Welcome to another round of trip reports.
Some background on this trip. My wife had a weeklong trip Barcelona, Spain for work. We did the budget, and really the only way it made sense for me to tag along was to use miles. Since she was working she would fly business class on Finnair, via Helsinki. I tried several routes on miles to Barcelona which were unsuccessful (I had 145k miles with One World, and 96k miles on Star), but none had flights on that route. Eventually, I tried London which worked. I was able to go to London on Qantas on Monday, January 16th, and return from London on BA on January 23rd. I quickly locked it in for 110k mile redemption plus taxes (QF was biz class 70k, and BA was coach 40k). Next, I booked roundtrip flights on BA.com between LHR and BCN. Since spouses were not supposed to be in town during Monday through Thursday, I stayed one day in London before flying up on Monday afternoon. I had a friend from high school who coincidently would be in Barcelona on Tuesday, but then I decided to book two day trips on Wednesday and Thursday to Amsterdam and Bilbao, respectively (on Vueling and Spanair).
Since she was leaving at 1am on Sunday morning, and I was leaving on 8am on Sunday morning, and she wasn’t feeling well, we decided to go to Gao’s foot massage in Central, check her in, then leave for the airport on the train. The plan worked, but since we hung out until later, I did not get home until 1am, and I wanted to catch the 6am bus, I ended up only getting 4 hours sleep, and not feeling well myself.
Checking in was a snap. And I had booked myself for the night at the Best Western Phoenix Hotel in Bayswater so I would have the day to play in London, and looking forward to it.
After picking up an iPod Touch for one of her European colleagues, I made my way to the gate and took my seat at 30K.
Reg.: Don’t know
Type: Boeing 747-400
Route: HKG to LHR
Dep Time: 0800 (on time)
Arr Time: 1330, actual, 1410 (traffic delay, holding over the city)
Load: Business Class 100%, the rest I can’t tell, First was about 50%
Pushback was on time, and it took at least 10 minutes to taxi to the departure runway, and we were taking off to the East. After takeoff a nice breakfast was served from our London-based crew, including two super cute gals who were working in the B-class cabin. The guy who was working in B-Class was great too when he realized that I was not well and kept bringing me bottles of water. Which is one thing I can say Qantas does well, is keeping its passengers hydrated.
One other interesting thing to note is that the announcements were in English and Australian (j/k) but no announcements were made in Cantonese. Even though there appeared to be a Cantonese speaker (I hate to stereotype but why would she be working this flight if not, right?) on board.
What is with all the HK Airlines A330s parked…Go earn some revenue!
The seat itself is pretty good, much better than I had thought it would be. You are slanted downhill a little bit, but the closure around your head makes it much easier to get to sleep. I could also prop up the iPad in there and watch my own collection (the TV is small, as you will see) on a bigger screen.
The food was pretty good in both meals, and the flight was really uneventful. In fact, the seatbelt sign did not come on the entire flight. The Airshow was wrong, and had us landing an hour earlier than scheduled, in addition, we had to circle on our way down for about 30 minutes.
After landing it was a relatively brief taxi to the gate and a long walk to immigration, I was confronted with the immigration people. Is it me, or are they getting more snappy? I am sure they deal with a lot of crap, but the cheery attitude of them was a welcome to London. It’s as bad as landing in NY now, with the interrogation on arrival.
Anyways, after passing the test, and grabbing my bag, I made my way to the taxi queue. Since I was feeling even worse on landing as the cold really took it roots during the flight, I opted for the fastest way to the hotel.
Being the afternoon, I was able to check right in, then I went to speaker’s corner to see if there were any interesting rants. There was only one guy speaking given the crappy weather. I think I have seen him before though:
All pictures of QF029:
All pictures of London:
Not feeling well, and being confused with it dark out at 4pm, I went back to the hotel with a shwarma and chips in hand at around 6pm and nearly fell right asleep. I woke up with a call from the Tokyo office at 4am the next day, and in fact, a call from the Mumbai office right afterwards. Does no one read the out-of-office notes anymore???
Anyways, still not feeling great, I tried to book a car, but it was raining really hard and could not book one at the moment. Since I have an Oyster card, I decided to take the Central line to Ealing Broadway, then transfer to Heathrow Connect. The sympathetic guy at the station informed me that there is no elevator, or escalator, but I would need to go up to the top buy an airport connect ticket, then go back down to a different platform. I would have had to do this for the different platform anyways.
