Hello readers and hope you are enjoying a nice Christmas break (and are not caught up in the recent chaos at many of Europe’s airports). No doubt we can expect a few snow reports in the coming days and weeks from a.netters! This report has a snow flavour, although it dates back to the first lot of heavy snow the UK experienced at the end of November.
I was in the USA recently and reported on A.net a wild series of crazy flights taken with Delta Airlines domestically: see “Keep Climbing & Don’t Stop - 48hr DL
Before that, I had to get to the USA and that is the subject of this report.
Finding a decent fare (and a schedule that worked for me), I opted to fly BA
in J from London Gatwick to Tampa (TPA
), then meet my mate in Fort Lauderdale (FLL
). This required a short flight across Florida on a Gulfstream International (doing business as Continental Connection) B1900D, which was my first experience of this little prop. I would then fly BA
in J back to the UK out of Miami (MIA
) to Heathrow.
Here’s how the outbound trip looked like on the map
The view from my desk at work a couple of days beforehand.
3 December 2010
Flight time: 9hrs20mins
“Considerably stressed” is how I would describe the 48 hours leading up to 3 December. Significant snowfall had hit many parts of the UK earlier that week which resulted in Gatwick being closed for 2 days. Fully expecting my flight to be cancelled, I was surprised when the airport re-opened and ba.com told me that my flight was operating. Yay. All I needed to do was be able to get to Gatwick to catch the flight…..
This turned out to be less of a problem too as there was little traffic on the road, and most roads had by now been cleared of snow. The minicab’s dashboard thermometer started out at -1C when it left my place at 830am that morning, and by the time we trundled through the suburbs of South London and eventually got to LGW
, it had dropped to -5C.
Gatwick was a mess. Snow everywhere. I still could not believe that my flight was going to operate. With a deep breath, I entered the North Terminal, expecting to be greeted by a refugee like scene with people everywhere. The reality however was different. Relatively calm, with a number of people milling about trying to get rebooked (as many shorthaul flights had been cancelled again) but otherwise a normal day in the North Terminal.
Check in at the Club World counters was painless and polite. The BA
representative apologetically told me there may be a slight delay with the departure given the situation but I was so grateful at that point that the flight was operating, that I was not bothered about any slight delay (as long as it wasn’t more than 3 hours!).
Not wishing to remain landside for much longer, I passed through a fairly quick security queue and headed for the BA
Galleries Lounge. Not having visited this one before, I was interested to see what it was like. A couple of longhaul flights to the Caribbean, in addition to mine, were scheduled to depart today so when I got to the lounge, it was busy. Mostly full of middle aged and older well dressed people and the occasional family, I found a quiet-ish spot and surveyed the surroundings. The lounge was nothing special, although at least it had a number of windows providing a nice vista to the outside – in all its snowy glory.
At the lounge entrance, the nice lady provided me with a letter from BA
, telling me that because the catering staff could not physically get to the airport, catering on my flight was to be severally restricted. Unfortunately, no J class meals were being served to Tampa today. Ordinarily this might be cause of complaint, but in the circumstances, I was not bothered but simply glad to be leaving the cold and snowy UK behind for a few days.
The view from my seat in the BA
Lounge. The BA777 in the background is actually my aircraft being prepared for Tampa.
A snack and coffee later, I wanted to wander so headed out to the gate that had been allocated on the FID in the lounge. It was one of the satellite gates meaning a necessary crossing of the overhead bridge. As you’ll know if you fly through LGW
often, this affords some great views of the airport. Today was no exception, and the extent to which the snow had played havoc with operations here was evident.
A couple of BA
777s operating flights to the Caribbean in the foreground
Emirates 777-300 and a few Thomson aircraft at the North Terminal
Walking along the overhead bridge
The view over the other side with the South Terminal in the background
Needless to say, this EI
A320, sadly, was not going anywhere for a while. Note the all white 757s in the background having completed their careers with British Airways.
A view of the bridge from the satellite gates
The FID soon indicated that BA2167 to Tampa was now boarding so I headed up to the gate. A couple of other flights were also due to operate.
A picture of our bird getting ready to take us to warmer climes - Keeping the Flag Flying…only just!
A considerable crowd slowly gathered at the gate. I wondered whether the flight would be full, as Wednesday’s flight to Tampa had been cancelled. I expect there were numerous passengers from that flight who had been rebooked and this was confirmed overhearing my neighbours from where I was sitting. We were now -10mins to the scheduled departure time when boarding was called. No explanation for the expected delay – we’d seen the crew go onboard a while back, nothing seemed amiss.
