Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
Hi there – thanks for checking out another series of mine. This time, I’ll be heading down to South America. The series will be split over six parts, covering the following flights:
LHR-GRU British Airways 747, First
CGH-SDU TAM A319, Economy
GIG-EZE Emirates 777-200LR, Economy
EZE-LIM TACA A320, Business
LIM-BOG TACA A321, Business
BOG-MDE Avianca A320, Business
MDE-MAD Avianca A330, Business
MAD-TLS Air Nostrum CRJ-900, Economy
TLS-LHR British Airways A321, Euro Traveller
This first part will focus on my flight to Sao Paulo with British Airways.
For most of 2014 I had been hoarding BA Avios. By around November time, I had enough for a one way ticket in their First Class cabin to pretty much anywhere on their network. As such, to get the best value, I wanted to take the longest flight possible. The most obvious choice was SIN/SYD – but having done this last year, it didn’t really appeal all that much. Next up was their longest single flight to Buenos Aires. This wouldn’t work either though as the airline only operates three class aircraft there – so no First Class. Next up was Brazil. I had a choice of either Rio or Sao Paulo. Rio was the preferred destination, however due to the fact the Sao Paulo flight left the UK at 22:00 meant I could fly on the Friday evening after work rather than on the Saturday lunchtime. Also the fact that the flight to GRU was operated by the 747 (as opposed to the 777 that flew to GIG) pretty much sealed the deal. Of course there were the taxes to consider – £361. So a pretty good deal in my book.
A nice £8377 saving I made there
Upon booking, I was glad to see that I had been pre assigned seat 1A – so no need to change anything there.
Thirty days prior to departure, I was able to pre select my main meal. I was tempted by the beef but I figured I nearly always ended up having that when I fly – so chose the sausage and mash instead.
On to the day of departure then. As my usual mode of transport to Heathrow, the National Express coach, had become increasingly unreliable over the previous months (leaving earlier than scheduled, leaving later than scheduled – and don’t mention the time the driver refused to sell me a ticket before driving off…) I decided to take a taxi to the airport instead.
After battling through the Friday evening traffic on the M25, I first took a brief look at the departures from 09R before I made my way over to the BA First check in area where I was greeted, asked where I was flying to and escorted to a free desk where I was then handed over to the check in agent, where we shared a bit of a laugh over the fancy naming of my onboard meal selection.
Once processed, I headed through the fast track security. Once through, rather than turn left through the shopping centre to make my way around the houses to the lounge complex, I was able to turn immediately right and pass through the so called “Millionaires doorway” into the Concorde room for the first time – and completing the set of BA lounges that I’ve visited at LHR. One thing that I noted almost immediately was that they made boarding announcements here – something they don’t do at the other lounges.
First stop was the Concorde dining area where I ordered a club sandwich and a very tasty treacle tart for dessert all washed down with some Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle – probably double the price of what they serve in the F lounge but admittedly I didn’t notice all that much difference.
I couldn’t help but feel that this lounge was a little small. When I first arrived there were no seats to be had inside so had to make do with the pretty tightly packed terrace area. Following that I spent the remainder of my time at the bar. I’m guessing the idea is for F pax to eat in the CCR then head over to the F lounge if they want to relax.
Mojito or two at the bar
Also of note was that none of the drinks were self serve. Everything had to be ordered at the bar – including the crisps and snacks that you can help yourself to in the J/F lounge. The same went for the coffee. Although the plus side of this arrangement was that presentation was improved.
Panorama of virtually all of the lounge – entrance from the right, terrace to the left and dining area ahead.
At around 20:40, gate B35 was announced. Rather than take the train, which hadn’t turned up yet and looked like it would be a bit busy, I decided to make the walk across – which is now advertised quite well.
Upon reaching the gate, I was pleased to see G-CIVM on stand – my very first OneWorld logo jet.
A few moments later, boarding commenced. Once more the fast track wasn’t policed at all – I noticed the person ahead of me in the queue had no status on her BP and was sat in Word Traveller. I was third on board and was shown to my seat by the purser.
Boeing 747-436 / G-CIVM
Seat: 1A / First
Off Stand: 22:01
On Stand: 05:03
Seat 1A – my home for the next 11 hours or so.
Almost immediately I was met by a very friendly crew member who introduced herself and was offered some champagne and water. As I was “caught” taking a picture, I apologised for getting in the way mentioned that this was my first time – she offered to take my picture in my seat, then said it’s a great experience and went to grab my drinks. The cabin filled up pretty quickly. There were quite a few seats taken but not completely full. A few moments later, my drinks turned up, followed by pyjamas and an amenity kit.
