Ah, the search for a reasonably priced itinerary from the USA to India in the winter. And this may sound like a bit of an oxymoron. I am still quite amazed by how easily I found a decent fare last year, on one simple itinerary. Once I was informed from home that I’d be heading back there instead, it was a matter of finding whatever the cheapest itinerary was to either Delhi or Mumbai from any USA origin. Now of course I did play it a little safe: avoid Chicago, but also to not get too insane. With the first part of the series talking about flying in to JFK - no points for guessing what would be the departure point :)
So I found this super onweworld & partners itinerary. British Airways 747s from Philadelphia to New Delhi (via Heathrow), while on the way back it’d be Etihad Airways B777-300ER to Abu Dhabi, and then either an A380 to CDG, or another B777-300ER to Manchester, before an American Airlines A330-200 from CDG or MAN to Philadelphia. Now given that American Airlines announced their intentions of being pissy with QR and EY therefore cutting some pretty convenient ties leading to many question marks, and that Abu Dhabi’s new terminal is no where being close to completed, I decided to ditch this one and find something convenient.
Unfortunately, most internationals were a touch more expensive than what I had seen back when I did this same research in 2015. The usual middle-eastern options were quite steep, west coast was out of the question, while *A, ST and OW out of the east coast were quite similarly priced. A perfect opportunity to log in a new airline and hopefully, a big plane or two. One with four engines.
JFK seemed to have the least delays % compared to ORD during the winter months, but please make sure to watch this space…. JFK to Delhi - there’s a ton of options: right from the direct Air India flight, to the MEB3, Singapore Airlines via Frankfurt, the Chinese, Taiwanese and HKG carriers, Japanese, and a plethora of European options. Long story short: it came down to Aeroflot on their B77W and A330s via SVO, or British Airways on 4 x B747-400s all the way to & from New Delhi via LHR. Both new airlines, both new airports but just the one with the B747-400s. This was an easy one.
And now, it doesn’t take much to realize the scale of operations that British Airways has over at JFK. It is almost like they have a hub but really it is all flights to London (including City, Heathrow & Gatwick), and then the odd OpenSkies 757 to Paris. Going for frequency over capacity it comes as no surprise that the BA A380 won’t be coming in to JFK any time soon, besides the infrastructure constrains at JFK T7. And these B747s and B777s count towards what is the 16th busiest international route, and certainly the busiest TATL route. Now why do I bring this up? Quite simply: the time of departure and arrival at JFK :)
SO WHAT DID I PLAN ON?
There are quite few options on BA itself: with the 2 LHR-DEL-LHR flights one can make a 2hr layover, one can even make a 11hr layover. I decided to keep things reasonable and go for a 3 to 4 hour layover. My options were a 2000 hours on American B77E AA106 (nope), 2010 hours BA116 on a B744 (not bad), 2105 BA172 that swapped between a B77E and B744 but was a B77E on the day of (so, no..) and BA114 at 2130 that was also variable, but happened to be a B744 on the day of, but it was a little too late. BA116 it was! The onward itinerary was: BA116 JFK LHR 2010 0810+1 B744 BA143 LHR DEL 1120 0115+1 B744 I will discuss the return in more detail later…..
SEAT SELECTION & ONLINE CHECK IN
Now unfortunately, the ‘cost’ of flying BA would be the seats. BA are known to be quite expensive with the pre-booking of seat prices, even up in Club World! I decided to flirt with the idea of buying an over-wing seat on BA143 since the high-density not refurbished B747s allow for it, and just any window seat on BA116. To buy or not to….
Shocker of shocks - not a single window seat to book on BA116 T-48 hours?!?! Worried, I bought an aisle seat at the very back. I was hoping something would’ve opened up on check in day….
….and so it did. T-24 hours I was in the subway heading from JFK to Manhattan so obviously there wasn’t any signal, except for at the stations itself. For each step I completed, I hit ‘proceed’ at the station & the next step loaded. 5 stations later, I was checked in for my first two British Airways flights, both on B747s, and both with a confirmed window seat!
NEW YORK CITY - THE INTREPID!
And with that, after a late night over at Manhattan, I was up excitedly early. It is a special feeling knowing you’d be boarding a B747, any day! BA175 was inbound, operated by G-CIVS. This would spend about 8 hours on the ground before heading back to LHR as BA116. On the other side of side of proceedings sistership G-CIVT would operate to & from Accra (Ghana) before flying to & from Delhi.
So in any case - an entire day to spend over at New York. In Manhattan? Well, my cousin suggested heading to Central Park. Being as honest as I am I announced my intentions of checking out the Intrepid. Very quickly my in-law was onboard with this plan(e) as well, and we decided to head there nice and early - with a tour of the Concorde as well. Without further ado, I present to you the Intrepid, and Alpha Delta - the world’s fastest Concorde :D :D
Bonus : Click here displayhide
Onboard a Concorde…now if only it flew :(
At the risk of being annoyingly touristy (and rightfully pointed out by my cousin…), I bought some souvenirs at the store. Of course, there was this gem:
JFK T7 - CHECK IN
Picked up a car and started the long journey to JFK from Manhattan. Traffic did get the best of us as we spent 45 minutes crawling out of Manhattan before hitting the highway and reaching JFK at around 1705 hours - three hours before departure. Anticipating winter crowds up beyond TSA and plenty of B747s/B777s departing I decided to head for the restroom through the maze of boards promising an improved experience at T7.
