Connect 4 – four weeks in…

So we’ve been running our first ever bus service for four weeks now. I feel we’ve learnt a fair bit already, although we know there’ll be more to learn over the coming weeks and months.

Our route 18 links Stokesley, Great Ayton and Guisborough, maintaining a link dropped by another operator at the end of August. It extends from Guisborough to Saltburn too, opening up new direct bus links there.

We launched it at the start of this school year in September, albeit at short notice taking advantage of the current Covid rules meaning the usual ten week registration period doesn’t apply. We had plans to launch a bus service in June/July, before Covid hit – it wasn’t on this route – which still forms part of our future plans.

Route 18 leaflet front cover designed by Gary Hunter – promoting the new links to Saltburn!

We had a timetable leaflet & poster designed by one of my friends, Gary Hunter, who is aiming to get into the graphic design business. I also set up new social media accounts for the Coatham Connect brand as I knew we wanted to have it as a distinctly separate brand from the coaches.

Route 18 leaflet designed by Gary Hunter

As we started on 1st September, it was a week before the start of the school run we had linked in with it, which meant we started on the school holiday timetable.

I’m not a huge fan of having separate timetables for schooldays and holidays, it can be confusing for customers and I generally shy away from it, but unfortunately at times… needs must.

It was lovely to be asked to drive the first few days – especially as it was my idea and I’d been involved heavily in building it from start to service in little under 3 weeks.

My CoathamConnect Solo in Guisborough on its maiden voyage on our new route 18.

It was encouraging to have a passenger on the very first trip, given it was the 0818 journey which is effectively just a positioner in school holidays. She got on at the third stop along the route and told me how happy she was that we’d ‘saved’ the service.

The first week was a bit up and down but day one was an encouraging start with almost 50 people using our ‘new’ service. Since then we’ve seen it go up and down with some low figures and some also very high.

It’s been good to see a nice mix of concessionary cards and cash fares, and getting a little handheld contactless machine has been a godsend as it’s been used a hell of a lot. With Covid still around then the ability to take contactless payments instead of cash has been used many times. Not many people wish to carry cash these days. I know myself I’ve paid contactless for a lot more in the past few months than ever before.

Our CoathamConnect fleet is growing!

We’ve not had any issues with overloading yet, but I don’t think we will do to be honest, it’s not the kind of route that will ever attract huge numbers of passengers. We expected that from the start although I have been close to leaving people behind a few times since the start.

There’s already two distinct trips that stand out as our busiest services, those being the 1045 from Stokesley and 1300 return from Saltburn. We have a lovely band of regulars who use our bus to go shopping, and they clearly rely on their lifeline service.

It’s also been good to see a lot of tourism use for day trips to Saltburn with the new link there proving popular when the suns out. When the weather isn’t great like the last few day’s it’s been poor but I kinda expected that. Word is still getting round too – so as more people find out about it I would expect to see usage continue to climb.

Some of the amazing views on our 18 route across the area from the edge of Saltburn!

The timetable I wrote I would say is ‘ok’, it’s not perfect but it’s close enough. There is enough time in it overall but some of the intermediate timings are questionable. It’s something we can tweak at a later date but it does the job for now. Passengers appreciate a bus that turns up when it says it will, and we generally achieve that. The only time I struggle is when I’m busy heading to Stokesley, which is generally that 1300 trip as mentioned earlier. The 23 minutes from Guisborough plus 4 minutes recovery time in Stokesley has sometimes been exceeded! Generally it’s ok though.

Four weeks in and I’m quietly confident – we were given a rough idea on passenger figures by the councils from the previous service – generally we exceed them on 90% of days. Even on the bad days we’re not far off the previous average though.

The only thing I’m not happy with is the school journeys heading from Guisborough to Stokesley and back – we only have two regulars using it and we perhaps need to look at how we can attract more. The timings aren’t ideal however we can’t really change much at present – we have it linked with an existing contract that we need the revenue from to make the service pay.

