(Flown on November 22, 2015)
Aurigny Air Services is an airline based in Guernsey Airport in the Channel Islands. It is one of the last remaining operators of Britten-Norman Trislanders in the world. As I had some time in London to spare, and since Aurigny started retiring its Trislanders starting with the legendary G-JOEY, I decided to do a little trip to fly on the Trislander.
Aurigny operates a wide network of flights from Alderney and Guernsey – the two main islands of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, however, the number of flights operated by the Trislanders is decreasing as Aurigny started receiving its Dornier 228s that are meant to replace all the Trislanders by 2016.
Background & Booking
After booking a trip to fly on Etihad Airways A340-500, I was left with a day and a half in London. While I could have stayed in London the whole time, I remembered that Aurigny operated flights from the area to the Channel Islands using Britten-Norman Trislanders – a type still missing from my log.
Furthermore, it came to my attention that Aurigny retired it’s most famous Trislander – G-JOEY, and that it would be retiring the remaining three next year. The Trislanders are being replaced by Dornier 228s. Since some of the 228s are in operation already, I confirmed with Aurigny that the flights I was planning to take would indeed be operated (or at least were scheduled to be operated) by a Trislander.
After receiving a positive reply from Aurigny, I went ahead, and booked three flights with them through their website. Southampton to Alderney and Alderney to Guernsey on the Trislander as one booking, and Guernsey to London Gatwick on an ATR 72 as another booking. To “close the loop,” I booked a National Express bus from London Victoria to Southampton.
Off to Southampton
After staying at friends’ house the night before, I took Uber to Stratford Tube station from where I took the train to Victoria. The bus ride to Southampton took about 2 hours and was very uneventful. From the bus station, I took the local bus to the airport. While riding the bus, I realized we stopped by the university which was also a stop on the National Express bus.
Transferring at the university rather than the main station would have made the trip to the airport a bit shorter, but no big deal – still had plenty of time before my flight. I was amazed by the politeness of the local people – saying “thank you” to the driver every time when disembarking through the back door of the bus.
Shortly before 12:40 we arrived at the Southampton Airport bus stop which is a short walk away from the terminal.
Hello, Aurigny Trislander!
Right after arriving in the terminal, I headed to the single check-in desk Aurigny has at the airport. The very first thing after I handed my passport to the gentleman behind the desk was to confirm that the flight would be operated by a Trislander. Luckily, the answer to that question was “yes,” and so it was certain that I would be flying the Trislander for the first time.
Due to weight balancing, seats are not assigned during check-in, but rather assigned during boarding. Still, I asked the check-in agent if he could arrange me to be in the front seat, right behind the pilot. He said he could certainly try, and so, knowing that was the best possible answer, I contently left the check-in desk.
With about 1 hour left until departure, I cleared the security. Didn’t go as smooth as usual – had to stop for a while for an explosives test of my camera equipment. The nice lady at the security, asked me if I was doing this for living or as a hobby, and after answering “I wish I was doing it for living,” I was good to go.
Southampton Airport is a base for FlyBe and so, majority of the 9 gates available were occupied by FlyBe flights to destination throughout Europe. Generally, the aircraft park right in front of the gate allowing the passengers to board directly without having to take a bus to a remote stand.
Our flight, however, was boarding by bus from gate 9 as the Trislander that arrived at 1:33PM parked at a remote stand. At 1:43PM, boarding for our flight was announced. As people gathered around the gate, the same agent that checked me in approached me, saying “I’ve got you in row 2, alright?” The request worked – row 2 is the first row that passengers can sit in. Row 1 is the seat next to the pilot which is, unfortunately, blocked on these flights.
Unlike on traditional airliners, the safety demonstration is presented on a screen at the boarding gate before actual boarding. Once the video was over, we started getting on the bus that took us to G-BDTO – a Trislander built in 1976, almost 40 years ago! Getting off the bus, I was the first one called to board – the front door was open for me and the seat next to the pilot folded so that I could reach my seat in the second row.
Besides me, there were 8 other human passengers on the flight plus a single black Labrador Retriever. With only 9 passengers onboard, boarding was completed quickly, and we were ready to go. The captain, and the sole pilot on this flight, proceeded with his welcome announcement mentioning a flight time of 45 minutes.
In no time, we were taxiing towards our departure runway – 02. Backtrack along runway 20, 180 degree turn at the end of the runway, and we were ready. The three engines started buzzing and within a few seconds, we were up in the skies.
It was a great experience going in and out of clouds in the small airplane, with nice views of the Channel and of clouds altering. We cruised at an altitude of 4,200 feet at a speed of 130 knots. Of course there was no onboard service on the flight, however, it was nice to find an Aurigny in-flight magazine in the seat pocket besides the safety card.
After about 35 minutes of flying, we established visual contact with Alderney. We flew by the island, and commenced a 180 degree turn to align ourselves with the runway. At 2:43PM we landed on runway 08, and taxied to the tiny terminal, marking the end of my first Trislander flight.
