BACKGROUND On this route, Bmi offers business class passengers a free chauffeur drive service to the airport from your home or office within 80km of London Heathrow, Aberdeen, Belfast City and Dublin, as well as within 112km of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and 128km of Manchester. But on this occasion I did not take advantage of it as I was staying at an airport hotel.
According to its website: “When flying from London Heathrow you will be greeted by our concierge, who will collect your bags and take you to our newly designed premium check-in zone. Once at your destination, our chauffeur will greet you in the airport arrivals area and take you to your chosen location. Then, on your return, a chauffeur will pick you up once more.”
Bookings can be made up to 24 hours before departure and changes can be made up to eight hours before the flight. Tel +44 (0)844 8483 322.
Travellers should also note that Bmi no longer has the A330 as the aircraft was withdrawn from its fleet this spring – the route is now served by an A320 configured with business and economy only, as opposed to three classes with premium economy.
CHECK-IN I checked in online at flybmi.com the night before for the daily 0915 flight to Cairo, entered my Diamond Club loyalty scheme number, selected seat 3C and printed out my boarding pass. As I was staying at the Yotel at Heathrow Terminal 4 (for a full review, click here) I had to get a train transfer to T1, which including a ten-minute wait, took about 20 minutes.
I arrived at the terminal at 0650 and made my way to Bmi’s premium check-in area and bag-drop in Zone A, where there were eight desks. (Economy class passengers need to go to Zone B.) Business class passengers can check-in 40kg of hold luggage shared between as many bags as they like on routes between London and Cairo, Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, as opposed to 30kg on most other routes. In addition, they can take two pieces of hand baggage measuring up to 55cm x 40cm x 23cm plus one personal item such as a handbag.
After dropping my suitcase off, which took less than two minutes as there was no queue, I walked to fast-track security a couple of minutes away. There were a few of people ahead of me, and before entering the line my passport was checked. The process was swift – laptops out, coats and boots off, and then into the airside departure area where I followed the signs to the Bmi Diamond Club lounge by Gate 5.
THE LOUNGE When the lounge opened last June, it was named “No 1 Heathrow” but because of confusion with “No 1 Traveller” lounges at Gatwick and Stansted, a brand that is completely separate from the carrier, it changed it to the “Great British lounge”.
A member of staff checked my boarding pass on arrival and I went straight through to find a seat. It was quiet and thanks to there being plenty of different work and relaxation areas to choose from, it was easy to find a spot to settle down in by the windows over-looking the runway.
At this time in the morning (0730) a light continental breakfast was on offer with croissants and toast warming on an Aga, yoghurt, juice (not freshly squeezed), fruit and hot drinks all to hand. Throughout the day there is also a good selection of free alcoholic beverages and mixers, with a self-service English pub-style bar where you can help yourself to beer on tap.
I was impressed that when I asked, the lounge had iPhone chargers available, so I was able to charge my device before my flight, as I had forgotten my own adaptor. There was a decent selection of magazines and newspapers, plus flight status screen as there were no announcements. Wifi internet access is free throughout and there are several PCs available for those travelling without a laptop.
The lounge is one of the best I have been in – with high-quality furnishings, natural daylight, plenty of seating, showers, beds and slick, contemporary design. It’s open from 5am to 10pm for business class passengers, Diamond Club silver and gold members, and Star Alliance gold customers travelling to all Bmi international destinations except Dublin.
For a full write-up of the facilities available in the business class lounge, click here:
BOARDING At 0835 the screens indicated my flight was boarding from Gate 50, so at 0835 I headed over there, which took about ten minutes. Boarding hadn’t started when I arrived, so I waited until 0905 when business class and gold Star Alliance members were called, followed by all other passengers according to rows.
THE SEAT I was in my aisle seat (3C) by 0915. My coat was taken and I was offered a choice of orange juice, water or champagne (Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvée Brut). Blue cotton blankets and pillows were on the seats but no amenity kits as the flight (about four and a half hours) is not considered long enough to warrant them. After a few minutes, headphones and menus were given out, and a member of crew confirmed that I had ordered a vegetarian option. She then took my drink order for after the flight took off.
