Posts in the “London LHR” category...
by Continental Club on July 10, 2012 | One comment
Standing 87 metres or 318 feet tall, few passengers travelling through London Heathrow Airport can miss the still relatively new control tower, which became operational in 2007.
Despite its almost omnipresence through the windows of terminal buildings and aircraft alike, it’s unsurprisingly somewhere that few outside the ranks of NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services) employees and suppliers ever get to see from the inside out.
So the invitation to accompany a small group, hosted by British Airways, was accepted with lightning speed.
by Continental Club on July 6, 2012 | Leave a comment
If you are flying into Heathrow Airport this Summer, look out for a giant painting of Team GB Olympian Jessica Ennis on the ground below before you land.
The image has been specially commissioned to welcome both visitors and those returning home to the UK – as well as reminding competitors that only one nation has the ‘Home Advantage’). And, if you see it and you wonder how it was created, here’s a time-lapse video showing it all from the grass up:
The Welcome To Our Turf image is part of British Airways‘ support for Team GB and Paralympic GB athletes, as well as the London 2012 games themselves. To follow the progress of the teams, search online for #HomeAdvantage.
by Continental Club on June 19, 2012 | Leave a comment
And here’s the story behind the ad:
And here’s probably the niftiest bit:
Enter a United Kingdom postcode and see what your home looks like from on board a British Airways aircraft.
by Continental Club on May 16, 2012 | Leave a comment
April 30th 2012 saw the Boeing 787 Dream Tour land at London’s Heathrow Airport, and aircraft number N787BX was formally welcomed into one of British Airways‘ gargantuan hangars at the Eastern end of the airfield.
The event also marked the official re-opening of the hangar following its conversion to handle all the aircraft types in British Airways future fleet programme, including the Airbus A380.
The hangar, built in the 1950s and now Grade II listed by English Heritage, features unsupported internal arches specially-designed by the late Sir Evan Owen Williams, whose other projects included London’s original Wembley Stadium and The Dorchester Hotel, the Daily Express buildings in London and Manchester and even the M1 Motorway.
by Continental Club on May 28, 2009 | Leave a comment
After the ordeal of being sleepless in Sheraton, the cool space of Terminal 5 came as a welcome relief. The only challenge here would be to see whether I could beat the grand total of 90 seconds that it had taken to get through the liberally-policed Fast Track security two days earlier.
It didn’t start very well, however, when one of BAA’s customer disservice staff blocked off access to North security and demanded sight of my boarding pass. Seeing that the flight’s departure time was a little way off, she directed me to the other end of the terminal to pass through South security and then, subsequently, tramp all the way back North to a point not a stone’s throw from where I was then standing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I declined her offer and proceeded straight through the remaining gap, on through the official boarding pass check and then into the security area and the this-time completely unpoliced Fast Track lane.
Having taken 105 seconds from one side of the scanners to the other, I pondered exactly what the value of legitimate access to Fast Track might be, if someone in an ill-fitting polo shirt is going to attempt to intimidate me into walking the length of the terminal building, twice, to use a facility that is likely to be full of non-eligible passengers anyway, unchallenged by any kind of meaningful policing.
To be very, very clear however, this is BAA at work, not British Airways, though you’d hope that someone at BA would once and for all put a stop to the goonery of their landlord at T5.
Thankfully, the new terminal is a fundamentally pleasant place to be. The premium lounges operated by British Airways for their eligible passengers are very nice indeed, though it’s also true to say that they’re not necessarily the best of their type that you’ll find anywhere in the World.
However, for the vast majority of travellers, those without shiny cards and travelling further from the front of their aircraft, then Terminal 5 is (beyond security) probably one of the very best airports from which to depart. The shopping and catering options are extensive and hof igh quality. The walking distances are commendably short, and progress is swift so long as lifts are favoured over escalators. There are also plenty of quiet corners in which to sit and relax, away from the hustle of the main passenger flows and commerce. You’ll find them particularly at the Southern end of the terminal, and in the centre where the ground floor stairs lead up to Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food restaurant.
