Since the world economy has started going from bad to worse, and airline traffic has collapsed, airlines have been running some pretty good offers to try to attract people. So when BA
offered flights to NYC for £230 in Traveller and £460 in Traveller Plus I knew it was time to visit a couple of friends on the East Coast for a long weekend. After a couple of weeks of intense arrangements and negotiations with almost everyone I know (visiting and being visited by people from/to all over the world in February, March and April) the best time to go was from February 26th to March 2nd. The flights selected were BA
and inbound BA
, both in World traveller Plus. The reason I picked EWR
is because one of my friends lives in Hoboken NJ
which is about 20 minutes drive from EWR
, compared to almost one hour from JFK
My trip started at 1pm on February 26th when I left work. Was at home at 1.20, change of clothes, pick up suitcase and out at 1.30 for the 10 minute walk to the bus station. The bus to Heathrow was scheduled to depart at 1.50pm but just like every other time I have taken the bus to Heathrow, it is at least 30 minutes late. I can understand busses being late but an airport bus being every single time late, I really don’t get.
The journey to the airport was uneventful and I arrived at Terminal 5 a good two and a half hours before departure. Before getting to T5
there was a stop at the Heathrow central bus station, which provided a photo opportunity of the EK
A380 model and some good views of the airfield on the way to T5
. The bus stop at T5
is at the arrivals level so I had to take the elevator up to departures.
Even though I’ve been to T5
plenty of times, I am always impressed by the architecture and space inside and outside.
As always it was really quiet with no queues for checking in. I had used online check-in the day before and had selected seat 12J so all I had to do was drop my bag off and get the boarding pass. I did so in zone E and I was informed that my flight would be departing from T5a so it would be a good opportunity to check that out as well as the underground transit system. The queuing and bag dropping took less than 2 minutes, which meant I still had plenty of time to kill. I decided to take a stroll outside and watch some aircrafts departing from 27L. the views provided by the ramp outside T5
are great and I spent about 15 minutes spotting plenty of BA
narrowbodies, a couple of AA
777s taking off one after the other and some VS
After all the plane spotting it was time to head back inside and go through security. Unlike check-in, security is still a hassle and it takes unnecessarily long, compared to the amount of people going through. It is partly because of the automated x-ray system that moves a lot slower than usual and past the x-ray machine there are trays clogging up the “belt”. Funnily enough, two weeks before this trip, I had to take my shoes off but leave the laptop in the bag. This time I had to take the laptop out but keep my shoes on. How times change…
I didn’t spend too much time in the main terminal, just enough to take a couple of photos, before heading downstairs to take the train to T5a.
The trip downstairs is rather long, probably as long as it takes to get to T5a. And then there is an equally long trip upstairs but at least it provides some nice views of parked aircraft. Upon reaching the gate area I decided to familiarize myself with T5a and walk around a bit, after all, I still had an hour and a half to spare.
The place was really quiet, it seems like there are only longhaul flights operating from T5a but even so, there were very few people inside the building. And the views of the parked aircraft and taxiways are better.
ad in T5
My ride to EWR
After killing some more time wandering around and unsuccessfully trying to connect to a free wireless network, it was time to board for my flight to EWR
. Actually, I spent too much time wandering around that I ended up being one of the last people to board.
There was no queue to board the aircraft and I walked from the gate, downstairs to the jetbridge, into the aircraft and to my seat. I had selected 12J, an aisle seat, as there is a big box under the window seats which somewhat restricts legroom, but I was hoping that no one would be next to me so I could move to the window and just use the legroom of both seats. Not long after that, a couple of more WTP passengers walked in and soon after the door was closed. The 24 seats of the WTP cabin were being shared by a grand total of 5 occupants and this meant that I could move to the seat 12K and enjoy the view provided by the two windows. While preparing to push back, the crew came around with a pre-takeoff drink and some newspapers.
At the gate
Amenity kit and noise cancelling headphones
Legroom (plenty of it!)
Pushback was on time and we taxied out towards runway 27L. the takeoff queue was not too bad (for LHR
standards), after a couple of BA
747s and A320s it was our turn to enter the runway and hold. The aircraft that took off just before us was a A320 which meant that as soon as its wheels were off the ground we started rolling. While we were rolling the SQ
A380 was landing on 27R.
Safety demo while taxiing.
Almost empty WTP cabin.
After takeoff we levelled off at around 5000 feet and that provided some good views of the outskirts of London. We continued a very shallow climb to 10000 feet and remained at that altitude until we crossed the Bristol Channel. It is worth mentioning that the seat belt sign came off less than 5 minutes after takeoff.
Cabin service started about 45 minutes after departure with a drinks service. The usual soft drinks were offered as well as a selection of beers and wines.
