Route: Washington-Dulles – London Heathrow (Terminal 5)
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA292
Aircraft: Boeing 777-236/ER
Seat: 11K (Club World) / 04A (First)
Distance: 3667 miles
Photo © Dominic Nortney - Capital Aviation Photography
Photo © Raymond Wang
As is usually the case with our longer trips ex-Washington we book a hotel with a decent park and fly rate and utilize the complimentary shuttle. This trip was no different except we weren’t actually going to stay the night in the room, merely check-in for a few hours and then take the shuttle in. Getting a little hungry (for pre-flight dinner) we headed up rather early, leaving the hotel around 6.15pm. The airport was almost deserted, with the exception of a couple of passengers at the World Traveller check-in we were the only passengers about, unusual given the two late evening flights BA operate. Needless to say we walked right to the front of the First check-in line, a BA Gold cardholder perk, even though we were travelling in Club World. The agent spent a good amount of time tapping away on his keyboard and I asked whether everything was OK and he said he was trying to find better seats for us. Thinking he was trying to put us in the E/F seats that are often preferred by couples I said we were quite happy with the window pairing. He smiled and said that he couldn’t do a window pair as we’d been upgraded to First. I said that I was familiar with the layout of the First cabin and that seats 1E and 1F that we’d been assigned would be perfect As I gathered our passports and boarding passes I checked to see if the flight was on time and noticed that one of the evening flights was, rather bizarrely, showing as a codeshare with United. It had a four digit flight number, 8748 or something like that, which had me thinking but I couldn’t come up with an explanation…
We walked down to the new security checkpoint which was rather excellent. Instead of being right beside the banks of check-in desks it had moved to a downstairs location into a setting that is rather reminiscent of Dallas Forth Worth in design cues. Certainly the kind of upgrade that IAD needs. Again there was barely a passenger in sight so we were swiftly handled by security. Once airside it was clear where the station (for the train system that is being built) to the concourses was going to be. We then took the moving walkway across to the B concourse where BA have operated in since I last reported on these flights. The new setting and concourse are a large step up from BA’s old stomping ground over in the C/D shed. The new facility (in the First section at least) has a decent view over the apron and really is a miniature version of the Galleries lounges at Heathrow.
First section of the Galleries lounge
We sat down with a couple of glasses of Taittinger NV celebrating our good fortune and the upcoming trip, although the lounge attendant looked a little bored with only us to keep her busy! I spoke with the lounge warden, explaining I was ‘redefining looking a gift horse in the mouth’ and asked which other seats in First were available. IMO the seats we had were about the worst! I don’t like the middle pairs due to the lack of storage space but in 1F you also have the toilet just at the end of your seat…She invited me round and showed me the seatmap so we plumped for 4A and 4E, so at least one of us (me!) could enjoy the views of Southern England!
With new boarding passes in hand we took pre-flight dinner around 7.30pm. The new pre-flight dining area for First passengers is much bigger area than previously and an added bonus were the Becher photographs decorating the walls. As a hobby photographer my wife introduced me to the work of the Bechers a few years back and I’ve always enjoyed their pieces.
First dining room
The pre-flight dining experience was rather mixed. We enjoyed the food but the service was rather spotty, OK, really spotty! We weren’t offered any water and the courses took an age to arrive, (even though the options were rather limited) and on an opinion based note, my wife hated nearly all the wines! As a result it took almost an hour and half to complete the whole affair! By this time we had been joined by a family of four who appeared to have all been upgraded too (as they called all their friends and told them!) and a gentleman traveling by himself.
Pre-flight dining: Clam chowder, goat cheese salad, chicken supreme, vanilla ice cream with granola and apple
We went back into the main section of the lounge and had a drink as the clock ticked down towards boarding. Thanks to our lengthy dinner the lounge was a little more alive when we returned as all those who checked in at a normal time filtered through!
At 9.40pm the flight was called and we gathered our coats and bags from the closet near the exntrance and went down to the gate, a short walk up the concourse from the lounge. The line for World Traveller and Traveller Plus was enormous but fortunately BA use an entirely separate gate and jetbridge for Club World and First so we went down there past the crowds.
I was welcomed onboard and escorted to my seat where a slightly rushed pre-departure routine took place. Washbags and pyjamas were handed out along with the usual macadamia nuts and drinks but newspapers didn’t do the rounds.
Lanson Noble Cuvee 1999, the standard macadamias and the current Anya Hindmarch washbag
The captain came on the PA and said that the flight was going to be a little longer than usual as the tail winds that usually aid eastbound transatlantic crossings were not as strong. Nevertheless the jetbridge went back from the aircraft very quickly and we taxied out to runway 1R leaving the ground just ten minutes after scheduled pushback.
Our flight path took us south of Baltimore and across the north end of the Delmarva peninsula before heading more northwards. Menus were handed out at this stage and it was explained that the rather tasty sounding Japanese style sea bass main course had been replaced with a Christmas dinner.
From the port side of the aircraft I had a great view of the Delaware Memorial Bridge’s twin spans and the city of Philadelphia just past it. It was a great night for flying and I was looking forward to the view of lower Manhattan when the one errant cloud of the flight got right in the way! As the canapés were delivered I decided that we were getting a little too into the flight to have any food and it would eat (ba dum!) into precious sleeping time. I told the superb purser (one of the best on any recent BA flight) of my intentions and he said to let the crew know and they’d put my bed together. My wife had other ideas and decided to give the lobster bisque a try and it was delivered with a small vessel of Camus XO. Lovely touch by the crew.
