Charles Ajunwa writes about his recent experience flying aboard British Airways and the encounter he had with the airline’s new A380 aircraft at Heathrow Airport, London
Since its existence, the culture of safety has remained one major policy that the British Airways has been known for over the years. The airline makes the safety of its passengers including the entire crew its first priority.
To this end, both the passengers and their luggage undergo different levels of security checks to guarantee the safety of passengers. More so, the British Airways has cultivated the habit of trying to meet the passengers’ comfort and satisfaction with the world-class excellent services rendered both on the ground and in the air. This no doubt earned the airline the sobriquet “The Best of British”.
So when I got an invitation from the British Airways to participate in the “Best of British Press Trip 2013”, I looked forward to experiencing the same excellent services I had heard and read about.
Before leaving home on July 2, the day of my departure to London, I first checked in online and printed out my travel boarding pass to save time. To ensure that I was not caught up in the notorious Lagos traffic, I engaged the service of a taxi driver who took me straight to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
I have the habit of arriving early at the airport whenever I am flying and this journey was no different. Having arrived at the airport around 4pm which was quite early, I decided to walk round both the inside and outside of the terminal building to catch a glimpse of the heavy renovation work going on at the airport. I was very impressed with what I saw, even though more work needed to be done to make travelling through the Lagos airport a rich experience.
Finally, when a BA member of staff announced that passengers should start to check in around 5.30pm, I was among the first three passengers in the front of what will later become a long queue. After all my travel documents were gleaned through by one of the airline’s staff with approval, the small luggage I was carrying including my laptop bag were thoroughly searched by the security agents attached to the stand. My first impression of the BA staff at the counter was that they were well-mannered and very kind to passengers.
After passing through the immigration and customs, I quickly located the British Airways lounge, which of course is strictly reserved for First Club, World Traveller Plus travellers, as well as Executive Club, Gold and Silver cardholders. When I walked into the lounge, the lady at the front desk politely asked for my Club World boarding pass which qualified me to have access to all the facilities provided there which are free. As I was told, some of the passengers had missed their flights while entertaining themselves at the lounge.
When the final check in announcement was made, I proceeded to gate E63 where I met another set of BA staff checking the authenticity of passenger’s travel documents and searching passenger’s hand luggage. When it was time to board our aircraft, Boeing 747-400 named UGO, a female voice from the public announcement system first called the aged, handicapped and parents with little kids to board the plane before other passengers.
At the point of entering the aircraft, two of the cabin crew stationed there welcomed the passengers and directed them to their seats. When the aircraft was taxing, one of the cabin crew announced some regulations to be observed by all passengers on board which included the proper seating position and the use of the seat belts, among others. The cabin crew also later sprayed the cabin with a substance to rid it of mosquitoes.
As a passenger on Club World, I had the flexibility to sleep, work and relax. Apart from the good toilet facilities provided in the aircraft, we were treated to three course meals which I really enjoyed because of the mixed international spices.
When the pilot landed at Heathrow Terminal 5 around 5.20 am the next day, passengers were reminded to take all their belongings before leaving the aircraft. As passengers walked towards the exit, the cabin crew stationed in different positions smiled and thanked passengers for “flying with BA”.
Having alighted from the aircraft, I joined others to queue at the UK Border point, where the immigration officials received passengers and checked their travel documents before allowing them entry into the country.
After this process, I proceeded to the luggage area where it took me just a few minutes to pick up my luggage. As I was walking towards the final exit point for a cab already arranged for me by BA, one of the security agents beckoned on me and asked what I had in my luggage which I told him. Apparently still not satisfied, he politely requested for my travel document and after he was satisfied, he asked me to go. At this point, I called one of my contacts in BA, Helena Flynn, head of the airlines’ International Public Relations department who told me that the cab driver was already waiting for me at the airport. I felt relieved that my safety was the number one priority of BA. The Irish cab driver finally took me to my hotel, Sofitel St James located at Waterloo, which is a few metres away from London’s popular Trafalgar Square. The service at the hotel was world class.
After refreshing in my hotel room, much later in the evening, all the foreign journalists invited by BA were taken for refreshments by Flynn and Lauren Cooper at the Four Seasons Hotel where our host Mrs. Gerrier Pitt, the Director of Public Relations of the hotel, treated us to a sumptuous cuisine and drinks after taking us round the facilities offered by the hotel. We later had dinner at the Bluebird café on the Kings Road and thereafter retired to our various hotel rooms. Honestly speaking, we had the best of British meals and drinks.
On our schedule for Thursday was to attend the BA’s delivery ceremony of its first A380 where invited guests were allowed to view the interior of both the A380 and the new Boeing 787. British Airways is the first UK airline to take delivery of the A380 and the first in Europe to operate both the A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Our host, Miss Barrett arrived the hotel around seven o’clock on Thursday morning with a mini-bus to convey all the foreign journalists to the British Airways engineering base which was the venue of the A380 delivery ceremony.
