To quote Jafa..."so this is how it feels"
Well, I knew that this day was coming since March 12th, 2005. I was transiting Auckland on my way to Sydney when I called my mum who gave me the news that I was accepted into the Master’s programme that I had applied for at Oxford.
Fast forward about 6 months and you have 27th September 2005. Off to London! I was looking forward to this day for a long time. I have lived in Los Angeles for the last 7 years and to be honest, it had been growing a bit long in the tooth. I moved to LA from Istanbul in January 1998, finished high school, attended USC and graduated this May. In all honesty, my decision to go to Oxford was partially driven by my desire to leave Los Angeles.
Who then would have guessed that it would have been as difficult as it was for me to leave? I started feeling a bit funny in my stomach about a day prior to leaving. I had already seen all of my friends and family told them goodbye. Then the thought of not seeing my parents, my dog and my house again for a long time dawned upon me. It also dawned on me that my car might be gone by the time I come back. I had been trying to sell it for the last month or so, but so far the only interested party that had contacted me balked once she found out that a “5-speed manual transmission” was not some sort of tiptronic automatic and yes, it has a clutch!
I then remembered that I hadn’t had my final Double-Double Animal style with Animal style fries at In-n-Out. I hadn’t been to Baja Fresh to bid adieu to the Baja Steak Burrito with extra guacamole. I hadn’t enjoyed a Double Chiliburger with Chili cheese fries at Tommys recently. I didn’t get to eat a farewell fajita and drink a farewell margarita at El Cholo either. At this point you’re probably thinking…better you didn’t do all of things Michel because you’d have had a cardiac arrest by now! Well, fair enough, but I also didn’t have the chance to take my Jetta down Mulholland one last time either, I didn’t get around to going to the Getty again, I didn’t make it to the King Tut exhibit at LACMA, in short, I didn’t do all the things that I originally wanted to do before I left. Unfortunately, I really haven’t seen much of the US either! In the last 7 years, I’ve spent about 12 hours in New York, 3 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have taken the odd trip to Vegas and San Francisco. Didn’t get around to going to the Great State of Texas, never ended up seeing the Grand Canyon, didn’t visit G-BOAG up in Washington, haven’t seen New York properly, didn’t make a trip to Mexico either (except for one night in Baja last November). I hope I’ll have the chance to do all that another time.
Anyway, I had booked myself a ticket to London Heathrow on British Airways and chose the 21:20 departure (Flight 268) for the 27th of September. I have flown this route about 30 or 35 times in the last 15 years, uniquely on British Airways with the exception of last year when I flew Virgin Atlantic.
Departure was scheduled for 21:20 and I confirmed that the flight was on time at BA
.com. I checked in electronically the night before and reserved a bulkhead window, seat 17K, in the World Traveller Plus cabin.
Here I am with my dog in the garden:
And here is Snoopy by herself:
I left home (Conejo Valley) around 5:30pm and took the 101 East to Lost Hills Road, got off the freeway and took Malibu Canyon down to Pacific Coast Highway. Southern California’s landscape is really something. Malibu Canyon approaches the coast from high above, then making a swooping right turn down and passes Pepperdine University before meeting PCH. I actually got a ticket for making an illegal left turn on Malibu Canyon and Civic Center Way back in January...hehe. Left on Malibu Canyon, all the way down until Ocean Boulevard and then eventually over to Lincoln. Saw a US Airways A321 landing on 24R.
I had 4 bags with me, so it was an interesting maneuver to get them onto the baggage cart and over to the BA
check in desks. BA
has four checkin sections: First, Club World, World Traveller Plus / Online Check-in and World Traveller. I had checked in online and was flying in WT
+ so I went over to that counter. The check in lady was a foreigner of some description. She tagged the bags through to London. Each one received a ‘heavy’ tag! I then decided to ask her about the aircraft operating the route that night.
Me: I wonder do you happen to have the information on which exact aircraft is operating the route tonight?
Lady: It is a Boeing 747, it is always a Boeing 747.
Me: I know, I was asking if you know the exact one for tonight, such as G-BNLA, G-CIVA, that sort of thing?
Lady: Uh…Boeing 747-400?
