This is part ten in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain. For an introduction, see this post.
The business class fare that I had booked home was out of Dublin. I thought that flying from somewhere in Basque country to Dublin would be pretty cheap. Alas, it wasn’t; the only nonstop was on Aer Lingus from Bilbao. (After I booked, Aer Lingus added a second weekly late evening nonstop on a wet-leased BA Cityflyer Embraer regional jet.) And it wasn’t that cheap; I booked a “Plus” fare, which included a checked bag, advanced seat assignment, and the ability to earn miles (Aer Lingus ended up delaying the launch of its own Avios program, so I’ll be crediting to British Airways Executive Club (how many remains to be seen, as I’ve had to manually request after they didn’t automatically post)), it came to 150 Euros. But hooray for trying a new airline! (Fun fact- it’s my 57th airline, not including regional/express carriers flying for mainline carriers.)
Although there is a bus from Bilbao to the airport, it would have had me heading out of my way, taking the metro downtown and then turning around. The Holiday Inn was on the way to the airport, so the ride took less than 15 minutes and was worth the 25 Euros.
The Bilbao airport, to be blunt, kind of sucks. It’s designed by Santiago Calatrava and strikes a stunning view on approach. But as a passenger-friendly space, it is poorly laid out. The ticketing hall is the only really open space in the terminal, and has a lot of wasted space. I had arrived at 3pm, two hours before my scheduled departure on Aer Lingus. The counter was open, and there was no wait for me to check my bag.
There wasn’t much before security, so I figured I’d pass through security. Not much there, either, other than a duty-free shop, one newsstand, 2 local shops, one fast-foodish restaurant (Pans & Co.), one tiny snack bar, and one bar/restaurant. There is also a Burger King coming. But the current state of the airport, with 54 flights a day in summer, was totally inadequate. Hence, when I decided I might as well get a bite to eat (there is a lounge, but it does not participate in Priority Pass), I waited a full 30 minutes in line at Pans & Co.! The terminal was also extremely dark. In most of the terminal, the only light is natural light, and it was a very cloudy day. It was also extremely warm, though, due to the greenhouse effect and lack of ceiling vents.
Gate information isn’t posted until right before boarding. So 15 minutes before scheduled boarding time, the gate was announced. Even though the inbound aircraft hadn’t arrived yet, a line for the immigration booth at the gate quickly formed. (Although Ireland is firmly in the EU, it is not in the Schengen Area). At first I thought I’d just sit and wait, but the seating was so uncomfortable, I saw little reason to. I’m glad I did, because that line would end up being determinative of the whole flight.
One thing that happened here is something that happens in Europe far more often than in the U.S. – there was literally no communication the entire boarding process. Boarding time came and went and there was no update. Finally the immigration booth opened, and two lines snaked through, and proceeded down one level to a boarding lounge where the line just continued, but didn’t move; and then boarding suddenly began, without any announcement, with no order than the line that had initially formed.
The Aer Lingus was a bit dated A320, though the seats were thicker and more comfortable than the slimline seats many European carriers have in their newer A319s and 320s. The flight was very full, with about 45 % of the passengers Spanish, 40% Irish, 10% British, and 5% other. I didn’t notice any other Americans, though there were four Air Europa flight attendants in uniform, perhaps to work the next day’s seasonal charter from Dublin to Mallorca, Air Europa’s only flight out of Dublin.
We had missed our window to take off, so ended up not pushing off until 5:45, a full 45 minutes late. Dozed a little bit, but the row behind me had a British kid who was shouting the entire flight, giving voices to each of her toys — in my opinion not appropriate in-flight entertainment. She literally did not stop talking the entire time, and at a volume I could hear through my headphones.
Aer Lingus is pretty much a low-cost carrier for domestic flights. So for service it was all for sale. The buy-on-board menu was a bit pricy; 2,50 EUR for a can of soda, 3,00 EUR for a bottle of water, 2,40 EUR for a cup of coffee. (There were also chips, sandwiches, and such.) Since my goal was going to be to stay awake late at my hotel to start readjusting, I got a soda.
For some reason I had selected an aisle seat, not my usual practice. There wasn’t actually that much banging against me in the aisle, but my rowmates were looking out the window, and noted it was a particularly pretty view of the coast of France as we cruised. We landed 45 minutes late, and immigration and bag claim went quickly.
