As promised, here is my second and most recent trip to do some work on the Offshore oilrigs, I hope you enjoy!
So to start, I boarded a Virgin Train from my home in Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston, a journey of just under 2 hours, before boarding a Northern Line (tube/subway for the folk who don't know
) down to Waterloo, before finally boarding a train to Sunbury-Upon-Thames.
It is here, I was met and taken for a couple of meetings nearby, before being dropped off at the Radisson Edwardian at Heathrow Airport.
The next day, around 19:30 I was picked up by a chauffeur provided by Virgin Atlantic, and taken to Terminal 3.
Here goes: Airline: Virgin Atlantic
Route: London Heathrow, UK to Lagos, Nigeria
Scheduled Departure: 22:30
Actual Departure: 22:52
Scheduled Arrival: 05:35+1
Actual Arrival: 05:26+1
Flight Duration: 7 hours 05 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A340-600 (G-VRED)
Class: Upper Class
To reach the upper class wing, the driver has to take a separate, dedicated ramp just before reaching T3. The ramp is blocked off by several barriers, which have a reader to read the cars registration, thankfully since this was sent by VS themselves, it worked, however, if you arrived for example by Uber or a friend or family member takes you, you must "Buzz" in.
Soon enough I pulled up in this strange canopied area, strangely similar to that of a decent Las Vegas Hotel.
An attendant greets you at your vehicle, takes you to a check-in counter, processes your boarding pass and leads you to a kind of but not really dedicated security checkpoint. And that’s it. It’s a pretty, peaceful room with hardwood floors and a nice bathroom suite. No personal greetings from any of the staff though however, honestly I couldn't care less if they addressed me by my name, fella, geezer, mate, retard, idiot or whatever, but it's the little things that count I guess.
As for the security checkpoint, you essentially are funnelled into a dedicated lane that empties out into the entire Terminal 3 security zone, where the feeling of privacy and VIP treatment immediately shatters. Indeed, you’re told by the Upper Class Wing check-in agents that after security, you still need to go through Duty Free and make your way to the Clubhouse in order to use it.
An inconvenience, not for me, but if I had forked out over 10k's for an upper class ticket I would have expected a little bit of privacy, like the BA security lane at T5.
Another failure by VS, I was actually in the queue for around 20 minutes before I actually got through security, a similar time to that of pax travelling in economy. This does not scream premium luxury at all.
After security, I got in the weird lift with the sofa in it, and headed down to the clubhouse. It was packed!
The seating in this place is extremely minimal, and it does not have the elegant luxury feeling of the Concorde room, it's more of a funky, chic lounge, which don't get me wrong is fantastic and they have done a brilliant job, however, if paying 10k+ for a ticket, I wouldn't want to feel like I was stepping into this disneyland type atmosphere I would want a little more tranquility and calm.
The lounge is absolutely enormous and is well equipped with a lovely deli, as well as sit down dining, and a well stocked bar.
I decided so that I could maximise my sleep onboard, I would get a bite to eat in the lounge.
A lovely waitress took my order, Ham & Truffled "Mac & Cheese" Toasted Sandwich, followed by Chicken Korma, served alongside a delightful ice cold, Peroni.
The food came rather quickly, both were fantastic, the korma was amazing!
However, I was rushed off by a panicking attendant who thought I would miss my flight, and I hurried along for the "About 10 minute" walk to the gate.
I left feeling like this is not a “First Class Terminal” sort of experience. The Upper Class Wing is more a gimmick than anything of real value, as you still have to go through the general security area, the never-ending duty free zone and the bleak hallways of Terminal 3 before you reach it, and the staff aren't as formal as the BA lounge staff, they sort of just jump in your way and talk to you like they were about to show you around a shop or museum or something.
Yes, the gate was a long old walk away, however when I arrived it was a rugby scrum of Nigerians carrying umpteen bags of carry on around the gate, queues snaking around and around and around, it was chaos!
