It’s been sometime since I wrote a trip report and to be honest the flights I took last week with British Airways are not exactly Yak-40 to Somalia territory! However, the reason I have taken the time to do this is that I was aware I might be flying on a Classic 737 for the last time in Europe and the BA experience itself which was impressive.
Bank holiday Saturday morning, 07:00, LGW North Terminal. As we were flying as a family (my wife, young son and myself), BA had allocated seats 19D-F, three days prior to departure; a really nice touch for those travelling with youngsters. I’d checked in for BA2600 on-line the night before, so used the Fast Bag drop off, which despite looking busy, took just under 10 minutes. The security channels were fully staffed and we were soon through to the airside terminal, which is a reasonably decent space. Our departure gate, 24, was pretty close and staggered boarding commenced on time at 07:40.
G-DOCY a smart 737-400 was parked away from the jet way which meant we got on the airplane the proper way, up the stairs, breathing in that intoxicating smell of kerosene with ears full wonderful airport noises…APU’s, departing jets, clanking baggage carts! The BA crew greeted us and we made our way to the rear quarter of the aircraft. The plane was full, but doors closed and pushback commenced bang on time at 08:10, albeit the Captain then announced a short departure delay due to morning traffic.
LGW was busy with its usual mix of holiday and scheduled traffic; the Captain announced five aircraft ahead in the departure queue. A nice sight was the factory fresh BA A318 parked on a remote stand.
At 08:40, ‘CY lined up on RW 26L and after a brief pause, the CFM’s spooled and ‘CY set off smartly westward into the clear English morning air. An early left turn and the glorious Sussex South Downs basking in the morning sun soon began to fade into the distance as we climbed out steadily over Brighton, the English Channel and France for our planned altitude of FL350.
The ambience of an early morning airline cabin is particularly pleasing as the chinking sounds from the galley are soon followed by the smell of hot coffee wafting through the cabin. BA has been much criticized for trimming back its short haul cabin services. However, tough times need appropriate measures. What has been maintained however is full service on morning flights, with the result we were soon served a very acceptable ham, mushroom and cheese roll, with fresh juice and tea or coffee.
The flight conditions were excellent, in smooth clear air and the Alps soon loomed under the starboard wing, albeit bereft of snow from the receding summer. Somewhere over the Franco/Italian border, the nose gently dipped and the spoilers deployed to signify TOD and our approach into Pisa. With the Mediterranean basking in the now late morning sun, we weaved our way around the Italian coastline, flaps deploying in stages before the familiar thump of the gear coming down and rushing wind. The hot morning air made the final approach lively at times but on schedule ‘CY buried its main gear onto the tarmac of Pisa’s 04R. Bit of a carrier landing that one!
The airport ramp resembled a 737 appreciation society, with multiple examples from Ryanair, Jet2, Thomsonfly and now BA. An Easyjet A319 sulked in the corner(!), whilst the dominating feature was a Delta 763 operating its JFK service. Again a proper exit from the aircraft down the steps into the gloriously warm Italian late morning air.
Pisa airport was packed, but somehow everything kept moving through security, baggage reclaim, exit and car hire and we were soon on our way down the SI-FL auto route in our little Lancia headed for the tiny village of Oriatico
A week later, on 5th Sept, with my family full up with ice-cream, truffle, pasta and all the other delights of Tuscany, we arrived at Pisa San Giusto for our 12:05 BA2601 flight to LGW. Again, BA had pre-allocated seats (16A-C) and without internet access in Italy (I am on my hols so leave all that nonsense behind) we used the good old check-in desk (remember those?) which took no longer than 10 minutes.
Security was efficient and thorough – with my wife’s newly acquired pasta maker causing amusement and appreciation to the security staff. Air side Pisa is a smart and well equipped little airport and after gathering in some last minute gifts we made our way to gate 23, a four gate departure room overlooking part of the main ramp.
The flight was called on time. We boarded a bus which weaved its way around 737 heaven again before depositing us at the steps of G-GFFI a smart 737-500. The plane was again full but boarded on time and was soon trundling its way down the parallel taxiway for a departure on 04R.
The little 737 made short work of take-off, rising briskly (and I mean briskly!) into the hot bumpy midday air. My 4 year old son, laughing his head off during the entire departure, shouting excitedly when we shot past the parked bright yellow Canadair water bomber we had seen tackling fires south of Lucca only the day before.
A wonderful early 90 left turn took us over the eastern part of the city with the leaning tower and Duomo clearly visible. Straightening up we began our climb out over the Med in the smoother air towards FL360.
Quickly into the flight, the crew began cabin drinks service and so I enjoyed a cold beer as the Alps quickly flattened into the giant French agricultural lowlands far below. Again we were blessed with fine flying conditions. This combined with a really happy and efficient crew meant the hour and a half flight time passed quickly and we were soon coasting in over Bexhill on Sea and meandering our way above the South Downs for the arrival on LGW’s 26L, which I have to say, was an absolute greaser. Docking back at LGW TN, the travel experience was finally neutralised via the use of a jet way to deplane.
Overall thoughts? Well in the run up to the flight I’d been noting that BA was occasionally running A319’s on the 2600/01 run instead of the 737 and I’d hoped they would do the same for our flight. In the end however I was appreciative of the opportunity to fly the Classic one more time, especially the baby -500.
The BA operation was perfect. On time, good crew, clean, smart aircraft, good ground support and all for a fare which I considered good value. I look forward to my next BA flight
However before that its EK, LHR-CPT for me, which should include a couple of A380 rides.