Welcome to another Travel Spot post and, no, before anyone wonders why I’m flying from Boston to Dublin, this isn’t part of my current trip. Instead, I’m catching up on my backlog of past trips that I didn’t get to write up at the time. In contrast to the recent diet of long-haul flights, this covers the short hop I took across the Irish Sea in October 2019 to visit Ireland for a couple of weeks, one for work, with the other spent driving around Waterford, Cork and Galway.
It was the seventh trip of a hectic year, sandwiched between two trips to Japan (more long-haul flights!), so represented a welcome change of pace. This post covers the flight out from Heathrow to Dublin, travelling in Club Europe with British Airways, while a separate post covers my return, which saw me taking the slightly bizarre route of Dublin – Heathrow – Manchester.
This is a fairly short post (to go with the fairly short flight), which I’ve split into the following sections:
- Heathrow and the First Class Lounge
- Flying Club Europe with British Airways
- From Heathrow to Dublin
- Dublin Airport and Picking up my Hire Car
You can see how I got on at Heathrow after the gallery.
In an ideal world, I’d have taken the train to Holyhead, then a ferry to Dublin. However, I get seasick very, very easily, so the thought of an Irish sea crossing in October really didn’t appeal. Instead I decided to fly, particular since my work travel budget was picking up the tab, which meant going in Club Europe (aka business class) with British Airways.
I got to Heathrow Terminal 5 at 11:10 on Friday morning, in plenty of time for my flight, which was due to leave at 13:05. I’d recently achieved Gold Status with British Airways, which gave me access to the First Class lounge at Heathrow. However, I’d yet to discover the exclusive check-in area at the far end of the terminal, so took the (then) familiar route of automated check-in, followed by the fast track security lane, emerging airside 20 minutes later at 11:30.
From there I headed upstairs for what would be just my second time in the First Class lounge, somewhere I’ve since became very familiar with. Although I’d got my new Gold Status just before my trip to Japan, I’d missed out on that occasion by flying from Manchester to Helsinki with Finnair before continuing to Tokyo. Meanwhile, my return (Tokyo – Heathrow – Manchester) was with British Airways, so included a short layover at Heathrow. However, that time around, there was only time for a 20-minute visit to the lounge, so this was the first time that I had a chance to properly explore.
On my first visit, I had discovered the computer area at the back. Ironically, this has now been remodelled, the computers making way for the Forty Winks area and its energy pods where you can take a 20-minute naps. I discovered these on my flight out to Boston last week and note, in passing, that a 20-minute nap would have been perfect on my return from Tokyo, since by that point I had been up for almost 20 hours and still had my flight to Manchester to go!
I’d also discovered the spa area, where you can get a massage, but the earliest available slot was from 12:20 to 12:40 and, with the flight scheduled to leave at 13:05, that would have been cutting it really fine. Instead, I went over to the espresso machines and made myself a very fine Union hand-roasted espresso (it’s a bean-to-cup machine, by the way, so “making” involved pressing a button) which I enjoyed sitting at the window, overlooking the southern end of the terminal.
Boarding was supposed to start at 12:25 according to my boarding pass, so I went down to Gate A23 at 12:35. It turned out to be right under the lounge, so I’d probably seen the plane at the gate while I was enjoying my espresso. Annoyingly, there was no sign of anyone doing any boarding, which didn’t actually get started until 12:40, so I could have made that massage after all!
You can see how boarding went after the gallery.
Boarding was by Priority Groups, with Group 1 going first. Since my upgrade to Gold Status, that included me, and I was looking forward to using my newfound status to get ahead of the queues. However, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that almost half the flight seemed to be in Group 1, with everyone making a mad dash for the gate. I ended up about halfway down the queue, from where it took another 10 minutes to get to the automatic gate.
A quick scan of my passport and a photo later, I was through, only to spend another five minutes in a queue on the airbridge. I was flying on an Airbus A320-200, the most numerous aircraft (by far, at the time of writing) in the British Airways fleet, and the backbone of its short-haul routes, along with the larger A321 and smaller A319, all of which are narrow-bodied airliners with six seats per row, three on either side of the central aisle.
I’ve flown short-haul with British Airways on numerous occasions, mostly on A319 and A320s on the hop between Manchester and Heathrow at the start/end of my longer flights. Typically the first four or five rows on those flights are designated Club Europe (business), while the rest are Euro Traveller (economy). However, on this flight, the first 12 rows were Club Europe, which made a change, although I was in my preferred seat, right at the front in 1F, by the window on the right-hand side. That said, I could have had an exit row seat if I had wanted, with the Club Europe cabin stretching back as far as the emergency exits over the wings.
It’s worth saying that while Club Europe is technically business class, it’s really not the same as Club World (business class for long-haul flights). The difference between Club World and World Traveller is like chalk and cheese, while Club Europe is really very similar to Euro Traveller. The level of service is better, gaining you lounge access, an increased luggage allowance and, even on the shortest of hops, a meal service. Plus you’re at the front of the plane, so you board earlier and can get off quicker.
