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

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Transfer in Heathrow

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

Boarding

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

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

The Cabin

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

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The Crew

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

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The Meal

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

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Arrival

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Transfer in Madrid Barajas

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

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

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

Boarding

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

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

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The Cabin

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meal

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

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

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

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

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Arrival

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

Check-in

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

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

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

The Lounge

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

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Boarding

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

The Cabin

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

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The Crew

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

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

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The Meal

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

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Arrival

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

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Conclusion

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

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British Airways, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Basel to Heathrow

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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

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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.

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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.

KLM City Hopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Amsterdam to London Heathrow

Introduction

It’s 07h30 in the morning on Maundy Thursday. I’ve just arrived in Amsterdam on a KLM MD-11 from Montreal. I’ve decided to make the most of the long Easter weekend and visit Toledo in Spain. Of course the easiest thing to do would have been to catch a direct flight from Amsterdam to Madrid either by Iberia, Air Europa or KLM. But I’ve decided to go for something a bit more substantial, shall we say.

My first stop will be London’s Heathrow airport. The flight to Heathrow will not be leaving until later on in the afternoon. So I make my way to the luggage deposit area in the basement of Schiphol airport. Access to the area is via a lift or stairs located between arrivals halls 2 and 3. For one day of storage the charge is EUR 7.- for a mid-sized locker and EUR 9.- for a large sized locker.

With my luggage safely stored I head into town for breakfast at De Bakerswinkel. It’s a lovely bakery on the fringe of the seedier part of town, but don’t let that put you off. After breakfast I head for the botanical gardens. I need to walk and move a bit after spending 7 hours on the plane from Montreal.

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It’s a nice day here in Amsterdam. But it’s much colder than it was in Montreal.

Airline: KLM City Hopper
Aircraft: Embraer E-190
From: Amsterdam
To: London Heathrow T4
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 2F, window on the right side of the aircraft
Date: 28 March 2013

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Getting to the Airport

Just after 13h00 I decide to head back to the airport – I’m feeling cold. My next connection is by Fyra train. The Fyra is the fastest way to get to the airport because these trains don’t stop anywhere on the way between Amsterdam Central station and Schiphol. Subsequently the Fyra trains is subject to a fare supplement.

The airport has calmed down since the morning. As the United Kingdom is outside the Schengen area, I’ll have to go through passport control. In Amsterdam security for the non-Schengen flights is not centralised and instead there is a checkpoint at every gate.

From passport control I head for the KLM Crown Lounge. On my way there I pass Audrey Hepburn, the MD-11 that gently carried me away from Montreal and safely brought me across the Atlantic to Amsterdam. She’s standing where I left her this morning at gate E2.

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I presume she’ll be heading back across the Atlantic later on in the afternoon. As I stand there admiring her classic good looks, it suddenly hits me with a stab of regret that in all likelihood I will not get another chance to fly the MD-11 again. I know I’ve said so before, but this time I think it may actually be true. And so I bid my farewell. I think back for a moment on the fond memories I have of flying on the MD-11. And then I move on.

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The KLM Crown Lounge

The lounge is still quite busy when I arrive, so I resist the urge to take any pictures for the benefit of my fellow trip reporters. I manage to find myself a nice quiet corner, settle down and give my mum a call to let her know I’m back in Europe.

A cappuccino and some tasty spicy biscuits later and it’s time for me to make my way to the lounge for boarding. My flight will be leaving from gate D6. To reach D6 you have to take the stairs down from the main concourse level to ground level, which is also where the security check takes place. Behind that there is a whole series of gates that together make up D6 and which are designated with the letters of the alphabet. My flight will be boarding from gate D6-D. The designation evidently is a bit confusing and while the boarding process is going on, a whole bunch of people rush up to the counter for our gate, only to be informed by the gate agent that they still have loads of time and their flight will not be boarding from here anyway.

