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, 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 – 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.

British Airways, Club Class – A 320: Sofia to London Heathrow

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Introduction

I rather like Sofia. It’s a bit hard to explain. I like that fact that it’s much smaller than Bucharest, so the place feels a lot quieter and more relaxed. Moreover, there is a city centre which has a very open feel to it. There are many large squares and grand boulevards lined with some very beautiful architecture.

The heart of the city is the Nevsky Cathedral, which dominates the scene with its golden domes. The cathedral reminds me a lot of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which is obviously much larger and older. Even so, as you step inside the Nevsky Cathedral you get a pretty good idea of what the Hagia Sophia must have looked like before it was converted into a mosque.

I spend Saturday walking around the city in the pouring rain. Of course it would be so much nicer if the weather were fine and you could see the mountains, but in the rain the city has quite an atmosphere.

And just in case you were wondering, the food in Sofia is lovely. On the Saturday evening I have dinner at a place called the Spaghetti kitchen, which is just around the corner from the hotel, in an area with lots of restaurants and bars. In any case, I can highly recommend the Spaghetti kitchen. The staff are a bit reserved, but the quality of the food is good. And the portions are rather substantial as well. If you have a sweet tooth, I’d go with the chocolate soufflé.

So before we turn to the flying part of this review, allow me to share with you some pictures of Sofia.

Nevsky Cathedral. This is the view from my room.
Nevsky Cathedral. This is the view from my room.
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The main drag with all the shops. So where are all the shoppers? This was taken just before noon on Saturday
The main drag with all the shops. So where are all the shoppers? This was taken just before noon on Saturday
I'm only happy when it rains, I'm only happy when it's complicated. And even though you can't appreciate it, I'm only happy when it rains (Garbage)
I’m only happy when it rains, I’m only happy when it’s complicated. And even though you can’t appreciate it, I’m only happy when it rains (Garbage)
The excellent Street bar and Co - really very friendly staff and with free wifi
The excellent Street bar and Co – really very friendly staff and with free wifi
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And now I think it’s to my for me to leave. I hope I’ll be back some day, preferably when the weather is better though.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Bus Nr. 84
Departs from: Sofia University
Frequency: More or less every 20 minutes, depending on traffic
Journey time: Between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on traffic
Fare: Purchase the tickets with the driver, if you can…

Sofia University Metro station, from where the bus for the airport leaves, lies in close proximity to Nevsky Cathedral and the Radisson Blu hotel. Theoretically you can buy your tickets directly from the bus driver as you board the vehicle. But he may not be in the mood to issue a ticket, in which case you travel for free, courtesy of the Sofia public transport system.

One of the city’s metro lines is currently being extended, apparently it should reach the airport by 2015.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 2
Facilities: Multipurpose self-service check-in machines, dedicated British Airways counters
Counters: Counters 30 – 34, with 33 and 34 dedicated to Club Class and status card holders

There are two terminals at Sofia airport. Terminal 1 is the original building from 1937, which has since undergone several renovations and expansions. Today Terminal 1 is home to all low cost carriers and charter airlines operating to and from Sofia. All other traffic uses Terminal 2, including British Airways.

I check in using the British Airways App. But apparently Sofia is not a mobile check-in destination, so I opt to collect my ticket at the airport.

The check-in counters and the ticket counter at Sofia airport only open two hours prior to departure of the flight, which means at around 12:30 – or thereabouts… It’s just before 12:30 when I arrive, I’m a bit early today, so I decide to try checking in at one of the machines. Just beware that if you check-in at one of the machines in Sofia, you will need to present the credit card with which you paid for the original ticket. Otherwise the machine will not check you in and you will be sent to one of the manned check-in desks.

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With my boarding pass in hand, I head one floor up to the security check and emigration. There are a few things strike me as being just a tad unusual here at Sofia airport. On the one hand, the facility looks fairly new and modern. At the same time though, the entire building is incredibly badly lit and the television screens hanging from the ceilings look like a relict from the 1990s, when the airport hadn’t even been built yet. The other thing that strikes me, is that the facility is nearly completely deserted. It’s just empty. But it’s not only that there are no passengers, the building is empty. There is a transfer desk with three empty desks, of which one doesn’t even have a computer, screen or a telephone. And there are just lots of empty spaces, where other airports would have long placed an averagely sized shopping mall.

