I wasn’t sure if I was going to be writing a trip report for this trip, since I’d already covered BA pretty extensively on my last BOM-AUS trip. However, given the amount of unusual events that happened on this trip, I think it’d be a gross oversight to not note them down.
My first sign that this was going to be an unusual trip was the massive line for arrivals at Austin-Bergstrom airport. Quite frankly, I haven’t a seen a line of cars that long outside the airport since the last time I flew out of LAX and was stuck right outside the airport for over half an hour.
In all fairness, however, this was the day before South by Southwest so it makes sense that there was a massive influx of passengers at the airport.
I made my way to the BA check-in desk and was greeted by a friendly agent. Because BA only operates a single flight out of Austin, they only have 3 desks – one for First, one for Club World, and one for Premium Economy and Economy passengers. As a Gold Executive Club member, I made my way to the First check-in desk. I should note, however, that all the desks were empty (I was about 2 hours early for my flight).
I’d already checked-in for my flight the night before and had no bags to drop off, but I still had to undergo the document check for international travel. I’ve found BA agents to generally be more competent at this than the AA agents in Austin. Last time I was connecting through DFW on AA, and the AA check-in agents took far too long combing through my documents looking for nonexistent expiration dates on my India visa (I have a lifelong visa for India) and refused to listen to me.
Luckily, this BA agent seemed familiar with everything and I was done in less than a minute. She also confirmed my seats (this will be very important later) and directed me to the premium security line.
The airport was quite a bit busier than it normally is, and the TSA officers seemed quite a bit more inefficient than they normally are. Hence, the two compounded and led to a longer security ordeal than I’d anticipated. However, I was able to get through relatively quickly since I was in the premium lane.
As a relatively small airport, Austin only has two lounges: The United Club and Admirals Club. I haven’t yet had a chance to check out the United Club, but I’ve been through the Admirals Club plenty of times to know that it would be pretty crowded right now. Hence, I decided to grab some pizza from Schlotzsky’s before making my way up to the lounge.
Both lounges are located next to each other on the mezzanine level, near gate 16; below is a picture of the entrance to the Admirals Club:
A nice touch is the small putting green by the lobby, though I’ve never actually seen anyone using it:
After scanning my boarding pass, the lounge agent informed me that I would be given complimentary food and drinks from the bar by showing my boarding pass. As I’d expected, the lounge was very full and there wasn’t really anywhere to sit.
As you can see from the pictures below, the lounge is divided into three sections, kind of. There is the general seating area, the bar area, and a work area. The work area has a few cubicles and a printer. Both the bar and seating area were pretty full, and the seats in the work area weren’t very comfortable.
At around 6, the lounge agent made an announcement that the British Airways flight to London would be leaving in 5 minutes, and for any passengers here to make their way to the gate to board. Scared that I would miss my flight (since the lounge is halfway across the airport from the BA gate), I rushed out and to my gate. Arriving at the gate, however, I realized that the agent must have meant boarding would start, not end, in 5 minutes.
Regardless, I was facing a very chaotic crowd surrounding a podium with roped off boarding group lines. This is the first time I’ve flown on a BA flight since they’ve started enforcing their new boarding system, and I have to say it caused a lot of frustration. There were a lot of people near the boarding group 2 and 3 line complaining about how they didn’t have Priority anymore, and a few even in the group 1 line who were annoyed at the confusion it was causing.
Personally, I think the boarding groups are a step in the right direction, and I welcomed the fact that BA was trying to enforce a policy that provided a clear benefit to higher tier members.
A huge problem at the gate though, was that the podium speakers didn’t really seem to be working so no one could hear what the agents were trying to say. At one point, one of the passengers even started trying to communicate with the agent in sign language to indicate that we couldn’t hear anything. Unfortunately, this wasn’t remedied and the agent just kept speaking into his mic.
Normally I’d sympathize a bit more with the frazzled agents working with malfunctioning equipment, but given the sheer amount of announcements beign made (about 10-15 people were called up to the podium and updates were being given) in this case I really think the agents should have tried harder to make themselves heard. I say this especially because it was extremely hard for passengers to hear if their name was being called, and what to do (again, this will be very important later).
Boarding finally commenced for group 1, however, we had to stop once we reached the jetway. At this point, an alarm went off and there was a siren screeching and flashing lights – it took a good 3-5 minutes for staff to figure out what was going on and disable it (still not sure what happened – no one thought to let us know what was happening). After this, I endured one of the longest jetway walks of my life.
Austin is currently undergoing renovations to add about 8 new gates, hence requiring planes in this part of the airport to be parked a good deal further away than is normal. However, to the credit of the airport authority, all the posters and signs along the jetway tried to make light of its length and apologized for the walk.
Once on the plane, I made my way to my seat, 13A, which was the last Club World window seat. This meant that unlike virtually every other window seat, I wouldn’t have to jump over someone’s legs to get out, while also affording me one of the most private business class layouts in the sky.
The only drawback was that the overhead bin above my seat was full of extra safety equipment, so I had to use another bin. After getting changed into my pajamas, I settled in to wait for the end of the boarding process. I was offered a choice of either orange juice or water as my welcome drink – given that BA offered champagne as recently as a few months ago on this route, I was surprised that it was no longer an option.
