A Voyage to Scotland: Road, Rail and BMI.
This trip came about towards the end of February when a friend of mine that goes by the name of Gavin, a.k.a Nighthawk, approached me telling me that he could get tickets to a concert up in Aberdeen on the 5th March. Now the artist in question does have a large male following however for different reasons to the majority of fans of which are female. The person I’m talking about is actually Rihanna of Umbrella ella ella fame so I felt somewhat torn in deciding whether to go or not. I obviously like her, what guy doesn’t, but I was thinking that for starters the arena would be filled with screaming teenage girls and secondly Aberdeen is quite a trek to get to. However whilst I was umm’ing and ahh’ing over this Gavin had actually gone ahead and bought two tickets from EBay! I guess the decision had been made for me. The only thing I now had to figure out was what was the best way to get there? Previously when I’d been up to Aberdeen to visit Gavin I’d once flown on Ryanair from Liverpool for £27 return. That had actually worked out pretty well but sadly they had cut the route a few months back so no dice. The other time I’d gone up to visit him I had taken a Virgin Trains service from Preston to Edinburgh and then connected to a First Scotrail service direct to Aberdeen. This again wasn’t too bad as I’d travelled in First class so it was fairly comfortable although it did take eight hours. Sadly though I couldn’t find any First class prices for under £300 and there was no way I was travelling in pleb class for that large amount of time!
In the end it turned out that Gavin would be down visiting his parents near Dumfries and driving back up to Aberdeen on the 2nd March. Quite a stroke of luck really considering I was trying to keep my expenses down. With this in mind I booked an advanced First class single on First Transpennine Express for £15 to take me the one hundred and three miles from Preston to Carlisle. The remaining two hundred and twenty nine miles would be driven with Gavin. For the way back I figured I could burn some airmiles with BMI who are now the only airline to fly from Aberdeen to the North West after BA pulled off the route a while back. I phoned the Diamond Club Gold Line on the 26th February and got myself confirmed on the BD378 ABZ-MAN on the 4th March which only cost 4500 miles and £32 tax. The same flight was being sold on flybmi.com for £106. All in all I was pretty happy with myself for managing to get cheap yet comfortable travel to the Highlands of Scotland and back!
Sunday 2nd March 2008
So it’s Mother’s Day in the UK and I’ve got Daniel, a.k.a Trekster, staying with us. He’d been up visiting since the Friday and he was due to leave for London by train at around 1400. The train I’d booked a few days previous was due to leave at 1425 however things weren’t going to go quite as planned. On the 1st March Northern Europe was battered by high winds which caused a hell of a lot of disruption. This was the day that the Lufthansa A320 touched it’s wingtip on landing at Hamburg as well as being the same day the Dragonair B747 struck three engines on landing at Manchester in 60 knot winds. Of course this was also the day that a freight train climbing up through the Lake District in England shed part of its load of containers which resulted in thousands of people, including me, having their journeys totally screwed up. Not good.
Preston train station
In the end it turned out that Daniel got away on time and had a hassle free trip down to London whilst I ended up taking my train for just twenty three miles up to Lancaster where the West Coast Mainline was then closed and all passengers had to change on to the evil, the nasty, the dreaded Replacement Coach service.
National Rail map showing the closed lines that weekend
On reaching Lancaster we all huddled out of the train and shuffled down the platform as a bald fat man wearing a Virgin Trains coat was shouting which direction the exit was. A few meters after this guy and there was another man in Virgin Trains attire shouting and pointing in various direction to various coaches dotted around the station car park. “Motherwell and Glasgow this way, Oxenholme just wait here for your coach to arrive, Penrith and Carlisle you want that coach over there!”
I walked over to the coach and was met by the driver who told me I couldn’t take my laptop bag onboard with me as it was too big. I started to oppose this but figured I was fighting a losing battle and went around to the side of the coach, took out my book and a bottle of water and handed over my bag to another guy who threw it in the hold. Great. However that wasn’t the best of it. When I walked up the steps of the coach expecting to find a semi decent interior owing to it having 2006 plates on the front and “Luxury” written down the side, I was pretty gutted to see what I found. Apparently this company thought it would be hugely funny to fit a seating arrangement of 2+3 for added discomfort. How could this get any better?
The coach left Lancaster more than half empty around five minutes later and we made our way over to the M6 to continue and complete the 78% of the remaining journey. I had sadly elected to sit by a group of middle aged Scotsmen and gave up reading after about twenty minutes. We then went forward to eventually dive off the M6 at Junction 40 and pay a short visit to Penrith before driving the remaining twenty five minutes up to Carlisle. Once we arrived I was met in the car by Gavin a few minutes later and we headed back over to the M6 and set forth toward Scotland. By my reckoning I was only an hour behind my original schedule so things weren’t too bad but I felt I had been screwed over by Transpennine for buying a First class ticket and getting put on a coach! I’ll be sure to complain and get a refund.
