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Old May 9, 17, 9:52 pm   #1
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To Cuba and Mexico with BA

Here's the link to the photos.

INTRODUCTION
My flight from Rome touches down in Heathrow at around 09h40 local time, which means I have about four hours to make the connection to Mexico City. Heathrowís Terminal 5 is busy as usual. Even so, the line for security moves quickly and efficiently.

LOUNGE
British Airways has two Club Class lounges in Terminal 5, at both ends of the main terminal. The north lounge is brighter but smaller than the south lounge. As runway 09R is the departing runway today, I decide to head for the south lounge, in the hope of finding a seat near the window with a view of the holding point.

Since my last visit a lot of the furniture appears to have been changed or replaced. I think theyíve also added more seating. Nonetheless, the lounge doesnít feel crowded. Alas, the toilets are still in dire need of a facelift. I think the basic problem is that there simply are not enough toilets to cater for the size of the lounge. But apart from that, the facilities are not properly maintained either. Half the locks donít work, some of the doors are damaged to the extent that the plywood is beginning to show, and the toilets are not too cleaned either.

The food options on the other hand, are very good and include a wide range of hot and cold dishes that change depending on the time of day.

BOARDING
About one hour prior to departure, my flight is showing up on the display. I shall be departing from the B concourse, which is in the satellite closest to the main terminal building. The transfer to the satellites is via an automated underground train that stops at both the B and C satellites.

Thereís still some time to go before boarding begins as I approach gate B37, so I take my time taking pictures and ogling the beautiful aircraft that will be taking me to Mexico this afternoon. I think at some point I even start droolingÖ By this time the wiry R. is eyeing me carefully and I think I can actually see the realisation dawn in his eyes of just how much of an airline geek I actually amÖ But bless him, he indulges me patiently while I enjoy my hobby... Obsession is just such an ugly word, I think.

CABIN & SEAT
When I made the booking for this trip I made sure I had a seat on the upper deck. After all, if youíre going to fly on the uncontested Queen of the skies, you have to sit in the hump, right? The nice thing about sitting on the upper deck is that even if the flight is full, it feels a lot more intimate and cosy that sitting downstairs in the much larger main cabin.

Every seating configuration and seat design on an aircraft will always be a compromise. Itís a trade-off between comfort, practicality and economics. On the one hand, I must confess I am full of admiration for BA for having come up with such a concept, which allows them to put in as many as eight seats abreast in the B 747 without the seat feeling cramped. I also think the seat is rather comfortable too.

But there are also quite a few downsides. The aisle seats have next to no storage space. There is one fairly small drawer in the side of the seat. But this is near the floor, which means that once you extend the seat into a bed, the seat itself prevents access to the drawer.

And then there is also the fact that if youíre sitting on the window seat, you have to climb over the passenger on the aisle seat to get out. Obviously people donít tend to move around that much aboard a plane, but in times where Air France, KLM or Finnair are upping their game with the introduction of direct access for all passengers in Business Class with a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, BAís hardware is slowly starting to fall behind.

SERVICE & CREW
There are three lovely middle-aged ladies working the upper deck cabin. They are friendly and quite charming in the way they deal with the passengers. And I think one of them is trying to get me drunk.

The service on the ground starts with a choice of orange juice, water or champagne for a welcome drink. Next, hot towels, amenity kits and the menus are handed out.

THE MEAL
The meal service starts very soon after take-off. Generally speaking, I think the timing of the food service is something British Airways does really well. First of all, because they get the service started fairly soon after take-off, and secondly because the service doesnít take too long to complete. As a result, passengers can maximise on rest during the flight.

To start I have a glass of the rosť champagne, the name of which I canít remember. Admittedly itís not as smooth as the stuff I had in the Etihad apartment a few weeks ago, but itís still rather a pleasant champagne. With that I have a glass of sparkling water, served with ice and lemon, and a packet of cashew nuts.

There are two options for the starter. I decide to go with the crayfish with bergamot gel and fennel salad. The dish is served on a tray and is accompanied by a nice side salad with mixed greens and beans and a balsamico dressing.

The starter is very good. The bergamot gel is spectacular and goes exceptionally well with the crayfish. The presentation is nice too.

