Views of Venice with British Airways
This report is a little unusual in that it covers a brief overnight visit to a destination that was to be a starting point for a much longer trip to Japan with Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines. Japan will be the subject of an upcoming trip report, but for now here are the details of two positioning flights, an overnight stay in Venice, and a morning walking around this historic city.
I usually book Avios redemptions for positioning flights for ex-EU longhaul itineraries, as Avios tickets are fully flexible up until 24 hours before departure. This is particularly handy when airlines such as Qatar change the departure time of their flights, meaning that positioning flights may need to be changed in the months or weeks leading up to departure to work around the new longhaul sector departure time, although no such time change materialised on this trip. In order to provide enough buffer time before departure of the QR sector, BA flight schedules dictated an overnight stay for the start of this trip. As we had not visited Venice before, this didn’t seem too much of a hardship. LHR-VCE
It was a faintly overcast late April day as we arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 and approached the First Wing, BA’s one-year-old combined check-in and security point for First passengers and oneworld Emerald members, providing direct access to the Galleries First lounge and onwards through the lobby to the Elemis Travel Spa and Concorde Room. We were directed left at the entrance to the Wing to drop our bags, which weren’t priority tagged (not that priority tags mean anything on BA operated sectors). It was nice to see BA had some fresh spring flowers on display throughout the check-in area, with a hosted flavoured water station in front of the seating area, some of which we were offered as we walked past. With both lanes open, there was no queue at security.
Whilst the Galleries First lounge was not overly busy, it was crowded enough to mean I couldn’t take many photos, so I’ve woven in here some photos taken on a more recent early morning visit where occupancy levels were close to zero. At the time of visiting, the lounge had recently received some new armchairs in BA’s ongoing efforts to replace the increasingly worn fixtures and fittings; I found them to be a little firm, although in several visits in recent months they appear to have softened over time.
Stopping to pour a glass of Jacquart champagne from the Wine Gallery, we headed to the First Refectory, where I flagged down a waiter to request a lunch menu.
The to-order items are invariably better than the sorry state of affairs on display at the buffet, although quality remains poor overall. My artichoke risotto with lemon oil looked particularly sorry for itself with a dollop of wilted rocket on top, but the underlying rice was decently flavoured, and I liked the plate it was presented on.
Boarding at Gate A20 just below the lounge was slightly delayed due to cleaning and catering of the aircraft. Group 1 boarding was announced first, which bizarrely led to multiple (presumably) Group 1 passengers using both of the priority lanes simultaneously. Boarding is probably the most inconsistent element of the British Airways ground experience.
G-EUPN was our ride to Venice this afternoon, an A319 delivered new to BA in 2000 and my third time on this aircraft. A completely full flight, no Avios availability in Club Europe for the outbound sector and 10 rows of CE including the extra legroom exit row meant I ended up in a particularly undesirable Euro Traveller middle seat (14B), but for a 1h52 flight this was bearable – just.
An issue with the APU meant one engine was started on the stand before pushback, something the captain advised before the event during his welcome announcement, which included advising us of our 39,000ft cruising altitude. The safety video played (with one screen forward of our row constantly retracting and deploying again) before we taxied to Runway 27R for takeoff to the West.
For all of BA’s woes, I do find their shorthaul cabins on refurbished Airbus aircraft (that makes up the majority of the fleet, excepting the ex-BD aircraft and soon to be retired 767s) to feature attractive interiors. The mood lighting and dark leather seats combine to create a sophisticated atmosphere, only tempered by the rather limited 30” legroom in all except bulkhead and exit row seats. (The A319s actually feature an even more limited 29” in the rear half of the aircraft.) The eye-level literature pocket/tablet holder is well placed, the seatback net is large enough to take a decent size water bottle, each seat has personal air vents, and the coat hooks at each seat are a useful feature (even if I don’t tend to use them myself).
It’s a shame that on BA’s latest A320neo deliveries, the rear half of the aircraft now has a much more basic type of super-slim seat, and that in Club Europe, the handy centre console table has been removed (presumably to save weight).
