Earlier this month I took a quick trip to Barcelona for business, booked not very far in advance. I wasn’t planning on writing a trip report, but reading others over the Easter weekend has inspired me to put fingers to keyboard and publish an (albeit short) report. This will be the first of my reports to feature photos taken with my new Canon PowerShot S120, a replacement for my broken faithful G12.
Both the flights and hotel were booked online through my company’s corporate TA
. I booked Euro Traveller (ET/economy) flights to BCN
, upgrading at online check-in (OLCI) to Club Europe (CE/business) with my own cash (£79 outbound and £64 inbound), as my company has a business class policy only for flights of 6 hours or more. There wasn’t much availability for hotels due to last minute booking, but I managed to find a decent enough looking hotel – the 4 star Gran Hotel Torre Catalunya – for around £120 per night.
I left work around midday and got to LHR T5
with 3 hours or so before my afternoon flight to Barcelona. At OLCI, the furthest forward window seat available was in Row 4, so I asked at the Club check-in desk in Zone H whether anything further forward was available, to no avail. The agent did advise me to check again in the lounge.
After picking up some toiletries in Boots and some Euros at Travelex landside, I went through Fast Track Security South, which took all of 5 minutes with two Fast Track search lanes in use, and was soon ensconced in Galleries Club South.
Lunch is now offered between 12:00 and 14:00 in the Club lounges at LHR
, and it was approaching the latter of these times when I arrived in the lounge, so I found a seat pronto in the dining area adjacent to the reception. Dishes I sampled included wild mushroom pasta and chicken Pengang curry, both of which were fairly tasty, adequate quality and quite filling (although the curry was slightly lacking in the chicken department). Other options included soup and a variety of salads and sandwiches, with crisps and nuts being available on the bars and ice cream in the freezer cabinet adjacent to the cinema.
The catering really was not bad at all for BaxterStorey, the lounge caterer who took over BA
’s UK lounge catering in spring last year – they are certainly much improved over their initial woeful offerings, although I do still feel hot food should be offered through the current afternoon tea period (14:00-17:00). The staff seemed to be doing an adequate job keeping up with the constant flow of pax to the buffet, and empties throughout the large lounge were promptly cleared away.
Just after 14:00, some very tempting cakes were put out in place of the hot food, but I resisted knowing that afternoon tea was waiting for me onboard. Prior to leaving the South lounge, I asked at the customer service desk and had my seat moved to 2A (after a slightly embarrassing lecture from me that 2E wouldn’t be available in CE
configuration… I’d misheard the lady’s Scottish accent…).
After whiling away some time replying to work emails on the BlackBerry with a hot chocolate and biscuits overlooking the Southern Runway (27L/09R), I moved across to the busier Galleries Club North. This lounge has recently received some new furniture (leather armchairs and sofas, dining tables and chairs), the same as that installed in the latest new/refurbished lounges at GLA
. I found the armchairs to be much more comfortable than the usual Galleries Club bench-like seating, and can only hope these are rolled out in the South lounge too.
By the time I’d reached Gate A8 there was nobody in the Fast Track line, and I was welcomed onboard by the purser (although without the boarding pass check that has been removed on shorthaul flights recently).
G-EUOC was a standard BA
A319, with 9 rows of convertible seating, 5 of which were in use for CE
today in 2-2 configuration, 34” pitch and additional width. The curtain was closed promptly after departure, and I didn’t count a single stray ET
pax using the CE
washroom on this flight, which must be a first – the same was true for my return flight!
Service commenced with the standard Band 3 afternoon tea – a tray featuring finger sandwiches, a fruit and walnut cake and warm scones offered from the basket with clotted cream and jam.
I opted for champagne with my afternoon tea, and had my first taste of the new brand BA
are using on shorthaul – Monopole Heidsieck Blue Top. Adequate but nothing special.
The sandwiches and cake were fresh and tasty, and the scones delicious as always. (Not the plural in ‘scones’ – a second is highly recommended!) I know many on the BA
board on FlyerTalk aren’t fond of the afternoon tea, but I like it (provided I have time for lunch in the lounge beforehand). The horrid brunch/extended breakfast on the other hand…
A green tea completed the meal service, delivered by the friendly and efficient purser.
After an on-time arrival into BCN
, I took a taxi to my hotel, located adjacent to the main train station in the centre of the city. Not being part of a major chain, I didn’t have many expectations about the hotel, but I was very pleasantly surprised. After a friendly (if slightly unpolished) check-in at the front desk, I proceeded up to my Executive Room, located at the end of the corridor on the 17th floor.
The room was spacious, featuring a small lobby area with wardrobes on the right and the bathroom ahead, opening out to the left into the main bedroom. The bedroom featured dual-aspect almost floor to ceiling windows, a king size bed, good-size desk, table and couple of easy chairs. There was a rather dated-looking CD
player/radio, CRT(!) TV
with English news-only channels, a well-stocked minibar, iron/ironing board and tea and coffee making facilities (but alas, no hot chocolate). Bathrobes and slippers were on the bed (something I personally don’t like – I think they should be in the bathroom or wardrobe).
