Flight number: BD706
Route: Chicago - O'Hare International (ORD / KORD) USA-Illinois - Manchester - International (Ringway) (MAN / EGCC) – UK-England
Class: J – Business (aka “The Business”)
Aircraft Type: A330-243
Scheduled departure time: 18:35
Actual departure: 18:39
Scheduled arrival time: 08:05
Actual arrival time: approx 08:00
Apologies for the lack of photos in this report – with it being a flight in total darkness, there wasn’t much opportunity to take any photos
With plenty of bmi diamond club miles burning a hole in my pocket, I thought it would be a good idea to redeem some on a couple of business class tickets to lessen the burden of a red-eye transatlantic west to east flight. Myself and Justin Wood decided to fly out for our holiday to Miami on Virgin Atlantic on a one way economy ticket and then redeem some of my bmi miles for a one way return.
We didn’t really fancy United business class as it doesn’t seem too well rated compared to the other competition within Star Alliance. Lufthansa MIA-FRA and then onwards to the UK would have been an option, but the cost of getting from FRA back to London would have been quite expensive. I had quite fancied trying the BD Business long haul product after numerous positive comments and also having tried Premium Economy, so it was decided. We were a little apprehensive with all the changes BD seem to be making to their longhaul routes and we did worry that by the time the flight came round that they may have moved another A330 to LHR and we’d be left with a nasty wet leased aircraft with a substandard product to that of their A330 (the IAD route mess fresh in my mind). Our fears were unfounded, despite them seeming to have plans to wet lease a 767 from Arke Fly ready for January and panicking me a bit.
The tickets were booked directly from the diamond club section of flybmi.com and using the excellent miles + cash option that diamond club allow, 2 business class tickets were ours for a VERY reasonable price and I still had plenty of miles left in my account afterwards. Unusually they were issued as paper tickets and a few days after booking I had them in my possession.
After a great holiday in Miami and St Maarten, it was time to head home to the UK. We took an AA flight from MIA to ORD to be able to catch our bmi flight to Manchester.
We arrived on time at Terminal 3 (I think) at a dull and cold Chicago, which was quite a shock after the weather we’d experienced so far. When stood outside the terminal, some Swissport workers laughed at us in our summer gear (not shorts – we aren’t THAT stupid!) and asked where we were from – we said the UK, but we’d come from Miami and they laughed and said that was f***** up!
After me asking the information desk clerk how to get to terminal 7 and getting a strange look and a request for which airline, I soon realised that there probably wasn’t a terminal 7 at Chicago as we were directed to Terminal 5! (I must have been thinking of JFK or something……..well that’s my excuse).
We caught the train service over to Terminal 5 and found the bmi check in area inbetween Air India and Swiss. It stuck out like a sore thumb because it was the only check in zone without a mass of people around it. Sounds good until you realise that the reason behind it is because it’s not open yet! After loitering for a few minutes, we noticed that there was a sign indicating the opening time to be 15:30 – approx 3 hours before departure. Personally I’d have rather they opened it a bit sooner as everyone is likely to turn up around that point and they’d spread the queuing a bit better, but I guess with one flight per day, they can’t justify it.
We went to get some food while waiting for check in to open, and went back around 10 minutes before and found the economy line fairly busy, premium economy empty and a handful in the business line. We joined the back of the business line and waited our turn after check in opened. The process was quick and easy and we were handed our boarding cards for seats 1A and 1C along with an invite to the SAS business lounge inside a United Airlines gold coloured holder.
Our luggage was priority tagged before we had to take it for screening ourselves (don’t get me started on this procedure in US airports – the incompetence shown at Miami still amazes me and Chicago was only mildly better. There is no direction as to exactly where you have to go. The staff say nothing to you and just expect you to know what is going on. One member of staff just put his hand up to my face as if to tell me to **** off when I said “excuse me sir” to find out if we were to leave the baggage in this area. Then they had us walking 5 minutes to another check in area to leave our bags for screening! I understand the need for security, but surely there doesn’t need to be a cordoned off area right next to the check in desks resembling a luggage store?! It must be possible to do it behind the scenes and let the bags go off on the conveyor system)
We then joined the ridiculous security line which had stretched through the terminal and back towards the main entrance. As we had made a fair amount of progress, we noticed a sign up ahead with a separate line for business/first/gold passengers, so we rejoined this after whinging about how much time we’d wasted in the regular line. It wasn’t to much avail as every man and his dog tried to join the same line and push to the front, usually with a “my flight is leaving in 10 minutes” comment. I say they should have got to the airport a little sooner – everyone else manages it! Once through security, we realised that Terminal 5 airside has very little to do – kind of surprising for the busiest airport in the world and an international carrier terminal, but we just headed for the SAS business lounge.
