British Airways B747-400 economy class

CHECK-IN

I arrived at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at 1100, with a couple of hours until my flight (BA107) to Dubai at 1250. After taking the lift up to departures on level five, I checked the status screens and headed to designated check-in zones F and G, for my flight’s bag-drop area.

I had checked in online the day before, attempting to change my seat to one by the window further back in the cabin so that I could stow my bag under the seat in front during take-off and landing (I find it inconvenient to have to put it in an overhead bin). After selecting 42K, I completed the process and printed my boarding pass, but my seat selection hadn’t gone through, and I could no longer change it. (If you want to select your seat in advance of 24 hours of your flight, you will be charged for the privilege).

At bag-drop, where there was no queue, I presented my boarding pass print out and handed over my suitcase. Once processed, I turned right for South side security, where there were stations for transferring bottles of liquids into plastic bags and automatic boarding pass scanners. Plenty of lanes were open, all with about a dozen people at each. It took about 15 minutes to get through, with laptops and liquids out, belts off, as well as boots and jewellery for some. (There was another self-service boarding pass scanner right by the security conveyor belt.) I was airside by 1125.

BOARDING

Screens instructed passengers to make their way to Gate B33 in the satellite terminal at 1215 – you have to take the underground shuttle train on level -2, and then a couple of sets of escalators up to where you walk a few minutes along a corridor to the gate. There was plenty of seating available and views of the aircraft stands and planes taking off from the left.

I waited and waited – there were no announcements as to why the flight was seemingly delayed or information on the screens. Finally, at 1255, passengers were called for boarding via an airbridge, which was accessed on a lower level, reached once through the gate itself. The process didn’t take long as the B747 was only about half full.  

THE SEAT

Economy class is laid out across two cabins – from rows 33-36, and 39-55 (click here to see the seat plan). I was in seat 40A, just behind the bulkhead separating  economy class at the rear of the aircraft from the galley. The seat offered a bit more legroom but not a massive amount – for tall people, it’s more about not having your knees pressed up against the back of the seat in front. My seat was dirty with crumbs and smears that hadn’t been cleaned.

There was a grotty looking pillow placed on the seat and a blanket wrapped in cellophane with a pack of toothpaste and a toothbrush inside and a pair of over-ear headphones. I was happy to be by the window but you have to be prepared for the fact that there are bassinets attached to the bulkhead all along here (one in front of 40A-B-C, two for 40D-E-F-G). The trio of seats 40H-J-K are not behind the bulkhead – instead, there is an extra row of three (39) in front.

This B747 looked tired and worn. When crew asked us to pull the IFE screens up from the sides of our seats (other passengers have monitors fitted to the back of the seat in front) for the safety demonstration, mine was grubby and smudged. The tray tables that come out of the armrest in row 40 are small – only just big enough to place my Macbook Air on – and bounce when you type. The three seats in row 39 were unoccupied because the IFE was broken, a member of crew told me.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Rows 39 and 40 have extra legroom, although this has to be weighed up against the risk of having to put up with a crying baby in one of the bassinets the whole way. The back row goes up to 55 in the middle (seats D-E-F-G), while the final row on either side is 53, with just pairs of seats (B-C and H-J). Seat 51B, 51J, 52B and 52J feel more spacious as they are set away from the side of the plane.

There are four washrooms at the back and two by the galley. Avoid row 55 as you may suffer disturbance from toilets being flushed behind you and people queuing. Unless you are travelling as a couple or a group, avoid middle seats B, E, F and J. Seats at the back of the plane can suffer more bumps and shakes as turbulence is felt more acutely at the aft.

THE FLIGHT

The plane pushed back at 1330, and then waited for half an hour near the runway for take-off. Once airborne, a drinks service began from the back of the cabin at 1420, which meant I was one of the last to be served. I asked for a G&T and some wet wipes for my IFE screen. A couple of minutes later, the crew member returned with a damp cloth to polish it but it seemed to be a problem inside the monitor itself so he said I was free to move seats, which I did, choosing 45A, which also had two unoccupied seats next to it.

My pre-ordered vegetarian meal was served not long after – this consisted of a chickpea and soy bean salad with mint vinaigrette and red peppers, which was a bit slimy and not very nice. There was also a bread roll with margarine, a small bottle of mineral water, and a hot penne pasta with cheese sauce and herb pesto on top. This was just about edible. Crew came around again with wine and other drinks, followed by tea and coffee later on. Dessert was a pot of sickly sweet lemon pudding.

The IFE system had a reasonable choice of movies including a decent number of new releases, although the small 6.5-inch screens had a visible grid pattern across them so the picture quality wasn’t great. Soft drinks and water were handed around throughout the course of the flight – I thought the crew were excellent. Very friendly, charming and helpful.

There were quite a few kids running about on the flight, a few of which befriended me and came and sat next to me for a while, played with the IFE, clambered all over the seats and glued their faces to the window in the row in front. Luckily, the babies weren’t too bothersome and I didn’t mind chatting away (for a little while) to the six-year-old girl who kept asking me questions. Other passengers may have found this behaviour (and lack of restraint from the mother) annoying.

A light supper of sandwiches and boxes of Sun Maid raisins were handed out at 1845. Mine had hummus, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes in but tasted a bit sour, like the tomato had gone off a bit. More soft drinks and tea and coffee were offered, followed by a rubbish collection at 1915.

ARRIVAL

The plane landed at Dubai International airport’s Terminal 1 at 2000 (2300 local time), and disembarkation via an airbridge was swift. There was a fair walk to immigration, which was very efficient and quick, and then baggage reclaim, where my suitcase appeared as soon as I arrived at the carousel.

VERDICT

This wasn’t the best economy class flight I have ever taken – fine but flawed. There was no explanation or apology for the delay to departure, the cabin was old and grubby, and the food pretty bad. The one redeeming aspect of it was the member of crew working in on my side of the cabin who I found to be very professional, helpful and generous with complimentary drinks. I was also pleased to have been able to move to an empty row.

FACT FILE

  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 3-4-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F-G, H-J-K)
  • SEAT WIDTH 17.5in
  • SEAT PITCH 31in
  • SEAT RECLINE 5in
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight to Dubai in August ranged between £725 and £1,797 depending on flexibility.
  • CONTACT ba.com


Jenny Southan
 


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