Part 1: 8 Flights In 2 Weeks. Part 1: YUL-LHR & LHR-ATH (by kaneporta1 Apr 23 2012 in Trip Reports)
Part 2: 8 Flights In 2 Weeks. Part 2: ATH-LHR-BFS-BRS-TLS (by kaneporta1 Apr 28 2012 in Trip Reports)
British Airways flight 373
The final day of my 2 week trip to Europe started at 9am in Toulouse after a night out of drinking, spending time with my friends and sleeping nowhere near as much as I would have liked before a long haul flight. Still, after a nice breakfast and a nice cup of coffee I was good to head out to the airport.
Once again my friend offered to take me to the airport so we left her apartment just after 10.30am. The drive to the airport was short and we were at the departures level drop-off area of Hall C at 10.45, leaving me with 50 minutes to get to the gate. I said goodbye to my friend and walked in the terminal towards the BA check-in desks, located roughly in the middle of Hall C and close to where I used to check-in for my weekly flight to Filton during my Airbus days.
Check-in was completely queue free and I walked straight to the closest agent. My TLS-LHR and LHR-YUL flights were under different reservations but I asked him to check my bag through to YUL. He wasn’t sure if he could do it but a short conversation with a colleague and a few keyboard taps later and I was handed two boarding passes while my bag was tagged to Montreal.
Unlike my Airbus working days, security is now through the newly opened Hall D so I headed there through the futuristic looking oval entryway and joined the line.
For some reason there is always a line at security at TLS and this time was no exception. At least it moved at reasonable pace and about 10-15 minutes later I was past the metal detector and in the shopping area. As the minutes to boarding were counting down, I didn’t hang around there at all and continued walking towards passport control which can also have a long queue.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case and I continued my walk to the gate, the furthest away it seemed, without any delays.
I got to the gate about 5 minutes before boarding started and there were a few people sitting around there and some already forming a line to board. Must be seasoned easyJet travelers I guess…
Boarding was announced shortly after and after most people had gone through the jetbridge, I joined the queue. Boarding pass checked and down the jetbridge and into the A319.
I walked to my seat, 9F and sat by the window, looking across the airfield at the A330/A350 FAL and the engine test area. The legroom was pretty good to say the least and for someone my height, it is always appreciated. One noticeable difference between the BA A319 and the BD and U2 examples is the position of the armrest on the overwing exit door. BD have a rather big armrest that extends all the way to the seat back. U2 have much less space so the armrest is almost like a normal armrest on the seat. BA on the other have a rather small armrest which is a bit far forward and it is not easy to lean on the window side. Nevertheless, with that amount of legroom I can’t really complain especially for a flight of only 90 minutes.
A few minutes later another person took the aisle seat and soon after the doors were closed and ready to push. We pushed back and turned right, coming face to face with the tower.
We taxied towards runway 32R which provided some good views of the Airbus flight test area which include my first ever spotting of not one, but two A400Ms. Past that and right by the threshold of 32L is a nice collection of aircraft from the golden era of European aviation.
Takeoff was powerful, which was expected by a half full A319 and soon we were pointing towards the dark clouds covering Toulouse, while being blown around by the high winds. Thankfully, the cloud layer wasn’t too thick and we were above it heading northwest towards Bordeaux.
As we reached the top of climb at FL380, the cabin service began. Toulouse is a Band 2 destination so service includes a hot or cold beverage and some crackers or biscuits. I went for some tea and biscuits which was a pack of Rocky Chocolate biscuits. Very nice actually, although if I hadn’t had a large breakfast earlier on I would probably have needed something more substantial. But then again, for a 90 minute flight, it was just fine.
The flight seemed to be going on for a little longer that I remembered and a look at the moving map confirmed that we were taking a very indirect route initially heading west, then north and then turning back east.
