Tagged: lhr

Rio to Heathrow (again) on BA World Traveller Plus 

Last weekend I flew a flight I have only done in business or first for the past two years in BA’s WT+, or Premium Economy.  Right up until check in I was due to fly in economy, and I wasn’t looking forward to it!  However I got upgraded to WT+ for free, most likely due to overbooking as there wasn’t a free seat on the plane!

The extra leg room and seat width, greater recline and improved food of WT+ makes a huge difference.  BA normally offer airport upgrades for around £200, and it’s very much worth it in my opinion.  Sleeping becomes feasible (comparatively), watching a movie becomes comfortable.

Seating is only 8 abreast, which is great.  That’s one less than most other airlines.  Economy is only 9, again one less than most.

Here’s a quick video of the cabin as I boarded:

The flight leaves at 945pm, so a reasonable enough time for an overnight flight.  A hot towel was offered shortly after take off, with a drinks service soon after.  The meal service was nearly 2 hours in to the flight however, a bit later than I was hoping for.  There are two options from the business class menu available, a tenderloin of beef, or breast of chicken.  I had the chicken, and it was edible.  I often find chicken options very dry, but it wasn’t as bad as some.  The wine however is the same as economy.

A reasonably sized screen, the viewing angle gets a bit bad if the person infront reclines their chair and you do not.  There’s two USB ports and a multi-country AC socket.

The crew were friendly, although I didn’t see them walking up and down very often with a drinks service.  As I was trapped in a window seat, I had to use the call button to request some wine, and only managed one cup of coffee with breakfast, as there was no more available…  That was disappointing, as in my memory they normally offered a top up!

So lately when I’ve looked at prices, WTP has been within $200-300 of business in each direction, and over $400 more than economy.  That’s enough to be worth stretching up even further perhaps.  However when the price is close, it is an easy decision for me.  Indeed. Sometimes it is less!  Same goes for the airport upgrades – $325 Or £225.

On the return journey I paid for my upgrade.  It was a much quieter flight with only 8 of us in the cabin!  I had both seats to myself, so more space including two tables to spread out on.  The service was also a bit better, but still no drinks trolleys coming through except after take off and with the meals.  The meal service itself was great!  The beef main meal on the return was excellent – a real surprise!  And even the chicken light meal was pretty decent.

Upcoming travels

I have a few reviews still to publish over the next couple of weeks, but I’m excited at the travel ahead.

Well…  Not the first two!  Rio to London in BA economy in May – this’ll be my first time since 2012, and my first time on the 777-300 with the newer IFE.  BA operate a 3-3-3 on their 777s, one of an increasingly small number to do so.  

Whenever I’ve been booked in economy before I’ve been successful in getting an upgrade to Premium Economy, a cabin I like a lot.  Lately though it has been a lot more than economy when paying cash, and so close to business class in price it hasn’t seemed worth it.  But a good miles + money option, or all miles.

After, I have an Air France economy, in both the A330 and 777.  The first I haven’t done, but should be ok with 2-4-2 layout as I have done on other A330s.  However the 777 is 3-4-3.  The seat is pretty small…  Last time I had an exit row seat with infinite leg room, but a seat so narrow it actually squeezed me!  We will see… This time no exit row, so marginally wider as the table and TV isn’t in the arm rest.  

I enquired about an upgrade to AF, but seems that is only available with miles and I don’t have enough with Flying Blue, and the price to purchase would make it far too expensive.  Having said that, the business class on both these flights isn’t great, with no fully flat bed.  I am really intrigued to fly Premium Economy here, and will try for an upgrade at the airport of then have any deals – I’ve heard rumours of good offers.

Then a flight I’m looking forward to – Qatar Business Class on the 777-200.  This is a 2-2-2 layout, so a wide seat on a 777.  It’s not the latest cabin, but still a very highly regarded soft product and a decent hard product.  Can’t wait to see how it compares to the other One World carriers.

London to Rio – BA First – experience in the air

So… picking up from the last post!

Sometimes there is a bit of chaos at the gate I’ve found… and this was about the most chaotic ever…  with no announcement to board there was a huge queue of people, half of them at the Fast Track lane.  After a couple of minutes they announced boarding would start, but a huge throng of people started towards the fast track queue…  I slowly managed to edge through the crowds of waiting people who were being told not to queue yet, to find a nice arguement starting on a guy who was in Premium Economy and insisting he should be allowed Fast Track.

