BACKGROUND Flight BA0342 is the first of seven daily flights between London Heathrow T5 and Nice Airport. It leaves at 0745 and arrives at 1045, and the official flight time is two hours. This flight is operated by an Airbus A321. London Heathrow is linked by the London Underground (about an hour from central London on the Piccadilly line) or Heathrow Express from Paddington (21 minutes to T5).
CHECK-IN I arrived at T5 by tube, which at that time in the morning is no mean feat. In order to arrive in time to clear security (0710 at the latest), I had to leave Islington in North London at 0540. Fortunately I’d checked in online, which can be done in the 24 hours prior to departure, and had only hand luggage so I knew I could proceed straight to security. The queues at security were quite long, and though we were processed quickly it was still a wait of about ten minutes, with hold-ups caused by fellow travellers failing to grasp that pocket change might set the metal detector off, or that shoes had to come off. Once through I made my way to Gate A10 where my plane was boarding.
BOARDING Gate A10 is not far from where you enter the airside concourse at T5, probably a five minute walk plus two downward rides on escalators. However, they don’t tell you on the main flight screens or on your ticket that A10 is actually comprised of five gates lettered A10a to A10e. When you eventually arrive at A10 there is a screen with flight numbers, I was to board from A10e. At the gate there was a bus waiting to transfer us to the plane, which was about a five minute drive away.
Boarding the plane itself was slightly panicked, with numerous announcements asking passengers with two pieces of hand luggage to put the smaller one under their chair to save space in the overhead lockers. I saw one or two passengers walk up and down the plane looking for space, and I believe the issue with hand luggage may have contributed to the ten minute delay to our eventual take off time.
THE SEAT When checking in online I was given the option of choosing my seat, which was free of charge on the way out but not on the return journey. I took the opportunity to change my seat to 22A, a window seat behind the exit row. To see the seat plan, click here.
My seat had to all intents and purposes unlimited legroom, because the exit row in front was only four abreast (BC-DE) rather than the usual six (ABC-DEF). This is to allow better access to the emergency exits in case they’re needed.
This plane appeared to be one of the newer A321s, and the seating was the most recent incarnation of Euro Traveller in soft grey/blue matt leather as opposed to the harder blue leather of the older-style seat. The only downside to going for this seat was the absence of a seat-back pocket, which I normally stuff with newspapers and flight documents. The tray table comes out of the armrest, and it’s smaller than the normal seat-back table. The headrest on this new style seat is an improvement on the older one, with more ways in which it can be adjusted (up and down plus adjustable side wings to hold the head better).
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The layout of this A321 is in keeping with the standard one given on BA’s website, and on Seatplans.com.
There are two such seats as mine in the economy cabin i.e. ones with no seat in front. These are 22A (mine) and 22F. These are obviously the best seats to have in terms of legroom, but it’s worth noting that there’s a cabin crew seat facing towards 22F which is occupied during take-off and landing. Otherwise, if you can’t get 22A or 22F, I would recommend any of the seats in row 21, the only exit row in economy (so be quick to reserve them).
THE FLIGHT We left the tarmac at 0755, ten minutes behind schedule, which as mentioned above was probably not helped by problems with finding space for hand luggage. 20 minutes later the food and drinks service started, and I was given a bacon and egg muffin for breakfast which was cold but quite tasty. We landed at 1035 local time, ten minutes ahead of schedule despite the late departure.
ARRIVAL Nice is not a large airport, and at that time wasn’t busy. There was an airbridge from the plane to the terminal, rather than a bus, and as I had only hand luggage I was able to get through immigration and into the arrivals hall quite quickly. All in all, disembarkation, from landing to the arrivals hall, could not have taken any longer than ten minutes.
VERDICT I was lucky to have been able to choose a seat with plenty of legroom free of charge, which made for a very comfortable flight all in all. I’m not sure it would have been quite as nice had I been forced to go for a regular seat, which did look a little cramped.
PRICE A mid-week return in June from BA’s website starts at £166.50.