During term time, my usual routine when I go home for the weekend is to get the train southbound (because it is a pain to get picked up on a Friday night at LHR, what with the expensive short stay parking and traffic on the M25) then get the BD420 from LHR to LBA on a Sunday night. The trains are pretty useless on a Sunday night, so the BD420 is very convenient.
However, last year, I missed a very important family event because of troubles on the trains. So, this time, I thought I'd try out BE from LBA to SOU and get picked up from there.
When booking the flight back to LBA on the Sunday night, I noticed a new flight, BD422, which left 15 minutes later than the usual flight I get. Maybe it is just keeping a slot warm. Anyway, I noticed it said "op by bmi regional". I knew what that meant - an Embraer rather than the usual A319. I hadn't flown on an Embraer before, so I went ahead and booked the later flight.
The total cost of both the flights (including an additional £5 tax I had to pay to BE) was around GBP55. Not bad at all.
For those who don't know the area, Leeds Bradford (LBA) is a small regional airport in West Yorkshire, about halfway between London and Edinburgh.
It has a resident low cost airline, Jet2 (LS), which uses age old 737s and a few 757s to fly to the usual low cost sun spots and city destinations in Europe. LBA has good domestic connections to Scotland (EDI, GLA, ABZ and INV), Northern Ireland (BFS and BHD) and south west England (BRS, EXT, PLH and NQY). London and the south east are less well connected, with BD operating the only London connection with five daily flights to LHR. In common with most UK regional airports, LBA has a connection to AMS with KL (meaning worldwide connections are available if you like SkyTeam), and a low cost connection to DUB, operated by FR.
Flybe (BE) are the UK's major regional airline, soon to be even more significant when they absorb BA Connect later this year. They operate a mixed fleet of Dash 8s, Bae 146s and Embraer 190s, but only usually use Dash 8s on services to LBA. They operate to LBA from their SOU, EXT and BHD bases, but also operate additional services to ABZ (as an extension of their EXT service) and EGC (as a summer Saturday extension of one of their SOU or EXT services).
bmi (BD) is a much troubled UK airline who can't make their mind up on what sort of airline they are, so they offer around five different types of service. bmi regional is probably the most successful part of their business, operating full service Embraer services from UK regional airports to a few domestic and European destinations. When bmi regional operate bmi mainline services to and from LHR, they offer a low cost service, with a buy on board menu.
I was looking forward to two new aircraft types for me during this trip: a BE Dash 8 from LBA to SOU and a BD Embraer 135 from LHR to LBA (the smallest aircraft type that operates scheduled services from LHR).
On with the report!
Leeds Bradford (LBA/EGNM) – Southampton (SOU/EGHI)
Flybe, operated by Blue Line
Fokker 100 F-GNLG
Friday 9th February 2007
Scheduled departure: 1925 Actual departure: 2007
Scheduled arrival: 2030 Actual arrival: 2047
Photo © Francisco José Jurado Ariza
Photo © Marlo Plate - Iberian Spotters
The day before I left, Thursday 8th, there had been terrible weather across the UK. Heavy snow had caused the closure of BRS, CWL, BHX, LTN and STN, and a number of flights had been cancelled from LHR and LGW. The weather forecast was fine for the next day, so I was confident all was going to go to plan.
Just before leaving for the airport on the Friday, I had a look at LBA departures on the internet and all flights were running to time. However, a KL flight from AMS and an Eastern Airways flight from ABZ had "holding" under the Status column. I looked outside and it had suddenly clouded over. The visibility had gone right down and it was raining. Oh dear, I thought.
I got a friend to drive me to the airport and, as we drove up the hill towards the airport, it started snowing. It had obviously been snowing for a while up there as it was quite deep. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, with two hours to go before my flight. I got out of the car and could hardly stand up - the snow and ice were very slippery. Once inside the terminal, I checked the departure and arrivals board. BD had already cancelled its flights to and from LHR and flights from EDI, GLA, CDG and BRU had been diverted to MME. The Manx2 arrival from IOM had landed in BLK. Most of the departures had "Indefinite Delay" next to them. My flight, BE176, had no status next to it.