It turns out, despite the seeming throngs of people, no one was actually supposed to be in the fast track lane yet…  We were the first in to the First cabin, today with two boarding air bridges, with a dedicated one for First.

The Rio flight is operated by a 777-300.  On all the BA First cabins, there are 14 seats, but some slightly different arrangements.  This is 1-2-1, with an extra two seats on the window sides to the middle.  We were shown to our seats and home for the next 10.5 – 11 hours by Nick, having selected the two center seats.  I’d never travelled in the centre before, always taking the window seat.  Certainly if travelling by yourself this is the better pick.  Travelling together, the centre seats allow conversation, but still a good degree of separation.  Of course each seat does have the hot seat opposite, so you can die together sitting opposite each other.

The BA First seat is a lot more simple than some.  Instead of a control panel with various buttons, there is a single dial you twist.  One way the seat relaxes, eventually turning in to a full flat bed, the other way is more upright.  There’s a button to put it back to landing position, and two to adjust the lumbar support.

There’s two lighting options – a small light in the ‘suite’ which you can turn on and dim, and two overheads, medium and strong light for lack of a better term!

The IFE screen folds back, so no watching during take off or landing.  It is also quite hard to open and close sometimes!  It’s an ok size at 15″, and isn’t too far away from you either.  The controls are in a small handset on the side of the seat (in a small cupboard when by the window), and touchscreen.

The hot seat pulls down (well, part of it) to make a foot rest at a lower hight, which is more comfortable for most positions.

Storage space is not much though.  There is a private closest, which is enough to hang a jacket, shirt and trousers in when changed in to the pyjamas, as well as a pair of shoes at the bottom.  That is it though…  There is an overhead bin for carry on, unlike some other airlines.  But around the seat itself though, there is no storage, other than a small magazine pouch not big enough for a book really, but ok for an iPad or Kindle.

By the window, the small table is raised out the side, which does give some space behind to stow some things.  In the centre it is slightly different, and there is more flat space there, but no where to secure things from sliding forwards.

There are the usual selection of USB port, multi-country mains socket, and a video in if you happen to have composite video out… not met anyone who does yet!

While the plane was boarding another 5 people joined in the First cabin, meaning half the seats were full.  We were served some of the very nice Grand Siècle as we had in the lounge, as well as some hot nuts.  The wash bags and pyjamas were distributed as well.  I do like BA pyjamas – I have eight pairs now, and wear them all the time! The washbag has some ok products (lip balm, moisturiser, eye gel, toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant), but I do prefer the previous bag to the current one, which feels a bit cheaper and is quite small to be useful as a regular travel bag, unlike the previous one.

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The menu was distributed shortly after take off by the Cabin Service Manager, who also had a brief chat with all the passengers, and of course knows everyone’s name.  You can dine at your leisure in First, and we decided to dine together at around 3pm (we took off at 1).  The highest priority is of course the wine list!

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This gave us an hour and a half or so for a movie, and I watched Big Hero 6.  I’m just a kid at heart!  Loved it!!  And a couple of glasses of the pinot noir.

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I can’t for the life of me remember what the Amuse Bouche was on this flight… but I don’t think I liked it much! My starter was the ham hock and chicken terrine, which was pretty nice.  Normally I have a soup, but there wasn’t an option.  For my main I went away from my usual steak option, and went (Shock horror) for the Twice Baked Gruyere and Parmesan Souffle.  And it was delicious I must say.  Matched with a lovely glass of the bordeaux wine, Chateau Haut-Bergey 2004.

The chocolate fondant for dessert was quite divine, one of the best plane deserts I’ve had in a while.  For this I had a class of the Cabidos dessert wine, which has been on my last couple of flights.  They used to serve a Tokaji    , which I preferred, but it is still very nice.

This was my first time dining together, and it quite an interesting experience being able to sit together like at a real restaurant!  The hot seat isn’t the most comfortable in the world, but it is serviceable for a couple of hours, no worse than a simple chair in a restaurant anyway!

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As luck would have it, as it was coffee time the seatbelt sign came on, which means no hot drinks.  It was only for about 15 miniutes, at which time my espresso arrived, and I returned back to my seat for a bit to finish the movie, and to start another.