I tried my luck with the kiosk check in - while it confirmed my booking information, there was no luck. I had to join the line anyway. It was 1720 hours.
Took about 15 minutes to reach the front of the line but given the number of passengers around it was quite alright. The staff was quite cheerful and confirmed my flights all the way to New Delhi: ’So you will be picking up your baggage in New Delhi, correct?’ ‘Well, that’s the hope!’ I said, cheekily.
Onwards to TSA where once again the line was long - but this one was going much slower. Add to that, their typical attitude which unfortunately comes off as rude, while the many sets of crew would go through prior to their flights. I was airside by 1751 hours with over 2 hours to kill. Spotting? I thought it was time!
SPOTTING…OR SO I THOUGHT…
And how wrong I was. With the many Boeings of all kinds (737, 747, 757s and 777s) being filled to brim - most passengers sat around on the floor in front of any glass that might’ve had a decent view of the planes. It would be rude to jump in their space that way. I walked around a little bit more by the sparse duty free among other things, and restraints those were filed with people, my best bet was to be around gate 9/10, departure gate. I have no idea how I killed an hour walking around, but I suppose I did! :P
No luck with spotting - sigh :(
To the gate: 9/10. I wonder if there was a gate 9 & 3/4ths…..or is that only in the railways? :)
Over there we were greeted by the lovely sounds of the fire alarms going off. Obviously, nobody moved. In fact it got to a point where these would go off continually for a long period of time and it was nothing but a glitch, apparently. And it is glitches like this that make for dangerous situations, but whatever. This got very annoying very quickly and a round of applause for every time it would stop ringing. Do check out these annoying sounds in the video link posted here. Closer to departure time I decided to download some music from the free internet which was pretty alright.
With the looks of a great white shark this is best possible picture I could get of the B747-400 before departure at least.
Interestingly the announcements over at JFK T7 for the BA flights regarding the flight numbers at least focused more around the departure time rather the number itself. I suppose this helps prevent confusion given that most of the flights have very similar flight numbers. The sound of the alarms returned.
It was well beyond boarding time - a slight delay was announced T-24min due to the late arrival of crew. Hmm, one wonders what happened there. Anyway, checks were done nice and quick and boarding was called about 12 minutes before departure time. The loud fire alarms came back on, one last time as I was just 7 or 8 feet away from G-CIVS’ door.
A nice welcome onboard with the very soothing British accent I made my way towards the back of the Queen. The cabin filled up nicely as I took my seat 43K.
The Captain wasted no time in briefing us: of course it was the Manhattan delay that caught out the crew as well, except it would seem like some passengers had it planned out better, hmm…. It would be a 6hr11min over across the pond. A nice & smooth east bound flight followed by a warm 7C (45F) in London await us. The middle seat was empty, as were a few others suggesting that this was not a very full flight.
Despite the few delays, we were pushed back at 2027 hours, a mere 17 minutes behind schedule. Everything was just very British from here on - starting off with the Rolls Royce RB211 engines being fired up - to the very witty safety demonstration on the video. A fantastically done video featuring some very prominent British celebrates including Gordon Ramsay, Gillian Anderson, Warick Davis and Ian McKellen amongst others, directed by Asim Chaudry. Hey, Jeremy Clarkson called - oh wait, Emirates has got him!!
Stars of the safety video - Director's Cut
Mood lighting on the refurbished B747 is rather basic - but it helps.
We took off at 2105 hours - 55 minutes late. Soon a southeast turn was made to a Easterly course as we soon hit the Atlantic to fly over it for the next few hours.
Cabin supervisor Theresa came around to welcome us - barring the usual welcome, safety & arrival info announcements I was quite surprised to find out that there would be free wifi on the B747 - wow, I honestly did not know that BA were going ahead with this! Awesome!
IN FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
As I waited for service to start I checked out the IFE - pretty nice, even if it is available in just 4 languages (Hindi was one of them - nice!!). I was on the map & info page for the longest time before checking out the movies. All said and done the IFE on this one would keep you entertained for the longest time. Nicely done, BA! Easy to use and smooth touchscreen is always helpful. The entire UI was quick & responsive at that. 25 minutes in to the flight I Settled to watch Dunkirk, and what better an occasion, I suppose?!
Service started with drinks being given out at 2143 hours EST, or 38 minutes in to the flight. I went for a red wine from Chile - the flight attendant even going as far as asking if I’d like a 2nd one to go with dinner. Well, sure absolutely, why not?! There was no snack with this, however.
