Check-in The departures hall at Heathrow T1 has had a makeover since I last travelled through it, and there is now a premium check-in area for Bmi immediately as you walk through the doors. I used these facilities to check in for my 1835 flight (BD155) to Brussels, then headed to passport control. There was a fast-track area but I was informed that this was for United and Air New Zealand customers only, so joined the standard queue instead. Once I’d had my passport checked, however, I was waved through to the fast-track security lane as it was empty, and I was swiftly airside.
The lounge For all the news of route cuts and redundancies, the opening of “No 1 Heathrow” has been a positive story for Bmi. The lounge is located by Gate 5, which is accessed by going up a set of escalators beyond security, then through a series of corridors until you reach an automatic door on your left-hand side. The reception area of the lounge has a swish, homely feel, with black velvet-effect wallpaper and comfortable-looking chairs arranged around tables. There is also a meeting room, with shower facilities to the left and a business centre with a bank of PCs to the right.
Past reception is a modern, white seating area for self-service dining, with three TVs next to each other on the wall, showing Sky Sports News, BBC News and Sky News (one with sound, the other two with subtitles). The food offering included soup (spicy parsnip) being kept warm on an Aga, salads, muffins, sandwiches, mini mince pies, crisps and fresh fruit. I had also heard that there was Mark Hix ice cream on offer, but couldn’t see a freezer, so I asked a member of staff and she showed me to an unmarked door, behind which was a stash of Dorset blueberry and honey flavour. I asked why the tubs were hidden out of sight but didn’t really get a satisfactory answer.
Past the refreshment bar is a large wooden table and a coffee station, and beyond this a range of seating options including a living room with large sofas and a mock fireplace. One of the seating areas had a series of portraits of dogs – again I’m not entirely sure why – and past this was a manned bar area with London Pride beer on tap. Flights are not called in the lounge, but there are plenty of departure boards, and there is also free wifi throughout provided by the Cloud.
Overall, I though this was a great, modern lounge, with good facilities for both the leisure and business travellers.
Boarding At 1800 I noticed the departure board showed my flight as boarding from Gate 74, and not being sure how far this gate was from the lounge I decided to make my way there. As it turned out, this gate is pretty close by, and I ended up waiting for 15 minutes before boarding commenced. My wheeled carry-on suitcase was also tagged by staff at the gate, as I was informed that due to the “very small aircraft” there would not be space for it in the overhead lockers, so I would need to leave it at the bottom of the aircraft stairs, where it would be stowed, and then brought out again when I landed.
The seat The configuration on this Embraer 145 aircraft is 1-2, with 49 seats. The first four rows were designated to business class and had yellow headrest covers on them, but other than that they were identical to all the other seats on the aircraft.
At this point it is worth noting that on January 9, Bmi will cease to serve the London Heathrow-Brussels route, and will be replaced by fellow Lufthansa-owned carrier Brussels Airlines, plying the route with Avro RJ85 aircraft (click here to read a review). The Embraer 145s will stay in service, however, as Bmi will use them for routes between Brussels and Bristol/Newcastle on behalf of Brussels Airlines. (For more information see online news December 10, 2009.)
The flight Business class customers were offered a drink before take-off, followed by a hot meal of chicken and vegetables in some sort of sauce. It wasn’t particularly appetising, and in hindsight I wished I had opted for one of the free sandwiches that Diamond Club Blue Plus members and above are entitled to (whatever class they are travelling in). The two cabin crew were extremely friendly and helpful, lending me a pen when I had mislaid mine, and doing their best to hang up everyone’s coats and jackets in what was a very small storage space.
Arrival We arrived five minutes ahead of schedule at 2045, and were disembarked after a short delay while the 25 items of carry-on luggage were taken out of the hold and placed at the bottom of the aircraft steps.
Verdict An excellent lounge offering, and good onboard service. The Embraer 145 is a pretty cramped aircraft, however, and passengers will welcome the larger Avros on the route when Brussels Airlines takes over in 2010.