I have just got back from an amazing holiday that involved the following:
BA LGW-BGI in First
Caribbean Star BGI- St. Lucia- Dominica- ANU
Cruise across the Atlantic from Antigua to Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Iberia LPA-MAD-LHR in Business Class
A great holiday- now let’s see if I can remember everything…
Thu 8th April 2004
BA 2155- LGW-BGI
Scheduled Dep Time: 11.05
Actual Dep Time: 11.15
Scheduled Arrival Time: 14.50
Actual Arrival Time: 14.50
My partner and I had checked in online using the BA
website the night before our trip, and selected seats 1A and 1B as these seats usually afford brilliant views of the West coast of Barbados on final approach into BGI
We arrived at Gatwick’s North Terminal in plenty of time, and the terminal was busy as expected, as it was the Thursday before Easter.
We printed our boarding cards from the self-service machine with no problem and went to drop off our bags. As I said, the terminal was crowded, and there were long lines at all check in desks, including BA
First class, so I was glad that we had checked in online. Why don’t more people do this?
We proceeded to the “Fast” Bag Drop- ha! There was also a queue here. The BA
employee staffing the desk told me that the belts were broken, so she could tag them for us and then we would have to deposit them elsewhere. She really couldn’t have cared less, and we really got the impression that we were interrupting her nap. The bags were tagged but no First or Priority tags were applied. She then pointed to a harassed looking BA
person who was surrounded by lots of bags and passengers. The “system” that BA
had put in place involved simply leaving your bags with that person. You can imagine the chaotic scene with all BA
passengers having to retrieve their bags from the check in desks. My last view of my case was seeing it left to one side along with other bags bound for Inverness and Jersey! But I will spoil the suspense and tell you that my bag did arrive safe and sound in BGI
Although the airport was busy, security was quite swift, and seemed almost perfunctory. I really like using the North Terminal at LGW
, and I prefer Gatwick to Heathrow any day, except for the location- I live in Central London.
After some quick shopping we went to the First Lounge. On my last trip to Barbados a couple of years ago, the First lounge was awful, but they are now using half of the Terraces lounge for First Class passengers. It was very peaceful and spacious, with a good view of the runway and taxiways. Although the terminal itself was crowded, there were not too many people in the lounge.
I ordered a bacon roll (thanks for the tip, VS
girl) and settled down for an hour or two of spotting the usual Gatwick scene- NW
DC-10’s, US Airways A330’s (l love them). I also saw a Meridiana A319 and lots of BA
activity as usual- I even saw a couple of the World Tails on a 777 and 737; I really miss them as the Union Flag is dullsville IMHO.
A few glasses of Laurent Perrier Belle Epoque champagne later, and our flight was called. It was about a 10 minute walk to the gate, and we arrived to find no queue- boarding was swift and we were shown to our seats.
I have flown BA
First many times, and the cabin never ceases to impress. It is a haven of space, peace and calm. First was around 60% full that day, but of course there is plenty of room! The purser greeted us by name and offered us another glass of champagne (go on, then!).
He then came back with excellent washbags which depict vintage scenes from BA
’s past incarnation of Imperial Airways. Newspapers were distributed followed by more champagne, menus etc, before push back. There was a slight delay as we were waiting for bags of connecting passengers- the purser told us that lots of passengers from mainland Europe connect to that service.
I am not a huge fan of the 777, as I don’t feel too comfortable about crossing the ocean on a twin engine plane, but the cabin is very spacious and quiet. It took a while for us to get to the holding point, but soon we were thundering down the runway and bound for our holiday. I wish that I could bottle that feeling!
We climbed over Hampshire and South West England and soon we could see the north coast of Brittany in the distance. The captain gave us some routing information- we were to pass close to the Azores and south of Bermuda, but of course, after reaching Land’s End or the tip of Brittany, the view down to BGI
is just sea, sea and more sea.
By this time the purser had come back with more champagne and lovely canapés.
A word about the crew- I have had my fair share of BA
harridans, cart tarts and stewards who would prefer to die than make eye contact with a passenger. On this trip the crew were simply outstanding. The purser especially was excellent and gave us so much individual attention and spent a lot of time during the flight chatting with us. We were really made to feel like valued customers- an experience that I have not had on BA
for a while.
