Arriving at London Stansted at around 05:40, it was clearly evident that the winter mornings are fast approaching, as a few weeks before, this photo of the terminal would have been back-dropped by a beautiful bright sunrise. Luckily the MAG-operated (Manchester Airport Group) terminal was illuminating the Essex countryside for miles and miles instead.
On 15 September, Ryanair launched services to its latest Spanish airport, Castellon, nestled approximately 100 kilometres north of Valencia, near the town of Castellon. anna.aero’s Assistant Editor, Jonathan Ford, was delighted when a few weeks beforehand he received an invitation to attend the opening of the airport, and also humbled to be able to fly on the first scheduled service to the facility. This was also a celebration for Ford, as this was the first time he had been on an ‘inaugural service’. However for 2015, it was his 17th commercial flight.
The day for Ford meant an early start, setting off from his parents’ home, where he had spent the weekend, in North Warwickshire to London Stansted at 03:00, a time at which he is used to coming back home after a night out usually. On arrival, he was delighted to see that his flight was running on time (same could not be said for the return leg from Barcelona), just giving him enough time to get through security and fill-up on a much needed caffeine fix before boarding. Here is how the day’s events unfolded as Ford arrived at Stansted for his inaugural ‘inaugural service’.
London Stansted Airport is currently going through one of the busiest periods of its history, in relation to other UK commercial airports. However, with building work currently ongoing, and airside shopping facilities being developed to help improve the passenger experience, it did mean that space was at a premium in this peak-hour departure period.
Flight FR 8555, commenced boarding on time at 06:45 at Gate 40 for a scheduled departure slot of 07:10. However, due to a backlog of traffic at London Stansted, the actual departure time for the flight down to Castellon was at 07:34 on-the-dot. The flight time was estimated to be within the region of two hours and five minutes according to the captain during his welcome announcement. anna.aero was a little bit disappointed in the lack of inaugural celebrations that occurred at Stansted, which was in fact, nothing! With a route to a brand new airport in Spain that has never seen commercial services before, it would have been nice for both airports of the new sector to celebrate the occasion. Most people on the fully-booked flight did not even know it was the first service to Castellon until the captain made an announcement over the PA system. Luckily Ford made do with a Vanilla Latte to help cover his sugar craving due to a lack of route launch cake at the London airport.
“Please board using the rear doors.” The inaugural flight would be flown from seat 26A for Ford, allowing him to gain a front row seat for the inevitable water arch that would take place in Castellon. “Cabin crew, doors to automatic and cross check please”. It’s hard to avoid the safety briefing on a Ryanair flight. Mind you if anything was to happen, the yellow life vest would most certainly clash with Ford’s red shirt and tie ensemble that day.
A lonely easyJet A319 sits awaiting its departure, the LCC’s operations dwarfed by the exodus of Ryanair departures that morning. Flight FR 8555 took off from London Stansted’s south-west facing runway. After departure, the route would take a sharp right out towards Luton, then left down around Heathrow to then go directly over Gatwick out towards the UK south coast.
Not long after departure, all 189 passengers were soon in the clouds heading on their way to a much sunnier Spain.
‘I see London…I see France…. I see… the River Seine?’ Ford, who originally studied geography before his career in aviation, was excited when he noticed the geographical wonder meandering through the north of France on its way eastwards towards Paris.
Descent into Castellon. On the approach into Spain’s latest commercial airport, you get wonderful views looking out towards the Mediterranean Sea. The inaugural flight would be landing on runway 06 at Castellon.
Touchdown! “Ladies and Gentlemen, you have arrived on yet another on-time Ryanair flight.” The most annoying fan-fare of fan-fares was applauded by the passengers as they became the first ever to land at the airport.
Arriving on stand at Castellon, the airport’s fire service greeted the inaugural flight with a traditional fire truck water arch. anna.aero’s Assistant Editor was quite amused when the passenger next to him said “It’s a good job they did that, those windows are filthy.”
On arrival, all 189 passengers were greeted at Castellon by the Spanish media, many of whom applauded as people made their way from the 737-800 towards immigration.
