Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA869
Aircraft: Airbus A320-232
Seat: 02F (Club Europe)
Distance: 928 miles
Duration: 2hrs 10mins
Photo © Keith Ogden
Photo © Nils Baker
We had planned our day around leaving our hotel close to 4pm, and with rain beginning to turn the beautiful city gloomy and bleak at around 3.30pm it seemed our planned escape was just about right. Due to traffic on the airport road we didn’t pull up to 2B until just before 5pm and the taxi driver was the grateful recipient of some of my forints that were going begging.
Inside the terminal the displays above the check-in desks weren’t entirely clear and for a while I couldn’t spot the BA desks. I was half tempted to check-in at Malev’s business class desks before spotting the BA customer service desk at the ‘back’ of the hall. It was closed but due to re-open at 5pm and a cursory check of the timepiece suggested that would be any second now, and sure enough as I looked up someone was just settling in. As she dealt with the first customer I noticed the BA desks right opposite us. Oops!
A small line was at the Euro Traveller desk and as we sidled up to the Club Europe desks two passengers hopped over ahead of us, Nevermind! (and they were in Club Europe when we got onboard so I didn’t really mind ) It was at this time I appreciated the fact I hadn’t flown Malev Economy (not that it was on the cards!) but because the check-in line was really rather epic….anyways, the agent dealt with us quickly and passed the message on that the flight was on time but to expect some possible issues at Heathrow because of the immigration strike. He placed some small gold priority/fast track stickers on our boarding passes and off we went. The fast track line seemed well policed and the line not very long but due to the man handling of passengers, getting them and all their possessions ready, it took far longer than I expected. Or maybe it was just the British guy ahead of me who seemed to think he had the drill down pat but really hadn’t. Groan.
The new SkyCourt awaited us, well not quite, the obligatory walk through a duty free store came first! As we had loads of time I figured we’d try and get into MA’s new lounge in the SkyCourt, even though it was in the Schengen side. Well sure enough we got directed back to the lounges in the non-Schengen side, the worst thing about being ‘denied’ access is the accompanying walk of shame that goes with.
So we cleared passport control which was completely empty and went up the stairs to the Millenium Lounge, a sort of contract lounge that BA use. I think it’s run by Malev but it’s very light on branding if it is.
The Millenium Lounge and view over the tarmac
The view was really rather good. You could see out to the west of the terminal and all the action on 31L. Inside the lounge was a little less good, but nothing too unexpected for an outstation. Minimal drinks, a couple of internet PCs and paid wi-fi.
I knew that, unusually, there was another lounge BA passengers can use, the Platinum lounge which was just across from the Millenium. Initially I hadn’t noticed it and thought I’d pop over there to see if they had any free wi-fi, but then decided I couldn’t be bothered! From what I’d read it seemed they were both much of a muchness and the wife was already stuck into a glass of something alcoholic… I thought it might be worthwhile looking up what issues had arisen at Heathrow as a result of the strike and the news seemed good, basically no problems. My father, who is ultra-organised when it comes to such things, was due to pick us up so if plans were to deviate from what was arranged….you know how organised people are!
I grabbed a couple of nibbles and sat with a beer watching the action outside. It was getting reasonably close to departure time and we hadn’t seen a BA aircraft land and taxi round. I checked the departure screen in the lounge (which comically had the late 1980s/1990s red and blue British Midland logo!) and yet it wasn’t showing any sign of a delay. Around 6.20pm an announcement was made that boarding would begin shortly which seemed confusing for the aforementioned reasons. I went to ask the lounge attendant and it turned out the aircraft was parked round at a gate out of sight. It must have been there for a few hours, unlike a lot of shorter European flights where the aircraft is very quickly turned round.
We gathered our items and walked down to the gate where sure enough a crowd had placed themselves around the gate agent’s podium. With nowhere to sit we kind of hovered at the back, just across from the smoker’s lounge which had the door wide open letting all the polluted air out, nice. A few of the stragglers from the lounge came down and barged others out of the way remarking, “Excuse me, I’m in Club” and the like.
A fast track boarding sign was placed in front of the podium but it wasn’t very obvious due to the crowd obscuring it, and frankly it was one of the worst observed premium lines I’ve seen. Despite an announcement and the sign nobody bothered to follow, and it wasn’t enforced either.