It would be good to know if anyone has any ideas for topics to blog about, or any comments on this (or previous) posts.

Until next time, stay safe and have a great week!

Connecting Communities – How we set about doing something different

So it’s another week over, the third week of keeping our communities connected!

I thought I’d give you a bit of background on our new little bus service and how it came about. Our route 18 runs from Stokesley to Saltburn, via Guisborough and started three weeks ago at the start of September. I’m glad to say it’s proving popular already.

Early concept designs of the Coatham Connect brand

For a coach operator used to mainly operating contracts, making the step into local bus services is a huge culture change. Coatham generally do school & college contracts as well as the odd tour – all of these have one thing in common, the money is guaranteed.

Running bus services requires a change in thinking for sure, as the operator takes the commercial risk. If people don’t like it then they won’t use it, and you could be running at a loss for a while! Luckily(?!) we live in times where the usual rules of 70 days to start, change or remove any bus services have been suspended.

That gave us the opportunity to ensure no gaps were left in the local bus network when Arriva withdrew from a route local to us. They’d been struggling to ‘make it pay’ for a while, with a service change in April 2020 seeing it ‘saved’ (temporarily) during lockdown with a limited service extending until the end of August.

The last day of Arriva running their 81S in Stokesley

So we decided during August that we would take on what was known as the ‘81S’ between Stokesley and Coatham’s home town, Guisborough. That gave us little over two weeks to get everything prepared for Coatham’s first foray into local bus services.

We had to come up with a timetable that would give us a shot at building a commercially viable service. We decided it had to be worked around a school contract to have any chance of being viable, so I built a timetable that would wrap around this. I decided to try extending the service from Guisborough to Saltburn, a route operated by my former employers, albeit a few years ago now – it ceased before I joined them!

The completed, if basic, timetable for our new bus route

So the first Coatham Connect bus service was born. Now as anyone who knows me I always have plans for a network of services, where I think there are gaps in the existing bus network. Our new bus was to be numbered ‘18’ – a number that both fits into my future plans, and is the opposite of the ‘81’ number that Arriva still use for the Guisborough to Redcar & Marske section of route that survives. A rather clever and fitting route number I thought.

Obviously being a coach operator there was nothing really suitable in the fleet to operate the service so I had to go out and find a vehicle that would be the regular 18 bus. Thankfully my good friend at Go North East had a suitable candidate lined up for me, and we completed the deal for an Optare Solo that was, at the time, surplus to requirements at GNE. A few days later we were able to go and pick it up from their Percy Main depot, and dropped it off at a paintshop on the way home!

Picking our little Solo up from GNE’s Percy Main depot

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of sorting paperwork, getting timetables designed, making duty boards, organising ticket machines, temporary ticketing facilities, and we even managed to acquire a handheld contactless payment device.

It’s a credit to the team we have at Coatham that we were able to pick this up at such short notice and get everything in place in such a short time. The CoathamConnect brand was my idea to differentiate the services from our core business of coaches.

This is just the start, I am sure… watch this space for where we go next!

My next blog will cover the launch of our route, how the first few weeks have gone and what we’ve already learnt. Have a great week!

Restart 2020 – We’re back at work… finally!

After a long six months off work, bar the odd few days (as detailed previously) we finally got to go back full time to work in August 2020. It felt like starting a new job, albeit with the same colleagues and crew at Coatham. There’s so many changes to what we do it feels almost like a new job!

With the schools going back in September it meant we were of course back to full output with school & college bus services. It was great to be back doing what we all loved, and actually having a sense of purpose again.

Getting the fleet ready for the restart. We gained a brand new Plaxton Leopard on lease too!

I actually returned in the last week of August as we had four new team members to get prepared for the new term. I volunteered to help out with route learning on the college network that we run as it was my old network at my previous job. Of course I knew all of the routes as I’d driven every single one. As we were due to start in the first week of September I spent a few hours on top of doing other work helping show the new drivers their new college routes that they would be driving.

