Waking up refreshed after our night at the Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Airport, we headed over to Heathrow Terminal 3 to catch BA700, our flight to Vienna. The British Airways flight from Heathrow to Vienna the weekend before Christmas has become a Jetset Boyz annual event. As usual, we were booked into Club Europe, the BA business class product for European short haul flights.
This time it was a reward flight, paid for using points earnt through BA’s On Business programme. Somehow flying in Club Europe seems so much better when you’ve only paid £80.81 (the tax) for the ticket.
Arrival at terrible Terminal 3
After a very brief tube ride (all one stop of it) from Hatton Cross we reached Heathrow. Terminal 3 at Heathrow isn’t the most impressive terminal and my least favourite at the airport. Personally, I find the low roof a bit claustrophobic. I also hate the fact that you almost fall onto the check-in desks as you walk in through the door.
The BA check-in desks were quiet when we arrived and dropping the bags was quick and painless. Security wasn’t very busy and so we were through it and airside in the terminal in next to no time. After security, I had to drag Bart away from taking photos of the boards with the pics of the bears in the Heathrow Airport Christmas advert. Eventually, I managed to bundle him into the Cathay Pacific Lounge for a drop of pre-flight champers.
The Cathay Pacific lounges at Terminal 3 are located close to gate 11, which means that unless you’re very unlucky, you don’t have too far to walk from the lounge to your gate. We were flying from gate 5a, a gate that had clearly been designed by an idiot. After all, who else would design a gate that has an entrance that is only wide enough to allow one person in at a time? Then, just to slow smooth passenger flow down even more, they stuck the boarding agent’s desk immediately inside it.
So, due to the fantastic layout, priority boarding becomes a nonsense. Yes, there was a priority boarding for Club Europe passengers and One World elite status holders. However, there was nowhere for the gate team to put any signage to tell you about it. Then, you had to jostle your way through the Euro Traveller queue to get to it. Still, we didn’t have to hang around too long and we were soon on the plane.
The outbound flight to Vienna
The flight was a full one, so it took a while to complete boarding. With it being full, locker space was at a premium as is too often the case. It was not helped by the people who seem incapable of following the “Put any small yellow tagged items under the seat in front of you” instructions. As we waited, I spotted a plastic cup tucked between seat 1A and the cabin wall. Somebody wasn’t paying attention when they cleaned & prepared the plane for our flight.
Eventually, everyone managed to get their luggage stowed. The doors closed bang on time at 10:25 and we began pushback a few minutes later. After taking a moment to locate our nearest exit and reviewing the safety card located in our seat pocket, we settled in and listened to the flight safety briefing as we began taxiing to the runway.
Take off was smooth and uneventful and we were soon climbing towards cruising altitude. The Cabin Services Manager added his welcome to that of the captain and we flicked through the slightly dog-eared High Life and Business Life magazines.
In flight in Club Europe
Before too long one of the crew passed around the six rows of Club Europe seats handing out the hot towels. I always think that “towel” is a slightly misleading name; I have seen bigger cocktail napkins. Also, the word towel evokes the idea of thick fluffy cloth. In contrast BA hot towels are, like well-rolled filo pastry, thin enough for you to be able to read your copy of High Life magazine through (trust me, I’ve tested that often enough).
The drinks and nuts service followed shortly after the towels with the meal service following about twenty minutes later. Due to the flight timing, the meal is BA’s cold brunch, consisting of a selection of cold meats (ham, prosciutto and salami) and cheeses, served with bread rolls and a fruit platter. The cheese selection included something that looked suspiciously like a dollop of Primula cheese with added colouring. The dish was actually quite tasty. We washed this down with some of the Castelnau Champagne that BA serve in Club Europe.
Brunch was soon cleared away so we relaxed and read a bit to pass the time on the rest of the flight. The seats in Club Europe are nothing to write home about. They are the same seats as Euro Traveller in a 3-3 configuration; they’re 17″ wide and have a 30″ pitch. The difference is that the middle seats in the row are kept free and is used as an additional table. That way you are guaranteed to be either in a window or aisle seat and you have plenty of elbow room, if no extra leg room.
Then disaster struck; we ordered more drinks to discover that they had run out of champagne!!! Poor Bart was visibly shaken. Just as well we’d already had a couple of glasses in the lounge before the flight. The Cabin Services Manager was really apologetic about it and offered wine instead, which we declined and stuck to sparkling water for the rest of the flight. Although the lack of champers didn’t spoil the flight, it did slightly dampen our mood.
Arrival at Vienna
The captain made his “we have just commenced our descent” announcement and informed us we would be arriving on stand at Vienna at 14:05 local time. He didn’t mention that this was 15 minutes after the scheduled arrival time nor did he offer any explanation for the late arrival.
After a smooth descent and landing, we disembarked and headed through the terminal to leave the airport. Vienna Airport began extensive remodelling work a few years ago and is now a really easy airport to navigate your way around. We were soon through immigration and in the baggage hall awaiting our cases.
Signage in the baggage hall is very clear and we easily found the belt for our flight and waited for our bags to come out. We were amused to see that the City Airport Train (CAT) had come up with some clever advertising, using a case emblazoned with the CAT branding, train frequency and ticket pricing. We thought it was a neat bit of promotion.
