Across the Pond in Business - Part 2: British Airways A380
Right off the bat, this flight got off to a bad start. After booking my ticket, I found out that I could not pre-reserve my seat. Seats on all other legs on my ticket, including the codeshare AA flights and the European flights on BA, were available for pre-selection. However, seats on this leg from London Heathrow to Los Angeles on the A380 would cost an additional $105 to pre-select. I thought - I just paid for a premium ticket, why am I bring nickeled and dimed on the order of $100 plus to choose a seat? Being cheap, I decided to take my chances and wait until check in. As the day of the flight approached, though, I noticed all the window seats at optimum locations were being taken up quickly. I was preparing for the worst.
At my 24-hour check-in mark (which was actually 25-hours prior to departure from Heathrow - since I was connecting from Amsterdam), I checked-in from my smartphone. I was disappointed to find only two windows seats were available: 15A and 15K - at the lower level, right next to the lavatories, at the end of the business class cabin with the huge A380 wing blocking the view. I went with 15K, disappointed that I would not have a seat with a view. I was thinking back regretting (maybe just a tinny bit) not paying for seat selection. Things could have been worse, I suppose. I could have ended up in the middle. I shudder at the thought of paying all that money seated in the middle seat in business class.
I arrived at LHR via a connection from AMS. Even though I was Fast Track, I still waited a good 15 to 20 minutes to get through security. I proceeded directly to the north Galleries Lounge. From my trip there a week prior, I realized there were two lounges, with the south lounge being less crowded and having more floor space resulting in a more spacious feel. Inspite of the drawbacks, the north lounge faces Runway 9L threshold, which allowed for spotting of landing aircraft while having lunch. Photography unfortunately, was difficult to impossible as you were not right up against the glass.
Checking-in at the lounge, I was given my gate information despite it not being advertised on the departure monitors yet. That was nice because it allowed me extra time to get to the gate ahead of time to photograph the big whale.
Food and beverage selections were fantastic. The main haute meal station featured a vegetarian curry, a Singaporean dish, pasta, and rice. On the lighter side, there was a selection of sandwiches, soup, and salad. There were multiple open bars with a wide selection of alcohol for those wanting their 5 o'clock drink early. The only disappointment for me was that there were no dessert and pastry selections other than biscuits to go with my white coffee.
Basil tomato soup with tuna sandwich. I could not pass up Bitter Lemon - the taste of U.K. for me!
I asked a ticket agent to check for available window seats on my flight. Unfortunately, none was available and business class will be full today.
After lunch, I made my way way-way down below Terminal 5 to the C gates. The steep and long escalator reminded me of the same at Tube stations in London. Activity inside the C gates was decidedly low key when compared with the maddening crowds hustling and bustling in the main concourse. In case you got to the gates too early, shops and a Starbucks were available for consumption.
As passengers arrived at gate C64, it was good to see the A380 still demanded attention — even with the casual traveler. A good number of selfies were observed.
|Mr. Lee will be flying home today|
Crowding at the gate area — not unexpected for an A380 flight.
BA 269, London Heathrow (LHR) - Los Angeles (LAX)
Aircraft: Airbus A380-841
Aircraft Delivered: March 2014 (age 1.1 years)
Scheduled Departure - arrival: 3:25 pm - 6:30 pm
Actual Departure - arrival: 3:35 pm - 6:10 pm
Take-off LHR Runway 9R: 3:53 pm
Landing LAX Runway 24R: 5:59 pm
Flight Duration: 10 hours 4 minutes
Flightaware Flight Track
Some random security checks were being performed at the gate. Walking past, I came to the foot of the triple jet bridge. Too bad I didn't get a photo, but it was neat seeing electronic displays at each bridge indicating which cabins and rows that bridge went to. It felt very futuristic.
Boarding at the lower level L2 door, I was led through the galley and across the aisle to the "JK" seat side of the aircraft.
BA's Business Class is branded as "Club World". On the A380 lower level, business class is arranged in a 2-4-2 forward-reverse facing layout. Passengers in each seat-pair face one another. All window seats are backwards facing. So if you like a view, you better like facing backwards when you fly! The forward-backwards arrangement was a bit confusing on my brain. I really could not tell whether I was on the right or left side of the plane, facing front or back.
