Flight #10 of 13 – Off to Vienna!

  • Lufthansa LH1232
  • Frankfurt Main to Vienna
  • Airbus A340-600 D-AIHY
  • Tuesday 13th August 2019

After not enough hours of sleep – I got to bed about 2345 – my alarm was soon going off at 0450 as it was time to wake up again to go to Vienna. That gave me half an hour to get ready, pack the final bits in my case and head off to the Holiday Inn Hotel next door for the shuttle bus at 0520 back to Frankfurt’s Terminal 1.

Frankfurt’s magnificent old-style flip destination board still in every day use at Terminal 1

After a ten minute ride into the Airport it was time to head upstairs, drop my bag once again and head through security. Today was the turn of a brand new destination and country for me, Vienna in Austria. Another bonus of this trip was a brand new aircraft type too, the massive and really long Airbus A340-600, which Lufthansa uses twice a week to Vienna this summer.

Lufthansa A340-600 at the gate in Frankfurt

After grabbing a quick bite to eat it was time to board my flight to Vienna. I had selected seat 27K at check in, and thought nothing of it. As we boarded it became clear that I had chosen a seat in Lufthansa’s premium economy cabin. It was a rather nice surprise given I didn’t expect these to be available and I hadn’t paid close attention to the seat layout on the app when choosing my seat.

Lufthansa’s long haul Premium Economy seat

The service was very professional and typically German – as I had come to expect. Snacks (a chocolate biscuit) and drinks were served not long after departure. Given this was a very short flight of little over an hour there was very little time for anything else. We were soon landing in Vienna.

I managed to watch some Bundesliga highlights on the seat back TV I had in front of me. It looks an awesome league and one fact picked up that it was the best attended league in the world, with average attendance across all games over 43000 people!

The seatback in Lufthansa’s premium economy class

We arrived into a bright Vienna and parked on a remote stand. Once we disembarked by the stairs, I was amused to find that everyone fit on just one bus sent for us, and you could have got more people on! There must have been maybe 100 people on the 281 seat A340-600.

Disembarking in Vienna

It’s amazing that Lufthansa are using these large aircraft on such short flights not only to Vienna but also Lisbon and Dublin. There appears to be at least some suggestion that these are being used for crew training requirements.

It was certainly a nice way to travel with a larger premium economy seat – even on such a short route – and I couldn’t believe Lufthansa let you select these at check in for free! It was a short trip to Vienna so I didn’t really get chance to try it properly, so I hoped I could secure one on the leg back to Dublin the next day.

Flight #9 of 13 – First experience of Lufthansa

  • Lufthansa LH981
  • Dublin to Frankfurt Main
  • Airbus A321Neo D-AIEB
  • Monday 12th August 2019

After arriving into the middle of a rain storm in Dublin and a very wet walk up O’Connell Street, I decided instead of getting even more soaked to head straight to the Airport.

The Airlink 747 bus links the city centre and the Airport

The Airlink 747 buses pick up on O’Connell Street up to every ten minutes to go to the Airport, single fare €7 cash or less if bought online in advance. Travel time is around 30 minutes, depending on traffic. It proved to be a good decision to head there earlier than planned as we hit some heavy traffic enroute that took about ten minutes extra to negotiate.

Soon enough I was dropped off at Terminal 1 to check in for my flight to Frankfurt. I was travelling with Lufthansa for the very first time and was a bit unsure what to expect, especially when I got to the self check in machine and it refused to find my booking. Sure enough the wonderful staff took me to an empty desk at the business class check in to sort it for me, and soon I was on my way to the gate.

Dublin’s Terminal 1 always seems so crowded when you get airside – it’s as if everywhere could do with extra space and there is never enough seating capacity. I started to miss my lounge access that I enjoyed when travelling BA… I decided to head for Burger King for some tea given I’d not be arriving in Frankfurt until 9pm.

My Lufthansa A321neo to Frankfurt in a very wet Dublin

Checking on the inbound flight it was running around half hour late. Nothing too amazing. Sure enough they had it turned round swiftly and we started boarding around 1745 for an 1800 (supposedly) departure. No sooner had we got on then the flight crew came on with a message, in German and then perfect English, welcoming us onboard but unfortunately telling us that we’d be stuck for around an hour here in Dublin due to weather enroute and in Frankfurt. Slot time was 1920 apparently, and they were anticipating an hour late arrival in Frankfurt.

Welcome on board Lufthansa

This didn’t really affect my plans but it was bad news for the many connecting passengers on my flight. The cabin crew had been wandering around answering questions as best as they could but the general theme seemed to be that Frankfurt has a strict curfew on movements at 11pm, “well 2259 actually” explained one of the crew. Soon after they were round with water for anyone who wanted it. So far so good.

