My daytrip to Edinburgh on the 14 March was mostly to check out the refurbished British Airways A321, G-MEDN, but here's a quick look into what made the day.
I needed to keep an eye on the movements of G-MEDN which had first re-entered service on 8 March so the plan was to take a flight on the weekend (10/11 March) but it turned out the aircraft was not operating between 10-13 March for reasons I'm not aware of. The site Flightradar24 shows past and planned movements for the aircraft so I found out on Tuesday that the aircraft was planned to operate the following schedule on Wednesday.
|London (LHR)||Edinburgh (EDI)||BA1432||06:20||07:45|
|Edinburgh (EDI)||London (LHR)||BA1439||08:35||10:05|
|London (LHR)||Edinburgh (EDI)||BA1440||11:30||13:00|
|Edinburgh (EDI)||London (LHR)||BA1449||13:50||15:20|
|London (LHR)||Glasgow (GLA)||BA1488||16:55||18:20|
|Glasgow (GLA)||London (LHR)||BA1495||19:15||20:35|
I decided to go for BA1440, the 11:30 departure, so I could still go to a meeting I had in the office at 9am before heading off for the flight. The plan was then to continue working in the Edinburgh BA lounge before getting a flight back in the evening. The return flight was BA8709 the 17:30 departure to London City operated by BA CityFlyer. This was chosen as London City Airport is convenient to get home on the DLR.
The total cost was 8000 Avios + £35 for the return trip. This was booked at 3pm the day before. Seats were available with Avios points on both my preferred services. I often use Avios (this is what BA call their loyalty currency, known as miles by most airlines) for impulsive trips. It's not always possible to get your first choice destination at short notice but there's a good chance that something interesting will be available. Being able to use my points to get anywhere in Europe (that BA fly to) for £35 return is one of my favourite benefits of the scheme. For someone that builds up a decent Avios balance (and sites like Head for Points can help there) it can mean a lot of opportunity for cheap trips away at short notice if you're, like me, the type of person who likes to be able to take a trip at short notice.
Without points the trip would have been significantly more expensive. As I was able to book with points in both directions I didn't look at the regular fares for this route.
When I booked the flights I went straight into 'manage my booking' to select seats. Oddly enough the system had assigned me into seat 37C which was an aisle seat in the final row. Normally I would have changed this allocation, as I have gold status in the BA Executive Club frequent flyer scheme I can select any available seat free of charge and there was still many decent seats still showing as available for selection. In this case I left me assignment as it was, I wanted to see what the aircraft was like from the perspective of the two additional rows that were added.
I looked a few hours later on ExpertFlyer and it was showing all the seats in the last two rows as blocked except for the seat I was sitting in. It looks like I must have booked the seat before they put the block in place. I found out later that on aircraft that aren't full they will block off the rear two rows. This makes it easier to swap the aircraft with another A321 that's not been refitted.
For the return leg I was flying BA CityFlyer and I selected a seat in a row where the seat next to me was not occupied. If the aircraft is not busy the seating system BA uses tries to keep the seats next to frequent travellers vacant so I knew choosing a seat in an empty row give me a good chance of getting the seat next to me free.
On the day
Off to work as normal for the 9am meeting. Left the office around about 09:45 and took the Jubilee line from London Bridge to Baker Street to change to the Bakerloo line up to Paddington. I caught the 10:25 Heathrow Express after narrowly missing the 10:10 train. This arrives at Terminal 5 at 10:46, a journey time of 21 minutes (the 15 minutes quoted in the Heathrow Express advertising is from Paddington to Heathrow Central for Terminals 2 and 3). Although the train was just a single set (not sure whether it was 4 or 5 carriages) the train wasn't very busy. At busy times two sets coupled together are used.
Closing time for 'conformance' (the latest time you must have your boarding pass scanned at the entrance to security) is 10:55 for this flight (35 minutes before departure) so I was cutting things close this time. Ideally I'd get to the airport a bit earlier to enjoy some time in the lounge.
London Heathrow - Edinburgh
I headed to the north security fast track in T5, this security area is the closest one to where the domestic flights tend to depart from. It wasn't very busy so I was through within minutes. The screens said my flight was departing from gate A10, I forgot that this is a bus gate. I had hoped the flight would be boarding by an airbridge so I could try and be first on board to take more photos before it got too busy, but when it's a bus gate it's very difficult to be first on the plane. After boarding the bus we were then told that there was going to be a delay as there was a technical issue with the aircraft. We sat on the bus for around 30 minutes before it headed off. Once on the plane we were told there was further delays due to emergency maintenance needed on one of the runways which meant that the airport had to run with just one runway for a short period. This meant there was a queue before departure as shown in this video.
I sat in 36C despite being allocated 37C after confirming that this row was still free. As my review of the aircraft shows, there's no window in row 37. Once in the air after a short initial period of turbulence the flight was mostly smooth and service commenced once the seatbelt sign was turned off.
