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 return transatlantic sector from BWI to LHR in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy). In case you missed the first two instalments in this series, you'll find the link below.
Reviews in this series:
After dropping off the rental car, it was a good 10-minute ride to the Terminal. The remote location of the Rental Car centre is one of the few downsides of flying in or out of BWI, an otherwise very convenient and less-crowded option in the DC metropolitan area.
And when I say less-crowded, I'm not kidding, the International terminal is mostly empty as seen from the curbside.
The only activity at this time of day is at the British Airways counters. I have no idea why there were several fire trucks parked in front of the terminal.
At different points in time, BWI has had service from several international carriers including Air Canada, British Airways, Icelandair, WOW Air (RIP), Norwegian, Aer Lingus, Air Jamaica (RIP), Air Aruba (RIP), Air Greenland, Condor, Mexicana (RIP), and KLM–As of early 2020, only Air Canada, British Airways, and Condor (with a seasonal flight) remained–which explains the empty International Terminal E.
Now the majority of international service is on US Low-cost carriers Spirit and Southwest. How things have changed!
I've seen this terminal bustling before–it's sad to see it practically a ghost town, and this was before the Covid-19 lock-downs!
We were checked in by a very friendly and efficient agent who tagged our bags through to Barcelona. Though it was over 1.5 hours before departure, apparently we were among the last stragglers as we were the only ones at the ticket counter. Being that there was nothing going on, the other two agents hung out and doted on our 13-month-old son–he loves the attention, so he ate it up!
I asked if any paid upgrades to Club World were available, as BA sometimes offer some last-minute buy-ups at reasonable prices. Alas, not today! Upgrades were offered at $900 per person–hardly a deal.
Although it had been years, I'd flown out of BWI many times in the past and was certain I knew where the security checkpoint was located in Terminal E–to the right of the large flight information display screen seen on the right side of the photo above. However, the agents pointed us towards the D Concourse.
On the way to the Concourse D/E connector area we passed by an art exhibit.
Well this is new…to me anyway!
There was a large security checkpoint in the D/E Connector between the two concourses, which hadn't existed the last time I flew out of BWI (4 or 5 years ago, maybe?). I'm not sure if the security checkpoint in Terminal E is permanently closed, or if it was just closed that evening because there was only one flight departing from Terminal E.
There was no wait at all going through the TSA Pre-check lanes, which, as you can see, were completely empty. Again, not having flown from BWI in years, I'm not sure if it's typically this quiet at that time of the evening, or if the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic was to blame.
Security was a breeze, as we were the only party going through at the time. Having Pre-check makes a huge difference when travelling with a baby as we don't have to dig out all of the liquids (e.g. baby formula, liquid medication, etc).
Once through, we headed left back towards international Concourse E.
Near the entrance to Concourse E, is a large children's play area. This will be very convenient to tire the kid out before the flight! But first, lets head to the lounge for a bit.
Walking into the concourse, it was eerily quiet–quite was sad to see it so empty.
At BWI, British Airways use the Chesapeake Club–a third party lounge that was previously also used by WOW, Icelandair, and others. It is located airside, right after the Concourse E security checkpoint–which used to be convenient, when that checkpoint was open.
We were greeted by a friendly agent who pointed out the location of the lounge's amenities, such as the business center, showers, bar, etc. Note that, as with most carriers, a Premium Economy ticket on BA does not give lounge access–we both had access through our oneworld Sapphire status.
As the Chesapeake Club no longer accepts Priority Pass and BA had the only flight going out of the concourse at the time, the lounge was pleasantly quiet.
The space is broken up into multiple smaller rooms, which makes for a warm and cosy atmosphere.
Tables between chairs are equipped with two standard power outlets and four USB ports–very convenient for charging multiple devices before a long flight.
There weren't many food options, and no hot dishes at all. I'd say the overall spread was just slightly above average for a US lounge.
The drink options were more plentiful. I was pleasantly surprised to not only see that real champagne was available, but that it was Taittinger.
Our stay in the lounge was short-lived as the kid started becoming a bit restless–now that he's over a year old, he doesn't like sitting still for too long!
So we headed to the nearby play area so he could run around and tire himself out before the flight.
There's obviously an aviation theme, mixed in with some Maryland nautical themes, and a touch of tacky Americana thrown in.
After a quick wash of the hands–this was just 2 weeks before Covid lockdowns, after all–we headed out to the boarding gate.
There was now only slightly more activity in the concourse with the beginning of boarding.
Right as we arrived at the gate, the same friendly agents who had checked us in waved us over to the podium.
"Hi, there you are! we were looking for you guys to get you on board first before general boarding," The agent exclaimed with a smile.
"That's very sweet," I replied, explaining we were in the play area so the baby could run around and get himself nice and tired to sleep on the flight, which made her laugh with understanding.
I've mentioned in past reviews that when travelling with small children, pre-boarding offers a few precious extra minutes to get situated–time to fold up the stroller/push chair, etc; however, I've also learned that sleeping babies, make for a much more pleasant flight experience for everyone, so it's also important to let them play and get all the extra energy out of their system before a long flight.
With that we missed pre-boarding, but luckily we had our travel stroller, which fits in the overhead bins, and therefore doesn't need to be checked at the gate–this saves a ton of time and effort–highly recommended!
No social distancing here–the Premium Economy cabin ended up completely full.
The Club World (Business class) cabin stayed mostly empty, though.
