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 Executive Club Lounge
Getting into Town
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
CREW 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.
The fight time is announced as one hour and fifty-five minutes.
The service begins with the distribution of those flimsy little hot towels. After that, drinks are served with a small packet of cashew nuts.
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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 from 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!
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.
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.
On this leg I’m sitting on 62K, which is the window seat on the emergency exit of the upper deck. 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.
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.
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.
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 like 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.
Around forty minutes out of Heathrow the Jumbo’s nose gently tilts 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.
In my opinion there really is no 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 airlines are replacing their existing Boeing 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!
Date: 06. May 2017 Departure: 14:20 Arrival: 19:30 Flight time: 11 hours 10 minutes Seat: 62J, aisle on the upper deck
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. 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.
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.
There’s still some time to go before boarding begins as I approach 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 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.
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 in Club Class without the seat feeling cramped. I also think the seat is rather comfortable too.
But there are quite a few drawbacks. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The conference in Kuwait has gone well and our host, the Kuwaiti Directorate General of Civil Aviation has been very generous and hospitable. But now it is time for me to move on. I am not quite going home yet, but near enough. Today I am flying to Amsterdam via London’s Heathrow airport on British Airways, to attend a meeting in Amsterdam. On this occasion, British Airways offered the best schedule for my needs, mainly because they are one of the few airlines that depart Kuwait for Europe during the daylight hours of the morning and not at some ungodly hour, as for example KLM and Lufthansa do. Admittedly, the opportunity to get another flight on the mighty Boeing B 747-400 helped too.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Complimentary hotel shuttle. Journey time: Roughly 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
My flight leaves Kuwait at 08h45, so I have arranged to have a car collect me at the Hilton at 06h00, which should be enough time to make the journey to the airport. The traffic in Kuwait can be rather bad, despite the very good and wide roads.
Location: Check-in area 4 on the first floor. Facilities: Online and web check-in are available. Counters: There is one counter for First Class passengers, two counters for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class.
The driver drops me off in front of check-in area 4, which apparently is where British Airways checks in, although from what I can tell there is no signage to enlighten you to the fact. The departure concourse is only accessible to passengers, although by the looks of it there is nobody checking to make sure that this policy is enforced.
The two Business Class counters are occupied when I arrive, so I am ushered to one of the free Economy Class counters instead. The agent labels my bags with a priority and short connection tag and then I am on my way.
Behind check-in the bad signage continues. There is a dedicated security check for First and Business Class passengers, but it takes me a moment to locate where the entrance is. I am not sure what the point of this check is, given that the alarm goes off as I pass through the gate and nobody in particular seems to care. In fact, the guy doing the check is not even looking at the screen as my hand luggage goes through. I am hoping there will be a more thorough check before the gate.
Behind security is immigration and then, finally I am airside.
Location: As you exit from immigration, turn left. Type of Lounge: Pearl contractor lounge. Facilities: Hot and cold buffet, toilets are available but not shower. Internet: Free wifi is provided throughout the terminal.
The lounge is nothing special. It is large enough, but other than that the décor is rather bland and boring. The seats are covered is fake leather. There are a few waiters in the lounge, so you can either help yourself from the buffet or have them serve you at your table. Incidentally, the food in the lounge is absolutely atrocious.
About an hour before departure I have had enough of the boring lounge, and so I decide to head to the gate and hopefully take some pictures of the aircraft carrying me away to London. Kuwait airport has closed gates and I am happy to see that there is a proper security check at the entrance to the gate. The staff are polite but meticulous. There is a separate queue for Business Class and First Class passengers to enter the lounge.
It is only just gone eight in the morning when boarding for the flight already starts. I am still collecting my stuff after the security check. So I attempt to take a few decent pictures of the aircraft, which is not an easy task given the general grubbiness of the windows. And then I step aboard the mighty Boeing 747-400 and head for my seat on the upper deck.
