04 June 2012

To BER or not to BER, that is the question

To BER or not to BER, that is the question

First, it must be noted that my compact camera broke the week before this, whilst on holiday in Corfu, so all photos are taken with my phone camera.

Towards the end of 2011, it became apparent that the new airport in Berlin Brandenburg was nearing completion, and it was suggested to hold an A.Net meeting on the opening day of operations. After some negociations with my wife, it was agreed that I would attend my first A.net meeting, as a day trip on the Sunday. Now with 2 small children, cash can be tight, so I decided to use some Avios one way, and some Nectar points on an Easyjet flight the other way. Parking at Luton is much cheaper than near Heathrow, and closer to home for the early start, so I booked the "inaugural" Luton - Brandenburg on Easyjet for £55 (minus some points value), and a return on BA to Heathrow. There was no availabilty on the afternoon flight in Traveller, so was forced to sit in the front, for 9000 Avios miles and £17 for the taxes.

Then just a few weeks before the big day, it was announced that the new airport would not be operating at all! Both airlines reverted to their original Berlin locations, so I would arrive at Schoenefeld, and depart from Tegel.

Thanks to www.gcmap.com for the map

The day of departure arrived, and I set my alarm for 3am (yawn). I spent a few too many minutes trying to open my eyes and finally put my car into gear at 3.30 for the drive to Luton. I stopped at a 24 hour McDo near Cambridge just before 5am hoping for a greasy breakfast, but they were still selling the "daytime" menu - the guy joked that I was an "early riser" rather than a "late reveller", to which I agreed, and bought only a cup of tea. I pulled into the car park at Luton Airport Parkway station, which only charges £2 per day on weekends, a bit more in the week (probably the cheapest parking near the airport) and walked to the shuttle bus stop. The bus cost is £1.50 single, £2.50 return.

Luton Airport station shuttle bus

Some of the shuttle busses have been modified to look a bit like a tram, with covered wheels. You're not fooling anyone, they are still busses. 

Traffic was very heavy, even at 5.50, on the airport approach road, but we eventually arrived. I had checked in online, so went straight to security. The queue was massive, though moving quite quickly its shear size meant it took some time. Periodically someone with a microphone would call out flights about to depart, and passengers on those flights could bypass the main queue. As luck would have it, Berlin passengers were called forward just as I reached the front. Security was quick, though I also had to take my Kindle out of my bag for the first time, like a laptop. I then foudn a departure screen, and headed to Gate 11.


The queue was already building, and I joined, about 3/4 of the way back in the end.

On the way to the gate

Queuing at the gate

It turned out that Gate 11 was a bus gate, and that a bus full of passengers had already boarded, so I wasn't holding much hope for a good seat. I needn't have worried! A couple had taken an aisle and middle seat near the back, so I managed to get the window next to them. The flight looked like it was full.

Biz jet apron

Reg confirmation


Tail on boarding

Still raining, view from my seat

The engines started up after the doors were closed, we pushed back and joined the queue for the runway. There was quite a long wait, but eventually we took off, and burst through the murk to the clear blue skies above the weather.

Obligatory legroom shot

Out of the window

View forward

Soon the service started. I hadn't eaten yet that day so I decided to have the Muffin deal, which means a £1 discount off a muffin and hot drink, yet the cost is still more than a McDo cooked breakfast ;)

Muffin and Starbucks tea

For those interested, the muffin was average, a little dry and crumbly but not overly so.

Soon enough it was time to descend. We passed over a lot of lakes, and forested areas, that looked quite pretty. We landed with a bump so slight I could barely feel it, until we started braking. The taxi to stand was quite long, and we came to rest beside a Norwegian neighbour.

Norwegian neighbour

I had arranged to meet user Akhmad at the arrivals, as he was staying in the Albergo hotel still, after many others had changed hotels for a city centre one. He was instantly recognisable from his photos, and we headed together to the station after buying a ticket to Tegel. The original (well, plan B) had been to head for a picnic at the Tempelhof park, but with bad weather forecast, it was decided to go straight to Tegel. We took a Regionalbahn to Hauptbahnhof, then the TXL bus on to the airport.


Hauptnahhof again

Plenty of people took photos at the meet, so I will try some that may or may not be repeated. As this was my first meeting, I was pleased to be made welcome into the group. I could not have hoped for a nicer group of people to spend a few hours with, and I hope I can make another meet before too long!

We met at the famous Ess-Bahn currywurst stand, before moving up to the Besucherterrasse - Viewing Deck. After a while, it was beer o'clock, so we found a cafe / bar inside the terminal for a cold one, before people made their exits.

The famous "Ess-Bahn" currywurst stand

The famous currywurst

Inside the airport hexagon - what should have happened today.

