Airlines

All new British Airways

September 17, 2019

Journey: L.A. to Heathrow • British Airways • Business

THE FLIGHT: I was travelling in Business on British Airways departing 16.55 on the BA283 operated by a 787 Dreamliner. The flight was pretty full, operating just after the chaos caused by the two-day pilot strike.

CHECK IN: There was a small queue when I arrived at LAX check-in but the staff were friendly and efficient and processed us all in quick order helpfully explaining the routing to security and the lounge. The lounge was comfortable and welcoming with plenty of seating, although the self-service catering was relatively basic. There was a staffed bar.

THE SEAT: My seat was 13A, a backward facing, window seat right over the wing which ensured a spectacular view on take-off as the unique shape of the Dreamliner wing underscored the L.A. mountains and coast line. The seat itself sported the smart grey herring-bone fabric finish of the new interior design, set with white headrest and pillow with the trademark BA swish in silver. The White Company bedding set was on the seat and the white centenary amenity kit was presented by the stewardess. Touch controls on the window dimmed out the blazing sun and once in the air the drop down footrest, fully-recline seat and privacy screen all created a comfortable and secluded-feeling retreat. USB points, plug sockets and seat controls were all easily accessible. There was an adjustable reading light and good-sized pop out screen and drop down table.

THE SERVICE: Champagne and a bottle of water were served on seating along with the menu and breakfast/wake up card which offered options for arrival – passengers could either be woken for food or left to sleep longer. After take off a hot towel service came promptly and meal/drink orders were taken. My drink was served on a neat black oval tray with a nuts mix in a small white china bowl. The steward brought the wine bottle to the seat, presented the label and offered a tasting before serving. The menu choices all sounded appetising and I opted for scallops with asparagus and fillet of British beef. Both were tasty and the main course was of a significant size. All was prettily presented with white table cloth, silverware, cut glass and fine white china. As most of this flight was subsequently in darkness, the crew was largely unrequired as passengers settled amongst their White Company seat liner, duvet and blanket to sleep, but were ready available with additional water, and happy to engage with those who wanted to chat. Breakfast was served 90 minutes before landing for those who had requested it with warmed pastries, yoghurt with spiced fruits and hot options all available. The mug of steamy English Breakfast tea was particularly appreciated after a week in the U.S.!

THE VERDICT: The Dreamliner cabin sets an airy and spacious stage for the new British Airways Business offer and the seat design and catering matched, feeling fresh and well presented. The tone throughout the design and service delivery felt business-like and professional with well thought through, user-friendly touches rather than an emphasis on sumptuous luxury. All in all it was a great flight with much improved comfort and quality on many of the key touchpoints and an engaged crew..

britishairways.com

Slick service with Emirates

July 31, 2019

Journey: Dubai to Gatwick • Emirates • Economy

THE FLIGHT: I was travelling in Economy on Emirates flight EK9 from Dubai to London Gatwick, departing at 14.55 and arriving at 19.45 (local times). The service is one of three Emirates flights a day on the route and was flown by an Airbus A380.

CHECK IN: After being dropped off at Dubai International I headed straight to security as I’d checked-in via the Emirates app the previous day (and selected a seat) and as I was only travelling with hand luggage. It took around 20 minutes to pass through security and passport control, and then I hopped on the airport train for the short transit to Terminal 3. I used my Priority Pass membership to visit a Marhaba lounge for a quick drink and bite to eat, before heading to the allocated gate almost as soon as it was announced. I was therefore surprised to see the boarding process already underway (and in surprisingly orderly fashion, given the number of passengers travelling on this A380), although that might be put down to the long walk between lounge and gate!

THE SEAT: I’d chosen an aisle seat (47C) in the forwardmost section of the lower deck of the A380. Just a few rows from the front, it enabled swift disembarkation on arrival and is in a more ‘intimate’ space than the some-what cavernous economy sections on the rest of the lower deck. Seating was in a 3-4-3 configuration with most seats occupied. It’s a pretty standard economy seat offering with a small amount of recline and in-seat USB points. I was impressed by the seatback screens (better than one business class offering I’d recently experienced) and the huge range of films, TV and music on offer. Wifi connectivity included limited free access, plus several paid-for options.

