Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA292
Aircraft: Boeing 777-236/ER
Seat: 03A (First)
Distance: 3677 miles
Photo © Sarmad Al-Khozaie - Tranquillity Aviation Photography
Photo © Paulo Santos - Aerospray
Another summer, another trip to the UK. As per usual the trip began 24hrs prior to departure on my PC, and much to my delight the seatmap clearly indicated this was to be a 777 equipped with the new First cabin. I had already got to experience this back in October but this was my first chance to sample it for an overnight voyage.
We arrived at check-in just prior to 7pm and as BA have two late flights to London the check-in area was quite busy. Alas the First line was its usual empty self and we were dealt with very quickly. The agent never asked about checking bags and handed us our boarding passes before I had to interject, she covered her mild embarrassment with a smile! I’d left the previous priority tag on there in order to save a part of a tree which meant I didn’t get one of the new oneworld neon orange tags.
Then it was downstairs to security which had a very long line for those without the ability to use the premium line. Alas the “ushers” in their cheesy tuxedos assisted in getting me almost to the front of the line in no time. At Dulles the priority advantage only goes as far as the boarding pass check so and then it was pick-a-lane, which didn’t work out so well for me…however, a new station was opened up just as my wife passed through so she got through in double time, whereas, well, I didn’t…even got to have a go at a body scanner…
Was quickly over on the transit to BA’s lounge complex which is just across from the B concourse AeroTrain station. We settled into the Galleries First section with a mini bottle of the ever present Taittinger NV and did the obligatory Facebook check-in .
The First section of the Galleries lounge at Dulles (more pictures in other reports: December 2010 and December 2009 )
The lounge was quite full, but the pre-flight dining section, where we made our home some 20mins later, was empty. The friendly staff member kept our drinks well topped up throughout the dinner service. As we have come to expect the pre-flight dining service is terribly slow and this was no exception, although the food is usually of a reasonable standard. However, given that there isn’t all that much to occupy one’s self in the lounge the leisurely pace of the meal service wasn’t of great concern.
1) The dining room
2) Starter: Lobster tart
3) Main course: Chicken supreme and miso glazed cod (the latter being the wife’s)
4) Dessert: Chocolate lava cake
The starter certainly was a nice precedent, although my chicken supreme main was a bit boring and a touch dry. My wife loved her cod and has vowed to back engineer it so that she could cook it at home! The chocolate lava cake was nice but not quite lava-y enough, I was hoping for a gushing flow of molten hot chocolate as soon as my spoon leaned on the crust…well not quite, but there was only a little in there to be found.
We were joined by a few people as the service progressed, the first was a businessman that sat in the corner and worked on an iPad, the others were a little more amusing. My wife’s first thought was Larry David’s version of himself in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, certainly in the way he was handling the situation with his elderly companion.
The flight was called around 40mins before departure which was the cue for a mass of people from both lounges to head straight for the lift down from the lounge to the concourse. Leaving the lift I was first of the herd from the lounge up to the boarding gate but despite that the Fast Track line (well gate to be precise, since BA use a separate gate for priority boarding) was very long. I suspect they were doing some boarding through the gate prior to sending us lounge people up but the line didn’t clear in time. Most of the other lounge dwellers were happy to wait behind me but some decided they were too important and just barged in at the front. It wasn’t to much avail though as the line to board the aircraft ran the length of the jetway.
The CSD (Cabin Service Director) greeted my wife and I and escorted us to our seats in the First cabin. As we settled in to our seats the crew came round with pyjamas and drinks.
1) The 12 seat First cabin on Mike Juliet
2) Seat 03A
3) Seat 02E
I went to change and was settling in to my seat when rather suddenly pushback begun. It caught quite a few First passengers off guard who were still preparing themselves thinking they had another ten minutes or so. Nevertheless the crew continued their pre-departure routine, handing out washbags and such.
My wife was the last to get one from a particular cabin crew member who was carrying around a few and when he went back to the galley to, what I assume was collect some more, he emerged without them. I asked for one and the friendly flight attendant brought one over double time with many apologies and reminded me that in a few minutes he’d come round to collect my almost empty champagne glass.
All ready to go
We taxied out to runway 1R and, following a good read of The Times, lifted off just around 10.30pm. As soon as the seatbelt sign was off I got up and grabbed all the accouterments to make the bed and did so, hoping to make the most of the short overnight crossing.