We eventually pushed back at 1910 ready for our slot at 1920. Flight crew were hopeful of it improving but it seemingly never did. With around an 80 minute departure it meant at least an hour late arrival back at the hub in Frankfurt. The service included a drink and some biscuits for everyone in economy, a token gesture maybe but it’s all I really needed on an evening departure having already eaten.

Biscuits and a drink – simple service

As we crossed the coast near Eindhoven the flight crew came back to us – again once in German and then in perfect English – giving us an estimated arrival time of 2200. The captain explained how “we’re flying as fast as we can, and taking all the shortcuts we can get, but on such a short flight there’s really nothing more than five minutes to be saved” said in a very German matter of fact way! They said they were in contact with the company about connections and would have further information later.

Enroute to Frankfurt as the sun sets

Sure enough we landed into a dark Frankfurt nearly bang on 2200, and the cabin crew reeled off all of the connection information. Not one connection had been made and they basically told everyone they’d been rebooked on a specific flight the next morning or evening, depending on destination. The list of destinations was quite impressive – Kiev, Leipzig, Nuremberg among the European ones, as well as further afield to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, both of which had to wait until the next evening for the next flight.

We parked at a remote stand and had to get buses (bendy Merc Citaro) into the terminal, although they were ready as we pulled up so no delay here! It was interesting to note they too had the flight number programmed into the destination displays just like the BA Citaros at Heathrow! I ended up sitting next to a bunch of (as far as I could work out) Ukrainian teenagers who were rather excited when told they were staying over in Frankfurt!

LH981 welcome in Frankfurt

Having waited ages at the border thankfully the bags were straight out when we got to the carousels. I walked outside to try to find the bus to my hotel. It didn’t take long to find the hotel bus stops, given the huge crowds of displaced passengers waiting for buses, judging by the amount of people with vouchers from Lufthansa in their hand.

All these people delayed getting home or on their holidays…

I’d read the shuttle bus to my Hampton hotel ran every 30 minutes but finished at 11pm, and given it was getting on towards that I rang the hotel who confirmed the next service would be 2310. There was shuttles turning up every few minutes, all for different hotels but sure enough at 2308 mine arrived. I don’t get why hotels don’t publish the schedules and routes so people know when to expect a transfer from the Airport. Just saying “every 30 minutes” just isn’t good enough. Thankfully I’d read up about which hotels it did stop at so I knew it was the right bus, as otherwise you may not notice as the destination didn’t mention every hotel! Can’t help but think the Heathrow hotel buses have it right with specific route numbers for each route. Much easier to identify your bus! (even if I don’t use them…).

Hotel shuttle bus arrived bang on time!

It proved to be a very late night getting to my room at 2340. My flight the next morning departed at 0650, so I was in for around 5 hours sleep!

zzz

Shuttle times for Hampton by Hilton Frankfurt Airport. The return pick up is from the Holiday Inn next door, and it picks up at Meininger around 2-3 mins previous and Park Inn 5 minutes after these times

How’d you get to Dublin?

A famous line from the ITV series ‘Airline’ that focussed on Easyjet… however I really felt that was what I was going to have to contemplate. My flight from Cardiff was delayed and threatening to ruin my entire day, though thankfully we departed only around 1h40m late in the end.

During the frantic hour of checking options at Cardiff I’d managed to enlist the help of my brother who – in between doing work (I hope!) – was helping me out with checking things. Once boarding was announced it was all so much of a rush I hadn’t thought about onward transport on landing.

Thankfully in the middle of the chaos my brother had booked me a taxi to pick me up at the Airport to take me to the Ferry terminal in Holyhead. The driver met me right outside arrivals and we were soon enroute towards the town centre. Unfortunately this was at like 1007, just three minutes before check in closed for the ferry. My driver told me it would take 10-15 minutes to get to the ferry but he would do his best. We pulled up outside the terminal at 1018 and I grabbed my bags and ran inside straight to the Irish ferries desk.

Holyhead Ferry Terminal is attached to the railway station

Now I hadn’t noticed the rather large crowd of people in the terminal reception area, but on speaking to the girl at the desk she assured me I was ok, the ferry was delayed and check in hadn’t actually even opened yet. Phew! There was an estimated delay of just under an hour with revised departure time of 1130.

Sure enough check in didn’t actually start until around 1045. There was around 80-90 people boarding as foot passengers like myself, although the ferries also take cars and commercial vehicles. We were held in another lounge until someone saw a bus go past, and everyone rushed for the doors. I went outside to see what the fuss was about, nothing as it turned out. Eventually a bus did come down from the ship, dropped presumably inbound people off and then came round to pick us up.