THE SERVICE: The truly global cabin crew were pleasant throughout the flight as they served a choice of three hot dinners and, later, afternoon tea. An additional drinks run or two would have been appreciated. I was pleasantly surprised by the dining provision, with a choice of three main meals offered by cabin crew. I selected the chicken biryani (a fish dish and vegetarian meal were the other options) and I was not disappointed. It was provided with a bread roll, salad and chocolate mousse for dessert. An afternoon tea was served towards the end of the flight, featuring scones and fresh fruit.

THE VERDICT: A good, comfortable Economy product and a slick experience on the ground too.

emirates.com

Doing the Charleston

June 12, 2019

Journey: Heathrow to Charleston • British Airways • Economy

THE FLIGHT: British Airways has just started a new route from Heathrow to Charleston, on Thursdays and Sundays, and I took third departure, BA221, leaving from Terminal 5.

CHECK IN: Check in was polite and efficient. I asked for and was given an aisle seat.. The shuttle journey to Gate B45 took 20 minutes, but when we arrived, boarding had been delayed due to non-arrival of the aircraft. We finally took off an hour late at 18.30.

THE SEAT: I had 32H in Economy, an aisle seat in this B787 with nine seats across and two aisles. The interior was light and airy with good headroom. The seat also had acceptable legroom, which was vital on this eight-hour flight, with a nine-inch seatback IFE screen and USB power for charging your tablet or phone. The IFE included a new selection of 20 Award Worthy films, including The Favourite, Mary Poppins Returns and A Private War. There were also 43 New Onboard, 39 New Releases and 12 Best of British films, plus TV, games, Disney and kids’ channels. There was a good selection of audio description and closed caption films available. Sadly, there was no wifi on this flight.

THE SERVICE: The cabin crew were smartly dressed, efficient and friendly, and attentive. The drinks service came promptly after takeoff, but the Italian Merlot was nothing special. I had pre-ordered the gluten-free meal, which came before the others, and was pretty good. The salad was lettuce and tomato, but with no dressing. The main course was a large chicken breast with roasted vegetables and rice. There was also cheese, a bread roll and Nairns oatcakes. Dessert was a tiny, light jelly with two blueberries and one raspberry on top. A second meal was served one-and-a-half hours before landing. This was more of a snack, and less successful: a turkey and cheese spread sandwich, with some more oatcakes and soft cheese, plus orange juice and coffee.

THE VERDICT: We landed around 21.15 local time, around 45 minutes late. It was a good flight, well-catered, with tasty and plentiful gluten-free options. The staff were a major plus point: they were friendly and did not seem to mind people getting up to chat and stretch their legs. The entertainment was good, with the Award Worthy section full of movies I had not seen, and BBC World News also available. There was no wifi and the moving map (3D maps by Geofusion) did not appear to work on my screen.

ba.com

Effortless to Singapore

May 29, 2019

Journey: Heathrow to Singapore • Singapore Airlines • Economy

PRE FLIGHT: SQ317 check-in at T2 was quick and easy. As we approached the kiosk a super-friendly attendant directed us to the premium check-in desks saying they’d help as they weren’t busy. We were processed quickly with options to change our seat positions.

THE LOUNGE: I’d been given access to the SilverKris Business lounge. It was quite a walk but once there, it was close to the departure gate. It was large and spacious with big expanses of glass looking out over the airport. The decor featured a signature batik design screen and wood detailing. Seating was plentiful, large and comfy, with convenient integrated side tables. There was a great selection of food from full English to continental with pastries, cold meats and fruit offered buffet-style. Plus plenty of hot and cold beverages and a bar for those wanting cocktails.

THE FLIGHT: I received a friendly welcome at the aircraft where we were soon settled for an on-time departure at 09:55. The flight was operated by a A380-800 which felt new, clean and airy. As spare seats were available I was able to move to a front row seat in Economy with extra leg room, which suited me, although it had a less easily accessible screen, charge points and plugs. IFE was easy to navigate, had some great film choices including new releases. Staff were welcoming, cheerful and accommodating.

