WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2007.
LONDON GATWICK (LGW) – PORT OF SPAIN (POS)
FLIGHT BA 2153 (CODESHARED AS CARIBBEAN AIRLINES FLIGHT BW 2901)
BOEING 777-236 IGW G-VIIR (C/N 29322/203)
Photo © Alexander Gill
Photo © Chris Muir
163rd flight overall
7th flight of 2007
3rd flight on Boeing 777, 2nd flight on this plane
5th flight on BA
When I was planning the trip, I took advantage of a fare sale BA held during the summer. It offered good fares to both POS and TAB but, with the issue of luggage and the greater restriction on weight on the domestic flight, which I would have had to take to see my parents in Trinidad had I landed in TAB first, I elected for a return trip to POS. BA started POS services in 2007 after a thirteen (13) year absence, the flight being routed via BGI and carrying BW codeshare numbers too. BA resumed POS following BW’s decision to drop service to LHR; both BA and VS offered bids for BW’s slots at the great West London hub but only BA offered to take up the route in return.
The early departure of the flight, coupled with my having to work the day before meant that I had to get a National Express coach from Cardiff to LGW on the night before departure. In the end, I settled on the 0130HR coach, which would get me to LGW at 0600HR. I also took advantage of BA’s online check-in and did so at about 1800HR after arriving home from work. I selected a window seat – alas, by the time I checked-in the bulkhead and exit seats were all gone! After that I got the last things packed and got ready to go.
My girlfriend took me to the bus station in central Cardiff – we arrived at 0100HR and waited for the bus. Soon enough the bus came, right on time. After exchanging good-byes I boarded the coach and settled in for the long haul to LGW, almost a trip in itself before the flight. The coach called at Newport, Chepstow, Bristol, Calcot in Reading and LHR before getting to LGW. Along the way I listened to my MP3 player but simply could not fall asleep. Indeed, at 0438HR the song Can’t Sleep, a trance anthem by Above and Beyond, came on – its lyrics, “Four-thirty am” proving eerily reminiscent of my state at the time!
As the coach arrived at Terminal 4 of LHR at 0513HR, I was suddenly aware of something and dove into my backpack, searching frantically. Horrors of horrors, I did not have my flight log book with me! Ever since I started keeping details of my flights back in 2000 (which coincided with my joining airliners.net) I have kept my logbook with me on every flight. Now here I was on my biggest trip of 2007 with five (5) flights planned and no logbook! I decided to resolve this situation by buying another notebook when I got to LGW and thus have two (2) logbooks so hopefully I would never forget to have one with me ever again!
The coach arrived at LGW’s North Terminal at 0613HR. I got off, took my cases and headed straight to the BA counter, where I checked them in. The agent also checked my passport and all was well. I then made my way through security which was very quick despite the presence of special shoe scanners, which one passes after the main scanner, and then went into the Departures Lounge.
LGW is indeed a major BA hub – and what was most interesting to see there was the very large number of BA 737s there! Yes, I knew that BA flies the Classic 737-300, 400 and 500 models but I did not know that there were so many of them. In and out they came in their numbers. Alongside them, BA’s LGW fleet of 777-236IGWs were also present. As is usual for LGW many charter aircraft were around, including the Monarch 757-200 which had been painted in a spectacular promotional scheme for Hed Kandi, a club promotion outfit best known for their Saturday events at El Divino in Ibiza alongside events in the UK. (I now have a model of the said 757, G-MOND and it is here with me as I write this.) Other planes around included an Oasis Hong Kong 747-400, Air Namibia A340-300 and several U2 and AA planes. From my vantage point I could not really see the South Terminal, which is home to US carriers such as NW and CO plus the majority of other airlines at the airport.
I strolled about the terminal and bought a new notebook at WH Smith which would be my logbook for this trip. I then had breakfast at a pub at 0800HR. Unfortunately, the line for the food was quite long and the food was very pricey and not particularly nice – then again this is an airport and airports are not generally places for great cuisines! At least I was able to watch the planes coming and going from my vantage point at the pub.
At 0855HR my flight was called with departure from gate 62. At that very moment I remembered that I had not bought a newspaper to take to Trinidad so I rushed back to a now very crowded WH Smith shop and got one. I then raced to the gate and arrived at 0912HR. Once sorted, I took a seat and gazed at G-VIIR, the 777-236IGW (ER) which would take me to POS. On seeing the bird I immediately remembered my first trip on this plane, from LGW to TAB back in 2001. I really needed my logbook to confirm this – and of course I did not have it! That said, since that flight had been my second 777 journey, I recalled the small details quite well! Several sister ships, G-VIIA/F/P/T were also parked nearby as was an AA 777-223.
