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Winners July 2013


The winning user reviews for the July 2013 Seatplans.com competition for a selection of prizes from the i-stay luggage range, including: a laptop bag, iPad case and one of the patented non-slip bag straps

Remember to review your next flight on seatplans.com for a chance to win a prize

Winner: 

1nfrequent flew British Airways Club World, on a B747-400 High J (28/07/2013)

I flew BA0087 from LHR to YVR on a 747-400.

I arrived at Departures at 8.15am, which was already very busy (unsurprising given it was the first Saturday of the school holidays). I headed for bag drop in the Business Class section where there were lines at every desk. After a five-minute wait (and thanks to my jumping between queues) I was called forward by a cheery agent who processed my bag quickly, put on a priority tag and confirmed that I knew about priority security and the Club World Lounge before despatching me with a pleasant smile and wishes for a pleasant journey.

I duly made for the priority security, where I was through the electronic gates very quickly and found myself standing behind movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and his two stressed-looking assistants. Security was poorly organised – a lot of staff milling around but very little direction. The only good news was that women were being called through the security gate between men and Harvey had to join the back of the waiting male queue. I made it through without incident after about 10 minutes and headed to the lounge (the walk made longer by the heaving crowds in the terminal).

I stopped off at the spa to see if there were any appointments available and the friendly receptionist offered me an 11.20am slot, which I accepted as gate closure for my flight wasn’t until 12.20pm, giving me ample time to have the treatment and stroll to my flight.

I went up to the lounge and was greeted by a severe dragon who softened under my charming personality. It was only 8.45am so the gate hadn’t been confirmed for my flight but she advised me to check the screens after 10.30am. The lounge itself was busy but not crowded and there was plenty of seating available. I picked a spot at one of the tables and availed myself of the breakfast still on offer. For me the breakfast offering is perfectly fine with an excellent range of items to suit every appetite. I ended up having porridge (which was hot and creamy) and a cranberry juice before availing myself of the pastries and bacon butties.

Less impressive are the biscuits in the jars and I’ve totally changed my mind about the wisdom of that. Despite the clear signs telling people to use the tongs, I saw far too many people dip their hands in. I ended up remonstrating with one guy whose fingers had been in his nose before they were in the biscuit jar. BA and Baxter-Storey need to rethink this because it’s clearly unhygienic and really doesn’t do justice to what are actually good products.

I ended up catching up on my reading as I waited for my spa appointment, helping myself to drinks and nibbles as my stomach demanded. Quick word on the ladies loos, where there were queues due to the high numbers using the lounge but the toilets themselves were clean and well presented.

At 11.15am I headed down to the spa where I got another friendly greeting from the receptionist, who handed me a medical questionnaire to complete while I waited for the therapist who was cheerful and professional. The Flying Feet treatment was excellent and I even enjoyed the 15 minute chair massage – either because I was more relaxed or it beat my spine into compliance. The therapist offered me some free samples and having done some research on Elemis products before hand, I asked for (and received) some shower gel, hand cream and foot cream.

I emerged at 11.40am to find that although the gate had been announced it wasn’t open so I went back up to the lounge. The gate eventually opened at noon and as I was leaving I saw that they’d put out the lunch offering so I paused to take a look. The cold offering looked quite appetising (a mix of sandwiches, salad and quiche) but the hot offering looked like a third rate school dinner. On offer was pasta with basil and tomato sauce, red Thai vegetarian curry, mustard chicken, chilli con carne and rice. None of them looked any good and the meat seemed to have walked through on stilts. The best thing on offer was the jacket potatoes, which came with cheese and baked beans. That’s really not good enough and BA and Baxter-Storey need to get their act together.

The flight was departing from B34, which meant taking the transit train. Heathrow advises allowing 10 minutes to get to those gates but I think you should allow 15 to 20 minutes because I had to wait several minutes for a train to arrive and there was a bit of a walk to the gate.

