Tried & Tested

Flight review: British Airways A321neo Club Europe

29 May 2021 by Hannah Brandler
BA flight Lisbon

Last week, we flew to Lisbon to mark the first day of the resumption of international travel, returning the following day (May 18) after a brief tour of the city.

See our review of the outbound flight here:

Flight review: British Airways A320 Club Europe – London Heathrow to Lisbon

Returning to the UK

In order to be accepted back into the UK from a ‘green’ list country, all travellers (including UK nationals and residents) must:

  • Provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days of departure to the UK
  • Submit a passenger locator form
  • Take a Covid-19 test on or before Day 2, which must be booked and paid for prior to departure to the ‘green’ country

For the first of these, I took a Qured rapid antigen test in my hand luggage with me to Lisbon, as this takes away the stress of having to find a testing provider in a foreign country. These LFD (lateral flow) cost £33.14 with the British Airways discount.

The Qured tests require a video consultation with one of its staff, so you will need strong wifi and a mobile device to use this particular antigen test. I took it at 1330 on the day I arrived (as we were flying home the following day), and received my result within 15 minutes by email, and an official ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate at 1745 as proof that the test was negative.

To see how these lateral flow tests work, see

Review: British Airways x Qured rapid antigen test

The only difference is that Qured is now using Healgen Rapid Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test kits, which thankfully require just a nasal swab rather than a throat and nose one.

The passenger locator form asks you to provide your travel information, including personal information, flight and passport details, your Day 2 test booking reference, the address where you will be staying for the first 10 days in the UK, and the statement that best describes your situation. While it seems that these should be two separate options, I had to pick: “I need to self-isolate when I arrive in the UK, or I am travelling from a low risk (green) list country or island”.

I ordered a Randox Day 2 test before departing for Portugal, and it was delivered to my home address before I left the UK. This test includes NGS (next generation sequencing) for variant surveillance on day 2.

To ensure there were no further obstacles to returning home, I downloaded all of the forms and test receipts to my phone and also had them printed out as a back-up. If you weren’t someone who needed a checklist for travel before, your time has come.

Check-in

On my outbound flight, I had to attach proof of a negative PCR test result and Portugal’s passenger locator form in order to proceed to check-in. The return flight, however, did not require me to upload any documents to check in online.

British Airways advises that you download the Verifly app and upload your documents on here, but this is not mandatory and you can check in online and receive your boarding pass regardless. I found the Verifly app to be rather useless, as it only verified my negative Covid-19 test once I had landed in England. See our review of the app here:

Review: the Verifly App

As the documents were still ‘pending’ on my Verifly app on the morning of the flight, I decided that it would be best to visit the Club Europe check-in desk at Lisbon to ensure that all my documents were in order. Staff asked for proof of a negative Covid-19 test and the passenger locator form – I had both on my phone and printed out. The airport was extremely quiet, so there were hardly any queues and I was done within a couple of minutes.

The same was true of security, which was empty, with all the lanes free. I made it through within five minutes.

We gave ourselves plenty of time at the airport in case there were issues with documents and queues, but this meant a fair amount of hanging around as it had been so quick to get in. The lounges were shut, so we sat in the main departures area where the shops and cafes are located.

It was reassuring to see that the airport had many Covid-19 measures in place, including signage on seats for social distancing and the use of electrostatic sprayers.

We made our way through the empty airport to passport control at 1000. The e-gates weren’t accepting travellers from the UK so we passed by the EU lane, and made our way to the ‘other passports’ desk, where there were no queues again. This was quick again, and my passport was stamped.

Boarding

While boarding was meant to begin at 1025, it was delayed by 25-30 minutes due to cleaning of the aircraft. The flight was two-thirds full, with many passengers visiting relatives in the UK for the first time in months. Boarding was done by rows, starting at the back of the plane, so Club Europe passengers were not given priority.

I was once again in seat 12F so was called towards the end of boarding at 1058. I was asked to scan my own boarding pass – which was printed out at check-in – and a staff member checked my passport, asking that I briefly lift my mask down.

My seat

This was an A321neo aircraft with 208 seats in two classes: Club Europe (12 rows with 72 seats) and Economy (136 seats). It was a three-three configuration of ABC – DEF.

In Club Europe (business class), the middle seats are kept empty so people are only seated in A, C, D and F. Of the 72 seats, therefore, only 48 are occupied. We used the table in the empty seat to rest our tech gadgets when the food service began.

I was in seat 12F, a window seat on the last row of business class. A curtain separates the cabin from economy, but this was only drawn at 1135, 25 minutes after take-off. There is a storage area in the foot locker, and power for the laptop below the seat.

I enjoyed this seat on my outbound flight, but the return flight was not an emergency exit row so I didn’t have as much leg room. It was a rather uncomfortable journey, as the child behind me kicked my seat for most of the flight.

In Economy class, passengers were sat directly next to each other. There is a washroom at the front (for Club Europe only), and two washrooms at the rear of the plane. Passengers were told to wait for a green light to avoid queuing for the toilets.

BA flight Lisbon to London

The flight

Boarding was complete by 1110, five minutes after the intended departure time.

