Tag Archives: British Airways

I Love British Airways

Firstly, I love British Airways.  I love the familiarity and the staff. From check in to on board service, it’s always excellent. Fact that I fly mostly out of Boston makes it even more intimate. Station managers, Nick and Carol, are simply awesome. In any service industry, staff and friendly recognition are key reasons for customer loyalty.  That’s what you get from the Boston team.

They have a new fancy lounge at BA in Logan. It’s nice and offers easier access to the plane but unless you’re desperate to save money, I prefer to stay outside the lounge and grab a bite at Legal Seafoods. A nice addition to Terminal E departures.

The only gripe I have on BA is with the night flight. It’s too damn short. Tonight it logged in at 5 hours and 40 minutes. Let’s forget about food. It means after takeoff and prep for landing you can’t grab more than two hours sleep if you’re lucky. And I use all the tricks. Bose noise cancelling heads sets, eye shades and a sleeping pill. Two months ago I flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. 11 hours. Time for dinner, a movie, and six hours of sleep. Maybe that is the way to go to get to London. A little overshooting of the metaphorical runway and a late arrival in London…but sleep! I’ll take the day flight on BA next time.

Day Flight

The BA Day Flight

How I love that day flight.

You can work through the day on the plane, arrive looking roughly the same as when you left, and get to enjoy a great meal in London before you begin your journey.  Or better still, grab a hotel night at the incredibly convenient Sofitel that is situated at Terminal 5 at Heathrow.  This hotel is a dream especially if your onward connection the following day is on British Airways and therefore in Terminal 5.

British Airways operates day flights from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston.

The flight time from Boston is 5 hours and 50 minutes and while it is not recommendable for people who are trying to save a hotel night by sleeping on an airplane seat, the difference in a healthy travel experience and a somewhat acceptable looking human being emerging from the plane is well worth it.  The great news is that during the summer months you can connect all the way through to Paris (if you are a BA fan) or to more exotic places like Palma in Mallorca (I’m a big fan).

Imagine – you depart Boston at 8:10 am, do some work, watch a movie, connect through to Paris, and by midnight you can be sitting down in a restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Germain, as I did in the Café Louise.

At that point it is still only 7pm in the evening on Boston time.  True confession: I am a secret addict of the day flight.

Basement Bargains Abroad

There is good news out there for international travel. The RyanAir, Southwest airline, Easy Jet model has moved into long haul. You get food of course, but instead of departing from a major hub like Boston, you fly from Providence and the price difference on a transatlantic flight to Germany can be over $1000.

No way! Yes!

And here’s the deal. If you think airlines you’ve never heard of, like Condor, are going to force British Airways or Lufthansa to change their fare structure, think again. The big guys are figuring that you don’t want to fly from an airport that’s 30 miles from where you originally wanted to fly to, even for bargain travel. And the chances are that you didn’t check the routing thoroughly enough on Expedia. If you want to fly from Boston to Frankfurt, that’s what you’re going to get, prices from Boston to Frankfurt. So you’ve got to be smart and outsmart the technology, which is going to auto-populate and drive you to the bigger hubs.

Furthermore, business class is cheap on these airlines; baggage fees are waived and the booze is still free. So drink up, enjoy the Euro and look for Condor expanding beyond Seattle, Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale and Baltimore. And in case you’re looking for nonstop from New York, Chicago or LA on second-tier airlines – good luck, you’re not going to find them. Happy Travels! Oh, and guess what, the secret’s out Condor is actually owned by Lufthansa.

Turkish Arrival

It is at once an exotic place, a border country between Asia and Europe which has this veneer of Euro sophistication, spotty in places, but reassuringly there. Istanbul’s airport is actually quite a welcoming place. A fairly modern arrival terminal that has pretty much all the stuff that Boston’s terminal E seems to lack (shops, restaurants, Starbucks – anything that would make your journey more pleasant). The only hold up is the visa processing, which is done ahead of time yet still tacks on a couple of minutes to each passenger’s stamp of approval. I avoided the long lines by grabbing a fast track pass. Even though they should not have given it to me, the British Airways’ staff seemed quite accommodating, dishing them out like nobody’s business. Thank goodness, otherwise the line would’ve been a bit of a nightmare.

The drive from the airport into the center of town takes around 30 minutes, depending on traffic. And traffic indeed, is the first thing that awaits you in this mega-city of around 14 million people. It is the usual mess of airport sprawl that greets the traveler until at some point you have this sense of the city; the Bosphorus in the background, the great Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and suddenly you’re in. One of my great wishes transferring from airports into town is to somehow whisk past all the ugliness and surface in the city itself. I guess I’d call that the London Underground and the Piccadilly line – where are they when you want them?

This place is so steeped in history and diversions you can feel it oozing from the buildings around you. This is after all Constantine’s capital, the first move towards Christendom and the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. This was the center of the power of the Ottomans that stretched into the 20th Century. This is modern day Turkey, profoundly changed by its prophet Atatürk, and to this day a secular political institution with deep Islamic roots. Imagine this, it is bordered by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Armenia. It practically touches the Greek Islands of Kos and Rhodes. It is economically more prosperous than many European countries, and is a key ally to the US. Its economy is booming and we need it to boom, we need it to prosper. It makes our world a safer place. My favorite hotels to stay at would be the Four Seasons Hotel, formerly the infamous Sultanahmet Prison; the Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski on the Bosphorus with an incredible infinity swimming pool that gives you the impression, God forbid, that you are actually swimming in the Bosphorus itself!

