25 May 2011

Archive - Air Malta LGW-MLA-LHR


My mum offered my wife an I, for our Christmas present, a short break somewhere, the only stipulation being that it had to be somewhere that neither my wife nor I had been before. As well as not being too expensive! We've both travelled extensively around Europe, and didn't want to stretch her financially to a long-haul destination, so we settled on Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean. Tons of history, some very nice beaches, cuisine, and pretty towns.

Outward - 07/05/08

I started off by checking in online, to pick our seats. One difficulty was that the online checkin didn't allow both seats to be checked in at the same time. So I checked in first, saw that I'd been allocated seat 10A. Not knowing where my wife's seat was, I found a few empty seats in her preferred area, towards the front on the right side. I moved to 9F, then found that she had been allocated 10B, so moved her to 9E. I also sent a mail from their website confirming the gluten free meal for her, that I had requested on booking. (A positive response was received within 30 mins - impressive customer service!)

We left from Norwich on a train bound for London. As we had different arrival and departure airports, we just took a ticket to Liverpool St Station, and then took the tube to Farringdon, using pay as you go Oyster. Annoyingly, the ticket to LGW from Liverpool St was £14, whereas one from Farringdon was only £8.90 (plus the £1 Oyster tube fare). Only thing was we had to exit the station only to reenter! The next train to Gatwick from Farringdon was quite full, so we ended up sitting apart from each other. It had been a while since I last used LGW (LGW-JER on BA, North Terminal - used the huge taxi-bridge!) so was pleasantly surprised to see the Air Malta checkin desks and bag drop almost immediately in front of the station entrance! We dropped our bags and decided to get a drink. Headed upstairs to the "Gatwick Village", landside shops and catering outlets. We stopped at Starbucks for a sandwich (for me) and a cake (for my wife) - they do sell gluten free sandwiches, but of their range of 2 I've only ever actually seen one, the egg and cress one, in one branch, and today they didn't have any either. So my wife had their new GF orange cake.

We then went through the security checks, all very easy and hardly anyone in front of us. The shops were quite busy though - everyone seemed packed into the concourse area. We bought a couple of books then headed out to the gate. Our gate was right down the end of the corridor - about 400m of travelators to walk along! We passed an Air Transat A330 on the way (which I later watched pushback and depart). Our aircraft was already at gate, and there were a lot of people sitting around waiting for boarding. Ours was the only aircraft departing from this group of gates, so they were all on our flight.

At this point we noticed that the average age of the passengers was quite a bit higher than on many other flights I've been on! It is known that Malta is a popular destination for retired holidaymakers. Boarding was done by rows, so we were some of the last to board. All done very calmly, none of the rugby scrum you get on Ryanair! We made our way on board and settled down. I'd say that the load was approx 95% - hardly any empty seats. I picked up a copy of the Times of Malta to read onboard. On pushback, whilst the safety video was being shown, my wife remembered that her mobile was still on, and in her daypack in the overhead locker - so I (being in the middle seat, she took the window) clambered up, and took it out of the bag for her to switch off. Managed this by contorting myself into an "S" shape around the overhead locker, and around the chap in the aisle seat.

We taxied for quote some time, to the other end of the runway, and soon we were airborne. Takeoff was quite smooth, and we quickly reached cruising altitude. Then the meal service started. As a full service carrier, Air Malta still serves a hot meal on flights over 3 hours (including London at 3h05m). There was however, no choice in the meal. You can also take one alcoholic drink - any more are chargeable. The meal was stewed beef, with rice and runner beans, it was rather tasty, and the meat was very tender. The steward gave my wife her gluten free meal - chicken filet with potatoes, beans and tomato (with some rice crackers on the side, instead of a roll). She was very impressed with it, compared to other airline meals.

The stewards on the flight all seemed to be male, and did their job professionally, but without any extra touches. I hardly saw them smile, but they probably had an early start with the early flight that morning out of MLA. We passed over Paris, down France then just off the west coast of Italy, before crossing over Sicily before approach. I got a couple of shots of the north of Corsica through gaps in the clouds. Approach was over Gozo, then down the length of the island - with a clear view of the Mosta dome. We landed ontime, and taxied to the terminal. There are no air bridges at MLA, so we all walked across the tarmac to the terminal. After passport control, we waited for our bags (some of the passengers seemed very impatient to get their bags back, and we witnessed some sharp words between passengers bumping each other with their trolleys). We exited, and had our taxi driver waiting with a sign with my name on - a first for me!