Though some flights are called on the main PA system, it pays to keep an eye on the screens and, when the flight does open for boarding, it’s good to see that gold and silver card holders are invited to board at leisure, with others processed by row number. It makes the whole experience much less stressful.
On the jetty, the signs are that we have a good crew and my jacket is taken and hung quickly. With an Easterly wind continuing to blow, it’s a helpfully short taxi onto Runway 09R for an on-time take-off. As soon as we’re airborne and the flight crew signal is heard, the cabin crew are up and busy preparing for service.
Catering on this morning flight is tea, coffee, water and juice, and a hot ciabatta roll filled with ham and egg. Although it’s not a feast, it’s a massive improvement in quality and presentation over the previous offering. That suffered from dreadful packaging and unidentifiable content, either from an appearance or taste point of view.
Landing was smooth and 10 minutes early, with a short taxi to stand and an immediate disembarkation. The luck continued with a Metro waiting at the airport station platform, and then another waiting train at Newcastle Central for the final leg of the journey.
Final verdict for British Airways UK Domestic: 8.5/10. The only real hitch was BAA security at T5, over which BA should have strategic control. Otherwise, T5 was extremely pleasant, boarding was organised properly, the crew were friendly and professional, the catering has been improved slightly and we departed on time and arrived early. For a scheduled one hour ten minute flight, that’s the basics more than achieved. There’s still not enough differentiation, to me, between BA and competing ‘Low Cost’ carriers between London and the North East, but compared to where we were 18 months ago, regularly delayed at Terminal 1, everything has improved enormously – and seems to be continuing to do so.
by Continental Club on May 28, 2009 | Leave a comment
The Swiss, of course, are famous for their clockery. They’re also rather renowned for their railways. Combine the two, and Swiss Railways are a by-word for punctuality.
So it was something of a surprise that our train to the airport left the Hauptbahnhof almost 20 minutes late. Having said that, by the time the guard had articulately made his sincere apologies in three languages, citing some unspecified technical glitch as the cause of the delay, we were almost arriving at our destination. The train was, as it had been on arrival, clean, comfortable and quick, and all trains bound for the airport and beyond are clearly identified with the ‘Flughafen’ designation on the Hauptbahnhof destination boards.
British Airways utilistes Check In Area 2 and offers both traditional desks and self-service machines, the latter capable of processing passengers for half a dozen airlines.
Passing through the boarding pass check and security, there’s a decent selection of shopping and refreshment options, before signposts to the E Gates lead BA passengers down an escalator and towards the Skymetro transit shuttle.
Having been welcomed by Heidi on the inbound journey, Skymetro passengers are treated to reminders of the Helvetic countryside as they whizz past the tunnel-wall video screens and shoot on down the tube towards the train’s terminus.
The E Gates are not havens of retail abundance, but the Bellevue Lounge provides a warm welcome for British Airways Club Europe passengers and Silver and Gold card holders, as well as Priority Pass lounge access members.
The access to the lounge, however, is through a slightly tatty space which has an air of no-one being quite sure what to do with it.
Once reached, the lounge is spacious with dining, lounging and work areas, all overlooking the aprons and runways of the airport.
The self service bar area presents a generous selection of well-chilled soft drinks and beers, premium spirits, wine and prosecco. There are cascades of nuts, pretzels, gummi bears and savoury snacks, as well as abundant fruit.
There are also platters of sandwiches, a crock of soup, hunks of crusty bread and delectable chunks of cake.
There’s even a feature fireplace, which is presumably particularly enjoyable on cold winter days.
Flights are not called in this shared lounge, but screens are clearly visible. It’s not too long a walk back through no-man’s land and past a handful of gate lounges and a chocolatier’s kiosk, to the gates used by British Airways.
It’s not immediately apparent whether priority boarding facilities are offered, however, nor how efficient the overall process is (although it surely will be; it’s Switzerland after all). The lack of visibility is merely a function of the load on this RJ100-operated flight to London City airport – just 1 Club Europe passenger and 17 Euro Travellers.
In order to trim the small aircraft, Euro Traveller seat allocations have all been made from row 10 back, so there’s a significant void between the lone premium passenger and the hoi polloi up the back. The curtain separator, only in place on the occupied starboard side and in its furthest forward position, is rendered almost redundant by the gulf of vacant seats.
