The trip to Uganda was a church organised trip to an orphanage on the outskirts of Kampala, where we helped out for about ten days. Whilst in the country, we also travelled to the Queen Elizabeth National Park (on the west side of the country near the border with Congo) for a three day safari.
If you're reading this, you are probably already familiar with BA's operations at Heathrow (LHR), but I'll give a brief outline anyway. BA's long haul flights depart from Terminal 4 (with the exception of flights to MIA which operate from Terminal 3, and flights to JNB, LAX, SFO, NRT and HKG which operate from Terminal 1).
BA 747s and 777s operate most routes, but 767s operate some - either because of relatively low demand, or because there is demand for extra frequencies. Examples of low density long haul routes include DAR, ACC, DTW, PLS, BWI, LUN and, of course, EBB. BA 767s are also used on high density short haul routes, but the short haul and long haul aircraft are configured with different seating layouts, so the same aircraft won't be doing a short haul leg one day and a long haul leg the next. That said, BA recently "dusked" a number of its short haul 767s, meaning their fleet of long haul 767s is slightly larger. The long haul 767s have a World Traveller cabin, a World Traveller Plus cabin and a Club World cabin with flat beds, but no First cabin. Like all aircraft in the BA long haul fleet, every passenger has their own TV.
Entebbe (EBB) is Uganda's prime airport, and is located in a small town on the shores of Lake Victoria. The capital city (Kampala) is 30 or so miles from the airport, so in some ways it is surprising they have called the airport Entebbe and not Kampala. It is the only airport in the country with customs facilities (so all flights to Uganda have to go via EBB) and all commercial flights operate there. Not that I've ever been to anywhere else in Africa, I'm told EBB is your typical African commercial airport - slightly 1970s by Western standards, but very efficient considering it is a developing country.
As well as the thrice weekly BA 767s from LHR, you can expect to see regular rotations to AMS (KL 767s), BRU (SN A330s), DXB (EK A330s), JNB (SA 737s) and ADD (ET 737s).
We got the flights directly from BA as a special group offer in February 2005 for GBP650 each. I thought this was quite expensive for an eight hour flight (especially as I paid GBP400 for a 12 hour flight to HKG the month before), but apparently GBP650 is a good price for Africa. It was also cheaper than the other options (going via BRU with SN, via DXB with EK or via AMS with KL).
London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) – Entebbe International (EBB/HUEN)
Boeing 767-336ER G-BNWT
Tuesday 2nd August 2005
Scheduled departure: 1925 Actual departure: 1940
Schedule arrival: 0540 Actual arrival: 0533
Photo © Christian Andersson
Photo © Omar Sherbini
For my third time in almost as many weeks I was preparing for a long haul overnight flight on BA. Last time, though, it was on a 747 between LHR and HKG, so I was in for a slightly different experience this time.
Do follow the link if you have yet to read my HKG report!
British Airways LHR-HKG-LHR W/pics (by Sam1987 Jul 25 2006 in Trip Reports)
We arrived at Terminal 4 at about 16:30, with plenty of time before the flight. I had never been through Terminal 4 (my other long haul flights on BA were to MIA and HKG), so I was looking forward to it. Interestingly, our flight had no status next to it - all other flights had a check in zone assigned to them, but ours had no information. We asked someone in a BA uniform and they said it must have been a mistake because it was less than three hours before the flight, so he pointed us in the direction of an empty check in desk, next to the Sri Lankan desks.
Check in was straightforward and hassle free. We had coffee at Starbucks with some people who had come to wave us off, before heading through security.
We strolled around the duty free shops for a little while and before long our gate was announced. We arrived at the gate about 40 minutes before our scheduled departure time, and there was G-BNWT in front of us. Although the 767 is quite a hefty thing, it looked very small when lined up amongst 747s!
Other flights departing Terminal 4 at a similar time included BA services to CPT and HRE.
