Baku Bound

The British Midland flight to Tbilisi does something rather odd. It flies right over Tbilisi, as if the pilot has forgotten to disengage the autopilot. It carries on for another hour or so across the Caucasus before landing in Baku.

After landing in Azerbaijan, the crew twiddle their thumbs for 40 minutes whilst refuelling and offloading passengers – overfed oil executives mostly. The aircraft then trundles back to the runway and flies half empty – back the way it’s come – to Tbilisi.  On the return trip, the A321 does the same thing in reverse – first flying away from London to Baku, before doubling back on itself to London. It doesn’t seem the most sensible route planning.

But then British Midland was never the most sensible airline. It had been haemorrhaging money for years.  Even its current German owners, Lufthansa, failed to stem the slide.

For years British Midland was my airline of choice. It always seemed rather random. That was part of its charm, with its eclectic collection of destinations, aircraft and business lounges. Often I would fly on tiny but full-to-bursting Embraer aircraft. Other times I’d be virtually the only passenger on a large Airbus. Then there were the times when I’d have the whole business lounge to myself.

So I flew a lot with British Midland. Whilst not quite an airmiles millionaire, over the years I had accumulated a hefty six-figure sum from rattling around Europe and the Levant.

As it looked increasingly like British Midland might go bust, I grew alarmed that I might lose all those miles, so I set about spending them as quickly as possible. Use them or lose them, I thought.

With perfect timing, my flights to Tbilisi virtually exhausted the remaining miles – right before the airline was taken over by British Airways.  I thought it fitting that this should be my last hurrah with the airline I’d spent so much time with. A flight as random as all the others had been.

It’s sad that soon the planes will be repainted and will become just another part of British Airways. To me the British Midland crew looked like they worked harder than those over at BA and the seats were always a little bigger. British Airways always seems more corporate and more efficiently run. And yet more ordinary.

Efficiency might be good for the bottom line. But it’s not as fun as flying to Tbilisi the long way round.