Brian’s Travel Spot: Return from Boston

Making my own coffee again, this time in the British Airways lounge at Boston Logan, with my trusty Travel Press and Aergrind.Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2020, which covered the trip I took out to the Bay Area, Phoenix and Portland (Maine) in January. Part I detailed my flight to San Jose, with British Airways, while Part II involved flying from San Francisco to Phoenix  with American Airlines (and almost losing my laptop!). Part III saw me change things up a little and fly with Delta from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) via Atlanta. And finally, this post covers my return home on the early morning flight from Boston.

I’ve done this route once before (last summer), flying from Boston in premium economy with Virgin Atlantic on its early morning flight. I’m flying in premium economy again (aka World Traveller Plus), but this time with British Airways, a flight which has the distinct disadvantage of leaving 45 minutes earlier than the corresponding Virgin Atlantic flight (which means 45 fewer minutes in bed…). Once again, Amanda drove me down from Portland to Boston the night before, and I stayed over in the same airport hotel before getting up at the ridiculously early hour of 05:15 to catch the 05:30 shuttle to the airport.

You can read more about the flight after the gallery.

  • Back in Portland (Maine) to be greeted by a familiar sight: the Coffee Spot Calendar!
  • Welcome to New England in the winter: subzero temperatures with snow on the ground.
  • I was only there for the weekend, but Amanda and I hit some old favourites, starting...
  • ... with Tandem Coffee Roasters, where Amanda had this cappuccino...
  • ... and I had the cortado.
  • Impressively, the barista recognised me from when we visited last summer!
  • We also popped into Bard for a pair of pour-overs.
  • Finally, a special treat for Sunday brunch saw us heading to the Miss Portland Diner...
  • ... a vintage American diner, where we turned down a seat at the counter...
  • ... in favour of one of the booths.
  • This booth, in fact.
  • Established in 1949, it's one of the few remaining examples of a Worcester Diner.
  • Our full ensemble.
  • I had the Eggs Florentine, which were excellent..
  • ... while Amanda had the blueberry pancakes, which were even better.
  • Next day, we were on the road, on our way down to Boston for my flight home.
Back in Portland (Maine) to be greeted by a familiar sight: the Coffee Spot Calendar!1 Welcome to New England in the winter: subzero temperatures with snow on the ground.2 I was only there for the weekend, but Amanda and I hit some old favourites, starting...3 ... with Tandem Coffee Roasters, where Amanda had this cappuccino...4 ... and I had the cortado.5 Impressively, the barista recognised me from when we visited last summer!6 We also popped into Bard for a pair of pour-overs.7 Finally, a special treat for Sunday brunch saw us heading to the Miss Portland Diner...8 ... a vintage American diner, where we turned down a seat at the counter...9 ... in favour of one of the booths.10 This booth, in fact.11 Established in 1949, it's one of the few remaining examples of a Worcester Diner.12 Our full ensemble.13 I had the Eggs Florentine, which were excellent..14 ... while Amanda had the blueberry pancakes, which were even better.15 Next day, we were on the road, on our way down to Boston for my flight home.16
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As I explained in the first instalment of this Travel Spot, I’ve spent the last three years doing five or six long-haul flights, increasingly in business class (Club World on British Airways) which is a real boon when flying overnight. However, during daytime flights, like those from the UK to America, I really don’t need to fly business class since I don’t sleep on the flight, so this year I’ve decided to fly out and back in premium economy (World Traveller Plus on British Airways).

To avoid flying back overnight, on each of this year’s trips, I’m making my way to Boston, which has the advantage that both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have early morning flights, arriving back in the UK in the evening, thus avoiding the need to sleep on the plane. So, on this trip, I flew to San Jose in World Traveller Plus (only British Airways upgraded me to Club World, just as I did in 2019, I started my year with an unexpected upgrade!), then flew internally from San Francisco to Phoenix for another meeting, then fly from Phoenix to Portland (Maine), where I spent the weekend with Amanda, before she drove me down to Boston on Monday night. After far too little sleep (about five hours) I was up and heading off to the airport by the hotel shuttle.

