Check-in I arrived at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport at 1425 for my 1655 departure on flight BA879. (BA flies daily from St Petersburg to London Heathrow.) There was a full security check immediately on entering the airport, with luggage being scanned, and shoes and belts removed. I queued for this took fro about 25 minutes, and then headed to the BA check-in desk (online check-in is not available for flights departing from St Petersburg). There was one desk for Club Europe passengers and another two for economy, all of which were manned. When I arrived at the front of the queue, I was told that the flight was full and specific seat requests could not be fulfilled, although I was assigned an aisle seat which would have been my choice anyway.
By now it was 1520 and I joined one of the queues for passport control. However, the neighbouring line was suddenly closed, leading to passengers moving to ours with little regard for etiquette, and just as I had reached the front, a group of flight crew arrived and were ushered past us to be seen first. All this meant that is was 1550 before I was airside, a total of one hour and 25 minutes after arrival.
There are several small duty-free shops and cafés on two levels, with the gates being on the upper one. After a quick look around, I made my way to Gate 8 for one final security check (shoes and belts off, laptop removal not requested). It’s worth noting that my travel companions and I had bottles of water in our hand luggage but these were not confiscated.
Boarding We boarded the A321 at about 1635, with newspaper bins offering the Sunday Telegraph and the Mail (albeit the Saturday edition and so one day out of date). The flight was indeed full in economy (around half full in business), and having sat on the tarmac for sometime, the pilot came on to deliver a weary monologue apologising for the delay, saying: “the airport is a monopoly and what they say goes”. We eventually took off at 1740 after a delay of 45 minutes.
The seat The aircraft is configured 3-3 throughout, with the middle seat being kept free in business class. The seat is BA’s standard dark blue leather-effect, and features a fold-down table, coat hook and magazine storage space. Seats stats are: pitch 76cm/30in, width 44.5cm/18in, recline 15 degrees.
Where to sit Business class consisted of five rows on this flight, followed by 27 rows of economy (rows six to 33, with no row 20). Rows eight and 21 are by the emergency exits (row eight is configured 3-2 plus one crew seat, and row 21 is configured 2-2) so if you are after extra legroom, choose these where possible. Otherwise, I would go for a row as close to the front of the economy section as possible, as you’ll be served first, be furthest away from the toilets, and will be quicker off the plane.
The flight Soon after the seatbelt signs were switched off, a hot meal was served – unusually by an all-male crew, save for the female cabin director. It consisted of beef, potatoes and leeks in gravy, with a side dish of rice salad and pâté, a brown roll and butter, and a cherry flan. Two of my travel companions had requested vegetarian meals but this had not been put into the system and there were no spare meals. Initially, the crew were not the most helpful in dealing with this, indeed one steward was pretty short with the lady sat in my row. However, to his credit he returned after all the meals had been served, apologised for the delay, and presented a tray with fruit and vegetarian snacks, which he said had been taken out of the crew’s food.
There is no in-flight entertainment on this service, save for the communal screen showing details of the flight path. For a review of the outbound flight from London to St Petersburg, click here.
Arrival As we approached Heathrow, the captain announced that there would be a ten- to 15-minute holding queue, but a couple of minutes later he said that this had cleared, and we landing without circling, touching down at 1735, only ten minutes behind schedule. IRIS was working but there was only a small queue for the manual immigration checks anyway, and only having hand luggage I was landside by 1745.
Verdict An awful check-in procedure at St Petersburg that really needs to be looked at. The service from the BA crew was mixed, although at least a satisfactory resolution was eventually found to the meal issue. Arrival and disembarkation at T5 was smooth.
Price Internet rates for a return economy class flight to St Petersburg in August started from £261.