Boarding had started when I arrived at the gate. I joined the priority line and was greeted by name at the desk and directed to the air bridge. I was greeted again at the aircraft door by name and shown the stairs to the upper deck. I was flying on a 747 and being BAEC silver had preselected 64K, (having done my homework and found that the general advice was that it was the best CW seat on the plane). It’s a window seat with aisle access and comes with more storage room than those on the lower deck (specifically 3 good sized lockers at the side of the seat in addition to the laptop drawer and overhead locker (which is smaller than on the lower deck). It also offers a good sense of privacy as once the privacy screen is down you can’t easily be overlooked. The upper deck is arranged in rows of 2 by 2 organised in a ying/yang formation and there are only about 8 rows in total, making for a much more exclusive feel.

The seat itself was clean and well presented although the carpet was a little worn. Pillows, duvets, headphones and a menu had been left on the seat. I’d just sat down when a cheery crew member offered me a choice of orange juice, water or champagne. I went for the champagne and settled back as the other passengers boarded and the crew got ready for departure. At 12.35 the senior flight officer gave an announcement about the planned route and journey time, followed by an announcement from the cabin services director welcoming everyone on board. At 12.44 there was a further announcement that we’d been delayed due to an issue with the hold loading so the IFE was switched on (although, alas, only for WT+ and WT passengers).

We eventually pushed back at 1.10pm, with the safety video playing while we taxied. Cabin crew then collected the glasses and there was another announcement that there was a problem with the IFE on some seats so it would need to be rebooted.

We eventually took off at 1.30pm. Once the seat belt signs went off the crew brought around hot towels and amenity kits (standard Elemis fare). I then discovered that I’d stupidly put my conversion plug in my suitcase and so could not use the power socket in the seat. I asked a crew member if they carried any spare and she very kindly lent me her personal one (a kind gesture that I mentioned on the BA feedback website). We discovered that there was a problem with the power socket in my seat but after she rebooted it a couple of times it finally came on. Crew distributed Canadian customs cards with the advice that these had to be completed to get through Canadian passport control) and then came around to take orders for lunch. The choices were:

STARTER

- Smoked Shetland salmon tartare with pickled cucumber and radish salad.

- Asparagus spears with quail eggs and Ceasar dressing.

Salad with vinaigrette.

MAIN

- Seared fillet of British beef with barbeque sauce, spicy potato wedges and Mediterranean vegetables.

- Roasted corn-fed chicken with summer truffle and wild mushroom sauce, herb-mashed potatoes, baby fennel and carrots.

- Penne pasta with red pepper pesto, basil and chilli sauce, courgette and piquillo peppers.

- Chilled main course salad of tiger prawns, wild rice and quinoa with bitter orange dressing.

DESERT

- Dark chocolate fondant with caramel centre and caramel sauce

- Barber’s Cheddar and Somerset Camembert cheese served with quince jelly and biscuits

- Vanilla and dulce de leche ice cream by The Ice Cream Union

- A selection of fruit and chocolates.

The white wines on offer were a Sancerre 2012, Chateau de Thauvenay or an Esser Chardonnay 2011. Red wines were a Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2011 or a Truchard Vineyards Pinot Noir 2010. I can’t tell you about the quality because I decided not to have any more alcohol after the champagne.

Crew brought around drinks and I flicked through the IFE. Unusually, there wasn’t much that actually tempted me this time. The comedy section was dire (endless episodes of 30 Rock) and the drama and movie sections contained programmes I’d either seen or had no interest in. I ended up reading my book until lunch was served.

I went for the salmon tartar starter as the best of two poor options for me (I loathe asparagus but equally hate cucumber and horse radish). I’d hoped to be able to pick out the salmon but it was too well mixed in with the horse radish so I gave it up as a bad job and just ate the bread roll (which was warm and tasty). I think the cabin crew took pity on me because they gave me another roll to make up for it. The chicken was better, if a little dry although the mashed potato was quite salty. However the chocolate fondant was excellent – not too sweet and very creamy.

