Welcome to my second full trip report for 2013.
I had had two weeks of annual leave booked off work for some time in anticipation of gallivanting away somewhere, and after the usual period of discussion, thinking, more discussion and mouse tapping, Stockholm was chosen as the destination of choice. I had never been to Sweden before, and all research pointed to there being a number of places we could escape to away from the city of Stockholm, but still doable in one day.
At the time of booking, I wasn’t aware that BA were operating their new 787 Dreamliner aircraft on selected flights to and from ARN, so the purpose of this trip was purely one of leisure rather than anything connected to airplanes or tier point runs (for a change!).
We had originally wanted to book four nights in Stockholm, but due to reward availability, could only find three nights for our available dates. After parting with 36,000 Avios and the GBP100 Reward Flight Saver Fee, we had two confirmed return tickets in Club Europe from LHR to ARN and back in August.
Hotel selection was next, and I opted for the Hilton Stockholm Slussen after a little research, based on reasonably good Trip Advisor reviews. The rate in the Hilton ‘Great Getaway’ sale was a round SEK1,500 per night in a Deluxe (standard) room, on a room only advance purchase rate. (SEK is quite easy to convert to GBP roughly – just drop the last figure from the SEK amount.)
At this time I also pre-booked the Arlanda Express train between the airport and central railway station, at a cost of SEK280 each. This was a special half price offer for the summer months, meaning two people effectively saved 50% off the normal fare. Even so, this is still one of the most expensive train journeys in the world by distance covered, rivalling the Heathrow Express for ‘value’!
On the day of departure, we parked in the T5 Long Stay car park (which affords great views of the Northern runway), and used the free shuttle bus to the terminal. Onboard the bus today was one of Heathrow’s purple-dressed helpers who asked whether we wanted a terminal guide, and also advised that the bus stop for the return has recently changed number (22 to 21, IIRC).
Zone H (Club check-in) was quite busy today, but before long we were being checked in. We had a single bag to check, and as the belt didn’t seem to want to work at our desk, the agent took the bag to the Club assistance desk at the end of the bank to ensure it descended properly into the bowels of T5.
Fast Track at South Security was queuing back to the automatic boarding pass gates, so we walked to the almost-deserted Fast Track lane at North Security where there was no queue at all and two dedicated Fast Track search lanes.
Once airside, Galleries Club South became our home for the next couple of hours. For a weekday in August, the lounge really wasn’t as busy as I’d feared it would be, and we managed to find a free seating area adjacent to the windows overlooking the North runway. Unfortunately they were the ‘bench’ type seats, rather than the comfy armchairs, but still perfectly adequate for a short while. The main thing that I miss about the Galleries First lounge is the more spaced apart seating, and the fact that ‘bench’ seating doesn’t feature in that lounge very much.
The breakfast selection seemed to have improved slightly over my last few recent visits. The catering change that occurred in the spring seems to have settled now, and breakfast really wasn’t bad at all. At the buffet, there was a good selection of hot bacon, mushroom and tomato rolls, toast, pastries, porridge, cereals, yogurts and fresh fruit. Sadly the juices are concentrated in the Club lounges, but the variety of teas and coffee makes up for that. Champagne remains upon request.
The coffee zones featured the now-infamous open jars of biscuits, and I bravely attempted several of these to find they were actually quite nice and not stale at all. Two varieties of Kettle crisps now grace the Club lounges (ready salted or cheddar cheese), and each bar area has a variety of open jars of various nuts, snack mix and wasabi peas. Lounge staff (in new uniforms) were patrolling, proactively offering champagne and clearing away empties.
An hour or so before boarding, we moved across to the relatively secluded area behind the cinema, where a couple of comfy armchairs were free. Feared ‘enhanced’ a while ago, I can confirm that ice cream (small tubs of chocolate and vanilla) is still freely available in the freezer adjacent to the cinema coffee zone.
The washrooms in the lounge complex are really starting to show their age. Un-refurbished since their opening five and a half years ago, the cracks are beginning to show. They could really do with refurbishing, with the flooring and walling replaced with proper tiling rather than the cheap lino/plastic combination that hasn’t worn very well at all. One redeeming feature of the washrooms is the vintage BA/BOAC posters that grace many of the rooms.
