I spend many happy hours enjoying the travels of other contributors on airliners.net, and I’ve been waiting for the moment I can provide such a trip report myself. In my dreams I have an unlimited bank balance, a BA Gold card and several journeys planned at any one time. In reality, the trek for me to get to GLA is almost a trip report in itself and my job keeps me pretty occupied, but we can all dream!
A long awaited holiday this month to the Pyrenees saw me indulge on a bit of a roundabout routing on the way home, namely TLS>MAD with Air Nostrum (An airline i’ve always been keen to try because of their regional business class product, although more on that later) and then MAD>LGW>GLA in Club Europe and Domestic (BA) to use up a few miles from my Qantas FF account.
Here goes – My apologies in advance for the few photos, I’m too embarrassed to pull out a camera too often in airports and cabins, but I’ve tried to get a few key shots. Please feel free to pass comment so, when I finally get another chance to write a trip report, it can only get better..
Wednesday 14th May 2008
IB8769, operated by Air Nostrum
Class : X (sounds ominous)
I left the Sofitel in central Toulouse after a pleasant night’s stay in the city – my first. It’s nice to see the pride in having Airbus based in the area evident – the hotel bar had several books on airbus products on the bookcase – A huge photo book of the A380’s development made a couple of beers the night before all the more enjoyable, even if my arms were sore by the final pages! My taxi only took around 25 minutes despite the morning traffic, and Aéroport Toulouse-Blagnac was a pleasant enough place to wait the hour or so until the flight’s departure. Check in was quick and efficient, and I doubled back to security (which felt oddly like a cafeteria with it’s long line of trays and roller bars) to have the obligatory frisk and chance to undress in front of the crowds (only the belt this time). Immediately, in the distance, the airbus factories could be seen through the windows, and many different breeds from the airbus stable were out on the apron waiting for their next (or first) flight.
After an exceptionally strong espresso from the coffee bar (why do I feel the need to only drink coffee when I fly? – answers on a postcard please) I wandered round to Gate 8 on the ground level, and two Air Nostrum planes could be seen out on the apron, our own CRJ-900 to MAD, and what I assume was a CRJ-200 (please correct me if I’m wrong) preparing for the later flight to SVQ.
After a short wait we were bussed out to the plane and then left sweating onboard for nearly 10 minutes while the cabin crew completed some final tasks onboard. Whatever they were they involved one of the cabin crew holding either paper or a sheet of cloth over one of the windows while the ground agent and all the baggage crew stood outside facing away from the plane. I’m sure there was nothing untoward going on, but I wish now I had taken a photo – it certainly looked strange!
Co-incidentally, this ticket had been booked using some BA miles I had, as the fare price I was quoted for the flight varied between £370 and over £500! In the end, 7,000 BA miles and £30 in taxes seemed a lot better value. After I had made the booking I heard rumours that Air Nostrum was doing away with the single Regional Business class cabin, and introducing a separate business and economy class. Sadly, this was proved the case on boarding by the ubiquitous curtain draped down between rows 3 and 4. Slightly disappointed I took my seat in 8D, and realising the flight was half-empty, promptly moved across to 8F to get a view outside. The seat/window alignment onboard was as bad as any modern British train and combined with the ‘frosting’ on the internal Perspex window made deciphering what was going on outside a headache inducing experience, so photos were also out of the question (apologies). One bonus of being in Toulouse was the myriad of different planes and liveries parked up outside the factory, including at least one A380 in company colours as well as those of Kingfisher, Lufthansa and Ethiad. Another piece of excitement came while waiting at the runway threshold, as an Aer Lingus A320 on approach initiated a go-around about 100m off the runway – had a check later and no scheduled EI flight was due, so I assume it was a test of some sort. An A380 in company colours landed on the adjacent runway as we were powering up for take-off.
The ground view disappeared pretty quickly after departure due to some cracking haze, so I turned to guessing what we might be served as a mid-morning snack. The cabin crew were elegantly turned out and friendly in service, although in hindsight it was perhaps a little naïve getting excited about the inflight service on such a short flight, although the meal that was served was still more than most airlines would provide in similar circumstances. Nice touches for an economy meal were the proper cutlery and ‘tableware’.
Arrival in MAD was on time, although the weather was more reminiscent of Scotland, with low cloud and the odd spot of drizzle. We seemed to taxi round two sides of T4S to get to T4 proper, where we were allocated a remote stand and bussed to the terminal. The first impressions of T4 were pretty positive – the baggage reclaim was HUGE! (Although anything may appear big in hindsight after the intimate cosiness with your fellow passengers at the GLA domestic baggage belts) The roof and lighting did appear very similar to some pictures I have seen of the LHR T5 reclaim area, although I have yet to see it in person, so I could just be imagining it.
Anyway, onwards and upwards to departures….