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The Lounge

Location: After emigration turn right, it’s lounge 2
Type of Lounge:
Contractor lounge operated by Sofia airport
Facilities:
There are no toilets in the lounge, there is a limited selection of cold and hot drinks, cold snacks.
Internet:
Free wifi is available, with the longest password I’ve ever seen in an airport lounge

There are three lounges at Sofia airport. Lounge 1 is the Swissport lounge, which seems to serve Bulgaria Air and all the Star Alliance carriers operating into Sofia. And then there’s lounge 2, which serves everybody else. The other lounge is one floor down and appears to me some sort of arrival lounge.

The lounge is fairly small, but it serves its purpose. Theoretically you need a lounge invitation to access the lounge, which I don’t have because I checked in at one of the machines. But this does not appear to be a problem. The lounge dragon makes a quick phone call downstairs to check-in and subsequently welcomes me to the terminal.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight is announced 50 minutes before departure. Boarding announcements are made in the lounge. Keep in mind though, that Sofia has closed gates so in fact boarding simply means that the gate is open. Incidentally, should you suddenly feel the call of nature once you’re inside the boarding gate, there’s no need to worry – there are toilets.

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Boarding is a bit messy and there isn’t really a boarding call as such. Passengers requiring assistance and passengers with children are invited to board first, but this only results in a general scrum for boarding, with passengers allowed to board indiscriminately.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, the middle seat is left empty
Audio and Video: Video screens that drop down from the overhead bins, however these remain closed during the flight and are only used at the beginning of the flight to show the safety on board demonstration video.

The aircraft has your standard British Airways Club Class cabin and seat. But I notice that this bird has the new type of lockers for the overhead bins, so I’m not sure if this is just a newer addition to the fleet or if perhaps it’s an ex-BMI bird. With a flying time of three hours, there are also pillows and blankets at every seat in Business Class. There are four rows of Business Class on this today, and as fare as I can tell, all 16 seats are taken.

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The Crew

The cabin crew consists of four persons, three males and a female purser. All of them are slightly past middle-age. They’re not particularly rude, but they’re not exactly gushing either.

While we’re still on the ground, the crew distribute the menus for the flight and hot towels. The latter are rather flimsy, in fact they’re pretty pathetic compared to the plush ones I got on Air Serbia.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: No
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, before departure
Pre-meal drink:
Yes
Choice:
Chicken or seafood; dessert or cheese
Delivery:
traditional tray service
Appearance:
Like something the cat dragged home and spat out on the carpet
Type of meal:
Menu:
Menus are distributed before departure

  1. seasonal salad with olive oil and balsamico
  2. chicken, leek and mushroom casserole with roast new potatoes
  3. crackers and cheese
  4. ginger ale to drink

We begin with a drinks round right after take-off. I have a ginger ale, which is served with a packed of mixed nuts. I am reminded of Air Serbia, where the nuts are served warm and in a ramekin and by a friendly young flight attendant who addresses you by your name.

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The meal service is a bit strange. First of all, the meals have been heated up in plastic containers covered with tinfoil. The flight attendant asks me if I’m having chicken or seafood. I decide to go with the chicken. So she takes one of the plastic containers, removes the foil and spills the whole concoction into the ceramic plate on my tray. The procedure looks and sounds a lot like what used to happen to my cat Boozey when she’d had too much cat nip…

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But seriously, what’s wrong with these people? Of course, I know it’s a casserole and all, so everything is mixed up anyway. But on a flight with a block time of three hours, surely the flight attendant could have prepared the meals individually in the galley. Perhaps if she’d done that, the passengers would also have been able to enjoy their drinks with the meal, rather than after it, because she first served everybody their meal before returning to the galley and coming back out again with the drinks trolley.

Once the main meal is over, the dishes from the main course are removed. There is a choice of apple tart or cheese to end the meal. I decide to go with the cheese, assuming that this will be served, as announced on the menu, with crackers. I’ve already demolished the ones that were on the tray when it first arrived. But unfortunately I am mistaken – no crackers. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t occur to the flight attendant to offer me some more bread, despite the fact that the bread basket is sitting in the galley, still quite full – I notice it later on my way to the toilets.

