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The Intra-Wales air service started out in 2007 to provide an air route between North Wales (Anglesey VLY/EGOV) and South Wales (CWL/EGFF). One of its roles was to make it easier for Welsh Assembly Members (AM’s) to travel between the two ends of the country and allow North Wales AM’s to travel down to the Senedd in Cardiff Bay without spending hours on a train or in a car.
Despite its origins, it is a public route and flies around 10,000 passengers per year between North and South Wales so is it just for AM’s? We booked ourselves a ticket to find out…..
….and that’s where it all went wrong!
We would fly out on the 07:35 flight (BE6715) and return on the 16:40 flight (BE7619) the same day.
So as the 1st March rolled around we headed to the airport and checked ourselves in. Immediately we were told that the flight was delayed until 09:45 but that didn’t matter, in fact, it gave us some time to check out the new facilities and improvements that Cardiff Airport has added to the terminal, but that’s another article for another day.
We were aware that there was some snow forecast and it was a bit blustery so a delay was expected.
After a while, the staff at Cardiff Airport confirmed that the flight would go at about 09:45 but would operate to Hawarden Airport, not Anglesey which is the eastern side of North Wales, but as onwards transport would be provided, that wasn’t too much of an issue.
So finally we were called to the Gate 8 and boarded the Jetstream 41.
Eastern Airways uses a 31 seat turboprop Jetstream J41 on the route, although it is limited to 19 passengers, and this particular example, G-MAJG, was certainly showing its age on the interior!
There were only 4 people on this particular flight, although it’s likely many had cancelled due to the weather, so our flight attendant, Lisa, put people in particular seats to ensure safety and correct weight distribution.
Being such a small aircraft it feels more intimate than the more traditional airliners you jet off to Spain on which made a refreshing change.
After a short time, we were on our way, taxiing out to the runway with the snow falling around us. The wind was also picking up so we were bracing ourselves for a bit of a bumpy one.
Lined up on Runway 12 the Jetstream 41 used all of its power to lift us off into the snow in a brisk fashion and as expected, it was bumpy and windy and even had us regular flyers a bit grippy on the armrests!
Once clear of the clouds however the flight smoothed out and sunshine surrounded us. During the cruise, we were offered a selection of complimentary drinks and snacks by Lisa. During the cruise, we had a bit more of a look around the cabin and despite its age, it was clean and comfortable. The blue leather seats, whilst cracked all over the material, provided comfort and plenty of legroom even for those of us who are 6ft 2″ tall.
It was soon time to descend into Hawarden (average flight time to North Wales was 50 mins) and as expected things got bumpy again. Surprisingly though the visibility was good on approach and we had a good view of the snowy landscape for the last 10 minutes of the flight.
The landing in Hawarden was excellent given the conditions. The other bonus was that as Hawarden is home to Airbus Broughton, an Airbus Beluga was waiting to take-off, and another followed us into the airport.
As promised, a minibus was waiting for us to take us to our proper destination of Anglesey Airport (RAF Valley).
At some point during that minibus trip, the weather in South Wales worsened and it was announced that our return flight would be cancelled. Unfortunately, that is also where support from Eastern Airlines/Flybe ended. Despite being checked-in for the return flight, Eastern decided it had no obligation to help with alternative arrangements and as Anglesey Airport had locked the doors we were very much left to fend for ourselves. Suddenly that cheap flight became very expensive.
Unfortunately, when contacted, Eastern Airways offered no help in terms of accommodation, food or support despite being obliged to at an away from home airport.
An Eastern Airways spokesperson said: “On 1st and 2nd March this year, the vast majority of the UK faced severe weather conditions with unprecedented levels of heavy snow affecting the UK transport system, including air travel. As expected, there was significant disruption to Eastern Airways’ route network, which included the Cardiff – Anglesey service.
“The weather was a national lead news story broadcast across the UK highlighting to the public to expect severe disruption and not to travel unless absolutely necessary. The Friday afternoon rebooked flight on 2 March was also cancelled due to Cardiff Airport being snow closed throughout the day. All Flybe flights out of Cardiff were cancelled that day and Flybe put a notice out via social media that morning, as did Cardiff Airport, to keep passengers updated.”
Speaking specifically about my claim for costs they said “We have an obligation to provide assistance in terms of overnight accommodation and meals for passengers away from home affected by weather, which Mr Harding is eligible for, as well as a refund for the return ticket portion. We are currently investigating Mr Harding’s query.”
They added: “Anglesey does not have runway de-icing facilities as an RAF training base, unlike most commercially operated airports. The runway at RAF Valley due to icing formation was unsafe to operate onto following repeated inspections. As Anglesey’s runway was therefore inoperable on Thursday 1st March, we elected to operate into Chester (Hawarden) Aerodrome to offer a morning service, however, this was not an option as the day went on. Poor road conditions become an additional wider safety management issue when considering passenger safety and operational continuity.
“Check-in at Anglesey opens up to 90 minutes before the flights depart. However, Anglesey’s terminal facility would have been closed by the time ground transport had arrived, due to no flights specifically operating at that time of day.”
After making our own way back to South Wales 1 day later we all put in claims for expenses. One was dismissed as Eastern said it wasn’t liable for compensation (despite compensation not being asked for) and another was ‘apparently’ never received. Having spoken again to Eastern Airways we welcome the fact that they are now looking at their responses again.