About 15 minutes later the hot meal service started, and being in WTP meant that we would not run the risk of no meal choice, as this cabin is served first. Not that it was a risk on our flight, with such a light load factor. The two meal choices were beef lasagne and chicken (didn’t really ask for more details about it) and I opted for the first. This was accompanied by a nice salad and an average dessert, as well as a small chocolate. There was yet another drinks round and this time I opted for some red wine. I forgot to note down what wine it was but it was a Bordeaux, which is good enough for me. The lasagne was very good and the service was very attentive with the flight attendants doing some extra drink rounds and the trays being cleared promptly when the meal was finished.
After the meal it was time to recline the very comfortable seat and enjoy some movies. Even though there have been various reports of BA
’s AVOD acting up, I have not yet encountered any problems. Once again, it performed flawlessly. The first move of the night was “How to lose friends and alienate people”. I found it very good with some hilarious moments. Next up was an episode of “Scrubs”. Some people get it, some don’t, I belong to the first group and I think it’s a great show. Next up was an episode of “The Office” which was also really funny. It was the American version but it is probably the only English series that has been successfully adapted to American television, ever.
Final movie for the evening was “Burn after reading”. It was a strange movie some parts were funny and some not and I still haven’t decided if I liked it or not. By the time that movie was over we were over North American soil, with the lights of Montreal illuminating the cloud above, visible in the distance.
I completed the survey that was handed to me just after boarding and then I decided to walk to the galley for some water. I ended up having a nice 20 minute conversation with the F/A about travelling, jet lag, working and so on. Since my last long haul BA
flights I was curious whether what other F/As told me about the 777 was true. It seems like it is true, nobody seems to like that aircraft. Apparently it is very dry, the crew rests are very uncomfortable and the galley arrangements are very unergonomic. And that’s 3 out 3 F/As I’ve asked saying the same things…
World Traveller cabin
The cabin lights came on and the crew started the second meal service of the day. Even though the BA
snack boxes seem small their contents are not only very filling but I find very tasty too. This time we got a cheese and ploughman’s sandwich and a spinach and egg sandwich, some pineapple slices a lemon juice and another small chocolate bar. The crew also came around with more cold and hot drinks and they seemed surprised when I did not opt for more wine (I guess not many people say no to free booze). Once again, the service was top notch and everything was cleared promptly.
Unlike last time I flew to NYC (JFK
) when we approached from the east over Long Island, this time we came in from way north. As we started our descend, the first officer mentioned that we would be getting great views of Manhattan on our left side, which made me assume that we would be going for a straight in approach to one of the 22s. I moved over to seat 12A to try and catch some of the views of the city. Soon enough the lights of the New Jersey cities along the Hudson came into view and as we got closer to the ground and made a hard right turn to final, Manhattan Island appeared in all its glory. We flew parallel to the Hudson, past Washington Bridge and overflew Teterboro Airport lined up on 22L. For some reason I did not hear the landing gear coming down and I was a bit concerned that there would be plenty of sparks during landing, but I was proven wrong by the smooth touchdown on runway 22L.
We cleared the runway and held short of 22R for a couple of minutes while a US A320 and CO
738 departed and then we continued our taxi to terminal B a few minutes ahead of schedule.
Two of the most beautiful aircraft: A340-500 and 767-400
After all the Club World passengers disembarked, it was our turn to leave the aircraft. I had no idea how long the immigration queue would be but to my surprise the place was completely empty. Due to my fast walking, I was the 8th person in line and it seemed that I would be out and on my way in no time. Or so I thought…
My turn came at the immigration booth, got my picture and fingerprints taken and my visa inspected (as usual). But then the woman in the booth told me that the computer could not process my entry so I had to go to the “back room”. After waiting there for about 10 minutes, a homeland security officer came and asked him to follow him down to the baggage claim area. My bag was already on the belt so I picked it up and followed him to the side, next to some offices with tinted windows.
That’s where the interrogation happened (I have no other words to describe this). Everything in my bags was searched, my laptop was switched on and searched, my digital camera was searched, and the content of my magazines, newspapers and notebooks was inspected and I was repeatedly asked:
Where do I work
How long have I been working there
Why am I working there
Have I ever been arrested
How long will I be staying in the US
Why am I in the US
Who are the names and addresses of the people I’m visiting
Have I ever been in the Middle East
Every 10 minutes or so the officer would go back to the office and when he re-appeared he would repeat all these questions. Eventually, after 45 minutes or so, I was handed back my passport and told to enjoy my stay. I asked what that was all about and all the guy said was: “Just a random check”. Any idea if that was true or I just happened to have a similar name to someone on a no-fly list?