I decided to check in and see if we would be going anywhere. I had a wedding to go to the next day, so I was very much hoping I would get home the same evening. There was only one person in front me in the BE check in line, so I was quickly served. I asked if we would be going anywhere and the lady said "I don't know. The runway is closed at the moment, so nothing is arriving or leaving right now". The lady checked me in anyway, gave me a window seat (very nice of her to give me what I wanted; officially BE passengers on the lowest fare aren't allowed to choose their own seat) and put a tag on my hand luggage. I didn't have any hold luggage (I didn't really fancy paying) so I had overloaded my hand luggage slightly - it was 8.2kg. She didn't seem bothered and quickly gave me my boarding pass.
I had another look at the arrivals board before I went through security. An LS arrival had been diverted to DSA, meaning the outbound LS flight to AMS had to operate from there.
There was a long queue at security - most passengers had BE tags on their bags; some were going to SOU and some to BHD.
Once through, I looked at the departures board and, still, there was no information about my flight. I was hungry, so decided to buy some food (which was far too overpriced, but I was in an airport, so it was to be expected). I rang my parents to ask them to look at SOU departures on the internet to see if my aircraft had left. There was no information yet.
Then, as I was consuming the overpriced food, I got a text message: "BE175 to Leeds is airborne, 20 minutes late". This was the news I was hoping for. I looked out of the window and it was still snowing; there wasn't much to see apart from snow ploughs driving up and down the airfield. I could now relax, as I knew my aircraft was on its way. I wasn't certain it wasn't going to be diverted, but at least it wasn't cancelled.
Most other flights were diverted or cancelled. BD cancelled its LHR and CDG flights, making the passengers fend for themselves. I heard one couple complaining to a BD member of staff; they were booked to fly from LHR to HKG the same evening and needed to get to LHR as soon as possible. I wonder if they ever did. The other BD flights (to EDI, GLA and BRU) were operating from MME, so passengers had to reclaim their bags and get on buses. I would've thought the Scotland bound passengers would've liked to just stay on the coach - there isn't much point flying from MME to EDI!
There wasn't much to see because of the snow and darkness, so I didn't see our plane land. I couldn't see a BE Dash 8 parked anywhere so I was surprised when they called the flight at around 1915. We walked up to one of the gates upstairs before going down the stairs out onto the snow covered apron. I looked ahead and, lo and behold, we weren't being lead towards a BE Dash 8, but a French registered Fokker 100. I immediately realised BE had leased the aircraft - so I wasn't going to get my long awaited first Dash 8 flight today. Another time! We walked up the stairs out of the cold, into the plane. We were greeted by French crew; meaning the aircraft was wet leased.
This was my view from my window once I had boarded the plane (note the snow covered apron, snow on the window and the lack of any aircraft on the ground):
The interior of the aircraft felt spacious; presumambly more spacious than the usual Dash 8. Here's the cabin (note the signs that say "Sortie" rather than "Exit"):
Anyway, to cut a long story short, we were virtually the only aircraft to leave LBA that evening, so we were very lucky.
We had to wait a long time while the aircraft was de-iced. During that time, the snow got heavier, so I wondered for a while whether or not we were going to go anywhere:
We were pushed back at 2002, some 37 minutes after our scheduled departure time. The crew did the safety briefing in French (quite why that was necessary is beyond me) before repeating it in some bizarre mix of French and English.
We turned onto runway 14 (unusual as 32 is the usual runway these days), and the landing lights were switched on, lighting up the heavy snowfall in the process. The brakes went on, the throttle went up and the plane shook slightly. A few seconds later, with a violent jerk, the brakes were off and we thundered down the runway:
Almost as soon as we were airborne we disappeared into low cloud and made a right turn to avoid flying over Leeds city centre. We then made a left, to head south.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. I enjoyed reading the inflight magazine (which, ironically, is published by "bmi publications"). It was a tad out of date, as the BA Connect takeover wasn't mentioned. I decided to purchase a tomato juice, having not had one in years. I was charged 80p, before sipping it and remembering why I hadn't had one for years.
Barely 20 minutes had passed before the Captain announced we were starting our descent into "so-wumpton". He didn't tell us how high we'd been cruising (well, I don't think he did), but I'd guess it was around 20,000ft.
