Saturday, 17 August 2013

Holiday to La Belle France! [Part 2]

Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS/LFBO)  to Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) BM1422

bmi regional Embraer 145 G-RJXD

After 2 weeks in France it was time to head back to Toulouse. The 10:20 scheduled departure meant we had to get up at 05:15, and arriving at the airport 2 hours before departure, first impressions were not great. The roads around the airport are confusing to say the least, and once inside departures the signage isn't great. It took us a while to realise departures was upstairs (probably obvious in hindsight) and then, the check in desks were all generic and did not have airline logos on them - you had to check a seperate board which told you which number desk to go to. 

Anyway, check in was fast as was security, and we spent an hour or so in the departure lounge watching the movements on the airfield- this time, including the A350 protoype F-WXWB! In one part of the departure lounge, there were only 2 adverts, some for Rolls-Royce and their Trent XWB engine for the A350, and some for Pratt & Whitney and their GTF engine (powering the Airbus A320neo amongst others). There was even part of a shop dedicated to airbus souvenirs! Some pics:

2 Belugas departed while we were there

Well before departure we were told to go to gate 55, which happened to be one of the most northernly gates in the terminal, yet once the bus arrived, it took us to the same remote stand we had used 2 weeks earlier, which is south of the terminal building?! C'est la vie. Pics from the bus:

G-RJXD was the waiting machine, the same aircraft that brought us to France! Take off was delayed due to the late delivery of the load sheet to the pilots by about 30 minutes. Eventually though, the engines were started, and chocks away! We sat in row 10, the seats infront of where we sat outbound. Legrooms was less but still 31". After a long taxi, take off was on 14L (open now, following works):

A right hand 180 degree turn after departure gave stunning views of both the city of Toulouse and Blagnac airport:

Looking down on a Volotea 717 taking off
A350 F-WXWB and an A380, along with various factory-fresh A330's on the left
Skies were overcast for the entirety of the flight back. We were offered the choice of free snacks this time, rather than just being given them (sensible I suppose). Despite the 30 minute late take off, landing was only 15 minutes later than scheduled. The approach was a straight in ILS to rwy33 - with some great views through the cloud:
Leamington (Warwick was on the left)
Kenilworth Castle
 And the landing:

So that concludes another 2 flights, 56 and 57 in my log! I may just have a new favourite airline, too. bmi regional are definitely recommended - although it seems  you have to book well in advance for cheap fares.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Holiday to La Belle France! [Part 1]

Bonjour, mes amis!

It’s the summer holidays and so it was time for us to head south, to the Languedoc region of southern France. In previous years, Ryanair have been the preferred airline, entirely because they were cheapest (with the exception of Flybe to Perpignan one year). Last February however, bmi regional, the last remnant of the once mighty bmi group (including bmibaby and bmi – British Midland International), announced they were opening new bases and routes around the country, including Bristol and Birmingham. When one of the BHX routes was revealed as Toulouse, it was a must!
We booked the flights within a week of them going on sale, and we must have got an introductory offer as the fare for 3 people return (including 3 bags up to 20Kg) was less than every other competitor to the south of France… better than Flybe, EasyJet and Ryanair! However, these fares only lasted for a few weeks, before rising to the thousands where they then stayed (which is more like what I expected from a full service, non-low cost carrier like bmi). 

Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) to Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS/LFBO) BM1421

bmi regional Embraer 145 G-RJXD

On the day of the flight, we arrived fairly early at about 10. BHX is pretty quiet mid morning, in fact it was the quietest I've ever seen it. Since bmi regional’s aircraft depart from terminal 1, I assumed that check-in should be in that part of the building – but it was in terminal 2 instead. Bit odd! Having old style check-in was nice actually. We swiftly dropped our bags, collected our boarding passes and headed for departures, when it was noticed we were allocated seats scattered over the plane, not together. So we went back to see if this could be changed. I really wasn’t expecting it to be possible, but the check-in lady apologised and changed them, seating us together in row 11! 
We sped through security (It was practically empty) and on through duty free, and despite the distraction of free spirit samples, we were in the departure lounge an hour before departure. To the end of the  international pier, for photos:

A pair of flag carrying 737's on the international pier
Welcome to Frankf- er, Birmingham
G-RJXA, after arrival from Toulouse

We headed to the gate at 11:15 (half an hour before scheduled departure). Unfortunately, it was gate 60, which from gate 40 is quite a walk! We had to walk past several empty gates to get there too, but they were all large gates reserved for medium to heavy aircraft. 

