British Airways BA491 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/28359572@N06/7351855738/) by Wntrmute (http://www.flickr.com/people/28359572@N06/), on Flickr
This trip wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't had the internet - and FlyerTalk in particular - to draw upon. I first became interested in frequent flyer schemes at the start of 2011, joining BA's Executive Club and logging LHR-MIA-MSY-DFW-LHR by mid-January. As it happens, I only managed one more relevant flight in 2011, yet by the start of 2012 I was thoroughly hooked on both the FT community, and the mathematical challenge of making status at minimal extra expense. To that end I joined Hilton's HHonors program, intending it to be simply another source of BA miles (as they were), but it soon became clear that I could rack up hotel stays more rapidly than flights, and it made more sense to keep the points with them.
An article in BA's High Life magazine - yes, there's at least one person who reads it- had convinced me that I would enjoy a visit to Gibraltar; whilst another had me fascinated by its remarkable airport. What started as a daydream turned into firm plans when I learnt (from here, naturally) of a 25% discount code for Club Europe flights; realised that I was due some holiday from work; and found that I could stay cheaply in Gib by opting not for a hotel (of which options were limited, and opinions on TripAdvisor often negative) but instead a boat! The 8am flight out of Heathrow posed a problem for my Bristol-based self, which I initially intended to resolve with another stint at the Yotel. But then I realised I was sitting on enough HHonors points to use the Paddington Hilton instead- and /then/ I realised that for the same points, I could avail myself of several far more swish properties elsewhere in London.
Thus was born my luxury-holiday-on-a-budget: a 5* hotel, Club class flights, and a boat in the Med in June, all made possible by loyalty schemes and/or internet-savvy. I even snagged a code for the Heathrow Express from here! Of course, the universe couldn't let me have too perfect a time... The dreaded IRROPS struck when I tried to get home, leading to the most extreme example of being bussed to your plane, with over five hours of delay. but before that, the trip certainly delivered, so read on for fancy accomodation, Club Europe, dramatic scenery, dolphin-, monkey- and plane-spotting, confusing patriotism, and a glimpse into just how convoluted life can become if you're in Gibraltar and your plane is in Spain.
Jul 2, 12, 2:55 pm
Part 1: The Bentley London Waldorf Astoria Collection and Le Kalon Spa
Having settled on redeeming HHonors points for a hotel, the only question was which... since pretty much all of London is category 7, it made sense to treat myself to something a bit more interesting than the station hotel (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-london-paddington-hotel-LONPDHI/index.html#), or the nearby Metropole (http://www.hiltonlondonmet.com/) (which I'd used before). I managed to resist the siren call of childhood games of Monopoly that steered me initially to Park Lane (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/london-hilton-on-park-lane-hotel-LONHITW/index.html), opting instead for The Bentley (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/the-bentley-london-a-hilton-hotel-LHRBLHI/index.html).
At the time of booking (May), this was part of the Waldorff Astoria Collection (http://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com/en/index.html), but it seems there was a reshuffling between then and my stay, so by then it was simply "a Hilton hotel"- clearly with riffraff like me showing up, it had to be downgraded :) 50,000 HHonors points secured me a queen room that would otherwise have been £191. That's 0.38p a point (so I'd have to get 4p of value per avios were I to have transfered them to BA), but of course one should consider that I could have stayed elsewhere for less. Certainly I wouldn't ordinarily drop nearly £200 on a single night at a hotel, so I can't argue that I've saved exactly that.
Since I was travelling to London the day before my flight, there was no urgency with the trains from Bristol, and so (naturally) they ran entirely without incident. By booking far in advance, I'd managed to get a ticket for a mere £10, although it did mean taking a slightly odd routing via Bristol Parkway. Since my last trip (and a few others) where I'd bemoaned the limitations of an ipod touch as a computing device, but not wanted to drag a proper laptop with me, I'd invested in an ipad, and so the two hours to London breezed by as I flitted between an ebook (Cory Doctorow's Makers, excellent and available for free ("http://craphound.com/makers/download/)), some episodes of Community, and the internet (powered by my oft-failing PAYG personal hotspot- at least it's cheap!).
Despite grey clouds spied on the train, London - or at least, the Tube - proved as stickily warm as ever. Still, from train-door to hotel-door was a mere 25 minutes, The Bentley being very conveniently located five minutes on foot from Gloucester Road underground station. The building exterior was quite understated - clearly pricey, but not opulent - but the entrance was more obviously designed to impress. Wiki reckons there's six hundred tons of marble in the Bentley, and a fair proportion of that must be found in the lobby!
