This summer was quite enjoyable, on the flying front. Lots of no-frills flights that I did not write reports on (unless anyone is interested in yet-another-Ryanair-report?) and finally the one long-hauler:
Check-in and pre-flight:
Check-in was supposed to start 3 hours prior to departure - I was there half an hour before that. Even before they displayed which desks would be used for the flight, I joined the queue. I'm quite sure I was among the first people for my flight to check-in, yet they had not one single window or aisle seat left in economy! I was quite upset and they promised to try and give me a window seat at the gate. Also, lucky me, I got hand-picked to have my hold luggage searched, and so instead of putting it on the conveyor belt, I had to accompany a friendly security officer to some remote corner and watch him look through my stuff. He explained that due to the four-class-system on transatlantic planes, there were fewer economy seats than usual (122 on the 744, he said) and that many people had checked in abroad and gotten all the good seats! Aaaaargh!
Well, after that, I passed through the passport control and found that my gate, 120, was in some remote location (I believe it's the Victor cul-de-sac). On the way there, I found some great windows from which I watched Concorde getting ready for departure - and another Concorde (presumably the Barbados flight) being towed to its gate. I left that window and went to the gate, from where I watched Concorde being pushed back and taxiing towards the runway. However, it must have sneaked (well, probably roared) to the other runway, because it never took off from rwy 09R while I was watching.
Shortly before boarding began, I asked the BA representatives whether the seat change got through (another guy ahead of me asked the same thing and got an aisle seat) and I was given seat 34K - not my favourite seat (I love the second last row window seats on the 747) Still better than a loathed middle seat, though, and it WAS on the right hand side of the plane, which is better on westbound Transatlantic flights.
Oh, and I got hand-picked to have my hand luggage searched when going through the gate. I guess I must look suspicious to some people....
We pushed back and taxied to the runway surprisingly on-time. It was a fine day with significantly fewer clouds than the day before, and we took off, rotating before passing T4 and executing a right turn after takeoff. After we had turned by 180 degrees, I watched Heathrow from above before disappearing in the clouds.
Most of the rest of the flight was rather cloudy - the Atlantic was almost entirely covered in white, except for a small corner of Greenland and some of the icy mountains in Nova Scotia, but the last quarter of the flight had some good views. The routing was surprisingly southern - we flew above Yellowstone, Salt Lake City (Never thought Salt Lake would be this big - seemed a lot bigger than Lake Constance from the air!), Las Vegas and miles and miles of cities that all melted into one big thing around Los Angeles. Seriously, the last 25 minutes of the flight seemed to be purely above one giant city! LA seems to be a lot bigger (in square miles) than London...
So, during the first three quarters of the flight, what was there to do? Well, that's what PTVs are for. The plane had the OMNIA system installed. Compared to Virgin, it's better than Arcadia but inferior to Odyssey. The screens were roughly the same size as Odyssey screens - i.e. roughly 4-5 inches diagonally. There are no games (in economy) or in-seat phones. And, unfortunately, the control is not a handset and cannot be removed from the armrest - but at least it's not in the side of the armrest, but on top. At first, my screen refused to work and then I could no longer switch between TV and audio channels, but when I asked a FA for help, they reset my screen and everything was fine.
Well, everything except the programming. On the Audio Channels, not one single channel was any good. I was quite surprised - last year it had been a lot better. But the pop channel was taken by some crappy Back-to-School-CD-compilation full of really annoying 80s songs for all those pathetic 25-30 year olds that attend these uniformed party events. Sad, really...
And the other channels were similarly disappointing. Somehow, the Nickelback album promised in the magazine was played only at the start of the flight, and then forgotten...
On the movie side, Panic Room was entertaining enough (but not brilliant. Just an average thriller like Don't Say a Word, far inferior to Insomnia). I would advise against watching it on daylight flights, though - the dark movie was invisible on the screen for long stretches. But I wasn't going to sacrifice my window view - always hoping to spot another plane (I constantly sneaked glances outside in that hope). Spiderman was even more stupid than I remembered (honestly, some of the poorest dialogue and the most simple plotting ever seen in a movie!)
Now, a brief comment about the food: It was great. The choice was "chicken or salmon", as the FA put it, and I chose chicken. I'm a chicken kind of guy, I suppose. It turned out to be a delicious chicken curry with rice (no idea whether this thing is called Tikka, Tikka Masala, Madras or whatever). It easily competes with the food of any takeout or delivery service. The salad was fine, too (featuring mozarella cheese, olives, cherry tomatoes and greens). A standard dessert cake completed the meal. All in all, nice. Later, we were served a snack, consisting of sandwiches and some other stuff I forgot. Probably a cake or something. No ice cream, though.
