Welcome to the Jungle Jet - Day Out with BMI

 

 

A while back we signed up for BMI credit cards, which had an offer whereby you got 20,000 BMI Diamond Club points just for signing up.

 

An offer too good to pass up, we signed up, but since then have got no closer to book any flights.

 

In November, I realised that I had only taken four flights this year, and had some spare days off, so thought it would be great to get some more flights in while I had the chance.

 

Looking at the BMI website for ideas, I found out I could fly from Leeds Bradford and get some flights in on the Embraer jets, a type I have never flown on but would love to get a ride on.  I could fly LBA-EDI-BRU-LBA in a day, and as a bonus, get both the 145 and the 135!

 

I didn’t waste any time in booking, and within minutes I was booked on the following Wednesday’s flights. 

 

Check in

 

Unfortunately, BMI don’t offer online check-in.  A major drawback for a so called “full fare” airline, but they do offer telephone check-in 23 hours in advance.  That was good enough, at least I wouldn’t have to fight for my window seat on the day.

 

This is something that would really benefit BMI – for the amount of business passengers they carry I find it crazy that they still have no online check-in!

 

22 hours before departure, I called their hotline to check in.  Having taken all my details and left me on hold for 5 minutes to see if she could request a window seat, I was told that the system was down and could I call back in 5 minutes.

 

So in 5 minutes I rang back, and again was put on hold after requesting a window seat.  I knew I wanted to sit on the left, as the ERJs are set in a 1-2 seat layout, and a seat on its own would be great!  She checked me in for seat 15A for my LBA-EDI flight, but told me I’d have to call back in two hours to check in for my return flight.  I found this strange as on the website it states for Diamond Club Blue members, if your return flight departs within 24 hours of your outbound, you could check in for both at the same time.

 

I telephoned back to check in for my onward flights at 18.30, and after being put on hold for seemingly an age was told that unfortunately I could not check in by telephone as my flight went via Brussels, therefore I would have to check in at Edinburgh on the actual day of travel.  She could however assign my seats due to my Diamond Club membership, and assigned me seat 8A for both return sectors.  This didn’t bother me too much as at least I had my seat confirmed, and I would have 3 hours hanging around at EDI in any event so at least it gave me something to do when I got there! :-)  So far so good, although telephone check in was certainly a chore, and not as easy as it should be!

 

30 November 2005

 

My clock radio woke me up to Simply Red at 6am.  I decided that although I didn’t need to be at the airport until 9am, I’d set off around 6.30 to make sure I gave it plenty of time.  Boy was I glad I did!  I set off at 6.35, hit the M1 to begin the journey.  Then came the bad news on the radio.  The M1 was partially closed between Junction 40-41 northbound.  I heard this as I was on top of the roundabout at Junction 38, shortly followed by the traffic coming to a grinding halt.  After waiting about half an hour, we started to move.  My Satnav ETA kept getting later and later, and by the time I got to Junction 39 it had increased from 08.07 to 08.50.  This was going to be close.  I hit “Detour” and it bought me off at Junction 39.  Then time for more queues – I queued for another half an hour as I hit the school run at 08.30.  ETA was now at 9.10 – and I still had to park and collect my boarding pass.  After crawling through downtown Didsbury and around the Leeds ring road, I pulled into LBA’s car park at 9.25.  The car park was full.  I thought I had surely missed my flight, and in desperation abandoned my car blocking in several others (leaving my lights on on), ran across the car park into the check in hall and straight to the luggage drop off to collect my pass.  “Boarding in 5 minutes” responded the friendly bmi check in agent.