Push back is right on time and the crew complete the safety demonstration with a passenger almost equal to First Class on a BA Boeing 777. Once airborne in the aircraft once dubbed the ‘whisper jet’ but now rather noisy compared to more modern equipment, the crew begin service promptly. There’s a bar service, a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich in a ‘Deli Bag’ (far better than that offered on UK domestic services) and tea and coffee.
The light load makes the cabin more comfortable than it would otherwise be; most operators of the RJ100 and the BAe146 upon which it was developed utilise a 5 abreast seating format, but British Airways have always shoe-horned 6 in. For those slim-of-hip, it’s not a major issue, except for those in the A and F-designated seats, who’ll find that the seat headrest is actually cut out slightly to accommodate the curvature of the cabin wall. Taller and wider passengers are therefore very firmly advised to avoid these window seats.
The flight is smooth and quick, lengthened only slightly by the necessary of an approach into the Docklands airport from the West. Once on the ground, there’s the trademark pirhouette at the end of the runway, essential thanks to the narrow spit of land upon which its built and the lack of any parallel taxiways.
Disembarkation is through both the front and rear doors, which seems a touch of overkill for the 18 passengers, but it allows the swiftest of passages from the aircraft, straight through passport control and customs, and out into the dinky terminal concourse and the forecourt outside within 5 minutes of doors opening.
Years ago, this is what all our UK regional airports were like; perhaps the physical constraints of City’s location will mean that it’s the only one which is likely to remain this way. It’s almost certainly a character that will be hugely appreciated by passengers on British Airways’ forthcoming service to New York.
Final verdict for British Airways Euro Traveller: 7.5/10. It’s difficult to rate a flight which was so clearly under-loaded, almost certainly as a result of the mid-Bank Holiday weekend timing. Having said that, Zurich Airport and the Bellevue Lounge were joys to use, the cabin crew on board were still motivated despite the low load, the catering was marginally better than other BA services and London City is a superb airport too. The aircraft, soon to be replaced by new Embraer jets, was cramped and noisy, which would undoubtedly have been an issue with a full load, but the short flight time means that even this wouldn’t have been a huge problem. A very pleasant experience.
Some people think that the best time to go on holiday is when the boss does. That way, nothing can happen while they’re away that the honcho can pick up on. Others take the view that the boss being away is as good as a holiday, so why waste the becalmed atmosphere that prevails in their absence by being away yourself? Me? I ended up not only booking my major client’s holiday for her and her husband and then taking mine at the same time, but also putting them on the same flight as me. Fool.
Anyway, notwithstanding that slight faux pas and mitigated by the fact that the common travel arrangements extended only as far as Heathrow, I set off to pick up my folks to begin our trip. Having safely fetched them and brought them back to CC Towers, there was time for a quick coffee and a last passport check. The now sadly defunct Windsor Cars were waiting outside for me 10 minutes before the booked time to whisk us off to Newcastle. A nice Volvo S80, which was a bit of an oddity amongst their fleet of Chrysler 300Cs, Vianos and 7 Series. Comfortable, reliable and good value anyway – a shame that they’re no more.
On Line Check In had worked flawlessly and we arrived at Newcastle with loads of time to spare. Fast Bag Drop is, relatively speaking, anything but at Newcastle – compared to any kind of alternative. Having said that, it was more of an LBD – Leisurely Bag Drop – and we were on our way to Security relatively speedily. I was ready to try out the aggregate British Airways’ policies of guest access to lounges when travelling First Class, and access to lounges at domestic regional airports when connecting to a First flight and, in so doing, getting the client and her Him Indoors into the NCL Terraces. In the event, they elected to shop and Starbucks (or somesuch swill) and I’ve yet to prove that the combined policies do indeed work.
The Newcastle lounge is spacious and fairly under-used since the demise of the oft-lamented Gatwick, Bristol and Aberdeen connections. There are sofas and easy chairs, steamers and parasols, a TV, coffee station, wine and spirits bar and a selection of snacks to suit the time of day. Washrooms are in the lounge and despite the management being outsourced to Swissport, it’s not a bad place to be. It looks directly on to the BA gate as well.
