EasyJet – Airbus A 320: London Gatwick to Basel

Airline: easyJet
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: London Gatwick
To: Euroairport Basel-Muhlouse Freibourg
Departure: 18:28
Arrival:
20:42
Flight time:
one hour and fourteen minutes
Seat:
1F, window seat on the starboard bulkhead row

By the time I collect my suitcase from the luggage belt at Gatwick’s South Terminal, it’s already coming up to 16h30. I now have ninety minutes to make my connection to Basel with easyJet from the North Terminal.

Signposting is very good, and the shuttle that takes you to the North Terminal is on the same level as the landside arrivals area. The journey by shuttle only takes a few minutes.

Once I arrive at the other end, the easyJet check-in area is straight through the door, on the same level as the shuttle from the South Terminal.

I don’t know how many automatic check-in counters there are, but the row seems endless for sure. Which also means that I can just walk up to check in my suitcase without having to queue. This is my first time using one of these self-service machines, because I normally travel without checked luggage.

The process is easy to follow, if not perhaps a bit painful in my case… You see, at the time I made the booking, I remember paying extra to be able to check in a suitcase. Only, what I had purchased at the time was one checked bag weighing no more than 15 kilos. But two weeks in Malta is a long time, during which it’s only too easy to buy a few things here or there to take back with you.

So when I check in my suitcase at Gatwick, the scales indicate that it weighs in excess of 20 kilos, and the price for that is a whopping GBP60. And rather conveniently, you can pay the amount due right there at the check-in counter with your credit card.

Security is quick and efficient. That’s one of the few things I think the British really do very well. Once I’m through security, I just have enough time for a quick meal at Wagamama before it’s time to head for the gate. And for a changes there’s even no queue for a table.

My flight is departing from gate 102, which is located in the satellite that is connected to the main terminal by a bridge that aircraft can taxi under. It’s already dark though, so there’s not much to see.

I’m seated on 1F. I was hoping to take a picture of the seat as I boarded, but alas Ms 1D is already there and it’s impossible for me to take a photo without her in it. Still, she’s a very nice woman and very helpful with getting my backpack stowed away properly.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good and certainly comfortable enough for the short flight to Basel. Moreoever, the one thing I appreciate about easyJet is that their aircraft always appear to be in mint condition.

We start up and push back on time. but we don’t get very far. We make one right turn and then stop. The cockpit crew shut down one of the engines again and inform us that there will be a slight delay, with our slot time not coming up for another twenty minutes. Other aircraft are also having to wait.

There’s nothing much to say about the crew, seeing as I don’t make any inflight purchases with them. The only thing I can say is that the purser is a young Italian man who’d make an interesting linguistic study. From his accent he’s unmistakably Italian. Other than that though, he’s highly proficient and uses many idiomatic expressions that you normally wouldnt’t expect from a speaker with such a heavy accent. Sorry, end of geek-out…

After sixteen days away from home, I’m finally back in Basel. And it’s good to be back. But god it’s cold here…

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Malta to London Gatwick

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: Malta International Airport
To: London Gatwick
Departure: 13:35
Arrival:
15:50
Flight time:
three hours and fifteen minutes
Seat:
5F, window on the starboard side

This trip has been just brilliant. First of all, I can’t remember the last time I went away on vacation for as much as two whole weeks in a row and without changing time zones! I had no idea how relaxing that can be! Of course, it helps that the weather in Malta has been lovely, with sunshine and temperatures hovering around 18 degrees celsius every day.

To get to the airport from Valletta and Floriana by public transport, there are four buses you can take. The X4 is the ‘express’ which runs to Birzebbuga (there are a few diacritics missing there, sorry…) via the airport. The X4 actually stops right outside the terminal building and runs every half hour.

But then there are also the bus lines 71, 72 and 73, all of which go to Iz-Zurrieq and/or Qrendi on the other side of the airport. All three call at the bus stop ‘Cintra’, which is just at the entrance to the road tunnel under the runway. From ‘Cintra’ it’s a walk of about three minutes to the terminal building and there’s a pavement all the way. The 71, 72 and 73 run every six minutes. The journey time is 20 minutes.

