Wamos Air, Economy Class – Boeing B 747-400: Arrecife to Zürich

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Date: 09. July 2016.
Departure:
Arrival:
Flight time:
Seat:

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Chronicle of chaos foretold…
Over the last few weeks Vueling has received a lot of negative press about flight cancellations and severe delays in the run up to the busy summer holiday period. As usual, rumours and accusations were many – with the Spanish newspapers allegedly knowing that in fact the Vueling staff were on strike and that this was the real cause for the many irregularities. The airline’s new management of course, blames everything on the old management, which was pushing hard for expansion at all costs.

The upshot of it all is that when the time came for Vueling to station an Airbus A 320 in Zürich for the summer, they realised that in fact they did not have an aircraft available to do so. But rather than cancelling the flights, Vueling decided to lease a Boeing B 747-400 from Wamos Air, just for the month of July. Of course, I simply couldn’t resist…

And so I find myself in Lanzarote on a sunny Saturday morning. It is just coming up 11 in the morning and I have just stepped off an Air Europa flight from Madrid. I now have four hours before my flight back to Zürich at 15h30, hopefully on the mighty Queen of the Skies.

But then at around 11h30 the messages and e-mails from Vueling start arriving, informing me that there are a few operational issues that will probably see my flight leaving with a delay. To be honest, I don’t really mind. Like this I can spend more time relaxing in the sun.

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The flight is first moved from 15h30 to 16h40. Then a bit later the departure is moved back further to 17h40. I check on the web and I think I can actually hear the crack as my heart breaks – there has been an aircraft change and instead of the 747 they are sending a Greek registered puny little Airbus A 319.

The flight time to Zürich is four hours and Lanzarote is one hour behind Zürich. Zürich airport has a curfew in place from 23h00 to 06h03. Now you do the maths. This is going to be tight. Eventually, boarding starts at 17h30 and I figure if we manage to get airborne by 18h00, we might just manage to squeeze in before the curfew. So all the passengers board the bus to take us to the aircraft – and nothing happens.

After waiting for about ten minutes for seemingly no reason at all and nobody on the ground bothering to tell us anything, a group of passengers disembark the bus and decide it is a really great idea to have a smoke, right there on the apron in front of all the pretty airplanes being refuelled. I tell the bus driver that smoking really is not permitted, to which he simply replies that he is just the bus driver from Swissport. By this time I’ve definitely had enough. I take my bag and walk back into the terminal. Much to me surprise, the gate agents don’t seem at all surprised to see me and instead they just hand me a pink transfer card.

Eventually, all the other passengers walk back into the terminal as well. There is no information provided by Swissport and quite evidently, they really couldn’t care less. By this time it is already past six in the evening, seven in Switzerland, so what ever happens, we will not be returning to Zürich tonight. I inquire with the gate attendant about the delay and she explains that the aircraft is overweight and they are trying to figure out what to do next.

In any case, to cut a long story short, by 19h30 it becomes perfectly apparent to everyone that the aircraft will not be flying to Zürich this evening. So instead, the flight will be rerouted to Barcelona. The passengers will be sent home the next day either via Rome or Barcelona. By this time though, I think it is sufficiently clear just how unreliable and unorganised Vueling is and I am not prepared any more to take my chances with them. I have another flight coming up on Monday from Zürich, which I don’t plan on missing because of somebody else’s bad planning. And so I make other arrangements.

WDL for British Airways, Economy Class – Avro RJ85: Zürich to London City

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Date: 13 May 2016.
From: Zürich.
To: London City.
Departure:
17:05
Arrival: 17:55
Flight time: 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Seat: 11F – window on the right side of the aircraft.

Prologue

Oh shit! I had really hoped I had seen the last of those god awful Avro Regional Jets. But by some cruel twist of faith it looks as though I will have to endure them again – hopefully just this one last time.

CHECK-IN

Location: Check-in 2, row 2.
Facilities: Dedicated British Airways counters staffed by DNATA personnel in British Airways uniforms.
Counters: There are two baggage drop counters for Economy Class passengers and two counters for premium paying passengers.

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Check-in is also possible via the BA app, which works very well, or using web check-in.