BA seem to have replaced the Lily O’Brien chocolates I loved with new ones made by artisan du chocolat, which amounted to small chunks of plain and milk chocolate and left me underwhelmed. I washed it down with a coffee (which has really improved on BA flights so it’s quite drinkable).

The crew came to take away the trays and handed out water bottles and I settled down to read some more and basically take it easy. I did wander down to the Club World Kitchen at one point but there wasn’t a lot there to tempt me. Annoyingly there were pots of ice cream but they had all melted. Again, something that BA needs to sort out.

We got an announcement 40 minutes from YVR to let us know that we had 20 more minutes to enjoy the IFE and use the toilets before the seat belt signs went on and the IFE was switched off. Have to say that there were 2 toilets on the upper deck and both were spotless and kept that way by the crew. The approach into YVR is stunning as you come in over the mountains and the landing was smooth and uneventful. There was a bit of a delay on the ground as we had to wait for another plane to leave our gate but we were soon able to disembark (First and CW first) with more cheery farewells from the crew.

YVR airport is impressively organised and well sign-posted and although around 3 flights had arrived at the same time, there was barely any queue at immigration and I was quickly through to baggage reclaim. There was a 10 minute wait for the baggage to be offloaded (I suspect because several planes had arrived at once) but the priority baggage system worked well and my suitcase was one of the first ones off. All in all I was out of YVR within 30 minutes of disembarking the plane.

In summary, I thought this was a perfectly decent flight and worth the money I’d paid for it. If you’re on CW on a 747 then I’d definitely recommend upper deck over lower deck because of the space and more exclusive feel to it.

Overall: 8.4/10

Second Place:

JonHirsch flew Malaysia Airlines First, on a A380 (20/07/2013)

In summary: a wonderful flight with an excellent seat and very good service, but some opportunity for improvement in terms of ground /back-office operations.

This was a redemption booking using Virgin Atlantic flying club miles (145k miles plus about £480 in taxes / surcharges). As such it was booked through the Virgin Atlantic call centre, who I have always found to be superb and this was no exception. No problems with availability (slightly to my surprise) and I was able to get exactly the flights I wanted (I booked about 6 months out).

A minor snag arose when the 6-character booking reference issued by Virgin was not recognised by Malaysia Airlines' web site - resolved with a quick call to Virgin who were able to obtain the required 5-character one for me. As it turned out, you can't actually manage your booking via MH's web site anyway, so if you want to select your seat etc, you'll need to call - the trick to avoiding the usual call-centre hell seems to be call the London office directly (020 7341 2029) during morning office hours.

I suspect the inability to manage the booking online is due to it being a third-party redemption, but then again my impression is that MH's use of 'manage' may be stretching the verb somewhat - I have some revenue bookings made directly with MH and there doesn't seem to be much I can do with them either.

One month prior to departure, chef-on-call is available, whereby you can pre-book your meals. Except that the online form was 'undergoing maintenance' for at least a few weeks before my flight. Instead we are requested to email our selections - no further instructions where given, so it wasn't exactly clear what we needed to specify. MH were at least very efficient in responding to my initial order and clarifying - only the main course for each of two meals needs to be chosen; no need to select starters or desserts etc.

Next up, online check-in, available from 48 hours prior. Oh dear. Whereas every other airline I've flown with in recent years seems to cope with just PNR and surname, MH requires you to enter your PNR, first name, surname, flight number, departure date, departure city... And if I remember correctly, at least a few other pieces of information they really ought to be able to retrieve just from the PNR. There then follows a needlessly tortuous series of steps that I suspect have been designed by an IT department with no thought for the end-user's experience. Hey ho. (Actually that pretty much sums up their whole site for me - looks ok, but basically doesn't work).

