Brussels Airlines (SN / DAT, callsign : Estail) started operations on March 25th, 2007, formed on the merger between SN Brussels Airlines and Virgin Express. From its base in Brussels, the airline flies mainly to a variety of european destinations, plus 15 cities in Africa. Brussels Airlines also has a wide range of code sharing agreements extending its network to North America, the Middle-East, India and China. The fleet is a mix of the former Virgin Express (B737s) and SN Brussels Airlines fleets (Avros, A319s and A330s) fleets. The latter is itself a legacy of former belgian national airline Sabena :
Current fleet :
The March 2007 merger market the end of the business class product inherited from Sabena (a business class continues to be offered on flights to Africa and some longer european flights). Instead, two new products were introduced : the b.light product is a discounted, no-frills economy class, while the b.flex product is a kind of "Economy Plus" class, offering better flexibility to the business traveller, as well as a hot meal, free newspapers and dedicated check-in. The seats offered on both "classes" are exactly the same.
Background of the trip
At the end of August, I was talking to my wife about how I'd like to take a short break abroad. Due to professional constraints, we've had no possibility to go to vacation this summer, and the July/August weather in Belgium this year looked rather like typical autumn weather. It was almost impossible to find a cheap deal (flight + accomodation) in a sunny mediterranean resort, so I thought of some city break instead. My wife wasn't too excited by the whole idea, and it was almost impossible for her to stay away from her work at the moment, so she suggested that I took the opportunity to visit a city she wouldn't feel excited about. Which I did. Any place which is in a 0 to 90° direction from Brussels is a place she wouldn't have the idea to visit (although I already managed to take her to Berlin), so I looked in this direction. At first, I was feeling like going to Helsinki, but the weather there was not looking to good, so I finally selected Warsaw.
I had decided to select a Brussels Airlines destination in order to pay for the flights with my Privilegemiles (why accumulate them if it's not to spend them sometime ? ) I checked the award flights availability on their website and saw that it was okay for Warsaw (I was booking in the late afternoon of August 23rd for an August 24th early morning departure...). A free return ticket in b.light would cost me 15 000 miles, but seeing that 5 000 more miles would give me a b.flex ticket, I decided to give it a try.
Total cost (return) : 20 000 miles + 71.74 EUR (taxes) + 45 EUR (commercial fees) = 116,74 EUR (not bad, although a discounted b.light ticked would only have been slightly more expensive).
Immediately after booking, I checked in online using Brussels Airlines website (I chose seat 4A) and printed my boarding pass. I then looked for (and found) a good hotel deal on the web (the Polonia Palace hotel @ 70 EUR). I spent the evening browsing the web to familiarize me with Warsaw, its history, sights, transports, and also some words of Polish (although everyone I met in Warsaw talked to me in English...). Then it was time to put some vital stuff in a bag (of course, for a one night stay, I only had a small backpack, contrary to what my wife would have done ).
Brussels to Warsaw
I left my home at 4.45am and drove on almost empty highways to Brussels airport at Zaventem, where I arrived much in advance (around 5.20). The check-in hall was quite busy, with a huge queue for Brussels Airlines b.light check-in counters, but as I already had my boarding pass I proceeded to passport control (a breeze) then security (some queue but nothing really bad). The security officer seized my deodorant spray (it contained 150 ml instead of the allowed 100...) so I had to buy another one immediately after security... It was a long walk through concourse B before I reached gate 27, during which I looked to the different aircraft parked there. Concourse B is used by all non-Schengen flights. Among those that morning : JetairFly B767 (to Varadero and Punta Cana), BA A319 to LHR, BD A319, Pegasus Airlines B738 to Antalya, VLM Fokker 50 to London City, LOT B737, ... . Parked at pier A (schengen flights), I could see the "usual" Brussels Airlines Avros and B737s, Alitalia MD80, two Iberia aircraft, one of two Lufthansa ones, along with some others. Except for our flight, the JetairFly one and the Pegasus one, all departures from concourse B were after 7.00. After the departure of the two latter, this left our gate area very quiet, I'd even say strangely quiet (we stayed for 20 minutes with no one talking... just plain silence in the whole concourse).
