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IS ALL THAT ROOM REALLY FOR ME?
Member Name: sue.51
Date: 06/10/02, updated on 25/05/05 (1901 review reads)
Advantages: Use regional airports, Affordable prices, Seats are pre-allocated
Disadvantages: Very small planes, Limited destinations from some airports, Prices rise sharply when demand is expected to be high
My boss and I had a forthcoming business trip to Belfast and to get there needed a flight, the alternative was to drive to Liverpool and get the ferry (500 mile round trip - plus the crossing; I think not - not really cost effective in either time or money).
Our only other feasible means of transportation on a somewhat limited budget had to be flights; so where else to look than our 'local' airport, Cardiff International, apparently advertising itself as the gateway to Europe and the rest of the world, but not it seems the British Isles.
The cheapest return flight we could get was in the region of £400 each with British Airways - it would have been easier to swim at those prices.
I then proceeded to check BA out of Birmingham - £78 - what a difference, BMIbaby from East Midlands - £60 and £45 with EasyJet from Luton. From this little bit of research it seems that the further away from your final destination you get the cheaper the flight becomes - then I saw an advertisement in the Sunday paper for FlyBE a.k.a British European (they are now firmly branded as flybe following a name change in July 2001)
A bit of browsing on their website and playing around with flight times, eventually found us a return journey that suited us from Bristol airport at a price we were more than happy with - £127 economy class return including
taxes. (This was far more favourable than the
parking charges at Bristol Airport which came in at a casual £12/day - which if my memory serves me correctly is more expensive than both Gatwick and Heathrow - and for anyone who doesn't know Bristol is the only remaining UK airport where you still cannot pre-book car parking - at those prices I wonder why?). In addition, the quality of the car park is pretty dire as is the rather uninspiring airport, but I guess that will keep for another day. Shuttle buses run to the main terminal roughly ever 10 minutes throughout the day. Flybe also operate Business Class return services, although on planes seating less than 100 people and flights lasting less than an hour I don't know what advantages you would get for the extra pennies.
The flight took us into Belfast City as opposed to the International Airport; the former as it's name might suggest is only about 5 miles from the City, whereas the International Airport is some 20 miles away so saved a fair bit on taxi fares as well. I am reliably informed that if you are staying in one of the major hotel chains in the City, you can take advantage of the Shuttle Buses for a small fee from both airports (around £5 return from City I believe). Our Taxi to the Hotel Europa cost us the grand total of £8 between three of us.
WHO ARE FLYBE?
They actually started out as Jersey European in 1979 having gone through a range of changes since then to the current period, acquiring their first London base in 1991 and their first franchises with Air France in 1996, they won best Regional Airline in 1993 and 1994 and became FlyBe in July of 2002, so they are a relatively new player in the cheaper airline market, what they do have is smaller planes, slightly higher yet still affordable prices, allocated seats and it appears nice planes, loads of legroom, reliability and they FLY FROM REGIONAL AIRPORTS - are you listening EasyJet and British Airways? <
WHERE DO THEY FLY?
It seems looking at the routes on their website, They fly from every major airport on the UK mainland with the exception of Cardiff (that figures) and Aberdeen. They also have links to Amsterdam, Brussels and numerous destinations in France, Jersey, Guernsey, Dublin and Shannon. From Bristol at the moment you can only fly to Belfast, Isle of Man and Jersey, although hopefully the not too distant future will see greater expansion on these destinations. I have been asked to provide more information on routes; usually happy to oblige, on this occasion, this would be something of a mammoth task as destinations from each of the 15 mainland, Eire and NI varies, safe to say they operate on a fairly large scale in these countries and France and I suspect they will continue to grow in Northern Europe for the foreseeable future, check out their website for more details on destinations - www.flybe.com.