THE CATERING: Soon after take-off breakfast was offered – egg and chicken sausage or, as I choose, beef noodles which was very tasty, moist and filling. There was also fruit and ice cream on offer. Later in the flight, with about six hours to go, a main meal was served with chicken, fish and mutton-curry options. I took the chicken, with mushroom sauce, and although the sauce didn’t look great, it was in fact full of flavour. The non-slip tray included roll and butter, cheese, a BBQ chicken vegetable salad appetiser, and chocolate and cherry mousse cake, which was light and fresh tasting.

THE VERDICT: It’s a long flight to Singapore but this one passed quickly and pleasantly. The staff were attentive and available throughout, with water and juice regularly offer, and the catering was tasty and timely. All in all a good flight.

singaporeair.com

British Airways World Traveller Plus

January 16, 2019

Journey: London Heathrow to Singapore • British Airways • World Traveller Plus

PRE-BOARDING: I was flying on Christmas Day evening and while the chaos caused by drones at Gatwick pre-occupied the media, Heathrow T5 was full of festive spirit, decorations and cheery staff. Check-in was quick and easy.

THE SERVICE: The crew was warm and welcoming and were all entering into the spirit of the day with reindeer antlers or Santa hats and tinsel. Sparkling wine was offered promptly as a welcome, and festive food choices were advised on a special menu card. Drinks and pretzels were served within the hour with generous ‘well as it’s Christmas’ double G&Ts and two mini bottles of wine for with dinner. The crew were engaged and chatty: “These pretzels are so good, you’ll love them, they’re amazing’ (Penn State sour cream and chive flavour).

THE CATERING: Dinner was served within two hours with our ebullient stewardess admitting her trolley was ‘a bit like Santa’s sack – full of surprises’. There didn’t seem to be any chicken stir-fry as per menu but there was another chicken option, beef stroganoff or a Christmas dinner option. It was still Christmas Day – just – so I went for the turkey. It was good, plenty of thick slices of meat, roast potatoes, parsnips plenty of gravy a couple of sprouts and chestnut stuffing. All pretty good. Served with a huge warm roll offered from the basket, followed by mince pie and cream. The red cabbage salad and cheese and biscuits completed the offer.

THE SEAT: Seat 24E was an aisle seat in a row of four with rows of two on each window side. The seat recline was stiff and hard to operate but the recline was good and the foot rest/ leg space ample. The head rest support further aided comfort. The reclined seat in front of course depleted my space but the adjustable tilt on the screen ensured clear viewing.

I was given an excellent noise-cancelling headset and there was a good selection of inflight entertainment including BA recommendations and ‘Festive Cheer’ – eight seasonal favourites including Elf, the Grinch and The Holiday. The USB charger points were easily accessible below screen.

The seat was comfortable and a quiet cabin ensured some good rest was possible. The in arm tables mean the arm can’t be lifted which made it hard for middle passengers to get out. A small amenity kit included socks, toothbrush and eye mask. It was nothing fancy but provided the basics. There was a good fleece blanket and pillow provided.

THE VERDICT: The Premium Economy seat was comfortable and definitely felt roomy. The meal quality was good but the stand out feature was the staff. Great service from a crew that were upbeat and friendly and full of Christmas spirit without dropping their professionalism. On a day they might have been disgruntled to work they were in fact the highlight of the flight and made this long haul a cheery and painless experience.

britishairways.com

Flying home with Virgin Atlantic

December 12, 2018

Journey: Orlando to London Gatwick • Virgin Atlantic • Economy

PRE-BOARDING: I was flying overnight with Virgin Atlantic from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to London Gatwick, and was hoping to catch up on some much needed sleep. As I hadn’t managed to check in online, I headed to the airline’s check-in area where I was greeted with an empty machine and checked-in within moments. Making my way to Airside 4, I was a little underwhelmed and slightly confused with the choice of restaurants on offer for an American airport, between Bahama Breeze and Aussie Outback, the obligatory Burger King proved very popular among flyers.

