This little weekend trip came about, indirectly, as last year we took our annual family visit to South Africa on Lufthansa instead of KLM (see report here: http://signol.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/2014-02-south-africa-flights.html). This meant that my wife's and my stash of Flying Blue miles were on a countdown to expire - without another Skyteam flight, they would expire at the end of January 2015. In November, my wife went of a girls' weekend to Amsterdam with a friend of hers, and it was decided that I'd do something in January.
Now, Garuda Indonesia have been operating a tag on to their Jakarta - Amsterdam flight to London Gatwick daily, and as Garuda are a Skyteam member I thought about taking a ride on this flight. At the time I was looking, the cheapest economy fare was about £50 one way, with the cheapest fare earning Flying Blue miles was about £70. I then looked at Business class - there was a special on, with one-way costing just £98 (and still earning miles). At this price differential, I booked it.
But how to return home from Amsterdam? KLM charge a fortune for one-way fares, so I could use some of the saved Flying Blue miles to return. Or fly Easyjet or BA back to the UK, or even take the ferry - but I'd done that the previous spring (report: http://signol.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/2014-05-ams-meet-by-ferry-and-easyjet.html) It was around this time, that another special deal was being advertised by Swiss, but only on one particular route: "Fly Business for the price of Economy!" The route in question was Geneva to Copenhagen. How to build this into my itinerary? I had enough Nectar points (from British supermarket Sainsbury) to fly Amsterdam to Geneva for free on Easyjet, which was easy enough to book. Finally, SAS departures from Copenhagen to Heathrow were also on offer, at about £40. Train travel to and from the London airports was free as well, paid for with Red Spotted Hanky loyalty points. Finally was a hotel in Geneva. I booked a refundable rate in the airport F1 Hotel, knowing that I had some £77 of credit in the Hotel Tonight app (sign up for £15 of free credit using my referral RTHOMPSON183 ;) ) This app used to allow hotel bookings, but only for that very night, but recently started to allow bookings from one week ahead. As it happened, the Geneva Airport Holiday Inn Express popped up for £89 in the week before, so I booked that, using the credit and only £12 cash. I also booked a room at the Travelodge Croydon Central for the night before the trip for very little, so I wouldn't have to wake at stupid o'clock to train it down to Gatwick.
Route map, courtesy of www.gcmap.com
I had recently received a GPS watch, for tracking running and exercise. I decided to try it on the flight, so this is my actual track.
The trip started on the evening of the Friday, when after putting the children to bed, and wishing goodnight my wife, I walked down to Norwich station to board the 21:00 train to London. It wasn't busy, which was shown by the price of the First Class fares, indeed there were a total of 3 passengers in First - or one passenger per carriage! The good ambiance didn't last for long, though, as a tannoy announcement spread the news that the train in front had broken down, and that our departure time was as yet unsure. Following this, we were told that we would depart "in 20 minutes", several successive times. In the end, we departed 45 minutes late. As well as this, we would stop en route for some time, meaning an eventual arrival into London 1h10 behind schedule - enough delay to qualify for Delay Repay, the full cost of your ticket back in vouchers. There was even a staff member waiting on the platform handing out the claim forms.
On the First Class carriage
On arrival into London. Note the Windows screen
On arrival into London, I made my way to Blackfriars station, and caught a late night service to Croydon. These run all night, at 1 hour intervals, on to Gatwick. My hotel was just around the corner from Croydon station, and was a standard Travelodge room. I didn't bother with breakfast in the hotel, as there was a McDonalds nearby for a sausage and egg McMuffin.
After a short night, I woke and breakfasted at a nearby McDonalds, before taking a train for the 15 minute journey to the airport. On arriving, I mistakenly took the tunnel from the South Terminal to the curbside, rather than to the North Terminal shuttle. I quickly realised my mistake, and boarded the automated shuttle for the 3 minute journey.
North Terminal shuttle station
Exterior of the North Terminal
Finding the Garuda checkin desks was easy, and the process was even easier. I had carry-on only, and had already chosen my seat, so it was just a case of giving me a boarding pass and putting a "Fast Track Security" sticker on it. Not that this mattered, as when I went to the security checkpoint, I couldn't find the Fast Track, and the regular lines were not long anyway. I was also given a lounge invitation, to the Number 1 Lounge, which would probably have been my choice anyway thanks to my Airport Angel card.
BSOD at the Garuda checkin desks
FIDS - Jakarta via Amsterdam is 3rd from bottom on the left
First of all, I had a look around the lounge, saw that there was not much happening on the apron, then found some snacks and drinks.
View from the window
Snacks and drinks
I then noticed the GA 777 taxiing in - it must have landed without my noticing. I watched it approach the terminal, and pass near the lounge.
First sight of Garuda
Round the corner
View from the only free seat in the lounge, when I arrived.
Finishing my snacks, I made my way out, to find the gate, once it had appeared on the FIDS in the lounge.