Thankfully, the professional Virgin staff must have seen it a thousand times and managed to install some calm, and upper class passengers were called forward for boarding.
After having fought like Mayweather and McGregor through the crowd just to get to the desk, I was through, and walking down the jetway towards a very shiny, very sleek G-VRED.
Onboard, I was greeted by a fantastic purser, who took my coat and carry on, and directed me personally to my seat.
The seat is very comfortable, with an ottoman directly opposite to place your feet(later assists in the making the bed feature) and to store any items you may have.
As I took my seat, another member of the crew approached me and offered me a pair of pyjamas, recommending I change into them before departure to get a good nights sleep. Respectfully I declined but I appreciated the offer, good service so far, she then asked if I would like a drink.
Just a few seconds later, she came back with a bottle(Glass bottle I might add) of water, with a glass and ice.
Before we knew it, we were late, and we pushed off stand 15 minutes behind schedule.
After the safety demonstration, the lights dimmed. The cabin would have been perfectly quiet had it not been for 200+ Nigerians screaming at each other like it was the end of the world in the cabin to the rear
Got to love it
A short while later, we bolted our way down 27R and were soon airborne.
The climb out was incredibly smooth, we made a right turn and were soon on way down to Africa.
Shortly after we reached Normandy, I started dozing off, this was noticed by one of the crew who asked if I would like my bed made.
That I did, and without a fuss she quickly chucked together this neat looking bed, and asked if I would like anything before I sleep, before wishing me a goodnight.
And from here ladies and gents, I slept for a solid 5/5 and a half hours, before I woke up just as we were crossing Niger.
Almost immediately it was noticed by one of the crew, who turned my bed back into a seat, and offered me anything from the breakfast menu.
Soon enough, I was sat with a plate of Fresh Scrambled eggs on toast with a nice strong coffee.
Honestly there really isn't much to report from here, the coffee was good, the eggs were fluffy and the toast not burnt. We started our decent around 25 minutes later, descent was smooth, and we flew out over the sea before making a series of turns and we touched down hard into Lagos.
We were welcome to Lagos, as we taxied off the runway there was an announcement for people to remain in their seats. A few seconds later, a second announcement followed again by a third this time more urgent that pax should "Return to your seats right now". This was followed by an announcement from the flight deck asking passengers to remain seated or else they would have the police meet the aircraft. All the while crew from the front of the aircraft were heading backwards, I can only imagine what was happening
A few minutes later we arrived on stand, and I disembarked as one of the first, beating the queue at customs. I collected my bag, and I was taken to the Hilton Lagos.
Here, I slept until 5pm, before waking up, and falling asleep again at 9
The next day, I was taken to a sketchy heliport just south of the city.
Here, I checked in with several other company employees, mostly British and American although with a few Africans, and we donned our life jackets and boarded a dirty white, Sikorsky helicopter.
Now, I must say, I get nervous enough boarding a fresh new Bristow Sikorsky in the health and safety capitals of the UK and the US, but this off white, dirty, squeaky unmarked Nigerian helicopter gave me rather severe heart palpitations
However, I soon swallowed my words, after a smooth flight over some beautiful scenery, I landed on the Deepwater Invictus 45 minutes later.
After 4 choppy days at sea, I boarded the same unmarked helicopter, and took the 45 minute flight back to Lagos. I de-planed, along with a number of British and American workers headed home. However, I re-boarded the same helicopter just 20 minutes later, and made my way to the Okan Platform, a 90 minute flight away. Again the flight was smooth with no hitches.
Okan, a predominantly African manned rig, was rather less health and safety conscious, as you could probably imagine, it was rather more chaotic than any others I has visited before.
However, after spending 4 days there, I was confident that all the men were competent, the machinery, drill(s) and staff were at 100% health, and that these Nigerians could make a mean Curry.
