I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A First Class airport experience

We got a cab at about 0915, if memory serves. The flight wasn't until 1425 but we wanted to enjoy the airport experience as much as possible. Airports are lovely if you have access to the right places.

The cab driver was a strange bloke. Really nice; I think I may have had him drive me to Heathrow before, when he had to stop for petrol en route and told me a story about how he bought a house in Thames Ditton directly from the vendor: having happened to notice a for-sale sign being erected while he was in the vicinity, he waited until the erector buggered off, then knocked on the door and made a cut-out-the-estate-agents offer. Nice job, if true, and it made me wonder just how much cab drivers earn. The conversation this time did nothing to reduce my wonder, since he told us about a close relative in some shit-hot ballet school in Richmond (albeit on a scholarship, I think), plus numerous yearly trips abroad to Greece and beyond, and he just carried himself with the air -- and voice -- of someone a bit well to-do. Perhaps he's independently wealthy and drives a cab in Surbiton to avert boredom, or just for the love of meeting new people all the time. Or perhaps he was just a liar.

Whatever he was, he got us to the airport sharpish. Heathrow T5 is great (though I say this having only been there twice before) and most of the time there's no real need to use any "fast track" check-in desks, because the queues and process at the regular ones are so negligible. However, we were determined to make use of everything our ticket entitled us to -- the benefits are not lessened if you "paid" with miles -- so we headed all the way to the First Class check-in zone at the end.

The entrance of this zone is manned by staff who confirm your eligibility to be there (thankfully not taking into account the way you're dressed, or your accent) and kind of half-escort you to a check-in desk with no queue. There are loads of desks and loads of staff: there's supposed to pretty much never be a queue, and if there is one there are some very comfortable and swanky chairs you can park your arse in while you wait. They come get you when it's your turn, and they're very apologetic -- I know because I saw it happen on our way out.

While we were checking in a group turned up at the desk next to us. It wasn't difficult to overhear their conversation because it was loud (not rude or obtrusively so, just naturally, with the added factor of the whole zone being a fairly hushed environment). They actually failed to check-in though, because their flight had just left. They'd misread the flight time on their ticket/itinerary as the check-in time. Oh dear.

I've probably spent more time writing the last two paragraphs than we actually spent checking in, because it was a breeze. They asked us if we knew where the lounges were and we did, because having had a Gold Card previously we'd been to the First Class lounge in August 2008. However! There's an extra, super-exclusive lounge called the Concorde Room, with even stricter entry requirements. A Gold Card isn't enough, you have to either be flying in First Class or have a Premier Card -- which are invite-only, dished out to people who head companies (or travel budgets) that give significant chunks of cash to BA each year. Or, alternatively, be a celeb who BA think would be a worthwhile recipient. Anyway, we had First Class tickets, so we were in...

... or so we thought. The route to the First Class lounge is a real trek in T5, but the Concorde Room entrance is directly after security. We queued up behind the people being turned away, and when we got to the front handed over our boarding passes. Seats 1A and 2A in a 747: undeniably First Class, yet we were told to hop it. In fact, everyone was being told to hop it. Doubtless some, perhaps most, were right to get that treatment, but we knew our rights so perservered. Eventually she took our boarding passes inside, then came back out with an apology, and held the door open for us. Damn right!

There's an inner desk where they actually scan the boarding pass, and the woman there explained where things were: the left luggage shelves, the showers, the place to have breakfast. One fry-up later, we dropped our bags and booked a massage. There was a 35 minute wait, so we headed out to the terminal shops to get some last minute stuff.

The massage was great. It's on this super-expensive chair that does all kinds of crazy stuff, but at the same time there was a member of staff giving a hard (requested -- could have had soft if I'd wanted) head and shoulder massage. Win.

Back into the lounge again, this time to the bar. This is where it started to get seriously fat cat: we ordered champagne and a cheese plate, and were told we'd just missed Tom Jones. Jordan and her 3 tits were in earlier, and Ewan McGregor was sitting just over there (he was 'n all). The champagne came in huge glasses, and was lovely, and I had 2 and half glasses. Hic!

We left the lounge a bit too early. Being unfamiliar with "T5B", the kind of extra bit of T5 you can only reach in a sort of light/monorail thing, we overestimated how long it would take us to get to the gate. But it was OK, because it meant we could take advantage of the Business Class lounge there.

And here's where it started to get a bit ... dangerous. Y'see, business class lounges rule. You get free beer, and food, which typically includes a lot of cheese. You avoid the scrum, there are TVs to watch, did I mention the beer was free? Because it is. And they're wonderful. But being champered and pampered already that morning, this lounge felt a bit, how can I put it ... pikey. Rubbish. Which betrays the fact that we were feeling above it, we were feeling used to the trappings of First Class already. And that's what's dangerous: it might make all future trips -- the vast majority of which won't feature a lounge of any description! -- a disappointment. If I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor and all that bollocks.

Anyway, the lounge was fine. The beer was free (not sure if I'd pointed that out yet), and it was close to the gate. And once the flight started to board, our passes meant we could use the fast track queue and have zero fuss getting to our seats, because the cabin is on the left of the door where you get on, and there's fuck all seats in it. Just 14. And they're lovely. Huge. Spacious. Awesome. And we had 11 hours in them ahead of us!

No comments: