Posts in the “First Class” category...
British Airways has revealed some details of the layout and style of its forthcoming Airbus A380 ‘SuperJumbo’ aircraft, due to enter service later this year. The images take the form of a YouTube video.
Those with an eye for detail will probably be most interested in the following time-stamped screen-grabs from the video:
00:15 – The new First Class cabin, which shows a more spacious and rectalinear layout to the seats, compared to the airline’s Boeing 777 and Boeing 747 cabins:
00:18 – World Traveller Plus seats, as already in service on selected Boeing 777s:
00:20 – Upper Deck Club World outboard seats, featuring the A380′s signature under-window storage units:
00:26 – Upper Deck World Traveller outboard seating, again showing the under-window storage units:
00:32 – Upper Deck Club World inboard seats, which for the first time offer a single central seat and appears to benefit from additional width to the passenger’s right hand side:
The new aircraft is scheduled to enter longhaul service on routes to Los Angeles (15th October 2013) and Hong Kong (15th November 2013), although it’s expected that passengers’ first opportunity to see the latest addition to the fleet will be on shorthaul ‘familiarisation’ flights between London Heathrow and Madrid Barajas airports.
No dates or times have yet been published for these flights, which will provide cabin and flight deck crew with the opportunity to perfect service and operational routines in the shortest possible time. With longhaul service due from October however, familiarisation flights are likely to commence in late August or early September.
Meanwhile, special fares from £494 return to Los Angeles, and from £556 return to Hong Kong have been loaded, for bookings made by 15th March 2013. To check whether a particular flight is scheduled to be A380-operated, click on the flight number shown on the ‘fare matrix’ on the British Airways website. If you’re looking at a connecting itinerary, you will need to click the ‘Show Journey Details +’ button first:
It’s possible to combine an A380 flight in one direction with a B777 or B747 flight in the other (depending on route) and special fares will earn Avios, Tier Points and OnBusiness points based on the passenger’s status.
For more information and to book seats on the currently scheduled flights, visit ba.com.
Emirates Airline is once again offering ‘Companion Fares’ for travel to selected destinations in Business Class from the UK. The deal, in simple terms, offers a £100 discount per additional passenger booked:
|Destination||Business Class fares per person|
|1 traveller from||2 travellers from||3 travellers from||4-8 travellers from|
Bookings must be made by 28th February, with a 72hr minimum advance purchase requirement. For full details and to book, visit the Companion Fares page at emirates.com/uk.
However: Emirates Airline has also issued a promotional code which offers substantial discounts on selected First Class companion fares departing from Spain. To qualify, two passengers must travel together by 30th June 2013, and bookings must be made by 28th February.
Emirates fly from both Barcelona and Madrid, employing Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on the routes to Dubai and featuring their First Class seat product. Passengers travelling onward from Dubai can select services operated by A380 and B777 aircraft fitted with Emirates First Class Suite.
The fares are (including conversion from xe.com with a 3% credit card exchange fee):
|Destination||First Class Fares per person||GBP Equivalent|
Commencing the longhaul journey from Spain clearly adds an extra flight into most travellers’ itineraries, however the opportunity to enjoy First Class service at these fares may still interest other European passengers – particularly those who are members of Emirates Skywards loyalty programme who will earn increased miles in First. Both Barcelona and Madrid are linked directly to many European cities, including some which don’t currently enjoy Emirates service. For passengers originating in those cities, a connecting flight would be required anyway.
by Continental Club on January 9, 2013 | One comment
Fares in British Airways’ Club World (Business Class) and First Class cabins have been quietly reduced over the last 24 hours, in a move that looks less like an outright ‘sale’ and more like a subtle encouragement to book.
Club World sees reductions of around 20% across-the-board (based on Continental Club observations), while the lowest First Class fares appear to be a relatively simple £500 to £650 one-way supplement on top of Club World.
The majority of destinations see the lowest fares for travel from February to June 2013, with a 14 day advance-purchase and a Saturday night stay requirement. Some network points are excluded altogether, and the reductions to others don’t compare with levels seen in previous premium cabin promotions, so it seems unlikely that BA will publish a specific ‘sale’ feature on their website.
With that in mind, the carrier’s Low Fare Finder is the most useful tool in the search for the best deal. Notable fares include Las Vegas in Club World from £1992 return, and Chicago in First from £3181 return. Until midnight on 10th January 2013, there are also some additional savings on holiday (flight plus hotel, flight plus car) bookings over £1000.
For the full list of current Club World and First starting fares, click ‘read more’ below, or scroll down:
A customer walks into a car dealership. No, not a joke, just an analogy. So, a customer walks into a car dealership and orders a new car. Of course, these days they may not even walk into a dealership; they might just sit down at a laptop and type an order online. Or pull out an iPad and configure the specification with a few sweeps of the screen. Well, assuming that the website isn’t written with Flash.
But I digress.
The customer chooses the model and the colour and all the extras, and does a little dealing on the price. If they’re lucky, they gets floormats and mudflaps, a tank of fuel and six months’ tax thrown in.
A couple of days or weeks later, the shiny new motor is transportered to the dealer, or sometimes even right to the customer’s front door; payment is confirmed and everything’s good to go.
It’s not a lot like that with a Boeing.
First of all, there’s no dealership. Secondly, their products take a while to build. Thirdly, you usually have to go and get them from the factory yourself. And fourthly, when you do rock up to collect a new one, the model and the colour will be spot-on, but you’re probably going to need to fit some of those optional extras yourself.
Of course, you could just buy a standard version; something that everyone else has got and drive it straight to work. But if you’ve got the chance to personalise it, the chance to do something a bit different, then why wouldn’t you?
Which brings us to Seattle. Or should I say Everett. And by us I mean eight of us; bloggers, writers, travellers, passengers: customers – strangers to each other nearly-all. And British Airways, our hosts, whose Boeing we’d come to coo over.
We eight checked-in at Heathrow, and it didn’t take long for the passion for travel to spill forth. By boarding time, any casual observer would assume that they’d stumbled upon a regular reunion, not a minutes-old introduction. Experience, opinion and impressions flowed, from Executive Club Blue members to Premiers and vice versa, through Silvers and Golds between, such that the flight West was over before we knew it – as if our Queen of The Skies had had her skirts picked up by Concorde, and her stateliness sent supersonic.