We got on the plane at 19:15, only to find a rather roomy World Traveller cabin with a 2-3-2 layout. As we boarded, it was interesting to watch other people getting on the plane. I did wonder what sort of people would want to travel to EBB; I did think it would just be missionaries! But no, I was wrong. There were a fair amount of missionaries and charity workers, but there was also a fair amount of businessmen and holidaymakers (especially American ones - this flight is an AA codeshare) going to see the game. Perhaps surprisingly, there only seemed to be around 15 or so Ugandan citizens; most of the pax were European or American.
As is the custom, the Captain soon welcomed us on board and handed over to the crew for the safety announcements. We pushed back soon after 19:30 and were on our way to 27L for departure within minutes.
The take off queue was long, so it wasn't until 19:40 that we started the roll. We didn't climb far before we turned left to put us on course. The cloud base was quite low (can't have been more than about 4,000ft) so we said goodbye to the English countryside soon after take off. We reached our initial cruising height of 33,000ft over Paris, so I got out of my seat and headed for a window to take a photo.
Unfortunately, it was still well and truly overcast, so this is my best shot of Paris (and the wing):
The evening meal came round over southern France and (surprise surprise) we were offered the choice of chicken or beef. I opted for the roast beef, and had white wine with the salad starter and red wine with the beef.
There was a decent choice of movies as we had a nice lot of channels. I watched some tacky rom com just after the cabin lights were dimmed and most of the passengers got some kip. I then switched over to the map channel to find we only had four and half hours to go. Half of me wished we were going further so I had more time to sleep!
I tried to sleep, but no such luck. I watched some more TV and, again, tried to sleep.
I didn't sleep at all and the flight seemed to pass very fast. I didn't feel all that great when the cabin lights were turned on just over an hour before landing (and barely seven hours after take off). It was pitch black outside, and the Captain came on to say Good Morning and the local time in Uganda was currently 04:30. That is 02:30 UK time so I wasn't really in a breakfast mood!
Nevertheless, the cabin crew served us with an all day deli box, coffee and orange juice. I thought I might as well fill up, because it might have been the last decent meal I had for a fortnight. So I shoved down the excuse for a yogurt and enormous cheese and tomato croissant and sat back to enjoy the last bit of the flight.
We had made a couple of step climbs during the flight and were now cruising at 39,000ft on a directly southern heading about to cross the border into Ugandan airspace.
Uganda is quite a high country, and most of it lies at over 6,000ft, so we didn't have all that far to descend. Our estimated arrival time was 05:33 local time, so I was hoping to see the first signs of sunrise before we landed, but no such luck today. Infact, there was hardly any light at all outside. Not long before landing, the capital city of Kampala was over to our left - only a very small number of buildings were lit; it was the darkest capital city I've ever seen. Light pollution doesn't exist in this part of the world.
We touched down as expected on runway 17 at 05:33, some seven minutes early, and 7 hours and 53 minutes after leaving LHR. It was still pitch black outside, apart from the runway lights. No reverse thrust was used - I'm not sure whether that was because it just wasn't needed or whether there are rules about using reverse thrust at that time of day, or even a combination of both. We turned at the end of the runway, backtracked some of it, then left on a taxiway. Then we stopped and waited. There don't seem to be taxi lights at EBB - the Captain left on the aircraft landing lights so he could see where he was going. The TVs told us it was 29 degrees outside... not bad for that time in the morning!
Anyway, we continued to wait on the taxiway. The Captain then came on to tell us we were waiting for an aircraft to move from our stand. Apparently there are only a couple of stands big enough for widebodies at EBB, and both were taken.
I didn't see anything taxi or take off, but about 5 minutes later we continued our taxi and parked next to the arrivals door of the terminal. We were one of the last off the plane, and the crew disembarked behind us. We joined the long queue for passport control (only two men were looking at passports and selling visas for an entire 767 load of passengers, so it took a while).
I had been in Uganda for nearly an hour and still hadn't seen anything of the country!
After a quite painless baggage reclaim experience, we headed out to a deserted arrivals area, met our friends, and went on our way. The sun had risen while we were inside the terminal, so a friend of mine managed to get this nice shot of the old Entebbe airport on our way out:
We had an amazing trip. The people there have so little, and yet they are so much more generous and happy than we are.
