Date: June 10, 2003
Leaving: New York JFK
Arriving: London LHR
Airline: British Airways
Scheduled Departure: 23:00
Actual Departure: 23:08, takeoff at 23:20
Scheduled Arrival: 11:00
Actual Arrival: 10:35, landing at 10:20
Departure Gate: 5
Arrival Gate: 5
Departure Runway: 13L
Arrival Runway: 27L
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
Arrived at Kennedy airport at 20:38 anticipating heavy delays at check in. Boy was I right. It was almost frightening. I joined the longest line – the one for World Traveler/World Traveler Plus, with flights 1502 (to MAN), 114, and 182 (both to LHR). At the beginning, the line progressed at a snail’s pace (actually slower). However, as the line progressed, things got quicker. I wanted to see if I could use the electronic check in machines. However, I decided it was best to stay on line. It took 1 hour 5 minutes before a nice lady called me over to her check in desk. First, she asked the usual questions about the bags, such as “has this bag been with you at all times?” It sure has. I handed over my passport and she asked whether I had an e-ticket, to which I replied “yes”. I asked whether the flight was full. With a laugh, she pointed to the line I’d just gotten out of. Just making sure. Then, she asked if I had a seat preference. I told her window. Miraculously, she was able to get me some window seats on both flights. I booked the flights a week before this date, so I was willing to take whatever seat they gave me.
My bag was tagged to the final destination, ZRH and I was given two boarding passes. THANK GOD no baggage screening! I proceeded to security. It was 9:50. There was no line, but the detector beeped on me. This time, it was only my jeans and my watch.
Terminal 7 at JFK is very nice, actually much nicer than I’d anticipated. It is modern, clean, and the atmosphere is friendly (a bit like the new T4, but without the “grandness” of it). In front of me was a short escalator to take me to the boarding area. I arrived at the currency exchange place to see if I could get some pounds but the place had just closed. So, I got a magazine over at the newsstand and went over to my gate.
I spotted a UA 767-200 spending the night (N603UA) and in the distance was a Concorde. I took out my binoculars to check the registration, which turned out to be G-BOAG. Unfortunately, this was the only BA Concorde registration I’d previously recorded – I saw this plane back in JFK in May 2002. Also, I saw N603UA on that very day.
The departure area is quite colorful. All the seats are aircraft-style with colored leather padding. I walked over to find a spot where I could see the registration of my aircraft. I couldn’t find it. Boarding at gate 3 was another BA 744, the earlier flight to Heathrow. It was G-BNLA, the first one delivered (Chelsea Rose). So, I went back to the departure area and waited boarding call. Ten minutes later, I saw a line form, so I disconnected/shut off my laptop and joined the end of this line (which had gotten to be pretty long).
About ten minutes of waiting later, I was finally at the front of the line handing over my boarding pass and passport to an agent.
I entered the air-bridge. It is the longest air-bridge I’ve ever been on. Finally, I saw the plane and, upon reaching it, touched the fuselage. Two flight attendants (one male, one female), greeted passengers at the gate. I handed the female one my boarding card and asked for the registration. She asked the FA working the galley to look at the door. She came back stating “BNLE”. That was all I needed to know, so I thanked her and was on my way.
I proceeded to my seat on this very crowded flight. I arrived at seat 44A. This is the same aircraft as some recent airliners.net cabin shots, showing the new interior.
Photo © Steve Hall
This would be my third time in a row on the 744 (my previous two were with Air France). Seat pitch is, apparently, 31 inches, which would make them more crowded than Swiss’s Airbus A330s, but they seemed about the same. I was able to stow my laptop case under the seat (and it’s a big case) and my camcorder case next to me. The seats are among the most comfortable coach seats I’ve sat in - far and away better than Air France's new interiors.
Each seat has its own PTV. Passengers were just pouring into the last cabin of the 747, as it was where the majority of World Traveler passengers would be seated. I was very happy with my seat. I checked out the IFE system. There were 12 radio channels, a few quite interesting. All the video channels were blank, with the exception of the map channel. A “welcome” message, such as that used on Swiss would be nice.