It was interesting to note that the internal port shuttles were worked by a local coach company rather than Irish Ferries themselves. A battered old Optare Excel pulled up to take half of us to the ship, and as I’d noted a brand new Enviro 200 go past (the bus everyone rushed outside for thinking it was ours…) I took the opportunity to ride on something almost extinct now. It wasn’t until we got to the ramp of the ship (where they dropped us off to walk the last few metres!) that I saw what the second bus was… a ‘G’ reg ancient Optare Delta! There’s precious few of those left in the UK, never mind the more modern Excels… what a treat I’d missed out on!

Shuttle buses to the ferry from the terminal, seen here on the ramp to the ferry door!

I don’t think I’ve ever travelled on a UK ferry route – or certainly not that I can remember – so this was going to be a whole new experience. I was not instilled with confidence when my taxi driver said “Which ferry are you on? Is it the Swift… they call that the Vomit Comet” !

The passenger deck seemed a rather nice place to be, with lots of comfy looking seats, big windows and lots of tables. There was lots of TV’s dotted around the ship to watch different channels, even a ‘TV chill’ room with a huge screen playing cartoons for the kids, games machines to keep people entertained alongside a shop and not one but two restaurants!

One of two restaurants onboard the Dublin Swift ferry operated by Irish Ferries

We eventually got under way around 1145, an hour late, with the captain coming on to apologise for the late departure – telling us the ship was running on slightly less power and the crossing today would take slightly longer. I guess that this had therefore caused the late arrival of the inbound service, knocking on to ours.

Interior of passenger deck on Dublin Swift ferry, running between Holyhead & Dublin operated by Irish Ferries

Everyone soon settled into their chosen seats and enjoying whatever their chosen activity was. After an early breakfast at the hotel I decided to go choose a few items for a brunch from one of the restaurants, and to my surprise was only charged for a children’s breakfast at the till. The ship had started noticeably rolling at this point, however I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like in the winter!

The ship offered free WiFi so I was able to keep in touch with everyone all the way across, though it was very slow out at sea! The journey time today was going to be about 2h45 and thankfully the rolling soon calmed down.

We were still shifting at some speed across the Irish Sea!

It was a very smooth ride after around the first half hour and the time passed quickly and eventually land came into sight, with our arrival in Dublin being around 1430. We were soon docking and with everyone in cars asked to go back to their vehicles the passenger deck cleared just leaving the 80 or so foot passengers – though we too were soon cleared downstairs and walked down the ramp, the terminal at Dublin being much closer than that at Holyhead.

Our trusty steed across the Irish Sea this afternoon, the Dublin Swift after arrival at its namesake city

We were quickly through the customs line and bags were already on the carousel, ready to be picked up and straight outside the front to the waiting shuttle buses. They’re operated by Morton’s Coaches and offer a single to the city centre for €3.50 and slightly more to Heuston station. They run a schedule meeting all Ferries in Dublin both inbound and outbound. The journey takes around 25-30 minutes to the city centre, dropping off on Westmoreland Street at the bottom of O’Connell Street.

Morton’s Mercedes Citaro at Dublin Ferry loading on the ‘Ferrylink’ service to city centre

Flight #8 of 13 – What could possibly go wrong?

  • Flybe (operated by Eastern Airways) BE7614
  • Cardiff to Anglesey (RAF Valley)
  • BAe Jetstream 41 G-MAJU
  • Monday 12th August 2019

After a long journey south yesterday to Cardiff it was time for my 7th flight in a week, and the start of the second part of my crazy summer trips. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Cardiff Airport, which was less than a 5 minute walk from the terminal door.

Holiday Inn Express Cardiff Airport – literally a 5 minute walk from the terminal

I was starting my day with Eastern Airways, who operate almost entirely under a Flybe franchise these days. They fly from my home airport, Teesside to Aberdeen. The prices on this route, like the majority of their network, are out of reach for a ‘leisure’ traveller like me. It is mainly aimed at offshore workers who can save time on their journeys but pay a huge amount for that privilege. It’s because of that I’ve never flown in a Jetstream 41 so when the opportunity came up for a decent price (£20!) I had to include it somehow!

Unfortunately Eastern are not exactly renowned for their timekeeping and/or ability to run a consistent schedule. The flight from Cardiff to Anglesey is a ‘PSO’ contract from the Welsh government though so tends to have a much better record. I was pleased when I had an Eastern J41 sat outside my window when I arrived at the hotel and it meant I could relax!

View from my window, Airbus A400 and Jetstream 41 on the ramp!

So it’s a nice leisurely start to the day with an 0735 departure time for the twice week-daily route to RAF Valley which doubles as Anglesey Airport. The flight was scheduled for around an hour, arriving at 0840. I arrived at check in around 0630 and handed my case over, and was quickly through security and into the departure lounge. Although there was no gate showing on the screens amongst other departures I knew the J41 was sat outside waiting so everything was fine. Eventually it came up gate 8, boarding. Great, off we all (13 of us…) went and sat in the gate area having been scanned in. Ominously the gate phone started ringing…

Sure enough, we are told there is a technical fault with the aircraft and we’ll be given an update in an hour, at 0815. This was backed up with a “Next info 0815” on the screens. This then slipped to 0840, 0900 and 0915. Then it flashed up with an update… “Delayed 0915”. Was this an improvement? Sure enough a few minutes after 0900 up came “Boarding gate 8” again.