Here’s the view from D6:

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The Cabin

Eventually the packed bus whisks us away to our awaiting chariot. From the D gates it takes about 5 minutes by bus to reach the Fokker farm where our bird is parked. We pull up next to a lone Embraer E-190. I take my time getting off the bus as I want to take some pictures and I’m sitting in the front section of the plane anyway.

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There are three rows of Business Class. Initially I’m on 3D, an aisle seat. The window seat is occupied. I’m a bit surprised. I’m not quite sure whether KLM has recently made some changes to its seating policy in European Business Class or if perhaps I’ve just been very lucky so far. As far as I know, KLM normally keeps the neighbouring seat in Business Class free to give you more space. This no longer seems to be the case. As it turns out though, by the time the door is closed row two remains empty and so I quickly change seats and move to 2F.

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The cabin of the Embraer is certainly more modern and attractive than that of the Fokker 70, which really is getting a bit long in the tooth. In particular, I like the very elegant and simple shapes and lines in the cabin. I’m not really much of a fan of the seats on the Embraer though. As far as that’s concerned, the Fokker 70 definitely takes the biscuit. The pitch is fine, but it always feels like the seats are a bit too low above the ground to make for a comfortable ride. But today’s flight will only be 45 minutes, plus the fifteen minutes trek to the threshold of the departing runway 36L. I’ll survive.

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The Crew

The crew is an interesting mix. The two ladies in the cabin are both Dutch and very friendly. Actually I think I recognise one of them from a previous flight. The cockpit crew is one Englishman and a Scotsman with rather a pronounced accent. I’m not so sure how comprehensible his accent is to the international aviation community, but it certainly sounds cool.

Once all the passengers are seated, the crew come round offering newspaper. Their English selection is a choice of either the Herald Tribune or the Financial Times, both of which I’m not really keen on. Besides, the view outside is far more interesting I think. You know that song by the Talking Head? ‘We’re on a road to nowhere…’ always comes to mind when I’m sitting on a plane making the long trek to the Polderbahn.

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The Meal

Once we get airborne the meal service begins quickly.

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An amuse bouche of potato and shrimp salad with creamy Reypenaar cheese.

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A mixed salad with honeyed Goat’s cheese, beetroot and pumpkin seed, served with organic balsamic dressing.

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Assorted hot rolls.

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A vanilla mousse with green apple compote.

With that I have a still water to drink. In contrast to Economy Class, in Business Class you get the whole bottle to drink.

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As usual with KLM, the meal is very tasty and sufficient for such a short hop. It certainly beats Lufthansa’s ‘special moments’ offerings in terms of quantity, quality and presentation.

Coffee and tea are also offered – but I forget to take a picture.

Arrival

By the time the meal is cleared away, we’ve already started out descent. We’re early today and fortunately traffic is not too busy. So we only have to make one holding circuit before we are vectored for the approach.

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We land on runway 09R. T4 is deserted at this time of day, with only a handful of aircraft parked at the gates. As we round the corner, KLM’s previous flight from Amsterdam comes in to view.

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Transfer in London Heathrow

We deplane and I follow the signs for flight connections and T5.

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I’m rather surprised to find that I appear to be the only passenger on the flight who does not have London as their final destination. I walk straight ahead, turn left, down another corridor, turn right, then left again, then right again, then down the escalators until finally I am standing – all by myself – at the bus stop for the shuttle from T4 to T5. I wait for about 10 minutes for the bus to arrive. I am the only passenger making the journey, the bus driver seems surprised even to see just one person!

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The transfer takes 13 minutes to complete and offers some interesting views of the ramp and the extensive tunnel system under Heathrow. The whole ride has a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ feel to it. It’s really quite fascinating.

Conclusion

I like KLM. I have yet to have a bad experience with a KLM crew! My impression of the Dutch has always been that they are very pragmatic people, particularly when it comes to business. And I think a lot of that shows in the KLM product. Of course there are more polished offerings out there. Just to use the Amsterdam to London route as an example, BA will offer you a meal on a tray with metal cutlery and a proper plate – rather than presenting you with a meal in a box like KLM do. Nonetheless, the KLM approach somehow seems more sensible – to me at least – and I like that.