The Pacific Northwest brought no respite from the buzz. Iconic planes aplenty at The Museum of Flight. Emerald-filmed freighters on the 747-8 production line. Dreamliners by the dozen inching towards hangar doors the size of football pitches. And now forty more folks to share our awe, drawn from every corner of BA. From offices to operations. From desks to decks. From headquarters to hangars. Recognised for exceptional performance for those usually behind-the-scenes; for the highest customer satisfaction scores for those on-stage and front-of-house. To schedule, to serve. To maintain, to serve. To procure, to serve. To Fly, To Serve.
We boarded a bus and rolled in the rain between factory and the Future of Flight. Looking across the aisle, past seatbacks embroidered with Boeing logos, through water-beaded windows, rows of almost unreconcileable technological achievement stood ready to soar skyward.
And inside this aviation delivery room, itself a vast space but one still dwarfed by the production facilities across Paine Field, tables and chairs were set out in front of a bolted, rivetted and crimped Pan Am 737 cross-section. Next to it, a similarly-sliced 787 fuselage was by contrast smoothly-fused, and warm to the touch.
But all eyes were on British Airways and Boeing representatives, emerging with the signed Birth Certificate and ready to commence the delivery room speech. Thirty-foot high black drapes behind them parted to reveal grey but drying skies, and beneath them the newborn – the glossy, gleaming, factory-fresh Triple Seven.
The scarlet-painted stairs we’d ascend were in place, with the bowed red ribbon ready to cut. And under the flight deck window, the name ‘Irene’ was stencilled in royal blue on to the fresh white paint in honour of the most VIP of our assembled throng – one of the operating flight crew’s 75 year old Mum – along for the ride as a special surprise birthday present.
The official scissors were wielded by the winner of a ballot the night before, with the crew and Irene looking on. Four dozen cameras were passed around to record the moment. The man from Boeing snapped from every angle. Then we retreated inside for final preparations to board.
Luggage (mostly spotter-goodies procured only moments before from the Boeing Store next door) was meticulously X-rayed and bodies scanned through the arch. Passports checked and bon voyages issued, we climbed the claret stairway to 777, and the ‘new plane smell’ wafted over us as we crossed the threshold.
Sole seats aboard were in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins, the latest products to fly with British Airways and three at least for each excited passenger. Carry-ons were soon gulped-up into the vast overhead bins.
With forty five minutes to departure, there was time to tour – starting with a one-at-a-time glimpse of the dashboard; 21st century displays on a flight deck as spacious as a Stratocruiser. Acres of brown plastic last seen in Cagney & Lacey’s Dodge Diplomat. The office with the best views of the World.
Next, the Cabin Service Director’s (or Customer Service Manager’s) station, just aft of the cockpit door. Nerve-centre for delivery of onboard operations.
Then to the First Class galley, an empty honeycomb of cart bays and stowage racks; oven voids and chiller fans; switches and buttons to control the yet-to-be-slotted-in kit. But one appliance was already there, primed to dispense the rocketfuel that will wake thousands of slumberers in the years to come.
We walked onward, to the First Class cabin, a hybrid of fully-finished BA bulkheads, curtains and brushed steel skirting, atop factory contract flooring and ex-works wall panels. Like a gallery waiting for its artworks to be installed. For here, in a few short weeks, will be leather-trimmed mini-suites, deep pile carpets and blue-washed blinds.
Behind the gallery, a Business Class ballroom, once more skirted and bulkheaded as she’ll continue to be, but yet to receive the lampshades and Speedmarque, seatbeds and carpets that will complete Club World.
And in the absence of those fittings, along the cabin’s port side, a special grab rope in case of turbulence should crew be caught when passing through.
Through another curtain and it was familar and yet new. The latest wide-backed World Traveller Plus seats, their casings bathed blue with Speedmarque screensavers. Dark navy upholstery and smart carpeting.
Still further we roamed, to equally-new World Traveller seats, with their hammock headrests, glowing screens, USB ports and RCA jacks.
Reversible remote controls for TV and audio, games and messaging, call buttons and lights; more brushed metal for the coathook trayclamp.
Then to the very tail of the bird, to an even bigger honeycomb than that at the nose. Slots and voids hungry to swallow half a day’s sustenance for two hundred or more.
Ranks of tea and coffee makers waited to welcome their stainless steel vessels.
More buttons, more switches; more knobs and more dials – a miniature flightdeck for feeding.
And did you miss it? That door? The one that would be a loo but there’s no ‘Vacant’ or ‘Occupied’ sign glowing. Look carefully: it wasn’t a cupboard. But remember too: only one per bunk.
High above the passengers, atop a tight half-turn staircase, were eight pullman berths with bedbelts and reading lights; dimmer and call-light, the latter for when the rester must return to the workplace below.
And back down there by that rearmost left hand door, Extension 15 of the onboard switchboard.
It was time to fly though, so we settled into our spaced-out places and each took a just-printed safety card, slipped from its cellophane wrap. Our operating captain took the handset of Extension 24 and delivered his welcome in person; each line of the UK Civil Aviation Authority-mandated announcement explained. We knew before that BA9176E was to be operated by British Airways. We learnt then that it’s the law to remind us.
Our cabin crew took over for the demonstration; word-perfect and live. No Lynn West. Beaming smiles. They were clearly enjoying it as much as we were, but they still had a job to do. Belts and backrests were checked. Big wheelies in the overheads? Good. Little wheelies all the way under the seats in front. Electronics away. Mugplugs out. Pointless a crew shouting Brace, Brace and Come This Way if we were all wired into The Best of The Grateful Dead.
Were the seatbacks on parade? Standing to attention to mark their first passenger flight? The GE90s spooled, each the diameter of a 737 cabin and, outside in the rain, one of those waving Future of Flight volunteers, in his Hi-Viz jacket, filmed our taxi, our roll, our full-power ascent from the Snohomish County tarmac into the evening sky.
It was bumpy. Very bumpy. We were light and we were bouncy. Seatbelt lights above us stayed on until long after we’d breached the cloudtops and we were heading higher through the jetstreams.
Buckle lights chimed off at last, and World Traveller Plus was designated the dining room. There was an ante room in the first row behind too, for the latecomers loathe to leave their windows.