I declined the buy on board service (water having been obtained from WHSmith, as BA’s UK lounges don’t feature takeaway bottled water) and flicked through the current month’s Business Traveller to pass most of the flight.
Arriving into Venice ten minutes behind schedule, we parked at a stand a couple away from a QR A330, which would be our ride the following day. Due to the defective APU, we were asked to remain seated as one engine was left running on the stand whilst ground power was connected. There was no queue at the automated gates in immigration, and after a ten minute wait for bags to arrive, we were rolling in a taxi to the Hilton Garden Inn.Hilton Garden Inn Venice Mestre San Giuliano, and a morning exploring the city
EUR30 later, we pulled up at the rather unattractive modern exterior of the HGI, conveniently located about mid-way between the city and the airport. As this was a simple overnight stop before our main trip, I couldn’t justify the exorbitant costs of a more luxurious property in the city centre and figured that 40,000 HHonors points was a good value way of meeting our needs. Whilst the location of this property is a bit off for visitors who will be making multiple trips into the city, its outlook onto the main road to the airport means there is a frequent bus service which takes all of ten minutes to reach the canals.
There was a short wait to check-in, but once at the desk service was friendly and quick. We opted to pay for breakfast at the reduced rate of EUR18 and headed up to our standard room on the 5th floor overlooking fields and low-rise buildings in the direction towards the airport.
Going in with moderated expectations, the room was perfectly adequate and nothing more. Clean and modern, there was enough space to swing at least half a cat. I particularly liked the Herman Miller desk chair, an unexpected designer piece in a property where function takes precedence over form.
The minibar was not stocked, and although there was no bottled water in the room, bottles (along with a few other items) were available in a small pantry adjacent to reception for EUR1. There was no coffee machine, although very basic tea and coffee was provided. Bathrobes and slippers are not offered at Hilton Garden Inns.
Frustratingly the aircon regularly switched itself off completely; this seemed to be a money-saving annoyance mandated by the property as a small sign advised guests to request the aircon to be adjusted by reception if it was too warm. Indeed, after speaking to reception the restriction was lifted and we were able to set the aircon to be on continuously. I do wonder how many guests feel awkward asking such questions, and instead have suffered in stuffy rooms in silence.
The bathroom was more than adequately sized, with a large walk-in shower and the usual Hilton Peter Thomas Roth amenities. Lighting levels in the bathroom were on the dull side, and the basin tap leaked from its base when turned on, which caused a small flood on the countertop.
We had a quick dinner in the hotel’s only restaurant that evening, where service was quick and polite and the food filling and unfussy. It was an early start the following morning, as we were keen to get into the city before the narrow streets filled up with tourists. As a late check-out could only be accommodated until 13:00, with an 18:00 flight to Doha and onwards to Tokyo, this was too early to return to the hotel, so we checked out and asked reception to hold our bags until the afternoon. Reception were able to sell us return bus tickets into the city, with the bus stop right outside the front door on the hotel side of the road.
I had planned a vaguely circular walk around the city which would take in all of the major sites; Santi Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, via the Canal Grande to Rialto Mercato, then across to Piazzo San Marco and Basilica San Marco (viewed from the outside only due to huge queues to get in) and Palazzo Ducale.
We then crossed the under-renovation Ponte dell’Accademia to walk up to the Punta della Dogana, before doubling back through the Dorsoduro district to Piazzale Roma. It was here that we caught the bus back to the hotel to collect our bags, re-pack and get a taxi to the airport for our flight to Doha. I found Venice to be a unique experience, and would happily return for a longer, more relaxed visit in an off-peak period. VCE-LHR
Roll forward ten days, and it was with surprise that we found the BA check-in desks open well in advance of the usual two hours before departure at shorthaul outstations, although the reason soon became clear in that I’d completely forgotten that BA also operate flights to Gatwick and London City from Venice, in addition to those to Heathrow. There was no queue at the single Club Europe desk, where our bags were priority tagged and we were given directions to Fast Track security, which was indeed fast despite a random explosives check.
