Review: British Airways’ A320 Service To London During COVID-19

After British Airways ditched buy-on-board in favor of the Speedbird Cafe as a COVID safety measure, it was…

Review: British Airways’ A320 Service To London During COVID-19

After British Airways ditched buy-on-board in favor of the Speedbird Cafe as a COVID safety measure, it was set to bring back this service at the start of this week. Not only that, but it was set to revert to a more sensible boarding process, as well as reopening its lounges. Daniel Ross checked out what these changes look like in real life.

Freedom Day brought with it promises of a return to normal for BA. Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Freedom Day

As of Monday 19 July, in tandem with the easing of almost all coronavirus restrictions in England, the so-called ‘Freedom Day,’ British Airways also reintroduced some of its on-the-ground and in-the-air service offerings. Namely, the reopening of some domestic lounges, the return of priority boarding, and the option to order and buy food on-demand in flight.

In terms of passenger experience on the ground, three of the airline’s domestic lounges in Scotland have been reopened. This includes Aberdeen (ABZ), Edinburgh (EDI) and Glasgow (GLA). The news, which many a Scottish frequent flyer will welcome, was announced officially by the airline on Sunday. As it stands, the airline’s other domestic lounges in Manchester (MAN) and Newcastle (NCL) remain closed until further notice.

Additionally, passengers flying in First or Club and those with eligible Elite Status would see the return of priority boarding. The airline’s decision to do so is in line with the UK government’s decision to remove restrictions on social distancing. 

British Airways, Buy onboard, Catering
Buy-on-board with smartphone ordering was set to make a return. Photo: British Airways

Boarding and service changes

Early on in the pandemic, BA opted to scrap its policy of boarding passengers in priority groups in favor of inviting passengers to board sequentially, starting with those seated in rows at the rear of the aircraft and continuing towards the front, where the aircraft’s premium cabins situated. 

The move was introduced to reduce the number of passengers queueing in aircraft aisles when stowing luggage in the overhead lockers. This meant that in most cases, passengers flying in premium cabins and those with Elite status would board last.

British Airways has also introduced changes to the passenger experience in the air. Passengers on select flights now have the option to order from the in-flight food and beverage menu via connecting to BA’s .air intranet site using handheld devices. 

Since completely stopping all in-flight service at the start of the pandemic, BA has slowly reintroduced certain aspects of service. Before Monday’s update, passengers had the option of either pre-ordering food and drink online before flying or settling for the airline’s complimentary water and snack bag instead. There would be some short-haul routes like Jersey (JER), Manchester (MAN), etc. that would not get the new option due to the short duration of the flights.

However, my experience flying the 10:40 flight from Glasgow (GLA) to Heathrow (LHR) on Monday morning was not entirely what I expected it to be.

Lounge open

On a positive note, the lounge was indeed open as advertised and it was really nice to indulge in a BA domestic lounge experience once again. Though it has returned with an offering that is distinctly average compared to the experience currently at Heathrow, it’s certainly better than nothing. 

Access to British Airways’ business class lounges, like the one I visited in Glasgow, is restricted to certain passengers only. You are eligible for access with either a First, Club Europe or Club World ticket or with a minimum elite status of British Airways Executive Silver or oneworld Sapphire. 

Even though I’d used BA’s lounge at Glasgow before, I found it rather difficult to locate. After clearing security, I saw signs for the Upper Deck and Lomond lounges but not for BA’s. It wasn’t until I got to the central seating area of Terminal M that I noticed the first sign pointing out the lounge.

Other than that one sign, the rest was down to exploring and taking the odd wrong turn. Extra signage might help here, especially given there may be some passengers who don’t realize that BA’s lounge has reopened or even that there is one at all.

Once inside, the lounge was spotless, as you’d expect after such a long time shuttered. It was clear that the incredibly friendly and helpful staff were happy to be back at work. One staff member in particular, Yvonne, was exemplary. Usually based at the temporarily shuttered Gatwick lounge, she has been drafted in to oversee the reopening of Glasgow’s lounge. 

Unfortunately, the favored option of ordering food and drink to your seat using a QR code, like at Heathrow’s BA lounges, has not been implemented at Glasgow. Instead, passengers must head to the cordoned-off buffet area near the entrance to the lounge, where a staff member will happily serve you food and drink.

