First of all let me apologise for having the gall to put together a report without any photos. As it happened I wasn't able to take my camera with me on this trip and as a result, this report will not be up to my usual standards at least from that perspective.
Anyway, after having arrived in Dubai to begin work in mid August, I decided to take some holiday and return to Los Angeles for Christmas.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get confirmation of holiday until quite late so I was left with a rubbish selection of available flights at horrendous prices. Yay.
I already had a return ticket in Club (the outbound portion of which I had used to fly LAX
in August) and I happened to notice that G-BNLN
(the new Club World aircraft) was flying BA269 to LAX
routinely every three days (9th Dec, 12th Dec, 15th Dec, 18th Dec) so upon that I decided to change my seat to fly to LAX
on the 21st instead of the 22nd, and booked myself with BA
to London in the meantime.
Since flights from Dubai by this point were completely sold out for the days I wanted to travel, I got a seat from AUH
instead. My itinerary was AUH
in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus respectively and I would get my tier points for both segments.
My flight was leaving Abu Dhabi at 2:25am on Thursday the 21st of December, so around 10pm on the 20th I finished packing and drove my car to my office, left it there, and took a taxi to Abu Dhabi Nadia International Airport, reaching there at about midnight. As we pulled up to the airport, an SQ
772 was on finals.
Abu Dhabi Airport was a complete mess at this hour of the night and it took ages to get through baggage scanning. It seemed to be quite a small airport.
I used my silver card to access the Club World line and was assigned seat 26D, an aisle. In the meantime, the gentleman who checked me in tagged my bags all the way through to LAX
I used my electronic gate card (which allows me to bypass the queue at immigration) to get through quickly and spent the next hour and a half in the Al Ghazal lounge, a VIP lounge shared by BA
and a number of other airlines.
The lounge itself was quite well equipped, but decorated in a very gaudy manner (high ceilings, gold plated walls, yellow lighting, lots of mirrors). They had a buffet with salads and two hot dishes (chicken jalfrezi and penne with bolognese sauce) and a bunch of computers with internet access.
21st December 2006
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – London Heathrow (LHR)
Departure time: 02:25 (scheduled), 02:35 (actual)
Arrival time: 06:20 (scheduled), 05:35 (actual)
Cabin: World Traveler
At around 2am they called the flight and with another round of bag screening before we got on the plane, we eventually boarded. To my surprise the plane was already completely full (it was coming from Muscat). I took my seat (26D) and tried to put my bag and coat in the overhead bin, but for some reason it wasn’t opening. Oh well.
This was my first BA
longhaul economy experience since 1995, if not earlier. The seat pitch was quite tight (31” I think) and the PTVs were miniscule on this old aircraft. I believe that these planes came with the Boeing equipped screens from 1997. They were even worse than the ones on Virgin’s Arcadia system. I was slightly disappointed to be traveling on a GE
-90 powered 777, as I had always managed to avoid them on previous 777 flights (EK, BA
). Just love the Rollers, that’s all.
In the dark, we taxied out onto runway 31 and after a long, weedy roll, we took off into the night sky and headed towards London. The pilots announced our route and said that they did not anticipate a lot of traffic around Heathrow due to the fact that the airport didn’t properly open until 6am. At this, I immediately draped the blanket over my head and went to sleep. I believe they offered a dinner service but I must have already been asleep.
I found that the BA
economy seats were comfortable and well contoured. What was really great was the headrest. It was adjustable in various different positions and allowed me to rest my head on it.
The next thing I knew, breakfast was already being served. It was still dark outside. I had missed the round, but one of the F/As offered to bring me a breakfast. I told her thanks but no thanks and went back to sleep. With about 20 minutes to landing, the pilot came back on the PA, said good morning, and said that there was a lot of fog in London but assured us that the plane could land itself.
At around 5:40am (about 40 minutes ahead of schedule), we came in for a smooth landing on what I believe was 27L at Heathrow. I could not see a single thing out the window. Visibility could not have been more than 100 feet. We taxied to a remote stand and in the freezing cold, were bused to the terminal. Fortunately, I anticipated the cold weather and I bought a jumper in Dubai to prepare myself. I also brought along my Ski Dubai hat and Ski Dubai gloves, which one of my seatmates found quite amusing as I put it on just before we deplaned! Just before we got off the plane, the pilot requested that all passengers with domestic or collect their luggage at Heathrow. This was greeted with a moan by a number of people, including a Scot headed for Inverness who started cursing.