When I arrive at check-in, quite a few of the check-in counters are open in preparation for the early afternoon rush. British Airways has its own, dedicated counters, with one counter for Club Class passengers and status card holders and three for all other passengers. Check-in is handled by Air Malta staff on behalf of British Airways.

The check-in agent tags my suitcase, issues me a boarding pass and an invitation to the the La Valette lounge.

The entrance to the La Valette lounge is immediately on your left as you exit through the obligatory duty free shop. Access to the lounge is via lift.

Seeing as it’s the only lounge at the airport, it’s also very busy at this time of day. There are three Air Malta flights, Lufthansa’s Frankfurt service, the Emirates flight and the BA flight to Gatwick all leaving at more or less the same time.

I grab myself a Kinnie from one of the fridges and then head outside to catch some sun. Luckily, I manage to snag a chair with a perfect view of the apron. I’m going to miss the warmth of the sun when I get back to Switzerland.

The easyJet and British Airways flights from Gatwick arrive in short sequence and both of them are running thirty minutes late due an ATC strike in France…

Gates 11 through 18 are the non-Schengen gates behind immigration. And today it’s a mess. The terminal is clearly very rapidly reaching full capacity during peaks. The British Airways flight is boarding from gate 18, which is the farthest gate. Next to us is the easyJet flight to Gatwick, next to that is the Ryanair flight to East Midlands, and next to that is the Ryanair flight to Manchester. And it’s chaos!

But at least I am rewarded for my labours, which include being body-checked by some vicious granny trying to jump the queue for the Manchester flight, because there is no bus for boarding and we are allowed to walk across the apron to our waiting chariot.

The cabin of this aircraft looks and feels different to that of the aircraft that operate to and from Heathrow. However, I don’t know if this bird is an exception or if this is the case for the entire Gatwick fleet. First of all, the cabin is not branded and the bulkhead is white with grey dots, instead of the dark grey coloured one with the Speedbird that you find on the Heathrow fleet.

And the seat is different too. There is no adjustable headrest. Other than that, the cabin looks very worn and in serious need of some TLC. They’ve removed the overhead screens. But instead of covering up the electric sockets where they used to be, they’ve just left everything uncovered. Not only does it not looks very nice, it also gives the impression that really this aircraft should be in maintenance and not in service.

At least on row 5 the seat pitch is still good enough for a flight of thre hours.

The crew on this flight are also unusual. First of all, the purser is a nice, friendly chap. But honestly, I’m wondering if he’s already old enough to have to shave. He’s also not wearing a standard issue uniform shirt. Either that or British Airways recently changed to off-white uniform shirts for their male crew that have the kind of matted grey colour you can only hope to achieve from chucking in a perfectly white shirt with your undies and socks to wash by mistake…

But apart from that, I have to say that all of the crew are excellent. They’re very friendly and they are constantly present in the cabin during the flight. They take could care of the passengers.

The flight today is full, and there are 36 passengers in the Business Class cabin.

The flight time is three hours and fifteen minutes due to the ATC strike. We take off towards the northwest, routing via Palermo and Rome, then across the Alps into Austria and then Germany and Belgium to avoid France.

The mix of passengers in the cabin is interesting. I think it’s safe to say that at 45 years of age, I am by far the most junior passenger in the forward cabin. The rest are all in their late sixties and early seventies and probably still remember Malta from when they were stationed there with the RAF, before Malta became independent.

And all of them look as though they’re travelling for leisure. Behind me is another elderly couple. The husband is your typical cockney geezer who insists on calling the female cabin crew ‘sweetheart’ – and has me wondering how long before he inadvertently becomes part of the #metoo movement but for all the wrong reasons.

There is no service at all on the ground. I don’t know if this is normal or just because the crew are in a hurry to get away as soon as possible.