Did someone lose a hat? ;)

The earlier BA flight to Heathrow

An AB A330 taking most of the runway to lift off

The highlight of the day - Mongolian Airlines 767 from Ulaan Batur

Departure board from the bar


As I had a Club Europe ticket, naturally I wanted to see the lounge - it would be only my 4th lounge visit. I bade my farewells, and went to the Terraces Lounge. I had my mobile boarding pass, and the attendant scanned the barcode on my phone, and a green light appeared. I found a comfy armchair with the nearest thing to a view the lounge has, as it is landside, and got a cup of tea, a couple of sandwiches and a boiled egg. I have to say the food selection was limited, there were also crisps, a couple of cakes, and small chocolates. The bar area, however, was well stocked. A shame as I'd be driving later and I had my one beer with the guys downstairs.

Food and view

Comfy seats

I needed to increase my caffeine intake thanks to my early start, so took a coke as well (pour your own glass from large bottles in the fridge). Unfortunately there was no bathroom, you had to exit, and go downstairs to the basement level, where there was a pay bathroom. I decided to leave and find my way to the gate.

Around the hexagon

FIDS over the BA checkin desks

The layout at TXL is unusual in that each gate or two has its own checkin desk, security, border control (if needed), holding room and luggage carousel (separated). I had already checked in, but couldn't see the way to security - I watched someone who checked in at the desk, and followed them through a small open doorway to the side of the desk (on the left in the photo above below the FIDS). It was not clearly marked, but most people seemed to know their way around. This was only my 2nd time departing from TXL, after a trip in 2006. In the holding room was a small cafe, duty free shop and toilets. I managed to catch the registration of the aircraft from the window here. Once it had arrived, the border control was right by the bridge, so the queue went back to the plane.The neighbouring gate area was also accessible, though no aircraft was docked there.

The holding area

Our tail

Our plane again from the neighbouring gate

Not much call for some of those types!

Before long 2 queues started to form, the left for Club and status passengers, the right for Traveller. I joined the left, but both queues were checked simultaneously, merging in the bridge to the door.

Legroom in seat 2F. I could stretch out!

View in front

Started raining

In Club the middle seats are blocked off, and there was noone on the aisle seat on my row. I had originally been assigned 2A, but changed to 2F on checkin, in case we did the approach over London. We didn't in the end.

Before takeoff, hot towels were distributed, but not drinks. I would prefer a drink to be honest. The load in Traveller looked to be full (explaining the lack of award seats in the back) whereas in Club, about 3/4 of the seats were taken.

After the safety demonstration, we taxied out and took off powerfully to the west, passing over more lakes and forests. The area surrounding Berlin does seem to have a lot of these!

Not long after that, I was asked if I'd like some food, to which I agreed. The tray was presented, and hot rolls offered. Following the steward, a stewardess offered drinks - I reluctantly decided not to go for champagne, but took cranberry juice instead. I expected some kind of desert offering as well, but there was nothing, and no further service offering during the flight.

Meal tray

Real metal cutlery - nice BA emblem. They all remained on board.

Clear skies after reaching cruising altitude

Looking back on the engine

We droned on, the cloud cover unbroken. At least the airshow was on the dropdown TVs. The light was very bright from outside, so beside periodically looking for other traffic (I saw none) I read a book on my Kindle: Days of Deja Vu by Jonathan Reid (about a guy who built his own yacht and sailed around the world). Highly recommended. Back to the flight: by now we were circling over Essex, which we did for 20 mins or so, until we went west over Watford, turning east to approach over Windsor. I only know this from the airshow TVs, as I couldn't see anything through the cloud. The TVs closed up, and famland was visible below, then some lakes and reservoirs (including one with an automatic waterskiing machine!) before crossing the M25 and touching down on 09L - another landing so smooth I almost didn't feel it. Then a long taxi to our stand on the south side of T5A.

Taxi past T5A

We all disembarked, heading for Arrivals and border control. After hearing horror stories about the queues, I was surprised to find that I was the 3rd person to arrive at the UK/EU desks, all 6 of which were manned, so no wait at all. I was soon welcomed back to the UK. I made my way out to the Tube station, for the long trek to Kings Cross.

TIDS at the Tube station

I found my way to the Thameslink platforms at St Pancras station, bought a ticket for Luton Aiport Parkway, and was soon heading back to my car, and the long drive home.

To conclude, I had a great day. It was great to see and finally meet everyone, for good conversation, food (if Currywurst counts!) and a beer. Special thanks must go to Suryo for meeting me at SXF and Blaz for the souvenir of Ljubliana! Until the next meeting...