When we arrived at the venue, security checks were carried out before we were allowed inside the hangar where vests were handed down to us for identification. And boldly written on the wall of the reception was: “Safety is our number one priority” indicating BA’s safety policy. Inside the hangar, the two Rolls Royce engines of the A380 were on display as visitors milled around anticipating the arrival of the A380 at 10.25 am.
At the event, BA’s senior executives were available for interviews. They included Frank van der Post, British Airways’ Managing Director of Brands and Customer Experience, Andy Lord, Director of Operations and Stephen Riley, Director of Flight Operations, Area General Manager, Europe and Africa, Gavin Halliday and Public Relations Manager, Camilla Barrett who received us at the BA hangar base and later took the team to Wimbledon to watch day 10 of the tennis matches.
Others were the Airbus’ Head of Programmes, Tom Williams, President, Boeing UK, Roger Bone and Randy Tinseth, Vice President, Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Rolls Royce Programme Diector Trent 1000, John Griffiths.
Prior to the A380’s arrival, BA customer service uniformed staff were positioned in front of the media stage area with the UK flags. Their presence was felt most when the A380 touched down at Heathrow at 10.20 am and the jumbo jet was sighted taxing to the hangar it was greeted with thunderous cheers from the BA staff who could not hide their joy as they waved high their flags intermittently. The pilot of the A380 from the cockpit window waved the UK flag to the admiration of the crowd as well.
The venue became more electrified when BA’s Chief Executive Officer, Keith Williams who was accompanied by the airline’s Chairman, Sir Martin Broughton and Airbus’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Farice Bregier, emerged from the A380 which had left Toulouse, France.
An elated Williams said, "The A380 is a fantastic aircraft and an excellent showpiece for British engineering. Our customers are going to love the space, light and comfort on board. The delivery of these exciting aircraft opens a new chapter in British Airways' history. We are proud to be leading the way in Europe in operating both these aircraft types.”
He added: “These deliveries form the centre piece of the £5 billion investment BA is making in new aircraft, smarter cabins, superb lounges and new technologies to make travel more comfortable in the air and on the ground. Both aircraft types make major environmental advances and will contribute toward our ambitious targets for noise and carbon reduction.”
According to Frank van der Post, British Airways had ordered 12 Airbus A380 aircraft which will arrive by 2016. The first three, according to him, will arrive in 2013 with a further five arriving by the end of 2014. He said the airline would launch the A380 into commercial service flying customers to Los Angeles on September 24, 2013 with prices starting from 621 pounds return, and the first to Hong Kong on October 22, 2013 with prices from 688 pounds return.
Speaking on safety, he said the newly acquired A380 would past several tests before deploying for commercial services. “We are going to bring 469 volunteer colleagues to a few hour services. We get everyone boarded and see how it works and get the aircraft close to the base for 11 hours. I think it’s very important that we do that because it’s a new aircraft, it’s new service routines and it’s certainly experienced crew in different environment. We are going to do eight and 11 hours with two meal services including drinks round.”
He said: “Nigeria is a very important market for us in Africa. We see the market grow 8 to 9 percent on this basis. What the new aircraft will allow us to do is to re-arrange some of the fleets that fly to different destinations and as far as there is high demand in a particular market we will put bigger aircraft.”
The A380 is the world’s largest commercial aircraft with a choice of British Airways’ First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller cabins and has a total of 469 seats. The jumbo jet double-deck, according to BA, has 50 per cent more floor surface than any other high-capacity aircraft. With a superior range of 15,700 km, the A380 according to BA, is the ideal solution towards alleviating traffic congestion at busy airports.
One of the cabin crew explained the following features on the A380. He said the A380 is the only commercial aircraft offering two full-length (wide-body) decks noting that the main deck is the widest of any aircraft and 50.8cm (20”) wider than the Boeing 747 adding that the upper deck is the first full wide-body upper deck ever seen on an aircraft and is 180.34cm (71”) wider than the 747’s upper deck.
The A380 offers the quietest cabin noise of any existing passenger aircraft type, allowing customers to relax and chat. Easily greener, the Airbus A380 is 16 per cent more fuel efficient than the aircraft it replaces.
Larger overhead power-assisted storage bins, customers in the World Traveller cabin experience 15 per cent more baggage space than when travelling on the aircraft the A380 replaces.
The air conditioning system features advanced filters and allows 15 different temperature control zones, and cabin air is changed every three minutes.
He said the British Airways has introduced a number of measures to ensure customers board the aircraft quickly and smoothly, including: more check in desks on A380 routes, lounge call times adjusted to enable customers to reach their gate on time, crew will offer extra assistance in directing customers to the correct boarding jetty, and a new welcome team has been created to help customers settle into their seats.
He said that the British Airways’ A380 would have a total of 469 seats over two decks with four cabins: First Suites has 14 seats, Club World (business class) 97 seats, World Traveller Plus (premium economy) 55 seats, and World Traveller (economy) 303 seats.
