A Glimpse of Glasgow: Grounded No Longer
It had been 608 days, but in early September I finally took to the skies once again. A couple of domestic Club Europe sectors and a stay in a Crowne Plaza might not sound like a particularly trip report-worthy subject, but given I haven’t been able to write a new aviation-themed report for over 18 months, I hope you’ll indulge me as we explore what’s it’s like to travel during the middle of a pandemic, and what’s changed – some things perhaps forever – along the way. LHR-GLA
British Airways’ First Wing at Heathrow Terminal 5 looked its usual elegant self as we arrived several hours ahead of departure. At the entrance to the First Wing, it’s left for check-in and bag drop, and right for security and the lounge – we stopped by a vacant desk to collect paper BPs, noting the desks for bag drop were a little busy with a welcome return of passengers. With no queue at security, we were soon heading down the corridor to the Galleries First lounge.
The drinks trolley that sometimes made an appearance at the entrance to the lounge (and the one in the First Wing check-in area for that matter) appears to be no more, but the horse lamp still stands guard to welcome passengers into BA’s flagship lounge complex. Attentive readers will note the rather unprofessional dangling power extension socket, which I believe was installed just prior to the pandemic, and used to power a spray air freshener. Never ones to miss a sponsorship opportunity, BA have partnered with Dettol for the provision of hand sanitiser stations at check-in, in the lounges, and at the gate, and for the wipes that are handed out on boarding.
The layout of the Galleries First lounge is principally unchanged from pre-pandemic days. Since my last visit in January 2020, some older furniture had been swapped out for some of the pieces to feature in BA’s latest lounge concept first unveiled in Rome and since expanded to Aberdeen, Geneva, New York JFK (First and Club lounges), Johannesburg and San Francisco; pieces include tan leather lounge and café chairs, grey leather armchairs, and marble café and side tables. These pieces are more practical and modern than the fabric and wood versions they replaced, although do look and feel somewhat cheaper. Seating remains at its usual density, although plastic divider screens have been installed in some locations to separate adjacent chairs, and all cushions have been removed (presumably to aid cleaning).
Over by the Champagne Bar, the Work and Entertainment Zone is no longer, replaced with Forty Winks – a collection of six sleep pods, sponsored (of course) by Restworks. Aside from the pods themselves, some side tables, lamps, rugs and planters attempt to create a relaxing atmosphere, aided by dimmed overhead lighting. Given how much floor space they occupy, it remains to be seen how intensively these pods are used – only one was in use when I popped my head in. With the removal of the Work and Entertainment Zone, only one small oval desk table remains in the lounge – over by the entrance to the First Terrace – for those wanting to work. I guess BA think most workers will be happy at a dining table in the (usually noisy) Refectory or with balancing their laptop on the arm of a chair, but with an increase in remote working in recent months this may be a flawed assumption.
All newspapers and magazines (aside from a few stray copies of High Life) have been removed from the News Zones, although PressReader remains available and the lounge wifi (or Heathrow’s own) is still fairly reliable.
The washrooms remain the low point of the lounge, untouched over the last 18 months, and still very much in need of refurbishment. Elemis hand wash and lotion persists despite BA permanently closing the Elemis Travel Spas at LHR and JFK during the pandemic.
During the temporary closure of the Concorde Room, BA rebranded the First Terrace as the Concorde Terrace, exclusively for CCR-eligible passengers. Whilst the food selection was largely the same as the rest of the Galleries First lounge, the drinks selection was somewhat upgraded. From September, the Concorde Room reopened with an early closure at 15:00 each day – until a little before that time (to allow for cleaning and setting up of the drinks table), the Terrace was open to all Galleries First passengers. As with the rest of the lounge, the Terrace has received some new furniture, with the seating here being a little more spread out. The glass separating the Terrace from the rest of the lounge has also been partially frosted to provide a little more privacy. As of mid-October, normal CCR hours had resumed, meaning the Terrace is once again fully available to all Galleries First occupants.
The biggest change in the lounge is the removal of virtually all self-service food and drink. The Champagne Bar, Gold Bar and First Terrace Bar all offer a heady choice of self-serve bottled still or sparkling water – glasses and (for the first time in a BA lounge at T5) takeaway size bottles are provided.
The Wine Gallery has been converted from a self-service bar into a tended bar, thanks to a clever makeshift (but far from cheap-looking) wooden surround raising the height of the existing island bar. Whilst tended, all alcoholic drinks (together with almost all food) is ordered from a website, accessed via scanning a QR code found at each table, or (rather annoyingly for those sitting adjacent to them) on one of the temporary plastic seat dividers or permanent glazed partitions.