After waiting for a short time in the jetbridge a couple of hat wearing FAs greeted us at the door, directing us to our seats in the second row. The hats were a sign of a Mixed Fleet crew, BA’s new multi-purpose crews that are equally at home on short and longhaul flights. Club Europe was reasonably well populated with seven, almost full rows, although 2A and 2C across from us were free….
….which allowed me to take this photo!
Despite the boarding scrum everyone was on in good time with ten minutes before our scheduled departure time was up. The flightdeck gave us an update on the immigration situation at Heathrow noting that there were no problems with clearance times, and also the run down on the route. We were due to fly south of Prague, north of Munich, across to Frankfurt, Brussels and Suffolk.
As we had a while before pushback I occupied myself reading the ‘High Life’ magazine. I always find something reasonably interesting to get into although how people occupy themselves for hours with such things I won’t know!
The whir of the screens coming out of the overhead panel indicated the beginnings of the safety demonstration and our short taxi out to runway 31L began. Due to the low cloud base we didn’t get to see a whole lot on takeoff, which was fine for Mr 1D who already had his laptop out and was watching a film within a minute of wheels up.
We slowly climbed up to FL380, most of it in clouds, or it seemed that way. As we neared the cruising altitude the screens dropped down again to reveal the moving maps, the new style 3D ones that have been on some of the Airbus aircraft for a while now.
Despite the light chop the seatbelt sign was extinguished and cabin service began in Club Europe with pre-dinner drinks. The wife and I both opted for champagne, the ever predictable mini bottles of Pommery NV that we placed on the 2E tray table.
The wife took rather a liking to the delightful Rebecca’s perfume and asked her what she was wearing. That old chat up line… Turned out it was the perfume’s first outing, and Givenchy Play for those who are keen to know! No doubt this was going to create a stop at duty free on the way home!
The skies clear as we head across Europe
As we crossed over eastern Germany the cart wheeled back to the front of the cabin and another pass was made for the meal dish. It was either a chicken escalope or the rather dependable prawn curry.
In an effort to try both dishes we got one of each, if my wife preferred one over the other massively we could swap. It seemed a good idea at the time but the prawn curry was our definite favourite. Being the, ahem, gentleman that I am I of course offered to swap meals so my wife could enjoy her preferred dish. The little mousse thing wasn’t bad either.
The crew seemed quite on top of things with the standard pass round for tea and coffee being made as well, although I stuck with the bubbles…as did the wife.
As we chased the sun across Europe it certainly made for some great photos, if you had the camera for it, and a perfectly clean window that is, nevertheless I attempted a few snaps.
As the sun began to sit lower in the sky we approached the Netherlands, the ribbon that is the Rhine visible below as it steered itself towards the North Sea. Our flight track also took us within sight of Amsterdam and Schiphol, although naturally the Polderbaan was not visible due to the curvature of the Earth
The cloud returns as we cross the North Sea
As we crossed the North Sea heading for the Suffolk coast you could feel the aircraft gradually descend and the flight deck interjected with an update on our progress and another status report from Border Control. Basically no change from earlier which was good because Thursday evenings can be quite busy at T5 arrivals. Landing cards hadn’t been handed out yet and there wasn’t much sign of them doing so, and as my wife is a US Passport holder we chose to ask so she could fill out it ahead of time….and before the three bottles of Pommery kicked in
During our continued descent North Weald airfield, distinctive due to the fact it is next to the M11 was off to our port side and we tracked across the north of London slightly before heading in towards town a little more. As my wife had got into the whole Wimbledon thing over the previous week or so I advised her to quickly shift over to 2A to get a view of the stadia before the seatbelt sign went on.
The sun setting over London, and indeed this flight
We got a great view as we turned right over the City of Westminster, all the usual sights visible below and it was clear that we’d be landing on 27R.
I couldn’t pick which one to add so you’ve got all of them!
Just after we touched down on the southern runway it was announced that we’d be arriving at the recently opened T5C, the new addition to the T5 complex. Predictably as we pulled up to our gate on the south east end of the T5C it was announced that we were waiting for the person to man the bleedin’ guidance system thingermejig! Although as the PA was about to be finished it was noted that his car had just pulled up at the jetbridge and within a minute we were on stand and into the new building.
