25 May 2011

Archive - LHR-MAD-JNB-DUR on Iberia and British Airways (Comair)

The next few posts will be from my archive of previous trip reports.

LHR-MAD IB3167 B752 13/12/07
MAD-JNB IB6051 A342 14/12/07
JNB-DUR BA6209 B732 14/12/07

LHR-MAD IB3171 A321 13/12/07
MAD-JNB IB6051 A342 14/12/07
JNB-DUR BA6209 B732 14/12/07

After getting married this year, my wife and I decided to spend Christmas with her parents in South Africa. She departed the week before me, going NWI-AMS-JNB-DUR and back, my ticket the week later being so much more expensive that it worked out over £300 cheaper to go via LHR and Iberia.

The first flight was due to leave at 18.50, a 757 operated by Gestair, so I put in a morning's work in the office before driving to London, and leaving my car at my sister's house in Wapping, knowing she'd take good care of it for the 2 weeks, and took the tube to Heathrow. (Route for anyone interested - Wapping-Canada Water-Green Park-Heathrow 123. Since then, the East London Line is closed permanently, for conversion to Overground service). 1h25 mins from door to checkin - impressive for the "slow" service!

Terminal 2 checkin seemed as crowded as usual, but the Iberia desks were more or less empty, so I was soon at the desk. I'd booked separate Iberia tickets to Johannesburg, and a BA ticket on to Durban, and thinking that as Oneworld partners I'd be able to check through (mainly to secure recourse in case of delay). However the checkin agent said that this was not possible here, and to try in Madrid. She also mentioned that as I was early, I could be put on the earlier LHR-MAD flight, which I was ok with, as I was offered an emergency exit seat. I received my boarding passes and preceeded to security.

To say that there was a long queue was an understatement. The queue went through the snake system, along the front of Terminal 2 right to Arrivals, then back to the departures security entrance. All passengers had to join, and individual flights were called to the front as they approached. So I joined the queue. From that moment to departure time there were 45 mins. I'd moved along some way when I noticed a man subtley sneaking his way forward - he had an Air France boarding card, so I asked him (in French) if he was in the queue. His reply was that he had a flight to catch soon, I noted that his departure time was the same as mine and pointed this out. A few moments later our flights were announced and so we moved to the head of the queue. A group of Italian businessmen's laptops delayed us at the x-ray, so by the time I was through I literally ran to the gate - the furthest on the left pier of T2. I just made it, and was last on. To make matters worse, the emergency exit seat was the one in front of the extra leg room seats, so no more room, and a space between me and the door - so couldn't look out of the window Sad And Iberia charge for drinks and snacks.

Flight landed at Madrid, at T4, and as the MAD-JNB flight operated from T4S, those of us on that connection, along with some others bound for Latin America disembarked from the rear door onto a bus, while everyone else exited from the front door directly into the terminal. The bus drove around and used the tunnel to drive to T4S, so couldn't spot any other parked aircraft Sad I made my way straight to the Customer Service desk, to ask if I could check in for JNB-DUR - this still wasn't possible. I explained that it would help in case of delay, but not to worry - the agent then tried to phone the BA desk, but they'd gone home as there were no more BA flights that day. Oh well, I'd have to take my chances at JNB.

I now had 6 hours to wait in Madrid, as I'd received emails saying that the flight time was put back first by 30 mins, then another 1 1/2hours. If it was daylight, I'd have considered a quick trip into the city on the metro, but as it was 8pm to 2am, I just waited at the airport. There's not much airside in T4S, so I had a sandwich and a beer and read a book (The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz if you're interested).

Boarding started ontime, I had an aisle seat in the middle block near the back of the A340 where it tapers to 2-3-2. Took off and settled down. The seat behind me had an Irish teenager, part of an extended family of about 10 people who were dotted about the flight. Anyone who knows what "chav" means in the UK will describe the lot - from the kids to grandparents. Only difference was that they'd slip from Irish-accented English to Gaelic occasionally. Funniest thing was that the father would wander up to his daughter, stand by her seat for 30 mins or so without saying a word, then leave. Bizarre.

