Air Baltic A220-300 Economy ATH-RIX-LGW Review

This is a guest review, written by George Delfas, detailing his experience onboard Air Baltic’s new Airbus A220-300 aircraft. 


In early September, I flew with Air Baltic on their new A220-300 aircraft
to return to the UK, following my holiday in Greece. Air Baltic operate a wide
network of flights to major cities across Europe, as well as many seasonal
holiday destinations utilising their fleet of modern A220-300s and
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s – in addition to ageing B737-300 and 737-500 aircraft which are slowly being phased out and replaced.

My flight was from Athens to Riga, and then onwards from Riga to London
Gatwick. Both flights were operated by the A220-300, making for a very
pleasant experience – thanks in part to their modern cabin product and low noise emissions.

I arrived at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport at 22.00, with five hours to wait as my flight wasn’t until 03.15am.

Landside at Athens airport was very noisy, with many people coming and going and cleaning taking place, so I went through security after 45 minutes. Athens airport security was a pleasant contrast to the chaos of the check-in area – there was no queue whatsoever – and I was airside in just over 1 minute,
although this may have been due to the time of night. The gate
area was almost completely empty given the time of day, but an
impressive array of cafes remained open for an airport with only 2-3
flights departing from the ‘B’ gates between 00.00 and 05.00, with a wide
range of food available for purchase. There was a large quantity of
seating at the gates, however loud music was played preventing me from
getting any proper sleep. Thankfully, this was switched off at 1am.

At 02.50 we began boarding from a gate with a bus to take us to the
remote stand where YL-CSA (Air Baltic’s first ever A220-300, delivered
in November 2016) was waiting to take us to Riga. I boarded the plane
through the front door, was met by a friendly crew member and entered the
aircraft to find it lit with cool, pale coloured lighting with soft, relaxing
boarding music.

Boarding YL-CSA in Athens

We departed from Athens at 03.33, 18 minutes behind schedule, with an
estimated flight time of 2hours and 50minutes. After the seatbelt signs
had been switched off, the crew came around with the passengers’ pre-
ordered meals. They then brought the trolley service through. This sold a
range of snacks which could be bought on board at fairly reasonable
prices comparable to other airlines offering a similar service. The service
was fast, but I imagine that on busier flights during the day the service
could take a long time, with only one galley at the rear of the aircraft to
serve the entire economy cabin (the other galley at the front was
exclusively for business class passengers).

The cabin was very spacious, with each seat having a fantastic width of
18.5″and 32″of pitch making for a very comfortable flight.

The Economy Class product on the Airbus A220

The seats reclined sufficiently, with the seat base moving forward as well as the back reclining so as not to squash the legs of the person behind you. I thought this was a clever solution to this all-to-common issue. It is worth bearing in mind, that even the back row had room behind it to allow the seats to recline. The overhead bins were also enormous, and dropped down from the ceiling allowing easier access for shorter passengers. The tray tables had a sleek design which fitted neatly into the back of the seat in front of you, but were released by a slightly fiddly metal catch which you had to slide rather
than turn to release the table. This was, however, not a major issue.

The only major downside to the economy cabin was that out of the two toilets
on board, one was exclusively for the business class passengers, which
left just one lavatory for the entire economy class cabin of around 135 people,
leading to queues. There was at least one large window in each row,
allowing all passengers to see out even if seated on the aisle and allowing
a huge amount of natural light into the cabin.

Above each row is a small screen which displays the safety briefing and a
map during the flight. There is no other IFE, and no WiFi on board.
Adverts were played on the screens during the taxi, despite it being 03.30,
which was incredibly annoying, especially as the sound was played
loudly throughout the aircraft.

The A220’s signature overhead panel screen – showing onward connections from Riga.

30 minutes before landing in Riga, information on connecting flights was displayed on the screens, allowing you to see whether your next flight was on time, and which gate and concourse in the airport it was departing from saving you time once you had disembarked. This struck me as a nice touch.

Despite a horrible whining noise when the engines were started in
Athens, the rest of the flight was very quiet once cruising at 38,000 feet,
and noticeably quieter than an A320.

We landed in Riga at 06.19, 16 minutes ahead of schedule, following a
beautiful approach over foggy pine forests into a very, very foggy airport.
Disembarkation was through an airbridge on to concourse C.

Boarding YL-CSJ in an extremely foggy Riga.

Riga Airport is very small and easy to navigate, so it should have been a couple of minutes to reach Gate C9 for my onward flight to Gatwick. However,
there were huge queues for passport control to reach the boarding gates
for extra Schengen flights, meaning that I arrived at the gate after
boarding had started. The queue to board moved fast, and I was soon
walking out across the tarmac to my aircraft for this flight, another A220-
300 (YL-CSJ, Air Baltic’s second newest A220 delivered in July 2018).

The flight departed at 07.52, with an estimated flight time of 2hours
20minutes.

Departing over Lativa’s misty pine forests

Once we reached our cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, the
meals for those who had pre-ordered them were brought around. I had
ordered pancakes with fruit juice for breakfast, which arrived in a box,
and was warm.

The meal was nicely and neatly presented, in a compact box

The pancakes were very tasty, and came with fresh fruit
and a croissant and jam. Many options were available to choose from
when booking your flight online, including many traditional Latvian
dishes, ranging in price from €9 to €29, with options for specific dietary
requirements.

The breakfast meal, served onboard my RIX-LGW flight.

The crew were efficient and friendly, but were quite
reserved and didn’t make too many announcements, which was – at least in my opinion –  a good thing.

I won’t describe the cabin again, as the aircraft was the same type as
before, but Air Baltic have made some small changes to the cabin from
the earlier A220-300 models, with small improvements such as the seats
having a plastic back with a pocket that doesn’t bulge into your knees as
much when items are placed into it all helping to make the flight more
enjoyable.

We landed at Gatwick at 08.22, 18 minutes ahead of schedule, after
enduring possibly the most bumpy landing I have experienced which
even drew a sarcastic round of applause from many of the passengers,
and disembarked through an airbridge into the South Terminal.

Leaving YL-CSJ behind at London-Gatwick.

Bottom Line: 
Overall, my experience with Air Baltic was fantastic and I would
definitely fly with them again. They have the prices and service of a
budget carrier, but their cabin product, meal choices and noise levels on
the A220-300 is way above their rivals such as easyJet or British Airways
and provides fantastic comfort even for overnight flights.

Lufthansa B747-8 First Class Review

Anybody that knows me will know it is no secret that I love Lufthansa and I especially love the Boeing 747-8i. Having not flown the ‘Queen of the Skies’ on the FRA – JFK route since 2013 (when they still had the old upper deck First Class on the 747-400 with the adjoining bed) it was time to fly the newer model on the B747-400s older sister to see if the experience would differ from the FRA-EWR route I have taken recently.