One of Newcastle (and England’s) most famous sons was in the lounge at the same time, but dignity and valour prevent me from identifying him. That and the fact that one of my jobs is looking after a number of famous faces from time to time, none of whom would I dare to out on the ‘Celebs’ thread. His presence made lounge photography a little difficult too.
Boarding was called on time and the newness of the waiting Airbus A321 was heralded by the smell of leather at least halfway up the jetty. So, not much surprise to find the aircraft clean, fresh and showing off BA very well indeed. Given that newness, it was however a surprise to note that the safety demonstration was carried out ‘a la main’ with no screens in evidence at all. Odd. Another surprise was to find, amongst a cabin load of just 113, that my good friend Fadia was on board. Fadia is a beautiful, elegant, classy Jordanian who lectures at Durham University (where I’m a pastoral tutor) and you must immediately order one of her books – shameless link.
She was off to a conference in Basle, connecting to another BA flight, so this would present a great opportunity to test out the Concorde Club Room guest policy at London Heathrow.
Takeoff was on time and a sandwich choice was offered. Frankly, I think it would have been nigh on impossible to tell the difference between the choices, such was the frigidity of them. In fact, they were so cold, I could well be the first sufferer from lettuce-induced tongue frostbite. Bar service and Tea/Coffee was presented at the same time, and I traded some fresh milk for the promise of a completed questionnaire.
Landing at Heathrow was slightly ahead of time and we taxied onto the last North gate at T5. We said goodbye to Client #1, intercepted Jordanian author #1 and passed swiftly through Flight Connections.
So this is Terminal Five! It looks fantastic. The shops? The bars? The restaurants? Magnificent! A signpost? Don’t be ridiculous.
How in God’s name can you design a terminal from the ground up, for one airline, with supposedly the finest lounges in the World – and then give absolutely no indication whatsoever as to their whereabouts? Incredible. So, thanks to a friendly (if eye-rolling) assistant at Travelex and the amassed recollections of earlier conversations, we eventually rocked up at the ‘secret’ door to the Concorde Room. “Three and a guest please.” Not a whiff of a problem and in we are ushered. Same at the desk of the Inner Sanctum.
It’s lunchtime. We take a seat in the Dining Room. Now, this is nice. It’s the day that the second wave of flights transfer into T5, but all is calm. Too calm. There’s no sign of any kind of service, so I go and find some. We order drinks and then, not too long later, someone comes to take a food order. Perhaps surprisingly after the initial delay, the food comes quickly too – Burgers for CC and FCC, Eggs Benedict ‘sans jambon’ for the veggie MCC. Fadia, the BAA lamb that she is, sticks to Apple Juice because she wants to go shopping.
The food is good, but we wait an age for the plates to be cleared or dessert to be offered, so off I go to find a body myself. This really does strike me as poor. I mean, how difficult can it possibly be for one of the unfailingly smiling, helpful and courteous staff to make a leisurely loop of the dining room every couple of minutes to see how folks are getting on?
The desserts are rather nice though and then we retire to the main CCR lounge for the remainder of our wait. Here, where the staff have clear lines of sight, the service is great. Free wifi is working perfectly all over the lounge, until you venture out on to the (rather warm) terrace however. Since there’s obviously a chance of the proletariat nabbing some bandwidth out here from their retail-dominated hell below, the router doesn’t stretch this far. Sitting here though, we’re repeatedly checked on to make sure that we’re not in need of tea, sympathy or something stronger. I’m quite happy to take advantage of the free-flowing Perrier-Jacquart Rose, thank you very much and, since lunch had been the priority and I’m now in no condition to subject myself to it, we forego a trip to the Elemis Spa. Next time, perhaps.