So to the day of the flight. I got to Heathrow (Terminal 4) a little after 9am for my mid-day flight and went to the First Class check-in to drop my bag. There was no queue and I was done there in just a couple of minutes. Fast track security was also reasonably quick - I think I was probably though in maybe five minutes, certainly no more than ten. Allowing for a couple of detours to Travelex and duty free, I was in Malaysia Airlines' Golden Lounge by about 9.30am.

The lounge is divided into two sections, one for Business Class and one for First, with a glass divider between the two. Not huge, but big enough for the numbers of people using it. I was initially the only person in the First section and was quickly greeted and offered drinks (I chose coffee and orange juice, which arrived promptly). I asked about breakfast and was told it was being brought up shortly - so I had a short wait but at about 10am they laid out a buffet, with Malaysian and English hot options (Nasi Lemak and Full English - well, hash browns, baked beans, chicken sausage and Malaysian-style omelette - respectively), some bakery items, and various cold fishy canapés that to be honest I didn't like the look of, but I'm sure they were perfectly nice if that's your cup of tea. I'll admit I sampled both of the hot options though - both delicious. But that said, not a touch on, say, Virgin's clubhouse offering - but that of course is a much larger operation.

After breakfast I decided it was time to 'get onto local time' and so put my watch forward seven hours. Which of course was the perfect time for champagne. On offer were, if (ahem) memory serves, Laurent Perrier and Georges Vesselle.

The MH Airwhale was parked out on a remote stand but was taxied over to the terminal at about 11am and parked up just outside the business class section of the lounge, on this occasion next to Qatar's Dreamliner (which looked a bit pidly in comparison, it has to be said...).

Boarding was called in due course, and off I went, boarding down a separate ramp to the forward lower deck door, to be shown to my seat by the in-charge crew member. The seat is big, and enclosed to make a private suite, albeit with no doors (I think they might have missed a trick there). Very comfortable indeed, and with a footstool / companion seat that was too far away for my feet to reach without sliding my seat forwards (I'm 5'10"), which hopefully gives an idea of the space. It's wide too, not just the seat itself, but plenty of armrest space either side.

Bag storage is under the companion seat (although a minor design flaw in my opinion is that your bag sits on a small raised platform which, as I found out, makes getting it back in while the seat is in flat-bed mode somewhat tricky should you have needed to retrieve something from it during the night - so best to take out whatever you might need before you settle in and then leave well alone). There's also a small wardrobe at the side big enough for a jacket and coat and my electric guitar... :-) Also various compartments and cavities for any small items you might want to have handy during the flight. No overhead bins, resulting in a good sense of space in the cabin.

The seat has 'infinite' recline from upright to flat, and can also be moved forwards and backwards so you can put it in pretty much any position you want. Very comfortable indeed. When you want to sleep, the crew will make up your bed, comprising a padded mattress cover, thin-but-warm duvet (possibly silk, possibly Bulgari - the washbag was - but very soft and really rather lovely to sleep in). Slippers and pyjamas are provided, the latter being probably the best of any airline ones I've experienced. Perhaps the only (minor) let-down was that the slippers, pyjamas and headphones (decent quality noise-cancelling ones, such that I didn't bother with my own Bose ones I'd brought with me) arrived in a fairly bog-standard paper carrier bag that probably wouldn't survive the trek through the airport after landing.

The cabin is arranged in two rows of 1-2-1 seating, with toilets forward (and stairs to the upper deck from a huge lobby area) and galley behind.

I had pre-booked seat 2A as I prefer to be at the back when the cabin is small, so I can look up now and again rather than be staring at the wall, (which from looking at seatplans and photos, I thought might be the case in row 1). Also I'd anticipated 1A/K might be more prone to being disturbed by other passengers visiting the bathrooms, but having now seen the cabin in person, I don't think this will be much of an issue. What may be an issue for some is that from row 2, you can see about a third of the TV of the person sitting diagonally opposite you - so if they decide to spend the flight watching movies (or just leave the TV on while they move to a different seat to eat, as someone on my flight did) you may find the flickering disturbs you once the cabin lights are down, even with eyeshades on.