As it was a dayflight, I wasn’t particularly tired at this point, alternating between watching, reading and drinking!  I’m one to talk to the cabin crew if they are receptive, and on this flight I probably had a good one hour chat with the steward looking after my side of the First cabin.

At this point I had the bed made up, got changed to the pyjamas and slept most of the rest of the flight.  I didn’t bother with the light lunch, still feeling fairly satisfied after dinner and taking an opportunity to get some rest.

All in all a great flight, one of my better experiences on First… although I did miss the window…  I think the electric blind is fantastic!

The Heathrow T5 BA First Class experience

What do to with a lot of Avois and an Amex companion voucher….  two flights in First Class London to Rio sounded a good use!

I flew out from Rio to London on Iberia in the new Business Plus (see review below for that), sitting in the two central seats.  It was an ok flight, comfortable hard product, but the service was not quite as good as my previous flight with Iberia (mainly due to the one excellent member of the crew).

But I was definitely looking forward to the flight back.  I have flown BA First a number of times, but more often on the Rio to London route than the other way round.  I much prefer London-Rio, as it is a day flight with no pressure to sleep, and I get to enjoy the Concorde Lounge beforehand.  Some people might think I’m crazy, and like to sleep the flight away, but I find that a waste of some of the First Class experience (aka wine!).

For this post, I’ll just talk about the ground side experience.

As always, I stayed in the Sofitel, and arrived at the airport around 9am for our 1pm flight, giving plenty of time to enjoy the lounge, do some shopping, and have the pre-booked massage at the Elemis Spa.

The First Class checkin area in T5 is at the far side of the check in hall.  The queue was short, and we quickly got the bags checked.  The Check In area is nothing that special – they are standard check in desks, just in a closed off area with less queues.

Fast Track security was quickly done away with, and through the door straight in to the Concorde Lounge.

I know there are very mixed reviews out there, and I am sure there are better lounges in Asia and the Middle East that I haven’t been to, but I really like the Concorde Lounge.  I’ve been there around 5 times now, and I haven’t seen it overly busy ever.

I find the seating very comfortable, and plentiful every time I’ve been there.  I’ve also never had a problem getting a table at the restaurant.  The restaurant service can vary sometimes, and I have been left standing before being shown to a table, and not always had the most attentive service, which can be disappointing.  But in comparison to lounges such as the AA Flagship First in JFK there is simple no comparison.  I really like having a table service restaurant, with a decent quality of food (at least every time I have dined).

There are also the cabanas, I have never booked one, as I am normally only there for a couple of hours and it never seemed worth it.  But if you are there for a while, especially on connections, you can book one of the cabanas which feature a bed, TV and shower – basically a mini private hotel room really.

This trip the first port of call was the restaurant for breakfast, and a fairly decent full english with a class of champagne.  I really do like the fact you can drink Grand Siècle champagne in the lounge – it is a very nice champagne I hadn’t had before travelling First, and I would rate it very highly.

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After the meal we relaxed on the terrace with some more champagne for a bit, before it was time for the Elemis Spa.

The Galleries lounge actually has better views being able to see the runway (both runways depending on the lounge), but I really like the terrace of the lounge, seeing the planes at the gate (or not sometimes as this picture from a different trip shows!):

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The weather does clear up sometimes to reveal a unicorn though….

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I had booked, for the first time, the ‘Deep Clean Aviator Facial’.  In the past I’ve only made use of the chair, and once the ‘Power Back Massage’.  However this is a definite new favourite if I have the opportunity again.  The issue is if you are not in First and able to pre-book, the chair is often the only thing available and even though it is far from guaranteed even with several hours in the lounge.  Various different Elemis products and oils are used as a face massage, while at the same time having the chair massage on the whole body.

After this there was just enough time for another champagne, a quick bit of duty free shopping, and off to C gates to board.

Where to stay at Heathrow? Sofitel Heathrow T5 review

I’ve been through Heathrow quite a lot over the past 3 years… around 20 times or so.

And now I only have one hotel I ever stay at – the Sofitel at T5…   Why?

Well – firstly I am almost always flying from T5 – if you were at other terminals, some of the benefits do disappear!

The Sofitel is directly attached to T5 – you can walk from your hotel to the arrivals hall with just one lift!  I haven’t stayed at any other airport hotel that is quite so convenient.  And as it was built recently with T5 itself, the hotel is very modern and (in my opinion) stylishly designed.