Me: Ok, nevermind, it doesn’t matter.
My mother: He wants to know the name of the aircraft.
Lady: It’s a Boeing.
Thank you so much…I was under the impression that BA
was sending one of their A320s over to LAX
tonight. What a silly ignoramus. I know that they have information on their screen about which exact aircraft it is because just two weeks ago my father flew to London on BA
and when I took him to the airport I asked the checkin lady which aircraft it was and she told me that it was G-CIVT.
Oh well. I had had success asking checkin personnel at LAX
about which plane was operating the route before, so I decided to give it a shot with BA
on this particular evening but it didn’t work out.
One annoying thing about LAX
is that you have to take your bags from the checkin counter to a screening booth towards the front of the terminal for scanning. It’s quite annoying, especially when LAX
is busy. This seems to be a new thing…last time I flew internationally from LAX
(CX in July, QF
in March) I didn’t have to do this. Perhaps it is a BA
thing or is it just a new regulation? Does anyone know? Do premium class passengers have to go through this misery as well?
Once the bags were screened and checked, I went through security which was a breeze at that time of the evening. The gate for this evening’s flight was 121. As I arrived at the gate at about 6:45pm or so, I saw the BA
744 being pulled into the gate. Though it was dark I was able to make out from the nosewheel geardoor that the aircraft was G-CIVA.
I spent about 1 hour on the phone talking to some friends before boarding began. There were two lines, one for First/Business Class and the other for Economy. There was no mention made of World Traveller Plus so I assumed that I’d be boarding through the Economy line.
Here is a shot of the infamous inside of TBIT:
At about 20:30, the first boarding call was made. After special boarding, First and Business Class were boarded. Then an announcement was made that “Will passengers traveling in rows 17-21 in our World Traveller Plus Cabin please board from this side” but if you weren’t looking at her when she said it, you wouldn’t know which side she was referring to! Anyway, as soon as she said it, just about everyone stood up to wait in line until their row was called. It was like navigating through a jungle to get through to the gate. Eventually I did and the machine wasn’t working so the gentleman detached the ticket by hand and I went down the jetway and was welcomed aboard the aircraft by an F/A called Elias, who looked and sounded Lebanese.
Here are some views of the seats:
It was nice being on a BA
747-400 again. I didn’t fly them in 2004 because Virgin Premium Economy was significantly less expensive. This was my third trip of the year on my favourite plane equipped with my favourite engines (the other two were CX
). I took my seat which was a bulkhead window. There was quite a lot of legroom as you can see in the picture here.
One interesting thing about WT
+ is that the window seats are not right up against the window…in fact there is small gap in between the seat and the wall. It’s nice to store some things there, such as shoes, but it makes it impossible to actually lean against the window.
Then came the announcement from the flight deck and I was really quite surprised to hear that the captain was a female. She gave us a brief overview of the route and told us that the flight would be a quick 9 hours.
We were off the stand at about 9:40pm and taxied to the runway. It was so nice to see Qantas 747-400 VH
-OJT, Cathay Pacific 747-400 B-HOR
(I think) and Air New Zealand 747-400 ZK
-NBT (I think) alongside our G-CIVA. Four 747-400s, 16 Rolls Royce RB211s. All that was missing was an SAA 744.
I took some blurred photos as we were taxiing, none of them came out that well though:
We taxied to runway 24L and started the takeoff roll on what I think was something less than 80% N1. After about 5 seconds or so Captain Caroline applied full power. The RB211s started churning faster and began to produce their distinctive hum. We soon lifted off and climbed out over the ocean, making a slow left turn over Los Angeles before reaching cruising altitude.
Some more photos with long shutter speeds:
Within a matter of about 10 minutes or so, the crew came around with drinks. I asked for a scotch with lots of ice and a little bit of water. The F/A said that she would give me the ingredients so that I can make the drink to my own taste and at that, gave me a mini bottle of Red Label, a glass with water and a glass with ice. I was very impressed for two reasons. First of all, I was glad to get a miniature bottle instead of her just pouring it from a large one as they did on VS
last time I flew on them. Secondly, it was nice for her to let me make it just the way I like it, instead of her just guessing how much water and ice I want. So as you can tell I was quite impressed about that. The drink came with a packet of Worcester flavoured pretzels.