 

I now had to run back to my car to try and find a parking space.  The car park was full of BMWs and Mercedes and the owners of most of them, clearly in a hurry, had kindly parked 90% of them across two spaces.  I backed in to a tight spot that my Vectra was sharing snugly with a BMW.  I couldn’t get out of the drivers door, so I had to climb over the passenger seat to get out.  Fumbling for my car keys, I then realised I had left them in the ignition.  In I went again, retrieved my keys and clambered out.  Right, now for security.  It was 9.40 by this time, and the flight was apparently boarding.  I ran through to security, taking my coat off as I ran.  Straight through the X-Ray machines, into departures and up to gate 7 where our ERJ was waiting for us.  I was the first one there!  As I grabbed a bottle of Coke from the machine, a few businessmen arrived.  Shortly after, the boarding agents turned up to advise of a short 15 minute delay due to the late arrival of the inbound aircraft.  Sitting down I thought “Phew, that was close!”.  Boarding soon began, and we walked across the ramp to our waiting aircraft.

 

Date 30 November 2005
Airline BMI Regional
Flight Number BD409
From Leeds Bradford (LBA)
To Edinburgh (EDI)
Aircraft Embraer ERJ-145
Registration G-CCYH
STD/ATD 09:55 / 10:10
STA/ATA 10:50 / 10:55
Flight Time 0:40

 

 

 

 

I managed to check my boarding pass as I walked across to the aircraft.  Seat 15F – Grrrrr I was told I was in 15A!  Never mind I thought, I was just glad to be on it.  I thought it quite amusing that my boarding pass sequence number was 1 – even though I was probably the last at the airport!  Our aircraft today was G-CCYH.  This aircraft is leased from another airline, and is in a white hybrid colour scheme with bmi swoosh and logo.  I took some photos of the smart ERJ as we walked up to the door:

 

 

 

The cabin crew collared anyone with outsized hand baggage as they walked up to the door and took it off them to put it in the hold.

 

My first impressions on boarding were “Wow this aircraft is tiny”.  As you board, there is hardly any room for your shoulders, and your face immediately hits the toilet door.  There are walls on three sides “Where is the flight deck” I wondered! :-)

 

I turned right and to my pleasant surprise, was met with smart, dark blue, leather seats.  Very swish!  Other bmi Embraers have fabric seats.  I took my seat, and it soon became obvious that I was on my own on this row.  There was plenty of leg room (I’m 6’3), and with my bag under the seat 1 across from me I was very comfortable. 

 

Even though the initial impression as you walk down the aircraft is how cramped it seems, it feels much bigger once you’re sat down.

 


 

There were 34 pax on today’s flight (I heard the cabin crew mention it), and the cabin was soon secured and good to go.  Interestingly, on this 2-cabin crew aircraft, one sits at the front and the other sits in the middle at the back of the aircraft, looking straight down the aisle.  The crew today were Bev and Nicola, both looking very smart in bmi uniform.  The captain came on with information about our flight.  Very informative guy, he advised that we’d be flying at 18,000 feet, and the weather in Edinburgh was 6C, 5 warmer than LBA! 

 

 

 

We taxied out, feeling every bump in LBA’s runway as we went.  After a quick backtrack, full power was applied and we were off. 



Boy do you feel the speed in this little rocket, we were pushed right back in our seats, rocketing down the runway.  The terminal came into view and it felt like we were on a missile – everything flashed past so quickly!  We rotated, and within seconds the flight attendant was on the PA announcing that they would begin the meal service shortly.

 

Very shortly after we saw our last glimpse of Leeds as we entered the thick, overcast cloud.  We eventually emerged into clear blue sky, and the cabin filled with the smell of hot breakfast! :-) 

 

 

There was a choice between cheese, ham and tomato or cheese & tomato Panini.  I took the cheese ham and tomato, and I’m glad I did.  It was a hot panini, with melted cheese and ham, with warm tomato.  Very tasty for breakfast, and a rarity to be served a complimentary hot meal on a domestic UK flight.  Business fare paying passengers (in the same cabin) got a full English breakfast with sausage, bacon and egg. 

 


 

One thing I did notice, the engines were extremely quiet, but the noise of the air rushing past the aircraft was much louder than a larger aircraft.  The windows were absolutely HUGE, and I loved the little “EMB145” logo on the window blinds.