The flight attendants were helpful in guiding passengers to their seats. While leafing through the “High Life” magazine (BA’s in-light magazine), I found a "planespotting" section. Imagine my surprise! There were details about every aircraft in BA’s fleet with the exception of… The Airbus A319, which was featured as the planespotting plane of the month. I would be flying the A319 the following day, so that was pretty cool.
Pushback was at 23:08. I noticed on my screen that this flight was supposed to get into Heathrow at 10:00, an hour early. That was good news for me connecting, but it would also mean less sleep. When pushback was over, the safety demonstration showed, with a small bit on the bottom left corner of the screen showing a lady doing the demonstration in sign language.
Shortly after, the plane started moving and proceeded over to runway 13L. There was no line for takeoff; we were number 1 (rare at JFK). The plane lined up with the runway and the engines spooled up to full throttle. It took a while to lift off. Immediately after leaving the ground, the plane made a left turn over Long Island. I could see the city lights on this clear New York evening.
The flight path took us over Bridgeport and New Haven, then up towards Boston. It was pretty similar to the Swiss flights from JFK-ZRH. We were climbing pretty fast at a speed of 1000 km/h (50-90 mph tailwinds). When we reached cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, I took out my laptop until the snacks were served. The snacks were some sort of vinegar-flavored peanuts. It sounds a bit weird, but they were good. We were flying over the Gulf of Maine and on to Nova Scotia. The beautiful female flight attendant, in her late 20s/early 30s was very polite, I found and relaxed attitude.
A short time after, dinner was served. The choice was chicken or pasta. The usual choices lingered in my head. “Chicken” I said. I had pasta for dinner back home, so chicken it was. The chicken was served in some sauce, along with string-beans and something; with a salad and some sort of cake on the side. The chicken was quite good and moist. After dinner was cleared, it was a choice of coffee or tea. I took the tea. As I waited for my drink to cool off, I monitored the flight’s progress. As I tasted the drink, it didn’t taste anything like tea. In fact, it tasted like coffee. So, I wanted to return it to the flight attendant in the galley. Trying really hard not to spill the full cup of coffee on my way up above my two seat mates, I made my way over to the galley. Unfortunately, I did spill a bit of the coffee. The flight attendant, upon my handing the coffee to her and saying I ordered the tea (in a polite way), immediately offered me some tea, to which I accepted. Apparently, she’d understood coffee.
The FA came over to my seat with the tea a minute later. That was a definite plus point. I watched the flight slowly progress over Nova Scotia and on towards Newfoundland. At that point, I decided it would be best to sleep, as there were only four hours remaining in the flight. The seats were both comfortable enough and had winged headrests but lacked sufficient legroom for my long legs. Still, the first two were enough for me to fall asleep. I woke up with less than two hours left. Breakfast was served. I believe I had some eggs with some kind of fruit on the side. It was good.
Descent into Heathrow was smooth and I noticed a Singapore Airlines 744 below us on the same flight path. We circled what was presumably the Ockham VOR once and then exited the holding pattern to the approach to 27L. The landing was very good.
During the taxi to Terminal 4, I couldn't help but notice the variety of airlines at this airport. We docked at gate 5 at 10:35, 25 minutes early.
As I was exiting the aircraft, I took some time to check out the Club World seats (it is pretty cool that one seat faces forward while the other faces backward). The flight attendants were saluting every person and off I was to the Flight Connections Centre (FCC). I snapped a shot of the aircraft and a look at the nose gear which confirmed the registration as G-BNLE.
Turns out, gate 5 is at the other end of the terminal. Still, it wasn’t that long of a walk to the area to the bus. The signs were clearly marked. From what I could see, the terminal was very clean. Outside were various 744s and 777s. The line was pretty long, so I didn’t make the first bus to arrive. However, the second one arrived less than a minute later. The bus ride was shorter than I expected. Spotting from there was fine, saw a couple of 767-300s. Arrived at Terminal 1/2 Flight Connections Centre 11 minutes after departing T4. I spotted a LH A300 D-AIAU.
