Monday, June 27, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 7 - A bmi Business Class Experience (LHR-TXL)

As a fan of the bmi Diamond Club frequent flyer program and gold member with them, it was quite important to me to fly on the airline whilst I was in London. So I booked an overnight trip to Berlin and back to sample   bmi British Midland short haul international business class.

With such an early departure I decided it made sense to stay at one of the many airport hotels so I got a room at the Crowne Plaza at a reasonable price. I ended up taking the Heathrow Express to Heathrow and then transferring onto one of the Hotel Hoppa buses to the hotel. In fact I was quite pleased with Crowne Plaza, the rooms were large and although the hotel looked pretty ordinary on the outside I found it quite comfortable.

At 5am I woke up and had a quick shower before grabbing the 5.30am bus back to Terminal 1.
Crowne Plaza Heathrow - Standard Room

Crowne Plaza Heathrow - Bathroom


AIRLINE: bmi ( British Midland International )

AIRCRAFT: Airbus A319-131 (G-DBCG)



SEAT: 1F (Business)
LOAD FACTOR: Economy - 70% Business - 50%

Arriving at Terminal 1 I made my way over to the bmi Premium Check-in area. It was pretty quiet and there was no queue fortunately. I was greeted by the staff and offered both the boarding pass for the outbound flight as well as for the return flight the following morning. That was handy, saving me a few minutes in Berlin the next day.

bmi Premium Check-in Heathrow Terminal 1
Economy Checkin
With boarding passes in hand I made my way through security and on to The Great British Lounge, the bmi flagship international lounge. I had heard plenty about it on the bmi forums on Flyertalk but this was my first ever visit in person. The lounge attendants were cold and unfriendly, checking my boarding pass but barely even acknowledging me otherwise. Thankfully though the lounge itself was quite pleasant and various cold breakfast items were on offer.

On the way to the bmi lounge - Heathrow Terminal 1

'This is our home' - bmi aircraft
The Great British Lounge
I helped myself to some pastries, fruit with yoghurt, coffee and juice. Then I found a nice window seat to relax for the 30 or 40 minutes I had spare.

There was a nice view of one of the runways, and parked in front of me was the aircraft operating todays service to Berlin: G-DBCG. This aircraft is an Airbus A319 which was delivered new to bmi a little over 5 years earlier. While I was sitting their the crew arrived and boarded via the rear stairs.
G-DBCG waiting to be flown to Berlin

Here comes our crew!
I'm not sure if they made a boarding announcement because I left a little earlier and made my way to gate 5A finding boarding had already commenced. I joined the queue and was soon sitting in seat 1F.

Gate 5A

Coming down the jetway  - a Virgin A340 landing in the background

View from 1F
I had very little expectation of the seats but I did expect the middle seat would have a pull down tray providing the appearance of more space, but it did not even have that. In fact the aircraft did not even have a curtain separating business and economy. So, with the exception of increased legroom at the bulkhead, the seating was identical to economy class.

Leg room in 1F - plenty of room there
The only other seat occupied in row 1 was seat 1 A. The business area was about half full I suppose - if you factor in the middle seat always being left vacant. There was very little said by the flight attendants prior to departure although newspapers were offered.

We pushed back from the gate on schedule and there was no delay at the runway - we were soon in the air and tracking towards Germany. About 20 to 25 minutes after takeoff I was presented with a meal tray containing breakfast. There was no choice.

Breakfast - business class
The tray presentation was quite nice with a black cloth underneath and proper ceramic plate. The food was egg with mushroom, tomato and some kind of potato hash brown thing. It was accompanied by a strawberry yoghurt, pastry, bread roll with jam and a drinks service. I asked for champagne - there was none. I settled for orange juice. The food was nothing special but I wasn't that hungry after snacking in the lounge anyway.

The tray was taken once I had finished and that completed the inflight service. No further drinks were offered and there was zero inflight entertainment other than reading the airline magazine. On the plus side the flight was smooth and weather was good and we were on schedule. The descent and landing were pretty standard and there was a few minutes waiting for the jetway to be vacated before we parked. By the time we shut down we were 6 minutes behind schedule but the short walk times from gate to immigration to roadside at Tegel more than make up for that! I was astounded to find it is about a 30 metre walk from the end of the jetway to the road outside. Very efficient.

