Transport fun and games

You might recall me mentioning that I had to make a slight change to my Christmas travel arrangements this year. Now this all seemed to be OK, if a little more expensive than last time, but sometimes things don’t always go to plan…

You might recall that much of the UK was covered in snow last week, and I was half expecting my trip to Wales to be disrupted or even made impossible by the weather. As it turned out, Newcastle Airport was able to keep its runway clear, and with a slight[1] delay and a detour to Birmingham[2], the plane was able to get to Cardiff just a couple of hours late.

What I hadn’t realised was that what with the plane being so small, there were no overhead lockers, so the cabin crew removed my carry-on bag from me – normally this would be put in the hold and handed over on landing, but as the plane was mostly empty, they just let it sit by itself on a spare row. I’d deliberately taken a small bag, so this was a bit annoying. I took my laptop and reading matter out of the bag before handing it over, of course. But I’d have been less happy if I’d had my bigger carry-on bag with the Canon 5D Mark II and a couple of lenses, so I was developing some reservations about this service which is not quite as suitable for my needs as the one FlyBe used to run.

But having survived the snow, which kindly melted while I was away, I wasn’t expecting any difficulties with the return journey. But I’d reckoned without The Fog.

Yes, a wee bit of mist[3] on Wednesday proved to be a problem. I got to the airport in plenty of time, checked in and got through security with no difficulty at all. The only hint that there might be an issue was that the status of the Newcastle flight was “Next Info 16:00”, which is a bit late for a 16:15 flight with a boarding time of 15:45 printed on the boarding pass thingy.

Then at 15:45, there was an announcement that Eastern Airways apologised for the delay, and that there would be a further announcement at 16:00. Fine, I thought, it’ll be a bit late, nasty weather, can’t be helped.

But 16:00 came and went with no announcement. Then, just before the flight was due to take off, it was announced that it had been cancelled. Apparently it wasn’t cleared to land at Cardiff Airport because of the fog[4] so it hadn’t actually left Newcastle, and it was now presumably too late for it to set off at all.

Well, I could have lived with that. What annoyed me was the complete lack of assistance given to passengers[5]. We were told to collect our bags and contact the airline. Naturally, the airline has no presence at Cardiff Airport, and no information was available about what they were proposing to do about the situation.

Well, I fired up my internet connection[6] and my laptop, so I could find the phone number I needed. Called them, and quite remarkably got an answer immediately. I was offered a refund or a transfer to the next day’s flight. Well, given the forecast suggested that more fog was likely, I decided against gambling on maybe getting on a plane on Thursday, and asked for a refund. If the flight had been earlier in the day, I might have made a different decision, but I didn’t want to risk finding I couldn’t get home again on the day before New Year’s Eve.

I also gave the phone number to another passenger who didn’t quite know what to do either, what with the complete lack of customer service on site. Have I mentioned that bit?

While my brother was on his way back to the airport to pick me up, I bit the metaphorical bullet and booked a train ticket. Now my last experience of taking the train from Cardiff to Newcastle was not a pleasant one, so I wasn’t looking forward to this at all. Not one little bit.

Anyway, after an unexpected extra evening with my brother, which involved a rather good pizza from his local takeaway and some wine, it was off on a train into Cardiff where I collected my ticket form the magic machine and waited on the platform for the first of two trains. The good news was that this train originated in Cardiff, so I knew I’d have a reasonable chance of getting an unreserved seat. As it happened, the train was a nicely spacious one (nicer, if smaller than the ones Cross Country use at this end of the country), and there were plenty of seats. Not only that, but it left on time and arrived at Birmingham New Street on time.

The helpful booking system had told me that I wanted the 13:03 train to Newcastle, but a little research showed that this one had started in Penzance or Plymouth or somewhere in the far South West, and was heading to Aberdeen. From previous experience, I know that trains on that route get full. Very full. Standing room only full. But the next Newcastle train was at 13:30, and originated in Birmingham (so the free seats thing should work again) and ended in Newcastle (so it would be less full of long distance travellers). And it was available to board long before it was due to leave, which it actually did on time. The 13:03 turned up late, so I was quite happy with my choice of train. I was even happier to find that there was no shortage of seats, and happier still to find that it went via Doncaster rather than Leeds. From lots of previous experience, I know that trains between Leeds and York get mind-bogglingly full, and while I had a seat, it’s a little unpleasant being on a train with every inch of space full of standing people. It gets a bit hot and sweaty, you know…

Anyway, the journey from Birmingham to Newcastle was fine. Plenty of space for most of the way, and only a few minutes late to arrive, and that was because we had to slow down to avoid bumping into the earlier train that was still running late.

And from there, it was straight out of the station and just a couple of minutes to wait for the bus home.

So, after all that (longest post for a while), I think I’ll be changing my travel plans for my next Wales trip. Unless FlyBe or somebody with bigger planes takes over the Cardiff route, I think I’ll be getting the train, so long as I can pick the right times to travel, that is.

Oh, and one more thing…

Yesterday’s flight from Cardiff to Newcastle took off without any apparent problems. But hey, I got home earlier than if I’d been on the plane, so never mind.

This has been a therapeutic venting post. As you might have gathered if you read this far.

[1] About an hour after the scheduled departure, which I’m told counts as pretty much on time for airlines
[2] Two flights were combined – not surprising as a grand total of nine passengers boarded at Newcastle
[3] Possibly a slight understatement
[4] I mention without comment that several other planes were able to come and go. Other airlines, bigger planes which presumably have better foglamps or something
[5] Other than showing us the way out without having to fight with the security people
[6] Three MiFi – such a nice thing