Until now there is only 1 Airbus family type that I haven’t flown yet and that is the A318 or Babybus. I have been looking for a long while now to find a suitable daytrip itinerary which would include this type. There are not too many carriers around who operate the type, which made the search of course even harder. I know Air France has quite some frames and also the Romanian carrier Tarom has this type up and running... err flying.
As luck may have it, Tarom flies the A318 on it’s morning run OTP-BRU-OTP every weekday, the evening run sees the B737-700 series. Fares on Tarom ex-BRU used to be quite expensive but since the arrival of a 2nd carrier flying nonstop to the Romanian capital, namely the low cost operating Blue Air, there are sometimes good fares available. As luck may have it again, timings and fares were favourable to build a daytrip to Bucharest, trying out these 2 carriers.
A oneway BRU-OTP was booked on Tarom for € 111 for a Friday in Nov, whilst the return on the same day was booked with Blue Air for € 46 with a € 3 seat selection fee included. Both bookings were done on the respective websites which were straightforward and easy to use, some language glitches aside.
This trip would give me 2 new airlines, 1 new airport and 1 new type to be flown.
Some 2 months prior to departure I got an unexpected email from Tarom informing me that the morning flight was cancelled on Wed and Fri and I was subsequently rebooked on the evening flight. Bugger... This of course being of no use, I called the Tarom agency in Brussels which gave me a refund of the ticket without any questions asked. I set out to look for alternatives and there came Lufthansa to the rescue who was offering a DUS-OTP flight on a Eurowings CRJ900 for € 83. Timings were good as well to allow me a 1h connecting time in OTP.
To connect the dots, a train ticket was booked on some ICE’s and regional trains to get me from my hometown in Belgium right to the door of the terminal at DUS.
This revised trip schedule would now give me 2 new airlines and 2 new airports, so the loss of the A318 was now compensated with the gain of DUS, so to speak.
DUS-OTP on Eurowings CRJ900
OTP-BRU on Blue Air B737-400
And a map (thanks to the excellent www.gcmap.com, copyright Karl L Schwartz):
Going out late the evening before a busy flying day is normally not my style but the night before I end up with some long-time-no-see friends in a comedy club - where we saw a fantastic show btw - and had maybe just one beer too many and lost track of time. So after a restless 4h in my bed, the alarm urges me to get up at about 5h15. At 5h30 I pull the front door behind me and bike my way to my hometown’s train station to catch the first IR train of the day at 5h45, direction Düsseldorf Airport. Being a Friday and a day a
fter All Saints’ Day, the train is expectedly empty as many people have taken this day off as well to enjoy a long weekend.
Half an hour later, I arrive at Brussels North station, which is btw not the most pleasant of train stations (and no crooks around today):
I connect here to ICE 11 to Frankfurt via Kôln:
On the way to Kôln, we manage to produce a 15 min delay which makes me miss my connection to ICE 545 to Düsseldorf Hbf. This is not a real problem, I just take the next one which is only 15 mins later. Of course I miss my orginal connection in Düsseldorf Hbf as well but the next one runs only some 20 mins later than the orginal one, so again: no problemo
Finally after a 3h30 train ride I arrive at Düsseldorf Airport train station:
Düsseldorf airport - DUS
The main terminal is reached by a ride on the monorail, which is a nice intermediate form of transport between a train and a plane:
Some preliminary views of the apron underway on the monorail:
A good 25 mins later than anticipated I finally enter the departure hall of DUS:
All seems well for the flight. I turn left and head over to the Lufthansa SSK’s to produce me a boarding pass, seat 4F for me today. You don’t want to be in the back part of the cabin on these CRJ’s, they produce way too much engine noise! A fact that I will see confirmed some time later that day on the way to OTP.
The Lufthansa checkin area:
The security screening is just next to the checkin area and is deserted so I’m through in a jiffy. Next thing I walk to the very end of the A terminal to gate A78B:
Suddenly I get stopped by a long line reaching all the way to some border control booths. With nearly all my travelling done intra-Schengen I realise just now that I actually need to go through here I stand in line for 5 mins. The line doesn’t move at all. Apparently it seems to be change of guard because all of a sudden 6 extra booths open at once and all of the line swarms out to the different booths. When it is my turn, the officer asks me for my destination to which I reply with ‘Bucharest’. ‘You are in the wrong place’, he says. Me: ‘Huh?’ He asks for my BP, which most clearly says gate 78B, which is most clearly BEHIND the booth I’m standing in front of. The officer makes a phone call to ask for some gate confimation and yes, surprise!, I’m in the right place I do wonder if this guy - he looked quite young - actually knows who he has to let through here?