There was a long escalator, which I took up to the customs area. Past there were two long security lines. This took about 15 minutes. At 11:35, I was all done, with no problems. First thing I did was check out the flight displays to see which gate I was due out of. Flight 716 to Zurich didn’t have a gate listed. In fact, none of the flights before did except for those leaving within an hour of the particular time. So, I decided to exchange some currency. I asked one of the airport employees where I could find one. He said there was one at the end of the concourse, which was far, or one right around the corner, but he didn’t know if that one existed. Right around the corner, I found one. There, I found out since I was connecting, I didn’t need any local currency. In fact, every place U.S. dollars would be accepted.
At the time, I was in desperate need of a pen, since I had to write down different registrations. Picked one up for about $4 and was off to do some spotting. The central shopping area at Heathrow is very nice, with lots of shops and places to eat (though there could be more in my opinion). After spending a bit of time resting on the comfortable chairs in this central shopping area (near a flight information screen), it was time to do some spotting.
I found an excellent point, located just right outside of the Europort. There were these very comfortable lounge chairs where one can almost lie down and sleep. Almost as soon as I’d arrived there, someone vacated one of these chairs, so I sat down. First thing to note was that my chair and the ones around it were located in a very quiet area where nobody passes in front, as there is some sort of plants blocking the way. Therefore, the only traffic is those from the chair directly to the left of me. I could almost fall asleep there, but I had an excellent view of planes lining up for takeoff on 27R.
One of the first planes I spotted was the Singapore Airlines 747 I’d seen up in the air. When I zoomed in on its registration, I found out it was 9V-SPL, the plane I’d spent two months trying to catch in ZRH in 2002. I would have loved to see it in the tropical livery it once was in. Other planes of note included several AA and UA 777s, BA 777s and 747s, BMI A320s, a Qantas 744 VH-OJP, and an Aer Lingus A321. The Europort consisted of several BA A319s and A320s and an Icelandair 757 TF-FIV. It was about 12:20 when I arrived there and I was there until almost 1:00. For about five minutes, I waited underneath the flight information screen near where I was spotting to wait for a gate until it finally appeared, which turns out was 17. So, I made my way over to the middle concourse (the longest one), which had gate number 17.
This concourse, located near the central shopping area, looked very dark and ugly. It was also divided into two – odd numbered gates (left side) and even numbered gates (right side) by some sort of wall. As I entered, I saw the ceiling was not covered – a number of pipes and fans covered there. At that point, I was glad they didn’t put the gate number on earlier. It was very depressing just sitting down there. Luckily, my gate was the first one.
Date: June 11, 2003
Leaving: London LHR
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: 716
Scheduled Departure: 13:45
Actual Departure: 13:55, takeoff at 14:10
Scheduled Arrival: 16:30
Actual Arrival: 16:17, landing at 16:13
Departure Gate: 17
Arrival Gate: A72
Departure Runway: 27R
Arrival Runway: 14
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Photo © William Ronciere
The departure area was very small and was virtually empty. I checked out the registration of the beautiful Airbus standing outside, which turns out to be G-EUOG. This plane was delivered Oct 01. I was anxious to try out BA’s Club Europe product since I’d heard some good things about it. As it was 1:10, boarding would be starting pretty soon. The gate filled up quite quickly and the familiarity of Swiss-German accents filled the hall.
Boarding commenced at around 1:20, whole plane at once. As I entered the aircraft following the customary touch of the fuselage, I was surprised to see the aircraft in an entirely Coach class layout. I found this a bit odd in a premium airline like BA. Still, the seats were in black leather, very classy. They seemed wide enough and were ergonomic. The cabin was in perfect condition.