We left it fairly late before going down to the gate as is my usual custom these days, which meant that the Fast Track lane had long since cleared and we were able to breeze through, albeit to meet a bit of a queue on the airbridge – swings and roundabouts!
There were four rows of CE onboard our A321 today (G-EUXD), upgraded from an A320. Before pushback, hot towels were dished out to us in 2AC, and once I had refreshed my hands, I gave the tray table its customary (and quite possibly yearly) clean.
Once airborne, the CE/ET dividing curtain was closed and service commenced with a drinks run. Being an 11:30 schedule departure, this flight misses the lunch window by 30 minutes, and receives the infamous brunch (formerly ‘extended breakfast’) service. On a Band 3 flight, this consists of a choice between a filled croissant and fruit plate or a plate of cold cuts of meat. Neither of these choices is appropriate to be served at close to 13:00 (factoring in a delay, as was the case on our flight).
Aware of this, I had pre-ordered the Indian Jain meal, one of the special meal options available on ba.com. This consisted of a small salad of grilled vegetables, olive oil, packaged roll and butter. Whilst not exactly the most filling or delicious meal I’ve ever eaten, it was more suited to the time of day than either of the brunch options. Warm bread was offered, with multiple drinks runs to follow throughout the flight.
The crew were very pleasant, and I was addressed by name both upon boarding and disembarkation. After a couple of successful attempts by Euro Traveller pax to use the CE washroom, the interlopers were eventually stopped from entering the inner sanctum.
T2 at ARN is rather an odd terminal. I understand it’s recently been refurbished, but the multiple levels and ‘small-town’ feel of the place just lend it to have a very odd ‘temporary’ feel to it. We waited rather a while for baggage to appear, but eventually they started to arrive and our orange priority-tagged bag was amongst the first off once things had gotten moving.
The Arlanda Express is possibly one of the nicest commuter trains I’ve travelled on. Exceptionally clean, comfy and well-decorated, with pleasant staff, the express train whisked us to the central station in 20 minutes. I particularly liked the fact that pre-booked tickets just require presentation of the credit card to confirm the booking – no tickets/printouts/receipts necessary.
We used the public transport system throughout our time in Stockholm. I found it fairly easy to navigate, although the ticket system confused me somewhat. It appears as though it’s cheaper to buy tickets from convenience stores than the actual ticket offices, and I never did quite work out the difference between the electronic ‘Access’ cards (akin to Oyster cards) and paper tickets. A combination of both seemed to get us around relatively cheaply, however, with no need for taxis.
The Hilton Stockholm Slussen is located in the Sodermalm area of the city, with a good setting overlooking the famous waterfront. Around half of the rooms have this view, with the other half (including our room) overlooking a back street. The hotel has a distinctly art-deco feel (especially in the public areas, but also within the rooms). Reception staff were welcoming, and we opted to include breakfast on checking in for a reduced price of SEK600 total for the three nights. A choice of complimentary newspaper was offered, and we were offered help with our bags up to our room.
Our room was reasonably spacious by Stockholm standards, with two single beds, a comfy chair, desk/table with desk chair, flat screen TV, minibar, safe, tea and coffee facilities including herbal teas, two complimentary bottles of water, slippers and bath robes. There were some magazines on the bedside table, whilst the wardrobe contained an iron and ironing board, hairdryer and laundry bag. I thought the room was a little oddly decorated, a curious mix of Ikea and 1930s art-deco. Fast free wifi is available throughout the hotel, with no silly codes necessary.
Disappointingly there were a few minor housekeeping issues – the cups and teaspoons didn’t match, one of the cups was stained, the beds were not crisply made, bathroom amenities poorly arranged and there was some dust when the beds were moved. Our request for firmer pillows was promptly fulfilled, although the difference between these and the normal pillows was negligible.
The bathroom was a sea of marble, with over-bath shower and a rather odd washbasin sitting atop a mini contoured podium. The standard Peter Thomas Roth amenities were available. Always a plus, the mirror was anti-steam.
During our first late afternoon, we explored the historic Sodermalm area, before dining at Nostrano, a small Italian frequented by locals. No seats were available inside due to a private function, but we perched outside and enjoyed, amongst other dishes, a very nice oxtail linguine. The restaurant is located up a small side street, and outside seating is limited to one line of bench-type seats along the pavement, leading to quite an interesting atmosphere (as every seat was taken).
