Lyon - London (Heathrow)
Euro Traveller (economy)
- superb tea
- oneworld (including Qantas) miles)
- serious errors by check-in staff
- priority bag tags didn't work
- extra business class leg room trick
With several options to get from Lyon (France's second city and an economic powerhouse) to London, I picked the direct British Airways flight to Heathrow over the direct easyJet flight to Gatwick or connecting via Air France or other European airlines.
This is the same type of flight that Qantas Premium Economy or Economy passengers connecting through London on BA will experience.
In Economy, the cost for the 1h10 minute flight was €9 (A$12) between BA and easyJet, and I had luggage, so BA actually came out cheaper. Plus, I'd earn a few frequent flyer miles via the oneworld alliance.
While I'm normally a fan of business class, the "Eurobusiness" style of convertible seating (where three economy seats with a few inches extra legroom are sold as two business class seats) doesn't really draw me in.
With oneworld Sapphire frequent flyer membership (and a card from the Priority Pass lounge network) giving me access to business class lounges, and armed with our article on how to score those extra-legroom Eurobusiness seats when flying Economy, I decided that I would save the $956 and travel Economy.
Yes, you read that right. €711, or A$956 (on a one way ticket for a 1h10 flight, bought a week in advance) for Club Europe, which is BA's European business class -- which buys you (a) nobody sitting next to you, (b) a few extra status credits, (c) a chicken salad, (d) the addition of mediocre Heidsieck Monopole champagne to the drinks menu, (e) departure lounge access and (f) priority baggage handling.
Worth a grand? You decide.
Since British Airways only lets you check in prior to the T-24 (24 hours before departure) time if you're a oneworld Sapphire (Qantas Gold equivalent) or higher, I made sure that my frequent flyer number was in BA's system and chose my seat when I booked. Otherwise, you can pay a fee of, if memory serves, around €11 to choose a seat.
Since I wrote our guide to picking the best seats in Eurobusiness I chose 4F, which was the first row of Economy on this British Airways A319.
(As that guide says, Club Europe can stretch as far back as row 9, so rows 1-9 all have 34 inches of leg room, compared with the 31 inches at the back of the bus.)
With my seat pre-assigned, I checked in online 24 hours beforehand. Since I didn't have a printer, and I was travelling with hold luggage, I planned to head to a desk at the airport anyway, so I didn't worry about printing my boarding pass.
If you're a fan of self check-in kiosks, be advised that the BA ones in Lyon are around the corner from the BA check-in desks (to the left as you walk through the doors into the terminal). Very few passengers seemed to be aware of these, and the queue for check-in was quite long.
After waiting for about five minutes in the business class queue (owing to my oneworld frequent flyer status) I was checked in, although it's a good job I spoke French -- the agent's English was a little ropey. She did issue me priority luggage tags (which isn't strictly a oneworld frequent flyer benefit, although I've been granted it before).
(Irritatingly, my priority-tagged luggage didn't come out before other luggage at Heathrow -- and I wasn't alone in this. What's the use of organising priority luggage if it doesn't work?)
Incredibly frustratingly, the agent didn't tell me that the lounge BA uses is before security and passport control, not afterwards. Even worse, France is one of the countries where you can't re-enter from departures after you have officially left the country through passport control, even if you offer to be re-screened again.
Frankly, that was an inexcusable error, especially since I was obviously a partner airline frequent flyer and therefore likely to be unfamiliar with the airport.
I ended up sitting at the dreary departures gate with no wifi for an hour, and there was absolutely nobody from British Airways' contract ground staff to complain to. If I had indeed paid the $956 for a one-way business class ticket where lounge access is a major part of the offer, I would have been livid.
Instead, I got a superb pain au chocolat and a bad café au lait from the Caffe Ritazza kiosk and tweeted in irritation. (To their credit, BA's Twitter people did apologise, but only two hours later after I'd arrived in London.)
At 1h10 minutes, this was a short flight. The plane was about 90 percent full, and everyone was on board 20 minutes early. Fortunately, air traffic control let us depart early, so we were well ahead of schedule even with a slight delay on arrival at Heathrow.
Apart from the check-in agent who didn't tell me about the lounge location, the other part of the flight that really fell down was baggage reclaim at BA's headquarters in Terminal 5.
It took 35 minutes for baggage to start to come through, which was unacceptably slow anyway, and the priority tagging system didn't get my bag out before people without priority tags.
With 34 inches of seat pitch (the space between my seat back and the one in front, which is "my space" during the flight), I was pretty comfortable on this short flight -- which is why I picked my seat carefully.
The recline felt like about two inches more than normal economy.
On the downside, the leather was ripped and torn, with several visible rips on the seatback pocket in several places inside and out. I checked, and this plane is eleven years old -- and the seats look it.
The seatback pocket contained BA's High Life in-flight magazine, its business class-specific Business Life, a glossy inflight shopping mag and a safety card.
In Economy on a flight of this length (just over an hour), you get a single trolley service of alcoholic or soft drinks, and coffee or tea. You also get the choice of a small packet of potato crisps or a biscuit. Average for European economy.
Due praise must go to the tea, though. My family originates in Yorkshire, where tea isn't brewed properly if you can see the bottom of the cup, and this was superbly strong tea. Trust British Airways' British staff to get that right -- but one point down for only having long-life UHT milk rather than the fresh stuff.
Entertainment & Service
Overhead 8-inch LCD screens showed the safety briefing and the moving map, but that's it. You also get the aforementioned magazines (though I doubt economy passengers behind row 9 get Business Life), but other than that, bring something to read, listen to or play with.
The service on this flight was remarkably mixed. The purser (in charge of the cabin service, and who mainly stayed in Club Europe) was noticeably disinterested and couldn't-care-less. Her attitude was so unusually grumpy for BA crew, who I usually find chirpy and cheerful. She didn't crack a smile until she was serving drinks to the Club passengers in the three rows ahead of me.
It reminded me of flying BA during the BASSA union strikes last year -- or of comedian Pam Ann's "Mona" character, if that means anything to you. (If it doesn't, try Googling it somewhere that doesn't mind swearing.)
The two other crew, who looked after Economy, were superb, however -- solicitous, friendly and happy to hand out an extra can of diet coke.
As an Economy experience, this was an great flight with unacceptable ground service on both ends. When you spend half as much time waiting for your priority-tagged luggage as you spend in the air, that's a bad sign. It's a shame, because BA's long-haul Club World product wasn't half bad.
Being in the know about how Eurobusiness works really helped, especially on a mostly full flight like this one.
I'm glad I didn't fork out nearly a grand for business class, though.
You'll note how business class and the economy row behind it are separated by only a curtain.
On a short flight like this, which cost me €99 (A$133), it simply isn't worth it -- especially with the status to get into the lounge anyway. Buy a sandwich in the airport to replace the business class meal and you're ahead of the game.
Consider that the next time you're figuring out your itinerary to Europe via Heathrow.