Photo © Joe Pries
After watching most of the Man City v Liverpool match on ESPN in our hotel room we went down to the lobby to check out and get a cab through the heavy Orchard Road traffic and on to the expressway to Changi. We got to Terminal two at around 12:30, the flight was not until 23:15 but we had learned from our last visit to this pleasant city that BA and QF offer an early check in facility although that did not open for another hour and a half so we headed up to the excellent viewing gallery for to pass the time, my wife got on with her book while I got on the important business of photographing what for me were rare aircraft-QF 767’s, Garuda 737’s and this Bouraq 737 classic.
Photo © Matthew Willmott-Sharp
Just after 14:00 we headed down to dump our luggage at check in, the young lady who served us didn’t seem particularly impressed with the fact that we wanted to change our seats from window to aisle but she did it for us anyway. The reason I wanted to change my seat allocation was that the flight was a so called ‘red eye’ and it would be dark throughout so I saw no advantage in a window seat on a 3-4-3 configured cabin. As it turned out we got the best of both worlds with seats 52 J+H which are at the rear of the cabin where the fuselage narrows and you get a 2-4-2 situation. We said farewell to our luggage for 24 hours, had some lunch and then split up-my wife headed back to Orchard Road to visit the shops one more time, and I returned to the viewing gallery. More Garuda 737’s turned up plus the QF31 SYD-LHR flight running a mere 12 hours late, I also saw the unusual spectacle of seeing gate C1 literally taken apart before my eyes as part of the ongoing upgrading of Changi-I took a few unique pictures of this event which are posted on my website. I made a quick visit to the other terminal to get some shots of a Silk Air arrival and a Malaysian 737 but then returned to Terminal 1 for the remainder of the afternoon. VH-OJC was again in evidence on it’s way from LHR to MEL and shortly after it’s arrival it got dark so I packed the camera away and rejoined my wife as we went for some dinner. This was followed by a final blast of the warm humidity of Singapore before we headed off to clear security and spend the remainder of the evening in one of the worlds best terminals.
We soon got bored of the shops, there was nothing new since our last visit so we killed a little more time by visiting the internet hub and surfing the web. The final thing we did was to take a short walk around the cactus garden, the only area airside that is outside (and it also has a bar!). Next we made our way over to gate C2 and went through the final security checks and waited in the lounge for boarding to commence. By around 22:45 we were greeted on board G-CIVO by in the usual manner by the BA cabin crew, but for some reason it took almost ten minutes for us to slowly edge our way from the aircraft door to our seats in row 52 but at least once we found them we were able to stow our luggage and settle in to our seats pretty quickly. Push back was on time and we began to make our way over to other side of the airport to runway 20L passing a Lufthansa 744 and an ANA 744 on the way-we held for a short while to allow an SQ 744 to take off in front of us and the Captain the opportunity to make an announcement to apologise for the warm conditions towards the rear of the aircraft-the same thing had happened on the outward flight, I reached up to the overhead panel in an instinctive move to try and find some cool air but BA 744’s do not have individual air conditioning controls-there was a date stamped on the panel though, June 9th 1997 which I guess was when the aircraft was manufactured.
Photo © Paul Arnold
It was now our turn to take off and off we went at 23:35, within a couple of minutes we began a long turn to put us on course for Europe, in doing so we got a great view of the city in lights and some of the offshore oil refineries plus a huge number of ships in the water below. Now heading in a north westerly direction we followed the Malay coast almost all the way up to Phuket, with the sprawling mass of Kuala Lumpur clearly visible down to the right of us about half an hour after we left Singapore. We were climbing quite slowly and levelled out at only 21000ft to begin with and after about an hour of flight we ascended to 28000ft , this was also the time that dinner was served. The cabin crew had come round with the drinks service about half an hour into the flight and in a change to the outward flight we actually had a choice for dinner-lasagne or chicken, I went for the chicken and was quite impressed with the quality of this Y class meal. Both the drinks service and the meal service seemed to take forever to be served, the 144 of us in Y had just 2 crew serving us instead of the normal 4, so with only one attendant per aisle it was always going to be slow progress, although our attendant maintained a professional attitude in this difficult situation and did a pretty good job on the whole. As a contrast on a recent euro short haul with BA we were treated to 6 crew for a single aisle Airbus 319 with around 120 passengers!