The descent felt long, during which we made a number of turns, then popped out of the clouds just north of Southampton. We landed on runway 20 at 2047 and, with a good deal of reverse thrust, slowed down and turned off towards the apron. There was absolutely nothing else on the ground at SOU, apart from a red 146.
We parked in front of the fence adjacent to the short term car park. We disembarked before getting onto a bus. Thankfully, there was no sign of snow.
This is where I really appreciated arriving into a small airport. I walked through the airport in no time and was in the car driving out of the car park within 10 minutes of touching down. I was home just over an hour later.
London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) - Leeds Bradford (LBA/EGNM)
bmi, operated by bmi regional
Embraer ERJ-135LR G-RJXK
Sunday 11th February 2007
Scheduled departure: 2100 Actual departure: 2134
Scheduled arrival: 2200 Actual arrival: 2210
Photo © Steven Grace
Photo © José Jorge
I had a super weekend, including my cousin's wedding on the Saturday. Before long it was time for me to return to the chilly north.
I was dropped off at LHR Terminal 1 a little bit later than planned due to a traffic jam from the M4, through the tunnels to the central terminal area. At about 2000, one hour before my flight's departure time, I arrived at the terminal and proceeded to a self check in machine to print off my boarding pass (I was given seat 10A - you can't choose your seats on a "tiny" fare so I was glad to get a window seat) before queuing up to check in a bag.
I proceeded towards UK & Ireland departures. I had to take off my scarf and shoes (neither of which I had to remove in Leeds two days earlier, but I did have to remove my belt then) and remove my laptop from my bag to be scanned on its own.
Before heading towards the Gate 8 area (the BD domestic departure lounge) I wandered into the Gate 5 area (the BA domestic departure area) where G-EUUM was on stand, an A320 boarding for NCL. Not much else seemed to be going on, so I then went through to Gate 8.
I noticed BD420, the A319 flight to LBA that was scheduled to depart 15 minutes before mine, had been delayed 25 minutes, with an estimated departure of 2110. Also on the departures board were BD flights to EDI, MAN and ABZ (all scheduled to depart at 2050) and one for GLA, which was scheduled to depart at 2140.
I purchased a coffee and hot panini from Costa (a girl in front of me had a St Andrews University hoody on; presumambly she was aware the ABZ flight was boarding!) and found a comfortable armchair by the window where I could watch the activity on 27R. It was mostly being used for departures, but there were a few landings.
Amongst others, I saw a BA 767 (G-BNWA) taxi past after arrival from BCN, a VS 346 departing, a PIA 744 departing, an Etihad A340 departing and an AF A318 departing for CDG.
Boarding for BD422 was announced at 2050, and a large crowd of people headed towards gate 8b. Most of them had to be turned away, as they were on the delayed BD420. The girl at the gate said in a loud voice "This is the BD422 flight only. BD420 will board shortly. For some reason there are two flights to Leeds this evening".
I noticed two BA cabin crew waiting to board the BD420. Is it normal for BA crew to travel on BD flights? Can BA crew be based at LBA and fly into LHR on BD everytime they go somewhere? Surely that would be expensive for BA?
We walked down the airbridge (passing newspaper stands where I picked up a free copy of the Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday), out onto the apron and to the waiting Embraer 135, which was in Star Alliance colours. The first thing I noticed when getting onboard was how cramped it is; I could barely stand up. I noticed the load sheet on the side - there were 18 passengers onboard, so the plane was just over half full. I couldn't imagine how cramped it would feel when full.
I sat down in 10A and felt surpisingly comfortable. The seat seemed to be wider than the A319 seats I'm used to. There was also a fair amount of legroom. The girl in front of me was a VS cabin crew member; I did wonder where she had just arrived from. There was what looked like a rockband sitting near the rear of the plane. I wonder if they were famous!
Parked next to us was a BD sistership also going to Leeds as the delayed BD420, A319 G-DBCI. It was, infact, the very plane that had burst its tyres after a hard landing at LBA a few weeks earlier. At least we were going to get there before it today, just in case it happened again! The A319 looks like a very big aircraft when sitting inside a tiny Embraer.
We watched our bags arrive and placed into the hold at the back.
At 2110, we pushed back as the two female cabin crew (one of which had a strong Yorkshire accent - clearly LBA based!) gave the safety briefing. The engines started and the flaps were set for take off.
