Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways Club Europe B737-400

21/05/2014

CHECK-IN

First, I went into the "manage my booking" section of ba.com and requested a vegetarian meal (you have to do this more than 24 hours in advance of your departure). I also filled in my advanced passenger information for BA Club Europe (short-haul business class) flight BA2666.

I had the option of changing my seat for a fee, but decided to wait until the free check-in window within 24 hours of departure. I was in a window seat (8A) but would have liked to sit nearer the front, but as it turned out there were no other free window seats when it came to being able to move for free. It wasn't a problem though. I proceeded to check in and print my boarding pass.

The following morning, I arrived at London Gatwick's South Terminal by train at 1200, taking the free shuttle to the North Terminal a few minutes away. I then took a lift up to the departure level, and entered the terminal, turning left to walk to the far end (Zone A) where BA's check-in and bag-drop was located. There were self-service kiosks for printing bag tags, and at first I didn't see the separate premium check-in area at the far end, so went ahead and printed out my own bag tag.

I then spotted the First/Club World/Club Europe desks and strolled over to them. They were sectioned off behind a barrier and not very clearly signposted. There were three members of staff on-hand and only a couple of people ahead of me so it didn't take more than a couple of minutes to drop my case off. (Club Europe passengers can check in two pieces up to 23kg each.)

I then entered the nearby fast-track security channel, where there were about eight people in front of me. Laptops and liquids needed to come out. I was airside by 1220.

THE LOUNGE

After nipping to a couple of shops for some last-minute essentials, I headed for the BA Terraces lounge a few minutes away, upstairs, at 1235. The spacious facility looked out on to the aircraft gates and runway, and had lots of seating throughout, though it was very busy on this Saturday lunchtime. There was free wifi (ask for the code on arrival), showers, free papers such as The Times, Daily Mail and The Wall Street Journal, and magazines including Business Traveller, Sphere and New Statesman.

There was a decent selection of food and drink, although I didn't have long to relax and enjoy it. I asked a waitress for a glass of champagne and she brought one to my seat by the window. There was a self-service salad station with coleslaw, lettuce, cold cuts, cheese and biscuits, along with another area with freshly made sandwiches laid out (egg mayo, hot smoked salmon, ham etc), plus bags of crisps and jars of nuts.

Fridges were well stocked with beer and mixers, and there were generous selections of spirits, wine and hot drinks. Announcements aren't made so you have to keep an eye on the screens to see the status of your flight.

BOARDING

Screens in the lounge showed that the 1325 BA flight to Marrackech would depart from Gate 45F but that passengers would need to get there 20 minutes before take-off as there would be transfer buses (“coaching”) to the plane. When I saw the gate flash up at 1250, I headed straight down there. The gate was about five minutes away and there was a crowded waiting area with a good amount of seats. Staff checked documentation before ushering people through.

There was some delay to boarding beginning, but the process eventually started at 1320. There was then a five-minute drive to the aircraft, which was parked on the tarmac away from the stands. Boarding was up a flight of steps to the front of the plane. I took to my seat and made myself comfortable. No refreshments were offered until after take-off.

THE SEAT

I was in 8A, the last row of the Club Europe cabin, which was separated from economy by a movable divide and a curtain across the aisle. The seats throughout this B737-400 are 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F), though business class seats are effectively 2-2 as the middle seats are kept free. On the left-hand side, the B seats were much narrower, with the armrests pushed close together in the middle and a much narrower tray table that folded down and out. E seats, on the hand were of normal dimensions allowing some passengers travelling as a couple to sit right next to each in E-F or D-E.

The exit rows (four doors over the wings) in the middle of the plane were 11 and 12. There was a row 13 (on some planes this is left out). The seats, which were upholstered in navy blue leather, look pretty tired, and dirty in the crevices. I enjoyed my view out of the window though, just above the engine and with a view back over the wing. Blankets and pillows were provided. There is no in-flight entertainment or power sockets.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Given that the E seats are wider, I would choose a Club Europe seat on the right-hand side of the plane, so D or F depending on your preference of window or aisle. I'd also sit as close to the front as possible, so as to be served food and drink first, and disembark before anyone else. Note that the plane starts from row one on the right and row two on the left, and if you are sitting here you will have to stow any belongings in the overhead lockers. Click here to see a seat plan.

THE FLIGHT

The pilot came on before take off to inform passengers that we were running 20 minutes behind schedule because of the late running of the Glasgow-Gatwick service. He also noticed that as we would be using the west-facing runway there would be a short taxi before take-off, and then a departure over Southampton at a cruising altitude of 33,00 ft. He added that there might be a "few lumps and bumps" for first 15-20 minutes but that the weather in RAK would be fine – a north-easterly breeze, scattered cloud and 26 degrees. The flight time was estimated to be three hours ten minutes.

Cabin crew gave a safety demo before taxiing at 1345, and the plane pushed back at 1350, taking off at 1400. Landing, said the pilot, would be expected be at 1715 local time. (There is no time difference.) Hot towels were handed around at 1415, followed by a slow drinks service that started from the front of the plane. At least it felt slow, because I was the last person to get served, at 1445.

Menus were passed around after the drinks (note that champagne is Monopole Heidsieck and Co Blue Top), which came with a bag of nuts.

The mains were of massaman chicken curry or four cheese ravioli with asparagus and four-cheese sauce. There was also a selection of warm bread rolls and dessert was of passionfruit cheesecake, followed by Coastal Cheddar and Cashel blue cheese served with fig relish. There was then a choice of tea (including herbals), coffee and hot chocolate.

I explained that although I had pre-ordered the special meal, I quite fancied the ravioli, and the very sweet, charming member of crew said it wasn't a problem, that there were still some left and I could have one. (On other airlines, I have been told I have to eat my special meal no matter what.) The pasta was tasty - very cheesy, in fact, and was decanted from its foil container into a white china dish. (My "special meal" tray came with fruit instead of the cheesecake.)

She also brought more wine around (I tried the cabernet sauvigon, which was pleasant) and champagne on request. Her male colleague was also very good.

ARRIVAL

The plane landed in Marrakech just ten minutes late at 1715. Once in the terminal, there was a 20-minute wait for passport control, but my suitcase was waiting for me on the other side.

VERDICT

A very good short-haul flight with excellent service from the crew, good updates from the pilot, and nice food and drink. The seats on the plane looked rather old though.

FACT FILE:

  • SEAT PITCH 34 inches
  • SEAT WIDTH 19 inches
  • SEAT RECLINE 6 inches
  • PRICE Internet rates for a midweek Club Europe flight in June ranged between £583 and £697 depending on flexibility.
  • CONTACT ba.com

Jenny Southan