THE SEAT: I was greeted with a pillow, blanket and headphones on my seat, a nice gesture but with no obvious place to put them if you choose not to immediately use them. The seat itself was comfortable and presented enough leg room for even tall passengers. It was easy to recline and the leather headrest ensured you had sufficient support when trying to sleep. Staff were very well presented, smiley and prepared to do what they could to make the journey as comfortable as possible for passengers.

THE EXPERIENCE: Staff were quick to bring round snacks, drinks and an evening meal soon after take-off, perhaps conscious that people were keen to try and sleep. Dimmed lighting and a variety of films on ‘Vera’ – Virgin’s entertainment system, made it easy to drift off, however I found the new releases limited and difficult to find as you had to scroll through the entire list.

THE CATERING OFFER: We were given a menu card early on in the flight which gave the option of three meals (one vegetarian). My meal consisted of a cold pasta starter, then a hot lamb curry, a cheesecake pudding and cheese and biscuits. The meal was filling and tasty and was served with red or white wine, followed by tea, coffee or hot chocolate. We were also served a mini ice cream which provided a refreshing perk and before landing a breakfast of a cheese croissant and yoghurt – we certainly didn’t go hungry! Staff circulated with drinks regularly but were cautious not to wake sleeping passengers.

THE VERDICT: Despite some strong turbulence at times, the flight seemed smooth and quick. I left the plane feeling well-fed and relatively rested and found the accommodating staff to be the highlight.

American Airlines

October 17, 2018

Journey: New York to London Heathrow • American Airlines • Premium Economy

PRE-BOARDING: I was flying on the AA100 from New York’s JFK Terminal E to London Heathrow Terminal 3, departing at 6.15 and arriving at 06.50 (local times), and operated by a B777-300. I was unable to check-in online but the airline’s check-in area was efficient and straight-forward and the queue through security relative short. Boarding was done in seat location groups to ensure timely efficient loading.

THE SERVICE: I had pre-ordered my meal choice online and it was delivered quickly, so quickly in fact that I was half way through eating it before my drinks service arrived! But the meal was excellent with a good sized chicken portion served with a side salad and the best bread roll I’ve had onboard, plus a good chocolate dessert, cheese and crackers. All was presented well with ceramic crockery and linen napkin. A second drinks service was offered after trays had been cleared, and a breakfast of fruit plate, yoghurt and croissant was served just under an hour before arrival.

THE SEAT: A bottle of water and comfort pack (with Casper blanket and lumber pillow, Cole Haan amenity kit, and headset) were awaiting me in the seat. I travelled in seat 16D which has the extra leg room infront on the bulk head. The seat was roomy and controls for the recline and foot rest were simple. The screen was stowed within the seat but popped out easily and the IFE system offered a comprehensive choice. There was a small storage compartment and fold out tray stowed in the arm rest, plus a USB charging point.

THE VERDICT: The aircraft felt new and the Premium Economy seat definitely was comfortable and well thought through. The meal quality was excellent and the amenities given with the seat were good quality and useful, especially the lumbar pillow. The staff were efficient if a little brusque in their service but overall the journey was a good experience.

A Taste of Mexico

July 23, 2018

Journey: Amsterdam to Mexico City to Panama • Aeromexico • Economy & Business

PRE-DEPARTURE: Gate Gourmet in Amsterdam has been providing Aeromexico catering since the airline commenced services to Amsterdam in 2016. The airline operates daily services switching between Boeing 787-8s and 787-9s.

THE SEAT: Aeromexico is a full service airline, their marketing efforts highlight the fact that passengers receive complimentary drinks (including alcohol after 11am) and meals/snacks depending on the flight time. For flights under three hours in Economy a snack such as peanuts or cookies are served whilst flights up to six hours will include a hot meal service. It’s worth noting that the airline also serves Tequila shots on flights after 11am, but remember to sip, not skull!

THE EXPERIENCE: Each month the team at Gate Gourmet prepare 1100 Business and 7200 Economy meals for passengers travelling to Mexico City. And whilst the airline doesn’t offer any celebrity inspired chef dishes on the route from Amsterdam, Edmund Wong Man Ho owner of the Red Duck restaurant in Mexico City has created the menus that are served on flights to Shanghai, whilst Edo Kobayashi owner of Torobi Murasaki (also in Mexico City) has too created dishes which are served on flights from to Tokyo.