Finally boarding! Flybe operated by Eastern Airways BE7614 Cardiff to Anglesey

Now a ‘short’ delay like this wouldn’t normally bother me but today I had other travel booked fairly soon after the flight. We were due to land at 0840, and from there I’d catch a bus soon after to Holyhead where I’d be picking up a ferry to Dublin two hours later. What could possibly go wrong?

I’d clearly not allowed for the ‘Eastern effect’ – so I spent the whole 90 minute delay looking at options to salvage my day including flying to Anglesey then catching the train all the way back to London, or even abandoning Anglesey altogether and heading elsewhere to catch a flight either to Dublin or Frankfurt to allow me to resume the rest of my trip. Half an hour was spent on the phone to a lovely girl at Lufthansa as we went through my options. Friends were pricing up flight options for me while I was trying to decide at what point a decision had to be made.

Tiny cabin onboard the Jetstream 41, but surprisingly spacious! I had seat 7A

So we eventually boarded for Anglesey just after 0900 – all in a bit of a rush to get us away as soon as possible. This was all great but that still left me with the dilemma of what to do when I got there. I was assured the flight would only actually be 40 minutes so that gave me a small window to get to my ferry, albeit I knew the bus took 30 minutes into Holyhead. The issue that was in the back of my mind was the check in for the ferry closed at 1010, little more than an hour after boarding in Cardiff.

Enroute to Anglesey finally!

I had to give it a go, so I boarded the flight and we were allocated seats at the door by the cabin crew, presumably to ensure weight distribution was correct on such a small aircraft. After what seemed like a lifetime, probably about 5 minutes, the door was closed and we were pushed back, taxiing to the runway for a takeoff at 0916. We made good progress up the country and landed into the RAF Valley base at 0957, parking shortly after on the apron. After the engines were all shut down and all of the bags were out of the hold we were finally able to disembark, grab our bags and off through the tiny terminal to my next adventure.

August Trip part 2…

So the second part of my epic August trip starts today… with six flights this week I’m positioning down to Cardiff this afternoon by bus & train.

So during the long journey – which includes 2 bus & 3 train journeys – I thought I’d update you on the plan for this week, which adds another new city to my list when I get to Vienna early on Tuesday. It’s somewhere I’ve always fancied visit so when the chance to combine it with some rare flights came up I had to look at a plan!

Lufthansa and their group airlines have started using some very large aircraft on short haul flights around Europe this summer and I’m not exactly sure why. Lufthansa have put their Airbus A340 fleet to use on flights from the Frankfurt hub to Munich, Dublin, Vienna and Lisbon. It’s an eclectic selection of destinations but I’m sure there must be a reason behind it.

Munich is of course Lufthansa’s second hub in Germany with a wide variation of long haul destinations also so it makes sense to link the two with larger aircraft to allow connections from across the world. Vienna is also home to Austrian Airlines who are part of the Lufthansa group, which also includes Swiss, regional airline Lufthansa Cityline and low cost arm Eurowings.

Dublin and Lisbon are two more random selections, though I have seen pictures of long haul aircraft being painted in Dublin so maybe it is to rotate these? The flights to Dublin only run once a week on a Wednesday, whilst Lisbon is served with large aircraft on Monday and Tuesday.

Vienna seems to be a few times per week alternating with Austrian’s long haul fleet also being put to work on the hour long hop to Frankfurt. Munich seems to be much more random and includes almost every option in the long haul fleet bar the A380, but not on a regular schedule, more as demand dictates. All of these are in between the multiple flights a day by the short haul A319/320/321 fleet.

So when the opportunity came up to link a few of these together, I started looking for other things to wrap around them. Following in the footsteps of trying Sichuan Airlines last week, I’ve got a leg on the other Chinese airline seen widely across Europe, Hainan Airlines. They operate a primarily tourist flight between Beijing and Edinburgh/Dublin. It runs 4 times a week, twice serving Edinburgh before Dublin and the other two days runs to Dublin first before calling at Edinburgh on the return. They sell seats rather cheaply on these legs across the Irish Sea as they look to fill what would otherwise be empty seats. Hainan have recently announced this route will be suspended/cancelled from October.

The other thing I’ve been meaning to do for years is to catch a trip on Eastern Airways’ dwindling fleet of BAe Jetstream 41 aircraft. They actually fly from my local airport Teesside on the route to Aberdeen – part of a large (but equally reducing!) network down the East Coast to ferry offshore workers around. Naturally the prices are way above what any sane person would pay and therefore I’ve never used it.