My Family and Other Animals: Norwich-Corfu

My Family and Other Animals: Norwich-Corfu

Once again, my mother's Christmas gift to us was to take us - myself, my wife, our 2 children, and my sister - on holiday. Again, our destination was our choice. Following the same thing last year and our holiday to Ibiza, we had the same criteria. Flights from Norwich, our local airport, at reasonable times of the day. This narrowed down the choices to Ibiza again, Mallorca, and Corfu. We decided on Corfu as it would be a bit different again to the Balearics, and neither the children, my mum or sister had been to Greece before. With the onset of the financial crisis, my mum was worried about protests and demonstrations, and how we might cope financially, but I was sure all would be ok, as indeed it was.

Credit must be given to user Carmelo for his trip report:
And video of some airport activity:


Route map, courtesy of www.gcmap.com

As last year, my mum and sister came to our house, and we took a taxi together the 10 minute drive to the airport. Unlike last year, where we had booked a complete package holiday through Thomson Holidays, this time I booked us on flight only tickets with Thomson, 2 adjacent apartments found through www.holiday-rentals.co.uk, and 2 cars booked from Europcar. We arrived about 2 1/2 hours before departure, mainly to avoid a long queue for checkin and security, which the children can find painful. There were 3 checkin desks open for the CFU flight, each was occupied, but we were next in line. Checkin was painless, and our bags weighed and processed. We even managed to be under weight! Next up we paid our "Airport Development Fee" tax and went through security. They were indeed thorough, but soon we were through and had 2 hours before departure. At least from here there was enough to keep the children from being bored.

View across to the maintenance area

Matty looking out of the window

A Dornier 328 of Suckling Airways, operating the Flybe service to Manchester

Our aircraft arriving from CFU

What is this doing here? No services to Spain today.


After some looking out of the window, reading some books, and eating some snacks, it was soon time to board. We had seend the incoming aircraft arrive, so knew that it wouldn't be long. There was no pre-boarding of families with children, partly I guess because there were quite a lot of families heading on holiday! Our boarding passes were checked, and we walked through Gate 4 (or rather, door 4 onto the apron) and were directed along the front of the building to the parking stand.

One for Markus

Boarding. I had left our pushchair, folded, at the foot of the stairs.

View forward from the top of the stairs

W found our seats - we had 21A, B and C for us, and my mum and sister had 22A and B, the row behind. My wife gets quite airsick, so she had the window, and we though it best for Matty to be in the middle, so he wouldn't be able to run around so much. My mum had the window behind, with my sister in the middle seat. She is often afraid of flying, but loves the travel aspect, so she buried herself into her ipod and Kindle until takeoff, and again as soon as electronics could be used again. I handed over my camera to my mum to take some photos out of the window - the aerial outside shots were taken by her.

Matty settling in

Outside whilst still on stand

Completing the boarding

Pushback was on time, and we taxied to the runway and backtracked to the western end. Taxeoff was powerfull, as NWI only has an 1800m runway, and soon we were up into the clear air. A beautiful day for flying.


I grew up in the village at the top right of this picture.

Since the last year, Thomson Airways has ceased to offer pre-booked airline meals, now only offering BOB. As none of the options are gluten free, we had prepared sandwiches ahead of time (and of course a jar of baby puree for Amy).

The Alps

Our route crossed the Alps, and followed the Adriatic coast down towards Greece. Somewhere near Croatia we spotted another Thomson aircraft, it looked like a 757. I'm pretty sure we saw the same one on the ground at CFU later, having arrived from Leeds or Manchester.

Following us

Zoomed in

Shortly after we started our descent. As far as I could judge from the aisle seat, and the aircraft banking movements, we flew southwards along the western coast of the island, before doing a 180 near the southern tip near the resort of Kavos, approaching the airport from the south. Even from my seat I could see some of the spectacular mountains, above our window level. We landed with a bump and braked heavily - Corfu's runway is longer than NWI's, but still quite short, with a main road at one end and surrounded by sea water the other end. We pulled off onto the apron at a remote stand, and busses were waiting to take passengers to the terminal.

The terminal seemed quite chaotic, and slightly run down. The busses dropped us at the bottom of a ramp, leading up into the building. Immediately inside was a bathroom, and passport control. The agents were both lax and strict - I waited for some members of our family to use the facilities, and could see sometimes the agents didn't even open some people's passports, but one woman who was also waiting for someone in the bathroom poked her head round to see if her luggage had arrived onto the carousel, was shouted at harshly. For us, a glance at our passports was deemed sufficient, and we waited inside for our luggage. By this time it had got dark. Eventually our bags came through, and we threaded our way past the other 2 planeloads still waiting for their luggage to the exit, found the agent for our apartments, and then got the keys for our rental cars. We had precise directions, and an hour or so later we arrived at the apartments, just near Acharavi on the north coast. We spent a lovely week there, there are some destination photos further down this report.


