gatwick on the afternoon of the Monday I would return from Prague. I'd know about this for a while but felt this side trip was both viable and something I didn't want to miss out on!
25th August 2006
Friday morning came about and I finished off packing my suitcase after I gave it up as a bad job the night before. I got a lift to the train station three miles away in Chorley at about 1000 for the 1020 TransPennie Express (see: BMIFlyer) service to Manchester Airport. It was still school summer holidays at the time so the platforms were full of the local chav and chavettes waiting to go for a 'fun' day out in Blackpool, Preston or maybe even exotic Bolton. I stood there with my case waiting, getting stared at by the wildlife. I can only assume they were wondering why I wasn't wearing white Reebok Classics and why I had bestowed on my case a British Airways luggage tag from a previous trip. I truly think they thought I was in the money and were more than likely thinking up ways to mug me! I switched my phone over from the MP3 player to Radio1 and hid the device back in my pockets as finally the train arrived!
After fifty eight minutes the service arrived at Manchester Airport and I made my way over to Terminal 3 and straight to the self service machines. I slipped in my Executive card and waited for my booking to be retrieved which took a few seconds. I had already checked in online the previous night but came here to collect my boarding pass and to make sure what aircraft it was. I hit the seat availability map and up popped at the bottom, 'A320-111'. Great, no in-flight map this time!
I went to finalise the check in but the machine then stupidly asked me for the credit card I used to make my booking. I had a quick search in my wallet but it appears (c'est une poire) that the one time I forget it, I actually need it; sods law. So I pick my luggage back up and walk over toward the staff near the main check in desks and explained my issue. This girl smiles and tells me that I was doing it wrong, ha hardly, and to put my credit card back in the machine and then search for the booking via my flight number. I did tell her that the issue wasn't finding my booking as I'd already done that but more the fact it didn't accept BA's in house Executive card as enough proof that it was me checking in.
Well we both stood there waiting for the machine to hurry up and process the big "f*ck you" message it eventually came back to us with. I looked at her and being such an original guy said, "I told you so". Well that was it for her, she lead me off in a huff to the check in desk, laughed and said she was going to go home. I didn't think that was such a bad idea for her.
So now checked in it was time for security but first I had to go outside and await the arrival of Daz(ultra). He was lending me his Canon 10D since I had left my camera in PMI in June. When he arrived he basically just gave me his camera bag and then left for work, seems he was in a bit of a rush but oh well, nice of him anyway! I walked back in the terminal and read a notice saying that strictly only one piece of hand luggage was allowed and this would be enforced without exception. The word 'excrement' went through my mind as I stood there with my hand luggage hanging off one shoulder and Daz's fairly big camera bag hanging off the other.
I had to quickly improvise and somehow managed to squash a 10D and two lens', the camera bag, a laptop, two chargers, my book and jacket along with headphones, wallets and a banana (?) all into my bag. The zip didn't really want to close and I ended up deforming it in the end but I got it all zipped up and that was good enough for me!
So onto security and my first time through since the palaver of the suspected water bottle and lipstick Al' Qaeda bombers of August 10th! The security barriers had been re-arranged so that all three channels now had to go through one entry point which was staffed with numerous people shouting at people that their hand luggage was too big. Double excrement. I just thought to myself that there was nothing I could do now since my suitcase was checked in, so I armed myself with my passport and boarding pass, swung my bag as far back on my back as it'd go, looked down at the floor and casually walked past the checkpoint hoping I wouldn't get stopped. I turned back after I had past them and thankfully they didn't notice, what a result! They were way too involved with an old woman and the fact her hand bag was too deep to fit in the modified luggage frame. What buffoons!
I took my shoes off as I went through security and took out everything from my bag which I had just packed! Everything was getting screened today. I got selected for a random body search, I usually do these days, and after a quick frisk I headed over and spent the next five minutes re-packing my bag; nightmare.
As usual I headed into the departure lounge and over to the smoking area which was pretty much the only empty part of the lounge! I sat down and whilst I had my cigarettes with me I had no lighter as they weren't allowed through! After a few minutes some sexy Latino member of Alpha staff came over and I got a light of her. I was the first to ask her but not the last as we, the hard done to passengers, were all in the same predicament.
I noticed behind me at Gate 142 was parked G-BUSB which was going to be my flight to LHR and as it goes, my second time on the aircraft. After around half an hour boarding was called and I was the fifth person to get onboard taking up my seat in 07A. The flight wasn't completely full and I had the middle seat next to me free with an older woman in 07C. The flight pushed back on time and we headed out to Runway 24R for departure. The Airport Pub was packed and had a bouncy castle set up (see: Pilot Kaz) as we taxied past and lined up, waiting for traffic to clear ahead of us. After a short wait we were off and on the HON1R SID away from MAN.
