Route(s): AMS - LHR; LHR - JNB; JNB - PHW
Airline(s): BA and SAA Airlink
Aircraft: 767, 747 and Beachcraft 41
Lounge(s): Terraces AMS, Terraces LHR and Premier Club JNB
This is the report on the first leg of my round the world tour. I decided to break the report into sections that may be of interest by themselves and form logical segments. The first section is the trip from AMS to PHW via LHR and JNB flown with BA in business class and SAA Airlink in economy. The flights were on May 17th and 18th.
I took the BA0441 from AMS to LHR so I could fly the 767 and spend some time in the new T5 building. I arrived at the airport a little early because I like spending time at the BA lounge there. Much better facility than KLM and that at KLM's home airport. Shame on you KLM!
|Escalator up to the lounges at Schiphol (AMS)|
|Entry to the BA lounge at Schiphol (AMS)|
|The BA Lounge at Schiphol (AMS). Very nice lounge.|
The lounge was not busy at all and I found a nice place to have some snacks and watch the activity at the airport. I also had some time to wander about the airport so I could provide you with some pictures of our Dutch pride. Schiphol remains arguably the best airport in the world. No busses and only 1 terminal. You will understand my appreciation for that later in my reports.
|The BA 767 that is going to take me to LHR|
When you fly within Europe they do not seem to do a pre-boarding call for business class passengers. I did not really mind but it did make for a chaotic boarding process. Business class was very empty. I was in 1A but quickly moved to 7A. No one next to me and more legroom. (1A is a bulkhead) The aircraft was not in the best shape, I might add. It was showing its age.
|BA 767 Club Europe: bad state of repair|
Also the legroom was very restricted so my hope for better seats on the 767 was futile. I really do not understand people who will pay for business on European flights.
|Very limited legroom on Club Europe.|
|BA 767 European business class cabin|
|BA 767 European Business Class cabin|
Something like 20 minutes into the flight they served a light meal. I had some sort of chicken salad that was rather nice and I chose a Chardonnay (South African of course) to accompany it.
|Chicken Salad on my way to LHR. Rather tasty even.|
The flight was quick and arrival at T5 smooth.
I was looking forward to my stay at T5. I picked an earlier flight so I had at least 3 hrs there. Unfortunately that turned out to be too short. From the arrival gate to the departure area took about 25 minutes and this was without any lines whatsoever. I looked around a little and decided to go to the lounge first and take some pictures later. Nice building but not as impressive as I expected. It is big, but not large, if that makes sense. Like Schiphol is large, but not big. Anyways, I headed for what I thought were the lounges at one end of the building. Oddly this was the entrance to the First Class lounge only (next time!) and I needed to head back halfway, take an escalator down and subsequently navigate a maze of escalators, entrances and hallways until you reach the Terraces lounge. Took another 25 minutes so by now I ‘lost’ over an hour.
Before I start raving about the lounge itself (and I will) let me explain that I found out that my plane left from gate B37. That gate is at the building ‘across the taxiway’ so they told me to leave 25 minutes before check in started. Check in starts 35 minutes before the flight, so another hour gone. With less than 1 hour to enjoy the lounge I might as well get started!
The lounge itself is HUGE. Lots of areas to explore. First I found myself a nice place somewhere in what is best described as the lounge area. Big comfy sofa’s and a very relaxed atmosphere. I am always very comfortable with leaving my bags unattended in lounges (probably stupid, but hey…) so I left them to wonder around a bit.
|Terraces Lounge at T5 (LHR)|
|Terraces Lounge at T5 (LHR): nice lounge feeling|
The food section was impressive for a business class lounge. It matched the Asian lounges I love so much. I decided on a hot meal (Stroganoff) and it wasn’t half bad, I must say. Toilet facilities are also very up-market. Never found (or looked for) the shower facilities, but I am sure they are there and probably very good.
|Terraces Lounge at T5 (LHR)|
Lots of magazines and newspapers. Unfortunately they also had a TV on where they were broadcasting that show where Andrew Lloyd Webber looks for a Nancy. I am smitten with at least two of them so I could not stop watching. This made me somewhat late for my adventurous journey to gate B37.
Getting to the B gates from the lounge takes about 20 to 30 minutes. I guess it depends on how busy it is. I travelled on Sunday, so it was rather quiet. After you navigate your way back to the departure hall you have 2 choices: elevator to the trains (!) or the escalator. I decided on the latter mainly because they are so incredibly long. The time it took the escalator to get me down I saw the lift doing 2 runs, so you would be better of with them I guess. When I got down I noticed the train pulling out of the station so I had to wait for another 5 minutes for the next one. The train ride itself is a ridiculous 20 seconds or so and it would have been so much better if they built a walkway instead of those stupid trains.
When you arrive in the building you get to the gate and you see yet another elevator and escalator. Everybody was rearranging their seating at the gate even when boarding had already started. Staff did most of the customer interaction at the priority line so I had to wait for a family of 6 to go through the motions of accepting they would not be sitting together. After 10 minutes or so I pushed myself through and went down using the escalator to the plain. It wasn’t a smooth process so far. Luckily now I am on the plane. My first impression of T5… Tough. Not as good as I had hoped but I would not mind spending a couple of hours between flights there. Boarding process and the way things are handled at the gate: unsatisfactory. Logistics within the terminal itself: who designed that? What was he smoking? I am worried how this will turn out if ALL BA flights are moved to T5. Guess I will found out sooner rather than later.
