CHECK-IN From October 7, BA started charging passengers £10 per person to select economy class (Euro Traveller) seats in advance (and £20 per person per sector in Club Europe, World Traveller and World Traveller Plus, £60 per person per sector in Club World). Customers in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus are charged £50 to secure exit row seats, from ten days prior to departure. However, when I took this flight, this feature had not come into effect.
British Airways flies five times a day from Heathrow to Nice – at 0710, arriving at 1005, 0955, arriving at 1255, 1220, arriving at 1520, 1625, arriving at 1925, and 2000, arriving at 2300.
I was on an 0920 flight from London Heathrow’s T5 to Nice (the timings were slightly different earlier in the year), and having checked in online at ba.com beforehand and accepted my pre-assigned seat 31A at the back of the plane, I arrived at 0730 to allow enough time for breakfast. I dropped my luggage off at one of the fast bag-drops in Zones B, C, D and F, and then headed for security where there were long queues. It took almost 20 minutes to get through (laptops out, jackets off).
Once airside, I headed for Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food restaurant, which I had been meaning to try for some time. It was very light and spacious, with simple, square wooden canteen-style tables, a long bar, sections of curved orange wall, and views through the glass sides of the terminal on to the tarmac. Express breakfasts are served until midday, and I opted for a fresh orange juice (excellent) and the eggs Florentine.
Portions are small but presentation is pleasing, and the quality of the ingredients, as you would hope, is very good. My only gripe was that I asked for my eggs to be firm, but they came soft, and that Amy Winehouse was being played just a little too loudly. But for an airport restaurant it’s everything you need – very quick service (eight minutes from notepad to table), good value (£7 for the food) and sensitively integrated with the airport environment.
BOARDING Boarding began at 0855 from Gate A15 on the lower level, a five-minute walk from plane Food. There was a long queue when I arrived at 0905. Newspapers (The Guardian and The Times) were available for all passengers, and once welcomed on board, I made my way to my seat in row 31 near the back of the aircraft (there were 33 rows on this A321).
THE SEAT Economy (Euro Traveller) seats are configured 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F) and are upholstered in BA’s navy blue leather. Seat pitch is 30 inches, width is 17.5 inches and recline is 4.5 inches. In Club Europe, passengers get four extra inches of legroom and 1.5 inches of extra width. (For an explanation of BA’s changes to Club Europe seating, see news report for August 26, 2009.) I was in window seat 31A, which was fine as it was behind the wing, so had unimpeded views.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The question is, on such a short flight, is it worth paying up to £50 to select the seat you want in advance? If you decide that it is, then the best ones are A or C in row 12, directly behind the curtain, which offer more space than normal Euro Traveller seats as they are effectively Club Europe seats. The problem is, however, that these often aren’t available until much nearer the day of departure when the airline knows how many business class seats it is likely to have sold, and therefore where the curtain is going to be. Exit row seats 21B-C and D-E, and 22A or F, are also good options as they have extra legroom.
THE FLIGHT The flight was very busy, with lots of families and couples on board. Take-off was at 0930 (ten minutes late) and the meal service began half an hour later. Economy passengers were given a cream cheese and tomato or ham multigrain roll, orange juice, and the choice of tea or coffee.
ARRIVAL The approach over the Côte d’Azur was stunning, with the coastline and blue water below shimmering in the sunlight. Landing was at 1220 local time and passengers were disembarked speedily. There was a short wait at passport control but my bag was out within five minutes. I was travelling onwards to Monte Carlo, and although there are regular helicopter connections for €120 per person (visit heliairmonaco.com), I took a taxi, which took 30 minutes and cost about €100.
VERDICT A very good short-haul economy class flight from Heathrow Terminal 5, which, apart from the security queues, was a pleasure to fly from.
PRICE Internet rates for return economy class flights with BA from London Heathrow to Nice started from £151.