The shuttle, by the way, is free, which makes this hotel (the Holiday Inn in Chelsea) particularly useful since it’s just a 10-minute drive to the airport, with the shuttle running every half hour. I booked myself onto the 05:30 shuttle which I found myself sharing with someone flying Delta and a handful of American Airlines crew (in comparison, last summer, I had the shuttle to myself). The driver dropped off the Delta passenger at Terminal A, then dropped the aircrew at Terminal B. Then he drove past the ramp for Terminal E (the international terminal) and headed back in the direction of the hotel. I was just about to say something when he realised that he’d forgotten all about me and so we went around the airport again!

You can see how I got on at the airport after the gallery.

  • The only advantage to being at Boston Logan airport at 6am: it's empty.
  • I had the check-in desks to myself and there wasn't even much of a queue at security.
  • In under 10 minutes I was through to the other side and into the spacious terminal...
  • ... although this time I was looking for the lounge, which was up one floor.
  • Up here, in fact.
  • And there it is, the British Airways lounge.
  • The lounge is lovely, consisting of several interconnecting rooms.
  • There are lots of seating options: armchairs, for example, with plenty of power outlets.
  • Another room full of armchairs...
  • ... and a third, British Airways definitely putting the 'lounge' into lounge.
  • There are also tables (which is where I ended up)...
  • ... more tables...
  • ... and, at the back of the lounge, a bar (not open at 6am!).
  • Interesting arrangement of chairs. Not sure where people's legs go though!
  • Finally, there's a buffet area where you can get snacks...
  • ... and self-serve meals, plus plenty of tables to sit at.
  • There's also a separate dining area for first class passengers.
  • Having skipped breakfast at the hotel, I ate at the lounge, starting with some porridge...
  • ... and ending with an omelette and baked beans.
  • There was an espresso machine and a big urn of coffee, but I didn't like the look of either...
  • ... so I used the coffee machine to get some hot water...
  • ... and made my own with my Travel Press and Aergrind.
  • The best part of the whole lounge though? It has its own gate at the back...
  • ... so you can board directly onto the plane. You go down these steps...
  • ... and straight onto the air bridge!
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Despite the slight detour, I was at the terminal by 05:55. As much as I dislike early starts, there is one distinct advantage to arriving at the airport this early: there is almost no-one else there. I went straight up to the check-in desks (which I had to myself) and then it was off to security. By 06:05 I was out the other side and looking for the lounge.

Unlike most other non-UK airports I’ve been to, where British Airways passengers effectively share someone else’s lounge, at Boston’s Logan Airport, British Airways has its own dedicated lounge (a distinction which it shares with Chicago O’Hare), and a very fine one it is too. Consisting of several interconnected rooms, there’s plenty of seating, a decent amount of power outlets (US only), free Wifi, a buffet area (with a separate dining area for first class passengers) and a bar (unsurprisingly closed at this early hour). The best part, however, was a dedicated gate at the back of the lounge, where you boarded directly onto the plane.

My flight was due to leave at 07:30 and even though my boarding card said we’d start boarding at 06:30, I didn’t believe that for a second, so I helped myself to a two-course breakfast, starting with some excellent porridge and ending with an omelette and baked beans. Not trusting the coffee machine (sadly, Union Hand-roasted has not yet made it to the Boston lounge), I made my own. I’d just finished doing that when the call for boarding was made at 06:50. I packed up my things and was the last one to leave the lounge.

I was at my seat by 06:55 and by 07:05 boarding complete and the doors were closed. We’d managed to board so quickly because the flight was almost empty: I counted 10 people in Club World, 20 in World Traveller and 14 (including me) in World Traveller Plus. There might have been some people up in first class, but even so, I suspect that there were less than 50 passengers on the flight!

You can see what I made of the cabin after the gallery.