The front desk was actively teeming with staff, so I didn't have to wait even though there was someone else also checking in, and at least two people were attending to my own arrival at any given time. As well as being efficient, the staff were very friendly- perhaps confusingly so... when one of them went to take my luggage I nearly mistook the gesture for her reaching for my hand! In my defense, one of her colleagues had already said he'd take my suitcase, and I did grasp what was going on before instead grasping her. But still, it wouldn't have done to out myself as an amateur at this 5-star malarkey by committing such a faux pas before we'd even got to the room. I wonder if we'd have made it to the lifts before she discreetly extracted herself, or I'd simply have been thrown out immediately!
Having narrowly avoided confirming the stereotype of the socially-oblivious mathematician, I was escorted to the room by both of the would-be suitcase carriers, and given a quick tour. The bedroom itself was a decent size for the UK- certainly a lot more space, and vastly better-styled, than the room at the last London Hilton I'd used - and they'd managed to fit (much appreciated) air conditioning without ruining the traditional look. The hallway had a small table bearing hilariously priced minibar items such as 25g packets of kettle chips for £2- fortunately there was free fruit and water set out in the bedroom (and there was also a fridge with drinks, discreetly stowed in the TV cabinet). Off the hall was storage and a sink/vanity unit, then the bathroom.
Although the room description rather implied there would be, there was no jacuzzi in the bathroom, but it did include probably at least one of those tons of marble, creating an enormous shower space. This I set to immediate use (well, once the staff had bid their farewells!) to blast away the delicate aroma of London Underground, which confirmed that the shower featured the oft-elusive combo of both properly hot water, and serious pressure. Thus scrubbed, I considered myself presentable enough for the next part of my stay. A couple of weeks before my arrival date, the concierge - well, a computer routine calling itself that, at any rate - had emailed me to notify me that it would be their pleasure to help me set up any spa appointments or dining reservations I might desire. The Bentley is home to Le Kalon, which offers a range of body treatments and a Turkish-style 'Hamman' bath, as well as housing the hotel gym. I would be even more out of my element here, but their Indian Head Massage was billed as being ideal "for people who spend lots of time in front of a computer", which neatly summarises the majority of my time. Plus it felt in keeping with the undeserved-luxury theme of my trip, so I booked a half hour session.
In the event, about 20 minutes of that was a back massage, before ending with work specifically targetting the head and neck. But that was fine by me - when not hunched up over a keyboard with hopelessly bad posture, there's a good chance I can instead be found hanging off a climbing wall, which is probably no better for my back. Net result is that my muscles are a horrendous collection of knots and lumps, and perhaps it took longer than usual to work those out. It's not a necessarily relaxing process, either! But the occasional bit of firm pressure is worth it for the end result, which is of feeling like you've just taken off a very heavy backpack after a day of wearing it. Le Kalon gets a bit of a savaging on Trip Advisor, but whilst I have no other massages to compare it to, I was more than happy with the experience. Perhaps it's better to manage expectations and just see it is as a top up to a stay at the hotel, rather than trying to make it a day-long experience?
They were happy to charge it back to my room (hooray, more HHonors points!), to which I floated back exuding a general aura of relaxation (and dare I say it, smugness). I ventured out for dinner, but wasn't in search of anything glamorous (I'm not a particularly sophisticated diner), so settled for a place in the arcade by the tube station mostly by virtue of being sensibly-priced and the first place I found. I made the schoolboy error of not specifically requesting tap water, and thus got gouged for bottled, but other than that, the meal was uneventful. On my return I grabbed a few more pictures of the hotel (which you've already seen above) , and took in another couple of ipad-powered tv shows before opting for an early night- I had a 5am start the next day to face, and was hoping that post-massage sleep would be easily found even at an unusually sensible hour.
Well, speaking of calling it a night, this seems to be turning into quite the epic, so I'll have to delay the remaining posts to later in the week... coming up next, my first taste of a BA Heathrow lounge (and their fabled bacon rolls), a Club Europe flight, and first impressions of Gibraltar!