Post departure canapés
Somewhere over Connecticut I reclined my bed into a flat position and grabbed all the necessary bits and pieces to make it a comfortable night’s sleep. The purser then noticed what I was doing and came over saying that he felt bad someone hadn’t intervened to assist. I replied saying I’d done it a number of times before and it was no trouble, he then asked whether I wanted to be woken for breakfast and if I had anything in mind yet. I had not and usually skip the breakfast offerings into Heathrow in lieu of a sit down breakfast in the arrivals lounge. I slipped my eye mask on and earplugs in….
I next recall awaking for no particular reason somewhere over the Irish Sea, for once on these short overnights it wasn’t by an announcement, but it was just the ready time to prepare myself for landing and enjoy the views over the South of England, something I particularly enjoy doing on my flights home.
Land ahoy!…St Davids, Britain’s smallest city. So small you can’t even see it!
As I figured myself out the every chirpy purser asked whether he could fix me up with anything to eat or drink. A glass of orange juice sounded just the job so he brought one over, and then soon after offered some tea. He said I couldn’t start my morning properly without a cuppa, so it seemed almost rude to turn it down even though I was double fisting!
It would have been very unsporting to say no…
Our passage towards London took us skipping over the southern coast of Wales and then up the M4 corridor a little south of the aforementioned road itself…The snow from the preceding week offered a nice backdrop to the view.
1) The snowswept Welsh valleys
2) The two Severn Crossings
3) Greenham Common, the remainder of what was Europe’s longest runway clearly visible
As we crossed southern England the cloud went from non-existent to patchy to, well, blanket. There wasn’t a whole lot to see once we passed the Reading area with the exception of a bmi twin engined aircraft diving down and being enveloped by clouds heading into the Heathrow area on some STAR unknown to myself!
The First cabin in the morning light
After heading out east of Heathrow we went into similar territory as the bmi twin, down into the cloud, and with some twists and turns we emerged below the cloud cover surprisingly close to the deck very near runway 27R. A nice view of the BA Maintenance Area as always, and the somewhat nomadic G-BOAB in what I assume is an engine run up area….too bad those Olympus 593s won’t fire up anytime soon
Eastern maintenance area
After a rather slow roll out past the central terminal area we crossed over onto the taxiway running just south of the runway and past T5C. Every time I come to Heathrow a little more seems to be added, I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before BA calls that home too! We docked up at one of those gates right on the end of T5B with those enormously long jetbridges, good for alleviating the DVT that has set in during the crossing…
No doubt whole rules the roost here!
The long jetbridge and headstart from door 2L gave us the chance to gain some room over the group behind. However, my outfit wasn’t doing me much good. I’d opted to keep my sleeper suit on and had worn my full length coat over the top of them. The only problem with this was the fact the trouser legs on the large size suits are a bit on the long side and they kept wrapping themselves around my shoes as we shuffled across the concourse to the lifts down to the transit! I certainly wasn’t going to risk being entangled into one of the half dozen or so escalators one takes to descend into the depths of T5B!
The concourse was completely empty and only two other passengers (both from our flight) made it onto our train before it departed. The immigration hall felt a little busier but this was mostly thanks to the staff members from various agencies milling about. Most importantly IRIS was completely free and it was down to the baggage hall in double quick time.
Baggage hall at Terminal 5
The one problem with being off the plane fast is that your bags always aren’t and it took some time for ours to come through. As I waited a young African man came over to me and asked where the exit was. I asked him where he’d come from (New York) and if he had any items he needed to declare to customs or duty to be paid (no) and told him, and pointed at, the green channel. Imagine my dismay as he walked down the blue channel for European Union arrivals, oh goody!
By the time bags started coming through a decent amount of passengers from our flight had joined us at the baggage belt and for the first time I can remember at T5 our bags were not amongst the first to make it through.
With bags claimed we cleared customs and into the public arrivals area and up to the Arrivals lounge. We were given an invitation to the Concorde Breakfast Room, left our suitcases at the door and immediately got a couple of showers. I asked for one of the elusive infinity bathrooms and even though it wasn’t the sour faced woman that usually staffs the showers we were fobbed off with regular shower suites. Sigh. I agreed to meet Kirstin in the breakfast room once we were done.
I called my mother and told her that we were would be ready in about an hour and she said she was just pulling up to the terminal, this was despite my advice to the contrary when arranging pickup the day before. That’s what happens when your regular ride (Dad!) doesn’t come! As Kirstin and I were in separate shower rooms I said we’d come and meet her at Costa Coffee in 45 minutes…mothers, eh?
Concorde Breakfast Room in the Arrivals Lounge
After a freshen up I went to the Concorde Breakfast Room, and was the only person in there, although after a few minutes someone came through from the kitchen and took my order of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, a little something to settle the stomach after an overnight flight. It wasn’t until around ten minutes before we were due to meet my mother that my wife arrived having experienced hairdryer technical problems….wives, eh?
We shared some of my breakfast when it arrived and were soon on our way home…