Showing posts with label London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London. Show all posts

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cathay Pacific Flight Review: London Gatwick to Hong Kong (A350)

Several months ago, I heard Cathay Pacific would fly its upcoming A350 between Hong Kong and LondonGatwick in September 2016.  This was perfect timing as I was about to go home to Manila in late 2016.  Moreover, I found a promotional fare of about £810 return for Cathay Pacific’s premium economy class.  For this time of the year, it was a good deal, considering Philippine Airlines offered a similar fare for its economy class product.  Flying on Cathay also allowed me to ‘break’ my trip between London and Manila with a stopover in Hong Kong.

More and more carriers offer a premium economy class product.  In fact, even Philippine Airlines does it on some selected aircraft.  But it remains one of the most broadly-defined service classes in the industry.  Its features vary greatly between carrier and can include simply more legroom or much wider seats with better meals.

Unlike four years ago, this trip featured a ‘proper’ premium economy class service.  Back then I was seated in what was otherwise the premium economy section but we only got a standard regular economy class service.  This is also the first time I would travel on either the A350 or B787, the most hyped aircrafts produced by either Airbus or Boeing, respectively.


MORNING OF THE JOURNEY
As Gatwick was a long and expensive journey from Bristol, I stayed with my colleague in London for one night.  I woke up at 5.15 because I needed to travel to my other friend’s place to claim my bigger bag (it’s a long story why I didn’t bring the bag with me to my colleagues’ in the first place).  Although I preferred to do this at 7.15, my colleague advised me to get it as early as possible.  Ultimately, it was advice well-taken.  I left the place just after 5.30 and arrived at my other friend’s place just over a half-hour later.  I did not stay for long in order to avoid the crowded Tube trains. 

TIP: When using the London underground for morning journeys, consider travel time, crowding, and costs.  Although peak and off-peak standard fares between zones 1 and 2 in London are the same, your railcard discounts are not applicable during peak hours (6.30-9.30 and 16.00-19.00).  Trains coming into central London may get crowded after 7.00.  If your London-based friends advise you to start early in order to use public transport comfortably, they mean it! 

I returned to the flat at around 7.00.  My colleague served me with an excellent breakfast and hot chocolate.  But I received an advice to change my flight to Manila again for the fourth of December.  The flights were full but I managed to get waitlisted.  I had one final shower and transferred things between my two bags.  I left at about 8.30.  Bringing two bags was not easy and it slowed down what is otherwise a short walk from my colleagues’ place to the London Bridge station.  Trains in and out of London Bridge station were already delayed, but I was lucky I found a direct train that was scheduled to depart at around 8.00 delayed.  I rushed to get that train and boarded it with time to spare. 

The journey between London Bridge and Gatwick Airport took almost 40 minutes.  Whilst in the train, I contacted my carrier to discuss possible roaming offers.  Unfortunately, they did not offer anything affordable but they agreed to unlock one of my older phones I had with them.  It would take a few days but I would take it.

TIP: If you are visiting Hong Kong but live in the UK, consider getting at least a pay-as-you-go SIM with the provider Three.  Try getting your carrier-provided phone unlocked or buy one that is already unlocked (policies for unlocking vary with most requiring having a plan between six months and a year).  Three has plans that allow for roaming in Hong Kong at no extra cost.  Don’t even ask about the plans for the Philippines.   

CHECK-IN, SECURITY, AND PRE-BOARDING
I approached Cathay’s check-in desk at a quarter to ten.  The Premium Economy class lane was not a dedicated one.  Instead, it was shared with passengers who otherwise checked in online.  The queue moved quickly.  But I was surprised to find out my bags were overweight.  This was sorted out by transferring some items to my hand luggage but this would be a bigger problem if I do not get on my wait-listed flight.  I am flying to Manila in (regular) economy class for scheduling reasons.  Consequently, my baggage allowance is reduced to 20 kg for that.   Other than that, the staff gave me a paper boarding card even though I already had one on my phone. 


Cathay Pacific check-in desks at Gatwick
Image by


TIP: Try to weigh your bags before you leave home.  Your seemingly generous baggage allowance is smaller than you think. 

I experienced a slight delay at security.  And this was because another passenger’s scarf got up in the machine. 

TIP: Most airports require you to present your boarding card when shopping at their stores.  Make sure this is ready.  One of theory for this is for them to claim tax benefits.

