127 Edinburgh-Cologne (Eurowings): I’d raved about my first experience of flying with Eurowings back in February, so I was happy when the excuse arose to fly back to Germany with them again in June. The prices for the basic fare were fairly reasonable. However, I paid a little extra in order to have a pre-booked seat, snack and checked bag, with the express intention of filling the hold bag with German beer and sausages on my return trip. And having downloaded the very nifty Eurowings app, checking in and getting my boarding pass on my phone was easy. But the extravagance of that checked luggage meant standing in a queue at Edinburgh Airport with other people to drop the bag, not something I’d done much in the last few years. As luck would have it, I ended up in the middle of a large bunch of German school kids, but their teacher noticed I had somehow been caught up in the midst of their group, and kindly offered to let me skip the line ahead of them all.
My usual caution had gotten me through bag drop and security with plenty of time to spare, so I had more than an hour to kill before heading to my gate. And whilst wandering around, I came across three pilots sitting at one of the gates having a coffee, clearly waiting to board their aircraft. Given the gate number, I realised these would be United pilots for flight UA109, one of the three daily United services I catered for personally at work. In fact, I knew I would have made these guys their lunch for today’s flight the day before. Since we never get to meet any of our customers, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet some now, and maybe ask why United’s pilots insisted on asking for so many damn special meals. So I introduced myself, and explained where I worked and that I had prepared their lunch today, successfully recounting who had asked for what (‘Oh, so it was you who wanted that chickpea salad eh?’), much to their delight and amusement. Sadly they didn’t have much time to chat longer, but I was able to revise my opinion of United’s pilots being bloody awkward bastards who just request any old special meal to be dicks. I wish I had thought to take a selfie though.
As for my own flight an hour later, there was a slight delay in boarding the aircraft, although not enough yet to upset the careful meeting arrangements I had in place with Derek at Cologne. But after sitting immobile on the tarmac for thirty minutes, apparently waiting on clearance from Eurocontrol in Brussels to depart, I was getting concerned enough to start sending a few texts. We finally left the gate about forty minutes after the scheduled departure, but then held for another ten minutes on a taxiway next to the runway, presumably waiting on final clearance to depart. Several other aircraft eased past us on their departure before it was finally our turn, leaving almost exactly an hour late. If there was any explanation for the delay, then I must have missed it.
Having had such a great experience with Eurowings before, I was aware that it might just have been a one-off, especially having subsequently read some of their Skytraxx reviews. I wasn’t going to take the delayed departure into account, as that could’ve been due to factors beyond their control. The on-board service was the same as last time, with the little snack box, soft drink, digital entertainment etc. The only difference this time was that the crew weren’t quite as friendly and attentive as they had been before. Maybe it was because this flight was operated by an Air Berlin crew, rather than a Germanwings crew (although my one experience of Air Berlin had been fine two years ago). I never did find out why we were delayed though.
128 Stuttgart-Brussels (Germanwings): When I’d flown home from Stuttgart in February, the ticket was bought through Brussels Airlines, mainly so that I could have a Quick burger at Brussels Airport whilst in transit, and maybe buy a few cans of Jupiler. Being a big fan of Bacon Deluxe’s and cheap lager, I was happy to book the same route again, and it meant that I could also add to my SAS Eurobonus points by flying with one of their codeshare partners. As before, the first leg from Stuttgart to Brussels was actually a Germanwings flight, which was operated on behalf of Eurowings, who themselves are a subsidiary of Lufthansa, one of Brussels Airlines’ Star Alliance partners. Clear? Sadly the Brussels Airlines app on my phone didn’t think so, as once more I wasn’t able to check in online with my booking reference. I’d had exactly the same problem in February, and hoped that somebody might have fixed it by now. So, for the second time on this trip, I had to go through the distress of having to speak to an actual person at a check-in desk, (although I would’ve been doing this anyway to check my bag full of beer and sausages, purchased at Lidl earlier that afternoon). Once more I had a paper boarding pass to carry around and worry about losing, so retro. Once I’d gotten through security, I treated myself to one last schnitzel with kartoffensalat, just as I’d done in February. However, unlike February, I actually had some money left, and was able to treat myself to a few boxes of Fazer. Quite why Finland’s finest chocolate should be on sale at Stuttgart’s airport was beyond me, but it was probably the only way I was going to get some before December.