On board service was fine, no delay in the service despite the on-board crew needing to get used to the new galley layout. In economy on flights from Heathrow and Gatwick British Airways no longer offer complimentary food and drink, but you can pay for your catering with Avios points (although it's not the best use of points, unless you've got more points than you can easily use) and so I got a bacon roll and a beer using points.
After the seatbelt sign had gone off another passenger came towards the back and lay down across seats 36DEF for a quick nap. As the only rows in this aircraft that were completely free were those in the two back rows that had been added this served as an unintended benefit for this passenger. If it had been the usual 35 row configuration then they'd have had no free seats to lie on!
For anyone interested here's the landing in Edinburgh...
When we arrived we had an airbridge attached to the front of the aircraft and steps attached to the rear, those at the rear of the plane were asked to leave through the rear door which is a shame because I wanted to go out via the front door and have another look at the front of the aircraft to see if anything had changed with the configuration here (e.g. the legroom in row 1 of the aircraft and wardrobe space for Club Europe) but that was not possible.
As I had work to do I decided to head to the British Airways lounge which involved walking through the main shopping section of the airport.
The lounge is available to business class passengers and those that have the required frequent flyer status which in the case of British Airways Executive Club is silver and above. The lounge has a business section which includes rows of desks most empty so you can use your own laptop but there's also two computers for those who need them.
There's sockets provided for both UK and European plugs as well as USB sockets for charging mobile devices. It's not just the desks at the business centre that have sockets but nearly all the seating areas have accessible sockets so if you're relaxing rather than working you can still charge your devices up.
As is the tradition, when there's a public internet computer we do our bit to promote Virgin Train's [sp] East Coast - that's our spoof website that shows how Virgin Trains East Coast are taking us back in time with their dreadful eCommerce strategy.
So a bit of work, then time to get some food. As this lounge is intended to cater for domestic flights it's not as substantial as the catering that is in the Heathrow lounges but it still offers a decent selection. There's a buffet with a selection of four types of sandwiches (two meat, one fish and one vegetarian), soup, fruit, cakes, nuts, biscuits and crisps. So I got some soup and sandwiches which made a decent lunch.
I like this lounge as it caters for most usage scenarios. If I'm working there's plenty of desk space, if I need to make a conference call then there's some private booths that can be used so the lounge doesn't need to listen to your call. There's confortable seating if you're there to relax and a selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Here's a quick video tour around the British Airways Edinburgh lounge
The flight was boarding at 17:05 and it was announced in the lounge. The flight was boarding as I got to the gate, as I was in boarding group 1 (thanks to BA Executive Club gold) I was able to use the priority boarding lane.
Edinburgh - London City Airport
The flight was on an Embraer E190, due to the short runway at London City Airport (LCY) smaller aircraft are used. The aircraft is configured with 2-2 seating rather than 3-3 which is standard on the larger shorthaul aircraft used at Heathrow. I was sat in the centre of the aircraft.
As I had hoped the seat next to me was also vacant, this meant I could move to the window seat for take off (if there's other people in the row I prefer to be in the aisle), so for those who are interested here's a video of the take-off.
One nice thing about BA CityFlyer is they still offer complimentary catering in economy. You have hot and cold drinks and a choice of snacks (crisps, biscuits or popcorn). I had a beer and crisps and also got a second beer later in the flight. If I had wanted to I could have also had other drinks such as tea/coffee, soft drinks or wine/spirits. You're not restricted to just having one, you can have whatever is available, within reason.
After landing at London City Airport it's only 5 minutes walk to the DLR station followed by a short ride to Canning Town followed by the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf. Getting from London City Airport to Canary Wharf is even faster than going from King's Cross to Canary Wharf.
I've written reviews about BA CityFlyer domestic flights before, I generally prefer the shorthaul experience on BA CityFlyer than I do on the BA mainline flights from Heathrow or Gatwick.
- BA CityFlyer Euro Traveller (economy) Edinburgh - London City (2017)
- BA CityFlyer Club Europe (business) Glasgow - London City (2017)
- BA CityFlyer Club Europe (business) London City - Manchester (2017)
The combination of being able to book with Avios and having access to lounge facilities meant that I was able to make this trip without interrupting my work schedule too much. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the office even if you still have work to do. In some ways I can be more productive working in the lounge as there's less distraction from colleagues.
It's going to be a year of firsts this year. I'm looking forward to Crossrail running through the central core from December 2018 and also the Azuma trains running on the East Coast mainline from around the same time. In May the expanded Thameslink timetable will begin which will make it easier to get to Brighton and Gatwick Airport. ScotRail will also be introducing their HST service, they're taking former GWR HST carriages, giving them a full refurbishment, fitting powered doors and increasing legroom on board, if this is done well it could be a very comfortable service. I also hope to ride on one of the new Caledonian Sleeper trains when they enter service later this year. Eurostar to Amsterdam... There's quite a lot to look forward to.