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

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

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Introduciton

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

The Executive Club Lounge

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

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

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

Boarding

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

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

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The Cabin

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

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

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

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

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The Crew

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

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

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The Meal

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

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

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The First Course

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

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The Salad

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

The Main Course

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

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Dessert

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

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

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

The Second Service

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

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

Arrival

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Introduction

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

Check-in

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

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The British Airways Lounge

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

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

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Boarding

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

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The Cabin

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

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

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The Crew

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

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

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

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The Meal

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

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

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Arrival

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

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

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Conclusion

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

British Airways, Club Class – A 319: Basel to London and beyond…

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Introduction

I spent all of last week commuting to the office by train. Every day, the same routine. Actually I thought it was quite exotic for a change. But today I’m back to the old routine. Exactly one week and one day after I return from London, I’m off again. This time, I’m heading for…eh…London again. In my defence, I shall only be changing planes in Heathrow this time. What’s more, at least I had the decency of picking another flight for the outbound than I did last time.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: BVB bus line 50
Departs from: Basel SBB railway station, by the main exit
Frequency: Every 8 to 10 minutes
Journey time: 16 minutes
Fare: CHF4.20, one-way
Link: Basler Verkehrsbetriebe – BVB

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To look at the amount of luggage I’m carting with me on this trip, you’d easily be mislead to think I’m emigrating to Australia. Not this time. But I will be gone for two weeks, and it is a business trip after all.

I catch the 05:35 bus. The passengers are mostly travellers with small carry-ons, gazing absentmindedly into their iPhones through tired eyes. Right opposite of me is a young couple. They look so sweet. I have no idea where they’re heading, but he is obviously very excited about the journey they are about to embark on. While she tenderly strokes his hand, quite obviously finding pleasure in relishing in his excitement.

Check-in

Location: Departures level on the first floor, Swiss side
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and baggage drop counters
Counters: Dedicated British Airways counters

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I enter the terminal and head straight for the British Airways counters. Somewhere in the back of the building I can hear a man laughing. But it’s not a normal kind of laugh. More like the insane, evil laugh of the Über-villain in a James Bond movie. And he won’t stop either. The check-in agent simply rolls her eyes and explains that he’s a regular. Charming!

Incidentally, the check-in agent is a competent young lady with excellent manners. She’s French and speaks very good English. She checks my suitcase through to my final destination, gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way wishing me a pleasant flight.

There’s quite a queue for security this morning, but fortunately for me the priority lane is open and empty.

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The Skyview Lounge

Location: Airside on the second floor, in the Schengen sector
Type of Lounge: Skyview contractor lounge operated by Swissport
Facilities: Washrooms, showers, public computers
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi; no password required

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There are two young American gentlemen ahead of me as I enter the lounge. Apparently they’re travelling on the KLM service to Amsterdam. One young man is granted access to the lounge while the other is informed that he will not be allowed to enter without a status card. The two young men deliberate what to do next, seemingly oblivious to me, waiting behind them. Eventually the guy who has access to the lounge simply says: ‘Okay buddy, I’ll just grab a bite to eat here and I’ll be outside in about 25 minutes. See you at the gate. Bye’. Well that’s not very nice.

I only have a cappuccino in the lounge, in anticipation of another one of those delectable British Airways breakfasts.

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Boarding

Separate queue for status and Business Class passengers

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Boarding starts exactly on time. I exit the lounge, turn left to the non-Schengen gates and passport control. I don’t know how British Airways does it, honestly. The cabin divider is pushed all the way back to the row behind the emergency exit, which makes ten rows of Business Class with a total of forty seats. And from what I can tell, there are no empties this morning.

There’s a bit of a hold up for departure. It’s quite misty this morning so arrivals and departures have had to be slowed down.

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: Standard European Economy Class seat with the middle seat left empty
Pitch: 34 inches
Width: 19 inches
Facilities: Overhead video screens, no audio outlet

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I’m becoming rather fond of these BA seats, I must say. So much better than those horribly thin seats most carriers seem to have on short-haul these days, that have your back aching and your butt going numb within minutes of sitting down. I still don’t know how I managed to fly all the way from Vienna to Larnaca in one of those. Yes, this is definitely so much better.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin this morning – the male Customer Service Manager and a young lady. Initially I don’t much like the CSM because his smile looks kind of put on. Later on though I realise I must revise my impression of him. It’s just the way he smiles and he seems in fact genuinely friendly and very customer oriented.

The Meal

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, slightly scented
Choice: English breakfast or a plate of cold cuts
Delivery: Tray service from trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware, hot meal served in tinfoil
Type of Meal: Breakfast, hot meal
Menu: No menu distributed

  1. Scrambled eggs
  2. Cumberland sausage
  3. Grilled tomato
  4. Bacon
  5. Mushrooms
  6. Bread and butter, marmalade
  7. Cereal bar with cherries
  8. Tea or coffee, a selection of juices and soft drinks
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British Airways recently revamped their catering concept and there now appears to be a choice of two different dishes for every meal service. Of course I go with the English breakfast, which hits the spot nicely. The scrambled eggs in particular are really excellent, with a rich, creamy texture and a sinful buttery taste. The coffee is still an abomination though…

Outside it’s a beautiful day for flying. Just as we reach the French coast the trays are removed and we begin our descent into Heathrow. Time to sit back and contemplate…

Arrival

Terminal: 5A, British Airways terminal – this is where most European flights arrive and depart

We’re treated to a beautiful approach into London this morning. We reach the city from the south east and then to a sharp left turn. As we come out of the turn I can clearly see the illuminated billboard on Piccadilly Circus. We then to another left turn to point us in a southwesterly direction, passing due south of Heathrow. We then execute a series of very gentle right turn until eventually we are lined up for a 09Left arrival.

As we touch down I spot three Cathay Pacific Airways Boeing B 777-300s. One of them is wearing the infamous and absolutely stunning Asia’s World City livery. Could this perhaps mean…hush my heart…hush…hush….

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What a babe…

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