Breakfast the next morning was taken in the hotel’s restaurant, and was of typical Hilton extent, with tea, coffee and fresh orange juice offered at the table. Items not on the buffet, such as fried eggs and grilled tomatoes, were available on request. The waiting staff were particularly welcoming and professional. One thing I didn’t like was the milk being left on the table between covers, something that is neither hygienic nor food-safe.
We visited Drottningholm on our first full day in Sweden, first touring the royal palace before strolling through the grounds to the unique Chinese temple, built as a present for a wife. The little village of Drottningholm is itself worthy of a stroll – we encountered no tourists at all, and the architecture of some of the houses was very interesting, including some properties that wouldn’t look out of place in Grand Designs.
Arriving back in the city, we walked through the modern part of town that is not particularly notable, before crossing through Gamla Stan (the old town), a typical quaint European concoction of small streets and colourful buildings. We dined that evening at an Indian in a quiet residential area away from the hustle and bustle of the town. Whilst the cuisine was fine, the location felt a little ‘cold’ and not at all atmospheric.
Our second full day was spent sailing through the stunning archipelago to the island of Grinda. We used Waxholmsbolaget’s commuter ferry service on the way to the island, which afforded beautiful views of the city as the shoreline retreated beyond the bow, and of the variety of islands on the 1.5 hour trip. Many people left the boat at Vaxholm (the capital of the archipelago), resulting in an even more relaxing second part of the trip.
Grinda itself was exactly as we had hoped – a retreat way from the city, and a true ‘stepping back in time’ experience. There is little more on the island beyond some camping lodges, small harbour, small hotel/restaurant and farm. The restaurant was where we dined for lunch (and left with our bank balances seriously dented). The island is small enough to walk around in an hour or so, and we returned to the city on the faster ‘Cinderella’ boat.
We experienced room service on that evening at the Hilton, and I opted for the classic Swedish meatballs. Promptly delivered, nicely presented and good quality cuisine, although the dishes could’ve been a little hotter.
Our final half-day in the city was spent exploring some more of Gamla Stan, including Europe’s narrowest street and oldest square.
Arriving back at the airport promptly courtesy of the Arlanda Express, there was a short queue behind a large family at the single CE desk. We were handed a letter explaining that today we would be travelling on a 787, and stating that whilst the cabin would be longhaul, the service would be shorthaul, as expected. The seatmap had changed for the flight the day before at online check-in, and I had selected 2EF in the absence of any window/aisle pairs being available.
A ‘gentleman’ ahead of us in the priority security line was getting rather frustrated that his BlackBerry boarding pass (for an airline other than BA) would not scan, and he practically bowled us over when he eventually gave up and stormed past us back to the check-in counters. The poor lady who had clearly been suffering his wrath for some time at the desk was a little shaken, so I made sure to infer that clearly the issue was his fault and she wasn’t to blame in the slightest.
Post-security (which annoyingly wasn’t separated beyond the boarding pass check), we headed up to the Menzies lounge that is rather oddly located behind a bar. The lounge is reasonably spacious, but has all the ambience of a dressed-up portacabin. The main space has a bar, computer area and various seating areas (with one including a British Airways Concorde model), whilst the area behind the washrooms has a number of ‘snug’ areas. Catering was limited to salad and some cold sandwich-type things, whilst sweeter tooths were catered for by a small selection of biscuits. Nuts and crisps were also available. Water was cunningly disguised in the form of what looked like beer taps!
Boarding was from one of the bus gates, presumably due to ARN not having any 787-capable airbridge-equipped gates(?). A Fast Track line was in place and was actively being policed with ineligible people being rejected at the boarding pass check. Interestingly the sign stated Fast Track was for CE and Gold/Emerald only, in direct contravention of the oneworld and BAEC policies that state Silver/Sapphire is also granted priority boarding. This wasn’t an issue with us both booked in CE today, but I would’ve challenged if necessary.
I should note at this point that my faithful Canon PowerShot G12 had been intermittently misbehaving during the latter portion of the trip, and by this point had given up the ghost entirely with a stuck shutter. Therefore, pictures from this point onwards are by iPhone 5.
