My trip to Aus was booked at the last minute, I work for a record company and one of our artists was touring Australia. The reason for my trip was to see the local distributor, PR
people, agent etc and raise the profile of the label and the rest of the roster. I was quite happy to fly economy, but when I called my travel agent I asked them to look for business class bargains first. The lady found a return on BA
for £2099, which compared to the published fare of £4350 is the bargain of a lifetime. That said, despite being half the published fare, it’s also double the economy fare, so I decided against it. Just as I was about to ask her to move onto the economy fares, she said there was one seat available for £1699. “BOOK IT
!” I shouted with much excitement. I know all about the joys of flat beds from having flown to Sydney at Xmas in Qantas First (don’t ask me how that was possible, it’s too complicated).
I have to be in a window seat, and BA
only allow a third of their seats to be pre-allocated, and I was too late to get one, but by joining BA
’s Executive Club I was able to register for online check in up to 24 hours in advance, so the night before I left I came into the office and after some confusion on BA
’s not-great site I found the online check-in page and bagged a window at the rear of zone B.
I got a lift to the airport with one of my artists (with much promising to get him an Aussie tour) and got to T4
at about 8pm for the 10.30pm flight (BA15). The place was absolute chaos like only the British can manage, queues in every direction, horrible. The Club World queue was hundreds of people deep, spiralling out of the cordoned-off rows and halfway round the terminal (the economy check-in queue was something considerably worse, there must have been thousands of people, many with an hour in the queue ahead of them). The internet check-in served me well, cos it meant I could get into the ‘luggage drop’ queue instead, which was a poorly-advertised desk with no-one in front of it. Bags dropped and boarding card in hand, I went through the Fast Track security (wonderful) and pretty much straight to the gate. My fucking laptop weighs a tonne and the gate was miles away through a warren of passages and corridors and by the time I got the aircraft I was already smelling a little odd and looking dishevelled.
The cabin looked great, like a cocktail lounge or something, with the seats in pairs, like pods. The design of the seats is really clever, they don’t take up more space than an old 80s-style business class seat (indeed the configuration is 8 abreast on the 744) and yet it really is a proper bed, with powerpoints and little drinks holders and god knows what else. A triumph of design. We got menus, amenity packs (very nice but not having a razor is a pain in the arse if you want to look decent when you get off the other end) and an orange juice. The window seats face backwards and it doesn’t feel that different. Since I returned facing backwards as well I don’t know what the seat position for takeoff and landing is in a forward-facing seat, but in the rear-facing seat you sit at quite a recline, I would say about 45 degrees. On the controls for the seat there’s a button showing a plane taking off, and that moves the seat to the correct position. When it’s done a little green LED
on the top of the seat comes on so the cabin crew can tell when they do their pre-takeoff / landing checks.
They had to replace a nav computer (various mechanics trooping in and out of the aircraft with equipment and tools) but we were assured we’d make up the time in the air (which we did). After a long taxi I had my first rear-facing takeoff which was pretty cool, great view of where we’d come from although it’s a little uncomfortable cos the natural urge is to slide out of your seat, held in place only by the seatbelt.
The food was OK
, I can’t remember what it was nor that I was particularly knocked-out by it, fairly typical business class food, nothing to get excited about. Anyway, this is a British airline, hardly a nation renowned for it’s cuisine, right? I watched a movie called Anger Management on the PTV, which btw is a vastly overrated phenomenon if the content is as rotten as it is on BA
. A couple of films I’d heard of (ie Ten Days To Lose A Guy), naff Discovery Channel nonsense about otters and a skyscraper in Japan, crappy dated British comedy like Porridge, crappy unfunny American comedy like Everyone Loves Raymond, and, er, that’s yer lot. Cheers. Anyway Anger Management was complete bullshit, someone has apparently told Marisa Tormei she looks sexy and vulnerable when she bites her bottom lip which she did constantly, someone should tell Jack Nicholson the de Niro-like move into comedy isn’t his thing, and as for Adam Sandler, anyone who bases a career around talking like an eight year old should be drowned. Not good at all.
The great thing about the seat is you can really sleep properly. I was exhausted when I got on the plane and after the end of that terrible film and the clearing of the meal, I flattened the bed out and got ready to sleep. The pillow was wafer-thin and I asked for another one, of course the flight attendent couldn’t help me. I hate to be so down on the UK, I live there and there’s much to admire, but they can’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. It’s entirely typical that they can buy super-duper seats that turn into beds and provide power for laptops etc but can’t manage to carry a few spare pillows. Anyway I got comfortable and fell asleep over Austria, and woke up over Vietnam, ten hours later. No way could you do that in 67K. I’d got my £1699’s worth already. There was a breakfast service which made sense cos we’d had dinner before it, but the local time as we landed in Singapore was about 7pm so it can’t have done any good to the passengers getting off in Singapore. I went to my usual spot on the roof of the terminal and had a very overdue smoke. Fuck it’s hot and humid in Singapore, how human life can be sustained in such a climate is beyong me.
We took off again for the overnight flight to Sydney and I managed a few more hours sleep. At one point I was dozing and had a sudden urge to sit up and look out the window. There, 38,000 feet below (no one seems to cruise at odd-numbered flight levels anymore!) was the coast of northern Australia sliding beneath us, the sea shimmering in the moonlight, the continent untroubled by any sign of human existence. Nice. We came in over Botany Bay for a landing about 5.30am, which was still proper nighttime in the southern winter. Our bags were on the carousel really fast and customs and immigration was a breeze, as it always is in Australia.
