I am fortunate enough to live within easy driving distance of Manchester Airport, and as such, am able to take advantage of the increasing number of cheaper flights on offer from Manchester. I recently flew from Manchester to Prague with BMI Baby (my first trip with them)
I booked directly using the BMI website (www.bmibaby.com), which is very easy to use and navigate. On the first page, you get the options to choose your departure airport, destination, and the dates that you wish to travel. Once you have selected these, the site displays the flight times available, including prices. You then choose the times that you want to fly before the final price of your flight is displayed. Some nice touches are that the site displays the Web price and the price for phone bookings (the Web price is always cheaper) so that you know you are getting the best available price. You also have the option of easily searching the days before and after your original dates, so if your travel plans are flexible, then you are able to choose the cheapest fares.
Another option available to you is the ability to register your seating preferences, as you are able to pre-reserve your seats for a cost of £2.50 per person, per journey (this does not include emergency-exit seats or those at the front of the plane). The seats at the front of the plane are known as extra-legroom seats and priced at £15 per person, per journey. (On the outward flight, however, these had not been booked and were offered for the princely sum of £10, and then £5, which made the airline sound a little desperate to me!)
It's then simply a matter of putting in the names, etc., of the people travelling and credit card details. You do not receive printed tickets, but an email confirmation is sent to your email address immediately. All you then need to do is print it and it in a safe place!!
Check-in at Manchester is at Terminal One, where you will find all of the usual airport amenities, including short- and long-stay car parking, shops, duty-free, restaurants, etc. The BMI Baby check-in consisted of three desks just for the Prague flight, and check-in was very fast and efficient since our pre-booked seats had been reserved. Having arrived at the airport 1 hour and 45 minutes before the flight, we then had time to look around the shops. (The minimum recommended check-in time is 1 hour before the flight leaves, and the check-in closes half an hour before the flight leaves).
We then arrived at the gate about 35 minutes before the flight was due to leave. We waited approximately 10 minutes before we were allowed to board. Rather than be crushed, we waited until most of the other people had boarded, and after our tickets and passports were checked, one flight of stairs, and a quick walk across the runway, we were on the 757.
We had reserved two aisle seats, and after a bit of confusion with people sitting in our seats, managed to squash into the seats! I am over 6 feet tall, and I could just about sit down, so if you are any taller than me, I would certainly recommend paying for the extra-legroom seats! The cabin crew quickly helped passengers with baggage, etc., and were very efficient, and we took off more or less on time.
The safety announcement was thorough, and there were safety instructions in the backseat pocket, as well as the in the flight magazine. The seats, although not huge, were quite comfy, and the plane (as well as the clothing of the staff) is done in a pale blue, which is the company's colour. The cabin crew is dressed quite causally, compared to British Airways for example, in short-sleeved blouses and shirts, but looked quite smart nevertheless.
There is no in-flight service included in the price of the ticket, but you can purchase soft drinks, alcohol, and snacks, such as sandwiches, bacon sandwiches, crisps, etc. It was £1.50 for a lukewarm cup of coffee (not highly recommended) and £3.50 for a cheese-and-tomato sandwich that was fine but certainly would not win any culinary awards! My advice would be to bring food and soft drinks and just buy something if you need to!
In addition, you could purchase tax-free goods (limited stock of alcohol perfumes, etc., although cigarettes are only available on the Jersey route). You may get lucky with the limited selection, but my advice would be to shop abroad, especially in Prague, where the prices are MUCH cheaper!
Only being a 2-hour flight, there was no entertainment onboard, but the magazine offered information about what was available to buy onboard, as well as several interesting articles about the countries that the airline flies to - amusing enough to pass a few minutes of the flight!
The plane, overall, was very clean and seemed modern. The seating configuration was three seats together (you can check this when booking if you are a family/group who wish to seat together), and there were plenty of toilets (three) for the number of people onboard, which were also clean. All in all, the flight was excellent, with a very good staff, and my only criticism would be the limited seat room!
The return flight?
The return flight was pretty much the same as going out, as the plane seemed to be identical! The flight was very smooth and on time, although we did arrive at Prague airport just 2 hours before the flight left and then had to wait 25 minutes for the check-in desk to open! (P.S. Make sure that you get to gate in plenty of time, as our flight closed for boarding 20 minutes before it was due to takeoff!!!)
Special offers and saving money?
If you sign up for BMI Baby emails, then they send you details of special-offer flights and prices via email. Although I haven't been able to take up the opportunity of these yet, I have done a few test bookings and did manage to find flights from Manchester to Prague for £5 per person (excluding taxes) for September 2005, which is a great deal!!
I paid almost £100 each for the two tickets I purchased for Prague. The trick with booking with airlines such as BMI Baby is to book your tickets as far in advance as possible; if you do, you will be able to pick up some real bargain flights, and if not, you will end up paying fare prices comparable to those offered by British Airways and the like. I did quite a lot of hunting around for flight prices, and the BMI Baby website was the cheapest ,so I would save yourselves some time and just book directly!