I’M NOT GETTING ON THAT!!

There I was, frozen to the spot staring out the window at a Dash-8, at quite possibly, one of the world’s smallest international airports. “I am not getting on that”, I said to myself.

Although I have never been afraid of flying, I had recently been struggling with anxiety and for the first time in my life, I was ready to turn down a trip and possibly risk arrest by causing a commotion at an airport. It had only taken 5minutes to get through security and the little boy Sam’s mad dash through the airport at the end of the film “Love Actually” seemed like something I could reasonably do at this moment in time.

There was only about one hundred people I estimated in the entire Southampton Airport and I was sure I could outrun them all. There was this one door I kept focusing on with the beautiful word ‘Exit’ written above it, and I knew that was the way to ‘landside’, with a very nice pub garden – there I would be safe and able to work out my next move.  I was sure I could arrange a short train ride to Liverpool and then a ferry to Dublin…. No problem… I might even be there in time for the Dixie Chicks Concert.  This was the main reason I found myself in this miserable situation and even though the timing would be a little tight and I had no idea where to start in organising my alternative trip, I was sure I could pull it off.

My better half was sitting beside me, patiently holding my hand and uttering reassurances that quite frankly were falling on deaf ears. Surely it was perfectly reasonable to either get the flight on their own or alternatively, run away and have a proper adventure with me and screw the bags; we didn’t like our clothes anyway!

Another look out the window and a gentle pace up and down… I can handle this, it’s so unlikely the plane would crash, it got here in the first place didn’t it?  Maybe just one more visit to the bathroom.

After I got back from my fourth or fifth toilet visit, this was it… we were boarding… it was now or never for my mad ‘Sam the Gymnast’ dash but after remembering that I hate running, I decided I would be brave. No-one else looked perturbed by the size of our tiny plane and it was ‘Flybe’, right? They are a reputable airline and I was used to flying with smaller airlines all the time when I was still living in the UK and my parents in France.

A group Whatsapp message to my family to remind them that I loved them if anything should happen to me and a reply stating that the plane really wasn’t that small, I would be fine and a gentle reminder that I had done a parachute jump in my youth therefore was already a daredevil, and me and my better half were off! ‘OMG, we’re on-board… that was quick… thought I would have longer to prepare… are these proper steps? Are we sitting in the cockpit? Do I have time for a quick smoke?’

The flight wasn’t full, so after the handful of passengers were safely seated and after reading the safety instructions card approximately eight times, the man in the hi-vis jacket carrying his clipboard confirmed that all passengers and bags were boarded and we were good to go.  My breakfast was currently residing in my throat as I scanned the seat pocket in front of me for the sick bag and I braced myself for the most horrendous noise to roar from the engines.

To my surprise, there was nothing more than a gentle roar and I could easily hear the usual safety announcements as we made our way to the runway. After a short amount of time, we were up in the air! I was flabbergasted, I missed most of it as I was having a really nice chat with Karen, in my humble opinion, the best air steward ever!

Southampton Airport
Southampton Airport

As we gently ascended over the skyline above Southampton, I started to feel a little silly about my total lack of confidence in this Corgi toy plane and settled down to look at the food and drinks menu. Expecting to see the usual limp sandwich and small tub of Pringles for the price of a family car, I was really surprised to see that they had ‘Tribute’ ale on offer and a rather cosmopolitan, meat and cheese platter.

For those who aren’t aware, ‘Tribute’ ale hails from Cornwall and is highly regarded amongst the rather hip ‘real craft ale drinkers brigade’. Although I am not a connoisseur by any means, I was looking forward to sampling it and after living in Cyprus for eight years, was yearning to try a ‘proper beer’ for a change.

Despite only being a fifty-minute flight, I managed to finish off three ‘Tributes’ and a most tasty meat and cheese platter and as we gently started to descend over Ireland and into Dublin, I was almost quite sad that the trip was coming to an end, but that may well have been down to the Tributes.

A great landing and gentle taxi into the gate and we were ready to disembark. I can never explain how great that flight was and how much of a surprise it was to me. Everything from the attention to customer service (mostly down to the lovely Karen who was so attentive and obviously saw, that as I was a nervous passenger, needed some reassurance.) To the smoothness of the flight, albeit in great flying conditions which probably helped but also the comfort of the seat, the legroom and the variety and quality of the food and beverage menu, it has made me reassess my fondness and belief that when it comes to air travel, ‘Bigger is Better!’ Bigger planes and bigger airlines means more choice, better safety records and reliability, I used to think.

Following a massive re-brand effort in 2014, ‘Flybe’ has made massive strides in changing its image from a small, domestic flight airline, to Europe’s largest Regional Airline.  The upturn in revenue since the rebrand is evident; from Flybe’s Annual Report in 2013 stating a loss before tax of 23.2million GBP, to a profit of 8.1million GBP in their Annual Report in 2014. Not just their livery has changed but also the food and beverage menu has been revamped and in my view, has been glamourised to almost reproduce the ‘nostalgia’ of flying, back ‘in the good old days’, bringing a touch of charm back to flying in a budget environment without scrimping on quality.

It is reported that they have the biggest and broadest range of buy-on-board products, of any airline in the market.  This ‘quality for budget’ is also highlighted by their ‘All In’ service which includes a complimentary snack and meal, access to executive lounges, priority check-in and free pre-booked seating. Although one of its greatest competitors in the budget airline market, EasyJet, offers similar benefits and is the UK’s second largest airline in number of passengers flown, there appears to be a market distinction that both market leaders are budget, budget, budget!

Extra charges and additional baggage fees can often push a cheap fare to not-much-less than other, full service airlines. Budget fares are great for cheap travel but the seats are often uncomfortable unless you pay for extra legroom, and everything is cut to the bone. Budget travel, which has revolutionised the short haul airline business may be losing its gloss for many people.

Maybe Flybe has found its own niche in ‘budget with class’ and that is definitely what I found on my unfortunately, too short a trip from Southampton to Dublin. Just need an announcement for flights between Southampton and Cyprus from Flybe, and I will be the first to book!