Some of my regular readers may recall that in First I usually sleep tip to toe, this is because the aircraft cruises slightly nose up and in regular sleeping mode all the blood rushes to one’s head. This makes me wake the morning after feeling rather groggy. In New First because the “shelf” has been replaced there’s a lot more room around the feet, great news for sleepers like myself. However, about ten minutes after bedding down I woke to a gentle nudge from the friendly flight attendant who said I was sleeping the wrong way round and would have to switch for safety reasons. I didn’t quite understand it because I was still belted in and said belt was around the middle of the body regardless of which way I lay. I explained my reasons for sleeping so and he said he’d have to check with someone to see if it was OK. Nobody followed up with me so I assumed all was well, but I do recall hearing a few FAs standing in the aisle and a few comments/giggle being made! Am glad my unconventional ways lighten someone’s evening!
As is normal on these overnights, I awake to the sound of the PA from the flightdeck around 45mins from landing. It prompted me to strip down the bed and lob all the bits and pieces back in the overhead. The PA mentioned that we should have a straight shot into Heathrow for a slightly early arrival, I was ever so slightly cynical about this! I then went to the toilet to change but both were occupied. As I waited the flight attendant was trying to figure out which light setting he should use. He didn’t want to raise all the electric blinds and force everyone awake! Eventually settling on ‘Breakfast’.
The toilet between door 1L and the cockpit opened and a member of the flight crew emerged. He asked me to step into the cabin as he entered his office, certainly a different approach to the “upturned drinks trolley and sandbags in the galley” experience on US airlines!
It seemed I was glossed over for breakfast service, no real biggie as I don’t eat before landing on these overnight flights but it was a bit poor. I did catch one of the FAs and requested an orange juice.
First cabin with lighting set to ‘Breakfast’
Unsurprise of the day…a PA was made to say we’d have a 15minute hold and it seemed that as a result the seatbelt sign was left off for a remarkably long time, beyond Reading, which as the crow flies isn’t more than about 20miles from LHR. Unfortunately though I was reliant upon the moving map to help me figure out where I was. Despite it being a bright blue morning in the skies over southern England a thick blanket of cloud meant we couldn’t see anything down below. A pity as I always get a kick out of seeing the area where I grew up from x thousand feet…
We went into a clockwise hold over Ockham, south of Heathrow, which given I was on the portside meant I got to see even less, just a patch a bright blue sky with the odd cloud whipping by in close proximity. We came out of the Ockham hold and headed north right for Heathrow (a bit of a problem given there are no north/south runways at LHR! ) but we turned off the east and looped round over London, emerging from the clouds by Twickenham and touching down on 27L at just after 10.30am.
Twickenham and The Stoop
As we rolled out past Terminal 4 and the Royal Suite there were some rather swanky business jets parked up; a 757 with a red tail that had four white squares on it and some Gulfstreams with smart blue go faster stripes.
We had to hold just short of our gate at the south end of T5B so that the guidance system for the gate could be switched on, this held us up for about 3mins before we pulled up. Lately it seems all my flights into T5 have been held up because of this. Club World passengers were held back from leaving 2L before First which gave us a nice headstart to the lifts down to the transit. Alas because of the stupid way the lifts work our speedy walk through the terminal was to be a waste as the lift gradually filled up before going.
A transit was already in the station and the carriage we went for was empty, although by the time we emerged at T5A it was clear the train was very full. As many had got a headstart on the escalator the lift seemed the logical choice for the climb up to UK Border Control.
There was no wait at IRIS so I was straight through and T5 came up trumps again as our one bag was already on the baggage belt by the time we got down there. I picked up a bottle of whisky for my father en-route to the Galleries Arrivals lounge.
After checking-in and leaving bags we immediately made a beeline for the showers. It always feels amazing to have a long, hot shower after an overnight flight. I had arranged to meet the wife in the Concorde Breakfast Room, the small dining room for arriving First passengers within the Galleries Arrivals. Surprisingly the wife beat me and was about to order breakfast when I arrived! I thought women were supposed to take an age over this stuff?
1) The Concorde Breakfast Room
2) Cooked breakfast
We enjoyed our breakfast watching BBC News’ coverage of Armed Forced Days before gathering our things together around 12.15pm to meet my father up on the departures level drop off area.
Route: London Heathrow (Terminal 5) – Budapest-Ferihegy (Terminal 2B)
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA866
Aircraft: Airbus A321-231
Seat: 02A (Club Europe)
Distance: 928 miles
Duration: 2hrs 10mins
Photo © Martin Boschhuizen - AirTeamImages
Photo © Maciej Klatt
Another day, another flight. This time my wife and I had planned a few days in Hungary’s capital. We had stayed at the Sheraton Heathrow the night before, handily close to Terminal 5 without paying the large premium for the Sofitel. The free local bus which departs from just over the A4 from the Sheraton took just a few minutes on its non-stop routing to Terminal 5. We grabbed our boarding passes from the self service check-in machines and went to South Security. Unsurprisingly for an early Tuesday morning the line for Fast Track was very long, almost as long as the regular line, but in ten minutes or so we were through. Then followed the escalator shuffle to get up to the Galleries First lounge. We left our bags out on the terrace, being the only ones out there it was very quiet, and visited the Refectory to cobble together a cooked breakfast. I teamed this up with a Cattier Clos du Moulin based Bucks Fizz for a pleasant start to the day. I also noticed that the lounge menu had changed quite dramatically since my visit a couple of months prior, and it was certainly for the better.