In the Refectory, the majority of the buffet stations are bare, with only the ubiquitous water and a handful of packaged snack options (crisps or muffins) or whole fruit available for self-service.
The far end of the Refectory, beyond the Kids Zone, is closed off with a temporary partition, allowing the catering team to prepare food orders directly outside the kitchen. When the lounge first reopened in July 2020, this partition was much closer to the front of the Refectory, but was moved back in more recent months to increase the available seating as demand picked up.
At the time of travelling in early September, both Coffee Houses were tended, with hot drinks ordered via the website. On two more recent visits in October, service of hot drinks had changed from the website to in-person ordering at the machines. This hybrid model is somewhat more inconvenient than full website ordering, as timing a drink’s collection with food arrival is difficult. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for BA to return to full self-service (hopefully with an upgraded à la carte menu retained for selected dishes, as in pre-pandemic times); self-serve hot and cold drinks have already returned to the Galleries Club lounges as an indication of the direction of travel.
We enjoyed a light lunch of the garden salad with ham hock terrine, red wine and mushroom pie, and the hot dog. Whilst presented nicely, none of these are of any higher quality than you might expect in a mediocre office canteen, and although entirely edible, it’s far from a first class experience.
A little later, we sampled the courgette, fennel and dill slaw with mackerel, the bemusingly presented barbacoa beef tortilla, the traditional sandwiches with chocolate brownie, and the cream tea – the latter two definitely winning in the food quality stakes this time around.
It’s great to see BA using First chinaware and cutlery in the Galleries First lounge, and a nice option to have tea served in a teapot rather than a mug. Service was usually fairly prompt, although on one occasion our drinks didn’t arrive, so we had to re-order via the website.
BA’s lounge team has been bolstered with a dedicated Dettol-branded cleaning team during the pandemic, who do a sterling job of clearing empties and sanitising tables and chairs between users.
After a pleasant few hours enjoying being back in an airport lounge and the view of Heathrow’s Southern Runway, we headed down to Gate A12 where our flight was about to commence boarding. After a period of boarding all flights strictly from the rear to the front with no priority boarding for any passenger (aside from those in First on longhaul flights), BA reintroduced group boarding network-wide in July. Despite this, at T5, separate Group 1, 2, 3 and General Boarding lanes are no longer – all passengers are invited to remain seated until their group number is called. This seems to work well, but does require priority group numbers to be at the gate early – there is no longer an option to stroll through a dedicated lane if late.
G-EUYV, a 7-year-old A320ceo would be carrying us the 344 miles up to Glasgow that evening. We were welcomed at the door and handed a Dettol wipe in a plastic waste bag (the latter itself something of a waste), and settled into our seats in Row 1 of this nine-row Club Europe cabin, with me taking 1C. Given a choice, I prefer 1D over 1C, as the bulkhead does not extend quite all the way in front of 1C, meaning boarding passengers tend to bump into you more than in 1D. Others may be of the opinion that 1C is the seat to pick given the potential for greater leg stretching.
The flight deck announced an airborne time of just under one hour, and we pushed back with a manual safety demonstration taking place (as is the norm on BA narrowbody flights these days, following the removal of weighty drop-down screens from the A320ceo and currently stored A321ceo fleet).
After takeoff, the crew were quick to jump into action, starting with a bar service including packaged nuts, but minus the usual drip mats (which very much seem crew dependent). A bar service prior to the meal service on a Band 1 route such as GLA is fairly unusual, so kudos to our crew for going above and beyond.
For dinner, passengers were addressed by name and offered a choice of two salads – sweet potato and rice or what was described as ham and mustard but I’m pretty sure was chicken and mustard. We went for one of each – both were fresh and tasty, although fairly small portion-wise. The side salad that used to feature on short Club Europe sectors has been enhanced away – and I can’t say I’m disappointed to see it gone, as salad plus salad is not my idea of a winning combination. Warm bread is still available, although what was once a choice is now one option, served individually wrapped. The raspberry mouse dessert was a little cheap tasting. All meal elements come covered in plastic, which is no longer removed by the crew before serving. All things considered, this is a perfectly adequate offering for a one-hour flight – I’d be happy with this on anything up to a two-hour sector.
Wifi and power (both conventional sockets and USB ports) are available on all narrowbody aircraft these days (although conventional sockets are only in rows that can be converted to Club Europe), with the exception of a small number of A319s destined for the scrapyard in the near future. At the time of writing, power had been disabled from the A319, A320ceo and stored A321ceo fleets due to a safety-related technical issue, although at the time of travelling this hadn’t yet been identified. Our aircraft had power available – but only when a fellow passenger reminded the crew to switch it on after takeoff, and even then it remained inoperable at 1AC. High Life and Business Life magazines have been removed from the aircraft; these are now only available online.