 

 

 

 

A cup of tea or coffee followed (I took the tea), and the captain came on to announce our descent.  We were now in Scottish airspace and on our approach for the an approach from the south east.  Passengers on the left would get a cracking view of Edinburgh City Centre, and us on the right would get a view of the Firth of Forth and the Forth Bridge.  We began our approach, and soon entered the cloud.  Eventually the cloud started to break, and we got our first glimpse of the Scottish countryside.  I love the initial approach to EDI, some beautiful scenery, lots of remote hills and little farms in the middle of nowhere.

 

The coast soon came into view, and I saw a few ships in the Firth of Forth.  Localiser established, the gear came down and right on cue, the Forth Bridge came into view.  You could feel every adjustment in the throttles on the approach, another trait of the Embraer jets.



We touched down smoothly, bounced, and touched down again on Edinburgh’s runway 24.

 

We taxied in to the terminal and parked next to another bmi ERJ.

 

On deboarding, I stayed behind and asked if I could visit the flightdeck.  The response was affirmative, and I went down and said hi to the crew.  They were starting their checks for the next flight, and as I went in they were testing the system warnings.  On went the stick shaker – boy you’re bound to feel that when you stall!  The instructions (such as “Whoop Whoop Pull Up”) were louder and  clearer than I had imagined.  I took a photo and got off the aircraft. 

 


 

Edinburgh

 

It felt a lot warmer as I walked across the ramp on a Scottish Autumn morning and entered the terminal.  After dodging the hoards of credit card salesmen, I went through arrivals and straight to the self check in machine to check in for the next two legs.

 

The procedure was very straightforward (although they obviously use a generic seat plan for the flights as the wing appeared to start at the front and end about 3 rows behind the last row! :-)

 

I took seat 15A for EDI-BRU, and 11A for BRU-LBA.  Sitting behind the wing seemed to be the best place to be!

 

I walked outside, and as I had three hours to kill, decided to follow the perimeter fence to see if I could get some good shots.  I ended up outside a security post where I took these:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t long before a uniform came over to me.  “Here we go” I thought, time for the inquisition. 

 

“Am sawry ti have ti tell ya ti moove awn”.

 

“No problem, was just taking some photos”.

 

“Aw tis neh problem, if ye walk ti thi roondaboot, tekka left and left again, ye come to an impty car park, much bitter views there”.

 

“Thanks mate – it’s my first time spotting here!”

 

“Tis neh problem meert”

 

What a nice guy.

 

I decided to walk back to the terminal to start working on my trip report. 

 

 

 

More credit card salesmen (if you’ve ever lost a credit card salesman, try coming to EDI.  This must be where they go when nobody else wants them.) and through security.  Very pleasant guys at security, laughing and joking.  Took a walk through the shops and to a quiet gate area, where I sat down for some peace and quiet.


A few aircraft came and went, I guess a Wednesday lunchtime isn’t particularly busy for EDI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before too long it was 1305 and time to begin boarding for the next flight of the day.

 

 

Date 30 November 2005
Airline BMI Regional
Flight Number BD629
From Edinburgh (EDI)
To Brussels National (BRU)
Aircraft Embraer ERJ-145
Registration G-RJXE
STD/ATD 13:35 / 13:35
STA/ATA 16:10 / 15:55
Flight Time 1:20

 

 

 

I made my way to gate 4 where I was met by a large delegation of Eurocrats heading across to Brussels for a convention.  They were all holding very boring looking documents with titles such as “Competition Between Member States in the European Union”.  Poor people having to work today! 

 

 

We started  boarding and made our way out on to the ramp where our ERJ (G-RJXE) was waiting.  RJXE is still in the hybrid bmi colour scheme, and has the fabric seats.  In front of me was a guy wearing a full Scottish costume complete with kilt and funny hat.  Must be something in the water up here!

