My Airline Review: easyJet BRS-GLA-BRS

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Airline Review: easyJet BRS-GLA-BRS
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Introduction

My wife and I have flown many times between England and Scotland, mainly from Bristol Airport with easyJet. Because of the pandemic we haven't flown anywhere since December 2019 when we travelled to Lanzarote with TUI from BRS. This trip was in connection with an eight-night holiday.

We've flown with easyJet on innumerable occasions and I don't normally review every trip, but as this one is the first for us since the pandemic disrupted the world I decided to post my thoughts.

Outbound

On the first Friday in September this year we travelled to Bristol Airport with their taxi partner, Arrow, and arrived at 1035, in good time for our 1250 departure to Glasgow. We were dropped outside the front of the terminal as was the case with Arrow pre-pandemic. However, the various bus services linking the airport now seem to use a temporary bus station situated near the multi-storey car park. Although there were around 60 airline departures that day (that's about 55% of the number in pre-Covid days at this time of year) the lunchtime period was relatively quiet with no more than ten departures over a two-hour period.

We quickly checked in our one suitcase at the easyJet self service bag-drop and walked upstairs to the security zone. It's a large area but I didn't count the number of desks open - there was no real need to do so as queues were almost non-existent - and we walked through with hardly any other passengers at our security station (contrast this with the situation on our return through Glasgow described later in this post). From entering terminal to airside took less than ten minutes.

Many of the retail outlets seemed to be open and we purchased a light snack at one of them which we ate on the open air roof terrace that overlooks the eastern apron, not that there was much airline activity to watch. There were sanitisers located all around Bristol Airport and the overall experience wasn't greatly different from the days before the virus decided to intrude.

Bristol Airport doesn't do flight announcements so it's necessary to keep an eye on the flight information displays that abound in the departure areas. Our gate number appeared at 1210 and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was gate 34 in the central pier which meant a relatively short walk. Some gates at BRS require a hike of over 400 metres to reach them. Our aircraft was an Airbus A320 that is BRS-based as is the crew. It was parked on a remote stand on the eastern apron so a short journey by a Cobus 3000 bus was needed to reach the aircraft.

We pushed back pretty well on time and spent 55 minutes in the air. Departure was from the easterly runway (09) and the route was the usual one turning nearly 180 degrees to the left left over the city of Bristol to head off across the Severn estuary and then to the north overhead the England/Wales border, North West England between Liverpool and Manchester with the descent beginning in the vicinity of the Lake District. Much of the route was above the overcast and we didn't come out of it until a few minutes from landing on GLA's runway 05.

The flight was at least 80% full and everyone wore masks. There was a trolley round but we didn't purchase anything. To all intents and purposes it was a typical (in our experience) easyJet flight with a helpful and competent crew. The captain provided basic flight information with an update along the way.

Glasgow Airport didn't score as highly. It took 45 minutes from coming to rest on stand for the first bags to appear on the carousel with ours putting in an appearance four minutes after the first one. We were also surprised to find that the main bus service to the city centre (Service 500) is only running half hourly at present.

Scotland

This time we concentrated on Glasgow, the Ayrshire coast and Argyll & Bute.

The majority of people we encountered wore masks and acted sensibly during our visit, often in places where the law did not require masks or other specific restrictions - mask-wearing in shops and on public transport is still a legal requirement in Scotland.

Inbound

We returned yesterday morning. It meant getting up at 0415. A taxi picked us up from our central Glasgow hotel at 0500 and we were in the airport departure area 25 minutes later. Our flight was not due to depart until 0730 which in the event gave us little time for relaxing inside the airport before our flight was called.

The easyJet bag-drop was in front of us as we entered the terminal with a queue stretching around the snake and out of sight around the corner. We joined the back of it. Progress towards the snake proper was extremely slow and when we eventually came in sight of the front of the queue across several twists of the snake it became apparent why this was so.

Although there were only four or five easyJet departures before around half past eight there must have been several hundred people in the queue. Everyone had to be filtered through one member of staff who was checking passports, vaccination certificates and Covid test results for the overseas flights. There appeared to be no other member of the handling staff present at all. At that stage four self service bag-drop stations were in use after passengers had satisfied the lone member of staff that all their documents were in order. That presented another problem because a number of passengers were obviously unfamiliar with self service bag-drop procedures which held up the queue even more. From time to time the single staff member had to leave her document-checking duties to assist passengers with the self service bag-drop.

After about 25 minutes two more members of staff arrived and two of the four self service bag-drop stations were closed. From then on everyone went to one of two counters that were staffed and bags labelled by the two new staff members, although they still had to have their documents checked first by the original member of staff. The new arrangements speeded up the queue slightly until the next problem arrived.

One of the departures was for Alicante at 0700 and many of those passengers seemed to be weighed down with suitcases. The heroic document-checker began to call out instructing those for Alicante to make their way to the front of the queue. A number of groups heading to the Costa Blanca were both ahead of us and behind us in the queue and tried to push their way forward: not a simple task when manoeuvring suitcases through an already narrow queue, not to mention the grumblings of some passengers for other destinations who had been queuing longer.