We taxiied out towards 27R and joined the long queue. Behind us was an SA 747 which looked enormous compared with us. It could've easily run us over. The cabin crew gave us menu cards whilst we waited.
Having waited in the take off queue for what seemed like an age, we turned onto 27R at 2134 and started the roll. We barely used half of the runway and, once we were airborne, the views of the heavies at Terminal 3 and over at Terminal 4 were spectacular. Apologies I couldn't take any photos - my camera needs a while to focus in the dark.
We continued the climb as we headed west, before turning right somewhere over east Berkshire. Once heading north, I spotted Oxford, the M40 and Banbury. Cloud made the view for the rest of the journey less exciting.
Soon the cabin crew came round to take our drinks orders. I opted for a lemonade (at a very reasonable 60p, compared with BE's 80p for a tomato juice!) and, once the stewardess had taken all the orders, brought them out from galley a few at a time. I sat back, sipped my lemonade, read some of the newspaper and relaxed. It was a good journey.
During the flight I read Voyager, BD's inflight magazine. It is quite good; they give the impression they're a very big airline, what with their large entertainment guides in the back and all. As it happens, if you read the small print, they're only valid for long haul services from MAN. I was very impressed with the route maps; much better than others I've seen. If only they could put more destinations on it! Their world map looked empty as they only serve six long haul destinations.
The Captain spoke to us about halfway through the flight to say we were cruising at 20,000ft over Leicester. He said we would be landing on the southerly runway (14) so our flight time would be slightly longer than expected.
In what seemed like no time at all, we were descending and the cabin crew were preparing the cabin for landing. There still wasn't much to see out of the window as it was still cloudy.
Before long we popped out of the clouds somewhere in Yorkshire and made a few right turns to put us on track for 14.
I spotted this town, which I think is Otley (a small market town, just north west of Leeds):
At 2210, just ten minutes late, we made a very hard landing. A lot of braking and reverse thrust was used, and yet we still used most of the runway length. LBA was busy, with lots of aircraft nightstopping ready for the Monday morning schedules. Luckily, however, the majority of the snow from Friday had long gone.
The Captain reminded us to keep our seatbelts on as, today, we were going to be "doing something a bit different". We stopped on the taxiway, the engines went off and we were pushed by a tug backwards onto a stand. Most odd.
Eventually the doors opened so we could get onto the waiting bus. I had a look around to see if there was any sign of BD420, but there didn't seem to be anything on finals yet.
Once on the bus, the VS cabin crew member chatted to the ground staff - they were clearly good friends. Presumambly she transits through LBA regularly, or maybe used to work there.
During the extremely short journey to the London arrivals door, we passed two Jetstream 41s of Eastern Airways (G-MAJJ and G-MAJD) ready for the early morning commuter flights to ABZ and SOU, and Embraer ERJ-145s of bmi regional (G-RJXM and G-RJXG) ready for the early morning commuter flights to EDI and GLA. Also at LBA were a KL Fokker and numorous LS Boeings.
As we got out of the bus, I looked back to see G-DBCI landing from LHR. Interestingly, it landed on 32, unlike us. The noise it made was tremendous - I didn't realise how loud the reverse thrust on an A319 is. It was kicking up quite a spray too.
I picked up my bag from belt 4 (the usual belt for LHR arrivals) and made my way out of the terminal before an A319 load of passengers filled the baggage reclaim hall.
All in all, it was a great weekend. Both flights were more or less on time, and both airlines provided a good service. I was very lucky to get out of Leeds on the Friday night and it was certainly an interesting ride on a French Fokker 100. The Embraer ride was also very enjoyable.
Obviously, a service between LBA and LGW would have been far more convenient, but there we are. Trouble is, there isn't really an airline that is in a position to operate it. LS is the clear choice, but they have a bad history of operating domestic services. Both U2 and BA don't really have the right aircraft size (A319s and 737s are a bit big) plus neither of them currently serve LBA, and BE don't base aircraft at either LGW or LBA. Maybe they could create an LBA to LGW service using BHD based aircraft seeing as they operate to both LGW and LBA from BHD... just a thought.
My next trip reports will be two BA return trips I'm taking in the spring. I'm going to HEL and back (!) from LHR, and to ZRH and back from LGW.
Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.