Following my outing to southern Sweden a few weeks ago, it was time to go home. As I was wrapping up my stay in Sweden in Gothenburg, I needed to find options home from here rather than my usual go-to of Copenhagen. This left a rather more limited selection of options with connections, with the most obvious option being Brussels Airlines. However, I discovered that for almost the same price it was possible to connect to Bristol instead. Why would Bristol be of interest? Well, Brussels-Bristol is not served by Brussels Airlines – instead they codeshare with bmi regional. It is many years since I have flown with bmi regional since they pulled out of Edinburgh. The fact that an Embraer 145 would be the aircraft in use made it doubly appealing.
Back in the day before the BA takeover of bmi, bmi regional was the subsidiary operating various regional and business routes. I flew with them a handful of times between Manchester and Edinburgh (they continue to operate various domestic routes from Aberdeen, in particular), and similarly made use of them several times when they operated the Edinburgh-Copenhagen route (connecting onto SAS to Stockholm). BA did not acquire the regional subsidiary, which was subject to a management buyout and go to retain the bmi brand. It has gone a slightly different route and now operates a diverse, and frankly, rather bizarre range of routes. It specialises in wet leases (you can fly Karlstad-Frankfurt, for instance) as well as various PSO contracts and football charters. They haven’t joined an alliance, but offer codeshares on flights to Brussels and Frankfurt for longhaul connections. They’re still in business, so presumably it is working. That being said, they are heavily reliant on business traffic, with cash fares coming in high – the Brussels Airlines option only worked because they were offering discounted fares for the connection.
After a sunny wandering around Gothenburg, it was time to head to the airport on the bus, which remains more or less unchanged from the last time I used it. On this particular occasion, passengers got to enjoy a broadcast of Planet Rock through the bus tannoy, which was a little unusual. Landvetter was a fairly smooth experience, and having cut it fairly fine it was time to head to the gate not long after clearing security. The flight down to the Brussels on an A320 was fairly unremarkable – the most engaging thing about Brussels Airlines is the crew’s use of Flemish, French and English throughout – which leads to an awful lot of chatter. Interestingly, for a Sunday evening flight, the plane was far from full – and it was clear from the provision of gate numbers in-flight that almost everyone was a connecting passenger. Our arrival at Brussels was at the very far end of the Schengen pier, which meant a long trek to reach the non-Schengen gates.
A few minutes were killed (the official connection is only 80 minutes) in the Priority Pass lounge, which I reckon remains one of the best I’ve encountered. There is a full spread of hot and cold food, as well as a good range of drinks including a nice, dry sparkling wine. Unlike on previous visits, the lounge was very busy – but this appeared to be one large party from a TV production company returning from an event. The lounge was helpfully located directly above the correct gate for the Bristol flight, so it was simply a case of popping downstairs at the appointed time. Naturally, the flight wasn’t boarding yet, and there appeared to be a degree of seat shifting going on with multiple passengers being paged at the gate and issued with new boarding passes. (Rather than upgrades, given that bmi regional does not operate a business cabin).
Once boarding got underway, things moved fairly swiftly. I was pleased to see that we would walk across the apron the aircraft, providing ample opportunity to soak up the E145 while it was on the ground. After getting on, we had to show boarding passes again to the sole member of cabin crew. I gather this is not standard for bmi regional, but the member of crew appeared astonished that there were so many passengers for Bristol (all the more remarkable given the plane was perhaps 2/3 full). Many bags were checked at the aircraft steps, given how small the cabin was and quite how much hand luggage some people had brought with them. Fortunately, I had opted to check my large bag in Gothenburg so faced no such issues. What followed was one of the most (over?) thorough safety demonstrations and securing of the cabin I have encountered in years, with concerns over passengers’ shoes, the location of their luggage, and much more. I certainly appreciate a strong focus on safety, but this bordered on paranoid!
Once we had taxied and hit the run way, I was reminded of quite how great the E145’s take-off roll is. It took almost nothing to get us into the air and away we went for what was really a very brief flight of 55 minutes to Bristol. We were flying at that most wonderful of times – just before sunset, which saw us chasing a red sky most of the way to our destination. I was struck by how comfortable and spacious the Embraers are, despite the small cabin size, and this must serve bmi well when marketing their charter services. In-flight service was limited to a (free) bar run, with a good selection of drinks available. It wasn’t long before we were on approach to Bristol though, and after a smooth landing we ended up on a remote stand from which we were bussed to the terminal.
After a night in the hotel adjacent to the terminal (courtesy of points), I made my way home in the morning on a short hop with EasyJet. I was glad to have taken my rather convoluted route, as the E145 is a fairly rare visitor to Edinburgh these days. It was a bit of a nostalgia kick (and a reminder that bmi have in fact done nothing to refresh their aircraft in years!) and a reminder that the small Embraers are really one of the best small passenger jet flying experiences out there at the moment. The connection between Brussels Airlines and bmi was seamless, with no ticketing issues and baggage making it through just fine. Given bmi’s coverage in Scandinavia, it is a pity they do not offer any routes out of Edinburgh. Perhaps this will change in future.