Friday, 23 January 2015

Chasing Gold: BA LGW-MLA 734 / LHR-ZAG A319




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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Thanks for taking a look at another one of my reports. First off, apologies for yet another BA report - I’ll try to limit them in future, but I figured as theres a bit of a story behind this one, it may provide some interest. Therefore this report will be a buy one get one free sort of deal as it will cover two trips.

After my trip to the USA, it became apparent that I was just a few BA tier points away from achieving British Airways Gold / OneWorld Emerald status.

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To achieve this, I needed to book a couple of BA Club Europe flights. One had to be one of the longer sectors and another could be to anywhere. As Malta fell into the longer sector category, this was the first of the two trips to be booked.

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I was pleased to see that the flight out to Malta would be operated by the 737-400, which is a dying breed at BA with their retirement in full swing. All are due to be gone by June 2015, so this could well be my swan song on the type, at least in BA colours.

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The second of the two trips could be to pretty much anywhere in Europe, as long as it was in Club. I logged on to the BA website and looked at the best deals. Quite a few could be had for around £200, but these were all destinations that I’ve visited previously. For a £40 premium, I could visit Zagreb, which would be both a new city and country.

On to the first trip then:

With a departure of 08:00am meaning I’d have to get up way too early, even for my liking, I decided to trade in a few thousand HHonours points that I’d acquired over the years to spend on the night at the Hampton Inn at LGW.

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The next morning, I woke to a pretty big thunderstorm outside. I made my way downstairs to the terminal and made my way through an empty security. As I was the only person in the fast track, it took a matter of seconds.

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Within fifteen minutes of checking out of my hotel, I was into a busy lounge - is there any time of the day when this place isn't packed?!

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I waited here until around 07:15 when gate 111 flashed up on the screen. Once more I'd be heading over the bridge to pier 6. After waiting seemingly forever to take a flight from this pier, It now seems like a pretty common occurrence.

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Once I arrived, I found G-DOCT waiting which was another new BA 737 for the log. I’ve been pretty lucky over the last couple of years not to get any repeat registrations on the type.

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Boarding was announced and there was a bit of confusion as to whether anybody should proceed or not as there wasn't anybody manning the entrance to the jetway.


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BA2644
LGW-MLA
October 2014
Boeing 737-436 / G-DOCT
Seat: 5F/8F / Club Europe
Scheduled: 08:00/12:10
Off Stand: 08:22
On Stand: 12:42


Boarding in the Club section was completed pretty quickly and I spotted row 8 was empty. I therefore seized the opportunity and grabbed the empty row whilst I could (after checking boarding was complete of course). As this was a longer sector, pillows and blankets were waiting on the seats.

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The captain welcomed everybody and apologised for the delay - blaming a baggage issue and a catering issue. He also mentioned a flying time of just under three hours at an altitude of 33,000ft.

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Something a little newer next door

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Anybody know the deal with this engineless MD? Seems to have been here forever?

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VS’s first 787 having been delivered the previous afternoon.

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Something else reasonably new having just arrived.

We finally did push back and made a slow crawl out to 26L, before departing at 08:40.

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The previously seen Aurigny now heading back out for departure. Shows how long we were on stand.

Once we were airborne, the earlier rain had got rid of any haze, meaning some great views more or less as far as the eye could see.

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Passing the home of Top Gear


This was short lived however as we had soon turned into the earlier nastiness.

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The hot towels were handed out, and I amused myself with the paper

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Some thirty minutes or so after departure, breakfast was served.

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Once breakfast was finished, the captain updated us on our progress. I had noticed we had made a few turns in the last couple of minutes and he confirmed this by saying we were being rerouted around some thunderstorms in the Nice area. Coupled with quite a strong headwind, this meant we would now be arriving around thirty minutes behind schedule.

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For the remainder of the flight, I stuck the iPod on and browsed the inflight mags. Also, the purser came through the cabin offering additional magazines, something I'd not seen before. Although nothing really took my fancy, so I stuck to the BA ones.

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Something else which was heading for imminent retirement.

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Around thirty minutes before descent, another drinks run was completed.

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Descent did start and the ever informative captain announced a pretty much straight in descent and approach.

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The wheels were down almost exactly three hours after they went up and we made a short taxi over to the stand.

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There wasn't much of a wait to leave and as the ground crew kept stopping people from crossing the road, I was able to grab a couple of pictures.