Photo: liveandletsfly blog

Booking

I love miles and points for the simple reason that it enables you to fly incredible classes for a fraction of the price. I have the JP Morgan Reserve credit card which has all of the same benefits as the Chase Reserve, plus some more. This redemption was part upgrade, part mileage award ticket.  For Star Alliance I collect on Mileage Plus – this is both a blessing and a curse as it is the best program because of the low fuel surcharges and generous upgrade voucher deals but I hate flying with United and I only fly them enough to meet the minimum segment requirements, so most of my miles from Mileage Plus were accrued from other Star Partners.  Fortunately on this trip I was able to apply a 1K upgrade voucher from Business to First from United on Lufthansa (nice perk!) and then redeem a mileage bank balance of 110k miles for the other ticket. As I’ve seen countless other times, United seems to get special award space that other partners such as Air Canada and Avianca don’t seem to have so it is definitely worth considering this option.

If you want to fly this flight then it would make complete sense to do it with miles. My advise for our UK readers would be the American Express Gold Card as it has perks such as double points when spending directly with an airline, extensive hotel benefits such as free upgrades and free lounge access at airports. The best perk of all though, it is free for the first year!

If you’re looking to book on a revenue fare, we advise looking at Momondo or SkyScanner for the best deals.

Munich – Frankfurt | Lufthansa A320 Business Class

Unfortunately since it was a Sunday, the trains were not fully running as there was some construction so I ended up having to take a taxi to Munich and after a short walk to the check-in area I arrived at the luxurious First Class check-in (also shared by Star Gold).

Checking in at MUC

One of the things that really separates Lufthansa from the other carriers is how they care for their passengers. There were weather reports of lighting that afternoon so the agent suggested he move me and my travelling companion to an earlier flight to ensure we make our connection – after few quick clicks on the computer we were confirmed on the next departing Munich – Frankfurt flight.

The GOLDEN ticket

Security at the First Class check-in took seconds and we soon flew through to the Munich First Class Lounge.

The famous ducks decorating the Munich lounge

After only a quick visit due to the earlier departing flight, a double espresso sent us on the short walk to our departing flight to Frankfurt.  Boarding was a bit chaotic as the flight had changed from an A321 to an A320 so a few passengers in economy had to be re-accommodated. Nonetheless, the boarding was very German and efficient.

Our taxi to Frankfurt

Most people talk badly about Lufthansa for their “euro-business class” but it amazing on our flight which had an advertised duration of one hour but actually takes about 25-30 minutes of flying time. We were served a full meal and drinks. Today’s meal was the delicious white asparagus.

This meal was really good – I loved the white asparagus.

After cruising at 32,000 feet and an uneventful on-time landing we arrived at “A” gates which was unfortunate as since we were not at a remote gate, there was no First Class car transfer.

The First Class Terminal

After a short walk outside, it was time to enter the amazing First Class Terminal which, in my opinion, is by far the best lounge in the world and always has the most amazing fresh food. The lounge has DO&Co catering, great selections of Champagne and a huge Gummy Bear dispenser which is always fun. Since I love it so much I had more white asparagus and steak with white wine and Apfelstrudel for dessert.

Let’s gooo!
Like a five star restaurant!

After only a short three hour layover, it was time to board. The main benefit of the First Class Terminal is that you actually skip the normal terminal experience altogether and the only way of boarding the plane is by car. The personal assistant came to collect us on time and we were on our way for the short ride to the beautiful queen of the skies in the back of an extremely comfortable Mercedes.

Arriving at our chariot

Getting dropped off directly underneath the plane and taking the elevator up is one of the coolest things about the whole first class experience and definitely gives it a VIP touch.

Boarding

Boarding and turning left on the 747-8i has to be one of the best feelings in the world as you are greeted and almost immediately poured a glass of champagne upon being seated.  This time around the champagne was a gorgeous 1995 ‘Blanc des Millenaires’ which had the perfect balance of age, taste and bubbles and paired really nicely with the food. The seating in the cabin is one of the best I have flown. It features a 1-1 configuration in rows 1-2 (seats A and K) and a 1-2-1 setup in row three. Seeing as I was travelling with someone, we went for row three and were lucky enough to have seats A and K free which made it feel exactly like the old First class on the 747-400.

Today’s cabin after turning left!

Upon being seated with champagne, the flight attendant hurried over to deliver the pyjamas, internet voucher, slippers, and amenity kit.  I also received a handwritten note from one of my friends at Lufthansa who unfortunately couldn’t be on the flight today as well as a menu with my name hand written in beautiful text.  The menu and wine list is extensive, and has something for everyone’s tastes.  As I love white asparagus so much I selected that for my main course along with a side of Schnitzel.

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Takeoff

Takeoff in the nose of the 747-8 is a bit loud and harsh as you are sitting directly above the landing gear, but once you are off the runway the cabin becomes dead silent.  This is thanks to the sound-deadening carpet and suede walls which mean you can actually hear everyone in the cabin speaking!

The Service

We took off on-time at 17:10 and we were at cruising altitude of 37,999 feet after just a few minutes. Immediately, the flight attendants sprung into action with the caviar. The presentation and taste is so wonderful and so amazing that LH serves seconds on request.

I loved this caviar

Next came the appetizers, the sorbet and then the main course. All of these courses are served with the wine of your choose with a helping hand from the crew who know exactly which wine to pair which each meal.

My appetizer
And the main course

The crew were so friendly on this flight and that really is where Lufthansa shines compared to some other airlines who have employees with bad attitudes or sometimes there are strong cultural/language differences making it hard to connect on a personal level with them. On Lufthansa’s First Class you know you will have an expertly trained flight attendant who can immediately sense which passengers want the full First Class experience and which ones want to be left alone to sleep. Service is so personal and attentive too. For example, the flight attendants would speak to me in German and then immediately repeat to my friend in English even though they could have spoken English to both of us.  It is the small things like this attention to detail that really put Lufthansa above and beyond in my mind.

After too much food, dessert and cheese it was time to settle into the bed and watch a film. The IFE and WIFI on the plane are both free of charge which is a really great perk. The IFE screen is very large and perfect for indulging in your guilty pleasures. I, for instance watched ‘I,Tonya’.

Time to eat even more!

Unfortunately, due to the bottle of wine that I drank and several glasses of champagne prior to that, I fell asleep half way through the film and was woken 30 minutes before landing with a warm and friendly brush on my arm to awake me. The crew had left me a hot towel prepared, a tooth brush and mouthwash and a double espresso, orange juice and water. This was the perfect wake up call.

My wake up call was wonderful!

Landing

The landing was unfortunately a lot longer than expected as we had to make turns around JFK due to the fact that we were slightly early and couldn’t land yet. We cruised at 20,000ft around New Jersey and Long Island for about 45 minutes before being cleared for landing.

Holding around New York

We landed 45 mins ahead of schedule and parked at JFK Terminal 1.  The escort met us, helped us through security and then had our bags waiting for collection. Another VIP moment.

The Conclusion

For me there is no better airline than Lufthansa and no better way to fly than in First Class. Put the two together and it makes for one of the most pleasant flights imaginable. Sure, I am not crazy and know that their 5 star rating in business class is questionable, but in First, the experience is incomparable to any other airline for me.

While Lufthansa isn’t the best airline flying in my opinion, I always choose Lufthansa’s First Class for those extra touches, VIP feelings, incredible food and drink and fantastic crew!

Want to see how this compares to First Class on the British Airways B747 then click here.

This review is part of our monthly guest review programme. The author of this review is Mark (@markbuttons) who flew this flight in early May 2018. If you have an upcoming flight you think we’d like to see then you can apply here.

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Etihad A380 Economy Review

Having flown with Etihad on their A380 numerous times before, I was excited to see if their soft product had improved since the last time I’d flown with them.

Here at LondonSpotter we generally choose SkyScanner for booking economy tickets and Momondo for business class tickets as that is where you can usually find the best prices.

I arrived to the gate at the supposed boarding time (1 hour before departure) but the gate agents told us that our flight was delayed by 20 minutes. Boarding was called at exactly 14:20 and passengers were boarded using zone numbers via 3 different doors; two doors on the lower deck and 1 on the upper. Boarding was not chaotic in the slightest and quite efficient for such a large aircraft.

The economy cabin onboard the A380

I boarded through door 2L where I was warmly greeted by 1 of the 26 flight attendants operating this flight to Abu Dhabi. I was directed to my seat and to my surprise, it turned out I’d snagged one of the best wing-view seats on the plane!

What a view!

On paper, Etihad offers 17.5” of seat width and 31” seat pitch which felt very spacious and comfortable. My only criticism is that the recline is substandard and, when the person in front of you reclines, you have no space to put anything on the tray table. Regardless of the recline, the seat was fully equipped with everything; A USB charger, a 110V socket, a coat hanger, 2 screens including a 10” wide screen (which I find extremely impressive for an Economy class seat), and a fantastic entertainment system. They offer fast and reasonably priced WiFi, which is especially convenient for passengers travelling on business.

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When I arrived at my seat, I found a pair of headphones, a blanket, and a pillow waiting for me. The noise cancelling headphones were pretty nifty, complete with an adapter. The blanket smelt odd but, on the plus side, at least it was in a plastic bag…

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As I waited for boarding to be completed, I browsed the entertainment selection, which was excellent. Etihad’s entertainment system – E-Box –  has a huge variety of movies, and I also liked how many episodes they have of each sitcom in their library. There’s no shortage of good entertainment options on Etihad. I ended up watching the movie ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ which was really funny. Etihad’s A380s are equipped with 3 cameras (a tail, front and down viewing cameras) which other airlines like Singapore Airlines don’t have.

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We pushed back at 15:05 sharp and at 15:26 we were cleared for takeoff. Fifteen minutes later the seatbelt sign was turned off. Our climb was smooth and, soon enough, we broke out of the clouds at 20,000 feet.

1 hour into the flight, the flight attendants served drinks with a savoury snack and an hour later, the dinner service commenced. There were no menus as before. Instead, there was just an option between chicken or pasta but, oddly, the passengers behind me had a choice between beef or pasta. I chose the chicken which came with cold bread, a salad pasta and a chocolate butterscotch mousse. The pasta salad was amazing and the chocolate mouse was even better. The tray tables were cleared 30 minutes after and tea and coffee were offered which I declined.

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After the dinner service was taken, I went to the toilets and to my surprise, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. While I waited for 15 minutes for my turn, the flight attendant offered me any drink/snack I wanted. I took had the salad pasta again as it was just so good. In terms of amenities, there was just a hand sanitiser – on previous flights, they offered face mist.

An hour and a half out of Abu Dhabi, we were offered a light snack and a drink which I said no to as I wasn’t feeling too well but it consisted of chicken and spinach.

Half an hour out of Abu Dhabi, the captain came on the PA to inform us that we would be landing 25 minutes prior to our scheduled arrival, that the temperature was 26 degrees and the forecast for the next few days was pure sunshine; a stark contrast to London’s clouds.  The crew also started to complete their pre-landing checks and collected our headphones. The entertainment system was switched off to only the map view for the last few minutes of the flight.

We had a smooth touchdown at 00:56 and arrived at the gate 8 minutes later. As I was disembarking, I asked if I could visit the cockpit but I was not allowed as ‘it’s against company policy…’ I bid the crew farewell and headed home.

BOTTOM LINE: 
I couldn’t have had a better experience in economy. The crew all had the biggest smile on their faces and were extremely friendly, attentive, and caring. They were a real treat! Etihad has really improved since the last time I flew them. I would choose to fly them every time over any other airline that operates direct flight to Abu Dhabi.

Want to see more A380 Reviews?

Read our review of the terrible Qantas A380 economy class here.

Read our review of the luxurious Qatar Airways business class here.


This guest review is written by Wasim Zemerly. Four times a year, we give one person the opportunity to have their work featured on our platform. If you’d like to apply, email ethanegcc@gmail.com with a proposal. 

More A380 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Moscow to Sochi on a Tupolev Tu-154

Background: Flying the Russian private “Diamond” airline to Sochi

Alrosa-Avia is a charter airline which is owned by diamond mining company “Alrosa”. The airline in its first name “Mirninskoye Aviapredpriyatie”  was founded few month later after Alrosa started mining expensive gems in 1992.

Alrosa’s Fleet

Now it operates a fleet consisting of 13 aircraft and thus can develop regular routes to such popular tourist destinations as Saint-Petersburg,  Krasnodar, Sochi, Tomsk, Ekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.

These flights are operated by Boeing 737-800s. But in the early ages, Alrosa faced a problem of transporting miners between home and work: Udachny and Mirny mines. Even until now it is the main function of the airline. As these airports are located literally in the middle of nowhere – the landing conditions there are awful – short runways with old, cracked concrete; essentially what could be described as the “Severe Russian north”. The only plane suitable for that kind of place is the Tupolev Tu-154 – the mighty “Tushka”…

These flights are closed for the mere mortals, but if you want to get on that hop anyway – be ready, the cost for that kind of ticket starts from 30.000 roubles, which is about £380 – and that’s only economy class. However, I was lucky when my flight from Moscow to Sochi was substituted for a Tupolev. The best part? The ticket was just £24.

Airport Experience: Domodedovo International

Domodedovo is one of three major Moscow airports. Modern, clean and following the 90 seconds experience rule. Most international flights depart from here. DME is also the base airport for Alrosa’s fleet. (apart from the 5 non-flying Tupolevs, which are stored at Mirny). Moscow Domodedovo would be where my journey began!

In-Flight: Moscow Domodedovo – Sochi

At 10:00 AM it was announced that the bus will take us from gate to the plane. The boarding was well organised and completed right in time, but it was rather easy as the plane was fulfilled for just one half. The bus has taken us to the faraway stand where the “Tushka” was parked. As bus doors opened, I realized that our plane for today’s flight is going to be the RA-85684  “The Hero of Izhma” – the famous Tupolev which was restored to the flying state after the emergency landing on the abandoned airfield of Izhma, caused by complete blackout during the flight.

