The Extra Smile

One flight I had been looking forward to this year was traveling from London’s Heathrow Terminal 2 – The Queen’s Terminal and Brussels Airlines, a member of Star Alliance. This made a welcome change from my usual London Gatwick and easyJet combo.

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Brussels Airlines at LHR. Photo Credit: LHR_MARK

Arriving at the spacious, contemporary, Luis Vidal designed airport terminal, with its natural light roofing, fantastic architecture and plush eateries and shops – this is a modern airport for the modern traveler. The easyJet crowds, queues and fiasco of Gatwick’s North Terminal were no where to be seen. The Queen’s Terminal had a great mixture of holiday makers, weekend getaway travelers, long-haul back-packers and your average businessman – but then for a terminal that houses the likes of Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, Air Canada, THAI Airways and Brussels Airlines to name a few, of course there was going to be a good mix of travelers alike.  I was in my element, taking the whole experience in.

I had only flown once before from Heathrow T2 with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul in 2016 but it was such an early flight (6:35am take off), I was half asleep and unable to appreciate the full experience of traveling through an airport designed for the 21st century.

After a short delay (problems with off loading disabled passengers from the inbound flight), we started to board the airbus A320 Brussels Airlines bound for Brussels International Airport. As I took to my seat, a member of the cabin crew asked me “are you 25A?”. Completely unsuspecting that anything was amiss, I said yes and scurried to take my window seat. Almost an hour after our departure time and behind a Singapore Airlines airbus A380, we turbulently took off from Heathrow, heading out over London – with great views of the city; Hyde Park, The London Eye and Southbank, The Shard, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, The O2 Arena and the coast line. The short 45 minute flight to Brussels meant that the cabin crew had to do a quick turnaround for the in-flight service. Before they commenced, two cabin crew members headed towards my direction with a tray. They were both looking directly at me and smiling and before I knew it, presented me with two snap-fit Brussels Airlines icon model aircraft; Magritte (an ode to the famous surrealist artist René Magritte) and Amare (Tomorrowland Festival theme) – compliments of Brussels Airlines. I was completely blown away by the kindness and generosity of Brussels Airlines and their crew – as their company slogan states – “We go the extra smile” – and they really did. It was something I never expected at all.

Since I began theplanecollector.com, I have been so fortune to connect with some great people across the aviation world via social media. None other than @brubhx and @route_72 both of whom work for Brussels Airlines respectively. I cannot thank them enough for their top class assistance (with seat allocations – sorry brubhx I was a pain), up to date flight information and arranging this little on-board surprise with the help of Brussels Airlines’ commerical team. The experience was over-whelming and fantastic at the same time.

As I disembarked, I stopped off by the exit to have a quick chat with the crew who had presented me the aircraft models earlier and to take a selfie with them (of course)! Both of whom were very friendly, welcoming and happy to talk – although short – it was a sweet and an excellent service – I enjoyed my time on Brussels Airlines, a taste of Belgium in the air – all added with that extra smile!

For more details please visit:- Brussels Airlines

After Berlin

Next to Paris and London, Berlin is the most frequently visited city in Europe. However, more tears have shed here and more admiration expressed than anywhere else, not only by the city’s 3.8 million inhabitants, who still continue to discover their city, but also by over 13 million annual visitors who flock to Berlin – myself being one of them.

Steeped in history, I learned more in one weekend during my visit to Berlin than I ever did studying for five years in the subject of History at secondary school. Drummed in to me was post-war Britain; the VE Day celebrations, rations continued, the East End was a rubble and a new young Queen took to the throne bringing in a new Elizabethan era. As for Germany; sure I knew there was “a wall” that ripped through Berlin. I understood that West Germany’s citizens drove around in Mercedes Benz and BMW’s while East Germany had to make do with that “old banger” the Trabant, I grasped that there was a rich and poor divide and of course, I hadn’t forgotten, witnessing as a child, those flashing news images of German citizens climbing “The Wall” celebrating and taking hammers, pick axes, anything they could get their hands on to bring it down in 1989 however, shamefully that was as far as my IQ went on post-war Germany.

“There is a tipping point at which unmitigated evil is no longer visible” (Tom Buchwald)

As I headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial, the actual physical monstrosity was still visible, albeit just a small section for “keepsakes” purposes. I imagined what if this was London; a huge wall ripping through the middle – separating the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing in the West from Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Barking and Dagenham in the East. I soon became fascinated by the ideology behind this “Wall” and why was it put up in the first place?! Stretching back to the end of World War II with the Americans, British, French and Russians marching victoriously in and splitting Germany up for their own control, the penny finally dropped. I suddenly discovered the GDR (German Democratic Republic), mass emigration from east to west Germany, Soviet occupation Zones, FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), Allied Zones of occupation, the Cold War and “The Wall”. I completely got it. The news images I remember in the 1980s of Germany; the West Germany and East Germany football teams in the World Cup, the classy Mercedes Benz and BMWs in the West and the tatty Trabant car in the East – I suddenly worked it all out. Checkpoint Charlie – tick, Brandenburg Gate – tick, Alexanderplatz – tick. Germany I got you and I felt bad for you.

Besides being a world-city of culture, politics, media, science, universities, museums and an infamous nightlife scene, Berlin is the place to go, see and do. As I came away from this beauty I could not help but ask myself why? All this history; Nazi occupation, Soviet and Allied occupation, The Wall from 1961-1989, full sovereignty from as late as 1994, what was it all for? Generations have suffered post-war and for what?

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that neither the United Kingdom nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany.

“We defeated the Germans twice! And now they’re back!” (Margaret Thatcher, 1989)

The fear was still there, long after World War II had ended. A stark reminder that what shaped this city, or rather, destroyed this city, can never happen again. Germany was not the only state that had been separated through the aftermaths of World War II. For example, Korea as well as Vietnam have been separated through the occupation of “Western-Capitalistic” and “Eastern-Communistic” forces, after the defeat of the Japanese Empire. However, Germany is the only one of these countries that has managed to achieve a peaceful reunification.

Pulled from the monstrous product of war and the humdrum of divide and communism, Berlin offers a magnitude of creativity and the success of this has been the catalyst for the city’s thriving music scene, active nightlife, and bustling street scene all of which have become important attractions for the German capital.

For details please visit:- visitBerlin