Airline: Ryanair Flight #: FR663 Route: BHX – DUB Class: Economy Seat: 25A Date: Thursday 29th August 2019
At 0530 on a clear but cool morning in late August I arrived at Hampton-in-Arden station to the southeast of Birmingham to start my day trip to Dublin. My journey was starting here rather than at the airport itself as there is free car parking for rail users and a return to the airport (one stop north) is just £3 with a railcard, essentially saving me at least £20 compared to using the airport parking, with the time from car to terminal probably being less than taking a shuttle bus from a remote car park.
I was really looking forward to my day in Dublin (despite the 3am alarm) as despite in being just across the puddle from England (and the closest foreign country to where I grew up), I had never made the trip west to the ‘Emerald Isle’. Before I got there though I was taking a flight with the ‘marmite’ of the airline industry, Ryanair. Officially this flight was timed to take just over an hour, however turned out to last just 45 minutes from take off to touchdown.
I’m generally a defender of Ryanair’s strategy as they are a very cheap way of getting to places you wanted to go (and frequently places you didn’t know you wanted to go to!) Obviously there are downsides to the airline with them usually getting extra money out of you in various ways, however if you were willing to sit where you were put, travel with limited luggage and not eat or drink anything on-board then they can be a bargain. In fact a number of my ‘previous adventures’ would not have happened if it weren’t for Ryanair’s cheap fares (and my proximity to Stansted).
Having arrived at Birmingham International railway station, I headed to the concourse to catch another ‘train’ to the terminal itself. The AirRail Link connects the railway station and terminal in 90 seconds with two ‘trains’ operating a peak times allowing a service every minute. The original system at Birmingham was a MagLev system with the trains ‘flying’ at 15mm above the track. This system was closed in 1995 and replaced seven years later with the current cable powered system. In another example of “it’s a small world”, one of the three original MagLev carriages now resides at Railworld close to my home in Peterborough.
One of the many additional ‘products’ Ryanair encourage you to buy through them is access to the FastTrack security lane at the airport, however I had decided to gamble with the main queues on this occasion which paid off and I was through security and on my way to the lounge quickly. In fact, it took me just 15 minutes from getting to the train to entering the lounge, a time I was definitely pleased with. As with most major airports access to the main departure lounge from security requires successfully completing the assault course disguised as Duty Free. Whilst I understand the commercial reasoning behind the placement of this, I get extremely frustrated by the effort it seems to take to pass through here successfully. In fact I think this is my worst part of the airport experience (even beating Stansted’s passport control!)
Having avoided perfume samples and ridiculously large toberlones, I headed for the No.1 lounge which is directly ahead as you leave the duty free. Obviously my access to the lounge was not via my flight with Ryanair but via my Dragonpass which I’ve mentioned previously. I had done some research prior to my trip as to which lounge at Birmingham has the best apron, however at this time in the morning my memory failed me. Luckily the No.1 lounge still has a view of the apron (although nothing compared to the Aspire lounge), and the lounge itself was very relaxing and stylish.
After some breakfast and a caffeine fix it was time to head to the gate and the oldest part of Birmingham’s current terminal, the Eurohub. This part of the terminal used to be separate to the newer part, however Birmingham has recently refurbished the entire terminal area and merged the two former terminals into one with a combined security area. We were boarding from gate 2 and shortly after arriving at the gate, passengers with priority boarding began to head through. When it came to my turn at the front on the non-priority queue I was disappointed to find we were ‘boarding but not boarding’ and were being held in the walkway area. 10 minutes later, after the area became more and more full, we were finally let out onto the tarmac to board the aircraft and I got a view of EI-DLJ, the Boeing 737-800 that was taking us to Dublin.
Heading to the rear steps, I was pleased to find that the aircraft had Ryanair’s new interior with streamlined seats and slightly less of the horrendous yellow colour around the cabin. I had decided to pay the minimum £4 to choose my window seat and had a standard seat towards the back of the cabin. I was quite pleased that with these streamlined seats increasing the leg room slightly, it means I can just about sit comfortably in these seats without having my knees forced against the seat in front. Shortly after boarding was completed we started to push back and after the safety demonstration the cabin crew came through to take any hot food orders for the short 45-minute flight. Unfortunately this was pretty much the only chance to order anything as when the drinks trolley was brought through, the crew passed with such speed that it was impossible to stop them and order a coffee. Whilst I’m sure that the short flight time impacted on this, the speed of the service seemed to go against Ryanair’s business model of getting passengers to spend as much as possible on top of the base fare.
After taking off towards the north, we turned north-west and headed towards Liverpool and the coast. The cloudy morning meant I wasn’t able to see much until we were over The Wirral and we crossed the coast about 20 minutes after take-off. Whilst I was aware of the plentiful wind farms in the North Sea, I hadn’t been aware of any in the Irish Sea and so was surprised by the huge array of wind turbines off the north Wales coast. Sitting on the left hand side of the aircraft I wasn’t able to see Liverpool or the English coast, however was able to follow the Welsh coast all the way to Anglesey as we flew west.
As we passed a point about half-way between Anglesey and the Isle of Man the seat belt sign came on and we began our decent into Dublin. With an arrival on Dublin’s runway 28 we had a pretty much straight in approach over Howth, Porthmarnock and north Dublin, landing 15 minutes after the seat belt sign and just 45 after leaving Birmingham. Taxing towards the gate we, as expected, passed a plethora of Aer Lingus and Ryanair aircraft as well as a wide range of world-wide airlines and colour schemes.
Whilst we were quickly at the gate and disembarking, we had parked at the far end of a pier from terminal 1 and so had a pretty long walk to passport control and the exit. 25 minutes after having touched down in Ireland, and after a very smooth arrivals process (apart from the walk), I was at the bus stop awaiting the shuttle into the city. The 747 and 757 routes both run into the city (the 747 calls at both Connelly and Heuston stations) approximately every 15 minutes during the day providing a quick, frequent and cheap connection to the city.
In conclusion my journey with Ryanair was pretty much what I expected and it hadn’t changed all that much since my last journey with them. It’s good to know that with the new refreshed cabin, my knees just about fit in a standard legroom seat, and the downside of the trip was definitely the service, or lack of it, rather than the hard product as it has been in the past. Birmingham airport is now going to be my local ‘go-to’ over Stansted where possible as the experience was much nicer and the journey time from home is about the same.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 2* Food 2* Service 2* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 11/25 (read about my rating system here!)