Eventually we started our descend to London, again point the aircraft towards cloudy skies. At least this time there were breaks in the cloud enabling a few peeks of Central London, the Thames, the O2 Arena and the 2012 Olympic complex. Although we arrived over London during the afternoon rush hour, we didn’t have to do any holding, just a very long final approach over the city with runway 27L as our destination.
On short final we flew by the BA engineering base with a great display of past and present BA aircraft. Touchdown was smooth despite the gusty conditions at LHR and soon we were on our way to the parking stand. Unfortunately as we got to T5A, instead of turning right towards a gate, we turned left, away from the terminal and stopped at a remote stand.
As we were shutting down the engines I spotted the special BA Olympic colors A319 the “Golden Dove” approaching the terminal. It got closer and closer until it came almost next to us before turning towards the right direction to a terminal gate…
Everyone from our A319 got into one bus for the short 20 second drive to the terminal entrance. I still prefer the easyJet way, just walk, no busing…
We got into the terminal at the southern corner and as soon as I walked up to the arrivals level, there was a line of people, not moving. At the end of the line there were customer service people (not sure if they were BA or BAA) guiding people from our flight. Baggage claim, keep walking, flight connections, end of the line. I have never seen a line so long for flight connections and I’m sure it would have taken at least an hour and a half to get to the front.
Although I was connecting to a flight and although I had four hours to spare, I had no intention on spending half of that time in line. So I walked past everybody and straight to the e-passport gates. Once again, there was no waiting involved there and I was officially on British soil again, albeit only for a couple if minutes. I walked out of the arrivals area, got in an elevator, up to departures and through South Security which was surprisingly quiet. In all, it took about 10 minutes from the time I entered the terminal to the time I was past security and into the busy departures area of T5A. Not bad at all for me but BA and BAA really need to do something about the immigration and transfer lines at LHR and T5.
British Airways flight 95
After going through security I headed downstairs and to the Galleries South Lounge. I had almost 4 hours to kill so I was pretty confident I’d be able to get a massage at the Elemis Spa in that time frame, so south lounge it was. I normally prefer the north lounge as it is usually not as crowded and not as dark as the south and also there is none of the down and up the escalators nonsense…
Anyway, I headed to the Elemis Spa and enquired for a treatment, something that could possibly get rid of my headache. I was told that a facial would help and the next available was in an hour and a half. No problem, that would give me enough time to grab a bite, walk around and check out the shops and even catch up on my emails.
The lounge was extremely busy at that time and it was very difficult to find a quiet spot to sit down. Eventually I spotted a little table across from the food buffet, placed my bag next to it and headed to the buffet to help myself with some food, never leaving my bag out of my sight and hoping some unattended bag alarm wouldn’t go off all of a sudden…
By that point I was quite hungry but at the same time I didn’t want to stuff myself as I also wanted to enjoy the meal on board. I went for the chicken curry type option with some rice and a small salad to accompany it, while coke was the beverage of choice.
After finishing my lunch I wandered around for a bit and then it was time to head to the Elemis spa for my facial with my headache still persisting. After filling out the form to confirm that I won’t die during the massage and if I do, I won’t blame Elemis for it, I waited for a couple of minutes for the little massage room to be prepared for my arrival…
Indeed, after 2 minutes the therapist came to where I was waiting and asked me to follow her to the little massage room for my 15 minute facial.
While the chair was working its magic on my back the therapist was covering my face with something oily then creamy then a hot towel and so on. Not exactly what I expected and certainly not something to get rid of my headache. My girlfriend is a trained massage therapist and she gives a pretty amazing face and head massage and maybe she has set the bar too high. Oh well, it was not that bad actually if anything, I got 15 minutes to close my eyes and relax in a rather long day.
After having the glass of water that I was offered, I thanked the therapist and made my way to the very busy departures area. Although the gate of the flight hadn’t shown up on the information screens yet, I decided to head over to terminal 5B and wait in the lounge there as it is a lot quieter than the lounges at T5A.
