Nice flight, shame about the queues

The Jewish Chronicle - - Travel - BY ANTHEA GER­RIE

THERE WAS a l ow purr of the en­gines and the blue Thom­son­fly jet flashed a sig­na­ture scar­let smile from its tail­fin as it soared into avi­a­tion his­tory ear­lier this month with the first low-cost, no-frills sched­uled flight from Bri­tain to Is­rael. A few min­utes af­ter it took off from Lu­ton, its coun­ter­part made the same jour­ney from Manch­ester, though I was not there to wit­ness the mid-flight dav­en­ing, be­ing among the Lu­ton pas­sen­gers sleep­ing off the early rise nec­es­sary to catch the 10.15 flight which ar­rives in time for beach-barflies to sip a sun­downer over­look­ing the Med.

It was a qui­eter and al­to­gether more low-key flight than your typ­i­cal El Al voy­age, car­ry­ing a mix of Bri­tish and Is­raeli Jews, Jewish and non-Jewish busi­ness trav­ellers and young city-break­ers who had clearly leapt at the chance of hit­ting up an ex­otic new des­ti­na­tion sud­denly avail­able at less than £160 re­turn.

Those not pru­dent enough to book well ahead might have paid some­what more and many will be pay­ing more than twice the price over Chanu­cah. And all pas­sen­gers had to fork out £5 per bag to check it into the hold, but to judge by the packed plane, all 189 pas­sen­gers had been hooked by the lead-in fare of £139.98 re­turn, which was of­fered in time to also lure great waves of Spurs sup­port­ers cheer­ing on their team in Tel Aviv’s Euro­pean Cup play-off on Novem­ber 8.

Lu­ton Air­port, mas­sively re­fur­bished in the past few years and with a de­cent ar­ray of shops is a clean and com­pact joy com­pared to Heathrow and Gatwick, and al­though long de­lays at se­cu­rity have been known at this Lon­don out­post favoured by North Lon­don­ers and Mid­lan­ders alike, we breezed through in sec­onds at 9.15 on a Thurs­day morn­ing.

We did have to walk down­stairs to the plane — there are, as yet, no sky-ramps at Lu­ton — but needed no bus, be­ing parked near the gate, and only Air Traf­fic Con­trol pre­vented an on-time de­par­ture; con­ges­tion over north­ern Europe pushed back take-off by 45 min­utes, of which the pilot made up 15, given favourable tail­winds. A fair de­gree of com­fort pre­vailed; there seemed to be plenty enough space in the over­head com­part­ments, and more leg room than found in econ­omy on some transat­lantic ser­vices.

Thom­son­fly’s seat pitch is 29 inches on the 737-800 that it flies out of Lu­ton on Tues­days and Thurs­days, an inch less on the larger 757s used on Sun­days and which also cur­rently serve the Manch­ester route. Ex­tra leg-room in the emer­gency exit rows is sup­posed t o be a v a i l a bl e for an ad­di­tional charge, but con­fu­sion reigned on the re­turn flight, when i t f a i l e d t o show up on the book­ing of pas­sen­gers who had paid, and one 6’ 5” busi­ness­man who had failed to be able to book this fa­cil­ity on the web­site staged a sit-in.

Low-cost in­vari­ably means pay­ing for food — though bring­ing your own smoked salmon bagel on board is al­ways an op­tion. It is not, how­ever, a ne­ces­sity, as Thom­son­fly of­fers kosher meals by Her­mo­lis for £12 apiece, if given eight days’ no­tice.

Frankly, it would be hard to im­prove on the de­li­cious Thai green curry which is the veg­e­tar­ian op­tion on the out­bound flight and costs half that (and needs only three days’ no­tice to book), though the veg­e­tar­ian pasta on the re­turn was not nearly as good.

Veg­e­tar­i­ans also get the cred­itable tiramisu cre­ated by Aldo Zilli, the celeb chef who de­signs the reg­u­lar meals, and a taster ver­i­fied that the cheese­filled ravi­oli in rich tomato sauce — served with the char-grilled chicken breast — was quite de­lec­ta­ble. Sand­wiches and drinks were on sale be­fore hot meals were de­liv­ered.

The only real com­plaint con­cerned an as­pect of fa­cil­i­ties which may be out of the air­line’s con­trol: three loos are ap­par­ently not quite enough for 189 pas­sen­gers on a five-hour flight, as there was a queue through­out.

Ar­rival was a sheer de­light — Thom­son­fly may be low-cost, but it de­cants its pas­sen­gers into the same glam­orous Ter­mi­nal 3 used by El Al at Ben-Gu­rion, where pass­port-check­ing and bag­gage re­trieval were fast and ef­fi­cient.

If only one could say all th­ese good things about the re­turn. The Is­raelis played their part, with the usual in­ten­sive in­ter­ro­ga­tion. De­spite that, pas­sen­gers were boarded only 15 min­utes late. But we sat on the plane a fur­ther hour be­fore be­ing told the de­lay was caused by the fail­ure of ground staff to re­plen­ish the wa­ter tank. No hot drinks were avail­able and there was no help for those of us who missed our last train home — a 9.15pm ar­rival will al­ways be vul­ner­a­ble in that re­spect.

B u t h e y , i t ’ s low cost, as the flight su­per­vi­sor was r a t her t o o quick to point out.

And bag­gage did ar­rive within a few min­utes of land­ing — a world away from Heathrow and Gatwick, and at £159.99 re­turn — when you can get it — Thom­son­fly’s Tel Aviv ser­vice, in­clud­ing the only di­rect op­tion from Manch­ester, re­mains an of­fer any Is­raeophile will find hard to refuse.

PHOTO: ANTHEA GER­RIE

A Thom­son­fly plane at Lu­ton, set to make avi­a­tion his­tory with the first low-cost air­line flight to Is­rael

The gleam­ing in­te­rior of Ben Gu­rion’s new ter­mi­nal

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