Bristol to Dallas with American (J class) & Ryanair (Biz Plus)Back to Forum
I have just completed a round trip from Bristol to Dallas using American Airlines and Ryanair. As this was a booking with a number of elements, I thought it would be worthwhile submitting a full trip report in 3 posts. This post will list the elements of the trip, post 2 the outward bound trip and post 3 the return journey.
This trip was planned months in advance for a family reunion which allowed my wife and I to plan ahead and take advantage of a number of good deals. The total cost per person including airport transfers, overnight hotels, etc turned out to be £1015 per person which frankly is extremely good value, especially given the experience we had as described in the next 2 posts.
The breakdown was as follows:
1. Bath to Bristol Airport, A4 Airdecker bus, £11 return (concessionary fare)
2. Aspire Bristol lounge, £15 (companion fee for my wife, I have Priority Pass for myself)
3. Bristol to Dublin return with Ryanair, £82 for business plus fare (in a sale)
4. Overnight stay at Radisson Blue @DUB, £11 (using a free night from Hotels.com)
5. Dublin to Dallas return with American, £897 for business class fare (via a BA sale, Avios part pay used 15k for €100)
As BA Silver, this journey earned me 18400 avios and 360 TPs plus additional avios via the Lloyds Bank Club Lloyds account.
Our routing was BRS-DUB-BRS with Ryanair and DUB-CLT-DFW-PHL-DUB with American Airlines.
Trip reports to follow.14 Aug 2016
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.14 Aug 2016
I don’t know if DFW is the largest airport in the USA but it is huge.
It was physically the largest in the US, when I researched it for a project in 2001 – I believe it’s in the top ten for volume of pax, too, these days.
A massive piece of real estate.
I enjoyed reading your TR, nicely put together.15 Aug 2016
Thanks to everyone for your comments. Here is the return trip report.
RETURN TRIP: DFW-PHL (AA), PHL-DUB (AA), DUB-BRS (FR)
1. DALLAS Airport
We arrived at the airport via the rental car shuttle bus. We had checked in on-line but did not print out our boarding pass. One issue I was surprised by was the fact that neither our booking form or boarding pass indicated which terminal our PHL flight was flying out of. With 6 terminals in a huge area that is a potential waste of a lot of time. My wife has experienced this before at DFW and said you can still check in in any terminal and then take the monorail to the required but still! However, as we were exiting the rental car centre for the bus, a bank of departure screens showed that our flight was leaving from terminal A.
Check in was swift and we proceeded to security via the TSA PRE line. I thought you had to register to use this but it seems as though premium passengers can use this lane. I am not clear why we were allowed to use it but it meant that you could keep shoes and belts on and not take your laptop out of your bags. We were through quickly and made our way to the AA Admirals Club lounge with about 2 hours to departure.
The AA lounge here was much bigger than CLT but again divided into areas. Some of these were quite private but they didn’t have power sockets so we sat in the large central section where we could recharge phones (I had been following the Olympics on my phone on the drive to DFW and drained the battery!). Food & drink selection was similar to CLT and we helped ourselves to snacks. Again we were given a voucher for one free alcoholic drink.
We had been aware that the flight might be delayed from 1500 to 1530 so when we saw the flight marked as Boarding on the screen at 1430 we weren’t surprised. However, the lounge agent insisted that the flight was delayed to 1600 and that the departure screen indication was an error. This created a dilemma for us, stay in the lounge and trust the agent or walk down to the gate and sit around there if she was right. In the end, we decided to head for the gate and sure enough the flight was delayed to 1600 with no-one boarding. I have to say I have never seen that mistake before.
2. DALLAS to PHILADELPHIA with AMERICAN AIRLINES
By now we were getting concerned as our connection to Dublin departed PHL at 2105 and with the delayed departure, we would arrive in PHL at 2015. We asked the agent and they assured us they could put on the DUB flight tomorrow if the connection was missed but that wasn’t something we wanted to do as we had our connecting flight to Bristol tomorrow. It occurred afterwards that perhaps we could have asked them to put us on a flight to LHR instead but I don’t know if they would have done that.
Boarding eventually started at 1530 and we were first on board but it seemed to take ages to board the plane (a B737-800) so we didn’t depart until 1624. I know the precise time because the flight had wifi on board with free access to the AA website where we could track our flight status and the PHL-DUB status. We were rather obsessed with checking this during the flight as it was showing an arrival time in PHL of 2038 at gate 12 and the DUB departure at gate 24 ontime at 2105.
We thought we could catch the DUB flight but we were concerned about whether our bags would make the transfer. This raised the question as to whether AA would forward our bags to Bath if they arrived on a later flight. I am sure they would have forwarded to an Irish address but I didn’t know if they would forward to a UK address from Ireland. I pointed out to my wife that our travel insurance would probably cover the extra costs in such a situation but it wasn’t a hassle we wanted.