After security, I shopped for a few boxes of Walkers’ shortbread biscuits.  I waited at the main departure hall before my gate was revealed.  It was a bit far from where most of the stores and eateries were located at.  Once I found out my gate, I checked a few last-minute emails.  As I plugged my laptop, boarding announcements were made.  There was a separate lane for premium economy class.

Cathay Pacific A350 parked at Gatwick Airport
Image by hybridace101

Gate for Cathay Pacific flight at Gatwick
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Main departure area at Gatwick
Image by hybridace101


FLIGHT PROPER

Flight number: CX344
Gate: 31
Scheduled Departure Time: 11:35
Actual Take-off Time: 11:55
Aircraft Registration: B-LRF


The queue to enter the aircraft was not so long yet.  I found my seat quickly.  The rest of the passengers flooded in shortly afterwards.

Business class section of Cathay's A350
Image by hybridace101

Business class section of Cathay's A350
Image by hybridace101


At first glance, Cathay's premium economy class almost felt like what long-haul business class was in the 1990s, albeit with slightly narrower seats and slightly restricted recline.  The A350’s premium economy had a 2-4-2 configuration.  It means every premium economy passenger is up to one seat away from the aisle.   The seat also had buttons to help the passenger recline the seat and deploy the footrests.  A tray table was built into the seat and was slightly larger that what I am used to at regular economy.  In addition, the seat had provisions for glasses and one’s phones.  Each passenger had an AC outlet and USB recharging port for themselves. 


Cathay Pacific's Premium Economy Class on its A350
Image by hybridace101

Premium economy was not completely full although I had someone sitting next to me.  The regular economy class section however, was a different story.


Regular Economy Class section of Cathay Pacific's A350
Image by hybridace101
  
Just like in business class, premium economy passengers were offered a pre-departure drink.  It was a choice between water, juice, and champagne.  I decided to stick to water. 

Cathay Pacific’s A350 in-flight entertainment (IFE) system is a crown jewel in the airline.  Unlike other aircraft, the A350’s IFE had live TV and featured one of my favourite channels, CNN.  And there were hundreds of hours of other programmes, music, and games, and two more live TV news channels.  However, it felt like Cathay offered fewer albums than when I used it in 2012.  It was nonetheless still plentiful.  Unlike Cathay’s other aircrafts, its A350’s airshow or moving map was more interactive.  The passenger can choose what information they want to see and zoom in or out as they please.  They do not need to wait for the information to come up.  Most of the features were available immediately upon boarding; there was no need to wait to be airborne to savour the IFE collection.   Premium economy class passengers were also treated to a better headset than those seated in regular economy.  This helped them get better sound quality over what they were watching.


Premium Economy Class headset and amenity kit
Image by hybridace101


Right after take-off, we were offered a beverage.  I chose Sprite after hearing the hot chocolate would take long.  I also enjoyed their peanuts that I requested for another pack and got two more.  The hot chocolate eventually came. 

Premium economy class has their separate menu.  Meals were served in the second hour.  I requested for the beef tenderloin option but they also offered a chicken and pasta option for this flight.  Most of them came on a not-so disposable meal.  For desert, we were given Haagen Dazs ice cream.  It was a very scrumptious meal that I even finished the broccoli.  I did not wait for the flight attendants to collect my meal try as I needed to use the desk. 

Premium Economy beef meal
Image by hybridace101


For the third hour, the sky was noticeably darker.  The sun may have already set as it was late November.  More passengers started pulling down their window shades but the cabin lights were still switched on until late into that hour.  The curtains that separated premium from regular economy were also unveiled.  I also switched the channel to watch the comedy series VEEP.  I also requested for more peanuts.  This was when I tried more of the IFE to discover that it did not offer as much as in the past.      


Cathay Pacific A350 regular economy cabin
Image by hybridace101

At about the fourth hour, I thought it was time to get some shut-eye, at least for a few hours.  To prepare for that, I went to the lavatory but there was a queue of several and only the lavatories in the middle rows were operational.  Unfortunately the downside of most premium economy cabins is that passengers ticketed need to share lavatories with the regular economy class passengers.  On the way back, I got a few treats from their mini-bar, mostly biscuits and chocolates. 


