Newcastle to Cardiff the easy way

Mutter. FlyBe no longer fly from Newcastle to Cardiff. Eastern Airways do, in small planes with no space in the cabin for your hand luggage.

Regular readers[1] might recall that while I live in Gateshead[2], I’m originally from Cardiff[4], and from time to time I go back there, generally at Christmas.

Now for many years, I used to make this journey by coach. All I can say about that is that it was cheaper than the train, and the best I could afford at the time. Journey times were on the order of ten hours, what with all the stopping at various places[5], and getting stuck in traffic on the way in and out of most towns.

So, as soon as I could afford to do so, I switched to travelling by train. This was much better. At the time, you could get a direct train from Newcastle to Cardiff, which took only about six hours. Still a long journey, but rather more comfortable than the coach.

There were a few years when for various reasons, I couldn’t get to Cardiff. When I resumed normal service, the trains had gone HORRIBLY WRONG. The admittedly quite old and creaky InterCity 125s had been replaced by the ludicrously small Virgin Voyager thingies, the same ones that get hideously overcrowded on my trips to Leeds. Being on a totally packed train with poor leg room, insufficient space for bags and people standing all along the carriage is moderately unpleasant on a short trip, but on a longer one, it’s quite dreadful. And they no longer do direct trains from Newcastle to Cardiff, which means I had to change at a draughty shed in the middle of nowhere, or Bristol Parkway as it’s officially known. Last year, my return journey had me booked on a train that was already full to bursting point when it arrived at the draughty shed. And as the not quite as clever as it should be booking system had totally failed to reserve me a seat, I decided to wait for the next one, which, not having started in Penzance and being full of people heading to Aberdeen[6], was only slightly full, and so I had a seat. I had to put my bag under my feet, though, which meant my knees had a very unpleasant journey.

So it was with some trepidation[7] that I started planning this year’s trip. The first horror was the price – with no discounts available for when I needed to travel, it was going to cost £115 or thereabouts. And that’s for a cramped train on which I might or might not have been able to sit down. Oh, and at the time I was looking into it, I couldn’t actually book the journey as it was more than twelve weeks in the future. Forward planning is apparently not recommended on British trains these days.

As I was in the mood to get things organised, I decided, just for laughs, to investigate flying. Getting to Newcastle Airport is easy – it’s got its own Metro station, and I knew my brother would be able to pick me up from Rhoose Cardiff Wales Airport[8]. And it turned out that even after adding on taxes, an extra charge for having a bag in the hold and an extra charge for sitting down picking a seat, flying was a fair bit cheaper than the train. So I booked the flight instead of the train.

Of course, it couldn’t go entirely to plan. The problem with booking well in advance is that it gives people plenty of time to change things. The airline decided that they wouldn’t be flying from Cardiff to Newcastle on the day I’d booked, so I was switched to the previous day. Not a big problem, just mildly annoying.

So, yesterday was the day. As I was expecting the airport to be busy with people making the annual Christmas getaway, and anticipating long lines for security checks, I turned up far too early. So early, in fact, that I had a zero length queue to check in[9]. Security was equally painless. I’d planned ahead, and put everything I could in my carry-on bag, and I wasn’t wearing a belt, which meant I went straight through the x-ray thingy without making it beep.

And then I had a long wait. I had a nice espresso and a sarnie, wandered round the (numerous) shops, read a book for a while, looked at the planes and generally hung around until the gate was opened. I then wandered down to the gate and waited with the rest of the passengers to be let onto the plane. Here’s a picture of the very plane I was on:

If you can’t see the thumbnail above, you can click here to see the full image.

After only a short delay, I was able to get on and find my seat (second row, by the window). I had someone sitting next to me at first, but the flight attendant asked him to move across the aisle, as they didn’t have anyone sitting by the emergency exit door, so that made things even more comfortable.

The plane is a rather nice (and remarkably quiet) turbo-prop one. And once it had taxied to the end of the runway (quite a long drive), waited for an incoming plane to get out of the way, it proceeded to take off. And it took off in a very short space of time and distance – nifty.

For the first quarter of an hour or so, I enjoyed the view from the window – fields, villages, rivers, roads, all beautifully clear. But then we reached the cloud. And for the rest of the flight, there was nothing to see but solid cloud below and a clear pale sky above.

And before I knew it, we passed down through the cloud and flew along the South Wales coast before turning to land at Cardiff. Once we were down, it was just a short walk into the terminal and a moderate wait for my bag to appear. As it was a domestic flight, I then walked straight out and met my brother.

All in all, it was a much more pleasant experience than the train. Rather than freezing on a platform, I was in a nice warm building filled with people trying to sell me things. Hmm.

Anyway, now I’ve made the trip this way once, I’m sure I’ll do the same again.
[1] Those mythical beings I invoke as a stylistic convention, or some such thingy
[2] In the North East of England, just below Newcastle upon Tyne, with a big wet thing[3] between them
[3] The River Tyne, that is.
[4] In South Wales
[5] Including Wakefield. This was quite odd, as in all the journeys I made that way, nobody ever got on or off the coach there.
[6] Or somewhere in Scotland, my memory isn’t that exact…
[7] Hmmm. My vocabulary seems to be in overdrive today
[8] Which is about as close to Cardiff as most of London’s airports are from Trafalgar Square
[9] Though there was a delay as they needed to reload the printer before they could issue my boarding card. Despite this being a minimal delay, the nice lady on the desk apologised for the wait.