After a relaxing visit to the British Airways Galleries South lounge at London Heathrow, it was time to hit the air once again for our flight to Istanbul. These flights would be on British Airways’ intra-European business class product, Club Europe, my first experience with European business class in nearly 8 years (that was a Lufthansa business class flight from Frankfurt to Munich in 2007). I decided to combine our flights both to Istanbul and then back to London from Rome (our cruise was a one-way trip from Istanbul to Rome) in one trip report, since the product is identical and the experiences quite similar.
British Airways (BA) Flight 676
- Friday, June 26, 2015
- Depart: London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5, 10:43, 13m late
- Arrive: Istanbul Ataturk (IST), 16:53, 33m late
- Duration: 4 hours 10 minutes
- Seats: 3A, 3B
- Equipment: Boeing 767-300
I’ll start off by saying, I quickly remembered why I enjoyed international lounge access so much during my formerly high flying business travel days. Why, you ask? After our time in the lounge, we were greeted with this little corner of chaos as we reached our gate.
The gate area was a disaster, and truth be told, the boarding process wasn’t much better. One irritating thing about British Airways’ boarding process is there is no distinction between Club Europe and Executive Club/Oneworld elite members; everyone is called at once, as opposed to the system used in the U.S. where paid First Class goes first, followed by highest tier elite, then middle tier, etc. That made for enough of a scrum, but worse, the chaotic boarding area made it impossible to tell where the lines began.
My wife and I got in what we thought was the end of the Club Europe/elite line, only to be tsk-tskd by a passenger behind us. It was only then that we realized we had cut in the middle, as the line actually snaked back quite a ways into the corridor. Oops. Once we made it through, I was surprised to find a flight attendant already asking passengers if they would be willing to have their bags gate checked. I found this very surprising for premium passengers, and ordinarily, I would never do that unless forced, but seeing as we had to claim bags in Istanbul, anyway, I let them take mine. Needless to say, things weren’t off to a great start.
Once onboard, we were greeted by the purser and shown to our seats on the left side of the plane. The other major irritation with BA is that all passengers, except for First Class, must pay for advanced seat assignments. I tried to pay online multiple times, but the website wouldn’t take our payment for some reason; I finally gave up and just decided to take our chances on check-in rather than call the call center. Ultimately, it worked out just fine, as we were allocated 3A and 3B. First things first – if you haven’t flown European business class, it’s lame. As in not even as nice as U.S. domestic First lame. Typically, all you receive is a standard economy seat with the middle blocked off, and perhaps a better meal.
BA Club Europe at least does provide a somewhat differentiated product, with seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, and though they have the same 33″ pitch as Euro Traveller (coach), the seats are 3″ wider. In addition, though the 763 is an older plane, the seats were smartly outfitted in blue leather, and the cabin was in fairly good condition. Depsite the mediocre pitch, the seats were fairly comfortable; no sore thighs or posterior after this 4-hour flight.
It also became apparent pretty quickly why the FAs wanted carry-ons to be checked; the overheads in these planes are quite a bit smaller depth-wise than what I’m used to seeing at home, meaning roll-a-boards can’t be put in wheels first. BA does at least allow one checked bag at no charge, even in Euro Traveller for flyers with no status, so it’s perhaps not as much of a problem as it would be here on the west side of the pond.
Heathrow is notorious for air traffic control delays due to congestion, and today was no different; we boarded about 10 minutes later, and once we got settled, the captain announced we would be taking a 15-30 minute departure delay as we awaited our assigned takeoff slot. We ended up pushing back 13 minutes late, then snaked our way to the front of the departure line to take off about 30 minutes later. On the way down, we did catch a glimpse of this plane’s much larger cousin as it prepared for its takeoff roll – an Airbus A380.
Once we finally lifted off to the west, we made a quick turn to the southeast to head basically straight across Central and Eastern Europe to Turkey. I’m planning a future post highlighting the excellent scenery we observed both going and coming, but in the meantime, I’ll share this, a view of the entire airfield as we completed our turn to head southeast.
Shortly after reaching 10,000 feet, the FAs handed out hot towels, followed by an initial drink service and handing out of menu cards.
I went with the pulled beef cheek, along with a half bottle of a Chilean cabernet sauvignon.
Not a bad in-flight meal, though not the best I’ve ever had, either. The beef was tender, though not particularly well-seasoned, and the vegetables were a little on the mushy side. The sauce, though, was quite good, a bit like a sweet barbeque sauce. The salad was OK, though had more of a selection of bitter greens than I prefer. The wine is a decent if unspectacular cab, sweeter than you expect but with dark fruit/peppery notes that paired well with the beef. Certainly not bad for airplane wine, and far better than the house swill you typically get on American’s domestic First service.