On one of the days, we visited Kajjansi Airfield in Kampala, where many aid flights depart from. Some interesting light aircraft were there:
Uganda is truly a beautiful country. You really have to go there to experience it, but here's a taster:
Entebbe International (EBB/HUEN) - London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL)
Boeing 767-336ER G-BNWN
Monday 15th August 2005
Scheduled departure: 0910 Actual departure: 1052
Schedule arrival: 1600 Actual arrival: 1710
Photo © Valeriy Fedorov
Photo © Stephen Poynton
Just like any other August, August 2005 was a difficult month for BA. This time it was due to a dispute with their LHR caterers, Gate Gourmet. Whilst in Uganda, we had heard snippets of news via text message, but didn't know all the details.
Flights to LHR from EBB depart every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We were due to fly on a Monday, and news got to us the Friday before that that day's flight had been cancelled due to the strike. So we were worried that the dispute would carry on and our flight would also be cancelled. I had visions of us connecting to other LHR bound flights in NBO, JNB, ADD or DAR.
We arrived at EBB on the Monday morning, only to find our flight would be operating as normal. Well I say "normal", but we were handed a letter from BA whilst in the check in queue.
"Dear Passenger. Due to an ongoing industrial despute with our airline caterers, we cannot offer a meal service on today's flight. You will be a given a meal voucher for use at a cafe in the departure lounge and, at the boarding gate, you will be given a snack box for the flight. Unfortunately, we cannot offer snack boxes to cater for special diets. We apologise for the inconvenience".
So that was that. I was very annoyed - I had paid £325 for that single flight. The mindless and selfish acts of a few individuals up at LHR had caused chaos across the network.
Anyway, check in took a while. Before being allowed into the check in hall, we had to queue to get our suitcases and handbaggage scanned. Then my handbaggage was thoroughly searched, then we could proceed to the check in queue. Once checked in (I was in a slightly better mood as I had a window seat) we queued with what seemed to be a Bangladesh Army to go through security.
Once my handbaggage had been searched for the second time, I was then ready to make the most of my meal voucher and purchase some breakfast. My voucher enabled me to buy a dried up croissant and a weak coffee. Not the best, but at least it meant I was less hungry.
I then wandered over to the window in the departure lounge and there on stand was our ride home:
G-BNWN was waiting for us. It was a very wet morning, and there were a couple of torrential rain showers while we were waiting for the flight.
Other activity on the apron included this nice array of light aircraft next to our plane:
This ET 737 was parked on the other side of our plane. The timetables for the ADD to EBB flights seem very bizarre - a 737 arrives early in the morning, spends the whole day on the ground, and then departs back to ADD in the evening. Talk about low aircraft utilisation!
We spent quite a lot of time just sitting around. The departure time of our flight came and went - those who know Uganda, will know Ugandan time is slightly more relaxed than us on time British!
Those army chaps I was talking about earlier boarded this beast of a plane, which soon taxiied out and departed. It kicked up a lot of spray on take off. Interestingly it took off northbound, whilst all other activity took off southbound.
At about 09:15, just five minutes after our scheduled departure time, boarding was announced for "all premium London bound passengers". Being in World Traveller, we assumed we weren't premium, so let the boarding commence without us.
On went the premium passengers with plastic bags in hand. In these plastic bags, was some kind of premium lunchbox.
While waiting for the next boarding call, this chugger took for the skies:
Soon after, all remaining passengers for BA062 to London were told to proceed to the boarding gate. We were handed all day deli boxes (second hand I think) that were full up with biscuits, cheese, straw drinks and other such exciting snacks that were instead of our two hot meals. I later found out the stewardesses had been shopping in Kampala and had made up the lunch boxes for the passengers themselves.
Luckily the rain had stopped for a moment, so we were able to walk across the apron to the second set of stairs without getting soaked, like the premium passengers.
A friendly BA smile greeted us at the top of the stairs and welcomed us onboard before handing out copies of the previous day's Financial Times. The cabin crew seemed very jolly. I suppose they were keen to be heading home, especially as they were meant to be flying home on the previous Friday, but couldn't due to the strike, so had spent almost a week away. The galleys looked rather odd because they were completely empty - not a trolley in sight.