We climbed up to 18000 and fairly soon the All Day Deli was being passed out. I overheard there were two options available, cheese and ham or cheese and mushroom. Well that would be great if I could eat cheese so I had to gear myself up to shout over at the crew member when she got to my row. She arrived, looked at me, smiled, and handed over a box while asking do I want a sandwichno, not that one.
I had to move my hand to form a stop gesture and asked her about a cheeseless option to which she seemed irritated. She had a quick look through her little trolley and pulled out a chicken wrap with honey mustard, much better. The lady sat next to me seemed quite envious. The drinks were handed out around seven minutes later and I took a beer; "Is Heineken alright for you sir?", to which I obviously replied, "Sure it is."
Who doesn’t appreciate free beer?
You can't really say much else about a 35 minute flight but I will say this about the catering. Ok fine, I don't expect gourmet food but what would be nice is a little bit of choice onboard. This time I got lucky and so did the other passengers as we had two options albeit both with cheese. Maybe on a 35 minute flight I don't need something to eat although that's not the issue here. Food is offered and thus I will have a little whine and a moan if it's not up to scratch. Most of the time and if you're lucky on BA European routes, the most you will get is a sandwich or something similar like a wrap and whilst the quality is mostly ok it's the lack of choice that lets it all down.
In all honesty it's quite hard to screw up making a sandwich. All you have to do is keep it cool and make sure the ingredients used won't make it go soggy and voila. However, and I will go on about this, the lack of choice onboard basically sucks. Two normal options plus the vegetarian choice and all have them have cheese on? Do the people that think up this lack of choice menu actually understand that some people have intolerances to certain things? BA even disregard your preferences in your Executive Club account, the club who advertises, "We invite you to come and experience preferential treatment." and "At British Airways, we believe you deserve more. More recognition. More individual attention. And a more rewarding and enjoyable experience whenever you fly with us and our partners. Bullshit?
Out of the last twenty five BA flights I've taken this year, the amount taken since I changed my meal preference, only on two of them have the crew actually recognised the fact and come to speak with me. Both of them were on GT and on one I was particularly impressed. As usual there was only a cheese sandwich available, one of the melted variety this time, genius! So the Purser of the flight explains to me that on some flights only one band of food is issued, I think that was the term he used and so on these one band flights special meals aren't loaded. This must be the majority of BA Europeans. I wasn't really interested in what he was saying, it wasn't my issue I just wanted it resolving but he went away and returned later with a tray with a banana, some bread rolls, preserves and a glass of water. I was pretty impressed with that and I must say kudos to who ever you were!
Back to the flight in hand then and after all the rubbish was cleared up and the cabin secured we entered the Bovingdon hold as there was a wait to get into LHR. We did three circuits in this, leaving me a bit disorientated, before we headed off toward the Lambourne area and then made for LCY where we made an approach to Runway 27R at LHR.
BUSB heading past London City Airport
We touched down and had a bit of reverse thrust applied didn't BA try not to use reverse thrust much at LHR? before we exited and parked up at gate 74, domestic area at T1. After disembarkation I was off to meet Justin who would be arriving in just under an hour from Southampton. I just about remembered to stop and get my case as I walked past carousel 11 and 12 on my way out. The cases took about twenty minutes to arrive.
Justin ended up being a few minutes late arriving after which we caught the free bus over to the Jury's Inn. We spent the next few hours chilling out at 'The Green Man' and had dinner at Pizza Express in T2, don't worry, I had a cheeseless pizza! We headed back to the hotel after a stop off in Wetherspoons and headed up to the bar for a quick drink after which we got the munchies and headed down the A34 to the BP garage for a sandwich around 2300 hours.
Me and Justin heading to T4 and on to T2
We met some interesting young Irish people on the way home who thought I was god and so rightly offered me some of their home made Vodka Redbull, which I graciously accepted. I didn't really have a choice. Justin also ended up partaking in this activity! Very amusing shamus!
Bedtime came just before midnight leaving us with a few hours before a battalion of alarm clocks fired at 0445. My phone had the default Nokia alarm go off, Justin had some soft jazz playing for his, the TV was doing something bright and loud although the telephone’s wake up call never did materialise! Still, we were firmly awake and Justin was the first to the shower taking a whopping thirty minutes to get dressed leaving me with just fifteen before the Hotel Hoppa bus was due to leave! Nearly as bad as a woman.
We made the bus and fairly soon arrived at T2 around 0550 which was packed as ever. Thankfully we didn't have to join any of the gigantic check in queues as the previous night after we had dinner in Pizza Express we decided to ask at the Czech Airlines customer service desk if OK had any self service machines. Alas, nobody was about so we did what any smart person would do; we went and asked at the Aeroflot desk. Let me tell you something about the girls that were behind the desk, hot as hell and so happy and bubbly. Coar, why can't they all be like that?
