Gatwick at 8am, the airport was a colourful blur of yellow flashing lights and bright yellow vehicles fitted with every kind of brush, sponge or sucker imaginable. Watching them racing around the aprons and taxiways, spray flying everywhere, sleet pattering down on windows, I started to get genuinely concerned about the viability of our second Enthusiasts’ Day trip to Manchester.
Monarch Airlines Enthusiasts’ Day organiser Toby takes us through last Friday’s trip – LGW-MAN-LGW.
Simon Edwards, the Airline Business Development Manager at Gatwick Airport, broke the bad news to us. The planned tour of the Gatwick Airport ramps had had to be cancelled as the Operations teams were preparing the airport for the bad weather and were unable to host our guests. To make things worse, Simon said Manchester Airport was closed due to snow and in fact an aircraft had diverted from Manchester to Gatwick as it hadn’t been safe to land. Luckily, after a few frantic phone calls, we found out that Manchester Airport had re-opened and all Monarch departures had managed to get away. With a cold, but relatively dry afternoon forecast for the north west, the trip was back on!
My colleagues Stewart and Rosie from the commercial team helping me run the event were immensely relieved. Our 95 enthusiasts had travelled from all over the UK; some had flown in from Ireland and the Czech Republic, ages ranged from 15 to 75, and the group included spotters, photographers, budding and current airline industry professionals and a couple of former RAF guys. We hated to disappoint them, but luckily our group were very understanding about the change of plan and took the time we’d have spent on the ramp to take some photos of two Monarch A300s parked in the new livery.
The A330 that was taking us to Manchester, G-SMAN, arrived from Goa and taxied to stand on the main pier. As we were travelling on a domestic flight, boarding would take place from the small domestic pier where buses were waiting to take us on an impromptu ramp tour past an interesting visitor from Russia, a Rossiya Airlines Anotonov 148. The bus felt like it almost rolled over as our enthusiasts rushed across to one side to snap some photos!
Boarding the aircraft we were greeted by Purser Guy Penn and his crew. Seats had been carefully assigned in the build up to the event to ensure that each party of passengers had at least one window seat between them. With everybody onboard and seated, Captain Evans provided everybody with details of the departure runway and speeds, and of the route that we would be following up to Manchester. All on board appreciated this little bit of extra treatment.
After a short taxi out to the runway, the throttles were opened and G-SMAN hurtled down the runway and was airborne in no time, climbing steeply and dramatically demonstrating the power of these aircraft, the light load contributing to the effect. Flying time was expected to be only 40mins, so as soon as the seatbelt signs were switched off, Rosie, Stewart and I were up out of our seats to pass through the cabin to check that everyone was happy.
Almost as quickly as it had gotten airborne, G-SMAN was taxiing toward Terminal 2. The snow that had shut the airport earlier in the day could still be seen on the grassy areas around the airport and there was plenty activity around the aircraft on stands being de-iced prior to their departures.
Manchester Airport had arranged a ramp tour for us, and this was going to go ahead despite the wintery conditions. All of the cabin crew kindly offered to accompany the tours and answer questions for those onboard. First port of call was the cargo aprons, where a host of long-term guests from charter companies across Europe were parked up, covered in snow and ice, as well as a couple of parcel freighter aircraft. Departing the cargo apron we made our way toward Terminal 3, marvelling at the giant Emirates A380 as it trundled in to the sky, kicking up tidal waves of spray behind it.
After an enjoyable spin around Manchester’s ramps, the convoy of buses made its way off the airfield and to the Monarch Aircraft Engineering hangar. The tail of an A330 with Garuda Indonesia colours peeked out of the gap in the large hangar doors as we rounded the building . General Manager John-Paul Williams and his team welcomed us and gave us the full 360 degree view of the aircraft in the hangar. I think everyone agreed it was a unique opportunity to view these aircraft up close, stand in the cargo bay of a Monarch A330 and to see how aircraft skin panels are repaired.
Back at the newly rebranded departure terminal, we found out our return aircraft G-OZBI had arrived early from Kittila. The flight was delayed briefly while we waited for a de-icing truck, so we took a Q and A session. Our guests peppered us with questions about the Monarch B757 fleet, future fleet acquisitions, the possibility of a Monarch “retro jet” and the potential for a business class cabin, and more. One question that had been asked all day long was, “when is the next Enthusiasts’ Day?” – well guys, we’re working on it!
The final job for Manchester was to present our youngest guest with a little gift from Monarch, two days ahead of his 16th birthday.
The Enthusiast Day concept has been a real success so far and as each event takes place, a bigger and bigger team have been involved. As such, I would like to thank Rosie and Stewart, cabin crew members Guy, Sarah W, Sarah D, Stacey, Shaun, Jamie, Kate and Tallulah; pilots Lee, Joost, Richard and Simon; Monarch Aircraft Engineering guides John-Paul , Steve, Chris, Kev and Andrew Moreman for a brilliant team effort on the day. Behind the scenes, a big thank you to all of the Reservations team, and to all of those that made a contribution from the IT team to the Airport Duty Managers to the Marketing teams that helped to promote the event.
Did you participate in this special event? Would you like to join in a future Enthusiasts’ Day? Let us know in the comments below!