Drinks in Belfast with the BMI Board (BHX-BFS,DUB-BHX)
Heading into LCC territory with BMI Baby and Aer Lingus, and a ride on the Enterprise Rail Service.
Ok kids. Something a bit different from the usual wittering of United’s food, Ghetto IFE systems and Star Alliance Carriers. This time, its travel for the sheer pleasure of it, and catching up with good people. That’s the point of a Do!
And this trip report is surprisingly short in comparison to some of my normal epics
The price of being a social butterfly (Yes, it’s the intro)
Believe or not, I can be quite social when the mood takes me. It’s extended in the past when the BMI Board used to meet for drinks in Manchester (except for me bailing out late – thanks to the joy of trains and me not wanting to overnight) or the odd trip to San Francisco to catch up with a big bunch of Flyertalkers..
And there was a Do announced in Belfast, I decided (for a change) to be social, and get my backside in the air over there.
Firstly, for the sake of a few miles, I checked out BMI’s laughable fares (£100’s for basic fares, with nothing making sense), so that was scrubbed off the list. So it was back to the local carriers for local people, and BMI Baby (the LCC side of BMI) had a 4p fare
4p you think to yourself. What’s the catch?
How about £25.95 for taxes and £4 for the privilege of using a debit card? Ah yes, the joys of LCC’s – either play by their rules – or get stung.
With the outbound successfully booked, I looked at the return… and oh dear. FlyBe had been jacking up their prices to a stonking £71.99 return before any fees, which throws the idea of a cheap weekend clean out of the window.
But thankfully, Dublin Airport is across the border – which opens up RyanAir, BMI and Aer Lingus back home. With BMI being the most expensive at €43 to LHR, EI coming next at €30 and RyanAir coming in at €15, one would had thought Ryanair would be the logical choice.
Except it gets home at 23:10 at night, and it’s a £25 cab back to central Birmingham, or the 900 Bus with whatever drunks are aboard. So it’s a simple decision of EI, and to be honest, at least EI feels like a real airline still in comparison to some of it’s LCC competition (and besides, there’s an office leaving Do I have to attend too, so a reasonable return time is helpful).
Of course, getting across the border is another challenge. I could either take the bus, or take the train. As I’m geek for trains still, I opted for the Enterprise service. Booking online, a voucher arrived in the post for £8.99
Miles? Oh I should talk about them I suppose. How does “Nothing” sound? Well almost nothing as BMI Baby will give me 150 destination miles and booking the EI on my credit card gave me a small smattering of miles – not even status miles (and not a single QF mile as it’s a cheap fare). Woopeedo.
There is a fair bit of cashback going on thanks to QuidCo, however, I’m still waiting for most of it to get to me…
As OLCI was mandatory for the BMI Baby flight, I had checked in at work when it opened and secured a nice window seat near the front of the plane.
Right. Off we go again!
Morning wait for the bus
5:20am morning to the airport. I love them. Honestly. I really don’t. After dragging myself and my trash out for this little tripette, it was a walk to Mordor Hauptbahnhof (Birmingham New Street Station) and then off Birmingham International on the train.
As I had checked in online, I got off the Airlink, to be confronted with the queue from Hades, extending well from the security zone and halfway round the food court – between 6am and 8am being the rush hour at BHX. However although the queue was there, it was moving at a remarkable quick pace.
Within 10 minutes, my place queue had moved from the back of it to the outside to inside the security area, with Ryanair passengers being turned away often when they’ve worked out they’re in the wrong terminal.
Bag was scanned, with the hi-tech scanners indicating that my camera was needed to be scanned. A quick wipe and it was cleared to go, with security helping me with put my stuff away even though it was busy.
