Hello all. My first post here after many years of telling myself I should do a TR, so to make up for all that lurking I have a slightly unusual one for you. Apologies if I have made any mistakes with the upload.
I recently went to the Falklands with work (I am in the RAF) and this is how it happened. Please note, no non-public domain operational information is divulged in this report.
This was the British Ministry of Defence South Atlantic Charter from RAF Brize Norton serving the bases on Ascension and the Falkland Islands. It used to be operated and flown by the RAF in a Tristar or VC10 but current commitments mean it is contracted out by the MOD. The service is provided by a Portugese charter outfit called HiFly using an A340-300 CS-TQL. The two legs of the flight were around 8 hours each with a 90 minute stop at Ascension Island.
The vast majority of passengers on this route are UK military personnel on tour of duty in the Falklands or Ascension but some seats are sold to the general public. Travelling from Brize Norton is nothing new for me but for civilians it can be a bit of an odd experience. First, you must remember it is an active military base, not a normal airport and entry can only be granted to people with a valid reason for being there and plenty of ID. You might also find it odd to see people in combat uniform everywhere, saluting each other and some may be disturbed by the armed troops on the gate and the possibility that the person in front of you has just checked in a bundle of assault rifles!
It does have its benefits though. Being a military chartered flight from a military airfield does mean that there is no liquids ban so you can take your own water on board for once! Check in closes 3 hours before take off and I did see some civilian passengers turned away- a very expensive mistake to make when the flight is around £2000 rtn.
Once moved through security, provided by the RAF Police you wait in the basic departure lounge where there is a small coffee shop, kids play area (for the families of servicemen who accompany them to various postings) and a glass wall giving a great view of the airfeld where some seriously unusual types can be seen including L-1011, VC-10, C-130, C-17.
Eventually an RAF serviceman will announce who the Passenger Reporting Officer is. This is an officer of Squadron Leader/Major rank selected from amongst the passenegrs who will act as the link between the passengers and crew in the event of any problems, and also makes a report for the MOD to ensure the charter airline is delivering what they should be.
When boarding begins, families then Officers and Warrant Officers are invited to board first. This was irrelevant on this flight as all seats were pre assigned but on other flights it can be handy to get on first to bag a good seat. As they say, 'rank has its priviledges'!
Once on board it beacme clear that I had a dreadful seat (middle of four) and that the flight was half full. I made sure to change seats at the earliest opportunity. The interior of the A340 was dated and cramped. There are a very small number of old style business class seats up front, right next to two limbers for casualties but you have to be rather special or unfortunate to get seating in either of those classes!
Take off was uneventful and once at cruising altitude the crew distributed an ipad in exchange for your RAF boarding pass. I was astonished to see such extravagance on a MOD charter flight. I took one anyway!
On each leg of the flight (BZZ-ASI then ASI-MPN) we were served two meals and could get squash and hot drinks from the galley throughout. The first meal came soon after takeoff and consisted of a hot tortilla wrap and what serviceman commonly know as a 'horror box' although this one was well above usual standards. Note the RAF branding on the cutlery packet.
After the empties had been collected, the lights were dimmed for the night and I was treated to an incredible display of weather as there was a huge thunderstorm near the Canary Islands about 20 miles off the port side of the aircraft, a truly awesome sight.
About an hour before landing a hot breakfast was served with yoghurt and cereal pot, not bad really but the sunrise that accompanied it was stunning.
Eventually, we got our first glimpse of Ascension Island, one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth.
The 90 minute stay here is nothing special given that you are confimed to the small terminal area but you do have a good view of the airfield, even if the only plane to see is yours. There is a NAAFI cafe and a duty free shop there, but you can only purchase alcohol on the northbound leg.
Back on the A340 thanks to a nice walk across the pan (sometimes it's great to be trusted to walk a hundred yards without being bussed there) and the last land for 4000 miles is left behind, and it's time for more food...
The loading had changed slightly on this leg as some people got off at ASI and others joined so I had to move to a different AB pair of seats on the port side.
By the time the final meal was served, all were getting rather bored of this 8 hour flight and a stay in the bleak Falklands wasn't looking too bad after all.
After the meal, the ipads were collected and we began our descent. If there was a RAF Typhoon escorting us in, I didn't see it. Finally, we arrive at RAF Mount Pleasant, home to the world's longest corridor and the UK military's most tedious posting.
All around the base, including on the way to the exit are items of captured Argentine equipment from the 1982 war, which must make an interesting reception for the Argentine veterans on the LAN flights!
Hope you enjoyed it!