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The plane is now painted in Alrosa’s fashionable livery and is still flying 7 years after the incident.

All of the aviation enthusiasts immediately start taking pictures of the great trijets exterior. Passengers got a little bit scared by the *klick-klick* sound of many cameras around. But they were about to find out, that this sound will follow them during the whole flight! As I enter the plane I’m met by the warm “Dobro pozhalovat na bort!” (welcome on board) from Elena Vladimirovna Razumova, who was awarded Order of Courage as the head flight attendant of the Izhma flight. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_Courage).

As she knows that the plane is going to be half empty, she offers me to choose any cabin to seat, but I decide to stay with my pre-checked-in place – 23F – as the best view on the wing is in the second cabin.

As I was the first to enter the plane I had some time to take a look on the cockpit and cabin interior. As you can see – one of the best features of old soviet seats is that the one in front of you can be easily folded if no one seats there! So, you can stretch your legs out in front of you; I took full advantage.

The boarding took us about 20 minutes, and after that our plane got towed to the starting position – I got my legs off the row in front and returned to the normal position.

We had a quick line up on the runway – and the engines of the trijet started “singing” in the take-off mode.

Finally, we are in the sky! And 30 minutes after takeoff the service has started! The food was simply amazing! Everything was packed into the sky blue lunch box – filled with different cold snacks or as we call them in Russia –  “zakuskas” (the sides for the vodka).

Alrosa’s Meal Service. I was very impressed!

In addition to the service above, you can have a second cup of any drink of your choice. A slightly odd exchange happened between me and the flight attendant!

FA: – What kind of juice do you want? The options are: apple, orange and tomato.

Me: – Apple juice, please!

FA: – OK. But you know, young man, You can easily drink apple juice at home, with comfort. People mostly choose tomato juice when flying on a plane. But no worries, I’ll give you the one you asked for…

After the meal, I began taking shots of those all important wing views. If you ever have the privilege to experience the Tu-154, the seats with the best views ever are 25A/F. Also, keep in mind, that rows 26/27/28… etc. aren’t suitable for any kind of photography – no windows there,  just a plain wall. I seized the opportunity to make a 360 degree inflight cabin tour of the rare Tupolev’s cabin.

The classic Tupolev wingview.

The flight to Sochi took us 2 hrs 02 minutes (too short a time on the Tu-154) and we arrived about 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time.

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This guest review was written by Innokenty Grigoriev. If you wish to apply for next month’s guest review, contact one of the team.

American Airlines 787-9 Economy Review

American Airlines’ 787 Dreamliner dominates most international routes out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). I was supposed to be flying from Chicago O’Hare to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) with the service of Main Cabin Extra in seat 11A. However, due to adverse weather conditions and  my previous flight from Dayton being late by 45 minutes, I missed miss my connection to Shanghai. American then rebooked me on a flight to Tokyo Narita (NRT) and then connecting from there with ANA on flight NH921. Luckily for me, the flight to Tokyo is also on a 787-8 Dreamliner. Although I wasn’t too pleased to find out I was moved to seat 19K (a middle seat in the exit row) which American still considers as Main Cabin Extra; they wouldn’t refund me the difference for the seating. I wasn’t happy about being stuck in the middle seat after $189 for my original window seat.

Once on board, I got to my seat and it wasn’t all that bad, I ended up having 8 feet of space in front of me which offered some consolation for the middle seat! Minutes after we finished boarding, the captain informed us that we would have to wait around 20 minutes for deicing which turned out to be a huge lie as we sat for 90 minutes before we even stated de-icing, owing to a large queue at O’Hare.

Deicing was extensive and delayed the flight by quite a margin.

After a long 2 hours of waiting at the gate, we finally started taxiing to the runway – which, surprisingly, took a relatively small amount of time.

Sunset over the Pacific.

Around 20 minutes after departure, cabin crew started serving us drinks. American has a very good selection of drinks onboard and I chose Dr Pepper. Soon after the drink service, they began to serve meals, there was chicken with shrimp or beef noodles, I chose the beef noodles, to my surprise it tasted phenomenal, good job American!

Mood lighting then came on after they collected litter. Although the mood lighting created a very relaxing atmosphere, I wasn’t tired so settled in for a movie. In the exit row of seats, you have to pull the tray table and IFE out of the armrest, thus slightly hampering seat width. However, to make up for that, they offered the movie “IT” which has been one of the films on my “must see” list!

The seats on the Dreamliner were fairly comfortable for the 13 and a half hour flight however I would of liked them to be a bit wider. My original plan was to lean on the window to sleep but I found myself having trouble in the middle. I only slept for 2 hours on this long flight which wasn’t fantastic. I did manage to sleep through the distribution of landing cards for immigration in Japan and when I got up to ask the flight attendant about this, she was rude and said she couldn’t help me because she was “busy” for whatever reason. This was disappointing.

The iconic 787 cabin.

A bit later, we got a little snack which consisted of a Turkey Sandwich and some ice cream, the sandwich was great but the ice cream was hard as rock so I didn’t eat that. In the galley, there was a little snack bar with chips, breads, and cookies that anyone could walk up and take, I didn’t take a lot of food but I did hang out there for quite a while, serving as a good place to stretch and walk around on these long trans-pacific journeys.

American’s “Snack” Meal Service.

Soon after, we recieved our final meal service and began our descent, that meal was a ham and cheese filled croissant which was really good, the croissant was soft and the meat was warm along with the cheese. A nice touch. About 20 minutes before landing the flight attendants told my neighbours and I, since we are in the exit row, that we had to put our bags back in the overhead locker and after we did, in what felt like a blink of an eye, we touched down in Tokyo.

Once I got off the plane, there were lots of gate agents helping everyone with connections since our plane was delayed, I had around 25 minutes for my connection which was not enough for me at all but lucky for me an agent helped me rush through security and she took me on a bus to my gate. The bus ride was around 10 minutes and it gave a really good view of the airport but it was night time so I couldn’t snag any good pictures without glare. To conclude the trip, due to the delayed arrival of my flight, I missed my onward connection and wasn’t able to be with my family for Christmas.

In conclusion I have to say this wasn’t my greatest experience in the skies, however not my worst either. The Dreamliner is a fantastic plane to fly on however, I feel that American would have made my trip a lot better if I wasn’t stuck in that middle seat for so long. If you are ever flying to Japan, I would definitely recommend ANA or JAL over a US carrier just because, at least in my experience, Japanese carriers are more enjoyable to fly on.


This guest review is written by Fengning Liu. To apply for our February Guest Review position, go to www.londonspotter.co.uk/guestreview, fill in the form and send us a sample of your work. 

More Boeing 787 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Air Canada 737MAX and A320 Review

On the 11th of December 2017, Air Canada achieved a milestone in their history as Canada’s National Carrier; their first revenue Boeing 737 MAX flight. This is a huge moment for Air Canada as their short to medium haul fleet is in dire need of replacement. Air Canada’s A320 type aircraft have an average age of 23.9 years. Unfortunately, their due date is fast approaching.

The MAX will open up many opportunities for the airline, ranging from sending them overseas to regular fights within Canada and to the USA. It is imperative that the MAX will become the workhorse of the airline and will become the common sight of the airline.

Air Canada has ordered 50 MAX 8 type aircraft and significantly reduced their MAX 9 order to 11. Despite Air Canada’s desire to make the MAX the backbone of their short haul fleet, there is speculation that Air Canada is more interested in Boeing’s MoM and would make more sense economically than the larger MAX. Others say that Air Canada is planning to keep their A321’s for longer than expected and would deem the MAX 9 irrelevant. To further enforce this point, all current A321s are going to be retrofitted in Air Canada’s new interior which we will see in the new MAX.

So, background information over, lets get on to the all important flight experience. Before enjoying the experience of an inaugural flight itself, I must first get to Toronto, then jet off to Calgary for the celebrations, turning around and coming back to Montreal (again on the MAX), then finally return home to Halifax. I knew, this was to be some journey.

Route 1: YHZ-YYZ

Aircraft: Airbus A320-211

Registration: C-FTJO

Age: 26.8 years old

Seat: 17A

This is my first leg of my four-leg journey across Canada and back. This morning’s flight is AC608, departing from Halifax at 05:25 and arriving in Toronto at around 06:30. A prime example of the ageing nature of Air Canada’s short haul fleet – this flight is operated by a 26.8-year-old Airbus A320-211 C-FTJO.

Upon arriving at gate 22, I went to see the gate agent if I could get a seat change as I was sitting in 23B which is a middle seat. The kind lady at the desk changed my seat to 17A, an exit row (SCORE!).

Boarding started on time at 04:50. I was Zone 5 so I was one of the last to board. Once at my seat, I settled in. Being that this row was an exit row, the seats didn’t recline, however, what lacks in recline is made up of legroom, a lot of it. I am 5 “ 11 and I had ample legroom, in addition, the middle seat was vacant allowing me to spread out. Frankly, I was very comfortable.

Air Canada’s Airbus A320 Cabin – the old face of Air Canada’s short haul fleet.

The captain made his announcement with the details of the flight: 2h3min flight time,  2h43mins gate to gate and stated that we should be expecting a smooth flight right into Toronto where it was currently -6 Celsius (brrr).

We pushed back on time at 05:15 and taxied to the deicing pad. De-Icing took around 10 minutes, we then made the short taxi to runway 25 and took off at 05:40.

The “Onboard Café” service started right after the seatbelt sign was turned off, following the drink service. I had opted out of food as I had just eaten back at the airport, for drinks; I had the usual: a coffee and water. This is always my go-to for early morning flights –  basically, as much caffeine that I can get.

Flight attendants distributed water, about 10 minutes after the main drink service. This is one aspect that I greatly appreciate from Air Canada, as a frequent flyer, water is a key to surviving these long days. I try to have at least 3 glasses of water a flight, this way, you stay hydrated and alert.

We started descending about 30 minutes prior to landing. The seatbelt signs came on as we neared our final approach onto runway 6R. The landing was smooth and within 10 minutes, we were at gate 26 and disembarked.

Now, the inaugural ceremony!

Route 2: YYZ – YYC

Aircraft: Boeing 737 MAX 8

Registration: C-FSCY

Age: 3 days old

Seat: 31E

I had just arrived off of my Halifax flight, the gate of the inaugural was only a couple of minutes walk down the hallway. Upon arriving at the gate, there was a banner saying “ Welcome aboard Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX”. Lying in wait, there was a large table with multiple croissants, water, fruit and muffins.

The MAX was parked at the gate in full view of the lounge area. The livery on the aircraft looks amazing in person, even better than in photos.

The MAX lying in wait.

It was evident that there was a lot of employees and so called av-geeks around, people were taking pictures and everyone seemed in high spirits given the time of morning (07:00). Boarding started a little late at 08:00.  I Was sitting in seat 31E, a middle seat. Upon entering the jet bridge, all passengers were handed a small gift pack that includes a small package of Air Canada sticky notes, an Air Canada rondelle pin and a keychain.

Once aboard, I settled into the middle seat. First impressions of the cabin are really good. It is modern, clean and has that distinctive new plane smell.

The ‘Sky Interior’ onboard the 737 MAX.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me was the lack of legroom; although not terrible, It closely resembles the legroom onboard Air Canada Rouge A319s and A321s, it is definitely a little tight. My knees were up against the seat pocket.

Once everyone boarded, the enthusiastic captain came onto the loudspeaker to introduce the new aircraft and give us flight times. Flight time for today is 3h50 minutes with a relatively smooth ride. Once pushed back, for the second time of the day, we taxied to the de-ice pad where we stayed for 15 minutes.

One thing I’d like to note when sitting in the very back of the plane, it is just as loud as an a320 on takeoff roll, I am told that in front of the engines is where the real difference is. On my return leg, I’m sitting in preferred so I’ll be very close to the engines. Service started with a champagne service for all economy passengers to celebrate the new aircraft!  The drink and food service soon followed. Since I was sitting in the rear of the plane, I got served one hour into the flight. I  bought a small chicken wrap, it was very tasty.

The Air Canada Café offering.

I then decided to venture off the bathrooms. A320 bathrooms are very generous compared to the rear economy bathrooms on the MAX. Although doable, the bathrooms are super small. You can barely move around in them, I couldn’t imagine it for larger passengers, they wouldn’t be able to fit! Literally!

Besides the point, Boeing did a really good job micro-sizing the bathroom and everything is compact and easy to use.

We started descending into Calgary and landed a little after 11 am. We got to the gate and disembarked. I was taken back to the fact that there was no water cannon salute as when Air Canada first flew their 787, there was one.

Route 3: YYC – YUL

I now embarked on my next journey – with the same MAX I had just disembarked. At the gate, there was a similar setup to the inauguration ceremony in Toronto; a small table with cupcakes and water. Complimentary, of course.  The flight was delayed approximately 30mins due to the crew needing to do a safety check of the aircraft as it was new.

I was seated in 15A in the new “preferred section” of the plane. There are 8 rows of preferred behind the business class cabin.

The preferred section of the aircraft had much improved legroom and I’d definitely recommend paying that little extra.

I was relatively restless as the flight prior, I was squished into that dreaded middle seat in the normal economy with limited legroom.  And oh boy what a treat this was: The preferred section has legroom compared to business class! At least double the legroom of the normal economy, I could stretch out and for an added bonus, the middle seat was free!

This was great, however, the only drawback is that the window in 15A is aligned ahead of the seat. In order to see out the window, I must lean forward. Besides that, despite my best efforts to make the most of the flight, I fell asleep right after takeoff and didn’t wake up until the meal service started around 1 hour later.

Climbing out of Calgary!

The preferred experience is the perfect balance between Air Canada’s Business class product and Economy product. It is tailored to the passenger that don’t necessarily have the money to spend on a big Business class ticket but still wants to be comfortable and have decent legroom.