Configuration: 2 + 2 on the upper deck, 2 + 4 + 2 on the main deck, there are 72 seats in total in Business Class. Seat: 63J, aisle seat. The British Airways cabin configuration in Business Class has seats arranged in pairs, with the aisle seats on the upper deck facing forward and the window seats facing towards the rear. There is a privacy screen which can be raised after take-off, so you will not have to look at your seat companion’s face for the duration of the flight.
If you are seated by the window, keep in mind that you will have to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat, which can be a tad awkward given that the space is really tight and you have to be quite agile to get a leg over. The nice thing about 63J, is that it is an emergency exit, which provides extra leg space and means you will not have a complete stranger clambering over you during the flight.
To be honest, the BA seat has never truly convinced me. Obviously the idea with this seat had been to recreate the feeling of being at home in your own comfortable armchair. And if that was the objective, then I think it is safe to say it was met. However, the seat is fairly low above the ground and there are quite a few elderly passengers on my flight who struggle getting in and out of the seat. It is also a bit inconvenient for eating in the seat. Pitch: 72 inches. Width: 20 inches. Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, touch screen. Facilities: A 110 ac power outlet is available at every seat.
There are two cabin crew serving the upper deck. The service begins with a choice of still water or orange juice.
After take-off, the crew distribute the menus, vanity kits and a flimsy scented hot towel. The vanity kit contains the usual creams by Elemis. There are also eyeshades, socks, a pen and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste.
Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice. Hot towel before the meal: Yes. Pre-meal drink: Choice: There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main course. Delivery: Trolley service. Type of meal: Breakfast.
Strawberry and mango smoothie.
Bircher Müsli with strawberries, kiwi and walnuts.
The meal is delivered at a good tempo. There is no rush, but there are no long waits in between the courses either. Once everything has been cleared away, the lights go out and passengers are expected to pretend it is night time, despite the fact that the flight left Kuwait just before nine in the morning.
The Second Service
About fifty minutes out of Heathrow, the second service begins, which is a kind of slimmed down afternoon tea. Choice: None. Delivery: Trolley service. Type of meal: Snack.
Turkey pastrami with Dijon mustard and gherkin sandwich.
Gherkin and roasted vegetables sandwich with cream cheese.
A hot leek and potato twist.
Trio of mango cheesecake, cherry Bakewell and chocolate and black cherry roulade.
Transfer in London Heathrow
Eventually the mighty Jumbo dips its nose and we start on our descent into Heathrow. We are running twenty minutes early, and no delays are foreseen for our arrival. We disembark at the C satellite of Terminal 5.
Transferring in Heathrow can be rather cumbersome. From the C satellite I head downstairs into the basement to catch the automated people mover to satellite B and the terminal. At the terminal you have to go through a passport check and then through security again. The process is very efficient. But with all the passengers currently using Terminal 5, it will still take you about fifteen minutes to get processed.
Once I am through security, I check the departure screen, only to find that my flight to Amsterdam will be departing from the B satellite. Which means I shall have to go down into the basement again to catch another train taking me back in the direction which I originally came from.
The Executive Club Lounge
Location: One floor up from the departures concourse, the stairs are near the Harrods store. Type of Lounge: British Airways Galleries lounge. Facilities: Hot and cold buffet with a large selection of food items, bar, toilets and showers, workstations, newspapers. Internet: Wifi is available, the password is indicated on the screens.
I only have a short stay in the lounge before my flight shows up on the departure screen as ‘boarding’. It is going to be a full flight today. There are five rows of Business Class with a total of twenty seats, all of which are occupied.
I will spare you all the details of the flight to Amsterdam, and will limit myself to the meal service.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes. Choice: No. Delivery: Trolley service. Type of meal: Afternoon tea.
Selection of finger sandwiches: egg, cheddar and chicken.
A selection of plain scones and lemon and date scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve.
Orange and hazelnut cake.
