British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Malta to London Gatwick

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
From: Malta International Airport
To: London Gatwick
Departure: 13:35
Arrival:
15:50
Flight time:
three hours and fifteen minutes
Seat:
5F, window on the starboard side

Introduction

This trip has been just brilliant. First of all, I can’t remember the last time I went away on vacation for as much as two whole weeks in a row and without changing time zones! I had no idea how relaxing that can be! Of course, it helps that the weather in Malta has been lovely, with sunshine and temperatures hovering around 18 degrees celsius every day.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport from Valletta and Floriana by public transport, there are four buses you can take. The X4 is the ‘express’ which runs to Birzebbuga (there are a few diacritics missing there, sorry…) via the airport. The X4 actually stops right outside the terminal building and runs every half hour.

But then there are also the bus lines 71, 72 and 73, all of which go to Iz-Zurrieq and/or Qrendi on the other side of the airport. All three call at the bus stop ‘Cintra’, which is just at the entrance to the road tunnel under the runway. From ‘Cintra’ it’s a walk of about three minutes to the terminal building and there’s a pavement all the way. The 71, 72 and 73 run every six minutes. The journey time is 20 minutes.

Check-in

When I arrive at check-in, quite a few of the check-in counters are open in preparation for the early afternoon rush. British Airways has its own, dedicated counters, with one counter for Club Class passengers and status card holders and three for all other passengers. Check-in is handled by Air Malta staff on behalf of British Airways.

The La Valette Lounge

The check-in agent tags my suitcase, issues me a boarding pass and an invitation to the the La Valette lounge.

The entrance to the La Valette lounge is immediately on your left as you exit through the obligatory duty free shop. Access to the lounge is via lift.

Seeing as it’s the only lounge at the airport, it’s also very busy at this time of day. There are three Air Malta flights, Lufthansa’s Frankfurt service, the Emirates flight and the BA flight to Gatwick all leaving at more or less the same time.

I grab myself a Kinnie from one of the fridges and then head outside to catch some sun. Luckily, I manage to snag a chair with a perfect view of the apron. I’m going to miss the warmth of the sun when I get back to Switzerland.

The easyJet and British Airways flights from Gatwick arrive in short sequence and both of them are running thirty minutes late due an ATC strike in France…

Boarding

Gates 11 through 18 are the non-Schengen gates behind immigration. And today it’s a mess. The terminal is clearly very rapidly reaching full capacity during peaks. The British Airways flight is boarding from gate 18, which is the farthest gate. Next to us is the easyJet flight to Gatwick, next to that is the Ryanair flight to East Midlands, and next to that is the Ryanair flight to Manchester. And it’s chaos!

But at least I am rewarded for my labours, which include being body-checked by some vicious granny trying to jump the queue for the Manchester flight, because there is no bus for boarding and we are allowed to walk across the apron to our waiting chariot.

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft looks and feels different to that of the aircraft that operate to and from Heathrow. However, I don’t know if this bird is an exception or if this is the case for the entire Gatwick fleet. First of all, the cabin is not branded and the bulkhead is white with grey dots, instead of the dark grey coloured one with the Speedbird that you find on the Heathrow fleet.

And the seat is different too. There is no adjustable headrest. Other than that, the cabin looks very worn and in serious need of some TLC. They’ve removed the overhead screens. But instead of covering up the electric sockets where they used to be, they’ve just left everything uncovered. Not only does it not looks very nice, it also gives the impression that really this aircraft should be in maintenance and not in service.

At least on row 5 the seat pitch is still good enough for a flight of thre hours.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are also unusual. First of all, the purser is a nice, friendly chap. But honestly, I’m wondering if he’s already old enough to have to shave. He’s also not wearing a standard issue uniform shirt. Either that or British Airways recently changed to off-white uniform shirts for their male crew that have the kind of matted grey colour you can only hope to achieve from chucking in a perfectly white shirt with your undies and socks to wash by mistake…

But apart from that, I have to say that all of the crew are excellent. They’re very friendly and they are constantly present in the cabin during the flight. They take could care of the passengers.

The flight today is full, and there are 36 passengers in the Business Class cabin.

The flight time is three hours and fifteen minutes due to the ATC strike. We take off towards the northwest, routing via Palermo and Rome, then across the Alps into Austria and then Germany and Belgium to avoid France.

The mix of passengers in the cabin is interesting. I think it’s safe to say that at 45 years of age, I am by far the most junior passenger in the forward cabin. The rest are all in their late sixties and early seventies and probably still remember Malta from when they were stationed there with the RAF, before Malta became independent.

And all of them look as though they’re travelling for leisure. Behind me is another elderly couple. The husband is your typical cockney geezer who insists on calling the female cabin crew ‘sweetheart’ – and has me wondering how long before he inadvertently becomes part of the #metoo movement but for all the wrong reasons.

There is no service at all on the ground. I don’t know if this is normal or just because the crew are in a hurry to get away as soon as possible.

Once we’re airborne, the crew pass through the cabin with lightly scented hot towels and distribute the menus for the flight.

The Meal

There are three choices for the main dish.

Ahead of the meal there is a drinks service, and passengers have a coice of nuts or biscuits as a snack to go with that.

The whole meal is served on one tray from the galley, so there is no trolley service. While of course it is nicer to have your meal brought to you from the galley, instead of it being taken out of a trolley, I also think that tray service doesn’t really work on a narrow body, especially if you have a fairly large and full Business Class cabin as on this flight. By the time the crew deliver the last meals to row 9, the passengers on row 1 are already having their tea or coffee.