The difference between Preferred economy and Economy is night and day. I would highly advise anyone to pay the extra fee to upgrade as I believe it is only $70, you will arrive at your destination much more relaxed and fresh.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. We started our descent with 20 minutes left into the flight and landed on 24R. It was another couple of minutes to get to the gate where we were parked for about 15 minutes in order to conduct tests.

A320 VS 737 MAX: How do they compare?

To settle all arguments regarding the A320 and the 737 MAX 8, I will do a quick comparison between the two. I’ll go over Legroom, window alignment, seat recline bathrooms, the IFE and overall comfort.

A320:

Window alignment on the 320 is good, it is just below or at head level for me. The windows are typical A320 windows that offer good visibility. However, as an added bonus, the exit windows have a shade that slides up from the bottom allowing full view of the window without that typical notch that is left on the top when the window shade is up.

I have flown on Air Canada’s A320s countless times and the legroom in typical economy is good as it is. Normal economy legroom is usually enough for me while still leaving room for my knees to spread out. The exit row allows more legroom and more room to spread out. As a typical exit seat, the seat doesn’t recline but are matched in legroom.

Seat recline in normal economy is typical, nothing special. It allows for a relaxing position if you want to call an economy seat relaxing. However, one thing on the 320 is that when the seat in front of you reclines, your personal IFE comes right up in your face, you almost always need to adjust it.

Bathrooms on the 320 are yet again, nothing special. Simply typical aircraft washrooms, small with one wall being a mirror. There are no windows (unlike the 787 and the 777), and it is clean. The IFE on the A320 offers Legacy type Personal touch-screen TVs. This Legacy IFE system was one of the first generations of personal IFE. Compared to Air Canada’s new Panasonic ex2 on their 777 and 787 type aircraft, the Legacy system is slow and relatively outdated as this system has been in all of Air Canada’s mainline jets since 2005.  Having said this, selection is extensive with all kinds of new movies, TV shows, and documentaries, it is sure to keep you entertained for your flight

737 MAX:

To have a completely fair comparison, I will compare my earlier a320 experience with my later Calgary-Montreal Experience as I was in preferred.

To start off, legroom is about the same as in an A320 exit row, nice and spacey, enough to stretch out. The seat itself I find more comfortable as the ones on the 320 as the ones on the max are fully padded leather. Window alignment is okay, its a minor issue, but the Airbus A320 takes the prize for this one.

The biggest difference between the two is without a question, the IFE. The IFE on the MAX is state-of-the-art, it boosts fast response times, an incredibly user-friendly layout, an awesome interactive 3D map and probably the best quirk of them all; A city guide to whichever city your destination is. This is really ingenious on the part of Air Canada, instead of passengers not really knowing about a foreign city, they can go on to their IFE’s and read up about the best places to stay, eat and shop. It is truly impressive and I’ve never seen it elsewhere.

The MAX boasts a state-of-the-art IFE system, guaranteed to keep passengers entertained.

Overall, unless sitting in preferred in the MAX, the old-school A320 is better for passenger comfort, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the MAX is uncomfortable, If you were sitting next to people you knew like your family, you could obviously stretch out a little more, also, if you had a free seat next to you it would certainly augment the experience and be more comfortable, and it goes without a doubt that the preferred product on the MAX is nothing short of amazing. It is definitely worth the extra money!

It goes to say that the MAX is the new generation of Air Canada. We will all get used to it over time, it will become the norm.

Final thoughts

Wow, what an amazing trip, traveling 7855 km in one day, across Canada and back, it was definitively worth it. To be the amongst the first 169 individuals to fly on the first flight is a very special feeling. To think that there will be thousands and thousands of people that will sit in that same seat that you did on the first flight is a surreal thought; you are making history. Also, it’s not very often that you get to experience that ‘new plane smell’.

Overall, the MAX is revolutionary, it is an amazing piece of machinery. Air Canada is going to use this plane as their workhorse. From sending them overseas to operating Rapid Air flights, it will change the scene completely.


This month’s guest review is by Will Dalton (@halifaxplanes).


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Saudia 777 Business Class Review

Background 
During my two-week visit to Jeddah to meet my dad, I had a space of time and an urge to fly. Coincidentally, during this time, there was a discounted business class offer from Saudia so without further ado, I decided to take the opportunity and discover what Saudia had to offer in their medium haul business class cabin. This offer stated that you could fly discounted rates on J class to any of their sub-continental destinations. After some quick research on the website, I came to find out that the cheapest option was to Karachi in Pakistan so I booked it at $850 return packed my bags and within a few days, began my short but sweet business class experience.

Keep in mind, one of the greatest factors for this journey included the fact that a Boeing 777-200ER was the equipment used on the Karachi sector. The first leg was flown by an old A330-300 but I won’t be discussing that here because it represents Saudia’s outdated product, so instead I will be reviewing my second flight.

Airport Experience: Karachi 
I reached the airport 3 hours prior to departure. Karachi Airport has retro-style boards which you don’t see a whole lot often these days!
The check-in hall at the airport is huge and very airy which I like a lot, however the age of the terminal cannot be hidden. For convenience, business class passengers and SkyTeam members enjoy a priority kiosk.

The airport terminal had an interesting retro-style, and a plethora of check-in desks, including Air Arabia and Etihad Airways.

Despite the security officer warning me not to take pictures, I managed to get one shot of the lounges at Karachi. All international airlines use the Civil Aviation Authority lounge at Karachi –  except PIA who have their own lounge. The lounge attendant glanced at my boarding pass, before leading me into the lounge.

First impressions of the CAA Premium Lounge

There were both hot and cold foods but the sandwiches seemed rather stale and the hot foods – which included Pakistani Cuisine – were very average as compared to what you’d get outside in the city. Despite the wide-ranging selection, I wasn’t that hungry, settling instead for a drink and crisps.

Coffee and Tea machines were also available, and worked well.

The lounge had Wi-Fi which had a moderate speed and some computers. The funny thing is that the computers had Windows XP which you also don’t see quite as much in 2017!

Overall, even though the lounge was rudimentary, a range of cuisine was available and the added luxury of Wi-Fi was a great convenience.

About 25 minutes prior to boarding, I headed for the observation area. There wasn’t much action but my Saudia 777-200ER headed to Jeddah came into view soon enough.

There it is! What A beauty!

As well as many passengers, this flight would be carrying mangoes to Saudi Arabia – a major export of Pakistan.

I then headed to my gate, and began the boarding process.

The Flight 
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Registration: HZ-AKV
Age: 16.7 years
Route: Karachi (Pakistan) to Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (3.45 hours)

Upclose and personal with HZ-AKV!

