This was my first trip since Stephanie and I took our moms to Europe. It felt a little strange to be going back to Europe so soon, especially just for a weekend. But I was going to Croatia, and Croatia has been on my bucket list for years. When I saw an amazing error fare how could I say no? So just 6 short weeks after my first experience in British Airways First Class, I was back on a British Airways flight. Of course this time I would be sitting in the back of the plane in British Airways Economy from Seattle to London.
One of the keys to traveling on the cheap is being flexible and decisive. When booking travel I do not always have a destination in mind. When I see a good deal I book it. Sometimes I use points, other time cash, but I am always looking and ready to jump when opportunity arises. This trip came about from one such opportunity. About 4 months prior to the trip I found an “self dump error fare.” This type of error fare usually occurs when you are buying flights on two different airlines on one ticket and the airline does not calculate the fuel surcharges correctly.
The first for this trip was as low as $275 R/T from Seattle. But I need a weekend trip. To accomodate this requirement I ended up paying $358 for the round trip flight. Given that these flights usually sell for more than $1000 R/T this was a fantastic deal. I ended up booking this flight on Cheapoair.com, a third party travel agency. Shortly after booking they provided me with a British Airways confirmation number which allowed me to access my reservation through British Airways.
British Airways is known for nickel and diming its economy customers. One of the ways it does this is by not allowing economy (or even business class) customers to pick their seats in advance. If you want to pick your seat in advance it will cost you. On these international flights from Seattle to Heathrow the cost of seat started at $48 for the least desirable middle seats and escalated to upwards of $100 as you get closer to the front of the plane.
If you don’t want to pay (and I never do), your first choice to get a seat without paying is at check-in, but even that comes with a twist. British Airways uses a “Theoretical Seating” system to block a significant chunk of seats at check in. This blocking is to try to ensure that their frequent fliers are more likely to have empty seats next to them. In practice this means the open seats are constantly changing from check in until it was time to depart.
At the time I checked in, I could choose from 5 seats, but over 50 economy seats were blocked off. So the key to getting the best seat on British Airways is checking in as soon as it it opens 24 prior to the flight, but not printing your boarding pass. So long as you don’t print a boarding pass you can change your seat. I would recommend checking the seat map every hour or so after that (as well as referring to expert flier) to ensure you get a desirable seat. It is a painstaking process but I was able give myself a window seat in a desirable row.
British Airways, like many other airlines, boards by group. British Airways boarding groups are as follows:
- 1: Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald, and first class
- 2: Executive Club Silver, oneworld Sapphire, and business class
- 3: Executive Club Bronze, Oneworld Ruby, and Premium Economy,
- 4-5: Economy
As I was in group 5 I was boarding last. Given this, i did not bother getting to the gate until after boarding began and was one of the last to board. As soon I was on board I was greeted by a friendly flight attendant, who unfortunately was not as familiar with the plane as she should been. She had the plane backwards in her mind. She was looking at people’s tickets as the board and directing them to go down the opposite aisle from where they were sitting. Of course this resulted in a massive log jam. The entire back of the plane was trying to switch sides at the very last second when they realized her error. Given this, boarding to a bit longer than usual.
I was extremely excited for this this flight. While I have been to many different places on many different planes, I have never been on a 747. So I was definitely geeking out when I got to the gate and saw this goofy face staring back at me.
This British Airways 747-400 I flew on 22 years old and decked out in the One World Alliance Livery. As I stepped on you could immediately tell the planes age. While British Airways has done a good job maintaining its planes these planes are clearly old. The upholstery is worn and faded and they utilize a seat design that airlines stopped using last decade. Definitely dated compared to the brand new 787-10 I was on in January.
British Airways Seats
British Airways fits about 275 people on this 747-400. 14 in first, 86 in business, 30 in premium economy, and 145 people in economy. Given that this was a full flight we were packed in tight. Seats in British Airways World Traveller (what they call their economy class) on this plane have 31 inches in between seatbacks (pitch) and are 17.5 inches wide. This on the tighter side of average when it comes to long haul planes, but not small enough to be alarming.
As an older plane, the British Airways 747-400 has older thicker economy seats, this means despite having similar pitch to other airlines it does feel like you have slightly less legroom than you would expect. At 5 foot 8 that didn’t bother me any, but for someone who is taller this could become an issue.
The British Airways economy seats has a built in curve, which was likely intended to be ergonomic and comfortable for such a long flight. However, it did not seem to work out that way for me. No matter how I sat, my back never seemed to fit right in the seat and I quickly grew uncomfortable. This nagged at me more and more as the flight went on, as my back started to stiffen up. Given this, I had to bother my neighbors more times than i would have prefered to get up and walk around.
The seat did have a fantastic headrest. While winged headrests are nothing new to me, one designed like this was. The standard winged readrest is bendable and flexible, but never can seem to stay in position. They designed the wings of this headrest to bear weight. You could move the wings up and down as you please, and they would stay in place no matter how you leaned on it. I love this. It allowed even though in middle or aisle seats to have something sturdy to rest their heads on as they sleep. It was truly fantastic. I was able to sleep longer than expected, even with the contour bothering my back.