For the main course there are four choices. I have the beef with chantenay carrots, Lyonnaise potatoes, buttered savoy cabbage and a sherry and peppercorn sauce. The beef is nice and tender and cooked well done, which is the way I like it.

And then, finally, for dessert I have the duo of chocolate and salted caramel fondant and the lemon and almond tart, which is served with a dollop of whipped cream. Especially the fondant is lovely and tastes really good with a glass of port.

Two hours and ten minutes after take-off, the meal service has been completed and Iím sipping a mug of Twiningís Early Grey.

INFLIGHT SNACK
British Airways has an inflight snack bar located on the main deck. The selection is fairly good. I try the finger sandwiches, which are very tasty.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Ninety minutes out of Mexico City the lights are turned on again and the second service starts. There are two choices for the starter and four choices for the main. I figure Iíll go vegetarian this time round and start with the salad of brown rice, followed by the pasta with a grilled vegetable sauce. For dessert there is a plate of fruit with guava juice.

The second service is quite extensive. The starter is very good and refreshing, while the main course is just okay. I think it all comes down to the problem of warming pasta in a hot air oven.

ARRIVAL
We land in Mexico City about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is a strange mix of old and new. With the exception of Aeromexico, all carriers operate out of Terminal 1, which is old and tatty and smelly.

As I look out I notice that the KLM, Air France, Iberia and Lufthansa flights have already arrived and for one horrible moment I assume this means very long queues at immigration. But in fact entering the country turns out to be really no problem at all.

CONCLUSION
I very much enjoyed this flight with BA. I think their service is excellent, with friendly and chatty crews. The food offerings were quite good and especially the second service was a lot more elaborate than what you get on many other carriers. The only thing I wonder about is the seat and cabin layout, which is starting to look dated, even though the aircraft looked very well maintained. In any case, I like BA and I would certainly fly them on long-haul again any time.
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Old May 10, 17, 4:04 am   #2
  
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Nice report and pics and great to see a positive report on BA's CW service. The food looks not too bad (although I always avoid steak because they cook it WAY too much for me). Looking forward to reading about your return trip!
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Old May 10, 17, 10:12 pm   #3
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Part II: Aeromexico Business Class to Cuba

Here's the link to the photos.

INTRODUCTION
Mexico City airport has two terminals. Terminal 1 is the old grotty place that is used by all airlines with the exception of Aeromexico. Terminal 1 is old and there is hardly enough space for all the passengers, given that the major European carriers all operate to Mexico City using B 747s and even the A 380.

Terminal 2 is a much nicer getup and reserved exclusively for use by Aeromexico. The design of the building is really cool, with very high ceilings and a lot of space for passengers to move around. The NH Collection Hotel is located on the sixth floor of Terminal 2 and from the rooms you have some excellent views of the arriving and departing traffic. Terminals 1 and 2 are connected by the Aertrain, which runs on some days but not on others.

CHECK-IN
In Terminal 2 Aeromexico has a dedicated set of counters for SkyTeam priority passengers and there are many counters open. Check-in is swift and there is even a dedicated lane for security for priority passengers. There is no immigration as such, however, as you board the aircracft the gate agent will collect the embarkation card you completed before entering Mexico. And if you no longer have the card, expect to pay a hefty fine.

LOUNGE
The lounge is located right above the security checkpoint. Itís a fairly small place for the amount of passengers it serves and there are only few places left to sit when I get there. What I like about the lounge is that there are waiters on duty that will bring you drinks and from which you can order food. The wifi also works very well inside the lounge.

BOARDING
Boarding in Mexico City is by zones and priority passengers are invited to queue in zone 1, which is boarded first. As I head down the ramp into the airbridge I even manage to take a picture of my chariot today!

CABIN & SEAT
The aircraft operating the flight today must be fairly new. For one, as I step aboard I notice it has the new sky interior with the type of luggage bins that folds down to open. I donít know how much more capacity these bins have, but the cabin certainly looks and feels a lot more spacious and roomy, which I have always found the B 737ís weak point when compared to the wider A 320 family. I know the A 320 cabin is only 19 cm wider than that of the B 737, but I think you do notice the difference.

The seat is very comfortable and looks very similar to the ones Garuda and Malaysian have on their B 737s. There are four seats abreast in Business Class and there are four rows in the premium cabin, although only eight of 16 seats are occupied on todayís flight. Other than that, the seat has power ports and video screens. Earphones are distributed at the beginning of the flight.

