It is time for my five month sabbatical to begin. I had chosen the travel dates for this trip many moons ago and had not foreseen the threat of a strike nor the winter weather that was to be bestowed on us. It is December 21st and I am on the BA439 taking me from AMS to LHR. I am writing the first section of my trip report on board since we are stuck on the taxi-way and it looks like we will be here for a while.
It started out this afternoon with an interesting drive in the snow to Amsterdam airport. The highways were not so bad, but the city itself was a disaster.
I still made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. There were long, long queues at check in, but fortunately I decided to travel the entire 5 months with no more than a carry-on. The line for passport control was pretty short and I was allowed to use the express queue due to my FB Gold status, even though I was flying BA.
The airport, reportedly in chaos, seemed very quiet to me.
I hurried to the lounge to park my bags and went out again to wonder around to see if I could make some interesting pictures of aircraft in the snow. I think that the KLM colors work very well in this weather actually.
Snapping happily away I started noticing the lines for the transfer desks. They were like 200 meters long if not more. I asked people how long they had been there and they answered “around 5 hours”.
Nope, not three lines, but 3 parts of one line… The reason?
Some people just gave up
It surprised me how calm everyone was. No people shouting, no DYKWIA behavior, no tantrums, nothing. I think people had lost the will to live.
Although KLM was in shambles, it looked like my flights was actually leaving on time. We started boarding at the designated time and all seemed well.
Soon after the doors closed the captain came on the PA to announce we would have to wait for 90 minutes to get the clearing from LHR. Seconds later he announced that we were pushed forward 55 minutes and only 10 minutes later we departed after a very short taxi. I was in luck!
So why am I writing this first part on the plane? Well we got stuck on the tarmac at LHR because the aircraft at our gate had to deice first. We were there for 2 hours. The crew was fantastic and especially the Captain who made sure to make loads of announcements, not from the cockpit but by coming out and standing in front of the cabin. He allowed us to get up and walk around and use our mobile phones as long as we promised to get ready for taxiing within seconds. When after 2 hours we were told we were allowed a direct route to the gate a relieve applause and roar went through the plane.
I quickly made my way to T3. I timed it and it took 35 minutes from plane to lounge, including a rather long 10 minute bus ride. When we arrived at the entrance to T3 the door was locked and at the other side stood a rather annoyed looking man who was clearly considering finishing his conversation before letting us in. Since a lot of passengers where in a hurry to catch a connection that led to some turmoil. I wasn’t worried. I had time to spare. How much time would only become evident later.
One big advantage of arriving by bus at T3 to connect is that there is no line for the security check. This alone would have taken longer at T3 than the whole transit did now. The lounge is a brisk walk away through what is a rather old looking terminal if you compare it to T5. I am more and more impressed by T5 the more I use it.
Lounge entrance from the inside
The lounge was easily found and the ‘dragons’ turned out to be angels. I explained my predicament on the inbound and asked if they would consider handing me an invite to the First restaurant (the only part of the lounge exclusively for F flying pax) so that I could at least enjoy a nice meal before my trip. Without any hassle whatsoever I was handed an invite. Very nice.
In order to get to First you first have to get there. The entrance to the restaurant.
It looks like the dining section of the CCR but with a little less atmosphere. I had the duck starter and sole main course accompanied by a glass of Chardonnay. The duck was nice, the sole was bland and they managed to put maybe half a fillet on there. Not very impressive. For desert I had some vanilla ice cream which was stunning. The simplest part of the meal was also the best. Also the only one I did not take a picture of.
First dining room
Duck. I took that bite by the way…
The very disappointing sole
After dinner I hang out in the FLounge a bit. It looks pretty much like the one in T5 but obviously feels more cramped since there are fewer windows and it is lower.
Boarding started only 15 minutes late. It seemed we were going to actually make it. On the AMS-LHR leg the crew had been telling passengers that they should not expect any flights to make it out of LHR etc. I was pretty convinced that they would try and get the long haul out of there. After about 45 minutes the captain came on the PA and told us that the doors were closed and all passengers were on board. There was one seat free on the UD and since the flight was zeroed out this can only mean some passengers missed their connection.