Our landing and arrival into Glasgow was entirely uneventful, and before long we were in an Uber on our way to the Crowne Plaza.Crowne Plaza Glasgow
Completed in 1989, the building that is now home to the Crowne Plaza is located on the banks of the Clyde in the Finnieston area of the city, adjacent to the SEC Centre and opposite BBC Pacific Quay. It’s a fairly stark but shiny exterior that greets guests as they arrive.
The hotel is unusual in layout in that it doesn’t really have a lobby – or at least, not one that feels like most other hotel lobbies. The reception is just to the left of the main entrance, in front of the lifts and in what is essentially the corridor to the fitness centre and car park beyond. Immediately to the right of the entrance is the hotel’s bar and restaurant, in a high-ceilinged extension to the building. The whole space feels quite transient, and the dated mid-2000s interior design, whilst in reasonably good condition, adds nothing to the ambience.
There was no queue to check-in, where I was offered the usual choice of 600 welcome points or a complimentary drink at the bar. We were handed a letter explaining that due to a shortage of staff caused by self-isolation requirements, there would be no housekeeping during our stay; 500 points would instead be credited to my account for each night, and a small selection of self-serve housekeeping items would be available in a room just off reception. I hope the pandemic doesn’t become a convenient excuse for hotels to reduce service standards on a more permanent basis in the future. As it was, housekeeping was inexplicably provided on the first day, although was absent on the second despite us requesting a quick refresh of the room before we left for the day.
Our Executive room on the top (16th) floor was an upgrade from our booked standard room, although the front desk staff had apologised that the Club lounge was closed at the time of our stay (it has since reopened). Whilst small, the room was in good condition and had clearly been refurbished within the last few years – a refurbishment which had happily extended to the bathroom, as is often not the case. The expansive view west along the Clyde was the undoubted standout feature of the room.
The team had kindly set up a welcome cake platter on the coffee table alongside the complimentary still and sparkling mineral water, and whilst the minibar was empty, the tea and coffee tray held a plentiful supply of teabags, a miserly sole sachet of hot chocolate, along with a couple of tea cakes. Cups were paper (presumably a pandemic precaution), and the room was devoid of paper, pens and other unnecessary virus-attracting accoutrements such as magazines and hotel information folders. The room service menu had been spared banishment. We rang down for some cutlery for the welcome platter, which was promptly delivered. I was a little disappointed that, given this was an Executive room, there was no coffee machine.
The room was well equipped with power and USB sockets either side of the bed and adjacent to the desk, Sky TV (a rarity in UK hotels, and I believe exclusive to Executive rooms and suites at this property) and fast wifi. The wardrobe could’ve done with a few more hangers.
The bathroom featured upgraded Antipodes toiletries in large pump bottles, and a powerful rainshower, even if it was over the bath. The bath was on the narrow side, and the plug had to be removed to enable the water to drain easily; at least there wasn’t a shower curtain. The usual extra toiletries were missing – I’m sure a dental or shaving kit would’ve been available on request, but the pandemic has surely done away with these often wasteful extras as standard. I particularly liked the large Vitra washbasin, bright lighting and the anti-steam mirror – although the lack of face cloths, plastic glasses, peeling door and ceiling paint, and wobbly toilet roll holder were less appealing. Both robes and slippers were provided.
A comfy bed was let down by soft and unsupportive pillows; aircon was quiet and effective enough on the lowest setting for an undisturbed sleep, although higher settings would’ve been a little too intrusive.
We used the swimming pool on a few occasions; the changing rooms were well appointed, towels were provided at the dedicated fitness centre reception, and whilst the pool was small and fairly basic in design, the facility was clean and quiet in the mornings. A sauna, steam room and jacuzzi were much appreciated extra features.
Breakfast in the Mariner restaurant had all the basics covered, and was more than adequate – just what you’d expect from a Crowne Plaza. Due to social distancing, at the time of our stay guests had to pre-book a breakfast time, which is somewhat constraining but understandable. We found the staff to be fairly flexible in actual arrival time, there was never a wait of more than a few minutes, and the rather primitive 45-minute table time for breakfast at the weekend was not enforced. The buffet was in full operation – indeed, everything was self-service, with no waiter service or à la carte menu available. Tables were cleared promptly, although not particularly regularly when guests were still sitting.
