I began writing about our recent trip to Britain last week and clued you in on how we got a great hotel deal and where we ate. This week I thought I’d share how we got a great deal on our airfares and then got upgraded but also give you a look at the flight experience.
As to wrote about last week, when the plan for this trip came together, I was originally going by myself and the goal was to keep it as affordable as possible. It was far enough in advance that I could contemplate cashing in my hard earned British Airways Avios miles. The trouble with Avios is that you can no longer get a free plane ticket. You can get the airfare part of the ticket for free, but you’re still charged taxes and fees (which are usually more than the airfare anyway). Still, you can still get a very good deal on a ticket as those taxes and fees are a set price. I was able to snap up an Economy ticket on British Airways direct from Chicago for $693.45. Not a bad deal at all.
Fast forward a few months to February and it became necessary for Mrs Anglotopia to come along with me. The problem was that we waited too long and the only ticket available for her, other than paying full price (almost $2500 – a non-starter) was to use the rest of our miles to book her a Business class ticket for $894 (though she’d be in coach on the way home). This meant that while we would both be on the same flight and going to the same place, Mrs Anglotopia would be sipping champagne in Club World while I languished in Economy. Still, I’m going to England so that’s all that matters.
My friends at British Airways heard about this and they kindly put in a request to at least seat us together on the flight over to England. We would find out on our day of travel whether we’d be together or not. The day of departure came and we learned that our luck had come in – I was upgraded to Business class and Mrs Anglotopia and I were able to sit together for the flight over.
We arrived at O’Hare airport in Chicago for our flight about 3 hours in advance. We were able to check our bags in the Business line and they were expecting us. Once we got through security (relatively quickly thankfully) we headed for the BA lounge and were given a very warm welcome. We’ve been in there before – most recently on our last trip (by invitation as we had coach tickets) and in 2014 when were invited to a special party celebrating 60 years of BA flying to Chicago (click the link to read about that). The staff remembered us and were excited to see the people from Anglotopia.
It certainly felt nice! We ate our free meal in the lounge and took advantage of the ample free British newspapers and drinks. And then something surprising happened, we were invited to wait for our flight in the separate First Class lounge. This is something we have not done before and it was a real treat. At O’hare, the First lounge is airside, so you get a complete view of the airport as the staff unload and load the plane along with all the take-offs and landings. As an aviation buff, it was a real treat to see.
The First lounge is very relaxing, the lighting is subdued and it’s very quiet, the perfect way to spend the time before your flight. I must say my favorite bit of the lounge was the delicious Chocolate Chip cookies. I helped myself to more than should be allowed. As we were in the First lounge, we got to board the plane before anyone else and that was a true treat as we didn’t have to wade into the pre-flight scrum with everyone else.
I always love the experience of boarding a British Airways aircraft. The staff are always very helpful and welcoming. You’re hit with that cool breeze of fresh airplane air. There’s classical music playing over the speakers. It’s all very relaxing and refined. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when you step onto a BA aircraft, you’re already in England and your trip to England has begun.
Our seats in Club World were in the middle and right next to each other (I heard a BA staffer call them the King and Queen seats). It’s very private, almost like your very own room. It was a true treat. The last time we’d flown in Club World was in 2009 and it was much the same now as it was then. I was a little nervous that the seats were facing the opposite way in which we were traveling but once we were in flight, it didn’t really bother me. For the curious AV geeks, we flew over on a Boeing 777-200. It looked pretty new and the seats all featured BA’s latest product features.
We stuffed our tummies in the lounge so we opted to avoid the in flight dinner and take advantage of the ‘sleeper service’ where we make our seats lie flat into beds and sleep. I’m normally a terrible sleeper on an airplane, I’m usually too excited about going to England to sleep. But now that we have two kids and are getting older, making ourselves sleep isn’t as hard as it used to be.
So, with happy hearts we turned our seats into beds, took off our shoes, covered up and tried to sleep.