So secure in the knowledge that OK shared self service machines with AF, although it’s not advertised anywhere, we went and found some machines, entered in our ticket number and a few other things and voila, we had our boarding passes. Row 18 I think, seats E and F, just fine. The bag drop point at this point was completely empty and after a quick cig outside, we dropped our bags off and went to find the security line / Spanish inquisition. It stretched far back into the terminal and curved back on itself like a Daytona racing track. It took roughly 20 minutes to get to the front of the queue where again, everything was taken out of the bag, shoes off, belts off, no Evian allowed, no toothpaste allowed but toothbrush, yes. It was just strange and very over the top. It didn't make me feel any safer, just a lot more irritated and hot! It's not what I wanted to be doing with a hangover either. Luckily though this shift wasn't really enforcing the hand baggage size restrictions.
We made it through though and walked straight down to the gate, 113 was it? Who knows but our A320 was sitting there in the pouring rain after night stopping. Boarding commenced around fifteen minutes later and we where finally on our way to Prague, at 0715!
CSA Czech Airlines
26th August 2006
Our plane at the gate
Upon entering the cabin my initial thought was that it was pretty nice but fairly identical to BA but with Skoda adverts as headrests. Quite amusingly the headrests also contained a picture of a sports drink bottle, the type that is now banned. Obviously they Czech's didn't really care about it too much or just couldn't afford to change them. There was a friendly greeting in Czech and English from a crew member followed by a quick scan of our boarding cards before we were then allowed to make our way to our seats. Fairly comfortable too and they even included not a 'coat hook' but a 'coat pull' on the backs.
Our pushback was delayed a bit and there wasn't any information given to as why but it was LHR, it was probably just busy. Our departure finally came about on Runway 27L after a white VLM Fokker 50 had departed. A strange one since they don't fly here. Justin filmed the takeoff which is shown below.
We climbed thru the London airspace and headed east which would eventually take us over FRA. The breakfast service commenced after about twenty minutes and by this time I was starved and welcomed anything to help mop up last nights beer and that damn vodka Redbull. I could still taste the stuff repeating on me and it wasn't the nicest taste.
Takeoff from LHR
The breakfast then was welcomed with open arms as I was handed my tray containing sliced cheese, god damn it, some sort of ham, salad, a yoghurt, preserves, a bread roll and a cup containing 'almost fresh milk' and another lump of cheese for good measure. What is with that? To be honest, I left the cheese, yoghurt and couldn't really face the salad so early and since I don't drink tea or coffee the only thing I had was a ham sandwich I put together. Whilst I had the satisfaction of constructing this tiny little snack myself it just didn't quite compare to an All Day Deli one. without cheese of coure
Now as ever in life and still being semi yoofs, me and Justin said we would get a beer on our way to PRG. However, we both chickened out and I took my usual glass of water and Justin got Pepsi? I left him with his caffeine rush to wake up while I went with the natural option and went asleep for a bit! The next time I awoke we were over an airport I recognised as FRA at which point I decided I'd go use the bathroom. I got up and yawned my way down the isle in my socks, I really wanted to be somewhere else at that point as I was having the occasional moments of alcohol recirculation. One of those moments occurred when I was in the toilet as I decided to open all the little compartments in there and see what was up for grabs. I emerged a few minutes later with 8 CSA branded freshen up wipes stuffed in my rear jeans pocket and a bottle of odour neutraliser stuffed in another pocket. See, this is why alcohol and flying can cause issues! Oh well, no harm, only clean hands and no more smells for the duration of the trip.
Passing over FRA
Our decent soon started into Prague Ruzyne International taking us down toward runway 24 and giving a nice overview of the Czech countryside. At this point in time Peter (L0231) was just three or four minutes behind our A320 on his way from BRU, although we never saw his plane.
Approach to PRG
We taxied onto stand at T2 and was met on the air bridge by Judith (Zrdua) which was a nice surprise! It was like being an unaccompanied minor. She made things really simple for us as all we had to do was follow her and not even bother reading the signs to arrivals. That was probably a good thing as it still wasn't too easy to focus! I showed the Czech guy my passport and entered the country whilst Justin went and asked for a stamp. The luggage arrived on the carousel about twenty minutes later, not a bad effort for the guys at PRG according to Judith!
Everybody else that we would be meeting was waiting up on the car park roof. These guys were Kas, (Airkas1), Janni, (Jap) Yirina and of course that reprobate, Peter (LO231) who somehow had managed to get out before us even though he landed after us. Damn those Schengen guys.