Anyway, back to the flight. We were seated in First class in row 1 in standard AA F seats of 38-40″ seat pitch and generally comfortable to sit in. Again F was 2-2 seating with power sockets in between the seats which we used this time. I was surprised that British plugs could be used without an adapter which was very handy. As I mentioned there was wifi but only AA sites were free and the prices for other options were way too high to consider.
Given the late hour of departure of our DUB flight, we were not planning to eat on that flight so we were looking forward to our meal on this flight. Unlike the CLT-DFW where the meal had been very disappointing, this time we had an excellent meal. I chose a chicken salad which actually consisted of a cheese & fruit salad which was very tasty in its own right with a hot breaded fillet of chicken on the side which was delicious. My wife chose a cheese ravioli which was also substantial. I forget what the dessert was but it was very satisfying.
After the meal, I used the time to work on my laptop until we started our descent into PHL. Being in row 1 meant we could be first off to race for our connection and I think we reached the gate at 2040. With only 12 gates apparently between us, we thought it would be a short stroll but it turned out that gate 12 & 24 were on separate piers. This entailed a mad rush through the terminal but we managed to get to the gate at 2050.
3. PHILADELPHIA to DUBLIN with AMERICAN AIRLINES
By that time, AA had offloaded us from the flight and our bags were being routed to Heathrow! However, the gate agent was able to put us back on the flight and the ramp agent was there and said he would try and get our bags on the flight. We boarded at 2055 not entirely sure if our bags were going to follow.
Fortunately we were still in Business class but our seats had changed. Again it was an A330 with the new AA biz class with 5 rows of 1-2-1 seating. We were given window seats on the right hand side in rows 4 & 5. This meant we weren’t able to speak to each other whilst in the seats but given that we were mainly planning to sleep this wasn’t an issue.
Given that we were planning to sleep and have breakfast in DUB this meant we didn’t sample dinner or breakfast. We did get a pre-flight drink and another after take-off. Prior to landing I had 2 cups of tea but that was it for food and drink.
We actually departed 15 mins late which gave us hope that our bags had been transferred. After take off, we both watched a film and then settled down to sleep for about 4 hours. My wife is a good sleeper on planes but I am terrible so any sleep is a bonus for me. After putting the seat in the flat position, I lied down and tried to figure out the best position. When compared with the BA seat, I frankly couldn’t see much difference in sleepability. As I like to sleep on my side with bent knees, I usually find that you can sleep on one side but not the other. In the end I worked out that it was best to sleep facing the aisle.
The pillow was not thick enough which is one of my bugbears with airlines. I was about to ask for a second pillow when I decided to try raising the seat a little. In some ways, this converted the seat from a fully flat 180 to a lie flat 170 degree seat but with a crucial difference that the footrest was unchanged. I found that a much better way to lie down as it meant with a raised head rest I had a better pillow height. Whilst somewhat broken, I did manage to get enough sleep to feel that I was reasonably rested in the morning.
A final point about the A330 AA biz class. There appears to be only 1 toilet which up front behind the cockpit. I would suspect that people in row 1 would not be greatly disturbed by people using the toilet in the middle of the night.
We landed ontime at 0845 in Dublin and proceeded through passport control without fuss and headed to baggage reclaim. The bags started coming off and ours wasn’t there. We were working on the principle that if we were last on the plane, surely our bags were last on and therefore should be first off. Just as it seemed that everyone else had got their bags, our bags appeared to our relief so well done to AA for making the transfer at PHL!
4. DUBLIN airport
By now it was about 0930 and now came the toughest part of our itinerary. Both AA & EI have 3 flights a day between DUB & BRS but they tend to follow similar rotations with an early morning, mid-afternoon and evening flights. Our flight with Ryanair was not scheduled to depart until 1455 and whilst there was an EI flight at 1400, it had been more expensive than FR. If we could have checked our bags in there and then we could have headed to the lounge to wait it out by Ryanair but do not allow bags to be checked in until 2 hours before departure at the earliest which meant we had over 3 hours to kill.
We therefore had 2 choices. First, drop our bags off at the left luggage facility (near the central bus area) and take a bus into Dublin and find somewhere for breakfast. Second, hang about in the airport until 1255. We chose the latter and first killed a bit of time with a drink in the food court area of terminal 2. After about an hour, we headed over to terminal 1 to see if we could get our bags checked in early but no luck. We then headed to food court area which is immediately above the Ryanair check-in area.
It turned out that this food court is significantly larger than terminal 2 and there is plenty of space to sit down for some peace and quiet. Even a large hen party bound for Madrid (it said so on their t-shirts!) didn’t really disturb. Again we needed power sockets and thought we had spotted some in the pillars but they turned out to be defective. Later on, I explored the area and found that the bar is probably the best place to sit with plenty of room and partial views over the apron.