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin with lightly scented hot towels and distribute the menus for the flight.

There are three choices for the main dish.

Ahead of the meal there is a drinks service, and passengers have a coice of nuts or biscuits as a snack to go with that.

The whole meal is served on one tray from the galley, so there is no trolley service. While of course it is nicer to have your meal brought to you from the galley, instead of it being taken out of a trolley, I also think that tray service doesn’t really work on a narrow body, especially if you have a fairly large and full Business Class cabin as on this flight. By the time the crew deliver the last meals to row 9, the passengers on row 1 are already having their tea or coffee.

There’s something delightfully oldfashioned about the starter, which is crayfish in a spicy cocktail sauce. It’s not bad, although a bit less sauce would have been perfectly fine too.

For the main course I have the fish, which is very good and has managed not to to dry up completely in the oven.

The cheese is my favourite part of the meal on BA and I just love that they serve it with chutney and crackers.

In addition to the crackers, the crew also make two rounds with the bread basket and there is a selection of white and brown breads.

The dessert is fine but really just way to sweet. My teeth ache just from looking at it. I give up on this one and only have half of it.

To finish off the meal I have a cup of mint tea to help pry my tongue off my hard palate after that sticky dessert…

Later on, as we start our descent into Gatwick, the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of Border’s biscuits. The biscuits are good, but I’m wondering if the presentation could be improved – because the crew pass through the cabin with this enormous retail size box of biscuits and distribute them from that. It’s not the height of sophistication to be honest…

En route over Italy the crew were able to get an improvement on our routing, to the extent that the delay is reduced to less than fifteen minutes. But by the time we’re sequenced for arrival and eventually touch down, we’re thirty minutes later after all.

The flight ends at Gatwick’s South Terminal. I now need to retrieve my suitcase and then make my way to the North Terminal for my connecting flight.

While there were a few oddities on this flight, such as the consition of the aircraft cabin, the appearance of the crew and the mix of passengers in the Business Class cabin, all in all this was not a bad flight. Moreover, I think that Gatwick is by far the much more pleasant passenger experience than Heathrow.

Flying British Airways may not be everyone’s cup of tea and honestly, they’re usually not my first choice anymore either. Even so, I still think it’s impressive that on a Friday afternoon in early February, which is during Malta’s deepest low season, they still manage to fill 36 seats in Business Class.

EasyJet – Airbus A 320: Friedrichshafen to London Gatwick

Schaffhausen is probably best known for its proximity to the spectacular Rhine falls in Neuhausen. But it’s definitely also worth a visit in its own right.

In Schaffhausen I spend the night at the lovely Hotel Rüden, which is located close to the railway station, on the fringe of the old town.

There are two ways to get from Schaffhausen to Friedrichshafen airport. The boring way is to take the train and change in Friedrichshafen. The journey will take 1 hour and 27 minutes. The alternative is quite a bit longer at 2 hours and thirty minutes, but definitely more fun!

First, I take the 09h49 train from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, which is a journey of about fifty minutes, part of which run along a very scenic route next to the river and then the lake.

In Kreuzlingen I have three minutes to make the connection to Konstanz, which is only another four minutes by train.

And then in Konstanz, I have twelve minutes to connect to the catamaran that goes across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen.

Only, it turns out that because of the wind, the catamaran will not be operating. So I’m just going to have to take the train.

But that’s not quite so straightforward. First, I take the 11h40 train to Radolfzell, which is a ride of fifteen minutes.

And then in Radolfzell I have ten minutes before my train to Friedrichshafen arrives. This being Germany, it’s late of course. But it’s a diesel train, which we don’t have in passenger service in Switzerland. I think it’s kind of cool, and sounds like a bus more than a train.

In Friedrichshafen I just have enough time to walk down to the lake to take a look at the water, which is starting to look a bit rough.

And then from Friedrichshafen Stadt I take yet another diesel train at 13h09, which takes five minutes to get to the airport.