Heres a photo of the pre-dinner snacks and drinks that I had:
And another one to put the size of the PTV in perspective:
While having the drink and eating the pretzels I played two of BA
’s four games: blackjack and backgammon. I absolutely killed the computer in backgammon.
About 10 minutes after the initial drink serving, the crew came round again with dinner. Interestingly enough, no menus were passed out beforehand and I was offered “buttered chicken” or “beef ravioli” on the spot. I chose the buttered chicken. It came with a small side salad, a warm roll (yes it was nice actually) a piece of cheesecake, a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar and a small bottle of Crystal Geyser mineral water. The buttered chicken was actually alright, but I’m beginning to think that its preferable not to order anything which is made with butter or oil on an airplane. Once it goes through the microwave, the aftertaste is enough to make you retch. Anyway, the chicken was served alongside a bed of rice and some bloody awful green beans. I’m not exactly sure why we didn’t get any menus but I suspect it may have something to do with the catering strike.
I held on to the cheesecake for breakfast the next morning but ate everything else. The meal was quite good. No sooner had I finished that the same F/A that gave me the whiskey offered me tea or coffee and after I declined, she took the tray away. I took the opportunity to get some sleep. I put on my noise-canceling headphones from Concorde and put the eye shade on, reclined the seat, put out the footrest and hit the sack.
The contents of the package in the seat pocket in front:
The next thing I knew, breakfast was being served. I had gotten about 6 hours of sleep, so I wasn’t too hungry. Breakfast came in one of BA
’s All Day Deli boxes and I was offered either a ham and cheese sandwich or a cheese sandwich and I chose the ham and cheese.
Inside the box was the aforementioned sandwich on wheat ciabatta, Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, some sort of a strawberry candy bar, a cup of OJ and some blueberry yoghurt. All in all it was a very nice snack. Even if I had had the option of a full English breakfast, I would have most likely declined.
Here are a couple of shots of breakfast:
Here I am looking bewildered after breakfast:
Also took a photo out the wing after breakfast:
Spotted a couple of things over the sky on approach. Is this London City Airport?
And of course the dome:
We approached Heathrow from the east and landed on 27L. As we touched down, I said “God save the Queen” to myself. We pulled off the runway and taxied to Terminal 1. Busy time of the day at Heathrow, but nothing too exciting to report. I tried spotting the MEA
A330 but I guess it must have alright left by that time. The usual Terminal 4 lineup was there, consisting of BA
777s and 744s. A KQ
772 joined the lineup today as well. At T1 I spotted a 767 with a World Tail, which was nice to see.
There was an El Al 747-400 and a BA
744 parked at Terminal 1 and we parked right alongside the two. Disembarked from the 2L door and went through customs. A very constipated looking immigration officer questioned me for about 2 minutes on why I was coming to the UK and what I was going to do when my course was over, but he eventually let me go.
The bags took forever to come though! Terminal 1 has not changed a bit. As a child, I remember landing at T1 after having come in on CY
from Larnaca and the arrivals hall looked exactly the same.
Once I had the bags, I went to the Central Bus Terminal and took the Oxford-Heathrow coach to Oxford. Funnily enough, the coach had seatbelts and we were instructed that we had to use them!
And here I am in the bus on the way over:
As we arrived at Oxford and starting driving down the High Street, I immediately forgot about everything in Los Angeles and was just taken aback by what a beautiful town Oxford is. I even saw a Lebanese Restaurant and was beginning to think that I would really like it at Oxford. Then I got off at Gloucester Green and was greeted by freezing 17° C weather and I started thinking the opposite. I’m surprised I even made it to college without having to stop every so often and thaw.
Anyway, I’m here now and it is a fantastic place, though I am a bit shocked to find how inefficient some things are! Nonetheless, this is a truly amazing place.
Here are some shots of my college:
Pusey Quad...still haven't figured out if it is pronounced pous-ey or pussy...hehe:
The only thing they need here is an In-n-Out burger!
Thanks for reading!!
PARIS, FRANCE...THE BEIRUT OF EUROPE.