Through the window
A bit clearer, but still not great
Once passing through the boarding pass check into the holding area, I could board immediately - boarding had already started, so I've no idea if they pre-boarded status passengers, young families, or F or J passengers.
From the holding pen
From a window in the jet bridge
First place I needed to visit!
In case you didn't know...
I then returned back to my seat. I had been shown to it personally, and my coat already taken. I was offered a drink at this point - orange juice, there was no choice.
Plenty of legroom
My welcome juice
Cabin overview. I was in the smaller J cabin, just 3 rows of seats. There were perhaps only 2 other passengers here.
View back of the engine
We soon pushed pack, and held for a while whilst the towbar was removed. At this point, I started my GPS watch, to see if it could track our progress.
The famous bridge. We didn't use it.
Onto the runway
Accelerate. VS and BA wait their turn.
The other runway. Contrary to popular belief, Gatwick does actually have two runways, just that they are too close together to be used simultaneously. One is used as a taxiway unless the main runway is closed.
Chasing our shadow
Looking back at Gatwick
And zoomed in
Fairly quickly after takeoff, I was addressed by name and asked if I would like something to eat. I replied in the affirmative. Again, there was no choice in food.
The meal consisted of smoked salmon, a single breadstick, a quarter of an egg, a single cherry tomato, some potato salad and a sprig of greens, followed by a small piece of melon, a kiwi piece and some unidentified red berries (that I didn't really like). A glass of water was also on the tray. I must say, that it was very tasty, apart from the berries, but very small - I was expecting it to be a starter before a main, but no. So, then, make sure you eat in the lounge!
Southend, with its pier
Shortly after, a drinks service began, and I asked for a G and T. A large glass was brought to me, and easily half of it must have been gin - it was very strong!
At this point I looked at my watch, to see how it was doing. Somehow, it had started tracking "laps", of 5km, so was busy updating itself every few seconds with the lap number (here already on lap 154)
Descending through the clouds
By now we had started our descent, and soon were over the Netherlands.
We followed the coast some way before turning inland
As you can see, we landed on the Polderbaan, and taxied in
I had asked if any other forum members were about, and indeed Eric, Servaas and Martijn were free, so we arranged to meet by the rooftop Fokker. I had brought some "controversial" new Cadburys Creme Eggs, and handed them out. After some time chatting on the terrace, we adjourned to the nearby cafeteria, where we continued conversation over hot drinks. Thanks guys, it was great seeing you!
The rooftop Fokker
Now, Amsterdam airport has both Schengen and non-Schengen zones, as well as a low-cost pier. I've used the low cost pier before, on an Easyjet flight to London, so it was at the far end of the non-Schengen zone. What I didn't realise was, that the Schengen area is downstairs from the non-Schengen part, and thus completely separated from the rest of the Schengen part of the airport. This meant that facilities were limited once I'd passed security, and certainly lounge-less - my Airport Angel card would let me use the Servisair lounges, but I couldn't get to either! In any case, once I said goodbye to the guys, I found somewhere landside to buy some food, a sandwich from Albert Heijn, then proceeded to the M gates - the low cost Schengen zone.
FIDS, with my lonely Geneva flight from the M gates
And all the evening's flights from the M zone
As can be seen, there were no other flights from this zone that evening apart from mine. The area itself was well maintained, with some interesting stepped-design seating areas, as well as a small cafe and shop.Before too long, the gate number appeared on the FIDS and everyone headed towards it. The gates are shared between the two zones, so once I arrived my boarding pass was checked and I was in the holding pen queue, quite possibly the same one as the Stansted flight the previous year. I was about half way down the queue. We weren't held there for long, and soon the doors were opened for Speedy Boarders, followed by the rest of us. I didn't see much point in speedy boarding, especially now that Easyjet have assigned seats, and I had paid my £3.50 for a window. And my bag was small enough to go under my seat if necessary.
In the holding pen
Heading for the rear stairs
Other ramp neighbours
Tight legroom as always on Easyjet
View over the cabin
What's this Finnair machine doing on the low cost pier?
I didn't use my GPS watch on this flight, or indeed any of the others of the trip - I wanted to see how it worked first, with just one flight stored.
We pushed back on time, and taxied to the runway and took off. As this was a night flight, there wasn't really much to see for the most part, and I bypassed the sales service. I was feeling quite tired by this point.
I think this is the city of Mulhouse
Also from my position, and it being night, on approach I couldn't really see much. We seemed to follow the coastline of the lake for some time, and I saw a train driving on its tracks, before we touched down and taxied to a remote stand. Exiting the aircraft and boarding the bus the temperature of about -2C was very noticeable after the +7C or thereabouts of northern Europe. As there was no passport control, and I had no checked baggage, I was out into the public zone within a few minutes. I now just had to find my hotel, which was apparently very close. After walking for about 15 minutes, I found it, and checked in. As an IHG Gold member, I was asked if I'd like 300 bonus points or a free drink. Given the measly value of this low number of points, and the new-found strength of the Swiss franc, I chose a drink.