In-flight entertainment and power outlet:
|Having the tail number on the IFE is always appreciated!|
I was immediately offered orange juice or champagne. I was asked which newspaper I would like. I went with orange juice and the WSJ.
I thought the best part of the seat was the laptop tray. It can accommodate a lot more stuff than a laptop. Other than this space, however, there was no other storage available at my sides.
My seat mate and I exchanged a few pleasantries as we are pretty much forced to face each other in this seat arrangement. It was his first flight in an A380 and he was taking a good number of photos as well.
|Large air gap between the inner and outer windows at the A380 main deck window seat.|
|Another BA A380 at the next gate|
The captain welcomed everyone aboard the flight to Los Angeles "operated by our brand new A380 aircraft". There were three pilots and 22 cabin crew on board. We would be departing from Runway 9R and expecting nice weather for our evening arrival into LAX.
At 3:19 pm, 6 minutes before scheduled departure time, the doors closed and the cabin was ready for departure. However, we were still waiting for last minute cargo. We finally pushed back at 3:35 pm, 10 minutes late. Safety brief was done via the fold away personal TV. At the conclusion of the brief, flight attendants walked around and ensured everyone's monitors were stowed away.
Engine start sounded rather boomy. This was followed by a whiny sound of the lowering flaps. Even though I had flown on the A380 previously, these were new sounds to me as I had never flown at this location on the aircraft.
Interestingly enough, after engine start, the roar of the engines remained pretty much constant. At takeoff, I expected the engines to spool up and remain loud and for the remaining of the flight. It was not so. At takeoff, we accelerated and both my seat mate and I noticed how quiet it was. Inside the cabin, there was no increase in the roar as one would expect.
Due to the rainy weather, as we rotated off Runway 9R, there were massive condensation clouds and vortices. We were both impressed...it looked very cool! Too bad I didn’t have my camera ready.
With a nod and a smile to my seat-mate, I shut the electric privacy partition between the seats. The pleasantries would end now for the rest of the flight and we each would retreat to our own private world. As service began, however, I realized that partition would go up and down quite often throughout the flight.
Service began with a hot towel. I was startled when the flight attendant lowered my partition. Thump. "Hot towel?" I took it, thump again, the partition went back up. Since I was facing backwards, I could not see the service progressing behind me (unless I turn around, which was too much of a pain to do constantly). As a result, I could not anticipate and got startled every time the partition went down.
Thump! Ear plugs and eye shades were offered. The amenity kit by Elemis followed. It consisted of lip balm, shaving gel, moisturizer, toothpaste and toothbrush, socks, and pen.
My drink order was taken. I went with Diet Coke with lemon. Surprising enough, the nuts selection was prepackaged. Those darn tiny European soda cans caused me to ask for refills a few times. I was asked if I like anything additional from the bar, such as wine, which I declined.
Thump! Two hours into the flight, while over Iceland, dinner service began with Scottish salmon appetizer, salad, and choice of bread from the bread basket.
The smoked salmon was too salty. I ate all of my bread in order to soak up the saltiness in my mouth.
Besides the annoying partition, the other inelegant thing was the fact that plates of food could not be placed on my table for me. I had to reach across my seat-mate’s lap in order to pick up my plate (as well as and handing away my plate). I know it's a minor gripe, but that takes away the high end experience that I came to expect for this type of service.
My entree choice was taken. I had a hard time deciding. I didn't want pasta, nor mashed potatoes that accompanied the chicken, nor a big salad (let's just face it, who really orders the big salad when given such delicious choices?) which left the beef as my default choice. This was risky as beef dishes on airplanes can be overdone or too rare as I have read from others' experience.
The entree was nicely presented. Cutting away at the beef, came the moment of truth. The beef was dry. Too bad. Other than that, the sides were delicious and the combination overall was very flavorful.