The First Course

There’s something delightfully oldfashioned about the starter, which is crayfish in a spicy cocktail sauce. It’s not bad, although a bit less sauce would have been perfectly fine too.

The Main Course

For the main course I have the fish, which is very good and has managed not to to dry up completely in the oven.

The Cheese

The cheese is my favourite part of the meal on BA and I just love that they serve it with chutney and crackers.

In addition to the crackers, the crew also make two rounds with the bread basket and there is a selection of white and brown breads.

Dessert

The dessert is fine but really just way to sweet. My teeth ache just from looking at it. I give up on this one and only have half of it.

To finish off the meal I have a cup of mint tea to help pry my tongue off my hard palate after that sticky dessert…

Later on, as we start our descent into Gatwick, the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of Border’s biscuits. The biscuits are good, but I’m wondering if the presentation could be improved – because the crew pass through the cabin with this enormous retail size box of biscuits and distribute them from that. It’s not the height of sophistication to be honest…

Arrival

En route over Italy the crew were able to get an improvement on our routing, to the extent that the delay is reduced to less than fifteen minutes. But by the time we’re sequenced for arrival and eventually touch down, we’re thirty minutes later after all.

The flight ends at Gatwick’s South Terminal. I now need to retrieve my suitcase and then make my way to the North Terminal for my connecting flight.

Conclusion

While there were a few oddities on this flight, such as the consition of the aircraft cabin, the appearance of the crew and the mix of passengers in the Business Class cabin, all in all this was not a bad flight. Moreover, I think that Gatwick is by far the much more pleasant passenger experience than Heathrow.

Flying British Airways may not be everyone’s cup of tea and honestly, they’re usually not my first choice anymore either. Even so, I still think it’s impressive that on a Friday afternoon in early February, which is during Malta’s deepest low season, they still manage to fill 36 seats in Business Class.

British Airways, Club Europe – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

Introduction

I know, I know. Carbon footprint and all that. And I have to say that I have been trying to reduce the number of private trips I make by plane. But Lord knows it’s not always easy. And so, I find myself on Saturday morning making plans to head for the airport…

Getting to the Airport

At 10:01 I leave my flat to catch the 10:03 express bus from the main railway station to Basel airport. The express bus is not necessarily any faster than the regular service, but at least it doesn’t stop anywhere along the way. The journey takes about 15 minutes and there is no surcharge for the express.
The airport is moderately busy. It’s the end of August and the trailing end of the summer vacation in Europe, usually the time when couples without kids at school make their escape.
There is a separate fast track for security and the queue is not very long.

The Skyview Lounge

The Swissport Aspire lounge in Basel is always a pleasure. It sits above the main airside area and offers a 360 degree view of what’s going on outside.
Half the seating area has been closed off, presumably to save on cleaning during the quiet summer months when business travel in Europe is quite reduced.
The lounge’a best feature, though, has to be the outside viewing area which also functions as the smokers’ lounge.
On the downside, the lounge is located in the Schengen area of the terminal. With most flights now operating as non-Schengen out of Basel, there can be quite a long wait at immigration, so it’s best to plan ahead!

Boarding

I time it just a bit too finely. I also didn’t consider that there was an Air Algérie flight leaving around the same time. And so the queue is fairly long for passport control. But it moves quickly.
BA boards its flights by groups. Business Class passengers and Executive Club card holders are in group 1. Although by the time I get to the gate, they’re already boarding group 4.

The Cabin

The very first thing you notice as you step on board the aircraft, is how dark the cabin looks. The bulkhead is a dark shade of grey and the moodlights are a dark blue.
In Club Class on BA 1A is the window seat and 1C the aisle seat. The middle seat is kept empty and there is a small table for extra storage space. The seatbacks have a headrest that can be adjusted in height and that has a set of ears for better support.
Leg space on the first row is great. But keep in mind that on 1C you’re quite exposed, with boarding passenger turning right into the cabin right in front of you. But it does give you a great cockpit view at least.
There are eight rows of Club Class on this flight, for a total of 32 seat. According to the purser, the flight is completely sold out.
There are two middle aged gentlemen working the Club Class cabin, and I must say they’re really excellent: polite, engaging and very helpful. The latter is clearly appreciated by the many elderly Americans on the flight.
Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with nicely scented hot towels.

The Meal

With a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, there is only a cold meal service on this flight. However, there is a choice between a quinoa salad or grilled chicken breast for the main course.
Quinoa salad with herbs, feta, cucumber and cherry tomato.
Mixed salad on the side, served with vinaigrette.
A selection of warm breads. There are no seconds for bread.
And for dessert, a delectable chocolate mousse with caramel topping that is outrageously sweet and obscenely good. Although probably the noises I’m making while I demolish it are worse…
35 minutes out of Heathrow, the trays are removed and I am brought a mug of milky sweet tea. This is served with a small chocolate from Hotel Chocolat to celebrate BA’s centenary.

Arrival

We land in Heathrow ten minutes ahead of schedule, and I‘m really quite amazed how quiet the place is, which a very rare occurrence in Heathrow.

Getting into Town

I head down into the basement and catch the Heathrow Express into Paddington. The journey takes 15 minutes and costs GBP18. And with the current rate of exchange to the Swiss Frank, that‘s not even so expensive.
I must say, after my last Club Class experiences with BA I wasn‘t expecting anything much. In fact, I’ve tried to avoid them recently. But it seems that the carrier may have just been going through a bit of a rough time. Because this was a much better and more pleasant experience, very much like what you would expect from a global carrier like British Airways. The crew were great and the food choice and quality were also good, especially given the short duration of the flight.

