London-Heathrow to Basel, Switzerland on BMI 27 April to 1 May 2011 by Bruce

A huge thank you to my frequent traveler friend, Bruce, for contributing great trip reports from abroad!

Wed., April 27
BD161 dep LHR 07:15 arr BSL 09:50

Sun., May 1
BD168 dep BSL 20:30 arr LHR 21:05

A holiday was declared for the royal wedding, so I decided to take advantage of the long weekend. When BMI sent me an email offering fare sales, Basel was a good choice because a) it was cheap, b) there was a Marriott where I could use points, c) the Swiss have a culture of speaking English, and d) there was much to see in a city and country I’d never visited.

BMI’s purchase process is simple enough and I booked for an early Wednesday departure and a late Sunday return to maximize my time in Switzerland. My alarm woke me up at 04:15 and I was on the way, arriving at Heathrow at 05:45 for the 07:15 departure. Security was simple and I did not alert on the magnetometer. I did see a full-body imager off to the side that was not being used. (In the UK, if you’re selected you can either refuse or not fly. No pat-down option.)

BMI has two lounges in Terminal 1 – “The London Room” for domestic and Ireland destinations and “The Great British Lounge” for international departures. I was in the former for Dublin in January, this time I was in the latter. It’s a very large lounge with lots of seating and power outlets at every chair and table. Not much for food, a couple of pastries and a big cauldron of porridge available with golden syrup. Coffee was good. And as at most of the European lounges I’ve visited, self-serve alcohol and fridges full of assorted mixers. A great view of 9L, right at the taxiway where the aircraft finish decelerating and head to the gates. I kept hoping for a 380, but the 330s, 340s and 747s kept me entertained. I still think BA’s livery is top notch and the planes are always bright white with no peeling paint. *cough* US *cough*

I headed over to the gate at 06:30, where passports were checked again against photos and boarding was called for special assist and elites. It was a gate rush though 47 passengers left a lot of room on this A319 with a capacity of 130. I had 6A with the row to myself. Legroom was fair-to-good and seat width was reasonable. We pushed back at 07:20 and were wheels up at 07:27.

In flight, a sandwich (mushroom and cheese ciabatta) and a small cup of soda. I was pleased to see that Voyager (the BMI flight magazine) had a full article on Basel, so I took it with me for reference. We landed ten minutes early. Swiss immigration was easy as an EU citizen and I was off to explore the city. As with most of Europe, BSL has excellent public transport and Bus 50 goes into town for CHF4.00 (about $5). Basel is wonderful and five days was sufficient, including a day trip to Zurich for lunch with a colleague.

For the return, my tired and sore feet brought me to the airport at 17:30 for the 20:30 departure. BMI does not have their own counters or kiosks at BSL, they partner with LX. Swiss has a “Gold” Star Alliance line, so I was able to skip the queue of 20 people to get my boarding pass. Security was slow and could use some efficiency. The elite line was marked for F customers only. It took about 40 minutes for me to clear the magnetometers, as the security officers were “helping” and checking BP’s/passports on the land-side, which slowed the queue.

The Swiss Lounge was near my gate. Quite possibly the best designed lounge I have visited. Panoramic 360-degree view of the entire airfield and enough space for 200+ on three levels. Showers, quiet areas, computers, telephone cubicles and I was given a voucher to access the wi-fi. The self-service food, spirits and beer were okay.

I headed to the gate at 19:45 and cleared border control without issue. Boarding was again a gate rush despite directions in German, French and English. We pushed back five minutes late but landed 15 minutes early. In flight, a veggie sandwich and a cup of soda or juice. We disembarked onto a jetbridge and then were loaded onto a bus for the 10 minute drive to UK immigration. I had not checked my rollaboard in either direction, so there was no wait for luggage.

Summary: A great yield as BMI has low prices to introduce flights to this new destination. Excellent lounges. Comfortable seating, even in Y. The flight attendants and gate agents were friendly and otherwise unremarkable. On-time departures and arrivals. I’m pleased that there is still a free snack on board. Grade: A-. The only demerits were the boarding process (carrier controllable) and the bus to the international arrivals area (not carrier controllable). BMI is an excellent Star Alliance partner and I would be happy to fly them again.