XA was the arrival from Toulouse but for some reason they switched aircraft (why not I suppose, both were sitting there!) so we flew on XD, which had previously flown BHX-Billund-BHX that morning. Up the 3 or 4 steps, and onto the cramped ERJ, to be welcomed by the sole,cheery flight attendant. I say cramped - the entrance is a bit tight due to the galley, the actual cabin felt surprisingly open and large despite the 2-1 seating. For some reason it didn't feel small. Perhaps it was because our allocated row, 11, is the emergency exit row and we had masses of legroom, you can literally stretch your legs in this row! Or perhaps it was the large windows (which I noted were the same as those on its big cousin, the E-Jets).

Pushback was a few minutes ahead of schedule and it was off to rwy15 for a Compton departure. Bang on time, we were on our way. I would have a video of the take off except the camera auto focused on the rain on the window rather than what was outside...

The captain came on 3 times during the flight and it was all quite informal and friendly. With only a few bits of light turbulence, it was overall a calm flight, cruising at 37,000ft. bmi regional is a full service airline and we recieved a free drink and snacks as such (tea/coffee or soft drinks, a bag of mixed savoury nibbles and some shortbread - not quite lunch but good enough for free!). The aircraft wasn't particulary clean, and the interior was worn, you could tell the plane was nearly 14 years old. But that didn't stop it being the most pleasant flight I've ever had! I think it was a combination of the friendly crew, vast leg room, and quiet cabin/big windows that made it. 
Cruising over central France at FL370

During descent I noticed that you could feel the acceleration/deceleration of the aircraft according to the thrust inputs, much more so than other aircraft I've flown on. I suppose this is because the ERJ doesn't have autothrottle and the human pilots up front aren't as smooth changing the thrust as a computer! We positioned about 4/5 miles out on a left base for rwy14R at Toulouse (you could see the airport out the left side of the plane). I'm guessing it was a visual approach, since we were too close in for it to have been an ILS at this point. The weather was certainly clear enough! I love the ERJ, you had sense, especially on the final approach, that it was being flown, by real people. Some larger jets sometimes feel as though they're gliding down on rails. Landing video here:

Touchdown was 15 minutes ahead of schedule, as was expected from the UK's most punctual airline, and without the irritating fanfare that a certain other airline uses! Of course we were treated to veiws on either side of airbus heavies being readied for delivery to customers worldwide (sadly no A350 though). It turns out rwy14L was being worked on, hence the landing on the westerly runway. We were parked on a remote stand, but a bus arrived promptly. Upon disembarking, once we were all on the bus, the flight attendant waved us all off from the aircraft steps. Says it all really! 

Overall, this flight at least was pretty much faultless. Providing they're cheap enough... it's a 10/10 from me!  

Part 2, the return trip, coming soon!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Air Blue to start flights from Birmingham!

Air Blue, the Pakistani airline, are beginning flights from the 28th September to Lahore and Islamabad from Birmingham, using Airbus A340-300's:

Flights will operate twice a week. With this annoucement, BHX will have the following airlines offering connections to the middle east/sub continent:
  • Emirates
  • Air India
  • PIA
  • Air Blue
  • Turkmenistan 
  • Turkish Airlines
Turkish and Emirates do offer other onward connections (eg the far east and Australia) but I imagine the main focus of all of these is India and Pakistan traffic: is there too much capacity now? On a Saturday night, BHX will now have on the ground simultaneously 2 777's, a 787 and an A340! I hope arrivals can cope...

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Inaugral Air India 787 flight to Birmingham!

The first Boeing 787 to visit BHX landed today at 18:06 operating the AI113 from Delhi! The flight also marks the return of Air India to BHX, after a few years of absence. The flight to Amritsar via Delhi operates 4 times a week.