As many of you know in my previous job I ran a fairly successful network of bus services. Ever since I joined Coatham I’ve been pushing to set up a little network of services across our area. Of course it’s quite a change of mentality for a company who have only ever ran coaches – certainly in terms of running something at your own commercial risk. The closest we’ve got to that I suppose is the day trip program which is fairly successful as it has a loyal band of followers.

More coaches get prepared for the new school year. Our Levantes were converted to 70 seats and then repainted all white!

Fast forward 12 months and we actually had an opportunity to pick up a route in our area that was to be dropped by a larger operator. It all came at very short notice, but from mid August it’s been a bit of a whirlwind in getting everything in place to start on 1st September. This is alongside prepping everything else for schools going back of course.

It’s become my little project and I’ll write a more in depth blog about this… but the intention from my point of view was to ensure links remained open and available otherwise you lose people from public transport for good. Once that happens it’s almost impossible to get them back.

Coatham Connect became the brand name for our bus services… my bus services!

So Coatham Connect was born! With the tagline ‘Keeping our communities connected’ we aimed to ensure people could still travel to where they needed to go. Route 18 started on 1st September linking Stokesley, Great Ayton and Guisborough, replacing Arriva’s 81S, and it extends to Saltburn too, a link last run around 4 years ago ironically by my last company, albeit before I was there.

We’re two weeks in now but it’s going fairly well so far. Having heard some passenger figures from during the period of the 81S operating it seems we are running at about the same level with a much lower cost base. We had to cut the operational hours down and run less trips. It’s not a timetable I am happy with but it’s very much ‘needs must’ at present to ensure its sustainable in the long term.

My little Solo on the very first morning of our new Connect 18 route, before the inaugural trip

I drove the first week – we started on a Tuesday – which consisted of four days solid doing the same duty every day. There is only one driver & bus running the route to keep costs down. It was encouraging to see so many regular faces even during week one. Lots of people thankful for continuing to run a bus to ensure they could go shopping, access healthcare, meet their friends, things like that. We were already living up to the tag we’d set… we were keeping our communities connected.

Since then I’ve done a week on ‘schools’ taking school & college children to education and back home again. That’s very much our bread & butter work. My very able assistant Steven had a turn on the 18 route instead. Between us we’ll keep driving on the 18 route and we’ve already become popular with the regulars which is great.

I love taking ‘group’ shots. It’s a powerful image, even better when they all match, unlike this 🤔

Hopefully it will continue to grow as more people find out about it. Being part of a family business we don’t have an endless marketing budget but we’ve been promoting it on social media (it’s free!) and must have given our hundreds of leaflets too!

I’m grateful to have been given an opportunity to showcase my skills. I hope this is just the start of the Coatham Connect story, so watch this space for more.

I’ll try and make this a more regular feature and find things to blog about in the world of buses & coaches. It’s something I want to get into so here’s hoping it’s not too boring 😉

Day 4 – last day of the working week?

As I mentioned yesterday – today was a nice short day with just 4 hours driving the Asda shopper buses, well I say bus, we actually use a coach on it. It’s not ideal and has really limited what we can do with it.

Back in September we did have an Enviro 200 on lease for 3 months which was perfect and passenger numbers were slowly growing – especially after the gap during the summer where the service didn’t run at all following the failure of the previous operator.

It saw use on various college runs and schools too as it was belted. The only issue was it wasn’t ours! As it was a lease bus it was expensive – but with supermarket shopper buses generally not being a long term contract it’s hard to justify long term spending. Ultimately it was decided to terminate the lease and utilise our existing fleet.

Our loaned E200mmc at Normanby

The Asda shopper bus to the store at South Bank has been running for a good 25-30 years to the same routes and times. It was operated by Stagecoach for many years until they lost all of the school work that used to fit around the Asda contract. Then my previous company took it on, and when they closed Asda had to find another operator – that’s when Coatham picked it up.