The next few days spent in Prague were honestly great. I got to meet some new faces and catch up with some old ones, just generally had a good time. Like I say, Prague has an interesting culture, history and good beer. Budvar doesn't disappoint. The Saturday evening was spent in a bar full of mad aviation guys, it made the Brit Trash of 2004 look sane but it was definitely fun.
BUM900. Just amusing
The group on a moody afternoon in Prague.
'Friends' Czech edition
After a few days in Prague, some of which was spent stuck in a lift, it was time to head back to London and then straight onto Gibraltar. Our accommodation for the two nights had been in a dorm room at Charles University and it was certainly memorable. Whilst only 7EUR per night each it was definitely not the worst accommodation I have stayed in whilst abroad! I think that Justin, Kas and Janni will also agree that it was a good laugh staying there! Mine and Justin's flight back to London was set at 0730 on BA so this meant leaving the dorm room at 0500. Kas and Janni where also leaving back to AMS and CPH respectively, Kas on SkyEurope and Janni on CSA. Their departures times were within fifteen minutes of ours and so whilst the other two got a lift with Judith, me and Justin made our own way via taxi and actually beat them even though technically we didn't need to be there early! Thankfully we were flying a proper airline so had checked in online the night before.
28th August 2006
Once we got to the airport me and Justin went and formed the beginning of the check in queue so that we could get our boarding passes and drop our luggage off. After a five minute wait we did just that and then walked off to find the other guys in T2. However, hunger struck and we soon found ourselves eating some sort of sandwich, which unlike normal, had just three pieces of bread in it thus making one big triangular sandwich. It was like half a club sandwich just a lot drier!
Anyway, we soon found the guys in T2, Kas was walking toward us through the crowd and Janni was sitting solemn waiting for a wheelchair. Hmm ok, different. Judith then materialised from somewhere and whilst we waited for Janni's wheelchair, me and Judith went out for a quick smoke. Once we had gotten our morning fix I normally don't actually smoke a lot we went back and found the group plus hired help in the form of a wheelchair pusher. Well he was soon fired and I took command of the wheelchair for some reason pushed her after the others towards departures in T2. Myself and Justin would be leaving from T1 but after Judith, who was in her uniform and starting work at 0700, had spoken to the security staff we soon found ourselves airside in T2. The point of this remains unclear to me as we headed straight for T1 and to the viewing area outside which was bloody freezing but interesting!
Fairly soon after the rest of the gang had eaten it was time to part company as me and Justin headed down to our gate and through some more security. Our shoes stayed on this time though. The flight was departing on time and the crew soon came and boarded the aircraft and got it ready for departure.
G-EUPD at the gate
Boarding commenced via seat row number and this time I ended up with the window seat. I watched out the window as Kas headed off in his Sky Europe B73NG as well as Janni in her OK B735 although I didn't know exactly which one she was on at the time.
Waiting to go
We were the last to push, as scheduled, and after a brief wait for departure after a Smart Wings B735 and Janni's plane we were rolling ourselves and off back to the UK. It was the usual lacklustre 319 takeoff and a straight climb up to FL380 over some empty fields and sparsely populated towns.
I always find it strange when I fly BA mainline on Euro routes as I'm so used to taking them solely on domestic. I'm used to the rushed service and the quick climb to FL180, three minutes at that level and then straight back down. Climbing to FL380 and not having my All Day Deli within ten minutes after departure just confuses me.
Climbing out from PRG
Finally the food arrived but I was to be disappointed as guess what they had brought as offerings? That's right, a melted cheese sandwich made for BA by www.supplair.com. The breakfast box as they call it, contained a disgusting looking fruit cocktail and a muffin as well. The only thing I ended up eating was the muffin of which Justin donated his too. The smell of coffee then soon started to fill the cabin and I nearly chocked from the stench, I really can't stand that smell at times. I quickly got myself two glasses of water, one extra for my breakfast compensation I figured, then reclined my seat and went to sleep for a bit, I was still pretty tired since being up from 0400 local and only getting to sleep at 2300.
Their idea of breakfast
I awake roughly fifty minutes later as we were approaching the Thames Estuary and about to begin our descent. I pulled my seat forward and stowed my tray, which had miraculously cleared itself of rubbish! A flight deck announcement was made informing us of congestion around the London area, what a surprise! However when we finally got closer it became apparent no holding was necessary and instead of making any orbits at Lambourne, just turned toward LCY and the right for the ILS of runway 27L or something very similar.