It was a magical mystery tour for the crew as they liberated the Boeing catering. Pacific North West beer; Washington wines. Shrimp, salmon and crab claws; salad, and to finish: cheesecake. Who knew that there was chicken or beef too? And who wasn’t already too full to eat it?
Conversation flowed as the night wrapped itself around us; passengers swapping seats and stories, meeting those we’d not yet spoken to and learning all about them. The Aurora Borealis danced greens and blues across the Northern skies as we knelt in the First Class gallery, watching the live artshow framed by the port side windows.
The crew found mini tubs of ice cream, and we sat around the dancefloor in that Business Class ballroom, chatting to those with whom we’d still not been acquainted – talking fuel and freight, ramps and repairs, catering and customers.
When we could talk no more, the lights were dimmed in the World Traveller bedroom, armrests were lifted and Mr Sandman lulled the excited but exhausted to sleep.
But some couldn’t rest for long and the shadows of the half light brought new sights to see. The bulk of the doors with their slides smoothly-encased, curving away into a dusky cabin….
Crew service panels glowing blue in softly-lit corners.
Landing lights of seatback screens beneath a cerulean sky….
Waves of sculptured bins in the ballroom….
Unique icons where Ying and Yang will soon waltz….
And lowered eyelids in the scalloped sockets of gallery walls….
When resistance became futile, even the most awed slippedaway to dream, but as the light returned we were descending towards Wales and our day-old Boeing’s Cardiff maternity ward.
The GEs coasted as we approach the cloud tops, reflecting our vantage point alongside.
Their softly-rounded profile disguised their scale, with their pylons appearing like slender forearms to lightly grasp them.
The vortices around them invisible in the transparency of clear air….
…. and only the central swirl and the up-tick of the wing tip giving something away of the forces at play.
And those forces weren’t just at altitude, for as we apprached the runway, a crosswind would be welcoming our half-furnished ‘plane without bulk luggage or cargo; light of fuel and passengers, and with a three-storey vertical stabiliser to catch the breeze. Our flight crew requested that we all be seated in the first rows of the dining room to minimise the additional lateral forces once earthbound again.
We shimmied as we settled on the suspension stops, but the snaking was checked and with the nosewheel planted we were dead ahead for deceleration.
Breakfast time in Cardiff looked a carbon copy of the Washington weather just left.
It wasn’t just us that had returned though; so had those gargantuan GEs, now scaled against the dimensions of the real world on an airport apron.
Irene had the Red Dragon flying from her flight deck, as we parted from the newest member of the family….
….and we took one last look back over our shoulders….
….and up at the wing that had carried us….
…before we handed Irene back to her midwives at British Airways Maintenance Cardiff; to dress her up and to discharge her, fresh and ready to head home for the first time to Heathrow.
And we boarded another bus, wondering whether Boeing had indeed chucked in a free tank of fuel and six months’ tax.
Continental Club travelled as a guest of British Airways and The Boeing Company.
This article is winner of the FlyerTalk British Airways Executive Club Trip Report Of The Year 2012 Award.
by Continental Club on April 30, 2009 | Leave a comment
Possibly the worst application of those freely banded-about superlatives is that one which appears week after week in newspaper travel supplements though. Yes, that ubiquitous beast, the ‘Holiday of a Lifetime.’
The reality, almost always, fills me with horror. The interminable Economy Class flights on previously unheard-of airlines, between airports that have no more than a passing connection with the city that they’re reputed to serve, staying at lodgings bereft of all but the bare minimum number of dull twinkles of unofficially-applied stars, and transit between them in clapped-out old charabancs which probably served as troop transport during the Crimean War.
The only once-in-a-lifetime thing about the whole venture is that the unwary will be charged such an inordinate sum to suffer this torture, that the combined stress of enduring it, and then paying off the resultant credit card bill, will probably mean that they die soon afterwards.
However, and I am considered but assured in my contention of this, the five weeks that GrandfatherContinentalclub had just experienced, at 86 and a half years of age, do indeed constitute the trip of a lifetime, and it was my sincere hope that the final leg of the trip would be a fine and fitting finale.
So, if any airline, from any country, could possibly pull off the reliable delivery of a quietly but assuredly promoted service, it would be SWISS, from Switzerland, with their discreetly measured First Class. Well, I tell you, I damn well hoped they would.
Check-in opens 180 minutes prior to departure at Narita, with most Star Alliance airlines, including SWISS, sharing the dedicated Southern half of Terminal One. At the far end, beyond the Business Class-branded desks, is the Star Alliance First Class check-in area, policed by an ANA-uniformed member of staff, but in no other way different from the other desk areas – except, perhaps, for the lack of queues.
In a show of distinctly un-Japanese (or Swiss, for that matter) deviation from process, check-in was actually open 201 minutes prior to departure (and possibly earlier), so we were saved a wait and were able to present ourselves immediately.
Despite the otherwise standard appointments of our surroundings, it was almost immediately the level of service that defined the experience. Firstly, upon confirmation of identity, our check-in agent presented a welcome letter from SWISS. Inside, personally-addressed details regarding that day’s flight, including the Captain and Maitre de Cabine’s names, weather conditions in Zurich and other pertinent information. As an almost no-cost burden on the airline, it was an excellent first impression.
Our agent completed the check in and issued the boarding cards for Zurich and onward to Manchester and enquired whether we would prefer to use the ANA or United First Class Lounges. After a brief discussion, she advised that the ANA Lounge, though further from check-in, would probably be better as it would be closer to the departing gate. She winked and grinned when I asked whether it might also be finer than the United one….
Rather than issue directions however, and once the formalities were complete, she simply got up from her chair, went and found a wheelchair, fastened GCC in it and off we all set, together, for the Lounge. Wait for that to happen in the superficially much classier First Class Check-In Area at Heathrow’s Terminal Five, and you’ll be waiting a very long time indeed.
Safely navigated through the crew and assistance lane at security and past United’s First Class Lounge, it was indeed a bit of a walk to the ANA Lounge Complex – the First Class and Business Class Lounges being arranged one on top of the other at the far end of the airport pier.
Our check-in angel wished us a pleasant flight and made arrangements with the dragons for a Lounge-to-gate pusher, and we settled in to watch a Singapore Airlines A380 being prepared for departure right outside.
