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Letters From Lisbon - BA Y Inc. Lounges (w/pics)

Sun Jul 13, 2014 6:24 pm

Welcome to my second trip report of 2014, detailing a recent city break to Lisbon, Portugal. Whilst I’d been away for work in the interim, this was my first trip for leisure in roughly 10 months, so it was with eager anticipation that we arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 for our British Airways flight to LIS.

BA use T3 for a small number of shorthaul flights, with all longhaul and most shorthaul being from their ‘home’ at T5. Midhaul and some shorthaul flights also currently depart from T1 (since the takeover of BMI a couple of years ago), but BA will have consolidated all of their operations in T5 and T3 by the end of 2015 as T1 is scheduled for closure shortly.

T3 is home to most oneworld airlines at Heathrow. Opened in 1961, the terminal has undergone extensive modifications, additions and refurbishments over its 50 years, and will continue to function for another 17(ish) years. Compared to T1, T3 is not bad at all, and the recent and ongoing refurbishments certainly help to attempt to recreate the T5/T2 experience.

BA usually use Zone G for check-in, although currently this has relocated to Zone D. At the time of travelling in June, BA were still in Zone G on the far right hand side of the departures building, with a dedicated Club Europe check-in area that was formerly the First check-in area when BA operated longhaul routes out of the terminal.

We used the Club Europe area courtesy of my Silver status, where there was no queue and a friendly welcome. I enquired about availability to upgrade to Club Europe, but no paid upgrades were available. I had been hoping that an online upgrade would be offered at online check-in, but alas this was not the case. Priority tags were applied to our checked luggage, and with boarding passes in hand we ascended the escalator and headed along the upper level to security.

Fast Track security at T3 is currently looking ‘temporary’ as the area is being refurbished, but it is segregated off from the main search area. Unfortunately a number of passengers appeared never to have gone through security at an airport before, which led to a 5-minute wait. The staff were not very professional at all, talking with each other and not communicating with passengers well at all.

First stop after security was the Cathay Pacific Business Class lounge, located in lounge Zone C. The lounge is upstairs from the main gate level, with a sleek marble-clad reception area. The First Class lounge is around the corner to the left, whilst the toilets, showers and Business Class lounge is to the right. We were welcomed into the lounge, which was empty with the exception of one business couple and a few lounge staff.

The lounge is light and airy with floor to ceiling windows affording pretty good views of the southern runway and taxiways. Seating is arranged in standard groups around tables, with a single bar/dining area and a work area with iMacs and space for laptops. There was no hot food on display when we were in the lounge (just before 12:00), but I suspect this is due to the lack of CX flights at this time. We could’ve ordered from the Noodle Bar if we so wished.

Feeling peckish and not fancying noodles, we headed to the BA Galleries Club lounge, in lounge Zone F just up the corridor at gate level. There is a Galleries First lounge to the left of the main circulating space at the entrance, with showers located between the First and Club entrances. We were welcomed at the lounge by the same agent who was at check-in, prompting a query about whether we’d got lost! The Club lounge is essentially one long rectangle. The entrance corridor has seating either side, with the Guest Services desk straight ahead and toilets to the left. The corridor then opens out into the dining area, with the buffet on the left and seating on the right. The next ‘room’ along has a coffee bar, wine bar, children’s play room and working area with many (probably far too many) PCs. The last ‘room’ has the Silver Bar, with more toilets to the rear.

I do like the style of the Galleries lounges, however, I would prefer more individual seating rather than the bench-style seating that BA favours in the Club lounges. The view from this lounge is quite limited through small windows, not helped by the refurbishment work (ie. scaffolding) to the outside of the building currently taking place. The lounge wasn’t overly busy, and we initially took a seat in the dining area. The usual soup, salad and sandwiches were on offer, along with a reasonable selection of hot items – mainly a couple of curry and pasta options, along with jacket potatoes. My bean curry was very tasty; certainly the quality of the catering by Baxter Storey (BA’s catering provider in UK lounges) has improved over recent months.

