124 Edinburgh-Southampton (Flybe) 26/4/17: I’d only flown with Flybe once before, and had been fairly underwhelmed by the experience of their noisy, grubby and grimy little Dash-8’s. But you can’t judge an airline on one flight, and they were flying where and when I wanted to go, and at a reasonable price too, so I decided to give them another chance.
For most people, getting to the airport for a 6:40am flight would mean a miserable, bleary-eyed morning, but for me it just meant getting the bus to work at the same time I usually do. Security being a breeze at that time on a Thursday morning, it wasn’t long before I was being bussed across the tarmac to the aircraft for the first leg of my trip. Flybe’s little purple prop planes were exactly as I remembered; slightly worn and dirty-feeling, fairly noisy (as the booking computer had put me under the wing and right next to an engine), and with mildly shop-soiled and weary-looking cabin crew. The actual cabin itself was maybe only one-third full though, which gave everyone plenty of space, though the purple ‘mood’ lighting was a little nauseating. And the broken luggage bins that had been taped shut with a paper ‘Do not use’ sign sellotaped on were a bit embarrassing. It wasn’t the worst flight I’d ever been on, but it didn’t do anything to change my impressions from my first experience of flying with them.
125 Southampton-La Rochelle (Flybe) 28/4/17: I’ve transited through some of the biggest, busiest and best airports in the world; Dubai, Singapore, Schipol, Heathrow etc. But I never thought I would add Southampton’s transit facilities to that list. Actually, there were no transit facilities, as transit passengers had to go through arrivals then come back through security to departures (well, after standing outside the terminal for ten minutes because the door through to arrivals wasn’t working, luckily it was a beautiful spring morning in Hampshire). That wasn’t such a big hassle given the size of the airport, but it did mean I couldn’t buy any drinks in Edinburgh or I would have to bin them before going through security again.
The departures area was all you would expect of an airport that size; Duty Free, bar, Costa and WH Smith’s. There were comfy couches and free wi-fi though. Flights didn’t seem to be departing with any great speed however, and I was mildly irritated (but not surprised), when our advertised boarding time came and went without anyone even manning the gate. We were finally boarded a short time later, and the flight deck made no mention or apology of any delay, so I guessed there was quite a bit of leeway built into the schedule.
Once again I endured a noisy flight from the same seat under the wing, but the cabin was in slightly better repair than the last one, and the crew were markedly more enthusiastic and personable, enough to make me think I might actually fly with these people again. The flight was short and pleasant, albeit with some heavy turbulence on approach; maybe that’s to be expected landing at the coast in a smaller aircraft. But there were some wonderful views to be had, with the harbour’s famous towers clearly visible in the distance. As for the airport itself, despite probably being one of the smallest I’ve ever arrived at, was modern, comfortable and welcoming. Admittedly there was a fair wait at the tiny border control point, but that was only to be expected with all that’s been happening in France recently. The airport was so nice that I actually regretted the fact I wouldn’t be departing from here; I would have been quite happy to have sat at one of those little cafe tables in the French sunshine on Sunday evening…
126 Paris CDG-Edinburgh (Easyjet) 30/4/17: When planning this trip, I was surprised to find it was actually cheaper to get a train to Paris and fly home from there than it would be to fly back from La Rochelle itself. Happy to add a day in the French capital to the itinerary, I booked the late Easyjet service from Charles De Gaulle. Getting there was fairly straightforward, with a direct train from my base in Montparnasse. And despite all the various parts of terminal 2 attached to the train station, finding the right one wasn’t a big deal. And despite the constant terror alerts in France at the time, security was fairly painless. In fact, I had probably allowed too much time for getting to the airport and clearing security, as I found myself with over two hours to kill. So I was fairly relieved when we finally started the boarding process. However, the wait was only just beginning. After checking everyone through the gate, my fellow passengers and I were left in the corridor connecting to the air bridge for twenty minutes, with no explanation forthcoming form either airline or airport. With no aircon in the narrow corridor, older passengers started to struggle with the heat, whilst the younger ones wailed and complained at our inactivity, When we were finally allowed onboard the aircraft, we discovered the reason for the delay; the outbound aircraft had to return to Luton that night for its scheduled maintenance check, and the crew had had to wait for a replacement aircraft. By the time we were boarded, and had taxied to the runway, we were almost an hour behind schedule. I was acutely aware of the fact that I was working at 7am the next day, and being surrounded by a large hen group on the flight did nothing for my rapidly shortening patience.
We finally arrived in Edinburgh, still hopelessly behind schedule, to find that the E-passport gates were broken, and another two flights were already in the queue in front of us, leading to a lengthy delay at the border, Having finally cleared customs, I sprinted to the bus and only just managed to get onboard before a group of thirty French schoolchildren. It was well after midnight when we arrived in the city, meaning there were no more domestic bus services, so I had to make the final mile of my journey on foot. I eventually arrived home around two hours after I should have. Much as I loved my day in Montparnasse, I wish I had paid the extra money had a beer at one of those tables outside La Rochelle’s cosy little airport..