Not every aspect of the plane was old. At some point these British Airways retrofitted their 747-400 economy seats with new HD-LED screens. This far exceeded my expectations. With British Airways plans to retire these planes within the next couple years, I was expecting much worse. I figured they would have left in those old crappy 480p screens that had barely functioning touchscreens. These were screens, however, were sharp, responsive, and bright. I had no issue seeing on hearing the movies that I chose to watch. The only minor gripe I have with these screens (and this is not exclusive to BA) is that they do not tilt. For some reason airlines are moving towards fixed screens. Which is fine, until the person in front of you reclines their seat. Once this happens you either have to watch at a very awkward angle, or recline your seat.
As I mentioned in my first class review, British Airlines IFE selection is fine, but limited when compared to the big 3 US airlines. For a normal person there are plenty of movies to choose from, but I generally see 2-3 movies a week when I am home, and the smaller selection means I am less likely to find a movie that I really want to rewatch. But I managed, I always do.
The 747-400 was also equipped with onboard wifi. While I did not try it out on the way there I did try it out on the way back. It was $18 for the entire flight, and seemed to work pretty well the entire time we were in the air.
Generally, I don’t talk about the restrooms. They don’t make or break a flight for me, and I assume most people don’t care too much about them. However, this plane has some of the smallest bathrooms I had ever seen. Talk about uncomfortable.
British Airways Economy Service
I don’t expect much from an airline when I chose to fly economy, but after recently flying in Delta Economy to Amsterdam, I have completely changed my perspective. Delta’s Economy service was far above and beyond what I was have ever experienced in economy. Delta’s service was all about the little things. Delta provided a lot of small benefits that really made my economy experience feels special. This is my new gold standard and British Airways Economy had a lot of live up to.
When I arrived at my seat I was met by the standard earbuds, pillow, and blanket. While, I didn’t mind the blanket, the pillow was essentially nothing. It was extremely thin, and extremely small. Given this, it was next to impossible to you and really did not provide any benefit. However, like any good traveler i brought my own pillow. So while this was not a huge deal, it really is the little things that can set you apart from the competition. How much more could a slightly more substantive pillow cost?
British Airways Economy Dinner Service
Shortly after take-off, they started the first drink service. On British Airways Economy they serve the standard coke products, beer, wine, and a limited choice of liquors. I chose to start out with a Coke Zero and a snack of sour cream and onion pretzels.
About 10 minutes after the initial drink service, they announced our dinner options Chicken or Pasta. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about airline meals. Chicken or Pasta? What is this nonsense? You need to know what the meal actually is before they can choose. Does the chicken have a sauce? I assume the pasta does? Do i get any veggies or starches with my meal? What are they? When and why did chicken or pasta become sufficient? I fully understand that this could be a thing when there is a language barrier, but I have been on BA flights before when they actually tell you what the dish is, and Delta, my new gold standard, gives a small pre printed menu. Again it is just the little things.
Anyways I chose the chicken and white wine to go with it. My Chicken was served with a organgey sauce, some whiteish mush (potatoes or maybe a bread casserole), and some carrots. I have always felt like airline food has a bit of a bad reputation. I have always felt that most of my airline meals have been somewhere between serviceable to very good, and I had not had a horrible meal. However, this meal is exactly how airline food got its reputation. The chicken was dry and barely edible, the mush was just that mush, and the veggies were nuked into utter oblivion. Completely flavorless. I hate to be so negative, but wow… it was bad. While the other side components were decent, the main was horrid.
After dinner the Flight Attendants picked up the meal trays and I was ready to catch some sleep. The more I travel for this blog the better I am getting sleeping on a plane. I used to never sleep on long flights, but on this flight I got somewhere between three or four hours. Which if you ask me is pretty amazing for an economy flight. While I don’t know if BA provided any sort of in seat service during that time period, when I got up to use the restroom I decided to take a trip to the galley. The flight attendants were more than happy to provide me with a drink and likely were willing provide me with a snack if I wanted one.
On a side note, this is one things people often miss on economy flights. People often complain that they get extremely hungry between meals (or after the meal when there is one) while flying, and wished more food was provided. A lot of airlines do not provide any mid-flight service as they do not want to wake those who are sleeping, but if you scamper off to the galley there are usually some snacks you can choose from and if not the flight attendants are generally happy to assist.
About an hour and a half before landing the Cabin Crew turned on the overhead lights and started pre-landing breakfast service. This service starting with them coming through asking if you wanted tea, coffee, or orange juice. As I don’t like any of those options, I asked if it was possible to get a Coke Zero. I wasn’t sure how they would react to this, as some flight attendants don’t like their normal process interrupted. However, she had no problem with it, and quickly brought me my soda right away. While there were some mistakes with the crew throughout the flight (the boarding issue and my chicken or pasta pet peeve) they were always extremely friendly!
A few minutes after the drink cart came by, they passed out breakfast. There were no options just a croissant roll with cream cheese and chives and an Apple and Cinnamon Cereal Bar. This was an extremely light breakfast, and could have been frustrating if I had a short connection to a flight without a meal service, but since I didn’t it was sufficient. They both were unmemorable… not to good and not too bad. Especially given, I knew I would have some real food at the airport.
The best thing you can say about any flight was that it was unnoteworthy. The plane successfully took us from Point A to Point B in one piece without any notable issues or disasters. We did hit a bit of turbulence as we were leaving seattle, and as we were approaching london, but during the hours I was sleeping it was smooth. At least it was smooth enough that it didn’t wake me up, and I am generally a light sleeper. Given the lack of any significant weather or issues. The flight landed about 15 minutes early, and it was off to the lounge for some rest!
British Airways Economy on their 747-400 was a comfortable flight with excellent service, however it did not live up to the gold standard that Delta set.