We woke up an hour before landing. It was quite literally the fastest flight to England I’ve ever taken as we both slept the whole flight.
There’s not much more to write about the flight over because we slept through it all. You really can’t ask for a better flight experience. Because we got a full night’s sleep, we arrived in London in the morning ready to explore the city. Back in our earlier travel days, we’d usually have to write the first day off because of jet lag. This time around, we were able to make use of the entire day and it was fantastic.
We cannot convey our thanks enough to British Airways for getting us into Club World.
Now, for the flight home.
Lightning did not strike twice, there was no space for us to fly Business class on on the way home but we were upgraded to World Traveler Plus (premium economy). This was still a treat and provided more legroom than economy (I’m over 6 feet tall so we always try to book WT Plus when traveling ourselves if we can afford it). My favorite feature of WT plus now is that we’re offered the same menu as business class, get the same free drinks and hot towels. Mrs Anglotopia and I happily ate steak on the airplane and it was delicious. I could get used to being spoiled.
Before our flight home, BA had invited us to their headquarters at Waterside to tour the British Airways Heritage Center. The Heritage Center is their own private museum dedicated to BA’s long history as an airline. We got a tour of the facility and it was a truly wonderful experience. We will write more about this in detail in another article coming soon.
Even though we weren’t in Club World, our friends at BA still arranged for us to have guest access to the lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal Five. If you’ve not seen Terminal Five it is one of the most beautiful modern buildings you’ll ever see and the lounge is a fantastic place to wait for your flight. It’s quiet, airy and features the best food and drinks you can ask for (plus more lovely free British newspapers). You also have a great view of airside and can watch airplanes take off and land to your hearts content.
It was slightly irritating that we had to go all the way to the C terminal to get to our gate (a long walk across Terminal Five then a train ride to the C terminal). But boarding was a quick and smooth experience and we departed with no delays. You can’t ask for much better than that at a busy airport like Heathrow. We had the bulkhead seats, which are always the best seats in WT Plus or Coach as you get a bit more legroom. I had a nice chat with the Irishman next to me (he lived in Bristol) who’d never been to Chicago and guided him to what he should see in the 48 hours he had.
We always dread our flights home because they’re about 3 hours longer than the flight over because when going west, the plane has to fight the headwinds. It’s also very hard to sleep because you’re leaving in the afternoon and not quite ready for sleeping. So, I usually buy a book for the flight home and read it all the way through since now that we have two kids rarely we rarely have 9 hours of uninterrupted time to read!
But this time I was tempted by the onboard entertainment system. BA has one of the best in the industry and I managed to watch 3 whole movies on the way home. This made the almost 9 hour flight go very quickly. If you’re curious about what I watched: Learning to Drive (very good), Legend (very good) and The Intern (mediocre but good message).
We experienced no turbulence on the way home which was nice. Despite battling the headwinds, we managed to arrive back to Chicago about half an hour earlier than scheduled. I had a major problem with dehydration the way home (side effect of a medication I’m on) and at one point I had to call a flight attendant over to ask for water and when he came over he’d read my mind and already had a glass. Can’t fault BA’s attention to service.
I wish I could say that we had a speedy trip through US customs on our return, but sadly we did not. Our flight arrived the same time as a couple flights from Mexico so it was a confusing rush of people at Customs. They make you do this odd thing where you enter your landing card into a touch screen computer, scan your passport and take your picture. Then you have to get into another line for your passport to be examined and stamped. I don’t understand why they think this is better than the way before where there was one line and the officer just had to read the landing card and stamp it. I hope they figure out a way to refine this process because it’s terrible.
Anyway, we enjoyed our entire flight experience with British Airways, we’ve flown them enough now that we feel very welcome on their planes and they’re beginning to know us. We can’t wait to fly them again. In fact, we’ve already booked our next trip (more on that at a later date).
Again many thanks to British Airways for helping us out with the upgrades and giving us such a warm welcome in their lounges.