British Airways, master of miserliness

On a recent itinerary in Premium Economy from Raleigh (RDU) to Vienna (VIE), I chose an American Airlines code share fare that connected through Heathrow (LHR), with the LHR/VIE segments via British Airways flights. The Premium Economy fare was ostensibly for Premium Economy comfort all the way to Vienna on both the American Airlines and British Air flights. AA did a nice job of fulfilling that promise on the RDU/LHR/RDU legs. Apparently, however, BA didn’t get the memo that we had paid, well, a premium for Premium Economy. On the BA segments, we sat in the back of the bus and had to pay for our seat assignments and everything else, just as I wrote about last year.

In my previous post, I described American Airlines’ Premium Economy (PE) cabin between Raleigh (RDU) and London (LHR). PE offerings are, in my opinion, cause for celebration for frequent overseas flyers as a way to avoid the crippling discomfort of international economy seats without paying the astronomical fares normally demanded for business class. On a code share involving a domestic US leg or an intra-European segment, I realize, of course, that relatively short connecting flights are not going to offer the comfort and perks of the long-haul’s PE cabin. Just the same, I paid a PE fare for all segments and therefore expected, at least, advance seat assignments and a glass of orange juice on the short hauls.

Not on BA.

Here are my real-time notes connecting through Heathrow to British Airways both going and returning:

LHR/VIE 26-Jan-19

American Airlines must have a lot of fluff built into the Raleigh/London schedules be-cause we pushed back from RDU 7 minutes late and arrived Heathrow about an hour early. I am not complaining. I was worried about making our 90-minute connection to British Airways London/Vienna, but now, two and a half hours provides ample time.

Unfortunately, we arrived on the ramp (no gate) and so had to cram into a bus to the terminal. Literally cram: I couldn’t move by the time the door closed.

A long walk from the ramp-side entry door at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 led eventually to a TSA-style security screen that required removal of all the usual fluids and electronics, excepting shoes. The security screeners were wonderfully civil and helpful, which took the sting out of the process.

Then another rat’s maze to get into Terminal 3 proper where we now wait at one of the two Priority Pass lounges in T3, this one called No.1 Club.

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Priority Pass Club in LHR Terminal 3 (No.1 Club)

Pretty easy, really, to connect through Heathrow, despite its reputation for not being particularly passenger-friendly. The Brexit enigma made me wonder, though: How will leaving the EC impact flyers jumping through the hoops of security, immigration, and customs with mundane connections at LHR like this one to Vienna?

Boarding for our BA flight to Vienna was by bus, just as when we arrived. Packed in like sardines, we lumbered and lurched around the airport, eventually reaching our plane on the tarmac. Then a schlep up the air stairs with our bags. Jet bridges are so much faster and more convenient.

Standard issue A320 with 3-3 seating on a milk run London to Vienna. I paid $39 extra each months ago to have access to emergency row seats with better legroom on British Airways because that’s part of BA’s racket.

Here at Heathrow we were offered an opportunity to upgrade to what was called “business class” for £115 per person each way, but we declined. Glad we did. The front cabin has the same 3-3 seating as the back of the plane. Only difference is BA does not sell the center seats up front and brings free drinks.

A shameless rip-off. There were plenty of empty center seats in the back, though no free beverages.

Once in the air, I was looking forward to a Diet Coke. But British Airways has retired the word “complimentary” from its lexicon. I mentioned before that BA charges for all advance seat selection. Similarly, even water costs £1.80. From her backpack, my wife retrieved the bottle of water she had filled in the terminal (after, of course, we cleared the security screen that forbids liquids) to keep us hydrated.

20190126_101804
BA charges for everything, including hot water.

BA in Europe coach even charges for hot water. That’s to ensure no one can bring their own tea bags.

BA is in the process of removing the special tray that folds down in the middle seat of so-called “business” class. That tray made the space quite useful. Now it’s just an empty chair, which, of course, is desperately needed when your business class is 30 inch pitch.