After 4 days visiting 3 states (NY, NJ
, PA) and 2 good friends, it was time to head back to the UK. For the past couple of days all that was on the news was the snowstorm that would hit the east coast, the biggest one in the last five years. And it would hit just the day I was flying. Sure enough, on Sunday night, the snow started coming down. Just in case I booked my taxi to EWR
a little earlier than I would normally, so I had an early call at 5am on Monday and my taxi was scheduled for 5.30. Normally, Hoboken to EWR
wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes but I wanted to play it safe.
Got up in the morning, looked outside and as predicted, everything was white, although, not as bad as I expected. There was about 7 inches of snow on the ground. The taxi showed up at 5.30 and I headed to EWR
. The trip took a little longer and the roads were a bit slippery but the snow was soft and there was no ice, so the journey wasn’t too bad. We arrived at EWR
at 6.05 almost two hours before departure and the airport was like a ghost airport, very few people, very few cars and no airplanes flying. I took a couple of pictures of the area outside and then headed inside Terminal B, which was rather empty. Got in the elevator and headed downstairs to the BA
, 5:30am, March 2, 2009
There were 4-5 check-in desks open and 3 passengers, which meant that I just had to walk straight to a desk, drop my bag and head back upstairs. I had selected my seat the day before, 13J, once again hoping the window seat next to me would be empty. I headed back to the elevator and upstairs to the main departures area. Since the check-in process only took 3 minutes, there was no change in the amount of people in the departure area. Since it was still just after 6am, no shops were open. I walked to the gate area, but first I had to go through security. Again, there was no line at all at security so it only took a minute to go through. The gate area was pretty much empty, apart from me, I counted 8 other people waiting. No shops were open and it was quite cold. Our airplane was waiting at gate 67, mostly covered in snow. Rather than wait by that gate I decided to sit somewhere else, somewhere with a view of the runways.
Just before security
Our snow covered 767
The view was great but unfortunately, there were no airplanes flying. Until about 7.30, I only saw two FX MD
-11s take off and no movements at all on the taxiways. It was about that time that an announcement was made that our flight would be delayed by about 40 minutes due to the crew not being at the airport yet. I looked behind me and there were a few more people in the gate area now, all for our flight since it was the only flight departing from that area.
After picking up a (overpriced) bagel and a hot chocolate from the little food stand, and sitting for a little longer by the window, boarding was announced at around 8.40. Boarding was once again very fast, due to the very light load, and soon everyone was in the aircraft. As I had hoped, seat 13K was free, so I moved over to that seat to enjoy the window views. By that time the snow was still falling but it didn’t seem as bad as earlier that day. I thought that a bit of de-icing and we’d be on our way in a few minutes.
A de-icing truck not doing much...
's 787s will feature overwing engines and flap fairings!!!
I was wrong. The captain came on the PA and said that they would start de-icing in 15 minutes and it would take another 15 minutes for the process. Then we would push back in order to spray the aircraft with anti-icing liquid. By that time it was already 9am and I was getting worried that I wouldn’t be able to catch my bus back to Bristol upon arrival. After waiting for 20 minutes or so, we started pushing back. But only for a few feet. Then the de-icing started and it took over 30 minutes. Then we pushed back again. I thought we were good to go, but that was wishful thinking. We pushed away from gate 67 on to the taxiway and then the tug disconnected and the anti-icing trucks came around. By that time it was already 10am.
Just as they started spraying the aircraft with the green-ish anti-icing fluid, I noticed that the inboard leading edge panel behind the slat appeared to be cracked along the bolt lines. The window had water/snow on it so I couldn’t see clearly whether it was indeed cracked or paint peeling off, so I decided to ask the CSD to inform the captain. The CSD tried to explain to me that it is normal and the slat (which was retracted) is supposed to move. I explained to him again, this time mentioning that I design wings for a living, just to make my point. 2 minutes later the F/O came out to have a look. He too could see something but could not make out if it was cracks or just paint peeling off. He went back to the cockpit and asked the de-icing crew to take a closer look. Thankfully it was only paint peeling off, so we would be clear to go as soon as the anti-icing finished.
This happened at 10.30am, two and a half hours later than our scheduled departure time. Engines were turned on asap and we were on our way to 4L. It was rather strange to be flying out of EWR
at 10.30am with no other aircraft queuing up for takeoff. We taxied past terminals B and C, the cargo ramp and we were on the 4L holding point in a couple of minutes! Even though I had almost lost any hope of catching my bus to Bristol and probably my flight from FZO
the next morning, the captain announced that the flight would take just 6 hours so there was still a chance…
A very fast Airbus overtaking us...
