Airline: British Airways
Flight number: BA292
Aircraft: Boeing 777-236/ER
Seat: 10A (Club World)
Distance: 3677 miles
Duration: 6hrs 50mins
Photo © Spencer Wilmot
Photo © Joseph K Wagner
Another Xmas, another trip back to the family. As has become almost standard with my BA flights of late I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not this trip would happen. In the last year I’d had strikes, and more strikes, volcanic ash and now BAA’s incompetence, sorry I mean severe weather in the South East of England…I’d been following the BA operations to Washington almost religiously in the days leading up to departure hoping our usual flight, the 292, wouldn’t be one of the sarcifical lambs on BA’s longhaul schedule. Alas it was not to be and so I picked my wife up from her office and headed up to the airport. Just as I’d left my father called me to say the flight had been delayed by an hour, well, there goes my hot breakfast in the Arrivals Lounge (as it ends at midday)… Traffic was light so we made it to the Dulles toll road corridor hotel where we were to leave the car in good time. We had a friendly driver from India who noticed my accent and wanted to talk about the Ashes for our short ride to curbside. For once I was able to smile talking about cricket!
Check-in was reasonably busy but the queues were confined to the World Traveller lines so we had no problems getting everything sorted at the First desk. I asked the agent if it had been busy the previous few days and she nodded sagely almost as if putting a gun to her head would be a nice end to her day! With boarding passes in hand we headed down to security, this evening all passengers were being funneled through the premium line which was a little frustrating, however, things were efficiently dealt with, even to the extent that another security station was opened up which we were directed to. The wick on the WTMD had been turned up as for the first time ever my rather miniscule belt buckle had set off the machine so it got its own little pot for the short ride through to airside.
A quick hop and escalator ride and we were nestled in the Galleries First lounge which was empty by the time we got there., although the scattered bags holding my favourite seats indicated someone was already partaking in the pre-flight dining. Whoever they were they were obviously rather important or well known to the lounge staff as the outgoing warden went over to sign off and introduced her successor….perhaps a Premier? Willie Walsh?
1) The Galleries First lounge – note the Xmas presents scattered about
2) A tipple before dinner
We had a couple of bags of crisps and some of the staple Taittinger NV to tide us over until we felt like going round into the Galleries Club for dinner. With the flight delay it made little sense to go over there until a little later, try and break the stay up a bit…At 8.15pm or so we finally succumbed and went over. The last time I was in the Club dining room was back in June and I was really disappointed in the rather tasteless offerings. This time though it was a little better.
Pre-flight dining for Club World passengers:
1) Assorted cold bits
2) Chicken curry
3) Dining area
We managed to drag dinner out for a whole hour (not bad considering it’s self service!) before heading back to the First lounge. By this time the lounge had filled up and the only paired seats left were at the Gold bar, where, to be frank you feel a little on show. Although the lightweight metal/plastic bar chairs were much more comfortable than they appeared…
Nevertheless after a few minutes a couple of seats appeared and we scooted back to leather lined comfort! Alas it was just a thin partition away from the combined reception for both lounges so we could hear the conversations as people went in and out of the lounge. Not usually a problem but I caught an earful of a conversation where two Club World passengers (who hadn’t been in the First lounge) were being upgraded to First…I was absolutely enraged that I was only going to get what I had paid for on this flight!
Although I don’t get jetlag I do prepare myself for these short overnight flights by only having a couple of hours sleep the night before, so by the time 10pm or so rolled round I was beginning to feel rather weary and so slumped in my chair until the boarding call was made.
Due to our proximity to the exit of the lounge we were amongst the first out and up to B44, the Fast Track boarding gate. Although there’s a separate boarding gate all the passengers funnel down the same jetbridge and so it took quite a few minutes to board the passengers ahead of us. By the time I got to door 2L one passenger was saying about her bag with all her travel documents was with her stroller which had just gone down into the hold…what a plonker
After getting to 10A, just around the corner from door 2L, I grabbed my old pyjamas from my rollerbag and went to change in the conveniently located toilet. I then noticed it was one of the 777s with new First…incidentally the same 777 that I’d flown back in October when I got to sample the new iteration of First for the ahem, first time!
Upon emerging from the toilet I bumped into my wife who was doing the same thing as I and when the pre-flight drinks came round the flight attendant noted my wife and I were, in his words, no-nonsense pros! Menus and washkits were handed out towards the end of boarding but by this time I was ready to put the bed into reclined mode and get some shuteye. Even the hot chocolate and delicious warm cookies weren’t tempting enough!
We pushed back just after 11.30pm and taxied over to runway 30, but from my seat I had a less than exciting view out of the window, that apart from the massive GE-90 strapped to the wing which would frame all my photos for this leg!