First, each seat has a “jump seat” which allows people travelling together to eat together, almost as in a real restaurant. I joined my partner in the jump seat to look at the menu:
Lobster Salad with Pink Grapefruit
Gruyere and Red Onion Timbale
Pea and Mint Soup
Salad with various dressings
Michel Roux’s Grilled Fillet of Beef in Red Wine
Southern Indian Chicken with Pureed Coconut and Spiced Noodles
Fresh pasta with choice of sauces
Poached Salmon with Cucumber and Potato Salad
Pineapple Tarte Tatin
Bitter Chocolate and Orange Delice
The food was of a high standard with generous portions.
A minor whinge, but I always think that the bread on BA
is not very good. I remember that the desserts were especially good. Our meal was washed down with some superb wines.
Before eating we were asked when we wanted to eat- so there was plenty of time for more champagne. The table was laid with crisp linen, and the BA
First experience has to be the closest to a restaurant in the sky.
After a long lunch, rounded off with some dessert wine (I was quite merry by that stage), I went back to my seat, reclined to a bed and slept for an hour or so.
When I woke up, the crew were very attentive in passing around glasses of iced water and juice, and replenished them regularly. I then killed some time watching “Cold Creek Manor” using the personal video player. I think that the IFE that BA
offers is not too great- no games, and the video on demand consists of a personal player in your seat for First passengers. The sound quality is also uniformly awful.
After some duty free shopping, it was time for afternoon tea which featured delicious sandwiches and cakes. We spent the next 30 minutes chatting to the purser. He was telling us that First class is very popular to BGI
, but that demand is very seasonal. He was also saying that the new Club World, introduced quite recently on the route was proving immensely popular. This guy had a great sense of humour. When a loud clatter was heard from the galley, he told us that one of the female crew had just dropped an earring.
Soon the east coast of Barbados came into view and we followed the West Coast and made our final approach into BGI
. The landing was very smooth and we taxied to our stand- there are no airbridges at BGI
. Our arrival had been preceded by a Virgin 744 from LGW
, a US Airways A320 from PHL
and an AA757 from MIA
. As we arrived an AC767 was taxiing for departure to YYZ
First Class passengers were deplaned first into the heat of beautiful Barbados. The airport is being renovated, but the Arrivals hall has yet to benefit from this. As we were first off the plane, there was no queue, but again the airport was busy with tourists and Barbadians arriving for the Easter break.
After a wonderful stay in Barbados, it was all too soon time to head back to the airport for the next leg of our trip.
21.04.04 8B730: Barbados-Antigua- via St. Lucia, Dominica
Scheduled Dep: 07.30
Actual Dep: 07.35
Scheduled Arr ANU: 10.10
Actual Arr: 10.05
Seats 2A & B
Economy Class De Haviland Dash 8
We got up before dawn and drove for about half an hour to Grantley Adams airport. There was a lot of activity at that early hour with BWIA flights to Guyana, Trinidad and Miami, an AA
flight to Miami and other LIAT and Caribbean Star flights to other islands.
Check in with Caribbean Star was swift and hassle-free. They have an open seating policy, and their friendly check in staff assured me that as the flight was not full, we would have our pick of whichever seats we liked.
We proceeded through passport control and security to the new departure lounge, which gives excellent views of the runway, and is a huge improvement on its predecessor. A BWIA 737NG arrived from Guyana en route to MIA
. At the same time another BWIA 737 left for POS
. I really like the BWIA livery- I know that they have once again been bailed out by the government in Trinidad, so I hope that they make it.
By this time it began to rain heavily, so passengers boarding got a thorough soaking. Soon our flight was called. We were flying to Antigua to join a cruise ship to cross the Atlantic. There are non-stop flights from BGI
, so I am not sure why we were booked on a flight that stopped twice en route, but as I am a plane geek, I wasn’t complaining!
Smaller LIAT and Caribbean Star aircraft are parked at stands away from the main terminal. Luckily the rain had eased up by then. Early morning is a busy time for the Caribbean Star and LIAT with several arrivals and departures to other islands.