After exiting the security zone, a quick look at the screens indicated the gate had been called for the flight. At gate 60, this meant a hike to the end of old international pier, to be confronted with another queue. After a wait, I was seen to, my boarding pass was beeped, and I was directed to the tarmac and over to the plane of the day
BMI Baby, WW1021, Birmingham International Airport- Belfast International Airport
Boeing 737-500, Seat 4A
239 miles flown, 150 BMI Destination Miles Earned (if they ever post that is),
£29.95 paid, £6 Cashback
The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2010/06/25/bmi-baby-birmingham-to-belfast-international.html
Was greeted aboard, and the clicker was clicked, and I made my way to 4A selected – not for exit row reasons, but as a possible easy exit later. For a LCC, yes, tight seat pitch of the day is in order, but it felt 30”ish as opposed to some of the tighter densities out there.
Some people complain this is all they ever see of me. Others may think this is not the worst thing in the world…
Whilst this plane was clean and tidy, there were signs of its various lifes for British Airways, Go, JetLite and finally BMI Baby (who seem to think of themselves as a Midlands Niche LCC carrier (Not my words – that goes to Mr Prock-Schauer of BMI/Lufthansa) – little things like odd coloured armrests.
The other sign of course, is the BMI Mainline sick bags.
The plane itself didn’t fill up that much with 50 people on the service, so there was room to spread out once the doors went to close and after a few minutes, the plane was pushed back.
The safety demo was carried out manually, and hot food orders were taken on the ground for those who wanted hot food. Speaking of the menu – whilst the menu wasn’t comprehensive, but it had the basis. However BMI Baby must learn the lesson that Aer Lingus has learned – provide a variable high quality food service. The limited choices that were aboard were… limited.
Pushback was 5 minutes late, and then the captain it seemed wanted to race to the runway (which seems common for BHX in my recent experiences).
After a short wait for a Ryanair 737-800 cleared the runway, it was our turn to perform a rolling takeoff. Now, as I have a new iPhone4 . I’d thought I’d try out the HD Video recording on it. Comments are very welcome how badly it’s been shot as well as the quality!
The plane took off into the sky, turning right slightly, and giving al lovely view of Birmingham
The plane continued to climb, and the crew were released after a while to commence in-flight service.
Over the countryside
As this is a short hop, and anything extra is payable – I chose not to pay, and just sit back and watch the sky and the ground as it was clear until reaching the coast – where cloud cover begun
Over the Irish Sea
The three crew were in a happy mood, even though it was the first flight of the day (And being slightly cruel – I didn’t release that orange skin was the fashion still). The crew completed service about 2/3rds of the way of the flight, and then began the process of cleaning down (which the bacon roll people in 4DEF weren’t overly happy about as they were halfway through…).
Of course, this being a LCC the announcement was made to hand in any papers we did not wish to keep as no cleaners were boarding, and the crew had to clean down the plane – bless these poor LCC’s.
The plane broke through the cloud and skipped its way down, and after a few turns, it lined up for Belfast International, finally kissing the ground.
Or have a look at video Yes- two vids so far. I am sad. It’s going to get worse…
The plane pulled up at a stand, and Servisair came along with the stairs, and we were all bussed to the terminal and into Domestic Arrivals.
Overall: There’s not much you can do in a 50 minute flight, and this just shows that sometimes if a LCC product fits the bill, it can be better value than other products. The crew whilst friendly and smiley seemed to miss a “mainline” feel to them (and the shade of orange on one of them.. well…). Perhaps on the these short sectors, it’s so important to remember that there is so little time to carry out service, that the whole thing can feel overly rushed.
After sorting my junk out and getting some water, I made my way out of what can be described as a glorified shed of a terminal (International Airport – Really? You could had fooled me), and wasted £7 on the biggest con of the whole trip – the bus ride into town. No, not a posh coach, a BUS for 20 miles.
I ask you. Seven notes…..
After handing over the money and waiting for others to board, the bus proceeded into Belfast City Centre, dropping off at the main strip, and finally at Europa bus station, where I went out and explored the city for a bit.
As the day progressed, I wanted to dump my main bag, and get a bit of rest before the evening fun occurred, so I checked in at my hotel of the day.