I took the elevator and headed down to the automated people mover station. After waiting for a couple of minutes, the Bombardier Innovia APM 200 arrived and a minute later I was on my way to T5B.
T5B was very quiet, almost empty. I headed to the lounge and after having a delicious piece of cheesecake I decided to leave and find a spot on the eastern side of the building which affords great views of the central terminal complex as well as the 2 runways. As I was going down the stairs from the lounge I spotted an Iberia Airbus docked at T5A. The horror…
After watching traffic come and go for a few minutes, a heavy shower came over the airport which made takeoffs quite dramatic, with aircraft appearing through the mist as they were accelerating for takeoff and then kicking up a cloud of water.
Just as the weather cleared, the gate for my flight was finally announced and it was leaving from T5C. So, another trip in the APM for me…
I got to T5C at around flight time minus 1 hour, and again, I picked a spot for plane spotting until boarding was announced. T5C was also pretty deserted with only a flight to JFK departing while I was there.
Boarding for my flight, BA 95 was called around 40 minutes before departure. Since I was enjoying the outside views I stuck around for a little while longer keeping an eye at the gate, gate C62, for when the line of people was gone.
Around 20 minutes before departure I made my way to the gate, just as the last few people were boarding. After the annoying and in my opinion unnecessary questioning by some people checking passports and visas, I was on my way down the escalator and into the jetbridge.
Going through the aircraft door, I was greeted by the CSD and pointed to the direction of my seat, 11A, a rear facing bulkhead seat in the second and smaller Club World cabin of this 3-class 777.
I headed to my seat and after storing my roller bag in the overhead, I noticed how creased and dirty the seat was. I tried to stretch the fabric hoping it would get back to its original shape, but to no avail. Before selecting a different seat, I decided to try it out anyway, and thankfully it wasn’t uncomfortable at all, so I could remain in my favorite seat.
Soon after, the CSD came over, welcomed me back by name and introduced himself as Aidan. He asked if I wanted a pre-flight drink and I went for a glass of water. Soon after, a member of the crew came and offered an amenity kit as well as the menu for the flight.
From my window I noticed the jetbridge pulling away almost right at our departure time. Unfortunately, soon after the captain came on the PA and announced that we would have to hold at the gate for about 20 minutes for the backlog of aircraft to clear from LHR’s taxiways due to the earlier heavy shower that had significantly slowed departures. Oh well, there aren’t many places that I’d rather spend time during a Heathrow delay than Club World so no complaints from this passenger! During our wait, the map played a fast forward simulation of our trip to Montreal. It was entertaining to watch…
Indeed, 20 minutes after the captain made his announcement, we pushed back, started the engines and commenced the slow taxi to runway 27L.
It was still quite busy on the taxiways after the heavy shower with a lot of stops before reaching the threshold of the runway. That provided plenty of opportunities to take some photos of movements in LHR as well as the construction site that is the new Terminal 2.
Eventually we got to the holding point of 27L right next to a Singapore 77W. We were cleared for takeoff before him, entered the runway and kept rolling as power was applied to the RR Trent 800 engines of our 777.
We rolled past Terminal 4 which featured a selection of widebodies, we rotated in front of the BA World cargo facility and headed towards cloudy skies with vortices coming from the engine cowl vortex generators and condensation forming over the wings, making them disappear from view, save for the leading edge.
It took a while to go over the clouds as it seemed like there were a few layers above West England and unusually for a BA flight, the seat belt signs were kept on for over 30 minutes, compared to the usual 3 to 5…
We leveled off somewhere over the west coast of Wales and the seat belt signs were finally extinguished. Time to recline the seat, lower the footrest and relax.
The crew wasted no time either, springing into action immediately. Aidan, the CSD, was working my section and soon came by to ask how everything was so far and offer a drink and some nuts. I asked for tomato juice and his reply was, “Are you sure you don’t want some champagne or a cocktail?” I declined the offer and the next question was whether I wanted some water as well. I also declined but Aidan said “I’ll get you some water anyway!” At that point I started getting a good feeling about the crew and service on the flight.