The front desk team accommodated a 14:00 check-out – the latest they could offer, which aligned perfectly with our departure for the airport.
Before we fly back, here are a few of my favourite images captured exploring Scotland’s second city. Highlights included Glasgow Central Station, Glasgow Cathedral, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, University of Glasgow and Riverside Museum.GLA-LHR
Glasgow International Airport is the ninth busiest airport in the UK, and with the return of passengers in recent months it certainly felt like it as, despite having mobile BPs, we arrived at the BA desks to collect our preferred paper BPs. There was no queue at the solitary Club Europe desk, so with boarding passes in hand we headed upstairs to security. Whilst there’s a clearly signed Priority Security entrance to the left of the main security entrance, this was closed that afternoon – which we only discovered after having walked all the way to the portal. Backtracking, we used the main automated gates, after which there was thankfully a separate lane for Priority passengers. This lane merged with the regular lane at the end, but an attentive member of staff signalled for us to come to the front.
Located on the domestic pier opposite Gates 14 and 15, the BA lounge opened in 2013 in the location of the former bmi lounge, and replaced the original BA lounge at Gate 19 (the original entrance doors for which can still be seen in situ, resplendent in their 1990s Executive Club lounge styling).
Designed by Graven, the lounge was built to the Galleries Evolution standard, now one generation removed from the latest concept but still both elegant and practical. The fairly small 450 square metre rectangular space has been cleverly divided into separate areas, with a natural oak ceiling wrap acting as the main eyecatcher. The lounge underwent a refresh in 2019, with the carpet replaced, new table and floor lighting added, new marble-topped side tables, and some new armchairs introduced – all from the latest lounge concept. The entrance wall was also replaced at this time, removing a bespoke LED-lit mesh panel interpretation of the BA logo (that was presumably rather costly to maintain) and replacing it with a more traditional sign.
The first of two main lounge zones offers a mixture of café and banquette seating either side of the bar, coffee machines and deli; this latter area was fully tended when we visited, with a mixture of chairs, tables and tensabarriers blocking any attempt at self-service.
The staff couldn’t have been more friendly, offering to bring items to wherever passengers were sitting – they seemed understandably delighted to see passengers back. Soup, sandwiches, cake, crisps and whole fruit was about the limit of the food offering that afternoon, although the drinks selection was – as is typical for domestic BA lounges – much more expansive. Unlike at the Heathrow lounges, there were no handy small bottles of water.
The second lounge area features predominately armchair seating, with high top bar tables available right at the rear in the cross passage between the two sides of the lounge. A TV lounge area, which formerly featured a couple of sofas, now has solely armchairs, behind which is the Study. The very rear of the lounge features another coffee machine, although this was not in use during our visit.
Set into the ends and middle of each zone’s wooden ceiling wrap are six small standing tables; these all feature an overhead work light and power sockets, although I can’t see them being particularly attractive for anything more than a re-pack of a bag, given their location in the main lounge walkways.
Unique to the Glasgow lounge, a whisky bar and snug can be found tucked behind the kitchen; originally sponsored by The Glenlivet, this small space with seating for 11 was closed during our visit (presumably as social distancing would be tricky), with the curtain fully drawn across the entrance.
Washrooms featuring the usual Elemis products are located downstairs to the right of reception, with an accessible toilet located within the reception lobby at gate level, adjacent to a self-service luggage storage area.
Leaving the tranquillity of the lounge, boarding at Gate 19 was a busy affair, although group numbers were clearly called one at a time and a dedicated priority lane was available for Groups 1-3; perfect for those late to the gate. G-EUYL, a 10-year-old A320 was to fly us back to London that evening. A Dettol wipe was handed out at the door, and we took our seats in Row 1 once again, ahead of seven further rows of Club Europe; this time, I was in 1F.
A flight time of one hour was announced by the First Officer, and as soon as we were airborne the crew commenced the meal service. There was no separate bar service on this flight, with drinks following the meal; options were disappointingly the same as those on the outbound sector, a common occurrence in these days of cost cutting and one which I hope BA eradicates soon.
We landed over Windsor on Runway 9L, with a short wait just off T5A as BA found someone to switch on the stand guidance system. Before too long we were landside, lucking out with an Audi A6 as our UberX to whisk us home.
This was a solid experience with BA; from their refreshed lounges at either end to their still-decent Club Europe catering, it was a pleasure to fly with them up to Glasgow. The Crowne Plaza delivered a perfectly adequate stay, well located between the West End and the city centre. Thanks for reading through my return to the skies; comments and questions are welcomed as always.