Overseeing the airlines onboard menus in Business is Enrique Olvera known for the famed Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, which in 2016 was ranked 25th among the worlds top 50 restaurants. Olvera has been overseeing the menus since 2014, he is a firm believer in using only fresh, quality ingredients that are free from preservatives or processing of any kind. Past dishes in Business have included: shrimp in garlic with red quinoa; filet of beef with carrot pico de gallo, couscous and snap-peas; breast of chicken with oregano chimichurri, wild rice and string beans; and lettuce, string bean and potato salad.

THE CATERING OFFER: For the Amsterdam to Mexico City route the airline aims to showcase dishes that have European influence. In economy that means offering of a chicken or pasta every flight, with seasonal fruit and a fresh salad on each meal tray. Outbound from Amsterdam I chose the chicken tikka masala, which was a tasty option. Main meals are apparently changed monthly. In Business there are two types of cold appetisers (that change monthly also) and a salad. Hot meal options always include at least three options such as chicken, fish and pasta. In between meals Business passengers can snack on sandwiches, savoury items as well as fruit trays, whilst in Economy sandwiches are on offer. There are a number of Mexican branded snacks and drinks, but also local beer Heineken, and in Business Stroopwaffels, the very popular Dutch sweet biscuit.

Prior to arrival in Mexico City breakfast was served to everyone. In Business it was a hot breakfast service of omelette or a cold fish plate. In Economy the hot breakfast is an omelette or scrambled eggs followed by a yoghurt and more fresh seasonal fruit.

Whilst in transit at Mexico City I experienced the Salon Première Lounges and noted the brand collaborations with brands such as Desertika Spa, Punta del Cielo, Corona and Maestro Tequila.

Punta del Cielo Café is featured heavily in the airlines lounge in Mexico City, the brand is dedicated to the production, sale and distribution of gourmet coffee from the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Veracruz.

THE VERDICT: Online reviews are not that favourable so I was interested to see how the airline is collaborating with well established brands and celebrity chefs to enhance its inflight experiences. All in all it was a good experience. The Economy meals were of a good standard and I was pleasantly surprised by the cabin crew service, and the hard product. Taking advantage on an upgrade offer from Mexico City to Panama, Business options included a hot or cold breakfast option and I had hot omelette with spinach and black beans, fresh fruit and a croissant. Whilst the omelette was a little bland, the rest of the meal tray offering was good. For a three + hour flight I felt the meal was a little basic for Business if compared with those experienced in Asia and Europe.

In it for the ultra long-haul

July 04, 2018

Journey: London Heathrow to Perth, Australia • Qantas • Economy

PRE-DEPARTURE: I have to admit I boarded this flight with dread. Ultra long haul sounds cool and the time saving benefit of a non-stop flight to Australia had unquestioningly encouraged my booking, but faced with the reality of up to 17 hours confined largely to an Economy seat, it really did not appeal.

THE SEAT: First impressions weren’t great. While staff were friendly and looked great – bright uniforms, fresh cheery faces – the Business cabins had a serene calm and PE passengers a steely ‘we’re ready for this’ look, my seat in a row 55 took me deep into Economy. Here the usual chaos of baggage, bodies and belongings filled me with a certain sense of panic. However once we’d all carved out our small territories, juggled pillows, books, backpacks, babies and neck pillows in to place, things soon started to improve.

The seat itself had a slight recline and netted footrest plus adjustable headrest/support. The back-of-the seat touchscreen was like an enlarged iPad and could tilt to improve the viewing position. Below was a charging doc and storage shelf which doubled as an iPad holder if you’d brought your own. The table had a half and full option and there was an additional charging socket in the arm rests.