While enjoying my tomato juice I browsed through the entertainment system, trying to decide what to watch. I selected Johnny English Reborn and started the movie. A few minutes later, Aidan was back to take my dinner order. I had decided on the beef for the main but was still clueless about the starter. But Aidan was there to help. He highly recommended the Cornish crab and although I’m not a fan of crab or seafood, I went for it.
He went back to the galley and moments later he was back with a tray containing a salad and the crab starter. He asked what I would like to drink and insisted I should go for some wine. I declined this offer and asked for a coke instead, as I wanted something to help keep me awake.
Once again, a few moments later and a glass of coke along with a glass of water were placed in my tray. I really liked his pro-active approach to service and it’s little things like this that make a big difference!
The salad was simple but very tasty but the crab starter was just delicious, one of the best things I’ve had on an airplane. I was really thankful Aidan had suggested it because I was leaning towards the other option.
Now, I have this habit that whenever I eat/drink in an airplane, after I finish I will stack everything as neatly as possible for the crew to pick up and store. I did the same for all the dishes and cutlery I used for the starter and salad and placed them on the tray table of the unoccupied aisle seat. When Aidan came to pick them he actually acknowledged this and commented that I was making their life really easy. He was the first person to ever notice this even though I’ve done this thousands of times. I still think it costs me nothing to make the crew’s life as easy as possible and it’s simple personal courtesy.
Anyway, soon after the dishes were picked up, another member of the crew came with the main, the beef steak in a mustard sauce. A few minutes later yet another crew member came for the second round of bread and almost straight after, Aiden was back with another can of coke. Again, the crew’s pro-active approach was very well received.
I continued watching the film while slowly going through the meal. The beef was cooked thoroughly, which is more than I like it, but it was still soft and tender. The sauce was very tasty and so were the accompanying vegetables. A very good main indeed.
The main dish and cutlery were quickly taken away and Aidan was back for my dessert order. And once again his opinion was required. Cherry chocolate drum or ice cream? “Cherry chocolate drum” was his reply. “They are delicious”.
Well, who was I to argue with the CSD? A few moments later the dessert was brought and it really looked good. Aidan leaned over and said to me “There is a bunch of these left and since they’re really tiny, would you like another one?” I replied that I would have the one in front of me and take it from there. Yet another drink was offered and this time I went for some water.
I tried the dessert and it was by far the most delicious dessert I’ve had in an airplane. A little later Aidan came back to pick up the tray and I took on his offer for round 2. I guess that by that time I should had expected it but when Aidan came back, he was carrying not one but 2 of these evil chocolate delights.
I had one more and then tried really hard, and succeeded in holding back and not have a third one. Yet…
A little later a member of the crew came by and offered me a bottle of water and cleared away the tray. I reclined the seat to almost flat and continued watching the movie. It was actually quite long but very funny.
Due to very strong headwinds, the flight time was going to be around seven and a half hours, almost an hour longer than usual, at least on the 777. During the winter, when the flight is operated by a 767 it takes about 7 hours and change under normal circumstances.
The longer flight time was actually not a problem at least not in the comfort of a Club World cabin with a superb crew. It seemed that every 15 minutes, a member of the crew would pass by and make sure everything was ok. Big thumbs up to the crew again.
After the film ended, I switched to the moving map and pulled the window shade up to have a look at the world outside. The sun was slowly setting and from my rear facing seat I could see the darkness behind us while the wing and engine leading edge was illuminated by the setting sun in front of our aircraft. Unfortunately, at that time, the battery of my camera started giving up its ghost so I didn’t take any more photos, saving the last electrons stored in the battery for the pre-arrival snack.