There’s a dedicated band of regulars that rely on it to get their shopping each week, but numbers have noticeably dropped to the point where it’s running in single figures every week on most runs. At Stagecarriage we were sometimes getting 25-30 people on some runs, I’m not going to pretend it was every week but certainly the four services that we run now were fairly busy!

We used to run a bus on a Wednesday from Guisborough, Skelton and Lingdale. It carried numbers similar to what we are seeing now and eventually ended up getting dropped. That’s really playing on my mind currently and wondering what we can do to improve things.

Our Merc Cheetah that became the solid Asda vehicle for most of the year!

Obviously the fact that the current service isn’t ‘accessible’ is a big barrier to people using it. We used a Cheetah for a while, and we couldn’t even get shopping trolleys down the aisle! Recently we’ve been using the Yutong TC9 and the aisle is a bit wider at least – but still dragging trolleys up and down the steps becomes a chore. Especially with the current situation where it’s not safe to be handling other people’s property – being unable to help with trolleys and bags isn’t ideal.

Unfortunately more and more people have stopped using the Asda buses. The current message from the government over avoiding public transport clearly doesn’t help. The old saying ‘use it or lose it’ is not being helped by the service being unattractive though. Internally of course it’s attractive with comfy seats, air con (though not at present!) and radio.

Using a coach on the Asda shopper bus, lovely for drivers – but not so much the passengers.

It’s more of an issue now that the remaining few shopper buses are generally funded by the store themselves rather than centrally too. If not enough people are using them then they’re likely to be asking questions over whether it’s worth funding… and that’s what I don’t want to happen. I’ve seen too many lifeline services lost forever due to cuts or withdrawal of funding.

I’m glad to say we are looking for suitable vehicles to add to the fleet and even looking at opportunities to fill gaps in the bus network around our area. The addition of more college routes means there’s an abundance of vehicles generally sat around in the middle of the day. This is of course exacerbated by the current Covid situation where the daytime private hire work has dropped off a cliff.

There’s still, at the current time, the deadline for all operators to introduce PSVAR compliant vehicles. This means that all school routes from 1st August, where seats are paid for individually, need to be operated with PSVAR compliant vehicles. Whether this will be delayed (again) remains to be seen. It requires huge investment and is not particularly viable for most – especially with no revenue coming in for the last 6 months but that’s another story altogether! It will be interesting to see what happens in September.

Our Asda shopper bus timetable – with the new CoathamConnect branding

The cheaper way to do this is to bring in some buses, which then opens up the potential of using them in the middle of the day ‘between schools’. It’s a tried and tested method of building a network of local bus services. After all it’s a comparatively low cost (the bus and driver costs are both paid for) option.

That’s where the Coatham Connect brand comes in. Running bus services I like to think is my area of expertise, I’ve been in the industry now for coming up 10 years. In my previous job I was lucky to get experience behind the scenes of actually running a successful little network of services. Ultimately we were sadly let down by an owner who didn’t care.

It’s something I think we could do, and do well. With the backing of a wonderful family business and an already well known brand there’s no reason why we couldn’t build a nice little network across the area. The only issue is it’s a step into the unknown for a company who have only known coaching for the last 38 years!

Still, we’ll have to see what the future brings us… and what other unknowns are around the corner! All I do know is that all of us are itching to get back to work – and my week hasn’t finished here. I’ve got two days over the weekend of rail replacement, the first Coatham have worked for many years.

Watch out for tomorrow’s story!

Day 3 – Old favourites, and something new…

So after a day off it was back to it today with a short shift driving our Asda contract. It’s a handful of lifeline routes connecting local communities to the Asda supermarket near Middlesbrough. It’s something I’ve been driving for the last 4 years so I know all the regulars and they all know me too. More on that tomorrow though…

It’s not the only thing I’ve done today, I’ve also recently had chance in some spare time to start work on updating the destination displays for the coaches. As we’ve taken on lots of new contracts this year, starting in September, all of the displays need updating too. Nothing annoys me more than companies having the tools to look professional and doing the exact opposite. Several local companies don’t bother using destination displays on coaches when they really should, myself and another driver pride ourselves on keeping ours up to date.

