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!


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