I went through immigration at Heathrow and was downstairs at the T4
underground station by about 6:20am. I went to Bond Street and met a friend of mine for breakfast at the Starbucks across from Selfridges. He went to work, and then I took the tube down to Vauxhall where I met another good friend of mine. I spent the rest of the morning with him. At around noon, he took me for a ride in his new VW
and dropped me off at Paddington for me to start the express back to the airport to catch my flight to LAX
In a matter of 25 minutes I was already back at Heathrow. I had already checked into to my flight, BA
269, online from Dubai and had secured seat 63A, an upper deck Club World window. As I was not checking in or handing over baggage, I did not have a chance to ask the staff if the aircraft operating the flight was going to be G-BNLN
(in order not to kill you with suspense, I’ll tell you from now that I ended up getting buggered).
I went through security and straight to the lounge, where I regaled myself with a couple of magazines before going in for a massage and a shower. It was the first time I had a BA
Molton Brown massage and it was really quite good!
On the way to the gate, I bought a bottle of Dewar’s White Label for my dad (his favourite whiskey and the blend he likes is not available in the US) and I bought some smoked salmon for my mum.
I walked to the gate and it was with suspense that I approached the aircraft hoping to see the letters “LN” written on the doors of the nose gear. To my dismay, they said VM
instead, indicating that this was G-CIVM
21st December 2006
London Heathrow (LHR) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Departure time: 15:10 (scheduled), 15:50 (actual)
Arrival time: 18:20 (scheduled), 18:40 (actual)
Cabin: Club World
I boarded the aircraft via the First/Club World line and climbed upstairs and found my seat, 63A. There was a very sexy 30-something year old Iranian lady sitting in 63A. She also ended up being very chatty and we ended up speaking all through takeoff, climb and dinner, and then again between the time when I woke up and landed.
Heathrow was a bit of a mess this afternoon what with the fog and all the canceled flights. They were restricting the number of movements on the tarmac due to lack of visibility and because of this it was about 1 hour before we took off.
By the time we lined up on 27R for takeoff it was already dark. With a roar, the two pairs of RB211s fired up and we started rolling down the runway. Takeoff was powerful and controlled.
On this particular flight, they had already incorporated some of the features of the new Club World. The washbag was different, they had already introduced the Club Kitchen, and the menus and all other printed materials were in the new style as well.
I had a scotch to drink and was disappointed to find that they were still offering nuts in a silly plastic bag instead of in a ceramic bowl.
Dinner was the usual affair and I had some sort of a steak with a glass of wine. Dinner was a piece of cheesecake with ice cream. All this time the conversation was still flowing with my neighbour.
After dinner I went over to the crew station and started speaking with one of the F/As. I asked him about BNLN
and he told me that it was supposed to fly the very route we were on, but that it was on its way back to Heathrow from Beijing that morning when there was a passenger emergency on board and they had to divert. I told him that I would be ringing in the New Year on a BA
777 on the 31st of December and he told me that he would be traveling as well, but that he was happy it was to Cape Town. A very friendly guy!
For next 5 hours or so, I fell asleep. I used not to find the Club World flatbed seats very comfortable, but as of the last year or so I’ve been able to sleep soundly on them. I woke up with about 2 hours to go. An afternoon snack was served – cheese/pickle and fish sandwiches. I usually like fish, but by this point it was about 3am for me (UAE time) and I had just woken up from the soundest sleep I’d had for two nights and the absolute last thing I wanted to eat was a fish sandwich!
Just before landing, the pilot came on and chatted with us for a few minutes, explaining how lovely the New Club World and saying that the G-BNLN
was supposed to operate the flight that we were on, but that due to the delay in arriving at Heathrow, it went to Sao Paulo/Buenos Aires instead. I always like the BA
announcements and how the pilot or copilot comes on the PA at the beginning and end of the flight to discuss the route, welcome us to the destination and give us some information about what’s going on on the ground. One of the nicest intangible features about BA
in my opinion.