As I have a job that requires a PSVAR vehicle this weekend it meant they needed an update putting in for those destinations anyway so I set to work on rearranging all of the destination list. We have three different types of destination displays at Coatham, however to make it easy for all of us we have set about ensuring all three use the same codes for the same destination.

The three types we have, if anybody is interested, are:

  • Hanover (Volvo Levantes)
  • Mobitec (Volvo Panther)
  • Gorba (Merc Tourismo’s)

As you can imagine it’s quite a job to update three different types and takes a few days to do, in between other jobs of course.

One of the Tourismo’s updated this afternoon

I was expecting to go home at lunchtime today, after doing the Asda bus, but I was asked to stay and cover two school runs so it gave me time to work on some more destinations and the Gorba list is about half done now!

Eventually it was time to make my way across to one of our primary schools that we serve to take two of the little kids home. I’ve never done any of these runs before but with instructions left for me and a bit of a look at Google Maps it seemed an easy enough 10 minute run.

This afternoons choice was our rather nice EVM Sprinter!

After that it was onto Stokesley to pick up two students and drop them off on the way back to the yard – just two kids from what would normally be 2 70 seater contracts! Just shows the odd times that we are in right now.

More of the same tomorrow as I’m on the Asda contract again so more about that later. Stay safe everybody

Honk for Hope! Day 2 in the week of a coach driver

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the UK’s coach industry has effectively been closed by the effects of Covid19. Other industries have had financial help from our government however even schemes designed to help tourism businesses have been denied to most coach operators across the country.

The majority of coach operators in the UK are small family businesses without the financial backing of the major groups. A lot of families have been doing this for many generations. Unfortunately many of them are staring down the barrel of going out of business without some financial help.

As an attempt to raise awareness of our plight a couple of companies came together to organise an event as a display and a plea for help. Over 90 coaches attended an event at Lightwater Valley (who provided their car park free of charge) last week. We were unable to attend however from pictures & videos I saw there was a wide array of operators from across the North East and Yorkshire.

There was a lot of press coverage of the event, of course. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to gain as much traction as we’d have collectively liked with those in charge. So plans were put together for a second event today. A lot of organisation went into a second, larger event in Blackpool, involving coach operators from across the North (generally). The plan included various groups coming together to merge into a longer convoy on the M6 and M55 motorways, to minimise disruption.

North East operators converge at Tebay truck stop this morning

The North East operators, who seemed to lead the organisation of the whole operation, set a meeting point for others at the truck stop in Tebay before heading down the M6 towards Blackpool in a convoy (where that wouldn’t cause too much disruption to traffic flow). The plan was to see more coaches joining as we travelled south.

It was great to see a strong display from the North East when we got to Tebay, with most of the front line operators sending at least one coach. There’s too many to mention but Coatham were happy to join in and we took one of our Yutong TC9’s. We left our depot near Guisborough just after 7am in order to get to Tebay for 9am. In total I think we had around 20 coaches in the NE convoy, including our leader from North East Coachways that was fully branded up with the ‘Honk for Hope’ slogan!

North East Coachways’ huge Van Hool Astromega that proudly led the convoy all the way to Blackpool – branded for ‘Honk for Hope’
Thanks to Tony Nicholson for the photo

As we travelled south on the M6 more and more coaches joined us from Southwaite Services and then more at an ad-hoc stop at Lancaster Services to get timings in check. We went from being towards the back of the North East clan to being in the middle of a longer trail of coaches! It really made for an awesome sight.

The North East convoy winds its way down the M6 this morning

As we reached the start of the M55 the perfect timings allowed the Yorkshire/Lancashire convoy to join us from the other direction as we all merged together to form a 190+ coach convoy into Blackpool. It truly was an awesome sight and great to be part of. The plan saw us travel the length of the M55, then past the Airport to the south end of the Promenade, driving the length of the prom to Gynn Square before returning towards the Airport and then parking up in the Yeadon Way car park helpfully provided by Blackpool Council free of charge for the event.

