Part 2 : Onboard
We were greeted by a member of the crew who asked if we would like to be shown to our seats. His kind offer declined, we made our way through the World Traveller Plus cabin to the nose of the aircraft. We were welcomed to the cabin and offers were made to store jackets and my Travelpro in the cabinet between 1A and 1K (there are no overhead lockers directly above these seats). I removed a few things from my bag and stored it. As I did so we were offered a drink and both opted for water (still for her, sparkling with a slice of lime for me). There was an amenity kit waiting by each seat and pajamas were distributed soon after.
The crew told us that there had been a couple of minor problems, one of which was that the PA system had begun to emit 'white noise' at very high volumes rather than music or announcements. Almost on queue, it did so again. Thirty seconds of music punctuated long periods of squelching and squawking. The CSD (Cabin Service Director) arrived and managed to explain to us all that a engineer was on his way to fix the PA system. They had managed to switch it off completely but that it was far from ideal to do so. We were going to be held up a little longer so came out with a bottle of Laurent Perrier 2000 and glasses for everyone not currently drinking. Neither of us required much persuasion to have a glass.
He spent a while talking to my wife and I. We discovered that aside from the PA problem, there had been a snag when Gate Gourmet had been loading the aircraft. It transpired that a member of GG staff had neglected to put up a metal safety bar to prevent trolleys from tipping over the side when being loaded. Sure enough, a gust of wind caught a precariously balanced trolley and over it went towards the wing. Aside from replacing the contents of the trolley, the wing had to be inspected to ensure that no damage had been done. Mrs BiH's face was a picture for a moment as she clearly contemplated whether our aircraft had a trolley sized hole in the wing. The CSD reassured her that the wing was fine. There was however, a third issue. Our relief First Officer had a sufficient number of hours to be on duty so long as the flight departed close to its original slot. As it now wouldn't (due to the PA problem reoccurring) we had to wait for another First Officer.
He eventually arrived to much applause and within minutes we pushed back and made our way towards the runway. We finally took off 1 hour and 40 minutes late. The Captain explained that whilst we would make up some of that time in flight, we would arrive late and that BA ground staff in Miami had already begun the process of rebooking those passengers who would now miss their connecting flights. We had an overnight stop in Miami which seemed all the more sensible in the circumstances.
Once the seat belt sign was extinguished the crew sprang into life and distributed menus and wine lists. Whilst I hadn't seen the latter, the former had been emailed to me by the YouFirst team. Mrs BiH no longer eats red meat and so of late has ordered a vegetarian meal. They have ranged from poor to appalling and so an early indication of the menu allowed her to stick with the standard options and choose on board.
London - Miami
* Mille-feuille of artichokes, peas and broad beans with parmesan cream sauce (V)
* Loch Fyne citrus-marinated smoked salmon with lime creme fraiche
* Fennel veloute (V)
* Fresh Summer salad with your choice of balsamic dressing with golden rapeseed oil or creamy mint and black pepper dressing
* Char-grilled sirloin of Herefordshire beef with bearnaise sauce, pont-neuf potatoes and a salad of sun-blushed tomato with French bean
* Assiette of salmon, monkfish gilt-head bream and poached vegetables with saffron jus tiger prawns
* Roast Gressingham duckling with marinated cherries, vegetable macedoine and potato and celeriac rosti
* Caesar salad with grilled tiger prawns and brioche croutons
* Penne carbonara with wilted rocket and piquillo peppers (V)
* Roast Mediterranean vegetables on toasted Manoucher bread with Feta and coriander pesto (V)
A Selection of Cheese and biscuits
* Summer fruit jelly with vanilla ice cream
* Cherry pie
First Class July 2010 Wine List
Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2000
* Chablis 1er Cru Beauroys 2004, Domaine Laroche, Burgundy
* Hawksburn Terrace Pinot Gris 2008, Central Otago
* Fog Head San Bernabe Chardonnay, California
* Chateau Giscours 2002, 3eme Grand Cru Classe, Margaux, Bordeaux
* Maremesa Pinot Noir 2007, San Luis Obispo, California
* Chinon Clos de l'Echo 2006, Couly-Dutheil, Loire
D'Arenberg The Noble Mud Pie, 2008, South Australia
Warre's 1992 Colheita Tawny Port
Spirits, Digestifs and Liqueurs
Gonzalez Byass Sherries
Smirnoff Black Label Vodka
Tanqueray No. Ten Gin
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Whiskey
Otard XO Cognac
We were served throughout the flight by two cabin crew, initially by a confident and knowledgeable lady from Northern Ireland (take-off to mid-flight) and another who at first seemed slightly nervous, but we later discovered was new to serving in First (mid-flight to landing). I had a refill of the Lanson and quickly devoured the ramekin of cashew nuts that accompanied it. The delay leaving Heathrow meant that rather than lunch around 2pm, it was now getting on for 4pm. Whilst I had sated my appetite with a full English breakfast earlier in the day, I had resisted the urge to each more and by now felt quite hungry. Lunch orders were swiftly taken and the galley appeared to be a hive of industry.