My room, same as any other Holiday Inn Express
My drink - I asked for a local beer, if they had one.
I then went to bed, as I had an early start in the morning, as I wanted to be at the airport at 7am for my flight at 9, to have some breakfast in the lounge.
The next morning, I woke and dressed quickly, and checkout our before walking back to the airport. I picked up a boarding pass from the checkin desk, as I had checked in online the previous day on my phone. I had originally selected seat 4A, but I had been moved to 2F. It turned out that this was due to the Business cabin being reduced to just 2 rows. Also, after I had bought the ticket, I later found that coiincidentally, fellow forumer James had also booked onto the same flight. And, even with the reduced J cabin, there was just one other passenger in front of the curtain. Anyway, after I got my boarding pass, I spotted James, so we met and went through security together, looking for the Business lounge, access to which came with the tickets.
Good news for coeliacs
Food choices. The lounge was rather quiet.
After getting some tea and a croissant, and being disappointed that they only had bread and jam, I remembered my Aegean Star Alliance Gold card - with which we could enter the First Class lounge. So we decided to lounge hop to the supposedly "better" lounge, with me guesting in James. Indeed the food offering was more comprehensive, including ham and cheese for the bread, but this lounge was much fuller.
2nd breakfast course
It was soon time to head to the gate. We found it easily enough, but there was no sign of an aircraft.
At the correct gate
Geneva airport is long
Eventually an aircraft pulled onto stand, and we were soon called to board.
The infamous spots, preventing good pictures
In front of the wing, you know
The glass bridge
Decent enough leg room
Cold out of the window. We didn't de-ice though - something I've still yet to experience.
The whole J cabin, James arranging his bag
The screens had the map displayed
James filming the pushback
Cold looking apron
Into the cloud layer
Into the sunshine
Soon the crew asked if we'd like some breakfast - naturally we agreed.
The breakfast tray
And with the warm bread from the basket
Some tea. Shame about the coffee creamer instead of milk.
And the famous Swiss chocolates!
The steward saw James and I photographing, and asked if we'd like a shot of him offering the basket!
The flight passed well, with chat and more drinks, despite the view out of the windows remaining the same - clouds and more clouds. Before long, we started our descent into Copenhagen.
Into the murk
Is that the sea?
Indeed it is
I think this is the new aqarium
Over the approach to the road and rail bridge / tunnel to Sweden
The airport approaches
Taxiing onto stand
Confirmation of where we were
Spotted Wow Air of Iceland
Pulling up next to a Norwegian neighbour
Airside at CPH
We decided to head for the lounge. We were both flying back in Economy, but the Aegean Gold card came out again, and I was able to guest James in again. Before that, however, I bought my wife a Starbucks mug for her collection. Once inside, we were directed upstairs.
Note - from this point I made a video report as well, which can be seen here:
Entrance to the lounge
More good news for coeliacs
The food selection
And some drinks. As well as hot drinks, and fridges of cold drinks, and bottles of wines and spirits.
We found a table overlooking the concourse
Someone doing some filming
Any Scandinavians know who this guy is?
After yet more chat, it was time for James to leave, and find his way to his flight. I remained for a little while, before exiting and looking around the shops some more.
This is Denmark after all. What was surprising, was that it was more expensive here than in London.
Children's pushchairs seemingly randomly placed, that parents could borrow for their children.
The non-Schengen area of Copenhagen is upstairs, again so that gates can be shared. I went through passport control, and found my gate. Once it was confirmed, my boarding pass was checked, and I was in the holding pen. Before too long boarding was called, and being Star Gold I was one of the first on.
Some nearby aircraft, including Norwegian's new Boeing 787
This one looks like my ride
Quite a long way from the building!
Indeed it is mine.
My seat, near the back
Legroom, similar to Easyjet
Baggage handlers loading
BOB menu. Note "Coffee and tea is always free".
Onto the runway
Up into the clouds
And through into the dusk
Town of Chelmsford
By now we had started our descent into Heathrow. There wasn't so much congestion, so no holding this time.
London City airport
The O2 Arena
On landing, we had to wait for what seemed like ages for our parking gate to be cleared of a previous aircraft. In actual fact, it was nearer to about 15 minutes. Eventually we pulled onto stand next to a company 737.
This was also my first ever time in the new Terminal 2, even though only arriving, it was a pleasant experience, similar to T5. I soon made my way outside, and onto the tube, for the journey home from Stratford, as Liverpool St Station was closed for engineering works.
Overall, it was a great weekend, made even better by meeting friends. So thanks Eric, Martijn, Servaas and James for the company!
Garuda were certainly the highlight, and for anyone wishing to travel London to Amsterdam, they are my recommendation.
Easyjet were normal, LCC. Exactly as expected.
Swiss were very nice too, excellent service.
I was also impressed with SAS. Having never flown them before, I was led to believe they were a LCC in all but name. I was pleasantly surprised, and wouldn't hesitate to fly them again.