The amount of people out taking photos, waving and generally supporting our plight the length of the Promenade in Blackpool was truly amazing and great to see. Having been part of the NE group we never got to see the true length of the convoy behind us, so on our return trip down the Prom we spent more time waving to those still heading the opposite way than anything else. It was like we were all one massive family, just awesome to see the amount of operators and coaches that had turned out for this event, at their own cost, to help join the shout for funding.

I’m still waiting to hear a confirmed final number however I’ve heard figures suggested of 189 and 196 coaches joining us in Blackpool today.

One of the awesome drone pictures showing the amazing turnout from across the North!
Thanks to Jenna Rush for the photo

As mentioned above Blackpool Council provided Yeadon Way car park to host the post-drive gathering, as you can see it took some organisation to get everyone parked up. Shoutout to all the stewards working to help us all park up, most of them seem to have been supplied by local operators including Archway Travel, thank you!

It was certainly a huge challenge to fit nearly 200 coaches into a piece of land not designed for it, but the professionalism of all drivers involved made easy work of it.

As all of the coaches kept piling into the parking area it was amazing to see just how far some had travelled to come to this event. Shoutout to Grange Travel from Gravesend who had come the furthest that I’m aware of. Must have been a good 6 hour trip from Kent?!

Our Coatham Yutong parked up among coaches from across Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria

I had a wander around to look at who had brought what and have a chat to a few drivers from different operators. Everyone had to be socially distant of course, given the Covid19 situation. It was great to see so many family operators there supporting the cause.

It was great to join everyone else at the bottom of the makeshift coach park to hear speeches by some of the organisers. There was a ‘guest’ speech by a local business owner and entertainer thanking us for backing the cause and acknowledging everything we do for hotels, theatres and other businesses in Blackpool in terms of bringing customers to them. Of course we stand in solidarity with them too.

All too quickly the whole event was over and everyone started to make their way home. It was certainly odd heading back up the M6 on our own on the way home.

My thanks to everyone involved in organising today’s rally. There’s too many to mention properly however I’ll specifically mention Jenna Rush (North East Coach Travel), Sam Archer (Archway Travel), Tony Nicholson (North East Coachways) and Matthew Forsyth (owner driver) for their organisation skills and basically ensuring the whole day ran perfectly.

It was the first time I’ve been involved in such an event and I honestly doubt I’ll see a better one. Just shows what happens when you leave people in charge who know exactly what they’re doing.

I’ve got a day off tomorrow but standby for the next instalment! Keep safe!

First week back at work – Day 1

So as with most coach drivers across the country, I’ve recently found myself with very little to do other than sit at home wondering when we might be back doing what we do best. The current Covid19 situation has decimated 95% of coach operators which are generally family run, just like ours. Some big names have left the scene but the majority of operations are effectively shut down with very few having much to do.

Then just the other day I got the text from my manager asking me to come back. It might only be for a week but it’s better than nothing! Of course I’d always been in touch as we look forward to taking on more contracts – and try out some new ideas – in September. Until then though, we are all on furlough with the little work left being shared out between those of us on full time contracts.

It’s great to be back! Many of the fleet have been laid up for 4 months…

This week it’s my turn to be back in the driving seat, literally. After 16 weeks off it felt amazing to be back doing what I’ve (nearly) always done in my working career.

So I’ve got 4 days work this week, and it started today with a nice easy school run, to one of our regular schools. It was a mix of three different routes to take the small number of children to school who were in today. Talk about being eased back in gently!

Allocated the ‘new’ Mercedes Tourismo in our fleet for today’s short trip

After checking the coach over I left the depot at 0720, a time I’ve not seen for months! I’ve got used to getting up late so it will be nice to get back into a routine… all too soon I was dropping the few kids (all 7 of them!) off at school and then back at the depot little over an hour later. With three hours to wait until the return run – they must only do half a day – I set about starting to rewrite all of the destination lists to include all of the new routes that we have from September.