There is a very cheap way to do this, and that is the Welsh Government funded service that runs twice a day (weekdays) between Cardiff and RAF Valley, in Anglesey. Unfortunately RAF Valley is a long way out of the way for, well basically anything, which makes fitting it into a trip awkward. My flight between Cardiff and Anglesey cost me little over £20, including a bag!

So the solution to fitting all this together?

I’m on the first flight out of Cardiff to Anglesey in the morning, then catching a bus into Holyhead itself then a ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin by early afternoon. That means I can then do a ‘simple’ return from Dublin to Vienna and back, departing Monday evening to Frankfurt on an A321neo, with an overnight stay there.

Tuesday morning I catch my first ride on the exceptionally long Airbus A340-600 on the hour long hop down to Vienna. It’s the first flight out on the morning which gives me all day to explore the city of Vienna.

Wednesday I return to Dublin, courtesy of LH partner Austrian with one of their large Boeing 777-200’s (second in a week!) back to Frankfurt, before connecting onto Lufthansa’s weekly Airbus A340-300 on the slightly longer trip across to Dublin. This then positions me nicely to catch the Hainan Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” (other names are available…) the next morning up to Edinburgh – before travelling back home either by bus or train, or a combination of both.

So to sum up

  • Sunday: Home to Cardiff
  • Monday: Cardiff to Anglesey to Dublin to Frankfurt
  • Tuesday: Frankfurt to Vienna
  • Wednesday: Vienna to Frankfurt to Dublin
  • Thursday: Dublin to Edinburgh to Home

It promises to be another interesting trip to follow this blog and I’ll keep you up to date with how it goes!

Scott

Flight 7 of 13! – Homeward bound

  • British Airways BA1324
  • London Heathrow to Newcastle
  • Airbus A320 G-EUUR
  • Friday 9th August 2019

As my alarm went off at 0445 this morning I really struggled to get up… but I had to get my case packed and head back to Heathrow for my flight home. Checked out of the hotel and headed across the road for the 0520 423 to Terminal 5 for the last time on this trip, and it was nicely mild again!

Getting to Terminal 5 slightly later you could tell it was Friday as it was much busier than I’d seen previously so I made use of my Fast Track Security privilege to ensure a smooth transit, and sure enough I was in the lounge in no time.

It’s always a warm welcome at T5, in fact I’ve never seen it display anything else…

It was lovely to sit and relax in the Galleries North lounge for one last time, music on and enjoy a bit of breakfast before heading downstairs. It really is a lovely little oasis of calm away from the hustle & bustle of the shops and restaurants – though there is a great selection of both at T5.

What a wonderful view from T5’s Galleries North lounge

The staff on the desks as you go into the lounge must have access to all of the internal systems as the girl on reception helpfully told me ‘gate A5 this morning’. That was useful information as it meant it was only a 2 minute walk so I could leave as late as possible before boarding – though I always like to be there for when it starts just in case! No sooner had we started boarding that I got a notification from the BA app to say boarding had started.

It was just a short hop ‘home’ (it’s not really but it’s the nearest BA served airport!) to Newcastle this morning. The first flight north departs at 0705 and it was rather busy today. Having said that I did have the middle seat free which is always useful for a bit extra space – and when this happens it nullifies the advantages of travelling Club even more, hence why I don’t bother on short flights unless it is really cheap! Or on a long haul aircraft as explained in my last blog…

Gate A5 is about as close to the North lounge as you can get

Everyone boarded on time and we were closed up and ready go well in advance of the scheduled 0705 departure time, indeed we pushed back and headed to the runway departing at 0717. It was a rather bumpy flight north with the seatbelt signs even going on at one point, what with the storms due to be around today it wasn’t surprising. It had just started raining as we left Heathrow and we descended into a murky, thoroughly miserable day at Newcastle. The rain was so torrential even the lads working on the apron had their coats on and hoods up… in fact there was just water everywhere.

Our A320 after landing into a very wet Newcastle this morning

We landed at 0759, just 42 minutes flying time this morning which is only 2 minutes slower than the quickest I’ve ever had at 40 minutes. We pulled on stand about five minutes later making an 11 minutes early arrival. Unfortunately there was a bit of a farce with baggage last night it seemed as what seemed like hundreds of cases came off with tags from various long haul flights… how strange I thought given we were quite early out at 7am. A closer inspection revealed the flight number 1336, one of yesterday’s which had obviously missed a container full of cases judging by the amount coming up. This meant the other bags were delayed thanks to the way the baggage belt works at Newcastle until me and a few other passengers made some space for more to be delivered whilst the delayed bags just kept going round and round with obviously nobody to collect them.

What a wet and thoroughly miserable morning!