SERVICE & CREW
There is one young lady working the Business Class cabin, who seems rather serious to begin with. However, later on during the flight her interaction with the passengers is friendly and very helpful.

The service starts on the ground with a welcome drink. There is a choice of water or orange juice.

THE MEAL
Uhm, yeah. About that. The meal is really quite disgusting. Iím not even sure if it was intended to be a late breakfast or brunch, or something else. Or a randomly put together tray of inedible stuff. It consists of a warm croissant served with melted cheese and a Ďmeat itemÖí and mustard. In addition, there is a large green salad with a balsamic dressing and a pre-packaged tub of milk rice.

And itís really bad. The croissant is so greasy you can see the oil oozing out of it when you press gently on the top of it and the milk rice has the most artificial flavour Iíve ever come across and which, upon further inspection, turns out to be cinnamon. You could have fooled me Iím telling you!

ARRIVAL
The approach into Cuba is rather nice, as you fly along the coast until you hit the airport. Immigration in Cuba however is not so nice. When I arrive the place is crawling with people and the queues are only moving very slowly.

When eventually I reach the head of the queue, thatís when the problems start. First of all, the immigration officers find it strange that my nationality is not identical with my place of residence. Once thatís dealt with they have a problem matching the photo they take of me with the one they scan off my passport. So eventually, it takes me close to two hours to enter the country.
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Old May 12, 17, 9:26 pm   #4
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Part III: Aeromexico from Cuba to Mexico City

Here's the link to the photos.

INTRODUCTION
Cuba was an interesting experience and in its heyday Havana must have been a very beautiful city. But Iím now ready to leave again and quite frankly, this is a place I think I shall not be returning to.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Mexico City will be departing at 15h10. So at around 12h30 we grab a taxi from the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel on the main square to take us to the airport. The journey takes pretty much thirty minutes to complete and costs CUC30, which seems to be a set price for the journey.

CHECK-IN
Aeromexico operates from Terminal 3 at Havana airport, although Iím not quite sure how many terminals there are exactly, given that there is only one terminal building designed and constructed in that strangely bizarre but freakishly stylish Soviet style from the early eighties.

There are two counters open for check-in. Unfortunately, it only dawns on my friend, the wiry R., when we reach the head of the queue that heís forgotten his passport in the safe in the hotel. And there are two hours left before departure. So he dashes off to grab a taxi and tells me heíll see me later. Or maybe not.

In theory, I think it might have worked for him to make the flight if heíd checked in online in advance. But alas, the mighty airline Gods had other designs for the young man, and eventually check-in for the flight closes thirty minutes before departure without the wiry R.ís name on the passenger manifest.

LOUNGE
There is a lounge which goes by the name of the ĎElegante VIP Loungeí and I suspect they werenít even trying to be ironic about it. In any case, Aeromexico does not have a contract in place with the lounge and so I have to stand around in the crowded terminal with the rest of the riff raff.

BOARDING
The boarding process is interesting. The departure board states that the flight will be boarding from gate 13. Only thatís where I can see a KLM Airbus A 330 parked outside on the ramp, which, incidentally, should have been boarding from gate 11 according to the departure screen. The Aeromexico aircraft is parked in front of gate 08, although there is nothing to indicate that this is the right gate and the screen above the gate is showing a blank.

CABIN & SEAT
I am seated on 1A, as on the inbound flight. Iím not quite sure if the cabin was cleaned at all or if it was just not cleaned very well. In any case, there is litter all over the place.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew on this flight seem distracted and not particularly interested. For some reason no less than three different crew members pass by offering me a landing card for Mexico. How many of these bloody things do they think I need anyway?

The flight attendant working the Business Class cabin is obviously suffering from a serious case of short-term memory loss because no matter how many times the non-Spanish passengers tell her that sorry, they donít understand, she insists on addressing everyone in Spanish and then apologises for not realising they didnít speak Spanish. Itís a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog dayÖ

Welcome drinks are served before departure, but there is no towel service on this flight.

THE MEAL
The meal service takes a while to get started. I quickly go to the toilet and as I pass the galley I realise the service hasnít started because the flight attendant is busy demolishing her own lunch with gusto. When eventually the service begins, the flight attendant takes out a tray from the trolley with small ramekins of nut. But somehow she canít be arsed to do a drinks run before the main meal service. So she places the tray back inside the trolley and starts distributing the trays with the meal instead.