That snack arrived an hour and a half before arrival and it consisted of 3 mini pre-packed sandwiches and a caramel eclaire. Now, there are a lot of people who believe that offering a pre-packed snack in business class is, well, not very classy, looks cheap. I agree, but I also prefer it like this. Most times I’m too full from dinner to be able to eat it so I can pack it in my bag and have it when I get home a couple of hours later. I think it’s very convenient…
First thing I did is have a tiny bite of the eclaire. I wasn’t sure if it was chocolate or caramel and it turned out it was the latter. I’m not a fan of caramel so I was thinking about dessert options. I went to the club kitchen to see if there was anything left and as I was looking Aidan asked me if I needed anything. I enquired about any leftover chocolate cake from earlier on. His response, predictably enough, was “Yes, there are a few left; I’ll bring you a couple”. Once again, I had to have a mini argument (in the friendliest of terms) and convince him that one was enough...
I went back to my seat and a few seconds later Aidan was there with the dessert and a reminder that there are a few more left should I decide that one was not enough! That thing was so damn delicious that it took a lot of my self control to not ask for more.
I had two out of three sandwiches (not a fan of prawns) and the dessert and then picked up the tray and took it to the galley. The reason was that I wanted to get a landing card and a pen before the cards were distributed and everyone else asking for a pen.
One strange thing with BA is that Club World amenity kits do not have a pen included while World Traveler Plus kits do. I asked Aidan for a card and a pen just as he was about to start distributing them. His stack of pens was small so he kindly asked to return the one I used and I complied after filling in the information in my landing card. Since I was so cooperative he also asked me to fill a survey with some nice comments. At that point I told him that he and his crew were the best in a very long time, possibly ever and a well done was in order on www.ba.com/welldone .
He was very delighted with this, especially, as he told me that the flight before this, a trip to Dallas was one of those trips that everything went wrong. It was good to hear that it could at least be balanced with a trip that everything went right.
After I returned the survey we had a small chat on travelling, BA and a brief personal history to that point in time, heading to Montreal…
During this chat, the captain made his 40 minutes to landing call and that meant that the crew had to start preparing the cabin for landing as well as making various announcements. Just before we finished our conversation I mentioned about the arrivals chaos in Heathrow. He asked me to tell him the details so he could write it on the iPad. I offered to write it myself as he was obviously very busy in the last few minutes of the flight. He trusted me with it and I wrote down in detail everything I encountered at LHR after arriving from TLS.
As it was my first time handling an iPad, I did not turn it off when I finished, not knowing whether it would automatically save all I wrote.
Our approach for the evening took us to the south of Montreal before doing an almost 180 degree turn for our final approach to runway 6L. This meant that I didn’t get the usual view of the city of Montreal like I do when we approach one of the 24s.
Touchdown was smooth and around an hour and a half late, but taxi to the gate was long as we had to taxi back to the terminal building which is between the threshold of 6L and R.
We docked to the gate and the door was opened almost straight away. I was one of the first few people to disembark and at the aircraft door, I thanked Aidan once again for a great flight, returned the iPad and headed towards immigration. I was the first person to reach immigration, which at that time in the evening was completely empty and after going past immigration I headed downstairs to the baggage claim area. My bag was one of the first to come out and between touchdown and exiting the airport, it was no longer than 30 minutes. I headed outside the terminal to wait for my girlfriend to pick me up.
I have been flying with BA regularly since 1997 and one thing I have learned is to expect anything in terms of service. And by anything I mean that the service could range from awful to simply amazing. The flight from TLS to LHR, I would rate as average. Efficient, friendly but not too friendly, getting everything done as required. On the other hand, the crew of BA 95 were the most exceptional crew I have ever encountered in all my years of flying. Personally, it seemed like they were a step ahead in terms of anticipating what each passenger needed, and made sure that all passengers saw what “To fly, to serve” really means. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Aidan, who I guess was looking after my section of Club World, for being the most pleasant, hard working and pro-active crew member I have encountered.
8 boarding passes and a return bus ticket: