IcelandAir is adding to its international network, with their next destination to be Birmingham in the United Kingdom

736595_3533_previewIcelandAir Boeing 757-200 – Image, Icelandair 

The airline will operate a two-time a week service from Reykjavik to Birmingham based on the following timetable:

 
FI494 DEPART KEF 07:50 ARRIVE BHX 10:25
FI495 DEPART BHX 12:25 ARRIVE KEF 15:10

Commences: 5th February 2015
Booked Equipment: Boeing 757-200 - Three 
Operates Mondays, Thursdays.

Birmingham will be the 5th UK destination for Icelandair, with the airline serving a total of 39 destinations.

As well as providing feed to Iceland itself, it’ll provide a new gateway for passengers heading towards North America who don’t fancy changing at the traditional hubs of Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris when going west.

Tickets are sale, starting at £119.23 between the two cities for a single.

For Icelandair, it’s a new feed. For Birmingham Airport (especially since they’ve got their new runway extension live), it’s another airline serving the airport as it continues to grow.

Not an airline to fill that new runway extension, but it’s a start.

Posted by Kevincm | No Comments

My local airport – Birmingham Airport – has been working away in the background, trying to improve the passenger experience, whilst trying to offer itself as an alternative to London Heathrow or Manchester Airport for longer-haul flights.

The main terminal at Birmingham Airport – Image GhettoIFE.

Part of the problem Birmingham Airport has is its runway. Apart from only having one of them, it is a bit short for very long haul services as the 2603 meter runway currently restricts take off weights and rang, limiting services from Birmingham to India, Pakistan, the  Persian Gulf and the US East Coast.

Part of the major works that have gone on recently to resolve this problem is the extension of the runway by 400 meters – taking it to 3,003m long – enough to handle the A380 fully loaded.

Operations will commence on the new runway from 1st May.

Airlines that will taking a closer look  the new runway include:

  • Biman Bangladesh Airways (Dhaka and New York)
  • China Southern who are operating three charter flights during the Summer 2014 season

There is a sense of “if you build it, they will come” to this project – and with the runway as it will be, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emirates add an A380 service to Birmingham once a day.

If other airlines will follow will be the big question – Birmingham Airport does suffer from the squeeze effect of Manchester Airport to the north, East Midlands Airport to the east and the London Airports to the south.

Whilst Birmingham Airport may only be an hour or so away from London, unless the services start from the airport to utilise this new runway extension, this could be some very expensive tarmac…

Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

Saying Goodbye to the Passenger DC-10 – Pleasure Flights with Biman Bangladesh

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Contents:

Welcome to a completely non-scheduled trip report. And I mean I didn’t know I was going to be doing this until 3 days before this flight was due to take off. Still. It’s entertainment… and an experience – something I like.

Thursday 6:40am: The Mailbox, Central Birmingham.

For those who love the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, welcome aboard one final time.

Biman Bangladesh… that’s an airline you don’t hear much of in the least. A regional carrier that’s been mismanaged by a government with a “stick pins on a map” and “migrant worker shuttle” flight strategy.

However, the airline has been dragging itself off these haunches and starting to develop their product and fleet. It’s been looking to its short-haul, standardising on the 737 platform, whilst on the long-haul, its been standardising on the successful Boeing 777 series.

And where does this leave the DC-10s?

For a while, the DC-10s have been becoming rarer bird to catch since Northwest withdrew their fleet. With a total of 446 built, 69 are currently in service – with the majority as cargo planes for Federal Express. Up until November last year, two passenger planes, both with Biman Bangladesh remained in active service. This was reduced to one aircraft – S2-ACR – which became the final DC-10 to operate a scheduled passenger flight on 20th February 2014, from Dhaka to Birmingham via Kuwait.

However, this was not to be the end. Whilst in Birmingham, the aircraft had been booked to operate a series of nine sorties (including the last ever DC-10 passenger flight) from Birmingham to Birmingham.

When these seats were initially released, I ummed and ahhhed about it. On the final commercial flight day, I finally bit the bullet. I didn’t go completely airplane spotter to get a final flight seat (least of all, at £150 in an isle seat, £200 in a windows, it was overpriced). Even at £100/£150 a seat for an hour, it’s still pretty expensive for just 60 minutes in the air.

But as I’m fond of saying, “Value is where you find it”, and to have a chance to fly one of these was just too good to turn down.

That and I said I’d be going on BBC WM 95.6… So I had very little option but to in the end ;)

After dealing with the weirdness that is Biman’s booking engine (book the ticket first, THEN be sent to a 3rd party site to pay… or pay at Biman office – that’ll be tough around here), I had a shiny PNR and e-ticket (and looks rather swish printed out).

