When I started planning a 3-week round trip of the US Southwest, one of the main problems was getting there. Now, for the American citizen, this isn’t as hard, but for Europeans, there is one major culprit: flying long-haul. Or, rather, two…
Since I live in Hamburg, not in Frankfurt or Munich, there are no direct flights to the USA. Which means I have to catch a connecting flight. And trying to get to Vegas proved to be another challenge, as most direct flights are charter. Which left me with the option to catch a connection either in Chicago, in Newark, or in London. Calculating that I’d have to get through a lengthy and maybe stalled immigration in the U.S. (a.k.a. problem no. 2) and would probably miss my connecting flight after sitting 6-8 hours straight in a big bird (or spend another 5-8 hours in an airport) I opted for the latter, especially given the fact that British Airways had a reasonable offer for my forked trip (returning from San Francisco).
Now, one thing is clear. They are that cheap for a reason.
Don’t get me wrong: flying BA was okay. In a 90ies way, which was exactly what the old battered 747-400 aircraft we boarded in London-Heathrow looked like. Old. After having flown the bulk part of my long-haul distances over the last 8 years with Emirates, an airline which has a rather modern and well-maintained and updated fleet of Boeing-777s in numerous configurations, plus the biggest fleet of A-380s in the world, the British Airways experience was kind of … dated.
It all started with thick, unrelenting, small, uncomfortable seats and a hilariously small and lousy screen on the on-board entertainment system, which made me decide in an instant that I would not watch a movie on the 10 plus hours flight or so to Vegas. (Seriously, folks, hand out iPads.) Although the seats featured standardized headphone sockets, it really wasn’t tempting to stare at a screen with a resolution which looked like my cellphone could beat the crap out of it at 2 inches less screen diameter. There was no air outlet or control of the temperature / air flow whatsoever; the call button for the flight attendants was part of the armrest, resulting in dozens of unplanned calls to the crew by people leaning on said armrests. On the plus side, the „ears“ on the headrest of the seat helped a lot to keep your head from sagging down to your shoulder or the gap between seat and window if you fell asleep. On the downside, there was neither an electrical outlet in sight, nor any option offered to charge laptops or other devices, which is standard on Emirates planes, and should be on a 10.5 hours flight. But then, you would have had a hard time to work on anything above 11 inches with the space you had in the seats.
The design was, I may be repeating myself, old and dated (or paid-for). I can only guess that BA wasn’t willing to update these old machines, since they are waiting for their first A-380. The rubber seals of the toilets in the aft end of the plane were coming off and wiggling out; the seats, floors, windows had definitely seen better times. Several of the screens were faulty, the Fasten-Your-Seatbelt and No-Smoking signs looked like from a movie from the 80ies. The lack in comfort in the old seats, though, was my main problem, having me stand in the back area in front of exit and crew rest door for several hours, to spare my knees and back the pain of sitting. On a side note, it was pretty warm on the plane – usually airlines cool down the plane to save water weight.
The crew was kind and helpful, though terribly uncoordinated on the flight to Vegas, it was like they had never serviced a widebody before, and certainly not together, chaotic would be a very mild way to describe it. A very kind Dutch flight attendant who didn’t seem to understand English completely (or was new on the job and very very nervous) didn’t help with the organizational chaos.
Interestingly enough, BA decided to forgo the old „feather or leather“ routine and offered chicken or pasta instead (on both trips), which was awkward, because (a) the pasta was something with eggplant which was announced as ‚melanzani‘ and then an explanation that it was melanzani prepared (unintelligible) way with pasta, and (b) there was a side of pasta salad. Oh, and (c) there really is no use in offering options if you have run out of chicken already at 1/3 of the plane. Bad planning, too.
The food, although it looked like a really mediocre school meal, was tasty and good; on the trip back one choice was chicken curry, which pretty much everyone ordered, and again they were out of it really soon.
But at least on the flight back from SFO the very well-organized crew was working together like a charm and in a professional flow, quite the contrast to the first trip. The 747 on the flight from SFO was slightly more modern than the first plane, but had the same sub-par on-board entertainment, and seats only a few years younger, but —maybe due to a better seat choice on my end— better leg room and comfort. Still, comfort was what these flights didn’t offer, and flying coach on a long-haul trip is bad enough on its own. Suffering through uncomfortable seats and mediocre technology is not my idea of starting a leisure or business trip.
If I had to fly across the pond again soon, I’d rather get on an LH plane (preferably one of the 380s), try to catch LX via ZRH, or at least some carrier with planes which have been slightly modernized or refurbished, such as Virgin Atlantic. And I’ll happily pay a hundred bucks more, if it saves me the back and leg pain.
British Airways? Maybe, when they have upgraded to more modern aircraft. Until then, there are better ways to fly.