The food options were, well, not great. There were individually wrapped pain au chocolats, croissants, five types of cereal, crisps as well as bananas and oranges. That’s it. 

There are currently no hot options available. 

As for drinks, there was a familiar selection of soft drinks, wine, beer, spirits, and, of course, bubbles.

As it currently stands, if you’re flying economy but plan on paying a visit to the lounge using your Elite status, it might be advisable to pre-order something from the Speedbird café or buy something in the airport to take onboard with you. 

Such is the case at Heathrow, reading materials still haven’t been brought back to the stands. However, Yvonne did ask if I wanted a paper.

I usually like to sit in the “Bar and Snug” area of Glasgow’s lounge. It’s the coziest space and has the best views of the aircraft. Unfortunately, for now, it remains closed, though I did have a peek around the curtain. 

I didn’t hang around in the lounge for long as I wanted to make sure I got to the gate well in time for boarding. As I was leaving, a woman arriving at the lounge asked hopefully if it was really open. On the lounge agent’s confirmation that indeed it was, the lady responded, “Thank God for that.” Clearly, BA’s domestic lounges have been missed.

Boarding

There were some nice views on the short walk from the lounge to the gate of British Airways, easyJet and Loganair aircraft.

On arrival at gate 19, where flight BA1479 would depart, I assumed that the signage showing row numbers rather than priority groups was a mistake and that they just hadn’t been changed over yet. I was wrong. 

The gate agent announced that boarding would indeed start with those seated in rows 16-30, as per the signage. 

Since my flight, several others have been in touch to let me know how their experience was on Monday. It would appear that only those who started their journeys at Heathrow were boarded by group numbers. 

A British Airways employee even reached out to let me know that all crew had received internal communications on Monday morning about reverting boarding the pre-pandemic way. When I asked the gate agent why we boarded in seat row numbers, she replied by saying, “it’s to help with social distancing.” 

When I boarded the 18-year-old Airbus A320 (registered G-EUUN), I was greeted by the friendly face of Dan Pickering, so I knew I was in good hands for my flight. 

“Boarding complete” was announced well in advance of our scheduled departure time of 10:40. Monday’s small 5-row, 20-seat Club Europe cabin is the fullest I’ve experienced in all my pandemic flying.

There were barely any free seats ‘down the back’ either. 

The flight

We pushed back a little behind schedule at 10:54 and the short taxi provided some nice wing views.

It was a perfect day for flying. We climbed out of Glasgow in a Southwesterly direction towards the coast before making a 90 degree left turn towards London. The views of the Scottish coastline and distant islands were quite spectacular. 

Once the seatbelt signs had been turned off, I was eager to see which food and drink options were available on the new buy-on-board menu via the in-flight WiFi. To order, passengers must connect (for free) to BA’s .air online homepage, where there’s an option to ‘view menu.’ I did exactly that and was surprised to see the message “The food and drink service is currently closed. We will be open soon to take your orders”. 

Despite reports of buy-on-board’s reintroduction, due to short flight times, this improved service offering would not be available on some short-haul “express” routes to destinations such as Amsterdam (AMS), Brussels (BRU), Dublin (DUB), Jersey (JER), Manchester (MAN), Newcastle (NCL), Newquay (NQY) and Paris (CDG/ORY). 

As Glasgow is not on that list, I was surprised that the option wasn’t available. A crew member informed me that the rollout is only starting on Band 4 flights to mid-haul destinations like Amman (AMM) and Cairo (CAI), but that he thought it would indeed be rolled out eventually to flights to and from Scotland.

No buy-on-board, no problem. I bagged myself a last-minute Club Europe upgrade for £59, which meant I’d benefit from a meal and drinks service. As I’m on a mission to earn Gold Status, paying £59 for an upgrade is well worth it for the valuable 40 Tier Points (instead of 10) that I would earn for the flight. Given that one-way, last-minute Club Europe flights from Glasgow can be over £300, I was more than happy to pay £59.

Food on board

The food itself was more of a light snack than a meal. I opted for the Ploughman’s after not liking the look of the healthier option. I can’t remember whether it was quinoa or couscous, but it wasn’t doing it for me. 