So with all of that done, I was set to fly on the six of nine flights, on-board a plane I haven’t been on since was young (four years old or so)… a McDonnell Douglas DC-10…


With a 15:00 departure, I had something rare on my side on a Sunday morning – TIME. I decided however to head to the airport early for “Spotting purposes”

So yes, I was out of the flat at midday, armed with the bare essentials for the day – and by that I mean I had my photography bag loaded. It didn’t help that when I got to the train station I had left my passport at home (oops… mad dash back).


Near GhettoIFE.com towers

Virgin Trains did the honours to Birmingham Airport for a paltry £3 return. As we approached BHX, I was on the look out for the DC-10 (mainly as I knew from a previous night it was out be parked up at the far end hard stands)


Inbound train from Wolverhampton


Umm. No DC-10 here…

The stand was empty – indicating that the plane was running late. The more things change…

By 12:50, I was in Birmingham Airport’s main terminal.


At Birmingham International Station


Ah. Flight listed on the departure board.

Check in was handled by ServisAir, who had managed to deck the check-in area appropriately for the occasion.


A very special check-in

At Check-in my boarding pass was issued (with my request to be near the back of the plane granted), and my isle seat confirmed. With a SEQ of 99 (and a load of 130, this wasn’t going to be too busy… but busy enough).

I was also informed that their would be a viewing area open today and souvenir shop. Just follow the signs BEFORE security.

Well, as I had a good hour before I needed to through security and at the gate, I decided to head upstairs.

Many many moons ago, Birmingham Airport had a publicly accessible “Indoor viewing area” – which sadly was closed as due to it not making money (with various operators trying to make it work… alas, there are only so many snacks and so many models you need to sell, whilst charging for entry…).

This has been re-branded by Birmingham Airport as “Flight School” – used for school groups to learn about the airport.

So I was in familiar territory. A boarding pass check was carried out (to allow free entry to Biman Passengers – those who weren’t travelling were invited to pay £2 for the privilege – still a good bargain considering how cold it was outside)

I settled in for some spotting…


Air France A320 taxing


Thomson Airways Boeing 757-200… with winglets

until I had word that the DC10 was arriving. Due to the new constructions on the airport, I couldn’t get a clear line of the plane until it begun slowing down on the runway…


Reversers deployed


What’s going to be an increasingly rare sight.

With the plane arriving, it was time to clear security… and lets just say it was easy to spot the people who were flying the DC-10 today.

And I mean REALLY easy.

Still, it made for interesting conversations as we headed to the gate area.

Of course, when you clear security you have to play “Run the Risk” through Duty Free shop. There are some times I hate airport designers when they must place another place to extract you of your cash right after you’ve been through scanners.


Run the risk!

Still, this was a quick clearance as departure would be from Gate 65 – a bus gate… meaning we’d need to go through the maze of the older part of Birmingham Airport.


Through the main terminal

Once arrived at the gate, it was pretty full already as a lot of people were due out on this sixth leisure flight Biman were operating.

As we were doing bus loading, there were restrictions on who to load when. There was also an announcement about photography. Yes, we were allowed, and yes… full photography allowed on the Hard Stand at BHX – but keep inside the white lines as beyond that… are active taxiways.

So, yes, they were letting 130 people out to play on the tarmac in two busloads. Is that a Health and Safety Manager sweating profusely I hear?

Well – it’s not that bad if we’re honest. Stand 89 is in the far corner of the stands, and I strongly suspect ATC were fully aware of what was going on, and routing traffic around it.


Bussing!

Germanwings A319


The major tenant of BHX – Ryanair and one of its many Boeing 737-800s

The drive to the stand was much of the usual BHX traffic:

Until out of the way, was a lonely plane… with three engines. Yes – our DC-10 was there. The bus did a drive around the plane, before parking up outside.


It’s out there….

Again, we were reminded of the rules whilst on the ground (and don’t go out of the white lines). With that, 75 Aviation Enthusiasts (or #AVGeeks) were loose on the tarmac.

And very well behaved. Patient enough to wait for others to get their photo – which was good to see.

So with that in hand, all the passengers from the first bus where around the plane was waiting.

So, some outside pictures then…


Photo time!


Gotta love that tail


In honour of Marcus’s Under the wing shots.


GE powerplant

After 10 minutes or so, the first bus-load of passengers were started to be directed to board the plane as the second bus-load was due to arrive. I headed up the airstairs… and onto DC-10-30


Number 2 bus-load!


