Newest Review: ... perfume, which I find really irritating on some airlines. I would definitely recommend Thomson Airways as a more comfortable and less st... more
Good, but could do better for a premium service
Member Name: rlc2281
Advantages: Good price, good legroom, on our way very quickly, good cabin crew
Disadvantages: Awful check-in experience
-- Our holiday
In May 2011 we planned to go to Orlando in September the same year as a party of 3, 2 adults and a child of 22 months. We've been to Orlando many times in recent years and so we felt confident to book our holiday independently, booking flights, villa and car hire separately.
The first thing that we researched was the flights. There are a lot of airlines that fly to Orlando from Gatwick which is our local airport, so I spent a lot of time looking at all the options available to us.
-- Why Thomson Airways?
After looking at ever conceivable option to get us to Orlando we chose Thomson as they offered the cheapest prices for our chosen dates. We initially were planning to fly in economy with whichever airline we selected but ultimately ended up booking premium as it had the following benefits:
~ Priority check-in
~ Priority boarding
~ Priority baggage collection
~ More legroom
~ Free drinks
~ Increased baggage allowance (23kg per person rather than 20kg each in economy)
~ Lounge access on the return journey
We were travelling with a 22 month old toddler so the extra space and the fact that we would be off the plane first was the thing that clinched it for us to upgrade. We also chose to book our son a seat rather than have him on our laps for 8ish hours which added to the cost, but again we felt that the benefits would outweigh the cost for us. We paid £2402 for the flights for all 3 of us.
We couldn't book our flights online because of this so had to call them, but they did still offer us the web discount on our booking. The booking process was easy and the person I spoke to very helpful. The only thing that didn't impress me about this was the fact that it was an 0871 number costing 10p per minute to call.
-- Day before check-in
As part of the service at Gatwick you can check your bags in the day before departure, meaning that you then only have to go straight through security on the day of departure. We decided to do this as we are very local to the airport. However, this was not the right decision as they were severely understaffed and we queued for over an hour to check our bags in. There is no distinction between economy and premium at the day before check-in so the benefit of priority check-in was completed lost for us. I've done day before check-in for other airlines previously and never had such a bad experience and I was very concerned that it didn't bode well for the rest of the trip. This wasn't helped by the fact that we didn't get our boarding passes that day as we were travelling to the USA. We had to go back on the day of departure to collect these before we could proceed through to the departure lounge.
-- At the airport on the day of departure
As we knew we had to pick up the boarding passes we went back to the check-in area expecting to just pick them up and be on our way. Unfortunately we had to queue in the premium queue in order to get them, meaning that other than not having any luggage with us, there was no point in us going to the airport the previous day and our stress levels were quite high at this point! Once we had these though everything went smoothly and we were on our way. At security we were directed to a lane dedicated to families and others that may need special assistance. This was an easy process and before we knew it we were in the departure lounge and beginning to relax.
-- The flight to Orlando
As we had priority boarding we were among the first onto the plane. We were able to take the pushchair to the gate with us and we left it right near the plane door.
Once aboard the plane (a Boeing 767 for any of you aviation geeks out there) we found our seats in the central section of row 3. The plane still had the old First Choice branding on the outside and the seating configuration was 2-3-2. My husband and I sat on either aisle with our son in the middle. As our son was under 2 he needed to sit on my lap for take-off and landing, but other than that was pretty much free to sit in his seat.
We were very pleased with the room on board. The seats were leather, felt fairly wide and, although I'm only short, the legroom was really comfortable (the seat pitch was 36"). The only thing I didn't like about the seat itself is that the armrests were fixed in position. We knew this prior to booking though so this wasn't a surprise. In hindsight it may have been easier for our son to lie down and sleep in economy where we would have been able to put the armrests up.
Once on board we were offered a drink before take-off which made a nice start to the flight. Once in the air the cabin crew came round often offering drinks and if you needed anything you could always press the call button and they were happy to help.
We had ordered a kids meal for our son and this came out before our food. While this was good in some ways as we could help with with anything (mainly blowing on it as it was very hot!), it wasn't so good as he was then all over us while we were trying to eat ours a little bit later. From memory the meal wasn't anything special compared to other airline food I've had in the past, nor was it inedible either. My favourite parts are usually the cheese and crackers and the dessert and these didn't disappoint. We were offered a further meal of sandwiches towards the end of the flight and I felt that we were adequately fed and watered throughout the journey.
The flight itself was pretty smooth and the pilot gave us updates about how long it would take, where we were flying over etc. The seatbelt signs came on once while my son was asleep (strapped into his seat) and the cabin crew kindly let him stay there rather than come back onto my lap.
I didn't get to use the inflight entertainment system much as I spent most of my time occupying my boy, but it was an on-demand system with tv shows, films, music and a sky map showing where you are in the world as you travel. That's always my favourite part of the entertainment anyway so I was happy just having that on.
The flight seemed to go really quickly and before we knew it we were coming into land at Sanford just outside of Orlando. Once we had landed we were off the plane quite quickly at there was no queue at immigration so we didn't have to wait at all. At this point we were very thankful for the premium seats as we could see the queues mounting up while we were being admitted into the US.
Our luggage was all out very quickly as well (including a car seat and pushchair) and from getting off the plane to walking out into the arrivals hall to find the car hire desk took around 30 minutes.
-- The flight home
Compared to the previous journey the check-in procedure at Sanford was amazing. The priority check-in meant that we were at the desks within a matter of minutes despite there being quite a long queue. The check-in agent was very pleasant to deal with and she checked that we were aware of the lounge access that was included for us. She gave us directions, took our bags from us and we were on our way.
Security was a little busier than we had found at Gatwick, but it's only a small airport so it was no real bother. Once we were through we made our way to the lounge (which was a really great place to spend some time before the flight with complimentary soft drinks and snacks).
As with the outbound journey boarding was easy and once again we were in the central 3 seats, but this time in row 6. The journey home was almost a carbon copy of the flight out there, although we were all quite tired after our fortnight in Orlando. The only real comment I have to make about the flight is that it took a long time to do the meal service and then clear up again afterwards which caused us a few issues as our son didn't want to go to sleep while there was so much activity going on in the cabin. I'm not sure that anyone else would have felt like that though, or whether we were just particularly conscious of it because of having a small child in our party.
The flight home was incredibly long as we were sent on a very long route over Canada and Greenland. While there was nothing really wrong with that, I don't sleep well on planes so I just wanted to get home to my bed!
Before landing we were offered breakfast, but we were all so tired that we didn't have the appetite for it.
The longer flight time meant that we landed about an hour late and we had to wait a while for another plane to leave the stand that we were going onto. Once at the stand we were off the plane quickly, although it took approximately an hour to get through passport control and then get our bags. Not so good when you're tired after a long flight.
I am rating our experience with Thomson at 3 out of 5. This would have been a 4, but for the experience of check-in at Gatwick to begin with. That really spoilt the holiday mood at the beginning. The flights were all fine, nothing special, but I don't have any other real negatives about them.
We found it a benefit that they flew into Sanford rather than Orlando International as, although it's further from the tourist areas, we were on the road considerably quicker than previous trips with other airlines.
The actual on board experience was good and I would fly with them again if they were offering a competitive price, although I wouldn't pay a premium to choose them.
Summary: A good airline, but not worth paying a premium
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