Jul 3, 12, 2:14 pm
Part 2: London to Gibraltar on BA Club Europe
Miraculously, when my collection of alarms dragged me back to the real world at an unfamiliar 5am, I actually felt well-rested. Check-out being as smoothly well-staffed as check-in, I was off-site by 5:40 and thus at Gloucester road tube by quarter to 6.
Where, immediately, I ran into seeming trouble. Although service had been running for less than half an hour by that point, it had somehow reached a state of 'severe delays' on either of the lines I could use direct to Paddington, the Circle and District. Remarkably, there was a member of staff on hand, and he even radioed elsewhere for advice on how best to route myself, but that guidance seemed to amount to "good luck"! The platform departure board reckoned there'd be nothing until 06:02, which gave me just enough time to get my suitcase open as, lurching from drama to crisis, I realised that I'd probably just thrown away the printout of my heathrow express booking confirmation. Naturally, an entirely unexplained circle line train then appears at 05:48, which I manage to board without dumping the contents of my still-open luggage. I confirm that I have indeed managed to rid myself of the HEX ticket whilst getting rid of un-needed paperwork from the hotel; mercifully, my ipad has cached the email so I decide to try my luck with that.
I was aiming for the 06:10 service, so ambled my way to the platform before picking up my pace as I realised there was a train there. Frantic waving of the ipad at the platform staff seemed to get a look of approval, so I lept into the first carriage as the whistle blew; allegedly this was the 05:55 despite it being past six by now. My electronic ticket causes issues at first, until we discover that the resolution on the latest ipad is a bit too keen, and thus you have to resize the QR code for it to register.
I normally dodge the horrors of check-in desks by being hand-luggage only and using OLCI, but I simply hadn't been able to coerce a holiday's worth of stuff into a rollaboard (it doesn't help that I have an entire backpack of camera gear). So my heart sunk as I trundled to the BA check-in area and was confronted by a forward, back, and forward again snaking queue to the desks. Thankfully, salvation lay in
the distance, in the shape of a business class bag drop line with only a few people in it. I had actually attempted OLCI, and my ipod ticket had somehow ended up declaring 'hand luggage only', but I figured I could try my luck with this desk (since, after all, I did want to drop off a bag) before braving the hordes attempting actual check-in. Bag drop guy was happy to print me an actual boarding pass, and explained where priority security and then the lounge could be found.
Oh, what a delight. From joining that queue, to settling down in the lounge, was all of 15 minutes- I'd had my first taste of business class on my previously reported trip, but I had no baseline experience there to compare fast track against. At Heathrow, though, I'm entirely familar with how tedious life as an economy passenger can be, and thus was feeling deeply appreciative of the perks of Club even before I'd reached the sanctuary of the lounge.
Which was huge! Rome had not prepared me for this, either- and this was only at Terminal 3, so I've yet to see what T5 is like. I was fractionally disappointed that the breakfast buffet had a big space where the oft-mentioned bacon rolls should be, but consoled myself with a mushroom one instead and set about trying a variety of chairs around the lounge. Plus, of course, taking photos:
Having also treated myself to the (admittedly overpriced) camera connection kit for the ipad, I was able to immediately load up some shots from my dslr of both The Bentley and the lounge, and made use of the latter's wifi to upload a few for facebook bragging rights. I did attempt to take one photo with the ipad itself first, but it's a frankly ridiculous idea - I felt less conspicuous with the big camera, overcompensatingly-sized telephoto lens and all.
Heathrow Terminal 3 Galleries Club
Departure was scheduled for 08:00, and at 07:25 I noticed we were being summoned to the gate. On the way out of the lounge I spotted that the bacon rolls had been restocked, and gleefully treated myself to one to fuel me on the stroll to 25E. That turned out to be a bus gate, with no apparent notion of priority boarding for either the staging area with seats, or the buses themselves. Still, at least I didn't have far to walk once we did reach the plane, having nabbed 2F; and the bus ride included the entertainment of a possibly long-suffering fellow being berated for failing to pick up his wife's handbag after security. Said item had since been safely retrieved, so I don't really see the point of going on about it - sometimes it feels like people actively want to make themselves unhappy when travelling, which I figure is a task best left to the professionals working immigration and customs :-)
British Airways service BA490 from London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 3 to Gibraltar (GIB); flown by G-EUYC, an airbus A320-200. Scheduled Depature 08:00; flight time 2h40. Seat 2F (Club Europe, window seat).