From the steps


Nosecone…


Faded days

Next: Aboard the DC-10-30 and In-flight fun and games.


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Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

It’s Sunday again, so it must be time for some more airplane art.

This week – well what else could it be – it’s a Biman Bangladesh Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 parked up at Birmingham Airport after completing the 6th of 9 leisure flights.

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The image is clickable if you want to see a larger version – and yes you can keep them for your desktops!

More airplane art next week!


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Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
Back to Brussels Airport, Brussels Airlines Lounge

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Wrapping up.

Let’s focus on the real reason why I got in the air – it was a chance to meet other mile collectors and frequent flyers. This was one heck of a good thing. We all talk about online communities and how they connect, but there is nothing like actually meeting people face to face, sharing ideas and learning from each other.

As such, TravelMagic was a big success connecting travellers with speakers and travellers with travellers. A two thumbs up to Bart Larpers for running a successful event.

Looking at the airlines, for Brussels Airlines/FlyBe/Tyrolean - Whilst the Brussels Airlines fare engine is “designed for maximum revenue”, there is no doubt that the wet leased services operated by FlyBe and Tyrolean are BETTER than the mainline Brussels Airlines, with a higher level of service (even in B.Lite) – which made up for the noise of a turboprop whirring away.

It seems when someone else is paying, Flybe becomes very acceptable indeed – losing the low cost carrier image and turning into a very solid product. Meanwhile, this was my first encounter with Tyrolean Airways… and if my Star Alliance travels take me towards Austria, I could well be looking at Austrian very carefully as there was definitely a warmth of service there.

As for the Dash8′s themselves? I’m not a fan of them. The Aircraft may have been a Q Series, but I wish I brought some ear plugs. Give me something with (at least) two big turbofans any day of the week. However, for the purpose they served and the route they served, it was the right aircraft for the right route. However, Embraer make a lovely range of aircraft too, which have turbofan engines…

Although 30″ is starting to get too tight aboard a plane – thankfully for a short hop, it isn’t that bad.

The Pantone Hotel has so much potential… but the positioning of the room (which wasn’t ideal) and the broken TV didn’t help to be honest. Still, the bed was comfortable, the climate appropriate and the internet was fast (well fast enough to stream Pokemon episodes). I suspect booking a higher grade room (and not with Expedia) could had yielded a better result.

SNCB/NMBS. There are signs of improvements from the rattletraps they were sending out to Brussels Airport in the past. Maybe that Diabolic Dialobo surcharge is finally having a positive effect. Or maybe I’m less sensitive to expensive train prices (I blame you Heathrow Express for that).

And was Brussels Interesting? TravelMagic made it interesting. The city itself… still needs to win me over (believe it or not, I was seriously considering a day trip to Liege or Bruges on the Sunday if I didn’t wake up so late).

And with that… I’m going to wrap up this trip report.

 

Coming next: The travels continue for me as I do my autumn audit on the Trans-Atlantic routes, where I’m back in the Windy City… with a Tier Point run in between, with American Airlines and British Airways back under the microscope.
However, this map should scare a lot of people (including yours truly)


Please join me for Chicago XV – Tiers and Dreams – coming (very) soon!


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Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
Back to Brussels Airport, Brussels Airlines Lounge

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SN2047 Brussels National Airport to Birmingham Airport
Brussels Airlines operated by Tyrolean Airways, Bombardier Dash-8 Q400
288 miles flown, 125 miles and more miles earned


I was welcomed the 2nd Dash-8 Q400 of the trip – this time in Austrian colours. Loading was a bit quicker than before; with the flight only half full for this short hop back to Birmingham Airport.

The cabin crew of two were getting everyone settled in, and the safety demonstration and announcements were given in English, Flemish and French.

Green Seats…

Now, I do love accents – it’s one of the fun things of travel. The lead flight attendant on this one had an accent so up and down, it couldn’t help but bring a smile to people – this was good for this evening flight.

Whilst B.Lite was occupying most the plane (I was in the top row of B.Lite), B.Economy Plus seemed to be well served. As well as row 1… which had a B.Business Passenger on board.

Yes. Someone actually paid real money for a business class flight between Brussels and Birmingham. I was trying this out in my mind… and failing.

Sorry. Business Class in a Dash-8 does not compute to me. Heck, Business Class in a Regional Jet seems odd to me. But still… each to their own expense accounts.

Readying for departure

The plane taxied out and headed for the runway, where the Dash-8 turned as the turboprops whirled up to takeoff power and bolted down the runway, and climbed into the air.

Lining up for the runway.

The plane climbed out smoothly as it begun the trek back Birmingham, crossing the channel over Dover, across London and down to Birmingham Airport.