The flight was not too painful for my wife because she had one of the few empty seats next to her. I was not so lucky, but, being jet-lagged, I dozed through much of the flight. Given that British Airways provides nothing for free, I didn’t miss anything. We were glad to reach Vienna and get off the cramped plane with minimalist service. It could just as well have been Ryan Air.

VIE/LHR 31-JAN-19

We left a 4:15 AM wake-up call at the hotel and had reserved a 5:00 AM taxi to the airport last night. The cabbie was early, and we made it to the Vienna Airport by 5:20 AM, the only time on this trip we were in an automobile [about which more in a later post]. My wife and I would have taken public transit, but nothing ran early enough to get us to the airport in time for our 7:50 AM British Airways A320 flight back to London.

The taxi from the hotel to the airport was a fixed price of €40 (about US$46) according to the front desk, but the cab driver looked pretty sour to receive just that. I felt a little bad about not tipping him until remembering that €40 would have paid for nearly a week of Vienna transit passes for both of us.

I had used the BA app on my phone to check in the night before, so the British Airways counter agent had only to verify our passports in the computer and print the four boarding passes (BA Vienna to London, and then American Airlines London to RDU).

A TSA-style security screen in Vienna surprised me, but the personnel were efficient and friendly. I forgot that type of security is the norm most places now.

I checked the Priority Pass Club app on my phone for lounges in Vienna and found one close to our gate. It was a bit sterile, looking vaguely antiseptic, but who cared? As usual, the club provided a relaxing, private place to rest, have a coffee and light breakfast, and recharge my smartphone. We ate heartily, knowing not to expect anything by way of food or drink for free on our BA flight despite having paid for Premium Economy.

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Priority Pass Club in Vienna

Priority Pass Club membership is a great perk. It comes with the American Express Platinum Card, and it’s been a lifesaver in many, many airports worldwide. RDU will have “arrived” when it finally gets one.

The BA flight boarded on time and was close to full. The chatty pilot then announced a one-hour delay due to freezing fog both in Vienna and London, delaying takeoff and also getting a London Heathrow landing slot. We sat in Vienna until moving to get de-iced and then, finally, airborne.

En route to London, the British Airways flight attendants were, well, very attentive. Didn’t help us a great deal, however, since, as I reported going into Vienna, BA now charges for everything, including hot water (because some customers have the temerity to bring along their own tea bags from home). My seatmate ordered a simple hot tea with lemon and was charged £2.85, an amount that would have bought an entire box of teabags at any grocery on Britain.

I asked for a glass of water and was looked at askance. After a dramatic pause and long gaze at me, the flight attendant said, in a carefully modulated tone clearly meant as a subtle warning, that it would be tap water.

“Will it kill me?” I asked, sarcastically.

“I don’t think so, sir,” came the terse reply.

“Then bring it, please!” I said.

He did, though not until making me wait another half hour.

The tiny glass of slightly cloudy water can be seen in the photo below. I asked my wife to file a lawsuit against British Airways for me should I become ill or die soon.

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Cloudy tap water on British Airways, all you get on BA for paying a Premium Economy fare.

I wasn’t overly concerned about missing our London connection because we had three hours to make it. Two hours would suffice, I figured, and it did, despite the long walk through Terminal 3 and the second TSA-style security screen for connecting passengers.

Wasn’t one security screen sufficient? After all, both Austria and the United Kingdom are EC members. Well, for a few more weeks, anyway. pending the Brexit outcome.

We located one of two Priority Pass Clubs in Heathrow Terminal 3 and passed the time there before the long, long march to Gate 42 to board our LHR/RDU flight, the most distant Terminal 3 gate.

Looking back, despite the good airport experiences connecting at Heathrow and departing Vienna, next time I will avoid a connection that involves flying on British Airways. One time enduring the airline’s uncomfortable confined cabin and in-flight parsimony was enough for me. Better airline choices abound, so screw BA.

Or maybe Brexit will moot my complaint.

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