Now it is always important to manage expectations on some flights - and to keep them low on British Airways seemed to be the right thing to do given what I’ve read here and on other forums as well. It was time for dinner - and I was cautious as to what it would be. The choices were very TATL: chicken curry or pasta. Curry?! What do you mean Indian food?! I would find out soon enough.
There was a dressing to go along with the simple salad that contained lettuce, carrots and a tomato.
It was on to the main course - but of course it was chicken tikka masala, white rice and some daal! It was obvious that the chicken & the curry itself were made separately, and that showed, both in texture & taste. However, it wasn’t the worst meal I have had on a plane (*Looks at United* ), and more than edible. There was a dinner roll to go along with it.
The highlight of the meal and if anything that saved the meal: was the chocolate cake at the end. Nice soft & moist made for a very enjoyable end to the meal.
I had an orange juice to end it all - seeing as caffeine was not the right way to go when sleep was the name of the game. It was 01hr41min in flight, with just under 4.5 hours to go. And suffice to say - so far so good from British Airways.
Cabin after dinner
In addition, I tried out the free WiFi - it was pretty nice. Given that it was absolutely free and many others were probably using it at the time it worked without a flaw or a hiccup. Impressive, and nicely done again, BA!
It wasn’t long before the seatmate in 43H had to head for a quick walk to the restroom - I took this opportunity to head back and get some photographs of the cabin itself. The lights were kept on for the duration of the flight which was surprising given that this was a night flight at the end of the day. (Literally).
Other than hand soap, the functional & clean restroom had no other amenities whatsoever, which was just fine I guess.
Some were awake & stretching their legs, some were asleep - typical of an evening flight. I went back to my seat and tucked in to sleep - for whatever I could - before landing. And soon enough, 2hr in to the flight the lights were turned off for everyone to asleep - well that answered my question then!
With my usual drifts in & out of sleep - I kept the information channel on the middle seat, just so I knew were we were in relation to…everything, I guess. I put on Cars 3 - missed about half of it due to sleep.
Pillow & blanket
BREAKFAST - OR SOMETHING
I was awake after about 2 hours - less than 2 hours till arrival anyway! I was interested in seeing what was on offer for breakfast - probably just fruit, yogurt and a cake or something, typical of a TATL flight. And oh boy how wrong I was. Served 5hr05min in to flight the so called ‘breakfast’ was just a malt loaf bar. And it didn’t even taste any good. The seat mate missed out as the crew went down the aisle, and while the cabin crew handed this out he said ‘Well, you snooze you lose!’ Witty.
To be awake for the layover and at least functioning I went for some tea - which was more than decent.
There was not much to understand from the First Officer’s arrival briefing because of the -400s typically loud air vents. But in any way it did look like we were going to be in for a normal arrival with everything looking more or less alright. Works for me!
SUN RISE, HORRIBLE WINDOW - THE DESCENT IN TO HEATHROW
Usual descent announcement was supplemented by what felt like more focus on their charity program (Flying Start). The sun came up slowly however I realized how badly the scratched the windows were on this veteran Boeing 747. This made for some very interesting battles of camera vs. outside view through the window. Fun.
A beautiful orange hue filled the cabin as G-CIVS initiated it’s descent in to London Heathrow about 25 minutes before arrival. And soon enough - the Thames and London was in sight. We were so close! A runway 27L arrival before docking at Terminal 5.
London in sight!
As we were on short final the scratched window seemed like it won as the camera decided to focus on what didn’t matter (the scratches) before I finally was able to override it. A smooth touchdown at 0815 hours - 6hr10min in flight. Technically just the 5 minutes behind schedule, but what matters is the gate arrival time, It seemed like it won’t be too long a taxi until we stopped for a gate to let us in.
And here I was in London Heathrow - not only was it dominated by British Airways & Virgin Atlantic - there were all the American carries (AA/DL), some from the middle East (2 EK A380), some from down under, and quite a few Cathay Pacific 777s. Wow - were was I Hong Kong or Heathrow?!
Taxied to a concourse with mostly 777s, 787s and sistership 747s, we docked at B34 beside another 747. Docked at about 0827 hours, so really continuing with the 17 minute delay. Not bad at all!
On exiting I took some time to photograph the aircraft before finding the FIDs not too far away - the search for BA143 to New Delhi…. G-CIVS will head to IAD as BA217.
Thanks to AbV for this one -
New York - JFK
London - LHR
And once again I will reiterate the fact that it is important to manage expectations - and in keeping them to a slightly lower level I was quite happy with British Airways. Slight delay but nothing too major, crew went about doing their thing, food was a little on the negative side but largely edible, a comfortable seat and great WiFi + entertainment. It is hard not to enjoy a flight on the B747. :)
If anything, it did look like T7 was in shambles, a little on the outside but mostly on the inside (but they are working on it, so). It doesn’t feel very international leaving JFK T7. Heathrow felt like a dream, comparing the two. All in all, a good show from BA and I was looking forward to the next flight to Delhi already!
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