Below and across, the evening light played its external symphony as the sun set for the day, which you’ve got to admit, makes some of the best in-flight entertainment in the sky.

(Gotta admit – I like this picture – the sunset above, and the night below)

Well, it beats an iPhone in a sick bag ;)

And if there was any further proof this was an Tyrolean Airways/Austrian flight:

The sunlight continued to fade as the flight progressed. Meanwhile. the cabin crew begun their service for this flight. And since this was a three-class service (remember our friend in Business Class), they had a tray meal with bubbly (which caused a minor issue as the bubbly had to be fetched from the galley). In B.Economy+, it was a sandwich service.

Meanwhile in B.Lite, we actually got something.

Yes, its a pack of crackers with drinks. And it’s still FAR BETTER than what you’d get on Brussels Airlines European Mainline.

I also took the opportunity to talk to the crew in my broken German. Well I needed to practice it anyway to a few giggles of the cabin crew. Bless them.

Moving onto the seat, this actually felt like there was more room leg-room (even though its the same pitch). The seats themselves whilst the same had a nice splash of colour – which compared to the business grey of FlyBe – the green stood out in the cabin.

To quote Star Trek/Star Trek: The Next Generation – It is … it is… it is green: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPpvViI6tgg

Not my first choice seat colour, but still better than nothing – at least an airline makes an effort – which is something I love to see.

Clear down was done as the plane was crossing London, with 20 minutes to landing announced. The crew were smiling and talking throughout, with the Captain even doing a hello speech over London, which was bright in the evening light.

Soon enough, recorded announcements came on in three languages, indicating we were about to land. With that done, the cabin was plunged into darkness for decent.

With a rather sporting landing, our Dash8 landed at Birmingham Airport. Now, remember what I said about the lead flight attendants voice… well it’s in the YouTube video.

Taxing to the terminal was a spritely affair as the plane had a turnaround to meet (as did the crew who were going back to Brussels that night), and soon enough, the little Dash-8 was parked at the gate, where there was no bus, but a stairway to the jetway.

Coming onto stand

I thanked the crew, and headed off.

Overall: Another great performance for a short hop. It proves with the right resources, there can be so much more to a flight than just a seat. Tyrolean Airways performed well, and gave a good impression of Austrian service.

As the plane had come to the terminal, disembarkation would be by foot, and up into Birmingham airport at Gate 59, and through to customs from there. So it is was up the stairs, into the jetway, and a short walk from the “old” part of Birmingham airport to UK Immigration.

UK Immigration. Thataway.

Immigration was a sight to behold with the Non EU lane was packed solid (a flight from Dubai was clearing still), with the E-Gates shut.

I was processed at the UK Border (who were trying to clear the Dubai flight as fast as possible… and had neglected to switch the E-Gates on).

Heading into the luggage claim hall, I had a bag to claim. And this being BHX they post how long luggage takes to arrive.

Except they only unloaded one trolley load of bags. The second load almost headed back to Brussels until someone read the luggage tags – releasing my bag in the process.

Gotta love Swissport Handling. Not.

I exited through the Blue Channel, and was through to arrivals in short order. From there, it was back onto the Airtrain to Birmingham International train station.

A much quieter place now…

£2.20 later, I had in my possession a train ticket Birmingham New Street.

Down to the platform

Class 221 SuperVoyager pulling in for the CrossCountry service to Birmingham and onwards to Manchester

The CrossCountry service was running a bit late – enabling to get down to the platform in time for me watch it arrive, and grab a seat for the 10 minute ride to New Street station.

At New Street, it was up and out – heading through the new concrete building until I reached the taxi rank. A friendly cabbie took me for the final mile and a bit home (as I had realised I 1) had no change and 2) forgot to change my transit pass ticket over).

Within 10 minutes, I was outside my front door, and another adventure brought to a close.

Next: Magical?


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Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
Back to Brussels Airport, Brussels Airlines Lounge

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Back to the Airport.

Heading into Central, there was a waiting ticket machine (that again, accepted Mastercard and Visa – one heck of an improvement SNCB/NMBS), which spat out another €7.80 ticket to Brussels Airport. With the train running slightly late, I headed downstairs to the black of the station – it almost reminds me of Birmingham New Street (an equal black hole of nothingness).

Soon enough, a train came along… which looked… very modern. In fact, extremely modern. It seems I lucked out on this train – as this one was Class AM 08 train – a Siemens Desiro ML, which SCNB/NMBS are introducing to support their upcoming RER network in 2017.