To my horror, once onboard I glanced left expecting to see the Club World flat beds... only to see the old style cradle seats. I knew what that meant - this 767 hadn't been "dusked". So for the next eight hours, not only didn't we have meals, but we didn't have PTVs either. Not the BA long haul experience I'd been expecting! And I thought all BA's 767s had been dusked by then... how wrong I was.
I sat down, staring at the back of the seat in front with frustration. Never mind, at least I had a window seat.
Having read the previous day's Financial Times twice now, I looked at my watch to see the time was 09:40, half an hour after our scheduled departure time. No explanation for the delay was given and nobody seemed to be in much of a rush.
One of the last passengers to board the aircraft was a particularly grumpy woman who (because she had checked in late) couldn't sit with the rest of her family. I overheard the stewardess trying to calm her down, explaining how, if she waited until after take off, perhaps a different passenger might not mind moving so her family could sit together. But that wasn't good enough for Mrs Grumpy. She stormed out of the World Traveller cabin heading towards the front of the plane. Shouting was heard but we couldn't quite work out what was being said.
Not much happened for the next ten minutes or so. Rumours starting passing through the cabin that Mrs Grumpy had been abusive to some of the other cabin crew and had been offloaded.
The Captain soon confirmed our suspicions:
"Ladies and Gentlemen. We apologise for the delay. One of the passengers has just been offloaded and we are trying to locate her luggage in the hold. The ground staff tell me this may take a while because they have no way of knowing wherabouts in the hold her bag is. Hopefully we will be on our way soon".
I looked out of the window and the apron was littered with BA World Cargo luggage bins that had just been removed from the hold. The search took absolutely ages.
At 10:30, we felt pushback. The cabin crew started giving the safety routine (with a 1980s safety video which was so old fashioned the passengers couldn't hold back laughter for most of the time!) and we started taxiing out to runway 17. The Captain apologised once again for the delay and explained our expected flying time would be just over 8 hours.
We held short of the runway and waited.
At 10:50, 20 minutes after pushback the Captain announced we were waiting for take off clearance because an aircraft was on finals. Must have been pretty long finals!
I looked out of the window to see a small, dim landing light in the distance. It took a while to get closer - it was a Cessna 172!
Once the Cessna had cleared out of the way, we turned onto the runway and the throttle was increased. The take off roll was very long (something to do with the altitude perhaps?), at last we were airborne:
We continued south over Lake Victoria to gain height for quite a while, then we turned right to put us on a westerly heading, giving views of the Ugandan coastline to our right:
Another right turn put us on our northerly heading, and we were soon travelling parallel to the runway we had just taken off from, giving a good aerial view of EBB over the wing:
From then on, thick overcast clouds distorted any views I'd hoped to get of Uganda, and we continued to climb to 33,000ft.
Before we'd reached our cruising height, the cabin crew announced they would be coming through the cabin with strong insect spray so we should cover our noses and mouths. The passengers then reached for their blankets and covered their heads - a sight I hadn't seen before on a plane journey!
The overcast clouds continued for about two hours into the flight, when the orange expanse that is the Sahara Desert appeared between the clouds below:
The only drinks the crew could offer were water, coffee, tea and a few soft drinks that they had found in the galleys. They must have come round at least once an hour during the flight - but they had absolutely nothing else to do.
Note the lack of TVs in the photo above. Interestingly, the crew couldn't even take any of our rubbish because the rubbish trolleys hadn't been loaded onto the plane, so we were given black bin bags and were told to take our rubbish with us.
Much boredom followed. The movie on the big screens was some tacky American comedy ("Monster In Law") that one would only watch if they had absolutely nothing else to do. As I didn't have anything else to do, I ended up watching it.
I also took another photo inside the cabin (note the old style World Traveller logo):
As you do on long haul flights, I took a wander down the cabin and chatted to the cabin crew in the back galley for a while. They were saying how glad they were to be finally on their way home - five days in the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala got a little tedious. One of the First Officers was on his break and was chatting in the back galley as well. I asked if I could have a nose in the cockpit at some point (knowing full well I wouldn't be allowed to during the flight), but I thought it was worth asking. He said I could check out the cockpit once we were at the gate at LHR Terminal 4, so that was good.
