Tried & Tested

British Airways B747-400 World Traveller (economy class)

18 Nov 2009 by Mark Caswell

CHECK-IN I arrived at Vancouver airport at 1900 for my 2045 flight BA84 to London Heathrow. I had checked in online earlier in the day, so went straight to BA’s fast bag-drop counters – there were four of them and no queues. I was glad I’d checked in online, as the queues at the two economy check-in counters were considerable. Security was to the right of check-in and was slow – it took a long time for bags to pass through the scanner, and my boarding card was checked a total of four times during the process, which I thought a tad excessive. After passing my laptop through in a separate tray, it was then selected for a random check, and I had to open the lid for staff to have a look. I was airside at 1925 and had a wander around. The shops were beginning to close and I noted the poor selection of dining outlets – if you didn’t want full-on table service in the restaurant, fast food was the only option.

BOARDING I kept an eye on the departure screens but the status of my flight wasn’t shown, so I made my way to Gate 64 at 2000. Boarding was just beginning – first special assistance, then first and business class, then premium economy and then economy. A queue had built up both on the economy airbridge (there was a separate one for first and business) and in the aisle on the plane. I was in my seat by 2020.

THE SEAT This was a four-class B747-400 Mid-J configuration. For the seatplan, click here. Economy was in a 3-4-3 configuration (ABC-DEFG-HJK). There were two economy cabins with rows labelled 28-37 and 39-53 (there were only three seats, HJK, in row 39, and there were no seats A or K in rows 28 or 51-53). I was in seat 49D, which I had selected when I checked in online. The seat was comfortable and upholstered in blue fabric with a built-in headrest. There was a decent amount of legroom for economy and it reclined via a button in the armrest. The control for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system was fitted to the armrest and there was a seatback screen ahead of me, with a magazine rack underneath. A warm blanket and a pillow were provided along with a pair of headphones. On my outbound flight, when there was no one sitting next to me, I had thought the headphones were decent enough, but on this flight I could hear the film my neighbour was listening to over my own, even with mine at full volume.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Normally I would prefer an aisle seat on a night flight, preferring direct aisle access and the ability to stretch my legs out when feeling stiff. But I really noticed the density of the 3-4-3 layout on this aircraft – the aisle was so narrow that cabin crew could just about push the trolley down it, and I was continually bumped into by staff and by customers on their way to the toilet. So if you want to sleep, I would recommend a window seat.

In my cabin, seats HJK in row 39 and ABC and DEFG in row 40 had the most legroom, being positioned at the front behind the bulkhead, although bear in mind that cots are placed here when necessary, and the galley is in front of you so you may suffer disturbance. Avoid the back couple of rows as they are closest to the toilets. In the front cabin, the top row, 28, offers the most legroom, as do A and K in row 29 as there are no seats in front of these. Avoid the back row, 37, as you won’t be able to recline your seat fully.

THE FLIGHT We pushed back at 2040 and were in the air 15 minutes later. A drink service was provided shortly after take-off, followed by a meal service. There was a lengthy gap between the special vegetarian meals being served and everyone else’s. The choice was between beef, vegetables and potatoes, or vegetable lasagne. I had the former and it was adequate. It came with a roll, a salad with a separate sachet of peppercorn ranch dressing (nice), cheesecake, tea or coffee, and wine or soft drinks (someone asked for a Scotch but was refused). I found the service rather hurried, maybe because there was a fair bit of turbulence in the first couple of hours of the flight.

I then settled down to watch a couple of films on the audio-video on-demand IFE system – there was a good selection of new releases. Water was offered only once during the flight so I went to the back of the aircraft to fill up my water bottle. An hour and a half before landing a snack box was served, containing a turkey and cheese bagel (at least I think it was turkey – there was no discernable taste), a yogurt, a Nutri-Grain bar and an orange juice, plus tea or coffee.

ARRIVAL We landed at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 1345 local time, ten minutes ahead of schedule, and were off the plane 20 minutes later. I caught the transit to the main terminal building and there was a short queue at immigration. My bag was waiting on the carousel on the other side and I was landside at 1420.

VERDICT A decent long-haul offering with a good entertainment offering, although the dense ten-across seating in economy doesn’t make for the most comfortable flight.

PRICE An economy return from London Heathrow to Vancouver in November started from £637 online.


Michelle Mannion

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