Of course, it’s a Siemens Desiro. Whilst they’re common as heck in Europe, they offer a reasonable ride with reasonable comfort. I settled in for the ride back to the Airport, when all of a sudden I noticed a hat with an orange strip on.

Yes, it was the rarest of rare things; a ticket inspector came to clip my ticket (I’ve lost count of the amount of time I’ve ridden on trains in Continental Europe and not a single inspector has turned up). Whilst I always pay for my travel, it’s actually nice to see someone inspecting tickets for once.

The ticket… crimped.

The train took its time heading to Brussels Nord, and then powered out for a non-stop run to Brussels Airport.

Thalys service headed towards Brussels Midi

The busy yard

Closing in on Brussels National

Within 15 minutes the train started slowing again as it descended into the tunnels below Brussels Airport. Quickly enough, the train stopped and disgorged its passengers as they headed up to departures – many in a rush.

Train at rest

I however, was not. So I took my time heading up to the departure levels, making sure those who needed to get past… get past.

Rush rush rush….

After arriving at Brussels National Airport, I headed outside to cool down for a bit, watching planes take off and boosting my second hand smoke/nicotine intake. Well I suppose it makes up for the Jet1A smell. It also gave me time to divide the bags up for the chocolate I’ve bought for friends (yes, how cliché. I’m not objecting… nor are my friends). Thus the Antler “Stone” rucksack, now comes into play that had been hiding at the bottom of my Ettines Rucksack all weekend (packing is an art I seem to be getting better at – acquisition of things is something I’m NOT getting better at.).

Exterior

That and I needed to check a snowglobe in too. It’s part of a continuing war with my parents about who can bring the tackiest gift from back from a trip (they’ve gone with Cuckoo Clocks in their last fight… I’m going back with a traditional snow-globe of the Atomium… which of course there is no picture of if you’ve read my last entry).

Heading back in…

I proceeded to consider another fight with the Check-in machine, but instead, I waved my Star Gold card, and headed to the Gold Check-in line.

Which was a good thing as the general check-in queues were stacking up by a good few switchbacks.

Gold and Business were rather busy too.

My Boarding Pass was issued (on proper cardboard stock), and my Antler bag taken from me (in a luggage bin – see airports of the United Kingdom… this is how we handle rucksacks, as opposed to dumping them in the oversized luggage area…), and I was off through passport control and security. These were handled relatively quickly – through to a quiet departures area.

They’ll try and make a quick coin whilst they’re at it though.

After a short walk up and down the B departure pier – mainly to see if there was anything interesting traffic (apart from Turkish 777-300ER and an Ethiopian 767… not much), I headed upstairs to the lounge

Lounge Stop – Brussels Airlines lounge

I was welcomed into the lounge, and my Miles and More FTL status was enough to grant me entry into this “Home lounge”. A WiFi code valid for an hour was given (with no more than two codes per visit allowed…), and I made my way in.

The lounge hasn’t changed since I last visited it a few years ago… and that’s not a bad thing. It’s well lit with lots of natural light, with lots of seating, with a few snack options (as well as Belgian Beer too).

Beer. Under Surveillance.

Rollls, Olives and hard salami

Wines

Rolls

Snacktime!

I settled in to relax after a long day of tramping around Brussels with a heavy rucksack. Whilst the snacks were not big or substantive, they did fill a spot.

The WiFi was a reasonable enough speed – enough for basic browsing

The lounge itself was very quiet – this being a Sunday. Of course, there were no toilets in the lounge, rather on the outside corridor. Lovely joined up thinking there.

Still, it was a nice quiet place to unwind – part of the point of the lounge.

As 7pm came around, I noticed an Austrian Airlines Dash8 had landed, which would operate the flight I had booked home. I took this opportunity to pack my trash up once again for the short hop home.

Heading to the gate, the airport was quiet – it being a Sunday evening. There were a lot of UK regional departures heading off (with two BMI Regional flights looking like they were doing a good trade, and a couple of Brussels airlines UK bound flights looking reasonable too).

But still… the airport had an almost eerie feel about it. Right for a regional hub… but not for a national hub.

Quiet times

By the time I got to the gate, the passengers from the plane were disembarking, with the ground crew readying for a departure. Looking at the gate area, the load looked light indeed. Boarding was called, and it was time to head downstairs to the waiting Dash8 for the short run home.

This way for home!

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That one home please!

Next: SN2047 Brussels to Birmingham


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Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
A Day Making Brussels Interesting

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A day doing Brussels things.