Despite being full on this occasion, the flight (operated by Germanwings), was as enjoyable as before, elevating my opinion of Eurowings again after a slight dip on my flight out (operated by Air Berlin). Maybe this was why Eurowings seemed to get such polarizing reviews, because so many of their flights were operated for them by other airlines (Brie and Tyler’s flight’s to Cologne had been with Eurowings flights too, but operated by Sun Express Deutschland). This flight was also memorable for seeing my first rainbow from above, though sadly I wasn’t quite quick enough with the cameras to take full advantage.
129 Brussels-Edinburgh (Cityjet): I’d had plenty of stops in Brussels in recent years, so there was pretty much a set routine to them by now; Bacon Deluxe from Quick, hideously expensive can of Jupiler from a bar, quick message to Simona to say hello whilst I was in town. But there were two unwelcome additions to the routine this time; a late change of gate, and my first flight on a Sukhoi aircraft. I must admit to holding the Russian aviation industry in fairly low esteem, and was only slightly calmed by reading the Wikipedia article on the new Superjet 100’s, which was licensed to fly in the EU to be fair. I was mildly annoyed by my aisle seat (that’s what happens when you can’t check in online), and even more annoyed by the forty-five minute wait for our pilot, who was apparently arriving on another flight at a different gate. This started bringing back dark thoughts about all those delays returning from Paris recently, and I was due to work at 5am the next day after this trip as well. But we got underway eventually, and at least I didn’t have a hen party for seatmates this time.
The flight crew did their best to make up a bit of time on the way home, however, any thoughts of reaching my bed before midnight were about to be dashed by Edinburgh Airport. After a week of sunshine in Germany, it was pretty depressing to descend below the clouds and see the miserable, pishing rain that awaited our arrival. Even more so when we realised that we would have to brave it to dash across the tarmac and reach the buses that would take us to the terminal. Well, when they turned up. When they did, I was fairly streetwise and headed for the first bus, climbing on at the door nearest the front to ensure I would be one of the first to exit when we reached customs. As it turned out, there was actually no queue at the border when we arrived, but better safe than sorry. I felt I was doing well for time so far, but I still had to get my bag, not something I’ve been doing much recently. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I’d forgotten how appallingly slow the baggage handlers could be at Edinburgh. As the wait went from ten minutes, to fifteen, to twenty, myself and my fellow damp passengers stood and fidgeted with varying degrees of frustration and anger. Finally, the belt jerked to life, and our sodden suitcases started to bleed slowly through the little hatch, at a steady rate of possibly one or two a minute. Luckily, my bag was one of the first out, and I gleefully yanked it off the belt and made for the exit. Unfortunately, I could tell straight away that something was wrong, as there was a distinct beer smell emanating from my luggage, and it was lot wetter than I would expect from its brief journey across the tarmac. There was no time to worry about the implications right now though, as the clock was very much against me, and the need to catch the first available transport into town was very much the priority. Luckily for me, I chose the Airlink with possibly the slowest driver in the entire Lothian buses fleet. This led to a maddeningly slow crawl into the city, and a frantic dash along Princes Street in heavy rain to catch the last 23. Once home, I was able to assess the damage; a single can of Kolsch had burst open, soaking all my dirty laundry; could’ve been worse.
Generally speaking, as it is my hometown airport (and I technically work there), I will try to defend Edinburgh when people knock it for delays, customer service etc. But even I have to admit that sometimes, it is one of the most brutal airports around to be arriving at. I timed our progress from touchdown to leaving the terminal, and clocked it at around fifty minutes. Considering the fact that there had been no queue at customs, that’s effectively fifty minutes to get off the aircraft and collect a bag. Sorry, but for flying into a relatively small airport on a Tuesday night, that is absolutely shocking.