We came in for a landing on 24R and taxied over to Tom Bradley. As usual we stopped the engines in order to be pulled into the gate. At that time the pilot came on and asked everyone to stayed seated as soon as we reached the stand, because there had been ‘an incident’ on board and the Los Angeles Police Department were waiting on the end of the jetway to comeon board and ‘take care of it’ (more on this later).
Everyone did stay seated and the police came onboard. They stayed downstairs and took someone off the plane before we all got off.
Immigration was the usual mess at LAX
. As usual I had to fill in the standard form asking me what countries I had visited before coming back to the US. I filled in “UAE, UK and India” on this form. When I arrived at the immigration desk I was asked where I had come from and I replied Dubai. The officer then wrote “Dubai” next to “India” on the form.
While waiting for my bag, a couple of police officers came round inspecting people’s passports and I was chosen as well. Questions revolved around the following:
Him: Where are you coming from?
Him: How do you like it there?
Me: Yes, it’s not bad
Him: What do you do?
Him: Who do you consult?
Me: A telecom company
Him: What do you do for them?
Me: Project management
Him: So what you make graphs?
Him: What kind of graphs?
Me: Line graphs and bar graphs
Him: I’m trying to get into that too. So do you speak Arabic?
Me: Yeah I’m learning
Him: Say something in Arabic:
Me: Um…ok, lets check out my Dubai stamp in my passport. That says “Matar Dubai Ad dowli” which means Dubai international airport.
Him: Matar is airport?
Him: Dubai is Dubai…
Him: Ad-dowli is international?
Him: Cool. You have a good one.
Anyway, my bag did not arrive so unfortunately I had to wait in line for about ½ an hour to fill in a missing baggage form. I find it really stupid how people are rude to the lost luggage people. It’s not like they lost their bags! While in the line I spoke with a couple of people waiting as well and found out that the ‘police incident’ on board was a guy who went around to each lav in the economy cabin and started smoking cigarettes. Apparently they caught him the first time and said that it was a federal offense, but he did it again in another lav and so they had to put him somewhere in the back of the plane until we landed. Dunno for sure, but I would hate to be the guy sitting next to him.
Anyway, luckily my parents were waiting for me and drove back to our house! It felt really good to be home amongst family. My bag didn’t end up arriving until Christmas Eve, by the way.
I had originally purchased a BA
ticket in World Traveler Plus upgraded to Club to travel back to London on the 30th of December, arriving on the 31st, to connect to a BA
flight to Dubai landing on the morning of the 1st. However we ended up getting an extra day of holiday due to the Eid al Adha holiday, so that means that I didn’t need to be back at work until the 3rd. That meant that if I was willing to go straight to the office from the airport, I could leave LA
on the 1st and not have to ring in the New Year on the plane!
I called British Airways to make the change, and was told that I could change everything to the 31st but that it would cost me about $700. I could change it to the 1st, but that would cost me $1800 and I’d have to go in World Traveler Plus.
Not exactly thrilled with this news, I decided to cancel my BA
itinerary and I found a cheap one way bulk ticket on Virgin Atlantic in Economy for $310!!!! It would leave at 9pm on the 1st of January and arrive in London on the 2nd at 3:30pm, allowing me to connect to my BA
flight at 9:40pm.
I booked it immediately and reserved a seat on the seatmap. Unfortunately at the time there were only middle seats available.
In the meantime, I had a great 10 days at home spending time with my parents, with my family, going on hikes, walking my dog, meeting up with my buddies, partying in LA
and other good stuff.
On New Year’s day I took advantage of Virgin’s online check in and reserved seat 32H, an aisle in the front of the first economy cabin and right behind the premium economy cabin. I left home for the airport with my parents around 6pm and made it to LAX
by 6:45pm as there was no traffic. I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if the 405 was always as empty as it was that night.
Virgin Atlantic is located in T2
. The check-in area is reserved for passengers only. I went to the DIY checkin line to collect my boarding pass. I had originally planned on carrying on, because I needed to get to the office straight from the airport when I arrived in Dubai and I knew that Virgin would not check my bags onto BA
since my connecting flight was not on the same ticket.
