Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways B747-400 World Traveller

14/05/2015

CHECK-IN

I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 5 on the Piccadilly Line at 0640, having caught the first train of the morning, and then made my way up to the departures level.

I'd checked-in online for my 0825 flight to New York JFK the previous day so went straight to the bag drop, which took a few minutes, and then walked through security, which took about five minutes.

After grabbing a sandwich and coffee and having a perfunctory look in a couple of shops, I caught the transit train to reach gate B35.

BOARDING

Boarding started at 0745; as I was travelling in economy, I waited for 20 minutes until most people had boarded before joining the queue.

BA B747-400

When I showed my pass at the gate, I was informed that my seat, 48D, had been switched to "accommodate a family". Feeling my blood begin to boil — I had, after all, been certain to check-in online and choose a seat exactly 24 hours prior to departure — I was, fortunately, only moved two rows forward to 46D.

More excitement was to come, however, as I settled into my seat. A man asked if he would mind myself and my neighbour in 46E swapping seats so that he could sit together with his girlfriend, who had aisle seats 48C and 47C respectively.

We both happily agreed and I took 48C. Although sitting in a D seat in a 3-4-3 configuration means only one person should need to clamber over you to exit the row, instead of two when in a C seat, it seemed churlish to refuse his request.

THE SEAT

BA's B747 fleet comes in two configurations, with more Club World seats on routes with larger numbers of business travellers, such as to New York.

Therefore, on the aircraft I was travelling on, World Traveller (economy), which is laid out across two cabins, occupied rows 33-36 and 39-55, behind World Traveller Plus (premium economy), which was in rows 28-31 in a separate cabin. To view a seatplan, click here.

Each seat comes with a seat-back table that folds down and slides out, as well as a small pillow, blanket, headphones, a toothbrush and toothpaste. On the back of the headrest in front was a 6.5-inch touchscreen IFE screen.

The cabins looked tired, however, and would certainly benefit from a refurbishment.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Row 33 in the front economy cabin and rows 39 and 40 in the rear cabin have extra legroom. However, there is a chance you might be seated alongside a baby in a bassinet.

The centre seats (D-E-F-G) go all the way to 55 at the back of the aircraft, but the rows on either side stop at 53. These final three rows either side (51-53) also have two seats, instead of three, with a small amount of space where seats A and K would have been.

These seats, therefore, provide more room and are ideal if travelling in a pair. On the downside, you will have passengers waiting directly behind you to use one of the four toilets at the back throughout the flight.

Other than that, it comes down to a preference for a window or an aisle seat. I tend to choose a mid-cabin aisle seat on either end of the centre — to avoid potential noise from a baby at the front, to avoid the toilet queues at the back, and so that, in theory, you only need to move for one person to exit their seat.

THE FLIGHT

We pushed back just after 0830, before sitting still for ten minutes. After taxiing for a few more minutes, we took-off at 0850.

Cabin crew handed out vegetarian meals about 20 minutes later, and then started serving the rest of the passengers, working backwards from the front of the cabin.

Breakfast was a choice of egg and steak or a vegetarian omelette. I opted for the latter. Unfortunately, it was in a sea of baked beans (which I loathe) so I only had a small bite - it tasted good.

This wasn't a problem though as there was also a small Danish pastry, a bread roll, blackberry yoghurt, fruit salad and an orange juice. I was then served a cup of tea.

It was now 1000, so I decided to watch a film using the headphones provided. These were pretty useless, leaving me unable to make out some dialogue, so I switched to my own (cheap) Sony headphones, which made a marked improvement.

The IFE screens on this aircraft are in need of a replacement — they have a visible, faint grid over the entire screen and only respond to a vigorous touch, and even then are not that responsive.

This being a day flight, I ended up watching two films back-to-back and then read for a bit. The film selection was pretty good, with a number of recent movies available, while the TV selection had some vintage sitcoms and interesting documentaries.

At 1400, about an hour and a half before landing, cabin crew served a lunch of chicken pesto sandwich and a Kitkat chocolate bar (which tasted slightly different to a normal Kitkat, but maybe that was just me), followed by tea/coffee.

ARRIVAL

We started our descent at 1515 (1015 local time) and landed at 1550 (1050 EST), followed by a few minutes taxiing to the gate.

It then took 45 minutes to get through customs at JFK, a painfully slow procedure that doesn't give the best first impression of the US (and can often take far longer).

VERDICT

The B747-400 aircraft is clearly ageing, but otherwise the flight went without a hitch. The cabin crew was friendly, the food fine and we landed on-time. If only the US customs process wasn't so cumbersome.

FACT FILE

  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 3-4-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F-G, H-J-K)
  • SEAT WIDTH 17.5in
  • SEAT PITCH 31in
  • SEAT RECLINE 5in
  • CONTACT ba.com


Graham Smith