  • My British Airways Boeing 777-200, on the stand, ready to fly back to London Heathrow.
  • For once I wasn't flying in the (almost empty) Club World cabin...
  • ... nor was I all the way at the back of the plane in World Traveller.
  • Just looking at the seats back here makes me feel slightly claustrophobic!
  • Instead I was in the middle, in World Traveller Plus, seen here from the back of the cabin.
  • It's only a small cabin, with just five rows of seats, with eight seats per row.
  • I was here, at the front, on the right-hand side.
  • This is my seat, 21J, although the other seat was vacant, so I shuffled over...
  • ... to get the window seat.
  • Not that I had much of a view since we were directly over the wing!
  • As usual, I had managed to get a bulkhead seat, with plenty of legroom...
  • ... right next to the Club World cabin in front of us.
  • TV controls are in the side of the seat, along with a weird power socket.
  • On the other side are the seat controls. Since I had no-one behind me, I did try...
  • ... reclining the seat. It's not a great picture, but here's my seat in full recline, foot rest up.
  • The table is stored in the armrest of the seat...
  • ... and lifts up before...
  • ... folding down and then folding out again...
  • ... so that it reaches the other armrest. Sadly, the hinges were old, so it sagged...
  • ... in the middle and I had to use a cushion to prop it up.
  • Cushion in place, it was fairly stable, and big enough for my laptop.
  • As well as the table, there's a cleverly-designed drinks holder at the end of each armrest.
  • The TV monitor comes up from between the seats on its own little arm.
  • There's the usual entertainment selection. However, the screen is really small.
  • How small? This small. And I don't have particularly big hands!
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I’ve only flown World Traveller Plus (British Airways’ name for premium economy) once before, in 2014, when I was unexpectedly upgraded on very new Boeing 787 when flying back from New York. In contrast, this time I was on an old Boeing 777-200, an aircraft I’ve been flying on to and from Boston for over 20 years, back when they were newly introduced on the route! This particular plane (G-YMMK, according to Planefinder) is almost 20 years old and was definitely showing its age, although in fairness, I’ve been spoilt by flying on some very modern aircraft in recent times.

The cabin has a 2-4-2 layout and has just five rows of seats. I’d originally booked the aisle seat, 21J, at the front on the right, but since the flight was almost empty, there was no-one in the seat next to me. Once we’d finished boarding, I moved over so that I’d have the window, although since the seat was directly over the wing, my view was mostly obscured. However, by leaning forward and looking back over my shoulder, I did get decent views behind the plane.

The seat was comfortable enough: slightly wider than World Traveller (aka standard economy), but not as wide as the seats I’d enjoyed on my recent flights in the US. There was at-seat power but using an old-style connector that none of my plugs would fit (and with no USB outlets). However, this wasn’t an issue since we were only in the air for 5½ hours and, with power saver mode on, my laptop’s good for at least seven hours.

There was no-one in the seat behind me, so after breakfast, I reclined my seat to try it out. It didn’t go back too far, but was quite comfortable, particularly with the footrest up. On the bulkhead seats, this folds out from under the seat, with an additional fold-down section, making for a decent footrest.

The TV monitor pivoted up from between the seats (in the other rows it’s in the back of the seat in front). However, it was really small and showing signs of wear. I was rather glad that on this flight I had no plans to watch anything.

The table folds out from the armrest (this is the case for all the World Traveller Plus seats, not just the bulkhead ones) and reaches all the way across to the armrest on the other side (an unexpected bonus of the seat being that little bit narrower!). However, the hinges on both the tables I used (my original seat and the window seat) were really old, so the tables sagged in the middle, which is hardly ideal. I ended up putting the seat cushion on top of my thighs and resting the table on top, which made for a surprisingly stable surface.

The final feature was a cocktail table (aka drinks holder) built into the arm rest (there’s one either side and one in the middle). When we were on the ground, I wasn’t very impressed since it tilts forward a little, and I was worried I would lose my drink. However, once we’d taken off, I realised that it was very cleverly designed, since with the nose slightly up in normal flight, it’s actually flat.