We decide to leave the lounge and head over to the T5B satellite terminal a little before the screens prompt an enforced exit. So it is that we glide from the CCR, do all we can to ignore the fetid masses below in the so-called premium shopping ‘experience’ and wait all of 90 seconds for a train ‘thing’ to arrive at the transit station. Moments later we arrive at B and ascend to a similarly airy if somewhat less retail-obsessed space and find BA85 boarding already. There’s no queue for Club World, First Class or shiny card-holders and we are on board in a moment. I have to say here that the initial ascendency to the gates is very impressive indeed – bringing you up as it does from subterranean depths to nosewheel and then cockpit level. Quite the most memorable gate arrival I’ve encountered.
This is MCC and FCC’s first First and, despite all the conflicting preferences, I have them in Row 1. We are greeted by name at the door and the Purser moves to take us to our seats. MCC always looks happy but FCC has already spotted that the maintenance panel on the back of his 1K is wonky and, sure enough, the seat is (temporarily, thankfully) inoperative. He knows this because on every flight I have ever taken him on that has involved some kind of flat bed, he insists on checking the horizontability of said device before he’s stowed his cabin luggage. God love him. Anyway, a bit of a jiggle and a poke later and we have full operation again. There are other ways (ones where things are designed and built properly, maintained correctly and updated regularly) and there’s British Airways.
Anyway, we’re strapped in, we’re doors to automatic, the sun is shining and I’m on my second Bollinger Grand Annee ’99, so who cares about 1K? I’m in 2A and rather pleased that we’ve got this far.
The flight itself is smooth. On Demand Audio and Video packs in after about 35 minutes, but two reboots gets it flying again. Amenity kits are offered and sleeper suits are available on request, including plenty of the elusive Medium-sized ones. The Bolly flows freely and MCC/FCC buddy-up for lunch. I take FCC’s 1K and we have a jolly time in the pointy bit. It really is like a private party and even the lovely Cabin Services Director comes up to join us for a good long while, heading back to the galley to fetch more fizz. Poor dear insists on resting on her haunches the whole time; she must be a martyr to her knees ‘n’ heels. I like to think that she’s treating us especially well, but really she does the same with all the First passengers in a full cabin and chats with all of them by name.
The rest of the crew are excellent too – engaging with each of their charges and finding out bits and pieces about them. In fact, I believe (but stand to be corrected) that we’re never spoken to by any of the crew throughout the flight without being addressed by name. I accept that the job was made easier by there being three of us with the same name, but it was lovely nonetheless. The food and drink are really very good and it seems little or no time before afternoon tea is served and we begin our descent into Vancouver.
This daytime flight gives me the opportunity to enjoy the childish fun of the famous F toilet window, which is opaque on entry and then clears when the door is locked. The ultimate loo-with-a-view. Childish fun is one thing, but taking a camera to the toilet is just plain sad. So, sadly, here is what it looks like:
The Captain heads us out over the Pacific before lining up on the sewage outfall for our final approach into Vancouver Airport. After a smooth touchdown, we have an interminable taxi the length of the runway, the width of the terminal and then half the length of the parallel runway back to stand. In a shock to all those used to Heathrow arrivals however, the airport operators appear to be expecting the arrival of one of those aircrafty things and have taken the rare precaution of arranging guidance and a jetway operator. They must be psychic. Or professional.
The International Terminal at Vancouver is one of those rotten places that is guaranteed to get on the wick of your average Brit. It is clean, spacious, calm, organised and generally so proud of its own damn perfection that you just wish a Thomsonfly to Ayia Napa would get horrendously lost, disgorge its load there and have it vomit a belly-load of Stella all over it. Bile aside, we were at Immigration in a flash and there had to face the barrage of inane questions that apparently only Canadian Border Control have yet mastered. Past them and we head to Baggage Reclaim.
Here too, the effect of LHR handlers and their loading of priority labelled luggage, for our three wheelies came off variously 4th, 204th and 404th. Then past the utterly pointless agriculture control and, at last, relief. Yes, blissful relief in the form of the utter decimation of any pretence whatsoever that this place is perfect, with the lengthy and circuitous trek to the Hertz desk to pick up the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (or similar). The clue is in the parenthesis…….
Final verdict for British Airways First (taking into account high expectations and including T5 CCR): a very commendable 8.5/10. Roll on ‘new’ First to take up at least some of the remaining 1.5.