The layout of escalators and lifts was a bit different from that of T5B so I was a little taken aback and opted not to take my usual lift route down to the transit. The lifts themselves were more like normal elevators than the much larger glass ones in T5B and the main T5 building.
Being the first stop for the transit we positioned ourselves optimally in the carriage for the alight at T5 so we could be up to Border Control as fast as possible. After emerging from the escalator area it initially seemed the non-EU line wasn’t too bad although the EU line was very backed up. I had to fight my way past a large group to get to the IRIS line which was busier than normal but it still only took me a few minutes to get through. As the Fast Track line closes at 2pm the wife couldn’t use that. As I sat on the other side of passport control waiting for her I called my father and watched as a number of familiar faces from our flight passed, including flight attendant, Rebecca who managed a brief smile. After around ten minutes my wife arrived and said that the line didn’t take long to clear but the immigration official gave her some unsolicited tips about what she should do if we chose to move back to the UK! Given the situation it seemed an odd choice on her part, but it was rather friendly by all accounts. We finished the journey by going back up to departures for our usual pick up point at the end of the passenger drop off point.
Route: London Heathrow (Terminal 5) - Washington-Dulles Int.
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA217
Aircraft: Boeing 747-436
Seat: 02A/01K (First)
Distance: 3677 miles
Duration: 7hrs 30mins
Photo © Chris Lofting
Photo © Mark H
As we had done prior to our Budapest flight we’d stayed at the Sheraton Heathrow, we’d also taken the free local buses from the stop on the A4 just across from the hotel, arriving at T5 just after 7am. We were welcomed by the guardian to the First check-in area and escorted over to one of the free desks, next to one that was occupied by a family enjoying a Special Services escort.
First check-in area (picture from previous report )
It was off to South Security quickly with boarding passes in hand and again as like the previous week it was quite a lengthy wait to clear, even Fast Track, security. Thankfully I have since been informed that BA are making some changes and that a new security channel will be created from First check-in directly to the Concorde Room for First passengers. Excellent news indeed! After 10minutes of waiting time and two flashes of boarding passes we were into the Concorde Room and the usual routine began; drop off bags with valet, get spa appointments and get ourselves sat down for a bite to eat. We got our preferred back massages arranged for consecutive times a little later in the morning although I was a little worried we would as a family of five arrived just ahead of us. Thinking they’d snaffle all available appointments I was amazed when the scheduler refused to book them in. They were flying from the C concourse with their flight closing in less than 30 minutes!! A little optimistic on their part!! As they left I said to the lady that it was OK because my flight was leaving from Terminal 3 in fifteen minutes time but that should still give me enough to get a massage She chuckled and said that some people really don’t have a clue!!
With our appointments all booked we went back into the CCR and sat ourselves in a booth in the Concorde Dining area to get some hot breakfast in. The striking blonde waitress brought our Bucks Fizz and rose rather quickly and then took our orders for the food.
Breakfast setup in Concorde Dining
In another booth not far away were a family where one of the female members of the party chose to read what seemed to be the entire newspaper aloud…to the rest of the Concorde Dining area. She was rather animated and could probably have made a reasonable living doing talking books but when you’re trying to eat your breakfast it seemed a bit unnecessary
After breakfast was done with we found a quiet corner of the Concorde Room where I could read the paper and general soak up the ambience of the lounge. It seemed rather empty, whether that was because it was July 4th and so not many people were flying to the US I’m not sure.
The Concorde Room on a quiet Monday morning. Much better pictures here, here and here!
I’d made a recent discovery that my wife could sign up for IRIS, the iris recognition border control system that has been in use for quite a few years. I’ve been a registered member almost since inception but my wife hadn’t, as I assumed wrongly that as a US citizen she couldn’t. The registration office was just across from the Concorde Room so I advised the wife to go sign up and also get that perfume the BUD-LHR FA had worn that she liked. Whilst she did that I enjoyed a glass or two of the Cattier Clos du Moulin champagne. Those that have read any of my First reports in the last few years you may recall this was one that was served on my LHR-JFK Concorde flight in 2002.
