Advantages Cheap, Economy flights, No frills
Disadvantages Possible delays Use older aircraft.
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This review is from my experience travelling by an Economy no frills Trans-Atlantic airline. There is nothing really special here but I thought I should share my experience, which isn’t always doom, and gloom you generally experience with no frills airlines.I was invited to visit my friends in Toronto for the summer last year and I jumped at the chance. It was a country I had wanted to visit for a while and the offer was one I could not turn down. January last year I began trawling the Internet for flights and prices and was astounded by the cost of the flights to Canada starting figure £700 by British Airways. These far exceeded my budget and the dreaded fear of missing such an opportunity almost overwhelmed me until my friends recommended the airline they use to travel home to the UK. Air Transat. So off to my trusty computer I went and searched for the website.
Air Transat has a web site, primarily aimed at the Canadian passenger a bi-lingual country. The opening page offers a choice of viewing language: English or French. On the main homepage, is the heading “Travelling from Europe” and five country links. France, Italy, Germany Holland and UK. Clicking on the UK link takes you to Globespan, an associate site, for all Air Transat’s UK passengers. Searching for a flight is simple, by use of the drop-down all easy to navigate. A choice of Airports and departures dates is available. My vacation flights cost £488 Economy Inc Taxes from Gatwick, Manchester, Belfast or Birmingham. Upgrading to Club Class is available if desired. Pre-booked seats are £7 each way. Check-in is 3 hours prior to take off. No smoking allowed on any flight and limited areas at the airport are provided for smokers.PLEASE NOTE to visit Canada from the UK you DO NOT need a visa.
Also detailed within the menus are the allowances: 20kg hold luggage, 5kg hand luggage. Excess baggage fee $5 cdn per kg approx £2 sterling. NOTE: the total hold luggage allowance includes the weight of your suitcase. When purchasing a new suitcase check its weight. Many suitcases on the market are rigid, plastic affairs or with inbuilt handles and wheels, these can weigh up to 5kg empty.Everything looked rosy; my flight and seat confirmations arrived promptly but then the news reports came in. SARS. The disease was taking its toll in the Far East and had reached Toronto. Panic had set in and the WHO advised no unnecessarily travel to the infected countries. I remained optimistic eventually SARS must abate.
Globespan/Air Transat contacted me, at first I felt panic I was sure the flights had been cancelled due to the epidemic but with relief I read there was a schedule change. Flights were combined. Gatwick flights would stop at Manchester before continuing to Toronto. A total estimated flight time approximately 10 hours, including the disembarkation and embarkation of some passengers at Gatwick and Manchester.My departure date arrived; I reached Gatwick after a delayed train journey due to signal failure at London Bridge junction (typical Network Rail) and proceeded to the Air Transat check in point. The airline representative welcomed me with a smile, courtesy, and politeness asking the usual questions: Did I pack my baggage myself? Did I leave my baggage unattended at any time? Etc. and wished me a good flight. Looking good I thought and proceeded to venture into the chaos of the Gatwick departure lounge.
Due to the combining the Manchester and Gatwick flights embarkation was delayed 1 hour at Gatwick. Upon reaching Manchester the change over process began again, however we had made up time and by take off at 3pm, we were only 20 minutes late.The plane was a Lockheed L1011, an older plane built between the late 1970’s and the early 1980 holding over 200 passengers with a Club Class section at the front. Each plane has three engines, one on either wing and one on top at the rear. Air Transat unfortunately do not fly these plane this year instead have opted to use the newer Airbus.