My seat, 31H
Image by hybridace101

After barely an hour or two of sleep, I went to the rear of the cabin to grab a few more snacks.  I ordered hot chicken noodles and it was sent to my seat.  Shortly afterwards I also had another round of hot chocolate.  I also watched more satellite TV and VEEP, but occasionally the satellite TV signal just blacked out.

Chicken noodle soup snack
Image by hybridace101

Less than three hours remained on the flight and I started to freshen up.  The flight attendants had no hot towels but they had disposable towelettes.  When I returned to my seat, the main lights started coming back on.  It was a signal that breakfast will be served shortly.  Whilst waiting, I played with the airshow and came across a feature that showed what the view is like from the flight deck.  It also showed how fast and high up in the air the plane is.    


Cathay Pacific A350 Airshow's 'cockpit' view
Image by hybridace101
Cathay Pacific A350 regular economy cabin
Image by hybridace101

Cathay Pacific A350 regular economy cabin
Image by hybridace101

Cathay Pacific A350 regular economy cabin
Image by hybridace101

Breakfast was ultimately served with less than two hours left.  I chose the omelette and bacon option.  I also ate some yogurt for dessert.  I enjoyed eating it.  Just like the first instance, I went to the rear of the aircraft to return the mealtray as I wanted to use the tray table.

Omlette breakfast offered for premium economy passengers
Image by hybridace101
The remainder of the time was spent watching episodes of VEEP.

ARRIVAL
We landed at 6.40 am.  In theory, the cabin crew closed the curtains as a courtesy to the business class passengers to disembark first.  But the passengers in front of me just pressed ahead anyway.

Final photographs of A350 premium economy
Image by hybridace101

Cathay Pacific A350 regular economy cabin
Image by hybridace101

The plane docked at gate 2, which was close to passport control.  For the first time I can recall, there were no queues at passport control.  I got cleared to enter rather quickly.  But the bottleneck occurred at baggage control.  The bags have not yet arrived at the belt after I got cleared.  It took another 15-20 minutes for me to retrieve my bag.  Customs was also a fast clearance.

After exiting to the public area, I tried again to check the status of my waitlisted flight.  So far there was no luck.  I waited for my folks to begin my three (or hopefully four) days in Hong Kong.

Ultimately this premium economy flight on Cathay's A350 lasted rather quickly.

POST-FLIGHT

RATINGS FOR THIS LEG
These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score.  This covers aspects of the flight experience that Cathay Pacific and its ground agents are responsible for with a focus on Premium Economy Class.

·      Check-in (8/10): The lane moved rather quickly and the ground staff was helpful.  But I am not sure why Premium Economy class passengers have to share a check in desk with the ‘bag drop’ passengers. 
·      Boarding Process (8/10): The process was rather quick on our end.  But they could have considered having two jet bridges in operation to speed up the boarding since there was no exit that was within the premium economy cabin. 
·      Seat Comfort (9/10): With Cathay Pacific’s premium economy class, you can be forgiven for feeling like you are on a mini-business class.  The legroom was plentiful and had a lot of features for passengers to play with to feel comfortable.  There were multiple spots for the passenger to leave their things.  Having said that, the one area it may consider improving on is storage for laptops. Whilst the legroom was generally adequate, it was slightly annoying to some degree if you had to give way to another candidate whilst the tray table was down.  But otherwise Cathay Pacific’s A350 premium economy is in a league of its own.
·      Food (10/10): For long-haul flights, Cathay has a wide range of options for passengers.  They can choose a traditional western dish or an Asian one.  I chose the western dishes and both the beef and omelette options were tasty.
·      Cabin Crew (10/10): They were attentive to most passengers and do not forget about requests they have made.
·      Punctuality (10/10): Despite taking off slightly late, we arrived 25 minutes ahead of schedule. 
·      In-flight entertainment (9/10): The live satellite TV feature was great for those who want to catch up on news, but the selection of audio and video on demand seemed to be scaled back from what I chose from four years ago. 

As for my experience on the A350, one of the things I expected was that it would be less noisy on board.  However, I did not notice anything different about the noise between this kind of aircraft and others. 


