CHECK-IN I arrived at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 at 2000, with plenty of time to spare before my 2230 departure on flight MS780 to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh. Upon exiting the London Underground station, I walked ten minutes up the various escalators and along travelators to Zone C. There were six check-in desks (C17-22) with three assigned to economy passengers, one for business class, one for bag-drop and one for customer service.
There were no other passengers waiting so I was issued with a boarding pass immediately. I was through security by 2020, having taken my liquids and laptop out and removed my coat, scarf and belt as instructed. My passport was checked again before entering the airside duty-free area and I then found a place to relax and have a bite to eat until my flight was called.
BOARDING Boarding started from Gate 35 (about 15-20 minutes’walk away) at 2115. By this time, the airport was quiet as mine was one of the last flights of the day. When I got to the gate at 2140, the status switched to “closing” and the boarding process began. There were only about 40 passengers and I was one of the first to cross the airbridge and find my seat.
THE SEAT I had been assigned window seat 26A, which was by an emergency exit so offered a decent amount of extra legroom. An added bonus was that no one was sitting next to me so I had plenty of space for the journey. (This was the case for most of the passengers on board.) There was no audio-video on-demand (AVOD) on this plane, with pre-set in-flight entertainment provided on small overhead screens.
The seat was upholstered in blue patterned fabric that looked a little worn, but there were good-sized fold-down tables from the backs of the seats in front, blankets and pillows. The pilot did a walk down the plane and counted the passengers at 2210. Seating was configured 3-3 (A-B-C, H-J-K) in economy, while business is 2-2, although no one was sitting in this section.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I was fortunate to have been assigned an exit row seat (row 26) with more legroom, so wherever possible try and book one of these. Avoid middle seats B and J if you are travelling alone, and sit nearer the front to disembark and get served dinner sooner.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was as scheduled, at 2230, and the meal service promptly began once we were at cruising altitude at 2250. My pre-ordered vegetarian meal was offered to me before anyone else’s, but I wasn’t hungry so didn’t bother eating any of it. A drinks service started at 2310, and at the same time the pilot (who I assumed did not have sole responsibility of flying the aircraft) came around handing out headphones and asking passengers if they wanted “chicken or salmon”.
No alcohol was available so I settled for a glass of apple juice, which was very cheap and sugary, and some water. I then lifted up the armrests of the seats next to me and lay down on my side to try and get some sleep. It wasn’t very comfortable but I did manage a couple of hours’ rest while Pirates of the Caribbean silently played on the overhead screens.
ARRIVAL The plane started its descent at 0245 and landed at 0330 (0530 local time) after five hours of flying. Disembarkation was quick, with passengers exiting from steps at the front of the aircraft and on to an awaiting shuttle bus. There was a short delay on the tarmac before it then drove everyone to the terminal building. Lots of tourists were queuing for a visa, but I had been assured I wouldn’t need one if I was staying in the Sinai Peninsula region.
When I got to the desk, the immigration office asked, “No visa?” in an accusing manner, but when I explained I was only visiting Sharm el-Sheikh he waved me through. Other people were being sent back to pay the US$15 to buy one, probably not realising that they didn’t need to. A few metres from the first immigration desk, there was a second passport check by a couple of guards, who again quizzed me about not having a visa, and then allowed me into the baggage reclaim area when I explained.
I only had hand-luggage so headed straight out, only to get stopped by yet another guard who asked if I had “anything to declare?”. When I said I hadn’t, he asked to look through my suitcase. After a couple of minutes of rifling, he allowed me to meet my pick-up, and was at my hotel (the Grand Rotana Resort and Spa, click here for a review) in ten minutes, just as the sun was coming up.
VERDICT A decent flight that was on schedule and had plenty of free seating, which meant I had lots of room to spread out in. The drinks service was disappointing, though, as there was no alcohol, and the service was nothing special.
CONFIGURATION 3-3 in economy, 2-2 in business
PRICE Internet rates for a return midweek economy class in June flight started from £533.