Within seconds, a member of staff came to take a drinks order, laying down some nibbles and a hot towel as she did so. The ANA F Lounge is not grandly appointed, but it’s a quiet and pleasant place to watch the apron action and enjoy a morsel of food. There is a dining area serving a limited menu of Udon Noodles and, adjacent to that, a buffet area.
At 8am, the selections were limited, albeit of mostly delectable quality – sushi (of course), some very dainty sandwiches unappealingly shrink-wrapped in cling film, fruits, yoghurts and pastries.
The bar area, for later in the day, was reasonably comprehensive although champagne is a notable stranger to the ANA offering.
The lounge is adequate, certainly not comparable to Cathay’s First Class lounges in Hong Kong, the Qantas F Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, or BA’s Concorde Club Room at Heathrow T5, but the service was more efficient than BA’s and the view better than Cathay’s. Whilst it may have added nothing in particular to the experience, the ANA Lounge certainly didn’t detract from it – and the peace and quiet was very welcome.
In what seemed like very little time anyway, the next pusher arrived to take us down to the gate which was, as we’d been assured, not all that far away even if it was back in the direction from which we’d first come. With no delay at all, we were pre-boarded and entered the immaculate A340-300 through Door 2L, the second from front on the port side.
Met by the Maitre de Cabine, we were escorted forward and shown to our seats, 1A and 1D, which between them constituted 25% of the entire cabin of just eight seats.
Almost equally as interesting was that the use of Door 2L allowed us to pass through the furthest forward of the two Business Class cabins, which seems to possess that slight exclusivity of the upper deck of a 747 – having just a pair of rows of 2-2-2 seating, but here on a single deck aircraft. The much larger rearward cabin, with six rows of Business Class seats, looked just as smart, but a good deal less private and a mental note for the future was made.
Back in the First Class Cabin, seven of the eight seats would be taken, but two dedicated crew members plus the Maitre de Cabine ensured that no-one was ever kept waiting for more than a moment.
Draw-corded fabric pouches containing smart pyjamas were handed out, along with generously proportioned Bally toiletry bags containing La Prairie products, and pairs of slippers.
Each seat had also been pre-laid with a wooden coat hanger so that jackets could quickly be stowed.
Pre take-off newspapers and drinks were then offered from a selection laid out at the forward bulkhead, which included a very palatable 1998 Pommery Cuvee Louise. Once airborne from Tokyo, the crew were quickly up from their seats to lay out a grander drinks display again, and to offer further refreshment to their charges.
The selected aperitifs were accompanied by a small platter of canapés, presented and individually described in some detail by the crew. The second of these canapés was, despite the elegant French description of fondant potato whipped with fresh cheeses and wrapped ‘en croute’, a perfectly bite-sized facsimile of a Greggs cheese and onion pasty and, therefore, absolutely delicious.
A screen, above the bulkhead drinks display, cycled variously through the Airshow in-flight mapping and also SWISS information and promotional videos, the latter of which included a feature on the forthcoming ‘New’ First Class product. On many other airlines, this could be a risky endeavour, resulting in the occupants of the soon-to-be-superseded seats feeling short-changed.
No real danger of that here though, as the new seat will merely be an evolution of the existing product rather than a wholesale redesign. It will, however, address the few obvious short-comings with the existing seat. The first of these is privacy – especially in the centre pairs. What looks like a partition that should rise between these seats is, in fact, fixed and the outboard single seats have no real screening to speak of other than their cocoon backs.
The second is that, despite the length, width and shape of the SWISS seat being extremely generous, bigger in all directions than British Airways’ First Class for example, the back rest is actually quite short. For sitting, slumping and dining then, the ample proportions are actually largely irrelevant, when the BA seat is, for me, ultimately more comfortable.
So, SWISS ‘New’ First will have far more privacy and a redesigned seat cushion and back, but will remain in the same footprint and layout as that currently employed. A table lamp and much larger TV screen will complete the upgrade, but will hardly leave the existing product in the shade.
The SWISS crew had already shown themselves to be charming and professional, but it was as the meal service began that their pride in their job began to really shine through. Our assigned crew member had flown with SWISS, and before that Swissair, for a combined total of 23 years – and it clearly showed. In particular, she seemed to tune in very quickly to the fact that this passenger was both interested in and keen to enjoy the service, and she responded to this with even greater enthusiasm to show-off the best that the airline had to offer.
And what a canvas she had to paint on, with an absolutely enormous dining table emerging from the side console, to which a fellow diner could more than comfortably have been invited and seated on the expansive ottoman.
Laid with white linen, first up was an amouse bouche of fine sushi, served with soy and wasabi.
Even with the addition of glassware, cruet, cutely-doilied charger plate, and individual napkin-wrapped bread basket to the table setting, there remained acres of space.
The starters, next, are served from a low, linen-draped trolley from which passengers may select their preferred items.
On then to the salad service – again from the trolley and with the opportunity for leaf, additional ingredient and dressing selection – served seat-side.
Throughout this culinary onslaught I maintained my loyalty to the Cuvee Louise, but the Wine List was beckoning as the salad bowl was cleared.
From a choice of four main courses: Beef, Tilefish, Ricotta Cannelloni or a Veal ‘Special of The Day’, it was to the Fillet of Beef with crushed black pepper and a rosemary sauce, sautéed spinach and leeks, baby carrot and saffron tagliatelle pasta that I leaned.
Beef duly served from the galley, our crewmember invited a decision on which wine to accompany it with. Given that the wine list showed just three red selections, but the display ahead four, and with the relatively unusual opportunity to sit quietly and undisturbed to sample wines, I asked if a little tasting might be possible.
Four glasses were enthusiastically collected from the galley and, from left to right, a 2006 Merlot Riserva la Prella from Switzerland, a 2004 Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte from Bordeaux, a 2005 Excellent Blauer Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend from Austria. The fourth, I am ashamed to tell you, I cannot remember, but the most important thing is that the Swiss Merlot turned out to be the star of the show from the quarter-glass tastings. Needless to say and despite my protestations, it was insisted that this choice be revealed to the crew and that glass topped up fully and then repeatedly.
Cheese to follow, and here we are back to trolley service and a quintet of Bedretto, Formagello, Fumello, Quadratino and Gruyere, accompanied by plum-sized grapes, dried apricots, chutney and 20 year old Calem Port.
