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Now the holiday season is fast approaching, no doubt many of you will be perusing the websites and holiday books for ideas on where to spend that elusive two-week break. To be honest, when booking a package holiday I never really took into consideration which airline would be responsible for taking me to my Mediterranean destination. All I looked for was the nearest airport and then the price.
***** WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT THEY DO ********
Since we travelled with Air 2000, they have since become First Choice Flights. As Air 2000 they were quite surprisingly an award winning UK airline. Every year, the airline's 29 aircraft make on average 30,000 flights from fifteen airports in the UK and Ireland. Air 2000 started on 11 April 1987 and is the UK's 3rd largest charter airline.
The airline flies from Manchester, London Gatwick, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Glasgow, East Midlands, Luton, Exeter, London Stansted and Edinburgh. They carry over 6 million passengers to more than 50 destinations and this includes Dubai, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and South Africa.
Air 2000/ First Choice are part of First Choice Holidays. This includes Sovereign, Hayes & Jarvis. Portland and Unijet . Therefore if you book with any of these agents, more than likely you will be flying with this airline. The airline flies to Dubai, Greece, Cyprus to name but a few.
The planes include the Airbus 320 and the Boeing 757.
**** OUR HOLIDAY BEGINS *****
In 2003, my family and I booked a two-week holiday to Cyprus with First Direct. The designated airline was Air 2000. I arranged everything via the Internet and found the First Choice website easy to navigate around but at that time it appeared vague in certain areas. For example there was not enough information for disabled passengers , instead you had to call a national rate number for further information.
However within a week of our departure, the tickets finally arrived. Cutting it a bit short for time but never the less they arrived, recorded delivery. As long haul flights are far too dangerous for me, Cyprus is just about as long as I can cope with, its 4 hours from take off until you reach Limassol airport.
When the day of our holiday arrived, it was a hot sunny July afternoon. The terminal at Gatwick was filled to bursting. However the staff at check in were polite and helpful, even letting me keep my child's stroller until the very last minute. The desks were easy to find and though the queue was quite long, the staff were quick and responsive. I cannot fault the passenger boarding and disembarkation of the aircraft, everything went smoothly and was on time, with no hint of delay.
Upon entering the aircraft, the immaculately but heavily made up flight attendants greeted the passengers and pointed us to the direction of our seats. The seats were spotless and there was no hint of the last flight and passengers sitting there. The interior matched the steward's uniform and was in good condition. The navy blue, green, yellow and red plane logo is incorporated inside the plane's interior.
However, the seats are not exactly spacious on Air 2000 and neither are the aisles. Anyone on the larger size would find it difficult to squeeze into a chair, yet alone walk down the gangway. This really is cattle class, squeeze them in and keep prices reasonable.
I have a history of deep vein thrombosis, so I am entititled to sit at the front by the exit doors. These seats have more legroom thus reducing my chances of having a clot form in my leg by almost half. The flight attendant knew of this from my notes and we were all seated together as a family.
All baggage except a handbag has to be placed in the overhead cabins. Remember to collect this when you leave.
As soon as everyone is seated, the Captain introduced himself, told us to watch the DVD in case of emergency (no more stewardess giving a demonstration anymore). There was also a brief clip showing how to stop DVT forming during the flight. This was a bit ironic for me which you will read later on.
We were told what the in-flight movie was going to be, when dinner would be served and that we should buckle up and prepare for take off. Sick bags and a travel magazine should be in the pocket in front of your seat.
This is my favourite part of the flight and the take off is exhilarating though somewhat uncomfortable for your ears.
***** TELEVISION SCREENS ****
These were placed in the roof of the aircraft and passengers would have to share the viewing experience. However as we were seated at the front, the screens were places in the wall directly in front of us.
We could not watch the film unless we had purchased the headsets and this also included the music channels. At the time it was £2 and you could use them on the return flight. Unfortunately they had changed the jack plug since the last time we flew and my sons were unable to use their Walkman headsets.
The controls are situated just below the armrest and the sound quality, though not quite Dolby was bearable. The screen and view was clear. The stewardess or steward brings the headsets round to your seat.
As well as the film and music, we also had the choice of a comedy channel (Morecambe and Wise) or watching Jamie Oliver.
***** HAVING A DRINK ****
Shortly after take off, the drinks cart comes round. This narrow steel cage on wheels carries a whole host of drinks that have to be paid for unlike First Class and Executive. You can purchase a gin and tonic, red or white wine, beer, bacardi and vodka. Do not get too carried away though as the prices are very expensive and the amounts are miniscule. The airline also has a zero tolerance for drunk and disorderly passengers, but as these prices there shouldn't be any worries of that happening.
For example if you ask for a diet coke, you will not receive a can the same size as in the supermarkets. You will get one half that size but double the price. I paid £2 for a small coke. My husband's bacardi and coke came to £4.20, poured into a small plastic tumbler. Three sips and the drink had disappeared. My children all had bottled water and we paid over £10 for five drinks, one just being alcohol.
