Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA696
Aircraft: Airbus A319-131
Seat: 02A (Club Europe)
Distance: 795 miles
Duration: 1hrs 55mins
Date: Tuesday 20th May
Photo © Derek Ferguson
Photo © Martin Krupka [Airplane-Pictures]
It was a rather early start for us, in part because of a 7.35am flight and in part because it was our first flight departing from Terminal 5 and I was eager to see the place and try it for size. The Sheraton Skyline were able to book us a car and bill it to our room, £14 for 5.50am.
As we drove around the perimeter track the early morning arrivals were coming in, and visible right through the windscreen. We were treated to a rather nice view of the Singapore Airlines A380 coming in on final approach; my first spot of the oversized beast.
The driver set us down at the First check-in area at the end of the drop off ramp and we made our way into the secluded zone. We were initially questioned by a couple of agents manning the area regarding our eligibility before going straight to a check-in desk. The desk itself felt a little more open than at other airports with the small counter providing less distance between passenger and agent. The flat screen the agent was working on was up above eye level which was something I'd not seen before. With boarding passes in hand it was only a short walk to security...
The First check-in area at the south end of Terminal 5
A boarding pass check was carried out initially and then we were siphoned off depending upon whether you were FastTrack eligible or not. Kirstin and myself did feel a little out of place being the only ones sans pinstripe in the queue! Security was a bit of a mess as there was no room to get your liquid baggy out, belt off etc and put them in a tray before you got the machine. You had to achieve all that good stuff as others waited behind you. Not too smart...
Once through it was perhaps the shortest security to lounge distance ever! BA have managed to get BAA (for a princely sum!) to allow access to the Concorde Room direct from security without the need to pass through all the shops. Very handy
The T5 Concorde Room was remarkably empty with only a couple of other passengers there. Kirstin and I were the only passengers out on the deck which overlooked the apron between T5A and T5B, It also allowed views of the arriving traffic on the northern and departing traffic from the southern runways. I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of the place without feeling like too much of a fool!
The lounge itself is rather spacious, more so than its predecessor and has a very modern, yet classic luxury feel about it. Dark woods and red/blue fabrics with simulated fireplaces. Superb from a decor perspective I really like the BoardRoom area which had PCs built into a large table in the centre of the room. They rose out of the table when you used one and the best part was the chairs. All the last generation of blue Connolly leather Concorde seats
I'll see how it feels once the T4 flights transfer over
The Terminal 5 Concorde Room:
1) The terrace overlooking the apron, T5B and the runways
2) Looking from the terrace back to security and the shopping areas
3) The champagne bar
4) Looking from inside out to the terrace
5) Concorde Dining - for more formal table service
6) The simulated fireplace
7) Look at all that fizzy! They saw me coming!
I went up to the bar and ordered a full cooked breakfast and a glass of bubbly, it is the 'Concorde Room' after all The service from James, the barman, was rather good. He made the journey out to us several times topping up my glass of Lanson Noble Cuvee, asking if my wife wanted any food or drink and then coming back out with my food.
Full English breakfast in the Concorde Room
The food itself was a little disappointing and certainly wasn't up to the standards of the surroundings. The sausages in particular were a little cheap. I was hoping that the new Concorde Room would wow me in all departments. On my occasional visit through the Terminal 4 before the retirement of Concorde was announced it used to be just that. It wasn't awash with pool tables, arcade machines or the like but it was a very relaxing place to spend an hour or so waiting for the need to go to your gate. Maybe when I return during non-breakfast hours I'll get something more in keeping with the name 'Concorde Room'.
With less than an hour to go our flight was still without a gate assignment so I sat tight waiting for the inevitable concourse B gate notification. It came (B34) and on the advice of the Concorde Room staff we left the lounge at 7.10am. We went down an escalator, down a lift, on a train, up an escalator, up another escalator (where we heard our flight was at final call!) and then walked a bit before getting to the gate. The gate was without a single passenger but the staff didn't seem too rushed to get us onboard and since it had been almost thirty seconds since we had experienced some form of vertical assisting transportation we took another escalator down to the jetbridge. The aircraft seemed pretty full but my eyes were fixated on the closed overhead bin above seats 2A and 2C. I was sure they had been filled by the other eighteen Club Europe passengers but was pleasantly surprised to open it and find it empty so in my roller bag went.
