Tried & Tested

Bmi A321 Business class

26 Jan 2011 by Tom Otley

BACKGROUND Bmi flies daily to and from Beirut, departing London Heathrow at 1540 and arriving at 2230, with the return departing at about 0900 in the week (0715 weekends) and landing at lunchtime (mid-morning on weekends). This flight was on the carrier’s first refurbished A321.
Bmi offers a free chauffeur service for business passengers travelling from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London Heathrow, Manchester, Belfast and Dublin to destinations including Amman, Baku, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Moscow, Riyadh and Yerevan. There are differing mileage limits depending on where you are travelling to – in the case of Heathrow it is 50 miles, with a charge per mile above that amount. I took a pre-booked car from my hotel and arrived early at the airport at 1330.

CHECK-IN Bmi flights depart from Terminal 1, which was quiet this Sunday lunchtime. There is a separate area in check-in zone A for premium passengers. I dropped off my bag and went through a dedicated immigration channel that then joined the main security line, which was moving quickly.

THE LOUNGE Once airside I made my way to the Great British lounge, which is a winding walk down some stairs but is worth the effort, being large, modern and well thought-out. It has several separate areas, including one with some comfy chairs facing the runway apron, a bar (“the Local”) and a buffet section with lots of choice. Unfortunately, the draft Stella Artois was out of stock so I had a can of London Pride, logged on to the free wifi (provided by the Cloud – you create an account to access it) and had a salad while I waited for the flight (these aren’t called so keep an eye on the screens).

BOARDING We boarded from the lounge at 1500 but there was a delay owing to a ground-handling problem so, in the end, we took off an hour late at 1650. In the meantime we were given a choice of water, orange juice or champagne, and then refills when the delay dragged on. Our jackets were hung, and we were given menus and amenity bags containing socks, eyeshades and ear plugs, along with a Miller Harris “gift” of lip balm and moisturiser.

THE SEAT Bmi has seven A321s, which hold 149 passengers – 118 in economy (3-3) and 31 in business (2-2) – see seat plan, above right. These aircraft, along with two of Bmi’s seven A320s used on mid-haul routes, are all to be refurbished by the end of the year. The “new” seat is, in fact, the existing product but with new cushions and leather upholstery. But there are also new carpets, and the interior walls of the aircraft looked new as well. The business seats are labelled A-C, D-F across rows one to eight, with exits positioned in front of row six, where seat 6D is for crew. I was in seat 4A. There is no in-seat power, and the IFE (in-flight entertainment) system is the same as before (not on-demand).

THE FLIGHT The meal service started with smoked mackerel, red potato and caper berry salad or roasted autumn squash and goat’s curd salad. I had the latter, which was very bitter and I left most of it. The mains were braised lamb shank with chickpeas and herb mashed potato; halibut with shrimp butter, sautéed salsify and potatoes; or grilled red onion and stilton tart with walnut salad. I had the lamb, which was quite good.

The desserts were a chocolate pot or damson and almond pastry with fresh cream – I had neither, but my neighbour had the tart and didn’t like it. There was also a choice of cheeses, coffee and teas, and a wine menu that included Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvée brut champagne, two whites – Anjou Blanc Les Maillones Gérard Depardieu and Langmeil Australian Chardonnay – and three reds – Château Mayne Vieil Fronsac, Aulente San Patrignano Rosso and Brokenback Tyrrell’s Australian Shiraz.

As I didn’t want to watch any of the films, I opted for the moving map but the picture was distorted and difficult to look at for more than a few seconds – I found out this was the case for the whole left-hand side of the aircraft. My IFE control was not working properly either, including the call button.

ARRIVAL The plane landed about an hour late. As we were travelling as a group with the Bmi chief executive, arrival was not as usual and we were whisked through immigration.

VERDICT The refurbished seats in economy and business are to be welcomed, although Bmi regulars on these mid-haul routes will be impatient for 2012, when brand new seating and IFE will be installed. The service was excellent.

FACT FILE

  • PLANE TYPE A321
  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2 business, 3-3 economy
  • SEAT WIDTH 19in-20.5in/48cm-52cm
  • SEAT PITCH 50in/127cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 12in-12.5in/30.5cm-32cm
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Beirut in March started from £1,223.
  • CONTACT flybmi.com

Tom Otley

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