We got on the runway with no delay (well, since the engines were started) and started the shortest takeoff roll I have EVER experienced! We rotated over the piano keys of 4L and were airborne two seconds later. It was so short that for a moment, I though something was not quite right, but we continued our climb into the cloud gaining altitude rapidly. Unfortunately, the ceiling was very low so we got no good views of Manhattan. We emerged from the cloud at around 18000 feet and even though the cabin crew had started preparing for the cabin service, we hit some heavy turbulence and they were ordered by the captain to sit down again. The turbulence only went on for about 5 minutes and then the seatbelt sign was switched off and the crew started the hot meal service about 45 minutes after departure, just as we levelled off at 38000.
Cloudy skies and dirty windows.
The meal choice for the flight was full English breakfast or chicken pasta in a tomato sauce. I went for the 2nd choice but it was a bit disappointing, the pasta was way overcooked and the sauce wasn’t that amazing. It wasn’t bad or anything, just not the BA
standard I’ve been accustomed to. The tray also contained a blueberry muffin and a bowl of fruit and other people’s trays contained also a yoghurt drink, but not mine… There was a drinks service just after the meal was served but there was no hot drinks service afterwards so I had to go to the galley and ask for some tea.
The movie choice for that flight was “The day the earth stood still”, the recent remake with Keanu Reeves. It was rather boring to watch and how they got John Cleese to be in it, is beyond me. The upside was that Jennifer Connelly is extremely hot and this movie would be as good without any visual effects or even sound on, as long as she is in it. Since the seat next to me was not occupied I had also switched on the screen and was following the progress of our flight via the moving map. We had descended to 33000 feet and we were heading eastward on the particularly strong, 170mph jetstream. I guess that explains the very short flight time for the day.
When the movie was over it was time to watch some tv series. First off was an old (well there aren’t any new) episode of Frasier, followed by and episode of the “IT
crowd”. The sun was setting as we were cruising towards London and that provided some good lighting to take a couple of photos from outside, including the “damage” on the wing. As a wing designer, my job is to ensure that during assembly steps, especially on the leading edge, do not exceed a value that’s less than 1mm, otherwise there are aerodynamic penalties. If anyone from BA
is reading this, take a note, these were some pretty nasty protrusions in the airflow. The clouds were quite high so it seemed like we were sliding on them. The ride was smooth almost all the way and even though the seatbelt signs were switched on for about an hour about 3 hours out, there was nothing more than a very occasional jolt.
Ice on the inner aileron.
I spent some time filling in yet another customer survey (BA must really value my opinion) and by that time, it was dark outside.
As we passed over Ireland, the crew started the light snack service. For some reason, the F/A asked each passenger in WTP individually, if they wanted to eat and drink, and then went back to the galley and brought the snack box and drink to each one. The contents this time were a nice chicken roll, a pack of mixed dried fruit and nuts a muffin and a cup of apple juice. Everything was cleared just as we passed north of Dublin with the captain announcing we had about 45 minutes to go. We continued on, just south of Birmingham, and we started a slow descend.
We approached the London area from the northwest and we continued our descend while heading towards the City. The sky was clear and it provided spectacular views of Central London. We made a sharp right turn over LCY
and we were on final approach to LHR
’s runway 27L, the same runway this trip started.
O2 Arena and City.
Tower bridge and Central London.
Landing was smooth at 9.35pm which meant I had exactly 30 minutes to get out of the airplane, go through immigration, pick up my bad and go outside to the bus stop.
It didn’t help that we docked at T5a, right next to a 777 that pushed back as soon as our engines were switched off.
After all Club World passengers were let out first, it was my turn to run. I was the first person downstairs to the underground transit system and was also the first person through immigration and on the baggage claim. Thankfully, the immigration area was empty so it took about 30 seconds to go through. The baggage claim hall was completely empty, seems like we were the only flight to arrive at that time. I still had 20 minutes before my bus left so I decided to go to a customer service desk and ask them if I could just leave my bag there and pick it up in the weekend, a few days later. The very helpful lady at the desk told me that if I filled in the missing bag form, they would just deliver it to me. I did so and by the time I finished I had 10 minutes to go and the first bags had started coming out. So I decided to wait a little longer.
Eventually my bag came out with 3 minutes to go. I run towards the exit, past the service desks where I nodded to the lady that I had my bag and out to the bus stop.
I got there with a minute and a half to spare. The bus would get me to Bristol at 12.30am and then by the time I unpacked, re-packed and had a shower would be 2am. Wake-up call was at 4.30am for my 6am flight to TLS
Coming up in a few days:
, WDL Aviation (3/3/09-4/3/09)
I'd rather die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not terrified and screaming, like his passengers