Shamrock Time: Boston to Dublin and Back on the Aer Lingus A330

While I’ve been fortunate enough to take a number of memorable transatlantic flights in the past few years, there remained one airline that I was curious to try. Aer Lingus, the flag carrier of Ireland, has made a name for itself as a carrier blending superior customer service with affordable fares between the United States and the Emerald Isle. Moreover, I have a number of friends who have flown Aer Lingus — whose ATC callsign is “Shamrock” — and had raved about the experience. Moreover, having flown domestically on the aircraft, I’d always wanted to fly on an Airbus A330-300 on an international flight. All of those factors made an Aer Lingus round trip to Ireland a tempting trip to take.

Having just gone to London this past spring and using a week’s vacation in the process, I wasn’t ready to burn more vacation days on another trip across the pond. However, I was fortunate enough to find an affordable fare for a Friday-to-Sunday combination, flying from Boston to Dublin and back on the Aer Lingus A330. It certainly was shorter than most Americans would spend in Ireland, but I wasn’t deterred. After all, for me, flying is half (or more) the fun!

December 8, 2017

I was able to leave work a bit early, around 3:30 p.m., in order to get to Logan. For the first time, I took the Blue Line to the Airport stop, which was quick and uneventful. Once arriving at the station, it was a short shuttle bus to Logan, where I was able to get through Terminal C security without incident.

Unlike the majority of international flights that utilize Logan, most of which use Terminal E, Aer Lingus both departs out of and arrives into Terminal C. This is largely due to the fact that Dublin and Shannon both have U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Preclearance facilities, which enables passengers to clear customs before getting on the plane. As a result, those arriving in the States can walk off the plane and grab a cab home, rather than having to wait in a long line. That said, it does look kind of funny to have a massive A330 and a sizeable 757 on the stand next to a bunch of jetBlue A320s.

EI-EDY parked at the gate.

Around 5:30, we started to board the economy cabin. I was seated in Seat 36K, the right-sided window seat in a 2-4-2 configuration. Having flown on a number of wide body aircraft with either 3-4-3 or 3-3-3 configurations, I was looking forward to a transatlantic flight with only other passenger in my cluster, which would allow each of us to lean in the opposite direction and maximize the space without having to worry about infringing on a passenger in the middle. New aircraft may have more “bells and whistles,” but many economy travelers prefer the A330 and Boeing 767 for its 2-4-2 and 2-3-2 economy configurations, respectively.

At that point, I looked at FlightAware, and saw that we would be flying the CELTK5 departure out of Logan towards the southerly North Atlantic Tracks. In the last three years, I’d taken four transatlantic flights out of Logan, and we’d flown the LBSTA departure every time, so I was looking forward to this new experience.

After a quick pushback and taxi to Runway 22R, the engines spooled up and we throttled down the runway. Our rotation came relatively quickly, and we were airborne. The lights of the buildings were enchanting, but I was particularly fixated on the stream of traffic going through Dorchester on I-93 — the mass of cars on the northbound side moved along slowly but surely. It was a truly mesmerizing sight.

For such a big plane, it is remarkable how smooth the A330 flies, and it can make even steep turns — such as the left turn following 22R departures — feel more than comfortable. We climbed past Hull and its twin radio towers, blinking red back and forth, before disappearing into the clouds of the night.

Hull in the dark.

Our southerly track certainly added some mileage, but it also helped us gain some serious time. With a tailwind around 200 mph, our ground speed hit 722 mph at one point. There was some minor turbulence, but it didn’t bother me — we were buzzing along.

The one drawback to the flight was the significantly-aged in-flight entertainment system. It was extremely difficult to register any finger taps on the display, necessitating the use of the console. Moreover, the sound required two-pronged headphones, of which only one pair was provided to the two-seat cluster that I was in. Finally, the movie and game selection was somewhat limited, but it wasn’t poor by any stretch, as I was able to watch Dunkirk and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

722 mph! Whew!

Before I knew it, we had made landfall over Ireland. While much of our flight featured blankets of clouds below, I started to see some clusters of lights. I had seen the lights of Ireland before when flying to England, but — this time — I was intrigued to be landing among the lights.

We flew west of Dublin, over the water, before turning back towards the city for an approach to Runway 28. The flaps started coming down and, soon enough, I felt the distinctive “bump” of the landing gear lowering.

The approach reminded me why I love flying so much. In the wee hours of the Irish morning, we flew over a number of different well-lit cities and towns. And while many of those folks were likely in deep sleep, I did find myself wondering — as I often to when landing late at night or early in the morning — what those folks were up to. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but seeing the world from the sky certainly makes me curious as to what’s going on down below at any given time.

We slowly descended towards Runway 28, coming in for a smooth touchdown and slowing before turning right off the runway. After a slight delay due to the jetbridge being initially misaligned, we were able to disembark, and I got through customs without incident.

My visit to Dublin was undoubtedly short, but I enjoyed it. Saturday, I took an early morning walk around the city, before heading to my hotel for a bit of sleep. Then, I visited the Guinness Storehouse, went to a couple of bars, and got some great eats at Queen of Tarts. I even managed to get back to my hotel around 8:30 p.m., enabling me to get a solid amount of sleep before my return flight the next morning.