The cabin crew were very pleasant and cheerful, greeting everyone with courtesy. The majority were Canadian, bi-lingual, or a few French, which our pilot was. All announcements were spoken in French and repeated in English, as was the safety video which was well presented and clearly viewed.Inside, the plane was as expected. Seemingly cramped but with more space than I anticipated. Foot room wasn’t a luxury but enough space to place your feet comfortably. The seats were fairly comfortable supplied with a small pillow and wide enough to relax during the flight arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration with the Club Class separated by a partition at the front. Seats on trains are narrower. Overhead were lights and call buttons all working and in the arm, headphone sockets. Be careful when using the headphones as the location of the socket faces in towards your seat and can easily be knocked. In-flight entertainment screens appeared everywhere either large wall mounted screens or on swivel drop down brackets. The toilets in the middle and rear sections were little more than closets with barely enough room to turn around. Not to matter it isn't as though you will need a fully fitted bathroom on a flight anyway.
Headphones? Purchasing headphones cost £2 sterling or $5 cdn. TIP. If you have a pair of headphones for your portable tape or disc player, take them with you. Flight headphones are weaker and easily breakable and tight across the skull. The in-flight entertainment was two excellent movies, X-Men 2 and Bringing Down The House. Now In flight entertainment is important to me I hate to be bored and agitated so two excellent movies bouyed my spirits and kept me relaxed although the views from the aircraft window was just as entertaining.Drink? All fruit juice and soft drinks served are free, however should you desire a beer or spirits they are payable. Tea or coffee, strong and very hot, up to 2 cups with each of your meals along with a portion of fruit juice that’s supplied on your food tray. TIP. Carry with you a bottle of water or an energy drink to consume in addition to the in flight drinks, and take a bag of boiled fruity sweets to suck: aeroplane air conditioning is drying.
Food? A packet of pretzels is supplied free with your first drink on all flights. The main meal consisted of powdery tasting potatoes, a small chicken segment in a rich tomato and pepper sauce, peas and carrots, a soft bread roll and buttery spread and five profiterolles with chocolate sauce. The snack later was a long submarine bread roll with cheese and sweet pickle or ham and tomato, wrapped and packed in a neat box, with a fun size snack bar.Duty-free? A catalogue can be found in the pocket in front of the seat. The range of quality item is large but the majority of goods are available in the airport departure lounges. At Gatwick there is a duty free lounge you can visit after customs and before you pass into the airport arrivals area.
Closer Toronto came. The scheduled estimated landing time was 6.30pm local time (My friends later confirmed the airport arrivals schedule estimated landing at 7.30pm). Imagine my surprise when the plane flew over Toronto giving me an enviable view of the SkyDome where the Blue Jays were playing and the CN Tower to bank around over the giant lake and come into land at 5.15pm. That extra engine added speed.Customs and immigration took the expected time but baggage claim wasn’t simple. The Manchester baggage came off first. But where was the Gatwick baggage? Imagine the worry and concern from many of us from Gatwick. Had our Luggage been left behind? Silly question. 20 minutes later came Gatwick’s baggage; delayed by the Toronto baggage handlers and not Air Transat.
My overnight return flight again was uneventful and without take off delays. The in-flight entertainment scheduled wasn’t shown unfortunately due to problems with the movie tape so X-Men 2 and Finding Nemo were shown instead. By the time the second film was shown I was in a semi comatose state I cannot sleep when travelling but was soon revived by the movie. Please refer to my Finding Nemo review for my opinion of this movie. The meals were uninspiring, the snack was a pre-packed turkey and cheese salad sandwich with a fun sized snack bar and the main meal was a breakfast of English muffin piece, a sausage pate and bacon segment much like those McDonalds serve in their breakfast menu, a single plum tomato and scrambled eggs which were rubbery and not very appetising and a yoghurt like desert. Basic fare, hot and passably edible.My ultimate opinion is Air Transat are a competent, cheery, no frills airline with cheap, economical flights with a commonplace service. What I paid for and expected was what I received. To me I had good flights. I can’t say my flights were fiascos or triumphs. I have flown by numerous airlines including British Airways who set an excellent standard. Like with most economical airlines you have to take the turbulence with the calm. Not all low cost airlines are dodgy. Would I use them again? Yes, unless British Airways drastically reduce their prices.
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