Wednesday 14th May 2008
Class : C
Check in for the BA flight was quick (via the SSCI) and I was soon heading (in a slightly skew-if fashion) towards the train for T4S. The layout confused me (not difficult), but I can’t fault T4 – the building was beautiful and more importantly seemed to function well. After descending to the internal train station, we waited no more than a couple of minutes for the next one to T4S, just long enough to take a quick scan at some of the murals on the platform walls.
On arrival in T4S I made my way up to the Velasquez lounge – I had been looking forward to this bit! An exceptionally friendly lady at the desk informed me that the 2465 was running 10 minutes late, but she’d make announcements as to its progress. Heading in, I took a quick wander around and checked out the facilities- this was most certainly a very, very big lounge – big enough to swing a herd of lions, let alone a cat. I took a comfy pew by the window, dumped my bags and went to undertake a practical inspection of the wine bar, a couple of glasses of chilled white proving that it was working very well indeed.
It wasn’t very long before a BA 737 came hurrying past,
heading to a gate at the far end of the terminal, and I popped back to the bar for one last glass of wine – only to notice the sandwiches had been put out! I’d heard a few folk questioning the provenance of these triangular things, but I quite happily polished off a couple of plates in rapid succession, much to the interest of an elderly couple at an adjacent table who seemed to find great humour in watching me covering my beard with tuna mayonnaise.
I decided to take a look round the rest of the terminal on my way to the gate, so I pre-empted the boarding announcement and took a slow walk (can’t remember which gate, but it was towards the NE (?) end of the terminal. A queue had already formed, but boarding started pretty quickly and I was soon sitting in 03A, waiting to see if I would have a companion for the trip up to LGW. It was not to be, as virtually the last passenger to board, a rather portly Spanish gentleman descended into the adjacent 03C, hey-ho!
Departure was equally as quick – we were pushing back after a few minutes and skirting round the terminal while the safety briefing was done. All the while a trio of passengers in 02 D, E & F were having a ‘Roy & Renee’ (for anyone who remembers ‘The Fast Show’) style coversations between the three of them;
‘Do we get any food in first class?’
‘It’s not called first class Jean, its called club class’
‘Do we get a menu?’
‘I don’t know dear, wait until the lady comes and we’ll ask her’
‘I liked Spain, but the food was funny though…’
The cabin crew were excellent on this leg, and drinks and nibbles were promptly served, it was a shame that there was nothing to see out of the window because the cloud had returned to envelope the land we were flying over. Orders were taken for lunch (Chicken Tikka or a cold meat salad, I chose the latter along with most of the cabin) and I polished off the G&T while finishing off my book. The Chicken Tikka was duly served, and was of good quality and quantity, although it’s resemblance to a curry was spurious, as it tasted more of a rather nice casserole.
Cheese and chocolates rounded things off, and I followed this up with a vodka-orange and a cup of tea (strange combo, but it worked for me!). A rather animated member of crew came through the cabin asking if anyone wanted to fill in a service questionnaire, and I agreed in the vain hope that their might be a few BA miles for hand-in - one can only hope!
All to soon we were descending over the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth towards LGW,
we seemed to undertake a loop before coming in from the west for landing. Taxi to the terminal was quick, until we were held for 5 minutes while someone turned the guidance system on. Disembarkation was quick, but being myself I got a bit lost after that and went through into arrivals - meaning a spin through secuirity again (only my shoes and a full body frisk this time!), hey-ho. I passed through the shopping mall that passed for the main terminal area, and headed down an anonymous corridor to the BA lounge where I wrote a bit more of this report and listened to some music while consuming yet more alcohol
Flight time came (gate 55) and we were 10 minutes down, but some fast boarding and push back made sure it didn’t increase. Soon we were climbing into the hot evening sky, and the sun bathed the white and blue of our 737 with a light that bounced back off lake and hill below with gratitude. A sandwich and drink were served, despite the short flight time, and a further round of tea/coffee followed - a busy crew, although I forgot to take any photos because;
a) My camera was somewhere I couldn't get at it
b) The view was too good to miss
c) A certain level of inebriation was washing over me that made it easier to just sit still and be at peace with myself
Over Windermere and Grasmere we passed, made a little turn over a glistening Solway Firth and started our descent above the heather and curves of the Lowthers. We passed over Kilmarnock to line ourselves up for a SW approach and in the distance, riding through the low cloud and lined against a frame of dying light, Goatfell and the Paps of Jura proclaimed themselves like far sentinals. We were off the plane very quickly and I stumbled my way to the baggage reclaim and a bus trip to town to meet up with friends to consume yet more alcohol.
To sum up, AIr Nostrum was perfectly pleasant with service befitting a full service carrier, even on a short route - although I wonder if service will be reduced in economy now that 2-class has been introduced. BA was excellent and its crew shone for the hard work they put in to make sure everyone is happy, well fed and watered. Now I just have to find a job that will pay me enough to spend my life up the pointy end of the plane!