By the time I was on the HC train, I was drenched. Ah well, at least the conductor was in a cheery mood and that made me feel better.
For those who don’t know, flights to Spain for British Airways still leave from terminal three. They are all via the bus to the plane, and they have their own gate area on the ground floor, it is quite a nice little area.
Malaga was delayed for over an hour! But us to Barcelona, we were on time, and pretty quickly I was on the plane.
Airline: British Airways
Registration: G-EUUR (I’m 99.9% certain, but I was heavily self-mediated on cold stuff at the time)
Type: Airbus A320
Route: LHR to BCN
Dep. Time: 1125 (on time)
Arr. Time: 1505 (actual 1440)
Load: About 70%
The plane was clean, but worn. The FAs were efficient and friendly. There was only a refreshment service with biscuits (cookies) on the flight.
Announcements were made live in English, and recorded in Spanish. I don’t believe anything special was done for Catalan.
Here are some photos from the flight. The legroom was fine on this plane, certainly for the flying time.
Finally, it was time to Land:
After a fairly decent length taxi we settled in the non-Euro wing of the new terminal, Terminal 1. Next to this Israeli bird:
All pictures of BA474:
Clearing immigration was not a problem, though I was confused at first as originally he waived me through, but then yelled for me to come back. I recall in Frankfurt, they did not even hold the passport and just waived me through.
The bags were already there, and I was in taxi to the Hotel Ray Juan Carlos in no time. Still feeling ill, I had intended to nap, then go explore (first time in Barcelona). However, I awoke from the nap at 11pm to the wife coming back from a team dinner. I decided even though it is a siesta culture, it was probably better just to keep on sleeping. I am glad I did—by morning I felt tremendously better! After 9am I left on foot and took the Metro to Sagrada Familia. Very cool, I was saving going in for when the wife was free to sightsee. My friend from high school sms’d me and we agreed to meet at the Park Guell, and since she had the guidebook memorized the rest of the day was pretty fun.
At 7pm I went back to my hotel as I had a 6:45am flight to Amsterdam the next day. Not wanting to push my luck with my reacquired good health, I believed a full night of sleep was in order.
For anyone who has not been, here are pictures of Barcelona:
The alarm was set for 0500, but wasn’t needed as I woke up at 0440 on my own. I was ready in no time, and on my way to the airport. Check-in was a snap, boarding pass received, no immigration needed And I made my way to the gate where there was only a few people milling about the entire airport.
Boarding was called on time and the vast majority on this flight seemed to be business men and people who hadn’t slept from partying all night.
Airline: Vueling Airlines
Registration: EC-*** (can’t tell in the picture)
Type: Airbus A320
Route: BCN to AMS
Dep. Time: 0645 (on time)
Arr. Time: 0900 (actual 0840)
The first thing I noticed is the lack of legroom, the next thing was how unclean the cabin was. When I told my wife and friends of my plan to fly Spanish LCCs on two daytrips they stated that they wouldn’t have. I was thinking then that they may have been on to something. What disappointed me most, was that there was gum on the floor and the carpet was totally worn.
Announcements were made in both Catalan and English. I have an intermediate level of Spanish, but I think this was Catalan.
Line up and wait:
The flight was buy onboard only. I bought a Coke Zero. I only brought EUR120 with me, and no means of getting any cash, nor any cards. More than one friend was pickpocketed in Amsterdam, so I didn’t want to take any chances. In the end, that seemed silly.
Here are some more pictures of the flight:
What city is this? No airshow, so I couldn’t tell. About 1 hour before landing… Brussels?
After landing, there was an incredibly long taxi to the gate, and we were the first to pull into this wing, but seriously by the time I turned the corner and looked back, three more planes had joined us on the pier.
It looks like every regional space is filled this early in the morning!
All pictures of this Vueling flight:
So you only clear customs when you land, not immigration. Out in the amazing arrivals hall, I could only see machines for CCs to buy train tickets. So I asked the info lady and she directed me to the ticket counter which is at the side of the plaza. I bought a ticket, round trip, and the only thing the man asked is if I was coming back in the same day. I said yes, and he gave me the ticket in exchange for EUR4.90.