THE BOOKING PROCESS
Preferred option, as with most of these cheaper carriers is on-line and you will make savings of up to £10 each way by doing so. The home page takes you directly into the booking system, much easier to find than BA's - and you simply select your departure and destination airports, the dates you want to travel and the number actually travelling as in adults, children and infants - press the submit button and you will be presented with a selection of both outbound and return flights (subject to availability) that will probably range considerably in price. I tried them from Birmingham for a forthcoming trip to Glasgow and the cheapest flight had I have left first thing in the morning was £14 outbound, the flight I actually wanted was £14, hence I am now flying with GO, who although have a similar pricing structure do put a ceiling on their flights and now seat allocations! Once you have decided which flights are right for you, press submit and you are away.
Although I did most of the se
arching, my boss
actually made the flight booking was at that point an unknown territory for expenses claims at work; but I understand it was a fairly simplistic process requiring both our names, postal address and credit card detail. The system issued a confirmation numberand our tickets were received in the post within about two weeks. Unusually, ticket and passenger details were changeable for a fee of around £25.
CHECKING IN & LUGGAGE RETRIEVAL
Fast, efficient, friendly. I was permitted to take my 6.1kg bag with me as hand luggage - what a relief - it meant I wouldn't have to wait for my luggage to be offloaded the other side, although my joy was short-lived as another passenger who was travelling to the same conference as we were was on our flight and her luggage transpired to be in the hold. To be fair the wait at Belfast City was MINIMAL - I didn't even get chance to have a sneaky ciggie away from my boss before seeking a taxi.
What I most certainly did like best about the whole process, is that unlike EasyJet I knew where I was going to be sitting from the moment of check-in. It may sound silly but after the free for all of EasyJet, having my seat allocated was music to my ears, lookout for my forthcoming trip on GO then! :)
Flying is something I do often but hate with a vengeance and my primary rating of any airline has to be the fact that it got me back on the ground still in one piece. I have heard a few horror stories of small planes on short distances from regional airports and thus was awaiting this trip with a mixture of excited trepidation and anticipation. Thankfully the plane had engines rather than propellers - it was a Canadair Regional Jet - and seated 49 people including air stewards, although I understand that much of Flybe's fleet are smaller than this and many of their planes still sport propellors over engines.
Bearing in mind that I am only 5ft 1-1/2?, I co
uld actually see insid
e the overhead lockers - these planes are small: normally even when standing on a seat I struggle to check whether I have left anything behind, which can be a real pain when I am travelling without my somewhat taller other half.
Wow - a plane this small with leg-room - what can I say? There was at least double the amount offered by the likes of Britannia and JMC - I must say I was impressed - although if you are over 4ft 8", then I wouldn't recommend standing up suddenly planes or you could end up with a very sore head the next day.
The captain announced that we would be offered a selection of complementary refreshments including tea, coffee, water or fruit juice accompanied by a mini packet of shortbread of savoury snacks; in addition, they were supposed to offer a range of drinks from the bar but we didn't actually see any of these (I don't fly well sober) but as I guess the flight last only around 45 minutes (it was actually scheduled to last 1 hour 15 mins) then I shouldn't really complain.
RELIABILITY & PUNCTUALITY
On the outward journey we departed on time and arrived half hour early, on the return journey we actually departed about 20 minutes late, and both the announcers at Belfast, the staff, noticeboards and captain kept apologising profusely, quite impressive and we still managed to arrive back on the mainland ahead of schedule. In fact there was GO flight due to leave 15 minutes before us to the same destination, but it actually arrived some 45 minutes behind us.
An excellent service at an affordable price, but remember the planes are small, which means that they feel every jolt, bump, wheels going up and down, engines pulling back - if you are a nervous flyer, try where possible to get a flight on a nice clear day, going out was clear as crystal returning home was a nightmare, cloudy as hell, and I could not
believe that a plane this
small could fly safely and comfortably at 30,000 feet and 500 miles an hour - my boss (being something of a daredevil and a glider enthusiast wasted no opportunity in recognising that he had finally discovered my key weakness (he was quite nice about my fear of dentists) and took the mickey out of me mercilessly.
Having said all that about London and the Home Counties, I am reliably informed that if you want to get to Belfast, then Scotland is the place to be, as our Co-ordinator actually managed to get a flight with EasyJet for the grand sum of £27.10 return, including taxes, I couldn't get a train fare to London for that price.
Want to find out more? Visit www.flybe.com