The waiting area
I managed to be the first one on the plane. This way I could snap some nice UD mood pictures for you.
Quite frequently people try to tell me that full size carry-ons do not fit in the bins on the upper deck. To settle this argument for once and for all, here is a picture of my “packed to maximum capacity carry-on” in the overhead bin.
We waited for a good 30 minutes and nothing was happening. The CC were looking out of the window a lot so I guessed they were waiting for the deicing. Oh boy… This was soon confirmed when the captain came on again to tell us that we were in for quite a wait. The deicers were still busy deicing all the planes that ran out of crew time before us and he estimated that our turn would come around 00:20 when we only had one hour left. A two hour wait! Not that I minded really. I was comfortable in 62A and to me it did not matter if I arrived in SYD at 06:30 or 09:30.
My comfortable hide out
I did feel sorry for all the passengers in WT and WT+. This already grueling trip in those seats had just become a lot longer.
The crew were nice and friendly and worked hard to keep us happy. I had the nicest seatmate, so with some talking, some champagne and explaining the benefits of Flyertalk we managed to pass some time. Eventually she went to sleep and I watched a movie. 00:30 and not a deicer in sight.
The captain came on again to tell us that we were running out of time fast but that the one remaining deicer – one had broken down – would be at our gate soon. He urged the passengers to prepare for takeoff immediately, no dilly dallying in the aisles and please store your hand baggage now so we can leave immediately. As it turned out we reached the runway with only minutes to spare. Australia, here I come! I was so relieved to get out of Europe since we were told that even worse weather was to come.
Very soon after takeoff the crew started serving dinner. Although I originally opted out (I had dinner in the lounge) the delay had caused me to become puckish and I ordered what was left. Leaks and turkey. Once again it is firmly established that all airline food is horrible.
Not sharp, but you get the idea
There is supposed to be Stilton in there somewhere. You needed jaws of steel to chew it anyway.
Before dinner I changed into a pair of comfy pajama trousers and a fresh T-shirt. I know it is a sin to take your First PJ’s along but I am actually sorry I didn’t. Lots of Aussies in QF PJ’s. I thought about simply asking for one, but decided against it. On this long flight I highly recommend bringing sleepwear though.
Some in flight mood shots
The view from 62A. I like 62K better since it has more privacy.
On the 10,5 hour flight to BKK you need to try to stay awake to prevent jetlag. I watched Goodbye Bafana (good movie), tried to read and then gave up. With the delay and all there was no way I was going to stay awake. I dozed off and woke up about 4 hours out.
Most of the cabin was fast asleep but I decided to stay awake. I watched some videos on my own laptop, dozed off once again and was awake just in time for breakfast or rather something imitating it. Poorly I must add, both in look and taste.
The start looked promising
But then came this… Y U C K
The PA announcements were of course lengthy since a lot of pax had missed connections and they needed to explain what to do next. They also explained twice how to get to the Qantas/BA lounge but I noticed a lot of passengers (including my seatmate) are unaware that you can actually shower there and relax a bit. There was even surprise that they needed to leave the plane…
Arriving at the gate
The lounge is very easily found. When you exit the plane you have a brisk walk (depends on what gate you are at I suppose) and then you go through a security check. If you have opened you duty free bags on board, this is where you lose your purchases. You go up the escalator to Level 2 and get to the main concourse. You have to look for the sign that reads G1-G5. You go up one level, walk straight ahead and Bob is your uncle. First lounge on the left, Business class lounge on the right.
Although I walked at a brisk pace I think there was no real need to. I arrived at the lounge about 15 minutes after we left the plane and I could get a shower immediately. Maybe it wasn’t busy because of our delay, I really can’t tell. Maybe 10 people in the lounge altogether. Of course, this being Asia the showers were meticulous and also spacious. T5 could learn from that with those horrid prefab cubicle plastic excuses for a shower. Unaware that I wasn’t holding people up from taking a shower I was selfishly showering for at least 15 minutes. What a joy. I immediately felt so much better.