British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 350-1000: London Heathrow to Madrid

Introduction

Last week I returned from my Sunday run, all sticky and sweaty, only to be informed by the light of my life that we were booked to sample the British Airways A 350-1000 in a week’s time!

I mean, how cool is that? New type for me and literally a new aircraft!

The flight to Madrid is scheduled for a 06:20 departure out of Heathrow, which is why I spent last night at the Sofitel Heathrow T5, in walking distance to the terminal and connected via a footbridge.
There are two security checkpoints in T5. However, only checkpoint South has a fast track.
This must be the quickest security chech I’ve ever done. There’s no queue and I’m done in less than three minutes!
Airside, the terminal is still pretty deserted and the shops haven’t even opened yet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heathrow so empty!

The Executive Club Lounge

My first stop is the BA lounge for breakfast!
Breakfast is something they do really well at the BA lounge. And fortunately, it already opens at 05:00 in the morning.

Boarding

At 05:40 my flight shows up on the screens as ‘boarding’. The flight will be departing from C61 in one of the satellite terminals. First thing to note: there is a lounge in satellite B and on the main concourse of the A gates. But there is no lounge at the C satellite. Second thing to note: you are not free to move as you please between the satellites. At least not without going through security.
Boarding is delayed by thirty minutes, due to the fact that the aircraft had not been towed over from the maintenance area to its parking stand on time. Sadly, gate C61 also happens to be just about the most impossible gate to take a picture of the aircraft from…

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is very positive. Again, I find the colours all rather dark, but it’s still a very elegant and classy looking cabin.
The seat is definitely a vast improvement over that idiotic seat BA has on the rest of its fleet, which feels like an old and sagging armchair.
This seat is much, much nicer and is very comfortable.
The seat is very practical in its design and offers a lot of storage space.
Moreover, the seats are not aligned in a row. So that even with the door to the seat open, you still have a lot of privacy.

The Meal

The flight time is announced at 1 hour and 50 minutes. The service begins with the distribution of the hot towels, followed by the menus. There is a choice of three meals for the main course.
The food is delivered as a tray service, with each passenger’s meal brought out individually. The crew work efficiently. Even so, the combination of a short flight time with a fairly large Club Class section means that the individual waiting time is rather long.
As usual, I decide to go with the English breakfast, which is brought to me with a croissant and a bun on it.
To celebrate the centenary, on this flight the crew distribute a box with two hazelnut pralines from Hotel Chocolat. The chocolates are good, but they clearly lack the finess of Swiss chocolate.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Madrid with a delay of about 20 minutes. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite pier of Terminal 4. The queue for immigration is long, but at least it moves quickly. And even thought the automatic gate can’t seem to scan my face, the immigration officer can’t be bothered today and just lets me through anyway.

Getting into Town

I have five hours to spend here in Madrid on a lovely summer’s day. So upon exiting through arrivals, my first stop is the metro. I have a public transport card for Madrid which is quite convenient, because you can load multiple tickets on it. However, for trips to and from the airport, there is a EUR3.- surcharge that you can only load onto the card on the actual day of travel.

My two flights with British Airways yesterday and today were very pleasant. Of course, the brand new Airbus A 350-1000 this morning was a pleasant change from the usual narrowbodies.

But apart from that, I think British Airways has implemented some fundamental changes that I would definitely consider a huge improvement. From the Do&Co catering to the installation of the new seat, which is expected to be rolled out on the Boeing B 777 fleet shortly as well.

Of course, tastes vary. But for me, the hard product on the A 350-1000 and the improved catering definitely put British Airways on a par with Air France. With the Lufthansa group coming in far, far behind.

British Airways, Airbus A319 – Economy Class: London Heathrow to Basel

Introduction

For my return flight to Switzerland, I’ll be travelling with British Airways from London’s Heathrow airport. The main reason being that there is currently no direct service from London City airport to Basel.

Getting to the Airport

To get to Heathrow airport from the O2 arena, I’ve decided to take the most scenic option, which is the ferry on the Thames. The journey from the O2 arena to the centre of London will take near to an hour and takes you past Greenwich, tower bridge and the tower of London. The jetty is just under ten minutes walking distance from the hotel.
I alight form the ferry at Embankment. I take the few steps up to street level, cross the road and then I’m already in the tube station.
The Bakerloo line runs from Embankment to Paddington station and takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.
At Paddington station I change to the Heathrow Express. Just a piece of advice here: try to book your tickets for the Heathrow Express well in advance, and you can get some really good deals with tickets starting at GBP5.50. If however, like me, you completely forget to purchase a ticket in advance, you’re looking at ‘saver’ fares starting at GBP25…
Paddington to Heathrow takes about fifteen minutes by train.
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is very busy, as usual. Even so, security is efficient and swift. I don’t even have to queue.
The only thing I don’t like about Heathrow, is that they only advise the gate thirty minutes before departure, to give people an incentive to roam through the terminal building and spend loads of cash at the many duty free shops.

Boarding

My flight today is departing from gate A6, which is one of those gates with a ridiculously long air bridge. It also means the aircraft is concealed from view and impossible to take a photo of.