I took seat 7F, near the beautiful IAE starboard engine. This way I could enjoy the sounds while having a perfect view out the window with no obstruction of the wing. The seat was very comfortable. In-flight entertainment consisted of small LCD screens, similar to the ones on SWISS but no audio channels. This came as a disappointment since I was under the impression the Airbus fleet offered music as part of the entertainment package. Of particular interest were the armrests. They were rounded outwards where the arm reaches its widest points. They look pretty cool, too.
Being parked at the closest gate to the terminal, I couldn’t see any planes from the parked position. Shortly before departure, the purser came on the PA announcing a voluntary survey. As he walked around, I noticed an unusually large number of people actually wanting to take it. That was definitely a good sign, especially as he said we didn’t have to take it. Pushback was at 1:50, the engines started and we started rolling to the runway. I spotted a variety of BA planes, including an A320-100, G-BUSC.
Making way to the runway, I spotted a Cathay Pacific 744 B-HOW and several South African 747s (two 300s and one 400), registrations ZS-SAZ, ZS-SAT, and ZS-SKB. The lattermost plane I flew on many times with Swissair as HB-IGE. I was glad to see S/N 22995 again. Also of note was an SAS MD-90 as well as a Swiss A320 HB-IJS. The LX aircraft was directly behind us and I presumed it was also going to Zurich. The race had just started...
It was a moderate line up for takeoff on 27R, but at 2:10, we were ready to go. The engines spooled up and the aircraft accelerated hard for 40 seconds before lifting off. We were going very fast (maybe the pilot wasn’t using flaps – I couldn’t see from my position) definitely over 180 mph. At that moment, the LCD screens were showing the map program. We turned around southeast bound towards the English Channel and on to France. Climb was very quick and we leveled off at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet.
The Air-show map program would remain switched on for the entire flight. At this time, I took the time to check out the seatback pocket, which seemed rather empty. There was the in-flight magazine High Life, an airsickness bag, and the safety card. The A319 was featured as the planespotting plane of the month in BA’s in-flight magazine, as I found out on my previous flight from JFK. Anyway, the lunch service (Bistro) would be served. There would be a choice between two sandwiches: egg and turkey. The egg sandwich seemed to be a good idea. When the cart was passed around, I ordered the egg option, very tasty.
I like the A319 a lot – it is both comfortable and quiet. Our flight path took us near Paris, eastern France, and northern Switzerland. The descent was started 15 minutes before landing, or about 90 nm. The descent was indeed rapid with a lot of turns before final for runway 14. It was a clear day, so I could see the beautiful Swiss countryside, little towns, and the many hills that dot the landscape. I found the plane to be very quiet during this point, with just a small buzz from the IAE engines very close to my ears. We made a good touchdown on 14 a bit down the runway and slowed down to the exit point. I spotted an all-white MD-80 at the Midfield terminal (?) a few Jumbolinos and just two minutes after landing, a Swiss A320. Checked out its registration, and it was HB-IJS. We had won the race.
BA had always used Terminal B (or 2 as it is now called) as did every other airline except for SWISS. So, I told my dad to meet me over at Terminal 2. However, a few days before, I saw on the Unique airport website that a BA flight was using Terminal 1, which confused me a bit. Indeed we did park at Terminal 1 at gate A72. The A320 from LHR, HB-IJS parked a minute later at A71, right next to us.
Deplaning was quick and, just on the JFK-LHR leg, the flight attendants standing at the door saluted each passenger. Making my way towards passport control and baggage claim, I reflected a bit about BA and that their in-cabin atmosphere is very relaxed and pleasant, which was a very big plus. Service was very good as was the food. Concourse 1 at Heathrow needs to be renovated as it has a dumpy look to it and is poorly lit. Anyway, there was a bit of a line at passport control and I got the bags rather quickly at baggage claim. My dad, luckily, had found out that BA was using Terminal 1, so he was waiting outside. The Europe leg of my vacation had started with my return trip in 1 ½ months.
Stay tuned for Part 2 which is even longer and more detailed than this one.