After landing the CSD made his announcement in the campest way possible which was pretty funny. "Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Heathrow and very shortly welcome to Terminal One". Hey numpty, how can you welcome me to a place you only just arrived at yourself? "Looking out my window the weather is looking a lot more autumnal since the last time I was here." Well that's just great mate, you're sitting inside an air conditioned tin can with it's own climate and you're judging the weather for one hundred people through a port hole in your door that's the size of my fist! "If you are here in London on a business trip, we wish you a successful one, if you are here on holiday, we wish you a pleasant one. If you are making your journey home, we wish you a continuing safe one and if you are connecting on to another flight, we hope it's a British Airways one." Where's my sick bag! Suffice to say he got a few laughs and it was funny but just so damn camp at the same time. Lucky for this guy then that I was connecting on to another flight and indeed it was going to be a British Airways one, just not from LHR. For my next flight in four hours time I'd have to make my way to Gatwick.
Once we finally reached the gate on the international pier we gathered all our belongings we could remember and headed off to passport control and baggage reclaim. We saw some bloke from Sky Sports News on our way but I didn't have a clue who he was. Justin on the other hand seemed suitably impressed. To be honest, I was more impressed at the fact that the line for immigration was only one person long, what a result! The lines next to us for 'other passports' were pretty damn full though, shame for the Czech's. Me and Justin both liked that though!
After a ten minute wait for our luggage to appear from the LHR monster, me and Justin were soon headed thru 'Nothing to Declare' and out the door and towards the Central Bus station for our respective coaches. It's pretty funny how things work out; I not having a reservation end up using the National Express self service machine and getting on a coach within ten minutes whilst Justin has to wait thirty minutes for his coach he pre-booked. Sods law again.
I took the time on the coach to make contact with my parents who had flown down with BA the night before, MAN-LGW, and should be checking out of the Ramada Plaza round about now if all was going to plan. I make the call, my dad answers and I hear, "waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa waaaaaa." Well, it seems the kids are still in one piece but for how long? We finally get to the point and arrange to meet in North Terminal around 1030 which was just a little after my coach arrived. Sorted.
The coach was substantially quicker than the last time I took this service but then again, the last time was the Farnborough Airshow weekend and the M3 junction gets a little bit nightmarish at those times. Still I arrived at LGW on time and went and met my family who were just getting out of the hotel courtesy car. Everything was good to go.
28th August 2006
Of course when I say the flight is operated by BA I actually mean it is operated by GT, Gibraltar Airways and what better route to fly them? So having checked in online whilst in Prague I just headed over to the self service machine and retrieved our booking, this time using the payment card used to make the booking, no messing about.
"Touch screen to start.... followed by the musical notes: du du!"
"Insert card" Ok..
"Please wait while we retrieve your booking"
"Choose passengers you wish to check in now" Me, tick, my mother, tick, father, tick, brother, hmm tick I guess and sister, tick and confirm.
Do I want to change my seats? Nope. 'Proceed'.
"Has my luggage been left unattended at anytime?" Well yes, it was just on it's own in the coach hold but I'll choose 'No' anyway.
"Has anybody given you anything to take onboard?" Well I was given a sick bag as a present from Judith but I'll choose 'No' anyway.
"Luggage to check in now?" Yep
"Receipt Required?" Last time I chose that option with my family it printed out five boarding cards as well as five receipts so no, not this time computer.
"Go to the bag drop off in Zone F"
So we headed over to Zone F and joined a bloody big queue for, and I quote, "Fast... Bag... Drop". Well it wasn't fast and I didn't drop my bag at all, I'd my break my duty free. The queue took roughly twenty minutes to get to the front of which was abysmal. I may have well just checked in as normal, what is the time advantage here?
There were also some staff members patrolling the line shouting random things about what we could take onboard, it was all a bit patronising. Soon enough we had handed over our bags and I tagged the pram up like usual to take down to the gate. I'd gotten used to this added security now so it didn't bother me too much and again my bag was allowed through without hassle. It seems though that my mother forget to get rid of some lipstick which was detected by the guys at BAA! They may be retarded rules but at least they are enforced well enough.
We had just less than two hours to kill before the flight so I took the time to get onto the BT Openzone wifi and catch up on a few things. Amazingly I was offered a beer by my dad but I turned it down since I was still feeling a bit rough from the past few days. I just needed a bit of food first so I went off and got a sandwich from that place near the sushi bar. I'm not sure what it's called but it's where I normally go to in North Terminal. On my way back I headed to World Duty Free to see what the prices were like and got accosted by a Armarni sales lady and got sprayed in 'Code'. It smelt alright but at 30GBP for a small bottle, it could stay there, I really didn't have a lot of money to spare!
Soon 'Go To Gate' appeared on screen and we made our way over the bridge to Pier 6 and to our awaiting flight. Funnily enough Ghana Airlines B757, N930RD (see: B747-437B) was parked on remote stand 132 which is straight ahead of the stairs from the bridge. I wondered what she was doing there but not wanting to pay out on a call to Ghana, I figured I could wait a while.