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Passport control took a minute or two and then it was off to find a taxi to my hotel, the Radisson Blu in St. Julian’s.

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Some pictures from my time on the island.

St Georges Bay:

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Valetta:


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Sliema:

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Relaxing with some snacks, a mag and some music on the balcony:


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St Julians by night:

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Tasty kebabs - although at €25 somewhat on the pricey side…

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On the day of departure, whilst sitting on my balcony, I checked the incoming flight to see which aircraft I'd be on. Not only was a delay showing, but also G-DBCC would be operating the flight - the same aircraft that flew me JER-LGW back in May. Once more it would appear I've missed out on a dove liveried jet!

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I took a walk down to the beach before heading to the airport in a taxi.

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Upon arrival, the BA desk wasn't open, and there was a huge gaggle of elder Brits hanging around.

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I suspected they were all waiting for the same flight as me and as soon as the familiar blue BA signs appeared, they all followed like a flock of sheep - not taking an awful lot of notice as to whether the line was for Club Europe or not... Eventually I had my boarding pass and lounge invite (I've always wondered what happens if I don't bother visiting the desk and just head straight through. BA don't make it clear that you need an invite) and I made my way through security.

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There was a fast track available and I was the only one to take advantage of it. Annoyingly, it was the kind of fast track that spat you out and the front of the regular line, therefore irritating the heard from check in as they thought I had jumped the queue. It took a couple of minutes to end up airside.

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I saw signs for a viewing terrace, however it wasn't that brilliant.

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So I made my way to the lounge.

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It was a typical third party affair - very neutral, a couple of hot snacks and a fridge of soft drinks.

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Interestingly there was also a separate room off to the side, called the High Altitude lounge. I'm assuming this is a first class lounge of sorts?

After around an hour, I was feeling a little bored with the lounge so I made my way down to the gate. Although maybe a little early, as beyond passport control, the only facilities available was a small duty free shop and a cafe.

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At the time advertised as when the gate was due to close, the ground staff finally decided to inform everybody of the delay. Bit of a poor show there as it was known since before the plane had even left London.

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Boarding was announced for club and status holders and as expected, as soon as the ground agent stepped up to the mic, the blue rinse brigade from check in were up and heading towards the bus.

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BA2645
MLA-LGW
October 2014
Airbus A319 / G-DBCC
Seat: 5A / Club Europe
Scheduled: 14:20/16:35
Off Stand: 14:37
On Stand: 16:31


The bus pulled up alongside G-DBCC and I made my way up the steps - being guilt tripped into carrying one of the old folks massive cabin case along the way. I’m of the opinion that if you aren't able to handle your own baggage, then you've packed too much…

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Once onboard, the plane resembled a cheesy 80s disco, due to the air con working overtime in the afternoon heat.

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This was a completely full flight, including all eight rows of club. Menus were handed out whilst still on stand.

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Reduced legroom on the ex BD birds.

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Boarding was completed relatively quickly, and we pulled off around twenty minutes behind schedule.

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We reached the runway pretty quickly, but then had to hold for more than a few minutes due to a pair of A340's landing - one from EK arriving from LCA and another belonging to LH which headed off to their maintenance hangar. We then lifted off into some surprisingly cloudy skies.

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A few moments later the seatbelt sign went off (pretty early actually, considering we'd only been airborne for about three minutes) and the crew started their service. They also announced that the forward washroom was for Club Europe passengers only - the first time I remember hearing such an announcement onboard. A short while later, the drinks service started. Rather than take the risk with the champagne, I went for a Baileys on ice instead. A double was served up without prompting.


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Then not much happened for well over an hour and a half. I did start to wonder if there would be any meal service at all.

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With around an hour until landing, the meal service began. As the crew seemed to be running low on the chicken, I went for the fish. It wasn't too bad.

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During the meal service, the captain appeared in the front galley with a pair of meal trays. The purser rushed back, and the pair ended up having somewhat of an animated discussion. The purser then made her way back to the trolley and stated "he just dumped them on the side", following up with a few more choice words before ending with "it's the Heathrow mentality". Fair enough if he'd annoyed you, but to air your frustrations in front of a full premium cabin was highly unprofessional. A short while later, the first officer appeared in the forward galley, and a similar instance occurred. I can't say I've ever witnessed such a lack of unity between the flight and cabin crew.