When the menus were handed out I indicated that I would like to eat lunch with Mrs BiH using the buddy seat. I made myself comfortable as the table was laid for us. At 5'6", the relatively small space was sufficient for a short lunch. I doubt that the taller and/or larger framed person would have been quite so content to sit for very long.
The amuse was a shot of cream, guacamole and gazpacho style soup, with my favourite Gails Organics multi-seed snap bread on the side. The gazpacho was quite poor, but the guacamole was piquant and lively.
Our starters arrived, I chose the salmon and Mrs BiH opted for salad. The salmon was well presented and had a mild lime tang to it. It was a basic, competent dish that clearly had widespread appeal. When my order was taken, I could see how many of each starter and main had been loaded. Whilst I can't recall the exact numbers, it would seem that there was twice as many salmon starters compared with the others. Alongside the salmon, I had originally intended to have a glass of the Chablis but on tasting it, changed my mind. The chablis was young and had little flavour in the air. I opted instead for the New Zealand PUT WINE HERE. This was a typical young new world wine with greater punch; a safer bet at 35,000 feet.
With the starters cleared away I was asked whether I wanted to stay with the white or move on to a red with my sirloin. I opted for the latter and asked if it would be possible to try all three. "Of course you may" and moments later, three glasses were placed before me, each wine presented and poured. I was given some time to try each and I selected the Chinon. The Margeux was too cold (I would discover how much better it was at room temperature on my return) and the RED WINE somewhat insipid.
For our main course, Mrs BiH had opted for the assiette of salmon, monkfish, gilt-head bream and poached vegetables with saffron jus tiger prawns. I recall that many BT FT'ers had in the past remarked at the quality of the 'catch of the day' option in F, ex-LHR and it did not disappoint. I tried a little of the monkfish and was very impressed. Sadly, the same could not be said for my sirloin. It had spent far too long in the steam oven being re-heated and now resembled a piece of shoe leather. As I battled away with my knife, like a lumberjack trying to fell a mighty oak, I caught a glance of Mr 2K who was doing much the same. I have in the past, asked the crew to 'cook' a piece of red meat for the minimum permissible time in order to keep it as close to medium as possible (recognising that anything sub-medium is nigh on impossible) but I had neglected to do so this time. I ate the chips and salad. The beef was smothered in the impressive bernaise and chewed throughly but I gave up after four or five mouthfuls. I was asked whether I wanted something else instead but it was quite late now and my hunger had passed so I declined.
Mrs BiH declined cheese or desert in favour of a bottle of water and a movie on the IFE. I took that as my queue to vacate the buddy seat. I returned to 1K and had a plate of cheese and a glass of port there whilst I watched 'Date Night' with Tina Fey and Steve Carrell. A little more Cropwell Bishop Stilton and a refill of my port arrived as if by magic. When that was cleared away, the crew recalled that I had declined a coffee straight after lunch and had asked for an espresso once I had finished my cheese and port. With a small gap that allowed my lunch to settle, it arrived with perfect timing.
The BA F seat
In the late 1990's BA were amongst the first wave of airlines to move away from 2x2 seating in First to single pods that extended into a 7 foot bed. As other airlines caught up and surpassed the BA offering, it has been refurbished and refreshed before going through an evolutionary step in early 2010, much to the dismay of many who wanted to see a revolutionary step. I knew that the new F product had only been installed on one 747 and that whilst it had been on the early Miami flight once, it hadn't been seen on this route again.