Hotel: Hotel Ibis, Belfast City Centre,
Rate Paid: £42 via Accor.com (£1.89 Cashback), 73 AClub points earned
The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2010/06/26/hotel-ibis-belfast-city-centre.html
This hotel was chosen purely on price-point – as much as I would had loved to stay at the Hilton, I’m by nature tightfisted when I just need a place to crash overnight before heading off the somewhere the next day. Of course, as a recently minted A-Club Gold (and lets face it – who isn’t these days with all the free A-Club Gold offers that are around) it seemed to make sense at the time to book an Accor room (least of all for other reasons that will become apparent at the end of this trip report).
That and a small slug of cash via Quidco is always appreciated.
Booking was made online and the reference texted to me (now there’s a lovely and non expensive touch). I was checked in, and no credit card was requested as guarantee as the room were paid for already. My key cards were issued, and I placed in a high floor.
Shot after dinner
I then wandered up to the room itself. Whilst small, it is functional, with a nice view over the city. However I quickly learned to switch anything on in the room I needed to drop my keycard into a slot within the room.
Outside the room
Pop in to switch on. How Green…
The room had a flat screen TV, walk in shower that was nice and powerful, the bed of reasonable size and firmness, however, this was during one of the warmer weekends that the British Isles has experienced – and the air conditioner wasn’t up to it.
Or to put it bluntly, it was akin to a nat blowing hard – in other words, not good at all even when set to high fan and cool mode.
Of course, there were drinks and random going ons – such is the joy of a BMI Do as well as food.
A good chance to catch up with people, and meet people for the first time. There may had been some watching of planes at the waterside and trains involved as well as drinks… but this is the BMI Board. We do things differently.
I wandered back into the hotel after the festivities, and let myself in with my keycard and wandered upstairs to sleep as I would need to be awake by 7:00 to go off for the next part of this trip.
Upon arriving at reception to check out, my receipt was issued, and no further charges were issued against the account. The cab company (conveniently over the road from the hotel) had a waiting and I was sped to Belfast Central to catch the train…..
At Belfast Central (which is more akin to a Belfast Parkway – the running joke in the UK that a Parkway station is in the middle of nowhere – and that’s where Belfast Central feels like), I went to the ticket office, and had my voucher exchanged for a ticket.
20 minutes before departure, the train was called and everyone lined up to go through the barrier and board.
Enterprise Service: Belfast Central – Dublin Connelly
Operated by NI Railways/Iarnrod Eireann, £8.99 advance fare.
The Pictures – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2010/06/27/enterprise-train-service-belfast-to-dublin.html
Yes, it was £8.99.. you can also get day returns for £10. Bargain!
This is a link that’s intrigued me on and off, and I used to enjoy rail travel an awful lot when I was a student (the fact that I’ve swapped trains for planes as I’ve grown up is of course besides the point).
My first impressions were the train comfortable seats, all in a 2 x 2 setting in standard class as opposed to some train companies (in fact lots) on the British Isles who insist on having “Airline style” seating (to remove tables and instead cram more seats in. However, the seats were starting to look worn, and seeing better days, doing a maroon velour style.
Even useful information screens
The train pulled out at 8:00am on the dot, with a drinks and food trolley service beginning to the rounds straight after the train had pulled out.
As the service stopped at Portadown and Newry, the train loaded up, but didn’t feel “packed” and certainly no sense of “standing room only” unlike some services I’ve had the misfortune of being on.
The route itself is very scenic, and as the train crossed into Ireland, the train sped up, passing near the coast, over the Broadmeadow viaduct and finally, into Dublin Connolly Station
…and at Dublin
Overall This is a very good service, but there are some obvious improvements needed two of which are an hourly service that is sorely needed to compete with coaches and cars, and really the speed of the service needs to be improved (and I was aboard a “fast” service).
With 9 cars a train, it is certainly “Intercity” standard, but an internal train refresh could be an idea to tidy up the coaching stock.
As a method to crossing the border – if you’re not in a hurry, and you’ve got time between your connections, I can’t think of a better way to go.
With a good 3 hours or so in the city, I took my time getting from Connolly to the airport, wandering around the lovely city of Dublin, and succumbing to the need to get more Guinness Glasses for the flat.
