Welcome to my last series of flights before the Covid-19 pandemic all but shut down air travel around the world. These flights took place between February 15th and March 1st, 2020–a short time period where things rapidly evolved in Europe. Though we were aware of the outbreak and took precautions while flying, little did we know that shortly after returning from our trip that borders would be closing and transatlantic commercial air traffic would grind to a halt.
We had been staying in France since late December, where we were planning on spending a few more months before returning to Southern California in the spring, but needed to head to Washington, DC for a few weeks to work on getting our previous home ready for sale. Being in the Southwest of France, there aren't really any major airports nearby. Toulouse is about 2 hours away, but transatlantic flights tend to be expensive from TLS, so we usually make the 5.5 hour drive to fly in and out of Paris.
For this trip, however, I'd found some really good deals from Barcelona in Premium Economy on British Airways. BCN is also about a 5.5 hour drive so I figured it would be an interesting change and a good opportunity to spend a bit of time in Barcelona. The best prices were to Baltimore-Washington Intl airport BWI, which is about the same distance from our home as Dulles IAD.
The transatlantic reviews in this series are the first on British Airways Premium Economy to or from BWI and only the second and third long-haul reviews to/from BWI.
In this review, I'll cover the first transatlantic sector from LHR to BWI in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy). In case you missed the first instalment in this series, you'll find the link below.
Reviews in this series:
Having arrived from Barcelona at Terminal 3, we immediately headed for the connector bus to Terminal 5, from which most British Airways flights depart, including our flight to Baltimore-Washington.
Once at Terminal 5, it was surprisingly crowded. By the date of this flight in mid-February, Coronavirus fears had already led to cancellation of all BA flights to Mainland China and general drops in load-factors, but that was not evident from the throng of passengers at Heathrow that day.
Once through security, we headed to the BA Galleries lounge (South), the larger of the two BA clubs in the main T5A Terminal.
One of my favourite things about this lounge is the Elemis spa, where one can enjoy a massage or facial treatment. Unfortunately, there were no appointments available that worked with our schedule–the haul from T3 to T5 had eaten away a good bit of our layover.
Again, the lounge was surprisingly crowded for a Saturday, which usually tends to be a quiet day in my experience. I imagine that the many delays and cancellations due to the storm had a role in that.
Luckily we were able to find a quiet-ish corner that we were able to block off with chairs as a makeshift play area for the baby. Conveniently, there was already a high-chair nearby that we could use.
The view from the lounge.
There are tarmac views on the other side of the lounge, but that side was a zoo, as it usually is, so we stuck to the quieter side in our social distancing efforts.
At this point it was lunch time so I was getting a bit hungry, especially since we hadn't eaten anything on the flight from Barcelona.
There was a decent selection of hot dishes for lunch.
I tried a bit of everything, from beef meatballs, to chicken curry, to pasta and chicken salad.
There were flight information screens nearby–as you can see, many flights were delayed of cancelled that day due to the storm.
Our flight to BWI was luckily not impacted and was due to depart on time. An hour before departure, the screens informed that the flight would be departing from T5B. One of my biggest pet peeves with Heathrow is gates only being displayed an hour or so before departure–I hate having to constantly monitor the screens and then feel rushed to arrive at the gate on time! Sorry, rant over ?
So off we went to catch out flight from Satellite B
From the Main Terminal, the T5 A Gates (or T5A), one must either take the underground train or walkway to the B and C gates (T5B and T5C. In my experience, T5A has mostly short-haul intra-European departures, with long-haul out of T5B and C.
From the main concourse, the lower level can be accessed via escalators or lifts. As we were flying with a baby, the latter was the logical option.
Once we reached the B Satellite, our gate was at the end of the concourse.
At the boarding gate we learned that our aircraft was parked on a remote stand and that we would be boarding by bus, ugh. Normally, I wouldn't mind–and my AvGeek side actually loves tarmac boarding, normally–but not when flying with a one-year-old, and especially not in the middle of a big storm!