The meal was a chicken paella - by the time the stewards (4 20ish year old male stewards in our cabin) arrived there was no choice. It tasted ok, just as well I'd had a sandwich earlier as it was 3am by this time, and all I'd had since breakfast of toast and lunch of a pork pie. I settled down to sleep, or rather try to - I can never really sleep on planes. It was quite warm, so I used my blanket as a neck pillow - seemed to help!

All of a sudden the lights were swictched on, and the crew stared to serve breakfast - half a tinned peach and 2 slices of ham. Nice.

Now, remember that the flight is delayed for a few hours? When we started our descent, a British woman across the aisle asks the steward if she can go to the front so she can be first off, as she has a connecting flight. She starts getting aggitated, shouting that she will miss her flight - she has 1h10 from landing to take off (anyone knowing JNB will know that this is impossible! My revised time gave me 2 1/2hr, when I'd originally planned on 4h). As descent was well under way, she stood up and again demanded the steward - his response was "please sit down and fasten your seat belt". I was chatting to the (South African) guy next to me - I mentioned that chances are, if you're polite, people will help (note the agent in Madrid who tried to phone BA for me) but stand up and demand, you'll get shrugged shoulders and no sympathy. Turns out her connection with with 1time anyway, a local LCC. Good luck on her connection!

We landed and taxied to the gate, the furthest one on the new pier. As usual there's a mad scramble to get off, we disembark eventually (the earlier irate woman pushing her way down the plane in front of everyone) and head to passport control. There's a bit of a queue, 20 mins or so, but not too bad - but it should be airconditioned, especially in an African summer! Once through, I go to the carousel indicated, but there's nothing there, it's not even moving. Most people then head to the carousel that is turning - from the bags that start arriving, this is the one. Bags start coming out very slowly - one every 5 mins or so. Being quite tall, I had a peer down the belt - at the bottom it goes around a corner, and ever other bag it seems is getting stuck at the bend. Then a guy wanders over, frees it and disappears. A few bags later it's snarled up again. I go over to the baggage enquiries desk, as I'm running out of time - I'm told Iberia agent is around and to ask him. I find the guy and explain my predicament - including the fact that I'm yet to check in for the BA flight. He has a list of connecting passengers, which unsurprisingly I'm not on. He says not to worry, as BA and IB are partners, I'll get put on a later flight if necessary. This is the assurance I wanted! Just then my bag arrives, I grab it, tell the IB agent and start running. Again. (2nd run in 3 airports, and more exercise than I normally get in a week!) By this time I've 25 mins until scheduled departure time.

As an aside, in the newspaper that week, someone for a "joke" changed the arrival monitors in JNB to say "f*** off" - the airport is conducting an investigation, and say that the culprit, when (if) found, will be fired. Personally, I think that the culprit already was fired and did that on finding out!

The walk to Domestic currently goes through a building site then through the multi-storey car park, and signed as taking 15 mins - I do it in about 6, and arrive, puffing, at the BA checkin desk. I tell the agent at the end of the queue that my connecting flight was delayed, and my onward flight is very soon - I'm moved to the front to check in. After leaving my case, I run to the security, and then on to the gate. 10 mins to departure, there's no one there! I ask the agent, but boarding hasn't yet started - phew. I wait 2 mins then we are called forward. I get on, and have the window seat in the 1st row of economy. It's an old 737-300, the same type as the Nationwide aircraft that recently lost an engine. Take off is smooth, and we level out above the clouds. Flight attendents bring round chicken or vegetable wraps - very tasty - and drinks. I opt for maximum liquid, water as well as OJ. The Afrikaans guy next to me takes rum, and promptly spills it! Well, after the crew had moved on, at any rate.

Landed smoothly, especially noteworthy as most JNB-DUR flights are quite bumpy. Got my bag back and went through the door to the welcome sight of my wife Wink Before heading to the car, I spoke to the BA desk to see if I could link the two bookings for my return - I was told that this was impossible, but unlike LHR and MAD, they could check me in for all flights (this was the case indeed on my return). What is it with IB in LHR and MAD, this should be possible everywhere - in the past I've checked through from HKG-BKK-LHR with China Airlines and Qantas...

All in all, not a bad service from Iberia, who 2 out of my 3 trips to SA have been the cheapest option. No personal in flight entertainment, but that's certainly not worth paying £100s for! Total fare about £580, over Christmas not bad, and 1/2 what SAA, BA and Virgin were charging for nonstop LHR-JNB flights.

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