We pulled off the road about two hours after we left Carlisle and went in search of food. We had decided to drive in to the centre of Stirling to find some kind of bar to grab dinner which in the end resulted in us finding a place built in to the castle walls. It was pretty nice and we left after about an hour. However, we now both realised that it was nearly 8pm, the shops would soon be closing and once we arrived back in Aberdeen we’d both be wanting beer but there was none at Gav’s place! We sat in the car and tried to figure which way to drive to find a shop to pick up some cans. We knew we hadn’t passed any on the way into town so I pulled out my laptop and Gavin pulled out his iPhone and we set to work. The iPhone lacked the intelligence to pick up any wireless networks however trusty Windows soon located six of them including the Holy Grail which was “Belking54G” and “Netgear”. Don’t you just love it when you see these networks in all their unsecured default glory? I quickly got connected to a network and looked up the location of Tesco and the job was done, near enough. Gavin tried to set off but I just of course had to rename the network before I left. It’s just one of those things in life you have to do if you’re an IT geek!
So we left in search of beer alas failed to find Tesco before it closed at 8pm. We instead managed to find a Costcutter where we bought a couple of cans of Caffrey’s and six bottles of Stella. After this we headed out to Aberdeen and arrived around two hours later. We both had a couple of beers , watched E4 for a bit then headed off to our rooms. Part one of the journey was complete. Did it beat flying? No, but it was cheap though.
Monday 3rd March 2008
The next day I was left home alone until Gavin arrived back from something called ‘work’ at around 1600. I’d already been drinking by this point and had even made us both dinner like a wee bitch. Beans on toast constitutes as dinner right?
We left for the Rihanna concert around 1730 whilst the doors only opened at 1830. Suffice to say we arrived at the Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre (AECC) forty five minutes early and so went down to the beach to pass some time.
Gavin with my work of art written in the sand!
After a while we both figured we were freezing and so headed back to the car and drove randomly for a bit before heading back to the AECC. We eventually found some place to park and then queued outside for about ten minutes before the doors opened. We now realised that we stood out like sore thumbs being probably the only straight guys there. The other people in the queue were either gay or young girls.... ah shit.
I quickly headed to the bar and we had a few beers before heading toward the stage. After a while thousands of girls started to arrive with I guess the odd boyfriend and girlfriend combo. Surrounded by teenagers the support act finally appeared in the form of some bloke called David Jordan. He has one song that I know and even that is rather shitty in my opinion. We had to put up with him for an hour and then an hour wait before Rihanna finally came on and did her thing. She played all her songs and rather obviously waited for the encore to sing ‘Umbrella’. I got that on video as it was a pretty good atmosphere being there!
After the concert we headed back home, had a few more beers, something to eat and then went to bed.
Tuesday 4th March 2008
I awoke around 0730 and had a look at the window to find a blanket of snow covering everywhere. Welcome to the Highlands! Gavin soon had to go to work and we said our goodbyes. I wasted time around the house till around 1450 when my cab arrived to take me to Aberdeen Airport over in Dyce. The flight was only at 1845 but I figured I’d go grab a few beers in the lounge.
Photo © Paul Spijkers
Photo © Frank Kuehne
I’d actually already tried checking in for the flight before I’d left the house however flybmi.com wouldn’t accept my booking reference and the flight wasn’t coming up on my Diamond Club account. It had been like that since the day I booked it and since this was my first redemption booking I’d made at BD I wasn’t too sure if this was normal. To be certain I’d called the airline to make sure and they said it was fine. The booking was however available to view on checkmytrip.com which is powered by Amadeus so I figured things must have been ok. To make triple sure I even visited the BMI Ticket Desk whilst passing through MAN the previous week. The woman that had served me there had said that everything was fine however they had messed up my booking slightly and had sent it to the wrong department but as she said, and I quote, “Don’t worry, everything is absolutely fine and I wouldn’t worry what so ever.” I’d felt at this stage I was safe enough.
On arrival at ABZ I headed in and turned left toward the BMI check in desks. There were a handful of self service machines there with two members of BD staff leaning on them having a gossip. There were then three check-in desks behind them, two for bag drop and one for Business and Star Alliance Gold Card holders. I went and waited at the Business desk for the guy in front to finish checking in. Whilst I was waiting there one of the women who was gossiping had noticed where I was stood and walked over. I knew by the look on her face she was going to try to point me in the direction of the self service machine so before she could open her mouth I just showed her my BD Gold card and she soon turned and swaggered back to her leaning post. I know I’m fairly young and was wearing jeans but talk about profiling people!