Interestingly, HZ-AKV is one of Saudia’s newer 777-200s and it’s a survivor because most of Saudia’s 777s are being stored and replaced by their newer competition from Airbus; the A330 Regional variant.
I boarded from Door L2 and the F/A greeted me with a warm “Ahlan Washalan”, meaning ‘welcome’ in Arabic.
I had allocated myself seat 2A for this flight. The seats were the classic shell type much like what you’d find on carriers such as Air India or Pakistan International. They’re lie flat which is quite nice considering it’s a very short flight, and is a major positive when considering when comparing Saudia with their competition on these medium-haul sectors.
The seat configuration in Saudi J class is 2-2-2, unfortunately meaning direct aisle access for all passengers is not available. For a short flight, however, this is just a minor point. (Seat controls) below

Seat controls. There are many positions for your comfort.

Saudia has a seat pitch/legroom of 58’’ so there’s lots of space to stretch your legs. Hot towels were offered to the guests before pushback.

Dates and Traditional Arabian coffee was also distributed.

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Saudia is a strictly dry airline so the pre-departure drink included Orange Juice, Lime juice and apple juice. I went for the Orange Juice.
Noise cancelling Headphones were then distributed, which looked substantial and of good quality, but I used my Bose headsets instead.

Saudia distributed complimentary headsets.

Entertainment and screen remote:

Entertainment System Onboard.

Shortly afterwards, the menu orders were taken. Here were the options business class passengers had:

The appetizers Business Class guests enjoyed onboard.

 

Unfortunately, everyone had the same dessert which I’m not going to complain about, considering the fact that you get a chicken Caesar salad and a banana on US Transcontinental LAX-JFK/ SFO-JFK products. As we taxied, I could spot a variety of traffic including a PIA 777-200LR arriving from Toronto(YYZ) in the distance. The extremely bland safety video aired and soon we had a short take-off from runway 24R.

30 minutes into the flight, meal services began.

I love how the table cloth has Saudia engraved on top of it. Little touches such as this really differentiate the service between a lower and higher class of travel on such a short flight. Service began by bread rolls which were freshly baked and warm.

Saudia Business Class Bread Rolls.

Followed by appetizer! I opted for the Arabic mezze which, although the presentation was polished, was lacklustre compared to the Arabic Mezze you’d get on airlines such as Emirates.

Saudia Business Class Mezze.

And then came the main course which was splendid. Even though it might not look as appetizing, it was full of flavour and spices.

The Main Course.

Lastly, the dessert was chocolate mousse cake which was excellent as well. It had the perfect amount of cream and was presented very well.

Beautifully presented Chocolate Mousse.

Overall, Saudia impressed me with their offerings on this medium haul journey.
After the meal service was done, the cabin quieted down a little bit. Window shades were dimmed and the most people caught some sleep. In case you wanted some sleep, the seats had a small privacy partition which was a nice touch. The cabin was darkened, to help people enjoy a couple of hours of rest.

A view of the Business Class cabin.

During the time in which the cabin was dimmed, I decided to visit the lavatory which was quite plain and offered no real business class touches.

The only amenities offered were ‘caire’.

We then hit a light bit of chop but it calmed down as we started our descent into Jeddah following a sharp right, with final approach into Jeddah.
We touched down 10 minutes ahead of schedule, which was great for passengers making connections onto Saudia’s network in Europe and North America. After a long taxi, we parked next to a company 744 leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic. While exiting, I decided to take my chances and asked the F/A for cockpit access; to my surprise, she said the captain has left but you can still take a picture.

The beautiful flight deck of the mighty Boeing 777.

After a quick chat with the skipper, I bid farewell and headed out of Kilo Victor from door L1, concluding what was truly a fantastic journey and experience.

Conclusion

If I said the entire flight was perfect, it would be a lie. It had its flaws but the crew were truly trying to work with their heart, not robotic like most are; the food was also quite nice and well presented. The plane was quite aged but in terms of Business class, it was well maintained. On the bottom line, this flight was a positive experience and – with a couple of refinements – Saudia has a lot of potential.

Ground Services Experience: 6/10
Aircraft: 8/10
Dining Onboard: 8/10
Friendliness of the Crew: 8.5/10
Comfort of the Seats: 7.5/10

Overall: 8/10

Thanks for reading my trip report. Any feedback would be appreciated.


This month’s guest review is by Hassan (@MhSpotter). If you wish to apply for next month’s featured guest review, email ethanegcc@gmail.com or contact any of our author’s via their Instagram pages.


Featured photo: Mior Faizal Affandy (Planespotters.net)

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British Airways B747 – First vs Club

British Airways is preparing to retire its fleet of 747s. This is sad. The Jumbo Jet has been around for about as long as I have. There are better aircraft, no doubt, more fuel efficient, cheaper to run, better for the environment. But she remains the Queen of the Skies.

With the end in sight, I decided to take advantage of a business trip to Boston to sample my first and probably last flight in BA’s 747 First Class cabin. With the cost of an upgrade just £200 one way, it was a pretty easy decision.

I decided to go First on the outward leg as this would give me the chance to enjoy the Concorde Room at Terminal 5. This made double sense because I was planning to fly out in the evening, which meant I was able to get to Heathrow in good time to really enjoy the experience. My flight out of Logan was going to be an early morning rush.

The Queen of the Skies

The pre-flight experience

Arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the first thing to remember is to get dropped off at the far end of the departures hall. This is where those lucky enough to have a turn-left ticket are sheltered from the rest of humanity and enter a dedicated check in area via the doorway below.

First Class

Once in, I strolled over to the check in desk (no-one in front of me, of course) and got the first good news of my trip. Would I like to swap my assigned 3K seat for 2K? Even a first-class newbie like me knew that there was only one answer to this question. 2A and 2K are, in my opinion, the best seats in the First Class cabin, better even than the two in front of them.

The reason is that these are the only seats out of all 14 in the premium area to be completely private. I could see what the man in 1A was watching and rows 3 to 5 are, to be quite honest, a bit squished up for such a pricey ticket. Row 2, as you can see below, is definitely position A.

View from 2A to 2K

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I got to see my seat, I was whisked through the gate with a flash of my boarding pass and into the dedicated first class security. This is probably the best reason of all to go First. Security took about 90 seconds, there was no queue, and I was treated as a guest rather than a potential threat. Here’s how empty and relaxed it all is.

Through in 90 seconds!

Devices back in my bag and I was on my way, through the space-age tunnel shown below and into the Emerald Lounge. By the standards of most airport lounges this was pretty glamorous and normally I would have been more than happy to linger for an hour or so here.

Next Stop: lounge.

But in the strict hierarchy of air travel at this end of the market, the Emerald just didn’t cut it, I’m afraid. Why? Well quite simply because it was not exclusive enough. Anyone with a First or Club ticket, or even someone with a Gold membership who’s slumming it in Economy can hang around here.

The Emerald Lounge

For the real celeb experience, I had to duck out of this lounge, past the BOAC memorabilia and pictures (nice) and over to the Concorde Room. To enter this inner sanctum you need a First Class ticket, no ifs no buts.

The Concorde Room

The top of the range waiting room is not particularly big but it does feel pretty exclusive. The centrepiece is the large, brightly-lit bar, with plenty of comfortable seating around, a restaurant-style eating area with private waitress-served booths and, perhaps the nicest part, the Concorde Terrace, an area overlooking the main concourse below.