The rooms themselves are a good size, and I adore the Sofitel ‘SoBed’ – for me it is one of the comfiest hotel beds out there.  I haven’t ever stayed in one of the suites, but I have covered all the standard room types.  To be honest, I am hard pressed to tell sometimes if I am in a Superior or Executive room…  the bed size can give it away if you look carefully, but as I am often by myself I’m hard pressed to notice!

There are also some excellent eating options here.  I haven’t ever had the breakfast, but had what must be the best burger I’ve had in a hotel in my last stay!

It might not be the cheapest option to stay at Heathrow (in fact, I think it might be the most expensive), but the comfort, convenience and location make it worth it for me every time, and it can be had for a bargain sometimes.  Just waking up in the morning without having to trudge on to a bus, face an unexpected payment for the bus to get to the airport and get stuck in traffic is a brilliant convenience, and makes me in a much nicer frame of mind to start my flight.

There are gym and spa facilities that I haven’t used available too, which could be a nice way to start a holiday.  And the parking is good value too – I left my car here for two nights on a quick trip to Nice the other week.

Oh and they spray the ‘sofitel scent’ in the whole corridor from the airport to the hotel.

I tend to stay at Sofitel’s and Accor hotels a lot, and have a Gold Card, which of course makes me want to go back to the chain as I get room upgrades, free drinks etc.  But even without this, I would stay here still.

Flying London to Rio – Iberia Business Plus on the new A330

My first post is going to be a cheat… I’m going to copy a lot of the post from a previous entry on my brit expat in rio blog, and expand on it a little.

Over the last few years I’ve been flying quite a lot, heading back to Europe almost once a month in 2013 for various reasons… But I haven’t ever posted anything about airlines and my experiences. And as I thought I should post before the end of the year, here is my mini review for those coming to Rio!

For this post, I am going to review my flight from London to Rio, via Madrid.

Most of the time I am flying to London, and have used BA, but a few months back it was significantly cheaper to take the Iberia flight via Madrid, and only 3 hours longer overall, so I went for that route.

I had travelled on Iberia twice before, but both times in economy (or Tourist Class) on a business trip.   I had both the newer (A330) and the older planes (A340-600) with the older interior. This meant not even having any In Flight Entertainment in Economy… It isn’t an experience I want to repeat really…  On the A330 the overall experience is quite similar to BA’s 777 on the Rio route.  The IFE system is decent but not the biggest English movie selection. But a huge improvement on before still, although the seat recline is somewhat reduced from the older cabin I thought.

This time though, it was was a holiday, and for holidays I always see the flight as part of the experience, and if I can I like to fly business, and I checked before booking that the flight was operated by the new A330, guarenteeing the new Business Plus cabin (the same cabin is being rolled out on the A340-600s – you can tell from the plane if it is the new or the old – an A340-500 = new business, an A340-200 or 600 = old business).  Later in the year I have a flight booked on the old Business Plus, so I will share my thoughts about that to you then!

For this flight, I selected a window seat (2L).  As you can see on SeatGuru, there is only one seat on the window side of the aisles, but not all window seats are equal!  Their new Business Plus is in a staggered layout giving 4 seats across in each row, although as it is staggered they alternate in layout – there is only one row of seats between the aisle and the windows so no one sits next to you, but on some you sit next to the window, others next to the aisle and the window is further away from you because of your table and storage are. Equally on the middle, two seats are together, then apart next to the aisle with the tables in the middle.  So again, be careful if you are travelling alone – the middle ‘honeymoon’ seats could make for an uncomfortable journey, as you are as close as you would be in economy, but great for travelling as a couple.   I have had a subsequent flight travelling with my fiancee where we took the middle two seats (row 1, 3, 5).

Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking to take any good pictures, but snapped a couple.

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The seat itself has a massage function, and is quite adjustable, but the seat base move forwards in steps with a certain amount of recline available, then it moves another step forward for more recline, but due to the location of the leg rest / ottoman (fixed position) eventually you just have to put your legs up or have them chopped off! I’m a big fan of the ‘Z’ position available on BA’s Club World seat for watching a movie, which is unfortunately not available. Also the TV screen is fully fixed, so when very angled or in the bed position, the viewing angle to the screen is quite bad and it can’t be tilted down.

