First impressions: I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 1445 for my 1645 departure on BA39 to Beijing. I had checked in online and had a boarding pass on my mobile phone courtesy of the BA Android App, but as usual got a back-up paper one while dropping off my bag (who knows what would happen if the battery ran out on the way to the gate).
I was told we would be departing from the B gates. Security had no queue, though a lady in front of me somehow dropped a bracelet through the rolls of the security machine, so there was a mildly diverting few minutes as this was extracted.
The lounge: I went straight across to the B Lounge and met some colleagues. The lounge was quiet this Sunday afternoon. There was a good supply of newspaper and magazines, and I helped myself to some buffet salads and had a glass of wine – of which there was a wide choice of both white and red. We walked down to the gate (B42) and fast track was working so jumped the queue and were on board quickly.
The seat: It was a treat to be in 64A on the upper deck (see seatplan here). Regular flyers know why this is a great seat, but for those new to Clubworld, here are the reasons.
- The upper deck of a Boeing 747-400 (jumbo) is smaller and quieter than the main deck, with only 20 seats in a 2-2 configuration rather than a 2-4-2 configuration.
- The window seats, though facing backwards (as they do on the upper deck) have a side storage space which comes in useful for bags, magazines etc during the flight.
- In the case of 64A you have unimpeded access to the aisle, without having to climb over the feet of the passenger next to you - which isn’t true for the majority of passengers.
- Although one disadvantage of the upper deck is that it’s difficult to disembark quickly, since the main deck passengers are already down where the door opens on the main deck, at least you are at the front of the queue for the upper deck.
- Another possible disadvantage of the upper deck is the overhead lockers are smaller than the main deck, but there is storage space at the top of the stairs among the jackets for wheelie bags and if you are in 6A you are close to this area for quick retrieval when disembarking.
My jacket was taken before we set off and we were offered a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. There has been mention on the businesstraveller.com forum about whether gold card holders in the BA Exec Club are ever welcomed back on board. I’ve found it rarely happens, and it didn’t happen on this flight either.
The blinds on my side of the aircraft were down, presumably because it was a sunny day and helped keep the aircraft cool. I was expecting them to be raised for take off, but they stayed down.
The flight: Shortly after take-off the meal service began. Menus description follows.
- Starters: Smoked salmon and trout roulade with radish and fennel salad or Potted Barber’s 1833 mature Cheddar with spiced apple chutney, fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette. Mains: slow-braised beef with rosti potatoes; chicken and cashew panang curry with stir-fried snake beans, cauliflower and jasmine rice; spinach tagliatelle with a mushroom truffle sauce and pumpkin or chilled main course salad of curry-scented prawns with mango and spring onion quinoa. Dessert: Banoffee torte with caramel sauce; ice cream; Cropwell Bishop Stilton and St Paulin cheese with biscuits or a selection of fruit and chocolates.
- Champagne: Lanson Black Label.
- Whites: Chablis 2009. Domaine Louis Moreau; Vasse Felix Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Margaret River Western Australia or Barwick Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River, Western Australia (this last was not available on this flight).
- Reds: Quinta de Cottas Tinto 2009, Douro, Portugal or Chateau de la Riviere 2004, Fronsac, Bordeaux or Langmeil Three Gardens “SGM” 2007, Barossa Valley.
The service was efficient and reasonably friendly, though I do think some of the service betrays the age in which initial training was given. The phrase “Would sir care for some more wine....?” is really something from the 1980s, or earlier, but you could hear it round the cabin.
Anyway, although this began as a day flight, with the time difference it would quickly become an overnight one, so I went to sleep for the next five hours, waking just before breakfast was served - chilled fruit juice, fruit smoothies of blueberry and banana, fresh fruit, granola with fruit compote and yoghurt; English breakfast of scrambled eggs, grilled bacon, Cumberland sausage, tomato and sautéed potatoes, Spanish-style potato omelette or chicken congee.
Arrival: We landed slightly ahead of time, and disembarkation was without incident. We had a 10-minute wait for our bags
Verdict: Not bad – I think the upper deck really comes into its own on overnight flights – which this was, though because of our take off time in the late afternoon, many passengers did not sleep for the majority of the flight. It’s definitely quieter on the upper deck, and if you aren’t desperate to get off first, it’s worth trying to reserve (assuming you have tier staus in the BA Executive Club programme).