The bathroom was large, with a separate huge walk-in shower with good heat and pressure, bath with hand-held shower over and separate toilet cubicle with bidet. There were two basins, that all-important heated mirror and Molton Brown amenities. The wardrobe housed a safe, hairdryer and laundry bag.
I couldn’t really find fault with the room – clean and welcoming, with aircon that worked and wifi that was fast and free and didn’t require any silly codes or vouchers to access. I opted for a light room service dinner that evening, a club sandwich that was perfectly fine but nothing special. The room service menu was fairly limited, which was perhaps the only mild annoyance.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, breakfast the next morning was taken in the top (23rd) floor restaurant, with truly spectacular 360-degree views of the city. The buffet selection was reasonably comprehensive, with a full selection of continental options and slightly more limited hot options. Tea and coffee was served at the table. I would’ve liked fresh yogurt available rather than pots of yogurt, but that was the only niggle in an otherwise solid breakfast experience.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of Barcelona as I was in meetings for most of the two days I had in the city, but I did dine the following evening at the bistro within the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which was truly a great experience and very reasonably priced. Service was spot on, and my lobster main course and chocolate dessert were both to die for. Interestingly the hotel is located in a former bank, and the hotel’s bar is named after it. The entrance to the reception is a up a long ramp between a Tiffany’s store, which kind of sets the scene for the calibre of the hotel!
After a long second day, I took a taxi to the airport on the afternoon of departure, got my boarding pass at the empty Club desk and whisked through an equally empty Fast Track security lane. I spent half an hour or so wandering around BCN
airport, as I’d not had the chance to on my last visit – architecturally it’s quite interesting. A salesperson at one point accosted me, but upon realising I was English, the chap proceeded to question me about his own grasp of the English language! Mini-English lesson over, I went through passport control and to the Miro third party lounge, on the mezzanine non-Schengen level overlooking the main departure lounge. I bet many non-Schengen pax go through passport control straight after security without descending to the main departure lounge, hence missing most of the retail outlets – quite a fatal flaw in the design of the terminal for the airport operator!
The lounge is spacious but lacking much natural light, and is divided into a large seating area with black leather armchairs arranged in uninspiring rows, a relaxation area, meeting room, and bar area. Toilets and showers are available within the lounge. The former smoking room is now a TV
room, and I believe spa treatments are available upon request from reception. The lounge never got too busy when I was there, which was lucky considering the number of avenues that permit entry (various airlines’ premium pax, as well as Priority Pass and pay-in access). The most frustrating thing about the lounge is the fact that wifi is only free for the first 15 minutes, with a code to extend that by a further 30 minutes available at reception. 45 minutes’ free wifi is fairly limiting in this day and age, particularly when the speed was ludicrously slow and the connection was intermittent at best. I gave up after the fourth attempt and went and raided the minimal bar. A small selection of pre-packaged salads and sandwiches (not tried) was wheeled out at around 17:00, the remainder of the offerings being crisps and nuts, and strawberry ice cream.
My last experience of boarding at BCN
was rather chaotic with no Fast Track, so I left the lounge in good time fearing the worst. Luckily I noticed that a Fast Track lane was in place now, although I initially made the rather rooky error of queuing at the LGW
flight, even getting so far as the agent checking my eligibility to be in the Fast Track queue, before realising my mistake (before the agent) and nonchalantly (as best I could) walking to the next door LHR
I was in 1A for the flight home aboard G-EUPG
, a slightly older A319 than my outbound aircraft, and this time one in Dove livery to celebrate the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The gate agent had attempted to tag my laptop bag with an ‘under-seat’ tag, however, after several seconds of me convincing her it was a fruitless task as I was in Row 1, I was allowed down to the aircraft.
The flight back to London was a standard Band 3 dinner flight, with a choice of lamb curry or chicken salad. I opted for the tasty curry, which was served with a selection of warm bread from the basket after the initial drinks (Bailey’s for me) and nuts run. The single lump of cheese with chutney was uninspiring, as was the Do&Co chocolate dessert that started off well but ended at the bottom with a horrid rice pudding like gunge.
The purser on this flight serving the 5-row CE
cabin was excellent, although with him alone the service did take quite some time and we weren’t eating our main courses until over the English Channel, which didn’t make for a very relaxing dinner.
We landed on time back into LHR
, and taxied to a remote stand adjacent to T5A at the Southern end of the terminal. A dedicated Club Europe bus took us to the terminal, from which I was through passport control and customs in no time and home within an hour of landing.
In summary, another couple of solid BA
Club Europe flights with good crew all round. The Torre Catalunya was the surprise of the trip – I’d definitely stay there again on business or for a quick visit. Barcelona is a lovely city (from the little I saw of it this time around), and I’d love to go back and spend some more time photographing the city. Thanks for reading, and as always comments and questions are welcomed.
[Edited 2014-04-20 12:12:26]