Payments are either cash or credit card. Don't ask for a "tab", it's not your local pub after all.
***** PURCHASING "DUTY FREE" *****
Yet another trolley makes it way down the aisle, but only after the first drinks trolley has reached its destination. You are offered the chance to buy spirits, cigarettes, perfume and a small selection of gifts from the cart.
The prices are less than the UK shops so you could grab yourself a reduced bottle of perfume. Everything is placed inside a carrier bag for you and you can pay by cash or credit card.
Allowance: EU from non EU countries 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 gms tobacco 1 ltr spirits 250ml EDT £145 gifts
**** DINNER TIME *****
Depending on what time your flight is, you will be offered a meal be it continental breakfast or a dinner. If you want a vegetarian meal then you have to call them direct on 0870 757 2757.
My husband chose the chicken and mushroom pie (a small square shaped pie) with sautéed potatoes, I chose roast turkey, which looked like Bernard Matthews synthetic turkey slices and tasted similar, with vegetables. My children had the same as me. The lap tray in front of you is just adequate for the dinner but be careful not to move your arms too wide otherwise you might send your orange juice over to the next aisle.
As my youngest was classed as an infant and we only paid for insurance with her, she was not allowed a meal. I was not informed of this when we booked and I even offered to purchase a dinner for her, knowing full well she would be hungry. I was then told that all meals are allocated and my daughter had to go without. Try eating food with a hungry toddler on your lap. As my husband was holding her, I ended up feeding her the majority of my dinner.
The food comes out in plastic trays; similar to the ones the children have with their school dinner. Not exactly piping hot but hopefully cooked to perfection. We all had a mini bread roll and butter, our main meal and then a desert of apple pie and custard. Also on the tray was a half beaker of orange juice with a foil lid same as the chicken. The custard was thick and pale in colour and the apple processed.
The portions would be ideal as a weight watchers menu, within a few bites and the lot had gone. It was not quite the standard of Egon Roney cuisine but was edible. It actually reminded me of hospital food but with a bit more flavour.
***** TIME TO SIT BACK AND RELAX *****
After all the trays have been collected and you have had your weak tea or gloopy coffee, the film begins and its time to enjoy the flight.
On the outward journey we had adequate legroom and enough space for my toddler to walk around in front of us. I was concerned for my husband's circulation as my daughter had to sit on his lap, as she was not entitled to a seat, unless we paid for one. However, he was fine and my children were entertained by their backpacks given to them by the stewardess.
We were only given two backpacks. My daughter was not entitled to one, like the meal. However she had different ideas and screamed her head off. The stewardess came back with one she had spare allegedly and thus the screaming stopped.
On a First Choice Airways short haul flight you have around 28" of legroom in Economy, or 33" if you have upgraded at a cost to you to the Premium service. For First Choice Airways long haul flights, there is 33" of legroom in Economy seat, or 36" if you have upgraded. Upgrading to the premium gives you a few further extras as well as leg room. You receive free head sets and two free drinks ! Better start saving then. This service wasn't available with Air 2000 but has since been introduced with First Choice Flights.
***** TOILETS ******
As the flight gets into swing, more passengers' start queuing for the toilets and the worse the stench becomes once inside. Both men and women use the same toilets and there are a few situated along the aisles.
Once inside the cubicle, it looks like a cage of steel. The toilet seat was splashed with urine and the mezzanine floor was wet under the pan. Its hard to aim into the small bowl below and as us ladies know, try squatting when the plane decides to hit a bit of turbulence does cause a flow back. However, it looked as if there had been a hosepipe fight against the pan and the lid.
It smelt and looked revolting and I just wanted to get out. How anyone could join the mile high club in here was a complete mystery.
The toilet paper was like the small squares of grease proof that I had in school. Not good for mopping up drips but brilliant for lining cake tins.
Disabled passengers would find these toilets an absolute nightmare, I tried looking for disabled facilities hoping I could change my little one's nappy in there, but I saw none unless there were at the far end of the plane.
***** BABY CHANGING *****
As far as I could see there aren't any on cattle class. We had to change our soggy toddler on our laps, quite an ordeal.
****** LANDING *****
The least enjoyable part of the flight. When the plane hits the tarmac you are pushed forward with a tremendous force and then the plane slowly grinds to a halt. The captain thanks you for flying with that airline and hopes you have a safe journey/ good holiday.
You leave in an orderly fashion and the crew stand at the exit doors to help you if need be. The stewardesses are still just as heavily caked in foundation, I wonder if this is a stipulation of the job to bet swimming in make up. They are never the less, very helpful and polite.
**** RETURN JOURNEY *****
Not such as good as the outbound trip. Upon checking into the terminal at Limassol, I showed the check in assistant my medical exemption note and she said I would have the same seat as before. This time my buggy was taken from me and we had to carry our toddler as she was tired ( it was a late evening flight).