Istanbul for a 3-day getaway is absolutely perfect. It’s two time zones away from London. It has great restaurants, a fantastic nightlife, amazing stuff to see and buy and it’s kind of edgy. It’s a good time to go, to see a side of Islam that is not often portrayed. Good for the spirit, good for the soul and good for a better worldview of stuff. And incidentally, the Syrian border is nearly a thousand kilometers away!

We ended up at a hotel in Taksim Square. Being here is simply to take advantage of less expensive hotels and essentially it’s a jumping off point. There is a main street with lots of shops, bland restaurants and a San Francisco-type tram that goes up and down the hill. Taksim Square could be called “tacky” square, so it was fitting that our hotel was called, of all things, The Titanic (http://www.titanic.com.tr/). Maybe they hadn’t read the book, maybe they had seen another film altogether? We hoped our stay would be disaster-free! Check into the room and out on the streets, there is stuff to do in this city and I haven’t been here for a while.

I had not been for several years and so I immersed myself in re-sightseeing, refreshing or simply being in denial about my forgetfulness. The Hagia Sophia was closed the day we were there, so we took in the Blue Mosque, we went down to the cisterns and saw the Medusa, we spent some time at Topkapi Palace, which has beautiful views across the water and rummaged around the spice market and the Grand Bazaar. The city is tightly woven like a fine cloth, nothing is too far away from each other, and everything really, is on the other side of the Galata Bridge. The smells from the spice market waft through the air, mingling with the call to prayer. The guys selling tea on portable stands pop up like Starbucks and the Turkish ice cream guys play with the ice cream as if it were molten metal, drawing the tourists in – me included. Incidentally if you are crazy enough to want to go to a soccer game, the stadiums are in the center of town and Turkish fans make English fans look docile.

On the Subject of Seating…

On the Subject of Seating… have you ever wondered why you feel like a million dollars when you get an upgrade to business or first class? Is it because you have escaped the back of the plane? Well, partly of course. Who really wants to sit cramped up for 8 hours playing elbow war with your fellow passengers? Or worse still, knee war with the person in front of you who actually thinks that it’s cool to lower his seat so you can barely breathe or function. But the reality is that this feeling of elation as you settle into your semi luxurious environment and as you watch the coach passengers cramped into their seats has been carefully stage managed. After all, it is still the same long tube. Imagine if I said, “How about a hotel night for $24,000 with a lousy meal and your bed is a single bed and you’ll be sleeping next to someone you don’t know who snores all night?”


So, architects have to create a dream or illusion. A great article in the New Yorker called “Game of Thrones” by David Owen tells the story of how it all started. In 1995, British Airways was the first airline to introduce fully flat beds in first class. From then on in, horizontal sleeping in airplanes became a competitive war of out-maneuvering and upping the ante, eventually spreading to business class while the poor coach fliers felt their knees touching the backseat of the passenger in front of them more and more. I recently went to an Emirates launch where they boasted of having showers for first class passengers.

One of the amazing things about the experience of flying in comfort is that it becomes addictive and can often be the highlight of the trip. A company based in the Shoreditch area of London designs airline seats for both Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. James Park, its founder, started the company in 1974. His job is to create a space that is compliant with the safety regulations with a cool entertainment system and seating that can be acceptable in coach and astonishing in first class. All of this comes at an enormous cost. One of the amazing things is that the small video screen in coach which serves as your in-flight entertainment can cost around $1,000 per inch. That means that it’s roughly $10,000 per screen in coach alone. Not a bad precaution as it ensures that there are no cross wires so that somebody in 33C is not suddenly flying the plane. Seats have to be refreshed and ready for immediate re-boarding. Think of a wine spill or something even more grotesque!

Both Singapore and Cathay have been number one and number two in alternating years in airline comfort and first class/business class travelers’ choice for many years. The amount of design that goes into creating the space that you are sitting in is where the architects make their money. If you are flying on Alitalia in “Magnifica” class, then you know that they did not spend any money on their interior architecture. If you fly Delta, United, or American, for the most part you will not experience that same dream sequence as Singapore, Cathay, or Emirates. These are the big players in comfort zones and it stretches from the front to the back of the plane. No detail is left behind. You can even sleep with your wife in a double bed with a private curtain if you want to.


British Airways reaches for a place in the upper hierarchy and even though their fleet has been upgraded, it is still miles away from the design and style of those three airlines. The fishbone-style seating in Virgin is cramped and out of date. Even on American Airlines, which has just upped the ante on its New York – London route by refitting its first class cabins, it misses the most important aspect of all of flying which is the service, the attentiveness, and the enthusiasm of the flight attendants from the top to the bottom of the plane.

Ultimately, you can spend all the money you want on refitting a plane but the flight attendants have the potential to undo it all in one second. That is the most reassuring part of the ever-changing tube we spend our lives flying in. No matter how fancy they make it inside, the fact is that the winning formula has to have the human element. The smile, the special attention, and imagining that every single person especially in coach is doing this for the first time and you have only one chance to make a first impression.

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