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OUTWARD TRIP: BRS-DUB (FR), DUB-CLT (AA), CLT-DFW (AA)
1. BRISTOL AIRPORT
As our transatlantic flight left DUB at 1000, we decided to stay overnight at Dublin airport and fly out the previous evening @1645 with Ryanair. A good feature of the Ryanair Business Plus fare is the ability to change to another flight on the day without charges. My wife had been uncertain as whether she was going to take the whole day off thus allowing us to stick with our original booking of 1645 or work the morning which would have meant changing to the 2100 flight instead. In the end, she chose to take the whole day off so we didn’t need to change our flight but it was reassuring to have the ability to do so.
We had checked in online and printed our boarding passes at home but Business Plus passengers can check in at the airport instead if they prefer. We had bags to drop off so we ended up in the check in queue. Slight confusion ensued as each desk was marked with a specific destination but they were in fact checking in all destinations at every desk so we could have used a shorter queue. In the end, it made no difference as we were checked in within 10 minutes.
Business Plus passengers can use fast-track security but this wasn’t made clear at check-in and Bristol’s fast-track channel didn’t sign post that FR Biz Plus tickets are valid. We went through normal channels which was not busy in any case. This was my first opportunity to sample the new security area at Bristol airport and it is a major improvement. The old channel was cramped and dark whereas the new one is roomy and light. The security belt uses the newer style whereby multiple people can unload at the same time with a constant supply of trays coming up from below. Post scanner, trays are split into 2 separate queues depending on whether they need to be searched. We were through quickly.
Unfortunately what hasn’t changed is the need to navigate the obstacle course of the duty free shop! I detest this feature of British airports with a passion as it is particularly difficult for people with visual impairments like me.
We had about 45 mins to spare and so headed to the Aspire lounge which can be accessed with Priority Pass. A word of advice. If you follow airport signage, you will have to walk all the way down the terminal to the end, up the stairs and all the way back to get to the lounge. However, this time I spotted some stairs and lifts immediately after the duty free shop to the left that cuts out that trek. The signage is poor (suspect deliberately to make you walk past the other shops and bars!) so look out for this.
The Aspire lounge was fairly busy (it always is in my experience) and can feel a little cramped and dark. However, it does have a decent selection of food and drink including hot soup and rolls. I was satisfied with a glass of wine and some nuts and used the time to read my emails. 45 mins later, we headed off to our gate which turned out to be close by which was helpful as some gates are 10 mins walk away at Bristol.
2. BRISTOL to DUBLIN with RYANAIR
We arrived somewhat early at the gate which meant they hadn’t started boarding. We were directed into the priority seating area given our Biz Plus tickets whereupon a 30 min delay was announced. On boarding, we were sat in seats 2D & 2E. These are the extra leg room seats on the right hand side. It was free to book these seats with Biz Plus tickets and the significance of the right hand side seats are that you can book these even if you are disabled like me as there is a bulkhead in front. The other extra leg room seats in row 1 and over wing are out of bounds to me which is extremely annoying. The only drawback of the row 1 and row 2 XL seats is that the table is in the armrest. This means that the arm rests cannot be raised and if you are on the larger size like me, your arse will feel a little squashed but it wasn’t uncomfortable for a short flight.
This is the first time I have flown with Ryanair for 10 years so so far, my impressions had been positive. I always used to say that Ryanair were a right bunch of fascists where smiles had been banned on the grounds that they cost money. However, the crew were fine and performed their duties with some smiles. Having used the lounge at Bristol, we didn’t bother buying food and drinks on board.
An hour later, we landed at Dublin and proceeded to baggage reclaim. it appears that the gates Ryanair use at DUB are quite a walk from the main terminal and it took at least 10 minutes to walk through. I was under the impression that passport checks were not needed on flights between UK & Eire but somehow we ended up in a passport queue. Bags did not take long to come out and we headed for our shuttle bus to the hotel.
3. RADISSON BLUE at DUBLIN airport
Shuttle buses to all hotels start from the central bus area and I know from previous experience that some are not well signposted. The Radisson Blue’s was well signposted and they run every 15 minutes. A short journey later and we were dropped off outside. On reaching our room, I realised that if arriving/departing from terminal 2 that it is not that far to walk to the hotel though you have to cross a main road. Our room was comfortable and what we needed for an overnight stay. We had arrived in time for dinner and we dined in the hotel restaurant. The food was very ordinary though and nothing to write home about.
Our room rate included breakfast but we decided to have breakfast in the airport lounge and so by 0720 we were being dropped off by the shuttle bus at terminal 2 for our flight at 1000.
4. DUBLIN airport
This was the first time I have flown transatlantic from Dublin and I was looking forward to using the pre-clearance and the 51st & Green lounge for business class passengers. What became clear is that early morning is peak time for transatlantic passengers and check in was full of Americans checking in. For my wife, who is American, this felt like home! Although we were using the business class checkin lane with only 3 groups ahead of us, it appeared that everyone ahead of us had really complex itineraries that took hours to get checked in! In the end, we were waiting for about 45 minutes before we checked in without any fuss at all. Why is it that we are the only easy ones and everybody else has to make it so complex?!
We then proceeded to security and went through without any fuss. I can’t recall if we were in the fast track lane or not. From there, we went direct to pre-clearance which went smoothly and only a short queue (this time in the fast track lane). The new 51st & Green lounge is after pre-clearance and you need to walk up to the end of the pier to get to it. I found it strange to have the departing level downstairs and arrivals upstairs in the pier which is the first time I have experienced this.