After some breakfast and a game of scrabble, we had sufficiently killed time to check in at 1255. I had clean forgot to check in online the day before but this is where the Business Plus ticket of Ryanair came to the rescue as it does allow you to check in at the airport for free. I was braced for the checkin agent to try and claim otherwise but he didn’t bat an eyelid and checked us in quickly and then informed us we could use the fast-track to go through security.
Signage to the fast-track was quite poor and we initially ended up in the normal channel but an agent told us where it was and we went through it pretty quickly. We immediately headed to the Executive lounger which is up the stairs to the left after security and can be accessed with Priority Pass. This is a sizeable lounge with good lighting and an airy feel. The selection of food was quite impressive for a PP lounge with sandwiches, scones and soup and we could have had a substantial lunch had we not just had breakfast an hour ago. Note the lounge does not have its own wifi. Instead you use the airport’s wifi which is free.
Conscious from our arrival that there is a long walk from terminal to gate, we left the lounge about 45 minutes before our departure time of 1455. By the time we arrived at the gate, boarding had commenced.
5. DUBLIN to BRISTOL with RYANAIR
It felt like everyone was on board by 1440 but there is always one late arrival so we didn’t get to benefit from an early departure. This time we were in a standard seat in row 2 on the left hand side rather than the XL seat we had on the way out (there was no availability when I made the booking). Obviously seat pitch was not brilliant but I did feel that compared to EasyJet there was slightly more room due to the fact that there is no magazine rack at knee height. In fact, this creates an issue if you want to have something with you during the flight as there is no at-seat storage at all unless you are in row 1.
With only a short flight, this wasn’t an issue for us as we mainly used the flight to catch up on our sleep and didn’t bother with any food or drink. After a smooth flight, we landed on time. Unlike our arrival into DUB from BRS, this time we didn’t go through passport control so I am still confused as to why we went through passport control in Dublin. This time our bags were among the first off and we headed to catch the bus back to Bath.
The return journey was not as smooth as the outward one due to the delay in leaving Dallas leaving a tight connection in Philadelphia. Whilst AA succeeded in making sure that both us and our bags did get to Dublin, we were never clear on what the alternative would have been in the event of problems so that created some stress for us. Also a 6 hour layover in Dublin when you are tired after a transatlantic flight was somewhat tough especially as we couldn’t check in early and rest in the lounge.
Altogether, the whole trip worked out for us and the total cost was exceptional value. We are planning another transatlantic trip in November but I suspect we will consider flights from London then rather than from Dublin. Whilst I won’t rule out doing it again, it does require an extra leg on most journeys and the return connection to Bristol was badly timed for us. So the price has to be right to make up for those issues.15 Aug 2016
Nice report! I agree re Dublin, last time I did the flight to Charlotte I had the same, seemed everyone in front took an age to check in, yet I was done and dusted in under 3 mins.15 Aug 2016
Great report and look forward to hearing about the return.
This again shows the terrific value of BA/AA. As part of the ticket price Mr and Mrs Bath-VIP have sufficient avios to take return flights to Europe. The hard product is excellent on this route – only negative is the extra time involved of using Dublin.
Not sure I would have used 15,000 avios for a Euro 100 discount though….15 Aug 2016
I agree that 15k for €100 is not the greatest value but in this case I wanted to get the total cost below £1000 per person.
However, I think the part pay with avios is going to be the way forward as availability for redemptions is not always there. By using 15k this time and receiving 18.5k in return, this basically I can enjoy a permanent £100 off any flight. With accumulation via credit cards and other channels, I can effectively increase my permanent discount to about £150 off every flight. Given that I tend to spend between £900 and £1300 per transatlantic flight in premium classes, such a permanent discount is no small thing especially if I take advantage of sales.15 Aug 2016
Unlike our arrival into DUB from BRS, this time we didn’t go through passport control so I am still confused as to why we went through passport control in Dublin.
To quote the gentleman I asked at Dublin, ‘I need to see your passport to know I don’t need to see your passport’.
It’s a function of the terminal design, apparently.15 Aug 2016
BATH_VIP: great comprehensive report – thanks
A quick question. At PHL did AA automatically rebook you to LHR, as you mentioned your bags were offloaded from the DUB flight.16 Aug 2016
To be honest I don’t know if we had been assigned to the LHR flight or just our bags and I didn’t ask. AA didn’t really tell us about any of the options available in case we missed our connection, they just said they would sort something out.16 Aug 2016
As you may have read, I was refused boarding a couple of trips ago, for not going through the “system” in Dublin.
Amsterdam and Frankfurt are very easy for ex-Europe (in fact I am now on my way to AMS, from the east coast)..
I’ve now turned 55 and for any departure from Dublin before say 10 am, I will now stay the night before.16 Aug 2016