Boarding began at 6.20. Although it was clear that the load would be quite light, the gate agent called boarding by row numbers (b.flex passengers could board "at their convenience" ). We entered the aircraft through a jetway and were greeted by a very polite flight attendant. I took my window seat 4A, and realized after boarding was completed that I was the ONLY b.flex passenger ! Wow, 20 seats for myself... There was a curtain after the first three rows to separate b.flex and b.light "cabins", but it was never closed during the flight (well, I thought it was better that way).
The cabin looked okay, with blue leather seats, normal seat pitch and good seat width. The BAe 146 allows a decent seat with when configured 3-2 like Brussels Airlines does... Must be quite cramped in 3-3 config (Lufthansa, ...) though ! Like I wrote above, the b.flex and b.lights seats are the same, only the logo on the headrest cover indicates the service class. Immediately after door closure, a flight attendant (two male F/As on this flight) came to me to offer me complimentary newspapers. We then began our taxi to runway 25R (we were 5th for take-off, behind 4 various Brussels Airlines aircraft) while the crew was performing a manual safety demo. The take-off was nothing out of the ordinary (we left the ground at 6.53).
Lining up on 25R, with a company A319 holding short
Climbing over Diegem
Ten minutes after take-off, a nice smell began to fill the front of the cabin, and 5 minutes later, a flight attendant served me a tasty, hot breakfast tray (see photo below... it might not look so great but it was really tasty). I was the only one in on board to get a breakfast and was starting to feel a bit like a VIP. This feeling became stronger when the flight attendant came to me with a cloth-covered tray filled with various kinds of warm breads. As I was choosing one, the attendant insisted that I took several, which I did. The service was really excellent : the flight attendant was attentive, smiling, very polite, he offered me many refills of coffee and orange juice. All I have to say is : once again, well done Brussels Airlines ! (It's a different matter in b.light though...). With such a service, and the newspapers to read, the flight passed very quickly for me, and soon enough we began our descent into Warsaw.
Powerplant somewhere in Germany
While I was noticing how the landscape was different over Poland, the flight attendant came to me with a basket full of chocolates, creating some jealous passengers in b.light (at least, that's how I would have felt back there). Have you ever noticed how some countries are recognizable from air because of the particular shape and/or color of their fields ? For instance, english fields tend to have irregular boundaries and a deep, intense green color. By looking out of the window, I noticed that polish fields have the same color as German ones, but with a very distinctive long and narrow shape.
Over Poland. Long and narrow fields. And forests, lots of forests.
Our approach path took us over Gloskow, Zalesie Dolne and Józefoslaw where we made a sharp left turn for a final approach to runway 33, over Dabrowka. It seemed to me that we entered final very late (less than one minute before touchdown), but well, those guys up front certainly know what they're doing, and after playing hide and seek with our shadow we ended with a smooth touchdown on runway 33. After vacating on taxiway Sierra, we parked on remote stand 36 (or a nearby stand).
Over Zalesie Dolne
Turning left into final, over Jósefoslaw
Final approach over Dabrowka. Watch the shadow of the plane !
Video : landing in Warsaw, racing against our shadow
The weather was sunny (although some puddles on the apron attested of some earlier rain). A bus brought us to the terminal 2 arrivals level, where baggage reclaim belts are located. One minute to complete passport control and exit the terminal, et voilà, Warsaw here I come ! I took some Zloty (the polish currency, in case you don't know) at an ATM in terminal 1 arrivals level (there are change desks at various places in the airport, but they all seem to offer different exchange rates ?), called the wife to say I'm safe, bought a (very cheap) public tranport pass, then hopped on the bus #175 to downtown (8 kilometers away).