Unfortunately my bag was massively overweight so I had to check it, which meant that I’d have to collect it at LHR
and try to carry it onboard BA
again. I got my boarding pass for seat 32H and was asked by the security agent how long I was staying outside the US. I made the mistake of saying that I was on a one-way ticket, which opened the door to further questioning but luckily I was able to recover by saying that I didn’t live in the US anymore and bought a one-way ticket because it was cheaper.
I hung around in the Terminal a little while, and eventually said bye to my parents and went to security. At about 8:35pm they started boarding and I got onboard. In the meantime, I had a look at the aircraft and saw that the nose gear door said “OX” implying that this aircraft was G-VFOX
, delivered in 2002.
1st January 2007
Virgin Atlantic Airways
Los Angeles (LAX) – London Heathrow (LHR)
Departure time: 21:00 (scheduled), 21:10 (actual)
Arrival time: 15:30 (scheduled), 15:30 (actual)
I walked through the Premium Economy cabin and saw that it had the recent upgrade. Looked awesome. My seatmate was an American lady in her mid 30s, and unfortunately our row was missing a window. My seat was really upright, which I didn’t find too comfortable. We had a quick taxi out to runway 24L and took off over the sea, turning around and heading towards London.
Dinner was an Indian chicken dish which was really quite nice, as was the dessert. I quite enjoyed the catering on board VS
. Whilst having dinner I decided to check out the V:Port entertainment system and was happy to find that they had they a hilarious Egyptian movie which I watched and enjoyed. I thought that the ergonomics of the system and the V:Port control unit itself were counterintuitive. Anyway, the system is better than BA
’s by far, but is no match for Emirates’ ICE, in my opinion.
When it came time to sleep, I found that the seats on Virgin were exceptionally uncomfortable. First of all the cushion that you sit on is too short. Secondly the seats are very thinly padded. Third the seat doesn't recline quite as much as on other economy class airlines, I think. Fourth the seat is too upright to begin with. This caused me a lot of discomfort for several reasons. The combination of the seat's uprightness and the short cushion made it extremely difficult for me to sleep because my legs kept on sliding down, causing extreme discomfort in my lower back. I had to fold the pillow in half and place it at the bottom of the seat to correct this problem and even then, it sucked. Not to mention it left me with no pillow to rest my head against.
The other thing I wasn't impressed about with VS
was that the lavatory ahead of our cabin was supposed to be only for premium economy, but literally every single person in my cabin would open the curtain and use it and come back and the F/As did nothing to stop that. I would have been really pissed if I was a PE
passenger…especially if I was sitting near the lavs.
Anyway, it was a long 10.5 hours. Makes me wish I had flown on a 747-400 at least it would have been 45 minutes less.
We came in for a landing at Heathrow on runway 27R and taxied to Terminal 3. Of course, the line to go through immigration was 5 kilometres long and it took me a good 45 minutes to get through it. I collected my bag and took the train to Terminal 4, where I checked in and was allowed to carry my bag on board until the baggage scanning people discovered that I had shampoo with me and so I had to then check it.
Using my silver card I hung around in the lounge (the one near Gate 1 that Fraser reminded me of in my last trip report) and had another massage and shower, as well as dinner. BA
have a sort of a catering thing in that lounge which is reasonable. I also made a couple of phone calls to some friends in London with my UK mobile before heading to the gate to board my flight to Dubai.
2nd January 2007
London Heathrow (LHR) – Dubai International (DXB)
Departure time: 21:40 (scheduled), 22:40 (actual)
Arrival time: 08:35 (scheduled), 08:40 (actual)
Cabin: World Traveller Plus
British Airways called my flight to Dubai at around 8:30pm, an hour before boarding, yet due to catering problems did not start boarding until 10pm, which was a bit of a drag. I boarded and took my seat, 21B. There was an American gentleman sitting in 21A, and we struck up some conversation. Turned out he was connecting to Iraq on a military charter! He would be flying to Baghdad in a few days and then transferring to some town called Anaconda via helicopter.
After having flown on an A340-600 and then transferred straight to the 777, I can't believe that how much more prefer the Airbus. It is worse in every single way except maybe noise level. The cabin on the 777 is much wider and more spacious, you don't feel claustrophobic, and the overhead bins are larger plus they tuck into the ceiling as opposed to hanging down from them. All in all it makes for a much better experience. One could argue the 2-4-2 thing versus the 3-3-3 thing, but in either case if I'm flying longhaul I would take an aisle anyway in which case I’d rather have it 3 abreast than 4 abreast.