Upon entry to the lounge, the lounge bodyguard was pleasant enough (I’ve experienced worse – usually at BA terraces!) and immediately welcomed us in. The lounge itself is pretty small, but I guess with not many SAS flights out of ORD and just other *G members to cater for, it needn’t be large – I suppose there is a bigger UAL red carpet lounge somewhere at ORD.
There was an area with snacks and drinks over to the left (fairly good range of drinks with light nibbles but nothing special), some newspapers and magazines in the middle with comfy chairs strewn around. There was free internet access provided in one corner (though only 1 out of about 3 terminals was actually working) and a small segregated smoking room just behind. There were no bathroom facilities – you had to leave the lounge and walk to the nearest washrooms, which were close by.
After passing some time reading, drinking and eating, as well as disappearing to the bathroom and to complete our exit on the US Visit machine located just outside (is it just me who feels a need to wash my hands immediately after putting my fingers on those fingerprint reading sensors?!), it was time to board – exactly 1 hour before scheduled departure. We leisurely made our way to the gate, missing the business priority boarding (shame ) and made our way into the queue. They were half way through boarding steerage (no offence meant – I’m not a snob and certainly no stranger to economy!) when we arrived.
After a short wait at the front of the aircraft, I handed my boarding pass to the in flight supervisor, who lifted her hand to point right and then switched it to the left and said “enjoy the business sir”. Obviously my choice to dress for comfort while flying rather than looking like I’m off for a dinner date, plus the young age made me look decidedly economy! I didn’t take offence really – I’d have probably pointed me to the right too.
We headed down to seats 1A and 1C at the front of the aircraft which looked very comfortable at first glance – a decent width and a very good amount of legroom before the bulkhead. There was a decent space between the seats for drinks, as well as a personal pull out drink holder per seat. The trays were stowed in the arms and I was impressed at how clean the area they are stored in was! I was thinking specifically of the Virgin Atlantic ones on the outbound which were full of grime and bits of food. Probably not a fair comparison as the Virgin aircraft was about 11 years old and it wasn’t a business class seat (just bulkhead economy battered by thousands of children no doubt!), however the BD aircraft is nearly 5 years old, so I wouldn’t have been surprised had it been dirtier in there. The PTV was easily released and raised and was a decent size (around 9 inches I believe) – more of that later.
I didn’t take a photo of the seat, but here are a couple of good shots showing them. There were 4 button controls on each – 1 for the extendable foot rest, 2 for lumbar support and 1 for recline, as well as a powerful adjustable reading light.
Photo © Andy Martin - AirTeamImages
Photo © Airsnaps - WorldAirlineImages
Within seconds of sitting down, one of the cabin crew were over to us in a shot to welcome us and she returned with amenity kits so quickly I swear she didn’t even disappear! (pictures of Justin’s amenity kit below as I managed to leave mine onboard!) She followed this with a warm towel to freshen up.
She was back like a whippet with a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses – see self picture of us below with glasses up – I’m on the right in the foreground and Justin on the left. Sorry for the weird shadows the phone camera is casting in the photo.
Soon after, the cabin service manager for the flight was over to extend her personal welcome and offer us to call on her at anytime should we need anything at all, although she’d be working in premium economy for this flight – a nice touch and made us feel welcome. She also explained about the arrivals facility that bmi offer their longhaul business class passengers and gave us 2 invites to the Radisson SAS hotel linked to the airport terminal by a walkway. The voucher entitled you to a coffee and croissant as well as a day membership to the gym, pool, spa and changing area.
Every time the crew noticed you had taken a sip of champagne, they were by your side quicker than a dog from the traps on race night, ready to refill you. I swear they were actually trying to get people drunk! – even when I made a face to indicate that maybe I’d be ok, one replied “go on, it would be rude not to”!! I can’t say I was complaining but with the 50 minutes or so on the ground, it made for a fair amount of drink in a short space of time and by the time the safety demonstration was being performed, we were feeling slightly intoxicated, though we managed to compose ourselves!!
To say the crew were attentive would be an understatement. They were incredibly polite and friendly. In between the champagne top ups, they were round with a trolley of magazines and a selection of newspapers to choose from. They followed this by taking orders for after takeoff drinks – we both chose orange juice after the barrage of champagne we’d been subjected to!
The onboard chef came around to hand out menus for the flight and he was also armed with a bottle of champagne (there really was no escape!). The menu selection was very nice (see pictures below). He left the menus with us for about 10 minutes and then came round to take orders before takeoff.
