I left off yesterday as I prepared to board BA flight 001 to bring me back to the US. No reason to keep you waiting. Let’s get back to it.
[Note: BA arranged the flight and accommodation for me without charge, but that in no way guarantees them positive press.]
January 19, 2011
British Airways 1 Lv London/City 1250p Arr Shannon 210p
London/City (LCY): Gate 24, Runway 27, Depart 2m Early
Shannon (SNN): Gate 108, Runway 24, Arrive 12m Early
G-EUNA, Airbus A318-112, British Flag colors, 14/32 Seats Filled
Flight Time 1h3m
I was immediately greeted by Cat, our purser. Cat was excellent. She was very welcoming and had one of those infectious smiles the never went away the entire flight. I took my seat in row 1 and put my bags in the overhead bin. Then it was time to explore the seat.
Unlike BA’s backward/forward Club World seat, this is in a traditional 2-2 configuration across with everyone facing forward. The seats do go completely flat, marrying with a small footrest that sits at the far end of the seat. There isn’t a ton of storage overall, but there was plenty of storage for a camera, drink, etc on the armrest and in a little cubby hole. I liked this better than the traditional BA Club World seat.
We headed out on time and taxied down the runway to turn around so we could depart to the west. (There isn’t a taxiway to get you down there so you use the runway.) London/City is also unique in that it has a steep angle for departures and arrivals, but we had no trouble meeting that requirement with our light load.
We launched and made a right turn, giving me a great view of the Olympic Park. Then we stayed low and slow for a little while, probably vectoring through the maze of London airport traffic. Here’s a 2m45s video:
Soon, Cat came back with the other two flight attendants and they started an appetizer service. I had a tasty smoked trout and opted for a mimosa to start the day.
The service was constant throughout the flight, but in subsequent passes, the crew had more time to stop and visit. Cat and the others were expert at quickly learning if customers wanted to talk or be left alone and they adjusted their service accordingly. I, of course, always want to talk to airline crews so I spent a lot of time with them.
It turns out that the City crew is actually Gatwick-based. The Gatwick base is smaller and this crew gave off a looser vibe than I what I traditionally expect from a BA crew. It struck the right chord with me and appeared to with the other customers as well. I’m told the flight has a lot of repeat customers so it ends up feeling more like a corporate shuttle.
After my snack, I had another mimosa and decided to play around with the onboard mobile offering.
Unfortunately, the US still won’t allow mobiles to be used within US airspace. British Airways doesn’t allow voice calls but it does allow texting and mobile web use (GPRS). But since it can’t be used in the US, our mobile carriers have been slow to agree to the system. So far, only AT&T does it, and I don’t have AT&T.
So the good folks at OnAir, the company that offers this, gave me a SIM card from another provider so I could use the service. This was fun. I booted up the phone and was off and running. While I couldn’t receive email on my Blackberry, I could use the web and text message. If you follow me on Twitter (@crankyflier), you saw a handful of tweets throughout the flight. I liked being able to stay in touch for anything urgent but not having full internet access to encourage me to work.
Soon we were descending into Shannon over green hills, blue water, and a lot of sheep. We landed and touched the gate at 158p. That’s when I started timing things.
After getting off the airplane, we were escorted through the empty terminal to the US pre-clearance area. Nobody was there and we all sailed through. I was confused when I saw that you had to put your bag through an x-ray machine but there were no metal detectors. You had to take your shoes off but you could leave everything else as is. Very odd.
At 208p, I was out of customs waiting to board. There’s a small area with plush chairs dedicated to BA customers for use while we waited to reboard. Why couldn’t we get on right away? Well, the cabin crew has to go through the same formalities but they have to wait until we’re all off the plane. So they got through after us and then hopped onboard to clean things up and prepare the next flight.
The flight crew (not cabin crew) actually stays in Shannon for the night, so our old crew left and a new one came. At 223p, we were ready to board. Cat welcomed us back on the airplane and we all took our seats again. At 238p, we were back on our way, ready for the 7 hour flight after a 40 minute stop.
January 19, 2011
British Airways 1 Lv Shannon 255p Arr New York/JFK 525p
Shannon (SNN): Gate 108, Runway 24, Depart 17m Early
New York/JFK (JFK): Gate 1, Runway 4R, Arrive 27m Early
G-EUNA, Airbus A318-112, British Flag colors, 14/32 Seats Filled
Flight Time 7h
Once we were in the air, things started to happen quickly. Cat and friends came back and asked if I wanted a personal video player. I did, so they pulled aside the armrest which revealed an arm to hold the player. Then they plugged in the player and I was on my way. (They use the separate player because it’s lighter than a built-in unit and weight counts on this flight.)
Once that was up and running, they came by and served the meal. I opted for a good chicken dish and I decided to have some wine. I actually decided to have a lot of wine, assisted by the fact that my glass never seemed to be empty.
On the first flight, I had asked Cat if she knew if we would have a smooth crossing. She said she didn’t know because we’d get a new flight crew in Shannon but she’d ask then. So I asked her again upon departure and she had the best answer ever.
“Do you just want the captain to come out and talk to you?”
I think you all know the answer to that one. Five minutes later, the captain walked out with his turbulence plots and showed me what was expected. We spoke for about 15 minutes and I was just floored. You don’t see a captain do something like that on just any flight. Amazing.
I settled in to watch some movies and found that the seats were really comfortable. In fact, I thought the recline position was more comfortable on this seat than on the regular Club World. The bed seemed good, but I really didn’t spend much time in that position since it was a daylight flight. I kicked back and watched some movies while texting and tweeting over the mid-Atlantic. Pure awesomeness.
Cat and friends kept coming back frequently to check on me, and every time I would get into a conversation about something or other. It was just a great, familiar feeling that made the flight go by very quickly.
Soon we were over Canada and I was dreading the end of the experience. About an hour and a half out, I had my last touch of British class with a traditional English tea. We started with some finger sandwiches and tea along with clotted cream, scones, and a donut. It was delicious.
As the sun started to set, we began to head down toward New York. They collected the personal video players on descent and buttoned up the cabin. It was a beautiful day with several thin cloud layers reflecting the remaining sunlight.
We touched down and then taxied for a few minutes before docking at gate 1, the same gate Concorde used to use. But instead of walking into customs and immigration, we walked off like a domestic passenger into the gate area. Even with a bathroom stop, it took right around 10 minutes for me to be at the AirTrain, waiting to take the subway into the city.
The experience went by so fast. The math makes a lot of sense for those people who are in Canary Wharf. You would probably need to leave the area 2.5 hours before departure to get to Heathrow but you could leave 30 minutes before departure to get to City. Even with the Shannon stop and the slower cruising speed of the A318, the time savings is there. And the convenience of the whole thing makes it worthwhile.
I’ve only purchased a business class fare once, but I actually found myself thinking about how many thousands I would be willing to pay for this experience again. Of course, not living in New York, it makes little sense for me, but it was still that good. And it certainly lives up to the flight number.