After just over a week off the coast of Nigeria, I headed back to the Hilton Lagos, for my flight the following day. Airline: Arik Air
Route: Lagos, Nigeria to Luanda, Angola
Scheduled Departure: 21:30
Actual Departure: 21:32
Scheduled Arrival: 00:30+1
Actual Arrival: 00:19+1
Flight Duration: 3 hours 00 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Bombardier CRJ-900 (5N-JEC)
At 18:00 I was picked up by a driver, who can I add for the entirety of this trip was armed with a SIG Sauer P226, and taken through the carnage of downtown Lagos to the airport.
The Arik Air check-in area was ram packed, however, the dedicated Business Class lane had just 4 people and I smugly skipped the queue, and proceeded through security.
I made my way to Arik's business class lounge. I must say, I was rather impressed, I would even go to say this lounge is identical to the Etihad lounge at LHR T4.
However, there were little food offerings and only soft drinks were available.
Luckily, I didn't really spend much time there, as boarding was soon called.
The flight to Luanda this evening was full, and as per, there was a ridiculous bundle of people at the gate.
However, once again, the crowd were calmed and boarding for Business Class was soon called.
We boarded a bus, which took all 10 of us to the aircraft. We boarded via the small stairs and took our seats. The Business seats were evidently bigger and wider than the economy seats however the legroom was poor, especially for a flight of this length.
Boarding was finished fairly quickly, and we pushed off stand early.
A manual safety demonstration, and we were soon lining up on the runway for departure.
The noise on this CRJ was incredibly quiet which I wasn't expecting.
The climb out was smooth and we climbed into a clear, starry night sky.
Shortly after departure, we were offered a drink and a snack, I got a Local Nigerian Beer "Star". It was actually a good beer, and this was served with mixed nuts from a packet.
This was followed by dinner, there were no choices, apart from pre-ordered vegetarian meals, everyone was given Beef stew. The girl serving Business class was a Londoner, and she warned it came with "Nigerian Spice".
Oh. My. Goodness. She was not exaggerating, one mouthful and I felt like I was on one of those youtube videos where people eat Chillies and start crying and vomiting. It was delicious, and I wanted to eat more, however I was getting a severe sweat on, with my mouth genuinely on fire, my eyes streaming with water, it was a no from me.
The girl took my tray and seemed almost apologetic at the fact I am a big girl and can't eat spicy food (Spicy is an understatement), and offered if I would like anything else she would see if she could find anything. I declined, and decided it would be a good time to get some sleep.
The flight past without anything of note happening, and soon enough we were descending into Luanda.
Descent was smooth, and we circled around the lit up city of Luanda, before making a smooth landing.
The taxi to the stand was incredibly quick, and we were soon disembarking into the terminal.
In no time, I was on my way to the "Epic Sana Hotel" just West of the city, where coincidentally, is where the Air France, KLM and British Airways crews find themselves put up on layovers.
I slept in until around noon, and found myself leaving little time to eat and get myself downstairs to the awaiting car.
I was driven to Malongo Air Terminal, where I checked in and waited an hour for our flight which had been delayed.
Soon enough I was boarding, myself and 4 others, onto a Sikorsky S-76 Helicopter operated by Heli-Malongo. The flight was pretty rough as we passed through low clouds over the coast but smoothened out as we neared the Oil fields.
After 55 minutes in the air, we touched down onto the "Deepsea Stavanger". I disembarked here alone, and the helicopter continued onto another rig. Believe it or not, the crew of this rig were mainly Norwegians, mixed with a few Brits(Geordies and Scots) and Americans.
This was one of the worse ones, as it was a floating rig, when the seas got choppy in the evenings we would get taken with it and I was feeling tremendously nauseous as I stared down a giant hole in the middle of the Derrick where the drill goes, with nothing between myself and incredibly high waves of the South Atlantic Ocean.
After spending 3 days on here, 99% of the time in the toilet
It was time to move on.