I opted for the warm dim sum selection for starter, fillet of beef with Roquefort sauce for main, followed by Chicago caramel and pecan cheesecake for dessert. I had heard very good things about the BD onboard chef service, so was sure I wouldn’t be disappointed.
The pilot in command (we had 2 Captains for this flight) made a PA announcement to say that it was approaching our scheduled departure time and that we were ready and would be pushing back shortly. He announced the flight time as 6hrs 46 minutes due to a good tailwind en-route and this would mean an on time or slightly early arrival in Manchester. The conditions en route were expected to be mostly fine.
We pushed back just a few minutes behind schedule and made our way out to one of the 7 odd runways at ORD – I quite honestly have no idea for sure which it was, but either 22R/L or 27L/R is sounding familiar from the runway category designation signs as we were holding. The commander announced that we were number 3 for departure and expected to wait a few minutes. This was about right and after a brief wait, we turned to line up on the runway – I could see landing traffic on a fairly short final, either for our runway, or one on a similar heading next to us! I guess it was for our runway as we didn’t hang around and performed a rolling takeoff. The takeoff performance of the A330 has impressed me every time and this was no exception. The RR Trent 700 engines produced a satisfying tone and pulled me nicely back into my seat. Quite the opposite to the takeoff performance we experienced on the outbound flight on the Virgin Hairdryer, where you’d be forgiven for thinking the A340-300 taxies ¾ of the runway and miraculously becomes airbourne through some weird updraft The climbout was very smooth and soon the crew were serving our pre ordered after takeoff orange juice – served in a nice full size glass and not the usual small one where you find the juice has gone after one mouthful after being squeezed in around an ice sculpture in a glass!
After the drinks were cleared away, the crew came around to lay our tray tables out for dinner. Royal blue table cloth, along with salt and pepper shakers were placed in preparation and then a basket of assorted warm bread rolls – plain granary/wholemeal, white roll with melted cheese, and tomato/herb soaked roll. They were offered with both butter and oil if desired and were delicious.
The Dim Sum was laid out around the edge of a glass plate with a hole in the centre for the plum sauce and a separate cup of sweet/sour sauce. You could quite believe you were receiving a starter in a Chinese restaurant – the presentation was superb.
The fillet of beef with Roquefort sauce was again perfectly presented and extremely tender. It was cooked just how I like it – well done enough so that the inside is not dripping with blood, but not well done enough that it’s like eating a lump of charcoal. Again, I would have easily believed myself to be dining out at a restaurant than onboard an aircraft over Canada! The Chicago cheesecake was also delicious. Throughout the meal, top ups of any drink from the menu were offered
The meal service was promptly cleared away and we were offered a nightcap. I opted for a coffee + Baileys and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t being measured in a shot glass! The cabin lights were dimmed in business shortly afterwards and it cannot have been more than an hour since takeoff. The chef came round to ask if we would like to be woken for breakfast or left to sleep. We opted to be woken and went for the Great British breakfast. I had hoped to be awake sufficiently in advance of breakfast to take advantage of the anytime menu and get a famous bmi “bacon buttie”
I pressed the recline button control on my seat to take it all the way back to the full extent of 160 degrees – not quite a flat bed but a very decent recline and enough to feel as though you are flat and in a bed. I was pleased to see that with the seats in full recline, there was still enough room for the person in the window seat behind to get out if they wished. I remember looking at the PTV before stowing it and seeing that we were heading towards the eastern coast of Canada. I put my noise cancelling headset on that the crew had supplied and fell asleep immediately.
The next thing I remember is waking up with the crew serving breakfast to some people and approaching Shannon on the western coast of Ireland – I had slept for about 4 hours without waking once. As soon as the crew saw I was awake, they were over to refill my champagne gla…….ok maybe not! They asked if I was ready for my breakfast now, which I certainly was. It didn’t disappoint and was similar to the kind of English/American type hot breakfast you’d get in a major chain hotel restaurant – certainly not the excessively plastic type you would normally get onboard an aircraft. I had an ice cold orange juice to help me wake up. The crew announced we’d be landing in around 1 hour, just before 8am local time – just ahead of schedule. It was still dark outside at time time of year, so no nice Atlantic sunrise to watch. After eating, I went to the bathroom to freshen up. I commented to Justin that they were possibly the best conditioned bathrooms I’d ever experienced onboard an aircraft – it was like it had just rolled out of Toulouse, rather than out of a garbage dump! The soap and moisturiser onboard was branded, but I don’t recall which brand. There was also a facial spray which was quite refreshing.