Now was the time to settle down for the very long night ahead of us as the cabin lights were dimmed, my wife occupied herself with a movie while I continued to window gaze. The conditions that night were perfect, clear skies and a full moon, so despite the apparent darkness it was actually quite bright outside. The end of the meal service coincided with the commencement of the first (and only) major water crossing, that of the Bay of Bengal so I continued to read my book until we reached the coast of India when I took more of an interest in the scenery below. By 0500 Singapore time and 2200 in the UK we passed the the huge city of Delhi but I had now been awake for 19 hours so I decided to drift off to sleep for a while, which is quite a difficult thing to do in the cramped conditions of a World Traveller seat-the 31 inch pitch is very cramped, particularly when the person in front reclines their seat, but I managed to get some sleep and woke up just as we left Asia. Before I went to sleep I headed to the rear of the cabin to stretch my legs a little and was somewhat surprised by the sight of a male passenger sleeping on the floor between the toilets! It could hardly have been a pleasant place to sleep with the noise (and smell) of the toilets so close by, not to mention the difficulty for passengers who wanted to use the toilets but had to negotiate their way past this guy to do so. As I made my way back to my seat a male crewmember from one of the more expensive cabins came marching down the aisle and ‘moved him on’. I recall Qantas advising passengers not to sleep on the floor as part of their safety demo but it is not something that I expected to see on any airline.
Photo © Irving Tjin
It was around 0200 in the UK when I woke up and a quick glance at the skymap revealed that we were over the Black Sea, with no land to look at out of the window I tuned in to one of the channels on the PTV and found very little of interest except an episode of Father Ted which was just beginning. 30 humour filled minutes later we crossed the coast of Romania and had now reached a more reasonable cruise level of 35000 ft. It wasn't for another hour or so that I began to see clusters of civilisation and by then we were over the Czech Republic whose capital city Prague was a beautiful sight in the night landscape. At around 0400 and 750 miles from London the cabin lights were illuminated once again, our speed had dropped quite significantly down to a mere 400 mph and this was having an effect on the rather erratic 'Arrival time' quoted by the skymap, it had started off at 0528 and then back to 0500 and was now slipping past 0530. Now that the cabin was light again I noticed that the world tails are still living on in the design of the seat covers in World Traveller, mine had the 'Wunula' design, the seat in front was 'Waves and Cranes' and my wifes was one that I can no longer remember, but all the seats I could see were of a different design. All of a sudden the cabin crew appeared and started on the breakfast service, we hadn't seen them at all since dinner which was over 9 hours ago! Breakfast was not too good, whether it was the quality of the food or storage problems was hard to tell but breakfasts on this sector are usually better than this one was, and again it was one stewardess per aisle which really didn't help.
Photo © Frank Schaefer
The cities continued to pass us by, Krakow, Koblenz and Cologne were all visible through the window as we sped on through the night. With less than an hour of the flight remaining I used the toilets to freshen up a little and in doing so noticed an odd sign on the door to the effect that smoking in the toilet was forbidden 'under federal law' and was punishable with a $200 fine. Last time I checked the UK wasn't part of the USA and federal law is useless in the UK so I was left wondering if Boeing puts this notice on all it's 744's when they are built, it would be odd to do so since the 744 sees so little use by US airlines. Whatever the reasoning I went back to my seat and prepared my small amount of baggage for disembarkation.I sat back down in my seat to see Antwerp pass by followed by the North Sea. We made our way into UK airspace the same way we had left it two weeks earlier, via the Essex estuary and over Felixstowe, Clacton and Colchester. About 6 weeks prior to this flight I had spent an hour so at Colchester station and noticed a number of aircraft of Asian/Australian carriers (plus BA) heading just to the north of the town on their way out over the North Sea whilst at the same there were a number of contrails visible to the south of the town of aircraft doing what we were now doing and entering the UK from Eastern Europe and Asia or bypassing the UK altogether and flying on to North America. As we descended through 10000ft and the outskirts of London became visible in the distance, and once again we were privelidged to have some cabin crew from the pointy end of the aircraft who then marched up and down the cabin to ensure we were buckled up, our seats were upright and our tray tables were stowed all in a rather abrupt and curt manner-it was like they were inspecting a military parade! We may only have had two flight attendants in steerage but at least they were pleasant, I really don't know why the F/J class types had to come down and secure our cabin with such a bad attitude but I guess seniority rules when you are a flight attendant.