I boarded the plane at 1000HR and took my seat, 22K, an aft starboard seat. From there I gazed at the many Triple Sevens all around. The plane was pushed back at 1021HR and the safety briefing began three (3) minutes later. In quick time the massive engines on the 777 were powered up and it began to taxi towards Runway 26 Left, at which it was in a short queue. With LGW having only one active runway the jet also had to await a few landing aircraft. In the end takeoff took place at 1041HR, the GE monsters effortlessly getting the plane off the ground and into the skies. That said, the interior of the plane was betrayed somewhat by take-off as a bulkhead panel promptly fell down during take-off! There was a fair amount of cloud around but by using the flight tracker I could follow the plane’s routing, which took it along the South coast of England as far as Newquay in Cornwall from where it went out over the open Atlantic Ocean.
The drinks service began at 1115HR – I decided to go non-alcoholic and took an orange juice. Lunch followed at 1200HR – the choice was of beef and vegetables (which I took) or chicken. The meal was quite delicious. On another note, as the Eastern Caribbean is four (4) hours behind GMT on Atlantic Standard Time, the time of lunch was 0800HR there. I will use this time onwards in the report.
The plane continued West South West across the ocean for about an hour before heading to the South South West for the Islands. In so doing it bypassed the Azores, the Portuguese islands that have always been the check-point for transatlantic services to the Caribbean. I found it quite interesting that BA would do this on both the outward and return journeys but perhaps it has to do with avoiding overflight fees to Portugal. In general, the Azores are passed after three (3) hours from the UK.
The IFE was quite good, with individual screens with several movie options and the flight tracker plus audio. The problem was that one could not use the flight tracker while listening to the audio – then again I was not entirely impressed by the choice of audio. I thus listened to my MP3 player for a good part of the time and alternated it with one of the channels which featured Kate Nash and Amy MacDonald.
At 1020HR there was an episode of turbulence which resulted in the seat belts sign being switched on. Once this came off fifteen minutes later the duty free trolley appeared but I bought nothing. The crew then dimmed the cabin lights at 1100HR but the bright sunshine outside made up for it. On occasion I did look out of the window but there was nothing to see apart from clouds and ocean. The plane was by this time flying at an altitude of 39 000ft or 11 700m with a speed of 550 mph or 890 km/h. As is usual for me on these long flights I just sat back and relaxed, eagerly anticipating my holiday in the Caribbean. Yes this was World Traveller after all but really, there’s nothing particularly wrong about it, it was comfortable enough and the plane itself was in reasonable shape seeing that it had been six (6) years since my previous journey on it. As luck would have it, I would see G-VIIR again during my holiday in TAB, where I watched it land at the end of a journey from LGW, that time via ANU.
Apart from another turbulent episode at 1205HR which lasted twelve (12) minutes, the flight was largely uneventful until tea time at 1345HR. The delicious snack featured a sandwich, carrot cake and a choice of tea or coffee. At this point the flight was a little over an hour away from BGI, the first stop. The plane’s route at this point was still over the ocean to the East of the Lesser Antilles. None of the other islands was visible as the plane headed towards BGI, the descent to which started at 1440HR. In quick time the West Coast of Barbados appeared and passengers on the port side were treated to a fabulous view of Bridgetown.
The plane landed on Runway 09 at BGI at 1502HR and parked up after five (5) minutes. Many other planes were on the ground at the time, including a jetBlue EMB-190 N283JB (presumably on a delivery flight), AC 767-233ER C-GAVC (22527/102), VS 747-443 G-VROS (30885/1268), AA 737-800, Thomas Cook 767-300 and two (2) DP 767-300s. The many passengers disembarking here got off quite soon but the rest of us had to remain on-board as the refuelling started. The Barbados Immigration officials then came aboard at 1520HR and inspected the boarding passes of every passenger, who thus had to return to the pre-assigned seat and checked that all cabin baggage had an identifiable owner. At the same time all of this was going on the aircraft was cleaned and a new flight crew came onboard.