Flight itself was mostly unremarkable; breakfast was clearly a decent size, as I couldn't finish it - although the early hour, and those two rolls from the lounge may have contributed. The moving map, and the view out the window, revealed deep deficiencies in my knowledge of Spain, such as that Santander is not just a bank, but a place, and that there are snow-capped mountains. I had my ebook for much of the flight, and a dead-tree edition of William Gibson's Distrust that Particular Flavor for the "no electronics, please" sections and during the food service (since I suspect scrambled eggs and ipads don't play nice together, and I am clumsy).
The landing, however, is far from mundane. We overshot Spain to the east of Gibraltar, before banking all the way around the rock to approach the runway from the west, soaring over cargo ships and cruiseliners alike as we lined up for the runway that sticks out improbably from the narrow strip linking Gib to the rest of Europe. My choice of a right-hand window seat paid off, and this proved a handy way to get my bearings before I'd even reached the ground, spotting the marina where I'd be staying in the last seconds before wheels down.
Gibraltar has a shiny new airport terminal, but bafflingly it's only used for arrivals at the moment - I suppose it makes sense to make the best impression on visitors, but as I would later find, the departures terminal is a far less pleasant space, and one that people are more likely to have to spend significant amounts of time in. Baggage collection seemed slow, but it could be that I'm not used to waiting for it - for short trips I've generally nothing to retrieve, and long-haul to the US means clearing the interminable immigration queues first, so it's probably done several dozen laps of the belt by the time I'm there to rescue it.
Those arriving for Gibraltar itself rather than turning right and across the border into Spain are treated to the unusual experience of following the road - straight across the runway. Yes, the same one you were landing on a few minutes previous... with just some traffic lights, a guard hut and a multilingual plea not to litter to keep things safe! A tunnel to replace this madness was planned to open years ago, but doesn't seem to exist yet - so I wanted to try the current setup whilst it still exists.
A green man you definitely want to wait for
and with that, I was in Gibraltar! The next post won't be especially flying-related (although there will be some photos for the planespotters!), but after some sightseeing highlights, I'll get on to the subject of my undesired Spanish detour...
Jul 6, 12, 4:16 pm
Part 3: Gibraltar and Con Dios
As I mentioned in the opening post, I had decided not to stay in a hotel, but instead on a boat. That was the Con Dios (http://www.gibraltarbedandbreakfast.com/condiosco/), ideally located in the Ocean Village marina. I split my stay between three nights in the state room - the largest on board - and (due to an existing booking over the weekend) the Starboard room. The state is clearly the better option, but both had private bathrooms, tea/coffee facilities, and access to the fridge, wifi and sundecks. I also appreciated that single occupants didn't get hit for the whole double-occupancy rate - and so the five nights together only ran me £145. Admittedly, it's not for everyone - for a shower you need to use the communal block shared with other marina users, for instance, and the boat can sway about a bit - but I was very happy to have the chance to try something a bit different.
The State Room
Gibraltar itself was a bit of a strange experience coming from the UK. On the one hand, everything feels mostly familiar, from the use of sterling and the shop/restaurant chains, to British street markings and postboxes. With part of my visit coinciding with the Jubilee weekend, patriotic sentiment was probably cranked rather higher than usual, with Union flags and pictures of the queen (of Gibraltar!) flying seemingly everywhere. But all this served to highlight the bits that weren't quite the same as home, causing a variant of culture-shock as the slightest discrepency was overly magnified. With the British summer a washout, nighttime temperatures in Gib were already higher than the best of the day back in Bristol, and the idea of sitting down for a full mid-afternoon sunday roast in 30C heat seemed entirely wrong to me. You'll hear a lot of Spanish spoken, especially by shop/service staff, who sometimes struggled with my estuary english; I was reminded somewhat of the US in that regard. I was also struck by the fact that there's no indoor smoking ban here, and nearly did myself a mischief by looking the wrong way when crossing roads! Not that Gibraltar should try to simply be Britain in the sun, of course: for such a tiny place, it has plenty of its own history, as well as natural wonders.
I spent the Friday evening on dolphin safari, not to be confused with dolphin tours, or dolphin world- the 'dolphin wars' are apparently serious business here! Although dolphins were generally sparse - and ridiculously hard to photograph - we did eventually find a small group that were convinced to play in the wake of our boat. Plus it was pleasant just to be feeling the breeze and salt-spray of being out in the Strait, zipping along between lumbering cargo ships. It was never clear enough to catch sight of Morocco, though!