Drink services were suitably frequent and efficient.
So, after seeing more of the continental USA than on any other flight (some of the irrigated circles of crops were funny in the middle of the desert, Salt Lake City had a red lake of something, and I saw something that looked like a dried riverbed. Las Vegas looked perfectly unspectacular from above - but I got to see an America West A320 shoot past - the only plane to be close during the entire flight!) we flew on a straight line into LA, joining the approach path seemingly 40 minutes prior to landing. The approach was great, simply because I saw lots of urban areas. Also, there were so many square buildings - I was wondering whether all of them were storage facilities or perhaps sound stages. Then I saw all the lorries parked in front of them, so it must have been storage. Perhaps California imports more of its food than I thought...
After landing, we crossed a runway and taxied towards the terminal, but we had to wait twice (about 20 minutes in total) because the gate was occupied. Later, I noticed that that seems to happen often in LA
Queues, queues, queues! The immigration queue was surprisingly long, and full of the passengers of a Russian 767 - mostly young Russian mothers with infants in the permanent resident queue! Couldn't help but think of all the "mailorder bride" stuff that the press made up a few years ago...
The customs queues were even longer, and, idiotically, they went in opposite directions, ranging from one side of the baggage reclaim area to the other in both directions. Also, the bags for our flight came out through two different carousels - good for families, I guess, but a pain in the ... for single travellers like me.
An hour after landing I finally left the terminal building.
Another hour later the hotel shuttle bus finally came to pick me up.
Well, I was at the airport 5 hours prior to departure. There was nothing, no one, nada, near the check-in desks for BA. So I tried to find a place to sit - the only seating arrangements turned out to be upstairs, by the restaurants, not within viewing distance of the check-in desks. But, alas, the views were spectacular. I shot about 2 films full of the wonderful planes that taxied past the seating area - A Northwest 747, A VG Airlines A330 (I thought they went bust before they ever took off properly?!?), A Hawaiian DC10, lots of AA and UA planes, ranging from commuters to 767s and even a beautiful TWA 767. So I really enjoyed myself there in the waiting lounge. I can only recommend it, wonderful for spotters! You get closer to the planes than at the LHR spotting platform...
When I returned to the check-in desks 4 hours before scheduled departure, the queue was already long, even though no check-in agents had arrived yet. I got scared to end up in a middle seat. Well, eventually when it was my turn I got the last window seat - 37A. The queue, by then, ranged to the terminal entrance.
Well. A night flight. Not exactly enjoyable at the best of times. I ended up having indigestion and running to the lav twice (the first time in years I had to use an inflight lav! The experience turned out to be not enjoyable.). To be considerate of fellow passengers, I switched my window seat to an aisle seat, because I did not want to wake anyone up. So, apart from the landscape visible after takeoff and before sunset, I did not see a thing. No holding pattern above LHR
And, to make up for the good food on the way to LA, the food on this flight was spectacularly bad. They ran out of chicken just one row ahead of me, and as I declined the beef they offered me the vegetarian meal. I was delighted, until I opened the aluminium wrapper to find something unidentifiable, with rice and peas. The unidentifiable thing was divided into square cubes. It was slightly jelly-like, not transparent, but slobby-soft and white. With lots of salt on it, it tasted slightly salty. Other than that, it had no taste whatsoever. To me, it looked like cubed Weisswurst without the spices.
The breakfast served later was a joke - a blueberry yoghurt and a roll of bread, a slice of orange cake.
I got not sleep, the only movie that I was interested in and that also was unedited turned out to be Martha, meet Frank Daniel and Lawrence ( a British romcom). It had some nice interior scenes shot at Stansted, which delighted me, using the airport so often, but little else of interest. Everything else was either edited or not interesting.
9 hours later we landed in Heathrow, using rwy 09R and using the thrust reversers only very briefly, then rolling out until the end of the runway and waited to be towed into gate 119 (Victor 19, I think), because of noise restrictions.
All in all, a typical overnight flight. 1 hour of sleep, 8 hours of suffering, but this time I had brought half a litre of orange juice and half a litre of water with me, so I did not need top rely on the drink services. Unlike my last BA flight, however, they were frequent.
Hope you enjoyed the report. BA was not bad, I still prefer Virgin, but I was positively surprised this time. The music channels need a lot of improvement, and check-in can be a real disappointment if your flight origins in London, but it wasn't bad.