We are not yet done.  I will be flying back to Manila in a few days.  But there are still big unknowns between now and then.  Will I fly back on Saturday or Sunday?  And what will happen to the difference of 10 kg of baggage between my current flight and desired flight?  I do not know the answers to these myself at this point. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Philippine Airlines Expands in London Amidst Brexit

National flag carrier Philippine Airlines has pushed ahead with its expansion plans at London's Heathrow Airport, increasing its non-stop services from four weekly flights to daily flights in spite of the outcome of the recent Brexit vote, which is expected to impact the carrier negatively.
philippine airlines london
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
According to PAL President Jaime Bautista, the decision to increase the service to daily flights was driven by the need to improve the carrier's product to enhance competitiveness against other carriers.

“The reason for adding flights, actually, we are not making money in London yet. But for us to be able to compete with the other carriers, we have to improve our product," said Bautista. "The four times a week is not really a good product."

Philippine Airlines currently holds less than 30% market share of the traffic flying between London and Manila. Bautista remains optimistic that offering daily flights will entice passengers currently flying with other carriers to use Philippine Airlines instead.
Meanwhile, the devaluation of the British pound after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union is expected to decrease the carrier's revenues on flights to London this year. Philippine Airlines estimates a loss of $4 million in revenues as a result of the currency fluctuation.
"An eight percent devaluation of the British pound sterling would mean an eight percent reduction in our revenue in London because we are expecting to generate around $50 million from our UK operations this year," said Bautista. "With an eight percent devaluation, it's more or less a $4 million reduction in revenue for our London operations."
Uncertainty in the United Kingdom led to the drop of the British pound as British nationals are forecasted to reconsider travelling overseas as a result of a weaker currency and less purchasing power. However, the drop in currency may encourage more Filipinos to travel to the United Kingdom as Britain becomes more affordable.
Bautista added that it is too early to tell whether the on-going effects of Brexit would influence the national flag carrier's expansion plans in Europe. Philippine Airlines is still studying the possibility of launching non-stop flights to Amsterdam, Hamburg, Rome, and Paris as it accepts delivery of Airbus A350 aircraft in 2018. Bautista remains optimistic that the situation will stabilise. "I think this will normalize," Bautista added.
In spite of losses expected on its only European route, Philippine Airlines expects to continue its profitability in 2016 after seeing impressive performance on new flights launched this year. In 2016, Philippine Airlines launched new service to Jeddah, Kuwait, Doha, Saipan, and new non-stop service from Los Angeles to Cebu. Most recently, the carrier launched new flights between Manila, Taipei, and Osaka. 
Philippine Airlines recently reported a net income of $132.73 million in 2015, which is 35 times higher than the $3.80 million achieved in 2014.
References: Philippine Star

Monday, June 27, 2016

WestJet London Gatwick Flight Review

WestJet Inaugural Vancouver to London Flight Review

When I first read that WestJet was going to begin flying non-stop to London's Gatwick Airport, I was extremely excited at the prospect of affordable airfares to Europe, which would enable me to visit relatives in England more frequently. WestJet, a low-cost carrier in Canada, happens to be a code-share partner of Philippine Airlines.

westjet london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
I purchased my ticket on September 15, 2015 immediately as they went on sale for the first time on WestJet's website. I was pleased to obtain one of the introductory fares, which was nearly half the price a passenger would normally pay for a flight from Vancouver to London. That left only the need to find some London hotel deals.

Although Air Canada had lowered their fares to match WestJet's introductory price, I was enticed by the opportunity to fly on-board the inaugural flight to London, which for WestJet, would be a very historic occasion. Moreover, it satisfied my curiosity to fly aboard the carrier's Boeing 767 wide-body aircraft and experience what would eventually become WestJet's long-haul product. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
If you are planning on reserving a flight to London and cannot decide which airline to fly, there is a large asterix that must be placed beside WestJet's airfare. Indeed, WestJet does offer very competitive fares and they have done the travelling public a great service by adding a new competitive element to the market, which has brought down the cost of air fares between Canada and the United Kingdom. 

However, it is important to note that there are incidental costs that the unsuspecting passenger may not realize when booking their ticket. When you purchase a ticket to London on WestJet, you need to pay extra for checked-luggage, meals, and in some cases, in-flight entertainment. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
As WestJet does not have any seat-back televisions, one is required to use their own personal electronic device to access their wireless in-flight entertainment system. That means if you did not bring an electronic device such as a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, you will need to rent one of WestJet's tablets in order to watch movies in-flight.