I was told because of this I would have the front seats being A1, A2, A3. However even though I was allocated the front seats, I wasn't seated there. Instead when we got on board, I found four very able-bodied teenagers were already there.
I complained to the stewardess and went on to tell her the same story about my condition. The cabin staff member said that as this party had already been given these seats at check in it was down to their discretion as to whether they would change seats or not. Basically the check in girl in Limassol had not listened to my wishes so there was nothing the cabin crew could do.
The party of girls were already becoming quite loud, not sure if that was down to excitement of flying or alcohol. The stewardess explained what had happened and if they would change seats. They refused.
I was already becoming agitated, knowing I would probably develop something in my leg. As soon as take off commenced, the girls all reclined their seats to full capacity, cramping us all even more. Once again the cabin crew said there was nothing they could do as all seats are allowed to recline at a certain angle.
My children had different ideas, especially my toddler. whom was almost sandwiched in as she on my husbands lap. My toddler continuously kicked the chair as did my other children. So instead of telling them to stop, I decided to let them carry on.
Eventually, just as the movie was about to start, one of the young ladies stood up and asked if we could stop our child from kicking as it was disturbing her film. I immediately stood up and I cannot print what my reply was to her but the cabin crew came over and tried to calm me down. Still nothing altered the fact that after a few days back, my vein started to swell and turned very red.
The pain was awful. I knew it wasn't thrombosis due to injecting fragmin. It was however, thrombo phlebitis, a blood clot in the surface vein. I was placed on antibiotics to clear up the bacteria in the vein and had to wear support tights for months.
Air 2000 did not officially apologise and admitted nothing. Not offering me any form of compensation. The air regulation laws have changed but not in the favour of the passenger. I cannot afford to fight them without getting a lawyer involved so all I was offered was sympathy. I wanted to bring this to light, as I would hate anyone to suffer the pain of either a DVT or a thrombus Phlebitis.
***** D.V.T *******
Incase you are not familiar as to what D.V.T. means, its full name is Deep vein thrombosis and it occurs when a blood clot forms in a major vein, usually in the legs but has been known in other limbs.
A clot is produced when blood turns from liquid to solid, it then forms in veins where blood flow is slow. The clot could then block blood flow from the legs back to the heart, or a piece of the clot may be carried back through the heart and then lodge in a blood vessel, restricting its flow. Blood clots that reach the lungs can affect your ability to breath and to take in air . This is called a pulmonary embolism and it can be fatal.
Treatment is to take fragmin or heparin either via injection or in emergency by I.V. drip. Warfarin is also given to patients to thin the blood and prevent further clots forming. D.V.T. is common on long haul flights as blood flow is restricted. I am prone to DVT as I have a gene missing in my blood called a protein S, even sitting for an hour without movement can put me at risk.
It had also been shown in the press that sitting in cramped conditions for too long, or having restricted movement can increase the risk for even the healthiest of passengers. It is worth taking precautions before a flight such as wearing flight socks from Scholl, drinking water and not alcohol, move up and down the aisle and consulting your GP as to whether you could take an aspirin before take off.
***** TO CONCLUDE ******
Unless I win the lottery, we will always have to travel the package holiday way. It's not the best of conditions for your circulation so I am more reluctant to travel again. Air 2000 at that time showed me no support even though my doctor backed me all the way. Unfortunately what let me down was the lack of funds to hire a solicitor as good as the airline's.
In future I will try to ensure I travel by alternative airlines and not line the pockets of Air 2000/First Choice Flight staff . They showed me no consideration even if they were voted one of the best charter airlines. Well I was not one who voted for them.
If you are disabled, please check with the booking agent before confirming your flight that they can cater for your needs. Even booking over the internet, you should still be able to have a contact number in which to call or even email.
Prices vary depending on what package you book. Flights alone start from £200.00. We paid £2, 600 but that included our hotel and half board accommodation to Cyprus. Prices have increased since then.
Insurance was extra and was not an option. I found Tesco Travel Insurance far cheaper than accepting the designated insurer.
Also if you book a flight over the phone with First Choice, you will incur a £15 added fee. This is down to the fact you are making a person to person booking.
Thank you for reading this and please be cautious when taking any flight for any duration.
*** CONTACT DETAILS *****
I am giving both contact details of Air 2000 and First Choice .
Air 2000 Jetset House Church Road Crawley West Sussex
Went with air2000 in May 2003 and we had a horrible trip.
This year with first choice airways and the flight was okay but they need to improve the customer service.
Your review is excellent and sums up what i feel too.
Mickie26 02.07.2006 17:48
A wondefully detailed review and I have never heard of this company, but most certainly will not go near them now.
darkangelwing 30.06.2006 20:06
Good review (-: ...............................Darko