It was time for another short break to escape from what had been a hectic few weeks at work, this time to Rome, a city that had been on my to-visit list for a long time. BA had some good flight and hotel package prices for travel in February, and so after some discussion we booked 3 nights at the 4 star Hotel Dei Mellini just off the River Tiber, together with flights from Heathrow in Club Europe for less than the cost of CE flights alone!
We took the Heathrow Express from Paddington to Heathrow T5, collected some travel money from the American Express outlet in Zone B of check-in, before making our way to Zone H to check-in at the Club desks, where there was no queue.
With our one checked bag on its way into the bowels of the terminal and boarding passes in hand, we headed across to South Security. I could see something of a queue, and so we walked back to North Security where there was no queue at all for Fast Track. The boarding pass checker was particularly jolly compared to the norm, but the Tensabarrier mess that awaited us beyond was far from jolly. We were directed to Lane 3 but couldn’t actually get there thanks to the stupid layout of the Tensabarriers. I ended up opening up some of the barriers and walking to Lane 2 that was fairly empty.
One glance around Galleries Club North was enough to see that it was rather busy (and still has that odd shape, of course!), so we headed off to Galleries Club South, my preferred Club lounge at T5A.
Since the Diamond Jubilee, BA has had a very interesting display located on the landing between the Concorde Room and Galleries First in T5, showcasing various aspects of the airline’s history. It hasn’t changed much in recent months, but is still worthy of a glance nonetheless. The Concorde model has been added to my Christmas list.
We found a spot at the far end of the lounge adjacent to the Coffee House. The lounge was reasonably busy, but not busy enough to be uncomfortable. Food options at this hour (lunchtime) included a lovely leek and mushroom casserole, rice, pasta, various pasta sauces including tomato and basil (also good), jacket potatoes, curry, and garlic bread. Soup, salad and sandwiches were also available. Slightly later, fresh cakes and cheesecake were brought out – the banana cake was fabulous. Until that time, we made do with the variety of biscuits and muffins on offer at the Coffee House, accompanied by some Twinings tea.
Something I hadn’t noticed before in the lounge were a couple of Dell stands, where one could borrow one of the new laptop/tablet devices for use whilst in the lounge. The ultimate aim, of course, is for the salesperson to try and successfully sell you one, which I did think rather tacky. I didn’t use one (as a dedicated Apple user!), but they do look impressive when compared to the chunky laptops of old.
We boarded our A319 (G-EUPV) from one of the gates conveniently just below the South lounge complex (A18, IIRC), where a Fast Track lane was in operation. There were 5 rows of CE onboard today, and annoyingly no aisle curtain which did mean some Euro Traveller passengers came forward to use the washroom (not that a curtain seems to stop this from happening normally). I do wish crew would make it clear in the onboard announcements that the forward washroom is for CE use only, and actively prevent ET pax from using it – I’ve seen this happening on some flights, and it’s fairly effective.
The crew on this sector were a bit of a mixture, including one very straight-faced lady. My request for some water before takeoff was met without issue, however. I do think it would be easier on the crew to have small water bottles loaded onboard shorthaul flights for CE passengers.
A hot towel was handed out on the ground, and the afternoon tea service commenced shortly after takeoff. Service to the lightly loaded cabin was by hand, and the tray included a plate of fresh sandwiches and salad, pre-packaged fruit cake and the highlight - fresh scones, jam and clotted cream. Tea and coffee was offered at the same time as the meal service, and I requested some Pommery champagne. I found this a little too ‘bubbly’ for my taste, but it does seem to be enjoyed by many on the BAEC board so I felt almost obliged to try it!
A second drinks run commenced after I had to push the call button to request further drinks (always indicative of a sub-par crew, IME).
We landed pretty much on time into FCO coming in over the water. There was no queue for passport control at the EU desks, although the non-EU desk queues were rather lengthy. Baggage delivery was somewhat delayed, but eventually our single bag did make an appearance towards the front of our flight.
After a rather hectic and rip-off (EUR80) taxi ride along Rome’s motorways and back streets, we eventually arrived at the Hotel Dei Mellini, well situated just off the Tiber river on a quiet back street, and a short walk to all of Rome’s central sights – indeed, we didn’t use any public transport on our 2.5 days in the city, although did walk extensively in order to see everything we wanted in a short period of time.
