Perhaps you are probably wondering, ASL what? And also, you are possibly thinking about the odd route—from Belfast City (BHD) to Malaga (AGP). BHD is the secondary airport of Belfast, and it’s more of a regional airport. The main airport, Belfast International (BFS), is 22km out of the city center.
Random browsing on Flightradar24 allows you to see all the different airlines, routes, and airlines subbing in for other airlines. During a random late-night browse on Flightradar24, I found out this route.
ASL Ireland was operating on behalf of Aer Lingus (EI), due to summer aircraft shortages. After finding a fare with a reasonable price and ideal flight times, I was eager to try it and gave into temptation.
Composition of the Airline
The ASL Group consists of four airlines, ASL Belgium (3V), ASL Hungary (FAH), ASL France (5O), and ASL Ireland (AG).
The group mostly operates cargo flights. However, AG operated passenger flights on its behalf across Europe and also on behalf of other airlines, in this case, EI, with a fleet of Boeing 757s from Dublin (DUB) and Shannon (SNN).
These Boeing 757s have just recently been phased out by EI, replaced by Airbus A321LRs. Now that’s all that cleared up, let’s see what ASL Ireland had to offer.
Inside Belfast City Airport
I flew in earlier from Glasgow (GLA) with Flybe (BE) to catch this early afternoon flight. Nordica’s (EE) ATR72-600 operated the short BE flight.
Belfast City Airport is small, comparable to London City Airport (LCY), though it has a slightly longer runway, so narrowbodies like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 can operate, albeit with some limitations.
Malaga is the longest flight out of BHD, due to the runway length of 6,000ft (1830 meters).
Passing through security was easy, although I felt that most of the travelers that morning had little experience with the security in airports, and soon there was a short queue.
The terminal offers unobstructed views of the apron, with most of the aircraft visible, including the Bombardier factory, which produces the wings for the Airbus A220 program (formally the CSeries).
Sadly, the view was hindered by the murky weather, which also accompanied me when overflying the Irish Sea.
Boarding and Takeoff
After grabbing something to eat in a local eatery at the airport, it was time to board. The boarding gate was downstairs, as there are only a few jet bridges at Belfast City throughout the terminal.
Once I got to the gate, I could already see that it was going to be a full flight. The check-in agents fired through the queue fairly quickly, and before I knew it, I was walking out onto the apron in the rain.
The aircraft to Malaga was ASL Ireland’s sole passenger Boeing 737-300 (EI-STA · MSN 29057 · LN 2942). The aircraft first flew in October 1997 and was delivered to Deutsche BA (DI).
In March 2010, it joined the fleet of Air Contractors (AG), which eventually became ASL Airlines Ireland in 2015. At the time of the flight, this jetliner was 21.8 years old.
When I boarded the aircraft, a friendly cabin crew member greeted me. I overheard another crew member say that there were 145 passengers on board, including two infants, confirming my assumptions while I was at the boarding gate.
The cabin coloring was interesting, considering it was operating for Aer Lingus (a brand in which the emerald green color plays a part in its branding.)
The modern slimline seats were red, with an EI headrest cloth. The seats gave a refreshed look to the passenger cabin, but the overhead panels and bins gave a retro feel.
The seats looked comfortable and that they were. The legroom was also good, it didn’t take me long to settle in seat 4A, which offered a prime view of the left engine.
The Take Off
Once everyone on board, the Captain announced that the flight time was going to take about two hours and 40 minutes and that the cruising altitude was 35,000ft.
Soon after, the engines were on, and after a short taxi, the 737 performed a full-thrust takeoff with its CFM56 engines blaring music to my ears.
The climb out was steep and a little bumpy, however, I would go as far and say this is my favorite 737 takeoff to date.
As we climbed, the flight headed straight down over Ireland, then down over the Atlantic, Northern France, the Bay of Biscay, northern Spain, then over Madrid, before descending into Malaga.
Once we were through the cloud base, it was smooth for the remainder of the flight, with just a small patch of turbulence over northern Spain.
As we reached cruising altitude, the crew started the service, which was a little slow. The Flight Attendants were short on change of the entire flight, which I think was the reason for the slower service. I’ve found on other flights to ‘bucket and spade’ destinations that this is a regular occurrence.
The buy onboard menu was the one Aer Lingus has, with a decent selection of food, snacks, and drinks. The prices were average.
When the crew came to my row, I went for a Lemon flapjack and a can of soda; to pay, I used all the euro change I had, to help out a little bit. The Lemon flapjack tasted alright, but it was the same brand sold cheaper in just about every food shop in the British Isles.
A breath-taking approach
After the snack, I went for a little wander to the back of the cabin. Indeed, I could confirm the flight was full.
Once back at my seat, I either glanced at the window from time to time and continued watching a film loaded in my portable electronic device.
To say that time flew is not merely a euphemism. Soon we started our descent into Malaga with a breath-taking approach as the coastal city is surrounded by mountains, so the last five minutes of the flight were simply stunning.
The touchdown was average, but for some bizarre reason, passengers began clapping as the plane touched down.
Overall, I enjoyed my flight down to Malaga. It was a unique opportunity that I am glad I took. The seats were comfortable, the Flight Attendants were friendly, and the flight was smooth. All in all, it was a good flight.
It felt like a usual ‘bucket and spade’ flight, albeit a classic type with a little-known airline. If the opportunity arises again, I will fly with ASL Ireland, but it is not an airline I would go out my way to fly with, unlike this flight.
Just a few months after taking this flight, EI announced the end of its flights to Malaga and Faro. A few weeks later, ASL Ireland put its passenger service to an end and transferred EI-STA to VIP charter airline Klasjet in Lithuania.
I’m sure this classic Boeing 737 still has years left in the skies, and the lesson I learned was to give in to the temptation to my Avgeek desires, and book flights on a one-of-a-kind airline and aircraft!