In these respects, it’s akin to flying first class on domestic US flights, except that in the US, domestic first class never gets you lounge access. On the plus side, US aircraft have much better seats in first class than they do in economy. They tend to be wider, more comfortable and have much more legroom. In contrast, Club Europe and Euro Traveller have the same seats, except in Club Europe, the middle seat is taken out of use and turned into an ancillary table which the other two seats can share. It’s not much, but it does make a difference. It also gives British Airways more flexibility, with moveable dividers between the two cabins allowing Club Europe to extended from the first four rows all the way back to the first 12.
I settled in and, 15 minutes later, at 13:05 (our scheduled departure time), boarding was complete. Five minutes later, at 13:10, we pushed back and were on our way.
You can see how the flight went after the gallery.
Normally the safety video is played during the five minutes that the plane sits on the tarmac, but in this instance, we set off on the long taxi to the eastern end of the runway at 13:15, receiving a manual safety demonstration along the way. We were scheduled to use the south runway and got the call for the cabin crew to take seats for takeoff early at 13:20. However, it wasn’t until 10 minutes later, having watched several planes take off ahead of us, that we swung around onto the runway and headed for the skies.
There was a brief period as we flew over the M25 and Slough that I could enjoy(?) the views, then we disappeared into the low-lying cloud, emerging at 13:35 as the seat-belt signs came off. Normally on the hops to/from Manchester, we’re only in the air for 35 minutes, so at this point there’s a flurry of activity from the cabin crew as they try to serve everyone in Club Europe a meal.
Here, with a flight time of almost an hour, things were slightly more relaxed, although the fact that almost all of the 48 Club Europe seats were occupied worked against the cabin crew. Since I was sitting at the front, I was served first, receiving a very fine (warm) sweet potato salad with a hummus starter for lunch. This reached me at 13:45 and by 13:55, I was finished and onto coffee, which was pretty good as well. Meanwhile, the folks at the back of Club Europe were only just receiving their meals!
If you’re interested, by the way, there’s no meal service in Euro Traveller, although you can buy food, snacks and drinks from the trolley. Just be aware that payment is either by card or Avios (British Airways airmiles), with no cash of any currency accepted.
I followed our route on the map on the TV monitor above my seat as we made a dog-leg out of Heathrow before flying northwest over the East Midlands. We got as far as Manchester, 30 minutes into the flight, before turning west and heading out towards the coast. Five minutes later, as we flew north of The Wirral and headed out over the sea parallel to the North Wales coast, the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent.
Ten minutes later, at 14:15, the pilot announced 10 minutes to landing and turned the seatbelt signs back on! At this point, we were heading for a point somewhere north of Dublin, so we did a big S-shaped curve over the Irish Sea as we descended. This took us further south, lining us up nicely for a direct westerly approach to the airport.
You can see how the landing went after the gallery.
We came in on a westerly heading, with the pilot announcing seats for landing 14:20. Five minutes later, at 14:25, we were on the ground, having landed on the southern runway. However, the terminal buildings at Dublin Airport are at the far eastern end of the runways, so we immediately turned around and taxied back along the full length of the airport.
The airport has two terminals, with Terminal 2 dedicated to Aer Lingus, leaving Terminal 1 for the rest of us. I’d flown into Dublin twice before, the first time back in 2014, and then again in 2016 at the start of my first work trip in my then new job. All I really remember was that both times I flew from London Gatwick with Ryanair, but beyond that it’s a bit of a blur. This time we arrived just after what looked to have been a brief, heavy shower, so it was a little disconcerting to pull up just short of the terminal and, rather than be connected to an airbridge, find ourselves walking down the steps and across the tarmac to the terminal.
We left the plane at 14:40 and I was through passport control by 14:50, which just left my bag to collect. This duly turned up at 15:00 and, with that, I walked out into the terminal building. So far things had been very efficient, but that was about to end.
I’d hired a car from Budget to take me on my driving tour around Ireland. Naturally, I went to the Budget desk in the main terminal building, where I spent 10 minutes queuing, only to be told to go outside to wait for a minibus to the hire car village. I’m not sure why that couldn’t have been put on a sign, rather than making me (and the people in front of me, along with at least one of the groups behind me) queue up to be told in person.
I stood outside with the others for 10 minutes, before the minibus arrived and took us to the hire car village, where we joined another queue. This one had eight people ahead of me, with three Budget desks open to deal with customers. You would think, with the car booked and already paid for, that this would be a relatively simple matter, but it was another half an hour before I got to one of the desks. Really, these should be such simple transactions (and, in fairness, other car hire companies do a much better job).
Having been handed the keys after completing even more paperwork, I went outside, where I found my car in the car park. Finally, at 16:05, I set off, more than an hour after I’d picked up my bags from the carousel. Of course, all the delays meant I ran straight into Dublin’s weekend rush hour traffic on the M50 around the city, resulting in an unnecessarily stressful drive before I finally found some solace in the Wicklow Mountains.
That, however, is another story.
That concludes the first part of my 2019 trip to Ireland. You can read about my return flight, which took me to Manchester via London, a somewhat bizarre route forced on me by British Airways, in the final instalment of this Travel Spot.
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