Overall, I found the World Traveller Plus cabin to be perfectly adequate, while my seat in particular had plenty of legroom (my main consideration). However, I much preferred the premium economy seating in the A330-300 that Virgin Atlantic uses on the same route, with the added bonus that the corresponding flight leaves 45 minutes later. All things being equal, I’d rather flying with Virgin, although in my case, this means missing out on lounge access and status, so you’ll see me back on British Airways a few more times on this route!

You can see how the flight went after the gallery.

  • We stood at the gate for 20 minutes, giving me time to finish my coffee.
  • Then, since the plane was almost empty, I scooted over to the window seat...
  • ... to 'enjoy' the view of out the window...
  • ... although I found that if I looked over my shoulder I got a good view behind us.
  • After pushing back, we sat on the tarmac for the safety video...
  • ... and then we were on our way, taxiing out into the sunrise. That's the corresponding...
  • ... Virgin Atlantic flight by the way, which leaves 45 minutes later.
  • Another A330, this time from Hawaiian Airlines (bound for Honolulu).
  • I know I think I'm up early, but some people are already in the air!
  • It felt like we taxiied in a long square, past three of the four sides of the terminals.
  • Lots of Jet Blue planes at Boston I see.
  • We made it out to the runway, but at the wrong end...
  • ... so had to taxi the full length of it while other flights took off as we went past.
  • Most of them were like this one, from Jet Blue.
  • And off it goes, into the blue skies above.
  • We also crossed an inbound runway
  • Here it comes.
  • Almost down.
  • It's a Delta flight, I can tell you that, but I don't know where it came in from.
  • Now there's just one more flight ahead of us, from American Airlines.
  • Off it goes.
  • Up, up and away!
  • Now it's our turn to roll onto the runway. After all the planes which took off before us...
  • ... the only one I can see waiting after us is this UPS freight plane.
  • We start rolliing down the runway...
  • And we're airborne...
  • ... climbing almost directly over the terminals.
  • Goodbye Boston Logan.
  • We quickly cross the harbour and fly south of the North End...
  • ... and the Financial District.
  • The State House is at the bottom of the picture as we fly south of Boston Common.
  • We make our way southwest over South End. That's the John Hancock Tower as was...
  • ... followed by the Prudential Tower...
  • ... with the Charles River in the background.
  • ... and beyond that, Cambridge.
  • The Charles River turns north. Somewhere, down there, is Harvard Yard.
  • We begin our turn to the north over the lakes of Brookline. I've never been out this way...
  • ... so this is all new to me. This is Jamaica Pond.
  • We continue turning...
  • ... and before long, the coast comes back into view.
  • A rather gorgeous view of the skyscrapers of Back Bay and the Financial District.
  • And then we're into cloud. At this point the seat belt signs are turned off...
  • ... and the curtain drawn between us and Club World. We're underway!
  • This was our route over Boston, then out in a straight line over the Atlantic Ocean...
  • ... with the rest of the flight, laid out ahead of us.
  • Less than 15 minutes into the flight, and we're already close to 10,000m.
  • Sadly I'm on the wrong side of the plane to wave to Portland.
  • Breakfast was served not long after.
  • This was the pre-ordered vegetarian meal. No, I don't know what it is either.
  • Instead the cabin crew swapped it for this rather excellent vegetarian omelette.
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We sat at the gate for 20 minutes, giving me time to drink my coffee, which I’d brought on board with me. At 07:25 we pushed back, spending the obligatory five minutes on the apron while we watched the safety video. After that, we started to taxi, which seemed to take us around three of the four sides of the airport to get to the runway. The pilot called seats for takeoff at 07:35, but we still had a way to go at that point, taxiing the full length of the runway to get to the far end.

