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Old Aug 23, 09, 11:17 am   #1
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Arrow Singapore in Style - A Tale of Two Skybeds (inc A380)

Welcome to another of my trip reports! A few months ago, British Airways did something it had never done before by offering two for the price of one Club World tickets. I had always wanted to travel to Asia, and Singapore was a city-state that I had been interested in visiting for some time. With the additional advantage of the Singapore route offering the chance to fly on the codeshare Qantas A380, SIN was chosen as this year's holiday destination and the tickets were booked for the rather spectacular price of a little over 2300.

We had originally booked QF32 to Singapore and BA12 back home. However, due to what BA terms 'unforeseen circumstances' (and what I term 'a damn nuisance'), our return flight plans changed at the last minute. Thus, this trip report will take the form of several sections;


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Old Aug 23, 09, 3:40 pm   #2
 
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Looking forward to it!
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Old Aug 23, 09, 6:16 pm   #3
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It's been 7 hours!

Tease!!!

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Old Aug 23, 09, 6:57 pm   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gleff
It's been 7 hours!

Tease!!!

+1
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Old Aug 23, 09, 11:48 pm   #5
 
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sounds exciting!
look forward to it as well

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Old Aug 24, 09, 11:12 am   #6
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Part 1: Journey to London & Hilton London Heathrow

Living in the South West of England usually entails having to travel up to London the night before a flight from Heathrow in order to be comfortable, and today was no exception. I had booked First Class tickets on First Great Western (FGW) from our local station to Paddington, followed by First Class tickets on the Heathrow Express (HEx). At least one of the Heathrow airlines usually has a promotion with HEx, whereby if you go to their website, you can book heavily discounted First Class tickets by being creative when the system asks for your airline booking reference. Normally, I couldn't justify spending the extra for First Class on the HEx, as the only real benefits are a slightly bigger seat with table and a free newspaper. However, this month Virgin Atlantic were offering a complimentary return First Class upgrade together with 15% off the Standard Class fare, so it was pretty clear what had to be done!

The train journey up to London typified why First Great Western is dubbed Worst Late Western by so many regular commuters. A delay of 20 minutes or so was to be expected (after all, this is the British rail system we're talking about), but onboard was completely packed. After politely turfing a couple out of our reserved seats and piling our luggage on the seat across the aisle (due to a complete lack of storage space), the journey actually flew by. The First Class seats on FGW are fairly wide and comfortable, but the service is non-existent at weekends when the weekday trolley service is removed and is replaced by nothing, unless you count a choice of one type of biscuit and one hot drink from the buffet car as an adequate replacement. Later on in the journey it was announced over the PA that all food and hot drinks had run out (both complimentary and paid-for), leaving a choice largely consisting of water or water. The couple who had been in our seats were now sitting opposite us, and we had a bit of a laugh about this and a good chat about the various holidays we had been on and my life at university in London.

We arrived into Paddington some 30 minutes late, and just made the connection to the HEx on the next door platform, eliminating the need for a 15 minute wait. The carriage at the end of the HEx was a haven of peace and tranquility after the hot and stuffy atmosphere of the packed FGW train. Within 15 minutes we had arrived at Heathrow Central (for T1, 2 and 3). Since T5 was built, the HEx doesn't serve T4, where BA and Qantas codeshare flights to BKK, SIN and SYD (as well as Qantas flights to HKG and MEL) will continue to operate from until they transfer to T3 in late October to join the rest of the oneworld alliance there. We crossed platforms at Heathrow Central to catch the Heathrow Connect (a slower train service from Paddington which stops along the route to T4). One stop, and about 3 minutes later, and we had arrived at T4.

The Hilton has the advantage of being connected directly to T4 by a covered walkway, and so after taking the lift to Departures, we started the 5 minute walk from check-in to the hotel. I guess the Hilton has suffered a significant drop in bookings since T5 opened, as far fewer flights now operate from T4. Perhaps because of this, I had managed to secure a great price of 99 including breakfast for this one night stopover. After a speedy check-in in the bright and airy atrium, we settled into our room on the third floor, which featured a fantastic view of the back of the infamous Victor Pier. I had asked when booking for a view over the airport if possible, and was rewarded with a partial view of the end of runway 27L and the front of T4. Our room was the standard Hilton offering, nothing special but certainly more comfortable than any Holiday Inn. I did expect a little more of the bathroom, however, as it was particularly characterless.


Twin Room


Desk area


T4 viewed from the room


End of 27L and an El Al tail


Victor Pier behind the connecting walkway to T4

The design of the Hilton Heathrow may not appeal to all, as half of the rooms overlook the atrium. Modern in design, the open-plan restaurants and bars do not afford much privacy to these rooms, despite the attempts at blacking out the windows. We ate at the vastly over-priced casual restaurant, and although the food and service was adequate, it was certainly nothing to write home about. The open-plan design does not afford much ambiance, and I would recommend anyone else with a little bit of time on their hands and who's not bothered about a 5 minute walk, to dine at one of the landside restaurants in the terminal.


