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Flying the Flag
British Airways in general
Member Name: rosebud2001
British Airways in general
Date: 24/08/12, updated on 27/08/12 (265 review reads)
Advantages: Extensive route network, regular sales with good regional connections, good cabin crew
Disadvantages: No getting away from it - the fleet is old and internally some aircraft are very shabby
In the past year I have flown BA on several flights - three times across the Atlantic along with several domestic flights on the airline.
It wasn't always thus - for many years British Airways were too expensive for transatlantic flights - although my very first flight to the US was on BA I didn't actually get round to flying them there again until 12 years later. Similarly the regular BA flights I used to take from London to Brussels when my husband worked there in the late 90s ended up giving way to cheaper alternatives courtesy of Eurostar and the now defunct Virgin Express airline.
Moving back to Scotland is the main reason I find myself flying them again. There are only a couple of airlines which fly direct to the US from Scotland and they charge a lot of money for the privilege. It used to be I turned my nose up at connecting elsewhere for a flight but with the advent of Terminal 5 at Heathrow I have changed my mind and have flown enough sectors on BA over the course of the past year that I now have enough status to make them more attractive than the opposition.
British Airways is the UK's national flag carrier but as regional departures have shrunk over the years they are sometimes described as "London Airways" in light of the fact all their long haul flights depart from either Heathrow or Gatwick. The airline has domestic connections within the UK to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Jersey.
The airline has been in existence in its present form since 1974 and is one of the few airlines in the world which fly to all six inhabited continents. The fleet is served predominantly by Boeing aircraft such as the 747 and 777 on long haul routes with Airbus being more predominant on short haul routes. British Airways is a member of the One World Alliance which means many of their flights codeshare with operators such as Qantas, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
Most long haul routes operate into and out of London Heathrow but there are exceptions with destinations served at Gatwick. These seem to be more leisure oriented routes - such as Male and Orlando - and there are also domestic and short haul routes serving the airport's North terminal.
Domestic flights operate using a single class cabin, whereas short haul flights have Club Europe seats at the front for business travellers and Euro Traveller for the economy section. The one exception to the domestic one class rule is the London Gatwick to Jersey route, which includes a Club Europe cabin. Flying long haul aircraft will either have a four class formation comprising of First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller (Economy) or a three class formation which omits First.
The aircraft has a four star rating from Skytrax which is pretty good for a European carrier although I have to say I think this is perhaps a little on the generous side.
As a full service airline what you pay when you buy a ticket covers almost everything, included checked baggage, airport check-in and drinks on board. All domestic flights that depart before around 9.00 am offer a cooked breakfast to all passengers and you do get fed if you fly Club Europe. The only thing BA charge extra for is the option to choose where you sit before online check-in opens, and this can be irritatingly expensive - £30 per person per sector adds up quickly for instance. The only way to avoid these charges is to have status with the airline.
Check in can be done online and there are several ways to get a boarding pass - you can print one at home, print one at the airport or save one to your phone. Baggage allowances are generous - even in economy you are allowed one cabin sized bag and a smaller bag along with one checked bag. Both the cabin bag and the checked bag can weigh up to 23 kilos but be warned - you have to be able to put your cabin bag in an overhead locker yourself - if you can't a member of cabin crew won't help you and it will have to be checked in. Baggage allowances are more generous in premium cabins and if you have Silver or Gold status with the airline.
Over the past year I have flown British Airways on 18 different flights and in several different cabins. The airline has fairly regular sales and you can pick up bargains if you are aware of these sales. I took a 3 night break to Boston for instance which cost just £450 including 3 nights at a Sheraton hotel in the city. The flight we took was in World Traveller connecting at Heathrow Terminal 5 and I was fairly impressed with the World Traveller cabin although I must be honest and say the seat pitch on offer of 31 inches is a bit on the tight side.
The seats however are fairly comfortable and the headrest enables you to position yourself reasonably comfortably. World Traveller also has personal seat back TVs and on this route we did have AVOD entertainment which meant we could watch films at our leisure. Be warned however not all aircraft have the AVOD system meaning video is shown on a loop and if you miss the start well you'd better hope you've got time to watch it all second time around.
Service on BA is brisk and efficient but not particularly warm. It's certainly far more polite than anything you get on a US carrier (with the exception of Southwest Airlines who are so laid back they are horizontal) but isn't a patch on what you can expect on airlines such as Qatar or Etihad.
Food in World Traveller is generally adequate but nothing special, with the usual choice of chicken or beef available. Drinks are free but the airline is pretty stingy with the drinks trolley. I don't drink alcohol when I fly but even getting a soft drink during quiet periods can be a bit of a challenge. I get round this by always taking a bottle of water on board with me which I don't mind when departing from the UK but paying almost $5 for a bottle of filtered water in the US is annoying but sadly a necessary evil I find.
