BACKGROUND Bmi flies daily to and from Damascus on flight BD947, with varying departure times depending on the day of the week. They are (winter schedule 2010-11), departing London Heathrow 1600 arriving Damascus 2300 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with Wednesdays and Sundays being 1540/2240 and Saturdays 1450/2150. Bmi used to fly on three times a week to Aleppo but this stopped in January 2010, and so the aircraft waits at Damascus overnight, and the return flight BD948 is a constant 1010 departing Damascus, arriving at London Heathrow at 1400. On certain routes Bmi offers a complimentary chauffeur drive for business class passengers to the following destinations when travelling to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London Heathrow, Manchester, Belfast and Dublin to Addis Ababa, Almaty, Amman, Baku, Beirut, Bishkek, Cairo, Damascus, Freetown, Khartoum, Moscow, Riyadh, Tbilisi, Tehran and Yerevan. My car arrived early, and got me to the airport in plenty of time.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS Damascus International Airport is around a half an hour drive from central Damascus (traffic permitting). There are two terminals, with Terminal 1 being for international and domestic flights including Syrian Air flights to Aleppo, Karmeshli, Deirezzor and Latakia and Terminal 2 which is reserved for Hajj religious pilgrimage passengers. Terminal 1 has just been renovated in the check-in areas with the gate areas due to be renovated in 2011. There is a full security check to enter the airport, including x-rays and body pat downs before immigration and check-in, and then a further similar check at the gate before boarding.
THE LOUNGE Once airside there is a large executive lounge for all business class passengers on all airlines, which is a comfortable area with food and drink (including alcohol) and a buffet of pastries. There is also free wifi – though you need to get the passport from reception.
BOARDING For all Bmi flights you are bussed out to the aircraft. The reason for this, I was told, is because the aircraft has been at the airport since the previous night parked away from the terminal. Also, if an air bridge is used, as well as the additional cost to the airline, there is a 45-minute time limit for the use of air bridges at the airport.
Once on board we were given a choice of water, orange juice and champagne and our jackets were hung, although there was no room for mine in the front wardrobe and so I made use of the fact that that no-one was sitting in rows 6-8 AC and laid out my jacket in the overhead lockers. Before departure we were given menus and amenity bags with socks, eye shades and ear plugs, along with a Miller Harris “gift” containing a lip cream and moisturiser.
THE SEAT Bmi has seven A321 aircraft, all in this configuration which holds 149 passengers, 118 in economy (3-3) and 31 in business (2-2). To see a seat plan of the aircraft, click here.
This was the same aircraft as in this review of a flight a few days earlier between London Heathrow and Beirut, so to read more, click here.
All of these aircraft, along with two of Bmi’s total seven A320s which are used on mid haul routes (which in the mid haul configuration are 124 passengers in two classes – 102 in economy and 22 in business) will be refurbished with the new seat.
The new seat is the old seat but with new cushions and leather upholstery. There are new carpets, and the interior walls of the aircraft look new as well, which with the smell of new leather and smart blankets and cushions creates a positive impression. In business class the 31 seats are in a configuration of AC-DF in rows 1-5, with the emergency exits occurring in front of row 6, where seat 6D is for crew (so AC- XF). The configuration then continues in rows 6-8 AC–DF.
There is nothing new in the seat so there is no in-seat power, and the IFE system is the same as previously was on board. This is not Audio and Video on Demand (AVOD) but simply loops around in its channels. For details of this programming, visit bmivoyager.com/entertainment.
Oddly on this aircraft, the moving map doesn't work on all seats AC but does on DF, which is worth bearing in mind if you like following the journey. The other channels seemed to work fine.
FOOD AND WINE Starters were Arabic mezze or tomato, halloumi and pesto salad. Main courses were Dawood Basha with rice and toasted pine nuts, grilled hamour with olive and tomato salsa and vegetable lasagne. Dessert was crème caramel or seasonal fruit, with a selection of cheese (not named on this flight) and coffee and a selection of teas. The wines are the same as I had seen on a flight outward bound from Heathrow. Selected by Lorenzo Fasola Bologna and his team at Castello MonteVibiano Vecchio, based in Mercatello close to Perugia, they were champagne: Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvee Brut. White wines: Anjou Blanc Les Maillones – Gerard Depardieu, Chardonay Unwooded Langmeil Australia. Red wines: Chateau Maybe Vieil Fronsac, Aulente San Patriggnano Rosso, Shiraz Borkenback Tyrells Australia.
THE FLIGHT The meal service was efficiently done and after that many of the passengers reclined their seats and fell asleep, which is perfectly possible for a flight of this duration. Before landing, nuts and further drinks were offered, and then we began our descent around 1300.
ARRIVAL Having taken off on time we arrived early into London Heathrow, and despite a quick circle courtesy of congestion, landed about 30 minutes early. Once on the ground it was a long walk to immigration where there was a 10-minute queue. The IRIS scanners weren't working, however our bags were waiting for us on the other side.
VERDICT Very good. The service was even better on the way out (impressive, since on that flight we had been travelling with Bmi’s CEO) and it's always good to arrive early.
PRICE A mid-week return in January from Bmi's website starts at £1,208.