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Arrival

Good heavens, the weather is really bad here and it’s only just before we touch down that the ground comes into view. I think I’m cursed or something!

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Most of British Airways’ flights – including the one to and from Sofia – arrive and depart from Terminal 5. There quite a queue for immigration, but fortunately I have a biometric passport, which significantly speeds up the process.

Getting into Town

Transport: Heathrow Express Train
Departs from: The basement of Terminal 5
Frequency: Every 15 minutes
Journey time: 15 minutes
Fare: GBP21 for a single journey, which is quite pricey for a trip of only 15 minutes

I take the train into London. The Heathrow Express has a very good app with which you can also buy tickets. You will receive an e-ticket confirmation by mail. In addition, if you’ve got passbook, the ticket will be saved in that app as well.

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The express serves Paddington station. From there you can connect onto the Bakerloo tube line, which takes you to the heart of the West End. I alight at Oxford Circus, from where it’s just a short walk to the Masala Zone restaurant behind Carnaby Street. I’m in the mood for a thali.

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

Introduction

Yesterday I flew with KLM Cityhopper from Basel to Amsterdam. I spent the day in Amsterdam walking around the city and enjoying (more) good food. And by the evening even the sun had attempted, if not succeeded, to make an appearance.

This morning I awake from peaceful slumber to the sound of heavy raindrops gently falling against the windowpane to meet their inevitable doom. The wind has picked up too by the sound of it.

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Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: A 320
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1C, aisle
From: Amsterdam
To: London Heathrow’s Terminal 5
Date: 27 December 2013
Departure: 14:55
Arrival: 15:15

Getting to the Airport

I check out of my room at the Conservatorium just before noon. The weather today is a complete contrast to yesterday and really quite beastly. By noon the wind is gusting and the rain is not only coming down vertically but also moving sideways to ensure that you get completely drenched within five minutes of stepping outdoors.

The tramlines two and five run from the stop right outside the hotel to the Central Station and take about 15 minutes to make the journey. From the main station I catch the 12:28 train to Schiphol, which takes 17 minutes to make the journey.

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Check-in

I checked in online using the BA app yesterday evening. However, due to the fact that my onward connection from Heathrow is not operated by BA, I am only able to obtain the boarding pass for the first leg to London. Therefore, my first stop once I arrive in Schiphol is the British Airways check-in counters. The friendly check-in agent prints the boarding pass for my onward connection, gives me instructions on how to find the lounge and wishes me a pleasant journey before sending me on my way.

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The British Airways Lounge

British Airways have their own lounge here in Amsterdam, lounge number 40. It’s quite a nice facility with a good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and typically English finger food – triangle sandwiches, crisps and the likes. The lounge is not too crowded. There is, however, one guy sitting in the corner munching crisps with his mouth open. I think I’ve seen cows ruminating with better manners. They certainly were less noisy…

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About thirty minutes before departure I leave the lounge and head for gate D26, from where my flight will be leaving today. The security check is quickly done and I arrive at the gate just as the first boarding call is made for Business Class passengers and status holders. Apparently the flight is rather full today, with one operational upgrade to the Business Class cabin.

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The Crew

There are three rows of Business Class on today’s flight, with one middle-aged cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. Once boarding is completed, every passenger is offered a scented hot towel. And shortly after they’ve been removed again, we’re already over the piano keys and lined up for departure.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign it turned off, the cabin crew spring into action. With a total of 12 passengers in the Business Class cabin and a flight time of only 50 minutes, I’m rather curious to see what the service will be like. But obviously we’re dealing with a pro here. With a happy smile on her face and a friendly comment for every one of the passengers, the flight attendant provides and elegant and unhurried service. On offer today we have:

  1. a selection of plain scones or sultana scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam
  2. finger sandwiches (ham and celery, salmon and capers, cheese and chutney)
  3. a slice of an excellent and very tasty chocolate and orange cake
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Arrival

Eventually, and without rushing, the trays are removed and shortly thereafter we begin our descent into Heathrow. Quite evidently the crew are quite surprised to inform us that there will be no delays or holding patterns, which ultimately means an arrival some 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

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I’m the first off the plane. Inside the terminal I follow the signs to flight connections from Terminal 3, which is where my next flight will be departing from.

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Stay tuned…