Final stop on the lounge tour was the AA Admiral’s Club, in lounge Zone H. This lounge is my least favourite in T3, being quite drab in appearance. I tend to find AA’s pax automatically head for this lounge, not knowing they have access to two other (and much better) business class lounges in the same terminal. There is a Flagship lounge hidden behind a glass sliding door to the right of the reception, with the main Admiral’s Club straight ahead along a curved corridor past the toilets and showers. The lounge, although only a few years old, has certainly seen better days and the furniture was looking a little worn. The standard of cleanliness also left a little to be desired, with dirty plates strewn across many of the lounge areas, although this was cleared whilst we were in the lounge.

The food and beverage offering is the poorest of all three lounges, with a limited selection of non-packaged items and no hot items to be seen. The one redeeming feature of the Admiral’s Club is the plentiful power supply sockets (almost one per seat). If you need to use this lounge, head for the furthest point in a straight line from reception – behind the TV viewing area is a quiet area and work area that doesn’t seem to get much traffic.

All BA departures from T3 currently use remote stands, which means bussing from Gate 24. Whilst there is a Fast Track line for the boarding pass and passport check at the gate entrance, there is no separate boarding line for premium pax to get onboard the actual bus. There was a vague (and totally ignored) announcement about only premium passengers to board the bus first. Newspapers were available at the boarding gate.

A short tour around T3 and parts of T1 later, we arrived at the foot of our A320, G-EUYC, delivered new to BA in 2008. This aircraft, like the majority in the shorthaul fleet, is fitted with convertible seating in the forward part of the aircraft. Luckily I had been able to select the two seats at the front of ET that remain in CE configuration (to avoid the trolley from CE bashing through the curtain into the passenger sitting in the C seat at the front of ET). This means the A and C seats are wider, with no middle B seat – exactly the same seating as those in CE. Sadly within a year these seats will be no more, as BA are set to introduce new seats throughout their Airbus short haul fleet, reducing pitch in CE from 34" to 30".

There were 10 rows of CE on this A320 aircraft today, which is the maximum business class capacity of 40 pax. However, not all seats were occupied, and one lucky ET pax had to be moved to the exit row (10) to ensure proper coverage of the exits. She got to stay there for the whole flight, including receiving CE service, the lucky thing! Once boarding had completed and the safety video played, we taxied to runway 27L, passing the parked Concorde G-BOAB.

Service commenced shortly after takeoff, with only pre-packaged small Urban Eat chicken tikka flatbread sandwiches offered, along with a drink from the bar or tea/coffee. A vegetarian Urban Eat ‘couscous and pumpkin seeds salad’ was available on request, however, as we had eaten in the lounge we passed on the food and just went for drinks. I settled for a coffee and apple juice.

The flight time was roughly 2.5 hours, and I spent this time reading and gazing out at the ever-changing view. Duty free shopping was offered towards the end of the flight as standard. The crew on this sector were standard BA – professional and efficient.

We landed on time into sunny Lisbon, and were on the metro heading into the city within half an hour of landing, despite arriving onto a remote stand and a ten minute wait for luggage.

The Sofitel Lisbon Liberdade is very well located on the city’s main avenue, and is just a short walk to the main historic centre. The hotel is reasonably small for a major chain with only c.100 rooms, and the lobby and bar size reflects this. Our bags were taken upon entering the hotel and we were welcomed at reception and given directions to our Superior Room initially on the 6th floor. The room faced the internal courtyard which meant it was quite dark, so a quick trip back to reception had us changed to a room overlooking the avenue at the front of the hotel on the 4th floor, with a view of rooftops and treetops – far more pleasant! Despite being on one of Lisbon’s main roads, the windows were triple-glazed and noise was non-existent.

The room was a standard size for Europe, with wardrobe and mini-bar to the left in the hallway, a large chest which included a hidden TV, a desk with Bose speaker dock, and a comfy chair. The décor was classic modern, with warm tones. The beds were the Sofitel myBeds – very comfortable, and in fact I am currently looking at these as an option when upgrading my own bed (the beds, along with other Sofitel products, can be purchased online direct from Sofitel). My only criticism of the bedroom was the soft pillows (a problem I have in most hotels), and when we requested firmer pillows for the second night, more of the same soft pillows arrived. Perhaps this was a language interpretation issue. There was no iron or ironing board in the room (presumably due to local fire safety regulations), but these were brought promptly upon request.