Less dedicated flyers might have flagged at this point but no, this one sallied-forth towards dessert and, though the chocolate mousse made a valiant attempt to find its way to the table, it was the baked apple tartlet that prevailed, along with a little vanilla ice cream.
So it was perhaps lucky that the seventh course, after all that, was limited to a fine Nespresso coffee and a cheeky praline to round things off. There is no other way to describe the food but superb, despite the crew’s lament that caviar is no longer offered. However it was their service that made this whole dining experience truly ‘First Class’.
Despite being a daylight flight, the time difference and weight of food consumed made a dimmed cabin slumber essential. The SWISS seat reclines all the way down to meet the motorised ottoman which approaches along a little track, forming a lounger and then bed. When required, the bed itself is made up from a mattress topper which lies over the seat upholstery, a crisply covered duvet and a large pillow. The lack of absolute privacy is, to a certain extent, made up for by the wide separation between the centre seats.
The bed is supremely comfortable and the increased space over the tapered (to fit into a 747’s nose cabin) British Airways First Class bed is notable around the foot area. The only discomfort was that mysterious habit of aircraft cabins heating up once crew service is concluded. It would also have been welcome had regular water replenishments been brought around, although there was a constant supply laid out at the forward bulkhead for those who felt the need to rise and rehydrate.
The on-demand In-flight Entertainment System is hugely more intuitive and easy-to-use than Air New Zealand’s or Singapore Airlines’, though still not as slick as Cathay’s or British Airways’. That said, it suffered from that continuing unreliability that plagues BA’s, and it took 20 minutes to reboot 1A’s system when it steadfastly refused to play.
The choice of audio and video was particularly well-judged – perhaps because there’s little domestic output for the airline to feel morally obliged to show; instead a comprehensive range of programming from around the World fills the listings and the time.
With a couple of hours to go before arrival in Zurich, the lights were brought up again in readiness for an ‘Arrival Service’ which might better be described as Afternoon Tea.
Table laid again, a selection of sandwiches, salads and fruits were presented on the trolley, from which a tomato and mozzarella crostini with a green salad accompaniment was chosen.
To follow, the menu offered a Light Chicken Mousse or a Mixed Mushroom Quiche and, despite the description, it was decided that the quiche (and then only a half-portion) would be appropriate given the sheer scale of the earlier consumption. Our crew were most insistent that the remaining half was available to be served at any time should I change my mind.
It was purely a matter of capacity however, as the next trolley approached with all manner of sweet treats, from which a goodly range were chosen and enjoyed immensely, washed down with a silver pot of tea. Delicious.
The only way to reflect on this flight was with the feeling that this was a glimpse of flying in a golden age, a reminder of how it used to be with a crew who were immensely professional, capable and proud, who possessed a politesse that’s quite rare these days and yet combined it with a confidence and assurance that gave away both their experience and training. Far from being disheartened that this is a vanishing way to travel, it’s hugely heartening to see that SWISS appears to be an airline on the up, one that is in the process of refining the hard product yet further and looking to be able to offer First Class cabins on every one of its intercontinental routes, making them both a reliable and, dare I say it, superlative long haul choice.
What did Grandfathercontinentalclub think as the crew chatted and then waved us away from the aircraft at Zurich?
He thought it was the flight of his life – and he didn’t need a Marketing Department to convince him.
Final Verdict for SWISS First Class: 9.0/10. It really is difficult to find fault. Some airlines serve Dom Perignon, Krug or caviar in their First Class cabins. Some offer completely private suites and individual minibars. One has even installed a shower. However none of those airlines has a consistent product across its entire fleet while, even with the roll-out of its latest upgrade, SWISS is reliably offering very similar service on every single one of its three-class aircraft.
There’s a long-term value to that in a World where lack of reliability is one of the key drivers of customer dissatisfaction and defection. On this flight, the underlying quality of the hard and soft products: the seat, the service, the catering and the attention to detail – from the welcome letter at check-in to the coat hanger on board – revealed in-depth care in product design and development. And all this without bearded publicity stunts, super-sized aircraft or Premiership football sponsorship. For one so averse to hype and impressed by the quietly special, SWISS First Class was an absolute delight.
I’m a firm believer in the value of a pleasant surprise, and so it is to most things that I do try to add in a little extra. It does of course require some artful preparation, as well as expectations management and I’ve learnt that introducing a small disappointment or trial into the process has a nifty habit of increasing the effect of the subsequent delight.
So, having dealt with the online and self-service check-in processes, and the Terraces access at Newcastle without letting MCC see what was going on, we headed back along the link to T5 with her looking forward to her Club World flight to JFK.
Popping out into the Terminal at the Northern end, she was however forced to endure a trek South, passing huddle after huddle of Self Service Check In machines, at least some queueless Bag Drops and a quiet-looking Security Channel. She’s well enough trained not to be vocal in complaint, but she did wonder out loud why we couldn’t just head straight ‘over there’.
As we neared our target at the far end of the concourse however, the realisation dawned and was heralded by the simple ‘We’re not?’ with the polished First letters hoving into view. So, the preparations had worked like a dream again as the broad smile lingered far beyond the reception desk to the First Class Check In area. We were welcomed and accompanied by a lovely Scottish lady, who chatted with us for a minute or two while we waited for an agent to become free to drop our bags with. Of course, using the F area was actually a completely needless diversion, as we had our BPs already, but I suppose I was adding in a bit of theatre to the experience that, sadly, sometimes the airline fails to.
Having liberated ourselves of the luggage, we were asked if we knew where we were going to get to Security etc, albeit in that more Edinburgh way of ‘You’ll have had your tea’ rather than the Glaswegian ‘Will you be having some tea?’ I should clarify that this was not from our Scottish receptionist, but I thought that it would have been nice to at least have had the genuine offer of accompaniment.
As it was, there was no queue at the passport check and we were in the line for Fast Track almost immediately. At 7.00am, we were through in 4 minutes, with a nice BAA guy manning the operation and explaining clearly and empathetically to less experienced passengers how the systems ‘works’. In fairness, the non-Fast Track was also running just as swiftly, so non premium passengers should not have been too inconvenienced either.
