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I’m not a regular flyer. In fact this was my first flight as an adult! So I don’t really have anything to compare them with. However I was pretty happy with Thomas Cook!
I flew with them from Gatwick (London, England) to Vancouver in Canada and back last summer. One of the weird things about this is that it doesn’t seem to be possible to book on these flights through the Thomas Cook website! I booked via Canadian Affair. I’ve done a separate review on them if you want to look it up.
I also paid for an upgrade to 'Premier' class and I suppose partly because of that check-in was very quick and painless. There’s an extra baggage allowance for those in Premier Economy: 30 kg hold luggage and 5 kg cabin. I believe this is still a lot less than most schedule flights, and basically means one bag and one suitcase. But I found it more than sufficient! Of course I was also among the first to board. The plane was very clean and neat. The Economy seats did look cramped. I’m glad I paid for an upgrade. In Premier the seat are leather and I’d describe them as very comfy but snug. I am on the larger side though. The seat arms in Premier are solid so you are not rubbing up against the person next to you. There’s a fair amount of legroom. If the person in front puts their seat back it’s close enough to not be nice for someone with claustrophobia, but it was still well clear of my knees… I have some back and neck problems and was fine sitting for 11 hours, which I think says something!
One of the first things to happen onboard was the safety talk. This was actually a video on the seat back screens. All the poor cabin staff got to do was stand there looking silly until a bit at the end when they got to point at the exits. They also showed a video of exercises to ward off DVT, which I thought was great!
Of course Premier also gets freebies. *G* These were actually rather nice bags of bits, different on the way out and back. They included eye gel, a drawstring bag (which I actually used, but it broke quite fast!), a rather attractive metallic wash case etc. There’s also free drinks (thought not free snacks…) earphones for the back of seat video screens (I think Economy had to pay for those), blankets and pillows. There were also special packs for kids.
I also got lucky on my way out. Nobody seemed to be sitting next to me, so I asked one of the staff. He said there might be, and why did I ask? So I told him I do get a bit claustrophobic. A bit later he ushered on a latecomer and pointed out the seats that they could choose from. He didn’t point to mine. I got two seats to myself for the whole flight out. In fact the whole flight was great. I’d paid an extra charge (£7 each way) to pre-book the seat of my choice, that being a window seat. I had amazing views of a glacier in Iceland, the ice cap in Greenland, the Canadian Tundra with the sun turning thousands of lakes to gold.
The flight doesn’t go to Vancouver in one go. It’s sort of a stopping flight… It stops in Calgary (as mine did) or Edmonton. Those going to Vancouver don’t get off but stay on the plane while they offload and take on a few passengers! Then we had more stunning views on a quick hop over the Rockies! There was a depressing edge to that though: it was at the end of the drought they had last year, and the captain pointed out the smoke from various fires, including one he told us was started by a road traffic accident. (He also pointed out a few other things to look at by the way, so not all depressing!)
There’s a range of channels on the seat back video. There were some very up to date movies on (including X-Men 2 which I think was only just released), but I didn’t manage to watch one. I kept changing to that channel when they were already partway through (and I hate missing the start of a movie…) or unavailable. But I was too distracted looking out the window anyway! The channel I did fall in love with though was one that shows the position of the plane plus other info like airspeed and height. I wouldn’t have known where we were half the time without it.
Meals were better than I expected. You got several different containers to open, which was rather like opening presents! And a fair few of the contents were tasty! I did have some problems though. I’m allergic to mushrooms (gawd this review is starting to sound like a list of my health problems…). I’d wanted to say I’d have vegetarian unless it had mushrooms in it, in which case I’d have one of the standard meat options. At Gatwick on the way out I had been to the Thomas Cook desk to check what was happening. They said they’d try and get a mushroom free meal put on for me. On the plane though they didn’t seem to sure if this had happened and there were no ingredients listed on my pasta. So I had to do the poking routine, which I hate… On the way back it was worse. No Thomas Cook counter in Vancouver… On the plane I asked if I could get one the standard options since the vegetable curry they had for me was of unknown ingredients. The woman who took my order said yes, but when it came it was the curry. I actually got a bit upset. Apparently there’s only enough dinners on board for each person. But since they were going up going ‘chicken or beef?’ I can’t see why they couldn’t add ‘or vegetable curry’ until someone wanted it.
Anyway, I got to do the poke again. It was also totally devoid of protein except for about 2 chickpeas, but a couple of other passengers donated me their cheese! I’m going to make sure I take some food of my own next time. I also wish that instead of being able to book ‘a vegan meal’ or ‘a gluten free meal’ they would let you book a specific meal with known ingredients. At the very least a list of ingredients should be available with the meal so those with allergies don’t have to take a risk.
The return journey generally wasn’t so nice. Beside the meal problem I also got Mr ‘I’ve got a recline button and I’m going to use it’ and his wife sitting in front of me. He put his seat right back then, guess what, obviously uncomfortable that way, propped himself forward on his pillows and blankets. His wife (actually in front of me) also had her seat back, then leant against the wall… I was good and didn’t say a word for hours! But when the woman in front of me finally woke up and put her seat forward I heaved a sigh of relief. Then she put it back again, I asked her not to and the husband took massive offence. He gave me the ‘I paid for it it’s my right speech’. To which of course I also pointed out that I’d paid as well for the space he was hogging, I’d put up with it for hours and was only asking for my turn, and what’s more I’d paid extra for a window that it was difficult to look out of with her seat back. Anyway, we compromised with her seat slightly back but with room for me to lean up to the window. By the way a rather worried cabin staff member did turn up for the last part of the argument, but I think we pretty much sorted it ourselves!
If you ask me advertising the wonders of reclining seats, as Thomas Cook do through Canadian Affair, is a very bad idea. They promote a really unfair division of space with the recliner stretching out at the expense of the person squashed behind them. And I think the advantages for the person in them are also largely myth, unless they actually go to flat or near flat. Natural positions for the human body are upright or lying flat. On a diagonal is about as unnatural as you can get. Like I said before, I have back and neck problems, and if I recline a seat I feel the stress almost immediately. I’d ask anyone to think before they recline!
So the journey back wasn’t as nice. But I guess that’s to be expected! Who wants to go home after a holiday? And on the whole it was still comfortable, the food I got was still tasty (once I’d dissected it to check for the dreaded lurking mushroom…). Cabin staff very friendly, planes clean including the toilets. Both flights were also on time. In fact the return got in early.
For the price I paid I feel I got a very good deal.
I’m not disabled, so I wasn’t particularly looking out for this at the time. The planes I travelled on did not have disabled toilets. The toilets were small: the one forward of the Premium Cabin was actually across a small corridor/storage space and had a swing door. The ones to the rear of the Premium Cabin had concertina doors. I believe a recent court ruling means that they will have to help you on and off the plane (and there is a space on the booking form through Canadian Affair now to say if you have special needs such as being in a chair). But I’d check how much help they will provide on the plane: you may need to bring an escort. Another interesting note is that they told me I couldn’t book seats in the first row as these are reserved medical seats. I think there is space there for some medical equipment. Overall the planes are not particularly set up for disabled travellers, so you need to check out the fine details of what you need before you go. And of course, this was on their Gatwick to Calgary/Vancouver flights on an Airbus 330: there’s no guarantee that other Thomas Cook planes will be the same. I might be travelling with a friend in a chair this year, so I will update if that happens.
Other reviews: I’ve written another review on Canadian Affair for those considering booking through them. I’m also working on pieces on my experiences in Vancouver and Richmond BC, but give me a few days for them!
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