Suite doors would have solved that problem, though not the additional one that flickering from all the TVs around the cabin reflects from the ceiling and again can be distracting. I wonder whether the simple addition of a small shelf above each TV might help prevent that?

While I'm on the subject of minor design flaws, it's a shame that the fairly large space between the outer edge of the A/K suites and the cabin wall is effectively wasted due to the suites basically being rectangular boxes that have been slotted into the space, with their own walls - contrast this with, for example, Emirates, who seem to have designed their suites to fit the shape of the aircraft and taken the opportunity to provide a large shelf/side-table area going right up to the windows.

Also worth knowing may be that the galley itself is behind the F/K seats; the space behind the A/E seats is a storage area - which as far as I could tell wasn't used much during the flight, or at least, if it was it was all done very quietly as I was not aware of any noise from that side.

I had expected to dislike the red interior colour scheme, but it's actually not as bad as photos might suggest, being quite dark and subdued. Materials are a combination of fabric and suede (or suede-effect) - not a patch on Emirates' leather-and-suede, but nice enough.

Take-off was smooth and pretty much on time, and made that little bit more interesting by the tail camera view being shown on the (large) TV screens. Rather nice for the daytime departure from Heathrow.

IFE quality and usability was good, though I found the choice of movies disappointing - there didn't seem to be much in the way of recent releases, with the most appealing being the the latest Die Hard instalment (4 or is it 5 by now? Either way, don't bother - it's terrible).

Food was superb. An initial starter of satay sticks, then caviar (served with all the trimmings), main course, dessert, and a range of coffees and teas. Service was good aside from a few very minor niggles (e.g. no napkin with breakfast, hot meal brought out before any cutlery was on the table). The crew were friendly and engaging throughout, with just the right balance of service, chit-chat and leaving you alone when you wanted to be. And the drinks (2003 Dom Perignon in my case) were kept well topped up throughout.

My only other minor niggle would be that throughout the flight, whenever the seatbelt signs went on for turbulence (which happened quite a few times), the TV screen switched itself on to display an 'announcement in progress' message - which would probably have woken me up had the announcement in question not already done so itself. I wonder whether it's really necessary to make a middle-of-the-night announcement in a cabin of eight seats when surely a crew member could instead do a quick walk around to check that everyone was strapped in?

Landing was on-time, and we were quickly off the plane. We were given fast track vouchers but they were not needed as there were no queues at immigration, and plenty of open lanes. There is no arrivals lounge as such, but arriving passengers can (I was told) use the airside Golden Lounge before clearing immigration. I didn't, and instead went straight through and was at the carousel about five minutes before my bag, which was amongst the first off as you'd expect. I was on the KLIA Express into town within about 45 minutes of leaving the aircraft, which would have been more like 20 or 30 had I not gone on a lengthy search for a local SIM card for my phone.

(Tip - if you need a SIM card, get one before you clear immigration; apparently there are more options airside (which I missed and then struggled to find what I needed landside); for what it's worth I eventually got a Maxis Hotlink pay as you go for 30MR (about £6), which got me a decent amount of local and international call credit - oddly the latter is cheaper than the former - and 100Mb of data. Once you've used that up, 12MR (about £2.50) will get you 250MB for a week, which I found was ample, even making moderate use of Google Maps).

Overall then - nice aircraft, excellent seat, lovely crew and good service, with only a few really fairly minor negatives. Web site could do with some improvement though. I would definitely do this again (actually I already have my next one booked). However, if I was paying cash? The equivalent price at the time I booked was just over £6000. That's one hell of a premium over, say, Emirates for the convenience of a direct flight, and arguably Emirates have a slightly nicer seat. Still, an excellent flight and highly recommended.