I was initially torn between staying in downtown Dublin for the night versus staying at an airport hotel. Both were expensive (nothing less than 200 Euros really) so I’d be using points, but since my flight was leaving at 9:25am, I figured going into town wasn’t worth the hassle and expense for what would be 10 hours or so. There are two airport hotels right on property, and lots nearby with shuttle transportation. I decided to use my hard-earned Club Carlson points and book at the Radisson Blu right on-site at the airport. It provided access to a fitness center, so I figured I’d check in, work out, grab dinner, and sleep.
The Radisson has a 24-hour shuttle, but I walked from Dublin’s Terminal 2, which took about 8 minutes. The lobby was pretty crowded with folks checking in, but the wait wasn’t too bad. At check-in, the clerk recognized me as a gold member, but apologized saying the hotel was full so there would be no upgrade. Meh, whatever. She also said there would be “presents” for me in the room (her English, ironically, was not very good). I then asked about accessing the fitness center, and she went on to say that it closed at 5pm, and wouldn’t open until 9am, because it’s the weekend.
Well, that’s stupid. A large airport hotel should have some fitness center open in the evening and early morning, if not 24 hours. More importantly, the website makes much of this as an amenity, and says that it is open from 6:30am-10:30pm daily. That’s a big difference than 9am-5pm. And this did have an impact on me, as if I had known there was no gym access I would’ve stayed at one of the other hotels nearby that did. One thing that was unusual is that, since I had booked on Radisson.com, I was given a choice of a special amenity, a choice of a “room-service tray” (I don’t know what that was), dessert, late check-out, or a laundry item. I figured dessert.
My room was on the top (fifth) floor, on the side facing away from the runways. You actually could see the Irish Sea though. The room was strange in that the carpeting and bedding had clearly been updated recently, but the furniture and rest of the room were probably from the 90s, including ethernet jacks and dated furniture. The tub area was also probably at the end of its life. There were no USB outlets anywhere, and no outlets at all by the bed. Fine for my purposes, but a little underwhelming for a 200 Euro a night room, and also not really consistent with the Radisson Blu brand. (The “presents” were a small box of chocolates.)
That is definitely blood. And although it was probably washed multiple times, I am not sleeping on a blood stained sheet. I pushed the stupid One Touch Service button on the phone, which of course didn’t work, so I just dialed 0. Surprisingly, the response was nonchalant, and saying that they could send housekeeping to change it, it might take 20 minutes, and “Sorry about that.” At a 200 Euro a night hotel, I would be mortified. Hilariously, housekeeping came rather quickly, and as he went to make the bed, he realized the sheet he had brought was dirty and needed to get a different one.
I had already gotten re-dressed and I wasn’t going to be able to take a short nap, and be able to get dinner. The hotel bar kitchen was only open until 10:30pm, and I’d discovered (out my window) a pub, Kealy’s that was walking distance, but only had its kitchen open until 10. I figured I’d just head to Kealy’s for dinner, then back to the hotel for dessert in an attempt to break up my night.
Kealy’s only serves dinner on the weekends, and was pretty standard Irish pub fare, so of course I ordered a salad. It as quick and fine and probably a bit cheaper than the Radisson’s bar, and was actually much quieter. My favorite part was the middle-aged Irish couple sitting at the table next to me, whose conversation seemed to exclusively involve a discussion of what they’d eaten on previous visits, and the quality of the chips. It was endearing.
I went back to my room and watched a little TV before heading back down for dessert at 9:45. The bar/restaurant, Terminal 3, was hopping, and seemed to have a ton of staff. I went with the apple crumble and a coffee. The apple crumble was covered, the coffee was not. The hotel was packed with a lot of kids from a soccer tournament, and they were very loud at the bar and then were literally running back and forth the length of the lobby.
I slept fine on the new sheets. I woke up at 6am and was out the door at 630am. No one at check out mentioned the bloody sheets or asked how my stay was.
I did follow up with an email to the property, because that really should not have happened. I requested my points be refunded, and was given half of them back, which I think is a fair resolution. Still, I think I might stay in town or one of the other airport-area hotels next time, despite the extreme convenience of the property.