This is an account of my journey to Chicago back in July on British Airways. On surveying prices from Aer Lingus, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways (among others) since February, it became evident that they would not fall below €750 round-trip This was one of the highest fares I ever paid for a peak-season trip to the Windy City and high above my record low of €450 with Continental Airlines back in July/August 2009, routing Shannon-Newark-Chicago (see trip report below). An EI/VS interline via LHR offered similar prices to BA but alas, I would lose a day in the States so BA it was. I had never travelled on BA before so I was quite looking forward to it.
I was dropped off at SNN at about 06:00 before my 07:30 departure to LHR, operated by EI under a BA codeshare flight number.
I one of the later passengers to check in and the queue was quite short for the EI desks, which were checking in the early-morning flights to Birmingham, London and Manchester.
DL was also check-in passengers for flight DL123 to New York, as well as United flight UA25 to Newark; Ryanair had just closed its bag-drop desk for flight FR102 to London-Stansted
After checking-in I headed upstairs for a quick bite from the Estuary Café before heading to security. As usual there was no queue and I was through to the departure lounge before I knew it. One of my disappointments today was that I would not be using the US Customs and Border Protection preclearance and would instead have to clear on arrival at O’Hare. The arrival of flight BA295 occurs at one of the busiest times of the day for international arrivals there and I honestly didn’t know what to expect in terms of how long the wait would be.
A quick wander around was all I had time for until boarding was called. EI uses Gate 4 for the morning LHR flight which uses dual boarding through both doors 1L and 2L of the A320. As a result, it was a swift process done in about 15 minutes – boarding for rows 1-22 was done through 1L and all other rows through 2L. I was in 26F so boarded through the back door. I was one of the last on and was at my seat at 07:14. The doors were closed at 07:16 and Captain Aidan Bergan gave his pre-flight welcome briefing.
Date Tuesday, 24th July 2012 Airline British Airways* Flight BA5881* Aircraft Airbus A320 Tail No. EI-DEJ Aircraft Name St. Cillian/Cillian Scheduled Departure 07:30 IST Actual Departure 07:20 IST Departure Terminal & Gate Gate 4 Departure Taxi Route A, RWY06 Weather at Departure Overcast, winds SE Scheduled Arrival 09:00 WET Actual Arrival 08:38 WET Arrival Terminal & Gate Terminal 1, Gate 82 Arrival Taxi Route RWY27L, N6, E, A, Link 12 Weather at Arrival Clear skies, mild, winds S Class – Seat No. 26F Captain Aidan Bergan First Officer (N/A) Cabin Manager Geraldine Lynch Actual Flight Time 1 hour, 18 minutes
*Operated by Aer Lingus
A company Airbus A330-200 (EI-DUO, “St Columba”) parked at Gate 109 which would later depart as flight EI135 to Boston
The captain’s estimated flight time was one hour. We were pushed back from the stand at 07:20 and the crew did their manual safety demonstration. After the engines were started, we began taxiing towards Runway 06 at 07:23.
We did not backtrack RWY06 and still had plenty of runway from the Alpha intersection. Takeoff was at 07:26. The flaps were retracted completely at 07:29.
The weather improved dramatically en route – from overcast to clear skies over the Irish Sea! There were four cabin crew on duty – of which I recognised two from previous flights. EI have a cabin crew base at SNN and these alternate between JFK, BOS and LHR flights. The load factor for this flight was about 80%. SkyDeli and SkyShopping services were offered, beginning just before we levelled out at cruising altitude. These services proved very popular with passengers and it wasn’t long before our descent began at 08:06.
At 08:15 came another briefing from the flight deck; we were now at 10,000 feet and our flight was placed in a holding pattern to the south of LHR and would last for 10 or 15 minutes before the final approach. We made a series of clockwise turns and I spotted Gatwick Airport at one stage!
Final approach was called at 08:31 and we were on the ground at 08:33. The flight was very smooth from start to finish.