I was able to board at my leisure and soon found myself in the comfortable confines of 4A in the forward cabin, having been greeted at the door by a cheery flight attendant.
My first time facing backwards in a BA
J class seat. Looked strange, and I was dubious at first. However, I managed to soon get settled and explore my new surroundings whilst the Y class passengers were boarding. An announcement was made that the flight was busy and for people to take their seats as quickly as possible. This may have been true, but I counted fewer than 6 other passengers in J. Barely time to put my reading material away and I was asked whether I’d like a drink. Yes please and this was soon in front of me
A fair bit of faffing later – we were now +20 mins after scheduled departure time, and the captain came on the PA to tell us that we’d almost been ready to go but a passenger had failed to turn up and therefore they were now taking steps to remove the bag in the hold. I still can’t believe that there are people out there that check in for a flight and then are not able to physically show up for their flight. Ironically, it was this incident that caused more of the delay than adverse weather.
View from my seat
Nice view of the RR
Finally, bag removed and front door was closed. Phew. We were off. It was now almost +50mins after our scheduled time of departure by the time the tug was disconnected. A slow taxi followed, passing a number of snow-infested aircraft that looked particularly sad.
Going nowhere today
Not one but two EK
Later departing for Dubai
Showing how much snow had piled up at LGW
And from another angle
This EZY A319 wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry
Iceland Express - feeling at home amongst all the ice?
Feeling a bit strange by this point facing backwards, and noted that on the safety video, passengers facing in this direction are given separate brace instructions. I hoped I would never need to remember this information. Having said that, I found the seat to be very comfortable and it had just the right amount of privacy and space. I was however lucky because the seat next to me was free, otherwise I would have had someone staring over at me as the privacy blind is “to be lowered for take off and landing”.
LEAVING SNOWY LONDON BEHIND
Not much holding time at the end of the runway today given that so few flights were operating.
Lining up and once the RR
engines had been fired up, some condensation appeared which made for an interesting spectacle, as we gathered speed.
Lifting off, a quick view of the snow before heading straight into the very low cloud. I was glad to be waving goodbye to this
Not long later, we emerged from the murk into bright sunshine. A lovely view considering the previous week’s UK weather. I had to shield my eyes it was so bright at one point.
I was surprised to find that the onboard entertainment system had yet to be switched on, so I could not follow the map, but we seemed to head west/southwestly and before long, the cloud below began to break up, leaving some glimpses of a very snowy southern England below. It was deceptively beautiful from this height, and I was mesmerised by the view until the IFE was eventually switched on. Checking the map, we were indeed now over the West Country before heading out over the Irish Sea.
Another glimpse of the snow
Gorgeous but destructive!
From London to Tampa
Shortly after, the service began with a young guy in mid/late 20s asking me whether I wanted a drink with my nuts (cashews that is). I elected for another champagne and also an orange juice to get me started.
Another view of the nearly empty J cabin
Managed to read a couple of articles in the latest copy of “Airliners” and then started watching “Dinner for Schmucks” as the view outside turned to endless water. I am a Paul Rudd fan, although it had a poor write up when it came out earlier this year in the UK.
Lunch was served a few hours out and again, the crew apologised for the lack of J class catering. It turned out to be a salad, chicken curry and profiteroles. Addressed by name, and served with a smile, with the wine and bread freely flowing, it was hardly J standard, but I was no more bothered than I was when I was first told about the lack of J catering. Comfy chair, being at 38,000ft and relaxing – it was practically perfect.
No bumps really during this flight – it was smooth flying all the way across to North America, which we made contact with over Newfoundland. Whilst watching TV
, I decided to experiment a bit with the seat and managed to get into a position that was highly comfortable. Not fully flat at that point, but perfect for watching TV
Now just passing Boston
A close up of the RR
We progressed further south and west, passing Philadelphia. The airport could be clearly seen under the port wing and engine although I was never able to get a decent picture of it.
Some interesting whispy cloud formations over the US.
Another meal was served about 1.5hours out of Tampa just as we started flying over the Carolinas. This consisted of sandwiches (cheese and pickle) and a couple of scones with cream and jam. More drinks were also served.
About to enter Florida airspace
By now, the daylight was starting to fade as we made our way past Jacksonville and toward central Florida. The St Johns River was clearly visible on our left as was the City of Jacksonville itself. I spent a great few days there back in Feb 1997, which seems like a lifetime ago now.