Our seats in the bulkhead row
Pre-placed on the seats were a pillow, blanket, noise-cancelling headphones, and a basic amenity kit containing eye shades, socks, ear plugs, a travel toothbrush/toothpaste set, and Elemis hand creme.
One of the biggest advantages of the first row is the large amount of space. AT 5'10" (178 cm) I can fully stretch my legs out and barely touch the wall. Seats in other rows are pitched at 38", standard legroom for long-haul Premium Economy and domestic First/Business.
Legroom shot with small child…
…and sans small child ?
As on the previous flights, I wiped down hard surfaces on and around the seats with disinfectant wipes–not wanting to take any chances in those early Covid days, especially travelling with a 13-month-old who has to touch absolutely everything!
Shortly after settling in, two of the lovely cabin crew came by with pre-departure drinks and the seat belt extension for the baby.
Unlike flights from Heathrow, which usually include sparking wine, the choices were only water and orange juice.
Paper menus were distributed a short time later.
We pushed back from the gate a few minutes late due to some missing passengers and subsequently their baggage needing to be offloaded.
The comical and well-done safety video played as we taxied.
The taxi time was a good 15 minutes, which I found to be a bit long for BWI.
One of the lovely cabin crew came by shortly after takeoff to set up the bassinet, which would allow us to have our arms free once the baby fell asleep to enjoy the meal and get a few solid hours of sleep.
The meal service began with drinks. We had sparkling wine as usual.
Luckily, the baby fell asleep before the meal was served so up he went into the bassinet, where he slept the entire flight.
The main meal is served on china with real silverware and glasses, clearly differentiated from Economy service. The main dish is similar to dishes served in Business class.
Teriyaki-glazed chicken, Jasmine Rice, Asian vegetables.
After the meal service I was able to sleep for most of the remainder of the flight. BA's World Traveller Plus seats are quite comfortable for sleeping with a very generous recline and full leg-rests in the front row, allowing for a comfortable cradle position.
I only woke up 50 minutes prior to landing, as lights were turned on for breakfast service.
Luckily, the lights did not wake the baby and he continued to sleep soundly right up until we needed to take him down for landing.
I love the multiple tint settings of the 787 windows, allowing you to look out the window in the early morning hours without blinding everyone in the cabin.
Some morning wing views with the windows partially tinted.
Unlike on the longer West Coast Transatlantic flights, like this LAX-LHR flight that I reviewed a few months ago, the short East Coast flights don't get a full hot breakfast.
Instead, much like the pizza on the flight over to BWI, we received a hot snack in a cardboard box.
Turkey bacon & cheese panini–similar to a large "hot pocket," for those who are familiar with that common US snack.
while it wasn't pretty, and in sharp contrast to the much more premium main meal, I appreciated that it was a hot snack. In my past experience, the breakfast on these shorter flights was just a muffin and yogurt.
We began our descent into Heathrow with a bit under a half hour to go.
The cabins were readied, all windows un-tinted, and cabin separators opened for landing.
We were able to make up a bit of our delay with only one quick loop in the holding pattern prior to landing. I'd often experienced 3 or 4 loops during the busy morning transatlantic arrival banks.
It was a beautiful clear day as we did our holding turn over the countryside northwest of London.
I'd purposely selected seats on the right side of the aircraft in hopes of getting some good city views on landing and I was not disappointed!
London City and its massive skyscrapers on the left and central London and the London Eye to the right.
Central London and Hyde Park
Simply amazing views of Tower Bridge and the City
Houses of parliament and the London Eye to the left and the massive "Shard" across the Thames from the City
The Tower of London is clearly visible to the right of Tower Bridge.
St. Paul's Cathedral and it's iconic dome is visible to the right
Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and the London Eye
Caught our shadow
Last time I'll see a South African Airways aircraft?
A Delta 767-400 taxiing
The iconic Heathrow ATC tower
It was crazy to think at that time in early march, that only a short time later, major airlines like Virgin Atlantic would find themselves on the brink of collapse with demand all but gone following worldwide lock-downs and border closures amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
Approaching T5 and the sea of Union Jack tails
A beautiful new BA A350-1000 equipped with the new Club Suites, which I look forward to trying one day.
We parked next to a 777-300ER at T5 Concourse C, the furthest out of the satellite concourses.
Deplaning is quick from the World Traveller Plus cabin as there are only 2 rows of Club World to pass on the way to door 2L.
We weren't in a rush at all, but figured we'd head directly to Terminal 3, from which our next flight would be departing, as there were some different lounge options there for us–a nice change from the T5 Galleries lounges with which we are very familiar.
So off to the main T5A Terminal we went to catch the bus to T3.
Having tried Premium Economy products on several carriers, I find BA's seats to be the best for sleeping, by far. The recline is very generous--maybe even too generous on day flights, but perfect for night flights. The legrests come up a decent amount, which also makes a big difference when put in the comfortable cradle position. And obviously, spacious 19" wide seats with additional space in the bulkhead row also made for a comfortable flight. The cabin is modern and each seat features multiple USB ports and a universal power outlet for device charging.
The catering is sufficiently premium and differentiated from Economy for the first service, but as I've said in the past, the pre-arrival meal could use some improvement. Nevertheless, I appreciate that hot pre-arrival option on such a short transatlantic flight, which was not the case in the past.
Cabin crew were lovely and attentive as always. We've been fortunate to have had so many positive experiences with British Airways and I continue to be a fan.