Two Qantas Airways A380s at remote stands. They would later go out as QF2 to Sydney via Singapore and QF10 to Melbourne via Singapore that night
One of the many American Airlines 777s on the ground this morning
An EI A320 (EI-DEO, “St Senan”), which arrived from Cork as flight EI710 moments before us
The EI A321 (EI-CPH, “St Dervilla”) to the left recently arrived from Dublin as flight EI154
A Lufthansa A320 arriving as flight LH902 from Frankfurt-FRA
A Germanwings A319 arriving as flight 4U460 from Cologne/Bonn
We stopped at the gate at 08:38, 22 minutes ahead of schedule. An announcement was made around this time that all passengers staying in London or connecting to a flight within Terminal 1 should disembark through the front of the aircraft and all connecting passengers via other terminals should remain in their seats as these would be disembarking via the back door – but only after the London-bound passengers were off the aircraft first. I noticed the back door (2L) was also being opened now and an airstairs was being positioned into place.
Roughly half the passengers disembarked and a few passengers around me (obviously connecting as well because they weren’t budging) started getting rowdy. They called one of the cabin crew and asked if they could leave now as they had a tight connection. The FA politely told them to be patient and assured them this system would be the quickest way to make their connection. EI now uses modern chart hits for pre-takeoff and after-landing music.
We were given the all clear and began filing to the back to disembark. A waiting bus would take us directly to the Flight Connections centre.
The EI A319 (EI-EPS, “St Fergus”) pulled onto the adjacent stand just after our flight finishing flight EI30 from Belfast-BFS
The bus journey to Flight Connections took about 10 minutes, weaving around the Terminal 2 construction. Flight Connections itself is located within Terminal 1. When we got there, there was a “gate” for each of Terminals 3, 4 and 5. I sat next to the Terminal 5 gate where the information screen said the next bus would arrive in three minutes. When it arrived, I got on board with a few others and again travelled around the airport in a slightly longer journey.
A Singapore Airlines A380 at Terminal 3 preparing for departure back out to Singapore as flight SQ317
An Iberia A321 at Terminal 5 which arrived earlier from Madrid as flight IB3170
The bus came to a halt and I walked inside Terminal 5 for the first time. I followed the crowd and purple “Flight Connections” signs towards security re-screening. Because I arrived from Ireland, I would not pass through the UK Border inspection as Ireland and the UK have a Common Travel Area. I followed the signs for UK/Ireland connections which directed me away from this area.
I now had to queue up to have my passport and LHR-ORD boarding pass inspected (which was given to me at SNN on an EI-branded boarding pass showing the BA flight number). After this, I had to ascend an escalator towards security screening and then I was in the huge departure lounge of T5A.
I find T5A is like most other UK airline terminals where there are possibly more shops and concession outlets than departure gates (even a special London 2012 shop), a shortage of places to sit, and no gate information until about an hour before the flight departure time. The only difference here is it is a lot more bright and airy with good views of the aprons and runways. Terminal 5 is divided into three satellite piers (T5A, T5B and T5C), connected by an underground train and walkway. Signs tell passengers that they cannot return to T5A if they go to B or C; in other words, make sure you have the correct departure gate! Terminal 5 is rather boring in the sense that its sole occupants are BA and IB. Nonetheless, I walked around to see what I could find.
From the looks of things, all BA and IB shorthaul flights arrive and depart T5A while longhaul flights arrive and depart T5B and T5C. The latter two were filled exclusively with 747s and 777s! At 10:50, the departure board showed BA295 as departing from Gate B42 in T5B – so off I popped to the train that would take me there. Trains run every few minutes and are fairly high-speed so I was at the B concourse in a matter of minutes.
The Boeing 777-200ER that would operate my flight, G-YMMG parked at Gate B42
Very long airbridges here…
There were no shops or restaurants here – hence why the BAA keep you in T5A. This section of the terminal gives something of a 360° view of ops out on the field though. Boarding began at 11:10 with First and passengers needing assistance, followed by Club World and high status members of the Executive Club, then World Traveller and World Traveller Plus according to seat row.