THE EXPERIENCE: The Dreamliner was clean and new and the sculpted overhead bins seemed to give a sense of height and space. Windows are bigger and ‘mood’ lighting adds to the ambience. Being in the centre aisle of the 3-3-3 configuration meant there was no scenic view but on the plus side I was free to come and go to the toilets or for a stretch as I pleased, and circulated often. Take-off was slightly later than scheduled but not enough to impact the 16.40 hours scheduled flying time. Take-off was smooth and the aircraft was noticeably quieter.

THE CATERING OFFER: The first six/seven hours were a breeze. A drinks service, with rice snacks, came twice with dinner (if you put yourself on Perth time) served about three hours in.

The chicken sounded nice and since I was focused on the well-being credentials of the flight, was going to be my choice but it was all gone by my row. The alternative beef bourginon which was tasty enough, was served with carrots, beans, some somewhat uninspired potatoes and a garlic roll. The tableware seemed a bit minimalist too. A small melamine half tray was presented onto which sat the hot meal and cutlery pack, with the dessert set directly onto the table beside the tray and the roll likewise, on a serviette. It was all tasty if lacking in wow factor although the subsequent round of tea, coffee or hot chocolate with marshmallows and a kitkat, and then two rounds of ice lollies certainly ensured no one was hungry.

By hour seven the lighting had gradually dimmed and we were encouraged to sleep… babies permitting. Throughout the night the crew was readily, circulating with water, and a calzone (or bacon roll on the return leg) for those still awake. A well-stocked larder included cheese and biscuits, houmous and carrot packs, cereal bars, cake and apples for free grazing.

Lights came up for breakfast three hours out, and the fruit plate, Greek yoghurt and muffin were all excellent. A hot omlette, sausage, bacon and spinach was also available and two rounds of tea/coffee.

THE VERDICT: The thought of this long flight was very much worse than the reality. The Dreamliner cabin environment really does seem to support wellbeing in the air. The atmosphere remained relatively fresh throughout, there was very little operational noise or distraction and the lighting helped create a pleasant environment throughout. The crew were great, nothing was too much trouble at any time and they were welcoming and understanding of anyone stretching or standing in their galley, where F&B extras were always available. Little was done to acknowledge the duration of the flight but perhaps Qantas simply want to establish this as a new normal. I disembarked feeling surprisingly good and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to take the routing again.

En route to Denver with United Polaris

June 13, 2018

Journey: London Heathrow to Denver • United • Polaris

PRE-DEPARTURE: : There was virtually no queue in Terminal 2 and I had my bag weighed and ticket presented with advice on how to take the fast track through security in about five minutes. I didn’t use the lounge this time but it’s located very close to the gate and I know from experience it offers a good variety of food and seating – private and social; lounge-style and business-like. Flight UA26 from Heathrow to Denver departed about 40 minutes after its scheduled departure of 11.25 but arrived on time at 14.15. The aircraft was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

THE SEAT: Seats were arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration and I had a side aisle seat, so my neighbouring passenger had to climb over me to get out. The seat controls are simple to use and converted the seat into a very comfortable flatbed or a reclining chair with soft footrest. Storage is a little lacking, with no obvious place to put a laptop and the cup holder somewhat awkwardly placed behind and above. The touchscreen TV came with padded noise-cancelling headphones and a great choice of movies and TV programmes.

THE EXPERIENCE: The staff were very attentive, full of character and entertaining as well as helpful. I was presented with a tin-style amenity kit which had socks, earplugs, a brilliant light-blocking neoprene eye mask (and I’m a connoisseur of eye masks), Cowshed beauty products like lip balm and hand cream, and a mini toothpaste with brush. The bedding included a large fluffy pillow and the signature Saks Fifth Avenue-branded textiles – a soft blanket and a thick quilt.

THE CATERING OFFER: Hot towels were handed out before a drinks service and then the three-course meal including chicken, rice and asparagus. The best course was the dessert, which offered a choice of the signature sundae – bespoke-made in front of you – or a choice from the stylish cake stand which added a little ceremony to the meal.

THE VERDICT: The image above is of the new Polaris cabin currently being rolled out and should address some of the niggles I experienced, as well as adding aesthetically pleasing points like softer lighting. The service was excellent but the food a little disappointing – but much better on the return flight.

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