For dessert, I was given a choice of fruit tart or cheese and crackers. I went with the tart. It didn't taste special. I wanted to have tea with my dessert. However, since the seat belt sign was on due to turbulence, the flight attendants could not serve hot beverages until it went off.
Overall, the pacing for dinner was quite slow. I was left waiting with dirty plates in between my appetizer and entree courses for quite a while (40 minutes by the count of the clock on my photos). It was probably an artifact of me seated in the back of a such large business class cabin.
Lights in the cabin dim for the evening. With the cabin lights off, another drawback of my seat location became apparent. There was the expected toilet flushing noise of course, but there was also the annoying stray bright light from the lavatory lighting up the area. In a way, I was glad this was not on an overnight flight as all of these would have annoyed me and prevented me from going to sleep.
Standard lavatory; nothing special:
A large bottled water and a small box of chocolate pralines were given for the “night”. After the seat belt sign went off, I was immediately offered tea. I enjoyed my tasty English tea with my chocolate while watching the BBC behind-the-scenes documentary about British Airways, A Very British Airline.
After checking off another episode of House of Cards off my list, I decided to take a nap. In the full flat configuration, the bed was quite comfortable. Despite the noise from the toilets, the stray light was not an issue and I was able to sleep for about three hours in the quiet cabin on the comfortable bed.
I woke up with about 2.5 hours to go. Satisfied with the productive sleep I just got, I toiled to sleep some more. But I decided against it because it was the early afternoon at home; I had to get my body back to the correct time zone. I decided to pay a visit to the snack bar, “Club Kitchen”. I went to the galley at door two, asking for the location of the bar. I was expecting a nice bar perhaps at the front or maybe upstairs. But there it was...as pointed out to me by a flight attendant — at a corner in the galley.
I asked the flight attendant, "isn't there a fancy bar — maybe upstairs — with the Speedbird logo and the nice lighting and everything?" "No, this is it"', was the reply. I was disappointed.
The selection was pretty good though. I especially liked the ice cream. I asked for black tea and told the flight attendant my seat location. She replied with a smile, "I know where you are". Nice!
What a great combination! Hot tea, fancy tiny desserts, and caramel ice cream — yummy!
I knocked off another episode of A Very British Airline. It was really a great show not only for the airline enthusiast, but it also puts the service that I was experiencing on-board (and back at Heathrow) in context.
Working on the trip report on my laptop.
At 1 hour 30 minutes to go, cabin lights came back on with a sunrise. Service began for afternoon tea.
Thump! Came my tray. My beverage choice was tea, of course. At this point, the flight attendant was aware of the annoyance of the constant up and down of the partition and when possible, squeezed through my foot stool aisle access to bring me my stuff.
I waited for the basket of scones to arrive before starting my food. After taking one, I was asked whether I wanted another. "Sure," I replied "there was plenty of jam!"
I really could get used to this — such yummy comfort good — yet so much fat and carbs!
As I was finishing up my tea (after a couple refills), the captain got on the PA and announced that we were over Yosemite and we were starting our descend. We had 250 miles to go with an expected 6 pm arrival into Los Angeles. The weather there was 18 degrees C with overcast skies.
Before landing hot towel was passed out with about 40 minutes to go. Once again, we were asked to fold away our screens though headsets were not picked up (which was good if you wanted to continue to listen to music). I switched my display to the moving map before folding it away, but it was very difficult to see while seated. As we made our approach, the view from my seat was non existent due to the large wing (unless we were in a bank).
At 5:59 pm, we touched down on Runway 24R at LAX. Total flying time was 10 hours 4 minutes.
Once again, the flaps returning to the up position was accompanied by the distinctive actuator whirling sound.
As we taxied west, I initially thought we were parking at the remote stands. But no. It was just me unfamiliar with the new Bradley terminal setup. It was a quick taxi to the gate. At 6:10 pm, we came to a stop at Gate 150.
The flight attendant stationed next to me hoped I had a good flight. I replied "it's always fun to fly on an A380". Deplaning was quick. I made my way out from door L1, walking pass First - with the seat design looking quite similar to the angled seat found on the new Air Canada or American business classes - and no forward-reverse seats there.