Not far to go
We started our descent when we were still in the Orlando area as the light continued to fade. Lights were now appearing on the ground below as dusk set in. It seemed to have been a picture perfect December day in Florida as the skies were clear and crisp.
Our approach into Tampa was from the south and as we gradually descended, more and more lights started to flicker on, as the deep red colour of the setting sun in the westerly sky showed up on our left hand side. It was so incredibly gorgeous, and certainly one of those amazing moments that makes flying so special.
Lights coming on down there
We flew over Old Tampa Bay, passing over the W.Gandy Blvd first, followed by the Hwy 275 over Tampa Bay. The colours of the sky were magical after being exposed to the short dark days of Northern Europe in winter.
Smoothly touching down on 36L a short time later, we were greeted by a couple of Delta aircraft. Welcome to Tampa!
Our taxi to Gate 90 (one of the few gates in TPA
that can accept an aircraft the size of a B777) at Airside F was brief and our flight was over. Although we were nearly an hour late leaving, we seemed to make up some of the time enroute, as we had a decent tailwind, so in the end, we were only 30 mins late. I still had some 2 hours before my next flight so plenty of time to transfer.
A fast de-boarding ensued, and it looked like things were pretty quiet in TPA
for this early Friday evening. I soon became aware that I had not completed any US customs forms, which was surprising because I knew they were still required. It seems that the crew had failed to give any of the J class passengers a form, yet a number of Y class passengers had theirs in hand. Mmmm. Small oversight perhaps? It was no problem because I completed mine and joined the line for Immigration. Not a long wait, and a pleasant chat with the guy behind the counter, after having my fingerprints taken, and I was allowed into the US. Tampa was indeed one of the friendliest US airports I have arrived into. Much much nicer than ATL
was in 2009 for example. I acknowledge that TPA
has fewer international flights than ATL
, but certainly for travellers, this is an advantage – it was a really pleasant experience. Thanks Tampa International!
“CONNECTING” WITH CONTINENTAL CONNECTION
Having been to TPA
before, I made my way to the train which took us to the main concourse, and then sought out the signs for Continental/Continental Connection/United….at this point, I had no idea what to expect given the recently merged monolith that it CO
I got to CO
’s check in area, which was literally deserted. In fact much of the check in area at TPA
feels strange – feeling like it really is down in a basement. You could have heard a pin drop. A prominent sign directed passengers with flights of CO9000 and above to the United check in area, which was located some distance away. I wandered over to UA
, and there was nobody behind the counters at all, with a sign saying that everyone should go to CO
for check in assistance. Bit confused, I returned to CO
, and there was at least one person behind the desk. A very nice middle aged lady checked me in and took my bag(s) without any problems. Being Star* Silver (a lowly status I know) was enough to be able to check in bags without any fees. I told I was confused about where to check in and she apologised and said several people had the same issue. Thankfully it wasn’t busy so everything was sorted in a short period of time.
I’ve been landside at TPA
on several occasions and I quite like the feel of it – very relaxed and chilled. As such, I decided not to linger and head over to Airside A, to where my little Beech 1900D would be departing from at 850pm.
3 December 2010
Gulfstream International dba Continental Connection
Flight time: 1hour
Gulfstream International Airlines - “Fly Safe, Fly Smart, Fly Gulfstream”
Gulfstream International, formed in 1988, is based in Fort Lauderdale and operates scheduled and charter services to Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean. It operates as a Continental Connection carrier although recently has repainted one of its aircraft in its new corporate GIA colours. It has a fleet of +20 B1900Ds.
Considerable controversy has surrounded the airline, particularly after a 2009 FAA investigation into its pilot training programmes.
In November 2010, GIA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – flights currently continue
Anyway back to the flight….Security was relatively stress free, as there were few passengers heading for Airside A at this time of night. In fact, it was very quiet throughout although I wondered whether this was just because of the way in which TPA
is designed. A couple of Air Tran flights were being called, but Airside A was otherwise half deserted. Feeling a call for some Floridian orange juice, I found a small concession that was open, bought my drink and wandered around for a bit. This was the first time I had been airside at TPA
The Gulfstream gates were downstairs at A1, so I wandered down there to see what it was like. Essentially a large holding area, where once called, passengers would walk to their awaiting B1900D. Whilst waiting, a flight to Miami departed, followed soon after by a flight to Key West. The gate area was large enough to hold a number of people so it was comfortable. I managed a picture of some of the B1900D action.