As soon as the seatbelt sign went out the blanket was unfurled, the seat reclined to its fullest extent and water bottle passed over the partition….I slept like a baby until we were over eastern Ireland. The view out of the window was, I have to say, rather stunning, all of Ireland was, from FL390, completely white…and then what I call the “wake up PA” was made. That was my cue to head to the toilet and change back to normal, strolling through the airport clothes before all the other Club World passengers had the same idea. Alas it seemed Mr., or Mrs. Slowcoach had beaten me to it. I was there for an absolute age waiting for this one person. The friendly flight attendant noticed me waiting there and at each passing through the galley made a rather amusing comment that I couldn’t help but laugh at each time; “Someone’s taken their time with their makeup!”…. “I didn’t realize Joan Collins was on this flight!”….On about his fourth passing he was considering breaking in but then noticed some movement behind the Vacant/Occupied sign and lo and behold the door opened and the occupant snuck back behind the curtain into First.
1) Coming in over Wiltshire
2) The Flying Youth Hostel prepares for landing
By this time we were over Gwent and my chance to snap the snowcapped Cambrians had passed. We had a nice view of Wiltshire before the cloud layers built up over my part of the world. East of Reading though they eased and as we turned back and forth over Surrey and Berkshire I glimpsed views of familiar territory.
1) Holyport, Maidenhead and Bray
2) Dorney Lake
3) Windsor (and Castle) plus Eton
The placement of J8/9 of the M4 indicated we were coming in on runway 9L which meant a nice view of Windsor Castle if I could see it for the large turbine out of the window! Touchdown was at 11.40am just as had been predicted on leaving Washington but as we taxied towards T5 we were to be a little backed up. Our early arrival (despite the PA at IAD BA.com predicted an arrival closer to 1pm) meant our stand was busy so we crawled along towards T5C. A rather amusing take on the usual announcement was made regarding opening the overhead lockers, “be careful when opening the overhead lockers as items may have shifted during the flight and may fall and injure you, one of your fellow passengers or worst of all one of the lovely crew that has looked after you on this flight from Washington”
We came to a stop a short distance from T5C and connecting gate information was read out for passengers flying on to DEL, PRG and NCE. Unfortunately all the gates were listed as 548, 507 etc which is rather confusing for irregular passengers to LHR as these are the stand numbers (the 5 denoting Terminal 5) but for passengers following signs they’d only see 48, 7, etc.
The engines gently throttled up and we taxied down between T5C and T5B…now would it be a dreaded remote stand or a more civilized jetty arrangement? From where I was T5C was looking very near to completion with FID screens, signs and furniture all visible through the large windows. Thankfully we pulled up on a stand proper and disembarked rather quickly. As I walked through the First cabin reminiscing on my previous flight in this cabin on this aircraft I noticed a remarkable number of First amenity kits had been left, unmolested at their seats. Alas my inner kleptomaniac remained untapped despite knowing they make rather neat little gifts for the family!
From T5B you have the choice of taking the lift or the escalators down to the transit station and as is usual I opted for the former. Alas just as we were to depart someone managed to hit the ‘Open’ button and so they boarded, this happened not once but three times before we finally set off. I still think it’s faster than the escalators and we just caught the transit as it was about to leave. My wife and I cleared Fast Track immigration and IRIS respectively in record time and were down to baggage reclaim number 3 hoping our bags made the trip over as quickly as we did. There was a large contingent of passengers from the Cairo flight waiting for their bags, not a good sign for us and indeed it wasn’t for another twenty minutes or so before “fresh” bags started appearing, even then a large crowd from the previous flight were still waiting.
From there it was straight up to the Arrivals Lounge for a quick shower and a bite to eat. The usual misery grumps who mans (or should that be womans? ) the showers had been substituted for a delightful English rose. For once I felt I wasn’t being an inconvenience and have to beg for a shower!
The Terminal 5 Arrivals Lounge – only a small portion of it. It encompasses dozens of showers, an Elemis Spa, a computer area, separate facilities for First passengers amongst other things…
After performing ablutions it was time to figure out what was on offer for sustenance. It turns out the answer was not a lot, although cereals, cold meats, yoghurts, juice and coffee are just fine for me after these short overnight flights.
At 1.15pm we headed up to the Departures level where my father collected us from the drop off point, yes, I’m aware that the backwards way of doing it!
Another solid flight….hard to really judge a flight when you’ve been asleep for 95% of it! However, isn’t that the whole point of Sleeper Service? I’d still much rather have it that way than be in a cabin where the FAs clatter around for the best part of two hours before then waking you up 90mins before landing for some more cutlery and crockery percussion.
The crew that we did interact with were all very pleasant and did the Club World Sleeper Service justice. Now I could slam the sloppy baggage handling but I’ve flown through T5 enough to know a 20 minute wait is an exception rather than the norm!