I boarded another Heli-Malongo Sikorsky and made my way to the next rig, the newly formed Moho Nord Oil Rig, a whopping 1 hour and 45 minute flight away, pretty much off of the coast of Congo.
After a long 1:45 flight, through which I was mostly asleep, we landed on Moho Nord. This platform isn't fully functioning yet, and because of which has not got a full crew onboard.
Today, I was just one of 45 members of the crew (In the future, Moho Nord will house up to 200 crew).
The crew onboard at the moment are one of the most highly experienced, made up of very senior guys and gals who have operated all over the world for many years.
2 Days I spent here, enjoying the lovely sunshine more than anything.
That time came again, and I was buzzing away for the 2 hour flight to Pointe Noire, Congo. We made an intermediate stop on Lombo East, a French run oil rig, to pick up a few people making their way home.
After 2 hours and 7 minutes by my watch, we must have been running on fumes as we touched down in Pointe Noire, at 22:50.
Tired, I made my way to the Atlantic Palace Hotel to get some minimal sleep before my flight early the next day.
4am, alarm goes off after just 4.5 hours sleep, slowly I get out of bed and get myself ready before heading downstairs to my waiting driver, who takes me to Pointe Noire airport.Airline: Air Côte d'Ivoire
Route: Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo to Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Scheduled Departure: 08:20
Actual Departure: 08:44
Scheduled Arrival: 10:30
Actual Arrival: 10:45
Flight Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A319-100 (TU-TSA)
Pointe-Noire is a pretty cool airport, it's modern and big with the terminal made from glass much like Heathrow T5. Inside is spacious and airy with a lovely A/C keeping the terminal a nice cool temperature.
Check-in was pretty chaotic with all pax using both Business class and Economy check-in desks. The flight today was operating at 100% capacity. After queueing I managed to finally drop my bag off at check-in and I was given seat 1F.
After an even more chaotic security, there was no time for me to sample the VIP Lounge, as I had to head straight for the gate.
We were lucky enough to be boarding via 1 or the 2 Piers available at PNR. Boarding for Business class was called first. Boarding was actually very organised and calm, a selection of international newspapers were available in the jetway, including the Guardian from the UK and the New York Times, both were from the day before.
Onboard I was given a warm welcome, the young girl offering to take my bag and put it into the overhead locker, I was then offered a choice of Orange Juice or Water. I went for OJ.
Business class on HF is much like European biz, 3 economy seats with the middle one blocked.
Boarding was finished quickly, despite the full load, and we were soon pushing back from the stand. Safety demo in French and English.
Soon enough, we were climbing out of PNR.
We followed the West Coast, North, before reaching Libreville and making a left turn out towards ABJ.
The inflight service didn't start for around 45 minutes, but we were soon offered a "Traditional Ivory Coast Breakfast", consisting of Foutou, and Chicken covered in Peanut Butter. Strange yes. Foutou is an odd food, and is a particularly acquired taste, personally it wasn't for me, however the Chicken was just about edible and tasted OK.
This was followed by a Fresh fruit salad, and coffee. The fruit salad was decent, and the coffee was nice and strong.
The crew were fantastic and couldn't do enough for you, always checking to see if there was anything you needed, and as soon as the glass/cup was empty you would have a refill without question.
The A319's have drop down screen where were showing a moving map, there was also plugs in the armrests for headphones, however there was only one local african music station available.
Descent into ABJ was pretty steep, and we were twisting and turning and diving all over the place before we finally made a sharp U-Turn and slammed onto the ground into ABJ 15 minutes behind schedule.
We were welcomed to ABJ in French and English, and we had to wait 10 minutes for a stand to become available.
Disembarking was quick and I was first off, and made my way through to a very impatiently waiting driver who took me to the Sofitel.
I dumped my stuff in the room, and just 6 hours later found myself back at Abidjan airport, boarding a Eurocopter Dauphin AS365 of International Aircraft Services, for the 70 minute flight to the Marlin Platform.
The flight was uneventful, not much to see around here other than endless sea, we soon landed on Marlin.
Marlin was a large platform, one of the extreme deep sea drilling rigs.
Spirits on board were high, 1 day left of the crews 6 week stint before being able to head back home to the UK. 4 days I spent here, before I made my way back to land, and back to the wonderful Sofitel in Abidjan.
The flight back took place late at night, strong winds had delayed the incoming flight by nearly 3 hours but finally I was back, 10 minutes past midnight. I wanted to kiss the ground after the death ride on that dodgy French helicopter.
After spending the next day in the marvellous Sofitel, I was picked up at 19:30 for my flight home.
I was dropped off at Abidjan Airport, and left to my own devices. Airline: TAP Portgual
Route: Abidjan, Ivory Coast to Lisbon, Portugal
Scheduled Departure: 23:00
Actual Departure: 23:25
Scheduled Arrival: 05:20+1
Actual Arrival: 05:20+1
Flight Duration: 5 hours 20 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A320-200 (CS-TMW)
I checked in via the dedicated Business class lane, which was very quick, before proceeding through Fast track security. From arriving at the airport to finding myself in the VIP Lounge was a total of 15 minutes. Pretty good i'd say.
The VIP Lounge was pretty sub-standard, on offer were a selection of soft drinks, along with packets of Pringles, Bread and several cheeses and olives. That's it. Add to that the fact there were no spare seats and people were sitting on the floor.
I didn't spend very long in here, as boarding was called quite early. Business class boarded first as usual.
A very sleek looking A320 with Sharklets was waiting for us. I took my seat in 5A, the final row of Business class, which was just a regular economy seat with the middle seat blocked out. So for what would/should be classed as a long haul flight, they have provided an intra-european business class.
The boarding process was very long and drawn out, I was sat in my seat for a total of 40 minutes before the doors were closed and we started pushing back.
We departed Abidjan into the night sky, 25 minutes late.
Shortly after departure, we were handed a "Refreshing towel" in a packet, along with a menu.
I wasn't really feeling it today, and passed out in my seat for the remainder of the flight.
Only did I wake up when we hit some nasty turbulence on our approach into Lisbon. The turbulence continued for around 10 minutes before we left the clouds and shortly thereafter arrived in Lisbon.
After disembarking, I had a 2 hour 20 minute wait until my next flight, so decided I would investigate the Brand New TAP Premium lounge recently opened just a few days ago here in Lisbon. Airline: TAP Portugal
Route: Lisbon, Portugal to London Heathrow, UK
Scheduled Departure: 07:40
Actual Departure: 07:55
Scheduled Arrival: 10:20
Actual Arrival: 10:28
Flight Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A320-200 (CS-TNU)
The new lounge makes a good first impression, a shiny new entrance, with comfy Green and white sofas spread out all over the place, there is a manned open from 11, and also a self-service bar, and it offers super-fast wi-fi.
For breakfast, a healthy selection of Hot drinks and juices, and a very generous offering of a continental breakfast.
I opted for a nice strong coffee and took a seat in the quieter corner of the lounge. It had a very lively atmosphere inside probably due to it being so busy but it was still felt peaceful, if that makes any sense
However, I only enjoyed it for an hour or so, before I made my way to the gate to board my final flight of the trip back home.
The gate was already quite busy, however when boarding was called for Business class it was just myself and one other.
Literally, out of 12 seats of Business class only 2 were occupied on this flight to London this morning, surprising really.
However, economy was at maximum capacity, and boarding took a while as people kept trying to board with too much hand luggage.
Despite this, we pushed back just a couple of minutes late. During the taxi, I was offered a hot towel and a newspaper. However, there were no English newspapers and I am unfortunately not gifted enough to speak Portuguese so I went without.
15 minutes late, we blasted into the clear sunny skies of Portugal.