It’ll be nice to have the entire bunch of college services that I used to drive in my previous job back under one roof as it were. Coatham have picked up 4 additional routes to a local college so we will operate 12 routes from September. It’s testament to the hard work of all of us to make it work and to our management team for putting the investment in to enable this expansion to happen.

One of our PSVAR ready Levantes having undergone a transformation during this quiet period. We’ve got two of these, both rebuilt externally and internally during summer 2020.

Time seemed to fly and soon it was time to go back to the school to do my return run and take the same kids home again after their easy day. Again it took little over an hour and then it was the end of my first day too. After disinfecting the seats and touch points on my coach of course. During this unusual period we’ve all stepped up our cleaning procedures including daily ‘fogging’ of the coaches. I’ll try to get a picture of that as it’s certainly something new!

I’ll try to do a daily blog of this week so check back to see what else I get up to. It’s certainly a varied week looking at what’s currently planned. I’ve been watching a number of ‘blogs’ on YouTube and just wish I had the confidence to talk to a camera. For now you’ll have to put up with a written blog…

Until next time, drive safe!

Flight #13 – the final fling!

  • Hainan Airlines HU751
  • Dublin to Edinburgh
  • Boeing 787-900 B-1543
  • Thursday 15th August 2019

It was another early start with no breakfast this morning, as the Premier Inn didn’t start early enough for me. Had to be downstairs for the bus at 0615 to the Airport as my flight departs at 0800. After picking a few people up at the next hotel we arrived at 0625 and I made my way back through the car park to Terminal 2 to find the Hainan check in desks.

I was quickly checked in and headed through security in a little over 5 minutes. The next challenge was to find somewhere for breakfast as I just wanted a quick grab and go rather than full sit down meal given the short time I had before boarding commenced. I was rather surprised to find my first option, Burger King, didn’t do any breakfast items at all! I did not fancy a burger at half 6 in the morning… luckily I found another little cafe who did pastries and other warm breakfast items.

My Hainan Boeing 787 sat at the gate in Dublin

Before long we were boarding and I made my way to my seat, 50K, which was near the back of the aircraft. The 787 was set out in a 3-3-3 configuration and this flight was, as expected, fairly empty with maybe 50-60% of seats taken.

Oddly the cabin crew came around with the inflight snack – in this case a ham and cheese sandwich – and a bottle of water even before we’d pushed back. It was a short flight of around 50 minutes but other crews manage a full service (with full aircraft) on shorter flight times. They also ensured any seatbelts that weren’t in use were tied together for takeoff which I’ve never seen done before but probably makes sense from a safety point of view.

Inflight snacks & drinks given out before departure is certainly a new one on me!

We cruised at a height of 24000ft across the Irish Sea to Edinburgh, landing bang on schedule at 0911 with a short taxi to the gate. Of course after landing in Edinburgh the aircraft was to go onwards to Beijing, although all passengers were made to get off the aircraft during the stop. Everyone walked off the aircraft via the jet bridge but then we had to go downstairs and outside onto buses that would take us round to the “domestic” (including Ireland) arrivals channel.

Our Hainan Boeing 787-900 after arrival in sunny Edinburgh

By the time we had faffed on with the buses to arrivals the bags were already going round on the carousel so I had my bag and within no time was outside to catch the Airlink bus into the city centre. I had a day out around parts of West Lothian before heading home later in the day on the train. And so that ends my crazy trip around Europe! It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I doubt I’ll get as much variety in one trip again. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blogs and I’ll try to keep you up to date on future travels too!

Flight #12 – Return to Dublin

  • Lufthansa LH978
  • Frankfurt Main to Dublin
  • Airbus A340-300 D-AIFD
  • Wednesday 14th August 2019

After a quick walk under the tarmac at Frankfurt from where we were dropped off by the buses, it was upstairs to my next gate for the flight to Dublin.

