British Airlines: Is it worth flying in business class? San Francisco to Dubai to Athens and back
I love traveling but I hate flying. Let me get that out of the way. I also hate traveling by boat. Airplanes and boats are just too boring for me. I need to see things and endless skies and open seas get real tiresome real fast for me. I can only watch so many movies or read so many books in one sitting.
I do, however, love “ground” transportation. I can drive my car for endless hours. I guess because I can see places out my window, or I can stop, stretch my legs or stop for refreshments, or have a meal along the way. Of course, like anyone else, I despise traffic. But get me on an open road and a road trip is my happy place.
Traveling by boat has its good and bad points. I took a recent river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and I found it relaxing and I enjoyed the scenery. Of course, the majority of the travel from port to port took place during the nighttime. Nevertheless, this boat trip was one of my favorites.
Airplane travel on the other hand, especially in economy class, is something that I really despise and is one of the reasons I don’t travel as much as I really would like. Let’s face it, air travel via economy class has only one advantage– low cost. Forget about comfort, forget about edible food, and simply forget about the comforts that you experience in your everyday life like a clean bathroom, good, nutritious food, and a comfortable bed. Heck, stretching out your legs while sitting on your comfy living room couch becomes a coveted experience after getting home from a long flight!
The airline experience is so different when you fly in economy class. Once you enter the airport you enter a world that is radically different from your normal daily routine. First of all, you must arrive at the airport very early in order to get into a typically long line in order to check-in. At the airport, there are numerous check-in stations but only a handful are manned for economy passengers.
Then there are the baggage limitations so you must decide, particularly on long international trips, what items to bring and what to leave home. This is especially difficult if you are going to places where the weather can be hot and cold while you are there. You will probably not be getting the grandkids too many souvenirs because your bags are already near the excessive weight.
But lets focus shall we on the customer service portion of flying in economy class. Oh sure you get the standard “hullo” and “bubbye” from the flight crew, but it seems so insincere. Being allowed to board the plane by groups makes you really feel like a third-class citizen rather than just an “economic” citizen. You are just not as good or so it seems to me.
We had decided many months ago that from 2018 onwards we would fly in business class on any lengthy trips. Of course, this is still a longterm debatable item in our house but after discussing our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary we decided to spend the money to obtain the business class upgrade. It would be a decision that we would not regret.
We arrived about two hours before our 4:05 PM flight (which is a great time to fly out of SFO to avoid traffic headaches). We were quickly checked in at the business class counter dropping off our two very heavy, over-weight bags (of which were free) and easily passed through security with way more time than I have ever had before a flight.
Before I go into too many details about the upgrade, I must mention that in the San Francisco airport, the British Airways lounge is right next to the boarding gate. When you fly business or first class you are allowed to enter this pantheon of comfort. We found ourselves a quiet spot inside the lounge, helped ourselves to numerous food items and drinks and waited in relative comfort for the announcement of our flight. I also have to mention that for once I arrived at my destination feeling rested. Our two seats were side-by-side in a small enclosure where we enjoyed privacy, and our own television screens and plenty of legroom. The seats actually lay completely flat with a leg portion that comes down, so you can stretch out and lay in comfort with the large pillow. They give you a massively thick blanket, but I didn’t use mine since it was comfortably warm in our little enclave.
Notice the seat configuration in British Air and how the seats are arranged. Some have you facing backward, and some seats you have to climb over your neighbor which is very awkward if they are sleeping and you need to use the restroom or just stretch your legs.
For some reason, I guess to get maximum space utilization, they put all middle seats facing backward. Although you don’t feel the “going-backward” sensation while you are flying, it still seems rather weird to fly backward. The Japanese seem to have it right, especially on their trains: when the trains go one direction the seats face that direction and when they return in the other direction, the seats swivel to face that direction so you never have to travel backward. Before you book any flight I would suggest that you check out www.seatguru.com in order to find the optimum seats.
Above, flying backward on British Air, the seats in the lounge were softer!
You would think that the food would be better in business class. It is but not really that much better. For dinner last night I requested the beef. When it came out it was a beautiful, thick slab of beef, almost two inches thick and not a bit of fat around the edges. However, when I cut into it the meat was as tough as an old boiled shoe! I sent it back and they brought me another, and it was the twin brother of my first serving! Nida’s was so soft and tender that you didn’t need a knife to cut it.
And the so-called fresh fruit! Holy moly, I have yet to have fresh fruit on a flight where some of the pieces weren’t mushy from being overripe and/or some being crunchy from being under-ripe. I feel guilty about wasting food, but I would feel even more guilty about getting the traveler’s squats from eating bad food!
After a few movies, I slept for nearly four solid hours. I had earplugs to kill the sound and besides, in business class, there is very little commotion and thank goodness there are no crying babies! In many of my previous flights over the past 35 years, it is typically never a crying baby but rather a screaming one.
Above, the antiquated television screen on British Air business class, the same as in economy!
As we neared London, we were awakened by the clattering of the breakfast carts, but I could have, and I wanted to, continue sleeping. The first leg of this trip from San Francisco to London went by very quickly, and I rather enjoyed the comfort of my personal space and sooooo much legroom!
We deplaned as part of the very first group and breezed through security, then we found our way to the gate for the next leg of our flight to Dubai. We didn’t bother to look for the British Airways lounge because it was so near to boarding time and we wanted to walk around a bit to stretch our legs. We were again allowed to board the airplane as part of the first group and as we found our seats, we were greeted by name and asked if we wanted champagne.