As we were taxiing, an automated announcement informed passengers of the Covid-19 measures in place, the need to wear a face covering, and that travellers needed to fill in a passenger locator form to enter the UK – this was repeated as we landed.

The views from my window seat as we departed Lisbon were stunning, overlooking the city’s red-tiled rooftops and the never-ending Vasco de Gama bridge, a 17km structure named after the Portuguese discoverer.

To join the wifi network, there’s a sticker on the seat in front stating that you need to visit shop.ba.com, where you can choose from a number of packages. It costs £1.99 to use messaging apps, £4.99 for web browsing and video streaming for one hour, and £7.99 for the duration of the flight. I didn’t purchase any of these and am glad that I didn’t waste my money, as I noticed that the connection was temporarily lost several times throughout the journey. When the wifi was limited, it wasn’t possible to purchase it, and it said that you could still use messaging services if already connected.

The flight was a little turbulent, but still comfortable. Everyone was wearing masks apart from when eating or drinking (or if exempt).

BA wifi

Food and drink

Drinks and lunch service was a little delayed, starting at around 1146, and reaching the final row where I was sat at 1230. Passengers were offered a bag of nuts with their drinks. Economy passengers were offered a drink and a snack.

While there’s a high chance that you won’t get a choice of meals in row 12 (as passengers here are served last), I still had two options from Do and Co catering during this flight: a cottage pie and a vegetarian mezze salad. I enjoyed the latter, a colourful dish featuring roasted carrots, cauliflower and kale on a bed of pearl barley and tahini, and a sprinkling of pomegranates. It was delicious, and was served with a bread roll and an orange gelatinous dessert which was far too sweet.

The cabin crew offered tea and coffee at 1300, but it was a bit turbulent at this time so I opted to stick with my water bottle that I bought at the airport. Before landing, the cabin crew also offered bottles of still water to business class passengers.

BA meal

Arrival

The landing was similarly picturesque to take-off, with views of London’s sights such as the 02 Arena and the greenery of Hyde Park. We arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 1332 despite taking off late, which was a welcome surprise as I was dreading border control after reading reports of three-hour queues at Heathrow the day before. It was quite an abrupt landing, and rain began to stream across the windows – a typical gloomy arrival in the UK.

The cabin crew then announced that travellers shouldn’t leave their seats until their row number was announced to allow for social distancing. People got up immediately, and were then reminded to sit down. Club Europe was the first to disembark as we exited the aircraft from the front of the plane.

Luckily, the gate was extremely close to border control, where signs informed you to get travel documents including your passport, proof of a negative Covid-19 test, a completed passenger locator form, and evidence of the testing or quarantine package you have booked (depending on whether you have visited a green, amber or red list country).

There were no queues, and it looked like most of the desks were manned. Not that this mattered, as we were ushered to the e-gates – which I previously read wouldn’t be open. On our way to the e-gates, a staff member asked if I had the aforementioned documents, whether my passenger locator form included a booking reference for the Day 2 test and if I had visited any ‘red’ list countries in the past ten days (thankfully not).

While I had my papers folded up and ready to show, my answers seemed to be proof enough, and I proceeded to the e-gate and made it through immediately. The e-gates only check your passport, as they are not equipped to verify any Covid-19 documents. While the government can check whether you have completed your passenger locator form (which includes your Day 2 test booking reference), I never had to upload my negative Covid-19 rapid antigen test result anywhere which seems worrisome.

It took approximately six minutes from leaving the plane to get through security. While I had a lucky exit, it’s important to consider that this was the second day of permitted travel, and there weren’t many people entering the UK on the day I arrived.

As I left the e-gates, I noticed a cordoned-off lane for red-list arrivals. Heathrow has confirmed that it will use its Terminals 3 and 4 as dedicated facilities for passengers from red list countries from June 1 to prevent mixing with arrivals from ‘green’ or ‘amber’ list countries at immigration or baggage reclaim.

Heathrow border control

Post-arrival

I arrived in the UK on Tuesday May 18, which counted as ‘day zero’, so I took my Day 2 test on Thursday May 20 using Randox. Travellers do not need to quarantine while waiting for results, and will only need to isolate if the test comes back positive.

I took it at home at 1230 and delivered it to one of the provider’s ‘drop boxes’ an hour later, and received my negative result via email the following day at 1315. You can see a list of government-approved providers here, which includes cost, the test method, the turnaround time and the region.

Landing in Heathrow

Verdict

It pays to be organised in the era of pandemic travel, but it’s definitely still worth it – though perhaps for a longer stay. Hassle-free travel won’t return for a while, and you’ll have to deal with the expense of testing and all of the admin in the meantime, but there’s nothing better than experiencing a new destination after months of isolation.

My return trip with British Airways was quick and rather stress-free due to the emptiness of Lisbon airport, but the flight itself was less comfortable than the outbound journey due to my seat. For those that needed to work, the wifi service seemed to be poor. When it comes to border control, the wait times are likely to increase as holiday-goers return from their travels in the next few weeks, and as the peak summer season begins. Only time will tell.

For the record, I was Covid-free on my return.

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