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
While none of this is necessarily a problem, I must stress to everyone doing their flight research to not assume that WestJet offers the lowest price on this route. If Air Canada matches WestJet's airfare, they technically become the cheapest airline as they do not charge extra for meals, entertainment, or checked luggage. Please note this would not be true in the case of flights operated by Air Canada Rouge. However, even Air Transat has WestJet beat in this category as they include meals, entertainment, and one piece of checked luggage on flights bound for the United Kingdom.

THE INAUGURAL FLIGHT

As I had an early connecting flight from Victoria, I already had my boarding passes all ready to go by the time I reached Vancouver International Airport. I made a point to arrive especially early so that I could take in the expected festivities. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The boarding gate, D67, was completely decked out in all things London up to and including the Union Jack and a red British telephone booth. There was a photo booth, where passengers were able to take a commemorative photo of themselves in front of a London landmark such as Tower Bridge. There was also a DJ blasting a number of popular British hits from the Beatles to the Spice Girls.

westjet london inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
As this was expected to be a highly publicised event with media in attendance, a special area was set up for the official press conference that would include representatives from WestJet, the Government of British Columbia, and Vancouver International Airport. A number of passengers waiting to board the inaugural flight were also interviewed for the news.

westjet london flight inaugural
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet vancouver to london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Prior to the start of the press conference, the cabin crew of the inaugural flight posed for a photograph with WestJet's President & CEO Gregg Saretsky, who was also scheduled to travel on the flight. 

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The Press Conference kicked off prior to boarding with a speech from Craig Richmond, President & CEO of the Vancouver International Airport Authority.

craig richmond yvr
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet inaugural flight london
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Shirley Bond, BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training followed with a speech of her own.

westjet ceo
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Last, but certainly not least, we heard from the President & CEO of WestJet, Gregg Saretsky.

westjet london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
After the customary presentation of an aircraft model, the ribbon ceremony was held. After the ribbon was cut, passengers were invited to indulge in the various refreshments that had been laid out including cupcakes, sandwiches, and beverages prior to the commencement of the boarding process. 

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
THE WESTJET BOEING 767-300ER ON-BOARD EXPERIENCE

After the festivities had ended, passengers began settling into their seats for what would be a completely full flight. As we boarded the aircraft, guests were handed a gift bag that was filled with a greeting card, chocolate, WestJet's Premium Ear Buds, and a set of Charging Cables. I guess they forgot the free flight? The last two items are usually sold on board the aircraft for $9.99 and $14.99 respectively.

The Boeing 767-300ER is the first wide-body aircraft in the WestJet fleet. It has enabled the carrier to operate its own long-haul flights with a range of nearly 11,000 kilometres.

westjet boeing 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
WestJet currently operates a fleet of four of these aircraft. They are ex-Qantas aircraft with an average age of 23.9 years. The cabin features a total of 262 seats with 238 economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, and 24 premium 'WestJet Plus' seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. The economy seats offer a 31" seat pitch with a 17.3" width, while Plus seats feature a 38" seat pitch with a 20" width. You might find it worth the extra money to upgrade. 

westjet connect
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

When you sit down, you may be surprised to discover that you are staring at a blank seat. That's because there is not a single seat-back monitor on board this aircraft. The Boeing 767 fleet is equipped with WestJet Connect, the low-cost carrier's wireless in-flight entertainment system. 

The system offers passengers wireless internet connectivity for an additional charge and complimentary access to more than 300 television programs and 85 movies if you have brought your own device. Otherwise, you can rent a tablet for a fee. Passengers will need to download the latest version of the WestJet app prior to boarding.

The back of each seat aboard the Boeing 767 has been specially equipped with a holder for passengers to mount their tablets, as long as they do not exceed 1 kilogram in weight. The aircraft seats are also equipped with USB power outlets and apparently, 110-volt outlets. However, my seat-mate and I failed to locate a 110-volt outlet on both the outbound and return flights. That is indeed a problem for those who are using their laptops to access WestJet Connect.

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN

ON-BOARD SERVICE

The on-board service began with a snack and beverage service. As this was the inaugural flight, one complimentary alcoholic beverage was provided as a courtesy to each guest. This was accompanied by a choice of either pretzels or cookies. It might be worthy to note that both Air Canada and Air Transat do provide alcoholic beverages at no additional charge, while WestJet does charge extra for alcoholic beverages although non-alcoholic selections are complimentary.