The window views in this terminal are definitely not the best, it feels like you are in some kind of boat or so:
Next thing I find gate A78B, which is a ‘to be expected’ bus gate hidden deep down in the catacombs of the A terminal:
I take place in one of the ‘most comfy’ seaters and to my delight, the views to the apron here are nice and clear. This A343 will be leaving to EWR around the same time as my flight to OTP:
The Eurowings farm is right behind the A340’s hairdryer, most probably my flight will be leaving from that area:
Some minutes before boarding time, the gate agent arrives and boarding is called not long thereafter. Not too many people in the bus, so a light load is to be expected.
DUS to OTP
seat 4F, changed to 4A
Photo © Joachim Eichner
The amount of Eurowings CRJ’s on the apron has meanwhile grown. I count 9 examples and we stop next to the very last one in line, which is a 2010 machine:
Close up of the type designation:
Sorry FLIEGER67, not ‘under the wing’ this time
I enter the plane as the last passenger:
The cabin impression is really good, the expected thin seats, good legroom and large windows for one to look through. The cabin crew consists of 2 biz friendly female FA’s.
After the usual welcome words and safety demo, the door is closed and the cockpit crew promises us a calm flight of about 2h05 mins with an expected arrival in OTP ahead of schedule. That sounds like music to my ears!
D-ACNT next door:
On the way to 23L we taxi by what seemingly is a TXL-like Air Berlin facility (or is it a maintenance hangar?):
A company CRJ200:
JAT turning in for 23L::
This is the train station where I came from with what appears to be an observation deck:
After holding short at the runway threshold for a min or 2, the engines are revved up and we start our short powerful takeoff roll:
The takeoff is quite nice actually, some clouds and good visibility:
Almost above the clouds...
Sadly enough, the clouds pack together soon and the sun faces the right side of the plane where I am seated. As there’s plenty of room available - the load is not even 50% - I change seats to the opposite side.
After some 30 mins airborne time, lunch is served. We get a pack with 2 sandwiches, one with chicken and mozzarella and one with rocket salad and Gouda cheese. They both taste excellent and are washed down with some tea and lemon and apple juice.
Some time after lunch and drinks service, a 2nd drinks run is done where I opt for a Coke which is served in a small plastic cup.
The contents of the seat pocket features your usual reading stuff:
Nope it is not me and I don’t have checked in luggage neither
After all those drinks I am in desperate need for a visit to the lavatorial facilities and although I can make use of the front lavatory which is just one step away from my seat - and there is no one in business class so it is perfectly legitimate for me to use it - I go to the back one. While doing my thing I become to notice that the lound droning of the engines is really unbearable. And there’s even a woman sleeping in the last row!
Right opposite of the lavatory is the tiny galley and jumpseat. I wonder if the FA’s alternate between the front and back jumpseat to escape from the engine noise?
The cabin seen from the back:
A disabled seat or a seat for the disabled?
When looking out of the window I notice quite some other traffic:
The weather in Romania seems quite nice although the captain announces it as hazy and cloudy in Bucharest.
After 1h40 of flight time, the engines spool back and we gently start the descent for OTP airport.
It is hazy indeed:
NYC errr... Bucharest World City in the background:
We touchdown as promised a solid half an hour before schedule. The landing is soft but the plane is rambling like a rattlesnake on this long, long, long ago paved runway. Talking about potholes in my lawn, come to OTP and experience some real ones.
Some military and graveyard stuff:
OTP’s terminal. From afar it looks a bit weird. It really is a mixture of architectural styles that don’t match together too well:
‘Aeroportul Internaţional Henri Coandă’, Tarom’s main hub:
We make a halt at a remote position. Disembarkation is pretty quick and I manage to take a quick pic of the CRJ’s front office:
Bucharest airport - OTP
A typical Cobus transports us to the terminal. In the Cobus classical music is played which is actually a nice touch. Once in the terminal, I make my way towards the ‘transits’, which are conveniently located right before the border control booths:
One security check later - I guess I was the only one passing through that area that day as seemingly I had to wake up the agents from their hibernation - I find myself in the airside departure area which looks very much the same inside as outside: a mix and mess of styles. There are quite some shops and eateries around for a relatively small terminal.
The gate signage is pretty clear. I wonder if these booths are ever used, they don’t have any equipment in them whatsoever:
2 flights for BRU are leaving within half an hour from each other:
The Tarom one shall be boarding via a lucky double gate:
And is operated by this beauty which is obviously sitting idle for a little while now:
This is a VII (Very Important Item) for a Blue Air boarding procedure as I am about to find out...
After a short walk around and having explored every corner of the terminal I head downstairs in search of gate 32 which will be used for boarding the next flight:
This one will be operating to the ‘other’ Brussels airport, CRL, later tonight:
The Eurowings flight that I came in on is still there as well:
When I arrive at the gate, there is already quite a bit of activity going on although boarding hasn’t started yet. People are already lined up and by the looks of it, this will be one full flight this evening. The demography of this flight seems to be all Romanian, I’m starting to feel a bit like the ugly duck here (maybe I am ).
