Wednesday, 30 July 2008

London to Newcastle – British Airways

Entering the terminal and heading for the rapid transit, the sequence on departure was merely reversed – although we had yet to receive the developing wisdom that lift beats escalator in all things T5. That said, the plunge below ground, from cabin level past radar cones and nosewheels is still quite a novel experience and it’s to the designer’s credit that their work allows passengers who are interested to enjoy it. In fact, I’m fairly shocked that Elfin Safe Tea didn’t come up with a totally pointless way of screening it, just out of badness.

Zipping back to T5 took just a minute, with a 90 second initial wait for a transit vehicle.

We then had to suffer the re-entry process that is only slightly less convoluted than the Space Shuttle’s – going through the three separate check points to clear immigration. Thankfully, there were practically no queues, so it felt more like a stutter than just ‘flowing through.’ That staccato progress was as nothing compared to the sheer unfettered joy of watching Messrs Heath Robinson & Co., Inc.’s patented panoply of circulating silliness. Never have I seen more people standing around unjamming a contraption that could be replaced in its entirety by a fraction of them – whilst simultaneously barking at the hapless souls who are forced to give up their worldly goods to the mangler which is providing these people with their wholly unrequired employment. Welcome to Great Britain.

More in good hope than expectation, we found a Fast Mangling queue and braved the alternately flying/jamming buckets to pass through to the mezzanine over the retail ravine below. Feeling invincible from our Indiana Jones-like security barrel rolls to get this far, we ignored the spears and cannonballs of the combined efforts of a thousand store design, advertising and visual merchandising agencies and made it unscathed to the portals of British Airways' Galleries North lounges.

Whilst the dragons did not look like they were having the best day of their working lives, they at least were fully up-to-speed with the Business-to-Domestic access rules and we were accepted in without let or hindrance.

Passing the food and media presentations, we headed left and towards the Western end of the lounge complex to find some space. The lounge was busy, though not packed, and I’d expect it to be representative of the level of use that will prevail when the final flight moves are balanced by the opening of the lounge in the T5B satellite later in 2008.

Feeling the need to freshen up, I stood up and walked over to the Reception desk. The lady manning (ladying?) the post was doing some paperwork, head down. No awareness of my presence. ‘Hello?’ says I. ‘Shower?’ she says, without moving her head even marginally. ‘I’m just checking if there are any free’. ‘There are,’ she says, finally looking up. I tell her I’ll just be a moment while I get my bag.

Thirty seconds later and I am back. She must hear my bag rolling this time but still the head stays down. ‘Shower?’ she says, scribbling. I’m sorry, but I said ‘Well, if you looked up you’d see that it’s me again.....’ She does, and with an ‘OK’ gives me a number of a shower suite to use.

However, when I open the door and immediately see the first of the problems - an already very worn floor.

I think I do rather well to avoid emerging less clean than I entered, although for a large portion of my time in the invert tardis I can hear in full the conversations of the ‘cleaners’ outside, including those which relate to me and my presence (the temerity of it) in one of the suites. Unusually perhaps, this is one time when I do not wish British Airways staff to use my name.

The whole experience is really quite unpleasant and not a patch on the facilities at other, older, airports around the World – my favourite being the simple but wonderful shower/wetrooms at The Pier Lounge in Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok.

I make my way back to the lounge to meet FCC, who has just tried to go to the loo. He reports that only a few of the toilet ‘rooms’ are operational, with variously faulty doors, locks and plumbing.

The final chapter of the trip opens with an eye on the departure screen and in advance of it advising that the Newcastle flight is boarding, we make our way out and downstairs to the gate. I bump into a couple of folks I know returning from various far-flung points of the globe, before the boarding free-for-all begins and we skip down the jetty to take our 1ABC seats on the Airbus A321 home.

Pushback is only a little behind time and, though it is not as new as the outbound equipment was, the aircraft is clean and well presented. This one does have overhead screens in operation for the briefing and we head out into the queue for take-off, which gives us a glimpse of the forlorn, tailless hull of G-YMMM – forever to be known as the BA38 that didn’t quite make it from Beijing – from around the corner of the hangar it hides behind. A bit sobering.

We route North West over Birmingham as the afternoon service of the pre-packed super-chilled sandwich combo is offered and then, in clear skies with Blackpool Tower clearly visible on the coast, we bank East for our approach into Woolsington. Landing on Runway 25, it’s the short taxi on to the British Airways stand (Newcastle's terminal building is at one end of the runway, so it’s either the ‘short’ taxi or the loooooooooooong one!) and the jetty is connected quickly.

Less quick is baggage reclaim but, after what seems like an age, all three bags pop out with significant separation and their 6 flight odyssey concludes without a single loss, misconnect or damage. The 'TSA' flags are up on the locks of two of them however, so clearly Uncle Sam has had a rummage.

Outside, in the chilled Northern air of a June tea time, a silver Chrysler 300C is waiting for us – the final bit of Americana on our adventure across the pond.

Verdict for British Airways UK Domestic: 9/10 for this sector, but T5 Galleries North Showers are a dismal 1/10, I'm afraid.

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