Short finals to Berlin Tegel


Parked at the Gate
Overall the flight experience was generally positive although the catering could be improved and the seating was very ordinary for business class - as a minimum I at least expect a 'convertible' type seat with pull down tray in the middle seat.

Next up a few pics around Berlin and the return to London.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 6 - A Royal Wedding

April 29, 2011 finally arrived and I took the tube to Green Park at about 7am... bringing along a packed lunch in my bag. The crowds were already quite large and I positioned myself along the Mall quite close to Buckingham Palace at about 7.30am. I had a pretty ok view, about 4 or 5 rows back, not bad since I didn't have to camp out overnight for it!

My position
It was a very long wait and my feet were very tired but eventually things started happening  and various bands played along the procession route.

Eventually guests started to arrive:

Foreign Royals being bussed in

I believe this is the Brides mother and brother

Here we have the lovely bridesmaids

Australia's Channel 7 doing a live broadcast - interviewing some Aussies. Apparently my face was visible behind!

 I do apologise for not having pics of Her Majesty The Queen arriving, nor Kate Middleton, I was filming those arrivals instead. But it was a fabulous atmosphere as both of them passed by, the crowds going absolutely wild... and for the first time we saw glimpses both of The Queens dress and also the brides.

There was no video of the ceremony from my position, however there was audio of it coming from several loudspeakers along the route. The absolute highlight was when God Save The Queen was played, and the crowd sung along in very high spirits. It was quite moving. Eventually the ceremony ended and the procession returned to Buckingham Palace.

TRHs - The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
Blurry shot - but here comes Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip
Another blurry shot sorry - but here comes part of the bridal party including Pippa Middleton
HRH Prince Andrew and his daughters TRH Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice (and those hats!)
After the procession was complete their was an agonising wait for the road to be opened, but it was just taking too long. We all wanted to get to the balcony to see the Royal couple but time was running short. I decided to make my way through St James' Park to Spur Rd to try and get a better spot. Fighting the crowds took forever and the only real way was to go through a garden, I am sorry for contributing to this:

It was worth it though as I got quite a good spot and I got some great photos!

When the newly married couple appeared on the balcony there was an almighty roar and the crowd chanted for them to kiss, which they did TWICE! The flyover was a great spectacle and I loved seeing The Queen but it was all over far too soon.

Being a part of that crowd in front of the balcony was an experience I will never forget. I love all the tradition and felt like I had done something exactly as it was done a hundred years ago and beyond that. The million or so people lining the streets all seemed to be having a fabulous time. In fact I had such a good time I am going to return for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee in June 2012.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 5 - Royal Wedding Preparation

Here is a series of photos I took on April 28, 2011 around London. This was the afternoon before the big day!

Media Facilities

The Mall

Looking up the mall towards Buckingham Palace

Crowded footpaths around Buckingham Palace

Television Studios set up facing the palace

Media from around the world were absolutely everywhere doing live broadcasts

I believe this is the Today show from the USA -  quite a few US visitors hanging around in the background cheering

Buckingham Palace - HM Queen Elizabeth is in residence

Bumped into these two - probably familiar with anyone who watched TV during the lead up to the wedding. Wills and Kate impersonators! They were very popular on the street

Paparazzi outside Clarence House - I saw the New Zealand Prime Minister leaving after meeting HRH Prince Charles

Great picnic along the procession route!

Household Cavalry

Australian Camp site near the Abbey

People camping along the procession route-  right outside Westminster Abbey
Another media interview with some young fans!

Westminster Abbey - the day before!
It is hard to describe the vibe on the streets but it was a really nice feeling being amongst it. Everyone was very excited and were so looking forward to the big event. I had never seen anything like it in my life... the number of people camping out for front row seats was amazing. I admire their dedication but for me it would be a night in a hotel room and an early wake up to find a spot along the mall, I would have to make do without a front row seat.