Two staff were manning the secret door and one of them escorted us into the Concorde Room. He checked his PC and confirmed the gate number, advising us that the flight was showing on time and giving us some guidance on timings to get across to T5B, the satellite terminal. As a sticking plaster solution to the problem of knowing when to leave and then actually getting there, it was a worthy effort, but we weren’t addressed by name and the issue really does need some serious attention to bring the service level up to at least somewhere near the industry-leading standards of carriers like Lufthansa.
The plan had been to book in for a Spa treatment, having still not yet experienced the T5 offer. However, with rumbling stomach and a pressing need for a coffee and something fizzy, making for the Dining Room seemed a more sensible option.
We were met at the host station by three staff, all of whom smiled and said hello and one of them invited us to choose a table. Comfortably seated, she offered us menus and took a drinks order. MCC asked for tea and apple juice; I opted for coffee and champagne. A minute or two later, not long after the distinctive pop was heard (first bottle of the day then!) she returned with the glass of champagne, but an apology and no apple juice. Would madam care for something else? She chose cranberry as an alternative and it arrived promptly, but I still can’t quite decide whether it’s a worse show that the Concorde Room had no AJ, or that the staff didn’t think to nip next door to the First Class or Business lounges and get some from there.
A food order was taken – pastries to start and the full English for me; granola with a side order of berries and scrambled egg with toast for MCC. The waitress was careful to point out that MCC‘s berries would not be fresh, but frozen, having perhaps received complaints before. The food arrived promptly and, whilst the fruit having previously been frozen was not a particular problem, the fact that it was presented swimming in defrosted juice was not ideal.
The pastry platter was very good however, not too dainty, fresh and nicely warmed. Washed down with a glass of the (reportedly) rapidly diminishing stock of Bollinger La Grand Annee, it was a fine way to start.
Previous visits to the Dining Room had been marred somewhat by invisible staff, but there was no such problem on this occasion. We were regularly checked upon and really the only picky observation would be that it could have done with being rather less obvious. Subtle loops of the room would be preferable to the more stabbing arriving at a table, pointedly checking and then retreating once again. It’s a small thing, but it would make a difference.
Starters cleared, the main courses arrived and MCC declared her eggs perfectly acceptable. My full English was rather less successful. Well cooked and not unpleasantly presented, it was however a shock to see tinned mushrooms and then to find the sausage to be slightly more ‘gourmet’ than I am keen on. The latter, I accept, is a matter of personal preference given that I tend to prefer a traditional pork banger, but really, I think that tinned mushrooms are pretty unforgiveable for all but Scott and Shackleton.
The food dispensed with, another flute was ordered and delivered and we prepared to head out and across to B. Whilst MCC took a comfort break, I availed myself of the opportunity to have a good look at the projected artwork above the lobby fireplace. I have to say that I really enjoyed it and, as I’ve said elsewhere, I do think that it would make a nifty screensaver. I was delighted to later find that a version of it is available to view on the internet, albeit from the artist’s website as opposed to BA’s, which seems a bit of a shame. Good stuff though – do have a look.
Ignoring for once the well-versed rule that says one should always use lifts, not escalators, at T5, we left the lounge complex not by the secret door but instead via the main escalators so that a quick first look at the electronic cloud artwork could be grabbed. Like the fireplace projection, it’s quite novel and engaging, although a couple of the flipping discs which animate it were already out of action.
Reverting to the lift-is-best mantra, the descent to the transit station was super-swift and, despite just missing a ‘thing’, another one was along very quickly and we boarded for the journey across to T5B. A minute later and we were there, taking another lift up to the gates. Though speedy, taking the lift does however mean missing out on that most enjoyable view of the apron that the ascendency to departures level via escalator affords.
Boarding had already commenced and we skimmed past the queues to find the hoped-for priority lane. An unconcerned World Traveller passenger arrested progress at one point as her bag blocked the way, but a firm ‘excuse me’ saw the wheelie retracted and our passage was once more unhindered. BPs scanned, the jetty beckoned, but of course the singularity of the bridge meant that there was a small line of passengers at Door 2L – the second door back on the aircraft’s port side. The detention was not lengthy however and, at the door, we were greeted by name by the Cabin Services’ Director, the Purser was summoned and we were shown to our 2A and 2K – the preferred Row 1 not having opened up.
Drinks were offered and the Bollinger ordered as the bits and pieces desired in-flight were removed from the carry-ons and the bags stowed. The champagne and nuts arrived swiftly and were set down, followed by wash bags and sleeper suits. All very efficient and an already clearly charming crew. As we settled down and arranged the cushions and pillows into the most comfortable positions, the Captain came on to let us know that we would be facing a 30 minute delay to push-back, which I’m sure was a disappointment to many. Here however, it would simply offer further opportunity to enjoy watching the ramp activity outside while knocking back another glass or two of Bolli.
When pushback came, we headed out along the Northern taxiway to line up on Runway 27R, and passing along the way a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Superjumbo. Indeed, a sister bird to the Airbus monster had also been observed on arrival from Newcastle, with the most noticeable thing being that it doesn’t seem all that big at first. Certainly its length is unremarkable, but then its tail and bulk do become apparent especially when seen next to the Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 which was moored alongside.
At the earliest possible opportunity after take-off, the bottle was brought from the galley to top up and, what seemed like mere moments later, a selection of canapés also arrived. I admit that I do enjoy these, although I know that some consider them a little run-of-the-mill. There are lots of things that I’d like to see change in First, alongside some additions, but I’d be sorry to see these modest treats disappear as the cloud cover is broken and the sun glints off the freshly-poured bubbles. I always have a little smile at that point.
The ‘on-demand’ audio-visual system (AVOD) is booted up and, apparently remains rock-solid throughout the flight. The CSD appears and, after a short word with the occupant of 1K (1A has either been blocked or is a no-show) then has a chat with MCC and I. She already has questionnaires in-hand and says that we’ve been selected as particularly high-value passengers. Hmm. Delighted to oblige of course and, as mentioned earlier, it’s obvious that we’re going to have a good flight. She is delightful herself, as are all our crew, although afterwards I reflect on the fact that we weren’t generally addressed by name. It underlines the fact that actually, though I do appreciate it when it happens, genuine warmth and care in service is far more important than repeating a surname.