Our flight to Fort Lauderdale looked like it was one of the last of the departures for Gulfstream from Tampa that day, and we were soon called to start boarding. Prior to that, the gate agent made an interesting announcement – not one I’ve heard before given I was a Beech 1900D “virgin”.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, as there are no restroom facilities on your flight, we advise you to use the facilities here in the terminal before boarding”
Yikes! Wonder what happens to people who really need to go, and did not take note of the instructions?
When the flight was called, it looked like our flight would be pretty full tonight and it turned out that nearly all 19 seats would be occupied.
Being overly keen, I was one of the first out onto the tarmac and managed a couple of average pics of the action and our aircraft. Not pretty by any standards, but looking good in the clear night air of Florida.
Nobody seemed to mind me snapping away, which was a relief.
Up the front airstairs and into seat 2F. No overhead baggage storage so camera bag had to fit under the seat in front. No cockpit door either, so all the action from the cockpit could be seen. This is how flying should be all the time! Of course, there are no galleys on these birds, and no flight attendant either.
View from my seat with the main entry door still open
Quite a contrast in terms of personal space between J on a BA
777 and on a B1900D!
Once all aboard, the starboard prop next to me was fired up and the co-pilot crawled back to retract the airstairs. We were all set. Soon after, a recorded PA was made over the roar of the props giving us all of the safety information about the flight. We were then thanked for flying with Gulfstream International Airlines, doing business as Continental Connection. All cabin lights were turned off by the time we got to Runway 36R.
Barely a pause and we were off – the prop next to me getting louder and louder as we increased our speed. A very short take off, and we lifted off.
Climbing with some gradual right turns, the lights below us shimmering away. What a wonderful sight. By now, the noise outside did not seem that noticeable but perhaps this was because I was so focussed on what was going on down below. However, what I did notice was that the pilots seem to have had the heating on full blast, and there was hot hair coming out from a vent somewhere that felt so hot, that I had to move my foot – for fear of getting first degree burns! I know Floridians were finding it cold, but it wasn’t that cold! The intensity of th heat seemed to die down though after about 20mins.
A couple of dark shots from the window of 2F
Getting close to Fort Lauderdale
It hardly felt like any time had passed before I could see a carpet of lights outside, indicating we were heading toward the populous Miami/Fort Lauderdale region.
Floating gradually down, with a slight change in the noise of the props as we got closer to FLL
Arrivals runway was 09L, confirmed as we passed over a very busy I-95. Touchdown was smooth and we buzzed toward the gate area where passengers could disembark. I waited for most of the passengers to leave, before heading out although the passenger in 3A was fast asleep even after everyone else had left. The starboard prop meanwhile, continued to operate and was not shut down.
I thanked the pilot – who was still seated and managed to get down the narrow airstairs without falling down them, and took a couple of rampside pictures. Again, no hassle from the authorities. Goodbye little Beech and thanks for the ride!
Walking to the terminal - with CO
mainline 737-800 arriving
I was at my final destination and after picking up my bag(s), I went to the arranged rendezvous point where a little while later, my mate turned up, having been down in MIA
for some dusk spotting. So much for a meet and greet by one of your most nearest and dearest friends !!!
My first BA
J experience also happened to by my first BA
777 experience. I almost travelled on one back in January 1997 to PHL
were not due to start operating them to PHL
until two weeks after my flight there. Drat. It took me 13 years to get on one. Flying to Tampa was great. Service onboard was professional and friendly and despite the lack of catering, I was so pleased to have got to my destination without delay or a missed connection. By way of postscript, BA
did provide me with a £15 voucher which could be used at LGW
for food or other items.
Arriving off an international flight into Tampa was a pleasure. Much nicer than my experience into Atlanta in 2009.
Flying on the B1900D was an experience I also very much enjoyed. Notwithstanding some of the controversy that has surrounded GIA in recent times, I would probably fly with them again. Even though the cabin was boiling hot for some of the time, being able to see the cockpit made it feel like real flying. We did not fly that high, and were afforded with wonderful views of Florida on a clear winter night.
My views for the next 48 hours in Fort Lauderdale - quite a contrast to London, just 24 hours before
From the balcony at the Fort Lauderdale Hilton Marina
How the other half live…
I also spent a day or so at FLL
capturing some of the action - perfect weather for photography. Here’s a small selection
Avianca A320 - I love these colours
Air Canada A320
Virgin America A319
..and my favourite, the Bahamasair 737-200 C6
Thanks for reading and Happy Christmas!