I was quickly being called forward by the blonde super high pitched check in agent and I gave her my passport and Diamond Club card. She tapped away for a while, asked if I had any luggage to which I answered “no”. She then asked do I want a window or isle seat and I told her I’d like a seat on the left, one of the seats on their own. She happily complied and printed off my boarding card but just before she was going to hand it to me she scrunched up her face and pulled it back away from me. She then asked me do I have an e-ticket receipt or a paper ticket coupon and I told her no and that it was a redemption booking. She sat back down and put my boarding card to one side and picked up the phone. She sat there with the phone to her face staring at a point just behind me, never making eye contact. She then asked her colleague sat next to her who was working on the ticket desk and she said a name and said that “I wouldn’t bother, she never answers”. Well that was just great. There was something wrong with my booking and some bone idle BMI staff wouldn’t even pick up the phone to sort it out. To her credit the little blonde check-in agent soon got up and walked off in to the distance with my boarding card.
After around ten minutes later she came back without the boarding card and told me I needed to go over to the ticket desk. I wasn’t overly pleased but I headed down there anyway. Once I found the desk I had to actually interrupt the staff behind the counter who seemed oblivious to me and were having a chat about what they had been up to on Saturday night. No offence guys but pay attention for gods sake! No wonder she never answers the phone, she’s too busy nattering!
So apparently the problem with my booking was this. It was my fault. I’m not sure how but that’s what she implied. Nobody really uses Solo cards anymore and if you do book with Solo cards over the phone it requires you to put the pin number in and I should know about this before I book. At this point I was just thinking ‘bullshit’ as I’ve never had this issue before on any other airline. I told her about the conversation I had at MAN regarding the fact they had messed my booking up but she just replied with, “ohhh”. I then asked that if this was the case with everyone then why aren’t you told over the phone or why wasn’t I told in person at MAN? She replied, “I don’t know, that is rather strange”. I wanted to kick her head in. A truly useless woman. She then went on to ask could she have the card to take the payment again but I had to tell her that unfortunately I didn’t have my cards on me. “Ohh”, she replied yet again.
Rather stupidly of me I had left them at home but thankfully had brought enough cash with me to get through the weekend. I was however down to my last £40 and required £12 of that to get the train home. So I basically just stared at her for a few moments and told her that I would have to pay cash. The total amount, which was just tax, that I had to pay her was £32 and as I’m sure you can work out, 32+12 is 44 which would leave me £4 short to get home. Great, just what I needed.
Finally the booking was ok though so that was a plus. She handed me back my passport and Gold card and I then waited for her to hand my boarding card back however, no. She told me I had to go check-in yet again. I just smiled at her and walked off with my fists clenched. This was BMI time, I.E a waste of.
I found the high pitched check-in girl again and went back over to her. She asked was everything sorted now and I told her it was to which she replied, “Oh goody”. I told her no not really and that I now had no money. She totally ignored what I said to her and started tapping away. She went to print my boarding card off again but it jammed and a mangled blue BMI mess came half out of the printer. I sighed.
She asked her colleague, who was sat doing nothing, to do a reprint and thankfully she had more luck. She gave me my boarding card and told me to enjoy my flight. I didn’t say anything in return; I’d lost the will to live. I just smiled and walked off although my fists weren’t clenched this time for I knew that in ten minutes I would be in the airline lounge drinking away my sorrows!
I passed through security easily enough after taking out my laptop and my liquids for separate screening. After I’d got through I went in search of the lounge which is run by Servisair even though ABZ is BMI Regional’s main base. You would think they’d have a Diamond Club lounge or at least a Business Lounge run by themselves instead of a third party one. Even BA manages to have a full Terraces lounge which is right next door.
As for the lounge itself it a very basic rectangular design with the desk at the front, the bar behind and then seats all around. I entered at 1545 and near enough all the seats were taken thanks to delayed flights from earlier in the afternoon coupled with the fact a lot of flights were leaving within the next two hours. I found a place on some stools that sat around a high central table at the back of the lounge. I went to a fridge and grabbed my first can of Carlsberg Export, got my laptop out, put on Season 6 disc 2 of Family Guy and sat back and settled in for the next two hours thirty.
The Servisair Lounge at ABZ
The cavalry arrives!
Suffice to say that time ticked by rather smoothly as I continued to drink. I txt a few people, got a few more beers and tried to hold back my laughter from watching Family Guy. I soon noticed that there wasn’t any toilet in the actual lounge itself and not willing to pack up all my stuff and risk losing my place, the call of nature still beckoned. As such I figured to hell with it, locked my laptop and left the lounge in search of the toilets.