Hey, guess what, itís exactly the same crap they served on the previous flight. Although clearly there have been a few extravagant upgrades and the green salad now also includes two pieces of zucchini while the grease blob otherwise known as a croissant now also comes with a grilled tomato. The flight attendant is already about the saunter off when I call her back and tell her I think Iíd rather have the ramekin with the nuts, thanks very muchÖ

ARRIVAL
The approach into Mexico is quite spectacular because it makes you realise just how large and sprawling the city is.

I shall be spending the night at the Marriott Courtyard in Terminal 1. The hotel has a small office in the arrivals hall in Terminal 2. You can check-in there and they will organise a complimentary shuttle to the hotel for you.

Eventually the wiry R. manages to reach the hotel just before midnight, travelling on an Interjet flight from Havana which was scheduled for 19h45 but then had an hourís delay.

CONCLUSION
I really canít say I liked Aeromexico much. Sure, the wide seat is nice on a narrowbody. But the food is nothing short of plain disgusting and the crew on this second flight was obviously not feeling it.
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Old May 14, 17, 9:54 pm   #5
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Part IV: Aeromexico Connect: Queretaro to Mexico City

Here's the link to the photos.

INTRODUCTION
Queretaro Airport is about 35km from the old town and the journey there can take you anything between thirty minutes and two hours, depending on traffic. Fortunately for me, itís Saturday morning and although there is quite some traffic around, itís still rather harmless.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The hotel orders an Uber car to pick me up at the hotel at 11h15. As far as I know, there is no public transport out to the airport. The journey by Uber costs 250 pesos.

CHECK-IN
Queretaro airport has a dinky little terminal that is obviously way too small to handle all the traffic the airport gets. From what I can tell, the terminal is currently in the process of expansion and renovation.

The gate agent informs me when I check in that there will be a delay to our flight of roughly 45 minutes, which has the wiry R. complaining about not wanting to sit inside the terminal when itís such a lovely day out. I think he just wants a smoke. And so we decide to park ourselves in the shade outside the terminal until itís time for us to go through security.

LOUNGE
There is a lounge but apparently itís not open for passengers of any of the airlines operating into Queretaro unless they are Priority Pass members.

BOARDING
Boarding starts with a delay of 45 minutes. The gate agent comes on the speaker to make an announcement about the flight, but the volume of the mike is so loud that nobody can understand a word of what heís saying. Whatever. Luckily for me, there are no contact stands at Queretaro, so weíre going to have to walk across the apron in the sun.

CABIN & SEAT
The cabin is in an Economy Class only layout and contrary to my expectations, the seat pitch is rather good and comfortable. Iím sitting on row 16, which is nice because itís not very often I get to sit behind the wing and can watch the control surfaces moving.

SERVICE & CREW
The crew seem friendly enough, although they refuse to speak anything other than Spanish. But they obviously take safety very seriously on this flight, which is the main thing.

THE MEAL
I really havenít been too lucky with the meal services on Aeromexico and this flight is no exception. Despite the fact that the flight from Queretaro to Mexico City is only thirty minutes long, Aeromexico still do a full drinks service and also distribute packets of nuts. But alas, by the time we start out initial descent, they have only reached row 12. And so the service is abruptly ended and the trolley stowed away. I donít think I mind not being given anything to eat or drink, but I must say I do find it a bit strange, to say the least, that the crew canít even be bothered to make an announcement to apologize.

ARRIVAL
And so, very quickly weíre already coming in over the vastness of Mexico City, where the smog is lying thick above the ground as usual.

GETTING TO TERMINAL 1
Aeromexico uses Terminal 2 in Mexico City. Despite the delay arriving in Mexico City, I still have layover of another six hours before my connection departs from Terminal 1. So Iíve booked myself into the Marriott Courtyard, which is connected via footbridge to Terminal 1. The nice thing about the Courtyard is that there is a complimentary shuttle from Terminal 2.
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Old May 14, 17, 10:04 pm   #6
  
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I don't like those seats. One gets the super private window seat and one rides in reverse.