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By the the time the meal trays were cleared, descent was more or less upon us. I made my way to the front washroom, and as there was a bit of a queue, I ended up hanging around in the galley for a few minutes. It was chaos, with the crew desperately trying to pack things away from the meal service. I can't help but feel they brought it on themselves somewhat though by starting it so late. I do hope nobody wanted any duty free - or hot towels for that matter. Because neither of which put in any appearance.

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Clear for all to see the previous identity of this one

By the time I’d used the washroom and got back to my seat the seatbelt sign had been switched on and we were into some nasty clouds.

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Thanks to Gabriel for tracking my flight!

We landed into a damp Gatwick and made the short journey over to the main terminal.

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After this trip, just 60 Tier Points were then needed to obtain Gold status. This is where the second trip comes into the equation. A further day trip to Edinburgh a couple of weeks later bagged me another twenty, so in the end I would gain gold status after just the outbound flight.

OLCI showed that it was likely to be a pretty quiet flight:

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This time I'd be travelling from Heathrow, so it was on to the coach at 6AM.

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I arrived twenty minutes later

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After picking up a souvenir boarding pass, I made my way through security, where I was given a very thorough search - the guy just couldn't seem to figure out it was my belt that was setting his metal detector off… Once I was deemed worthy to enter, I made my way upstairs to the Galleries Club lounge, for possibly the last time in a while.

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Boarding was announced just twenty minutes before departure from gate A1.

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By the time I'd made the walk to the other end of the terminal, boarding was underway.

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I managed to bypass the queue by being the only person in the fast track, and I was soon on board G-EUOE.

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BA848
LHR-ZAG
November 2014
Airbus A319 / G-EUOE
Seat: 2A / Club Europe
Scheduled: 08:25/11:40
Off Stand: 08:37
On Stand: 11:51


There was a steady flow of mostly American tourists heading towards the rear.

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Compare this legroom to the previous BD jet and the following A320

The flow died down and it became apparent that I'd have the entire Club Europe section to myself - great! The captain announced a slight delay due to some refuelling issues, but it shouldn't be any longer than fifteen minutes. A few moments later, a hot towel was handed to me with a causal "There we go Mr White, may I also offer you a drink?" I declined however, and said I’d just have some water after takeoff.


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We pushed back around ten minutes late and made a short taxi over to 09R.


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We took off without much delay and were straight into the clouds.

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Shortly after departure, the purser brought me some water and asked if I wanted anything to eat. He replied with "As you're the only person in Club today, I'll bring you everything we have”.

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Seemed a little odd having eighteen seats to myself whilst a few feet away everybody else was seemingly crammed in. Nobody tried self upgrading though.

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Following my extended breakfast, I reclined with some music.

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The iPod Classic was retired after the trip to Malta.

Once the purser had finished his duties, I ventured forwards for a chat. He seemed as keen as I was for it! This lasted for a few minutes until we hit some pretty bad turbulence and I had to return to my seat.

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Just a few moments later, the first officer announced our descent.


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During which, the purser appeared and asked if I wanted any drinks to take away with me for later on... I asked for some G+T and he promptly returned with a goodie bag - I thanked him, and he replied that he loved to see happy customers flying for pleasure. Wonderful service.

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We made a cloudy approach into Zagreb before touching down and making a pretty long roll out.

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We then spun around 180 degrees and sped over to the stand.

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Upon arrival, I was the first in line to disembark. As it took a while for the steps to be attached, I ended up having another chat with the purser and first officer. Once it was time to disembark, the purser shook my hand and wished me a pleasant stay. The difference between this crew and the previous one mentioned in this report was like night and day.

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Always seems odd seeing a QR A320 on European soil.

It was a short bus ride over to the terminal, before heading through passport control and out into country number 39.

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I then boarded a Croatia Airlines branded bus to the city.

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I arrived at my hotel for the night, the Doubletree before heading out to see the city.

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Decent enough view too.

Some pics from Zagreb:


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Riding the funicular back down the hill. About 40p for 40 seconds.

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As it was getting a bit cold and somewhat dark, I made my way back to the hotel and made use of my gifts from my flight over.


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On the morning of departure, I tracked the incoming flight to Zagreb to see which aircraft I'd be on.

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G-EUYG would be another new reg for the log. Once it was time to head back, I caught a bus back to the basic airport.