I had some dinner (7PM local time) and swallowed some melatonin to reset my body clock. Before we left I took some pictures.
At 20:10 we were called for boarding. You leave from the same gate you arrived (duh) but up one level. They have another (pointless) baggage checkpoint there. They want you to open your bags but only half heartedly search them. We waited a couple of minutes for boarding to start and I managed to be the first on the UD. I carry one carryon and one backpack for camera equipment. They do not fit together in the same bin. On the LHR-BKK leg I put my camera bag in the bin above 62J without further ado. So, I did so again. From the corner of my eye I could see an elderly couple looking very distraught and as they started talking to each other I knew what was coming.
“Would you remove that bag please. That bin is ours.”. Now, I had expected a friendly request to move my bag, which I would have done without incident, but this rubbed me the wrong way. “Pardon, me?” I said “the bin over my seat is full so I have to store my luggage elsewhere. It is the rules you….” “This is our bin and you will remove your bag immediately or I will call the purser!”. I saw no point in explaining to them that they are called cabin service directors. “Why don’t you just put your bag in the bin next to it? It is empty and so is the seat. If it does not remain empty you are simply shifting the problem around anyways.” I said with some irritation. “What a rude person you are!” the man interrupted. “You remove that bag, that bin is ours!”. I was getting tired of this so I told them to do whatever they pleased but I was not moving it and I sat down in my seat. I know, I could have been the bigger person but you have read this trip report and how my trip went, right?
The lady went to one of the cabin crew and he quickly came our way. “Why don’t you put your bag there, madam?” What followed was a quick repeat of the ‘our bin’ story. He looked at me, I smiled and said “if it means so much to the lady to sit under her own luggage, you can put it in the bin next to it.” I saw a sigh of relief on his face. What a strange couple… I can only imagine them telling others the story of the rude young man who wanted to make them put their luggage in another bin.
On a side note: why do old people always think it is rude to disagree with them? Personally, I found them extremely rude.
It is at moments like this you appreciate the extreme privacy of the BA CW cabin. Divider up, headset on and I am all alone again. I skipped dinner and went straight to sleep. I managed about 6 hours. About two hours before we arrived the crew started opening some blinds and that actually does help with the adjustment.
I was a bit puckish since the Club Kitchen was empty. When I asked the crew they said that ‘not enough was loaded at LHR’. No refill at BKK apparently. Personally I think it was simply raided by the WT+ mob.
Breakfast was served at 1 hour out.
First the energizer smoothy
They always use plastic cutlery inbound to Australia
And the bacon rolls. Better than those horrible eggs...
Soon we landed in Sydney. About 3,5 hours late. No worries for me though. They only connected one air bridge at the front door. This time we were stuck behind WT+. They handed out express cards on the plane and luckily I could sail through passport control, even though there were long lines for other pax. Immediately after I got allowed in I was addressed by a security officer. I guess white men in their forties traveling alone are a scary bunch. We had a nice chat and off I went. No bags to collect so I went straight to the express line for quarantine. The express line was still quite long but luckily a very attractive female customs officer decided that a forty-something white male… etc. She picked me out of the line and again I had a fun conversation although she may call it an interview. I told her we got that show border security (about Aussie customs) in the Netherlands too so I was prepared.
All in all it took me maybe 30 minutes from plane to taxi. Now I am here, enjoying the sun and being absolutely jetlagged…
On a side note: I talked to many BA crew about the ‘issues’ currently dominating their world. I must say that, although I did not expect it, I did start to look at them in a different, more negative light. I find this a shame since I always consider BA to have a good crew. Not excellent, but good. I have decided to leave well enough alone and not discuss it here. I hope for all stakeholders that it turns out well. You can tell it affects them.
My next flight is Jan 20th on BA10 to BKK. Getting off there this time. First I have some sightseeing to do. As always, feedback is appreciated and suggestions welcome.
[Edited 2009-12-23 01:17:53 by henkybaby]