A coffee/tea service was then offered, along with a choice of a chocolate bar or a cheese plate. I ordered the cheese plate, though for some reason forgot to take a photo. I don’t remember much one way or another about the cheese (jet lag, especially after having my sleep the night before interrupted for 3 hours, was really kicking in), but I ate the whole thing, so it couldn’t have been that bad. I was able to sneak in a quick 30-minute nap, waking up just as we were reaching the beaches of northern Turkey.
And then, perhaps the luckiest shot of the trip – a Turkish Airlines plane was just getting ready to take off on IST’s perpendicular runway as our flight made its final approach.
We trudged through a rather long immigration line, but made it through to the other side without incident, then met the rest of my family at a hotel in the city center in advance of our cruise departing the next day. After 7 days sailing the high seas of the Eastern Mediterranean region, we reluctantly disembarked and headed to Rome’s Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci Airport to head back home.
BA Flight 553
- Saturday, July 4, 2015
- Depart: Rome Fiumicino (FCO) Terminal 3, Gate G14, 12:03, 18m late
- Arrive: LHR Terminal 5, 13:25, 2m late
- Duration: 2 hours 24 minutes
- Seats: 7A, 7B
- Equipment: Boeing 767-300
The day started way too early. Princess Cruises insisted that we needed to leave the ship at 6:45 to make it to the airport in time for our 11:45 flight. And sure enough, we end up getting to the airport by 8 – way too early, as the check-in counter didn’t even open until 8:45. Bah. At least we were at the front of the line. After a quick security check and then a train ride over to the G gates, we discovered that British Airways is apparently too cheap to provide lounge access to Club Europe passengers in Rome. This would have been a major downer, but fortunately, we were bailed out by my recently acquired Citi Prestige credit card (NOTE: I do not receive sign-up bonuses for this card, nor am I suggesting you apply for one; I am just pointing out one of the benefits). The card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership as part of the annual fee, which allowed my wife and I to access the Le Anfore lounge to pass the time (review forthcoming).
The lounge is only a short walk to the gate, and we arrived a few minutes before scheduled boarding time, but for some unannounced reason, boarding was delayed about 15 minutes. The boarding area was once again a bit chaotic, though not nearly as bad as the mess we encountered in London on the way down. Once onboard, though, the purser once again warmly greeted us and showed us to our seats. The cabin was identical to plane we flew on from London to Istanbul a week earlier, with the same blue leather seats, 2-2-2 configuration, and small bins. Fortunately, we were able to successfully reserve our seats in advance this time, though this came at the price of $33 apiece for the privilege.
This time, there was no wait to taxi or take-off, and we quickly alighted to the northeast towards England. We were treated to a nice view of one of Fiumicino’s “pod” concourses as we became airborne.
Once again, hot towels were offered, but no menu cards; only one meal was available unless you ordered a special meal. Today, it was a charcuterie plate, featuring prosciutto, ham, a selection of cheeses, egg, vegetables, and fruit, along with a bread roll.
My first thought was, this seems awfully skimpy for a lunchtime flight, but at least the meats and cheeses were tasty, especially the prosciutto. I just wished there was a second course of some kind. I did order a white wine, though forgot to jot down which one it was (I don’t remember it being particularly memorable in any case). A tea/coffee service was offered after the meal, but no dessert this time.
The sightseeing on this flight was absolutely spectacular. Again, I’m planning on another post specifically devoted to that, but I’ll give you a sneak peak with two photos, one of the Alps as we were crossing (I think) southwestern Switzerland, and another of the mouth of the Thames as we were on final approach to Heathrow.
There was no congestion over Heathrow this time, so we actually made up almost all of our departure delay. And we were afforded a drive-by of yet another A380 as we taxiied to the gate, this time courtesy of Etihad.
Our luck would run out in immigration, though; the “Fast Track” line was being worked by all of two Border Force officers, and we ended up waiting in line for at least 40 minutes before we made it through. Not BA’s fault at all, but annoying nonetheless.
In-flight entertainment on both flights was identical, which is to say, practically nonexistent. You get the old-fashioned service of a movie on overhead screens, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” on the way to Istanbul, and some assorted British TV programs on the way back from Rome. No in-seat screens, no in-flight radio, no nothing. Considering these are three to four hour flights, that’s a long way to go without a diversion of any kind, so make sure to bring your own entertainment, especially if you’re toting the kids along. Service by the cabin crew was at least good. All of the FAs and ground crew were friendly, efficient, and helpful. BA can be a little hit-or-miss in this regard, but we came up lucky with the roll of the dice this time.
Business class in Europe is what it is, regardless of carrier – slightly glorified economy class. British Airways at least tries to provide a somewhat differentiated product on these longer hauls, with a 2-2-2 configuration and a wider seat, which beats the typical 3-3-3 configuration with the middle seats blocked that you usually find. The flights were fine given that we “paid” for them with miles, but I wouldn’t even consider buying them outright at full price.
Note: this post is part of my multi-part trip report series about my wife and I’s trip to Europe in June/July, 2015. Read the trip report introduction for an index and background about our trip.