A note about the IFE system. bmi use a system that they name “Voyager”. It reminds me of the Virgin Atlantic mid-level system – Odyssey. There is no on demand video or audio, but the usual 10-15 or so movie channels on a loop plus a range of audio and the skymap. bmi do have an edge in that they have their “birds eye view” comprising of forward and downward facing cameras to let the passengers see things from the cockpit view. Last time I flew bmi longhaul, this was an option on the menu system on Voyager, however this time I noticed that the menu system seemed to have been completely removed. I asked the CSM and she advised that it had been removed due to it being a little buggy – she said that the cameras now display on the same channel as the skymap when the captain selects it to do so…….and he had said earlier about watching the landing.
As we were preparing for approach and we had to stow our PTVs, I asked the crew if we’d see the landing on the general cabin TVs but unfortunately not. It seems that the captain turns the nose camera on for the landing, but it only pipes through to the PTVs in premium + standard economy. Business class don’t get to watch it. This is a bit of a minus point from me as it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d love to see, but I guess it’s not fair they inflict it on the whole business cabin – nervous flyers might object to it. I’m sure I’d have got no sympathy from anyone in economy either! So sadly I never got to see the approach and landing into Manchester (though I have seen it before when on bmi longhaul) which was at dawn anyhow. We made a nice touchdown on 24R just before 8am and exited adjacent to the AVP and took up our stand without much delay.
One thing of note was that the crew were handing out long haul passenger satisfaction surveys which were quite hefty at 58 questions at it was only aimed at business and premium economy passengers as they were the only 2 options for which cabin you flew in. As expected it probes your expectations of bmi versus the experience, your allegiance to other carriers/alliances and the reasons behind them and what you'd like to see from bmi (presumably to make them a preferred choice). I guess with the unrest with changes at bmi over the last 6 months or so, they are trying to see what their largest spending customers think before taking action.
We were contemplating asking for a flight deck visit but decided that being at the front of the rush for passport control was more preferable. As it turned out, it didn’t matter at all because being through passport control first and waiting at the baggage belt was to no avail. It seems that the Chicago baggage handlers either ignore the Star Alliance priority tags or they got the wrong end of the stick and priority LOADED them at the very back of the hold!! They all seemed to come out together and towards the very end, so the latter option could well have been the case!
We were in no rush anyway and made our way over to the Radisson SAS to find out that an electrical problem had rendered the pool, spa and changing area out of service and only left the gym. All I wanted was a shower so that was of no use. We went to reception to point it out and they offered us a room to use for freshening up instead! We then headed down to the restaurant and used our other voucher for a latte (noting that they have the exact same coffee machine as in BA terraces lounge). Shortly after we met up with myt332 and dazultra for the rest of the day until catching our respective flights down south for home.
The BD long haul business product certainly lived up to my expectations based on what I had heard in advance. The crew were the most attentive and pleasant I have experienced and it’s clear in my opinion that their training/belief is that “the business” contains the most important passengers to bmi and that they are go make sure that they are looked after in every sense and leave the aircraft feeling valued. The onboard chef is more than a nice touch – it’s a big service differentiator between other carriers and is not just gimmicky (I am very surprised it hasn’t been mimicked by others). The food was diligently prepared and presented and tasted superb.
The personal service from not only the crew, but the onboard chef was great. I would say that the 2 over-riding factors in rating “the business” so highly are the service and the food and this is not the first time I have heard that. The seats can easily be bettered on other carriers with a fully flat bed (BA, VS (if UCS) to name but a couple), as can the IFE system (VS for example if V:Port). I’m not saying the BD seats were bad – they were rather good and had me sleeping without interruption. I’m merely pointing out that they are not best in class, yet bmi still have a long haul product to be proud of and more so a business product that resembles a first product in some ways. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again for long haul business travel and I really hope they don’t ruin their product by moving aircraft around too much and losing customer loyalty on established routes.
Aircraft condition – 9/10
Crew – 10/10
IFE – 5/10 (for the lack of AVOD and specifically that business class couldn’t watch the cameras)
Food – 10/10 (best I’ve ever had onboard an aircraft)
Punctuality – 10/10 (pushed within a few minutes of scheduled departure and on stand ahead of schedule)
Any questions, queries, corrections, comments, insults (not about my slightly intoxicated photo ), please ask and I’ll answer!
Hope you enjoyed reading and to anyone contemplating trying the BD longhaul or deciding between BD and another carrier, hope it might have helped make a decision.
Next report will be LAX-FRA in Lufthansa business class (supposedly new business class if their PDF document keeps its promise!)
[Edited 2006-01-17 03:22:43]