With the new day, I skipped the brunch and rested in. After finishing up at the hotel, I headed off to the Atomium via the Metro. I could had bothered to dump my luggage at the hotel, but I didn’t – mainly as I didn’t fancy wandering all the way back to the hotel to pick my bag up later.

So I headed to the Metro, weaving my way past all the bikes as it was car free day in Brussels – and the bikes were out in force which made it fun to walk around.

Even handbikes were out in force.

Now, you’d expect a lot of pictures of the Atomium wouldn’t you? It’s a landmark, symbol of Expo 58 and all that.

However, a quick read indicated the Atomium building is protected by copyright too according to http://blog.atomium.be/#/AuthorsRights.aspx as Glass,Steel and Stone http://www.glasssteelandstone.com/BuildingDetail/42.php found out. I also had a run-in with the owners on Twitter, and rather than give the satisfaction of giving them the chance to hunt an image down, I present this.

noatomiumimagehere

See: http://www.chillingeffects.org/fairuse/notice.cgi?NoticeID=760  and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomium

As I’m not a fan of angry Belgium people, I took my pictures for my own personal archive, (which I’ve only retained on the server – they’re gone from my laptop and phone… a shame.. but… well), and headed back down to the city centre.

Rather than taking the Metro straight back to the city centre – I decided to take an adventure, and take the tram back to Midi. Whilst it did take longer than the Metro, it provided a much more satisfying way of travelling.

Not to be confused with the band.

And provided far better pictures than the Atomium as I think we can agree.

Empty Streets… just lots of bikes…

Cycles from Brussels Villo! hire scheme at a parking station

Gotcha!

Fruits and Veg on sale…

The tram made its way into the dark, and soon it was nearing Midi.

The tram – whilst one of the older ones was reasonably quick, and a much better ride into town – and well patronised due to the tram and metro being free that day too.

The tram on its way.

I hoped onto a train at Midi to Central (mainly as I was lazy and didn’t know the way on the tram/metro). A few minutes later, I was at Centrall.

 

As I was near the Grande Place, I headed over to the chaos that was the Grandemarket – as there was a festival of Belgium arts and food was going on.

 

 

Although I’m still working out how “Puppet on a String” by Sandy Shaw and “It’s a long way to Tipperary” is remotely Belgium. Still. They were dancing along happily to it.

Of course, I wanted to see if the most disappointing sights in the world were doing a roaring trade. They were. What am I referring to? The Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis.

Manneken Pis with the crowds… WHY??? 

Jeanneke Pis

Why these are popular is still beyond me.

Meanwhile, I caught up with the world and watch the bikes everywhere.

The bikes were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It showed that a city could block cars out for day (or if cars could drive, max of 30km per hour… which for some would be a shock!)

I saw at one point the clock passed 4:30pm. It was time to make tracks back to Brussels Central Station – where there a convenient entrance near the Grande Place

Next: Back to Brussels National Airport and Brussels Airlines Lounge.


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Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
The Pantone Hotel

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Hotel: The Pantone Hotel, Booked via Expedia.co.uk
Price paid: £59.23 + €4.50 Local Tax with £7.11 Cashback

Yes, I can shoot a hotel in the daylight. Happy everyone?


Reception (Shot on departure)


Bike


Coffee Area


Breakfast area

It was about 22:30 when I checked into the hotel. I was welcomed and a keycard issued. From there is up to the first floor and room 102, which would be my “large room” for the night

The lift – Glass side with spots (Pantone Colour matched).

Keycard

Now, a bit of explanation before we go any further. What the blazes is Pantone? The Pantone Color Matching System is a standardised colour reproduction system. The idea being is you feed a Pantone number into a printing system, and the colour you select will output match the output. This is commercialised in the wonderful colour books, and printers who use the colour schemes.

This has also been brand marked into vases, mugs, shot glasses and a hotel it seems.

So being on floor 1, I was on the pantone blue level

Going into the room, I found the light activation function

Map

And lit up the room


Lamps

Yup… Blue.

There’s even the Pantone colour match chart next to it

Wardrobe Area

Meanwhile the Bathroom was reasonably appointed.

Bath amenities


Yep. Even these are colour matched too


And so is the toilet paper…

I tried to use the TV, but despite multiple efforts… it didn’t want to work. I gave up and switched to the Internet. Whilst the W-LAN was protected, the performance of it was rather good – good enough for streaming media and for sorting bits and bobs out. Of course, there was the challenge to find the singular power socket in the room – which doesn’t help matters)

The bed itself wasn’t bad at all. Nice and comfortable, and not overly soft – which is always a winner in my book. Which is good because I crashed out for the next 9 hours or so.

Guess I needed that sleep.

