Date: 01 October 2016.
Departure: 09h18, scheduled 08h45.
Arrival: 10h20, scheduled 10h15.
Flight time: 1 hour 5 minutes.
Seat: 11A, single seat on the port side.
I spend four days at the University of Lancaster attending the first module of a new degree I have just started. On Friday evening I take the Transpennine Express at 17h29 from Lancaster, which runs from Lancaster to Manchester airport in about one hour and fifteen minutes.
I am staying at the Manchester Airport Hilton, mainly because the flight to Inverness will already be departing at 08h45 on Saturday morning.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Hotel shuttle.
Journey time: 5 minutes.
Departs from: Just outside the hotel lobby.
Arrives: Drop-off zone between terminals 1 and 3.
Cost: Complimentary for hotel guests.
On Saturday morning I am booked on the shuttle at 07h20. Fortunately, breakfast at the Hilton already starts at 04h30 in the morning, so there is plenty of time. The distance from the hotel to the terminal complex is not really very far, in fact it is in walking distance. But you have to take a circuitous route, which also requires you to cross a wide, busy road with no pedestrian crossing. So the shuttle is just easier and safer.
Location: Terminal 3, first floor.
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and drop-off counters. No web check-in is possible.
The check-in process is a bit cumbersome, because you first have to obtain your boarding pass from one machine, before you can proceed to the drop-off area, where you need to scan your boarding pass at different machine. And only then is your baggage tag for your suitcase printed.
Goodness, Manchester Airport is an exceptionally ugly place, yet another one of the many architectural atrocities that were committed in the United Kingdom in the late seventies and early eighties. In fact, the airport is so ugly it lends the place a certain distinction. But apart form being ugly, the facility is also very inconvenient and all the check-in areas appear to be located in places where there simply is not enough space for passengers with baggage to manoeuvre.
There are machines at the airport which should, in theory, allow you to purchase a ticket for the fast track to security for GBP4 per person. But one of the machines is out of service and the other, which only accepts credit cards, is having issues with the credit card reader… Fortunately, being Saturday morning the queue for security is manageable.
Once you are airside, the apparent lack of consideration for the passenger continues. Everything feels tight and cramped and there is not enough space to sit because most of the area is covered by retail space. Gates are only announced shortly before boarding, probably based on the assumption that if passengers are bored and have no place to sit, then obviously they are going to go on a shopping marathon before they even leave Manchester…
The flight is not full, I would say there are about thirty passengers in total. So we all board in one go. Fortunately for me, it is a lovely day as we make our way across the apron and the rampers do not seem too bothered with me taking pictures either.
Configuration: 1 + 2.
Seat: The aircraft is quite obviously an ex-Etihad Regional bird and still retains the Swiss carrier’s cabin branding with the light brown leather seats and the dark brown colour on the bulkheads. During the flight I inquire with the flight attendant and she informs me that the aircraft previously operated for Etihad and for Crossair too. She makes me laugh because she says the cabin crew all like working on the Saab 2000 because it feels more like a real plane than the Saab 340.
There is one cabin crew working the flight today. Her name is Heidi and she is very friendly and chatty. There is an elderly couple sitting up front and Heidi obviously goes out of her way to put them at ease, reassuring them that no matter what they might need during the flight, it is not a hassle.
Choice: A selection of different types of biscuits.
Type of meal: Light morning snack.
Given my recent experience with FlyBe operating for Brussels Airlines, I was not expecting anything at all in terms of service, which is why I made sure to get myself a bottle of Diet Coke before the flight. Much to my surprise though, as soon as we settle into the cruise, Heidi brings out a trolley and starts with the complimentary service. There is a selection of hot and cold beverages and a choice of different biscuits which are really quite tasty.
Stranger still, the further north we fly, the better the weather becomes. The clouds give way to some spectacular views of the Highlands below us.
Inverness airport is a cute little affair. The terminal only has one floor with arrivals at one end of the facility and departures at the other. And the place is quite busy too. KLM recently started operating a daily flight to Amsterdam, which must have arrived shortly before us, and there is also an Easyjet A 319 on the ground, obviously waiting to board the passengers for its return flight.