On the airbridge was a stand of complimentary Daily Mail newspapers where passengers were invited to take one. Nice touch I thought.
I made it onboard at 11:43 with only four minutes to spare before pushback! Many people were still in the aisles stowing luggage when we began moving.
The Club World cabin
Date Tuesday, 24th July 2012 Airline British Airways Flight BA295 Aircraft Boeing 777-236ER Tail No. G-YMMG Aircraft Name – Scheduled Departure 11:45 WET Actual Departure 11:47 WET Departure Terminal & Gate Terminal 5, Concourse B, Gate B42 Departure Taxi Route C, A, A3, RWY27R Weather at Departure Clear, warm, winds S (light) Scheduled Arrival 14:15 CDT Actual Arrival 14:26 CDT Arrival Terminal & Gate International Terminal 5, Gate M12 Arrival Taxi Route RWY10, M3, M, ZY, D3, Intl. Taxiline Weather at Arrival Mostly sunny, winds SE Class World Traveller Seat No. 31K Captain Jonathan Stone First Officer Martin Dwyer Cabin Manager Gemma Stockley Actual Flight Time 8 hours, 39 minutes
I find the low-density seating configuration of BA’s 777s interesting. First class is located between Doors 1 and 2, Club World and World Traveller Plus between 2 and 3 and World Traveller between 3 and 4. So ¾ of the aircraft is occupied before eventually coming to economy section. Must be too many years flying EI longhaul…
The seating layout for World Traveller is 3-3-3 so I was seated next to two people I didn’t know; and I don’t think they knew each other either – if they did, they weren’t on talking terms that day…
We began taxiing at 11:52 – I still couldn’t believe how fast we were on our way after the last passenger was loaded and the door was shut. During engine startup the captain gave a nice welcome and introduced his crew for today. He gave the usual details on routing, weather and the like. The flight was packed with a 100% load factor in WT, 100% in WT+, CW was quite full too and I didn’t get a look at the F cabin.
At 12:06 the captain came on again to inform us that due to runway congestion, our takeoff would be delayed by 10 or 15 minutes. No problem with me, more movements to take in.
An Air Canada 77W en route to Toronto-YYZ as flight AC857
…and its younger cousin, an A319, which would later depart for St. John’s as flight AC823
Aer Lingus flight EI159 departing for Dublin
An Aegean Airlines A320 departing for Larnaca as flight A3759
An Air New Zealand 77W in the All Blacks livery parked at Terminal 1 having recently performed flight NZ2 from Auckland via Los Angeles
Complimentary British Airways pillow – part of an amenity kit that was at my seat when I boarded
A Swiss International Air Lines A319 bound for Geneva as flight LX351; an EI A320 parked remotely behind it
A United Airlines 772 operating flight UA919 to Washington-IAD
We eventually made it to the runway after being 5th or 6th in line according to Captain Stone and takeoff was at 12:17 with gentle swerves to keep to the centreline.
After takeoff the cabin manager (or as BA prefer to call them, “Customer Service Representatives”) introduced herself and welcomed us aboard. She advised that drinks would be served in about an hour’s time. Meanwhile as we climbed to 36,000 feet I settled down with my copy of the Daily Mail for some light reading. The inflight entertainment system, “High Life” was then presented to us on the screen in front. It’s a regular audio/video on demand system.
Served shortly after leaving the west coast of Ireland – alcoholic drinks are complimentary, however I decided to save myself the potential embarrassment of being asked for ID. Although I’m 21, I still look about 17/18. This will stand to me in years to come though…
The rubbish was collected with a big smile from the flight attendant and I watched some TV on the AVOD system. It would be another hour and a bit before dinner was served which I found a little unusual in comparison to EI and UA transatlantic.
An announcement came that dinner was en route. I had eaten at LHR as I do not believe in plane food. I was in for quite a surprise! They did not announce our options so I asked when the trolley came – either chicken stew or vegetarian tortiglione. I chose the latter and it was well presented, once again with a smile. I tasted it and couldn’t believe it. It was actually…good! Very good, in fact. A far cry from the rubbery stuff served on other airlines. Would I be exaggerating in saying it almost of restaurant quality?! I think not. I ate the whole thing and I was even more surprised at the quality of the dessert.