The Dei Mellini is a perfectly acceptable hotel as a base for exploring the city. Our room was fairly small and with a limited view of nothing other than a wall of the internal courtyard, but was clean and the bathroom was more than adequate. The hotel was clearly trying very hard to provide a superior service, with little touches like turndown service and slippers in the room. Wifi was free in the lobby for a limited period, and the charge for in-room wifi was reasonable at EUR9 for 48 hours.
However, there were just too many little niggles preventing a 4 star rating in my view. The beds were far from comfortable with pathetic pillows, there were no tea/coffee making facilities in the room, and the breakfast (included in the price) was poor quality with undercooked eggs and bacon, and inedible croissants. The staff were on the whole welcoming and professional, although the receptionist who checked us out was treading a fine line between abrupt and rudeness (an image not helped by her ‘forgetting’ EUR10 of my change from the city tax payment).
The city of Rome itself is beautiful – we were lucky to have fantastic weather with clear skies and 16 degree temperatures across our two main days. On the first day we explored the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese areas. It was fascinating to take a step off the main streets and explore the side squares and alleys of Rome’s modern centre. We lunched at a hidden-away café upstairs above a small courtyard, and dined that evening at San Marco, a restaurant near our hotel.
On our second day, Ancient Rome was our focus, including the Imperial Fora, Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. This area is truly stunning, and well worth the EUR12 ticket price for the latter three areas. It’s hard to put a price on the historical value that these sites contain. The history of the area is palpable. Lunch was taken at a café not far from the Colosseum, and dinner near the Spanish Steps en route back to our hotel.
On our final half-day, we visited Vatican City, focusing on St Peter’s Square and Basilica. We visited the day after the outgoing Pope had departed Rome city centre for the Vatican summer residence, and so the area was relatively quiet. Impressive, but for me Rome is all about its ancient past and quaint narrow back streets.
We checked out of the hotel at 12:00 and took our pre-booked hotel transfer back to the airport for the much cheaper price of EUR55. Taxis are definitely best avoided in Rome!
There was no queue at the single CE desk at FCO, and the very friendly lady gave us directions to the Fast Track security lane and lounge. Fast Track security at FCO T3 is a separate channel to the right of the main area, and was indeed fast!
The recently refurbished Galleries lounge at FCO is located after passport control, up one level near Dixons Travel. Once rated as the worst BA-operated lounge on the network, and for many years stuck in a time-warp in old Executive Club lounge décor, the refurbished lounge is now not a bad space at all.
There are two bar areas with fresh juices, a small food buffet (with mediocre finger food), a large central seating area, small PC area, smoking room and washrooms within the lounge. Wifi is free and available via voucher from reception.
However, the lounge was far from clean, and despite me reporting some major dirt/grease/handprints on the dividing screens in the seating area, nothing was done about it (and I’m willing to bet is still in that state as I type this).
We took the driverless transfer train to our gate area, and boarded our A320 (G-EUYA) through the dedicated Fast Track lane. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lane being properly policed, together with the majority of passengers being held back until Fast Track pax had boarded.
After something of a delay to pushback due to ATC slot delays and the absence of a pushback tractor, we took off into the late afternoon sunset.
There were no hot towels on this sector, but the crew were very good indeed, constantly checking that passengers were happy and drinks were topped up. The afternoon tea tray (this time delivered by cart due to a full cabin) was very similar to the outbound flight, with slightly changed sandwich fillings. A second round of scones was offered (I accepted, naturally!).
A fellow passenger (who looked remarkably like Denzel Washington, but, we concluded, was not) had had his connecting flight to the States cancelled whilst in the air. The purser constantly reassured him and made efforts to rebook him whilst still in the air. I hope he managed to get to where he needed to be!
Our hold in the stack was cancelled, and we came in over Windsor to land on Runway 09L. There was no queue at passport control, and our bag was amongst the first to emerge after a rather lengthy wait.
In summary, another two relatively standard CE flights from BA. The empty middle seat, upgraded catering and service means BA, in my eyes, has the best shorthaul business class product in Europe. The afternoon tea, often the source of much consternation on the BAEC board, was not bad at all! Not particularly extensive in portion size, but fresh and tasty and good quality.
If you haven’t been to Rome – book a trip! It’s a truly fascinating place.
Thank you for reading, and comments and questions are welcomed as always. Until next time, happy and safe travels to all.