London Heathrow to Newcastle – British Airways

by Continental Club on May 28, 2009

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.

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