I just love BA’s European afternoon tea service, honestly. It is just so refined, especially when you are enjoying it above the clouds. And I must say, I really am impressed that Ba will even offer such a service, given that the flight time today is only 45 minutes.
Eventually we land at 16h39 and my long journey comes to an end, at least for the time being.
British Airways is an airline I tend to forget about. I suspect a lot of that has to do with their hub at Heathrow airport. Heathrow is always fun and impressive to see, but the number of passengers moving through Terminal 5 is just too much. The facility is crowded, and moving from the main concourse to the satellites takes seemingly forever.
But apart from all that, the on board experience was rather nice. The food on both flights was very good and the crews were very professional. The only thing I think I really will never get used to, is the Business Class seat.
Date: 8 April 2012, Easter Sunday Airline: British Airways Aircraft: Boeing B 747-400 From: New York JFK To: London Heathrow Cabin: Business Class Seat: 63K, Upper deck
It’s Easter Monday and the weather outside is simply stunning. So I decide to go for a long walk around Central Park. My hotel is right on 5th Avenue, between 42nd and 41st street. So on my way back I am able to watch the Easter Parade and some of the most outrageous hats I’ve ever seen!
Getting to JFK
I check out of the hotel at around 14h30 and walk with my carry-on suitcase ten blocks south to 32nd street and then from there across to Penn Station.
From Penn Station there are regular and frequent trains to Jamaica. The journey takes about 30 minutes or so, depending on the train your travelling on.
From Jamaica I catch the JFK Air Train, a fully automated thing that stops at every terminal at JFK. The first stop coming from Jamaica is Terminal 1. I am departing from Terminal 7, which means I get the grand tour of the airport and some exceptional vistas.
I even manage to get a close-up view of the legendary TWA terminal that is now part of the JetBlue operation in JFK.
At Terminal 7 none of the British Airways self-service check-in devices appear to be working, so I queue for check-in with a human factor. And why not, the queue moves quickly and the check-in agent is nice enough and checks me in all the way through to Amsterdam. And yes, I have a seat on the upper deck. From check-in it’s a short walk over to security. The screening takes place in a narrow corridor with quite an inclination. Which is inconvenient to say the least.
The British Airways Terraces Lounge
The British Airways Terraces lounge is enormous and rather full, which is also why I decide not to take any pictures.
The time passes quickly in the lounge and very soon I am heading down the gangway towards my aircraft. I’m greeted at the door and instructed to pass through the Business Cabin to the next galley and then from there up the stairs. When I reach the top, I am only the second person on the upper deck. The crew gives me a very warm welcome. And when they see me taking pictures, they ask me if I’d like to take one of ‘The BA girls’. Of course I do.
British Airways have an innovative seating concept in their wide-body Business Class in that the seats are grouped in pairs in opposing directions. On the main deck this means that they have as much as eight seats abreast. Nonetheless, there is enough personal space and there are privacy screens that can be raised to make sure you don’t have to sit through the whole flight looking at your neighbour’s ugly mug.
On the upper deck things are far more intimate, with only four seats abreast, two on either side. Due to the curvature of the jumbo’s hump, storage space on the upper deck is in abundance.
Service on the ground begins with the distribution of the menus, welcome drinks and amenity kits. They’re the same kind I got on the outbound flight (see my other British Airways post).
Take-off is obviously much louder and generally takes much longer than on The Speedbird One. Once we’re airborne though and settle into the cruise, the benefits of sitting on the upper deck become apparent and it’s quite amazing how silent it is up here.
After take-off orders are taken for dinner. Then refreshment towels are served, followed by the drinks service with nuts.
The First Course
Service seems again very professional and efficient. There are no table cloths, as is the case with Swiss or Lufthansa for example. Also, in contrast to the Speedbird One, on this flight there is no choice for a starter. All passengers get the grilled bell peppers with asparagus and gorgonzola cheese on a bed of frisée salad. Simple but tasty.