By this time it was 0830 so it left us about 45 minutes to have breakfast in the 51st & Green lounge. This is definitely a lounge to spend time in. There is an excellent choice of food for breakfast (I had sausage sandwiches and pancakes) and occupying the end of the pier, it means that there are windows on 3 sides looking out over the apron. Some benches face out over the apron and we chose these to sit and eat and watch the planes (good spot for aircraft photography!). Despite there being many passengers checking in, the lounge was not full and did not feel crowded.
About 40 minutes before the flight, we left the lounge and headed to our gate which was all the way back down the pier where we had come in.
5. DUBLIN to CHARLOTTE with AMERICAN AIRLINES
Boarding was almost complete when we arrived at the gate and we went straight through to our seats where we were offered champagne which was gratefully accepted.
The aircraft was an A330 which was no surprise as this is an ex-US airways route. When booking the flight, I had made sure that I booked an A330 flight as this comes with the new AA biz class seat. There are 5 rows of seats in 1-2-1 format and we were sat in the last row in the centre 2 seats. Seating is herring bone format and the 2 centre seats point towards each other which is helpful if you are travelling together as we were.
This is the first time I have flown in the new AA J seat so I was able to explore it and contrast it with the BA J seat that I am most familiar with.
3 things I noticed straightaway that I liked were the cubby hole for your glasses case, the shelf by one elbow and the hole in the seat for a water bottle. During the flight, I also realised that I liked the fact that the armrest on the aisle side pointed along the aisle and not in line with the herring bone. This meant you could shift your seating position to face up the plane if you wished though the back of the seat in front of you will limit your leg room.
The 2 things I prefer the BA seat for are the tray they have at floor level which is really useful for in-flight storage whereas there is no in-flight storage in the AA seat. The other aspect is the footroom which I found more cramped in the AA seat. Otherwise seat comfort and leg room are similar for both seats. Obviously another benefit with AA is direct aisle access but this is not something I place a premium on.
Since the seat was new, the in-flight entertainment system was new but otherwise similar in operation in layout and operation to the BA one. I watched 1.5 films and played a couple of games. Power sockets are provided but I didn’t make use of these. There was no Wi-Fi service on board.
Although we took off at 1000, I was surprised to be served lunch at 1100. Saying that, the food was very reasonable and I went with the beef option which was served with potatoes and carrots. This turned out to be a sizeable chunk of beef and left me satisfied. I was offered the chance to pre-order my meal when I checked in on-line but I preferred to wait till on board to choose my option. My wife chose the fish option which she was happy with. A second meal was offered before landing but we skipped that as we knew that a meal would be served on our connecting flight.
We landed on time and the benefit of pre-clearance became clear when we reached our gate at Charlotte. It turned out that our flight to Dallas was going to depart from the gate next door! That would have been extremely useful in the event of a tight connection. However we had 2 hours to wait so we headed to the AA Admirals lounge instead.
6. CHARLOTTE airport
I am probably in the minority here but I rather like US airports. There is a sameness to all of them which makes them relatively easy to navigate and you generally know what to expect. Also they tend to be more spacious than British airports and seem to place more emphasis on bars and restaurants rather than shops. Charlotte is no exception to this but we didn’t sample what was on offer as we were headed for the AA lounge which was about 5 gates down the pier that we arrived at. It is split into 3 or 4 sections which seems to be a feature of most AA lounges. Again like all AA lounges, they give you a voucher to get one alcoholic drink free but then you have to pay after that. The lounge was busy but we managed to find 2 seats next a power point where we could recharge our phones. Frankly, the world these days is so dependent on batteries that not having enough power sockets in a lounge or hotel room can be annoying. The wifi was a bit awkward to connect to but we eventually managed it. As we were planning to eat on our connecting flight, we just had a few snacks to eat.
7. CHARLOTTE to DALLAS with AMERICAN AIRLINES
Boarding had just commenced when we arrived at our gate and being First class, we were able to board straightaway.
The plane was an A321 with first class in standard 2-2 seating of about 38-40″ seat pitch. We were in the front row with the bulkhead in front of us. There was a power socket in between the seats but we didn’t use this. Pre-drinks were offered but no champagne was available.
The flight departed on time and the meal service commenced on reaching cruising altitude. As far as I could tell, no meal service was offered in economy, only in first class. We were rather hungry by now as it had been almost 8 hours since our lunch but it turned out to be a rather disappointing salad with bread rolls that could be used to make a sandwich though there was no butter. Other than that, the flight was smooth and we took the opportunity to rest and before we knew it, we were descending into Dallas.
I don’t know if DFW is the largest airport in the USA but it is huge. We landed on one of the further runways and the taxi took about 10-15 minutes to reach the gate. As it was 100 degrees outside, they all passengers to close their window blinds whilst we were taxiing which was a first for me but it is intended to be a way to keep the plane whilst at the gate. We were one of the first off the plane and was quickly reunited with our bags.
All in all, our experience was generally a smooth one with the long check in at DUB being the only major issue. The pre-clearance is a clear benefit and I was very happy with the AA J class so I would definitely do this again. My first flight with Ryanair in 10 years was not a horror story and the benefits of the Business Plus fare were slowing coming to the fore.
Next post: the return journey.