BA use the third party Marco Polo lounge at VCE, the same lounge as that used by Qatar Airways. As I will be writing a full lounge review (with photos) as part of my upcoming Japan trip report, I won’t feature the lounge in any detail here, but will review the shower suite I used having not had a shower in the many hours and many miles it had been since Osaka. The receptionist tried to send me to the washrooms initially, but realised I was in need of a shower after I deployed the universal language of signing. Located just behind the lounge reception desk, there are two shower suites available for guests. At first glance, the generously sized room appears to be nicely configured, with a large walk-in shower, and plenty of storage space. Unfortunately, the shower itself was poor, with lukewarm water, low pressure and a drain that was either blocked or not actually a drain.
Perhaps the most bizarre feature was the shower pack I was handed by the receptionist. This featured basic slippers, all-in-one unbranded shampoo and shower gel, a shower cap, a weird blue robe thing that wouldn’t have protected my modesty in the slightest, and a massive paper towel which I assumed was in place of a proper towel but didn’t do a terribly good job of absorbing anything. There was no bath mat, face towels or hairdryer. All in all, this wasn’t a particularly satisfying shower experience, but did go part of the way to restoring me to near-human status.
Returning to the main lounge area after my shower, I passed the next couple of hours watching the ground crew attempting to load a Ferrari onto a Dubai-bound Emirates 77W, before they gave up in what must have been an expensive failing for EK. The supercar appeared to be stuck on its pallet on top of the loading trolley.
A distinct positive of this lounge is the ability to watch your aircraft arriving, thanks to its great view over the apron, taxiways and runway. An even better view can be had from the lounge’s external roof terrace.
We arrived at Gate 19 as the final two groups (4 and 5) were boarding, and in the absence of any clear priority lane just lined up behind the handful of people at the desk. This was to be my third flight on G-EUPX, a 17 year-old A319 configured today with only five rows of Club Europe. As I settled into bulkhead Seat 1D, jackets were taken, and the captain announced our cruising altitude of 37,000ft, taking 1h50 to reach LHR (actual flight time 1h56).
We pushed back a couple of minutes ahead of schedule, taking off with an excellent view of the city. (This image was actually taken aboard our QR flight inbound to VCE from DOH.)
Hot towels did the rounds, before the meagre afternoon tea service commenced; a Ploughman’s salad or sandwiches were offered, both accompanied by cake. The sandwiches were fresh and the cake nicely baked, but this is a frankly embarrassing service to deliver on a two-hour sector, such is the small portion size and unappetising presentation of the sandwiches. As designated driver I opted for an apple juice to accompany the afternoon tea, although naturally a full bar service, including champagne, was available.
BA are revamping their Club Europe catering in September following wide recognition that the most recent changes (implemented in April 2017) have failed on a number of levels. On Long sectors, the multi-course approach to lunch and dinner is confusing for passengers and time consuming for crew to deliver to large cabins, whilst the breakfast portion size is too small (with no fruit plate, yogurt or other cold side option). On Medium and Short sectors, the portion sizes for lunch and dinner are miniscule, with the only hot option being a low-quality hot sandwich. Brunch and afternoon tea services on these sectors are widely viewed as being mis-timed. I can only hope that September’s changes see the return of scones to afternoon tea!
Regular drinks top-ups were offered by the decent crew, and I went with a hot chocolate with dessert, followed by a peppermint tea towards the conclusion of the flight; a drip dish was provided.
The washrooms on these shorthaul aircraft are in increasingly poor condition, with the plastic basins and countertops not withstanding years of (ab)use, including tea and coffee disposal from the galley. The relatively new White Company amenities are now available in Club Europe washrooms, matching those provided in Club World amenity kits and washrooms on longhaul routes.
We landed on Runway 27R 15 minutes ahead of schedule, parking at T5B. Immigration was light, and there was a minimal wait for baggage, with our couple of bags amongst the first on the belt, evidence perhaps that the priority tags may at last have found their calling.
Thanks for following along with this short report; comments and questions are encouraged.Coming Soon:
A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class