According to the cabin crew, customers will notice an enhanced First suite with increased privacy, with suites offering 30 per cent more personal space and 60 per cent more personal stowage including a larger in-suite wardrobe for each customer, designed to hold a standard-size wheelie bag and a side stowage box for smaller items such as passports, phone, and glasses than First suites on other British Airways aircraft, ergonomic seats convert into fully flat beds, 6ft 6” in length, 15.4 inch personal in-flight entertainment touch screen and noise-cancelling headphones, personal in-seat power socket providing 110v AC power compatible with UK/US/EU plugs, two USB sockets providing power for personal devices, customers are offered British Airways’ signature Turndown Service. Cabin crew will make up customers’ beds using a crisp white mattress, duvet, pillow and nightwear, and amenity kit with premium skincare products.
He said fine dining, à la carte and flexible dining options are on offer alongside a wide selection of wine, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages, new champagne supper including a choice of three variations of champagne and an à la carte menu featuring lighter meals than the ‘standard’ menu on departures after 10pm, light bites like savoury snacks, premium quality sweets, chocolate and liquid chocolate from Hotel Chocolates.
According to the cabin crew member, eating will be offered in new colours including seat covers, side panels, back shell and tray table, new 2:3:2 seat configuration on the upper deck, rear facing middle seat on upper deck offers additional interior storage space, e.g. for a laptop/iPad and extra flat surface for drinks and magazines. It also provides enhanced privacy for working and sleeping with aisle access in either direction, improved footstool for easier use with three positions for taxiing, take-off and landing redesigned easier to use control buttons for seats, new easy to find button to operate the privacy screen, on the upper deck side storage areas run the length of the aircraft offering customers in window seats extra stowage capable of storing a laptop and other items, seat converts into 6ft fully flat bed, Z position for increased comfort, 12.1 inch personal in-flight entertainment touch screen and noise-cancelling headphones, two USB sockets providing power for personal devices, personal in-seat power socket providing 110v AC power compatible with UK/US/EU plugs, video RCA connection beneath USB socket to enable customers to connect their own digital equipment with the display screen, crisp white quilt and pillow provided to aid sleeping, and amenity kit featuring Elemis products.
Starter main course and dessert/cheese service, champagne supper offered on evening departures after 10pm, featuring a selection of canapés, a plated meat entrée, a choice of warm dessert/cheese
World Traveller Plus
British Airways’ latest seats introduced on the 777-300 ER aircraft, offer 20 per cent more legroom than World Traveller, with a footrest, increased recline position, hammock headrest and cocktail table, seat offers a 38” pitch, on the upper deck side storage areas run the length of the aircraft, offering customers in window seats extra stowage capable of taking a laptop and other items, 10.6 inch personal in-flight entertainment touch screen with noise-cancelling headphones, personal in-seat power socket providing 110v AC power compatible with UK/US/EU plugs, two USB sockets providing power for personal devices, ultra soft fleece blanket, amenity kit and hot towel service
Pre-take off choice of sparkling wine or non-alcoholic drinks, entrées from the Club World menu, warm bread now offered, complimentary snacks offered during flight, three-course meal with choice of entrée, and main course from the Club World menu, and complimentary bar service.
There are two World Traveller cabins on the upper and main decks, British Airways’ latest seats, introduced on the 777-300 ER aircraft offer additional padding and a comfortable, adjustable hammock-style headrest providing greater support for relaxation and sleep, seat offers a 31” pitch, on the upper deck side storage areas run the length of the aircraft offering customers in window seats extra stowage, capable of housing a laptop and other items of luggage, ultra soft fleece blanket and amenity kit, 8.9 inch personal in-flight entertainment touch screen, USB socket providing power for personal devices, and access to in-seat power socket providing 110v AV power compatible with UK/US/EU plugs
Passengers are served three-course meal with choice of entrée, complimentary bar service, and bar snacks.
The aircraft is fitted with the latest version of the airline’s Thales in-flight entertainment system, which is also available on British Airways’ six-strong 777-300ER fleet and 17 777-200 aircraft. Customers are able to choose from a wide range of films, television programmes, audio programming and games. The features have intuitive, contemporary and easy to use menus simple to navigate, DVD quality video (MPEG2/MPEG4),slimline, user-friendly handset with hotkey functions, shortcut buttons with QWERTY
keyboard on reverse and joystick to support game playing, ability to connect personal devices,
quick find allows customers to access content by entering a unique content number found in the onboard in-flight entertainment guide, search allows customers to enter search words or terms in order to find content.
BA’s Best of British Press Trip 2013 though concluded, it certainly broadened my worldview as I interacted with other journalists from different countries including senior executives of the airline. BA ensured that every journalist that participated had sweet memories to remember for a very long time especially with the pimms and strawberries they served us at the Wimbledon tennis championship.