BACKGROUND Travellers should note that Bmi no longer has the A330 as the aircraft was withdrawn from its fleet this spring – the route is now served by an A320 configured with business and economy only, as opposed to three classes with premium economy. But in case you are wondering what the product was like, we decided to publish this review anyway…
CHECK-IN Bmi’s daily flight to London Heathrow was set to depart at 1720, so I checked in online the night before, selected my seat and tried to print out a boarding pass, although for some reason it wouldn’t let me.
Taxis to the airport are E£100-E£150 (£12-17) depending on the traffic, which tends to be very congested, and the journey took about 45 minutes. Bmi flights depart from the newly opened Terminal 3, and when I arrived at 1510 it was quiet, with no queues for security, which was straight ahead with the check-in desks beyond.
A security guard asked to check my passport and e-ticket as I was placing my luggage on the conveyor belt, and then ushered me through the metal detector. As I was collecting my belongings from the other side, another guard, who couldn’t speak mush English, asked to inspect a case I had which he noticed on the X-ray machine contained a shisha pipe I had bought as a gift from the local souk.
I had been warned not to take charcoal for it in my hand luggage so had packed this in my suitcase, but had left two packets of tobacco with the pipe – the guard told me I was not allowed to take it on the plane or put it in my suitcase, and consequently took it and put it in a wastepaper basket next to him. I thought this was very unreasonable but couldn’t really argue with him.
I then walked to the check-in area, which was straight ahead, and also very quiet. At that point another guard asked to check the case in which the pipe was held – he was looking for charcoal. I took the opportunity to double check that tobacco was not allowed, as I though it very odd, and he said it was absolutely fine. So I explained what had happened a few minutes before and he asked me to point out which guard it was, and then went over to him and took it back, apologising on his behalf.
With a sense that justice had been served, I walked to one of the desks to drop my suitcase off. (There were five Bmi counters – 334-338 – one for business class passengers, two for economy and one for bag-drops.) I was issued with a boarding pass and a departure card, which I filled in before walking a few metres to passport control. There were a few people ahead of me but the process was quick, and by 1535 I was in the airside duty-free area. (Note that products are only priced in US dollars.)
Premium economy passengers do not get access to the lounge, but for those flying business class, the Star Alliance Almeisan/Egyptair facility is by Gate F10, a five-minute walk away. Wifi is free throughout, and there are three PCs and two small bar areas with snacks, tea and coffee, soft drinks and non-alcoholic beer.
BOARDING At 1630 the flight appeared on departure screens as boarding, and at 1640 I made my way to Gate F10 where there was a queue of about 15 people waiting to go through security. (Once on the plane I found I had accidentally gone through with a bottle of water, which they hadn’t noticed, which was slightly worrying.)
The waiting area was very busy and there were no seats left, so I stood near the front and waited for the call for boarding. At 1715, the process started – there was no call for business or premium economy passengers to board first, so it was a free for all. Luckily I was in a good position, ahead of many others, so was though quickly – passports were checked again for the correct stamp on the visa, and by 1720 I was in my seat.
THE SEAT 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. (For a full review click here.) 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.)
The cradle-style seat had a pitch of 49 inches (124.5cm), which was 17 inches (43cm) more than you got in economy, and had a width of 20.5 inches (52cm). The recline was 17 inches (11 inches/28cm more than in economy), and the IFE screen nine inches (23cm), although the Voyager system was not AVOD (audio-video on-demand) and the picture quality not great.
I was in 10H, an aisle at the front of the cabin behind the bulkhead, which meant I suffered some disturbance from cabin crew walking up and down the aisle and talking in the galley in front. It also meant my bag had to be stowed in the overhead bin during take-off and landing and the IFE (in-flight entertainment) screen came out of the middle armrest as opposed to being fitted to the back of the seat ahead. (The tray table came out of the left-hand armrest.)
I was also dismayed to find that someone had spilled milk all over the blue fabric upholstery, which had dried into a white stain, but also seeped all over the remote and IFE screen. I mentioned this to a member of crew and he apologised saying that the cleaning staff hadn’t done a very good job, and that he had noticed a woman with her baby sitting in the seat on the flight before trying to feed it from a bottle so she had obviously spilled it during the process. Fortunately I had some wet wipes so was able to give everything a good clean.
As my seat was near the galley it was rather draughty so I was glad of the blue fleece blanket and pillow provided (the same as in business). Amenity kits are not provided in either class on this route. Rows 20-41 are economy class in a 2-4-2 layout (A-C, D-E-F-G, H-K).
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid seats in row ten, especially the aisle ones (C, D-G, H) as they are draughty and you may be disturbed by trolleys and people walking up and down. The legroom is generous (49 inches/124.5cm), especially for premium economy, so most people won’t need to worry about trying to book an aisle seat to stretch out in. Those opting for the back rows (14/15) usually get served food and drink last. If you want any kind of view out of a window, avoid middle pairs D-G.
THE FLIGHT Once seated I was offered a glass of prosecco, water or orange juice, followed by newspapers including The Times, Daily Mail and the FT. Despite the cabin being full, there seemed to plenty of space in the overhead lockers for luggage. The safety video came on at 1740 and menus were given out shortly after. Take-off was behind schedule at about 1800, and 30 minutes later the drinks service began, with the option of a good selection of spirits, beer and wine, plus a bag of Wing nuts.
As with the outbound flight in business class there was no warning about when the films on the IFE were starting, so I almost missed the beginning of the first one. There was, however, a pretty decent choice of new releases, including The Blind Side and The Invention of Lying. (Click here for the latest movies on your flight)
The meal service began at 1915 and my pre-ordered vegetarian option was very disappointing. It was served with metal cutlery and on china plates but food was unpalatable – a dish of soggy boiled vegetables (broccoli, carrots, courgette and mushrooms) with white rice and a slimy brown gravy. There was a side of cheese salad, fruit salad, cheese, biscuits and a dish of butter (with a hair in).
The set options on the menu looked better – sundried tomato and olive pasta salad to start, followed by either beef stroganoff with rice or roasted vegetable couscous, then ice cream, cheese and biscuits, and coffee and tea.
ARRIVAL After the second film of the flight finished, crew collected the headsets and asked passengers to lift blankets off their feet and over their knees. The plane started its descent into London at 2010 local time and finally landed at 2050. Disembarkation was prompt but there was a bit of a wait at immigration. I then had to wait about 20 minutes for my bag to appear at reclaim.
VERDICT In general, an excellent premium economy product with plenty of legroom, individual IFE screens, generous amounts of drink, newspapers and friendly service – it’s a shame to see it go. However, the vegetarian option wasn’t up to much and my seat was dirty.