Photo © Andrew Hunt
We were now low enough for me to be able to make out a few places that were familliar to me, the first was the huge construction site for what will soon be the Eurostar International station at Stratford, followed by the enormous London Underground depot also in Stratford. Then the more well known sights came into view, Canary Wharf, Tower Bridge, The BA London Eye and Picadilly Circus. The view was excellent-one of the best I've seen of London and there was an air of tranquility about the place at 6am on this Sunday morning, even the Captain made an announcement pointing out how clear the view was! I took one last look as we glided over the rooftops of Hounslow-looking at the streets I would later have to tread in order to fill the empty cupboards in our kitchen! One minute later Hatton Cross tube station signalled our arrival at Heathrow with a touchdown on 27L at 0553 after a flight of 13 hours and 44 minutes, there was no reverse thrust but we slowed down quite rapidly and turned off the runway at the end of the World Cargo area to head back to Terminal 4 and an appointment with gate 4. Shortly before we docked at the gate the aircraft came to a stop and with about 50 feet still to go before the flight really ended it gave the crew one last chance to bark orders at the passengers. One can forgive the passengers for thinking that the flight was over because we had stopped and were very close to the terminal and although the crew in our part of the cabin asked the passengers to sit down until we were at the gate there was no response, hence the Gestapo from WTP and wherever else turned up and tried to get everyone sat down again-a futile exercise since the aircraft was by now moving again and stopped at the gate within seconds.
Now came the disembrkation, which is never a swift process when you are at the wrong end of a 747. It didn't take too long this time and were back in the refreshingly cool ambience of the jetway within a few minutes. In an area a few feet from where we entered the terminal itself was a very sobering sight, half dozen or so suited persons from the Foreign Office met the flight and wanted to talk to everyone who was returning from Bali, they had a number lists of names and some pictures and were asking people whether they knew of the whereabouts or had seen any of the people still on the missing persons list, a very sad ight indeed.
Photo © Will Lanting
The wait for our bags was not as bad as it could have been and it was around 40 minutes from touchdown to reclaim, but now we had to go through customs and go get a taxi to take us home-and try to get used to the cold!! It wasn't really cold, but after two weeks of 32 degrees every day it takes a while to get used to 10-15 degrees.
So overall I was not impressed with BA, when i think of the experience of the outward flight in addition to this one I really feel that BA are living up to the stereotype of not being interested in Y class. There was the uncomfortable temperature at the start of both flights-which only affected Y class, the lack of cabin crew on the return flight and the bad attitude of the senior crew on the same flight when they had to sort out a problem in Y. The crew that served us did so with a smile and a good attitude, and the meet and greet welcome as we boarded was fairly genuine-but there were clearly some staff on the flight who seemed to think that the 144 of us in World Traveller were of minor importance despite the £40-50,000 we were contributing to the costs of the flight. That was the biggest let down of the flight, (even more so than the cramped 31 inch seat pitch) and it was so unneccesary. Will I travel BA long haul again? Well of course I will, next time in WTP (although I said that last time and the quotas were full when I wanted to book these flights), if they can't get it right in WTP then something really is wrong. I don't think anyone beats BA on short haul, but there is still a lot of room for improvement on long haul.
Pictures from this flight are available here
Thanks for reading,