After nearly three-quarters of an hour we reached the document checker and presented our boarding passes and identification. "You're not for Alicante, you'll have to wait". "You waved us forward", I replied. The retort was a sort of high-pitched bellow (if there is such a thing), "Anyone else for Alicante?" Movement and shouts from further back in the queue suggested there was. The final Alicantians managed to push their way past us (we had given up on any idea of social distancing much further back in the queue) after which we were finally allowed into the presence of the document-checker. After a cursory check we quickly had our suitcase checked in by the desk assistant and made our way upstairs to the security zone.

The security queue was as long as the easyJet bag-drop snake. The reason quickly became apparent. There were only two security stations open. After a further 25 minutes in that queue we finally reached airside one hour and 15 minutes after entering the terminal. That gave us 15 minutes to scoff part the breakfast the hotel had provided and use the toilet. Precisely at 0655 our gate number appeared on the flight information displays and from long experience our anticipation was correct in that the funny little area used by easyJet for domestic routes for many, many years was the place we had to reach - a long walk to the end of a pier.

As soon as we reached the gate area - amongst the first to do so as we had stationed ourselves at that end of the terminal in anticipation - we were boarded immediately. The aircraft was another Airbus A320, this time Glasgow-based with a Glasgow crew. The load appeared to be at least 90% and much to our consternation we were seated amongst an 18-strong stag group on their way to sample the delights of the quiet West Country backwater with connections to Cockney rhyming slang. They obviously offered some redemption as one was dressed as Nicola Sturgeon. In the event they were no problem apart from being rather noisy and apologising for their language every minute or two, not that many from outside Scotland would have been aware of any fruity language such was the nature of their accents.

The next bit of drama was virus-driven, One passenger came aboard with no mask and appeared reluctant to put one on. The senior cabin staff member had a long conversion with the recalcitrant individual with the result that some form of accommodation must have been reached because the aircraft doors were closed.

We pushed back at 0730 prompt and were soon in the air from GLA's runway 23. The route was broadly the same as the outbound and after early heavy overcast the clouds began to part giving a good view of the ground. We were heading for BRS's westerly runway (27) and came in to the east of Newport - seen clearly below off to the right - before entering Bristol air space itself to the north of Avonmouth Docks.The down wind leg followed the usual course easterly along the northern edge of the conurbation before turning right onto base leg to the east of the town of Keynsham, and then right onto finals just to the south of the conurbation. The intermittent cloud cover offered tantalising glimpses of the city spread out below.

Just as we all thought that the journey was about to conclude the landing approach was aborted around three-mile finals. The power came on and we climbed. A cabin staff member ran down the aisle because it seemed that one passenger was overcome by the situation - fortunately he or she recovered quickly. Within a couple of minutes the captain explained that the go-around had occurred because of the presence of birds (I thought he said a dead one) on the runway. We flew over south-west Bristol where I was impressed by one of the Scottish stags who recognised the Bristol City football ground below us (that Cockney rhyming slang). Another down wind, base and finals brought us safely onto runway 27 after one hour and five minutes in the air.

Some years ago my wife and I had a similar bird-related go-around with easyJet when approaching Newcastle Airport.

We parked on the easterly apron but this time next to the pier so were able to walk into the terminal. As with the outbound flight our fortunate lot was a competent and professional easyJet crew which, from first-hand experience over the years, we have taken as read.

Our pre-booked Arrow taxi picked us up after a wait of about ten minutes outside the taxi office and we were home by 0940. No complaints about Arrow and that has been our view after previous journeys with them.

Conclusion

Very satisfied with easyJet's airline - as always, but not with their handling arrangements at GLA both inbound and outbound. Clearly staffing levels were less than adequate with arriving and departing luggage arrangements. easyJet has more self service bag-drop stations at Bristol (admittedly it is a bigger easyJet base than Glasgow) but, as important, staff on hand to assist those who are unfamiliar with self service bag-drops which speeds up the process and helps to avoid queues backing up. If the airline's handlers can do this at BRS why not at GLA?

BRS security was far more efficient than GLA's (I'm not speaking of the individuals who are at the mercy of their employer's staffing levels) and the former airport seemed to have many poor* sanitisers placed around its terminal.

We were not completely confident about flying again but, the problems at GLA apart, this experience largely relieved those concerns, at least with domestic flying. We're not sure we are ready yet to fly abroad, given the constant changes of UK Government virus policy and the often changing attitudes of overseas governments to UK visitors.

* Typo: I've just re-read this account - 'poor' should have read 'more'. I also forgot to mention the carousel arrangements on arrival at BRS. They were very efficient with bags appearing just under 15 minutes after our aircraft came onto the stand.
 
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An excellent account of the journey leaves me with just one conclusion. No matter how good the airline or airport facilities, it is the independent self centered element that ruin things. Refusal to wear a mask when aboard a confined space where safety is paramount should have resulted in the extraction of the miscreant, without a parachute if necessary. However, the having of two legal structures within a 'United Kingdom' is a recipe for chaos and the inevitable calls for Scottish Independence.
 
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