CHECK-IN I arrived at Gatwick’s South Terminal at 0730 for Sterling Airline’s 0920 flight to Stockholm. Sterling operates more than 120 routes across Europe and Scandinavia. From Gatwick, the low-cost airline flies to Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo in Sweden, Copenhagen, Billund and Aalborg in Denmark and Norway’s capital, Oslo. The airport was busy but there was no queue at the check-in desk, in Zone H.
I chose an aisle seat and checked in one bag (paying the required charge for this). Online prices are £2 for one bag up to 20kg and £4 for two bags up to 40kg – if you pay at the airport, these prices double. It’s 10 per cent cheaper to book Sterling tickets online and there are various other add-ons you can book over the internet, such as extra leg room (seat pitch is 72-74 cm but if you order extra leg room, you will get 17-25 cm extra space) – at an emergency exit. You can also buy your meal in advance of the flight. The baggage system was down, so I gave my bag to a member of staff, who loaded it onto a trolley.
BOARDING I went straight through security and was airside by 0750. I wandered around and spent my time in various queues for coffee and food. Boarding was supposed to begin at 0850 but the departure screen was still reading “Please wait” until about 0910, when the gate suddenly appeared as “Final call”.
I rushed down the travellators to gate 16 with a group of other Sterling passengers, but when we arrived at the gate, passengers from the in-bound plane were still disembarking. I sat and watched as bags were unloaded, before our bags were loaded. Boarding began at 0935 and was complete 10 minutes later.
THE FLIGHT Sterling has 23 B737s and half of the fleet has recently been fitted with winglets (the curved piece of metal at the end of each wing). These make the plane more aerodynamic, thereby reducing fuel costs and carbon emissions. The cabin had a 3-3 seating arrangement, in 31 rows, with blue carpets and upholstery.
The pilot apologised for the delay in boarding and informed us the flight time would be two hours and 15 minutes. The cabin crew were very friendly and provided us with water during our wait – take-off was eventually at 1030. Throughout April and May this year, Sterling is providing food (a ham and cheese or chicken tikka panini) and two drinks free of charge (including alcohol), while catering logistics are changed. Usually passengers pay for a choice of food and drink and this service, with a few new options, will resume in June.
We landed at 1345 local time. Arlanda is compact and efficient and I was buying my train ticket into town by 1400. Tip – if there is a queue upstairs, you can buy tickets for the Arlanda Express (the fastest way into the city) from a machine on the train platform (220SEK/£18.60 one-way). Take the lift down the two floors, instead of the escalator.
STOCKHOLM ARLANDA – LONDON GATWICK
I arrived at Terminal 5 at 1445 for the 1625 flight to London Gatwick. The terminal building was busy and I was lucky to find no queue at check-in, as 10 minutes later, a huge group arrived for the flight. The check-in agent was a little brusque and did not ask where I would like to sit. She did explain that, at the moment, there was a 10-minute delay to the flight.
I went through security (I did not have to remove shoes or belt) and was airside by 1500. There was a pub, a café and a fast-food take-away stand as well as a variety of gift shops, one clothes shop and Duty Free. I found a comfortable design chair and noticed an advert for MAX, a hamburger restaurant at Terminal 4, which was voted third-best airport restaurant in the world after Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Bonfire at Boston.
BOARDING The flight was called at 1600 and we had to go through another passport control check to gate 18. We boarded immediately and the flight was busy and hot (134 passengers). I was towards the back of the plane in seat 23E, a middle seat, with a passenger on either side.
FLIGHT We took off at 1635 and the captain said we were scheduled to arrive 20 minutes early. I was given a chicken tikka panini and offered tea and coffee, as well as soft and alcoholic drinks. We landed at 1750 local time and, after a long walk to immigration, I was the only passenger to make use of IRIS and consequently was through to the baggage hall within two minutes. My bag arrived 10 minutes later.
VERDICT According to the in-flight magazine, nine out of 10 Sterling passengers receive their bags within half an hour of landing (this was true for me on both flights) while 85 per cent of flights depart on time (this was true on the return flight) and eight out of 10 land on time. It would have been good to have had a little more information about the delay on the outbound flight, when waiting on the tarmac, but the onboard service was efficient and friendly.
PRICE Sterling has a one-way booking system and there is up to 10 per cent discount if you book online.