We were advised to queue up in the pre-boarding lane with the baby, but the "pre-boarding" lane was only allowed to board at the same time as oneworld Sapphires in group 2. We both hold Sapphire status and were already in group 2, so there was literally no point. Note that a BA Premium Economy ticket does not normally come with early boarding, unlike most other carriers.
Another pointless excercise…pre-boarding a bus to a remote stand. The only advantage being catching the first bus.
Nevertheless, I obviously enjoyed the ability to do some planespotting from the unique perspective of the bus during the ride, though the rain and wind didn't help.
BA 747-400 in oneworld livery
It turned out our aircraft wasn't too far–it was parked just one stand down from the end of the terminal. So close, yet so far away. Doh!
As I was lugging a baby stroller and fighting wind and rain, I only managed one more quick shot of our beautiful Dreamliner on boarding.
Those windows are huge!
The BWI flight is normally operated by a 787-8, as Baltimore is one of the smaller US markets for BA–especially with such a large presence down the road at Washington-Dulles–but was operated by a larger 4-cabin 787-9 that day.
The Premium Economy cabin on the 787-9 has 39 seats in a spacious 2-3-2 layout over 6 rows. As we were travelling with an infant-in-lap, we were able to reserve the bulkhead row at booking, which is normally blocked until online check-in.
The infant seat belt, which attaches to the adult passenger's seatbelt for takeoff and landing, was pre-placed on the official "bassinet seat" (bulkhead window seat).
In addition to the infant seatbelt, there was a pillow, blanket, amenity kit, and noise-cancelling headphones.
Here's a view of the World Traveller Plus cabin during a lull in boarding between buses. The cabin would end up being completely full.
A look into the Club World cabin during boarding.
Stormy window view.
The best part of the bulkhead row…tons of legroom!
A few minutes after settling in, a very friendly flight attendant came through the cabin with pre-departure drinks. Choices were water and sparkling wine.
My son doing the safety demo–he's a quick learner ?
Though this flight was a month before confinement and border closures, Covid-19 was already all over the news as the first cases were being detected in Europe. I therefore took some extra precautions and cleaned all hard surfaces with anti-bacterial wipes (sidewalls, bulkhead, armrests, tray tables, window shades, even literature covers and the safety card!). I'm not normally paranoid, but I do often get sick after long-haul flights, so I felt it was better to be safe than sorry, especially travelling with a baby.
Funny enough, as soon as I started wiping down surfaces, several other passengers in the cabin began to do the same. Seems I wasn't the only one carrying Clorox wipes! I guess they were all waiting for someone else to go first, haha.
The front of the centre console, where the universal 110v power outlets are located, was absolutely filthy. Thank goodness I had wipes–shameful in general, but especially in times of Coronavirus, even if it was the early days.
There are also 2 USB ports for each seat.
Of course I also wiped down the IFE screens, which we were made to take out for the safety video.
And the cool window dimmer button, one of the unique features of the 787
Despite the storm, we pushed back from the stand close to on-time.
The hilarious and well-done safety video played as we taxied to the departure runway.
Absolutely Fabulous (see what I did there?) ?
It's sad to think most of these aircraft are sitting idle today.
Curtains and windows in centre bulkheads are open during takeoff and landing.
That's the iconic Heathrow tower somewhere behind all that rain and wind.
The Emirates special "Expo 2020" livery A380. It remains to be seen whether the world expo will take place in the fall or be postponed.
After a relatively quick taxi time, we were off.
Love the 787 wing
Finding blue skies above the storm.
Heading out over the sea, but outside the window it's still a sea of clouds.
Shortly after takeoff one of the lovely cabin crew came by to set up the child seat in the bassinet position.
It was perfect timing as the baby had just fallen asleep during the climb.
Whereas on our previous flight with BA in December 2019, at 10-months old, the baby could still (barely) fit in the cot, 2 months later, he had definitely outgrown it. One of the great things about flying with a baby on BA is that they provide a child seat for older babies under 2 years-old and weighing less than 12.5kgs (27.5lbs).
To my knowledge most other airlines only have the cots for smaller babies. Being able to put the baby in the bassinet, where he can get a few solid hours of sleep makes a huge difference when flying with a baby. A sleeping baby and free arms make for a much more relaxing flight!