Once boarding was complete, flight attendants came by and made sure everyone’s entertainment screens were out (where the safety video would be playing). Unfortunately, my screen wasn’t working. When I informed a flight attendant that it wasn’t working, her first question was if I’d been able to view the safety video. When I indicated I hadn’t, she ran through everything manually and told me that it should be up and running after take off once she reset the system.
Since you can’t keep the video screens out during take off and landing in Club World anyways, I wasn’t too bothered. At this point, the pilot came on and announced our 8 hour 55 minute journey to Heathrow. A cabin crew member also announced that because one of the passengers on the flight had an extreme nut allergy, no nuts would be served and asked all passengers to refrain from eating any nuts they had personally brought on board.
This has been the first time that I’ve been on a flight where all 200 passengers were asked to refrain from eating nuts, but I guess what can you do?
After take off, the flight attendant came back and informed me that the screen was damaged and had been labeled as thus on the incoming flight to Austin. Unfortunately, there was nothing they’d be able to do and the only free seat was a middle seat in economy. At this point, I was annoyed – I was a Gold member travelling on a paid business-class seat, and I was being offered an economy seat. When I mentioned that this was a very inconvenient option for me, the flight attendant replied that there wasn’t much they could do given my upgrade.
Confused, I told her I hadn’t been upgraded and that I’d selected this seat weeks in advance. At this point, she was confused and asked to see my boarding pass. Confirming that my seat allocation was indeed 13A, and my name (along with my frequent flyer status), she said she would check and get back to me.
After a few minutes, she returned and apologized for the mix up, and informed me that the ground staff were supposed to have reallocated me to another seat. She said she could move me to seat 7F, which was an aisle seat. At this point, my only choices were to take the new seat, or to be stuck with this one (I wasn’t even going to consider the economy seat as an option), so I agreed to move. She told me to wait a few minutes while she explained the situation to the passenger currently in 7F.
The lady in 7F was clearly annoyed that she was being moved to a defective seat, but since I’m pretty sure she was upgraded, she didn’t have much of a say. I should note however, that the lady did agree as long as she still had a flatbed – I’m unsure of what would have happened if she had outright disagreed to move.
Once I was in my new seat, I realized I’d left my blanket and pillow in my old seat. Since I didn’t want to use someone elses pillow and blanket, I asked one of the cabin crew for a new set. Unfortunately, since there were no spare seats, this also meant that there were no spare blankets/pillows. The flight attendant offered to take the blanket and pillow to the lady now in 13A and see if my stuff was still unopened; luckily turned out it still was. Again, I’m unsure what would have happened if it wasn’t.
Now, I should note that the check-in agent had clearly confirmed my seat number and that I was booked on all window seats, and that I genuinely didn’t hear the ground staff at the gate call my name. I also want to note that I’d moved from what was most likely the best seat in business-class to quite possibly the worst. I was in the aisle, which meant I had no privacy, and right by the galley. Hence, there was a lot of light coming through. Ultimately, I was unable to sleep on the flight, leading me to be exhausted for the rest of the trip.
I will say that the flight attendant handled the issue pretty well for something that should have been taken care of by the groundstaff.
Once I was in my new seat (below), one of the other flight attendants came by to congratulate me for achieving Gold this year and thank me for my continued loyalty. This was a nice touch of service, but given the problems with my seat, not much of a consolation. I want to also note that she didn’t apologize for the mix-up or mention it at all.
Amenity kits were also passed out, and I hadn’t realized that the AUS-LHR route had the new kits, so I was pretty excited when I got the sleek new pouch.
New BA amenity kit
It is actually pretty small, and its all the same stuff (moisturizer, lip balm, socks, pen, eyeshades, earplugs, and pulse point). – except instead of Elemis it is now by The White Company. Personally, I preferred the Elemis products (but I do like the new pouch).
The menu for the flight was as follows:
I ordered the salmon appetizer, chicken main, and lemon tart for dessert.
Dinner service with salmon appetizer
The salmon was fine, but the chicken was subpar. The red wine jus was more of a tomato sauce than anything, and the chicken wasn’t very appetizing. The carrots were nice, but the greens and potato were very average. Overall, I didn’t enjoy the meal at all and it caused me some mild problems for the rest of the flight – I’ve had much nicer chicken meals in economy on Singapore Airlines.
I also want to note that the butter for the bread was rock-hard, and once I got my knife in it, it was impossible to easily remove:
The rest of the flight was relatively uneventful. I had the muesli along with some Chamomile tea for breakfast. We had to fly in a holding pattern for about 15-20 minutes before landing, but this isn’t very unusual when flying into such a busy airport.
I was super excited initially when I believed I’d hit the jackpot in terms of seating (privacy AND not having to jump over people!), and extremely disappointed with the seat issues. Considering that they knew about the issue when the plane came into Austin, I’d have hoped that the check-in agent would inform me about it and reallocate me, or at least let me know that this may happen at the gate. I also hope they fix the speakers at the gate so as to avoid anymore mix-ups on board. Besides this, the flight was fine but the food was definitely subpar.