My 10-year-old son and I recently treated ourselves to an alternative from the usual routes over to Paris and Continental Europe. We’d done enough easyJet or British Airways hops on A319s and A320s, out of the various London airports, to merit trying something new. We therefore headed to the south coast to check out Flybe’s Bombardier Q400 Dash 8 that the airline deploys from Bournemouth (BOH) to Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG). This was a day of firsts for us: the aircraft type, the airline, and the airport – kind of a “perfect storm” for an AvGeek.
Part of the Manchester Airport Group of airports and with annual passenger volumes of approximately 662,000, BOH is a delightfully quiet place to jet (or, prop) off from for a few days. “Easy (Like Sunday Morning)” as the Commodores’ song goes, I don’t think I’ve ever been the only one in the security queue before or even the only one in duty free shop, much less the only one buying breakfast at BOH’s Olive Tree restaurant. Admittedly, we’d gotten to the airport that Sunday morning earlier than usual, but even when other passengers began to arrive the airport never lost its charm. It’s one of the few airports through which I’ve traveled without succumbing to any bouts of “airport brain.” So far, so good.
Thanks to my pals at Flybe, our second treat was an advanced call to board so that we could discover the aircraft that we’d driven so far to test out. The Bombardier Q400 Dash 8, a 78-seater, twin-PW150A turbo-prop aircraft, was unlike anything either of us had ever flown on before. I’d reserved seats next to the engine nose-cone simply to watch the propellers spin and hear the engine roar.
Actually, I must confess that this was always about the propellers. For me it’s the stuff that aviation dreams are made of. 5,000 shaft horsepower, fuel efficient and reduced CO2 emissions; this was an engine that I wanted to see in action. I know it’s loud and that can be unsettling for many people, but we were nevertheless full of trepidation and excitement.
If getting to the ramp first was, in my son’s words “awesome,” then dashing up the built-in aircraft steps and into the purple-hued interior was, well, “awesome” too. We were greeted by senior cabin crew member, Angie, who graciously posed for a quick aisle selfie-shot before taking our bags so that we could do an about-face to explore the flight deck of the Q400.
My son took the proverbial reins in the left-hand seat whilst the first officer, Phil, talked him through the aircraft’s controls, systems, buttons, dials, and displays. That gave me the opportunity to discuss the Q400’s virtues with Rob, the Captain. With maximum altitude of 25,000ft and a cruising speed of 414 mph, he clearly admires the Dash 8’s performance. He also relishes the flying challenges that the choppier winter weather conditions bring.
Fortunately (at least for any nervous passengers), the skies were clear and sunny, with little in the way of wind. It was perfect autumn day for a hop over the English Channel to see our Gallic chums. We eventually took to our seats, 6C and 6D, but only after managing to sit in the wrong ones until the rightful occupiers boarded and politely pointed our mistake out (we were just too overwhelmed to concentrate). We then prepared for start-up, a new experience in noise, and takeoff.
As I said, it was all about the propellers. I watched the blades slowly start to spin. At first it was like a windmill on a breezy day, and then they gradually built up with an intensity and noise that made my heart start to pound, the skin on my arms start to goose-bump, and the sunlight flicker against the back of the seat. Whilst the left-hand engine feathered, clearance was given to taxi on to the runway and we eagerly waited for full throttle.
There’s nothing like the thrill of takeoff, and with the Q400’s maximum takeoff weight of 29 metric tonnes, it felt like just a few seconds from powering up and hurdling along the runway to rotating. You do really feel all of it though. I asked my son what he thought about the aerodynamics… once again, it was “awesome.” Enough said.
Now, given that the flight time was less than an hour and Flybe is not a full-service carrier, I’m naturally unable to regale you with tales of the in-flight catering experience. I did enjoy one of Flybe’s Starbucks coffees whilst jotting down my impressions in my trusty moleskine, and my son tucked into his extra large bag of Monster Munch crisps.
Although the cabin is more snug, the two-abreast seats each have a 30″ pitch and were very comfortable for the length of the journey. The tray table also doubled up nicely as a WWE figurine wrestling ring, using the cupholder as a “time out” area. Who needs an IFE system?
As we began to descend, I did started to wonder whether we would be slammed down like one of those wrestling figurines, in a move akin to a WWE “tombstone” throw. Not literally, of course. The path through the clouds gave us one big jolt, which was enough to make yours truly grab the seat-rest, but then we serenely pottered past Le Bourget – an aerodrome where I watched the A380 steal thunder in 2005 Paris Airshow – and on to CDG. Seeing those large white letters also made me briefly think of Jimmy Stewart and his 1957 portrayal of Charles Lindbergh. The Spirit of St. Louis was no turbo-prop though.
Flybe flight BE3513 touched down as gently as a feather, at an overcast CDG, and I almost wished it had been a bit windier to have presented a challenge to Captain Rob. Well, maybe not. We taxied to stand, funnily enough crossing paths with an Air France A380, and sat mesmerised as the blades slowly came to a halt before being able to disembark.
I’m not particularly tall, but I banged my head on the overhead bins several times whilst trying to pack things away. The cabin is indeed snug. My son was just pleased he could reach the air conditioning dial. “In normal planes, I can’t even reach those,” he said.
To conclude – the whole experience lived up to our excited expectations. It did not disappoint. Bournemouth is a wonderful airport and Flybe’s service was very efficient, friendly, and personable. The overall experiences was…well, awesome!