The bathroom featured a bath with shower over, freestanding washbasin (a little on the small side) and a toilet and bidet. The mirror was not heated, sadly, and the extraction system in the bathroom was not efficient in the slightest. However, everything looked very smart and the Lanvin amenities were very nice indeed. One slight annoyance was the doors to the bathroom, which were like wardrobe doors. They may have looked good, but not very practical.

We had breakfast each morning at the restaurant on the ground floor, which featured a small outdoor pavement seating area. The buffet was extensive and of excellent quality, although pricey at EUR25 per person. On most of the days, we opted for the à la carte menu, which worked out cheaper for the small number of items that we wanted for breakfast.

Service in the restaurant, bar and at reception was a bit of a mixed bag – at some times professional and discreet, at others a little over-the-top, and for the majority of the time was just a little slack. Our last breakfast was a good example of this, with most of the waiters clearly worse for wear following patron saint celebrations the night before – just not acceptable. Coffee was spilt, wrong orders brought and others totally forgotten. It’s a shame the service slips let the hotel down, because overall our stay at the Sofitel was enjoyable.

I’ve included below a very small selection of the hundreds of photos I took during our 3 full days in Lisbon. The first day was spent exploring the Baixa, Alfama and Castelo areas. The Castelo de Sao Jorge offers spectacular views across the city and was one of the highlights of the trip.

For our second full day, we took the train from Rossio station (just a few minutes walk from the Sofitel) to Sintra, a picturesque town around 40 minutes north-west of the city. The highlight of the day was the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, a unique building perched overlooking the rural landscape below the town. I have to admit I did find much of Sintra too touristy for my liking, but straying even a short distance from the centre proved rewarding as the crowds thinned out and the locality of the place became more evident.

Chiado, Bairro Alto and West Lisbon were the focus of the final day, including the ambassador residence area of Belém, the beautiful Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and famous waterfront Torre de Belém.

I loved Lisbon. Picturesque, historic, hilly, inexpensive, laid back, a waterfront location and a warm climate – I’ll be back.

The Avenida metro station is just a few metres walk from the Sofitel. We only used the metro for the trips to and from the airport, but from the little we saw it’s a pretty efficient and safe form of transport around the city, as is the regional double-decker train service (as experienced on the trip to Sintra).

One change of tracks and 25 minutes or so later, we were at LIS T1 for the return flight home to London. The BA check-in area wasn’t particularly well signed, but once there we found a single Club Europe desk and a couple of bag drop desks. There was quite a queue at the CE desk, so we stood behind one couple in the bag drop queue, and were shortly checked-in. Upgrades were being offered for EUR135 each upon request, however, as a meal couldn’t be guaranteed (due to meals being loaded in London on the outbound flight), we declined. The friendly check-in agent (who seemed to be the manager of the BA representatives in LIS) directed us to security and the lounge, and advised that the gate was a good 20 minute walk from the lounge, and to therefore leave in plenty of time.

Security was quick and hassle-free – using the priority security lane to the right of the main entrance was not necessary (and indeed I’m not sure possible if not in CE). Once airside it became apparent that the terminal is a bit of a mash-up of old and new structures, much like T1 or T3 at LHR, although for the most part the older parts of LIS T1 hadn’t been refurbished, unlike the terminals at LHR.

The lounge that BA use in LIS is a third party lounge, operated by Ground Force and is called the ‘Blue Lounge’. The lounge was fairly tricky to locate, even for somebody who is used to being in and around airports. Essentially the lounge is all the way to the left hand side of the terminal (looking at the apron), past the Harrods café.

The lounge is comprised of two near-identical rooms either side of a reception area, and is basically a partitioned off section of the original gate corridor. Both areas have a basic bar area offering a small selection of unappetising cold sweet and savoury items. The area to the right has toilets, although there are no showers. All in all this is a pretty grim lounge. From the sullen ‘welcome’ at reception, to the stained white faux leather sofas, to the tacky pictures on the walls, this is not a place to spend more time than absolutely necessary. With this in mind, we went in search of a nice evening meal in the terminal, but beyond McDonald’s or a dodgy-looking 1980s-style school dining hall, there was little on offer, so we headed back to the lounge which was at least cool, quiet and had functioning wifi.