1) Cooked breakfast
2) The new Galleries First menu
3) The Galleries First terrace – great views over the apron and the south runway
The gate was announced around an hour prior to departure and it was to be from A21, the same as when we flew to Oslo around six months ago. We made the short walk down there as the screens went to ‘Board Now’, around 25mins beforehand and found the gate area very busy, but fought our way over to the Fast Track line which worked perfectly and took us right to the front.
Club Europe was quite full, some fifteen passengers spread across six rows and we settled in to our seats as the rest of the aircraft boarded. At 8.35am the jetty pulled away from the side of the aircraft but due to ATC delays we remained on stand, even to the extent where an announcement was made that we could use electronic devices until further notified! This delay gave my wife and I some extra time to prepare for our stay in Budapest so it wasn’t all bad! Some 20mins after the jetty’s departure it was announced we’d be on our way and we could feel a hefty jolt from the nosewheel area as we eased our way back from the gate.
Our now vacated gate and the south end of T5
We taxied up between T5 and T5B en-route to 27R, the runway handling departures for the morning. It was quite a wait before we got our turn to leave, not helped by the company Airbus queue jumpers who’d sneak out from the back of the queue! We did also have to wait at one point as the ‘Checker’ (or that’s what they called it on the BBC show Airport) Land Rover bumped across the runway to take care of some business.
1) Taxiing out onto 27R
2) Terminal 5 and T5B
As the pictures suggest we were quickly enveloped by cloud and there wasn’t much to see as we turned to south and flew east across the south part of London. Indeed it wasn’t until we were over Maidstone that the blue skies opened up above and the grey cloud below began to thin. The Isle of Grain, the setting for my University dissertation laid out across from me with the rest of northern Kent.
Ramsgate, Margate and Manston just visible as we head out over the North Sea
The meal service got going, starting unsurprisingly with row 1, and being in row 2 it wasn’t long before we were due to receive our second hot breakfast of the day! Amusingly the flight attendant held the bread basket out before I’d got a hold of my tray which was quickly rectified with a smile.
Our route took us almost in a straight line over Belgium and the middle part of Germany, north of Frankfurt, although I only knew this because of a brief mention from the flight deck as we eased up to our cruising altitude of FL370. Sometimes the crews drop the overhead TVs right after takeoff but this wasn’t the case on this flight, so after a while I requested it and within a minute or so the electronically assisted whir of about 30 TVs descending could be heard.
Germany, or somewhere…spot the TAROM aircraft below
A TAROM Airbus of some kind appeared to be on a very similar path to us, initially we seemed to catch up with it and overtake it, but then it re-appeared and pulled a similar manouevre on us. It seemed a bit like when you’ve got cruise control activated on the motorway but someone seems to be constantly overtaking and then falling behind you! I liked to think our ‘Nigel’ was the better ‘driver’ of the two
We passed the time reading up on what to do on our stay as well as considering the various transportation options for getting into the city on our arrival. This was of course interspersed with regular peerings from the window to see what lay below…and where the cheeky TAROM aircraft now was in relation to us
Around 100 miles from touchdown a not unsizeable group of passengers were brought forward from the EuroTraveller cabin by one of the flight attendants and seated across the various empty seats in the last few rows of Club Europe, most likely passengers with short connections at Malev’s BUD hub.
The Danube a bit further up river from Budapest where one side is in Slovakia, the other Hungary
As we dropped in altitude I became hopeful of some superb views of the city on our way into Ferihegy and, well, let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed!
Budapest…in the original 14MP glory you can make out all the sights quite easily!
We headed out east over the city before making a 180 degree turn and touching down on 31R. To get onto our stand required us taxiing round almost all of the Terminal 2 complex which seemed to be home of an enormous number of Malev 737s! The ‘Follow Me’ 4x4 assisted us in our park up at the gate, next to a slightly obscured Delta aircraft of some kind.
We were quickly off the aircraft and down to immigration which was in a slightly odd spot, quite awkward if there was a large queue backing into the corridors. I grabbed some Forints from an ATM in the baggage hall and went out to FoTaxi booth on the curbside. Of note, leaving the airport it seemed Malev had opted to display a number of their communist era aircraft. Good for aviation enthusiasts, slightly concerning for those less knowledgeable travellers turning up at the aircraft thinking they might be on an IL-14 or TU-134!!