At 1537HR the jetBlue plane departed. Fifteen (15) minutes later, BGI passengers headed for POS boarded but even so the plane was much emptier going on to POS as compared to prior to getting to BGI. In the meantime the AA 737-823, N909AN (29511/267), was pushed back for its service to MIA. This jet featured the blended winglets which have become increasingly common on 737s, including BW’s. As for my flight, the Captain greeted the new passengers and apologised for a short delay to the onward flight, which was caused by a technical problem which had been resolved. The 777 was then pushed back for departure at 1604HR. Soon afterwards sister ship G-VIIF (27488/61) arrived from LGW and took up the ramp spot previously occupied by my plane. India Foxtrot was operating the daily LGW – BGI – LGW service.
G-VIIR then made its way towards Runway 09 and while taxying it passed several LI Dash 8s, -311 V2-LET (416) and -311A V2-LGI (325). At the cargo ramp there were two (2) 727-200s of Amerijet and a yellow Venezuelan registered one in DHL colours. Wow, I thought, it is great that these veteran birds are still around – one certainly does not see 727s often these days in Europe! The plane then raced down the runway and got airborne at 1617HR but again things went slightly awry as an overhead baggage compartment popped open on rotation. Behind me, too, an overhead panel fell and oxygen masks appeared! While this sort of thing can happen at any time it does leave one wondering how much time is spent caring for the planes. Yes, the aircraft was mechanically sound but one is thinking about the small details such as interior fittings which certainly add to the impression of an airline.
The plane flew through thick clouds as it raced to its cruising altitude of 24 000ft or 7200m. To be honest, this flight went in a jiffy as the mighty beast tore through the few remaining kilometres of airspace between BGI and POS. Orange juice was served at 1630HR and nine (9) minutes later the plane passed Tobago but thick cloud prevented any view. The plane started descending at this point and eventually passed the clouds as it neared Trinidad. The towns of St. Joseph and San Juan were visible first, then the capital of Port of Spain itself before the plane made a right turn for POS. It lined up with Runway 10 and landed at 1659HR, just fourteen (14) minutes behind schedule. Sunny POS had only a Skyservice 757-200 and a Caribbean Star (8B) Dash 8 at the terminal.
Once the plane had parked and was connected to the jetway gate I was able to disembark but being aft meant that I was one of the last to do so. I bade farewell to the crew and went to Immigration, which was fairly smooth for once, then collected my two (2) suitcases. Curiously enough, in POS there were men at the carousels who took the cases off once they appeared and placed them on the ground – this meant that the floor area was a maelstrom of cases of all descriptions. Why are they doing that? Why did they not just leave the cases going around for passengers to collect them? It seems as though several of the carousels are out of action and so the few that remain are under increased pressure from having to serve all of the flights. The Customs check was OK though and I got outside to meet my brother. At this point though there was another slightly off-putting incident. A porter came to take my cases and I agreed. Once we got outside and met my brother I paid the gentleman TT$10, the standard rate for taking two (2) cases at POS. He then loudly groused, “Is that all?” I was not impressed by his demeanour but my brother took charge and gave him TT$20, after which he left. To be honest, having not been in POS for awhile meant that I was not fully aware of the charges (though I had checked the counter before leaving Customs) but, as my brother said, the fact that I was off a BA flight meant that he was expecting more money as the pound has a powerful exchange rate with the TT dollar (£1=TT$13).
Above all, though, I was back in Trinidad and loving it!
THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2007.
PORT OF SPAIN (POS) – LONDON GATWICK (LGW)
FLIGHT BA 2152 (ALSO CODESHARED AS CARIBBEAN AIRLINES FLIGHT BW 2900)
BOEING 777-236 IGW G-VIIC (C/N 27485/53).
Photo © Jenny Coffey
169th flight overall
13th flight of 2007
4th flight on Boeing 777, 1st flight on this plane
6th flight on BA
All too soon my holiday in the Caribbean was over and it was time to return to the United Kingdom. In preparation for my return flight I used the online check-in facility the night before at my father’s office. The facility was very strict with time-keeping; it is available twenty-four (24) hours before departure and when I tried to access it about five (5) minutes earlier than that, it would not let me go through! Nonetheless shortly after the requisite countdown started I was able to check-in and get my boarding pass printed. In this way I would not be in a rush once I got to the POS terminal building. I also obtained seat 26A, a port window seat at the exit row so I would have more legroom.