In the lounge... just my humour here.
Once I returned I figured I really could have done with some sandwiches or decent food but the only thing they had was crisps and biscuits. Not exactly ideal but I was starving and now getting the munchies from my drinking! Eventually though time ticked around to 1800 and by this point I had drank five beers and ten vodka lemonades. I was feeling very merry and before I knew it the time has ticked around to 1815 and the FIS showed BD378 was boarding at Gate 07. Ahhh crap!
I quickly packed all my stuff together and ran to the fridge for some water. I’m not too sure how I conducted myself as I left the lounge as don’t recall much about walking through the terminal. I remember taking the two bottles of Evian but can’t remember where I put either of the empty bottles. I recall I had them as I left the lounge but that’s it. The next block of memory I have is walking along a corridor that seemed to have paintings lining it and following a businessman that would run then slow to a fast walk. I mimicked his actions in an effort not to miss my flight. I remember thinking if I kept up I won’t be late. Hell knows what I was thinking!
Luckily he was on the Manchester flight as well since I followed him through a door to the gate area. I saw a woman in a blue uniform so I guess I gave her my boarding card. I recall walking out to the aircraft although I lost track of where the businessman went. I recall getting onboard and taking my seat in row 5 next to two women who probably through beer goggles appeared to be quite fit!
P/A by the Captain
Parked next to BA's G-CPEN
The flight was now ready to go be it for six connecting passengers who soon enough boarded. However, the head count was now twenty four but the manifest showed twenty five and so now the crew spent around ten minutes trying to sort that out. After that was completed though we soon pushed and headed toward to active for our short forty five minute flight. Apparently there were strong tailwinds which gave us our short flight time.
The crew trying to add up
Once airborne we made a left turn and headed down toward Edinburgh and then over the Lake District towards Manchester thus traversing in just forty five minutes what had taken me eight hours by train, coach and car. As soon as the seat belt sign was off I got up and slightly staggered down to the back of the plane to the loo. I remember I had difficulty finding the flush button as it seemed so small and I couldn’t quite focus on it to press it! I got there eventually. Also I apparently took a few freshen up wipes from the amenities tray as I found seven of them stuffed in my jeans pocket the morning after.
Looking back at ABZ after departure
To finish off my drinking rampage for the day I got myself another vodka and lemonade when the service started. I also got myself a glass of water and a pack of biscuits as there wasn’t any other food offered. All in all I was pretty disappointed with the food offerings at BMI. However, the alcohol selection more than made up for it.
And the biscuits
I don’t recall the approach so you can imagine my surprise when I found I recorded the landing on 23R on my phone (although I haven't included it here as it's rather rubbish quality). I found it the following morning along with numerous other videos I had apparently made on the plane. After we landed it goes a bit patchy but I think I called LHRjc after we had reached our stand just in front of the Terminal 1 departures lounge. I’m not sure if I hung up before I left the aircraft but I do recall nearly falling down the ER4 steps as I left. I then headed through some corridors and randomly appeared by the BMI Lounge at Gate 18. I managed to not try gain entry and instead miraculously turned up at Carousel 2 in the Terminal 3 Arrivals Hall instead. Obviously I had no luggage so walked straight outside and lit up a cig. I believe I was on the phone as I made my way over to the train station although I’m not sure who to! I know for a fact though that as I walked over to the train station I walked past the entrance to the Short Stay car park upon where I pressed the button to take a ticket which randomly made the barrier go up and it did actually produce a ticket! I thought it worked off weight sensors on the ground? I figure I’ll go put the ticket in a pay machine at MAN in a few months and see how many thousands of pounds I owe!
I eventually did make my train home and thankfully owing to me knowing the conductor managed to blag a free ride home in First Class which goes to show that being ‘a commuter in the know’ does have it’s perks from time to time. I have to say though that I don’t think I’ll ever drink as much before boarding an aircraft. I wasn’t totally ‘gone’ but it didn’t seem such a great idea once I’d left the lounge. I did however pay severely the next day when I had the hangover from hell and I couldn’t even manage one small beer later on in the evening. Thankfully though I’m alright now.
Heading home on the train
All in all though Britain’s railways showed that once again they are archaic and unable to cope in an effective manor when disruption occurs. BMI also reiterated the fact that the behind the scenes they are run by a bunch of monkeys and in my opinion can’t be trusted a great deal. Some of the staff do seem good but others need a severe kick up the ass. It’s almost as if with BA you get a great deal of fakeness but at least you know and can rely on the fact that they are competent. With BD it seems that there is a great deal of fakeness but you can’t actually rely on most of them.
I miss BA in the regions.