I rose early on the Saturday to try and hike the mediterranean steps before the temperature got too insufferable - unfortunately missing a bus, lugging several kilos of camera gear, and just not being all that fit meant it was still a draining and sweaty experience! On finally reaching the top it became clear that I'd been particularly unfortunate with the weather, as there were strong winds, but the bulk of the rock had shielded me from them. Just standing on the ridge being blasted by cooler air was wonderful, but the conditions also meant that the cable car - my planned method of return to the town - was out of action. I therefore foolishly decided to visit all of the rock's attractions on foot.
St Michael's Caves
Barbary Ape (actually a type of monkey)
It didn't help that the one cafe available wasn't serving food when I first arrived, and refused to give change for purchases of icecreams or water. This was extra problematic since - following guidance on the thieving nature of the rock's resident monkeys - I hadn't brought anything more with me than I'd needed to get up the steps. I did get some respite in St Michael's caves - these enormous natural formations feature both spectacular stalagtites, and a temperature many degrees cooler than outside! Apparently they have remarkable acoustic properties too, with one - the 'cathedral cave' having been converted to a concert venue. After finally getting an underwhelming lunch at the cafe, I repeated the process of an overly-hot walk followed by a retreat underground, heading to the northern end of the rock to see some more of the monkey colonies along the way, then explore the siege tunnel complex. I also checked out the Moorish castle, but by that point I was too exhausted to really find the enthusiasm for it.
Ocean Village sunset
I spent most nights up on the top deck of the boat, enjoying my book, the sunset, the hubbub of the bars and clubs around the marina, and often a takeaway. On Saturday, though, I made my first visit to the casino that was temptingly close to the boat. After disastrously losing 30% of my initial funds (I'm foolish enough to go, but not to take any plastic sources of money with me!) clawed my way to a magnificient profit of £2.50 before calling it a day. I figure it's not like you have any chance of making any money at the cinema or the pub, and an hour or so of the highs and lows of the roulette wheel is just as entertaining. That's my excuse for heading back twice more, although I'm pleased to report that the second night I won enough to more than cover dinner, and the third time was just to get rid of a Gibraltan note, and saw me double it on a single spin. As a mathematician, I'm well aware that I've pushed my luck beyond reasonable limits here, so should quit whilst I can still claim to have never left a casino with less than I started with. I also bamboozled an icecream vendor into serving me a two scoop cone but only charging for one!
As the temperatures climbed ever higher, I accepted that the weather and my Scottish genes were not going to play nicely together, and took a more leisurely approach to Sunday and Monday. On the latter, I had no need to venture far at all, as the Jubilee celebrations were centred around Ocean Village, with a flotilla assembling to loop around the rock and back in a manner likely to antagonise the Spanish.
Big boats, and a bigger rock
There were also plenty of superyachts to be ogled in the marina, plus the usual air traffic - I'd been discovering my inner plane-spotter throughout my stay, and you can see a couple of landing videos I captured here (http://www.flickr.com/photos/28359572@N06/7166624731/) and here (http://www.flickr.com/photos/28359572@N06/7166578347/), plus a few more photos from the trip in this gallery (http://www.flickr.com/photos/28359572@N06/sets/72157630285519244/with/7441959850/).
Next up: the ill-fated trip home.
Jul 8, 12, 2:44 am
Thoroughly enjoyed the first part of your trip, thank you for taking the time, and look forward to reading the return journey. Gosh the state room on the boat looked rather nice.
Jul 8, 12, 10:01 am
Lovely report, delicious photography ^
Looking forward to reading the closing installment
Jul 8, 12, 11:33 am
British Airways service BA491 from Gibraltar (GIB) to London Heathrow (LHR); flown by G-EUUE, an airbus A320-200. Scheduled Depature 13:10; flight time 2h50. Seat 4D (Club Europe, aisle seat).
Actually flown: Malaga (AGP) to LHR, departed 18:45, flight time 2h25.
To avoid too much dashing around, I try to distinguish between actual holiday, and travel days. With the BA service from Gibraltar departing at lunch time, then, I envisaged a leisurely breakfast, some time in the lounge, a light meal on the plane, some slack time in London to get properly fed, before an evening train back to Bristol (for which I'd managed to snag a first class ticket for just £26).