My mother dropped me off at POS at 1620HR and went to park the car while I delivered my luggage at the counter. She then came around to see me and we exchanged goodbyes. After that I walked around the terminal. The POS terminal is very large and is laid out in the shape of a “K” with the straight line to the North. The Eastern end of the terminal is for departures and features check-in counters for the many airlines serving POS; just west of this is the atrium featuring the largest glass dome in the Eastern Caribbean. Below the dome are several shops and fast-food outlets. The arrivals hall is to the West. The atrium also features a Pizza Boys restaurant overlooking the eastern tarmac upstairs and it is there I had a final, if rather overpriced, Carib Beer at 1700HR.
The domestic terminal is located adjacent to the check-in area while the secure area for international departures is down a corridor. One first comes across the officers who collect the departure tax of TT$100 (of which $25 is a security fee) then the duty-free shopping area. POS certainly has a wide range of shops now and in some respects even beats BGI, long regarded as the bastion of Eastern Caribbean duty-free shopping. All the same, I found nothing of interest to come between my money and myself. From the shopping area one proceeds upstairs to departures and heads towards the gates; gates 1 to 7 are on the Western finger pier, 8 to 14 on the Eastern pier. All of these gates are equipped with jetways.
I cleared security at 1715HR and made my way to Gate 11, where my plane, G-VIIC was already docked. From there I was able to look out of the windows and onto the wet tarmac. The BW Dash 8 9Y-WIL departed for TAB at 1740HR shortly after a helicopter landed. Six (6) minutes later a Convair 580, which I had noticed warming up on the cargo tarmac by the old terminal, took off. I do not know whose it was or where it was headed but it was truly smoky as it departed. The TAB movements continued apace after that with 9Y-WIZ arriving at 1757HR and 9Y-WIN flying out at 1807HR.
The flight was called at 1815HR and boarding was, as usual, by rows with the aft seats called first. I eventually boarded the plane at 1825HR and took up my seat. On boarding I realized that this plane actually had 4 classes of accommodation, namely First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller. While BA tends to use 3-class aircraft on all of its Caribbean routes except BGI, which is almost always 4-class, POS gets a mixture of 3- or 4-classes. Apparently, when the 4-class services are operated to POS (they do stop in BGI in both directions) the dedicated BGI flight is 3-class. BA will rearrange the flights in October 2008 and route POS services via UVF so it will be interesting to see the deployment of equipment then – though almost invariably BGI will see 4-class planes on most if not all of its 9 weekly flights from then. By contrast TAB services, which are routed via ANU, are always 3-class.
Not long after I took my seat the giant 777 was pushed back. At this time the safety briefing was shown on the IFE monitors. The jet then taxied to the threshold of Runway 10, passing as usual along the main taxiway just North of the runway before crossing the strip and continuing along the old taxiway to the South of the runway to the end. The presence of the BW hangars near to the Northern end of the threshold prevents the northern taxiway from being built right to the threshold. Soon enough the plane turned onto the runway and powered up, racing along for take-off at 1840HR and heading in an Eastern the North-Eastern direction. As it climbed to cruising altitude of 25000ft, Trinidad was an ocean of lights. After ten (10) minutes of flight the plane passed Tobago.
The in-flight service started at this time too, I had an orange juice. The cabin crew were certainly great in serving everybody onboard quickly because the plane started to descend into BGI soon afterwards, starting at 1855HR. The 777 descended smoothly and touched down on Runway 9 at BGI at 1913HR, the third time I would be landing on this runway in this trip.
The BA jet parked at the BGI terminal at 1917HR. Alongside it was BW 737-800 9Y-BGI, an ironic find given the destination. This jet was doing the daily BW 415 from KIN to POS and was pushed back at 1935HR and retraced the 777’s last leg at 1947HR. Just before the 737 left, though, a LI Dash 8-300 arrived, still carrying 8B livery.
Once again the 777 was refuelled but the in-transit passengers had to stay onboard. After a while several security officials from BGI came on-board to verify the passenger list for LGW corresponded to the folks on board – this meant that everybody had to return to his or her assigned seat and remain with the seat belt unfastened. Once the checks were carried out the onward passengers boarded. Contrary to what I was told by a member of the cabin crew earlier, who stated that it was likely only a few passengers would board at BGI, the plane was virtually full at the end (at least in World Traveller).