As my appointment time neared I walked out the back of the lounge to get the necessary disclaimers signed in preparation for my massage. The back massage was certainly nice, (as my back had been playing me up lately) although not one of the best I’ve received. Anyone at BA/Elemis bring back the full oil 30mins appointments please, even if it is only for First passengers! As I was filling out the obligatory feedback form with the same comments I always leave my wife arrived for her booking. Apparently the IRIS office was closed, or not accepting new registrants or something, either way she couldn’t sign up. I had heard that IRIS is being phased out as the new electronic border gates are introduced for those with biometric passports so assume there is a connection. Either way a shame.
As I passed the time reading the papers and fairly decent selection of magazines I sampled a couple of the other bubbly options. British Airways have recently struck a deal with Hush Heath Estate, who produce the Balfour Brut Rose, an award winning sparkling wine, yes I’m not going to fall into the trap of calling it a champagne like the Americans would So now there are three sparklies served in the Concorde Room; the aforementioned Cattier, Gosset Grand Rose and the Balfour Brut. As the latter was to be served in the air (in addition to a regular champagne option) I chose to try out a glass of the popular Gosset.
The flight departure switched to ‘Board Now’ around 10.05am and as it was from one of the B gates I wasn’t that bothered about sticking it out in the Concorde Room for much longer.
We took the escalators down and out of the Concorde Room and the same for the couple of floors drop to the transit as the lift had just left before we’d got to it. The train was leaving imminently so we scurried across the platform doors sneaking in just before the doors closed. As we emerged from the lift up to the departure level in T5B the queue at B33 was pretty clear. I’ve used this gate quite a few times and the Fast Track line is on the other side of the regular queue so a few ‘excuse mes’ and throat clearing brought us to the entrance. At this stage I didn’t know whether we’d have new First again or not but both 747s parked outside had the telltale missing windows in the forward section so it was guaranteed Indeed the aircraft was G-BNLN, the aircraft I’d flown on my first flight with the current Club World cabin, and the same aircraft would give me my first New First experience on the 747.
The CSD checked off our boarding passes and asked one of her FAs to escort my wife and I to the First cabin. On the walk up the FA noted that there was only one other First passenger to arrive and I could move from 2A to 1K if I wished. I’d deliberately chosen 1A and 2A for us so that one of us would have an overhead bin as row 1 are without these, and with the new cabin the four centre seats have lost their overhead bins too. Although there is a closet the latch can be rather loud so I used 2A as my base before scooting up to 1K almost immediately.
1) Seats 1K and 2K
2) Row 1
As I settled in to 1K flight attendant Simon introduced himself and asked whether or not we’d like a sleeper suit, took our initial drinks request and brought over a washbag. I helped myself to a newspaper from the rack in front of 4E and 4F.
Settling in nicely…
At this stage the other flight attendant came and introduced herself and had a little chat with the wife and I about our trip and wished my wife a happy 4th. How diplomatic!
Over a glass of the pre-flight Taittinger I mulled over my thoughts on the ‘new’ row 1. On the old aircraft I’d almost invariably pick row 2 when traveling alone because I felt it offered the most amount of space without being too close to the person next to you. Maybe it was just me but I felt that if someone joined you for dinner in this 1K they wouldn’t be your buddy for much longer! It just looked a little too tight up at that end. Although I like the ambience of the 747 in First more (and given the relative rarity of their flights to IAD now it feels a little novel) the 777 offers more space and in a more practical manner….but only in First. In Club World the Queen of the Skies triumphs in several orders of magnitude! Anyways, back to the flight…
The only way you can look from row 1…backwards!
Around 10.55 we pushed back from the gate, the safety demonstration taking place as Lima November rolled slowly along the taxiway and headed across the southern part of the central area for a 27L departure. Being in the very tip of the nose you do get to enjoy the best of both worlds; in this case the departing aircraft off to the port side and the views of the new terminals in the centre of LHR to the starboard.
G-RAES departing just ahead of us
Video: Departing from runway 27L
As you can see from the video it was a quite lovely morning and the views of Windsor Great Park and the castle itself (2:05 – 2:23) were excellent.