This might be a dumb question... as you fly there the nose is slightly up so if your seat is facing forward, all good I say. However if you are flying backwards do you notice anything different?

Thanks for the great trip report.
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Old May 17, 17, 10:00 am   #7
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Part V: British Airways Club Class to Heathrow

Here's the link to the photos.

INTRODUCTION
This has been one of the most tiring trips I have made in a very long time, so Iím rather glad itís finally over and I am on my way home again. Although I must say that travelling with the wiry R. has been rather fun and really easy going.

CHECK-IN
My flight back to Heathrow will depart at 21h40. Just after 20h I check out of the hotel and make my way across the footbridge to Terminal 1. Signage inside the terminal is really bad, verging on non-existent, and eventually we find the check-in counters more by chance than by design.

British Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters in area F of the terminal. From check-in you have to walk back quite a bit to area G, which is where the security checkpoint is.

Generally speaking, the impression I get of Terminal 1 is of an old and tatty facility that has grown organically and without order and method. Apart form the bad signage the building has very low ceilings and was obviously designed by somebody who is either blind as a bat, has absolutely zero taste or who has no aesthetic appreciation whatsoever. Itís an incredibly ugly airport!

LOUNGE
Of course we walk straight past the Iberia lounge the first time because there are no signs here eitherÖ To access the lounge you have to head up two flights of stairs. The lounge is rather nice though and looks as though it was only recently opened or refurbished. With the Iberia flight to Madrid leaving around the same time as ours to London itís quite full and there are only few places left to sit. We only have about ten minutes in the lounge, enough to have a drink, before itís time to head back downstairs and to the gate for boarding.

BOARDING
Boarding planes is something the Mexicans do really well. There are separate lanes for First and Club Class passengers and another queue for the working classes. Boarding starts forty minutes before departure. By this time Iím so exhausted I head straight up the airbridge and then for the upper deck so I can sit down and start dozing.

CABIN & SEAT
On this leg Iím sitting on 62K, which is the window seat on the emergency exit of the upper deck. And quite frankly, I think this must be the best seat in the house. First of all, being a window seat you have a lot of additional storage space Ė which the aisle seat is lacking. More importantly though, itís one of only two seats Ė the other is 62A Ė that gives you access to the aisle without having to climb over your neighbour on the aisle seat.

CREW & SERVICE
The crew on the upper deck consists of two elderly gentlemen that are very friendly and laid back. The service follows the same sequence as the outbound flight, with wash bags, menus and welcome drinks being offered in sequence.

By this time though, Iím simply too exhausted. I feel stupidly tired in fact. While weíre still on the ground I change into my shorts to reveal my hunky hairy legs and even studlier Happy Socks for the benefit and pleasure of all of humaity. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off I extend the seat into a bed and awake over six hours later, just due west of the Irish coast and with three hours left to go to London.

THE MEAL
So I actually miss the first meal service. And to be honest, in hindsight I think I wish Iíd missed the breakfast too. Yuk, this really is the most disgusting meal Iíve ever had on a plane. How on earth can you manage to totally ruin RŲsti? Have they got a salt shortage in Mexico or something? But itís not just that, the scrambled eggs taste last lumpy bits of plastic and the pink little sausage is disconcertingly reminiscent of aÖ Still, at least the baked buns and the yoghurt are edible.

ARRIVAL
Around forty minutes out of Heathrow the Jumboís nose gently tilts down and we start our descent. Itís a lovely day in London for flying and we are treated to some really spectacular views of central London. We approach the city from the west, flying an easterly track just south of the city. We turn on to the approach abeam of London city airport, which has already reopened after the weekend by the looks of it. And then from there we fly along the Thames, before eventually gliding down to runway 27L. Iím home again.

CONCLUSION
In my opinion there really is no other aircraft that can rival the Boeing B 747. I know the Airbus A 380 is much larger, heavier and what not. But the 747 simply has style. Alas, the type is very quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more aircraft are choosing to replace their existing 747 fleets either with the Boeing 777 or the larger A 380. So Iím kind of left wondering if perhaps this may have been my last flight on the Queen of the skies. I hope not!
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Old May 17, 17, 10:01 am   #8
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Hi Annalisa

You don't feel any difference as long as you have the window blinds down. But with the shades up I kept getting confused about where I was because I kept thinking I was going the other way...
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