Boarding was quick on this small aircraft. This was my first trip on a Dash 8. My impressions of the cabin were that it was quite spacious with decent legroom. I certainly preferred it to the ATR 42 that I fly regularly with Air Wales on the LCY
route. The cabin was in fairly good shape, although showing wear and tear in some areas. I also recall that the windows seemed to be quite low.
It was open seating on the flight, so we chose 2A and B, mainly because of the alignment of the windows. The final destination of the flight was Antigua, stopping at St. Lucia and Dominica en route. There was also an onward connection from Antigua to St. Maarten (wish I could have gone there!), Tortola and St. Kitts.
We had a good view into the cockpit while final preparations were made. There was one flight attendant, who was friendly and attentive to passengers boarding. The flight was about 40% full on leaving BGI
At this stage the flight attendant was having trouble with the tape machine, and eventually gave up and took us through the safety demo herself using the PA system. After a short taxi we waited briefly at the holding point. At this point I realised that the horror stories I had heard about the Dash 8 being noisy were true!
We had quite a short take off roll- I am used to leaving BGI
777’s or VS
744’s, so it seemed that we were up in the air in no time. After a bumpy climb through cloud we eventually levelled off over the Caribbean sea, heading north west to the island of St Lucia- journey time would be 35 minutes.
Our lone crew member soon sprung into action offering beverage service, starting from the rear of the cabin. I feel sorry for cabin crew, having to repeat the choices over and over. Not that what was on offer was too inspiring- toxic “fruit” juices packed with sugar, and horrid cookies or crisps. Passengers spent a lot of time deliberating over what to choose- almost as if their lives depended on it. By the time passengers at the front were done, we had begun our descent into Vigie airport, St. Lucia.
Vigie is just on the outskirts of Castries and we made a low approach over the airport, doubling back over the sea for a final approach. It seemed that we came in quite fast, but after a smooth landing we taxied straight off the runway onto the small apron.
Passengers leaving at St. Lucia quickly deplaned and made a short walk across to the small terminal, leaving around 8 passengers on board for the next leg.
At this time another Caribbean Star DH8 arrived, and an American Eagle ATR72 left- I watched the crew boarding the obviously empty plane, and within a matter of minutes it had left. Wonder why they overnight in St. Lucia before repositioning?
Around 10 passengers boarded at Vigie, and after wrestling with the automated safety announcement (in vain again), a safety demo ensued, and we were taxiing for take off- total time on the ground- around 20 minutes.
After a short take off roll, we almost immediately banked stomach-churningly to the left over the water for our northward trip to Dominica. At this point the captain gave some routing information- another 35 minute leg, overflying the island of Martinique.
At this point a beverage service was offered to passengers embarking in St. Lucia. A few passengers who originated at Barbados asked for another drink, but I passed.
Soon we were overflying Martinique in clear weather from South to North and we had excellent views of what looks like a very beautiful island. Upon clearing the northern coast, we began our descent into Dominica. I had been there before, but arrived and left by ship, and I had heard that the approach into DOM was pretty spectacular. The island of Dominica reared up on our left-hand side. From the air it looks like the island from Jurassic Park! The island is covered by dense tropical vegetation. The runway at Melville Hall came into sight, nestling between jungle-covered hills and the sea. We made an unforgettable approach over banana plantations and palm groves- at times it felt as if we could almost touch them. As the hills and ravines of Dominica seemed to get almost too close, we touched down smoothly at Melville Hall airport. Dominica has 2 airports, neither of which can handle large jets, or operate at night. Melville Hall airport appears to be in the middle of nowhere, seemingly accessed by winding dirt roads. The only other aircraft visible was a parked American Eagle ATR72.
At Dominica about half the remaining passengers got off. The terminal is tiny and everything proceeded at a very relaxed pace.
Turnaround was fairly swift, and I was surprised that upon leaving DOM, we were around 90% full. I don’t know where all those people came from- but there were quite a few American tourists- probably on eco trips.
This time, the automated safety demo worked! We took off straight over the sea and banked sharply to continue our northwards track to Antigua. Again we heard from the captain about our routing- we would be able to see the island of Montserrat on approach to ANU
, and the sector would take 35 minutes. (Do all Caribbean Star flights take 35 minutes?