I love how the Kerrymaid butter was added!
On my tray I found a note from BA explaining that they are trialling this new, higher quality food on flights from Heathrow to Chicago, Dubai and Tokyo. I was asked to give my opinion online when I landed for a chance to win an iPad. Well done BA. The food was outstanding. Also, compliments to the cabin crew who were visibly working very hard to ensure everyone was enjoying their food and flight.
I rested for a while and woke up during a period of moderate turbulence over the Labrador Sea. We encountered a few steep drops and jumps during this time but it passed after a few minutes. Even still, the captain seemed reluctant to illuminate the fasten-seat-belts sign. The crew came around offering water and juice to passengers over the course of the flight – again, a nice touch that I have not come across before.
Around 13:00 CDT, snack packs and tea/coffee/drinks were distributed. This consisted of a chicken Caesar wrap, a smoothie and a Dairy Milk chocolate bar. Very nice, I must say.
We were now flying over northern Michigan, just after crossing the Canadian/US border
At 13:35 CDT, Captain Stone announced that we’d just begun our descent into Chicago. He mentioned that we would overfly O’Hare, out over Chicago’s west suburbs before making a 180° turn to land facing east. Around now, the skies started to darken and it got quite turbulent as we crossed over Lake Michigan. Some sharp, sudden “drops” in altitude were felt causing some passengers to shriek.
At 13:51, the “20 minutes to landing” call came from the flight deck.
Chicago’s northern suburbs, just after crossing Lake Michigan
We made our turn over the far west suburb of St. Charles, just as the north central Illinois plains came into view. The cabin manager thanked the rest of the cabin crew for their service and instructed them to take their seats for landing.
At 14:18 came the final approach announcement and the autopilot was disengaged around now – it was quite noticeable!
We landed smoothly on the pavement of Runway 10 at 14:21. We then taxied to our stand at Gate M12.
A VS A340-600 which beat us from LHR as flight VS39 and an AeroMexico 737-700 getting ready for pushback to Mexico City as flight AM687
A UA 767-300ER preparing to be towed over to Terminal 1 following its earlier arrival from Paris-CDG as flight UA943; beside it, a UA 747-400 in Star Alliance colours which arrived moments before us as flight UA882 from Singapore via Tokyo
A Swiss International Air Lines A330-300 parked at Gate M13 preparing for departure as flight LX2609 to Zurich – the first of two LX flights to ZRH that day
We came to a final halt at 14:26, 11 minutes late. The captain spoke one final time now, welcoming us home or telling us to enjoy or holiday, whichever applied. He was also standing at the door as we disembarked which was nice.
Club World cabin on leaving
Now came the part I was dreading – the queue for immigration inspection. As I mentioned earlier, this was the busiest time of the day for international arrivals at ORD with the following other flights arriving during the period 13:00-14:30:
UA973 Brussels (767-300ER)
UA909 Amsterdam (767-300ER)
UA943 Paris (767-300ER)
AM686 Mexico City (737-700)
AZ628 Rome (767-300ER)
CX806 Hong Kong (777-300ER)
UA882 Tokyo/Singapore (747-400)
VS39 London (A340-600)
KL611 Amsterdam (747-400M)
IB6725 Madrid (A340-600)
AA41 Paris (767-300ER)
Low and behold, there was no line for the US passport queue and just a small one for the non-US citizen queue! I was delighted and through to baggage claim in no time at all! Maybe the rumours I had been hearing were exaggerated slightly
I collected by bag and was welcomed by my extended family and shortly afterwards I was relaxing back at the house in the Far North Side neighbourhood. I did catch a 24-hour vomiting bug the day after I landed which I attribute now to the flight over. But I guess that could happen after any flight! On the whole, I was very impressed with the level of service BA offered and would gladly fly them again. The flight and cabin crews deserve a lot of credit for the hard work they put in – at the end of the day, I think it’s them that have the most influence on how much you enjoy your flight.
