Review: Thomas Cook Airlines
Sadly, Thomas Cook Airlines is no longer with us. We have decided to keep this post public for the time being, but will remove it at some point in the future.
Thomas Cook Airlines has been pumping out some appealing offers, with recent promotions including Las Vegas at £349 return and Cancun for £399 return. Many of you will think of Thomas Cook as a package holiday company, but since their merger with MyTravel Group in 2008, they have operated a fully fledged airline division.
I’ve never considered booking them for a flight, but a recent trip to Turkey found me left wanting for airline options. Using Momondo, I uncovered the strange combination of an outbound flight on Thomas Cook Airlines from Stansted to Antalya, and a return flight from Antalya to Gatwick. I’d booked a 5 star all-inclusive hotel separately via lastminute.com for a bargain basement price, and so I figured I could afford a cab to and from different departure and arrival airports. With taxes, the baseline cost of the flights (with no extras) cost me £380 per person. This is NOT a bargain price, especially considering that it included no food or checked baggage, but I had very little options available at the last minute time of booking.
The flight combination presented the ideal opportunity to review the airline, since the outbound journey was serviced by Thomas Cook Airlines larger mid/long-haul A330, while the return was via the short-haul Boeing 757. The difference turned out to be huge.
Booking and checkinBooking flights via thomascookairlines.com website is a fairly slick experience. They guide you through optional extras very nicely, avoiding the trickery employed by the likes of Ryanair. We added a single checked 20kg bag for £25 each way, but gave the food a miss, intending to bring our own. After booking, I received an email with an invoice attached. I normally use airline apps to keep tabs on my upcoming flights, so it was strange having no contact with Thomas Cook Airlines until a few days prior to departure, when I received a second email attempting to sell the extras I’d skipped first time around. The email did remind me to log in to their website in order to check in, but after hunting around for a good 10 minutes I worked out that online checkin was not available for my flight. It wasn’t clear at all that this wasn’t an option for me, and is something they could improve.
I arrived at Stansted a good 3 hours before departure (because we all hate that rush to the gate, right?) and joined a huge 30 minute queue to check in. The UK based staff were extremely friendly however, and once we reached the desk the process was slick. They did weigh every bag, including cabin bags (which needed to be under 9kg) and we did witness them charging others for excess weight. Be warned.
A330-200 (long haul aircraft) - economy cabin
The plane is a wide body, with a 2-4-2 seat configuration. As soon as I boarded I was pleasantly surprised. The cabin was bright and airy and a water bottle was placed on every seat. The 2-4-2 layout is my favoured configuration, because couples get to sit together alone and families can be grouped in the middle of the aircraft. It’s the same layout as the upper deck of BA’s A380 , which I love.
Each seat has an individual headrest mounted entertainment system. The screen was better than most economy seats I’ve experienced - bigger than that offered by BA. There were 4 films and a handful of TV shows to watch for free, but £5 will get you full access to a library of 30 movies. On a 4 hour flight one movie was enough, but a long haul daytime flight may have had me reaching for my debit card.
Legroom was relatively standard, and the seat pitch was a fairly standard 31” for economy. All food was an extra cost on our mid-haul flight, but looked pretty good for the money. We actually spent more in Pret and I slightly regretted not paying for the £8 meal in advance.
Boeing 757-300 (short/mid haul aircraft) - economy cabin
Oh dear. After such a great flight out, I was excited about the return leg. Things started badly with a 1 hour delay which wasn’t acknowledged at all by any member of Thomas Cook Airlines ground staff. Not a single announcement. By the time boarding commenced, I was very much looking forward to that complimentary bottle of water, since we had been stuck in a stuffy room past passport control that had no facilities whatsoever. But guess what? No water. Immediately after seating I asked a member of cabin crew whether I could get a drink, and received a tiny plastic cup of water 30 minutes later once we were airborne.
The Boeing is a long, narrow aircraft with a 3-3 seat configuration. The seats were narrower than the A330 and the pitch less at 30”. Sleeping was never going to happen. Alas, there was no individual flight entertainment on this plane. Screens were placed along the centre ceiling of the aircraft and played a random selection of old cartoons and documentaries - a very poor selection that I didn’t bother with. I had forgotten a book for the return leg of the journey, and tablets/laptops were required to be checked into the hold since the flight originated from Turkey, so I had a very dull flight indeed.
Would I recommend Thomas Cook Airlines?
My expectations were low, but I was pleasantly surprised. I would certainly book a long haul flight (they predominantly fly to the US and Caribbean) when a discount rate is available and significantly beats the price of other options. I’d still favour low cost transatlantic airline Norwegian because it offers a loyalty scheme, and I just love earning points, but it is a solid choice in the low cost market.
As for short haul, I’d prefer to dip into my Avios and fly via BA (despite recent cutbacks, they still offer a decent short haul experience) or another reward scheme airline, but Thomas Cook Airlines is a decent choice when faced with the prospect of a Ryanair flight.