Now figuring out which train was confusing, and I think a handful of tourists took a detour to Einhoven instead of going to Amsterdam!
Having spent the day visiting museums and some of the city sights, and just enjoying ease of the city for walking around the canals, I was ready to make my way back to the airport about three hours before the flight (scheduled for 2050).
Pictures of Amsterdam:
On board the train, the later asked to see my pass for the discount for the ticket. I said that I don’t have one. She said that she should normally charge me a EUR50 penalty, plus I have to purchase the full fare ticket, because mine has a discount. I told her since I bought the ticket at a ticket window I assumed the discount was related to the roundtrip on the same day. She said no, but she would ignore it. I wanted to argue but I realized it was pointless. I thought it was over, but then I heard her telling another passenger “at least he had a ticket, most of them don’t even have a ticket…” Ugh.. I remember why I like planes more! Realistically, I am sure most people go to Amsterdam to defile their women, vomit on the train and don’t have a ticket… but then wouldn’t she be relieved that I was sober, married, and had a ticket???
At the airport, the check-in for Vueling had not opened yet. After an hour or so wait, it opened, and I was checked in. The majority on this flight was definitely business people. I was through security in no time, and since this was my first departure from AMS I decided to explore the Euro-wing.
It was awesome to see how many departures there were to various cities around Europe at this time.
It was not until twenty minutes before departure that the plane showed up and it became apparent why the planes are dirty. Literally, as the last one left the plane, the same girl that checked me in, swung the gate around and we started boarding. No argument on turnaround times!
Again the announcements were in English and Catalan/Spanish.
Airline: Vueling Airlines
Registration: Don’t know
Type: Airbus A320
Route: AMS to BCN
Dep. Time: 2050 (actual 2059)
Arr. Time: 2310 (actual 2240)
Load: ~70% (pretty much every middle seat was free)
Spotted a plane on pushback which I didn’t recognize:
The air was off when we boarded and the windows had totally fogged over. This is the main reason for the lack of pictures.
Here is the Takeoff:
Here is the Landing:
You can really see the foggy windows! Anyways, I didn’t buy anything as I needed to save my Euro for the cab ride home. We were early, which was nice, and I was back in bed before midnight.
All pictures for this Vueling flight:
My daytrip the next day was a little bit better, as it was an 0845 flight on Spanair. So the next morning, knowing everything a little bit better, I left at 7am for the airport. I checked in for both flights using the Kiosk, and this was a domestic flight, which is even easier than an intra-Euro flight. Actually, the only difference is you don’t clear customs landing in Bilbao.
Some more background, I chose Bilbao because the ticket was cheap, the Guggenheim, and that no one I knew had been there.
Registration: EC-IOH (it looks like)
Type: Airbus A320
Route: BCN to BIO
Dep. Time: 0845 (on time)
Arr. Time: 0955 (0940 actual)
This plane had the special Star Alliance paint scheme. It was way full, but the crowd seem mixed from those that were business people, or those that are leisure passengers. For example, the three ladies that boarded near me were carrying boxes of cakes with them.
The announcements were made in English and Spanish/Catalan (I admit it, when spoken fast, I can’t tell the difference). This flight, the captain also had perfect American accented English!
The first thing I noticed is that the legroom is not considerably better than Vueling. But the plane is considerably cleaner. Though there is still a piece of gum on the floor.
This was a quick flight, it seemed like we only went high enough to clear the Pyrenees (which is quite high) then make our way down to Bilbao.
The landing was smooth and taxiing to the gate was done quickly. The terminal is cool, but small. Leaving the plane it felt cramped, but later when I was going through the terminal for departure it did not feel as cramped as it looked leaving the plane.
All pictures of JK6502:
I caught the bus to town for EUR1.3 and started my adventure. I wanted to see the Guggenheim, the Art Museum of Bilbao, and the old town. Which I did!
Soon, darkness was falling on the city, which I thought was a pretty cool town, but it was time to leave, so I caught the bus back to the airport. Once there, the camera had died so these were taken with my phone. Which are all the pictures for flight JK6517:
Registration: EC-*** (can’t tell from the photos)
Route: BIO to BCN
Dep. Time: 1945 (on time)
Arr. Time: 2100 (2050 actual)
The first thing I noticed on this flight is that the legroom is actually decent. The second thing I noticed is that the flight attendants are attractive. I was beginning to think that these Spanish LCCs did not pay enough for attractive women to want to work on the airlines! Also, this cabin was in relatively good shape too.