No less then 5 agents are fooling around at the gate desk and when boarding is actually called, there’s only 1 that scans the BP’s and 1 other that scrutinizes nearly all rollerboards. It is mandatory that they be fitted in the fitting stand. This causes quite some havoc and needless to say the line for boarding doesn’t get any shorter.
After a nearly 10 min (!) wait in line, it is finally my turn to hand over my BP. I hand it over to the agent to which she mumbles ‘passport’ - I duly give it to her - and she tears off the stub and doesn’t even look at the passport to see if it is really me. By far, this must be the most disorganised boarding procedure that I have gone through in a long time.
We wait in a bus which has clearly served as a public bus in the city of Bucharest itself. It is really worn down to the brim. Finally we drive off in a jam packed bus for a tour to the other end of the apron. The bus is so slow that it takes us another 10 (!) full minutes to reach the aircraft on duty today. Admittedly, we had to hold short for a Tarom bird gone tech which was undergoing an engine test. Sure, if we passed that bird from behind, the windows of the bus would’ve certainly blown out.
OTP to BRU
Photo © AviaStar Photography
The herd is let out of the bus and I take my time for some pics, luckily nobody of the ground staff minds:
A Tarom A310 in the background!
On both sides of our plane there’s something interesting to spot, first to the right side is a Sun Country plane with a US reg (no pic, sorry) and to the left side is this nice one from Air Bucharest:
From another angle:
Yes FLIEGER67, she’s blonde, she’s todays captain and her name is Claudia. Unfortunately I didn’t get her number...
The last shot before entering this old lady:
The first impression of the cabin is how I expected it to be: old and worn. The bins are no longer white white but yellowish white, of the faded type white. You know what I mean. But the cabin is clean, the leather seats are comfy and the legroom is not low cost at all:
Also on board things don’t go smooth. The apparently friendly but a bit reserved Blue Air ladies and man have a hard time getting everyone settled in. Families not seated together, first time fliers who don’t understand that there’s actually a seat number on the BP, you name it, it all happens here today.
By now it is already 20 mins passed scheduled departure time. Finally things start to move and we head off for the departure runway:
We hold short errr... long to enter it halfway for about 20 more mins due to 4 landing planes in a row. This man has his own house near the runway, would he be a planespotter?
Why don’t they use the 2nd runway as well, one for takeoff and the other for landing? That would be way more efficient right now! At last we take a left turn and backtrack all the way to the threshold. Due to the full load I think we need every inch of the runway. From an angle I see the Tarom Skyteam plane to BRU entering the runway behind us and taking off immediately.
I smell an urgent need for resurfacing works here:
Eventually we have a ‘wheels up’ 50 mins after schedule which is acknowledged by our female captain.
She apologises and also mentions the reason for this delay: boarding. That is a ¾ right and truthful explanation. She is however willing to make up at least some mins of the delay because the plane keeps on climbing at high revs until cruising alt. No derated takeoff today!
The flight time is announced as a lenghty 2h45 mins.
The views outside are fantastic, the setting sun and the cloud layer make for a wonderful evening scene.
The crew distributes the menus for the BOB. Since I’m not very hungry I just take a drink and a sesame bar for € 3:
My neighbour’s tray table will not last for much longer now...
The inflight magazine is of moderate interest:
The views outside continue to amaze me so I put my headphones and listen to some soothing jazzy music while I glue my eyes to the window until it gets too dark to see anything.
I drift off for a while and next thing I know we are established on final descent for ‘Bruxelles Zaventem Airport’.
Landing is on 24L and a short taxi later we dock at a finger gate at the B terminal.
ET is definitely not @ home:
But I am, yes. And as expected, the Tarom flight has beaten us on the way here.
Eurowings/Lufthansa was a most dynamic and enjoyable duo. In fact I might be a bit prejudiced because I’m a true sucker for these long CRJ planes (from -700 on). The Eurowings ones are not as good looking as the Estonian Air ones, but the inside is really pleasant and modern. The big downside is of course the engine noise in the back, but that’s quickly solved with a seat more upfront.
The flight was well on time and the catering was excellent. All in all, a most positive experience.
Blue Air was actually quite pleasant as well. The booking, seat reservation and OLCI worked without a glitch on their basic website. And for a total fare of € 46 you cannot go wrong. The plane was an old lady - but let that be a positive thing - the catering was decent and most of all the seating comfort was excellent. The boarding process however was a disgrace for OTP airport, they really should do it more efficiently to ensure an ontime departure.
Thank you for reading and feel free to leave your comments!