 

G-RJXE_2

 

I made my way to seat 15A amongst the suits who each picked up a copy of “The Independent” as they boarded.  Seat 15A is right at the back of the wing.  The only problem today is that the window is absolutely filthy!  I noticed this aircraft doesn’t have the “EMB145” logo on the window blinds. 

 

 

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There were 41 passengers on board today, so almost full.  I would say 75% were businessmen.  Cabin secured, the captain came on to welcome us aboard and explained that the flight would last approx 1h20m today.

 

The cabin crew were all Scottish, presumably based at bmi’s EDI hub.

 

We taxied to runway 24, and watched a Czech Airlines 737 land, and just before us an easyJet 737 took off.  We lined up and waited for a couple of minutes, presumably for the wake turbulence to subside. 

 

 

Another powerful takeoff followed, and we headed off towards the clouds.  The cloud was quite high and we had a decent view of the ground I would say until about 5000ft, before we hit a bank of cloud.  The cloud stopped about 12000ft, and we were sandwiched between two layers of cloud.  The cloud broke briefly to give us a nice view of Newcastle and the coast.  We then hit more cloud which didn’t subside until we reached our cruising altitude of 34000ft.  In this cloud, I noticed a vapour trail slightly to our left and below, sure enough we reached it’s source, a white Airbus A320.  This aircraft was probably 2500-3000ft below, but by the time I had got my camera to focus through the scratched and now condensation-covered window, he had entered the cloud and was out of sight!

 

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The cabin crew came round with lunch, I got a hot sausage and onion ciabatta, very tasty.  I got my cup of tea again just after.  5 minutes later, the crew came down with alcoholic drinks as well.  What man can resist free alcohol – I had to have my Bacardi and Coke! :-)

 

03-Meal

 

03-Drink

 

The captain came on again with routing information.  He explained that we had climbed out of Edinburgh taking a left turn, flying overhead Newcastle.  We were now just off the east coast of England at 34000ft, cruising down the North Sea.  Our route from here was to hit the Belgian coast overhead Rotterdam, for a landing on the southwesterly runway at Brussels.  Brussels currently had pleasant weather, with a light southerly breeze, and a temperature of 4C.  We were benefiting from a tail wind that would see us arriving in Brussels approx 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 15.55 local time.  This was welcome news to me as I had only a 45 minute connection in Brussels for my return flight to LBA.

 

The condensation on my window started to clear, and although the window was scratched I got some photos. 

 

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The sun was now starting to cast long shadows on the breaking clouds below, and I got an excellent view of Rotterdam appearing on the coast ahead, the buildings cast in a beautiful orange glow.

 

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The captain announced “Cabin crew 20 minutes until landing”, time to drink up!  Passing Rotterdam, there was snow on the ground!  We started our descent into clear skies.

 

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We wound our way in for an approach to Brussels runway 25L, getting a nice view of Brussels and its suburbs on the way in.

 

 Touchdown was smooth and 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 15.30.  We taxied into the B pier where we pulled in alongside the Biman DC10.

 

S2-ACQ_1

 

I later learned this was due out at 13.40 and was delayed until 17.40.  I didn’t envy the Bangladeshi passengers who were milling around the pier one bit! (Afternote – having checked the Brussels Airport website later that night – it eventually went out at 22:46!!)

 

G-RJXE_3

 

After disembarkation from the aircraft, I walked up the steps to the airbridge, snatching a few photos of the Biman as I walked. 

 

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Brussels

 

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I followed the signs for “Transfers”, which took you upstairs and through another X-Ray machine (I wondered why when I had obviously been through one at my origin), and walked down to gate B4, where our baby Embraer was just arriving. 

 

G-RJXJ_2

 

I sat around and took some photos of various aircraft while I waited for the boarding call.