I washed my slice of Scotch Egg, slither of cheese and piece of ham down with a mini bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne and ate only the chocolate button from the top of the custard dessert. It just didn’t cut it in comparison to the incredible Do&Co chocolate mousse, which I had become used to.

We passed overhead Birmingham (BHX) and shortly started our descent towards Heathrow. 

When approaching Heathrow from the East, which you do 80% of the time, you simply cannot beat the views of London from the right-hand side of the aircraft. The sky was hazy with a smattering of light cloud, but London looked just as stunning as ever looking down over the wing. 

After a flight time of 57 minutes, we landed ahead of schedule at 11:52 and were on stand only a few short minutes later. 

Bottom line

I thoroughly enjoyed being back in a British Airways domestic lounge. The lounge is a fundamental part of the Club, First and Elite status passengers alike. While I didn’t experience the return of priority boarding or the new buy-on-board on my flight, it’s great to see that both are slowly making a return to the British Airways experience.

Hats off to Dan Pickering and his crew. I hope to fly with them again soon. 

Source : Simple Flying More   

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Chair Airlines Leases Enter Air 737 To Plug Capacity Gap

The small Swiss airline, Chair Airlines, has announced plans to lease one Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Polish airline…

Chair Airlines Leases Enter Air 737 To Plug Capacity Gap

The small Swiss airline, Chair Airlines, has announced plans to lease one Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Polish airline Enter Air. This comes as flights services resume after the pandemic, but Chair Airlines finds itself missing one of its three Airbus A319s following a maintenance accident in 2020.

Chair Airlines operates just two A319 aircraft – these will be joined over summer by one 737-800. Photo: Firat Cimenli via Wikimedia

Chair Airlines and the A319

Chair Airlines is a leisure carrier based at Zurich airport. It started service in 2014, under the brand Germania Flug. Since 2019, and after the bankruptcy of Germania, it rebranded as Chair Airlines. This was certainly a quirky choice of name. According to the airline, it represents both the seat that you book and the Swiss connection with the ‘ch.’

Germania A319
HB-JOG was operated by Germania in 2015. Photo: dxme via Wikimedia

The airline operates scheduled flights from Switzerland to several holiday destinations across Europe, as well as Egypt and Tunisia (10 destinations in total according to ch-aviation.com). Fleet-wise it operates just two Airbus A319-100 aircraft – with registrations HB-JOG and HB-JOJ. These were both acquired second-hand by Germania before being taken on by Chair Airlines.

Loosing one Airbus aircraft in 2020

Before the pandemic, Chair Airlines had a slightly larger fleet of thee A319 aircraft. A third aircraft with registration HB-JOH had a similar history but was lost in July 2020. This was the result of an unfortunate accident when undergoing maintenance at Naples airport. According to the airline, this happened following an impact with the door of a maintenance hangar, and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

Chair Airlines A319
HB-JOH was the A319 written off in 2020. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

Leasing a Boeing 737-800

Dropping to a fleet of two aircraft would clearly be impactful for such a small airline. With the slowdown in traffic seen in 2020, there was no immediate need to replace it. This has changed now that traffic is once again increasing.

Chair Airlines is leasing one Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Polish airline Enter Air. According to aeroTELEGRAPH, the 737, with registration SP-ESE, will occasionally fly over the summer on a wet lease arrangement. The Enter Air branding will be temporarily covered with the Chair Airlines logo. The aircraft was ferried to Zurich on July 21st and flew its first service the same day (from Zurich to Skopje).

Enter Air 737-800
An Enter Air 737-800 – similar to that being leased. Photo: Mark Harkin via Wikimedia

Chair Airlines and Enter Air

The choice of airline to lease from is no coincidence. Enter Air owns 49% of the shares in Chair Airlines. It is likewise a leisure airline, based in Warsaw and founded in just 2009. It took a share in struggling Germania Flug in March 2019.

Enter Air operates an all-Boeing fleet, with 24 Boeing 737-800 and two 737 MAX 8 aircraft (according to ch-aviation.com). It has a further six 737 MAX 8 aircraft on order.

Simple Flying reached out to Chair Airlines for further details on its plans for the 737-800 aircraft but had not heard back at the time of publication.

Have you ever flown with Chair Airlines and its small A319 fleet? Do you think this wet lease deal will work for the airline, or will it look to purchase its own aircraft as the market picks up? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Source : Simple Flying More   

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