We had a short delay on stand before taxiing out to runway 09R but thanks to the short taxi we were in the air above West London by 7.55am. The skies over Southern England were remarkably clear and we enjoyed nice views of Twickenham, Central London, the 02 arena, right out to the Thames Estuary.
1) The central part of Heathrow
2) The rugby grounds at Twickenham
3) Now spot the football stadia!
4) The Dartford Crossing
Breakfast was served as we approached the Belgian coast with Ostend below us. I presumed it was Ostend by the amount of ship traffic heading in and out of the area and the sizeable airfield which seems to be featured on airliners.net regularly. Breakfast was a choice of continental or hot option. Despite having a hot breakfast at the airport I decided to continue the tradition, helping myself to a pain au chocolat from the bread basket to make sure the European continent was at least featured.
Hot breakfast in Club Europe
The skies clouded up a little as we got nearer Germany at our cruise altitude of 35,000ft. Nice thing about the Airbus fleet is the moving map is available, whether the crew remember to drop it from overhead is another matter
After breakfast was cleared away most passengers were dozing, including my wife whereas I was thumbing through a publication called '5' about the terminal we departed from. Quite an interesting read although some parts were verging on the propaganda territory then I read up a little about Vienna, in particular how to get from the airport to the city. I figured in about an hour that bit of info would be quite useful!
After only about 1hr 20mins in the air we began our descent into the city although according to the guys at the front we wouldn't be in the ground for another thirty minutes or so. The weather got more and more miserable as we descended further into the Vienna area and it didn't look like it was going to be too pleasant a start to our break there. We descended almost 'blind' (from a passenger perspective of course!) and the ground only became visible some forty five seconds before we landed on runway 34.
Due to constrction at the airport we were taxiing to a remote stand (yippee!) and were bussed off fairly quickly. It quickly became apparent a large majority of those onboard were young members of an orchestra from Macau, all wearing matching white raincoats advertising their tour!
Passport control just beside where we were dropped off was quick and easy and a few minutes later bags started coming through, although a few stragglers were left behind from a Delta flight from ATL that arrived before us. I didn't even know Delta flew to VIE!
Then it was off to the city on the train...
Route: Vienna-Schwechat - London Heathrow Int. (Terminal 5)
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA705
Aircraft: Airbus A321-231
Seat: 03A (Club Europe)
Distance: 795 miles
Date: Thursday 22nd May
Photo © Mark Kwiatkowski
Photo © Allan Huse
We arrived at the airport rather earlier than expected. Our hotel were gracious enough to provide us with a free car service which meant we had a few hours to kill. Surprisingly BA check-in was open and other passengers were also checking in! We were directed to the shared lounge which was just beyond passport control. It was a bit tricky to find as it was literally right after we flashed our purple and blue books whereas we were expecting it to be a little further up the concourse.
The 'AIR lounge' has a great long list of airlines that opt to use their facilites. Quite why I'm not sure as it was perhaps the least interesting lounge I've been in for some time. It was split into two parts; the first room near reception had a some leather chairs with views over the apron. The second part though felt more like an employee canteen (with an open bar!) The floor was that easily moppable, almost linoleum like material...god, it really wasn't easy on the eye but the free drinks helped! There was even Jagermeister for any fraternity brothers who happened to be in town, and the Coke was in glass bottles. It always tastes better like that!
The AIR lounge at Vienna-Schwechat
The wireless internet seemed to be up for some time too which helped as my wife was writing a blog for her friends. However it soon went down never to work again. I went to ask at the front desk if they knew anything about it and they confirmed it's flaky nature.
At around 6.30pm we left the lounge to contend with security. The line was very short but it didn't help my passage much. I was asked if I had a knife in my rollerbag and this seemed to be the prompt for the security guy to throw the entire contents of my bag on the table. When he eventually gave up trying to find my non-existent knife or sharp object I was left putting all the stuff back in there for several minutes!
When we turned the corner from security into the directed gate area it became apparent we were doing the remote stand dance in reverse this time. Also the passengers had rushed the small counter where we were to board. BA passengers had adopted the gate lice mentality! It was actually some time before we would board so Kirstin and I stood against the wall a short distance away.