The plane was then pushed back at 2022HR and during the taxi the safety video was re-run. The plane then departed from Runway 09 at 2040HR and indeed this was the last of the Caribbean for me at this time. The departure time was 0040HR GMT, which I will use from here onwards. As the plane soared skywards the IFE was switched on and I mostly viewed the flight tracker, alternating with the audio entertainment from Kate Nash and Amy MacDonald. I would use my MP3 player only sporadically during the flight.
The first round of drinks was offered at 0130HR, I had a beer this time around. Dinner followed at 0155HR; the options were beef (which I took) and chicken. Unfortunately the flight would become rather turbulent and at 0200HR there would be an hour-long spell of bumps, during which the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign was switched on. The cabin crew continued to serve us passengers but no hot drinks were available, a real pity as I could have done with a cup of tea. Generally though the service was still the high standard one comes to expect from BA though it was not exceptional.
Once the meal was over I tried to rest a little bit but the very experience of flying tends to keep me excited and thus awake! The route of the flight over the open ocean of course meant that there was little to see – in any case my seat was not optimal for viewing as the first window in the row was somewhat behind my seat so I had to crane my neck to look out. Turbulence continued to be a problem and again at 0440HR the bumps resumed, forcing the deployment of the “FSB” sign.
The route from BGI to LGW went over the Atlantic but again the plane skirted the Azores altogether, passing to the West then North of the Portuguese archipelago. As such I could not see the islands, though I stayed up at 0540HR specifically to see them. Over the years I have flown between the Caribbean and the UK the Azores have always been a favourite check-point of mine. They would always be passed five (5) hours out of the Caribbean or three (3) hours from the UK. BW’s flights always passed directly overhead so I was intrigued by BA flying around them. It perhaps has to do with reducing costs by avoiding paying over-flight fees to the Portuguese.
By 0700HR the sun was starting to show its face outside and the breakfast was being served inside. The continental breakfast on offer was quite good. The plane started its descent at 0720HR, by which time it was travelling along the South Coast of England although clouds prevented any chance of a view. As the plane approached LGW it was held in a stack along with a VS 747-400. I wondered where the VS plane came from – perhaps it was flying in from TAB as VS flies from it plus GND on Thursday. I did not think it was the BGI flight as that had left prior to the arrival of my flight into BGI and would thus have had a considerable head-start in its journey.
In the due course of time my flight lined up with runway 26 Left at LGW and passed through the thick layer of cloud over Southern England before landing at 0822HR. After a long taxi the plane parked at its stand at the North Terminal at 0830HR. I disembarked quickly and passed through Immigration fairly quickly, then got my two (2) suitcases and passed through Customs. From there I walked to the National Express stands, got out my bus ticket and awaited my bus to Cardiff. The bus arrived on time at 0952HR and I was back in the Welsh capital at 1430HR. A taxi took me the rest of my way home.
As such, this was the end of my fifth and longest trip of 2007 – of which four (4) were by air (I also had a Eurostar trip to Paris). I was impressed with BA’s service on the POS flights. Yes, there was a lot of controversy surrounding BW’s ending of the route to LHR and the loss of its slots at LHR but in the final analysis BW has been trying to slim itself and be more competitive. Opinions have varied as to how well BW did out of LHR but it certainly garnered much revenue from the services, especially due to the level of front-end pax and cargo carried. The trouble was that much of the airline’s earnings on the route were lost through the need for a dedicated fleet to serve the route (the two (2) A340-300s) which were unsuited to the airline’s other routes. The introduction of BA thus made things somewhat simpler for BW in this regard.
As for BW, well its new scheme is spectacular indeed. I only got to fly them on short sectors among POS, TAB and BGI and there was no in-flight service as such. The general atmosphere on their flights however remains the warm Caribbean service I have come to expect on board. That said the messy crowds at the domestic terminal and the delays to local flights continue to be a fact of life – this is probably inescapable as the route is a public service for the Republic and needs special attention.
LI, despite the new paint scheme also continues to be plagued with delays – though again the atmosphere on board reflected the warmth of the Caribbean. The delay on my TAB – BGI sector has been reflective of a deeper malaise of late with many flights throughout the region being severely delayed. To a large extent this has been a result of the merger with 8B and the difficulties of getting the two (2) networks fully coordinated. Once again LI has a monopoly on many inter-island routes and concerns have been raised about rising fares and the like.
This was overall a fabulous trip though. The next episode should hopefully be soon...
[Edited 2008-03-22 06:51:33]