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We welcome your comments and reviews of flights you have taken. Each month we have a review of readers’ comments (see below) and build these up so that we get a consensus. Clearly, the fact that one person did not enjoy the food on a particular airline is unfortunate but could be just bad luck – if several people say the same thing then we have an obvious trend and one which we want to warn readers about. If you would like to contribute your own trip report, please send us details using our online form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your personal details will be kept completely confidential and will not be passed to any third parties.
Many people fly Club one way and Economy the other and the standard advice is that you should book the Club sector for the overnight flight so you can enjoy the bed. A reader who flew with British Airways to Muscat (via Abu Dhabi) takes the opposite view. He was full of praise for Premium Economy on the daylight flight out but felt the Club service was possibly a waste of money on the return. He and his wife had the two middle seats in the middle block, which he did not like very much (these seats are loved by some for their privacy and loathed by others for being rather cut-off). The final sector of the flight does not leave Abu Dhabi until 2.30 in the morning and the relatively short flight does not allow much time for food or sleep. In this case, he would have been happy with Premium Economy on both legs. In Muscat, he stayed at the Shangri-La complex, which consists of three separate hotels. He chose the most luxurious and expensive, the Al Husn, and felt that the extra quality it offered, combined with all the free extras, made it good value. Breakfast, afternoon tea, drinks by the pool, evening cocktails and mini-bar usage would add rather a lot to your bill at other hotels in Muscat.
Another comment to add to those on London City Airport: “Even living in west London, I have discovered I can be off the plane and home on the Underground faster than going through Heathrow.” This is worth noting if you are staying in a hotel in central London because there is often only minutes between the two airports in terms of the Tube journey, while you can save at least twenty minutes getting through the tiny City airport compared to its very big brother in west London.
Using Miles to fly longhaul in Business Class can sometimes require a little flexibility in choosing the flights. A lady was rather reluctant to use her Avios to fly to South America via Madrid with Iberia, but it was the only option available. The journey started well in Madrid with a visit to the Iberia lounge, where the staff were friendly and there was a good selection of food and drink. The service on the flight was just as good and the cabin crew were professional. The return flight from Rio de Janeiro to London with British Airways lived up to expectations, although the airport and airline lounges in Rio were a little basic.
We just wish Iberia could manage this more often! Its new terminal at Madrid is very pleasant (though it can involve a lot of walking) and the Iberia lounge is well up to standard. Unfortunately, Iberia’s biggest problem is its staff. The airline has many charming staff but these are often outnumbered by the surly, lazy ones. On a good day, you may encounter only the good side of Iberia and then you will wonder what all the criticism is about. Brazil’s airports have become hopelessly swamped by the increase in traffic in recent years. The major ones are all being upgraded in time for the two big sporting events. We do have some doubts about whether this work will be sufficient to solve the problems, though.
A reader never even got round to flying from London to Bangkok with Thai because the booking process was so frustrating. “Firstly, they seemed to be revamping their website and it was not always available or working correctly. However, when I could get it to function, I saw that in the space of three weeks they had changed the scheduled aircraft on the London route from a Boeing 747 to an Airbus A340 and back to a 747 again. Their aircraft have different types of Business seat and I particularly wanted one of their new flatbeds but with such vagueness about what might be flying the route, I thought it better not to risk it and booked BA instead.” Unfortunately, that is quite typical of Thai. It has too many different types of aircraft and far too many configurations on each type – and the new Business seats have not even been fitted on all the 747s yet. Airlines should let you know what aircraft and configuration they will be using when you book (though, of course, this is subject to last-minute changes), but Thai is virtually unique in that its timetable is in a constant state of flux. The actual departure times tend to stay the same but the airline does regularly change days of operation and its operating aircraft. If a particular type of aircraft or seat is important to you, there are better airlines to use.
Another reader was very pleased with British Airways’ new service from Heathrow to Rotterdam. “Since Rotterdam is so close to Amsterdam, it really is a perfectly viable alternative. I visit Amsterdam regularly and Rotterdam is almost as convenient for the side of the city I visit as Schiphol and I have become increasingly tired of that airport – sometimes very slow luggage delivery, long walks to the gates and the general crowds and surliness of a big airport. In contrast, Rotterdam is tiny, just a small departure lounge and a few gates so there is no walking and Wi-Fi is free. You can be in and out of the place in minutes. The one big drawback is that if you try to go through Security when a couple of budget or charter flights are boarding, you will have a wait. Even then, the delay is manageable. Rotterdam is like flying used to be!” We think this sums up the joy of using small airports very accurately. Most of the time, using an airport like Rotterdam, Southend or Southampton is a joy but the experience can suddenly turn very negative when two or three planes arrive or depart together.
“I needed to buy a return ticket from Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh to connect with flights to and from London. I saw that Egyptair’s Business Class return fare was just £150 return, which looked a good deal for the one-hour flight, considering the Economy fare was just over £100. I saved a long queue at Cairo to check in, had priority screening, the use of a reasonable Business lounge at both ends and a seat at the front of the small regional jet together with a slightly superior snack. The big bonus was that there was no problem with my luggage allowance since I had been told by friends that Egyptair is very firm about charging for extra amounts and I was a good 7 kilos over the Economy limit. It made the whole return trip very relaxed and was definitely money well spent. As a general comment, the aircraft were fairly new and clean and the cabin crew fairly pleasant and professional.”
Luton Airport often gets a poor press. It is not a particularly smart airport, can have long queues at busy times and is fairly aggressive with its charges for parking and other services. The upside, of course, is that the airport is very cheap and fares reflect this. We would not normally pass on remarks about security staff being rude because they can be good or bad at any airport but there does seem to be a very specific problem at Luton. There are far too many reports of staff being difficult about the size of transparent bags for liquid screening. They have been known to refuse bags that are actually given out free at other airports. Of course, this rather aggressive behaviour is not linked to the fact that Luton sells its own transparent bags (a bargain at just £1 for two). The Department of Transport says the bag should be transparent, re-sealable and approximately 20 cm by 20 cm. It may be time for someone to call Luton’s bluff on this.
A reader was driven to distraction by trying to compare rates at hotels in the Middle East. It looked as though Expedia had some rates that were better than those offered by the hotel, but the descriptions of the rooms did not tie up with the descriptions the hotel itself used. There seemed to be a muddle over the difference between “Superior” and “Deluxe” rooms and Expedia also had Deluxe rooms charged at a supplement because they were “with AC”. This was a complete mystery (it surely did not mean air-conditioning since every hotel would have that as standard in the Gulf) so our reader decided to call Expedia. “That was a big mistake – I was put through to someone in an Indian call centre who asked me lots of silly questions because he had presumably been told to establish a relationship with the customer. I finally managed to explain the problem and he said he would call the hotel to check. While he was calling, I was cut off and he never called back. However, a few hours later I saw the website had been partially corrected and the “with AC” rooms removed – but there was still confusion over “Deluxe” and “Superior”, so I did not want to risk it and booked direct.
This is a serious problem and, if you book through an agent, you need to be very careful. A hotel may have Superior and Deluxe rooms and price them accordingly but agents’ listings can get confused (especially when they start offering different combinations involving pre-payment, meals or other extras). Sometimes, agents will use totally different names to describe the same room and, on occasions, they will sell rooms with a slightly different name that are lower in standard than the ones the hotel sells itself (maybe they are old or small). It can be very dangerous to book what appears to be a bargain through an agent unless you are absolutely sure what it is.