However, this ended up being a travel day in the truest sense, only making it home on the same date I left thanks to the UK being an hour behind the rest of the continent. Here then is my tale of woe- and I must simultaneously apologise for the lack of photos (the dslr battery being exhausted by this point), and recognise that things could have been much worse. A five hour delay and a duff meal is hardly the end of the world (especially after such a week of luxury), but the experience at the time is deeply frustrating. So I hope you'll allow me the indulgence to vent, and at least gain something from the insight into how the situation is handled when Gibraltar's runway proves even more challenging than usual.
So, yes. The day at least started in accordance with the plan, dawning as bright as ever, so much so that I made sure my breakfast spot offered shade. After a final amble around part of town and the harbour, I collected my case and bid farewell to my hosts on the Con Dios, and set out for the airport. The distance can be covered in a matter of minutes, but I foolishly timed it to hit the runway just as Winston Churchill Avenue was closing to let a Monarch flight land. I wished I still had some camera batteries!
Having given way to the plane (always a wise choice) I was soon at the departures terminal- the distinctly less impressive of the two. Despite its diminutive size, it does manage to have a separate club europe check-in desk, once you fight through the crowds forming the easyjet and eurotraveller 'lines'. Naturally security is just one queue, although it did split into two attendants handing out trays before re-merging for the scanner. The gate area is basically just seating for the two doors, with a couple of retail offerings at the edge, but I had no need to loiter as I'd been issued with a code for the door on the far side, leading to the lounge. After Rome and Heathrow, this seemed very basic - but it's cool, quiet, and you can get a comfy seat with some free water and biscuits. It also offered the spectacle of seeing someone thrown out for not being on the list - he and his companion had been ahead of me in the CE queue, but apparently were travelling ET, so I wonder if in fact they were entitled to the lounge through status but didn't know this to fight for it. Still, it demonstrated that you wouldn't be able to hang around for long if you tailgated your way in, and made me momentarily nervous about my own presence until my boarding pass was examined and deemed suitable. But it's perhaps for the best that they're defensive, because the lounge was at capacity seating-wise by 12:15, still 40 minutes before gate close.
Out of a mixture of boredom and fanatical attention to detail, I kept a log of the following six hours with by-the-minute updates on progress (or lack of) on my ipad. For convenience I'll reproduce it in that format here, albeit with some retrospective editing.
12:30 they announced that BA490- the plane that would subsequently turn into our service, BA491 - couldn't land due to the weather conditions, which was the first time I paid proper attention to the view out the window. Or rather, the lack of it! The rock was absent not because of the angle, but because sometime during checkin/security fog had sprung up off the sea to engulf it.
12:47 There was a promising roar of jet engines, but alas this was but the closest of a number of go-arounds.
13:10 Our official departure time; it was announced that the plane was going to Malaga, instead. This, however, did not seal our fate, nor immediately set things in motion - it was up to the pilot to decide whether to wait for clearer skies and bring the plane here, or to commit to Malaga and get us all there instead.
13:45 The BA app is now listing BA491 as cancelled, after a series of flirtations with departure times that topped out at 16:17. The rumour is that we'll be getting the bus. Interestingly, Easyjet were taking the other option, but for all I know their passengers are still waiting! We were also told that we'd have to collect our hold luggage now, which implied we'd be doing security again at Malaga.
14:04 It's confirmed that we'll be going to Malaga, but fortunately, the coaches are already here (rather than having to first drive here from Spain).
14:24 We're sent to 'door 3' to collect our belongings - there isn't really a third gate, this is just a door, past the gents toilets, that leads to the old luggage carousel. At least those of us in the lounge got advance notice, and thus were able to join those requiring assistance or travelling with young infants at the head of this first (of many) queues. I'd also managed to liberate the last food item from the lounge on the way out- a chocolate muffin, sitting well on the three chocolate bourbon biscuits I'd had earlier.
14:30 I have located my case from amongst the piles- no notion of priority baggage here!
14:30 and 20 seconds - I find myself loading my case into the coach outside. Since all cases need to go to Malaga, and all the coaches will be going to Malaga, I find myself thinking that surely they could have sped this up by loading them en masse?
14:40 Priority boarding (of sorts) has got me on the first coach, which also features FlyerTalk's favourite, the parents with small children. Some malicious relative suggests a rousing round of "the wheels on the bus" to a toddler, to a look of horror from the parents.