On our last morning, we loaded the cars and headed back to the airport. After the long journey, we handed back the keys to the Europcar agent, and I had a look to see where to check in. The Norwich flight was not yet checking in, a Thomson rep said that they had set up a queue outside (alongside a Glasgow flight), so that when our flight opened, they would bring in passengers to the small checkin hall. We found a seat near arrivals to wait a bit, and have a sandwich for lunch, again that we had prepared in advance. Then we moved outside, to join the Norwich queue. Soon the rep brought the 1st group of passengers inside to the 2 desks assigned for our flight.

Busy checkin hall, from the queue


When we reached the front, we were checked in, our bags weighed, but none were taken - we had to take all checked bags to a side desk, where an X-ray was set up to scan them, from where they disappeared into the bowels of the baggage system. We then joined the security queue. Both children were very well be haved, it must be said. In these situations, certainly with Matty, a lollipop will keep him quiet for ages! Through and to the departure lounge, were we found seats and ate some more. I went to the cafe kiosk to buy some water, and the guy there offered me a 500ml bottle - I asked if he had a larger one, he didn't but said "Take two!" So I asked how much, and was very surprised when he said "50c each". I wasn't sure, but he confirmed! Very cheap. Slightly mitigated by the EUR2.90 bag of crisps to go with them though!

Departure lounge

Apron view. This turned out to be our plane.

One of the ramps up from the apron, to the arrivals hall, to the right

As with the arrival, we boarded by bus. We had the same seat arrangement as before, only this time I couldn't give my camera to my mum to take photos as it was broken. So please note all return journey photos were taken with my phone (in flight mode of course!) We had rows 12 and 13 this time, so further forward. Again, like the outward flight, there were no empty seats.

Passengers boarding

Even when everyone was seated, it took a while to take off. We had to wait for an arrival, then another departure to backtrack the length of the runway to turn around and take off northwards. Takeoff was powerful and we quickly climbed over the height of the surrounding mountains. Once we levelled out to cruise, we got some toys out for Matty - he loves doing jigsaw puzzles. He had been making his way through a bag of Haribo gummy bears on takeoff, to enable his ears to adjust. Amy drank some water from her bottle.

Matty doing a puzzle

We followed much the same route back, as far as I could tell, only this time as we were on the left we could see the Italian coastline. Unfortunately clouds took over before we got to Venice.

Italian Adriatic coastline

More of the Italian Adriatic coast, I think somewhere near Rimini

After an hour or so of the 3 hour flight, the children were getting restless, as it was later than their normal afternoon nap, so we snuggled up Matty as best we could on his seat, Amy in the sling on my wife, and they slept, or rather dozed, until the announcement came that we would shortly start our descent. We flew over Rotterdam and the North Sea, heading inland over Norfolk before turning to approach from the west. Again, we landed with a bump, and braked hard, before turning and backtracking to the taxiway off the runway to the apron. 

We disembarked, unfortuantely this time the pushchair would apparently be placed onto the luggage carousel with the bags. This was a shame, as we'd then have to carry the children through the immigration queue - they are much stricter in the UK than some other places, all passports are scanned and recorded. The queue for the border control filled the small room, and outside under a temporary, bus shelter-like cover. We had waited to get all our stuff off. As we left the plane, Matty said to the pilot, "Thank you driver!" completely unprompted. Very polite, though I don't know what the pilot thought of being called "driver"! When we take the bus, it is normal to thank the driver, so that may be where he got it from.

Our aircraft, back on stand

The outside queue

Whilst waiting still outside, we saw the ground crew bring the pushchairs to the nearby door to get loaded onto the baggage carousel, so we asked if we could take it here. This was ok, so we laid the dozy Amy in her part of the double pushchair (a Phil and Ted's Explorer) and Matty sat on the top seat. Finally through border control, we picked up our cases, and out to the taxi rank to get a taxi home.

A lovely holiday, on a lovely island. One of my wife's favourite books, "My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell is set on the island, and several people have remarked on it, so I have been reading it too now we are back. I only had one day at home before the Berlin meeting on the Sunday.

A few photos from our stay on the island, as has become customary...

Our apartments are the two ground floor ones, middle and right side.

Sunset over the beach in front of the apartments

George's Taverna,2 building along from the apartments

One day we took a trip to the Kanoni Peninsular. Here is a view of the island, and showing how close the airport is, in the rear view mirror.

Lunch with a view

Some air traffic from the peninsular lookout point

The iconic view from Corfu

The same view, zoomed out a little, showing the airport runway approach lights

Impressive departure

Niki landing

Matty flying Olympic Airlines

Corfu Town

Mountains over the north coast

More mountains, looking across the bay towards Corfu town

Amy on the beach

A small bay near to Kassiopi

Matty on a waterslide

Sign for the turnoff to the apartments

Snails on the garden light

Matty on a digger

Matty eating fish. Mummy hates it so he won't be getting if often at home!

The local beer