From the airport station it’s just a short walk across the road to the terminal, which is a nondescript, flat building. But there is an Ibis hotel.

Departures are to the left of the building. Despite its limited size, inside every carrier has its own dedicated check-in counters. Although having said that, I hardly think there are all that many operators out of FDH.

Security for all gates is off the the left of the check-in hall. And of course, once you’re through security, you’re immediately ejected in the duty free shop.

All in all, there are seven gates, of which the five A gates are for Schengen departures and the two B gates for non-Schengen flights.

About 45 minutes before departure, the immigration officers appear to open up shop. The guy at my counter looks at my Maltese passport and just says ‘cool’ with this gleeful tone in his voice. ‘I’ve been there, you have great weather down there…’. And then he just lets me through.

At 14h20 the inbound from Gatwick glides down on runway 24. The A 320 looks slightly out of place and a but oversized compared to the terminal.

Boarding starts at 14h45 for a 15h05 departure. But that’s okay, because it turns out there’s only 49 passengers on the flight anyway…

Originally, I’m seated on 1C. But once boarding is completed two minutes later, I switch to the window on 1F and have the whole row to myself!

On the first row the pitch is comfortable enough. I don’t think it’s much less than on the first row of SWISS’ A 320s. The only complaint I have though, is that there’s cold air coming in through the R1 door inflight. Obviously it’s not enough to depressurise the cabin, but it certainly gives you cold feet!

On the climb out of Friedrichshafen we’re treated to some excellent views of the lake.

Once the buy on board service starts, I purchase a large cup of hot chocolate with two shortbread finger biscuits for GBP4.-, which I think is quite fair.

The crew are a friendly bunch and they’re obviously enjoying not having a full load of passengers for a change.

The flight passes quickly, and eventually we land after a flight time of 90 minutes and taxi to our stand at the satellite of the North Terminal.

The airport is surprisingly quiet and I’m through immigration in no time. From arrivals I head one floor up to catch the shuttle train to the South Terminal, from where the Gatwick Express into London’s Victoria station will be leaving.

The journey into London takes 32 minutes if you’re lucky enough to catch the express and there are multiple trains per hour.

For a change, this time I won’t be staying in the West End. Instead, I’m off to Brixton…

I won’t be writing a post about the return flight to Basel with easyJet, so this is going to be my last post of 2019. I want to thank all those of you who have visited my blog throughout the year and read the posts or just looked at the pictures, but especially all those of you who also were kind enough to leave a comment – be it a question, criticism, explanation or correction. Thank you!

I wish you all a happy holiday and a spectacular festive season!

– William

Easyjet, Economy – A 320: London Gatwick to Basel

INTRODUCTION

This one may surprise a few people. I know two of my assistants at work were stunned when I told them what I was planning. It’s frightening how well they know me. But yes, there you have it: I’m flying EasyJet. It’s been a few years since I last flew them and recently I had found myself contemplating taking another flight with them, simply to see how the intervening years had treated EasyJet. And then suddenly, out of the blue the opportunity arose.

Folie1
map

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: Gatwick Express Train
Departs from: Victoria Station
Frequency: Every 15 minutes
Journey time: 30 minutes on the nonstop trains
Fare: GBP19.90 for a single

IMG_2264

I take the Victoria Line tube from Oxford Circus to Victoria Stations, which is the second stop after Green Park. At Victoria the Gatwick Express is clearly signposted and there are dedicated ticket machines and counters on the platforms, so there’s no need to queue with all the other travellers.

IMG_2270

The journey on the Gatwick Express is a pleasant one. As it makes its way south, the train passes through the suburbs of London, until eventually the urban sprawl that makes up London gives way to rolling hills with juicy greens fields.

CHECK-IN

Location: North Terminal
Facilities: Web App, web check-in, check-in counters
Counters: There is a dedicated check-in area for Easyjet at the south end of the North Terminal

Easyjet operates out of both the South Terminal and North Terminal. Flights operating with a flight number starting with 5 depart from the South Terminal, while flights starting with an 8 depart from the North Terminal.