The seat was comfortable and afforded a degree of privacy. In our case, it was perhaps enhanced by being in 1A and 1K where you can't see anyone else and they can't see you. Whilst the two centre pairings might be good for couples who want to talk to each other, they seemed quite exposed. I could hear much of the conversation between the occupants of those seats. The range of seating positions and lumbar support suited me and my preference to 'lounge' rather than lie flat. The tray table was large and solid. Much like many other First Class cabins, the overhead light was too weak during the day and too bright in the dark. I prefer to rely on the personal reading light located on a stalk above my head. It's too weak on the current design and I hope the reading lamp on the new F seat is brighter. The IFE screen was adequate but I am glad to see its increase in size by a fair proportion in the redesign.
The cabin itself seemed in fair condition considering the age of the seat. I have sat in tatty seats that were first introduced in the year I flew and perfect examples of a very old style recliner. The state of the cabin is not a reflection necessarily of the adequacy of a product, but the respect it gets and the money invested in keeping it in good shape.
Afternoon tea was offered around the cabin as people woke from their sleep or reached a convenient break in viewing the IFE. I had spent the afternoon with my seat in a comfortable lounging position as I re-read 'The Man who ate the World' by Jay Rayner. The large quantity of wine earlier in the day and the assumed looks from Mrs BiH meant that I stuck to sparkling water for the rest of the journey.
After a little more reading and a chance to catch up on some of my favourite podcasts it was time to begin our decent into Miami International Airport. The cabin was spruced up for landing and the occupants did much the same with much application of make-up, hair tousling and liberal sprays of perfume and aftershave. We landed and taxied to our gate where after a short delay we exited out onto the jetway and felt the stifling early evening humidity of Miami in July. The crew were thanked and ensured that the First class cabin was empty before allowing the rest of the passengers to leave. As is our usual strategy, we walked briskly through the terminal to get to Immigration. I pause here to note the state of the terminal building. Miami is under a huge amount of renovation at the moment. Concourse F is need of a huge amount of TLC; it currently skirts the line between shabby and shambolic. The Immigration hall's low ceilings are reminiscent of the now (thankfully) demolished Terminal 2 at London Heathrow.
My previous experience of US Immigration over the last 20 odd years has been one of long lines with Officers who ranged from very friendly to perfunctory. This was the first time that either of us had encountered overt rudeness. Firstly, we were chided like school children for filling in a Visa Waiver Form. Onboard, the CSD had informed us that there had been problems with ESTA over the last few days and so they had been advised to ensure passengers fill in the waiver form, just in case. The Officer informed us that if you have an ESTA, no form is required. I thought about explaining what we had been advised on board, that this was our first visit with an ESTA and that the abolition of the form was recent, but it would have probably made matters worse. We were then quizzed about the exact dates, ports of entry and exit for our last 5 trips. The questions continued; what did we do for a living, could we prove that, why were we transiting through the US to get to Costa Rica (I was asking myself the same question at that stage), why Miami in particular, why were we staying overnight. I could see secondary screening raising it's head for the first time, but eventually he finished and handed back our Passports.
Our bags were amongst the first 10 or so, all of which had First or Club tags on them. Once through Customs, we emerged into the arrivals area. If my first impressions of Miami airport were poor, they managed to go downhill even further. In scenes reminiscent of a Greyhound bus station at peak time, we wandered around for a bit trying to find out where the Hotel courtesy buses depart from. Eventually we realised that it was from the departures level above and we made our way into the humid Miami night. A short while later, we checked-in to the very quiet Sofitel. I chose the Sofitel because I found a fantastic rate that included a $50 hotel credit which effectively covered our dinner (I had a steak to compensate myself for the shoe leather I hardly ate onboard).
As usual, my plan to watch one of the US shows I enjoy at home, whilst in the US, failed. The Daily Show was on a break; damn you John Stewart!
Our rate also included in-room breakfast. Mrs BiH had her usual healthy mix of fruit, muesli and toast. I had french toast with some crisp bacon and a good helping of maple syrup.