The Main Course
For the main course there are three choices. The fish is already gone by the time the attendant reaches me, but the steak and the pasta are both still available and so I take the pasta.
Warm bread is served throughout the meal.
Dessert is a rather tasty lemongrass cheesecake.
And finally there is also a plate of cheese with grapes and Walker’s biscuits.
After the meal I start to watch a film, but very quickly my eyes start closing. So I extend the seat into the sleep position and doze off to beddiebye land. The mighty Jumbo gently rocks me to sleep to the comforting hum of the four Rolls-Royce engines pushing us across the Atlantic.
The Second Service
I awake as the bright cabin lights are switched on again ahead of the second service. There are no refreshing towels before this service. But the offerings are adequate and sufficient, it’s a continental breakfast served with coffee and a smoothie. My only complaint is that the presentation of the fruit in a plastic cup is not particularly attractive.
The meal is perfectly timed and just as the trays are removed, Jumbo starts to slow down and shortly after dips his nose into the murky skies above London. Arrival is some twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
We park at satellite B, from where it’s a long trek up and down various escalators. There is a fast track through security for Business Class passengers, which is surprisingly efficient, especially seeing as we are, after all, in England. And very soon I find myself in the southern Terraces Lounge waiting for my onward connection to Amsterdam.
I like British Airways, I like the brand: from the livery of the aircraft to the cabin design and the very distinctly British touch of their service. I am also quite impressed with their operation. With my aircraft there were another three B 747-400s parked at JFK’s Terminal 7 and all of them would be leaving for Heathrow that evening, some of them was as little as thirty minutes between them. Heathrow may be pretty bad for congestion but Terminal 5, which British Airways calls home, is very pleasant. It has an open, spacious feel about it and distances are manageable. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high density of B 747-400s lined up next to each other – it’s quite a sight to behold.
I was rather tired by the time I boarded my flight to Amsterdam. So the last segment is not covered. But my spirits lifted after take-off when the smell of an English breakfast started wafting through the cabin…
As for The Speedbird One, I think British Airways has done an outstanding job and put a lot of effort into resurrecting something of what was special about travelling on Concorde. And indeed, the service is special. The seat, although housed in the much smaller A 318, is much more spacious than that in standard Club World as I experienced it on Jumbo. The brief stop in Shannon is much shorter than I expected. And that is a good thing, because Shannon airport is a drab, smelly old place.
And then I also visited the Intrepid and was finally able to step aboard Concorde to stifle, at long last, that curiosity that has been nagging at me ever since my childhood, about what Concorde looked like inside in the real world. I know now and I am content. At the same time though, having now spent a lot more time with Concorde and researching about her biography, it saddens me that she no longer flies and probably never again will. In all likelihood it will be another twenty years before the technology is available to make supersonic flights a viable option for the airlines once more.
A few weeks back I chanced to make the acquaintance of a man who was on the development team of Concorde, and I consider myself privileged for that. What this man and his colleagues achieved is an outstanding feat of engineering. This trip is a salute to all those people who were involved in the development of this excellent machine – an aircraft called Concorde.
There is no transfer area in LCY. So upon arrival I make my way through arrivals. I stop at the BA desk and ask them to remove the Hindu Meal from my PNR, then take the stairs one floor up, go through security again and arrive airside once more.
Date: 6 April 2012, Good Friday Airline: British Airways Aircraft: Airbus A 318 From: London City via Shannon To: New York JFK Class: Business Class Seat: 5J
I head for Gate 24, which is the dedicated gate for the JFK flight and has been converted into a sort of mini-lounge.
Gate 24 is equipped with thirty-two seats for the passengers of Speedbird One. The staff are all exceedingly friendly and lend the entire event an air of being something special. Is it just me, or is there really a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air? I sit down and try to calm down. A friendly lady comes to offer me a glass of champagne and seems almost disappointed when I ask for a glass of still water with lemon and ice. I busy myself with completing the immigration and customs forms for the US, more to keep me occupied and hopefully to soothe my nerves.