And of course, being free to eat and drink in peace is one of the little things I've learned to appreciate as a parent, whereas it was previously something I took for granted.
pre-lunch drink service with a drinkable Spanish Cava.
As always with BA the in-flight entertainment system has tons of content including films, series, documentaries, music, games, and a kids section.
shortly before lunch service, our flight attendant came to check on us and asked if we'd like another drink, promptly bringing another bottle of Cava for dinner.
Premium cabin passengers have the ability to pre-order main dishes on long-haul flights departing London.
These were the choices.
I went for the chicken curry–a dish the British do so well.
I was not disappointed–it was delicious with the perfect level of spice.
The main meal is served on china with metal cutlery in the Premium Economy cabin. In my experience, the main dishes are very similar to what you'd see in Business class.
View of the cabin after meal service.
The baby woke up shortly after the meal service. Luckily, Moana was there to keep him entertained for a bit!
Throughout the flight, cabin crew came through the aisles offering water and juices; however, there was also a self-serve station in the rear galley that included drinks and snacks.
View of the Economy cabin from the rear galley.
Lovely views over the snowy Canadian Maritimes.
Though it was only the middle of the afternoon, the sun was setting over these northern latitudes.
The pre-arrival meal service began as we were over New England.
Coffee, tea, juices, and soft drinks were offered along with a hot vegetarian pizza.
While the main meal felt premium and differentiated from Economy, this pre-arrival snack certainly did not. A boxed snack felt rather cheap compared to oneworld partner American's plated 3-course pre-arrival meals in Premium Economy. Nevertheless, I like pizza (who doesn't?) so I can't really complain. But my observation is this is the one area that could use some improvement in the Premium Economy service.
By the end of the meal service we were well into our descent and the cabin was readied for arrival.
We had left the gate in London about 10 minutes behind and had not made up any time in flight, arriving at the gate in Baltimore about 10 minutes behind schedule.
Deplaning was quick as there were only three rows of Club World between us and the door.
Fun story: I'd mentioned in past reviews that I'd been waiting a ridiculous amount of time for my son's Global Entry application to be approved. As luck would have it, after a full 6 month wait, I finally received the conditional approval a few days before this flight. Global Entry requires an interview with a CBP officer in order to receive final approval and, luckily, BWI is one of the approved locations where one can do an interview on arrival.
Because the baby still technically didn't have Global Entry, we had to go through the regular lane one last time. It wasn't too bad since we were the only international arrival at that time.
I had to laugh at the photos taken by the APC (Automated Passport Control) machine–in all my travels, this was the first time ever that I actually looked up quickly enough from the screen so that my eyes didn't look closed…
The baby, on the other hand, was dead asleep!
And he slept right through the Global Entry "interview," which only took a few minutes. The super nice CBP officer thought it was hilarious that he had to interview a baby. He basically only asked about travel patterns and approved our file. I was happy to finally have Global Entry for the kid so that we could again use the Global Entry lanes when travelling with him.
By the time we were done with immigration and the interview, the baggage area was deserted and our bags were already waiting for us.
We then made our way to the BWI car rental center to pick up our car for the next two weeks. It felt weird picking up a rental car at "home"…since DC had been home until mid 2019.
Thank you for reading!
Another fantastic BA cabin crew made for a relatively stress-free flight. We've always had good experience with BA staff, but we've found them to be even more attentive when travelling with the little one. I really appreciate the crew's efforts to make the experience as pleasant as possible every time we fly with our son.
While I've been lucky to often fly Business or First, I've always found Premium Economy to be a good value. A wider seat, 6-8" (15-20cm) more legroom, and upgraded service in a smaller, more intimate cabin, for about a 50% premium over Economy prices. Unless I find a really good deal in Business or First, now that I have a family--and have to be more budget-conscious--Premium Economy fits my needs. Having flown Premium Economy on several airlines, I find BA to have a solid and competitive product with the best seat recline, which makes a huge difference for sleeping.
The one thing that could use improvement is the pre-arrival offering, which was not particularly premium. Otherwise, BA World Traveller Plus is an all-around good Premium Economy product and a good value.