Boarding was eventually called at just before 7pm and those who hadn't rushed the gate yet would at this stage. How much would it cost for BA to introduce a priority boarding system, or at least some form of order??
Kirstin and I managed to just squeeze on the first bus out to the aircraft, an A321. I was one of the first to get seated in the seven row Club Europe cabin. The captain did a little introduction and I did enjoy the irony that he shared his name with the main man behind a large LCC!
Taxiing from remote stand
Pushback was at 7.40pm so rather late but we were expected to make up for it in the air. From what I'd seen in the lounge the SID from runway 29 had a bank to west/southwest just after takeoff then a turn to be parallel to the runway several minutes after. Our taxi down to the end of the runway was shortened by the fact a large amount of construction was taking place so we used an oblique taxiway and performed a rolling takeoff.
Once we'd got above the broken clouds it was nice and sunny with plenty of other traffic in the area including a Lufthansa A321 that came what seemed to be exceptionally close to us in a near opposite direction. The dark contrails against the light sky made the aircraft a fair distance away pretty visible and one in particular seemed to follow us for some time.
Heading back to London...not that the view or the non-existent moving map were helping me!
A hot towel service was performed (unlike the outbound!) in preparation for the drinks service which allowed me to be teamed up with a Carlsberg and pack of salsa flavoured breadsticks. My beer was a little lively and ended up wetting a lot of the 'B' seat drinks table upon opening...
A nice cool beer was just the ticket after lots of walking around Schloss Schonbrunn
The meal was served at the halfway portion of the flight and was a choice of either Greek salad or chicken with macaroni. It was definitely nothing to write home about but after seeing my wife's chicken with macaroni it seemed better than a greek salad which I'm not a big fan of even before you give Gate Gourmet the recipe.
Chicken with macaroni
A couple of drinks and bread rounds were achieved before the trays were cleared away. There was complete cloud cover (and the moving map was not retracted) so I had little idea of our progress during the flight, although I knew how long the flight was so wasn't too surprised when after ninety minutes we were told the descent into London had begun over the North Sea.
The cloud layer broke as we approached the Essex coast and helped me get my bearings as we circled with a few other aircraft east of the city. After a couple of turns we broke away and headed west across the north of the city turning back towards LHR over Henley-on-Thames. From what I could see preparation for the annual Regatta was well under way
1) Henley-on-Thames, the white tents are going up in preparation for the annual Henley Royal Regatta
2) Liz's crib
The north facing approach onto 09L once again gave decent views of Windsor & Eton but the same adjective couldn't be used to describe the touchdown and aircraft control on the runway! It was perhaps the jerkiest movement I've experienced since learning clutch control seven years ago, I was pleasantly surprised those around me managed to hold the content of our stomachs! Perhaps there was some animal or vehicle on the runway we were trying to avoid, whatever it was in the turn off the runway I didn't see it.
Once again we were to dock up at T5B and although we were off the aircraft quickly it was Thursday evening rush hour and it was difficult to avoid being run down by one million a one suit clad clones trying to get one step ahead of the person in front of them. It was almost an allegory for capitalism itself
I opted to take the lift down to the transit which from my handful of flights thus far appears to be much faster than the escalators. The wife and I went through immigration together, at the non-EU desk, my first time doing so. I was surprised how different the officials were. Usually the people I meet are at least friendly and welcoming but this bunch seemed ready to grill us alive and had probably been kicked out of the INS for cruelty!
By the time we'd taken our last escalator of the day down to arrivals our bags were already coming through.
Verdict: These flights were a nice opportunity to see Terminal 5 from both an arrivals and departures perspective. I did like the separate check-in for First and the Concorde Room a great deal, particularly from an aesthetic perspective, the fact it was empty helped a lot too Terminal 5 is certainly a nice facility although as I mentioned in my SFO-LHR report going from T5B and T5C with all the lifts, escalators and the train is annoying and doesn't help a smooth transition through the airport.
The flights were no great shakes but then with three flights in BA's First cabin in the previous week it was going to be hard to blow me away when you've gone from 24 hours of flat beds to 34" regular seat!
The arrival and departure from Vienna was a real mess. Remote stands just aren't fun whoever you are and a disorganised boarding process helps nobody. US carriers have a really good stab in at least attempting a formal boarding process on all flights and BA even try it on longhaul. Why should shorthaul be so different?