Once again I was on another widebody aircraft – this time the once a week Airbus A340 that Lufthansa send to Dublin. It operates the LH978/979 rotation on a Wednesday only.

My Lufthansa A340-300 at the gate in Frankfurt

On this leg I was again able to secure a premium economy seat at the online check in stage. For the slightly longer flight to Dublin – around 1 hour 50 minutes – this was rather nice with lots of legroom and lots of room too!

My long haul Premium Economy seat

We were soon boarded and pushing back with the safety demonstration playing on the seatback video screens. It was a rather fast taxi out from Frankfurt and we were soon airborne enroute north to Ireland. The service was completed rather swiftly after departure with drinks and snacks handed out by the professional, but not overly friendly crew, as I sat watching Bundesliga shows on the IFE (in flight entertainment).

Onboard service on the European flight from Frankfurt Main to Dublin

Before I knew it we were descending into Dublin and what looked like a similar morning to that we had left in Germany. We taxied into a remote stand – becoming a theme on this trip – and left via steps onto the apron, though this time it was only a short walk to the terminal door.

Disembarking the A340 – could it be my last trip on one?

That was it… another flight completed and getting rather towards the end of my crazy trip. I just had to grab my bag and head outside for the bus to the hotel. I was staying at the Premier Inn at the Airside Retail Park, which is served by the H1 bus and I’ll attach the times here. It also serves the Travelodge hotel.

Timetable for the H1 bus from Premier Inn at Dublin Airport

They depart from “Area 14” at the Airport which is the ‘long distance’ coach park – come out of Terminal 1 and walk underneath the multi story car park in front of you, out the other side and you will see the coach stops in front of you.

H1 bus parked up (on break I assume!) at my hotel
Premier Inn for Dublin Airport is at Airside Retail Park

Flight #11 – A taste of red, white… and grey!

  • Austrian Airlines OS121
  • Vienna to Frankfurt Main
  • Boeing 777-200 OE-LPA
  • Wednesday 14th August 2019

So it’s another early start with a 0710 departure this morning as I start the journey home. Thankfully I’m just in the ‘Moxy’ hotel on the site of the Airport and you can walk underneath the tarmac to reach the terminal via a dedicated walkway. It takes less than ten minutes to reach the check in desks.

This is another one of the random long haul aircraft used on a short route in between their longer flights. My 777 this morning has arrived literally 90 mins ago from Bangkok. They seem to run these huge aircraft a few times a week, mainly to shift cargo across the network much like BA I am told.

My Austrian 777 on the stand in Vienna

This morning we’re boarding from the nearest gate possible, B01 which is literally right next to the exit from security. I had to go for a wander to find some breakfast before boarding. Thankfully staying on the Airport site I was able to turn up little over an hour before the flight!

The stylish red & grey interior of Austrian’s 777

Boarding was completed rather quickly and we were soon pushing back for our flight to Frankfurt this morning. The captain told us the flight time would be around an hour and ten minutes – another quick hop then!

The IFE was available for us to use even on this short flight

During the short flight we were served a nice piece of marble cake and a drink from the friendly crew – I thought it was interesting how those from Business came back to help the Economy crew once they’d finished the service in the forward cabin.

The Austrian crew certainly weren’t shy with the drinks!

We soon landed into Frankfurt and as has become the norm for me, we parked on a remote stand and were bussed to the terminal. However once again the buses were sat awaiting our arrival, so we were soon on the way to the terminal and we were able to walk straight to the next gate, no security check as we were still in the Schengen area. It makes travelling so much easier across Europe.

Disembarking via steps onto buses at Frankfurt Main seems to have become the norm for me!

It was a long walk underneath the apron for me to my next gate which was in another part of the terminal at Frankfurt. The huge hub is home to Lufthansa’s home operation with flights across the entire world from here – as well as the secondary hub in Munich, in the south of Germany.

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