After the snack was served, it was time for meal service -- if you had pre-ordered one. WestJet served passengers like myself that had pre-ordered a meal, before they came through the cabin with the buy-on-board service. I can imagine some passengers must have been starving by the time the buy-on-board service arrived. WestJet does not include a hot meal with the purchase of tickets to London. This has drawn mixed reviews from passengers. WestJet claims that it provides passengers with the flexibility to save money and pay only for the services they want. However, that argument only stands if a passenger is actually saving money compared to flying Air Transat or Air Canada. 

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
If you buy from the pre-purchase menu on the WestJet website, you can order a selection of hot meals that includes a light snack prior to landing. I took advantage of this service and paid the standard $14.99 charge. Alternatively, if you buy on board, the meal without the snack would cost $8.99. I would say that the snack is not worth the additional $6.

The meal choices included Tomato and Tarragon Chicken, Red Wine Braised Beef, or Creamy Marinara Cannelloni. In honesty, none of the choices appealed to me and I ended up selecting the pasta. 
westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Generally speaking, my expectation for airline food is low. However, when you are forced to pay an additional $15 for it, I do expect a little more. In fairness, it was relatively tasty but for the most part on par with the quality of an individual microwaveable frozen pasta that you might purchase in a grocery store. This was accompanied by a stale chocolate brownie and a salad that would probably leave even the slimmest rabbit feeling hungry. 

Truly, I was appalled at what I received after paying $15 for a meal. It was not fair value at all and it was not even on par with the complimentary meals served by other carriers. It seemed that WestJet had selected the cheapest possible ingredients and there wasn't even a bread roll with butter included. 

I find it quite disappointing when a complimentary meal on a competing carrier exceeds the quality of an in-flight meal that one had to pay extra for. In addition, this isn't a case of "I got what I paid for" because I could have booked a flight on a competing carrier for the very same price of my WestJet ticket. Overall, my advice to fellow passengers is to skip the WestJet meal and buy a nice hearty meal inside the airport prior to departure. You'll get much better value and feel more satisfied.

westjet president ceo
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
After the meal service, WestJet's President & CEO, came through the cabin to help clear meal trays and garbage. He took time to ask the passengers for their feedback on the inaugural flight. I was impressed that he made the effort to engage with passengers. 

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
A couple of hours prior to landing at London's Gatwick Airport, the cabin crew delivered the second portion of my pre-paid meal, a light snack of banana bread and sliced apples. It was hardly the continental breakfast that I have been accustomed to on other carriers, but it was adequate. 

The flight attendants then came through the cabin again with another round of beverages and buy-on-board. But on this service, WestJet's CEO took the place of one of the attendants serving the beverages, which was another impressive move on his part. We eventually arrived at Gatwick on-time and without incident. 

THE RETURN FLIGHT

I was hoping that my WestJet flight back to Canada on May 23rd would have been as uneventful as the first one, but the mediocrity began before I even departed for the airport. I received a notification that my flight had been cancelled the evening prior to my scheduled departure. In the e-mail, I was presented with the option of rescheduling and flying back on another date or flying on the same date but routing through Toronto. 

westjet 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Although I was not pleased as the new schedule would have me home prior to midnight as opposed to dinner time when I was originally scheduled to arrive, I took the option of the flight via Toronto as I had to get back for work. I arrived at London Gatwick Airport with plenty of time to spare. I must say that after Vancouver Airport, London Gatwick leaves much to be desired in terms of comfort and service.

When our flight was called to the boarding gate, the agents had us all form a long line and wait to board even though there was a completely empty boarding lounge filled with seats. As I stood in line, I learned that we were about to board a rescue flight that had been sent into transport passengers that had been displaced due to the cancelled flight. 

Apparently, one of WestJet's 767 aircraft had broken down the day before and they were unable to get a part to fix the aircraft in a timely manner. This resulted in not only the cancellation of my flight but several others as well. This caused some passengers to be stranded in London for another day. This is indeed the downside of flying with a carrier with a limited wide-body fleet as there are no spare aircraft that are readily available when one breaks down. In addition, break downs are to be expected when you are operating aircraft that are more than twenty years old.

After boarding the aircraft, the flight was delayed further because a passenger had become ill on board and wanted to disembark. We ended up being delayed around thirty minutes, which would not have been so bad except for the fact that I had an extremely tight connection in Toronto that would leave me only 45 minutes to clear customs, collect my luggage, and head to my next flight. Although I made it in the end, it made for a rather stressful experience at the prospect of being stranded in Toronto overnight.