On approach to ANU
we had some terrific views of the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean. We approached low over the port of St. John’s, where I was relieved to see the cruise ship that would take me across the Atlantic in the harbour. After a smooth touchdown we taxied to our stand where there were other Caribbean Star and LIAT aircraft.
It was a short walk to the terminal, and at immigration I noticed that only 3 passengers from the flight were ending their journey at ANU
- all the other passengers went to the various transfer desks of other airlines. Although we were small in number, and no other flights had arrived, it took forever to get through immigration as the person on duty took a long time scrutinising each passport.
Finally we were cleared, collected our bags and headed into town.
From Antigua we took a cruise on the Silver Wind which called at St. Barths then crossed the Atlantic for 6 days until reaching Madeira, then La Palma, ending at Gran Canaria. It was a very relaxing time aboard an amazing ship. I would recommend Silversea cruises to anyone.
All too soon we were waking up at the port of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria at the end of our holiday.
Transfer from the ship to the airport took about half an hour. As it was May 1st, it was a holiday in Spain, so the roads were quiet.
01.05.04- IB807 Gran Canaria- Madrid
Scheduled Dep LPA: 11.10
Actual Dep: 11.30
Scheduled Arr MAD: 14.45
Actual Arrival 15.00
Business Class Boeing 757-200
Seat Assignment: 2A/2B
Changed to 5A/C
The airport at Las Palmas is fairly large and modern, and is unmistakably the preserve of northern European charter flights. But Iberia also has a presence for flights between the Canary Islands, the Spanish mainland and Senegal.
The queue for Iberia economy check in was huge, but thankfully there was no queue at business class. We were checked in by an Iberia “abuela” who was friendly and helpful- maybe speaking Spanish helps? She checked our bags through to London, swiped our BA
Executive Club cards and gave us our boarding cards for the MAD
leg, Priority tags were attached to our bags (more about that later). Check in took a while as the agent had never seen an e ticket before, and it took her a while to find our reservation, but everything was done smoothly.
We were originally booked on the GB
Airways direct flight that leaves LPA
at 19.30, arriving into LGW
around midnight, but we opted to go via Madrid rather than hang around in Las Palmas all day.
There was hardly any wait for security and we proceeded to the VIP lounge on the first floor. This is an excellent lounge with sofas looking directly onto the apron- a spotter’s dream.
As I said, charter airlines predominate. Saturday must be German day- lots of Air Berlin and Hapag Lloyd flights, as well as Futura, Iberworld and Spanair. There is also a huge spectators terrace at LPA
There was a good selection of drinks in the lounge, but the food selection was quite limited. I did some shopping- there are fab shops at Las Palmas airport!
Boarding time approached and as we were getting itchy feet, we decided to go to the gate.
From the crowd assembled, it would be a full flight. The Iberia staff made a vain attempt to board passengers by row number, but the minute that boarding was announced, the gate began to resemble a rugby scrum. Having said that, boarding was fairly quick.
Upon entering the aircraft, business class was to the left, so there was no problem settling in. I was dismayed to see that Iberia have a 6 abreast configuration on their 757’s. We were in effect in an economy seat, and it felt very cramped.
The cabin also seemed to have seen better days- it was clean but rather worn looking. When everyone was seated, we pushed back, slightly late and I noticed that row 5 was empty, so I asked the flight attendant if we could move after take off- she said that it was no problem.
Business class was served by 2 female crew members, who looked very smart in their Iberia uniforms. They were very friendly and accommodating to all passengers, contrary to the many horror stories I have heard about Iberia. No pre-flight drinks, but then again we were in a hurry.
While taxiing to the holding point, the Captain gave us some information about the flight- including our weight (95 tons)! I have never heard of that before, Is it common practice to Iberia. He gave the same announcement in Spanish, English and French and told us that it was raining in Madrid. The security demo was very detailed- much more in depth than on other European carriers I have experienced- and was shown on flip down screens.