That meant I missed my planned Metro at 0828, instead having to catch the next one at 0840 which just made the connection onto my X10 bus home even more awkward. It got to Gateshead at 0905 which I figured was good enough and ran upstairs to catch the X10 coming in at 0909. Bonus was I also managed to stay dry, and the weather steadily improved all the way home and it was dry by the time I got to Stockton. As I write this now it’s glorious blue skies. What a day… what a trip! It’s been wonderful, tiring but amazing.

Looking forward to the next one starting on Sunday which promises to be just as interesting and I can’t wait to get started! I’m off to Vienna, in Austria, one of the places on my long list of cities to visit, but not in a conventional way. Stay tuned to find out!

Flight 6 of 14 – First First!

  • British Airways BA0461
  • Madrid to London Heathrow
  • Boeing 777-200 G-VIIN
  • Thursday 8th August 2019

Today was a very warm day in the Madrid area, and as I’ve visited the Spanish capital many times previously this time I decided something different was in order. As I had around 8 hours between flights I booked a trip to Toledo, around half an hour south of Madrid by train, but over an hour from the Airport once you take into account crossing the city.

As I started the return journey of three trains thoughts started to turn to the return journey to London this evening. When I booked this trip the BA system automatically assigned me seat 2K – which is in the First class cabin at the very front!

Boarding the huge 777 back to London

As I mentioned in a previous blog there is definitely a few perks to travelling on larger long haul aircraft on short haul routes. They often give you more space even in Economy and certainly in Business class you will usually get a long haul seat which is usually lie flat these days, which when you compare to a short haul aircraft where you do just get a standard (short haul) seat, although on BA they do leave the middle seat free.

The service in terms of the ‘soft’ product (hey look at me as if I know what I’m talking about!) is of course entirely the same. Of course if you’re travelling on a short haul route where a long haul aircraft does operate then why not book on it just for the extra space and experience. I find they tend to get ‘thrown about’ a bit less in turbulent air too. If you can upgrade your travel into a premium cabin then the difference becomes much greater.

BA runs one of their long haul 777s down to Madrid daily, as it is the main trunk route between the two major IAG group hubs. BA’s hub in Heathrow and Iberia’s hub in Madrid are linked by numerous flights every day, and Iberia reciprocate by flying a long haul Airbus A340 between the two cities every day as well. These flights are primarily designed to help shift huge amounts of cargo that the smaller aircraft just cannot handle, although in my experience they have no problem filling the passenger cabins either.

After visiting Iberia’s very nice (one of the best I’ve visited on the Oneworld network… so far) lounge at Madrid’s satellite T4S terminal I was full of anticipation and a small amount of dread as I walked to the gate. It’s well known in our frequent flyer world that the First cabin is messed about with a lot on the Madrid route in that it is only opened when required by the loadings and when I was able to choose a seat in there – well actually BA auto-allocated me it – upto 3 weeks out when I booked it I had suspicions that it would change. Even up to checking in last night it was still showing 2K despite not being able to select a seat (the system only showed the Club cabin ie rows 10-15), and indeed my boarding pass said 2K too. Would I get (the opposite of) the ‘magic beep’ at the gate?

First Class cabin on BA’s Boeing 777 fleet

I was still somewhat surprised when I was handed my boarding pass – ok, my phone – and passport back and sent on my way down the airbridge. For the second time today I would get to the door and be asked to turn left! Amazing!

My First Class seat 2K

Immediately upon boarding we were welcomed by some great crew members – I think I’ve mentioned it before but it really is the crew that make the experience on BA flights. It’s a shame that their hard work isn’t rewarded as well as it should be but that’s another story altogether.

Even before I sat down I had to take some photos of my – probably – one and only time in First. Ok it may only be on a short flight – and only with Club Europe service – but I was going to enjoy every minute of it! I was immediately pounced upon by one of the crew asking me if I wanted a photo taking in the seat. It’s the little extras like this that makes the experience that little bit more special – if you’re reading this… thank you! I won’t mention their name but suffice to say a thank you will be going in. Another passenger was asking about the A350 and when they would be starting and we had a great four way (I think) chat about the routes they’d be doing and what the new aircraft was like after my trip in the morning.

The First experience – two windows with an internal blind to block out the light, and the buddy seat! What a great idea

The onboard service started very quickly after departure with meals served maybe 20 minutes into the journey from trolley carts, swiftly followed by drinks, rather than each one hand run from the galley. This meant everyone was served much quicker than in the morning. There was even time for a second round of drinks before it was time to clear up for our arrival back in the UK.

I had a lovely grilled cod in a tomato sauce for my main, from the choice of three options. On longer short haul routes (Madrid falls into this!) you are given a card menu and offered a choice of hot or cold meals. It’s usually better to sit nearer the front if you can as they can’t load one of every meal for everyone as there just isn’t the space plus it would be very wasteful! Sometimes supplies do run out and you can’t have your first choice which is not ideal but a necessary evil as I can’t see any other way around it.