I shall be departing from the North Terminal today. To access the facility, there is an automated train that leaves from a station adjacent to the railway station for the main line trains to and from London. The journey takes about two minutes. Once you’re inside the terminal, head one floor up for check-in and departures.

IMG_2271
IMG_2273
IMG_2274
IMG_2275
IMG_2276

LOUNGE

There is none. Actually, I’m only starting to realise just now how incredibly boring and inconvenient travelling is when you haven’t got a lounge to use – no free wifi, uncomfortable seats and no peace and quiet. I wouldn’t mind just sitting in a corner at the gate reading my Kindle, but alas in Gatwick the departure gates are only announced about 20 minutes before departure.

Other than that, it’s really quite amazing really, airside the North Terminal looks and feels more like a shopping mall than an airport- quite a contrast to Sofia airport, which looks abandoned.

IMG_2277
IMG_2279

BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Speedy boarding for passengers with advanced seat reservations

Our flight is departing from gate 111, which is in the satellite terminal. Access to the satellite is via a bridge over the taxiway, which gives you a bird’s eye view of the airfield – this is pretty cool me thinks. Sorry about the bad quality of the pictures from the bridge. The sun was working against me this morning, and so were the dirty windows…

IMG_2282
IMG_2283
IMG_2285
IMG_2286
IMG_2289
IMG_2290

Gatwick uses closed gates, but at least you don’t have to go through security again to enter the holding pen. Boarding starts with a call for passengers with children, passengers in need of assistance and passengers who’ve booked speedy boarding. There’s a bit of a hold up in the airbridge because the crew isn’t quite ready yet. Apparently there was some last minute change and the aircraft now flying to Basel should originally have been going to Geneva instead.

IMG_2291
IMG_2292
IMG_2294

CABIN

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat: 1F, later moved to 1D
Facilities: NIL
Audio and Video: NIL

I’m sitting on the first row, on the right side of the aircraft, opposite the galley. Of course you have much more legroom on the left side, seeing as there is no bulkhead or cabin divider. Then again, if you’re sitting on 1A, the container with the evacuation slide can get in your way. The flight appears to be nearly full this morning. From what I can tell, the only seats left empty are in the first two rows. There is one person by the window on each side of row two and we’re two persons on the right side of row one. The left three seats are empty. The cabin is in excellent condition.

IMG_2296
IMG_2297
IMG_2299
IMG_2301
IMG_2303

SERVICE

There are three cabin crew on the flight this morning. All of them are French, from what I gather. They’re not incredibly friendly I’d say, but they are very professional in the way they go about their duties. The safety on board demonstration is taken very seriously and the crew are conscientious in the way they conduct the pre-departure check.

THE MEAL

Catering on Easyjet is buy on board or bring your own. I have a blueberry muffin and a cappuccino for GBP3.60, which isn’t bad I think. Easyjet has quite a selection of food and drinks, including some hot items like a croque monsieur.

IMG_2304

ARRIVAL

We land in Basel on time. And of course it’s raining, which is hardly surprising given my track record. It’s quite cool too. Our aircraft parks on the Schengen side of the terminal, so we are bussed the short distance to the other side, where the arrivals entrance for non-Schengen flights is located.

IMG_2305
IMG_2306
IMG_2307
IMG_2309

GETTING INTO TOWN

As I exit the building, a line 50 bus is already waiting and will be leaving in five minutes. Perfect!

It’s been quite a while since my last Easyjet experience. So how did they compare on this trip compared to back then? In the sum of all things, I think Easyjet has made a few minor adjustments to its model but with maximum impact. The fact that they assign seats now for everybody, and little perks like speedy boarding and advanced seat reservations make the experience with Easyjet a lot more pleasant than it used to be, at least for me.  I hope nobody at Easyjet who reads this will hold it against me, because I mean it as a compliment, but all in all I think that they’ve become just like all the other airlines in Economy Class in Europe these days, no better and no worse.