Atrium viewed from lift landing


Restaurant area

One point which is always worth analysing in a hotel is the comfort of the beds, and I'm pleased to report that the Hilton beds were very comfy indeed. I had set the alarm for quite early the next morning to allow plenty of time for breakfast, which took the form of a buffet with part waiter service. There was quite a variety of items on offer, and the staff were pleasant and helpful. We checked out of the Hilton at around 8am using the express check-out card posted under our door during the night, and headed off along the walkway with excitement building for my first flight on the A380.


Sunrise over T4

Next: Heathrow to Singapore Aboard the Qantas A380 in Business
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Old Aug 25, 09, 11:58 am   #7
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Come on, it's been over 24 hours now!!
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Old Aug 25, 09, 3:26 pm   #8
 
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genius1 you really are a tease. Please don't be a typical student and leave the rest of the report to the deadline you set.
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Old Aug 25, 09, 5:22 pm   #9
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more... more... we want more...

Nice pics...
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Old Aug 25, 09, 9:32 pm   #10
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Genius1 View Post
Welcome to another of my trip reports! A few months ago, British Airways did something it had never done before by offering two for the price of one Club World tickets. I had always wanted to travel to Asia, and Singapore was a city-state that I had been interested in visiting for some time. With the additional advantage of the Singapore route offering the chance to fly on the codeshare Qantas A380, SIN was chosen as this year's holiday destination and the tickets were booked for the rather spectacular price of a little over 2300.


for BOTH tickets?
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Old Aug 25, 09, 10:58 pm   #11
 
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Keep it coming!
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Old Aug 26, 09, 4:25 am   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by meester69 View Post
for BOTH tickets?
Yep! 2342 to be precise - two business class tickets return to Singapore. BA already had a 'normal' business class sale, where prices were vastly reduced, but then decided to do a 5-day 2for1 offer!

Thanks for all the kind words of encouragement! Part 2 should be along by end of today UK time.
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Old Aug 26, 09, 11:10 am   #13
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Part 2: Heathrow to Singapore Aboard the Qantas A380 in Business

We emerged from the walkway to the Hilton into the end of the check-in hall adjacent to check-in Zone E, where the BA First (and previously Concorde) check-in desks were once located, now occupied by KLM.


Zone E with the KLM desks in the old BA First & Concorde area


BA desks in Zone D

During the current renovations of T4 to make it ready for the Skyteam alliance, half of the check in hall (the furthest end from Zone E) has been closed off with hoardings. Zones C to E have already been refurbished, with T5-style desks and screens, although the area is still a little dark due to the main entrances still being re-constructed (entrance to the terminal is still temporarily via the Arrivals level). We walked past the BA check-in area in Zone D to Zone C, adjacent to the security checkpoint, where the Qantas desks are located. Two desks were open for First, two for Business, one for Premium Economy, one for Online Check-In and one for Economy. We had tried and failed to check-in online both with BA and Qantas - codeshare flights invariably refuse to be checked in online, despite numerous emails from BA advertising the fact that OLCI is available.


Qantas check-in in Zone C


Qantas check-in in Zone C

There were a couple of people checking in at the OLCI desk and at the Economy desk, but the others were completely free. The agent at the closest Business desk asked us the usual security questions, tagged our single checked suitcase with a Business tag and didn't even bother weighing my hand luggage (which I thought may have been slightly too heavy!). Our boarding passes were handed over with a friendly 'enjoy your flight', and we took the two steps over to the FastTrack security line to the right of the main lines, none of which were particularly busy. There is a separate boarding pass check for FastTrack, but then the lines converge at the screening area, which almost completely defeats the point of FastTrack in my opinion. The security area is clearly a temporary measure however, and away to the left a huge new screening area was under construction. We were through security within 3 minutes, with no need to remove shoes which was a nice surprise, although the security goons continued to live up to their many derogatory nicknames.

Once through to airside, we stopped off at Travelex to take advantage of the double BA miles promotion and picked up our pre-ordered Singapore Dollars. We had ordered mixed notes, but were provided with all $50 notes. Upon enquiry, the very helpful agent apologised and checked all the Travelex stores at T4, but it seemed $50 notes were the sole offering today. He suggested changing our notes upon arrival in Singapore, which didn't really pose that much of a problem. Thanking the helpful agent, I had a brisk walk around the gate area to see what had changed in T4 since BA had largely departed. Aside from the majority of the shops now being boarded up or under renovation, and many more open spaces, the BAA renovation appears not to have started in earnest in the gate area. One noticeable difference was the Skyteam branding at the former Gate 10 BA Lounge Pavilion, once home to the Concorde Room (CCR), First Lounge and Terraces Lounge. The famous wooden doors to the CCR at the end of the corridor had been removed and replaced with some ugly glass sliding doors with the Skyteam logo printed all over them. Truly the end of an era!