I woke up and slowly got myself together for the day… and made the mistake of looking outside the window.

Oh dear.

Well. Not much of a view eh? I’m glad I only paid £59 for this.

I spent the morning getting myself together and cleaning up, before heading out for the day.

On checkout, I was charged the local €4.50 Hotel Tax, and my bill was settled. From there, it was time to set off for a day.

Overall: A good designer boutique idea concept, let down in parts by execution. The room could had been better – facing out (this is the issue with cheap Expedia rooms), the TV Could had worked (which would had been nice). And the room being large…. umm. That’s open to debate.

Still it provided a nice room to rest and relax in. Which helps a lot.

Next: A Day trying to make Brussels “interesting”


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Posted by Kevincm | One Comment

Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
To TravelMagic!

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On arriving in Brussels, we were bussed from the hard stands to the terminal. Not an eventful ride, and thankfully quick as it dropped the planeload of people off near Immigration.

So… that way?

Immigration was a bit sluggish, but I was soon quickly enough. Customs was dealt with quickly (even if the EU Blue lane was shut, forcing EU passengers to go through the Red or Green lanes) – not that the immigration officers seemed to mind as they were chatting away to themselves.

Now normally when I travel to the USA or Asia, I tend to switch off the mobile data and rely on Wifi-sniffing for data (as outside EU roaming prices are… not cheap per Mb with Vodafone UK with their consumer tariffs.)

However – I’m in Europe. And this is a good thing as the excess is £3 per day for access to my normal network minutes, text allowance… and DATA, meaning I could use my phone as intended.

Europe at work for once, and addressing a consumer need – rather than judging how curved a banana should be.

This would be useful as I’d need to be using GPS guidance with Google Maps (yes, Apple Maps exist, but I don’t want to get lost), and also to annoy the world with whilst I’m out and about.

With time now at a premium, and TravelMagic starting, I made a Beeline to the SNCB Station on floor -1, and brought a €7.80 ticket to Gare Midi from a machine (it seems SNCB has got with the 21st Century and have brought machines that can issue tickets in different languages – and can accept plastic that doesn’t originate in Belgium), and rushed downstairs.

And no, I haven’t lost my passport

There were two options departing within minutes of each other- the local service and an Inter-Regional service departing within 2 minutes of each other. Whilst the Local service looked like the train had been around the tracks one too many times, the Inter-Regional looked comparatively modern… and more comfortable. So I went for the IR service.

A local train for local people.

(And there’s no picture of the IR Train – I forgot if I was honest- although I remember it being an AM96 akin to  – http://www.belrail.be/F/fiches/emu/index.php?type=am96- the big rubber diaphragm on the front is a big aide-mémoire)

Inside the IR Train

The train itself was nothing special for an inter-regional service, with little fixed side tables. No power or Wifi of sorts to be seen – but effective for the short to midhaul journies these trains do.

The train pulled out on time, and soon it was trundling towards Midi, stopping at Brussels North and Central – picking up a lot of passengers in the process as the train was heading for heading Ghent after it left Brussels.

Although the train did do its best as it crawled towards Brussels-Nord (I think the last few miles to Brussels Nord was done at a crawl due to congestion at the station throat), eating into conference time.

Heading towards Midi

The train pulled into Midi, and I took my leave of the service wandering to my next challenge: The Brussels Metro network.

Again, the machines are simple to use, but are either coins only or credit card. As I was out of coins, it was off to Kiosk to pick up my €2 Jump 1 ticket – for the few stops I needed to get to Louise. After validating my ticket at the machine, it unhappily spat the ticket back at me, and let me through the barrier gate.

The metro came along, and I boarded a well-patronised service (with someone playing some awful music in the background) for the short journey to Louise. The train itself was one of the older models used, so wasn’t overly well lit, and the flip dot displays weren’t lit so you couldn’t see the destination.

Almost makes you wonder why they didn’t install LED displays in them.

Still, it was easy to navigate and ride, and got me to Louise.

Exiting the station, it wasn’t exactly difficult to spot where the hotel (it’s one of the taller hotels on Boulevard De Waterloo, and I found my way in, and to the 27th Floor to check in conference

The TheHotel

Travel Magic 2013 – A Précises


I’m not going into the content of the talks… to be honest, you should had been there for them if you want that. Nor am I going to score or review the speakers whom all were excellent. I’m going to talk about the experience instead.

I made it to TravelMagic – a bit late, and settled in to a good day of talks. Soon enough, I caught up with fellow Boarding Area bloggers Lucky (of One Mile at a Time) and Tim (of Points to Be Made). Together, we settled into a day of talking, learning and.. of course.. food!