No airshow, but I imagine we just reversed what we had done earlier in the day. It was good to fly something other than a Airbus too. I had not flown a MD-87 since we flew on an SAS one from Copenhagen to Geneva, when we moved to Sydney from New York in 2005 (I had to spend a week in Geneva training). Once again, I was back in bed in no time.
The next couple of days were quite fun, be-bopping and scatting around Barcelona. Though Saturday was freezing cold!!! Since both of us had just recovered from colds, we took it pretty easy. I booked my return BA flight to be as close to her 10am Helsinki departure as possible. So my flight was 9:25am to LHR.
After check-in (BA in BCN checked my bag all the way through to HKG [Thank You!] even though the segments were booked separately, we had some breakfast and did a little shopping, and then parted. If all went well, I was to land in HKG 2 hours before her since she had an eight hour layover in Helsinki. I had eight hours in London too, or so I thought
After scrambling around to find the D gates (you have to go back up the escalator, to clear passport control, then go to the D gates), I was what I thought was last to board, even though it was still 15 minutes to go until departure time.
Airline: British Airways
Type: Airbus A320
Route: BCN to LHR
Dep. Time: 0925 (on time)
Arr. Time: 1045 (1035 actual, even with 10min hold)
I blame the low load on the earliness of the flight. The other interesting thing was that on this flight, there were about 10-12 Chinese people at the back of the plane. And they were not travelling together either as a tour group. I wondered how many would be joining me to Hong Kong
Same as before, the announcements were in English and recorded in Spanish. No video now either as both point-and-shoots are dead.
In this photo you can see the Finnair which is taking the wife to Helsinki, and a Delta 763, as well as the Singapore Airlines 773ER to MXP and then SIN.
Also at the plane on the other side was a Continental 757.
Overview of the Barcelona Airport after turning back on land.
France needs electricity too…
I like the fake cockpit shot on the Airshow.
And since the bag was checked through and I didn’t have a lounge pass, I decided to go to the city. I messed around for a bit, but I thought I was running late so I caught a cab back to the airport, which I ended up being GBP3 short on, but he was cool about it.
Went through security, boarding was almost right away, we even received the pre-takeoff announcement like we were going to push back. And then…
The captain said that we have a technical fault and we need to call maintenance, so it would be a while. This was when we would have left on time. About 30 minutes later, he said that he would be honest with us, and that there was a leak in the galley in business class and maintenance is looking into it. Then about 60 minutes later he told us that they still cannot find the source of the leak and safety is the number one priority so we are staying put for now. Then about another 60 minutes he told us that the leak situation had improved tremendously, though they still could not locate the source of the leak. He was going to go ahead and sign off on departure with maintenance’s blessing, and that he would never do this if he did not have 100% confidence in the safety of the aircraft.
However, he came back and said that we would need to wait for a tow tractor and that could be up to 45 minutes. It turned out to be about 30 minutes. So we left 182 minutes late
The wife will be winning the race I think!
Airline: British Airways
Type: Boeing 747-400
Route: LHR to HKG
Dep. Time: 1835 (2137 actual)
Arr. Time: 1400 (1655 actual)
Sorry, no pictures. I only had a few of people standing around the business class toilet investigating what I assume was the leak. Anyways, I guess I deleted them. The ironic thing is that the captain said it was likely an overzealous cleaning crew. I don’t blame, he definitely made the right decision.
I slept through both meals on this trip. But when I dinged my buzzer (I did not want to wake up the lady on the aisle), it took them 10 minutes to respond. And when she responded, her first assumption was that the buzzer was accidently pushed and she came over and immediately tried to disable it. Good thing I was not choking…
Since I was in coach this segment it took a while for my bag to show up, but eventually it did and I caught the 6pm bus home. And sure enough the wife was on the couch napping. Score 1, for Finnair!
The funny thing is that in the Hong Kong arrivals the flight crew from the later flight, which clearly landed ahead of us, was mocking our flight crew. Better safe than sorry though!
Up next, a ski trip to Saporro!