The return journey (BA294/BA5881 ORD-LHR-SNN) is still to come. Thanks for reading.
817Dreamliiner From Montserrat, joined Jul 2008, 2757 posts, RR: 2
Reply 1, posted (2 years 2 months 2 weeks 10 hours ago) and read 20210 times:
Im glad you enjoyed your flight with BA, they are always my first choice airline That food offering looks pretty good, especially the dessert! I wish they served that on my flight with them in September. looking forward to the return
lychemsa From United States of America, joined Oct 2009, 1313 posts, RR: 3
Reply 5, posted (2 years 2 months 1 week 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 20212 times:
I find the food on British Airways always good. I wish American would follow BA's example. The legroom though is tight. And their so called Free tickets in the Avios Program are a joke; $600 for a roundtrip.
I also found the food on Aer Lingus to New York good.
I39OO From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2012, 90 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (2 years 2 months 1 week 6 days 12 hours ago) and read 20212 times:
It's been an interesting read, thanks a lot for sharing. I love the way you point out the incoming flight number of every plane you happen to spot, that's impressive! (I wouldn't have a clue).
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): On surveying prices from Aer Lingus, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways (among others) since February, it became evident that they would not fall below €750 round-trip
APD effect I guess...
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): A company Airbus A330-200 (EI-DUO, “St Columba”) parked at Gate 109 which would later depart as flight EI135 to Boston
Appropriate name for her, St Columba was quite a serious globetrotter in his day and age, wasn't he?
That's probably the only time this year I've heard or read such a sentence referred to a fly in or out of London. My old man came to visit some time ago and his first words once out at arrivals was "F............g hell wasn't that bumpy!"
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): I noticed the back door (2L) was also being opened now and an airstairs was being positioned into place.
I believe it's the cleaners.
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): There were no shops or restaurants here – hence why the BAA keep you in T5A. This section of the terminal gives something of a 360° view of ops out on the field though.
Really? There's a Wetherspoons (which can't really be called "restaurant, I agree) and an Apostrophe branch, plus the usual Boots and the duty free. Yes, it's not the Ritz but... it's better than T5C!
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): An announcement came that dinner was en route. I had eaten at LHR as I do not believe in plane food. I was in for quite a surprise! They did not announce our options so I asked when the trolley came – either chicken stew or vegetarian tortiglione. I chose the latter and it was well presented, once again with a smile. I tasted it and couldn’t believe it. It was actually…good! Very good, in fact.
Same here. I've broken my golden rule on the NRT-LHR not to eat pasta and it was actually a good one.
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): On my tray I found a note from BA explaining that they are trialling this new, higher quality food on flights from Heathrow to Chicago, Dubai and Tokyo.
Mh, quite looking forward to try them out. Did they mention whether the new food was just on Y or also on other classes?
MSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2474 posts, RR: 14
Reply 8, posted (2 years 2 months 1 week 5 days 10 hours ago) and read 20210 times:
Amazing trip report, thanks for sharing it with us!
I'm glad you enjoyed British Airways! Haven't flew them yet but based on the report they look rather average IMO.
Catering and seating wise they certainly don't look better than the better US-carriers (PMCO, Air Canada, Delta,...)
IFE looks outdated as well
Looking forward to the next
Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
aerdingus From Ireland, joined Dec 2006, 2938 posts, RR: 16
Reply 9, posted (2 years 2 months 1 week 1 day 10 hours ago) and read 19936 times:
Strange to see you posting a BA trip report to the States! Did you ever find yourself wanting to be on a green A330 instead? But at least you got a good fare & the chance to try BA. World Traveller is great for hops to the USA, but to Asia it´s a bit of a killer....
Nice report & pics, go raibh maith agat!
