Friday, July 22, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 10 - Qantas Premium Economy London to Bangkok QF2 (Boeing 747-400)


After a brief but amazing time in Europe it was time for me to head back to Australia in time for my sisters wedding in Cairns. My journey to Cairns from London was to be on Qantas via Bangkok and Sydney. This post covers just the first sector, QF2 to Bangkok on board the Boeing 747-400. I flew in premium economy class on this sector, but firstly let's have a quick look at the terminal 3 Heathrow lounge offering.

Although most BA flights leave from terminal 5 at Heathrow, some still do use terminal 3 including all flights to Australia. Qantas shares terminal 3 with them and they use the BA lounges there just as BA use the Qantas lounges in Sydney. So, after a long day at Windsor Castle I found myself checking in quite early with a very friendly check-in girl who gave me directions to the lounge with a smile. With my Qantas platinum card in hand I was offered access to the Galleries First lounge, but before lounging I was in urgent need of a shower. 

Shower Room - Galleries Lounge Terminal 3

Elemis amenities on tap, but I asked for and received a toothbrush and shaving kit as well
It is worth mentioning that there is an Elemis Spa available to those actually flying in First Class, and I believe BA Club World and BA Gold members. Unfortunately Qantas platinums flying classes other than first do not get access. Even without a spa treatment I felt very refreshed and ready for travel after my shower. I headed into the lounge and settled with a glass of champagne.

There is self serve food and drinks available but there is also an a la carte menu. The menu was nowhere near as extensive as that found in the Qantas First lounges. I ended up having a soup, pasta carbonara and some kind of raspberry cake dessert. All were quite tasty and were delivered quite promptly by the staff.


Lounge Food

Lounge Food

Lounge Surroundings
Now, onto the flight...
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LONDON HEATHROW to BANGKOK

AIRLINE: Qantas
FLIGHT: QF2

AIRCRAFT: Boeing 747-400 (VH-OJU)

SCHEDULED TO DEPART: 22.15
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 22.06

SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE: 15.40
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 15.20

SEAT: 35G (Premium Economy)
LOAD FACTOR: Economy - 84%, Premium Economy - 75%, Business - 100%, First - 100%

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By the time QF2 was boarding things were winding down in the lounge as it was one of the last departures. In fact the staff had already closed the food buffet as I was preparing to leave. My timing was good as boarding was just being called as I arrived at the gate.


Seat 35G, leg room is ample
The premium economy cabin is a private area consisting of just 32 seats in total. It is located between business and economy class with the galley separating it from business and a bulkhead installed behind to separate from economy. Unfortunately the toilets allocated for premium economy passengers are behind in the economy section, meaning you still will suffer long waits for the bathroom at peak times. The seats however are much wider than economy with 8 abreast rather than 10, and seat pitch is a comfortable 38 inches.

Noise cancelling headset and blanket
I was pleased to see the seat beside me remained vacant as doors were closed meaning I would be undisturbed during the night. Soon after I had got settled in my seat the crew were around to offer pre flight drinks including sparkling wine (not champagne), juice or water. I took a sparkling. Not long afterwards a senior member of cabin crew came to speak to me personally to welcome me on board as a Qantas platinum member. He also offered me a fast track immigration pass for Bangkok which was not offered to other passengers and said if there was anything I need to simply ask him. Naturally I was quite impressed with this extra level of service and recognition.

Looking across to the right

Welcome Drink
At 6 minutes past 10 pm we pushed back, 9 minutes ahead of schedule. We were seen airborne and setting course for Bangkok when the smells of food started wafting through the cabin. Premium economy passengers are offered an upgraded menu when compared to economy and the food is served on proper ceramic plates although it is all on a single tray. It is very similar to a domestic business class meal on Qantas.


Flight information 

I have to apologise at this point as my camera started doing weird things, it was vibrating when I turned it on and made it impossible to take a photo of the menu or the food I was served. I can't even quite remember what we had but I do recall it being quite tasty. I finished it off pretty quickly and reclined my seat watching The Kings Speech for about the 5th time! I didn't last long though and I was soon passed out asleep after a long day which had started at 5.30am in Berlin.

It must have been quite a good sleep as the next time I woke up we had already passed India and my camera was working again!!


With 90 minutes to arrival breakfast was being prepared and I went for the eggs option which came with a fruit salad and bakery items. The coffee is served from a BODUM coffee plunger which is an improvement over what you receive on Thai Airways.

Breakfast

Breakfast was some kind of cheesy omelette with mushroom, spinach, tomato and potato. It wasn't too bad and regular coffee top ups were available. At this point the economy bathrooms had large queues forming and I really wished Premium Economy passengers had one for themselves.

By the time breakfast was over there was a bit of time to keep watching TV or to freshen up in preparation for our mid afternoon arrival. The 11 hour flight so far had gone smoothly and I was pleased with the comfort levels in premium economy. A definite step up from economy! The English passengers across from me were on their first trip to Australia and first time in premium were very pleased indeed with the offering. I shared a few travel tips about Australia with them over breakfast and we talked about The Queen! Yes I am a monarchist I will admit it freely.

The descent and landing into Suvarnabhumi was routine and we arrived at the gate a full 20 minutes early. I waved goodbye to my friends across the aisle who were also having a stopover in Bangkok before continuing on to Australia and I power walked to immigration. I had two days in Bangkok before my journey back to Australia would resume.




Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 9 - Windsor Castle

After landing back in London Heathrow early in the morning and with a late night flight to Bangkok scheduled I had most of the day spare. What better way to spend it than a lovely trip to the nearby town of Windsor and the amazing Windsor Castle. I took a local bus from the airport to Windsor which was a cheap and easy way to go and makes a side trip during long connections at Heathrow more than possible. Here is a few pics around Windsor....

Looking up to the castle from Windsor itself - thats my bus leaving


Right in time for the changing of the guard - I love all this tradition



The original Elizabeth! Amazing

The Royal Apartments are in there

St George's Chapel at Windsor - inside lay the tombs of many Royals, including King George V and VI, The Queen Mother and more

Looking from The Long Walk to the Castle - The Queen drives in this way

The Long Walk - The Queen herself uses this as her driveway
I spent many hours exploring the grounds and the state apartments including a terrific display for Prince Philip's 90th birthday celebrations. All very interesting and I totally recommend visiting. The small town of Windsor is also really cute with lots of nice cafes and shops and things to look at. You can also take a cruise along the River Thames from here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Royal Tour Part 8 - A return on bmi Business

Well I have to apologise for my delay in updating the blog due to personal reasons but I am back with Part 8 of the recent tour with the Royal theme. This post covers my return to london on British Midland International.

I had a nice day in Berlin taking one of those open top tour buses on a hop on hop off style tour around the city. I thoroughly recommend it for seeing some of the major sights easily and covering them all quite quickly. Whilst I am in the mood for recommending things, may I suggest to my readers that if they are looking for quality accommodation at a good price in Berlin that they sample the Hampton by Hilton City West hotel. I was really impressed with the excellent service and modern comfortable rooms. It is also quite near to local bus lines making it easy to get around town.

Now for the flight, and I used on of the airport buses to return to Tegel. The buses are all modern and clean and each stop is mentioned on the electronic display and also verbally announced.

Bus to the airport

I arrived at Tegel having already picked up my boarding pass the previous morning in London and only carry on bags so I did not need to bother with the check-in queue. Instead I headed to the Lufthansa lounge for breakfast. There I found the usual continental breakfast fare I had come to expect in Europe so far. Croissants, fruit, coffee etc.

Lufthansa Lounge Entry - Berlin Tegel

Lufthansa Lounge seating

Breakfast offering
With no free wifi and limited entertainment options in the lounge I decided to wander around the airport and head through security to the gate area. Once again I was impressed that the distance from roadside through checkin and on to passport control and security and then the gate was all of about 30 metres walk! The BMI gate was right next to a gate servicing a British Airways flight to London Heathrow as well. They operate at very similar times and both were Airbus A319s.

Air Berlin B737-800 at home

Berlin Tegel Departure Board

BMI Check-in, you then walk through to the gate just to the left to get to security

The neighbouring British Airways Airbus A319 also bound for Heathrow
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BERLIN TEGEL TO LONDON HEATHROW

AIRLINE: bmi ( British Midland International )
FLIGHT: BD840

AIRCRAFT: Airbus A319-131 (G-DBCC)

SCHEDULED TO DEPART: 07.30
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 07.40

SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE: 08.35
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 08.43

SEAT: 1F (Business)
LOAD FACTOR: Economy - 75% Business - 50%


As the departure time of 07.30 neared, boarding was called for business class and gold card holders first. I made my way on board the 7 year old Airbus  and settled in 1F again. The aircraft was fitted with older style seating but at least had a cabin divider for business class (unlike my flight the previous day).

I was offered newspapers but declined and there is no pre takeoff drinks service. The flight was pretty full in economy with about 75% of the seats filled up by the time the doors were closed.





Pushback was delayed 10 minutes and we left the gate at 7.40am, making a quick taxi to the active and powering off one of the 2 main runways. I waved goodbye to Berlin outside my window and we ascended into the cloudy sky. We soon passed through the cloud and into the morning blue sky and the seat belt sign was extinguished. The smell of breakfast wafted through the cabin not long after and I was presented with my tray.

Climb out from Berlin

Meal - notice the colour of the coffee

Meal revealed!

The meal this morning consisted of another vegetarian eggs breakfast. It was more tasty than the previous breakfast flight the day before however just have a look at the coffee they served. YES - that is COFFEE and not TEA!!! I have never been given such a pathetically weak and disgusting cup of coffee on any aircraft in my life. Absolutely terrible and I didn't take more than my first sip. I opted for a glass of apple juice instead. Bread and pastries were brought around to choose from as well. One interesting thing I found was that the yoghurt was caramel rather than fruit based which I would expect for breakfast. It was rather delicious though!


Passing Amsterdam airport
The meal was soon cleared away and I noticed we were passing over the giant expanse of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport below. It really covers a huge amount of land! Weather remained great and we crossed the channel and descended into London. There was no offer of extra drinks but I'm sure I could have had one had I rung the call button.
Descent into London - I believe that may be the Olympic village down there

It was another routine landing at London's Heathrow and we parked at the gate just 8 minutes behind schedule. All in all an average flight with average crew and average food (horrible coffee). BMI has some work to do if it wants to impress me. I think even Lufthansa was better in business.

Parking at Heathrow beside an Aer Lingus A320 and a Delta 767 passing behind