Thanks for the ride guys! Ford can only describe the landing as superb. The inaugural flight, FR 8555, had one of the smoothest landings that Ford had ever felt. The captain of the flight, originally from Solihull, revealed that he would not have to do another rotation out of London Stansted later that day by joking: “On an inaugural, you only have to do that rotation, we get the rest of the day off!”
It’s the legend! Ford could not believe his eyes when he caught a glimpse of the one and only Simon Calder, one of, or if not, the leading travel journalist in the UK, who was also on the inaugural flight. He revealed to anna.aero that he was fascinated with the tourism in the Province of Castellón region, and was keen to start exploring. He also mentioned that he was happy that Ryanair had finally opened up this Spanish region to the UK market, a tourism market that has so far been mainly dominated by French tourists. When asked about his plans for his stay in the region by Calder, Ford replied: “To head straight to Barcelona for the return flight.” As much as anna.aero’s Assistant Editor would have wanted to explore the region, he had to get home for his next flight to Dubai and Durban to attend World Routes.
anna.aero meets Castellon Airport. Ford was fortunate enough during the hectic inaugural events taking place downstairs in the arrivals hall to catch a few minutes with Castellon Airport CEO, Alain Russel. When asked about the future relationship that the airport faces with Ryanair, he commented: “At the moment, Ryanair are very happy with the forward bookings that they are currently seeing on both services to London Stansted and Bristol, which is launching tomorrow. This is evident today as both inbound and outbound flights are fully booked.” He also said: “We do not have an aim of attracting just low-cost carriers. We are speaking with multiple airlines to operate from Castellon.”
What a handsome lineup. Russel and Ford are joined by Jean-Luc Magan (centre right), Marketing & Development Director, O&M Europe, SNC-Lavalin (who made it possible for anna.aero to be part of the historic day), and José Espartero (centre left), Ryanair’s Sales and Marketing Manager for Spain and Portugal. Espartero commented to anna.aero about Ryanair’s future at the airport by saying: “We are pleased with how forward bookings on the new routes to Bristol and London Stansted are looking. Ryanair is pleased to announce that services to Bristol will return at the start of next summer, with flights to Stansted continuing into the winter season.” Magan also commented about future service by saying: “We are very much looking at different markets in Europe. We have a focus of targeting Northern Europe, but also to the west and north coasts of Spain, routes which would be ideal for airlines such as Vueling and Volotea.”
The return flight to Stansted, FR 8554, left Castellon just behind its scheduled departure time. While in discussion with Ford, Alain Russel, airport CEO commented further by saying: “We have been fortunate to get Ryanair to commence operations so close to the end of the summer season. The hope had been to have these flights up and running in May, but when we were marketing the airport last summer to airlines, we as an airport did not have certification to operate services. This only came into effect on 10 December 2014. It’s not a decision taken lightly by airlines to launch to an airport not yet holding valid certification. We are so happy that Ryanair noticed the potential and took up operations today.”
Welcomed by all. Many ex-pats who live in this part of Spain came to the airport to welcome Ryanair’s first flight from London Stansted. For many, the links to Stansted and Bristol are great opportunities for friends and family to come and visit them.
Just at the bottom of the image, Ryanair flight FR8554 can be seen rotating off runway 24 on its return to London. Flights from Stansted will operate twice-weekly, served throughout the year.
The terminal at Castellon is very bright and sleek. It is a terminal that does not have the feel of being a low-cost facility. In total, the airport has four departure gates and numerous check-in facilities. On arrival, Ryanair’s special cargo ‘Hand luggage control’ can be seen arriving ready for the next lot of Ryanair passengers to face.
Not so perfect end to a perfect day. Unfortunately for Ford, who cannonballed all the way from Castellon to Barcelona for his return flight to London Stansted on FR 9815, only to discover it was delayed by five hours and 35 minutes. This was not the outcome he had hoped for due to the additional one and a half hour drive he would have then from Stansted to his flat. Whatever happened to “99% of our flights land on time” Ryanair?