Overall: 9.1/10

Third Place

Swissdiver flew Lufthansa Business, on a B747-8 (Config. 2) (23/07/2013)

This was the second flight of a three legs journey GVA - FRA - IAD - ORD, an unusual route to be able to enjoy the new B747-8.

Second leg: FRA - IAD, LH418, B747-8, Business class, upper deck (85K)

Arriving from Geneva (see part 1 of this trip report), no check-in and no security. Just a quick passport control in the middle of a 30 minutes walk to the lounge. Or shall I write to the lounge's door, to queue for about 5 minutes to get in.

Lounge ("Business Class"): the one by the Z gates is the newest at FRA and the only one up to the standards. It is large, and offers various sections, to eat, to sit, to work or to rest (including three of these marvellous Panasonic Yasumi relax chairs). There is even a smoking room.

Boarding: Boarding was eventless (with no ID control) after though a long walk to the gate (Z52 although Z58 was printed a couple of hours before on the boarding cards given at check-in).

The plane (D-ABYC) was of course quite new (1 year old). My seat was on the upper deck by the window (85K). It is worth noting all seats are the same on the upper deck. Only row 81 (first one by the wall) and 84 (exit row - may-be the nicest as seats are behind a little high table instead of another seat) are a bit different, but do not offer more space.

The seat: this is the new LH business class seat that will progressively be retrofitted on the whole fleet (impossible to compare it with the current one equipping most of the fleet that is one of the worse In the industry). On the upper deck, the configuration is 2 + 2 (8 rows so 32 pax) while in the main deck it is 2 + 2 + 2, each pair being in V, the feet sharing a tiny footrest (small separation in the middle).

Below it is possible to put a small bag. Upper deck windows seats have the advantage of a side storage where a hand bag or a computer bag can fit in. Seats can be adjusted in a number of ways including fully flat. In this position, the feet are somewhat squeezed since the footstep is tiny. It is however reasonably long (comparable to the rest of the industry).

The main issues is the lack of privacy:

* no separation whatsoever between seats,

* when flat, legs might enter in contact with you neighbour's, quite embarrassing when you don't know him/her

* seats are rather high so passenger can be watched by the whole cabin

* lack of aisle access for windows seats so exiting means going above the neighbour's legs (even for me who is rather tall).

The food: For this 8 hours flight, one full lunch and one snack.

* The lunch: First course plus salad then main course and cheese or desert. On the menu, some strange meals such as a "Tea flavoured smoked beef tart, pineapple and bell pepper relish and cilantro ginger mayonnaise" or a "Tenderloin of beef and braised beef cheek, chocolate chili sauce, kohlrabi, carrots and polenta".

I went for more traditional options with king prawns and cod fish, both being rather good for inflight meals. Wine-wise, two white ones (a German and a French - I drank the latter that was quite good) and two red ones (a Bordeaux, average, and a Syrah from California, good).

* The snack: a soup (ginger stew with veggie and chicken) and a mix salad, both good. A cake was also present.

* In between, only drinks were available. No snacks as you can find on many other airlines.

The IFE: normal LH IFE offering that offers a reasonable choice of movies, series and other programs as well as music. The screen is large but the remote is required to operate the system (no touch screen).

Arrival: we were split between two buses ("mobile lounges" as IAD airport is calling them), one for connecting passengers and one for arrival ones. As I was in transit, I took the former one that brought us to the C concourse where immigration (rather quick - we were lucky) and security screening did take place. Then off to the lounge.

Verdict: the B747-8 is definitively the new Queen of the sky! A true B747, obviously more recent, but also longer and quieter (and fuel efficient). LH new business class seat is a huge improvement, although it suffers from privacy issues. Good service. Sad this aircraft is so far only operated by two airlines...

This ends part 2 of this trip report. Third leg follows separately.

Overall: 6.5/10

Congratulations to all our winners!