Once again, like Heathrow, a triple bridge facilitated unloading at LAX. There was not a feeling of crowding or waiting deplaning this A380, which was a good thing.
Conclusion and Comparison
Post Reservation Experience
American allowed for advanced seat selection at no cost whereas British wanted another $100 to choose a seat on the long haul flight. In business class. Really, BA?
AA also had dinner entree available for pre-order, which was a nice way to secure your food choice without being disappointed. The last airline I flew that had pre-order entrees was Singapore. This goes to show you how hard the new American is trying.
Both the AA LAX and BA LHR lounges were comfortable, tastefully decorated, and provided a great view of the airport action. However, free food choice at AA was lacking and unsubstantial and the drinks were not free (though the two drink chits alleviated some of that concern). BA’s variety of hot food and bottomless drinks were no comparison. BA is the hands down winner here.
Seat Design and Cabin Layout
Having a face-to-face forward-reverse design is, in my opinion, a poor choice in design on BA’s part. Herringbone and staggered seats have been around the past few years, there was really no need to resort to the face-to-face forward-reverse design from 1990. It no longer conveys your product as "premium" when compared with the competition. I suppose that configuration is fine when traveling as a couple, but it does not give you much of a choice for privacy when flying solo.
AA’s seats on the other hand, allows for privacy if you choose (at the single seat along the windows) or not if you are traveling as a pair (in the center). The configuration is very flexible.
AA’s seat provides space for storage at your side with the small table and the small cabinet. BA’s laptop drawer is nice and spacious, but I preferred the easy at-your-side accessibility on the AA seat.
Aisle access between the two seats is about the same. BAs design required a bit of squeezing to get in and out, but it was not a problem for me (though if you were a large person, it might be a problem). AA’s direct aisle access for all seats has a slight advantage here.
For sleeping, however, the AA seat felt lumpy as if the bed was put together with a bunch of cushions. That along with the noisy triple 7 engines prevented me from getting restful sleep. On the BA seat, even though the lie flat concept was same as AA, the bed configuration just felt more comfortable.
For bed comfort, advantage BA. Overall advantage: AA.
The Snack Bar
In-flight bar on the AA 773ER is simply spectacular. Inspired by the 787 entryway, its placement also provides a great first impression upon boarding. Snack choice on AA was better and beautifully presented which provided for a high-end feel.
While the corner galley concept on the BA A380 is practical and serves its purpose, it just does not convey that luxurious feeling that people expect when flying on the "new A380".
The same extends to the lavatories. The AA 773ER lav made me feel like I was in a boutique hotel, whereas on the BA A380 - like I was in an airplane.
The 777 is just LOUD, especially when seated near the engine. I'd characterize it as a rumble. That low frequency tone is just too bothersome for me, which prevented me from getting good sleep.
The A380, on the other hand, is just quiet. I think we all know that already. 'Nuff said.
I have noted these previously flying the triple and A380, so this was nothing new for me.
Presentation was nice and about the same between BA and AA. My protein was dry and overcooked on both flights. Other than that, the food was tasty and flavorful. AA had better dessert over BA, but overall, I call this a DRAW.
I know this is subjective and varies greatly on the crew. Based upon my specific flights, service on AA was very attentive. Often, a second attendant followed closely behind the first for "follow through" or "clean up" service. My crew was very friendly and approachable. Pacing during meal service was excellent, I was never left waiting or felt rushed.
Crew on BA was more formal and very professional, which is what you'd expect. Unfortunately, dinner service took too long. British service by default has that flair and elegance that comes by default with that English accent.
Advantage: AA. They were better suited for my taste and style.
Traveling as a couple, BA’s seating arrangement is not all that bad, considering the fact that the A380 is quieter and has a more comfortable bed. However, making you pay to pre-select seats after purchasing a premium ticket is just ludicrous.
All things being equal, I would choose to fly on AA over BA especially when flying solo. That is, if you are willing to forgo the lackluster lounge experience. I think with a calculated choice in seats away from the engine (which would not cost anything extra, I might add), the noise concern might be overcome. All this means is I need to find another reason to fly on AA 773ER again to give it another try!
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