I had forgotten how powerful the 757 is on take off! We climbed rapidly to our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and left Gran Canaria behind. As soon as the seatbelt sign was switched off, we changed seats to the last row of Business class, where we had an empty seat in between.
Headphones were distributed and entertainment began- tourist items about Spain and the usual Candid Camera style things.
Soon cabin service began- I had a very refreshing and strong gin and tonic with some peanuts. Meal service then followed with a salad plate with beef or fish, cheese and dessert. The meal was excellently presented in an unhurried, relaxed way, and the crew took time to chat to each passenger and make sure that they had everything that they needed. The quality and presentation of the food was very good, followed by good coffee and liqueurs if wanted.
By now we were approaching the Portuguese coast, where clouds began to build. After a while we began our descent into Barajas, and spent what seemed like a long time bumping through heavy cloud. We only cleared the cloud just before landing in heavy rain.
The landing was very smooth and we had a good view of the new terminal that is nearing completion. Unfortunately we were parked at a remote stand and bussed to the terminal, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. At the transfer desk we were directed to wait for a shuttle bus to the other terminal. This didn’t take long to arrive, and during the 5 minute trip I managed to see a Lan Chile A340, an Avianca 767 and an Aerolineas 742 and 744. I also saw an IB
F50 taking off.
Upon transferring we made our way to the Sala Velazquez which is another great lounge giving excellent views. There was a good selection of drinks and wireless internet available, but as soon as we sat down, our next flight was called!
Scheduled Dep MAD: 15.50
Actual dep: 15.55
Scheduled Arr LHR: 17.15
Actual Arrival: 17.10
Airbus A-321 Reg EC-ITN
Seat Assignment: 2E/F
This was to be my first flight on an A321, so I was looking forward to it.
There was a short walk from the lounge to the gate. My impression of the terminal was that it was very dark and oppressive, but I expect that the weather didn’t help too much.
Again we were bussed to the plane which was parked at a remote stand, which meant another soaking…We were among the last passengers to board. The flight crew in business class comprised 2 male flight attendants who looked smart in their Iberia pinstripe uniforms.
We were offered newspapers and a menu, which looked impressive. This was one of IB
's latest additions to the fleet and was therefore very clean and bright. Configuration was 5 abreast in business and was a welcome change from the 757 that we had just left. No Airbus vs Boeing comments, please!
The crew were again very welcoming and friendly, and service was relaxed and efficient throughout the flight. After push back we had a fairly long taxi to the holding point, and another tantalising glimpse of the new terminal, which looks amazing. We waited for an Air Comet Plus A310 to depart then lined up. The take off roll seemed endless and at one point I was worried that we wouldn't be taking off at all, but eventually we eased off the ground and into the scattered clouds over MAD
Lunch was served soon after and was an almost identical meal to that served on the last leg. Iberia have solved the "chicken or fish" conundrum by giving everyone chicken and fish on the same plate, but again the food was fresh, tasty and well presented. The bread was pretty good too, washed down with a few glasses of cava.
After a quick browse through Ronda magazine (LPA
had the May edition, MAD
had April's) we began our descent over NW
France and soon the Isle of Wight was visible- back to Blighty... Altogether my experience of IB
was very positive, and the crew seemed to genuinely want to please. The food and presentation was above many major European carriers, but 6 abreast in domestic business class is not very good.
After circling for a while we broke cloud cover over Windsor and came in over the M25, giving an excellent view of the T5
works, which seem to be progressing nicely.
Another smooth Iberia landing, and our holiday was suddenly over!
Whenever I arrive back at T2
it makes me feel that the UK is a 3rd world country- low ceilings, everything in disrepair and lots of different levels to negotiate.
Baggage reclaim is the absolute pits, but it is being done up at the moment.
One of my bags was first off, and I was blessing the check in lady at LPA
. Then nothing. After an interminable wait, during which most of my fellow passengers had drifted away, I realised that my bag wasn't going to show.
I went to the Aviance desk to fill in a form- there were some other passengers from LPA
in the same position.
Luckily Iberia delivered my bag the next day.
So that's my trip report, and the end of an unforgettable trip. This week I am flying BA
and Swiss LHR
in Business, so I will post a report when I get back.
Thanks for reading this.