Total Trip Cost: $ 139.20
Actual Airfare: $ 56.64
Actual Miles Flown: 896
Yield: $ 0.063 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 82.56, 59.31% of ticket price

Notes
– Even though the gate agents at both airports gave instructions in English and German (and French at Basel), the flight attendant safety instruction was only in English.
– UK taxes and fees are Out. Of. Control. £12 UK air passenger duty, £9.60 UK security and noise charge, £23.60 UK passenger service charge. I don’t see how BMI can make a profit (or even break even) on £35.40 for a 900-mile roundtrip.
– BSL (Basel EuroAirport) is in France and is operated jointly by the French and Swiss with separate border control depending on which way you’re headed.

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LHR-DUB-LHR on British Midlands International (BMI), 24-27 Jan 2011 by Bruce

My coach dropped me off at Terminal 1 at 9:40 for this 11:20 departure. I had an electronic boarding pass on my iPhone and security was very easy. Shoes on, laptop and belt in the bin, I was through in less than five minutes. I did not alert the magnetometer and was not randomly selected. 

My first time in Terminal 1 with time to spare, I spent 45 minutes in the BMI lounge. While there are plenty of signs, it is down a couple of hallways and through the area where ID is checked for international departures. The usual self-service bar with fridges full of canned beers and sodas and bottled spirits. A few light snacks. Lots of seating with very few power outlets. I ended up unplugging a lamp so I could charge up. Free wi-fi.

A boarding announcement was made in the lounge at 10:30. A medium-length walk but boarding was already well underway when I arrived. Down a flight of stairs and sardined onto a coach out to the apron. We then boarded through the rear door of this A319. Overheads were very full but I was able to jam my rollaboard in and take seat 6F. Standard legroom, I’m glad it was a short flight though we were held behind a QF 747 for 20 minutes that had already made it onto the runway ahead of us. The Captain made an announcement that it was to due to a departure route clearance that needed to be straightened out.

100% full. No IFE with a single food and beverage service on this one hour flight. Nothing is free. Soft drinks and a few snack options between £1 and £2, beer/wine/spirits for £3.50. They accept cash and cards – £ and €. I read the in flight magazine “Voyager” and enjoyed an interview with Anne Hathaway. No crossword puzzle. The flight attendants wear these really cute hats during boarding and disembarkation. I couldn’t work up enough courage to ask for a picture, but I found one online.

Immigration in the Republic of Ireland was very simple – a quick glance at my UK passport (a fellow member of the EU) and I was in. Customs was even easier. Taxi stand right out front.

For the return, the website didn’t give me an electronic option and I didn’t have a printer. I printed the boarding pass at a kiosk in Terminal 2. Security was similarly easy, though I was a little thrown off when I was asked if I had an umbrella. The security officer opened it fully to check for I-don’t-know-what before collapsing it and returning it to my rollaboard’s pocket.

The Star Alliance and Sky Team lounges are across the hall from each other, well sign-posted. The “Anna Livia Lounge” was very crowded with simultaneous departures to LHR and FRA. I managed to snag a workstation seat as the place went from being wall-to-wall to deserted within 10 minutes. The same options as the BMI lounge, with peanuts, a tray of brownies and self-service liquor and canned beers/soft drinks. Again, free wi-fi.

I left the lounge early and wandered the airside of the terminal for an hour, picking up some postcards and other trinkets. There are a lot of shopping and food options here.

At gate 303, I took a seat and waited for the boarding call. The gates that use US Customs personnel for US flights are nearby, but unoccupied at this late hour.

General boarding call, but I was prepared and therefore second down the jetbridge. The gate agent was the first person so far to examine my passport. No one in security had done so. Odd.

Seat 15A was the best I could do for this A320. Standard economy seat that was exactly the same as the outbound. My middle seat was one of the only open seats on the aircraft and remained unoccupied for the short and on-time flight.

Arrivals in the UK was easy with no Immigration or Customs check.

Total Trip Cost: $ 156.32
Actual Airfare: $ 68.80
Actual Miles Flown: 559
Yield: $ 0.123 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $ 87.52, 55.99% of ticket price

Summary: No seat assignments until checkin, 23 hours prior to departure. Even with Star Alliance Gold. Nothing free onboard. On time flights that were reasonably priced. Grade: B+.

PS. I don’t like Guinness in the UK or the US. Too dark, too bitter. But the Guinness in Dublin is completely different and I was able to enjoy four or five of them.