Dyland, N930RD, our A320 to GIB and an MYT332 taking off
Pre-boarding (see:Get on before you get on) was announced for gold and silver card holders, business class people, folks that needed extra time to board and last but obviously not leased, people travelling with children. Cha ching, on we went and took up our seats in 18 A B C D E.
Boarding went fairly quick and the captain announced we'd be pushing back ahead of schedule, that was until we had two no-shows at the gate. We ended up waiting fifteen minutes in which time the baggage handlers did try to get the bags off but the no shows turned to late passengers and they finally joined the flight. Thankfully there were a bunch of squaddies at the back of the Airbus who cheered, clapped and made the two stray passengers feel about 2cm tall. Quite excellent, it made me feel better!
Eventually we pushed started and joined the queue for departure at the end of 26L. It was a fairly substantial queue and we were toward the back of it since we were late. After a few Easyjet A319's and a TCX A332 it was our turn and we were soon flying the runway heading on a climb up to FL170.
Takeoff from Gatwick
We continued in a straight line till we reached Southampton where we made a left turn toward Jersey and then down toward the Bay of Biscay. The All Day Deli delights were soon handed out and I'd like to say that I got something other than a sandwich but I can't. Today we got half a soggy tuna sandwich and a chicken tikka sandwich one to boot which, sadly, didn't do much for me nor my family. The bar service made up for it though and I got a beer and a two glasses of water. Once again the only beer that was available was Carlsberg which I'm not to keen on and I would have much rather preferred the Heineken or Stella that you can get on BA mainline flights. I think this is the case because as much as I've tried I can only get this one type of beer on GB Airways flights?
Left turn at Southampton, hello again Justin
All day Deliage
The IFE on the flight consisted of the moving map on the overhead LCD's and eight channels of audio which is pretty much fine for a short flight. I'd rather see where I was than watch some old sitcom from twenty years ago. The other IFE consisted of the passengers which were a mixed bunch to say the least; it's always the case with a GIB flight. You'd have people like me and my family; just going away for a few days, the rabble, off for a bit of cheap sun and a quick getaway.
You have military personnel and their families, commuting back and forth, full of old tales about the rock, boastful, loud but friendly. Then there are the inhabitants of the rock themselves, they generally keep to themselves much like you would when you travel by train or bus and essentially to them, that's just what these flights are. They are a necessity, a lifeline to a far flung out crop of the UK, a British Overseas Territory that is a thousand miles from London and is just 2.5 square miles in area.
Currently the only commercial flights the airport has is to and from London, two or three a day and so when of these lands it's always a bit of an occasion. Even though we're all in the EU these days, Gibraltar still remains a bone of contention between the UK and Spain and whilst trying to remain impartial here, it's not us it's them!
Back on September 10th 1967 there was a referendum in which Gibraltar's voters were asked whether they wished to either pass under Spanish sovereignty, or remain under British sovereignty, with institutions of self-government. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuance of British sovereignty, with 12,138 to 44 voting to reject Spanish sovereignty. The latest referendum put to the Gibraltarians put the vote at 17,900 votes to 187 to remain British.
"The UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes."
So the flight wasn't dull and after a while I headed back to the galley to pick up a white wine and vodka and lemonade. The crew never smile when I do this as I start a chain reaction and fairly soon there'll be a crowd queuing for free booze but c'est la vie.
Passing one of the Easyjet A319's that took off before us at LGW.
The drinks lasted us just fine and after duty free sales, which are technically just tax free, we began our descent down towards The Rock. We passed close to Malaga airport, which is the one of the diversion airports for GIB and continued heading south for today's approach.
The prevailing winds today meant that a surveillance radar approach (SRA) to runway 09 was to take place which is by far the most thrilling. The cabin was secured for landing as we descended through 3000ft on a westerly heading to point 'Victor' which is 9nm south of Gibraltar. On a clear day this approach gives you a clear view of the Rock to the right as you head around it. The gear and flaps were then lowered and we turned right onto a northerly track to take us towards the bay and descended further as we headed past the 5nm radar fix.
Heading into the bay
The Visual Decision Point (VDP) came and passed and we made a 90 degree turn to the right to line us up with the runway, now just 2nm away. ATC will then have been swapped from the 'talk down controller' to the tower frequency as we got our landing clearance. hopefully by this time the Royal Gibraltar Police had cleared all pedestrians and cars from the road mid way down the runway!
Final to Runway 09
The bay and tankers below got closer then land appeared followed quickly by a firm touch down with no messing about on the deceleration. The runway here is plenty big enough at 6000ft but it's not a place to take liberties you could say, unless you want to go swimming. We crossed the road in the full swing of braking before exiting down at the short taxiway that runs from the end of 09 back to the terminal. Welcome to Gibraltar.