Entrance to the new Skyteam lounge complex opposite Gate 10


Sri Lankan A340 viewed from one of the T4 gate areas


Looking across to T3


Delta 767


Qantas 747


Entrance to the infamous Victor Pier


Drab T4 gate area beyond Gate 1


Gate 5, an A380-capable gate


T4 Departures


T4 Departures


Map of the terminal and Departures info


Map of the terminal and Departures info


Departures screen

Continued in the next post
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Old Aug 26, 09, 11:12 am   #14
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Part 2 Continued: Heathrow to Singapore Aboard the Qantas A380 in Business

QF32 was today departing from Gate 6, one of the two currently A380-capable gates at T4 (the other being Gate 5). There was a good view of our waiting A380 to be had from the gate area, and I noticed that today's aircraft was named Nancy-Bird Walton, the first A380 to be delivered to Qantas.


VH-OQA


VH-OQA with a baby Thai 747 behind


VH-OQA connected to Gate 6's triple airbridges


VH-OQA


Waiting area between Gate 1 and Gate 6


Entrance to the BA Gate 1 Lounge

Leaving the empty gate area behind, we crossed over to the opposite side of the terminal where the entrance to the BA Gate 1 Lounge is located. Once branded as a Terraces Lounge, this lounge received a mini-makeover in 2006 with new furniture, carpets and decorations - perhaps BA had anticipated that this lounge was to be open for longer than originally planned. The entrance to the lounge is via a narrow sloping corridor between Gates 1a and 1b. At the top of the corridor are three podiums, one of which was occupied by a lounge dragon who waved us in without speaking after scanning our boarding passes.

The Gate 1 Lounge is arranged over two floors, with the top floor being slightly larger. The first floor comprises a workstation area, two bars and plenty of comfortable seating, with the second floor housing the Chef's Theatre, another two bars, mobile-free room, children's play area, shower suites and more seating. Also on the second floor is the First pre-flight dining area, opposite the Chef's Theatre in a kind of alcove area. This area was added following the closure of the Concorde Room in September 2008, to allow First passengers to continue to dine before their flight leaving after 8pm.


Workstation area of the Gate 1 Lounge


Comfortable seating on the first floor


More comfortable seating


One of the ground floor bar areas


Main ground floor bar


Close up of the main ground floor bar

At this time of day, the Chef's Theatre and surrounding buffet area was stocked with the usual business class selection of hot bacon, mushroom and tomato rolls, toast, pastries, cereal, yogurts and fruit. I was about to help myself to the selection, when I witnessed a little boy sneezing all over the toast, and so decided to wait a few minutes for the platter to be replaced with fresh produce! After a couple of bacon rolls from the new platter and a coffee (interrupted by the inevitable loudmouth on her mobile phone), we headed over to the comfortable seating area adjacent to the windows overlooking the ramp. Unfortunately, this area is having its taxiway strengthened, and as a result the view is very much of a construction site with no aircraft activity to be observed whatsoever.


Chef's Theatre area, with the entrance to First pre-flight dining on the right


Chef's Theatre on the second floor


Buffet area adjacent to the Chef's Theatre


Second floor main bar


Comfortable second floor seating

We whiled away the next couple of hours just relaxing, reading the newspaper, checking emails (and of course FlyerTalk) and people-watching. A lady who I presumed was representing either BA or BAA worked her way around the lounge with a clipboard asking people whether they'd mind filling out a survey, but she didn't approach us so I presume it was either targeted to certain people or just a random questionnaire. As it was approaching the boarding time of 11:30, I wandered over to the customer service desk to enquire about the status of QF32, and was informed that it would be boarding shortly.

I had read that boarding the A380 is sometimes a bit of a nightmare due to the sheer volume of passengers to be loaded on, and so we left the lounge a little early and stood by Gate 6b, which was clearly signed as the point of embarkation for Business and Premium Economy passengers. Despite this clear signage, people still managed to be confused and queued at the wrong door. Three airbridges were attached to the A380 - two from Gate 6a leading to Door 1L for the First cabin and Door 2L for the Economy cabins on the main deck respectively and one from Gate 6b leading to Door U1L for the Business cabins and Premium Economy cabin on the upper deck. Boarding promptly began, with no clear idea of who should be boarding when. As usual though, we had positioned ourselves close to the door onto the airbridge, and were second in line when the announcement was made. Somehow we ended up being first to board the upper deck, and were welcomed onboard not just be those FAs at the door, but also by the FAs in the galley as we passed through on our way to seats 19JK. I had been phoning Qantas fairly regularly over the past few weeks to see if we could be moved any further forward (ideally into the forward mini cabin of 3 rows), but was repeatedly told that all seats were occupied, despite ExpertFlyer informing me otherwise...