December 10, 2017

I woke up around 8:10 a.m. on Sunday morning. The weather outside was quite cold, so I was inclined to stay in bed as long as possible. However, I was aware that I had to get to the airport in good time, particularly as I wasn’t sure how long preclearance would take. As such, I booked an 8:30 a.m. taxi for an 11:30 a.m. flight. Slightly less than the “recommended” three hours, but I was confident I would be fine.

That turned out to be the case. After a nine-minute taxi ride, I stepped in and got my boarding pass, and managed to make it from the doors to the gate — going through two sets of security (one Irish-staffed and one U.S.-manned) and Preclearance — in 35 minutes.

At that point, I grabbed a couple of drinks — a glass of wine and a beer — as they were (relatively) inexpensive. While I was walking around the terminal, I recognized a former colleague from work whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years — it turns out that we were on the same flight home! That was my first time seeing someone by chance in another country, and it was fun to catch up. It’s a small world, and it gets smaller every day.

As I was in the waiting area, I saw an A330-300 pull into our gate area. The registration was EI-GAJ, which was different than the anticipated based on what flightradar24 had displayed. However, it became more and more evident that EI-GAJ was, indeed, the aircraft we’d be flying on. Based on a Google search, I found out that this plane was (virtually) brand new, having been delivered in May of this year. As such, I was looking forward to the proverbial “new plane smell” of an aircraft just seven months old.

EI-GAJ parked at the gate in Dublin.

After about an hour, we were called to board. The boarding process was relatively expedient, particularly considering that the aircraft seats 317 people, and the cabin crew did a great job moving people along while remaining friendly and patient.

Soon after, the first officer came on the PA system, telling us that our flight would be a bit longer than anticipated (7 hours, 10 minutes) due to headwinds. He also indicated that we’d have to wait for the aircraft to be de-iced before we could depart, as there was some snow falling around Ireland that morning — a rarity, to be sure. Fortunately, de-icing didn’t take long at all, and it wasn’t long before we started our taxi to Runway 10.

As we taxied to the end of the Runway, I saw a few plane spotters with cars parked by the perimeter fence. More notable, though, was the sight behind the line of spotters: an extensive variety of livestock gallivanting through a field about 200 yards away, including a horse with an impressive mane and a couple of cows. I always enjoy the juxtaposition of a major international airport being in the countryside — Oslo Gardermoen is  another example — so to see this in Dublin was a pleasant surprise.

Instead of waiting in a lengthy takeoff queue, we rolled out onto the runway, fired up the engines, and were airborne in no time. We climbed away from Ireland and into the clouds, making a left turn to the north to being our journey across the pond.

Just after taking off from Runway 10.

Shortly after beginning the climb, the first officer came on the PA system again, telling us the particulars of our transatlantic crossing. He said that there were major headwinds on the more direct tracks, so we’d have to go up towards Greenland to avoid them. As such, even though we’d avoid the headwinds, the journey would take longer than anticipated, a little longer than 7 hours, 20 minutes, all told. However, all was forgiven when he said that we’d be crossing into the U.S. “into the state of Maine.” New England had just had a snowstorm the day before, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up of the clouds being gone — but I was excited to be flying over Maine.

Flying above the clouds, which the Shamrock on the right winglet looking particularly majestic.

As it turned out, I was able to see quite a bit of my native state. From I-95 and Augusta State Airport in Central Maine to Popham Beach and the Portland Jetport in Southern Maine, I was able to recognize (and photograph) a number of sights, which I have posted below.

Soon enough, we crossed over waypoint AJJAY and begun our descent on the OOSHN4 arrival. As we descended into the Greater Boston area, it was evident that the clouds from the day before had completely gone — it was a sunny day. Before long, we began our approach to Runway 33L. Inevitably, the flaps came down and the landing gear “bump” was both audible and able to be felt on the aircraft floor.

As we made our way down the approach, the water got closer and closer. With our shadow (taller than our souls) also getting closer as we descended over the water, land eventually appeared under us, and we touched down on Runway 33L. Not quite as smooth as the landing in Dublin, but a good one nonetheless. Predictably, we taxied to the gate, and — this time — didn’t have to wait ages to disembark.

Spoilers up and slowing down on Runway 33L.
Overall Impressions

I was quite pleased with my Aer Lingus experience. The aircraft on the way over wasn’t in the best condition, and I found the IFE to be particularly difficult, but the new aircraft (and IFE system) on the way back was in excellent shape.

EI-GAJ parked at the gate in Boston.

From a service perspective, the crew did a fantastic job getting to the 287 economy seats. Interestingly enough, the Aer Lingus A330-300s have more seats than some of the Boeing 747s of fellow IAG member British Airways, which is pretty crazy when you consider how much bigger of an aircraft the latter is.

All told, I would certainly fly Aer Lingus again. The fleet seems to be (relatively) new, the cabin crew was great, and Dublin Airport is as easy of an international airport as you’ll find. Even if you don’t see livestock running around the field en route to the runway for takeoff, I still think it’s a journey worth taking.