Not long after we had passed 10,000ft (According to the moving map), the crew started the inflight breakfast service.
Firstly, I was offered a coffee, along with some fresh Orange Juice.
Breakfast today consisted of a Yoghurt Drink, a Warm Cinnamon and Raisin Bun, Fresh Apricots, along with an Omelette served with Potatoes.
Not bad at all, I finished it all and it tasted delicious!
The crew even offered seconds of the pastry, which I accepted greedily, it went down a treat with the coffee.
Throughout the 2 hour flight the crew made numerous drink rounds, I was constantly topped up with Coffee and OJ.
The weather was absolutely perfect for flying, the entire way, there was not a single cloud, the Bay of Biscay, Northwest France, Channel Islands and Brighton Pier looked superb as we made our way to London.
A right turn towards Southend as we neared the end of our descent, followed by a long left turn, which took us towards London City Airport and the Excel.
The descent was smooth, and in no time we touched down on 27L.
We taxied for around 15 minutes, and docked up at T2.
Now, after such a smooth journey, T2 customs had a waiting time of 55 minutes, fan-bloody-tastic. Standard for Heathrow at this time of day I suppose, hoards of Americans, Europeans and Brits swarming customs after arriving from Morning Euros or the back end of the Overnight TRATL flights. Nearly an hour later, I picked up my bag, and was taken back to Sunbury.
After delivering briefs and having a couple of meetings, I jumped in an Uber and quickly made my way back to Heathrow.Airline: British Airways
Route: London Heathrow, UK to Manchester, UK
Scheduled Departure: 20:30
Actual Departure: 20:35
Scheduled Arrival: 21:30
Actual Arrival: 21:15
Flight Duration: 1 hour
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A320-200 (G-EUUX)
Class: Club Europe
With just a few minutes to spare, I made it to bag drop at T5, having checked in in the car, I was through the fast track lane and into the departure lounge within a couple of minutes.
Gate A11 was already displayed, so after a quick stop at Starbucks I made my way to the gate.
A few minutes later, priority boarding was called for OneWorld and Exec Club members and also for CE pax. The flight seemed relatively empty, and just 4 of us made our way forward for boarding after this call.
I was greeted onboard by a somewhat fatigued looking crew. I took my seat in 1A, joined only by 3 others in this 16 seat cabin.
Boarding finished quickly, and the typical annoying automated BA Safety demo played.
Shortly after pushback, I was offered a hot towel. Before I knew it, I was back in the air for the final time, heading home to Manchester.
After around 15 minutes, the crew kicked into life, and I got myself a Tiger Beer, this was served with dinner which consisted of a Hot Chicken & Stuffing Pitta bread. It was actually very good, and considering I had not eaten all day I smashed it in very quickly
This was accompanied by cheese and crackers and a lovely chocolate brownie.
Very good service for a flight of such duration.
My tray was cleared quickly, and before I could even "kick back and relax" like the F/O told us too, we were already bundling back towards earth. A fairly straight forward approach into MAN, flying straight in, making a small right turn to line up with 05R and touching down smoothly a few moments later.
A sigh of relief as I heard "Welcome to Manchester", as I finally was back home after a few weeks away. However, not so happy about the "Where the temperature is 11 degrees celsius" part which followed.
We taxied over to Terminal 3, where we disembarked onto a pier, into the departure lounge, down into the baggage claim hall where we waited around 5 mins before the bags came through.
Luckily, BA Actually prioritise bags with a priority tag
so my bag was one of the first out, I then made my way out to a patiently waiting wife and kids.
Overall, It was a very good trip, I was a little disappointed at Virgin's product, also with TAP's long haul product however they made up for it on the Euro sector. Arik Air, was pretty average, I was pleasantly surprised with Air Cote D'Ivoire. Not much to report on BA they rarely let me down i'm one of the lucky ones it seems
Thanks for reading, all comments encouraged and welcomed!