14:57 Everyone is settled in on the coach, which all the paraphernalia necessary to keep our younger passengers comfortable. And so we set off for Malaga, taking advantage of the fact that you can turn straight off the runway onto the main road.
14:58 We arrive at the Spanish border, where we are told we must disembark with all our stuff, extract our particular case from the hold, and clear customs. Now the earlier kerfuffle with finding our own luggage makes sense, but the process as a whole certainly doesn't- I could have walked myself to the border and done this by now!
15:12 Back on the coach, but various people have decided to play musical chairs, which makes it harder for the families to arrange themselves as conveniently before. The one advantage of all this is that I've been able to pull some crisps and a packet of jelly babies (my top travel essential!) from my suitcase to see me through.
15:25 A sign declares 115km to Malaga, which I optimistically logged as "about an hour" in my first note.
15:50 A second sign has us 78k from Malaga, which makes 37k in 25 minutes, and thus I continue to estimate "about an hour". I eat my crisps anyway.
16:39 Catch sight of the airfield in the distance, the first thing I've been happy to see in an hour and a half. By this point I'd decided that I hadn't wanted to see Spain in the first place, was entirely correct in that decision, and should vow to never come here again. I've also eaten a potentially nauseating quantity of jelly babies.
16:48 Malaga airport is significantly larger than Gibraltar's- it may even be larger than Gibraltar. Mercifully, BA491 has been transplanted to the departure board here, but the desk crew aren't ready (or especially interested). Some passengers are experiencing frayed patience by this stage: with some foot/luggage collisions in the queue drawing arguments. I try to calm people down by pointing out the plane won't be going anywhere until we're all through anyway, and at least they haven't paid as much as I have for this shambles. It also becomes clear that to the general public, IAG owning Iberia and BA means they count as "the same thing" and so their staff should be helping us, but banks of their desks remain unavailable to us.
17:11 Airside! Security was reasonably swift, but then, we've all had a practice run earlier. Since our gate - B15 - is in the opposite direction to the lounges, I figure I should head straight there rather than risk being 'that guy' who holds us up even further for the sake of a sandwich.
18:35 We've been on the plane for quite some time without making any obvious progress, before the pilot explains that there should have been three coaches from Malaga, but one broke down and we are thus going to get underway without 28 passengers. In his words "today has been a very bad day" and from his tone it seemed that they'd experienced as much unhelpfulness from the Spanish authorities as we had. I have to wonder what the status of cargo intended for Gibraltar from the UK is; or of passengers who had the right to enter the UK, but not to cross the Spanish border to enter Schengen and so actually get to the plane.
19:30 My intended train leaves Paddington, and so my first class quiet coach ticket is now a £26 bookmark. More disappointing, though, is the meal service- with only 2 unused seats in Club, and mine the last of them to be served, all of the actually-appealing Chicken-based meals have gone. This leaves a prawn pasta, that sadly is no use for me (although perhaps I should have just picked the prawns off and hoped for the best). I posted about this shortly after getting home, and the general FT consensus is that one shouldn't expect a choice of meals to be guaranteed (and that's not a debate I want to reopen here!), but it was the straw that broke this particular camel's back. Having never had anything resembling lunch or dinner, I was really happy just to get a meal (unlike the poor folks in ET), but to have something that looked genuinely appetising wafted through the cabin and served to everyone else who wanted it (all but one) then to be excluded just tipped me over the edge. All credit to the cabin crew, they did go rummage in the galley and found me an alternative pasta dish, but even they admitted it was extremely bland.
19:45 (UK time) We'd hoped to be landing by now (well, I'd hoped to be practically in Bristol by now, but you get the idea).
20:10 (UK time) Finally landed, and given the 13C temperature and rain, definitely in England and not some hilarious alternative.
20:34 I have my luggage, and fast track border control, whilst not especially swift, does seem a lot better than the regular lane. Which is handy, as a wonderful friend has SMS'd me the times and prices of onward travel options. The sanest option seems to be a coach, for which I am relieved of £40 - and could have been stung for an extra luggage charge had they been more attentive, since National Express is rather less generous than Club Europe with respect to 'cabin' baggage.
21:20 The coach sets off, and is almost packed to capacity. However, the trials of the day are clearly etched in my face (which even in a good mood has been described as 'serial killer-ish' by friends!) and so no-one decides to take either of the back-row seats next to me. Thus I can spread out a bit at least.