It is just gone 05h30 in the morning and I am on my way to work. The train is just pulling out of the station in Basel when I decide to check my phone for messages. Oh crap (Did I just say that out loud?)! There is one message from British Airways, informing me that my flight to London will be operated by WDL, a small German charter company. The usual Embraer 190 has been substituted by an Avro RJ85. Well that certainly explains the rather odd looking seat map when I checked in yesterday using the app.

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LOUNGE

Location: On the top floor of the E dock.
Type of Lounge:
Aspire contractor lounge operated by DNATA.
Facilities:
There are no toilets or showers in the lounge, from what I can tell. Or at least I could not find them. Other than that, there are a few magazines available and a few desks with power outlets to work at.
Catering: Sweet and savoury snack type food.
Internet:
Provided by the airport. The code is issued on request at reception, as you enter the lounge.

The Aspire lounge at the E dock is fairly new and rather elegant. Like all the lounges over in E, it has an excellent view of the apron, runway 28 and the central terminal area beyond. At this time of day, the lounge is pretty much deserted and there are only passengers bound for London, from what I can tell.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Business Class passengers and Executive Club Gold card holders queue separately to the right of the counter, while Economy Class passengers queue on the left.

Just before boarding starts, one of the gate attendants makes an announcement to inform passengers that there is only very limited storage space on the aircraft and therefore, larger pieces of hand luggage will have to be checked in and placed in the hold. Of course, this does not go down very well with the high and mighty wannabes, who all seem to think their rather lame excuses for keeping their luggage are going to work. It is also a bit undignified to see a grown man sulking – ‘it’s not fair, his is much bigger than mine’. Guys, are we still talking about hand luggage here?

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CABIN

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The WDL website is amazingly uninformative. It is nearly as though they do not want anybody to find them on the web. In any case, the upshot is that I have no data about the seating capacity on their Avro RJ85 nor on the width or pitch of the seat.
Pitch: The pitch on this particular aircraft does not even feel that bad. When I am sitting upright, me knees do not touch the front seat and I can even slouch down and stretch my legs under the seat in front of me.
Width: You really need to like the person you have sitting next to you on this aircraft, because you are going to have them up close and personal for the entire duration of the flight – especially if, like me, you find yourself trapped in the window seat.

I would consider myself an averagely sized, adult male. Even so, I end up with my right shoulder jammed against the wall of the cabin and my left shoulder being given a free massage or a shove every time the big guy next to me decides to raise his arm to scratch his nose.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Warning: Rows 8 through 11 are located under the wings of the aircraft. The overhead bins on this aircraft are fairly old school and small. However, on those rows immediately under the wing the height of the overhead bins is only about half that of the standard sized bins.

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SERVICE

The service is done be two young and friendly female cabin crew. They both speak excellent English but with a decidedly German accent. If I had to guess, I would say they are both Turkish. Just like WDL’s website and the white livery of its aircraft, the crew are rather nondescript. They have a run of the mill uniform and that is just about it.

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THE MEAL

Choice: Yes.
Type of meal:
Dinner snack.
Meal:

  • Bulgur and chickpea salad with falafel. From what I can tell, there are a number of options to choose form, because in some cases the passengers refuse the meal they are initially offered and are then given another instead. At least I presume it is different because otherwise they would hardly take it.
  • Diet Coke.

It is really at moments like this that you start to wish the airlines would abolish serving food in Economy Class. Of course my luck will have it that I usually hold my fork in my left hand, despite the fact that I am left-handed, while the guy on my left holds his on the right. But eventually we still manage, by coordinating our respective arm movement.

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ARRIVAL

Eventually, after about an hour of doing a pretty convincing impression of a can of sardines, we begin our descent into London City. We approach the city from the southeast and then turn west and then north to approach the airport from the west. We make our final turn onto the final approach right above the Shard, which looks close enough to touch from up here. And shortly after that we land. And I can finally get off the plane. Thank God!

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CONCLUSION

And so I finally make it to London. In summary, the Avro RJ85 really is quickly turning into an old heap of junk. It’s not just that it’s tight in the 3 + 3 configuration, it just looks and feels very worn too.

Even so, I think British Airways were pretty good in a) that they managed to secure a replacement for the aircraft originally scheduled to make the flight, and b) the way they handled the irregularity by informing passengers both by SMS and, in more detail, by mail. Let’s face it, if this had been SWISS, they probably would have just cancelled the flight without really giving a shit.