Cabin crew blog http://dolefuldolegirl.blogspot.ie/
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): Served shortly after leaving the west coast of Ireland – alcoholic drinks are complimentary, however I decided to save myself the potential embarrassment of being asked for ID. Although I’m 21, I still look about 17/18. This will stand to me in years to come though…
I think crew very rarely ID people, even on US bound flights. And you had your passport with you...you should have gone for one!
Mmm...partly! The airport departure tax in Ireland is nothing compared to what UK passengers pay so only SNN-LHR-ORD and SNN-MAN-ORD fares with BA and AA would have impacted here. I did have the choice of taking EI/B6 via BOS, DL via JFK and UA via EWR as well but alas, BA surprisingly worked out cheapest!
Quoting I39OO (Reply 6): Really? There's a Wetherspoons (which can't really be called "restaurant, I agree) and an Apostrophe branch, plus the usual Boots and the duty free. Yes, it's not the Ritz but... it's better than T5C!
Oh really? Didn't notice. I really wish I had more time to look around T5B.
Quoting I39OO (Reply 6): Did they mention whether the new food was just on Y or also on other classes?
Yes, it was just World Traveller and World Traveller Plus.
Quoting jwhite9185 (Reply 7): Seems that the new BA meal offerings are very similar to what I experienced on VS back in September - Small!
In terms of quantity I found them on par with EI, UA and AF. It did fill me anyway I must admit.
Quoting MSS658 (Reply 8): I'm glad you enjoyed British Airways! Haven't flew them yet but based on the report they look rather average IMO.
Catering and seating wise they certainly don't look better than the better US-carriers (PMCO, Air Canada, Delta,...)
IFE looks outdated as well
I think you'd be surprised! the economy products of transatlantic carriers are very similar so it's the little things that make a big difference I think.
Quoting aerdingus (Reply 9): Strange to see you posting a BA trip report to the States! Did you ever find yourself wanting to be on a green A330 instead? But at least you got a good fare & the chance to try BA. World Traveller is great for hops to the USA, but to Asia it´s a bit of a killer....
Do you know, I wasn't too bothered about it not being EI to be honest? I flew them BOS-SNN in June so the withdrawals hadn't kicked in then! I was glad to try a new airline though. I can imagine the legroom getting to me for Asia flights alright.
Quoting gabrielchew (Reply 10): I'm flying my first EI sector next week after a break of many years...looking forward to comparing them to FR.
I think you will find that they are called "Cabin Service Managers". Your ORD flight is operated by BAs new "Mixed Fleet" cabin crew. Crew on new cheaper terms and conditions.
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Thread starter): It would be another hour and a bit before dinner was served which I found a little unusual in comparison to EI
Hmm, very unusual for BA. The WT bar round on average is usually started within 30 minutes of take off if not sooner with the meal service out within 60 minutes (give or take) assuming the bar round is complete. I know they do things a little different on MF however.
Quoting Carfield (Reply 4): Wow the new improved World Traveller product is very nice. I hope they will consider this new meal service.
The separate dessert service is nice too.
I operated this service on a DXB and I must admit I thought it was appalling in comparisons to the current offering. Firstly the removal of the starter is a major disappointment. The hot meal is much smaller and more "plastic". If BA are good at one thing its the catering out of LHR but I found the new product to be inferior. Also the desert seems to have shrunk also.
However the Chilli Cracker snacks with the bar round are fantastic. I hope that gets introduced permanently.
Quoting AmricanShamrok (Reply 11): I'd be interested to know if BA are still trialling this on certain flights or are/will they roll it out to all flights with World Traveller.
The trials have now ended. It has gone for evaluation but from what I have heard only certain aspects were considered successful, much of it has gone back for reconsideration!
Great report all the same. Plenty of us paddys proud to be at BA!
My views are my own and do not reflect any other person or organisation.
AmricanShamrok From Ireland, joined May 2008, 3044 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (2 years 1 month 2 weeks 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 15678 times:
Quoting tonystan (Reply 12): The trials have now ended. It has gone for evaluation but from what I have heard only certain aspects were considered successful, much of it has gone back for reconsideration!
Interesting...I'll be following these developments!