21:22 A child begins screaming. I remember that I have both noise-cancelling headphones and an ipad, and decide to make the best of the coach's underwhelming pace by fitting in another film.
23:55 I stumble through my front door in Bristol, after the 20 minute walk home from the bus station. With luggage. Uphill. In the rain.
I would like to reiterate that I was entirely satisfied with BA's crew throughout this experience - they clearly recognised we weren't happy, and hadn't exactly been having a picnic themselves. I speculatively filed a strongly-worded (but mostly groundless) complaint letter with customer services, and although they took a full month to reply, when they did so it was clear that their response had been composed by an actual human being. Each point I raised was addressed, sympathies that they didn't warrant compensation were conveyed, and at the end I found I'd been slung 10,000 avios in pity anyway.
So, full marks to BA for making the best of a bad situation; whilst a golden muppet award goes to whoever came up with the rules that govern how passengers can (or can't) be moved from Gib to Spanish airports. Surely, having all been through Gibraltan security, we could just be loaded onto the coaches and conveyed straight to the plane, rather than having to do the luggage, customs and security dance? Perhaps they're just trying to get us back for that jubilee flotilla...
and there ends my report. Thanks for reading, and I hope both that some of you will have been inspired to try this little slice of Britishness in the Med, and that are you are able to get out more easily when you've had your fill!
Jul 8, 12, 12:52 pm
Now that is a different TR … and one which has sightly spiked my interest in GIB.
Congratulations on both the text and the photography ^
Jul 9, 12, 12:48 am
Top of climb
Jul 9, 12, 6:34 am
I loved Gibraltar (not only because you could walk across the runway!) Thanks for the great trip report which not only brought back some terrific memories but also thankfulness that the rock was fogless the days that I was there!
Jul 9, 12, 1:43 pm
Thanks for an intersting report ^
It brings back happy memories of driving down to Gib from Jerez to stock up on British foods at the large Safeway (the fact that it was still called Safeway then indicates that this was more than a few years ago!), and smuggle quantities of Tax Free cigarettes back into Spain :)
This was back in the day when a carton of 200 cost £6 in Gib and £40 in the UK!
Jul 9, 12, 2:39 pm
I remember visiting GIB 15years ago or so, and visiting the Casino there on my first night of a weeks stay. For reasons I've never understood or justified to myself I had omitted to bring any cards with me and only took cash. Needless to say I was very frugal for the remainder of my visit.
I also suffered a unscheduled AGP visit myself thanks to BA. Should have been MAN-LHR-GIB-LHR-MAN. But ended up MAN-LHR bus to LGW-AGP bus to GIB we arrived about 3am 10hours later than planned.
My trip home was also stalled at LHR when customs officers seemed to have me confused with a drugs mule. A 8hr trip home from GIB to MAN.
On my return to meet friends in the local Pub (later than planned!) I was questioned if I had been unwell as I appeared to have lost weight (thanks to my foolish trip to the casino!!)
Jul 9, 12, 3:31 pm
Thanks for the kind comments on the photos everyone, it's nice to have an audience.
Flyersj18, it sounds like they're quite proactive on checking for cigarettes these days- based on the sketchy sounding guy having a row with his girlfriend at the marina late one night, who was insisting that he wasn't cheating on her, but rather being secretive due to some smuggling plans... I suspect for nearby Spaniards it's still worth crossing the border for a tank of VATless petrol, though.
davewho??, I'd assumed that my misfortune with the plane was to restore balance in the universe after my improbable run at the casino. My commiserations on your triple misfortune!
Oct 28, 12, 6:21 am
An excellent trip report that I haven't come across until now.
I particularly enjoyed your photos and your newfound enthusiasm towards the collection frequent-flier points
I hope your next trip will be less dramatic, but I'm glad you enjoyed the British airways club Europe experience, even if it was fraught with a delay and disappointing meal on the return.
Oct 28, 12, 6:43 am
I only just found this today too - a good read, and even better photos.
(It's almost enough to make me polish off the two unfinished TRs from this year sitting in my drafts folder...)
Oct 28, 12, 7:40 am
Likewise, I just found this report today and really enjoyed reading it.
I teach someone who flies into the UK from GIB once a month for class and had heard tales of the trip via Malaga but I have new found appreciation of just how much of a pain it is.
Oct 28, 12, 9:57 am
I have only seen this today. A great read, nice pics, thanks.