My daughter and I flew a couple of times in World Traveller Plus and I must admit this is a much nicer cabin. You get much more legroom with a seat pitch of 38 inches, a slightly wider seat and a smaller cabin with dedicated cabin crew. A fairly recent addition to World Traveller Plus is meals from the Club World cabin, served on china plates with metal cutlery - a vast improvement on the plastic and cardboard offering you get in World Traveller. The seats have a leg rest and a foot rest so it is easier to get comfortable in this cabin. The only downside about these seats is the head rest - it can't be adjusted sideways and as a result isn't a patch on the head rest in the seats at the back of the plane.
The downside about the BA cabins are they are starting to show their age and on one flight in particular the seats were very shabby and I struggled to get my leg rest to operate without the intervention of a member of the cabin crew. The airline is refitting many of their long haul aircraft but it's a slow process and certainly in comparison to airlines such as Lufthansa or Emirates, BA's fleet is old.
On short haul the cabin neglect is more evident. I flew in and out of Heathrow several times and the planes were by and large passable but the fleet used to fly in and out of Gatwick is, frankly, a disgrace. The leather seats are well past their sell by date - although in light of the service I experienced using Gatwick I would suggest it's the entire short haul fleet that's past it's sell by date.
The short haul flights I took in and out of Heathrow were, with one exception, on time. I can forgive the one delay we experienced because snow was involved. Flying into and out of Gatwick was a different kettle of fish with six out of six sectors flown all delayed. This is, I think, unacceptable and it's something BA need to address before I would seriously consider flying long haul via Gatwick with the airline.
British Airways' frequent flyer scheme is called Executive Club and I joined when I knew I was flying to Boston. What I didn't realise when I joined was my daughter could have an account too - so I set this up a month later. You start on the Blue level and work your way up collecting tier points on each flight through Bronze, Silver and Gold. I was amazed how quickly we reached Bronze, which enabled us to use Club Europe check-in desks and also to book seats free of charge 7 days before departure as opposed to 24 hours before departure as a blue member or non-member.
Once you reach Silver the benefits are greater, with free seat selection from booking and even better access to BA lounges - and partner airline lounges around the world. The lounges vary depending on where you are - at provincial airports they offer comfortable seating and free wifi but a very limited selection of food. Go to Gatwick and there's a much better array of food and showers you can use if you have a long layover between flights.
You also earn Avios points with BA flights through the Executive Club and these can be redeemed against flights or against upgrades on paid for flights. You get a 25% bonus on Avios points when you are Bronze, and this rises to a whopping 100% bonus once you hit Silver and Gold. As a result you can quickly amass a fairly decent pile of points to put towards reward flights. The only problem is availability can be difficult to find on long haul flights but I've used them on domestic flights without any problems finding seats for 9,000 Avios and £27 each.
Avios points can also be earned if you buy duty free onboard or via the BA eStore, which is worth using if you shop online regularly.
BA has become my first choice of airline these days due to the competitiveness of fares from Scotland across the Atlantic and the fact it's been fairly easy for me to get status with the airline, which makes the experience more pleasant due to perks such as Fast Track through security, and being able to use business class check in which helps alleviate the queues you find yourself standing in when travelling.
Connecting at London is generally a breeze - although it has to be said it's much nicer at Terminal 5 at Heathrow than at the North Terminal at Gatwick in my opinion. I remember when Terminal 5 opened there were some very serious teething troubles but they are a thing of the past and the only other airport I like to transit through as much is Newark New York due to ease of use and choice of eateries and shops.
When things go wrong BA generally will help you out although customer service staff at Terminal 5 can be a little abrupt. The only real issue I've had was a bag which had been checked in not arriving until 24 hours after we did. Fortunately I am the sort of traveller who always ensures there's clothing for both myself and my daughter in each suitcase so the inconvenience factor wasn't too bad.
The cabin crew are, for the most part, helpful and professional. The professional part is what I like best about BA trained crew as when I fly want to be in the hands of experienced staff who take their job seriously and I also like how there is a good mixture of both male and female crew of varying ages which is in stark contrast to when I flew Virgin Atlantic with a cabin crew which consisted almost entirely of very young, giggly girls.
Long haul economy seating isn't brilliant but it's bearable and beats any charter airline I've ever flown for legroom. If you can get a decent fare for Premium Economy in the sale it's worth it I think - but remember that's something that comes down to personal priorities and if you'd rather spend the cash when you get there. The little touches you used to get such as amenity kits in economy are long gone (you do get them in Premium Economy) but you always will get a pillow and blanket for overnight flights and you won't get charged to use a headset either.
Overall I like them and so long as the fares remain as competitive as they have been in comparison to United Airlines' flights to the US I will continue to use them regularly.
Summary: My current favourite airline - four stars on here but really it's 3 and a half.
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