It felt very good to be recognized as a customer rather than a cow being led to a barnyard. On the flight from London to Dubai, I fought sleep on this leg because I knew we would be getting in late on this nearly seven-hour flight and I wanted to be so tired that I would fall asleep immediately after we checked into our hotel. We arrived in Dubai over 25 hours after we had left our house in Sacramento, including the drive to the airport, etc. But yet since enjoying the relative comfort of business class, I was in pretty good shape to begin this vacation.
We enjoyed a wonderful week in Dubai and several great tours by our travel service, Gate 1. We even had the chance to meet up with several family members who live in Dubai which really made this trip wonderful. We knew upfront going into this trip that it would be a very long journey just getting here. We felt that with a journey of over 25 hours that it made no sense to only be here for one week, then turn around and take that same long journey back home. We decided that a second Gate 1 trip in the region was worth the small price to pay for a homeward-bound trip to Greece. It turned out to be a great decision and we even had almost a full day stopover in Istanbul on our way from Dubai to Athens.
Our flight back home after our tour of Greece from Athens to London left at 8:05 AM so we had to rise at 4:00 AM for our transport to the airport. Gate 1 had arranged for a small travel bag with a few breakfast items which we grabbed on the way out of the hotel. Before too long we were at the airport, quickly checked in at the business-class gate and breezed through immigration. We found the British Air lounge and enjoyed the wonderful amenities they had to offer for business class travelers. Chalk up another reason to travel this way!
Our seats on this leg of the flight were “standard” business class seats, not the kind of lounge seating that we had on the long haul segment which lay completely flat. Nonetheless were served a wonderful English-style breakfast of which I ate every morsel! Chalk up another reason to fly business class!
I had a nice window seat on the journey from Athens to London and spent my time, when not eating, listening to my music and watching the scenery below. We flew over the Corinth Canal and I marveled that we would take this route and that it was so easy to recognize from 33,000 feet in the air (we had just visited the canal during our Gate 1 tour!). I could see many of the Greek islands in this region and the beautifully clear, azure waters. The sea below had really calmed from the near typhoon of last night.
As we crossed the Alps, I noticed a huge amount of snow below and took a photo to remind me of just diverse and fickle mother nature can be. As we flew over France I could see Paris below and an ominous nuclear power plant not far to the east. And then we flew over the English Channel and the once clear skies all the way to this point turned cloudy and nothing more could be seen below.
After landing we were allowed to deplane way before those who sat in the economy section. Therefore, we went through security very swiftly and were on our way to the British Airlines lounge. It was like nirvana for air travelers! Open and spacious and several banks loaded with food and drinks. Oh yes, just another reason to spend a bit more for business class!
London’s Heathrow Airport is the hub for British Airlines and their lounge is divided into sections. One is for first class and sits on a lower level and business class which sits on a higher up level. I can only imagine what the first-class lounge looks like because the business class lounge was out of this world! An entire wall full of different wines and champagnes! All with the caveat that you can drink as much as you like for free! I didn’t indulge too much but instead took advantage of the multitude of free food that was offered, my favorite being a “back bacon sandwich!”
We found comfortable, cushiony seats and spent our layover in relative comfort and, if I may say so, a dignity that is not afforded to those economy passengers. I always have hated the cramped airport waiting quarters that are inevitably filled with loud talking people and as is my constant luck, crying, no check that, screaming babies! None of these were in the business lounge, well save for a lady who was speaking in German very loudly on her cell phone! Her loud voice was masked from her because she wore an earpiece but we heard everything as she yelled. So, might I say it again: another reason to pay extra for the obvious better business class ticket.
If I also might mention, I really hated leaving the business class lounge at London Heathrow! It was so comfortable, and the food and beverages were wonderful. But we really did need to go home. But as we left the lounge Nida mentioned that her boarding pass had four strange S’s stamped on it.
We left the business class lounge and headed for what seemed several miles through London’s Heathrow Airport toward the gate where our flight would take us to San Francisco. I may be exaggerating a bit, but it sure seems like you travel for miles within Heathrow to get from one place to another. We walked quite a long way from the lounge in any case, traveled up and down several escalators before we reached the tram that would drive us near our gate, then we walked a long way to the actual gate. After we reached the gate, Nida was pulled aside due to the four strange S’s on her boarding pass. It seems that this is a code for being selected for an additional security check! I could feel my blood boil! But I remained calm and we were both allowed to pass the boarding pass checkpoint and taken to a holding area along with several other people. I was allowed to board the plane while she was detained. She soon joined me and we easily found our seats on the return flight home.
I really must say that flying in business class made such a huge difference. For once I felt no anxiety about getting to the airport to stand in long lines getting ticketed or fretting about early boarding so I would be able to find a place to store our limited carry-on luggage. Or feeling sick from eating greasy, ill-prepared airline food. And it was grand to be served champagne when we boarded and to be called by our name. Then to be the first to deplane, the first in the security line, the first to board, the first to get your luggage, well that was worth the extra cost. Then there were the lounges in the airports! I have never felt more relaxed and stress-free on any previous trip! However, be mindful that your expectations may not be met. There is a lot that British Airways can do to improve their business class and their business class service.
Everyone should have “take an international flight in business class” on their bucket list (or for that matter, first-class). It is more costly but you will notice the difference and you can add another drop in the bucket!
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