The Cabin

I think it’s going to be one of those flights. We board the aircraft and it’s hot. What’s more, there seems to be an unusually high number children on the plane today.
The first officer comes on the loudspeaker and welcomes all passengers on board. He also apologises for the heat and explains that the APU on this aircraft is currently not working, so it’ll be a while before the cabin cools down, once one of the engines has been started.
Nice, but try telling that to a bunch of tired, hungry and sweaty kids. And so, it doesn’t take too long before the crying and the wining begins. Luckily, the lady on the aisle seat of my row is travelling with her six months old kid, which is really cute and quite happy to play footsie with her stuffed dinosaur. But the kid on the other side of the aisle is a total menace. She’s busy doing a convincing, and rather frightening, rendition of Rosemarie’s Baby. Meanwhile, her brother in the middle seat decides that now would be a good moment to spill a cup of water over himself, his dad, Rosemarie’s Baby and his mum…
The quality of this picture is not very good. I only took it because if you look at the tail of the very last aircraft way at the back, you may notice that it is in fact BA’s first Airbus A 350…
Departures are from runway 27L this afternoon. There are just a few aircraft ahead of us taxiing out. Meanwhile, we decide to race this SAS Boeing B 737-600 to the holding point.
The flight time to Basel is one hour and ten minutes. Service on the flight is buy on board and you may only pay by credit card or avios.
The seat pitch is better than I remember. But the seat still isn’t very comfortable and forces you to sit fully upright, which becomes tiring after a while. I really wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so in this seat.

Arrival

We arrive in Basel just a few minutes behind schedule. I’m a bit apprehensive when I see an Air Arabia, WizzAir and a Turkish Airliines aircraft already on the ground, because that usually means that the queues for immigration and customs will be endless. But much to my surprise, there are hardly any passengers at the passport control.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that there are no posts of food and no comments about the service on board this flight. That’s because there’s really nothing for me to say. With the introduction of buy on board, the airline’s interaction with the passenger is quite limited. Especially the way the BA crews go about it. I watched them during the serivce. What struck me, was that they just passed through the cabin without really saying anything much. If passengers wanted to order something, it was up to them to make sure the crew noticed them. The low cost carriers do that much better I think, because on Easyjet for example, the crews are proactively trying to make a sale. As such, the onboard sales, and with that also the airline’s brand, assume a much more prominent role.

In contrast, I must admit I found this experience on BA completely interchangeable with just about any other airline, because the service I purchased has literally been stripped down to just taking me from A to B.

British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Basel to London Heathrow

Introduction

Next round. It’s Sunday morning and I’m on my way to the airport again. This time though, my trip will be starting from Basel instead of Zürich. I’m on my way to give two courses back to back. I will be joined on both trips by the flying Dutchman, P., who I should be meeting in Heathrow.

Getting to the Airport

The journey by car from the main railway station to Basel airport takes about fifteen minutes to complete. Being early Sunday morning, there’s hardly any traffic and I seem to be hitting all the green lights.

Check-in

Because I’ll be gone for two weeks, I’m travelling with a suitcase this time. Which means my first stop once I get to the airport will be at the check-in counters. I did try checking in online, but apparently the interface between British Airways and Aer Lingus doesn’t work very well, because the BA website is unable to generate a boarding pass in the app to download into the passbook app, and the Aer Lingus app can’t do it either because they have no ticket data for my onward connection.

This also means that I’m randomly assigned a seat on the Aer Lingus flight that I can’t change in the app. They actually want to put me on an aisle seat!

But all’s well that ends well. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to my final destination and also changes my seat from an aisle to a window seat.

British Airways checks-in in the Swiss sector of the airport.

The Skyview Lounge

Many moons ago, the benefits of flying in and out of Basel were that a) the airport is much smaller than Zürich and therefore b) less busy and c) only fifteen minutes away from my home. But ever since the Schengen treaty was suspended at Basel airport, it’s really not so much fun anymore. Security has been tightened, so that at any given time, the queue is rarely shorter than fifteen to twenty minutes. What’s more, the lounge is located before you go through immigration. And with all the additional flights that are now being handled as non-Schengen departures, the queues at immigration have increased too.

Of course, it doesn’t help that humanity appears to have a natural compulsion to congregate like sheep the moment they step into an airport and also seem to think that, surely, the 100ml rule can’t possibly apply to them too…

The SkyView lounge is fairly busy when I arrive, although admittedly, you wouldn’t think so to look at the photo I’ve posted. It’s just that most passengers tend to go upstairs where all the food, the views and the open air viewing terrace are located. Although the latter seems to be functioning more as the smoking area in this cold weather.

Boarding

British Airways seem to have this paranoia about starting the boarding process as early as possible in order to avoid any departure delays which could see you holding over London for what seems like an eternity later on. Which is why boarding for today’s flight start forty minutes before departure.

British Airways has this nifty boarding process, whereby status holders and Business Class passengers queue according to the group indicated on their boarding pass. Only once the queues for groups 1, 2 and 3 have been cleared, does boarding for the general riffraff begin.

The Cabin

Fortunately, I’ve managed to secure an emergency exit row seat for the flight to London. And thank god for that, because since the European fleet has been refurbished, your only chance as an average sized adult to squeeze your legs into a standard row is either to sit sideways or to spread your legs wider than is modestly acceptable in public…

On a positive note, the headrest has sides that can be folded up to support your bonce if you need to nap.

Luckily, the flight is not full today, so the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays empty.

The Crew

The crew are friendly enough. Their service is polite but very formal. I can’t really say anything much else about them.

The Meal

Service in Economy Class is buy on board. British Airways has teamed up with British retailer Marks & Spencer to provide inflight catering in the back of the bus.

I have a Twining mint tea and the box set of vegetarian sandwiches. There are four sandwich quarters in the box. The sandwiches are: boiled egg with tomato, cucumber and cream cheese, cheddar cheese and tomato and boiled egg with lettuce.

Arrival

The flight time to London is one hour and ten minutes. Surprisingly, there’s no hold up at all, despite the fact that we’re running early. By the time we reach the gate, we’re just over thirty minutes early.

And now, I have to transfer to Terminal 3.

British Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 320: London Heathrow to Basel

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Transfer in Heathrow

I just arrived in London from Madrid on a Boeing 777-200. By the time the bus ejects me on the ground floor of Terminal 5, I have one hour left to make my connection to Basel. So I head up to the transit area and then from there through the automatic boarding pass scanners and on to the escalators that take you up one more floor to the security check area. Only, the queue for security has become so long that they’ve had to turn off the escalators, because passengers are queueing on them and are backed up all the way down to the lower floor.

Boarding

Eventually, an eternity later, I actually manage to make it through security. I have just enough time to head for the departure gate. As soon as I arrive there, boarding starts. At least this is something that BA does really well: there is a separate queue for passengers with priority, which is boarded first.

From what I can tell, there are eleven rows of Business Class on today’s flight. And by the looks of it, all the seats are taken.

The Cabin

This must be a newer addition to the BA fleet. First of all, because it is fitted with the new sharklet type winglets. And secondly, because it is also already fitted in BA’s new cabin. It looks nice, but like all the other fun innovations BA has recently introduced, the main objective of the refurbishment is obviously to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Which translates into one of the tightest pitches out there right now.

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The Crew

There are two crew working the Business Class cabin today, who seem very friendly. The maître de in particular is professional and courteous.

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The Meal

I think we already established on the previous flight that BA’s meal service has seriously taken a beating. Previously, BA would offer a lovely tea service on flights departing in the afternoon. On today’s flight there are two meal options: one is a ploughman’s platter and the other is the afternoon tea. I decide to go with the latter. But this meal is a far cry from what it used to be and consists of three rather small finger sandwiches and a slice of some sweet creamy cake. That’s it.

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Arrival

The flight time to Basel is short at one hour and ten minutes. The ground is wet when we land and it looks as though we came in just behind some severe rain showers passing through the area.

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The airport is busy, but even so the queue for passport control is manageable.

Conclusion

Wow, British Airways really is in a sad state right now and service standards have obviously slipped considerably. In addition, their hub at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is nothing short of a nightmare during peak hours. Add to that the fact that you have to go through security when travelling through the UK, the overall passenger experience really is not particularly enjoyable anymore and not one I want to repeat anytime soon. I don’t like!

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 777-200: Madrid to London Heathrow

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Transfer in Madrid Barajas

My flight from Jerez comes to a standstill on stand K103, which is the one but last stand on the north side of Madrid’s terminal 4. My onward connection will be departing from gate S35 in the satellite terminal across the apron. The satellite is connected to the main terminal building by light railway, which makes the journey in about five minutes.

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The only problem though, is that there is a passport check once you get to the other side. And there are people everywhere. It looks as though half of Latin America has decided to congregrate in Madrid’s T4S. It’s round about this time that I start to wonder about the things I do just to fly on a particular aircraft. I could have taken the Iberia flight from Madrid back to Basel – no hassle, non non-Schengen. But no, I had to go with the mighty tripple seven.

There are separate counters for Schengen passport holders, but even this queue is endless, which is hardly surprising given that most of the people in the queue have probably never heard of Schengen. But anyway, eventually it takes me 20 minutes just to reach the head of the queue.

Boarding

When I finally arrive at the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of preparation for departure. I take the stairs down to the ground floor to catch the bus to the aircraft, only to find it is nearly empty. Eventually, we make our way across the apron. Me and the remaining five passengers.

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Still, one has to look on the bright side: it’s not every day that you get to board a wide-body on a remote stand…

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The Cabin

The British Airways cabin is rather unique, with half the seats facing towards the rear of the aircraft and the other half facing forward. The nice thing about this is that if, like me, you like airplanes (you may have guessed), you have a good view of the wing and engines, without having to contort to look back. The window seats are all rear facing.

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Other than that, I really don’t like BA’s long-haul seat. First of all, where other carriers are moving to four seats abreast in their Business Class cabins, British Airways managed to squeeze in a staggering eight seats. The upshot being that there is little to no storage space once you’re in the seat. There is a drawer at floor level, but this is so small that even my 15’ MacBook won’t fit. Also, the seat is fairly low and not particularly convenient to get out of, especially for elderly or less mobile persons. I could go on about all the things I don’t like about this seat and cabin configuration. Suffice to say it is quite apparent that BA’s hardware in Business Class is designed for mass production rather than quality.

Apart from all that, this particular aircraft is also in exceptionally bad condition. There are bits hanging from the ceiling where the panelling has not been properly mounted and the seat and floor are quite simply filthy with old dirt. I don’t mean the kind of oops-we-forgot-to-vacuum dirt but rather the biohazard variety that comes from years of neglect.

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The crew seems friendly enough. I suppose it’s a question of personal preference whether a person uses make-up or not. But I also think it’s a thin line between looking well turned-out and looking like a total slapper. Strangely enough, many British females tends to overdo the make-up and end up falling into the latter category.

We move off stand slightly behind schedule and taxi out to runway 36L for departure. It’s a lovely day for flying and despite the fact that the airport is very busy this time of day, our wait is not too long.

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The fight time is announced as one hour and fifty-five minutes.

The Meal

The service begins with the distribution of those flimsy little hot towels. After that, drinks are served with a small packet of cashew nuts.

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BA recently introduced a new meal concept on its European Business Class product, which essentially means they’re trying to reduce costs further by offering less food. And what a sad meal it is! There is a choice between a cheese and beef panino and a chicken and potato salad.

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I decide to go with the beef and cheese panino. The crew hands me the tray, on which there is one plate with two panini and another with dessert. I really have to say this must be one of the most unattractive looking meal trays I’ve ever seen on a Business Class flight. I fully appreciate that all airlines need to reduce their costs to survive, but does that really mean serving meals with such an apparent lack of attention to detail?

By the time the tray is removed, we’re still forty minutes out of Heathrow. I ask the crew if perhaps I might have a cup of coffee, which is apparently not something they want to encourage. Grudgingly, one of them eventually brings me a cup and plonks is on my tray table. Charming, I’m sure…

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Arrival

Surprisingly, we’re not sent into a holding, which makes a nice change from what normally happens at Heathrow. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we’re running late. Our approach brings us in from the east, right over the city, and I am reminded of just how much I really love London. I think I should plan for a visit some time soon. But maybe not necessarily on BA…

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We park on a remote stand. But apparently, the ground services were not expecting us. There are no busses to bring passengers to the terminal. Eventually, after ten minutes on the stand without anything much happening, one lonely bus eventually does pull up next to the aircraft. I’m just not quite sure they’ll manage to fit in all the passengers of a full triple seven into one standard size bus though…

Conclusion

The problem with large airlines like British Airways or Lufthansa is that their home markets are huge and can be relied on. As such, they don’t really have an incentive to do better. Because unlike me, most people will prefer to take a direct flight over an connection via another hub. And it shows. The hardware of BA’s product is old, worn and unattractive. The service and the food are bland and boring.

But apart from all that, I also think there has been a continuous deterioration in standards recently and I cannot help but feel that British Airways is going to the dogs.

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 747-400: Mexico City to Heathrow

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Date: 13. May 2017
Departure: 21:50
Arrival: 13:30
Flight time: 9 hours 50 minutes
Seat: 62K, window

Introduction

This has been one of the most tiring trips I have made in a very long time, so I’m rather glad it’s finally over and I am on my way home again. Although I must say that travelling with the wiry R. has been rather fun and really easy going.

Check-in

My flight back to Heathrow will depart at 21h40. Just after 20h I check out of the hotel and make my way across the footbridge to Terminal 1. Signage inside the terminal is really bad, verging on non-existent, and eventually we find the check-in counters more by chance than by design.

British Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters in area F of the terminal. From check-in you have to walk back quite a bit to area G, which is where the security checkpoint is.

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Generally speaking, the impression I get of Terminal 1 is of an old and tatty facility that has grown organically and without order and method. Apart form the bad signage the building has very low ceilings and was obviously designed by somebody who is either blind as a bat, has absolutely zero taste or who has no aesthetic appreciation whatsoever. It’s an incredibly ugly airport!

The Lounge

Of course we walk straight past the Iberia lounge the first time because there are no signs here either… To access the lounge you have to head up two flights of stairs. The lounge is rather nice though and looks as though it was only recently opened or refurbished. With the Iberia flight to Madrid leaving around the same time as ours to London it’s quite full and there are only few places left to sit. We only have about ten minutes in the lounge, enough to have a drink, before it’s time to head back downstairs and to the gate for boarding.

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Boarding

Boarding planes is something the Mexicans do really well. There are separate lanes for First and Club Class passengers and another queue for the working classes. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. By this time I’m so exhausted I head straight up the airbridge and then for the upper deck so I can sit down and start dozing.

The Cabin

On this leg I’m sitting on 62K, which is the window seat on the emergency exit of the upper deck. And quite frankly, I think this must be the best seat in the house. First of all, being a window seat you have a lot of additional storage space – which the aisle seat is lacking. More importantly though, it’s one of only two seats – the other is 62A – that gives you access to the aisle without having to climb over your neighbour on the aisle seat.

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The Crew

The crew on the upper deck consists of two elderly gentlemen that are very friendly and laid back. The service follows the same sequence as the outbound flight, with wash bags, menus and welcome drinks being offered in sequence.

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By this time though, I’m simply too exhausted. I feel stupidly tired in fact. While we’re still on the ground I change into my shorts to reveal my hunky hairy legs and even studlier Happy Socks for the benefit and pleasure of all of humanity. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off I extend the seat into a bed and awake over six hours later, just due west of the Irish coast and with three hours left to go to London.

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The Meal

So I actually miss the first meal service. And to be honest, in hindsight I think I wish I’d missed the breakfast too. Yuk, this really is the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had on a plane. How on earth can you manage to totally ruin Rösti? Have they got a salt shortage in Mexico or something? But it’s not just that, the scrambled eggs taste last lumpy bits of plastic and the pink little sausage is disconcertingly reminiscent of a… Still, at least the baked buns and the yoghurt are edible.

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Arrival

Around forty minutes out of Heathrow the Jumbo’s nose gently tilts down and we start our descent. It’s a lovely day in London for flying and we are treated to some really spectacular views of central London. We approach the city from the west, flying an easterly track just south of the city. We turn on to the approach abeam of London city airport, which has already reopened after the weekend by the looks of it. And then from there we fly along the Thames, before eventually gliding down to runway 27L. I’m home again.

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Conclusion

In my opinion there really is no other aircraft that can rival the Boeing B 747. I know the Airbus A 380 is much larger, heavier and what not. But the 747 simply has style. Alas, the type is very quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more aircraft are choosing to replace their existing 747 fleets either with the Boeing 777 or the larger A 380. So I’m kind of left wondering if perhaps this may have been my last flight on the Queen of the skies. I hope not!

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British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 747-400: Heathrow to Mexico

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Date: 06. May 2017
Departure: 14:20
Arrival: 19:30
Flight time: 11 hours 10 minutes
Seat: 62J, aisle on the upper deck

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Introduciton

My flight from Rome touches down in Heathrow at around 09h40 local time, which means I have about four hours to make the connection to Mexico City. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is busy as usual. Even so, the line for security moves quickly and efficiently.

The Executive Club Lounge

British Airways has two Club Class lounges in Terminal 5, at both ends of the main terminal. The north lounge is brighter but smaller than the south lounge. As runway 09R is the departing runway today, I decide to head for the south lounge, in the hope of finding a seat near the window with a view of the holding point.

Since my last visit a lot of the furniture appears to have been changed or replaced. I think they’ve also added more seating. Nonetheless, the lounge doesn’t feel crowded. Alas, the toilets are still in dire need of a facelift. I think the basic problem is that there simply are not enough toilets to cater for the size of the lounge. But apart from that, the facilities are not properly maintained either. Half the locks don’t work, some of the doors are damaged to the extent that the plywood is beginning to show, and the toilets are not too cleaned either.

The food options on the other hand, are very good and include a wide range of hot and cold dishes that change depending on the time of day.

Boarding

About one hour prior to departure, my flight is showing up on the display. I shall be departing from the B concourse, which is in the satellite closest to the main terminal building. The transfer to the satellites is via an automated underground train that stops at both the B and C satellites.

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There’s still some time to go before boarding begins as I aproach gate B37, so I take my time taking pictures and ogling the beautiful aircraft that will be taking me to Mexico this afternoon. I think at some point I even start drooling… By this time the wiry R. is eyeing me carefully and I think I can actually see the realisation dawn in his eyes of just how much of an airline geek I actually am… But bless him, he indulges me patiently while I enjoy my hobby… Obsession is just such an ugly word, I think.

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The Cabin

When I made the booking for this trip I made sure I had a seat on the upper deck. After all, if you’re going to fly on the uncontested Queen of the skies, you have to sit in the hump, right? The nice thing about sitting on the upper deck is that even if the flight is full, it feels a lot more intimate that sitting downstairs in the much larger main cabin.

Every seating configuration and seat design on an aircraft will always be a compromise. It’s a trade-off between comfort, practicality and economics. On the one hand, I must confess I am full of admiration for BA for having come up with such a concept, which allows them to put in as many as eight seats abreast in the B 747 without the seat feeling cramped. I also think the seat is rather comfortable too.

But there are also quite a few downsides. The aisle seats have next to no storage space. There is one fairly small drawer in the side of the seat. But this is near the floor, which means that once you extend the seat into a bed, the seat itself prevents access to the drawer.

And then there is also the fact that if you’re sitting on the window seat, you have to climb over the passenger on the aisle seat to get out. Obviously people don’t tend to move around that much aboard a plane, but in times where Air France, KLM or Finnair are upping their game with the introduction of direct access for all passengers in Business Class with a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, BA’s hardware is slowly starting to fall behind.

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The Crew

There are three lovely middle-aged ladies working the upper deck cabin. They are friendly and quite charming in the way they deal with the passengers. And I think one of them is trying to get me drunk.

The service on the ground starts with a choice of orange juice, water or champagne for a welcome drink. Next, hot towels, amenity kits and the menus are handed out.

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The Meal

The meal service starts very soon after take-off. Generally speaking, I think the timing of the food service is something British Airways does really well. First of all, because they get the service started fairly soon after take-off, and secondly because the service doesn’t take too long to complete. As a result, passengers can maximise on rest during the flight.

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To start I have a glass of the rosé champagne, the name of which I can’t remember. Admittedly it’s not as smooth as the stuff I had in the Etihad apartment a few weeks ago, but it’s still rather a pleasant champagne. With that I have a glass of sparkling water, served with ice and lemon, and a packet of cashew nuts.

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The First Course

There are two options for the starter. I decide to go with the crayfish with bergamot gel and fennel salad. The dish is served on a tray and is accompanied by a nice side salad with mixed greens and beans and a balsamico dressing.

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The Salad

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The starter is very good. The bergamot gel is spectacular and goes exceptionally well with the crayfish. The presentation is nice too.

The Main Course

For the main course there are four choices. I have the beef with chantenay carrots, Lyonnaise potatoes, buttered savoy cabbage and a sherry and peppercorn sauce. The beef is nice and tender and cooked well done, which is the way I like it.

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Dessert

And then, finally, for dessert I have the duo of chocolate and salted caramel fondant with the lemon and almond tart, which is served with a dollop of whipped cream. Especially the fondant is lovely and tastes really good with a glass of port.

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Two hours and ten minutes after take-off, the meal service is completed and I’m sipping a mug of Twining’s Early Grey.

British Airways has an inflight snack bar located on the main deck. The selection is fairly good. I try the finger sandwiches, which are very tasty.