The crowded bus transfer was all of a few metres, and we were soon ascending the steps up to Door 2L, past the notably huge Rolls Royce engines.
We were welcomed onboard, and directed across the galley to the starboard aisle, and to the left into the forward Club World cabin. The British Airways 787-8 is configured with three classes – two Club World cabins of 3 and 2 rows each in a 2-3-2 configuration, a single World Traveller Plus cabin of 4 rows in 2-3-2 configuration, and two World Traveller cabins of 7 and 12 rows each in a 3-3-3 configuration. Seat pitch is 38” in WTP and 32” in WT, with a 6ft flat bed in CW.
The WT and WTP products are identical to those installed on the 77W, A380 and refurbished 772s. The CW product is of the new ‘grey’ colour scheme found on the A380. All three cabins feature the Thales AVOD entertainment system, although this was not switched on during our flight.
The main thing I noticed upon boarding was the huge windows. And they are HUGE. Even though I wasn’t seated at a window, I felt the cabin was bathed in light much more so than on a ‘normal’ aircraft. The windows are dimmed by a button below each window, and in CW dimming one window will dim all windows at your seat. The dimming is fully controllable, meaning different shades can be obtained.
The seat felt somewhat more comfortable than standard CW seats on the rest of the fleet – I’m not sure whether this was merely the perception of being on a new aircraft, or whether the seat was truly more comfortable. All of the usual CW features are available, with the handy addition of a button to raise and lower the privacy screen on the seat control panel, negating the need to have to reach up to the top button. The divider is still as noisy as ever, however!
Disappointingly the storage drawer at my seat wouldn’t close fully – I pointed this out to a crew member who acknowledged the fault had been reported on the outbound flight. Pretty poor for a brand new aircraft!
Takeoff was exceptionally smooth and quiet, possibly more so than the A380. Throughout the flight, one didn’t have to raise one’s voice at all. On such a short flight, the pressurisation difference was barely noticeable, although I’m confident that on a longhaul flight this would become apparent and the benefits would be felt.
The cabin crew onboard the flight were Worldwide crew, as opposed to the usual Eurofleet crew on this route. This is due to only Worldwide crew having a licence to operate on the 787 – the 787 will initially be flying to Toronto and New York Newark in the autumn. The crew were pleasant and clearly enjoying working on the 787, and the CE service didn’t seem to suffer too much as a result of unfamiliarity with the product.
The standard Band 3 CE dinner service commenced with a drinks run – including nuts. This was followed by a choice of stuffed chicken or a prawn salad. I opted for the stuffed chicken, which was very pleasant indeed, and definitely one of the better CE meals I’ve eaten. Warm bread was offered to accompany the meal, along with a further drinks run. Tea and coffee was subsequently offered, with other drinks being on request.
I had a wander down to almost the rear of the aircraft during the flight – the rear CW cabin and WTP cabin both look nice and private, whereas WT looked quite cramped (excluding the exit seats). I was very happy in the middle block of 3 CW seats in the forward cabin – the middle seat (a feature unique to the 787 and upper deck A380), which I tried during the flight, has additional personal space and is very private, although with both privacy screens raised on either side, one could feel slightly claustrophobic after a while.
The Club Kitchen is located adjacent to Door 2L (although was not in use during this flight), whist washrooms are located both forward and rearward of the front CW cabin. The washrooms, beyond being virtually spotless, were not noticeably overly different than other aircraft.
A couple of other features set the 787 apart from other aircraft – mood lighting is available in CW, as is a mini ‘feature wall’ on the front bulkhead with the BA Speedmarque.
We docked at a T5B gate at Heathrow to no great fanfare, and with that my first 787 flight was safely completed.
To conclude, Sweden is a beautiful country and Stockholm an interesting and quirky city. The archipelago was the undoubted highlight of the trip. Clean air, clean water, friendly people and beautiful vistas – what more could one want (other than surviving a 787 flight)?
In the 787, British Airways has improved their already strong product, although a part of me remains disappointed we didn’t see a significant redesign of the Club World cabin. I look forward to travelling on the aircraft longhaul.
Thank you for reading. As ever, comments and questions are welcomed!
[Edited 2013-08-27 14:24:04]