On board the aircraft, the service was much the same. Tensions were high as all of the passengers had been inconvenienced in one way or another due to being on board a rescue flight. However, the cabin crew did their best and I must give special mention to a flight attendant from South Africa named Suzanne, who really made a special effort to bring light to a negative situation. 

She was very kind and patient with passengers and made the effort to check on them and engage them in conversation regularly. She stood out by a long shot against the other cabin crew, who didn't even come close to her level of service. In spite of her efforts, passengers including myself seemed disappointed that WestJet had not made any gesture to compensate the passengers for all the hassle and inconvenience -- a complimentary meal or alcoholic beverage would have gone a long way to addressing disappointment.

The rest of the flight seemed consistent with the inaugural flight in spite of the delays. However, I noticed that this time, pre-ordered meals were served simultaneously with the buy-on-board service. The meal choices on the return flight were different: Sweet Bell Pepper Chicken, Shepherd's Pie, and Butternut Squash Ravioli. Although I am partial to Shepherd's Pie, I won't pay $14.99 for it. Therefore, I ordered the ravioli.

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
All I can say is that this was the greatest disappointment of all. Firstly, the cabin crew had no record that I had even ordered a meal. Thankfully, I was able to produce a receipt that I printed at home proving that I had pre-paid for it. Secondly, they didn't have any of the side dishes available at the time of service. The flight attendant said, "Hopefully, we'll be back with the rest of your meal if we can find some." I thought they better find some as I had paid for it!

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
While the cannelloni I was served on the outbound flight was decent, the ravioli was absolutely disgusting. The pasta lacked sauce and overall, it was dry, hard, and freezer-burned. It's obvious to the naked eye seeing the discolouration of the pasta. I could not believe that I had paid $15 for that, when it was below the quality of a $1.99 frozen pasta at the grocery store!

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The flight attendants later returned with the remainder of the meal, which was an oatmeal raisin cookie and pasta salad. Although I was incredibly disappointed that I paid $15 for the meal, it turned out when I arrived home that I didn't end up paying anything for it. 

Since my original flight was cancelled, WestJet's computer system automatically cancelled and refunded the purchase of my meal. Although it ended up being a happy accident to my benefit, it is a bit alarming that my order was not transferred to my new flight schedule as I could have ended up without a meal at all. 

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
A couple of hours prior to landing in Toronto, I received the light snack that I had ordered with my pre-purchase meal. It was an extremely basic cheese sandwich wrapped in cling film.

westjet meal
"WestJet Sandwich"
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
It looked like something that your mother might have packed for a school lunch - very bland and underwhelming in every way possible. Compare this to the complimentary cheese sandwich that I received on a British Airways flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona. I paid only £40 for that two-hour flight and both the sandwich and packaging were much more impressive.

british airways meal
"British Airways Sandwich"
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
SHOULD YOU FLY WESTJET TO LONDON?

I consciously chose to fly WestJet to London as they have worked hard to earn an enviable reputation for their domestic and trans-border flights in Canada. I am thankful that they have brought down the cost of airfares between the United Kingdom and Canada. However, I would likely never fly with them to London again unless they improve the quality of their product and service. 

It would be completely fair to receive a sub-standard product if I had saved a considerable amount of money over competing carriers because it is acceptable to receive less when you have paid less for it. But in this instance, there was a choice and I could have flown Air Canada mainline or Air Transat for the same price and I would have undoubtedly received better value. To add insult to injury, the in-flight meal that I paid for with WestJet ended up being well below the standard of complimentary services that are included in the cost of a ticket with competing carriers. After paying extra for checked luggage, meals, and not even having seat-back televisions screens, I can equate this experience to nothing more than a flying school bus.  

I must disclose that I did receive compensation from WestJet for the delayed return flight. However, that is a credit to the European Union's Denied-Boarding and Delayed Flight Regulations. While I appreciate my compensation, I can't help but wonder what gesture WestJet would have made had the regulations not been in place. Overall, I was disappointed with the experience. It did not meet my expectations and WestJet's long-haul product leaves much to be desired. Growing pains are expected in the beginning but I sincerely hope that they will focus on improving.

westjet 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
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