Henley-on-Thames and the white collection of tents which are the enclosures for the annual Regatta that I’d attended the previous week
Sadly we climbed up into the clouds a little earlier than I’d hoped so the usually nice views of the M4 corridor (yeah, not very often anyone says that is it? ) had to wait for another day.
The hills of Southern Wales
Around 20 minutes after takeoff the crew came round with the first drinks round. I opted to try the Balfour Brut that I’d mentioned earlier and the crew were very keen on my feedback, so much so they both asked my thoughts independent of one another! They’d only been serving it aloft for a few days and between the two of them they’d only served one glass…only one glass? that didn’t sound too promising! My thoughts were that it was nice but I couldn’t have drunk it throughout the flight as a session sparkler, although I’d have had no problems doing that with the regular Taittinger. I don’t get to drink roses too often inflight so am not sure whether this is a rose-at-altitude thing or the Balfour itself.
Macadamias and Balfour Brut, heading out across Wales
The crew took our orders for lunch and asked when we wanted to start. I wasn’t quite ready yet so chose to wait another 45minutes or so and as per usual I asked whether or not I was able to hold back a couple of things in lieu of afternoon tea. This was met with a ‘we’ll see what we can do but thanks for letting us know now’ kind of a response.
The menu was as follow:
Chicken, chorizo and pepper terrine wrapped in Parma ham with tomato and olive oil dressing
Mille-feuille of artichokes, peas and broad beans with Parmesan cream sauce
Fresh summer salad with your choice of balsamic dressing with golden rapeseed oil, creamy mint and black pepper dressing or olive oil
BRITISH AIRWAYS CLASSICS
Seared rib-eye of Herefordshire beef with green peppercorn sauce, pont-neuf potatoes and a salad of sun-blushed tomato with French beans
Duo of Loch Duart salmon and gilt-head bream with poached vegetables with saffron jus and a seafood medley
Roast Gressingham duckling with marinated cherries, macedoine of vegetables and potato and celeriac rosti
Caesar salad with grilled tiger prawns and briocje croutons
Asparagus ravioli with spinach and nutmeg sauce, crème cheese and seared cherry tomato
BRITISH AIRWAYS CLASSICS
Roast Mediterranean vegetables on toasted Manoucher bread with Feta and coriander pesto
A selection of biscuits
A selection of fruit
White chocolate panna cotta with apricot and mint compote
Cherry crumble with custard
Cropwell Bishop Stilton
A basket of fresh fruit
On the flight over I’d caught a glimpse of my seatmate watching Cedar Rapids and having seen the trailer a few months back I was hoping it remained on for July. After a few glasses of bubbles something not too taxing on the brain is just ideal!
Right on cue, around 45mins after I’d made my order Simon was there ready to set things up. I gave him a hand by folding the table out for him…
1) Table set-up
2) The off menu amuse bouche: Smoked salmon with lime crème fraiche
3) Chicken, chorizo and pepper terrine wrapped in Parma ham with tomato and olive oil dressing
4) Roast Gressingham duckling with marinated cherries, macedoine of vegetables and potato and celeriac rosti
5) White chocolate panna cotta with apricot and mint compote plus glass of dessert wine: Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve 2007 Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada
The food wasn’t bad at all, although the duck was a bit tough in parts and not the most aesthetically pleasing dish I’ve been served, even Simon apologized for its appearance! The marinated cherries were a nice, slightly different touch from the usual duck accompaniments. The dessert was also rather good and the paired wine went well with it, although it didn’t have the complexity of some of the Trockenbeerenausleses that BA have served in the past. I also think it could have been the first Canadian wine I’ve ever had!
The nose of the 747, the natural home of first class
By the time I was done with Cedar Rapids I decided to have a play with the AVOD system. I’ve taken many flights with it since it came online around 2006 or so but had rarely ventured beyond the films and the moving map section. My wife had been listening to a new REM album whereas I was more at home with an exclusive mix Paul Oakenfold had put together. After having a few barren years he’s made something of a comeback of late…anyways, back to the flight. I chose to partake in some tea, I started off with some of the Twinings Blackcurrant variety and Simon brought round the box of L’Artisan du Chocolat creations. Knowing there’s only one box for the cabin I only took a couple at first but Simon could tell I was eager for a few more and said to help myself since they’d just go to waste anyway.