Vacating runway 33
Entering the apron via taxiway Sierra. UPS MD-11 and EuroLot ATR in the distance
OO-DJJ resting under the sun at Warsaw
As this is an aviation forum, I won't bother you with too much details of my time in Warsaw. I'll let a very small selection of the 300+ photos I took speak instead. To summarize, I'll say that I enjoyed my stay very much, had sunny and warm weather (except some clouds on Friday morning), saw lots of interesting places and slept (and drank some vodka...) in a very nice (and ideally located) hotel. Like I always try to do when visiting a place, I also went walking in not-touristic suburbs. While I always felt very safe, I must say that apart from the few touristic sights, Warsaw is not a beautiful city in the commonly accepted sense, mainly because of those large, impersonal avenues bordered with boring "blocks" inherited from the communist times. But well, for some reason, I just love visiting the former communist countries (in fact, I just love visiting any place in the world).
Here are the pictures :
Nowy Swiat, also known as the Royal Way, leading to the Royal palace
Memorial to the Warsaw uprising in 1944. (Very) socialist style...
Typical street in Praga, on the other (right) side of the Vistula river
Memorial to the crew of a Royal Air Force Liberator bomber, who died in Warsaw in 1944 (in Skaryszewski Park)
The Vistula river, and the Swietokrzyski suspended bridge, looking North
Warsaw "skyline", seen from a bridge on the Vistula river
The Palace of Culture and Science, a (very) massive "gift" of Stalin to Poland in 1952
For those who hadn't noticed, Poland is not communist anymore
View from the 30th floor of Palace of Culture and Science, looking East towards the Vistula river and Praga
Before WWII, Warsaw had one of the largest jewish communities in the world. Nowadays, this synagogue is the only remaining one in town
The Royal Palace
The old town market place, lovely place
View from my hotel room at night. The palace of culture and science, and newer skyscrapers
Lots of large avenues like this in Warsaw, with tram tracks in the middle. Here Marszalkowska Avenue.
Beautiful roses in Ujazdów Park
Lazienki Palace in Lazienki Park
International fashion shops on Marzalkowska (Galeria Centrum)
Walking towards Central Train Station
Warsaw to Brussels
After a morning spent visiting some places in Warsaw, I took the bus 175 at Warszawa Centralna (Central railway station) to the airport (I arrived there at 11.45, after a 30 minutes ride). From the bus window, I had noticed that it might be possible to get a good view on some apron from a parking lot, so as I had plenty of time to explore, I walked to this parking lot instead of the terminal. I enjoyed a very good view on an apron occupied by a LOT ERJ-145, ERJ-170, B737, and a Centralwings B737. On the other side of the apron, in front of hangars, was a Tu-154, registered 101 with Rzeczpospolita Polska titles, which I supposed was a government aircraft (maybe presidential ?). Beside her were to Yak-40s, registered 038 and 041.
LOT ERJ-145 and 170 parked at terminal 2
A Yak-40, registered 041
The government Tu-154
Some words about the terminal layout at Warsaw. From north to south, you find the following terminals :
The soon-to-be-opened Terminal 2
Terminal 2, departures level, landside
Inside terminal 1 check-in area
Departures panel in Terminal 1, also showing departures from other terminals
As far as I could see (but don't quote me on this), low-cost airlines park near Etiuda. Their passengers are bussed to terminal 2 for arrivals, but they check-in and depart from Etiuda. Other airlines park in front of terminal 1, or in front of the (not finished) terminal 2, or on remote stands. Upon arrival, passengers are bussed to terminal 2 ground floor. They check-in and depart from terminal 1 (first floor).
A cool feature of Warsaw airport is the observation deck (admission 4 PLN, roughly 1 EUR), located near the domestic part of terminal 1. You pass through a security (like normal airport security, except the liquids ban ), climb some stairs, then enjoy the good (open air) terrace with a view on the terminal 1 gates. I stayed on this (crowded) terrace for a good 30 minutes before proceeding to check-in. There was some queue at the counter, but fortunately, as I was travelling in b.flex, I could use a dedicated counter with no queue at all. I asked the agent for a window seat on the right side of the plane, but she replied that there weren't any window seats left on the right side. I said no problem and opted for seat 2A instead (window seat, on the left side).