Eventually my legs got the better of me, and I caught the 747 to Dublin Airport
The new T2
Seeing Dublin Airport year on year, you get to see the big changes as they’ve been happening, and the biggest one of all is the almost near completion of Terminal 2, with its own architecture style. I’m sure it will be a lovely facility when finished, but for now Dublin Airport is a mass of construction work.
As usual, the bus dropped me off at arrivals, and I made my way up to the left hand side of T1, and straight into a Self Service kiosk, where I was placed in 16C. I had a fiddle with the machine, and placed myself again infront of the engines in 6A.
Security was very quick, however Dublin has caught the bad habit that BHX has caught – which is selling liquids bags. Seems like any old excuse to cash in these days.
After clearing security, I wandered around, noting that all the gate numbers had changed completely (from A-D piers to 100-300 gates), and wandered through the refurbished parts of the airport (in comparison to the year before when it was a building yard in the A-D Dock). I worked out that I was heading to the D pier (the low-cost carrier pier where there isn’t a jet-bridge in sight, and you can get two aircraft to a gate).
I found a perch for a bit and watch the hell that was a Ryanair flight completing its boarding (and thanking myself that I didn’t bother to fly with them).
Soon enough, the Birmingham flight was called, and I found myself at the head of the queue, and first aboard.
Aer Lingus EI0272, Dublin International Airport – Birmingham International Airport
Airbus A320, Seat 6A, Economy Class
200 Miles Flown, 0 QF miles earned, 39 BMI destination miles earned
£26.43 PAID, £0.73 Cashback
The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2010/06/28/aer-lingus-a320-dublin-to-birmingham.html
I greeted the crew who were in jovial spirits and in a very talkative mood as boarding made its slow way. Again, with assigned seats, there was no fighting for who was to sit where.
Inflight branding, check.
Pushback was delayed slightly due to a passenger requiring extra assistance was boarding (as well as fuelling needed).
The safety demo was done again at a reasonable speed, and the plane begun the long trundle to the runway, and after waiting for another Ryanair 737 and a FedEx A300 to do its thing, our A320 took to the skies
Awaiting to turn onto the active….
Take off (yes, I’m still “testing” the iPhone4…)
Very quickly, the crew were released and commenced their BOB service. Again, with a 40 minute flight, it hardly seemed worth getting anything to me. Meanwhile the crew were still smiling and chatting away to passengers whilst doing a brisk trade both in food, drink and in-flight sales.
And the crew were actively talking to passengers, expressing interests and offering opinions when it came to onboard sales.
By the time we had crossed over Wales, service had pretty much complete and we were beginning our decent into Birmingham.
A cabin tidyup was done, the cabin secured, and well. Yes, there’s a long landing video.
After taxing onto gate, an airbridge was driven over, and I thanked the crew and made my way home to crash for an hour before going to what seems to be more office leaving dos…
At the gate in Birmingham
Overall: And this is the big difference between the flights – the happiness of the crew which seemed to had lifted the spirits of people aboard, and the willingness of the crew to engage. If the attitude of this crew is representative (and I can’t remember a duff Aer Lingus crew I’ve encountered on short legs), then they will be a credit to any alliance they choose to join.
So, a worthless weekend for mileage earning?
Not necessary. It’s taught me
- That getting QF miles without stepping on a OneWorld carrier is nigh on impossible
- That LCC’s aren’t that bad (but when presented with a full service carrier, I’d go with them first)
- That my A-Club Gold will be ready for my next trip
- The train sometimes is the only way to go
- That if Aer Lingus had duplicates of that crew on every flight I’d want them back in an alliance pronto
And that it’s still good to go and catch up with people and swap ideas occasionally.
Or to put it blunt, being social
That’s it for now (and I kept my promise – short and sweet) – and to be honest I wasn’t going to write this TR for what seems like a non-event. However, it’s a precursor to one of the biggest trips I’m ever going to undertake (and with the happenings within BMI, pretty timely too).
And it won’t be in the class I’m traditionally associated with!
Next up (Sometime in September!): Kevin gets a little Seoul in his life with Asiana and Thai