(My two weeks in Oz were very successful, most of the gigs sold out with the terrible exception of Surfers Paradise, where almost no-one turned up, yikes. In the second week I got a terrible flu but pressed on and had all my meetings. Great country, unlike the UK everything does work and there’s no traffic so you can get stuff done. Keep it up Oz.)
My return trip was not at all good, and I’ll be writing to BA
to complain. Let this be my rehearsal. First of all, I couldn’t check in online cos BA
hadn’t been able to get my Executive Club details to me before I left the UK. By the time I got to the check-in desk all they had was a middle seat, which was pretty useless. But worse was to come.
I went through emigration and security (long slow queue for the metal detectors) and headed to the gate. The BA
flights (there’s two, 15 minutes apart) had their own pier, and to get into the pier meant a massive queue - no Fast Track, the whole thing was improvised with handmade signs and cordons. The queue was for further security, and it was really strict. They were going through everyone’s handluggage, frisking everyone and running the wand over everyone. I asked the guy rooting through my handluggage, Why the extra security? He said, “September 11.” Which I didn’t buy for one second, (a) that was years ago and (b) we’d all come straight from the main security check. Which I pointed out, and this dickhead searching my bag said I obviously don’t travel much. Yeah right. The whole thing really rattled me cos he was obviously told to refer to 9/11 if anyone asked him anything. BA
obviously have a security problem that extends beyond Saudi and Kenya and I really didn’t want to get on the plane. With much trepidation I did, found my seat which was at the back of zone C, facing backwards and miles away from the windows, which pissed me off more. There were no menus available for some reason probably not unrelated to BA
not being able to get their shit together. We pushed back on time and taxiied for about half an hour, took off eventually and headed out over New South Wales. The cabin crew were grumpy from having to read out the food options 80 times (I overheard it a few times as they got closer but I was so pissed off about the crappy seat assignment that I pretended I hadn’t heard it and got the hostie to recite it one more time); they then managed (perhaps deliberately) to bring me the wrong choice.
Since I wanted to smoke a zillion fags as soon as the encounter with security v2.0, the leg to Singapore was the longest ever, and as though I wasn’t unhappy enough, we had 130mph headwinds the whole way and the flight took nearly 9 hours. I got onto the roof at the terminal and puffed away like a madman. On the way back to the gate I stopped at WH
Smith and bought a copy of Airliner World (a very pleasant surprise), the Economist and Time. I had a copy of a book about Clinton under my arm which I already bought in Oz, and the guy behind the counter saw it and we made a joke about paying for it as well. Then he said, “I much preferred Clinton to Bush.” Me too buddy, me too.
The final leg to Heathrow was better, menus appeared, I scored another amenity bag, and we cruised for 13 hours and 40 minutes. I expected to get loads of sleep but could only manage a few hours, and ended up watching a movie called View From Above starring Gweyth Paltrow, about flight attendents. Mike Myers was in there too, I found it all a bit confusing and not funny. Then I watched Agent Cody Banks twice in succession while reading Airliner World and the other stuff, not a piece of art like cinema should be, but a very efficient piece of corporate entertainment which did what it was supposed to. There’s a thing called Raid The Larder where you can go to the galley and get snacks, I had two yummy salmon and egg sandwiches and half a dozen packets of pretzels (which sounds greedy but they were very small packets).
Breakfast was offered but by the time the flight attendent got to me they were out of hot breakfasts. I suggested in no uncertain terms that the chap get something from First Class, and eventually I got a nice plate of bacon, eggs and sausuages. We descended over the North Sea and landed somewhere within the boundaries of Heathrow.
had a priority channel for immigration and they had a couple of little desks with landing cards on them but of course the chains that once had pens on them were dangling sans pens. There was a BA
staff member standing by, oblivious. I asked her for a pen but another passenger beat her to it. That disorganised English thing is really annoying – making sure there’s a pen on the desk isn’t asking very much at all.
It took AGES for the bags to appear on the carousel, plus the check-in staff at Sydney didn’t have any priority tags so I was standing around for about 45 minutes. Swanned through the green channel despite being about 500 cigs over the limit of 200, and headed to BA
’s arrivals lounge, which was really great, it’s as good as the seat if you want to arrive in better shape (that’s Cathay’s slogan but anyway). You get a big shower room with a little hole in the door, you put your clothes in the hole and press a button, and while you’re showering they take your clothes and air them out, valet them and return them. Cool huh? Then I went upstairs to their main lounge and had a nice breakfast and read the paper.
So there you have it. BA
could have a great product but they suffer from the terrible English disease of not quite bothering to do anything properly, so my experience of their Club World product was mostly cursed by missed opportunities and defined by irritating fuck-ups. Maybe a well-organised product is impossible when you’ve got 50 747s and tens of thousands of employees, but I think they could do a lot better and I’ll only fly them again (I’ll be going to Oz at least three more times between now and April) with reluctance. The flatbed in business class is no longer a unique selling point for BA
, everyone’s getting them, so for my next few trips I’ll be more likely to try some other airlines, like Cathay or Qantas. Shame.
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