 

Brussels seemed like a very large aircraft with very little activity.  Most of the stands were empty, and apart from the occasional SN Brussels 146 there isn’t a lot happening.  One thing I did notice was the Antonov AN124 parked on the far side.  Great sight!

 

We were called for boarding at 16:30, and we walked out to the waiting ERJ.

 

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Date 30 November 2005
Airline BMI Regional
Flight Number BD614
From Brussels National (BRU)
To Leeds Bradford (LBA)
Aircraft Embraer ERJ-135
Registration G-RJXJ
STD/ATD 16:55 / 16:55
STA/ATA 17:15 / 17:10
Flight Time 0:55

 

On boarding, my first impressions were “It’s an ERJ145!”, until I turned right and there was a wall abruptly ending the cabin at row 13.  There was also only one FA for this flight, Deborah. 


I took my seat in 11A, again on this aircraft the seats are fabric.  There seemed to be less legroom on this aircraft, but maybe that’s just me.  Load was about 60% tonight. 

 

04-Window01

 

Deborah came round handing out the “Daily Mail”, before completing the safety briefing while we were still at the gate.  We were pushed back by the tug, engines were started and we were on our way.

 

We taxied out to runway 25R, getting a good view of the AN124 as we went.  Our flight deck crew this evening were Captain Andy Leek and F/O Tom Buxton.  Andy would be flying this evening.

 

Our routing was to be climbing to FL320 out of Brussels, towards Ostend.  From Ostend we would cross the English Channel, passing east of London before heading up towards Leicester, Nottingham, and beginning our descent to Leeds.  We were going to fly straight over my house!  A shame it would be overcast.

Shortly after takeoff, the cabin filled with the smell of food, as Deborah started the cabin service.  Tonight we had – guess what – Paninis!  It was either Ham and Cheese, Cheese and Tomato of Ham and Chicken.  I opted for the Ham and Cheese.  It tasted a lot harder than the ex-UK legs, maybe it had been microwaved?

 

We were offered a choice of tea, coffee, soft drinks or alcohol but I decided I’d better go for the coffee on this leg.

 

We followed the setting sun into the UK, and lost it beyond the horizon around London.

 

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The captain soon called “20 minutes to landing”, and Deborah started to prepare the cabin.  We began our descent for runway 32 at Leeds, with the cloud clearing just before Leeds city.  We got a fantastic view of Leeds all lit up at night, as well as the impending queues on the motorways around Leeds.  Again we could feel every bit of thrust adjustment on the approach, followed by a smooth landing. 

 

We had a typical Leeds style arrival – onto the ground and full brakes, pushing you right forward in your seat (to the extent that the seatbelt was certainly being put to the test!).

 

We taxied off and pulled onto the stand next to two Eastern Airways Jetstreams.  I watched out the window as the ground crew took out bags from the rear and took them to the front, followed by other members of the ground crew throwing the cones that were to be placed around the aircraft.  I am amazed none of them hit the aircraft!  I was the last off, so took the chance to get a photo of our aircraft as I said goodbye.

 

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One of the ground handlers saw me and shouted “Where have you come from mate?”  I replied “Brussels” and he said “Righto, follow the footpath into the terminal, up the stairs and turn left”.  What a nice guy!

 

Leeds was very quiet at this time, so I paid for my parking and made my way to my car.  And yes, my car was still sharing its space with the BMW at the side, so I had to climb in through the passenger door again.

 

Overall, I am very impressed with bmi Regional.  I have heard not so good things about bmi mainline, although I’ve never flown with them.  To be honest, bmi Regional sets a brilliant example to what shorthaul airlines should be about.  Excellent service, brilliant cabin crew who were extremely customer service orientated and to whom nothing is too much trouble (they actually remind me of Asian airlines service-wise), the flights were all early, the aircraft were more than comfortable, and the inflight service and catering was impeccable for such short flights.  I hope they don’t lose any of this service with the amount of restructuring bmi are constantly doing, they have a good product for other airlines to look up to!