The Second Service

Ninety minutes out of Mexico City the lights are turned on again and the second service starts. There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main. I figure I’ll go vegetarian this time round and start with the salad of brown rice, followed by the pasta with a grilled vegetable sauce. For dessert there is a plate of fruit with guava juice.

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The second service is quite extensive. The starter is very good and refreshing, while the main course is just okay. I think it all comes down to the problem of warming pasta in a hot air oven.

Arrival

We land in Mexico City about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is a strange mix of old and new. Terminal 1 is old and tatty and smelly and really not very nice.

As I look out I notice that the KLM, Air France, Iberia and Lufthansa flights have already arrived and for one horrible moment I assume this means very long queues at immigration. But in fact entering the country turns out to be really no problem at all.

Conclusion

I very much enjoyed this flight with BA. I think their service is great, with friendly and chatty crews. The food offerings were quite good and especially the second service was a lot more elaborate than what you get on many other carriers. The only thing I wonder about is the seat and cabin layout, which is starting to look dated, even though the aircraft looked very well maintained. In any case, I like BA and I would certainly fly them on long-haul again any time.

British Airways, Club Class – Airbus A 320: Rome to Heathrow

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Date: 06 May 2017
Departure: 08:00
Arrival: 09:30
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Seat: 1F, window

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Introduction

My journey begins at 06h00 in the morning as I step outside the hotel to make my way to the airport for the flight to London. The wiry R. is already expecting me, bright eyed and bushy tailed as he takes another lazy draw from his cigarette.

Check-in

Ten minutes later the shuttle bus ejects us on the pavement, under the large roof of Terminal 3. British Airways’ check-in counters are on row 230, which is on the side of the terminal adjacent to Terminal 2. The check-in agent checks us in for both this flight and the onward connection and gives us directions for the lounge. Rather conveniently, the fast track for security is right in front of the British Airways counters.

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The British Airways Lounge

Signage is definitely not the airport’s forte. I’m a linguist and the wiry R. is an engineer. But even so, between the two of us we still manage to not locate the lounge. So here goes. For all those who will come after us, be brave: behind immigration, walk through the duty free shop and you will find yourself in the terminal’s shopping mall. Walk on, all the way through the mall and at the end turn left. That is where you will spot a sign for the British Airways and Alitalia lounges. Take the escalators one floor up and you should land right in front of the entrance to the lounge.

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The British Airways lounge at Rome airport is fairly big. I’m assuming it’s probably available to the other OneWorld partners as well who operate here. Just one piece of advice though: keep away form the coffee machine. The stuff it produces is vile.

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Boarding

The flight is departing from gate E18. By the time we get there, priority passengers are already stepping aboard the plane. And by the time I step aboard there is no longer any space in the overhead bins, which is a bit unfortunate, given that I’m sitting on row 1. Fortunately, the gentlemen seated on the row behind me is a nice, friendly American. As soon as he notices I’m having problems stowing my two bags, he starts moving his own stuff around and even puts one bag under the seat in front of him to make room for me.

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The Cabin

The cabin looks very smart and the first impression is good. However, the combination of the dark blue leather seats and the dark grey panelling on the bulkhead also make the cabin seem a bit dark and gloomy.

The seat is in the usual European getup with the middle seat kept empty and a tray placed between the aisle and window seats for some additional storage space. There are no ac power ports.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight is very professional and their service is polished and very polite, which is something that always impresses me about the British Airways crews because they are quite consistent about it.

Sorry if I go off on a tangent here, okay, but after all languages are my business. It’s just that it seems to me that there is some inflation going on in the English language with regard to expressions of politeness and the cabin service manager is a good example of this. No matter if he’s collecting the hot towels or passing you the tray with the food, he keeps saying ‘thank you so much’. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that in general, but it does make me wonder what he says to express his gratitude when you do him a really big favour? My point is that this over use of the phrase ‘so much’ in an expression of gratitude is becoming an increasingly popular practice, especially among speakers of American English. Sorry, end of geeky linguist rant…

Oh yes, they serve you scented hot towels once boarding is completed. There are no pre-departure drinks or anything like that though, despite the flight time of over two hours.

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The Meal

At the start of 2017 British Airways launched a new catering concept on its European network. In Economy Class this means buy on board food, courtesy of Marks and Spencer.

In Business class there have been some changes too. First of all, there are now two options for the meal and accordingly, menus are distributed ahead of the meal service. In this particular case the choice is between a vegetarian omelette and the traditional full English breakfast. The tray is served with a tub of strawberry yoghurt, and there is a large selection of breads and croissants to choose from the breadbasket. Apparently, preserves have fallen by the wayside though and there is only butter but no jam on the tray. On a positive note, the hot meal is now served on a proper plate and not in a foil container as it used to be.

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Arrival

The worst thing that can happen to you when you’re flying into London is that you’re flight arrives way too early for its slot, in which case you are sent into a holding patter until it is time for you to turn onto the approach. I end up going off to Noddy land just as we enter the holding, so I’m not quite sure how many orbits we complete but I think it must be close to half an hour.

As ever, Heathrow is very busy and on the approach I count twelve aircraft queuing up for departure on the other side of the apron for runway 09R.

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Conclusion

All in all this was a nice flight with BA that was pretty much up to their usual standards as far as I can tell. I thought the new service was fine. Apart from that, it never seizes to amaze me how British Airways manages to fill more than twenty seats in Business Class, even on an early Saturday morning.