Club Europe meal from Madrid to London

It was yet another swift operation – when IT glitches don’t strike BA run a very tight ship considering how congested Heathrow can get. Takeoff from Madrid was at 1829, landing into Heathrow at 1912 local time, with us being on stand a couple of minutes after that, all in all we were back in Heathrow around 20 minutes early. Heathrow themselves also play their part, being a long haul aircraft we parked at the Satellite B terminal, so downstairs for the shuttle train to the main ‘A’ terminal, then back up to get through the border and then rushed outside for the bus back to the hotel. All achieved in under 20 minutes and exactly half an hour after landing I was leaving on the 423 back to the hotel! A great end to an absolutely awesome day.

So how to sum up today? It’s been simply amazing. A hugely premium experience with the new A350 Club suite this morning, and returning in First this evening. The day trip to Toledo was a great choice and really easy to do. Couldn’t really ask for more!

Flight 5 of 14 – Shiny new toys!

  • British Airways BA0456
  • London Heathrow to Madrid
  • Airbus A350 G-XWBA
  • Thursday 8th August 2019

It’s a very special morning as I catch the 0417 423 bus from my hotel on Bath Road down to Terminal 5. I’ve got my shorts on (at 4am!) as I’m off to Madrid today and it’s expected to be 35 degrees down there! Arrival at T5 is bang on time at 0429, very early but the bus is full and standing with both staff working at Heathrow and people flying away to other destinations!

A warm welcome to Terminal 5 at half 4 in the morning!

Today I am travelling on British Airways’ brand new Airbus A350 down to Madrid, in the new Club suite. I mentioned previously that it’s not really cost effective to travel in business class on short haul routes… well there are a few exceptions.

With most network airlines like BA you’ll find some long haul aircraft do get used on some flights within the short haul network. These usually offer much greater comfort and of course there is a much greater difference between the economy and business class product. You should be able to travel in a long haul business seat which these days usually entails a seat which folds down to become a flat bed, certainly a game changer when it comes to travelling on a long flight!

British Airways was one of the first to introduce a flat bed in business class, with their Club World sleeper seat. These are found on most of the long haul fleet of 747, 777 and A380 aircraft. The only drawback being that in a (rear facing!) window seat you have to climb over the legs of the person next to you to get out – such a hardship to those of us not used to anything like luxury!

The “old” style Club World cabin

BA have fallen behind the times somewhat as other airlines have improved their products. Over the last few years a new seat has been in development and the new Airbus A350 fleet are the first to be delivered with it installed. Of course it’s caused a stir in the UK with travel geeks and bloggers falling over themselves to try it whilst the aircraft is used on short haul flights to Madrid in the first few weeks of operation!

BA’s shiny new A350 at gate C66 at Heathrow

The new Club World cabin features 56 new Club suites in a 1-2-1 configuration offer direct aisle access for all passengers. Also there’s none of the awkward having to look at the passenger sat opposite you. A huge step forward and makes business class competitive again, in my opinion! It is interesting to note that the A350’s have not got a First cabin at all.

The new Club suite features a heavily customised product based on an existing seat as used by other airlines including BA’s Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific. It even has a door on the outside of the seat that you can close, giving an amazing amount of privacy!

As soon as you get onboard the A350 you’re immediately met with such an airy and open feeling cabin. Of course there was, as usual, a warm welcome onboard – but this time from a very excited crew. It’s great to see them so enthusiastic about a product they can be proud of, and rightly so.

The A350’s brand new Club World cabin

The service was, I thought, fairly slow to get going given the short flight however that’s what these training flights are all about. Gives opportunity to see what doesn’t work and solve the issues they have. There was lots of hand running individual trays from the front galley and meant it took just under an hour from departure until I had my breakfast. Not that it was an issue for me having had a few bites to eat in the Galleries lounge before boarding.

They did start serving meals from the front and rear of the Club cabins and it seems nearly everyone must have got their first choice of meal too. I think it will speed up as crews get used to the way things work on the new aircraft, plus on long haul services it usually isn’t as rushed anyway. Flight time today was just under two hours.

I took the opportunity to try out the seat in bed mode too, and it did seem to me to feel more ‘hemmed in’ than the old Club seat but that could just be me. Not too sure whether the new ‘shoulder strap’ seatbelt – it clips onto the usual lap belt – would be uncomfortable if you laid on it too? It does have a leather cover on it so maybe it wouldn’t be an issue.

The new Club suite seat in bed mode

I must admit I haven’t tried many other business offerings and I am sure there are rivals out there, such as Virgin, Qatar and Emirates however for a previously poor offering BA have very much upped their game here and I hope it brings them success. As I mentioned earlier none of the A350s on order will feature a First Class cabin and I think this new Club World suite will probably suffice for 90% of their markets. It’s due to be retrofitted to the 777 fleet going forwards too, so if they’re wanting to keep First something special then it’s going to have to go pretty far to beat this! I’d highly recommend trying it out, and the A350s are running to Madrid until the end of August. After that the first few routes to be converted to A350 operation are Toronto, Dubai and Bangalore.