Anyway, an hour late, we pushed back from T4
and departed Heathrow on 27L. It was nice to hear the roar of the Trents. We turned right and headed towards Dubai. The very second the fasten seatbelt signs were switched off, I donned my Concorde earphones on top of earplugs and put on my face mask, reclined my seat and went to sleep. Unfortunately the guy next to me kept on talking to himself and the F/As came around and were quite loud about asking drinks. Since I wasn’t able to some rest, I decided to at least have dinner so that I would have the energy to sleep.
Dinner was again a sort of an Indian chicken which was really lovely. I ate the whole thing, put my tray on the baby bassinet in front and went to sleep. Next thing I knew it was 45 minutes to landing and the F/As were serving breakfast. I can’t remember what I had, but all I know is that they never came round with tea or coffee, which was a bit of a blow!
Upon landing in Dubai we parked next to BA
105, a 767-336ER that had operated a flight leaving 1 hour before ours (that I wished I was on). On the other side was an Iran Air 727. Wished I could have been on that too!
Anyway, I only had time to go home and put on a suit before going straight to work. I had meetings in Abu Dhabi that morning and after having a relatively short 10 hour day I came home and crashed immediately.
Economy: my first time in 10 years to try it out. I found that the seat pitch is tight but overall the seats are comfortable. The catering and entertainment are no match for Emirates though, but the BA
crew still has this charm which I quite like. I always feel at home on board. The warm welcome, subdued colours of the cabin, Highlife magazine, professional crew, plentiful liquor and pilot announcements are just my cup of tea. Only thing I noticed was that the WT
+ cabin doesn’t have its own dedicated lav on the 777 as it does on the jumbo.
Virgin Atlantic Economy: I can’t really complain about much of anything because of my $310 ticket. But as I said above, I found that the seats on Virgin were exceptionally uncomfortable. The cushion is too short, the seats are too thinly padded, it doesn't recline quite much and the seat is too upright to begin with. This caused me a lot of discomfort for several reasons. The combination of the seat's uprightness and the short cushion made it extremely difficult for me to sleep because my legs kept on sliding down, causing extreme discomfort in my lower back. I had to fold the pillow in half and place it at the bottom of the seat to correct this problem and even then, it sucked. Not to mention it left me with no pillow to rest my head against.
Other than that, I thought that the catering and V:Port were great, but I didn’t like traveling on the A340-600 in general and will continue to avoid it in the future. The service on VS
, while nice enough in its own right, is not quite as polished as BA
’s and the flight attendants don’t come off as quite as professional. The colour scheme is too flashy and the carpets are purple for gawd’s sake!
Interestingly enough, Virgin Atlantic somehow credited me with a tier point and about 3500 miles for the trip even though my fare conditions were not supposed to include that. The good thing is that it pushes me to 20,500 miles now, which is enough for a one way upgrade from PE
to Upper Class.
Suffice to say that I am now going to restrict my traveling on Virgin to PE
. For Economy I wasn’t impressed and will fly on Emirates in the future.
I suppose I’m being a too subjective in my criticism of Virgin Atlantic, not the least because my ticket only cost me $300, but in general they are not my cup of tea. Their marketing schemes, seemingly aimed to appeal to chavs, does not much for me as I appreciate the subtler elements of the customer experience and not the gimmicky ones. Interestingly enough I have now flown on Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class, Premium Economy and Economy so these observations are based not on this experience but other trips I have taken with them as well. I will one day need to try out Upper Class on the 747-400 before I can finalise my opinion.
Connecting through London Heathrow: a pain in the arse. This ban on liquids is quite irritating from the point of view that the value proposition of carrying on is completely eradicated if you are carrying any toiletries with you. If I wasn’t so dedicated to flying BA
, I’d have liked to have tried out another carrier through Europe. Perhaps LX
would be a good option, if only they didn’t fly those dastardly A340s. Emirates or Etihad to New York followed by a connection onto a domestic flight is an option, but then I’d have to fly AA
. Perhaps one day.
Anyway, hope that this report was at least somewhat interesting and I look forward to hearing comments.
Next trip: DXB
PARIS, FRANCE...THE BEIRUT OF EUROPE.