It took around 10 minutes to walk quickly to our airbridge-served gate in a newer part of the terminal, beyond the immigration check for non-Schengen passengers. This check took quite some time as a gentleman a few ahead of us in the queue was stopped and peered at for a good few minutes before being allowed to pass following a second opinion from another border official.

Upon reaching the gate, priority boarding had apparently started, however, there was just the one single non-moving queue. There was a Fast Track sign at the gate, but with the lack of a queue here I approached the desk and enquired whether Fast Track was in operation today. The agent allowed us through to have our BPs swiped and passports checked ahead of the non-moving queue, and we were soon down the airbridge and settling into Row 6 of the same aircraft that brought us over to LIS 4 days earlier. Once again, I had selected the front ET seats in CE configuration.

We had a short wait at the runway threshold for two TAP A320s to land. Shortly after takeoff, service commenced with the same offerings as on the outbound flight. This time, having eaten nothing substantial at the airport, I sampled the salad which was not bad at all for a pre-packaged item. I would like to see BA offering something a little more substantial for lunch and dinner on Band 3 flights like LIS in Euro Traveller – perhaps by offering some biscuits, crisps or fruit to go with the salad/sandwich. Through the curtain, I heard that the CE meal options were a chicken salad or curried cod.

On neither the outbound or inbound sectors did anybody from ET use the CE washroom, something that I was pleased about even though I wasn’t in CE!

This A320, despite only being 8 years old, was looking quite shoddy inside, with frayed and dirty carpets, filthy seat backs and a 5A that was falling apart. The refurbishment of the shorthaul Airbus aircraft will be very welcome from a cleanliness/maintenance point of view, although I will reserve judgment on any changes in comfort until I’ve tried the new product. Sadly I predict even these fresh new interiors will soon succumb to BA’s poor cleanliness routines.

We landed on time on runway 09L at Heathrow, and had a short taxi to our remote stand between T1 and T3. No priority bus was offered for CE pax as should be the case, so we were on the first bus to the terminal. Luggage delivery was a slightly convoluted affair as the baggage arrived on the wrong belt according to the screens in the reclaim hall, causing some temporary confusion.

This was another solid BA flight, concluding a very enjoyably 4 nights in Portugal’s vibrant capital city.

Thank you for reading. As always, comments and questions are welcomed.
Posts: 179
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2014 12:26 pm

RE: Letters From Lisbon - BA Y Inc. Lounges (w/pics)

Sun Jul 13, 2014 7:37 pm

A great report! BA look pretty average here. The state of those seats are just appalling. BA seriously need to look at their cleaning regime. Apart from that, the other aspects of the flight look good. It's interesting to hear of the new seat pitch, 34" to 30" is quite a difference!
Love the photos of Lisbon, too. I have very fond memories of a trip to the Algarve a couple of years ago and would love to visit Lisbon.
Thanks for sharing!
Posts: 47
Joined: Fri Jan 24, 2014 1:18 pm

RE: Letters From Lisbon - BA Y Inc. Lounges (w/pics)

Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:09 am

That has made my mind up about my next city break!
I stopped there on a cruise once and for whatever reason didn't get off the ship that day.
Looks great, thank you
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Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 7:00 am

RE: Letters From Lisbon - BA Y Inc. Lounges (w/pics)

Wed Jul 16, 2014 6:52 am

A great and very detailed report. As noted two posts above me, BA looks no more then average here and picture 3 and 4 from bottom is nothing else then a disgrace. I have never flown BA myself, as I prefer LGW when travelling to LON and AMS as hub. However, Lisboa should give you some credit because it made my mind up on where to have my next city-break and I booked a trip after reading your report.

Thanks again for the great report, hopefully you will write another one  
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Joined: Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:25 pm

RE: Letters From Lisbon - BA Y Inc. Lounges (w/pics)

Sun Jul 20, 2014 7:55 am

Shoddy interior but still the best livery of any airline!  

Thank you for sharing this trip report.
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Posts: 273
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

RE: Letters From Lisbon - BA Y Inc. Lounges (w/pics)

Sun Jul 20, 2014 3:50 pm

Thanks for all of the comments! BA's shorthaul fleet is in need of a refresh - the convertible seats are in quite a poor state across the board. Some of the newer A320s have slimline seats already installed (although not the latest style that has just been introduced) - these look much nicer.

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