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, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Basel to Heathrow

F_British-Airways-Logo

Date: 25 March 2017
Departure: 07:00
Arrival: 07:30
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A 319
Seat: 10A, window seat on the exit row

map.gif

This is more of a commentary than a trip report. At the beginning of this year, British Airways implemented a whole range of changes to adapt its business model to that of the low cost carriers by aligning its short-haul Economy Class product to that of the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair.

Seat reservations are only available at a charge – and they are not cheap, especially if you’ve set your heart on one of the extra leg-room exit row seats. Even with Executive Club Silver status advanced seat reservations are only possible against payment.

And then in January 2017 British Airways introduced buy on board food and beverages on short-haul Economy Class. The carrier has teamed up with Marks & Spencer, presumably hoping that the retailer’s excellent brand recognition will do something to offset customers’ undoubtedly frosty reception to buy on board service.

IMG_0001.jpg

There are only snack available really. Things like the plowman’s cheddar sandwich, chocolate bars, etc. And of course it’s really all very healthy. The prices are rather steep though. A sandwich will set you back GBP3, while a coffee is GBP2.80, which I find rather a lot.

I’m an old romantic at heart and I yearn for the good old days when hot meals in Economy Class were the norm and not the exception and were actually edible. Even so, British Airways’ move makes a lot of business sense to me. By reducing complimentary services in the rear of the cabin, the gap between the Economy Class product and the Business Class product is widening again, without the burden of having to invest in a costly upgrade to the premium product or cabin.

But of course the whole thing could also go horribly wrong. From what I could tell, on today’s flight not that many people ordered something from the buy on board selection. Unless British Airways can make this venture worthwhile for Marks & Spencer, it will probably not last very long. But we shall see.

WDL for British Airways, Economy Class – Avro RJ85: Zürich to London City

300px-WDL_Aviation_Logo.svg

Date: 13 May 2016
From: Zürich
To: London City
Departure:
17:05
Arrival: 17:55
Flight time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Seat: 11F – window on the right side of the aircraft

Prologue

Oh shit! I had really hoped I had seen the last of those god awful Avro Regional Jets. But by some cruel twist of faith it looks as though I will have to endure them again – hopefully just this one last time.

Check-in

Location: Check-in 2, row 2.
Facilities: Dedicated British Airways counters staffed by DNATA personnel in British Airways uniforms.
Counters: There are two baggage drop counters for Economy Class passengers and two counters for premium paying passengers.

IMG_0808

Check-in is also possible via the BA app, which works very well, or using web check-in.

It is just gone 05h30 in the morning and I am on my way to work. The train is just pulling out of the station in Basel when I decide to check my phone for messages. Oh crap (Did I just say that out loud?)! There is one message from British Airways, informing me that my flight to London will be operated by WDL, a small German charter company. The usual Embraer 190 has been substituted by an Avro RJ85. Well that certainly explains the rather odd looking seat map when I checked in yesterday using the app.

IMG_0807

The Lounge

Location: On the top floor of the E dock.
Type of Lounge:
Aspire contractor lounge operated by DNATA.
Facilities:
There are no toilets or showers in the lounge, from what I can tell. Or at least I could not find them. Other than that, there are a few magazines available and a few desks with power outlets to work at.
Catering: Sweet and savoury snack type food.
Internet:
Provided by the airport. The code is issued on request at reception, as you enter the lounge.

The Aspire lounge at the E dock is fairly new and rather elegant. Like all the lounges over in E, it has an excellent view of the apron, runway 28 and the central terminal area beyond. At this time of day, the lounge is pretty much deserted and there are only passengers bound for London, from what I can tell.

IMG_0815
IMG_0817
IMG_0818
IMG_0820
IMG_0821
IMG_0822
IMG_0823
IMG_0824
IMG_0825
IMG_0826

Boarding

Business Class passengers and Executive Club Gold card holders queue separately to the right of the counter, while Economy Class passengers queue on the left.

Just before boarding starts, one of the gate attendants makes an announcement to inform passengers that there is only very limited storage space on the aircraft and therefore, larger pieces of hand luggage will have to be checked in and placed in the hold. Of course, this does not go down very well with the high and mighty wannabes, who all seem to think their rather lame excuses for keeping their luggage are going to work. It is also a bit undignified to see a grown man sulking – ‘it’s not fair, his is much bigger than mine’. Guys, are we still talking about hand luggage here?

IMG_0830

The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The WDL website is amazingly uninformative. It is nearly as though they do not want anybody to find them on the web. In any case, the upshot is that I have no data about the seating capacity on their Avro RJ85 nor on the width or pitch of the seat.
Pitch: The pitch on this particular aircraft does not even feel that bad. When I am sitting upright, me knees do not touch the front seat and I can even slouch down and stretch my legs under the seat in front of me.
Width: You really need to like the person you have sitting next to you on this aircraft, because you are going to have them up close and personal for the entire duration of the flight – especially if, like me, you find yourself trapped in the window seat.

I would consider myself an averagely sized, adult male. Even so, I end up with my right shoulder jammed against the wall of the cabin and my left shoulder being given a free massage or a shove every time the big guy next to me decides to raise his arm to scratch his nose.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Warning: Rows 8 through 11 are located under the wings of the aircraft. The overhead bins on this aircraft are fairly old school and small. However, on those rows immediately under the wing the height of the overhead bins is only about half that of the standard sized bins.

IMG_0832.jpg
IMG_0833
IMG_0836

The Crew

The service is done be two young and friendly female cabin crew. They both speak excellent English but with a decidedly German accent. If I had to guess, I would say they are both Turkish. Just like WDL’s website and the white livery of its aircraft, the crew are rather nondescript. They have a run of the mill uniform and that is just about it.

IMG_0837
IMG_0843

The Meal

Choice: Yes.
Type of meal:
Dinner snack.
Meal:

  1. Bulgur and chickpea salad with falafel. From what I can tell, there are a number of options to choose form, because in some cases the passengers refuse the meal they are initially offered and are then given another instead. At least I presume it is different because otherwise they would hardly take it.
  2. Diet Coke.

It is really at moments like this that you start to wish the airlines would abolish serving food in Economy Class. Of course my luck will have it that I usually hold my fork in my left hand, despite the fact that I am left-handed, while the guy on my left holds his on the right. But eventually we still manage, by coordinating our respective arm movement.

IMG_0844.jpg
IMG_0845
IMG_0846.jpg

Arrival

Eventually, after about an hour of doing a pretty convincing impression of a can of sardines, we begin our descent into London City. We approach the city from the southeast and then turn west and then north to approach the airport from the west. We make our final turn onto the final approach right above the Shard, which looks close enough to touch from up here. And shortly after that we land. And I can finally get off the plane. Thank God!

IMG_0848
IMG_0850
IMG_0852
IMG_0851

Conclusion

And so I finally make it to London. In summary, the Avro RJ85 really is quickly turning into an old heap of junk. It’s not just that it’s tight in the 3 + 3 configuration, it just looks and feels very worn too.

Even so, I think British Airways were pretty good in a) that they managed to secure a replacement for the aircraft originally scheduled to make the flight, and b) the way they handled the irregularity by informing passengers both by SMS and, in more detail, by mail. Let’s face it, if this had been SWISS, they probably would have just cancelled the flight without really giving a shit.