And then suddenly, out of the blue it comes. It’s so short I nearly miss it. But I do hear it! The gate attendant slowly opens the door and a breath of fresh, cool air floods the small area of gate 24. And then it comes: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, BA 1 to New York JFK is now ready for boarding’.
So here was are again, and I’m finally on board Speedbird One. Only three seats remain empty. First impressions of the cabin are very good. The first thing that strikes me is that there are no over-wing exists on this bird. This is cool. The atmosphere on board is very laid back and relaxed. I’m not the only one taking pictures. The crew are, like their colleagues on the ground, very friendly. I am asked if this is my first time on The Speedbird One. I confirm that it is and I am promised that I’ll enjoy the ride. I hope so!
On board there are only 32 Business Class seats in a 2-2 configuration.
There is a nice fluffy pillow and a blanket on every seat.
Departure is to the West. This will only be a short hop for the A 318. Our take off is pretty much what I imagine departing an aircraft carrier to be like: first the throttle is pushed forward, the noise inside the cabin increases and the aircraft begins to gently sway back and forth. But nothing happens until, suddenly, the breaks are released and we go thundering down the runway. What fun! It’s really quite amazing how quickly we’re airborne!
An aperitif and the starter are served on the short leg to Shannon. I’m looking forward to this and I’m already enjoying this flight a lot, even before anything much actually happens! And then that Hindu Asian Meal rears its ugly head again. I am brought a plate with two skewers of fruit. Fig, date and raspberry to be precise. I explain that the Hindu Meal is a mistake. But alas, the pea and marjoram pie I had set my eyes on is already gone anyway by the time the crew reaches row five. All that is left is the salted beef with tomatoes and a few leaves of ruccola. Oh okay, perhaps the skewers will do just fine after all…
To drink I have a Coke Zero with that. I know, an awful combination but what will you?
Service is efficient and friendly. The food is served from a lovely, large, round silver tray. And then it is already time to land. Just before we do, a member of the cabin crew comes by and takes orders for the main course on the next leg.
Immigration in Shannon
Immigration at Shannon airport is a strange affair, and rather depressing. The terminal looks shabby from the outside. And although it may look better from the inside, the deserted terminal does not in any way help to lift spirits. The derelict aircraft littered across the airfield and parts of what used to be the MALEV fleet do not help matters.
But at least they have a vending machine and I buy myself a rather overpriced packet of salt and vinegar crisps to keep me going until I finally get something on the plane. There’s even another mini lounge for passengers of the flight. The guy at immigration is friendly enough and we have a nice little natter as he checks my passport and visa.
The wait is not a long one and very soon we’re allowed on board the aircraft again to continue our flight to New York.
After take off from Shannon the amenity kits and iPads are distributed. The amenity kits are small and contain a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye shades, socks and ear plugs. Everything you need. And a few creams I don’t use anyway.
The iPads appear to be a newer feature. In fact the inner armrest opens to reveal a contraption that was obviously originally intended for a small DVD player to be mounted on it. But with the iPad it has become superfluous. The iPads come in a nice soft leather cover that elegantly converts into a stand. The film selection is not bad at all. The main feature is ‘the Iron Lady’ which I saw a couple of weeks previously when I was in Amsterdam. No matter what you might think or say about Margaret Thatcher, the film is absolutely brilliant. Or rather Meryl Streep is. In a way it’s quite as though she plays two roles in one film. There is the ruthless and ambitious first female British Prime Minister on the one hand, and a frail, sad and lost, pathetic old woman suffering from dementia on the other.
The Meal, continued…
The second service starts with another drinks round. I have a glass of apple juice. It comes with a bag of salty nibbles.
I am still haunted by the curse of the Hindu Vegetarian Meal. The salad is fine, it is quite large and has lots of ruccola in it to give it flavour.