Horses of Alderney
As I had about an hour left before my flight to Guernsey was supposed to start boarding, I decided to leave the mini terminal, and take a little walk around the island. With my limited time, I decided to try to find the closest way to a place that would possibly offer some nice views of the Channel.
A short walk later I reached St. Anne – the town of about 2,000 people that is the capital of Alderney. While walking, an older lady said “Dear, be careful, there is a car behind you.” When I looked behind me, I saw a golf kart going barely faster than me – that is Alderney – a nice and small island where a golf kart is an ideal mean of transportation.
Couple more minutes of walking and I reached a point from where I could see the Channel as well as Fort Tourgis – a fort completed in 1855. It was great walking around the island – there were barely any cars on the streets, and the scenery was breathtaking – horses and other animals with the Channel in the background. As the time for boarding my flight was getting closer, I decided to start walking back to the airport.
Aircraft Change, for Better!
After arriving back at the airport, I took a look around the airport. There is a cafe, a check-in desk and a souvenir shop. Besides that, at the entrance there are some books and a knitting kit available. That is about it – the airport has all you need to serve the small amount of flights it receives every day.
While I was waiting for my flight to start boarding, another Trislander landed. Soon afterwards, at 3:45PM, boarding for our flight was announced. As the airport does not have an X-ray machine, bags are searched manually. A search as good as an X-ray machine later, I was having my full bottle of ice tea thrown away – no liquids allowed.
Behind the security, there is a little porch where people can wait for boarding, and there is also a waiting room in case it is raining. In the waiting room, they are also playing the security instructions video.
Soon enough, we were let onto the apron and we started boarding the aircraft. To my surprise, we weren’t boarding the same G-BDTO which was originally supposed to fly our flight, but we were boarding G-BEVT – another one of the three Aurigny Trislanders.
This time, unfortunately, I was not able to sit behind the pilot. Instead, I was seated in row 5. Well, you can’t win everytime. At 3:58PM we started our engine, the captain (same one as on my previous flight) apologized for the delay due to aircraft swap, and we were off to the runway, taking off at exactly 4:00PM.
With Guernsey being only about 40 kilometres away from Alderney, the flight was once again uneventful, although it offered some more nice views of the Channel. At 4:11PM, just 11 minutes after take off, we touched down at Guernsey, arriving at our remote stand at 4:13PM.
Relative to Alderney, Guernsey is a fairly busy airport, and so there were quite a few aircraft on the apron besides our Trislander – there was the third active Aurigny Trislander – G-RLON, three Aurigny ATRs, 1 Blue Islands ATR, and a FlyBe DHC-8-400.
Transferring at Guernsey
Once I got off the bus, I went through the customs. For the first time in a while, I was picked for a bit of questioning.
What do you do? Where are you coming from? So, you came to London from Japan yesterday, you are coming from Southampton and Alderney today, and are going to Gatwick now, and then to Japan tomorrow morning, is that right? Yes. What did you do in Iran? Sightseeing and flew on classic planes. Civil or military? Civil. Do you have large amount of cash on you? I wish I did. Do you have your business cards with you?
Finally, after showing the customs agents my business cards, I was let through, and I headed straight to the Aurigny check-in desk to check my bag in and get the boarding pass for my flight to Gatwick.
Going Back to London
As I only had around an hour to transfer, I headed back airside right after getting my boarding pass. The Guernsey airport is very compact and similar in design to Southampton. Once airside, I got a bag of chips and a bottle of Dr. Pepper, and relaxed for a bit before the boarding was called.
At 5:15PM, boarding was announced. Passengers were called to board through doors D and E which led to Gate 5. As we were walking down the corridor to Gate 5, we crossed our paths with people that just arrived from Gatwick onboard an Aurigny Embraer 190.
Once onboard, I settled in my seat 8A. Boarding was completed soon, and with the flight about 75% full, we started our push back at 5:31PM. The passengers were reminded to remove their headphones for the safety demonstration – that’s a new announcement since electronics are allowed throughout the flight on some airlines.
At 5:35PM we started taxiing towards the departure runway as it was starting to rain slightly. Five minutes later, we were in the air, heading towards London Gatwick.
Unlike the previous two flights operated by Trislander, this flight was comparable to other European flights of similar length. The flight was about 55 minutes long, and about 5 minutes after take-off, the in-flight service started.
Free soft drinks were offered, and for passengers wanting more, there was a wide selction of buy-on-board drinks and snacks. I decided to get a glass of orange juice. The seat back pocket contained an in-flight magazine, and in-flight shopping menu, a safety card and a waste bag. Interestingly, duty free items were offered for sale during the flight.
At 6:15PM, the seat belt sign was switched on once again, and soon we begun our descend towards London Gatwick airport. About 15 minutes later, we touched down at Gatwick, and taxied towards our remote stand from where we were taken by bus to the arrivals hall of Gatwick South terminal. That marked the end of my little Aurigny trip. After collecting my luggage and clearing the customs once again, I headed off to find the local bus stop to meet my friend who is an Emirates cabin crew.