British Airways A321 Euro Traveller04/10/2012
BACKGROUND Flight BA0355, an Airbus A321, departs Nice Airport’s Terminal 1 daily at 1815 and arrives at London Heathrow T5 at 1915 local time. The official flight time is two hours including the time difference. BA0355 is just one of seven daily flights.
Nice is the closest airport to Cannes (where I was on business), which is about a 40-minute drive away, allowing for the typically bad traffic.
CHECK-IN I’d neglected to check-in online, but when I arrived at Nice Airport at about 1600 I found that most of the British Airways desks were virtually deserted, as appeared much of the airport. Despite this I opted for one of the self-service machines, of which there were at least 16, and the process proved quite painless. Nice is not a large airport at all and finding one’s way around is straightforward. The escalators up to the upper level and security begin within the BA zone, so it’s not long before you’re shedding belt and shoes. Rather sensibly, there is a separate area with tables and stacks of trays so people can empty their pockets, remove jackets etc. thus avoiding any last-minute panicked scramble. The security staff seemed quite grateful that I took the trouble to prepare myself for scanning.
There isn’t a lot to see or do at Terminal 1, and even less so airside although there is free wifi (30-minute limit). If you’ve a while before your flight, in hindsight I’d recommend you waste as much time as you can prior to clearing security, perhaps pay a visit to T2 which I’m told is much nicer. Once airside there’s one bar/eatery, but be prepared to pay €8 for a beer and €6 for a sandwich.
BOARDING At the time it appeared that less than half the departures were actually in use. Again it’s a small airport and none of the departure gates are very far away, so there’s no need to allow too much walking time. Just be aware that the announcements are a little on the quiet side. Gate 42 was called at 1750, a little earlier than expected, but I managed to join the queue to board quite early and was soon in my seat.
THE SEAT At check-in I had the option of choosing my seat for no extra cost. There were no exit row seats left, but one, 10B, appeared not to have a seat in front of it, at least not according to the seating map. I suspected that this wasn’t the case, but I decided to take a gamble more out of curiosity than anything. It wasn’t the case and instead I was stuck with a middle seat, which I like the least. Fortunately 10A, the window seat, was unoccupied so I took it.
The seats on this A321 are an older style of Euro Traveller chair, probably dating back to 2004. They’re certainly showing their age, and opening the rickety tray table, odd milky stains et al, was an experience all of its own. I recommend you do it only if absolutely necessary. The seats are leather and comfortable enough, though the headrest was slightly hard and refused to remain adjusted (it kept sliding down under the weight of my head).
Having said all that, there was a generous amount of legroom compared to the newer Euro Traveller seats on smaller aircraft such as the A319 and A320. I was comfortable enough on this flight to catch 40 much needed winks.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? During the safety announcement, the flight attendant revealed that there in fact seven different variants of the A321 in terms of layout. BA.com provides only one generic configuration, but I was able to make enough notes to have a new seating map drawn up. To see it, click here.
On the generic A321 layout, business class is from rows one to 11 which includes one emergency exit at row eight. With this configuration, business stops at row seven which means there are actually two emergency exit rows in economy (rows eight and 21), rather than just one therefore doubling the opportunity to bag some extra legroom.
Rows eight and 21 are only four abreast (BC-DE) and not the usual six (ABC-DEF) to allow for better access to the emergency exits (8A, 8F, 21A and 21F are missing). This means that the seats 9A, 9F, 22A and 22F have the most legroom by far.
It’s worth mentioning that if you check-in online, BA sometimes charges for seat changes. This isn’t always the case however as I could choose my outbound seat for free. I was also able to change my seat on this flight for free at the self service check-in, so in some cases it may be worth not checking-in online, but then you’re less likely to find the best seat the longer you leave it.
THE FLIGHT About half an hour into the flight (which seems the norm on most flights), the drinks trolley came around. I had hoped for a sandwich, but instead we were given the choice of a sweet or savoury snack. I went for the latter, a bag of nuts and seeds which were surprisingly satisfying when washed down with a tomato juice. I’m not sure that would have been the case if I’d been any hungrier, and I definitely had business class envy.
The flight itself took off bang on time, and landed ten minutes early, so no complaints there at all. Boarding was quick and the staff were extremely amiable.
ARRIVAL The flight landed at Heathrow at 1900 local time. A bus was waiting on the tarmac to take us to Terminal 5, which was actually a considerable drive away (we had to take one of the two-lane service roads that span the airport). The queue at immigration was quite long, but processed quickly. With no baggage to claim I was soon on my way to the tube station.
VERDICT A very smooth experience all in all. Nice Airport was very quiet at the time, despite the fact the Cannes Film Festival was had started that day. For a small airport serving the south of France, I’d expect it to be very busy with a major international event nearby.
PRICE A mid-week return in June, through BA’s website, starts at £162.