We entered European airspace about three and a half hours from landing, and the skies were clear for most of the way back.
Here's Corsica or Sardinia (I can't remember which... can anybody tell?):
The southern French coast (possibly Nice or Menton?):
The edge of the Alps:
Over northern France, the Captain announced our expected arrival time into LHR was just after 17:00 local.
Not long after that announcement, we starting descending. Unfortunately, more clouds were below so we couldn't see much of the northern French coast or the English Channel. I did, however, see this BA 777 just to the east of us:
Out of interest, can anybody tell by the tail the registration and therefore where it was coming from and going to? Was it an LGW or LHR based 777? It must have been one of the last world tails around.
We descended further over southern England. As we didn't have our own TVs, our location was all guesswork. We got closer to the clouds, and a series of left turns followed as the spoilers went up:
We popped out of the clouds over south east London, meaning we were on track for one of the 27s. LCY can be seen in this photo:
The Millennium Dome in Greenwich also passed by the right hand side of the aircraft:
This has got to be my favourite photo from the return flight. Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and a few other London landmarks all in one photo:
It doesn't look that busy, but it must have been the early evening rush hour below.
Here's Hyde Park with the Serpentine:
I tried to zoom in on the Albert Hall, but it blurred:
One more left turn and we were on finals for 27R. I saw the new Wembley Stadium in the distance:
More flaps and the ground got closer:
We touched down on 27R at 17:10 local time, about 8 hours and 18 minutes after take off.
Surprisingly, no reverse thrust seemed to be used. We turned off 27R to begin the long taxi over to Terminal 4.
We passed this VS A340 parked up at one of the remote stands near Terminal 5 during the taxi:
We waited for a few minutes to cross the active take off runway (27L) - a couple of BD A319s and an AC 767 took off in front of us.
The Captain then announced that because of the delay, we had to park at a remote stand and get a bus to the terminal. We carried on taxiing past Terminal 4. This BA 777 (G-YMMA) had recently arrived as BA038 from PEK.
We pulled up on a remote stand just past Terminal 4 and, as usual, everyone rushed to get their belongings, so getting to the cockpit was quite a task.
Once I got there I was greeted by a friendly crew, but were keen for my visit to be a quick one because they wanted to get on their way.
I quickly took this photo (gotta love the 757/767 cockpit):
I had a brief chat with the crew. I asked how they managed to keep themselves busy whilst in Kampala for five days. The First Officer looked over to one of the stewardesses and said with a cheeky grin on his face "oh we managed". I bet!
Because of the strike, the crew had missed out on their three day break and were off to various places on the Wednesday. One was off to BWI, one to LOS and the other was on standby.
I asked them how often they switched between the 757 and the 767. "All the time" was the response - the Captain expained how one day he might fly a 757 to NCL and EDI, then the next he might be flying a 767 to LCA or PLS. They seemed to like the variation in short haul and long haul flying, but as of late he said he had been rostered to do "far too many" long haul sectors for his liking.
I was then summoned to the waiting bus by one of the ground staff, so I was escorted down the aircraft steps and onto the bus. THe bus left as soon as I got on, and then began a ramp tour of Terminal 4.
We went nice and close to the 777 I saw earlier:
The ramp tour paused for a moment, while a BA A319 (G-EUOG) taxiied past, on its way to GVA.
This BA A320 (G-EUUF) I had seen parked up at Terminal 1 a few weeks before after I had landed from HKG. Anyone know the reason behind half the engine being a different colour?
The bus pulled up by a set of double doors, from where I strolled through the terminal to passport control and baggage reclaim.
If this report was just of the outbound flight, I would have said once again how BA impressed me and continued to live up to expectations. However, the return flight (with the lack of food, the lack of PTVs and the 70 minute delay) wasn't so good, but I'm unsure how much of this was down to BA, and how much was due to other factors.
All in all, I would travel BA long haul again, and I would go to Uganda again. The price was very steep compared to other BA routes, but it was very enjoyable travelling on a 767 to a slightly less well known destination.
Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.