First class delight and drama: My first post-lockdown long-haul flight
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After too many months of very little travel in the U.K., my presence was required in the US for work. Whilst it might have been a “nice to be there” before, this was the first time since the pandemic began that I really needed to make the effort to get to America. This has been a difficult journey for Brits since President Trump’s executive order in March 2020 banned non-U.S. residents entering from the U.K. and other Schengen Area countries. I was determined to make it to Miami and in the process, take in my first post-lockdown long-haul flight.
This British Airways flight would prove to be rather eventful.
The list of countries that you must avoid for 14 days to enter the USA is relatively short, which means there are plenty of places to hang out for two weeks before making the jump to the States. With the clock running out for me on the much anticipated U.K. – U.S. travel corridor (we think that may be in place by early July), I took the plunge and booked my first long-haul flight of 2021, coming after a long dark U.K. lockdown.
My route was to be a well-trodden one. Many Brits needing to get to the U.S. for work and unable to pass the high threshold for a special entry permit, make their way to Mexico. A country that is not only close to the U.S., but also free of many of the restrictions that other nations impose. Whilst I did take a COVID test and I am fully vaccinated, Mexico requires no testing, vaccination, or any other formal documentation.
After 14 days, I will be able to enter the U.S. with similar freedom.
My travel brain raced into action. Airline schedules, award availabilities and mileage balances were checked. I was delighted to find wide-open award availability on my desired date, flying with British Airways on its direct service from London Heathrow (LHR) to Mexico City (MEX). There were seats to be had in World Traveller (economy), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and Club World (business class).
Whilst I might have once considered starting my flight in another European airport to save on taxes, the global situation made me rethink this tactic and I opted to start my flight in London and fly in Club World. The ticket cost 62,500 Avios plus £450 ($635) in taxes and fees. One-way cash tickets on the same route in business class cost around $5,000. At the current TPG valuations (1.5c per Avios), 62,500 Avios is worth $937.50, so this was a great deal.
It was a quiet day at Heathrow. I had flown up to Edinburgh (EDI) earlier in the week and so I was already back in my Heathrow Terminal 5 swing. The hand sanitiser banks, masked staff and passengers and random temperature checks already felt normal.
I headed to the First Wing, which I am able to access using my British Airways Executive Club Gold membership. There were no queues, and at the check-in desk. I thought I’d try my luck for an upgrade to BA’s top product, First. I was surprised at the answer. There was one seat left, a window seat, and it could be mine for just shy of 50,000 Avios or £299 ($422).
For an almost 12 hour flight, this seemed incredibly reasonable and I took the offer, paying cash.
As an added perk, I was now able to access the Concorde Terrace. After a quick glass of champagne and bowl of chicken wings (classy as always), one of the staff invited me for a snoop around the newly spruced up Concorde Room, now complete with the original Concorde nose cone. It’s very impressive and we’ll have more on that as they approach their reopening.
Stepping on to the BA Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, I felt quite emotional. I have travelled to far-flung places like Delhi and Tokyo on this aircraft before and it brought back many happy pre-pandemic memories.
I made my way to seat 1K and was greeted by the cabin crew who would be looking after me. The seat was as smart and inviting as I remembered. It’s not quite the best out there though. The more spacious A380 First seat which I reviewed back in 2019 just as the new First soft product was rolled out just edges it for me.
There is also now a version of the seat on new Boeing 777s with a sliding door.
The seat was no surprise but I was shocked to see that the entire First cabin of 8 seats was full.
I was immediately glad that I had splurged on the upgrade. Pandemic stories of cold meals served in cardboard boxes are a thing of the past. BA First is almost back to full service these days. Pyjamas, amenity kits and slippers were handed out after boarding and the menu was still slight reduced but almost back to its former glory.
Shortly after takeoff, canapes were served and the Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne began flowing. Perhaps a little too freely as I was to soon find out. I put my order in for food and sat back with a film (the Notebook, never seen it!) whilst I waited for lunch.
The food across the board, catered by the consistently good Do&Co was truly exceptional. First up was burrata with figs and truffle honey. The cheese was gooey and soft and matched perfectly with the fruit and truffle. Next was braised welsh lamb shank, pinched from Club World business class and plated up for me because they ran out of this popular dish in First. To finish, a barrage of desserts included a chocolate and salted caramel tower, a cheese board and a bowl of ice-cream, laden with fruit, meringue, chocolate pieces and chocolate sauce.
I continued to graze throughout the flight, but a truffled brie and goat’s cheese toast with fig relish was mindblowing. It was potentially the best thing I’ve eaten on a plane.
As the meal service wound down, it became clear that there was a serious problem brewing with the passengers sitting next to me in 1E and F.
The laughs were getting louder, the behaviour more boisterous and the language fouler. I watched them knock back drink after drink as the atmosphere descended in the small cabin of 8 seats.
Soon enough, the crew took action. They told the two passengers that they wouldn’t serve them alcohol for a while. This did not go down well. Voices were raised and more crew including Inflight Manager went brought to the scene. There were cries of “Don’t you know who I am?” and “Do you know how much I paid for this flight?”. The aggression climaxed with one of the passengers calling the IFM a combination of two of the rudest words in the dictionary. I will leave that phrase to your imagination.
The mood finally lifted when the passengers sobered up a little, decided to own up to their wrongdoing and profusely apologise for their behaviour.
The peace was not to last long, however. The crew agreed that they would serve limited drinks again with significant time gaps between drinks. Whilst my neighbours had originally agreed to this peace plan, they became increasingly frustrated with the 30-minute wait for their next whisky. They were joined by friends who had snuck in from another cabin and tensions began to rise again. Aggressions flared until eventually the crew rightfully put their foot down and the bar was closed to them for good. After the anger subsided, both passengers fell asleep and thankfully not another peep was heard from them for the final 4 hours of the flight.
For the other passengers in supposedly one of the most sophisticated seats in the sky, the whole experience could have ruined the entire flight. Not only was there the confrontations between crew and passengers, but the passengers continued to huff and puff and mumble expletives 3 feet away from me even after the crew left. You could cut the tension in the cabin with a knife.
Yet for me, the experience turned out to be a good one. In fact, it was rather fun. This is down to one thing — a fabulous British Airways crew. BA crew are often quite “real”. You might find crew on other carriers deferential or stiff, but usually BA crew are up for some banter, backed with a high-quality efficient service. Never are crew put more to the test than in situations like this and they really shone. They clearly knew my time on board was marred by these passengers and so they brought me in on the joke. Rather than leaving me to stew in my seat, they welcomed me into the galley to have a laugh about this absurd situation.
Providing great service, whilst being “matey” is a very careful line to tread, but this crew nailed it.
It was an absolute joy to finally take to the long-haul skies again. Flying first class made the flight more memorable, especially backed by a great Avios deal and a reasonable cash upgrade at the airport. What really made the experience stand out however was not only the crazy drama that ensued but witnessing first-hand an experienced crew take on a difficult situation and restoring calm in what could otherwise have been a catastrophe.
This was not a flight I’ll forget in a hurry.
All photos by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy
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