This being a morning flight, arriving before noon, the meal service is actually a bit odd – lunch followed by afternoon tea. That said, I do feel nearly ready to eat (despite the full English) and when the order is taken I’m asked when I would like to dine. I suggest that about an hour hence would be ideal and the crew honour this practically to the minute. The cabin is lightly loaded and, when the allotted hour arrived, the crew ask if MCC and I would like to move to 5EF – one of the ‘paired’ seats in the First Class cabin – so that we can take lunch together. Though we politely declined, it was a nice thought and lovely to have it offered.
As an avowed cinema-dodger, I’m not usually interested in the films on board, but I let my guard down on this occasion and had a good chuckle to Kung Fu Panda while not watching the map or listening to the Audio selection. Although I couldn’t immediately detect much variation in the AVOD CD library from two months beforehand, I did have more of an explore through it and found it to be slightly more comprehensive than I’d initially and previously given it credit for. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting old and don’t recognise many of the modern bands…..
On the recommendation of FCC from the Vancouver trip, I opted to start with the Leek and Potato Soup, which was lovely. I do like soup and I think it nice to have selections in First that are not available in other cabins. So, notwithstanding the bowl sloppage that comes from serving pre-bowled from the galley, it was delicious. Much better to bring the empty bowl and pour from an individual jug/boat seatside however and add a little theatre into proceedings.
I also like my fish, so the Loch Fyne Catch of The Day – Sea Bass – was selected and it arrived really rather nicely presented by the crew. It was very tasty too but, as the picture may show, the flesh was rather more grey than white and really not all that appealing on first sight. The proof of the pudding is in the eating however, and there was no problem there.
Speaking of pudding, there does come a point when tough decisions have to be made. And so it was that the consumption was temporarily suspended in light of the desire to partake in the afternoon tea which would follow, later in the morning…..
…..which proved to be very much the usual affair, nothing at all spectacular but pleasant enough. Scones nicely warmed but really rather small and the sandwiches being nice but not what might be described as First Class. The cakes and patisserie were also slightly more Mr Kipling than Michelin-starred. Nothing offensive, of course, but there’s definite room for improvement and, without much head-scratching, some reasonably obvious ways to achieve it.
And with that, having not managed to make up any of the lost time from departure, we begin our descent into JFK and the end of another British Airways First flight which shows that, once again, it is the superb crews who raise the product above its relatively average bones. Just imagine what they could do with the class-leading tools that BA desperately needs to deliver with New First.
Verdict for British Airways First: 8.0/10. A half point drop on the June score, attributable to tinned mushrooms in the lounge and grey fish on board. It’s a wonderful way to fly, and I do remain a fan of the 14 seat non-suite layout, but it should be the carrier that adds the sparkles to the product, not the passenger!
by Continental Club on September 2, 2008 | Leave a comment
It had seemed like I was wishing the trip away almost before we’d started but, shortly after our arrival in New York, I’d logged back on to ba.com to nab 1A and 1K for the return flight.
Although it remains a source of constant discussion (which I’m sure would only be terminated with the simultaneous removal of the damnable wardrobe) I am now quite sure that while 2AK are perfectly lovely, 1AK is my pair of choice and I was delighted to secure them.
On Line Check In had worked without trauma and we picked up our boarding passes at the SSCIs at JFK. As there was no queue at the Club World desks, we bag dropped there and we were given directions to the Concorde Club Room. The ladies on the Boarding Pass check further up the corridor were friendly and chatty and once again made sure that we knew where we were going.
The dragon on the CCR desk was altogether more rampart-like but, as soon as she saw the Boarding Passes, her masonry crumbled into a warm smile and we were welcomed in, accompanied by a quick brief on locating the ‘hidden’ loos on the left hand wall.
This was my first visit to British Airways most premium lounge at Kennedy, and I knew to check my expectations in comparison to the new facilities back at Heathrow. The lounge was almost empty, but spacious and light and with a good selection of different seating types. We took up residency towards the far left, with a reasonably good view of the end of the apron and a couple of BA birds, including the OpenSkies Boeing 757 which was boarding for Paris.
Having sat for a good few minutes, it was clear that there was no-one interested in offering any service; the lone employee being a barman who, despite being in clear line-of-sight, had only left his post to bark at another passenger that she was too early to dine.
Eventually, I gave up the fight and went and ordered two coffees. Surprisingly, given his hitherto reluctance to leave his post, he offered to bring them over. After a few minutes, he arrived and I rather wished I’d stayed to do it myself. At least if I had then rather more of the coffee might have made it to me while still in its cup, and I probably would not have bothered using the derelict tray he presented it on. No sugar, no teaspoons. He put the whole thing down next to me, not even between me and MCC, so I was left to complete the last yard.
We decided to eat on board, for fear of what we might be subjected to by staff who were challenged by serving coffee, so I headed back to the bar only to acquire a couple of glasses of Piper (and subsequent refills) but never, ever, with any sign of at-seat service. Those who did dine were, however, treated to our reluctant barman collecting their plates by picking up the first with its cutlery, banging it down on top of the adjacent diner’s crockery and irons and then picking the combined stack up again. And so on until all had been removed. It was actually quite comical, but I’ll tell you that for £8,000, it would not have been anything less than shockingly bad.
The free WiFi was working in the lounge, but required a password which had to be gleaned from Reception. It seemed a little pointless to be honest, and could probably have been published on little cards on the coffee tables for convenience if it is really necessary.
We were joined in the lounge by an extended family who we, of course, knew instinctively would be subjecting themselves to us on our flight. Whilst the children ran riot, Special Services flitted around and our moods darkened. Mine improved considerably when boarding was called and we headed to the gate. As the agent swiped my Boarding Pass, she glanced at her screen and wished me Happy Birthday which, frankly, I thought was fantastic.
We arrived at the aircraft door, were greeted by name and the Purser summoned to seat us. Behind us, a few more passengers were brought into the cabin, before much kerfuffle heralded the arrival of the Family Nemesis. Grrr. There was immediately a problem, as SS had bundled them on board without providing all of their Boarding Passes to the crew. Neither the Purser nor the Cabin Services Director were very impressed, but they did their very best to extract the missing document from the rude, aloof and generally unpleasant clan. Eventually, it was located and the crew looked visibly relieved.
Amidst all this, the Purser appeared with a couple of glasses of Bollinger and some frigid nuts, and soon afterwards our washbags and sleeper suits appeared. Never one to miss an opportunity to be pampered, I rooted around in my carry on for the birthday cards I’d brought with me (from other people, you understand, not self-penned) and put them, unopened, on the sideshelf before stowing the bag.
It didn’t take long for them to be spotted, by the CSD as it happens, and she instructed me that since push-back would be at about midnight UK time, I’d be allowed to open them then. Then she went off to get me another glass of pre-Birthday Bollinger and, as it transpired, to brief the rest of the crew. No surprises then that the levels of crew service throughout the flight were absolutely superb, including some really enjoyable banter with the CSD and gloriously indiscreet but incredibly well-judged snippets from the Purser. I’m sorry, but that simply doesn’t happen on Singapore Airlines and will always be one of the things that makes a well-motivated BA crew fantastic for me.
MCC looked as happy as larry in 1A as she caught up on the weekend’s news, and I kicked back with another top-up before the cabin was secured for the taxi out to the runway. The usual Sunday evening snarl-up ensued but, after a slightly champagne-numbed delay, we climbed away with the Manhattan skyline silhouetted against the sunset and the moon already rising high.
I opened my cards around the swiftly delivered canapés and made my selections from the evening’s menu; soup to start and lamb to follow.
The soup was delicious and the lamb fairly tasty, but the galley-to-seat bowl sloppage isn’t the best, and I really don’t know what the crew are meant to do with the lamb to make it look even vaguely appealing. The menu should really have read ‘Amorphous Mush d’Agneau,’ were it to have been accurate.
The cheeseboard was fine, not spectacular but fine, and the Purser looked visibly delighted that I’d ordered port to accompany it. ‘Some passengers are so prissy about the booze’ he said, ‘but I see that’s no problem here.’ How very dare he?! In fact, none of this ‘Book the Cook’ hype on other airlines; I vote for ‘Choose Your Crew’ and I think he’d definitely be one of my ‘Top Purser Picks’. The CSD told me later that they have a particular nickname for him, but I shall keep that to myself…..
Slightly the wrong way round, but I also accepted the offer of some delicious ice cream (which I later learnt must have been swiped from Club World Business Class and therefore suddenly tasted less good, on reflection) and accompanied it with the ambrosia that is Willi Opitz pudding wine. It was even quite chilled.
The beds were made up and I settled in for a good few hours of innocent slumber, interrupted only slightly as my head first touched the pillow when MCC got confused, pressed the wrong button and released her TV Screen with rocket-powered ferocity. Had it not been for the sturdiness of the bracketry, then the pilot would surely have been in for an unexpected kick up the bum from a ballistic entertainment system launched from beneath his seat. He’ll never know how close he came to it.
Quiet activity in the cabin heralded the new day and our descent into Heathrow, so I motored upright and prepared to rerobe for the outside world. Once again, I agreed with myself that at least for my frame, the BA First Class seat remains delightfully comfortable – and I do still prefer the openness to how I think I would feel hemmed-in by a suite. Only experience will tell, I guess. As I arranged myself, the crew appeared to unmake the bed and offer breakfast. Still quite full from dinner, I limited myself to tea and orange juice and concentrated on enjoying the last few minutes of the flight before we dipped into the thick cloud cover and began the Berks/Bucks/Herts circuits and then final approach over London. The cloud proved very low as we broke cover to the West of the airfield for an Easterly landing. Touchdown was smooth, although we were of course treated to a lengthy taxi back to T5 and on to a B stand.
There followed the only faux-pas of the trip, when I somehow managed to initially follow and then ignore the Flight Connections signage and we found ourselves in the immigration queue for Arrivals. We were straight through however and, bypassing baggage reclaim, we took the lift back up to Departures and went through South Security. As it happened, I’m fairly sure that we actually made it to the secret door rather faster than if we had gone through the Flight Connections Centre, but who knows? In any event, compliance was instantaneous and the tray system was unchallenged by heavy traffic, so it was a reasonably smooth flow through.
Welcomed into the Concorde Club Room, there was no guidance on boarding times or gate as had been offered on the outbound, but neither was there any issue with entry on an inbound Boarding Pass authority. We took up comfortable residence on a suite of sofas and accepted only sparkling water from the extremely nice and on-the-ball staff, who regularly checked back on us.
Ignoring the physical environment, it was a stark contrast to the lack of professionalism in its Stateside sibling. However, as the rain fell on London, it did appear that some students had passed through the terrace on their way home from a night on the pop. It’s a relief, I suppose, that the lampshade hadn’t been replaced by a traffic cone…..
When the screen flicked to show ‘Boarding’ for our Newcastle connection, we headed over to A6 to find, disappointingly, that no such thing had commenced. So, we stood until eventually the dispatcher gave the gate agents clearance and we boarded by row number – no priority for status etc as usual. The Airbus A320 was busy but we were all seated quickly and the doors closed for departure. The weather was worsening however and we were informed of an Air Traffic Control delay at around the same time as it became obvious that the wind had changed direction and ops were switching around. Eventually, we took the long taxi down to Runway 27L, where mixed mode was in operation and, from our vantage point it looked as though one or two go-arounds might have been on the cards. It transpired that there had been at least one earlier. We queued for 20 minutes with a wide-screen view of the BA38 that didn’t-quite-make-it from Beijing and, eventually, we lined up for take-off and the inevitable tediousness of the final domestic sector of an inbound itinerary.
By this stage, with the anticipation and expectation long past and the pared-down hour-long service on this distinctly worn Airbus, the focus is on simply getting home and bracing ourselves for the interminable waits involved in baggage retrieval at Newcastle. We’re not to be disappointed and, in the lashing rain, we taxi on to stand at Newcastle and then wait at the carousel for what seems very nearly as long as the airborne time from Middlesex.
It may have been a short break to a place visited many times before but, once again, it had been a fantastic trip. Without a doubt, New York is simply one of the most spectacular and iconic destinations on Earth, and what a privilege to be able to do it in such style.
Verdict for British Airways First: 8.0/10. The same as the outbound score, but only rescued to that level by a superb crew and the basically good hard product. The service at JFK’s Concorde Room was entirely unacceptable however and the main course catering on board left rather a lot to be desired in terms of design.
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.