Return - 11/05/08

After a really nice break in Malta, it was time to head home. The flight was due to depart at 07.15, so the shuttle company arranged a hotel pickup for 04.15! We checkout out and went to the dining room for an early breakfast (they had a limited selection for early risers) and someone else there asked if I was Mr ...! I replied that I was, it turns out he was the taxi driver due to take us back to the airport, having a bite himself. We had a light bite (I had tea and a croissant, my wife coffee and some ham and cheese) before we left. This driver didn't seem as good as the other one - maybe because of the early start, be we were drifting over the road, narrowly missed perhaps the onlt other car about on a roundabout (this was 4.30am!) and he was reading text messages on his phone.

We arrived at the airport at around 4.45, before the checkin opened for London. Already the airport was busy, with flights to Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig, and the BA flight to Gatwick. We had to check in manually at the desk, as we didn't have net access at the hotel (or rather, there was no printer to print out the boarding passes). Fortunately we were allocated seats on the right, by a window, but a bit further back - 16E and F. From the checkin zone in MLA, you pass through security then go upstairs to the departure lounge. We went to a cafe, and had some coffee (wife) and juice (me). There's even a Playmobil shop there - apparently there's a factory on the island. One thing to note at MLA, there is a smoking area in the departure lounge - or rather, outside! Next to the cafe, there's an outdoor terrace with a few tables, large umbrellas and fences blocking you in! You can just about see part of the apron from there, but not much, as it is at the side of the building, set a bit back from the main apron. We had to pass through passport control to get to the non-shengen gates. Here there was a small duty free shop and another cafe, but we just waited for our boarding.

On being called, we found it was a bus boarding gate, so we dutifully boarded the bus. When it was full it set off. It seemed like it was driving to the ferry terminal, it took that long to reach the aircraft! We passed other Air Malta A320s, and a pair of Saudi Cargo MD-11s. It should be noted at this point that it was very windy, and for the last few days up to gale force 7-8 (we'd had a boat trip cancelled). We all boarded and took our seats. You may recall earlier that my wife sat by the window - she does this as she gets terribly airsick.

Now, when the plane started its takeoff roll, I noticed that the wind was directly from the side - a strong crosswind. We started off, and we could feel the sideways movement whilst accelerating down the runway. The sideways jerking movement was getting stronger, then we took off - quickly gained height but there was plenty of turbulence. My wife was starting to feel quite ill. The breakfast service started, scrambled egg, beans and a hash brown. My wife's was scrambled egg, bacon and broccoli! She didn't eat anything except the fruit salad, and that came back up later... I had her bacon.

By this time she was feeling very bad. We had a barf bag full, and the purser came over - she was incredibly kind, and understanding. She took the bag and gave us some more, offered water, and then said "please wait one moment"... she came back a few moments later and asked if my wife would like to lay down. She said sure, it may help, so they went together to the last row of business class (that was empty). As much as I felt for her, I spent the rest of the flight looking out of the window.

Towards the end of the flight, my wife came back. She was looking much better, but still not 100%. We approached from Kent, we could see the Dungeuoness power station, flew due west to the south of London, then did a 180 near Reading, and came in for a textbook landing on 09L. The taxi to Terminal 4 was quite long, and we had to wait for ages for a previous flight to vacate the stand. During this time, I noted the BA 777, this time tailless (!). I also got my first real life glimpse of the A380, in Singapore Airlines colours, from across the runway! We eventually pulled onto stand, and disembarked.

The route from stand to passport control in T4 is a bit of a maze, including over a road bridge. We noticed spikes on the window ledges, to deter pigeons - and some round balls of fluff on them. Does anyone know if they are dead pigeons that landed too hard, or other random stuff (rags etc)? We waited for ages for our bags, but they eventually arrived, and we headed to the tube. On arriving at Liverpool St Station, we noticed that the Norwich train was replaced by a bus between Colchester and Ipswich, so rather than pfaff around there we got some lunch at M&S (salads - they do some very nice ones) and got on a Cambridge train that left shortly afterwards, and changed there for Norwich.


Overall, I was very impressed with Air Malta. A new fleet, and very professional staff - to the extent of being extrememly friendly and helpful on the return leg. All this for £78 each return, tax included, made for a bargain trip! (was about £5 more than Ryanair or Easyjet, but included meals and better timed flights). I wouldn't hesitate to travel with them again. Another question about the carrier though. In their magazine, they have their "Direct destinations" list that includes New York (Newark) daily, but they only have A320s - is this a codeshare? Who flies the route? Thanks.

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