Flight 4 of 14 – Back to London

  • British Airways BA0861
  • Prague to London Heathrow
  • Airbus A320 G-EUUF
  • Wednesday 7th August 2019

After a quick visit to Prague city centre – I had just over an hour there – its time to head back to London, and this afternoon’s BA0861 is showing a delay of around an hour leaving Heathrow. Never mind, it means more time to relax in the lounge here in Prague, which is a third party one operated by Menzies Aviation.

Menzies Aviation Lounge in Prague
Menzies Lounge in Prague has a great view across the apron! Here’s my aircraft just arriving

After all of the problems at Heathrow today – related to some IT issues at BA – I expected a delay on the last leg back to London and it’s projected to be half hour late leaving, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t bad at all. Or so I thought…

Oh and I forgot to mention, I’m the lucky one as I noticed the previous service was cancelled as BA thinned out the schedule to try and get things back on track. Expecting this one to be pretty full then!

We boarded a little over 20 mins behind schedule in an attempt to claw some time back after a decent turnaround, but we were thwarted with Air Traffic Control restrictions ensuring a ground hold on the ground in Prague for almost an hour. Eventual take off was at 1826, around an hour behind schedule.

Onboard the BA0861 back to Heathrow

The actual flight was your typical BA service, friendly and professional. Although it was interesting to note the crew weren’t released until around 22 minutes into the flight which was rather unusual – we did hit a few bumps of turbulence but nothing major. This meant the onboard service started fairly late but on a longer flight like this it didn’t really matter.

Cruising altitude today was at 36000ft, or flight level 360 for you frequent flyers! Before long we were starting our descent into London, and with the usual holding before landing over east London, we landed into Heathrow at 1909 local time, giving a flight time today of 1 hour and 43 minutes.

When arriving into Heathrow I always try to choose a seat on the right hand side of the aircraft, as the usual wind direction (southwesterly) means a landing on the runways facing that way, or 27L and 27R for all you avgeeks out there! A seat on the right hand side gives you great views of the city of London on the approach – when it’s not cloudy anyway! One of my top tips!

Flight 3 of 14 – Sichuan to Prague

  • Sichuan Airlines
  • Zurich to Prague
  • Airbus A330-300 B-5960

Well after a slightly late arrival into Zurich following the late departure from Heathrow it left me wondering whether my next leg may be affected, as I still had to check in for my flight to Prague.

My next move as seen from my BA A320 on arrival!

Thankfully we were parked by 1000, arrival around 20 minutes late at the gate, but I was able to make good time and passed through the border quickly thanks to the automatic passport gates. After a dash upstairs I arrived at check in at about 1015, though the screens showed they didn’t close until 45 minutes before departure so I had plenty of time in reality.

The lovely lady on check in informed me she could find me a window seat, 35K, and I set off back through security again to go back airside. This was a swift, if not overly friendly, operation – typically Swiss you could say. It wasn’t long before I could have a wander around Zurich’s impressive terminal

Inside the terminal at Zurich Airport

My next flight to Prague was departing at 1125 so that gave me around an hour before departure to relax in the terminal and get a photo of our A330 that would be taking me to Prague this morning.

Sichuan Airlines Airbus A330-300 at the gate in Zurich

It is always interesting to try new airlines and I am usually pleasantly surprised as my expectations are not as high on these flights. Sichuan are no different – my first time flying with an airline from China and they’re very friendly. The boarding process is all handled in perfect English – a point that always surprises me but it’s always embarrassing to think they can probably speak 3 or 4 languages and us English won’t do more than one in the majority of cases!

The cabin is set out in a 2-4-2 formation with a very nice red moquette and the cabin crew are warm and welcoming. After boarding so early we finally push back around 1140 following the safety video which is certainly different to any others I’ve watched previously! I did like the fact they have a lady doing sign language on all aspects of the safety video, a fact that many other airlines could catch up on… no others that I’ve seen has this!

It is a very short flight of around an hour across to Prague today, cruising at 29000 feet. They did hand out a few snacks which I’m sure would be ‘unusual’ to the majority European travellers on this leg, which certainly surprised me! Sichuan are soon to be exiting this section of route, though I understand the main section between Chengdu and Prague will still run. I understand they are starting a ‘fifth freedom’ run between Helsinki and Copenhagen that you will be able to try though!

Chinese snacks… no I have no idea what is what either!

All in all for what it cost me – around £52 – I couldn’t fault Sichuan Airlines and I would happily fly with them again! The A330 was fairly new internally and in good condition although I didn’t try the entertainment system out and just used it for the moving map to keep track of our progress.

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