The bread looks and smells delicious, with a hint of sage in it. But I have no butter. I have margarine. But one must look at the positive side. Normally I find myself deliberating whether to use the unhealthy but oh so lovely butter or dip the bread into what’s left of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. With the meal I have sparkling water to drink.
Then comes the hot meal. I take the fish and it is excellent and the mashed potatoes with saffron are a delight. Really, it’s one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever had on a plane. It’s remained moist and the breadcrumb crust on it is simply amazing and goes well with the dill sauce and the sautéed asparagus and carrots.
The Main Course
Dessert is a choice between a very lovely sounding raspberry fool with chocolate and other goodies or cheese with crackers and chutney. The Hindu Vegetarian Meal however, gets strawberries in a…ehm…strawberry sauce. I try it and decide to give it a pass.
Once the meal is over the crew remove the trays and place a bottle of water and a small bar of Lindt Milk Chocolate at every seat.
As large slabs of ice drift by 38’000 feet below, my contemplations shift to The Speedbird One. It’s rather difficult to describe the experience. Perhaps the most obvious thing to do is to compare the actual flight experience and match it against what I was anticipating it to be like ahead of the journey. For sure this is not a First Class experience, even if you earn First Class miles for taking this flight over the normal service from Heathrow. The A 318 is a very small aircraft and LCY is a very small airport and both have their limitations.
As for the fuel stop in Shannon, I think if you’re heading to New York or the States this probably is the most hassle free way to do it. But it also makes it more difficult for you to settle into the flight the way you usually can on a mid-haul flight. Because you know that in one hour’s time you’ll have to pack up everything again. But the immigration process is smooth and convenient and gives you enough time to visit the loos before setting off again.
And then there is the hardware. The cabin has a very fresh and attractive feel to it and the high back of the seat also makes it quite private. As for the software, I think this is really where the staff at British Airways excel and make the journey on The Speedbird One something outstanding and special. A journey to remember. I like it, yes. I will use it again, yes.
The Second Service
And now it’s time for tea already. And it is a very lovely affair. Egg and watercress sandwich, beef and tomato sandwich and a chicken and coleslaw sandwich, served with a plain scone with clotted cream, strawberry preserves, fresh strawberries and two small but very tasty pastries. And a nice cup of tea to go with that. The Brits have such refined habits!
Shortly after we already begin our descent.
That’s when one of the flight attendants comes up to me and asks me what I’m taking all the pictures for. I explain what I do professionally, about Concorde and The Speedbird One. She listens and then she leaves. A few minutes later she returns to tell me the captain would like to meet me after we arrive.
And indeed, when we do I’m the last passenger to deplane and as I do, the purser simply says ‘they’re expecting you’ and opens the door to the ‘office’ for me. That captain and co-pilot are very friendly and obviously very proud of ‘their’ aircraft. We chat very openly about their profession and mine and then, just as I turn to leave, the captain gives me the flight plan and a map of the North Atlantic with the route we took drawn on it. A souvenir he says, shakes my hand and wishes me Happy Easter. I deplane grinning inanely like some imbecile. How nice of him! This is the kind of behaviour I witnessed with all the staff on the ground and in the air operating this flight. They were all very professional in their dealings with passengers and all displayed the same passion for their job and for this little airplane in particular. Admirable!
Getting into Town
At JFK, British Airways operates its own terminal which it shares with some of its Oneworld partners, United and a few others. Having done immigration in Shannon, arrival in The States is a painless affair. Only 15 minutes after I deboard I’m on the air train taking me to Jamaica station, from where I take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan.
My visit to Concorde and the Intrepid museum was very cool. The tour of Concorde included a guided tour that even took us inside the aircraft to look around. The guide was a friendly enough sort, but not very knowledgeable about Concorde. But I didn’t mind, as I had only made the journey to see her again up close and personal.