The A330-200 was a twin-aisle aircraft configured with three rows of its business class seats configured 2-2-2 (A-C, D-G, H-K) in a slightly staggered formation. The product was fully flat with a width of 26 inches (66cm) and a length of 78-80 inches (198cm-203cm). The upholstery was brown and cream leather, and looked a little worn and the shell casing scratched in places. Some bits also didn’t look that clean, like the tray table and cup holder.
There were three pre-set positions for working, watching films and sleeping, storage space for shoes under the curved part of the back of the seat in front, a pocket with a bottle of mineral water, personal reading lights, an IFE (in-flight entertainment) remote in the right armrest and a slide-out tray table in the middle one. There were also plenty of storage bins above all the seats.
One thing I thought wasn’t very well designed was the flimsy cup holder that popped out of the front of the right armrest – I was worried that my glass would get knocked off it every time someone walked by. Little green lights at the base of the seats by the aisle indicate when the seat is upright, so crew can easily spot this and ask passengers to raise them for take-off and landing.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Rows ten to 15 (there are no rows four to nine or 13) were premium economy, and were in fact Bmi’s old long-haul business class product. They were also configured 2-2-2 (A-C, D-G, H-K). However, as mentioned above, this product is no longer available as the A330-200 has been withdrawn, and replaced by A320s, which are not configured with this class. Rows 20-41 are economy class in a 2-4-2 layout (A-C, D-E-F-G, H-K).
(The A320 is configured with economy (3-3) and business (2-2) only, with seats in economy providing 31-32 inches of legroom and those in business up to 50 inches of pitch. The IFE system on some of Bmi’s A320s is audio-video on-demand.)
In business, the seats were all much the same, and as there was a good amount of legroom it was not essential to sit in row one if you had long legs. In fact, I preferred rows two or three because you could store items under the seat in front on the floor during take-off and landing, whereas you couldn’t in row one. However, you did get served food and drink first if you sit in the first row.
THE FLIGHT Newspapers and magazines (The Times, Daily Mail, Telegraph, FT, Time, Hello and Traveller) were offered at 0940, and the captain announced the flight time would be four hours 15 minutes.
At 1010 the plane took off (almost one hour late), and a short while later, landing cards and hot towels were handed out. At 1025, the in-flight chef came to take the brunch orders, and ten minutes after that passengers were given their pre-ordered drink and a bag of Wing nuts.
The in-flight entertainment system Voyager is not audio-video on demand (AVOD) and I only just realised in time that the first film had started showing at 1045. (I thought it would have been helpful if they had announced this.) There was, however, a pretty decent choice of new releases, including Up in the Air, The Twilight Saga, An Education, A Serious Man, Capitalism: A Love Story, and Law Abiding Citizen. There were also nine TV channels and video games. (Click here for the latest movies on your flight:)
The meal was served at 1115 on a white tablecloth with metal cutlery and china plates. I had a fruit smoothie, a vegetarian cooked breakfast with scrambled eggs, hash browns, mushrooms and tomatoes and a fruit platter, followed by a choice of tea or coffee. The quality of the fruit was very good and freshly prepared, while the cooked meal was a little greasy.
The regular menu offered passengers seasonal fruits and pastries to start, followed by: fillet steak with lamb cutlet, rosti potatoes, Portobello mushroom and tomatoes; bubble and squeak with smoked trout; or pearl barley cake with creamed spinach and wild mushrooms, plus rhubarb and custard crumble for dessert.
The choice of five wines included Anjou Blanc Les Maillones – Gerard Depardieu (yes, produced by the French actor of the same name) and Château Mayne Vieil Fronsac.
ARRIVAL Landing was on schedule at 1620 local time, despite a delay of nearly an hour at departure. And thanks to being on the left-hand side of the plane, I got a good look at the pyramids, Nile River and Downtown Cairo as we flew over.
Disembarkation was efficient and there was an eight-minute walk to immigration where I bought an Egyptian visa for £11 (my change was given in local currency). I then joined a short queue for passport control and five minutes later I was at baggage reclaim. There was a wait of about nine minutes until my priority-tagged bag came out. I then headed past another passport check and into the arrivals area landside.
Taxis to the city centre are E£100-E£150 (£12-17) depending on the traffic, which tends to be very congested.
VERDICT Although the seats are a little worn and the in-flight entertainment is not on-demand, the crew were very friendly and helpful, the food tasty, and the service efficient. The chauffeur transfer is also a plus for business class passengers.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight in June from London to Cairo started from £902.