British Airways (Heathrow T5 to Glasgow)

After a productive few hours at London Heathrow, it was time to board the flight to Glasgow from the domestic gates. I don’t normally take domestic flights for environmental reasons, but more on that later in this post. The boarding process was smooth and efficient, although there was a situation that I’ve never seen before that no-one in Group 1 boarding came forwards, and there were only two of us in Group 2 boarding. The member of staff at the gate said to me that this was unusual, although it wasn’t for lack of customers as the flight was nearly full. I think that more customers are just remaining in their seats until the end of the boarding process, which is what I tend to do if I have an aisle seat.

The meander down to the aircraft, which I unfortunately couldn’t take a photo of as it was hidden behind the air bridge at both ends with no viewing points from the terminal. The aircraft was an A320, registration code G-TTNR, and it was only delivered to British Airways two weeks ago.

The aircraft was spotlessly clean and things feel much cleaner than they used to when boarding British Airways flights. There were no maintenance issues, although the aircraft is only two weeks old and so it would be a little strange if there were.

Every customer was given a Dettol wipe if they wanted to clean their seat area a bit more.

Ready to depart. I’m still intrigued at watching the bags that customers try and fit into the overhead lockers, with some clearly never going to fit. But, I don’t get involved with such dramas…..

I had an emergency exit row seat and there was no-one sitting next to me, I’m guessing due to BA’s Theoretical Seating platform.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 20:15, but the boarding process was so smooth that the pilot made an announcement to say he was ready to go early. Air traffic control were happy, so we left at 20:06. The flight was also meant to arrive at 21:40, but we landed at 21:17, so much earlier than I had anticipated. Above is Heathrow whilst we were taxiing before take-off.

British Airways flights in Euro Traveller have reverted to offering a free drink and snack. This was the crisps and water offered on this flight, sufficient I imagine for most customers given the short journey.

The disembarkation process was by seat row, so customers were told to remain seated until their batch of five seats rows were announced. An American in the row behind me said “you’d never get this in the United States, everyone remaining seated” and I must admit that even I was surprised at the compliance. I didn’t have much interaction with the crew, but they offered a friendly hello and goodbye, so that’s good enough for me on a flight of this length.

Back to the environmental issue that I mentioned earlier. I’m a huge advocate of the rail network and have been delighted at the improvements that have been made over the last two decades. But, for these long journeys, the rail network cannot match British Airways in cost, in comfort, in efficiency or in its ability to allow customers to get work done. This sort of journey should be viable by rail as the best option for the environment.

Looking back to my LNER journey a few weeks ago, the company is just badly run as far as I’m concerned, and they can’t even get seat reservations right, let alone have enough staff to deal with the problem customers. Long journeys need to be handled more elegantly by rail companies so that customers are actually comfortable. At the same time, British Airways has worked out how to transport people cheaply, with excellent customer service and handles customer loyalty well. And, they’re doing it with the advantage that it’s a much quicker form of transport. There needs to be a much greater capacity on the mainlines from London to Scotland if they want people to get out of cars and off planes to go back onto the rail network. This is all happening whilst the HS2 East leg looks to be cancelled and that wasn’t meant to open until 2033 anyway.

The nearest best option is the sleeper service and I enjoyed using that, but it’s being threatened with strike action which makes it hard to rely on. If they retain some of their social distancing so as not to pack out the carriage, then that becomes more viable as there are lounge areas and it’s a comfortable enough way to travel. I accept that it’s possible to use coach services and these are much cheaper, but the length of journey and lack of comfort are challenges here. I got the long distance National Express service from Newcastle to London and they hadn’t even bothered to provide seats at the bus station (or outside it in my case, as the bus stations is shut for many departures) for waiting customers and had drivers smoking in the entrance to their coach. I can’t quite imagine the pilot standing in the British Airways cabin vaping away whilst vaguely looking at customers walking by.

On many Amtrak services in the United States, a staff member welcomes customers and shows them where their seat is and writes their destination above the seat on a card. There is a substantial amount of leg room, there are observation cars, a buffet car and the whole service feels spacious and comfortable. It’s easy to get work done and there’s a loyalty scheme which rewards frequent travellers. On long-distance rail services in the UK, there’s no-one greeting customers, there’s often not even a seat (or someone else is sitting in it), there’s a poor loyalty scheme, crammed in seats, no observation cars and inadequate dining cars. But there’s not much point in offering that to customers given that the network is so busy already.

So, in short, this was a near perfect flight experience for me and I can absolutely see why customers are choosing this form of transport. I have no need to take domestic flights on a regular basis, but I was surprised to see just how efficiently British Airways are managing the process at the moment. Given the problems with using rail for long journeys, I suspect that the best medium-term strategy is finding more environmentally efficient air travel and I know that funding is pouring into that. Otherwise, we’ll have another 50 years of people staying in their cars and driving everywhere, which really isn’t ideal as it’ll lead to no end of new road projects.

Anyway, rant over and a very lovely flight from British Airways.