Plenty of planes were taking off as we trundled alongside the runway, mostly from Jet Blue. We also had to cross another runway at 45° to us, where the inbound planes were landing. Finally, we got to the end of the runway, waited briefly for an American Airlines flight to take off, and then we were on our way at 07:45.

We took off heading southwest, in exactly the wrong direction, flying over Boston Harbour, south of the North End, and then over the South End, following the spine of Back Bay, all areas I know well, before turning north in a 180° turn over the lakes of Brookline (an area I don’t know at all). Five minutes into our flight, the seat-belt signs came off as we were heading northeast, in the direction of Gloucester and Rockport, then out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Breakfast was served at 08:25, which reminds me that I must change my British Airways profile. I’m down as vegetarian, which, in the days when I regularly flew economy, meant that I was guaranteed a meal I could eat. When flying in Club World or World Traveller Plus, I’ve always found I’ve had plenty of choice, so it’s not as important.

Unfortunately, my experience of British Airways special meals (which is what you get if you’re down as vegetarian on your profile) hasn’t been great. For whatever reason, this always results in a vegan rather than vegetarian meal and, sadly, the vegan meals on British Airways aren’t very good. I really don’t know what I was served this time, some sort of polenta dish, I think, with dry, toasted granola. I managed a mouthful before giving up.

The cabin crew were happy to swap it for the vegetarian omelette from the main menu, which was much, much nicer. In that sense it doesn’t matter, since you can always get another meal from the main menu, but it seems a shame to have a pre-prepared meal go to waste, particularly since I know I’m very unlikely to eat it.

I did try the coffee at breakfast, but sadly Union Hand-roasted hasn’t made it any further towards the back of the plane than Club World. This one was awful, and, after a couple of mouthfuls, I gave up and stuck to my orange juice.

You can see how the rest of the flight went after the gallery.

  • By the time breakast was done with, we'd passed over Canada and were out over...
  • ... over the Atlantic Ocean.
  • We were well into the flight, cruising at 12,500m.
  • Almost half way there.
  • And, before I knew it, we were on the other side of the Atlantic...
  • ... approaching the Irish coast.
  • With just 1¼ hours to go, it was time for a snack.
  • Without me having to ask, the cabin crew gave me a panini to go with my snack box...
  • ... which was just as well since it consisted of a pot of fruit. Yup. That's all.
  • By now the sun was starting to set behind the plane as we flew east and it went west.
  • This resulted in a pretty show...
  • ... as the sun sank beneath the clouds...
  • ... and the light quickly faded.
  • By now we'd reached the east coast of Ireland...
  • ... and the light had all but gone.
By the time breakast was done with, we'd passed over Canada and were out over...1 ... over the Atlantic Ocean.2 We were well into the flight, cruising at 12,500m.3 Almost half way there.4 And, before I knew it, we were on the other side of the Atlantic...5 ... approaching the Irish coast.6 With just 1¼ hours to go, it was time for a snack.7 Without me having to ask, the cabin crew gave me a panini to go with my snack box...8 ... which was just as well since it consisted of a pot of fruit. Yup. That's all.9 By now the sun was starting to set behind the plane as we flew east and it went west.10 This resulted in a pretty show...11 ... as the sun sank beneath the clouds...12 ... and the light quickly faded.13 By now we'd reached the east coast of Ireland...14 ... and the light had all but gone.15
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I went for a walk after breakfast, going down through World Traveller (which was even emptier than the rest of the plane) all the way to the back. Since it was almost empty, I tried one of the seats for size. It was much narrower than my World Traveller Plus seat, only just wide enough (for me). There also wasn’t much legroom, although I could get my knees in without them sticking into the back of the seat in front (but only just). However, I found that the back of the seat in front was very, very close and there’s no way I’d have been able to use my laptop there with any level of comfort, even if the person in front didn’t recline their seat. I also think that even for a 5½ hour flight, I’d find it very claustrophobic, which is why I always go for a bulkhead or exit row seat if I fly economy.