You can buy your ticket for the Vienna City Airport Train (CAT) from machines in baggage reclaim.Click to tweet
However, after nearly 15 minutes of seeing it go around and around on the belt, we were getting a bit fed up and were itching to get our hands on our cases. Eventually the luggage from our flight started to come out and we were reunited with our bags. Time then, to head for the doors, grab a cab and make our way to the Hilton Vienna Plaza. Time too to crack on with enjoying our four (and a bit) days in Vienna.
The return flight to London
After having had a fantastic few days in the city and following one last visit to the Christmas Market in Rathaus Park it was time to fly back to London. We took a cab back to the airport and arrived in plenty of time. Having checked in online, bag drop was quick and painless.
As Vienna Airport is still undergoing a refurb, a small part of landside still looks like a building site. The entrance to airside was craftily hidden behind a big wooden hoarding that surrounded one of the construction areas. It was signposted, but you could easily have walked past it and ended up going on to the next access control point.
The route to the gates is now the obligatory journey through the Duty-Free shop and into the retail area. There is a ‘quick exit’ on the left but if you blink you’ll miss it. We scooted through and headed for passport control, which is at the entrance to the “D” gates. As on the inbound flight, there were no queues at passport control, so we walked straight through.
British Airways uses the AIR lounge at Vienna for Club Europe and BA Executive Club elites. The trick here is not to rush as you come out of passport control. The entrance to the lounge is quite unobtrusive, with a sign that doesn’t fall in your natural eyeline. Blink and you’ll miss it. The lounge itself is small but quite nice. It doesn’t an extensive food selection and the drinks range isn’t the widest you’ll ever see in a business class lounge, but for the short time we were waiting it made a nice escape from the bustle of the rest of the airport.
At Vienna Airport Britsh Airways use the Air Lounge just after Passport Control for Club Europe and BA Executive Club elitesClick to tweet
Our flight was due to board at 16:20, but there was 15 minute delay due to late arrival of the inbound flight. We left the lounge and headed for our gate, D21. It wasn’t far to walk from the lounge and there was no queue when we arrived at the entrance to the gate.
The layout at Vienna Airport means that arriving and departing passengers mix in the terminal. Because of this, security has to be done at the gate and this can sometimes be a bottleneck. However, the security team working the gate were on the ball and were also very friendly too. We were soon through to the holding pen gate lounge. We positioned ourselves near to the entrance to the airbridge, poised to leap as soon as boarding started.
After a quick pre-boarding announcement, they began boarding Club Europe and BA Exec Club and One World Elite Status holders. We wasted no time in getting on the plane. Like the outbound, the flight was full. Once again, the muppets who ignored the “Put any small yellow tagged items under the seat in front of you” instructions created extra work for the cabin crew by hogging the locker space.
The flight back
The captain did his “welcome to this British Airways flight to London Heathrow” pre-flight speech. He explained that the delay was due to strong headwinds on the way out. He also said that these would be tailwinds on the way back, meaning that we should make up most of the delay by the time we were back in London. Pushback began at 17:11 and we settled down to pay attention to the pre-flight safety briefing.
The Club Europe tracing paper hot towels were passed around and after a short while food and drink service commenced. We noticed that the timing of BA703 had changed this year and it is now cunningly timed at 16:55. In the old slot at 17:00, it fell into the dinner slot for food service. However, at 16:55 it falls in the afternoon slot, so you get afternoon tea. We couldn’t help but wonder if this was another one of BA’s “service enhancements” (better known as “penny pinching” in frequent flyer circles).
The afternoon tea in Club Europe is quite pleasant. One of the frequent gripes about afternoon tea is the sandwiches being served in the cardboard & cellophane packaging. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with this; as soon as you expose bread to rarefied cabin air, you can see it begin to dry and curl up in seconds. This time the sandwiches came served on the plate, so maybe BA do listen to customer feedback after all. As usual we washed the food down with champers and on this flight, it didn’t run out before we got back.
Arrival at Heathrow
As predicted by the captain, by the time we arrived back at Heathrow we had made up the 15 minute delay. Our descent into Heathrow was smooth and we didn’t even have to waste any time circling around in a holding pattern before landing. We arrived on stand on time, which seemed to catch the airbridge operator off guard; we were held on board for a while before the bridge finally swung across and we could disembark.
After walking for what always feels like miles, we arrived at immigration. They seem to have improved the layout here and this time all of the e-passport gates were working. There was a bit of a queue, but it was moving really quickly and in next to no time we were through.
Another improvement at Terminal 3 arrivals is the fact that there are now screens telling you which baggage belt to go to. Also, the route to baggage reclaim has been improved. We had noticed that they had already started to unload the baggage by the time our airbridge was connected. By the time we had hiked across the airport and been through passport control, the bags for our flight were already appearing on the belt.
Reunited with our cases, we headed for the exit. Another Christmas trip to Vienna behind us. An okay Club Europe flight to Vienna & back to London and all that remained was to hit the Heathrow Express station to start the schlep across London to get home.