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The room is pretty classy, if a little tired in places. If I were being hyper-critical I would also say the service didn’t make me feel massively special. The eating area could have been cleared away more quickly to avoid guests sitting down next to someone else’s empties. But, hey, the champagne was flowing and I had a pretty nice club sandwich, just to try the food out without ruining my appetite for the flight.

Soon enough my flight was called and I wished my new friends bon voyage to Chile. Her grandfather had been the finance director at the John Player factory in Ipswich where I had my first holiday job as a lift boy. Small world!

Quibble number two

Now you can get used to travelling First Class pretty quickly so the next bit of my journey was a bit of a shock. To get from Concorde to gate B46 you need to re-acquaint yourself with the real world for a short while. Specifically, you need to go down the escalator into that concourse you’ve been looking down on for the past hour or so, then you head down further to the train that links Terminal 5’s A, B and C gates. And then it’s more mingling with the hoi polloi at the gate.

Transit to B gates

My experience here was a bit prolonged by a half hour delay to the flight, which it would have been nice to hear about in the lounge (or maybe I just didn’t look closely enough after a couple of glasses of champagne, I can’t quite remember). Anyway, queuing up with my fellow ‘premium’ customers didn’t feel particularly premium at the time.

Queuing…

The good news was that First was called before everyone else, so I did have the enjoyment of knowing that everyone else knew that I was about to turn left. Small things…

On board

So, into the nose of the plane and the first thing you notice is quite how small the cabin is. Nicely lit, comfortable, but pretty cosy.

First things first, I hung my coat up in the big cupboard right at the front and managed, just, to get my very small hand baggage into the overhead locker. If you had a decent sized wheelie, you would struggle to get it in.

I liked the ambience of the seat. A proper reading light, blue-lit blinds on my two windows, a nice hanging area for a jacket had I been wearing one.

Nice Ambience

Rachel, who was serving one side of the cabin introduced herself, brought me some bubbly, my First Class pyjamas and a pretty fancy wash-kit from Liberty. Then I experienced the main difference between First and Club – choice. When would I like to eat? There are no set times in First – you’re in control and the cabin crew really are super attentive.

I pressed the button to call Rachel over at one point and I swear my finger was still hovering when she arrived at my shoulder.

Rachel!

Anyway, push back finally came (40 minutes late – the delay had been caused by the tractor pulling the plane to the gate breaking down!) and we were off, heading north west through a battle scene of Bonfire Night firework parties all the way up to the Irish Sea.

The Food

While we flew above the pyrotechnics, dinner arrived and here too the difference between First and Club was apparent. No trays, no cutlery pre-wrapped in a napkin. No, it was real restaurant service. My table was made up for me on an elegant white cloth, nice salt and pepper shakers, all very sophisticated.

A great setup

First an amuse bouche of charcuterie, washed down with a nice Pouilly Fume, then smoked salmon (excellent) and finally a main of beef, a bit overcooked but tasty, accompanied by a really fantastic South African red from Stellenbosch. All in all, the food was good when you consider the conditions in which it was produced and served.

The salmon starter

The Lazy Bit in the Middle

On a seven-hour flight, there’s plenty of time to settle down and enjoy the in-flight entertainment in comfort and so that’s what I did next.

I’d say the film selection was pretty average but I did find a couple of movies I wanted to watch. It was a toss-up between Hampstead and Churchill. I went for Hampstead (sentimental, don’t bother if you haven’t already seen it).

The best thing about the lie-flat experience in First as opposed to Business is that it really does feel like going to bed. I could have had a proper mattress laid out but didn’t bother as I only intended to be horizontal for a short while. But the duvet and full-size pillow was a lot nicer than the Club blanket I would not bother with five days later. After the film, I was therefore able to get a decent hour or so of zzzzz.

zzzzzzzz

Now for Some More Food

I have to say at 3 in the morning UK time, after a decent feed the evening before, the last thing on my mind was classic English afternoon tea but, as you can see, that’s what came.

It was delicious, the tea tasted fantastic after a few glasses of wine and was poured out of a nice china teapot with milk in a jug.

Afternoon Tea

Hello Boston

And that was pretty much it. We arrived in Boston at midnight (the clocks were still two hours away from going back, a week after they did in the UK, so the time difference was only four hours). That’s actually a very good time to get to the US. We were the only flight so customs, even in these hyper vigilant times, was a doddle and the taxi into downtown took about 15 minutes and was less than $30.

Summing up

So what do I think of BA’s 747 first class? The pre-flight experience is excellent. It takes all the stress out of flying even if it a shame that you have to duck back into the real world for a bit on your way to the gate. On board the service is very attentive (thank you Rachel Ward), the food is very good, the wine selection excellent.

I do think the cabin is a bit pokier than I would have expected and as part two of this report will show not as comfortable in some ways as the upstairs Club experience on the same plane.

Would I pay for First again over Club. Probably not. But I’m glad I did it once before this wonderful plane heads off to the desert for a well-earned retirement.

Back Home in Business

So five days later, it was goodbye Boston and back home again. This time, I was flying in the upstairs cabin which holds 20 Business Class seats in 10 opposite-facing pairs.

The Club Cabin upstairs

I’ve only experienced this layout on BA flights and I have to say it is pretty rubbish if you don’t know the person you end up facing during the parts of the flight (safety instructions, getting your food served) when the divider between the two seats has to be down.

For a £3,000 seat, you really do expect a bit more privacy and it is not a patch on the seat layout I’ve experienced on Emirates, for example.

That said, compared with the pretty cramped quarters in First Class, the upstairs cabin does feel very spacious and I would always head up behind the flight deck given the chance.

My seat on this return flight was right behind the pilot, which was probably the most private place to be because the only reason to go past my seat was to the bathroom. It was the quietest corner of the cabin and I had access to four windows which gave me plenty of different views onto the Maine coast and up over Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

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Food Service – Back to Reality

So, the accommodation in Business is definitely not a massive step down from First. When it comes to the food, however, it really is back to earth with a bump.

I have to say the food on the return leg was pretty disappointing. For one thing it comes on a plastic tray which feels cheap. My choice for brunch – smoked salmon and mixed grill – was also pretty uninspiring.

Mixed Grill

After that I settled down to a film (Churchill – worth catching if you haven’t, the great war-time leader as a kind of raging King Lear figure) with a glass or two of pretty decent Aussie Shiraz. No complaints on that score.

Coming home from the States is quick – five and a half hours – so after the film and writing this review, we were already coming into land, dark already thanks to the time difference. A very easy and comfortable flight.

First vs Business

I would say that once you are on the plane, upstairs Business is more than adequate and the extra for First is probably not worth it.

On the ground, the Concorde Room experience is nice but not materially better than the Business lounge. Other than that, what you really get for your upgrade is the millionaire’s security search and a pair of free cotton pyjamas.

Nice Pyjamas

Oh and in the Queen of the Skies being able to say you’re flying in front of the pilot!

Article by Tom Stevenson.