BACKGROUND Plymouth-based Air Southwest was taken over by Eastern Airways in September, but continues to operate under its existing brand. The airline dropped London City airport in May and, since this flight was taken, Air Southwest has also stopped serving Gatwick. (Click here for more information.) However we are publishing this review as the seating information for the carrier’s Dash 8-300 remains relevant. For a seatplan of this aircraft click here.
The carrier has hubs at Bristol, Newquay and Plymouth, serving destinations including Dublin, Glasgow and Jersey, while the Eastern Airways brand is present on routes from the East coast, the Midlands, the North of England and North East Scotland.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Newquay airport, which is about 10km from the city centre, at 1710, with just over an hour until the last flight of the day to London Gatwick was to depart. There was no queue at check-in and I was processed promptly (online check-in is not available). I was offered a choice of a window or an aisle seat, and opted for the former. I was then issued with a boarding pass and instructed to pay the compulsory £5 “airport development fee” at one of the nearby machines. (You need to keep the ticket that is printed out to present at the gate when boarding.)
The fee came into effect in October 2005 and is used to “Help towards development costs and capital expenditure necessary to support the growth of the airport. It is not used to fund day-to-day operational cost”. Norwich, Waterford, Kerry, Knock and Blackpool have introduced similar charges. It is only payable on the outbound journey.
Security was fast (no passport check but liquids and laptops out and shoes off). The departure lounge had plenty of seating, a bar, café and newsagent.
BOARDING There were four gates – my flight started boarding from Gate 2 at 1755. Boarding passes were checked and airport development fee tickets collected. After walking across the tarmac, passengers accessed the small Dash 8-300 plane via steps at the front. I was in my seat by 1805.
THE SEAT The plane is configured solely with economy class seats arranged 2-2 (A-B, C-D) across 13 rows (one to 14 but no 13). Note that seats in row one (C and D only) are backwards facing. The seat on board this aircraft has a pitch 30-32 inches and a width of 17 inches, and is upholstered in grey/blue plasticky faux leather. They were quite narrow – as was the aisle – but they were bearable for this short flight of just over one hour.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Exit row seats have a little extra legroom, which is welcome considering how cramped the cabin feels. Aisle seats are also a good bet if you need a little extra space to stretch out. If you don’t like backwards-facing seats, avoid row one. Other than that, they are all much the same.
THE FLIGHT After an efficient safety demonstration, we took off on time at 1815. The man sitting next to me in seat 12C was offered the chance to move as there were plenty of free seats available – fortunately, he accepted this proposition, which meant I had a bit more room on this rather claustrophobic plane with dense seating. A swift drink and snack service commenced at 1830, once we had reached cruising altitude. Pringles cost £1.20, an oat flapjack £1, a Mars/Twix bar £0.70, Twinings tea/Kenco instant coffee £1.70, Britivic juice £1, Plymouth gin/wine £3.30.
ARRIVAL The flight took exactly one hour so we landed ten minutes early at 1915. We were disembarked from the front of the plane and my suitcase was at baggage reclaim by 1930.
VERDICT A punctual flight with friendly crew. This is a decent A to B service that is much quicker than the train, which takes about five hours, although it is operated by a small Dash 8-300 so don’t expect to find it particularly comfortable.
PRICE Internet rates for a direct return economy class flight in December started from £82.