Crowd on the observation deck
Some pics from the observation deck
And a video (not the best quality, I know...)
After check-in, I passed through passport control (no queue at all) and entered the shopping area. This area is made out of a central area from where two concourses depart (one for gates 1-7, the other for gates 8-14). The gates are grouped by 2 or 3, each group having its own security control. While in the gate area, there's virtually nothing to do (although there are some views to the apron), so it's best to stay in the shopping area (the shops and bars are decent) to get some distraction (but there are not enough seats for everyone...). Terminal 2 will be a welcome addition when it opens for departures ! I spent my last remaining zlotys in a bottle of Zubrowska vodka, plus a gift for my wife, then passed security to enter the gate area (the flight to Brussels was departing from gate 2, which is grouped with gates 1 and 3). No problem at security, although I had forgotten some coins in my pocket, but those passed undetected by the metal detector... Gate 1 was unoccupied, while gate 3 was being used for a Belavia flight to Minsk. I spotted our aircraft arriving from Brussels, slightly behind schedule, but we still managed to depart on time.
The gate opened at 14.10, we entered a bus which brought us to the aircraft (the ARJ-100 with special europalia.europa titles), parked on stand 35, beside a Swiss ARJ-100. We began our taxi at 14.38 and took off from runway 29 at 14.47. From what I understood, runway 33 was used for arrivals while runway 29 was used for departures. When we took off, a LOT ERJ-145 was holding short of runway 29, having just landed on 33.
View from the bus
Swiss ARJ-100 parked beside us
Taxiing past terminal 1
The very basic Etiuda terminal, airside
Two Wizzair A320s parked near Etiuda Terminal
Spotting the Warsaw spotters
As I was on the left side of the plane, most of my photo opportunities were hampered by the facing sun, but the clouds and haze prevented me from seing the ground most of the time anyway. Today, the service was provided by two female flight attendants (hmmm... not the best looking ones, but very polite and attentive, which is best ). Like the day before, the service was just excellent (but this time, I was not the only one in b.flex : we were 5 for a total of 15 seats). Free newspapers, VERY tasty meal (raviolis with delicious italian sauce, tiramisu, camembert cheese, crackers, choice of different varieties of hot bread served on a cloth covered tray). Fills and refills of drinks. Like I wrote before, it may not look great on the photo, but it was very tasty. For those interested (are there some ?), I received my meal 19 minutes after take-off. Again, b.flex passengers were offered chocolates from a large basket.
Taking off above Raszin
In-flight announcements from the flight deck were limited to a hello, a weather and flight duration report, and an emphasis on the fact that we would arrive ahead of schedule (à la Ryanair). Finally a goodbye and thank you for flying Brussels Airlines. A tape was played somewhere into the flight, basically saying : b.flex passengers, next time you book, try booking b.flex, you could have enjoyed a complimentary meal and free newspapers, bla bla.
Over cloudy Germany
We landed smoothly on runway 25R at a very hazy Brussels airport. A short taxi past "pier A", and we parked at a "pier B" gate, near JetairFly B737-800 OO-VAS.
Landing in Brussels. Watch the crossing of runway 20 threshold, and the Vueling A320 holding short.
Taxiing past Pier A
Parking near JetairFly B737
With hand luggage only, it was only a matter of 1 or 2 minutes before I left the terminal, paid the outrageous parking fare (40 EUR for less than 2 days !) and started my 40 minutes drive back home.
Summary and impressions
Excellent service in Brussels Airlines b.flex, on-time flights for my short break to Warsaw. I enjoyed the capital city of Poland very much, although it might not be your usual citytrip destination (those not interested in seeing former communist countries, and their (r)evolution would probably not enjoy it as much as I did).
Keep up the good work, Brussels Airlines. I'll definitely fly again with you...
Comments and remarks welcome.