Of course, the views from the 27th Floor weren’t bad either.

And of course a certain Mr Lucky talking

The event had lots of good ideas, and lots of social interaction that allowed me to share ideas, and get new ideas, and come to the universal conclusion that not many people like SkyTeam airlines when it comes to rewards ;). That and there are plenty of ways to get good rewards – and how to utilise the tools that are out there.

A big well done to Bart at http://travel.bart.la/ / www.travelmagic.be for organising a great set of speakers and for pulling together a great day….and who uploaded a very swish video of the day.

The host venue was gracious, and there was serious work that had been done to bring the hotel up to a high standard, with good temperature control, surroundings, and the stroke of putting the conference venue on the top floors where it can show off the city of Brussels.

Afterwards, there were drinks… and dinner – more time to talk, idea-swap, and think about how our travels can be maximised for points – both earning and burning.

However, by the time the day was up, it was late for me – with minimal sleep the night before – I thanked my hosts, said thanks to Time, and headed away from the last round of drinks for the short 10 minute walk to The Pantone Hotel…

Next: The Pantone Hotel


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Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

Making Brussels Interesting – with TravelMagic and Brussels Airlines
SN2050 Birmingham Airport to Brussels National Airport

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SN2050 Birmingham Airport to Brussels National Airport
Brussels Airlines operated by FlyBe, Bombardier Dash-8 Q400
288 miles flown, 125 miles and more miles earned

I was welcomed aboard and directed to the middle of the plane – the first row dividing B.Economy+ and B.Lite, with a view of the right hand side propeller.

Now whilst this plane on the outside is painted up in Brussels Airlines colours, on the inside, this is a typical FlyBe Dash8-Q400, with the headrest covers delimiting where the B.Economy+ and B.Lite end and begin – Blue for B.Economy+, Red for B.Lite.

There are headrests there. Work with me on this…

Loading was reasonably quick – as everyone had got on the bus, with a full load in B.Lite, and a relatively light load in B.Economy+, with one person moved to man the emergency exit row. The plane was buttoned up, and we waited to for the command to depart.

Spinning up…

During this time, the safety demo was carried out in English only.

This time of morning is actually very busy as charter/leisure traffic occupies these early hours, so we were 15 minutes late. , but soon enough our little Dash8-Q400 roared into life and barrelled down the runway, lifting into the morning sky.

Take off was pretty powerful for a little turboprop like this, and we were quickly climbing, as the sun rose.

Climbout

Through the cloud layer

The plane settled into cruise, and the crew were released to conduct a service. Now, normally on a Brussels Airlines flight, this would be a Snack and a Drink in B.Economy+, and a product for sale in B.Lite

However, you’d notice at the top of this section that this flight was operated on behalf of Brussels Airlines… by FlyBe. This meant something unusual from Brussels Airlines – a snack and drinks provided!

Wonders will never cease!

Drinks were a choice of non-alcoholic ones, whilst the snack was rather appropriately – a Belgium waffle.

Works me for me.

The service was conducted with some speed, with the two flight attendants working the plane in a reasonable timeframe for this short hop across the channel. And I’ve got to admit – for working the first service of the day, the crew seemed rather happy to be flying today.

The Legroom wasn’t what I’d call comfortable… in fact; I’d call it tight to be honest.

The route took us past London, over Dover, into Belgium and down into Brussels National.

Dover Docks

But this still left time for something I haven’t done for some time… and a compatibility check too – is the Dash8-Q400 GhettoIFE compatible?

And the answer is…

… yes! (On today’s GhettoIFE, the classic South Park Episode “Mecha Streisand“)

Soon, the plane had begun its descent back down to earth as the cabin was secured. Meanwhile, the clouds and sun played their part in a beautiful ballet.

Below the cloud layer

 

Beginning final decent

Landing wasn’t that bad, with a firm planting on the ground

After exiting the active, the little Dash8-Q400 taxied over to the hard stands, where it parked up.

Approaching the hard stands. An Austrian Dash8, A Brussels Airlines A319 and BAe146 parked up too.

The fasten seatbelts sign was extinguished, and it was every person for themselves – even though we were all going on the same bus.

I retrieved my rucksack, thanked the crew and headed for the bus.

Overall: Considering I was expecting a very bare-bones service (both from previous FlyBe and Brussels Airlines experiences), this service surprised me. Here we are, with a full service offering on the cheapest ticket, with friendly crew. Heck, if Brussels Airlines could do this on their proper services, it could change the airline dramatically…

Next: Dealing with SNCB the local transit, and TravelMagic!


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Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

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