Oh yes, the trip to JNB. I was really looking forward to this one. First of all because it would be my first New CW experience and I already loved old CW. Secondly because I finally after all these years got to fly the 747 on the top deck. Seat 62K, which really is the best seat in da house. Loads of legroom, nobody to climb over or who needs to climb over you and I like the backwards flying.
|62K, upper deck 747: best seat in the house!|
Only disadvantage is carrying your carry on upstairs and I cheated a little so it was rather heavy. My carry on only just fitted in the overhead compartment.
I decided I love NCW. I was worried it would not have the charm of OCW, but it has style. You are incredibly close to your travel companion in the opposite seat (mine was a very ugly, grumpy woman) but when the divider is up you are blissfully unaware. I flew on BA First later and I may even like the NCW better. For future newbies on NCW: the controls for the divider are on top of the ‘panel’ between your seats. A little sliding switch. It took me some time to figure that one out. I managed to get a few shots of the cabin before take off.
|A look at the cabin just before everybody enters|
Take off in the rear facing position is always an experience. Unnatural but fun. Once in flight the crew was quick with the dinner options. It was nothing to write home about. For the life of me I cannot understand how people get so enthusiastic about airline food. I had Shetland cold smoked rainbow trout with seared scallop and king prawn, served with a light lemon mayonnaise followed by a four cheese ravioli. It sounds more impressive than it actually was. Soon after dinner I dosed off. I always sleep like a baby on airplanes and this time was no exception. I awoke only 1,5 hrs before touchdown.
I played a little with the video system but I prefer my Archos. Before we landed I first decided to take some pictures of the feature I really liked about NCW on the upper deck: the storage bins next to the window seats.
Arrival in JNB was pretty smooth. Unfortunately I did not realize we would be bussed to the terminal since I could have taken some amazing pictures of the plane. They loaded the busses very full (no special bus for First and Business) and it took 5 minutes to get to the ‘gate’. We passed a lot of big airplanes along the way. All pretty amazing. Lufthansa was parked at a bridge, but most planes weren’t. In the terminal a horrible line was forming before passport control. I was reasonably in front and it still took me 30 minutes. The last people in the immense row behind me must have taken over 1,5 hrs.
Since I was a little worried with a 2 hr connection at JNB (an unfamiliar airport) I had chosen the afternoon flight to Phalaborwa (PHW). This gave me a 5 hr layover. No bags other than my carry on, so I could go immediately to the arrivals lounge. That is situated in the Intercontinental hotel just across the street from the arrivals hall. They call it the Premier Club. It is not specifically for BA.
|The Intercontinental hotel where the Premier Club (arrivals lounge) is situated (JNB)|
You can buy access there too. It looked very good and was not busy at all. Best part: they have great showers and a lot of them too. No need to wait and you feel immediately very refreshed.
What to do with my time?. I would go and explore the airport, take some pictures, do a little bit of reading and relaxing at the lounge and all would be well. The walk to the domestic terminal, the terminal itself you can see below:
The airport is actually quite nice and spacious. Preparing for the Soccer World Championships in 2010 no doubt.
I decided to check in my heavy carry-on because the airplane for the flight from JNB to PHW was a beachcraft 41 without any overhead, let alone compartments. After I had done this I had a very funny feeling and walked back to the check in desk. Fortunately they had the same feeling and already discovered that they labeled my bag for some obscure African destination it would have never returned from. Relabeled and a thousand apologies richer I went back to the Premier Club for another hour. Of course there was also time for some light spotting.
|Avis: not only for your car rental!|
In on one end, out on the other!
Check in for a domestic flight starts and ends 20 minutes before departure. You are bussed to your plane. They have a pretty busy schedule in JNB.
|Busy schedule for national flights out of JNB|
There were only 7 or so passengers so it all went very quickly. I was really looking forward to my flight on this 2 engine propeller aircraft. It just feels so much more like ‘really flying’. I was assigned seat 1A on my boarding pass, but the a/c actually did not even have one. I could sit more or less where I wanted and I chose the first row on the rights side instead.
They started the engines and I promise you: they are loud. Soon we started to taxi to the runway “Louis Hamilton style”. These guys can seriously race an aircraft. Our lovely flight attendant had the greatest difficulty in doing the safety demonstration ‘old school’, meaning live in performance and speech. Take off in this plane is something else.
Quick, fast, steep and noisy. I loved it! The captain and the FA made several announcements, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the incredible noise of the propellers. We climbed quickly to what I expect is FL240 or something. Higher than I expected.
The flight itself was beautiful. Lots of pretty landscapes and most of all the impressive African skies. We landed during sunset and that is one for the books also.
|How is that for a view? Banking before landing at PHW.|
We came down nice and quickly with a lot of steep turns. What surprised me was the speed at touchdown. Really fast and it seemed to take a long time to break. When we finally arrived at the airport ‘terminal’ I fell in love with it. Isn’t it the cutest airport you have ever seen? More on it in my report on my onward journey.
|Our aircraft after arrival at Phalaborwa|
Thanks for the ride!
Got my bag from the nicest baggage carousel you have ever seen and already my driver was waiting to take me to the hotel. It was a good start to a nice holiday!
I may add some more pictures later, but for now it's enough. As always: comments and questions are welcome and appreciated. Since I am going on a lot of trips this year (RTW) this will help me to pay attention to the stuff you guys like.