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Easyjet A319 Economy class
BACKGROUND Easyjet currently flies daily from London Stansted to Tallinn, departing at 1515 and arriving at 2000 local Monday-Friday. On Saturday the flight leaves at 1305 and on Sunday at 1655. This will all change from March 28 when the Monday and Wednesday flights will be dropped, and the remaining services will switch to early morning departures (except for Sunday at 1655).
The route is served by a 156-seat Airbus A319 (EZY3445, G-EZFR) in a 3-3 seating configuration. To see the seatplan, click here.
Easyjet competes against Ryanair which flies on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 0745 from London Luton. Estonian Air (full service and therefore more expensive) flies from London Gatwick on Thursday and Sunday evenings.
CHECK-IN I started my journey at Tottenham Hale, a London Underground (Victoria line) and mainline train station on the Stansted Express line from London Liverpool Street. I caught the 1307 which arrived at Stansted just 30 minutes later (with one stop on the way). It should be noted here that the newer Stansted Express trains have free wifi, but on this occasion I was travelling on the older-style train.
As the ticket had been booked on my behalf, I did not have the details needed to check-in online. However, I did have speedy boarding and therefore knew that I could bypass the lengthy queues that sometimes afflict the Easyjet check-in desks. There were two speedy boarding-only desks, one of which was free, and with hand luggage only I was soon checked in with a gate closing time of 1445.
At Stansted there are two entrance leading to the eight security lanes. Most people seemed to go to the second as it was the closest to the Easyjet check-in zone. A quick look further down and I could see that hardly anyone was using the entrance to the other lanes.
Be warned that at Stansted they do not hand out free plastic bags for liquids. If you don't already have one (as I did from a previous flight), you'll have to purchase yours from what look like large bubble gum machines located close to the entrance to security. The balls contained therein cost £1 and provide four bags each. This is bound to catch out holidaymakers, but seasoned travellers should get used to it fairly quickly.
BOARDING I had about 50 minutes before I had to be at my gate, so I did a little shopping for gifts. The facilities at Stansted are clean and modern, and Stansted's small size means the shops don't sprawl with everything conveniently located.
Gates 1-39 are reached by a transit shuttle train which leaves every five minutes or so, making two stops for gates 1-19 and 20-39. My gate (16) was called at 1430, so I didn't hang around in making my way to the waiting shuttle. The journey took only a few minutes, and as the train was quite full, I decided to let everyone rush off ahead of me rather than struggle with my heavy hand luggage in tow, knowing I had the luxury of speedy boarding and therefore no crowd to beat.
As it turned out, almost everyone on the shuttle was bound for Tallinn on the same flight, so I was relieved to have speedy boarding. The two queues (SB and non-SB) were well organised on this occasion which cannot always be said of Easyjet flights, but this is really down to a number of factors with the most important being airport layout. At Gate 16 there was a corridor down which everyone forwmed a natural queue.
At 1445, we speedy boarders had our boarding passes scanned before being let into a holding pen of sorts. The aircraft was connected by an airbridge, and I was in my seat (with just a short wait by the aircraft door) by 1500. The rest of the passengers were seated by 1510, and we pushed back at 1515 with an estimated time of arrival of 2000, right on schedule.
THE SEAT I went for what most frequent flyers consider the best seat on any Easyjet aircraft, seat 1C. Being in the front row and on the non-bulkhead side it has bags of legroom, plus you'll be the first off the plane as you can get to the overhead locker first. However, it is not a good seat if you want to sleep, with constant noise from the cabin crew going about their business. This is unavoidable though - unlike full service carriers, which have set service times and therefore moments when the crew will be quiet, Easyjet is constantly selling food and drinks (especially to the rowdy stag doers towards the back of the aircraft).
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? If you're not worried about sleeping, then seats 1A, 1B and 1C are the best, followed by the rest of Row 1. Be aware that you can stretch your legs out in these seats, but you'll be getting in the way of the cabin crew, plus the queue for the forward toilet. If you want to sleep, it's probably better to go for one of the exit row seats (rows ten and 11). Cabin crew sometimes stand in these rows to greet passengers, as there's more room, which means that most people instinctively choose to sit elsewhere. This is good news as it means that you've a better chance of getting one of them.
One major advantage of sitting at the front of the plane is the avoidance of the groups, typically stag or hen parties, who tend to sit at the back. As the plane tends to fill from the front, groups head to the back in the hope of sitting together.
THE FLIGHT The flight left more or less on time, and as soon as seemed possible the crew sprang into the business of selling drinks and snacks, which they did constantly for the duration of the flight. I'd like to say here that the cabin crew each displayed the stoicism and patience of a saint, in the face of a constant barrage of "light-hearted banter" and demands for Stella Artois coming from the large stag party at the back of the plane. Once or twice I overhead them talk about an unruly passenger's behaviour, and I really felt for them.
Food on board this Easyjet flight consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich with warm offerings of a three cheese pizza or a croque monsieur, all priced at between £4 and £5. I nearly always buy my food for the journey at the airport, where there is greater choice and usually better value for money, and this flight was no exception. I have had the croque monsieur (or "ham and cheese toasty" as it is referred to by the cabin crew) before, and it is extremely tasty. There is a good variety of soft and not-so-soft drinks on offer, but expect to pay above average prices.
ARRIVAL We began our decent at 1930 local time, with the crew asked to prepare for landing some ten minutes later. We were told to expect turbulence during our landing, and that is certainly what we got. I overheard the captain and co-pilot joking afterwards about the tricky landing, and while the approach was certainly one of the most "dynamic" I've experienced, the landing itself was smooth and more impressive given the snow-covered runway outside. A round of applause from the chaps at the back was well-deserved.
After taxiing for a short while the belt sign was turned off at 1950, and I was the first at the exit with hand luggage and coat well and truly done up in anticipation of the freezing temperatures outside. I was the first to reach immigration (via an airbridge and short walk), and with no checked luggage I was the first in the arrivals hall at 2000.
VERDICT Speedy boarding is well worth the extra money at £16 per booking (covering the return flight if booked at the same time). The flight was on time, all that one can really expect from a no-frills airline, and the crew was efficient and friendly. The current flight times are more suited to people hoping to head out in Tallinn for a weekend away, but the upcoming schedule change to a morning flight may better suit business travellers.
PRICE A mid-week return in March starts at £77 (no checked luggage), with speedy boarding costing an extra £16 per booking.