Twinings Blackcurrant and first helping of choccies!
The first few chocolates that were resting on my saucer partially melted against the warm cup so I decided to go back to the area in front of 4E/F where they were and just bring the box back to my seat. They’d barely been touched and most of the other passengers were asleep anyway. You snooze, you lose, literally!
I decided to have a stab at the recent Bradley Cooper flick, Limitless, which I’d seen advertised a few months before and had an interesting premise. A not bad effort it was too…I enjoyed the regular top ups of tea, although I switched up the flavours moving from Blackcurrant to Peppermint and eventually Lemon & Ginger.
Limitless wrapped up whilst we were over the Gulf of Maine and so I figured there was enough flight time left to squeeze in a TV show or documentary of some kind. Well I couldn’t have found anything more perfect if I’d tried…Heston’s Mission Impossible, where three Michelin Star chef Heston Blumenthal tackles lacklustre food served in various industries, the featured episode, British Airways It was certainly an interesting insight into how airline food is put together and how it is engineered, whether it was good to show it on a British Airways flight, I’m not sure
With the show being an hour long we were now past Boston and there was still no sign of the second “meal” service. Usually crossing Boston is the cue for the afternoon tea service but Simon was tending to the person in 2K for some time. I was a little concerned we’d be horribly rushed before the cabin was secured or that I wouldn’t have time to change! Nevertheless after enjoying the splendid views of Massachusetts and Connecticut Simon dropped by apologizing for the delay and noting he’d be able to put a salad together for me, this was quite alright as the alternative starters (besides what I’d already had!) didn’t quite suit.
55mins before landing, time for salad and dessert trio of Orange blossom financier with blueberry mousse, Black Forest cake and Mascarpone choux with raspberry
The dessert selection in particular was quite delicious! A nice end to the meal service….Then I had to sort myself out for landing. I had bags at two different seats and for a while was trying to find my headphone case. Alas it had got wedged between the table and the cabin wall. This seems to be one of the oft reported gripes with the new First seat, it now being rather easy to lose things!
I knew I was cutting things fine with my end of flight routine when as I was changing the 20mins to landing announcement was made. Simon had taken care of business though, returning the seat to its landing friendly position (although it’s still pretty comfortable in new First) and tidying away the remains of my meal.
Washington Dulles – taken from the north east of the airfield
As is quite typical of my afternoon arrivals into Dulles we flew in from the north, passing east of the airfield before putting in a quick 180, landing on 1R. No doubt a great view for those in the observation tower at the Udvar-Hazy Center!
We turned off 1R with around 4000ft of runway left, this put us in the perfect position for a quick taxi in to the B gates. During the flightdeck welcome the Americans aboard were offered a happy July 4th greeting, through gritted teeth no doubt Of only note on the trundle across IAD was the United retrojet that was parked off on the C Concourse…surprising considering I wasn’t even aware of its existence! I spotted the ‘ping pong bat’ man off to the side waiting to wave us in, and thought for a moment the man upstairs hadn’t even noticed he was there, it seemed we passed the gate by some margin before the nose swung right round and we were aimed at the terminal.
Jetbridges promptly pulled up and the flight crew held back those in the forward Club World cabin so we could get the headstart to the buses for immigration. Despite being last out of the First cabin I was first (still with me? ) onto the mobile lounge and stood my ground in the spot for prime disembarkation into the immigration hall at docking. I also seemed to stand out as the one to answer questions. Although I’ve stood in that position dozens of times in the past this time around probably four people asked if I was in the best place. Hmm, I did debate whether or not I should share my secret After the lounge was slammed full of people we lowered away and scooted round to immigration, clutching passports and forms to hand. Fortunately the immigration point was very empty and we were immediately directed to a station to wait behind the yellow line, unfortunately, it seemed to be behind the one guy who’d obviously done something horribly wrong because it was about five minutes before I gave up and nipped off somewhere else hoping the queue guardian wouldn’t spot me The bags were already coming through on the very far belt by the time we got through so we were quickly landside and ready to head back to the hotel to get our car.