Back in my seat in World Traveller Plus, I settled in and spread out, really enjoying having the seat next to me free, so I could put things on it instead of leaving them on the floor. I worked for a bit, napped for a bit and then worked a bit more. After my experience at breakfast, I had intended to make myself some coffee during the flight, but before I knew it, it was 12:15 and the cabin crew were bringing round a snack (lunch, according to my body clock; afternoon tea if you went by UK time). It’s amazing how quickly 5½ hours can go (this was roughly the same time I spent in the air flying between Phoenix and Portland, but those two flights felt much longer).

The vegetarian snack was as unimpressive as the breakfast (a pot of fruit), so the cabin crew gave me a vegetarian panini from the main menu (I didn’t even have to ask). By then we were approaching the Irish coast, and the sun was setting behind the plane. We started our descent at 12:50 and the pilot announced 40 minutes to landing.

You can find out what happened when we landed after the gallery.

  • By now, we were well into our final descent, having crossed South Wales.
  • I've no idea where that is down below, but it's very pretty!
  • More unidentified lights on our approach to London.
  • If anyone recognises any of these, feel free to say!
  • By now, we'd flown past Heathrow and were heading east, over London...
  • ... before turning, to come back on a westerly heading for our final approach.
  • At last, a landmark I recognise: Canary Wharf! We're now heading west...
  • ... on our final approach south of the Thames, a very familiar route to me.
  • There's the Shard and Tower Bridge, and, five minutes later...
  • ... it might not look like, but we're on the ground at Heathrow!
  • Now all we have to do is taxi past the terminal buildings...
  • ... and lots of other aircraft...
  • ... to reach our final destination, on the tarmac within sight of A block, Terminal 5...
  • ... where a bus was waiting to take us to the terminal and the end of our journey.
By now, we were well into our final descent, having crossed South Wales.1 I've no idea where that is down below, but it's very pretty!2 More unidentified lights on our approach to London.3 If anyone recognises any of these, feel free to say!4 By now, we'd flown past Heathrow and were heading east, over London...5 ... before turning, to come back on a westerly heading for our final approach.6 At last, a landmark I recognise: Canary Wharf! We're now heading west...7 ... on our final approach south of the Thames, a very familiar route to me.8 There's the Shard and Tower Bridge, and, five minutes later...9 ... it might not look like, but we're on the ground at Heathrow!10 Now all we have to do is taxi past the terminal buildings...11 ... and lots of other aircraft...12 ... to reach our final destination, on the tarmac within sight of A block, Terminal 5...13 ... where a bus was waiting to take us to the terminal and the end of our journey.14
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Almost the entire flight had taken place during the day and, pleasingly, everyone had left the blinds open, so I’d spent the whole flight in daylight. However, as we started our descent, the last of the sunlight left us and the cabin lights came on for the last part of the flight. We hit a little bit of turbulence with 25 minutes to go, just as we crossed over the English border, but since everyone had put everything away by then (including my laptop) it made no real difference when the seat belt signs came on.

The pilot announced seats for landing at 13:15 (18:15 local time) and as I’ve often done on flights from the US, we flew past Heathrow and turned over the City of London to make our final approach heading east. At 18:25, we passed Canary Wharf, instantly recognisable even at night, and touched down on the north runway at 18:30. We taxied all the way through the C gate block and ended up parked quite close to the southern end of the A blocks, where they sent a bus to come and get us (I suppose if you are going to put a flight out on the tarmac rather than at the gate, you might as well make it the one with 50 people on it…)

We made it to our parking spot at 18:40, were on the bus at 18:50 and five minutes later, I was at passport control. By the time I was through, one of my bags was already on the carousel and before long, I was through customs. It was just 19:10, an impressively quick journey all told, particularly given that the flight’s scheduled arrival time was 19:00… Hopefully things will be just as smooth when I do it all again in March!


If you want to know more about my trip to the USA, there’s a whole Travel Spot dedicated to it.


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6 thoughts on “Brian’s Travel Spot: Return from Boston

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