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There is a lot of storage space and a decent amount of privacy. BA’s is arguably more private at the window seat, but does not have no where near as much storage space to put things. And there is direct aisle access without the issue of having to step over someone’s bed in BA if they are sleeping! And to top it off, a nice wine selection too. Talking about the on board service, we were offered a small bag of L’Occitan products as well as the standard washbag – a nice touch with some nice hand cream, lip balm etc. but the washbag products were not great, I guess why the after addition!

For the initial drinks service cava was offered along with  a nice choice of olives as well as the more traditional nuts. The main meal had a decent looking selection on the menu.  I selected a meat cannelloni.  The table was well presented with a table cloth on the table, and there was very attentive service during the meal in taking away empty plates, refilling wine etc.  But…. the meal itself though was quite a let down..  First I was served the wrong meal, and the cannelloni itself was something I might expect to find in economy I thought!   However, one of the highlights of the drink service was the excellent Pedro Ximinez sherry and being offered a tasting of the two very enjoyable Spanish brandies on board.  In general, the wines and drinks were quite decent.  The steward looking after me was excellent, and all the crew spoke a good level of English.  It’s also worth mentioning that the tray table itself is very stable, unlike the BA Club World table that can wobble quite a bit.

Oh, and we also had some great views on the flight!

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Once the transformation of all the planes is complete, the new Iberia Business Plus is one of the better I have flown in as a hard product, and on this flight the service was also very good.  But the food, and sometime the service as well can let Iberia down I’ve found.  Also the IFE, although a good system, is lacking in English language movies. Nonetheless, I am now giving them far more consideration to them in the future, as the stop via Madrid doesn’t make the flight too much longer than the direct if it is a better buy. Unfortunately, there is no Premium Economy cabin still.

Of course on this flight, I had to get to Madrid.  I actually like Madrid T4/4s – I think it is a very nice looking building, a good lounge, and a decent selection of shops, and I don’t mind the transfer here.  On this journey I stayed the whole time in 4S as BA flights depart exclusively from here.  The lounge in 4S is my favourite as it caters for long haul flights, as well as European – this means a better food selection with hot food options.  The lounge in T4 is only for European flights – it has the same drinks selection, but only sandwiches and salads for food.  If you are connecting via Iberia to London it leaves from T4, so bare in mind there is a transfer between the terminals – if you are on a short connection <1 hour, it could be very tight to get from T4 to T4S, as there is a passport control in between as well as an automated train to take you to and from.  The roof of T4 (and similar in 4S) is beautiful though in my opinion – very nicely designed:IMG_2187

For the MAD-LHR leg, I flew in the new Club Europe cabin LHR-MAD…. Except, in a way I didn’t – I was flying on the new Club Europe cabin, and there is no longer a dedicated set of seats with more leg room – the whole cabin is the same, they just close off the middle seat with a table… This gives them flexibility to increase and shrink the Club Europe cabin – but it makes me question why am I paying more? Not having someone sit next to me… Of course you do get Champagne to drink, and the food is a little bit better. Of course there are other perks besides the flight experience itself, such as lounge access and priority boarding and exiting of the plane. The seat itself looks good and ‘classy’, but for a premium business class product, I really think this is a mistake from BA to reduce the leg room. The recline is all but non-existant (nice for not having the person in front intrude of course, but not so nice for me wanting to sleep a bit on my 630am flight). On a 45 minute Paris flight, who would notice… but on a 2.5 hour journey this is the sort of thing I would have been inclined to pay for… With a BA Silver card you get lounge access, priority boarding, business class check in (in fact even a Bronze card gets the last two).

As I said, I have another Rio-London flight via Madrid bookedin December, and I’ll be flying on both the new and old Business Plus, and also a BA 767 for the connection to London, which should have the old Club World flat beds – for the same price the product can vary a lot!  I have also flown in Iberia Business, which is similar to the older BA Club Europe product, just blocking off the middle seat, with a couple of extra inches of leg room.  It is worth saying if you are flying economy, Iberia do not have a free food or drinks service in economy, unlike BA.

Next up, a review of a recent flight in BA First London – Rio, American First New York – Sao Paulo, American Business Rio – DFW, and London to Edinburgh in a plane nearly as old as me it felt like…   And some hotels perhaps!