Taken a few seconds after landing
So it was good to be back, my fourth time visiting the Rock and as we approached the empty ramp area, a large group of forty people could be seen stood outside on the Victoria Suit balcony, waving and welcoming our Airbus and the residents/ Brits it was bringing back. I really don't think I've seen such a welcome at any place I've flown to before. The exception of course being PIA at MAN but that's another story....
Welcome to The Rock!
The maximum amount of commercial aircraft I've ever seen at GIB is three and I think that's not going to be seen again for a while since ZB dropped MAN. Alas today there was just our sole aircraft at the airfield and so it wasn't long before we were disembarking out into the warm humid air of, well, the UK! Down the steps and to the right to queue up outside while everybody shuffled through passport control.
G-TTOF, our aircraft, at GIB
Ahh passport control, a narrow corridor, an old wooden desk with two signs hanging from the ceiling. "EU Passports" and "Others". Well there was nobody on our flight that wasn't from the EU so the queue got ushered onto both sides of the desk which sped up arrival into the baggage reclaim hall, which is in the same room as immigration. Whenever there's a flight it's manned by two coppers in full British uniform with a stern face, it's a nice touch. You don't wait too long though as it's not like the baggage handlers are busy in GIB so after a while we all shuffled off towards the packed arrivals hall and outside to try and decide which end of the taxi queue was the front and which was the back. Nobody quite knew so I took charge and somehow became the taxi marshal and being the gent that I am, only got the fourth cab that turned up for me and my family.
We pulled up at the Rock Hotel for our four night stay and got assigned our two rooms, a double for me and a suit for the parents. The hotel is a 4* and is one of the best around playing host to the wedding of John Lennon and Yoko Ono back in the day. It's interesting, for one night in my room at the hotel I could have stayed fourteen nights at the accommodation I was at the previous night in Prague. Nice contrast.
View from my room
We had booked for me and my dad to go to Tangiers, Morocco on the Wednesday 30th but the night before we would have left, Blands Travel phoned our hotel to inform that the trip was cancelled. I was a bit let down at that as even though I hate boats, I wanted to cross the straights of Gibraltar and go to Africa for the day. Well, it just wasn't to be. Instead, we headed to Eastern Beach which is right next door to the runway and whenever there is a movement, you get one hell of a view. Alas this time I had my head buried so far into a book and my headphones turned up so loud that I neglected to hear G-TTOF, the plane I flew out on two days previous, taxi and takeoff from 09.
The first thing I knew was the woman next to me point toward the runway and as I quickly turned around my headphones just popped out from the force of that swift motion as this A320 seemed to jump up out of nowhere and flood the beach with noise. I was not amused as I looked down at Daz's camera and 300mm lens.
Any better way to relax?
I thought I'd make up for missing the Airbus. Woops, got caught!
Taken as I went for a walk back to the airport
I'd also decided that on Thursday the 31st I would head over to Jerez, Spain to go visit Jamo (see:Jamotcx) who was over there for a year doing his pilot training at Flight Training Europe. The only way for me to go was by coach and this as going to take 3.5 hours but it was something I'd have to put up with, it was an adventure anyway. I found the coach courtesy of Google before I left for PRG and so it was just a case of booking a return ticket online with T.G.Comes Autobus back at the hotel. Free wifi, what a great thing that is.
The coach routing was La Linea (the Spanish border town of Gibraltar) to Seville calling at Algeciras, Tarifa, Vejer de la Frontera, Chiclana de la Frontera, Puerto Real, El Puerto de Santa Maria and finally some hours later, downtown Jerez. The departure time was 0915 and so I was up early to take advantage of the full English breakfast included with our room bills. By 0800 I was done, full and had vacated my room and dropped my suitcase off in my parent’s suit electing to just take my trusty sports bag with me instead. It was full to the top with three jars of curry, 8 baking potatoes, one litre of gin and one litre of Kronenbourg. Apparently Jamo had given me a shopping list of things to pick up from Morrissons in Gibraltar, damn Brit.
I took a taxi down to the frontier, got my passport out and started the short walk over into Spain. There is a full passport control and customs here as it's a part of the UK technically but at 0830 it was deserted. The usual main gate for pedestrians was closed so I had to walk in the road and when I finally got to immigration I was a bit startled to find the officer with his feet up reading the paper. I didn't even bother opening up my passport for this clown so just flashed my maroon booklet at him and walked past. Of course I took five steps forward and turned around to make sure he didn't have a gun pointed toward my head but as expected he hadn't moved and so I continued on in search of the bus station.
I finally found the thing, thanks to a Gibraltar local and I was soon sat in front of my coach half an hour ahead of departure time. I did think maybe I should go ask if I need a ticket printing off but nobody at all spoke English and I've learnt that the inhabitants of La Linea aren't exactly keen on the British so I went and sat for a while.