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I did see signs for a viewing deck, but it was a little popular:

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Almost immediately as I passed passport control, it was into the lounge. Nothing too special really... just a few snacks and soft drinks, although as I'd eaten a big breakfast at the hotel anyway, I wasn't too fussed.

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There was a good enough view of the ramp though.

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I amused myself with the only British newspaper available, although it was nearly two weeks old!


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I waited here until my plane arrived, and then made my way down to gate 19.


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BA849
ZAG-LHR
November 2014
Airbus A320 / G-EUYG
Seat: 3F / Club Europe
Scheduled: 12:35/14:10
Off Stand: 12:36
On Stand: 13:37


Boarding began, despite no announcement and we made the thirty second or so bus ride over the the aircraft.


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Today I wouldn’t have the Club cabin to myself. There were three other passengers and half of the economy cabins carry on luggage.


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This aircraft had the enhanced cabin, along with the rest of the A320's. I had experienced this cabin before on a short hop up to Manchester, so I was keen to see how it would fare in a longer sector of two hours and five minutes. The reduction in legroom was immediately noticeable from yesterday's flight, however being somewhat vertically challenged it wasn't an issue personally. 


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The other enhancements make the cabin look very classy however.


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As boarding was completed I moved forward to row 2, as the guy sat behind was a bit fidgety. He later asked if he could move to the row I'd vacated, but was very quickly told he couldn’t. The engines were started on stand and we made the quick taxi and departure.

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Shortly after takeoff, I reclined my seat fully, but it didn't go back all that far…

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A few moments later, the purser took the drink orders, writing them down restaurant style. I asked for a Baileys, which was met with a little surprise, but I got it nonetheless. It was also dished up with the Club nuts, which I'm sure have shrunk since I last had them...


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Just as this was occurring, we passed over the Alps.


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After which lunch was served. There was a choice of salad with fish skewers or chicken. I opted for the chicken.

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During lunch, the captain came through the cabin, and headed towards the rear. A few moments later, the same thing happened again. Due to the curtains being closed I couldn't see what was going on, but on his return he came and eyed up the row behind me, and then had quite a discussion with the purser in the forward galley. Around ten minutes later, the first officer appeared, and then took a look at row 4. What was going on? Apparently nothing major.

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With around half an hour to go, the nose dipped and the engines spooled back. Due to the endless cloud cover, there was nothing to be seen though.


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We touched down and made a rough ride over to the terminal. As we were over half an hour early, we had to make do with T5C.

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I did consider asking for a flight deck visit, but one of the faster moving Y passengers beat me to it. Never mind, I’d seen the flight deck of the BA A320’s many times anyway.

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After a bit of a wait to disembark, I took the slow walk over to the main terminal, due to my coach home not leaving for over an hour due to them enhancing their timetables.

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This did give me the opportunity to see what was around though - mostly Dreamliners it seemed.

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Once I finally did arrive back at T5A, I happened to bump into the crew from my flight - who gave a bit of a bemused look as to not only why I took so long, but also why I was emerging from underground as opposed to the train.

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Mission accomplished!

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On this occasion BA were a real mixed bag. The crew on the LGW-MLA sector were instantly forgettable - they got the job done with the minimum of fuss. On the return MLA-LGW sector however, their unprofessional manner and the way they were so unprepared with regard to the service led me to complain to the airline about it. It was met with a very generic response however. I took it further still, but I wont bore you with the details. The crew member on the LHR-ZAG well and truly restored my faith in the airline though. Friendly, efficient and really went the extra mile. He really was a credit to the airline - just a shame he mentioned that he was leaving. I also sent an email to the airline after this flight, which said more or less the opposite of the previous one. The crew on the ZAG-LHR sector was very much business friendly. More than happy to talk if spoken to but generally kept the interruptions to a minimum.

Next up? I’ll be putting my newly acquired gold card to use on a trip over to Canada for Christmas and New Year.

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Following on in 2015, I’ll be giving Swiss Business class a go between Geneva and Copenhagen with a couple of feeder flights with LX and SK.

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Then I’ll be trying out British Airways’ franchise partner Sun Air on a pair of flights to Oslo before heading off on Air Baltic to Latvia.

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I’ll also be heading off to Bilbao and back on BA’s first day of operations to the Spanish city with a fellow a.netter - although its unlikely I’ll do a report on those flights.

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