Pretty standard kit contents.
And a few moments after that, a hot towel – the same rags that are dished out across all the premium cabins, followed by tonights menu (I only snapped the first page, due to being interrupted by the safety briefing and then pushback). I was also asked when I’d like to eat – I wasn’t too bothered so just said I’d eat whenever was easiest for them. Of note was that the crew member stood at the front of the cabin was engaged in chat with the guy in 1K throughout the safety briefing. Fair enough engaging the customer but surely they should be encouraging them to pay attention rather than distract them?
The captain came over the PA and announced a pretty quick flying time of 10h45 and that we were still waiting for a few more pax to turn up. We eventually pushed back around 10 mins behind schedule.
We made a reasonably quick taxi out to 09R and then made a quiet takeoff behind a CX cargo 747-8F.
Shortly after departure, landing cards were handed out by the purser. He welcomed me by name, checked his iPad and said there was a message from the executive club for me – “oh, nothing too important, just to welcome you on board sir”. Zero points for the delivery there….
Shortly after departure, a G&T that I’d ordered on the ground turned up, along with some very tasty warmed nuts.
Settling in for the night ahead.
Seat, light and window blind controls.
Around thirty minutes later, one of the two crew members looking after the First cabin appeared again – “would you like me to set your table for you now sir?”
And a few moments later, dinner was served. I skipped the starter and went straight for my pre ordered meal. Very good it was too.
Followed by dessert.
And to finish, chocolates – and I think I must point out, that the whole box wasn’t just for me!
Following dinner, it was getting on for midnight UK time, and I had been up for work earlier in the day, so time to settle down for the evening. I ventured off to change into my pyjamas, and have my bed made up.
I climbed into the very soft sheets and settled down, although it was a good hour or two before I drifted off – it was a little warm on board and the guy in 1K was snoring very loudly. My noise cancelling headphones took care of the worst of it though. Still, not the most comfortable way to sleep.
I awoke with around two and a half hours to go. I freshened up and ordered some tea. By this time the rest of the cabin was starting to wake up too.
Breakfast was served shortly after. There were a good few courses, but I only elected to take the main, washing it down with a cappucino
During which I took a look at the IFE for the first time. Due to the 747’s having an older system there wasn’t a huge amount of choice – so went with a Top Gear special.
After this, there wasn’t too much time left until descent. The captain came over the PA and said we had made up time and should be landing at 04:55 local time. I went to the washroom to get changed and my bed was then put back into seat mode.
Mood lighting set to morning mode.
Another round of hot towels were handed out a few moments later.
Descent began in the darkness – predictably, there wasn’t too much to be seen until the lights of the city became quite close to us and I was able to feel the nose gear being extended.
We touched down at 5 AM and made the taxi over to terminal 3, pulling in alongside a LH 748
Upon arrival the Club section was held back until everybody in F had left.
I followed the signs to a packed passport control where luckily, most seemed to head for the residents line – meaning I was stamped into Brazil by a very sleepy (and somewhat disinterested) immigration official in around ten minutes or so.
What a boring passport stamp!
I didn’t have to wait too long for my bag (maybe 5 minutes at the absolute most) and I then ventured out to find a bus to the city through possibly the biggest and most confusing arrivals duty free store I’ve ever encountered.
It turns out I’d just missed one bus, so I ended up having to wait for an hour for the next one. At least there was free wifi to keep myself amused.
Luckily, I didn’t have to be anywhere… I made my way out to the coach an hour later for the hours drive into town.
I arrived at my hotel, the Melia Paulista (where by pure coincidence the BA crew also stay) at around 08:20 and was able to check in early (for half a days rate).
And that’s where I’ll leave this part.
British Airways First wasn’t too bad. I must admit I was probably expecting a little better though. The staff were great but the seat seemed a little small compared to what I’d experienced on CX previously – and the fact that BA cram 14 of them into the nose of the 747 means it’s a little crowded. No doubt it’s a great experience on a day flight, but I personally found it a little uncomfortable for sleeping. I’ve seen it said online before that it’s probably the worlds best business class, and I’m inclined to agree.
Look out for part two of the series which will be posted in a week or two which will feature some pics from my time in São Paulo and my Brazilian domestic flight with TAM over to Rio.