My coach to Jerez
Before long the driver turned up and I went and gave him my hand written ticket reference. Bad move, he didn't have a clue what it was until I said the word 'internet'. This in turn made him rummage for a piece of paper with a list of names on one of which was mine. He printed a ticket off and voila, I was off. There is a direct road between La Linea and Jerez but the bus took the costal road and it may well have been interesting but I would have preferred a direct service!
A random place in Spain we stopped off at
I made it to Jerez after numerous stops in Spanish shanty towns and took a taxi out to the airport were Jamo was waiting for me. Being inland it was certainly warmer than Gibraltar had been; I'm not sure how Jamo coped in trousers and a shirt! Of course being a pilot in training he did have a flight to make in his PA-28 but after a quick check of the METAR he judged it too windy, 11knts, and too hot, 35c, to fly. Oh well what a shame, time for some Cruzcampo Cerveza and then on to the bar at 1700 hours for something a bit nicer! Well it was Carlsberg the same stuff I got on GB Airways but it was welcome!
So that evening was spent getting a bit pissed until midnight. It's a shame there wasn't any kebab shops around that area, a quick stop at Kebabish down the curry mile in Manchester would have been great. The whole campus feels generally English but if there isn't a kebab shop, it just isn't kosher. (see:joke on two levels)
Me and the future Flybe pilots
The next day I'd gained airside access with Jamo to go have a wander about the ramp and have a nose around some of the aircraft. It was also time for the weekly Thomas Cook flight back to the UK and as it goes, back to MAN. I had the wrong lens in but I just got G-FCLI rotating here. We didn't hang around the ramp long though as he had lessons and I probably shouldn't have been there anyway!
G-FCLI to MAN
Jamo on the ramp at XRY
A few hours later we both headed over to the terminal to go grab some beer before I got the coach back to Jerez, La Linea and then finally a brief walk back to Gibraltar.
So the building itself was quite nice and modern and Monarch Scheduled will be starting flights here from MAN next year. There was a food court area upstairs which looked out over the main apron, a few German charters were out there whilst we were there namely a Hapag-Fly A300 and B738, Condor A320 and B753 as well as an IB MD87. There are also two daily Ryanair flights to London Stansted but I never managed to see these, shame....
The definition of charter
The other side of the ramp
Eventually I left James and took the coach to downtown Jerez where I had a wait for the connection to La Linea. An hour and a half to spare so time for a beer and right across the road was the perfect cafe type place to go grab one. Of course Jerez isn't catered for English tourists in the slightest yet so I had to use my broken Spanish to get the beer, "Cereveza por favor!" It may have been a poor effort but I got my drink so I was happy with myself. It's just a shame I didn't ask for a 'grande' as I had to go ask for a second around thirty minutes later. It's also a shame the Chris Moyles Pod Cast isn't any longer..
My beer in Jerez
Bus departures. Mine is '21:15 La Linea'
Finally the coach turned up fifteen minutes late from Seville. I guess that's on time for the Spanish. The driver though was even worse than the one the day before. I tried telling him internet booking, pointed at my name, my booking reference, pointed to his little piece of paper in the corner with names on but he was clueless and I was dismayed. Why are people so slow? He shrugged at me, I shrugged at him but I didn't move off the coach and blocked the other people behind me. I'd paid for this coach, I had my seat and I had my reservation. He was at fault not me regardless of the fact I couldn't speak Spanish, he should have recognised it was an Internet booking reference I had in front of him. It was getting towards 2130 hours now and the standoff was nearly over and I was going to be victorious. If I didn't make this coach then I didn't make my flight the next day to London and I'd be fucked so to speak. Eventually Fernando caved in although I wouldn't have known it unless the person in row 1 ushered me down the isle. Lousy bus driver.
There was a seat toward the back in front of a nicey young girl, I took it and settled in. I get travel sick on coaches sometimes so with a few pints inside me this would be fun. ETA at La Linea was 0015 on Saturday and as it was now 2132 on Friday we finally headed off. Thankfully I did manage to sleep on and off until we reached Tarifa by which point the once packed coach was nearly empty.
The girl behind me stood up and tugged on my sleeve and asked something in Spanish about the station we had just reached. I paused a minute to think of the Spanish for "will you suck.. " but in the end just said, "Que? English?" Nice move. She smiled and with a friend walked off the coach as we then left for Algerciras and La Linea. Only one hour to go and I'd had enough now as we twisted our way along the coast and finally after a while, pulled up at the next stop which left just me and one other passenger on the bus. Quite interesting really as she was upfront talking to the driver and I was lay down near the back.
I started to recognise where we were, not far from Gibraltar I figured. The coach wasn't even nearly on time now forty m