Gate 6b

Continued in the next post
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Old Aug 26, 09, 11:21 am   #15
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Part 2 Continued: Heathrow to Singapore Aboard the Qantas A380 in Business

Date: August 2009
Route: London Heathrow [LHR] (T4) - Singapore Changi [SIN] (T1)
Flight:QF32
Aircraft: A380-842
Registration/Name: VH-OQA/Nancy-Bird Walton
First Flight/Delivered: 2008/2008
Seats/Class: 19JK/Business

Qantas have configured their A380s with 14 First suites (main deck), 72 seats in Business (three cabins on the upper deck), 32 in Premium Economy (upper deck) and 332 in Economy (three cabins on the main deck). My immediate first impression upon emerging into the main Business cabin (7 rows between Doors U1 and U2) was one of space - the 'whale jet' is certainly just as impressive inside as it is out. Lots of passengers had their cameras out and were taking photos of the cabin and of each other and it was enjoyable being able to walk around taking photos of the cabin without feeling a bit self-conscious as one normally does. I noticed a couple across the aisle from us were taking photos of each other, and offered to take their photo together which was appreciated I think!


Qantas A380 Business main cabin


Boarding underway


Looking forward towards Doors U1


Ample 80" legroom

Soon the FAs came through the cabin offering the usual choice of water, orange juice or champagne, and I opted for an OJ. At this time, the pre-order breakfast cards were collected, from which I had chosen a nice selection of items from the pretty substantial choice. I think this is such a sensible idea, as it reduces disturbance upon waking up towards the end of a long flight, although sometimes it is difficult to choose breakfast when your brain (and stomach) is longing for lunch! I notice that Qantas do not offer any pre-flight snack such as nuts, but I wasn't particularly bothered as they usually spoil my appetite anyway.


Pre-flight drinks


A380 safety card


Newspapers


Looking across to the 'A' side of Nancy-Bird

A word about the seats - Qantas introduced an updated version of their popular Skybed Business seat for the A380, which now transforms into a completely flat bed (the previous version installed on the 747s and international A330s is of the older inclined lie-flat variety). These seats, designed by Mark Newson (as most things in the Business cabin appear to be!), feature a fully adjustable pop-out AVOD touch screen with the latest Q-Flyer entertainment system installed. Other features include a telephone, in-arm tray table, three personal reading lights, in-seat massage function, literature pocket and mini electronic divider screen. On the back of the seat is front is another literature pocket and coathook, and due to being on the upper deck, the window seats feature two very handy storage lockers. My three windows were noticeable larger than on the 747, and afforded a great view of the goings-on outside (even though the view towards the ground was partially blocked by the enormous wing). Menus (including the breakfast pre-order cards), blankets and cushions were waiting on our seats upon arrival.


Seat controls


AVOD

Once boarding had finished, Captain Mike Sterling welcomed us onboard over the PA and announced a delay in pushing back due to ATC restrictions. During this wait, the FAs made another pass through the cabin with both English and Australian newspapers. Somehow, I missed the Qantas 747 departing next to us from Gate 5, and was a bit miffed as to why it had departed first when it was scheduled to be departing after us (operating the service to HKG).


Qantas 747 to HKG

Before we pushed back, the FAs reappeared with offers of amenity kits and pajamas. Separate amenity kits for male (grey case) and female (green case) passengers were available, and there was a note inside the male kit informing us that razors and shaving gel would be available upon request. Both types of amenity kit contained a toothbrush, Colgate toothpaste, socks, eyeshade, earplugs, mints and a skincare pack. The only difference between the two kits internally was the skincare pack, whose contents was subtly different.


PJs


Amenity kits


Inside the amenity kits

We pushed back at 12:36, 21 minutes behind schedule. A flight time of approximately 12 hours was announced by the flight crew, followed by a manual safety demonstration (with a pre-recorded voiceover). This intrigued me slightly, as I thought that Qantas used video safety demonstrations. Perhaps in Economy and Premium Economy they do (where the TV screens are mostly fixed to the seatbacks), but where pop-out screens are used I suppose it makes more sense to do it manually to negate having to ensure all screens are stowed prior to takeoff. It was quite difficult to observe the FAs during the safety demonstration from the window seats, but as I pretty much know it off by heart anyway I didn't fear for my life too much!

Continued in the next post
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